Flash Fiction: A Few Things You Wish You’d Said

A few of the things you wish you’d said and done in that bathroom

 

It’s been a good night, a fun night, you’ve been drinking with your friends at a diner in Tennessee, Friday night in the next county over. You need the bathroom. A public bathroom. Not your favourite place to visit, even in the city, and well, you’re here in the middle of bumfuck nowhere, a Baptist enclave of reluctant drinkers, or at least – unpracticed drinkers. You go to the women’s, do your business, flush, and then stand at the sink to wash your hands. The door opens behind you, closes, opens, closes. You look up into the mirror, a woman stands there, stepping back to check the sign on the door. She looks you up and down, the jeans, boots, sweatshirt, and short brown hair. Think Amelia Earhart, slender, scruffy, and a woman in your own right, that’s you. This woman in polyester and hairspray takes you in slowly, her eyebrows raising up as she notices you staring back. She closes the door behind her. What are you, she asks? Why, you reply, what are you? She steps closer, taking a big inbreath, a sigh of impatience, but you smile, friendly and polite as usual and turn off the faucet. You reach for a towel from beside her, and she flinches. No, what are you? She persists, and points her lacquered nails in your vague direction, not too hard to do in this tiny linoleum lined bathroom with only one stall. Are you a man or a woman, I can’t tell, she says with a snarl and snark, too close, too mean in the eyes, all fire and righteous religion, I can’t tell, she insists, am I in the wrong bathroom? You laugh, how would I know unless you show me, and you look her up and down, saucy and slow, a firey anger building in your gut as you take in the pink blouse, puckered lips, and blue eye shadow, the hennaed hair and mouthful of her toxic perfume. She spits, are you a man? You counter with, well, what are you, a drag queen? She squares up to you, her heaving chest to your flat one, stands too close, spitting and spouting, cursing like a backwoods heathen, calling you the devil’s work, as pure evil, a pervert, a disgusting specimen, you you you, you should be killed looking like you do, you should die, what are you, what are you, what are you? She yells at you, GET OUT! GET OUT! but you say, I’ll show you mine if you show me yours, and she swallows, as you slowly, with hands on your belt, unbuckle, unzip, and drop your pants.

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Living The Dream: 35

As part of the weekly excerpt from the novel LIVING THE DREAM:

DECEMBER: UNDONE

I spent the afternoon fixing odds and ends around the homestead. I’d set up a campfire by pulling down various three to four-foot lengths of branches and partial tree trunks to be found near by. Blankets covered a few straw bales for seats and I’d even swept the deck clear of snow. Veggie soup bubbled away on the wood stove inside. Nelson played with the hens, following them around the trees and eating their poop. He flopped down in a sunny spot on the deck. When the hens wandered back into their run to escape his attentions, I closed the gate behind them. The sky was clear blue, and no storms nor wind threatened to come our way. I wore Mom’s scarf, a fleece sweatshirt, thermals, long socks, and my big winter boots. The sun might be shining but it was still below freezing.

I lay back across a straw bale and drifted off.

 

Nelson barked. I fell off the bale. The delivery guys had arrived. Three different trucks pulled up together, making a right mess of the snow by all backing up as close as they could to the bus, and with much laughter and carrying on, we began to unload the straw bales. Three truckloads of bales, I couldn’t quite believe it. Debbie set the kids to clearing out a space around the bottom of the school bus with the help of Nelson who’d taken to young Finn. They wore so many layers as to indistinguishable from one another, and they set to work removing rocks and cactus.

“Frank is on his way but had to swing by the Firehouse first. He said he’d be here in a short while. How do you want to do this?”
“I just figured we’d set one layer end to end all the way around and see how far we get. How many did you all pick up today?”
“I’m not sure. Hey Graham, was it fifty or sixty we got?”
Graham climbed down from his warm truck with an obvious shiver. “More like eighty between us, I think. It should do a fair amount, right? We probably have enough for at least two layers with more stacked on the north side. We can go back again tomorrow, or are they closed?”
I shrugged and grabbed the wheelbarrow, passing it to Graham, knowing his ability to disappear at the sight of hard work. “This is for you, my friend. If you could take a couple at a time over to the bus and spread them around? Debbie and I will unload her truck first and then we’ll start on yours. And no, before you ask, there’s no foundation built. It’s straight on the dirt. When they fall apart, I’ll use them in the gardens, okay?” I handed him Mark’s work gloves in case he tried that old excuse of forgetting his own. I grinned though as he tried them on and picked up a bale with a groan.

Danny came around behind me and covered my eyes with a laugh. “I have a present for you. Want to guess what it is? Go on, Jen, you’ll not get it right, not completely.”

He twirled me around until dizzy, chatting up a storm until I made a stab at it, “kittens?”

