Moving on (Between Breath & Suffocation Sec. 17)

When we got back home there was a message from Dr. Davenport, “Call me as soon as you can…I have some information you might find helpful.”
I stared at the phone, tempted to pick up the receiver and dial his office. But I didn’t. I lay back on my bed and breathed. Breathed slowly, deeply. Rachel and John’s voices travelled down the hall, falling against my ears but meaning was far away, as sleep pulled me inside its vault, forceful and unforgiving. Dreams of peace danced along the edges of my mind. The more I reached, the farther away it felt. Arms outstretched, I waited for peace, for it to cover me in darkness, that space where rebirth was possible.
I awoke covered with a blanket, the phone beeping at my side. John, on his way to the kitchen, poked his head in.
“Hey sleepy head,” he joked. “You passed out…you okay?”
“I feel much better,” I said.
“Good,” he opened the door wider. “Mom’s making French toast when you’re ready.”
“Yum, can’t wait.” I pulled the blanket off and scooted to the edge of the bed. “I’ll be there in a minute.”
“Take your time.”

I joined John and Rachel midway through their breakfast.
“Let me warm your plate up for you,” Rachel said when she saw me coming down the hall.
“I can get it,” I smiled.
I poured a cup of coffee and sat down across from them.
“I got a message yesterday from Dr. Davenport.”
“What did he say?” Rachel asked.
“He said he had some information for me.”
“Are you going to call him back…before you leave?” John leaned in.
“Probably.” I took a sip.
“Your plane leaves at 8:30 this evening. I was thinking we’d go pick up a few things for you to take back,” Rachel offered. “If you want.”
“That sounds good,” I took another sip. “What do you think Dr. Davenport has to tell me?”
“There’s only one way to find out,” John retrieved the phone and set it down in front of me. “Call.”

The phone rang four times before Dr. Davenport’s secretary’s voice poured through, rushed and elevated.
“May I speak with Dr. Davenport? This is Juniper Price, Marcy Hensley’s daughter.”
“He’s awaiting your call. I‘ll connect you.”
“Juniper,” Dr. Davenport sang. “I’m glad you called.” He ruffled papers, his voice fading in and out.”
“No problem,” I said, cringing as I searched for the right words.
“Well, I’m not sure if you’re interested in pursuing this…but…if you remember the name Sebastian Margolis that comes up in your mother’s notebook…”
“Remember?” I screamed in my mind.
“I found a Sebastian Margolis who lives in Patterson and…”
I almost dropped the phone.
“I have a phone number…”
I had to remind myself to breathe.
“Do you have a pen…a piece of paper?”
I thought about the Gargoyles, how they lay crushed on the basement floor as two police officers carried Mother up the basement stairs. I thought about how she had, with a straight face, told stories about the impulsive Sebastian and Margolis, how they were an interplay of good and evil, evil winning each time. I thought about how even in their absence they tortured my mother, made us all fearful as threat dangled over our heads as punishment for surviving.
“Let me know when you’re ready,” Dr. Davenport waited.
“I’m ready.”
I wrote the name, Sebastian Margolis, in big letters. I drew each number then traced over them.
“If he knew your mother it will be interesting to know more about their relationship.”
“I’ll ask,” I interrupted.
“Let me know what you find out.”
“Ok…take care Dr. Davenport.” I hung up the phone.
John and Rachel waited for me to say something.
“Is that the phone number?” Rachel asked.
“Yes, this is Sebastian Margolis’ phone number,” I laughed. “Weird.”
“It is a little weird,” John agreed. “Are you going to call him?”
I shrugged. I didn’t know if I’d call, or what I’d say if I did. Two voices that had harassed my Mother mercilessly were now one, embodied in a man I somehow feared and craved.
“It’s your choice. You don’t have to call right now.”
“What’s wrong?” Rachel asked.
“Do you still have the police report from…that night?” I managed.
“Yeah…let me get it,” John hurried towards their bedroom and returned with a folded sheet of paper.
I scanned it quickly until my eyes found “Unknown Intruder.”
“What if this is the Sebastian Margolis that my mother talked about so much, the one we thought was just part of her hallucinations? What if he was real all along?” Guilt started creeping in. “What if he was really hurting her and we did nothing?”
John nodded, waiting for me to finish.
“What if he…the footprints?” I struggled to piece my thought together.
“Okay, Okay,” John interjected to calm me. “Anything’s possible, but before we go down that path, why don’t we give him a call.”
I let out a loud, belabored breath.
“Let’s just see, kiddo…mental illness is a tricky thing.”
“I thought we’d do a little shopping. What do you say? A few new outfits?” Rachel offered as a distraction and I accepted.
I finished my coffee and a slice of French toast and went back to my room to pack. Rachel joined me, making a list of things I needed. Then off we went to our local mall, pulling hundreds of items off the rack only to return them and move on to the next. I settled on a few outfits to try on. Rachel stood outside the changing room.
“How does it fit?” she asked as I tried on each one. “Let me see.”
I stepped out, posing and twirling.
“Beautiful.” Rachel confirmed.
We ate a quick lunch and headed back home. John was waiting, my bags at the door.
“Now you sure you don’t want to stay another week?”
“I’m already behind,” I laughed. “I’ve got a chemistry exam to make up and a paper on Shakespeare to write.” I cringed.
“I see…you could have just said no,” he joked.
“I’ll miss you…and I’ll be back in a month.” I gave him a big hug.
“You better.”

