Category Archives: For my short story collection

I’m starting to collect the stories that will be put in my anthologies. It’s important to plan ahead. This is like succession planning, too, in case I die and someone else has to collect my short stories. Here they are and you are welcome for all the time I just saved you.

Only the creepers

We have a running joke in my family: Our women can attract any man they want…as long as he’s a weasel or creeper. In my mom’s case, he doesn’t even have to be alive.

When I told my mom I was posting ghost stories all month, she was interested. Why wouldn’t she be? She is a witch, after all, and she has seen a spirit or two (well, ok, a lot) in her day. I told her that I was short a scary tale so she gave me one I’d never heard before. It goes like this:

The yellow brick ranch-style house where my grandfather saw the ghost of a miner was quite haunted, it would seem. ZZ knew it, my aunt knew it, and my mother knew it. They all ran into spirits of one type or another during their years there. It was an evil spirit, though, that haunted my mom.

Mom is certainly not afraid of ghosts but she is aware of them and they do follow her around, bugging her, giving her icky feelings, creeping her out because that’s the type of energy she attracts. Similarly, questionable men have always been interested in her; same principle, just one set of jerks is alive and the other, dead. (I just called my dad, Jim, icky. Sorry about that! You’re totally not! Well, not anymore, at least)

My grandparents left the yellow rancher for something smaller and more manageable, handing the house over to my growing family. Noelle had just been born and our little cabin on Yampa Street was  too small to accommodate everyone. I was thrilled to move into ZZ & Poppop’s house; I loved that place. My mom, though, not so much. The malevolent spirit she’d felt when we’d lived there earlier was still there, still mad, still giving off bad vibes. And you know what really got it riled up? Noelle. After Noelle came along, my mom experienced more harassment from that malicious entity than ever before. I’m going to call it The Menace. You know, like The Phantom Menace, only far scarier.

When Noelle was brand new to this world,  ZZ & Poppop came to stay, to help out with the new baby, I assume. One afternoon, Mom was in her room folding laundry while tiny Noelle napped in her bassinet. Dad and Poppop were in the living room, watching a game, Chris and I were probably outside, and ZZ was downstairs in the guest room. Mom felt someone watching her and assumed it was a family member come to check on her but when she looked at the doorway, it was empty. She went back to folding but she knew someone was there, someone who was angry, someone who started breathing heavily. Her discomfort grew and became sharp, panicky, and then she heard a voice, a deep, growling voice, a voice completely unfamiliar and terrifying. She didn’t understand what it was saying nor did she wait to find out; instead, she ran from the room, horror-stricken, through the living room and down the stairs to her own mother. ZZ knew something was wrong immediately and when Mom told her what had happened, ZZ yelled, “YOU LEFT THE BABY ALONE WITH IT?” Both women raced back upstairs, full-tilt, expecting the worst. When they ran into the room, Noelle was sleeping soundly and The Menace, hovering in the room, winked out.

Dead

Perhaps this is what The Menace had planned?

It didn’t go away, though.

There was no shower in the upstairs bathroom, only a tub. There was, however,  a 3/4 bathroom in the basement so when someone wanted to shower, they went down there. Unfortunately, that bathroom was made of concrete, mold, and spiders. It was dark, dank, and creepy; even I hated it and I am rarely afraid of a room (unless it’s poorly decorated).

Bathroom

This bathroom is far less terrifying than the one in the basement.

So Mom went to the basement bathroom to have a quick shower one evening. Spiders skittered across the cement floor and a draft wafted through the already-cold room. She felt…something. Someone. Someone was in the bathroom with her, rustling around, making noise. She figured it was Dad though when she called out, no one answered. But someone was there. She showered faster, wanting to get back upstairs, back up to the light and warmth, back to her family. The room slowly filled with condensation, water slid down the walls, the smell of mildew rose from behind warped wood paneling, and something was standing just beyond the shower curtain, getting more and more angry. Mom was rinsing her hair when the shower curtain came rushing in at her face, as if it had been violently punched. She jumped, scared, and flung aside the curtain.

The bathroom was empty.

She turned off the water, grabbed her towel and ran upstairs. When she found my dad on the couch, she yelled at him, “Why did you DO that?” and he looked from the TV to her. “DO what?” He wasn’t winded like someone who had just dashed up the stairs would have been. He’d obviously been sitting there for awhile. And all the kids were already in bed. There was no one else in the house. No one but The Menace.

