World’s Biggest Chew Toy?

Maximus, 2017

 

My dog, Max (Maximus) will be nine in December. This story may or may not have taken place exactly as described, about eight years ago.

World’s Biggest Chew Toy?

When my husband finally walked in the door three hours after his usual arrival time, I didn’t greet him with a smile and a kiss, but instead accused, “You’re late.”

 

“I said I’d be a bit late, when I called” he replied, with his usual Midwestern calm. “There was a problem and I lost track of things.”

 

“Three hours is not a bit,” I snarked. “Twenty minutes is a bit. Three hours is unacceptably late.”

 

“What’s really wrong?” He could always see right through my behavior.

 

“Everything I write is crap,” I said. “And my column is due tomorrow. I forgot to pay my cell phone bill and it cost seventy-five dollars to get it reinstated.  I ruined dinner and I’m too tired to cook anything new, and your dog ate my t-shirt.”  I was in tears by the time I finished my litany, but my husband was smirking. “Stop laughing! It’s NOT funny!”

 

“Not to you,” he said. Then after a beat he added, “Come here.”

 

“You were late.” I pointed out. “You come here.”

 

He crossed the room and pulled me into his arms. The tears started flowing again, but he just held me and let me cry out my frustration.  After a few minutes, I felt calmer, and I lifted my head from his chest.

 

“Better now?” he asked.

 

“A bit,” The faintest teasing note colored my tone.

 

He kissed me on the forehead, and then peppered my lips with tiny bunny kisses. I smiled in spite of myself, then began kissing him back. The mood was beginning to shift to something more passionate when there was a canine shriek from outside.

 

“Where’s the dog?” my husband asked, only just registering the lack of a canine presence.

 

“Out in the yard,” I said. “I was afraid I might do something horrible to him.”

 

“You wouldn’t have,” my husband said. “You love your dog, but we should go see what he’s up to.”

 

We walked hand-in-hand through the house and out to the yard. He pulled the door open, and I yelled, “Maxwell, come!”

 

There was no response.

 

“Max! C’mere Monster Dog!”

 

A scuffling noise , closely followed by a frustrated growl, came from the side of the house.

 

“Maximus, come!” My husband had to try.

 

“Looks like we go to him,” I said. I went back inside to grab a handful of treats and we went to investigate the latest doggy disaster.

 

Max, our big, spotted, mutt, was playing tug with the brick veneer at the corner of the house. The porch light highlighted the crumbled bits of mortar on the ground.

 

“Maximus, stop that!” I ordered, as my husband yelled for the dog to come now!.

 

Max trotted over, a chunk of dusty, red brick in his mouth, and a smug expression on his doggy face. He dropped the brick at my feet and sat, waiting expectantly for his treat.

 

I wanted to throttle him, but my husband sensed that, and said, “Good sit, Maxwell.”

 

I tossed a treat, and Maximus caught it effortlessly.

 

“C’mon, Max,” I said, and we went back inside.

 

“Crate him, and I’ll take you out for sushi,” my husband offered.

 

“Deal,” I said. I ordered Maxwell to bed, and accepted his slurpy kisses before locking the door and feeding him another treat.

 

Later that evening, over sushi and plum wine, I quipped, “You know, when the shelter people warned us that this dog would eat us out of house and home, I didn’t think they meant it literally.”

 

My husband merely laughed and poured more wine.

 

 

 

 

 

Flash-Fiction: Oskar and Harmony

 

 

Copyright: <a href='https://www.123rf.com/profile_vukvuk'>vukvuk / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

This is an unfinished piece written just before dinner last night. I was working on something different, but related, and this is what happened instead.

 

His arrival was always heralded by raindrops.

He would open with a tease, a tickle. Just a tiny hint of drizzle. If she didn’t immediately rise to meet him, he’d turn up the waterworks, make them into a soaking rain over the place in the sea where sirens dwelt between gigs.

Harmony would lift her face and arms into the cascade of bubbles, give a flick of her tail, and twist and turn in the newly oxygenated water. It was common knowledge that sea creatures got a little giddy during rainstorms, after all.

