Thursday, June 28, 2012

Lake Shore Drive, 1966

Well, it's another Thursday, and another fictional bit thanks to the fine folks over at Feel free to wander over to their site and join us for next week. The details for this week's challenge follow my little story. And away we go.... to Lake Shore Drive, 1966.


Emily set the spoon down on a paper towel that she’d neatly folded into quarters and placed on the counter. She turned slightly, and said over her shoulder, “Tea’s ready.”

The old woman sat at the kitchen table, leaning slightly to the left with her arm propped on the walker that stood next to her chair. “Lovely. Add a good sized dollop of that Jameson’s.”

“Gran!” Emily feigned astonishment. “It’s barely even 10 a.m.!”

“Fuck that. It’s Ireland somewhere, and I may need a little liquid courage to tell you what I’m about to tell you. Besides, I’m ninety-goddamned-one. I think I’ve earned the right to drink whenever I want to in whatever little time I have left.”

“That you have, Gran.” Emily couldn’t help but smile. The woman was her hero, no question about it, no challengers anywhere in sight. She tucked the bottle of whisky under her left arm, then picked up the two mugs and brought them to the table. Sitting down across from her grandmother, she uncapped the whisky and poured in a hearty shot. When Gran winked at her, she then made a great show of pouring an equal amount of it in her own mug. Gran smiled her pleasure and nodded at the woman who’d once been the tiny baby she’d crooned to sleep. It seemed like yesterday. It seemed like a home movie that had belonged to someone else. Ninety-goddamned-one years old had a way of doing that to memories though.

The two sipped in relative silence, punctuated only by the necessity of smacking their lips and letting out an “Ahh” as the whisky hit them with its heat. Finally Gran slapped her hand on the table and said, “Nuh! Enough procrastination. I promised to tell you the story, so tell you I will. Keep in mind, you‘re the only living soul in this family to have heard it. The only other person who ever knew what happened was your Great Uncle Jack, and his part died with him back in ‘95, angels and roosters pr‘tect his soul.”

“You have my word, Gran,” Emily replied. “All I know is something happened back in ‘66. Mom remembers spending a week with Grandpa Jim and Uncle Jack’s parents, something she claims never happened other than that one time. She just remembers a week of being told to sit up straight, eat her vegetables, wipe her feet, and keep quiet.”

“I’m glad that’s all she remembers,” said Gran. “She was my eldest, but at twelve years old, she didn’t need to know anything about what happened.” Gran paused and stared into her mug for a minute, collecting and sorting memories and bits of the story. She took another long pull from the mug before she continued. “Yup. She was twelve, your Uncle Ted was ten, your Aunt Annie was nine, and Uncle Ray was seven. By then we were living on Lake Shore Drive. Your Grandpa was working the fishing boats. He’d be gone for weeks on end, then home for maybe a week before heading out again. Those weeks he’d spend resting, drinking, bribing the kids to go to sleep early so he could have at me.” This she said with a knowing smirk. Seeing Emily blush, she continued, “Oh-ho-ho… you kids don’t think you wrote the book on having fun in the sack, do you? He was a handsome, strapping man, and we were both blessed with healthy libidos.”

Gran let a wistful silence drop between them for a minute then, almost as if to herself, “What’s it been? Twenty seven years? I still miss the man every day. I miss his grin, and I miss the way his massive hand would cup the back of my neck when we kissed.” Gran sighed.

Emily shifted in her chair. She wasn’t uncomfortable with this intimacy. In fact, she was glad to hear that her grandmother had had such a wonderful love life. However, she was more than a little anxious to hear The Story. She watched Gran carefully. She didn’t want to tire her. Gran must have sensed Emily’s slight disquiet. She waved her hand in the air next to her face, as if  brushing away old cobwebs.

