Feet First

He looked down the cliff’s face to the water. It wasn’t the distance that concerned him; he’d gone into water from far higher than the 30 feet it looked to be.

No, what concerned him was the dark surface. It might mean deep water.

It might mean shallow water with a dark bottom.

Even deep water could have jagged rocks, old tree trunks, any manner of solid sharp debris.

If you have no choice but to go in, it doesn’t matter whether the water is deep or shallow, or so he told himself. What matters is that you go in feet first. An injury to one or both legs could be survived. Head injuries, out here in the middle of nowhere, probably not.

The first arrow hit the dirt close enough behind him that he heard it, felt a tiny shock in his feet. They would wait until they were close enough before loosing any more.

He leaped.

And as he went over the edge feet first, one foot snagged in the tangle of a tree root sticking out, flipping him completely, holding for less than an instant before he dropped again.

Head first.

The Time in Maggie’s Room

Maggie knew her father hadn’t meant her to fall. When he pushed her into the room to pull her door closed she had stumbled over the rug, hitting her head against the corner of the oak armoire. The sound of his own heavy boots must have covered the noise of her fall, for why else would he have locked the door and walked away without first determining that she was unhurt?

Weak and wobbly, she pulled herself up by the massive knobbed handles on the doors of the armoire, then stumbled to her bed, more falling than sitting. Her head didn’t hurt, but the spinning wouldn’t stop. Closing her eyes helped. She rubbed her temples, which didn’t.

Her stomach reminded her that she was stuck here until supper. It seemed hours since she’d fallen, but since supper was promptly at six and her father’s quite unreasonable burst of anger had befallen her at five, she had not long to wait.

Normally comfortable, her boots pinched, as if she’d had them on too long. She drew her feet up on the bed one at a time to unlace them, dropping them on the floor. Another wave of dizziness lurched through her stomach. She rubbed her temples, eyes closed.

As the dizziness passed, she stopped rubbing and opened her eyes. Surely it must be near six.

Her clock read 4:15.

She must have forgotten to wind it this morning. It was her habit to wind it each day, but as is the case with habits, it had become unconscious, automatic, and so she didn’t remember winding it. May as well wind it now, estimating the correct time, and set it properly from the hall clock downstairs before bed tonight.

It was ticking. The clock was ticking when she picked it up. She had indeed wound it this morning. But why was the time wrong? It was not old. Her father had given it to her in the spring upon his return from the city. Surely it would keep better time than this.

Yet something was amiss. The ticking of the clock was clear in her ears and her fingers.

And now it pointed most definitely at 4:14.

Maggie returned the clock to its place on the table and felt behind her for the bed, climbing up to sit crosslegged, head bowed, face in her hands. She rubbed her temples, rubbed her eyes, shook her head, pinched her cheeks, tugged at the shorter hair in front of her ears.

Wiping her eyes, she looked again at the clock.

4:13.

Pintles and Gudgeons and the Man Overboard Drill

My dad’s bigger boat, a Lightning with a 27′ mast, wasn’t ready for sailing yet so we took the little 12-footer. It was a buoyant little beast, capable of carrying four adults: Brett and I and our dad, and our friend Paul. Paul loved sailing and as a result was rooked into a boatload of unnecessary adventures. He spent a lot of his time with us wet.

We always packed food because sailing made us hungry. It’s only a mile across San Diego Bay from the boat ramp where we launched so we sailed over to Silver Strand State Park to have lunch on the beach.

I was at the tiller because Dad wanted to be the first one to step ashore. I realized as we were approaching the shore that the bottom inclined so gradually the rudder was going to hit ground before the bow touched the sand.

I said, “We’re running aground.”

Nothing happened.

I said it again. “We’re running aground.”

Still nothing.

I said, “Hey, we’re running–”

… more … “Pintles and Gudgeons and the Man Overboard Drill”

The Monkey in Menswear

“The darker blue looks good with your eyes.” Jenna, back from checking the handbag sale, held a tie up with both hands, draping it across the bridge of my nose.

“Thank you. They’re not usually worn that close to the eyes but if it gets us out of here—”

“There! That’s him!”

The tip of the tie whipped my ear as my wife spun to see what nut was yelling behind us.

“This gentleman?” from the security guard standing next to Old Yeller (okay, young yeller, but that doesn’t flow the same.)

“That’s him.”

The guard took a step back and measured the guy with his eyes.

“Him. Right there. In the suit I know he didn’t buy here because we don’t sell anything that sharp.”

Jenna did semaphore with the tie. “What did my husband do?”

