Mazel Tov!

In my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, Samuel Feldman married the love of his life, Abigail Cohen, in May of 1935. His two best friends, John Welles and Claude Willoughby, stood for Sam as his best men. The occasion brought the three friends together after a long separation due to emotional trauma Claude had endured during their college years. John and Claude had enjoyed Sam’s Jewish heritage during Chanukkah, but their participation in Sam and Babby’s wedding would draw them in even closer. It was unlike anything John and Claude had ever experienced.

Historical Ketubah

The signing of the ketubah was the first ritual to involve John and Claude. An ancient document, the ketubah is a marriage contract of sorts that specifies the groom’s commitments to the bride. It is signed by two appointed Jewish witnesses who must not be family members related to the bride and groom by blood. Scandal of scandals: neither John nor Sam was Jewish. As readers will find upon publication of my novel, the lovely Abigail Cohen was one for breaking tradition. She knew how much Sam’s two best friends meant to him. In the eyes of the bride and groom, they were family, and therefore they had the honor of signing the marriage contract. This small detail would make the newlyweds ketubah, a work of art in itself to be framed and hung in their new home, that much more meaningful.

The second ritual, called the badeken, happens right after the witnesses sign the ketubah. The badeken is when the groom covers the bride’s face with her veil. Different sources cite different accounts in the Bible as the reason for this with one explanation claiming it had to do with Rivkah (Rebecca) veiling herself when she first saw Yitzchak (Isaac), another said it was in reference to the heavily veiled Leah during her marriage to Yaakov (Jacob), and another said it was a combination of both incidents. The badeken ceremony can be quite emotional as the bride and groom may not have seen each other for twenty-four hours or as long as one week until this moment.

At this point, the wedding party enters the main ceremony where all the guests are seated. They proceed toward the focal point of the ceremony: the chuppah. I’ll direct you to The Hoopla About Chuppahs to find out how they figure in the Jewish wedding ceremony.

While beneath the chuppah, the bride circles the groom seven times. This beautiful ritual is reminiscent of the Israelites seven trips around the walls of Jericho. On completing the seventh lap, a miracle occurred when the walls of the city tumbled down, and the Israelites were able to capture the city. Every man is like the city of Jericho with a wall built around his heart. Men are often taught to hide their feelings, portray an exterior of impenetrability, and appear as if they have it all figured out. These elaborate defenses hide any sign of weakness or vulnerability as well as guard their deepest secret: they are sensitive and humble, simple and soft inside.

Along comes the wise woman who can pierce this defensive wall by surrounding her husband with the protective atmosphere of her love. She envelops him with affection, reassures him that he is her anchor, her center, and the focal point of her life. By doing so, he feels safe and comfortable, and the walls protecting his heart tumble down for her.

Two cups of wine are used during the wedding ceremony. The first cup accompanies the betrothal blessings and is recited by the rabbi. Afterward the reciting, the couple drinks from the cup. The betrothal blessings express the resolve of the groom and bride to create a Jewish home dedicated to Adonai and the wellbeing of all humanity.

A Jewish marriage becomes official when the groom gives an object of value to the bride. Traditionally, this is done with a ring that is totally plain without stones or marks. It is hoped that the marriage will be one of simple beauty the same as the ring. This is another place where I had my characters break with tradition ever so slightly. Sam’s father, Ezra, was a jeweler of unparalleled skill, and for the wedding of his youngest son, he created a wedding band with his blessing hand carved into the gold.

Upon exchanging of the rings, the couple declares their betrothal to each other. The words “by this ring you are consecrated to me according to the Law of Moses and Israel” form the essence of the marriage service. The ring, an unbroken circle, symbolizes the eternal nature of the marriage covenant. Then the ketubah is read and given to the groom to hand to his bride. She holds on to it for all the days of their marriage as it is her property and has the standing of a legally binding agreement.

The Sheva Brachot, or Seven Blessings, are then recited over the second cup of wine by the rabbi, cantor, or other people wishing to honor the happy couple. These ancient blessings place the bride and groom into a wider social and sacred setting. After these blessings, the bride and groom share a second cup of wine.

The most familiar tradition in a Jewish wedding is the breaking of a glass by the groom. This act concludes the ceremony and signals the guests to shout Mazel Tov, cheer, dance, and start partying. Some of the explanations behind the smashing of the glass include:

  1. To show that life holds sorrow as well as joy
  2. A reminder that marriage will change your life forever
  3. Symbolizes the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem approximately 2000 years ago
  4. It’s a break with the past, and the marriage will last as long as the glass remains broken
  5. Symbolizes what is broken in society
  6. A superstition that the loud noise will drive away evil spirits
  7. It’s a time to focus prayers and energies on a specific brokenness that needs repaired
  8. A hope that the couple’s happiness will be as plentiful as the shards of glass or their children as numerous as the shards of glass
  9. It’s a representation of the fragility of human relationships

The last part of the service occurs when the newlyweds separate from where the ceremony took place. During the yichud, one of the most intimate and private parts of the day, the bride and groom are required to have time alone away from family and guests to reflect on their marriage. In times past, the marriage would have been consummated during the yichud. Afterward, the new couple would join the party.

