Looking through the blinds

looking through the blinds
by Laura McHale Holland

IMG_1006lower branches shorn
the redwood stands
beside brick, steel, glass
high above the building
the tree is whole
made to last
it will outlive
our desks, computers
smartphones, copiers, deadlines
we are but blips
looking through the blinds
at eternity

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Photo by Laura McHale Holland

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Flash fiction: Have you noticed?

While I was proofing my newsletter last week, some phrases caught my eye. It seemed as though they could be the beginnings of stories. So I decided to grab a couple of them to work into a short piece. I lifted “Have you noticed?” and “Often they come in groups” from the newsletter text.

Here’s the result; it could be the prelude to a story. Where would you take this? If it ignites a story within you, I’d love for you to share it in a comment.

Have You Noticed?
By Laura McHale Holland

2527415732_73af88d345Often they come in groups, skittering through yards in the wee hours. They climb—light, swift, translucent—over redwood fences, down terraced slopes, up stucco walls.

They hover in cypress trees, swing from maples and oaks. Peeking through our windows, they watch us turn out the reading lights, roll over in bed.

They long to feel the weight of gravity pull them down to the ground, to feel the thrill of lips locked in love one last time. Have you noticed? Do you sense them now? The ones who are waiting, caught in between, the ones who watch us breathe.

Photo by Kristel Jax

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Why not write quick book reviews?

Brief book reviews have merit

Do you post book reviews online at Amazon, Goodreads and other such sites? I do so only sporadically. I’d like to get in the habit of writing quick reviews after finishing books I’ve enjoyed. (I shy away from doing negative reviews, and if you’d like to comment about that, it could lead to a spirited discussion.)

To make this task more doable, I’ve begun making my reviews short. Very short. I’m not a professional reviewer. I just want to contribute a little something to the discussions about books I like. I figure this means I don’t have to follow any particular format or satisfy any preconceived notions of what a book review should be.

In case you’ve been holding off on penning reviews, I’m going to paste in a couple I’ve done lately to demonstrate how brief they can be.

Slip by Tanya Savko

8264803I highly recommend this novel because I learned so much about autism from reading it. The book provides an eye-opening view of what it’s like to parent an autistic child while also coping with all the other things a parent might have to deal with—an unraveling marriage, divorce, betrayal, issues with extended family, a low paying job that’s not anywhere close to your dream job, financial woes. Tanya Savko has created believable characters who learn from their struggles, and she manages to impart wisdom while also shaping an engaging narrative that comes to a satisfying close.

Oleander Girl by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

15802866If I could give this book more than five stars, I would. It is beautifully satisfying on many levels. The writing is lyrical, the plot is original and absorbing, the characters are captivating and believable, the book illuminates social issues without doing anything close to preaching, and combined, these elements form a magical work that surpassed my expectations, which were high because I’ve read other books by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni and enjoyed them. The young heroine Korobi embarks on a journey that transforms her, as well as those she loves in deep and moving ways.

So, why not write some quick reviews of your own? And if you choose to review my books, well, I would be most grateful.

Next week, I’ll post another Belinda Blue Brown episode.

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Strange visions

Here’s another Belinda Blue Brown episode draft. What do you think?

Strange Visions
By Laura McHale Holland

140132287_c49cec39d7As if I didn’t have enough to sort out, what with Velda Sue supposedly askin’ for me and me not bein’ sure if I should call her because we’ve got this complicated history, and then I find out that my Bernie’s been at it again, you know, befriendin’ odd characters, folks who aren’t anywhere near the norm. This time it’s Dunderhead. We’ve all been callin’ him that since grammar school, so nobody remembers his real name. Well, actually, that’s not true. Like I said, sometimes I lie, even to myself. His name is Dave Dunderfield, and we just started callin’ him Dunderhead way back when we were small, and maybe that’s not so nice. I mean, I don’t—and this is the truth—I don’t know how it got started. I just know that’s what we’ve been callin’ him ever since forever, and I just pray to the gods that be that I’m not the one who thought that up because, golly gee whiz, I don’t like to think of myself as someone who would do something like that. But like they say, kids can be mean, and maybe I was too. Heck, right now I might be mean as a hornets’ nest and maybe nobody wants to tell me that to my face. I sure hope not.

