“Crooked,” NEW from the novel “Pushing the River”

newborn

You could see it right away when he was born. Something strange with one side of his face. Even as a brand new teeny little newborn, barely out long enough to have dried off and gotten the feeling of air in his lungs. Wriggling around, even though he was straight-jacketed inside that hospital blanket, you could see there was something going on. When that little one went to cry, or to yawn, or let out a holler, one side of his mouth wasn’t cooperating with the other side. One side stayed perfectly, utterly still, while the other did every bit of the work.

Of course, lots of things happen when a baby is going through the whole business of being born. They get stretched and squished and crumpled up pretty good sometimes in that short distance between where they come from and life outside. Lots of them creases and folds just go away all on their own, and lightning quick, too. Nobody paid much mind as they paraded in and out to coo at the new baby, not when he was going home with a mama who had barely reached fifteen years of age.

Them nurses coming in and out of that new mama’s room seemed to have their eyebrows permanently raised up. They looked mostly at the floor, stealing quick-like glances at each other as they passed. If anybody noticed that one side of the baby’s mouth was refusing to join forces with the other, not a one of them said a word.fine-art-newborn-portraits

Dylan did all them things that babies do right on time, like he was reading right out of some handbook. He smiled and gurgled and cooed up a storm. Seemed that little cuss was going to have a tidy sum of things to say when he grew, cause he was practicing and testing out different sounds he could muster nearly all of the time.

Thing is, if you’d have hunkered down to look at one exact half of his face while he was chortling away, you’d have seen the whole rainbow of life’s feelings passing through his sparkling eyes and across his laugh-pinched cheeks and through that lively little mouth. But if you’d hunkered down on his other side, the other half of his face would have set there stone still. His eyelid blinking just a hair slower than the other, the cheek laying flat, and the mouth as limp and unmoving as a fish way too long out of the water.

That little baby was born with a couple of nerves not connected up the way they was supposed to be. Sets one to wondering if this was the hand of God – showing a mighty peculiar sense of humor– or some fluke in a very big and random universe. Or maybe Dylan hisself had some sense of his own unfolding life.

The Male Body, new from the novel “Pushing the River”

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When she thought of Dan, she thought of his shoulder. His right shoulder. The one she rested her head on when they lay in bed. Don’t ever get out of the pool Dan, she thought to herself; because that swimmer’s shoulder is worth dying for.

Madeline became deeply attached to bodies. To the body of her lover. The curve of the calf, line of the toes, rises and declivities of the chest, sprout of hairs on the lower abdomen – every bit of it became an imprint deep within her, just as a baby duck becomes imprinted on the first thing it sees, nothing forever after seeming right, or even possible.

She remembered when she first saw Michael – the previous body in her life — naked. He looked like one of the blue people in the movie “Avatar” – stretched to unreasonable tall leggy thinness. But in a short time, his body was the only one that made sense to her. Legs that were not as long, calf muscles that were less taught seemed…mildly distasteful to even consider.

Hands, most especially, stirred inside of her. If e e cummings carried her heart in his heart, Madeline carried his hands.

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Madeline thought of Dan’s hands. The dense, ropey tendons across his palms from that disease she could never remember the name of. The blood-red tips of his fingers.

My problem, Madeline said to herself, is that I want someone at the receiving end of my thoughts. That voice inside of my head. The “me” voice. I like the idea that someone else might be hearing it. Otherwise it’s just me. Me me me. Seems a little overly self-involved. Seems a little pointless to be doing a running narration of my own life to myself, for myself.

That’s where the body comes in, she realized. That’s why I carry his body around inside of me. So he’s there, too.

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Art, top to bottom:  Judith Roth, Judith Roth, Leonardo Da Vinci

Thinking of a New Year, from the novel “Pushing the River”

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She glanced at Dan’s note, not reading the words, but taking in a general impression of the handwriting, the pattern of the markings on a torn page of paper. She sighed deeply, and inhaled the exhilarating, still-fresh aroma of the delicious Christmas tree. No question that Frasier Fir is the way to go, she thought: it smells as if it were chopped down yesterday. She pictured the Brawny Paper towel guy, axe slung over one shoulder, wearing nothing but his flannel shirt, ancient jeans and worn boots as he trudged through the powdery snow in search of their tree.

