Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Homeless (Excerpt)

Available now from Amazon.
August 2006
Midwest City, OK


I didn't really know my cousin Laura-Lynn. She was my aunt Louise's only child, but had moved away by the time I was born. She blew through town a few times when I was a kid, but I hadn't seen her in years. She moved back to Oklahoma shortly before she died, but didn't tell anyone in the family. I only went to the funeral because my dad threw out his back loading bags of fertilizer into the truck and Mom wanted me to drive her.

I did notice an unfamiliar man, standing well away from the rest of the assembled at the graveside service. He was older, tall, but slouched, his shoulders hunched. His clothes were rumpled and creased, as was his face, but there was still something about both that said “wealthy.” Maybe it was the deep black Mercedes he was leaning against. His eyes were hidden by equally dark sunglasses, but mine weren't and I had to look away when he noticed me staring. It's amazing how many details your mind can capture in an instant: Charcoal gray sport coat over a black crew neck sweater. Tan slacks. Black belt and shoes, good leather and well made. Hands in pockets, like a guilty school boy. Slim build, but with the soft start of a belly. Hair gone gray, skin sun-dried leather, forehead creased. If he'd been handsome once, there was no sign of it now.

I meant to ask Mom about him after the service, but it slipped my mind in all the family hubbub. Months went by and I would've forgotten about him entirely if it hadn't been for a library book.

I was at work early one morning, getting ready to sort through the pile of stuff that had accumulated on my desk during the previous day. In addition to that mess, there was a stack of “new arrival” books sitting in my chair. Once again surrendering to the chaos that is a public library, I made myself comfortable on the floor, using my creaky wooden desk as a backrest. Hoping for fortification through caffeination, I pulled the top book off the stack to thumb through while I drank my coffee. It was at an angle, set apart from the rest – the clerk's sign that it was something to which she felt I should pay special attention.

Red Sky Mourning (2006, Viking Press) was the latest release from “award-winning author” John Anders Erickson. I'd read all sorts of rave reviews of it. The waiting list of patrons was already two pages long and I considered the ethical implications of sneaking it home for a quick read before putting it out on the shelf. Librarian's prerogative, I figured.

Since it was not yet in circulation, it was one of the few books in the library without nerd-, Groucho-, or cat-eye sunglasses drawn over the author's photo, so it took me a moment to place him – John Anders Erickson.

Posed, lit, and probably Photoshopped, the man on the cover looked healthy and rugged, with bright blue eyes. He leaned in toward the camera seductively, cradling a meerschaum pipe, the sleeves of his white shirt rolled up to the elbow, exposing the famed mermaid tattoo on his bulging, sailor's forearm. No wonder he'd been so startled when he caught me staring at him. I couldn't believe I hadn't recognized him immediately, but I wasn't exactly expecting to see the world famous author of Vikings and Pirates: Tales of My Fathers and The Mermaid's Dirge at a family funeral in Ada, Oklahoma.

I turned the book over to look at the high-melodrama artwork on the front, but it was covered by a large yellow sticky note with the letters “OMG” underlined and followed by half a dozen exclamation points and a large arrow pointing toward my right hand. Barbara again. Sometimes I worried that the clerk drank too much coffee. She was a very excitable person – a single mom working her way through junior college on caffeine and determination.

I opened the book, quickly closed it, tried to sit down, found I was already sitting, and opened it again. Beneath his standard dedication, “For Stjerne,” was the author's scrawling, blue-ink signature.

Someone somewhere had made a huge mistake. Obviously this wasn't intended for a little branch library in Midwest City, Oklahoma. I'd have to call the publisher on Monday and get it straightened out. Those three handwritten words made this pristine first edition worth a lot of money to a collector. It was far too valuable for circulation in a public library. Now I absolutely had to take it home with me, for safe keeping if nothing else.

My first concern, though, was how to read it without leaving any incriminating bends in the virgin paper. I was trying a technique that involved lying on my back and holding the book over my head when something fluttered out from between the pages and landed on my face.

