Waiting for the Other Shoe


There was a shoe again this morning on the sidewalk on the east side of Congress Avenue.  It was just past the landscaping border in front of the Statesman Apartments.  You know the one, there just before the grilled cheese truck and the juice cart.

The shoe was gray canvas this time with white rubber around the sole.  It was a lefty and on its side facing the street.  I’m not sure what that means but the laces were untied and loose unlike the shoe I found just before John’s accident.

John was struck on a Tuesday.  All the items in his cart were scattered along the storm gutter. His paperback novels with torn covers and dog-eared pages identified him to me.  It was a blue Nike with a white swoosh that I’d seen that morning over near the ice cream shop.

There was a brown sandal with a broken heel strap the month before John’s accident, in the mulch in front of the San Jose Hotel. The day after I saw it, I read in the newspaper about the homeless women named Rose.   She just stepped from the curb into rushing traffic nowhere near the cross-walk, so they say.

I wonder if they’ve done it yet.  You know the ones who wait for the shoe to appear and give them a signal.  Could I move the gray shoe and change someone’s fate?  What if the shoe is meant for me?

Just Silly

Uninspired for the second day, I turned to my Writer’s Toolbox for a writing prompt.  I was given the first sentence, the twist and the final phrase.  Here is where all that took me:

I was dressed in a completely inappropriate shade of pink.  From the scarf around my neck, all the way down to the polish on my toenails, I had chosen wrongly, as usual.

The crowd was a field of black and white.  Men in black tuxedos, women in black satin or velvet and some in white chiffon, all turned to look as I entered the room.  I know something classical was playing in the room, but what I heard in my head was the abrupt sound of a needle scratching a record from the center all the way to the rim.

Across the room, I saw him.  Tall and with his black hair neatly combed, I recognized him by the white rose in his lapel.  You would have thought he might have clued me in when I mention he could recognize me by my pink dress.  Oh well, I decided, the only solution was to seduce him so he would forget about my atrocious fashion faux pas.  Anyway, who sets up a blind date in a room full of men wearing the same tux?

I floated across the terrazzo tile floor as a black and white sea parted before me.  “Don’t trip, don’t trip,” was the mantra running through my head.  I looked up into his deep blue eyes,

“Hello, ” I said. “I’m Lyla.”

“I know,” he said with a smile.

Or was it a smirk?

“I’m Mark, and might I say, you are definitely the most colorful woman in the room.”

“Uh yeah,” I said with a roll of my eyes, ” I guess I didn’t get the memo.”

“Well, I kind of like being the guy with the most colorful woman in the room.”

“Oh,” I replied and then spent some time staring at my shoes.

“Shall we dance?” he asked as he took my hand and led me to the dance floor.

The rest of the night was a blur.  Seriously, I lost a contact on the dance floor and things were blurry all night.  But, we danced and talked and the pinkest girl in the room had a great time.  We shared a cab home and in one brave moment, I invited Mark up to my place for one last drink.

“Make yourself comfortable,” I said, as I twirled into the kitchen for a bottle of wine.  I assembled the necessary glasses and wine opener and then peeked back around the corner into the living room to make sure he hadn’t escaped.  There he sat on the sofa in his white button down shirt and loosened black tie.  He had respectfully left his shoes at the door and then I knew it was meant to be.  The most colorful girl in the room met her perfect match, the handsome blind date with a hole in his sock.

Pardon me while I stab you in the back, please.

 Characters live in my head and from time to time, I let them out to play on paper.  All the characters in my head are happy, fun-loving people.  I would be friends with my characters.  This presents a problem in my writing because I don’t like creating antagonists.  I don’t like the guy who causes conflict or creates a problem for my happy people.  I don’t want to go there which often makes my stories go nowhere. 

Looking back at some of my work, the bad guy is the least developed character if he is even there at all.  Many times, the source of conflict in my works is a vague idea of potential turmoil but not really tangible.  I am just too nice.

Take Mr. Orville in my barn story.  The story is suspenseful but Mr. Orville…not so much.  He is the shadow of a bad guy.  He’s a little grumpy but who wouldn’t be when his neighbor is snooping around on his property.  So I am issuing myself a challenge…

Come up with a DECENT bad guy!

