Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Secret Family Recipe

Last night was Outhouse Stew night. What's that, you ask?

It's what we make because we're out all the regular foods in this house.
But we have to make something for supper, because, apparently, Cereal Night has been a little bit overdone around here, and we all just might start growing Cheerios out of our eyeballs if we have to go through another Cereal Night this month. (and, anyhoo, we were out of milk...)

I was on vacation last week, and since I work at the store where we shop there was no way I was going anywhere near it for a full ten days. So we had to improvise the menu.

Basically, the recipe is a no-brainer. You got something edible? Put it in the pot.

I had a liitle bit of ground beef, lucky me, so I browned it and put it the pot. A can of great northern beans, greens beans, corn.

No carrots for us, darnit, and no potatoes either, but you can add them if that's what you've got.
If you like noodles, nice cheap ramen works pretty well, or elbow macaronis. We didn't have any in ours, but we could add them to round two tonight.

I sneaked in some (tomatoes), but Matthew doesn't like them, so I don't tell him, and I found a little can of roasted green chilies, yum yum. (I forgot to put them in the spaghetti casserole the other night. I just now realized that.)

I added a healthy dose of a seasoning called Hamburger Deluxe, which I usually put in meatloaf, but it turns out that it works for this, too. And camino. (That's the deal-sealer right there.)

Heat it to a boil and then simmer until the kids show up. Matthew was a little reluctant to eat something I'd named after a toilet, but after I promised him there was no pooping involved, he came around.

We had two bowls each.

Tonight, maybe well add the macaroni and call it Elbow Grease Soup.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

We have these fears.

I don't know how to feel about claiming my stories. I flip-flop back and forth with it. I crave the recognition. I want to be able to stand up, face to the sun and shout into the wind, "I have written this beautiful thing! Come praise me! I am worthy of your admiration!"
On the other hand, I enjoy idea of being able to stand back from my words and shrug one shoulder and say, "Well, it's only fiction. It's just a story. One of a billion stories, one of a billion story-tellers...no big thing."
I understand now why so many writers have a pen name, and I've just about decided that, when I get the nerve to submit them, I too, will use a pen name.
I don't want to be analyzed by those who think they know me, or those who think they want to know me, or those who think they will know me only through my written words.
It's a terrible invasion of privacy to have a person stand two feet from me and relate me to a character I've written. It scares the hell out of me to know they can see me in there, not just in the heroine of my stories, but also in the creep lurking in the shadows, and the child who clings to a rag doll for protection, and in the teenager who wants nothing more than to escape on an adventure to Europe.
But then, it's my story, isn't it?

Friday, February 18, 2011

She's a Keeper

In our family, we have those not-quite-relatives-but-we-claim-them-anyhow members. Rather than to go into lengthy detail about how So-and-So is my sister's first baby's daddys' second ex-wife, or This One is my first cousin's other cousin on her daddy's side, or That One divorced my brother sixteen years ago but we like her better than him, I have simplified the terminology.
These are not My Inlaws.
These are My Outlaws.

One of my Outlaws showed up on my doorstep early one day as I was hovering over the coffee maker, trying to inhale caffeine through the heavenly scent. My hair was a mess. My eyes still bleary from sleep and my plans did not include company of any sort. Bless her little heart, she came to the back door, but she knocked. I thought it was funny. Nobody knocks around here. If the dog doesn't bark, that means you're part of the family, so come on in. Looking back on it, she probably thought I was walking around indecent that early in the morning, but that never happens. Three teenaged boys live here. We practice modesty.

Anyhoo. She's my age, but she has a disorder I think she was probably born with. She's had it as long as I've known her. It's called Energy. She doesn't seem to suffer from it, but I assure you, it affects every person around her. It's sort of like Tourrette's. It's annoying and you often want to smack her for it, but the poor dear was born that way, so you just deal.

I pour her some coffee, though I don't think she needs it, and we pick up conversation from the last time I saw her. It's like that with us. It doesn't matter if we saw each other last week, or if it was two years ago. We just pick right back up where we left off.

