Monday, March 2, 2015

An Eleven Word Story

Here’s an eleven word story. Why eleven words and not ten? You might need that one extra word for an appropriate denouement. And if you care to, I eagerly invite you, my talented friends, to include your own eleven word story here. It's not as easy as it appears, but it turns out to be more satisfying than it should be. 

Don't feel obligated, but don't be shy.

This is mine, in eleven words.



She finally learned to make the journey a lavish joy ride. 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Wrinkles

The insistent ringing of the doorbell startled me. The only unannounced visitors at our rural home are people who are lost and Jehovah’s Witnesses. I set down the clothes I was folding and hustled to the front door, wondering if I’d forgotten someone who'd said they were coming.

A rapid knocking at the back door swung me around in my tracks. I headed through the kitchen to catch who this was. I cut a glance through the kitchen window on my way through and saw a lifted ¾ ton diesel truck in the driveway, outfitted with the off road tires popular with young guys. A couple of shotguns rested on a rack inside the back window of the truck.

I pursed my lips and frowned, something I try to avoid so as to prevent new wrinkles. I imagined a hot shot young dude wanting to go dove hunting on our land, something we don’t allow because of the proximity of our cattle. Even my husband, an avid hunter, doesn’t shoot in our pastures.

And now whoever-this-was couldn’t wait for me to even get to the front door? I grimaced, thinking of other encounters with guys like this who wanted to hunt for free, tear up pasture land with their big tires, and shoot irresponsibly near the cattle. I loaded up my verbal armory, determined to teach this fellow a lesson in manners. I ditched my caution of wrinkling and steeled my face into a scowl.

I pulled the door open and a twenty-something man  in a flannel shirt tucked neatly into a pair of jeans that were tucked neatly into a pair of snake boots pulled his cap off and held it in both hands.

“Ma’am, we’re sorry to bother you. I’m Rick, this is my brother Oscar.” His brows furrowed. “Last night we were muddin’ down at our cousin’s place over there.” He pointed vaguely to the southwest. “My two dogs got loose. Have you seen them?”  

I shielded my eyes from the sun’s glare with my hand and thought. Something in me softened and I stepped back and invited them into the kitchen. I motioned for them to have a seat at the table.

“Thank you, ma’am. We’re really anxious to find them, so we won’t keep you long.” I offered them some ice cold bottles of water. “They’re Catahoula/ Heeler mixes.” I smiled as I thought of the splash of spots and colors they must be. “One is named Chico and the other is Chula. Chico’s got on a handmade leather collar and Chula has on a pink camo vest.” Oscar nodded silently at his brother’s description.

“We haven’t even gone home to sleep. We’ve stopped at every house in a five mile range. Some people have kicked us off before they even heard what we were doing. We’re not going to stop, though, until we find them.”

I explained we hadn’t seen them yet, but that we’d surely keep an eye out for them. They stood with their bottles of water and carefully pushed the chairs back under the table. I walked them out the back door.

“Thank you so much, ma’am.” Rick’s raspy voice was testament of their long night. He turned back around. “And ma’am, if they do show up, they’re really friendly dogs. If you hold out your hand to Chula she’ll shake and give you a bow.”

I watched through the window as they headed out, but then they quickly stopped. Oscar climbed out with a shovel. He moved to a rut in the side yard the truck had cut when they backed up and carefully smoothed the damp earth back into place.

I smiled and patted my cheeks. The best wrinkle prevention is watching good folks in action.

And if they do find their dogs, I will be sure and update this. I'm praying they do.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Neruda, the Beach, and Line Dried Sheets

An apology, of sorts. I left my blog with a post in October, and without fully intending to quit, I did. Without a further word. And for that, I am sorry.

Anything not used is going to atrophy, but left unused too long, it will also leave an ache, a vague sense of grief for something lost. It took me a while to pin it down, but I realized writing meant more to me than I had ever admitted. I needed to get back to it, even though it felt like I was wrestling body, soul, and spirit to get something down on paper.