By the time I got on the plane I was exhausted. I put my seatbelt on and leaned back in my seat, hoping the seat next to me would remain empty. Moments later a man in jeans and a plaid shirt interrupted.
“Excuse me, miss. I believe I’m sitting next to you.”
I tucked my legs in so he could pass. “Sorry about that.”
“No problem,” he said as he squeezed through, the edge of his black messenger bag brushing against my knees.
I smiled and nodded, my eyes catching the initials, SB, stitched onto the side of the bag. In that instant the blood drained from my face.
“How are you doing today?” he asked as he adjusted in his seat.
I couldn’t answer. My face went blank, my heart pounding so hard its echo deep in my ears. I thought about the phone number Dr. Davenport had given me, the name Sebastian Margolis in big, thick letters. I thought about Mother, how she had tried to escape only to be pulled back in each time. Sebastian and Margolis a stronghold in her mind, perhaps a combination of real and invented. I tried to shut that part of my mind off, but it got louder. Anxiety set in as I imagined the man next to me was Sebastian Margolis, a murderer, a manipulator, a tyrant who ruined our lives. I clinched my fists. I thought about my nights at A Place Called Home when I wrapped myself tight in the quilt Grandma Betty started and Sage finished, how I could never wrap it around me tight enough to find safety, peace. I thought about Mother being hauled away to the mental hospital, bloodied and feral. I thought about Sage lying on the basement floor, axe marks up and down her back. Rage and pain balled in my gut. I was ready to scream. There was nothing to keep memory from unfolding like an intruder, the same crime scene playing over and over again.
“Are you okay, miss?” the man asked.
“What does SB stand for?” I asked, my voice quivering like an injured child.
“It’s my initials…Steven Browning.” He smiled.
My entire body relaxed.
“Okay.” I leaned back in my seat and closed my eyes, memories of Steven and Sage streaming like soft music.

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So I’ve Been Away…

You may have noticed that I’ve been away for awhile. The reason? Too many to list right now. 🙂  However, it mostly boils down to the fact that I have not made writing a priority lately. The story I am working on seems to have plateaued and moving it out of this space is challenging; this I’m sure sounds familiar to fellow writers.

I was able to spend some time this weekend working on it and I’ve made some progress. I’m pushing to get back inside the story. My plan is to post the next section of Between Breath and Suffocation this upcoming weekend.

Thank you to all my readers who have checked in to see how things are going. I really appreciate the kindness and support. Hang in there as I find my way back…

Yours truly,

Writing Blissfully

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In the River’s Bend (Between Breath & Suffocation Sec. 16)

John’s answer to every problem was to go to the river. So even though winter had covered it with its chill, we got out of the car and walked to the edge.
“How ya feeling?” John asked.
I smiled and thought about the question. I didn’t know exactly how I felt. When I had first arrived home I hated my mother. It was a relief that she was gone. Now curiosity reared. Fragmented memories meant something again, but I needed to fill the gaps.
“I was thinking…maybe I should try to find some of Sage’s old friends, maybe even Steven.” The idea gave me chills. “…and maybe I should talk more with Dr. Davenport…about Mother…see what he has to say.”
“That’s not a bad idea,” John supported. “I can help you with that…if you want help.”
Rachel nodded. I put my hands in my pockets and looked out at the river. Icy, brown water flowed, tiny ripples carrying tree debris. Just below the surface were small, dark-colored bugs. They scurried along nibbling on plant waste. These waters, now uneventful, months earlier were entangled with organisms. A hierarchy of predators and prey vying for their survival. This aquatic ecosystem was a reflection of my old life: we thrived on turbulence, battling insanity like Pike ambushing Bass. We grew closer, stronger, impervious to the threats around us until the season changed and a new predator arrived, one we locked in the basement and fed twice a day.
“Why can’t we just send her back?” I asked.
“I tried…we don’t have enough money…I think Aunt Mary took most of it.” Sage rested her forehead in her hands.
Mother swung the ax against the door. She struggled a bit to pull it free from the wood before swinging again; this time hitting a little higher.
“What happens when she breaks through the door?” I waited for Sage to answer.

***

We walked along the river’s edge, Rachel and I hand in hand. The river widened, stretching towards a steep slope we called “Death’s Slide.” John, Rachel, and I spent endless summer days rafting down this plunge, suspended over its edge until gravity won and we dropped down falling overboard. We screamed as the white waves slapped against our backs. Once we were back in the raft, we stretched out, our legs dangling over the side absorbing the sun’s rays. We laughed until our sides hurt.
“Are you having fun?” John asked.”
“Yeah,” I said, and that was the truth.
While on the river I didn’t think about my other life. It was a tiny blip in the back of my mind, Mother and Sage forever fading inside memory where love and loss were so intricately woven one became the other. We floated along admiring nature’s show—birds and butterflies flying above, fish and frogs swimming alongside. This was a new way of being, boundless, effortless. And I was having fun.

***

“Do you love Mother?” I asked Sage.
“What do you mean?”
“Do you love her?” I repeated, thinking about my own answer.
“Love’s a hard thing in our family…I don’t know if any of us will ever get it right.”
“Do you still love Steven?”
“I’ll always love Steven…but sometimes the two ends of your life don’t quite match up.” She sat quite for a while, rubbing her face. “…they don’t come together as you hoped they would. So one end keeps getting shorter and shorter…until it’s gone. Just like that.”