She would leave it up until after New Year’s. Maybe another week after. Taking down the Christmas tree struck Madeline as one of the saddest things in the world. Even when Dick had been around, she had always done it herself. He insisted that he couldn’t trust himself to stow away the ornaments handed down from her mother’s family, as well as those from her own childhood; although this was miraculously not an issue when he dove into the tissue-wrapped antiquities with childlike glee when they decorated the tree each year. So be it. Yet another year when she would do it alone. It allowed her a degree of ceremony she would not have otherwise. Time when she could hold the oldest ones – the ones her mother had painstakingly dated, going back to 1919 – and try to picture her long-dead mother as the gangly, sickly, big-eyed child that she had seen in photographs. Carrying an equally skinny, frightened-looking doll with her everywhere she went.

Taking down a Christmas tree was like a death. The death of another year. Pack up and put away whatever was special, or memorable, or lasting. Throw away the rest. Turkey feather. Christmas tree.

xmastree

Perhaps, Madeline thought, perhaps I have lived long enough.

It seemed to her, quite suddenly, that she had seen a great many Christmases. That around the tree had gathered so many, many people whose lives had touched hers, and who were now gone. Like a long Dickens novel, where the sheer volume of characters who paraded through the pages was impossible to comprehend.

When she eventually dragged this perfect tree out to the curb, leaving a trail of needles she would find herself sweeping up well into the summer, Dan would be gone, too. I have had so many different lives, she thought. Different little universes, created one conversation cup of coffee glass of wine walk along the lake whispered tender words caresses orgasms at a time. One at a time, day after day, and a world is constructed. What was it Octavio Paz said?

if two kiss
the world changes, desires take flesh
thoughts take flesh, wings sprout
on the backs of the slave, the world is real–

Oh shit, she thought. I must be seriously fucking stressed. Quotes are popping into my head. Bad sign.

bodybag

“A Failure of Memory,” new from the novel “Pushing the River”

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Madeline sometimes exhibited a dizzyingly optimist view of things past, which ranged from sweetly touching to downright frightening. For instance, there was the now-infamous time when John read “Of Mice and Men” for his eighth grade English class. From an early age, John possessed an uncanny ability to predict the outcome of a story from very near the beginning of a book, movie, TV show, etc. He paused the movie, or put down the book, and could not go any further until he asked if the outcome was going to be what he expected. Then he considered whether he wanted to go forward and face the inevitable, or whether to take a pass. He asked Madeline if “Mice and Men” was going to have the tragic, heartbreaking ending he foresaw. And Madeline, over the course of the many years since she had read it, had somehow spun the story into a sparse, entirely lovely Steinbeck tale about the love and devotion of two brothers. Epic fail. Even as a nearly-six-foot, fourteen-year-old who shaved, John took to his bed immediately after dinner the night he finished the book.

Then there was the time Madeline got serious about her responsibility to ensure that her growing children experienced the wide range of world cinema, and not simply the mainstream American extravaganzas that they all loved. Where to start, she thought. Something with a simple story, little dialogue, stunning visuals, and the far slower, languid pace that characterized films from nearly every other country. Got it, she thought, remembering a film she had seen in college: Nicholas Roeg’s “Walkabout.” Somehow, in her memory, the movie had metamorphosed into a lovely, mysterious trek through the outback where two lost children follow a young Aboriginal boy back to home and safety. She would never forget the expression on both John’s and Kate’s faces when they turned to her, five minutes into the film, their mouths slightly open, their faces pale and clearly questioning her sanity. Madeline’s rosy memory had completely erased the part where the dad drives the children into the outback, kicks them out of the car, attempts to shoot them, then proceeds to douse the car with gasoline and set it ablaze before shooting himself. While they watch.

So there was much precedent for Madeline remembering, at least at first, a happy scene where Savannah tickled Dylan’s newborn cheeks with the turkey feather while cooing and giggling at her baby boy. But with the laundry away and Dan’s quickly-scribbled note in her hand, Madeline picked up the turkey feather from the sofa cushion and remembered the rest.

“He’s wonderful, Savannah. Completely wonderful,” Madeline said. Dylan followed the sound of Madeline’s voice with his eyes, and smiled.

“Yeah…” Savannah said.

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“What’s wrong? You sound like something’s wrong.”

“Nah. I was just remembering when my dad used to tickle me…”

“Oh. Are you…missing him?” Madeline wasn’t sure how to read Savannah’s wistfulness.

“Ha! Miss him? Nah. I mean, he was an OK dad, I guess. Sometimes.”

“Was he, Savannah?”

“ I mean, yeah. No. I don’t know. Things got pretty bad there.” Savannah stopped stroking Dylan with the feather and laid it beside her on the sofa. She wrapped her hands around Dylan’s arms and held fast. “You know he called the cops on me, right?”

“Yeah, I heard that,” Madeline said.

