Charlie Radio

This is a short story that I wrote for Fundamentals of Character at Ringling this semester. Hope you like it. Parameters were 3,000-4,000 words. Let me know your thoughts!


Spirits of the dead live on in imagination, music, creativity, and humor.
And the written word.

Charlie was always on, like the small radio that played from the kitchen table. The radio, though, was more easily tuned. His grandmother called from the stove.

“Charlie!”

Ba-drump, ba-drump, ba-drump. Charlie galloped down the stairs in the familiar cadence, his steps like sharp stick strikes on a tight snare drum. The radio sang high with trumpets and trombones.

He wriggled around the living room, shuffling torn spiral-bound notebook pages in his small eight-year-old hands. He paused upon inspiration, making hurried scratches on his messy script with a pencil that doubled as a makeshift microphone. His trusty tape recorder was slung across his body with a chewed-up belt. The dark metal hunk bounced on his hip with his spasmodic, amusing movements. He muttered attempted versions of radio show introductions until he smiled with satisfaction.

Granpa scanned Charlie without moving his head. “We’ll be right there, Shirley.”

Charlie squirmed over the ottoman, around the couch, around the chair. Granpa pretended to watch the five o’clock news.

Finally, Charlie sat on the stool next to Granpa’s favorite recliner and pressed the stubborn red button on his recorder. Before Charlie could arrange his notes and speak, Granpa leaned close to Charlie. “Do you know Mr. Scravuzzo?” with a slight chuckle.

“What?” Charlie squealed just above the tape recorder.

“Do you know Mr. Scravuzzo?” Granpa asked again with one very arched eyebrow, as thick as his occasional Italian accent.

Charlie was near hysterics. “No! Who is Mr. Scraboozoo?” Charlie was trying, but failing, to summon all the determination of a dime-store-novel detective. His stifling of titters resulted in sputters of spit from his pursed lips.

“He shit on the floor.”

Charlie collapsed onto the living room rug, laughing without sound and convulsing until his abdominal muscles seized. He never understood the meaning of this oft-repeated joke, but the flagrant use of profanity was exotic and hilarious. He buried his face and gasps of laughter for fear of inviting the attention of his always-busy Gramma.

After a few moments, Charlie spread his arms out and indulged in the familiar braids of the well-worn rug. “Granpa.” He soothed himself with that whispered word. The word cracked off his tongue like fresh bubbles from a soda pop. His notebook pages crumpled on the floor beneath him, the detective story he was about to share forgotten for a moment.

Charlie knew that his grandfather was not his biological parent. Charlie knew that his own parents were gone. The only father he had ever known was Gaetano Gianfranco Guerrieri–his dad’s dad. He peeked up as he felt the recliner footrest pushed down by his grandfather’s legs.

Granpa slowly limped to the TV set and turned the power dial to “Off.” He turned, grabbed his cigarettes from the TV tray, and headed to the small metal kitchen table near his pot-stirring wife. Charlie followed, pushing his papers into a deep jean pocket. He tucked his microphone behind his ear. The aroma of simmering sauce was calling all hopeful diners.

Gramma chopped Charlie’s clean, white plate with her messy, red spatula. “Washa you handsa!” Shirley was neither Italian nor did she have an accent, but after living with Gaetano for over thirty years, she had fun bellowing commands in a horrible imitation of him.

Charlie didn’t look at Gramma. He simply pouted into his sauce-splotched plate. “You washa the hands or I washa the hands.” Charlie knew what that meant. Gramma would grab his ear, lead him upstairs to the bathroom, and use only hot water and too much soap.

“Okay.” Charlie stomped up the stairs to pretend to wash his hands.

As Charlie loudly reached the top, he paused and lingered near the bathroom door. He picked at the dry skin and dirt on his index finger with his thumbnail.

“I don’t hear any water!” Gramma shouted from the kitchen.

“Fine!” Charlie relented and quickly rinsed his hands under the cold water of the sink. He scrambled down the stairs. Ba-drump, ba-drump, ba-drump. Back at the table, he sat on his hands. Gramma stood still at the stove; she lifted lids, checked sauces, turned spoons.

“Show me.” She didn’t turn.

“Fine!” Charlie raced back upstairs and used soap this time. His feet barely touched each step on the way down. He nearly stumbled on the third step disturbing his usually perfect stair drum march. Ba-drump, ba-drump, ba-dump, dump-dump.

“Grazie!” Gramma sang. “Mangia!” She had already filled Charlie’s plate with linguini, sausage, meatballs, and sweet, smooth succo. The table was full with a bowl of grated Parmesan, a basket of torn stirato, napkins, silverware, extra sauce, and that small radio.

The radio played: a 1939 RCA Victor Tabletop Bakelite in Avocado with illuminated dial. It was the fourth diner. Usually tuned to the Big Band station, it was soft and low while they ate.

Charlie took the radio, dinners, his grandparents, and most things for granted. He did not consider familiar objects; inconsequential items did not have lives of their own. These substances did not exist if Charlie was in another room. Things, bodies, spirits lived in his imagination. Life borne on those scraps of paper tucked in his jeans or in his constant, shifting thoughts of possibility and humor. He stuffed his emotions down deep in those pockets; love poured out into silly scripts. Drawing a grin on Granpa’s lips was his sole desire and goal.

Charlie ate quickly. He mindlessly hummed to the swing song playing next to his elbow. Charlie thought only about his script: if Granpa would like it, if there was any action to add, how to say the things he wanted to say to make his grandfather crow.

Detective Scravuzzo? Would that make him laugh?

Gaetano and Shirley were still finishing their plates when Charlie asked to be excused. “Washa you handsa!” Charlie spoke in perfect unison with his grandmother.