“Yes. Lake Shore Drive. 1966. Your Grandpa had just left on another fishing trip after having been home for a week. I dropped the kids off at school and went on to do my errands - the grocery store, the butcher, the cleaners. I got back to the house and a fella, name of Jerry was waiting by the garage. That was no big deal. Your Grandpa was gone so often that he had hired Jerry on a few occasions to fix things in the house that he didn’t have time for. I figured he must have called him to do some odd job and forgotten to tell me. I opened the garage door and he offered to help me carry in the groceries. I was happy to let him help. Once everything was in, I offered him  coffee and some blueberry muffins I’d made that morning. He thanked me but said no. He seemed uncomfortable being in the house. I tried to set him at ease and asked if  Jim had called him to fix something. That seemed to make him even more uncomfortable and he didn‘t answer right away. I don’t know why my hackles weren’t up - I guess I was just too preoccupied with what I needed to get done that day. It wasn’t until I felt his knuckles on the side of my head, throwing me to the ground, that I realized what… what was…”

Gran paused. Raising a wrinkly, leathered hand to her equally wrinkled face, she scrubbed at it as if trying to remove decades of filth. Emily let out a shuddery sigh and said, “Gran, you don’t have to…” But Gran, eyes still closed, raised her hand in the universal sign for stop. Emily clamped her lips shut with an audible noise that sounded like she was trying to swallow the word hub.

Gran looked up at her, managed a slight smile, and said, “It’ll be better once it’s out. You’ll see. But creepin’ Jesus in the dark, child! Pour me another shot of that Irish Joy Juice, willya?” Emily obliged and helped herself to the same. Gran took a sip, grimaced a little, and then grinned. “How do you kids say it… that’s some good shit!” They both laughed until Gran once again waved her hand in the air as if clearing away cobwebs.

“Back in those days, women didn’t talk about rape. It was still seen by most folks as something shameful that happened because women somehow asked for it. I remember, when the door slammed and I knew he was gone, I wept. I wept because I was so glad to still be alive. The whole time I kept thinking, ‘I have kids. I can’t leave my kids.’ And I think that maybe saved me. It called on something steely and strong in me. I don’t know how long I lay there on the floor, but eventually I sat up. I was in rough shape - he’d hurt me pretty badly. If he hadn’t, I probably wouldn’t have called anyone. As it was, the only person I could think to call was Uncle Jack. He was still with the sheriff’s department then. I didn’t even have to tell him what happened, or to come right away. He knew when he heard my voice that it was bad. He showed up ten minutes later, said he’d left the lights and sirens blazing until he got into the neighborhood.

I must have looked pretty bad. Jack took care of everything. Everything. He cleaned me up like I was a little baby. Held me like a little baby when I fell apart sobbing. He cleaned the house and put away the groceries I’d brought in. He picked up the kids from school and brought them over to his folks house. All he told the folks was that I’d come down with a late-in-life case of the measles and the doctor said to keep the kids away for a week until they ran their course. Nobody questioned it. He came over every day and fed me. But, hell’s bells,  wasn’t he relentless about asking me what happened and who did it."

After a couple of days I finally broke down and told him. It wasn’t that I was trying to protect that piece of shit in any way. I think it was that I just couldn’t bring myself to speak his name. The next day when Jack came by, I was sitting in the old rocker. He came in, took my hands and got down on his knees like he was going to propose. All he said was, ‘The cause of your pain is no longer an issue.’ I must have seemed a little confused because he gave me that look that you give a child when you’re trying to tell them something for their own benefit. He tried again, ‘You don’t need to worry. Everything’s been taken care of. Everything. Understand?’”

I understood. Back in those days Everett was just a little nothing town. Not much to it at all. It would have been easy to “lose” someone on one of the nearby old logging trails. Easy to lose them in such a way as they’d never be heard from again. I have a hunch that Jack and some of the other deputies took Jerry for a hike in the woods and… he simply got lost is all.”

Here Gran leveled Emily with her classic Get This Straight look and continued, “A little more than eight months later your Uncle Tommy was born. No. I know what you’re thinking. But, no. Your Grandpa wasn’t the father. I always knew almost right away when I was pregnant, and I know I wasn’t pregnant when Jim went back out to sea. I know when it happened. But I never told your Grandpa. I never told anyone. And Jack only knew his side of things. He might have suspected, but obviously, he was a beautifully discrete man.”

