Today I am Bind

The Story

Calliope has knit three emergency scarves over her life:

The ugly ochre alpaca yarn was first. She had just graduated college, and, promising her parents that yes she would do something with the business degree if this all didn’t work out, taken little else than her favorite tool box to California to begin her apprenticeship with accomplished metalworker Leland Brasher.

Calliope had always considered herself a relatively strong person. She’d survived middle school as the only one in a set of twins that got acne. She’d once given the quarterback of her school a piggyback ride to the dorms after the busses stopped running and he couldn’t use up his legs because the game was the next morning. But oof, Leland Brasher was one torch-wielding bastard, and he got to Calliope.

On the phone with her sister, she confessed she’d tried everything she could think of. Killing with kindness, giving what he gave, drinking wine, eating excessive amounts of cheese, drinking more wine. Then moving on to her other arts, which included a special tea she made for herself, and then a special tea she made for Brasher.

“You drugged the man?!”

“No, Caroline!” Calliope laughed into the phone, pouring a glass of Merlot. “Damn I wish you were close enough to make me a real drink. I just made an ice tea that would open him up to me, not to like actually change him.”

“Of course,” her sister sighed, “I’m sorry, I know… Also that much wine is going to bloat you. You know when you’re this anxious you get bloated easily.”

“I know. When I go to bed, I’m rolling around like an inebriated beachball.”

“You need to find your calm. And get some cognac and make a Sidecar before I come out there and do it myself.”

“Do come out here, I’d love that!”

“I will, my first week off. But you know what you have to do. Even I know that much.”

“Ugh, not the classics.”

“Yep. That old school stuff.”

It was kinda irritating that Caroline was so naturally knowledgable about the practice when she did not want to be active in it. Calliope tried to avoid that her sister was right for a few days, but after Brasher made her solder 806 iron circlets just to decide he wanted them melted down again, she gave in. Reaching down into her old tool box, she brought out two of her most powerful weapons- a set of steel blue knitting needles.

Unfortunately, due to a plethora of fertile friends and quickly-made baby blankets, the only material left in her closet was a large length of soft brown yarn with yellowish highlights she’d picked up at a farmer’s market because she’d spent too much time petting an alpaca and felt bad not purchasing anything from its owner.

Brown had never been Callipe’s favorite color. She understood its importance- woods and earth and fur and all that. But it washed her out and it did not spark joy. However, there were not a lot of late-night yarn stores in L.A., so she’d call it hazel or cinnamon or cocoa and it would have to do.

Every night after work, or after a night out with the other apprentices, she’d come home and pour a glass of wine or put in a movie, and start to knit. A simple stitch: 4 knit, 4 pearl, repeat 3 times.

In it went the stress from her shoulders, the aches from her fingers, the strain from her new muscles, the yells at Brasher that get stuck in her throat, and every static bit of anxiety that had pulsed through her in the past months making her weary and restless. With every knot her needles tied, one inside her loosened. When she was done, it was the ugliest scarf she’d ever seen in her life. She laughed out loud at it, grateful for how good she felt. Wrapping the monstrosity around herself, she snapped a picture and sent it to Caroline. Quickly her phone beeped back with a text.

Don’t post that horrid thing anywhere, people will think it’s me 😉

~

The second scarf was actually quite beautiful. It was a pearlescent teal, the colors of impossibly calm waters she wished would well up inside of her. That morning she’d gotten a phone call from her father, thrown any t-shirts without paint or grease stains into a bag, and picked the closest craft store on route to the airport.

But once in the store, her feet felt a bit frozen to tiled floor. She begged her body to get a little further into the journey before the shock started in, but her toes were stone in her sandals.

“Ma’am, looking for something soft today?”

She decided the kind gentleman in the yarn aisle had to be some sort of guardian angel, as he appeared out of nowhere to lead her to the correct yarn weights, and then quietly checked her out at the back counter with the frames so that she could skip the long line at the front.

“Try a sand-stich,” he commented, as he wrapped her yarn in paper so it wouldn’t go frizzy in her carry-on.

“The what?” Calliope’s mind refocused from fussing with her wallet. Always pay attention when the universe speaks, even if it feels random.

“The sand-stich,” he said again, handing over the parcels for her to stuff between snacks and extra shoes, “it’s calming, and comes out like a little wave. I think you’ll like it with this color.”

After a smooth sail through TSA and boarding, thanking the spelled labradorite and shungite corded around her neck for the assist, she sent a quick text to her sister that she was on the way:

“Boarded! Be right there, how is she feeling?”

“Stable for now. Won’t lie, not looking good. Will give you more doc details when you land”

“How you feeling? My own worry is spiking too bad to get a read”

“If I weren’t the family taxi between house and hospital, I’d be 6 mojitos deep. Neal keeps texting me to update on the bar, I know he thinks it’s reassuring but I’m about to scream. Want to sit with her but everybody needs something”

“Block Nate’s number, explain to him later. We can split chauffeur duty when I get there. How’s Dad?”

“Acting strong, snuck him a moscow mule in a thermos lol, he’s nursing that while playing cards with Nonnie whenever she’s awake. Seems to have calmed him”

“and Mom?”

“Rum with coke and cooking snacks at house. We have enough chex mix to feed the coast guard :P”

“You and your drink magic ;)”

“Ha. Ha. See if yours will get that plane here faster”

“Will do :* Love you!”

With her last minute of wifi before takeoff, she googled the sand-stich. Calliope was very pleased with the four inches of tiny waves she had knitted by the time the plane landed, and when she was able to wrap her arms around her twin, felt those calm waters start to move within her and ripple across to her sister.

“She’s leaving soon, isn’t she?” Calliope whispered, still tucked tightly into her sister.

“But she waited for you. Uncle Frank even tried to pretend I was both of us and Nonnie was so furious, they had to sedate her!” Caroline tried to laugh but it was more of a hiccup, “I’m just glad you’re here. I feel like I’ll survive this now.”

~

The third scarf… wasn’t done yet.

Calliope had to admit that after losing her grandmother, she’d had a hard time picking up knitting needles again. She focused on other aspects of her practice: teas, candles, massage. She also had her actual work. Having graduated from her apprenticeship with Brasher’s rare blessing, Calliope was welcomed into an artists’ workshop where she could continue learning from experience professionals while getting a few of her pieces on the market. So she had a good excuse for not picking back up on the habit.

Then Caroline’s calls became more frequent. It wasn’t their usual monthly check-ins with random dailyish texts- Caroline had called Calliope in the middle of the night for the first time ever, after having been so careful about the time difference for years. With no hello, she was suddenly ranting about a rough day at the bar as if she was 19 again with her first fake ID.

“I mean a spritzer?! At The Swan?! Did I work this hard to still be wasting good wine watering it down?”

“Wait, what?” Calliope gulped from her water bottle, barely realizing this wasn’t a dream, “You’ve had rough days at bars before- can we get to the point? I have to wake up for work in like…” she pulled back the window curtain, checked the sky, “just 3 hours!”

“Fine, so Neal put all the highballs where I couldn’t reach them tonight and I may have overreacted because you know I’m still upset about Nonnie, and then he was so weird when we were doing shut down EVEN THOUGH I showed him that cool way to juggle shakers but then he tried to do it with soda in them which you can’t do ’cause it goes everywhere and so I-“

Such were the calls for weeks. Caroline would ring with some nonsense about the grocery store being out of the color grapes she liked or that one of her regulars wasn’t feeling well, but really it was about Neal. Calliope recognized it was less of a “would they/won’t they” thing and more of a “who has fewer trauma scars to take a risk” thing. Enjoying more of a buddy-system herself, she wasn’t able to offer much advise, and she knew Caroline wouldn’t take it even if she had it. Their mother had never really been one for romantic advice, having nabbed their father by accident in the second grade. They needed their grandmothers. Oma had studiously picked the best of six suitors to start her family, and Nonnie had run away from her family to marry their Papap and refused to come home until the family accepted the marriage.

So, well, Calliope had to get the next best thing- the knitting needles inherited from Oma, with the craft last done by the side of Nonnie. Almost like the universe had planned it. She rolled her eyes at herself, while knowing it was true.

In her closet, behind some half-done canvases (why had she thought painting was her thing last year?) and a suitcase with a broken handle, was her carry-on bag from that trip. She’d just thrown it to the back of her closet and hoped she’d be strong enough to deal with it later. Oma’s needles were still there, along with the leftover shining teal strands.

The next morning Calliope stopped by her favorite coffee shop, tipping the barista for the smile and extra shot of espresso in her dirty chai. Then to Stitch & Bitch, where all the local biddies gathered to hook up their grandsons and judge each other.

“What can I do for ya, sweetie?”

Calliope considered for a bit, “I need light pinks. Like almost white pinks. Maybe whites too. And I may need some purples.”

“Mmmm,” the lady behind the counter pursed her lips, “any reds?”

“No!” Calliope insisted, but then paused and considered the older woman, “not yet that I know of.”

There was a smirk growing across the clerk’s face, “Is this project for you or someone else?”

“Someone else.”

The woman nodded, “I see…” they exchanged a look of knowing, and with a wink, the woman led her to a small shelf of very soft lengths of all different shades ranging from picnic clouds to hot magenta. Some even had all of of them dyed in one bundle. “Perhaps you’ll find what you’re looking for here?”

“Yes, thank you, these…” Calliope was already running her hands over some of the coral threads, “these are perfect.”

She stayed in the shop for hours, long after she’d settled on a rose, silver, and plum set of yarn to make her sister an infinity scarf for Valentine’s Day. The biddies had inserted themselves in her choosing, then after Calliope had paid, they’d inquired to the nature of her project, the stitch pattern, every detail of her work. They knew one of her fellow workshop artists- a husband of a second cousin. She imagined they may collect every detail of the city in this manner from those who wandered through the shop.

Then they demanded she sit with them a minute, and how could she not? But then they saw her cast on and had to correct that immediately. Apparently she’d been doing it the “cheater’s way” her whole life, whatever that meant. As long as she could still do her own work upon the knots, she was happy to abide by more practiced knitters’ rules. Calliope settled in, watching some of the other ladies who had introduced themselves: Joan crocheting her third grandbaby’s new hat, LuAnn making bears for the children’s hospital, Margie knotting a plant-hanger for her husband. Starting into her own rows, each stitch felt more energized than usual. Calliope had always knit alone; this was the first she had ever been in a knitting circle, and she’d never felt such a wave of power like this. Did these women, these nine-to-five-ers and stay-at-home-ers and retirees know what power they wielded? Should she- ?

