Month: April 2014

“A Girl Moves,” part 2, #MondayBlogs #amwriting


Marie made four or five trips to and from the U-Haul, and up and down the three flights of stairs, for every one that Madeline made. Having endured two days of driving in a cramped and un-airconditioned U-Haul, Proust was not about to leave Marie’s side. He followed right at her heels — crossing the street to the van, jumping into the incrementally growing empty space in the cargo area, wagging his mini tail as the women piled on each load, and yipping his high-pitched howling bark at completely random intervals — the entire time.

The U-Haul sat empty in what seemed to be an astonishingly short amount of time. Madeline stood in the street and gaped into the vast cavern of vacant space as if it were a true miracle, as if an outline of the virgin mother would undoubtedly appear on a side wall, like Jesus on a piece of toast.

“I’ll clean it out later,” Marie said over her shoulder. “I want to do some unpacking.”

“What are you talking about – ‘clean it out?’ It looks pretty cleaned out to me.”

Marie did not respond, as she was already on her way into the house.

Madeline leaned her head into the stairwell to the third floor and called up to Marie, “Anything I can do to help?”

A distant voice, dimmed by mountain ranges of boxes and belongings that lay between the two of them, called back, “No. Thanks. I’ll feel better if I can get a little bit done.”

Madeline attempted to read and otherwise occupy herself despite the fact that it sounded as if elephants were tossing very large pieces of furniture around, two stories over her head. Every so often Proust let out a machine-gun burst of yipping, serving as Marie’s doppelganger mixture of impatient insistent cheerleader taskmaster.

Amidst the cacophony of chaos, Madeline found herself welling up with a strange wave of utter peacefulness. The Little One could hear the occasional yip, clunk, rumble and clatter while she talked to her mother on the phone, and Madeline mentioned her wonder at her own surprising sense of peace. “Ha,” the Little One said, “Face it, Mom. This is your dream come true.”

“What do you mean?” Madeline asked.

“The house is filling up again,” she said.

When Madeline hung up the phone, a ripe orange glow from the late September sunset flooded the room, and she noted a distinct lack of clatter coming from above. Again she climbed the stairs and leaned her head into the stairwell. “Marie? How’s it going up there?”

“It’s going OK. Come on up if you want.”

Madeline slowed as she neared the top of the attic stairs, stopping a few steps from the top. Marie sat on an old wooden chair at a beloved kitchen hutch she had rescued long ago and now transformed into a desk. She was leafing casually through a stack of papers when she looked over at Madeline and said “What? I’m taking a break for a while.”
Madeline had every expectation of utter catastrophe, but nothing could have prepared for the scene she beheld.

The sizeable room looked as if a gifted and meticulous set decorator had labored long and hard to create a masterwork from the following task: assemble a young woman’s room that is both crowded and painstakingly decorated. Give prominent placement to her many hundreds of books and tapes —  dad's collection likewise to her artwork that has been collected from friends and strangers alike since she was a child. Make clear that she is a lifelong denizen of thrift stores, where she has spent enormous amounts of time scanning the tossed-aside detritus of others’ lives for objects that speak directly, and deeply, to her. Demonstrate that her aesthetic is completely idiosyncratic, and fully formed. Fill all of the space. Make clear that each and every item in the room has a meaningful history, and has been placed with great care.

Proust lay at the foot of the perfectly-made bed, radiating serenity in a way that suggested he was always this calm, and furthermore, was prepared to chest bump anyone who hinted otherwise.

The house is filling up again, Madeline thought.




“A Girl Moves,” excerpt from the novel “Pushing the River”


The call came from Marie one morning: “I need your help,” she said.  “I have no memory of how to do this. I have no idea how people move from one place to another.”

The decision that had begun with a gentle hand against a baby elephant’s trunk in far-off Asia had been made. John would remain in Boston to finish school, and Marie would return to Chicago. She would move into the top two rooms on the uppermost floor of Madeline’s house, and she would await the gathering storm.

Billie Rae, Marie’s mother, and Sienna, her baby sister, made it abundantly clear that this was thoroughly unnecessary, confounding, and furthermore, insulting. They steadfastly maintained that they had full control of the situation at hand.

Unwanted in the new life ahead, and leaving her old life behind, she would await the gathering storm.

Madeline knew the low rumble of the U-Haul when it pulled up in front of the house, though her back was turned to the windows facing the street. She considered how many times she had helped her children move in, or out, since each of them had first left home. She was pretty sure the number was somewhere around 623 times, or so it certainly seemed to her. Still, she rued that her advancing years allowed her to do less and less; her legs now wobbled by the third flight of stairs, and she needed to put boxes down to rest for a moment all too often.

It had been decided that Marie would bring the majority of her and John’s possessions back with her, leaving him with a skeletal assortment of bare necessities as he focused on the grueling home stretch of his school. Still, Madeline was quite taken aback when Marie swung the U-Haul cargo doors open to reveal a van that was crammed completely full, every possible square inch consumed in what amounted to a breathtaking feat of engineering.

Reading Madeline’s thoughts on her face, Marie remarked, “Yeah. We had to pack it and re-pack it a few times.”

Marie had also brought their dog. Everyone had marveled since the first day Marie chose the impossibly tiny sleek brown puppy that she had managed to find the exact canine equivalent of herself, for Proust was relentlessly demanding, deeply affectionate, possessed of strong and generally instantly-formed impressions of all people and things in his path, somewhat unpredictable, and generally in-your-face with his intense and abiding love.


