Sunday, August 25, 2013

Peering Through Three Windows: Suburb Stories (Continued) (In the category of Say What You Mean.) #52Weeks

(This is fiction for grownups by Kim Norris.)
Chapters 1-3; Chapters 4-6

************* (7) *************
Jerry pushed his plate away, the fried fish and chips only half consumed. He wanted to save room for a slice of the triple layer coconut cake he spied under the dome of the crystal cake plate. Mother had served the usual, not unexpected, but disappointing. Determined to keep his promise to his lover, Jerry braced himself for the lecture he knew was coming. His mother, Doris, didn’t miss a beat.

“Something wrong with the fish, dear?”

“It was delicious, Mother. I’m just trying to watch what I eat. How about a thin slice of that beautiful cake?”

“You need to finish your dinner first.”

“I’m not ten.”

“I can’t afford for you to waste food!”

I brought you the fish. It didn’t cost you a dime. So how about that cake?

“Why are you watching what you eat?

“The waistband is getting snug.” Jerry pointed to his belt. “I read an article that suggested portion control was an effective dieting strategy. So half the fish, a smidgeon of cake...”

“You don’t need to lose any weight. You’re just healthy.”

“Well if you must know, I have a date, and I’m trying to get in shape.”

“When’s the date?”

“Tomorrow night.”

“You can’t lose weight by then.”

“Good point, Mother. So how about a little slice of cake. Just a thin piece.” He held his thumb and forefinger a scant ¼” apart to illustrate.

His mother looked at him with deep suspicion but stood and cleared the dinner plates before them, hers clean, his littered with a half eaten fish filet and most of the sweet potato fries she had made as a side dish. “Who are you seeing? Have you gotten back together with Sharon?”


“Then who?”


“Then whom?”

“Gloria Kneadler. My neighbor.”

“The young widow? Do you think she’s ready to start dating again so soon?”

“No, not her. Gloria lives directly next door. She’s the other widow, the one with the big house.”

His mother seemed to consider it for a moment. “That won’t work. She’s too old for you.”

“Ten years maybe. It’s not that great an age difference.”

“She can’t have babies, though. Why would you waste your time and money on a woman who can’t give you babies? No. Cancel the date. I forbid it!”

Jerry laughed before he could stop himself.

“What’s so funny?” Doris’s face reddened alarmingly, except for her pinched scowl, which pushed the blood away from the area around her lips. Jerry knew the look well. She was angry and about to get irrational.

“Didn’t mean to laugh, Mother. I really would love some of that cake.” He watched as she sliced with vehemence and then cut out a piece of cake several magnitudes thicker than what he had requested. As she slammed the plate in front of him, he decided not to mention it.

“I’ve only ever wanted one thing from you, Jerold.”

“My happiness? My success?” He put a large forkful of cake into his mouth.

“Don’t be smart with me. Grandchildren. Why can’t you settle down and start a family? You’re nearly too old as it is, and God knows I’m not getting any younger.”

“Listen, Sharon left me!” Jerry knew he sounded defensive. Why did he let the bitch push his buttons every time?

“You didn’t spend enough money on her. Or time. It’s like you don’t even want children.”

Jerry concentrated on eating cake, large forkfuls, painfully aware of the tightening waistband on his pants. Doris joined him at the table with a much smaller slice of cake and the coffee pot. Setting her own plate down, she poured for both of them into the cup and saucer settings. She put two lumps of sugar in her own and one in her son’s cup. After stirring both with the same spoon, she sat back down and picked up her dessert fork.

Blood had returned to the wrinkled and slightly mustached area around her lips, allowing Jerry to relax some. He scraped his fork along the china to capture the dregs of coconut frosting, briefly contemplated the last “bite” and then added it to the frosting mound before pushing it all into his mouth.

“I’m 74, Jerold.”

“You don’t look a day over 60.” He regretted the comment instantly.

