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.