School has finally begun. And while it has been rough to juggle getting school supplies and going to parent/teacher meetings (I still haven’t gotten the kids sneakers!), I have found the more rigid schedule of fall more conducive to writing than the languid days of summer. Ideas have began to percolate.
Once at my old house, I climbed up a narrow flight of stairs with a mailing tube full of large knitting needles (don’t ask). The bottom fell out of my tube, the needles followed the bottom, and when I leaned over to pick up a needle I fell down said narrow stairs careening over pastel metallic needles all the way. Apparently, my writing mojo took a similar spectacular fall this summer.
Ladies and gentleman, I have fallen off my writer’s wagon like Jack Lemon in Days of Wine & Roses. The kids had summer camp and summer trips and my inspiration went on vacation. But I like to think that my inspiration was re-charging and not merely slumbering. God help me, I’m not Lee Remick in Days of Wine & Roses. I will get off the floor, splash cold water on my face,and write into the sunset.
And I designed some flyers for the new knitting guild that I’m starting so that counts for something.
“Language is to the mind more than light is to the eye.”
I was on such a good run with my writing but lately my imagination has collapsed into a shuddering heap. On the doors of my office cabinet where I keep my computer and supplies I have beloved quotes on post it notes and random scraps of paper. Whenever I used to hit writer’s block while working on articles I would look around me for inspiration. Lately since I tend to write on my mobile devices I have taken to saving quotes in my notepad. Here’s my latest quote and below is the first paragraph of my latest story. Hopefully I can prod my imagination of the couch and finish it soon.
Legs akimbo, Isis paused in mid grooming to spy a small, chartreuse spider crawling down the window. The spider scurried back up the curtain rod and Isis stood and stretched in one fluid, languid motion. After curling into a perfect crescent on the window seat, Isis settled down to sleep. Through nearly closed eyes she watched Kathleen’s fingers move across sheets of cool smooth paper, she watched the tendrils of the creeping jenny make shadows on the wall, she watched where the floors met the walls, then she watched Kathleen again listening to the scratch of her red hard pencil on the smooth smooth paper before closing her eyes to sleep. The child was nearby. Isis swiveled her ears in the direction of the stairs just beyond the door. Suddenly a scream, small and sharp, ripped through the room. Isis flashed under the plant stand, ears low and wary.
Two weeks into the Writing 101 workshop series, and I have not had as much time to write as I would like there is work and the kids’ summer learning sessions, and Sharknado 2. But I did find time to submit a short story to a local literary journal. The first time in many years and that is almost as good as as Tara Reid with a jigsaw hand.
I wake up to screaming. Strangely high pitched, blood-curdling squeals almost like a child’s cry but distinctly not human fill my bedroom through the open window. I run blindly out of my room across the hall to the stairs. The screeching races from the front yard down the side of the house and into the backyard. Frantically I pound down the stairs across the living room through the kitchen to the backyard door. The screams are louder, closer. I throw open the back door. Cool night air floods in and I hit silence.
My eyes devour the darkness. Nothing. I can just make out the outlines of my trees and shrubs, the neighbor’s trees and shrubs. I fumble with the light switches. The back porch overhead lamp flutter on throwing a pathetic pool of light to show the overturned wheelbarrow and Kennedy’s twisted water slide leaning forlornly against back railing. I look and look. Suddenly cold in my underwear, my heart still pounding in my chest, I close the back door.
Slowly, I climb back up the stairs suddenly weary. I peek into Kennedy’s bedroom. She is dead asleep, tiny hands clenched tight, sheets kicked to the floor. I resist the urge to go to her bed to sleep cradled against her warm back and quietly return to my own room. I make a plump nest of pillows in the middle of the headboard. I kick the duvet viciously to the floor and settle under the cool, cool sheets. It’s 3:26 am. The night screams have happened again.
I try to sleep. 3:37 am. I turn and twist. 3:42 am. I flip over the good pillow and lay very still hoping that if I pretended to sleep very, very well I would actually fall asleep. 4:02 am. I give up. I reach for my iPad and start researching useless things. At 6:23 am I turn off my alarm before it rings and begin limping through another day.
