Category Archives: Judy Dykstra-Brown Stories

Unvarnished Truth

The prompt today was “varnish” and whenever I hear that word, I think of a certain lady in my far past. Here is a story from an early blog that will tell you why.

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First Friends

I am three years old, lying in my Mom’s room taking a nap. I can hear voices in the front room. The world comes slowly back to me as I rouse myself from the deep sleep I swore I didn’t need. I hear my mom’s voice and the voice of a stranger. I slide my legs over the side of the chenille-covered bed, balancing for a moment like a teeter totter before giving in to gravity and letting my feet slide through space to the floor below. I creak open the door, which had been left ajar. My mom’s voice gets louder. I smell coffee brewing and hear the chink of china coffee cups in the living room.

I hear a dull rubbing sound and move toward it—through the kitchen to the dinette, where a very small very skinny girl with brown braids is sitting at the table coloring in one of my coloring books. She is not staying in the lines very well, which is crucial—along with the fact that she is coloring the one last uncolored picture in the book which I’ve been saving for last because it is my favorite and BECAUSE I HAVE IT PLANNED SO THERE IS SOMEWHERE IN THAT PICTURE TO USE EVERY LAST COLOR IN MY BOX OF CRAYOLAS!

I sidle past her, unspeaking, aflame with indignation. Who could have—who would have—given her the authority to color in my book? I stand in the door of the living room. My mom is talking to a mousy gray-haired lady—tall, raw-boned, in a limp gray dress. My mom sees me, and tells me to come over and meet Mrs. Krauss. They are our new neighbors. They are going to live in Aunt Stella and Uncle Werner’s house two houses down. Did I meet their daughter Pressie in the kitchen? She’s just my age and Aunt Stella and Uncle Werner (who are not actually related to us, but just friends of my folks) are her real aunt and uncle.

The gray lady calls Pressie in to meet me. She is quiet and I am quiet. Then we go back to color at the table together. We drink orange juice and eat potato chips. We will be best friends for what seems like a lifetime but what is really only until we approach adolescence. I will have a love-hate relationship with her mother, who will continually set up competitions between Pressie and me to see who will win. She will try to coach Pressie first; but still, I will always win.

Pressie and I will play hollyhock dolls and dress-up. We play, sometimes, with Mary Boone; but her parents are too religious and don’t think we’re nice enough to play with her very much. I want to put on neighborhood plays and circuses, but none of the other kids want to perform. I want to play store and school, but Pressie eventually goes home to help her mother varnish the floors.

Pressie’s house is full of loud brothers and a sulky teenage sister. It is full of high school-aged cousins who tease us unmercifully and old ladies who come to play Scrabble with her mother. It is full of a missionary sister who comes back from South America and married brothers who come from Florida with babies that Pressie and I take charge of.

Pressie’s house is full of slivery floors that are always in the process of being varnished or de-varnished. There is one drawer in the kitchen full of everybody’s toothbrushes, combs, hairpins, hair cream, shampoo tubes, old pennies, crackerjack toys, rubber balls, lint, hairballs, rolled up handkerchiefs and an occasional spoon that falls in from the drain board above it. They have no bathroom—just the kitchen sink and a toilet and shower in the basement, across from the coal bin and the huge coal furnace. Their toilet has a curtain in front of it, but the shower is open to the world.

Sometimes when I am peeing, someone comes down to put coal in the furnace or to throw dirty clothes in the washtub next to the wringer washer. I pull the curtain tight with my arms and pray that they won’t pull it back and discover me, my panties down to the floor, pee dripping down my leg from my hurried spring from the toilet to secure the curtain. To this day, I have dreams about bathrooms that become public thoroughfares the minute I sit down. To this day, I get constipated every time I leave the security of my own locked bathroom.

Pressie babysits with the minister’s kids for money. I go along for free. She spanks them a lot and yells a lot. I think I can’t wait until I’m old enough to have kids so I can yell at them, but when Pressie is gone and the minister’s wife asks me to babysit, I don’t yell at them.

At Christmas I can’t wait to have Pressie come see my gifts: a Cinderella watch, a doll, a wastebasket painted like a little girl’s face, complete with yarn braids, books and toilet water from aunts, a toy plastic silverware set from my sister, stationery from my other aunt, playing cards, sewing cards, paint by numbers, a new dress. I run over through the snow to Pressie’s house to see her presents: a new pair of pajamas, a coloring book and new crayons, barrettes and a comb. In her family, they draw names. Quickly we run to my house, but she doesn’t pay much attention to my presents. She is funny sometimes, kind of crabby. The more excited I get, the more withdrawn she gets.

