Cucumbers

I remember my grandparents’ garden from my childhood. I remember following along behind my grandfather, sent out for tomatoes, while I “helped” by pulling fresh cucumbers off the prickly, hairy vines. Wiping the vegetable off on my tee shirt, I chomped into it right there where I stood.

My grandfather was a staid mountain of a man. He didn’t talk much to his family; he frequently responded to my grandmother in grunts or one-syllable sounds. When he sat down to eat, he really tucked into it:  seconds were certain, thirds were not out of the question. I never knew him not to eat what my grandmother set on the table, but he drew the line at cucumbers.

When my brother, my cousins and I discovered this, we were giddy with unexpected knowledge. We were between six and seven years old and our shrill little giggles must have sounded like the munchkins in Oz. Our secret-telling was, no doubt, conducted in theatrical stage whispers. We couldn’t believe it. Grampie didn’t eat cucumbers! We had to clean our plates, but now here was this revelation.

And so at every meal shortly thereafter, we took turns offering our grandfather helpings of the cool disks marinating lightly in vinegar with a hint of sugar and generous salt and pepper.

“Would you like some cucumbers, Grampie,” we asked choking on our hysteria. In the spirit of humor moderated by solidarity, Grammie hid her smile until it wore off and even she spoke sharply, telling us to leave our grandfather alone. But it was irresistible to tease the unteaseable, to ruffle the unruffleable.

“How about a cuke, Grampie,” we asked, until finally he pounded the table with one open hand.

“I don’t want any goddamn cukes,” he thundered before slamming downstairs to his woodworking shop where a half-gallon of vodka was kept cool under the stairs.

What he didn’t know, sadly I think now, is how nicely good vodka goes down with a bit of gently muddled cucumber, fresh from the garden.

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Wordless

“What are you sitting there for?” Lyle asked from the doorway.

“I’m thinking,” Vern said without looking up.

“Thinking. About what?”

“Writing.”

“You’re thinking about writing.” Lyle said walking into the room and peering at the computer screen.

“Yes.”

“There aren’t any words on there.”

“I know.”

“Are they going to write themselves?”

“I hope so.”

“They’re off to a slow start.”

“Listen, how about you go pour me a whiskey. I think that’d help the little bastards start flowing from my fingertips like they oughta be doing.”

“Seems to me that could get in the way.”

“Well, you let me worry about that. I think a little whiskey would be like putting some WD-40 on a hinge right about now.”

Lyle lumbered off muttering about ice and the cost of a proper bottle. Vern continued to stare at his hands, willing the words to spring forth, like a snake getting charmed out of its basket, words rising out of the dark to electrify the page.

The clock ticked and the cat began chewing on something in the corner of the room.

“Cut that out, Buster! Ssssssss!”

It was always the hissing sound that got the cat to pay attention.

Lyle stood in the doorway. “What was all that?”

“Cat’s into something.”

“That little bastard knocked my pill jar off the counter today. He better not be getting into that bottle.”

“What was in it?”

“My blood pressure medicine.”

“Christ! If he gets into that, we’ve got a dead cat on our hands!”

“If we don’t find that bottle, we’ll have a dead Lyle on our hands. I can’t be running around without my medicine.”

“For crying out loud. Don’t you think we should be looking for the damn pill jar?”

“I was going to talk to you about it, but then you were sitting there staring off with that look on your face, like you were in mourning or something.”

“Would you please shut up and look for the damn pills? Vern said, setting the laptop on his side table and lowering himself to look under the chair.

Left

Although it was dark and the chill was settling in, the plaza was busy on the first of a three-day weekend. The restaurants and bars were full of bubbling conversations. Couples strolled by with restaurants on one side and the harbor on the other. 

A little girl, about nine, stood on the plaza beside a bench, staring out onto the harbor where sailboats and yachts were swaying with the tide. Past the boats, on the other side of the water, there were condos, restaurants, and abandoned warehouses that may have, for some reason, held her interest. 
 
People walked behind the girl in groups and in couples, but she seemed unaware of their presence. A young Asian couple with two rambunctious pugs walked by and the dogs veered around the girl, circling her and tangling her in their leashes. She looked down at the snorting dogs and their people, who were frantically trying to unwrap her legs, but she didn’t move or respond to their laughing apologies. As the couple with the dogs hurried on, they turned back to glance at her, whispering back and forth.
 
Music blared from a bar nearby. Clanging bells announced a train’s approach, followed by the long rolling rumble of Amtrak taking people up the California delta and beyond. The moon continued its slow journey across the sky and the wind gently blew the girl’s hair across her back. 
 
Although she had been standing still and straight, all at once she inhaled deeply and began to shudder, slumping against the bench. 
 
She knew it like the cut of a knife before it bleeds. Her parents weren’t coming back.

working for the man

Dick was sitting at his kitchen table stirring the sugar into his coffee. He never managed to get it all into the cup and didn’t Noreen bitch about starting her day with sugar gritty elbows. Christ. If that was the worst of her troubles. He flicked his lighter and pulled in a lungful of smoke, first of the day.

“Yes, Zippers, this here is the most satisfying time of the day. Just you, me, coffee, and nicotine. It’s a man’s paradise right here, old Zip, isn’t it?” He scratched the black and white cat’s chin.