Spiraling upward through the frothy water, she would break the surface just in time to catch phase three of his greeting to her: a single arc of lightning that sent electricity humming through every fiber of her being.

And there he’d be, floating on a mattress of soft fog, just above the peaks and troughs of her beloved waves, her man. Her god. Oskar. Today he was sporting hair and a beard that matched the slate and granite colors of the rocks that formed her favorite jetty, and eyes that were the same bruised-purple as the sky before a storm.

They didn’t talk much, when they were above. His voice was the sound of a sledge-hammer, booming and forceful. It made the waves break far from shore and scattered fish in all directions.

As to her voice. Harmony was a mermaid. A siren. Her voice was meant to lure sailors to their watery deaths. When she used it on Oskar, she was never sure if he was staying with her because he wanted to, or because her voice was somehow compelling him.

Then again, when they were nested together on his bed of fog, they didn’t really need to speak to communicate, especially once they’d determined how thick the bed had to be before it was considered ‘land’ by the elemental magic that allowed her to split her tail into legs.

But when they were in her world, below the waves, then it was a different story. Her voice had no power over him when they were beneath the waves. And his…

Have you ever been swimming and been surprised by a thunderstorm, or been diving and felt a motorboat go by? That’s a taste of the way Harmony experienced Oskar’s voice underwater: feeling it more than hearing it. It was tangible, a physical grumble that was best appreciated when one of them was draped over the other.

Harmony had never planned to fall in love with a thunder god. The bird and fish who fell in love had it easy compared to Oskar and herself. But when they were together, when she was wrapped in his arms, and he rumbled sweet words to her or she felt his joyous laughter, she knew it was worth figuring out.

100 Days of Notecards – 2017 edition

100Notecards-Day000

Almost every year between the summer solstice (today!) and my birthday (August 17th, I like bath stuff, coffee paraphernalia, perfume, and funky jewelry. I don’t like blank journals.) I end up descending into a creative slump.

With the Dog Days of Podcasting coming at the beginning of August, and my rule that I have to do something productive and something creative every day (and yes, sometimes they are one and the same) I thought it would be wise to start generating ideas for the daily podcast and other writing.

A few years ago, I participated in The !00 Day Project, where lots of people pledged to engage in an act of daily making (whether that was art or something else) and document it on Instagram. I took a break in the middle, but overall I really enjoyed the project.

Last summer,or… maybe it was the summer before… I tried to do 100 Days of cooking, but kept forgetting to take pictures, so while it was a tasty project, it wasn’t a terribly useful one.

This year, I’m doing notecards again.

I’ve got a bunch of 3×5 post-its, because after I snap the picture of my notecards, they go on the front of the fridge for anyone who visits my house to read. (The visual aspect also helps me keep going, because I get a kick out of the brightly colored notecards slowly taking over the stainless steel of my fridge.)

So I’ve started again. Today.

The rules:
100 Days.
100 Notecards.
1 sentence, scene, or snippet of dialogue per card.

Enjoy!

Great Writing Requires an Awesome Hat

Awesome Hats

This piece originally ran as part of my Sunday Brunch column in All Things Girl on 12 January 2014.

A few days ago, I made a post on Facebook about how while most of the country had been in the throes of a polar vortex which made temperatures plunge into the sub-zero ranges, I had been in the throes of a writing vortex. I gave the credit for my recent habit of writing in excess of 5,000 words a day to a green hat my friend Jeremy made for me several years ago.

It’s true that this particular hat has been my headgear of choice this winter, but it’s not the first “writing hat” I’ve ever had. It’s also true that was not my first-ever writing vortex, but it’s the longest, most productive such period I’ve had in probably a decade, and that includes at least four successful completions of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).

For me, both the hats and the vortices began with Jo March, my favorite character from Little Women, which I read for the first time when I was six. At first my mother read the chapters aloud to me at bedtime, but eventually I grew impatient to know what came next, and I improved my reading ability so I could find out. That was the last book we read together in that way; now we just trade books back and forth.