I start to wash the dishes, because she does not like to sit down and relax, and when you are the only one in the room with her, you tend to catch Energy from her, even if it's just for a short time. She's contagious. She rinses and dries. I didn't ask her to. This is automatic.

She wants to talk about the book she's reading. She prattles on and on, and I start to smile as I listen to her because I can tell she is genuinely excited about the outcome of the story. She describes each character and her opinion of them, and what she thinks is going to happen next. Listening to her, my heart (and my head) begin to swell, and I realize how much I appreciate her intrusion into my day.

She says to me at one point about a character in the book, "Did you notice how Jeremy stood off to the side and just watched without saying anything? I think he's the stalker. Did you notice that he has a history for being a creep?"

Of course I noticed.

I wrote the book.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

If four-year-olds ruled the world...

I just found a five dollar bill in the pocket of the jeans I just slid on. It's not nearly exciting as receiving a ball of fanny yarn from Poopsie, the fur-riddled hiney-packer, but I think I'll smile just the same.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

When I grow up...

She'd been eye-balling me from the moment I walked through the doors. I felt the familiar creep over my skin and she weighed back and forth whether to ask me if I was old enough to be there. She started to speak, but retracted it. Whatever she was going to say, it hung there on the edge of her tongue in silent expectation.
I recognized her, and I realized she might be recognizing me, too. Maybe her problem wasn't with my questionable age, but with the reality that she knew me from somewhere, but she couldn't quite place me.
A few minutes later, I realized it was a combination of the two.
When I reached the counter, she was biting her lip and looking me in the eye. Automatically, I handed her my ID. She took it, but didn't look at it. She had to get her question out of the way first.
"Are you related to Nessa?" she asked.
"Sort of," I said. This was nothing new. Once I was accused of being my own daughter. That's my reality.
"You look just like her!" she chirped, thinking that she'd made the connection when she was completely wrong. "I went to high school with her." She smiles and laughs, as if we were old friends. (Well, we were once, but we lost touch. Life will do that.)
I could have laughed right back at her and said something retarded, like, "Really, well I'll tell her you said hi!" It's only polite after all. Good manners and friendliness aren't always expected, but they are always welcome. However, being the little snot that I am sometimes, I half-smiled and said with only a trace of Texan charm, "Yes, I remember you."
Her smile disappeared when she finally looked at my ID and realized that it was me, Little Nessa from American History Class. The atmosphere was suddenly...well..awkward.
She went into the typical "OH.MY.GOD. YOU.LOOK.SO.YOUNG." rant that I have heard time and time again.
I don't actually think I look that young, but there have been countless occasions that have proven me wrong.
Twice, while I was registering my kids for high school, I was mistaken for a student. Once for Junior High.
I've been pulled over for looking to young to drive. (Though not recently, so I guess I've aged a little.)
When I take my kids to a restaurant, the waitress asks EVERY TIME if we'd like our meals on separate checks.
It makes me feel like a freak. I make people uncomfortable.
And that day was no exception. I could tell that she was uncomfortable. It was in her strained smile that didn't quite reach her eyes.
"Well girl you look great!" she said as she handed my ID back to me. The happiness had gone out of her voice and was replaced with that judgemental tone that meant she was going to talk about me with her co-worker as soon as the door hit my ass. "How do you manage to stay looking so young?"
I gathered my vodka, whiskey and rum in my arms, because she was suddenly too nervous to remember to bag them, and I said cheerfully, "Must be all that clean-livin'!"

Monday, February 14, 2011

You'll never guess what happens after this.

"Jess, you have to marry me," Devin Rehkopf announced to her across the round table in the basement of the Rehkopf family home, pointing his half-smoked cigar at her. Jess lifted a confused eyebrow as she took her seat and placed her full bottle of beer on the table. She sat down slowly, confused by the flippant way he flicked his ashes and plugged the cigar back into the side of his mouth. His tone was somewhat bossy. He might as well have been giving a command like Jess, it's your turn to deal, or Jess, get me another beer. Well, it wasn't his style. He had never once bossed her around before.

"Did I miss something while I was in the bathroom?" she asked. She glanced at the faces around the table. Devin, Stephanie and Leo were all staring at her and trying to hide smiles. Leo snorted a suppressed laugh. There was a joke in the works, and she was not in on it.

