Complete Interview In HuffPO – Love and SCOTUS

Here is a link to Helen Eisenbach’s article in the Huffington Post that I was interviewed for     and below my complete answers.  Oh -la-la I am rubbing sentences with David Sedaris, MB Caschetta, Elana Dykewomon, Holly Hughes and many other great writers –

What was your first reaction when you heard the Supreme Court ruling?

I cried for joy because I do believe that making marriage equity the law of the land marks a milestone for greater civil liberties for all people in the United States.

Then, being me, I immediately started to worry that we are in real danger of accepting this landmark decision as an invitation to complacency. Pushing for marriage equity has taken up a lot of time, energy, and money – and hurray for Us – we won. But after we drink the champagne and eat the cake we still have dirty air and water and black folks being shot in the street, etc. My apology if yours is the cause or you are the human being who falls into this vast hole of etc.

Are there new or different stories you envision yourself telling as a result?

Yes. The novel-in-progress I am working on is about old women behaving badly. The protagonists are lesbians who have been together as a couple of sorts for sixty years.  One of the characters is no fan of monogamy. Their marriage is a negotiation as I suspect marriage always is. The women discuss and fight about the events of the day. Certainly they will follow this ruling and have things to say and argue about concerning it.

Do you think the culture will change?

As my late great dad always said “Everything is always changing.”  My fear is that marriage will change queers more than queers will change marriage. I am 63 years old and (full disclosure) have been in a loving relationship with the same woman for decades. We are probably getting married sometime soon. Still the institution of marriage, especially the part where The State gets involved in our relationship, has never been a big draw for either me or my beloved. Some folks seem to stay in amazing loving relationships for their whole lives. If marriage helps them do that, if having a party and vows in front of their friends makes them happy, I’m ready to eat more cake and throw more confetti.  As long as marriage doesn’t become seen as the only acceptable way for people to live meaningful lives or live with each other – hooray.

I hated the part at the end of the decision where Kennedy declares marriage is “essential to our most profound hopes and aspirations.” Really – so people who don’t aspire to marriage are less profound? Are we less profound in our parenting and friendships and jobs and community relationships, too? I have a profound relationship with my beloved. If The State gets involved I will still have a profound relationship with her.

Worse was the bit about single people “condemned to lives of loneliness.” And this gem “It offers the hope of companionship and understanding and assurance that while both still live there will be someone to care for the other.” OK, in my experience this last bit about having someone to care for you at the end is sometimes a benefit, but I have noticed that close friends are also a good bet in old age. Don’t get me started on Universal Health Care. The Affordable Care Act made it. I hear this may effect a few married and unmarried queers.

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Here is my winning story from Saints and Sinners – thrilled to be included in this fine anthology -love feedback

