1. heartmom

    “Nobody understands me – why can’t they just accept me for who I am?” the thoughts turn in circles in my mind as I lay on the restaurant floor. I’m just so tired of being judged by people who claim to love me. They haven’t got a clue. I’ve worked my entire life to provide for them and this is the thanks I get. I wish they’d all just leave me alone.
    Oh, I’m not perfect – I never claimed to be. I am who I am. I drink. Is that a crime? I’ve always been a hard drinker; I grew up rough. I’ve always been able to handle my liquor, and I’ve damn well earned the right to enjoy myself just a little.

    Besides, it makes my back pain tolerable. I feel like a zombie when I take those pain pills. You’d think they would be grateful that I am trying to cope without drugs, but no, just more judgement and condemnation. I’ve spent 81 years taking care of every monkey and his uncle – I deserve some recognition and respect.

    What am I doing down here on the floor? My daughter has gone white, face like some kind of frozen mask hovering above me. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her look this angry – didn’t think she had it in her. I was giving a toast, a fine bon mot to my grandson, and my leg must have given out. It does that sometimes, just gives out for no reason. I’m sure they all think I’m drunk. Yeah, I had a few doubles before dinner, but it’s New Orleans after all. I know my limits when it comes to booze,I always have, contrary to everyone who thinks they know better.

    I’d been feeling pretty low, like a useless, duct-taped recliner that no one wants in the living room any more. Like a classic car that is being junked because it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of the latest model. I’m old, but I still have value. I still matter. So I like a little brandy in my coffee most mornings.That’s nobody’s business but mine. Why can’t they just accept me for who I am … and get me up off this damn floor.

    1. mcullen Post author

      Beautiful, gorgeous, eloquent writing, Heartmom. I like hearing this character’s thoughts and rationalizations. I feel sympathy and empathy for the main character as well as for the family. Some really good lines: “taking care of every monkey and his uncle” and “duct-taped recliner” and “I’m old, but I still have value. I still matter.” You have expertly captured what it must feel like for this older person and, I imagine, for many older people. The last sentence is spot-on with a lovely touch of humor. Really well-written. Thanks for posting.

  2. Ke11y

    Their night, their celebration, Annie thought, remembering how she once swooned in the embrace of her husband, Jack, to the closing notes of a Bryan Adams ballad playing on the radio in the living room. She remembered another night just like this one, six years before. Their twentieth wedding anniversary. The night she and Jack argued. She wanted it to be a new start, find themselves again. She just assumed it happened that the fire and the romance, once fired by newness, had withered into something else. Boredom. She recalled finding the emails on his computer. Her name was Sandra. His response was: oh, it’s nothing. We met on Facebook. I’ve never met her. Don’t worry. But the evening was ruined. She recalled how she sat in their bedroom and sobbed. When she pulled the car into the drive, tires crunching over the stones of their cottage in Petaluma, she looked at her watch. It was almost 5:00 A.M. She half thought she might catch him with a woman, having told him she wouldn’t get back from her sisters till close to 8:00 A.M.

    “Annie! You’re home early?”

    “That shouldn’t surprise you. Scared you’ll get caught out, are you?”

    “Let’s not start this again, please, okay. It was not a woman…”

    Did I never see this: that all my friends, and particularly my sister, had told me they thought Jack was playing around? What a fool I’ve made of myself. For months…no for years I refused to believe anything other than that he loved me.

    “Oh, so now you tell men you love them…good God, either you’re going to tell me you’re gay, or you’re pathetic. Of course it was a woman. Do you think I’m totally stupid? You’ve got women everywhere, all thinking you’re a great guy, but you’re a bloody liar. You’re going to be sixty next month, for Christ’s sake.”

    “Annie, it’s five a.m.”

    “Really, what time would you like me to talk about it? I’m sure you’d prefer office hours to discuss what a wreck you’ve made of me. But that would take away from your shagging time.”

