Jeap’s Holler — Chapter VIII

Here’s another chapter of “Jeap’s Holler”.  If you’ve landed here for the first time, scroll down to read the other seven chapters of this story.  I have only one more chapter that hasn’t been posted so obviously the work is unfinished.  But in reviewing it for inclusion in my blog, I find that I really like where the Jeap’s dystopian piece begins and may consider developing it further—perhaps completing it.  Write a comment and let me know what you think. — Dale

brown house

From the main road,

J.C. turned onto the narrow, what used to be, gravel track that led out to the Swann and Fowler farms.  It was three bumpy miles from the main road to the Swanns’ place; the Fowlers were a half mile farther.  J.C. took the track slowly in Jean’s old pickup.

The eastern uplands had been the most progressive part of Winstanley Canton.  They had embraced the vision of the canton before any of the others understood it.  They had felt it even before it became a revelation to J.C. whom canton residents widely credited with its creation.

But even before J.C. saw his idea, his vision, the Uplanders knew it would come, that it must come, this other path.  Life had already gotten much simpler for the Uplanders, and that fact alone had had a profoundly positive effect on their lives.

When the electricity failed, life suddenly simplified.  No cell phones; no telephones at all.  No televisions or radios or stereo systems or electronic gadgetry or satellite dishes or microwave ovens or conventional ovens or refrigerators.  No internet!  That, in itself, was a huge millstone suddenly lifted from their necks.  Suddenly they had time, a luxury that at first they did not know how to use.  But what time gave them, more than anything else, was a reconnection with the land.  And they realized that it was good.

By the time the canton was organized, the Uplanders already knew they would not be going back to “civilization” as it had become.  They had found themselves back at a fork in the road where their great-grandparents had once stood, and now they stood.  But this time they decided they were going take the other path.  The one that did not lead to the atomic bomb, nuclear waste, credit ratings and college debt, chemical farming, petrodollars, and mass surveillance.  No, they would not go that way again.  This time, they would choose the other path.  They would choose Peace.  And the Uplanders embraced this alternative choice passionately.

On the uplands one could not find fences.  There were no property lines simply because there was no property, just the land.  The Uplanders had plucked up all of the fences which separated them from their neighbors.  They found it was not so difficult to share pastures, ponds, croplands, and streams.  Sharing, they discovered, was a natural human trait which required no effort at all, just an adjustment in one’s view of his or her place in the scheme of things.

They discovered that when you thought of yourself as an island, then sharing felt like an irritation, like a broken tooth exposed to cool air.  But when you thought of yourself as a vital part of a living organism, one in which you yourself must be present for the organism to survive, then sharing became natural.  In fact it became an elixir which defined you and gave you purpose for being.  And that was true no matter how old or young you were, no matter what your gender, no matter which family you were born into.  You were always necessary and vital to the organism because you had a function within it.  You were needed.  Your natural gifts were appreciated and sought after.

Among the Uplanders, finding one’s natural gifts was almost a cult obsession.  You might not be particularly interested in finding what your own gifts were, but everyone else was keenly interested.  They would not let you drift without knowing what your purpose was and what you wanted from life, especially after you had crossed the threshold of your fifteenth birthday.  But the prodding was not so much to decide on any particular vocation but to explore many, to see which ones might fit.  In this way, the whole community became one’s family.

J.C. pulled Jean’s boxy, green pickup around to the back gate of the Swanns’ house, nearer the kitchen entrance.  Just by the look of things, you might have guessed that either the Swanns had hired a larger crew of farmhands than they actually needed or they were in the midst of a family reunion.  There were people everywhere, all engaged in one sort of work or another.

Three young women and a girl were hanging clothes to dry.  Two men appeared to be engaged in mechanic work on the Swanns’ very old pickup truck which the Swanns themselves had not driven in a decade or more and had left by the barn to rust.  There were people clearing weeds and debris over near where the mechanics were working.  Others were weeding the vegetable garden.  One fellow had apparently paused from splitting firewood in order to sharpen his ax.  There were even a pair of youth – a boy and girl – just raking the driveway as if the Swanns’ place was a palatial estate which required that degree of aesthetic attention.

And all of these workers seemed to be enjoying themselves as they labored.  As if, as just mentioned, they were in attendance at a family reunion and were absorbed in the excitement and pleasure of getting reacquainted with one another after years apart.  There was that kind of energy among them.

Kathy Swann emerged from the kitchen door donning her apron, all smiles and happy.  She waved exuberantly at J.C. as he pulled up near the gate and she hurried out to greet him.

“Hello, J.C.,” she said.  She sort of yodeled the word “hello.”

As J.C. reached the gate, Kathy grabbed him and hugged his neck as if he were her long lost son, returned home from war.

“Jean sent me up with groceries.  They’re in the back,” he managed to whisper as Kathy squeezed his neck.

“How are things?” asked J.C. once he had air again.

“Things are wonderful.  How are they with you?” said Kathy.

“Can’t complain.”

“Well, come in then and have some sweet tea.  So much has happened since you were here.”

Before going inside, Kathy stopped to ask one of the women named Gracie, of the three who hung clothes, if she and her coworkers could bring in the supplies from the pickup truck which J.C. had brought from town.  The women agreed cheerfully and left their baskets of laundry on the grass, to stock the new supplies in the pantry.

J.C. followed Kathy into her kitchen.

The kitchen was cool and dark and filled with a bouquet of cooking fragrances all mingled together.  But most pronounced among them was the tangy fragrance of apple pie.  Three apple pies rested on the kitchen counter, no doubt baked that morning.

J.C. sat down at the well seasoned oak table which stood at the center of the farmhouse kitchen.  The table was black with layers of checked varnish and, in places, its surface sticky with syrup or jam from that morning’s hurried breakfast.  Kathy brought two glasses of cold tea and joined J.C. at the table.  But immediately she jumped up to fetch a damp cloth.  She gave the table a good wiping down and got up the jam or whatever it was that was sticky.

“Miss Kathy?”  It was one of the women hanging laundry outside.  She had poked her head in at the backdoor.

“Yes, sweetheart?” answered Kathy.

“We’ve finished, now.  And we were thinking we’d take a walk down to the creek, unless there was something else you needed.”

“Oh no, everything is done until supper.  You all go ahead, and have a good time.  Thank you, Heather.”

“You’re welcome, ma’am.  See you later.”

The screen door made a nice sound as its spring pulled it closed.

“Quite a crew you have out there,” said J.C.

“Yes, aren’t they amazing?” said Kathy.

“Yes, indeed.  Say, where is Red, by the way?”

“Oh, he’s up the road at the Fowler’s.  He and Frank had something they were doing today.  I forget what.”

“So about your ‘crew’,” said J.C. “how many are there this week?”

“Fifteen.  We had five show up on Wednesday last, bringing the total to eighteen.  But then Thursday, the very next day, three decided to leave which brought us back down to fifteen, total.”

“They eating you out of house and home, yet?”

“No, not yet.  The Fowlers have helped quite a bit.  But, say, there is something I wanted to tell you about which is: we may already have a plan.”


“Yes, really.  It was our sojourners who thought of it.  They’re all very good people, J.C., willing to do just about anything, and they work hard to earn their keep.  They say they know how fortunate they are that we let them stay here and have not chased them off.  Apparently a lot of other places have done that—chased them off—before they landed here.  Speaking for myself, I think we need to keep them.  I mean, I believe the canton should keep them.”

“Hmm.  That’s good to know,” said J.C. thoughtfully.  “I’m just one man, but I agree.  So you say there is a plan?”

“Yes, and I’m surprised that none of us Uplanders thought of it,” said Kathy.

Wanderer Come Home News

Hi Everyone,

A quick note here and news about my novel, Wanderer Come Home!  I have finally completed the work of formatting, redesigning a new cover, and making a final edit of Wanderer on which I have been working for the past several months.  As you may recall, I have been preparing Wanderer for print and now that process is complete.  So in two weeks I plan to submit Wanderer Come Home to 48 Hour Books for printing and should have copies in hand by the end of March.  This process will also produce a revised version of Wanderer as an ebook but may take a little longer before the revised ebook is ready for purchase.  One reason the ebook may take longer is because I’m looking at various alternatives for retail distribution.  I may stick with Smashwords (which I used for a short period, last year) or I may try direct sales of both the print and ebook versions myself; it depends on what seems most practical.  So stay tuned; I’ll keep you up to date as things develop.

Also, may I just mention that because I am self-publishing the print edition of Wanderer, I will have to price the book a little higher than other, comparable books on the market—those offered by large, commercial publishing houses.  I expect Wanderer to retail at $27 USD but, although it’s a “Perfect Bound” paperback, I’m having it printed at 48 Hour Books who produce a superior quality product, not usually found in bookstores or through online retailers.  This book might very well outlive both you and me and will be, at any rate, an attractive and enjoyable addition to your library for years to come.  If you have further questions, please either post them in the comments below or email me via [email protected]  Thank you!    Dale


Jeap’s Holler — Chapter VII


J.C. and Jean strolled slowly together on the gravel driveway in the hot sunlight.  They arrived at the tailgate of Jean’s square, green pickup truck whose paint had erupted into pocks across the top and hood.

She reached out and affectionately patted the side of her old pickup as someone else might do a favorite horse.

“You won’t have to worry about the brakes, anymore,” she said.  “Dan Mills fixed them for me last week.  Brand new, all around.  That Dan’s a good boy.”

“Gave you a good deal, did he?” asked J.C.

“Two dozen asparagus starts and some fresh walnuts of this year’s crop is all it cost me.  You underestimate me, Johnny.  I’m a very good bargainer.”

“I know you are, Jean.”

“When you get back with the pickup I might be napping, so just leave the keys in it; I’ll find them later.”

“All right.  Thank you for the lemonade and the advice.”

“I never give advice, Johnny.  You should know that about me by now.  I only offer friendly observations and encouragement.  I don’t have the courage to give people advice and take responsibility for it.  It’s how people ruin friendships, and I would never want to jeopardize ours, Johnny.  And that’s the truth.”

