Quick, its urgent.

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Hanging up the phone, the woman grabbed her keys and headed back down the stairs and through the doors.

The voicemail was urgent and said to come quick.  They had been there again and this time she was left without power and freezing cold.

Assuming the heat had been accidentally shut off or a bill was unpaid, the woman left to investigate.  Twenty minutes later, she arrived and let herself in through a side door.

“Marg, it’s me,” she said and stomped the snow from her boots onto the rug.

“Oh honey, I’m so glad you’re here.  They’ve been here again, the little green men,” the woman said gravely.

Feeling her way along the wall towards the sound of the voice, an old woman in dark glasses slowly padded forward in a pair of dirty slippers and wrapped in a threadbare bathrobe.

“Marg,” the woman asked, taking off her gloves, “how do you know they’re green?  And how do you know they’ve been here?”

Scanning the apartment, the woman flipped a light switch, flooding the room with light.  No men, and certainly no green men, were present.

“I just know it, that’s how.  They hide behind the stove and the fridge so I can’t get them.  See, they know I’m blind.”

“Marg, you said they took the electricity, what happened?”

“They took it, just like they always do.  They’ve been stealing it from me, little bits at a time.  Those little green men are mean men. They are bad and mean men,” the old woman declared.

“How did you get the heat back on if they took the electricity?” the visitor asked, her face twisted with concern.

Calmly, the old woman explained, “It wasn’t me.  They knew that you would come and turned it back on.”

“Do you see how they torment me?  Come on, let’s sit down and I’ll tell you all about them,” the old woman suggested and patted the back of a lumpy looking brown couch.

“Marg, did you take your medication today?” her visitor inquired.

“What medication?  I don’t have a health problem; I have a little green man problem.”

 

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Pets in prison

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The heavy metal doors clanged shut behind the woman, wearing no makeup or jewelry.

She was there to see her boy.  He had requested that she look as plain as possible when she visited.  Regardless of best her efforts, lonely men still leered through the glass windows as they shuffled past.

She didn’t notice; she stared at her son.  His blonde hair was shorn close to his skull, its shape so familiar to her hands.  He had gained weight, filling out his orange suit for the first time in months. She guessed that he had been working out, too.

She was happy to see him alive and sober, yet, she felt guilty at her surprise that he hadn’t disappointed her in some new way.  He was finally free from drugs and a life on the street.  On the inside, he was exposed to a different set of dangers but she knew where he was every night, more or less.

“What’s new, kid?” she asked, afraid her voice would crack with emotion if she said more.

Grinning, his blue eyes sparkled with excitement.

“Ma, my taffy business is going really well.  I’ve come up with a new flavor, chocolate and strawberry.  I can’t make enough of it, the guys like it so well.”

“That’s great, buddy,” she exclaimed.

“Remember that praying mantis that I told you about last time?” he asked.

“Of course, how is it?” she inquired of his temporary roommate.

His face fell as he explained, “She died a few weeks ago.”

Smiling again, he continued, “It’s ok because she must have been pregnant and now there are a bunch of praying mantis babies in here.”

In spite of herself, the woman laughed out loud, and covered her mouth when she remembered that she was still upset with her son.  She couldn’t help but to imagine the tiny flashes of green crawling and praying as they pleased.  It meant there could be freedom in a place of bars and shackles.  New life and nature are possible even in a sterile place that focused on constantly reminding its residents of their past.

Her son nodded in agreement.  “That’s a good idea, but some of the guys rounded up the babies.  Now, they’re selling them as pets.”

“Really,” she asked and went on after a second of consideration, “I would definitely have one as a pet.”

“Where would you keep it?” she asked curiously.

Sadly, he patted his shoulder, “Right here.  That’s where it would ride.”

“Why don’t you buy one with some of your taffy?” his mother asked, suddenly indignant that the others might have something that her son did not; it was just a maternal reaction.

“No ma, it wouldn’t be right.  It would just be taken from me.”

She was crushed by his conviction.

Chitlins’ just for you, darling.

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“They gon’ stink, ok, so warn your husband.  He might want to leave while they cookin’.”

The old, black woman explained from a broken down couch.  Holding her hand up, she stopped me from asking more questions.  She started coughing and wheezing as she tried to catch her breath from so much talking.  She wore a blue and yellow dashiki with wooden earrings that swung violently back and forth as she continued to cough and struggle to breathe.

“Should I be writing this down?” I asked with my pen poised to take notes.

“No,” she rasped, “I’ll tell you what you do.  Get the water boiling and call me, I’ll walk you through the rest of it.”