"Stephanie lost you. Kings over Queens," Leo explained, nodding his chin toward the cards lying on top of the poker pot in the center of the table. Devin, apparently held three kings, while Stephanie had three lowly little queens.

"Devin bet Mama's engagement ring, and I bet you," Stephanie explained with a flit of her fingers. "I lost, so now you have to marry him." Of course she did, because that how it worked on Rehkopf Family Poker Night.

"I thought we decided not to bet the other players?" Jess defended herself, spotting the tiny white gold band with the big white rock hidden halfway under the King of Hearts. She took a long draw off her beer and pondered the situation. She was sure she had established that rule at the very beginning of the evening. "Besides, you lost me two weeks ago. I'm not yours to bet." She clearly remembered that game. Devin had bet a gift card to a local restaurant chain, and Stephanie had bet Jess. That's how Jess had ended up dating the man. Jess suspected an elaborate set-up.

"That was two six-packs ago. The rules are all a little fuzzy now," Stephanie explained. She grinned crookedly at Jess under heavy eyelids.

This was the first time Stephanie'd had alcohol in her system since before she discovered she was pregnant with her now newborn son, Lucas, who was sleeping upstairs in his portable bassinet.

"You are such a light-weight," Jess accused her. Stephanie just grinned even wider and hiccupped.

"I win either way," she explained. "Now that you're going to marry my brother, we can be real sisters." She pulled her fists to her face and giggled behind them. "I'm so happy. Now both of Lucas's godparents will be together."

How convenient. Stephanie did everything by committee, it seemed. Now that she was a happily married woman with a beautiful child, she thought everybody else in her life should have the same fate. Jess made a face at her best friend and began to gather cards together.

"You're crazy," she laughed nervously. "I'm not marrying anyone." She tapped the cards against the table to straighten them, and began to shuffle, ignoring the snickers coming from Leo's side of the table.

"You have to, Jess. It's the law!" Devin insisted. His voice boomed, but his gray eyes twinkled at her against the poor lighting drifting down on them from the hanging lamp. "And I'm a lawyer, so don't try to argue with me. I know the law." He was grinning as he plucked the diamond ring out of the pile of odd trinkets and grabbed her left hand. Jess shrieked and pulled her hand away. She jumped up from the table, but Devin had anticipated it, and was already on his feet.

"I'm not marrying you, Devin!" she yelled as she ran up the basement stairs. His strong hands grabbed her feet and made her lose her balance. She landed face down on the stairs, catching herself with her forearms, and he lay across her body, holding her there. Thank goodness the stairs were padded, or else she'd have bruises on her arms. She laughed and squealed into his ear as he tickled her.

Devin struggled with her, and finally, after a few worthy grunts, clutched her left hand. He peeled her closed fist open and forced his deceased mother's ring onto her finger.

"We are getting married whether you want to or not, Jess Harper!" He laughed as he flipped her over to face him.

"We've only been on three dates!" Jess reminded him at the top of her voice. She wiggled and giggled, trying to break free, but he held her securely in place underneath him. "We haven't even slept together!"

"I've known you for five years, woman! I'm tired of waiting." He planted a quick kiss over her lips. "We'll go down to the Justice of Peace tomorrow and seal the deal," he blurted. Her eyes widened, but she didn't have a chance to protest. He covered her mouth with his and kissed her deeply. She returned the kiss and welcomed the weight of his body against hers. He might be a pushy brute, but he was a damn good kisser.

Stephanie and Leos' "Awww"s could barely be heard over the blood rushing in Jess's ears.

What she did hear clearly was the sound of a baby's cry through the baby monitor. Every person's head turned in unison to see the little white speaker box light up with bubbly red warning lights. Lucas was awake. Jess used it as an excuse to get away from her increasingly awkward situation.

"I'll get him," she volunteered. She slid from underneath Devin and rushed up the stairs. She couldn't seem to get her feet to move quickly enough up the padded steps. Layers of polyurethane foam covered nearly every surface in the basement. Mr. and Mrs. Rehkopf had demanded that Devin soundproof the basement when he was seventeen, because Devin had, at one time, aspired to be the drummer of a rock-n-roll band. The foam had never been removed later on, because now that he was grown, Devin liked to host a lot of poker parties. Mr. Rehkopf, however, liked a good night's sleep.