My wise and delightful blogging and Facebook friend, Pearl, came to Texas and we spent a weekend on the beach to write. To throw around pleasing words. To read and reread exquisite sentences from Neruda and Chabon. To laugh at talking grackles, muse about lutefisk, and enjoy the passing stream of humanity.

When I slipped out onto the balcony with notebook in hand just as the sun pushed its way above the horizon, with chilly air and a faint salt spray opening my nostrils and loosening those channels I had plastered over in October, I was ready.

I wrote longhand in two notebooks. I scratched through words, used arrows to insert new ones, and filled more than 26 pages in a rapid cursive/print hybrid.

I breathed in deeply at a pause and remembered. In our home, which had also been my grandparents’ home, my husband and I left intact a small cabinet filled with my grandma’s dishtowels, aprons, and other things. I rarely open it, but when I do, I bury my face deeply in those towels and aprons. I inhale until my lungs are full. It smells like them. I can still faintly detect my grandma’s perfume, the aromas of her Sunday dinners, their line dried sheets.

That is how it felt on this balcony in those early morning hours. I inhaled deeply and caught a whiff of something that is just as much a part of me as those Sunday dinners and my grandma's perfume, as my grandma and grandpa and those line dried sheets.

And so I’m back.  Good to see you, friends.

To read Pearl's account of how we got lost on the beach, go here: I Think I Recognize That Dune

Thursday, October 23, 2014

When Gabriel Blows His Horn

(As I've been cautioned to do, I'll neither confirm nor deny the truth of this. I will say I've heard this story, from different sources, for many years. I've put it all together into a story form, and although it's a departure from the stories I usually write, I felt it needed to be told.)

The burly man chewed the wad of tobacco in his mouth impassively and spat suddenly into the dust, splashing the dark brown liquid onto the worn boots of the teenaged boy nearest him.

The boy flinched but didn’t take his eyes off the large man on horseback, who was now talking, even though it was in English, a language none of the twenty teenaged boys standing before him could understand.  He turned to a shorter man, also on horseback, with a handlebar mustache that curled almost from ear to ear on his plump face, and said, “Gabe, tell ‘em.”

The stout man, Gabriel, began to speak, and the boys’ faces relaxed in relief as he repeated what the first man said, this time in the native Spanish the boys understood.

“He says for you to listen, because he’s not going to repeat himself. You come with us to work this roundup. It’s three months work to bring all the cattle in from the northern pastures, branding, dehorning, castrating, and anything else that needs to be done. You’ll work seven days a week. The ranch will give you use of a horse and your grub, but you supply your boots and clothes. You may carry a knife on you, but no weapons.”

“You come across any outlaws or wild animals- you either take care of them with the knife or hope that your horse can outrun them. You’ll get your pay, $15 a month, at the end of the three months, but only if you work hard. If you turn out to be lazy Mexicans, you’ll get what a lazy Mexican deserves.”

As Gabriel finished, the tobacco chewing man rode his horse silently in front the new ranch hands. He stopped in front of one, Rico, and spat a virulent stream with precision just short of the boy’s booted toes. He turned to Gabriel and said, “Ask him where he got those boots.”

Gabe looked at Rico’s boots even as he began translating. They were polished and hand tooled, things of beauty amidst the dusty, misshapen footwear pocked with holes sported by the others.

Rico kept his gaze fixed on the ground as he answered softly. “They were my grandfather’s. He was a master saddlemaker in Nuevo Leon.” What Rico didn’t say, but what filled his mind was the scene from the night before, his mother sobbing as she gave them to him. Since his father had been killed by bandits on the road to town the year before, 16 year old Rico struggled to help get enough food on the table for the younger sisters and brothers who sometimes cried in their sleep, they were so hungry. When this opportunity to work on a large ranch on the U.S. side of the Rio Bravo came up, he couldn’t pass it up for the sure money it would bring them, even though his mother was broken hearted by his decision.