“Don’t be smart,” she called after Charlie as he drummed up the stairs, back to his room. Inside, he carefully tip-toed through the galaxy of Star Wars action figures, working model of the Millennium Falcon, and Darth Vader’s bodacious-black Tie Fighter. Charlie sat down in the vacancy he had used to set up this space scenario. He gave the Tie Fighter a squeeze on its tail just to hear the laser fire a short blast at the ol’ Falcon.

He pulled his faceted sheets from his jeans. With some resistance, he finally freed the pages, a small Matchbox car that had belonged to his father, and other bits of metal. The car, some jacks, a few paperclips jangled to the floor. He unfolded the paper wad and savored the rereading of his dashed-off detective story from earlier. He fetched the pencil from his ear and scribbled a few more notes.

He would try to show Granpa tomorrow. Saturday was always a good day for their own program of pretend–Charlie Radio.

He recognized the fanfare floating up the stairs. It was his grandparents’ favorite radio repeat. He grabbed Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia, crept quietly to the stairs, and sat down on the top step. He remained very quiet and listened intently to the radio show his family enjoyed.

After several harp flourishes, the crescendo of the brass, an announcer calls,Welcome to Magical May Mystery Theatre. Every week we recall a chilling tale from yesteryear. Let us turn to the wonderful works of Sir Stanley Bunion Boyle. This week is Hemlock Jones and the Case of the Missing Miss.”

The narrator, “It is a brisk fall evening in London. At 411 Butcher Block, the flickering gas lamps illuminate the slightly fogged, second-story window. We peer in to see our veteran detective, Hemlock Jones, relaxing by the fire. He is cranking the handle of his newly-purchased gramophone. After laying the needle, a gentle etude emerges from the decorative horn. Jones reclines on a wingback settee, his feet crossed upon a well-worn pillow. Jones enjoys his elaborate pipe. His trusted companion, Nurse Watterston, seated to Jones’ immediate right, is pouring three cups of tea. An anxious man sits opposite of Jones and the nurse in an upright parlor chair. He pleads with the pair.”

“You must help me find my daughter, Mister Jones! I humbly rely upon your unequaled skills.”

“Certainly, Lord Ghaddi! All in due time, old chap. First, Nurse, a cuppa for the journey.”

Nurse Watterston asks, “Where was your daughter last seen, my lord?”

“Lahdi was at home with my wife, Lady Maia. Her mother sent her upstairs to play while she arranged the house to receive Lahdi’s music teacher.”

Nurse, “And then she was just gone?”

Jones, “Dematerialized?”

Ghaddi, “Beg pardon?”

The nurse explains, “Vanished.”

“Oh. Yes. Quite.”

Jones explodes, “No matter! We shall pinpoint your precious progeny and restore the House of Lord Omar Ghaddi! Nurse, two lumps and away! Hither and thither in the ether!”

The narrator, “The trio gulped down their tea and dashed out into the street. Hemlock Jones used his best disguise to hail a hansom cab at that late hour. He lowered his head, pulled his overcoat away from his trouser hem and rolled his checkered pant past his knee. He revealed a rather racy, lacy white stocking. Immediately, a hansom cab driver diverted his apparatus to the curb and halted abruptly. Hemlock sprang to the carriage step and shouted to the cabbie.”

Jones, “Thank you, Driver! To Paddington! Make haste!”

The narrator, “The driver looked quite disappointed.”

The driver with a cockney accent, “With those gas-pipes, I thought you was a lady.”

Nevermind! Drive on, my hansom man.”
A horse whinnies. Horse hooves clop. The sound of carriage wheels hiss through puddles.

The narrator, “The gentlemen and nurse nestled inside the vessel, drawn by horse on their terse, cursed course. The perplexed party hustled and bustled to address the mess and wrestle with the troubling, tussled puzzle. Phew.”

The harp chimes. The announcer calls, “We shall return to Hemlock Jones after these important messages.”

Commercials. Commercials are so boring. I bet Nurse Watterston looks like my mother. Big, friendly cheeks and soft eyes. Light hair and pink lips.

Charlie laid down on the top step. He took off one of his no-name sneakers and laid it behind his head. He flew Luke Skywalker back and forth, twirling the figure with his nimble fingers. He toyed with the fading light from the lone stairwell window.

He dreamed of adventures with Jones and Watterston.

I’ll be Hemlock. Mom could be Nurse Watterston. Dad could play any character.

Lord Omar Ghaddi would have a snowy beard and large glasses, but just behind those spectacles, at the very top, he would recognize those brows. The entire Guerrieri family had those thick, arched expression-makers. Even the women.

Is that Granpa?

But. Just below the fake-white, bushy mustache would be Frank’s charismatic smile. When Charlie detected his disguised father, Frank’s face wouldn’t change except for a small, twinkling wink.

Charlie’s eyes relaxed. His lips made sound effects for Luke. Pfff-shew. He remembered a novel, comforting tune.

“In me you see a man alone, behind the wall he’s learned to call his home…”

Charlie’s arms became heavy and he yawned.

“…walking in the rain, expecting love again.”

He imagined the thin white line that moved behind the numbers on the dial of the radio. The line turned into a rocket. The rocket launched. The exhaust swirled into curled hair.

“…learning to live with memories of midnights that fell apart at dawn.”

He closed his eyes. Bits of light flashed at the sides of his mind. The stars warped and stretched.

“A man who knows love is seldom what it seems, just other people’s dreams.”

Charlie drifted away before the radio program finished.

Charlie could only hear the hiss and hush of the radio off-air. The light was gone from the stairwell. He felt around for the hand railing to his right. He touched the cool wall by his bedroom door. It was damp. Now he heard the bathroom sink drip echoing through the hall. He couldn’t move very much for fear of falling.

“Hemlock?” A friendly female voice called to Charlie. “Hemlock, is that you?”

