Monday, October 21, 2013


It was amazing that she'd seen the leaf at all, her eyes weren't as sharp as they once were. But it was there, hung high in the bare branches, just hanging on, twisting. It was bright red, and stood out against the gray sky like a bloodstain. 

Jeremy was late, but he was always late. She'd eaten half her sandwich sitting there waiting, and now the other half rested atop the brown bag on the bench beside her. The cold of the slats was seeping through her long skirt, between the fibers of her panty hose, piercing her thin skin and digging right into her bones. She didn't exactly mind it. She watched the leaf quiver in the air. It made her think of Jeremy, not even Jeremy yet, squirming inside her belly. The first time she'd felt it, she'd cried out and clutched her stomach. She never got used to the feeling, even when he was so large that she could discern top from bottom as he heaved and rolled inside her.

Across the greenway from where she sat, a small boy threw a ball back and forth to his mother. They both squealed with delight any time the boy caught it, and let out a chorus of "ohhh!", any time he missed. Jeremy had a ball like that when he was four, bright red rubber that he bounced around the house incessantly. He'd hit her in the backside with it once by accident, and they'd both laughed. He did it again, and they laughed again. After the fifth time, she'd begun to get annoyed and asked him to stop. Jeremy, alright now, stop. Jeremy, stop. That's enough. I'm not playing anymore. 

Still, he continued to hit her with the ball, laughing, unaware. She broke then, grabbing the ball and throwing it hard against the wall and, when he laughed again, grabbing him. She hit him until the only sound he made was tight gasps; until he lay on the floor with his arms over his head and his knees curled in to his body. He lay there long after she'd stopped the beating, so long that she thought he'd fallen asleep. Her hot rage subsided and her head full of guilt and shame, she'd started to put a blanket over him. When her shadow fell across him, he screamed and pushed himself along the floor, away from her. 

She thought to herself, for the millionth of many millions of times, this is not the place for me.

She glanced at her watch, and picked up the sandwich. She took birdlike bites that tasted like sand. Is this why old people never eat? she thought. Will everything taste like this forever now, and fill my body up until I am nothing but skin and sand, and then one day I'll dry up and blow away? She looked up and squinted her eyes at the leaf, hanging still, alive for the moment.

Despite everything that she had been, and had not been, Jeremy grew up just fine. He married a just fine woman and had a just fine job and just fine children. They paid her rent in a just fine assisted living facility and he met her here every Tuesday and glanced at his watch every five minutes while he watched her eat her sand sandwiches. One Sunday a month, Jeremy brought her to his house and she sat on a chair covered in plastic and smiled and nodded while her daughter in law talked about nothing and her grandchildren ignored her in favor of handheld devices. How are you doing, Mom? the daughter in law would ask and she would always answer, Just fine.

They took her out of one box and put her in another, moving her around to give the illusion that she mattered still. But she was just furniture. Except on Tuesdays, sand sandwiches notwithstanding. On Tuesdays, when she could get a chill from the park bench and imagine that it was her throwing the ball to the boy, and believe that Jeremy would be here on time. She closed her eyes to wait. 

Above her the red leaf shuddered, and fell.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Charlene, Part Three

Charlene awoke to a pounding behind her eyelids. She tasted blood on her lip, white Zinfandel on her teeth, and smelled something animal from under her arms. She pressed the heels of her hands into her eyes until she saw stars, and still the pounding did not cease. Charlene! she heard a voice call and opened her eyes when she realized the voice was coming from the same place as the pounding. Not from inside her head, but from the front door. 

She was sitting on the kitchen floor, propped up against the cabinet, her bare legs splayed out in front of her. She was still wearing just a bra and the Spanx, now rolled halfway down her belly. Fuck, she tried to say aloud, but her mouth was dry and her tongue swollen, and the word fell out flat. Fuhhh. On the floor next to her was the now empty bottle of wine, and a full ashtray. Charlene hadn't smoked in five years. 