Mazel Tov!

The Ashtray

A low rumble buzzed in the little dog’s chest. His wet obsidian eyes watched the young man moving about the room gathering items and folding clothes to be placed in the suitcase lying open on the bed. Gary Hoover didn’t pay the terrier mix no mind; he knew the dog took its cue from its mistress. His mother got the dog when Gary was three; she called the mongrel her second son.

Like any other day, today found Lisbeth Hoover installed in her favorite armchair with the dog wedged between the ham of her thigh and the armrest. One massive hand with fingers splayed across the dog’s back lent comfort to the agitated beast. The other held her trademark Marlboro, and the candy dish on the table beside her overflowed with ash.

“Peppy don’t like whatch yer doin’,” Lisbeth said.

“I can’t do it nowhere else,” Gary replied.

He considered pulling the curtain across the wire strung from one side of the living room to the other. His father put up the makeshift divider when they moved in to the miniature apartment. He had secured the heavy gauge wire he brought home from work with eyebolts in the burgundy walls.

“Looks like a whorehouse in here,” Lisbeth had complained.

“Yeah…well…”

His father never finished his sentence. He never finished looking for a job that would pay for an apartment where Gary could have a real bedroom. He also never finished his marriage or his promise to teach Gary how to pitch a baseball. The only thing he finished doing was leaving bruises on Lisbeth’s face and arms. Gary was five when they had moved in, six when his father left.

That was the day Lisbeth sat down. She sat and smoked, watching the sun come up and continuing long after Gary had gone to bed. His ample mother smoked and became a mountain of flesh spilling over the chair, conforming it to her shape. Every few years, a new chair had to be found in a secondhand store and dragged home because they didn’t own a car and had no friend’s willing to haul it for them. Lisbeth and Gary ended up on some kind of assistance because his mother couldn’t work. He really never did know why.

What he did know was that their life was as secondhand as the chairs his mother ruined. Food stamps, government cheese, turkeys and hams from the Catholic Church every Thanksgiving and Christmas, clothing and shoes from the Salvation Army. Fist fights behind the school for wearing items recognized by their former owners. The fabric of their existence reeked with the smoke of failure not unlike the flowered upholstery covering his mother’s latest acquisition.

the-ashtrayThe only nice thing they owned was the carnival glass candy dish his father’s mother had given Lisbeth on her wedding day. As a toddler, Gary earned a hard smack to this pudgy hand the first time he ever reached for the dish. His blue eyes, level with the table where the dish sat, never released the brimming tears. He could stare for hours at the amber glass shimmering with rainbow iridescence, and often did, falling asleep in front of the table on which it stood as if reluctant to abandon a sacred shrine.

His grandmother would cover him with a blanket. His mother started using the candy dish as an ashtray. His family was told to find someplace else to live, and Gary never saw his grandmother again. At least they were allowed to take the ashtray with them as they began the house-hopping journey that led them to this place.

The beautiful dish couldn’t contain the quantity of ash Lisbeth deposited within its fluted borders. Even she knew it wasn’t suitable for the purpose to which it had been condemned. Gary always emptied the dish two or three times a day without being asked or thanked. He would barely have it back in place before another inch of spent tobacco would drop off. Sometimes it would land on the table or chair, and once on Lisbeth’s threadbare dress, and burn an abstract pattern into whatever it touched.

Less mesmerizing than the carnival glass was the never-ending smoke curling upward from the tip of Lisbeth’s cigarette. It trailed through the bird’s nest of grizzled hair framing his mother’s face, staining the gray yellow, before it moved on to touch the doilies, lampshades, and ceiling with its filthy fingers. His mother, ensconced in the arm chair in the dark corner of the red room with the shades pulled and smoke wreathed about her head, presented a glimpse into hell.

“What’s this fancy school got you think you need so bad?” Lisbeth asked. She ran her big paw over Peppy’s head, stretching his eyes until the whites showed and yanking his ears.

“I earned me a place with my good grades. You’d of known if you’d come to graduation.”

“In what—this piece of shit dress? All I ever had I gave up for you. I was the one that stayed, remember?”

What Gary remembered was every bitter word his mother used to fight his father for not being the man she loved. He waited for the familiar version of events to spill from Lisbeth’s slack mouth.

“I didn’t ask for his sorry hand in marriage. That was my daddy’s doing when he learnt you was on the way. I coulda been a soldier’s wife, going to fancy military balls and wearing long dresses and pearls. Your daddy, your real daddy, was a marine.”

Gary’s hands trembled as he buckled the straps in the suitcase then closed the lid and locked it.

“I’m going to study mathematics at the university, and I got a job at a warehouse loading trucks to help pay,” Gary said.