***

We kept walking out as far as we could go before the vegetation thickened. There in the river’s bend the water was tumultuous. I watched the rippling currents loaded with silt; loud, raging splashes filling my ears. Leafless Oak and Sycamore trees on either side, their branches overhanging, an arch we reached for. Rocks buried in a muddy cliff protruded, some round and smooth, others jagged and rough. We just stared. It felt powerful, nature’s vein pumping life through this channel. I thought about Sage, how she might have liked going to the river, how she might have found freedom here. I thought about how much happiness it would have brought her. Being the older sibling she understood disaster, how heavy it was. She knew that destruction, even second hand, can be all consuming. Our happiness was always fleeting, underscored by tragedy, its grip.
I don’t remember how long Mother was in the basement, how long she screamed for us to let her out, how long Sebastian and Margolis kept her hidden under the basement steps, how long she swung that ax into the door, the walls, the pillars; those days bleed together in my mind. I know Sage let her out one morning as we were leaving for school; it was a Wednesday, a month before the wedding (Steven had promised her it was still on, though he came around less now), two weeks before graduation. Mother seemed lucid. She had plans for the day—gardening and baking. Sebastian and Margolis were far away. We watched her throw her pills into her mouth. A quick inspection proved she had swallowed them. I felt good leaving and couldn’t wait to get back. Mother was pretty good at baking, not as good as Grandma Betty, but good enough.
By the time I got to school I had a pain in my stomach. The nurse gave me an Aspirin and told me to lay on the cot for a while. By lunchtime I was feeling better so I joined my friends at our table eating a few bites of beef stew and Saltines. After lunch was math. I was in Mrs. Walter’s class. She was talking about decimals, how to multiply them. “Don’t forget to move your decimals over the right number of spaces.” I looked down at my paper. My stomach was rumbling, nausea rising in my throat. I raised my hand and waited to be excused.
“Mrs. Walters…” I called out.
“Be quiet,” she barked.
I sat still, hoping the rising sickness would pass. But it didn’t. Vomit flew out of my mouth like a fire extinguisher; white, foamy, and under pressure. Maribelle, who was seated in front of me, jumped up and screamed when she realized speckles of vomit had landed in her hair.
I called home, but no one answered. I didn’t expect anyone would; mother was not one to answer the phone and Sage was at school. The appearance that our life was normal was more important, so I called and called again.
“Mother’s probably in the garden,” I said.

***

Wild grass and bulky branches amputated by wind and rain littered the ground. I clasped my hands behind my back and strolled along the water’s edge. This was where chaos and clutter collected. My last memories of Sage drowned there. Her lifeless body, bloody on the basement floor I imagined sinking here in the bend. Her last moments frightening until death arrived and she slipped away weighed down by a peace so heavy it would be everlasting. I missed her. The few details of her death I remembered has been formed by my ten-year-old mind and now offered only the tips of truth. Blood. Detailed lists outlining all that she still needed for the wedding. Blood. Invitations—their corners stained. Blood. A draft of her vows soaked. In blood. Shoe prints all around her, menacing, permanent. Who did they belong to? Mother didn’t wear shoes. My mind stopped there, too afraid to consider the other option—Steven. These thoughts tasted like poison so I pushed them away, reminding myself that, though we couldn’t see it now, after the bend when the river widens again new waters were ready to cover us. This was life, ever changing.

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777 Writer’s Challenge Times 2

Imagine my surprise a few days ago when I logged on and found that I had been selected by two fellow bloggers–Jacqueline from A Cooking Pot and Twisted Tales  and Sandra from Sandra J. Jackson Expressions–to participate in the 777 Writers Challenge.

The rules are:  I am to go to the 7th page of my WIP, find the 7th sentence on that page, and then paste the following 7 sentences into my blog post. And then select 7 other writers for the challenge! So here goes…

“The baby…it was a girl, not a boy,” I screamed and kicked, squirming away from her hold. And as my limbs flailed, my mind slowed. Dark spots formed behind my eyes to hide fragmented memories rising from their caskets. I rocked and twisted to the rhythm of pain. That was how the first session ended, with me lying on the floor, drowning in familiar waters, a martyr of history’s venomous bite. Big Brenda came and gave me the sleepy shot and away I went, swaying in black slush.

Later that evening, when the medicine started to wear off, the darkness parted so that slivers of light squeezed through.

I’d like to invite the following bloggers to participate:

Hippocriticali’s Blog

Honest Me 363

Midnight Blogger

The Totally Serious, Absolutely Professional Blog

Ink and Quill

All Things Autumn

Elan Mudrow

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Betrayed (Between Breath & Suffocation Sec. 15)

