A Brilliant Idea!

October 9, 2008


Here is the last of the stories I wrote for my class.  It is based on a true story my friend, Deb, told me about her childhood. 

Phoebe Ann’s Brilliant Idea, No. 216!

The two little girls were jammed so close together they could easily hear each other’s fast breathing.  They were perched precariously, teetering on the very edge.  Loud, impatient voices shouted from behind, feeling like invisible hands pushing them to act. 

When she peeked over the edge, Maggie could see lots of people walking around down below, unaware and uncaring of her fears.  Then, suddenly there was a hard push from behind and Maggie had no more time to worry – they suddenly “took flight” into another of Phoebe Ann’s brilliant ideas!

It was early morning on Edgewater Lane, and all along the freshly plowed street, kids with backpacks were coming out of doors, headed to the school a couple of blocks away.

Phoebe Ann came rushing up onto Maggie’s porch and rang the door bell in the special “code” she and Maggie had made up: “Ring, Ring, pause, Ring, Ring, pause, Ring, Rin . . . .”  Phoebe Ann took her finger off the button when the door opened.  Maggie stepped onto the porch all bundled up, wearing her backpack and ready to go.

As they walked off the porch, Phoebe Ann said, “Come on, Maggie.  Let’s hurry.  I need to study my spelling words at school before the bell rings!”

Maggie automatically adjusted her pace to the sense of urgency in Phoebe Ann’s voice, and they took off quickly down the snowy sidewalk. 

 Huffing and puffing a little, because her legs weren’t as long as Phoebe Ann’s and she was practically running, Maggie said, “Why didn’t you study your words last night?  That’s when you’re supposed to do homework, you know — not right before school starts!”

Phoebe Ann said, “Oh, I studied them some last night, after I got home from my brother’s basketball game.  But I want to go over them again.  Since I haven’t missed any yet, I don’t want to break my record!”

Maggie said a little grumpily, “Oh, all right.  I’ll help you study them.”

To change the subject to something that might be more of a treat for Maggie than helping with spelling words, Phoebe Ann said, “Hey, do you want to go to the park after school to sled, since it snowed last night?”

Maggie brightened and said, “Oh, that would be fun!  I have to ask my Mom, but I’m sure she’ll let me go.”

Phoebe Ann said, “Good.  Don’t forget we’ll have to share your sled.  I haven’t got a new one since mine broke last time.”

Maggie said, “That’s okay.  I don’t mind sharing.”

Phoebe Ann and Maggie had been best friends forever, which in “fourth-grader time,” was about six years.  They were both good students, they shared a love of reading and playing Sorry, and living right across the street from each other made their friendship very handy too.  But there were also some big differences between the friends.

At home, Phoebe Ann had two older brothers, so she had four “bosses,” or at least that’s how it seemed, because they liked to boss her as much as her parents did!  And, she was way too busy to care much about how she looked, which drove her mom absolutely crazy.  Because after finally having a girl, Mom wished her daughter would display a little more interest in things that the two of them could share – like clothes and shopping!  At school, besides being a straight A student, Phoebe Ann was the fastest runner of everyone in the class.

Maggie, on the other hand, was the princess at her house because she was the only child.  In a word, she was adored.  She was short and a little bit chubby, with a mop of curly red hair.  She was learning to play the violin, and she loved, loved, loved pretty clothes.  In fact, she was wearing her very favorite coat today – the dark blue wool one with big black buttons.  She thought it was very “grown up” and “fashionable” looking.  Even her glasses were stylish with the small rectangular black frames that she saw “cool” eighth grade girls wearing.

The two friends were very different in their personalities, too.  Phoebe Ann wasn’t just a fast runner-she was fast in all ways – her speech, her actions – and her decision-making, while Maggie was more of a thinker.  She could easily have spent her whole childhood “thinking” rather than “doing,” if it hadn’t been for her “think it now/do it now” friend, Phoebe Ann, who regularly pushed her to action. 

But for Maggie it was always fun and exciting to be friends with Phoebe Ann.  And, most of the time, she thought how lucky she was that Phoebe Ann had chosen to be her best friend.

As soon as school let out, the girls hurried home.  When they got home, they just dropped off their book bags, got permission from their moms to go sledding, and then half ran, half fast-walked, pulling Maggie’s sled back to the park across from the school. 

When they reached the park it was crowded.  Lots of kids were already there enjoying the snow, and lots of snowball fights were going on.  That looked like fun, too, but they were there to sled.  So, they made their way through several snowball fights (and threw a few themselves, of course, in self defense) to the busy sledding hill.   

When they started taking turns on Maggie’s sled, it soon became obvious that, while this was fun, it was really slow fun.  One of them would sled down and then slowly trudge back up the hill, working hard at pulling the sled through the deep snow.  She would then give the sled to the other, who would then wait for her turn, and then she would sled down and slowly trudge back up the hill.  It was short bursts of fun, with lots of waiting in between.  

