Victoria S. Hardy

Victoria S. Hardy

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Kari's New Job

 Kari's New Job

Kari opened her laptop, booting it up, and grimaced as she saw her own reflection on the screen. She noticed that the piece of tape that usually covered her webcam was gone, and she studied her pale and blemished countenance on the screen. “I look like shit,” she muttered, grateful that she was mostly alone in the coffee shop. She pushed her unwashed hair away from her face, taking in the contours, and wondering if her jaw line was beginning to sag.

“Ugh,” she said, moving closer to the built in camera to look at her eyebrows, and trying to remember the last time she plucked them. “I look like a sasquatch, an unwashed, smelly bigfoot.” She lifted the neck of her sweater, and sticking her nose into the opening she took a deep breath. “Damn,” she sighed.

She tried to stop the camera using the little icon on the screen, but it wouldn’t close, and finally minimizing it, she went back on her job search. She scrolled through the options, sending her resume when she thought she had half the experience and could fake the rest.

Two months without a job had busted not just her bank account, but also her self-worth. She sent another resume, and sipping her cup of cheap black coffee, she couldn’t remember the last time she showered. She had enough money for rent for one more month; she’d already cut the cable, the internet, the gym, and the only expense she afforded right now was sitting in the coffee shop, with the free Wi-Fi, and drinking cheap bitter brews as she searched for a new job.

She still didn’t understand why she was fired. She’d worked at a publishing house, and her job had been to read new incoming manuscripts and pass them on to the higher ups in the company. There were rules, of course, most of them stated and clear. Things about misogyny, racism, misspelled words and grammar issues, the owners of the house knew that they would have to deal with the writer, so they had set simple rules into place. 

Looking back, as she sent a new resume and waited for it to upload, she realized the manuscript Time To Get Out Of Dodge had been her undoing. It was beautifully written, lyrical, and there was no misogyny or racism despite the fact that it was placed in a Southern town in the 1880s. It was a beautiful story, the characters rich, and reminded her of a blend of Steinbeck, Harper Lee, and Hemingway. It was a story about a civil war vet finding an orphan, and the life they attempted to live in the city as father and daughter. The ending, though, was what made it so amazing as they realized that they could never be free of social constraints living in a big city.

Kari stood up after the resume had been uploaded, and carried her cup back to the counter, ordering another black coffee, pulling out her wallet and counting her few dollars, she grudgingly handed them over. Waiting for the coffee, she thought about her meeting with her boss the morning she was fired.

“They don’t have sex?” she asked, throwing down the manuscript.

Kari shook her head. “Of course not, she’s eight, and he’s in his fifties. Why would they have sex? He’s trying to do the right thing after the war, that’s what the whole book is about.”

“Kari, I thought we’d talked about this. Books these days have to have at least one sex scene, did you see the sales on the 50 shades of whatever? You keep sending me things that won’t sell. We can promote this forever, but no one wants to read a boring story about an old man saving an orphan. That not what publishing is about anymore.”  The older woman tapped her polished nails on the desk. “I hate to say this, but we can’t keep you on. You’re wasting time and money with the novels you send up. You’re fired, clear out your desk.” 

Kari accepted her coffee, and even threw a couple quarters into the tip jar before returning to her table and laptop. The camera was on again as she sat down, and she saw the little blond hairs on her chin. “Crap,” she muttered, holding her chin to the camera, and looking at the screen. “Am I growing a beard?”  Between my eyebrows and chin I could be the hairy lady in freak shows, she thought, and then remembered the circuses and fairs no long had freak shows. “Well, damn.”

She looked at herself in the screen again, her face bare of makeup, her hair tangled, and wearing an ancient wool sweater she’d bought for three bucks at a thrift store. She gazed a few minutes more, missing her stylist, when she noticed that the background of the video stream was green and looked like woods. She felt a small breeze and saw the leaves on the screen tremble. She turned to look behind her, and saw paintings on a burnt orange wall.

“The hell,” she muttered, looking back at the screen. She was still there, looking as awful as she felt, but the background was woods, a wooded place, and the leaves lifted, twisting, and slapped together in the breeze. She glanced over her shoulder again to see the orange wall, and turned back to the computer to see herself in the woods, the wind increasing, and her hair now blowing in her face.

She looked up at the vents in the ceiling where little tassels hung to see if the heat or air conditioning had come on, and then to the door to see if anyone had stepped inside. She pushed her hair behind her ears, glancing back at the computer. It was her again, now her tangled hair behind her ears, while behind her in the scene the wind calmed, and she could hear birds in the trees.

She closed the laptop, and the bird song ended. She glanced back up at the vents, the little, stringed tassels still, and shook her head. “What in the hell?” she muttered, unplugging the computer and sliding it back into the case. She slung the bag over her shoulder, picked up her drink, and left the coffee shop.

She walked toward home, taking the long route through the city park, and avoiding the little apartment she once thought was affordable, but no longer did, and stopped at a bench.  She sat down, setting the cup beside her, and pulled out the laptop, opening it again.

There she was on the screen, but the scene behind her was not a brick wall, but a creek. She turned, making sure there was a brick wall behind the bench, and turned back to the screen. “Wait a minute,” she said, holding both sides of her head with her palms, “I recognize this.” 

She stood, placing the laptop on the bench, and stepping out into the path. On the screen she grew smaller, the creek grew louder as it rushed over old rocks, and she waved her arms to make sure it wasn’t a trick, some weird app that had appeared on her laptop camera. She looked behind her again, and just saw the city park, but looking back at the screen she saw herself standing beside a creek, and she could smell the minerals.

She looked up and around, she knew there was a creek in the park, but it was a couple blocks away.  She looked back at the laptop, and there she was standing in wet sand. She glanced down at the concrete path. Back on the screen she was under red leaves that bespoke of fall, she glanced up to see the trees above had already donated their leaves for the season. She tried to remember the date.

An old man sat on the bench beside the laptop. “Is this yours?” he asked, pulling out some nuts from his pockets to feed the pigeons.

“Yes, sir,” she said, looking back at the screen to see a shadow behind her.

“He’s calling, you know?” the old man said, scattering peanuts on the ground.

“Who?” Kari asked, looking from the screen to her surroundings.

“The man in there.” He nodded his head toward the computer, as the pigeons began flying down. “You recognize that place, don’t you?” 

“Yeah, it was my grandparents place, but it was sold long ago.”

“Maybe you should go visit it, don’t have much else going on, do you?”  He reached into another pocket, scattering birdseed.

She laughed, and it almost sounded hysterical. “Someone put some weird app on my camera, this isn’t real.”

“How many people have you seen since you lost your job?” the old man asked as a few pigeons landed on his legs. 

Kari thought back, stepping slowly through the birds so not to hurt them. After she lost her job, no one called, she’d not been invited to any parties, and her laptop rarely left the bag unless she was trying to find work. “None,” she finally answered, reaching the bench.  She glanced over at the old man who now had pigeons on his arms, lap, and head as he fed them seed by hand. She smiled. “They really like you.”

