I’m very excited to announce that my first story collection, Asunder, baby, is now available for pre-order on Amazon. The official publication date is January 12, 2023. A paperback edition should also be available on or about that same date.
I’ve decided on this as my new cover, something simple but eye-catching, and I finally narrowed it down to fifty pieces, some of which have been featured on this blog and other sites, but a few longer and previously unpublished stories as well.
I’d also like to acknowledge my good friend D. Wallace Peach of Myths of the Mirror fame for the Preface she wrote, and for helping me with a technical problem. It was her enthusiasm for my work that helped convince me to put this collection together. I think of her as a patron saint for independent writers, someone who is always eager to shine a light on talent. Her proficiency in writing book reviews – while very likely working on yet another exceptional novel of her own – is astounding.
A big thank you to everyone for the encouragement, and see you in January!
Coming in January 2023, my first collection of short stories and poetry, some previously published and some brand new, including the novella “Asunder, baby”. Details to come soon. But first, an excerpt from the title story. Thanks for reading!
Harry adjusts his blue cloth tie in the Seventh Street Episcopal Church restroom, untying, re-knotting until it’s perfect. The toilet is broken, the sink is ash sooted, the light just right for catching whisker misses from his morning shave (or any stray chestnut-highlighted hairs on the shirt collar). His suit is Midnight Blue, the tie is navy, the difference, negligible. Will Birdie notice? Not likely. Will his mother? From a hundred yards out, yes.
Exiting, Harry listens for the musical integrants that sift through the big box fans at the back of the church: a crescendo of clarinetists’ conversations, of oboe miscellanea — just the oscillation of Saturday mid-morning traffic.
Guests have started to pick through the most-favored pews, those closest to the pulpit. Tommy Crispen, at the door, smirks, money already having changed hands with Fred DeSilva, who bet against Harry showing up. Double or nothing, Tommy says, that Birdie is a runaway.
Don’t tell her. Harry’s worst thought is not that his armpits have already soured after his morning shower, after a night of tequila, amaretto, and an unassailable single malt with a Spanish label. Don’t tell her you were on the fence, in between compulsions. He will always wonder if their vows speak more as a surrender than a declaration of affection.
The crowd — the audience? horde? — has to noodle around the big fans, has to pay attention to each step. The women lift the hems of their dresses over the extension cords, the gents elongate their stride like horses. Harry’s mother is already seated, of course, arms folded, three rows back, a half-opened rose.
“I wanted it to mean more than this,” he says to no one, and somehow she hears him and shrugs. He suddenly wants the bloodiest mary he can find. Kenny keeps a big Thermos in the back of his Valiant, but he isn’t here yet, none of his friends are, not even the stray cousins. Maybe this is the wrong church, the wrong day. But no. Other than his mother, there is no one here he recognizes.
these there are the scars she said a fleshybrown hook on her belly a rage of adjectives against her skin by hand under shirt under skirt look here where the skin broke at the damages she tolerates for not knowing his rages against the surface part of her, the retractable blade went here, look, touch these damages they are only torn fabric silk and muscle bleeding dye and plasma, dying you hear a different meaning from the language she has given you
Your hands are still old frayed cloth,
hardly ever warm,
unadorned by rings or polish, but scratched up
from your cat Saint-Mary
whom nobody likes, but you’re too attached
to the rough animals that hurt you.
I ignore her when I visit you,
but still insist on serving the tea.
You say, sit down and warm up those slippers I gave you
Christmas last year
or the one before last.
Did I knit you that scarf, do you keep yourself warm,
do you remember that war,
no, you were too young for that war,
that was the year we left home to come here.
I remember that year better than
the one before last,
will you drink all your tea,
you’re a good boy
for remembering me.
You’re an old lady now
(you call yourself that),
filled with all sorts of living
that others can’t hear.
Do you still alphabetize your grocery list,
and grow rosemary in your kitchen?
Do you still draw those pictures
of the beach from before the war?
Your sister died then
and your mother did, too.
You loved that place, sadness and all
and then you disappear in front of me,
far away into the years as you watch
the sea wash over the sand,
when you were not the last one
left to listen for it.
Have I told you about when I was a girl,
you ask. Yes, you have,
and many times to the same sad end.
But I listen, you see, and I think Mary does too
because she stops biting into the slippers you made me
the year before last, and she watches
you with her cultured cat eyes.
For a while I disappear with you and we walk the beach
and feel the salt as it bites into our pores
and I press a smudged rag into
the flesh of my boots
and wipe away the sand
with the shoe polish you keep
beside the wooden box of milk bottles by the door,
and I hear the high laughter of girls,
all the sisters,
and then the air is dull again
with Lemon Pledge and cat food
and a motorcycle drives by
and I am still here and
you are still counting the rocks in the sand
and we are separated by the decades again.
Come visit me again, you say.
You know I will when I can, I say.
I know your hands are old frayed cloth
and are finer every day, like antique lace.
Mine are growing more finite and painful.
I wonder if you will still remember me once the tea is all drunk
and the years gather more space between us.
Will the beach still be there for you
when we are finished with this wander,
and will you remember to bring my slippers
for when I visit?
You still smell the sea,
but I will always smell the rosemary
growing in your kitchen.
My living thoughts of you still follow me through the bramble of crumpled bits of paper where all the words I write to explain you to me falter in mid-stroke. I cannot breathe in the dust of yesterday, where you still live, where I still pay rent.
There is a mean toll for crossing that border and re-walking all those miles, climbing over the rubble, pissing on all those tracks, spitting out all that brine, but that’s how it was, that’s how it was running away from your home
and wrapping my ass in the given-up geometry of a 1967 lawn chair outside one fleabag or another, and I’m down to the minimum dietary requirement of crumbled corn chips and leftover beer discovered like a treasure on top of the toilet tank
beside the drunken sketch of Angry Yahweh, and that last viable cigarette butt beside the fresh hole in the mattress
no I cannot breathe any more.
I trudge back to you every night, my bruised eyes and gravel-bitten feet kick up dark puddles, dripping what’s left of me onto crumpled bits of paper
and all my living thoughts of you run on ahead and wait for me to catch up.
We wash the bone mud from our torsos, and if there is a word for this, it is sorrow.
We see the frustration in the lean faces of our children, the dirt griming their arms, the hollowness griming their bellies.
You and I will fumble with our usual fable: this will pass and it will pass soon and it will pass as we sleep and the land will turn green again and the sun will turn warm again and the fields will grow thick again and we will rest all our doubts, but yes, this will pass.
A malingering moon watches over us, and the baby studies the cracked face through the worn curtains in her room. There is music downstairs to accompany our fable: I have my father’s old guitar and you tap a pencil on the kitchen table to the plink of wash water in the beaten feed bucket.
You sing indistinguishable words, soft enough to be a prayer and perhaps that’s what it is, you say it is, but it fades into hushes until we can barely hear the sounds you meant for God. We take turns wrapping our hands around each other’s fists, and then we rest them on the gathered tablecloth, my guitar on my knee, Sally on your lap, and I thank God we cannot see each other’s eyes because I know there is resignation in them and I know there are ashes in them where a fire once burned, but the fire has burned away and I cannot see that in you again, I will not see that in you again, and yes, this will pass.
We take each other to our rest in our crumpled bed, with its heavy iron posts that flake with rust that you wash away with a dry rag every morning, and you sweep away the dirt that falls out of my cuffs and pockets every night. We will pray about love to each other and we will pray about love for each other until sleep takes us and it will. Like the days before it, this one has finally passed.