When Tommy was born, I doted on him. I know everyone thought it was because he was the baby of the family, or that I loved  him more, or some such nonsense. It wasn’t that at all. If I gave him more of myself than I did to my other kids, it was because… well… I just felt like a child who’d been spawned in such evil as all that needed something extra to carry him through this life. I wasn’t about to let the horror of one morning ruin the life of an innocent.”

“There you have it, Lovely Girl. The Story. Now I guess I don’t have any secrets at all to take with me to the grave!” Gran chuckled.  She sat up straight and put the mug to her lips and took in the remaining whisky in one big gulp, then sucked air in through her teeth before she let out a forced breath.

Emily said nothing for many moments. She sat looking across the table at the old woman. She could see the wrinkles shift slightly, as if a veil, and she saw the strong, energetic, beautiful young woman that her grandmother had once been. She saw the fierce determination flash in her eyes, and the humor, always the humor. Gran raised an eyebrow at her as if to ask, “What have you to say to all this?” Emily pondered the many things she could say right now. She could say that she was honored to have been the one to whom the story was told, that she thought her grandmother was an amazing human being, that she felt blessed to have come from such good stock. A million things to say ran through her mind at a frenetic speed. What she managed to get out, through a half-choked sob, was, “I want to grow up to be just like you!”

Gran laughed. Gran laughed so long and hard that it sent her into a coughing fit. She wiped at her eyes with a crumpled napkin and took a few deep breaths. “Ohhhh. Hooo. Lord love a duck, Emily. I do believe you’re already there.” She reached across the table and took Emily’s right arm by the wrist. “Everything you’ve ever needed, everything you need, is right here,” she brought Emily’s hand up and made her touch her own head. “And right here.” She placed Emily’s hand over her heart before letting go of her wrist. “Believe me, Honey. It’s all there. Everything else is just the business of life.”


For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, kgwaite gave me this prompt: Lake Shore Drive, 1966. I gave Jester Queen this prompt: All it needs is a little elbow grease.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The First Date of J. Alfred Prufrock

I'm writing again in response to a prompt from (details are at the end of the story). My challenge was to write a piece around a favorite line of poetry. I'm a little late in writing it only because there are so many great lines of poetry that I love that it was hard to narrow down the selection enough so that I could see a story clearly. In the end, I settled for The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, penned by T. S. Eliot. However, I still couldn't settle on just one line, so I used several. Poetic license, right? Riiight. As a result of this exercise, I've found myself falling in love with the poem all over again. It's been years since I read through the entire thing, and it was a pleasure to be reacquainted with ol' Pruf.




The voice came from behind her and she spun around. All Carrie had told her was that Charlie was “not bad looking.” What Carrie had failed to mention was that Charlie was, in fact, ruggedly handsome. He had the leonine good looks of Liam Neeson. If he could carry a sentence without dangling a participle, she would marry him on the spot.

“Yes, you must be Charlie. It’s so nice to meet you!”

“Likewise. Are you hungry? Or do you want to stroll around first?” Carrie had told him that Susan had “girl next door good looks.” That might be true if the girl next door was Anne Archer.

“I know I’m supposed to be ladylike and say that I’m not all that hungry, but the truth is, I’m famished! It’s been one of those non-stop days. I have a vague recollection of a granola bar early this morning, but nothing since.”

“Sounds good to me.” Charlie gestured toward the restaurant behind them, “Let us go then, you and I…”

Susan smiled, “…when the evening is spread out against the sky like a patient etherized upon a table…”

Charlie stopped in his tracks and squinted at her. “You know ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’? I’m impressed already.”

“And I’m equally impressed that you’re familiar with T. S. Eliot.”

They walked into the trattoria and Susan’s stomach immediately growled at the scent of the food - the air was redolent with it. They were quickly seated and, by mutual agreement, started on a carafe of  a lovely Sangiovese. Susan inhaled the heady cherry and oak aroma of the wine. She looked up at Charlie.

