Thursday, February 26, 2009

Real Life

Judith slips into the diner. "Sorry I'm late Tom."
"No problem," Tom says through the kitchen window. He is tapping names onto a plastic strip. When he finishes, he hands her a badge.
Judith pins the blood coloured name tag to her uniform saying , "Hi. My name is Judy." She starts to say she prefers Judith, but changes her mind. As she puts clean ashtrays on the tables, she thinks, what a life.
Only after her mother is in bed can she find time for herself. Then she watches Mash and CSI reruns mouthing words with the performers. She knows all Star Treks of any generation. When she watches TV, she imagines herself any place but Maine. She wonders how people find real lives. Hers is limited to working and caring for a woman sinking more into an unknown world each day.
As she tears open the first pre-measured coffee packet of the fifty or more she will make during her shift she says, "Tom, I hate my job."
He says, "When ya quit give me plenty of notice."
To quit she needs another job. To work in the insurance agency she'd have to type or use a computer. She can't do either. To clerk in Smith's Pharmacy or Jack's Grocery isn't that different from being a waitress at the Stop&Eat Diner. The only other job is fishing. She gets seasick even watching swells from the dock. Seasickness isn't a family trait. Her father was a fisherman for forty years before he drowned.
Freetown is a real Maine fishing village where the smell of dead fish and live lobsters drown out any odours of coffee. There isn't a boutique or an espresso bar within twenty miles. If tourists stop, they stay only long enough to decide there's nothing worth looking at.
When Judith feels more up she admits there are many things about her job she likes. Besides chatting up the fisherman she likes her non-fisherman customers like Fred. Once a week after he picks up live lobsters for Boston, he stops at the diner. They talk about her mother and his wife who is undergoing chemo.
Judith likes watching kids convince their mothers to order Coke instead of milk. She likes knowing the main dish is pork pie on Monday, meatloaf on Tuesday and lamb stew on Wednesday.
Looking out the window, Judith sees the first red leaves, although the green still heavily out number the red. It's August 25th.
Midway through lunch Judith stares at the white milk on the counter, the sixth spill of the day. Automatically, she reaches for her rag.
"It's okay, Pete," she says to the five-year old who upset his glass. Ketchup marks the corner of his mouth. He looks at his mother who'd slapped his hand. She's dabbing at the spill with the only two napkins available. Tom has told Judith to give one napkin with each meal. He thinks customers take too many when the dispenser is on the counter.
Judith throws the wet napkins in the trash then dips her milk-soaked rag in the water in the sink. There are only a few suds left, the rest have been driven out by a thin layer of grease.
"Time to pull the plug," she says to no one.
* * * * *
Judith gets home later than usual because Tom wanted the fryer washed after she also scrubbed the floor between the stools and counters with a brush instead of the mop.
Sandra, her sister-in-law, waits at the door, her jacket on. Judith senses her mentally tapping her foot. Sandra calls over her shoulder as she rushes to her van. "Mother Wilson ate scrambled eggs for lunch."
Her mother, more agitated than usual, wanders aimlessly from room to room, picking up knick knacks then putting them down. She breaks the Hummel of a girl with an umbrella, the one Judith's uncle in the army sent from Germany. Although her mother got the dust pan, she forgot what she'd been doing. Judith cleaned up the smithereens. By 8:00 p.m. she is exhausted.
After her mother falls asleep, Judith shoves a Orville Reddenbacher popcorn bag into the microwave her brothers gave her, she thinks to reduce their guilt for not helping more. She nukes it for 30 seconds extra because she likes it burned. She doesn't put it in a dish — one more thing to wash.
In the living room Judith sits with her legs over one arm of the chair just as she did in childhood. The flowered slip cover is faded. Her mother made it ten years ago, the third for that chair.
The movie is made-for-television during the 70s. Joanne Woodward, runs in the Boston Marathon. She finishes after nightfall, one of the last to stumble across the line.
Judith crumbles the empty popcorn bag into a ball. She wonders how it feels to run. She thinks about it all the next day, even when seven-year old David Andrews throws a hot dog at his six-year old brother Josh and hits Judith instead. She washes the mustard and ketchup off her uniform. The spot stays darker pink than the rest of her uniform.
* * * * *
After her mother falls asleep, Judith channel surfs. She can't forget Joanne Woodward's face as she fell across the finish line.
Rummaging through her closet she finds a pair of $5 Woolworth's sneakers. She puts them on and adds a heavy sweatshirt.
She runs around the block several times, peeking in her mother's window every couple of rounds. From the night light she can see her mother asleep. When Judith quits she breathes heavily but feels wonderful.
Her muscles don't hurt when she wakes the next morning. I must be in better shape than I thought, she thinks. She increases her laps by 10 that night.
The next day her muscles feel like someone snuck under the covers at night to twist each one. She hobbles around filling orders. Fred is there.
"Whatsa matter?" he asks.
"I don't want to talk about it," she says, feeling too stupid to tell him. Instead of going home right after work, she goes to the library in Manascotport, the next town. She prays her Chevy won't break down on Route 1. This is the first time she has entered the library since her senior year in high school. The room hasn't changed. The librarian is the same except her hair is all grey.
"May I help you?" the librarian asks. Judith shakes her head no, because she is embarrassed to admit she wants to run a marathon.
An old wooden card catalogue is across from the check-out desk. The smells of furniture polish and old paper remind her of her childhood. She finds five books about running. Three are out. She takes the two left.
* * * * *
Sandra says as Judith walks in late, "I'm going shopping." Her voice is icy like the time Judith forgot her birthday. She doesn't ask Judith if she needs anything. Judith sticks her tongue out as the van drives away.
She starts the wash. Her mother soils her bed nightly. The washing machine chugs. "Don't you dare give up," Judith says to it.
After her mother's bath, the two women pick over beans. Judith's mother throws away the good ones and keeps the bad.
The second her mother is asleep Judith dives into her library books. She learns about warming up and pacing. She had tried to read earlier but her mother had wanted to look for Elsie, their St. Bernard who'd died ten years ago.
* * * * *
Over the weekend Judith drives her mother around the neighbourhood to measure distances. Seven times around the block equals one mile. She wishes she could run in a straight line, but she must check her mother's window regularly. On her fifth lap she decides to run to and from work.
Fred passes her than stops his truck. "Wanta ride?"
"Nope, thanks. See ya later." She shifts her weight from foot to foot as they talk just as the library book suggested.
She is sweating when she arrives at the diner. Hurrying into the ladies room, she washes as best she can before changing into her uniform crammed into her backpack. She doesn't remember buying it. Maybe it belongs to one of her sisters. One is on scholarship at the University of Vermont and the other is married to an Air Force Captain and lives in Portsmouth, NH.
Fred sits at the counter, waiting for the lobster boats. "What were you doing running down the road?"
Judith debates telling him, but she's afraid of being mocked. Then she remembers the first day he'd come in he'd asked her name. He'd asked her if she preferred Judy or Judith. He's never called her Judy, even though most of the customers do. "I want to run in the Boston Marathon." She speaks softly so no one else will hear.
"That's great." Fred's smile says he means it. "You know you have to qualify?"
"Yup." She wonders what she has to do.
* * * * *
Judith makes two phone calls to Boston. The first is interrupted by her mother taking things out of the closet.
"I'll call you back," she says. Her mother can't remember what she was looking for. Together they put everything back. Judith puts her mother in front of a Spenser for Hire rerun and redials Marathon headquarters.
"You must complete three marathons before entering," the professional voice says. The voice tells Judith the nearest race is in Portland next month. Another is in Portsmouth in March. She has read about a local marathon two towns away in the local paper next to the article about a pet seal living down the coast.
* * * * *
When Judith asks her older brother to watch their mother during the races he says, "I've got a lot to do. Better not count on me."
Then she telephones her younger brother. When he says he can't, she gets angry. "Judy, you don't understand. I don't have the time. I've a family."
"I'm beginning to think I don't," she says.
"Sis, someday, you'll get married," he says hanging up. She looks at the phone. She doesn't run that night and drives to work the next day where she starts the first pot of coffee and turns on the grill.
Fred comes in and throws his leg over the counter stool. "How's the running... coffee...hash browns...eggs...damn the cholesterol."
Judith shrugs. She puts Fred's order slip through the kitchen window. "I quit."
"You can't," he says.
"Yes I can." She tells him why.
"Don't let 'em use you...fight back," Fred says. "Don't take no for an answer ...say no yourself," he says. Judith had never thought of saying no.
Judith calls her sisters during the low-rate time period. They're sympathetic, but the one in Portsmouth is nine months pregnant and the other has no money for bus fare from Vermont. They both offer to yell at their brothers.
Judith phones both brothers from the diner and tells them to come over that night. "Bring your wives," she says. Her hand shakes when she hangs up.
* * * * *
Sitting on the couch drinking tea from four unmatched mugs, Judith says to her brothers and Sandra, "I am going to run these four marathons. If one of you don't stay with mother, I'll walk out for good. Then she'll be your problem every day." Sandra especially looks upset. She is the next candidate to take full responsibility. She sloshes tea onto her jeans.