“I didn’t know I was betraying you…” I cried.
“What are you talking about?” Sage raised her voice. “What’s going on? Where is she?” Sage ran into the living room, up the stairs checking each room, and back down.
“She was in the basement…”
“What was she doing in the basement?”
“Putting stuff down there…”
Sage rushed towards the basement, pulled the door open, and peered into the darkness.
“It smells in there,” she pulled back, closing the door. “What’s going on, Juni?”
“I don’t know…she’s…”
“What?” Sage grabbed me by my shoulders. “What? Talk!”
“She’s looking for Steven.”
“Why?”
I shrugged.
“You do know.” Sage opened the basement door again and flicked the light switch. She put her sleeve over her nose and descended, the soles of her boots scuffing the splintered wood.
At the bottom she kneeled next to the wagon, shifting its contents with the tips of her fingers.
“What is this?” she said under her breath.
Piled on top of a bed of rocks and dirt were a pair of work boots, a watch, a flattened baseball hat, a hair comb, and an employee of the month plaque.
“Dear god…”
“What is it?” I asked, now on the third step.
In the back corner of the wagon, under a small, ripped tarp was a possum—its throat newly slit.
Sage screamed and froze.
“You’re crazy…”
“I’m crazy?” Mother stood in the doorway, bloody, an ax in her left hand. “No, I’m just looking out for you,” she joined me on the third step. “Right, little one?”
I screamed when I heard her voice, surprised that we hadn’t heard her when she came through the door, usually a noisy undertaking.
“You stopped taking your pills…” Sage accused.
“Oh, I forgot to tell you…I don’t need them anymore. I’m fine,” Mother laughed, waving the ax at Sage.
“You promised Grandma Betty.”
“Let’s talk about Steven.”
Sage stood silent.
“He’s no good for you.”
“How would you know?”
“He’s not going to marry you.”
“Yes, he is…the wedding is in three months.”
“I found these things…” Mother walked down four more steps. “They’re Steven’s”
“No they’re not…I’ve never seen these things.”
“He keeps them at his wife’s house.”
“He doesn’t have a wife.” Sage’s voice quivered. “You’re lying.”
Mother tapped her foot against the step. “She’s so beautiful,” she taunted. “He bought her a car. It’s red…”
“Stop it,” Sage yelled.
“She’s fancy…and her mother has to be the sweetest woman you’ll ever meet.”
Sage stared with her arms folded.
“Why are you trying to hurt me, Marcy?”
“I’m not trying to hurt you,” Mother took another step. “You’re my daughter…”
“No…”
“Yes. You are my daughter,” Mother raised her voice, stepping down to the last step so she and Sage were face to face.
“I wish I weren’t.”
“He’s cheating on you.”
“Liar!”
“He’s cheating. He doesn’t love you.”
“That’s a lie, Marcy.”
“I wouldn’t lie to you.”
“You’ve lied to me my whole life.” Sage uncrossed her arms. “You don’t know what the truth is anymore.”
“These are his things.” Mother pushed the flat edge of the ax into the wood.
“And the dead possum?” Sage whimpered. “You’re crazy…I’m calling the hospital.” Sage tried to squeeze past Mother.
“Where are you going?” Mother wrapped her bloody hands around Sage’s arms and then moved them up to her neck. “Where are you going?” she repeated.
“Did you see Sebastian and Margolis while you were out?”
The ax fell, sliding down to the basement floor. Mother followed, scrambling to the wagon where she frantically eyed its contents.
“Where’s the ring?” Mother dug. “What did you do with the ring?”
Sage and I, one step at a time, backed into the doorway.
Mother picked up each item and searched it, dirt clumping to her fingers.
“Where’s the ring,” she screamed over and over, wild and panicked.
Sage pushed me through the doorway and shut the door, twisting the lock. She motioned for me to stay quiet. Moments later Mother was jiggling the knob, banging for us to let her in.

***

The banging stopped after about an hour. Sage and I sat at the kitchen table, our eyes wide with anticipation.
“She’s going to break down the door,” I whispered.
“No, she’s not…” Sage listened.
We waited, uncertainty growing as night fell.
“Are we going to keep her down there?”
Sage didn’t answer. We sat on the porch fighting the mesquites while we waited for Steven. When his truck turned onto our street, Sage got up and started running towards the headlights. Steven slowed and she hopped in. She was hugging him and hitting him at the same time.
“I’m not cheating on you,” he kept saying, walking Sage to the porch. “Sit down…calm yourself.”
“Mother’s in the basement.”
“What is she doing in the basement?”
“We locked her in.”
“What?” Steven stood up, running his hands through his hair. “Why? What’s going on?” he looked around.
Mosquitoes danced around the light. Sage bowed her head.
“She stopped taking her medicine and…”
“And what?”
“She’s been following you.”
“Following me? No way.” Steven sat down next to Sage. “What is this? Did you have her follow me?”
“No,” Sage screamed. “She’s not following you…it’s complicated.”
“She’s not?” I asked, more confused now.
“Sebastian Margolis…and I think she found him, but she thinks it’s you.”
“What?” Steven shook his head in disbelief, a nervous laugh slipped out.
“It’s complicated…”
“She thinks he’s Sebastian and Margolis?” I asked, a little confused.
“I think so…it seems that way.”
“You can’t keep her in the basement…did you call the hospital or her doctor?”
“Not yet…”
“Lord Jesus,” Steven said. “This is crazy. I can’t…”
“I need your help,” Sage pleaded.
“I can’t do this…” Steven put his hands on his knees. “I can’t deal with all of this.”
Sage and I stared at him, watching him squirm.
“I don’t know what else to do…I need your help.”
“You have to let her out of the basement.”
“She’s scary,” I offered.
“It doesn’t matter,” Steven stood up. “You can’t leave her down there.”
“She killed a possum.”
“A possum? What’s scary about that?” Steven was growing more doubtful.
“Well, maybe she was right,” Sage followed Steven to his car.
“About what?”
“About you…she said you didn’t plan on marrying me.”
“Sage, stop it!” Steven shouted. “You’re unbelievable.”
“You’re unbelievable.” Sage shouted as Steven sped away.

Back inside we listened for Mother, but all was quiet.
“What do you think she’s doing in there?” I asked.
Sage shrugged and headed upstairs.
“Let’s go to bed.”

Nightmares invaded my sleep all night. I awoke again and again breathless after dreams of Mother escaping the basement, wandering through the house in search of us, ax still in hand. By morning her screams had started again.
“Let me out!”
“Just ignore her,” Sage said. She was more assured now, working through a plan she had devised in her sleep.
“What about the wedding?” Mother asked, seemingly lucid.
Sage didn’t answer. Instead she put oatmeal in two to-go containers and we left.

