Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A Month of Doing Anew

I woke this morning feeling like January was slipping away before it had even started. So the Hans Brinker in me stuck my finger in that dike as I began to clear the clutter off my desk. Under one pile, I pulled out Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing to return it to the bookcase after having lain on my desk for a month or more unopened. I didn't get very far, however; because for the hundredth time, I opened it and, if you've ever read it, you know what happened next. Yes, I got caught again in Bradbury’s zest for writing, for life, since they were one and the same for him.  I began reading some of the many places I had magic markered. If there was ever a book that walked its talk, that is it.

Most all of us want something different as each year starts. We are keenly aware our life does not meet our expectations for it. But we always start in the same mood, disposition, and doubt that caused us to start listing our resolutions to begin with, the only thing new or different being the sheet of paper on which we’re writing. So let’s do something different this year. Let’s just start doing what we are waiting for. No plans, no schedules, just do – as Yoda told us.
Here’s how dear Ray Bradbury puts it with a few insertions to make it clear this works for anyone:
If you are writing (living, working, parenting) without zest, without gusto, without love, without fun, you are only half a writer (alive, a worker, a parent). It means you are so busy keeping one eye on the commercial market (bank account), or one ear peeled for the avant-garde coterie (what someone else thinks), that you are not being yourself. You don’t even know yourself. A writer (and everyone else) should be excited. He should be a thing of fevers and enthusiasms.

If you expect something different you must fight through the fog of sameness and complacency and be different right from the start. You wonder how, since this appears to be the problem? You’re telling me you don’t already know how to laugh, to dance to music, to sigh over poetry, to feel the penetrating power of beauty to lift you tall? Use them then every time you begin to head into the weeds. That’s what I’m going to do.

Then say to yourself every morning as you rise, “I will not end this month the same person I began it.” 

Change is not a future event. How else do you think we change, but by doing right now? In 25 words or less: How do you want it to be different? Get clarity on that and then, live in that way right now. If it lasts only minutes the first little while, that’s still minutes of a different way of being. Each time you pick yourself up and start again, now it is anew. This is how change happens, spontaneously but driven by the intensity of your desire. Keep your vision close to your toes, shuffle if you have to, but be a doing that is your being, the you that yearns to feel alive and fearless. Your actions inform you of who you are.

Stick with me this month, and I’ll share with you what I find along the way to know myself anew. Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing is a great place to start whether you’re a writer or not. His enthusiasm for life will infect you and what a glorious infection to have.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Short Story - Just Max

“He could have come to Jesus but instead he come to me.” 

Those were the words that Maddie June Stanley said that day offhandedly as I rose to leave. I had been visiting with Maddie June all morning. We’d been talking about old times, her bringing me up to date, since it had been years since our last visit. But now it was time for me to go. We hugged, and I began walking toward the hall when she said what she just said. The words stopped me, and I turned in the doorway of her huge pre-modern kitchen and stared at her. As she spoke, she began sliding a fresh cup of hot, black coffee across the rough-topped, old maple table that served as her version of a work island. She was never one to ask, but it was clear she was asking now. I dropped my purse off my shoulder and sat back down. This woman who had mothered me so graciously years earlier now needed me to give her the attention a good daughter would.

“He was 10 or so, street-weary but road-wise,” she continued. “I cain’t even imagine how that baby boy was out there all by hisself with so many of them government agencies hunting down kids and pickin' ‘em up. When I asked his name, he said Just Max. He meant it just like that–Just Max. And that day started looping me off in a new direction and ain’t never looped me back.”

Maddie June just came to life as she talked about this boy. Her eyes twinkled like I’d never seen. She’d always been warm-hearted, but it was like something was missing from her life. She mothered so many people that it never occurred to me she still wanted a kid of her own. You see, she ran a boarding house in an era when boarding houses were remnants of western movies or what pre-dated hotels in the east ends of most towns and cities. But Maddie June wasn't someone to be dictated to by anyone’s conventions except her own. When her husband got crushed to death at the steel foundry in Bessemer, just outside of Birmingham, she used the one thing she had in this world, a rambling three-story house, and turned it into a place where strangers entered and left as family. That’s the only frame of reference Maddie June has—family. She was a beacon in the dark nights of many a soul, and I suspect that’s how Just Max found her.

I never knew how old Maddie June was. Sometimes it seemed like she just came into the world straight grown up and settled into the slot prepared for her. Aside from a few wrinkles and a bit thinner hair than when we first met, she looked just like she did that day I climbed up her front stairs praying for a new beginning. She was always forthcoming with me and everyone else, for that matter. So when she started telling me her tale about Just Max I had no reason to disbelieve, for I too had found this old house one drippy, cold January morning years ago, and she took me in that day and raised me until I could go it on my own. When I moved away finally, we kept in touch with yearly phone calls until this day when I finally got to visit her after all these years.

She got back to her story. “He was sandy-haired, skinny as a pole, with a face that was mostly eyes – big, wary-looking brown eyes, the color of blackstrap molasses. They looked too old for such a young’un. I spect he’d seen more than his share. The first meal I made ‘em disappeared like he was a hoover; it got vacuumed up so fast. He weren't given to talking like some kids his age who don’t give a body a moment’s peace. If he wasn't eatin’, he just stared straight ahead like he was looking into something I couldn't see. Occasionally he’d sigh.

“I have this little room off the backside of the kitchen here. That one there.” She pointed to a renovation she’d made since I’d lived here. “It was warm in there and caught the east light each morning making it easier to decide to give the day a chance. I coulda used that after Joshua got killed, when deciding whether to git up or not was still an issue. Just Max looked like he too might need some help from Mother Sun to make that choice each day, so I stuck him in there, sorta like a hen tucking her chicks under her wings since I spend most my time in this here kitchen. You know.

“Early on he got useful like he knowed if he started helping me out, I’d be less likely to turf him. I think, as I look back, being turned out was something he knew all too well. Yet, like a young colt, being too fenced in didn't work for him neither. So I just let him make his place in amongst mine, and Just Max and I got real comfortable.”

Maddie June stopped talking as she lit up a cigarette, perched it on the edge of her lips and began making too much noise with her big cleaver de-boning chickens for the stew she was preparing, to be able to talk. I shifted around on that stone-hard chair, trying to get my behind in a place it could stand for the rest of her story. Once she didn't need her focus on the cleaver, she blew a long stream of smoke off her last drag, stubbed the cigarette so she’d be able to re-light it and nodded her head as if she had been seeking agreement with herself and finally got it.

