Poetry Tuesday – Late Summer Symphony

God’s painted masterpiece of ever-shifting colors and clouds is splattered across the sky,

And an equally brilliant work of ark reflects below,

One on top of the other, mixing until inextricably bound up in a dance,

Which the grasses tall and thin in the meadow join in

To the sound of hidden cicadas

And the wind rustling the red-tinged green leaves in a circular ballet,

All to the music of nature in each unfolding moment,

Captured in a memory but passing on to time’s demand,

Precious that it is in its fleeting.

08/26/14

Excerpt from Latent Infection – Part Four (Horror Short Story)

You can read part one here, part two here, and part three here.

The Marsons returned from their weekend trip in better moods than they had been in weeks.  Even Tom, who was optimistic to the point of absurdity, remarked that the break was just what he needed.

The family parked their Suburban next to the house and piled onto the driveway.  The stones crunched underfoot as they made their way to the porch.  When Tom managed to push the door open with a shove, he laughed — but not before cursing first.  “Prob’ly should’ve had that repaired first.  Damn door.”

“This house is a laundry list of repairs, Dad,” Cora said, shaking her head.

Marcy entered first and frowned.  “I thought that shifty Mr. Rue was supposed to have removed all the vermin from this place.”

Tom and Cora were right behind her.  

“I don’t smell anything,” Cora said, sniffing.  “Maybe it’s just in your head, Mom.”

“Well, it’s possible a stray rodent might’ve gotten caught in one of the traps,” Tom remarked.  “I’ll call him and have him come back tomorrow.”

“Ugh,” Marcy said.  “I knew my good mood wouldn’t last.  I hope he finds whatever’s making that smell and gets rid of it once and for all.  I don’t–”

“There’s no smell, Mom!” Cora snapped and stomped up the stairs before Marcy could protest.

x x x

Mr. Rue was only too happy to return on Monday morning.

“I can make an exception for a beautiful lady like you,” he told Marcy over the phone.

Marcy refrained from saying something snide.  “Just come out to the house and get the job done, Mr. Rue.  My husband would’ve called you himself if he didn’t have to leave so early.”  She ended the call and glared at the gutted kitchen.  “Tom, you’re in hot water for this.  This house was your idea.  Your project.  Now it’s become my problem, and that problem has a name — Walter Rue.”

Ten minutes later, Mr. Rue arrived at the front door.  Marcy hoped the workers would arrive shortly.  Being in a large house with a slithery man and a teenage daughter who tuned out the world with her music twisted Marcy’s insides into a knot.

“I think it’s coming from the basement,” Marcy said, letting him in.

Mr. Rue gazed around the house.  He stopped all pretense and frowned.  “You said there was a putrid odor, Mrs. Marson.  I have to be honest, I don’t smell a thing.”

“I’m telling you.  There’s a smell, and it’s all throughout the house.”

“Then why do you say it’s coming from the basement?  It could just as easily be the attic, in the walls–”

“Then check the attic!” Marcy shouted.  “What do I care?  Do something!  That’s what you’re paid for, isn’t it?”

Mr. Rue held up his big hands.  “All right, Mrs. Marson.  Whatever you like.  No need to yell.”

“I’m sorry, but you try living in this dump for three weeks with that stench and see how you feel.”  Marcy deflated and turned away with a throbbing headache.  

Mr. Rue nodded and backed away toward the stairs.  He reached the top and shrugged.  Funny thing about the attic was that it had been locked.  No one had a key, and to cut corners, he hadn’t gone up there — despite his claim otherwise.

He frowned at the door at the end of the hall, his every nerve on fire.  When Mr. Rue was Wally and about two hundred and fifty pounds lighter, he wet the bed every night.  He told Mama it was the “boy wit’ the funny lip” who scared him.  Little Wally knew a thing or two about old houses and how some of their inhabitants never really left.  He’d wake at 2:00 AM to find “Funny Lip” floating nose-to-nose with him, that broken grin on his lopsided face.  He’d piss himself yet again, knowing he was in for another lashing with Pop’s belt come morning.  A blink and “Funny Lip” would be gone.  

Years later, Mr. Rue knew “Funny Lip” had a cleft lip, which explained his strange smile, but that didn’t explain why “Funny Lip” visited him every night until he moved out the day he turned eighteen.

Something about the Marsons’ attic reminded Mr. Rue of “Funny Lip.”  That same tingle on the skin, like something was there but not.  But then deeper, a snake constricting his vital organs to the point of asphyxiation.  

He now stood in front of the door.  His hand trembled as he gripped the knob with his sweaty palm.  He could just stop and leave.  They weren’t paying him enough for this.  

The handle turned.  The door opened inward, a long creeeaaaak, as if just waking after a sound slumber.  The narrow staircase disappeared into darkness.  He tried the switch to no avail and took the first step.

Cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude

Ugh, do I have to wake up?

Waking up is vastly overrated.  The pillows, the blankets, the soft curve of the mattress against my body, these are calling my name, beckoning me like a lullaby.

But if I’m honest with myself, I’m lucky today.  I actually didn’t wake before my alarm on my phone.  My kids didn’t wake me up.

Hey, I can get dressed, wash my face, and brush my hair in five minutes of silence!

Small blessings…

If I sound sarcastic, I don’t mean to be.  There are those sunny people who would tell me to be happy for another sunrise, and while part of me wants to show them where they can shove their bright remarks, the better part of me knows they’re right.

Besides, you can’t hold too much against me right now.  I haven’t had my coffee yet.

So, it’s the start of another day.  In the hour or so before getting out of the house, I need to feed three young kids breakfast and get them dressed and ready for school (with the exception of my daughter, who is only one).  Oh, and I also need to feed myself somewhere in there.  You’d think this wouldn’t be so hard, but that’s a lie many young moms tell themselves to feel better.  Kids are disagreeable by nature, little people designed to push Mommy’s buttons.  I admit I am not the most patient person on the planet, but after several mishaps in less than an hour, sometimes I’m ready for the clock to read 8:00 PM and not 8:00 AM.

But I push through my little aggravations…usually.  I get the boys off to school, and it’s to the Y to work out.  Working out is a great stress-reliever, but you know what comes to mind about the Y for me?  There is an older gentleman who works at the Y I go to.  He’s a custodian.  It’s his job to clean toilets, to scrub floors, and to unclog drains.  Yet he always, always smiles at me (and everyone he passes) and says, “Hello, how you doing?”  He’s the type of guy you can’t help but smile back at and say hello, even on the tough days.

So, what’s he got that a lot of us don’t?  Can I have your seeds of happiness and plant them inside of me, sir?  I don’t like being miserable…and yet, I do it to myself.  I choose to complain many, many times throughout every day about mostly trivial things: red lights, running late, being behind a slow driver, my son arguing with me, having to turn around and change a poopy diaper after just doing so…

Yet there are bigger things that lie just under the surface.  Am I a good mom?  Am I doing enough for my kids?  I don’t feel equipped to be the mom of an autistic son.  Who thought I could handle this?  What about my dreams, my ambitions, my identity?  I’m a writer.  Is my stuff any good?  Are people just humoring me by being nice?  Do people really want to be my friends?  Who could possibly love me?

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Wow.

Tough questions that stab at the heart.  Those are seeds of discontent, of lies, of hatred, of fear.  Plant those and they will choke out anything good, honest, loving, and hopeful.

I’m throwing out this obvious disclaimer before I go any further: I am not an expert on the topic I’m going to attempt to write about here–gratitude.  My guess is you probably struggle with feeling grateful most days as well.  It seems to be human nature to focus on the negatives.  So, let’s take this journey together.  Let’s foray into the muck of lies we tell ourselves (that we’re no good) and try to come out on the other end into something better (that we’re worthy).

I have done some book studies in a small group I’m in at church on this topic–gratitude.  Some people call it counting your blessings.  It’s not always easy, especially when emotions take hold and force us to take an ugly turn.  As I’ve gotten older (and maybe a bit wiser), I have heard that little voice in the back of my head more–yes, even when I’m super-hormonal and slightly crazy!

When things are spiraling out of control, I can often see it unraveling.  I know I am only going to make things worse for me and everyone else who has the unfortunate habit of crossing my path miserable.  Often, I am focusing on one bad thing and ignoring many good things.  There’s that one person who has let me down (or so I think), has pissed me off, or is just seeming to not live up to my expectations.  Ah, expectations.  Those nasty, petty things we want others to do, because, you know, we (read: I) know best.  Um, right…

Stop right there.  This is where we (yes, you and I) take a deep breath and think.  Yes, think.  Not react.  Think about what’s going right in life.  There are plenty of people who love me, who support me, who are there for me.  I am breathing, aren’t I?  I am alive.  Sometimes it’s raining, and I long for sunshine.  Sometimes it’s sunny, and I want a rainy day to cuddle inside and read a good book.  But every day is truly a blessing when you think about it.

If you’re like most Americans, you have a roof over your head, food on the table, and clothes on your back.  You don’t even have to think about these things, these bare necessities, but they are blessings.  Often, I find that when I am taking my blessings for granted, when I stop and think about it, I know I have been blessed to be a blessing to others.

That’s gratitude–being thankful for what you do have without expecting more.  A wise woman I know who has been through hell and back has a mantra: What are you doing with what you already got?