“Well you be sure to send notice of your highfalutin self to your daddy living over in Coyle with his new wife and kids.”

The young man stood with his suitcase gripped in one hand, a bus ticket in the other. He wasn’t sure how much of what his mother said was true or which man she spoke of. His eyes were trained like a pointer’s on the only door leading out of their firetrap apartment. He tucked his ticket under his arm, walked to the door, opened it, and said, “I’m leaving for school now, Momma.”

“I see that, Son.”

Another caterpillar of ash crept from Lisbeth’s cigarette.  She watched it fall on the growing pyramid in the beautiful ashtray.

This Mothering Stuff is Hard

eagle-medalSince our son’s birth, I have enjoyed some amazing milestones with him. There were the obvious ones of first tooth, first step, and first word. The day I put him on a school bus for kindergarten was a thrill. I wasn’t afraid for him at all because my husband and I raised a tough little man. He was the type of kid who would scrape his knees to a bloody mess and worry more about returning to play outside than he was about the sting of hydrogen peroxide on the open wound.

Then there was a day ten years ago when Joshua decided he wanted to join Cub Scouts. He had tried T-ball and tennis, but Tiger Cubs appealed to him more. The first night he joined, throwing his stick of wood into the fire and announcing his name to the Pack, he declared he wanted to be an Eagle Scout. He stayed with Cub Scouts, achieving many more incredible milestones, and finished by earning his Arrow of Light during his second year of Webelos. Next came Boy Scouts.

About his time, Joshua started middle school. Homework, girls, and friendships became a little more difficult. Our sweet little boy turned teen, and a strange new creature emerged. My husband and I thought we were going to lose our minds at times as we dealt with this always hungry, often cranky, and sometimes smelly person. Through it all, Joshua kept plugging away at Boy Scouts, and he did quite well.

Mounds of pictures of Joshua at various Scouting functions piled up, and I always thought I’d have time to scrapbook them. And then one day, the time was gone. Joshua completed all the requirements toward the rank of Eagle and passed his Board of Review. We were ecstatic, the grandparents were over the moon, and even close friends and acquaintances smiled with pride when they heard. I tried to pack ten years’ worth of scrapbooking into a month and a half all the while planning Joshua’s Eagle Scout Court of Honor.

I put my entire life, including my writing, completely on hold because that’s what a good Eagle Scout Mother does. There were times when I wanted to quit making additional sacrifices on top of those I’d already made, but instead, I told myself to quit being a martyr and press on. Well, Joshua’s Court of Honor took place this past Saturday. I’m still receiving compliments for hosting an amazing party, and my dear husband defers any praise to me for the whole event. With a deep sigh of satisfaction, I turned Joshua over to another plateau of maturity. Only the feelings I expected didn’t occur.

Every time I looked at his shirt and merit badge sash bedecked like a four-star general, I tingled all over. That must be the pride, I thought. Only there was a lingering sense of melancholy. I chalked it up to post-party let down and laughed it off with the thought of now what? Occasionally, my eyes would tear up for no explainable reason.

Now don’t misunderstand me: I don’t want to abandon Joshua completely, but I did believe I’d relinquish him somewhat to his future. I’m not so sure that’s how motherhood works. My own mom confirmed this for me when she admitted that she still thinks of me and my brother as her babies, and the addition of spouses and grandchildren only provided more people for her to pray and worry over. In short, motherhood never achieves the status of finished.

What am I going to do when he graduates high school and leaves for college? How am I going to survive his engagement and marriage? What if he and his wife live out of state when my first grandbaby is born? And when he becomes the Prime Minister of Israel, next to the red phone on which he takes important calls relating to the administration of the country, he’d better have a gold phone labeled Mom.

I remember the night I gained the courage to turn off the baby monitor because it was extremely sensitive, and every time Joshua rolled over in his crib, the sound of crinkling sheets woke me up. I thought I’d never lose what my sisters-in-law dubbed my Mommy Ears. Little did I know that the tradeoff would be an increase in the footprint our son left on my Mommy Heart.

Now You See Me

Thank you to my dear friend, Irfan Nabi, for supplying the amazing photo inspiration for the flash fiction below.  The moment I saw his picture, a story began to form in my head.  In this case, it’s a love story told in reverse that circles back on itself.  I hope you enjoy it.

Now You See Me

Monsoon RainsWithout looking at him, she watched him walk away. A pause in the rain provided the perfect opportunity to see his reflection slip out of her life. To watch him walk away from all they had been together. Away from her.

His words lingered in her ears. The reverberation of a church bell signaling doom. So beautiful, so mournful. She goaded him to say more just to keep him in her presence if only for a moment longer. She begged him to stop shouting, her own admissions used against her. He never would have said a word, but she could not let it go.

She confessed her insecurities to him. Her age, his youth. Her wisdom, his beauty. How could they be compatible? He never mentioned it to her. Never once broached the subject she barely kept suppressed beneath a façade soothed by external remedies. Lotion, powder, blush. Her known deception extended to the roots of her colored hair.

