The Secret of the Coffin

For too many people, a coffin holds a secret.

The death of a loved one is born in many ways. Some exhibit tears. Some are silently stoic. Some jabber to hide the pain.

Cancer was killing Daddy. I knew cancer was killing Daddy. I knew cancer was killing Daddy and it wouldn’t be long coming.

I didn’t believe it. Not a word.

Momma told me about his decision to forego treatment because it would give him six, maybe, more months of living. Yes, the living would’ve been life, but what is life while a machine is pulsing radiation into your brain and while chemicals turn you into a withered shell of your former self, like when a spider liquefies its victim’s insides for its meal?

At the hospital, Daddy explained his reasoning. My tears told him I understood. And I cried no more.

Not even when the family watched him take his last breath.

The spider had sucked me dry of emotion and replaced it with The Secret of the Coffin. Then again, there’s another possible consideration.

When the funeral home personnel said we could come see him, we did.

Why I saw him in his coffin, its Secret liquefied my insides.

My Daddy was dead, dead, dead, dead, and nothing would change that.

The ocean of me flowed, salty and hateful and draining me of my last vestiges of denial.

MY DADDY WAS DEAD, DEAD, DEAD, DEAD, AND NOTHING WOULD CHANGE THAT.

That was/is the saddest day of my life. Many know what I mean.

When a boy has a great Daddy, one who shared those sacred boyhood passions, like fishing to name one, it means more than any fish.

I can still see him in my mind’s eye. I can smell the sweet and savory aroma of pipe tobacco. I can see the slight opening of his two top-center teeth, what I called in a short story I wrote about him, “his gap-toothed grin.” I can feel his arms around me when he understood the importance of telling his grown son he loved him. I can feel his confidence when he was my best man during my second marriage; one which is now in its twenty-fifth year.

No matter how much I know it’s wrong to allow it, regrets sometimes nibble around the edge of my heart, like ants on the core of an apple turning brown in the summer sun. As time passes, I can’t decide if those minuscule bites hurt more or less.

This year I aged a year past his age when he died. Another ant to nibble.

Despite how it might sound, the ants and spiders are losing.

Daddy died the year he was my best man. The last thing he told me about my marriage was to “just love one another.”

Simple words from a man who must’ve had hidden complications; I can’t help but feel he, like most parents, are panes of glass when we glance but mirrors when we look.

One ant leaves, another takes its place, but since I understand them, they leave more often than they arrive.

Just love one another.

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Something To Consider

In these days of importance concerning appearance, shouldn’t our inner appearance carry more appeal?

In short, to discover if true beauty lies within the heart and soul, we can spend a day acting like we have neither and see who we attract.

Memories: A Memorial Day Story

I close my fingers around his small, warm hand, and we move closer. When he was born screaming, and I along with him, I promised myself I’d bring him here one day.

That day has come.

I have tissues in my pocketbook. I’ll need them, though he won’t. He’s still too young to understand, but he knows things are not as they should be. From his first birthday, with a single candle on his cupcake that I blew out as his eyes questioned mine, I think he knew. Those deep blue eyes continued to ask, with stares at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and other holidays, when two-parent families arrived.

His grandparents are here too, and they run their fingers along the monument’s chiseled edge, speaking in low tones. She pulls her own Kleenex from a worn purse. He turns away. His head drops and his shoulders shake.

That day was horrible, like a nightmare but real. Dressed in black, I sat in front of his flag-draped casket. Hot tears streamed down my face as my heart pounded at the thought of living without him. Of my son living without a father. My heart threatened to burst from my chest and some selfish part of me wished it would.

But only for a moment because of what was left behind, as true a blessing as I’ve ever known.

Now we’re here. We hold hands and I have to explain, but I pause as he points at the leaves on the old oak.

“The wind is talking, Momma. Could that be him? You said he might tell me … tell me things if I listen?”

I nod and smile and squeeze his hand. “You never know, sweetheart, it could be.” He releases my hand and steps to the tree, touches the course gray bark with tentative fingertips and looks up again. He steps closer, wraps his arms as far around the tree as they will go, and closes his eyes.

“Momma showed me your picture, but I wish you were here.”

He walks back to me. “Can we talk to him now?”

I can’t answer. I hold the third tissue to my eyes. Should have brought the box.

“Give me a minute, sweetheart, okay?”

He takes my free hand, tugs it to his cheek. “Okay, Momma.”

God, how hard this is. How hard the first years were. I’m—we’re better, and I’m grateful, but what I wouldn’t give to not be doing this, not because of how it makes me feel, but because of the reason we must.

Before coming here, I’d promised my reflection in the bathroom mirror I wouldn’t cry. I swipe at my eyes, the tears just enough to keep my cheeks damp, and shove the tattered knot into my pocket.

“Okay, Momma’s ready.”

We step forward and I put down the quilt. Its threadbare patchwork is full of memories, one of which is the night my son was conceived. With him standing in front of me, I kneel and hold out my hand.

