The Treachery of Images

Fiction in Mused – The BellaOnline Literary Review – Summer 2014, Vol. 8, Issue 2


Sandra first saw one of John Henry Bascomb’s paintings at a gallery in SoHo. She was with her then-lover, Patrick, a man who was perfect in so many ways and never hesitated to remind her of it. But when she stood in front of The Lady Waits, a painting the size of a large envelope, and Patrick continued to jabber on about his newest acquisition, an abstract called Birth and Rebirth, which was nothing more than blue lines over red splotches, Sandra simply said, “Get lost, Patrick.” And he did.

Sandra got lost in Bascomb’s painting. A woman lying in bed, nude, full figured, flawed, but beautiful. Her lover lay over her, his stomach resting on hers. The colors were muted, their lips burnished, their cheeks flushed. He held one of her arms above her head, a glint in his dark eyes, the other hand gently cupping her breast. His smile teased. Her eyes were pleading, locked with his. It’s the eyes, thought Sandra.

But it wasn’t the eyes. It wasn’t one thing. It was the painting in its entirety. Sandra was pulled into the scene by the simple shading beneath the touch of a hand, a slight crease drawn under an eye, a tiny wrinkle telling the story of a life lived. It was art at its most powerful, a painting that stopped hearts.

Sandra looked around the gallery at the other three small Bascomb’s hanging there. A quiet group of women stood before each one. One woman sat on the ground in front of The Lady’s Pleasure, staring up at the spent couple in the painting, the Lady’s back close against her lover´s chest, his arm wrapped around her, holding her tightly, his chin resting on her wild hair, a hand again on her breast. Trust was the word that came to Sandra’s mind.

My Lady’s Laughter almost brought Sandra to tears. The couple, in a state of haphazard undress, sat on the floor in front of a fire, a deck of cards splayed out in front of them, the Lady laughing. She was holding up a card, showing it to her lover who had his hand on the button of his pants and feigned a look of playful alarm.

It was nothing deep. Nothing dramatic. Just … joy.

What was odd, Sandra thought, was that each of Bascomb´s ladies was different from the others, strikingly different. It wasn’t like Andrew Wyeth’s Helga, or Dali’s Gala. Bascomb’s ladies were numerous. Perhaps that was why so many women were attracted to his paintings — whoever you were, whatever you looked like, you could see yourself in one of Bascomb´s works.

Sandra had first heard about Bascomb from a friend, an artist in Maine. “Be prepared,” she had said. “His paintings are small, but there’s a lot more there than meets the eye.”

And that was it. Bascomb’s paintings were more than their subjects. If Sandra were to put it into words, she might say that what she was looking at was love in its purest form. But it was more than that. What she saw caused a visceral reaction; her heart slowed, her breathing deepened, she was overcome with both an incredible calm and an intense desire. When Sandra looked at a Bascomb, she suddenly wanted more. She wanted what Bascomb’s ladies had.

What Sandra saw in the Bascombs was indescribable, and that was a problem. Her job as a writer for The Journal was to describe it.

She went to her editor and friend, Marilyn, and had asked if she could write a profile of Bascomb. Marilyn had already known about his work. As the art editor, it was her job to know before everyone else who or what was the next big thing.

Marilyn had considered sending a more seasoned writer to interview him, but she hadn’t gotten to the top of her profession by ignoring the fact that if a writer isn’t passionate about their subject, the piece would be flat. The minute Sandra began talking about John Henry Bascomb, Marilyn knew the piece belonged to her. At this point in her career, Marilyn was supposed to assign articles, not write them. But if Sandra hadn’t asked to write the profile, Marilyn might have considered doing it herself. She, too, had seen the Bascombs.

Finding John Henry Bascomb was a problem. The brochure at the gallery was vague about where he lived, saying only that he “resides quietly among the beautiful rolling hills of New Jersey.” The gallery owner in SoHo told Sandra that Bascomb was not in charge of his affairs, and that “his family has made it pretty clear they don’t want publicity. If they get word I told you anything about him, they’ll pull his paintings.”

Marilyn pulled rank and called the gallery owner herself, promising free publicity for his gallery. He coughed up the number for the law firm that handled the sale of Bascomb’s paintings. Marilyn contacted the attorney. “Talk to his wife. She’s the one in charge,” he told Marilyn. “He’s at Gray Manor,” he said. “He’s been there a while. Three years.”

Gray Manor was known for the people who checked in to recover from the vagaries of life. Writers and rock stars, the famous and the infamous. “That’s a long time to be at Gray Manor,” Marilyn had said to Sandra as she handed her Bascomb’s wife’s telephone number. “Bascomb must have passed the point of no return.”

“But he still paints.” Sandra knew his most recent work, The Lady’s Gifts, the most erotic of the paintings of which she was aware, had been painted only a few months earlier.

“Evidently,” Marilyn sighed.

“There is something about his paintings, isn’t there?”

Marilyn had raised her eyebrows and nodded.

Bascomb’s wife was receptive to the idea of Sandra writing the profile as long as she could approve the piece before it was published. It also didn’t hurt to suggest that there could be a jump in the price of his paintings. “It will help pay his expenses,” Bascomb’s wife rationalized. Sandra arranged to meet her at Gray Manor to facilitate the interview. “You know he doesn’t speak,” Mrs. Bascomb said to Sandra. “He says only one thing.”

“What does he say?”

“Oh, I’ll let you find out when you meet him.”

John Henry Bascomb sat in front of an easel in the solarium on the ground floor of Gray Manor’s main building. Sandra was surprised by his appearance; she thought a man capable of such emotion would be more … dramatic. Late middle aged, average height, average build, glasses. No, thought Sandra, he was not dramatic in the least.

“We’ve set up a corner for him,” his doctor said, “with his easel and paints.”

Doctor Henderson was a striking woman, tall, mid-fifties, long gray hair pulled back in a wide barrette. She walked with Sandra to where Bascomb sat contemplating a blank canvas.

“He sits here for hours, sometimes just staring at the canvas, holding his paintbrush in his mouth. But then he’ll paint. He’ll be so engrossed he notices nothing around him. We know not to bring him his meal, not to rouse him, until he’s finished.”

Doctor Henderson turned and pointed to a door. “And this is where we store his work.”

She unlocked the door to a large closet and turned on a light. Hundreds of Bascomb’s small paintings were stacked vertically on metal shelves, a piece of masking tape underneath each section marked with a range of dates. “August to November 2011.” “September 2012.” “October 2013.”

“Wow.” Sandra walked into the closet. “These are all Bascomb’s?”

Doctor Henderson nodded.

“These are worth a fortune.” Sandra did quick calculations in her head, and even though math wasn’t her strong suit, she knew the paintings were probably worth a half million dollars.

“His family feels they are as safe here as anywhere.” Doctor Henderson looked over at Bascomb. “Once in a while he comes into the closet, takes a painting, and just sits with it.”

Sandra reached for a painting, then stopped. “May I?”

“Of course.” The doctor picked a painting from October 2013 and handed it to Sandra. “This one is remarkable, don’t you think?”