Calliope shook her head. Of course they did. And maybe they didn’t. But that did not matter. They used it either way it to take care of the people they loved. Just as she would.

The Word

Bind (verb): 1. To make secure by tying; to confine, restrain, or restrict as if with bonds. 2. To put under an obligation. 3. To constrain with legal authority. 4. To wrap around with something so as to enclose or cover; bandage.

Knitting is an under appreciated art form. I mean, it’s appreciated, but I still think it’s under appreciated! Many yarn and thread arts are unfortunately still considered “women’s work” which is very silly, not only because putting gender stereotypes on art is literally a waste of everyone’s time, but also because it’s an incredibly soothing pastime with an useful end result. “Oh man, meditative state… and suddenly… BLANKET?!?!” I see no reason men should not have this.

I try not to pull too many super personal experiences so blatantly into my writings. Don’t get me wrong, inspirations happen frequently- things in my life or characters I come across. But this one I’ll admit is pretty “hello, is me.” I did learn how to knit from my Nanna when I was very young. I picked it back up when my Grandma passed and I inherited her knitting needles. And I did make a very ugly scarf that I treasure very much using my Grandma’s needles, while I sitting next to my Nanna as we talked about some silly show on rocks we were watching. But it is one hella ugly scarf- I’d been practicing new patterns and not really paying attention when I dropped stitches. Even though I love it dearly, I actually cannot wear it in public due to its terribleness, haha.

I’m not super into tea/color energy though, so if I got any of that information wrong, I do apologize. Your girl is doing her research but mistakes do happen! I however, do love a good crystal. I’m not sure they have any specialness to them, but I have always LOVED a good rock. I used to steal really nice ones from my grandparents’ pebbled driveway, and I can’t remember who, but some adult threatened that I would have to pay to have the whole thing re-rocked if I didn’t stop. It did not deter me ONE bit! Still have some. Go rocks!

There are lots of cool places to learn how to knit online, like Ravelry. And places like Etsy have lots of beginners kits (hashtag support small and local, yo). And no matter what kind of energy you think is moving around us- it most certainly is within art. We as a society take something like thread and yarn- necessary for so much else throughout history, and make it more than useful, we make it beautiful. I think that’s really cool. And I think if you work with it, you’ll think it’s really cool too. Just a suggestion if you’re looking for a new project 😉

So happy knotting and unknotting, whether it is with what’s inside of you, or if you decide to find some string, and as always- happy reading 🙂

Today I am Nepenthe

The Story

It’s weird, time travel.

Scholars have been driven absolutely mad trying to figure out both the moral and scientific intricacies of how one moves between the particles of the timeline. How would a single shifted leaf affect the people left behind when the experiment was complete? Would the battery of such an instrument hold to return the scientist to their intended year? And as with every new trial in a learning world- is the risk worth the knowledge?

So I tell you with no small amount of seriousness, that I’ve time traveled many an instance, with very little effort.

The mixture is unordinary. I’m not of the fairy mindset myself, but my ancestors speak of a time when the ingredients once had to be gathered by the woods. My grandfather, and his father-in-law before him, and those before him, would go out to the woods to a special tree stump and leave an offering. He would then turn away. When he would turn back, there would be a special elixir waiting for him.

He would bring this elixir to his wife, my Nanna. With a careful hand her mother taught her, she would take eggs from the hen as a sign of fertility, vanilla from the vine as a gift from earth, cream from the cow as signature of purity, the elixir from the woods, and just a bit of sugar- for the sweetness of life.

And she would make the concoction that makes one capable of traveling across the centuries.

Knowing the preciousness of this alchemy, Nanna guided her sons and daughters, and then I and my siblings, through the steps so our hands would come naturally to them whenever the season asked. It is a dance to be a part of, a beat and a rhythm to scour hot sugar and conduct whipped whites to peak as one begs the barrel’s best angel share to impart onto the yolk of one’s offerings.

I’m talking, of course, of eggnog.

Not that nonsense that can be poured from 3×16 paperboard from your local grocery. True sorcery made from backwoods moonshine, or front-woods Wild Turkey should the world conspire against you, and a dash of magic.

I cannot give you the full recipe, no. Because I’m bound to secrecy. Those are the rules. The recipe can only be exchanged in person. You haven’t been taught by hand, haven’t been guided by someone who has gone before. I can’t have you lost among the years not knowing how to get back. I’d feel so guilty, and the great aunts would probably haunt me. I inherited their coffee table so they know where to find me.

But one sip, one whipped, spiked bubble upon your lip- and you can go anywhere.

I myself only make the delicious concoction once a year, so to get my traveler bearings, I always start with the same place: Madison, Georgia, USA, 25 December 1982.

It’s a safe place for me, and when you’re traveling, you need a place that you know really well. I’m lucky, I once got one of those storybook Christmases where there’s too much family and too much food and too many dogs and it’s too hot in the house and too cold outside and just enough yelling while a casserole gets slightly burnt around the edges. Then I fall asleep on the couch with my grandfather holding my hand because he’s worried if he moves, he’ll wake me. No matter where I am, I can recall the exact feeling of his large, calloused hand against my smaller one as I failingly beg my eyelids to stay open. From there I can build every inch of the scene around me: his turquoise sweater with folded back cuffs, the white pastel-striped couch we’re sitting on and its many satin bird pillows, my mother rising from the chair beside us to refill my Nanna’s glass of chardonnay, the beige carpet beneath her feet as she does so, the grand tree in the background, the displaced wrapping paper beneath (dark green and gold that year), on and on and on. And I’m there. Looking through the eyes of someone decades younger than I am now.

Grounded, I can continue.

When someone has passed recently, my next trip is always to my favorite memory of them, or their favorite memory of me. It’s a shame how much more frequent this has become as I get older. It would be cruel to warn the youth about it, but somehow I wish we could.

But there are, of course, drawbacks. I remember the first time I made a visit I was unprepared for. After falling asleep, hand in hand on that Christmas, I grabbed a strand and found my way to the other side of my family, to my passed Grandmother. I sat at her dining room table, with its thin white lace runner. Supper was finished and someone else has been tasked with gathering dessert. She turned to me with gray eyes, and asked me about my college courses. I begged my mouth to tell her I missed her, to form the questions I’d never properly asked. But instead they’d formed the responses I had given that day.

“They’re going well! I have a lot of hours next semester, but I really love Professor Scallion so-“

Suddenly back in my kitchen, mug of eggnog spilled across the counter, stomach turning over, heart beating furiously. It would not allow you to be upset and travel. Mmmm no, this was for pleasant traveling only.

So you learn to make it strong, to warm the extremities as well as ease the mind. Learn to appreciate the truly good moments and reach out for them only. You learn not to travel where you’re not wanted or not welcome, and where it does not hurt.

The best thing about traveling, is it helps you remember pieces you may have forgotten. It reminds you of stories that previously may have been lost. I’ve been asked before by companions how I know so much about my family tree, and I always say “oh word of mouth, we can’t help but tell stories!”

Which is true. But I hear them over and over again each winter, when I finish pouring cream over sugared yolks and a few other whispered ingredients. And go traveling.

The Word

Nepenthe (noun): 1. A drug described in Homer’s Odyssey as banishing grief or trouble from a person’s mind; any drug or potion bringing welcome forgetfulness (via Latin from Greek nēpenthēs ‘dispelling pain’, from nē- ‘not’ + penthos ‘grief’; sense 2 is from modern Latin) 2. A plant of a genus that comprises the Old World pitcher plants.*

This may be the most personal story I’ve put here. Every story has a bit of me, and I put myself in my characters feet as much as I can (and there is ONE character that I think is most like me, meaning they’re probs the least, but would love your guesses if you’re up for it, team). But THIS one has the most real stuff. Should I say that on the internet? Don’t be weird, guys. I’m trusting you, readers. To not be weirdos.

Anyway, readers. My family really does make eggnog from scratch every year. And due to -gestures vaguely at the world- I made it alone this year. And not to get too sappy, but I wasn’t all that alone. Between group chats, phone calls, and zoom calls, I had a lot of togetherness and was very lucky. We do a lot of story-telling (where I get it from!) and general merriment-gathering around the eggnog, and that’s what led to today’s story. And I have LOVED this word ever since I found it. I hope I did it okay justice.

And I hope your holidays were lovely, reader. We made it through whatever 2020 was. Here is 2021, and we’ll do this too. Happy reading!

*There is also a VERY good brewery in Baltimore, MD named Nepenthe that I would highly recommend if you are ever in the area. I was so exuberant about knowing what the name meant, that I bought the first round, and the bartender slipped me an extra beer simply because he was so amused 🙂

Today I am Chrysalis

The Story

All I can do is pace. Step forward again, again, again, turn, swish. Step forward, again, again, again, again. It’s a warm June day and yet there’s the distinct feeling of black ice under the soles of my shoes.

I almost told Jacob all of it: About the Queen of Diamonds, about Conley, my poor uncle, my secured office space where I keep all my dangerous thinga-mabobs and notebooks, everything. It would have only taken a couple of seconds to crash down the years of secrets I’d been building.

The warmth and confidence of his arms around me unwound the seals I’d thought were so tightly fixed. Luckily, in the last moment, one single strand of strength fought through depths of my addled mind and shouted some clarity into the rest of my system: I couldn’t do this. I could not fall to pieces in some man’s arms like a cliche’, no matter how good a man it was. Now could not be the time to find out how understanding my friends were. And also, I wasn’t done. The Queen still had more to do. So I shook him off, put on a dainty smile and apologized for my outburst, which he of course said was fine. After some mumbled excuses, I quickly left the house. I’m sure they all assumed it was just from all the blood and stress. The convenient thing about protective men is they always assume the women they’re protecting need it.

What I actually needed was air, and maybe something safe and silent to spill my secret into. It was like tears after a hard slap or bad news- no matter what I did to hold it back, it was coming out. But who could I tell? My sister had already done so much for me; always the older, bigger one, she’d guarded me at every turn from high school bullies to my first heartbreak. She often joked that she was glad Conley had come along so she could take the occasional day off keeping an eye on me… little did she know, right?

I couldn’t call Uncle Julian. He was understandably still flustered over the fire, and even if he wasn’t, from what I heard, his life had been full of enough drama and trauma in his younger years. There was no reason to pile on that. Which meant Mom wasn’t an option either, since she was looking after Uncle Julian.

