Uncle Daddy Vester

An excerpt from 2015 NaNoWriMo, posted for someone I thought might like to read it. 1286 words. Paris is six, Charlotte is ten, Ava is eight and a half. Ricky is the dog. Shannon is their mother. Sylvester is their uncle. Their father, his triplet twin, died a few months ago, and he's moved back home to Central Kentucky to help out for awhile.


After supper was cleared, Ava and Charlotte dumped the bags of craft supplies onto the dining table. Shannon started to protest the chaos, but they began swiftly organizing the various items she bought, lining it all up neatly and ready to use. “This is how we will begin,” explained Charlotte.

Sylvester said, “Well…I thought of an idea, if you don’t mind my interfering. But it’d require giving up your kitchen table for awhile.”

“Ooh, what is it, Uncle Vester? Are we going to make the table a craft, too?” Paris asked eagerly.

“Oh, not exactly. Only I was thinking about what you said about wishing for snow for Christmas. How about we move the table into the living room, maybe against a wall, and turn it into a winter wonderland? Besides making ornaments for the tree, I mean, of course. It would be blanketed with fluffy snow, and could have little trees and a whole scene spread out over it.”

“Yay! Snow inside! Oh, can we, Mommy? I really want to! I can help move the table and make snow.” Paris started bouncing around, chanting, “snow inside, snow inside, snow on a table snow inside.”

Shannon grinned and nodded, and Sylvester said, “How about you and I work on the snow table, while your mom and sisters make the tree ornaments?”

Ava said, “Good, because hers will be all crooked anyway, and have weird colors on them.”


“Yes, Mama. I mean, sorry. But I think it’s a good idea, and this way, everyone can be happy doing the parts they want to do.”

The table had leaves that folded down on each side. Sylvester and Shannon lowered one leaf to move it from the kitchen to the living room, while Paris held onto the opened side. They moved the couch in at angle, and set the table behind it. Then Paris carefully draped a dark green tablecloth over it, a rarely used wedding gift from one of Shannon’s aunts. She and Sylvester pulled fiberfill apart and piled it onto the table for snow. Then they set to work making trees. These were pieces of artificial pine branch garland pushed into wine corks Shannon had saved over the past couple of years. Sylvester showed Paris how to shake a little glitter over them without getting too much on herself, or the floor, or Ricky, who was watching as he rested near the fireplace hearth. They did this by dipping a small paintbrush into the glitter container, then carefully tapping the end of the brush to allow some of the glitter to fall just where they wanted it to be. Ricky was not wearing all that much glitter when they finished. And the glitter on the fiberfill made it look as though moonlight was reflected on the surface.

Sylvester said, “When there’s a fire burning, it will look even more pretty.”

“Let’s light one now!” Paris said excitedly.

“Well, you know, we’ve had a very warm day. I think we’d get hot in here if we lit a fire now. So would Ricky.”

Paris looked at Ricky and considered things. “Yes, you’re right. Ricky would not like the fire tonight. We can wait. Let’s do the animals next!”

Sylvester said, “Animals?”

“Sure, it can’t be a snowy forest without animals in it. I’ll go get some!” She hopped up and then looked back and said, “I’ll be right back.”

She returned lugging a large plastic bin. “They’re all in here. I thought you could pick some out that you like.”

“Wow! Some of these are ours; mine and Nicky and Jasper’s!” Sylvester couldn’t believe what he was looking at.

“Yes,” Paris said. “Grandma gave them to me last year for Christmas. And we put other things in, too.”

Inside the bin were little plastic farm animals and wild animals, but also Stormtroopers, tiny girl dolls which looked like puppets (those are Mama’s, Paris told him. They are all called Polly,) cats and dogs with oddly human faces, and a collection of fruits and vegetables with faces on them.

“Lots of these things would be silly in our forest. But we can put in some of them, right?” Paris looked a little worried.

Sylvester said easily, “It’s our forest, so we can put in whatever we like. It can be an animal refuge forest.” So they added chickens, cows, goats, a camel, rabbits, a bear, and a fox. The elephant seemed too big, so it stayed in the bin with the other wild animals.

“They won’t eat each other, because it’s magical, and they all get along. Here is Princess Tianna, who will watch over them and make sure they’re okay. And then Santa Claus can come.

“Do you think,” she added, “Tiny Santa Claus would like if we decorated one of these trees? We can put little presents under it, and a star on top.”

(She tells Sylvester she’s glad it’s just the two of them. She always feels like her sisters watch everything she does, which sometimes makes it harder to do. Then talks with him about Daddy and whether he has a Christmas wherever he is.)

“I don’t know, sweetheart. None of us gets to know such things. People say that the best way to keep someone alive when you love them is not to worry about where they are, but keep the best memories of them with you. You can look at pictures and remember him and the things you did together. They’re all still real, and we’re all here to help you share them.”

Paris snuggled into Sylvester’s lap and said, “Sometimes I get confused. Because you’re my uncle and you look like my daddy. Only you grew this beard. Daddy never had a beard.” She stroked his face and tipped her head in thought. “If you were my daddy, would you still be my uncle, too?”

Sylvester did not know how to answer such an odd question. After a moment’s hesitation he asked, “Do you miss having a daddy? Does it still hurt?”

Paris nodded. “You look like Daddy, but you act like Uncle Vester. Maybe if you were my daddy, you’d be just like him, and it would be like having him back.”

They sat together for a few minutes. Then Sylvester said, “I never was much like Daddy, you know. I was always quiet and he was always laughing. Sometimes yelling.”

“Daddy yelled at you? I don’t think that’s nice. He never yelled at me or Ava or Charlotte. I don’t think he yelled at Mommy.”

“Brothers are different with each other, you know. So are sisters, sometimes. But we were good friends. Anyway, the thing is, if I was a daddy and not an uncle, I’d still just be me, like I am right now. Do you understand?”

Paris said, “I guess I do. But…” her voice dropped to a near-whisper, “do you think maybe you could be my uncle daddy? Like how you’re my uncle, but I could be sort of like your little girl, too?”

“Oh, Paris, I would be honored.” Sylvester whispered, too. “Is it a secret?”

“No, I just don’t want Ava to laugh at me.”

Sylvester said, “Maybe someday she’ll want to be my little girl, too. Do you figure that would be all right?”

Paris pondered this for a moment. “I guess so. We all still wish we had our regular daddy.”

“Okay. Let’s go see how they’re doing with their ornaments.”

Overlapping Seasons

It is November 1. Leaves have finally begun to change color on the trees, and to settle on the still-bright green lawn. And that still-green lawn now has wild strawberries growing in it. 20161101_170551
The tomato plants have sprung back to life, the nasturtiums continue to bloom, the cosmos to replicate themselves.
Cold will come in time, and with it, a personal mourning for light and life and bright healing air.