“Stop being flippant!” The blood left his mother’s lips again.  “I spoke with Bitsy earlier today. Her daughter is expecting again. Third grandchild! Last week at the cribbage game, Eleanor announced her son and his new wife are already pregnant. Though I suspect that was also true at the wedding.” Doris sniffed disapprovingly and took a sip of coffee.  “That’s when they all turn and look at me as if to say, “well, Doris, where are your grandchildren?”

“Surely they don’t actually say that to your face?”

“Bitsy would if she didn’t think Eleanor would disapprove.”

“I’m really sorry, Mother,” and Jerry tried to sound it.

“Was I that horrible a mother?”

“Of course not!” Jerry did his best to refrain from rolling his eyes. Mother was in insecurity mode tonight; it was his least favorite of all her moods – the need for constant validation – well it simply exhausted him to try and fill that void for her. To his horror, he noticed her eyes well with tears.  If he didn’t escape soon, things would degrade rapidly, and he had no desire to fight with his mother. He stood and went around the table to where she sat, her chin quivering. With a suppressed groan, he kneeled before his mother and took her hand. Kissing it, he said, “you were the best mother any man could have wanted. I’m just having trouble meeting a woman who I think would be as amazing a mother as you.”

“You do…” Doris hiccupped a little and swallowed. “…want a wife…don’t you?”

Jerry tried to keep an impassive face. “More than anything. It doesn’t help for you to harp on my failure to attract a suitable mate. But I am sorry I’ve let you down.” And that statement, he meant.

************* (8) *************

Fish or chicken? Gloria usually wasn’t indecisive. Fish was seasonal, but she had never tried the recipe before. The chicken dish she had baked a thousand times with great success – foolproof – her signature dish. But was she playing it too safe with the chicken?

Under ordinary circumstances, Gloria would reach for the phone and call her daughter, but she refrained.  She didn’t think Caroline would approve of this date. A younger man, one she barely knew after seven years of being neighbors. Gloria really didn’t know enough about the man to tell Caroline anything. Over the years, Gloria had guessed a thing or two, but nothing she could confirm. She knew he was a writer, but under no circumstances would she reveal how she knew that. The mutual masturbation sessions they shared as she watched him from the window -- no one would know about those. Not even Jerry. Not even if they became intimate. In any case, Gloria wasn’t interested in fielding a bunch of questions from Caroline.

She was tempted to go next door and ask him, chicken or fish? But she had seen him leave earlier, and he had not yet returned.

“Shit, shit, shit,” she muttered as she paced in front of the open freezer. Closing her eyes, she reached in and grabbed the first item she touched. She pulled it out and looked: frozen, peeled edamame. No inspiration there – the bland bean went with anything. A fresh edamame hummus might be a good hors d’oeuvres, though; her seasoned, home-baked pita chips made a perfect compliment. But it didn’t answer the big question: fish or chicken? Chicken or fish?

Never mind what to serve, what the hell would they talk about? Suddenly overwhelmed by her nerve, her cheek, she sat down heavily, forgetting to shut the freezer door. Had she really asked a man to dinner? What had she done?  That man? Shit, shit, shit, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus…what would Jesus do? “He would serve fish,” she mused aloud; the laugh that followed felt good and wrong at the same time.

Gloria had not dated since Bud died. Had not dated since Bud married her. Had not dated, actually, since Bud had taken her virginity. Oh my God, she thought. What the fuck am I doing?

Chicken. She walked back to the freezer. Gravity had helped the door swing shut, but it had not closed hard enough to seal, and the air around the handle was cold. Rummaging for just a moment, she pulled out a package of boneless skinless chicken breast and laid it on the counter. Next she pulled out broccoli that she had purchased yesterday, a tray of button mushrooms, and a thin package of bacon – uncured – it was supposed to be healthier – as if bacon could be healthy. She liked the taste better, though. The casserole flavors married well if the ingredients were assembled the night before and allowed to sit in the refrigerator.

As she sliced mushrooms and onions and set the sauté pan on medium heat (Gloria did not take the shortcut of using canned Cream of Mushroom soup) she considered what topics of conversation she could use during dinner. She would ask him what he did for a living. That could fill a few minutes. She would tell him about the grandsons, of course. She wondered if he had any children somewhere. She imagined a nasty divorce in his past and bitter custody battle, his broken heart and missed moments with his children.