"You wouldn't do that," Judith's older brother says. He wears the red flannel shirt Judith gave him last Christmas. He always wears flannel shirts even when he takes Sandra out to the Dance and Dine on Route 1.
Her younger brother wears his police uniform. He is on duty. The cruiser is in front of the house. His wife is home with their three children.
Judith opens the closet. She pulls out the suitcase she packed early.
"Goodbye." She puts on her ski jacket.
"You wouldn't," her younger brother says.
"Here's a list of all the stuff you need to know about mother. She puts five pages written both sides in her tight handwriting on the coffee table. "I'm outta here." Her car is half down the driveway before her younger brother runs after her. She stops and rolls down the window.
"You win," he says.
Judith sees his breath in the fall air. When he stands up his gun belt fills the window. She backs up into the garage. She is glad he stopped her since she had no place to go.
* * * * *
Judith finishes tenth from last in Portland's marathon. She finishes in the middle of the local one.
"You're wasting your time and ours," her older brother says. "You aren't winning. You're not even in the top ten."
"I'm finishing. Thank you for your support," she says.
* * * * *
Winter presents training problems. The first nor'easter dumps freezing rain the second week in November. A mile inland a foot of snow falls.
Although Judith tries to run, she twists her ankle and loses a week both from work and training.
Her brothers and sisters-in-laws take care of both her and their mother. Judith ignores their complaints. None of them say, " running" without "your stupid" in front.
Sitting with her bandaged ankle propped on a pillow Judith knows she can't stop training until spring. She sees an ad for a Nordic Track. Hobbling to the desk, she tries to figure out how to pay for it. There is no way, but the ad triggers an idea. When her ankle heals, she runs in place.
* * * * *
Judith mother breaks her hip February 1st and is totally bed ridden. Now Judith doesn't have to watch her as closely, but it means more work: keeping the bed fresh, massaging her limbs and rubbing her with oil to prevent bed sores.
As Judith runs in place each night she tries to remember how her mother used to be. The helpless woman is replaced by a younger woman making cookies and helping them put their tents up in the backyard. She hears her mother howl when she learned her husband would never come back from sea.
Judith once said to Sandra, "I didn't know we were poor until I was in high school." Sandra said it was a tribute to Mother Wilson.
Thus Judith prays with various degrees of guilt that the shell of her mother will die soon as she runs and thinks and thinks and runs.
* * * * *
Judith stays with her sister in Portsmouth for the March Marathon. Her new niece has huge blue eyes.
Her sister and her brother-in-law watch the marathon and cheer Judith on. Everyone is bundled in big cabled sweaters, including the baby. They wear hand-knitted peaked hats with pompoms. The baby nestles in a sling taking warmth from her father's body.
Judith wears old tights, shorts, a sweat shirt and a head band. Soon the head band is too hot so she pulls it down around her neck. Some of the runners have expensive running outfits. Judith doesn't care about her clothes. All she wants is to finish so she can run in Boston next month. Finishing a little ahead of middle place, she's happy her sister and brother-in-law think her running is "neat" not "stupid".
* * * * *
At the diner the Monday after the Portsmouth Marathon another man picks up the lobsters. The man has filled in for Fred before during vacations and emergencies. Judith had been looking forward to telling Fred she has qualified.
Tom hands Judith an order of waffles with sausages and another with two fried egg, toast and home fries. The plates are oval not round to hold more for big fisherman appetites.
The Fred substitute takes the waffles from Judith. He shakes his fingers after he puts the hot plate down. Then he drowns the waffles in Log Cabin syrup. He washes a mouthful of waffles down with the coffee.
"Where's Fred?" Tom asks.
"His wife died. He's taken the kids to Disneyworld."
"Strange." One fisherman says.
The substitute driver puts a whole sausage in his mouth. "His wife made him promise to do that. She was like that."
There is a moment of impromptu silence. Out of respect. Out of sympathy. Out of gratitude it's not them.
* * * * *
When Fred comes back in two weeks, Judith stammers out, "Sorry about the um, the um..."
"Thank you," Fred says. "Grilled cheese sandwich...sweet pickles on the side... How ya getting to the marathon?"
"Bus, I guess. My junk heap won't make it."
"If you can get someone to stay with your mother for the weekend, you could ride down with me Friday...stay with me and the on a hotel...I live in Hopkington?"
"Starting line."
"Fantastic." Judith stops. "Isn't it too soon, I don't want to be in the way."
"Don't the kids good."
* * * * *
Judith's younger brother is angry to discover he'll be needed at the house Friday through Tuesday. Judith doesn't care. When he arrives, she shows him in minute detail how to change their mother.
"I can't do that!" he says. Judith pulls down the flannel nightdress hiding her mother's legs. She twists the baby-powder cap and sets it on the bureau.
"Why not? She changed you enough." She grabs her backpack and leaves.
* * * * *
Fred lives in a housing development built after the Korean War. When new, all the ranch houses looked alike, but as people added rooms, garages and landscaping the homes took on different personalities. Fred's is green.
His kids, Allison and Nathan, greet them at the door. "It's fantismo you're running the marathon." Allison says using the slang she'd learned in seventh grade that day. Nathan, four years younger, says nothing. Judith will sleep in Allison's room. "You want the top or bottom bunk?" Allison asks as she throws three sweaters, dirty underwear and jeans off a chair so Judith can sit. "I'm sorry my room is such a mess."
"My room was worse at your age, and it's not much better now."
"Really!" Judith says.
Nathan knocks at the door. "You guys want to eat at Burger King? Dad says we can if Judith says OK."
As Judith put the last French fry into her mouth, Fred gives her map of the race route. "Tomorrow you can use my car to drive the route."
"Can I go with you?" Nathan asks.
"Of course," Judith says.
"Me, too. Daddy can finish digging." Allison says.
Fred had told Judith he'd put off most yard work for two years. "I doubt if I'll get it all done tomorrow, but at least I'll get the plants in before they die in the pots," he says. He turns to Judith. "Leave the kids if you want to go alone."
"Are you kidding, I need navigators. I don't do cities," she says.
* * * * *
Allison cooks dinner the night before the race. She forbids anyone entry into the kitchen. Fred explains how Allison took over the cooking when his wife was ill.
By the time the teenager calls them into the dining room, there's a white tablecloth on the table. A salad bowl sits next to a large casserole with tomato sauce. Two cardboard cylinders on each end of the table are marked "Kraft Parmesan Cheese". They're bright green like the house.
Allison carries a plate from the kitchen piled high with spaghetti. "You need lots of carbohydrates," she says.
Judith smiles. "I heard you're a good cook."
"Mom taught me." A heaviness coats the room.
"It's tough taking care of a sick mother even when you're my age," Judith says. Fred explains that Judith's mother is very sick.
* * * * *
Marathon Day, Judith wakes at 5. Getting out of bed she limbers up in the living room. Fred drives her to the starting line where she gets her number – 654. Thousands of runners mill around. Wheel chairs are everywhere. The handicapped have a marathon starting immediately after the normal runners start.
A woman, who looks at least 55, runs in place. She says without stopping that this is her sixth marathon. "I started running when I was 54 – ten years ago."
About five minutes later a man with grey hairs sticking over his shirt says to Judith, "You know the woman you were talking to? She's a nun," he says.
Judith listens to bits of conversations.
"It's a good day. Not too hot," someone says.
"Remember the year it was 90°?"
"Yah, and the next year it snowed."
Everyone is in various stages of warming up. Finally they take their places.
The starting gun shoots. Judith finds a comfortable pace. This is the densest race she has run in, a contrast to her lonely night running. As Judith runs past the crowd hollering encouragement she thinks in amazement I'm really here. I'm running the Boston Marathon. I'm like Joanne Woodward. Then she smiles. Only without Paul. She puts away images of the Newmans to concentrate on breathing.
In Natick she sees Nathan, Allison and Fred. They wave. Nathan breaks into a run and gives her some water from a paper cup. "See you in Newton," he says.
In Newton the kids jump up and down as Judith runs by. "Atta girl," Fred calls.
Heartbreak Hill looms in front of her. She's next to the nun. A man ahead of her falls. He shakes his head and limps to the side. Judith runs on, ignoring the growing pain in her muscles.
Two men with video cameras train their lens on her. One is an amateur. The other camera has Channel 5 on it. A commentator talks into a microphone. Judith wonders if she'll be on television as she crosses the crest of Heartbreak Hill. Fred is recording the television coverage on his VCR.
As she crosses the Boston city line she sees the Prudential Tower. The finish line is in front of the skyscraper. The crowds have become deeper. The nun is still beside her. "We'll make it," the nun gasps.
Every muscle in Judith's body aches. The sky has gotten darker and suddenly it pours. Steam rises off the runners' bodies. Most of the crowd runs for cover.
She remembers a story her mother read her about a little train that went up a very high hill to bring milk to the good little boys and girls in the city. It kept saying "I think I can, I think I can." Judith doesn't have to think she can. She knows she can.
Fred and the kids hold wet copies of The Boston Globe over their heads. There are very few people left in the stand, the rest having scattered from the torrential rain.
Judith sees them as she crosses the line. Fred holds her jacket as they make their way to her.
"Fantismo." Allison says as Fred wraps her jacket around her shoulders. "You were 275th and the 75th woman." Allison says.
"Totally awesome." Nathn says.
Judith pants too hard to speak. She wonders what she needs to do to beat her record in the next marathon.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Why you shouldn't believe pundits