Charlie’s mother, dressed in a long, white gown, floated up the stairs, out of the darkness of the living room. She reached out for Charlie.

“Mom?”

She didn’t reply. Charlie felt another presence by his shoulder, pressing into his sleeve.

“Hi, son.” Charlie felt a voice on his neck, a small fire in his ear. Charlie turned to see an old man–top hat with silk trim, spectacles pinched to a round nose, a wiry pushbroom mustache feathering into cheek-tickling chops. “Where have you been, Charlie?”

Charlie’s embarrassment and confusion crackled like pops of static between stations. “I was lost.”

His mother consoled him. “We’ve been so worried, Charlie. We’ve been looking everywhere.”

Charlie brightened. “I’ve been here the whole time. I was waiting for you. I can play now.”

“Sorry, Charlie Radio. It’s bedtime. We can play tomorrow, Sweets. I would love that.” His mother combed his hair off his forehead with her fingers.

“No! Please, don’t leave me. Please. You just got here. I’m here now.”

Charlie’s mother drifted down the steps. “Goodnight, Charlie.”

Charlie turned to his father, an attempt to keep him, to make him stay. “Lord Ghaddi, did you find your little girl?”

“Goodnight, Charlie.” His father winked. He shifted his weight to stand.

The static returned. Charlie’s eyes blurred with tears. He howled.

“Don’t leave me! Please! Please!”

“Charlie,” Granpa whispered. A little louder, “Charlie.”

Gramma gently rubbed Charlie’s arm and called, “Charlie Cheeks.”

Charlie roused; he wasn’t fully conscious. “Hm?”

“Time for bed, Puddin’.” Gramma steadied Charlie under his arm as he rose and turned slowly, aiming for his bedroom door.

Charlie swiped his face with his sleeve. His lashes clumped together. The tears were real at least.

Granpa picked up Luke and Leia from the step and placed them carefully on Charlie’s homework desk. He turned Charlie’s blankets down and fluffed his pillow. “Night, Charlie.”

Charlie woke. The sunshine streamed through his sheer, white curtains. The white panels reminded him of his mother’s midnight gown. He could hear soft voices downstairs. The radio was strangely silent. He slid down the stairs to listen. He stopped on the fourth stair; the third stair squeaks.

“He was listening, Gae.” Gramma was exasperated.

“We don’t know that,” Granpa reasoned.

“Gae, he was listening to the show. I just wonder how many times he’s done that.” Gramma was nervous.

Granpa dismissed her concern. “Let’s not say anything. He probably didn’t even understand.”

“I always thought we should tell him. This is nonsense. I let you ignore this for years. I can’t even say my own boy’s name in my house because you feel guilty.” Shirley trembled. Her eyes flickered and shone with mourning. “He’s mine, too.” Now with pride, “He’s still mine.”

A silent moment passed, like a prayer. Neither knew what to say. The wood step groaned when Charlie shifted.

“Charlie.” Gramma knew he was listening from the stair. “Charlie, come down.”

Charlie lost his cadence as he crept to the edge of the rug. “Am I in trouble?”

“No, Sweets. No.” Gramma stretched her arm and offered her curled palm. “Come here, Charlie.”

Charlie sat beside her on the scratchy tweed sofa. “Why are you mad at Granpa?”

“She’s not mad. We’re sad.”

“Is it my parents?”

“Yes. Were you listening to the show last night?” Gramma asked.

Charlie nodded. “It’s one of my favorites. It’s Sherlock Holmes, right? Sort of.”

Gramma sighed. “Yes. It’s a recording.”

Charlie agreed. “I know it’s not like a TV show. It’s really old.”

“We listen to it when we miss your dad,” she explained. “That’s your dad. And mom.”

Charlie wasn’t certain. “Frank? And Dianne?” Charlie guessed at what she meant.

“Yes. They recorded that just before their accident.” Gramma crossed to the credenza. She cupped her hand and whisked her fingers to summon Charlie.

She lifted the lid, like a hinged upright piano top, and showed Charlie a large device. Brown strips of tape lay loosely pooled around a metal spool. The reels reminded him of his own recorder, but bigger. The holes in the reel made him think of surprised giant panda faces. It looked like a film projector on its side.

“You mean it’s not the radio?”

“I’m so sorry, Charlie.” Granpa shuddered and his breathing changed. He sat forward in his recliner. “It’s my fault.”

Charlie ran to his grandfather and sat beside him on the stool. His small hand patted Granpa’s back. Gaetano broke. He was shaking. “I told them to go have fun.”

“Fun is what you do, Granpa.” Charlie kept patting.

Gaetano stood and grabbed his cigarettes. He coughed and sniffed. He wiped his eyes with his collar as he headed for the stairs.

Charlie sat beside his grandmother; she had returned to the rough couch. He laid his messy hair and muddled thoughts on her lap. Gramma tamed his tangled fringe with her careful fingers.

Granpa wasn’t driving the car. I don’t understand. Gramma told me to go play with Jimmy and I scraped my chin. But she definitely told me it was my fault. I don’t get it.

Charlie knew that his parents had died in a car accident together. Gramma had told him when he was five.

“Why don’t I have parents?” Charlie had asked after spending an afternoon at Jimmy’s.

Gramma’s answer had been short, but reassuring. “They had a bad accident, but we’re your parents now.” Her smile, at that moment, paired with a bowl of ice cream seemed more than adequate.

Charlie’s questions changed that morning. Why don’t we talk about them?

Charlie did what all children do, he grew. Granpa did what all humans must, he died. Gaetano passed during Charlie’s senior year of high school.

When Gaetano died, Charlie didn’t remember that dream, the radio show, or his offering of cold comfort. Almost ten years later, though, the vision drifted in on the billows of his first morning cigarette.