“You know they took me away? Put me into juvey? Did you know that?”

“No,” Madeline replied. “I didn’t know that.”

“Yep,” Savannah said. “Cause I was late coming home. He told the cops I was all violent and out of control. Ha! HE’S the one who’s out of control. After a few days, the cops told me I had my choice, I could go home or I could stay there. Guess what?! I stayed. For, like, more than a week.”

“Really?”

“I knew I better than to go home, until he, you know, cooled off.” Savannah shrugged. “I knew he’d just…be all physical with me.”

“What do you mean?”

“He’d…you know…shove me around…a little”

“Shove you around? Like, what are we talking about here?”

“I never had to go to the hospital or anything like that…” Savannah said. “Well, just that one time.”

“Are you shitting me?” Madeline said, loud enough to startle Dylan. “What happened?”

“I got taken away. But they sent me back.”

Madeline’s head was spinning. “ How badly did you get hurt?”

“Oh. Nothing broken. Well, just a finger. Stitches and stuff.”

Madeline did not know what to say. Inside her head, she said, “WHEN DID MY WHOLE FUCKING LIFE TURN INTO THE FUCKING JERRY SPRINGER SHOW;” but the words that actually emerged from her mouth were: “I’m so sorry you had to go through stuff like that, Savannah,” which seemed woefully, tragically inadequate, but she said it nonetheless.

“Yeah. Whatever.” Savannah shrugged again. “Now I got this little guy,” she said, as if that explained, as well as solved, every single thing.

Madeline looked down at the turkey feather and became aware of Dan’s note still clutched in her hand. She pictured the following chain of events that would extend into the inevitable future:

she would put the turkey feather back in its honorary spot on the end table. At some point, Dan would vanish, again, and this time for good. The feather would remain for some amount of time, sometimes striking Madeline as a lovely and poignant token of a person who had stood beside her at an enormously tough time, sometimes as a stab of painful reminder of someone who was prone to vanishing, and would live the entire rest of his life in like fashion. The day would come when the feather was no longer imbued with any particular meaning whatsoever. It would be a detritus. It would get tossed unceremoniously into a large plastic garbage bag, end up covered with coffee grounds and used tissues and egg shells and rotten leftovers. The bag would be hauled out to the alley, and crushed together with other bags. On some Thursday, men would toss it into the back of a truck. It would be squished and compacted and compressed. It would be dust.

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Top to Bottom: Photo of Salvador Dali, Rene Magritte, Vincent Van Gogh

 

“Turkey Feather,” new from the novel “Pushing the River”

Here is the scene it its entirety:

West-Beach-Portage-11

Madeline thought she was hearing a kerfuffle of footsteps running up and down the stairs as she folded the clothes in the basement laundry room. Weird, she thought.

Madeline believed tenaciously in the power of simple pleasures. Folding freshly cleaned clothes into an architecturally-arranged, enormous pile that she could carry in one trip always tickled her. She had to rest her chin on the top of the heap and bear down, sniffing deep into the fragrant laundry, in order to manage the load. Her arms carefully cradling the bottom of the stack and her chin planted, she began her ascent of the first of two flights of stairs between her and the laundry’s final destination in her bedroom.

Rounding the landing on the second flight of stairs, saying to herself: hahaha, nearly there and not a single sock teetering, Madeline caught a glimpse of the wild turkey feather, lying on the sofa, where Savannah had been running it back and forth across Dylan’s cheeks while she wrinkled up her nose and cooed at him.

The turkey feather. A souvenir from the day she and Dan drove to the Lake Michigan dunes and took a magnificent hike. They were walking single file on a narrow path, with panoramic views of the forest, the water, the rolling hills, on both sides of the ridge. Dan walked a bit ahead, and they were mostly silent as they looked back and forth, drinking everything in. It was a warm day for the season, with the heavy, thick sunlight of late fall that Madeline had loved all her life. Dan was nearly at the top of the hill when he stopped walking and turned to face her. He smiled at her, and his blue eyes shone.

She breathed a little heavily from the climb through the sand. They stood a good twenty-five feet apart, saying nothing. Dan looked a million miles into the distance, then had his attention caught by something lying on the ground. He walked a little way off the trail and into the thick undercoating of the forest floor, reaching down to pick something up. He walked over to Madeline and held out a long, thin striped feather.

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“A feather!” Madeline said.

“A wild turkey feather,” Dan said.

“Really? Are you sure?”

“Of course I’m sure. I grew up around here.”

“I will keep it forever,” Madeline said. “A souvenir.”