My feet took me back home to pace in relative privacy. Yet as I moved back and forth, the whole apartment felt fake. When I moved in after college, I hadn’t put much thought into my space, I was just glad it was close-ish to both my family and Conley’s headquarters. The real world still existed, so I soon got a real world job, as a paralegal with a nice firm, which was actually handy as I got to see up close the legal aftermath of the damage I caused after-hours. Within a year, they mistakenly trusted me enough that I was able to work from home, which was good for both checking in on my uncle and my more nefarious doings. And it also gave me an excuse put more time into the decor of my little home.

I bought framed etchings on the walls of scenes from the Canterbury Tales. Put up pictures of my old roommates at Halloween. I hung the grand tapestry my sister had sent me from her trip to Egypt. A caricature of Conley and Mattis at the Eye of London stood proudly on an end table. There were little tiger figurines hiding in the bookshelves. I’d adored the deep velvet pillows I’d found at a market sale. Crystals strung from windows. This time looking around, it felt off balance. I couldn’t decide if the deep purple and gold theme was mine or the Queen of Diamond’s. Had I chosen these curtains with or without her in mind? How long had I been her? Oh gods, was this spiraling?

This was not fresh air, this was not working. I wanted to go sit outside and scream at the sky, but had enough of that sanity left to know getting arrested for public lunacy would only further tangle my predicament.

If I could just stuff my face with something yummy. No, I couldn’t bare interacting with a person. It seemed very likely they’d ask “Will that be for here, or to go?” and I’d reply, “I’m the one that burnt Parliament to the ground. And I enjoyed it!”

Maybe… maybe Uncle Julian had one of his baking stashes back at his place. When he retired from his more formal painting schedule, he’d become quite the avid baker and I rarely saw his counter without a plate of lemon bars or snickerdoodles.

That feeling of emptiness took over. I felt like a teenager again as it engulfed me, like a wave over unsuspected sand domes.

I. Needed. Carbs.

I needed them to fill the empty parts of my heart.

Were they going to permanently fix the shattered places? No. Were they going to glue them together long enough for me to grasp back on to a shred of calm? Possibly.

So I forced a long slow breath in through my mouth, out through my nose, made my gate casual, popped in my earbuds, and made my way back to uncle’s apartment. To check on the fire damage. To ease the insurance company’s worries. For good reason. For a snack.

When I got up the many flights of stairs to the very top, proud of how well my workout regiment must be going but still sad the elevators were still under the firemen’s review, I noticed the door to my uncle’s apartment was cracked.

It could’ve been left like that by an innocent firefighter. Or maybe we left it like that after my mother and I gathered a few sets of clothes. Unlikely, yet possible. But after the day I’d had, no chance needed to be taken. Conley may not have caught on yet, but what if other heroes had? I quickly pulled the thin dagger from the waistband of my joggers and checked that the throwing darts in my sports bra were still in place. I didn’t have anything else on me, having been so out of sorts when I stopped by my apartment, and too nervous to go by my little office-lair yet. If there were more than just a couple people behind that door, I was going to have to do some major improvising.

I moved quickly, silently, slipping through the door, flying across the room. I had her flipped and pinned to the wall in a matter of seconds. One hand at her throat, the other pressing the dagger against her wrist so that she couldn’t yield her weapon which was a-

-a… scone?

I blinked into blue eyes, crow feet surrounding them leading into a graying blond bun.

“Ah, so you’re Stew’s girl.”

I jumped back, flicking on the light by the kitchen counter, “Oh my gosh, Miss LeAnne, I’m so sorry,” I recognized her from the picture’s on Stew’s refrigerator and the few sketches in his notebooks, “I’m so sorry, I thought a robber was taking advantage of the fire and-“

“It’s okay sweetie, I’m a transplant from both Atlanta and New York, I understand.”

She was still standing against the wall, watching me. Her eyes tracing up and down my frame like a scan.

“I, uh, Uncle Stew needed some more clothes, and I wanted to check out the place.”

“Very sweet of you dear. I didn’t have such kind intentions. I just knew he probably left something tasty on the counter when you all had to rush out.”

Now she moved, her eyes still pinned to me. The way she poured onto the tall chair at the counter reminded me that Uncle had mentioned she’d once been a very successful dancer.

I laughed, forcing myself to relax a bit, “Yeah, I’ll admit that was an encouragement.” I took a scone myself. God, raspberry and white chocolate. Uncle was amazing. I downed it quickly and reached for another. Casually I asked, “Why were you sneaking in the dark, Miss LeAnne?”

She grinned, “I guess I was afraid there was someone with sharp knives around…”

I choked.

She continued, “I wanted to check before I turned on the lights.”

I coughed up the crumb that had lodged itself in my throat, “I am so sorry about that, Miss LeAnne.”

“Just LeAnne, sweetie. And it’s fine! I would have done the same thing. I’m so pleased Stew has someone so talented lookin’ after him. He’s a good man.”

I nodded, “He is, thank you. He speaks so highly of you, too. I think you’re his best friend. I’m surprised we haven’t met before.”

She twirled with a pearl stud in her ear, “Until recently, my job kept me very busy. Hopefully I’ll be around a bit more often. Maybe I can take some Stew-shifts off your hand.”

I was on my third scone, “Oh, I love spending time with him. But I’m sure he would love a break from hearing about my troubles. He probably gets tired of playing baker-therapist for me.”

“Ha! Oh doll we are too alike, he’s sewed me back together literally and metaphorically so many times! And here we are thinking we’re taking care of him!”

“That’s the truth!”

I laughed with her, and it felt so nice. Just a moment, in Uncle’s beautiful penthouse covered in art, laughing over scones with another lady. It was a salve.

“Alright, time to spill. I’ll play therapist tonight, young lady. I can’t bake, but I do know where your uncle keeps a wine stash.”

I couldn’t hide my shock, “Mom said he quit drinking over a decade ago.”

“He did,” she pulled the top off an ottoman, clicked something, pulled up another layer, and then pulled out a bottle of red wine, “but he also said that I could keep what I needed here for emergencies. So I do. This feels like an emergency.”

She had no idea.

I framed it all like boy problems. Turned war into romance, which was easier than it should be. Still got my point across about feeling betrayed and confused, and she nodded along and refilled my glass as the sun went down through the glass of the patio french doors. When the bottle was empty, she stumbled over to the coffee table, clicked something under it, and another wine bottle popped out! Then she began to tell me about all her adventurous travels of the world. She and her girlfriends had seen the Catacombs of Paris, Queen Anne’s Ice Palace in Russia, had served as scribe maidens in the Scotland’s National Book Town festival, and so many more.

And when that bottle was empty, she sent me to his armoire and instructed me how to pull a little lever on the side and a secret bottom would pop open in the middle drawer. I found another bottle of red wine, an extensive first aid kit, and a notebook. I pocketed the notebook for later, and closed the drawer, bringing the bottle back.

“There’s a good girl, old women like me can’t keep walking around on flimsy feet for the third bottle,” Her speech slightly slurred but she didn’t spill a drop as she refilled our glasses, “Now tell me again why you and Mr. Jacob don’t just run away from this whole mess and live happily ever after.”

I felt the heat rise through my cheeks, “Am I that transparent, LeAnne?”

“You are now!” She roared with laughter, and I had to catch her from tipping off her stool.

When she leaned back forward, I saw her eyes were as brightly sober as mine.

“Alright, LeAnne. What’s your deal?”

“You’re good, kid. I even spiked the second bottle.”

“I know.”

“You wanna fight first?”

“No, because we both know I’d kill you, and that would upset my uncle. I meant it when I said you were his best friend.”

“Second only to you.”

“Which is why we should get along. So I ask again, what’s your deal, LeAnne?”

“You’ve got some good ideas, young lady, but what you need,” she paused, took another sip, and then smirked in a strange way that made her wrinkles disappear, “is a henchman. I’m retired from my old gig, but still very good at what I do. You’re right you can take me, but you’re a feisty one and these old bones still got a lot left in them. And I also happen to be awfully bored.”

“Now why would you think I need henchman? I’m just an innocent girl with a nine to five.”

“Sure. And I’m a toadstool with a stick up my ass.”

I took my first actually long swallow of wine for the night. That feeling of ice under my feet had returned, and I needed to remain in control.

“There are plenty of organizations that could keep you occupied in your retirement. Why would you want to work with… someone of questionable circumstances.”

“You’re riding a star upwards, sugar, that much is clear. And if that’s for the betterment of womankind, I’m perked ears. You gonna take a man down along the way? Ain’t no better to have to in your corner than me an’ my friends.”

Take Conley down? That wasn’t the goal. But to have even closest cohorts think that was the goal would keep the secret safest.

“And what do expect in return? I do occasionally rob a bank, so I’m happy to split that up, but that’s not exactly the objective.”

“My girls and I are mostly looking for action. And like I said, the upward movement of gals like you. Plus, if we both continue to keep Stew clean and clear out of all of this, I’m happy. I owe him several life times of favors.”

I nodded, understanding how much cost the favor of a loved one really carried.

“So you and your ‘friends’? Are they answering to you or to me?”

“They’ll answer to me, I answer to you. We’re picky but loyal. And if you’ar who I think you are, we’ve got reason to sign allegiance…”

She was finally asking me to reveal my identity. To say it out loud, seal the contract with trust.

My identity. Wasn’t this supposed to be the other way around? I take the mask off and say the name on my driver’s license? But here I was, not even any mascara, and when asked of who I really was…

“I’m the Queen of Diamonds.”

“Then it is a honor, your majesty.”

The Word

Chrysalis (noun): 1. A quiescent insect pupa, especially of a butterfly or moth. 2. The hard outer case enclosing a chrysalis. 3. A transitional state.

Butterflies? But that is a Spring thing! Why discuss them in December? You ask. Because I said so! And our argument is simply an assumption of my imagination and thus I win every time! But, I’ll explain myself anyway 🙂

I kept coming back to the word Evolution, but for our growing queen that wasn’t quite right yet, and the above story wasn’t quite right yet, and I haven’t felt quite right for the past several weeks (who has? this year has been hard for many). So as I was writing, and our main lady is realizing all her pieces aren’t quite put together as well as she thought, I was reminded of the chrysalis. And this is what inspired me to put the rest of today’s tale in place and set her back on her path.

