March 30, 2012

Hester Meadows and the Sugar Shack - A Fractured Fairy Tale






Hester Meadows stole another peek in the mirror. Her hair was seamlessly straightened, her lips perfectly pouty, and her figure so shapely it could make a woodcutter forget about trees. She smiled, revealing a set of dazzling white teeth unblemished by plaque or decay. In 500 years she had never had a cavity. It was good to be magic. Putting a delicate finger to the dimple in her chin, she turned her attention to the room before her, surveying the progress. Pots boiled and cauldrons brewed as seven chubby children peered out from between the bars of their gilded cells.


“Children,”she clapped twice to gain their attention. “Children. It’s almost time!” She waltzed through the room stopping at each cage for a quick inspection. “You, Number Four, present your ring finger please.”

A girl of about eleven years of age rolled her eyes and crossed her arms. “No way,”she said, taking a step backwards.

Hester sighed. “If you don’t let me see your finger you will not get any more gumdropsor lollipops.” This was met with a click of the tongue, followed by a hesitant pause, and further followed by a resolute no. Hester thought that maybe she should stop nabbing girls. They were always on diets. She moved onto the next cage.

“Number Seven. Present your finger please.” Number Seven, a ruddy lad in overalls so tight they threatened to pop, stepped forward. He seemed dizzy and wobbly as he made his way towards the front of the cage, like a hamster on a tightrope. Too much sugar could do that to a kid, especially if they were used to a diet of lima beans and Brussels sprout.

“Here ya’ go, Miss Hester,” he said, proffering a plump little finger for her to examine. Hester pinched and poked the appendage and nodded that all was satisfactory. She then opened the cage door and he rolled out, rubbing his hands together and leaving a trail of drool behind him.

“You are an eager little fellow,” she said, glancing towards the plate of Fatty Bars she kept on the counter. The last batch was good, but the next, with the help of darling Number Seven, would be her best yet.

“Can I have a Fatty Bar?” he asked, eyes wide and hopeful.

 

“No, the Fatty Bars are for guests only.” Hester looked around the room. Though she was about to cook him up – and serve him to a very charming prince – she still wanted to give the boy a final treat.  He had always been helpful and she had grown fond of the little butterball. “Here you go.  A great big Yummy Cake!” Hester produced a mountainous monstrosity made of sugar, sprinkles and glue. “If you hurry you can even take a nibble off the wall before you enter the pot. I just applied a fresh coat of frosting.” She pointed to the north wall and the boy nodded obligingly.

Hester stirred the pot that Number Seven would be going into, adding herbs and spices that would mix well with his body chemistry, when a loud knock on the door shook the house. Graham cracker crumbs fell from the ceiling and several children stuck out their tongues to catch them before they hit the ground.

“One moment,” she said to Number Seven, as she wiped her hands on her apron and hurried towards the door. Her date wasn’t set to arrive for another hour so she was hoping that the visitor was a lost child. She was due to replenish her stock.

“Hester Meadows?” said a gruff looking man with more belly than smile. Hester nodded, looking past him at the large yellow bulldozer parked on her marshmallow lawn.“I’m here to tear down this house. I’m sure you got the letters we sent you.” Hester shook her head. One of the pitfalls of having a candy house was that the children ate everything. Including the mailbox.

“Anyways, this dwelling isn’t zoned for this area. It’s a business district.”

“But there aren’t any businesses for miles.” Hester argued.

“About to be. New developer is putting up a strip mall.”

“I won’t let you kick me out of my home!” Hester stood in front of her door,intending to chain herself to the house if necessary. “You wouldn’t run over a woman with 7…” Hester glanced through the window as Jeremy toddled towards the pot…"6 little children to care for.”

The man made a note on a clipboard. “No, I wouldn’t. But I have a crew of hungry workers who would gladly eat you out of house and home instead. One way or another,these walls are coming down.”

Hester assessed the land around her. This had once been a magical forest filled with fairies, dwarves, and orphaned children. But since the Gnomes had moved in - buying up the trees for cheap and clearing out the woodland folk - nothing but talk of department stores and coffee houses.

“What shall I do?”

“Well, it’s a business district. Start a business,” the man said, making a final note and taking a gumdrop from a shingle.



**

Hester Meadows caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. Her hair was frighteningly frazzled, her lips stained with ink, and her figure so round she could body double as a snowman. She turned to survey the room. Pots boiled and cauldrons brewed as seven children rolled out dough on a granite countertop.

