Time of Orphaning

file0001349463653It’s tough when you are orphaned at seventy. I say that without rancor or irony. I’d known Mrs. O’Donall and her daughter for fifteen years, which at the time of this story was the entire length of my life.

The ladies – as everyone called them – were fixtures in our parish. Each morning they arrived at St. Anselm’s at precisely six-fifty for daily Mass. Their consistency was such that my mom said she could tell time by them. They generally made their way into church arm-in-arm and always sat in the first pew.

While the younger lady was fragile, tentative and wide-eyed, the older one was stern, sturdy and quick-minded. With her daughter in tow, she worked on the Annual Church Carnival Planning Committee and in the Women’s Auxiliary as well, relied upon to help the nuns clean the sacristy, press altar cloths and arrange flowers. Over time they left cleaning the sacristy to younger women.

Those two were always proper and powdered, wearing red lipstick and hats and gloves as if it was still the forties or fifties. Everyone called Miss O’Donall “Baby,” though she was seventy. In fact I never knew her real name until I read it in the in the church bulletin: “Patricia O’Donall of County Cork, Ireland and the widow of John is survived by their only daughter, Margaret O’Donall . . . ” Margaret, I thought. Well that doesn’t seem to suit her. Maggie maybe. I could see her being called Maggie.

****

Mrs. O’Donall was ninety-one when the call came and “a nice ripe old age it ‘tis,” said my mother. She was preparing stuffed cabbage for after the funeral. The gathering would be in the church hall and the funeral at St. Charles Cemetery, which is where everyone in our parish gets buried. It has green lawns, tree-lined walks and stone fences. Odd that the dead are buried in a more beautiful place than the ones in which they had lived.

The O’Donall place was owned by the church. It was a four story walk-up on 97th Street next to an empty lot and so old it had dumb-waiters with ropes on pulleys and rusty hot-water radiators that hissed and rattled. The halls and stairwells smelled of rancid oils and the walls were marked with I’d guess was about fifty-or-so years of grime and fingerprints. The old ladies lived on Mrs. O’Donall’s husband’s pension combined with Baby’s savings left from her working days.

I was at their place often, whenever they needed me to run errands or to help lug groceries up the stairs. Their apartment had one bedroom. Mrs. O’Donall slept in the bedroom and Baby slept in the livingroom on a daybed. They kept their place as scrubbed and as sparkling as they could get an old place like that, with paint peeling and the linoleum worn and yellowing and starting to curl. You could smell the mothballs they used in their closet.

Their furniture “had seen better days,” as my Gram would say. They had small replicas of the Irish tricolor and the American flag on the buffet, odd splashes of color in the midst of pragmatic tan and brown. The end tables and the backs and arms of the chairs and sofa were protected with crocheted doilies in the old way, crochet hooks and cotton being as constant in the old ladies hands as their prayer beads and almost as revered. You could count on them to ply their craft like you could count on having to study for the SATs and on your parents giving you a curfew. Whatever the ladies gifted you from crib to coffin would be crocheted. “And so you should be honored,” my mother had said, “that the ladies made something with their own hands for your birthday.” That was the last year before Mrs. O’Donall died. They gave me two white crocheted collars for my cardigans, but no one wears that kind of collar anymore.

****

Uncle Tom and Uncle Andy, my mother’s brothers, took Baby in charge throughout the days of the wake and during the funeral, taking turns to help her up-and-down the stairs at home and holding onto her so that she didn’t trip into the grave at the funeral. She wasn’t normally doddering, but it did seem she was in shock. Mom made sure Baby ate some dinner at night and helped her into bed and my aunt on my father’s side, Claire Marie, got Baby up each morning and made her Red Rose tea and steel-cut oatmeal with raisins, brown sugar and milk. She drank the tea but barely touched the oatmeal.

We all worried about how Baby would fare when the flurry of activity subsided and she was left alone with silence and the reality of her mother’s death. She was the subject of the Women’s Auxiliary as they wondered if they should create a rotation of its members to check on her each day and make sure she didn’t feel abandoned. They wondered if they should also call the county social services. “I don’t want to be mean,” said Mrs. St. John, “but we all have husbands and children to care for. Where’s the time?”

“Where’s the time indeed,” said my mother with five kids and a husband “who is really just another child after all and more helpless than the rest.” So in the end county social services was called and a Miss Antonio came to talk with my mom and Mrs. St. John. My mother opened the door to her knock and found the lady dressed in a snappy red pants suit and carrying a brown leather briefcase. “Not Irish, but she’s a nice young lady and got herself an education too.”

In the end Miss Antonio’s considered opinion was that Baby was too frail to live on her own and too emotionally unstable for her judgement to be trusted. Amid Baby’s tears and confusion, Miss Antonio and some others from county social services packed a bag with the “basics” and moved Baby to an old people’s home. Her furniture and other things were sold or otherwise disposed of.  Mom said that money from the sale went into some sort of trust account for Baby’s care along with her remaining savings.

After a couple of days, some of the women in the Auxiliary and one of the nuns visited Baby. They said she was grieving but that the home was nice and she’d be happy and safe there.  I wanted to see it for myself. I wanted to see if Baby was really okay in that place. About two weeks after the move, Mom finally said I could go visit.

****

The following Sunday after ten-o’clock Mass, I made the twelve-block hike in the summer heat, arriving sweaty and dry-mouthed. I was surprised to find that the home didn’t look like a home at all. It was more like a government building, a school or something. Institutional. I went to the front desk and asked to see Miss Margaret O’Donall. The receptionist – who didn’t look much older than I – politely pointed to the stairs and said, “Next floor. First room on your right.”

Baby’s room was nothing like her old apartment and wasn’t very homey. There was a small night-stand with a lamp by a single bed, its metal frame painted black. There was an oak dresser with a mirror attached and a padded arm chair. The floor was bare and the window barred. The bed was neatly made with a worn white chenille bedspread.

The room’s saving grace was a big maple outside the window. Someone had placed the chair so that Baby could sit and look at the tree and the birds and squirrels. You could see patches of blue between the buildings, though their high rising blocked any view of the horizon.

Whenever I visited Baby during the months that followed I’d find her sitting by that window. Staring. Silent. Almost breathless. After awhile she’d realize I was there. “Oh, our bonnie Bonnie,” she’d say, “Mother will be so glad to see you.” When the winter came, she asked me to buy her crochet cotton and hooks and she started crocheting again and all winter long Baby made bed jackets. “You know Mother,” she said, “she always feels the chill.”

That spring Baby joined Mrs. O’Donall. I went to the home one day to find her bed stripped and her things packed in two paper shopping bags. I brought everything home to my mom and she let me keep the bed jackets. It’s been two years and I’m still not sure what I should do with them, but I don’t want to let them go. I don’t want to erase my memory of Baby. I don’t want to forget how hard it is when the time of orphaning comes, even if it doesn’t come until I am old.