… more … “The Monkey in Menswear”

Fortnight

  • 3-day convention in Tucson
  • 3-day drive
    1. Tucson AZ -> Tucumcari NM
    2. Tucumcari NM -> Kearny MO
    3. Kearny MO -> Cameron WI
  • 3 days with friends in Cameron, in a big old rambling farm house and a nameless puppy waiting to be given to our host’s granddaughter as a graduation gift (she named him Winston.)
  • 4 days house-sitting at a gorgeous home buried deep in the woods with 2 friendly cats and 1 that’s a bit cranky
  • 1 of those evenings out on the lake, seeing osprey, kingfishers, great blue herons, turtles, and a muskrat

Today:

… more … “Fortnight”

Crummy Cake Communication

Country folk have odd recipes, but we always eat good.

My mom had two cakes she introduced us to when I was a kid. She called them Mayonnaise Cake and Tomato Soup Cake.

Yeah, that’s how we reacted, too. Allow me to expand: the mayonnaise is used as a substitute for eggs and oil in a chocolate cake with coffee in the batter. A thick, dense, moist explosion of coffee-chocolate flavor. Frosting would be pointless. Vanilla ice cream works. We’d stir them together, unknowingly creating a cookies and cream experience 30 years before anyone was selling it.

My father was most precise in his speech. It was from him that I learned to look for the right word, the difference, for instance, between “loping” and “trotting” or “thinking” and “pondering” and such shades of meaning which give depth and clarity to our communication.

(That’s called “setup” so you’ll wonder, as I relate this, where it comes into play.)

… more … “Crummy Cake Communication”

How Not to Hit Your Child With a Sledgehammer

Railroad ties make a good retaining wall. Heavy and thick, they’re impregnated with creosote so they’re nearly rot-proof. Peg them together with 3/8″ rebar and they’ll be there 20 years later (according to this picture. Neighborhood has sure run down since I lived there.)

The process is to lay down the first layer of ties, drill holes where the pins will go through, lay down the next layer, drill, and repeat. Somehow, I kept performing the miracle of drilling the holes exactly where they needed to be. Stupid confidence sometimes turns into wild good luck.

I’d finished the fronts of the walls, tied into the sides next to the steps. I do not remember why (trauma, perhaps) but as I neared the end, I asked my teenage son Tristan to come help.

“Here, hold this,” I said, with a 3-foot chunk of rebar placed in the top of the hole in the railroad tie.

… more … “How Not to Hit Your Child With a Sledgehammer”

Lemon Grove Killer Van

We worked in the back of a great big van, more like a delivery truck. Not as big as a moving van, but far bigger than a passenger vehicle. Workbenches, grinders, air and power tools of all kinds, bins of parts and whatnot. It was convenient for work, being totally mobile. For driving, not so much. The van was awkward, felt top-heavy, and it as a nightmare to back up. I could always hear stuff shifting, rattling, pinging as we hit bumps or turned corners.

After lunch at a new place one day I headed out the back exit of the parking lot.

There was no back exit.

… more … “Lemon Grove Killer Van”

How to Make Your Father Run a Red Light

We sat in the dark back seat, watching the digital clock (made of actual light bulbs) atop the bank in Chula Vista. It was a long red light. We’d seen the time change from 7:03 to 7:04 and all four of us started counting the seconds until it changed again.

Quietly, in the back seat: “57, 58, 59” and then, not quietly at all, the four of us shouting “Now!”

At that moment, the left turn light changed to green.

Dad stomped on the gas.

We weren’t in the left turn lane.

… more … “How to Make Your Father Run a Red Light”

Fragility and the Geese

If you park your truck facing the sun and leave your beans and rice on the dashboard the Texas summer sun will warm it to eating temperature and melt the butter by lunchtime.

We’d heard the geese but couldn’t see them. Climbed down from the roof, dropped our tools somewhere they wouldn’t get hot, got our Mexican food from his truck and sat in the shade to eat.

I said something almost funny. Probably about as witty as “Duck, it’s the geese!” though it’s been so long I don’t remember.

… more … “Fragility and the Geese”

The End

theaterHe sat, pretending to watch the garish musical on the big screen. Why anyone would present a so-called gala night featuring some forgotten and forgettable musical was a mystery to him.

Since he was here to catch a blackmailer, ignoring the noise and commotion onscreen was part of the task, and he was glad of it.

Also glad that he knew exactly who he was looking for. Easy to catch a criminal in the act when you know who they are. Follow them around a bit, do some discreet digging, and hey presto! Usable information leading to eyewitnessing their perfidy.