Now, as far as Bernie makin’ friends with Dunderhead goes, I’ve tried to keep my mouth shut and not say somethin’ stupid I’ll regret later even though Dunderhead is undoubtedly not workin’ with a full deck. I mean he can’t look anybody in the eyes more than a second or so, and he’s hard to understand, too, because he hoots and snarls between his words, not that I’m some sort of social marvel, but I can at least carry on a conversation without lookin’ cross-eyed and makin’ everybody within earshot start fidgeting and tryin’ to figure out how to get out of the room. But my Bernie, he didn’t have anyone to hang with after his mail route anymore since Jake the Wolfman’s demise. Oh, it still makes me sad to think of Jake gettin’ eaten up by his very own wolf-dogs, and I know it makes Bernie sad, too, and a little scared because we own four wolf dogs ourselves now, and we sure don’t want them jumpin’ on us, or on our little niece Pansy when she comes to visit, either. But then Bernie saw Dunderhead in town one day, and Bernie, being the amiable guy that he is, asked Dunderhead how he was, and Dunderhead said he was in a bad way because his daughter had gone off and left him with his grandbaby to care for. Dunderhead said he didn’t think his daughter had left of her own free will either, and he said he thought it was the same with our own Glory. Well, Bernie was fit to be tied because we never talk to anybody except ourselves about Glory’s disappearance, and Dunderhead knew things about Glory, like the note she left, that only the family would know. And so Bernie and Dunderhead got to talkin’

4500129501_452b2b6bcd_nNow Dunderhead is one of those conspiracy theory nuts, too—it seems every flood, every bombing, every killing, every spill is a government plot in his book. Plus he’s always said he can see things happening when he’s not anywhere near. He gets little glimpses of scenes, and frankly, that creeped all of us out when we were younger, you know, having our very own cross-eyed, barking, psychic quack right here in North Bend, but Bernie got drawn in a few months ago now, and he started going over to Dunderhead’s home in the woods just outside of town. Now, his home started out as a cabin long ago, way back when going back to the land was more of a thing with young people, baby boomers, you know, and so Dunderhead and his wife, Clara, a real pretty gal who drowned in a river one day tryin’ to save a hound of theirs that had gotten swept away in a strong current, and that was a sad one for sure, because Dunderhead had to raise their four kids up himself. They were rangin’ at the time from about six years old to sixteen. Now, it’s the one who was six at the time who just up and left after she’d had a baby boy, just a few months into it, just like our Glory. Dunderhead says this is way too much of a coincidence. He thinks it’s some kind of plot he doesn’t quite understand, but he had a dream of a time-share condominium place way down on the Gulf Coast somewhere, you know, where they have all those hurricanes and such, and he looked online and found just the place he’d seen in his dream, and it was practically right on the beach. You could see the waves lap the shore from the window, and there was an opening for the top unit on the fourth-floor. Now, a strange thing about this building is that it looks like it was carted off from some place in Europe. It’s made out of some weather beaten stone and has one of those steep, slanted roofs. It’s so tall and narrow it makes me dizzy just to picture it in my mind, and its long windows have shutters, each one a different color, so it’s a strange mix of ancient and modern, and it has flowers on each windowsill, too, and a wrought iron gate with a flickering neon sign that says Welcome, and it seemed just not to belong on the beach in the Gulf Coast. But Dunderhead convinced Bernie we should go in on this time share. He was sure there’d be clues about our missing girls, and I said then and there that was a bunch of hooey, but you know what a pushover I am when Bernie turns on the charm, even after all these years together, and so we, and I’m still havin’ a hard time believing it, we bought a share in this place on the beach in the middle of nowhere, even though people are sayin’ time shares are a thing of the past. I guess me and Bernie and Dunderhead are a thing of the past, too, much as I hate to admit it.

4591881136_d8b4989f4f_nAnyway, after a while I did warm to the idea of spendin’ time there when it’s not otherwise occupied, just not during hurricane season because, well, that would be foolhardy, now wouldn’t it. So we took our first trip there just last week, and, oh, we had a time. Even passed through New Orleans and stopped in the French Quarter and had beignets and coffee at Cafe du Monde. Think of that, us folks from North Bend doin’ somethin’ like that. I wanted to visit the graveyards where everybody’s in a crypt above ground, too, but Bernie and Dunderhead squelched that idea real fast. Dunderhead said there were too many voices cryin’ out for help in a place like that and he wouldn’t be able to think clearly if we got too close, so we had to skedaddle. I didn’t mention how it’s kind of questionable whether he ever really thinks clearly anyway.