The old tabletop RCA, now permanently silent, sat on Charlie’s shelves, high above his writing desk. It rested next to the sleek Tie Fighter. Both had survived two moves and a pawn shop.

Granpa. The word no longer popped. It welled and bubbled like a tear–slow and full. What’s it like to lose your child? What’s it like to feel guilt for your child’s death?

Charlie plugged in his comfortable padded headphones.

I didn’t even know my parents. They were just pictures in an album, a fairy tale of sweethearts. How could I miss someone I never met? How can I grieve people I didn’t know?

I was never lonely or sad.

Granpa was sad and that worried me.

My friend, Jimmy? His loss was huge.

Granpa–his loss was the worst I’ve known.

My parents? They were…clouds without rain.

Listening to–Pink Floyd. Dark Side? No–Wish You Were Here.

Charlie stared at the open document on his laptop. He pressed his index finger against the edge of the desk, hoping to make his already-popped knuckle crack again.

I want to write a story. But–what?

Pop. The joint gave into pressure.

Nothing seemed worthy. His fingers cramped at the thought of typing anything. He cradled and pulled his jaw to one side, performing at-home chiropractic services. His eyes found the radio.

Avocado. Radio. Charlie Radio. What if…?

His fingers began whisking over the keys like Gramma pinching pepper into a pot. A story whistled on the stove.

In 1939, while the world was falling apart, I was put together.

My illuminated dial dimmed. I can’t play tunes any more. My mind forgot the music. My voice is silent. My faded avocado body has scratches and scars. No one thinks I can hear, but I can. I still remember.

I watch over Charlie. I listen for his voice. I listen for his laughter, stories, dreams, and pain. I listen for his thoughts tapped out on the keys. I listen for his words.

My life began the summer Gaetano Guerrieri walked into the small appliance shop at the end of 15th and Main. He was dressed in an olive-green uniform, holding hands with Shirley. Shirley pointed to me. The shop owner placed me back in my box, wrapped me in thick brown paper and delicately handed me to Gaetano.

“Grazie,” he said.

We strolled along 15th…

THE END

FINE

Hay and Gasoline

Hay.
Gasoline.
Sweet hay.
Gas.
Blood.
Blood in my mouth. Did I fall?

I’m lying in the still-long blades of dry, yellow grass. The motor is running. I can only see the tops of red baseball caps. I hear muffled bellowing.

Someone’s holding my hand. Sun is white. Sweat forms just above my brow. Rolls down. Meets my tears. Down my temple/upper cheekbone. Pooled in the cradle of my outer ear. Can’t move. Can’t see anything but sky. Can’t hear very well. Because of the grass? Or something worse?

The silhouette of my father’s face, grimaced and gray, leans. Zooms. I’m veiled by his plaid work shirt now. His overall strap buckle lightly pressing against the bridge of my nose. His huge gloved hands lift me quickly from the ground. I’m laid on the pickup bed’s tailgate. Next to the leaning batches of barn-bound, recently-bailed hay.

I like the attention. But I’m scared. Only because every pair of eyes I meet are scuffling with fear.

Where in the world?

Terribly sorry. I’ve not posted in January. I was a broad abroad.

First, I went to the Holy Land. I’m supposed to call it that. To protect and ensure the safety of the team and those who are working with us, referring to this region as the Holy Land is hopefully less offensive. It is a holy land to most living there.

Second, I went home to KC! That didn’t go so well. :/ There was less tension in the Holy Land somehow? Unexpected.

While in the Holy Land, I worked with a humanitarian aid group (cannot name) to distribute wheelchairs and eyeglasses. So many people (cannot name) were helped. As you can imagine, most recipients did not want to publicize their need or charitable receipt. Understandable! Plus, advertising our help could jeopardize the team’s return.

There are so many stories. These stories have buried themselves in my dreams and burn like the Bedouin campfires hidden in the steep hills of the Middle East. Herding my heart toward grace and deep compassion for the people living there. I fell in love with the land, culture and most of all, the people. Their love and embrace–salvation from cold desert winds. There is hope for those that yet live. Strive. Hunger. Wander. Discover.

I will share some of these stories in the coming days as discreetly as I can, while still conveying the deep need and buoyant hope. A delicate endeavor. I am wholly changed after traveling so far. Thanks for reading!! And thanks to the team on which I served.

Dream House

So. One Christmas. Can’t remember how old I was. Some age below puberty. I wanted a Barbie Dream Cottage. The one with the elevator.

My mom had made a dollhouse years ago out of cardboard and leftover scraps. It was amazing! It had furniture and everything. It wasn’t very big, but the time and effort she put into it was much appreciated. We wore it out and tore it up.

But now. A few years later. I wanted a big-girl Barbie Dream Cottage. The real deal. And she got it.

She put it in her closet. In plain sight. The box was so big that you could just walk in their room and see the bright-white box gleaming from the closet shelf. Even if she would have wrapped it, I would have known what I was getting. Subtlety had been
prison-stabbed a long time ago in this family.

So. I saw it. Probably a week or more before Christmas. When I saw it, I immediately started begging my mother to let me open it early.

Please, please, please. *Heavy breathing and groaning*

I just had this deep, deep anxiety, anticipation, worry, eagerness. If I didn’t get the cottage now, I will have wasted all of this Christmas vacation play time.

Kids have several days off before Christmas. Sitting at home. Waiting for Christmas to arrive. Swallowing their excitement over and over like big gulps of air until they hyperventilate on Christmas. It’s completely and totally insane.

While adults are preparing the food, and the tree, and the food, and the presents, the food and the food, and the nog, and the food. Kids are watching TV, filling their gobs with bon-bons, hopefully running in and out of the snow and shaking presents like Polaroid pictures.

What did she expect? From me? Slobberbox McWhiny-Pants?

Please. Please. Pleeeeease.

She relinquished.

