Monthly Archives: April 2014

The Arm Chair

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The room was empty and the morning quiet and dark. The big man saunters into the room, flipping a switch at the doorway, illuminating light from a floor lamp. He is shuffling with floppy things on his feet as he holds a hot cup of liquid in one hand and a newspaper in the other hand. He settles his backside into the comfort of my cushions, setting the cup of liquid on my arm and shifts around a little until he feels relaxed. He pulls the stool close with one foot and crosses his feet on the edge. As he frequently slurps from the cup, he rustles the newspaper as he flips from page to page. It is like this every morning. Occasionally hot liquid from the cup will slop onto my arm as he sets it back, and there is a brown stain where this has happened over and over again. The aroma from the cup is strong and sharp. Once the cup is empty, the man gets up, drops the paper on my cushion and leaves the room.

A few minutes later a small child comes running into the room and leaps into the center of my cushion. Her pig tails are bouncing and her small feet sink into the crevices of where my cushion meets my arm. She pushes the paper aside with one foot as she holds a contraption in one hand aimed at a box across the room. A few seconds later, the box comes alive with singing and colored pictures dance across the screen. She hops up and down on my cushion and sings along with the music. In a moment a tall woman comes into the room with a container in her hand. She holds it out to the little girl and says, “Be careful and don’t slop it.” With one last jump into the air the little girl lands smack into the center of my cushion. She accepts the bowl from the woman and begins to use a utensil to put whatever is in the bowl into her mouth. The woman leaves the room and the little girl tosses the spoon onto the stool, which falls off and lands next to the crumpled newspaper. She uses both hands to tip the bowl up to her mouth and cool liquid with small particles land on my cushion congealing around her tiny legs. She gets excited with what is happening on the box across the room and begins to bounce causing more liquid and pieces from the bowl to land on my cushion. A few minutes later the sound of the tall woman, calls into the room, “C’mon time to get ready for the bus!” At once the little girl sets the bowl on my arm and leaps off my cushion across the room.

This is the worst part of the morning. Here she comes. She is big and furry and mean. She stretches and the long tail reaches out at least as long as my arm. She appears to be bowing to me but I know different… she is just getting ready. Suddenly it begins; claws in, claws out, claws in, and claws out. My leg is torn up from this mean animal that comes in every morning to get her manicure. If a chair could bleed, my leg would be bleeding. Then I hear him. That familiar bark from outside the room and here he comes pouncing in after her. She, the cat, quickly runs under my leg and under my cushion to safety. The dog starts lapping up the dripped liquid and eats the particles of food that dropped from the little girls bowl. Then he sniffs where the cat was, lifts his leg and a warm liquid soothes the spot where the cat was clawing. Seconds later it’s the woman again, this time in an angry voice. “Stop it, you bad dog!”

Then the antiseptic comes; she squirts this cold astringent liquid where the cat dug and the dog peed and she scrubs. She scrubs hard and she scrubs harder while she talks to me. She says things like, “Stupid dog, pee on the chair,” and while she is talking the cat sneaks out from under my cushion and scares her and then she yells at the cat, “If you would stop clawing this leg on the chair, maybe the dumb dog wouldn’t pee on it.” The cat sits up on the stool and yawns, as if to say, “Whatever”.

The woman picks up the contraption and points it at the box across the room and in a moment it is silent. She grabs the bowl, the antiseptic spray and the sponge she scrubbed with and flicks the light switch as she leaves the room. Darkness and silence again. Instantly I feel the pushing and pulling of small feet on my cushion. It is the cat, but this time in a gentler fashion; pushes in, pull out, push in, and pull out. Then she circles and curls up into a ball. As she dozes off into fairy tale land, I find myself dozing as well.