He smiled, showing crooked, tobacco stained, teeth. “It’s not me they like, they like the food. That man, in the screen, though, likes you.”

Kari glanced back at the laptop, and caught her breath. On the screen was still the same scene of the creek behind her grandparents’ house, but a man stood, centered, on wet sand. He looked familiar, but she couldn’t place him. He certainly wasn’t anyone she’d met in the city attending cocktail parties. He wasn’t anyone she’d ever met at book signings, or on the dating site she tried.

She leaned closer to the screen, looking at him. He’s nice looking, she determined, very handsome. She turned away from the screen to tell the old man, but he was gone, in his his place were a dozen pigeons pecking at the bare wood of the bench.

Kari caught her breath, and recognized the black dots dancing in her eyes. She closed the laptop, and shoved it down in the bag. She walked home slowly, still trying to remember the last time she showered, and what the hell was going on with her eyebrows. She stepped into the quiet apartment, turned on the music, and took a long shower, trying to figure what had happened in her day out.

She plucked her eyebrows, tending to stray hairs, and applied make-up for the first time in two months. She checked her bank accounts, and threw some into checking. She packed a small bag, and stepping down into the parking garage she was happy her car cranked on the first turn. It took her an hour to get out of the city, and she had to stop again to fill up, and buy some more crappy coffee.

As she hit the two lane roads leading her to her grandparents place, she rolled down the windows, turning up the music. She didn’t know what she was doing, it had been an odd day, and if she had had some episode, her mind encouraging her to do something crazy, at least she knew she had enough money for a motel room before heading back to her apartment in the city. “At least it’s a night off,” she muttered.

She slowed in the old town, seeing the disrepair, and remembering walking with her grandparents on the wooden sidewalks to do Saturday morning shopping. She stopped at the sign, exhaling long pent up worries. “Whatever,” she said, remembering the pigeon man who disappeared in a blink, leaving his pigeons behind. “I’ll take a chance,” she exhaled again, remembering the computer screen showing the woods she’d grown up in, and the creek.

She pulled on the dirt drive, seeing lights in the house. She hit the brake. Her parents said the house had been knocked down after it had been sold. She lifted her foot, the car moving forward, and she almost wondered if her grandparents would meet her on the porch as they used to every visit. She parked, and pulled her coat out of the backseat, wondering what she was doing, and what she would say when the new owners stepped out after she knocked.

Throwing caution to the wind, she stepped out into the cool wind, looking at the colors in the trees as the sun began setting. She slid her arms in her coat, zipping it against the wind, and looked at the porch, and the lights in the windows.  “What the hell?” she said, walking up the stairs.

As she stepped on the porch the door opened, and the man smiled.

“Wait a minute,” she said, “I do know you. You wrote that manuscript that I loved, but got me fired.”

He smiled. “Adam Moore, at your service.” He was dressed in jeans, and a high collared white shirt covered with a brown leather vest. He bowed at the waist. “Ready to get out of Dodge?” he asked. 

She nodded, shivering against the cold. He was more handsome that his black and white picture on the manuscript, and even more attractive than he looked in the small screen of her laptop.

“Well, come in, and warm up.”

She stepped inside the old familiar house, looking around at old artifacts. “I figured I was crazy coming back to my grandparents house. You own it now?” she accepted a mug of coffee with cream and sugar, and a mug she made when she was eight-years-old at camp.

“Yes, ma’am. I do.”

“This is crazy,” she said, moving closer to the fire and shivering.

“Yes, ma’am. It is.” He settled on the couch watching her beside the fire. “I appreciate you sending my book up the chain, sorry you lost your job for doing it.”

Pulling herself back, and turning from the flames, she said, “It was the best novel I’ve ever read, and I read a lot.” 

“I know,” he said simply, lifting a cup to his mouth and looking into the fireplace.

She didn’t know what to say, so she turned back to the fire, sipping good and sweet coffee. “I tried,” she finally admitted.

He sat up, setting his empty mug on the coffee table. “How many books have you sent up? How many books that were pushed down, and thrown in the trash?”

“The rules have changed,” she began, and sighed. “In the beginning it was grammatical mistakes, and then it was misogyny … your book had none of the things, but got me fired.”

He nodded. “Do you need a new job, Kari?”

“I do, and how did you buy my grandparents house?”

“Can you read the new manuscripts, and send them up, disposing of the trash, and giving us the best ones?”

Kari turned back from the fire to face him. “I can do that.”

“Are you ready to get out of Dodge?” he asked, smiling.

“Yes, sir. I am.”


The phone woke her at 5am, and she struggled to find it under the covers. “Kari, wake up. It’s number one!” 

“What is number one?” she asked stupidly.

“Time To Get Out Of Dodge” is number one! You are part of this, you sent it up, and Adam Moore, the head of the company, is giving you all the credence for getting it done. We have a breakfast to celebrate in a couple hours, get up! Celebrate!” 

Kari crawled out of the bed, looking out the windows, and seeing that although summer was done, autumn hadn’t fully arrived. She showered, tending to her face, applying make-up, and stepping out of the apartment, she walked to the party, looking at the newspapers and drinking mimosas. 

“Good job,” the boss, Adam, said pulling her into a hug.

Kari pulled back, looking at him, and shaking her head slightly, she said, “Feels like a dream.” 

“It probably was, that’s why you’re sending the best novels up. We’re giving you a raise, and a better office.”

Kari pushed her recently cropped hair from her eyes. “I need a couple days to get out of town.”

“Absolutely! When you come back you’ll have a better office, with windows.” He smiled.

“Thanks,” she said. She went home to pack a small bag, and checking her bank she added more to the checking account. She was happy her car cranked on the first try and pulled onto the street. She stopped to fill up the tank, and then stopped for a nice latte with steamed cream and rolled down the windows, turning the music up loud.

She turned onto the small two lane road, remembering her grandparents, and drove through the town. Her car bounced over big holes where the street was no more, just a rutted path. She came to the stop sign, where she usually turned, but the sign was gone.  The trees either leaned down on the road, or fell on the road, and the road was no longer a piece of blacktop, but turning back into the old dirt roads she’d learned to drive on at twelve-years-old.  

She turned, driving slow, and catching her breath as she avoided deep holes. “What the hell? I just met Adam the first time out here, just a few days ago.”  She found her grandparents driveway and turned in. Trees had fallen this way, or that way, and she couldn’t drive in further than twelve feet. She stopped the car and reached into the glovebox to pull out a flashlight.  Reaching into the backseat she pulled out a coat, and stepping out of the car she slid her arms inside, zipping it against the wind. 

She shivered, stepping over the trees with the flashlight.  Finally, she found the old house, or at least the remnants of it. The beam of her flashlight showed her that her parents had told her the truth that the house had been knocked down. She remembered stepping into it just a few days ago. 