“I know, Jean.  Well then thank you for the lemonade and the friendly observations, my dear.  I appreciate both very much.”

“You are welcome, and don’t stay away.”

J.C. climbed into the pickup, rolled down the window, slammed the creaky door, and fired up the engine.  Then he waved to Jean and backed the truck down the long drive and out onto F Street where he lurched to a stop as he stepped on the brakes.

“I told you they worked!” shouted Jean and laughed.

He waved again, shifted gears, and was off.

It was an unusually sleepy day for April.  The heat had driven all the gardeners of Jeap’s Holler indoors for the afternoon.  But they would return in the evening with the barn swallows when the breezes had cooled to finish their watering and weeding.

J.C. bounced over the uneven streets of town that had been repaired innumerable times but had not been repaved in forty years or more.  After a quick stop at Spooner’s Bakery where he picked up loaves of unsold bread, J.C. followed B Street until it ran out at the end of town where the old water tower stood.

The water tower had once been bright silver with neat, block lettering, in yellow and black, printed on one side, the side where the tower faced the old highway by which travelers entered town.  J.C. could still make out the message on the tower which had turned into a ghost of the original lettering painted on it:


Home of the Miners

But Jeap’s Holler had not been Coalville for over eighty years.  The residents had changed the town’s name to spite the coal company when the company suddenly closed the mine and abandoned the workers who had relied on coal, for several generations, as their only source of income.  Jeap’s Holler was the original name of the place before it had been Coalville.  So the people decided to return to their roots and not trust a mining operation ever again.

At the end of B Street, on the other side of the train tracks, there were the water tower and three fat silos on the left—also abandoned.  There B Street branched.  Straight ahead it turned into Fish Lake Road, but to the right it was Old Coalville Road which, if followed, eventually brought one to the hamlet of Turner.  At the stop sign where B Street branched, J.C. continued straight on Fish Lake Road.

Fish Lake Road meandered out to the rustic picnic grounds at the lower end of the lake, then skirted the tranquil body of water for about three miles along its northern shore until it reached the lake’s upper leg where J.C. enjoyed fishing the bass which prowled its reedy shallows in late spring.

At the upper leg, the road parted company with the lake’s edge and angled along the grassy wetland, southward, until it found the canyon’s mouth.  There, among granite outcroppings and eastern white pine, the road swung east and gained elevation as it hugged the hillside and began climbing the canyon.

Ironically, the canyon appeared drier at its base where the lake and wetlands were, but grew greener and lusher with fern and woodland shrubs the farther up the canyon one went.  The canyon was a long and gentle grade, but a person did not travel too far before the granite outcroppings sank into the earth and the topsoil became deeper and richer, enough to support fruit trees on the western exposures.

At another period in their history, the hills around Fish Lake had supplied three large fruit packing companies with good quantities and a wide variety of fruit, though apples and cider where its champions.  There were some nut orchards intermingled as well.  Of all the orchards in that area, the Bridewell Estate was most famous and the largest.  It spread across 250 acres and lay just off of Lake Road (as the road is known once it enters the canyon).

But the Bridewell orchards had not been kept up for many years and were now approaching the brink of no return in terms of restoration.  Some of them had already crossed the line and would have to be torn out and replanted before they would be productive again.  J.C. cruised past the gate leading to the Bridewell mansion and pushed on up the grade toward the top.

The canyon would have presented a hard climb for J.C. on his bicycle, but he had done it many times before.  But by now, he had achieved the summit and below him—down a gentle decline and in a shallow valley—lay the upland farms spread out before him.  The individual farms were separated by natural margins of undergrowth, rills, and woods.

J.C., even on his bicycle, had always considered climbing the canyon worth the effort when he finally reached the uplands because they were so idyllic and beautiful.  The families who lived up there, thought J.C., were the most fortunate inhabitants of all Winstanley Canton.

Jeap’s Holler — Chapter VI

orange fruit


About half the towners who lived in Jeap’s Holler owned motor vehicles of one sort or another.  J.C. was not one of them.  He owned a fat-tire bicycle and kept its chain oiled.  It had a tote trailer attached to the back which allowed J.C. to haul the stuff he needed such as groceries and library books.

J.C. mounted his blue Star-Trail bike and rode west on B Street, two blocks until he came to Filbert Avenue where he turned left and headed south toward F Street.  At F Street he floated a right turn and headed west again.  There the bungalows spread out on larger lots and floated in green.

There were gardens everywhere though they were not deep yet since it was only April.  By June the little white, yellow, or green bungalows would hardly be visible when the gardens had achieved their full glory.  Lawns, when they existed, were reserved for backyards and were usually small.  Most residents of Jeap’s Holler would rather grow flowers or rosebushes than idle good ground with, virtually, pasture.

It was a half-mile to Jean Friggatt’s place down F Street once J.C. had turned west.  Along the way grew nice, mature trees—hardwoods, willows, and fruit trees—which created a polka-dotted effect on the landscape.  Looking at this setting, with its soft, green hills and perfect placement of trees, made J.C. feel as if he had entered a land of fairytales and gnomes, where at any minute a dragon might wing past, overhead.  The sky was a perfect cerulean except for a line of fleecy white clouds which sailed along its southern horizon.

Right where the road bridged Cold Creek there grew an enormous weeping willow tree.  If I were a kid again, thought J.C., I would spend my entire summer in that tree and only come down to fish the creek under its branches.  Somehow it seemed the willow created its own breezes where everywhere else there were none.

Fifty yards beyond the willow J.C. arrived at Jean’s house.  She would probably be outside, somewhere.  He would look for her around back.

“Oh there you are!” sang Jean, her voice high and excited, when she found J.C. inspecting her poll beans.  “You’re here just in time; I’m headed in for some lemonade.  How about you, Johnny, could you use a lemonade?  You must be thirsty from such a long ride, all the way out here.”

J.C. accepted a glass of lemonade, and the two of them sat at a blue painted table under a pear tree and listened to Cold Creek gurgle for a few minutes without conversation.

Jean was a woman of seventy years who still had not lost all of the umber in her hair.  She was of medium height but had both a straight back and straight shoulders which made her appear taller than she was.  Her face was well wrinkled, yet the wrinkles somehow contributed to her natural beauty.  Her eyes were black but, like obsidian, contained light.  She was the embodiment of a riddle, and her mind was keener than any J.C. had encountered before.  In a way she had become his guru though she was frugal with her outlays of advice.

She seemed to enjoy studying J.C.’s face and did so always with a droll expression on hers.  It was as if she read his mind perfectly while she looked at him and found its sundry contents amusing.

She smiled at J.C.  A few wisps of her hair had escaped the confines of the floppy brimmed hat she wore and were stuck to her face with perspiration.  He returned her smile, thinking how nice it felt to be smiled at.

“Are you going out to see our friends today?” she asked finally.

“Yes, I plan to,” said J.C.

“I hope you will take my pickup.  I had to clear out my root cellar, so there are cabbages and onions and other things I needed to get rid of.  Some canned goods, too.  Oh, and a bag of English walnuts; I’d hate for them to go sour.  Will you deliver these things for me?”

“Of course, I’d be happy to.”

“Well then, you’ll have to take the pickup for sure; your bicycle won’t hold it all.”

J.C. nodded in agreement.

“So how many squatters are there, Johnny?”

“Last Monday there were thirteen, including three kids—seven to nine years old, somewhere in that age group, is my guess.  The kids were new last week.  I don’t know how many total there’ll be this week.  Kathy Swann, God bless her, has taken them under her wing, so they’ve probably done all right as far as food goes, but thirteen is a lot of mouths to feed.  I’ll see how things are this week, but I’m going to have to bring it up to the council tomorrow night.  I can’t keep it under my hat any longer.”

“What’s the mood among the uplanders?  Are they worried?”

“The Swanns seem fine.  I don’t know about the others.  Everything seems okay, so far, from what I can tell.”

“So might the uplanders handle it themselves?  Just absorb the squatters?”

“Again, I don’t know.  I don’t know if they know, yet.  They haven’t made any demands on the council.”

“Don’t mean to change the subject but how’s Dale Scoggins doing these days?  You mentioned you wanted to see him last week.”

“Had breakfast with him this morning.  Asked him about the common gardens idea.  He wasn’t too keen on it.  I didn’t mention the squatters.  I was afraid that would prompt an automatic rejection without him even listening to the merits of the argument.  But I still believe that if the towners made some kind of gesture, such as the gardens, then it would probably put us in a better position to negotiate with the uplanders if it came to that.”

“May I make a suggestion?” asked Jean.

“Yes, of course, Jean.”

“I think you’re right.  You should inform the council about the squatter situation tomorrow night.  I’ll be there, too, for support.  But don’t get too far ahead of yourself, Johnny.  The ultimate answer lies in the uplands; they may fix it before we can even start.  So let them, if they choose to.  In the meantime, talk to Dale Scoggins again when you have the chance.  Explain the whole situation to him.  Tell him your ideas; he may have some of his own.  Dale’s a reasonable man and a problem-solver when he needs to be.  We’ll need Dale as an ally if the uplanders can’t handle the squatter problem by themselves.  Just take it slowly.  That’s my suggestion.”

“Yes, of course, Jean.  You are alway right about the timing of things.”

“Your ideas are sound, Johnny, but we have to play it carefully.  The worst thing we could do would be to create a schism between the uplanders and the in-towners.  Don’t you agree?”

“Oh yes, of course.  But we knew word would get out eventually, and we’d have to face this one day.  I just have this gut feeling that this is the trickle before the deluge, and the ark isn’t finished, yet.  We need to get ahead of it, Jean, so it doesn’t destroy everything we’ve worked for.  We’ve put too much into this dream to see it all wash away down stream.”

“That we have,” said Jean.  “More lemonade, Johnny?”

Jeap’s Holler — Chapter V

group of people eating on restaurant


Dew gave drink to the moss this morning as the frog chorus sang.  Among a murder of crows a cote of doves had settled, all looking west.  They were white and clean in their new spring clothes.

As their heads bobbed they began to spread like congregants leaving church for Sunday supper.  Now and then they found millet which the squirrels had overlooked.