In any case, the image of Jo with her special writing clothes on, scribbling away in her attic atelier, is one that instantly entranced me, and I’ve been using my own form of writerly cos-play to keep the muse active ever since. Sometimes that includes whole outfits; but mostly it involves hats.

My first writing hat was a black velvet beret, big enough for me to tuck all my hair into (at a time when I had long hair, even) and adorned by a red bow. At least, it had a red bow until the bow fell off, and after that I decorated it with a succession of funky pins – gold stars, silver fairies, a bar pin featuring a jazz trio – things of that ilk. I wore that hat forever, and not just to write. It was a trusty friend through my high school and college years, until I finally killed it by accidentally melting it to death with a curling iron.

In retrospect, the curling iron vandalism might have been a sort of homage to Jo March as well, albeit an unintentional one.

My second writing hat was also black and velvet, but this time it was a baseball cap. I love baseball caps because when my hair is long enough for a pony-tail, I can stick it through the gap above the adjustment tab. This one was pretty plain, but I jazzed it up with a giant dragon-fly pin. Once, I wore it to work (it was a hat-friendly workplace) and my supervisor looked at it and said, “That dragon-fly is scary. And awesome. Carry on.”

I still have that hat, but I don’t really wear it to write any more, mostly because my hair is too short for a pony-tail, but partly because that dragon-fly pin is really heavy.

When I was performing with the Dallas ComedySportz troupe several years ago, I shifted my usual headgear from hats to bandannas – do-rags in the current parlance – collecting them in a wide variety of colors and styles. My favorites include a black one with lavender and green dragon-flies, and a white one with black and gold paisley patterns. I like these “kerchiefs,” as my grandmother would have called them, because they keep my hair out of my face without hurting my scalp (like a too-tight or too-heavy pony-tail can) or being too hot or heavy. I also like them because they make pirate fantasies much more accessible, but that’s another story.

So, why am I now wearing a green hat that can be a watch cap or a beret? Well, first, my friend made it for me, and I miss his daily presence in my life, so this hat is a connection to another very cool, creative person. The other reason is that, until yesterday, it’s been legitimately cold here in Texas (and not just in a cold-for-Texas kind of way – it was 23 degrees earlier this week.), and when you keep your head warm, you retain your body heat. It’s never been a secret that I like to have cool air when I sleep, but when I’m awake and writing, I prefer to be comfortably warm, and the hat has helped keep me that way.

Unlike Jo March in her garret, I don’t use the position of my hat to signal the state of my muse or telegraph my mood, but the presence (or absence) of some kind of headgear absolutely alerts my husband to whether or not my “genius is burning.”

Can great writing be accomplished without an awesome hat? Of course.

But wearing a hat, and channeling a favorite character (even if it’s a character of your own creation) makes writing – great or not – a lot more fun.

“Every few weeks she would shut herself up in her room, put on her scribbling suit, and “fall into a vortex” as she expressed it, writing away at her novel with all her heart and soul, for till that was finished she could find no peace. Her “scribbling suit” consisted of a black woolen pinafore on which she could wipe her pen at will, and a cap of the same material, adorned with a cheerful red bow, into which she bundled her hair when the decks were cleared for action. This cap was a beacon to the inquiring eyes of her family, who during these periods kept their distance, merely popping in their heads semi-occasionally, to ask, with interest, “Does genius burn, Jo?” They did not always venture even to ask this question, but took an observation of the cap, and judged accordingly. If this expressive article of dress was drawn low upon the forehead, it was a sign that hard work was going on; in exciting moments it was pushed rakishly askew; and when despair seized the author it was plucked wholly off, and cast upon the floor. At such times the intruder silently withdrew; and not until the red bow was seen gaily erect upon the gifted brow, did any one dare address Jo.”

~ Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

Counting the Days

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I’m not feeling the Christmas spirit. I could blame the severe hypothyroid condition which is sapping all my energy, or the cold I have on top of it, which is just exacerbating the situation, but whatever the reason, I’m just not feeling the magic.