When we got to the condo, it was all postcard quiet and peaceful. We had the entire beach as far as the eye could see to ourselves, except for one other resident who came and went, a guy who had a gold tooth right in front. Who has gold teeth these days, anyway? Dunderhead said that man was up to something no good. Bernie, of course, didnt’ believe that, and he got to talkin’ with the man and found out he was there year round unless there was an evacuation on account of hurricanes or oil spills or somethin’, but after a while the cold look in the guy’s eyes even gave Bernie the creeps. Dunderhead said it wasn’t safe to stay around him. So Bernie didn’t talk to him after that, and we all just sort of nodded if we were comin’ or goin’ in the lobby at the same time as that man was. Mostly he didn’t make any noise, except every now and then we thought we heard footsteps and murmurs in the unit below us. Other than that, our stay was uneventful, and before we knew it our week had whizzed by, and we were all packed up, car loaded and ready to go home. Gold Tooth pulled in just as we were about to drive off. The side door to the van was open, and there were ropes in there, and I got a vision of our Glory all tied up, and I wondered why I would picture somethin’ like that. And then I got real worried that Dunderhead’s weird vision stuff was rubbin’ off on me, so I closed my eyes and shook my head and tried to will that disturbing vision away.

And now, back at home I keep havin’ visions, things I’d never before pictured, like someone sneakin’ into Jake the Wolfman’s spread, climbin’ into the enclosure where his wolf dogs were sleepin’, and feedin’ them critters somethin’ that drove ‘em crazy enough to attack poor Jake when he came out to feed ‘em in the mornin’. Now, that’s even scarier to me than the notion of the dogs turnin’ on him for no reason at all, because that’s somethin’ that happens every now and again, but someone messin’ with the dogs so they’d go crazy on Jack? That’s downright twisted. And I picture Glory sometimes too in a room with other young women, all of ‘em tied up in ropes just like that man had in his van, and that’s makin’ it hard for me to sleep at night. I haven’t told Bernie. I don’t want to worry him. I did finally tell him about bringin’ our wolf dogs inside to spend the days with me, and I suppose I’ll have to tell him about these strange visions. I thought maybe I should go see my HMO doctor, too, you know, because maybe there’s a pill I can take to make this stop, but then I thought about side effects. I don’t want to spend my days sittin’ in a chair, lookin’ out a window and droolin’ if it comes to that. I mean, what kind of life would that be? So I decided against spillin’ out all this stuff about visions to a doctor. My Bernie. He does have a way of pullin’ me places I never thought I’d go, you know, bringin’ out things in me I sure never thought were there. I think I’m goin’ to have to pay a visit to Dunderhead myself and see if he’s been havin’ these visions too and ask him what they could possibly mean. And then once I can get a good night’s sleep again, maybe I’ll be able to pick up the phone and call Velda Sue. I sure could use a friend right about now.

Photo of head by TheoJunior; photo of window by ]babi]; crypt photo by wallyg

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That shocking proposal

Here’s another Belinda Blue Brown episode draft. The more of these I write, the more loose ends there will be to clean up when I pull them together into one document. I hope you enjoy that I’m sharing a bit of the writing process here. In the end, I don’t know if the whole project will be a keeper, but that’s part of the fun.

That Shocking Proposal

3160916013_9492d737b9_tMy friend Velda Sue, well, she goes by Suzette now, and since we haven’t spoken in, oh, thirty years and since I only heard about her plight third-hand, I don’t suppose you could say she’s my friend anymore. But, jeeze, we’ve known each other since we were tykes runnin’ barefoot in black earth that seemed a whole lot moister way back when, you know. Oh, that dirt. It smelled so good we didn’t just make mud pies, we tried eatin’ ‘em out in my backyard one day. And my mama, she came out to hang laundry on the line and saw that mud all around our mouths, and us chewin’ up a storm.

She hauled us inside, stripped off our clothes and dumped us in the tub real quick, nothin’ harsh about it though. She was speedy but never the punishing’ type, thank goodness. Neither was Velda Sue’s mom. They lived right across the street from us, so it wasn’t long before Velda Sue’s mom came over, and the two of them were laughin’ about our mud pies over Sanka coffee in the kitchen and my mom’s special-recipe pound cake that tasted a whole lot better than mud, come to think of it.