© 2014,  Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved; This short story is a fiction and any resemblence to anyone living or dead is coincidence. Photo credit ~ courtesy of morgueFile

Photo on 2014-03-31 at 17.16 #3unnamed-18JAMIE DEDES (The Poet by Day)~I am a medically retired (disabled) elder and the mother of married son who is very dear. I started blogging shortly after I retired as a way to maintain my sanity and to stay connected to the arts and the artful despite being mostly homebound. My Facebook pages are: Jamie Dedes (Arts and Humanities) and Simply Living, Living Simply.

With the help and support of talented bloggers and readers, I founded and host The Bardo Group because I feel that blogging offers a means to see one another in our simple humanity, as brothers and sisters and not as “other.”

“Good work, like good talk or any other form of worthwhile human relationship, depends upon being able to assume an extended shared world.” Stefan Collini (b. 1947), English Literary Critic and Professor of English Literature at Cambridge

Sweet Grass

Sweetgrass HillsSweetgrass Hills in Montana from Red Rock Coulee
Source: Wikipedia

“His father’s father was Métis, you know…rode with Riel in 1869 and his father fought with Dumont at Duck Lake and Batoche in ’85,” Sheriff Hank Reynolds said as he pulled the glasses off his nose after reading the arrest report on his desk.

“That may be so, Sheriff, but it doesn’t give Liberté Beaubois license to ride into Montana, hunt protected buffalo and take a couple of shots at my head, does it?” asked Reynolds’ new deputy, Linus Philkin.

Reynolds wiped a few drops of coffee off his graying mustache and walked back to the holding cell, where he stared at a buckskin-clad man sleeping on the floor, face to the wall, on a mattress he’d pulled off the cot.

The sheriff rubbed his hand across his bald spot and recalled wind blowing through his hair in the long-ago when he, Liberté and some Piegan boys from over Milk River way would ride hell-bent for election chasing buffalo that would wander onto his father’s place. It was in those days before the Somme, before Liberté came home with a Victoria Cross and Croix de guerre in exchange for his childhood, an eye and, some said, his mind.

“I’ll take care of this,” Reynolds said, and loaded Liberté into his Ford pickup truck and Liberté’s horse with his into the trailer behind it. They drove from Chester up to his old man’s place outside Whitlash, where they mounted and pointed their ponies north, all the while howling like twelve-year-olds, chasing memories through the Sweet Grass back into Alberta.

A true mash-up of prompts went into this little story. First was Lillie McFerrin’s word of the week, Freedom. Then I decided it worked with Canadian writer Sarah Salecky’s daily prompt, which was “His father’s father was Métis.” I can never let a chance to write a North American historical piece go by. Then, as luck would have it, the first Story-A-Day May prompt was Going Home. And there you have it.

– Joe Hesch 
© 2014, All rights reserved

Hesch Profileproduct_thumbnail-3.phpJOSEPH HESCH (A Thing for Words) is a writer and poet from Albany, New York , an old friend of Bardo and a new core team member. Joe’s work is published in journals and anthologies coast-to-coast and worldwide. He posts poems and stories-in-progress on his blog, A Thing for Words.  An original staff member at dVerse Poets Pub website, Joe was named one of Writers Digest Editor Robert Lee Brewer’s “2011 Best Tweeps for Writers to Follow.” He is also a member of the Grass Roots Poetry Group and featured in their 2013 poetry anthology Petrichor Rising.

Señora Ortega’s Frijoles

flores de la frijoles
las flores de frijoles

Her fate was set when she fell under the spell of his kind eyes and bigger than life personality. For his part, he loved her gentle ways, the fluid dance of her hands at work, the sensual swing of her hips as she walked to the market with basket in hand. And so it happened that in 1948, with her father’s permission and her mother’s tears, they were wed in the old adobe iglesia where uncounted generations of her family had been married before her. Not many months after the wedding, she kissed her parents and siblings goodbye, took a long loving look at her village, and she followed her new husband north to los Estados Unidos de América. She was already pregnant with Clarita.

****

As the days and years passed, they settled into their routines. Sunday mornings were her husband’s quiet time. He stayed at home while Señora Ortega and Clarita were at Mass. In their absence he would occasionally put down his newspaper and stir his wife’s frijoles simmering fragrant with pork, a few bay leaves, onions and garlic.

Last night: their Saturday ritual, she and Clarita had sorted and then washed the dried beans in cold water and left them to soak until morning. The child – fast becoming a young woman – took the time and care to do a good job of this. El trabajo es vertud. Work is virtue, Señora Ortega encouraged. In the tradition of Señora Ortega’s own madre, la cocina was a place of teaching – about food, about life, about being a woman, about being human.

“!Ten cuidado, hija!”  Be careful, she would say as she demonstrated her almost sacramental sorting of the dry beans. It was an opportunity to teach Clarita the dichos, the proverbs, of her mother and grandmother and all the grandmothers before. “Los frijoles son nuestra fuerza.” We get our strength from los frijoles, she taught Clarita just as her own mother taught her. Certainly the beans give the strength to our bodies, but also the strength to our character.  There are lessons. “¡Aqui!”  Remove these. Remove the wrinkled, the broken, the discolored or malformed. Remove them as you should remove flaws from your character. One bad frijole will ruin the whole pot.  Taparse con la misma cobija.* … You will be judged by the company you keep. Be cautious in your choice of friends.  Even the norteamericanos have such a saying: one bad apple spoils the bunch.

“Mama,” said Clarita, rolling her eyes after her mother’s latest speech. We are North Americans.” Señora Ortega’s brow furrowed when she heard this. She was given to worry about such reactions from her daughter. What of the child’s values?  It is true after all. My daughter is American. What does this mean for her future, for our relations, and for us as la familia?

****

Soon Señora Ortega had to put her concerns aside. It was springtime. Easter was upon them and with it a visit from her husband’s sister with her two small children. Señora Ortega and Clarita were busy with preparations. The air in her house smelled of poblanos roasting and cookies baking. They put fresh linens on the beds in the guest rooms. They picked flowers from her garden and set them in vases around the house. She gave in and bought chocolate Easter bunnies too, the silly convention of this country, but the children loved them and looked forward to them each year.

Finally the honored guests arrived and the house was filled with the cheerful noises of los niños. The boy and girl were now old enough to learn to prepare beans and, on the eve of Easter Sunday, Señora Ortega gave Clarita the task of showing the children how to sort los frijoles for cooking.  She looked on as Clarita explained the process. “!Ten cuidado, mis primos. Aqui! Remove these. Remove the wrinkled, the broken, the discolored or malformed.  Remove them as you should remove flaws from your character. Remember one bad frijole will ruin the whole pot. Be cautious in your choice of friends. Taparse con la misma cobija. You will be judged by the company you keep. “Los frijoles son nuestra fuerza.” Los frijoles are our strength.

****

At some point, Señora Ortega’s husband had come to stand by her side. She realized he was watching her as intently as she watched their daughter. He put his arm around her and held her close. “You see, mi querida, she is a good girl and you are a good mother. It’s gonna be okay …” “Am I that transparent,” thought Señora Ortega, but she sighed gratefully. All will be well. My mother was right. “Los frijoles son nuestra fuerza.” 