I could tell she was upset and very disappointed. Frustrated. Mad. She hated my lack of self-control in that moment. I know she did.

But she left me have it. (LOL, oh boy, did she left me have it) On one condition. No, and I mean no, help in putting it together.

Crap!

I ran to the closet. I tore that box open like a box of Twinkies. Laid out all the parts and started assembling. I looked at the instructions briefly, but intuitively knew what went where. Mostly. I got to a point where something had to be screwed.

Crap!

I knew where the screwdriver was and I ran to get it. I started screwing that Barbie cottage up. Royally.

Something went wrong and I put the wrong screw in the wrong hole or screwed it too far or something. I warped the heavy plastic on the roof and it turned a lighter shade of orange. Some parts had to be taped. Scotch tape. But I put it together.

I was mildly disappointed. But at the same time thrilled and slightly proud of myself for wrestling my mother into a rarely-achieved coup, putting together a complex gift, and to be immediately playing with my new toy before Christmas. I was the only one with a gift! Ha!

That pride and newness quickly waned. When Christmas finally arrived, I had lost any thrill and was jealous of those receiving presents and I had none to open.

Crap!

I learned a hard lesson that day. One that my mother was willing to teach me. Best to wait. Wait for help. Wait for others. Enjoy each moment, with or without a gift. Wait for joy. It’s better when you wait. Or! Joy is not in receiving a gift, joy is found in obedience, patience and self-control. Restraint is its own reward.

But I had that Barbie Dream Cottage until I was 15? I hadn’t played with it for years, but I held on to it. It was the most expensive thing I owned, to that point. Ha. Then I gave it to another little girl.

Merry Christmas.

Stars

The beginning of an old short story from my 20s. Never finished. But I still like some of the ideas. Simply archiving! It’s so old it was hand-written! lol


She lingered in the plush blades of grass that curled around her plump toes. Standing in her nighgown, she wondered at the evening sky. Arms limp. Relaxed jaw. Deep breath. The young woman found two particular stars completely interesting.

One of the heavenly bodies shivered incessantly on the deep, cold black expanse that marked the top half of the sky, flickering in and out of consciousness. Then, the other was nestled in the warmth of its own glow. White and constant, it shone brightly in the plum ether that split the black sky from the earth.

The two suns were seemingly inches apart, but in reality, worlds away from one another. Not unlike she and her husband. She shivered as she woke from her meditative trance.

Michael called from the porch. “Sara, come in now.”

As she crossed the threshold of their sterile country home, Michael asserted, “You’ll catch cold.” Michael threw a blanket around her shoulders.

“Thanks.” Sara managed a smile without looking into his eyes.

Silently, they climbed to their bedroom. Upstairs, in their average, comfortable bed, Michael slept as Sara laid awake, remembering the stars.

Most of the time, she felt like the weaker star. Finding it difficult to shine all the time. It was hard to summon light within herself. She felt the encompassing darkness surrounding her. Enveloping her. Swallowing her. Drinking in her life. Sara viewed herself as a fool because she had no control over the dark. It would creep into her mind and she assumed that she allowed that. It rose and set like the moon, involuntarily. Unstoppable. Phasing like a dead planet composed of ash.


Not bad for a 20-something? When the internet did not exist. LOL

Caroline’s Curiosities

Read this creepy short story! It’s Blade Runner meets Minority Report meets Bradbury. Except it’s all PenPrin! My daughter wrote it and I’m jealous of her growing abilities!! You have snatched the pebble from my hand, Grasshopper!

Pencil Princess

Hello! I have something for my blog today that’s a bit different from what I usually post. I recently wrote a short sci-fi/horror story. I like stories that create a vast world of their own, yet are short and to the point and can stand on their own. Some of my favorite short stories are The Veldt, The Landlady, and The Tell-Tale Heart, and they were some of the inspirations for this story.

In the following story, there are several gore/blood mentions, so if you would be grossed out by that, this may not be for you. If you’re alright with reading something a little creepy, then without further ado, I present…


• Caroline’s Curiosities •
a short story by Lillian Maggio

He didn’t ever think he would find himself taking advantage of Caroline’s services, but due to unforeseen circumstances, he came to desire a new eye…

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Throwing it out there

In Grapes of Wrath, I have a scene where I sit around the fire in the first act. I’m getting rid of some things I don’t want to pack on the truck. There isn’t room for my washtub, so there isn’t room for sentimentality or mementos. I’m supposed to have a small box, probably an old cigar box or something, with papers inside and a pair of earrings.

I take the earrings, but I trash the rest. Throw it on the fire.

I made myself some papers to look at this morning. Stuff to burn. Stuff that has emotion in it. Stuff to stuff in that box. I can’t be sentimental about fake pictures, so I put my own pictures in a small box.

It’s hard for Ma to toss out the scraps of her life. This is the first time she’s confronted with leaving everything behind. I remember leaving everything behind 4 years ago.

Up until 4 years ago, I had to let go of very little. My mom stored some small stuff for me, but I had been carting around all my belongings, accumulating more and more stuff every place I went after I got married.

We took much, but we left much, 4 years ago.

4 years ago, I had a house. 4 years ago, I had medical debt. 4 years ago, I had cancer and didn’t know it. 4 years ago, I had hope that by leaving everything I had built, by walking away from crippling debt, I would know peace. At the very least.

I was right.

4 years ago, we had a small house in Kansas City. We were trying to make payments on the house, trying to fix ‘er up, trying to remodel and repair an aging older home. Gas was $4 a gallon. I was so sick, I couldn’t hold down a job. I was mentally and physically ill.

I had heart failure, undiagnosed thyroid cancer, failing gallbladder and out-of-control obesity. Of course I couldn’t work. I also had undiagnosed complex PTSD. Some days, I remember, it’s a miracle I’m still here. That I didn’t kill myself with food or by some other means.