So, plant those seeds of the good stuff and water them often.  That’s how you start cultivating an attitude of gratitude.  You make the conscious effort (a choice, yes) to be grateful every day and count those blessings.  I started writing my blessings down, with the goal of reaching 1000.  I think I stopped somewhere in the 800s, but I got pretty far!  I didn’t write them all in one day…a few a day, sometimes with several weeks in between writing them down.  When you see those blessings written down, it can make them more concrete.

It takes a lot of practice and a constant, conscious effort to cultivate an attitude of gratitude.  Do it enough, and that little voice starts to speak with more authority.  You are more than the sum of your fears and little hates.  You are someone whose life has a purpose.  For me, I believe God sees the beauty in us even when we don’t see it in ourselves.

Those seeds can grow into something beautiful, something life-sustaining and worth sharing with others.  So, I invite you to think about it.  Plant some good seeds with me, make a choice, and watch them grow.

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post a new blog every Friday and a book review the second Friday.

My new novel, Lorna versus Laura, is being released on Sept. 2 and is available for pre-order (only $2.99) here.

My first novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful,  is available for $3.99 here.

Poetry Tuesday – Luke

He screams, terrified, angry,

And tears stream down my cheeks, wet, desperate;

I plead and ask what goes unanswered,

And wish with dreamlike vanity for relief and release.

Although his crying subsides outwardly,

I often wonder if he shares in my deep inward weeping,

Buried under mounds of smiles and the day’s busyness.

This…this cheap imitation of what real life

Is supposed to be isn’t what I purchased,

But this gift (?) was given to me —

Weary, wary me — so unprepared.

Then there is laughter genuine from his lips,

And I hold him, precious, sacred;

Although words are few from his mouth,

Sometimes words fail miserably.

A mother’s love, a son’s love —

These are unchanged by any diagnosis.

01/25/15 (written in response to my son’s autism)

 

 

Excerpt from Latent Infection – Part Three (Horror Short Story)

You can read part one here and part two here.

Over the next few weeks, Cora heard nothing strange in her new home beyond the usual creaks associated with older houses.  With her father gone on the road during the weekdays, he had hired contractors to begin work on the house.

Among the people who were in and out of the house was an exterminator.  He’d set traps and poison down for the rats and mice.  (“Rats and mice!” Marcy had exclaimed, nearly fainting when the infestation was confirmed.)  The bill for the exterminator grew about as fat as the man himself, for Mr. Rue also planted a bug bomb for cockroaches toward what Marcy hoped was the end of his frequent visits.  Cora tried not to snicker when the robust man flirted with her mother.  As for Marcy, she was relieved when Mr. Rue finished up on a Friday evening. Tom pulled into the winding gravel driveway, and she darted out of the house to her knight come to rescue her.  Cora followed at a slower pace.

“Should all be taken care off, but you’ll need to stay outta the place for the next day to let it air out from the bomb,” Mr. Rue informed Tom the moment he stepped out of his car.  His eyes shifted to Marcy and he winked.

Tom shook the man’s hand.  “Thanks a million, Mr. Rue.”  He kissed Marcy and said, “That should take care of the smell, darlin’.”

Marcy stepped closer to Tom, took his hand, and smiled.  “A weekend away will be welcome after all the work we’ve been doing.  More than a day, Mr. Rue.  Now, if you’re all done…”

Tom’s phone beeped, and he reached into his pocket.  “Sorry, gotta take this,” he murmured, stepping away from his wife.

Marcy frowned.

Cora couldn’t agree more about getting away.  The hotel would have WiFi.  She’d used up her month’s allotment of data on her phone, and her signal was weak and the connection slow.

“I told Erin we’d be over at 8:00 to pick her up,” Cora said.  “She hasn’t been to Cedar Point since she was ten.”  She cast her mom a meaningful look.  Erin was the one friend she had in the northeast Ohio farm town, a place she couldn’t yet call home.  She’d met Erin while working at the one screen cinema.

“All right, Cora,” Marcy said, forcing a smile.  “As long as we’re finished up here…”  She tried not to sigh as she glanced at Tom, who was busy tapping away on his phone.

“All good to go, Mrs. Marson,” said Mr. Rue, winking again.  “You’re paid up.  Just let me know if there’s any problems.”

“Yes, we’ll be sure to do just that,” Marcy murmured as the exterminator got into his truck and pulled out.

Tom was suddenly at his wife’s side as he watched the pickup pull out of the driveway.  “Problem, honey bunny?”

“So long as that man’s done with his job, there’s no problem.  Important work stuff?”

“Yep.  Well… Lemme just take a quick shower,” Tom said, tugging at his pants along his groin.  “Ev’rything packed?”

“The car’s loaded,” Marcy said, eyeing Tom with a strange look.  “I’ll do a sweep through the house to make sure.”