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Filed under For my short story collection, My Dearly Beloveds

‘Tis the season to be scary

The spiced cider is burbling away in the kitchen, candles are flickering, and there’s a strong wind rattling the windows. Have a seat in my little cabin and let me tell you a story, a mild tale intended more for wonder than fright.

Years ago, I worked with a delightful woman. Her name was Karen (I say “was” because she is no longer with us, though maybe she is with us right now, listening to this tale) She was awesome. And crazy. And hilarious. We worked late together, alone in our office, long past the time when streetlights came on. We would sit at our desks, cackling and carrying on, sometimes to the point that people from other departments had to walk over and tell us to shush.

Karen was one of those good souls, the type of person everybody should be blessed with as a friend. She would call me when I was home sick to give me the day’s work-related news; she always remembered my birthday; she did recon on one of my ex-boyfriends and we said horrid things about him and his post-me lifestyle; she gave me her unwise shoe purchases (she couldn’t wear heels above 2 inches but bought them anyhow. Then she’d try to wear them but would fail and end up giving them to me because they were “just too cute to go to waste”) When I was looking for a new place to live, she just happened to be looking for a tenant for her parents’ house, a place that had been rented-out since her parents had died years before.

It was a wonderful house – split level on a corner with a landscaped yard. My friend and I, we moved in right away and later, Noelle and Little B joined us later. I loved living there, some of my favorite memories come from our time in that little home we’d made for ourselves. Except for the downstairs bathroom. I didn’t love it so much. It was an eyesore – small and rectangular, covered in a ghastly wallpaper that made a person dizzy. It wasn’t much different from this, actually, just smaller print in a much smaller space:

The color scheme was the same – red on cream – and the busy-ness was there. Our wallpaper, though, was made of a bunch of small, red diamonds that were actually made of four dots. It really did make a person dizzy to be locked in such a tiny room with such dotty/diamondy wallpaper.

So one day, I asked Karen if I could re-do the bathroom. She told me to have at it and I did. Only, here’s the thing: The wallpaper, the monstrous, eye-hurting wallpaper, had been glued directly to the drywall. That meant that even with steaming, removing the wallpaper brought giant chunks of plasterboard with it. It was horrible. I had friends come over and help and every single one left crying. My roomie and I spent two weeks denuding the walls and every single day, I cursed the moron who stuck wallpaper glue directly to drywall and didn’t think of future house-dwellers who might need to remove said wallpaper.

Around that same time, Karen started looking worn down. She said she wasn’t sleeping well at night. She felt jittery all day. One evening, quite a way into my renovation project, she said, “I’ve been having terrible dreams.” She looked awful, bags under the eyes, bruisey skin.

I asked, “Dreams about what?”

She said, “About my mother. In my dreams, my mother is terribly upset because she’s misplaced her purse and I’m trying to help her find it but I don’t know where it is and she’s so angry.”

She mentioned a similar dream a couple of days later. A little bell chimed in the back of my brain. I said, “Hey, Karen, the bathroom downstairs, who put up the wallpaper?”

She said, “My mom. She’d been so proud of it. She hung it all by herself, decorated that room all by herself.” I nodded, put my head down, and got back to work.

The minute I got home that night, I ran downstairs, stood in the bathroom with its pockmarked, crumbling walls from whence wallpaper had been ripped violently away, and yelled,

I AM SORRY! I DIDN’T KNOW! I AM SURE IT WAS BEAUTIFUL AT THE TIME. I NOW UNDERSTAND THAT YOU LOVED THIS ROOM BECAUSE YOU MADE IT YOURSELF! I DIDN’T KNOW AND I SHOULD HAVE ASKED BEFORE CHANGING IT. PLEASE LEAVE YOUR DAUGHTER ALONE! I AM SO SORRY FOR EVERYTHING I SAID!

Then I sat down and explained my vision – grayblue wainscotting with sky blue wall and ceiling, clouds dotted up top. I’d paint a tranquil sea along the trim and my roommate would decorate the room with seashells and lighthouses. I mentioned that it would be a peaceful place in an otherwise dark corner of the basement, just as she’d originally intended. Then I got to work. The rest of the wallpaper came off like I was peeling skin from a sunburn.

I was sitting at my desk the next day when Karen walked in. She looked great! No more dark circles or saggy skin. I asked how she’d slept and she said, “I haven’t slept that well in I don’t know how long.”

“So, no dreams about your mother?”