The light from the preposterous dance number bounced off a shiny silk suit. No, it wasn’t the suit.

It was a knife blade. And that was flashing toward the suit.

The suit worn by the blackmailer he was going to catch in the act.

Instead, he’d caught his murder, live and in person.

Persistent Time

Continued from a previous post

It was too easy.

The intense moment of exhilaration passed, leading to saner thoughts. Reason, not emotion.

Perhaps I had only delayed their meeting, not prevented it altogether. Return to 2019 and see what family history said? Certainly, but if you’re already at the store you don’t go home to see if there’s something else on your shopping list.

city-streetThis version of wandering the store to see if I’d forgotten eggs or cheese meant following one of my erstwhile grandparents.

He had seen me. She had not.

Rushing through the crowd as rudely as I’d pretended to be to my grandfather, I saw her. May as well follow her to be sure.

Up East Lane toward Main she moved in and out of sight, the crowds from the train station being thicker here. The crowds dispersed at Main Street, walking east or west or climbing into carriages or sparkling automobiles. Once we crossed Main Street she and I were virtually alone. She turned left on Oak Lane, as I’d assumed she would.

Before we got to the grand Victorian at the corner of Oak and Third, she stopped, whirled, and came back my direction. Since she had no reason to know who I was, I simply continued walking, and made as if to pass her, tipping my grubby cap as she approached.

“Why are you following me?” Her voice was loud in the empty street.

I tried to step past, tried to remain calm. This was not what I’d expected.

“Why should I follow you, madame? I’m simply enjoying the sunshine and fresh air, and we happened to be going the same direction. I apologize if I startled you.”

I took another step. She blocked my way.

“You were at the station. I saw you accost that man. Now you’re following me. I ask again, why?”

Time for action, not words. I tried to step around her but she grabbed my arm. I put my hand on her wrist, trying to gently pull it from my own, but her grip was stronger than I’d expected.

“Take your hands off her, you thug.”

Surprised, I let go and turned to face the speaker, whose voice I recognized, of course. My grandmother covered her mouth with her free hand. A tiny squeal escaped past her fingers.

My grandfather, for the second time that day, punched me square in the face. This time it was hard enough to knock me down, bloodying my face. By the time I got up and cleared my vision, they were gone.

So that’s how you want to play it, eh, Time? I accept the challenge.

I set out to prevent my grandparents’ marriage, even if it killed me.

Hole in His Chest

His habit was to pop out of bed the instant he awoke. Today it felt good to lie there, eyes closed, sun glowing through the window onto the bed.

bedroom-dark-light“Know what I want to do today?”

The room was silent.

She’s still sleeping, he thought. Lazybones.

He rolled over to put his arms around her, knowing she’d open one eye, give him the grumpy face, then snuggle into his chest.

Her side of the bed was empty.

He opened his eyes.

Properly awake now, he threw himself down on her pillow.

His wounded animal cries made no difference. He’d done this every morning since he’d been able to sleep again, and it made no difference.

She was still dead.

Waking Up on the Couch I Can Hear Someone Upstairs

shadowy stairsI climb the stairs, avoiding the few creaky ones I’m used to avoiding coming down. Soft-soled shoes help, but I know whoever is up there will hear the slightest noise.

Every time they rummage, stumble, make any noise, I take an extra step. My slow climb is taking minutes that feel like hours.

I miss, or rather, don’t miss, one of the creaks. The noise above stops abruptly and a figure dressed in black appears at the top of the stairs.

My assailant, male I think, rushes me, probably trying to push me backward down the stairs.

I quash the instinct to fight back. Instead, I drop to my stomach, arms flailing above me.

I catch an ankle.

Then I catch a knee in the back as he tumbles over me.

By the time I turn and scamper back down, he’s lying motionless on the floor.

Before I even check for a pulse, I pull the ski mask off his head.

It’s more of a shock than when I first realized someone had broken into my home.

Finding that pulse matters now.

Phil Brennan, Web Martin, and Jesse Donovan Walk Into A Bar

Joel D CanfieldYou’d think I’d know what to expect considering who I was meeting in the cheap dive downtown.

One at a time, sure.

I’d never sat down with the three of them, not all at once.

It’s enough to drive you to drink.

Or for those with other proclivities, to write.

Or maybe both.

On the Eve of My Daughter’s Wedding

Five weeks ago, I was one of the most important people in her life. Now, a near stranger is the most important person in her life, and I’m barely a part of it.