Taparse con la misma cobija – literally: to cover yourself with the same blanket, i.e. likely the same meaning as our expression “birds of a feather.”

© 2012, short story, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved. This story is a fabrication and not meant to depict any specific person or persons living or dead. It is, however, meant to provide a slight view of immigrant concerns and to show how in some traditions values are passed from mother to daughter. Photo credit ~ Schnobby via Wikipedia under Creative Commons Share-Alike 3.0 unported license

Photo on 2014-03-31 at 17.16 #3– JAMIE DEDES (The Poet by Day)~ I am a mother and a medically retired (disabled) elder. The graces of poetry, art, music, writing and study continue to evolve as a sources of wonder and solace, as a creative outlet, and as a part of my spiritual practice.

Needed

The same question that had hounded her for years continued to pummel Irene: At the end of my life, what will I have to show for it?

The answer, she decided, wasn’t in this place—a box-like room full of white sheets, a white blanket, a white commode and the sickly smell of urine, feces and vomit.

She dragged her legs to the edge of the bed, grabbed the rubber handles of her walker encrusted with the grime of three weeks in the nursing home, and made her way to the apple red crash cart parked down the hall where she copped a vial of potassium chloride, a 22 gauge needle, a syringe and tourniquet from the drawer that should have been locked.

After signing herself out against medical advice, she took a taxi home—her happy yellow home with the flower boxes on the window sill that had just come into bloom—the place where she had chosen to die.

Purty, her calico cat greeted her at the door, purring and winding herself about the ankles of the old lady who suddenly realized that the medicine stashed inside her purse wasn’t what she really wanted, not when she had something that needed her..

In my nursing experience, people need someone or something to get better for–or at least the process of rehabilitation goes much better when there is a loved one waiting at home. Even, perhaps especially, if that “someone” depends upon them.

2940013445222_p0_v1_s260x42034ff816cd604d91d26b52d7daf7e8417VICTORIA C. SLOTTO (Victoria C. Slotto, Author: Fiction, Poetry and Writing Prompts) ~ is an accomplished writer and poet. Winter is Past, published by Lucky Bat Books in 2012, is Victoria’s first novel. A second novel is in process. On Amazon and hot-off-the-press nonfiction is Beating the Odds: Support for Persons with Early Stage Dementia. Victoria’s ebooks (poetry and nonfiction) are free to Amazon Prime Members. Link HERE for Victoria’s Amazon page.

Editorial note: Congratulations, Victoria, on that the long awaited publication of print copies of Jacaranda Rain, Collected Poems, 2012, Beautifully done.

Writers’ Fourth Wednesday is hosted by Victoria from January through October and will post from now on at 12:01 a.m. P.S.T., not at 7 p.m. P.S.T.

luminous – short prose

She sat there, with the precious stillness of a Tanagra, frozen beneath the cascade of magnolia petals – and all that sunrise was able to do was to jewel her aura with fiery reflexes, as if she was Amaterasu herself, borrowing for a while the limits of flesh with the sole purpose of proving the beauty of her infinity. I was unable to move, unable to make a sound, and for a moment I thought I would see her suddenly float and fly away, her body soaked with light and my eyes drained of all will to blink. Even her voice sounded as if woven from glints, when it stretched towards my senses like an invisible limb:

– The sun doesn’t always rise with the same brilliance. There are dawns when, for various reasons (all, or almost all of them of a scientific nature, of course) what you see growing above the line of the horizon is not that imposing disk of glowing majesty, but a shy red roundel, mat and exuding insecurity, as if it were born untimely from sky’s bleeding wombs. But if you stay there long enough and stare at it, you will witness the victory of plasma over atmosphere and soon the cells from your retina will be burned, as punishment for daring to assist at the visual metamorphosis of our closest star, as if your gaze would have somehow stained that moment of vulnerability…

She paused for a second – a long, ethereal, suspended on the tip of her gaze second – and then she continued:

Sparrow_on_snowy_branch– I’ve watched such sunrises more than just once from the window of my room. There were times when I saw the sky being flooded with raw sunlight and then suddenly a sparrow with eyes of onyx would come and sit on a branch of the elm tree growing right next to that window. It looked at me cautious, first with an eye, then with the other, and then it would suddenly release from that tiny throat a sample of happiness and freedom, as if to demonstrate me that joy can be found even in the simplest of things. It was that sparrow that taught me how to feel free, beyond the wheels of this chair, and not a sunrise goes by without me hoping you’d find your own sparrow, my son…

© 2013 Liliana Negoi

The photo attached was taken by Lewis Collard,

IMG_7667LILIANA NEGOI  (Endless Journey and in Romanian curcubee în alb şi negru) ~ is a member of our core team on Into the Bardo. She is the author of three published volumes of poetry in English, which is not her mother tongue but one that she came to love especially because of writing: Sands and Shadows, Footsteps on the San – tanka collection and The Hidden Well.  The last one can also be heard in audio version, read by the author herself on her SoundCloud site HERE.  Many of her creations, both poetry and prose, have been published in various literary magazines.

New Shoots

Martha pushed the wave of hair from her mouth. It curled defiantly, springing back to long-established disobedience. Persistent, she thought, me and my curls.

Grey now, her hair once tumbled in fiery splendour, was alive, misbehaved ~ a shimmering red-gold, tossed easily by whispers of season’s change. Though faded, red gold still flecked her grey.

She had always loved Autumn ~ even in Spring ~ loved passion’s ripening, bearing fruit, swelling, dying and finding peace in Earth’s dormancy.

Gazing from her bedroom window upon the now silent, winter-ravaged garden made barren by endings, she noticed the first thin, green shoot pushing its way through frozen earth in reach of sun. It broke that ground disallowing any weight that might prevent discovery of new life. It pierced the earth, pushed it aside and reached upwards with unashamed vigour.new shoots (1) - Copy.png

Martha remembered many springs ~ the spring in her step, the song in her heart, the smell of freshly broken soil, the scent of blossom on the air, new love ~ the excitement of life begun when there were many springs to come.

The young shoot clamouring for sky stabbed her heart. That green shard ~ that razor sharp needle did not speak of hope or new beginnings ~ nor solace, expectancy, or the trumpeted arrival into a fresh season.

She would not see flowers sown by him; she would not smell soil fresh-turned by him. She would not gather herbs for an evening feast. Birds could not sing her wounded heart awake or delight with soaring melody. Her garden was empty and silent.

She moved across the room. At her dressing-table, she opened the drawer, and taking scissors between her slender fingers, she pulled the offending curl straight, and cut.

Round after round, tinged still with autumn fire, tumbled to the ground, where it lay still and final.