She thought about it and said, “No. She’s fine now.”

I apologized to Karen for causing her such trouble and when she asked what I was talking about, I told her, “Your mother knows.”

For Karen: I hope the afterlife is everything you wished it to be. I miss laughing with you.

And for Dana since you got to share this adventure with me. We had some good times there, didn’t we?

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Filed under Adventures, For my short story collection, In my backyard, My journey to writerhood

Patience: Helping me win bets with my husband since…all the time

This post is brought to you by the number 1 and the letters IN YOUR FACE!

You probably know Gabe and I are evil, it’s not like that’s a secret. So once upon a time, we had these wonderful neighbors whom we loved, but bad things happened and they had to move away. We worried about our potential new neighbors because earlier that year, the nice people on the other side of us bought a house and left and these punk kids who make me want to slice their tires moved in. We needed a way to keep that from happening on this side, too.

Our house is a little weird with a north face made of cedar siding and the rest of the house covered in normal siding. We stained the cedar a pleasant barn red. Everyone loved it. Then we painted the rest of the siding alarming yellow, like sunflower petals that have been enhanced instead of toned-down. This isn’t really a strange color scheme…in the Mediterranean or Mexico or other such festive places. We added royal blue trim, as well, and suddenly, we lived in a Crayola meltdown. The plan was that no one would want to live next door to such a color explosion and we would have the time to save our money and buy the damn house ourselves.
Only that didn’t happen and as the years wore on and the housing market continued to languish, we worried that maybe we’d acted a little rashly, that maybe the only kind of neighbors we would get, now that our house looked like something from the circus, would be drug dealers who dropped acid and would then stare at our house for hours. That would be creepy.
We couldn’t afford to repaint the house after we’d just painted it but we didn’t want to, either, because something unexpected had happened: We fell in love with our crazy house colors. It was all ridiculously bright but it matched everything around us – the aspens in the fall, the brilliant summer skies, the rose hips and crabapples, the rocks on the mountain after a rainstorm. Ours was the brightest house on the block, a block that had an abundance of stone-colored or white or olive green houses which is silly because we live in the mountains. We’re supposed to be zany. It’s a law, or something.
We did wind up with good neighbors totally by accident and I’m not sure what we’ll do if they ever move. Probably paint black stripes into the yellow to make it look like a big square bumblebee or something.
But that’s not the end of this story. This story ends in my triumph over Gabe which is one of my most favorite things in the world. Obviously. See, after we’d painted, our house numbers looked stupid on the freshly-colored cedar. They were plain dark metal numbers and it was hard to see them and they just didn’t match so we went looking for replacements. We found some tile numbers we agreed on but by the time we got around to buying them, they were long gone. That’s what started the Great War of House Numbers. Back and forth we went, one of us finding one thing and liking it and the other saying, “OH HELL NO!” It got ridiculous. But you have to have house  numbers so fireman can rescue you. Otherwise, they don’t know where to go. Apparently not even in our tiny town.

