Author: audratrussell148

Short Story: A Good Neighbor is Hard to Find

The people who annoy us the most in our youth are usually the people we end up having the most admiration for, sometimes we just need a little help appreciating them.

Amos has lived on the corner of Fifth Street and Franklin place for more than fifty years. He’s seen more than his fair share of families come and go. He watched the neighborhood kids grow up and move away, too busy with their own lives to come back to visit the lives they had before adulthood. His own children included among them.

Amos was the last of the original homeowners in the Bays Creek neighborhood. His 90 years of life have allowed him to see a lot, most of it before it even happened in the physical realm, which only bothered him when he was something bad coming and couldn’t do anything to stop it.

The neighborhood was a sleepy one now, in need of some new blood. When Amos found out the person moving into the old Suddeth home was fairly young, he was anxious to meet her. Every home needed a good shaking out every so often, and the old Suddeth home was no different.

The workers arrived a few months before the new owner did. Watching that old house become young again from his front porch next door stirred up fond memories for Amos. He watched as the workers removed the old metal fence, to install a new white picket one.

He thought of the lifelong friendships built at that fence line while the “womenfolk” tended to the gardens and the “menfolk” tended to the cars. That was how things were done back then. The Suddeths both passed on some time ago. They had one child Ray Jr., who died many years back. Such a tragedy. Amos saw that coming, too. But his efforts to warn Ray Jr. fell on deaf ears.

“I’m going to be fine, Mr. Banks. I have my whole life ahead of me.”

His whole life ended the day after his high school graduation when he was hit and killed by a drunk driver on his way home from a graduation party at a friend’s house. Amos and his wife, Lilly, comforted their friends through that tragic time.

The favor was returned to Amos when Lilly died of a brain aneurysm in her sleep shortly after her 60th birthday. He tried to get her to see a doctor when the vision came to him, but she refused. “Now Amos,” she said, “you know I don’t believe in changing the fate God meant for me to have. If that’s the way the good Lord sees to take me, then that’s the way I’m gonna go.” He was furious with her for that. Thirty-eight years wasn’t enough time with the love of his life. He wanted much more.

Amos watched every day as the construction workers dutifully stripped memories away from the old Suddeth home with every window, door, and wall they replaced. Even in its sad and abandoned state, that home kept him company like an old security blanket. Seeing the home get a new life was bittersweet for him.

The Suddeths were long gone, but the empty house was full of good times that brought smiles to his face when he gardened or washed his car. Sometimes he would go and sit on the front porch and reminisce of the evenings spent drinking sweet tea with his wife and the Suddeths. It comforted him when he got lonely, which he tried not to let happen too often. But that porch belonged to someone else now.

After three months the house was finished and ready to welcome its new owner. Amos was glad when the construction crew left for the last time. He had his fill of the constant noise and ever-present reminder that his friends didn’t live there anymore.

The newly remodeled home gave his children the desire to tell him he needed to spruce up his own home and let go of “all that old stuff in it.” “Well,” he said, “since my children don’t come around except on my birthday, I’ll just keep my home the way it is. The memories here are good company for me, thank you very much.” He didn’t mean to sound harsh but he had let go of enough memories over the past few months. He didn’t need children who were never around telling him what to do with his own home.

Amos was up early that morning to make his famous peach cobbler. When he moved into his home, he was welcomed by the lady across the street with an apple pie. He was touched by that and returned that kindness whenever anyone new moved into the neighborhood. He would always bake a peach cobbler for the newcomers. He became famous for them.

He opened the kitchen window to let in the cool morning air. The shotgun-style houses in his neighborhood were somewhat close together, which allowed him to hear more than his fair share of conversations he’d rather not be privy to. Amos heard a car door slam and female voices talking. He put his peach cobbler in the window and overheard the conversation.

“It’s a cute little neighborhood,” said a young woman’s voice, “and I bought this home for a song. The folks that lived here died.”

“In the house?” the other young woman’s voice said.

Amos knew the answer to that question and nodded.

“Well, I hope not,” the first woman said again, “but I didn’t feel anything creepy during any of the showings.”

“Yeah, but you had the place completely redone. That always disrupts sleeping spirits,” the other woman said.

Amos tilted his head, shrugged his shoulders, and nodded, acknowledging her point.

“Rachel, will you just shut up? I knew I shouldn’t have brought you with me. Little sisters are always so annoying!”

Amos covered his mouth, stifling a giggle.

“I’m not your little sister anymore, Joyce. I’m almost 23.”

“A whole 23, Rachel? Wow.”

“Look, just because I’m not pushing my way to forty doesn’t mean I’m a baby.”

Amos raised his eye brows. Big age difference, he thought.

“Excuse me, but I am 34. Not forty.”

“Okay…so…still middle-aged.”

Joyce unlocked the door to her new home and went in. She slammed the door in Rachel’s face.

“Oh that’s mature.” Rachel knocked on the door. “Are you gonna let me in?” A window to the right of the door opened. Joyce looked at Rachel through the screen. “Am I still middle-aged?”

Rachel put her hand on her hip. “If I lie will you open the door?”

Joyce started giggling. “I hate you sometimes.”

“Don’t get mad at me because your glory days are gone!”

“You know what?” Joyce closed the window and locked it. Now Rachel laughed. She knocked on the door. “Don’t have me make a scene out here. You know I will.” She knocked again. “Joyce! Stop playing!”

Joyce was inside leaning against the front door laughing silently to herself. After a few seconds she opened the door.

“You play too much, Joyce.”

“I’m sorry. I’m so old it took me a while to hear you knocking.”

Amos went into his living room so that they wouldn’t hear him laugh. Living next to her might be fun, he thought. The cobbler looked delicious and smelled even better. He wrapped it with a red and white checkered linen napkin and took it to his new neighbor. The sidewalk was busy with people unloading things off a U’Haul truck. He waved as he approached.

“Morning to you!” Amos said.

An older man and woman turned who looked to be in their sixties turned around.

“Good morning, sir, how are you?” said the man.

“I’m doing well this fine morning, and you?” said Amos.

“I can’t complain. I’m Daniel and you are?”

“Amos Banks,” he reached out and gave Daniel a sturdy handshake, “I live next door,” he pointed to the house behind him.

“It’s nice to meet you. This is my wife Annaliese.”

Amos tipped his hat at her. “Pleasure, ma’am. Welcome to the neighborhood.”

“Oh don’t welcome us,” Annaliese laughed, “it’s our oldest daughter moving in, not us.”

Amos shrugged his shoulders and smile. “We’re all neighbors in one way or another.”

Daniel and Annaliese laughed. “Do I smell peach cobbler?” said Annaliese.

“You have a very keen nose. I always welcome new folks to the neighborhood with a cobbler.”

“Your wife must be a very good cook. That smells divine,” said Annaliese.
“Well, she was a great cook, but she passed on some years back. I made this myself. Special recipe my granny taught me how to make when I was a youngin.”

“Oh. I’m so sorry. Please forgive me,” said Annaliese.

Amos waved his hand dismissively. “Don’t be silly. Nothing to forgive. ..nothing to forgive at all. May I present this to your daughter?”

“Oh! Certainly. I’ll take you inside,” said Annaliese.

Annaliese walked with Amos into the house. She noticed his sprite walk.

“Joyce? Sweetheart you have a guest.”

Joyce and Rachel came out of the back bedroom arguing over colors for the blinds.

“Joyce. Rachel. Please act like you’ve been raised properly. This is Mr.–I’m sorry I forgot your last name.”

“Amos is fine. I live next door. Made a peach cobbler to say welcome home to you.” Amos removed the red and white striped cloth napkin to reveal a perfectly done peach cobbler. Joyce breathed in. “Oh that smells so good! Thank you so much. That’s so kind of you.”

“So, I take it you’re the new owner?”

“I am,” a wide smile spread across her face, “My name is Joyce.”

“Lovely to meet you miss.” He shook her hand and bowed slightly. “And this bold and determined young lady must be?”

“My annoying little sister, Rachel.” Rachel slapped Joyce’s shoulder. Amos chuckled as he shook her hand.

“Rachel. You remind me of my youngest granddaughter. She’s got a mind of her own, too.” Amos winked at her. Joyce took the cobbler into the kitchen. Amos looked around at the house. He hardly recognized it. Joyce came back in and saw him staring.