Kennedy wakes up like a rocket, already bursting of random questions and meandering stories. I blaze through the morning routine, brush teeth, get dressed, eat breakfast, do a load of laundry, grab lunches, drop off Kennedy at daycare, drive to work, collapse on desk. At each step of the day, I return to thoughts of the night. According to the almighty Internet the screaming in the night is rabbits. I know this and I know there is nothing I can do about it. Rabbits as I have learned (also from the Internet) are nocturnal. The stupid rabbits visit my vegetable garden at night and meet the local foxes, which are also nocturnal. I’ve put up chicken wire and squirrel netting, but still the rabbits come. I sprayed the garden with garlic oil and wolf urine, but still the rabbits come. I have sweated it out with the windows closed and looked into various affordable air conditioners that would work with my new vinyl windows in my very old house, but still I hear the screaming at night.
I try to lose myself at work, fussing with reports, pretending to listen to other people’s stores. I appear cheerful and attentive but the night is always on my mind. Will I lay awake all night restless and waiting? Will it be peaceful? Will I hear the screams again? When will I ever get a good night’s sleep?
It is a relief to finally head home, dropping the mask of politeness. I pick up my daughter and together we head to the grocery store. Kennedy tells me about a little boy she likes who seems not particularly bright and all the things she saw during her day including the make-believe ones. The day unwinds into dinner, Kennedy’s taking out each and every toy, cleaning up dinner, making tomorrow’s lunches, bath time, story time, bed time, please one more story time and watching Kennedy, suddenly, easily fall into sleep.
I reach over and stroke her curls, watching her even, slow breaths. She strikes my hand away in her sleep and rolls over. I head down stairs with heavy slow steps. I starting picking up toys and carrying them to the toy box in the dining room and the basket on the staircase landing. By the stairs I stop to needlessly straighten the coats on coat rack. I hug Liam’s old jacket then I quickly push away the jacket and my grief. Overhead I hear footsteps.
“Did you wake up honey?”
I wait for Kennedy’s voice to ring out for a request for a glass of water or a hug or yet another story. Silence. With a tired shrug, I return to Hungry Hungry Hippos, carefully collecting the white marbles that have escaped the broken box. I pick up my Ngaio Marsh paperback and settle on the sofa. Gently I pushed my stubbornly sullen cat, SarahJane, off the blanket on the sofa back and cover myself with the warmed, slightly hairy blanket.
My book hits the floor with a sudden bang waking me up. Despite the killer cramp in my neck, I reach for the paperback hoping I can read myself back to sleep. SarahJane is standing stock still in the middle of the living room peering up at the ceiling. Soft solid footsteps cross the living room ceiling. The steps are too soft. They are not coming from Kennedy’s room on the second floor into the hallway, but from higher up in Liam’s old office in the attic. The sound of steps drift down the third floor stairs. There is a pause. I look at SarahJane; she looks at me. I realize I’m holding my breath. There is the gentle squeak of the heavy five panel door to the third floor as it opens. SarahJane flattens her ears against her head and runs with quick hopping steps under the dining room table.
My eyes return to the living room ceiling. The footsteps from the third floor stairway head to our, my, our bedroom then quiet. I sit perfectly still. Then I place my bookmark in my book. I untangle from the blanket and head for the stairs. I climb up to bed, I climb up to curl up in a crescent on my side of the bed, I climb up to feel again a warm arm rest gently across my back, I climb up to sleep.
The cake was surprisingly heavy. A lemon pound cake with soft peaks of homemade vanilla frosting perched on a batter bowl green cake stand. Bea fought back the sudden urge to put flowers–daisies perhaps–around the base of the cake or a generous sprinkle of silver dragees or jimmies or something. But she knew Leo wouldn’t cotton to that. She carried the cake cautiously into the dining room as Bobby and Monica burst into a giggly off key version of Happy Birthday.
Instead of singing Jamie was playing a kiddie tambourine and gyrating around the table.