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Encouraging Thunder Award!!

encouraging-thunder-award

“O, that my tongue were in the thunder’s mouth!

Then with a passion would I shake the world.”

(King John, act 3, sc. 4)

Special thanks to Kay Morris from Kay Morris Writes, fellow blogger, for nominating me for the Encouraging Thunder Award! Imagine my surprise to learn that my work inspires her because the sentiment is mutual. I never imagined when I found my way here to WordPress that I would meet so many wonderful writers. My goal was to get writing and create some accountability and what better way than to publicly share work as I go?

I’d like to pass this award on to the following bloggers:

  1. Life, Living, Work, and Play
  2. Michael’s Origins
  3. Writing Space

The Encouraging Thunder Award comes with very simple rules:

  • The nominee posts the Award on their blog and adds the logo.
  • Pay it forward by nominating others.
  • Mention your purpose for blogging and thank the person that nominated you; also add their URL to your post for ping back.
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Love, Hope, and Disaster (Between Breath & Suffocation Sec.14)

“How did she get here?” Sage asked, looking Mother up and down.
“Aunt Mary brought her.”
“It was time for me to come home,” Mother offered. “I’m better now…I know I have a lot to make up for…”
“You could never make up for what you’ve done,” Sage screamed, her eyes squinting with anger.
“Let me try, Sage.” Mother rocked back and forth on her feet.
Sage turned and walked out onto porch. “I can’t believe this…” she mumbled. Steven followed behind whispering his support.
Mother walked into the kitchen and sat at the table. I stood in the living room waiting.
“It’s okay,” I heard Steven say. “What if she is better? That would be great…”
The night wind hit against the screen door. We were at an impasse.

We awoke to the smell of burning gravy and pots clanking.
“What are you doing?” Sage demanded. I stood behind her, shivering in my nightgown.
“I’m making breakfast.”
“You sure you know what you’re doing?” Sage said, her tone snarky. “When’s the last time you cooked anything?” Sage took the smoking pot off the stove.
“What are you doing with that?” Mother reached for the hot pot.
“Can’t you smell it burning? How are you going to eat this?” Sage dangled the pot over the sink, a smile spreading across her face.
“Give it to me.”
“No.”
“Fine,” Mother started, looking both of us in the eye. “I don’t want to fight with you. That’s not why I’m here,” she winked at me. “I’ve been working really hard to get back home.”
“Why should we believe you this time?”
“Let me show you that I’m better.”
“Burning down the house isn’t a great first step.”
“So I’m a little rusty in the kitchen?” Mother hunched her shoulders.
“We can help,” I offered, excited by the idea of us all together again. I wanted to give her a hug, invade her with kisses, keep her inside this moment. “I can make eggs.” I looked at Sage; she leaned against the counter with her arms folded.
“I can make the biscuits and…”
“I’ll make the biscuits,” Sage interrupted.
“What do you want me to do?” Mother asked.
I looked at Sage, watched her demeanor change from condemning to consenting. Her shoulders dropped; the tension in her face lessened.
“You can peel the potatoes.” Sage pointed at the bag of potatoes. “Peel them, chop them…and you can chop the onion too. It’s in the refrigerator.”
“Thank you,” Mother extended her hand, but Sage ignored it.
It was a start.

We took our places at the table, Sage and I on one side, Mother on the other. Our plates were piled with eggs, bacon, potatoes, and cheese biscuits—Sage’s specialty. The thick smell of coffee lay on top of all the other smells.
“Are you really going to drink that?” Sage asked.
“I am, why?”
“That coffee has been in the cabinet since you left…and I can’t remember the last time you even thought about coffee. “Sage selected her words carefully.
“Well, now I love coffee,” Mother held up her cup and then took a big gulp. “Not bad for old coffee.”
She opened her pill case and emptied two white pills, a blue pill, and an orange gel cap on the table.
“Here comes sanity,” she threw all four pills into her mouth.

Life wasn’t perfect, but I loved Mother for trying. We had come full circle. Mother was home again, and hope slipped back into our hearts. This time would be different. Even Sage learned to welcome this new version of our mother. She went back to planning her wedding. It was safe for her friends to come over. We left our guards at the door, entering a world of medically-induced stability. Mother’s ticks were white noise. Her eccentric habits and ideas added comedy, a laugh track that played throughout the day.
After school Sage met Steven at his job and waited for his shift to end. I stayed with Mother. We were buddies, jabbering on and on like school girls.
“What do you want for Christmas?”
“Christmas?” I asked. I didn’t want to disturb our new lives with a list of wants.
“Yeah…what do you want?” She rubbed two black rocks between her hands.
“I don’t want anything.”
“You sure about that?”
“I’m sure,” I whispered.
“Well, I got something for you.” Mother smiled.
I forced a smile, wondering what it could be.