“If I decide to drown myself in a vat of Sangiovese, please don’t try to rescue me. It would be a worthy death.”

“Oh, no. I quite understand. In fact, I may join you.” Charlie took another sip and closed his eyes for a minute, surprising himself by thinking, “One day, we’ll go to Italy together.”

“Suicide pact drowning by fine Tuscan wine. You don’t hear of that often.” Susan liked how easy it was to say such a thing. Her sense of humor could be a little tricky for some people to understand. But Charlie grinned at her and let out a slow chuckle.

“It does have a ring of originality, doesn’t it? Hmm. Back to our friend J. Alfred Prufrock. You picked up on that so fast. Do you know more of the poem?”

“I do! I majored in Lit and did my masters thesis on the poem by way of… are you ready for this? I compared it to a blind date.”


“I swear, I did. You can ask Carrie. I certainly forced her to proof it for me enough.”

“Is it still considered an irony if the hair on the back of your neck stands straight up? Or is it then considered fate?”

“Hmmm. Both, I think. Yes, maybe both.” She answered.

“Do you recall more of the poem? I’d love to hear it if you do.”

“Very well. It’ll be a good way to keep me from grabbing food from the wait staff as they go by.”
Susan took a sip of wine and cleared her throat.
“Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats      
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question….      
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.”

Charlie raised his hands and gave her a mock golf clap. “I remember getting completely lost in that poem when I was in school. It made me feel like I was lost in a Van Gogh painting. Does that make sense?”

Susan nodded. “It makes a lot of sense. I know that feeling. Maybe T. S. Eliot got the name wrong. It should have been, ‘In the room the women come and go talking of  Vincent Van Gogh.’”

“Poor guy always got Michelangelo’s shabby seconds. How did you work the poem into a study on blind dating?”

Their server brought their food to the table. Here the conversation paused long enough for them to take a few bites, roll their eyes with pleasure, murmur about how delicious it was. Charlie looked up at Susan just in time to catch her looking at him. He smiled. “Right then, Miss. ‘Fess up or there’ll be no dessert for you!”

Susan swallowed a forkful of mushroom risotto. “First, I’ve changed my mind. No death via vat of Sangiovese for me after all. I think I prefer smothering in risotto. This is wonderful! To answer your question, the idea came from a line in the poem. ‘There will be time, there will be time to prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet…’ it goes on and then, ‘And indeed there will be time to wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?” Time to turn back and descend the stair.’  Then further along, ‘Do I dare disturb the universe? In a minute there is time for decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.’ Still later there’s a bit about ‘eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase.’ I knew I wanted to use the poem for my thesis, and those lines sort of spoke to me of the feeling of getting ready for a first date. That unknown, that feeling of who will they see? Where will we go? What will we do? And the ultimate, where will it lead?”

Charlie pointed at her with a piece of garlic bread. “I like the way you look at things. I really do. I’d love to read your thesis some time. If you wouldn’t mind, that is.”

“I don’t mind a bit, but it is a thesis. It’ll render you napping, I promise.”

Charlie winked, “I’m all for a good nap!”

The dinner went on easily, as if they’d been friends for years and had just reunited after a couple of decades had passed. They decided to split a piece of cheesecake and each had a dupio espresso. As Susan stirred the bit of lemon rind in hers, she recited, “For I have known them all already, known them all:  have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons, I have measured out my life with coffee spoons; I know the voices dying with a dying fall beneath the music from a farther room. So how should I presume?”

Charlie nodded, lost in thought for a moment, and then, “We are kind of living out Prufrock’s rumination here, aren’t we?”

“You get it!” Susan beamed at him.

Still later - after they had strolled around an art gallery, giggling and whispering in chorus together, “Women come and go, talking of Michelangelo.” - later he walked her to her door. Susan hesitated, fiddling with her keys. Charlie shuffled his feet and then chuckled. It was the classic first date awkward moment. He wasn’t about to let it end that way though. He placed his hand on the small of her back, and she turned to him, landing neatly in an embrace.