The painting was smaller than the others, not much larger than Sandra’s iPhone. But the image was clear. A man and a woman standing on a city street at night, snow swirling around them, locked in an embrace that made it difficult to tell where one body ended and the other began. The woman’s face was buried in the man’s chest, his arms holding her so tightly one could see the stretch of cloth over the tightened muscles in his arm. Again, as in the The Lady’s Pleasure, his chin rested on her head, his eyes were closed. Bascomb’s art was in the smallest of details. But this time, the feeling wasn’t of pleasure; it was pain, sadness, a sense of ending.

“Pretty powerful stuff. I’ve looked at this again and again.” Doctor Henderson laughed. “I’m almost addicted to it.”

“It seems so sad,” Sandra said, “but at the same time … I don’t know. The word that keeps coming to mind is ‘real.’”

“I’m sorry I’m late.” A small woman approached them. She was dressed in a simple blue sweater and form-fitting jeans, and her dark unruly hair was caught in a burnt orange ribbon at the base of her neck.

“Mrs. Bascomb. This is Ms. Miller, the reporter.” Although Doctor Henderson’s introduction was formal, there was an underlying warmth, an understanding between the two women.

Mrs. Bascomb smiled. Sandra held out her hand. “Thank you for agreeing to meet with me.”

“As long as you hold to our agreement, Ms. Miller, I have no problem with the interview.” Mrs. Bascomb reminded Sandra of someone, but she couldn´t place who it was.

“Would you like me to stay, Mrs. Bascomb?” Doctor Henderson asked.

“I would like it if you could,” Sandra interjected. “I might have some questions that need a medical explanation. If you have the time?”

Mrs. Bascomb nodded her agreement. “Fine with me.”

Doctor Henderson led them to a small sitting area on the side of the solarium opposite Bascomb’s corner. She motioned for them to sit. “We’ll be able to watch him as he paints, but we’ll be out of earshot.”

The three women were quiet for a moment as Sandra opened the cover to her iPad.

“Mrs. Bascomb, your husband’s paintings seem to have a deep emotional impact on people. Has he always painted?”

“No. He only started painting about fifteen years ago.”

“Why did he start painting?”



“Ms. Miller,” Mrs. Bascomb said. “My husband has been in and out of psychiatric therapy his entire adult life. He’s always been … unhappy.”

“What happened to him, Mrs. Bascomb? Why was he admitted to Gray Manor?”

Mrs. Bascomb smiled oddly, as if she expected Sandra would find what she was about to say funny. “He was found naked on the Amtrak between Baltimore and New York. Mumbling.” Her voice was flat, emotionless. But she continued to smile.

Sandra looked at her iPad, thinking she should write something. “Was there any indication before this that something was wrong?”

Doctor Henderson looked at Mrs. Bascomb and spoke. “Other than bouts of severe depression, his clinical history was fairly normal up to that point,” she said. “He was married, had children, he was highly respected in his career. He functioned at a very high level.”

“He only had one problem.” Mrs. Bascomb looked over at her husband.

“You don’t have to mention this,” Doctor Henderson said to her.

“I think it’s important for Ms. Miller to know. It might provide insight.” Mrs. Bascomb twisted the ring on her finger. “And depending on how well she writes the article, this information may or may not see the light of day. Right?” She looked at Sandra.

“Of course.”

“Ms. Miller, my husband was a notorious womanizer,” she said. “He had affairs, many, many affairs.”

“Many?” Sandra wasn’t sure what that meant. Three? Ten?

“Many,” was all Mrs. Bascomb would say.

“And you knew about this?” Sandra was incredulous.

“Yes. As a matter of fact, I knew quite a bit about each and every one.” Mrs. Bascomb emphasized the each and every. “And there were … this is off the record?”

“Of course.”


“Hundreds?” Sandra could feel her face turning red.

Mrs. Bascomb looked down at her hands and twisted her wedding ring again.

The image Sandra had of Bascomb was suddenly altered. She was angry. Bascomb’s paintings were not simply pretty pictures. They had become personal to Sandra. They were personal to everyone who saw them. But now, there was a treachery in the images.

“Mrs. Bascomb, how could a man capable of painting such … emotion … be such a….” Although the term douchebag came to mind, Sandra had enough presence of mind to know it would be best not to say it. “What do you think he was looking for in these women?”

“You’ve seen his paintings, Ms. Miller. What do you think he was looking for?”

Sandra hadn’t thought much of what drove Bascomb’s art; all she knew was that when she looked at one of them, she felt alive, she felt passion. She felt what it must be like to be in love, and be loved.

“He was looking for what he was painting,” Sandra said after a moment. “He was looking for love?”

“Yes.” Mrs. Bascomb bit her lower lip. “I think that’s it.”

“I don’t buy that.” Sandra was losing perspective. It was no longer about his paintings; it was about the man, the emotion his paintings evoked in Sandra, and now she was confronted with the possibility that it was all a sham. “That’s what we’re all looking for. Why would he be somehow special in his search for love?”

Mrs. Bascomb looked at her husband. “Yes, why was he special?”

Doctor Henderson’s cell phone chirped, she checked it and stuffed it back in her pocket. “If you’ll excuse me?” She got up and left Sandra and Mrs. Bascomb alone.

Mrs. Bascomb turned back to Sandra. “At one point in his life,” she said, “he met a woman, and he fell in love….” Her voice trailed off.

“And?” Sandra assumed Bascomb’s presence at Gray Manor suggested his love story hadn’t had a happy ending. “What happened?”

“Here.” Mrs. Bascomb stood up suddenly. “Let me introduce you to him.”

They walked over to where Bascomb was painting.

Mrs. Bascomb put a finger under his chin and tilted his face toward hers. “Hello, John.” She kissed him lightly on his forehead, holding her lips there for a moment. Pulling away, she smiled at her husband. “Ms. Miller is here about your paintings,” she said, her finger lingering under his chin, her eyes locked with his.

The two women sat near Bascomb. He took the paintbrush out of his mouth, set the blank canvas on his knees and smiled at his wife. He turned to Sandra and sighed. “She broke my heart,” he said, his forehead creasing, his lips in a frown. He put his hand on Sandra’s knee. “She broke my heart,” he said again, staring deep into Sandra’s eyes.

The pain in his expression was haunting. Sandra held his look, feeling like a mother with a hurting child. Sandra put her hand over his. “I’m sorry,” was all she could think of to say.

Bascomb smiled at Sandra and pulled his hand from hers. He set the blank canvas on the easel, dipped his brush in a small jar of blue, and painted a thin line. “She broke my heart.” He tilted his head to one side, dipped his brush in red, adding another line.

“Who broke his heart?” Sandra spoke softly to Mrs. Bascomb.

Mrs. Bascomb was silent. Sandra sensed she had crossed some line. “I would like to understand what brought him here,” Sandra said. “What causes a man like him to –“

“Go mad?” Mrs. Bascomb looked at Sandra without expression. “Ms. Miller, my husband is as passionate as he is brilliant. He wants to believe that love exists. But, love and passion are emotions. They can’t be dissected. They aren’t rational. And ….” She hesitated and looked at her husband. “You can’t manipulate love.”