“All right, all right, settle down!” Laughing, Leo shouted over the din. The kids sang louder. He patted my hand as I put the flowerless cake on the table. Leo looked up at me with a bedraggled smile. We looked over at the kids as they launched into yet another verse of Happy Birthday. He lifted his hand to my cheek and the alarm clock went off.
My eyes flew open and I reached for Leo’s side of the bed before I remembered he wasn’t there anymore.
Bea bolted upright and smacked the large display digital alarm clock. She considered lingering in bed, rolling in the sheets, making a fortress of pillows against the day. Instead out of habit, Bea grimly set her feet on the floor. Her legs had been her best feature. She was tall and her legs were once coppery brown long and lean. They were still long but now she stared down at varicose veins in thick sturdy calves.
With quick, efficient movements, Bea made the bed tight as a drum. She smoothed the already smooth sheets and absently patted Leo’s side. Next she straighten up the bedroom wiping away imaginary dust and rearranging the large stack of magazines, journals, and books on her side of the bed. Leo’s nightstand held only a tall, narrow lamp and a snowglobe of a country house from their last trip to Lancaster.
Bea dusted it gently and then held it up to the window admiring the tiny shutters and front porch with a swing. She had grown up in a house like this with six brothers and sisters. As the fourth child, second daughter her chief duties were laundry and not getting in the way. When she was young Bea would steal away to the barn to draw pictures on stolen pieces of butcher paper and stare out at the sky. Bea remembered she had called to attention to the globe in some little gift shop and Leo had secretly brought it for her. She headed downstairs and made breakfast, Greek yogurt with peaches, dry rye toast, two eggs over easy. She looked down at her plate surprised because she had wanted scrambled eggs with sausages. The phone rang breaking Bea’s thoughts.
“Hey, Mom. Did I catch you at a bad time?”
“No, sweetheart, I can always make time for you.” Bea tighten her stomach for disappointment. With the phone cradled between her shoulder and her ear, Bea listened to her daughter weave a tapestry of lies about the trip with her granddaughters planned for this summer.
Frustrated Bea suddenly broke in. “I just don’t understand. I thought this was all arranged. The girls would stay with me the first two weeks after school ended.” Bea tried to control her voice, to rein in her rising emotions.
“I know, I know, Mom, but Taylor has this new tutor and camp is starting earlier than I thought,” Monica stuttered. Her words rushing over one another. “I mean if there was anything I could do.”
“So Aaron wants the kids to go to his parents’ house, right? They have the big house and the pool and of course the beach house. We can forget the beach house. This is ridiculous Monica. We can share the time. Let me talk to him–”
“No!” Monica suddenly snapped. “Please Mom this is not about Sarah and Paul.”
“So what is it about?”
Monica went silent. Bea gripped the phone desperate to catch every word. Monica exhaled.
“Look, Mommy, try to understand. You know what it is like trying to make everyone happy and the girls are getting older and want to make plans with their friends and being caught in the middle and the drive is so long and you know how Aaron gets and you know how it is.” Monica said, biting her lip.
Bea leaned her back against the wall to keep the room from spinning. She twisted the phone cord in her hand.
“Maybe we could do something at the end of summer? I think Aaron has a few days before school starts again.”
Bea let her daughter babble on pretending to understand until the conversation dwindled and sputtered to an awkward stop. She hung up the phone wearily. A card from the French memo board drifted to the floor.
Happy Birthday, hope you have the happiest of birthdays all my love Bobby. She could tell that the card was signed by his wife, Mika. She wrote the same thing every year. Bea slipped the card onto the board with the utility bill and a few yellowed recipes. Breakfast forgotten, Bea walked into the dining room to put away the chest of dress up clothes and basket of arts and crafts that she had set up on the table.