The Bonnaroo experience, part 2 (Camp)

Sometime around midnight we found our way back to our parking spot behind the porta-potties.  Dirty and exhausted we tried to sleep in the car.  I had eaten a questionable falafel from a street vendor during the Tom Petty concert which only added to the discomfort of all in the car.  It was about 90 degrees in the dark so we rolled down the windows to let in an almost nonexistent breeze.   The grass under our car was apparently home to every insect found in the state of Tennessee and so every time I opened the door to trek to the porta-potty, the dome light came on, and bugs swarmed in through the open windows.  We tried hanging beach towels in the open windows as a screen but that ended up just blocking the breeze.  We started to settle into our misery and doze when the last concert of the evening let out.  Gradually our camp came alive with revelers.  Firecrackers went off.  Laughing, cursing, stumbling people made their way past our vehicle to their respective tents. 

 A fight broke out in a tent two rows over and we were privy to every word of the argument.  Someone out on the prairie yelled, “Shut the hell, up!” and the camp settled down again.  Tossing, turning, and sighing we tried to quietly endure our misery without disturbing our fellow passengers.  At three a.m. we finally came to our senses.  We weren’t sleeping, we were being eaten alive by bugs, and the hotel that we had labeled disgusting earlier that day now seemed like a palace.  Lisa pulled out her cell phone and found a taxi service willing to drive out to the middle of nowhere to pick us up.  We gathered our pillows and started the long dark walk to the entrance of the festival.  Surprisingly, we weren’t the only festival goers looking to escape the festival in the middle of the night.  There at the entrance was a train of taxi’s waiting to make their pick ups.  Seeing the logo of the cab company she called, Lisa guided us to the aged rust colored sedan.

Food and Fiction

Some of my favorite books include scenes where people are eating.  The description of food adds such richness to the storytelling and often reveals something about the characters doing the eating.  I love the food descriptions in John Grisham’s A Painted House.  Not only does Grisham describe the prepared food itself in a way that makes cold biscuits sound delicious, but because his characters are poor cotton farmers he reveals the energy required just to put food on the table.  He describes the whole family rising before dawn to tend to the farm animals, collecting eggs and feeding the livestock.  He describes the women working in the garden behind the house and baking biscuits and pie and frying chicken all morning to have lunch ready for the crew working in the fields.  In the first chapter, Grisham’s protagonist, a 7-year-old boy, is seen savoring a Tootsie Roll by taking a small bite and wrapping the rest of the penny candy in its wrapper for later.  That attention to detail left me hungry after every chapter.

Stephen King uses food in a different way in his book Song of Susannah.  The title character Susannah suffers from a fractured personality and her alter ego Mia is pregnant with demon spawn.  King sets up scenes in which Mia, in control of Susannah’s mind and having midnight cravings, envisions banquet tables filled with aromatic roasted meat and pastries.  In reality, Susannah is grabbing pond toads from out of the muck and crunching them live.  In this way, King creates a world out of control and stirs the reader’s imagination with repulsion and sometimes even stimulates the gag reflex.  He brilliantly uses these scenes to help the reader form an unfavorable opinion about Mia and sympathize with Susannah who is sometimes captive in her own body.

Lack of food is another technique writers use to emotionally connect the reader to characters.  Anne Rice tends to tease her vampire characters by putting them smack in the middle of scenes where humans are enjoying Creole cuisine and French wine but the vampires are only tempted by the scent of the humans.  Another example is Yann Martel’s Life of Pi in which a 16-year old boy is stranded on a lifeboat at sea with a 450-pound Bengal tiger.  Not only does Pi have to solve the problem of his own starvation but he has to find a way to keep the belly of the tiger full so as not to become a meal himself.  Martel captures the surrender required to survive 227 days at sea on a diet consisting mainly of raw fish.

Writers, if you find yourself stuck in a scene, why not go back and serve your characters a meal.  It might reveal something new and take the scene in a whole new direction. Readers, go pick up a good book and really appreciate those food scenes.  I’ve got to go make a snack.

