The Mangers

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She had been on the donkey’s back for so long, but she was a small girl, excluding her huge belly, so they made it to Bethlehem. Her back hurt. The ride had been agonizing towards the end, but she bit her lips bloody, veiled her face against the cold, and said nothing. He walked beside her with the donkey’s lead loose in his hand. The poor thing wasn’t going to bolt. She had cared for it since she was old enough to do chores.

She and Joseph had been engaged since her fourteenth birthday. He was thirty. He was sweet and handsome, even with his prematurely graying beard. It ran in his family, he said. He had built a bridal chest for her, but they had to leave it behind. The census gave them an excuse to disappear. She had packed only a tiny cedar box that he made for her trinkets, her earrings, a pair of carved wood dolls.

Joseph stopped walking. She woke from her half-sleep. She had been dreaming of a fortune-teller who foretold a journey and a separation. The fortune-teller was real, and the prediction. She started her menses last year. After the first one, when she came back into society, a woman walked boldly up to her at the well and gave her a story. She asked nothing in return. She wore an amulet that was a symbol of one of the old goddesses. Mary kept the conversation in her heart, with many other things.

Joseph went from inn to inn and came back each time with the same despairing look. Mary tried to sit up straight. Her back ached dreadfully, and she was thirsty. The donkey made little huffing noises of distress.

“We can sleep in that stable,” Joseph said, pointing across the roadway. It was a large stable, and bright. Then Mary Salome came out, carrying a lantern. She had traveled with them, walking the entire way. She was a midwife.

“It’s clean,” Mary Salome said. “And warm. There’s plenty of hay, and the well in sight.”

Mary slid down from the donkey into Joseph’s arms, and was immediately embarrassed. She had been riding for so long that her water ran down her legs. She looked up at Mary Salome, but she was looking at Joseph.

“It’s time,” the midwife said, and Mary understood, but suddenly she was bent double, and Joseph picked her up and carried her into the stable. The animal smell was not too bad. The innkeeper must have had it cleaned when he ran out of rooms.

Because she had been in labor for most of a day, the birth went quickly. Mary Salome was expert even though she was still officially an apprentice. “Your boy,” she said, holding up the child so that Mary, resting in a bed of hay, could see him. But then there was more pain, waves, like the sea, and Joseph with his fine, slender hands was almost fumbling with the boy when Mary Salome held up another baby. This one had red hair. This one was a girl.

A tabby cat with a new litter of kittens had occupied one manger. Mary nursed both babies. Joseph went to the inn and bought bread, lentils, and salted fish. Mary Salome talked quietly to Mary about the twins. When Joseph came back with the food, Mary Salome was gone, on foot, with the red-haired twin, Mary was weeping, and it was thirty years until Mary and Joseph saw the girl again, grown into a woman, troubled, driven nearly mad searching for her twin.

(A bit of explanation: the midwife didn’t steal the twin. It was part of the old woman’s prophecy, that the twin would have to be hidden for her protection, so that she wouldn’t be harmed when people turned against Jesus. It was just an odd thought that came to me on Christmas Eve–what if Jesus was so close to Mary Magdalene because she was his twin sister?)

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Excerpt, Love Lies Bleeding

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“I’ve already eaten. I’m just going to have another glass of wine. She’d like coffee,” he said to the waitress.

We sat in companionable silence. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the lights of the bookstore go dark. “Oh, shit,” I said. “What time is it?”

“After eight,” he replied. “Your friend is going home, so now you’re alone with me. You aren’t going to turn into a mouse or a pumpkin or some other damned thing and leave me sitting here with nothing in my hands but a glass slipper, are you?”

I laughed. “No, I’m afraid that you’re stuck with plain old me.”

WIP Excerpt

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Slivers of unopened buttercups stood as tall as the new grass. I walked in my sock feet to the corner of the house. The stump of the old oak tree was at the back of the yard, between the house and garden, and I didn’t have my glasses, but I could see that new trees had grown from the coppice and that there was a royal purple carpet at their base.

They take it away from you, the men

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I laughed. My mother and her albums. She had been eighteen in 1977, and already dating my father. They had bonded over music: the Eagles, Elton John, Queen, David Bowie. My mother’s parents didn’t allow her to listen to any of it. My father was two years older and had been on his own since he was seventeen. My mom kept the albums and the turntable. She loved Stevie Nicks, had all her solo albums, and had taken Shay and me to a concert in 1998. I remembered so many women in black chiffon finery, top hats, and crescent moon necklaces, the feeling of being safe in the midst of the crowd, singing along with the songs I had heard over and over at night from the record player in the hallway, the blonde goddess in her glittering shawls. My mother gave me a fairy ragdoll that she had spent three months sewing at night. It had black hair, blue eyes, and blue wings. She pushed me through the crowd to the front of the stage, with Shay hanging onto her arm, between the security guards, and I held out the doll, and the goddess took it from me, and her fingertips brushed mine, and a couple of pieces of black and gold fringe caught in my charm bracelet. The goddess didn’t seem to notice, or maybe it was as if she had gifted me strands of her sparkling hair in exchange for the doll.