“I don’t sleep far from this back room. You know, just across the hall in what used to be, when Joshua was alive, a workroom of sorts where he built his model ships. That foundry cast ship parts after the war, and Joshua caught the bug. He fell in love with them big boats even though all he ever seen was pictures of ‘em. Some of his models is still out there in the living room. He did real good work. But as I was saying, I was close enough to Just Max’s room to hear all the yelling, then crying then yelling some more that first night he was here. It didn't surprise me. A child that young in his position must a see’d more than he cared to about the world’s mean side. But that first time, I only listened, nothing else, not wanting to butt into his life juss yet. But it was scary, whatever was going on. The next couple of nights it happened again, like he was having a discussion with someone, him yelling, then crying and whimpering like a dog that just been whipped. But after that first week, it all but stopped.

“The days turned into weeks and then into months. Just Max came and went as it suited him. He always checked with me first thing each morning, however, to see what he could help me with. When he took on a bigger job, I’d give him a bit of money so he’d have something in his pocket other than lint. I also found some decent clothes for him at Salvation Army and a warm coat. Winter wasn't too far off.”

Maddie June stopped to refill my coffee cup and hers and set a plate of fresh baked biscuits in front of me. I was thinking of all I’d planned to do on this short holiday I was taking, seeing a few other old friends and eating at my favorite place in Birmingham, but I knew I was needed here. So I relaxed into what felt like was gonna be a long story.

Maddie June took a big swallow of coffee and started again. “Can you believe it, he stayed for four years and everthing went smooth. That boy got under my skin and into my heart like no one I ever knowned.

“Then one day, some man, a Mr. Jackson come to my house, flashed his credentials. He said he was looking for a boy named Peter Stanley. The man was one of them Dick Tracy types, you know. I thought he was going be the truant officer for I never did get that boy to go to school. He seemed to learn what all he needed on his own. So I asked this Mr. Jackson why he was bothering me ‘cause I didn't have no kids of my own and no relatives ‘cepting my dead husband.

 “‘Would that husband have been Joshua Stanley?’

“‘Why yes sir, it would. Why you asking? He’s been dead for years.’

“He didn't say no more that day, that Mr. Jackson. Juss nodded his head and said something about checking his records and that maybe he’d be back. When Just Max came in that night I mentioned that a Mr. Jackson had been round to see me. Just Max stopped surveying the fridge like it was the display at the automat and turned slowly to face me. Just Max was fourteen by then but always seemed older than his years. He pulled the chair back from the table and set down on it like he was even older."

Finish the story here.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Writer or Pretender

Shakespeare asked this same question another way: to be or not to be. It is as fundamental a question as there ever was, from determining the reality of our existence to simply sorting out whether we are a writer or a dreamer. I mention this because a recent blog by Russell Blake put this question squarely in my face, once again.

In it, he is talking about being a writer in 2015 and what writers will face as well as what is required of them if they are to succeed. Russell isn't a speculator. He started out like most of today’s wannabees, but unlike most now makes his living from writing. The difference between him and others is he knew what he wanted and set his life up to reflect that. He also busts several myths  about writing when he states he is now associated with several writers whose names would be unfamiliar to us and yet they make an excellent income from writing even in their basic anonymity. Russell talks about why.

What Russell made clear to me is I have yet to set an intent to be a writer. By that I mean I still have two columns on my sheet: the reasons I could succeed and the reasons that might hold me back. When you set an intent, however, not only do you not have two columns, you don’t even have such sheet of paper. There is no energy pouring into resistance or validation. There is only the determination of what is yours to do next, which is determined intuitively not through rational thought, and then doing it. By intuitive, I mean “it comes to you,” not in some hocus pocus manner, but rather you just bloody know that right now you need to be doing such and such, and you do it. And when that piece comes to fruition, you see the next one and do that. Ironically, the path to true success is identical to esoteric principles or, said another way, the path of truth. Simple, honest, and doable just not necessarily easy.

I italicized the word true preceding ‘success’ for a reason. I suspect that most people who dream of being a successful writer have created what that life would be like by imagining a life without what they despise about their present situation, thus offering the antithesis. That’s how we create a life using our intellect. But any time I have truly succeeded, I always noticed that what I got never looked like what I imagined, but if I reached that place intuitively, it didn't matter. What success demanded of me I was willing to do because it was integral to me, real and compelling. But what success demanded of me from a project arrived at intellectually — my plan — never panned out. That’s where resistance arises and usually drags us to a halt.

I believe there are always two groups in the arts: those who are painters and those who want to paint a picture; those who are writers and those who want to write a book. It behooves us to be honest with ourselves and make that determination once and for all. For the life of a writer is whatever it is, the difference is that if you are a writer, you’ll do it. If you are a pretender, mostly you’ll talk about doing it. And that’s where I find myself this Sunday morning: asking am I a writer or a pretender. The answer to that question must then be reflected in my life, or said another way; if I am a writer, I must get in touch with the next step and just bloody do it.

In his most current blog, Russell Blake talks about a writer's life currently. Take a look at what he describes as inherent in a writer’s life remembering it’s the life he’s now living. The reality may not be so appealing to you. Russell is a writer not because his income results from book sales, but because he knows he’s a writer, and his life reflects that awareness at every turn. Mine doesn't yet, and that’s what stands before me. Earning my living has never before been unrelated to the career I am drawn to, and I allowed this to confuse me.

You too may now want to ask: what stands before you? Be curious. Be honest. A fulfilling life comes from one that reflects that clarity. And if it's fulfilling, it really doesn't matter what name you give to yourself in that life.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

One of Fear’s Ugliest Faces – Racism

by Christina Carson
My strongest emotions have always arisen around the topic of racism. I grew up north of the Mason-Dixon Line, but my small town had an unusually large Black population as it was one of the ends of the Underground Railroad during the Civil War. One day, a friend of my mother’s took us into the basement of the only hotel in our town at that time and showed us a two foot square iron door, much like you’d see on a wood cook stove or steel boiler, set into the wall about five feet up from the floor. She lifted the latch and the youthful eyes of this unseasoned pre-teen peered into a pitch dark squared-up tunnel big enough only to crawl through. I shuddered, my claustrophobic tendencies filling my mind with a sense of horror. It was the fifties and innocence was still one of the options offered on life’s multiple choice test of reality, but as I became increasingly aware of the nature of racism, that option was soon lost to me.

My formal introduction to racism occurred one typical Sunday morning at the Westminster Presbyterian Church. It was the late ‘50’s, and we were all waiting for the service to begin. In the pre-service quiet, a knock at the main door caught the attention of most of the congregation. An usher hastened across the room to answer it. His voice was that of a loud stage whisper, so the back half of the church for sure overhead the conversation. It was the usher suggesting to the Black woman outside she might be more comfortable at the Second Presbyterian Church on the other side of town. I looked up at the adults surrounding me. Not one returned my questioning stare. I told friends years later that only thing I remembered learning at church was the meaning of hypocrisy, and after that I wasn't much interested in anything else they had to say.