It was a photograph, one of the old self-developing kind with the broad white border. Faded with age, it showed a young man, impossibly tall and comically lanky, with a bright, open face, and thick, somewhat shaggy blond hair. John Anders Erickson. His clothes were egregiously 1970s and he looked to be somewhere in his late twenties or early thirties. He was hunched forward, just as I'd seen him at the funeral, but in the picture he was smiling widely, with his long arms wrapped tightly around a slim young woman with long, coppery hair – Laura-Lynn Weaver, my dead cousin.

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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Hometown


Bayou La Batre, Alabama

Chapter One

There are all sorts of unflattering things I could say about my hometown. I know because I've practiced. You might even say it was my major course of study during my high school years.

Eventually I graduated and, finally, had the whole world in front of me and no obligations to hold me back. So, naturally, I immediately married a hometown boy with family ties deep enough to be genetically suspect.

It was not at all unusual to be in the Walmart with Gary only to find that every single person in the store was a relation of some sort or another. With no living family to speak of and only one half of one generation residing below ground, you can imagine how thrilled his family was to add me to their tree. When we got married, Gary's mother, Irene – an aggressively thin woman with hard gray eyes – told me that their family bible had been lost during hurricane Frederick, but I'd always suspected she'd hidden it rather than add my name to that most sacred of genealogies. That was actually fine with me, since I have terrible handwriting and never had developed a satisfactory trademark signature.

Everyone suspected that I was pregnant when we made the announcement (complete with short engagement period) about a week after I graduated, and my size did little to dispel that rumor. It was Mrs. Harris, my friend Jolene's mama, who convinced me to lose weight before the big day. She said that my wedding photos were the most important pictures I would ever have taken so it was important to look as much like the movie stars in the magazines as possible. She's a hairdresser and has been married three times, so has a lot of experience with weddings.

For the six weeks before the wedding I worked my ass literally off and, on the big day, I managed to close the zipper of that size twelve dress. It was the thinnest I had ever been. I thought my improved appearance might help ingratiate me with my stick-thin mother-in-law-to-be, but instead she'd been horrified by each dropped pound. My decreasing waistline could only mean that I was not, as she suspected, knocked up. Gary was not marrying me out of some noble, if misguided, sense of duty or responsibility. He had, as she saw it, simply settled.


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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

If My Life Were A Reality TV Show

When I was a child, my parents would often find me delivering a monologue to my stuffed animals, the bathroom mirror, a blank wall, etc. When asked what I was doing, I'd explain that I was “addressing my home viewing audience.” This was in the late 70s/early 80s, before the prevalence of both Reality TV and juvenile psychiatric medications. And, yes, my parents are saints for having put up with me.

However, as the years have passed and with “Reality TV” now a reality, I've had to face the fact that I'm much less interesting than when I was five and that my adult life yields few “must see” moments. I rarely walk around my house in full makeup and heels. José Eber has never come over to do my hair. Movie stars and professional athletes don't drop by to drink and dish. I have no secret children/spouses/identities. I'd never waste good (or even bad) wine tossing it in someone's face. I cannot sing and will not eat bugs.

My daily life as Reality TV:
  • The Real World: Middle Age
  • Iron Chef Microwave
  • The Real Housework of Albany
  • Survivor: Trader Joe's at 5:30PM on a Friday
  • Dancing with the Swiffer Mop
  • The Amazing Race For a Parking Spot on Solano Ave.
  • American Idle: I Catch Every Yellow Light on Van Ness Avenue
  • The Biggest Loser: Eyeglasses
  • American Picker-Upper and Puter-Awayer
  • Keeping Up With the Cat Hair
  • Dustbusters
  • What Not To Wear

Today's lesson: I really hope my husband never sets up a “nanny cam.” (Me: Walking around the house singing the theme song to "Goldfinger," substituting the word "snöflinga.")

Next: It Gets Worse: The Power of Positive Pessimism