The conversation started when the visit should have been ending.

I couldn’t help myself but to ask the loaded question, “Any Thanksgiving plans?”

After the woman regained her breath, I went home ready to boil a pot of ‘chitlins’ or chitterlings, as they are formally called.  However, it didn’t take long before I was stopped cold in my culinary tracks – temporarily.

“I’m not eating those,” my husband declared, when he discovered what I was about to make. “You know what they are right?” he asked.

“Of course I know, they’re a Southern treat served at Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter,” I replied.

Anxious to bust my Southern cooking bubble, my husband grinned, “Pig intestines, hog guts- that’s what they are and I’m not eating them.”

I quickly re-strategized to gain his support and sweetly asked, “Won’t you at least humor me and try one?”

The bad man laughed, “We aren’t courting anymore.  I don’t have to eat anything I don’t want to anymore.”

I knew he meant it and that’s when my next plan hatched, bigger than just a pot of chitlins.  I thought, poor husband, you will be hungry this Thanksgiving when I prepare a feast that you refuse to eat.

In the true spirit of Southern cooking, I enlisted the help of my mother (the rock climber) to try out as many recipes that I can gather from my clients.  My clients are giving me tips and food combinations that I’ve never considered, but make my mouth water to think about, which I frequently do.  None of these recipes are written down, they come straight from memory more or less the same as their mammy’s taught them and their mammy’s mammy taught them.

Collard greens, fried chicken, macaroni salad, pineapple and brown sugar encrusted turkey, mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts, chitlins (of course), and sweet potato pie and any other dishes, sides or desserts that I can glean from my clients over the next few days will be served.

We’ll open the windows as the chitlins stew to let out the smell into the open air, and when my husband complains, I’ll say, “I warned you, they gon’ stink.”

The Angry Bear

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She made me pick up her heavy paw to sign her name.

“Girl, you know I can’t see.”

Her aide said, “Diabetes,” and nodded in agreement from her perch in front of the television.

The weight of her hand was like a bag of sand, solid and surprising in its movement.

Her skin was cracked and rough, an ashy black in my smooth brown hand.

“I’m only signing this because you pushin’ the issue,” she declared as she scribbled illegible letters.

Finished, she dropped the pen and looked straight at me with one yellow-grey eye, while the other eye remained tightly shut under a heavy fold of dark skin.

Her sightless gaze pierced me and in the puncture mark she left me with a certainty.

I knew that she saw everything.

Things where they don’t belong

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Would you like to read a short story about things where they don’t belong, reader?

It’s a truly short story without much of a beginning, middle, or end but it won’t take much of your time.  As you will find from reading my blog, eavesdropping almost always pays off.

If you are still reading, you soon will reap the colorful benefits as I did a few hours ago from a bit of “overhearing.”

Ok, if you are still there, it’s time.

Two women spoke to each other quietly across the table when I came into the room and sat down, looking too busy to listen to their chatter.

“She’s doing really well, in fact,” the blond said, shuffling papers from one pile to another.

A brunette sat across the table and flipped through her i-phone and asked, “Anymore gummy bears in her g-tube?” (gastronomy tube, aka “feeding tube”)

“No,” the blond replied. “No more gummy bears, but she did have another incident.  She had to have a scoop of kitty litter removed this time.  She said she was taking a bath and her cat fell into the tub and that’s how the litter got there.”

“Oh, of course,” the brunette said with a very serious face as she studied the screen of her phone, “that seems quite natural.”

Yes, I thought, natural like flowers in spring and birds in the sky.  Gummy bears and kitty litter in one’s g-tube, instead of Ensure or Boost, must be quite natural.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feeding_tube

All this and more

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They won. The fear mongers won.

Sunday was spent waiting for the epic storm that never arrived.

The mega-storm was predicted on Friday, with hype continuing to build through the weekend.  Ridiculously good looking weather forecasters excitedly projected the storm’s path, guessed at wind speeds, and called for large hail.  On all the stations, they agreed that the possibility for tornadoes was too great to ignore.  It was going to be bad for the Midwest, just how bad was yet to be seen.

“Stay inside and stay tuned,” they begged and pleaded to be taken seriously.

To prove their point of fear, the forecasters flashed images of entire communities destroyed by tornadoes in previous storms and panned down to the damage done to single homes.  They took live calls from the field, interviewed experts, and showed video footage from storm chasers.

“All this and more could be coming within hours,” they threatened with serious faces and perfect hair.

