Archive for August, 2010
The old grandfather clock on the landing has just chimed the midnight hour. I kick at the sheets and get out of bed. Perhaps a hot cup of milk would induce the land of dreams to claim me. Wrapping myself in the cashmere throw at the foot of my linen upholstered sleigh bed, I tiptoe to the darkened lace-curtained window. Outside the rain is falling, enveloping the neighboring houses in a cloak of mist.
I switch the church candelabra-turned lamp on my kitchen counter on, and set about warming my milk in one of the copper saucepans off the potrack. I remember when papa brought this set of saucepans with him from one of his solo yearly trips to France. I had been about eight at the time, and had come running home from school, bounding up the stairs to see him, only to be shushed by my mother and scooted down the hall into the living-room. I remember vividly the slant of the afternoon sun across the pinks and blues of the Savonnerie rug and the brown leather of the opened suitcases. I remember the shiny, golden orange of the copper pans, and the reflection of my face staring back at me, my large black eyes, my chocolate chip eyes, papa liked to call them, inquisitively trying to peer at the girl inside. But I cannot remember the day he left. Or why.
And now here he is. His tall lanky frame tucked away in the canopied bed he had shared with my mother. The canopied bed I would slip in myself those nights after he was gone, when I was frozen with the fear that she would disappear as well. Why now? Why is he here now?
When the milk almost reaches the boiling point, I ladle it into my mug, and because I can’t stand the thought of milk alone, break half of a dark chocolate bar into it and wait for it to melt. How perfect the tiny kitchen looks bathed in the lamplight, with the pine cabinets from some farm kitchen long abandoned, and the walnut hutches containing all the pottery and ceramics mother had collected in the years since.
“There’s no way of justifying my neglect of you. Or of your mother.” I start at the sound of his voice, spilling half of my drink across the trestle table.
“No.” I say. “There isn’t.”
“I’ve never wanted children and your mother knew that. I let her talk me into it, I was young and in love, but was relieved when the doctors told us we couldn’t have any.”
“But somehow, you decided to adopt me. That must have been a conscious decision on your part as well. And for a while there, you loved me.” My voice drifts off and I sit still. I feel drugged. As lethargic as though I had taken a narcotic. I look at him; a feeble old man, that’s what he is. He’s probably come home to die. Suddenly I don’t want to know his excuses for making me feel so unwanted. I don’t want to know his reasons for being here. Perhaps in the light of day that may change. But now, all I want to do is get between my egyptian cotton sheets and fall asleep.
“Help yourself to whatever is in the refrigerator.” I say. ”And don’t forget to turn off the lamp.”
This is a work of fiction. For more, visit
You know how little kids like to get their hands and feet into everything? Well, once when I was about five, my parents visited a relative on a farm who had the pig trough right outside the summer kitchen door. I was a city girl and thought the trough a little wading pool. Sure the water was a little murky, with bits of food and such floating around, but it was a hot day and the air was dry and there was nothing else to play with.
I got in fully dressed and splashed around until I heard my mom’s horrified screams. I knew she wanted to give me a thrashing just from the look on her face and the sounds coming out of her mouth. But lucky me, I was too stinky and dirty for her to touch. A bar of lye soap thrown in my direction, and the ice cold water of the garden hose were punishment enough.
That evening the beds of my fingernails and toenails were surrounded by pus. I was running a temperature, hallucinating, who knows what else. I don’t remember much of it myself. But I do remember the red nails. And the milk baths.
For two weeks after, I had a medication applied to my nails that stained them a rasberry red, besides being forced to bathe daily in a tub-full of goat milk. Where my parents got the goat milk, I have no idea, as we didn’t have a goat. Still, my red toes peeking out of the white milk looked very pretty. The only thing that sucks about this memory, is that to this day I cannot add any red berries to a bowl of cereal and milk, without feeling nauseous.
Only parts of this story are true. For more great reading visit
Ella married the plumber at seventeen. By the time she turned thirty, she already had eight children and was pregnant with her ninth. The plumber was not anyone’s sexual fantasy. Perhaps he had been when he was single and hitting the gym daily, or perhaps it was just his family’s money and the convertible Firebird he raced around town that had the girls swooning. Ella, herself, had been one of the prettiest girls around. But you would be hard pressed to find that beauty in her now. Her housewife ponytail is more white than black, and the curls that used to cascade down her back, just create a halo of frizz.