She looked at the flashlight, and then up at the sky, the sun, under the clouds, was at noon. She turned off the light. 


Thursday, July 13, 2017

Doctors Vs. Health

Doctors Vs. Health 

I’ve had a lot of exciting and wonderful things happen this week, and the worst part of it was that I couldn’t enjoy it as I wanted to because the body went into protest.  I don’t often talk about my physical/health issues, and I quit going to doctors about ten years ago because they were only making them worse.

I used to, like many of us, think doctors had all the answers. I expected what they show on TV with the doctor being the hero, diagnosing and curing right away, but I have found that doctors rarely cure, mostly treat symptoms, and generally aren’t a big fan of questions or information that counters their schooling (designed and paid mostly by pharmaceutical companies).  

Recently a relative said something along the lines of - “You’re sick again??” And although it hurt my feelings, I recognize that I am not as sick as many who have suffered through my health traumas. Back in my 20s and 30s I listened to all the doctors, I took the pills they gave me without question. If they said I needed surgery, well then I had the surgery. I believed, almost a religious belief, their education meant they knew my body better than I did. 

I’ve had some strange experiences listening to their guidance and trusting. I went a little crazy when the experts had me on three anti-depressants, one because my son died, and two others to help me sleep. They were the experts, although it was my body and mind being manipulated. 

Listening to doctors, I had several unneeded surgeries, one of which landed me on my back for months with open wounds, a mistake in the reconnection of bowel left me with peritonitis and sepsis, and I nearly died, did die, was brought back, and nearly died again. I had transfusions, and infections, and near death experiences. I have scars that make both doctors and tattoo artists cringe.

I’ve given up all faith of the perfect drug that will cure, and have decided to get most of the chemicals out of my life. I do all right if I pace myself, don’t overbook, and don’t give myself too much social interaction. I do all right if I can breathe deeply and relax. I do all right if I eat clean food, and cook for myself. I do all right if I clean with baking soda and vinegar and throw all the chemicals away. 

So for those “you’re sick again??” folks, I am a small handful of people who have had shit bags glued to their belly, have met and dealt with their intestine sticking out of their belly, that hasn’t had another surgical episode in nearly 15 years. I am a small percent of people who have survived peritonitis and sepsis, and although the biggest part of my immune system - my belly and bowel - was ravaged by drugs, surgery, radiation, and radio active chemicals for months on end I’m still here and getting by, and often quite active. 

And by the way, I’m not sick again - I am still recovering from a tragic accident (and trust of doctors), which left me with nearly half of what some know as a digestive system.  

As usual, keeping seeking and questioning. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

Writing Is More Pollock Than Monet

 Writing Is More Pollock Than Monet

I always imagined writing books to be done in big open rooms with huge windows, calm dogs lying at my feet, and surrounded by tall reflective wooden shelves overflowing with leather bound information. I imagined a garden outside, filled with flowers, singing birds, fluttering insects, and lazy cats. I imagined Monet water-colored days of creating worlds, softly lighted foggy mornings of changing perspectives, or at least giving hope and a smile. 

Unfortunately, I have discovered my imagination and truth are not really in tune with each other.  I love writing, and I’ve been doing it since I could hold a crayon in my hand. Writing is where I go to both disappear and to be present. It is something that I know I was called to do, but the actual act, performance, and completion of a novel hasn’t matched my dreams or beliefs.

The words are hard – trying to set the scenes, figure out the characters, and make them likable.  The editing comes next, which can feel like moving a mountain into the proper place. The tasks unfold from there - the anxiety attacks wondering if it’s good enough, if the people will laugh, or if I was too cheesy or mentioned God too many times. And then I spend days or weeks with my demons telling me I’m not worthy of reaching my simple dreams. 

When writing a novel, I am sleepless, my dreams filled with their stories. When editing, I’m nervous, agonizing over any mistake. And when releasing the work to the world, I’m as scared as a three-year-old who knows the monster is in the closet and about to attack. 

I thought those things were hard, and I have to say that I have grown comfortable with my known, mostly organic, and individual fears, but the world is what freaks me out.  Writing a novel is a hellish roller coaster ride, the emotions are real, and if I don’t feel it, the reader certainly won’t, but the hardest thing is the world, and the odd interruptions that occur in the process. 

Although I haven’t kept a journal of the oddities that have happened, from a short list I can say – squirrels, birds, and bats in the house (and let’s not discuss the palmetto bugs), car wrecks in the yard, weird disputes from the unexpected, peculiar requests from acquaintances or people from a nearly forgotten past, knocks on the door to borrow items, fights on the street, falling trees, inexplicable technical problems, power outages, and broken keyboards.  All of those things may happen on any given day, I suppose, but they never seem to happen on a day when I’m not writing, and not deep in a story. 

My imagination, and yes, my dreams, paint writing as a smooth enjoyable experience, but reality has shown it’s rather horrible.  My mind wants gentle breezes, soft sunsets, and deep leather chairs holding onto satisfaction; reality has shown raging storms full of falling rocks breaking through the walls with burning interruptions - an invisible war zone that only I feel. 

I suppose it is only trust and faith that keeps me doing it, or maybe an indescribable need to quench something inside that I didn’t design and can’t control. They say we must choose our battles in life, and I suppose this is my war.  I must write beyond the interruptions, fight the distractions, and know that the harder I try, the better, and stronger I become.  

Novel writing ain’t for sissies.

As usual, keep trying and keep seeking.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Spooky's Last Meal

Spooky's Last Meal 

“Don’t you dare open that door!”  Kelsey snapped in a painful whisper.

“What am I supposed to do?  Leave a little old lady out there in the rain?” Mark pulled his eye away from the peephole and reached for the doorknob.  “Besides, she has something in her hands, looks like a casserole or something.”

“Don’t!” She hissed.

“Quit being ridiculous.  I’m not going to hide in my own house.”  He opened the door and greeted the old woman.  “Come in out of the rain, Ms. Stewart.” 

“That storm came up quick, didn’t it?” The old woman asked, stomping her feet on the welcome mat, her gray curls wilted.  “Is she asleep?  I tried to get over as soon as I could.”  She handed him the covered dish and looked past his shoulder.

“I don’t think so,” he said, shutting the door against the wind.  “Kelsey, Ms. Stewart is here.”  He called out, pretending their earlier whispered conversation hadn’t happened.

Kelsey pulled the blanket from over her head, and smiled weakly at the woman.  She glanced at the dish in Mark’s hand, yawned, and sat up against the pillows on the couch with a groan.  “You didn’t have to do that, Ms. Stewart.” 

“Well, I know how you young people are with all that fast food, no nutrients in it at all, and I figure you need healthy food to recover from the surgery.”  Ms. Stewart moved Kelsey’s feet gently and sat on the end of the couch still wearing the damp raincoat.  “And Mark, I forgot again that you don’t like onions before I put them in the casserole, I’m sorry about that.”