    I realize now that he’d love time to compose himself, have the story that makes sense in his head. To think how many years I trusted in him, loved him. Cleared up after him, kept his bathroom cabinet furnished with all his things, cooked for him, and when we got into financial difficulty, I found a job, when all I ever wanted was to love him and have children.

    “Annie, I’ve told you, sworn to you, pleaded with you, there’s nothing going on with another woman. I have stuff to sort out. I don’t want to involve you, or have you in some way responsible for money that I owe. It’s from way back. Maybe what I’m doing is wrong, but I don’t want to have you involved in it, it’s a mess, just believe that and I’m doing my best to sort it out.”

    See how easy it is for him. He can look me dead in the eye, plead his case as though God himself was standing in his defense.
    “Oh, that’s ripe, coming from you. What do you think this is doing to me? I was the one left on the outside, while you were in her car making out! When I caught you, and flung the door open, she didn’t give a damn that you’d been caught. Looking at me like I was a piece of shit on her shoe.”

    I can tell by his nervousness this isn’t going the way he’d planned. Any moment he’s going to tell me that he’s not interested in other women.

    “Annie, if you know anything, you know I’m not a womanizer. You should know, too, that I have nothing going on with a woman.”

    Oh my god, how predictable he is. How could I have been so stupid?

    “You bloody liar. I’ve seen the letters. Do you think I’m crazy. I’ve seen the letters. There’s hundreds on your computer. Yes, I’ve been into your computer; into ‘Sandra’s’ file! Don’t tell me nothing was going on. You were shagging her, then coming home to me when you were done, weren’t you? You were writing to her after I’d gone to bed, telling her how she’d saved your life, how wonderful she is, and how you wished I’d been a woman like her. You fool, Jack. You bloody fool. Did you think you could swing it both ways, and how many others have fallen for your charm? How many women have you got on the side?”

    He’s done now…he wants this over. He wants to wash it all away, pretend he’s hurt. Shit!

    “Annie, stop. I’m going to make coffee.”

    I’ll just bet you want to stop. But I ain’t nearly done.

    “Why don’t you just tell the truth? Everyone knows. It’s all over the neighborhood. I think the whole of Petaluma has read your letters to her. I should have listened to Kori when she told me.”

    He’s always hated my sister, she’s never accepted his bullshit.

    “Look, I’m not going to get into the business of discussing what your sister, Kori, knows, or doesn’t know. I don’t give a crap. She’s an evil bitch who hates men in general, and when she can blame anyone for her misfortunes, she does.”

    “Well you have a lot in common then, don’t you?”

    “If you say so, Annie. If that’s what you want to believe. I’m tired of trying to convince you otherwise. I come home because I love you.”

    Did I hear that? He comes home because he loves me. He comes home when there’s no other bed to visit.

    “Love me…love me, my God, that’s a joke. Does someone who loves someone else treat them this way? How am I supposed to pay the rent on this place, how can I pay the bills on what’s left after you’ve spent money on dinner dates, so called business meetings! So where’s the love here, Jack?”

    “I know it’s tough right now. It’ll get better. I promise you.”

    Oh boy, he has the gall to make promises. He believes himself, I’m sure.

    “Like you promised never to see that bitch again? But you did, didn’t you, you saw her again.”

    “Annie, what do you want to hear, do you want me to say yes, and we had a great shag. She was sopping wet for me, and excited? Is that what you want me to say? How she was clawing at my back with desire, and biting my lip in erotic fulfillment, what do you want to hear… well okay, it was wonderful. We were brilliant together….”

    He would dare talk to me this way? Dare to suggest that the lack of sexual activity was a reason to betray our marriage. I flew at him, flung my fists into his face, each blow healing.

    “You bastard…I hate you…I hate you…why did you do this…?”

    But not really…he’s my only love…my one…

    “Annie, please, just sit here. Let me get a wet cloth for my face. Sit down here…gently down…”

  3. mcullen Post author

    Hi Kelly, good job of showing the other point of view of this story.

  4. Ke11y

    When Jenny walks into my study, bringing me my afternoon cup of tea and a biscuit, my world becomes bright.