By Sally Bellerose

“Hey, Mac.” Jackie has called the Hawaiian guy who owns China Express Mac for as long as she’s known him. It might be his name, but she doubts it. She has heard others call him Ho and Sam as well as Mac.
“Hello, Jackie,” Mac says. “Where’s your better half?”
“Home, waitin’ on her anniversary dinner.”
“Congrats.” Mac scratches his chin. “How many years you been together?”
“Forty. Minus a few months in the late eighties when she threw me out for bad behavior.” Jackie’s not telling Mac anything he doesn’t already know. She orders spring rolls and fried rice with shrimp and chicken.
While the new kid with the limp makes up the order, Jackie inquires about the poker game going on in the back room. She has forgone poker for the last few years, but always asks who’s sitting at the tables.
“Only one table tonight.” Mac pushes the bowl of free pork crisps toward Jackie. “Bet you can guess who’s parked there.”
“Henry, James Junior, Old Man Chaffee, Bad Madeline?” Jackie takes a pork crisp. Mac nods. They listen to creaking on the back stairs.
“Old Man Chaffee checking on his wife. Swollen ankles. Too much Chinese food.” Mac grunts, as close to a laugh as he gets.
“Might want a fourth ‘til he comes back.” Jackie runs a chapped hand across the top of her buzz cut.
Mac cocks his head. “Thought you swore off?”
“Yeah.” Jackie fingers the twenties in her pocket. “How much is the food?”
Mac tallies the order in his head. “Eighteen twenty-five.”
Just the thought of taking a seat at the folding table makes Jackie feel more alive than she’s felt in a long time. Bad Maddie will cackle like the crazy old bird she is if Jackie walks into that big back room. Jackie can already feel the edge of the table press against her belly as she pulls up a seat. She can see the shine on the cards, a new deck every time. She can feel the slide as a card slips between her fingers. She can feel the ridges on the circumference of the chips take their tiny love-bites as she rakes in her winnings. Even her ass hitting the too small seat of the metal chair would feel good.
“Eighteen twenty-five,” Mac repeats.
She hands him a twenty. What’s to lose? Three twenties and change from a fourth, that’s all she’s got. None of them will stake her, not since she lost the tax refund. None of them wants Regina in here making another scene. Sixty dollars should have been enough to get Regina the CD player at Wal-Mart. But they were sold out. The rain check in her back pocket would make a shitty anniversary gift. All she needs is to win thirty more dollars, plus tax, so maybe forty, to get the next model up, which, what a surprise, is still available. But even if she loses, since Old Man Chaffee lives twenty steps above the place, she probably won’t have time to lose the whole sixty. What’s ten minutes? What kind of a loser can’t buy her mate of forty years an anniversary present? What the hell? Jackie’s got enough will power to take a seat for ten minutes and not get pulled back in permanently. It could mean a gift that would make Regina smile. She has to wait for the food anyway. And she could win.
Mac hands her a dollar seventy-five.
“Still five bucks to get in?” Jackie holds out another twenty.
“You sure?” Mac shakes his head. “Well, none of my business.” He gives her back three fives. “Bad Maddy will be happy to see you.” He turns to the kid and says, “Put the order under the lights when it’s ready.”
The feeling she gets when she walks in the back room is as good as Jackie remembers. Madeline flings her arms around Jackie, steps back, holding Jackie at arm’s length, taking the liberty of passing her red fingernails across the top of Jackie’s close-cropped grey hair, pretending, as she always has, that they’re both interested in more than the theatrics of the moment. Jackie wonders, for the hundredth time, whether Madeline ever did have any real attraction to her. Unlikely. Just part of the sport. No matter, Jackie appreciates the effort. And to make things more interesting, there are three whiskey sour glasses in front of Maddy’s spot at the table. When Maddy loses, it’s usually to whisky sours.
Henry and James Junior offer Jackie nods and tight-lipped smiles. She’s as comforted by the familiarity of their silence as she is by Maddy’s chatter. James Junior has a big pile of chips in front of him, mostly blue. Jackie counts and does the math. About $400 dollars worth. Not the most Jackie has seen on the fake leather table top, but enough to make her put on her poker face and decide not to mention that she’s only got fifty-six dollars and change on her.
“I’m only in till Old Man Chaffee comes back?” she says, as if she’s considering how many chips to start off with. She asks for twenty blue chips, forty dollars’ worth.
“You know the rules. Chaffee comes through the door, we finish the hand and you’re out,” Henry says. Four at a table has always been the rule. Jackie remembers when there were five tables of four playing at the same time and people holding numbers waiting for their turn for a seat.
The shades are drawn. Tonight the only overhead light with a working bulb is above their table. The big room seems like an abandoned warehouse with just the one table set up near the back window. Until the cards are dealt. Then the room seems full of life.
Jackie notices every nuance, every shadow passing over the other players’ faces—the change in James Junior’s color as he labors to get a lung full of air, Bad Maddy’s powdered face held a little stiffer to block an expression. The green tarnish under his wedding ring shows on Henry’s finger when he spreads his hand on the table. Something skitters in the wall. The bell dings up front, sounding far off. Jackie’s heart speeds up and slows down, depending on the cards.
Old Man Chaffee’s wife must have needed more than ten minutes worth of help with her swollen ankles. Jackie wins fifty-five dollars, loses twenty, wins twenty-five. In between hands the players relax for a minute at a time, eat a few chips, sip a drink. Jackie drinks the warm free water. Maddy tells Jackie she looks good with a few extra pounds on her. Jackie doesn’t return the compliment. After twenty minutes, Jackie’s up by one hundred eighty dollars. Then the worst and best thing that could happen does. Old Man Chaffee is back and watching as she wins her biggest round yet, one hundred five dollars on her “last” hand. Two hundred eight-five bucks. Might be enough to calm Regina down about gambling. Or more likely Jackie will keep the thing to herself.
She’s glad for the rules of the game. The rules will save her, get her home on time, in enough time anyway. She rises to leave. Old Man Chaffee says, “Sit your ass down. I ain’t gonna steal your chance to give some of that back.” Her heart flutters, steadies, and squeezes out her better judgment. She sits. She could kiss Old Man Chaffee.
She doesn’t kiss Old Man Chaffee and she doesn’t give a penny back. Jackie keeps winning. She wins like the heart attack that hasn’t happened, knowing sooner or later this could kill her, but not right now, right now there is the pure rush of it, her arms wide, raking it in, stopping only to allow herself a half-smile at the other cardiac cases witnessing her glory. Even James Junior, who has lost most of his winnings, gives her a grudging nod.
It’s Bad Maddy who finally says, “Go home, Jackie. While I still got cab money in my bra.”
* * *
Jackie pulls up to the curb in front of the house and takes a quick glance at her watch, 8:38 p.m. She left at 5:30. At most Regina would have expected her to be gone an hour. She might have stretched it to two hours without causing a brawl, claiming she had a hard time finding an anniversary present, which she did, but three hours on their anniversary is far beyond forgive and forget time for Regina. Jackie pats the CD player, a shiny purple thing. Maybe Jackie will hold off presenting it until she’s sure it won’t get smashed. Regina’s a smart old girl. Even without the evidence of dried-out Chinese food, she has probably already figured out that Jackie is late because she’s been gambling. Maybe she should have ordered fresh shrimp and chicken, but she didn’t want to spare the extra ten minutes.
Only thing to do is walk in and tell the bald-faced truth.
Jackie tries the kitchen door, not bolted. Good. “Baby?” she says, opening the door slowly. She expects Regina to be standing there, hands on hips, fire in her eyes. If Jackie is lucky, Regina will be worried enough that a minute or two will pass while the fact that Jackie isn’t dead in a ditch settles over Regina, giving Jackie time to do some fast talking. If only Jackie had remembered the damn cell phone the Senior Center gave them she could have called Regina with some bullshit about a flat.
“Baby?” she calls again, tentatively, softly, placing the grease-stained bag of food on the counter and walking into the living room, thinking maybe she can still use the flat tire excuse. No, that would never work. Regina would march out to the car and see that the tire hasn’t been messed with. “Regina?” She whispers the question. Has something happened? Has that heart pill Regina takes failed her? Has she gotten a ride or taken the bus somewhere without leaving a note? Wouldn’t be the first time she tried to teach Jackie a lesson by taking off and leaving no word where she went. “My own medicine,” Jackie says, walking down the ten foot hall to the bedroom.
She opens the bedroom door and stops dead in her tracks. Regina is flat on her back on their bed. Jackie can’t see much of Regina’s face, just the bottom of her chin and nostrils, her frizzy white hair a cloud around her shoulders. She’s wearing something old and impossibly tight, some kind of lingerie that makes her small breasts look larger. Jackie stares. It seems important that she retrieve the word for the garment Regina is wearing. This forgetfulness gives her the creeps, feels like something outside of herself, alive and willful that she can’t control. Her mother became forgetful before she lost all memory and then all speech. Jackie holds her breath to see if she can hear Regina breathing. She cannot. Her intellect tells her that this is Regina, her partner of forty years, asleep, sprawled on the bed, wearing some old fashioned sexy undergarment. Foreboding gathers in her chest and expands to Jackie’s throat. She’s bewildered by the sight of her lover after all these years. She knows she’s being irrational, but is afraid to take a step closer, afraid the breasts that skew her view might not have a beating heart under them.
“Some sign of life.” She mouths the words inaudibly. Dead or alive, Regina does not oblige. If she is trying to give Jackie a scare, it’s working. It feels like a scene in a bad movie. Whatever this is, it looks staged, which is some comfort, a staged tragedy being much more desirable than a real one. Still, the thought that it may not be Regina’s face beyond those hoisted breasts runs through Jackie’s mind followed immediately by the thought that her gambling may have finally killed Regina, who has always claimed it will be the death of them both. Jackie has to stop herself from running out of the room.
“Regina,” she whispers, forcing herself to move to the side of the bed, where she stares directly down at what is unequivocally Regina’s face. Jackie rubs her head which is staring to pound. Maybe she is losing her mind. Come home too late, gambled one time too many, and lost everything. She concentrates on Regina’s swell of belly. Is it moving? Jackie is hopeful that this is the case, but is not certain. She kneels and strokes Regina’s warm dry cheek with the back of her hand.
Regina’s mouth is slack, until she wakes with a start and her body jerks, one quick tremor. Her eyes open for a brief second and close. Her heart pounds wildly. Her dream of Jackie coming home safely and on time merges with the reality of Jackie’s hand on her cheek. Before anger comes relief as a tear settles in the corner of her eye. In the second it takes the tear to make its way down her temple, dampening her hair, Regina is furious.
“Regina.” Jackie’s voice is all tenderness. She sees Regina’s wrinkled cheeks become pink with fury and removes her hand. Regina sucks in a deep breath, opens her eyes and sits up. She does not look at Jackie. She looks through the open bedroom door. Jackie stands but otherwise doesn’t move from the spot. “I thought you were dead,” she says. Her knees hurt from kneeling.