Gloria knew Jerry had a girlfriend earlier in the year. She watched them from time to time. It didn’t seem like a particularly intimate relationship, and best she could tell, it had ended a few months ago. The woman had been too young for him, in Gloria’s opinion, and not very pretty. Then again, maybe he was the “confirmed bachelor” type, unable to commit to one woman, preferring instead to play the field. Would that bother her if it were true? What was she really looking to get out of this relationship?

This answer came more readily than the menu – sex. Gloria wanted to have sex with a man -- an actual alive, warm from blood and not batteries, man. Scratchy from razor stubble, sweaty from passion, snoring contentedly until she woke him with coffee in bed, some crispy bacon and a toaster waffle…a man…in her bed, in her life. Loneliness had turned Gloria into someone she barely recognized. Caroline would be horrified, but then, Caroline had a man in her bed.

Gloria chopped three slices of bacon, which popped the moment they hit the hot sauté pan. She stirred quickly, rendering the fat and browning the edges. She removed the crispy bits and added the mushrooms and onions, still stirring. Flour, then cream, a dash of salt, and three grinds from the pepper mill completed the sauce. She set it aside to cool.

What if he hated mushrooms? Shaking off the doubt, she sliced stalks of broccoli as thinly as possible and blanched them briefly. Dessert was another matter. Should she bake or just pick up sorbet and ladyfingers? Did he drink coffee? She didn’t, not for years, but she kept one-pot sized bags of both caf and decaf in the freezer just in case she had company that preferred coffee.

Gloria drank water mostly. It was good for her skin.

Strips of still slightly frozen chicken hit the hot sauté pan, reawakening the scent of bacon. Once the chicken had browned, she began to layer the casserole dish: mushroom cream sauce, broccoli, chicken, sharp cheddar cheese, repeat, repeat. More cheese and the bacon bits comprised the final layer. She wrapped the whole dish in aluminum foil and put in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator

As she cleaned the dishes, she stared out the window into the darkness. Her streetlight lit up the bit of driveway she could see, but the rest of the neighborhood was dark, asleep. Her own reflection stared back, unnatural looking, monochrome. Tomorrow, if she could manage it…if the universe would throw her a bone, she would add some color back to her life.

************* (9) *************

Even Gail couldn’t believe the colors, the quality of the light, the sharp detail of every petal, every stamen and pistil. The tablet’s camera was superior to anything she had ever owned. Ray had been correct to buy it for her for Christmas. The color laser printer too, she thought. It had seemed extravagant at the time, but Ray had understood better than she...

She pulled the still warm page from the printer output tray, pinned it to her easel, and grabbed her old wooden palette. Squinting slightly, she studied the photo, the colors, the textures. Without really thinking about it, she began to mix colors.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

One Less Thing to Remember (In the category of Want What You Have.) A poem by Kim Norris [#52Weeks]

Elaborate mnemonics were never needed,
No string around the finger,
No repetition, repetition, repetition.

I didn’t have to write it three times,
Or leave myself a message.
Just one quick jot on the correct date:

Dad. B.D.

It’s a habit now, in January,
To take down last year, flip
To the beginning and transcribe

For the year to come —
Dad. B.D.

On August 19
Where it always goes
Every year.

It’s there this year,
Too, the reminder,
Dad. B.D.,

Transcribed last January.
I wonder what
Elaborate mnemonics

I will need to stop reminding
Myself that I don’t have to
Buy you cards anymore.

A happy day with Dad.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Peering Through Three Windows: Suburb Stories (Continued) (In the category of Mean What You Say.) #52Weeks

(This is fiction for grownups by Kim Norris.)