“It looks a lot better right?” she said.

“It’s very different. My good friends, the Suddeths, lived here for years. We spent a lot of time here in this living room. It look so different now.”

Joyce looked at her mom, her eyebrows raised. Her mom looked at Amos. “Are you okay, Amos?”

“Oh yes, ma’am. Just an old man’s case of nostalgia. Don’t mind me.”

“Nonsense. Amos you look my age,” said Annaliese, “and I’m certainly not old no matter what both of my dear daughters might think.”

“Well, I probably have a few years on you,” Amos smiled, “I’ll be 92 next month.”

Joyce, Rachel, and Annaliese all looked at him and said in unison “Ninety-two?”

Amos smiled. “Oh yes. Ninety and two.”

“Amos, that’s not possible,” said Annaliese, “you don’t look a day over 60 and you walk faster than most twenty-somethings.”

“That’s mighty kind of you.”

“She’s not being kind,” Rachel said, “you seriously don’t look anywhere near 92.”

“Well, thank you young lady. I try to keep myself busy.”

“I need to be your kind of busy,” said Annaliese. Everyone laughed.

“Well, Amos, since both of my daughters have taken leave of their manners, can I offer you some of the lovely cobbler you brought over?”

“Oh! Right,” Joyce said, “I’m so sorry. I have some paper plates and plastic forks in the kitchen. Would you like some cobbler?”

“Thank you kindly for the offer, but I don’t want to keep you. I know you’ve got a lot to do. But when you’re all settled, do stop by. I’d love to tell you all about the neighborhood and take you for a walking tour, if you’re up to it.”

“She’d love that!” Annaliese said. Joyce raised her eyebrows at her mother. Amos took the hint and chuckled. “Well,” he said, “if you ever have the time, the offer stands.”

“Thank you so much, Amos,” Joyce said, “and thank you for the cobbler, too.”

“My pleasure. It was wonderful to meet you all.” He tipped his hat and left.

Joyce Marie Jones,” said Annaliese.

“You’re in for it now,” said Rachel, “she used the full name.”

“She certainly is in for it,” said Annaliese, “that man made you a cobbler and offered to take you on a tour of the neighborhood.”

“Mom, I really have better things to do than go walking with a 92-year-old man.”

“I will never get used to the way you treat senior citizens like their age is contagious. You could stand to be a little more gracious, Joyce because one –”

Joyce interrupted her “one day you’ll be old yourself,” she said.

“Well, you will. And you’ll wish you had been a lot nicer to us older folks.”

“Mom, in case you haven’t noticed, I’m standing in my own home. I think I’ve outgrown the lectures.”

“You are standing in your own home, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not your mother anymore and you need to show the respect you were raised to show, young lady.”

Rachel stifled a laugh and walked back into the bedroom. Joyce walked out to the truck.

“I met your neighbor, Amos. Seems like a nice guy,” said Daniel.

“I guess,” she said as she snatched a box from the back of the truck.

“What’s the tone for? You and your mother have another fight?”

“Apparently I have no manners since I don’t want to do a walking tour with some 92-year-old guy.”

“Mmm-hmmm,” he said.

“Not you too, daddy.”

“Well, the man is 92.”

“And?”

And that means he’s lived through Civil Rights, Jim Crow, and a host of other things that paved the way for you, young lady, including being able to buy a home in this neighborhood. He deserves to be called mister, not guy.”

Joyce sighed and turned to walk in the house. Her dad put his hand on the box. “I’m not trying to start a fight, sweetheart.”

“Sure sounds like it.”

“No, I just think you could stand to be a little more gracious when it comes to the elderly. We’re still people and we don’t like being discarded like yesterday’s newspaper.”

“Now you sound like mom.”

“Well, maybe you should listen…to both of us.”

Joyce stared past her dad. He kissed her on the top of her head and gave her a side hug.

“Come on, now, Joycie,” he said, “let’s not ruin the day with anger. You’re a homeowner now…and we’re so proud of you.”

Joyce smiled and batted away a tear that tried to run down her face. Daniel looked up to the sky. “Just be patient with her Lord, she ain’t never had much time for anyone past the age of 60.” Joyce shoved her father playfully with her shoulder. They both laughed.

Several weeks passed and Amos barely saw his new neighbor. She made it a point to be in a rush whenever he tried to make conversation. He was on his porch with his daily glass of green tea with crushed ice when he saw her leaving for work.

“Morning there, neighbor,” he said.

“Hi, Amos. I left your pan on the porch last night. I hope you got it.”

“I surely did. Thank you for returning it.”

“No problem. The cobbler was delicious.”

“I’m glad you enjoyed it. Happy to make another one for you any time.”

Joyce waved and hurried into her car. Amos tipped his hat to her and sipped his tea. When she waved at him, he saw the air around her vibrate: a vision waited for him. He finished his tea and walked down to the fence to weed his garden. He needed to find a way to get Joyce to open up to him so he could find a way to touch her shoulder or her hand so that he could see her future.

That was the way visions worked for him. They informed him they waited for him by making the air around a person vibrate, like a water mirage on the road on a really hot day. To see the vision he had to come in contact with the person. With his family and friends this wasn’t a problem. He just touched their shoulder or arm in a natural way during a conversation and the vision played in his mind like a commercial. No one except Lilly ever knew about his gift. His grandmother told him when he was young: “folks’ll either hate you for telling them the future or they’ll try to use you for their own selfish gain.”

Lilly was the only one other than his grandmother who understood him. That’s what made him fall in love with her. He never had to tell her about his gift. She knew just from looking at him because she had a gift of her own: seeing what gifts a person had even if they didn’t see it themselves.

It made her a great nurturer. She always knew what to do and say with her own kids that helped them walk their own paths. She did in a way that made them come to their own sense of self. Amos wished Lilly could help him with Joyce. Amos could see he troubled Joyce and he didn’t know why. But there was a vision waiting so he had to find a way to get close to her.

Evening came and Joyce pulled up in the driveway. Amos was wiping down his car. He saw her shoulders drop when she pulled up. Even the sight of him seemed annoyed her. She got out of the car. The air around her vibrated stronger than that morning, which meant whatever was going to happen was not too far off. “Evening, neighbor.”

“Hi, Amos.” She slammed her car door. What in the world is that old man doing with a car like that, she thought.

Amos saw her doing a double-take of his car. He chuckled. “Her name’s Lucille. Ain’t she a beauty?”

“Seems like too much car for your type.”

“Someone’s having a bad day.”

“What makes you say that?”

Amos pointed at the car. “The way you slammed your car door…and the way you just insulted me.”

“Oh. Is it an insult if it’s the truth?”

“That depends on whose truth it is, little lady.”

“Do you ever go in the house, Amos?”

“Why do you ask?”

“I haven’t been outside yet without you being out here. I can’t get a moment’s privacy in my own yard because you’re always…here.”

Amos put the towel over his shoulder. “Well, now, I spent my whole life working indoors. I earned the right to be outside in my own yard for as long or as little as I like. If my presence annoys you, I reckon you can put up a taller fence. But I have no intention on staying inside to please you.” She stared at him. She could hear her mother’s voice in her head telling her that she had stepped way over the line.

Amos turned around and finished wiping down his car. He hadn’t meant to be curt but the moment called for it. He didn’t take that tone from his own children, he surely wouldn’t take it from a stranger. He let out a sigh. I messed that one up, Lilly, he thought. He could almost hear her gentle laugh and feel the kiss she would always give him on his arm.

Lilly was only four-feet-ten inches to Amos’ six-feet-four inches, so she would always kiss his arm after one of their talks about how he was being too pushy. She never had a harsh word for anyone. Lilly, you have to help me with this one. She’s as stubborn as Mattie, he thought.

Mattie was his youngest child and the most obstinate. Maybe she could reach Joyce. Or maybe she’ll just make things worse. He laughed to himself. He shifted his thoughts and admired his car, a royal blue 1966 Shelby Cobra 427 Super Snake. His every day car was a little Honda Civic. But it took him ten years to restore Lucille. When he needed to forget about life he got in and took it for a spin.