I’m here.

When we realized that we would never pay off my medical debt, that we were sinking in a hole of a house, we quit paying on the house and filed bankruptcy. It was the hardest thing to walk away from debt and our house. I felt like a failure. A worthless piece of shit who deserved to go to jail for failing at adulthood.

I just thank God that our country offers a second chance. That you don’t go to prison for being irresponsible financially. (If that were true, our president would be in jail. LOL) Even Walt Disney claimed bankruptcy. KC represent! (He’s a KC boy, originally.)

There was so much pain. Guilt. Shame. But, at the end, relief. I could sleep again at night.

Bankruptcy is one of those things you never want to go through twice. For me anyway. I never want to go through the hassle or terror again. Stay out of debt. If you can. If your organs don’t fail. Also, keep insurance! (America’s medical safety net should not be bankruptcy.)

When we filed bankruptcy, we planned to move before they made us move. We started furiously working toward the goal of downsizing our entire house. I had a basement and a garage full of shit. Hand-me-downs. Arts and crafts. Tables. Chairs. Bookcases. Books. Thrift store finds. Theatre costumes. Bullshit. I had to start letting go of all those projects I told myself I’d do. I even had a friggin’ old, dusty upright piano. What was I thinking?

What I really wanted to do was start a house fire. Burn it to the ground. Emerge from the smoking hull. Start completely over. But I’m not a law breaker. So, we worked. For hours. With one vision in mind. Think of how nice it will be when this is all over. We will be free of these things. We won’t be slaves to objects. And we wanted to move to an apartment with a pool! Having a pool goal is a good motivator.

Plus, we had a huge garage sale. Sold a bunch on Craigslist. Made some fat stacks of cash. That was also a good motivator. I became quite a Craigslist savant. Never murdered! Woot!

One of the last days at our house, we had a bonfire. We had some folks over and had some food. We sat in our backyard to use it for the last time with friends. Something we rarely did and said we always wanted to do. It was a fun day. We bought hay bales for seats. We made burgers and dogs. We made a huge fire pit out of a decorative well. We cut the top of the well off (the roof and bucket) and used the brick oval base to make a fire pit. Done.

Threw old lumber, sticks and as many pieces of wood we could find (we had alot of scrap wood for some reason, we were hoarders, I guess) on the fire and lit the whole thing at once. Whoosh! It was a fireball. It was pretty cool.

We had just mowed the day before for company and the yard was full of dried grass clippings. We had an acre of land and plenty of dried grass. The kids at the party went around picking up the dried grass and throwing it on the fire. They had a blast. And the yard looked pretty nice, too. New party game. LOL

It was nice to use the yard finally. To enjoy the day. But it was far too late. Made me want to stay. But we would have never had the party if we weren’t going away. Such is life. Things are the sweetest, love is fiercest, when the end is near. Just enjoy it. Just do it before it’s too late.

When I do the scene as Ma, I’ve been around that fire before. I’ve left behind some precious things to come to where I am. But they are just things. I saved the best or most important parts from the fire. OR

Everything gets burnt. But the best things come out of the fire still intact. Refined. Like me.

Passed/Past

Excerpt for my book. It’s on sale right now for 99 cents. Thanks for reading.


Passed

The days pass, there is a garden, there is a kiddie pool, there is a tall metal slide, there are bikes. There are parties and Old Maid. There are faked deaths on the living room rug. There are forts made of blankets, boxes and overturned furniture. There is art on the steps to the basement. There is our neighbor, Mrs. Thomas. There are bees in her yard that she keeps.

Mrs. Thomas invites us over for drinks and play while she chats with my mother. Sometimes I imagine the more-than-average number of bees are falling into my glass of soda. They land on the edge of my glass and claim my sticky beverage. I wait until they fly away again before I take another drink. I become anxious as I see puckers in the dark liquid. It’s a drowning bee, struggling, trapped by the sugary fluid prison. Its wings weighted down by the tempting sweet and now dying a horrible, humiliating death. My mother assures me it’s just ice.

I’m not convinced.

I try to avoid the puckers as they lunge toward my lips. I wait for the stings. For the mouthful of barbs and flesh-engorging pinch of the bee or bees. Between sips, I watch the air.

The sun is white, bright and soft. There are thousands of particles bumbling and floating in the trees. There are dandelion puffs, grass clippings, pollen, bees, insects, dust, fairies and little bits of earth-bound angel breath, each humming in a small sphere of light. The light catchers and carriers; the light that carries each element on the warm, swirling wind.

WARNING

WARNING: This post will contain ridiculous amounts of profanity. I apologize in advance if I offend. I try to avoid it, but sometimes the Hillbilly Redneck falls right out my mouth.


Yesterday, my husband told me my friend from the past tried to contact him on Facebook. Can I just say, “Leave me and my family the FUCK alone. Please.”

What?? I said please.

A little history:

I grew up with a girl from my hometown. She was popular, funny and so very sweet. She had a natural charisma and sharp sense of humor. Everyone liked B. She was welcoming, nice, open. I met B on the bus in Kindergarten. I fell in friendship love from the first morning on the first day. I’ve known B since the age of 5. Our birthdays were only 1 month and some odd days apart. I didn’t know it at the time, but we were going to be closer than sisters. Any sister I ever knew.

B had a strange, rare ability to make fun of herself, laugh at her mistakes and put herself in such a vulnerable position that just about everyone could not resist the B Show. Lunch buddy status with B was highly coveted. Sleepovers were even more exclusive. B was the shit.

During the middle of 5th grade, B left. She moved to the next town and I was heartbroken. I was lost. I was so sad. But we vowed to keep in touch. Several girls did. But I may have been the only one to actually write fanatically.