“Because you’re a fool. Alive, no thanks to you.” Regina had not meant to fall asleep, had not meant to be in this get-up when Jackie finally made it home. “Stop staring.” After an hour and then two went by Regina had meant to be in street clothes, sensible shoes, with her purse near in case she got a bad phone call and needed to be ready, ready to do whatever needed doing to take care of Jackie. In case some legitimate misfortune had happened. “Give me my robe,” she yells. Then, with a break in her voice where the last of the relief squeaks out, she adds, “You really are a god damn fool.”
Jackie is relieved, too. Relieved that her fear of death, at least for today, was unfounded, she almost smiles, almost welcomes the tongue lashing to come. She vows silently that this is the last time, the absolute last time she will gamble. The lottery is exempt. She does not vow to give up the lottery.
The robe is on a hook on the back of the door. Jackie says, “Baby, I’m so sorry,” and touches the robe’s hem. She doesn’t look up, because right under her expression is a smile. Regina is not only alive, she’s wearing a corset. And behind Jackie’s shame, before and after the fact of her addiction and loss of control, Jackie won. She won big. She won going-out-to-dinner-and-a-movie-and-a drink-after-with-plenty-left-over big. “Corset,” she says, handing Regina the robe. “I couldn’t remember the name for it. That was your mother’s. I remember now.” She nods with her eyes closed. “Our little apartment, a walk-up on the fifth floor.”
Regina scowls, how dare Jackie call up past sex acts, as if she had the right to mention making love at this moment? Simultaneously, Regina is thinking what Jackie is also thinking—sex on the kitchen floor, witch hazel on the scratches from the cracked linoleum on Regina’s back and Jackie’s knees.
Regina spits out, “Grandmother’s corset,” as if the mistake about which dead relative was the original owner of the corset is another transgression to be thrown in the black hole of Jackie’s sins. She will not let herself be moved by the fact that Jackie, who once had an almost photographic memory, has started to forget the names for things. Regina is suddenly mortified to be wearing this ridiculous piece of clothing. She ties the robe’s belt in a double knot. She stamps her foot. “How much did you lose?”
Jackie is careful not to let the pleasure she takes in seeing Regina stamp her foot, a gesture full of vigor, bleed through her expression of sincere remorse. Years ago Jackie was made to understand that you’re beautiful when you’re angry is a cue for Regina to pack Jackie’s bags.
“Over five hundred,” Jackie says. “Won,” she adds quietly, because trying to speak over Regina is futile at this point. Regina needs to get it out. Jackie tries to tamp down the elation, the after-a-win mania building up in her. How quickly the world turns sometimes, despite how badly she has messed up, if Jackie plays her cards right, if she lets Regina see how sorry she is, despite every time she has ever fucked up, if she can show her honest feelings, like Regina is always trying to get her to do, because she is, Jackie is sincerely in love with Regina, after all these years, as much or more now than she has ever been, because she’s genuinely sorry and ready to do better, ready to quit altogether, really, now and forever, if Jackie can hold out, hold back her increasingly good mood, let Regina have her well-deserved say, let her vent, do what she needs to do, if Jackie can hang in and not blow it by trying to make everything all right too soon, there will be a celebration, eventually they will have their own little party. It will be after , Jackie understands, after Regina calms down and realizes this time it really is just a one-shot mistake that somehow turned out okay. After a while Regina will smile at Jackie again.
For the moment, Regina has murder in her eyes. “You lost $500 dollars,” she really belts it out. “Five hundred dollars you piece of…”
“Won,” Jackie says quickly. She’s not sure if Regina hears over her yelling, but Regina stops short of calling her “shit.” Jackie is pretty sure the window is open behind the drawn shade. Well, they’ve heard worse from the neighbor’s house come in through that window.
Regina looks like she might explode, which she does, screaming, “You lost five hundred dollars on our fucking anniversary. Where did you get the money? You piece of,” she throws up her arms and screeches, “shit.” Her head shakes, her face contorts. She takes a deep breath. She takes several more deep breaths. Jackie takes a step toward her, but Regina’s puts a hand up to stop her from getting any closer. Regina’s head stops shaking and her face becomes blank. “I give up.” She sits on the bed. Speaking slowly because the words hurt she says, “After all the time and money we spent on rehab, money we didn’t have, time…” Her voice is barely audible. She gives Jackie a look that breaks Jackie’s heart. “We’re running out of time.” She looks at the wall for a long moment before turning back, looking old and tired, looking directly at Jackie. “Do you get that, Jackie?”
Jackie forces herself to look Regina in the eye and nod before she sits on the bed next to her. She bends forward, head bowed, hands clasped between her knees, so she doesn’t have to bear Regina’s look. “Won,” Jackie says softly. “Won,” she repeats.
“You stayed away from this thing for three years. Why now? If you think I’m going to take on more hours so we can eat and have electricity…” In mid sentence, Regina cocks her head, and says, “Won?”
“Won.” Jackie nods. “I’m so god-damned happy you’re alive.” She would take Regina in her arms, but knows this is not possible, knows that her own post win optimism will be short lived, knows that Regina’s anger may well escalate for hours or days before it settles down, knows that experience gives Regina every right to fear that winning is no better than losing when it comes to satiating Jackie once she has felt those cards in her hand. Still, Jackie wishes she could hang on to the rush of the win for just one evening. She sits and cries, lets her tears fall on the grey, once blue carpet. It’s all she’s got, tears and five hundred bucks. Regina stands over her, hands on her hips. Above and below the double knot of its belt, the sides of her robe separate. She looks down at Jackie with pursed lips, eyes pinched and trained like the scope of a shotgun on Jackie’s forehead.
Jackie’s tears are mostly real. She hopes they work. Hopes the undignified sobbing and sighing makes Regina see how much she loves her. Hopes at some point she can tell Regina how happy she is that Regina put on that corset for their anniversary. Because Jackie is grateful that Regina has put up with her, stayed with her all these years. Also she’s tired and hungry and all she can think about is how to get Regina to forgive her as quickly as possible. The smell of the German chocolate cake Regina was putting in the oven when Jackie left bolsters her resolve to get them both to the table. She reaches for her handkerchief, feels the money, and pulls the roll of bills out of the back pocket of her chinos, a big bundle, mostly fives and tens, more money than twice the combined weekly income from both their part-time jobs. She offers the wad, open-handed, to Regina. She has blown a chance to show Regina how good she looks in that corset. Blown the opportunity to feel Regina’s soft flesh and listen to the pounding of their hearts. Tonight will not be a night when sated, pleased with herself and Jackie, Regina will sit up in bed and carry on about TV commercials selling youth by making old people ashamed of their skin and hair, their minds and teeth. Jackie won’t get the wrinkles on her face and neck kissed tonight. Jackie shakes her head and accentuates the sorry in her expression. She places the wad of money on the mattress next to her.
Regina waits a few minutes before she snatches the money, and points a finger at Jackie’s chest. “Stay seated on that bed. Do not move an inch.”
Jackie listens as Regina goes from room to room, slamming doors and drawers, flushing the toilet, banging windows. She allows herself a smile, knowing Regina is hiding the money, taping it to the bottom of the silverware drawer or putting it in a plastic bag and sticking it in the urn with her mother’s ashes. Regina is gone, making clattering noises, for a long time. Jackie hears snippets of a short phone call, words spoken softly that Jackie can’t make out. It gets quiet. It stays quiet. Jackie would be wondering if Regina left, but Regina wouldn’t leave wearing a robe and corset.
Jackie retraces the steps she took to get to the bedroom, walks down the ten foot hall, saying, “Regina?” several time, switching to “Baby?” as she rounds the hallway into the kitchen.
Regina listens to Jackie’s approach. She has a plan, Gamblers Anonymous and her personal version of shock and awe, which she’s already given Jackie a taste of by playing a shrew, that’s Regina’s plan, her only plan. She closes her eyes to conjure up the face of gambling. She has her own definition of poker face, it’s not neutral or impassive, it’s the smarmy smiling face of Richard Millhouse Nixon, arms and shoulders raised in his obscene split fingered victory salute as he debarked from a jet coming back from who remembers where. Regina doesn’t care that this image is ridiculous, doesn’t care that she has never, not even once, met a gambling buddy of Jackie’s who had any resemblance whatsoever to this picture. Not a disgraced, smug-faced politician among them. She can’t even pin this image on the people who make money off gambling. As far as Regina knows, Jackie has never been to a casino or horse race owned by some greedy millionaire leeching money from lower class losers. No, her Jackie has always been lured into over-heated back rooms of local restaurants or cheap hotels. Her consorts have always been the poor dealing to the poor, seated at a folding table. No matter, the image of Nixon doesn’t have to make sense as long it fuels Regina’s resolve.
Jackie finds Regina sitting at the kitchen table, her robe wrapped tightly around her, eyes closed, sitting up straight, but relaxed in her chair. She looks serene, more like a Zen Master than an aging lesbian meditating on her beloved’s bad habit.
Jackie sits opposite her without speaking.
“Here’s what’s going to happen.” Regina opens her eyes, slowly deliberately crossing her arms over her chest. “That money is dead to you. We will not go out to eat, go to the movies, buy me a new dress, order cable. You will not get one iota of pleasure connected to that money.” She holds up the sales slip she has removed from the Wal-Mart bag. “Nor will you ever see me get one iota of pleasure from that money. The CD player is going back.”
Jackie nods, feeling any chance that she can salvage part of this evening to savor the win slip away. “Smart of you,” she says. “To kill the buzz.” She reaches across the table and Regina let’s her take her hand. She wonders how many gallons of bad Gamblers Anonymous coffee she will have to drink before this is over. “Have I worn you out?” She means will you throw me out? She looks at their entwined hands, knowing that this could be Regina’s last gift for a long time.
“We’ve been wrestling with this miserable addiction our whole lives.” Regina wonders if she is completely worn out. Or does she have one more round of tough love in her. “We’ve lived through rehab too many times, scrounging from friends and relatives to pay for it. They’re used up, some are dead, My Love,” she says wistfully. “The days of tapping our friends are gone.”
“My Love,” Jackie repeats like a prayer. “We can beat this thing without rehab.”
“We? No.” Regina shakes her head. “Maybe I could to it one more time, beg or borrow the money, get you into rehab, go to Gamblers Anonymous with you, listen to endless hours of sobriety talk, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to. You can do it without me or you live without me.” Regina pulls her hand away.
It’s only after they eat the cold Chinese food, Regina puts the uneaten German chocolate cake in the refrigerator and says, “Let’s go to bed,” that Jackie realizes for sure that she is not getting thrown out of the house. Not tonight.
They lie back to back and fall asleep hoping the same thing – that Jackie’s need to sleep with her body curled around Regina’s and her desire to see Regina in that corset again win.