How many hours go by? Suddenly the switch on the wall is flicked on and light illuminates the room. This time an older woman holding on to something that moves as she walks slowly across the floor. She makes her way over to the box and pushes a button on it and then pushes another button until people are talking back and forth. She rolls that walking apparatus over to where the stool is and pushes that out of the way so that she is able to back up to my cushion where she plops her butt down. She has a bag hanging on the walking machine and she pulls a ball of string from it and two long needle type utensils. She puts the two together with the string and moves her hands and fingers with the utensils creating a woven piece of garment. This goes on for what seems like hours until she nods off and her head is resting on my arm and the utensils fall out of her hands. The cat appears and commences to bat at the ball of string. It rolls here and there and across the floor. Suddenly the older woman pops her head up and sees the ball of string unraveling all across the floor. “Oh dear,” she says, “You’re a bad kitty.” She tries to locate the two needle-like utensils, but she can only find one because the other has fallen deep into the crevices of my cushions. She struggles to get up, holding on to the walking mechanism as she does so. Like it was planned, the tall woman enters the room and says, “You need some help, Miss Ella?” She picks up the ball of string the cat is still batting around, and pushes at the cat’s belly, which rolls over and leaps out of the way. “Looks like you and kitty were having a tug of war here.” The older woman nods her head, takes the ball of string from the tall woman and places it in the bag. “I think it’s time for some lunch,” as she pushes on the walking machine and heads for the door. Again, the box is quieted and the switch on the wall makes everything dark. A few minutes later the cat is back getting comfortable again amongst my cushions.

I must have dozed off because I am startled when the room lights up. This time it is a much older girl with one pony tail and a young boy with things poking out of the side of his head. He plunks down almost sitting on the cat which makes a loud meow before leaping off the back of me and out the doorway into another room. The boy grabs the contraption and on comes the box. This time it is not fun colored pictures or happy music or people talking to each other. It is dark and eerie sounds coming from the box. The boy has another contraption that he holds with both hands pushing different buttons, which seem to coincide with the box across the room. Suddenly the boy slaps my arm and throws the equipment he was holding down on the floor. “Stupid game!” he gets up and heads toward the door. “I’m getting a snack, don’t take my spot and don’t touch my game!”

The girl is holding another device up to her head and talking into it. She is flipping through something that appears to be a newspaper but is smaller and covered with something hard and colored. She is putting a utensil to another paper book type thing and making marks on it. She looks up at the boy and nods her head, and as he leaves the room, she sticks her tongue out at him and rolls her eyes. She grabs the contraption from the stool, aims it at the box across the room and in a few seconds there are boys and girls on the box that appear to be the same age as the girl. They are laughing and talking and she is still talking into the object that she is holding up to her head.

A few minutes later the little girl with the pig tails comes into the room, this time with a pack on her back, and papers in her hand. She kicks off her shoes and jumps on to my cushion, dropping the papers on the floor and pulling the pack off her back. She is opening the bag when the boy comes back into the room. He points to the little girl and says “Out of my chair!” The little girl looks up and in a little voice says, “I was here first.” The boy is holding something in one hand that he appears to be eating, and with the other hand he grabs one of the little girls pig tails, and says, “No, you were not!” He drags her by the pig tail off my cushion. She begins to scream. Running in comes the dog, barking and jumping at the boy. The boy holds out his foot as the dog jumps at it. He stuffs whatever he had in his hand all the way in his mouth, and gives the little girl a push out of the way. “I was here first,” and he looks over at the other girl and says, “What did you do to my game?” She is still talking into the gadget held up to her head, and she shrugs her shoulders and rolls her eyes. The little girl picks up her bag and pulls something from it which she gives to the dog. He eats while wagging his tail.

The boy plunks down on the floor and leans against my legs where the cat clawed, the dog peed and the woman scrubbed. In a few minutes the dog is jumping into the center of my cushions and like the cat, twirling in a circle before lying down. The little girl in pig tails is playing with dolls from the bag on her back, the older girl is still talking into the contraption and the boy is pushing buttons which is controlling the box across the room again with the eerie sounds and dark pictures.

Not long after that, the big man enters the room and thumbs for the boy to get up away from me. Then he yells, “What is that dog doing in my chair?” The dog makes a quick leap off my arm and out of the way. “Get that out of your ear now, and finish your homework,” the man points to the older girl. She raises her finger, and he shakes his head. She takes the apparatus from her head and sets it on the stool. This time when the burly man makes his backside comfortable on my cushions he has a glass with cold liquid and cubes that clink together. As he sets it on my arm where the brown stain is, I can feel the coolness of the glass. Soon there will be a wet spot there from the condensation of the glass. He settles in, with the box controlling contraption and commences to push buttons. The box changes from bright colored animations to animals to people talking to lots of people in the same uniforms running around a field chasing what appears to be the same thing the cat was chasing earlier. He says to the little girl in pig tails, “What did you learn in school today?” She gathers up the papers on the floor and hands them to him in a wad.