Later, I want to make snow angels in the yard and feed leftover cornmeal muffins to the chickadees, but Pressie wants to go home. Pressie always wants to go home. What she does there, I don’t know. She doesn’t like to read. None of us will have television for another five years. She doesn’t much like games or cards. I don’t know what Pressie does when she isn’t with me.

When she is with me, we take baths together and sing the theme music from “Back to the Bible Broadcast,” washing our sins away in the bathtub. We play ranch house in our basement. We pull the army cot against the wall and put old chairs on either side of it for end tables. We upend an old box in front of it for a coffee table. My grandma’s peeling ochre-painted rocking chair faces the army cot couch. We sneak into the hired man’s room and steal his Pall Mall cigarettes and sit talking and smoking. We rip the filters off first, which is what we think you’re supposed to do.

Pressie will always stay longer if we smoke. I blow out on the cigarette, but Pressie inhales. We smoke a whole pack over a few weeks’ time and then go searching for more. When the hired man starts hiding his cigarettes, we discover his hiding place and learn to take no more than four at a time so he doesn’t miss them. When he has a carton, we take a pack and hide it under the mattress on the army cot. My mother wonders where all the filters are coming from that she sweeps from the basement floor, but never guesses our secret.

Pressie spends more time with me than before, drops by almost every morning and always wants to go to the basement to play and smoke. Then the hired man finds another room and moves out and when Mrs. Church’s granddaughters come to visit, I will want to play with them but Pressie won’t. Then we will pair off—Pressie with Sue Anne, the girly one, me with Kate, the boyish one. We have a little war—mainly instigated by the sisters.

When the new farm agent moves in with two daughters—one a year younger than Pressie and me, the other a year younger than my sister Addie—I want to ask the girl our age to play with us, but Pressie won’t. I have a slumber party for everyone—all the girls we know. I invite the new girl, whose name is Molly, but no one talks to her much. She is shy and doesn’t push herself on us. No one else ever wants to include her. I go play with her anyway and spend the night at her house. Her mother is nervous, her dad cocky. Her older sister laughs nervously under her breath a lot, as does her mother.

Many years later, by the time we are in high school, everyone has accepted them. By then, all of those girls have parties where I’m not invited. They are always a little reserved when I come up to speak to them. Maybe they’re always reserved. How would I know how they are when I’m not around? Later, they all got to be pretty good friends. But in the beginning, I was everyone’s first friend.

 

The prompt today is varnish.

Grandma’s Sneakers–Friday Fictioneers, 9/20/17

 

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My grandmother’s afternoons were written on her shoes––insides rubbed to fine parchment, once shiny trim worn down to dull cowhide, shoelaces loosened for easy ingress and escape, tongues swollen, vamps dusted from her habitual circling of gravel streets in search of treasures. Her pockets told the rest of the story–discarded Cracker Jack prizes, severed limbs of dolls, lost marbles, toy soldiers, single jacks separated from their families. Lined one slightly ahead of the other as though she had just stepped out of them, they told her last story that morning they carried her from her house without them.

 

To participate in this photo prompt, go here: https://rochellewisoff.com/2017/09/20/22-september-2017/

In the Catbird Seat

 

jdbphotos. Click on first photo to enlarge all and read captions.

If you aren’t familiar with the term, “in the catbird seat,” it means to be in a position above the action or perhaps in control.  This is what I am when I’m in my studio, which has one wall entirely comprised of windows looking out on my garden and another window to my right that looks out over my spare lot down below and ultimately at the lake spread out on a lower plane with Mount Garcia and Colima Volcano behind it on the other shore.

In the Catbird Seat

After a year of no time at all in the studio, I’ve spent 4 days there in the past few weeks. It feels wonderful, even though the last day I spent there was entirely spent organizing, sorting, putting away, reorganizing.

My studio is a separate small building I had built in the garden below my house. My dogs, unaccustomed as they are to my being there, followed me down, no doubt remembering I keep a bag of dog biscuits down there. Fortified, they wandered off, but eventually returned to spend the morning outside my door––Morrie plastered horizontally across the base of the locked screen door, Diego perpendicular to him, stretched out along the brick walkway.

The kittens, relegated to the front yard and house, have seen neither the back yard nor my studio. I fear what my dogs, intent on doing away with every soft fuzzy creature that enters my yard, would do to them, even though they’ve been seeing them for almost four months now through the glass, bars and screens that form most of the walls of every room in my house.