“Children,”she clapped twice, her hands sending billows of powdered sugar into the atmosphere.“It’s almost time.” Seven slim children paused from their work as Hester strode through the room. “You there, Number Six…”

“Bethany.”

“Bethany…Did you order the vanilla?” Bethany nodded and Hester made a note on the clipboard.

“And you, Number Sev…Jeremy. Is the oven pre-heated?”

“Yes, ma’am.” He said, giving her a toothy smile.

“Good.Want a Fatty Bar?”

Jeremy tilted his head, a golden lock of hair falling across his thoughtful forehead.“I thought Fatty Bars were only for the guests, ma’am.”

Hester tapped her pen against the clipboard. With all the new sugar substitutes out on the market no one seemed to notice that the special secret ingredient wasmissing. “Fatty Bars are for everyone now. Would you like one?”

“No thank you Miss…”

“Mrs.,”Hester corrected him, twisting the cubic zirconia ring on her finger. The last thing she wanted those khaki wearing gnomes to think was that she was a single mother!

“Sorry about that. Can we talk real quick?”

“Of course.”

Jeremy stepped forward and took her gently by the arm, ushering her away from the others. “The kids and I have been talking. We were happy to get you going, and grateful to not get eaten, but we think it’s time you go this alone. We need to find parents and go to school. The online classes at night are okay, but they aren’t contributing to our social skills.”

Hester looked thoughtfully at the others behind her. Little Number Four was stirring batter and talking to a sugar cube.

“I understand. But who would make the Fatty Bars?”

“You could hire adults. Then you wouldn’t have to hide us in the cupboards whenever Child Labor comes around.”

“True. Okay, I will remove the obedience spell. You know, I never put one on you?”

Jeremy nodded. “I know.”

“Anything else?”

“If you want to go big, change the name of the Fatty Bar to something more appetizing.Folks will eat fat but they don’t want to be reminded of it. Maybe just call them cookies.”

“Healthy cookies?”

“That would be a lie, and I don’t think it would work. No one wants healthy cookies either. Maybe just cookies.”

“Will do,” she said, giving him a squeeze. He had lost so much weight in the last year he was drowning in his overalls. “I’m sure glad I didn’t eat you. You have helped me find my bliss.”

“Me too.”

 **

And so it was that the Mrs. Meadow’s Cookies empire was born, appealing to disenchanted housewives, church secretaries, and Gnomes everywhere. Sure, Hester had some competition, but never for long.Whenever Mrs. Meadows moved into a mall, the opposing cookie operators mysteriously vanished. And the cookies somehow got even sweeter.

END

March 28, 2012

Write Now - Live Later


     April woke up and immediately checked the clock on her nightstand. 7 AM. Good. She had gotten the required 7.5 hours of sleep for optimal health. She looked to her left. Her husband's side of the bed was crumpled and empty. No doubt he had been up for hours already, sending out work emails and playing video games. April worried about him. He slept less than six hours each night. "Heart attacks and strokes" she would warn him every night , "unless you try harder to stay in bed." Her husband would smile at her as he flipped off the light, but he never listened. He was the type that was eager to start each new day, even if that meant starting it before the sun came up. April had never seen a sun rise and the thought saddened her. "Tomorrow," she thought, "I will wake up and see the sun rise with my husband." It was a promise she had made many times. But this time she meant it.

     April could still hear her husband in the house. Good. He hadnt left for work yet. She pulled on her slippers, tripping over the pile of laundry by the foot of the bed, and straggled down the staircase to kiss him goodbye. He looked nice as usual, clean and corporate. But she would be glad when he was home for the day, dressed in a tshirt and shorts and hanging out with her in front of the Xbox. Those were their best hours. When they each had a controller in one hand, a handful of chips in the other, slaughtering zombies until the screen turns red.

     When he was gone, she plopped down on the sofa and picked up the list of To Do items she had created the night before. Meet a new person. Visit a museum. Go to a coffee shop. Work with seniors. Enrich life. All things that could improve her as a person and a writer. "Live with Zest" a writing book had urged her. "You can't write unless you live first." She glanced at the list and turned on the TV. Hallmark was airing a new original movie. A tear jerker about an ill fated romance between a stay at home mom and a GI stationed overseas. "I could write those," she thought as she took a bite of her ice cream sandwich and chased it with a diet coke. "Maybe that's my destiny." She tossed the ice cream wrapper onto the coffee table next to her To Do list and closed her eyes, dreaming of all the ways two people could wind up on the Hallmark Channel. Damn. Hallmark and Titanic had already taken the good ones.