It was a fine morning.  I hope Spring does not leave us prematurely as it did last year.

– from the notebook of J.C. Winchell


The cook hit the bell twice and lifted two hot plates of food through the window onto the stainless steel shelf for the waitress.

“Doris,” he called, “your order’s up,” upon which the cook  withdrew back into his hot cave, where waiting for his return were his spatula and the griddle.

Doris picked up the ticket, checked its table number, and pulled the plates down without once breaking the flow of her conversation with Ginger (the other waitress) until, of course, Doris was about to cross the pale of the counter’s end and enter the restaurant’s dining room.

“Hold on, honey, my table five is ready,” said Doris.

Doris crossed the dinning room to a booth where two older men sat, sipping coffee.

“Dale, J.C.,” she said as she placed the heavy plates of breakfast in front of the hungry men.  “Well, J.C. I thought you’d get enough of this place to stay away on your days off.”

“I just avoid cooking if I can help it,” he said.  “But I still eat, and here is the only place that serves breakfast.  So, you know, it’s where I come.”

“Makes sense, I guess.  Dale, you old razorback, you got a garden this year?”

“You know I do.  ‘Bout a quarter-acre is all.”

“Hmm.  That’s kind of slackin’ for you, isn’t it?”

“How much you put in, Doris?”

“I’ve got a nice little patch out back, as much as I can handle.  I’ll be back in a minute with coffee, fellas.  Enjoy your breakfast.”

With a wink Doris was off and back to the counter where Ginger awaited the continuation of their conversation.

Dale Skoggins picked up his fork and began cutting his eggs into squares causing the yokes to puddle into the potatoes.

“But back to what I was saying, J.C.:  I mean, I don’t have a quarrel with the idea, per se.  It’s a noble concept and I get it.  But I don’t think people will go for it.  I might, perhaps.  But I think it would be something of a horse-pill for most others to swallow.  It’s just too idealistic.  People rely on their gardens, J.C.  You’re talking about jeopardizing them.”

“No, I’m not.  It’s not like it’s going to change anything.  Even as it now stands, who do you know who would file charges if someone stole a grocery bag full of vegetables from their garden?”

“Well, no one, I guess.  But they might go to the law if it happened two or three times or became a regular thing.  That would be different.”

“I’m sure we could find a way, outside of the law, to deal with that type of problem, don’t you?”

“Yes, I suppose so.”

“Look, the change of law which I’m proposing is really just symbolic but it’s an important gesture.  One that would better align our laws with our values.  I see it as another step in our ongoing effort to decriminalize society and broaden personal freedom.”

“No, that’s not what you’ve said.  Now the way I understand it, J.C., is that you are proposing that all gardens within the boundaries of Winstanley Canton which have, up to now, been private property—”

“Not private property.  Privately controlled property.  There is a difference,” interrupted J.C.

“Not much of one,” Dale shot back.  “If I own what grows on the property then how is that different from owning the land itself?  There’s no real difference as I see it.  Anyway, what you propose, J.C., is that privately controlled property should become common property so I don’t see that as simply decriminalization.  And there is a difference here—between privately controlled property, as you call it, and commons.  There’s a big difference.  You say the gardens, all gardens, should belong to everyone which means that anyone who picks a bag of my tomatoes out of my garden—which I alone spent the time and effort to raise—can do so legally without so much as asking me, first.  Am I not correct?”

“You are correct.  But—”

“Let me finish, J.C.”

“Okay.  Sorry.”

“I mean, I’ve never begrudged anyone a bag of tomatoes but this proposal of yours goes too far.  So here’s the rub, as I see it:  It boils down to incentive or disincentive, however you look at it.  On the one hand, if I’m able to go around, without lifting a finger to garden myself, and can basically rob from other people’s gardens, is that not disincentive to grow my own garden?  So what you get, then, is less motivation for people to grow gardens which would eventually lead to shortages.  Would it not?  On the other hand, if I’m someone who enjoys gardening—as I do—but every year, other people eat up my produce simply because they’re too lazy to grow their own, then wouldn’t that discourage me from growing a garden the next year?”

“You tell me.  Would it?”

“Well it might.  Yes, it just might.  A part of the reward for growing vegetables is getting to eat what you grow.  That’s a big part of it.  Without that, well, I don’t know if it would be worth it.  It’s a noble idea, J.C., but damned idealistic, if you ask me,” said Dale.

“Well, Dale, you’re the one person in Jeap’s Holler who I figured loves to garden the most which was why I wanted to ask you about this, first.  You’ve given me food for thought.  By the way, breakfast is on me, today.”

“Oh no, that’s not necessary, J.C.”

“I know, but I want to.”

“Well it’s my turn next time, then.”

“Good enough.  Say, you going fishing tonight?” asked J.C.

“Maybe.  Don’t know yet.  You?”

“Yeah, going to hit the upper leg tonight after supper.  I figure the bass are up there by now.”

“Well, good luck, J.C., with the fishing and all.”

“Thank you.”

By then J.C. had stood and collected the ticket from the edge of the table.  He put on his felt hat, nodded goodbye to Dale Scoggins who had not finished his coffee, then went to find Doris so to pay for breakfast.

It was a quarter till nine, Monday morning, and J.C. Winchell still had a busy day ahead of him with many errands to run.  His next errand was to visit Jean Friggatt about the squatters who had recently settled up near the Fowler and Swann farms in the woods above Fish Lake.

Jeap’s Holler — Chapter IV

pink cherry blossom tree on green grass field


“This is terribly vain of me,” said the judge, “but I’m really curious as to how I’m supposed to—well, you know, die.”  The judge used air quotes around the word die.

“Everyone wants to know,” said Jane.  “You’d have been the first if you hadn’t asked.  But the company has found, over so many decades of doing this, that the less the client knows the better.  And here’s why:  Once you, as the client, cross the Rubicon you are, in fact, a completely different person.  The person you used to be does die—all of her history, all of her interests, and all of her memories of family and loved ones die with her.  Just for example:  Do you know the name, John Singer Sargent?”

“Yes, of course.  He’s the famous painter, isn’t he?”

“Yes.  The very famous American portrait artist.  But let me ask:  Do you know how he died?”

The judge rolled her eyes.  “No, but who would?” she said.

“Exactly!” said Jane.  “No, you wouldn’t know because he was a person of another era whom you did not know personally and never met.  And that’s why you don’t know that he died in England on April 14th, 1925 of heart disease.  As the new you, you will not personally know the person I’m speaking to right now.  So the less you know about the old you the easier it will be to become the new you; and that’s what the transition course is all about.  But we have other fish to fry, as they say, before all of that.”

Jane hesitated for a moment then added:

“But I can give you this much about your death, if you really must know.”

“Yes, I would like to know anything you can tell me.”

“You will die of sepsis from a sudden virulent infection, contracted during a routine removal of a precancerous lump under your arm.  It happens all the time.  But that’s all I can say for now.  Later, of course, you can read your own obituary if you feel that’s something you must do but I recommend against it.”

“No hit men or anything like that?  Or suicide?”

“No.  You’ll go peacefully in your sleep.  All very low key.”

“Oh thank god!” exclaimed the judge.  “I feel better already.”

Jane glanced at her wristwatch.

“But what about my—my husband and children?  How are you going to deal with them while I’m supposed to be dying?”

“We have that covered,” said Jane.  “But your death will happen suddenly and unexpectedly so it will be a shock to everyone.  But since you’ve brought it up, let me ask: how open have you been with your husband and children about your last wishes, those in your 1990 will?  Are all of your family aware that you plan to have your body cremated and that you want no public memorial services?”

“Oh yes, they’re all well aware of my wishes.”

“Good.  Then there should be no difficulty at all.  But we’ll handle all of those details.  You don’t need to worry.”

“So . . . “ said Jane as she exhaled.  “We need to discuss name.”

Jane began searching her leather attaché then pulled out a yellow legal pad full of hand written notes.

“And on that front, I have some very good news and a little bit of not-so-great news.  But let me just lay it out for you.

“First the good news.  We’ve done extensive research and have found one really good choice for a surname.  It’s a name from here in Jeap’s Holler which goes way back.  It’s literally as old as these hills.  The really great thing about it is that there are almost no direct descendants still living and those that are alive are quite elderly and not likely to even hear about their long lost cousin.  And the closest one, geographically, is an eighty-seven year old woman who lives in a care facility three hours from here.  That makes things much easier for you.  No one popping over for tea or needing a loan or any of that sort of thing.”

“So what’s the name?” asked the judge.

“The bit of not-so-great news is that we couldn’t find any other viable choices for here, for Jeap’s Holler, I mean.  There’s really only one option, if you want roots.  There are a million choices if roots don’t matter but in your case roots do matter; you want to enter this tight-knit community without too much prying by your new neighbors.  And that was the platform we were given.”

The judge decided to cut short the lengthy disclaimer.

“Look, obviously it’s not a name you think I’ll like.  But I’m a big girl so why don’t you just tell me the name and we’ll get on with it?  Besides, how bad can it be, really?”

“The name is Hickey,” said Jane.

“Oh my fucking god!  You’ve got to be kidding me!” said the judge.

“I’m afraid not, Your Honor.  Is this a deal-breaker?  I mean, it will change things if it is.  We’ll have to pretty much start from scratch, at least as far as the biometrics are concerned and, as you know, that’s a big deal.  It takes time.”

It was the first time during the meeting Jane showed any sign of stress: she pursed her lips and wrinkled her forehead after asking the “deal-breaker” question.

“So you’re telling me that if it’s not Hickey then we have to start over?”

“Yes, Your Honor, that’s what I’m telling you.”

“There aren’t any other choices?  None?”

“No, Your Honor.  I don’t know if this helps you with your decision or not, but there is an entire unit on name attachment during the transition training course.  The unit is extensive and, according to our client surveys, one of the most useful in the entire course.”

Jane glanced at her wristwatch again.