When I was sixteen, I had another experience unique to me, not in a church but in our county hospital awaiting surgery. Two Black orderlies, a middle aged woman every morning and an older gentleman each evening spoke to me in a way that offered me kindness of a sort I’d never experienced. It sheltered me like the wing of a mother hen tucking her chicks tight up under her, and for the first time in my life I felt the wonder of what is was like to have someone care about me for no reason other than they did. That was as profound an experience as the one in my church except this one was all about love.

It wasn't until grade 12 that I realized my parents were racists. Growing up, I heard from them that Blacks were fine in their place, yet no one under questioning would commit to what or where their place was. So I kept pushing. They stood revealed the day the first Black family moved into our neighborhood. An open house was held to welcome them to the community, put on by the local Quakers, only no one came. Shaming is a mean-spirited act, but I shamed my parents that day and I meant to. I felt, in my seventeen-year-old view of the world I had been betrayed. The fact that I lived among racists appalled me. The fact that I had been so blind to it appalled me as well.

What washed up all these memories was an article written by Jesse Kornbluth, a blogger I enjoy reading (The Head Butler).  His entry of 11/12/14 contained a piece of journalism he’d written in 1987, an article on Michael Donald, the last Black man to be hanged in Alabama and Donald’s mother’s work to bring the murderers to justice (The Woman Who Beat the Klan).

I've grown to understand a lot over the years, and it is now clear to me where the meanness of human beings comes from and why. I also know it will not change unless we get curious enough to understand and adopt our true nature as our way of being in this world rather than this egoic presentation we’re been conditioned to believe is us. Until that time, fear in all its hundreds of forms will continue to own us, control us, and direct our choices, with racism being one of its ugliest. But I’m here to tell you, we have a race of people among us who still model to a great degree what it looks like when you live from respect and love without conditions. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., suggested that his people could work actively in their endeavors toward freedom, but equally powerful was the more passive route of seducing through kindness. I have known that sweet seduction, and my life has been enriched and ennobled by it. Why not yours too?

RACISM: prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one's own race is superior.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Ultimate Quest

by Christina Carson

I recently finished a second reading of Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. A psychiatrist and neurologist by training, Dr. Frankl, at age 39, found himself a prisoner at Auschwitz and then moved to a camp associated with Dachau. It was under the intensely forbidding circumstances of prison life that he was compelled to begin exploring the nature of and need for meaning in human existence. One of the conclusions he drew was that man can find meaning in any situation and, in fact, must, for it is only through meaningful existence that we can endure, even the intense suffering he knew.

Among all its gruesome imagery, the book is liberating. My first reading of it years ago allowed me to understand the power that comes to those willing to take responsibility for their lives. I figured if Frankl managed to live without blaming others for his fate, horrible as it appeared, how could I stand there and point fingers at others in a much less dire set of circumstances? That choice invited me to look more deeply into my life. When I did, what I saw was me assigning meaning to the actions and events around me not searching for meaning within them. The former results in blaming others and traps you in your fate. The latter gives you a vision of how you can endure and rise beyond the problem confronting you.

We are raised to be far more interested in assigning meaning than in accessing it. Prisoners in a concentration camp, however, can’t
afford that luxury if they want to survive. That’s what Viktor Frankl came to understand and made incredibly clear to me: We choose how to perceive our circumstances; we then get to live with what we chose. This is the most accessible level on which the search for meaning exists, but there are others.

When Mark Twain observed: “The two most important days of your life are the day you are born and the day your find out why,” most people assume the quote refers to some mighty achievement or a holy grail for our personal lives. We anguish over the lack of sense and fulfillment our lives offer us and assume finding that would be the be-all end-all. However, as grand as a meaningful project or relationship can be, they are not the hallmark of human existence. 

There is an even more profound yearning for meaning at the species level, cosmic rather than personal. Life is meant to expand, not contract. We are creatures of incalculable wisdom and creativity. We are meant to be free spirits, unattached to the plethora of habits (mindlessly applied meanings) that keep us petty and afraid. That explains to me why in one of those seeming unbearable moments when Viktor Frankl cried out for relief what came to him were these words: "I called to the Lord from my narrow prison and He answered me in the freedom of space."

Ultimately we are here to grasp the fundamental meaning of human nature – spacious, serene and unchanging. We are called to know beyond doubt what we truly are and why we are here. Imagine a life driven by that search for meaning. Just imagine…

Integral to the novels I write is
 a search for meaning, since for me,that is the
driving force in life.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Defying the Odds

Years ago, because I enjoy stories about those who defy the odds, I began to collect tales about people who survived situations that both science and medicine said they should not have. Most of those stories centered on sickness and what is termed anecdotal healing, meaning healing that cannot be explained through systematic scientific investigation. Little did I know how useful that collection would prove to be later in my life and it culminated in my novel Dying to Know.

For the last several years, I have again begun to collect stories, but this time about people who experience “old age” from a perspective that runs counter to what most believe about aging. Our culture has given us a view of aging that appears as an irrevocable march into disability and decreasing worth. So of course, collecting stories of those who've not bought into such notions has proven an interesting pastime. More fascinating than you might imagine. And why do I bother?

Every decade of our lives presents challenges to us, not because challenges are inherent to every decade, but because we have been conditioned to believe notions about every aspect of our march through life, of which many or dare I say most, have no basis in fact. Rather bold statement I know, but that has been my experience. If we peel back the conditioning and see what lies beneath, there exists a view of the world that has its foundation in freedom, freedom to be and do and live life beyond so many of the ideas that make life petty and small. The only way most of us can allow the actuality of those who step outside the boundaries we've been given is if we have some brush with such marvels ourselves. Why not be curious about the possibility that life could play out differently? Why not be open to what that might be like? It makes for a very interesting, sometimes rather hairy, but always fulfilling existence.

I remember a dear friend whom I met years back who was a grand example of someone defying the picture of aging we've all been given. She was intent on not being gobbled up by the goblins of aging. She was sprite, curious, open to learning, drove her car like a bat out of hell (she had always done that) and told no one her age, so they couldn't pin her down with numbers. One time after driving non-stop to North Carolina from Huntsville, Alabama to see friends, and then driving back a few days later, she provoked a stress fracture in her back. Bert and I organized some mutual friends to fix meals and drop by to help her heal, for science had nothing to offer for that injury, and the fear of aging began to get its grip on her. Ram Dass said it beautifully, “We’re all just walking each other home.” And so the coterie of helpers walked her back to health. It was through this episode I came to know how old she was. She was 97 then. She went on to live six more powerful years, moving her household single-handedly to North Carolina around her 101 st  year. For me, one exception proves the rule, and my rule has always been let me decide what’s true and what’s not.