 So, while waiting for her next turn, Phoebe Ann had a brilliant idea!  When Maggie came trudging back up the hill, Phoebe Ann said excitedly, “Maggie! Maggie!  Listen.  I have a brilliant idea to make this more fun!” 

 Every fiber in Maggie’s little body at that moment, said, Oh-Oh, before she even heard the plan.  When Phoebe Ann had a brilliant idea, it didn’t always bode well for Maggie!

One time Phoebe Ann had made a parachute out of an old blanket tied with some rope, and then convinced Maggie to jump out of the apple tree to “test” it!  It was a good thing it had been the close-to-the-ground apple tree and not the tall walnut tree used for the “test!”  Maggie wasn’t seriously hurt, but she did have trouble talking until she got her breath back. 

So, even if this way of sledding was a lot of hard work, Maggie wasn’t ready to buy into Phoebe Ann’s plan, until she heard all the details and made sure they didn’t involve her jumping off of or out of anything! 

But Phoebe Ann was on a mission.  Convinced that her idea was, in fact, brilliant, she made up the details as she went.    

“Okay, here’s what we’ll do.  When it’s our next turn, one of us will lie down on the sled and the other one will lie on top of her!  That way we can both slide down the hill every time!”  Not only would they each get to go down twice as many times, but it would be easier to pull the sled back up the hill when they were doing it together.  Brilliant! 

Maggie would have asked some questions about exactly how this was going to work, but suddenly they were up next!  Phoebe Ann rushed ahead, pulling the sled to the very edge of the hill.  So, Maggie went running after her. 

Quick!  They had to decide – who on the top – who on the bottom!  Hurry!  All the other kids were waiting impatiently for their turns.  The girls certainly didn’t have time to stand around talking! 

So, Phoebe Ann said, “Quick.  Get on!” 

The time for questions was past.  The kids behind them in line were getting louder and louder; they were taking too much time!  Whether she liked this idea or not, Maggie quickly laid face-down on the sled and Phoebe Ann threw herself on top of her!  

Oh-Oh, how were they going to get started?  They didn’t know that two of them on the sled would make it harder to get started! 

But someone from behind them, who was just interested in getting them out of the way so that that person could have his turn, gave them a hard push and off they went.  As they went gliding down the hill, Phoebe Ann was thinking, This is one of my best ideas ever!  

When they came to a stop at the bottom, Phoebe Ann jumped up and said, “Hurry, Maggie.  That was fun!  Let’s go do it that way again!”

Maggie didn’t answer.  Maggie was slowly getting up.    

Hadn’t Maggie thought it was as much fun as Phoebe Ann had? 

Well, maybe not quite as much.

Maggie slowly turned around. 

All Phoebe Ann could do was stare with huge eyes.  What had happened to Maggie?  She had snow in her mouth.  It covered her face, even her glasses!  In fact, the whole front of her was packed with snow! 

When Phoebe Ann started brushing the snow off the front of her little friend, she realized something — all the big black buttons on the front of Maggie’s favorite blue coat were gone!  Oh-Oh. 

That’s when Phoebe Ann looked up the hill.  The sled was still at the top of the hill, and the kids up there were pointing at the sled and then at her and Maggie, and laughing.  That’s when the realization came – she had “sledded” down the hill on Maggie! 

Maggie was trying to say something now, but Phoebe Ann couldn’t quite make it out, what with the snow in Maggie’s mouth and all, but Phoebe Ann did make out words like “never” and “ideas” and “Mommmmmy!”

Phoebe Ann cleaned her little friend off as best she could and used her best “mommy” voice, the one her mom used when she had an accident, to try to make Maggie feel better.   

Brush, brush, brush.  “There.  I’ve gotten most of the snow off of you.”  Then she straightened Maggie’s button-less coat.  “I hope your mom won’t be too mad at you about your coat.”

Maggie was a mess.  Her pretty knit hat was almost off, perched in a lop-sided pile on top of her tangled red hair, her face was bright red and her glasses were foggy.  “Cough, cough, cough.  That was a dumb idea, Phoebe Ann!”

Phoebe Ann was surprised! “Well, it was your sled that got stuck!”

“But, it didn’t get stuck until you said we should get on together!”

Phoebe Ann said, “Well, I didn’t know that would happen.  It was just an ‘unfortunate turn of events’ like my grandma says.”

Maggie made a noise.  Oh, No. Was she going to cry? There was the sound again.  Wait a minute — she was giggling!  And that made Phoebe Ann giggle too, in relief.  Maggie must not be too mad at her!

Maggie said, “We’d better go home now.  I don’t feel like sledding any more.”

Phoebe Ann was suddenly very relieved and very happy.  She said, “Wait here.  I’ll go get your sled,” and started up the hill.

But Maggie hurried to catch up and actually smiled at Phoebe Ann, in all her uncharacteristic messiness, and said, “Wait a minute.  I’ll go with you.  It’s easier to pull it together.”