He said, “Because I believe all true gentlemen should, I’d like to ask if I may kiss you.”

She smiled into his shoulder and then raised her face to his, “As the good poet wrote (if you’ll indulge me just once more), ‘And I have known the arms already, known them all… And should I then presume? And how should I begin?’ I think Prufrock is saying, ‘Kiss her already, you fool!’”

And who was Charlie to argue with T. S. Eliot, J. Alfred Prufrock, and this beautiful woman who’d spent months writing a thesis about them? He kissed her.


For the Scriptic prompt xchange this week, kgwaite gave me this prompt: Take one line of poetry and build a story around it.. I gave Michael this prompt: Write something based on The Killers' song "Human" -

Thursday, June 14, 2012


Today I'm writing again in response to a prompt from Scriptic Collective, the particulars of which are at the end of this post.

First, some big news! The Rusty Nail has published an exclusive interview with yours truly, along with three of my poems and three pieces of art. You can purchase and download a digital copy or purchase a hard copy here.

And now... on with the show...


 “Welcome back to KBLK. This is the Sandman, takin' you through the black with the blues. It’s 3:30 a.m. and whether you’re just coming in (good for you, Wild Thing) or just heading out (it sucks to be you!), I’ll be movin’ you through it with some soulful sounds. It’s triple threat, double down Tuesday, so for the next little while, you’ll get two from the luscious voice of Etta James, two from that bluesy rocker, Joe Cocker, and a couple from the smooth kid on the scene, Keb’ Mo’. Soak it in, suck it up, and let it ride… you’re with the Sandman on K-black.”

Roger “Sandman” Sandusky flipped the microphone switch and, with a single stroke on the computer keyboard, started the next set of six songs. First in the queue was Etta James, singing “I’d Rather Go Blind.” He smiled at the irony of that. He’d gotten the nickname Sandman from a college girlfriend about a million years ago, it seemed. She called him that because she said his voice - a low baritone that sounded like Sam Elliott but without the drawl - was one that should be telling bedtime stories. His voice was the only thing she liked about him, and he couldn’t blame her. His voice was nature’s way of making up to him the fact that he’d fallen out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down. He and the girl had gotten it on a few times, but it was clear she wasn’t really into him. However, when they were done and the lights were off, she’d keep the questions rolling just to keep him talking. Finally they argued about their relationship, although arguing wasn’t the right term. He talked and cajoled, and she sat there staring at the carpet. Finally he’d raised his voice and said, “Look at me, god dammit!” She’d retorted, “I’d rather go blind!” Then she stormed out of the room and he’d never seen her again.

Throughout his college years people would hear his voice and tell him he ought to be a disc jockey. He finally gave in and did a volunteer stint at the college station. He was a hit, an overnight sensation. It was an odd feeling to walk around campus and hear his name whispered by complete strangers. From college, he hopped around to various radio stations. At first he sort of felt like a con artist, seducing people with his voice when anyone who saw him in public would avert their eyes. But he got used to it. In fact, he grew to love it, grew to love the anonymity while still being part of the crowd.

Etta went on to sing one of his favorites, “At Last.” Sandman reached under the desk for the familiar crumpled brown bag, pulled it out, broke the seal on the bottle that was in it, and poured a shot (“Who am I fooling?“ he thought. “It’s at least a quad shot…”) of bourbon in his coffee mug. The first sip of bourbon went down equally fiery and smooth, as if it was the spirit of Ms. James herself. Ten years ago he’d been hired for the graveyard stint at KBLK and he’d fallen in love with it. He was alone in the booth, pushing music he loved. After his first month there, he’d begun bringing in bottles of bourbon. The invention of the backpack, and the public acceptance of people carrying them everywhere was a marvelous thing, to Sandman’s way of thinking. For the past ten years, six nights a week from 11 p.m. to 4:30 a.m., Sandman was at the switch, swinging the blues and sipping the booze, and that was just all right by him.

Just as Joe Cocker started telling his saucy minx that she could leave her hat on, Sandman heard the soft burring sound and noticed the phone light blinking. He switched the mug to his right hand and reached for the handset with his left. “Y’got the Sandman… do for ya?”