– Niamh Clune

© 2013, story and photograph, Niamh Clune, All rights reserved

430564_3240554249063_1337353112_n-1orange-petals-cover_page_001DR. NIAMH CLUNE (On the Plum Tree) ~ is the author of the Skyla McFee series: Orange Petals in a Storm, and Exaltation of a Rose. She is also the author of The Coming of the Feminine Christ: a ground-breaking spiritual psychology. Niamh received her Ph.D. from Surrey University on Acquiring Wisdom Through The Imagination and specialises in The Imaginal Mind and how the inborn, innate wisdom hidden in the soul informs our daily lives and stories. Niamh’s books are available in paperback (children’s books) and Kindle version (The Coming of the Feminine Christ). Dr. Clune is the CEO of Plum Tree Books and Art. Its online store is HERE.  Niamh’s Amazon page is HERE.

Waiting

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI wait each day, down by the ocean, sitting on our bench, looking out to sea. The sun is relentless, piercing through my linen shroud like an X-ray picking clean my bones. I turn my face to it in supplication. Still, it beats down on me; whilst gentle waves of sea roll in, slide up the beach and trickle through millions of grains of sand, each of little consequence.

A sand crab hurries away. I know not where. I do not wonder. I think only of you and the last time we met. You were dark that day, your passion spent. You could not love. You could not feel. You stood a distance away, dressed in a long grey coat. The heat never touched you. It did not X-Ray your bones, nor expose the wild, stunted heart that lay beneath that full, bleak envelope. A quiet breeze lifted your hair in billowing wisps, playing with it, tempting you to participate in the beauty of the day. You saw no-thing. Your eyes were black, shrivelled into thin points staring out to sea.

You should not have been there. You looked so out of place. The incongruity of the moment stabbed me like a shard of yellow sunlight bursting through the walls of my heart.

I remember now. A tear rolls down my cheek, splashes into the sand and disappears inconsequentially, as a droplet carried in an ocean of tears.

You will never come again.

That time, you came to mourn me. You saw only an empty bench, a cruel, not gentle sea, and a crab that fed off my bones.

I am here my love, waiting still, in the moments when the wind rustles through your hair to tempt you into seeing the beauty of the day.

– Niamh Clune

© 2013, fiction, Niamh Clune, All rights reserved
Photo courtesy of morgeFile

430564_3240554249063_1337353112_n-1orange-petals-cover_page_001DR. NIAMH CLUNE (On the Plum Tree) ~ is the author of the Skyla McFee series: Orange Petals in a Storm, and Exaltation of a Rose. She is also the author of The Coming of the Feminine Christ: a ground-breaking spiritual psychology. Niamh received her Ph.D. from Surrey University on Acquiring Wisdom Through The Imagination and specialises in The Imaginal Mind and how the inborn, innate wisdom hidden in the soul informs our daily lives and stories. Niamh’s books are available in paperback (children’s books) and Kindle version (The Coming of the Feminine Christ). Her Amazon page is HERE.

WRITERS’ FOURTH WEDNESDAY: Character Development in Fiction

Photo Credit: Pinterest
Photo Credit: Pinterest

A while back, I attended a writer’s conference session about character development. The speaker suggested using astrological signs as a means to create believable, consistent characters. My knowledge of astrology is scant, but I tried to apply it to the characters in my first novel, Winter is Past. The results weren’t what I’d hoped for.

When I worked in the area of nursing education, human resources and spirituality, I had the opportunity to delve into Myers-Briggs…a personality evaluation tool that assesses behavior based on four areas of response: Introversion versus extraversion, Intuitive versus sensate, Thinking versus Feeling and Perceptive versus Judgmental. The latter may not be so self-explanatory but I use the example of my parents: my dad would be ready to go somewhere 20 minutes ahead of time, while my mother would change her mind a few more times about what she wanted to wear. Think: structured versus easy-going.

I returned to my draft manuscript, and applied the Myers-Briggs, using this tool to help me re-create the major characters with the result of more consistent, believable players. For my second novel The Sin of His Father, I wrote out character profiles before I even began to write, again using the Myers-Briggs. It has made it so much easier.

Photo Credit: vivalamanosphere.com
Photo Credit: vivalamanosphere.com

There is an old book called Please Understand Me that explains all the possible profile combinations and how they play out in real life. If you can find it, it’s been a godsend.

I’m addicted to The Learning Company‘s Great Courses, university level programs presented by the highest quality professors. One of the courses, The Art of Reading is taught by Professor Timothy Spurgin of Lawrence University. The lectures are well-organized, clearly presented and as applicable to writers as to readers.

An important point from the lecture on characters addresses developing round characters. The concept of a round character, as opposed to a flat one, was presented by E. M. Forster in his book, Aspects of the Novel. Simply put, a round character is one who will capture the reader’s interest because of his unpredictability, his complexity and the changes he undergoes during the course of the story. And this is key: “The test of a round character is whether it is capable of surprising in a convincing way.” (Forster)

While a protagonist needs to draw the sympathy of the reader, he should have some character flaws. Inversely, your antagonist should have something that makes him, if not attractive, at least capable of being understood. Just like us–no one is all good or all bad.

As you write, reflect upon your own reaction to the key characters in your manuscript. Are you able to identify with them to some degree? Are there things that, if you were that person, you might be ashamed of or want to change? Are there events or reactions which are surprising without being totally out-of-character (unconvincing)? Is your character someone you would want to know, or avoid?

One thing I find helpful when writing fiction is to base my characters on a composite of people I know or with whom I have been acquainted. You can even take someone who is in the public eye. I try not to use one person because I would never want anyone to say to me, “That’s me, isn’t it?” My mother once thought a character was her because I set a scene in a room in her house! And this secondary character was not, initially, a nice person.

I hope this brief reflection on characters will be helpful to those of you who have an interest in writing fiction. In a future post, I’ll share a character development worksheet that I prepared for  a character in novel #2 to give you something to hang your words on!

We’d like to invite you to share a brief paragraph or poem of your own presenting a character you’ve created or known somewhere along the road. There are two ways you can do it:

  • Preferably, post your description on your own blog or website, then copy and paste the direct URL into the Mr. Linky, which is included at below at the end of this post.  He will also ask you to include your name or another identifier.
  • If you prefer, add your character sketch to the comments section.
  • It’s nice, though not required to read others and leave a like or comment. I will visit all of them.

Happy writing; enjoy the process!

– Victoria

EDITOR’S NOTE: Mr. Linky is below Victoria’s bio ~

Victoria at the Palm Springs Writer's Expo March 2012
Victoria at the Palm Springs Writer’s Expo March 2012

jr-cover-2VICTORIA C. SLOTTO (Victoria C. Slotto, Author: Fiction, Poetry and Writing Prompts) ~  is an accomplished writer and poet. Winter is Past, published by Lucky Bat Books in 2012is Victoria’s first novel.  A second novel is in process.  Jacaranda Rain — Collected poems, 2012 is available on Amazon, as is the hot-off-the-press nonfiction, Beating the Odds: Support for Persons with Early Stage Dementia. Victoria’s poetry collection and non-fiction book are free to Amazon Prime Members.  Link HERE for Victoria’s Amazon page.