Out of time, as it seems we are, the seasons are overlapping, and creating a certain degree of poetic confusion. 20161101_170623

Writing what you actually see when you look through to the bottom of a lake, that requires the sun high overhead, Jupiter and Mars in the nighttime sky, toes in warm mud after a heavy afternoon rain shower, the scent of meat searing over a charcoal fire. In summer, I paint on a living canvas instead of fabric and wood fashioned to my easel.

Writing it all down at the end of the growing year, when darkness rises in late afternoon and the sky feels a little too close for comfort, the project turns artificial, grasping for a reality which can’t exist in the greys and browns of November. The conceit of spending that month creating something new could only have been thought of by a someone in Southern California, where they do not witness first hand the vacuum in nature between the bright harvest colors of October and the sparkling decor of December; it’s something they see conjured on a movie or TV set. But they who say tell us that Nature abhors a vacuum, and making up a wild and fantastic story might be one way to fill it in for anyone who feels the misery of Winter’s emergence.

Summer beautifies reality. Winter fosters fantasy. Understanding this, I adjust my focus for each season in turn, and make what I can of it.

How to adjust focus when the seasons are blurred together like this? That's something for greater philosophers than I.

A NaNo urge with no WriMo plan

I decided to do NaNoWriMo this year, my 12th year? To give myself some more daily focus, which is a thing I've been working really hard at, with the extra vitamins doing their assigned jobs and giving me more energy.

I wrote half a story last year that I really like, and I might write the other half sometime, but for now I'm going back to Jack's donut shop. This is because a) I never finished the story I worked on 2014, and b) I spent October not planning to do anything else. I seem to write half stories each year, which tells me my stories like to be told in 100k words, and that's something I wouldn't do in a 30 day period, unless under duress. So why not write a back half this year instead of a front half?

I've been writing about Lily, Violet and Jack for most years since 2005. Eight years, with an occasional other story mixed in. I now have three groups of people I write about; Lena and her friends in Michigan, and Sylvester, Jasper and their family in Kentucky, as well as the Sea View, NJ crowd.

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And here is the last thing I wrote about Jack, a little less than two years ago. So from here is where I begin a back half; both a new story and the continuation of an old one. It's, yes, Daughter, out of context for you, but pretty much obvious on the surface. I seriously hate the last line, 😝 but I'm leaving it alone and moving on.

#more time at Donuts and Coffee

Jack walked into the donut shop on Sunday afternoon whistling “I’m Not The Marrying Kind.”

There were no customers at present. Melissa was behind the counter on the phone. “No, we’ve never sold square donuts. I don’t know why, we just never have. Yes, I understand those are very popular in New York, but we have no plans to change our current donut shape. Yes, I will pass along the message when I see our owner. Yes, of course. Good day.”

She nodded to Jack as he sat down on a stool, still whistling. Then he said, “How about a cup of good, hot black coffee?”

Melissa reached for a cup to pour him some, but replied, “It sounds to me like you’ve already had plenty today. What’s up? I didn’t even expect you in this afternoon.”

Jack said, “Oh, I’m not here to get any work done. I’ll be in all day tomorrow. I’m just waiting for Violet, we’re heading to the theater to work on some stuff. Who was on the phone?”

“Some nutty customer wanting us to sell square donuts like that shop in Manhattan. I said I’d pass along the message, and now I have. Why aren’t you just meeting Violet at the theatre?”

“Nosy. I don’t know, she’s at her sister’s house, close to here, and we figured we’d drive over there together.”

“I see,” said Melissa, who was pretty sure she did see, but she said nothing more.

Jack saw Violet with a sense of wonder as she came through the door a few minutes later. He felt nervous, and felt silly about being nervous; they’d just spent 18 hours together and were parted for only an hour or so, but he wasn’t sure if it had been forever or no time at all. Both, somehow, he decided, as most of his feelings tended to run in two divergent directions. The urge came over him to ask her to run away with him to that no wifi desert island he was always joking about, just him, Violet, and an always-charged mp3 player for company.

But while he mused over these idiotic thoughts, she came up to the counter, as cool and collected as ever, slipped her arm through his, and asked, “Ready to go?” And that made everything fine again. He leaned over to kiss her cheek and said, “I’m ready.” Melissa smiled as she watched them go, then reached for her phone to make a call.

Jack turned on the heat in the theatre, then he and Violet went through the Narnia door to his studio. He said, “If I’m opening this space to the public, or at least more friends, I’ll have to do something about the fire escape entrance. Vinny told me last week he thought it was a bit rickety for his aging knees to handle.”

“You’re supposed to have two means of exit in every room like this, in case of fire,” Violet answered idly.

Jack realized this conversation was pointless and dull, so he asked, “Would you like a drink? I mean, some tea or water or something, or I have juice…” He trailed off as Violet shook her head at him.

“We’re alone together in the coolest room in town, and talking about doors, Jack.”

He said, “I enjoyed waking up in your bed and making breakfast for you. But after I left, I wondered, somehow, what it all really meant. We had a lot of wine last night.”

Violet frowned, and beckoned to the big leather couch. They sat facing each other, but not touching. “I don’t understand, are you having reservations now? I think we’re good for each other, Jack. And I felt—“ She stopped, uncertain whether to continue.

He said, “No, I don’t have any reservations.” Taking her hands, he said, “Making love with you was a dream come true for me. I’d relive every moment of it again and again even if it never happened again. But I don’t want to burden you with my emotions.”

Sighing, Violet answered, “I see. My reputation suggests I’d push you away if you got too serious about it all.”

Jack looked at her hopefully, waiting for her to continue. When she didn’t speak, he said, “I was instructed to not drive you off by being too serious. But when I woke this morning, all I could think was that I don’t ever want to be apart from you. I can’t do this lightly.”

“So you cooked breakfast for me in my kitchen.” Violet smiled. She squeezed his hands, then let go with one to trail her fingertip along the length of his jaw. Then, cupping the side of his face, she leaned in to kiss him. He was tense at first, but began to relax as they continued. Suddenly he couldn’t bear not having his arms around her, pulling her into his lap, and she willed herself to melt into him, so that he’d know, without asking any more questions, that they were part of each other now, and she wasn’t going to let go or push him away.

He realized she wasn’t going to speak her feelings easily, unlike most women he’d known who seemed to spend a great amount of time examining them all in detail. He’d once read about how people give and receive love in different ways; some with words, some with gifts or actions or touch. Jack was handy with words, but he liked doing things for people to express his affection. And it occurred to him that Violet was always patting someone’s shoulder or hand, or leaning in to kiss a cheek. He’d seen her playing with her sister’s hair while they talked and laughed together.