And when Velda Sue and I were gettin’ bored splashin’ in the tub, it was her mom who came in, gave us each a good scrubbin’ and dressed us in matching sundresses, and told us to play inside for a while, at least until our dads came home from the Good Days Bakery, where they both worked as supervisors—my dad in the cookie department, and her dad in the bread department. So Velda Sue and me were like sisters, twins almost, born just a day apart, and we went to the same school and took the same ballet class and played on the same softball team and all that. I thought someday Velda Sue and me would live across the street from each other and raise our babies up together, just like our mothers, but, you know, I could tell by high school that wasn’t gonna happen. I just didn’t want to admit it.

See, my pa died in an auto accident when Velda Sue and me were ten. Her dad was driving, and he survived without much damage, just a few bumps and such. But my dad went right through the windshield. And it turns out he didn’t have any life insurance, and Mama had no marketable skills, so it wasn’t long before we moved in with my grandma and grandpa on the outskirts of town. So Velda Sue and me didn’t go to the same school again until high school, and, well, by then let’s just say we traveled in different circles. She was gorgeous and blonde and real coordinated, made the cheerleading squad all four years, which was like being a rock star or some kind of goddess. Now I was slim enough, I guess, but shaped sort of like a pear and not at all coordinated. Plus my wardrobe was, um, limited, and back then clothes mattered, a lot. So, Velda Sue and I would say a quick hi sometimes if we passed each other in the halls, but that was all.

2700730806_e04642e0d7_tBut then, here’s the thing, we did become friends again for a little while, not the best of friends like when we were kids, but friendly for sure. After graduation, she went off to some fancy school in the East, and I went to school in California, a junior college outside of San Francisco where my uncle worked, so he pulled some strings to get me in tuition free. I got my AA and did the books for a music store for a year or so after that, but then, well, okay, I’ll admit it, I missed my mom and my grandma and grandpa, who were gettin’ up in years, and they all missed me, too. I kinda missed my brother and sister, too, and even North Bend, though I never figured on that. When I got on that Greyhound headed west, I thought I was goin’ away for good.

About a year after I returned to North Bend, Velda Sue came back to town, too, and it turns out we both showed up to volunteer for this thing called VISTA on the same day. It’s kinda like the Peace Corps only folks work in America, not in other countries, and it seems a lot of folks in North Bend are underprivileged, according to the government, so there was plenty for volunteers to do right here. And you know who else was volunteering? None other than my Bernie, but of course he wasn’t my Bernie back then. And Velda Sue and Bernie and some other volunteers and me, we’d go together to Paulie’s Diner after work, or throw parties, and so we had a little social group goin’ that was pretty fun, and it turns out Velda Sue, she fell for Bernie.

Now, I’d had a crush on Bernie since when I first saw him standin’ by his locker freshman year. Oh those big brown eyes and that sheepish grin of his, they did me in, but I kept it to myself, so when Velda Sue said she had the hots for him, I didn’t have any claim on him, so I figured they’d be an item soon enough. She said she wanted to settle down with Bernie and that she’d had it with all those fancy guys back east. So I wished her well and said Bernie’d be lucky to have her, which I thought was true. And one day she got all dolled up with eyeliner and eyeshadow and sparkly lipstick and a skimpy knit dress that hugged her curves just right. She’d gotten wind of Bernie’s having bought an expensive ring at Carolina Jewelers in town, and she said her heart was all aflutter because her dream was about to come true, and soon enough we were all at our regular booth at the diner, and Bernie got down on one knee, and he pulled out a ring, and he proposed, but he didn’t propose to Velda. He proposed to me. And I was like to be flabbergasted, and so was she, and she stormed off. I ran after her, but she yelled at me that I was a traitor, and worse stuff I won’t repeat, and she said to leave her alone.

Well, my feelings were hurt, and I stood there, mouth open a mile wide, while she got into her Corolla and started the engine, but then I thought of Bernie back in the restaurant, with all the food gettin’ cold, and so I turned around and came back to the booth. He was slinked down real low and our friends were saying stuff like, man, that’s a bummer, gosh, that didn’t go so well, did it. And so I sat down next to Bernie and I admitted I’d had a crush on him for a long time, but I didn’t really know him, and he didn’t know me, so maybe we could back up a bit and get acquainted, and if maybe after a while he felt I was still wife material and vice versa, we’d get engaged. And Bernie, being his wonderful self and all, he said of course. A year later he proposed for real at the very same booth at Paulie’s, and we got married a year after that, and had our reception at Paulie’s, too. By then Velda Sue was back in school, studying abroad somewhere, and I didn’t think I should invite her. She never believed that I hadn’t somehow intentionally stolen Bernie from her.