“Hello, Sandman. Nice triple threat tonight. Good choices.”

“Thanks, Ma’am. Whatchya doin’ up? Comin’ or goin’?”

“Neither. I can’t sleep most nights. I catch your show a lot.”

“Glad you’re tunin’ in. But you oughta see about gettin' some sleep. That’s no good.”

“I used to sleep like a baby, but since my son died three years ago, I just haven’t been able to.”

“So sorry to hear that. What happened, if you don’t mind me asking.”

“Hit and run. He was 17, had just graduated and was working the breakfast shift down at Dom’s to make some extra cash for college. Rode his bike there every morning at 4:30. Some asshole flattened him and just kept going.”

“God. How awful. Did they catch the guy?”

“Nope. The cops didn’t have much to go on, just some silver paint that scraped off on his bike. They think whoever did it was drunk.”

Sandman felt the hair on his neck prickle. He took a hefty gulp of bourbon. “What a shame.”

“Shame? It was a fucking tragedy. But, you know what, Sandman? Or, can I call you Roger, or Mr. Sandusky? Three years of sleepless nights gives a person all kinds of time to research, process information, and contemplate.”

The soulful rocker, Joe Cocker, launched into his rendition of “Ain’t No Sunshine.” Sandman felt cold. The bourbon wasn’t warming his blood at all.

“Look, lady… I…”

“You’ve got two and a half more songs worth of time to listen to me, Mr. Sandusky. I suggest you do.”

Sandman tossed back the rest of the bourbon in his glass, swallowed hard, and poured another. “Fine. Lay it on me.”

“You see, Roger Sandman Sandusky, I spent a lot of time watching the road where my son was killed. I’d sit out there from three ‘til five every morning. It’s a mostly deserted road at that time. But guess who drives down that road at 4:40 a.m., six days a week?”

Sandman took another sip, and even though the bourbon was wet, he heard a dry click when he swallowed. “I don’t know what you’re trying to imply, but…I…”

“Shut up, Sandman. Listen. Here’s what else my three years of sleepless research taught me. When my son was killed, you were driving a silver SUV. Records show that you sold it two weeks later for a very low price. Almost as if you were trying to get rid of it. I also know that at 10:30 every night, you go to the E-Z-Duz-It liquor store and buy a bottle of bourbon. Given how relaxed your voice starts to sound throughout the night, I’m guessing you’re into that bottle pretty good by the time you leave work.”

Keb’ Mo’ belied the “Perpetual Blues Machine” with his upbeat rhythm.

“What do you want from me?” Sandman asked, almost in a whisper. His throat felt completely dry.

“Want? I want my son back, you worthless fuck. I know that’s not going to happen. Let me tell you what else I’ve managed to do in three years. I got myself a job working second shift at a liquor store. I’ll let you guess which one. Ever heard of Tetrodotoxin?”

“No… I… holy shit, lady…” Sandman had a vague recollection of some middle-aged brunette behind the counter at the liquor store. He was having difficulty breathing. His lungs felt heavy.

“Tetrodotoxin, also known as TTX, is the poison that comes from puffer fish. It’s highly toxic and pretty much lethal, being that there‘s no known antidote. Also, do you know how easy it is to loosen the seal on a bottle of bourbon, add a few drops of TTX, replace the cork and seal, and then give it to the guy who comes in for the same thing every single day? Oh, it‘s so very easy, Mr. Sandusky. So, so easy. Mr. Sandusky? Roger? Sandman… oh, Saaaaaandman….”

Sandman was slumped forward, phone in his hand, head resting on the table as if he was taking a nap.

Keb’ Mo’ began to warn his woman, “I’m in a dangerous mood…”

The woman’s whisper came through the receiver in Sandman’s hand and into his dead ear, “This one goes out to you, my beautiful boy, Brian. G’night, Sandman.”


For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, Wendryn gave me this prompt: Sandman. I gave FlamingNyx this prompt: She was tempted to cause a scene...