“I’m afraid, Your Honor, we’re going to have to decide whether or not this goes forward.  You have to decide right now.  The flight for Zurich is scheduled for Thursday evening.  Everything in Zurich is in place—your elective surgeries and so forth.  But it’s better for everyone, including me, to turn off the machine right now and let it cool, than to move forward if there’s any uncertainly whatsoever.”

Jane waited for the judge who was again peering out the side window.  But the judge did not linger long.

“No.  No,” she said forcefully.  “I will not let this hold me back.  Do not turn off the machine.  I want to go forward.  But, please, just assure me of one thing, will you?”

“And what is that?”

“That my first name does not have to be Martha!”

Jane began flipping the pages of her notepad, pretending to scan her notes.

“Ah. . . well . . . let me see. . . .”

The judge physically recoiled in her seat.

“I’m just kidding,” said Jane as she closed her notepad and smiled.  “There are many more choices for first names, and Martha doesn’t have to be one of them.”

Both women broke into laughter.  The judge laughed until tears dampened the corners of her eyes.

Jeap’s Holler — Chapter III

sun rays of woman's face

A silver Hummer vehicle, sparkling and impressive, sat parked at the far end of the wide pavement in front of the mansion.  The Hummer’s windows were tinted black.  But the back of it was all that could be seen from the limo as the limo crossed the pavement towards the mansion.  Suddenly the intercom beeped and immediately Her Honor’s voice issued forth in her usual bored tone.

“This is far enough.  Stop here,” she said.

“But ma’am—” said the driver.

“I said, stop here!”

The driver brought the vehicle to a quick halt still some fifteen yards away from the front of the mansion and at least thirty-five yards from the silver Hummer, parked a distance beyond.

“Thank you.”  Her voice was pinched and cynical.

“Trev, I need a minute.”

“Yes, ma’am,” said the bodyguard.

The driver watched his boss through the rearview mirror.

“What’s she doing?” asked the bodyguard.

“Texting, I think.  Or unfriending some more of her crew.”

“Dumbass!” said the bodyguard then smiled to himself.

The driver continued watching.

“She just threw the phone in her purse.  Okay, here we go,” said the driver.  “I hope she let’s me out this time.”

“You were let out the last time, remember?”

“I don’t know about you but I’m starved.”

“This won’t take long, Poindexter.  Whatever it is she’s up to won’t take long because she hates fresh air.”

The intercom beeped again.

“Okay Trev, I’m ready.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

The bodyguard rocked forward and was about to pull the door lever but Her Honor had not finished giving instructions.

“But Trev, listen.  I don’t need an escort this time.  I’m going alone.  So just let me out; then wait here.  I’ll be fifteen minutes.  Okay, now be a gentleman.”

The light on the intercom turned off.

“Goddamnit!  Shit!” swore the bodyguard.  “She’s trying to fuck me up, isn’t she.  Why even have protocol if you never follow it?  I guarantee you this, Poindexter: if anything goes down, you’d better believe I’m calling you to testify on my behalf.  You got that?”

The muscular bodyguard snatched his sunglasses from his breast pocket as he pushed the door open with his foot then stepped from the limousine into the park-like setting.  But once out of the vehicle, his professionalism returned and he showed no emotion whatsoever.  He brushed his suit jacket smooth with his hands while making an assessment of his surroundings, then strode stone-faced around the end of the car to the door where the judge waited to be let out.

He opened her door.  She stood up with a heavy sigh then looked around while clutching her purse.  In that moment she seemed small, even vulnerable, to the bodyguard.

“Thank you, Trev.  I won’t be long.  It’s okay; I know the person I’m seeing,” she reassured him.

“I feel better knowing that, ma’am.  Thank you,” he replied.

“When we’re done here, what do you say we have a good ole greasy-spoon burger back in town.  I’m pretty hungry, aren’t you?”

“Yes, ma’am, I am.”

“Good.  I’ll be right back.”

She reached up and patted the bodyguard’s shoulder, an unusual display of affection for the judge, which prompted a sudden, uneasy knot in the pit of his stomach.

Then she started towards the silver Hummer, favoring her right side a bit as she went.

The judge plodded her way to the passenger side of the tall silver vehicle and tapped her knuckles on the rear door window.  Robotically the window opened.  The judge was greeted by the smiling face of a young woman seated in the cockpit of the vehicle who looked back through the space between the two, tall bucket seats.

“Hi, I’m up here,” she said, “Why don’t you join me?”

“Sure,” said the judge.

Robotically the doors unlocked and the front passenger door popped open like the hatch of a spaceship.  With a bit of effort the judge hoisted herself into the silver ship and closed the door.  The doors automatically relocked themselves.

“You must be Jane Smith,” said the judge out of breath.

“Yes, and you must be Cordelia, the blunt but honest daughter.”

“You know your Shakespeare.”

“A good lawyer would.  May I call you ‘Your Honor’?”

The judge shrugged.  “That’s fine,” she said.

“Would you like a tour of the grounds, first?”

“No, not today, thank you,” replied the judge.

The judge turned her head looking out the window to her right at the Bridewell mansion.  She began smiling and shanking her head in consternation not making eye contact with the beautiful young Jane who sat in the driver’s seat beside her.

“Is there something on your mind, Your Honor?”

“Yeah, there is,” said the judge.  “I’ve come all this way and you seem—awfully—”  The judge sniggered.

“Pretty? Young?” said Jane.

“I was going to say junior but, yes, both.  This is a very serious business you’re in; I guess I just expected someone more seasoned is all.  I’m sure you understand the risks involved for someone like myself?”

“Yes, Your Honor, I do.  And that is why they sent me.  I’m the best they have.  And I’ve done this more times that you’d believe.  In fact, this is all I’ve ever done over the course of my career.  But if you’re uncomfortable, I’m sure other arrangements—”

“No, it’s not that,” interrupted the judge.  “I’m sorry.  I’m nervous, I think.  I’m perfectly comfortable with you, Jane.  I promise I’ll do precisely what you ask me to.  I trust you.”

“You’re sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

“All right. Let’s get started, then.”

The young woman opened a soft leather attaché which rested on her lap and pulled from it a manilla envelope.  The envelope was sealed and had no markings on the outside.

“First things first,” said Jane still holding the envelope.  She looked directly into the judges’s eyes.

“Are you sure?” she asked, “because once we start down this path, that’s it.  No turning back.  So I need to know right here and now, Your Honor:  Is there any shred of doubt in your mind?”


The judge’s voice was resolute.

“You’re sure?”

“Yes.  I can assure you I’ve given this a great deal of thought—probably more than it needed—and I know that this is exactly what I want.  I want a new life—desperately.”

“Then we’re good,” said Jane.  “Here.”

She handed the judge the envelope.

“For your eyes only.  Keep it in a safe place until you can peruse it without interruption.  You don’t want any copies of this floating around on the internet, I assure you.  That is why I needed to give it to you in person.  But it’s only your head start on the transitional stuff while you’re in Zurich.”

“I understand,” said the judge.

Jeap’s Holler — Chapter II


The Bridewell mansion, in its day, had been a very beautiful home.  It was the type of home they made paintings of for Christmas cards – grand yet homey at the same time.  It was the kind of place where every American wanted to live.  And it was surprisingly modest as mansions go which was part of its charm.  It was large enough to leave a visitor with a feeling of awe yet small enough to be furnished.  And Oh My! was it furnished well, back in its day.

But events within families get complicated when grandparents pass on and there is real estate to dispense.  In these situations, there arise the inevitable disagreements, slights, insults, snubs, retributions, and what have you, which all impede the smooth transition of a mansion like the Bridewell from one set of hands to the next.  The winners in such contests never come out feeling as if they have won, however.  They come out feeling put upon, mainly because of the enormous debts and financial obligations which accompany winning.

Therefore, the winners almost always want to sell the ball-and-chain prizes as soon as they get them which was the case with the Bridewell.  But during the time that the Bridewell was up for sale the country had entered another recession and speculation on big old mansions which needed substantial repairs and updating and which sat out in the middle of nowhere did not seem like a wise investment to its would-be buyers.  So the Bridewell sat empty, unloved, and dying for way too many years.  And, in time, it did die, after which the crows moved in.

The lady whose driver had stopped at Elsie’s Cafe so she could ask directions on how to find the Bridewell mansion now sat glumly in the very depths of her large black limousine.  Now and then the driver would glance nervously at his employer through the rearview mirror.  Her expression had not changed.  It was the same scowl she had worn the entire trip.  It was unsettling for the driver because it was the very scowl the judge always wore when she was about to explode into one of her famous fits of rage.

Not that her fits of rage were unusual or that the driver did not manage to deal with them, somehow, when they happened.  No, that was not it.  The driver was very skilled at handling the judge and knowing how best to appease her when she flew off the handle.  But no matter how many times he had done it, it was still extremely stressful and uncomfortable when the judge would let go on everyone around her during one of her violent tirades.  What made it especially difficult was the fact that the driver, by nature, was a sensitive and introspective man who sometimes took things to heart that he shouldn’t.

The driver was beginning to feel antsy.  It had been farther around Fish Lake than he expected given waitress Doris’s directions, and Fish Lake Road was broken and rough.  The judge hated getting jostled when riding anywhere.  In the opinion of the judge, all cars and roads were a curse on civilization.  If it was up to her she would travel nowhere that could not be reached by private jet, yacht, or helicopter which added to the mystery of why in heaven’s name “Her Honor” had insisted on visiting a dilapidated mansion at such a remote location as Jeap’s Holler.  The other mystery regarding this particular trip was the fact that the judge had left her personal assistant at home—something she never did—and had traveled to this isolated place alone, except, of course, for her driver and personal security man.  At about that time, Her Honor picked up the phone and pushed the intercom button to beep the driver.

“Dewey, what’s our ETA?” (Estimated Time of Arrival)

The driver ventured three seconds to calculate his answer.

“Ah, one or two minutes, Your Honor.”

“Is it one or two?”

“Two, ma’am.”

“Be precise,” she commanded then hung up.  The driver exhaled, exasperated.

The bodyguard, who also sat up front, turned to the driver with a smirk.

“Maybe you should step on it, Poindexter.  You know she’s back there counting the seconds.”

“But it’s not even noon, yet,” said the driver.