Love came easily to them. To him. He never saw the relaxed state of her body, the body given to her after three children and years of an unhappy marriage. She could not relax inside, and that, too, he pretended not to notice.

They dined at her apartment. He cooked for her delicacies she had only dreamt of, fed her with his hands. Nothing measured, everything given in excess. Spices and friendship blended perfectly to satisfy all hunger and thirst for life. Soulmates.

Another invitation to coffee. He called her on her cell; she wondered how he obtained her number. They talked for hours like close confidants before she even said yes. Where to meet? He knew just the place. Knew she would love it. And she did.

A chance meeting outside the building where he worked. He insisted she join him and his friend for lunch. She declined with a head tilt and a smile, and instantly missed him for some strange reason. When he caught up to her, she believed his explanation about the friend excusing himself.

Introduced by a mutual friend at a party celebrating someone’s birthday, they found themselves with glasses of champagne in hand. Standing about, chatting. Nervous laughter preceded the invitation to leave, to seek quiet and coffee. It was just coffee, but she enjoyed herself more than she had in years. His lively conversation cheered her in this country where she did not live.

She stayed with a friend already working in the country. Together they located a suitable apartment while she decided what she wanted to do with her life. Right then, all she wanted to do was breathe. Days turned into weeks turned into months.

Divorce finally prompted her to flee, to seek the freedom she craved and the happiness she deserved. She left behind grown children with the assurance to return and the promise of souvenirs. Okay, maybe grown but not mature. All three saw her off at the airport with hugs and kisses but not tears because they knew she would return to them. What could an exotic country hold for her, provide her with, when they were her very existence?

– – – – –

He turned to look at her one last time, imploring eyes willed her to lift her head. But his reflection had already slipped beyond the edge of the puddle, and she did not see.

Coffee

CoffeeLeonard Summerscale sat like a mannequin in the center of a roomful of chattering diners. Knives and forks slaked against plates, ice swam brightly in glasses of water. Waitresses called orders to the cook before they were halfway back to the kitchen. Above the din of lunchtime in the city, the bell on the door chimed. Only then did Leonard’s face reanimate, as the scarecrow with red hair threw his arm up and navigated his way to where Leonard sat.

“Thank you for agreeing to meet with me, Reverend.”

“No problem, Len, none at all. Your message sounded so urgent. What can I do for you?”

“Please, have a seat,” Leonard said, indicating the chair opposite him at the two-seat diner table.

Reverend Bast slid into the grease-slicked, padded chair. The red vinyl cushion released a squeak and a puff from a tear near the edge. Leonard busied himself flagging down one of the waitresses performing an awkward ballet through the narrow aisles; a balancing act of three plates occupied the length of each arm.

“The service is usually much better, much better.”

“Don’t fret, Len. It is lunchtime.”

“Leonard, please.”

“Of course, I’m sorry.”

The harried waitress in a rumpled, powder blue uniform finally appeared at the table. She placed a menu in front of each man, shoved her sagging ponytail off her shoulder, and wiped the back of her hand across her nose.

“What’ll you have, Reverend? There’s a ten percent discount for men of the cloth.”

She jabbed her pencil in the direction of his collar.

“Well, lucky you,” Leonard said. “That should save you a few pennies.”

The Reverend’s eyes scanned the a la carte section of the menu as he mentally replayed Leonard’s voicemail. He was sure invite you to breakfast had proceeded his congregant’s request to talk.

“I’ll have the poached egg on rye toast, black coffee, please.”

As the waitress scribbled on her pad, Leonard waited with fingers steepled. He paused long enough to draw the young woman’s attention, making eye contact with her, before he spoke slowly, deliberately.

“I’ll have two eggs fried hard, and I do mean hard, with the yolks broken, brown, crispy edges, the whole nine yards. Please encourage the cook to properly season the eggs; I should be able to see the pepper flakes but not the salt. Shredded hash browns, toasted thoroughly but not swimming in grease. The ham steak? Is it sugar cured or country style? Oh, no matter–you probably don’t even know what I’m talking about. Wheat toast, hold the butter, cut from corner to corner. Is there mixed fruit jelly on the table? Very good. And decaf coffee. Be sure it’s a fresh pot. I know how long the decaf sits around in a place like this. Also, please bring real cream or at least milk. I despise those little plastic containers of oily, faux cream.”

The waitress shifted her weight from one foot to another. She chewed the inside of her cheek before smiling and saying, “You got it.”

The Reverend straightened jelly packets in the swiveling caddy as Leonard tsked at the waitress’s retreating back. He turned a conspiratorial look upon the Reverend and said, “Well, let’s see how much of that she gets correct.”

“I thought you’d been here before,” the Reverend asked.

“Oh, only a few times with co-workers. They chose to dine here. It’s not the sort of venue I’d normally patronize.”