The pounding was coming into focus now, and there was her name again, Charlene!, still coming from a million miles away. She started to get up from the floor and the backs of her legs stuck to the vinyl tile. Bits of spun sugar covered the floor and, Charlene saw as she looked around, nearly everything else. From the table to the cabinets to the ceiling fan, the kitchen was draped with fine, golden sugar spiderwebs. And there, in the middle of the kitchen table, was the cream puff tree. It was smashed together and dripped with custard and sugar. In some places, it appeared to be held together with Hubba Bubba. The entire thing leaned precariously to the east. 


She started to say what happened?, but that's the moment she looked at the windowsill and saw that the little white pill was no longer there. 


"Charlene!", it was Darrell's voice calling from behind the front door, she realized now. She hurried to the door, calling "I'm coming! Did you forget your keys?"

She forgot her state of semi-undress and threw opened the door. "Damn, baby," said Darrell, "you are ready!" He reached for her and she jumped back. 

"What in the hell, Darrell!"

"You called me, sweetie. You called me and said you wanted to make another baby and I'm here! I'm ready, and so are you in your special panties!" The man smelled like coffee and deer piss.

"Darrell, I am fifty damned years old and I am not making another baby with you and I am trying to get to Bunco and I do not have time for this shit and oh GOD is that blood on your coveralls?" Charlene felt her stomach rise. 

"Bunco? Charlene, did you get The Call?" And it was the look on his face that got her moving again. This wasn't about cream puff trees or prescription medicines or Spanx, this was about Bunco, by God. This was about finally fitting in with the Ladies' Society and being able to look at Kathy Mahoney as an equal. Granted, a younger, better looking equal, but an equal nonetheless. 

"Darrell, you have to help me. I have to be there in-", she glanced at the clock, "holy hell, fifteen minutes! Get in here and help me with this cream puff tree!" 

Darrell followed Charlene through the doorway into the kitchen. "What! What happened in here, Charlene?" Darrell looked around the kitchen, his neck straining against his coveralls, a red band rising over his collar and up his cheeks. 

"What is all over the floor? In the fan? Is that Hubba Bubba?" 

"Now honey, I can get this all cleaned up later. Right now, I just need you to bear down and help me!"

Charlene turned just in time to see Darrell turn the most alarming shade of purple before he fell to the floor. 

"Darrell? Darrell!" Charlene ran to her husband's side and watched the color drain from his face. Hot tears filled her eyes and her hand gently touched his hair. "Oh, Darrell."

Charlene glanced at the clock. 

There comes a time in everyone's life where they reach a crossroads. Where they have to decide whether to take the path that will lead them to ruin, or prosperity. In Charlene's world, prosperity was spelled B-u-n-c-o

"Damnit, Darrell," she sighed. 

Charlene grabbed her husband under his arms and started dragging him through the kitchen into the living room. Her bare feet sticking with each step, the smell the deer stand coming off in him in waves, every ounce of her body throbbing. Getting him into the living room was not as difficult as getting him into his recliner. She had to get on her hands and knees to give him one final heave and heard, and felt, her Spanx give a great rip up her backside. 

When he was finally sitting upright, he almost looked like he was sleeping. If only his hand was down his pants and he was snoring, she might believe he was. The thought of it made her tear up again, and she turned quickly to leave. She stopped suddenly, reached over his still body, and turned on the television. "I'll be back," she said. "Don't go anywhere."

Charlene walked into the kitchen and glanced at the clocked once again. She should be at Bunco by now. She'd be late, and she wouldn't have the Hubba Bubba cream puff tree, but she could still make it. A little concealer, a little perfume, and she'd be alright. 

Then the doorbell rang. 

Oh, you have got to be kidding me, she thought. It was no doubt the UPS guy or someone selling stupid cookies, but they were persistent. Charlene ignored the bell and it fell silent. She stood for a moment and listened and then she heard it - a soft, soft tapping at the glass door to the patio. She turned to see Kathy Mahoney and three other members of the St. Loquacious Ignatious Ladies' Society staring at her. Their hair and clothes were perfect, and their modestly lipsticked mouths formed a trio of perfect o's. Together, they seemed to be saying, ooo.