“Give me your hand.” He puts his hand in mine, and I place it on the first letter carved into the cool stone. “What’s this letter?”

Those eyes … they’re his dad’s. My cheeks grow damp again, nearly to sobbing, and I swallow. Fighting. Screaming inside to stay strong, but the tears sting as alcohol on an old and open wound, one exactly five-and-a-half-years-old.

“S, Momma, it’s an S.”

“That’s right.” I move his finger. “And this one?”

He traces the letter. “G?”

“Right again. One more.”

He touches this one on his own. “T, and that’s a period.” His faint, blonde eyebrows rise. “What does it mean?”

“Your daddy was a Marine, and that means he was a Sergeant.”

“Like my toy soldiers? I named one Sergeant Smith.”

Nothing like that at all, I don’t say. “You’re right.”

He drops his head. “My soldiers never get hurt … not really.”

“No, and I wish your daddy never got hurt either. He would be so proud of the big boy you’ve become and how you’re taking care of me.”

He leans against me and pulls my hands around him. Though he’s not a baby any more, his hair is baby-soft, and it smells of the shampoo I used last night during his bath, when he played and splashed and when we laughed. His ears are pink, chilly against my face from the morning November breeze.

We stay there silently, until he glances back at me.

“Can I tell him something?”

I nod, and his single fingertip touches the white marble where my head had lain, where my tears had fallen, and finally, where I had kissed goodbye.

“I love you, Daddy.”

 

Fingers crossed, toes too.

I’ve taken a break from writing to edit, write synopses, and write “blurbs” (that’s what you read on the back of a book that makes you like it or not) for all the novels other than what an agent requested in December.

I did all that for a portfolio of sorts I’ll put together for a March workshop when I meet her. I’m hoping they’ll all create further interest, which might land me an agent this year. Cross your fingers and toes so I can make this happen.

I’ll likely start on a new novel soon, one in which I’ve completed the first chapter in December, before things started getting exciting concerning that agent.

Quote for … life?

Leaves bear the seasons as we bear life. Yet they remain true to themselves, even sharing beauty as they pass into forever, imprinting their colors into our hearts and souls.

Let not foul words or deeds, especially words not meant to harm, alter your colors.

For when we blame something or someone for our lot in life, we make excuses. It’s how we react to outside forces that define us, not outside forces.

 

Novels and queries and synopses, oh my!

As anyone who aspires to publish their writing knows, not only is it hard work, it’s work that’s hard on you. I continue to dream the dream, working that forty-hour grind while trying to be grateful all the while for that forty-hour grind.

I am grateful, but I’m more grateful for being able to write. Penning a story, characters, places, conflicts, and resolutions is an enjoyable thing, likely within the top two personally enjoyable attempts at a creative pastime I’ve ever attempted. And having beta readers enjoy my work is great also. Recently, a woman said her sister came into her room and asked what was wrong, because the reader was cursing. Her answer? She was angry with one of my characters. When you can illicit emotion like that with mere words, what a thrill.

At the moment I’m working on a synopsis for my fifth novel, and it’s (they all are, right?) special. With great characters, a great hook, a great conflict, and a great (I’m a romantic at heart) love story, what’s not to love?

Fellow writers, you know how it is. We hope for that break, but it only comes with hard work, not only learning the craft of writing but learning the craft of storytelling so the reader stays engaged. My mantra is this: If I write something a reader skims, I’ve failed.

Here’s to us, the hard workers, the writers.

Best.

 

Why We Write

Recently, someone on a writing site I belong to posed this question: Why do you write? This is my answer:

I write (what I consider to be) literary mixed with genre (upmarket). The themes among them so far are perspective, perspective, and perspective. Why? Because too many people these days (myself included at times) lack it to the nth degree. I like to put the proverbial shoe on the other foot; I like to make people think; I like to hope my writing is eventually published, if for no other reason than to give both sides of my character’s–and their protagonist’s–stories.

In today’s volatile environment (yes, I left out the “P” word): wouldn’t it be great if those on the far sides of each argument remembered each other’s humanity rather than focusing on why they hate each other?

Hey, I can still wish.

It’s Not Often

In the canoe, in my heart, the dark of her curls blend with the gold of sunrise.

With water glassy we paddle, unison’s time, rhythm’s endearing.

Over her shoulder she smiles. Hope leaps. Love pains at future’s parting.

It’s not often colors blend such as these.

Mercurial silver of water. Hazel of eye. Red of lips.

It’s not often to welcome falling into depths like those below …

… when she must leave.

 

Neither Knew

Beside the river, they met within the shade of the old oak.

With huge limbs hanging low over the sloping bank, its trunk towered toward the sky, leaving small spaces that allowed sunlight to flicker and dance within the lush, cool grass against bare feet. They spread the hand-stitched quilt, shaking its blue, green, red, and yellow patchwork in the spring-scented afternoon air, sharing smiles.

With slow steps, they hesitated onto the inviting softness, where they sank, embracing.

He’d never known such as she.

She’d never known such as he.

Neither knew if he’d return from war.