At one point, Gabe fought me with paper and tape. We had these leftover Vote NO on Anti-Library Measures yard signs from a past election and Gabe took one of them, turned the plastic sign inside out, and taped a piece of paper with our house numbers over that then put it all back on the metal frame. He stuck that into the ground in the front yard. When I saw it, I said, “What happens when it rains or snows?” He answered my question by taping over the paper with packing tape and then framing all of that with blue duct tape. And that’s how we became the ghettoest house on the block. Well, not really because the blue of the duct tape totally matched the blue of our trim.
Weather was on my side and eventually blew the sign away but I didn’t have a comeback plan. The war was back on, the arguments over numbers picking up until the day I found Carly Quinn Designs on Etsy. It was like angels had invaded my computer and sent me a divine message of perfection because these house numbers were exactly what we needed.
I told Gabe I’d found our numbers and I’d buy them when I could and he’d just have to suck it up. He told me I was mistaken and that he was going to learn the art of making mosaics and he would create a number plate. He checked out a jillion books on how become a mosiacitian, he collected his art supplies, and I had visions of a horrible blob of dripping cement and broken plates hanging on the front of our house like an inbred gargoyle. I started saving my money even faster only that wasn’t happening because there was no money to save. That worked to my benefit as well as my detriment, though, because Gabe realized that if you’re not already set up to make mosaics, it’s got a fairly steep start-up cost (for poor people, at least). So there we were in a battle for the Ultimate Numbers but hindered by impoverishment, each fearing the other would get their creation up first. Finally, I came up with a compromise.  Gabe had six months to create his monstrosity/piece of number art and if he didn’t have it done by the time I turned in the tax stuff in February, 2013, then I got to buy the tiles I wanted with the tax refund. We shook on it and a deal was struck.
One good thing about some bipolar people is that they are easily distracted and they forget what they were saving for and they spend their money on video games, instead. I am not one of those people and I have patience and perseverance and it just so happened that February, 2013, showed up and I turned in the tax stuff and was promised a refund and I had the beautiful opportunity to look at Gabe and yell, “IN YOUR FACE, SUCKA! I GET THE HOUSE TILES! I WIN!”
Unfortunately, he’d forgotten all about our deal and didn’t care anymore. To make matters worse, when I showed him the tiles online he said, “Oh. Those are actually really cool. They’ll look nice on our house.”
So the good news was that I won this war and I got to buy the coveted number tiles. The bad news was that it was sort of a hollow victory because I didn’t know my opponent had left the battlefield and I’d been laying siege to pretty much nothing. The worse news was that the refund was yoinked right out from under my greedy little hands and I had to file a claim to get it all back so I didn’t actually receive the money until sometime in April. When it finally arrived, I deposited the check and the very next day, I ordered the numbers I’d been salivating over for months.
Poor Carly Quinn. She had to deal with me and my enthusiasm. I read the part on her website that said she custom makes everything to order but I figured with house numbers, she’d probably just made a bunch of tiles in advance and had them stacked in little bins in her workshop because, really, who wouldn’t do that? Carly Quinn wouldn’t do that. She sent me a message confirming my order and mentioned that it would take her two weeks to make the tiles. I wrote back and told her I was sure she had some numbers lying around that she could send me because I really really REALLY wanted them now that I finally had the chance to own them. She told me I’m funny and said that she’d see what she could do because she understands the pain of waiting for something you want so badly.
Even knowing that it would take two weeks to fill the order and another week for them to get to me, I started checking the mailbox every single day, hoping that maybe she really did just have some spares she would send and they’d get to me right away.
On the 21st, I got an e-mail from Carly Quinn Designs. It was a shipping confirmation. She made the tiles in a week and they were on their way and I peed my pants in excitement! It was ridiculous.
Then I had to check the mailbox twice a day because I didn’t want to miss anything. Finally, Friday rolled around and I figured they had to be here because it can’t take more than a week for something in Arizona to make it up to me; it’s not like these were coming from Maine or anything! But there was nothing there. I was heartbroken;  I probably wouldn’t get them until the following week and there would be no time to hang them for two weeks because of my crazy schedule. Oh, I was sad. The next morning, I had to go to the post office so I figured I’d check the mailbox one more time and there was a lonely little yellow slip waiting in my mailbox, letting me know that I had a parcel. OMG!
I ran to the front office and there were 10 billion people waiting in line. They were doing passport stuff. Of course they were because Saturday morning when my long-anticipated tiles are in is the perfect time to apply for passports for your entire family, you jackass traveling people. I thought about hopping the counter and just going back there myself, but I don’t really know how things are laid out in the postal nether regions and they’d throw me out before I found what I sought.
After hours and hours and HOURS (or ten minutes) of waiting for the people to finish up, I handed my card across the counter, the post mistress took it and vanished. She returned with a nice-sized box and I danced around and thanked her and told her I’d been waiting for so long and I ran out of there, pushing people aside, knocking down children and kicking dogs in my haste (not really). The box was from Carly Quinn Designs and I could not get it home fast enough. I unpacked it on my back porch.

Ok, so, despite the picture on Etsy, I just assumed I would get 5 loose tiles and a frame. I figured I’d slide the tiles into the frame and then mount it to the wall. I mean, that’s what I’ve seen everywhere else; the tiles we had originally considered were like that.
I was wrong.
Carly Quinn (I like her whole name so she has to be Carly Quinn all the time) makes the tiles and the frame and she grouts the tiles together and puts them in the frame and seals the frame and welds hangy-hole thingies to the back. And look at the hangy-hole thingies on mine – they’re beautiful! They’re not the ones from Etsy, which were just little rings with pointy hats. No. These are lovely. I passed out and died because – wow. It was amazing. It was 100% more awesome than I’d expected and I was already expecting a lot!