"Charlene, hon?", said Kathy Mahoney, "Did I not mention you were hosting?" 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Charlene, Part Two

Charlene was no Martha Stewart. But if there was anyone at St. Loquacious Ignatious that could pull together a cream puff tree, it was her. She baked the puffs and filled them, Band-Aid flapping over her right eye the entire time. She impressed herself, rising to the occasion with such a terrific handicap. Who else could bake and fill cream puffs with part of their face missing? Certainly not even Ms. Martha Stewart. 

Charlene was feeling good - so good that she decided to have a glass of wine (just one, temperance is next to Godliness, so sayeth the Ladies Social Society as they sip their White Zinfandel) and come back to the cream puff tree later. She poured a glass, put Michael Bolton (that sexy beast!) on the CD player, and walked to her bedroom. Now might be a good time to try on that dress. 

She finished her wine and started digging through her unmentionables drawer. Past the utility underwear, barely glancing at the 'special occasion' panties Darrell bought her for their 20th anniversary (Do I have them on backwards? She had asked him.). Back to the right hand corner where her Spanx lived, rolled up around a lavender sachet. Charlene embraced her shape. She was nearly fifty and had come to the conclusion a decade ago that what she had was a gift from God and she should love it and treat it well. Good treatment, she believed, included the occasional pecan pie or Oreo. She didn't think a single woman in the Ladies Social wore double digits, though. She had seen Kathy Mahony's eyes wander to her midsection as they talked. 

She didn't like it, but if a visible panty line was the difference between getting in to the Ladies Social or spending eternity teaching four year old Sunday School, she'd suffer the Spanx. 

They seemed impossibly small. She remembered the day she first brought them home and pulled them from the package. She looked at what appeared to be a pair of tights for a dwarf (little person, she mentally corrected herself), then at the size on the package. Maybe they use European sizing, she thought. 

"Naw, that's just as big as they are. They stretch." Judy had told her over the phone. Charlene had never seen Judy with a single visible panty line, so she obviously knew what she was talking about. 

That first time, it had taken her nearly twenty minutes to put them on. Now, she expertly rolled one leg of the supportive undergarment up and slipped it on. She rolled the second leg up, careful not to put her foot through the crotch-hole. 

"There is a crotch-hole in there, Judy!" Charlene had yelled over the phone. "What in the fresh hell do you need a big hole in the crotch of your drawers for?"  Charlene was worried that Darrell might think the hole was there for his convenience. Only Darrell could think of Spanx as an invitation.

Any fifty year old woman who drinks more than a single glass of White Zinfandel at church bingo can tell you exactly what that crotch-hole is for.

Michael Bolton was singing on the CD in the living room, and Charlene sang along, when a man loves a woman, as she rolled the Spanx up it's critical point, right across her c-section scar. Proper positioning was crucial at this moment, and required a kind of clean and jerk maneuver, or her midsection ended up looking like a can of biscuits that had blown out on one side. 

The phone rang. 

"Darrell!" Charlene said aloud and ran into the kitchen, Spanx halfway up. When she rounded the corner and passed the kitchen table, her bare foot hit a patch of spilled wax. Charlene's increased speed and decreased coordination sent her hurtling toward the floor. The Spanx held her legs together and she fell like a drunken mermaid that had suddenly been thrust upon dry land, flopping onto her knees and then face first, into the kitchen table.

She tasted the blood before she saw it. 

"Damn damnit," she said, and ran her tongue over her already swelling lip. "That's gonna leave a mark."

(To be continued)

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Charlene, Part One

Charlene couldn't believe the words on the screen. 

She'd been a member at St. Loquacious Ignacious Intermediate Lutheran Church for nearly three years. She had baked countless chicken pies, knitted forty-seven (and two-thirds) prayer shawls, taught Sunday school to the four and five year olds (including the Martin twins, those little bastards, God forgive her), and served on the Stewardship committee for the past 18 months. Despite her relentless dedication to the St. Lo community, and a equally fervent (if not entirely honest) commitment to her faith, one thing remained just beyond her grasp. 

Until today. She read the words again - Hey Charlene, hon! Missy's cat had to have an emergency hysterectomy this morning and she had to cancel on us! Would you be interested in subbing for Bunco tonight? She thought this day would never come; the invitation into the sanctum sanctorum of female church life at St. Lo's. The Holy Grail of Intermediate Lutheran society! The email was sent by none other than the president of the St. Lo's Ladies Social Society, Kathy Mahoney. Charlene was so excited she almost missed the postscript: PS - Missy was in charge of dessert, so if you could make something yummy, that would be super! Thanks, hon!