************* (4) *************

The thunderstorms had finally ended, and above the field, towering cumulus clouds glowed like embers, their immense height reflecting the reddening sun against a backdrop of blue. If only Gail could mix colors like that: rose to peach to red hot red then to orange to gold; behind the sky went from light blue to azure to indigo. Briefly, she had a strong urge to go find a blank canvas and pull out her paints, but the impulse passed, replaced with the ever present weariness that made even the simplest tasks exhausting. She hadn’t painted in months. Not since the accident...

Standing, Gail forced herself to shake off the lethargy. The sun room, which also served as her art studio, radiated the same red glow, softening the hard edges of the empty easel that stood in one corner. Sketchpads filled the adjacent wall-length worktable that also supported some computer equipment and a set of shelves. These were lined with colorfully decorated tubes that referenced the tints within, pots of gesso, black and white paint, clear gel, the secret to the soft glow that kissed the edges of the flowers she painted. According to her art dealer, critics called the technique “transcendent.” She would have to take Yvonne’s word for it; Gail never read reviews.

Yvonne Dalrymple, her art dealer, called just yesterday asking about the status of the two new paintings she requested four months ago to replace the ones her gallery had sold at the beginning of the year. Gail let the call go to voicemail rather than face having to tell the imposing and assertive woman that no progress had been made. She knew how the conversation would go. Yvonne would start out sympathetic, understanding of the grief that kept Gail blocked from doing anything creative. From there, Yvonne would argue that throwing herself in her art could be healing for Gail, and finally she would point out that Gail’s bills wouldn’t pay themselves. On the rare occasion when Gail actually took the call, she didn’t bother to correct Yvonne about that. She had avoided the last three calls. It was only a matter of time before Yvonne showed up on her doorstep to get answers.

Somewhere in the clutter of her sketchpads, Gail had already mapped out the color palette for the first painting, an abstract of a flower garden. She had planned to paint the same concept over the course of four seasons, beginning with summer. Gail started sketches using oil pastels in the spring, nothing more than blocks of color from her imagination. She, Ray and Allie had only just moved in at the end of March before the real flower garden revealed its existence. When the plants first pushed through the earth, she recognized garden phlox right away…it had always grown in her mother’s garden.

Now, looking out across the backyard, the blush of light deepened; she saw the flowers aflame with the sunset. Ebony shadows at ground level gave way to vibrant colors of orange, magenta, and red. The row of zinnias she and Allie had planted too early managed to thrive in spite of the freak frost in early May, and the flowers now stood over two feet tall. Behind them, along the back fence, the taller, perennial garden phlox in shades of white, purple, and hot pink caught the longer golden rays of the setting sun, sharpening every detail. Without thinking about it, Gail grabbed her tablet computer from the worktable and opened the digital camera app. At the sound of her sliding the glass door to the patio, Fluffy and Floppy jumped down from the sofa in the adjoining living room where they had spent the remainder of the storms huddled together, but at least, thank God, not barking.

Gail missed Allie every second of every minute of every day, but she felt especially torn when the dogs barked; Allie could quiet them, even in a crowd. Popular quickly in her new school, Allie made the Junior Varsity cheerleading squad only a week after they moved in.  Twice, five girls, “the cool ones,” according to Allie, had come over on a Saturday to jump on the round trampoline that Ray had setup for her on moving day. (“It’ll give her something to do while we unpack,” he had whispered to Gail when she tried to protest the time spent on a child’s toy, but Ray had been right to insist.) The high-pitched shrieks of six pre-teen girls as they jumped up and down was more than even the dogs could compete with. They simply sat quietly at the trampoline’s perimeter looking up, concerned, their sensitive ears twitching occasionally on particularly shrill notes.

Nothing quieted them now. Nothing. Gail had actually looked into having them de-barked, but the veterinarian had talked her out of it. (It’s considered animal cruelty, Mrs. Amissio. You’ll have to find another doctor…)

She let the dogs run out ahead of her and followed them down the stairs onto the ground level patio and across lawn to the back fence. The grass, still wet from the storms, felt cold on her bare feet. The lawn needed cutting; tall stalks soaked the bottoms of her jeans and left seeds clinging to the damp denim.