But there was one problem. This thing was around 5 pounds and I wasn’t sure how I was going to hang it because I didn’t have any screws big enough. Would I need an anchor? Should I glue it to the wall? And crap, if I used decking screws, cuz they’re tough, I’d  have to use a bunch of washers and I ran the risk of hitting the electrical stuff behind the wall and zapping myself to death. So I did what one does in these situations: I freaked out and called Chris.
He came over, saw the number sign, was super impressed, which is saying a lot because he’s a perfectionist/machinist and most hand-crafted things piss him off because they’re so full of flaws, and he ran off to fetch some lug screws. He had the sign up in a matter of minutes and I could hear the angels in the heavens singing gloriously because these numbers are exactly perfect for our house.
So, to sum up: I win X 100. Yay me! Thank you so much, Carly Quinn. You make magnificent things. I can’t wait to start collecting your Day of the Dead tiles. Also, thank YOU, stupid husband, for being poor and forgetting we had a bet so I could win and buy our gorgeous house numbers!

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Filed under Adventures, For my short story collection, In my backyard, My Dearly Beloveds, My journey to writerhood

My fancy French perfume smells like bugs. Apparently.

Once upon a time in the mid-90’s, my longest running friend (she hasn’t been running a long time; I’ve known her since I was in 5th grade. Her name is April) and I lived in South Korea for a year as English teachers. We had many fantastic adventures there and I loved it but that’s not what I’m writing about today. It’s just that this story starts in Seoul and ends in a machine shop in the Rockies so here we go:

I wish I’d have written down what these stories were. Just because I’m me, I’m thinking the woman in the blue and yellow hanbok is doing something with kimchee and the the woman in gray with the brown tunic is a thunderstorm. But that’s probably 100% inaccurate.

This one time in South Korea, my friends and I went to dinner-and-a-show at the Buddhist temple restaurant in the art district of Seoul. It’s a neat place to eat – it’s vegan and they serve little pieces of plants you’d never think to stick in your mouth had they not been presented as food. There’s a phenomenal show complete with drum solos and dances and you sit on the floor, knees tucked under a short table. So my friends and I were sitting at our little table and I smelled something gorgeous that wasn’t food. I asked my friends if they smelled it, too. We pinpointed the scent:  It was coming from the table next to us. I tapped the woman over there on the shoulder – she was white so I felt safe using English instead of Pantomime – and asked, “Excuse me, but what perfume are you wearing? It smells amazing.” She looked at her husband and he leaned in and said something. She nodded, then looked back at us and said, “Hahn zhelle” So…ok, not all white people in Seoul speak English, apparently. I know, weird, right? But, come on, who else but English people would be in Seoul? As it turns out, lots of different people. This particular couple was French. And you’d think that would have been easy for me; my grandmother is French. I took six years of the language between high school and college. April, also fluent in the language, having even been able to tell the police, once, that a goat had fallen out of a tree and onto her car…in French, was sitting right next to me and we could NOT figure out what this perfumed woman was saying. We kept prompting her until her husband got in on the action. They kept saying, “HAHN ZHELLE! HAAAHNN ZHHHEEELLLE. Eez dee airy mooglay. Eez heez HAHN ZHELLE!” and I was all, “I don’t even know what a ‘hairy mooglay’ is.” Finally the French man said, “Eye theenk een yohr lahngooahje, yoo say ‘AYnjelle’,” making the word sound hideous. The third friend, she hadn’t spoken French in about 20 years, yelled out, like it was a game show, “OH! ANGEL! Right? You’re saying angel?” The man nodded, relieved that we’d finally broken through our stupid American language barrier. His wife had long since turned away, fed up. She did shoot us a look and I think she rolled her eyes at us, but it was in a French way so I can’t be sure because I obviously do not understand that language. Regardless, I caught hints of her perfume wafting by throughout the evening and was determined to buy some for myself because, honestly? The scent truly was heavenly.

When I got my next paycheck, April and I went to hunt for Angel by Thierry Mugler. I’d never heard of the guy but we figured he was some couture dude so started at the upscale perfume stores. We drew pictures and pantomimed and some of the stores had heard of the scent but none of them had it. We were going to give up when we found this tiny perfume shop on our way home and decided to stop and ask  because it’s always good to be turned down one more time. And we were turned down, only not because they didn’t carry it. They did, but they only carried a couple of bottles because it was very expensive and they’d sold their last bottle just that week. However, she said, they would get more in and we should check back.
We checked for months. We always missed it except for the one time I stopped in on a whim and there it was, a small blue star bottle. It was beautiful. The only problem was that I didn’t have any money on me; I hadn’t planned to do any shopping that day and it was only coincidence I’d been in the area. By the time I returned several days later, it was gone. Angel was the most elusive perfume in Seoul.