A Force of Nature

Winooski RiverThe waters are rising. We have had many days of rain the past couple of months and the rivers are running high, many in flood. Here on the western flank of Vermont rain falls in the mountains and tumbles through rocky streams to the rivers, then into the lake. We are told the water is too cold, high, and fast for swimming, yet people, refusing to honor the Nature of the torrent, go swimming, often creating unhappy outcomes.

We are each a force of Nature, although we tend to forget this, individually and collectively. We seem to easily lose connection with the great powers that lie embodied within us, ignoring the joys and dangers they offer. It is so very easy to identify with mind or brawn, money and might, missing the deep connection implicit in recognizing one’s own Nature. Or perhaps we lose any connection to the force of our Nature, imagining we are powerless or fearful of the energies we intuit within us.

Power is a loaded word, drenched in the abuses ingrained in our various forms of governance, education, and sadly, even family and community. Too often power is power over rather than power with or through. Yet the shamans have always taught that we are each, like the raging river, a force to be honored and reckoned with. Shamanism, like zen, opens doorways to the realization of one’s true Nature. Dare we walk through?

© 2013, essay and photographs (includes portrait below), Michael Watson, All rights reserved

michael drumMICHAEL WATSON, M.A., Ph.D., LCMHC (Dreaming the World) ~ is a contributing editor to Into the Bardo, an essayist and a practitioner of the Shamanic arts, psychotherapist, educator and artist of Native American and European descent. He lives and works in Burlington, Vermont, where he teaches in undergraduate and graduate programs at Burlington College,. He was once Dean of Students there. Recently Michael has been teaching in India and Hong Kong. His experiences are documented on his blog. In childhood he had polio, an event that taught him much about challenge, struggle, isolation, and healing.

Shadows …

Auchenroddan Forest
Auchenroddan Forest

In the deep-rooted shadows upon which the forest stands, where nothing grows except moss and the debris piles of winter-felled branches and twigs, they heard the stuttering k-r-r-r-r-r-k like that of an opening door to a derelict shack.

But around Jerry Lilly and his brother Ben, padding through the shadows, there was no abandoned home except last year’s finch’s nest and the insect domicile within the pine upon which a woodpecker hammered another k-r-r-r-r-k.

“This noise where there’s nothing around creeps me out, man,” Ben said.

“Someday, little brother, you’ll find such ‘noise,’ as you call it, a blanket of quiet comfort, the caress of natural music far from the crash and soul-crunching violence in the city to which you’ll run as often as possible for its peace,” said Jerry.

“Okay, I get it, but it’s so darn dark in here, how the hell are we supposed to see anything well enough to shoot it?” Ben said, shifting the new rifle to his shoulder and swinging it around in carefree arcs.

– Joseph Hesch

© 2013, Joseph Hesch, story and the portrait below, All rights reserved

Hesch ProfileJOSEPH HESCH (A Thing for Words) is a writer and poet from Albany, New York. This delightfully ironic flash-fiction piece is what we hope will be the first of many contributions to Into the Bardo. Joe’s poems and stories are inspired by his almost 400-year-old hometown, but most spring from his many travels between his right ear and his left ear. A former journalist, Joe has written for a living for more than thirty years and only recently convinced himself to rediscover the writer he once thought he was. Five years ago he began to write short fiction. Two years later, in a serendipitous response to a blinding case of writer’s block, he wrote his first poem…ever. He hasn’t looked back.

Joe’s work is published in journals and anthologies coast-to-coast and worldwide. He posts poems and stories-in-progress on his blog, A Thing for Words.  An original staff member at dVerse Poets Pub website, Joe was named one of Writers Digest Editor Robert Lee Brewer’s “2011 Best Tweeps for Writers to Follow.”

SEÑORA ORTEGA’S FRIJOLES or LESSONS LEARNED IN THE KITCHEN

las flores de frijoles
las flores de frijoles

SEÑORA ORTEGA’S FRIJOLES

by

Jamie Dedes

Her fate was set when she fell under the spell of the American’s kind eyes and bigger than life personality. For his part, he loved her gentle ways, the fluid dance of her hands at work, the sensual swing of her hips as she walked to the market with basket in hand. And so it happened that in 1948, with her father’s permission and her mother’s tears, they were wed in the old adobe iglesias where uncounted generations of her family had been married before her. Not many months after the wedding, she kissed her parents and siblings goodbye, took a long loving look at her village, and followed her new husband north to los Estados Unidos de América. She was already pregnant with Clarita.

****

As the days and years passed, they settled into their routines. Sunday mornings were her husband’s quiet time. He stayed at home while Señora Ortega and Clarita were at Mass. In their absence he would occasionally put down his newspaper and stir his wife’s frijoles simmering fragrant with pork, a few bay leaves, onions and garlic. Last night: their Saturday ritual, she and Clarita had sorted and then washed the dried beans in cold water and left them to soak until morning. The child – fast becoming a young woman – took the time and care to do a good job of this. El trabajo es vertud. Work is virtue, Señora Ortega encouraged.

In the tradition of Señora Ortega’s own madrela cocina was a place of teaching – about food, about life, about being a woman, about being human. “!Ten cuidado, hija!”  Be careful, she would say as she demonstrated her almost sacramental sorting of the dry beans. It was an opportunity to teach Clarita the dichos, the proverbs, of her mother and grandmother and all the grandmothers before.

“Los frijoles son nuestra fuerza.” We get our strength from los frijoles, she taught Clarita just as her own mother taught her. Certainly the beans give the strength to our bodies, but also the strength to our character.  There are lessons. “¡Aqui!”  Remove these. Remove the wrinkled, the broken, the discolored or malformed. Remove them as you should remove flaws from your character. One bad frijole will ruin the whole pot.  Taparse con la misma cobija.* … You will be judged by the company you keep. Be cautious in your choice of friends.  Even the Norte Americanos have such a saying: one bad apple spoils the bunch.

“Mama,” said Clarita, rolling her eyes after her mother’s latest speech. We are North Americans.” Señora Ortega’s brow furrowed when she heard this. She was given to worry about such reactions from her daughter. What of the child’s values?  It is true after all. My daughter is American. What does this mean for her future, for our relations, and for us as la familia?

****

Soon Señora Ortega had to put her concerns aside. It was springtime. Easter was upon them and with it a visit from her husband’s sister with her two small children. Señora Ortega and Clarita were busy with preparations. The air in her house smelled of poblanos roasting and cookies baking. They put fresh linens on the beds in the guest rooms. They picked flowers from her garden and set them in vases around the house. She gave in and bought chocolate Easter bunnies too, the silly convention of this country, but the children loved them and looked forward to them each year.

Finally the honored guests arrived and the house was filled with the cheerful noises oflos niños. The boy and girl were now old enough to learn to prepare beans and, on the eve of Easter Sunday, Señora Ortega gave Clarita the task of showing the children how to sort los frijoles for cooking.  She looked on as Clarita explained the process. “!Ten cuidado, mis primos. Aqui! Remove these. Remove the wrinkled, the broken, the discolored or malformed.  Remove them as you should remove flaws from your character. Remember one bad frijole will ruin the whole pot. Be cautious in your choice of friends. Taparse con la misma cobija. You will be judged by the company you keep. “Los frijoles son nuestra fuerza.” Los frijoles are our strength.