People asked me about B. How is she? What’s she doing? I seemed to be the only one staying in touch. I had a friendship leg up with B. We were destined to be friends, but I didn’t understand it, this attraction to specifically her, or even expect it. But I truly hoped for it. To be and remain her best friend.

B and I had a few sleepovers after she moved, but then she moved, not just a town away, but an entire state. We kept in touch, wrote consistently and one day, I got the good news. B’s coming back!

Expecting B’s arrival and to see her again was the most exciting anticipation I had experienced to that point. The waiting seemed to go on. She said she would let me know when they had settled and I was welcome. It really was like having a boyfriend. A long-lost lover. She was only ever my friend, but I cared about her more than any other human being except my mother. When you’re a girl, before sex, your best friend is your soulmate.


What’s better than a soulmate?
Someone to talk about your soulmate with. 🙂


She finally wrote to let me know the date. As soon as she got her phone number, she let me know her digits. I still remember the number. 816-(555)-4356. I remember the prefix, but I replaced with those fake Hollywood numbers so as NOT to disturb the current phone owners of 4356. 🙂 I remember it because I blew that number up. Daily. For years. It was my suicide hotline, my Phone-a-friend. My whole, stinking life was on the other end of that ring.

I hung out at their house so often to escape my own that I seriously irritated their mother. B’s mom was sometimes fussy and sometimes cruel. She had a hot temper at times, sometimes was physically violent, but her husband was away so much on business and the girls constantly had friends over.

I would beg to come over just to be a part of their dynamic. Good food, lots of laughs and a beautifully comfortable home. The mother being grumpy or even irate at times was just a small price to pay to be near B. I was used to it. My own house was even more chaotic. Just being at B’s house was fun. We didn’t have to do much to have a good time.

We played and sang in the yard. We made up games. We rode bikes, laid in the cool of the basement, primped in the bathroom. Drank soda. Unintentionally spit-laughed said soda through our noses on bed sheets. We were entranced by MTV and Atari. Entranced by waving, summer-breeze curtains and tired, old bed quilts. We swam in the neighbor’s pool. Swung on the back porch. We told the worst jokes. AND I witnessed the most heinous bathroom toilet adventures ever produced by two girls.

We went to college together. We went to bars together. I went to all of her theatre and music shows every weekend she was starring, singing, or just appearing. We did stupid, stupid stuff together. And then she did the stupidest thing of all. She got married.

It was like losing her all over again. Just like 5th grade. Keep in touch! We’ll hang out.

Except. It was never the same. Hanging out always included New Husband or talking about New Husband. Makes sense. But during that time, I turned to S. Her sister.

We were both still single. Both irritated with her husband choice. Both overweight. And we shared the same history. Wanting to be with B and being left by her. We were the jilted standbys who turned to each other for comfort. AND we didn’t have to learn a new friendship. I was already part of their family. We knew all the dirt, all the names, all the connections, all the jokes. And S was so like B that it was basically the same. A comforting substitute for Best Friend as my BFF made a new relationship.

As we all grew, we matured in different ways. I was always more intellectual than the sisters. Even by their own admission. I liked nerdy things. Books. Philosophy. School. Poetry. High-minded thinking. Art. We shared a love of theatre, music and crude humor. But the small differences started to grow when I got older: needed a job, was unsatisfied with small town life, wanted something more than just the next Tom-Dick-Harry for a partner. I was lost.

In some ways, one’s friends are okay with a person being lost because that’s who they fell in like with. Plus, any friend’s failure is a reassuring reminder of our own success. We can feel sympathy and relief all in the same emotional experience. A reassurance that we won’t be left behind. Left in the dust. Or surpassed.

One thinks of a friend as Savior. Finder of lost souls. But at some point I realized–the sisters are just junk collectors of broken people.

There’s nothing wrong with that. Except. Junk don’t work right. And junk has no value.

I had no value.

I was doing really screwed-up things to myself because I didn’t have value. I didn’t even assign value to myself. If I did, it was very little.

Why do I matter, what does anything matter, if I have no value?

I eventually broke from my toxic relationship with Little Sister. She was competitive, jealous and manipulative. She would say the same about me. WE were a toxic cocktail. Both of us. Our relationship, in part, was founded on neediness. Not a good start.

She was an attention whore. She was a liar. Thief. Cheater. She fucked around with a guy I liked and was jealous when I did the same. We broke up. Later, we gentled up to each other again after a 9-month break. She talked shit about another friend who engaged in the very same behavior that broke us up. I glossed over her hypocrisy at the time because we were trying to mend fences. She had toxic relationships all over the place. I was just one of them.

She monopolized my time and resources. She made big promises, but always let me down emotionally. I devoted my life to these sisters and they rarely showed up for me in the important things. After I married and had a child of my own, I just did not have the same energy to devote to this needy relationship. She gossiped constantly and talked trash about everyone. Everyone. I eventually realized, “If she’s talking trash about her family and every single friend to me, what does she say about my life to everyone else??”

Sobering thought.

But the final straw was almost 3 years ago. I had drifted in and out of the sisters lives. We had taken breaks before. But as of late, we were right back to besties. All of us. Sisters, new women, me. The sisters brought us all together. A hodgepodge of ladies from all walks. It was a great sisterhood of several women. Or so I thought.

I was in a play. I invited my friends to come see me in the show. It was important to me. It was a highly dramatic show and I had a really good part. It was some of the best acting I’ve done as an adult. It meant so much to me. I told them so. I had recently had cancer, thyroid surgery, just got my voice back and wanted to celebrate this moment with these women. Not one person came.

These aren’t my friends.

After all the BULLSHIT that I showed up for?? And you can’t come to the one thing I ask you to?? FUCK YOU!

YOU ARE NOT MY FRIEND!

