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.

Everything Is Just Peachy

IMG_20160704_095721821Ah, the humble peach: sweet and juicy and the pride of Georgia. This year while perusing Facebook, I came across a post announcing the arrival of The Peach Truck. I would have passed right by it because there are stands all over our area selling peaches except that this truck was stopping at two well-known garden centers in the area. For some reason, that seemed incredibly important to me. If a truck loaded with peaches would announce its arrival at places with which I was familiar, I should probably check it out. Besides, I love peaches and the price per pound was phenomenal.

So, twenty-five pounds of peaches later, I had to come up with a way to use them. I must admit, the reason for my purchase had to do with a scene from my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, during which the midwife, Collie Mercer, served a humongous celebratory breakfast in honor of my protagonist’s birth. For whatever reason, I chose to have her serve canned peaches. I was probably thinking they would be extra special for breakfast and somewhat dessert like. Of course, in keeping with my posts for Edible Fiction, I have been preparing the foods from my novel and sharing the recipes on my blog. I have never in my life canned peaches. In fact, I’ve never canned anything.

IMG_20160704_103204029Thankfully, my mother canned when I was a child. I remember all-day canning sessions of tomatoes, pickles, corn relish, and applesauce. She used a pressure canner, but my darling husband, William, supplied me with a water bath canner which was much less intimidating to a novice such as me. My best friend, Emily, provided all the canning jars I would need. I picked up new lids and rings, and I was ready to can.

The best part is that even if you don’t have a brilliant, experienced mother to fall back on, The National Center for Home Food Preservation offers detailed instructions for canning, drying, freezing, smoking, curing, and pickling foods. One simply cannot go wrong by accessing the wealth of knowledge provided here. Useful charts and step by step processes will guide you through preparation, various methods, quantities, etc. I direct you to this site in lieu of a recipe because you may choose to make larger batches than I did. One thing I will warn you though: canning is addictive. I’m already making plans for next year’s batch of peaches as well as other fruits and veg to can throughout the year.

Everything Is Just Peachy

Left-Handed Smoking

Left-Handed SmokingThe following piece of fiction is grittier than what I usually write; the themes are adult in nature.  Like most of the inspiration for my writing, this one comes from out of the blue.

I don’t remember what my mother and I were talking about when the story popped into my head, but I do remember it included one of my Grandmother Huffman’s cousins, Frances Courtney.  Frances chain smoked cigarettes and did little else except drink diet soda.  Her two sisters, Marge the capable and Evelyn the frail, waited on her even though she wasn’t an invalid.  Frances’s one redeeming quality was her rapier wit.  Delivered in a smoke-strangled voice, she would shoot barbs at her intended target that were both funny and true.

More than her wit, I remember the bizarre way Frances smoked her cigarette.  She held it in her first two fingers with the  thumbnail of the same hand wedged between her bottom incisors and her bottom lip curled downward as a resting place for her thumb.  It was an extremely unusual sight and is difficult to describe.  In fact, I believe the cigarette smoldered away in this position more than it was actually smoked.

Imitating Frances’s technique, my mother declared she was going to take up smoking and added the twist of only using her left hand.  After we quit laughing, I asked her something like what would she do with her other hand or what was the significance of left-handed smoking.  Out of that, my story was born.

Grab your favorite pack of smokes, sit back, and enjoy!

Left-Handed Smoking

Before CK One, There Was Tabac Blond

Vintage Tabac Blond

Vintage Tabac Blond

The year is 1927. John Welles and his two best friends, Sam Feldman and Claude Willoughby, are planning a clandestine night on the town. Their destination is a speakeasy hidden on the outskirts of Baltimore, Maryland. For the young medical students, the night will be both thrilling and disastrous.

Before John slips out for the night, he sneaks a dab of his Aunt Prudence’s perfume. This might seem like an extremely feminine thing to do until you become familiar with the scent he chooses to borrow.

One of my favorite subjects researched for my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, was perfume from the early 1900s. It is how I discovered Tabac Blond. The perfume was perfect for Prudence, a rebel-before-her-time class of woman who smokes, and John, by the simple fact that he’s male. Let me explain.

Ernest Daltroff

Ernest Daltroff

Tabac Blond was created in 1919 by perfumer and founder of the house of Caron, Ernest Daltroff. The fragrance was intended for women who smoke cigarettes, the symbol of women’s liberation and Parisian chic. What made Tabac Blond appealing were the leathery top notes, usually found in men’s fragrances, blended with a feminine floral bouquet. The added scents of undried (blond) tobacco leaves and vanilla made it desirable to both men and women.

Many reviewers insist upon a decanting of vintage Tabac Blond complaining that the new version doesn’t present as well. I’ll have to take their word for it as I do not own either and have yet to experience them in real life. It is, however, my goal to do both.

Artwork inspired by Tabac Blond

Artwork inspired by Tabac Blond

If you’re a lover of rich, exotic, glamorous perfume, Tabac Blond may be for you. Don’t let the price tag deter you from your passion. Whether you purchase the new version or a vintage decanting, there will be a small investment. I believe this is testimony to the allure of the fragrance. Be warned, however: wearing Tabac Blond may encourage behavior such as wild dancing, excessive drinking, and dressing like a flapper or F. Scott himself.

Yesterday’s Perfume

Perfume Projects

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