“No problem, Ms. Stewart. I like my fast food, and this is to make Kelsey healthy, not me,” Mark said, carrying the dish into the kitchen. 

“So have you gotten any rest?”  The old woman turned her attention to Kelsey, looking at her over the top of small wire rimmed glasses. 

Kelsey wanted to scream.  “Not much,” she said honestly, “I was just about to drift off when you knocked on the door.”  Just as I was about to drift off to sleep when you called half an hour ago, she thought, but didn’t share.

Ms. Stewart sucked in her breath and stood quickly. “I’m sorry I disturbed you, I’ll leave now.”  The movement knocked Kelsey’s feet off the side of the couch, pulling the stitches in her belly and making her gasp in pain at the sudden jolt. 

“You’re not disturbing us, Ms. Stewart,” Mark said, as he stepped back into the room and cut his eyes at Kelsey, his jaw tight.  “We appreciate everything you do.”

The gray-haired woman sniffed.  “I’m just trying to help, I know you young folk don’t have any family, almost alone in the world, and as the Lord tells us we must look out for widows and orphans.  I figure we’re two of a kind, me a widow, both of you without parents, we have to look out for each other.” 

Mark nodded.  “You’re the best neighbor we’ve ever had.  At least wait until the storm passes before you leave.  How about some coffee?  I was about to put on a pot.” 

Ms. Stewart smiled.  “That would be lovely, it’s getting cold out.”  She sat back down on the couch, moving Kelsey’s feet out of her way again with a smug smile on her face.  “Mark, put the oven on 400 and slide that casserole in, Kelsey looks like she needs some food.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Mark called from the kitchen.

Kelsey’s eyes closed against her will, she’d only been home from the hospital for a few hours, and she was exhausted.  A sudden slap to her thigh, which reverberated through her stomach, had her eyes snapping open in shock.  “What the hell?”

“It was a fly, honey.  You sure don’t need flies around your wound,” Ms. Stewart explained, picking up something from the blanket and standing up again.  She carried whatever it was between her fingers into the kitchen and slapped her hand against the side of the trashcan.  “I hate flies!  Do you have any bug spray, Mark?  The last thing Kelsey needs is a fly infecting her wounds.”

Kelsey sighed, and then groaned as she slowly moved her feet off the couch and onto the floor.  She sat up wincing at the pain from the recent surgery, and pulled the blanket around her shoulders.  She was just gathering her breath to stand up as Ms. Stewart returned with a black aerosol can in her hand. 

“All you have is wasp spray, but that should kill any flies lingering around to infect you,” Ms. Stewart began spraying the room with the thin harsh spray as though it was air freshener and not deadly chemicals. 

“Stop!  Goddamit, stop!”  Kelsey yelled, standing up and breathing in the toxins. 

Ms. Stewart’s face paled as she lifted her finger from the spray can.  “You took the Lord’s name in vain,” she whispered, the shock evident in the deep wrinkles carved in her face.

Kelsey covered her mouth and nose with part of the blanket.  “I’m sorry, but wasp spray is toxic, I don’t need to be breathing that.”

“I should go,” the old woman said, dropping the can on the coffee table with a clank, which rolled and fell on the floor.  “I was just trying to help.”  She marched to the front door.

Mark ran out of the kitchen with a cup of coffee in his hands.  “Ms. Stewart, you haven’t had your coffee!” 

The old woman struggled with the locks, her hands shaking.  “I don’t think I want that coffee, Mark, not after she took the Lord’s name in vain.” 

Mark glanced over his shoulder at his wife, the blanket still held against her mouth and nose, and shook his head harshly.  “It’s the drugs they have her on, Ms. Stewart, you know she’d never say that if she was sober.”  He grabbed a coat off the rack.  “Let me help you across the street.” 

“That’s very kind, Mark.  I’m sure it is the drugs.  She should get some rest after she eats.”

“I’ll make sure she eats,” he said, sliding his arms in the coat, “and I’ll make sure she apologizes in the morning.” 

Kelsey stood alone as the front door slammed and her husband escorted their elderly neighbor across the street.  She was weak, and her abdomen throbbed with her heartbeat, working down into her legs.  She kept the blanket over her mouth and nose as she moved to a window, unlocking it, and wondering if she had the strength to open it.  She lifted the heavy, creaky wooden window and saw black dots in her eyes.  She held onto a chair as the cold, wet air filled the room, and she slowly moved the blanket away and stuck her face against the screen, breathing deeply.  

She left the window open, wondering about flies in the house in a cold November, and stepped into the kitchen. She was suddenly thirsty and pulled a jug of juice from the fridge, setting it on the counter and reaching for a glass.  She filled the glass with ice, and then apple juice.  She drank, feeling as though there would never be enough, and then refilled it.  She felt the heat from the oven, and switched on the light inside the enclosure to see the casserole beginning to boil and brown. 

She turned off the heat, opened the oven door, and grabbed a couple potholders from a hanging basket filled with kitchen supplies.  She lifted the heavy glass casserole dish from the oven and the black dots reappeared in her sight. 

She woke on the floor, her head against the cabinets.  Mark stood over her, as the cat heartily ate the tuna casserole from the floor.  “Did you do this on purpose?  You broke her dish!” He exclaimed, helping her to her feet.  “I know you don’t like her, but she’s been nothing but good to us.” 

He gently wrapped his arm around her waist, and as she grabbed the melting iced apple juice from the counter, he helped her into the bedroom.  She didn’t speak, other than to ask him to shut the bedroom door away from the stink of wasp spray, and then she was dreaming of the tomatoes she had eaten over the summer. 

They signed the contract to purchase the house the month after they discovered she was pregnant, and even though the house wasn’t huge, it did have room for a nursery.  “It’s a starter house,” Mark had explained.  “If we get lucky a second time, we’ll move to a bigger house.” 

She didn’t question because they had been trying to have a baby for years while living in apartments, and it seemed a stroke of luck to find such a cute house, in a good neighborhood, to fit their budget. They had just barely moved in when the neighbor introduced herself.  Ms. Stewart seemed so happy to know that Kelsey was expecting a child, and then came with baskets of fruits and veggies from her garden.  “Eat these, and let’s give that baby the best start.  I don’t use pesticides, herbicides, and my garden is completely natural, the perfect way to feed your baby.”

Kelsey ate the thick red tomatoes, the juicy peaches, and the tender pears.  She cut the cucumbers, despite their bitterness, into the lettuce grown by her neighbor, so grateful that although her parents were dead, the world had seen to give her a surrogate.   One bunch of grapes had strange tiny spiders breaking from the skins, but Ms. Stewart apologized profusely, and then claimed she burned the vines away against the invasion.  Kelsey ate the next grapes without much thought; she was busy painting, creating, and preparing the nursery for her baby. 