“No, but you told her two minutes, Dumbass.”

Fortunately for the driver, at the next turn, as they wound around the side of a wooded hill, they came upon a split-rail fence with an apple orchard behind it.  This was the driver’s clue that they had reached the edge of the Bridewell estate.  Two-hundred yards further and they came to the main gate and a paved road which led around a fishing pond then bent up a wooded parkway to the house.  The gate was open.

The paved road leading to the house was a wide, double-lane street, built of smooth stone cobbles and was tree lined.  The street even had a painted dividing line which, by then, had faded.  Still, the road was much better than Fish Lake Road from which the limo had just turned.

The limo motored slowly up the lane.  Finally, it topped a rise where the road flattened and broke free of the trees onto a broad pavement from which those inside the limo had a full view of the house standing before them.  There it was.

The driver whistled in wonder as he drove slowly across the pavement.

Indeed, it was still a mansion and not nearly as broken down as one might have expected given Doris’s description of it, back at the cafe.

It was three stories of graceful Georgian Architecture with dressed stone quoins, stucco, and paired windows.  In front, it had an expansive oval portico supported by six doric columns, and under the portico, a wide porch stretched itself.  It gave the impression of a small White House, but more elegant.  The porch was bounded by a sturdy but graceful rail that floated atop an arch of supports which looked like a line of white pawns from a giant chess board.  It was but two steps from the pavement to the top of the porch, and the front doors at the mansion’s entrance were carved-wood, inlayed with elegant, oval, leaded glasswork.  The mansion was impressive still.  But, yes, the years of neglect had taken a toll.

A Story From 2017, Part I

green trees beside river during daytime

A bit of old work again.  I’m not going to elaborate but I’ve got a few short chapters of this yet incomplete story.  Please let me know if you like it.  Dale

Jeap’s Holler:  Chapter I

One bright Thursday morning, close to noon, a big black automobile shaped like a coffin came rolling into Jeap’s Holler.  No one would have noticed, however, had the big black coffin rolled on through town and not stopped at Elsie’s Cafe where everyone who was in town and on lunch break was having lunch—most likely the Chicken & Ribs Special.  The good folks of Jeap’s Holler were, no doubt, talking about important things over lunch such as how many fish some of the fellas planned to catch that Saturday down at Fish Lake or what dresses some of the gals were sewing for Nancy Bett’s wedding and how many tiny pearls would get sewn into the bridal gown.  Important stuff like that.

Elsie’s Cafe was busy that day, so the coffin had to park a little distance away from the restaurant and out of view of the big picture windows which fronted the shop.  The first out of the coffin was a stocky man in a dark suit and dark sunglasses who emerged from the passenger side up front.  He was nicely dressed.  He wore a navy suit which gleamed in the bright sunlight as he moved.  He also wore polished black shoes, a brilliant white shirt—crisp as a corn chip—and a blue and red striped tie.  He was as dapper as a swordfish! as someone from Jeap’s Holler would say.

So he got out and walked the long way around the back of the vehicle to the back door on the opposite side.  There he paused for a second or two as if working up the courage to open the door.  Then finally he opened it and stood at attention while waiting for someone to emerge from the big black coffin.  But it took about five or ten seconds before anyone did emerge.  Finally, a woman stepped from the car and stood up.

She was an average sized woman, middle aged, straight blonde hair brushed back from her face that reached no farther than her collar.  But you couldn’t see much of her face for the enormous black sunglasses she wore.  Her pegged denim jeans were a tiny bit more snug around the abdomen than they should have been making her belly look, in shape, like half of a boiled egg.  And instead of boots she wore brown leather huaraches.  She also wore a blousy white shirt accessorized with a blue bandana tied at the neck and a broad silver bracelet on her left wrist.  In all, she looked as if she would have been more comfortable wearing a pantsuit than in her faux country getup.

Despite the sunglasses, one could see she wore a scowl on her face which betrayed a mood of aggravation and perhaps discomfort.  To put it bluntly, she was not a happy camper, but for some reason she had wanted to stop at Elsie’s Cafe—maybe for an icy glass of tea or a roll of breath mints.

At first her attention was taken with the large bag she carried, but once she had zipped two or three of its zippers and anchored it on her shoulder she stepped forward and looked around to orient herself and decide where it was she was headed.  The man in the suit closed the door of the automobile behind her and asked the woman something.  But she was disagreeable and dismissed whatever it was he had suggested with a wave of her hand.  So he left her and got back into the vehicle the same way he had gotten out.  She, at the same time, adjusted her sunglasses before starting for Elsie’s alone.

When the woman entered Elsie’s the bell on the door jingled but no one paid attention.  The woman came in as far as the end of the lunch counter where the cash register sat and stood awkwardly waiting for a waitress or someone to approach her.  She did not remove her sunglasses but instead clutched her large bag with both arms as if holding a pet cat.

After a minute or so a waitress with a pot of coffee in one hand stopped long enough to find out what the woman needed.

“You waiting for a table, honey?” asked the waitress.

“No,” said the woman, “I need directions to the Bridewell Estate; I’m to meet someone there at noon.”

“Bridewell, you say?  I’m sorry, I’ve never heard of it.  You sure it’s around here?Jeap’s Holler?”

“Yes, It’s supposed to be near the lake, somewhere.”

“Let me see if Doris knows.  If it’s here, Doris will know where.”

It took a minute before the waitress returned with a second waitress.  This one had a head full of coarse, black hair and wore heavy pancake makeup which failed to conceal the puffy bags under her eyes.  The makeup did, however, manage to color the bags the same pinkish tan as the rest of her face.

“Hi.  You’re looking for the old Bridewell mansion?”

“Yes, I believe so.  I was told it was near the lake.”

“Well not exactly.  It’s actually out past the lake about a mile, but you do take the lake road around the lake but then keep going.  But I’m wondering if it’s Bridewell you’re looking for because that old place was about to fall down, the last I knew, and that’s been a few years ago.”

The woman from the coffin finally removed her sunglasses.  She, too, had saggy bags under her eyes and looked like she hadn’t slept in a week.

“I know this is an imposition,” she said, “but is their any chance you could tell my driver how to get there.  I’m not very good with directions, myself.”

“No problem,” said Doris.  “Have him come in and I’ll draw him a map.  You look like you could use an iced tea.  I’ll bring one out for you and your driver.  Ginger, sweetheart, show this nice lady to Table Three for me, will you?  I’ll be back in a flash.”

Doris winked at the woman as she turned and, before you could say Rumpelstiltskin, she was gone.

The woman from the car wanted to object, to say she would be more comfortable waiting where she was, but she was not given the opportunity.  So after being shown to Table Three by the younger and prettier waitress named Ginger, the woman from the coffin fished her cell phone out of her purse and called her driver then put her big black sunglasses back on to await Doris’s return.

Adeline’s Peach Tree

selective focus photography of plums in tree

Today another excerpt for your reading pleasure.  This piece was written in 2009.  This is only an excerpt of a longer piece of writing but I think it’s the most interesting part of the larger work.  It was meant to be the beginning of a novel.  Anyway, I’ll probably share with you pieces like this for the next little while as we move through the Christmas holiday season.  Salut!  Dale

Adeline’s Peach Tree

My grandmother, Patsy, could make a friend of anyone.  She’d strike up a conversation over oranges at the grocery store with a complete stranger and end up inviting the whole family over for potatoes and fried chicken that evening.  She had coffee every day with her mailman, the same one who drove four-hundred miles to attend her funeral and wept while shaking hands with her children whom he had never met before.  Yes, Grandma Patsy generally liked everyone.  But she did not like Applebottom.  It was only a rare occasion when she disliked a person but, when it happened, it was immediate and irreversible.  She would dislike them from the moment she set eyes on them and then warn others against them.  From then on, no matter what that person did that might be good or friendly, it would not change her mind.  Such was the case with Michael Applebottom.  “Better not turn your back on him,” she’d say.  It was like a kind of Cain’s curse.  Of course it wasn’t logical but she was seldom wrong. 

She used to say that a man with a low forehead would lie and a man with pointy ears was capable of evil.  Applebottom had both.  I know that if she had had the chance she would have warned Adeline against marrying him but she didn’t.  We were all still young when she passed and they buried her beside Grandpa.  “Mark my word, there’ll be many a sleepless night with that one.”  I can hear the way she would say it, too—with a certainty that would rattle your liver.  But Grandma aside, I would say that Applebottom was no different from eighty percent of men.  His only real flaw was that he could not recognize goodness in someone like Adeline but instead felt inadequate about himself without ever identifying the emotion.  If you ask me, that’s always a recipe for trouble.  No, I’d say that Applebottom was exceptionally ordinary if not for the fact he was, indeed, losing his mind.  But he could not see that either.

But the real story has nothing to do with Applebottom.  He was only the catalyst for change.  The real story is about an ordinary community and its rather ordinary citizenry, trying to live through some exceptionally difficult times.  But I suppose it all began with Applebottom at Wyndham Glenn, with a simple, yet symbolic, act he committed which would end up changing the lives of many people, his own included.  It began when he chopped down a peach tree—one of Adeline’s prized peach trees—in July of 2036.  It was a lovely tree but to Applebottom it was just a tree.  So honestly, I doubt he had any idea at the time just what effect his chopping down that tree would have on Adeline or anyone else or how it would end up changing the history of things.  Otherwise, he might not have done it.

In more correct terms, we should probably say that Applebottom was likely suffering from a mental illness, that he had become obsessive-compulsive or something like that.  But the word among the townsfolk of Datesville was that he had become a pyromaniac or schizophrenic or possibly both.  In Datesville the stories flew of Applebottom honing a double bladed ax to razor sharpness and never laying it down.  There were jokes about him taking it to the bathroom with him or bringing it to bed.  It was rather crude humor.  But there was an element of truth in it, too.  It was known that he constantly chopped firewood and, as a force of habit, carried his ax everywhere on the estate, even up and down the halls of the old mansion where he and Adeline lived.  They said he never slept, that he stayed up building and stoking fires in every hearth of his dusty mansion until the sun came up.

