Snow thick as marshmallow fluff crunched satisfyingly beneath our boots. Our breaths came in white ghosts. Sneaking looks at me under the brim of his Phillies cap, Taylor was about to say something. I silenced him with an arched eyebrow. We are at the wrought iron gates. I remember Mr. Levin saying how on Sundays slaves here used to work for themselves to earn their freedom as iron mongers or plaiting cane chairs and some such. Heavy with patches of black enamel, this iron work with undulating angel wings and chains broken was clearly a work of pure joy. I donkey kicked the rust gate open and continued in. The snow swaddled the tombstones. Many were small and fallen. Others leaned drunkenly. Simple slabs jostled statuary in metal and granite. I walked on watching for frost harden vines hidden ready to twist an ankle. Taylor stepped in my steps. Muggsy, Sheba, Mr. Snugglepants, Tinkerbell, the engraved names watched us as we trudged to the back of the pet cemetery. I picked through broken birds, dogs, and a sleeping cat covered in frosted moss. The remains of a massive tree sighed across my path. Carefully I scrabbled over it. There it is a Jack Russell terrier on its hind legs front paws raised to the sky. Its perfect head is turned slightly over his stone shoulder looking at me just like Tank used to. Memories of Tank fall on my cheeks like snowflakes. We discovered this place years ago on one of our long meanderings before he… Taylor touched my arm. Tossing down my sack, I flinched his hand away. Avoiding his eyes I handed him the crowbar. “Hurry before anyone see us.”
Littered with dark coffee rings and cigarette burns and the remains of an old tuna fish hoagie, Tiger Malone’s desk was the cleanest thing in the tiny cramped office. Empty soda cans huddled in the dark corners. Dust encrusted stacks of papers teetered on mismatched file cabinets. I drew my cardigan closer to my sides away from the chair. I coughed on the dank boozy air. Grinning Theresa “Tiger” Malone sat in the middle of the chaos like a regal toad. “How May I help you love? My girl said you were unhappy,” Tiger said. “Malone Confidentials strives to please.” Her voice sent ripples down my spine. I opened my mouth to speak. With nicotine fingers, Tiger rifled through some sticky notes on her desk. She read one and pursed her lips. “So you hired one of our operatives, one of our most experienced private detectives, to plant a tracker in your ex husband’s vehicle, house, and office. Standard package. Report completed and delivered. Full payment pending. That’s right, love, isn’t it.” Tiger leaned back in her leather office chair settling comfortably into her crumpled raincoat. She laced her fingers behind her head and offered me a malevolent smile. I stammered, “but the price-the report.” “Malone Confidentials can’t help if you have trust issues. Your ex seems a nice enough fella and a decent father according to the report. Malone Confidentials can’t help if you spent $2000 to find out something you already knew. Now the additional $8000 fee ensues your ex never finds out about your illegal search and you can at least get visitation with your son.” I watched her eyes hollow black tunnels ringed in a cheerless pale blue. My mouth clapped shut. I held back tears. A door opened behind me. Tiger lit a cigarette with a match, waved it and then flicked it in my direction. I leapt up from the chair. “Thank you. Be sure to leave us a five star rating. The girl will show you out.”
Although I couldn’t see, something told me I wasn’t alone in the cellar. This was my cellar, the place for my taters and rutabaga. There were shelves where I put up my peaches, my pickled watermelon, and my mama’s special apple butter. This is my cellar and I love its cool quiet walls. I can’t see but I know this house. It was my home in my way. It had been Erasmus’ of course. But I kept it for him and made the curtains and the quilts. I scrubbed it top to bottom. My pretties, a ceramic frame of my folks, a porcelain goose my brother won for me at the state fair, a trio of bud vases, a china doll baby, used to line the shelves. I wish I could touch them again. I feel a soft stirring in the cellar far corner. After Erasmus hurt me bad that last time I was confused. I couldn’t talk to anyone. I couldn’t scream. I was used to that. My husband kept me on a short lease. When we were courting his attention was hungry. Everything about me was precious to him. He couldn’t bear to share me. I forgot my lonesome forgot my mourning in his arms. Mama told me he was all kinds of trouble, my daddy wouldn’t shake his hand, and my brothers were fixing to whup him. Do we got married. I couldn’t see Erasmus until after the honeymoon. He started to hit me and I could do nothing right. After the last time he hurt me I was confused because Erasmus was so happy. My world grew smaller and smaller. The days ran into each other. Then I realized what Erasmus had done. I wanted my mama. We were close as sisters, so close we shared dreams and secrets. But all I had was this house. Erasmus was gone. They took him away. And all I had were these rooms to myself. Now I’m not alone with my memories of my pretties, with the grief of the baby I wanted to have, with my rage. I feel who is here. My anger rumbles. Erasmus. Erasmus with the gallows mark on his throat that matches the hand marks on mine. A growl rises from my core. Erasmus is confused. I am a beast. This is my house now.