Once she was in the den where Stephanie had set up a make-shift nursery for the night, Jess tended to the baby and exhaled.

"Hello, Lucas Leonardo Bustamante," she sang to him as she checked his diaper. She stroked his full head of dark hair and cherished the quiet "waah waah" of his newborn cry while thinking about the way Devin had insisted she accept that ring. She had seen something in his eyes just before he kissed her- a look that said this little ruse was no joking matter. He was serious. The ring was on her finger, and Jess realized that she might actually find herself standing in front of the JP at ten o'clock in the morning in flip-flops and a sundress. She wondered briefly if Stephanie had anything more appropriate she could borrow.

She finished changing the baby's diaper and lifted him to her shoulder. He grumbled and clumsily bounced his head along her shoulder, searching with his mouth for something to latch onto. When he didn't find it, he began to express his frustration a bit more audibly. Jess moved to the kitchen to find a bottle.

As she was warming a bottle in the microwave, Devin sneaked up behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist. He kissed the top of his nephew's head over the back of Jess's shoulder, and she smiled at the thought that they could one day be standing like that with their own child.

The only thing was, she didn't love Devin Rehkopf-at least not yet. She was sure she could learn to love him over time, but as it stood, she was merely in deep like with the man. Could she commit herself to a marriage that may or may not turn into love?

"What are you thinking about?" Devin asked against her ear after a few moments of silence. She liked the way his warm breath tickled her earlobe. She smiled. She could definitely get used to the gentle way he touched her, and she enjoyed his spontaneous bouts of fun wrestling, like the scene on the stairs. She'd never be bored with Devin Rehkopf. In her mind she said the name, Jess Rehkopf, and she didn't mind the way it sounded.

She shifted the baby with one hand and used the other to plop the bottle into his mouth. She turned in Devin's arms and looked up into his face.


Saturday, February 12, 2011

Three Pages of Fiction

Note: I hesitate to post pieces of my fictional work. I think they're pretty good, but what if nobody else does? But then, I remind myself, I only have eleven followers, so what the hell, just go for it.

At three-thirty in the morning, Caitlyn Crossman cursed under her breath as she opened her front door to her neighbor Marcus James who was accompanied by two uniformed police officers. She had been expecting to see her twin sons standing on the porch. They were supposed to be home at midnight- a special curfew for their best friend's sixteenth birthday celebration.

At one o'clock she'd called the cellphone that they shared, but they had not answered. She had left an angry, motherly message, "Zane Zachary, Cage Samuel Crossman! Get your butts home right now or you can just forget about going to the lake for the rest of the summer." She had even used their middle names. Every child on the planet knows that when your mother uses your middle name along with that bossy tone, she means business, and there had better not be any whiny protesting.

At two o'clock she started to worry that perhaps something had gone wrong. Possibly they had a flat tire or a busted fan belt in the mammoth truck that Marcus had bequeathed to Drew for his birthday. Perhaps they didn't get cellphone reception at the lake. Maybe she should get into her minivan and go look for them. She could envision that they were out there under the stars with no tent and no protection from the elements or animals.

She talked herself out of that very quickly. The lake was too big to be able to find all the ins and outs in the dark, and she didn't know her way around the way the boys did. One dirt road looked just like all the rest.She'd most likely end up getting lost or running out of gas before she found her way back to the main road. She could let them sleep in the truck for one night. It was a warm summer night. There weren't any storms in the forecast. They should be fine.

She would find Marcus in the morning and they would go out and look for them together. Until then, she sat in the worn swivel armchair facing the door. If they came home during the night, she would be sitting in wait when they strolled through the door, and she would not be happy.

When the doorbell rang at three-thirty, she exhaled with relief. She hadn't even realized she'd been holding her breath. They were late, but at least they were safe at home. As she turned the knob to let them in, she briefly wondered why they hadn't used their key.