I've changed my name

I didn't intend to and in fact it was only others that made me aware of it.

Every person, and I mean EVERY PERSON (that I know) I've seen for the first time down here no longer says Bonjour DL, Hello Donna-Lane. The first words out of their mouth are "Isn't it wonderful about Obama." I also have a nickname "Aren't you thrilled about Obama," which is short for Aren't you as thrilled about Obama as we are."
This morning at the marché it happened with 1 Swede, two English, two French and a German.
Only after the greeting and them expressing how thrilled, relieved (put in any positive word here) do the two cheek kisses start and we start catching up with our personal stuff. My American friends report the same phenomena so we now all have new names.
I wonder if I could be called Iiwao for short?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Tina Turner is Liquid Sex

"Mum?" Whenever Jennifer turns a one-syllable word into four, Stephanie knows whatever comes next, she doesn't want to hear. The last time Jennifer did it, the next sentence tumbling out was, "I've been kicked out of school". Stephanie had been relieved to learn it was only for leading a demonstration against school policy in under-funding women's sports. School can't be the issue. Jennifer graduated from high school two weeks ago.

"I know why Tina Turner is liquid sex," Jennifer says. She pops the top of a can of Coke.

Shit! My daughter has lost her virginity, Stephanie thinks. For a minute she hopes she's wrong. A glance at Jen's face makes her file the idea under Wishes, Impossible.