He sat up and looked at her. Surprised, Violet leaned back and raised her eyes with a question.

Jack laughed and said, “It’s okay now. I just figured it all out. Life and love and everything.”  He bent over her and she reveled in the weight of his embrace.

I think sometimes I write good. ;-)

Oh, the years I spent telling my kids things are good, and done well. Anyway. It's NaNoWriMo review time, and this year's story is dovetailing with 2014, so I'm going over that.

I like this portion an awful lot, so I'm sharing it with you. It's long; will take 10-15 minutes to read. And no, it hasn't been edited, so ignore that.

Vinny's first girlfriend and "White Silver Sands"

Vinny strolled into the studio, kissed Violet on the cheek, went behind Jack’s bar, and poured himself a little bourbon, swirled it with an ice cube, then removed the cube and walked over to the mike stand holding the glass.

“It’s been a long time since I talked about this, Jack. I’m taking a bit of courage first. You’ve got a good selection back there.” Vinny said this so casually, as if he just expected to walk into a room with a fully stocked bar, a wide variety of seating, and a roulette wheel.

“Sure thing, Vinny. Let me know when you’re ready.”

Violet realized she was seeing a different side of Vinny than the old joker who hung out with Tommy, eating donuts all morning. Here, Vinny was confident, sharper, somehow, and she could see the attractive man he’d been in his younger days. “No wonder some of the auxiliary ladies seem to be hanging out for him.”

Vinny’s about the same height as Jack, maybe slightly above medium. Violet thought maybe he used to be a little taller. He has nearly the same hairline of his youth, though his hair is mostly grey and thinner than it once was. Still thick enough for him to wear long and floppy on top; he runs his fingers through it so it hangs toward one side. He has the typically hooded eyes of an  older Italian-American man, and deep laugh lines around his mouth. Violet could remember him from her childhood, always sharing a joke with whoever came by the electronics shop he’d inherited from his uncle, yet he never seemed boisterous or loud, like his friend Tommy.  

Almost as if he could hear what she was thinking, Vinny caught Violet’s eye, and winked at her. She giggled quietly. Jack noticed the look and had an odd expression on his face.

“Okay, I’m ready, Jack. Let’s do this.”

“I was born right after the war, you know, the big one, World War Two, and my parents had just bought a house here, a few blocks from here, actually, on the GI bill. Dad went to school and got a degree in chemistry. Mom worked in a dress shop, and brought me with her until I was old enough to go to school. I started school when I was four, because then she had my sister, and needed me out of her hair. They didn’t really do preschool back then, but Sea View had a kindergarten by that time, so I went to that.

“No, no, I’m not telling you my whole life story here, but I’m telling you about something I know you’ve always wondered about. I was born along with the first seedlings of rock and roll, and grew up right alongside it.

“Mom and Dad liked to boogie, knew all the dances. Jazz and bebop. We had an old piano Dad would bang away on, and Mom would sing, she knew all the songs, too, all the old ones, and everything on the radio. In the evening, we listened to radio shows, too, and had our favorite stories. I liked the adventure serials, but my parents liked things like *Our Miss Brooks* and *Father Knows Best*, real corny stuff. And Jack Benny, of course. Anyway, we spent a lot of time together in those early years. It was good.

“And then my dad got a job with a big drug company, and Mom quit her job, and we moved to a new house with two bathrooms in it, and a big backyard. I still went to the same school, of course, there was just the one then. I rode my bike instead of walking. One year, in music class, a teacher came in and tried us all out on different instruments. And then my parents got a letter saying I should be in the school band, and learn to play the drums. Well, that sounded all right to me, but I had to talk them into buying the starter drum for the house, because you couldn’t lug one around the way you could a trombone. And Mom liked the idea because she said I could play with Dad on the piano, and maybe my sister Gina would learn the clarinet or something.

“But Dad was teaching Gina the piano, and that was good, cause then he had a stroke, and could only play with his left hand. Gina learned melodies and he played the bass line, and they did a good job of it.

“I loved playing the drum, but I didn’t like playing in the school band very much. I kept at it, though, because it made my parents so proud. And then we had rock and roll! Dad wasn’t so into it, because he said it sounded kinda cheap or something, and he was listening to west coast jazz by then, learning how to improvise with his one hand, which was pretty cool, and now I think I shoulda told him so.

“We played marching band type stuff at school, but before and after practice it was Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Bill Haley. I remember learning the intro to “You Keep a Knocking” and recognizing it in a Led Zeppelin song years later. But they were all like that, taking parts from each other’s compositions and doing new things with them. Nobody said anything most of the time. Can’t get away with that now.

“And the thing was, the early songs were just like the crooners’ standards had been. Somebody’d write a song and then half a dozen different bands and singers would record it. So you’d hear a song in 1957 by a singer, and the next year, a band would do it with a different tempo, or as an instrumental, or practically the same thing, trying to score their own hit off of it. So we had our favorite versions of different songs, and also we’d do different dances to them, depending.  

“In 1960 I was in 9th grade, which was in junior high back then. And you know, we had *American Bandstand* by then. Some of the kids who didn’t have a TV yet would come over to my house to watch it and a couple other shows. Afterwards we’d play records, and when my friend Tommy started playing guitar, we practiced together, cause he did better when I kept a beat for him. Sometimes my sister played the piano for us, we didn’t mind even though she was still a little girl. We needed a piano. So that was kind of my first band, Me, Tommy, and my sister. My dad was only about 40 then, but he wasn’t too active outside of work anymore. He’d watch us play and sometimes make us play the jazz tunes he liked.

“One thing my dad taught us was that we could take the songs we heard on the radio and Bandstand and make them our own. We weren’t very good at it, but we learned a lot more about the music by taking it apart and figuring out new things to do with it, new ways to put it back together. That’s jazz, you know. The early rock and roll guys all did it, the best ones. So we’d hear a song and wonder how it would sound with a different tempo, a different time signature. My sister was the best at it. Learning piano one hand at a time the way she did turned out to be good for her. Because when she started doing the left hand, she was imitating Dad, riffing on chords right from the beginning. Gina was great at that.

“Let’s stop for a minute, I gotta catch my breath.”

Jack said, “This is really interesting, Vinny. You should write a book.”

“Me? No, I’m no good at that. I sound dumb when I write things down.” Vinny went over to refresh his drink.

Violet said, “But you wouldn’t really need to write it down. You’d just talk, like this, and then someone would type it all out. Reading a story of someone telling a story always sounds better, anyway.”