Amos still waved to Joyce each morning but his greetings were received with a cool response. Joyce didn’t have much to say to him since he put her in her place a few weeks ago, but he as no stranger to the silent treatment so it didn’t bother him. Mattie, his youngest daughter, was the same way. She would spend weeks giving Amos the silent treatment when they bumped heads. Lilly was the one who would finally demand a truce between them.

Amos was in the kitchen pouring his green tea when he saw something move out of the corner of his eye. He turned to the kitchen window but didn’t see anything. He shrugged his shoulders and took his tea out onto the porch. He saw Joyce leaving for work and waved. She didn’t wave back. Soon after she left, a tall white man walked up onto her porch and looked in the window, but he didn’t knock on the door. Amos sat very still and stared. The man walked off the porch and started for the backyard.

“Can I help you with something?” Amos said.

The man jumped and turned toward Amos. “Did some work here and left a few of my tools behind. Wanted to get them back.”

Amos stared at the man, taking in his features. The man pulled his hat down over his eyes and turned to walk away.

“I don’t expect you left anything behind. Don’t let me see you around here again,” Amos said. The man stopped walking. He turned around and looked at Amos. “Are you gonna stop me old man?”

“If I have to.”

The man let out a snort. “You couldn’t if you tried.”

Amos stood up to let his stature be known. He was not only tall, but still very muscular. He turned one of the empty bedrooms in his house into a workout room, and lifted weights every day. The white man was taken back by Amos’ stature. He turned and walked away, trying not to look as scared.

Amos watched him walk up the street and called the police. He told them everything that happened and described what the man looked like. He left out the deep, vibrating haze he saw around the man. He could guess what vision he might have seen if he touched the strange man’s shoulder. The police said they would send a car to patrol the neighborhood, but told Amos not to worry since there hadn’t been any crimes reported recently.

Bays Creek was a quiet section of town but that didn’t give Amos any peace of mind.He sat on his porch for the rest of the day and watched Joyce’s house closely. He walked up and down the street several times in search of the prowler.

Amos was on his porch when Joyce got home. He didn’t care if she was mad at him, he had to talk to her. He got up and waved. She put her car in park and rolled her eyes. As soon as she got out of the car he told her about the man that he saw skulking around her house and that he called the police. He warned her to be careful and keep her doors and windows locked. She didn’t take him seriously.

“Amos, do you know why I bought this house?”

Amos furrowed his eyebrows. “Joyce, listen I –”

Joyce interrupted him. “No, you listen,” she said, “I used to live in an apartment near my parents and they were always worrying me to death. They were constantly checking on me. It got annoying. I moved two towns away so that I could have some space.”

“I’m not trying to be in your space I just –”

She interrupted him again. “Thanks for your concern, but I can take care of–”

This time Amos interrupted her. “I’m not sure why your heart is so full of intolerance for people who are just trying to look out for you and I don’t care to find out why. I just want you to be careful. That man that was here wasn’t up to any good. He had a glint in his eyes and it wasn’t the starry kind. He’s looking to hurt someone and you’re at the top of his list.”

Amos could see the haze around her. It was so intense he wondered if she could feel it, sometimes people could. He wanted to ask her if she felt anything, maybe touch her shoulder, but he knew it was no use.

“What are you staring at?” Joyce said.

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

Joyce studied Amos’ face for the first time since she moved in. She saw the concern in his wrinkled forehead. It was the same wrinkled forehead her dad had when he was really worried about something.

“Look, I know you mean well, but I’ll be fine. Thank you for your concern.” That was all she could muster.

Later that evening Joyce was in her backyard enjoying the cool evening air. She remembered she left her laptop in the car. She hadn’t been on Facebook since she moved and decided it was time to catch up with friends. The kitchen had a sliding glass door that let out onto the backyard deck. She left the door open when she went through the house and out the front door to get her laptop. She normally didn’t leave it in the car, but was distracted by her little chat with Amos.

She peeked out of the front door to see if Amos was on his porch. All clear. She walked out to her car. She went to grab her laptop off the passenger seat. When she opened the door it wasn’t there. Shit. She left the car unlocked. If that old man hadn’t distracted me I would have locked my car. She closed the car door. She walked back in the house and looked in the living room and her bedroom for her laptop. It wasn’t there. She thought back through her day and thought she must have left it at work. She headed back the deck to grab her phone and call work. She stopped cold in her tracks.

“Tsk. Tsk. You shouldn’t leave your car unlocked. A nice laptop like this could grow wings.”

Joyce couldn’t move. She swallowed and tried to steady herself. “What do you want?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” the man said.

“No. And you need to leave. Now.”

“Is that any way to talk to the man that helped fix up your house?”

Joyce squinted her eyes trying to place his face. Her eyes widened.

“Ahh. She remembers me now,” he said.

“Look, take the laptop. Just leave.” Joyce looked at him, calculating if she could get to the sliding door to close it before he could reach it.

“Ah, ah, ah, Joyce,” he said as if he could read her thoughts, “I wouldn’t try that.” He put the laptop down on the patio table. He stared at her and then lurched forward a little. A fake-me-out move. Joyce jumped. He breathed in deeply through his nose. “I love the smell of fear on a lady. It’s such a turn on.” He licked his lips and wiggled his eye brows at her.

“You sick son of a bitch.” Joyce ran for the door. She grabbed the handle and tried to slide it shut. The man ran and jumped and put half his body inside the door. He grunted and pushed the door. It flew with a force that threw Joyce to the ground. She got up and tried to run. He ran up and grabbed her from behind. She bent forward fast and threw him over her back to the floor. She tried to run but he grabbed one of her legs and pulled him to the floor with her. “Someone’s had some self-defense classes.” He sniffed her hair. “I like a fighter.” he said.

He turned her over and pinned her down. Joyce spit in his face. “Bastard! You won’t get away with this!” He reached for his pants to try and undo the zipper. Joyce wiggled under him trying to break free.

“Be still now, brown sugar. This won’t hurt a bit.” Joyce kept trying to wiggle herself free. He took her arms and slammed them above her head, pinning them to the floor. He sat straddled over top of her. She couldn’t move.

“Now just stop right there,” a voice said from behind.

Joyce thought it was the man on top of her. Her hands suddenly felt free. She started slapping and scratching the man’s face. He wasn’t fighting back. It took a few seconds before she realized what was happening. Amos was behind the stranger with a shotgun pointed at his head. The man had his hands in the air.

“Stand up,” Amos said. The man complied. Joyce scooted back on her butt and kicked the man in his groin. He doubled over in pain and fell to his knees. Joyce sitting on the floor leaning against the cabinets crying.

“Joyce, you’re okay. The police are on their way. Look at me, sweetheart,” Amos said. Joyce steadied herself against the cabinet and let her brain catch up with her eyes.

“Come and get behind me Joyce.” Joyce didn’t move. “Don’t worry about him. If he moves one inch I’m blowing his brains all over this kitchen. Come move behind me now.”

Joyce slid to her right and stayed against the kitchen cabinets staying out of the prowler’s reach. When she got near to Amos, she scrambled her feet and got behind him. She grabbed him around his waste and put her face into his back.

“It’s okay, Joyce. You’re okay. But I need you to go to the front door. The police should be here any second. I need you to tell them what I look like and that I have a gun. Tell them the suspect is on the floor. You got that?”

Joyce didn’t move.

“Joyce? I need you to do what I said so I don’t end up dead on the floor with this loser. Go on now. Quick.”

Joyce let Amos go and ran to the front door. When she opened it two police cars were racing up onto the lawn. “In here! Please! The guy who tried to rape me is on the floor. My neighbor has him at gun point.”

The officers ran up on the porch and called out into the house. Amos answered and described himself and told them he had a shotgun to the back of the intruder’s head. The police approached cautiously.

A few minutes later they came out of the house with the intruder in handcuffs. Amos came out the front door. Joyce grabbed him and hugged him and started crying. Amos put his shotgun down on the porch and hugged her.

“It’s okay. You’re going to be okay.”

She kept sobbing. Amos pulled her away from him and cupped her hands in his face. “Look at me. You’re okay now.”

She nodded her head and hugged him again.

“Amos, I–”

“Shhh. Don’t try to talk.”

Amos held her, relieved he was able to stop this train wreck from happening. Her parents’ car came to a screeching halt in front of the house. The car doors flew open and they ran up onto the porch.