****

At some point, Señora Ortega’s husband had come to stand by her side. She realized he was watching her as intently as she watched their daughter. He put his arm around her and held her close. “You see, mi querida, she is a good girl and you are a good mother. It’s gonna be okay …”

“Am I that transparent,” thought Señora Ortega, but she sighed gratefully. All will be well. My mother was right. “Los frijoles son nuestra fuerza.” 

.

Taparse con la misma cobija – literally: to cover yourself with the same blanket, i.e. likely the same meaning as our expression “birds of a feather.”

© 2012, short story, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved. This story is a fabrication and not meant to depict any specific person or persons living or dead.

Photo credit ~ Schnobby via Wikipedia under Creative Commons Share-Alike 3.0 unported license

ONE LAST CHRISTMAS POST, lest we forget the lessons of 1914

I’m preparing to get ready today for business as usual and there’s lots to share from Ann and Rob and other contributors. I decided to visit some blogs first. One of our contributors, Gayle Walters (Bodhirose’s Blog) had posted this historical fiction on her blog. It’s by children’s author, Aaron Shepard, and he allows it to be reblogged. It’s a short story based on the true events of the famous Christmas Eve truce of 1914 that Arthur Conan Doyle wrote of as “one human episode amid all the atrocities.” We do have moments of truce in our personal, spiritual, and political lives. If we could only make such moments a regular thing, our preferred m.o., if you will … Jamie Dedes

Parents and educators will find good stories and scripts for children’s plays at Mr. Shepard’s website HERE.

Copyright © 2001, 2003 by Aaron Shepard. May be freely copied and shared for any noncommercial purpose.

The story is formated as a letter ….

THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE
by
Aaron Shepard
Christmas Day, 1914

My dear sister Janet,

It is 2:00 in the morning and most of our men are asleep in their dugouts—yet I could not sleep myself before writing to you of the wonderful events of Christmas Eve. In truth, what happened seems almost like a fairy tale, and if I hadn’t been through it myself, I would scarce believe it. Just imagine: While you and the family sang carols before the fire there in London, I did the same with enemy soldiers here on the battlefields of France!

As I wrote before, there has been little serious fighting of late. The first battles of the war left so many dead that both sides have held back until replacements could come from home. So we have mostly stayed in our trenches and waited.

But what a terrible waiting it has been! Knowing that any moment an artillery shell might land and explode beside us in the trench, killing or maiming several men. And in daylight not daring to lift our heads above ground, for fear of a sniper’s bullet.

And the rain—it has fallen almost daily. Of course, it collects right in our trenches, where we must bail it out with pots and pans. And with the rain has come mud—a good foot or more deep. It splatters and cakes everything, and constantly sucks at our boots. One new recruit got his feet stuck in it, and then his hands too when he tried to get out—just like in that American story of the tar baby!

Through all this, we couldn’t help feeling curious about the German soldiers across the way. After all, they faced the same dangers we did, and slogged about in the same muck. What’s more, their first trench was only 50 yards from ours. Between us lay No Man’s Land, bordered on both sides by barbed wire—yet they were close enough we sometimes heard their voices.

Of course, we hated them when they killed our friends. But other times, we joked about them and almost felt we had something in common. And now it seems they felt the same.

Just yesterday morning—Christmas Eve Day—we had our first good freeze. Cold as we were, we welcomed it, because at least the mud froze solid. Everything was tinged white with frost, while a bright sun shone over all. Perfect Christmas weather.

During the day, there was little shelling or rifle fire from either side. And as darkness fell on our Christmas Eve, the shooting stopped entirely. Our first complete silence in months! We hoped it might promise a peaceful holiday, but we didn’t count on it. We’d been told the Germans might attack and try to catch us off guard.

I went to the dugout to rest, and lying on my cot, I must have drifted asleep. All at once my friend John was shaking me awake, saying, “Come and see! See what the Germans are doing!” I grabbed my rifle, stumbled out into the trench, and stuck my head cautiously above the sandbags.

I never hope to see a stranger and more lovely sight. Clusters of tiny lights were shining all along the German line, left and right as far as the eye could see.

“What is it?” I asked in bewilderment, and John answered, “Christmas trees!”

And so it was. The Germans had placed Christmas trees in front of their trenches, lit by candle or lantern like beacons of good will.

And then we heard their voices raised in song.

Stille nacht, heilige nacht . . . .

This carol may not yet be familiar to us in Britain, but John knew it and translated: “Silent night, holy night.” I’ve never heard one lovelier—or more meaningful, in that quiet, clear night, its dark softened by a first-quarter moon.

When the song finished, the men in our trenches applauded. Yes, British soldiers applauding Germans! Then one of our own men started singing, and we all joined in.

The first Nowell, the angel did say . . . .

In truth, we sounded not nearly as good as the Germans, with their fine harmonies. But they responded with enthusiastic applause of their own and then began another.

O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum . . . .

Then we replied.

O come all ye faithful . . . .

But this time they joined in, singing the same words in Latin.

Adeste fideles . . . .

British and German harmonizing across No Man’s Land! I would have thought nothing could be more amazing—but what came next was more so.

“English, come over!” we heard one of them shout. “You no shoot, we no shoot.”

There in the trenches, we looked at each other in bewilderment. Then one of us shouted jokingly, “You come over here.”

To our astonishment, we saw two figures rise from the trench, climb over their barbed wire, and advance unprotected across No Man’s Land. One of them called, “Send officer to talk.”

I saw one of our men lift his rifle to the ready, and no doubt others did the same—but our captain called out, “Hold your fire.” Then he climbed out and went to meet the Germans halfway. We heard them talking, and a few minutes later, the captain came back with a German cigar in his mouth!

“We’ve agreed there will be no shooting before midnight tomorrow,” he announced. “But sentries are to remain on duty, and the rest of you, stay alert.”

Across the way, we could make out groups of two or three men starting out of trenches and coming toward us. Then some of us were climbing out too, and in minutes more, there we were in No Man’s Land, over a hundred soldiers and officers of each side, shaking hands with men we’d been trying to kill just hours earlier!

Before long a bonfire was built, and around it we mingled—British khaki and German grey. I must say, the Germans were the better dressed, with fresh uniforms for the holiday.

Only a couple of our men knew German, but more of the Germans knew English. I asked one of them why that was.

“Because many have worked in England!” he said. “Before all this, I was a waiter at the Hotel Cecil. Perhaps I waited on your table!”

“Perhaps you did!” I said, laughing.

He told me he had a girlfriend in London and that the war had interrupted their plans for marriage. I told him, “Don’t worry. We’ll have you beat by Easter, then you can come back and marry the girl.”

He laughed at that. Then he asked if I’d send her a postcard he’d give me later, and I promised I would.