“And?”
“More hens?”
“Close, but not quite.”
He took away his hands with a flourish. In front of me stood Mom holding a box with two kittens. She laughed at my amazed expression. “I knew you wouldn’t expect to see me here.” She hugged me with her free arm, laughing in delight at my wide grin.
“He said you wouldn’t remember. I’d told you I’d try to come back. Well, I’m sorry that I missed Christmas but here I am now, and here are your two new friends; one’s a boy and one a little girl. They’re almost two months old now and still pretty vulnerable, so let’s take them inside and get them warm. Danny, can you grab the supplies?”
“Yes, ma’am.” He saluted her and climbed up into the back of his truck and Graham struggled past with two bales in a wheelbarrow. They nodded at each other but said little though they grinned shyly. The two boxes handed down were full toys, litter, plastic trays, feeders, water bowls, towels, anti-septic wipes, kibble, and even cans of wet food. He set one container on the deck for me and then wandered over to help Debbie throwing bales down one by one. Mom and I climbed inside the bus and shut the door behind us. Silence suddenly.
I set down a box, “Welcome back, Mom. I missed you.”
She passed me the kittens and sat down in the armchair. “How about some coffee and a little chat, Jen? Tell me all.”

 

“And then?”
“Not much, we decided we’d talk later, in a few months or so.”
“And you’re okay with that?” She sipped her coffee with a contented sigh as a kitten nuzzled on her lap. The fire flickered in the stove and outside the others walked back and forth with straw bales, chatting, and even singing bluegrass tunes as they worked. I relaxed against my mom’s legs with another kitten in my arms.

“I am, I really am. This is a good place for me to be, with or without him. And then there’s the trust, I can’t trust him again, can I?” I shifted the kitten to the other arm as I turned and faced her. “I love this, can’t you see why? See why it’s special? Yes, you can, or you wouldn’t be here, would you?”
She laughed, “Busted as they say. No, you’re right, this is a good place for you. I haven’t seen you this relaxed for a long time, Jenny. I approve, for what it’s worth.”
“Thanks, Mom, thanks for just letting me be okay with him gone. I miss Mark, but I’d miss this more.” I poked her in the foot, “Well, what shall I name these two?”
“That’s for you to decide, not me, but I can tell you something, it’s time we helped finish the work, isn’t it?” She set her mug on the table and stretched out her legs.
“You mean now they’ve done two truck loads?” I laughed and held out my hands, pulling her upright. “Good timing, Mom, I approve, for what it’s worth. Well, come on then, let’s show them how it’s done, shall we?”

 

Supervising my friends, we quickly got the first layer down by mid-afternoon. I called a halt to the work and asked someone to light the campfire while I set up a late lunch of soup and bread, followed by hot chocolate and mulled wine, age depending. We’d settled around the fire pit with bowls and mugs, happily chatting away when another truck could be heard slowly and steadily approaching. Two engines, one deep and rumbling and the other more like a diesel pick-up. Frank perhaps? I stood and put my plate down for Nelson to pre-wash and grabbed a straw-hat, then went to find out. Debbie called to the kids to get ready, “Papa’s on his way so stay back kids, wait till he turns off the engine, remember?”

They bounced in place and stuffed their faces with the last of the bread as a huge red truck slowly turned into the driveway, a water tanker, it was the oldest one kept out back at the firehouse. I glanced back at Graham and he simply smiled but shook his head, motioning he’d say nothing. I walked up to Frank as another vehicle pulled up behind him. Louisa and Anne sat in a flatbed truck with a black metal tank strapped to the back.

“What the hell’s going on? Why are you here, Anne?” That sounded bad so I tried to smile as I approached, heading to Louisa’s window deliberately. I nodded at Anne but didn’t say much. Louisa laughed though as she climbed out and hugged me, surprising us both.

“I was so excited to hear from your neighbor about today’s projects. I couldn’t believe the timing – it’s perfect. Did you tell her to expect us?”
Danny actually reddened slightly as he admitted that “no, I was busy with kitten wrangling and -”

“- picking me up from the airport. It’s my fault. I’m Martha, Jen’s mom. And you must be Louisa, the local dog whisperer. Anne too? Hello, come on over, we have some soup left if you’re all hungry. Kids, is this your papa? Are you sure? I don’t know if I believe you, Finn.”

Mom’s inner-hostess kicked in and soon we’d all sat back down with bowls of soup and more hot drinks. Louisa explained that the water tank came from Andrew’s place, which had been sold and they needed to clear out all the stuff the new owners didn’t want. “Like these tanks for some reason. Frank’s taking one for their place and I thought you’d be able to set up a catchment system, more than the ten buckets you’ve got lined up, if you want it?”
“Are you sure though? Don’t you need them at yours?”
“No, that was one of the first things my ex-husband and I had done together. There’ll be lumber too, odds and ends of tools if you want to come over this week? The place has to be cleaned up by Friday the fifth.”
Frank stood up, “talking of water, we should fill you before it gets dark. That old tanker is full, so I can give you about 500 gallons, and that’ll keep you going for winter, Jen, don’t you think? A nice feeling that’ll be, water in a tank, just stack some – ”

“ – BALES.” we all yelled out together, laughing at the reminder to work. Our late lunch break ended with the kids giggling and running after Nelson and a paper plate.

 

I drank a glass of the spiced wine as the others worked. I took photos, Mom insisted. Then Anne waved me over to Louisa’s truck. I wandered across, uncertain that I was up for this, but it might as well be dealt with, right?