As one, mother and daughter sink onto the hall carpet, their backs to opposite walls. Marks on the wallpaper record where their heads have rested so often that Jennifer renamed the narrow corridor 'the conference room'.

The grandfather clock chimes 10:00 p.m. Stephanie, tired from a too-long day in court, wants to say, "Just once can't we hold a major conversation before ten at night?" She doesn't. It's this particular conversation she doesn't want to have. Jennifer reaches up to close her bedroom door, hiding the chaos inside.

Stephanie isn't thinking about the dust balls larger than the cat under Jennifer's bed. She imagines her daughter on the bed, her face washed in passion. The image fades, replaced quickly with a series of flashbacks: Jennifer's head pops up over the bumper guard in her crib; Jennifer scooches down to look at a toad; Jennifer, dressed as Goldilocks, strolls across a stage.

Memories melt into the present. "Be cool," Stephanie says to herself thinking – I want my little girl back.

Fresh from showers, the two women wear oversized T-shirts. Jennifer's came from the concert she'd gone to last Saturday with David. Stephanie's T-shirt reads "When I am old I will wear purple." It was purple, a 45th birthday gift from Barbara, the same friend who'd sat in Stephanie's kitchen six years before holding a conversation that elephant-memory Jennifer just referred to. Once again Jen has tested Stephanie's resolve to be a better mother than her own.

"You aren't saying anything." Jennifer crosses her legs Indian style and pushes her long hair, still damp from the shower, out of her eyes.

"We're not talking about an actual Tina Turner concert, are we?" Stephanie asks.

Jennifer blushes. "No. Well, yes. In a way. The one you and Barbara went to. When I was 12?"

Stephanie's remembers her college chum's visit. They sat in her kitchen. A bottle of Pinot Noir and several cheeses rested between them on the oak table salvaged from Goodwill.

Barbara had come for a conference. To thank Stephanie for saving her from a hotel, she'd produced two Tina Turner Concert tickets.

"Admit it. You came up here for the concert not the conference." Stephanie cut herself a piece of Roquefort and put it on a piece of her home-made, three-grain bread.

Barbara did her shrug, the one that Stephanie knew said, 'You caught me'. "Tina's incredible. I can't believe her energy. For two hours she never stopped moving."

"And she's older than we are," Stephanie had said.

"That woman is liquid sex." Barbara bit a piece of bread spread thickly with Boursin.
She picked up her glass, "Love red wine with cheese."

Jennifer sat in a chair in the family room part of the kitchen. Closing her book, Blubber, which she was reading for the fourth time, she asked, "Why is Tina Turner like liquid sex?"

"OOPS. Didn't know she was around," Barbara said. She wasn't the type to quote clichés about big ears and little pitchers. Neither was Stephanie, but her mother would have said that.

"Don't worry about it, Barb," Stephanie said. "Jen, we'll discuss it when you become sexually active." Stephanie had forgotten the conversation – until now.

The phone rings.

"Let the answering machine pick it up. Please!" Jennifer asks. They listen to it saying

"Meow. This is Caramel. My owners can't come to the phone 'cause they're doing some dumb people things, but if you leave a message I'll let 'em know you called. Tell 'em to give me some catnip when they do."

Jennifer, bored with the normal "no one can come to the phone right now..." had recorded the new message a week ago.

"Hello Jennifer. Tell your mother that is not a proper message for an attorney. Call Grammy back when you can. I want to take you shopping Saturday."

Stephanie tenses automatically, disliking herself for once again letting her mother's voice get to her. "I assume it was David," she asks.

"Of course." Jennifer looks at her mother sideways. "Last night."

Caramel ambles over placing himself between mother and daughter. Jennifer scoops him up. Purrs barely drown out Stephanie's racing heart.

Stephanie thinks how as she'd eaten dinner with her date, her daughter's hymen was disappearing. Floating in her brain is her annoyance that when her date had propositioned her, she'd said, "Let's-not-rush-it". Mother and daughter had started dating both males the same day. Her daughter had rushed it.

"This morning, you asked me if I got lucky." Stephanie reaches for the Coke and takes a long swig, knowing the caffeine won't keep her awake any more than Jennifer's revelation. "I said, 'What a question to ask your mother?' Now I wish I'd said, 'No, did you?'"

Jennifer looks at the cat. "David was worried you'd come home and find us."

Stephanie's eyes drifts to Jennifer's room where it happened. She wonders why she feels so uncomfortable. Hasn't she spent all Jen's life trying to develop an honest relationship? Then when Jennifer comes to her in the way Stephanie always wanted, all she wants to do is to cover her ears and say, "Not yet. Stay my little girl."

Jennifer stretches and turns. She lays on the rug putting her head in her mother's lap. The cat curls up in the hollow of Jennifer's tummy reminding Stephanie of Jennifer in a sleeping bag in a corner of the classroom where Stephanie plodded toward her law degree. Jennifer had a stuffed animal named Kitten Kat that she'd held the same way.

Jennifer takes the Coke from her mother. "Anyway I told him you'd be cool. He asked what I thought you'd say."

Just yesterday Stephanie told her secretary how much she liked David. That was before he deflowered her daughter. She pictures David sprawled on their worn couch saying how he wanted to open a clinic in his neighborhood after med school. David comes from a very poor area. His idealism reminded Stephanie of her first husband, Jennifer's father, whose hopes to help others ended with a Vietcong mine.

"What did you tell David I'd say?" Stephanie asks.

"I said you'd asked if we practised safe sex."

Stay cool, Stephanie thinks. "Did you?"

"Of course. I borrowed a condom from your dresser. Safe from babies, safe from AIDS."

"Good." Stephanie pictures Jennifer at five lying in the hospital after the car accident that made Stephanie a widow a second time. The image fades to her daughter starting school still on crutches.

She sees the two of them writing down Jen 's rules for the year each fall. The last one was always, "If you've done something wrong, tell your mother before she finds out." Sometimes Stephanie thought the last rule was a mistake, because Jen felt she could really mess up, then tell her.

The rules, posted on Jennifer's bedroom door, provoked a number of clucks from Stephanie's mother, who also clucked at the worn furniture, at Stephanie's insistence on getting her J.D., at Jennifer's unshined shoes, and at almost everything else Stephanie did.

Stephanie earned her mother's contempt because she never stayed home as a "proper mother" should. "I am teaching my daughter how to survive in the world," Stephanie hollered one night after her mother began her long list of charges.

"Spend the same energy in finding another husband," her mother said, "That's a lesson, too."

She and her mother will never agree. No common ground exists between them. There is no common ground between her and her secretary either. She'd found Maureen in the ladies room, her head on the sink, dissolved in tears, earlier that day.