     It was 8 now and the day was moving on without her. Grabbing her To Do list she plodded upstairs to the bathroom and slathered on a vat of under eye syrum. The bottle promised radiant, youthful results in just four weeks. It had been at least five weeks and there was no difference. She still looked like a puffer fish. "Fucking advertisements," she thought, cursing the 22 year old Beyonce look alike who had been promoting the syrum. She looked at the dozens of other bottles on her counter, all promising beautiful teeth, shiny hair, smoother skin. Funny. No matter how many products she bought she always ended up looking like herself. She ran a comb through her hair and glanced one more time at her list. The day was still young. She could accomplish one, maybe two of these things. People were out in the world doing things, and she should be too. You can't be a writer without being a doer. Carpe Diem!

     She glanced out the window. It was rainy and probably cold. Why did she live in Oregon again? She grabbed a sweater from a closet and a fresh pair of socks from her dresser, and headed into the living room.

     "This day is mine to seize," she said to the empty house. Then she sat down at her computer and began to type up the story of her morning as if she were a character in a book. And she wondered, as she typed, if any of the details of her morning said anything about her life? And as she finished her story she promised herself that tomorrow she would see the world...or at least the sun rise.

March 27, 2012

Excerpt: The Universe is a Very Big Place - The Little White Stick


1997
“Come on, come on.” Spring tapped the little white stick against her knees, willing it to change color.

“I don’t think that’s gonna help,” Jason said. He was standing with his back pressed against the door of their stall, looking down at her. She should have stood too. It seemed like a standing occasion.  But after she had peed on the stick her knees refused to make the trip upward. They had just ceased to work. “If you keep messing with that stick you might skew the results.”

Spring shot him a look. “Since when do you use words like skew?”

Jason released his brown hair from the rubber band at the nape of his neck, only to gather it back up into a small pony tail and secure it again. He had done this at least a dozen times while they had waited for the results. “It’s one syllable. Don’t be shocked.”

Spring looked at the stick again. The little pink cross in the window had darkened, almost to a crimson red. She was not only pregnant. She was really, really pregnant. She thrust the stick at Jason and fell forward, cradling her knees. “Oh god!” Jason went to pat her head but she pulled away. “Please just stop.”

He said nothing as he squatted down beside. She could feel him listening to her, waiting for the sobs to subside. He had no problem fighting her, but he was at a loss when she cried. She took a deep breath to calm herself, a trick Lanie had taught her when she younger. She had suffered anxiety from crowds then, a job hazard for any carnie. “Breathe in, breath out,” Lanie had instructed her. “Find your center. C’mon girl. Stop breathing like you just run a fucking marathon. Slowly. In. out. Release.”

 Once she had calmed he reached for her hair, letting the baby fine strands of yellow-white ribbon slide through his fingers. She didn’t let many people touch her hair, but she let him. “I suppose,” she said, looking up at him with red, tear-stained eyes, “that purchasing a condom from a rusted machine in the lobby of Ed’s Guns and Exotic Animal Shoppe was probably not our wisest move.” She sobbed and laughed at the same time and felt a long line of snot fall from her nose. Jason grabbed a wad of toilet paper and caught it.

“You don’t have to do this alone. I’m here.”

 Spring felt the wail in her throat and fought it. She was angry right now, and she was afraid she would say something she regretted. “I just got accepted into Arizona State,” she said, drying her eyes on the back of her hand. “After three years of struggling to get through Community College so that I could leave this… life behind, things were starting to change for me. Now what?”

“You can still go. This isn’t the 50’s.Girls go to school pregnant all the time. Even on TV.”

"I don’t want to go pregnant!” She started crying again and she tucked her face into her skirt, smearing mascara across the hem. He didn’t get it. “I wanted to go…hot.”

Jason laughed. “Hot’s what got you into this mess, my dear. You’re too hot for your own good.”

Spring snorted and took the tissue Jason offered her. He knew her too well. They had been friends for years, but a few drinks and a slow night slinging cotton candy last fall had changed it all. Now they were bound together, one way or another. As Lanie would say, their fate strings had gotten all jumbled up.

“I got a crazy idea,” he said, pulling her up by the arms. He was a good six inches taller than her and smelled like French fries and Old Spice. “Why don’t we get married? We’ve been practically living together in my van for the last six months. Why not make it official?” He pulled her close and wrapped his arms around her. “Just think…you, me, the little Bambino, touring the country side together. If he’s musically inclined we could start a family band. Be like the Partridges. Only not so gay.”