My tree stands in the dining room window, lit, but naked, as if it’s tottered in drunk from the cold, unsure of whether or not it really belong here, and of what might have happened to its shoes, or, for that matter its pants.

I’ve mostly decorated the mantle with my motley crew of Victorian Santas, but it feels like they’re mocking me this year. Like they aren’t interested in anything except being tucked away safely between layers of tissues and bubble wrap, waiting for next year, when I might be in the mood again.

Maybe it’s the political climate that has me feeling this way, like I’m caught in some kind of limbo.

Maybe it’s the Texas weather, chill, grey, murky, but with no sign of precipitation coming any time soon.

Or maybe it’s just me.

Who knows.

I started Holidailies wanting to write fun stories about holiday magic and everyday magic, and I haven’t written in over week. I wanted to do a podcast project with a bunch of other Doggies from The Dog Days of Podcasting, but I feel like there’s no point because I don’t have anything new or interesting to offer.

My characters whisper to me, ever more insistently, to progress their stories, and I just tune them out.

I’m not depressed, at least, not clinically.

I’m just tired. And feeling stale and burnt out.

The cold ashes of a two-days-past fire.

And even opening the doors on the advent calendar isn’t helping this year.

So, I’m counting the days to something new.

I don’t know if 2017 will be better or worse (dear God, I hope it’s better), but at least it will be different

Won’t it?

Just Like Us?

Copyright: arinahabich / 123RF Stock Photo

“Mom! Harry’s chewing with his mouth open again!”

“Harry, mind your manners. Becky, stop tattling on your brother.”

“But Mom!” both children chorused, their voices utterly failing to harmonize.

“I couldn’t help it,” Harry said. “I got a toe caught under my tongue.”

“Yeah, that’s what you always say,” Becky countered. She mimicked him. “I got a hand caught in my tooth. There was hair in the back of my throat.” She rolled her eyes skyward. “You’re eight hundred not eighty. LEARN TO CHEW!!!”

“Stop picking on me!” Harry roared back. “You almost got caught during your Haunting last night. Charlie told me that Mara told him you tickled a Child’s Foot and she kicked you!”

Becky’s eyes – all five of them – went all slitty and her nose squinched up and her face deepened to an almost-forest green. “Don’t you dare tell Mom about that. Don’t even think about it.”

Harry’s voice was only a soft roar when he said, “I’m sorry, Becky.”

Both of the young monsters were quiet for a bit, as they picked up Human Cookies and dunked them in their Curdled Milk, and then ate them.

“So, I heard Charlie wants to dress as a Child for Halloween.” Becky said after a bit. It was clearly a peace offering. “I was thinking we could come up with something even scarier for you.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah,” Becky grinned, showing off her rows of sharp, gleaming, recently unstraightened teeth. “I think you should go as an Adult.”

“That’s not so scary.”

“A Human Adult.”

Harry couldn’t help giggling, which meant his sister got a lovely view of partially masticated cookie and frosting.

“Mom! He’s doing it again!”

 

 

Sunday Brunch: The Ghosts We Choose

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I’m cheating a little with this post, because I’m really just providing an excerpt to this month’s Sunday Brunch column over at Modern Creative Life.

Here’s the excerpt:

A bottle of Clinique make-up, left in the medicine cabinet in my guest bathroom, smells like clay, but it also smells like Halloween, 1976, when my mother costumed me as Pocahontas and used her normal color to darken my fairer skin. (Cultural appropriation wasn’t a hot topic, back then, but even if it had been, my costume was an homage, not a mockery.)

Forty years later, that scent is so closely associated with my mother that when I see her and she no longer carries that aroma (because she’s long since changed her make-up routine), I have to stop and remind myself that she’s the same woman who bore me, raised me, and whose opinion is still, always, vitally important.

And here’s the link to the complete piece. Sunday Brunch: The Ghosts We Choose

Let ‘Em In? No way!