So, the two little friends trudged up the sledding hill one more time to retrieve the sled and then went home to face the music together, because that’s what best friends do.

I Didn’t Win . . .

October 4, 2008


. . . but the nice thing about writing a blog, is that you can “self-publish!”

The following is one of the two stories I submitted to a short story contest while I was taking my writing class.  It is based on an experience of one of our children.  I’m pretty sure you can guess which one!

Just Another Day at the Office, Phoebe Style

Phoebe awoke to the familiar buzz of her 5:00 a.m. alarm, but was momentarily confused because it was pitch black.  Then she realized why:  Tigger was laying on the pillow next to her, and his ample girth was partially covering her face.  A not-too-gentle push gave her some breathing room.  This was a familiar strategy of his, called don’t forget to feed the kitty.  He liked to eat first thing in the morning, so toward dawn his habit was to move very close to her as a reminder when she woke up that someone wanted to eat.  She knew that this was the high point of a day that would be otherwise devoted to resting, preferably, in a ray of sun.  It was hard to imagine that he was ever actually hungry when he expended so little energy, but, on the other hand, she knew he couldn’t possibly maintain a “physique” like his by only eating when he was hungry! 

So, she padded to the kitchen with Tigger closely following, meowing instructions to her all the way.  While he quickly dispatched his Friskies, she ate her “Breakfast of Champions,” i.e., cold pizza and Diet Coke, with a fruit yogurt chaser.  That was her favorite breakfast on big game days during high school and college.  And today definitely qualified as a “big game day.” She would be making a presentation to the senior Air-Tech management for the first time about her ideas for a new employee benefits package. When she was hired, it was made very clear that was to be her first priority.  

 “Move it, Phoebe. Big day!  ‘Show time’  in three short hours and you need to be totally prepared!”

Returning to the bedroom, she pulled her just dry-cleaned black suit out of the closet and laid it on the bed, with a tailored dark red blouse.  Then she headed for the bathroom to take her shower, and she took a little extra care with her make-up.  No anxiety-induced zits.  She saw that as a good sign.  A quick application of hot rollers made her shoulder-length blonde hair turn under a little.  The clock now said 5:45.  If she was ready by 6:00, that would give her an hour to do a few run-throughs of her presentation.  Even though she had used Power Point quite a bit, it still made her a little nervous; there was always a chance something could go wrong.

At 7:00 she would leave for her half-hour commute.  That would still give her a few minutes to breathe deeply and have a cup of coffee in her office before the 8:00 meeting.

She went back to the bedroom to get dressed.  Oh, no!  Her once-pristine black suit now lay crumpled on the floor, with Tigger the Hairy One in its place on the bed.  With a “Bad Kitty!” she quickly scooped him up and dropped him by the door, after which he sashayed, unrepentant, out of the room, in search of another comfy spot to sleep.

Phoebe picked up her suit.  It was absolutely covered in cat hair.  She fantasized, not for the first time, about having that cat shaved!  But there was no time to enjoy that mental picture; she had to decide what else she could wear.  She scanned her closet for the second-most perfect suit.  She settled on the navy pant suit.  She had passed it over before for the dressier black suit, but now it looked like her best alternative.  She would dress it up with pearls.   

She quickly put on the red blouse, the navy suit, her navy pumps with the pointy toes and a simple strand of pearls with stud earrings.  She looked in the mirror and was satisfied.  She looked good.

  Six-fifteen — she had 45 minutes to rehearse her presentation and still leave by seven.  Her briefcase was on the kitchen bar.  There was a plug there, so she could plug in her laptop to do her run-through.  But when she opened the briefcase, no laptop.  She immediately knew what must have happened.   She had started to put it into her briefcase before leaving work yesterday when a guy named Matt from Accounting had stopped in to introduce himself.  It had flustered her a little because he was very cute, and then they had walked to the parking lot together.  She must have closed her briefcase without putting the laptop in!  Rats.  Now what?  Okay, Plan B:  She would leave now, get to the office about 6:50, and then go over her presentation for 30 to 40 minutes, with time still left to relax a few minutes before the meeting.

So, she went out to her car, drove directly to work, and because traffic wasn’t bad, got there by 6:45.  But, as she pulled in, she saw there weren’t any other cars in the parking lot.  That was definitely a problem she hadn’t thought about.   She didn’t have a key, and she had no idea when someone with a key would come in.  The office officially opened at 8:00, so maybe 7:15, 7:30?  She could not wait that long.  She needed to find a way in, now

Then she remembered where there was an unlocked door!  She parked her car and walked around the building.  There it was.  The door opened into a yard with picnic tables, enclosed by a six foot high chain link fence.  She had eaten her lunch out there a few times and had noticed the door didn’t have a lock.  That was her way in. 