 I could, she thought, nuzzling into him. He was safe and warm and familiar. She remembered the day her mother had picked him up on the side of the road nine six  earlier. “Hitch hiking to Santa Cruz” he had said, off to pursue his music career. He never made it to Santa Cruz. Once he learned how much money could be made hustling kids out of their allowance to see The Half Monkey Lady, he had settled in. That was the way it was here. The Carnival was one big roach motel. You check in, you eat a bunch of crap, and you stay until you die.  Very few people escaped. They had intentions of leaving, but one by one The Carnival took them all. Heart disease. Obesity. Drugs. Equipment failure. Dead by fifty, most of them. There was no fading gracefully into old age here. You just stopped. If it didn’t take them entirely it took some of their best parts. Just two months ago a young man had given up a limb to a roller coaster. He had climbed the steel mountain to fix a dangling bolt, when the car ran over his arm. They say he may have saved some people with his bravery. But the papers never heard of it. Bad for business. Now he’s quietly employed as the ticket taker at the back of the lot.

“What do you say?” Jason pulled her in tighter. “I bet I’m damned good at changing diapers.”

She took a deep breath. Though she cared about Jason, he had nothing more to offer her than his body, his guitar, and the eternal belief that someday he would roadie for Phish. “It wouldn’t work.” She whispered. “We’re too different. And besides…”

Jason released her from his arms and narrowed his eyes, ready to battle. “And besides what? Oh, never mind, I know. I’m not good enough for you.” He pushed through the stall door and into the empty bathroom. “Afraid you will end up like your mother?”

Spring lowered her eyes. Yes, she was afraid of that, and why not? It was a legitimate fear. But there was more to it. She followed him into the bathroom. “We just aren’t right for each other Jason.”

“Oh, I see.” Jason fell forward over the standalone sink, slamming his hands into the mirror. “We were right for each other a few weeks ago weren’t we? And even a few nights ago. But not for the long haul. No, Spring reserves that spot for someone more worthy. Am I right?”

 “Stop it. That’s not fair.”

“Isn’t it? Don’t think I don’t know about that little fairy tale you believe in. You get one love in this lifetime and that’s it right? Don’t waste it on the Ferris wheel guy.”

 Spring felt her knees give and her stomach roil. She moved back into the stall and fought the nausea. It seemed too early for morning sickness. “Jason, please. There are many reasons we aren’t right for each other. You’re my best friend but…”

“No, I get it. What could I possibly offer you?” He turned the water on and shut it off again. “I hope for your sake that fairy tales come true. Or you’re in for a long, lonely life.” Spring heard him pull a paper towel from the chute, wipe his hands, and toss it into the waste bin. “When you decide what you want to do let me know. I will be there for the baby if decide to keep it. And I hope you do keep it.” Spring listened as Jason stomped across the bathroom and out the door.









March 19, 2012

The Five Things You Never Want to Hear Your Mother Say


I've been ill lately - the kind of sickness that lasts for weeks and you aren’t really sure what day it is or where you’re at because it’s all this great big vacuum of timelessness, chicken noodle soup, and reruns of The Golden Girls on Nick at Nite. Fever. Chills. Coughs. An endless parade of physical maladies, treating me to one fun bodily breakdown after another.

As minutes bleed into hours I finally stop looking out the window and go inward to face the delirium that is quietly brewing: a perverse cauldron of real life mixed with clips from The Price is Right. My husband’s face superimposes over Bob Barker’s body as he’s setting the table. Hit the buzzer, quick! That Rice-a-Roni can’t be more than 2.99. Go for the vacation package. And they all dissolve into a thinned-out, Drew Carey lookalike.

“Stop it,” I tell the sickness. “If I’m stuck in this prison cell of a mind, give me reality at least. And maybe some hot tea.” My mind reaches and grasps and settles on something, a punishment of sorts for taking it away from its fun: images of my mother.

It's funny. When you are sick your body sweats out impurities but your brain also sweats, leaking out the toxins it's stored up across the decades. I say this because there are many memories of my mother my mind could have dredged up, had it been so inclined: My mother reading me a favorite story. My mother combing out the tangles in my hair. My mother calming me down on the phone when I thought my world was going to end. All of these would have been acceptable, and welcome, but my ill -brain chose instead remembrances I had long buried, gleefully digging them up like the dog whose found his cherished stash of old bones. Memories of my mother, not as kind nurturer, but as bizarro sage-woman, dolling out words, advice, and tidbits that permanently scarred my brain, no matter how deeply I tried to repress them. And because misery loves company I have decided to share these communications with you. And so I present: The Top Five Things You Never Want to Hear Your Mother Say.