The dream showed that every bite of the fruit from her neighbor was tainted.  The tomatoes bled, the lettuce turned into wispy moths, and the peaches and pears became strange colored insects, while the cucumbers evolved into thick worm-like snakes with venomous fangs.  She woke swallowing a scream, and waking so suddenly sent pain from her abdominal wound down her legs, and back up into her head. 

She reached for the painkillers beside the bed, and found they were gone.  She sat up, saw that it was night, and glanced at the clock.  It was nearly midnight and Mark was beside her in the bed.  She turned to wake him up and ask where her medicine was, but he groaned and whispered a name. 

“Lily,” he said under his sleeping breath.  “Lily!” He exclaimed, as he reached, in his sleep, to touch himself. 

Kelsey slapped him arm.  “Wake up!” 


Kelsey slapped his face.  “Wake up!” 

“What the fuck?” He sat up, eyes wide, and anger leaked from his pores.  “What?”

“Where are my pain meds?”

“I put them away, especially after you spoke to Ms. Stewart the way you did today.” 

“Who are you taking care of?  Me or Ms. Stewart?  You better get those meds back this minute,” she breathed, grasping her stomach and the barrenness.  “Now, do it now!” 

“I don’t think they’re good for you,” he said, sitting up and sliding his feet into slippers. 

“I don’t care what you think, give me my medicine.”

“On it,” he sighed, walking into the bathroom to open a cabinet.  He returned with the meds and set them on the bedside table.  “You were taking the Lord’s name in vain.”

Kelsey opened the bottle and downed two pills with warm apple juice.  “When have you, as an atheist, given two shits about taking the Lord’s, that you don’t believe in, name in vain?” 

He sat beside her, laughing for a minute, and then sobered.  “That’s weird.”

“Yes, it is.  By the way, who is Lily?”

“What?” He ran his hand through his hair.  “Lily?  I don’t know a Lily.” 

“I just need some sleep,” she said, stretching out on the bed and holding her stomach. 

“Yes, you do.”  He kissed her forehead, hugged her gently, and then crawled over to his side.  “Rest well, beauty. I love you.” 

“I love you too,” she responded under the haze of pills, pain, and the creeping knowledge that all was not as it seemed to be.  She slept, and dreamed of big red tomatoes that left bloody trails down her cheeks as she bit into them, grapes with spiders, and yellow squash that when cut open showed horrible tumors. 

She woke, her mouth dry, and glanced at the clock to see it was 5am.  She walked into the bathroom, dropped her panties, and the stained pad the surgical staff had left between her legs.  She sat down on the toilet, waiting for the stream, while remembering the dreams.  The release finally came, and she sighed.  She threw the hospital pad away, dropped the soiled garment in the dirty clothes hamper, and then stepped lightly though the bedroom to retrieve clean underwear.

She was thirsty, and not yet fully awake as she stepped in the kitchen.  The light was dim through the shades from the streetlights, and she saw their cat, Spooky, lying on the floor.  “Morning Spook Love, how are you?” She asked, filling the glass with ice.  

“Spook Mutt,” she crooned as she filled the glass with apple juice.  She took a long drink, feeling the cold liquid filling her hungry cells, and set the glass down.  “Spooky Bird, good morning!” 

The cat didn’t move. 

“Spooky Crow,” she soothed, walking to the corner and the line of switches, and flipping one to fill the space with light. 

The cat lay on top of the mess of the broken casserole dish, dead.

“Spook man!”  She lifted his body from the mess that Mark hadn’t cleaned away.  “Spooky pup,” she cried, and pulled him closer.  

“Spooky bear,” she slid down the cabinets where Mark had woken her earlier, and held the stiffening animal against her chest as the tears flowed down her cheeks.  She looked at the casserole only she was supposed to eat, and saw the change in her small, loving family since they “lucked” out and got a great house in a wonderful neighborhood.  She remembered the dreams of the weird fruits and veggies given as a gift from their neighbor. 

She saw, almost outside of herself, as the thriving life inside her turned to a threatening tumor.  She saw from a perspective a million miles away as that seething tumor was cut away, taking with it any hope she ever had of having another baby, and then she remembered biting into the fruits and veggies from the sweet old woman next door.  She drifted off, grateful for the pain pills, with a dead cat held tightly against her chest.

She woke an hour later, her belly throbbing, a dead cat in her arms, as Mark stood over her. 

He just stared, and didn’t speak.  His eyes moved over the open stove, the broken dish on the floor, and then back to her and the dead cat.  “We need coffee,” he said softly, stepping over her prone body to reach the pot. 

“Don’t let me get in your way,” she said, placing the swelling cat on the floor beside her.

“What does that mean?” He demanded.

“Spooky’s dead.” 

His hands stopped as he filled the basket with ground coffee.

“He ate the casserole, and he’s dead.”  

A sudden and deep silence filled the room.  All sound seemed to stop; the drone of the heater eased with a click, the motor in the refrigerator took a breath and rested, and even the small sounds most don’t readily hear - the click of ice in a glass, breathing, the buzz of an overhead light fixture, cars on the street outside – stopped.  

Mark stood frighteningly still, his hand poised to drop a bit more coffee in the filter.  “Dead?” He asked softly, as though he was still dreaming. 

“Look at him!”  Kelsey whispered harshly, and then found the energy to stand, grasping cabinet doors to help with her weight.  She wanted to grab her husband’s face and make him look, but the black dots had returned and her belly throbbed down her legs and into her toes.  She struggled for breath.  “The witch killed him!” 

Mark shook his head, and spilled the spoon of coffee on the counter.  He took a deep breath, looking at the busted casserole dish, and the dead cat.  His face contorted, from love to hate and every emotion in between.  “Spooky butt,” he sobbed, dropping to his knees.  He picked up the dead cat and embraced him.  “Spook bug,” he cried. 

Kelsey took a breath, then another, and turned to the strong man who hadn’t been so strong since they got “lucky” and won a good and affordable mortgage.  “We have to bury him, and we have to leave this place now.” 

He looked up at her, his eyes watery and darting as though he was confused.  “Leave?” 

“Freak a crow, Mark!  Yes, leave!”  She held her stomach, breathing deeply. 

“Leave,” he nodded, as though he was still asleep.

Kelsey tried to march, but a stumbling gait was all she could accomplish as the pain worked from her ribs, to her belly, down to her toes, and back again.  She found the bottle on the bedside table, downed two, and then dressed, making sure that before she slid on her boots the pills were in the pocket of her jeans. 

She stepped back in the kitchen, the coffee pot was not brewing, and Mark still held the still cat.  She nudged him aside, finished filling the pot, and set it to cook.   As the electric pot gurgled and chugged, steaming with a delightful scent, she pondered what to do.  

“Mark,” she said softly. 

He continued to pet the cat that had been their friend for eight years.

“Mark,” she said a little louder, feeling the lack of strength resonate with the stitches in her belly. 