She quickly scanned the fence on the outside chance there was a gate: none.  Well, she could see the door; now all she had to do was figure out how to get to it — although there really wasn’t much to figure.  There was only one way: she’d have to go over the fence.  But that shouldn’t be a problem; after all, she was an athlete. She had played sports for years and still ran, for heaven sake.  This fence ought to be a piece of cake, although making the climb in high heels and a pant suit might complicate it a little!  But, she knew from playing sports that a lot of times winning was just a matter of refusing to lose.  And, she refused to lose this time.  She was going to get in there to her laptop so that she would be ready for her presentation, suit and heels or not!

She tossed up her wallet and car keys and they landed on the first try on the other side of the fence.  Well, the die was cast.  Her stuff was on the other side, so, now all she had to do was get herself over there too.  She slipped out of her suit coat and hung it on the top of the fence.  Then she rolled her wide-legged pants up to her knees to get them out of the way.  She kicked off her shoes next to lob them over the fence, but then realized that they, with their pointy toes, might help in climbing the fence, so she put them back on.  So, okay, here goes.

The shoes were great!  They allowed her to climb the fence like a mountain climber with ice picks on the toes of his shoes!  Just like that, she was sitting on top of the fence.  She enjoyed the view for just a minute.  The sky was quickly getting lighter and she was amazed that she could see the drivers so clearly in the cars on the freeway that was just down a grassy hill from her.  But, it suddenly occurred to her that if one of those drivers happened to glance up and see a woman sitting on top of a six foot high fence it could cause an accident or, worse yet for her, a 911 call.  Being arrested or even questioned didn’t fit into her timetable for the morning!  So, she quickly went down the other side, again using her pointy toed shoes.  The irony wasn’t lost on her, that she would have worn the black suit which had a skirt instead of pants and the black round-toed shoes if it hadn’t been for her “bad kitty,” Tigger. 

When she got to the other side, she rolled down her pant legs, fluffed her hair, picked up her wallet and keys and quickly went into the building through the unlocked door.  It was 7:10.  She had 20 to 30 minutes to rehearse.  It would have to do.  She went immediately to her office and started practicing. 

By 7:50 she was set; she had even had time for her cup of coffee.  She felt good about her last couple run-throughs, and now she felt ready to “knock ‘em dead” with her ideas. It was time to go to the meeting.  She picked up her laptop and turned to get her jacket from the back of her chair; not there.  Yikes!  She must have left it hanging on the fence!  She rushed out of her office and down the corridor, headed for the door.  That’s when she saw Mr. Guenther, the president of the company, coming toward her . . . carrying her jacket over his arm.

Mr. Guenther smiled at her, started to speak, and then stopped.  She could see him mentally matching the pants she was wearing to the jacket over his arm.  Realization and bemusement showed in his eyes — he had found the owner of the jacket.  He held it out to her and just smiled.  She returned the smile, took the jacket, said, “Thank you,” and then turned and walked confidently toward the conference room. 

As he watched her walk away, Mr. Guenther wondered why he had found the jacket of his new Director of Human Resources and Benefits hanging on the fence!  But that question could wait for now.  Phoebe was a young woman for whom he had high hopes.  She would be making a presentation to him and the rest of senior management in just a few minutes, and he had a feeling she would have some great ideas for them.  She just seemed like a great idea person. 

However, he did look forward to asking about the jacket later.  He felt sure there must be an interesting story there.

A Fishing Story

July 20, 2008

 I had to write three short stories for my fiction writing class.  Two that I wrote were meant to be funny.  This one was my attempt at writing something serious.  This idea for a story has been floating around in my head for several years, so I was glad to get it down on paper.  However, it wasn’t as well received by my classmates as the funny stories were, so maybe I should stick to humor.


A Fishing Story


Allen’s last memory was of lying on the lumpy twin bed in his efficiency apartment, watching a ballgame on the little black and white TV, while drinking shots of whiskey – lots and lots of shots. 


But now, even with his eyes closed, he knew he wasn’t there anymore.  He could tell he was lying on the ground outdoors.  He could feel the uneven earth and twigs and grass under him, and the smell of damp vegetation was strong. 


Allen cautiously pried his matter-crusted eyes open.  It took them a minute to focus.  But when they did, he realized he was lying on the ground in the middle of a woods.  As he carefully moved his aching head, he could see nothing but trees in every direction.  How had he gotten here? 


Had there been an accident?  Had he driven his car blasted again?  After the last time, when he had almost hit a jogger, he had promised himself he would never drink and then drive again.  But, apparently he had; how else could he have gotten here?


He slowly pushed himself to a sitting position. His eyes came into sharper focus, and his headache even began to go away.  Well, if he had been in an accident, it didn’t feel like he’d been hurt.  He slowly got to his feet and checked himself out – he couldn’t see any cuts or scrapes.  In fact, he was feeling stronger by the minute.  He was surprised that he suddenly felt better than he had in weeks.


So, if he’d had an accident, where was his car?  He stood perfectly still, and listened to see if he could hear any sounds of cars on a nearby road.  He didn’t hear any road sounds, but he did realize there was a sound of rushing water.  He must be near the river close to the house!  He had taken the kids there many times to fish, when he’d still lived at home. 