            5. You’re afraid of snakes because you’re afraid of penises

I was 14 and had just returned from a hike with my first boyfriend. He was telling my mother how he had bravely saved me from a snake that happened upon our trail. My mother - blank-faced as she nibbled on a nutria-grain bar - explained that I suffered from a classic, Freudian fear of penises. This fear manifested itself in the shape of small woodland creatures and probably household objects. “Why else would you be afraid to use a rolling pin?” She asked me. The boy broke up with me and I earned a new nickname at school that week: Lesbian.

4.      You were conceived on a pool table in your grandmother’s house

This little piece of DNA trivia is a fairly recent discovery, revealed to me several weeks ago while she was trying to teach me to play billiards. When I complained that I was no good at the game she lamented that I was just like my father. “I tried to teach him too, many years ago, but he didn’t have the knack. So, we found something else to do instead.” She winked, popped the 6 ball into the corner pocket, and let me know that at least one of my father’s sticks were working right that night.

      3.   I installed a pole in my bedroom so I could practice stripping

My mother had just gotten cable and was bravely moving away from the comfort of Murder She Wrote to see what other programs were out there. “There’s a show called The Girls Next Door about the life of Playboy Playmates,” she informed me one day while I was visiting. “Do you know how those girls keep their cores so tight,” she asked. I wasn’t sure what a core was and I didn’t want to think about it, but it turns out it wasn’t Hef related. “They do strip aerobics.”

“If they can look like that so can I,” my mother said, shimmying around the broomstick she had secured from the ceiling with duct tape. I did not argue that those girls were 25 and my mother was pushing 70. Logic doesn’t work on her. It was a big enough win that I had talked her out of the metallic thong at Victoria’s Secrets. And I had to give her credit. I’m not sure my knees could handle the ‘dips’ she was demonstrating. Still, some things can’t be unseen and I still break out in nervous hives whenever she offers to sweep the floor.

      2.    I’m not sure what to do about your father's erectile dysfunction

My dad was dying. In fact, we were on our way to visit him in the hospital because he had just suffered a heart attack. Neither of our brains were in the right place that night. Beside me, I heard my mother sniffle. A wave of compassion swept over me and I reached across my seat to pat her leg. “Mom, you okay?” It was dark out and I suffer from night blindness. I was doing my best to comfort my mother and make it safely to our destination. “I’m here for you.” And then she springs it on me.

“I’m not sure what to do about your father’s erectile dysfunction. We hardly make love at all anymore,” she explains. My hand shoots back to the steering wheel; I blink twice, and keep driving. I see her face turn to me in the dark. “Do you have any suggestions?” Her voice is sad. I understand the importance and connection of sex, but I can’t help. Aside from offering to upload Euro-porn onto his computer, I draw a blank.  I shake my head no and she sniffles beside me.

1.   When I was young they called it a Fur Burger

It was Thanksgiving Day when those fateful words were uttered. My mom was basting the turkey and my sister-in-law and I were mashing potatoes, discussing ‘cute’ words to call her two year old daughter’s private area. Words like hoo-haw were jokingly tossed around and then discarded. “Maybe I should teach her the correct word,” my sister-in-law said when we had exhausted our Dr. Seuss vocabulary of genetalia. My mother entered the dining room, carrying a glorious 22 pound bronzed turkey. “You could call it what they did in my day,” my mother said, gingerly placing the bird onto the table.

“What’s that?” her youngest grandson asked.

“A fur burger.”

With that one declaration, Thanksgiving Day came to a halt. The entire household stopped watching football, playing Xbox, and mashing potatoes as Grandma delivered the 50's version of the F-bomb and proceeded to pour the gravy.

"What?" Someone asked. "Did grandma just say..."

Yes. Yes, she did. And then we all laughed; A fit of hysterics unrivaled to this day. My mother repeated the words - fur burger, fur burger, fur burger -  until we were doubled over with laughter and the words had lost all meaning. But it left an unsettling feeling in the pit of my belly. Later, as I picked at the yams I couldn’t get the image of my aged mother, dressed in her Betty Crocker apron, spewing out the words fur burger during a Norman Rockwell moment. 

And there you have it: my top 5 things you never want to hear your mother say. Those sayings that scar and tear and pull at your soul and make you realize your mother isn't just a sweet old lady but a woman whose lived and loved and lost and adventured and spent some time in the company of crude boys at one point. Those words that wake you up to the fact your mother is a mortal woman and not just the compilation of 60's advertising you have been led to believe. And I'm not sure what's more shocking, hearing those words uttered from your mother's mouth or realizing that in many ways, she is just like you.