Writers Need Friends

Being an artist is hard. I don’t have to tell you that. There is so much rejection and so many unexpected tiny cuts to your confidence and determination. It seems like successes are so rare and fleeting.

Yet, when you gather a group of other artists around you — and it doesn’t even have to be in your own art — you have strength in numbers. Screenwriters, poets, musicians, visual artists and audio artists are all fighting the good fight. When they are your friends though… you can rejoice in the battles they win as well. There have been so many days when I have tried to convince myself that the work is pointless. Then I stumble on new work by friends, an essay that guts me, a song that takes my breath away, a cartoon that I can’t stop turning over in my mind and I’m inspired again. You all know who you are. I can barely articulate how grateful I am that your work keeps me going.

I am even more grateful when a friend in another genre collaborates with my work and the resulting collision takes me somewhere new and at a breathless pace. Friendship should be a journey, but I love it best when its an adventure.

So I’m not ashamed to say that I wept when I listened to the surprise recording Xe Sands sent me last night. She is like listening to my subconscious only without the filters. When Xe reads my writing, I find myself holding my breath, hearing not just what I wrote, but what I meant and didn’t quite admit to myself.

I thought it would be so much easier to write once I got home and when it wasn’t I thought it would be easier when I settled and when it wasn’t then maybe when I had some work and didn’t have to worry as much about money and when it still wasn’t easier I had to admit that it just doesn’t get any easier.

I’m barely writing, but Xe reminded me that every little bit counts if you make it count. Listen to her read, I think you’ll understand what I’m saying. I’m suddenly not just grateful to be home, but for all of you.

In Defense of Home

Banning, CA

I love this place and you don’t understand why.

I live in a pass and that is what you do, pass by, maybe think briefly that you are glad that this isn’t your home. Maybe you are on your way to Hollywood where you are building your own dreams. Or perhaps on your way back from Vegas where you broke them. Still you pass by grateful not to stop and maybe you do stop at McDonalds or Carl’s Jr. and you eat your hamburger, looking around in a hurry to leave. It could be worse; you could live in this place.

I probably saw you this Memorial Day weekend. You saw me at the Chevron Station filling my little white Tacoma. I wasn’t wearing any makeup. You thought I was kind of pretty for someone who would live in a town like this. You briefly thought about talking to me, about luring me away, even though you knew you would leave me in the end. You looked away when I smiled at you.

Thing is, you don’t know what home means..

Home is not a lover. You think you are born there or perhaps that you choose. You can’t. You can’t choose her, she chooses you. She gets under your skin; you drink her, breath her out through you pores. You need more. At first though, you think you are doing her a favor.

It was an investment house. It was a first step. It was where the man I loved the most in the world helped me break his heart and then my own. Those first three years here were walk-away years. The kind of years you are relieved to have survived. I left. I did. I left, but I could never get away.

It could have been the red-tailed hawks or the redwood boards or the chaparral. It could have been the fires in October or the lightening-spidered sky in August. The final straw might have been the rare snow that dared to fall without me standing in the yard, palms up. I left for a better job, a bigger city, the house was just an investment, after all, but home was happening without me.

When your hands have cracked from kneading the clay into grass, when you have stayed up all night listening to the wind sing through boards in an eighty year-old melody, when you have stared into a sky that is a highway in wings, then you have to come back. You have bled and breathed and believed in a place. And for once it doesn’t matter if it believes in you.

I used to think that you owned home, that it was a thing you could claim.  Home doesn’t belong to you, though. It is you. I am the poison of the broken rattlesnake I found on my morning run, the audacity of the infant opossums slipping through the cracks in my pigeon loft, the lie of the heavy fog on a June morning, the gorgeous belligerence of the grosbeaks at my feeder. I am this place. This place is home. I love this place and you don’t have to understand why, unless, of course, you plan to love me.

Honey

McHennessey had lifted six year-old Lacey McKenna from beneath the palo verde himself, but even as he placed her in her mother’s arms he wasn’t sure he could explain what he had seen, so he didn’t try. He just said, “Safe and sound, Ma’am.”

She was inexplicably safe and sound after three nights up in the bluffs, including one rare Storm’s Pass snow night. There were bears, coyotes and maybe even a mountain lion. There had been that one mountain lion last Fourth of July, the cat that walked down Repplier St. like a housecat on an mundane mission, until it was redirected by a well-aimed lawn chair.  Those Jones kids had good arms.

The little girl had run away, at first in a tantrum, but stubborn as she was, in the end she had something to prove. So she had hefted her backpack with two snack bags of Cheese-Its and a bottle of water all the whole rising length of San Gorgonio Ave. Her mistake was to get off the road. She wasn’t long into the bluffs before she knew she was lost forever, or at least until Mac could find her.