“Son,” she’d said quietly, “take these with you. They were made by your grandfather and worn by him until he died. May they keep you safe with every step.” Rico nodded as he somberly accepted them. She stroked his cheek even as tears streamed down hers.

And now, questioned about the boots, the only sign Rico showed of the struggle within to steady his composure were small pink patches of color on his cheeks.

Although Gabriel had already turned away from Rico after translating his answer to the boss man, Rico added, “I will be a good worker for you. I’ll work hard every day. You’ll see.”

The ragtag group of boys set off on foot behind the mule drawn wagon that would lead them to the base camp, twelve miles distant.

And just as the boss man had predicted, the work was bone crushing hard. They slept with their head on a saddle each night, curled under a saddle blanket to leach some warmth on the frigid October nights. Their days began well before the sun rose and continued until the darkness staunched their vision. They ate quietly most evenings, too exhausted to even banter. Rico, though, would not go to sleep until he’d buffed his boots to a sheen.

One of the other boys finally asked him, “Why, why spend time on those?”

Rico answered, “Because when I get back home, I’m going to give my mother the money I’ve made and put these boots away for the son I’ll have someday. I want to keep them as nice as I can for him. I’ll tell him of how hard I’ve worked here and that I’ve also worked to keep these boots for him. That way he’ll know I was thinking about him, even before he was born.”

The other boys chuckled at that as they drifted off to sleep. They couldn’t even think of the next day, their thoughts devoured by exhaustion, much less of the sons and families they’d have in the future.

Finally, the end of the three months came. The cattle had been branded, dehorned, castrated, and safely moved to their winter pastures. The boss man came by that evening, Gabriel by his side. “Tomorrow will be your last day on the job. When you hear Gabe blow his bugle, you line up here and we’ll settle up.” As Gabe translated, he held up his bugle from his Confederate Army days.

The ranch hands once again laid their heads on their saddles that night, but now with lighthearted laughter punctuating the crisp air. Plans for their trips home to Mexico floated through the night. None of them had ever had so much money in their hands before as they would have tomorrow. Rico, though,  continued his nightly ritual, polishing his boots, adding a little saddle wax, until his moonlit reflection illuminated the burnished leather.

Early the next morning, Gabriel’s bugle pierced the morning. The eager boys scrambled up, pulling on their hats and boots. Rico gave his boots one last swipe with his shirt sleeve before he hurried off to from the lateral line the boss man expected from them.

Gabriel sat on his horse on one side, still panting from his bugle call, and the boss man flanked the other side of the boys. The boss man spat, and said, “Look straight ahead, right there into the sun, while we get what we owe you.” The boys squinted and stood as tall as their frames allowed, proud of their hard work and expectant of their reward. Both men on horseback moved back to a stand of brush about ten yards behind the boys and the boss man dropped his arm in a signal. Ten men stepped from the brush behind the boys squinting into the sun, pistols drawn.

A fusillade of gunshots tore into the boys, so fierce and unexpected that even the horses reared and snorted. As the dust floated in the sun’s early rays over the fallen boys, the boss man rode through the bloody quagmire. He stopped at one body where polished boots shone in the early day like a beacon. Over his shoulder, he called out to Gabriel, “Pull the boots off of that one. They’re too good to waste on a dead Mexican. And make sure you burn those bodies good this time. Don’t want no coyote problems like we had with the last batch.”

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Three Words...

What is your best advice to the world in three words or less? I'll include mine in the comments.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Secrets of Honor- Carol Kilgore


I was honored when a terrific Texas author, Carol Kilgore, asked me a few months back if I'd host her on a blog hop about her new book, Secrets of Honor. Carol is a very talented writer, and the setting of her book, Corpus Christi is close to my heart. I hope that you will enjoy Carol's writing as much as I do!

Thank you, Shelly, for hosting me. You tell such great stories here that I’m a little nervous about telling one of my own. You’ve set a high bar, but I promise to do my best.