***

Christmas brought a winter storm. I awoke to snowflakes sliding down my window. Sage and Mother were downstairs in the living room. I could hear their voices, low but steady. I washed my face and brushed my teeth and headed downstairs. The tree, a small, potted pine was covered in lights and homemade ornaments. Around the ceramic pot were white rocks and two presents wrapped in brown paper bags. Each had a red ribbon tied into a bow.
“That one’s for you,” Mother pointed at the present on the right.
“For me?” I looked at Sage and then at Mother. “Open it, silly.”
I sat down next to the tree and dug into the paper.
“What is it?” Sage asked.
“A doll,” I ripped the rest of the paper off the plastic box.
“She’s a really special doll…take her out of the box.”
Mother came and sat next to me. She opened the top of the box and pulled “Penny” out by her hair.
“Look at her,” Mother smiled, her front teeth thin and failing.
“I love her,” I said. I ran my fingers through Penny’s thick brown curls. “Thank you,” my voice quivered.
“Open yours, Sage.” Mother crossed her legs and put her arm around my shoulder. We watch Sage tear neatly and strategically into the brown paper.
“It’s just a bag. Rip it already,” I said.
Sage pulled a gold locket out of a white jewelry box.
“Read the inscription,” I said.
“I’ll always love you,” she read.
I waited for her reaction, frozen in the echo of her words.
“You shouldn’t have,” Sage said, getting up to leave.
“Don’t leave.”
“Sage, stay.”
She ran upstairs and that’s where she stayed until Steven came over. I played with Penny. Mother stared out the window.
“I’ll be back,” she said.
“Where are you going?” I stood up. “It’s snowing out there…”
“I know.” She opened the door. “I want to go outside and feel the snow. I’m tired of just looking at it.”
I grabbed my jacket off the hook and followed behind her.
“I’m coming.”
“Well, come on then, little one.”
She walked back to the tree.
“Merry Christmas, Bay-Bay,” she sang. “I miss you.” She ran her fingers along the snow covered dirt.
I bent down and cleared the snow off of the stone Sage found for Grandma Betty.
“I miss her too,” Mother said. “Did she take good care of you?”
“Yes,” I nodded.
“Good.” Mother looked out towards the Juniper trees. “I’m sorry I wasn’t here…I wasn’t myself then.”
“I understand.” I shivered.
“Ahhh you’re cold. Let’s go inside.”
Life around us had succumbed to winter’s icy sheath; leafless branches hung in the sky. Dead grass, brown and wilted, covered the yard. But I was living. Breathing. Holding on as tight as I could.

***

The snow plow inched down the street clearing a path. Mother and I watched from the window, white snow turning brown, exposing the dirt road—its dips, rocky grooves, and tracks laden with memory.
Sage and Steven were arguing again.
“I don’t like the way he talks to her,” Mother said.
“He’s nice…”
“Oh really?”
“He helped us when you…I mean, when Aunt Mary left us here by ourselves,” I treaded carefully.
“What’s his motivation?” Mother scratched her head.
“They’re getting married.”
Mother wanted more information though. She had a feeling; she called it mother’s intuition, a heavy rumbling in her gut that would be silenced only by truth. So she set out to uncover this truth. I didn’t think much of her quest, not even when she kept me out of school. I had fun being with her, searching for clues, collecting useless items we put in plastic bags. Most of it was nonsense. She’d get distracted and end up rambling on and on about her eccentric wedding ideas. We’d collect rocks from the abandoned railroad tracks, and soil samples she put in old perfume vials. Then it became about something. Something that pointed us in a different direction.
While I was at school she roamed, finding “evidence” she lugged behind her in an old, rusted wagon and stored in the basement.
“What are you doing?” I asked, my heart jumping in my chest. “Why are you going into the basement?” I thought of the tragic scene that had played out before she was taken away.
“This is all of our evidence.”
“What are we going to do with it?”
“We’re building our case…she’s not going to believe us if we don’t have proof…” Mother fidgeted.
“Proof of what?” My breath was shallow.
“What?”
“Proof of what?” I repeated, but her face still registered confusion. “You said you had proof in the wagon…”
“Oh, little one…my sweet, sweet little one.”
She drug the wagon to the bottom of the steps, ran back up, gave me a pat on the shoulder, and headed out the front door.
“I’ll be back…”she waved, blood on her hand. “This is for Sage.”

Sage got home before Mother did. I was in the kitchen combing Penny’s hair when she arrived.
“Hey, Juni…Where’s the old lady?”
I watched Sage take a glass out of the cabinet and fill it with water. She leaned against the wall.
“What’s wrong with you?” she teased.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” I said, ready to confess my part in Mother’ new venture.
“Happen…to who?”
“To you…”
“What?” Sage put her glass down and walked over to the table. “What do you mean by that?”
I didn’t know exactly. It was a feeling, a feeling that something bad was brewing, and right in front of me, only I couldn’t see it. I didn’t want to see it. I bowed my head and sunk in my seat, finding solace in shame.

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Meet and Greet This Weekend

Looking for something fun to do this weekend? Come join the blog party and meet some of your fellow bloggers.

Dream Big, Dream Often

Is it just coincidence that my views go down considerably every time I post about living a healthy lifestyle?!  I find that IMG_7051hilarious!

At any rate, I will be hosting my bi-monthly Meet and Greet this weekend starting tomorrow morning.  I have decided to go back and include in the Meet and Greet post a link to all the MnG posts so that everyone has a level in which to participate.

I keep saying this and hope everyone listens: the single most important aspect of this thing is the reblog.  Why?  Because the more people that see the Meet and Greet post, the more people that you meet!  The MnG has been super popular and I am sure this event will not disappoint!  Look for the post tomorrow through Sunday night.

As is my habit, I will be reblogging posts throughout the MnG so be sure to leave a link…

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And the Liebster Award Nominations Go To…

I awoke this morning to find that my fellow blogger at http://afthead.com/about/ had nominated me for the Liebster Award. If you are not familiar with this blog be sure to check it out. She recently finished her book (Yah!!!) and acquired a collection of yarn and other materials that, upon closer examination, has a story of its own. I look forward to hearing more about the unfinished creations discovered in this collection. I’m a sucker for stories people leave behind.