It feels like death. It feels, inside, exactly the way it felt when my father died.

I know that, one month ago, she left, and she’s never coming back. She’ll go away and be part of someone else’s life, and we’ll see her now and then, but she’ll never really be back.

After all the years of stress and frustration and countless hours of worry and talk and tears, someone else gets to have the almost adult we created, and we get an empty hole.

It’s not fair and it hurts, and all anyone else sees is the angry whining selfish old man. Someone is taking one of my most precious possessions, and doesn’t even seem to care how I feel.

I’m scared and sad and lonely. I’m heart-broken over the projects we’ll never finish because she’ll go away and be part of someone else’s life instead of mine.

It’s not anger. It’s pain. That sound in my voice; the look on my face.

That’s my heart breaking.

bride

blue sky over a white house

blue sky over a white houseblue sky over a white house wind blows waving trees above a green yard where something doesn’t move doesn’t move at all until slowly slowly one arm reaches up to his head it’s a man is he hurt I can’t tell slowly he rolls on one side birds chatter in the tree then fly off to the wire between the telephone poles who has a telephone that needs wires anymore but that’s what we call them isn’t it he’s up on his knees now and I can’t tell if he’s hurt or drunk or decided to sleep under the stars except he’s not under the stars he’s under the tree in the green yard under the waving tree and the wind blows in the blue sky over a white house

Lunch Note

lunch“What makes you think she’s in trouble?”

“I knew you wouldn’t take me seriously.”

“Not saying that. I need the lay of the land before I take the case.”

“Just because I’m not old enough to drive—”

“Hey, age has no bearing on whether someone needs help.”

“Or tells the truth.”

“That, too. People of all ages lie to me. People of all ages get confused about people they love. People of all ages come in here and tell me all kinds of stories. I pepper them with questions like I’m doing right now, and if I don’t like their story, they can take it somewhere else. So like I said, age has nothing to do with it whether I’ll believe you, or take you seriously, or take the case even if I do. I still need to know what makes you think she’s in trouble.”

“She packs my lunch for school every day. Writes me notes.”

“This is not surprising.”

“Wait, I wasn’t finished. This is the note I found in my lunch today. Read it.”

“He’s going to kill me. Get help.”

Nothing But Stars

The blue-grey clouds squished over the rooftops down the road as I warmed my hands on my mug of darker-than-clouds coffee. A good night’s sleep would have been nice, thank you very much, but no, I got to bed early, tossed like a fish till all hours, then awoke, twitching and wild-eyed, at 3:13am. I’m not superstitious, so twitching awake from a nightmare to my WalMart digital clock displaying the usual number of disasters followed by the unluckiest number didn’t bother me at all. Not one bit.

bluegreyclouds

When it’s black night out here you can’t see the next house, a hundred yards up the road, unless Mort is going fishing and he’s up early. Otherwise, new moon like this, you see nothing but stars until the sun oozes up over the hills behind my cottage. Then, the stars are there one moment, gone in a blue-grey haze the next.

Except that was all in my imagination, of course, what with the thick dark cover of clouds. It would get lighter. It would not get sunny.

Matched my prospects for the day.

I swallowed the last of the lukewarm brew in my mug and went upstairs to shower, shave, and dress for my last day as an outsider.

Unglamorous Detecting

toiletsignI’m sure every profession is less glamorous than outsiders think. Except accounting. Accounting can’t possibly be less glamorous than it seems.

Sleazy employee I was keeping an eye on lived in a dump and walked everywhere, which meant I got to drive a piece of junk rental car and sit in a frankly frightening neighborhood so I know all his comings and goings. The dumpiness of the area also meant that popping down the block to grab a quick bite or use a clean bathroom was out. Yes, you can use the bathroom and not miss a guy leaving his apartment, if he walks everywhere.

But if there’s no bathroom, you do what you have to do. It’s not pleasant but it’s the job.

After a few hours of slowly cooling black coffee and nibbles of a lukewarm burrito, nothing happened.

See what I did there? You thought something was going to happen. You’ll need to drop that attitude if you’re going to succeed at this game.

Because most of the time, nothing happens.

If this loser wasn’t lifting vital records during his janitorial shift at a prestigious research facility, prestigious enough to pay loads to get the dirt on the dirtbag, it wouldn’t be worth the waste of time.

As it was, any move he made could be worth millions. Could, in fact, mean lives.

So, I sat. I waited.

Nothing happened.

Nothing except the coffee getting colder and my attitude struggling to keep its head above water.