“So, what can I do for you, Leonard?”

“Yes, the real reason we came. Now I know we haven’t been in your congregation long, and by we, I mean myself and Mrs. Summerscale–”

“–lovely woman, so very helpful in the nursery–”

“–and while we agree with the majority of your theology–”

“–oh, well–”

“–there are a few minor points I’d like to discuss on another occasion, still, I believe we made the correct choice in churches to attend.”

Leonard folded his hands across his stomach and leaned back in his chair. The Reverend remained silent for ten seconds until he understood it was his turn to speak.

“We…do enjoy your presence, and that of Mrs. Summerscale.”

“Ah, Mrs. Summerscale. What a tactful segue you’ve provided, Reverend, for it is the subject of my dear wife that brings me here today.”

Leonard gazed toward the water-stained ceiling tiles and puffed his cheeks, his customary gesture when preparing for a long discourse on a topic of interest to no one but him. His efforts were halted momentarily by the arrival of their coffee followed by several moments of fussily arranging his cup and saucer, requesting an orange coaster to indicate to passing waitresses that he preferred decaf, and polishing his spoon as if for inspection by a Marine Corps drill sergeant.

Clouds of milk lightened Leonard’s coffee to an acceptable shade of taupe, placating the man to his previous state of calm. His voice achieved a stunning decibel of self-importance as he said, “Have you ever really considered coffee, Reverend?”

“I know I’m pretty worthless in the morning before I’ve had mine.”

Leonard’s eyes rose from his cup to contemplate the patches blushing the Reverend’s freckled cheeks. His uneven smile and softened expression conveyed the verdict of I know, I know. The Reverend thought to mention that Mrs. Carrick, the church secretary, always had a fresh pot ready for him prior to Sunday service, but he let it go.

“The average American adult drinks around three, eight-ounce cups per day. That’s 382 billion cups of coffee consumed in America alone every day. I suppose that makes me below average, eh Reverend?”

“Oh, I wouldn’t say that, Leonard. You’ve done marvelous things since joining the Board of Elders.”

A twitch in his left eye brought Leonard’s finger to the rescue. His hand in front of his face muffled his sigh.

“I only require one cup of coffee a day, and decaf at that. So many people are dependent upon the addictive qualities of caffeine to sustain them. But for me, coffee is a cup of warm reassurance that I shall succeed at whatever I set my mind toward for the day. That is to say, I don’t require coffee, Reverend, I enjoy it.”

“Indeed. How lucky for you.”

Another pause ensued as Leonard waited patiently for the Reverend to say something, anything, of relevance to the conversation. He came to the young man’s aid with, “As an unmarried man, you couldn’t possibly know the sheer joy of having your wife responsible for providing a fresh pot of coffee every morning. Such is the pleasure that Mrs. Summerscale brings to my life.”

“It’s the simple things, like drinking coffee together, that solidify a marriage. Or so I’ve heard.”

“You miss my point, Reverend: while I enjoy the coffee, what solidifies my marriage, any marriage for that matter, is the consistency with which the ritual is conducted. Therein lays the quality of any relationship. Do you understand?”

The Reverend twisted sideways in his seat.

“And when that consistency is disrupted–well!”

The Reverend twisted in the other direction, mostly to avoid Leonard’s hands thrown up in frustration but coming across the table with the rapaciousness of an eagle’s talons.

“Play nice, fellas. You’re breakfast is here.”

The waitress who placed their food on the table was not the one who took their order. This woman, with face haloed in bad orange foundation and crusted scabs of concealer, smacked down plates of food and topped off their coffee cups with the practiced movements of a seasoned professional. Her abrupt behavior brooked no complaint as the matriarch of the herd lumbered off to refill the cups of other customers, supervising the younger waitresses as she moved, her hosiery sagging around her ankles.

Both men obediently bowed their head to pray. Leonard’s head remained in the position of supplication long after the Reverend said Amen. When he opened his eyes, he caught the Reverend with fork in hand, spearing his first bite.

“You’re a young man yet, Reverend. What are you? Twenty eight, thirty tops?”

“I’m thirty five.”

A waved hand and gravelly snort dismissed the comment.

“See–young yet. Must be that peachy complexion beneath those constellations of freckles. One might even say peach fuzz.”

Leonard barked a laugh around a mouthful of food at his joke and set himself to coughing until his face reddened and his eyes watered. The female elephant, continuing her crisscross migration through the diner, delivered three hearty thumps to Leonard’s back as she passed.

“Thank you, Madam, thank you.”

The pair resumed eating in silence. The Reverend finished his meager breakfast. He sat with a napkin draped over his crossed legs while Leonard, only half way through his meal, restarted his conversation.

“I’ve established some basic but essential points for you, Reverend, and although I’ve applied them to marriage, if you take time to review what I’ve said at your convenience, your earliest convenience, you’ll see that what I’ve instructed also applies to life.”