The beekeeper had stood with him as the sun rose higher, pushing to ten o’clock. The bees were just warming, wings vibrating faster in the expanding light. Then they lifted one by one until it was too loud to hear the beekeeper exhale in awe. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said. “It must be every hive I have.”

The palo verde had been blanketed with thousands of bees. Mac had paused to try to understand the bee tree and had heard the girl stirring beneath. Mac had pulled her close to his chest expecting her to be chilled, but she was warm and so relieved that she kissed him. Her cheeks were sticky and when she began to cry for her mother, Mac tasted salt and honey where her lips had touched his.

“How?” her mother asked now, but still Mac just shook his head. He didn’t know how exactly and all he could wonder was who this little girl was going to be.

Writing Exercise following: Tuesday Trigger – Save By Animals

Find all the Tuesday Trigger writing prompts HERE.
More Storm’s Pass in writing exercise form HERE.

Unrequited

Mac lifted the letter and held it against the sun coming through the window. It had been written with a ball point pen that was reluctantly releasing the last of its blue ink, more scratches than marks. It was hard to make out every word, but the message was clear. She had left with the robber and she wasn’t coming back.

“I think we can stop looking for Ms. Anderson,” he said. The bank teller hadn’t been, or at least no longer was, a victim of kidnapping. He recognized the large loops of her handwriting from the notes they used to write each other in high school. He read it three times looking for any hint of duress. It had been seventeen years since they had dated, but she would have known what to say to him. She would have written, “I’m okay,” and he would have known that she wasn’t. She didn’t. She finished her letter with, “Nothing is okay and that’s exactly the way I want it.”

“Kara ran off with the Unrequited Bank Robber?” the chief asked and McHennesey shrugged. At five other banks the man had walked in and under the camera, his face in plain view. In fact, he had kept it toward the camera and turned away from the tellers, slipping on a Zorro mask just before he strode up to the window and handed them a note. None of the tellers could describe him without the mask. Every note said simply, “Come with me.” Every other bank teller had given him a bag of money instead.

In Storm’s Pass, the Unrequited Bank Robber hadn’t taken any money when he left the Wells Fargo. That was two days ago and in the last 48 hours packages had started arriving to police stations in cities of the robberies. Every dollar that had been taken was in those boxes along with an additional five percent that came with instructions, again in Kara’s handwriting, to be donated to the local police charity. This wasn’t going to get Unrequited off the FBI’s most wanted list, but they didn’t always get their man. Mac rifled through the camera stills of the robber, examining his sharply angled face and dark eyes that held an expression that was equally sad and hopeful. Mac was certain it didn’t matter if the FBI caught him or not.

 

Writing exercise prompted from the Build Your Own Bank Robber Tuesday’s Trigger
Find all the Tuesday Trigger writing prompts HERE.

More Storm’s Pass in writing exercise form HERE.

When He Grows Up

“You don’t look, Irish.” The man had a slight slur to his speech, the drawl of the bone-weary.

“Sit here with a glass in front of you long enough and I’ll start to look Irish,” Junior said, turning to size up the new customer at the bar. The pale skin beneath the man’s eyes was stained as dark as his unshaven jaw, but he had a generous smile. Whatever was ailing him, it hadn’t beat him yet.

Junior had been working at Paddy O’Reilly’s since he was a teenager, first in the kitchen and as soon as he was of age, behind the bar. He recognized thirst in all its varieties and he had a knack for easing its pangs.

“Guinness?,” he asked.

The man shook his head and looked past Junior at his own reflection in the bar mirror. He spoke to himself, “I hear you make a drink I would really enjoy. A Crossroads Cocktail?”

“You local?” Junior picked up a rag and dried a glass out of the sink.

“Nah,” the man said. “I have a cousin in Storm’s Pass.”

“And he said you would enjoy a Crossroads Cocktail?”

“I think the word he actually used was ‘need’,” the man said and looked away from his reflection to offer Junior a smile.

“Then you know what you’re in for,” Junior said and disappeared into the back to make his signature drink. He returned with a highball glass filled to the rim with a dark concoction and a single cube of ice. He placed a square paper coaster in front of the man and set it down.

The man sipped it and raised an eyebrow. “There molasses in this?”

“Sure,” Junior said, because this was all he ever said when customers quizzed him on the ingredients.

“I was told to drink this slow and I’ll find direction at the bottom of the glass.”

“You believe that?”

“I don’t believe anything,” the man said.