But they weren't home. There were two sheriff's deputies standing on her porch decked out in tan khaki uniforms, shiny brass badges reflecting the porch light. They had their hats in their hands. One fiddled with his nervously, turning it in circles between his thumb and his fingers. They both stared back at her with solemn expressions. Between them stood her longtime friend and next-door-neighbor, Marcus James.

Behind them, across the darkened street and a few houses down, Caitlyn spied a rectangle of light breaking through the blackness as Fiona Matthews opened her own front door to her own set of deputies. Jeremy Matthews' silhouette joined Fiona's. They're son Josh was out there at the lake with Caitlyn's boys.

Confused, she looked to Marcus and saw that his eyes were swollen and rimmed with red. Had he been crying? She had known this man for the better part of ten years. He was the neighbor she went to when she found a snake in her pantry. He had come to her rescue when her car had a flat tire. He had taken her three boys, Zane, Cage and young Max on camping trips with his own son and told them about the facts of life and how to bait a hook and why God had created boys and girls differently. He was the manliest man she knew, and she had never seen him shed a single tear.

"What is it, Marcus?" she asked in a low, accusing tone. "What's happened?"

Her heart began to beat faster, so fast that she had to struggle to hear Marcus tell her the things that she knew she didn't want to hear.

"Caitlyn," Marcus began. His deep voice trembled and cracked as he spoke. "There was…an accident." His eyes never left hers. He focused on her so that she would stay focused on him. "The boys…the boys lost control." She started to shake her head, but he stopped her, placing a hand on each side of her head. He held her gaze. "They lost control of the truck, Caitlyn." His dry voice could barely utter the words to her. He swallowed the lump in his throat and found his voice again. "They died... they all died."

He'd told her the words she needed to hear. She'd heard him clearly, she was sure. He moved to encircle her with shaky arms, longing to comfort her and to comfort himself in her embrace, but she stepped back, away from him, her head shaking in disbelief. She didn't want to be consoled. If she allowed him to console her, it would be like admitting that he was telling her the truth.

This is not true, she thought to herself, as if the simple denial could solve her problems. Not true. But here was Marcus, defying her irrationality, keeping her firmly planted in reality. Two of my sons are gone? Dead? Just like that? Just gone.


As she stood in the middle of her small cluttered living room, Caitlyn's vision blurred and her ears seemed to fill with water. She could make out Marcus' face as he tried to speak to her, but she only heard a garbled version of his voice. An unseen power reached out of eternity and knocked her sideways with an astounding force. She felt she had been run through by a sword of fire and gutted by the hot steel. Something tore her open, reached into her chest and extracted her heart in one quick and painful effort.

All her life, Caitlyn had heard other people describe that feeling in exactly that way. "It was as if someone had ripped out my heart and left a gaping, throbbing hole."

And now she knew what they had meant. It was happening to her. There had been no gentle release of her connection to her children. She felt as if their souls had been violently forced away.

She staggered and stumbled until she fell to her knees. She clutched her chest, trying to keep herself whole, to put back what had very definitely been RIPPED out of her. She was sure that if she were to look down, she would be able to see clear through herself. She would be able to put her arm through the hole in her chest, and her hand would come out grasping at the air behind her. There would be only ragged edges of torn flesh around the space where her heart should have been beating.

I'll fall apart and I'll die right here on the floor. She couldn't bring herself to look at herself. She refused to die now, no matter how appealing it seemed. She still had two other children, a daughter and a son, who needed her, who were going to need her now more than ever. She would need to be alive for them. She began to rock back and forth in her crouched position on the floor, no longer aware of the men in front of her.

Marcus cupped her elbows and pulled her up. He wrapped his arms around her and rubbed the small of her back in warm, rhythmic circles. Though she heard his low, murmurs in her ear, they harbored no real comfort for her.

So she closed her eyes and just barely managed to keep breathing.

Friday, February 4, 2011

"Huh" and Other Comments

I am an idiot.
I learned this just now.
(I can see Johnny giving me a once-over, curling his lip, and saying something smartass like,"Really, you just now figured that out?") Nobody likes Johnny. The dog and I polled one another, and it's unanimous.