You see, the cool thing (or one of) about butterflies/moths entering the Pupa stage where they’re in this cool casing, is that they become completely undone. They’re goo; there is nothing recognizable about what they were before they entered this arena. And then of course they exit and they have these cool wing things and fly around WEEEEE flap flap flap. BUT. What scientists have discovered is that they have memories from when they were caterpillars. Can you imagine? Becoming COMPLETELY UNDONE. Unrecognizable to people who weren’t watching closely. Nothing like you once were, but still holding on to the few things that mattered from before?!

Why yes… yes I think many of us can.

And I think our Queen here is just… lost in the goo (ew, gross metaphor) but still holding on to the parts that matter. And it’s understandably frightening to realize you’re not like you once were, and to look forward and realize you still don’t know what’s coming but the process is in full swing now, baby! All you can do is keep growing.

This time of year when it gets dark, I can get really down. But then little inspirations like this lift me up and I’m reminded that this part of the season is a lot like Spring. It’s a time for growth. Not the bursting forth that we see in the flowers of May, but in the resting and recovering that slow times can bring. In the letting ourselves wrap up into our blanket chrysalis with hot chocolate and look back over the year and see what parts we’re going to keep as we move forward. Maybe that’s all too deep for a story about a lady who’s building rocket launchers while eating raspberry scones but… it’s what I’m thinking about today 🙂

I hope all you readers are doing well in your goo (ew, I did it again), and I look forward to seeing your beaaaautiful wings! Happy reading!

Today I am Tincture

The Story

Before my sweet husband died, I liked white wine, specifically a light Germanic Riesling. Something about sticky honeysuckle paired with minerals while arguing with acidic lime was very exciting for me.

But after my husband’s death, I didn’t want excitement. I wanted soothing. I needed melody, something with body while I myself withered away. Mother tried to tell me to drink tea, as if that would do anything at all. Uncle Pete offered me a sip of his whiskey, but it bit back as it always had.

My hippy sister made me a strange tonic from her garden, it was all bubbly and tasted like vinegar. My less hippy sister gave me a handful of unmarked pills from her pharmacist husband. Though I appreciated the gesture, I’ve still got every single one in my medicine cabinet. My brother told me to take a shot of vodka, and get a hobby, like knitting.

Out of spite, I did, and I knit him a thong for his birthday. Unfortunately, the satisfaction from his panicked blush in the crowded room was only temporary. My rows and pearls were perfect, yet my heart was still frayed.

I tried turning back to my Riesling, but that wouldn’t do. Just as the first notes lifted from the glass, I knew it wasn’t right. I’d seen the love of my life placed into the dirt, and I was sure that was enough minerals and acid in my throat I’d ever need.

My only solace was among the leathery aroma of his closet, where his favorite onyx-studded belt still hung, and the smell of his cologne wafted off his shirts like a vanilla, pepper spiced ghost. What I needed was the taste of his lips when he’d find me at the gallery, soft and distinctly masculine and herbed from the rosemary crisps he snuck while listening to the artists I brought in that week. I needed the sultry deep colors he caused in my world when he touched the back of my neck at the dining table, promising a long dessert. I needed the warmth he left in a room, from the lingering smoke of his outdated pipe he insisted was classic, to the laughter he caused in every social circle.

I needed my husband.

I needed my husband.

I needed my husband.

The only other option was to untie my own line from the mooring of this life, and I just didn’t think my family could take that. So, like a good woman, a good widow, I did what needed to be done.

He had always been so proud of me. Whenever we hosted a new patron or budding artist for the gallery, he’d always find a time in the night to boast “There’s not a piece in this world she can’t get her hands on. If she wants it, she’ll have it. And you’ll see it in the gallery!” Then he’d laugh his big laugh and our guests would be laughing with him as he refilled their glass. It was charming how confident he was in me. And of course it helped that he was right.

So, after a few busy weeks of planning and scheduling, I returned to the gallery. I was afraid I would have to reestablish myself from quite low after so much time spent away, but the loyalty I had built there was still very strong. All the way from the haughtiest benefactor to the sweet, strong-backed workers who heaved the weighty sculptures to and fro, I was still offered trust and favor. And I would be thankful for each and every one.

My family noticed the change in me immediately.

“Oh dear, this is wonderful! I think getting back to work is a healthy decision.”

“There ya go kiddo, that’s a little smile I see.”

“I’m so happy, you’ve got a little color back in your face!”

Unlike the previous years, I did not spend my days working until dusk at the gallery, awaiting the sound of my husband’s Oxfords to come clicking across the marble to whisk me home. No, I took myself home in the afternoon so I could spend the rest of the day working in his old study.

And so it went. From the small sliver of window I allowed to escape the curtain, I watched the seasons change. Do-gooders would come see if I needed company on holidays or special occasions, knowing the firsts without him would be the hardest. They delivered champagne for New Years, Chambord for my birthday. But these well intentioned gifts sat untouched by the door. Because I didn’t need to try another salve. I wasn’t truly without him, not now. It was what comforted me as I worked.

A full year after my husband’s heartbreaking departure, I decided to throw a celebration of his life. A party he deserved that I had been unable to give him closer to his funeral, due to my dismal state.

I invited everyone who had ever brought cheer into his life: both our families, his old college rowing teammates, his partners at the firm (well, the ones he liked), the rotary club, every artist who had stepped foot in the gallery, their muses, and their patrons. I made sure our old neighbors and new neighbors could make it, the butcher from his favorite organic farm, the owners from all the vineyards we toured on both coasts and Europe, even the caterers were told that once food was set out, they were encouraged to join in; not a soul was to be left out of celebrating the one I cherished above all others.

And of course I furnished all the delectables he loved. Sage-buttered brisket, garlic lamb pops, squid sautéed in their own ink, enormous slabs of velvet cake, the kind of food that’s ridiculous to eat in a large crowd of people, which makes it all the more joyous to do so. And of course, best served with red wine and it had to be his favorite, Cabernet Sauvignon. I had several bottles flown in from every good year and terroir left on earth so that guests could have their choice within the varietal, but it was my demand that if you held a glass, it was filled with Cab Sav.

The night appeared to be a huge success. There was dancing out in the garden to the same jazz music that had played at our wedding. Where I worried the food may be too heavy, everywhere I looked models and athletes alike enjoyed a second, maybe third, helping. Even Mother touched my sleeve as I passed by and gave me a small smile, which made me pause long enough to realize she was in the middle of one of her lavish stories. Everyone seemed to be truly cheerful, and that was the best way I could think to dedicate a festivity to my love.

Before the revelry could ascend beyond control, I stood in the doorway of the patio and clinked my glass. It wasn’t near loud enough for them all to hear, but slowly the attention rippled through the crowd until there was hush enough for me to speak.

“First, I must thank you all for coming, and for indulging a widow in celebrating such a great man,” there was a round of cheers, “I could go on forever about how wonderful my husband was, but you all know it’s true, and many of you were kind enough to speak so here a year ago. Instead, I hope you’ll indulge me once more.”

I heard a few clinks as the cue was heard.

“You’ll see that waiters are coming around to fill your glasses afresh. This has been the passion project I’ve been working on these past many months that has brought me both closer to my late husband, and back to life. In his memory, I’ve made our very own Cabernet Sauvignon blend. Just a small batch to start, and for all of you, our dearest friends, to have the first taste with me, tonight.”

An enormous cheer went up in the crowd, and by the time the applause died down, all glasses were full and ready.

I raised my glass. “To my love!”

“Hear, hear!” They called back, and drank.

As I made another round of greetings, I received many genuine compliments on the wine! This person thought it had a nice fruit-forward mouth, this other loved the spiced back. Yet another detected the tobacco I’d worked so hard to capture.

I must say it was very reassuring. I had a small worry all my work may have been a fool’s errand. But I had to agree with them, it was a satisfactory wine. I stole away to the study for a private moment with my second taste.

Swirl Yes, like a mist of plum over the blood red surface.

Sip The pepper hits first, then his vanilla, and the leather last.

Swallow And just as with him, it is the slight smoke that lingers, and the warmth spreading into my fingers.

Another sip, and I pick out the more earthy, mosslike tones as well. They hadn’t been my favorite when I settled on a blend, but I felt they were appropriate to keep, considering what I’d gone through to get them.

As I passed back through to rejoin my guests, I caught myself in one of the hall mirrors. I did indeed have a nice glow about me. They were right what they said- a little color back in my face. Though I could do without the stain red wine leaves on one’s lips.

Yet, what a small sacrifice to taste my husband again. Beauty may be in the eye, but flavor… that’s in the heart.

The Word

Tincture: (noun) 1. Medicine made by dissolving a drug in alcohol. 2. A slight trace of something. (verb) Be tinged, flavored, or imbued with a slight amount of.

Happy Hallow’s Eve!

This year looks a bit different for most people when it comes to Halloween, but that doesn’t mean we can miss out on the good stories. For myself, I am a scardy cat, but I still really love scary stories! I’ve wondered why that is for a long time. I think it has to do with the mystery, the intrigue. To actually be a scary story, it has to be well written. Think of stories that have truly spooked you- they’re all good authors, right? You have to know your way around timing and character, laying down the law and the land and a few clues to really draw someone in.

So attempting to write a scary story is actually really good practice for growing authors (such as myself). It helps you find that sweet spot of how much to tell readers, when to pull back, if a gotchu-moment is right for this one, when it’s not, etc. It’s interesting to say the least!

Today’s story was inspired by an actual TRUE story, themed much like the one above- a little sweet, a little spooky, and it is that of the Mother of Horror herself, Mary Shelley. If you don’t know what she used to keep in her desk, go check it out! Also just read up on Mary Shelley in general, because although she did not have the best life, she was a fascinating person that had really interesting things happen to her, and in between some of it she wrote Frankenstein.

Today I am Savor

The Story

My hand gets a little heavy with the newbies’ first glass or two, just a splash for that extra ounce or so. They’re often nervous, trying not to stick out, which makes them stick out even more, and I take it as part of my job to calm them down a bit. The ones hiding among a group of experienced tasters are even cuter, nodding along with the notes, trying to keep up with the different names and phrases.

I’m Head Vino Guide at Leonadi Vineyards, here just below Tulalip Bay. All that means is I’m the dude pouring your wine, and I’ve been here longer than the other dudes pouring wine.

Here, Cab Sav is king. But lucky for the red-shy newbies I adore so much, Riesling is prince, so there are still a few flavor notes with which I can wade them in.

