Cinnamon hits my nose. It’s earthy scent bringing to mind holiday sweetness. As I stir the oats, I recall watching Pappy, at 92, make his homemade granola. His kitchen window looked out over Clayoquot Sound. The water a rare calm of sparkling blue on a warm summer day. It was a day in contrast to the rainy morning that Pappy arrived at my father’s. How old was he then? Perhaps 75 to Jesse’s almost 10? Pappy announced that morning that he was going to get lost to find Jesse. My little brother had vanished into the rain the evening before. It poured incessantly all night long making our voices small. Yelling “Jesse! Jesse!” into the darkness that had no end. Throats sore, bodies soaked. Pappy found Jesse. The cougar had dragged his little frame far from the hand-hewn house where he was born. I have over salted this batch of granola. The cinnamon is lost.
(In this piece I’ve incorporated Table for Two in Taos into something new, something more personal.)
The Irish singer/songwriter has stopped playing. It’s break time at the Taos Inn. I’m sipping my glass of Sauvignon Blanc as I write in my journal and wait for my dinner to arrive. My solitude feels right. Feels good. My attention is drawn to the couple across from me. Their check is on the table, paid. Their glasses are empty.
She fills the south-west style wooden arm chair. Her dyed blond short hair and red jacket are all of her that I can see. I have a clear view of him sitting across from her. I catch myself wishing that they were the other way around. Then tell myself “That’s not nice! Don’t be so judgmental.” I can’t help it. There is something about him. Is it his thin angular face or his mopish brown hair worn Beatle’s style?But unlike the Fab Four, it is greasy and plastered flat against his head. His voice is loud in stark contrast to his companion’s that can not be heard at all. The soft voiced woman has asked something of him that he clearly doesn’t like. His volume mounts. “You’re telling me how to do it.” He gets squirmy in his chair which makes me squirm in mine. She becomes even more still and quiet in hers. I look down at the now blurred words in my journal and feel my pulse race. He says “You always have something to say about how I am!” His voice fills the restaurant growing even louder in his realization. I look around to see if anyone one else is registering what is taking place.
I am returned to a Sunday afternoon scene in a hip Parisian restaurant less than 2 months before. At the counter, wedged between me and a marvelously chic couple, was a slender pale man. He had requested a whiskey and double order of seafood risotto without so much as a glance at the menu. We were seated upon metal designer counter stools. All form and very little function, heavy to move yet somehow tippy and precarious creations. The couple, a dark haired man in a white linen shirt and a woman in draping silk dress, next to the pale man, like the couple in front of me now in Taos, had finished their meal. Long empty cafe cups in front of them, they started to battle. It quickly grew in intensity. Voices raising up and falling down. They were locked in a game of blame ~ “c’est pas moi…c’est toi qui…” Everyone in the restaurant was acting as though nothing was out of the ordinary, except for me and the increasingly pale man by my side. The damned stools became even more awkward, more uncomfortable as the tension mounted. He was my narrow barrier between me and the battlefield. We squirmed. We fidgeted. He strummed his fingers. No relief. No possible ease. No escape. He picked up his whiskey and slammed it back. His double order of seafood risotto arrived in two separate pots. A division of food, of a single dish relegated into disparate caldrons. He picked up his fork and dug in. The tiny, miniature octopus quivered as it made its way into his mouth. I wanted to tell him to move his seat. To not subject himself to what was clearly upsetting him. To take more control of his life…
To Take More Control of His Life. There it is. Take more control of his life? What about my own? There I was not so many months before that Parisian countertop lunch with my soon to be former husband. We were also seated at a counter in a sweet, cozy little breakfast and lunch joint, one of our local Sonoma County, California favorites. Tears were streaming down my face. The waitress glanced at me in surprise and then sympathy. Then there was the table in a wine bar, where, in tears, I turned my head as the waitress approached. Another countertop meal, a dinner, the first fun dinner in ever so long, it too turned to tears. Repeat performances that took place more times than I’d like to remember. We played out this warped scenario again and again. No shouts, no raised voices, no stomping out yet a public display of pain. For those that looked it was easy enough to detect. My then husband seemed hell bent within those final months of our decayed marriage to pull forth my sense of failure and grief around our relationship’s impending death. His bottomless anger always finding extra vehemence in these restaurant settings. I was his dish du jour and his appetite was endless. He knew I wouldn’t argue back like the feisty Parisian woman in sky blue silk. I was too self-conscious and drama adverse more like the dyed blonde mouse in Taos.