In the late afternoon, Bea polished the furniture. The lemon oil glimmered over the dark veins of wood. She placed a square glass vase in the center of the dining room table. Roses from her garden fell to one side bleeding red petals on to the freshly polished surface. Tenderly Bea gathered the petals in her hand and carried them to the trash. She carried the whole arrangement into the kitchen. In the bright white and harvest gold colored kitchen the arrangement looked top heavy. She thought she heard the mailman coming early. She hurried to the door, peeking out of its small window. Nothing. Bea went through her shelf of vases by the sink and chose a curvy milk glass one with a wide mouth. Carefully Bea transferred the roses from the clear vase to the white one. More petals rained into the sink. Avoiding thorns Bea twisted the flowers into a more pleasing shape. The roses fell over to the other side.
The mailbox lid creaked. Bea hurried to the door and then slowed her steps. Her mail was two advertisements, some bills, and a card from her old school for the upcoming Harvest Festival.
Memories flooded into her of the pumpkin painting, apple bobbing contests, corn husk dolls and the children laughing and the heady sweetness of warm mulled cider and Mrs. Weismann’s homemade bread and butter pickles. She turned the orange and forest green save the date card over. Bea had been on that committee for eleven years and had chaired it for seven before the bitches from Language Arts took over everything. She flung the cardstock into the trash. As she closed the door Bea noticed the oblong box leaning by the door. She didn’t remember what it was at first then realized it was the insect habitat she had ordered for the kids. She hadn’t wanted the summer to be all princess tea parties; she wanted the girls to have science and adventure. What she got was a box of praying mantids.
Sighing, Bea bought the box over to the counter, thought better of it and set the box on the bench by the back door. She pulled the flowers from the white vase and stuffed them back into the clear square vase. Bea returned the square vase to the table trailing scarlet petals all the way.
Scented with basil flowers and rosemary, Bea came in from the backyard garden carrying a basket of roses, cosmos, and herbs. Her knees and back ached from the demands of their sprawling flower beds. Vintage blue and green Mason jars lined the kitchen counters ready for the latest project. This time she was making a few bouquets for her neighbors. Sailing past, she knocked over a long oblong box sitting on the mudroom bench. Startled, Bea picked it up and stared at it. It was the praying mantis farm she had bought for the girls. The words: Open Immediately: Perishable shouted out to her. Bea remembered once Leo had ordered butterfly cocoons for his biology class and they had been delivered accidentally to the cafeteria and left to rot in a corner.
Quickly she dropped the flower basket in sink and rushed the box to the kitchen table. Bea carefully removed the contents scrambling to come up with some neighbor’s child to give the set to. The Browns, no the Schiavellis, no. Bea imagined having to explain why her grandchildren had not come, having to offer a neighbor the wonderful gift of bugs. She would simply throw the whole thing away. Out fell the praying mantis egg sac in its special sealed plastic tube. Golden tan, wrinkled, slightly smaller than a walnut, each sac held approximately 200 eggs. Bea turned the smooth cylinder in her hand filled with a curious mixture of revulsion and delight. Tenderly she placed the tube on her gingham placemat and started reading the kit’s instructions.
Bea wiped down the kitchen counters with brusque strokes. Then she peeked into the dining room. Bea swept the big squares of speckled black and white linoleum. Then she peeked into the dining room. Bea sprayed the kitchen table with cleaner, threw the cloth at it and went into the dining room. She pulled a dining room chair over to the antique sewing table under the big picture window and stared at her praying mantis habitat. Bea misted the egg sac lightly with distilled spring water and watched as drops of water glistened on the tawny brown sac. The habitat was a hideous kelly green with a cheap plastic base and a polyester mesh cover. Leo used to recommend this company, but she suspected the quality had come down over the years. Bea had lined the base with paper towels and spaghum moss based on some videos she had watched on youtube. The sewing table was the ideal choice because it was durable and window was sunny. Was it too sunny? Maybe the dining table was cooler? The kitchen was too drafty. Bea was afraid of temperature changes. She was afraid that she was misting too much? Or not enough? Leo used to do science experiments with all the kids, real Mr. Wizard-type stuff. Bea ruffled in the dry air. It had been two weeks of nothing. She returned to her damp kitchen table.