At this late angle, the sun’s light had a quality that made the garden practically vibrate with color. The tallest flowers, backlit, stood out in sharp relief against the emerald of the field behind the house. In front, against the darker green foliage, the color of the zinnias intensified as if each bloom was lit from within. She squinted, deliberately blurring her vision in order to perceive the colors without the imposed shapes, and let the range of hues wash over her. It was a trick she had learned years ago that helped her determine the essential color palette. Finally, standing back at first, to get the whole scene, then moving in for close-ups, she began taking pictures.

************** (5) *************

“It’s just that I haven’t seen you or the boys in so long. You’d think we lived across the country from each other and not just across town.” Gloria immediately regretted the words. Caroline did not respond well to being pushed. “I mean...they’re growing up so fast.”

“Maybe next week, Mom. We’re too busy right now.”

“You could come for dinner, you and the boys.”

“But not Dougie?”

Gloria heard the frost in her daughter’s tone. “Well of course he’s welcome, but I thought some mother-daughter-grandson time would be nice.”

“I’ll have to let you know.”

“That’s fine. So are the boys ready to go back to school?”

“I have to go now, Mom. We’ll talk soon.”

“But...” Gloria stared at the phone as the dial tone came through the handset. It wasn’t the first time Caroline had hung up on her, but it hurt all the same.

Gloria blamed her son-in-law, Dougie, for creating the rift that had grown between her only child and herself. If only he would discipline the boys. A seven year old and a nine year old shouldn’t be allowed to mock their grandmother. “Granny Big Fanny” was not a term of endearment. (Plus, it was false. She was in great physical shape for 68, a detail that irked the other senior ladies who volunteered with her at the hospital.) A swift smack on the behind had never done Caroline any harm. But Dougie’s reaction when she, Gloria, had been forced to tell the boys not to call her names and applied a single spank to each bottom...well she might as well have beat them with a billy club, the way Dougie exploded.

Caroline called a week later, and Gloria welcomed the chance to mend fences. But as the conversation progressed, it became to clear that Caroline actually wanted to ask for money. That phone call, too, had ended poorly.

“I should just move away,” she said aloud to no one. "Maybe then, she would miss me.”

Gloria put the phone back in its charger and walked out of the kitchen. The living room, which faced out to the Greenspace, as she had always called it, glowed the same scarlet as the storm clouds that looked like they might just as easily rebuild as scatter. Her husband, Bud, a successful residential builder for his entire career, had dreamed of building his own neighborhood since the days when he courted her with trips to the Starlight Drive-In and Clancy's frozen custard stand. When he finally achieved the means to break ground on the neighborhood -- and the house he wanted to build for her and their daughter, she requested two things: 1) The laundry room needed to be on the same level of the house as the clothes closets; 2) their backyard should have a view of green space rather than someone else’s swing set.

Bud required the architects to design the Greenspace just for her – a field in the center of the development that served as rainwater runoff for the neighborhood in the summer and an excellent sledding hill during the snowy winters of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Bud added to their site plan a twenty-foot buffer between their neighbors’ property lines on either side instead of the town’s required minimum of ten feet—the perks of being the developer’s wife. She missed her husband every second of every minute of every day, but doing so did not bring him back from the dead, and she was lonely in a way she had never dreamed possible.

Often, late at night she failed to sleep, dwelling instead on fantasies of The Writer next door intermingled with thoughts of moving to Clearwater Beach, Florida, Bud’s favorite place to vacation. The words, location, location, location, like a mantra, repeated in her brain – hers was the best house in the thriving modest neighborhood. Housing prices were on the rise…maybe Caroline would miss her then, and the boys would love to visit the Gulf of Mexico. She had been pondering the change just this morning. Only the look of joy she imagined crossing Dougie’s face when she announced she would be moving held her back from acting on the idea.

She shook her thoughts clear and opened the back sliding glass door, anticipating a literal breath of fresh air which should be scrubbed clean after the heavy rain. Motion to her right caught her attention. Noisy Dogs Lady was out by the back fence with something that looked like a fancy dinner menu. The woman moved along the fence line constantly, pausing and punching the notebook in her hand – taking pictures, Gloria guessed. Her sweet Caroline had something similar.