Only those you love, thought Sandra.

“Love can’t survive in a purely rational mind. There is a war going on inside my husband, Ms. Miller. It’s been quite a battle,” she said, “and he’s losing.

“He paints the ideal,” she continued, “even though he doesn’t believe it exists…anymore.

“Have you ever had someone put you on a pedestal, Ms. Miller? Has someone ever thought so highly of you it was impossible to live up to their expectations?”

Sandra shook her head. “No.”

Mrs. Bascomb smiled. “Lucky you. The air up there is rarefied. One doesn’t last long on a pedestal.”

“His perfect love fell off the pedestal?”

Mrs. Bascomb sighed. “It’s worse than that.” She was quiet for a moment.

Doctor Henderson returned with three bottles of water and handed one each to Sandra and Mrs. Bascomb. Sandra unscrewed the cap but held the bottle in her hand.

“He became angry,” Mrs. Bascomb continued. “He pushed her away. After all,” she said, “any woman who would want him probably wasn´t good enough for him. You know the idea, you wouldn’t want to join a club who would have you as a member.”

“That´s rather convoluted,” Sandra said flatly.

“Convoluted. Yes.” Mrs. Bascomb said.

“Then what did he do?”

“He continued his search for the ideal.”

“What did she do, this woman he put on a pedestal?”

“What would you do, Ms. Miller?”

Sandra was still holding the small painting of the sad couple in the snow. “I don’t know. I’ve never been on a pedestal.” Sandra put the painting down. “Why does he say she broke his heart if he is the one who pushed her away?”

John Henry Bascomb cleared his throat, leaned close to his painting and wiped his brush on a cloth.

“Looks like he’s almost finished,” said Doctor Henderson.

“Dr. Henderson,” Sandra said. “You see what’s in his paintings. It’s more than talent, more than the ability to capture form and light.”

“Yes,” she said. She took the painting of the couple from Sandra.

“There have been other artists whose work has a similar impact. When you read about them, the word ‘genius’ comes up. Is it genius?”

“It might be.” Doctor Henderson laughed. “What is genius, anyway? Great scientists, great thinkers, are great because they look at the world differently. Bascomb sees things in a way that most of us don’t, or can’t. His genius, if you want to call it that, is being able to express emotions, feelings …” she paused for a moment. “People connect to what he paints. What he does for us, Ms. Miller, is he gets us to feel.”

Sandra wondered what pain, what resolution, if any, Bascomb could find at the end of his paintbrush.

Mrs. Bascomb watched as her husband rubbed a cloth around the edges of his intricate painting. She turned to Sandra. “I ask you again. What would you do, Ms. Miller, if the man you loved had that kind of emotion within him?” She looked at her husband. “But loving him came at a high cost?”

“I don’t know,” she said.

Mrs. Bascomb smiled.

“You said that when he was found on the train, he was carrying a painting.”


“What painting was he holding when he was on the train?”

Mrs. Bascomb raised her eyebrows and took a deep breath. “It’s in the closet?” she asked Doctor Henderson.

Doctor Henderson went to the closet, and returned, handing a painting to Sandra.

Bascomb had painted himself into the scene, only he was smiling, dancing, his arms around the Lady, her back arched, her head tilted back, face to the sky, laughing. The Lady´s hands were lightly draped around his neck. She was barefoot, her long skirt caught in mid-twirl. His foot was off the ground, toes bent back ready to step down, while the other turned out awkwardly in that moment critical to a perfect dance step. The background was blurred; the couple was in sharp focus.

“I don’t understand,” Sandra said finally. “This is beautiful. They look so happy. Why would he have this with him when he….” Sandra hesitated. “This is such a hopeful painting.”

“That’s what he doesn’t have, Ms. Miller.” Mrs. Bascomb watched her husband clean his brush. “When he was in Baltimore, when he was with yet another of his ideal ladies who fell from the heights, I think he must have realized…. He doesn’t have hope, Ms. Miller.”

“Mrs. Bascomb, who broke his heart?” Sandra felt this was the key to understanding what drove Bascomb mad.

Mrs. Bascomb smiled. “Ms. Miller,” she said. “Look closely at the picture you have in your hand.”

Sandra looked again at the delicate painting, at the joy on John Henry Bascomb’s face, and at the face of the Lady. And then Sandra looked at Mrs. Bascomb. “It’s you.”

Mrs. Bascomb raised her eyebrows and nodded.

“Oh.” It’s the eyes. “And The Lady Waits?”

“Yes,” said Mrs. Bascomb.

“But the other paintings? The other women?”

“We all break his heart, Ms. Miller.” Mrs. Bascomb twisted the top off her bottle of water. “The pedestal he puts us on is too high. Too cold.” She twisted the cap on the bottle back and forth. “Too lonely.”

Bascomb scratched his forehead with the handle of his paintbrush. “She broke my heart,” he said, leaning close and scratching a thin line in the painting with the handle.

“I’m having trouble, Mrs. Bascomb, coming to terms with this man, this artist, whose paintings stir such emotion in me, and yet …”

“…and yet….” Mrs. Bascomb’s voice trailed off as she watched her husband clean his brush.

“…and yet you stayed married to him.” Sandra was angry. “He cheated on you — I don’t care how many reasons or explanations you can come up with –-“

“He didn’t cheat on you, Ms. Miller.” Mrs. Bascomb’s words cut straight to the core of Sandra’s anger.

Sandra closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Opening her eyes again, she said, “You didn’t leave him.”

“Oh, but I did leave him, Ms. Miller. Perhaps not physically. But I could no longer be one of his ladies. You see, Ms. Miller,” she said, “my heart was broken, too.”

Bascomb dropped his paintbrush on the floor. “Ahh.” He leaned over, once more wiped it on the cloth, and placed it neatly on the table beside him.

“Then why didn’t you leave him? Why do you stay?”

“Look at his paintings, Ms. Miller. What do you see?”

Sandra didn’t need to look at the Bascomb she was holding; she kept her eyes on Mrs. Bascomb. “Love.”

Mrs. Bascomb smiled. “So, I ask you again, what would you have done if you were me?”

John Henry Bascomb stood up and walked over to Sandra, handing her the small painting she had watched him create.


Sandra’s laptop was open and the painting Mr. Bascomb had painted while she had watched that day, and that Mrs. Bascomb had given her, sat in a small frame on her desk. She touched her finger to the Lady’s face, her face. Bascomb had captured their moment together, Sandra seated next to him at his easel, his hand on her knee, her hand placed over his, her mouth shaped as if she was speaking. I’m sorry, she had said to him. But Sandra’s Bascomb was unfinished. Where Sandra was blues and greens, Bascomb was an outline, an empty figure, devoid of color.

John Henry Bascomb paints hope when he has none himself. He paints the passion that eludes him. And, he paints love….