imagesNow I’ve heard from my mama, who heard from Velda Sue’s mama, that Velda Sue is back at home and in a real bad way. She won’t talk about it, and she won’t go out. All she does is watch Lifetime movies and eat carmel corn and D’Giorno pepperoni pizzas. And my mama said Velda Sue is askin’ about me. Now I still have her old phone number memorized, even though I tried to forget it because I was so jealous of her, and I’m tryin’ to decide if I should call her. I did pick Bernie over her that day when I gave up on following her and returned to him in the restaurant. I could have pounded on the car window, told her she had to let me in, but maybe it was a little like how she picked her popular friends over me in high school, and maybe I was getting back at her in ways I didn’t even realize at the time. But I swear I wasn’t trying to win him or anything before that shocking proposal. The thing is, though, how do I know if Velda Sue’s really askin’ for me or if my mama’s just havin’ some fantasy about Velda Sue and me being buddies again, which I tell you, is about as likely as a cow jumpin’ over the moon.

Copyright (c) 2013 by Laura McHale Holland

Comments are welcome. If you don’t see a comment section below this post, go here.

Mud pie photo by derringdosGreyound bus depot sign by kuyman.

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Belinda Blue has her say

Belinda Blue Has Her Say

Laura was on the verge of starting another blog project, writing one memoir vignette per week, but I talked her out of it. She’s finally going to step aside and let me have my say, and I’m rarin’ to go. Some of you might remember me as Bernie’s wife, the one who took a shine to two orphaned wolf-dog pups, abandoned because a bunch of grown-up wolf-dogs in their pack killed their owner, or should I say caretaker, Jake the Wolfman, who was my husband Bernie’s fast friend. You can read an edited version of that story in The Ice Cream Vendor’s Song or you can check out the first version, the one that came right out of my mouth, in this blog’s archives.

4726800475_4d9b0697cb_nAnyway, I think you’ll be happy to know that after adopting only two more wolf-dog pups—that we had to drive all the way to Montana to get, by the way—I have vowed not to get any more of them, no matter how thoroughly mesmerizing they are. And that is no small commitment, I have to say, beause it’s like standin’ by a big bowl of Jay’s potato chips and dip at a party and being able to grab only two. Near to impossible, right? You can always walk away from the food at a party, though, and I can’t exactly walk away from our pups. So I’m living with that discomfort of longing for more a fair amount of time, but I do my best to put the thought of bringing more of these critters home out of my mind.

 Now, I really just brought up the wolf-dogs in case you might remember me. I have lots of other things to talk about, like number one, I have a name. I’m not just Bernie’s wife, although I am happily married and proud that he’s been my husband all these years, decades now, in fact, and I did take his last name, Brown, when we got married, which went against the women’s lib stuff I felt a kinship with at the time, but all the gals in North Bend were still taking their husbands’ names when they got married, and pretty much still do for that matter, and I saw no reason to stick out like a neon No Vacancy sign on a dark road. I’d been away from town for a while and just wanted to blend back in like a spoonful of honey in Lipton tea.

3208710439_2f0983a22b_mBut sayin’ I’m Mrs. Brown, even though I am, would be pretty much the same thing as sayin’ I’m Bernie’s wife, and that doesn’t sit right with me, so I’ll let you know I’m Belinda Blue Brown, well, actually Belinda Blue O’Brien Brown, O’Brien beng my maiden name, which I like better than Brown but never use anymore. I’m just Belinda Blue Brown to everybody in North Bend, even though I don’t like having two colors in a row like that.

Now you might think my folks gave me the middle name Blue because I have blue eyes or something, like Bonnie Blue Butler in Gone With the Wind, but that isn’t so. My eyes are gray, no speck of blue in ‘em anywhere. My middle name is Blue because I was a blue baby. Nowawdays they call kids with certain heart defects and some environmental disease blue babies, and they might have been called that back in the 50s, too, but there was also a group of Rh positive babies born to Rh negative mothers who were called blue babies. We had to have transfusions as soon as we were born, you see, because our moms developed antibodies in their blood that attacked us. Some of us didn’t survive, some of us were left with brain damage, and some of us turned out more or less okay, and as far as I can tell I am in the third group.