Navigating the busy shopping center parking lot, Bea carried the wire milk crate of books into the bookstore. The crate was filled with children’s books, some brand new with tight, uncracked spines, others worn and well read from when her own children were small. She had been buying books and saving books for the grandkids when they came to visit but she had finally decided to ship her children their favorites and dump the rest. It was the beginning of August. No visits, no trips, she had even tossed the praying mantis eggs sacs outside and thrown away the kit. There was too much clutter in the house. She had been setting aside boxes of clothes and dishes for a yard sale or Good Will. The kid books were the first step. Bea pushed into The Moving Bookstore.
“Is this the last crate Mrs. Williamson? Are you sure I can’t help you unload the car?”
“Bea is that you?” Bea spun around into Veronica’s outstretched arms. Suddenly she was engulfed in a bear hug.
“I haven’t seen you in a million years. We have to get together. We just have to get together. You remember Sylvia?”
Bea shook her head cautiously, trying to jostle her memory.
“Of course you remember Sylvia. She was short with lots of hair. Her husband has been sick with cancer but he’s doing better and she started a book club. That is right up your alley.”
Bea wasn’t sure to be sad or happy for this unknown Sylvia so she sort of shrugged in a concerned way and waited for a break in Sylvia’s flow of words. She waited a long time.
“Well, Ronnie, I am so sorry to hear about Roberta and Willis but I have to run I just wanted to pick up a book for Taylor, Monica’s daughter. Give me a call with the details on the bookclub. I just have to scoot to the back for that gift and hurry to the post office.” Bea hurried to the children’s section and hid behind a Dr. Seuss display. Veronica was still up at the front blocking the exit. Determined not to make friends, Bea sat on a squashed bean bag chair and began to skim through a thick collection of Frances Hodgson Burnett novels that was being used to prop open a window. She hadn’t read The Little Princess in years. Soon she had a tall stack of old and new favorites.
As her old Pontiac turned up the familiar street of her neighborhood, Bea slowed down. Here were the streets she had pushed a stroller, greeted neighbors, held block parties. Many familiar faces had gone, some houses slightly changed, a new complex crowded in, only the trees seemed the same. Weary, Bea turned into her driveway. She hoisted her milk crate of newly acquired books out of the passenger seat. Shimmering in the back yard Bea noticed a strange emerald light.
Bea headed back towards the light lugging the milk crate of books. She walked past the children’s leftover vegetable garden and Leo’s well tended roses. The egg sacs must have hatched. The center of the backyard was an explosion of tiny praying mantids. On the stone bench, on the hosta leaves, even the windows of the old shed, every surface was covered in shining insect bodies. Lime green, emerald green, a few were a pale glowing celadon. Bea set down her crate and sat on it. Hundreds of small precise eyes turned in her direction each surveyed her patiently, calmly, unafraid. Slowly the insects dispersed picking through the clipped grass and over the carefully selected paving stones. One even crawled over Bea’s leg in its unhurried progress out of the garden. Bea sat staring. She watched and waited until each one had gone. Looking at the garden one last time Bea stood up and walked away.
I found an old wooden cigar box in a church office and I was inspired by the treasures it held. There was just an old receipt and the idea for this story.
Marty hated the sound of birds. She would lie under her Bratz comforter and listen to them chirp cheerily outside her window. The light in her bedroom would turn from gray to orange. And the birds would sing. The pink flowered wallpaper would peek around her posters of Edward and Harry Potter. And the birds would sing. Marty would hear her mother’s slow shuffling steps from the master bedroom to the kitchen, smell the coffee brewing, hear the soft click of the liquor cabinet as her mom took her eye opener. And those damn birds would sing and song and sing. Marty would listen to their singing until she would hear her mom tap lightly on her bedroom door.
“Tina honey, time to get up.”
When her mom would open the door then Marty would pretend to be asleep. Some mornings her mother with crept in quietly and kiss her forehead smelling of vodka and bitter coffee; other mornings her mom would watch Marty from the doorway. Either way was horrible and Marty only got up when the coast was clear.