My mother, on the other hand, was more like that passionate fashion forward Parisian. Also a French woman, she was not afraid to fight, especially with my father. The Deer Creek Inn was the location of their most infamous restaurant war. Tall wood paneling surrounded their booth on three sides. Dark leather bench seats provided what, for most, would be a romantic setting. Three of them at the table. The third being the husband of the woman that my father was secretly screwing. By my mother’s telling, to my then 8 year old self soon after it took place, this fight was particularly horrid. My parent’s anger and passion always fueled by alcohol in those days. My father saying snide, spiteful, baiting things to which my mother responded by lunging across the table to stab him in the neck with the steak knife she had just used to cut through the flesh on her plate. By missing his jugular vain by 1/2 inch, I avoided being raised in a foster home. I didn’t avoid the deep seated fear of passionate fights. In my own restaurant wars, I held myself quiet and as a hostage in my chair. Yet by not simply walking away, I too was inflicting my pain, passionate or otherwise, more deeply upon myself as well as on those around me.
Finding my wood carved chair increasingly harder to sit upon as I watch the mopish, plaster-haired man’s face redden. He doesn’t give a damn about making a scene much less any affect it may have upon his companion and the rest of us diners. “You don’t accept me for who I am! I’m with a woman who doesn’t accept me for who I am. What am I doing here?” He pushes back his chair. Grabs his coat from the back of it. Heat rises up in my body as I scribble abstract designs in my journal. My heart pounds like a deer being pursued by a cougar. He stands up to say “I’m out of here!” and flees to the exit. The woman sits stock still as though she has a bull’s eye in the middle of her red jacket. As if by not moving she won’t really be in her present situation. Her confusion, her humiliation, her grief float in the air around her. We both remain frozen for what must be ions. Finally, she pushes back her chair to stand. Struggles a little to come to her feet. I look away quickly from her round late 60’s face. I don’t want her to know that I’ve intruded upon her pain. I don’t want her to know that I too have had my heart ripped out and flogged in more than one restaurant. I don’t want her to know that I too have felt equally as broken. She moves to the door with an obvious limp. Following out what she imagines but I pray is not, to be her last chance at love.
In times of crisis, grief and chaos people band together.
Families & friends reach out, hold one another, stroke each other’s arms, hair, faces.
Wipe away each other’s tears.
We gather around one another.
Share food, a glass of wine, old stories that give solace.
Now, in this time of global pandemic, we are to self-isolate.
Against our nature, our very being, we are to be alone.
Primal fear of abandonment raises its head from deep within.
How do we survive without our tribal connection?
How do we face our solitude?
How do we face ourselves?
Perhaps with an embrace.
An embrace we would give our loved ones
we give to ourselves by
embracing the fear of the unknown.
Let it well up from its depths.
Dive in to face it.
Swim in its dark mystery.
For in the darkness we stir our souls.
Souls that long to be stirred.
Pulling out pen & paper, brush & paints, music for solo dances, whatever may inspire, to provide pathways through the fear.
Pathways to face and transform our pain into creative acts.
Acts that enrich, revitalize, add depth, luster and acceptance to our being.
Turning the upwelling of dark toward our inner light.
A gift to ourselves, our souls, our planet & each other.