They said too that he was sometimes overtaken by dark moods and, at such times, ate nothing and spoke to no one—not even Adeline when she called.  When the mood fell over him, they said he would hole up in his study for days on end doing nothing except stoking the fire in the hearth and staring into its flames.  To be sure, these were troubling stories for all of us who loved Adeline and worried about her safety.  No one knew Applebottom well enough to know what he was capable of.  Of course, some of the rumors were baseless.  But there was just enough truth in them to work our nerves.  Whether or not he was a pyromaniac or schizophrenic like they said, I don’t really know.  But I do know that Applebottom had an obsession for chopping down trees.  And that was why he chopped down Adeline’s peach.

According to the Coroner’s report, Michael P. Applebottom died on July 5, 2041.  It was a tragic ending to a tragic life.  It was also a tragic ending to the Applebottom legacy.  Michael, as it turned out, was the last of the Applebottoms to live at Wyndham Glenn.  His body wasn’t discovered until four days after his death.  But it’s a wonder they found him when they did.  He might have, just as easily, lay under that oak for a year without being found.  At the time of his death, Applebottom and Adeline had been apart for five years although papers for a divorce had never been filed.  So officially they were still married when he died.  Applebottom died without a will.

As I said, it was a wonder they found him at all.  The way I heard it was:  Jennie Knowles, the postal carrier, had a package to deliver when she arrived at the Applebottom place on July 8.  Its delivery required Applebottom’s signature.  Out there the mail only came twice a week where Jennie made her rounds on her blue and white Postal Service scooter; she did not want to have to bring the package all the way out again.  Well, under normal circumstances, a carrier on a rural route would simply leave a package when no one was at home, knowing that the recipient would be expecting it.  But Applebottom had raised a stink with the Postmaster more than once when parcels that should have had his signature were left on his kitchen porch without it.  So Jennie was compelled to try to find Applebottom when she arrived with the package.  But that day she could not find him.  She did notice, however, that a sprinkler had been left running, watering a line of peach trees and the yard behind the kitchen porch and that the ground had grown soggy from over-watering.  Jennie thought this strange and reported it to the Postmaster when she returned to the office.  The Postmaster dutifully reported what Jennie had told him to the Sheriff who sent an officer out, later that afternoon, to check on things.  The officer didn’t find Applebottom either so the next day the Sheriff ordered a search party out to the Applebottom place.  This time they found him—down in a wooded hallow crushed beneath a large oak.  The Sheriff determined that Applebottom had felled the tree during a wind storm—which had passed through four days earlier—and that a powerful gust had probably changed the direction of its fall and caused the accident.  Applebottom was buried in the cemetery beside his father without a service.  But Adeline was there to say good-bye.

Most of us in Datesville accepted the Sheriff’s report and believed that Applebottom’s death had been accidental.  But others believed it was suicide.  They claim that Applebottom’s demons finally caught up with him and, tormented as he was by insanity, he deliberately stepped into the path of the falling tree and killed himself.  They say it could not have been an accident because Applebottom was way too experienced of a woodsman for it to have happened the way the Sheriff described it.  I suppose they could be right.  But no one will ever know for certain.

If there was a reason for Applebottom’s dark moods, perhaps it is rooted in the fact that Michael ended up living right where he never wanted to be—at Wyndham Glenn.  Wyndham Glenn, as it was known, was a rambling, musty old mansion along with the hundred and three-score or so acres it sat upon which made up the estate.  They used to say that the problem with the mansion was that it had lived too long and had collected too much evil over the years which only a good fire could dispel.  Set in the high country, twenty-four miles northeast of Datesville, Wyndham Glenn had always seemed out there.  In fact, locals often said things like “out there, at Applebottom’s place” when they made reference to Wyndham Glenn.  This was true even though all of the other families living in that part of the county were thought of and accepted as locals.  But the Applebottoms themselves were never quite embraced as natives of Jefferson County, despite the fact that they had lived there as long as anyone else.  The Applebottoms had always been considered outsiders.  But to understand how that could be, you would have to know more about the family’s history.

Some Old Writing For You

assorted-color paint brush on brown wooden table top

The piece that follows is an old bit of writing and is still a bit rough though I did edit it some today before posting it.  It’s fiction, of course.  I hope you’ll find it entertaining.  If you would, please leave your comment below letting me know how you liked this little sketch.  Thank you.  Dale


Sosa painted like a madman.  But this was only how he painted when standing before an audience, like today—an audience of students on the first day of Studio Painting I, when young women were present, when those observing expected to be dazzled and he knew it.  On these occasions Sosa wore his waistcoat and a broach on his lapel and his work shoes were polished.  Only when he dressed like this could one expect this sort of show.

Sosa danced in front of his canvas like a Cajun at a honky-tonk except he had Brahms playing softly in the background on the sound system in the studio.  His objective was to provide the students with a painting demonstration.  To go with the dancing, he gesticulated wildly with his arms and elbows like a boxer threatening to strike a blow, and carried on a conversation with himself as a homeless panhandler would.  Except this conversation was supposed to enlighten the audience, to give them insight into the mind of genius.  As he painted, he pinched extravagant plops of color onto the palette and moved much too quickly to exercise control over what he put on the canvas.  He overworked his pigments and, when selecting a new brush, paid too much attention to its grooming.  I knew this was not how a professional worked.

To another artist he, undoubtedly, appeared nervous and distracted—unable to focus, undisciplined, lacking commitment and deliberation to the work before him.  But he was not painting for the other artists in the room.  No, this was not painting at all.  This was pure performance.  He gave the novice what she expected, and, god, he was good at it.

I had seen him paint exactly like this in front of a room full of academics that included the Provost and President of the College.  They were all mightily impressed though not one of them could tell their ass from their elbow when it came to painting.  But they were very impressed.  Sosa knew exactly what they expected of an artist, that they expected a jester, so gave them a one-man interpretation of The Three Stooges.  It was brilliant but it was not the real Sosa.

The real Sosa was moody and depressed and resentful of his colleagues’ willful ignorance and disinterest in Art.  His perfomance was, in reality, a subtle way of flipping them the bird without them knowing it.  And they applauded him for it.  Afterward, the President expressed an interest in having one of his pieces for her office.  Sosa showed her a pair of paintings he had stacked against the wall of the studio that he said were a good buy at eight-hundred apiece.  They were pieces he had critiqued to me as “ultimately forgettable” because they were “derivative and failed to transcend the banal.”  “Tired clichés of modernism,” he called them.  The President of the college bought them both.

This day was a bright, clear afternoon in late August and a number of young women students had signed up for the class and were present as Sosa opened with his traditional tutorial painting demonstration.  It was the first day of Studio Painting I.  Sosa donned a white shirt, cufflinks, and a bolo tie, a black brocade waistcoat with an artsy broach that crouched on his lapel.  He also wore black cotton work pants, and foam-soled shoes—also black—polished to a rich satin luster.  His dark hair—what there was of it—he had pulled back into a ponytail.  This was his studio uniform for first days of class and art openings.  In appearance, Sosa must have come off to these small town kids as something exotic, something as rare and debonaire as Zorro himself, except shorter and without the cape.  But even if he had worn the cape and mask and sword, he probably could not have made a significantly stronger impression on his round-eyed audience.

Sosa did, however, put on a crisp, spotless artist’s apron over his nice duds and rolled up his white sleeves as a sort of show of craftsman protocol before starting his painting demonstration.  Or perhaps the rolling of the sleeves represented a nod to his working class background, to the family he had left behind in the trailer court.  Either way, he liked believing he worked for a living, and painting was his occupation.

I was there that day because I had arranged a directed study class with Sosa, as I had done in the past, which primarily gave me studio space to work in and a locker for my paints and tools.  I could come and go as I pleased and had my own work space in one corner of the room.  It was a lot better than I was used to.

All that summer, I had painted under a makeshift tent—a blue plastic tarp stretched over the patio behind my house because my girlfriend had grown tired of the chaos “my crap” created in “her” living room.  Consequently, she had kicked me and my equipment outdoors as soon as the weather turned nice.  Spring wasn’t bad but it had been a miserable—hot and dusty—summer under the tent.  My project that summer had been to paint—simultaneously—an entire show’s worth of work—some forty paintings in all, painted on tagboard paper.  I had them spread all over the front yard to dry, turning the lawn into its own sort of art mosaic.  But I hadn’t had time to finish them before the end of summer.

Now that the weather would be turning cold and wet again soon, I needed a new place to work because I was still banned from the house.  My answer was this arrangement with Sosa for studio space at the campus.  The cost of a class was cheap rent for space and it was generous of Sosa to fix things up the way he had.  I did not expect it, even for a friend.

Mary McCullen—one of the students attending Studio Painting I that day—was about thirty and sat at the end of one of the long tables, farthest away from Sosa.  She was what the college referred to as a “non-traditional student.”  Anyone over the age of twenty-four was considered non-traditional.

She wore a blousy, pinstriped shirt that appeared to be a man’s dress shirt—untucked, of course—and a pair of snug clam-digger pants, white bobby socks, and bright green, low-top sneakers.

As Sosa continued his demonstration, she slouched in her chair to the point of sitting on her lower vertebra with crossed legs, nervously kicking her suspended toe at the rate of one-hundred-eighty cycles per minute while wearing an irked expression on her face.  She gnawed at her fingernails like a frightened gerbil and seemed more interested in them than in the marionette show going on in front of her.

Ms. McCullen—Mary—was a third-year nursing student who had put off her required fine arts course until the last minute.  She had cleverly gotten into Painting I without meeting any of the drawing or design course prerequisites.  She had done so by scheduling an interview with Sosa during “Advising Week” prior to the start of the semester and brought with her a bundle of sketchbooks stuffed with copious drawings—produced over many years—and presented them to Sosa at his office.  He thumbed through the portfolio and arrived at the conclusion that Mary was more advanced than the majority of his third-year drawing students so signed her waiver, letting her into Studio Painting I.