Back to the Barn

     Bent over in the warm sun, I hear the crunch of tires on gravel as the little black truck passes by.  I straighten my back and offer a neighborly wave.  He’s gone.  Mr. Orville is headed to town so it’s now or never.  I drop my trowel and handful of weeds into the dirt and turn slowly to confront the barn.  The boards are worn and faded, weathered by eons of sun and rain and frost.  A ghost of the red beauty it once was.  Cracks in the gray slats show slices of sky near the hay loft door.  I take a step into the pasture.  The tall brown grass crunches underneath my boots.  Orville cut the grass in the pasture the middle of last summer, but he was sick last fall and winter hit before he got in the final mowing.  As I move closer, the shiny tin roof looms overhead.  It’s strange.  Orville keeps the roof of the barn in immaculate condition, but the walls seem to be rotting away.  “What is he keeping in there?”

                I approach the corner of the barn furthest from the view from Orville’s house.  He’s gone but maybe his wife is on watch today.  The earth around the barn’s foundation is mounded up.  I have to climb to put my face against the wall.  The boards are rough with age.  I lean in pressing my hands against the wall to steady myself on the earth mound and peer through a crack in the board.  I squint and close one eye trying to see into the darkness. 

                A long band of light streams in from a crack high up in the rafters.  It holds a million specks of floating dust.  Empty beams crisscross the space and light hits the barn wall about 9 feet from the floor and reveals nothing.  I pull my face away from the wall and lean in for balance.  I stand on my toes, moving down the side of the barn in search of a better view.  The foundation is higher near the back and now I’m searching for a crack where the side boards meet mortar and stone.  My hand grazes an intricate spider web and I almost fall.  The spinner is in residence and her eight legged body sits inches from my face.  Startled, I jump down into the field behind the barn.  My heart pounds as I wipe my tainted hand against my jeans.  I hate spiders. 

                I can see the back corner of Mr. Orville’s house where I stand in the field.  It’s early spring and nothing has been planted yet.  “How long has he been gone?” I wonder, examining the back wall of the barn.  The foundation here is very high to keep out field run off during spring rains.  There is no way to see in from this side.  I have two choices, I can give up and go back to my garden or try to find a way to see in from the side of the barn facing Orville’s house.  I turn to look across the field.  I imagine Orville’s elderly wife in a flour sack apron standing at the kitchen window with binoculars.  I shake my head, “Get serious.  There’s no one watching.” 

                This side of the barn contains large double doors for bringing in tractors and wagons.  They are latched with a heavy metal slide and sealed with a padlock the size of my fist.  The word, Master, is engraved on it.  I approach the place where the two doors meet and am amazed by the way in which the doors of this rickety old building hang so square.  There’s not a gap anywhere, except at the bottom to allow the doors to swing free.  I look over my shoulder at Orville’s house.  It looks quiet and lonely. I lower myself to my knees and then to my chest as if I’m going to do a push-up.   Crawling forward, I turn my head and place one ear to the ground.  The sun has warmed the grass and it feels almost hot on my cheek. Under the door, light fans out across the floor of the barn.  I see a pile of shapes covered by a dusty canvas tarp and the rubber ring of what must be a tire.  I almost jump to my feet when I feel pressure against my back and twist to see my marmalade cat kneading my jacket.  “Go home,” I say through clenched teeth as I swat  him away.  Returning my attention to the contents of the barn, I scoot forward at an angle to try to allow in more light.  I turn my head to the other side to get another perspective and notice a shadow on the grass.  I push up to my hands and knees to investigate and hear a deep voice say, “Hello, neighbor.”  My heart starts to pound because I know that voice.  Mr. Orville is back from town. 

                “Uh, hi there,” I mumble.  “I was just, uh, I was looking, um…boy, its nice weather today isn’t it?” 

                “Are you looking for something?” 

                “I, uh, no, well, I was um… just curious,” I stutter with a shrug. 

                “Curious?”  He asks and I can’t see his expression because the sun is behind his head and his baseball cap is shading his eyes. 

                I take a deep breath trying to calm my heart and try to explain. 