That is why I was so distressed when I heard the plaintive meow of one of the kittens coming from the wrong direction. Not from the side of the house where they have a walled-off outside run all their own, but seemingly from the street behind the studio or from the empty lot down below me. I listened closely, hoping it was just my one hearing-impaired ear that was misdirecting the direction from which the sound was coming; but, when I stepped out into the yard, I could hear it clearly.

I called out to Pasiano, telling him I thought one of the kittens had made its way out of its safe zone.

“No, senora,” he insisted.

“Yes! Listen,” I insisted as the loud meow came again––several times.

He shook his head, laughing, and gestured up into the pistachio tree, from which one bird was cawing an insistent bird call, another creature mewing back an insistent interspecies reply. It was a bird, he told me. He led me closer to the tree and as he did, a black bird flew down from that tree to a large castor bean plant in the spare lot. The bird in the tree cawed and chirped. The bird below in the spare lot meowed back,

It was a magpie that had evidently been hanging around the kittens for too long. A mother knows her kids’ voices and this was a perfect replica of my kittens’ bossy demands to be fed.

When I told Yolanda about this strange occurrence, she laughed and said she had done exactly the same thing two days earlier, sure one of the kittens had escaped.

Now this story, as unbelievable as you might find it, has a precedent in my family. When my 11-year-older sister was a tiny girl, she was in the habit of coming to the back door and calling out, “Mommy, Mommy! This occurred so many times during the day that my mother had told her that unless it was an emergency, she should come into the house to find her instead of expecting her to drop whatever household task she was doing to come to the door. Betty heeded this request perhaps one time out of three, which was an improvement, at least.

One day, my mother heard he calling out to her, but when she came to the door, no Betty! She went back to her work on the other side of the house, only to hear he call out again. Once again, she went to the door, but no Betty. This time she called her in from her play, gave her a scolding and told her not to do it again. But Mommy, she hadn’t done it, my sister insisted, but in that way Mommy’s develop, my mom just shook her head and said, well, not to do it again.

Barely had she gotten back to the kitchen however, when she heard my sister demanding her presence again. This time really angry, she stamped back across the house to the screened-in porch to see—absolutely no one standing on the front door stoop. This time, however, the mystery was quickly solved. In a large cage on that screened in porch was a magpie with a damaged wing that my father had brought in from the ranch. Even as my mother entered the porch, he had called out once more in my sister’s voice, demanding her presence.

Most mimics only get themselves in trouble due to inappropriate material. This mimic was most adept at passing the blame. True story, as is the more recent magpie story above.

 

 

Little Duck’s Almost Novel Adventure

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One day Little Duck was bored, and although Big Duck was not bored at all, Little Duck decided he needed to be educated in the art of flying. “Just stretch your left wing out like this,” he instructed Big Duck. Of course, Big Duck had neither left wing nor right wing, so he stretched his left arm out as far as he could.

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“Very good,” said Little Duck. Then, “Stretch out your right wing!” he quacked like a drill sergeant, in a very bossy tone. And so Big Duck stretched his right arm out as far as he could.

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“Now, spread out your wing tip feathers and flap both wings at the same time,” demanded Little Duck; but try as he might, Big Duck just couldn’t do it.

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Upon further investigation, Little Duck decided that aside from a failure to coordinate wing movements, there was a further complication that foretold that for Big Duck, flying lessons would never come to fruition,

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for it seemed that in addition to malformed wings, Big Duck also lacked the webbed feet necessary for landing and propelling himself through water as well as the tail to serve as a rudder.

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“Very strange indeed!” shouted Little Duck from waaaaay down on the floor, where he had gone to investigate the matter. “In fact, in spite of your name and the color of your feet, you seem to resemble this palefoot human standing right over here to my right more than you do a duck.”

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“But I love you anyway,” Little Duck quacked at Big Duck, as he winged up to his shoulder to give him a reassuring peck on the cheek.

And, never one to give up on chances for adventure, Little Duck put on his thinking cap and tried to think of something Big Duck might be better able to accomplish. It was important after his last big failure that he give him a simple task more suited to his talents than flying seemed to be.

“Eureka!” he thought, and hopped up to share his idea with Big Duck, who at first looked somewhat dubious.