Why my folks commemorated the whole ordeal in my middle name, I have no idea. There’s a vaccine now that they give Rh negative moms when they’re pregnant and right after delivery, too, and that takes care of the antibodies problem. So what my family went through is a thing of the past. See, my older sister, Corinna Mae, was Rh positive, but she came out just fine because my mom hadn’t built up enough antibodies to harm her. Then I came along and needed a transfusion. Next, my brother, Bobby Jerome, was born real small, and he needed a transfusion worse than I did, but eventually he turned out as normal as anyone. But the fourth child, Bessie June, she was one of the unlucky ones. She didn’t live more than a day, and so my folks just stopped having kids after that. “I just can’t bear the heartache of losin’ another baby,” my mom said. And my dad said, “Heck, five mouths to feed in this family is plenty anyway.”

There’s just no explainin’ why some people do the things they do, like namin’ their kids after a medical crisis. I’ve made a number of odd choices myself, though, so who am I to complain or criticize anyone for what they do, you know? That is, unless it falls into the category of those awful criminals the good people on CSI and Law and Order and NCIS and Criminal Minds are always tryin’ to bring to justice. I have no idea why I like to watch those shows. I know they drag me down, turn me into Eeyore, and this is usually right before bed. God only knows what those shows are doing to my dreams. So I guess I need to walk away from them, like walking away from the potato chips and dip at a party—and yes, we still eat potato chips and dip in North Bend, a town that’s a little too far from anywhere to even be a blip on the map. That’s what our Town Council says anyway, although there’s something odd about those folks. See, it’s the same families generation after generation on the council, and the kids look exactly like their parents, all of the kids born to council members, I mean, so it’s like we’ve had the same people on the council for more than a hundred years.

Plus every time the council meets, there’s always the same amount of money in the treasury, no matter what the expenses have been; month after month, year after year, it’s always a surplus of $15,034.62, which is either reassuring or freaky, depending on how you look at it. Another thing about North Bend is there are no road signs pointing folks our way, so unless somebody’s been brought in as a guest, or is a returning citizen like I once was, nobody from outside ever comes here. There are other things going on, too, that are a little unusual, and maybe I’ll tell you more, unless folks find out what I’m doing and decide to slap me down on account of their privacy concerns, but half the people here don’t even know what a blog is, so I think I’m okay on that score.

4824921852_fdc956c156_nSo I’ll be tellin’ you some stories about my life here in North Bend, which is a little place that you might not think is worth the time, like what’s her name, oh yeah, Gertrude Stein, you might say theres no there there, but wherever people are, there are stories, right? It’s just a matter of digging around and finding ‘em. I don’t know if I’ll be any good at diggin’ up stories, and I guess I should let you know I’m a liar half the time, and sometimes I know I’m lying, and sometimes I don’t realize I’ve lied ’til months or years later, and after a while it’s hard to keep track of what’s real and what isn’t, but I do intend to come back here soon, because now that Laura has let me out, I’m not going to let her just stuff me away in a corner of her mind like she has been doin’. No siree! I’m gonna blab because I want someone to know I existed and that no matter how peculiar a place North Bend is, I believe we’re all doing our best, that is, when you take all the factors shaping us into account.

Jay’s potato chips photo by Thomas Hawk; No Vacancy photo by Anthony Citrano; Gertrude Stein statue photo by tattoodjay.

Note: If you don’t see a comment section below, click here to leave a comment. Also, in the right-hand sidebar, you can sign up for my newsletter and/or blog updates. They are two different things.

Copyright (c) 2013 by Laura McHale Holland

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Telling stories from The Ice Cream Vendor’s Song

The-Ice-Cream-Vendors-Song-cover-small2-e1351566579176I have a little something different to share today: a video clip!

Last Monday I was one of several Sonoma County authors invited to share our work at Gaia’s Garden in Santa Rosa. I decided to tell two stories instead of read them. Ideally, with storytelling, the text is a guide, but you tell the story by heart, not through memorization, leaving room for the story to unfold in new ways during the telling. The stories didn’t deviate too much from the original text at this event, but if I continue to tell them, they will evolve in subtle ways with each telling.

Here’s the link: http://youtu.be/9K9ZM-0_DTw. I will welcome your feedback!

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Obsidian Waves

I wrote this story in response to Lillie McFerrin’s five-sentence fiction prompt, midnight. She typically posts a new prompt weekly at http://lilliemcferrin.com, and I enjoy participating when I can.