“COFFEE,” a Short ‘N Sweet for the long week still ahead


Marie, along with every other member of the family, had an irrational but intense distaste for Madeline’s coffee maker. Marie’s very first job had been in the coffee house directly across the street from her apartment, a place she had such a deep and abiding affection for that she still found any reason to drive past it more than ten years later. In the years and the motley assortment of coffee joints in the time since then, she had babied and cajoled her fair share of finicky machinery in order to produce the sumptuously rich shots of espresso and foam flourishes that kept customers standing in line for her creations.

She would not even go near Madeline’s useless behemoth.

The thing had been a gift from a long-gone beau and held no particular sentimental place in Madeline’s heart. Still, it was there; and Madeline had been raised by a woman who said “I’m too Scotch to throw it away and get a new one” enough times that it had stuck, especially considering that her mother had no Scotch ancestry whatsoever.

Each and every part of the coffeemaker required precise handling and placement – the handle of the filter basket needed to be facing forward for brewing; the lid of the basket assembly then had to be positioned just so; likewise, the lid of the coffee pot itself had to be screwed on to an exact point and then placed meticulously under the filter assembly. This so struck Madeline as an apt metaphor for nearly all aspects of her life – that great effort and painstaking care were requirements—that she never questioned the coffeemaker, nor felt put upon in carrying out the steps each morning that resulted in an excellent and deeply satisfying pot of coffee. After all, wasn’t it her own daughter who had said, “Not everything that’s really hard is also good; but everything that’s good is also hard.”



Photos from internet

Middle photo: Dollop Coffee &  Tea, Chicago


Friday Short’N Sweet, excerpt from the novel “Pushing the River” #FridayReads


Dan maintained an unflagging, feverish whirl of dance through the entire set of the band they had all come to hear. Marie and her two friends stayed at a measured distance, occasionally regarding Dan with the attitude of the stone-cold sober towards the merrily drunk – a mix of envy, pity, amusement, warmth and disdain.

“Jesus, I missed you. That was the longest less-than-forty-eight hours of my life,” Dan said as they were gathering their stuff to leave the bar. Madeline smiled, expecting to see a drunken glow when she looked over at him. But Dan seemed sweaty and slightly wild-eyed. “Really. All I could think of was how much I wanted to be with you.” As the words came out of his mouth, Dan reached around the side of the bar and retrieved two sizeable, well-used shopping bags.

“Ha,” Madeline said, “looks like you did a little bit of shopping yourself, long as you were traipsing around with your sis.”

“Huh? Oh. No. That’s my stuff.”



“What do you mean?”

“It’s my stuff.” He dropped the bags and enfolded Madeline in his arms. “I decided to stay in town longer. Til the end of the year. I can’t imagine being anywhere else but here right now. With you.”

Madeline realized that she was holding her breath.

“It’s my stuff. I moved out of my place.”



So, there you have it. That’s how the third person came to live in this here house with My Lady. And that’s how we came to pass our days as a rag-tag group of four while Sierra’s belly swole up more and more every single day. She mostly lay on the back couch chewing on her crazy blue gum and staring at her little phone with her thumbs flying. Marie spent countless hours in the kitchen at all kinds of odd times, stirring up crazy concoctions from potatoes and garlic in pretty even amounts judging by the smells. She was just hoping her baby sister would get some decent grub into her. Dan and my Lady stayed mostly upstairs when they was both about, lolling around on the bed and reading out loud to each other. Can you imagine that? Poetry, of all infernal things.

Top: Woodcut by Steve Ashby

Middle: Roy Lichtenstein

Bottom: Vincent VanGogh


Monday Short’n Sweet, from the novel “Pushing the River”


Dan had been visiting his sister for the past two nights, time together which generally consisted of him completing a laundry list of things she had carefully compiled. This, in turn, invariably necessitated driving around to an ungodly number of retail establishments known as “Big Box Stores” so they could gather extremely heavy things which he then used to build, fix, install, assemble, connect, secure, clean, tear down, buttress, erect, and when all else was said and done, simply move from one location to another – and often back again if she decided the original arrangement was somehow superior. In other words, the exact kind of familiar encounter that led Dan to toss an uncertain number of beers down his throat as he drove the hours’ distance to meet Madeline at the bar where she sat contemplating her next move with the uber-chipper bar patron on the stool beside her.

Dan swooped in on Madeline, slumped over in creeping despair on her stool, as if he’d been lost and adrift for endless days at sea, and Madeline was an emerald isle with Stella Artois running through the cascading streams.

He swung her stool around and nuzzled his face into the crook of her neck, planting kiss after kiss. Enlacing the fingers of their two hands together, he bobbed his head, moved his hips and feet about, and performed a wild giddy drunken dance, all while ordering two beers at once, the first of which he emptied in a single gulp. He grabbed the other bottle off the bar, lifted Madeline from her seat, and kissed her forehead between head bobs, dancing all the while.


Both paintings by Pablo Picasso

Friday Short’n Sweet: an excerpt for everyone who’s had a rough week

George Brassaï - Girls at a Café

The sound of the woman’s voice was driving her nuts. All sing-song and la-la-la as she prattled on and on about how well things were going in every single possible aspect of her entire life with no exceptions whatsoever. Madeline tapped her fingers on the intensely varnished bar. Then she attempted to peel the label off of her beer bottle in little strips that would spell out the word “H E L P.” Marie and her two friends were deeply in the throes of some discussion that Madeline couldn’t quite hear, their heads huddled together. The woman sang on. Madeline felt dangerously close. In a few short moments, she would no longer have a choice about it. If Dan didn’t show up very, very soon, she was going to have to spin the crooning woman around on her bar stool, slap her squarely in the face, and say, “Suffer a little, bitch!”


Photo credits:  Brassai (top),  Jacques (bottom)