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Puffy and Tina

Today I'm writing as a response to a challenge from the Scriptic Collective. Details are at the end of this post.


Tina cracked the blinds about half an inch to let some daylight in, then turned and stood for a moment watching the sleeping woman on the sofa. The snoring was reassuring. At least this morning she wouldn’t have to steal herself against possibilities as she checked for breathing.

She moved closer to the sofa and, on the end table, gently set down the mug of tea she’d been holding. Just above a whisper she said, “Mornin’, Ms. Puffy.”

The woman’s eyelids barely fluttered, but she mumbled, “God dammit, Tina… how many times to I have to tell you not to call me that?”

“I can’t help myself. With your blood count down and those steroids they’ve got you on, your face looks like a big pale, puffy cloud. Therefore, Ma‘am, I have taken it upon myself to change your name to Puffy. Besides, Patty… Puffy… they‘re not so far apart.”

“So, I not only have the joy of battling cancer, but I have to put up with your aspersions too?” Patty opened one eye to a bare squint. “Did you bring me tea?”

“I did. Let me help you sit up a bit.”

Tina bent and scooped Patty into her arms as if she were a small child, and got her up into a sitting position. She pushed pillows behind her back and adjusted blankets, then handed her the mug of tea. She watched as Patty took a tentative sip from the mug, her eyes closed again and her head bowed as if it was too heavy for her neck. Patty took a deep breath and let it out in a heavy sigh.

“How bad is it today, Puffy?”

“Eh… I’ll live,” she answered with a rueful smirk.

“I was surprised to find you on the sofa again. Rough night?”

“Not particularly. I just feel more connected to… I don’t know… to life I guess… when I sleep down here. For some reason I’ve been waking up in that bed with a feeling of being smothered, of being lost. So, I come down here and sleep.”

“You know, I could stay nights if you need me. David won’t mind. Well, even if he does, you know he wouldn’t say shit with a mouthful.”

“I might just lean on you for that if you’re sure it won’t cause problems. I get lonely lately. I don’t know why. I’ve been rattling around this place since Arl died 17 years ago and it’s never bothered me. In fact, I like being by myself. But lately…” Patty trailed off and stared at the book cases lining the wall opposite the sofa. She shook her head at some thought, then said, “I’ve never understood why you’ve stayed with him all these years, Tina. He can‘t be that good in bed!”

Tina laughed. “Oh hell, he’s not any good in bed at all. At least, not from what I remember. It’s been a good six or seven years since we even attempted to twist the sheets. I don’t know why I’ve stayed. I guess… I guess even when something is worn out there’s a certain comfort in it. You’re used to it, y’know? And it’s not like he’s a bad guy.”

“No, but his personality is about as stimulating as plain oatmeal. Wait. Wait just a goddamned minute! No sex for six or seven years?!” Patty looked at Tina as if she was looking at a two-headed oddity in a curiosity shop.

Tina blushed. “Well, no. I mean… I do have the occasional ménage et trios with, um, Mr. Buzz and Miss Friendly.” Tina wiggled the fingers of her left hand in the air. “Turns out there are a whole lot of things in my marriage that I can do better by myself.”

“Godsakes… I did not need that detail.”

“Oh, c’mon, Puffy. You asked for it! But you want to know the best part about it?”

“I’m afraid to ask.” Patty’s eyes twinkled and Tina was glad to see the old spark there. “Oh hell. What?”

Tina replied in a loud whisper, “Mr. Buzz never asks for a blowjob.”

Patty spit the sip of tea she’d been trying to swallow half way across the room. She took the wad of tissues that Tina offered her, both of them laughing too hard to say anything. Eventually their laugher dwindled down to sniffling, throat clearing, and wiping their eyes.

Tina went out to the kitchen to get Patty another cup of tea and to pour herself some coffee.  She grabbed Patty’s hairbrush and a wash cloth from the bathroom off the kitchen. She ran the cloth through water as hot as she could stand, wrung it out, and put everything on a tray, and carried it in to the living room.

