My sincerest thanks for all the kind words and well wishes from my blogging friends. I needed to get my priorities sorted, particularly with respects to the relationships in my life. I started writing again, in earnest, and managed to salvage the most important relationship I have, other than the one with God. I’ve also started the novel Jeanne Dark, and so far, it’s going well. So, it was a productive respite. I also started a blog that’s not about the writing per se or the photography, but about me and the world. Sometimes you have to take some steps backward to get where you’re trying to go. Here’s to moving forward.
In hopes some of you still enjoy my stories, below is another excerpt from the novelette “Holy Mother of Selina Sky.” It’s my favorite story to date. It’s the bittersweet tale of a lonely man who becomes the caretaker of a special little girl when her mother abandons her.
On the Tuesday that life started, I made the first loop around the lake, past the ornamental grasses full of peppery pollen, around the bend to the wildflowers that drew fewer bees each summer, through the roller-coaster twists of an up-and-downhill S-curve, to a dense thicket of trees, over the wooden bridge that covered fetid water that smelled like poo, past the noisy hill where small children played in the neighboring development’s tot lot, and past the grass field where lived an enormous cloud of gnats whose sole function in life was to torment me. I once read that mosquitoes are attracted to Type O blood, my type. I suppose gnats must be too. Past the swarm was a 0.2-mile straightaway along which little old ladies flocked on wooden benches like winter seagulls on the frozen lake, and then to the final straightaway, a downhill obstacle course where I would dip and dodge trying to avoid the gross, green globs of goose guano that perpetually painted the pathway. This was the part I hated the most, even more than the rude children, the swarming bugs, or the fetid lake water. This was where the families were – moms and pops who’d bring their kids to feed stale popcorn or moldy bread to the fowl vermin, despite signs along every turn of the lake admonishing them not to.
In retrospect, I cannot tell you if I was ever aware that I didn’t actually like walking around the lake. Liking a thing wasn’t something that I ever thought about. It was preferable, I believed, to focus on what was required of me. I was like a sharpened pencil. No one ever asks the pencil if it wants to write; they merely sharpen it, wearing it down a bit more each time, and make it do what it should. The way I saw it, I was an excellent pencil.
At precisely 6:20 PM, as I was passing the “Heart Start” line that marked the beginning of the measured path, I was taken aback that the cloud of gnats, which should have been behind me, had relocated. I’d been delighted at their absence, hopefully believing the parks department had finally used pesticide to rid us of them. Their absence caused my endorphins to rise, and my pace quickened. I turned the final corner, my mouth open in full pant, right into the swarming insects, and swallowed two of the little horrors whole. I grasped my throat and began to cough, certain I could feel one of them still flapping along my esophagus, even though I knew that was an improbability. Knowing didn’t prevent my eyes from watering or throat from hurting.
“Godforsaken devils! Why did you move?” I choked out. They did not answer but continued their attack as I tried desperately to cough up my unwanted protein snack. I spun in a madman’s whirlwind, attempting to shoo the bugs without having to kill any of them. Though I sometimes hated Nature, I considered her to be a friend. One doesn’t kill one’s friends, even those who deserve it. Had the lake path been emptier, I might have run, but to be seen running in terror from a flock of nearly microscopic bugs was more than even my crippled pride could bear. Instead, I began waving frantically and clenched my eyelids shut lest one of the little buggers enter and stab my irises with their bristling insect hair. I took one blind step forward … and my hand met something wonderfully soft. It was downy, like a firm pillow covered in silk. Reflexively, a dim part of my brain encouraged me to squeeze. I did, and it was wondrous.
My reward was a slap, the likes of which I’d never felt, even from Poppa as a child. A sharp knife of pain bolted through my skull, my eyes gaped wide, and for a moment, I could see a dazzling light that I was certain was either a stroke or the gateway to Heaven. The writer’s voice in my head warned me to step away from the light, but it was too lovely. I stood, enraptured. As my vision cleared, there before me stood a dark-haired woman, scowling and holding her right breast, which I had been squeezing with a schoolboy’s enthusiasm. I stepped back in horror. She was around forty and was pushing a stroller in which sat an adorable little girl of perhaps three years old with dark, curly hair. The child was smiling at me with an expression so joyously familiar, it was as if she’d spotted her favorite uncle. I instinctively returned her smile, which made the child smile even more. Mine faded once I saw her mother’s face.
“You fudging pervert!” the woman yelled, her face bright with venom. “I oughta call the cops on your sick behind!” Those were not the precise words she used, but I write for mixed company, so you will have to excuse the euphemisms.
The little girl frowned and looked up at her mother, but said nothing.
“I am terribly sorry,” I said. “I-I didn’t see you there. It’s just the bugs … and I was swatting at them … and …”
“Then why did you fudging squeeze my teat instead of letting go?” Again, I am paraphrasing.
Her use of the f-word and the t-word in front of the child startled me into silence. It was just as well, I had no answer that would have improved the situation. In my writing, dialogue is not my forte. Neither is it in life. My response impaled itself in my brain. Since the woman didn’t move on, however, I eventually hung my head and added, “It was an accident.”
That was followed by the woman’s releasing a stream of invectives that made me blush and want to cover her daughter’s ears. I thought it best to remove the source of distress from the child. I assumed my sexual affront had frightened the woman, who must at that point have feared I’d drag her into the shrubs for a further attack. To assuage her, in a soft voice, I said, “If you wish to call the police, I will wait quietly until they come. I meant you no disrespect.”
The little girl looked from me to her mother and back again, her eyes sharp and inquisitive. She blinked a teary smile at me and then turned to the woman and began to cry, soundlessly. It made me feel worse, and I removed my cap, held it in my hands, and bowed my head.
Whether from my sincere contrition or the little girl’s tears I am uncertain, but the woman’s demeanor softened considerably. She began forward, pushing the stroller, barely grunting out, “Never mind. People make mistakes.” She was looking at her child as she spoke, rather than at me. Her expression was closer to distress than forgiveness. Perhaps too late she’d realized her language around her child was nearly as inappropriate as my accidental fondling. The mother began walking faster as others passed us, with most looking at me with unpleasant curiosity. The curly haired girl, however, was paying none of them any attention. Instead, she’d turned herself backward in her stroller and was beaming her perfect smile at me once again. Despite my utter shame, I felt compelled to smile back. No, compelled is the wrong word, as it implies I was forced. In fact, at that moment, the child’s smile was the most delightful thing in the universe, as if the only things that mattered were those perfect little teeth and the twinkling eyes. I gave a little wave as her mother sped up, attempting to put some distance between herself and the pudgy pervert who’d pawed her in public.