Once upon a time, there was a little girl who loved the world inside her head. She was a very good little girl who usually minded her mama and daddy. She liked school and made good grades. But she liked daydreaming more than anything else.

On days when the weather was nice, she walked home from school with one of her friends. One friend lived in the little girl’s neighborhood about a block away. The streets were all straight, and each block was filled with white frame houses. The view never changed. The little girl was supposed to always walk with this friend because The Mothers knew each other.

But the little girl sometimes walked with another friend, who lived outside the neighborhood in an old, two-story blue house with a big yard. Between the school and this friend’s house was The Woods, which was forbidden by the little girl’s mother. And beside The Woods was The Creek, which was not only forbidden but warned against with the shaking of head and finger.

But the little girl loved The Woods and The Creek. The path beside the creek had been walked by many feet for many years, so much so that the earth had been worn down into a smooth, rounded indentation that made the little girl’s feet feel safe.

She always wondered who had walked the path before her. Where had they lived? Did they fish in the creek? Did their children play in the woods? Did fairies and witches live in the woods? A princess waiting for her prince? Bambi?

The little girl knew if her mama found out she walked the path between The Creek and The Woods, she would get in trouble. But it was worth taking the risk. The answers to all her questions turned into stories and played out in her head as she walked with her friend. She never told those stories to her mama.

The little girl was me.

As an adult, I can totally understand why my mother wanted me to take the safer route home. I now realize the risks that may have lurked on the secluded path, but I’m still glad I took that way home every once in a while. And the adult me is forever grateful not to have faced or even known about those grown-up dangers at that point in my life.

Perhaps the forbidden path of yesterday explains why I write Crime Fiction with a Kiss today.


SECRETS OF HONOR

By the end of a long evening working as a special set of eyes for the presidential security detail, all Kat Marengo wants is to kick off her shoes and stash two not-really-stolen rings in a secure spot. Plus, maybe sleep with Dave Krizak. No, make that definitely sleep with Dave Krizak. The next morning, she wishes her new top priorities were so simple.

As an operative for a covert agency buried in the depths of the Department of Homeland Security, Kat is asked to participate in a matter of life or death—locate a kidnapped girl believed to be held in Corpus Christi, Texas. Since the person doing the asking is the wife of the president and the girl is the daughter of her dearest friend, it’s hard to say no.

Kat and Dave quickly learn the real stakes are higher than they or the first lady believed and will require more than any of them bargained for.

The kicker? They have twenty-four hours to find the girl—or the matter of life or death will become more than a possibility.






AUTHOR BIO
Although Carol has deep Texas roots, she’s lived up and down the eastern seaboard and in other locations across the U.S. as a Coast Guard wife. She sees mystery and subterfuge everywhere. And she’s a sucker for a good love story—especially one with humor and mystery. Crime Fiction with a Kiss gives her the latitude to mix and match throughout the broad mystery and romance genres. Having flexibility makes her heart happy. You can connect with Carol here:
Under the Tiki Hut blog:  http://www.underthetikihut.blogspot.com
Website with Monthly Contest: http://www.carolkilgore.net







Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Out to Pasture

I am retired from a profession where I never made much money, but for over 30 years, felt like I was being a productive member of society by educating children, promoting love of obscure grammar rules, and hiding Shakespearean insults in the district website I maintained. 

But now that I live life on a more relaxed plane, volunteering in places that make me smile, going to the gym whenever I want, and spending more than 22 minutes on lunch, I sometimes wonder if I am slacking, not pulling my weight in the cosmic load.

Recent incidents confirm to me that I still have a place in the stuff of life, albeit to a different, smaller, and simpler tune.

Incident #1: Fresh out of the nail salon with a new set of my favorite French tipped acrylics, I hurried through the grocery store before the bulk of the Friday crowd hit. I spotted a friend I hadn’t seen in a while, her 20 year old son in tow. In the year or so since I’d seen him, nonverbal, severely autistic and struggling with violent outbursts, he’d grown even more, dwarfing his petite mom. I felt a new wave of admiration for my friend and her husband for their sacrifices in keeping him at home.