Paul McCartney and Wings - Let 'Em In

 

Someone’s knockin’ at the door
Somebody’s ringin’ the bell
Someone’s knockin’ at the door
Somebody’s ringin’ the bell
Do me a favor
Open the door and let ’em in

I am nine years old and in the fourth grade, and I am already on my way to becoming nocturnal, but it’s not because I’m afraid of the dark and try to wait for dawn before I sleep (that comes later, and only infrequently).

No, it’s because I have a vivid imagination and a mind like a steel trap (my mother says) and I remember things at the most inconvenient times.

For example, two years ago, I was on this kick where I was reading a lot of The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries, and even though none of them were particularly scary, there was this one line that made me afraid of my own bedroom. “Frank! Look! The room has no floor!”

The truth was that the house they were investigating had a room where the whole floor was an elevator, and so all the furniture was bolted to the walls. Not a problem, except that in our apartment above my mother’s store, my desk was built in, and my carpet was blood red, and at night I couldn’t see the floor.

I am only seven, so it doesn’t occur to me that my bed and nightstand are not bolted to the floor, so I make a point of leaving socks and things in a trail from the bedroom door to the bathroom door. Just in case.

Sister Suzie, brother John
Martin Luther, Phil and Don
Brother Michael, auntie Gin
Open the door and let ’em in, yeah

I am ten years old and the show PM Magazine, the one with Chef Tell, is running a show about how Paul McCartney is really dead, and if you play the Beatles’ records backwards there are all these codes and stuff recorded in the layers of the tracks, and he was barefoot on that one album cover, and the license plate on the car said 28 IF.

My mother insists that Paul McCartney isn’t really dead, or a ghost, or whatever, that he’s really just hiding in some other country (Japan? I think? Or Australia??) because of drugs, and he’s got this band called Wings.

I want to believe her, but I don’t want to believe her because the spooky story is fun.

But late at night when I can’t sleep, especially if my mother and her husband have been fighting, I turn on my white clock-radio – my first grown-up radio – and listen to the pop station, and while I kind of like it when Eddie Rabbitt sings “I Love a Rainy Night,” when Paul McCartney and Wings sing “Let ’em In,” the scratchy part of his voice makes me not want to turn out the light or go to sleep.

Someone’s knockin’ at the door
Somebody’s ringin’ the bell

I am sixteen, and I hate going to sleep, because I can’t avoid nightmares, even though I have nothing, really, to be stressed about. I’ve given up listening to music to help me sleep, because it doesn’t, and switched to talk radio. My usual MO is to keep the volume super-low so that I have to strain to hear it, and the act of straining makes me tired and I fall asleep.

But lately I’ve become hooked on the Larry King radio show, and tonight Robert Englund, who plays Freddy Krueger, is on his show and when people call in he talks to them in Freddy’s voice. I want to sneak out of my room and call in, but the hallway is dark and my parents are sleeping, and bed is safe, right?

Someone’s knockin’ at the door
Somebody’s ringin’ the bell

I am thirty-eight years old, and I’m home alone with my two dogs, Zorro and Miss Cleo, because Fuzzy is on a business trip in Florida. Two days before, the first stick showed a pink plus sign and the second one blinked “pregnant” at me, and I freaked out a little, but I was so happy. But earlier tonight I started cramping and spotting, and I called my friend Kathy to come hang out with me – she and Scott both came and made me laugh and distracted me.

Fuzzy will be home late in the morning, and we’ll go to the doctor, but right now, I’m alone and I’m scared I’ve miscarried and equally frightened that I didn’t, and just as I’m falling asleep, Miss Cleo growls at nothing. I’m pretty sure she’s dreaming, but she sleeps with her eyes open, so I’m never sure.

(I did miscarry.)

Do me a favor
Open the door and let ’em in

I am forty-six years old, but I’m also still seven and nine and ten and sixteen and thirty-eight, and there are nights when, even though my husband is sleeping peacefully beside me, and our dogs (different dogs now: Perry, Max, Teddy, and Piper) are also sleeping, that I can’t fall asleep because I keep falling into nightmares, so I read on my kindle and wait for dawn.