For the sweet second-wife out with her new husband and adult step-kids, I point out the cool minerality left on the back of the tongue. She likes this word, and rolls it around in her mouth before swallowing. I wink at her coyly so she knows this is a good move. When we later discuss the Syrah, the step-daughter happily agrees with her that this is distinctly not “mineral-y”, and I feel like I’ve helped.

When the young man enters toting a very excited girlfriend, I point out the lime he’ll inhale before he even sips. He gets excited when his flared nostrils do indeed, and makes a note every time he finds another fruit throughout the tasting. Girlfriend appears very pleased, even mildly impressed. She pecks him on the cheek and I feel a whisper of it on mine.

The Bridge club comes in, and this time there’s a new member among us. After a happy wave and a swift update on everyone’s medical issues and grandchildren accomplishments, I am told this is Luanne. Her husband retired recently and Annette noticed at church that sweet Luanne needed some time out of the house, thus the Bridge club. They have come here almost every Saturday for the past two years, and I still have no idea if they actually play Bridge. Luanne, though charmed by the pear essence in her Sauvignon, is equally so with the spiced butter notes in the Chardonnay. I tell her she has quite the refined palette and accuse her of knowing more than she lets on. She blushes and the other silver birds laugh, pleased to have another in the flock.

I’ve been here a long time. Like I said, the longest of any of us. It wasn’t on purpose. I kinda landed here. Several years ago, I was gunning for top spot at a suave bar in the middle of the city, the kinda place where A-list celebrities hide in dark glasses and rich old women go to tell their stories to poor novelists. But I was knocked out of the running by some up-and-comer with “more the attitude we’re looking for.” While I was soaking my sorrows in a 2012 Keuka Pinot Grigio, that up-and-comer slid a napkin with a number on it over to me.

“I know you don’t want to work under me. And it’d be a shame to waste that pallet. My sister knows a guy up north looking for someone like you if you want some fresh air.”

And here I am. 

Fresh air turned out for the best, I think. I belong with the wine people more than I ever did the cocktail crowd. I can read these fellas now as well as the legs of a merlot down the sides of a glass.

You can see it in the swirl, the carry tells you everything if you look properly: the depth, the age, the blush, where it came from, where it’s going. Some are bright and joyfully effervescent. And I do love a bold, deep body that has aged into its place. But others are dark with too much density. There’s no need to carry such weight if you have the flavor to back it up, ya know? Or those that think their lack of complexity makes them cute and quirky, when really we all know they’ll just be put on the shelf until next summer.

Yes I know, there’s a certain joy and sophistication in simplicity. But there has to be a class to it as well. Take this young gentleman breaking away from his table. A few hours ago, he showed up with what looks like his date and the date’s family. It’s a fairly new romance, as he’s still trying to make impressions, but all parties already appear pretty comfortable. During the tasting he stuck close to said date, yet made sure to make several comments affirming the mother’s favoritism towards the peppery Petit Sirah. He’ll buy one for the table later as a thoughtful gesture. But oh how his face lit up when we hit the Barbera. I’d had a feeling since the beginning he’d want all those dark blackberries, so this is where I let my hand linger for just another moment over his glass. An extra drop for courage. After they all giggle and gush over their charcuterie board for a bit, here he is back at the bar as predicted. Hazel eyes and a genuine smile. When he asks for a bottle of the Petit Sirah, I know I’ve gotten another one right. A good man. Pairs well with the more emblazoned, does well to balance others. Uncomplicated, yet classy. 

Nothing like the heady cougar who has brought her third boyfriend of the summer and put it all on her husband’s tab. She’ll push the glass back and forth across the bar, barely ever taking a real sip, while her companion smiles coyly at her. She’s light, but astringent. He doesn’t know how long the flavor will last, and since he isn’t listening to my tasting notes, I can’t give him any warning. 

That’s the only time I suppose I get frustrated. I’ve been here a long time, longer than anyone else. I know these vintages, and can read the new ones fairly well. Take my word for it, if a sommelier like me makes a suggestion, you ought to take it.

The Story

Savor (verb) 1. Taste (good food or drink) and enjoy it completely. 2. Have a suggestion or trace of (something, especially something bad). (Adj) A characteristic taste, flavor, or smell, especially a pleasant one.

I have to admit to the pleasure of knowing I’m the wine snob among my group of friends. One of my friends recently pointed out that it’s the time of the year when I start the official campaign for us all to switch back to red wine, and she’s not wrong (although THIS year, time has meant very little, so stick with whatever colors suit you).

This character and I fought for a while. I couldn’t decide whether he needed to be playful or creepy with his ability to read people. You can decide for yourself which way he went. And he might pop back up again, get reworked, lean the other way. People do change, ya know…

Personally, I love people watching, but I think there’s a huge difference in doing so and actually being able to pick up on someone’s entire story. Are you able to pick up on people’s stories as they go by? Or do you ever wonder if people can sense a chapter of yours as you go by them?

I can’t wait for the day when sitting peacefully at a winery is a common occurrence again. It’s one of my happy places, not just for the wine, but because of the people there as well. Whether it’s Fall or Spring, it always seems to have an air of anticipation, and I’m always on the edge of my seat, and yet somehow relaxed.

I hope whatever you’re up to, you can find a nice place to people watch, or read, or just sit for a moment and sip, dear reader. Cheers!

Today I am Kismet

The Story

Marcus was new to the city, and since his years in New York taught him to be a walker, he figured that was the best way to learn Georgetown as well.

So after a couple weeks of adjusting at his new firm and too many single-serve microwave meals, he woke up early on a Saturday, popped a couple reusable grocery bags in his backpack, and determined to find a local market of some sort.

It didn’t take long. The kind barista at Espresso Yourself was happy to tell a new resident about the farmers’ market, as well as the small butcher shop, and the produce mart down on Yarn St. run by a quiet Japanese woman that would hunt down any rare ingredient you could ask for.

Marcus was not disappointed. Arms laden with successful shopping, he struggled back to his apartment. He made a quick omelet from some of his findings before heading back out for more exploration. This time, sans backpack, full stomach, and a lighter step. With the markets identified, he already had a big win under his belt for the day, so everything else he discovered was just going to be icing.

There was a lot to see! The place was dotted with small monuments and modern art, a couple of little wine bars and clothes boutiques, several more little food shops. He stopped in a bakery because the smell wafting from the door was a siren’s call of fresh bread. A few minutes later, he was exiting again with a small paper bag of crispy sugared nuggets of goodness, half dipped in a hazelnut ganache.

He was so distracted by the baked goods and his luck of just one day’s touring that he let his feet lead him onward without attention. It wasn’t until the noticeable switch from poured sidewalk to grassy field that he looked up at all.

It appeared he’d landed in a small, but ornate, cemetery. The orientation at his new job had told him that many of the cemeteries in town held notable historic figures, and Marcus spotted a large plaque on a granite pillar a few yards off that most likely listed which ones resided in this particular graveyard. He thought to head towards it and read which ones, but stopped.

The small field felt serene, as if even in this busy city, he were interrupting a quiet conversation. At the same time, there was no forbidding unwelcome in the air, just a formalness. He understood somehow that stepping into the space would be alright, as long as he kept his manners and made friendly with the hosts.

The thought of all that seemed a little dreary for his spring day and warm sugared biscuits, so Marcus made a deliberate turn back towards sidewalk, city, and sound.

Sunday he spent happily cutting and prepping his fresh vegetables for the week, FaceTiming his mother to prove that there were indeed green things in his diet once again.

But the next weekend, after dropping off another round of finds from the farmers’ market, he let his feet return him to the small cemetery path they’d led him to the week before.

This day was sunny with clear skies. Marcus didn’t consider himself a suspicious person, but he figured if there was a safe day to enter a cemetery, it was this one. So over the threshold he crossed.

He recognized some of the names on the historical plaque: A few original Cabinet members, some other people he was pretty sure he should know, but had forgotten their acclaims sometime between AP History and that moment. At least he could tell his coworkers he looked.

He began to walk the grassy paths of the graveyard, the keepers of which were clearly tidy workers. The green paths were lined with rows of oyster white pebbles, dotted here and there with healthy rose bushes of every color from sunniest yellow to deep, solemn ruby. Each headstone, whether large and ornate or small and simple, was perfectly edged and kept from weeds. Some had been blurred by time, but Marcus supposed that was unavoidable.

Since his feet had led him here that first day, he allowed them again to turn him this way and that along the rows. He’d always had a fascination with names, and there were several interesting ones here: Irvington Mullen, Forrest Woods, Brogen Proudfoot. People came up with such strange sounds to call someone else. Whenever there was a newborn in his own family, they just plucked a name from somewhere random in the family tree and passed it down, sometimes rearranging a few syllables. But he was still impressed when he came across the column of James John Jacobston’s that went from the Ist all the way to the VIth!

He paused briefly under a cherry tree, admiring the different shades of white and dappled pink on its branches. He heard he’d just missed the peak bloom of the season, but this tree still seemed particularly pleased to show off plenty of blossoms. As he wondered if he should add some plants to his grocery list for his balcony, a large blossom set itself lose and began drifting away on the breeze. He watched until the petals landed on a granite tile, set just outside the shade of the tree. The name on it caught his eye.

Penelope

It was his grandmother’s name. He sidled over to read the details.

Penelope Smith 1921 – 2012 Brilliant and Beloved

Penelope Smith was even born the same year as his grandmother, but she had passed a year before his.

He smiled sympathetically at the plot, “Are all Penelopes brilliant and beloved by birthright, Mrs. Smith?” For his had been, as well.

Marcus saw the pewter vase by Penelope Smith’s marker stood empty. He wasn’t sure if this meant she was not visited often, or if they had simply wilted. Judging by the rest of the gardening, he doubted a brown flower would last long in this place before it was taken to be mulched. He stood a moment longer, feeling an odd connection to the unknown woman, and then he told his feet it was time for home, and off they went.

After another successful but relatively uneventful week of his new workplace, it was time for his weekend ritual, which Marcus was really loving. A caramel cappuccino to-go from Espresso Yourself, then a pass by the butcher shop (this time it was pork loin), and off to the farmers’ market.

He’d grabbed several vegetables, a homemade hummus, and a fresh loaf of bread, as well as a cheese danish he’d already half finished, when he stopped by the sweet couple at the herb stand. The wife was walking him through how to make a chimichurri with the cilantro when the bushels of flowers caught his eye. He thanked her, prayed he could remember that word long enough to google it, and made his way to the flowers still unsure if it was a good idea.