“You stayed with Mark in LA, didn’t you?”

She nodded sheepishly and held out her hands, empty and open. I stared into her eyes and away, back at the impromptu gathering behind us. She spoke.

“I did. I doubt I’ll go back though. It was primarily to see my sister but yes, I saw Mark when I was there. But I’m not a city girl any more, not that I ever was, but it was fun to see Helen and take her to a party with Mark’s friends.” She played with snow at her feet, clearing out a small patch of dirt. “I am sorry, sorry it turned out like that, messy.”
“Yes, well, Mark’s happy there, I guess. And I’m happy here. Simple as that, when it comes down to it, isn’t it? I’m not to fall apart.” I suddenly had an image of my lonely Thanksgiving in the bus and cringed. “Well, not again. So now where do we go from here, Anne?”

Anne zipped up her coat and shrugged as she stared at my homestead and my friends hanging out around a blazing fire. The silence lasted a moment but was surprisingly comfortable. Anne shuffled and turned back to me, her eyes bright. “I have something for you, something Mark asked me to bring back for you.”
“Really? What? Something I’d given him or what?”
She grinned suddenly and I remembered that smile so well. “Kind of, but Louisa might disagree.” She opened the door of the truck. A little face stared up from within a pile of blankets. The white and golden scruffy little face I knew so well.

“Frida. Oh my god, it’s Frida.”

My pup shot out and into my arms, licking me all over as I shrieked and almost fell over. Nelson suddenly tackled us from behind and with Frida in my arms, I tumbled into a snowy wet pile with them both. “You brought back Frida.” and I collapsed into tears.

 

Embarrassed, I cracked open a beer and tried to make a joke. They all looked at me with such sympathy that it set me off again, dammit. Mom caught the kids, whispered to them, and made them stand in a line facing me from on top of some bales.

“On the count of three,” she commanded.

“One.” said Finn.

“Two.” said Franny.

“Three.” yelled Clark.

Out of the blue, hundreds of snowballs rained upon us, those little buggers had stockpiled them out of sight and now all was mayhem as Danny and Mom fought back, catching them in mid-air and tossing them onto the screaming kids. The dogs ran in circles, barking and chasing each other in excitement. Graham hid behind Anne as she desperately tried to make enough to throw back. Frank commandeered the high spot of the bus roof and yelled out directions for the kids. Debbie sat on a rock and ate more soup, unaffected. Louisa climbed the water tanker, staying out of danger. I stood there, in the middle of the battle, covered in melting snow, tears falling from laughing so hard that I dropped to my knees, unable to take any more. Undone. I was undone by my new friends.

 

“Thanks, Mom. You started it.”
“Did not. Did I, Danny? The kids did it, I blame the kids.”
Franny giggled from on Debbie’s lap as Finn dozed on his dad’s. Clark helped Graham and Anne clear up the plates and mugs. The stars slowly lit the night sky and a breeze reminded us of the winter storm watch for the weekend. I shivered and pulled down the woolen hat. Anne and Louisa were chatting away. Graham was shuffling around, trying to get into the conversation but failing in his awkward way. The fire lay hot and bright at our feet, glowing embers that sparkled and flickered briefly before settling down once again.

“Well, it’s time we headed back and settled the children down for the night. Are you okay out here tonight, Jen?”
I grinned up at my tall friend, “Frank, I think I am, I think I am. Thanks so much for the water and everything today.” I stood up and suddenly hugged him, making him redden uncomfortably. His kids clambered over the bales to say bye before they all disappeared, driving slowly with up the dark road. The others followed suit and soon I was saying good night to Louisa and Anne, and shortly after that to Mom and Danny.

“Are you sure you’ll be okay tonight, Jenny? I don’t want to worry about you, not tonight.”
“Oh, Mom, go and enjoy yourself and don’t worry about me. It’s a two-dog and two-kitten night for me. I’m fine, right? Danny, take her away, will you? I’ll meet you all for lunch tomorrow as planned. Go on with you both. I’ll see you next year.”

“Happy New Year to you too, my favorite daughter.”
“Your only daughter, you mean?”
“There is that but I’m not complaining Jen. Well, we’ll see you tomorrow then, bye.”

With a waxing half moon in a cloudless sky, they drove back down my driveway and pulled the chain across the gateposts.

I poured water on the fire and it sizzled into a cold soggy mass. My two happy dogs lay on the deck, tuckered out, but tails wagging whenever they caught me looking. Hiding behind a juniper shrub, I peed and stared at the stars above without falling over for once.
I stood up and with the last of my wine toasted land and sky, dogs and owls in the distance, not forgetting coyotes and cactus.

“This is the life, isn’t it? I’m living the dream, yep, living the dream. Oh, and Nelson? Frida?” They both yawned. “Happy New Year. Let’s go to bed, shall we? Are you hungry?”
In the dark, we clambered up the steps and into the warm bus. A squeak and tiny sharp claws climbed up my jeans, a black and white fur ball of a kitten had a mission to get up high. Her brother, a pale ginger kitten, stared out from his place on the armchair, watching the invading dogs, and completely unfazed by a huge hairy husky cleaning his ears. With boots removed, I shrugged off the coat and scarf, hanging them up at the door. I stepped over to the table to light a candle. My sock slipped in a wet and smelly present. Great. Frida licked at the mess with a wagging tail.