I have a giant crush on my Spanish teacher. I am not the only gringa in this Mexican seaside town that does. His huge smile with deep dimples are enough to make me swoon. Add big chocolate brown eyes, a full thick head of hair, an energetic personality plus a sweet laugh and he is imposable to resist. I consider myself infinitely lucky that I have private lessons with him. We don’t bother sitting in chairs fixed at a table with paper and pencil in hand. El Profesor is a proponent of learning through doing ~ an interactive approach you might say. An afternoon walk on the beach yielded many new words for my vocabulary – ‘caracol, arena, sombrilla. Flying a kite had me learn ‘cometa’. Hanging up laundry added ‘sábana’ and reinforced ‘limpio y sucio’.
The town has a Cocodrilerio at the edge of the mangrove that we decided to visit. The day we went the sewers were overflowing onto the streets and into the crocodile infested waters. El Profesor’s flip flops were thin. The milky brown water rode over them onto his feet as he walked through the stench ridden sludge. To my horror, once he had cleared the human feces cesspool, he removed his flip flops to wipe the bottoms of his feet with his hand. Still, I paid for his entrance and mine, least I could do since my lessons are free. He led the way down the wood sidewalk built over the sewer flushed mangrove waters. Counting all the crocodiles (18) and different birds (11 not including the little black ones). In the midst of these delights, I couldn’t stop myself from obsessing about the filth on his hands. Let it go, let it go, my brain kept saying.
His excitement built when the path split with one side leading to the museum. He was speaking rapidly about the museum when he took my hand! I didn’t swoon like I usually do. When we arrived, I looked frantically for a place to wash. There was, of course, not even a toilet much less a sink in sight. I struggled in my head to remember the second person past tense preterit verb form for ‘tocar’ – to touch – but without success. El Profesor was so delighted to point out the crocodile skeletons, their spines, their teeth, their eggs. Why would I possibly want to ruin a moment like this with hygiene anyway? Suck it up! It won’t kill you, I kept telling myself.
The swaying ride of the suspension bridge outside the museum was at least half as good as anything at Disneyland. It was a giddy thrill to jump up and down on it on our way to the crocodile nursery. In the nursery, El Profesor walked up to the cage with a 3 year old croc inside ready to undo the latch. The attendant come over to help out. She picked up the small croc, at 3 they are not as large as you might think, and handed it to him. He held it by the neck and back end right above its tail. I strained to understand him while he told me all about it. I could tell that he was showing off for me which I didn’t mind in the least. He tried to get me to hold it but I wasn’t so brave. I only tentatively touched its hind leg and under belly.
At the exit, El Profesor was ready to begin our tour again. Watching the crocodiles gnash their teeth and splash around does give an adrenaline thrill. Well worth the few pesos price of admission. I braced myself as I took his hand. I said I really had to go. He didn’t seem to mind so much once I told him we could go to my casita on the playa.
On the way back to the car, he enjoyed singing one of his favorite English songs with me, B-I-N-G-O. It’s fun to entertain him with this ditty. It’s the least I can do as he is so forgiving of all my errors and my struggles with Spanish.
Back at my casita, I made a beeline for the sink. I washed and asked him to do the same. I picked him up to run water over his hands. We soaped up and washed all four hands as one. His dimples sunk in deep to his round sun kissed face as he smiled with complete joy. My heart melted with sweet tender love for El Profesor who is not yet quite as old as the baby crocodile he had just been holding. Such an endearing gift, this love, that far outweighs any and all concern of cleanliness.
Blue skies with billowing clouds blowing across the mesa. The kind of clouds that plow full force into the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Building their numbers, merging together with the power to quickly change the blue above to varying deep shades of grey. Turning to thunderheads. Visions of gossamer fingers reaching from the sky down to the earth as they release rain to the grateful parched ground below.
I was barreling down the road on such a day. Full speed ahead, New Mexico style, when I spotted the Machine of Destruction. It’s 8’ long side arm blade was heading right for the elegant, long limbed, duckling colored sunflowers. Sunflowers that hadn’t even gone to seed. Sunflowers in their full prime. It was now or wait another year to bring home a bouquet of these wild specimens. Applying the brakes, I quickly made a U-turn in order to get back in front of the red menacing machine.