In his drunken stupor, had he automatically headed for “home?”  “Huh, that’s pathetic,” he said out loud and shook his head.  Marla had made it very clear that he wasn’t welcome there any more, or at least, as she had shouted that last day, “until you grow up and act like a responsible husband and father!”  Well, “old habits die hard,” so maybe he had automatically headed for the place his heart still called home.


Allen looked around again.  He didn’t recognize this part of the woods, so he started walking toward the river.  He would get his bearings from there.


As he walked, the sound of the water grew louder and he thought he could hear voices.  Maybe someone there could give him a ride.


Shortly, he came out of the woods at the river, but it wasn’t the familiar river he had expected.  In fact, it was unlike any river he had ever seen before.  All he could do was just stand there and take in the scene before him.


A large, powerfully-built man stood on the bank methodically casting a line into the rough, fast-moving waters, not appearing distracted by the spray from the churning water, the roar of the falls just a few yards away or the din of voices.  Several men stood silently behind the fisherman watching expectantly.


Suddenly, a strange sensation came over Allen.  He began experiencing thoughts and feelings that weren’t his own, and he knew somehow with certainty that they were coming from the fisherman.  He could suddenly feel the single-minded sense of urgency that the fisherman was feeling.


Allen thought, “He knows how important his task is to the people.  He is the only one who is equipped to do the fishing.  He must do it as fast as he can, before the catch is lost over the falls.” 


It was obvious the fisherman was an expert; he wasted no motion.  But, even when a cast was straight and true, many times the line came back empty.  When that happened, Allen could feel the fisherman’s feelings of regret and sadness.


Allen “knew” as if he’d been told, “There were so many.  If only he could catch them all, but the fisherman knew he couldn’t.  But, he would never waiver in his resolve to catch as many as he could – the people were depending on him.”


As Allen walked closer he realized the voices he had heard were coming from the water!  He stared in awe – it was filled with people, many of them seemingly oblivious to the falls they were being swept toward, and the certainty of death.  Over there, some young girls were actually chatting and enjoying themselves, as if they were taking an afternoon swim, totally ignoring the fisherman.  There, a grumpy-looking older man was so busy criticizing everyone around him, “Quit pushing! Get out of my way!  Keep your voices down!” so that he didn’t even see the lifeline when it was thrown in his direction.   A man Allen recognized as an Olympic swimming champion saw the lifeline but swam away from it toward the falls, depending on his own strength to survive.  There were many who were striving for the lifeline, but some of them lost interest and swam away without grabbing it. 


Over and over the fisherman would throw the lifeline, unerringly, near one of the people and if they grabbed hold, he would quickly pull that one in, and the men standing behind him would welcome them and wrap them in a warm, beautiful white robe.  Then that person would join the group gathered behind the men that Allen now saw was a huge throng of white-robed people – men, women and children – of every age, color and nationality, all praying and singing songs of praise, and watching expectantly for the next “catch” to join them.  The glow from so many assembled white robes hurt Allen’s eyes it was so bright, and the songs they sang were the most beautiful he had ever heard.


He suddenly understood.  He knew this Fisherman.  He was the “Fisher of Men” Allen had learned about in Sunday school.  But, why was Allen seeing and feeling all this?  Was he dead?  Was this Heaven?  If he was in Heaven, why didn’t he have a white robe and why wasn’t he part of the singing throng?


He turned back toward the river and looked at the people in the water again, and he realized that he knew many of the people there.  There was Aunt Millie, there was Dr. Bateman, there, there was — his family!  He watched with tears in his eyes as the Fisherman pulled Marla and then James and then Maddy to shore.  Allen was overwhelmed with feelings of thankfulness and joy that his family was all saved.


At that moment, for the first time, the Fisherman turned and looked Allen directly in the eye.  He didn’t say anything, but Allen felt a powerful emotion in those eyes specifically involving him.  Was it regret or was it relief?  He couldn’t tell.  Then the Fisherman turned back to his task. 


Next the Fisherman threw the line to a man struggling to stay afloat.    The rushing water swept him closer.  Now Allen could see the face – it was him!  The Fisherman cast the lifeline toward the thrashing man.  At first, he didn’t see it.  Then he saw it, but he seemed confused and unsure whether to grab it or not. He was going to miss it! Allen wanted to yell, “Grab the lifeline!  Grab hold – it’s your only chance – don’t you see the falls?”  But he couldn’t make a sound.  All he could do was watch helplessly.  And then, at the last possible second, he saw himself reach up toward the lifeline.  He could feel the muscles in his arms stretching to reach the line — but he was almost past it, in a second it would be out of reach! He tried stretching even harder one more time – he could feel every muscle in his body painfully straining, trying to reach the lifeline before he was swept over the falls.  Just a few more inches — reach! – reach!  And then . . . .