“Of course you will,” Dan said. Everything about his face belied the fact that he loved her, and that this fact made him proud, and shy, and embarrassed, and profoundly confused.

Madeline cajoled the laundry up the final flight of stairs, down the short hall and into the bedroom, where she immediately noticed…some lack. Something not-there that had been there before, the empty space shouting at her. It took her a moment to realize what was absent. Dan’s various paper bags, there in the corner since he had unexpectedly taken up residence a month earlier, were gone.

Before Madeline had time to ponder any further, she saw a single white page, its ragged edge clearly ripped out of a school notebook, lying in the center of the bedroom chair.

Dear Madeline,

I’ve never known anyone like you before, nor any people like your family either. You guys are all amazing – your incredible openness and energy for one another, your devotion, the intensity with which you communicate and love each other. I have truly never seen this before. Frankly, it makes me incredibly uncomfortable. I need a break. You guys are awesome, but it’s all a little much for me. You may have noticed that my stuff is gone; I’m going tohang out with my family for a while and chill. I’m really sorry for the abruptness of all this, but I just need to go.

Love always,

Dan

What? Madeline thought. I mean: WHAT!?!?!!!

Her thoughts went approximately like this:

–You son of a bitch, who asked you to MOVE IN HERE IN THE FUCKING FIRST PLACE?

–You total asshole douche bag, WHO THE FUCK SAID YOU COULD LEAVE NOW?

–Wait. Seriously?! You couldn’t even fucking wait until I was finished folding the laundry? You seriously had to rush around and sneak out before I even came upstairs? You chicken shit slime bag coward, YOU COULDN’T EVEN FUCKING FACE ME?

And finally:

–LOVE ALWAYS?!?! YOU HAVE GOT TO BE FUCKING KIDDING ME. LOVE. ALWAYS.

dunes

“Turkey Feather,” new from the novel “Pushing the River”

2127_1wild_turkey__merriams_08634d

Madeline thought she was hearing a kerfuffle of footsteps running up and down the stairs as she folded the clothes in the basement laundry room. Weird, she thought.

Madeline believed tenaciously in the power of simple pleasures. Folding freshly cleaned clothes into an architecturally-arranged, enormous pile that she could carry in one trip always tickled her. She had to rest her chin on the top of the heap and bear down, sniffing deep into the fragrant laundry, in order to manage the load. Her arms carefully cradling the bottom of the stack and her chin planted, she began her ascent of the first of two flights of stairs between her and the laundry’s final destination in her bedroom.

Rounding the landing on the second flight of stairs, saying to herself: hahaha, nearly there and not a single sock teetering, Madeline caught a glimpse of the wild turkey feather, lying on the sofa, where Savannah had been running it back and forth across Dylan’s cheeks while she wrinkled up her nose and cooed at him.

The turkey feather. A souvenir from the day she and Dan drove to the Lake Michigan dunes and took a magnificent hike. They were walking single file on a narrow path, with panoramic views of the forest, the water, the rolling hills, on both sides of the ridge. Dan walked a bit ahead, and they were mostly silent as they looked back and forth, drinking everything in. It was a warm day for the season, with the heavy, thick sunlight of late fall that Madeline had loved all her life. Dan was nearly at the top of the hill when he stopped walking and turned to face her. He smiled at her, and his blue eyes shone.

dunes

She breathed a little heavily from the climb through the sand. They stood a good twenty-five feet apart, saying nothing. Dan looked a million miles into the distance, then had his attention caught by something lying on the ground. He walked a little way off the trail and into the thick undercoating of the forest floor, reaching down to pick something up. He walked over to Madeline and held out a long, thin striped feather.

“A feather!” Madeline said.

“A wild turkey feather,” Dan said.

“Really? Are you sure?”

“Of course I’m sure. I grew up around here.”

“I will keep it forever,” Madeline said. “A souvenir.”

“Of course you will,” Dan said. Everything about his face belied the fact that he loved her, and that this fact made him proud, and shy, and embarrassed, and profoundly confused.

West-Beach-Portage-11

Guest Post and MULTI-AUTHOR PROMO !!

I am very pleased to present this guest blog by my friend and fellow author Michael Fedison.  Mike is the author of the YA fantasy  The Eye-Dancers.  As you will read below, he does a magnificent job writing blog entries that tie in to his book.

Many thanks to Mike for organizing this TWELVE AUTHOR PROMOTION.  Check out the varied works that are ALL BEING OFFERED FOR FREE OR REDUCED PRICE FOR THE NEXT TWELVE DAYS.  My own novel, You, in Your Green Shirt, is FREE today through November 16.