“Okay, first things first, you kittens need to learn how to use a litter box.”

This #5

From an ongoing series of sketches called THIS:

DSC_0548

#5

Coasts beckon. She follows, willingly, with books and notepad in hand. Jennifer goes from retreat to retreat, persuading the owners to offer her a place to finish this life-changing novel, the one we’ve all been waiting for. The second in her short career. That first one though. Who would’ve thought it? That Jen could be so talented? Articulate? Organized? That our sweet shy Jen could actually finish something?
This is more like it. This is the third retreat. She has four more lined up. All on coasts, the next one is in Hawaii. She’ll have to borrow the money to get the flight, but she’s not worried. That’s what Go Fund Me is for, right? To pay the way for the ones in need. And Jennifer tells herself that she needs this, as she pulls out the scissors and lops off another three inches from her long brown, long boring hair.
Turning forty isn’t agreeing with her. Her stomach suddenly bloated. Nothing to do with all the beer she’s tried at the various microbreweries. She notices a few stray hairs under her chin and grabs a razor, a dull one but who cares? No one looks at her anyway. Not now. Jennifer avoids the table with the laptop, notebook, smartphone and pens and picks up her camera instead and scrolls through the photos of the last retreat, of Michael. A big teddy bear of a man, soft spoken, a writer like herself, he’d paid attention, unfazed by her birthday blues. He might even have taken advantage of that strong IPA and the loosey-goosey chatterbox that she became for a night. He’d had green eyes, scruffy hair, and baggy jeans to hide his own beer belly. The selfies they’d taken in the morning though, just before his flight to Florida, they’d made Jennifer smile. For a brief moment, she forgot where she was, why she was here, and where she was going next. And the great novel? Nope, nowhere to be found in this congealing soup of sadness. She picked up the scissors again. Nostalgia gets her every time. Cut the damn hair.

 

 

The Importance of Book Reviews

After about ten reviews, Amazon starts including books in their suggestions “also bought” and “you might like” lists.

After more reviews, Amazon is more likely to spotlight the book. This creates a massive increase in visibility and sales. We all want that, right?

Reviews and sales go hand in hand.
The problem for my own books is that most are sold by word of mouth, at events and the such. Then emails and FB posts/ messages tell me how much they enjoyed the book. Then that’s it. Which is wonderful to hear. Please though, can you take a moment and go on Amazon and click on Van Life or any of my books and leave a review. It only takes a moment. I need your help to find the recognition that is beyond winning best fiction with NM/AZ Book Awards in 2012 and 2016, plus being a finalist in 2014 for another. Great Northwest Book Contest awarded Van Life Grand Winner for best nonfiction.
Until I have some reviews though, Amazon ignores these books, which will stay under the radar and only appear if readers are actively searching for my name. The awards don’t help except reassure me that I didn’t waste my time putting it out there.
Seriously, I’d like to find more readers. Whether you liked the book or not, a review will get it noticed. After ten reviews then the sales hikes, the promotion by Amazon, it grows tremendously. But only after review start coming in.
So, yes, please take a moment and leave a customer review. It will make a difference.

Thank you. Thank you.

Yes, thank you.

Taking Dad To Guatemala in 2005

This is a short piece I wrote years ago but since it’s Father’s Day, I thought I’d share it. I miss him. I miss Mum. Gran. Nan. Viv. My family. Days like this, the pre-made duty filled days are hell on me. Oh well, right? Carry on. Carry on. I am British after all. 

LAST DAYS

BRITISH AIRWAYS offered her tea, milky with sugar. The taste made her relax back into the window seat, knowing that the first thing her mum would do is put the kettle on.

She had found herself telling complete strangers in Antigua, that colonial city where she waited for the trip back to England. In the clothes shop on Sixth avenue, to the west of the central park, she looked through racks of women’s’ trousers and blouses.

“These aren’t the things I know how to buy,’ she was muttering to herself when the lady offered to help. They spoke in Spanish with Louise describing the need for black, for baggy yet formal if possible.

“My dad died.”

The silence though inevitable was not awkward but natural, as the lady looked at Louise and touched her briefly on the shoulder. She understood. Louise said nothing else as the wave of sudden belief shredded the calm she hidden within. Tears came fast, and she took refuge in the dressing room.

Her dad had lived vicariously through her over the last few years. He had researched the places she expressed an interest in visiting, sending long emails full of statistics and anecdotes of the social, political and economic history she would encounter there. Then he sent poems in Spanish as she arrived in Central America, clippings from the Guatemalan national newspapers about the children’s’ plight and poverty. And she wrote weekly of the families she’d talked to, the kids she’d befriended, putting individual names and faces to the facts he would discover for them both.