Allen awoke with a start.  He was bathed in cold sweat.  He had spilled the rest of whiskey on the tattered, thin blanket on the bed, so there was a nauseatingly sweet smell of sweat mixed with booze.  The ball game must be over; an infomercial was on now.  And then he was shocked when he looked at the travel clock on the wobbly little table and it said 5:36 a.m.!  It was morning!  He must have passed out and slept through the night.  It had been a dream. Thank you, God, it had been a dream.


He jumped up and grabbed the phone.  He knew Marla and the kids would be sleeping, but he was filled with such a powerful need to talk to them and care for them and love them that he couldn’t wait to call – he had to do it now!


Marla answered on the third ring.  Hello,” she whispered in her husky, just woke up, voice.


“Marla, it’s Allen.  I’m sorry to call so early but I have to talk to you right away.”


Marla was instantly, fully awake.  “Allen, what’s the matter?  What’s wrong?  Has something happened to you?”


Allen said, “No, Marla.  Nothing’s wrong.  In fact, I feel really good.  And, before you ask, no, I’m not drunk.  I have something really important to tell you.  Can I please come over?” 




“Marla, please listen.  I finally feel like I can give up my ‘whiskey crutch’ and, if you’ll give me another chance, I know now I’m ready to be the husband and father you and the kids deserve.” 


Still silence; and then, a sound of teary, uneven breathing.


Softly, “Marla?”


Marla cleared her throat and regained her composure, “Allen, I can’t tell you how much I want to believe those words.  How many times I have prayed for you to say those words.  But, I’m so afraid to hope.  Please don’t say them if you don’t really mean them.”


“Mar, I mean them with all my heart.  I suddenly feel an overwhelming need to heal my relationships — with you and the kids, and with God.  If you will take me on as a ‘project’ just one more time, I promise I’ll work and love and pray and appreciate with every fiber in my body.


Again, there was silence.  Maybe it was too late.  Maybe he had tested Marla’s love one too many times. 


Finally, Marla said, with a first glimmer of hope in her voice, “Okay.  Come for lunch.  The kids will be at your mom’s, so we can talk.  I will not give them false hope before we’ve talked this out.  If you’re going to come home, I want it to be for good.  They need their daddy so bad, but I don’t want them just to have you back for a little while – it has to be all or nothing.”


Relief and hope flooded Allen.  “That’s what I want too, Marla.  I’ll be there at noon.  Good-bye. . . . Wait!  Just one more thing.  Marla, even through all this, I never stopped loving you.  Do you believe me?”


“Yes, even with all that’s happened, I’ve always known you love me, and I’ve always loved you.  And, it’s only because I know that that I think there might be hope for us.  We’ll talk when you get here, Allen.”


 “Okay, I’ll be there.  Oh, and, Marla, let’s take a walk down by the river after lunch, okay?   I have a fishing story I’d like to tell you.” 




A Waiting Murder

May 4, 2008

They watched in silence, by design blending with their surroundings, unnoticed by the passing motorists.  They were waiting for the perfect time to make their move.

It was early in the day and there was a steady flow of traffic — too much activity for them to do anything but watch — too dangerous now.  But, they were patient.  Their time would come.

And then, when the sun was high in the sky, the traffic gradually stopped and they were alone with their prey.

The murder of crows swooped down from the high branches of the trees where they had been waiting and had their mid-day meal of road kill, in leisure.  They would be safely back in the trees before the going-home traffic on the road started (and, with any luck, supplied another meal!). 

Inspired by a conversation I had with “multi-pierced and tatooed girl”  who sits next to me in my writing class.  She gave me her latest story to read called, “The Murder.”  It involved “a flock” of crows that she told me are sometimes called “a murder.”

Whinin’ Time in Indiana

March 26, 2008

In my writing class a couple weeks ago, I didn’t have a good day.  I was unprepared for the quiz (I had forgotten what an icky feeling it is to be unprepared for a test).  Then I had a little problem hearing when a soft spoken young girl read her story in class, which made me feel just plain OLD.  And, as  a topper, I felt Dr. H was just a smidge sharp with me when I asked where the draft of my story was that I had turned in last week.  (Full-time students have on-campus mail boxes, so everyone else received theirs back that way.) The way he said that I must not have checked my home mailbox, because he had mailed it to me and it should have arrived the day before, made me feel somehow remiss that I hadn’t known that it was coming that way (I think he assumed I would know).

On my way home, in terrible snowy weather, requiring white-knuckle driving, I had just a good old fashioned pity party for myself.  I was thinking,  “I don’t belong in this writing class. . . .I should ask if I could get some of my money back. . . .These kids are way out of my league. . . .This Prof doesn’t really like having an ‘old’ student.”  Whine. Whine. Whine.

When I got home I didn’t go to the mail box right away because I didn’t think it would help my “funk” if the paper was there, and his comments weren’t kind.  But, later when I was feeling better (because Hubby had listened and sympathized), Hubby went out to get the mail.