This morning was a watching from the doorway. As soon as her door closed, Marty sprang into action. Her uniform for school was laid out on the lime green and pink striped rocking chair. Her morning routine of wash face brush teeth make a ponytail was under nine minutes. Her shimmery lavender backpack stood at attention by the bedroom door. Marty sped through her morning. Backpack slung over one shoulder she pauses in the hallway, looking left and right before scurrying to the kitchen. The kitchen was always a crap shoot. Would her mom and step-dad both be there finishing breakfast, laughing and joking? Would Donny have not come home again and Mom would be making a big breakfast and talking loud and bright?
This morning was a bowl of instant oatmeal and slices of buttered jelly toast alone on the counter. Marty shoveled in the cereal, grabbed her lunchbox, aimed for the door. Don’s car was in the driveway. Marty’s body slumped as she ate the warm soggy sweet bread on the way to school.
The school day slipped away and almost before she knew it Marty was back before her own front door. She stared at the door before taking out the key held on a ball chain around her neck. The house was still. Marty made a couple of peanut butter sandwiches and devoured them with three glasses of milk. Carefully she washed and dried the glass and plate and knife. She checked the counter for crumbs. Next she got out her wooden cigar box and made a nest of pillows on the den sofa. It was a Costa Rica Gold cider box with golden foil, a deep red label, and a border of dancing Spanish ladies. Scotch tape carefully applied held the broken hinges to the box. She fished through her box of treasures for her tiny stuffed polar bear. With a plateful of Nilla Wafers on her stomach and he bear tucked under her chin Marty flipped through channels, car races, tornados in the Midwest, Silent Library, half of The Thundermans, finally the end of a really good Brady Bunch. At 5:59, she brushed off her plate and put it back in the cabinet, fluffed up the sofa, found the cookie box under the sofa send returned it to the kitchen and then spirited away into her bedroom with her backpack and cigar box.
When she heard the sound of garage door opening, Marty quickly closed her Encyclopedia Brown and hid her treasure box behind her stack of Nancy Drews. When her mother timidly knocked Marty was surrounded by school books.
“Hi, how’s my Tina Sweetie? Don’t tell me you still working on that homework,” Her mother said, peering around Marty’s bedroom door. Marty’s mother, Rene, had long thick golden brown hair that she curled in waves around her lovely lovely tawny brown face. She was tall but had a habit of sloping her shoulder to appear smaller, more delicate. She was slender but dressed to show off her figure. Marta thought her mother always tried to look like a Walt Disney fawn. Her mother’s big light brown eyes were round and concerned. Marty’s own big light brown eyes were suddenly equal round and concerned.
“Oh, I’m just swamped here. They give us some much stupid work,” Marty replied pitifully.
“Why don’t I–”
Quickly Marty closed her history notebook. “Hold on mom I don’t need help. I mean you know how the math gets you all fuddled up and I have to do it myself and really I’ll be done soon.
Marty’s mother looked down for a moment but then brighten. “Okay you holler if you get in the weeds. I’m making your favorite meatloaf.” They shared a smile and her mother closed the door.
With a sigh, Marty opened her notebook and glanced over the answers. Marty always did her homework during class or in the library. She had read everything worth reading that she was allowed to read in the school library anyways. She used to do all of her homework during September but that attracted attention so she learned to piece it out. Marty erased one of her right answers and rewrote it with a few spelling mistakes so it looked better then she went back to Sally Kimball and Encyclopedia Brown.
Dinner time was always the longest part of the day. Some days Marty could finagle a stomachache or a headache and skip dinner all together. But too many of those bring you to the doctor or worse the head doctor. Marty thought about her trips to the doctors, doctors with frizzy hair and sour breath who pretended to care. She learned one thing, you can think it but don’t say it. Marty was still thinking when her mother’s voice cut through her thoughts.
The dinner room table was huge, long dark wood. Marty loved the smooth solid of it under her fingers. But dining room tables are for company. They ate in a little space off the kitchen with an oval pressed particle board yellow oak veneer. Marty always wanted to peel off the table’s skin but once before her parents’ divorce when she chipped the side under her plate just a little her dad slapped her hand and said this is why we can’t have nice things.