Jack said, “People would buy it, Vinny. They’d buy an audio recording of you telling your story.”

Vinny laughed as he took a drink. “It’s something to think about, I guess.”

He began again. “The point of the story is that I went to the freshman dance and met a girl named Carla. There’d been a hit song by a couple of different people called ‘White Silver Sands.’ But that night, the kid who was spinning the records, a high school student, played a slow-burning version by a combo called Bill Black’s. A lot of us lined up for The Stroll. You know about the stroll, right? They made a song for it. Funny thing, you hardly touch in that dance, but it’s— Wow, it can get electric. It started out sorta goofy and fun, and then goes into this really sexy sax solo.”

Jack and Violet looked at each other, eyes wide, grinning.

“Yeah, well, so Carla really liked that song a lot. And she was a good dancer, too. Of course, everybody could dance back then. Not like it is now. The Stroll was one of the last good ones, though, until they started disco dancing, doing some of the ballroom stuff.

“Now, I was only fourteen years old, but I was hooked on Carla in an instant. She and I started going around together, and she loved that song, so I bought the record, and we’d listen to it. She watched our band practice, and kept saying it was too bad we didn’t have a sax player. I’d walk her home and we’d hold hands, but I never tried to kiss her. I started thinking maybe I could play saxophone, and then she’d want me to kiss her.

“I know this sounds goofy, but I was a goofy kid. I asked my uncle for help, because I was afraid to ask my dad somehow. Uncle Eddie got me a used saxophone and told me I could work in his store in the summer to help pay for it. He sold TVs and radios back then. The band teacher taught me a few things about the reed and the keys, and I got some records that teach you how to play. I practiced and practiced and practiced, boy was I lousy. I had to play in the garage so my parents wouldn’t kick me out.

“I turned 15, and still went to movies with Carla, she still watched us play, but she seemed interested in an older boy called Malcolm. I never liked that name, Malcolm. The thing is, I didn’t tell Carla I was learning the sax at all. Just kept playing my drums, doing all right at it, while Tommy was getting really good on the guitar.   

“After about six months, just as I was entering high school, I played for the band teacher again. He was real surprised. He thought I’d improved so fast I might be better at the sax in another year than I was at the drums. So me and Tommy found a drummer, Ricky, and started our real band, calling ourselves The Expressives, which I think is a very dumb name now. Ricky, Tommy, Vinny, and Gina. We didn’t care she was a little girl because she played better than anybody we knew. But I didn’t let the guys say bad stuff around her.

“Carla started going with Malcolm, and I didn’t like that much, but I was too busy with the band, anyway. I wanted to get good at the saxophone because I loved it, and that seemed like enough. Dad paid for me to have weekly lessons, too.

“Mr. Felder, the band director, chose us to play live music for the winter dance. We had three months to practice and learn a whole set of songs for it. Another band would do a second set. And I knew I had to be able to do ‘White Silver Sands.’ Gina was in 7th grade then, and Mom was chaperoning her, which she didn’t like much, but what could you do?

“We wore matching suits. We had brown pants and brown and red plaid jackets with white shirts and red ties. Gina wore a plaid party dress, she was so cute, you know. But some of the kids were whispering about us having a little kid in the band. We were prepared for that and started our set with ‘Theme From A Summer Place.’ Gina sounded terrific, and the couples all danced. Then we started to rock and roll, with a good Duane Eddy tune. The others all sang, Tommy did most of the lead, because he sounded a little bit like Bobby Darin, and Ricky had a falsetto, they could do kind of an Everly Brothers sound, you know.

“And so, you know, for our final song, I stepped up and said, ‘This one’s for Carla.’ Never was I so cool and so nervous at the same time. Then we played ‘White Silver Sands,’ Bill Black-style, slow and steady. Gina did the intro on the piano, then I did the sax solo. It wasn’t a tough one, and I was ready for it.”

Vinny stopped speaking and grinned.

Jack and Violet both waited a minute, and then Jack asked, “Well? What happened??”

“You want to know what happened after I spent a year learning the saxophone so I could impress a girl I once danced with?

“I got pretty good at the sax, that’s what happened. And the kids did clap and cheer, and asked for an encore, so we played ‘The Twist.’”

Violet sighed. “She didn’t deserve you, Vinny.”

They sat and talked for awhile. Vinny asked, “How long you been keeping this place a secret, Jack?”

Jack sighed. “Well, I’ve been working on it for about five years. I had the bar updated, and the floor refinished first. then I bought some furniture, and then I added the sound system. And then last year I bought the recording equipment. Violet discovered it then, by accident.”

Violet said, happily, “It’s my Narnia! I was in a closet looking for something, opened a door, and here it all was!”

“And Jack here is your Mr. Tumnus, right?”

They stared at Vinny.

“What? I’ve read books. Actually, my daughter had those books.” Vinny nodded in approval. “I really like this a lot, Jack. A person could almost live up here.”

Jack said, “I had that idea, originally. Maybe not all the time, but I imagined I could spend weekends here, like, well, you know.” He smiled, a little sheepishly. “But also, it’s insulated and basically sound-proof, which is why we can do the recordings this way.”

Violet said, “It would be easy to put a cooktop in the bar area, actually. You already have a refrigerator. Think of the parties you could have.”

Vinny added, “Maybe you should throw one. For New Year’s, or something.”

Jack mused over this. “It’s been years since I threw a real party. You know, the thing about getting older is that you really do want it a little quieter. However, not a lot quieter. Interesting people who can still laugh and be silly, but not the kind who hang from chandeliers.”

“Listen,” Vinny said. “I got about twenty years on you two. I see things are different now, but they aren’t so different that I don’t know something about this. What you want to do is make it a kind of drop in all evening kind of thing. If it works out right, the dullest and also oldest people get tired and leave first. Then you got your rabble-rousers. They see only so much excitement happening, and they leave to find more someplace else. And then you’re left with the people in the middle; the ones you wanted to hang around with most, anyway. And so there you go.”

Jack and Violet grinned at each other. Vinny has always had a way of cutting right to the heart of things.  

Violet left then, to meet Lily for dinner, and Vinny stayed for a few minutes longer, while Jack showed him how the sound system worked, and the rotating casino table that had been used in the room during its speakasy days. Both it and the mirrored shelves behind the bar were reversible at the touch of a switch.

Vinny said, “You’re still hanging out after her, aren’t you, Jack?”

Jack nodded.

“Well, it’s easy for the rest of us to see she’s settled down, like you have, so what are you waiting for? The thing is, Jack, you don’t know how much time you have, or how much time anyone else has, and the years are going to start passing faster and faster.”

“I have my mom, you know,” Jack began.