Soon the tall woman is peaking into the room and saying, “Dinner is ready!” Like the dog getting out of the chair when the man yelled, everyone rushes to the door and out. The box is still full of people talking and the light is still on. Soon the dog is on my cushion and the cat is on my back. They remain this way until the family makes their way back into the room. The burly man snaps his fingers and the cat and the dog disappear. As everyone gets comfortable, the smell of popped corn is seeping from the bowl that is placed on the stool in front of me. There is much laughing and talking and some silence as the night goes on. One by one, little pig tail girl first and burly man last make their way out of the room. After they are gone and only the tall woman is left, she picks up what is left of the popped corn and eases into the warm confinement of my cushions, kicks her feet up on the stool and pushes a button on the contraption. The box goes black. She sits for a few brief moments and then reaches behind her backside and pulls the needle like utensil from out of the crevice of my cushions. She giggles and shakes her head as she gets up to tidy the room, picking up all of the routine items that were left behind. As she leaves the room, arms full, she looks at me, shakes her head a little, grins and shuts off the light.

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Scaling the Walls of the Penobscot

 

Hell found me!  As I fell into the depths of the cold salty Atlantic water I saw my whole fifteen year life flash before me.  I thought about my mother and what she would think.  I worried about my diary and what my sister would do with it when she found it.  I wondered what my friends Chris and Jackie were doing, and if they would try to save me.

The water swirled around me and everything turned black.  The salt tasted metallic in my mouth.  I kept sinking further into the depths of the water.  I didn’t realize the Penobscot was so deep, then suddenly I felt soft ground.  I pushed into the flats upward with my soaked sneakers and immediately began to ascend.  I wanted to take a breath.  I needed to take a breath.  When I slipped it was unexpected, and didn’t take a deep breath as one does before jumping in water.  I knew if I gasped for air that my lungs would be filled with water, and I would drown.  I couldn’t see the surface and my wet jeans and sweatshirt pulled me down.   I didn’t want to die.  I was too young to die.  I started making deals with God, as we do when things go wrong.  “Dear God, please don’t let me die.  Please, I promise I’ll never copy homework again.  I won’t be mean to my sister.  I promise I won’t skip anymore classes.  God, please, please, don’t let me drown.”

April showers bring May flowers, and they also bring warm, sunny afternoons, and the itching of spring fever; that equals to a whole bunch of trouble for a few high school kids. After five months of snow, and shoveling snow, and then more snow to shovel, when it reached 45 degrees, that was a celebrated welcome.  Basketball was over, and baseball hadn’t really got started so those late afternoon rides home on the activity bus were on temporary hiatus.  It was that awkward time of boredom in school, and typical teenage girls and boys look for things to dispel the monotony.   The three of us had been best friends since the fifth grade when I moved to town.  Based on my experience three friends are a recipe for disaster.  Two will get together and talk about the other one, and one will try to vie for another, and it normally turns into a mess.

For Chris, Jackie and I, it was different.  Chris wasn’t into the girlie things that Jackie and I talked about.  He just wanted to be our friend, and that was good enough for us.  We liked that Chris acted as our bodyguard per say, and he always let me copy his math homework.  He was wicked smart.    It is all different now with the technology and social media available to occupy a bored teen-ager.

Back in 1980 none of us owned a computer; let alone a smart phone.  (Our parents would never have tolerated us playing video games or social media forums anyways.)  We were lucky to have one color television in the house. If anyone had a cell phone it was one of those monstrosities that came in a bag and needed to have the magnet antennae plunked out on the roof, and then the power cord got plugged into the cigarette lighter.  If you were very lucky your parents owned a car that the cigarette lighter worked in, and maybe they let you borrow it with that ugly thing called a car phone.  Only some of the preppy kids, and most of the grease monkeys had their own cars.

The three of us were at the mercy of begging our parents ,and more often than not they said ‘no’.  Needless to say, most of our entertainment was done by walking or taking our bikes (you know those things that you peddle, and your butt hurts from the uncomfortable seat).     Spring fever brought afternoons of cutting classes, and walking the sidewalks trying to stay hidden from friends of our parents who would share the fact that they had seen us on the street, when we should have been in school.  We were young, naïve and we had no idea how lucky we were to be young and naïve, until after the thirteenth skip day when our parents were notified by the principal that we were cutting classes.  Young people do stupid things, and we were very stupid.

The most significant, as well as the last adventure we took could have been the death of us, or at least, one of us.  The three of us decided to cut our “health” class (how ironic now that I reminisce about it) and set out for a quest searching for anything that would be more exciting than sitting in Mr. Kings stinky armpit smelling class room listening to his monotonous voice talk about penises and vaginas.  Instead of walking the streets, taking the chance of being spied by a nosy adult, we decided to take the forbidden path just beyond the smoking area out behind Hampden Academy down to the Penobscot River.  We were going to hike out to the rocks, do some exploring and maybe find an electric eel in the small pools of water left behind from the tide going out.