    “Honey, sit with me awhile will you?”

    “Of course. Let me go get my cup of tea. I’ll be right back.”

    As she leaves, I sense there is a smell about her left in the room, and catch a glimpse of a straw in her hair, giving away she’s been out with the horses, cleaning the stalls, feeding the sheep, playing with the dogs. She has brought in the smell of the barn. Dear God, this woman of mine.

    “Okay, I’m back. What’s going on, honey?”

    What if I told you how much her presence means to me, here in my study, or in line at Costco, just her presence, and how sad the barn can be when she is not there with me.

    “I don’t quite know how to explain, except that I’m writing a short piece demonstrating ‘point of view’. And, well, I’ve no idea why, but I chose to write about a subject I know nothing about, which reminded me, I once read a quote that stated: write what you know. But that aside, I contrived to write about a couple married many years, and for the last year or two the husband has been acting unfaithfully, with the point of view that he is somehow justified in doing so. And then to write from the wife’s point of view.”

    Jenny rests back in her chair, sipping at her tea. She is thinking.

    I’m thinking, too. I want her to need me, see me, understand me. This woman, smelling of horse manure, with a straw in her hair, and a smile in her eyes that lights my road in every weather. This woman who is my wife. My life.

    “You know, the fact is, men carry secrets darker than those found in the dentist’s chair. People fall out of love, honey. And whether you fall out of love, or fall in love, one thing is the same, you don’t quite know where you are.” She says, thoughtfully.

    I look out the window. Autumn already!

    “This husband is acting like a complete asshole!” I reveal to her. “He’s not crying, not over his wife, or the loss of his love. He’s not crying. I mean, I can’t make him. It’s within my power to have him standing in the pouring rain, sobbing over the loss of his love. He’s everything I detest in a man.”

    “Hmmm…why, because he no longer loves his wife?”

    “No, because he’s a coward. He has no heart, and I cannot even think of giving him one. He made promises, swore he’d never act unfaithfully again. She believed him, because she couldn’t listen to anything but her heart. I mean…she has the proof, she’s read emails of him confessing to loving another woman. And in some way I’ve made him smug, hoping to be found out, hoping she will be the one to find the courage to end their marriage! That kind of coward.” I swing around in my chair, half afraid that my anger will leads to tears.

    “You seem agitated, upset. I know how much these things affect you, but honey, you create characters. It’s like when I watch a movie, and my favorite hero dies, and I’m sobbing. The fact is, when the lights go out, the actors get up and go home!”

    We live here. Outside the window, the ocean is wider than my view. The horses are in the pasture. We’ve been husband and wife fifteen years. Seems like five days. My Jenny scares me sometimes, because there are moments when the thoughts and ideas that rush through her head are so romantic, so beautiful, that any idea I’ll ever find a complication she doesn’t have an answer for simply leaves on the next tide. I will one day find the courage to open myself up to the reader; to become frightened in their presence; to tell all those things I’m afraid of. When I look at my characters, I want to see something uncommonly beautiful and warm. I want to see them with my heart; see all that they are, and all they want to be. I want to hold their heads, laugh and cry with them, allow them to speak of how I feel, tell of my dreams; words that must first flow through my veins, fill my heart, stir my mind to create something so utterly beautiful, something that makes one want to dance, to think, to dream, to re-live past loves, to have the courage to look again, to bring children back, to let children go, to dream of what can be. Whatever happens, whatever direction my characters take, they are just that, characters, and when complete, well…they all get up and go home!

    If I could write one word, one emotion that sums up everything I am, or will be, than that word would be: Jenny.

    1. mcullen Post author

      So beautifully written, like a Valentine’s Love Letter. I love the line, “when the lights go out, the actors get up and go home.” I often have to remind myself of that. I love hearing the writer’s point of view, hearing his reflection upon writing about a cheating husband. So, this would be a third point of view! 🙂

  5. heartmom

    I was waiting for “Annie’s side” of the argument – you didn’t disappoint, Ke11y. You did a great job of speaking in Annie’s voice, and some of your phrases spoke volumes –
    ” flung my fists into his face, each blow healing” ” was a particular favorite. I was pleased to see how strong and direct she was – I never had a whole lot of sympathy for Jack, but after “meeting” Annie, any sympathy I had for him is gone. Good show!