There are today at least 28 preforming rock and soul singers in this country over 70. One, BB King, is on the cusp of 90. And The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, recently released a dynamite album singing the great Diva Classics. The British singer-songwriter Adele made waves with her rendition of Rolling in the Deep, but the Queen of Soul, with almost 40 years on Adele, turned that song upside down with her version. Nothing has the potential to fire up art like years lived with passion and grit. Listen to her tell you about it here:

          I’m sure there is an area in your life right now that you’re tripping over because of what society instilled in you as a rightful perspective, when in truth there is another one for you,  one that will take you down a different road. You know me, I’d say go for it. You see, the destination of that “other road in the yellow wood” is what I've always called Home.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Short Story - Saving Grace

by Christina Carson

When can never truly know the power our smallest gestures of kindness or goodwill have on the lives of others…

  Adrienne Wall Photography 

Mrs. Gerhardt squatted down in front of her five year old daughter and worked feverishly to roll up the waistband of her child’s ruffled pantaloons so the pants no longer dragged on the floor. She hadn't had time to try the new outfit on her daughter earlier due to the seeming never ending list of must-do’s that defined her life since her recent divorce. He just walked out, she thought. Shacked up with that woman from work and walked out. Realizing where her mind was heading, she pulled her thoughts back to her present task before her anger reached another boiling point. The dress that was part of the ensemble fit fine, but Gracie was not a tall child and the hem of the pants covered her shoes and then some. Her mom struggled to get it all hiked up evenly. But every few seconds, her hand would come out from under the dress, and she’d push the heel of it into her forehead and rub hard and slow. Haggard was the word that best described Tricia Jo Gerhardt and late was the second best; today would make it three times this week in fact. She was struggling up the corporate ladder now; she needed the money. But tardiness was not well tolerated.

“Hold still.” It was a command, not a request. Gracie had been unaware she was in motion of any sort, so she just kept standing there as she had been. “I spent a great deal of money to get this dress for you, so you could look pretty on picture day.” The dress she was referring to was la haute couture for the preschool set. Peasant dresses were what they were called, the material hosting multicolored patchwork with ruffles at the wrists. The bloomer-like pants worn underneath the dress had ruffles at the ankles. Gracie would have preferred being outside playing with her dog, Billie, rather than getting all gussied up. This foray into preschool had not been her choice. She smiled over top of her mom’s bent head at her golden retriever, who watched this early morning fiasco yet thumped his tail expectantly, like they’d go play when this was over.

Once Mrs. Gerhardt had finally reached a length with the bloomers that allowed Gracie’s little satin ballet slippers to show, she pinned the fabric to the waistband and sighed. Still squatting, she gave her daughter a final once over starting with her ringlets, which she bounced a few times with the palm of her hand then shook her head and breathed out through her teeth. She hated that wildly curly hair her daughter had inherited from her father. She felt it made her look a bit too ethnic, is how she put it. Next, she licked her index finger and cleaned off the corners of Gracie’s mouth where some toothpaste had gathered. With that accomplished, she pushed herself up to standing, the silk in her slacks having suffered some heavy creases from that crouch. As she walked off to grab her purse and keys, she attempted to smooth them out, but in a fit of impatience she shook her hands like she was removing water from them, only the gesture depicted a woman on the edge. She left Gracie standing there, the child unsure if the inspection was over or not.

“Gracie what are you dawdling over. Come on. We’re late.” Gracie trailed after her kicking her heels up in a little gallop, stopping to hug her dog, then just outside the kitchen door she stopped again to pet her stick horse. Her mom stood by the car door, her fingers drumming out what sounded like a horse galloping, waiting.
As they drove to the school, Gracie’s mother lectured. “Now listen, I can’t be at the picture taking today, so here’s what you must do to look pretty for the photographer. Plump your skirt out and do not, under any circumstances, pull at your bloomers. Do you hear me?” Gracie nodded, never taking her eyes off her mother as she doled out her instructions. “You usually make that silly looking grin. Don’t so that this time. Smile pretty. And don’t let the camera lady take your shoes off because I paid a bundle for those slippers, they are real ballet slippers, you know. So leave them on.”

Gracie was trying desperately to remember each item of behavior that was now her responsibility. But all that she managed to remember was the comment about her smile being somehow wanting. That worried her most for she didn't know what a nice smile looked like or how to make one. The parting shot as her mother opened the car door, undid her seat belt and tugged her out was when she said in an edgy voice, “ I love pretty girls and smart girls, so don’t disappoint me.”

In the time Mrs. Gerhardt had dropped Gracie off at her classroom and then disappeared down the street with the speed of a small caliber bullet, Gracie drooped like a four-day-old cut flower and walked to a quiet part of her classroom hoping to hideout. She was usually a buoyant little girl; quiet yet sweet, but this morning she felt frightened. She knew words to describe what she sensed in her mother— angry and sad. But she had no awareness of states of mind like driven or frustrated or abandoned, the state her father had left them in.  What made sense to her was that she was somehow responsible for her mother being upset. And that made her feel like she was bad. She just didn't know why.

Gracie stayed over in the corner hugging her bunny which she managed to sneak into the car with her. She hid it in the folds of her skirt so that he, Mr. Welty, would be there if she needed him. She sat rocking on a little wooden chair, trying smiles on her face, hoping to do one that felt right. She thought she had a good one and held Mr. Welty out in front of her to give her feedback. But before he got a word out, the teacher was there asking her if everything was okay. It so startled her that she leapt up from the chair, feeling her bloomers slide down as she rose.

She hadn't noticed the ruffles had gotten under her feet, and her sudden jump up pulled them down to mid-thigh. Gracie had been so wrapped up in her smile practice that she couldn't focus on the teacher’s question. Instead, she worked to get her bloomers back up to her waist.

“Is your pretty new dress for picture day?” the teacher asked.

Gracie nodded her head several times.

“Well you look lovely today. Your mother will be really happy to have pictures of you looking so pretty.”

That eased Gracie a bit, because she remembered her mommy saying she loved pretty girls. She looked up at her teacher and asked, “Do daddies love pretty girls too?”

The teacher winced knowing the situation at home. “Oh yes, Gracie, daddies especially love pretty daughters.”