Cora followed her parents inside, wishing she could erase the last couple of minutes from her mind.  After wading through drop cloths and dust from sanding, she went upstairs.  Upon reaching the landing, Cora was about to turn to the right like she always did to go to her bedroom, but the air to her left was cool in the August humidity.  She pivoted in that direction.  The hallway was shorter that way and only boasted a single unoccupied bedroom.  But at the end of the hallway rested another door.  

“Just goes to the attic,” Tom told Cora weeks ago.

Cora shrugged it off until that moment.  The chill in the air seemed to brush past her, and she shivered.  Goose bumps covered her arms and exposed neck and shoulders.  She wondered if she ought to change out of her tank top into something with sleeves.  Shaking her head, Cora marched down the corridor with determination and stopped when she came to the attic door.  She tried the handle.  Locked.

With a scoff, she turned away and went to her room to grab her phone before they left this dingy pit of depression.  The attic doorknob jiggled an eighth of an inch, counter-clockwise.

 

Book Review of Production Values by Liv Bartlet

Never mix business and pleasure.  It’s a phrase we’ve all heard, and there’s a reason for this.  The consequences can be disastrous.

This is the premise of Liv Bartlet’s debut women’s fiction novel, Production Values.  This edgy, contemporary, sometimes cut-throat story takes the reader on an emotional ride through the throes of best friends, Kat Porter and Bea Douglas, in Hollywood and the film industry beyond.  Kat and Bea are as different as night and day — the dreaming artist versus the level-headed realist — but their friendship and their partnership as Monkey & Me in the business of making TV shows thrives because of their contrasts.

I couldn’t help but be drawn in from page one to Kat’s desire for her dream to come true — for her vision to become reality.  She’s an art prodigy.  She’s ambitious.  And she’s also a hopeless romantic.  

Everything seems to be working well for Kat and Bea with their highly-rated BBC show, 21 Things.  Kat pushes the limits of the show by hiring heart-throb and heart-breaker Ian Graham, the GQ-esque actor from Scotland with the sex body and voice.  Having a star like Ian on the show is sure to give the story-line that extra oomph to get a Golden Globe.  

Bea is skeptical.  She has dreams of her own of stepping down from the world of producing shows and becoming a nurse and mother.  She comes from a family-oriented background that values close bonds, but she is ever-supportive of Kat’s dreams and goes the extra mile to make those dreams come to fruition.

But Bea sees Ian as a problem, a distraction.

But then golden statues become a reality for the whole team behind 21 Things, and it’s off to Hollywood from London.  With a Golden Globe under her belt, Kat is flying high.  She runs off with Ian while flying over Cloud Nine, leaving Bea to keep the rest of the team together.20448924_1970798226535004_702796297789596401_o

From there, Kat’s dreams grow.  More ideas for more shows means stretching herself too thin, and she relies on Bea even more to pick up the slack.  With growing reluctance, Bea does so.  

But Kat’s dream-bubble pops.  Ian and her next show aren’t in the limelight, but Bea’s hard work is paying off.  The women struggle to keep their friendship afloat as Kat continues to chase a dream (and Ian), and Bea keeps wondering when she’s going to get off the bus that’s taking her to the wrong destination.

Can their friendship survive the sometimes brutal business of making shows?  Can they overcome their differences to each find their true happiness?  Or will a guy or a movie come between them, irreversibly damaging the Monkey & Me partnership?

The story keeps the reader pulled in, needing to know the answers, from page one.  The writing is poetry in the form of prose, metaphorical and entertaining at the same time.  The characters step off the page with their witty, cutting, cunning, and lovely dialogue.  Liv Bartlet doesn’t disappoint.

Liv Bartlet clearly did her research on the inner-workings of the film industry.  The story is clear-cut and renders writing that would appear beautiful on screen.

At the core of this amazing novel is the struggle we all must face — head versus heart.  We live in a world of relationships and choices — often decisions that aren’t easy to make without hurting someone.  

I highly recommend this novel and applaud Liv Bartlet for delivering such an action-packed, punch-in-the-gut, heart-twisting story.

5 out of 5 stars

Visit Liv Bartlet’s Website

Purchase Production Values

Poetry Tuesday – There I Abide

Will you remember me
In some distant land,
Where we walked by the sea,
Hand-in-hand?
Will you feel my kiss
Tender on your lips,
Though years amiss?
Green to red turn tips,
As autumn claims her lot.
Time slips away,
And I am not
The same as yesterday.
Weary and worn,
Years upon years,
Tattered and torn,
Bittersweet tears,
But hope has a hold
On my heart evermore,
For no matter how old
Our souls, they soar.
Remember my word
From long ago.
I keep it — heard
By you, so just know —
My love for you only grows,
No matter what and why,
For wherever your heart goes,
There I abide and never die.
03/08/17