Hands folded, she sat in her place beneath the window. Her step dad Don was already seated with the Inquirer, a drink, and a cigarette at the head of the table. His head was focused on the folded dirty gray rectangle of newspaper. Brightening, Don put down the paper and the cigarette when Marty approached the table.
“So how was school, Marty? Did you discover a new planet? Create a secret formula? Tell me how you set the world on fire?”
Don’s voice was warm and deep and flowed over a room. Don was very tall and lean with brightly colored ties, well tailored suits, one thin gold chain and deep dimples in his dark brown face. His face wasn’t handsome it was better than handsome, his face radiated attractive happiness. Marty smiled up at him basking in his grin.
“Martina! Didn’t I tell you to take off your uniform and put on play clothes when you came home.”
Don rolled his eyes. “What’s her prob?” He asked with a crinkled smile. Marty glared at him and then swiftly dropped her eyes to her plate. “I mean you cares, am I right….” Don’s voice trailed away. He say in the awkward silence then returned to his newspaper. Rene came to the table with a platter of Salisbury steak and a bowl of steaming broccoli. She hurried back to the kitchen for the mashed potatoes and a pitcher of iced tea. She chattering away filling the room with talk.
“I had the craziest day today. Mary was on the phone half the day talking to her daughter about God knows what and Mr. Plotz tried to kill the coffee machine this morning. How’s dinner, everybody? I had a devil of a time with my potatoes. How’s dinner? Honey, if you need help with homework I can sit down with you tonight?”
Marty shook her head no without looking up.
Rene turned to Don. “For instant potatoes they’re great,” Don snapped.”everything is fine for Pete’s sake.” They finished the meal in silence.
After dinner Marty retreated to her room, Rene to the den with the stereo and a Long Island Iced Tea, and Don took a shower and left. Marty fell asleep on one of her books to the sounds of Phyllis Hyman.
It was the chirping of birds that woke her up. Marty looked around her room uncertainly before becoming fully awake. The house was still. Marty’s window was wide open to catch the breeze. Even though it was barely light the birds in the hedge beneath her window were in full form. Slipping her small fingers into the grooves of the sill, she slipped open the screen. The birds quieted for a moment before returning to song. Marty went to her bookshelf for her treasure box. Reverently she opened it and took out a large oval stone. She heard the wheels of Don’s car crunch on the gravel driveway. Marty returned to the open window and geared up into the pitcher stance that Don had showed her. She listened for the opening of his car door, the sound of his drunken feet on the driveway, the satisfying chunk sound of the car door slamming shut. Marty let the stone fly with all of her strength. Marty listened to crack of Don’s head and watched him stumbled forward and land face first in the layer of river jack that outlined their front yard. She waited ten minutes for him to get up or move. The only change was a sudden early morning rain. The birds stayed quiet. Marty closed the screen, curled under her comforter, and slept.
I never wanted to cook when I was a kid. In my family it was expected that girls would learn to how to cook and help their mothers and take care of families someday. I quickly recognized this tasty trap of domesticity and made myself scarce. But I loved to eat. I truly earned my childhood nickname “Three Helpings Genie.” My love of food eventually brought me back to the kitchen.
When I first started cooking I could spend all day making multi-course meals. I was thinner then with loads more time. After starting a family I began to embrace one pot meals, the haunting allure of melding flavor coupled with only needing to wish one pot.
Outside of the de riguer soups and stews, I love the elegance of cod in tomato broth. Inspired by a martha stewart recipe I make my own version when the summer is overloaded with tomatoes and the basil flows like wine. I made this meal in early spring after that brutal winter when I wanted to remind myself that summer was coming. Well now summer is here. Steal those cherry tomatoes and grab handfuls of basil.