Antigua is the centre of tourism and Spanish language schools in Guatemala. Louise had learnt a weeks’ worth of grammar before leaving to stay at a smaller village on Lake Atitlan, a few hours away. To be honest, her dad had suggested at least three weeks of school, but Louise was never the scholar her dad is, was…On the Friday at the end of her first week in classes in over fifteen years, her mind crept forward into a game of table tennis, counting and losing over and over to Jose, the teacher.

Antigua is a beautiful city, and when they wrote to each other he mentioned the architecture of the twelfth century, and asked after the three volcanoes surrounding the town of forty thousand. Louise though had found the shoeshine boys and homeless Mayan girls to chat to, juggle with, and play chase around the grassy plazas where tourists and locals alike spent their afternoons. Architecture was not her focus.

Louise had arrived back to Antigua reluctantly drawn from the safe little haven of San Marcos on the lake, stunned and alone. Her dad had died suddenly, unexpectedly. And now she had to fly home, to be there, with her mum, with her brother and his family, see the cousins and aunts and uncles. Her dad had been friend to all, the funny intelligent and compassionate friend they turned to with questions. He fed them with stories and facts and good advice but rarely an easy answer. The thought that he had gone, died, left forever was inescapable yet lingered distant. Numb she sat on the rooftop of Casa Leon’s hostel. Rather out of character she smoked, staring out over the cafes, the narrow cobbled streets, the terracotta plastered adobe homes and private courtyards. Under her unfocused gaze life carried on. Stoned, she still had no appetite beyond memories of Sunday lunches with the family, a ritual she’d hated at the time.

Louise sat alone, in a distant city remembering her brother crying over the phone, telling her that their dad had died in his sleep. A week before. Her knees had given way; she fell to the floor at Stacy’s home, clutching the phone to her ear, not quite knowing what was happening. Mike told her again and again. Then he cried that she was alone without family to hold her, help her. But Stacy stood close, ready for Louise to turn to her, there for her. The baby had been whisked away by Catarina. Pedro had taken off to care for the store. Stacy waited for Louise.

She was not alone, not quite.

On the rooftop, in Antigua she was utterly alone, more than she had ever realised. Daddy’s little girl. The smoke dwindled as she forgot what she was doing, the thoughts of the last letter he’d sent her, about her publishing an article for the first time. His pride and encouragement meant everything to her, particularly today.

Reluctantly yet glad to have another distraction, she took a yellow woven shoulder bag and walked towards the market by the bus station. The streets were busy, well it was a Saturday, and she bumped into an American couple she knew from Panajachel village, at the lake. A quick chat, nothing said of note, Louise didn’t want to tell them, avoided their sympathy unlike at the travel agents earlier, or at the bank, or on the bus with Shane, she had told random people all day until just then. So Louise smiled, made some joke or other and then left to hide in the anonymity of the crowded market.

Tall and fair-haired could she ever be anonymous though? Breathing in the chaos, colours and comforts of this Guatemalan market, Louise found how much she was at home here after four months. She was no longer intimidated by the sensory overload nor frustrated by the languages. The men wore western clothes, trousers and tee shirts, stood and talked to the other vendors. The Mayan women wore traditional dresses of hand-made fabric, all brightly coloured with the designs of their villages. They were normally a bit gruff with the tourists but for once saw something in Louise, and so unusually they reached out to her often, talked as to a regular customer, and gave free extras of avocadoes and bananas. Louise walked, talked, and acted as if nothing had changed. But from now on her life would be defined by this moment. These days alone then the weeks of funeral and mourning with the family in England.

She bought a few gifts for the nieces and nephews from the crafts vendors inside the hall, multi-coloured bracelets and little bags. For her mum it was a different matter.

What do you by someone who just lost their best friend of forty years?

Walking back through the central park Louise sat on a bench, watching sprawling colourful families enjoy the afternoon warmth of springtime. Above her, a cherry blossom tree swung heavy branches saturating the air with memories of their farmhouse in Worcestershire. Those were the times when her mum’s bum would stick out of the overgrown lilac shrubs as she weeded, and dad would always hum to himself as he trimmed the privet hedge near by. She’d hated it at the time.

“Laundry. I must not forget the damn laundry.” She put the book down. It was boring anyway, simply a result of the last minute grabbing of something in English from Stacy’s house on the way out. On the way to catch the boat, to get to the bank, to pay for a ticket, to catch the bus, to get to the city, to buy the ticket, to wait another day, to catch a shuttle bus, to get to the airport, to fly to Dallas, to fly to London, to meet her big brother, and finally to drive home.

Home.

Through the peeling peach plaster of the hotel room Louise listened to an English couple discuss their wedding.

“It’s not a loan, we’ll tell him, it’s a gift because we can’t get married without him, right? Whenever he can, he’s to get a flight to meet us in Honduras, right?” His voice annoyed her, too childish and whiney for a grown man, she thought irritably. Do all British men sound so young? She didn’t remember. It had been twelve years since last living there, and memory was patchy about anything beyond her dad, her mum, and big brother. Every second hit her with a new picture of one day or another when they’d sat around the kitchen table, drinking wine and telling each other stories to make them laugh.