She wanted to talk with Gracie more, but some minor outbreak across the room forced her to leave Gracie without further comment. The little girl turned back to practicing smiles, but the teacher was now calling the class together. Gracie didn't know when their pictures would be taken, but every time she thought of it she felt frightened in a strange way. She didn't know the word dread either, or she would have understood what was happening to her.

On the other side of the school, Mattie Bolton, who had been taking pictures of preschoolers all morning at Haines Elementary, was returning from her fourth bathroom break of the day wondering if people would begin to think she had a medical condition of some sort she’d spent so much time in the washroom. Had they investigated, they would have found her leaning against the wall trying to regroup. It had been a long day so far and now the afternoon stretched before her. She’d been involved with this photography gig for years, but it seemed of late the kids had become more ill-mannered and uncooperative than prior times, often almost impossible to work with. They either cried and whined or behaved like over-wound wind-up toys careening around the set with no concern for her equipment or props. And their mothers, when present, merely sat watching, making no effort to rein them in.

It seems every generation complains about kids relative to their own past, and Mattie was at that age where there were more years behind her than out front.  But she was beginning to sense a growing agreement among adults of all ages that kids today were more akin to those in Lord of the Flies than Anne of Green Gables. And if you want to see this in all its glory, try to take their pictures.
She took a deep breath, rallied her last bit of patience and walked slowly back to the room where her set was located, hoping she’d not find one of the little imps hanging from the backdrop or swinging round the light stands....

To finish this story, click here.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

A Movie I Won’t Forget

by Christina Carson
Sometimes a movie comes along that should not be missed. Still Mine is one of those.

The setting is New Brunswick, a beautiful eastern Canadian province backed up against Maine, capped by Quebec’s Gaspé peninsula, toeing into Nova Scotia while the rest of her faces water, the most notable the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and the Bay of Fundy.

Craig and Irene Morrison [James Cromwell and Genevieve Bujold] are the people who carry us through this story, a couple in their later years who are still very active and love one another with such frank honesty and open-heartedness that not a drop of sap drips onto the script that holds their lines. They own a large tract of land that they and some of their 7 grown children farm. But there is a cloud in their sky when the first signs of dementia appear in Irene. 

The theme of this story, however, is not about that sad decline but about the honor a life beholds when we do not compromise our integrity. It’s not that Craig Morrison is a rebel; he just won’t buckle to nonsense, and as he starts to build a new house that will accommodate Irene with her encroaching challenges, he meets up with the worst sort of nonsense - bureaucracy. His attempt at a simple solution becomes grounds for the fight of his life as he runs headlong into the insanity of rules, codes and petty people made seemingly important by a society that has granted them the power to run their lives. Craig and Irene, however, never reneged on taking responsibility for themselves and their lives, and it serves them now especially. With all the hoops he has to jump through, even though he is a master builder, Craig gets stopped dead in his tracks.

It’s a simple plot. That’s not the reason I’m mentioning this movie. What it really has to offer is a view of later life not commonly presented.  Aging is like any other part of life, it becomes the experience you expect. We in America, in particular, have been given a view of this period of our lives which frightens and repels us. We move toward it like the chain-dragging ghosts of Scrooge’s Christmas Eve terror. Craig Morrison does not. His life has indeed become problematic on many levels and at one point, his craggy face gentles as he looks adoringly at his wife of many years and says, “I’m worried our luck’s beginning to run out.”  This is where the movie gifts us with a high truth. Old age is not the problem. It is merely the repository of the unexamined conditions and beliefs we gather through our lives. Craig Morrison’s old age exhibits the power and stout-heartedness that accrue to a life grounded for 89 years in integrity and love. Watching what that looks like as he faces what he must results in a movie depicting the splendor that honor and engagement bring to our lives at any time, and how elder years can even magnify that glow.

Oh, and did I tell you…this is based on a true story.  Watch the trailer and get the DVD. It’s a movie that should not be missed.

Trailer for Still Mine

For those who cannot view the trailer for Still Mine on this blog,
click here

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Living on the Street

How close to the edge will you come, to know something you really want to know…? a short story by Christina Carson

It was one of those gorgeous fall days. Leaves were beginning to mottle the grass still green from fall rains. The ones still attached to the park trees rattled in the now cool breeze sounding like old bones clacking together. Sadie lifted her face toward the sun as she walked idly along the cement path that mimicked the lake’s curves. The sun’s heat was no longer scorching and now felt soft on her skin.  Her hands, clasped behind her back, hung onto a small brown paper bag, her lunch. She had brought it to the park to eat away from all the noise and endless drama in the corporate scene where she worked. She often ate in this park and was fond of a particular bench under a clump of crepe myrtle trees just up from the lapping water. The spot felt like a natural shelter and at this point in her life, shelter was something Sadie sought in many forms.

As she rounded the last curve at the far end of the lake, she stopped, dismayed. Someone was sitting on her bench. She stood still for a moment fretting. She wanted to be alone, but she also wanted the comfort of her special spot. She studied the man who now occupied one end of the bench. He was sitting almost statue-like. A few pigeons had come up to see if he had any bread for them. He stared down at them and appeared to say something she was too far away to hear. His hands were folded in his lap, his long legs stretched out in front of him. The pigeons seemed to enjoy his presence for even without food, they pecked around his boots and stopped to rest in his shade. That helped Sadie with her decision. If the pigeons thought he was safe, perhaps he was, and she could share the bench with him.

As she got closer, she could see he looked a tad tattered. Street person, she thought. Hope he’s not schizophrenic or drugged up. She grimaced a moment as she noticed how much she’d changed. Years back she’d never have thought about that and it wasn't just changing times that brought up those concerns. She could feel how hard her heart had become, how pinched off from life she was. For christsake, she thought, I’m not the only 45 year-old whose husband ran off with a younger woman. But no matter how rational she tried to be, whenever her mind began to rummage through that heart-rending year, the pain of betrayal owned her before her next breath.

Still eyeing the man on the bench, she wondered, who was he? She huffed her breath out her nose as she realized what she had just thought, Was; who was he? Who was she for that matter, for she certainly felt more was than is.

She had been approaching slowly, but something about that last thought brought a resolute pace to her walk. Not wanting to scatter the pigeons, she walked behind the bench to the other end and looked at the man as she asked, “Mind if I share the bench with you?  I like this end of the lake best.”

He said nothing, nor did he look at her. She began to feel uncomfortable. About to excuse herself, she said, “I’m sorry…”  Still staring straight ahead, he raised his hand slightly. Then he patted the bench seat. She lowered herself onto the far end of the bench, offered him a quick little bob of her head and said softly, “Thank you.”

