In search of story


May 21.23: Thursday Doors Writing Challenge #3

It was a lovely August day, and the house was open. Through the kitchen window, I could hear the voices outside where Dad was talking to a neighbor. Dad was 83, but he sounded 20, self-assured and energetic in his conversation. No fumbling for words or any other signs that he was making it up as he went along.

Then he came in and asked me where the bathroom was. He’d lived in that house for over 50 years.

The Black Thing filled the doorway on his way to the bathroom; Dad walked through it. It was always in a doorway, a wanton living sentient void, to remind me there was no way out.  There was no food that didn’t taste like the blackness, no sunshine that wasn’t tainted by it, no voice that wasn’t hollowed by it. Its very silence was discordant.

I made dinner earlier to get food in dad before the Black Thing took him. It curled Dad over his dinner plate, forced him to strip his bed and stuff the pillows in his desk, forced him to dig tablecloths out of the old buffet and arrange them, bedlike, on the dining room floor, forced him to walk and walk and walk and walk. Night after night after night.

It covered Dad’s eyes with nightmares so Dad wouldn’t know where he was, wouldn’t know me, wouldn’t know himself. Walking, walking, driven by the Black Thing. Dad’s face wore the dying. Walking, walking, frail, frightened, angry.

When the anguished nights gave way to exhausted day, the Black Thing resumed its vigil in doorways. Like a bat to a cave. Goading me. Dad knew nothing of the nights, of the faceless thing that made even the humanity of tears impossible.


Submitted to Dan Antion’s

Thursday Doors Writing Challenge

with thanks to him for hosting,

and with thanks to Teagan R. Geneviene for the photo.


May 18.23: Thursday Doors Writing Challenge #2

Curtains at the window,

a very homey touch;

a meadow on the roof,

homey not so much.

What kind of place is this,

snuggled ‘mongst the weeds,

apparently content

with no housekeeping needs?

Laundry starched by eons,

like herald on rampart,

keeps watch on ancient clothespins —

how rare this garden art!

The door seems not quite closed,

but I cannot rightly tell

if it says So glad to see you,

come in and set a spell.

Or does that faded sag,

arthritic hinge and eave

say that it’s too tired

and I should take my leave?

The crumbles of the sidewalk,

the filmy window panes,

all decrepitude and torpor,

yet somehow it remains

in company of garden,

neglected, ragged growth,

rallying around it

with bud and blossom both.

In reverence do I stand,

imagining its past,

when suddenly my reverence

turns to flabbergast:

this weatherbeaten elder

in my sudden clear-eyed vision

winkingly looks back

at my own mature condition.



Submitted to Dan Antion’s

Annual Thursday Doors Writing Challenge

with thanks to Dan for hosting

and with thanks to Susan Rushton for the intriguing door.




May 16.23: Thursday Doors Writing Challenge

Grandma was bony. Her light summer housedresses added no substance at all to her frame, and her summer hugs were especially skeletal. It wasn’t that she was skinny exactly; she just seemed to the child-me to have a lot of bones.

She sat at her kitchen table with the dented colander in her aproned lap, cleaning green beans from a pile heaped on a torn brown bag spread over the oilcloth. Her long fingers, never manicured or jeweled, moved automatically.

Such a small sound, that snap of the bean, blending arrhythmically with the summer breeze which carried its own small sounds through the screens, bits of birdsong, leafsong and the tickling jingle of the ice cream man. In summer’s slow time, the air mingled with the fragrance of the fresh beans, and everything was new.

Two windows flanked the table, their curtains puffed lightly by summer’s breath. Grandma sat between one window and the back screened door, locked with a little hook. What a joy to a kid to flip up the hook and careen out, over the small porch, past the pantry window that used to be their winter icebox, down the wooden stairs, into the little yard festooned with tomatoes and moss roses.

And what a smack was there! That screened door slammed shut with decibels to wake the dead. BLAM! It was a sound that shattered the snoozy summer every time. That door slapped her house so smartly that it was hard not to think that it was going after the flies that tried to get in. I’m sure it got a few.

There was something satisfying about that smack. There was a door with character, purpose, a voice. Everyone with ears knew of it. It announced our going-forths like cannon shot. After Dad and his sisters grew up, it might have been a happy time for the door to be again in the harum-scarum forces of little hands.

In the comings and goings of children, the slamming of screened door, the grandma, busy with the things of living, maybe thinking in her bones about the day the door would be quiet again.



Submitted to Dan Antion’s

Annual Thursday Doors Writing Challenge,

with thanks both to Dan for hosting,

and to Lois, whose door photo

reminded me of the long-ago door.


April 20.23: Coping, but barely

I had my annual Medicare Wellness appointment the other day and therefore I have need to vent. Feel free to change the channel.

Understand that I think it is very good to keep old people on doctors’ radar. As our cogs keep slipping, we might not know it.

However, it should be old people who design the intake. Consider, dear reader: Do you have any problem with your memory? Answer yes or no. Yes OR no? Pfui! That is clearly yes AND no! At the very least, an essay question.