The Promise

Fiction in Mused – The BellaOnline Literary Review – Summer 2014, Vol. 8, Issue 2


She wandered the barren fields exhausted, every step an effort. She fought the suction that nearly pulled the ancient Wellingtons off of each foot as she slogged through the ankle deep mud.

Stopping to catch her breath, she railed at the fallow fields around her. “Where’s the promise of spring?” The sound of her voice dissipated without echo in the cold dry air. She strained to hear a response.

“If you scream at the top of your lungs,” and she was screaming, “and there’s no one around to hear you, does it matter?” The sound of her voice left a trail of cold mist behind it. She laughed. Evidently not, she thought.

She pulled her dead husband’s old barn jacket close around her. He had been a big man, and she was a small woman; the jacket could have wrapped around her two times. But she still wore it, zipped up to her chin and with one of his narrow ties around her waist as a cinch. Pulling the collar close around her neck, she held it tight against the wind.

Squinting, she scanned the late afternoon horizon.

“Stupid cow, bustin´ down the goddamn gate again.” Putting her head down into the wind, she walked on toward the sun. “Just stay in the goddamned barn. That’s all I ask.”

A rooster crowed behind her. She stopped and looked back at the barn in the distance, and at her house. The lights she had left on were beginning to brighten in the first floor windows as the afternoon light faded.

“I just want to go home.” She wiped a gloved hand roughly across her eyes, watery from the wind. “Damn cow.”

She turned and attempted to walk again toward the horizon, to the field at the top of the hill where she thought the errant cow might be. She tried to pull her boot out of the mud, but it was stuck hard this time. As she struggled to free it, her stocking foot shot out of the boot and landed forcefully in the muck.

“Damn it to hell!”

Wiggling her muddy toes, she jumped up and down inside her other boot, shaking the batter-like muck off of her sock, and tried to keep the foot high off the ground. She felt like one of the chickens in the yard when it used to be chased by Boo, her black Lab, waving her arms ridiculously around her like flapping wings, attempting to find her balance. But she didn’t. Instead, she fell full force into the cold mud on her hands and knees.

“Stupid cow.”

Pulling her hands up out of the mud, she sat back on her ankles, knees still firmly planted. She wiped her fingers on his jacket and then covered her face with her hands. “I can’t do this.” She inhaled deeply the clean scent of the fresh mud and smelled spring, life. Taking her hands from her face, she looked at her mud-encrusted fingers.
“´Where is the Life we have lost in the living?´” Her hands fell to her side at the thought of the long forgotten poem, her gaze slowly taking in the fallow hay field around her. “Huh, Mr. Eliot? Can you tell me that? Where is the life?”

Exhaling sharply, she stood. She put her muddied foot back into her boot, held onto the top of the boot with both hands, and pulled her booted foot out of the mud. She did the same with the other foot, bending and pulling each foot, up and down, forward by steps, until she found a row of matted hay to walk on.

At the top of the low hill that marked the horizon lay the cow.

“Oh, no.” She walked over to it, standing beside its bloated stomach. “Not you, too.”

She sank down and sat on the cow’s bony ribs.

“I hate spring,” she said, planting her elbows on her knees and her head in her hands.

Wiggling herself between the ribs to get comfortable, she paused and looked at a star glimmering in the darkening eastern sky.

“I hate spring and you know it.” She shoved a foot between the cow’s front hooves and pushed them a little to the side. “Don’t try to tell me about the promise of new life. That’s crap.”

She angled her head as far back as she could to stare into the sky. “You always said I was too impatient for spring. Remember the year I yelled at the lettuce? ´Grow, dammit! Grow!” She chuckled. “You always said I was more into reaping than sowing.”

“But what´ve I got left to reap?” Evidently not much.

“You’re dead!” she yelled. The sound of her voice circled her, then was gone.

She sat quietly and stared at the sky

“Shut up,” she whispered. “I’m sitting here on a dead cow. You’re dead. I’m not going to listen to you. The only promise of spring is work, hard work.” Another star appeared in the east. “And being alone.”

She pulled her foot out of the boot and then shook it violently. Mud splattered across her face. “Crap. Why don’t I just up and die?” She spat mud.

Wiping her face with the collar of his jacket, she breathed deeply as it brushed by her nose. Holding the collar to her face for a moment, she then buried her head inside the jacket. “You’re in here, you know. It’s why I wear this stupid ugly jacket of yours.”

She coughed and lifted her head, tears sending muddy rivers down her cheeks. As she wiped the tears from her face with his sleeve, she looked west toward the horizon, the sun continuing its slow descent behind the hills.

“What am I going to do without you?” she asked the sky. “There’s no more promise.”

She rubbed her bare foot between her hands to warm it.

“I like winter. I like the cold. The dark. I liked that we could milk the cows and feed the chickens, get all the chores done early, and then sit by the fire looking at the seed catalog, or picking out dream tractors. I liked that.”

She flopped on her back, lying on the dead cow, resting halfway between night and day, watching as the sky in the east grew dark. The stars began to shimmer one by one as, east to west, the afternoon slowly turned to early evening.

“I can’t do spring by myself. You knew that.” Her voice was quiet. “Spring was yours. Mine was fall. We shared summer, though.” She smiled. “For forty years, we shared summer.”

Taking one of his handkerchiefs from his jacket pocket, she wiped her nose.

“And winter. I loved our winters.” She begged the stars and the sky for a return to winter, to the long warm nights together with his arms around her.

Still lying on the cow, she wrapped her arms tightly around herself, holding his jacket close, as the wind grew stronger and the sky blazed sundown in the west.

Quickly she sat up, watching the sun as it threatened to disappear.

“Where’s the goddamn promise of spring?” She yelled as the last sliver of sun disappeared.

“That’s right,” she said quietly. “Leave me here alone, again.”

She put the sock back on her foot and shoved it into the cold and muddy boot.

She stood, taking a determined swipe at the cow hair on the back of her pants. “It’s not like I can’t do this all on my own.”

Pulling his jacket around her again, she retied the cinch at her waist and trucked back through the dark field, trying to stay on the matted hay. The lights of the house were brighter now, her beacon. Her eyes slowly grew accustomed to the advancing darkness.

Walking past the barn toward the back porch of the house, she stopped suddenly. The lights from the kitchen made square patches in the yard, illuminating a sprouting daffodil, and the snow that was starting to fall in thick large clumps.

Pulling off her gloves, she shoved them into his deep pockets and then held out her arms, watching as each enormous flake turned to water in her hands.

“One last snow?” she whispered.

Raising her face to the sky, she smiled as the snow melted on her cheeks.

“I can do this,” she said. “Did you hear me? I can do this. I´ll do spring. I promise.”

Creative Nonfiction

The Swing

ImageCreative Nonfiction – June 19, 2014, The Prague Revue


My daughter swings.

My daughter is seventeen, and she swings.

She swings at night in the rain. She swings in raging blizzards. She swings in the cool shade of a tree during the long hot days of summer.

She swings to save her life.

From the time my daughter was two and could climb by herself onto the seat of the swing in our backyard, she has swung, furiously. From the moment she understood that the secret of swinging is in the arms and not the legs pull the chains and lean back push and lean forward repeat she has swung, frantically.