Obsidian Waves
By Laura McHale Holland

4268314137_5a3ef92ee3_nHer name wasn’t even Midnight. That’s just what I called her because her face was framed with obsidian waves, and she painted her nails and lips to match. She had an air of mystery about her, too, especially when she would play her flute by the streetlight after dark, and I would watch from my bedroom window and sway in time to her music.

She was my Midnight, you see, until some guy rolled up in a BMW one night and said, “It’s time to come home, Paula.” And so she left.

Yet some nights when I’m about to fall asleep, I sense her music in the air; I rush to the window, but in the streetlight’s glow, the sidewalk is bare; she is never there.

Photo by Horia Varlan

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Delilah

My website is being revamped, and I haven’t had access to it for a while. The site isn’t quite ready for prime time yet, but I do have access to the Dashboard now, so here’s my first post of 2013. I hope you enjoy this story draft and look forward to your comments. I also hope creativity and happiness abound for all of us in the year ahead.

Delilah
By Laura McHale Holland

She climbs out of her VW bug and walks down the block. Late afternoon light bathes the abandoned houses on either side of the street, houses where she and her childhood friends lived, where she skipped rope, played hide and seek, climbed trees, threw water balloons.

All the families. Gone. Paid off. No more barefoot babes running through the grass, no more parents weeding gardens, trimming hedges. Tomorrow demolition will begin so a high tech corporation can expand its campus. A local business success story.

She reaches the last home in the cul de sac, walks by the rusted camper her mom couldn’t sell in the driveway, sees her mom’s cat, Delilah, perched on the living room windowsill. She trudges up the porch steps, pulls a key from her pocket, unlocks the door. Inside she is greeted by the smell of pot roast, a dish her mom hasn’t cooked since her dad’s fatal heart attack four years prior.

“Here, Delilah, here kitty kitty,” she calls. She checks every room, every closet. No cat. “It’s your last chance, Delilah” she calls. “Mom’s going to be really unhappy living in that big old house without you, you silly old cat.”

She steps onto the front porch, closes the door, tosses the key onto the sun-scorched lawn. Soon she pulls her VW away from the curb, rounds the corner and heads toward her mom’s new home. Amid tufts of brittle grass, Delilah pounces and bats the old key back and forth between her front paws.

Note: When I first posted this, the story ended with Delilah in the back seat of the car, having climbed in undetected before the car pulled away.

Photo by Lilachd

 

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A memorable character beautifully rendered

Huachuca Woman is thoroughly researched and beautifully written, with some scenes breathtaking in their elegant use of language and their strong emotional impact. The main chacter, Jo, recounts her life’s adventures to two of her grandchildren who have come to visit the ranch on which Jo has spent most of her life. The story moves back and forth from 1952, when Jo is an old woman, to various episodes from her sometimes heartbreaking and often exciting life lived in the shadow of the Huachua Mountains of the American Southwest. Jo is compelling. The historical detail is rich, and for the most part, woven in seamlessly. And the author has succeeded in making a slice of American history come vibrantly to life through Jo’s eyes.

As I read, however, I felt the story dragged at times, as parts of some scenes seemed to be written to impart historical details that served to provide informmation, but kept the story from moving forward. I also noticed an anachronism or two, for example, a young adult in 1952 said “way cool.” It was common for people to say “cool” in the 1950s, but “way cool” really didn’t come into use until much later in the 20th century. I think this terrific book could have used just one more edit to tighten up a few scenes and details.

This is a book written with great care and skill, though, so I wouldn’t want my quibbles to stop anyone from picking it up and giving it a read. It’s well worth the time.

 

If you’ve read this book, I’d love for you to share your thoughts in the comments. If you have thoughts on this review, I’d love for you to share those, too.

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Never Forever Lost

Never Forever Lost
By Laura McHale Holland

It’s in her closet behind the blue Midnight in Paris relic, maybe, or in the sand beneath barefoot dancers on the beach. But then, it could be behind her ear, waiting for the right magician to come along.

Her heart beats, her sweat flows, her lips tremble, her eyes close. Gone. Not forever, though, never forever lost joy.

 

* * *

 

I didn’t think I’d post a story this week, but I got inspired by Lillie McFerrin’s Five Sentence Fiction challenge. I used the picture she posted there, too. I will welcome your comments on this.

And I’m still looking forward to stories that take off from the sentence I posted yesterday, which was: She knew right away the stamps were no good – no good for mailing anyway.

Two people have posted terrific stories already. I hope you’ll take a look and contribute one of your own.

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Last light

This is a variation on Slip Away, which I posted yesterday. What do you think?