My idiocy has to do with the weather and the fact that we don't get alot of the freezing kind where we are. My pipes in the back of the house froze a couple of days ago, and also the drains that take the excess from the house to the main sewer line under the alley. Half of the house is just fine. The bathroom at the front of the house works great! I suppose we have two sewer lines because those front drains are not backed up. This theory makes sense to me, because I know that the rear bathroom and the washer and dryer hook-ups were added to the house some years after it was originally built in 1929.
But I haven't been able to run the laundry for a few days because of the frozen pipes. I pushed the button on the washer, and all I got was a sound like "erhhhhh."-the pump was struggling to suck the water in, but nothing was coming. So I turned it off and waited.

Sigh.......I hate waiting. There are two or three loads piled up, and I'm thinking about trudging myself over to the laundrymat, where the bums and the moms with their loud, energetic, curious children are waiting for me.
The bums are there because it's warm, and it's the kind of place where, if you ask a person if they have a spare quarter, it's pretty likely they're going to have one. The kids are there because the moms have to drag them along on their daily errands. They seem to always have suckers or some other equally sticky treats filling one side of their faces. They drool a bit when they open their mouths to ask me a question.

The laundrymat is a great place to people-watch.

I like to go in the evening, when the moms and their sticky children are usually safe at home eating supper. I'll take a bottle of wine and a few crackers, some cheese. I take a book along and pretend to read it, but I'm actually looking over the edge at the other laundry-doers.

This is the time of day when you see young couples inlove who put their laundry in the top loaders together without separating the colors, and they help each other measure the soap and count quarters out for one another. If it's a boy and a girl, the boy will always carry the load from the car. He's the strong one after all. He should be the one to do the heavy lifting. They sit together on the little sofa that belongs to the laundrymat, and they pretend to watch TV while holding hands.

Married couples are different. They work together in perfect rythm. They each carry a load. They methodically sort through the laundry, barely talking to each other. They don't have to. They've done this before. They know exactly what to expect of each other. One measures soap as the other loads quarters into the slots. Each of them claims one of those rolling baskets and places it by the washer, ready to be filled and rolled to the dryers. They do not sit on the sofa, and they do not watch TV. They sit in their car. I imagine they are arguing, but I suppose they could be snuggling just as easily.

This is also the time of night when you see single men. Single working men who are just coming off shift and need to wash their coveralls for the next day. They are tired. They are hungry. Some of them are lonely for company, and think they'll strike up a conversation with the pretty little lady with the wine.

That would be me.

I prefer not to be bothered, but I'm not an ass, so I always humor them with conversation. I have never shared my wine. Or my cheese.

"Whatcha readin' there?" he'd ask me in his Texan drawl. "Romance novel?"

I try not to roll my eyes. I don't have anything against a romance novel. I've written two of them recently. I think they're great, but it stings me a little that men always think it's a romance novel.

"No," I'd say with a bit of bite, "but I think I have one in the car if you'd like to borrow it?"

And he'd chuckle and then comment on the picture on the front of the book.

"It's a story that addresses the failure of society to recognize the diversity of the human condition."

"Huh." And he'd be silent for a minute and listen to the hum of the machines and consider what he should say next. Most of the time it's nothing. He'd just go back to his laundry, and so would I.

But that's not the part that makes me an idiot.

It's the machine at the house. The pipes thawed out. I pressed the button, and the water came rushing in. I was so excited that I filled it, set it on a supersized load, and waltzed out the door, blissfully unaware that only the pipes bringing water in had thawed. The drainage pipes out were still completely frozen.

So I left to pick up Matt and his four friends from school, drop all of them off, including Matt. Then I drove straight to David's new apartment to pick him up and take him to the store. We spent quite a bit of time there picking out shampoos and toilet paper and new towels and washcloths for his new apartment. Then I took him home and then took myself home.

I stepped into the house with an inch of water sloshing around my feet. The water spun right out of the washer, up the hose and, since it couldn't be convinced to squeeze itself through the frozen drain pipe, went all over my utility room and into the kitchen.

There are now absolutely no clean towels in the house.

The dog and I took a vote, and it's unanimous.

I'm an idiot.