The sun was shining and we shed our sweatshirts and tied them around our waists.   Jackie took her shoes off for a short time until one of the rocks cut her foot and she put the bloody thing back in her high top Nike sneakers.  We searched for cool looking shells with the shiny glitter of embossed quartzite, starfish, crabs and the coveted electric eel.  We made our way out across the rocks that went out deep into the smelly flats that were exposed from the tide being out. We were having a splendid afternoon, throwing rocks and mud at each other, talking about the upcoming spring dance and who we thought would go with who and who wouldn’t show up and who we’d like not to have show up.    What we weren’t expecting was the tide to rush back in so quickly.  One of us couldn’t swim.  We had sneakers on and jeans and sweatshirts tied around our waists.  Not dressed for rock climbing by any means.  When the tide comes in on the Penobscot, the tide comes in fast.  It was scary for all three of us but mostly for me.

It was Chris, probably because he was the one who couldn’t swim, who first recognized the fact that our way into land was quickly disappearing.  The path out to the rocks that we originally took covered almost immediately with eighteen feet of cold, salty, stinky Atlantic Ocean.  We had to scale the rocks fast if we were going to get to land before there was no path back at all.  I remember slipping and sliding and cutting our hands on the sharp edges of rocks.  The rocks poked out of the dark murky water, some covered in green mossy seaweed while others appeared to be shards of shiny black glass.  The most treacherous were the rocks that appeared dry and safe to step on, but our weight triggered them to shift and move causing us to lose our balance more than once.    I screamed and as I slipped I heard Jackie and Chris both yell, “Barbie!”  The rest was inaudible because I slipped into the depths of the black water.  It seemed like a life time that I was under water.  It was cold and I could feel my muscles tightening up, and soon I wouldn’t be able to move at all.  Abruptly I surfaced and sucked in a huge breath of fresh air.  I gagged and spit and clawed my way to the edge.  Jackie and Chris dragged me back up on the edge of the rocks.  I was shaking from fear more so than the cold, but thankful to be alive.

When we reached the shore line the only way to level ground was up.  We climbed through rocks and pulled through trees and brushed past bushes and dug through sod.  We climbed and moaned and groaned the whole way.  Dry level ground never felt so good.   Jackie and Chris ended up with soaked feet, wet jeans and bloody hands.  I was grateful to be soaked but alive and safe.  Where we came off the rocky walls was a long ways from where we had begun our adventure.  The walk back through a field of prickly bushes was not especially a fun experience, and when the giant back yard dog chased us and the owner came out with a shot gun, we were even more anxious to make our way back to school.  We were lucky to catch the bus home to Winterport and luckier when our parents said we had to quit cutting school and stay in Mr. King’s classroom.  We were just thankful that we could quit trying to scale the banks of the Penobscot River in a pair of Nike’s.

Today is a Blank Page

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Today is a blank page.  Yesterday was depressing.  The day before that, I finished the novel that I’ve been working on for two years.  It came to an end, as far as the writing is concerned.  Now the real work begins.

I was surprised at the emotion I was filled with at having written those final words: THE END.  I thought I would be happy, and there would be cause for celebration.  To my dismay, there was no one to revel with in my achievement.  My husband was busy at work, and all of my friends and family are too busy with their own achievements to be interested in any of my mine.  So I wallowed in my self-pity, spending the day researching publishers, and sending out query letters.  It was not a wasted day by any means, just a depressing one.

I’ve heard it said before that a writer’s life is a lonely life.  I didn’t really believe that.  When I’m writing I’m creating characters who I love, who I hate, who I like, and who I could do without.  They are my ‘social media’ per say, and they keep me company.  When the book came to an end, so did the characters, and that was a day of loneliness.  They came to the end of their reality, and it was time to put them away and move on.  That was depressing for me because I fell in love with my characters.  I now understand the meaning of a lonely writer’s life.  When it was time to face the reality that the story had to end, that it couldn’t go on forever, I longed for those characters to come back into my life.  I am grateful that little bit of depression only lasted for a day.

Today is a blank page.  Today I begin to create new characters that will come to life on the page in a new story.  Today I will make new friends with new characters I love, new characters I hate, and new characters I can probably do without.  Today is a beautiful blank page.