Where did I sit in fifth grade? No problem. The lyrics to “Up and Down the Monon”? I’m all over that.  The how-to directions I just read? Poof! Gone!

I have to look up the spellings of words I never had to look up in years past, and there are a couple words I can never remember how to spell no matter how often I look them up. I’d tell you what they are but I can’t remember them. Our party-line phone number in 1949? I can rattle that right off.

The word I want mid-sentence? Nowhere to be found. Latin names for plants? It is to laugh. The sixth-graders I taught in 1965? I just jotted down the names of 32 of them by way of memory test. The numerous times I’ve made an idiot of myself? Down to the last detail. What day is it? Ummm…

So how did I answer? NO. Because I know that up and down that “rootin’, tootin’ Monon…everything is fine.”

Thus ends my vent. For now.


April 17.23: Coping, but barely

I’m old.

I sag.

I forget.

I miss thinking

that I know what’s going on.

But I have a lilac in my house.

I fear the lies

and the liars,

the bullets,


But I have a lilac in my house.

I feel the weight of memories,

of words

spoken and unspoken,

of being human,

of mail from funeral homes.

But I have a lilac in my house.

I know the distance

between my grandchildren and me,

the chasm of time,

each day



But I have a lilac in my house.

I remember other lilacs

clutched with bowed tulips,

wrapped in wet kleenex and foil,

bounced with us on the school bus,

their tattered remnants

proudly presented to Sister

for the May altar.

Imperfect days, to be sure,

but days with a lifetime ahead,

not behind.

Much to treasure,

much to trash

from those days.

Still the lilac blooms in my house.

If I go very close,

and breathe it in,

I change somehow.

So brief that air

yet so forever.




April 9.23: Coping, but barely

When I tell you, dear reader, the trains were in our back yards, it’s not hyperbole. You can see the railroad track behind me. Those trains were roaring behemoths, shaking the house, kicking up cinders while the open coal cars, toting fuel for homes and industry, dribbled black along the way.

So when I say spring cleaning with reverence and a slight shudder, you have some small idea why. All the curtains came down and went into the washing machine with the wringer on top. The lace curtains, still wet, were mounted carefully on wood frames with a million tiny sharp nails around the edges that held the curtains taut while they dried. OMG. Of course Grandma ironed them anyway before they were tenderly re-hung.

That was the same grandma balanced up on a ladder with a fistful of some goo, wiping the wallpaper in careful strokes, slowly revealing the color under the grit. Repeatedly turning the goo, wiping, wiping, down the ladder, move the ladder, back up, wipe, wipe. OMG.

Rugs rolled up and lugged outside to be thrashed?  Check. Hardwood floors, woodwork, windowsills scrubbed? Storm windows taken down, inner windows washed, screens hosed down and installed? Check, check. Dump the dirty water in the alley, fill the bucket again? OMG.

Then dinner to be made with no microwave, no dishwasher, no counter space, and a freezer the size of a shoebox? OMG.

And so was Easter dinner served in pristine newness. Old walls, old curtains renewed. Fumes of Fels Naphtha gave way to the perfume of ham and lemon meringue pie.

How close our metaphorical trains. How timeless the human need for renewal. I wish it for you, dear reader, and for us all in this season of many traditions.



March 25.23: Coping, but barely

I do not make this up;

I couldn’t even think it:

the label on this cleaner

tells me not to drink it.

How stupid do I look?

What nonsense, base and utter.

Like warning there are peanuts

in a thing called peanut butter.

I shake my head and ponder

how the planet can be greener

if we leave it to be governed

by those who might drink cleaner.

Really, dear reader, I try not to beat that poor dead horse and say “when I was a kid,” but sometimes I can’t help it. My generation has to bear some of the responsibility for this, but I staunchly maintain that we didn’t have to be told not to drink cleaners or that there were peanuts in peanut butter. Could it be that ours was the superior intellect? (Honestly, I am not a Trekkie, but some of those lines are eternally quotable!)

With thanks to the cult of Khan

and his wrath, of course.



March 5.23: Coping, but barely

Life’s almosts —

seismic shifts —

herald of looming

inscrutable rifts,

tearing the fabric

of the everyday,

stripping the known

and the snug away,

emerging newness

from this to that,

change aborning,

verdant fiat.

From depth of cyclic


its swelling vow:

What wasn’t will be.




February 25.23: Coping, but barely

My mother was the queen of the quick evening bath and usually exited the bathroom relaxed and comfy in nightgown and robe. There was, however, one time when she blasted out of the bathroom in a foam of mom expletives.

It seemed that, as she started to get into the bathtub, she noticed there was a washcloth but no soap. So she took the two steps to the linen closet to get some soap. As she started to get into the tub again, she noticed that she had two washcloths but still no soap. Back the two steps to the linen closet for the soap. As she once again started to get into the tub, she blew her last gasket: washcloths, 3; soap, 0.

Unlike us, she was not amused.

Of course I have no idea why this came to mind.