Our time in South Korea came to an end. We were sad to leave and scared to return to America so we decided the best thing to do would be to acclimate to the White Man Ways by going to Australia first. I was excited to hit all the duty free shops in the airports along the way because they would have to have Angel. Only, they didn’t. I knew it existed, I’d seen it with my very own eyes. But I couldn’t find it anywhere. By the time we got to Australia, all the airport shops were closed. I don’t remember the order of events, but at some point, we wound up at the train station in Sydney and there was one little shop open down at the end of a dark hall. It was a perfume shop. I walked in and asked if they had Angel and the women turned around and took a box from the shelf then handed it over. It was light blue and the silver scrawl across the front said, “Thierry Mugler Angel” I FOUND IT! It was over $80 in American money and I had allotted myself only so much spending per day which I had to make  last for the full 17 days we’d be in the country. There was a chance we’d be back to the train station before we left but I’d learned a valuable lesson: if you turn your back on this stuff, you may never find it again.

I don't have any pictures of the shop in the train station because I was using a film camera and it seemed like a waste of a shot to to take a picture of a dark little perfume store in the basement under the trains. So, instead, I'm just going to share some pictures from my trip to Australia to prove that I was there and also to make you jealous of my jet-setting ways. (Please be jealous now)

I don’t have any pictures of the shop in the train station because I was using a film camera and it seemed like a waste of a shot to to take a picture of a dark little perfume store in the basement under the trains. So, instead, I’m just going to share some pictures from my trip to Australia to prove that I was there and also to make you jealous of my jet-setting ways. (Please be jealous now)

This little wallaby totally let me abuse it and it didn't even bite or kick me! I pet it and kissed it and loved it and held it and took it home and called it "George" only not really because it got bored with me and hopped away. But it was a super cute hop and I was really excited about the whole thing.

This little wallaby totally let me abuse it and it didn’t even bite or kick me! I pet it and kissed it and loved it and held it and took it home and called it “George” only not really because it got bored with me and hopped away. But it was a super cute hop and I was really excited about the whole thing.

This is the big, ol famous bridge out in Sydney Harbor which is what leads me to believe it's called Sydney Harbor Bridge, but I could be very wrong on this point. I'm going to hope that my new friend in Australia who found me via Goodreads will come back and correct me if I'm wrong because I'm waaay too lazy to Google it.

This is the big, ol famous bridge out in Sydney Harbor which is what leads me to believe it’s called Sydney Harbor Bridge, but I could be very wrong on this point. I’m going to hope that one of my friends in Australia will correct my mistake because I’m waaay too lazy to Google it.

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Here is my bottle of Angel. And I also kept the little card and information packet that came in the little envelope. I had the box until a few years ago. So I’m a pack-rat…but I’m a fancy, elegant pack-rat. Obviously.

I bought it. I was elated. I kept it safe the entire trip and brought it home with me and it became my Fancy French Perfume because, up until that point, my fanciest scent was Calvin Klein’s Eternity. I still have my Angel. Parfumiers say that perfume can last for up to 5 years if you keep it in a cool, dark place. I’ve had perfume go bad on me before but Angel is not one of those. Now it’s less sweet, there’s less of a light powder scent; it’s muskier and woodsier but it still smells divine. I started wearing it again recently because it’s a wonderful scent for the end of winter; it’s rich and deep and smells good seeping out from under a heavy sweater like the earth smells good seeping up from the thawing ground.

I still had some clinging to me when I went to work at Chris’ machine shop on Friday. I walked in, sat down and got started. He came over to tell me something, stood for a moment, then said, “You smell like bugs.”

I asked, “Bugs? What do bugs smell like?”

He said, “Buggy.”

I asked, “Is it a sour smell?”

He said, “No. And don’t worry, you don’t smell like crickets. They smell horrible.”

I said, “Well, I know what grasshoppers smell like. Do I smell like that?”

He said, “No, you smell like pine seed bugs.”

I said, “What the hell are pine seed bugs?”

He said, “You’d recognize them if you saw them. They look like Maxwell bugs, only brown.”

I had to google Pine Seed Bug. Yup. They’re box elder bugs that are brown. I asked, “What do they smell like?”