And even as I write that, I still care. I care so much that when I found out Little Sister was sick and her husband lost his job/insurance, I gave to her medical fund. I gave anonymously online and wrote a small note of explanation to B, her sister, (fund manager) in private. I care. I don’t wish ill will. I actually want the best for her. I want her life to change. I want her to be honest. Stand up. Get better. Get physically well. Stop manipulating others. Stop talking shit about everyone because you feel horrible inside. But.

Just leave me alone. I can’t help you, Friend. I really tried.

I’m the best thing that will have ever happened to you if you don’t get better.

I have value. I value myself enough to know I can’t fix broken. I have to help myself. Good luck to you. You can’t have any more of my short time on this planet. Sorry. I truly wish you well, wellness, wealth. Without me.


She contacted my husband to tell me after 1 year thank you for the money and that a friend of a friend (someone I met and talked to only a handful of times, perhaps a total of an hour or more) that his son died. Also sorry. But I’m so far gone from Hometown USA that it truly doesn’t matter to me at all. I moved a town, a state, a whole world away this time. I wish it mattered to me. I really do.

Charity Begins at Home (and with Demi)

I asked a WordPress friend to speak about charity. Here are her thoughts and answers.


Demi, known as The Lupie Momma on WordPress, is turning 27 this year. She is not disappointed about getting older, she’s planning a huge 30th birthday celebration. (Get it, girl!) But she is a little sentimental about her daughter growing up so fast. Demi has a sweet, little girl who is almost 4. Demi is a wife and mother by day, working gal by night.

She’s dabbled at blogging for a few years on a few sites, but recently she decided to finish her novel. While struggling with Lupus (autoimmune disorder), she’s been working hard on this memoir. Demi is right and brave when she says “…life is too short not to go after everything.”
What do you do to volunteer or donate?
I’ve always given my clothes that are in good shape, that I’ve outgrown, to people I think can use them. Now that I have a fast growing toddler, I have started giving her old clothes and toys to other families. We have been fortunate enough to be able to afford these things, but we realize that some people aren’t as lucky.


Demi told me more about her personal giving.
They have a friend, Brandon (name changed for privacy). He’s a single dad of triplets. The mother is not involved on a regular basis. Brandon has to provide for 3 children. On his own. Demi knows how expensive one growing child can be. So. She started helping in any way she could. Brandon’s children are just 6 months younger than Demi’s girl. 2 of the triplets are girls. So Brandon is fixed for “hand-me-downs”. Brandon is truly grateful for the regular supply of girl’s clothing that Demi gives every change of the season.
Right before Christmas, Demi was preparing for the incoming onslaught of new toys for baby girl. They found an unused toddler bed and chair. She messaged Brandon right away. A few days later, Brandon posted about bills and presents; how hard it would be to provide this year. Demi had thought about buying a few small gifts, but after the post, Demi’s husband went full-on Santa. Gender-neutral toys that all the kids would enjoy. Delivered to Brandon’s house just in time for Christmas Eve. They didn’t say a word, leave a note or want any attention for doing so. They did unto others as they would want for themselves. Unfortunately, Amazon shipping included the husband’s email and Brandon figured it out. Needless to say, he was very thankful.


Why do you volunteer or donate?

We donate to help those in need because we would hope someone would help us if the shoe was on the other foot. Whether it’s to Brandon and his kids or hurricane relief somewhere else. (The state of Florida thanks you, Demi!!)
How do you feel when you give?
It’s a good feeling. Sometimes I feel guilty that I couldn’t do more, but my husband reminds me that its better I do a little than nothing at all. (I agree with your husband! If we all do some, we can do it all. <—Has someone already said that? If not, it’s so true!)

If we all do some, we can do it all!


Are you Christian or other religious affiliation? Do you give for a specific reason?

We’re Christians, but not the “we think we’re holier than others” type. We aren’t going to spit out scriptures at you or chaste you for not going to church.
No specific reason we do–except for the Lupus Foundation as that is a close charity that I personally benefit from.
I don’t know if I was necessarily taught to donate or volunteer, I just think my mother instilled in us from a young age to help others when we can. I remember being out to eat as a kid and my mom giving me a few dollars to give to the homeless man sitting a few tables away. Since then, I’ve just always kind of done it. Giving money to a random homeless man, or buying them a meal, giving my clothes to someone who could benefit from them. And now that I’m a mother myself, I want to instill that in my daughter. That not everyone is as fortunate as we are, and that it’s good to help others when you can.
How do your kids feel about your helping?
I’m not really sure she fully grasps the concept yet. She’s only three. Occasionally when we’re packing up stuff she hasn’t played with for months, we get the “That’s my toy!” but we explain that you know you haven’t played with it in a while, and there is someone else who would enjoy it. After a few pouts, she usually just drops the subject, goes and plays with something else. Explaining the Santa to Seniors, and why we were getting gifts for “old people who weren’t grandma or grandpa” was a bit tricky. But she picked out the names of the women we got, ‘all E’s because her name starts with E’ and picked out the bags to put their stuff in, she even threw in some hot chocolate packets for them. I hope that as she gets older, she’ll admire us for it. And continue to do it as she grows up.


While Demi regularly donates old clothes and toys, she was moved to go above and beyond this holiday season. She said, “…it felt nice buying gifts for other people that probably actually deserve the gifts.” Every year, people feel burdened in buying gifts for extended family members as an act of obligation. Holiday gift exchange can feel like a pressure cooker of negativity and resentment, boiling over by Christmas. And at the end of it all you may, like Demi, wish you had helped someone who actually needed (not wanted) something.
Demi left me with this thought from John Bunyan:

You have not lived today
until you have done something for someone
who can never repay you.


Let us know how the book is coming, Demi. I can post a link in an update. Thanks for sharing!

Please consider donating to the Lupus Foundation or to Demi’s personal fundraising goal.