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Agnostic Prayers

Writing on screen porchI am a raised-Catholic agnostic who prays, to who(m) or what I pray I can not say.
Writing on my screen porch just now, two women with bibles drove up and spoke to me through the screen. “May we recite a passage from scripture?” the taller one asked through the screen.
“If it’s short, I’m working,” I answered. “And, if I can read you the paragraph I just wrote first.”
They both nod.
I read the following unfinished paragraph about three women, two old lesbians and their aging niece, praying at the bedside of one of the women’s father who has just died.
“Selma (the niece) prays. Catholic prayers that both Regina and Jackie know and join in on: ‘Hail Mary full of grace. The Lord is with thee.’ ‘Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault,’ striking their breasts on every ‘fault.’ Selma does a little chanting, pagan or Buddhist maybe. She sings ‘Halleluiah,’ a Leonard Cohen song, one of Jackie’s favorites. A song she and Regina have always associated with their struggles over the realities of erotic desire or as Regina would say ‘cheating’. The fact that Selma chose this song makes Jackie grin inappropriately and she lowers her head. Selma delivers her version of ‘Halleluiah’ in a solid sincere voice that has not lost a bit of its high emotion since she announced she was going to be a famous singer when she was six years old.”
The tall woman opened her bible and read me the following passage. “Turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord…”
I can’t remember the next few lines, but when she was finished, we all just hung there thinking our private thoughts for a moment. Then we all smiled. I have no idea, what, if anything this encounter means, a little prayer, each in our own way, in the middle of the working day maybe.

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Why Write ABout Old Ladies Behaving Badly?

Thanks to generous friend and fabulous writer Bett Norris for tagging me to join this discussion about the writing process. I loved her first two books Miss McGhee and What’s Best for Jane. Can’t wait to read her next book. Find out more about Bett and buy her books here

1) What am I working on?
A novel titled Fishwives about old ladies behaving badly. By badly I mean autonomously – a condition often discouraged and disparaged in old people. The book begins when the two women meet in Manhattan in the 1950’s and ends when they are both in their late eighties. Most of the action (action and old ladies are not mutually exclusive in this story) takes place when the women are old. I have been pitching this novel as a story about “old women behaving badly”. At a reading from this manuscript at Smith College recently more than one person changed the sound bite from “old ladies behaving badly” to “old women behaving badly”. No one felt the need to change the “behaving badly” part of the description. I prefer the term old lady to old woman because it seems sassier. Somehow the lady part feels flipped into a whole new messy kick-ass meaning when paired with old. Like dyke or queer, use of the term old lady is my way of taking back the phrase on my own terms. I am an aging woman, will be sixty-three in July, so possibly an old lady already. Not sure of the official age for old ladyhood. The time when we can receive Social Security in the US keeps going up, but I’m not sure it directly relates to the actuality of being old. I plan to continue behaving badly no matter when my checks arrive.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Not sure what genre this book falls into. Fiction. Drama. Humor. Queer. Romance. Adult. The allusive Literary with a capital L. I have not seen a whole lot written about old people, especially books where the main characters are octogenarians with eighty-seven year-old POV’s. I would be grateful for other folks’ recommendations for good books with elderly protagonists. I am especially interested in sexuality and old people.

3) Why do I write what I do?
Class, sex, illness, and the absurdity of life have always fascinated me. Lately I have added growing old to the list. I like the idea of writing about long entwined lives because it gives me a chance to mess with the rhythm of time and shifting relationships.

4) How does my writing process work?
I write best in the morning after coffee and oatmeal with my beloved Cindy and Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts. I am slow but steady when I write. Rewriting and revision are a big part of my process. This summer I hope to write write write – with friends family and gardening in between.

Next up are fabulous writers Sandra Lambert and Marianne K Martin.

Sandra Gail Lambert writes fiction and memoir and her debut novel, The River’s Memory, is due out in July from Twisted Road Publications. Excerpts of it have won prizes from the Saints and Sinners Short Fiction Contest and Big Fiction Magazine. She’s also been published in New Letters, The Weekly Rumpus, the North American Review, and Arts & Letters as well as the anthologies First Person Queer and Something to Declare: Good Lesbian Travel Writing. Sandra lives with her partner in Gainesville, Florida – a home base for trips to her beloved rivers and marshes.
Sandra’s lush transcendent stories are a pleasure to read. I got the chance to read excerpts from The River’s Memory and can’t wait to read the whole novel. Available soon at

Marianne K. Martin taught in the Michigan public school system for twenty-five years, has worked as a photo-journalist, a photographer, and coached both high school and collegiate teams as well as amateur ASA teams. Her coaching career produced many Tri-County and MHSAA championship basketball and softball teams and championship ASA softball teams. She was founder of the Michigan Woman’s Major Fastpitch Assoc. and its president for ten years. In 1973 she won the precedent-setting case in a Michigan court establishing equal pay for women coaches.
Ms Martin is the best-selling author of Legacy of Love, Love in the Balance, Never Ending, Dawn of the Dance, Dance in the Key of Love, and three Lambda Literary Award finalists, Mirrors, Under the Witness Tree, and For Now, For Always.
Her short stories have been included in a number of anthologies. Her most recent, Fire and Ice, appears in the second edition of the on-line issue of Read These Lips.
She is co-owner of Bywater Books and currently splits her time between her publishing responsibilities and writing.
Marianne is one of my favorite human and writers. Her heart and her subject matter are big and brave. Find more about Marianne and buy her books here

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#MyWritingProcess Blog Tour

Here is the fabulous writer Bett Norris talking about her writing process and – Hurray – her work in progress. See you next week when I answer these same questions

Bett Norris

First, I must send a big thank you to Jess Wells for tagging me to join in this fascinating discussion about the writing process. I am a great admirer of Wells, and if you are unfamiliar with her work, you should start with The Mandrake Broom, and then move on to A Slender Tether. I have sat in one of her lectures at the Saints and Sinners conference, and I remain in awe.