He said, “Not good. They smell like you smell. I think it’s your perfume.”

I said, “How do you know I’m wearing perfume?”

He said, “Because you smell like bugs.”

So maybe I was wrong about my 15-year-old perfume not being rotten. Apparently, it smells like bugs.

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Here are some extra bonus pictures of Australia. These pictures are currently in my photo album and I just took pictures of the pictures, thus the glare, because Gabe is too lazy to scan all my pictures for me. He’s so mean.
Anyhow, this was taken in the rocky-formationy area that is NOT Uluru but is somewhere else in Kata Tjuta National Park.

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Also taken through photo album plastic. Nice, right? This is also in the Ayer’s Rock general area. It’s a shame I never became a travel photographer…based solely on how much I like this one picture.

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Filed under Adventures, For my short story collection, In my backyard, My Dearly Beloveds, My journey to writerhood, Out & about or abroad

Toothpicks and Scabs: A Very Gross Story

When I was tagged for a Leibster Award, I had to answer a question about the grossest thing I do. Gabe and I strained our brains but couldn’t come up with anything that was truly awful. Slightly icky, maybe, but not downright EEYYEEEWMonths later, Noelle inadvertently helped me with that. She’d come over for some occasion and she was super early so I put her to work vacuuming. Noelle was serious about the job; she had the cushions off the couch and everything. While she worked, she kept making this weird noise. Finally she flat-out asked, “Why are there so many toothpicks in your living room?”
Oh. There is my grossest thing ever.
Ok, so, it’s like this – remember how one of our goals this year was to stop eating in front of the tv and eat at the table like civilized humans, instead? Before that happened, we ate on the couch. Like heathens. And I was laaaazy. See, I have these jacked-up teeth that poke out in all directions and I get food stuck in them all the time. Well, I’d be sitting on the couch watching tv and I’d need a toothpick to get the dinner out of my fangs. I’d go get one and then have to remember to get up and throw it away and it just got to the point where it was easier not to throw it away because I was very busy watching tv. My solution was to cram the toothpick – used and full of giant pieces of tooth food – into the cushions, usually under a pillow along the edging of a seat cushion. The great thing about this was the next time I needed a toothpick, I just dug around a bit in the cushion next to me and I’d come up with 3 and didn’t have to get up to get a new one. Awesome, right? Gabe thought this practice was vile and yet he did nothing about it because we were too busy watching the tv for anyone to care that I was digging 4-time used toothpicks from the couch to stick in my mouth. NICE!
Oh, wait, it gets better. So the cats think toothpicks are mortal enemies and they’d fish them out at night and kill them, leaving their broken corpses in hiding spaces because that is what you do with dead bodies. The cats chewed on the toothpicks that had been used to excavate morsels from my mouth on numerous occasions and that’s how you know that we are a classy family.
I told Noelle all of this while she was holding out this small, beaten-up bouquet of toothpicks. She passed out and died right there. No, actually, she shrieked, “WHY? WHY??? THAT’S SO GROSS!” Little B was there, too, and was equally horrified though not as shrieky about it but perhaps also a little less forgiving.  I will never live this down. Ever. To be fair, though, I probably don’t deserve to. I mean, that is really gross.

As you may or may not know, Noelle and I recently had a Remembering Party; she came over to drink wine and discuss our white trash childhood. One topic was the gross things we have done. The toothpicks were first on the list, of course, and I was happy to tell her that the toothpick regime had ceased because we don’t eat on the couch anymore. We eat at the table and the toothpicks are right there and the trashcan is right there and I’ve become quite civilized. She was relieved and then it was her turn to share her grossest (former) habit.

When we were around 3, 4, and 8, Mom would put Noelle, Chris and me in the bathtub all together. I don’t think it was for water conservation so much as getting three of the four kids out of her hair for an hour. Anyway, you know what dirty little kids look like in the summer and how they’re covered in scabs. Well, Noelle loved those scabs. She’d sit patiently in the warm bath water, waiting for the edges of her scabs to turn that white color because they’ve detached from the skin. Then she’d slowly, patiently peel them off even if it made her bleed a bit. This only works with scabs that are a week, or so, old by the way. Anyhow, she’d remove a little dried-blood treasure and would pop it into her mouth, chewing on it like gum only with her front teeth. Gnaw, gnaw, gnaw.