“Joyce?” her mother said, “Baby are you okay?”

Joyce looked up. “Mom? How’d you…”

Annaliese took Joyce in her arms and hugged her. Joyce began to cry again. Her mother stroked the back of her head. “We gave Amos our number the day we met him. Asked him to keep an eye on you.” She pulled Joyce away from her for a minute and cupped Joyce’s face in her hands. “And I’m so glad we did.”

Joyce hugged her mother again. Her father came up and wrapped them both in his arms. He looked at Amos.

Amos tipped his hat, took his shotgun and went home.

Let the Queries Begin!

Another milestone in this topsy-turvy world of publishing has been reached: I submitted my first query letter to an agent!

This process is exhilarating and frustrating all at the same time.  There were two steps involved: writing the query letter and researching agents.

Writing the query letter took some time because I wanted to be sure the wording was just right.  Let me tell you, I didn’t think I could possibly become more intimate with my book until I had to condense over 48,000 words into a single page.  It kind of had me feeling like:

 

But I did it.

The next step was going through the Writer’s Market book to find agents.  I made a list of ones I felt would be a good fit and looked through their websites.

Ugh.

Several of the ones I was most excited about are now closed to submissions.  But I persevered.  Four of the eleven I picked are open for submissions and seem to be a good fit for my novel.

Prince was singing Cream in the background and giving me confidence as I followed the query guidelines and hit the ‘submit’ button for each one.

Now I wait.

And continue to write the outline for the second novel in the series.

There’s one agent that I really hope picks up my novel.  I really think she and I would work well together.  But in the end, I know that the agent I end up with will be the one for me. In the meantime, I just keep taking daily, tiny, consistent steps toward my goal.

Until  next time!

First Goal of 2018 Accomplished

Nothing gets you motivated like the completion of a goal.  Back in August of last year I began a series of creative writing courses.  The capstone course began in January of this year.  I submitted the final assignment on Sunday.  This morning I received an email that I passed the course!! This is the first of 11 goals I set for this year.  Yay, me!

I took the courses online at Coursera.  I admit that I really didn’t think I would learn very much, especially since the grading is in the form of reviews from your peers.

I was wrong.

Your peers are much harder with grading you than a teacher is.  They hold nothing back.  I’m pleased to say that I passed every single course with 85-100%.  The feedback from my writing colleagues was honest, but very encouraging.  In fact, they gave me really great reviews.

A lot of the tips I learned from watching the videos helped me to refine the novel I wrote back in November.  I’m working on my fourth set of revisions.  I was almost finished, but then an idea I had for one of the chapters sort of shifted the rest of the chapters so I had to go back and start from the beginning.  But that’s okay.  I want my novel to be the best it possibly can be.

My next goal is getting an agent.  I went through the Writer’s Market book and made a list of about ten agents I am going to query.  They all belong to the Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR), which means they don’t charge for reading, critiquing, or editing.

So this week and part of next is getting my query letter right.  All the agents I selected do online submissions only.  That’s fine with me because I save money on postage.  I’m giving myself the deadline of next Friday to send everything out.

Here’s a little thing I do any time I submit any of my writing to contests or journals, etc.: I play Cream by Prince and let him sing to me before I hit the submit button.  It’s a really great song about believing in yourself and that you are the best at what you do.  So I know I’m the best at what I do because Prince said so.  

I’ve got some cuteness for you before I go.  This is one of my cats.  His name is Rameses.  I recently put my desk in front of my living room window so I can watch the world go by as I write every morning.  I should have known that was a bad idea. LOL.

Oh well.

That’s all I’ve got folks! Until I write again…

Short Story: Gertrude the Great

The girls circled Trudy hurling insults at her. They made fun of her dirty skin, her name (it was short for Gertrude, it was her grandmother’s name), her gym clothes (plain sweatpants and a plain t-shirt from a five-and dime store), and her “nigger hair.”

Every insult flew through the air and stuck to Trudy’s skin like glue.  She let them talk. She had no choice. She was a seventh grader and barely five feet tall, too skinny to be a threat. She waited for the gym teacher to come by or the bell to ring. Either would end the hell that was circling her.

The teacher came first and cleared everyone out of the locker room. Trudy stayed behind, shoving her school clothes into her locker blocked only moments ago by Rebecca and her mean girl tribe. She tried to shove her book bag in, too, but this is A day so her book bag is too bulky for the long, skinny gym lockers. In her frustration, she didn’t hear Mrs. D, her gym teacher, come up behind her.

Mrs. D placed a hand on Trudy’s shoulder. Trudy swung around ready to hit someone with her bag. Mrs. D jumped back.

“Take it easy, Trudy.”

“Sorry, Mrs. D.”

Trudy paused at the locker room door that led to the gym. She looked down at her white shirt and navy blue sweatpants, the required clothes for gym and wished she could put her own clothes back on and go home.

“Don’t be scared of them, Trudy.”

“Easy for you to say, you’re the teacher. They’re scared of you.”

“Trudy, you’re braver than you think.”

“Yeah, right,” she said. Mrs. D sat her down on a bench nearby. “I can’t imagine what it’s like to be the only Black student here. But you come to school every day. You do your work. And you stand there with your shoulders back when the other students–”

Trudy interrupted her.  “And teachers,” she said as she swung her feet back and forth.

“Yes…and teachers…try to intimidate you. That takes guts, kid.”

Mrs. D’s words summoned tears down Trudy’s face. “Look, I can’t tell you what you should do,” Mrs. D continued, “But I can tell you this: you’ve got brains. You’re an individual. They are puppets.” Trudy gave Mrs. D a quizzical look. Mrs. D got up from the bench and leaned her back against the door to the gym. “Cut the strings,” she winked at Trudy and pushed the door open with her elbow.

Trudy recalled the conversation she had with her grandmother the day they moved into the Presidential Grove neighborhood. The streets were all named after presidents and Trudy’s family was the first black family to move in to the all-white neighborhood. Trudy was angry with her parents and wanted to go back home. She missed her old friends and none of the kids on her block wanted to play with her.

She’d spent the entire summer sitting along on her front porch reading or playing with her dolls. Trudy didn’t want to be at that stupid new school, but her father said she would get a better education at Monroe Junior High. Trudy didn’t see anything wrong with the education she was getting at Medgar Evers Junior High. But her father ended the conversation by saying he knew what was best for her and that was that.

One day she was in her room crying and her grandmother came and sat down next to her on her bed. “I’m so proud that you have my name,” her grandmother said. Trudy kept crying. “You’re all the best parts of me,” she said as she wiped Trudy’s tears. “I am?” Trudy’s grandmother nodded. “I know you’re scared. But it’s going to be okay.”

“No, it isn’t, Grandma. Everyone here hates me. The kids won’t even play with me. You don’t know what that’s like.” Trudy’s grandmother raised her eyebrows at Trudy. “Oh,” said Trudy, “sorry, Grandma.”

“It’s okay. You know, black folks have been struggling a long time with the white man, a long time.”

“But I don’t wanna struggle! I just want to go back to my old neighborhood. I didn’t struggle there.” Trudy began to cry again. Her grandmother pulled a handkerchief from her pocket and wiped Trudy’s face.

“Trudy, listen. I know how you feel. Every black person knows how you feel. This fight isn’t anything any of us haven’t been through. And if there’s some folks ain’t been through it yet, they will. But you just have to keep moving. And you can do it, know why?”

Trudy shook her head and shrugged her shoulders. Her grandmother put her finger under Trudy’s chin and raised her granddaughter’s face to meet her own. “Because you’ve got brains and heart and can’t nobody make you feel bad ‘bout yourself unless you let ‘em.”

Trudy put her head on her grandmother’s chest and sobbed. “Awww, little one,” her grandmother said as she rubbed her back, “It’s okay. You let it all out. Have a good, snotty cry.” Trudy let out a little laugh and wiped her nose with her grandmother’s handkerchief. “Then,” Gertrude said, “you go into that school with your head held high and show them what Hendersons are made of.”