“Here, Puffy. I brought you a warm cloth for your face, and I’ll brush your hair.”

“There’s hardly any left worth brushing, Tina.”

“There’s enough.”

Tina stood behind her friend and gently brushed the baby-fine hair that had grown back after Patty’s last round of chemo. She felt her lip wobble and immediately bit down on it. There’d be time for that later. All kinds of time. Too much time. Tina set the brush on the end table and went back around the sofa. She sat down at the opposite end from Patty and took a sip of coffee.

“Hey, Puffy. You remember the first time we met?”

“Of course. It was at your wedding. My mother insisted on dragging me into the dressing room, convinced we’d become great friends, which she based on the fact that we both majored in American Lit.”

Tina laughed. “I think I was both floored that she’d do that and relieved that there was something else to focus on other than my pre-nuptial terror. Remember what you said to me?”

Patty pondered for a minute, then, “I don’t.”

“You said, ‘Why would anyone want to leave this room? It’s so quiet and peaceful in here. You know, it’s not over until the guy in the silk bathrobe says man and wife.’ At the time I thought it was awfully presumptuous and audacious of you to suggest that I not marry David. I’ve thought about it so many times over the last twenty five years though. I wish I had listened, but I think the universe - perverse as it is - put my marriage together so that you and I could meet and be friends.”

“I’ve thought the same thing. If you hadn’t married David, we probably never would have met - my parents being his god-parents and all.”

“This is going to sound weird, but I love you more than I’ve ever loved David.” Tina had to gulp back tears.

“I’ve loved you to. That’s why I want you to promise me something.”


“That box with all the inlay on it? That one on the top shelf?” Puffy pointed and Tina nodded. “That’s for you when I die. No. Shush.” Puffy waved away the beginnings of Tina’s protestations. “We both know how this is going to end, and it isn‘t long away now. I’ve been waiting for the right time to say this and it turns out that the right time for shit is the time you just grab the bull by the balls and deal with it. That box with the inlay is for you to have. I want you to take it and my ashes up to Hurricane Ridge. Do it as soon as you can once you get my ashes - rain or shine. Will you do that? Will you promise?” Patty’s eyes were bright with tears, but her jaw held firm.

“I promise.”

“Good. Now hand me the damned channel changer and let’s make fun of the lowlifes on court TV.”

Ten weeks later Tina sat by herself on an old Indian blanket, facing the valley of cedars that gave way to the rest of the Olympic mountain range. The urn with Patty’s ashes leaned against her right ankle.  She ran her fingers over the inlay on the top of the box that sat next to her and then pushed the button that popped the lid open. In the box she found a folded note upon which Patty had written, “Read Me First“, three sealed business envelopes, a small jewelers envelope, and a bottle of 2009 Coppola Merlot.

Tina unfolded the note and began to read:

Dear Tina,

Let’s get the uncomfortable shit out of the way, shall we? Scatter my ashes up here on the ridge - don‘t make a big fuss about it - just tell me you love me and let ‘er rip.

There are three big envelopes and one little envelope. In the little envelope you’ll find the key to my cabin out by Roslyn. In one of the other envelopes is the deed to the cabin. It’s all yours. In one of the other envelopes is a cashier’s check for two hundred thousand. Wipe that look off your face - what else was I going to do with my 401k?

Wait. There is a catch. That’s what the third envelope is for. In that one is a gift certificate to The Apple Store. Waiting for you there is a top of the line laptop. I want you to take it and everything else to the cabin. I want you to write the story of our friendship. All of it, including the bit about Mr. Buzz and me spewing tea, and the way you held my head when I had to puke, and changed my catheters and bathed me. Because it’s all there - the good, the bad, the ugly, the pretty damned terrific -  all the love and the tears and laughter. Write it.

When you’re done, crack open that Merlot and let‘s get shitfaced.

With much love from this life and whatever life lies beyond,


For the prompt exchange this week, Grace O'Malley gave me this prompt: Puffy and Tina, and I gave Wendryn this prompt: This isn't the end of the story.