Was it a weird-person thing to do to buy flowers for a dead person you didn’t know?

But, he’d wandered around in her cemetery… and he couldn’t buy flowers for everyone in there. And it’s not like there was tip jar for the gardeners. He decided it was much weirder to stand in the way staring at flowers arguing with himself, so he bought a handful of purple flowers with little orange faces that looked happy to him. He figured if he talked himself out of it, they’d look nice on his counter.

But he didn’t talk himself out of it. In a few blocks, he found himself, still laden with his full bags, in front of Penelope Smith’s grave.

“Hello again,” he murmured, then glanced up to make sure no one heard him. But the other visitors were far out of hearing range. Then again, even if they weren’t, he figured most people would assume he knew her and people talk to their passed loved ones all the time.

“These um, these are for you,” he set down his bags so he could properly arrange the skinny stems into the vase. He wished he had some water to pour in with them. Next time, he thought.

And he did, next time, bring a little water bottle with him. It had been a hot week, so he wasn’t surprised to find the gardeners had removed his flowers, as they had probably succumbed to the weather. This time he brought dark blue flowers.

“The gentlemen who run the stand say these are del-somethings,” He told Penelope, “I have to admit, I’m not great with flower names. But I hope you like them.”

He sat down at the bottom of her plot. It was a sunny day, and he’d grabbed an extra cheese danish from the farmer’s market. Marcus had been told that the winters around here were feisty, so he was to spend every single pretty day outside while he could.

“All my coworkers have kids and stuff. They’re at little league games and soccer tournaments today. I haven’t quite found my crew yet, ya know? So I don’t have much to do. I hope you don’t mind if I hang out here a bit.”

If she did mind, she didn’t say so.

When he finished his danish, he looked around, saw that Penelope was next to a Leonard Smith who passed in 2010, but the other surrounding names were all McKinns.

“Is that your maiden name, maybe? Or are you two on your own?”

Penelope didn’t answer, but she was still a pretty good listener.

Her listening became part of the weekend ritual. Spring was turning into summer, and he was starting to see squash and tomatoes at the market. He took up more trekking around the city, and even up into the nearby mountains to work off the danishes and the recipes he was experimenting with, but he always made sure to drop by Mrs. Penelope’s plot and tell her how his week had been. It made him feel better, for some reason. He felt maybe she liked to listen. And a small part of him hoped she was passing it on to his own grandma that he was doing alright.

The young men who ran the flower stand began to expect Marcus and finally introduced themselves, Dan and Lee. They never asked why he bought a bouquet each week, but when it became clear how hopeless Marcus was when it came to flowers, the lessons started.

“Now what is this?”

“An impatien?”

“No, hun, you’re impatient. Try again.”

“….geranium?”

“Ding ding ding!”

Marcus was very pleased with himself placing the fuchsia blossoms in Penelope’s vase that week. He told her he was taking Dan and Lee out for beers later as a thanks for the lessons thus far.

“Brews for blooms, is what Lee called it,” Marcus laughed. A breeze shifted a set of wind chimes hung on a nearby vault, and it sounded like laughter answering back.

Another week passed, and another. Soon, ears of corn and apple tarts were replacing the summer veggies at the market stalls. Dan demanded Marcus try the pumpkin butter from the bakery stand, and Marcus was glad he had relented. He grabbed an extra jar to send to his sister, as well as several pretzel rolls for his guests later that week. He’d been introduced to Dan and Lee’s group of friends and was immediately folded in as if he’d always been one of them. He was excited to finally host them all for a board game night and show off a few new hors d’oeuvre recipes.

A small drizzle was starting, so his usual stroll to the cemetery was instead a brisk walk, and he was glad he’d packed an umbrella with his bags that morning. He hoped it wouldn’t rain too hard that it would batter the petals.

He was placing a collection of different colored zinnias in her vase while telling Penelope Smith about the baked brie he was going to make for his guests, when there was a deliberate clearing of the throat behind him.

Feeling caught red handed, but then defensive, and then back to caught all in one second, he swiveled to see who the throat-clearer could be.

From his crouched position by the vase, the woman was both towering over him, and had quite the towering presence. His eyes filed up from her flats, to her dark jeans, past her sweatshirt announcing Georgetown Marathon 2017, to pursed pink lips on a mildly freckled face. But it was the arched amber eyebrows and deep brown eyes, like spilled cinnamon, Marcus thought, that made her so very imposing in the moment.

“Hello there,” Marcus managed.

“Hellooooo?”

It was a question, but Marcus was unsure what kind of answer the alluring woman wanted.

“May I help you?”

“I certainly hope so. Did you know my grandmother? The gardeners have said a gentleman has been coming all summer, and I assume that’s you.”

Marcus looked around. They appeared to be the only two in the cemetery that day. Not surprising, given the weather. But he’d actually never spotted the meticulous gardeners. He’d begun his own little inside joke that the cemetery kept itself this neat.

“Well, they’d be correct,” was all he managed.

“So you do know her?” The woman took a step closer. Her shoulders were calm, but the eyebrows remained questioning. It was clear she was suspicious, but didn’t want to insult a true fellow mourner.

“Um, sorta? I’ve, we’ve been… chatting.”

“Chatting?”

“Chatting.”

“She did like a good chat.”

“That’s good to know,” Marcus stood, feeling he’d gained a little ground in the conversation. When he did, he realized that although the woman was quite a bit shorter than he, the tall presence she gave off still very much remained.

“So you didn’t know her before she died.”

“No, not at all.”

The woman waited, glanced down at her grandmother’s name plate, and then back at Marcus, again arching an eyebrow as if to say, go on.

So he did. He hadn’t told anyone else, even as his friendship with Dan and Lee grew, even as Mrs. Garcia at the herb stand began to fuss over him like her own child, even as the baristas at Espresso Yourself learned his order and invited him to their happy hours, he had told no one about his little affair at the cemetery. It wasn’t that he was embarrassed at the oddness of it, alright maybe a bit, but it was also just a quiet little thing he had to himself.

But this was Penelope’s granddaughter. She actually had a right to Penelope Smith, and Marcus figured therefore a right to know why a strange man had been placing flowers at the grave for the past several months and talking to the stone like an old friend, just because he noticed a name.

The women listened, nodding occasionally. Marcus wasn’t sure if this was to agree or just to encourage him to continue. When he was finished, he waited for her answer. She stared at Penelope’s marker for another moment.

“Well… part of me is glad someone was keeping her company while I was gone. And part of me thinks you’re kinda weird.”

“I think that’s… that’s fine. Both seem reasonable.” Marcus paused, “back? So you do live around here?”

She gave him a warning look, “I do. Sometimes work takes me away for a while. I’m normally the one bringing her flowers,” she took off a string backpack and carefully pulled from it three yellow blooms wrapped in familiar paper. She moved to tuck them in alongside Marcus’s zinnias, and he shifted back to give her room. Doing so moved him out of the slight guard of the cherry tree and he realized the drizzle had turned to a steady soft rain, so he opened his umbrella.

“I couldn’t find sunflowers,” she said, Marcus wasn’t sure if she was still speaking to him, “but these looked like baby ones to me.”

“Sanvitalia,” Marcus said automatically.

She looked up at him, then back at the flowers, and gave an approving, “Huh.”

“That’s what they’re called. And uh,  I am called Marcus.”

She stood back up and held out her hand, “Hi Marcus, I’m Olivia, Penelope and Leonard’s youngest grandkid.”

“It’s nice to meet you. I really didn’t mean to… insult by hanging out here with them.”

Finally, Olivia smiled, “You didn’t. Really, I think it’s sweet. Weird, a little odd, but sweet. I’ve probably watched too many crime shows.”

Marcus laughed, and he liked the way it made Olivia’s smile brighten a bit more.

“Well, this may make it even weirder… but I’d love to hear more about your grandparents. Could I buy you a drink?

“Absolutely not.”

“…oh.”

“Well that’s a bit eerie, isn’t it?” She tilted her head, really seeming to ask him,  “We introduce ourselves over my grandparents’ graves and then we go for a drink like we’ve had a meet-cute or something?”

“I suppose so, I apologize.”

He felt the red rising up his neck into his cheeks. Of course she wouldn’t want to make a new friend in this place. What had he been thinking? She came here to mourn her grandparents and he asks her to a drink like some sort of-

“Damn it, alright.” She paused. “Grandma always said I needed to be more spontaneous, that I was too calculating for so young. Come on, weirdo. I know a cute bar a few blocks away.” She looked him square in the eye, “But if you murder me, I will be absolutely furious.”

He smiled again, “Totally understandable.” He silently thanked Penelope, telling her he’d bring the entire flower cart if any part of meeting this gorgeous granddaughter was her doing.

Olivia was retying her sting backpack, “I’m texting my friends so they know if they don’t hear from me in a while to be suspicious.”

“Excellent, I’ll do the same. Never know what a pretty girl might have learned from all the crime shows she’s watched.”

She laughed, “I like that. I think my grandma would have liked you.”

Marcus felt this was the highest of compliments for their short time together, and it emboldened him to offer his arm to her.

She didn’t take it, but did place her hand over his on the handle of the umbrella.

He nodded at the compromise, “Lead the way.”

The Word

Kismet (noun): Destiny; fate. (or as my father defined it, “a purposeful coincidence”)

It’s a little odd, that we got the news Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed while I was working on this story about a passing grandmother. Because while the Notorious RBG was a household name for the fight for equality, she was also a grandmother. Maybe that’s a little bit of kismet too? I pray for ease of spirit for all of us mourning her loss, especially her family and grandkids.

There are some words I like so much that I wait until I’m sure I’ve gotten the right inspiration for them, that I’m doing them justice. This is one of them. Kismet is one of those revered words that means so much to me.

No matter your belief system, it’s simply mathematical truth that for every moment to occur, billions upon billions of seemingly unrelated ones have to happen before it. So when something special ‘random’ happens- that moment your eyes meet hers, you catch the heirloom he almost shattered, you and your soon-to-be new best friend reach for the same peanut butter jar- the universe has worked its ass off to get you there. I love that. Whether it’s true or not, I love the romance of every tiny movement trying to create those sunrise, heart race, crescendo twinkles of time for us.

(and personally, I do believe in it) 

So go forth, lovely reader. And take flowers with you!

Today I am Retch

A continuation of Today I am Wretch...