1) What am I working on? I don’t use titles for my manuscripts, other than the file name, which in this case is the imaginative “Ideas for the Next Book.” This current work is a generational saga, following the stories of two families, set of course in the Deep South, from the decade just after the Civil War to the present day. I got started on this by researching my own family history through…

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Old Ladies and Young Men – love – a different kind of valentine

A story for a stormy day. Here is a piece featuring the old woman, protagonists of my novel in progress, and their two young friends. This story may not appear in the novel, but these are four characters from the book. Love to hear any comments. Published in BLOOM 9 Fall 2013
Great place to submit

“This the most boring hood in America.” Sixteen year old Ramon dribbles a basketball on the decaying driveway that belongs to the old ladies who live next door. He slips on a patch of ice on the mostly clear blacktop and rights himself. Ramon grins at his friend TJ as if not falling while he’s dribbling is an accomplishment that might get him a spot on the varsity team. When TJ doesn’t grin back, Ramon does his chicken dance. The boys’ adidas are wet from walking in the snow.
TJ wags his head. “Hood? This ain’t no hood. This is a Puerto Rican Dead End, ugly old white ladies in a falling down house on one end of the street, ugly young white ladies with ugly kids on the other end.” TJ steals the ball and shoots at the hoop on the side of the driveway. “You spend half your life playing basketball and you still suck, man.” TJ dunks the ball a second time. “Hoop ain’t even got a net. Fucking embarrassing. This street…” He snarls at the street. “ReeCans up and down the middle, gringas on both ends. We’re the filling in a white lady sandwich.”
“ReeCans? Talk normal. Say Puerto Rican. Nobody says ReeCans.”
“I just did.” TJ makes his ugly face and tosses Ramon the ball.
Ramon dribbles. TJ and Ramon are tight, but TJ’s got a lot of problems “at home” as the adjustment councilor with the big titties says to explain why he sometimes acts likes a dumb ass at school. She only sees him at school, when he goes to school. This morning TJ met Ramon at the bus stop, but TJ walked away when the bus arrived and Ramon followed. Mostly TJ is okay when it’s just him and Ramon. Usually TJ saves his mean streak for jocks. He likes messing with punk jocks, which means messing with whatever team the punk is on. Weird because TJ would be on the basketball team, he’s good enough, if his grades were better. Mostly, TJ goes after assholes who deserve it, but man there are a lot of assholes, you can get real messed up, waste your whole life going after assholes, especially assholes with teams to back them up.
Ramon wonders what he sees in TJ. Like right now, TJ’s getting all strung out because Ramon’s taking so long to shoot. One good thing about TJ, he likes to screw around, act a fool even, when he’s not at home or at school. Today should be an okay day for TJ. He and Ramon are shooting baskets in the neighbor ladies’ yard. Ramon’s grandmother will make them maizena if they go over to her place. TJ likes to eat it slow and tease Ramon’s grandmother about the two of them getting married and moving back to the island. But this morning TJ is acting like a ten inch prick.
Today TJ’s not going near Ramon’s grandmother or her maizena, if Ramon can help it.
“Well, you’re the only one who says ReeCan, Little Man.” Ramon is short and skinny. TJ is even shorter, but not as skinny as Ramon. And TJ is a lot stronger. “You getting your rag on, or what, TJ?” TJ’s arms are roped with muscle, his chest broad for his size. Even under the two hoodies he’s wearing anyone can see that TJ has a kick ass body. Both TJ’s hoods are off. The head of the serpent that inks its way from his shoulder to the back of his thick neck and right up into the shaved edge of his hairline is visible.
Ramon shakes his head. With all that going for him TJ is still sensitive about being short.
TJ stares at Ramon who just keeps shaking his head until TJ wails the ball at Ramon’s crotch. Finally, TJ smiles. His smile is butt- ugly today. Ramon turns sideways taking the blow on his hip. “Why are you doing me like this?” Ramon means to sound tough, but the hurt in his voice bleeds through. “Serious, what’s your problem? Why you fucking with my manhood?”
“What manhood?”
Ramon slams the ball at TJ’s chest. TJ catches it easily. Ramon turns, giving TJ the double finger as he walks away. When Ramon is all the way down the driveway TJ yells after him, “She’s dead,” like a threat or an insult, like it’s Ramon’s fault he doesn’t know what the fuck TJ is talking about. Like Ramon killed whoever it is died.
Ramon freezes and asks without turning around, “Who?” Not TJ’s mother. TJ wouldn’t be playing basketball if it was his mother or one of his sisters. His grandmother in San Sebastian, maybe?
“The butch one,” TJ says.
Ramon spins on his heels. “One of the old white ladies?” He nods at the house in front of them. “Jackie? We saw her yesterday.”
“She had a heart attack.” TJ squeezes the wet ball between his chapped hands. He looks like he might go for Ramon’s crotch again, but puts the ball down on the driveway and sits on it.
Ramon walks back up the drive and crouches next to TJ. “We helped them tie that dead Christmas tree to the roof of their car yesterday.” Ramon lives closer to the old ladies than TJ does. He can see them coming and going out their front door from his bedroom window. He points to their car which is parked at the curb.
“She died after we saw her, dumbass.”
Ramon frowns. “That old lady is flat on her back, with the TV on, snoring like a beached whale.” Ramon points his chin to the side of the house. “Right there in that window.”
“Papi says she’s dead.”
“Your papi never says shit about anything.” Ramon pulls the sides of his unzipped parka together and thinks about TJ’s father. It’s true, TJ’s papi has next to nothing to say. When he bothers to talk, he says what needs to be said, bare minimum. The man could not be bothered to open his mouth to tell a lie. Ramon nods and says, “Shit. Only one white lady now.”
“What have I been telling you?” TJ’s eyes dart around. Ramon knows it’s because he wants to run, but TJ is hanging on. Only his eyes are running. For now.
Ramon feels like crying, but TJ might get crazy for real if he does that. TJ loves that old lady. That’s the truth. TJ spends a lot of time inside the old ladies’ house when his father isn’t home and his sisters go at it. He slept on the old ladies’ couch just last week. TJ’s the baby of the family and the only boy. Maybe that’s why TJ gets crazy; all those women making all that noise, his papi gone half the time making money somehow, somewhere, barely saying a word when he’s home.
The boys squat. TJ’s ears are turning red. Ramon starts to tell him to pull up his hoodies, thinks better of it. Pulls the hood of his own parka up instead. Come to think of it the old lady, the dead one, is quiet like TJ’s papi. The live one talks enough for them both. The dead one, Ramon wants to laugh, one of those horror movie laughs, the dead one will talk less than TJ’s papi now. Jackie, her name is Jackie. The other one’s name is Regina. Seems to Ramon, someone dies, you call them by their name. Someone’s wife dies…Ramon can’t finish the thought without barking out a laugh. The old ladies got married. What’s he supposed to think about that?
TJ doesn’t even flinch when Ramon laughs.
Ramon studies TJ while TJ studies a crack in the driveway. Ramon knows exactly how many nights TJ spends on the old ladies’ couch. The whole neighborhood knows who sleeps where. They know that TJ’s father slept in a third floor apartment with TJ’s mother’s ex best friend one time. They know Ramon’s father kicked Ramon’s brother Oscar out of the house for smoking marijuana in front of their little sister Evone and now Oscar lives with their grandmother and gets to eat her maizena every morning. Everybody knows every damn thing. But Ramon keeps his mouth shut about TJ staying with the old white ladies. Sometimes the only privacy you get is not having to talk about your own personal business.
“Only ever was one lady in that house,” TJ finally says. He sounds like somebody else. Someone in a trance who might cry without having to punch out the person he cried in front of. His voice is soft, like when they walk in the woods behind the strip mall.
Ramon knows what TJ is saying. Jackie was barely female, buzz cut, men’s pants, work boots, on an old lady. A really old lady. “What’s going to happen to her, the pretty one?”
“Pretty?” TJ is back to being a dick. “She’s poor. She’s old. She’s white. She’s a dyke. Pick any two and it don’t add up to pretty.”
“You got a white girlfriend,” Ramon says. “She ain’t old,” he concedes. Reconsiders. “But she’s poor.” He runs a finger along the crack in the blacktop wondering how TJ, with his shit for personality, got a pretty girlfriend. Must be his body. He wonders what the girlfriend lets TJ do. “This is why you’ve been ugly all morning?”
“How am I supposed to know what’s going to happen to the pretty one?” TJ looks like he might spit on Ramon. Not that he would. Probably not. He spit on Ramon’s sneaker one time. TJ’s shoulder starts twitching like it does when he’s trying not to hit someone or trying not to cry. Ramon has seen him cry, but not since TJ’s favorite cousin got killed by a hit and run and even then TJ crying meant TJ crazy after he stopped crying. Ramon can see the shoulder moving right through the layers of hoodies. He pretends he doesn’t see TJ’s arm spazzing.
TJ jumps up. “Let’s go see.”
“See what?”
“If she’s in there, sitting on her chair like a beached whale, like you said. Maybe Papi got it wrong. People on this street.” TJ’s voice lifts with the thought of how wrong people on this street can be. “You see an ambulance? You hear sirens?” TJ’s excited like he hit on the essential point that’s going to save the old butch white lady from being dead. Like his papi, maybe this one time, carried a rumor without checking it out, without making sure it was true before it came out his mouth.
“Sirens every night.” Ramon thinks a minute. Maybe TJ has a point. “You hear them, same as me, but never on this street, hardly ever.” He stops, yeah, maybe TJ is right. “No ambulance next door, not last night.”
TJ sprints around to the side of the house, stops dead in his tracks, stands with his back against the faded clapboard a few feet from the window. Ramon stands shoulder to shoulder with TJ. If she’s not dead, Jackie should be sleeping on the ratty chair inside the house at this time of the morning, not five feet from the window.
“Look inside,” TJ hisses. He crouches and hugs his knees, his butt against the house. Ramon would tell him that the mold on the clapboard is going to rub off on to his jeans, but TJ would be disgusted if he knew Ramon even thinks about this stupid shit.
“You look inside.” He slides down next to TJ. “She was your girlfriend.” Ramon winces at his own remark. He didn’t mean to say was, didn’t mean to disrespect the dead, not with TJ looking so messed up, his arm twitching, his chest heaving like he ran a mile. Ramon is afraid of looking and finding an empty chair, too. “TV ain’t on.”