Or I wake up Fuzzy, because I’m terrified of something I dreamed, even though I don’t remember what it was, and  he holds me until I’m calm, and understands that I can’t talk about it until the magic of morning takes it all away.

And in the back of my head, that creepy Paul McCartney song is always playing.

Someone’s knockin’ at the door
Somebody’s ringin’ the bell
Someone’s knockin’ at the door
Somebody’s ringin’ the bell
Do me a favor
Open the

 

Short Story: Under Glass

 

SFO CoffinWhen Joe had finally agreed to spend the first weeks of his retirement remodeling their house, he’d assumed that Molly meant redoing the kitchen, adding the island she’d always wanted, and increasing the cabinet space. He’d never expected that he’d be renting heavy equipment and hiring contractors to demolish the garage in order to expand it and add a second story with mother-in-law quarters.

He’d never expected that he’d be working with the guys he’d hired to haul away chunks of the cement that had formerly been the garage floor, or dig out a new basement.

He’d certainly never expected to find a small, sealed coffin under the layers of mud and sand and concrete.

A coffin that still held a body.

Actually, it reminded him of that fairy-tale his daughter had loved when she was younger. The one about the girl in the glass casket. The one who wakes up when the prince kisses her.

Except…

Except this coffin wasn’t made of glass. Instead, it was formed from lead and bronze, with a pair of diamond-shaped glass windows set into the top. And it was old. Decades at least. Maybe centuries.

Except this girl, the one inside the box, wasn’t an adolescent on the cusp of womanhood. Rather the pale face he saw centered in the top window, the one framed by jet-black curls adorned with a bit of lace, was cherub-cheeked and babyish, and he didn’t think she’d been a day over three when she died.

Funny, she didn’t look dead.

She looked for all the world as though she’d just been tucked in for an afternoon nap, the dark eyelashes of her closed eyes resting against the soft skin of those adorable cheeks. Those pinch-able cheeks.

“You have such fat, pink, cheeks, Gracie. I’m going to eat you up!” Joe bounced his five-year-old daughter on his knee, laughing with the child as she giggled. “I’m going to stuff an apple in your mouth, and roast you in the oven,” he teased.

Gracie howled with little-girl laughter, understanding that her father was only teasing, and demanding to know, “What else are you gonna do to me, Daddy?”

“I’m going to wrap you up so tight…” This was their bedtime routine. Molly was in charge of bath time and pajamas, but Joe handled Storytime and tucking in.

“Night-night, Daddy.”

“G’night, Gracie.”

But Gracie wasn’t a little girl anymore. She was twenty, off studying at Tulane, with father-daughter bedtime stories far behind her.

Still, Joe thought, his own daughter had once looked just like this child when she was sleeping. Peaceful. Innocent. A little girl taking her afternoon nap.

Only the white rose clutched in her tiny fist told a different story. The white rose and the nameplate on the foot of the box. He reached out with a gloved hand to rub the grime away: Edith, it read. No last name.

Poor kid.

He stared down at the girl under glass for a few more minutes, before he realized that the sun had gone down, and the men he’d found waiting outside Home Depot at six AM on Tuesday, the same men who had found their own ride out to his place for the two days since, had already jumped in their truck and gone home.

He really ought to call someone.

He really shouldn’t just leave her there, in the open. What if some kid wandered in? What would the neighbors think?

Joe left the place that used to be his garage, and went to grab a tarp from the back of his Jeep, noticing that Molly’s Prius wasn’t in the driveway. He wondered where she – oh, right – it was Thursday. She taught at the adult school on Thursdays. She’d left a lasagna out to defrost… he was supposed to start it in time for dinner. Funny how physical labor made you forget stuff like that.

He was about to swing the canvas cloth over the coffin when he caught sight of her face, found her fathomless black eyes staring at him from under the glass.

Wait a second. Hadn’t they been closed before?