Gloria had not seen her neighbor for a few weeks, only heard the damn dogs. She had seen the write-up in the paper about the accident four months ago. Sad news that had been --imagine losing your only child, your daughter, and your husband, at the same time? Gloria briefly admired her neighbor for being able to breathe, much less photograph flowers…they were beautiful in this light. When Bud died, Gloria had been rendered useless for months. It had taken serious counseling to convince her that the ham salad sandwich she had just served him minutes before he died had not brought on the stroke. Caroline had been no comfort – she and Bud were never close – even before Caroline had caused that ridiculous fuss, accusing her own father…who believed a twelve year old? Gloria never doubted Bud’s version of things for a second.

The scrape of The Writer’s screen door opening drew her focus to the other side of the yard. Noisy Dogs Lady must have waved, because she saw The Writer wave in that direction as he made his way to his back flower garden, scissors in hand and a wicker basket over his forearm. A sudden courage filled Gloria; a delayed rebuttal to Caroline’s earlier rebuke, “I can’t fill your calendar for you…you need to find your own fun.” She turned to the left and peered into the antique mirror that hung above the sofa. Patting the humidity-induced stray curls down flat, she gave herself an encouraging wink and went outside to engage her neighbor.

************* (6) *************

Finally, the thunderstorms had stopped. A cooler but no less humid breeze created a cross-flow of fresh air that rustled the pages of handwritten notes and unanswered letters stacked on his desk. Jerry stood in the doorway between his study and the formal dining room. The wall facing the field was mostly glass, and in this light, with these clouds…well, the imagery wrote itself. Jerry sipped the glass of sauvignon blanc he held. If he squinted just right, all he could see was the colors; the back flower garden, currently filled with purple Echinacea and daisies, his mother’s favorite. Gladiolas toppled across the top of the wrought iron border in every shade from pale peach to hot pink.

The effect of the sunset’s light, a rosy, golden glow, brought the flowers in his garden into bright, sharp focus. A beautiful bouquet, he thought. Maybe two. Mother would love these. He went into the kitchen to find the shears and filled two vases with tap water – his favorite heavy cut lead crystal that Kenny had given him when things were still good between them, and a pretty pink blown glass vase that FTD had delivered with the Valentine’s flowers Sharon had surprised him with…that hadn’t lasted long either, but maybe he should have been completely honest with her…

The wet grass soaked his trousers in just a few steps, but he shrugged off the compulsion to turn around, put on a dry pair, and roll up the pant legs. The flower garden was in full bloom, and the season had experienced just the right amount of rain and sun. It wouldn’t take long to cut two bouquets. He’d put one on his writing desk. Mother would like the pink vase; it would be a pleasing centerpiece at their weekly dinner later tonight. The bench, a reproduction of one that sat beside the Champs-Elysee in Paris, made a good surface to put the basket while he cut flowers. Jerry took a moment to watch a yellow swallowtail butterfly drink nectar from one of his flowers. Briefly, he experienced the warm glow of a nurturer…maybe this is how it felt to have a pet.

“Good evening!” The voice startled him; Gail Amissio waved from her own flower garden two houses down. He had not seen her in weeks, maybe even months. If he had not been aware of her circumstances, he’d have been at her door eager to discuss what she was going to do to shut those dogs the fuck up. Jerry didn’t have time to discuss it tonight, so he waved and turned his attention to the Echinacea. The yellow swallowtail had moved on, but a small white butterfly lingered. He began to harvest the daisies, snipping the stems close to the lowest cluster of leaves, knowing that, in time, two new branches would emerge.

From down the fence line, he heard Gail’s sliding glass door close. He turned his head in the direction of her yard, and was startled by the face of Gloria, the widow next door, who apparently had been trying to get his attention on the other side of the pine trees.

“Yoo hoo!” Gloria waved her hand above her head. “Hi neighbor!”