That night in bed when sleep didn’t find her, Louise craved a child. A boy. To call him Tony after her dad. Her body ached with the need for a child of her own. But life had taken her in another direction and there would be no son to remind her of her dad, to fill that void, that desire. She thought of all the kids in her life that light up when they see her. Marley. Freya. Dasen. Freddy. Maria. Thomas. Emily.

“Well, at least I have my little friends,” she said to herself and clutched her old teddy bear.

Time dragged. Two days to wait in an anonymous city, waiting to go home, where she would really feel her dad’s absence from the house, the silences he filled with stories and laughing. Louise packed and unpacked and packed again. Non-stop she fiddled, looked for something, then forgot what in particular, then replaced it all in the green small back pack on the other bed, empty and unused by either friend or lover. Louise wiped the table over and over; her fingers never stopped dancing on the bed. Shoulders tensed and juddered of their own will just as they had after that terrible phone call, when Louise had turned to Stacy and lowered her head sobbing.

During the evening promenade, the orchestra pulled together the wandering tourists and locals and filled the park with rows of wooden seats. Louise found herself drawn in, and ended up sitting next to an old couple and their grandsons.

‘Dolor con suenos de alegria’ means pain with dreams of happiness.

The irony of the musical choice was not lost on her, and she cried again, tired of crying but unable to stop. She listened and cried gentle tears, admiring the stonework of the sixteenth century; the architecture of Spanish colonial times, the arches and pillars, and the fountains reminded her of the family holidays in northern Spain. Age six and learning to swim in Aranda. Eating fresh sardines grilled over the fire in Santander. The huge waves mum dragged her and Mike into squealing with delight.   On Saturday nights, both in Spain and Guatemala people walk and greet each other, sharing ice creams with little children, couples go courting and the shoeshine boys earn whatever they can. Louise stopped one lad to polish her leather boots for the funeral. His hands were blackened and his own shoes were laceless, but his grin reached his eyes as they talked about their families.

Later that night Louise looked around the worn out room, thankful to be going home. To the town she grew up in, to those cousins who tease her. To the uncles and aunts. Family suddenly made sense to her, after all these years apart, she knew she needed them, now more than ever. And they needed her, wanted her to come back, back home.

“I took my dad to Central America. Now he is taking me home.”

…It was time for Louise to go home.

BRITISH AIRWAYS offered her tea, milky with sugar. The taste made her relax back into the window seat, knowing that the first thing her mum would do is put the kettle on.

 

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Living The Dream: 16

As part of the ongoing Sunday installments of the novel. You can find the other chapters on here, posted each Sunday morning. Thanks! 

DECEMBER: ONWARDS

Money was flying out faster than I’d hoped or expected what with those nights in motels, a week in Albuquerque, eating out. I worked on my budget while sitting outside on the porch. Angie was at school, one last project that she’s working on in the library. Jonnie was expected to show up later today. Nelson relaxed, fully at home on his blanket, soaking up the sun. I made a decision, a small one, but it was time to move on.

 

“I’m heading south in the morning,” I told them over dinner.

We’d made pizza together, chatting and listening to a local radio station. Their home was toasty and welcoming. I didn’t really want to leave but my restlessness kicked in, and kicked me out. Nothing too comfortable for me, not yet. The ongoing distractions of exploring a new city on foot had revitalized me yet kept me from my purpose: Deciding what was next. What to do about Mark. And the others.

“You’re more than welcome to stay,” Angie offered. “It’s so easy to have you and Nelson around, no trouble at all. In fact, you could stay here for the holidays on your own if you like. I’m going back home for a couple of weeks and it’d be good to know the place wasn’t empty.” She drank some water and offered Nelson a taste of ham from her pizza. “Well, think about it, no pressure.”
“Where are you thinking of going to? Not north I hope. More snow is expected this week, and they say it’s going to be a warm and wet winter.”
“Whatever that means.” I jokingly finished for him. “I don’t know but I like the idea of going across to Arizona, see Jerome and Sedona and that area. It’s probably only a day or two’s drive for us, we stop every hour or so. Anyway, I’d like to keep exploring, camping, daydreaming…”
“ – and deciding?”
“Yes, there is that. I miss the bus as well.”
“But you’re not ready to go back yet?”
Jonnie passed me a glass of wine and we all followed him onto the porch, our nightly routine. “I can understand that. Have you heard from Mark?”
I sipped the malbec and leaned back in an armchair. “Yep, he’s in L.A. having a blast, he said. He even got to play bass for some band one night. They’d had a car accident on the way to the gig and, well, he was in the right place at the right time. It’s a dream come true for him, so I can’t blame him, not really.”

Jonnie brought out the rest of the pizza and picked at a slice as we chatted away companionably. Nelson yawned. Angie petted his head, playing with the long soft ears.

“Well, you have to stay in touch with us, okay? I’ll miss you both. You’re always welcome back. And if you move back to Oliver, we want to come visit, right?”

“Right, I’ll let you know where I end up, we end up, that is. To new beginnings.” I raised my glass to them both with a smile.

“To new friends.”

“To pizza!”

Glasses clinked and Nelson sat up, hoping for food, that’s my happy boy.

 

 

 

 

SEPTEMBER: SHOW ME THE WAY

 

 

“What the hell? You’re joking right?”