  6. Ke11y

    I’m thinking a great deal about my stories, how it must have a start, a middle, and end. Simple enough, right? But what kind of talent is it that carries the reader along in a series of highs and lows, or better put, peaks and troughs, remembering that the job of a writer is to show more than tell.

    If there’s an ideal writing place, then for me it’s my garden, not always practical, I’ll grant, and not on a day like today with clouds thick, smoke-charcoal, fast flying and liquid. Today is a day when the garden is forsaken for the comfort of my study. How fortunate, I consider, that I have such a place to write when the elements, like writers block, tumble in fast and furious. I wonder about those places other writers go when looking for solitude, if indeed solitude is required, but then I remember that good writing will take the writer to any place. That’s when I figure writing serves me a double purpose; writing puts me where I want to be.

    It might be a fleeting thought…

    “Mr. Frank…” the call is accompanied by a tapping on my window.

    Her head surrounded in a clear rainproof fabric. I push open the patio doors.

    “Lori…what a day to be visiting!” I say, looking out beyond the bluff.

    “The gate was open Mr. Frank, I guess you were hoping I’d come?” She continues, kicking off her rain boots, frogs eyes popping. “I’m not intruding am I, Mr. Frank?”

    “Not at all, Lori.” I respond, closing my chair into the desk.

    “This is a nice room. Do you come here often?” she asks, looking at the bookshelves, the prints on the wall, my favorites: hares pulling a Christmas sled, elves having a picnic in the woods, photos of my children, and mementos from far and wide, documenting my travels. But she stares longest at a picture of the Divinity.

    “Most every day,” I answer, watching her move toward my chair. “Maybe sit here, Lori, that chair seems too big.” I pull a piano stool in her direction.

    “I like chairs that twirl, Mr. Frank.”

    “I understand, Lori. I’m sorry, but that chair…well, it’s just a place I like to sit from time to time. Maybe another time, okay?”

    “Okay, Mr. Frank. I bet that’s the chair where you get creative isn’t it?” She says, pushing her little self onto the piano stool, legs dangling her stocking feet. “Did you always want to be a writer?”

    It feels like a grown up question. When I was a boy, coming home in the evenings after the sun and wind had cracked and bronzed my face, and my imagination had been working overtime sitting on the harbor wall, I was frightened that this love I’d been adopted into could disappear as quickly. I was a rebellious kid, gave my mother some heartache. I would sulk, skulk off to my room, lie there on my bed imagining it to be a ship, the ceiling a star-dusted night. I knew exactly what was wrong, but I never learned to adapt to the frustrations. It never did disappear. I grew up with the sea. It was on my doorstep, and yet it was so far away. It was in my father’s heart, it was his mistress.

    “I was always a dreamer, Lori, maybe in that way I was destined to become a writer…”

    How does a man attempt such a thing? I can always make it happen on the page, here in my safe place; you know the safe place, securely loved, dizzy, thoughts tumbling, falling all over the page, words made of scent, taste and touch, of warmth and mystery and excitement.

    Of course it’s hopeless to explain my life, feels stupid and leads to some impasse that cannot be bridged by words alone. It’s just…well, it’s just when I sit in that chair I become a writer, a child rolling on the ship of his dreams in that star-dusted night.

    “…and you, what will you become, Lori?” I ask, watching her slide off the piano stool, putting her frog boots back on. “…Lori…you going so soon?”

    “I know you want to write, Mr. Frank, I can feel it. It’s warm and safe here.”

    “Yes, Lori…”

    “I’ll close the gates, Mr. Frank. Thanks again.” She says, pulling her rain hood over her head, framing that vision of a face.

    “You didn’t tell me what you’ll grow up to be, Lori?”

    She stands, facing me, the rain falling in a soft hush.

