Miss Betty

She was beautiful, her white hair appropriately cut, her large, round, gold framed sunglasses reflecting the few clouds hovering above Parker’s Lake in the otherwise clear blue sky. Her thin, pale hand pulling on the pretty little leash attached to her small Bichon mix. She walked in her comfortable shoes towards me along the asphalt path. I had stopped to photograph a turtle sunning itself on a rock just off shore, and when I turned and saw her she smiled a crooked smile and wished me a sunny day. I responded with “me and the turtle wish you the same miss”.

She paused, she didn’t know me; I wore a blue t-shirt exposing my tattoos and faded jeans and cheap, dark sunglasses. Then she turned full round and stepped back towards me only a single step and threw her tired arms in the air and said “who couldn’t enjoy a day like this”. I introduced myself and said “indeed it’s a beautiful day, almost as much as you miss.” She stepped closer this time and stuck her hand out, I grasped her hand gently and gave her my name, she told me I seemed like a nice guy to which I replied…”my fiancée seems to think so” and she slapped her knee and whipped around and said “oh darn it’s always the nice one aint it!” I laughed and she asked about my fiancée.

Leaning against a rock wall along Parker’s Lake under a strong and warm spring sun we chatted about love and politics and travelling, OCD, addiction and recovery. I was already late getting back to work after lunch but I didn’t care, she was sweet and funny and we quickly became friends. She had spoken about a book she was reading called Switching on Your Brain by Caroline Leaf and how it had transformed how she saw things. She said it showed her how to be happier…by choosing to be happy, she has OCD she said and her husband is a recovering alcoholic and she spoke about how sometimes we just need to decide to be happy and that it doesn’t matter what others believe or whether or not they accept us as we are, it’s up to us whether or not we choose to be happy on our own terms.

She patted me on the arm and said that we were meant to meet today, we saw eye to eye on some things and not so on others but we both enjoyed each other’s company for a little while on what had already been a beautiful day, but now had become much more than that for me. When we allow ourselves to remain open to what’s around us we invite opportunities to be rewarded, sure that means we can be hurt too, there’s always an innate risk there when we make ourselves vulnerable, but I’ll take that risk any day! Thank you Miss Betty.

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Can You Help Move?

There are very few words that seem to strike fear into the minds and bodies of those we call friends and associates like…”Could you help us move?” I think we have all been on the receiving end of that phrase, that desperate plea for help or manipulative query that is uncomfortably uttered by us poor souls who’ve had to take part in that emotionally and physically daunting task. It had been a long time since my last move although I have been at the receiving end of that question a few times. I would have rather been cornered naked, in a dark basement by a Catholic Priest in an abandoned building. But alas the term “Friend” is often contingent upon these very five words.

Dependent upon the answer you give can determine whether or not you get invited to the next “core friends” BBQ. And there is no righteous outcome, if you are able to throw up a confident “yes” without choking, it won’t only be eight hours of your life you’ll never get back but you will forever afterwards be that friend, the one he/she can always count on and will not only state that at every social function but will take full advantage of it at every turn. Especially if it’s an old stanky toilet they need removed from the basement, or some massive piece of awkwardly shaped furniture trapped in the family room for the last twenty years that just simply won’t fit through any doorway in their house, no matter how many times you turn it or angle it or slam down another beer looking at it in a stern and threatening manner.

If however you return with a definitive and minimalistic “no”, you can kiss that next “Core friends” grilled steak and Saison DuPont goodbye in lieu of the neighborhood BBQ’d frozen chicken thigh and store bought lemonade mix. Not only will the person that asked you begin their request to every other friend with…”So and so refused to help me…”, but don’t even consider asking them for help when next you need it because no matter what they will always have some commitment that’ll quite “unfortunately” keep them from helping you out, but they will wish you good luck and offer their quite sympathetic apologies.

This has all led the human race to honing their improvisational skills in order to be that friend who didn’t come up with the same excuse as every other friend. This is nothing new, nothing contemporary about it; in fact it has been true throughout history. I am certain that back in the day, during a midweek plundering event, when Eric Bloodaxe asked ol’ Sweyn Forkbeard for help carrying the wench he kidnapped from some unfortunate village to his boat, Sweyn probably gave him the old “oh well dontchaknow dat me cousin Bjorn Ironside is in town and we just really wanted to spend some quality time catchin’ up”. He had skillfully offered the ancient my relative’s in town excuse; brilliantly played he didn’t have to say “no” and got out of the task honorably because family is always first. Everybody knows that, and you will never be asked to prove that ol’ Bjorn Ironside is not just your fire hearth repair guy.

Over time we have become proficient at coming up with all sorts of excuses or “unfortunate” and “regrettable” reasons why we can’t help. That’s why small residential moving companies like Two Men and a Truck and the sexist but growing Shirts Optional Moving Company have prevailed. They are doing well and it probably doesn’t help that manual labor is all but a thing of the past for the majority of us. We sit five days a week at our desks wearing away the characters on the little buttons on our keyboards and wonder why those jugs of milk seem to be getting heavier…”but it’s 1%, I just don’t get it.”