Zippers was a skinny bastard, probably because he spent every night outside carousing and whoring around.

“I need to give you a multi-vitamin, old man?”

Dick sighed.

Time to put his shoes on and head out to the shoe shop. If he didn’t punch the clock and get to his machine on time, Donnelly would be on his ass all day long. What a bastard.

Maybe, Dick thought, I should cut old Donnelly some slack. After all, his almost-pretty wife disappeared on him and he was just a working stiff earning a few extra bucks for all his supervisory prickishness. Probably sucks to be him. Maybe more than being me, even.

“But I got Zippers, don’t I boy? He don’t got a Zip Man, now does he?”

Dick scratched the cat behind his ears and bent to tie his shoes.

An honorable mention for “The Light”

I am pleased to announce that my flash fiction piece, “The Light” received an honorable mention in the  Soul-Making Keats Literary Competition. I am in good company with my friends Sue Granzella, who got an honorable mention for her essay, “Geography of a Final Resting Place”  and Barbara Ridley who won first prize for her short story, “The Ring” and third prize for her memoir vignette, “Half and Half.”  It’s a fortuitous start to the new year!

In celebration, I am re-posting The Light.

 

“Let me light that fire for you,” I said. “I’m good at it.”

The moth paused for a moment, contemplating. Her antennae quivered, as if there were a tiny breeze.

“Yes, that would be fine,” she said. “Actually, it would be quite nice of you.”

“So, where are you off to?”

“I’m searching. I’m called to search for the thing I am missing. There is a shadow inside of me, a cool empty place.” She paused looking over my head.

“I see,” I said, picking up the two smooth, dry twigs. Rubbing them together, I felt warmth radiating from the friction.

“Why do you ask?” said Moth.

“I wondered how we both happened to be in this dark place, as if we were here to meet.”

“That could be. Perhaps,” Moth said. “And you. You are here for a purpose?”

“I am consumed with too much heat,” I said. “I came to cool my face under the light of the moon. It was here a moment ago. I don’t see it now.”

“Nor I. Nor I,” she said, again rubbing her spindly legs together.

I slid the twigs back and forth and sparks glinted off, cascading onto the mound of straw I had gathered.

“Oh my,” Moth said.

Soon the straw was ablaze and I tossed my twigs onto the top, watching the tendrils of bark glow and curl back, exposing the tender innards to the fire. I turned to gather more twigs and when I turned back, Moth was gone and the fire was inexplicably larger, like a passion recently kindled.

Hard freeze

The morning sun had been up for hours, its rays more a diamond’s cold glitter than warming. Frost glistened on the shaded oak leaves at the back of her yard, where a murder of crows was having breakfast. They flung the acorns onto the street in showers, and waited for cars to drive over and crack them open. They’d been at it for weeks, a bumper crop of nuts.

She sat in her kitchen on a high stool at the counter, looking out the window over the sink and watching the crows. Coffee was still warm in her mug and she kept her hands wrapped around it, listening to the heater click and whirl. The sound of it lulled her mind back toward sleep, a floating place where memories rose, performed, and dissipated like watching a play through fog.

Her father walked through the haze as she remembered him best, when he was the prize at the bottom of the Cracker Jacks, when he was the tallest man she’d ever seen with his head skimming the clouds. Even then he limped and the sound of his uneven footfall echoed in her ears. “Don’t wear cheap shoes or you’ll ruin your feet,” he told her as he sat soaking his before scraping the corns and callouses with a razor blade.

Her neighbor’s rooster gave call, a little late she thought, but earlier than his usual 3PM alert. Because her house sat at the top of a small hill, her neighbors were fanned out around her at descending altitudes. The sound of their roosters, automotive backfires, and Chinese New Year firecrackers carried up, including her in all their public sounds, and some private moments she preferred to mute with NPR’s educated patter.

But those were sounds of other days. Today there were hungry crows and the frost melting off trees, a sound she could only imagine, the quietest trickle, the tiniest whoosh of evaporation.

Full to bursting

South Shore_11.3.15

In front of me, there are small sea birds with straw-shaped beaks that they jab into the sand, breakfasting along the water’s edge. The patch of tidal sand forms a triangle into the bay and at its point furthest from land is a large rock with a gray lump atop it, a pelican. While I watch, she rises up and stretches her wings, letting the air comb her feathers before curling back up, tucking her wings back into her breast. Her movement sends the small birds atwitter and they flock closer with a burst of vocalizing and sand poking.

A cloud of termites hatches out of the sand behind me ands swirls around me like winged snow, hitting my face and neck. As I sit writing, there are three hatchings, three clouds of termites setting off toward the south. The layers of bird calls are their sound track to new life.

Behind me men with crowbars are deconstructing the roof of a modest beach house to add another story, transforming it into another type of dwelling as they have done to several nearby houses.

Across the water, Bay Farm Island sits with its modern construction mc mansions, over which airplanes from the Oakland airport fly at ascending angles. Further still are Twin Peaks and San Francisco’s downtown in layer upon layer of so much beauty it physically hurts.

I breathe it in and am filled with yearning, to be one with it, expanding to be all of this and nothing, no thing and every thing and at long last enough.

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