    “I know you hate cliché’s, Mr. Frank, but I think I would like to be a ‘window into someone’s soul’.”

    Her dancing feet, in bright red boots, disappear across the garden.

    I watch the clouds split, surrendering their hold on the grey. The breakers rising as the current brings the tide home. The drama is unfolding. The seaborne awakenings, the deliriums of surf, the shivering of birds that hover and hang before rolling sideways on the wing toward a new blueness. I saw, just for a moment, Lori’s face filling the sky. Sometimes I think I’ve felt and seen all I imagine. The swells that rush in, battering rocks as if a herd of hysterical monsters, wreaking havoc on their own limitations. Leviathans move unknown in the monstrous deep, moving toward their fate. Children become dolphins, women mermaids, men rainbows, for the sea surely does take for her own, those who love her most.

    “Bye, Lori. Come by again soon.”

    1. mcullen Post author

      As soon as I read, “‘Mr. Frank…’ the call is accompanied by a tapping on my window,” I wondered if it would be Lori. And when I read “‘Lori…what a day to be visiting!’” I settled in for what I knew would be a treat. . . a visit between Mr. Frank and Lori where I get to be a part of . . . I love “watching” them . . . hearing their conversation, being a part of the tender relationship they have for one another. Here is another place you excel, Kelly. First, your fictional characters are so real to me that I think perhaps Lori and Mr. Frank had this conversation perhaps this very afternoon. AND, you are very skilled at creating characters who are very different from one another. No cookie-cutter characters for you. I also always enjoy all the sea, seaborne references. Perhaps it is a universal truth that the sea calls to so many of us. Kelly, I hope you are saving your writing as word docs and backing up however you like to back up your writing. This is precious and priceless writing.

  7. Ke11y

    Looking out on a clear day, an hour before sunset, under a sky swept clean of cloud, over an ocean that is, as far as can be imagined anyway, without malice, (a comfort to the sailor in me) I realize I will never come to terms with my life enough to talk about it, other than through my stories. I have a bulkhead of memories full of tempestuous seas, and of a father at home on the waves, but by his own admission, always felt a slight unnerving twitch when his vessel got caught in the trough; having free-fallen into a dark blue valley, shuddering violently as it hit the bottom of the crest. And yes, the sea has my flesh, my blood, and my loves.
    “Mr. Frank…you there?” It’s a voice that has taken up residency in my heart.

    “Hey Lori, sure I am. Want to come over?”

    “Help me with the gate, Mr. Frank.”

    Lori pushes as I pull. She burst forth…and years of my life simply glide away, not because the child is angelic, not because she is without imperfection, one eye is cast, but because her young limbs stretch out across my garden to begin her games.

    “So what game shall we play today, little Lori?”

    “Can we play: Life goes on Forever, Mr. Frank? Please, it’s my favorite.”

    My life is more than half done, I’ve earned certain rights, and of them I choose to make my world what I want I want it to be. California gold poppies are growing above the shoreline, flourishing in the sandy environment. For a while they are perfect. Dying doesn’t matter after that I guess.

    “Tell me, Lori, why is it your favorite?”

    “I get to show you things. I like that.” She answers.

    Children…the commandments of our life. Offer them love…that alone…love, and they cannot be failed. Dearest Lori, how you gladden my spirit. Mystery is all there is to mystery, unless you count on the coming of it. As her tiny hand fits into mine, hands that have never done wrong, the heart is transported; winging through a hole in the mist toward a vision that wasn’t there an hour ago, and will be gone an hour from now.

    “Hurry, Mr. Frank. Or you’ll miss him!”

    “I’m coming, Lori…you run so fast. Miss who?” Her hand had escaped mine.

    “He’ll be gone an hour from now.” She says, hand reaching back to mine.

    “Well, we’d better hurry.” I said.