Pulling into a driveway, I grabbed my little Swiss Army knife, hopped out of the car and dashed across the street. Stabbing my valiant blade into the plants, I began madly hacking. Its petite size was no match for the sinewy stems of the mighty flowers. So, I frantically started to pull, rip, tear away at them as they fought back lacerating my arms with their scratchy surface. The red devil continued to make its slow approach. I flashed on a scene from “A Fish Called Wanda” where KKKKen rolls over Otto in slow motion with a steam roller. OK. My feet were not planted in wet cement but perhaps my brain was. Still I stood my ground. Will the driver begin yelling at me now? Will he start calling me a crazy old lady from out his window? Will he lecture me about how he has a job to do? My unruly hair matched my unruly thoughts and both were flying with the wind.
The chugging monster comes to a halt about 10 feet from me. The driver climbs out from the belly of the beast. He puts on a yellow safety vest as though absorbing the color of his work’s destruction and heads my way. Oh, now I’m in trouble. Yet I keep wrestling more sunflowers, adding them to the now heavy pile of cuttings in my left arm. My spewing words about seeds and timing and how it was too early to cut down these marvels are directed his way. Ever hopeful that it would be a good defense for my annoying behavior. While waiting still for his string of invectives to be hurled at me, he takes a bite of a small red apple while handing me another. I am suddenly motionless. All words drain from my being. Where is his anger? Where is his impatience? Where is his reaction to being so inconvenienced? I take his offering of the little apple and find my voice to offer thanks in return. Then he speaks. He speaks in that unique lilting dialect of the people whose ancestors came from Spain so many centuries ago: a people stubbornly hanging on to their unique voice as a source of pride. As if to say “I might have to speak your English but you can’t stop me from bringing along my Spanish.” He says, “ I picked a wildflower bouquet up in the mountains but I didn’t have a lady to give them to.”
I am, for the second time, rendered speechless. He pulls out his cell phone. He scrolls through his photos. He shows me pictures of a brightly colored multi-flower arrangement. It is beautiful. There we are standing at the side of the road eating his apples, admiring his photos of the flowers he had put on his horse’s harness that stood in as his lady. My arms heavy with more long stems then I can comfortably handle. Cars whisking by us. The red devil idling away. Yet, while the clouds continue to gather overhead, Martin and I had all the time in the world to take in and appreciate the beauty that it holds. A shared admiration for the wonder that is all around us. In these moments, I find this man who had climbed out of the dreaded machine to be a kindred spirit. My world does a magnificent flip-flop.
I was struck, not for the first time, of how I had truly fallen into another space, another world from the one from which I had come. A move from Northern California to Taos, New Mexico might be easy on a physical plane but to see and feel the essence, the deep character of this place and its people takes time to comprehend. Takes time to absorb. Its wealth is not wholly worn on the surface. There are the natural wonders of the mountains, forests, mesa and gorge which strike me daily with awe. Which easily bring tears to my eyes. All an obvious and indisputable pull. Yet the deep history, the varied cultures, the attitudes toward life both physical and spiritual are the less obvious treasures.
Taos is a land truly worthy of the reputation it holds for magic.
Clara’s story is the first of a three part series of Flash Fiction pieces that deal with three different pregnant women in three distinctly different socio-economic situations. All the stories are set in 1947 when abortion was illegal.
Her hand is shaking so hard. She wonders how she can possibly make it work. She breaths deeply and pulls out the cold metal crochet hook. Looks it over. The moisture coating it glistens in the morning sunlight that is bouncing around her bedroom. She sits up. Squeezing her eyes shut, she wills herself to stop crying, to stop shaking. She licks away the tears that have fallen on her lips. The remaining tears tighten the dark skin on her face as they dry. She knows she doesn’t have long before the others will return. This is her only chance for at least another week.
Taking another deep breath, she eases her mind by floating back in memory out of her current reality.
What year was it, she tries to remember.
1925, yes, that was it.
Sitting on the front stoop watching her big brother poking a garter snake with a sharp stick. Dry brown dirt flying around the snake which quickly transformed into an elegant S motion in an escape attempt. Her brother moved fast to get in front of it. His ebony hand holding the stick tightly as he poked at it again. Now, all these twenty-two years later, she imagines what it must have felt like to be that snake. Trying to escape. Fearful for its life. How did the stick feel poking its skin?