"What's wrong?" She scooped Maureen into her arms.

"I found birth control pills in Mary-Catherine's school bag." Mary-Catherine is Maureen's 15-year old daughter.

"At least you don't have to worry about her getting pregnant," Stephanie said, thinking that Mary-Catherine had at least used some maturity.

When she regained some control, Maureen said, "It's a sin to practise birth control!" Stephanie had no answer for her secretary.

Jennifer's eyes meet Stephanie's. The desire for common ground with this person floods Stephanie floating.

"Mum?" Jennifer's voice catches. "You unhappy?"

"No honey, I'm not. " Stephanie strokes Jennifer's damp head resting heavily on her lap. Stephanie doesn't want to break the moment. The cat, thinking he will be left out of a good rub, pushes between mother and daughter.

"You always told me to make my first experience worthwhile. I did."

Stephanie laughs.

"What's funny?"

"I'm thinking of my best friend in high school," Stephanie says.


"Yes. Like Grandma her father thought only bad girls had sex before marriage, but she was so in love she couldn't wait. Anyway, when her mother noticed her period was late, Claire confessed. Her mother took her to the doctor, but she wasn't pregnant."

"I don't see anything funny in that," Jennifer says. She rolls the Coke can back and forth on the floor. Caramel's paw shoots out to play with it.

"No, that part wasn't funny," Stephanie says. "But, on the way home Claire's mother said to her, 'Oh dear'. She started a lot of sentences with, 'Oh dear'. Then she said, 'I suppose now you've done it once you'll want to keep doing it.'"

"That's neat. What year was that?"

“A little before Chaucer was born, I think.”

"What would Grammy have done in the same situation?"

"Your grandmother talked a lot about keeping boys' respect despite all the talk about free love. Translate that as not letting them do IT. However, the night before I married your father she told me "If your husband respects you, he won't ask you very often."

"Did daddy respect you?"

Stephanie pushes Jen's head off her lap and stands up to stretch. Her legs are stiff.

"Thank God, no. And neither did your stepfather."

"Mum, I want to keep doing it: I don't want David to respect me that way, anyway."

"I want for you what you want." She means it more than anything she has ever said. The cat winds in and out between her legs.

Stephanie bends down to kiss her daughter's head. "If David wants to stay over, it' s OK."

Jennifer jumps up to hug her mother. She hovers a good five inches above the older woman. "Love you. I'm going to bed. I've got the early shift tomorrow." Jennifer works as a life guard at the Holiday Inn pool. Stephanie can't swim.

Jennifer puts her hand on the door knob to her room. "It was your last condom. I'll replace it tomorrow." She goes into her room. The door clicks shut ever so gently.

Stephanie looks at the closed door for a minute or so before crossing the hall to her own room. The cat has settled on her pillow seconds ahead of Stephanie's arrival. Caramel looks perturbed when Stephanie insists on making her own place.

Suddenly Stephanie feels very old, but it's all right. As she falls asleep she hears Tina Turner singing Simply the Best. The music comes from Jennifer's room.


The white caps dotted the Mediterranean as the wind chilled the 500 people gathered on the beach. The 45 minute walk from the Marie had been warm, almost windless, but now it had picked up. Two rude huts, air whistling between the gaps in the planks, re-creations of the original camp buildings, did little to protect us.
We were there to commemorate the 100,000 people who had been forced into the concentration camp, little food, no sanitation and little water, 70 years before. One of the speakers was a granddaughter of a Retirada, a Republican fleeing Franco’s forces.
They were not just soldiers, although there were soldiers among them, including some Germans with the names Schumacher and Hermann. These men would be buried in the Retirada cemetery on route to the beach.
Among that frightened group were women and children who two weeks before had set off from the Barcelona area, mostly on foot, abandoning homes and possessions to find safety. In an oral history one man tells of his brother freezing to death in his mother’s arms as they trekked across the Pyrenees in January. His tale matched that of too many others in sadness.
The 2000+ residences of Argelès did little to welcome this influx of refugees. Concentration camps up and down the coast were the solution. WWII had not yet started, but it would, although no one knew that as they rolled out the barbed wire to contain the immigrants.
Seventy years later the children and grandchildren of the Retirada make up a healthy proportion of the area. They have melded into French culture, some forgetting the treatment of their forebears as unwanted immigrants, whose sin was not wanting to live under a Fascist regime and to fight for their beliefs.
Many of the people on the beach carried the yellow and orange/red Catalan flags with a strip of purple, the symbol of the Republican Army. In the background was high beach grass and behind that the snowy peaks of Canigou contrasted to the almost royal blue sky.
My unhappiness at the dead batteries in my camera seemed inconsequential compared to the suffering that had gone on seventy years before. The ceremonies over, unlike those in the concentration camp, we walked back to the village, went home to warm houses and good meals.
That nightmare is over on the beach, but all over the world, people are still struggling to find a place where they are safe from myriad dangers including the welcome they receive when they escape one horror to find another awaiting them.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

I didn't make-up my bed today, etc.

I didn't make-up my bed today

This news did not make BBC, Al Jazeera or CNN. “But it is made,” you might say looking at the photo. Well not exactly. My bed is a click-clack, what the French call a sofa bed. The name comes from the click and the clack made when it is converted from one to the other. Only when I’m sick or have a guest, who doesn’t want to convert it, do I not change it from a bed to its canope form seconds after rising (nature usually, but not always calls first). I admit to be neurotically neat. A newspaper goes out with seconds of being read. My dishes are lined up symmetrically. When I finish with something it goes away. Nothing but nothing is left lying around. That is only when I’m alone. When I have company, I only care that they are comfortable. This reminds me I can be sane. So J if you’re reading this, when you come you save me from myself

Cold vegetables are springing up
Despite the wind and cold, villagers with allotments on the edge of town are already fiddling in their gardens. This one has produced perfect cabbages, although the man who owns the allotment wondered POURQUOI I wanted the photo. I love walking by them to see the progress. They carry good memories of our Victory Garden on the Fenway. After work we would go weed as a family, play word games as we did, and enjoy the results of our labours. We got to know our neighbour gardeners too, albeit is superficially

A real luxury: reading a newspaper in paper format with breakfast. Okay, the weekend edition of the IHT on Wednesday isn’t a Boston Globe, but it is still a paper with ink not screen squiggles. One of the stories concerned the two Pennsylvania judges that made over a billion dollars taking bribes from private prisons to sentence youthful offenders there. One girl’s crime? She put up some impolite things about a teacher on Facebook. She spent three month’s in prison for that.