Mary had always been interested in art and had always drawn, doodled, and cartooned throughout junior high and high school to deal with the boredom of getting an education.  Hers was an active mind which did not cope well with droning—not even illustrated droning.  One could argue she had a natural talent for drawing.  At one point, she even considered becoming a high school art teacher but in the end decided on nursing instead which she felt would be the more practical and better paying career.  Still, she had always wanted to paint.

Getting into Studio Painting I worked out well for Mary.  Her schedule that semester was heavy with difficult nursing courses but she had heard that studio classes did not require a paper or other homework—just time in the studio and nine completed paintings.  So Painting I, she figured, should be an easy B or B+ without absorbing too much of her time.

Finally, Ms. McCullen’s frenetic nature got the best of her so she sat up and quietly unzipped her book bag from which she stealthily retrieved a sketchbook and mechanical pencil.  She set to work drawing, hunched over her drawing pad on the table at which she sat like Bob Cratchet at his accounting desk.  Sosa continued his demonstration without noticing.  He had stopped painting for the moment and was now lecturing:

“A skilled painter is able to mix the exact hue he needs on his pallet before applying it to the canvas,” he told the class.  “That is the way we were taught in graduate school.  My studio professor was very strict about this technique.”

Sosa repeated the bullshit rules of painting he had learned at the prestigious art school he had attended in New York.  All that the rules had ever done for him, as far as I could tell, was bind him up—erect giant psychologically intimidating bulwarks against free expression which he could not breach.  My opinion was that the rules had hindered Sosa as an artist yet he was determined to pass them on to his greenhorn students because some professor, in New York, had insisted they had value.  He did this, I think, because the rules seemed impressive and made painting difficult.

But, for Sosa, painting was supposed to be difficult.  It had to be that way.  After all, he believed that mastering the tedious technicalities of painting the academic way in which he was schooled was all that separated the craftsman, the true artist, from the hack.  I, of course, was happy to write my own rules and remain a hack in Sosa’s eyes.

Tool Series #2 — Multi-Tool, Part 4

a window with potted plants


We’ve been discussing the so called Writing Multi-tool in this Tool Series.  Basically, the idea is to develop several writing strategies with which you can switch back and forth smoothly when writing scenes.  I use these four basic writing strategies as my multi-tool; they are actually rather straightforward once you understand them:

  1. Description
  2. Dialogue
  3. Narrative
  4. Action

Each of these strategies requires a different style of writing, obviously.  Today let’s discuss Narrative.

So what is narrative?  Well, first of all, let me establish one important, though somewhat subtle, distinction a writer of fiction must always bear in mind while writing.  As writer you are not the narrator.  There is a difference between writer and narrator.  You are acting on behalf of the narrator but you are not actually the narrator, per se.  The narrator is the fictional storyteller who, somehow, knows intimately the characters of your story and the facts of the story so is in the unique position of being able to tell the story well.

As a writer of fiction, you have the skills to write for many different storytellers who each have their own unique biases and conventions for telling stories.  And this makes sense because if the story is set in the Bronx, New York the storyteller will most likely be someone from the Bronx, though you the writer might never have lived in the Bronx yourself.  On the other hand, if the story takes place in, say, New Orleans, Louisiana, it would make sense that your storyteller is at least familiar with the culture of New Orleans if not a resident of that city.  This, however, does not preclude the possibility of a protagonist from the Bronx being the main character of a story set in New Orleans and the narrator telling the story from the main character’s perspective—that of someone from the Bronx.

One thing I sometimes do is let my storyteller (who knows all of my characters intimately) narrate a portion of a scene from the point of view of whichever character happens to be the focus of that scene at that time.  But back to the question: What is narrative?  My definition of narrative is when the storyteller pauses to give the audience some insight into how a particular character in the story is processing what is taking place in the scene.  Let’s look at three examples taken from my novel Wanderer Come Home.

In this first example Hunter Carr has to attend an office party he’d rather skip.  The storyteller, therefore, takes the opportunity to give the audience a glimpse into Hunter’s perceptions as he enters the venue.

And all Hunter knew about the “little social event” in Gene’s office was that Gene insisted he be there.”Drop whatever you’re doing and come around five,” Gene had said.  Hunter had no idea the social event was actually a party in his honor.  So, unfortunately, with all that had happened that day, Hunter arrived at Gene Moore’s party in a buzzkill frame of mind.

Gene’s office was large and the doors were open; it looked as if about twenty-five people were there already.  A couple of members of the board were uncharacteristically present.  Three or four partners were there as well.  Important people from Matuka & Moore, including Glen Matuka himself had shown up.  And of course, Jan Towner was at the party; she was always at such events.  It seemed Jan, though only an office administrator, had a knack for getting included in the most important circles at these social gathering.  She was, of course, a very attractive woman though now approaching forty-five; but her looks had matured nicely; and she could keep conversation lively and interesting by charging it with a certain element of sexual energy.  At that moment, she was engaged in conversation in a circle that included Glen Matuka.  Glen spent most of his time, these days, at the country club though he had not yet fully retired.  He loathed talking shop at such gatherings which was why he avoided Gene Moore who could never stop talking shop.

Jan Towner smiled and winked at Hunter as he passed on his way to the refreshment table.  And though it was not an unusual gesture from Jan it did make Hunter feel a tad uncomfortable, only because there was something in it which he could not fully interpret.

From this example you can see how narrative adds depth to the story and its characters and how it can build emotional tension.  Earnest Hemingway, who believed internal narrative was a distraction to any good story, avoided narrative as much as possible and was—especially by women readers—severely criticized for doing so.  They said his characters were opaque and without emotions.  Hemingway was first a journalist so we might understand his bias against narrative.

In this next example, Annabel Stiles is riding a bus at night and has shared some personal history with the elderly gentleman sitting next to her.  For some reason, the elderly man (Axel, our main character) breaks down and begins weeping.  Annabel has no idea why.  So, again, the storyteller takes the opportunity to provide the audience with a description of Annabel’s internal narrative—how this incident affects her.

As of yet, Annabel Stiles had no idea what had triggered Axel’s breakdown.  Because of certain anomalies which were part of her youth, Annabel had made a decision a long time ago not to live in the past.  In fact, it was unusual for her to even think about the past, and why on earth she had brought it up to an almost complete stranger like Axel, she had no idea.  That will teach me, she thought, bring up the past and see what happens?  A perfectly calm man falls apart!

She had made it her motto that whatever happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas, except in this case “Vegas” equaled The Past.  It wasn’t that she was ashamed of it, necessarily.  It was just that it presented such a huge tangled mystery which she knew she could never unravel.  So why crack your brain over a riddle that defies reality? she thought; it’s unproductive.

From Annabel’s point of view, her own life could be divided into three distinct segments: life before Tom Stiles; life during Tom Stiles; and life after Tom Stiles.  Tom Stiles had been “the biggest mistake of my life” according to Annabel, and their brief courtship and marriage marked the transition period between Annabel’s former life and present life.

I might mention that the passage above leads directly into a segment of backstory for Annabel who, at this point, is a new character for the audience.  In this final example Miss Plackie awakes at dusk in her empty house, having just dreamed about her ex-husband and lost soulmate, Albert.  She finds herself in a melancholy mood.  So rather than just reporting what Miss Plackie does after waking—as Hemingway might have done—our narrator adds for the audience the emotional impact this moment has on our Miss Plackie.

Miss Plackie had not changed her name after Albert Plackie divorced her.  She had decided that at least he would not take that from her.  In her heart she would remain his devoted wife and he her husband—till death do us part—just as she had promised.  At the time of the divorce, she half-believed that God would not let Albert remarry, though, as it turned out, Albert did remarry—twice.  But then, Miss Plackie knew that God did not sanction either of those marriages because, first of all, God, she was certain, only recognized a person’s first marriage and, second, both of Albert’s subsequent marriages were to loose women who had sullied reputations.  Certainly God would not bless that, she reasoned.

And oh how she had wanted to be at Albert’s side when he lay on his deathbed during those final days of suffering.  But Albert would not let her, nor would his third wife.  That was the last and deepest wound he would inflict on her.  If she had been allowed to at least comfort her beloved Albert on his deathbed then Miss Plackie might have been able, afterward, to right her emotional ship.  But that did not happen.  Instead, her heart and life were dashed on the rocks of love when Albert died of pneumonia which was a complication of his severe emphysema.  Albert had smoked his entire life.

Well, another long post today but I think the examples were important to give you a clear picture of what I mean by narrative.  Remember to leave your comments in the comment box below.  So until next time…



Tool Series #2 — Multi-Tool, Part 3

people standing on stage with lights turned on during nighttime


So we’re still discussing the so called Writing Multi-tool in this Tool Series.  I mentioned in Part 2 that what we are talking about is a writing skill which you can develop and adapt for yourself—customize it—so that it fits your needs specifically.  But basically, the idea is to develop several writing strategies from which you can switch back and forth smoothly when writing a scene.  My basic strategies are these:

    1. Description
    2. Dialogue
    3. Narrative
    4. Action

Each of these strategies require a different style of writing, obviously.  Let’s discuss Dialogue for a minute.

My definition of Dialogue is straightforward:  Dialogue is when two characters are conversing.  Dialogue is the foundation of stage- and screenplay; it is the script from which the actors take their lines.  And it is a critical element of storytelling in general.  So it is quite important for the writer of fiction to master and use dialogue.

With dialogue, the reader is allowed to “hear” our characters speak and this can be used effectively in developing characters which is to say giving the audience a better idea of who our characters are—what they might be like if we met them on the street.  But if our characters all speak alike and sound like someone reading from a textbook, well then, we’re not really getting the full benefit from our dialogue passages.  Dialogue is the writer’s chance to let his characters shine and capture the audience, to stand out and be unique.  In the following example, not only do we get an idea what sort of person Peggy is but the dialogue, itself, also drives the action which is a bonus for the storyteller.  This scene happens on a bus at night.

“Ma’am?  Ma’am?”

Annabel woke to the gentle touch of a woman passenger who had squatted beside her in the aisle.  They were on the bus and moving smoothy and everything inside was dark and quiet.

“Hi.  My name’s Peggy and I’m a nurse.  Say, I’m really sorry to wake you but I’m a little concerned about your friend.”