She followed his lead, stretched her trousered legs out in front of her and leaned back. She laid her lunch bag in her lap and began to quiet herself, since that tiny hint of rejection that had gone through her when he didn't reply had already started her heart thumping. The pigeons didn't come under her legs. She guessed she didn't feel very sheltering to them. What a basket case I am. If I think this behavior is so stupid, why can’t I stop it?

She scanned the lake, near tears, and attempted to get her attention on the mallards that were slightly off shore. “It will pass,” he said. The kindness in his voice made it almost impossible for her not to begin sobbing. “Don’t hold your tears in. Let them wash you clean.”

Her emotions were so conflicted now; she hardly knew what to do next. She studied him out of the corner of her eye. He had several days’ growth of beard reminiscent of the young lions’ in her corporate scene in their attempts to create an image they never quite achieved with their smooth skin and unweathered lives. Underneath the ashy pallor of the man, there sat, nonetheless, someone who felt solid. His fingernails were dirty, his clothing worn and a bit dingy, his hair wild from too few cuts and too many mornings uncombed, but still he appeared unapologetic. No, that wasn't quite it. He appeared to feel comfortable with himself. She wondered how that could be? How did he get to that place from where he was?

She began to open her lunch bag to the cheese sandwich, baby carrots and apple she’d thrown together this morning when she decided to eat at the lake. Absorbed in unrolling the bag’s open edge, he startled her when he said, “Are you comfortable now?” The bag fell out of her lap. She made three quick grabs to reclaim it before it hit the ground but with no luck. She scooped it off the grass imagining how silly she must have looked. “Apparently not,” she replied.

He smiled deeply, the way people often react to the easy comfort honesty brings to any moment. By then she had the bag open, the wax paper off the sandwich and was offering half to him. He took it not like a man who was hungry but a man who was touched.

He bit into the sandwich and asked, “Did you run out of imagination this morning?”

This time she laughed, “It is pretty dull isn't. I decided at the last moment to eat here, and this, she held the remainder of her half sandwich up before her eyes, was the product of that lack of planning.”

“Are you sure it was a problem of planning?”

To finish this story, click here.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

What is it About Horses

by Christina Carson
I grew up in horse country, the best luck I could have had as a child, for like so many young girls, I was possessed by the beauty and spirit of horses. I don’t know why that happens to so many of us young women, but it hit me rather hard about seven or eight years of age. That was after fueling my imagination by reading every book of horse stories in the library. So I moved on to something a bit less virtual.

I borrowed my doll’s blanket and took it down to our post and rail fence along the road’s edge. I threw it over the top rail, like a saddle, and tied clothes line to the post as if they were my reins. There I’d sit “riding” for hours hoping one of the many horses that lived on the farms around me might just come down our country road and the rider let me pet one. That close, I could slide my hand down their satin-like necks, catch their alluring scent and pretend they were mine. Yes, I had it bad, this love affair with horses. Some took pity on me, I understood years later, and let me pet their horse. Some, in a certain air of arrogance all too common to the horse world, which I was to come to know in all its meanness in my teens, ignored me and passed on by. But nothing deterred my drive to be around them. Until I could come up with something better, there I was day after day.

When I was nine or ten, fate smiled on me. I was to meet Pennsylvania State Director. I was visiting with a horsey friend my age, and she took me out to the barn where she kept her horse. I idolized her; she was a horse owner. The barn was one of those, huge old white-washed stone buildings with a loft and a cobblestone yard. Several stalls faced into that yard with Dutch
doors, so the top door could be open, letting each horse have a view of the world. None of the horses had their heads out that morning, so I began wandering around the yard peeking into each stall. As I walked about I noted hoof prints in the scant snow left over from a storm several days prior. I stopped at a set so large that both my feet fit in one print. They were outside one of the Dutch doors, but I couldn't see into it because the stall was raised up about six inches for some reason. So I leaned against the bottom half of the open Dutch door, my head even with its top and waited for my friend to return and explain these hoof prints that had caught my eye.

Without any warning, I was suddenly being lifted off my feet by my hair. I yelled out with the pain and that caused whoever it was to let go. Rubbing my head, I turned around furious only to be stopped dead by what I saw. There before me was the most extraordinary animal I’d  ever seen, his immense head bent over the door, his long and wild fore top shading black, penetrating eyes that looked at me as if he were God himself. He towered over me, and all I could do was gape in utter wonder. I had never seen any creature so beautiful, so wild looking, so massive. Unbeknownst to me, I had just met Pennsylvania State Director, four-time state champion in an era when draft horse competition was at its peak. He was a Percheron stallion. He was outrageously magnificent. And he appeared rightly to know it.

My love affair with draft horses started that day and stayed with me forever. My hair grew back, and I too moved on to horse owner, sharing the next eight years with a fine hunter-jumper who made my teenage time bearable. But deep in my heart, like that first love of your life, there lives to this day the memory of that superb creature, gleaming like shiny coal, mane wild and tumbling down his neck, tamed but unbent by any petty rules of man, the one, the only Pennsylvania State Director.

You can find my short stories on this site (see right column)
and my novels here.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Have We Always Loved Them – Dogs That Is

by Christina Carson

I’m one of those dog lover types. I've been licked by them, snuggled by them, entertained by them, guarded by them, taught, bitten and saved by them. This world would be incomplete without them. How dogs came to be part of the lives of Homo sapiens is still more conjecture than fact. But somewhere the love affair started, and we have been nothing but better for it. They have assisted us with innumerable tasks, many of great import, but still I hear people treat them as lesser, basing it on, “Yeah, but they can’t talk,” as if talking were the be all, end all of interaction. Many people have known the insightful awareness dogs can bring to their lives coupled with their generosity of spirit in serving as plebeians among us when in fact their awareness of the world around them exceeds ours by miles. And as for communication, I found out long ago that I was the weak link in that. Once I opened to the possibility that I could hold up my end of the “conversation,” it was amazing what crossed between my dogs and me.

One of my favorite books regarding this sort of communication, a book whose title I cannot remember to save my soul, was the true story of a California screenplay writer asked to babysit an actor friend’s German Shepherd for the summer, a dog trained in military, police and security work. The writer had never had a dog and had neither knowledge of nor interest in them. So on the first evening when this dog opened every closet door in his house by mouthing the doorknobs, then checked them out and pushed the doors closed with his paw, he wondered what he’d gotten himself into. Then each night in response to the slightest sound, the dog would launch himself off the bed, using the sleeping writer as a launch pad and often dislodging him from the bed, as he investigated every nuance of the night.