Five DEA agents surrounded Mark. They demanded that he hand over his plants. Mark stood there in his shorts and boots, bare-chested and indignant. A couple of black SUVs blocked our Subaru in the driveway. Helicopters, four of them hovered overhead, passing back and forth as they had all morning. I stood on the porch, holding onto Frida who wouldn’t stop barking and growling when anyone came close.

“Your ID please, sir.” An officer stood in all-black clothes and dark sunglasses and he had a gun. He held out his hand to for the license.

Mark laughed, “Where do you think that might be? I’m practically naked here.” he turned and started walking over to me, when the officer stopped him forcefully.
“No sir, you can wait with me and your wife can fetch both your IDs.” He nodded in my direction.

“Girlfriend,” muttered Mark. He put his hands in his pockets and pulled out a cigarette and lit it. “They’re tomatoes,” he muttered under his breath once again.

Two officers followed me to my car and I pulled out our wallets and handed over the documents. One stood next to me silently and the other read them before handing them to his partner. Mark asked why they’d come to harass us.

“We were told your wife –“

“Girlfriend.”

“- had been talking about her pot plants at the coffee shop.”
“Her potted plants.” Mark said, and he looked over at our home. The patio was covered in hanging plants of all kinds. Mint. Toms. Lettuce. Onions. Creeping vines. Geraniums. Wildflowers. You name it, I’d planted it.

The man with my ID passed it back and headed for his boss without a word to me. He had a potbelly big enough to hold a drink if he’d leaned back just another inch or two. I tried not to think about it. I coughed under my breath.
“It’s who we thought.”
Mark smoked in silence. Frida whined. I shook. I wish I had my boots on, I felt vulnerable in flip-flops.

“I’m Detective Anders. Would you take us to your pot plants please Mark.”

The man had cropped gray hair and a belt full of his important toys and symbols. And a gun. He lifted his sunglasses briefly to make meaningful eye contact with Mark, who set off in the direction of the bus. I joined him on the porch. I quickly grabbed my boots and sat down. Mark stood next to our pots.

The officer didn’t move. “Well?”

Mark pointed out two tomato plants at the front door. “That’s all we have.”
The officer didn’t smile one bit but reiterated his request. The take-me-to-your-leader kind of an order. “We spotted some twenty pot plants near by and your home is the closest. I suggest, sir, that you comply with my requests. Take me to your plants.”
Mark sighed in exasperation. “We don’t have any. I don’t even know what you’re talking about, as if we’d grow pot plants on our property. That makes no sense. Neither of us smokes anything but this stuff.” He pulled out the cigarettes from his back pocket and held them out.

Another SUV showed up and drove past the other vehicles across my front yard. He pulled up next to us.

“Is there a problem here, Anders?”
“No sir, we were just taking them to the site. Would you like to come with us?”
“Not at all, I’m staying in the air conditioning. Speed it up though. We have another sighting a mile away.” He closed the window and backed out. Tire tracks everywhere. I’d have to rake this later.

“Come along. You can let your dog loose, Ma’am. My officers aren’t afraid of a little runt like that.”

He strode off without a glance at Frida snapping around his boots. I grabbed my hat and caught up with Mark. We followed them down the arroyo on the right, through the hundred-foot bed of coal dust, and past the burnt-out pinion, the result of a lightening strike was my guess. The midday sun wore me out but I kept up with everyone, all ten or us. Although I hated to admit it, taking that hike was easier than digging in fence posts for the chicken run. I spotted some orange paintbrush-like wildflowers on the southern slope. The ridge took us up and over into a neighboring meadow of cacti and silvery stunted shrubs. We walked over the scrubby grasses, along the riverbed and past trees dead and dying. The entourage stopped next to a clump of junipers. Mark and I looked around us.

“Where are we?” he whispered.

“Please, sir, if you have something to say, say it to the group.”
Were we in high school again? Mark said nothing. I coughed. He snickered. Frida found something and ran off. I heard her digging furiously.

“Stop that dog. She’s tampering with evidence.” They ran after her and someone pulled her out from under a tree by her tail. The poor girl yelped and raced over to Mark, jumping into his arms. She buried her head in his armpit.

“What had you found, girl?” he talked softly to her. She looked up briefly, saw Anders walking over, and whimpered.

“This way please, Ma’am, Sir.”
We looked at each other and followed him into a clearing. A bunch of tall bulky and bright green pot plants lay on the dirt. Pulled out by the roots. Each one was at least four or five feet tall, I’d guess, thick and furry.

“Wow. Those are huge.”
The agents watched us closely. I stepped up to poke one with my foot. “Are there more?”
“Why?”
“I’ve never seen anything like this.” I practically laughed in fascination. I bent down and picked at one. It stank. I picked off a piece and put it to my nose before someone yanked me back.

“That’s enough. Where are the rest?”
“Huh?” I stood up and brushed myself off. “You tell me. You brought us here. This isn’t even our land.”
“Nope, never been out here before, have we Jen? I like it. Is this on our property?” He asked Anders who had a bundle of Xeroxed maps in his hand. Mark went to look and unthinkingly took the top copy. It was of a map of our forty acres and both properties on either side. The road cut through ours in a pretty diagonal, across the two arroyos.