She pointed to Axel who was reclined in his seat beside Annabel, his head leaning against the bus window to his left and his mouth ajar.  It took Annabel a second to remember where she was and to process what Peggy was saying.

“Who?  Axel?” asked Annabel.

“Yes, ma’am.  Is he sleeping?  Could we try to wake him?”

“Why?  Why would you want to wake him?”

“I work at a sleep center and a couple of minutes ago your friend was snoring quite loudly—which can indicate a condition called sleep apnea—but a minute ago he stopped snoring and sometimes people do that when they stop breathing.  I just want to make sure he’s all right and that he’s breathing okay.  So could we try to rouse him, just to make sure?”

“Oh sure, sure,” said Annabel.

“Axel?  Axel!”  Annabel shook Axel to wake him but he did not wake.

“Ma’am, may we trade places for a minute?  I need to see if he’s breathing,” said Peggy.

Annabel let Peggy take her seat beside Axel as she stood and watched from the aisle.  It took Peggy only a second to assess the situation.

“No, he’s not breathing.  We’ve got to get him on the floor.”

Another thing that happens with dialogue is that in listening to characters speak we recognize the assumptions they make, learn their biases and prejudices, and are able to form some guesses as to where they might have grown up and what social circles they might have sprung from.  But most importantly, dialogue tells the audience what a character thinks about a given topic and the emotional content that character feels when talking about that particular topic.  These are extremely important facets in the art of storytelling because they provide points of connection for your audience:  It is how your reader connects with your characters and, thus, cares about them and what happens to them.  Here’s an illustration of what I mean (it’s an excerpt from my novel of a dialogue between Olive Galbraith and Anna Graham).

“…So it was a real blow when poor little Dixie died.  Did your mama ever get over it?”

Anna realized that trying to convince Mrs. Galbraith that she was not Millie Larsen would be impossible so she decided to assume the role of Millie, at least for the duration of their brief visit.  It felt cruel to do otherwise since Mrs. Galbraith so badly needed a visitor and wished to visit with Millie, not some stranger from Montana.

“No, not really,” said Anna in response to the question about Dixie’s mother.

“Oh, that’s too bad.”

“Olive?  I was wondering—”

“Yes dear?”

“Did Mom ever discuss her plans with you about where she planned to move, after Daddy died?”

“Well, yes.  Dot and I had coffee a couple of times after Sam passed.  They thought he had pneumonia, you know; turned out it was blood cancer; went all through his body.  Anyway, after Sam died I asked her, I said Dot, what are you going to do, now that Sam’s gone?  I’ve got to sell the house she said.  Well, where will you go? I asked.  Do you have family?  Yes, she said, in Rhode Island or Vermont, or somewhere like that, is what I recall.  But she said, I just can’t stand the weather out there so I’m going to move south where it’s warm.  But where exactly she went, I don’t know.  Well, now, you would know that.  Where did you all go when you moved away?”

“Florida,” lied Anna.

“Oh well, it’s plenty warm down there, isn’t it?”

One of the ways I like to use dialogue is for backstory.  Backstory is when you want to tell the reader an event that happened in the past because it’s relevant to the story in the present.  Writers are sometimes tempted to just take a timeout from storytelling and dump that information on the reader out of the blue.  But this is where dialogue can be used in a much more interesting way to fill in the information blanks.  Here’s an example taken from Wanderer Come Home.  Axel has met a relative of Dixie’s.  Dixie was the childhood friend who died in an accident when Axel and she were both eight years old.  Axel wants to know what happened to Dixie’s family after he went off to war.  Bill, Dixie’s cousin, was only a little younger than Dixie and knew her family well.  So while riding out to the cemetery where Dixie is buried, Axel asks Bill what ever happened to Dixie’s family.  Here is Bill’s answer:

“Well, the family continued living there on Meridian for several years,” said Bill as he drove his old pickup slowly through town, elbow hanging out the window.  “And we saw them now and then at, say, Thanksgiving or Easter or maybe once in the summer for a cookout or something like that.  But we didn’t see them often.  Then, I think it was right around 1970, ’69 or ’70, when Uncle Sam, dad’s brother, Dixie’s father, came down with what we thought was pneumonia.  It was bad.  Now I remember!  It was the winter of ’69.  Come to find out, after Uncle Sam got worse and they decided to take him to the hospital, that’s when they found the cancer.  It was all though him.  Nothing they could do they said.  He died right away, early February, I think it was.  Aunt Dottie, well, she and the younger girl—   What was her name?” he asked himself.  “Millie!  Her name was Millie.  Anyway, after Uncle Sam died, Aunt Dottie sold the house and she and Millie moved away, all within a year.  Haven’t seen either of them since.  I think Mom said they moved to New Hampshire or somewhere like that.  Maybe Aunt Dot had family up there; I couldn’t tell you.”

So you see, by using dialogue, we can fill in backstory blanks without breaking the story flow.  It may not seem as efficient but, for the reader, it is certainly more interesting to read dialogue than it is to read “info dumps”.

A long blog post today but I hope you got something useful out of it.  Until next time—



Just Reading Fun!

photography of sand inside the house

For today, I give you some reading material just for fun.  It’s fiction, of course.  I had a dystopian setting in mind when I wrote it.  This piece comes from one of my old writing files of several years ago.  It’s a single scene.  Make of it what you will.

Bess Cable Of The Dunes

The wind threw a spatter of rain against the window as warning of a coming gale.  It sounded like a handful of grapes.  But she went about plating her dinner unfazed.  It was a comforting sound—the gentle chink of spoon against porcelain as she served up a mound of boiled cabbage onto her plate at the stove.  Other than the occasional volleys of rain against the north windows there were no other sounds inside.  Even the wind could not be heard inside her cluttered burrow of an apartment.

“Do your worst,” she told the storm as the rain pelted the window, “I’ve seen your hurricanes.  I ain’t a-scared of you.  Fact, I’m going to sit right cheer and eat my supper.  And when I’m finished, I’m going to bed and sleep like a child in her mama’s arms.”

After serving herself the cabbage, she took up the fried egg from the skillet, placed it on a pad of newspaper to soak up the oil, then plated it too.  She salted egg and cabbage generously and gave the egg a dusting of pepper.  She took knife and fork from the drawer with her left hand as she balanced the plate of egg and cabbage in her right, then doddered to the table and set her place in the only clear spot there was, where she always ate.

Then she went back to the shelf above the stove to fetch the grease lamp or the Betty as folks who used them called them.  Dusk and the storm were closing in now and filling the room with shadow.  The Betty was the common homemade sort, fashioned out of a tuna can.  It raged against the imposing darkness—burning it up and converting it into inky smoke.  The lamp sat on a saucer and she brought it to the table.  Ever since the cockroach incident, Bess had grown fond of seeing what was on her fork before placing it in her mouth.

“Supper is served,” she announced as if it was Christmas and a roomful of guests waited impatiently for the ham.  Finally, she sat down with her egg and cabbage before her.  She folded her hands, bowed her head, and muttered the incantation she always recited before meals:

“God, if you exist, don’t let me poison myself with this here food I’m about to eat for it’s all I’ve got.  And please overlook my impertinence for saying so, but I’d appreciate better provisions if you can spare them.  All the same, I am grateful for this here nourishment.  Amen.”

She picked up knife and fork in each hand, then paused and studied the hard fried egg and mound of boiled cabbage there before her as if uncertain whether to proceed, or having forgotten something—a condiment perhaps—or a hesitation to figure out where to begin.  She wiped back a wisp of white hair which had fallen over one eye with the back of her wrist, and then began with the egg, cutting it.  Her knife was tentative and unsteady.  It made a timid scratching sound on the plate.  And after a minute or so, she produced a small piece of egg which she skewered with her fork, then turned daintily upside down, and placed in her mouth upon outstretched tongue.  But once the meager morsel of food was in her mouth, she chewed greedily as if she had not eaten in a month and, while masticating, breathed heavily through her nostrils.  After a couple more bites, her purpose with the knife became more controlled, more vicious, and she made quick work of the egg then attacked the cabbage.

When she had finished, she crossed fork and knife neatly on her plate and wiped the corners of her mouth with the hem of her apron.

“That was a right good supper, Miss Bess.  Thank you very much,” she said to herself.  “Why you are quite welcome,” she answered then rose and took her plate to the sink.  “I could do with some tea.  How about you, Miss Blossom?”

Miss Blossom was the antique grocery store doll who stood mutely in her triangular shaped, window box in the other chair at the kitchen table.  And she was Bess’s most cherished possession—gotten for three dollars at a garage sale—and best friend.  Miss Blossom enjoyed the rare position of having the standing and respect of Bess to be able to challenge her when her ideas strayed towards lunacy.

From appearances—the tightly coifed hair, the pearls, the satin and tulle gown, the silver pillbox hat and veil, the lacy heels, and the serene, controlled smile of a well-heeled woman—one might have assumed Miss Blossom was too demure to ever deal with issues directly, to take the bull by the horns, so to speak.  But such an assumption, in Miss Blossom’s case, would have been a mistake for Miss Blossom could be ferocious with her blunt opinions and razor sharp tongue.  But it was why Bess loved her so much: she was honest even when the truth hurt.  And Bess relied on Missy’s unvarnished opinions for mental balance, though, quite often, those opinions came unsolicited and led to vehement arguments between them.  Bess could not remember ever winning one of their arguments, however.  Missy was so much like Bess’s mother in that regard: she never lost an argument.

“Fresh out of lemon, Miss Blossom, but might have an orange peel here abouts, if that will do.  No, no honey either, I’m afraid.  I know I ain’t running a proper household, but I do the best I can, given my situation.    Well, Missy, I’d like to see you do better and don’t start no talk ‘bout finding a man.  I do enough jes taking care of my own pitiful self without someone else to feed and wash his long johns.  Besides, what man wants an old sack of lint like me whose acorns the squirrels have already picked?”

Bess then poured a little water into the basin to wash the dishes and continued arguing with Miss Blossom about the practicality of running a “proper household” on so little means.