Trudy’s thoughts were interrupted by Mrs. D. “Trudy, you’re late. Class is starting.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Trudywalked out to the gym. The noise came to a halt as Mrs. D called the class to order and announced a game of dodge ball. Trudy’s stomach jumped. She was THE best dodge ball player in her old neighborhood. Trudy is little, but she can throw a dodge ball with the force of ten men. Everyone wanted to be on her team back at home (no one wanted to get hit by those whoppers she threw).

Mrs. D picked two captains: Rebecca (the head of the most popular girl group in school) and Jimmy (a boy with freckles and buck teeth). The teams were picked and, of course, no one wanted Trudy. Mrs. D put her on Jimmy’s team and the game began.

Trudy was nimble, dodging every ball thrown at her with ease. But half of her team was down within minutes. When Rebecca’s team scored again, Jimmy’s team went into strategy mode and tried not to include Trudy, but she pushed her way into their circle. “Give me the ball if you want to win the game,” she said.

“No way,” Jimmy said, “Can’t no pickaninny play dodge ball.” Trudy used her quick reflexes to snatch the ball from Jimmy. “I’m gonna win this game for my team, and when I do, you aren’t ever gonna call me that again.”

Jimmy laughed. Trudy looked at him and faked throwing the ball. Oooohs and aaahs erupted from his friends. Mrs. D blew the whistle and the game was back in session. Trudy threw the first ball at Rebecca’s best friend, Amy. It hit her in the arm with a loud Twing! A huge red welt appeared spread across Amy’s arm like a rash.

One down. Six more to go.

Twing.

Five more.

Twing. Twing.

Three left.

Jimmy and his teammates started cheering Trudy on. Soon Rebecca was the only one left standing on her team. Rebecca paced like a caged animal. Trudy followed her with her eyes and faked a throw, hoping Rebecca was as predictable as she looked. It worked. Rebecca moved right. Game over, Trudy thought. She threw right. Twing! The ball hit Rebecca in the center of her face. The game ended and Trudy’s teammates erupted in cheers.

Trudy watched as Rebecca asked to go to the nurse to put an ice pack on her face. Rebecca went to the locker room and Mrs. D followed her but paused for a moment to look back at Trudy. Trudy looked at Mrs. D and made a scissor motion with her first two fingers.  Mrs. D winked at Trudy and smiled.

Short Story Sunday: Company of Thieves

“I’m nervous,” said Athena.

Dylon got up from his chair and went over to the hospital bed and took Athena’s hand. “It’s a routine procedure. You’ll be back up on your feet in no time.”

“Something doesn’t feel right.”

Dylon bent down and kissed her forehead. “You worry too much.”

Athena watched the nurses and doctors scurry back and forth in the hallway of the hospital. A few moments later her doctor came in.

“Good morning, Athena. How are you feeling?”

Athena looked over at Dylon, her forehead creased with worry lines.

“She’s a little nervous,” Dylon said.

The doctor sat down on the edge of the bed. “What’s worrying you?”

“I don’t know. I just think maybe I shouldn’t do this.”

“Athena, we’ve been through this. Your monthly periods are too heavy. We’ve tried oblation and we’ve tried birth control pills. Nothing has worked. You have no quality of life. Your blood pressure sank so low with your last period you ended up in the hospital for a week, remember?”

Athena nodded.

“It’s a simple procedure. We’re only removing your uterus, not the ovaries, so you won’t have to do hormone therapy. You’ll be back on your feet in no time.” The doctor looked at Athena, her eyebrows raised with a smile on her face.

“How long will the procedure take,” said Dylon.

“About an hour to an hour and half. The number on her bracelet,” she pointed to Athena’s arm, “is up on that screen. When it’s red she’s in surgery. When it turns yellow, that means we’re finishing up and she’s going into recovery. Green means the nurse will be out shortly to get you so you can be with her.”

“And you’re sure we can’t do this laparoscopically,” Athena said.

“Athena,” the doctor said, “we’ve been through this.”

Athena let out a resigned sigh. “I know.”

“You’re gonna be fine, toots, and this big handsome man will be waiting for you when you’re finished. That’s something to look forward to.”

Two tall men in blue scrubs entered the room. Athena noticed the piercing blue eyes of the one who said he would be her anesthesiologist. He explained his role while the other man checked her chart and told her that he was her nurse. Their presence made Athena uneasy. Dylon held her hand as they rolled her out of the room.

“I’ll see you in a bit. It’ll be fast,” Dylon said.

Athena nodded.

“Don’t worry, sir,” the man with the blue eyes said, “she’s in good hands.”

“I know she is.”

One of the men took a card around his neck and held it up to a blue square on the wall. The wide wooden doors opened with a loud click. Dylon watched as his wife was pushed through the doors and disappeared down the hallway.

Things got hastily under way in the operating room.

“So what’s the cover story this time, gentlemen,” the doctor said.

The man with the piercing blue eyes looked down at Athena. “She hemorrhaged right here on the table. So unexpected. What a shame.”

Athena’s brow furrowed with confusion. “What? What are you talking about?” She looked over at her doctor. “What are you talking about?”

“Shh,” the doctor said. “It’ll all be over soon. Your husband will be devastated. But he’ll move on. They always do, toots.”

Athena tried to sit up but the other man, the one who said he was her ER nurse, shoved her back down by her shoulders.

“Time to go to sleep,” the man with the blue eyes said.

Athena felt a warm sensation slide up her arm as her eyes slid shut.

“Okay, boys. Let’s get to work.”

Athena felt her spirit slide out of her body and hover over the operating table. She watched as the doctor made an incision straight across her abdomen and then another perpendicular to that one.

“What are you doing,” Athena yelled from the ceiling but no one heard her. She watched as the doctor and the two men laughed. Her thoughts of Dylon made her appear in front of him.

“Dylon! They are killing me!”

Dylon sat reading his magazine. He couldn’t hear her.

She disappeared and reappeared back in the operating room. Her body lay lifeless on the table. A man in jeans a plain white t-shirt stood near the table, closing a red and white cooler.

“Buying or selling today, Rick?” the doctor said.

“A little of both,” he replied.

In the Blink of An Eye – Short Story Sunday

One of my goals for 2018 is to publish a short story every week.  Well, I’ve been busy reworking my novel and taking a writing class.  But I have still been writing stories.  So instead of trying to find a publisher for them, I am going to publish them myself.  I’ll be publishing them on Sundays and I have named it Short Story Sunday.

Here is the first one for the series called In the Blink of An Eye.

***

Joy. Bliss. Different labels for the same thing: a numbing feeling that lulls you into a sense of euphoria so life can blindside you. It had betrayed her trust and lulled her into complacency so that tragedy could knock her on her ass in the most unimaginable way possible.

From now on, when joy came creeping around the frayed edges of Asia’s life with its feel-good promises of butterflies and fairy tales, she would steel her nerves and brace for the impact. Two days ago her life was perfect. This morning she woke up to the phone call everyone dreads. The phone’s foreboding ring was laced with death, like her mother’s voice would be. She picked up the phone. “Mom, what’s wrong?”

The silence that filled the space before her mother replied told Asia someone was dead, she just didn’t know who.

“Asia, please come to the house.”

“I’m on my way but I need to know who’s dead.”

“Asia, you shouldn’t hear this news alone.”

“Mom, please. Just tell me.”

“It’s your sister, Asia. I’m gonna have dad come get you.”

It was Asia’s turn to be silent.

“Asia?”

Asia swallowed. “N-no. I…ummm…I need to call Atara. She’ll come get me.”

Atara was Asia’s twin sister, the one her mother just said was dead.

“Asia, baby, let daddy come and get you.”

Asia hung up the phone and dialed Atara’s number. She willed Atara to answer. She listened to the phone ring. The tears that ran down her face admitted what her mind refused to embrace: something happened to the other half of her. She sent the phone flying into the wall. Black pieces of plastic and small shards of glass shattered everywhere.

“Atara, you will not do this to me, do you hear me?!”

Asia threw the covers off her legs and stomped out of bed. She snatched her keys and walked out of the house barefooted to her car. Her feet didn’t even react to the frigid, snow-and-ice-covered sidewalk. She was aware of what she was doing but was also outside of herself watching her own body move. She was in a movie and she was the star of the show and also the audience.