My paper was there and Dr. H had made very constructive comments on it.  And, at the end, he had written, “Thank you for reading your story in class.  You are a wonderful addition to this class!”

Immediately, an amazing transformation occurred.  Just those few kind words turned my whole day around.  I hope he really does like having me in the class, because his comments have motivated me to stay with it “for the long haul.”

I tell you this story because I think all of us need to be reminded once in a while what power there is in a few kind words.

P.S. I’m mailing that first story today to the magazine contest we are required to enter with each of our three stories.  I haven’t shown it to you here because the instructions for the contest say stories must be “previously unpublished” and I’m afraid they might consider writing it on my blog “published.”  Once it’s through at the magazine though, I’ll definitely post it here, because I have to say I am kind of proud of it.  I have learned so much from this first story, especially how a story evolves from draft to draft.  Whether I never write another story, or I write a hundred more, I will always remember the thrill of mailing out this first completed story!

P.S.S.  Wouldn’t it be funny if  some day I found out that Hubby took a pen with him to the mail box, and that the kind comments “from Dr. H” were written by Hubby! 

Does A Writing Class Necessarily Need to Make You a Good Writer?

March 17, 2008


A point to ponder.

I am now reading a collection of short stories by Ernest Hemingway that Gunny sent me because he is a fan of Hemingway’s writing.

It has occurred to me that maybe what I will get out of this Fiction Writing class isn’t an ability to be a writer myself, but the ability to appreciate good writing in others.

I don’t ever remember reading a Hemingway book.  So, maybe I have finally “grown up” so that I can appreciate his writing. 

A very interesting, unexpected turn of events that I would never have predicted when I signed up for a writing class.

I Need to Learn Russian

February 29, 2008

Well, I’m on the cusp of submitting my first short story in my fiction writing class.  And, as with all good classes, I’m learning multiple things, some about myself.

I know you’ll be as surprised as I was when I realized that I am a little bit wordy!  Big shock here.  Do you mean that most people who blog don’t routinely have posts that are over 1,000 words?  How do they say what they’re thinking?  I have to tell you, I think, and speak, in long, rambling, multiple-subject sentences.  So, of course, I write like that too.

Well, this fiction writing class is trying to break me of that!  Let me tell you my sorry little saga of this first story, as an example.

I had the idea for the story, and had started working on it, but now we’re in the home stretch (rough drafts due next week), so a few days ago I sat down and just did marathon typing.  I didn’t pay any attention to word count because I just wanted to get a complete draft on paper.  So, when I finally had a beginning, middle and end, I looked at the word count.  It was 3,500 words.  I then went to find the instructions for the assignment, so that I could know where I stood in comparison to how many words my story needed (I certainly didn’t want it to be too short.  But, what are the chances of that.  Right?). 

Ahh, there were the rules for the contest our stories would be entered in.  Fiction — maximum 3,000 words.  Oh. Oh. I was going to have to do a little “pruning.”  But then the deadline for that contest caught my eye — January 30.  Hmmm. That was past.  That must not be the contest our professor meant.  I looked down the list — Romance, Horror/Ghost, Science Fiction/Fantasy — ahh, this would be the one — Short Story, deadline May 30.  And, let’s see, how many words — 2,000!  Wow.  That must be the reason they call them SHORT stories — I have grocery lists longer than that. 

So, for the last two days, Hubby and I have been doing major surgery on that story.  In fact we’ve done so much cutting, I feel we are now perfectly qualified to do any upcoming brain surgery you may need.  And, I’m sure our rates will be very attractive when you compare them to those of the guys with all the degrees.

So, this is the reason I need to learn Russian.  I don’t think I’m cut out to write little skinny, concise books like, The Ten Minute Manager or Who Moved My Cheese.  No, I’ve decided that Dr. Zhivago is more my style.  Looooong, rambling sentences, that you might have to read several times to grasp all the complex ideas, all clustered in never-ending, verbose paragraphs.

So, I think this morning I’ll have to call around and see when the next Russian class starts at one of the local colleges.  But, in the meantime, essen gut.  Oh, wait a minute — that’s German.  Well I guess that would work just as well.  I remember a time when I met a German man . . . .

I THINK I Read That Book . . .

February 15, 2008

. . . in the ’60’s!

In my fiction writing class, Dr. H talks for most of the two and a half hours.  That may sound like it would be boring, but that’s certainly not the case with Dr. H.  He is fascinating.  He has read and can recount in detail (and wonderfully acts out scenes from) every book known to Man — or, at least, that’s the way it seems to me.  And, naturally, books and authors, with an occasional movie thrown in, are most of what he talks about — plot, setting, characters, structure, dialogue — what makes the story succeed.