Vinny looked at him like he was crazy. “Your mom thinks you’re nuts spending all your time alone. In fact, it is a little strange, all of you unmarried, practically no kids between you, no new Sea View residents to take over after you’re gone.

“But you and Violet, you should take the leap now, while you still can.”

“That’s a lot to assume, that Violet’s just been waiting for me to crook my finger at her.”

“No, because she has already crooked her finger at *you*, Jack. Everyone else can see it, even if you can’t.” Vinny shook his head in wonder.

“Hmm, well, that might explain how things started the other night, after we saw a play rehearsal together.” Jack stopped to think it over for a few moments. “We went back to Violet’s house and were drinking hot tea, you know how outrageously cold it was last weekend, and we had a fire going, it felt really warm and comfortable.” He paused.

“So, then what happened?”

Jack sighed. “Then Robert Halladay came bursting in to whine about something to do with Lily, and then Lily showed up for the same reason.”

Vinny stopped him. “Robert and Lily are even worse than you and Violet. They’re like a sitcom couple people are starting to find annoying because they won’t just up and get to it already.”

Jack raised his eyebrows. “What you’re saying is that everyone is following along like we’re all entertainment for you.”

“Well, you are, Jack, only I gotta say, it’s starting to get a little boring. It’s time you spiced up the show a little bit.” Vinny grinned. “Invite me over to dinner. I want to visit with your mom.”


Seasonal space, redux

Last year and a day ago, I wrote a blog post about preparing my spaces for NaNoWriMo and winter. 

 Yesterday I did somewhat the same thing, only my space has been very much rearranged over the past five months. Very much, that is, if you factor in enormous waterbed that really has only one place it can be. In June, I rearranged the painting/writing room so that now it is a sewing/painting room. In August, the bed was moved slightly when the new mattress arrived, to make room for my bike on a trainer. Last week, I switched the location of the dresser and bookcase to make that easier, and yesterday I brought the bike upstairs.  20151026_120154

 I spent the afternoon and early evening going through every piece of clothing, put away a large laundry basket full of things I won’t wear til next spring, threw away about that same amount of clothes that were too damaged to give away or reuse in some other way (which happens less often as I’ve taken up wearing cooking aprons much more often,) and prepared a giveaway bag of roughly the same amount, as well. I reorganized my dresser drawers and washed all my cardigans, hanging them to dry. I also ordered a warm outdoor vest and two pairs of arm warmers.

 This is because I have only a couple of long sleeve tops. I dislike sleeves in general, dislike the way they oppress my shoulders and upper arms, and I was this way even before pre-menopausal upper arms appeared. But I don’t mind often wearing a loose cardigan over a sleeveless top, so that’s how I manage winter these days. And I thought I might like the arm warmers sometimes, as they won’t interfere with shoulders and armpits. I also have several pairs of elbow-length gloves, and lots of long wide scarves. 20151027_104742Winter is tinkly lady time.

And thus once again, I need no new clothes at all until at least spring. My pants, which are mostly all too short for general winter comfort, can just be tucked into boots again, same as previous years. I cannot be bothered to learn whether that happens to be a prevailing style this year, because I don’t want to buy new pants. Others are free to cloak themselves from head to foot in the thickly woven fibers of winter protection. I’m uncomfortable watching a movie scene in which people wander around indoors with coats on.

 But anyway, all that aside, I no longer have a dedicated space where I might do the writing. The pink chair is in the bedroom now, and as I write this I’m sitting in the living room next to the old cranky cat. She is not allowed in the bedroom, much to her annoyance. It’s pleasant enough in here, but the hearth wants dusting, and there is a battery sitting on it. That will annoy me now that I know it’s there. I will get up to move it, then feel compelled to dust everything, then be reminded there are dishes to do and that we need milk.

You gotta have all that in hand if you want to be free from the distraction of it. I’m aware other people do not allow the need for household management to distract them from creative effort...

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 10.27.23 AM
…but that’s none of my business.

Still, I think November writing this year will be mornings with the cat, and when there is time, afternoons in the pink chair upstairs before dinner. 20151027_102318


I have this sweet 3 year-old MacBook Air now that doesn’t threaten to fall apart or die when I move it, so I am unbounded by location this year. I could even…leave the house with it.

Celia's mom and Lady Marmalade

This is a 5-6 minute read, but is my favorite music story so far for my NaNoWriMo novel, so I wanted to share it. Rough draft, of course.


Celia walked in, saw Violet and Jack together on the couch, and said, “Well, it is about time.”

Then she went on, “You know what I've been wondering about?” She took off her jacket and sat down next to Violet. “You guys remember those educational workbooks with puzzles and games in them, but they were like lessons to teach you phonics and so forth?”

Violet nodded, and Jack said, “I really liked those, for some reason. They were more interesting than the school ones.”

“I thought so, too, Jack. And I was driving over here thinking about how Aunt Aleda and Uncle Earl brought me one once, the summer I turned eight. It was about science! I’d never seen a science one before, and I loved it. It taught me about weather, and planets, and a few other things, commonplace now, but back then, I thought I was learning about magic. And it felt as though maybe Aunt Aleda and Uncle Earl thought something special about me, or really thought about what I might like.” Celia leaned back and looked at Violet.

Violet said, “They sound really special, Celia. Are you going to tell them you remembered this?”

“Actually, Violet, they’ve both passed, so I won’t be doing that. However. Then I had another thought, which is this. What if they gave me that book only because they’d bought it for their son Mark and he didn’t want it? And that bothered me all the way over here.”

“They were my dad’s aunt and uncle, by the way, but their kids were the same age as me and Jeff. I don’t know, I do need to move past this.”

Jack said, “Up until today this was a really nice memory you had. How about you just go back to remembering it how it was, instead of suddenly worrying about what it might have been for?”

Celia answered, “Of course you’re right. What’s really bothering me is the twins. With me and their dad as role models, how are they going to grow up and be physicists?”

“They’re…six now? Right?” Violet was a little afraid to ask.

Sighing, Celia said, “Yes, and they want to wear eyeliner like Daddy, and also dress up and sing on stage instead of learning about how magnets work and what rocks are made of.”

Jack and Violet were now staring at Police Detective Celia Henry as though she’d grown horns.

“I really liked science, you guys.”

“And Craig thinks I’m worried for nothing, but did you know he wanted to name them Mary Ann and Ginger when they were born? Now he says he was just going through his ironic phase, but I don’t know about that. Maybe the names Tracey and Tianna are too girly, though. What do you think of Dr. Tianna Henry?”

Violet squeezed Celia’s shoulder. “It sounds great. What also sounds great is for you to relax and stop worrying about this. Your little girls are fun and loving and creative, and they have parents who love them and spend time with them. They are going to turn out fine, but you, it sounds to me like you need a spa day, or maybe a whole spa weekend.”