As so happens with writers, he hit a lull with his writing project, and since it was spring time in the hills where he lived, he longed to go hiking rather than sit at his desk. What brought his day-dream to a conscious level was when the dog showed up at his desk with the writer’s hiking boots in his mouth.  Since he assumed dogs were more robotic than aware, he thought this was pure happenstance. Of course it wasn’t, and the story goes on to relate some rather spectacular experiences of communication between them, each one educating the writer finally to the point of acceptance and amazement with these four-legged partners who so willingly share our lives.

I was recently wading through vintage photos of dogs and owners, people of all ages and status. It didn’t matter whether they were decked out in finery or out in the fields, their dogs were in the photos with them. That’s what raised the question that became the title of this blog. And of course it is rhetorical. Dogs have allowed us to domesticate them to our needs and have been pulling for us ever since.

There is one book whose title I’ll never forget which you dog lovers out there will surely enjoy, Another Place Another Time by Bert Carson. The book has three different and compelling dog stories that run through it. And it’s not my bias that has me suggest it as a touching and clever read, but rather that I know a fine story when I've read one. See what you think.

In the meantime, keep your dogs close, and you’ll always find your way home.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

A Night of Confessions

by Christina Carson

Death, the word that usually clears the room, only it didn't clear the room this night…

“Heh, Buddy thanks for inviting us to your place tonight”.  Chip clapped Buddy on the shoulder as he and his wife Liz squeezed past him in the narrow entry way of Buddy’s apartment. “I've had it with the noise in that pub where we usually get together.”

“Can’t stand the noise, eh. You getting old, Chip?” Andy yelled from across the room.

“Well as a matter of fact, yes, and so are you.”

Andy chuckled. “Only in years, Chip. My inner me is as insane as ever.”

Chip rolled his eyes. Liz, ignoring them both, spotted Andy’s wife, Judy, in the kitchen. She was putting together some cheese plates with crackers as well as warming some finger food. They hugged like sisters. They were roommates their first year in university and unlike many of the girls forced into sharing a room with a stranger, Judy and Liz became fast friends.

That left only the other singles in the group to arrive, and for unknown reasons, they were always last. The group had suggested many theories as to why that was, most not at all flattering, but it hadn't daunted Susan or Zach and the next door bell was Susan standing in the hall, leaving Zach to arrive a good twenty minutes later.

 It was an unusual group, seven people who deemed one another important enough to nurture this friendship over thirty years. Now in their mid-50s, children raised, jobs less riveting, ex’s banished, and futures less programmed, a new phase of life was upon them, the end game, and though they had shared their problems of smart-mouthed kids, financial worries, job losses and marriage break-ups through the years, they were loath to explore this stage of life in any way other than jokes.

As each grabbed a LeBatts Blue and scattered themselves over the chairs, chesterfield and floor, it was Zach who would speak the words that always started their evenings together. There had been occasional attempts in the past to drop this tradition, labeling it corny or childish. But, now that they were getting older, the ritual had strangely become infused with new meaning. Wherever they chose to meet, the convener stood, which quieted this talkative crowd, an often caught the attention of nearby tables. Then he or she would speak these same words they started with so long ago. Zach, who’d been a Fine Arts/Drama major and had gone on to stage and screen, was the convener this evening and everyone liked his delivery best. Zach stood and said in piglet’s high squeaky voice:
“We'll be Friends Forever, won't we, Pooh?' asked Piglet.
Even longer,' Pooh answered.”

Pooh & Company was what they called themselves back in the day, and Pooh & Company they still were. Yet, little did they know the further poignancy the quote would acquire before this evening ended. 

With the gathering convened, small talk popped up in various groupings of the seven. They kept a serious line of chatter going until Chip said above the din, “Did you all hear about Richard?”

Richard had started with the group when they graduated from university. He brought his new wife Drew to it and stayed until his marriage broke apart. Everyone tried to get him back, but he plunged into his engineering career and began to travel internationally on oil and gas seismic crews. Chip had seen him a couple of times, but each time Richard was evasive and distant. Chip told the group he thought Richard was in trouble, maybe depressed, but it was impossible to follow up as he’d ship out and be gone again without warning.

“I ran into Toby who told me Richard had a heart attack last week and died on the spot in Kuala Lampur or some place in Malaysia.”
The group stopped talking, then intermittently murmured then sat quiet, then murmured again. They were at that time in their lives when death was a new frontier, one that was increasingly in their purview, and tonight, thanks to Richard, these friends crept a little closer to its edge.

“Is there anyone among us who believes they’re not afraid of death, their own that is? Just curious.” Susan, a professor of literature, asked the question and quieted the room better than an old schoolmarm wielding a ruler.
To finish the story, click here.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Two Ships Passing

A Vietnam Vet and a war protester meet in a telling moment…

by Christina Carson

He was handsome, mid-twenties perhaps, dark-haired, dark-eyed, and silent, not exactly silent but remote, wary almost as if he were watching you even when his back was turned. His chiseled jaw appeared more an after effect rather than that which he had from birth. Intensity radiated off of him like heat off a fire. She could feel it across the room, and it caught her attention, attracted her strangely. She turned to watch him discreetly. She was stretching, and he was adding weights to his bench press bar. It was unusual for a woman to be in the weight room at the gym in those days, but it had become a natural habitat for her, the wife of a competitive heavy-weight weightlifter. It was a slow time in the weight room, mid-afternoon. That’s when she usually came. She felt awkward, later in the day, when it was full of men. Now there were just the two of them, and yet the space felt turbulent like the moments preceding a storm.

She started her exercise routine, and he sat on the bench watching. He made no attempt to be coy or surreptitious. Neither was he rude nor boorish. It was as if he’d been stripped bare of any desire to engage with the tiresome games of polite interplay, like a man with no lies left in him.

“You’re new here,” she said without looking at him. It was mid-semester at the university and the weight room crowd didn't usually change at that time of year.

“That I am,” he replied without reducing the directness of his stare.

“You in graduate school?” There was more latitude for graduates and that would explain his presence now.

“I think so. I’m just not sure yet.”

“They let you in on that basis?”

“They don’t know what my basis is.”

“I see.”

“No you don’t.” The words came with certainty. He was a man setting some rules of engagement, and she noted it.

She picked up her dumb bells and started her next repetition. She wasn't sure how to respond. But after that set, her curiosity began to own her and she took a risk.

 “What don’t I see?”

He didn't answer.

She tried a different route. “What’s your degree program in?”


“A study I find quite interesting,” she said.

“It’s not a study for me.” Again the response was uncommonly frank.

“A path then, a way to understand or make sense of something?”

“That would be right.”

She put her weights down and sat on one of the other benches.