I’d like to nominate the following bloggers :

A Journey with you— She’s a writer and advocate for the mentally ill. Her posts are fascinating and shed light on mental illness.

This Black Rock— A fellow fiction writer who offers insightful explorations of different topics.

Crave— One of my favorite food blogs. If you’re looking for delicious and healthy snack options Nicole and Valerie got you covered.

LJonesedition— If you’re looking for a good book to read, stop by Lauren’s blog for her honest and thorough review.

Along the Side of the Road— Recent posts have a fun Blues theme. This writer is also working on her autobiography she calls an “anti-futuristic autobiography.”

https://socratesunderground.files.wordpress.com/2015/08/liebsteraward-e1439238598144.png?w=231&h=173

Rules

  • Once you are nominated, make a post thanking and linking the person who nominated you.
  • Include the Liebster Award sticker in the post too.
  • Nominate 5 -10 other bloggers who you feel are worthy of this award. Let them know they have been nominated by commenting on one of their posts. You can also nominate the person who nominated you.
  • Ensure all of these bloggers have less than 200 followers.
  • Answer the eleven questions asked to you by the person who nominated you, and make eleven questions of your own for your nominees or you may use the same questions.
  • Lastly, COPY these rules in the post.
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An Unexpected Reunion (Between Breath & Suffocation Sec. 13)

Aunt Mary came back two weeks after Grandma Betty’s funeral when the cupboards were almost bare. We had eaten the last package of beans; we had run out of bread, flour, cornmeal, milk, all the essentials. And for a week our meals came only from the garden. We made every kind of soup we could think of: butternut squash soup, carrot and cabbage soup, each with a little potato, onion, and tomatoes. When Aunt Mary arrived she didn’t say anything. She parked, popped her trunk, and grabbed a grocery bag. She nodded in our direction, sign language for “grab a bag,” so we did.
“Why didn’t you come pick us up for the funeral?” I asked, putting a grocery bag on the table. I stared at the side of her face, waiting for an answer.
“Come on, Juni.” Sage pulled my arm and said, “Don’t worry about it. We already made our peace.”
When Sage took the last bag out of the trunk, Aunt Mary hopped in her Buick and rode off.
“You think she’s coming back?” I asked.
“Yeah, she’ll be back…bringing more food, but I think we’re on our own.”

The house felt bigger with Grandma Betty gone so I hung out in Sage’s room when she let me. It was filled with wedding stuff. Every night I lay with her as she wrote in her journal.
“What are you writing?”
“Just stuff.”
“What kind of stuff?”
She put the journal down next to her and looked over at me.
“Stuff about me…like the wedding details,” she smiled. “…what I want to be…stuff I want to do.”
“What do you want to be?”
“I want to be a lawyer,” she stood up, moving her arms with excitement. “I want to take the cases that really help people.” She picked up her journal and her pen. “Or maybe I’ll be a judge.” She put her pen to her mouth and contemplated herself in a long black robe. “Everybody would have to stand when I walked in the room,” she chuckled. “What do you want to be?”
“I don’t know yet,” I shrugged my shoulders. “I haven’t thought about it.”
“Well, you’re very smart so you could be anything you wanted to be.” She smiled and patted me on the arm. “Now go lay down. We have school tomorrow.”

***

I hadn’t spent much time thinking about my life after Prosper Road. Though we had been through a lot, life seemed to be moving in slow motion. Now that Sage was getting married and moving on, I had to think about my life, who I would become. But I was eleven, eleven and a half; I didn’t know how to think about the future in any real way, so each morning while eating my breakfast I wrote in my journal, first making lists of jobs I might want. I wrote things like nurse, teacher, farmer, babysitter, and skywriter. Then I doodled, making hearts, stars, and swirly lines along the edges of the paper.
“Finish up,” Sage said.
“Okay.” I took a few more bites of oatmeal and gulped down a half glass of milk.
We waited on the porch for Sage’s friend Emma to arrive. Emma was my favorite of Sage’s friends. She was a quirky fast talker with a high-pitched laugh.
“Morning ladies,” she sang as she pulled up.
“Hey Em,” Sage opened the passenger door and pulled the seat forward; I squeezed in and plopped onto the back seat.
“Hey Juni bear,” Emma said, looking at me in the rearview mirror. “Did you get that report done?”
“Yes,” I smiled.
“What was it on? Koala bears?”
“That’s part of it.” I shook my head.
Sage closed her door and Emma drove off.
“Did you get a dress yet?” she asked Sage.
“No, Steven is going to give me the money and take us out to the dress shop out on Baker…you know which one I’m talking about?”
“I know it…what’s the name of it…it’s on the tip of my tongue,” they laughed.
Winter ball was just a few weeks away. Sage and Emma went back and forth on the details, Emma’s bursts of laughter filling the car.
“I’m so happy for you and Steven,” Emma put her hand on Sage’s. “You make such a cute couple…and the babies…they are going to be just darling.”
“Babies? I don’t know about that anytime soon,” Sage blushed.
I laughed along with Emma as she slowed the car.
“Have a good day, Juni bear.”
“Okay,” I said, but my mind was reeling. I hadn’t thought about Sage becoming a mother, what that would be like, where I would be in her new family.