Don’t hurt it, Boon!, she yelled while trying to keep from crying.
Mama says they good cuz they eat mice, she added hoping to sound authoritative.
Boon stared back at her for a moment, considering his options. He was enjoying tormenting the snake and realized that he could also torment his sister, an even better game.
What’s it to you if I kill it? You gonna cry like a little baby? Huh? This here snake is gonna make you cry to see it die?, he yelled back at her.
With both hands, he raised the stick up high over his head. His skinny arms coated with the ever present brown dust were steady. He stabbed with full force into the yellow stripe on the slender creature’s back.
The snake remained planted. The stick punctured all the way through to the ground. Its body once struggling to wind away to safety was now anchored, pinned down. Forced to die in the bare dirt front yard of the two room shack they called home.
She remembers those tears as they flowed and she ran inside calling out, Mama! Boon killed a snake! The good kind!
Hush now, Clara, you’ll wake the baby! I need to feed little Sam and make supper before she wakes up. Pull yourself together, girl, her mama had scolded. I don’t have time for your nonsense.
Her mama. How old was she then? Born in 1900. Already six children in the family. Her belly was swollen with number seven. Her final swelling. A birth that would cause her to bleed to death.
Her mama. Her mama that scrubbed the dirt floor of the house with a broom. Her mama that scrubbed the potatoes and beans from the field and the bit of cotton they managed to bring in to sell. Her mama had scrubbed all the children’s tightly curled hair and black bodies. For all that scrubbing, she never could manage to clean away the hunger from their bellies.
Clara feels that hunger now. A hunger that left her belly after her mama died and moved straight into her heart. A hunger that keeps the shine off the world. A hunger that no matter how much love comes into her life always remains a desperate hole to be filled. The rainbows of life just a little less colorful than when she was four.
Her chest heaves. Expelling a loud deep moan at the thought of her children living with that same hunger. Maggie warned her about another baby. Maggie, a good midwife, trusted by the women in the Southside, she told Clara that her path would be the same as her mama’s if she had another one.
Clara’s mind wanders to the stories she’d heard on how to keep from getting pregnant. They all involved something you could get from one of those fancy doctors on the white side of Chicago. Expensive places that probably wouldn’t even allow a woman with her color skin in the waiting room unless to clean it.
How do you deny your man night after night? The light touch, the hugs in bed so often turning into need and desire. How do you deny yourself? He always withdrew yet somehow his seed got in.
Pull yourself together, girl, Clara says her mama’s words out loud. So now this is how I must do it, she tells herself, just like that snake.
Straight through is what her friend Rosemary said and Rosemary knows from experience. Straight through like Boon had done otherwise she could end up like that woman with her guts hanging out where the babies come through. While she may die today, she knows another delivery will be certain death. The need to live, to protect the children she has, begins to outweigh her immediate fear.
Letting out one more deep moan, she steadies her hand as best she can. She lays back down over the newspapers she’d used to cover her quilt in the hope they would stop the blood from staining.
Suddenly, it feels all wrong. Wrong angle, wrong place. Dragging the newspapers with her out through the tiny flat onto the cracked and faded pea green linoleum kitchen floor, she places an elbow and forearm on the kitchen table and goes into a squat. The ever present crochet hook, which now feels enormous, is in her right hand.
Yes, she thinks, my aim will be more accurate, more steady like this.
Blocking out all images of the new life within her, focusing instead on those already living whole outside of her, she pushes the hook straight up and through what she prays is her pin hole size opening deep within.
It rolls in,
this news scrolling across
In my face
impossible to ignore.
Hits hard right in the solar plexus.
Grinding in deep,
excavation of the pain not possible.
10 dead in Texas high school shooting.
Yet the idiotic response
remains the same ~
“Arm the teachers!”
I’ve been one,
a high school teacher.