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But, in his usual inimitable fashion, Little Duck persevered. “As a team, we are unbeatable,” he insisted. “With my creativity and great mind and your mutated feathers capable of maneuvering a keyboard, we could write great literature!” And so, after a great deal of quacking and what passed for quacking on Big Duck’s part, the two settled into a collaboration.
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“It was a dark and stormy night,” lisped Little Duck.

“That sounds a bit trite to me,” countered Big Duck.

“Once upon a time,” quacked the littler of the two.

“Been done already,” Big Duck fired back.

“Duck!!!!!” shouted little Duck as he saw a wasp zeroing in on Big Duck’s ear.

“That sounds a bit better,” enthused Big Duck, and typed the first word of their document, complete with five exclamation marks and an ending quotation mark.

Knowing there was very little time for action, Little Duck soared through the air to Big Duck’s shoulder just in time to snap up the angry wasp in his martyred and heroic beak.

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“What comes next?” asked Big Duck, totally unaware that he’d just been saved from his biggest fear by Little Duck.”Did you notice that I remembered the closing parenthesis?” He asked, pointing proudly at their first completed sentence. “Do you have an idea for the second sentence?”

“There was a wasp about to sting you on the ear and I saved you by catching it in my beak!” shouted Little Duck.

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“Now who in the world is ever going to believe that?” protested Big Duck, and threw up his hand in defeat.

And that is how Little Duck’s Big Adventure never came to be written and why Big Duck’s name has not gone down in the history of literature, or even at the very least, in the blogger’s hall of fame.

THE END

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What to do with leftover Little Duck photos on the way between St. Paul and St. Louis with Big Duck doing all the driving.  I hit the publish button just as we arrived at the motel!  Now that is timing.

Crave more Little Duck adventures? https://judydykstrabrown.com/2016/09/25/travels-with-ducks-the-continuing-saga-of-little-duck-episode-5/

Locked Secrets

                                                                      Locked Secrets

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I’d just received my school’s math prize and my Uncle Jimmy, after handing me a twenty dollar bill, had, in his usual self-effacing manner, proclaimed that I must have gotten my smarts from him.  “How is it that you are both the pretty one and the smart one in your family?”  He teased.  My sister Eleanor was out of the room at the time.  If she’d been there and I hadn’t, he would have been proclaiming her the prettiest.  We all knew this about our uncle.  He adored us, and was not above flattery in revealing the fact.

This time, however, he had overlooked  both the precociousness and competitiveness of my two-and-a-half-year-old youngest sister, Stephanie.

“Elebben, eight, twenny, fiteen,” she recited proudly!

“Well, forgive me, Missy. Aren’t you a smart young lady, knowing how to count?” He reached into his lumpy pocket and tossed her a nickel.  Amazingly, she caught it.  Perhaps she was going to be the first athletic one in the family.

“Fohty-two!” she exclaimed proudly. “free, sebben-elebben, one, one, one.” This time he extracted his wallet, took out a one-dollar bill and handed it to her.  Putting his wallet back in his back pocket, he turned one side pocket inside out. “But that’s it, Teffie.  No more money. If you want to go on counting, it will have to be for free.”

His other pocket still bulged with its contents: coins, a rubber ball to throw for our dog Pudge, oatmeal cookie bits in a small plastic bag–also for Pudge.  My Uncle Jimmy always proclaimed that doggie treats were a real gyp and that no self-respecting dog would perform for such a dry, tasteless mouthful.  So, he preferred to bake his own dog treats.

My sisters and I agreed, and sometimes we would perform, hoping to be rewarded with one of Pudge’s treats.  We were all constantly performing for our uncle, whom we adored. He was the one person who paid more attention to us than to our parents when he visited.  He was our favorite babysitter, and our parents’ favorite as well, as he always waved away payment.

He would take us to Fern’s Cafe for strawberry malts, greasy hamburgers and mashed potatoes and gravy, since Fern didn’t have a French fryer. He took us for wild rides over cow pastures in his beat up old red Ford pickup.  Once he took us to a matinee cartoon show in Pierre, sixty miles away, and got us home and in bed again before my folks got home.  We were sworn to secrecy and so far as I know, none of us ever told.  I know for sure I didn’t.  My Uncle Jimmy had my undying loyalty.  I would have borne torture before giving away any of his secrets.

Sadly, Uncle Jimmy died during one of those wild rides across the South Dakota prairie.  This time he was flying solo over a dam grade and veered too far to the right, rolling the pickup.  He drowned trying to get out of the passenger door, the pickup mired driver-side down in the mud at the bottom of the dam.  We had always felt like such ladies as Uncle Jimmy graciously got out of his pickup to personally open the door from the outside for us.  We didn’t know then, as we know now, that it was a peculiarity of that door that it would only open from the outside.