He will name a book and then say, “Who has read that?”  I will immediately start back through my memories, trying to think if I’ve read it.  “Hmmm. Well, maybe I did 40 years ago, or was it that I saw the movie, or did I just hear a lot of talk about it  (OR am I thinking of another book with a similar plot !) . . .”  but by the time I’ve done that, he’s moved on and pointed at someone who did raise their hand and asks them a question about the plot, like how the book ends!  (Certainly not something you can “bluff.”)

So, during the break in Tuesday’s class, I approached Dr H and told him (because I was afraid that by this time he was thinking, “This woman hasn’t read ANYTHING!”) that I was reluctant to raise my hand if I wasn’t absolutely sure I had read the book.  And, what I was thinking but didn’t say was, I feared that if I did raise my hand, he might look at me and say, “describe the ending,” and what if I couldn’t remember the ending, or remembered it wrong!  So, hopefully, I’ve convinced him I have cracked a book or two in my 61 years, it’s just that many of the ones he talks about are classics that if I read them it would have been during my school days, a looooong time ago.  I ended the conversation by saying, “Remember, when you ask about a certain book, the other people in the class probably only have to go back through 5 or 6 years of memory — while I have to go back through 45 years of memory!” (I’m assuming most people start their serious reading at 15 or 16).  I have no idea what he thought of that conversation, but I felt better just having had it.

I have started a reading list of the books he talks about because, even if I did read them once in the far, far past, he has renewed my interest and I would like to read them now — A Farewell to Arms, Murder on the Orient Express, Grapes of Wrath, The Good Earth, On The Beach . . .

Dr. H, himself, has written over 50 books (and lectures at writing seminars, by the way).  So, he not only uses other writers’ works for examples, but also his own.  This week, he read two descriptions of New York City — one he had written from the viewpoint of a starry-eyed young woman new to the city, and one from the viewpoint of a jaded cop looking for a killer.  His point was that the writer helps set the mood for the scene by how he describes the setting. 

He also gave an example of how an author’s own style influences how they describe something, by reading two descriptions of drought, first by Pearl Buck in The Good Earth and then so differently, but just as eloquently, by John Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath.

I could go on and on, and probably make your eyes cross, but I really am finding all of this very fascinating.

And, now that I’ve had a chance to tell Dr. H that my intentions are “pure” even if my memory is “murky,” I will still not hold up my hand unless I’m absolutely positive that I know how the book ends, because I have a genuine fear of looking foolish to this class of “whipper snappers” to a degree that I am sure I would not have with a class of my peers.  Go figure.


February 6, 2008

One of the first rules of self defense is never let yourself become surrounded.  So, how had I let this happen? 

Maybe it was because they gathered slowly, one or two here and then a few more there.  And suddenly I realized I was surrounded by people who definitely weren’t like me.  

Now, my stomach is uneasy and my palms are damp.  I’m feeling unsure of myself, and I’m second guessing the decisions that brought me to this spot at this time.

They don’t act like their attention is honing in on me, but I sense glances in my direction.  I feel an undercurrent of whispers and wonder if they are about me.

Survival instincts have me looking for an escape route before, I imagine, they can morph from a disorganized crowd to a single-minded gang that could easily turn on me, the outsider.  But, as I glance around I realize there is no escape route.  I am surrounded and will have to stay put for now.

There are lots of similarities in the manner of dress in the crowd, the kind of similarities, I imagine, that could possibly be seen in a gang!

Then I sense someone new close-by — there is no question that the person who has just arrived is the leader.  Obviously older, his confident swagger labels him as someone accustomed to being in charge — accustomed to others listening to what he says. 

He starts to talk and all other conversation stops and all turn to listen.  I’m still uneasy and have a quick thought that all it would take for my worst fears to be realized would be for him to give the word to “reject the outsider!” and it would be all over for me.

But, as he starts to speak, he seems calm, reasonable, articulate.  And, what he’s saying doesn’t even mention me!  I begin to relax.  Maybe I’ve misjudged this crowd.  Maybe they don’t see it as a bad thing to have an obvious outsider in their midst. 

By the time the leader finishes his rapid-fire, mesmerizing talk, an escape route seems less necessary to me.  Surprising myself, I have become much less anxious about the people who surround me, as well as their leader, and I’m not as eager to get away from them. 

By the end, some of the crowd have actually introduced themselves to me and ask me questions about myself that seem to indicate a beginning of acceptance.  Maybe this is a crowd I could even enjoy being around!  To my relief, they seem nice and possibly willing to include me, even though they and I obviously have major differences in our lifestyle and perspective.

Remarkably, this was an experience that started out with much apprehension for me, but has turned out very well in the end.  I may even have to come back to this spot again in hopes of running into some of my newfound friends again.  In fact, I think I’ll come back to this exact same spot at the exact same time next week, and see if they’re here.  I’m surprisingly looking forward to that prospect.  And, besides, I think their leader is a very knowledgable character, who I’m pretty sure would be interesting to listen to on a regular basis.  I can see why he’s a leader.

The End

Thus went my first day of Fiction Writing class at the local Christian college, as the only student in the class over the age of 25.