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Friday, June 21, 2013

Do I Hear Ten Thousand?

"Don't throw your shitty first drafts on a bonfire, for chrissakes," my sister crackles into my ear via sat phone, ten states away. She lives at some godawful altitude where cell phones don't work. Suddenly, she has decided that my manuscripts might actually be worth something, someday, and she is calling me all in a lather.

This is the sister who last read a composition of mine when I was in fifth grade and nothing since, the sister who once told me that poetry and fiction were for people who couldn't cut it in the real world --  unh-hunh,  that sister -- and now she wants me to box up all the early drafts of my work for posterity.
"We could auction them off at Christie's for a good price, something to leave your family since" and here she can't resist getting in a dig "you never saw fit to grow up and buy any life insurance or investments." 
I cannot begin to list all the ways this conversation can go downhill from here, so I hang up the phone quietly and turn my eyes toward the yard where the fire pit is waiting. I'm old school when it comes to editing. I like to read a draft on paper and cover it in red marks, like stab wounds. These pages eventually end up in my Bonfire of Catharsis, (which is not to be confused with my Shrine of Self Pity.)
With my sister's words still buzzing around in my head like angry deer flies, I carefully build a teepee shape out of tinder.

"Do I hear a hundred, a hundred, a hundred?" my inner auctioneer starts chanting. I move on to stack dry wood the thickness of my wrist as I chant, "Do I hear two, two, two, do I hear three?" and erect a larger teepee of split logs above that, chanting, "a thousand, a thousand for this fine manuscript come a thousand. Two thousand thank you very much to the lady in the back with three thousand for a full short story, am I bid four-four-four.."

I set a match to the kindling and feed in balled up pages, hearing the crackle and pop. Bad first drafts vaporize and drift upward as steam or smoke. Words that were leaden on the page -- all my bad prose and dull plots -- go airborne. It is a kinder fate than the shredder and far less embarassing than having someone bid on them at some future date and read them aloud at a dinner party.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Good Wife

I just needed a little more time, a moment only, to answer Melek's question. I did not have to make up an answer -- I had that ready. I always had the answer ready because the question was always the same.
I needed the time to compose my face into a mask of perfect submission. He expected me to be submissive.
I turned away from the window and faced him, my eyes downcast and my posture stooped, and whispered, "No, my husband. I do not know the name of the man in the market who bumped into me and said 'Excuse me.' He was nothing. He was a nobody."
I knew what his next accusation would be; by then, I could have recited this tired, familiar script in three languages, in full costume, with an orchestra playing Mahler behind us.
"How did you know he was a nobody if you didn't look at him, eh? Did you raise your eyes and look him in the face? Are you my wife or a whore?"
Cue the kettledrums. Cue the dancing bears. This was where I lowered my head and wailed a protest of innocence to be followed by a walloping slap and a punch to my ribcage.
Soon after, he left to meet his cousins in a cafe. I  removed my head scarf, shawl, sweater, blouse and the precautionary extra padding I kept taped to my ribs, and I slipped into a warm bath. Leisurely, I washed my limbs, my hair, my face. Leisurely, I perfumed myself.
Leisurely, I re-read the note that had been slipped into my sweater pocket that morning: "I breathe and live another day in the hope of seeing you."

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Seventeen Men in Waiting

Shirl drove to town on Saturdays to buy supplies, her broken muffler announcing her arrival well ahead of her bent front fender. She clambered down from the old Chevy pickup, her hair pulled back in a loose, graying ponytail and the pocket of her worn, watch-plaid flannel shirt bulging with shopping lists.
None of the locals paid her much attention. She was, to them, a middle aged woman, probably living on a pension. And that was fine with her. She didn't want the men, especially, to get any ideas about visiting her drunk on Saturday nights.

Shirl had bought the Bar-J ranch a few years back, a small house on 90 gently rolling acres with a creek running through. She kept horses, evident by the tack and feed she bought at Jay's General, and pried colorful quartz from the hard pan under a few inches of topsoil.

“Wyoming, now that's where the ratio of men to women is 17 to one -- look it up if you like. I hear it's a good place to go if you're looking for a husband,” Shirl's sister Jeanie had told her.
Shirl wasn't the type to share hugs or confidences, so she kept her yap shut and quietly signed the deed a week before moving west. Jeanie mailed her the hometown paper and pound cakes made with Wisconsin butter, every so often. Shirl sent Jeanie rodeo programs and photos of her new foals.
She “let herself go,” as their mother would have called it, by not dyeing her hair or wearing skirts to town. The last lipstick she'd chunked into the trash had been three years old and dry. Living on her own terms made Shirl happier than she'd ever been, quite frankly, and her only lack — if you could call it that — was having no one to tell that fact to.
She loved waking up because she'd finished sleeping, eating only when she was hungry, going to bed only because she was tired, and buying what she wanted when she wanted. Money was never scarce -- not that it had ever been. Still, no need to flaunt it.
Now and then, she'd drive to Casper, board a plane for Reno, and meet up with an old lover. She related little of her life on the ranch, preferring to encapsulate their pleasure and time together as one might encapsulate time spent watching a particularly good film. The shifting images and sounds inside their hotel room were removed from the outside world.

Shirl wondered why no one had ever told her how delicious a solitary life could be. Her entire upbringing, all the advice she'd heard in college, had aimed her like a dart to the bull's-eye called marriage, as if pairing up was the only natural state there was.
"A shame, really" she mused. "All those 17 men out there, just waiting for me. Probably a few of them are lookers, too." She laughed, and for just an instant wished there was someone around she could tell that to.