Jerry straightened up and waved back hoping he did not appear too enthusiastic. “Hello Mrs. Kneadler!” He knew she didn’t know his name. He had tested and proven that theory twice over; he had received enough of her mail erroneously to know hers though. Seven years had passed since Jerry signed the loan papers and took the keys. At least five mail carriers had worked their street since then. Idiots, all of them.

"Call me Gloria, please. Your flowers are lovely, Gary.”


“Sorry.” Gloria blushed deeply and started to turn away. Then she seemed to steel herself. Jerry tried not to smirk as she turned back to face him. It was all so fucking cliché.

“They’re lovely,” she started again. The colors…”

“It’s the light,” Jerry said authoritatively. Sunset gives a queer quality to the light, especially with all this green.” He gestured to the shared field behind their houses

“The Greenspace,” Gloria said without thinking. “Would you like to come for dinner tomorrow night?

That was unexpected; he dropped his scissors. He noticed the color rise in her cheeks. Long standing curiosity took over and he nodded before he could find his voice to say yes.

“Wonderful!” Gloria clapped her hands in delight. “Come over at six?”

Jerry nodded again, bent to retrieve the scissors and turned back to the purple coneflowers. He tried not to laugh until he was sure she had gone back inside. But he knew all too well there was no guarantee she wasn’t still watching. He had seen her again last night, peeping from her window. He took an extra long time to finish…he liked to think they both enjoyed the time and care he took to get there…

He hadn’t been on a date with a woman for some time, but Mother would enjoy this latest development in his “love life.” Women were okay, though he had more trouble trusting them. Men were manipulative too, Jerry knew that, but he understood better how a man thought. Women on the other hand – he learned years ago – he was fifty-seven, with another birthday just around the corner – and he had learned years ago that if he couldn’t invent the woman’s thoughts himself, he didn’t stand a chance of comprehending them. But his mother still clung to the belief that Jerry would give her grandbabies. Kenny was a name she, Doris Nunley, had never heard in connection with her son.  She asked about Sharon frequently, though. He tried not to lie…

He was keenly aware that his neighbor had just made “a move.”  Hopefully, she wouldn’t be offended if he brought both the wine and the dessert. He rarely trusted anyone to correctly supply those two most important parts of any meal. It might be amusing to see what distance she would venture in order to seduce him. Briefly, Jerry wondered if Gloria fantasized about him, but he found the notion repulsive, which surprised him, as Gloria was not an unattractive woman. She kept herself well; she was in far better physical shape than he was (admittedly, that could be said of many people).

He felt no sexual attraction though. No, he wanted to see the house. It was the largest in the neighborhood. Jerry had researched his property thoroughly before buying it, and he knew that Gloria’s husband built all of the houses in the neighborhood, twenty years ago, choosing to make his family home there as well. Gloria's backyard boasted a large patio with outdoor kitchen that Jerry coveted and seating under a wooden pergola. But, except for the two massive white pine trees on the property line, her yard was absent of any other foliage beyond a lush green lawn. No flowers, no shrubs, no deciduous trees, not even a pot of geraniums. He wondered whether she had indoor plants and then pictured rooms containing urns of silk flowers and satin trees.

Unconsciously, the character of the Lonely Widow began to write her tale in his mind. Dinner with Gloria would provide excellent research for the story. Perhaps he would consider fucking her just to get some first hand knowledge of the appetites of older women. Jerry would have to taste her cooking first, before making that call. But even if he played the gentleman, watching her try to get him in the sack would be interesting in its own right. Every romance writer knew -- the devil was in the details. An evening with Gloria could prove a treasure trove of material.

He clipped a few more gladiolas, topping off the basket that bulged with color. Whistling as he returned to the kitchen, he was careful to leave his wet loafers outside the door. Carrying the basket into the kitchen, he began to trim the flowers and arrange them in the two vases. Mother will love these, he thought as he worked. She would be cooking fish, as she did every Friday, the lovely brook trout he had brought her yesterday, fresh caught from a stream that belonged to his new friend, Drew. Drew loved to fish, so he regularly stocked the stream behind his farmhouse at his own expense and with the blessings of the game wardens. Jerry loved to watch Drew fish.