My daughter swings so much that the hooks that hold the swings eventually pull out of their sockets and new holes need to be drilled. My daughter swings so much that we’ve had to replace the heavy wooden swing-set three times in fifteen years. The second time we replaced it, the large beam that holds the hooks had split in half from so much swinging. When we replaced it with a new swing-set, I saved this beam and the swing that still hangs from it. I hung it across beams in my garage because it won’t fit into the pages of a scrapbook.

We replaced this swing-set on the morning of Christmas Eve while my daughters – I do have two daughters, but only one swings – were watching television and I was baking cookies, their father wrapping presents up in the bedroom. We were all present and accounted for so it must have been one of Santa’s elves! who delivered it. I keep the magic screwdriver the elf left in the snow by mistake in my desk drawer. It won’t fit into the pages of a scrapbook, either.

When she was eight and wanted to go late at night onto the swing, I worried that the bears would eat her, or a passing hobo might kidnap her. But I let her go. I stood in the kitchen window and watched her. I didn’t take my eyes off of her. I stood in wonder at my beautiful daughter in need of a nighttime swing.

I worried when she would come home from school, drop her books and run to the swing. And swing. And swing. And swing. And then she would come inside and melt onto the sofa.

I loved the swing for what it did for my daughter. I loved the swing for doing for my daughter what I could not do.

The swing-set can be seen by passing motorists on my street, a street well known by the locals as a back way into town, and by people walking their dogs. Many people know my daughter swings. Many have commented oh you live in the house with the girl on the swing and seem as much in awe of her as I am.

Sometimes I feel the need to explain my seventeen year old daughter and her swingshe is anxious depressed angry frustrated brilliant lovely hurt waiting to be in control of her own life. But mostly when people say you live in the house with the girl on the swing I just say yes.

And mostly, people understand.

Sometimes I’m not sure my daughter understands why it is she swings. Then again, I’m not sure it matters if she understands.

My daughter came to me yesterday and said I know it’s not Mother’s Day yet but I wanted to give this to you now. And she gave me this picture she painted, of her swing under a full harvest moon, and a tiny red heart on the seat of the swing.

Oh, my daughter ….

I love my daughter’s swing.


Link to the article:

Creative Nonfiction

Scream, Baby. Scream.

Creative Nonfiction – April 19, 2014, The Prague Revue

A response to Parker Marlo’s honest essay on cutting.


No, no, no. It doesn’t make you a liar.

Let me tell you why you cut.

It’s your mother’s fault. Yup. Your mother never let you cry yourself to sleep when you were an infant. She was one of those hippy-types who believed in the family bed and that allowing an infant to cry was cruel. Crying meant the infant was unhappy. And we couldn’t have an unhappy infant, could we? We were all peace and love and happy babies. At all costs, we kept the baby quiet. A quiet baby was a happy baby. A happy baby would grow up to be a happy adult.

God, where the fuck did they get that idea? As if our first gassy smiles are an indication of future contentment.

A baby who doesn’t cry makes up for it later, let me assure you. A baby who isn’t allowed to cry becomes an adolescent whiner, a self-centered all-about-me adult. A baby who isn’t allowed to cry becomes a needy anorexic cutter. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Oh, so anxious for you to be born! For all those expectant months your mother read every how-to manual she could find. Friends gave her their dog-eared copies to read with important sections highlighted, formula is manufactured by Nazis, (Oops. That’s another discussion.)

Your mother read how essential it is to bond with a baby from the very first moment of birth. Your mother isn’t, wasn’t, an idiot; she knew all about bonding, knew that bonding was the key to having a happy baby. She’d read all about it. That first night in the hospital, the day you were born, she kept you in her room instead of the nursery. But, oh, how she desired to sink into a deep, post-birthing-a-baby sleep. She couldn’t, though. She was a mother now. She had to bond.

And she tried to. God, how she tried. She swaddled you, but you looked like a hot dog falling out of a bun; she failed at her first job as a mother. And you cried. And cried. Was this bonding?

At two in the morning the night of your birth, when the famous film producer’s movie star wife who had just given birth and was resting comfortably in the next room screamed Shut that baby up! oh, God, she tried! And a few weeks later, when at your colicky worst you screamed into the wee hours of the night and the neighbors in the next apartment pounded on the wall Shut that baby up! oh, God, she tried. Again. And again. She was inadequate. Incompetent, certain that social services would take you away. She had to keep you quiet.

And yet your mother was so exhausted, so tired, so unbelievably drained, she wanted desperately to put you in your crib, shut the door, and let you scream. She wanted to Ferberize you, follow Dr. Ferber’s recommendations to let babies cry themselves to sleep. She tried it once or twice when the neighbors were out and the windows were shut, sitting on the floor outside your room, head on her knees, hands over her ears, sobbing. Shut that baby up. Shut that baby up. Please, shut that baby up. If only she had trusted herself then. If only she had trusted you.

Instead, she shut you up. She tamped you down. She stuffed a cork into your teeny tiny baby emotions, teeny tiny baby emotions that you should have learned to handle then so that by the time you were older you would know how to handle your big girl emotions.

But she shut you up. She wanted a happy baby. The kicker was, you weren’t a happy baby. You were miserable. The more she tried to keep you quiet, the more you screamed. The more you screamed, the more she tried to keep you quiet. The more she tried to keep you quiet, the more volatile you became. Tantrums, night terrors, uncontrolled outbursts of anger for no reason. Others said you were spoiled, but you weren’t. You didn’t have tantrums because you were denied candy or toys or whatever. You had tantrums just because. Kicking screaming flailing outbursts for no reason, at any time, in any place. Yes, your mother was one of those mothers, thebad mothers, the grocery store mothers who are the recipients of the tsk tsk tsksdolled out by the good mothers.

So, she shut you up. And then, her job, her life, was to make you happy, to keep you happy. Oh, she didn’t spoil you. You didn’t get whatever you wanted whenever you wanted it. You had rules to obey and were punished when you didn’t. But, your emotional happiness depended on her. As a toddler, if you couldn’t sleep, she rocked you. When you were older, if friends upset you, she distracted you. Your emotions weren’t yours to control. You didn’t know how.

You never learned how to soothe yourself.

When it came time for you to become independent, to rebel against your mother, as all daughters must in one way or another, you pushed her away.

And the emotional cork that had been implanted when you were an infant, that your mother learned how to perform a controlled release of whenever necessary to let out just enough steam so you wouldn’t blow up completely, blew.

And you did. You blew.

You were smart. You were beautiful. But you had no idea what this turmoil was inside of you, and you had no idea how to deal with it. You didn’t know how to deflect it. You didn’t know how to release it. You didn’t know how to turn the enormous emotional energy into something positive. You became out of control in your search for control. What else could you do? You blew.

You became extreme. Sex. Drugs. Sex. You confused pain and emotion. Emotions hurt but you didn’t know how to deal with them. So you caused pain because physical pain can be managed. A band aid. A splint. Drugs. Emotional pain has no band aid. The only cure for emotional pain is to cry, to feel it, to suffer it, to live through it.