Her body was on autopilot as she drove to her parents’ home. The world around her was on mute. Time stretched just beyond her grasp and moved like molasses. Visions of life with her sister flashed like Polaroids in her mind: their first day of kindergarten; first day of junior high school; first dates; getting their driver’s licenses and their first car that they fought over who would be the first to drive it (this made Asia release a little snicker); and college graduation.

Asia forced herself to stop this final review of their lives together. Atara was fine. She had to be. They still had so many things they had to do together.

Asia arrived at her parents’ house without remembering what route she took there or even realizing that she had been shifting the gears in her car to do it. Her father was just beginning to back out of the driveway just as Asia was pulling up behind him. The back bumper of his car hitting her front bumper knocked them both out of the panic they were in.

His door flung open as he ran up to Asia’s car door. Asia looked up at her father through her window. The tears on her father’s face confirmed what Asia’s mother said. Asia’s breathing quickened. She shook her head and started to cry. “Nonono,” she started to scream as she kept her gaze on her father’s eyes.

Her father yanked at the door handle. “Asia, baby, open the door.”

Asia kept her eyes locked on her father’s. Tears ran down her face and saliva fell from her mouth.

Her father pulled the handle on her door several times. “Asia! Baby, please, open the door.”

Asia couldn’t hear him. Her father leaned down putting his gaze level with hers. He pressed his huge hands against the window and framed her face within them. He stared at her through the glass, their tears now synchronized. He nodded his head. She shook hers in reply.

“Open the door sweetheart,” he said.

Asia turned off her car and opened the door. Only one of her feet touched the black asphalt driveway before her six-foot-four father grabbed her up into a hug. Her head fell onto his shoulder as her keys dropped with a tinkling sound into the snow-covered grass.

Asia’s mother put her arms around them both. Asia wrapped her legs around her father’s waist like she did when she was little. Her father turned to walk her inside. As her mother walked behind them into the house, she saw Asia’s red toe nail polish. She rubbed Asia’s foot, the only consolation she could offer.

Inside the house, Asia’s father tried to put her down on the couch but Asia wouldn’t release her grip around him. He sat down on the couch and held her in his lap and rocked her. Asia’s mother sat down beside them and rubbed Asia’s arm.

When Asia’s soul was empty of tears, she sat up and looked at her father. “Where is she? Where is my sister? I want to see her.”

Her father let out a resigned sigh. He knew nothing would keep Asia from Atara. “I’ll take you to her. I’ll move your car. You go put some shoes on your feet.”

Asia’s mother hurried up to their old room. She paused at the door. Her hand flew to her mouth to stifle the sobs that wanted to escape. She went to her own room instead and got Asia a pair of her shoes. They all wore the same size. The memory of all the friendly arguments they had over borrowing each others’ shoes without permission ran through her mind as she grabbed a pair of slippers and took them back down to Asia.

She helped her daughter out to the car. She leaned down and cupped Asia’s face in her hand and kissed her cheek. She pressed her forehead into the side of Asia’s face and let it hover there for a moment.

“Mom, please,” Asia said.

Her mother met her father’s gaze and their eyes said what their voices couldn’t.

On the way to the hospital, Asia watched her childhood pass before her: the park where she and Atara played for hours at a time; their schools; the movie theater where they watched way too many movies and stole kisses with boys in the dark; the roller rink where they met their best friend, Angela (their dad called them the name the A-Team…it was his favorite TV show). The warm memories that every place used to hold turned cold as they slid past her window in silence. Asia looked over at her father. He stared straight ahead and blinked the tears from his eyes to keep them from blurring his vision. Asia grabbed his free hand and laced her fingers between his.

At the hospital her father parked and turned to face Asia. “Are you sure you want to do this?” Asia swallowed hard, then nodded her head. They made their way into the hospital and her father stopped at the desk.

Asia watched as her father talked to the nurse behind the counter and then pointed to her. The nurse sent a pitying look Asia’s way then picked up the phone and said something into it while she kept her gaze on Asia. After a few moments a nurse came over to Asia and her dad and escorted them down a side hallway to an over-sized elevator.

The nurse pressed the round black circle with the capital letter ‘B’ and the doors slid shut. After a few seconds the elevator made a sudden lurch that made Asia stumble into her father. The elevator began its labored descent making a low humming noise that vibrated in Asia’s feet. The elevator ground to a halt. The doors hesitated before jerking open to reveal a large glass window. A man sitting at a desk in blue scrubs stood up ceremoniously as the nurse led Asia and her father into to the door.

As they walked down the hallway to the door, Asia’s eyes kept staring through the glass at the table in the center of the room with a white sheet covering the body she knew belonged to her sister.

They stopped at the door. The nurse put her hand on Asia’s shoulder. “I’ll meet you back at the elevator. Take your time,” the nurse whispered. Her shoes made a squeaking noise as she walked back down the hallway leaving Asia to face her fate.

Her father looked at the table with Atara’s lifeless body on it and then back at Asia, her body trembling now.

“Asia, you don’t have to do this.”

“No. I need to see her.”

She walked toward the door to go in and her father walked with her. She turned and put her hand on her father’s broad chest. “Alone, daddy. I need to do this alone.”

“Asia, let me–”

“No, daddy. Stay here.”

He grabbed her and hugged her. She buried her face in his large chest and took a deep breath. She turned and walked through door and stopped at the edge of the table. Her father stood on the other side of the door with his hand on the glass wanting to do something but not knowing what it was. The man with the blue scrubs stood at the opposite end of the table.

“You take your time. Let me know when you’re ready,” he said.

Asia closed her eyes. Breathed in deeply through her nose. A movie began to play in her mind of her, her sister, and their best friend Angela, walking home from school one day. They walked past a group of boys and one of them said “look at the monkeys.” Atara was always more subdued than Asia and Angela, but not that day. She stopped and turned around.

“What did you say?”

The boys stopped and turned around. Asia was counting the heads. Three of them. It’d be an even fight.

“I said which one of you cowards said that?” Atara said as she dropped her book bag on the sidewalk, took off her earrings, and handed them to Angela.

“Atara, they aren’t worth it,” Asia said.

“Atara? What a stupid name,” one of the boys said.

“Why don’t you step up here and say that to my face?” Atara said.

Asia put her hand in front of her sister to keep her from moving too close to the enemy. Angela dropped her books and assumed a fighting stance. The stand-off had begun.

“Atara forget it. Let’s go,” said Asia.

Atara picked up her book bag and turned to walk away when it happened.

“You better keep walking, bitch,” one of the boys said.

Before Asia knew what was happening, Atara dropped her bag and ran up to one of the boys and punched him in the back of the head. Asia was stunned for a moment. She’d never seen her sister fight before. When one of the other boys tried to rush Atara, Angela jumped in and clothes-lined him.

Asia ran in and started swinging on the third boy just because he was there. The three boys were no match for the A-team. They landed punches like men. It took two crossing guards and a good Samaritan (who let Atara get in one more punch on purpose) to break up the fight.

Asia was jarred from the memory by the voice of the man in the blue scrubs.

“Ma’am? Are you okay?”

Asia shook her head. “I was thinking of the time when my sister and our best friend got in a fight with these three boys.”

The man in the blue scrubs looked at Asia with understanding in his eyes. “I understand.”

Asia nodded her head and the man pulled back the sheet just and tucked it below the chin of the corpse, then moved away to let Asia have a moment alone. Asia looked at her sister. Atara’s face was pale and lifeless. Her father looked on from the door. This was the last time he would see these two faces together.

Asia rubbed her twin sister’s pale face with her thumb and kissed her forehead, then her nose, then her lips. She laid her head on Atara’s chest and hugged her stiff body, hoping her sister would hug her back just one last time.

“How am I supposed to do this without you?” she said.

The room was silent. The hum of the fluorescent lights played like a dirge above them. She suddenly sat up to demand answers.

“What happened to her?” She looked at the man in the blue scrubs.

He looked back at her and then over to her father at the door.

“Answer me! What happened to her?”

Asia’s father rushed in the room. The coroner went to pull the sheet back over Atara’s body.
“Don’t you touch her,” Asia said.

The man in the blue scrubs froze. Asia turned to look at her father. The next words came out very slowly and deliberately. “What happened to her,” she asked again.

“She had a heart attack” her father said.

“A what?”

“A heart attack.”

“That’s not possible. She was a health nut.”