The Story

“She came out of NO WHERE!”

I did. I really did. I might be getting too good at this.

“I saw, lad,” Jacob was wiping peroxide across Conley’s shoulder blades. Conley’s super speed applied slightly to his healing, but the Queen of Diamonds had gotten him pretty good this time. As if she’d been in a mood for him being an ass lately or something. Huh.

“You saw? You were out there? That’s really dangerous, dude.”

Jacob paused and looked at me across the room. I was at the stove making a generous stack of chicken quesadillas to fill up ‘Sir Steam’ after his loss, as if that would make up for my causing it. I shrugged my shoulders back at Jacob’s unspoken question.

“Conley… it’s on Reddit already. An’ it’s not good.”

Mattis, our only friend left still strong enough to spot Conley at the gym, cracked his knuckles as if to challenge the keyboard warriors himself, “You’re going to have to get back in the public eye pretty quick before this takes off.”

“It’s already taken off.”

They all looked up at me then, and I did my best to stare back at them calmly before steadily adding another tortilla to my pan.

“What do you- tssss OW, Jacob! What do you mean?”

I turned back around to answer Conley, and it really was hard to see him in pain. I was upset, but really hadn’t meant for him to go down that hard. Even from across the room I could see the bruises still blooming across his cheek and down one arm.

We’d gotten into it in the middle of the street. Like a couple of losers.

That’s why I’d been so mad. Here’d I’d been, working my ass off for how long? to create this sophisticated arch nemesis for him, this slow burn of a woman to come out of the woodwork- not some cheapskate Mole Man, but a Queen! Late nights designing, plotting, scheming, webbing into the networking of more established villains to portray someone worthy of the hero he was destined to be and he-

He.

He’d been too godsdamned busy at a D level celebrity party to take the bait to stop a small yes small but still fire at my uncle’s apartment complex. MY UNCLE. Had I set it? No of course not. One of my contemporary’s had done that, without my previous knowledge. Said contemporary is now out of the game for… the foreseeable future.

Conley had been informed about the fire. He could have gotten there in time. He’s SUPER HUMAN FAST. And due to my uncle’s status in the art world, there would have been lights, cameras, fan fare. He could have made a moving speech to the press about how this one “meant something more” because of his dear friend’s family (which also would have you know, been nice to have me and my uncle fawning in the background looking innocent and all). But do you know what he said? You know what got reported back to me by another contemporary (because of course there were villains at a D list celebrity party, who do you think the host was?)

“It’s just a little flame. That’s what the fire department is for. Can I have another spritzer?”

CAN YOU HAVE ANOTHER SPRITZER? I’LL GIVE YOU A SPRITZ.

And that’s why, when after I’d moved my uncle to my own home until the fire department cleared his complex for good measure, and was walking back to check on his crazy ass cat lady neighbor because he begged me to, I saw Conley walking tipsily on the street with some entourage behind him, and couldn’t help myself. Here, this whole time, my goal had been to create such an entourage for him, to encourage a fan club just like that one. And he was soaking up their two-bit worship instead of doing. his damn. job.

The irony was not lost on me. And my new barbed-laced gloves were not lost on his face.

The face which looked quite gloomy even as I placed a large stack of quesadillas before him.

“Yeah,” I mumbled, retreating back to the stove, “it’s already on YouTube. And there are some TikTok dances about it.”

“…dances?” He muffled between cheesy mouthfuls.

“Yeah,” Mattis pulled up the app,  “Like, apparently some kids got video from a window. And some people thought the Queen’s lasers made cool sounds… so they like, set it to music.”

Conley flipped through some of the videos, cursing occasionally and taking angrier and angrier bites out of his food.

“They’re taking her side!”

Jacob began cleaning up all the astringent stinking paper towels, and I stood to help him, just now realizing how much work he’d had to do on our friend. Staring at his shoulders as I followed him to the bathroom, that guilt felt even heavier. I hadn’t factored it in when I was beating all of my resentment out on Conley.

I grabbed Jacob tightly by the wrist as we washed our hands to get the remnants of blood and hydrogen peroxide off. I didn’t know whether there wasn’t enough air in the room, or if I just couldn’t force it down my throat.

Sweet Jacob didn’t hesitate, in a swift movement he pulled the door closed, and me tightly into his chest. My body shook, as if it was trying to literally shake off the entire day. From worrying about my uncle, to the fury with Conley. Then, (can I face it?) enjoying the fight for the first time, only to see the ripple it’s had on Mattis and Jacob… I- good gods. I wanted my mom. My knees began to lose any strength to hold me up. I was going to fall, and then barf, and then maybe never get up again.

Thankfully, Jacob’s arms were still holding me upright, and that was another thing to feel terrible about. This was all because of me, yet here he was being so kind and caring.

He of course misread my concern, “I know you’re scared for ‘im, hun. We’re all worried. But he’s strong, this is jus-a blip. It’ll be alright.”

I pulled back enough to look at him, and staring up into his sandstone eyes, I wanted to just tell him everything. Simply blurt: Actually, I’m only a little worried about Conley. I’m really worried about my sanity. ‘Cause I’m the bad guy, and I’m getting too good at it. And I’m so so sorry you’re covered in our friend’s blood and Mattis is having to strategize again and it’s all my fault!

But I couldn’t say that. Not only for how terrible cliche’ it would be, and Uncle had preached against cliche’ as long as I can remember, but because I’d chosen this burden. I was a big girl who decided to be the Queen of Diamonds, and I would have to keep my big girl pants on through this too.

Not just that, but I’d already caused my friends so much trouble today; asking Jacob to bear this with me would just be causing more.

So instead, I said what I could:

“Thank you. I don’t know what he’d do if you weren’t always here to sew him back together.”

He squeezed me tightly and kissed my forehead. I felt his smile as he whispered into my hair, “If we, weren’t here.”

The Word

Retch (verb): 1. Make the sound and movement of vomiting. 2. Vomit
(noun): A movement or sound of vomiting.

What does it mean, to be really good at doing the wrong thing? Is it still called a Gift at that point? I wonder.

The Queen of Diamonds is easily one of my favorite characters to work with, but also a hard one! She has so much to think about, and so many warring intentions. I think working with her challenges me as a writer, which is both good for me and scary.

Because the other thing about her is that her story isn’t really… hers? It’s also Conley’s. And now Mattis’s, and Jacob’s, and also her Uncle’s*, and her sister’s, and she knows that. It’s something we all have to remember sometimes. Yes, our actions are our own, but the ripple effect, hits every chapter of the loved ones around us. The Queen of Hearts is just hitting them with lasers!

So happy reading, and happy rippling, lovely readers!

Anyone figured out who her Uncle is yet?! I’ll send a special treat to the first person to guess right. Send your guesses to me via the Connect page 🙂

Today I am Direction

Hello lovely readers! If it's been a while or you're new here & you'd like a refresher on The Called, visit Today I am Remora or Today I am Daedal. But don't feel obligated- immortals really don't feel the need for a timeline, so neither should you.

The Story

“Gods BELLS it is cold!”

“…where are we?”

“More like when are we?”

“The next one to say something useless gets knocked the fuck off this mountain.”

It was godsdamn cold. I didn’t know where or when we were, but cliché questions get under my skin. We arrived together onto what looked like a lesser peak of a wintery mountain range. So we all had the same information, and judging by how fast those dark clouds were moving, we had more important issues than the timeline.

“Is everyone still in one piece?” I cared more about McKoi and Genile but I was looking at Fendoialin. The old wizard was more hunched than usual, wrapped up in his gray robes and pulling a familiar plum scarf around his head. I had no idea how old his bones were, but a snowstorm couldn’t be good for them. To his credit though, he looked up at me and gave a sturdy nod.

“I’m not sure I would call this one piece.” McKoi’s pack had gotten blow open in the shift from the entrance site to the mountain. He was attempting to gather the journals, med wraps, and random weapons back into his bag.

“Not what I meant, private. Stuff aside- anything broken?”

“Yes!”

I pulled my feet out of the snow and ran across it to Genile, but where I though she was clutching a shattered elbow or radius, she was cooing over a broken telescope.

“…really, private?”

“It can see over curve, sergeant! I had to fight a siren for this!”

“I meant YOU, you miserable lot! Is anyone here in PAIN or unable to move due to a bodily injury that needs healing in the CURRENT moment?!”

“…no.”

“No, sergeant.”

Fendoialin grunted and shook his head.

“Sergeant-” McKoi was looking upwards.

“Yes, I saw the clouds, we gotta get off this mountain quick as we can.”

“But your gem,” Private Genile started, “and the tree sent us up here.”

I hefted my pack from one shoulder to the other, taking Fendoialin’s off his back, (the hell is in here? heavy as a boulder!) experiencing no protest from him for the first time in a century. “I don’t care. We can’t hunt for a Champion if we’re frozen to death.”

“We can’t exactly-”

“OKAY,” I rounded on Genile, “we can’t hunt a Champion if we’re frozen ALIVE either. Better, Private?!”

I held her stare until she looked down at her feet and gave me an apologetic, “Yes, Sergeant.”

“We could make a little ice hut,” McKoi offered, “dig into the mountain-”

“So you know what range this is, McKoi?” I dropped both packs to the ground so I could stand at my full height, even if it was still a few inches below his.

“No, Sergeant.”

“Then you don’t know the season. The chances for avalanche. The local fauna, and if it wants to eat us. We go down the mountain until the storm has passed. And if anyone speaks again while my feet are still on snow, I rip their jaw off and don’t put it back on until I feel like it.”

Several breaths passed. I waited to make sure there were no further responses. Then closing my eyes, felt for North, felt for the way down, hefted the packs, and started walking.

It was moments like these, when my neck was hot from anger and embarrassment, that all my centuries of age felt like nothing, and I was young and inexperienced again. As if I hadn’t earned my stripes over and over again. And I couldn’t get Captain’s voice outta my head.

“They’ll follow you blindly when it matters.”

The day had ended with a particularly unpleasant fight with some hadishuns, and many of the Called had taken tough hits that would heal slowly. We’d told the entire crew to take the night, sleep it off, and we would be the night watch ourselves. It was rather nice the few times the Captain and I got a moment alone to speak without a private near by. 

“Sometimes they still speak back to me, Captain. How do you do it? There’s not a peep when you give an order.”

Captain Collins lifted her brow at me. 

“Okay well, Jones talks a lot, but we still always do what you say.”