Hold the door Always hold the door Even if the next customer is steps away from the entrance and has to do a little run walk to get to you and you have to kind of weird wait Hold the damn door With a smile
Don’t hog the soda machine There’s always someone waiting Always This is not the time for beverage alchemy
Mind your kids Let’s be honest you know they’re bad The whole time out listen to their feelings bullshit didn’t work out I get it we’re all in the same boat But they can’t camp out in front of the Slushees
The coffee area is sacred Repeat the coffee area is sacred It’s not a salon And you are not Noel Coward Talk in your car to the people you know Get your coffee, the sweetener and cream of your desires, and go
Life is simple People are complicated Or vice versa but A well crafted cold sandwich is a sliver of heaven The perfect bite among the soft pretzels Rainbows of gummies wave bye bye Remember to hold the door
“For the love of God stop!” Flor yelled from the bathroom. Stephen looked up from The Fall Of the House of Usher and scowled. The only thing he hated more than twelve year old girls were loud twelve year old girls. The TV’s volume increased. Shrouded in a white towels and fragrant steam, Flor swung open the bathroom door. “What in the hell is your problem? We are going to get called by the front desk. Stop screwing with the TV.” Stephen flipped a page. “Where’s the god dammed remote, cretin?” “Excellent word choice,” Stephen replied still without looking up. “If only your eyesight was as sharp as your vocabulary. I have no remote, milady.” Gripping the towel wrapped around her hair with one hand, Flor rooted around the boy laying on the hotel bed. By now, the flatscreen was screaming the melodious tones of Stella By Starlight across the quaint hotel room. “Fine be that way troglodyte.” Flor walked towards the TV. The volume dropped. She turned. The volume increased. She turned back to Stephen still reading his book. The TV turned itself off. “I told you milady,” Stephen said with a chuckle. “No remote.” “First if you call me milady again I’m going to pop a tooth out your head. Second look for that remote while I get dressed,” Flor said. Stephen looked at her muscled arm and flinty glare and for the first time since his mother introduced him to his mother’s new boyfriend’s daughter he saw Flor. They torn apart their hotel room and then searched the adjoining room where their respective parents were staying. No remote. When they returned to their room the TV was on again playing The Haunting. Flor unplugged it. They sat on their beds, thinking and eating snacks. Flor eyed the oddly smart third grader eating beef jerky with one hand and a sleeve of Pringles in the other. His haircut was horrendous but his tee read My Other Car is a Tardis. Her eyes squinted as she realized this freaky little kid was a lot bigger on the inside. “Theories? I’m thinking another remote is interfering with our set,” Flor said, offering Stephen a Twizzler. He accepted the red licorice and wrapped it around the jerky. The lights flickered. The room was silent except for chomping. Chewing, Stephen pondered. “I think ghosts are merely the undead living in a parallel universe and some places are shall we say thinner than others and you can peek.” He offered her a stack of chips. “Interesting what do you base your theory on, little Mr. Spooky Spook.” “Research naturally. You do know Cape May is well known as one of the most haunted towns in America. And call me … Spike.” “Spike, no I didn’t. But I know this broke ass inn was once a makeshift hospital during the infamous influenza outbreak of 1918. Yeah you’re not the only one who reads.” “That makes sense. Do you remember when we came in from the beach this afternoon and when the books fell off the table and you bumped into that lady in…” “The old fashioned waitress costume,” Flor said, a light coming into her face. “No one else on staff was costumed!” Suddenly there was a volley of knocks on their hotel door. “Okay already we get it. You’re haunted. You’re a haunted creepy inn. Nobody likes a show off. So Spike our parents as sick of us and it is only day one. While they are out getting their groove on let’s peek.” Stephen aka Spike jumped off his bed and ran for the door. Flor collected her phone, a portable charger, a couple of water bottles, and her Swiss Army knife in her retro Scooby Doo backpack and followed. “After you milady.” Flor punched Spike’s arm and they headed down the wild patterned hallway to adventure.
How much we love each other An anniversary surprise Pictured Rocks Your gift to me despite your fear of heights Let me take your photo Back up you say Take it all in from First date to first grand baby That woman just one of many That woman you talk to late into the nights she is seconds Our love is decades Cool sandstone heavy No one understands How much I love you In this our marriage Indian summer What we have weathered Ribbons of iron ore red, copper green, and limonite revel Our love is stone polished Back up a little more baby you say You send me to the edge I’d go to the edge for us
My knee the one that always gives me troubles gives out I stumble back My hand that has reached for yours In the dark When I’m afraid For years stretches out now I reach, you run You kick, I drop
Like a stone Tumbling to the pebbled shore far below No one understands
“Do you want a story?” Rhynn shook her head. Pink plastic butterflies clipped to her pigtails swung. “Do you want three stories?” Annie asked. The pink butterflies swung vigorously. “What do you want from, Nana, pumpkin?” Pursing her lips, Rhynn cocked her head to one side. Anne leaned back in the glider and fished through her craft bag. She fingered past her embroidery hoop and a bundle of tightly bound sage. The pink curtained bedroom grew quiet. “Nana, why do people stop talking when I enter a room?” Annie pulled out a small suede pouch. “It’s the stories, pumpkin. The stories you tell.” Tears sprang to Rhynn’s eyes. “My dreams—“ Annie shushed her granddaughter. “ Pumpkin I know. Tell me about your dreams.” “I’m not a liar. I dream. People come to me in the night. First I was afraid. Some people had no mouth. Some people had big black eyes. Then nicer people with regular faces would come and sit with me in my room. It was, it was…” Rhynn’s voice trailed away. “It was peaceful and you wanted to share what you saw. Share the stories these people whispered in the night. And instead of afraid you were—“ “With like family,” Rhynn answered. Taking a breath, Annie put down her patchwork bag and jiggled the stones in her pouch. “Dreams are an in-between space like a waiting room or a doorway. Think of them as open where different things can walk in and out. Most people can feel the,” Annie scrambled for a word, true but gentle, “former people in the in-between, some can hear them, but only a very very few can see them and hear them and with training learn to talk with them.” Rhynn tilted her head to the side. Her pink plastic butterfly barrettes bobbed as she jumped up and down on her princess bed. Annie held up her right hand. Five gemstone floated from the pouch spiraling above Annie’s outstretched palm. “Ready, pumpkin.”