Most people would rather beg for money on the curb with which to pay for their fancy coffee than to ask their friends for help moving. But don’t worry, brush up on your improv skills and don’t you even dare use the much worn out…”yeah well I would but I promised my girl/guy we’d go shopping at the mall that weekend, sorry Bob, but hey, good luck moving and I’m really sorry I can’t help out this time” excuse.

The Dark Shape of It

You knit the dark shape of it every day
from the dimness at the edge of each day’s sight
and the tethered drift of human shadows
that you catch and jar.

You knit the dark shape of it every evening
alone at the scratched table
or staring at the ceiling as the bath grows tepid
and the rooms around you lose light.
You tell the knots and stitches like beads
pushing away grace, weaving in trespass
that you kiss, yell, whisper, pet, catalogue.

You lay the dark shape of it over you every night
to cover, wrap, smother, mildew, chill.

Copyright Kay Winter

The gods, Six Women and a Wedding

The gods pinged me again. They had no sense of decency, coming in right there on the outside steps of the Rotunda just before my son walked me down the aisle at his wedding. I turned and saw the reflection of us standing there in the glass door. I saw us clearly. I saw us from where the gods saw us from way out there somewhere. That’s me, in the long elegant black dress, hair all done up around my head, one hand holding my son’s arm and the other dangling a black shawl, like a child holds a blanket. We look alike. Both tall, both slim. Then the ping. It suddenly seemed strange that the cells of this 6’2” man spun off and popped out of my body and ended up standing next to me as a full grown man, irreversibly tied to me, no matter what.

They’ve been after me all my life, those gods. I don’t know what I did, but it must have been something big. They are determined I must go through life backwards. Maybe they thought I had it too easy. Maybe they thought I had too much life, that I saw too much good in the world. Or maybe they just thought I was shallow and needed to learn a lesson or two.

But I’m here, at this wedding and I’m smiling while this man, this man the gods forced through my body at 18 and out into the world, before either of us were ready, is saying his vows today. In spite of the gods watching us.
And I see his hands, the pigment gone white, in irregular lines, that look like drawings of continents against the darker skin. And now the nails, warping at the base. His tux is a little too big now, with the weight loss, the tiny incision holes over the kidneys hidden. But he looks fine. He is fine, still.

Even the grand matriarch on the bride’s side, the grandmother, caught me in the bathroom and said “We just love Calvin and are glad to have him come into the family.”

I said, “He’s only on loan.” She didn’t know what I meant with those words.

And they look fine, he and his radiant bride, later at the head table, smiling and laughing, so beautiful, so full of promise, so ready to do the marriage and children scene, all the way till. . . . I can’t say the word.

He found the right one. I feel a mother’s love toward that.
I said my speech. “You want so much for your children, you want things to go right, to be easier for them. And with these two, I think they are they lucky ones who have it all.” Or something like that. Tears well up in my voice and I stop. People clap for me and I sit down. I should be feeling wildly ecstatic right now, that they married their best friend and it’s going to be a good marriage, but that just makes it worse. Bastard gods! I’m mad and getting more mad by the minute.

I mean, what were the gods thinking? They dropped that boy on me before I even had a chance to get out there in the world. They stole that from me, my youth, my choices. But I got over it. And now, when I’m getting older, they’ve come to steal him back before I’m gone? I mean what the hell? What’s the point? For god’s sake, can someone please tell me what.they.were.thinking?

I must have been mouthing some pretty good swear words, in the middle of this beautiful reception because soon Mae, tall Mae with black braids and feathers at the end trailing down her back, came up to me and grabbed my arm.

“Come on Maggie,” she said and pulled me toward the door. I quietly let her lead me. As we passed tables, Janice stood up and joined us. Then Linda, and Maria and Sookie. We stepped out of the glass room, into the darkness and headed down to the amphitheater in the small lake.

All six of us, in our beautiful dresses and high-heeled shoes, wine glasses in our hands, crossed the bridge and stepped onto the circle of grass where hours before the vows were spoken. We lined up in a row. Six beautiful women, aged 36 to 56, strong women. Each of us had been pinged by the gods, as a mother or sister or wife, all of us angry at the gods at one time or other. We stood facing the lake under clouds tinged pink from the huge lights coming out of the glass building behind us.

Our heels sunk deep into the earth.

Then we gathered a strong breathe, and howled. We howled, again and again, more and more, at the top of our lungs, the sound skimming across the lake, shaking up into the trees. Six she wolves, snarling and snapping back. And as we sunk deeper into the earth, howls of women past rose up through our feet, filling our bodes and shaking our chests, their voices joining ours in our throats. And with one final voice, we pinged those gods back with a howl from every woman past, present and future.

Then we were quiet.

We waited as our howl released into the sky and out of sight and the lake became just a lake and the trees just trees.

Mae looked at me. She was talking to me without words, but I could hear her say “you all right now Maggie.”
I drop my head into one accepting nod, our cue to pulled our heels out of ground and make our way back to the glass building.

(c) Copyright Shelley Maasch, All Rights Reserved

Letters

Tonight I will dream
that all the letters
you’ll send me
will arrive as white birds
flying from where you are
and landing in my hands,
paper again.

A thousand letters.

A thousand birds.

In my dream
I’ll open each one
and find it blank.
And I will imagine your words,
and write them on the pages.

And the heavens will
answer back for you:
“Yes, yes, that is exactly
what I wanted to say.”