“What would you say if I told you I just got back from Vietnam, and I went AWOL?”

“That’s why you’re here in Canada?”

“Yes. I need time to figure things out. They’ll be looking for me; my rank, my status, what I've seen. Then they’ll be coming for me.”

“I have no use for that war. My husband’s a dodger. That’s why we’re here.”

“Your husband? You don’t wear a ring, why is that?”

“We were forced to get married when we crossed into Canada. We haven’t reconciled to that yet.”

“So you’re free to come and go?”

She had never been put in that position before. She had allowed herself the sense of owning her own life, not being ruled by a husband’s hand. She felt independent, like her own person, had her own friends, male and female, but she could feel where he was going, toward something more real, more honest. It was a place she’d avoided.  She stared at the floor unable to answer.

He chuckled in a knowing sort of way.

 “Why did you go to war?” She wanted to change the topic.

“A family of war heroes. My father and grandfather graduated from West Point. A man’s got to find out who he is sometime. That was the way I chose.”

“Did you find out?”

“Sounds like a simple question to answer, doesn't it? Well it’s not. But I did find out what a load of crap war is. And I at least found out that there is a limit to how long I’ll lie to myself. And that month I had to wait for an honorable discharge was a month too long. My father said, ‘Couldn't you have waited one month more? What a mess you've made of your life now.’ I really think he thinks that if I had just been discharged honorably, I’d be fine now. Fine now… what a laugh....”

 To finish this story, click here.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Vicksburg Here We Came

by Christina Carson

I have “met” some fine people through social media, and the thought associated with those who became on-going acquaintances was always, wouldn't it be cool to meet in person. Nothing in my world has ever transcended meeting face-to-face as the supreme experience of friendship. Well lo and behold, August 15th four of us who have hung out on the web for several years now, as writers and friends, met in Vicksburg, Mississippi at Rusty’s, and I had a time as good as any I could have imagined. 

The four rascals that were there are pictured above, left to right: Bert Carson, Christina Carson, Caleb Pirtle and Stephen Woodfin, the latter two the brains and brawn behind Venture Galleries. Bert suggested at day’s end that we each write a blog about this meeting and this is what you’re now reading.
What brought us together was writing and what kept us together was a shared desire to solve the enigma indie writers ran headlong into of how to become a known commodity in a current sea awash with books and authors. Well, we haven’t as yet solved that problem, but we've had a stimulating time working on it, and best of all it flowered into meeting face-to-face. 

Bert’s and my seeming ascetic lifestyle initially gave Stephen and Caleb pause, but only for a second as Stephen then directed the waitress to place the alcohol, meat, caffeine and sugar where they were sitting. After that, we had a warm and raucous time of sharing stories (what else do writers do?), learning about one another, and enjoying the laughter and good-heartedness that ensued. Compelling conversation is king in my book, and we had a day of it. It was a meeting of honest, irreverent, funny, fair minded folk who turned out to be in person all and more than how I knew them on-line. I call them friend, my highest appellation.

We’re already setting up our next get-together perhaps Memphis or the amazing little burg of Natchez. Vicksburg is now a sweet memory. And best of all, no one had to post bail before we could all head home. 

Friday, August 8, 2014

The Issue Is Trust Is It Not

Trust is a sticky wicket unless you've met Rudy...

 A short story by Christina Carson

“What do you know about trust, Libby? What, what is it about? Does it mean you trust someone to do something or trust them not to do something? When you say, ‘I trust you,’ what does that mean?”

“I can’t answer for the human race, Jocelyn.”

“I’m not asking you to. I just asked you what it means when you say I trust you.”

“Libby, what does that matter? It’s Tommy you’re mad at; it’s him you need to ask.”

“I’ll get to that, but right now I’m taking a pol. What does it mean when you say to me, for example, I trust you?”

“Well, I guess it means that how I know you—what you believe, how you’ll behave—won’t change.”

Jocelyn, who had been presiding over this discussion like a judge by looming over Libby who was sitting on the floor, fell backward onto the chesterfield behind her in a dramatic display of shock at Libby’s answer.

“Bloody hell, you mean no room for error, no space for change. Trust means to you I can’t disappoint you at any turn.”

“Well, I don’t know. You asked me spur-of-the-moment here, but for sure there is something in the notion of trust that means I can count on you.”

“Count on me how?”

“Give me a break. I’d have to think about that for a while.”

“So maybe we would have to define the choices or behaviors where you expect constancy from me. Then you could be certain of the trust you place in me?”

“I think everyone already has one of those lists, Joce, but the problem is we never put it on the table. We make the foolish assumption that my list would be similar to yours.”

“So you’re saying, Lib, that Tommy has a list, and I have a list and obviously ours don’t jive in some rather critical areas.”

“That’s the problem I’d say. It’s not just the areas but also the significance we attribute to them. What you think is critical appears to be much less significant to him.”

Joce sat up. She stared into space momentarily, unmoving.
“So when I caught him in the act of sleeping, in our bed I might add, with that girl he met at Frank’s, that implies he and I have a different definition for trust in the realm of sexual loyalty? How ‘bout decency? How ‘bout sensitivity? How bout’ safety? How bout…”

“Hold it Joce. Don’t head down that road again. It’s perdition’s highway.”

“Then there’s this, Libby, he said not to be upset because that episode didn't mean anything to him. Do men ever listen to what they say? Didn't mean anything? So it is possible then to have great intimacy with another and have it mean nothing? Could that possibly mean that many a night we had sex and it meant nothing to him? Begs the question doesn't it.”

Now the room was silent as a tomb, one of those found deep in the earth, moldering and thick with cobwebs. Libby sat staring at Joce. Joce sat staring into nothingness, her face distorted with something other than betrayal this time. It appeared more like she’d lost her bearings, the frightening sense of being without any certainty or clarity. Reason had always been her ally, but for the life of her, she could not make sense of this. Her fiancé, a man she’d known for three years was now an unknown; her prior sense of rightness questionable. She wanted answers but she kept drifting into the emotion. It was so raw, so cruel that it kept catching her attention. She wanted to scream out her betrayal, the image of him lying there with whoever she was, lying in their bed, laughing and touching, aglow with this ‘meaningless’ encounter. But she wasn’t even sure who the enemy was anymore. She threw her hands out to her sides as one does when they are losing their balance and attempting to grab hold of anything that will break their fall. Hers hit the cushions of the chesterfield and clawed into them as she sat rigid, barely breathing. In that weakened state, she lost her battle to stay present as she slid back into the image of their first meeting, into that sweetness, that innocence, and her face softened.
"Jocelyn, I'd like you to meet Tommy an old school chum....

To finish this story, click here.