Mother, of course, did not know exactly where or how Jerry caught the fish, but she seemed pleased with it. He hoped she would prepare the fish simply, with lemon and olive oil. Usually Doris served some variation of fried fish and chips. Drew had complained (mostly playfully) that Jerry was “chubby,” so Jerry was trying to slim down. Hopefully Drew wouldn’t be upset about this “date” with Gloria. Research only, Jerry would assure him. Should sex arise, Jerry would just keep that detail to himself. Dedication to his craft trumped all relationships, but he also appreciated the concept of “need to know.” Instinct told him that Drew would be less understanding if Jerry let Gloria touch his dick. Should her cooking warrant the intimacy, Jerry would stay quiet about it. It wouldn’t be the only secret he kept.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Steppin' Out (In the Category of Be Where You Are.) [#52Weeks]

It's impossible to forget the dates of downtown Blacksburg's annual summer street fair, Steppin' Out, mostly because it is never the same two calendar dates in any two consecutive years. Like Mother's Day or Labor Day, Steppin' Out, isn't a date at all, it's a day (actually two) -- the first Friday and Saturday of August, rain or shine. I've stepped out almost every year since I arrived in Blacksburg in 1984. Bartending my way through grad school, I worked a food booth a few of those years, hot, thankless work, and greasy -- the bar I worked for (the Ton-80 Club)  sold fresh grilled polish sausage, hamburgers, and pulled pork sandwiches in a booth on College Avenue. By 1:00 p.m. the asphalt around the grill was so slick I could slide between the cooking area, the coolers, and the cash box. Good times...

Over the years, I've shopped my way through a fair few of them, and partied. As an undergrad I had friends whose apartment in the Old Mill Building overlooked College Avenue. In those days, the main stage was situated on College Avenue at the end of Draper Road. There's a performing arts theater there now, which I think is cool symmetry. Anyway, back then, my friends' apartment (two friends lived in the same apartment at two times, one "bequeathing" it to the other upon graduation) overlooked the main stage, so they would throw a kegger (part of the bequest included strict directives to carry on this tradition...a detail we friends appreciated). Those in the know would come prepared with Big Gulp cups that we bought at the 7-11 on the corner of Draper Road and Roanoke Street, which we emptied and reloaded with ice cold draft beer. Lids on, straws in, we'd hit the streets. There were always more friends to run into, recent grads needing one more Blacksburg fix, old acquaintances... Good times...

Much has changed in downtown Blacksburg since those days. The Ton-80 Club is gone (but the sign is still there). Festival organizers moved the main stage to the middle of Main Street, which has a certain logic, but screws the tenants of that particular apartment in the Old Mill Building out of a prime window seat for all the best bands. College Avenue has been transformed from a narrow two-way street into a one-way "promenade" with trees where the double yellow line used to run.

So today, and this is a first, I photographed my way through Steppin' Out.  This post is actually more loquacious than I intended; the pictures follow. Of the  #52Weeks, this one goes out to all the friends I have made in all my years in Blacksburg, past, present, and future (I'm looking at you Mary Allison...). Let's go Steppin' Out, just like we always did (do...will...) I'll show you what's new.

Steppin' Out now begins all the way back here on Lee Street. (I'm standing on Draper Road)

This completely hoses that old 7-11 out of vehicular traffic for the weekend.
Bouncy House resembles the Clemson Tiger. Jump, children of Blacksburg, jump!
Very cool art. I can't help but wonder if young mens ties would make a good medium as well.
Because.. well ...Virginia.
I have always loved a standing bass...toe-tapping good.

First time I've seen this at Steppin' Out.
College Avenue today. Really, two tenants of that apartment who I will be notifying of this blog post. You should come visit and see... (Left, from the steps of the new performing arts center looking toward the Lyric Theatre; right, also looking down College Avenue toward Main Street.)
And all this too...