My daily meanders around the village and its outskirts were slowed by the wind, but bundled up I head to Château Valmy. The sky was crystal clear. At one point I had to hop a stream, which most of the year is merely a drybed, lost my footing, righting myself with only one wet booted foot. Coming back, I saw Canigou for the first time, snow-covered and comforting. True, the mountain doesn’t equal an Alp, but certainly qualifies in the beauty category.

Cake Eating—Gold Medal Category

An old boy friend called me a cake eater, a person who wanted her cake and to eat it too. What is amazing, is often I can, and I think I just qualified for the gold medal of cake eating. My neighbour was in for a week from the UK where she spends her winters. She invited me for dinner and scrabble Sunday night. On Saturday I picked up a bouquet of flowers and took them to her, explaining since she was leaving on Tuesday, I though it better she have the extra day to enjoy them rather than just on Monday. Thus as she left she gave me back the flowers, which were in full bloom. Now if that’s not having your cake (giving someone a gift they enjoy) and eating it too (having them come back).


Today marks the beginning of the commemoration of the Retirada, the Diaspora of the Catalans who escaped from Spain during the Civil War. There will be films, presentations, displays and a parade to the beach where the refugees huddled for years. Having tea at a history-loving Brit’s house, he showed me a graph of the population of Argelès, which dipped during the 20s and 30s (it should hit 10,000 this year) to under three thousand. The refugees weren’t counted in the censuses of the times. I’ve seen a documentary that included many oral histories of the suffering as the people marched for days in the snow carrying the little they could carry to escape the fighting. Crossing the border involved huge glitches, and finally they made it to safety and a life of deprivation. Today, the beach is a peaceful place. In the summer it is filled with tourists, playing volley ball, sunning themselves and trying to decide which restaurant to eat at. As for the border, unless the police are searching for a criminal, we drive through. Although we are at peace in this part of the world, the horror of war, of people trying to escape from man-made tragedy goes on in Gaza, Somalia, the list goes on and on. Ad the Peter, Paul and Mary Lemon Tree Song says, “when will ever learn…”

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A bad weather kinda gal

I am not in Corsier, but my housemate sent me this photo of the dock a few minutes walk from the house. I've been known to sit and read on the bench. Obviously, not when snow covers them.
I love bad weather and she and I emailed back and forth about our attitudes. She grew up in a warm clime and is less enthsiastic than I am with my New England roots. I remember snow days, hot chocolate, donuts and snuggling under the covers, story logs and puzzles. However, I am also eight hours south. Meanwhile as I type this, although we don't have snow,
However we both agree that any bad weather is better inside. And I assume if I were there or she was here, there might be a DVD on, perhaps nibbling some shrimp and maybe sipping champagne...
On the other hand instead of being dark at 17:00 it is still light almost till 18:15 and spring is closer bringing with it a whole set of other pleasures.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Stamping my feet for stamps

“Je voudrais les vrais timbres,” I said to the postal clerk as I handed over the large envelope filled with a letter, blog and proposal. I told her the other letters would be fine with the sticker that came out of the postal meter.
The clerk obviously has read the French woman’s fashion guide, the way her hair was bobbed and pulled back, the casual chemise and necklace. I could picture her walking down the street with a baguette and meeting Gerard Depardieu as the cameras rolled. She more or less ignored me.
The letter was for my ex-boss, who is serving two and a half decades for stealing $45 million, a mere pickpocket of a theft compared to Madoff, who languishes in his New York appointment. Yet my ex-boss sits in a jail for a time longer than he would have gotten for manslaughter. Not that I don’t think he deserved jail time as I often tell him, but half what he got. He cannot recommit a crime he created with a pencil.
Stamps are a treat for him. At one point I collected over 500 stamps from co-workers and sent those only to have the returned. Prisoners weren’t allowed to receive stamps except on envelopes.
I asked the clerk to see the big envelope. No stamps. Postal sticker.
“I asked for stamps,” I said.
She pursed her mouth as only the French do. I won the staring contest and she peeled off the sticker and placed it on top of a paper for later use.
“Do you have special stamps?” I asked.
“Not four Euro ones.” She showed me the four Euro one. Boring!
“What special ones do you have?”
A sigh shook the chair she was sitting on.
She thumbed through the book where nestled between each page are stamps of different denominations.
“Make up a combination, please.”
More sighs as she ruffled through the pages pulling out stamps, putting some back, but she finally found the right combination. “Sigh, ça va?”
“Merci mille fois.” I didn’t add, rude lady.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Valentine's Day is for more than lovers(with recipes)

To celebrate Valentine's Day, I gave a dinner party. I was celebrating love in many forms: love of friends, food, good conversation, sharing, support, music, art, books -- you name it.
The guests included a friend of 30 years. We've been neighbours in three different places in two countries; a new neighbour who bought the house next door from the Catalan couple, an educational consultant; and a Brit friend. He and his wife had lived on my floor in Geneva and also have a place at the Port. (My table and chairs came from that flat and he bravely struggled up my stairs with it a few years back, so it is only fitting he enjoy many meals on it.) He was coming down to check his place after being at the Berlin Film Festival, but it was not an easy voyage with late trains, cancelled trains, snow etc. He had reported on his different problems from a variety of French cities, but nevertheless HE MADE IT for a meal that was only slightly delayed...
Apèro: Muscat of Rivesaltes
A salad made with fresh pineapple on an assortment of greens with raspberry/mayonaise dressing.
Red Cabbage*
Lamb chops**
A kiwi/fromage blanc/meringue with hot chocolate sauce
*1. Slice red cabbage thinly and boil just until done. In a separate pan heat the juice of a blood orange with three gloves, a few scrapings on fresh ginger and a teaspoon on cinanmon and toss onto the cabbage.
**2. Press dry thyme and origano into the chops and let sit at least 15 minutes. Brown on each side. Remove from the pan and brown one small finely chopped onion. Return the lamb chops to the pan. Add 3/4 cup of veggie or chicken broth and 1/4 cup of balsamic vinegar and reduce by half.
Outside it was cold. Inside it was warm, not just because of the heater, but the warmth of shared stories, good food and new and old friendships.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

"She made me feel important"

Friends of several decades saw me suffer with my mother and it is only a decade after her death I've been able to remember the good things mostly during my childhood and teenage needs when a mother is the most important. As one friend reminded me, "she didn't ruin your life and because or in spite of her you are stronger." So true.
This month I reconnected with a man whom I had dated for a short time (the only boy I ever dated she liked but that might have been the short time factor). He is responsible indirectly for the oldest friendship I have and thus my girl friend and I often expressed our gratitude to him in our chats.
As we were catching up on the twists and turns of our lives, and both of us have lived lives that were no way typical of our up bringing.
He said, "I really liked your mother."
Long ago I learned not to rip out someone's jugular vein when they said something I disagreed with but ask why, and have learned incredible things when I do ask why. So once more the W word escaped my lips.
"She made me feel important. I was only this insignificant high school kid, but she made me feel important."
And I suddently realised that was a talent my mother had and the dregs of the anger I feel moved even further away. Maybe someday they will disappear entirely. I hope so.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Great Archeology Dig is OVER

On my father's boat every inch of space had to be used. Likewise living in my small studio. Add to the space limitations that I detest clutter -- thus everything on the surface is neat. However, it can be life threatening to open any of my closets (my daughter is the opposite with clutter around her flat but closets that have the precision that would make an Army sergeant inspecting a barracks weep with joy). The area under my kitchen sink was truly an archeological dig whenever I wanted the iron, soap or pan that wasn't hanging from a beam. No matter how often I arranged things neatly, it lasted five nano seconds on a good day, less than one on a bad.