Ella shouldn’t have married the plumber. God knows, there were plenty of guys around who wanted her. And not just in their church community. But Ella fell in love with him and with the holiness his family portrayed, not thinking for a moment that life could be anything other than wonderful. And it was wonderful for the entire honeymoon period. She knew she was expected to get pregnant and procreate until menopause set in. She knew she would become her husband’s property. She just didn’t think it would be so difficult.
It was his controlling behavior that got to her. She wasn’t allowed to speak with her mother and sisters, nor have any friends. And then, of course, his beatings. The ones in secret were her shame alone. But when he took his frustrations out on her in front of others, she wanted to die. A few times he had slapped her face in public, and once, when his parents were over for dinner, he hit her over the head so hard, her head slammed against the wall behind her. She could never remember the reason why, but it didn’t matter anyway. He didn’t really need a reason. Last summer, in full view of the neighbors, he whipped the water hose across her back. To teach her a lesson, he said, but a lesson about what, she had no idea.
Ella often thought about taking her kids and leaving. But she didn’t, of course. She didn’t drive anymore. And she had nowhere to go. On top of it all, the kids were all on his side. They were his little spies, bribed with candy and sugary drinks.
But on the day before her birthday she found the perfect gift to give herself. It had been under her nose all along.
Ella settled herself on her bed. She covered herself with the quilt, arranged her scraggly hair on the pillow. She wanted the kids to think she was asleep. Ella unscrewed the bottle of sulfuric acid her husband used to unplug pipes. It smelled rotten and she almost gagged. She forced herself to swallow it down, her still dainty nostrils held tight by her fat fingers.
For a moment the acid burned so horribly, Ella was certain her body was consumed by the fires of hell. But then numbness set in, her head fell gently against the pillow, the bottle dropped from her fingers, and Ella closed her eyes for the last time.
This is a work of fiction. I have no idea what sulfuric acid is used for, but it seems like it should be used in plumbing. For more great readings head to Magpie Tales.
When my Tante Marie’s husband died, she had him buried in the garden across the dirt road from her house. Every morning, while the valley between the two mountains was still covered by a low mist, she would put on her thick coat, grab a few garden tools and make her way over. Toward the end of that first summer without him, my sister and I were the only ones left to keep her company, the other cousins already returned to their jobs and school.
Waking up in the high bed that her husband had built, under layers of linen quilts and silver-threaded woven rugs, was always a delicious feeling. The room would be warm, on the table in front of the wood stove thick slices of bread, a pot of honey and one of butter, and a pitcher of milk awaited our hungry mouths. We would eat, create a fantasy land of play underneath the bed, and when the mist lifted outside the thick walls of the mud hut, slide our feet in our shoes and run out, careful to close the door behind us, ever mindful of Tante’s warning of wolves and bears coming down the mountain side that was basically in her back yard.
We didn’t like going to the garden across the way. Tante Marie had a habit of laying her body atop the mound of earth that covered her dead husband and crying out, demanding to know why he left her. Sometimes she pulled at her hair, but mostly she just cried until she was spent. If she happened to see my sister and me there, peering out from behind one of the mulberry trees, she’d rouse herself, grab her watering can and call to us to fetch some water from the already filled well bucket, and bring it to her. For the next several hours we’d work silently together, weeding, watering, gathering the onions, the radishes, the garlic, and whatever else was ripe enough to harvest for the following day’s market.
At midday when the sun would beat down harshly on her widow black skirts, we would stop our work and she would take us to the river where we were allowed to wade in and play, and even go across the man-made bridge to the other side. She would watch us and hum a tune of mourning, a tune as old as the mountains themselves, before she remembered that we were growing children and must have something to eat.
That summer, the first summer that we had met our Tante, ended one evening in early September. The light was already changing when our parents showed up to take us home. As we started on our way, Tante Marie and her fragrant garden grew smaller and smaller, and although I had worried of what would happen to her during the cold winter months without her garden and without her husband, when Spring returned and we arrived, I learned that life and hope and love go on.
Sorry, this one’s non-fiction. For more tales please visit Magpie Tales.