Meanwhile, I paced back and forth in front of the sliding glass door watching the wind blow the few remaining leaves from the trees.  I expected to see a massive funnel cloud reach down from the grey sky and rip into our apartment.  A few drops of rain fell and the sky looked heavy, promising more to come later.

I texted my friends and family to seek shelter and stay inside just like the fear mongers recommended.  Admittedly, I felt a bit of the thrill that the forecasters must experience in spreading the word of dangerous conditions.  It was empowering and also brought me dangerously close to becoming an amateur fear monger until my very calm husband said “Just relax” and patted a spot on the couch next to him.

Still, I wore my boots all day, anticipating the need to run for cover.  I assumed that I would soon be exposed to the elements when the apartment roof was lifted off of the building and the rain and hail started.  I kept an eye on the cat in case I needed to grab her in my frantic sprint for safety.

However, now it is nearly 10:00 pm and the forecasters have disappeared from the television without so much as an apology for terrifying the viewing public all day myself included.

The fear mongers may have gotten a day out of me, but it was not a day wasted; rather it was one well spent.  I got to do the things I wanted to at home without feeling the need to leave.  My husband and I snuggled on the couch and prepared for the worst, once I stopped pacing and stressing.

All this and more may not have been possible without the insistence of the fear mongering weather forecasters.  So thanks for keeping us in and keeping us safe, sort of.

Drill ’em and bill ’em

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My first dentist always called me ‘sis’.

He was tall with a full head of hair and a perfect smile, of course.  His hygienist always took too long with the fluoride treatment.  I’m not sure why she felt it was a good idea to leave a child with so many cavities alone in a room with shiny curiosities in every drawer and cabinet.  Clearly, with that many holes in my mouth, I did not have a history of good decision making.

Nonetheless, it was not totally on my account that a new family dentist was necessary.

The breaking point was over a bill that was not unlike other bills for cleaning, x-rays and cavities.

“That dentist is ripping us off! How can she have so many cavities, year after year?  There’s no way.  I’ve seen her brush.”

“Yes, I’ve seen her brush.  You’ve seen her brush. That dentist is a hack!”

They went back and forth, egging each other on in their dental self-righteousness.  Really, how dare that dentist tell them what they needed to do with their swarmy kids.

My next dentist was deaf.

He confirmed my parents’ worst fears; the first dentist wasn’t ripping them off.  I was a bad brusher, a lazy flosser, and a secret late night candy eater.

The chairs in his office faced a wall of glass windows towards the woods where 6 or 7 different types of bird feeders were set up.  I watched cardinals, wrens, and finches hop amongst the feeders with an occasional blue jay swooping in to scare off the little birds.

While preparing her tools for a cleaning, his hygienist noticed me watching the birds instead of the tv hung in the corner of the office. “Those are the doctor’s birds,” she said with a smile.  “He feeds them the best seed that why they are so bright, that what he tells us anyways,” she finished with a laugh.

One time a deer wandered up while I was in the chair and looked into the window with sad, brown eyes.  “Why so many cavities?” she seemed to ask without judgment.

That dentist will always hold a special place in my heart for those birds and that he never caused me to give a shriek of pain that he couldn’t hear.

From there, I went to Aspen Dental for a cheap, fast exam and treatment.   Much to my surprise, it was not a nice experience or cheap or fast.  No one called me sis or took the time to feed the birds outside.  It was like sitting in the BMV waiting to have my license renewed.  I was just a number with a set of good teeth to drill and bill.

Now, I’m back to an independent dentist with a no fuss, no muss approach to dentistry. I’m going in tomorrow for a check-up that is just a year overdue.  Toothfully, I’ve going in because the old familiar pain is back and I suspect a cavity.  It reminds me that I’m alive, even while my teeth are experiencing a slow death.  Tooth pain gives me a reason to reflect on dentists of days-gone-by and an even better reason to floss, at least until my new cavity is drilled and filled.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dentist

Just trying to keep warm

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Smoke curled out of the top of the small brick house, with flames quickly growing inside of the thick walls.  Dry, orange leaves had blown onto the front porch in small piles.  They rustled in the wind while an old porch swing squeaked as it swung back and forth on rusty chains.

I watched with a secret excitement from the safety of my car as dark smoke began to billow from the home.  Thick smoke escaped through the roof and windows, blowing panes of glass from the window frames and melting the vintage yellow curtains like wax down the sides of a candle.

I felt a ping of guilt for the few second that it took to look in my rear view mirror as I drove past the house, watching the smoke continue to rise into the cold, grey sky.

There was nothing more to be done.