“How do you know?” TJ stands up. “The window is closed. How do you know the TV ain’t on?” TJ’s voice is a loud squeak.
Ramon shakes his head. “She likes the TV on loud, man.” TJ knows this. They’ve spent enough time slumped against the side of this house by this window to know you can tell if the TV is in on or not even with the window closed. Even on a cold day they can catch the score of a Patriot’s game by listening near the window. “Let’s get out of here. Your girlfriend is dead.” This time Ramon says girlfriend and dead on purpose. He figures if he can piss TJ off by repeating the shit about Jackie being TJ’s dead girlfriend TJ will go just a little crazy and they can fight instead of looking in the damn window, not seeing Jackie sitting on the chair, and having TJ go full blown crazy.
“Shut up fool.” TJ punches Ramon in the biceps but there’s no muscle behind the hit. He stops breathing and listens hard.
There is noise coming through the screen window. Not snoring, not the TV. Whimpering. Ramon leans forward on the tips of his sneakers so his stick-out Obama ears can catch the sound. “Jackie,” he whispers.
TJ shakes his head. “Regina.” TJ, on his feet, squints through the window. His hand shades his eyes from the glare that bounces from the snow to the glass.
Ramon stands behind TJ, puts a hand on his shoulder. They stare in at Regina.
Regina, who handed them cookies like they were little kids, just yesterday or maybe the day before. She’s sitting on Jackie’s chair. They see her in side view. Between the screen and the fact that there is no light on in the room, the boys can’t see her very well. They can tell it’s her though. She’s on the edge of the seat, staring straight ahead, an old lady zombie making a sound that’s getting louder or maybe just sounds louder because the boys are listening so hard. She’s so close that if the window was open and they leaned way in they could touch her.
The pane barely rattles as TJ puts a hand flat against the window, but Regina cocks her head responding to the sound.
They watch Regina’s slow-mo move as her head swivels in their direction. They watch her frown as she fights with the sash to unlock and raise the window. They watch her close her eyes and bite her lip as she manages to move the stuck screen. Ramon wants to yell, “Never mind the fucking screen.” Something is happening in his chest, like somebody shoved a fist in and is squeezing his lungs, maybe his heart. It hurts bad.
When the screen is finally up the old lady says, “Oh, TJ. Oh, Ramon.”
TJ and Regina stare at each other. TJ’s mouth is open. It makes him look stupid. Ramon feels like he’s doing something bad, watching the old lady’s sad face and TJ’s open mouth. Regina looks older by the second. TJ’s hoodie gets wet in the front. Ramon wonders if TJ knows he’s crying. He wants to run, but he can’t leave TJ.
“Remember the time Jackie caught you peeing on the rhododendron in the back yard?” Regina says. “And that bouquet of sunflowers you picked for her. She still has those, on a vase on our dresser, all dried up.” She smiles, a far-off looking smile that scares Ramon. “Ten years of dust, all the seeds fell out a long time ago.” She sighs. “I tossed them in the trash, but she pulled them out.”
Ramon takes a step back. Shut up about the fucking dead sunflowers, he wants to yell, TJ doesn’t know the difference between a rhododendron and an oak tree.
“You were about six years old,” Regina says, almost happy. “So cute.”
TJ nods and his fists curl. Ramon wonders if TJ remembers it was him, Ramon, and not TJ who got caught pissing on the rhododendron. Ramon can’t remember if it was him or TJ who gave Jackie the sunflowers. TJ’s fists clench and uncurl. He is fighting his hands so they won’t try to put themselves through something.
Ramon stares at Regina wondering if she’ll have to move. Where’s TJ going to go when he can’t hack it at home if she moves? He can’t stay with Ramon. Ramon’s father doesn’t understand that some people live in places they have to get out of once in a while.
Regina leans closer and puts her fingertips on TJ’s cheek. The pain in Ramon’s chest pokes at him. He sees Regina’s face clearly, her hair uncombed, the wrinkles deep. “She loved you. She would never say it, wouldn’t want to embarrass you or herself, but I will.” Regina’s lips are dry. She usually has pink lips and cheeks. Her face is all the same grey today. Her voice sounds younger than usual, a girl’s voice coming out of an old lady.
Ramon tries to breathe the knotted fist out of his chest. The old butch one is dead. He has known people who died, young people. He held a baby once, a little girl who lived right down the street, held her while her mother picked up the shit that fell out of her purse. A few weeks later that baby died. Ramon kind of liked holding her. She smelled good, but he didn’t panic when that baby died. His cousin died. Ramon tries to calm himself by thinking of all the people he knows who died and all the times he didn’t panic. He sucks in a big breath and holds it, a trick his father taught him. If Ramon doesn’t stay cool he can’t help TJ stay cool. Old people, Ramon reminds himself, that’s what they do, they die. But Jackie, somehow he thought Jackie would wait until TJ got better. Who’s going to help Ramon help TJ get better now? He holds his jaw to stop his chin from shaking. Ramon closes his eyes, hoping TJ and Regina keep staring at each other for a minute so he can think of something to do to get them all out this, some way to get the pain out of his chest, but all he can think about is their future. His and TJ’s.
Ramon has been holding back visions of their future for a long time. They’re only sixteen so, if neither of them dies young, there’s a lot of future pressing hard, breaking through his thoughts at the wrong times. He sees them, him and TJ next week or next month, maybe tomorrow or later this afternoon, after TJ stops falling apart and comes back together, and he will, TJ will fall apart and he will come back together, maybe crazier than before, but he will come back, he always does. Ramon tries, but he can’t hold back his worst thought – TJ losing the fight to keep his fists down, going after whoever is closest. That’s what Ramon is most afraid of – TJ not able to keep his fists at his sides until he finds a punk who deserves them. TJ wailing on whoever is closest.
Ramon wonders when his mom and the rest of the neighbor ladies will come with rice and beans and cake and mass cards. The old dykes have lived here since before the boys were born. The neighbor ladies will turn out for them.
He realizes his mom doesn’t know yet, none of the ladies know. TJ’s papi wanted TJ to know first. So TJ could pay his respects before everyone else got there. He tugs on TJ’s hoodie. TJ shakes him off. “Say sorry, say sorry to Regina.” Ramon can’t remember using her name before and he says it like a punk now, in a high nervous voice. “Then we gotta go TJ. Sorry for your loss.” Ramon wishes he didn’t have to look at Regina when he says this. If Jackie was TJ’s old lady girlfriend, Regina is Ramon’s. “I’m sorry. Real sorry. We gotta go.” He grabs a piece of TJ’s arm when he yanks at the hoodie this time.
“Get off me,” TJ growls.
“She loved you too, Ramon.” Regina is wearing some kind of a nightgown that she forgot to tie at the neck. The pepperoni skin on her upper chest shows. Ramon cries, not hard, he thinks he can stop. “But TJ…” She puts a spotty hand over her heart.
TJ grips the window sill, turns on his heels and runs.
Ramon follows him. He’s never been as fast or as strong as TJ, but Ramon catches up and tackles him on the front lawn. They roll over each other, bodies slamming together, hanging on like they’ll drown if either one of them lets go. Then there’s the moment that both boys long for and dread, when their eyes meet, when the rage and fear hang in the air and everything stops.
“TJ. I don’t want to fight you. I don’t want you to hurt…” Ramon voice is too tender for either boy to bear, “anybody.”
“Get off me,” TJ shrieks. The boys are on their knees. Ramon locks his arms around TJ’s chest. TJ struggles, but he’s fighting against too much, he collapses, an old trick to make Ramon put down his guard for a second while TJ rallies then busts out of the hold Ramon has on him. But Ramon knows this trick and before it happens, Ramon puts his head on TJ’s shoulder and kisses TJ neck softly, right there on the frozen lawn next door to Ramon’s house, right there in the neighborhood, not out in the fringe of woods a mile from here, where no one has ever found them, or only the one close call when TJ waved around a comb that the other boys thought was a blade, making the punks scatter and TJ laugh like a maniac.
Ramon knows kissing TJ’s neck is wrong, the wrong thing to do in the old ladies’ yard with the butch one dead and the almost pretty one crying in her too big nightgown. Everything is wrong. Ramon pulls his lips away, holds TJ just tight enough so he won’t slip to the ground, taking what he can get, one last time he thinks, but then he thinks one last time every time he kisses TJ. Ramon holds on and waits for TJ to bust out and start swinging. They both wait for TJ to explode. For a long moment TJ stays limp and spent in Ramon’s arms.
TJ doesn’t burst out. Ramon stops holding him and says, “Sit up, man.” Ramon puts his arm over TJ’s shoulder, like Ramon’s father does to Ramon once in a while. “Fuck all of this, TJ.” He means fuck one old white lady being dead and the other one looking tired as death and talking in a little girl voice. He means fuck TJ going to see his pretty white girlfriend after he and TJ have sex behind a tree near the strip mall. He means fuck TJ being crazy. “Jackie’s dead. I’m here, man, but I’m done with crazy.” He knows it’s the wrong thing to say to calm TJ. He knows it is exactly the wrong time to say it. He knows he and TJ will both die some day and if he doesn’t say it now he never will. “Done babysitting.” Ramon wipes the tears off his face with the sleeve of his parka. “Done fighting you, TJ.”
TJ’s broad back and shoulders stiffen. “What about fucking me? You done with that, too?”
Ramon takes his arm away. The question hangs there. Ramon pulls his head back. The boys stare each other down. They have never talked about what they do in the woods. Ramon thought TJ put it out of his mind as soon as it was over. He thinks what they do in the trees behind the strip mall is part of why TJ is crazy, but it can’t be all of why TJ is crazy, because he was crazy enough before they started going to the mall.
“If I have to be,” Ramon says.
TJ wipes the tears and snot on his hoodie. “I got your back too.” His voice is close to calm.
Ramon nods, almost smiles because he’s not sure if TJ means in the neighborhood and at school or in the woods when he lets Ramon cry on his shoulder without giving him shit about it.
“We should do something,” Ramon says. “Flowers or some shit like that for Jackie. She liked those big yellow ones. The ones that grow by their back fence.”
“Fucking sunflowers,” TJ says. “Why you pretending you don’t know they’re called sunflowers.”