The Reverend, whether willingly or unwillingly he did not know, remembered nothing Leonard had said prior to his choking fit. He had, however, managed to track the progression of a toast crumb from the corner of Leonard’s lips, into his mustache, watched it disappear once into his mouth, reappear on the tip of his tongue, and miraculously land in the opposite corner where it rode up and down with the movement of Leonard’s chewing.

Leonard mistook the Reverend’s intense concentration as interest and enthusiasm.

“But it is with much hesitation that I must admit to you as…well, if not my spiritual counselor or close confidante…then as a somewhat significant figure in my life that all is not well between me and Mrs. Summerscale.”

“What seems to be the problem?” the Reverend’s mind directed his mouth to say.

The crumb had fallen to Leonard’s chin. The Reverend rooted for it to hang on.

“I can’t quite place my finger on it. Mrs. Summerscale and I have been married for thirty five years, so I’m quite attuned to my wife’s quirks. Still, this event of which I shall inform you came quite out of the blue.”

A knuckle swiped across his chin came to rest on Leonards’ greasy lips. He meant to look thoughtful but only succeeded in redepositing the crumb to the hairless divot on his upper lip. The Reverend clenched his jaw; surely an indication of real concern.

“Exactly two weeks ago, Tuesday, Mrs. Summerscale arose promptly at 5:30 AM and donned her robe as she always does. Then she went to the kitchen to prepare my breakfast. All was well. I finished my bath, shaved and dressed, and descended to join her. Mrs. Summerscale had already placed my oatmeal and cream on the table. She had even stirred in half a cup of dried currants, a pleasant surprise as they are my favorite.”

A sharp intake of breath on Leonard’s part pulled the crumb back to his bottom lip. The Reverend’s brow creased, and his troubled congregant pressed on.

“Just as I was enjoying my first bite of oatmeal, the coffee pot gurgled, indicating that it was done brewing. Peripherally, I watched Mrs. Summerscale retrieve a cup and saucer from the cupboard and prepare my coffee.”

Lips pressed together then pursed shifted the crumb to Leonard’s upper front tooth. The Reverend leaned forward and pointed.

“Now just a moment, Reverend. I haven’t finished my story.”

“Please go on.”

“Mrs. Summerscale approached the table where I sat, and she…she arranged the cup near my right hand as I prefer.”

Leonard’s voice wavered with distress at the memory. The crumb, taking on a life of its own, worked its way across several teeth, moving in an eastward direction, before popping back into the bristles at the edge of Leonard’s lip. The Reverend pressed his balled fists into his mouth.

“And that’s when I saw it.”

The Reverend nodded wildly.

“My coffee was a muddy shade of black.”

“I’m sorry?” the Reverend allowed to slip from behind his bony knuckles.

“Yes, it’s true. You heard me order my coffee today with cream, or at least milk, so you are aware of how I take it. But then so isn’t Mrs. Summerscale aware, abundantly aware, of exactly how I take my coffee. Imagine my utter shock at looking into a cup of plain black coffee served by my wife. I asked her what was the meaning of this, and do you know what she replied? She said, ‘Oh isn’t that how you take your coffee?’”

“I don’t understand.”

“Reverend, really? For thirty five years Mrs. Summerscale has prepared my coffee to perfection. It is a–to what shall I liken it–an intimate knowledge of my very self, a dance between principle partners? For her to suddenly forget, or worse, become quite negligent and offer me a cup of coffee on the other end of the taste and shade spectrum? Why this can only indicate some gross aberration in foundation of my marriage. God forbid I entertain the thought, but do you suppose Mrs. Summerscale is having an affair?”

The Reverend smacked the table with both palms, fingers splayed, causing the dishes, silverware, and salt and pepper shakers to jump in unison. He threw back his head and laughed uproariously for five minutes until the redness in his face surpassed the color of his carroty hair.  All other sound and movement in the diner fizzled to quiet and stillness.

“Oh–Oh really–really, you are too funny, Leonard, too–damn–funny. You old fool. You pompous, cheap, old fool.”

Leonard’s mouth sagged like a mastiff’s; his head turtled into his shoulders at the unwanted attention directed toward himself and the Revered. The Reverend wiped his mouth, neatly folded his napkin, and stood to leave.

“By the way, Leonard. You have a toast crumb stuck in your mustache.”

I Went Hunting in the Bushlands – Guest Post by Don Ake

 

It is my very great pleasure to be able to share this guest post by fellow author and blogger, Don Ake.  Don, who should have been a standup comedian, but he informs me that his timing was off, frequently blogs at Ake’s Pains about everyday life.  It is his unique perspective on otherwise common occurrences that make his posts so memorable.  You simply cannot get through one without laughing until your eyes tear up all the while shaking your head and saying, “Oh, Don…”

So, without further ado, please enjoy Don Ake’s guest post:

I Went Hunting in the Bushlands

GetAttachment (2)Sometimes men have to do things they don’t really want to do all for the benefit of their marriage. Okay, many times we must do these unpleasant things. All right, often it seems that marriage can be just one uncomfortable thing after another.