And you never learned how.

I’m sorry. I fucked up. I thought I was doing the right thing, but that’s no excuse. What do they say about ignorance of the law? I’m guilty as charged. So sue me.

But you are kind of right about this. People don’t really care. Well, it’s not that no one cares. It’s not that I don’t care. It’s that we, I, can’t do anything about it. No, that’s not right either. I won’t do anything about it. Maybe it’s too late, but you have to learn how to handle your emotions, how to let yourself hurt, and heal. You have to learn how to scream in order to hear the quiet that comes after and know that it belongs to you. I have to let you scream.

So scream, baby. Scream.


Link to the article:



I Will Dream of Winter

I know that I will curse the sun,
and I will tire of the light,
the dampness and humidity
will be all that I can bear,
and I will dream of winter.

But for now I will delight in
the first fine day of spring.
Blue sky and a hot car, windows down,
top open and wild hair,
the first trickle of sweat.

Anxious for fresh picked tomatoes,
just shucked corn, and blueberries
picked by the side of a dirt road,
the cawing gulls that follow
the days catch, the night’s dinner.

Smell the basil in the garden
the scent of pine on a hot breeze
honeysuckle rides the wind
everywhere summer abounds,
and I will dream of winter.


A Flat Earth

Time and Velocity.
Abstract concepts
in a universe where
we run when we’re late
for very important dates.
But time is nothing
or everything
and speed doesn’t matter
or does it?

Pour dust on shadows
and they fade with the light
we see but can’t touch,
like the time that
doesn’t exist

or it might

and the speed that
is constant;

we are
what we are
whenever we are,
wherever we are.

one form to another.

Lover to lover.

Words are shadows
that fade with the light.
Time is lost in a vacuum of
I love you,

Words of

a flat earth.


The 2 O’Clock Club

Blazing Star
teases the spotlight,
the woeful sun.
Brighter than 12 o’clock,
softer at 4 o’clock,
sought after midnight
night after night.
Star-gazers longing,
tense at the sight.
Neon lights on the block
can’t compete
when a body
on fire
feeds desire
the feel of heat,
a look, a gaze.
To dream
of this body on earth
as it is, as it must be,
in Heaven
ablaze. A Star
risen from the rough,
a gem,
both star and diamond
From coal, from earth,
a star among us,
one of us.
We find her
at 2 o’clock.

Fluid amber waves
through glass,
a momentary pleasure,
a grain of promise,
heat and desire,
high noon in summer,
midnight in winter
by a fire,
a full moon deceit
reflected behind regimented soldiers,
Don’t look there.
Look there!
Enticing, seductive,
more, than you
are, than you deserve.
You know —
you refuse to know —
you are not as desirable
as she
but it doesn’t matter
what you see through
goldened eyes
delights, for now
a grainy specter
in the dark night,
absent at dawn, but
at 2 o’clock.


Wings of Fire


No boy with waxen wings

plummeting to the sea.

No laughing cackling child

“Look at me!”

Not I.

No more a maid

wandering well-worn paths,

bound by others’ steps,

looking backwards,

always past.

Always passed.

Reflected in

ballroom masques

eyes bright behind the


Not I.

Wings on fire,

wings of light,

flames through the darkness

noon shadows at night.

Soar to the heavens,

sparks ignite.

Two of us burning;

my wings, you … star.


with wings of fire

fade to ash.


For Who I Amn’t

Samantha snapped her laptop shut. “He wants to meet.”

“You can’t meet him!” Her sister pushed back from the kitchen table, tipping the table as she stood, causing an empty chair to scrape across the tiled floor.

“Jesus, Mary! Watch out!” Samantha put her hands on her computer to keep it from falling off the table.

“You don’t know anything about him! You met him on line!” Always the older sister, Mary pounded a fist on the table. “I forbid it.”

Samantha laughed. “Right, Mary. I’m 45 years old and you forbid it. Look at me.” She stood. “I’m ignoring your forbidding.” Placing her laptop in its case, she grabbed her leather jacket off the back of the chair.

“Sam, seriously.” Mary groaned. “Why do you do these things to me?” She walked to her sister and put her hands on Samantha’s shoulders. “You met him online. He’s virtual. He’s unreal. He’s virtually unreal.”

Shaking Mary’s hands off her shoulders, Samantha put her arms into the sleeves of her jacket. “Considering you’re the one who helped me set up my online profile, I’m kind of surprised at your reaction.”

“Well,” Mary hesitated. “I didn’t think, I wasn’t sure….”

“Oh, great.” Samantha zipped her jacket shut, getting her sweater caught in the zipper in the process. “Great vote of confidence,” she said, tugging her sweater free. “He’s real, Mary.” Samantha threw a glare in her sister’s general direction. “I’ve been talking to him for months.”

“Yeah?” Mary decided the best defense was an offense. “What does he do for a living? Huh? Or rather, what does he say he does for a living?” Mary drove her finger into Samantha’s shoulder with each syllable.

Samantha grabbed the offending digit and bent it backwards.

“Ouch!” Mary shook the pain out of her hand.

“Serves you right.” Samantha buttoned her jacket. “Don’t poke me. I know how to fight, remember?” She pulled the jacket collar close around her neck. “Mistress of Mixed Martial Arts. I can kill a man with one strike, with my eyes closed.”

“Yeah, you might need those skills if you meet this guy.”

“This guy, as you refer to him, has a name. Timothy. He’s Timothy. And he produces documentaries. Lives in LA. Is going to be in Providence interviewing some guy at Brown University for a film on tracking refugees in Africa.”

“Refugees in Africa?” Mary laughed. “Right. Sounds like a saint. Bet people thought Ted Bundy was a saint, too.”

“Listen, Mary.” Samantha held her laptop under one arm as she felt for her gloves on the table and slipped them on, finger by finger. “I’ve talked to him for over 6 months. We’ve become friends. He says he’s a producer. Why shouldn’t I believe him? He’s going to be in Providence. That’s close enough for me to meet him. So, I’m taking the train and going to meet him in Mystic for lunch. Public place. Daytime. Safe. Okay?”

“You’re taking the train? To Mystic?” Mary grabbed her iPhone and opened the calendar. “When are you going? I’m going with you.”

“Oh, my God, Mary. Will you please stop. Mystic is the halfway point between Providence and New Haven. The station is near the restaurant we chose. I will be fine!”

Samantha turned and started to walk toward the door. Her foot caught in the chair that had been moved when Mary pushed the table. She tripped, sending her laptop flying across the room and Samantha sprawling on the cold Italian marble tiles.

“Dammit, Mary! Why did you move the chair?” Samantha bent over to get on her hands and knees, feeling around for the chair to hold onto as she pulled herself up. She brushed her clothes and felt her arms and legs for sore spots. “Thank God I’m an expert at falling,” she said. “Where’s my laptop?”

Mary walked over to the sofa, picked up the laptop and placed it on the table in front of her sister. “Here you go. Had a soft landing on the sofa.”

