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.

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Jeopardy in Instant Gratification

by Christina Carson
I was stunned the other day when I happened to pick up a somewhat current copy of Newsweek and began to read about the effects our digital world has on instant gratification. It focused on the younger generation which has grown up with access to a digitalized life and how they have become addicted to their cell phones. It even talked about toddlers who are given ipads as amusement and the behavioral ramifications of that parental act.

The allure of instant gratification is nothing new to human beings. It seems to come with the package. The difference between today
and 30 years ago, or less, is the digital world has upped the ante on how many hours a day someone can be involved in instant gratification. For most of modern history, the places people could turn for a quick fix were food, drink, drugs and sex and that brought on the havoc of obesity and concomitant disease, substance addiction and with sex, the lessening of a moral imperative that honored relationship, especially familial integrity. The digital wave is not a tsunami per se, but its destructive potential is every bit as real and great.

Why? Because it is making it increasingly difficult for our children to accomplish tasks which require a time commitment. If results don’t come quickly, they lose interest and bury themselves in the legal addiction of flashing lights, endless talking and virtual worlds. The problem with this is that the natural order for life on this planet is maturation. By that I mean, there is always a ripening process that accompanies the triumphant stage of any creation. Whether it is the food we eat, or the works of art we create or loving relationships, they all develop over time, and they all take continual engagement over that time to yield their most perfected outcome.

This need for increasing gratification is even affecting adults who know better. Writers are the group I know best and what we hear are people proclaiming how fast they can turn out books under the unproven notion that numbers of books are what will make them successful more quickly. Trying to find a well written book is becoming a challenge as a result. And what could turn people away from reading, faster than that.

But more important, do we really want to cripple our children by letting them believe that instant gratification will give them a full and satisfying life? It has implications for a future culture of increasing immaturity, ruthlessness and emptiness. Where will they find the will to accomplish what they yearn for, if we don’t instill in them an ability to run the long race? How will they reach what their hearts seek later in their lives if no one took time early on to require of them an experience involving the long view? I am seeing already the malaise that occurs with our youth when they can’t find the will it takes to satisfy a deep longing.

I have to believe there is a hungry heart in us all, one that calls us to greatness. Thus it falls to each generation to offer its children a balanced life and leave behind the tools that ensure they can feed their hungry hearts.

My erratic publishing makes me suggest that you sign up
on the form above, if you would rather not miss a blog or short story.
As my mother used to say ,”Just a suggestion.”

Friday, August 1, 2014

Finding Time

What do you think time really is? This short story may give you an idea.

by Christina Carson
Jesse Martin sat in an old rocking chair he’d made years back, as he waited on a new day to emerge from the darkness. The curve of the rockers wasn't quite right. It made the chair’s action too quick, the rock too short, but since Jesse was more into sitting than rocking, it worked fine for him. The porch on his small cabin faced east. Early morning was Jesse’s favorite time of day. The sun hadn't broken the horizon yet. There was just a hint of pink following the arc of the distant mounds that sat in his lower meadow. His family had managed to hang on to this 20 acre parcel of land when most of his Creek brethren were being marched out of Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi on their way to imprisonment in Oklahoma. His grandfather got the deed. It was up to his father and then him to pay the taxes each year so the land stayed in the family. He never wanted much: the land, the rocker, the cabin and the mounds were more than enough.

Off across the meadow, he noticed a small figure walking his way. The dusk of early morning smudged her into the scattered mounds as she passed by them making her trek look like a ghost story as she’d appear than disappear than appear again. A smile crossed Jesse’s face as he watched young Clara making her way to his cabin. She was a funny kid to him, funny as in peculiar. Every morning she’d come check on him and then make him breakfast, sometimes with eggs from her mom’s hens she’d steal and hide in her knapsack, sometimes with bannock dotted with fresh berries she’d find on the way. She was small for her twelve years, elfish in stature, eyes as big and amber as marble shooters and thin, wispy red hair that she’d slap back into place with her own spit. For all her prickliness, her heart was still a child’s, forgiving and with the wisdom of her primal instincts still intact. He didn't mind her around. She was quiet by nature and self-sustaining and at times even made him laugh when she’d take on a project too big for her and end up in a heap beneath it, and he’d have to dig her out. He understood her stubbornness. It matched his own.

“Well looks like you’re alive for one more day. How long do they give old coots like you?”

“Long enough to get kids like you to respect their elders.”

“I don’t know if Methuselah lived long enough for that.”

“My kin knew how.”

“I ain't your kin.”