***

Most evenings Steven stopped by after work. He left his dirty work boots by the door. Sage welcomed him, leading him to the kitchen for a hot meal. He left behind a thick stench, sweat and steel.
“How was your day, babe?” Sage asked, already assuming the role of wife.
“It was good. I picked up an extra shift this week, so you know what that means.”
“No…” Sage flirted, “What does it mean?”
“I’ll be able to get you that dress you want…but there is one catch,” he teased.
“What’s that?”
“I get the first dance.”
“Of course, sweetie. Who else would I dance with?”
“When is dinner?” I interrupted.
“It will be ready in a little bit,” Sage dismissed me. “Go finish your homework.”
“I am finished.”
“Well, go draw or something.”
“I don’t feel like drawing. I’m hungry…”
“It’s not done yet…just go back in there,” she motioned towards the living room.
“I want to sit in here with you guys.”
Sage rolled her eyes and let out a long, angry breath. I knew I was in the way, but I couldn’t leave. I was torn between good manners and jealousy. The only sound now was Sage stirring a pot of beans. I sat with my arms crossed, defiant. Steven got up, moving to stand behind Sage.
“Don’t worry about it,” he offered.
“No,” Sage slammed the long spoon on the stove. “Get out,” she yelled at me.
“Babe, it’s okay.”
“Get out now,” she continued, rushing towards me, her face tight, furious.
“Fine,” I stomped out into the living room.
“I’m so tired of this,” she confessed.
“She’s your sister. She’s supposed to be annoying…I have two sisters; that’s twice the annoying-ness,” he joked. “Come on. Let’s get ready for dinner. I’ve got to get home…since you won’t let me stay here.”
“You can’t wait six more months?”
“I guess I have to.” They laughed.
I sat in Grandma Betty’s chair, my knees to my chest.
“You have to let Sage have some space,” Grandma Betty would have told me. “She’s older than you. You’ll understand one day.”
A few minutes later Steven called me back into the kitchen. I returned mopey, letting out a dramatic sigh.
“Sorry,” I said under my breath.
“It’s okay,” Sage said.

***

Sage found the perfect dress at Mathilda’s Dress Shop. It was a blue, floor-length, lace-embellished dress. She looked beautiful. Emma helped her with her hair. Marley and Joanne did her make up. Then she returned the favor while the guys, Steven, Chris, Bradley, and Robert waited downstairs. I sat on the edge of Sage’s bed and watched the transformations.
“You look good.”
“You look good too,” they chuckled.
It was my job to take pictures. Clicks and flashes interrupted their chatter as I tried to capture the moment. Downstairs they joined their dates and I took more pictures. We were all lost in the excitement: Winter Ball had arrived; it was a time for love, for magic. After serious and silly poses, they all reached for their coats, heading for the front door. Sage pulled me to the side. Her face was glowing, her perfume sweet.
“Are you going to be okay by yourself?”
I nodded yes. Everything in me wanted to scream no, but Grandma Betty’s voice was in my ear.
“You let Sage do her thing and you do yours. You’re a big girl, right?”
When the door shut behind her, I ran to Grandma Betty’s chair and cried until I drifted into sleep. I awoke energized. I ran upstairs, unbraided my hair, letting it fall to my shoulders like Sage’s. Then I put on my finest dress, the lavender Chiffon, which was now at least two sizes too small. I twirled and made my way downstairs. With a flashlight in hand, I turned on the radio and shut off the lights. I waved the flashlight to the beat, dancing and singing. The flashlight was my microphone, and I was the queen of the ball. The living room was my dance floor. I moved fast, slow, off beat, on beat until sweat covered me. Then I treated myself to a bowl of ice cream with chocolate chip cookies on top. I wrote “Maybe I will be a dancer” in my journal and drew a girl on a stage. I took my time drawing an audience of forty stick-figure people. They sat in rows of red seats in their finest—dresses, suits, hats, bow ties.
Satisfied, I collected my drawing and ran upstairs to pin it on my wall. I slipped out of my dress and into pajamas and headed back downstairs, dragging a white and brown knitted blanket behind me. I curled up on Grandma Betty’s chair and waited for Sage. Around 11:30pm I awoke to the sound of a car pulling into the yard, the tires crushing dirt and gravel.

“They’re back,” I jumped up, sleep in the corners of my eyes, my mind far away still trapped between sleep and awake. I wobbled to the door and opened it, the cool air spraying moisture on my face. “Sage?” I called, stepping out onto the porch.
But it wasn’t Sage. It was Aunt Mary, and in the passenger seat was Mother. She stared straight ahead clutching a small duffle bag.
“Come on Marcy,” Aunt Mary demanded.
Mother turned to open her door, her body stiff, precise.
“I’m coming,” she stood up and looked around as if her eyes could penetrate the darkness.
As they approached, my legs grew weak.
“Little one,” Mother said. She put her bag down and extended her arms. “I’m back…and I’m all better…look at me…can you tell?”
Now my whole body trembled.
“I’m better, little one….and I’m going to do better by you. I promise.”
She put her hands around my waist and pulled me close.
“I have tools now…and medicine, lots of medicine…and no more voices. They’re all gone.”
She squeezed me.
“I can be your mommy now,” she whispered into my neck.

I looked up at Aunt Mary. She wore a scowl on her face, her pores overflowing with disdain. Then I looked back at Mother. Her smile was unfamiliar. Everything about her felt forced, unsteady. Her words ‘I can be your mommy now’ crawled all over my body biting through the flesh. My breaths shortened until I was gasping for air. Pee trickled down my legs. I stood between a woman who, if it wasn’t for her fear of hell, would have left me to die and a mother who I wasn’t sure ever knew how to love me. The one person I knew could protect me felt far away, her life unfairly anchored between burdens and blessings.

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