Celia nodded. “That’s the truth.” She stretched her feet out in front of her. “I’m not out on the street as much these days, but the job does take its toll.”

Jack was over at the computer now, starting a new file for Celia’s story, and said, not helpfully, “Anyway, Tracey used to be a male name. It’s one of those ones that got switched over the years.”

Violet and Celia looked at each other. Celia shook her head and said, “I’m glad you two finally got together, Violet, but you sure have your hands full.”

Jack gave her the microphone and signaled for her to begin.

“My dad was a pilot for a delivery service when I was a little girl, and Mama stayed home with me and Jeff, which wasn’t too common in her set. But she kept busy with all kinds of church projects. She was always taking old people to the doctor, setting up fundraisers, getting involved in all the doings, and I think some of it was because she felt guilty that she didn’t have to go to work. And she would clean, boy, how she would clean. I mean, furiously. You had to get out of her way or you might find yourself lemon wax polished along with the furniture.

“Now, a lot of times, she would sing while she cleaned, old gospel songs, mainly, which she tried to teach us to sing with her, and some old 50s music she’d grown up with. But other times she’d turn on the radio and sing along with it, and one of her particular favorites was “Lady Marmalade.” We didn’t know what that song was about back then, so Mama made up a story about a stewardess who helped lost travelers find their hotel. And we believed her.”

Violet put her hand over her mouth, trying not to laugh.

“Well, we were little kids, and we knew Mama would never tell a lie to us. Sometimes I would play stewardess while Jeffrey pretended to fly a plane, and we would help the passengers figure out where they needed to go. These were stuffed bears and rag dolls and so forth.”

Violet was shaking now. Celia glared at her, but it did no good.

“Time passed, of course, and when I took the French course in high school, all the kids said they knew how to say something in French because of that song, and I said I did, too, “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi?” which I said meant “Do you have a bed here for me?”

Jack held his hand up and paused the recording. “Violet, you have to get hold of yourself.” But they could both see he was also trying not to laugh.

Violet beckoned Celia over to the bar, and handed her a glass of water. “I’m so sorry, Celia. But this is the funniest thing I’ve heard in ages.”

“Well, Violet, I have to inform you that it will probably seem even funnier to you IF you let me finish telling it.” Celia put on her law enforcement face, and then grinned. “I do understand.”

She went back to the other side of the room, picked up the mike, and said, “Let us proceed.”

“That was a little embarrassing, but it made enough sense that nobody bothered me too much about it, and after that, I put it out of my mind. I did well at French, but then I did better at Spanish in college, which has been sometimes helpful in my career.

“So then I became a police officer. When you are first starting out, you spend a lot of time out on the streets, driving around looking for trouble, learning about the people in the community and also gaining experience. On one of my first nights out, we drove up Route 35 to where the gentlemen’s clubs are, and busted some ladies who were plying their trade outside in one of the parking lots. And that’s when it hit me.”

Violet grabbed a blanket lying on the couch next to her and bit into it.

Celia laughed. “When I saw Mama at breakfast the next morning, I had words with her about this situation. She said she never did lie to us about anything else but just could not admit to us that she was singing a song about a hooker. I told her I believed her, but I’ve wondered about it ever since then.

“I guess you can laugh all you want to now, Violet. That’s the whole story.”

Violet looked at Celia with tears in her eyes, and they laughed together for several minutes.


Then I just shouldn't have named him Jack, is the thing.

I never meant for my ongoing story character Jack D’Abruzzo to become my Lord Peter. I inserted deliberate flaws from the beginning, eight or nine years ago. He never used his broadcast degree; he lives with his mother and owns a donut shop. He’s previously always dated women who are way too young for him. He started out goofy and kind of manic. But I let him be the theatre director and then I let him buy the building, and then I let him grow interested in Violet, who is not that much like me, but is something like I’d probably be if I never had children.

But now he’s stuck in my head all the time, and since I made him up, well, that’s super awkward. I thought he could be handsome like Russ Columbo, but I didn’t want him compared to an idiot, plus, he wouldn’t be because no one knows who that is and I probably already use too many arcane references. Maybe like Jerry Vale, but with less face in his face. But more like one of those guys who is just perfectly pleasant and ordinary-looking until he hits the late 30s and suddenly has a strength to his face that nobody saw coming except maybe his mother, because she married the guy he resembles an awful lot. Maybe kind of like Perry Como only four inches taller, because I really don’t feel like overthinking this.

Although, I have to wonder at myself for thinking only of singers. His mother’s maiden name was Cassotto, so I guess it turns out like if Alan Alda and Bobby Darin had a baby, and that doesn’t really bear consideration, does it? It doesn’t matter. I describe him only as over 45, about 5’ 10”, black hair with threads of silver, and reasonably fit. That’s good enough, enough.

Anyway. I’ve resisted just handing him over to Violet, but it isn’t quite reasonable that all these characters in their late 40s all stay single. They can’t just up and get married, though. His mother still needs him, but there’s no way she could live in Violet’s old Victorian mansion. And why would I make Violet leave that place? I would not do that to her.

Maybe my personal ideal is that sort of relationship. They’re firmly together, but drift in and out of each other’s houses as they like. If I had my own house all those years, I might resent someone else taking up permanent space in it. And that house has been in her family since it was built in the 1860s, so it has to be lived in. If you don’t live in a house, Nature tries to claim it for its own. So I think Violet can have Jack in her own way and Jack can have Violet in what I have masterfully deemed pretty much the same way, and bits of me will find rest in that, for now.  

Well, I guess I’ve worked a couple things out so that I can carry on. But I want the computer to just shut right down if I start having him quote Wilde for his own.

Okay, Jack can look like Matteo Garrone, only I’ve let him keep his hairline for now. He's pointlessly vain about it. 

Frustrating myself

Here's a short thing I wrote three and a half years ago. I liked it the way it was, though it is far from perfect, and so I never edited it. What it is is perfectly me. This is my voice.

But—NaNoWriMo. You know, I don't rush it. I don't spew garbage for a word count. I don't over think it, either. I decide what to write. I look up details I might need, and I go for it. The next morning I reread it superficially, adding a word here or there to clarify syntax, and then I move on, knowing it can be repaired, beautified, or built upon later.

Yet the story turns banal beneath my fingertips, and other than when I'm writing dialogue, I lose my voice. So this year's effort is nearly all dialogue or speech, because I can't bring myself to dull my inner vision by typing it out.

The clouds have lifted and the energizing sun is filtering in through my window. Maybe that will help. Because I need to use my voice to write about something other than my self.