Cod In Tomato Broth
3 cups chicken broth
1/2 medium red or vidalia onion, thinly sliced
2 cups cherry tomatoes, cut in half
8 ounces fingerling potatoes, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds (small red-skinned potatoes are a good choice as well as those adorable tiny blue Dutch potatoes)
3 sprigs basil, plus fresh basil leaves for garnish (I love to use purple basil in this for the beautiful color, but you cannot go wrong with julienned emerald green leaves of genovese basil)
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
4 skinless cod fillets (4 ounces each)
4 ounces fresh or frozen peas (snap peas would be lovely)
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice (you could use lime, I won’t tell)
Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling (not optional so delicious)
Bring broth, onion, 1 1/2 cups tomatoes, potatoes, basil sprigs, red pepper flakes, and 2 teaspoons salt to a boil in a large, deep skillet with a lid. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until potatoes are tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Season cod with salt and pepper, add to broth mixture, and cover. Simmer until fish is opaque throughout and just cooked through, about 7 minutes.
Remove and discard basil sprigs. Add peas, remaining 1/2 cup tomatoes, and lemon juice to skillet, gently stirring to combine; cook just until warmed through. Make sure your peas are cooked if using frozen. Divide fish, vegetables, and broth among 4 bowls. Garnish with basil leaves, drizzle with oil.
Be inspired by Four Fish by Paul Greenberg and have your mind blown between bites. I just started this book on the tracing the history and production of the major fish eaten in America and I already admire his passion and openness as he takes the reader on his journey.
recipe inspired by Martha Stewart Living, May 2013
When you re-read a classic, you do not see more in the book than you did before; you see more in yourself than there was before. –Clifton Fadiman, editor and critic (1904-1999)
Each summer, I re-read one of my favorite books. Recent years, I have revisited The Secret Garden and Pride and Prejudice ( I tried P & P with zombies but I found it too silly). I just re-started The Mysterious Affair At Styles. I haven’t read the first Poirot in years but it all suddenly flooded back to me and I was enmeshed completely in the post World War II English countryside. As a writer I tend to focus on dialogue and internal monologues. I forget to give my readers a sense place, the smell the feel of a definite place in a definite time. Christie also reminded me to fully describe my characters and not just through their words and actions. I need fully waxed curled mustaches!
I know there are a million books and magazines and blogs waiting for your attention, but I encourage everyone to dig out an well-loved favorite and give it a spin. It is like running into an dear old school friend except you don’t have to worry if you look fat.
Just as appetite comes by eating so work brings inspiration. –Igor Stravinsky, composer (1882-1971)
The writing prompts got me off to a good start and so I am sharing my first morsel of inspiration. I am inspired, deeply inspired, by knitting. The repetitive motion, the flow of colors through my fingers, visualizing the familiar and cryptic abbreviations into a a three-dimensional item, all of this is very soothing yet energizing to my creative spirt.
Knitting is also practical. Because as long as you don’t go too far off the rails with your pattern and yarn choice after you are done feeding your soul you have a nice present to give your kid’s teacher. No more last minute runs to buy scented candles and giftcards.
I named this cowl classy, because I love to wear V-necks. I like to pretend they make me look taller. But since I have boobs V-necks can look a little slutty but a wearing a chunky cowl suddenly transforms your outfit into an artistic ensemble. Keep your stitches loose and the cottony fabric will be comfortable for summer.
Suggested Yarn: Lion Brand Spaghetti or any super bulky weight cotton tee shirt yarn, 1 skein (approx. 60 yards)
Needle: size 15 (use a big needle to allow the cowl to be airy and have a nice drape)
Cast on 12 stitches.
Row 1: Knit 4, Purl 4, Knit 4.
Row 2: Purl 4, Knit 4, Purl 4.
Row 3: Repeat Row 1.
Row 4: Repeat Row 2.
Row 5: Purl 4, Knit 4, Purl 4.
Row 6: Knit 4, Purl 4, Knit 4.
Row 7: Repeat Row 5.
Row 8: Repeat Row 6.
Repeat this 8 row sequence until you reach your desired length or have only 18 inches of yarn leftover. Bind off loosely and stitch your ends together to create a loop. I used a three needle bind off, because I’m fancy.
This thick, rope-like yarn is very forgiving so if your finishing is rugged (we’ve all been there) the cowl will simply look rustic.