The man in the blue scrubs looked at Asia’s father as if he needed his permission to talk. Her father nodded.

“Sometimes they just happen.”

Asia looked at her sister again. She rubbed her hand over her sister’s hair. “Was she alone? Did she die alone?”

Asia’s father put his hand on her shoulder. “No, baby. She was at her job. In a meeting. She said she didn’t feel well and then she–”

Asia raised her hand. She couldn’t bear to hear any more. “What’s going to happen to her now?”

“We have to make her final arrangements,” her father said. He put his arm around Asia. “Come on. It’s time to go.”

Asia reached down and hugged her sister. Her father took a deep breath and tried to pull Asia back up. “Asia, we have to go now.”

Asia didn’t move.

“Asia,” her father said gently, “ you have to let go now.”

A week later the arrangements had been made and Asia sat lifeless in between her mother and father at the funeral. Staring at her twin sister in a casket was like staring her own mortality in the face. Asia stood and sat on cue but she was numb. The only thing that ran through her mind was how to begin her life without her sister and she couldn’t come up with an answer no matter how hard she tried.

Later at the interment after everyone left she stood next to her sister’s casket staring at the flower arrangement. Angela walked up quietly beside her and laced her fingers in between Asia’s.

“We aren’t the A-team anymore,” Asia said.

“I know.”

“It sucks.”

“Definitely sucks.”

“When I walk away that’s it. How do I do that, Angie? How do I just turn and walk away?”

Angela let go of Asia’s hand and walked up to the casket. She looked at the flower arrangement and pulled off a tiny pink rose. Angela pressed her nose into the flower and let the sweet scent linger in her nose. She walked back to Asia. She handed Asia the flower. Asia took it. “Now what?”

Angela put her hands on Asia’s shoulders. “Take a deep breath.”

Asia took a deep breath and let it out. Tears ran down both of their faces. Angela took Asia’s hand. “Now we say something to her.”

“You go first,” Asia said.

“Okay,” Angela paused for a moment then began to speak, “I’m gonna miss you, girl. We ain’t blood, but that don’t matter. You’re my sister. When I have a child, boy or girl, I’m naming it after you, so you can be with me forever.”

“That was beautiful, Angie.”

“Thanks. Now it’s your turn.”

Asia stared at the white casket and all of the pink and purple flowers on top of it. “You always said that pink AND purple were your two favorite colors. You never would let anyone make you pick one over the other.” Asia and Angela both chuckled. “You’re the other half of me. Stay with me, Atara,” she whispered, “even as a shadow, even as a dream.”

#

 

The Magic of Books

I love books. Always have. Always will. My mom read to me since before I had memory. The first memory that formed in my head about books is when I was sitting on her lap while she read Tim and Tom Play Ball to me for about the one hundredth time. I can still see the pictures on the pages in my head. I loved that book. I remember watching her fingers point to the words as she read and suddenly realizing that those letters had sounds that turned into words and then all of a sudden I could read.

My mom said I used to sit on the front stairs of my porch with that book and read to my friends. But that was before I realized what reading was. She said I had the whole book memorized and knew when to turn the pages. All my friends thought I could read. I’ve been reading ever since. There were only two times in my life where I stopped reading for pleasure: after undergraduate and graduate school. I had to do so much reading to get my degrees that I was worn out and couldn’t open a book for any reason.

I get so excited when I see books. I like to touch them, smell them, look at the book covers (they are their own form of art). I want to buy every book I see. And I check out way too many books at the library. Right now I have 55 checked out and more on the way from inter-library loan. I know the librarians probably think I’m crazy. But I read all the books I take out. Unless they bore me or I just can’t groove with the author’s prose. Then I give up because life is too short to read bad books.

I love to get lost in the worlds inside books. Movies actually play in my head – and that’s when I’m really gone – and I can hear the voices of the characters and the smells and sounds of where they are come alive to me.

I learn so many things that I don’t have room in my brain to keep them all. I forget a lot of things. I wish my brain wouldn’t do that. Though I can jar my memory with the right clues. But I’d rather just be able to recall just from hearing the title of a book or the topic being mentioned by someone else. I wish I had been been blessed with an eidetic memory. Although for some things, I do. I can see certain images from my childhood very clearly. I don’t know why some things stick with me more than others.

When I’m rich, I’m going to have a wall full of custom-made bookshelves and fill it with books. I know one day when I’m gone they’ll probably go to goodwill or an estate sale and that’s fine by me. Though I hope my children will each grab a handful just to remember me by. I could sit and read all day, every day and feel complete contentment. I really could. Sometimes I get up and just walk around because when I think of all the books I want to read I worry that I won’t get to them all. Sometimes I find myself hurrying through a book to get to the next one. But when I realize I’m doing it, I slow down and take a deep breath. I don’t want to move over the words too quickly. You can’t soak up the story like that. You end up missing little details and jewels the author hides in between the words. Stuff that isn’t said, but is.

Every book is a song to me. Some are up tempo and have you turnin’ pages so fast you get to the end of the book before you mean too. Others are a slow dance and make you put the book down every so often to feel the rhythm of what you just read. Books are emotions, too. Some have you scared and hearing noises in the house that ain’t there. Some make you angry. Some tear your heart out or leave you in shock. Some books haunt you forever, sometimes in a good way, sometimes in a bad way. Sometimes you see yourself in the characters. Sometimes you learn things about yourself that you didn’t know. You can come of age reading a book. Learn things before your parents wanted you to know about them. Experience the feelings of things without having to go through it yourself – and sometimes that’s a good thing because there’s some stuff out there in the world that I just don’t want ever happen to me.

You can fall in love in a book. You can fall out of love, too. You can experience things you’ll never experience in the real world, but yet it seems so real when you’re reading it that you wonder if somehow, on some other plain of existence, that shit you just read actually happened to you. That’s why I love fiction. You can make it up as you go and whatever falls onto the page is real. Dragons, magical powers, time travel, life on other planets, it’s all there and anything’s possible. There are no limits to the worlds in a book except the one’s the author puts on him or herself. And sometimes fiction becomes reality, too. I like to think that fiction writers make the impossible possible. They think it up and write it down and then let the more grounded folks like scientists and researchers make it reality. Yeah, writers are dreamers and books are dreams.

The rhythm and sounds of words on a page are hypnotizing. It’s an art to arrange words in just the right way. When I come across a beautiful sentence, I stop and read it over and over again and let it sink into my soul. Beautiful sentences strike chords deep in my soul. They are just as beautiful to me as priceless artifacts or famous paintings.

I think Stephen King said it best when he said “books are a uniquely portable magic.”

And I’m here for it all.

Novel Progress

So, I did it!  I emailed my novel, The House on Horace Street, to five beta readers.  I carefully selected these readers because I know they will be completely honest with me about any areas where my novel may need work.  And if you’re wondering if I held my breath each time I pressed send…well yes, I did!

I finished the novel as part of the NaNoWriMo challenge.  I let the novel sit for December.  Then I read it in January and did two rounds of edits that ended the last week of February.

One of my beta readers responded with some really great feedback that is helping me flesh out some areas of my novel.  This I am very grateful for.  My novel was a novella length, but with the suggestions she gave, I think it will push the length out to a regular novel.

I’m still waiting on my other beta readers to get back to me but I will just keep working with what I have so far.

I also wrote my query letter and synopsis for my novel.  Those are basically the pitch for my book that publishers use to decide whether they want to request the first three chapters of my novel or –gasp–the entire novel!

I’m nervous.  I’m excited.  But I’m ready for it this time.  I’ve got stories to tell and I know that my passion for my stories will come through in my writing.

I’m pushing forward and working on my goal every single day because I know my novel is going to be accepted for publication this year.

So that’s where we are folks.

The Six Hundred

Howdy, friends! I set a goal for this year to publish short stories every month to my blog.  Here is one I wrote about Bloody Sunday written from the POV of the Edmund Pettus Bridge.  Enjoy!

***

Bridges are a connecting route over an obstacle. I am the gateway to Selma from Montgomery. The day I was completed I was so proud. Before me, there was an old two-lane wooden swing bridge that carried mule loads of cotton. I replaced that old bridge in 1940 and was a sight to behold: a steel arch bridge with a central span of two hundred fifty feet and nine large concrete arches.