In front of class,
between the aisles,
on the sports field,
throughout the campus.
“In the desk”
a useless answer.
So tell me ~
Would I keep it strapped to my hip,
slung across my back,
I’m enchanted with my reoccurring day dream that birds taught us language. In this dream, they inspired us to sing before we could talk. Captivated by the birds varied melodies, we became emboldened to follow their led. At first startled and then delighted when we found our voices rising up to the sky to match their notes.
Thus, we went from grunts, grrrs, grumblings to recreating the simple
caw of the crow
chirp of the chickadee
twitter of the wren
hoot of the owl.
Sounds that we too could make. We were encouraged, mystified, enraptured. The birds’ lyricism stirred us with desire to imitate their beauty even further. To sing as they sing with a musical voice like the Yellow-eyed Junco – chit chit chit weedle weedle che che che. Or the rapid song of the Yellow Warbler – sweet sweet sweet, I’m so sweet.
We then took their simple songs and turned them into our own full throated melodic expressions. Slowly these became woven together into phrases for which we developed meanings.
Ka, ka, who, che, became ‘beware of the alligator’
Na, ni, chit, cha, became ‘sweet berries by the stream’
Twee, twee, sweet, deee-de, became ‘hey baby, what are you doing tonight?’
Pit, pree, weedle, became ‘danger stay close’
And so it went, in my mind’s fanciful eye, that these strung together imitations got broken down into words. Thereby forming an even more complex way to communicate. Words that grew in depth and meaning. Words that can transport us from where we are at the present moment to other places, other times, other realities. Words that evoke joy, sorrow, compassion, hatred, fear, love, the entire gamut of human emotions. Words that provide our lives with depth and richness of language. Words that we take for such granted.
Yet even with the fecundity of language our words can carry us only so far. It is within the music, the melody, that remains under those words, once only notes, which gives our human hearts true flight. Melodies that lift us to the heavens and beyond. Melodies forever and always inspired by the birds.
Soft skin of your shoulders
like velvet to my touch.
Cream in my mouth,
Easy to consume.
Compelling me to stroke you lightly
only with my finger tips.
I trace outlines,
of your gentle curve.
Muscles lying relaxed but firm,
define graceful shape of place
where your burdens lie.
Your warm breath in my ear
saying something sweet.
Does not matter.
The heat of it relaxes me
into a puddle of bliss.
Your body is thousands of miles away
never to return.
Yet you are beside me
in my bed ~ lingering.
Sensations of you
A ghost that has no other home.
The check is on the table, paid, the way is clear for departure. The glasses are empty. The Irish singer/songwriter has stopped playing. It’s break time.
She fills the chair. Her blond short hair and red jacket are all of her that I can see. He is sitting across from her at the table for two. He is thin with an angular face. Dirty brown hair worn Beatle’s style, mopish, parted to the side but unlike the Fab Four it is plastered flat against his head. His voice is loud in stark contrast to his companion’s that can not be heard at all. He chats amicably to a young woman that has come to the table to say hello. As she departs, the couple begin their conversation again.
The soft voiced woman has asked something of him that he clearly doesn’t like. His volume mounts. “You’re telling me how to do it.” He gets squirmy in his chair. She becomes even more still in hers. He says “You always have something to say about how I am!” His voice fills the restaurant growing even louder in his realization. She says something quietly in response. “You don’t accept me for who I am! I’m with a woman who doesn’t accept me for who I am. What am I doing here?” He pushes back his chair. Grabs his coat from the back of it. Stands up to say “I’m out of here!” and flees to the exit.
The woman sits stock still as though she has a bull’s eye in the middle of her red jacket. As if by not moving she won’t really be in her present situation. Her confusion, her humiliation, her grief float in the air around her. She remains frozen for a few more moments. Finally, she pushes back her chair to stand. Struggles a little to come to her feet. I look away quickly from her round late 60’s face. I don’t want her to know that I’ve intruded upon her pain. I don’t want her to know that I know that she has been dumped.
She moves to the door with an obvious limp. Following out what she imagines was her last chance at love.