                “You see, Mr. Orville, we’ve lived here quite a while and I love looking at your old barn here.  But, I’ve never seen you go in or come out and I wonder why you keep the roof so nice when the walls look like they’re about to fall down.  I just wondered if there was something inside or if it’s just an old empty barn.” 

                “Humph,” he says and then pulls a key chain out of his pocket and approaches the door. 

                My heart starts pounding again.  He’s opening the door.  He’s going to show me what’s inside but then maybe he’ll have to kill me.  I look around at his house and think, “Please let his wife be watching now.” 

                Mr. Orville swings a door open with a creak and props it open with a cinder block from inside.  He steps into the gloom and turns back for me. 

                “Are you coming?” 

                I step forward without a word.  The barn is not empty.  There is a houseful of furniture covered with tarp and clear Rubbermaid containers holding enough items to stock the entire house wares department at Macy’s.  In the center of the barn is an orange Volkswagen beetle.  It’s old but it’s in perfect condition.  

                “So you just store stuff out here?” I ask. 

                “It’s not just stuff.  It belongs to my daughter.” 

                Hearing a catch in his throat, I wait in silence. 

                “She’s a singer you know?  She’s always loved music, even studied it in college.  She’s been on tour singing with this choir for about 12 years now.  She’s been all over the world. She sold her place because she wasn’t home long enough to put down roots.   She really loves the traveling… We miss her though and I just keep the roof in shape to keep this stuff dry.  We hope she’ll decide to come home to settle one day.  Anyway, that’s the story.  Nothing out here to get all worked up about.  You really should mind your own business.” 

                “I’m sorry,” I say while staring at my toes.  “Thanks for showing me the inside of your barn.  It really is a cool barn… I hope you get to see your daughter soon.” 

                Mr. Orville places the cinder block back inside the barn, closes the giant door and locks the padlock.  I start back across the pasture to my garden.  He looks up and waves as he takes off across the field with the sun beating down on his baseball hat and I wave back.  I’m satisfied.  The mystery is explained.  The barn is just a capsule holding memories of a daughter who moved out and moved on.  I feel a little sad for Mr. Orville, but that’s what kids do.  No great secret, no twisted plot just the stuff his daughter left behind. 

                A few weeks later, my family returns from a little trip.  The kids are off school for a week so we drove down to Gatlinburg for a little hiking.  After a long ride home in the pouring rain, we pull up the driveway exhausted. 

                “What the heck is that?” asks my oldest son from the backseat. 

                Looking up, we see what Mr. Orville has done.  Along the back of our property line, where our land meets with Mr. Orville’s is a fence.  Rough hewn wood posts dot the pasture every 7 feet.  Wire mesh runs from post to post topped with a spiral of barbed-wire.  Mr. Orville has made his point.  “What else is in that barn?”  I think to myself. ” 

Bargersville, Indiana

     As if  he can hear my thoughts, my husband replies, “Stay away from that fence.”

Chicken Dreams

I wake up at dawn and the sky is a vibrant purple.  The sun rises higher and higher before my eyes as I head out to the chicken coop.  Henrietta greets me at the door with a squawk, her orange-red wings flapping up dust and straw.  I sprinkle ground corn into the tin pans on the floor of the coop while 20 chickens startle in unison at my every move.  They make this sound like an almost squawk, like they’re revving up their motors for a race. 

I sprinkle ground oyster shells into the feed as a supplement to harden the eggs.  I read online last summer that tomatoes get blossom rot from a lack of calcium in the soil and discovered those same oyster shells work as a supplement to soil too.

It’s peaceful in the coop.  The chickens don’t expect much from me.  I lift the water can and it’s heavy, plenty of water to get through the day.  I grab a cardboard box from the shelf outside the coop and methodically, I approach each hen box looking for a prize.  Eighteen eggs today, someone didn’t lay.  Of course, I don’t expect an egg from Willy the rooster.  He has no purpose here except to protect his brood and he is mean enough.

Eggs collected, I head to the house to wash their shells.  They are large and brown and perfect…

I don’t have any chickens.  I wish I did and I wish they laid 20 eggs every day so I could take them to the food pantry to give to families who need them.  I daydream about chickens.  Is that weird?