Samantha closed her eyes and lifted her face to the ceiling. “Who am I trying to kid, Mary? I’m an uncoordinated forty-five year old woman falling in love with a virtual man.” She turned the chair around and plopped herself down. “He says he can’t find women who will ‘love him for who he is, or isn’t,’ whatever the hell that means.”

“What the hell does that mean?” Mary sat across from her sister. “’Who he is, or isn’t?’ Who is he, the Riddler?”

“He gave me the impression that he’s, well, not very attractive.” Samantha rubbed her hand back and forth over her laptop case.

“Yeah? At least he has a sense of humor about it. What kind of guy has the nerve to use a picture of George Clooney as his profile picture?”

“Yeah. He joked about that.” Samantha laughed. “He told me that people have trouble ‘seeing beyond the exterior.’”

“Well, then,” Mary patted her sister on the back. “You guys are a match made in heaven.”

Samantha laughed. “Why don’t you say what you really think?”

“Sorry, Sam.” Mary’s fingers seemed to be pounding out the beat to the 1812 Overture on the table. “But sometimes, I just have to call it the way I see it, if you’ll pardon the expression.”

“You’re certainly on a roll with the barbs.” Samantha took a deep breath. “He says he likes me because he thinks I’m funny. He says I’m ‘genuine.’” She blew at a stray hair hanging over her nose and then pushed it behind her ear. “Other women get ‘glamorous.’ I get ‘genuine.’”

“So, Ms. Genuine. Have you told him all your secrets?” Now Mary was playing the scales on an invisible piano.

“No. I haven’t told him all my secrets.”

“What are you waiting for?”

“I guess I want to see if he’ll like me for who I am, or amn’t.” Samantha wrinkled her nose and squinted. “That’s a word, right? Amn’t?”

“You’re the writer.” Mary stood, ran water into a cup and put it in the microwave. She sighed. “Fame must be a horrible burden.”

“I’m not famous.” Samantha stood, attempting once more to leave, this time hopefully without falling on her face. “I’m infamous.”

“You write porn. You make a decent living writing about indecent things.” Mary turned and smiled at Samantha. “Liked your last chapter, by the way. Never thought of using salad tongs like that.”

“I hear the smile in your voice. You and Tony have a little fun, did you?”

“I don’t know where you come up with these things. But, man, I gotta tell you. You’re good. You are very, very good.”

“Comes from having an overactive imagination and an underactive sex life.” Samantha groaned. “God, if people only knew.”

Mary stopped Samantha on her way to the door. “When are you supposed to meet him?”

“Day after tomorrow.”

“Seriously?” Mary went into protective older sister mode again. “That’s too soon!”

“Jesus, Mary. We’ve been talking to each other for months. It is definitely not too soon.”

Mary opened the door for Samantha. “Have you ever actually talked to him? You know, spoken on the phone?”

“Yeah, lots of times.”

“What does he sound like? I mean, does he sound smart? Does he sound like an ax murderer?”

“Yes, Mary. He sounds exactly like an ax murderer. And I know that because I talk to a lot of ax murderers.” Samantha walked through the door but stopped on the steps and turned to Mary. “He sounds smart. He sounds kind. He sounds, familiar somehow. Like I already know him, have known him forever. It’s eerie.”

“You mean like one of those past life regression kind of things?” Mary giggled. “Maybe you were ill fated lovers, like Lancelot and Guinevere, or Uther and Ygraine.”

“Or Bonnie and Clyde.” Samantha walked down the steps to the sidewalk.

“You sure you don’t want me to drive you home?” Mary put her hand out to feel the weather. “It’s going to rain.”

“No, Mary. I’m fine,” Samantha called back to her sister. “I won’t melt. The bus will be here in just a tick.”

Samantha could feel Mary’s eyes on her as she walked down the street to the bus stop. “I’m okay, Mary,” she said to herself. “I’m okay.”


The train arrived in Mystic uncharacteristically early, about two minutes ahead of schedule. Samantha had arranged for a cab to meet her at the station to take her the few blocks to the Inn where she would meet Timothy.

“Timothy.” She said his name out loud, liking the sound of it on one hand, but finding it rather formal on the other. Was he Timothy? Or a Tim? Timmy?

She had described herself to the taxi dispatcher, who seemed not to be worried about it.

“Yeah, lady. Not many people get off in Mystic. We’ll spot ya.”

And they had.

The old cabbie, sounding every bit the fisherman home from the sea, chatted with Samantha for the entire 2 minute ride.

“From out of town are ya?”

“Yes,” Samantha smiled. “Just here for the day.”

“For the day, are ya?”

“Yes. Just for lunch, really. Meeting a friend.”

“A friend, ya say?”

“Yes. A friend.”

“Well, we got ya on the schedule for a four o’clock pick up.”

“Yes, that should be fine.”

The cab pulled up in front of the Inn, bumping onto the sidewalk of the narrow street. Samantha opened the door and stretched her legs till her red cowboy boots touched the asphalt, searching for even footing.

“See ya at four!” The cabbie drove away with a sputter and a billow of gasoline infused smoke.

Samantha stood for a moment to get her bearings. “Shit. Should’ve had him point me in the right direction.” She turned her body to the sun, felt the warmth of it seep through her jacket, and then turned again in the opposite direction. “Buildings, away from the sun,” she said under her breath. “Aim for the shade.”

She opened her white cane with a snap of the wrist and an expertise that came from doing the movement for years. She tapped around her, feeling the sidewalk for obstacles.

“Excuse me.” It was his voice. “Samantha?” The after pause lingered.

Samantha extended her hand in the general direction of the voice. “Samantha Majors. Blind as a Bat.”

The silence was deafening, but she was used to it. She was used to having to let people get used to her. She never knew how someone was going to respond. Some would politely withdraw, afraid of her sightlessness, afraid that it might mean more work for them. Others would go overboard in their acceptance of her, hiding their fear behind zealous enabling. And sometimes, rarely, they’d see beyond her eyes.

This was what she was hoping for now.

“Surprise.” She decided to be the one to break the ice.

He laughed and took her hand. “I guess so.”

Thank God.

He pulled her close and hugged her. “Have any other secrets?” he whispered into her ear.

“Oh, one or two more. But this was the big one.”

She pulled out of his hug. “I hope you don’t mind.”

“That you have secrets?”

“No.” Putting her hands on his face, she smiled. “That I want to know what you look like. You’re one up on me.”

She slowly ran her fingers over his eyes.

“What color?”


Her hands continued tracing his face. “Nice nose.”

“Thank you.”

“A beard. Neat. Trimmed.”

“Thank you, I think.”

She ran her hands over his shoulders.

“Strong. Not too big, not too small.”

“Okay, Goldilocks.” He took her hands in his. “Any lower and you’ll know way more about me than you might want to know, at the moment.”

Samantha pulled her hands away quickly. “Okay, then!”

They laughed easily together, but then stood for a moment in an awkward silence.

“I’m sorry.” Samantha aimed her face at the ground. “I should have told you, I know. But I wanted you to get to know me, before you decided that I wasn’t…right.” She lowered her head. “I’m sorry. It’s lame. I got you here under false pretenses.”