This is completely about my self, from April, 2011. 0411

Another memory for NaNoWriMo

I took a true story of my own, moved it forward 12 years, gave it to a hard case called Teresa. Obviously, as usual, very rough; some of it's pretty much just placeholders, because I'm feeling descriptively lazy and can fill it in later.  About 825 words.

“Oh!” Teresa said. “I know just the kind of thing you mean. Would you like to hear my story?”

“Sure,” said everyone.

“Well, when I was 12, my grandma was dying of kidney disease.”

“Aww,” went the general chorus.

“Yes, it was hard to deal with, but that was 25 years ago. My mom and aunts took turns spending evenings with her in the hospital, because she’d gotten bed sores from a lack of care.”

More shocked murmurings.

“It’s hard to believe, in this day and age, but it happened. So they each stayed, actually around the clock, but my mom was there in the evening, because it was the best time for me, and her. And sometimes she’d leave me some dinner, or instructions for how to make myself something. I did know how to cook pretty well, because I’d learned in Girl Scouts. We had to make breakfast, lunch, and dinner to earn our badges.

“But that year was actually when I started learning in earnest, and maybe it was because of this spring, in 1989, when Grandma was sick. In the evening sometimes it was just me and the dog, and it felt a little spooky, so I’d always turn on the TV to watch old movies. I wasn’t really into all the regular shows, because as you will no doubt recall, most of them were pretty stupid.”

Jessie said, “I liked The Cosby Show!” There was agreement about that, and a couple of the others named shows they liked.

Teresa said, “Yes, okay, it wasn’t all terrible. But I was really into the old stuff just then. We didn’t even have cable yet. Oh, shut up. We didn’t have very much money, you know. Don’t be rude. But we had this crazy TV channel that showed old TV shows and movies.”

Jack said, “I remember that, and I remember it before anyone had cable, too. They had theme weeks, with a certain actor or topic, for the evening movie.”

“Yes, exactly, you old man.” Teresa grinned. “I don’t remember what the theme was that week, but somehow, I remember it was a Thursday? And they were showing a movie set in Italy, so I decided to have spaghetti.”

A chorus of “Awww,” from the crowd again. Teresa rolled her eyes. “I was twelve, you guys.”

“So, Mom didn’t go in for Ragu, but it wasn’t really like she just cooked from scratch all the time, either. She had these little packets of something called ‘spaghetti sauce mix,’ and I found one, along with the spaghetti, and followed the directions. You had to add the powder to a can of tomato paste and water and a little oil, and stir and heat it. And it was very hard to figure out how much spaghetti to make, so I did this thing, where you hold it in your hand and sort of estimate the diameter…

“And I was worried about getting it done exactly at the same time, and also in time for the movie. But I did, plus, I had canned peaches.” Teresa stopped and smiled, remembering.

She looked over at Jack before continuing. “The movie was called ‘Houseboat’ and it starred Cary Grant and Sophia Loren.

“Yes, you big dummy, I knew you’d like that. And so I ate my spaghetti and watched that movie, and there’s this scene…”

She could see Jack inhale and hold his breath, smiling widely at the same time, but went on. “There’s this romantic scene where Sophia Loren and Cary Grant are dancing together, and the song that is playing says ‘You’re here, the moment’s near, you’re almost in my arms.’ It seemed insanely romantic to me, sitting in the dark eating my peaches, which I’d saved for last because they were sweet and that meant dessert, and it was the kind of thing where you hold your breath waiting, hoping something doesn’t spoil it. And then something did spoil it, but of course it all worked out in the end.”

She could feel everyone at the table exhale at the same time, and felt a little nervous about continuing.

“So now and then, I’m either eating spaghetti and thinking of that song, or the movie is on TV, and I think about Grandma, who took me to the city to buy me fancy jeans, and taught me how to do Fill-It-Ins in the puzzle books, and made me potatoes and eggs. And it’s dark suddenly, and I’m on our old loveseat watching TV with the dog, waiting for news.

“So is that the kind of story you mean, Jack?”

Jack tilted his head and looked at Teresa, reflecting. No one ever sees this side of her, and he can tell it’s hard for her to reveal. “Yes, Teresa, that’s just what I mean.”

“Well, good. But don’t include me in it, okay?”



NaNoWriMo: today it's personal

Every year during NaNoWriMo I do a few of the same things. There's always an Italian restaurant scene. Always some people sitting around drinking expensive whiskey and reminiscing. And always one day when I just write some memory from my past. That's what this is. I hope you know I'm not offering it as a great piece of writing. I just wanted to share. It's about 2000 words, which is about four minutes for the average reader.


Mary came into the studio half covered in paint. Violet was there that afternoon, and she made cocoa for herself and Mary. They sat and talked awhile, as Jack was downstairs in the theatre, consulting with someone about lights.

Mary said, “I sometimes forget to change my clothes before I paint. At home, I just take off most of them, and paint in my underwear, but obviously I can’t do that at the shop. She grinned. “So at first I worried people would think I just never clean myself up, and then I decided they could see it as decoration, instead.”

Violet said, “That seems really satisfying to me. And if you’re wearing a blue top, but have a bit of emerald between your fingers or something, you’re actually pretty well coordinated.”

Mary said, “Exactly.” And they both smiled in contentment.

“Although,” Violet went on, “I expect there are people who do not actually cover themselves with the paint they are brushing onto a canvas…”

“Ah, but that’s just the thing,” Mary answered. “Most of the time, I don’t actually use brushes!”

She and Violet laughed again as Jack came in, and Mary said, “Yes, we were talking about you, in case you were wondering.” Then she whispered in a loud dramatic tone to Violet, “DON’T WORRY, I’LL NEVER TELL HIM YOU SAID THAT.”

Mary rarely shows a serious side to anyone but Kathy, her boss, and one or two close friends, and her children. Some people think she’s being serious at times when she’s having a laugh, which confuses her, but she’s mostly reconciled herself to it. She operates best under the banner of “quietly eccentric.”

Jack rolled his eyes. He asked Mary to sit on the stool he now had set up with a full microphone stand, and cautioned Violet to be silent. “None of your fussing around. Come over here and sit down, as a matter of fact.”

Violet obeyed with a smile, taking a seat on the luxurious Danish leather couch opposite the recording equipment.

Mary asked, “How many Danes were killed to upholster that couch?”

Jack answered, “Eleven, I believe.”

She grinned and said, “Okay, I’m ready when you are.”

“I heard this song the other day, which I had not heard in just years and years, and it’s been rolling through my head ever since. But my memories of it have come back slowly, like a stage at a time. I expect there’s more still, that I’ve forgotten and that might never come back.