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American Beauty


Yikes. Word Press just informed me that I have 846 followers. Thanks to those of you who have hung in there with me in the absence of any word from me since June. I will try to be a more reliable with my posts – starting today. 

Here is a poem that appeared in the most recent issue of Wilde Magazine. Not my usual subject matter or style. Poets note- Wilde Magazine is accepting submissions and seems to like “edgy” – if I can ever really call my writing edgy.

American Beauty

She’s a stripper who tends

her roses, thorn and petal.

Common pinks, late-blooming

yellows, black beauties, finicky whites.

Red, she loves.

Wears it on her lips and

fingertips to please herself

and sophisticated men.

Men who feign disinterest

at the uptown club

where she struts her stuff.

Out walking tonight,

in red hot jeans,

she stops to admire

her reflection in a shop

window. Praises herself

lovely. Freshens her lipstick.

Moves on.

A man watches.

She’s seen him around.

A quiet guy, even tonight

when he grabs her arm,

tongue against her teeth,

pelvis on her thigh,

right there on the street.

She bites hard.

His tongue bleeds.

Painted nails dig deep.

Red runs down his cheek.

For a moment

he can’t see.

She’s four blocks gone

when he finds his voice

and screams “cock-tease! ”

There’s blood on the thigh

of her jeans.

The colors are close—

hardly a mark

once the fabric dries.

She wonders if the stain

will set. Buys an appliqué

in the Chinese market.

Satin roses, red of course,

and a needle,

curved to pierce the fabric

but not the skin. 


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Gleaning nuts- a prose poem about aging

Can you glean nuts? Sure, says me. And I wrote a prose poem to illustrate.
I am reading at Whately Congressional Church on Monday, June 24th at 7pm – 177 Chestnut Plain Road. Probably will not read the following. So here ’tis.
When there’s nothing left in the garden but garlic, parsnip, and tomatoes that may or may not withstand the predicted light frost, I compete with squirrels for grounded butternuts. The flesh around the woody shell is green and fuzzy. My fingers are tarry with the handling. In a month, left in our dry cellar, with luck, the fuzzy flesh will become brittle husks, but the meat inside will remain moist and fit to be eaten. The shell is similar to a walnut, but thicker and harder. By November if the nuts don’t rot, the mice don’t find them, and if there is no snow, I will take a hammer to the shell, on the sidewalk, like I did as a kid. Maybe one in ten will be “just right” with a toasty flavor. To most palates the butternut is not as pleasant as the walnut, its better known cousin. Nine in ten will be either “under” with an astringent taste or “over” with a slightly rotten dirty taste. Nine in ten will either never reach my mouth or get spit in the yellowing grass. But the meat of that one in ten will be the perfect combination of oily texture and slightly bitter taste that make the foraging worthwhile. The best part is tossing the shells in a bucket, the satisfying lonely thump in the ear that only a child, or an adult remembering the smug secrets of that child exiled to the side yard for bad behavior, competing with squirrels for grounded butternuts, ever gets to hear.