Gerard (Gigi) is a local contractor that has done 90% of the work in my place. He is rare among French workmen. He comes when he says he will usually to the minute. He came up with the simple solution of a shelf, albeit it around pipes. It may not look like much to you, but to me it is pure heaven. There's room to see what is in there. Of course my qualifications to go on a real dig may get rusty, but I can live with that.

On the other hand, the storage area over the bathroom has all the mess hidden by curtains that match my window curtains. If I feel too badly about not having anything to dig through, I can always climb up there...or to be honest, just go through my underwear drawer.

As long as Gigi was there I had him cut the tiles I laid down on the fireplace hearth to fit exactly. Although this isn't storage, the white tiles do make the room look a bit bigger while clutter makes it smaller. I can remove the tiles if and when I want a fire, although I have to also remember to remove the board that blocks the fireplace to keep heat from escaping up the chimney. If I could make that board a flap and clean the chimney, maybe I could use it for storage???? Nah, better to not accumulate one thing extra.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


The remote for the television WILL NOT TURN on the Heater. The remote for the heater WILL NOT TURN on the television.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Writing Hiatus--The Gold Fish

I've given up writing for a while although I plan to resume in some month with a M in the name.
March, May, September? Although I've started a novel, I just can't seem to sit down and work on it, but when I walk, the characters, plots and sub plots are perking. With eight novels under my belt, three published, one in production and one waiting for the contracts to arrive, I think I've earned some time off. I am writing. Last week I produced almost 10,000 words for my newsletter. That was fun but at the moment fiction isn't. Before even when it was work, sweating to find the right word, the right arrangement of sentences, the choice of detail, the friendship with my characters were fun. Now only learning about the seven women in the new novel is fun when it is in my head. I could force myself. In fact, I forced myself for almost sixty pages, and I'm happy with this draft although I know there are many more drafts to come but not yet.

My housemate jokes I'm not a housemate but her writer in residence. Thank goodness I've enough writing in my background plus three still unsold novels to justify my title.

I know I'll write fiction again, there is too much bouncing around in my head at the moment. Meanwhile, I've been looking over some old short stories.


From age eight Anne-Marie sought refuge from her parents' loft in the calm of Sacre Coeur. The odor of incense and candles smelled better than oil paint. The choir sang sweetly unlike the raucous debates at home.
"She's the white sheep of the family," Anne-Marie's mother said.
"Must be your side." Her father referred to his wife's brother, a priest.
Anne-Marie watched from her mattress as her mother gave a face shrug; pursing her lips, lifting her eyebrows and pushing her chin forward. The child touched the triptych of the Blessed Mother.
"We'll hide it from your father in this box," her mother had said when it arrived and had rearranged the screen providing limited privacy in the room that served as home and studio.

Despite her begging, Anne-Marie's parents refused to send her to convent school. They did pay for a secretarial course after she passed her bac. By then they'd given up trying to interest her in painting or poetry.

For her first job at France Telecom, Anne-Marie bought a blue suit, and several scarves. The clothes didn't make her half as happy as the chance to fill pristine paper with neat words and numbers. She lined up pencils like a marching band and arranged paper clips on the square magnetic holder she'd bought on sale at Mono Prix. Sliding open the drawer by her knee she stuffed the divisions with letterhead, second sheets, forms and envelopes.
Intrigued by her computer she asked Jean-Claude from data processing to borrow manuals. She studied them page by page. After that, anyone needing help was told, "Ask Anne-Marie." Although she knew which buttons to press, she wondered why they worked. After praying for courage, she asked Jean-Claude.
"Take a programming course," he said. Three days later he brought her a sheet announcing an evening course. She enrolled. When there was an opening in data processing she applied and was hired. No problem was too complicated for her.
She and Jean-Claude ate together often. "I wanted to be a nun," she said.
"Why don't you?" he asked.
"My parents."
She noticed he'd lost weight. One night while working late, he started crying.
"What's wrong?"
When he told her, she made a decision.
After Anne-Marie's parents met him, her mother said, "He's translucent."
"He looks just plain sick," her father said.
Anne-Marie said nothing.
"We never thought you'd marry," her father said.
"Unless you became a bride of Christ," her mother said.
Anne-Marie still said nothing.

They didn't share a marriage bed. Jean-Claude slept in a hospital bed decorated with intravenous bottles and an oxygen tent. The paraphernalia rested in the center of the living room, making a detour necessary to turn on the television.
France Telecom allowed Anne-Marie to work at home. She changed sheets, washed sores and sent her latest program through her modem. The only reasons she left the apartment were to run errands or to go to church.
He rallied so often the pattern of crisis and recovery no longer aroused hope. During the good times the couple drank tea from bowls, listened to music or talked. Although she wasn't that interested in politics, she repeated comments she'd heard from her childhood. Jean-Claude would nod in agreement.
The night his former lover died of the same disease, Anne-Marie held her husband while he cried. As she felt his almost naked bones under his skin, she wondered how much longer he could go on. He fell asleep across her lap. It took him six months to follow his lover.
She kept his apartment. Each night when she returned from work, she walked around the hospital bed that was no longer there. The shelf that held medicines now had laundry detergent, bleach, Monsieur Propre, furniture wax and lipstick She couldn't bring herself to touch anything, so she bought new cleaning products and stopped wearing makeup.

Her parents invited her to dinner on the first month anniversary of Jean-Claude's death. When she arrived, they were so caught up in work they'd forgotten to cook. Her mother threw a stew together. The three of them dipped spoons into the pot. Her father had used the last soup bowl for his palette.
"Want to sleep over?" her mother asked.
Anne-Marie glanced at her old mattress piled with her father's canvases and paint supplies. The screen had disappeared long ago.
"You're alone too much," her father said.
"I'm getting a pet," she said. Until that second the idea hadn't entered her head. She'd written to an abbey in Limoux, but wanted to give herself time to adjust to Jean-Claude's passing before making any major life decisions. "Maybe a bird that sings."