Rock Climbing Mama

It was over dinner at a little Vietnamese restaurant that I learned my mother has taken up rock climbing without any underwear.

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Shall I set the scene for you, reader?

We were out for a special birthday celebration.  The room was cheerful and cozy with red walls and clean white tile floors.  My husband sat beside me and my mother was across the table from us.  The restaurant was quiet with the occasional peal of laughter from the back of the kitchen.

“Guess what I’ve been doing?” she asked.

I should have known that the question was fully loaded by her wicked grin, as she waited for a response.  Of course, she didn’t wait long sensing the cruelty in unanswered questions.  There was no need to force her dinner companions to fill in the blanks of her life on a cold and rainy Tuesday night.

“I’ve been rock climbing without underpants,” she explained.

Our faces must have appeared shocked, as she laughed and said, “Don’t worry. Everyone does it.  Plus, I had my spandex shorts on, so there weren’t any free looksies.”

Somehow, I had become a prude whose fine sensibilities had been offended and I just realized it in this moment of twirling of spicy egg noodles and listening to my mother’s tale of the weekend.

Forking a chunk of sweet potato from the mess of red curry and veggies from my husband’s plate, she exclaimed, “It’s the only way to climb.”

Popping the orange bite into her mouth, she continued with a tone of concern for my perceived lack of adventure, “You really should try it sometime.”

I left unsure if she was recommending the rock climbing or the underwear free rock climbing, but I do know which one my husband was hoping I would pick in the future.

———–

Thanks for the dinner and great company, Rock Climber and Birthday Boy.

———–

The Great Pet Expo

llama

Can I take just a few minutes of your time to tell you about The Great Pet Expo?

The parking lot was full when I arrived, which is usually a good sign with these types of events.  I was going to meet my brother-in-law, sis-in-law and their darling children.  Correction: one is a darling; the other is a tiny blond demon who escaped from the depths of hell about three years ago. I’m sure the Devil is still searching for her.

As I walked through the expo hall, I passed by booths of adoptable dogs and kenneled cats, tables of animal clothing and accessories, shelves of animal knick-knacks and bowls of handmade bones and cookies.  Instinctively, I knew where to find them and kept walking towards the back of the building.

Sure enough, I spotted them snacking on soft pretzels in the café area.  The little demon must have sensed my approach as she turned around and launched off like a rocket, running towards me.

“Auntie!” she shrieked, as she collided with my legs.

She took a step back, and held out her fist, tightly closed over a secret treasure that she had collected from the day.  Leaning closer, she whispered, “I have something to show you.”

Turning her fist over, she slowly opened her hand, one tiny finger at a time. The look on her face was of pure anticipatory job in sharing her secret.  She smiled in excitement, showing her tiny white teeth as she watched my face.

“Look,” she demanded.

My jaw dropped in shock, “Baby girl, where did you get that?”

Locks of long grey hair spread over her palm, mashed down where she had been clutching the entire mound.

“I took it from a llama,” she answered simply, and took off running and disappeared into a crowd of people and their pets.

The rest of the day was spent chasing the demon as she streaked about to pet dogs and unzip cat carriers to free the animals.  When I caught up with her one time out of many to bring her back to her exhausted parents, she blankly glanced at me and began to cry, “Where is my daddy?  Where is my mommy?”

As she wailed, I wanted to explain to the concerned patrons of the Pet Expo that it’s actually ok, she may be a demon from Hell, but I’m her aunt and I love her anyways.  However, I didn’t have time for such a luxury and had to chase her down again to explain that I was going to take her back to her mommy and daddy, also known as, damned brother-in-law and sister-in-law who left me to chase their wild animal child.

The very instant that the wild child saw her daddy she was instantly soothed and transitioned into the potty dance, hopping from one foot to the other and pulling her jumper up.  Her daddy recognized this intricate dance and knew its urgent meaning.  He acted fast and handed me the demon’s infant sister and said, “trade you” as he whisked the demon off to the restroom.

Once he disappeared into the restroom, the baby began to shriek, fully exercising her lungs.  Her daddy ran back out shortly after the shrieking began and laughed, “I didn’t think she would go banshee on you.”

Clearly, this had happened before since this behavior was aptly named ‘going banshee’.

It was right at about this time that you-know-who took off, yet again.

That was my Sunday, spent chasing a blond little girl still holding a fistful of llama fur, as she ran carefree, secure, and trusting of her adults to give her enough room to run and still keep her safe.  Yes, the pets were out and on full display at the Great Pet Expo.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Llama

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demon

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