“Believe it or not, I understand.”

Samantha couldn’t stop focusing on his voice. It was clearer in person. She knew this voice. It was refined, but casual. It was direct, strong, and yet tinged with humor, kindness.

“I feel like I know you,” she said.

“You do know me. We’ve talked for months.”

“No,” she repeated. “I feel like I know you.”

“Mr. Clooney? Your table’s ready.” A young woman called from the Inn’s open door.

The after pause lingered.

“Surprise.” He was the one to break the ice.

“You’re name’s not Timothy, is it?”

“That’s my middle name.”

“And your first name?”


“Shit.” Samantha ran a gloved hand through her hair. “You mean, you really are George Clooney?”


Samantha turned her head from side-to-side, a memory of a movement she would have made if she had sight, if she could have seen which direction she should run.

“Not to state the obvious,” her voice bordered on shrill and out of control. “But why the hell are you meeting someone online, for God’s sake?” Samantha faced him, hoping her blank stare was aimed directly into his eyes. “You’re George fuckin’ Clooney. You could have your pick of anyone. Everybody loves George Clooney.”

“Yeah. That’s the problem. Everybody loves George fuckin’ Clooney, as you so nicely put it.”

Samantha smiled. “Yeah, sorry.”

He laughed. “No, you’re right. But at this point in my life, it would be nice to find someone who wants to know me, to get beyond the exterior. And that’s hard.”

They were quiet a moment, sizing each other up.

“Wow. Who would have thought….” Samantha smiled.

“Yeah. Who would have thought?” His low laugh was incredibly sexy. “So, what about you? Why were you looking for someone online?”

Samantha placed her hands gently on his face.

“To find someone who will love me for who I am, or amn’t?”

“Is amn’t a word?” Samantha felt the smile under his words.

“It is now.”



All for the Wrong Word

a little bit of a ghost story….


“This house has great bones.” Jameson jiggled the key in the rusty lock and pushed open the heavy oak door. “Such potential.” He faked a bow and waved Maggie into the foyer.

“Leave it to you to see potential in a rundown hole-in-the-wall.” She picked up a lose floorboard with the toe of her boot and pushed it aside. “I’m not sure why you even brought me here,” she said, turning to leave.

Her eye caught the dust caked transom over the door. Dim light through ancient stained glass beckoned like distant headlights through a thick fog. “This house was someone else’s dream,” she said quietly, squinting at what seemed under the dirt to be a nautical scene, a boat sailing in a bay. She walked to the door and stared up at the transom. “A dream gone bad.”

“You’re too literal, Maggie,” he said. “Step back, feel the history of the place, the magic.”

“Magic.” Standing on her toes, she reached for the high window and wiped a thin streak across the grimy panes.

“Yes, Maggie. Magic.” He opened a door under the stairs. “Look in here.” He pulled a string, lighting the small room with a bare bulb. “Isn’t it darling!”

In the corner was a tiny triangular sink with brass faucets and spindle handles marked “Hot” and “Cold.” A toilet fit snugly into the space under the sloped ceiling beneath the stairs.

Wiping the dust from the transom off of her finger, Maggie snuck around Jameson. She caught her wavy reflection in a mirror hung with a tattered green ribbon above the sink. Gray clouds in the glass gave the impression she was surrounded by mist.

A smile slowly graced her reflection.

“It’s a charming little space, isn’t it?” Jameson turned and started for the stairs. “Come with me. There’s more.”

“In a minute.” Maggie cocked her head, trying to see into the mirror, beyond her reflection.

She closed the door to the small room. Turning the handle marked “Cold,” a burst of brown watery air spewed into the sink like a beer drinker’s guffaw. She turned on the “Hot” and the empty pipes groaned.

She sat down on the toilet seat and picked at a loose piece of wallpaper, pink roses in a vertical vine from chair rail to ceiling.

Water closet.

She heard the words clearly. The voice was pleasantly, eerily familiar.

I’ll light the candles.

Maggie looked up. “I’ll light the candles.”

Your hands are so strong.

“It’s the bread,” she said, “the kneading.”

You’re cold.

“It’s starting to snow.” She rubbed her hands together. An unseen hand covered hers, the pressure of a warm arm wrapped round her.

I won’t tarry long.

“Please, don’t leave,” she whispered. “Please.”

A triple rap on the door and Jameson called to her. “Hey, you okay in there?”

“Please, don’t leave,” she whispered again.

“Maggie?” He drummed his fingers on the door.

“Yes, Jameson,” she said. “I’ll be right there.”

From where she sat, the mirror was black, the shading of age blocking any clear image of the small room from this angle. She stood, looking for a long moment in the mirror, seeing only her smiling face.

“Maggie.” Jameson rapped on the door again.

“Yes, yes,” she said, opening the door.

“You okay?” Jameson put his hand on her cheek. “You’re as white as a ghost.”

She put her hand over his, his fingers cool on her warm face. “I’m fine. Show me upstairs,” she said, leading the way.

Jameson ran his hand over the cracked oak bannister as he walked up the stairs behind her. “This place is just dying to be brought back to life.”

Maggie stumbled, catching herself before falling up the stairs.

“My God, Maggie,” Jameson said, coming up behind her. “You sure you’re okay?”

“Yes.” She turned and sat down on the top step. “No.”

Jameson leaned into her. “What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “I think it’s this house.” She put her head on her knees. “I’m a builder, not a renovator, Jameson. I can’t take someone else’s dead dream and revive it.”

“Stop being so morbid.” He pulled her up by her elbow, pushing her down the hallway and into a large room. Sunlight danced on dust motes as the sun streamed through the wavy glass in the ancient windows. “Just look at this room!”

An iron bedframe and an oak commode, the shattered pieces of its porcelain bowl scattered over the floor, were the only furnishings left behind.

We have a water closet now!

“But I like the commode,” Maggie said.

“Commode?” Jameson opened the drawer in its base “This thing could catch a mint at auction.”

It’s the twentieth century.

“I like old things.”

“Since when?” Jameson practically squealed. He slammed shut the commode drawer and stared at Maggie. “Okay, Maggie. What the hell is going on?”

Maggie walked to the commode and opened the drawer, pulling it out as far as she could. She reached in the back and felt around.

“What are you doing?”

She turned to Jameson. “I don’t know what I’m doing,” she said, pulling out a folded piece of yellowed paper. She handed it to Jameson.

“It’s a letter.”

Maggie looked out the window.

“I can barely read it,” he said, holding it close to his face. “The letters are faded, but I’ll give it a go.”

I’m sorry, Jameson read. I shan’t…. “They said things like shan’t back then?”

I’m sorry, Maggie continued, still looking out the window. I shan’t be able to return as expected. Know that you are forever in my heart.

Jameson lowered the letter.

“He never returned,” she said.

I did.


I should have written when, not as.


You should have waited.

Maggie ran from the room, down the stairs, and into the water closet. She looked at her smiling face and the hand holding a jagged shard of porcelain.

He came back.

“He did?”

I just wanted you to know.