This is Noelle, around 3 years old, the scab-eating age. She is holding Fluffy and a little basket because I posed her like that. In front of curtains. I obviously paid too much attention to those Nolan Mills people who took my school picture every year.

This is Noelle, around 3 years old, the scab-eating age. She is holding Fluffy and a little basket because I posed her like that. In front of curtains. I obviously paid too much attention to those Nolan Mills people who took my school picture every year.

Chris and I were usually too busy being horrible to each other to really notice Noelle’s proclivity, though we knew she was doing it. We just had bigger things to worry about…like drowning each other or making each other eat soap or getting bubbles up each others  noses. You know, important stuff.

This is Chris. He's probably 4 in this picture. He's 13 months older than Noelle. Note how I also posed him in front of the curtains. Mom gave me a Kodak Instamatic and this is how I wasted my film.

This is Chris. He’s probably 4 in this picture. He’s 13 months older than Noelle. Note how I also posed him in front of the curtains. Mom gave me a Kodak Instamatic and this is how I wasted my film.

Here’s a fun aside: Once bathtime was over, as announced by a yelling mom from the other side of the bathroom door — and really? What moron parent lets three little kids play unsupervised in the tub? (I asked Mom that very question on Easter. Apparently, she always left the door open but we got out of the tub to shut and lock it; at first she’d pick the lock but she eventually just gave up and let us gamble with our lives because she had a baby to care for or some such nonsense) Actually, you know what? I don’t think our mom understood Childhood Physics. There’s some law that states that even if there are only 3 inches of water in the bottom of the bathtub, it’s going to wind up on the floor. All of it. It seems like it would have been a lot more work to clean up all that water every few days than to watch the little ones bathe for half an hour. But who knows. I’m not a parent so I don’t have to deal with these crazy decisions. — Anyway, once the bath was done, we’d drain the tub and soap up our backsides. I don’t mean just our butts, I mean our entire backsides, from shoulder blade to kneepit. Then we’d lay ourselves down, one at a time, against the sloping back of the tub and let our feet go and we’d zip down the length of the tub all the way to the faucet. I know we banged ourselves up during this activity; I remember hitting my tailbone a few times on the way down the backrest and I know Chris and Noelle both whacked into the faucet with their heads. We must have been freakishly small kids, short and skinny, if the tub held all three of us and allowed us that much length to get up a good speed from back to front without bowling into each other. And how we survived without blood is beyond me, though a little blood on Noelle would have made her happy because it would have promised a future scab.
Oh, right. The scabs. So when she was done chewing her scab, she’d put it in the corner of the tub where the two walls meet. After a while, there’d be a pile of chewed-on scabs turning all tub-slimy. They’d be a weird gray color and once they were noticeable enough, she hid them behind the bottle of Suave strawberry shampoo (oh, geez, do you remember that stuff? It smelled like unicorn dreams. It doesn’t smell like that anymore but back then? It could have been the blood of Strawberry Shortcake (the doll, not the dessert)) and I think this goes to show that our mother was not the most diligent when it came to housekeeping. Or she was afraid of cleaning the bathroom because who wants to run into a mound of chewed-on tub-slimed scabs?
I can only assume Noelle learned her trick from the neighborhood squirrels because this stash became her winter cache. There was a definite dearth of scabbiness in the months of November through March but that was no problem for my little sister! She could just rummage through her crusty pyramid, pull out one that looked chewy yet crispy, and pop it right into her mouth; she would chew happily all winter long while Chris and I sank boats and made washcloth monsters and tried to kill each other.

It’s a shame she didn’t use those same skills in a fiscal manner because that girl would have been rich by now. Come to think of it, if I’d have been stashing dollar bills like toothpicks, we’d be able to afford the internet in our house.
Dammit, Noelle! We did it all wrong!

Post Script: Dear Noelle, Happy Birthday today! I’m sending you a box of used toothpicks and I’ve asked all the children in the neighborhood to donate their old scabs. I’ve wrapped each one like a stick of gum and put them in a pack. I think you’ll like this gift. Don’t worry, it will come with wine. Lots and lots of wine. Because I love you.

Yes, Noelle, I used a picture of a cake YOU made for Little B as your Happy Birthday image. Because I'm lazy. But I still love you. Lazily.

Yes, Noelle, I used a picture of a cake YOU made for Little B as your Happy Birthday image. Because I’m lazy. But I still love you. Lazily.

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Filed under For my short story collection, My Dearly Beloveds, My journey to writerhood, White trash childhood