He turned to her, his eyes glazed, damp, and confused.

“Mark!” She yelled, and grabbed the counter as her knees weakened.  “Who is Lily?” 

“I don’t know a Lily, why do you keep asking?  We have to bury the Spook Monster.”  Tears streamed down his cheeks. 

She suddenly felt a sense to let go, just let go, just to surrender to the darkness and confusion … she was weak, she was tired, and she’d had so much taken away.  “I’m supposed to be getting bed rest,” she sighed, smiled, and then laughed. 

Mark looked at her, shaking his head, and the wetness on his cheeks seemed to make his eyes glow.  “Shit!  I know!  Shit!”  He started to rush to her, but stopped, looking down at his arms and what they held.  “Damn.”

She nodded. 

The haze cleared from his eyes, and he moved quickly, dropping the cat in her arms, and hugging her.  “Shit! Let’s go now, I don’t care where, but now!”

“Go pack some things for both of us, I’ll take care of the Spooky Dude.” 

He kissed her.  “Thank you, and I still don’t know who Lily is, but I do know she’s in my dreams.” 

“Thank you.” Kelsey pushed him to the bedroom, and picked up Spooky’s favorite bed.  She placed the cat in the bed, and then pulled out a large, colorful gift bag, sliding the cat and bed inside.  The work exhausted her, and she sat on the couch with the bag on her lap.  She remembered all the times her neighbor had given them food, always forgetting that Mark couldn’t eat this ingredient or the other, she had even forgotten Mark was allergic to peanuts when she brought over homemade peanut brittle.  “It’s okay,” the old woman had soothed.  “It’s not for him, it’s for you and to making this baby strong.” 

Kelsey had eaten everything the old woman had supplied, and suddenly her pregnancy became high risk, she was bed ridden, and then the doctors explained she hadn’t actually been pregnant, but that it was simply a fast growing tumor.  They had no explanation for the early sonogram pictures that showed a moving, healthy, living baby. 

Kelsey and Mark had laughed when they moved into the neighborhood of aging people, mostly widows and widowers, only thinking of family and the grandparents their child would get to know.  But thinking about it, she suddenly understood that it was only one widow and a whole street of widowers.  She wondered if Ms. Stewart had been providing the food to all those women who were now six feet under. 

Mark came out of the bedroom with two large suitcases.  “I have everything I think we need.”

Kelsey nodded.

“Let me get some coffee.”

She nodded again.

“I don’t know where we’re going.”  He stood, half in the kitchen, half in the living room, rocking back and forth over the doorjamb.  

“I don’t either,” she said softly. 

“But we shouldn’t stay here …” He glanced longingly at the coffee pot. 

“Get the coffee,” she encouraged, looking at the suitcases, and then down at her lap where their only child, a cat, lay wrapped in brightly colored paper.

Mark returned with two tall steaming travel mugs and set them on the coffee table in front of her.  “Let me put this stuff in the car.”  He picked up the suitcases and disappeared out the front door. 

He returned and grabbed one of the mugs, drinking deeply.  He reached for her and she set the bag on the couch, allowing him to pull her up.  She slung her purse over her shoulder, checked her pocket again to ensure the pills were still there, and then turned and picked up the cat.

“Ready?” He asked, glancing at the clock on the wall.

She nodded and followed him out the door.  As they turned the corner to lead them away from the neighborhood she saw something she hadn’t noticed before and yelled, “Stop!”

Mark slammed on the brakes.  “What?”

“Look!” She pointed at her neighbor’s mailbox, which read in reflective letters, “Lily Stewart, 33 Delight Rd.”  “I guess that’s the Lily you’ve been dreaming of,” she said, opening the door and pulling off her seatbelt.

“What are you doing?” 

She stepped out of the car with a groan, and a dead cat in her arms.  “I’m returning the goodness she’s given us.”  She walked slowly in front of the car, and climbed the brick stairs to the front door.  “I’m sorry, Spooky,” she said softly, as she set the brightly colored package on the mat, and rang the bell.  

The Idiocy of Conspiracy Theorists

The Idiocy of Conspiracy Theorists

Conspiracy theorists are idiots.  They are tin-foil hat wearing crazy folks who don’t reason, are anti-science, and do not accept reputable sources.  They are a threat because … um… what if everyone questioned the news and reports and decisions?  What if everyone spent more than 3 minutes reading an article without declaring themselves an expert, and actually reasoned, studied, questioned, and thought?  Chaos would ensue. 

Conspiracy theorists are so disturbing, as they have been since around November 1963, that you can search the tagline and find millions of articles about how ridiculous, outrageous, scary, and damned near demons of ignorance they are, and far worse than Ebola and the Zika virus.  Conspiracy theorists with their crazy notions may infect you or your loved one, and I’m sure there will be a vaccine for that soon enough.

I, personally, like the words Coincidence Theorists, or even, and grab your boot straps here … Critical Thinkers!  Conspiracy Theorist is a hacked out word like groovy, greaser, and bitchin’ (as in that’s bitchin’ cool, for the younger folk).  It was a word created after a great President made a speech and died weeks later.  Yes, he was assassinated after he told the world of a great conspiracy he had discovered.

Now the word conspiracy is a simple word, it means two or more people working together to carry out an illegal (or immoral) plot.  I write this believing everyone has an ability to use a dictionary to look up the word.  It often has political connotations – because people conspire!  They just do. 

In the ten years I’ve been writing articles, books, and researching full time I am amazed how many conspiracies happen, while most folks look at the shining box, read the popular “reputable” news sites, and have no clue.  And truly, knowing how little I know after the books, articles, research I’ve read, and the things I’ve seen that scare the crap out of me, it’s hard for me to deal with normal folks.  I suppose I’m just not normal anymore. 

I know it’s a used up phrase, but I like thinking outside the box. I love the strange and impossible; and the supernatural makes me laugh, cry, and sigh at the same time.  I love when my thoughts are challenged with a new idea, something I hadn’t considered.  I love when people think on their own, and make connections, gets hints, trust their guts, oh, and did I say think?  I like most anything that isn’t robotically repeating to me the same thing most everyone else is saying, as well as, the media, and the reputable news sites, and the snippets, memes, and sound bites …   It makes me a bit unsettled when I hear soundbites from this newscaster or the other, and then hear the exact same words from people I know. 

Soundbites are literally the reason I gave up cable years ago, when I would flip from news channel to news channel and hear the exact same story, the accepted and approved story, handed to me over and over.  The news channels began as an offering of All The News, All The Time, but they only give a little news, approved news all day, or many days, or how ever long it takes us to get it, and if you don’t get it, and if it doesn’t make sense, and you question their words then you are a conspiracy theorist. 

The truth is propaganda has been legalized in this country.  The news folks are no longer required to tell you the truth.  And it grows especially disturbing when you’ve looked deeper - you know those silly conspiracy folks (almost worse than clowns) looking deeper - and find that most of what we believe is the truth are truly just lies. 