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In the first-season Twilight Zone episode titled “What You Need,” which aired on Christmas Day 1959, an old peddler named Pedott walks into a drinking establishment, carrying with him his sack of wares.

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He approaches a young woman, seated alone at a table, and asks her, “Something for you, miss?”

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She hands over a bill, asking for some matches, but the old man stares at her, looks into her eyes, and exclaims, “You don’t need matches, miss.  I’ll tell you what you need.”  And he hands her a small bottle of cleaning fluid, “guaranteed to remove spots of any and all kinds.”

“It’s what you need,” he assures her, and she takes it, no doubt baffled by the display.

womanbaffled

Pedott approaches the bar, where a man referred to as “Lefty” is drinking liberally.

“Whaddaya got, pop?” Lefty asks between drinks.

“Many things,” the old peddler answers.  “Many odds and ends.  Things you need.”

pedottandlefty

Lefty tells him there’s no chance he has what he needs in his bag full of merchandise–a new left arm.

The bartender breaks in, explaining that Lefty used to be “quite a pitcher in his time.”  He even pitched a couple of years for the Chicago Cubs.  But then “his arm went sour.”  Now Lefty comes into the bar each night, “looking for a baseball career at the bottom of a bottle.”

Pedott tells Lefty there are other opportunities, new career paths he can pursue.  Pitching isn’t the only way he can earn a living.  Lefty scoffs at this, his demeanor downcast, bereft of hope.

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Suddenly the old man has a brainstorm.  “I think I know what it is you need,” he says, reaching into his bag and fishing out a bus ticket to Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Lefty laughs.  “Now, what’s in Scranton, Pennsylvania, old man?”

But then the phone rings.  It’s for Lefty–a job offer from one of Lefty’s old managers to coach for a minor league baseball team in Scranton.  He tells Lefty to take a bus to Scranton and meet the GM to interview for the job.

Lefty of course wants to know how Pedott knew he’d get a call from Scranton, but the old man has quietly departed the scene, exiting the bar.  Oh well.  Lefty isn’t about to stress over the details.  He finally has an opportunity.  He just wishes he had nicer clothes.

“I sure wish I could get this out,” he gripes, pointing at a stain on his jacket.  “I’d like to look halfway decent when I meet the GM.”

The woman with the just-procured cleaning fluid walks up to him, shyly saying she couldn’t help but overhear, and that she has just the thing.

She tries it on the spot, applying the fluid to Lefty’s jacket stain.  “When this dries, you won’t even know you had a spot there,” she says.

womantakingoutthespot

As she applies the cleaning fluid, their eyes meet.  There is an unmistakable attraction.

The old peddler certainly knew what each of them needed . . .

*********************

I am especially fortunate to be a part of a multi-author, cross-genre promotion that, just maybe, can give old Pedott a run for his money.  The talented wordsmiths taking part in this promo offer a wide assortment of stories and styles–there is something here for everyone.

promobanner

The details of the promo are straightforward.  Each of the authors involved will run their own special promo on their books, beginning today and ending on November 22.  What titles are they featuring in the promo and what, exactly, does their promo entail?  Where can you find and download their books?  I invite you to click on each of the links below to discover the answers.

I hope you enjoy this eclectic literary smorgasbord!

Barbara Monier –Contemporary Literary Fiction

John Howell — Fiction Thriller

Shehanne Moore — Historical Romance

Janice Spina –Middle-Grade Junior Detectives Series

Luciana Cavallaro –Historical Fiction–Mythology Retold

Evelyne Holingue –Middle-Grade Fiction

Jo Robinson –Nonfiction Publishing Guide for Newbies, Short Stories, and Mainstream Fiction

Sonya Solomonovich –Time-Travel Fantasy

Jennifer Chow –Adult Cozy Mystery (The beginning of a new series)

Nicki Chen –Historical Fiction–WWII China

Katie Cross –YA Fantasy

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As for The Eye-Dancers, as part of this joint promotion that includes authors from around the globe, I am discounting the e-book version to 99 cents, straight through to November 22.  You can find it at the following online retail locations . . .

eyedancers

Amazon:  http://www.amazon.com/The-Eye-Dancers-ebook/dp/B00A8TUS8M

B & N:  http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-eye-dancers-michael-s-fedison/1113839272?ean=2940015770261

Smashwords:  http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/255348

Kobo:  https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/the-eye-dancers

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I thank each and every author involved for joining together and taking part in this cross-genre event.  It is an honor to be a part of this with you.

thankyou

And I thank everyone for reading!

–Mike