He was lighting his pipe, an old corncob deal, stuffing it with a bit of home-grown from his patch beyond the mounds. It grew big and tangy there and sometimes he’d even let Clara have a puff or two when life at her place rattled her so bad she’d still be fussing after walking the three miles to his.

“Well what’s for breakfast, cooky?”

She had just reached the porch steps and climbed up them dog-style barking at him as she went past.

He shook his head never sure what to make of her but thankful she was more wild than cultivated. The few kids he did see on the rare occasions he’d go to town frightened him, their eyes empty and flat, their needs rampant. He’d not known a race of people like that. He knew arrogant. He knew racist. He knew hateful. But vacant, that felt dead to him, like he lived among the walking dead. Nothing in his culture spoke to that except in prophesy, and he hoped that surely that wasn't about to come true yet.

Clara banged around in the living room cum kitchen, clanging the stove lids down on the wood stove like they had lipped her off. Finally, he smelled fresh coffee, toast and eggs and sat back like the man of the manor, laced his hands behind his head and waited to be served. She dropped the plate in his lap because it was burning her fingers, and it now got to burn his thighs through the hole in his jeans.

“Yike,” he yelped as he sat up and then burnt his fingers pulling his shirt tail under it to stop roasting his legs. “When you bring the coffee mug, just set it on the floor. I don’t need third degree burns on half of my body. A quarter is plenty.”

Since there wasn't another chair on the porch, Clara sat on the top step after she’d brought the coffee, keeping a safe distance from Jesse in case she’d strained his sense of humor to the breaking point.

“Okay, what’s the problem?”

She looked at him and suddenly the face of a frightened child was all he saw. Then she went steely again, reset her jaw and remained silent.

He knew when the door was open and when it slammed back shut, so he ate his breakfast and watched the sun begin to pour over the top of the mounds like they were small mountains. At this time of morning, he could see the flow of the light, see it like it was water, watch it stream toward him, engulfing everything, until a wave of it passed over them, and he knew, as he always did then, that he and his departed relatives were all here. He was never alone except when this child was around. Hers was a sad case, however, and he extended this bit of shelter to her as if she was a stray dog.

Finished with his breakfast, he shut his eyes and listened to the world. It was waking, and he could still recognize the voices—the birds, the trees, the wind and the mounds. Just as he was relaxing into the friendliness of this time of day, Clara blurted out the answer to his earlier question at the top of her lungs.

“Mom says I can’t come over here any longer. She says old men are trouble and I’m old enough now to get into it.”

Jesse, still reeling from the sudden explosion of sound, held his forehead and squinted away the jarring return to this world he experienced.

“Timing is not your strong point, gal. God.” He shook his head, then looked at her.

She was staring straight ahead, stiff as a post. He felt almost as lost as she did in conversations like this. He wasn't going to talk with her mom. That was a waste of time. She was too many bricks short of a load. If she wasn't drunk, she was high with a mean streak running through her.

Jesse pulled himself out of his chair and went back into the cabin to fill his coffee mug. When he came out, he sat at the other end of the same step as Clara. He put his back against the newel post and stared at her. He lit his pipe again and hoped its smoke would clear his mind.

“You live in tough times, kid.” Jesse began. “Something’s happening to people, like they’re in a fog. Something is really wrong when family members don’t take care of each other. I saw a bit of that happening in my people toward the end of our great time, the time we roamed free and knew all our brothers and sisters. We respected the earth. We sang songs to remind us how we depended on one another. We sang songs of thanks to the Great Spirit to keep harmony among us.” He stopped as he got caught up in the images his words were bringing to him.

“I don’t have any Great Spirit, and I’d say you’re life doesn't look a whole lot better than mine. She glanced at the cabin bare of power and phone and no vehicle. “I don’t see any family here, any money or people you can count on. You might have freedom but you don’t have any way to get anywhere.”

Quiet filled the gap between them. Jesse puffed on his pipe. Clara sat stone-faced staring at him.

“What do I tell my mom? She beats me when I talk back to her. And she knows I won’t report her, because I don’t want to be taken away. I want to be able to be here. This is the only place I’m safe.”

“You can tell your mom, I’d slap you silly if you ever tried to seduce me.”

Try as she might she couldn't stop the little laugh that scenario drew from her as she processed the words. She looked him in the eye, the hitch of a curve in her mouth still there. Then her shoulders even shook a little as she obviously played that scene through her mind again and giggled inwardly.

Her door was open. He thought he’d chance it. “There are good times, ya know. They’re always here. You just have to know where to look.”

She responded to his words with a smirk.

“How brave are you? Huh? I want to show you something, but I don’t want you to go all goofy on me. What do ya think?”

To finish the story, click here.