Charlene knew that this was her chance to shine. She'd need the perfect outfit, a killer dessert, a brow wax and her most powerful pair of Spanx.  But first, she had to tell someone. Darrell, her husband of 32 years (and soon to be Second Vice-President of Mortgage Loans at the auxiliary branch of First Citizens Bank), was up in a tree somewhere, trying to shoot a deer. Nothing less than a medical emergency was getting him off the stand. "Judy!" Charlene scrambled for the phone and dialed her very best friend in the whole world. 

"Judy, it's happened!"

On the other end of the line, her friend gasped. "Bunco?"

"Yes, Bunco. Oh, Judy, I don't know what I'm going to wear and I was thinking about making my coconut cream pies but then I thought, well everyone's had that a million times, and then I remembered seeing Martha Stewart make this cream puff tree and I thought, now that would make a statement! And I need a brow wax because frankly it looks like a couple of caterpillars crawled up on my forehead and died and I don't have time to get to the salon and I was hoping you could come over with a hot pot of wax and take care of them and..."

"Damn, Charlene!" Judy broke in, "Draw breath! I'll be right there. Pick out a couple of outfits, pull out the recipe for the cream puffs, and try not to have a heart attack before I get there!"

Charlene dug through her closet, flipping past the yoga pants, mom jeans, and t-shirts, past the conservative twin sets and slacks she wore to church, and settled in the meager 'social wear' section. A pair of well worn denim capris, a couple of floral gauze tunics, a leopard print blouse. Shit, shit, shit. She knew she didn't have time to go shopping. Then she spied it - the red dress she'd worn to her brother's wedding three years ago.  No one at church had ever seen it, it was still in fashion, and only one (maybe two) sizes too small. Nothing her full body Spanx couldn't handle. 

She was reading the cream puff recipe when Judy rang the doorbell, wax pot in hand. "Dang, Charlene," she said, looking over her shoulder, "that recipe looks kind of complicated."

"Oh, it will be fine. All I have to do is make the cream puffs, then construct a tree out of them using royal icing, the envelop the whole thing in a halo of spun sugar!"

Judy widened her eyes, but said no more. "Alright, Charlene. Sit down there at the table and let's get those brows taken care of." She plugged the wax pot in and pulled out a wooden stick and two small strips of cloth. "This is that new wax they have down at the salon," Judy told her. "Guaranteed to go on and come off like silk." Charlene closed her eyes and leaned her head back as Judy applied the wax with the wooden stick, then smoothed on a strip of cloth. 

"Oh, Judy, I just can't believe it! Finally, after all my hard work and chicken pies and YOU BITCH!" Judy had pulled the strip, and a good bit of skin, from Charlene's face. "OH SWEET LORD AM I BLEEDING?" Charlene jumped up and knocked over the chair, tripped over the cord and sent the wax pot flying. She wiped her brow and stared at the blood on her hand. "Oh my God Judy, you ripped open MY FACE!"

"Shit, Charlene, I am really sorry. That wasn't supposed to happen-"

"Well I GUESS NOT, Judy. I cannot go to Bunco with my face ripped off!" Charlene imagine her future at St. Lo's going from membership in the inner circle to perpetual nursery duty and started to cry. 

"Charlene! Pull yourself together! Here, have a Xanax."  Judy pulled a small white pill out of a Ziplock baggie in her purse.

"I do not need your pills, Judy! I need the skin to be back on my face!" Charlene's brow was pinpricked with blood, and her face was nearly as red. 

"Okay, sweetie. I'll just out the Xanax here on the kitchen windowsill if you change your mind." Judy placed the pill on the sill, and let herself out. Charlene waited until she heard the click of the door, then counted to ten before she moved. She assessed the damage to her face in the bathroom mirror and decided that maybe, just maybe, she'd be presentable by that night. She covered the patch with a bandaid, straightened up from the sink, and steeled her nerves. 

She had cream puffs to make. 

(To be continued)