Another German had been a porter at Victoria Station. He showed me a picture of his family back in Munich. His eldest sister was so lovely, I said I should like to meet her someday. He beamed and said he would like that very much and gave me his family’s address.

Even those who could not converse could still exchange gifts—our cigarettes for their cigars, our tea for their coffee, our corned beef for their sausage. Badges and buttons from uniforms changed owners, and one of our lads walked off with the infamous spiked helmet! I myself traded a jackknife for a leather equipment belt—a fine souvenir to show when I get home.

Newspapers too changed hands, and the Germans howled with laughter at ours. They assured us that France was finished and Russia nearly beaten too. We told them that was nonsense, and one of them said, “Well, you believe your newspapers and we’ll believe ours.”

Clearly they are lied to—yet after meeting these men, I wonder how truthful our own newspapers have been. These are not the “savage barbarians” we’ve read so much about. They are men with homes and families, hopes and fears, principles and, yes, love of country. In other words, men like ourselves. Why are we led to believe otherwise?

As it grew late, a few more songs were traded around the fire, and then all joined in for—I am not lying to you—“Auld Lang Syne.” Then we parted with promises to meet again tomorrow, and even some talk of a football match.

I was just starting back to the trenches when an older German clutched my arm. “My God,” he said, “why cannot we have peace and all go home?”

I told him gently, “That you must ask your emperor.”

He looked at me then, searchingly. “Perhaps, my friend. But also we must ask our hearts.”

And so, dear sister, tell me, has there ever been such a Christmas Eve in all history? And what does it all mean, this impossible befriending of enemies?

For the fighting here, of course, it means regrettably little. Decent fellows those soldiers may be, but they follow orders and we do the same. Besides, we are here to stop their army and send it home, and never could we shirk that duty.

Still, one cannot help imagine what would happen if the spirit shown here were caught by the nations of the world. Of course, disputes must always arise. But what if our leaders were to offer well wishes in place of warnings? Songs in place of slurs? Presents in place of reprisals? Would not all war end at once?

All nations say they want peace. Yet on this Christmas morning, I wonder if we want it quite enough.

Your loving brother,
Tom
The photograph (via Wikipedia) is in the public domain: A cross, left near Ypres in Belgium in 1999, to commemorate the site of the Christmas Truce in 1914. The text reads:
1914 – The Khaki Chum’s Christmas Truce – 1999 – 85 Years – Lest We Forget.


FOR CHRISTMAS EVE: A Story

CHRISTMAS WITH GRANDMA

by

Anon

I remember my first Christmas adventure with Grandma.

I was just a kid. I remember tearing across town on my bike to visit her. On the way, my big sister dropped the bomb: “There is no Santa Claus,” she jeered.  “Even dummies know that!”

My Grandma was not the gushy kind, never had been. I fled to her that day because I knew she would be straight with me. I knew Grandma always told the truth, and I knew that the truth always went down a whole lot easier when swallowed with one of her “world-famous” cinnamon buns. I knew they were  world-famous, because Grandma said so. It had to be true.

Grandma was home, and the buns were still warm. Between bites, I told her everything. She was ready for me.

“No Santa Claus?” she snorted…”Ridiculous!  Don’t you believe it! That rumor has been going around for years, and it makes me mad, plain mad!!

Now, put on your coat, and let’s go.”

“Go?  Go where Grandma”, I asked. I hadn’t even finished my second world-famous cinnamon bun.

“Where” turned out to be Kirby’s General Store, the one store in town that had a little bit of just about everything.

As we walked through its doors, Grandma handed me ten dollars. That was a bundle in those days.

“Take this money,” she said, “and buy something for someone who needs it.  I’ll wait for you in the car.”  Then she turned and walked out of Kirby’s.

I was only eight years old. I’d often gone shopping with my mother, but never had I shopped for anything all by myself.

The store seemed big and crowded, full of people scrambling to finish their Christmas shopping. For a few moments I just stood there, confused, clutching that ten-dollar bill, wondering what to buy, and who on earth to buy it for.

I thought of everybody I knew: my family, my friends, my neighbors, the kids at school, and the people who went to my church.  I was just about thought out, when I suddenly thought of Bobby Decker.  He was a kid with bad breath and messy hair, and he sat right behind me in Mrs. Pollock’s grade-two class.

Bobby Decker didn’t have a coat. I knew that because he never went out to recess during the winter.  His mother always wrote a note telling the teacher that he had a cough, but all we kids knew that Bobby Decker didn’t have a cough; he didn’t have a good coat.

I fingered the ten-dollar bill with growing excitement. I would buy Bobby Decker a coat!  I settled on red corduroy one that had a hood to it. It looked real warm, and he would like that.

“Is this a Christmas present for someone?”  The lady behind the counter asked kindly, as I laid my ten dollars down.

“Yes ma’am,” I replied shyly. “It’s for Bobby.” The nice lady smiled at me, as I told her about how Bobby really needed a good winter coat.  I didn’t get any change, but she put the coat in a bag, smiled again, and wished me a Merry Christmas.

That evening, Grandma helped me wrap the coat (a little tag fell out of the coat, and Grandma tucked it in her Bible) in Christmas paper and ribbons and wrote, “To Bobby, From Santa Claus” on it.

Grandma said that Santa always insisted on secrecy. Then she drove me over to Bobby Decker’s house, explaining as we went that I was now and forever officially, one of Santa’s helpers.

Grandma parked down the street from Bobby’s house, and she and I crept noiselessly and hid in the bushes by his front walk. Then Grandma gave me a nudge. “All right, Santa Claus,” she whispered, “get going.”

I took a deep breath, dashed for his front door, threw the present down on his step, pounded his door and flew back to the safety of the bushes and Grandma.

Together we waited breathlessly in the darkness for the front door to open. Finally it did, and there stood Bobby.

Fifty years haven’t dimmed the thrill of those moments spent shivering, beside my Grandma, in Bobby Decker’s bushes.

That night, I realized that those awful rumors about Santa Claus were just what Grandma said they were:  ridiculous.  Santa was alive and well, and we were on his team.

I still have the Bible, with the coat tag tucked inside: $19.95.

May you always have LOVE to share, HEALTH to spare and FRIENDS that care…

And may you always believe in the magic of Santa Claus!

Give back – what you can, where you can, whenever you can.

We don’t know the origin of this story or who wrote, but we hope you enjoyed it as much as we did. Our thanks to Linda F. for passing it on to us and to the anonymous author. 

Photo credit ~ morgueFile

PERSPECTIVES ON CANCER #4: Boxes

BOXES

a short story

by

Victoria Ceretto-Slotto

At the end of your life, what will you have to show for it?

The question hurtled across the dark room and caught a ray of light as it passed the door that someone had left ajar. Institutional light.

What’ll you make of yourself? The words howled down the corridors of a time past when she had allowed other people to define her life.

She pulled the ratty shawl she’d knitted tight about bony shoulders covered by a layer of crepe-like skin and rued the dropped stitch she hadn’t bothered to catch as it slipped yet another row towards the mustard-stained fringe.