But my beauty was short-lived.

I remember it like it was yesterday. A moment born out of grave injustice and death. You know it as “Bloody Sunday”.  Indulge me as I tell you how it all began.

Since about 1963 there was a hard push here in Alabama for equal voting rights. Less than one percent of black people who were of voting-age were registered to vote and the KKK was fighting with deadly force against anyone who tried to help blacks get registered. It was happening across the country.

One day in a nearby town called Marion, a black man who was a deacon of his church and a civil rights activist, was brutally beaten, shot, and killed by Alabama State troopers while he was protesting the arrest of a fellow civil rights worker. He was trying to stop his grandfather and mother from being beaten by the troopers when one of them shot him in the stomach. He died eight days later. He was only twenty-six.

That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Folks in Selma had had enough and decided to march from Montgomery to Selma and the only way to do that was to go across me, the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

Yes, that is the name of the person they chose to place across the top of my steel beam in large black letters.

The name of a man whose family owned slaves.

A man who was a grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, the most violent white terrorist group in Alabama.

I was all at once the link between Selma and Montgomery and a symbol of all that was wrong with America.

I was a beacon for tragedy.

The morning of March 7, 1965 was thick with tension. Injustice and justice were about to clash. Injustice was there on foot and horseback dressed in Alabama State trooper uniforms and riot gear. They were armed with billy clubs and tear gas, and their blinding hatred was fueled by the cheers of supporters flanking the bridge waving confederate flags.

Justice was there in the form of six hundred people armed only with love and sheer determination, to demand what they had been promised a century before: the right to vote.

The time came for the march to proceed. The six hundred waited peacefully for the signal to begin. The troopers stood in front of them, billy clubs in defensive position. The six hundred began to walk in a very thin line on my sidewalk. A voice over a bullhorn told them “it would be detrimental to your safety to continue this march.”

But the resolve of the six hundred was sure.

The troopers pushed back two of the six hundred leading the cause. I heard the troopers’ footsteps quicken. A flood of sounds followed: terror-filled screams of the six hundred, the cheers of confederate bystanders delighting in the mayhem, small explosions and the hissing of tear gas, the thud of bodies being trampled to the ground, the thwacking of billy clubs striking unarmed bodies with brutal force, and the cloppity-clop of horses’ hooves as the troopers atop them drove men, women, and children back over the bridge, swinging at them with clubs, whips, and rubber tubes wrapped in barbed wire. All the while the six hundred never fought back….and they didn’t make it over me that day, either.

The sight was atrocious.

The Alabama State troopers inflicted wounds so bad that fifty people were hospitalized.

Two days later, the six hundred turned into two thousand people determined to walk over my expanse but when they got to the bridge a man named King told them to disperse.

Things went back to normal for a while and the usual traffic went across me as if nothing ever happened. I thought maybe the six hundred had given up, thought maybe those troopers had beaten the dignity and determination out of everyone.

But I was wrong. I should have known that a people descended from those who survived the terrorism of slavery wouldn’t be stopped. Two weeks later, thousands walked over me. They didn’t just use the sidewalks this time. No, they filled up my entire expanse and flowed over me like a mighty river.  I cheered them on and hoped their footsteps were stirred old Edmund Pettus from death’s slumber and made him turn over in his hateful grave as he watched all those people – black and white – flowing steady and sure under his name toward victory.

Before Bloody Sunday, I was a symbol of oppression and hatred. Today I am a landmark of Civil Rights.

I wish I could tell you things got easier but it didn’t.  Death, hatred, and injustice continued to flow freely.

Shortly after they marched across my expanse, the KKK murdered a white woman named Viola Liuzzo. She had driven to Selma from Michigan and was shuttling some civil rights activists to the Montgomery airport. She was only thirty-nine years old and had a husband and five children.

But nothing lessened the resolve of the Civil Rights movement.

Fifty years after that day, this country’s first black president stood before me. He said Selma was a place where destiny had been decided. He said slavery and the Civil War and segregation and Jim Crow and the death of four little girls and the dream of a preacher collided here.

So I stand proud today and wear my name as a badge of honor, not because of Edmund Pettus, but in spite of him. I am a reminder that hatred and injustice are no match for the hopes and dreams of the disenfranchised. I am the connecting route between injustice and justice.

I am the Edmund Pettus bridge.

 

The Year in Review

I can’t believe 2017 is over.

Another year has slipped by.

On this last day of the year, I completed my fourth online writing course, The Craft of Style. I enjoyed not only the instruction, but the feedback on my stories from other students taking the courses.  If you’re a writer, you know how vulnerable story writing is. You can’t help but take criticism personally because your stories come from you, they are you.  But my skin is hardening (in a good way) and I am learning to receive constructive criticism and use it to make my writing better.

I’ve seen my writing stretch and grow so much with these courses.  The capstone course begins in March.  That class is several months long, as opposed to only one month, and the assignment is to write an entire short story.  Though I have been writing short stories all year, I am interested to learn more about the craft of writing a short story and getting feedback from my writing peers.

This was a good year for me.  I dusted off my goal of being a writer, this time for good.  I wrote over forty short stories this year and sent them out to be published. I haven’t been successful yet, but I know it’s coming.

I completed the 12 Short Stories Challenge over at 12shortstories.com.  I got a lot of great feedback from other writers and having a deadline each month helped keep me focused on writing every day.

In case you haven’t been following my blog, this challenge included getting a writing prompt each month with a specified word count.  You had one month to write your story.  On a specified date, you posted your story and other writers gave you feedback on it.  You, in turn, also gave feed back to other writers.

I got a lot of varied feedback on my stories.  I even wrote one on taking a knee, which had the most heated feedback of all.  But the fact that the feedback was so emotional means I did my job.

To really keep myself focused, I decided to make my own writing space in the living room. I found a Queen Anne writing desk on Craigslist and knew that I had to have it.  Something about it spoke to me. The woman that sold it to me was not only a Black woman like myself, but she is a published author.  That wasn’t a coincidence.  She told me that it was her mother’s desk and that it had good energy.  When I left, she told me to make her proud.  I plan to do just that.  This is my beauty shortly after I brought her home.  It’s much more…lived in….now.  Let’s just say it’s neat, but looks like a true writer’s desk complete with papers and lots of books everywhere.  But it’s my most happy place in the home.

 

That t-shirt there on the desk was my next accomplishment for 2017.  After a five year hiatus, I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) again.  I finished a really cool novel about the ghost of an enslaved woman who haunts a farm house.  I won’t tell you much more because that is the book I am about to begin editing.  I plan on it being my first published book.  But, I digress.

NaNoWriMo is done during the month of November.  The challenge is to write 50,000 words in one month.  That’s 1,667 words every day, no excuses.  I had already been working on the concept of the novel I wanted to write, so NaNoWriMo was the perfect way to flesh it out into an actual completed first draft.  There’s a whole post about me finishing the challenge here.  But here’s a photo of me on the last day of November, with my NaNoWriMo winner’s shirt on.

Another goal I completed was this website.  I am a writer and will be a very successful published author with a huge, devoted following of readers.  What better way to hold myself accountable to that goal than an author website?

I’ve even posted some of the short stories I’ve written here.  For 2018, I will be writing a short story and posting it each Monday.  I already have some story concepts written out.  I think they will make for some every entertaining reading.  Get ready to meet Penelope Nithercott of Ottertail Falls.  That’s all I have to say about that. 🙂

You may know that I’m a voracious reader.  This year I read 75 books.  I’m pretty proud of that. This was the first year I actually kept track of how many I’ve read.  I never saw the point before because I am always reading.  But it was cool to set a goal and see if I could meet it.  I said I was going to read 70 books this year and exceeded that goal by five! I set my goal for 2018 to 85.  Yay, me!!!

So, it’s been a really productive year.  I haven’t been published yet, other than here on my own site, but I know without a doubt that’s happening in 2018.

I’m excited about what’s on the horizon for me.  Come and visit me here often! Enjoy the journey with me. Leave me comments, too! I’d love to know who’s out there keeping me company.  A writer’s life can be a little solitary sometimes.

Well, here’s to a prosperous 2018 filled with miracles, opportunities, and blessings big and bigger!

Until I write again!