“I tried so hard to be an ordinary kid. The fact is, I really was, but somehow never felt like other people saw me as one. I listened to the radio stations, wore the clothes, bought the teen fan magazines, went to the skating rink on Friday nights, and made sure Mom got the trendy snacks for my lunchbox at school. I collected Lip Smackers, gauze blouses, pukka shell necklaces, and toe socks. I watched the right TV shows. I don’t know, though, mostly I was alone. There weren’t a lot of other kids nearby, and maybe that made the difference. Maybe if I knew them at home, they’d have known me at school.

“It seemed to me that practically every kid in my class could have been a star athlete. They were all shiny and glossy and could run fast in their expensive tennis shoes. I felt dull and flat and slow by comparison. And I was really, really skinny. Strangely, this led people to believe that I, too, had athletic ability, but that was laughable. Every year we had a series of fitness tests we had to perform, and the only one I was really good at was sit-ups. For some reason, I could do an astounding number of sit-ups in a minute. But I was a slow runner, and could never climb the rope, and when I threw a softball to measure how far it would go, my gym teacher said “You throw like a fat girl, what’s wrong with you?”

Violet gasped. Jack stopped the recording. Mary nodded. “He was special, Mr. Repp was. I remember this very nice and talented girl in my class named Michelle. She was one of those girls who seemed perfect, but was also so kind and polite, you could never be jealous of her, just sort of happy that she was herself. And I remember that more than once, he picked her up and carried her around the gymnasium on his shoulders when we were in 4th grade. I have always wondered what she thought about that. He called her ‘Tiger,’ too.”

Violet said, “That sounds repulsive!”

Jack said, “Maybe he was actually her uncle, or something.”

Mary and Violet just stared at him. Violet said, “I have occasionally wondered how he ended up. Maybe he was just super clueless, like, to give him the benefit of the doubt, you know?”

Violet said, “Yes, but the fat girl thing. You can’t have been the only girl he insulted, besides which, just, ugh, I don’t know.”

“There was a fat girl in our class. Not like it is now, with so many people struggling. We all knew someone who was just built large, or who fought their weight, but it wasn’t common. Which probably made it extra hard. Shawna was in our class, and I wondered if she heard him and how she felt. It angered me so much. But I just couldn’t throw a ball very far. I could roll one! I was often kickball pitcher for both recess teams, because I was lousy, otherwise, and other kids wanted to kick and run the bases, anyway.”

Jack said, “Hey, you must have always been a good bowler!”

Mary answered, “Actually, I was awful. I was just awful at everything until I was about 19, and then I bloomed or whatever they always said I’d do.” She smiled happily.

Jack started recording again.

“So then I went to junior high, and we had a girl’s gym class, and I was terrible at all the sports, and the girls were shocked that I didn’t have a bra yet, so my aunt gave me one my cousin had outgrown, because she and my mom were utterly clueless about these things somehow, and it had red piping on it, so then they made fun of that. And all the girls got leather clogs with wooden heels, but when I went to get mine, they didn’t have the right size. Instead, I picked out a pair of stack-heeled loafers which were actually very sharp, but they weren’t clogs, you know, so they were wrong.” Mary sighed, but rolled her eyes with a smile.

“At that point, I started to figure a few things out. I took charge of my style, and also my fitness. I had a frustrating year barely passing all the gym tests, and so the next year, I started jogging with my dog, figuring I could get stronger that way. I wore what I liked, worked on being a little bit avant garde, and ignored the girls who seemed to need to judge me for that.” Mary looked over at Violet, who grinned and nodded. She knew that same experience very well, though in her case, it stemmed from very different reasons.

“In eighth grade, we had to take this fitness test in the fall and again in the spring. I didn’t do so well in the fall, taking over two and a half minutes to run a quarter mile, but I ran around with my dog all winter, and rode my bike everywhere, and then when it was much warmer out, I put on jogging shorts and took off up an old road past our elementary school, sometimes running three or four miles at a time, at what was a pretty serious pace for me. I had read in a magazine about how important it was to keep a good rhythm while you run, so I used to play songs in my head like a radio. The song “You” by Rita Coolidge had come out, and it might have sounded sad at the time, but for me, that song was about my dog, whose name was Monty Python. We’d gotten him two years earlier, thinking he’d be a good companion for my older brother, but he bonded with me, and stuck by my side for five years, until he was killed in an accident. At age two, he could have kept up with me, though, for as far as I could run.

“And so I’d run, to that disco beat or to another, doing intervals, though I didn’t know that’s what they were. Every time that song played when I wasn’t running, I’d see Monty and I, breezing along in the sunshine together. When I heard it the other day, I remembered that, all in a flash.” She stopped and closed her eyes just then. Violet and Jack watched her, as she shook her head and began again.

“When the spring fitness tests came, I was so excited. I just knew I’d do better, and I told my teacher, Mrs. Bryan, about how hard I’d been working at it. She told me she expected good things from me. Well, what do you know, I was running next to the girl from elementary school, Michelle, who was very fast. She ran that quarter mile in about a minute and a half, or a little less, and set a record. But I ran it in under two minutes! I’d shaved an entire minute off my fall performance. I was giddy with success. Mrs. Bryan said that if I’d worked as hard as I said I did, I should have done better. She was just like that, I guess, and I tried not to let her make me feel bad. And I did receive a good grade for my effort.”

Mary saw the looks on Violet and Jack’s faces, and said, “You guys, this is a happy story! It was a victory, and I owed it to my dog, for whom the song ‘You’ could have been written.”

She went on, “But here’s an epilogue for you. My senior year in high school I was at a different school, and we had to run a mile to pass our one mandatory year of gym. I’d chosen a fitness class, too, because it taught us how to work on a weight machine, and aerobic exercise, and lots of other things, without ever having to be on a team. I wore fun Flashdance- and Fame-style clothes, and was one of the best in the class, blazing through sit-ups, and running the mile in about eight minutes, which is not even a little bit fast, but pretty good alongside all these girls who were lazy and walked half of it, barely finishing in the maximum fifteen.

“Plus! This is why I paint. I was also always surrounded by all these people with loads of artistic talent, and I couldn’t even paint an owl on a rock for Mother’s Day in Girl Scouts. But it turns out, all the messes I made as a child, cutting and gluing and painting things that didn’t look like they were meant to really brought me a lot of joy. So I determined that when I grew up, I’d do something to help people enjoy whatever they love without judgment or grades, or competition. I teach people to bowl and to paint, and to grow tomatoes and peppers, and you do not have to be great at any of these things in order to take real pleasure from them. Maybe I’d have never known that if I hadn’t been so frustrated by how others perceived my efforts when I was a kid.”