    She stops up ahead, at the edge of the bluff, her image as clear as a Monet painting. Beyond are bottomless nights, dawns of sunlight, and heart-breaking movement. It is the ocean. Moved only by the life-force of the moon, and guided across by stars. She never sleeps. Adorned by violet fogs one day, maelstroms on another, her mermaids move serenely within the watery space, black sea-horses their escorts.

    “Why did you bring me here, Lori?” I ask, shading my eyes from the burning in the sky, falling.

    “I didn’t bring you here Mr. Frank.” She says… a petal on the grass. “He did…” her arm risen horizontal, its directing finger as sharp as a stab to my soul.

    He was my ocean and my stars, my God and all his heaven. Some men turned for home when the winter came, he did not. The sea held my father as surely as the shawl of ribbons held him at home. He cared nothing for the adverse implications that dogged us mere humans; his blood was diluted with the salinity of the ocean. He alone taught me: the most hostile environment is the one in which we ourselves live, and not the barren, hard, savage places where people toil. The sudden sight of his beauty. That proud head, his back cradled with muscle and sinew, shimmering with sweat, and the burning of the wind upon his cheeks, a living creature; a fisherman, my father. He was never a difficult man to deal with; nor hard to please. He just made happiness a habit. The once raucous sound of his life never felt far away, even when his physical being could be closer.

    After my first day at my new school, we took a picnic down to the harbor. It was thick with tourists, the air’s fragrance heavy with sun-tan lotion and ice cream. We sat together under the harbor wall, in the cool shade. I paddled around, while dad searched between the rocks. I caught the expression on his face — an excited, gleaming smile as he returned, his hands holding seashells. He opened his huge hand…there were seven.

    “Do you know what these are, son.” He asked.

    “Seashells, dad.”

    “Seashells, yes, but they are so much more than that, boy.” He said, gesturing for me to accept them. “Put them in your back pocket, lad.”

    I took them from him, one at a time, looking at each. They did look just like seashells.
    “Hold my hand, now. Your mother will be thinking we got lost!” I smile and move toward him, taking hold, feeling its strength, knowing all its work, safe in its beauty.

    In the evening he told stories about the mighty seas, describing those deep-sea fishes, those black, those blind creatures, un-acknowledged, but living all the same. I enjoyed the summers, but far more, the winters — when the tourists had gone home, leaving us to cope with the prevailing winds, floods, and storms that were an integral part of coastal living — when the sea was at its most powerful.

    It’s a moment, an hour long. The ocean has finally swallowed the day, extinguished its light. Dad, too, has long since sailed over the world’s edge.

    Lori holds her hand open, raising it to me, befriending a man who has the unique ability to lose himself in a mist that covers his reality. I have protected myself well. I will always be what I write; be made happy, sad, rich or poor, I am just what the words say, and no longer feel any ambition to prove otherwise.

    “What do you have there, Lori?” I ask.

    At the gate she reveals her secret. There are seven seashells; the same seven seashells that once filled my back pocket.

    “Seashells.” I say, pulling open the gate.

    “No, Mr. Frank. They are Continents.”

    My work gets done. Life moves along and there are times – a few minutes every day – when I forget about Dad. Well, maybe less than a few.

    “Come by soon, Lori. Okay?”

    “Of course. I’ll know when to come.”

    It’s the bottom of the day, having been set on fire, is now leaving on a sigh. The small one, gone through the gate, now rustling through the trees.

    1. mcullen Post author

      Gorgeous writing. I especially like:
      “an ocean . . . without malice”
      “a bulkhead of memories”
      ” a voice that has taken up residency in my heart”
      ” The sea held my father as surely as the shawl of ribbons held him at home”
      “befriending a man who has the unique ability to lose himself in a mist that covers his reality”

      Lovely phrases that capture a idea, hold it for a moment and then release so the reader can visualize and enjoy. Exquisite ways of saying things that make me smile with their uniqueness: “a father at home on the waves.”

      The characters of Lori and Mr. Frank and their relationship is delightful and a wonderful way to tell a story. When I read Lori and Mr. Frank stories I feel like a child tucked safe in bed at night, hearing a bedtime story that will put me into a deep and satisfying sleep.

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