Joe dropped the tarp over the casket and retreated from the remnants of his garage. The back of his neck had that cold, prickly feeling, and it was pretty dark out. Better to get inside, start dinner so it’d be ready when Molly got home, and figure out who you call to report a dead child in a coffin under your garage floor.

Was that something you dialed 9-1-1 for?

* * *

Friday morning rolled in with a violent rainstorm, which meant no work on the garage, but while Molly was upset about the delay, Joe was relieved. He hadn’t told her about the coffin. His wife was prone to having nightmares, and he didn’t want to be the cause of another sleepless night.

He’d waited until she left for work, and then he’d called the emergency line after all, because, really, who else would know what to do?

“Sir, this isn’t funny,” the operator informed him. “We have a major storm causing flooding at all the low-lying intersections, and can’t afford to waste time on pranksters.”

“I’m not a prankster,” Joe had insisted, and either she had sensed the anguish in his voice, or she had a friend she wished to twit, because she’d referred him to the county coroner instructing him to ‘ask for Charlie.’

It turned out that Charlie was actually Charlene, and she was also convinced it was some kind of a joke. Joe had gone out to the garage with his smartphone and snapped some pictures, texting them to the cell number she’d provided.

Two hours later, the coroner’s van arrived and a redheaded woman who appeared to be in her early fifties joined Joe in the torn-down garage, flanked by a ferret-faced man who said he was Jasper from the historical society, and a woman in a conservative skirt and veil, the contemporary habit of a nun, who said she was from the Sisters of Innocence and explained that her organization would handle the burial at no charge.

“Mr. Hunter,” the coroner greeted him. ” I’m Charlie. We spoke on the phone. I’m so sorry; this must have been quite upsetting for you.”

“It was definitely a surprise,” he replied, affably enough. “My wife doesn’t know.”

“I’m not surprised you found a coffin,” the historical society rep interrupted. “From the photos you sent, yours is about a hundred and fifty years old… this whole area was a cemetery then. The bodies were relocated around the turn of the century, though… ground’s too wet… coffins kept floating to the surface.”

Joe had no way to respond to that, so he ignored it, except to say, “It’s not mine.” And then, “It’s here… under the tarp.”

But Jasper continued. “She clearly came from a wealthy family. Lead. Bronze. Glass. This thing was built to last.”

Joe turned his back to Jasper.

Charlie did the honors, removing the drape, and the three adults all looked into the window at the still, small, form inside. Her eyes were closed again (or was it ‘still?’) Joe saw, but her mouth looked a little different – the lips seemed redder and plumper – or maybe he was just imagining things.

“Alright,” the coroner said. “Jasper, if you’ll give me a hand moving her, we’ll get going. I think Sister Celeste has some paperwork for you to do, sir.”

The nun had been murmuring a prayer over the casket, and she took a moment to gaze through the window before allowing Joe to direct her toward the house. “Such a beautiful child. So well preserved…”

“It’s because the coffin’s sealed” Jasper said. “No air, no deterioration.”

Joe decided he didn’t care much for Jasper.

* * *

Joe Hunter had never been a great cook, but he figured if he was going to tell his wife what had been removed from where the garage used to be, he’d better ply her with food and drink first. The morning’s rain had left a clear, crisp, night in its wake. Chilly, but not too cold for barbecue. He had a pitcher of margaritas mixed and the steaks ready to go on the grill as soon as Molly arrived home.

The cold pricklies came back at about the same time his phone rang.  Charlie from the coroner’s office calling to tell him that something had happened.

“Happened?” Joe had no idea why she was calling him.

“When we got to the morgue… when we opened the casket… the child… she was gone.”

Joe had no idea what to say, but it didn’t matter, because Molly walked in just then, carrying a white rose and smiling like she had on their last anniversary when he’d given her that string of real pearls.

“Do I smell charcoal?” she asked, and lifted her face to his for a kiss.

“Yeah,” he said. “I thought… we won’t have many more nights warm enough.” He thumbed the phone to an inactive state and set it down on the counter, face down. “Margarita?”

“Perfect.”