She smiled and hugged me. “Shelly, it’s good to see you. We’re so wrapped up in all that we have,” she glanced at her son, “that we don’t get out much anymore.” She continued sharing that it was more and more difficult for her to calm him when he became agitated because he was now so much stronger than her. Her son, uninterested in our conversation, circled slowly behind me, making me a little nervous. He emerged within my field of vision and knelt beside my arm, staring intently at my hand. My friend stopped talking and we both became wary.

Her son rose slowly and grasped my hand, never taking his eyes from it. He turned awkwardly and put my hand on his shoulders. Not sure what to do, I held it there, waiting for him to make the next move.

He moved his shoulders up and down and back and forth, wiggling. He looked back at me, smiled, and shimmied his shoulders again, making sounds of encouragement. A look of understanding flashed onto his mom’s face. “It’s your nails! He wants you to scratch his back with your nails!” He clapped his hands as I obliged, gently dragging my nails back and forth over his back. He closed his eyes and lapsed into a peaceful stillness for the next five minutes while we continued our conversation. Later that day, she texted me for the number to my nail salon. “We’ve never seen him so calm. A regular backscratcher doesn’t do it, either. It has to be nails. I’ve never had long nails, but this is working so well for him I’m headed down to get a set.”

Incident #2: At the close of a college football game, I wandered down out of the bleachers while my husband caught up with a hunting buddy in the stands. The school mascot, a six foot tall blue javelina (think something like a wild hog) with large tusks ambled near, greeting children and adults alike who wanted a quick picture with him. A man with two little curly headed girls, perhaps four and five years old, pulled them close to the mascot. “Look! I can take your picture with him,” he said excitedly to the girls as he pulled his phone from his pocket. The older girl, eyes wide, smiled in silent awe as the mascot reached his hand/ hoof out to her.

The younger girl, though, dug her heels in, pulled back on the man’s hand and whimpered, “No, Daddy, no!” Terror drained her face even as her sister crowded close.

The man said nothing but pried the little fingers off his hand and turned his back to her to take pictures. The younger girl, now without any island of safety and with her sister firmly in the clutches of the mascot, screamed chillingly. The man paid no attention as he continued to snap pictures. Quickly, the tiny girl bolted straight for me, ran behind and grabbed my leg in a death grip. Her curls bobbed at my waist as she buried her head in my thigh and sobbed, “No! No!”

I dropped my purse to the ground and knelt as best I could with her clamped onto me and put my arms around her. I told her the mascot was actually a silly fellow inside of a costume and that he would never hurt her and that she was safe. The whole time, the man never looked back, never took his eyes off taking his pictures. By the time they finished, a weak smile broke through my charge’s teary face, and she laughed as I told her funny stories of times I had been afraid and then found out I didn’t need to be.

As her father made his way over to us, pumping his fist in triumph at all the pictures he’d taken of the mascot and the older girl, I whispered to the little sister. “Remember, Honey, you are a brave girl. You are going to help so many people in your life because you are full of courage and you are going to help them not feel afraid.” She nodded her head, sighed and let out one last sob as her father reached for her hand.

“You were such a little chicken, weren’t you?” he laughed as she put her head down.

“Actually, she is very brave, and I think you should be quite proud of her and her sister, " I told him quietly. I patted her on the head. “You remember, you are brave, Honey. You don't have to be afraid because it's right there inside of you for whenever you need it. You are going to do such wonderful things. All your life, you remember that.” She nodded her head as other family members joined them. They walked towards the parking lot and I could hear the father laughing and recounting, “She just took off and ran behind this lady and wouldn’t let go of her…”

The little girl, tightly clutching her father’s hand, looked back one last time and shyly waved goodbye.

I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was the mascot. He held his arms open wide and pulled me in for a tight hug.

I may be out to pasture, but there's still plenty to do in that pasture.