I kept the fringes of her shawl in my jewelry box that had a twirling plastic fairy instead of a twirling plastic ballerina.

“I wish you still played the albums,” I said. The turntable was on a wooden cabinet in the hallway. My bed was a few feet from the hallway door.

“Me too,” my mother said. “They take it away from you, the men.”

“What?”

“The music. You tie it up in your mind with them and they go and the music is in a knot.”

I tucked my mother into bed, and went to my bed, and put a Stevie Nicks cassette into my tape player, and I fell asleep with my headphones on so Shay wouldn’t bitch.

Spooky

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The main character in my new story is named Kerrie. I was writing a scene about a twirling ballerina jewelry box that she has, which is the same as my twirling ballerina jewelry box, and I looked up the company to see if I could find that specific jewelry box and the tune.

I did.

The tune is “Kerri.”

WIP excerpt

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Shay’s friends didn’t like our house. Most of them lived in old houses, but our house was confusing to outsiders. No one else had two kitchens, or windows that opened into other rooms. It was hard for me to be in normal houses, houses that were bright and had rooms that stayed in place. As I got older and started drawing, I sketched the floor plan over and over. It began to seem almost like a labyrinth.

The Tornado

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I’ve been mulling over this story for a long time, and I finally got the idea for the beginning when we had a very small tornado a couple of months ago. I didn’t see the actual tornado, but my next door neighbor did.

 

The oak tree on the hill in the field across the road went down in the tornado.

I heard the siren on the nearby firehouse but didn’t associate it with the storm. I had been on the phone with my sister Shay when I heard the flue over the stove rattling. I glanced out the window and saw the undersides of the maple leaves. The laundry. I got off the phone and ran outside, and I was fighting to hold onto the sheets and get the quilt off the line when I heard a shrieking, tearing sound. The wind almost blew me off my feet. My neighbors’ cat ran across my yard towards her house and I thought, why is she not blowing away?  I made it in the back door, pulled with all my strength to close the storm door, and ran to the front door. Something flew from one side of the screened porch to the other, a cushion from the glider. The swirling clouds enveloped the small hill in the field. The odd thing that I told the neighbors about late that night was the way the tornado lingered on the hill before passing on and leaving the giant old oak wrenched out of the earth. I was so appalled that I couldn’t take my eyes off the downed tree, and I missed the tornado’s disappearance.

My house faced a county road that crossed a two-line highway. Brenda said that tornado had followed the highway, then veered into the field at a ninety-degree angle.

“Them storms do strange things,” the lineman said. The tornado had taken branches from trees along the highway. The power lines were down in multiple places. “Shame about that old tree. Reckon people will stop calling it Oak Hill Crossroads?”

“I doubt it,” Brenda said. She ran a finger under each eye, but the tears had already tracked the mascara down her cheeks. “It’s been Oak Hill for over a hundred years.”

“What’s going to happen to the tree?” I asked. I had only lived at the crossroads for two months, and I wanted to cry.

“Don’t affect county property or our equipment. Up to the land owner,” he said, before he walked back out to one of the trucks.

A gust of wind stirred Brenda’s wavy blonde hair. “You got propane for your genny?” she asked.

Brenda was in her early thirties. I was thirty-seven. She was barely five feet tall. I was only five foot six, and I could look down on the top of her head. She was in a tie-dyed red tee shirt, leggings, and flip-flops. Her toenails were painted red. They looked like wild strawberries in the grass. She and her girlfriend lived next door, in a log cabin style house with a blue tin roof. When I moved into my house, Brenda came over with a bottle of white zinfandel and a tray full of handmade hors d’oeuvres, and she made sure that I knew how to use the generator. We were on well water because we were outside the city limits, even though our addresses and zip codes said that we lived in the city. We were largely on our own. I had known that before I bought the house, and I had taken all of Brenda’s advice for a power outage and still, I was afraid to move from that spot in the yard. Already the sun had dipped low enough in the sky to glitter through leaves in the very tops of the trees, but not the oak. Never again.