The Summer Stay-Cation: A Labor Day Story

For Labor Day Weekend: A short-short story just for fun…

A lone leaf drifted lazily into the small kidney-shaped swimming pool in the backyard of my dear friend Muffy. An orange leaf. The three of use, Muffy, Buffy, and myself peered up with trepidation at the large elm tree that shades the deep end of the pool.

“Is that what I think it is?” asked Muffy, with a pained sigh.

Buffy lowered her huge, protective sunglasses and tilted up her enormous hemp sun hat to further assess the situation. She sighed as well. “Yes, I’m afraid summer is almost over. Before you know it the Neiman Marcus holiday catalog will be here.”

“Are you still getting that?” asked Muffy. She sounded a bit smug and sanctimonious, and I knew what was coming next. “I e-mailed all my stores and asked them to not send me any more catalogs. Do you know how many trees it takes to make one Neiman Marcus holiday catalog? More like a forest!”

I couldn’t see behind Buffy’s sunglasses but I knew she was rolling her eyes. Continue reading

The Pink and White Terraces of New Zealand

(This short story originally appeared in the South Boston Literary Gazette, and was awarded “best in issue.” Unfortunately, that literary journal was print only, not online, so I am sharing here online for the first time.)

THE PINK AND WHITE TERRACES OF NEW ZEALAND

Of the months at sea, the less said the better. Although the journey itself certainly must be mentioned. I set out from my adopted country a bride and returned a widow, a change of status I now think of as an improvement.

I was not altogether ignorant of a bride’s responsibilities and duties toward her husband. I had no mother myself, but in the convent there were young women my own age, and also maids and such who came in who talked a great deal more than you might think about the relations between men and women.

When I was a certain age, an acquaintance of a distant relative wrote to the sisters asking if I might be suitable for a match. I had not known of any relatives until then, and apparently they wished to remain anonymous, because I was never given their name or their whereabouts.

But that hardly seemed important, as the background credentials of Mr. Tucker were analyzed and it was deemed that I could do worse. I was sixteen and strong and healthy and couldn’t remain a ward much longer.

In exactly six weeks I was on my way to New Zealand. The year was 1885. Continue reading

The Widows’ Wall (a short story)

(This short story was originally published in 2015 in Clapboard House, a literary journal.)

The wall, when you approach it from the east, in the early morning, looks blank. Looks just like a regular stone wall. The morning sun hits it at such an angle that you can’t see the inscriptions at first. And in the summer, ivy and other creeping plants do their best to stake their rightful claim. One of the widows will usually come by, though and tear any encroaching plant life away, so that the writing is not obscured.

Marianne Carlson, twice widowed (and thus with two stones in the wall) owns the property on which the wall sits. Her modest clapboard farmhouse, built in 1913, belonged to her first husband’s family, the Whidbeys. Edward had been the only son of Ernest and Grace Whidbey; a daughter had run off to the South and hadn’t been heard from in decades. Edward Whidbey had been a drinker. One starless night he had staggered onto the pond when it was not quite frozen through, not being able, in his inebriated state, to distinguish between the snow-covered meadow and the snow-covered and not-quite-thick-enough ice that covered the pond. He had sometimes liked to wander about at night, to look at the stars and howl at the moon. Ernest and Grace moved into town shortly after that, not being able to bear living on the property where their only son had died. They had felt obligated to give Marianne the house and land as recompense for her trouble, and also so that she could raise their grandson away from their own deep sorrow.

For a long while, Marianne stewed in her bitterness over Edward’s failing her. When she married him she had been a naïve girl, had not known much about drinking or what it did to people. Sometimes when he drank, he sang to her and was lovely in ways he normally wasn’t, but that scared her as much as the other times. She wondered who the real Edward Whidbey was – the good-natured crooner of folk songs who reached under her skirts and nuzzled her with the rough stubble of his beard, or the howling wreck with bloodshot eyes who yelled at her for overcooking the vegetables and leaving the radio on and using too much electricity. Continue reading

Max Bran (A Story)

(A new unpublished essay/story today about my cab ride with Max Bran, a San Francisco musician.)

When I met Max Bran he was driving a taxi in San Francisco. It was an old beat-up taxi, a clunker. It was raining and I decided to splurge on a cab because I had been waiting for a bus for quite a long time, and it was late at night, and I was in a part of town that didn’t seem so good now that it was nearing midnight. I usually ride buses in cities when I travel because it’s a good way to get to know a city, and also to observe the people who really live there.

I am a person who can’t tolerate silence in a cab unless I ascertain right away that the cab driver does not speak English. This particular night I was sort of dejected because my agent had just that afternoon told me she didn’t think she was the right agent for me. She had been my agent for seven years and had never sold my short story collection or any potential books that I had outlined and was in the process of working on. I was secretly glad that she had finally brought up this idea of separation because I knew I would never have had the guts to do it myself. I was still hurt though because she was really my only connection to the literary world in New York City, if such a relationship – one in which nothing had happened – could be considered a connection. Continue reading