“Isn’t that us?” He held it out to me and I looked over his shoulder, or rather under his shoulder. My finger followed the road, the paths we usually took and found our campsite and the bus, somewhere in the middle. We’d placed it well, apparently. I nodded and handed it back to him. Mark passed it to Anders.

“That’s our place, right? Here’s the road, the bus, our gardens and the boundary where we walk the dog. See?” Mark in his innocence started to walk back the way we’d come.
Two of the officers blocked his path. They kept their hands on their hips.

“Unfortunately, sir, that might be true, but you two live right next to this large collection of illegal plants. We don’t believe you, to be blunt. Now, where are the rest? Someone who grows this many usually has at least another ten or more hidden nearby.”
“Couldn’t your helicopters see any?” I piped up.
Anders stared at me. “No, they didn’t.”
I shrugged and sat in the shade on a huge rock the size of a VW Beetle. Frida tried to join me but she kept slipping off the rocks. She sat at Mark’s feet instead. Anders watched us both carefully.

“Show us the path you use to bring the water out here,” he asked after a while.

“No, you show me.” Mark was getting braver and braver as time went on. I was quite proud of him. “Because there isn’t one and you know it. You know that this isn’t our doing. We’re too effing naïve, aren’t we? Oh, and to add to the equation, we haven’t lived here long enough. You might want to check your records before you try to pin anything on us. I only moved to Oliver, what, two months ago at most.”
Anders looked between Mark and I. He looked down at his paperwork.

“Is that right?”
We both bobbed our heads in agreement. He started to sweat.

“Damn. Who owns this bit? I’m going to get in such deep trouble for messing this up.”

His officers hung back, slowly melting into the trees around us. Frida headed for the freshly dog holes and stuck her face back in them, sighing loudly. I almost felt sorry for Anders. I came to look at the map he held. I recognized the driveway he pointed out as being the nearest. I said nothing.

He folded up his papers and looked around for his men. They’d gone back without him.

“How do we get back from here?”

He turned in a circle, desperately looking for someone to lead the way back. The clearing stood empty but for five dying plants and the rear end of a digging dog.

“We follow the little runt,” said my boyfriend with a sweet smile. “Frida, let’s go home.”

 

“Another pint, Jenny?”
“Hell yeah.”

We stood at the bar surrounded by locals, Dieselhead Danny being one of them. He’d been telling everyone about watching us with the cops and how suddenly they’d all just left, driven off, no charges, and no further searches. Or finds.

“They didn’t get the others,” he announced proudly. He kept buying us drinks. The tavern was pretty empty but it was a Wednesday afternoon. The tourists took over town on the weekends. After we’d found out that little detail, we had adjusted our drinking times suitably, still trying to fit in. Anyway, Danny kept slapping Mark on the back, thanking him for not mentioning the water hauling or anything like that.

“Oh, right, I’d forgotten about that. I just hated the way he called my dog a runt. He pissed me off.” Mark leaned against the stool I was sitting in and gave me a quick kiss on the ear. That third beer was doing wonders for his mood.

We’d got back to the bus with Anders in tow and had made ourselves a cold drink. All three of us sat on the deck and watched as Frida found a rawhide and fell asleep with it under her front paws. One SUV waited for him as he finished his lemonade and apologized in a roundabout way. Finally we were alone again. I got up and raked out the tire tracks. Mark took a sponge bath. Frida napped.

Half an hour later we drove to the tavern, under the watchful eyes of two helicopters. Mark gave them the finger. Frida panted. For once, I drove.

 

Danny wandered outside for a smoke and Mark joined him. I sat there alone for a while, I was glad the day was over. The bartender came over and handed me a pint of cold water.

“You’re looking a little rosy,” he said politely.

I snorted. “I know. It seems to be my New Mexico color, I’m okay, just a little flushed after this morning.”
He laughed out loud and grinned with me, and had no teeth missing. The job must pay better than most.

“Yeah, I heard. That was a close call, you realize that, don’t you?”
“Yes, that’s why I’m here. I need to forget how close a call. Does that happen a lot around here? It was crazy. Do you think the cops even know whose stuff it was? Is?”
“Probably, but I’d forget all about that if you can. At least now, you’ve made a friend for life with Danny. He’ll look out for you for as long as you live near by. He’s as loyal as a puppy if he likes you.”
Once a year apparently the cops come around, hoping to find fields of green. Instead they bust two or three people for having a handful of pot plants. After seeing the five ‘copters and twenty or so ground personnel, SUVs, even a couple of all terrain vehicles, I have to wonder how much that all cost?

As usual, Mark interrupted my deep thoughts.

“There’s a BBQ out on Alaska road on the weekend, and we’ve been invited. Want to go?”
“Sure. Whose?”
Mark grinned. “I don’t remember but here’s the address for us. Dusk onwards, and he said bring beer, instruments, and dogs, not bad eh? Frida’s first party.”
More importantly – it was going to be our first party in Oliver. We’d finally arrived.