“So you believe everything,” Junior said.

“I believe I have choices. Take the money to the cops. Run with the money. Give the bad men their money. Do nothing at all. Doesn’t matter though, I’m dead.”

Junior nodded. “Drink it slow then,” he said. He knew all about tight places and impossible decisions. He had lost everything to them when he was barely old enough to walk.

Junior finished washing glasses while the man scrutinized his reflection taking slow sips. He was nearly finished with his drink when Junior turned his back to work his knife in a steady rhythm across a dozen limes. When Junior heard the bells on the door jig and chime, he turned to see the empty glass and grinned. The coaster with Officer Cormac McHennesey’s number scrawled on the backside was gone along with the man.

 

Find all the Tuesday Trigger writing prompts HERE.

More Storm’s Pass in writing exercise form HERE.

One of Those Days

Rusty Pumps by Bill Herndon

“Call me Mac,” he said, handing her a can of Coke Zero from the lobby vending machine but looking as though he didn’t really think she needed any caffeine.

She took it, popped the top and took half the can down in ragged swallows. Then she exhaled slowly, wiped her mouth with the back of the orange jumpsuit they had let her borrow and met his eyes. “I thought your name was Corgan.”

“Mac, to my friends,” the officer said and  smiled, but it looked hesitant. “So. The Chevron station.”

“Everyone keeps saying that,” she said.  It was as if that was the explanation for everything, for the explosion, the avalanche of oranges, the runaway horses, the stolen Uhaul and the ferocious May storm. “I just stopped to get gas,” she said.

“Are you sure you don’t remember anything about the person who stole your Uhaul?”

She shook her head and finished her Coke. He didn’t really think she saw anything. No one saw anything they believed seeing, yet alone remembered. After the propane tanks in the back of the Nissan truck exploded at the McDonalds, everyone was either looking at the wash of oranges cascading from the freeway and the jack-knifed truck above or the two perfectly white horses galloping down Main Street. She rubbed her arms where the oranges had hit her, blows that reminded her of pain inflicted rather than actually hurt. She knew pain, she had been running back to it, but when she unfolded her arms from her head and saw the galloping horses, she knew she had been running in the wrong direction. She didn’t even hear the Uhaul she had left the keys in driving away. It had left sometime between the horse race and the breaking storm, disappearing sometime after she closed her eyes and while the rain stung against her upturned face.

“Everything I owned was in that truck,” she said.

“We’ll find it, Miss,” Mac said but his expression said they wouldn’t. She didn’t want the truck found anyway.

“Can I keep this?” she asked, pulling at the front of the jumpsuit where it read “SP Corrections.” Something seemed right about these clothes and the idea of shedding them to start over in something new.

 

All of Storm’s Pass in writing exercises so far here.

Goldilocks Gets Naked

Writing exercise following this week’s Tuesday Trigger:

Road to Storm's Pass

“So the parrot let you in,” the detective said, but he didn’t write it down.

“No,” Jerry answered. “He just, you know, told me to come in.” They had let him get dressed but he felt even more naked than he had in the back of the squad car, wearing nothing but a hand towel in his lap.

“I suppose the parrot told you to open the bottle of champagne and cook yourself a steak too.”

“Well, he didn’t say anything about taking a shower. That’s all on me,” Jerry said, but the detective didn’t look amused.

The officer’s face was weathered with what must have been a daily dose of disbelief, but his eyes belonged to a younger man. His eyes at least looked capable of colluding with a grin. His name tag read McHennessy and Jerry had heard the receptionist call him “Corgan”. You could have a beer with a guy named, “Corgan McHennessy” but Jerry couldn’t think of way to a explain away his burglary even over a beer.

“My fiancée ditched me at the Chevron station while I was in the bathroom. She had my wallet.” Jerry said this as if that could explain why a respectable CPA would let himself into a stranger’s house in the little town of Storm’s Pass and make himself at home even after he realized it was the parrot who had said, “come in.” How could he explain that the conversation he had with the parrot over dinner was so much like the ones he used to have with his mother? His life had gone off kilter when he no longer had his mom to listen and nod and sigh and listen some more. The parrot had only said, “I know,” and “alright,” but sometimes that’s exactly what you need to hear. And when he stripped and stepped into that shower, he was washing away the dust and the grit from all the roads he shouldn’t have taken. Under the sting and steam of the water he had clarity.

He was turning down the partnership at the firm, he was breaking off his engagement and then he was going to drive through the desert on that Harley he planned to buy, but how could you explain this to a small town cop.

“Of course it was the Chevron station,” McHennessy said as if it all made perfect sense.