Walking through a pet store to buy a bird, a flash of gold caught her eye. A fish, one of fifty or so, pressed his nose to the glass. "Fish don't need much care," the salesgirl said. She tried scooping another out, but Anne-Marie insisted on the one that had caught her attention.
She put his bowl on the divider separating the living and dining areas. Two floor-to-ceiling windows on each side of the divider looked out on a small park.
"What shall I name you?" A photo of Jean-Claude when he was healthy stood on her desk next to a geode. As Anne-Marie looked through the bowl the reflection of the light and movement of the water made it look as if her late husband was walking out of an amethyst cave. "Jean-Claude Junior," she said. She shortened his name to Junior and figured by the time the fish died, she'd be ready to enter the abbey.

Ten years passed. Junior needed three replacement bowls each larger than before. The last dominated the divider.
Her routine pleased her. She went to Mass mornings before work. Her neighbors, an elderly couple, invited her to dinner Wednesdays. She watered their plants when they went to England to visit their daughter. They offered to feed Junior if she wanted to take a holiday.
Most nights she arrived home by eight. Junior watched her set the table. She never ate from a pan but used china and cloth napkins. When she finished, she'd reach into the cabinet to get Junior's flakes.
One night as she dawdled over her herb tea, she heard a tapping. Junior batted his head against his bowl. It must be my imagination, she thought but got up. He hit his head against the bowl again. Then when she gave two shakes of food into the bowl, he swam in two circles before eating.
The next night Anne-Marie waited to feed Junior to see what would happen. He tapped. She responded. He's trained me, she thought, and said, "Your welcome," when he did his circles. She started chatting with him regularly.
"I'll be back around seven. Be a good boy."
"Today is Saturday, I'll be home all day."
"I'll iron in here to keep you company."
"There's a Depardieu movie on France 2 or we can watch Thé où Café."
When Anne-Marie added a plant to his tank, he started playing peek-a-boo with her. She always felt he thought he'd won, but she wasn't sure of the rules. Maybe he cheated.

"You need to get out more," her mother said on one visit. At work, Anne-Marie's female colleagues complained that their mothers would come and straighten things up. Anne-Marie's mother always left a mess.
"It's not healthy only working and living with a fish. "There's a new artist your father met..." her mother said.
"Mother!" Anne-Marie's tone said the last thing she needed was another artist in her life.
"My mother actually tried to play matchmaker," she complained at work to Elisabeth, another programmer. "I can't believe it."
"Mothers are like that," Elisabeth said.
Anne-Marie invited Elisabeth to dinner. On the metro, Anne-Marie explained about Junior.
After coffee, Anne-Marie waited for Junior to tap. Nothing happened. Just as Elisabeth was about to leave, she said, "I'll feed him anyway. You'll see how he does a double circle." After the flick-flick of her wrist, Junior went right to the flakes. As soon as Elisabeth shut the door, Junior tapped and circled his tank.
"Brat." Anne-Marie turned out the light and went to bed.

Anne-Marie's parents came to dinner the third Thursday of each month. In November eleven years after Jean-Claude died, she served rabbit in wine sauce and potatoes seasoned with sage. Her parents had long ago given up complaining about her flowers, matched Limoges dishes and Finnish crystal wine glasses.
Before they ate, Anne-Marie moved the yellow roses, which she'd bought in the metro station, from the center of the table to the mantle. The reflection in the mirror doubled the bouquet.
"C'est bon." Her father kissed the tips of his fingers then wiped the last bit of sauce from his plate with bread. "You're an angel of a cook." Anne-Marie blushed.
Her parents were dressed in their usual jeans and sweaters. Her mother's hair, salt and pepper wild curls springing out of her head, hid most of her back. Her father was egg-shell bald.
As he raged against Sarkozy's election, her mother arranged the cheeses: brebis, Roquefort, chevre and a gouda with cumin while her father uncorked a burgundy. Each person broke off a portion of bread which less than four hours before had been in the baker's oven. A sampling of cheese, a bit of bread, a sip of wine fuelled a communion cleansing.
"I'll never understand you," her father said. Junior paced up and down the side of his tank.
"You don't have to, Papa," Anne-Marie said. "Think of me as a black and white linear minimalist." For the first time she felt at ease with her parents.
Her mother looked at her daughter. "That is almost poetic."
Junior tapped twice.
When her parents left, Anne-Marie fed Junior, put a Bach sonata on the CD and turned on her computer. She worked long after midnight.
Before she went to bed, she said her rosary. In the middle of the night she woke and decided to go to the abbey at Limoux for a retreat. Maybe her sense of peace meant that she was ready. Junior would just have to do his antics for the couple upstairs.

The cot with the crucifix on the opposite wall, the rough dress and scarf holding back her hair, the sisters walking without speaking, the silence broken only by birds and footsteps were all as Anne-Marie had imagined over the years. The quiet left her mind careening between childhood memories and programming problems rather than the prayers she was suppose to concentrate on.
After lunch on the seventh day of her planned two-week stay she slipped into the grey stone chapel. It was narrow and buttressed in a style she knew was medieval. Despite the heat outside, the stones felt cold against her knees.
She began her rosary. Half way through the third Ave Maria she looked up. Two plastic round lights hung from the ceiling. It was the first time Anne-Marie had noticed how out of place they looked. Anne-Marie finished her rosary.
The next night she left the convent, bought a bottle of white wine for her parents and another for the couple taking care of Junior.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Good News

My publisher just made an offer on my fifth novel, Murder at Caleb's Landing/Underground Railroads. The contract hasn't been negotiated yet. The fourth novel still doesn't have a publication date, but the galleys have been sent.

The contract has not been negotiated yet.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The "*ç%ç%&/() Electricity Cuts

I know there are still thousands of people without electricity in Kentucky, Marseilles and I know that London is crippled by a snow storm, but since our big storm over a week ago we are still getting electricity cuts several times a day and it is as annoying. They last a second just enough to shut down the internet and the TV. For some reason my TV when I bring it up again always comes onto the History Channel no matter what channel it was on before the cut. Not a problem, just interesting...

Today it is raining hard. Had I not had a French lesson, I would never have poked my nose out the door until it was time to do my daily cat cuddle with Ptah II. Not only did it rain, it snowed and sleeted a bit.

I'm sure this will not help the electricity cuts. Okay, thing of all the people in Gaza and Baghdad who've been without regular electricity for grateful I haven't been foreign army is blocading or invading Argeles...blessing counting over...did it help...un petit peu...