Recently, I did something for the first time in my life in an attempt to please my wife. I actually went to a nursery and landscaping store to buy some shrubbery for my wife’s birthday.   Now you must understand I am not a horticulturalist. I am probably a horti-counterculturalist. I am not interested at all in bushes or shrubs. I don’t even notice them unless they grow so much they get in my way or they start to die. At which time I say astute things to my wife such as, “That shrub needs trimmed,” or “That bush looks likes its dying; maybe you should do something.”

So, why did I find myself anxiously looking over a large selection of greenery? Two years ago the township decided to clean the drainage ditch at the side of our yard for the first time in 19 years. They came out one day without warning and completed the task. They had the option of clearing all vegetation within five feet from the ditch to give their equipment proper clearance. Fortunately, to get to our ditch they could have gained access by clearing only about a foot of foliage. Unfortunately, they decided to take the whole five feet.

My wife had spent years getting that part of the yard just how she liked it. It was beautiful, even to a horti-counterculturalist like me. My wife was livid. She wanted to scream at our trustees. Of course, screaming wouldn’t bring back the plants and such, so I offered to pay for professional landscapers to redo the area next year.

But my wife didn’t take the deal. Probably a combination of principle (Why should we pay for someone else’s stupid behavior) and personal feelings (This is my yard and I will deal with it.) However, what was left of the bushes and shrubs after the township massacre started to regenerate. Just like when we suffer a setback in life and think the situation will be horrible forever, it does get better over time. In this case, the bank actually started to fill in wonderfully. It looked great except for two noticeable gaps.

Of course, men are great for closing gaps. We don’t like gaps. Gaps are bad. So, I made the decision to buy my wife some shrubbery for her birthday, and thus I stood in the middle of this garden store with nary a clue as to what I needed.

Fortunately, Brad soon appeared to assist me. Brad was a handsome, strapping young lad, and I’m sure the local women enjoyed having Brad tend to their bush and shrub needs. But Brad was not just “beefcake,” he was very knowledgeable about his products. Of course, my questions were limited to, “How big does that one get?” I selected a holly-type bush, and Brad suggested I get a male and a female. Apparently, these plants engage in some type of procreating activity. Who knew? I must have missed that lesson in biology class. I had no idea how they accomplished this, but they must do it after dark because I have never, ever, witnessed this hot action and am sure I would remember if I had.

So, I got the two holly “love” shrubs and bought a Korean type plant just in case my wife did not like the other selections. You might say I bought the third plant literally “to hedge my bet.” Har, har, double har!

When my wife saw the bushes, she was not pleased. We have our own domains in this marriage, and by my purchase, I had crossed into my wife’s landscaping territory. I knew that was a risk but thought that I had the benefit that it was a birthday gift going for me. I was wrong.

She looked scornfully at the holly plants and said I wasted my money because she could easily transplant some from her mother’s yard. I’m thinking, “If this was so easy to do, why wasn’t it done at any time in the last two years?” Of course, I don’t say this out loud because you don’t stay married for 30 plus years by actually saying every thought that comes to mind. Do you?

I had prepared for this outcome however. I had told Brad that my wife might not like my choices, and he assured me the shrubs could be returned if not damaged. So, I calmly presented the receipt to my wife and encouraged her to take them back and get what she wanted.

Secretly, I hoped that she would keep them. I had made the trip to the nursery, and I had actually put some effort into my choices. In addition, for GetAttachmentsome strange reason I was growing fond (har again!) of the Korean one. Now there would have been a time that I might not have wanted my wife to interact with that plant-stud Brad, but it wasn’t an issue now.

I believe after the shock wore off, my wife realized that I had tried to do a good thing, and she decided to plant the bushes. She ignored my advice not to plant the Korean one on the north side of the property. My concern was that a North Korean plot would turn into a communist plant, and I knew from old movies how damaging a communist plant could be to your operation.

So my wife is happy. I am happy. And the bushes appear to be enjoying their new home. I don’t know if the male and female have engaged in, well, nature type activity yet, but I’m sure they will when they get to know each other better and the time is right.

Race to the Finish Line

imagesThe year is 1935, and one of John Welles’ best friends, Sam Feldman, has just been swept off his feet by the beautiful and charming Abigail Cohen.

Gladys Feldman, Sam’s mother, orchestrated the initial meeting between her son and Abigail, called Babby. Gladys’ goal was to curtail her late-blooming son’s wild dating spree and settle him down with a good Jewish girl. Her planned work, and before the end of their first visit, Sam and Babby were in love.

Fast forward a few months to Sam’s bachelor party. John, along with his other best friend, Claude Willoughby, takes Sam on a three day bachelor’s weekend prior to his marriage to Babby. The trio sneaks off to Kentucky to watch the Derby and revel in the festivities.