At the end of your life, when death draws near . . .

The question bounced around in her skull like ping-pong balls in a Lucite box smeared with little kids fingerprints. It was powered by air, she recalled—a project at a science fair that demonstrated random molecular movement? Yes, that was it.

The box was broken now. Molecules split to atoms to neutrons, protons and electrons. And more recently, quarks—whatever the hell they are.

The shattered box of her beliefs, strewn about and discarded like clothes too tight and out-of-style. Like toe-crushing shoes.

She fingered the blanket, threading her fingers in and out of woven sterile cotton: institutional warmth, or lack thereof.

The conundrum chased her around the corners of decades. It unfurled and breathed heavily on the nape of her neck–raspy, persistent. Or was that her roommate once again in respiratory distress?

Her hands lay before her. They were still now—old, used hands with see-through skin. Gnarly knuckles that appeared warped and disfigured like twigs from the oak tree in her backyard. (At home, not in this place).

Hands that had touched, caressed, soothed. Healed even. And sometimes caused pain.

Her distended veins bulged: rivulets crossing the map of her life. She pushed back her skin, stopped the flow, released, and watched dark corpuscles stream back in, carrying life-giving oxygen to her cells. One more day of life—or at least a part of one.

Good-looking veins, she thought, but deceptive like her life had been. Stick a needle in that fat one and it’ll blow or roll.

That’s what fifty plus years of nursing did for her. The knowledge of veins, arteries and blood. And shit, piss and vomit. And worse—much worse. At the end of her life, what would she have to show? That she could read blood vessels?

Service can pass for love, she knew.

If she were her own patient, what would be her diagnosis of herself. Her mind clicked into scientific mode and she began to reflect.

Subjective:

There was the hard, hard heart she carried in a steel box inside her hollow, hallow chest. This woman can’t afford to feel in the face of so much loss: dead babies, dead everyone. Nope, too dangerous look at the subjective. Think it’s better to pass on that one.
A cool breeze blew in from nowhere, walked down the juts of her vertebrae and settled at the base of her spine. Fanning out, the chill expanded and squeezed about her body to embrace the emptiness.

Objective:

Well, these were the facts. Two dead husbands; one dead daughter; a son gone missing; a divorce. Six dead dogs, one cat still alive. Not much money in the bank; a vacant, paid-for house, watched over by a neighbor (along with the cat, of course). A 12’ X 7’ cubicle in a room of three old ladies, surrounded by beige curtains—a hiding place, a box. 13K plus change in credit card debt and no one to leave it to. Ha-ha. A mind that bounces from here to there, imprisoned in a withered body; layers of skin that hang like empty sacks; lost promises.

A memory tossed her into the past: the day they’d painted their house a bright yellow with white trim: the happiness of the color and the joy of standing hand-in-hand with her second husband—the one she really loved because he loved her, too.

She shooed that thought away. Can’t afford to feel, remember?

Assessment:

The box is smashed and fragments of a life that could have been poured out. The diagnosis is clear: Altered reality; meaning deprivation related to . . .” To Nothing.

She’d read an obituary that morning about a woman who had it all wrapped up and tied with a bow, it claimed. Died in profound peace, it said. This mother, wife, friend knew where she wanted to go and went there, or something to that effect. They outlined it for the obituary readers: died surrounded by loved ones who would attend the funeral in the church, it promised. Neatly placed in her box. Amen.

Plan:

That’s what she needed: the answer to the question, she decided, wasn’t in this place. She knew it wasn’t this—not a box-room filled with white sheets, white blankets and a white commode chair. Not the sickly smell of urine and dirty dentures and not a hand-knitted shawl with a dropped stitch and a mustard stain on gray yarn.

She needed a plan with color.

Dragging her legs, numb with cold, to the edge of the bed, she reached for her walker and grasped the rubber handles encrusted with grime—particles of food and feces—and hauled her ass into a standing position. She shuffled slowly into the open corridor with its fluorescent white sheen. Her droopy butt lay bare for all the world to see beneath the open back gown of flimsy gray and pink cross-hatched fabric bleached almost white.

She crept along the hall, stopping briefly at the crash cart that reminded her of OPI “Big Apple Red” nail polish. She palmed the vial of potassium chloride from the unlocked drawer of the cart, concealing it along with a 22 gauge, 1” needle and 5cc syringe. A scarf would do for a tourniquet, she figured and alcohol was academic, wasn’t it?

Approached by the evening shift nurse she requested an AMA. The LPN called the social worker but patient rights won out. As she signed the papers discharging her Against Medical Advice, the team called a taxi and the MD then helped her box her few belongings.

The plan was coming together.

At the end of your life, what will you have to show for it? The phrase rattled in her tin box heart as she slipped the key into the lock of her front door.

Musty odors of cat litter and un-lived-in, unclean linens overwhelmed her.

Purty, her cat mewled with excitement, threaded between her legs, stroking her back to life. Exhausted, she plopped into the overstuffed chair in the front room. A burst of dust enveloped her, but she was home.

She sat there till the early morning sky allowed light to slither around the edges of the curtains.

Purty curled up in her lap and purred and purred. Reaching over she pulled the blinds allowing sunlight to fill the room. Yellow sunlight bounced off yellow walls in her yellow house. It was still there, the yellow she remembered. Joy slipped in.

She thought about the drug stashed in her purse with the syringe, but let it be for the moment. Stretching out her weary limbs, she stood as Purty leaped to the floor.

I need another day she thought and decided in that moment it might be wise to reevaluate her plan. Instead, she wandered through her house in search of color and meaning. Purty, her calico cat, followed her everywhere.

At least have time to find something to show, she told herself, smiling that the last words on her chart were AMA, not RHC. Respirations Have Ceased. Smiling that she was, indeed, OOB.

No, not Out Of BedOut of the box.

As a nurse, I spent much of my time working with the elderly. This fictional account imagines how a retired nurse could feel about her life…if she didn’t have something to turn to–like writing! A bit of an explanation: in nursing, we applied the scientific method to patient assessment using a method called S.O.A.P–that’s what the Subjective (How are you?) Objective (What the nurse can notice) Assessment (Making a nursing diagnosis) and Plan (What to do about it) refer to. Don’t know if this is how it’s done right now…but it’s a good way to problem solve in any life situation. Try it with a problem you’re facing!

Victoria Ceretto-Slotto ~ A former nurse, Victoria is a novelist, poet, artist, and a docent at Nevada Museum of Art. Currently she is hard at work with final edits on her novel, Winter Is Past, recently accepted for publication. A second novel is in progress. Victoria finds inspiration in the mysteries of life, death, art and spirituality. She lives and writes in Reno, Nevada and Palm Desert, California with her photographer husband and two canine kids. Victoria shares some of her poetry on liv2write2day’s blog, where she also provides writing prompts and offers coaching with Wordsmith Wednesday. (Currently she is on hiatus from the blog while she completes the final edits of her book.)