I’ll start with a simple example, we are told that vaccines are completely safe and absolutely harmless, but what most don’t know is that the makers of vaccines are free from being sued if you or someone you love is harmed by the many injections.  Another thing most people don’t know is there is a vaccine injury department within the government, which has paid out billions of dollars to families since 1986 when the pharmaceutical companies were made immune.  The cap is 250,000 dollars that is awarded and that is usually when someone dies.  And only about 1 in 5 families who try to sue are allowed to have their cases heard.  If you do the math that is an incredible amount of vaccine injuries that you, or most folks, have never heard about, and it certainly isn’t being addressed on our 24-hour news channels.

Back in the 1960s there were crazy conspiracy theories about the government running odd tests on the average American without consent, and people laughed and mocked, knowing that the government would never hurt them.  Turns out the theories were true and the program had a name – MK Ultra, the CIA’s mind control program.  When the program was finally revealed, the documents heavily redacted, the truth managed to come out with some video of housewives given LSD, and one case of a government worker unknowingly given the chemical and plunging thirteen stories to his death.  The abuses the government used on innocent and unsuspecting Americans and Canadians included hypnosis, sensory deprivation, isolation, and verbal and sexual abuse all in the name of national security.  In 1973 the program was halted, or as some coincidence theorists believe, was simply renamed and still continues. 

In the late 1940s there were rumors that the government hired those “dirty, evil nazis” to work in America.  Most folks, full of patriotism after the Second World War discounted the idea as pure communistic hatred, even though those saying it had actually participated in the war.  Yes, once again those wacky conspiracy theorists were correct.   The program was called Operation Paperclip where thousands of scientists, engineers, and tech savvy folks were brought to America and became quite successful in rocketry, aeronautics, medicine, electronics, and etc.  These folks also escaped the Nuremberg Trials, which mainly focused on the low men on that totem pole who took the orders, instead of the ones giving them.  And recently a 94-year-old man, a former Nazi prison guard was sentenced to five years in prison.  The low men were tried and convicted, the higher on the pole came over to live the American dream and get top jobs at NASA, Bayer, and BASF, as well as, many other giants in our society. 

Back in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, black folks in the South grew very suspicious of our government.  There were whispers about not trusting the government, even though the government was supplying health care, and I suppose of lot of people laughed and thought it was the weird superstitions that the black folks held.  Turns out those suspicious and untrusting people were right.  The Public Health Service was carrying out studies on men, black men, infected with syphilis – and they didn’t do the proper thing to cure them, but watched, lied, and did horrible experiments on them.  The study, which was only to last for six months or so, went on for forty years while men died and families suffered.  So once again, those whispers, and conspiracy theories proved to be true.  
I literally could go on and on, for pages and pages, of how what once was a crazy, tin-foil, cracked-head conspiracy theory turned out to be true, from Karen Silkwood to Gulf of Tonkin to the assassination of President Kennedy.  I could go on and on, but I will leave it to the reader to do their own research and not simply trust the shining box or the news channels or the “reputable” sources. 

I would suggest if you are going to trust a source that you deem reputable, you should also explore their funding.  The long time Editor-in-Chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Marcia Angell, says you can no longer trust clinical studies, “It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published, or to rely on the judgment of trusted physicians or authoritative medical guidelines. I take no pleasure in this conclusion, which I reached slowly and reluctantly over my two decades as an editor of The New England Journal of Medicine.”

Dr. Marcia Angell was particularly disturbed by doctors giving anti-depressant drugs to children as young as two years old to fight bi-polar disorder (by the way, what 2 year-old isn’t a bit bi-polar, isn’t that why the phrase “terrible twos” exists?), which hadn’t been approved for children so young.  She read the “approved” articles being published in medical journals of how to get pharmaceutical cocktails to barely walking little humans and stated, “No one knows the total amount provided by drug companies to physicians, but I estimate from the annual reports of the top 9 U.S.-based drug companies that it comes to tens of billions of dollars a year in North America alone. By such means, the pharmaceutical industry has gained enormous control over how doctors evaluate and use its own products. Its extensive ties to physicians, particularly senior faculty at prestigious medical schools, affect the results of research, the way medicine is practiced, and even the definition of what constitutes a disease.”

I wonder if most folks would consider the former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine a crazy conspiracy theorist?  Or the other people who have made the same statements against medical journals, the CDC, network news station, and medical schools saying they are owned by the pharmaceutical companies and are no longer to be trusted. 

I could point out how those crazy folks are often right about the facts when the truth is unveiled, as it usually is years and lives later.  I could give links of how the media mocks and laughs and literally tries to create their own conspiracies to make people afraid of thinking. 

And speaking of the media and fear, SARS was doom, Avian Flu was a death sentence, Ebola was gonna kill us like a scene out of a Steven King novel or the history books, and now Zika is gonna disable our babies, and let us not forget the sharks, alligators, and even the weeds in your yard.  The media, which is owned by corporations, needs your fear, and fearful people usually don’t think, and that is their bread and butter. 

As always, keep seeking.

Friday, July 22, 2016

On Faith

On Faith

Faith … I’ve heard it doesn’t exist.  I have heard it’s a ridiculous ideology that only existed before science, and a ridiculous concept to embrace.  Faith didn’t exist as people were cured by herbs and hope; faith didn’t exist during the war in 1918 when a letter came from the Army telling my Great-grandparents that their son was going to die due to the flu.

Faith is a concept that only the ignorant believe.  

And please, don’t let me get started on the Bible and what a waste that is. 

Faith and belief is so outdated who wants to even consider it. 

Seriously, don’t we know that we have the TV, and textbooks (rewritten year after year), and the news programs to tell us how those who have faith are stupid, and lacking any sense of intelligence? 

Faith makes us angry at times as we deal with a world that tells us we are less and pretty much retarded.  Faith makes us stand up at the strangest times to call folks out for being less than they should be. 

Faith makes us pray for those who are not like us, but we know deep in our heart that they are very good. Faith is how the less of us survive in a very vibrant and outspoken world.  Faith is why we don’t strike out and hurt, even though we have felt the barbs, insults, and isolation from those who professed to love us.

Faith is the reason that we didn’t kill those who have challenged us, hurt us, kicked us, bruised us, or overstepped our boundaries.

Faith is why babies laugh and trust.  Faith is why animals come to us, trusting we won’t hurt them.  Faith is why a feral cat, or a man or woman, or a rooster, or even a goat rests in our arms.  Faith is why we survive when the world tells us it’s a ridiculous idea. 

Faith is birthing, growing, loving, and is why this thing called humanity still survives. 

By the way, my Papa didn’t die in that horrible flu in 1918 on foreign shores, but maybe faith had a lot to do with it – otherwise I wouldn’t be here to speak of the power of faith. 