Last Light
By Laura McHale Holland

She saw the boat so still on the water, their eyes fixed on each other as their laughter rippled into the woods where she stood. She raised her rifle but couldn’t take aim. She didn’t know whether to shoot her boyfriend or the woman who’d stolen his heart. She lowered the weapon and walked away.

When he came home later, no yummy aromas were in the air. She’d promised him a hot meatloaf sandwich and German potato salad. Where was she? Her purse wasn’t on the couch where she always threw it. He dashed to the kitchen, called her name. Silence. Bare kitchen windows. No cat dishes on the floor. He raced through the house. Her pictures, gone. Her furniture, gone. Her toothbrush, clothes, books, plants—gone.

Everything she owned was gone. Except for the rifle. It was tucked under the covers on her side of his bed, barrel up, glowing in the last light of day.

 

The photo is by Kevin Marsh, http://www.flickr.com/photos/kevinmarsh/1801817287/

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Slip away

Slip Away
By Laura McHale Holland

She saw the boat so still on the water, their eyes fixed on each other, their laughter rippling into the woods where she stood. She raised her rifle but couldn’t take aim. She didn’t know whether to shoot her boyfriend or the woman who’d stolen his heart. Disgusted at her indecision, she lowered the weapon and walked away. She had just enough time to pack up her belongings and slip away before he came home.

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A glowing review

I wrote a review yesterday of Rasana Atreya’s novel, and now here’s a review I just received from Michelle and Denise, who run the Families of the Mentally Ill blog. They posted it on their website (http://familiesofthementallyill.com/2012/07/03/book-review-reversible-skirt/), on Amazon and on Smashwords:

Reversible Skirt, by Laura McHale Holland, is a heart-breaking memoir about one young mother’s suicide as seen through the eyes of her youngest child, Laura. A toddler at the time of the tragedy, Laura is initially bewildered by the changes swirling around her family, including the appearance of a new stepmother, who is simply passed off as the same person to the children.

The author has done a masterful job of capturing the thought process of a young child as she struggles to make sense of the changes in her world. The tragic events of the girls’ lives aren’t over, unfortunately. The abuse they experience as they grow and confront of the truth of their mother’s death and their father’s choices can be painful to read. Yet it’s worth persevering, because the book ends with Laura and her sisters finding strength and peace in adulthood.

Reversible Skirt describes a time in our not-too-distant past where mental illness and suicide were swept under the rug. While we have made some gains as a society, the situation will feel familiar to those of us who have lived through mental illness in our own families. What was most intriguing about the book was how the author and her sisters forgave their abusive stepmother after everything she did to them as children. Their ability to survive and recover from their challenging childhoods is uplifting. The capacity they show for forgiveness is truly inspiration.

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It gives my life meaning

Here’s the next episode. What do you think?

It Gives My Life Meaning

By Laura McHale Holland

Carly stands at the ribbon, scissors in hand. She grins at the crowd gathering. “May this be just one of many dreams come true for us all,” she says. She snips the ribbon tied between two trees bordering the drive. The housing community she funded with part of her inheritance is now officially open. The crowd cheers. Right in front are Carly’s parents with her seven-year-old daughter, Chloe, jumping up and down between them.

Along the curved drive are 50 townhomes, all going to families that lost their homes to foreclosure in the last five years. Carly is carrying the mortgage on each one.

A reporter runs up to Carly. “Don’t you think it’s foolish to take such a risk?” He thrusts a microphone in front of Carly’s face. “When I was locked away for three years, I thought if I ever got out, I would devote my life to helping people in this community. So, no this isn’t foolish; it’s exactly what I want to do; it gives my life meaning.”

Chloe runs up and hugs Carly, then pulls her toward the nearest townhome. People file up the driveway to tour the landscaped grounds. In the back of the group is the chauffeur who was once Chloe’s only friend and is now a stranger to her. The restless boy at his side asks what all the fuss is about and can they please just go to McDonald’s. The chauffer smiles. “This is kind of an amazing day for our city, my little friend. I just need to take it in for a while. Then we can go.”

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All of the episodes in this series in the order in which they were posted follow:

Back pocket wishes

Cascading to the sea

Right through the heart

Away today?

A dime a dozen

She doesn’t know them

On the seat

A pillar of the community

He needs a friend

Double rainbow

The one he always wants to hear

Give it some time

It gives my life meaning

Smiles

Extenuating circumstances

 The four of us

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