The Captain took a long drag from her pipe, and it made her look so old and wise in her unwrinkled face, that for a second I could imagine her in a different place, in a normal life, and I wondered if she missed it. 

“Well your leadership training isn’t really complete. And you know it. And since you know it, they can smell that on you.”

I laughed, “Oh good, a smelly sergeant. And when do ya think my training is going to be over?”

She winked, “When you’re the Captain.”

The Word

Direction (noun): 1. A course along which someone or something moves. 2. The management or guidance of someone or something.

What I wouldn’t do for Jack Sparrow’s compass sometimes, ya know? If you’ve seen the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, you know it doesn’t just point North. And sometimes, we’re more than a little lost.

Sergeant Teak is a lot lost. On the top of mountain, with no bearings, and even the meekest of The Called are challenging her commands. It’s not a great place to not be able to spot the North star.

I think in times like our world is going through now, it’s hard to feel like we’ve got direction even while on a defined path. We feel like Jack Sparrow when the compass is spinning wildly (what do I even want?) and Sergant Teak on the top of a mark-less mountain (and where they hell am I?).

I don’t have the answer. I’m walking along, myself. But I think Sergeant Teak is right about one thing- you can always rejoin the path after rest. When you’ve settled, when you look down at your compass, and it’s stopped spinning- pointing one way and you’re ready to go again.

Happy travels, lovely readers. Maybe the skies always be clear when you need direction.

Today I am Bloom

The Story

The steam rose slowly, stretching up towards the ceiling, unraveling towards the ceiling like a waking creature.

She didn’t mind if she never rose again. She turned the nozzle over further.

The scalding water raced over her body, angry tracts in its wake where her skin disagreed with the temperature onslaught. But her bones needed the heat; her heart and her headache needed the heat, so she just made a mental note to use her good lotion as an apology, should she ever leave the shower.

She let herself lean against the back wall, and the shock of the still-cool tile while breathing in the fresh steam almost felt like life. But it was quickly gone again, so she slid all the way down until she could stretch her legs out and close her eyes while still feeling the torturous, blessed spray.

Her hands played at sudsing her body. That’s what one does in a tub, but it wasn’t really why she was here. What needed to be cleansed tonight could not be done with her Coconut & Mango Sugar Scrub. But she pushed the little bubbles around as if it might.

Gradually, the steam pulled the hiccup from her chest that had been stuck there for three days. It was a painful release. As the heat filled her, it pushed out the slow, dull tears that too had been captive. She’d hated the weight of them within her, but the forced acknowledgment of them, even alone, seemed worse.

Then, as if she were the heirloom kettle out on her stove, the next hot drop hit to send her over, but instead of a whistle, a wail exploded from deep within her chest to meet the blistering air around her.

But it felt could to feel both the scratch on her throat from her scream at the same time the hot water attempted to sooth it, so she screeched again, and again, until it collapsed in on itself into a sob.

Reaching out and thrashing at the water, begging it to both hold her and leave her alone at the same time, as if she were once again a young girl fighting a night time bath.

She was so behind on the things that needed to get done now. She’d been on a schedule. How far behind track was this? Years, at least. An entire plan redrawn again. Some of it her fault, some of it not. Some things she’d thrown out, some things were just accidentally, irreparably lost. The few things gained could not yet be dwelled on from the depth of it all.

It just HURT. And she was tired of it hurting. She wanted to crack open her chest and just pull whatever that dark pain was out. Let the water get in.

Finally, she was just tired. She blew all the snot from her nose the hard crying had caused, thinking how that part was never included in the movies. It was gross, but she could breathe again.

She laughed. And it felt like a little joke from the universe to make her smile.

On purpose, she forced a deep breath of steam in. She wasn’t better, but that bit was out of her, for now. She closed her eyes and leaned back against the tile again.

“Oh Peter,” she whispered, “it was a rough day today.”

 

 

“Momma?”

One more little breath, “In here!” and she heard the confident footsteps of her daughter gallop closer, then stop at the door.

“I’m home!”

A smile split over Liza’s lips. There wasn’t always the Hallmark or Gilmore Girl magic in being a single mother, but there was something about the exuberance of a child simply being pleased to arrive in your presence that just… helped.

She slid from the tub and quickly wrapped a towel around her waist so she could open the door to shout down a response, but found her daughter still there in the hallway.

“Oh! Good,” Liza planted a kiss on the top of rebellious brown curls, “I’m glad you’re home. I was just freshening up. How was rehearsal?”

“Terrible, sorta.” Big round eyes stared up at Liza, dangerously blue and filled with so many worlds. But there was still joy there, and Liza would not project her own difficult afternoon on her child; she swore it to whoever was listening and everyone else too.

“Uh oh, well let me get some pants on and you tell me about it while I show you the mess I made in the workshop today-”

 

The Word

Bloom (verb): When coffee grounds come in contact with hot water, they release carbon dioxide and often bubble and expand. Coffee blooming is the act of dampening your coffee bed to provoke this release of carbon dioxide.

I’ve missed Liza, and even though she was having a hard day, was so happy to visit with her again. If you need a little reminder for where we’ve seen her last, here are her big hits: Today I am CarryToday I am Susurrus, & Today I am Steady.

I have a Chemex pour-over that has seen a few different lives. It has lived at a lake in South Carolina while my parents were dating, then had to sustain the entire family during weekend trips there. It moved to different cities in Virginia, may have dropped by Pennsylvania, and now it’s here with me, on my counter, suspicious of its Keurig neighbor.

Making a great cup of coffee does not come naturally to me. But one morning last Winter, all the elements finally came together. I heated the on the stove water in a kettle. Poured the first few drops as slowly as I could over fresh, course grinds into the sleeve of the Chemex. I waited. The bloom- that first whiff of heaven meant it was time to pour the rest of the water in, and so I did.

Renewed faith, in a mug. Spiritual awakening, sweetened with sugar. Strength, but creamy.

Sometimes all you need is a little steam to release whatever is tied up inside.

Happy heating 🙂

 

P.S. – A little news: There’s now a notification email list! Pop on over to the Subscription page to sign up!

Today I am Trifle

The Story

“So what you’re saying is…”

“Yep.”

“Judas was…”

“The first.”

“The first one.”

“Yep.”

“Judas.”

“Judas.”

“As in Judas Iscariot. The Betrayer. Least of the the Twelve disciples.”

“Yep.”

“Was the first vampire.”

“Righto.”

“….”

“What?”

“You’re ridiculous.”

“How am I wrong?! Think about it!”

“I am thinking about it! That is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard in my life!”

“Vampires gotta start somewhere!”

“Vlad the impaler is a MUCH more reasonable start.”

“That’s too commercial.”

“Do you even hear yourself?”

“It is! But Judas- that even makes sense. God isn’t about letting people off easy.”

“Oh! Oh, now you know what God’s thinking.”

“Just look at Cain! Marks him and sends him off. You think He’s just gonna let Judas hang himself after turning over the Only Son? Nah.”

“Nah? That’s what God says. ‘Nah.’

“I think God might say ‘Nah.'”

“But that’s Old Testament God you’re thinking. This is New Testament God we’re talking about.”

“Just because all the characters changed doesn’t mean the author did.”

“Well now you’re just throwing around fancy phrases to sound right.”

“You caught me.”

“I did. Because other than the betrayal, you’ve got no backing.”

“Wine is blood, blood is wine. Last thing Judas has? Jesus’s wine, that He says is His blood. What do vampires drink? Blood. What is Jesus? Son of God. Son? Sun like in the sky. Vampires drink blood, can’t see the sun. Boom, case closed.”

“Speaking of drinking- I am never drinking with you again.”

“…You’ve been drinking? Dude we’re on the job!”

“I always have to drink around you, man.”

“Then you are inebriated and can’t argue, so I’m declaring myself the winner, again.”

“Thus also proving my point, making me also a winner, again.”

“…”

“…”

“BA hahahahah har haha har hahah!”

“Heh heh heh heheh heee heh heh heh hedy heh heh.”

“Ahhh ha ha aaahhh man, just another day watching the world go by, eh?”

“I don’t know, they say this one is it.”

“You’ve never been the type to be optimistic, Mark. I’m surprised.”

“There’s always time to start.”

“And you think that time is now?”

“This time feels different, don’t you think?”

“Something in the air, like a storm?”

“Now who’s being too commercial? No- no. It’s all adding up, the chess pieces in the right places, I’ve been watching.”

“And I haven’t? What are you seeing that I’m missing?”

“Nothing, it’s just that you’re looking without seeing, like usual.”

“Hey now, don’t go hurting my feelings just because I’m right all the time.”

“I’m serious, Bernie. Things are changing, pieces are moving. Queen to D2 and all that.”

“You really think so? But there are still so many pawns on the board.”

“There always are. Right before the last three moves. There always are.”

A much younger man begins to stroll past the two, but his gate slows. A step past them he stops, considering. Then he pulls a dark leather wallet from his slacks, adding up a few bills, then replaces the wallet in his back pocket. He offers one of the bills to Mark, and one to Bernie.

“Bless you, Sir.”

“Thank you, young man. Hot one today, stay safe.”

The gentleman nods in return and bustles on without a word. The two wait until he was out of earshot to continue their conversation.

Stay safe?”

“He’s in much more danger than we are, you have to admit.”

“That’s true enough, but we ought not to let it on so easily.”

“Hey, you cover the crazy the majority of the time, it’s alright for me to sound it this once.”

“You think they’ll be alright, the ones that pull this kinda stuff?” Bernie waved the green Lincoln like a tiny flag.

“Who knows? Our job’s just to watch. I think it’s worth trying, I would if I were them.”

 

The  Word

Trifle (noun): 1. A thing of little value or importance. 2. A cold dessert of sponge cake and fruit covered with layers of custard, jelly, and cream.

Yes, their names are Mark and Bernie. 100 points to the first person who gets this reference before scrolling down*

 

 

 

 

 

*Bernardo and Marcellus, the guards who are joking around at the beginning of Hamlet. They are so good at joking around and Shakespeare’s habit of implying similar characters when they’re in similar pairs and using similar actors and therefore implying similar characters. Thus, they are rumored as inspiring such duos as these guys and these guys BECAUSE they were all intended as a combination of these guys and the reader’s metaphorical this guy. Enjoy your reading 🙂

But are these guys guards? Watchers on the wall? Or just a couple of polite homeless dudes? Is it possible to be both in this world?