As always, keep seeking.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Last Times ....

 Last Times.....

We never know the last time, and we certainly don’t know the last time as it is happening.  We don’t recognize it’s the last time as we carry our kids in our arms, until we look back and realize it was the last time we carried them.   We don’t always see the last time we spoke to a loved one is the final time we will ever speak to them until we are at a funeral.  We simply do not know the last time until something happens that makes it clear. 

Last times are real.  And I suppose last times are different for everyone.  Last time you talked to your mom, or your kid, or your brother or sister.  Last time you petted your animal, or made love, or rode across the country with friends.  Last time you went to work, volunteered, or went to church.  Last times …

Last times resonate.  We look back and remember the last time we stroked a cheek, gave a hug, condemned someone, or did amazing work.  Last time we hugged our grandparents and sat around the table with cousins, siblings, parents, and aunts and uncles.  Last time we listened to friends playing guitar and singing.  Last time we saw a smile from someone we loved. 

We simply don’t know which time is the last time, and I believe we should make each time wonderful and memorable. 

I often lament that I am the woman with all the angst, the woman of loss, the woman that accepts, feels, and wants everyone to understand how loss can change a person.  Given my choice I think I would have chosen differently, but when I think about it I can’t imagine I would be much different.  I want to know the last times, and I want to remember, and be alert to the possibility that each interaction could be the last.

As much as I get beat up for my opinions, which don’t seem so popular these days, I do know this to be absolute truth – you don’t know the last time until it is the last time.

As usual, keep seeking, believing, and living!  

Monday, July 04, 2016

Mrs. Timbly's Knitting Time

Mrs. Timbly's Knitting Time

Maybe we create our own enemies, Karen thought, glancing through the blinds at the old woman sitting on the porch across the street.  “Although I have no idea what I did to offend her,” she muttered, dropping the wooden slat back into its stringed organization.

She stepped into the kitchen, poured a cup of coffee, and sipped, unsettled by her neighbor suddenly ignoring her, and wondering why it disturbed her so much.  It wasn’t as though she and Mrs. Timbly were best friends, but they had always been on speaking terms, and had shared many a glass of iced tea or coffee on the old lady’s front porch as they discussed the news - while the woman knitted or crocheted - the news of the neighborhood and the news of the world. 

Karen carried her cup into the living room, glancing at the crocheted blanket in vibrant pinks, purples, and yellows thrown on the back of the couch, a Christmas present from Mrs. Timbly, and felt the oppressive confusion intensify.  “What did I do?” she asked softly, walking back to the window and looking out again. 

Mrs. Timbly weaved the bits of metal through the yarn, staring off at the street as the little black dog sat at her feet.  The dog was old and blind, and Mrs. Timbly always declared she had no idea how old he was, and laughed, saying she was sure she had always had him.  Of course, the old woman also claimed not to know her own age, but often spoke lovingly about the 1940s.  She was a heavy-set woman, with a tight knot of gray hair secured tightly on the top of her head, and always favored cotton dresses over pants or shorts.  She wore thick-soled leather shoes with a Velcro strap, and kept her hose rolled down just above her ankles. 

Karen sighed again and dropped the blind back in place, turning to her bedroom and the unpacking that she hadn’t done since she returned from her trip the day before.  She picked up the suitcase, dropping it on the bed, and zipped it open.  She took the plastic bag of dirty clothes and dropped it, unopened, in the hamper, and then began removing the rest of the things, folding, hanging, and dealing with the aftermath of being a week away from home. 

She reached the bottom of the case and found the bag of yarn and day glow and sparkled knitting and crochet needles she’d bought for her neighbor, and sighed deeply.  Usually when she returned from a trip Mrs. Timbly called her over for food, iced tea, and a running commentary of what had happened in the neighborhood in her absence, but yesterday as she stepped from her car, waving at the old lady and saying hello, Mrs. Timbly ignored her, knitting away, and even the old dog hadn’t barked to acknowledge that even though he couldn’t see her, he was glad to hear her.  And as Karen had moved her things from the car to the porch, the old woman continued to pretend she didn’t exist. 

Karen sat on the side of the bed, the bag of yarn and needles in her hand, and trying not to remember washing her car earlier and the pain of her friend ignoring her.  “I’ll just take them to her,” she decided, speaking under her breath.  “Even if she doesn’t want to be my friend any longer, I have no use for yarn or needles, and I bought them for her.” 

Her mind made, she stood up, finished the cup of coffee, and walked with purpose to the front door.  She stepped onto the porch, gazing across the street to see that the woman was no longer in the rocking chair and the dog was gone as well.  Did she know I was coming over, the paranoid thought flittered through her mind.  She shook her head, even more determined to give Mrs. Timbly the gifts she spent time and thought picking out, and started down the stairs. 

She waited as a couple cars passed; looking at the house painted in pale yellow with bright green shutters, and a faded red metal roof, and felt her heart ache to know that this would probably be the last time she stepped on the porch.  Tears filled her eyes as she crossed the street, remembering Mrs. Timbly’s wry sense of humor, and forgiveness for the new aged things she didn’t quite understand.  “What did I do?” Karen muttered as she stepped in the yard. 

She walked up the short stairs, soothed by the familiar creak of the second one, and knocked on the door.  Mrs. Timbly didn’t answer, and she knocked again, harder.  “Mrs. Timbly, I got that color of yarn you couldn’t find!” she called out and waited.  No one answered, and the old dog didn’t even bark.  She wiped the tears from her cheeks, dropped the bag in the rocking chair, and walked back across the street.  As she stepped onto the curb she heard someone calling her name, she turned and saw Connie and Ralph Andrews heading in her direction.  Connie and Ralph were recently retired and spent their days in overflowing gardens around their house, walking their little dogs, and checking in on their elderly neighbors.

“We didn’t know how to get in touch with you,” Connie said breathlessly, stepping into the yard, her husband struggling to keep up.  “We just came back from the service.”

“What service?” Karen asked, feeling as though she was missing something.

“Mrs. Timbly, the funeral, the fire….” She trailed off, looking across the street.

Karen turned slowly, feeling her head begin to buzz and swirl, and followed Connie’s gaze.  She gasped.  The house, Mrs. Timbly’s yellow, green, and red house was a burned out husk.  She felt herself falling as little black dots filled her vision.  “But…I saw her,” she tried to say before the day turned to night.

Karen woke with several neighbors standing over her, as Connie wiped her brow with a damp handkerchief slowly turning darker as the soot was wiped from her face.  “She went quick,” the older woman soothed, using a water bottle to dampen the bit of cloth to reapplied to her face.  “They say it was the old gas furnace that blew, we heard the explosion.  Everyone did, but there was nothing we could do, the fire was so intense.” 

Karen sat up, pushing Connie’s hands away from her face, and saw the white bag of yarn and needles set on what was left of the burned out porch.  “But, I saw …”