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 only 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, 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: 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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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.

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.

A few writing tips, thoughts, conjectures I have learned along the way.

You’ve no doubt heard variations, and some will be present, but if not, here you go.

A writer without imagination is like a musician without rhythm; it’s doubtful anyone will enjoy either.

MC needs to show someone a vital phone pic? Break the phone. Needs to get somewhere? Break his car. Don’t make goals easy.

Don’t tell your readers he smelled the coffee. Instead: With rich coffee aroma, steam rose in lazy swirls from the dark brew.

An important part of writing is in the details. Yes, your character may taste, touch, hear, see, and smell, but does the reader?

You know you’re writer if you love editing. Well, you might not be a sane writer. Polish that passion–make it pop.

Dialogue: Never boring. Constantly use tension, whether anger, humor, fear, or sexual. Unexpected is great too.

I love it when an unintended character pops into a scene, taking the plot in a different–better–direction than I’d intended.

Friends ask how I write. My answer? By knowing my character’s perspectives; their hearts, souls, & struggles.

Recently made three women cry. It’s okay…actually, it’s great. They were reading one of my short stories.

Let characters interrupt. Hey, did you see– Yeah, it’s– Don’t interrupt me when– When what? Arrgghhh! (You get the idea)

Clarity

I visited you today.

Wind moaned through the oaks while leaves blew through the markers. Clouds scuttled in the sky like oversized gray-toned crabs. The grass the men planted didn’t cover the red earth and I knelt to pick up a quartz stone at the foot of your plot.

No stone for you. Soon, I’m sure.

We grew up in the 60’s. Hide and seek and homemade ice cream. What a combination as families gathered to sit on the cinder-block wall that brought together my house and your grandparents’ house. We licked spoons. Vanilla. Banana. Strawberry. Chocolate. Laughed. Listened to stories with nostalgia’s comforting ring. Then we’d run away. Find somewhere to wait while the next kid searched.

Your life was like that. You couldn’t find yourself through the black curtain of addiction.

Sorry. I left out what came before that, which is more of what made us friends.

Hide and seek gave way to placing pennies on the railroad track to be picked up and admired after being squashed flat and shiny. The hikes through the woods led to fishing at the lake that led to bicycles downtown that led to dirt bikes on narrow paths.

Didn’t you break your collarbone that one time?

I do recall my bicycle spill at your house. Who’d have thought two boards placed on a red wagon on its side would spread when the front wheel hit them at speed? Or that a bike and a boy could flip so many times before landing? Or, for the most part, that dirt tastes like dirt? How nothing—except the bike—got broken I’ll never know. You took me in so your mom could check me out. If I didn’t thank you then …

We talked about all that. We tried to stay strong. Did you see?

As we neared our late teenage years I regret how we grew apart, though I doubt it would have made a difference. You were searching. I wish you had found it somewhere else.

I stopped by your parents’ house the day before. Thought if I were going to cry I’d do it then and get it out. I couldn’t because your dear sister held onto me for maybe five minutes. Said they had been talking about our boyhood escapades. She loved you. Loves you. We all do/did. Wanted so much more for you.

I think it likely she left the miniature cross at your site.

The next day they asked me to walk in with them. Said I was family. To simply say I was touched beyond compare does not compare.

I sat with them on the front row. Listened to the minister. The sadness hung over it all.

Regret.

Again, wishes for more than fifty-four years of life for you.

Once more I’m getting ahead of myself.

In line I waited. For my turn to say words that couldn’t convey the weight of grief upon hearts. That weight fell fully when I hugged your dad.

Later, outside, we stood around your casket. It was cold. The coats were many. The smiles of remembrance.

———————

The quartz rock sits on a book where I can see it. It’s stained red. So many wanted your life clean and perfect. Life’s not like that, is it? You came and you lived and you did the best you could. You got to see your grandson. I think I got enough of a look at him to see that your red hair crowns him. Your daughter looks like you. I’d never met her.

When I see your family we hug. When that happens I’m hurt and comforted. The grief clings, the want for more, the want for your happiness.

I like to think that’s the case now. How do Heavenly drums sound? Are the sticks pure gold or ethereal wonders of rhythm? Do you get to play with your rock idols who went before you? It’s a cool consideration, anyway.

The quartz is ice warm in my hand. Within its many imperfections is fleeting clarity. Glassy and glowing when held to lamplight.

Possibly, that’s how we all are. We wished clarity for you but addiction clouded it over. Clouds. Wind. Sun and rain. We fare the best we can. We love, create, tear asunder. Do it all over again and hope.

See you soon.

I Certainly Hope So.

We must live within them from time to time. Clouded mist and gray skies. But then emerges blue-sky dreams filled with hope. Hope tugs our hearts and souls on ghost threads tangible as steel and delicate as ether. Strong as any weapon while fragile as love’s fading kiss. How strong are your hopes? And how weak? And do you hope at all? I certainly hope so.

And so should you.

In Fiery Splendor

sunset over the Albemarle sound

As the budding rose is to the rising sun

drawing forth in fiery splendor

so are we

As the smile of a child is to the parent’s heart

bringing forth love in all its mysterious ways

so are we

As the gull is to wave tops

endlessly seeking above crests foamy and golden at sunrise

so are we

As the oak leaf is to emerald grandeur

awaiting the final downward drift with gust and gale

so are we

As we each seek our path, yearning above all else to

lock hope away in our hearts

instead

set it free

Allow hope to bloom, to laugh, to soar

and

at the end

you will pass forth with joy and thanksgiving

filled to everlasting