“Aging,” Spilling Ink, Arts Unbound, England, Whales, Amy Burnes editor, Issue 5, June 2011
“Aging,” Spilling Ink 2006-2011, Unbound Press, England, Whales, Amy Burnes, editor, 2011.

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A Call for Flash Fiction

Like my favorite songs, great flash fiction hits me in the gut and lingers in my mind. As in the best ballads, flash fiction gets to the essence of the story, reveals plot, conflict, character and resolution with brevity and eloquence. My most beloved lyrics and short stories are just ambiguous enough to invite me, as a listener or reader, to read between the lines. I love a story with a strong beginning, middle, and end, but enough breathing room to make the “hinted at” narrative unique to my own interpretation.
Unlike a good song, flash fiction delivers the elegance of poetry and the elements of fiction without the aid of redundant stanzas or repeated lyrics. A good story makes the words sing without the aid of a melody or back-up instruments.
I love the challenge of telling a story in vivid, tight prose. I hope to learn more about creating economical and intimate plot while incorporating the emotionality of music and poetry and the elements of great fiction.
I received a call for submissions for flash fiction – under 750 words. The info about submitting to this anthology from WW Norton appears at the end of the following piece, one of three short-shorts that I submitted. The editors prefer previously published work. How often does a writer see that request?

Gravy word count 487
No religion, no politics, no sex at the supper table. Mother does the cooking. Mother makes the rules.
My father invites me and my lover to dinner. Last time we ate dinner at my parents house my father implied that my lover was not a lesbian because of the way she devoured a drumstick. I’m a vegetarian. My father believes that all lesbians are vegetarians. My lover was invited tonight. She declined.
My mother cooks a stew, calls it vegetarian stew even though it has two inch chunks of beef in it. I eat my mothers’ stew even though I call myself a vegetarian. My mother assures me that the meat she buys is so lean that there’s not a chance in hell that one fat globule could melt into the gravy. I don’t tell her it’s blood, not fat, that alarms me. She picks out the meat with plastic pickle tongs that she got free at a Tupperware party, before passing me a plateful. She discards my meat on my fathers’ plate.
“Who ever heard of broccoli in stew?” My father says, picking out the little green trees and piling them on my plate. I eat the top off a tiny one, after smelling it. I want to ask my parents if they think the broccoli smells like meat, but I’m afraid that might lead to breaking Mother’s rules.
I get pumpernickel bread out of the freezer and nuke it in the microwave for thirty seconds so we can sop up the nonfat gravy. When I sit back down my mother is trading green beans for pearl onions with my father.
“Anybody want to trade gravy?” I ask.
My father says, “No thank you I don’t eat vegetarian gravy.”
“This isn’t vegetarian gravy, it’s brown,” I say.
“Alright, I don’t eat a vegetarians’ gravy,” my father says.
Mother says, “Vegetarian gravy can be brown. You just add a little Worstershire and a little Gravymaster.”
Father takes a spoonful of gravy from my bowl, tastes it, shakes his head, says, “No protein. You got unnatural gravy.”
I take the spoon out of his hand and have a taste of his gravy. “Hormones,” I say,
“Antibiotics. Pesticides.”
We must be talking about religion, politics, or sex , because Mother is pissed. She gives us both a disgusted look and takes her plate in to the den.
I follow her. “Ma, do you like the smell of broccoli?” I ask, contrite, by way of polite conversation.
“Ask me after I finish my meal,” she says.
Father comes in with a second plate of meat- laden stew.
Mother gives us both a warning glance. “Put on ‘Wheel of Fortune,” she says.
Father and I sit on the couch, on opposite sides of Mother. We finish our stew and watch Vana turn letters. We behave during ‘Wheel of Fortune’. Jeopardy is a different story, but the meal is over by then.

International flash anthology: We’re looking for stories under 750 words for Flash Fiction International, due from distinguished publisher W.W. Norton in 2014.
We generally prefer recent, previously published work (recent=within the last ten years or so), but we will also consider unpublished submissions. The stories must be in English, originally or in translation. Limit of 3 stories.
Editors for the Norton Sudden and Flash Fiction book series, James
Thomas and Robert Shapard, are joined by Chris Merrill, director of the U of Iowa International Writing Program.
We would be grateful for any leads to authors we should read, besides yourself. Also, please let us know if you know any good, brief quotes that can be related to very short fiction (for example, Friedrich Nietzsche said, “It is my ambition to say in ten sentences what others say in a whole book.”)
Send submissions by email attachment to james45387ATyahooDOTcom, or send print copy to James Thomas, 99 W. 3rd St. #5, Xenia, OH, U.S.A. 45385. Deadline is August 15.

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In life and in writing it is brave to move away from known places and places where you are known. I also think it is brave to stay.

What follows is a short opening statement I was asked to prepare for a panel titled
“Singular Women, Singular Worlds.” I never made it to Saints and Sinners Literary Conference in New Orleans due to thunderstorms and tornadoes and missing pilots. The panel included Jill Malone, Judith Katz, and Elana Dykewomon – more’s the pity, I didn’t get to hear what they had to say.
What follows is my opening statement.
How I create the worlds of my stories is directly related to the world that created me.
My siblings and I were raised in Chicopee a small town in Western MA. My parents were raised in Chicopee. My son Brian was raised in Chicopee. My first book is set in the town and is loosely based on the broad facts of my early life- Catholicism, illness, squabbling sisters, drugs, sex, family. Some of the characters and events in the novel started out as barely disguised people and incidents from my life but morphed into fiction as I wrote and rewrote draft after draft.
My new novel-in –progress, Fishwives, is also set in a small New England town. I suppose this makes me a regional writer.
I learned how to write by writing and failing to tell the story I was trying to tell, writing more, failing more, trying to fail less with every draft until the characters and story took on a life of their own. But my first book, and every story I write, whatever the setting or theme or characters, is always written with the sensibilities of a small town working class lesbian with a messy illness, a girl with a chip on her shoulder, a woman who made a twenty mile trek to Northampton, MA to become middle-class, because that is who I am.
For me, writing is all about the specifics of discovery. And discovery is about asking questions. For example, in that first book, The Girls Club, there is a scene in a high school girls’ room where the main character Cora Rose is seated on the toilet in a stall and spit on by a girl standing on the toilet seat in the next stall. When I was in high school some nasty girls spit on me in the girls room, so yes I was, to a point, writing what I knew, writing a scene that had actually occurred, but as I wrote the scene the facts and the characters changed. Initially, in this scene stolen from life, it was the main character alone with 4 girls spitting on her. In the novel, over time, 4 girls became one because it was better for the story to conflate them, to sketch one girl and present her more fully, easier to show her vulnerabilities if she was alone, so the writer and reader could see something in her besides spit and meanness.
In life things often happen quickly – then we move on to the next thing. There’s no slo-motion – You get spit on, the bell rings, you wipe it off and go to the next class. In writing you can slow down, if not the scene itself, what you discover in the scene, you can question every action, every motive, every emotional reaction.
As a small town writer, I attempt to examine where I am – try to go deep if not wide. As a girl with a chip on my shoulder questions of place often push my class buttons. In life and in writing, I think it is brave to move away from known places – or to look at it from another perspective, places where you are known. I also think it is brave to stay.
My next novel is about old lesbians behaving badly. Not a stretch for me. The setting is small town MA. The characters are working class, becoming poorer as they grow older. I’ll try to ask them hard questions. I am very interested in powerful old people. These characters are opinionated. They are poor, but not powerless or cute or sexless. One of them has a frayed corset. I have lots of questions about that. I have lots of questions about how they polish the chips on their shoulders – how they keep their humanity and power intact. I have lots of questions about how they stay so close to home and remain radical as they age. Of course these questions will change, and, I hope, get better as I fail and try again to answer them.
PS The irony of being the panalist who did not make it out of the airport does not escape me.

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