They ate and laughed, and he finally told her about the coffin and showed her the pictures. “It almost looks like her eyes are open in this one,” Molly observed.

Joe agreed that it really did.

They went to bed early, but they didn’t go to sleep because Molly was reading a chapter of some novel on her Kindle and he was using his iPad to send an email to Gracie. “Come home for Thanksgiving break,” he requested. “Your mother and I both miss you.”

Around midnight, after Molly had turned off her light and rolled on her side to sleep, Joe got up to check the house. It was his ritual, one his father had performed long ago. Make sure all the doors are locked, prep the coffee-maker for the morning. Hit the bathroom one more time.

He was passing Gracie’s room on his way back to bed when he heard it. Soft, so soft it was quieter than a dream, a lick of childish laughter.

The kind of laughter a three-year-old might produce.


Notes: I’ve had the concept of “Under Glass” in my head for years. When I went looking for art to accompany this story, however, I stumbled upon a true story about a coffin that was found under the floor of a garage in San Francisco, in the Lone Mountain neighborhood. I know the area because I had classes in the Lone Mountain campus of University of San Francisco, once upon a time. Here’s the link to the actual story: Little Girl Found in Coffin

 

The Lady of La Paz

Victorian Woman on a Shingle Beach by Lee AvisonThis is a true story… mostly.

Almost every year, during late spring or early summer, I visit my mother at her home in La Paz, BCS, Mexico.

Every so often, on these visits, I see something surprising.

One year, I even saw a ghost. I call her The Lady of La Paz.

The first time I saw the Lady was during the moon tide, when the water crept high up onto the beach, over the road, settling into pools of liquid silver.

An airplane was flying low over the bay, heading toward the airport – the last plane of the night – and as its angle of descent shifted, its lights caught the wisps of the clouds that were still shrouding the moon, protecting us from the full power of its glow.

Closer and closer the plane came, the bright front light changing the shapes of the shore, making creatures of the mangroves, and turning the shadows into living things.

And that’s when she made her first appearance.

Her face was hidden by a veil, but the shape of her hat was unmistakable, as were the lines of her turn-of-the-century dress. She held a parasol.

Her pace was steady, every step measured and sure, picking her way across the hard-packed sand, following the cone of light the airplane was casting ground-ward.

Just as she reached the point, the beam of light that held her began too thin, and her form to waver, as if she was dissipating on the faint breeze.

That’s when the clouds finally melted entirely away, and the Lady turned to stare out to sea.

She never looked my way. I never heard her voice.

Somehow, though, I knew – I knew – that she was waiting – searching – pining for her lost love.

I held my breath and watched, willing a man in a fedora to emerge from the waves and take her into his arms.

But of course he never came.

And when the moon left the sky to the sun, she faded into daylight.

When I told my parents about seeing the Lady, my mother mentioned that she’d seen her, too, on the nights of the full moon. My step-father, on the other hand insisted it was just a trick of the light, a happy merging of surf and fog and the lights from the plane.

I suppose I’ll never know for sure if the Lady of La Paz was real, or just a figment of my vivid imagination.

The part of me that lives in the world of computers and technology and social media knows that moonlit nights and moon tides can do funny things to our perceptions. The part of me that still, deep down, believes in the possibility of ghosts and soulmates wants there to still be magic in the world.

And who’s to say? Maybe the Lady was real at one point. In my head, she’s a pianist, a daughter of the family that owned the gold mine in El Triunfo, a student of Francisca Mendoza’s, and her lover is someone her parents would never approve of, a miner perhaps, or a seaman who helped to bring pianos to Baja Sur.

I keep telling myself that someday I’ll write their story, and then they will become real.

And until then?

If you’re walking on a certain stretch of beach in Baja Sur – the one with the view of El Mogote and the city lights in La Paz –  and you happen to find a full moon above you, and a moon tide lapping at your toes, keep careful watch as the last plane flies low over the water, en route to the airport.

You might see the Lady on her evening walk, holding her parasol just so, and waiting for her love.