The only hitch to their plans is a small white lie told to keep the women in their lives from worrying; they claim they’re going to a pediatric conference. Being the savvy women they are, Mrs. Feldman, Babby, and John’s Aunt Prudence laugh over their boys believing they’ve gotten away with their scheme.

The Kentucky Derby is rich with too much history for one blog post. For this reason, I decided to start with the horse who won the Derby in 1935, Omaha. The chestnut horse with a white blaze stood at an impressive 16.3 hands high. The third horse to ever win the Triple Crown, Omaha was the son of Gallant Fox, the 1930 Triple Crown winner.

I have included footage of Omaha being ridden to victory at the Kentucky Derby by jockey, Willie Saunders, as well as a clip of all three of his Triple Crown wins.

In January of 1936, Omaha made the move to England to continue his racing career with the Ascot Gold Cup the desired goal. While he ran well in several races, he never achieved the coveted trophy.

During retirement, Omaha failed to impress as a stud horse. He was moved a couple of times before landing in Nebraska where he lived for another nine years. Upon his death in 1959, Omaha was buried at the Ak-Sar-Ben Racetrack in Omaha, Nebraska.

240px-OmahaHorseStinsonParkOmahaNE

Semi-Precious Stones

asia-199944_1280The following flash fiction was based on the picture above.  I wrote this for a writing circle to which I belong.  I hope you enjoy it.

Semi-Precious Stones

Edie sat on the edge of the bridge, her bare toes pointed, stretched toward the turquoise water below. Grit from the ancient stones ground into her thighs and palms as she arched her back, daring to reach for the glass-like surface. She didn’t really want to fall in; she just wanted Stephen to save her.

She felt suffocated since their engagement. Relatives, friends, and co-workers pressed her for a wedding date, asked her if she was already pregnant. How rude. If left to their own devices, she and Stephen would have lived for several years in a state of pre-wedded bliss. Their post-college days would have remained uninterrupted. The sapphire on the fourth finger of her left hand ruined that dream.

It’s not that she didn’t love Stephen; she adored him. Edie wanted to spend every single moment of their life together seeking new adventures. What she didn’t want was to have it orchestrated by the desires of everyone else. She seriously considered jumping in.

“You’re too good a swimmer to drown,” Stephen said, kneeling beside her on the bridge.

“How about if I just chuck my sandals?” Edie replied.

“Would that make you feel better?”

“Not really.”

“Throw the ring in.”

Edie’s mouth froze in unspoken response. Her brown eyes sparkled with mischief.

“Go ahead,” Stephen encouraged. “Free us both.”

The reflection of peridot-colored leaves rippled as the engagement ring fell into the water. Concentric circles of blessing drifted outward from the point of entry as Edie and Stephen watched. After a few moments, the surface of the lake stilled.

At first, their bodies shook with silent amusement. When Stephen snorted, Edie couldn’t contain her mirth.

“Your mother is going to kill me,” she said through laughter and tears.

“Will you still marry me someday?” he asked.

“Only if you propose with that ring.”

Stephen stood, then helped Edie to her feet.

“At least I’ll know right where to find it.”

Zane in the City

Love Me, Love My Dog

Love Me, Love My Dog

The following short story was written for a contest hosted by the American Kennel Club.  When I wrote it, I had my friend, Diana, in mind.  Diana is a member of the writers’ group I attend at the North Branch of the Stark County District Library.  She is a dog lover and owns an Italian Spinone.  Her beloved Bernese Mountain Dog, Targa, recently passed away.

Targa was an amazing dog who pulled a little cart.  She was the subject of several children’s stories Diana wrote.  Together they attended classes to certify Targa as a therapy dog.  Even though she didn’t pass, Diana’s love for Targa was evident whenever she talked about her.  My goal was to capture that love and channel it into a story about a dog owner and her pet.

I decided upon a hound for my story because of another friend’s fondness for them.  Hounds can be strong-willed beasts who will own you if you don’t lovingly, patiently train them.  Even then, you may find yourself bested from time to time.

You’ll want to make a cup of cocoa for this cold weather story.  Lucky for you, there just happens to be a recipe for cocoa on my blog under Edible Fiction.  It’s the perfect beverage for the tale that follows.  So, grab some cocoa, curl up under your favorite throw, make sure your four-footed friends are gathered around you, sit back, read and relax!

Zane in the City

 

Italian Cooking

Dana Dances

Dana Dances

The picture of the little girl dancing on the couch caught my eye as I was playing on Pinterest one day.  A short story flooded my head, and I simply had to open a Word document to get it all down.  What followed has been revised and researched several times until I was completely happy with the story.  Of course, I’m a writer, so even after I post this I’ll probably find something I would have changed.  We all know if I did that, nothing would ever be posted.  So, grab a glass of chianti and a plate of your favorite pasta, tuck your napkin into your collar (don’t splash the screen), and enjoy some “Italian Cooking.”

Italian Cooking

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