“Thank God the girls weren’t with him,” my mother sobbed to my father, as they sat side-by-side at the kitchen table, my dad’s arms around her.  It was past midnight, and they were sitting in that room furthest away from our bedrooms, thinking we wouldn’t hear her sobs.  But, unable to sleep, we had stolen out to the living room to listen––all consumed by that missing of Uncle Jimmy that would last our whole lives.

“Oh, he never would have driven that wildly if the girls were with him,” my dad said.  But Eleanor and I and even Steffie just exchanged that look that we were to exchange so many times in our future lives together––that look that children exchange that would tell their parents that they know something their parents don’t know––if only their parents took the time to notice. Even Steffie understood.  And Uncle Jimmy was right when he proclaimed her wise beyond her years.  Even Steffie never told.

(This is a work of fiction.)

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Your Days are Numbered.” What’s the date today? Write it down, remove all dashes and slashes, and write a post that mentions that number.

Good Still Exists Everywhere!!

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Operation Feed is a local organization that distributes food weekly to 92 families in San Juan Cosala, Jalisco, Mexico. This year they’ve added meat, fresh vegetables and fruit to the staples formerly provided.

                                                      Good Still Exists Everywhere!!!

 

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Pay It Forward.”Tell us about a time when you responded to an act of kindness with one of your own.

Today, for some reason, I did something I have never done before.  Instead of writing to this prompt, I decided to read what others had written first.  Why this was so, I don’t know.  Perhaps it was because I had the feeling many probably had that it is embarrassing to talk about this subject.  How in the world do you write about it without sounding (and being) narcissistic or self-congratulatory?  There is no way to talk about our own good acts without sounding either falsely humble or like a braggart.

I say perhaps this is the reason, because I was not even conscious of registering what the prompt was.  I just went to the first page listed on the Daily Prompt page and clicked on the first square I saw.  Unfortunately, it was at this exact moment that I got called away by Yolanda to talk about some household matter, and when I came back, I saw these words by Marilyn Armstrong:

“In Judaism, you lose points for telling anyone about your good deeds. The only ones that really count are the ones you do in secret. Pity that has never really caught on :-)”

Thinking it was her blog I was reading, I responded with this comment:

“I have never heard this before, Marilyn, but it sounds like it would make a great theme for a story or poem. I think we need to hear about the positive things that happen in the world. We are all so weighted down by the terrible ones. But perhaps the secret is to broadcast the good acts of others rather than your own. If you look at blogs like Mark’s or several others whose names have slipped my mind, they are often publicizing gross wrongs in the world and encouraging people to draft letters of protest or sign petitions or to give their support by other means. He is not blowing his own horn, but speaking out of a desire to effect change in the world. These are acts we can all see and in promoting them and him, we can spread the word of positive acts not our own. I am not disputing what you say, understand. I agree that people who constantly tell you of all their good works are irritating. On the other hand those who merely demonstrate their own good works by their actions are such wonderful role models that they have no need to blow their own horns.”

But now, the plot thickens.  After hitting the “Send” button, I scrolled up to realize that the blog I was writing on was really The happy Quitter’s blog.  The statement by Marilyn was just a comment!  So, it became necessary to fire off this comment to its author, nonsmokingladybug!

“Darn. Ladybug, I came back to my computer and saw Marilyn’s comment and thought it was her blog I was writing on so addressed this comment to her! I can’t erase it from your blog, but please do if you wish to. This is what happens when I let life interfere with blogging..Ha. I think you also requested I not give you links, which I no longer do. Your point about blowing one’s own horn is a good one as you can see from my response above. Please do erase it if you wish.”

To this, she graciously replied that she saw no reason to erase it as I’d made some good points. She went on to say, in a different comment,

“The long comment won’t matter to Marilyn, since you made it on my blog (grin).
If I might answer that. I think the world is full with good, but many of us don’t see it anymore, because their focus has shifted. Do we need to point out the good in the world? I don’t think so, I think we have to point out that it is still existing everywhere.”

to which I answered:

“What is the difference between pointing out the good in the world and pointing out that it is still existing everywhere? I think they are one and the same thing.  I get so depressed when I see the violence reported in the news, and sitting at home and merely reading about terrible act after terrible act, we are drawn into depression and deluded into thinking there is nothing we can do about it. But when we get  active on a local level, we can see firsthand what wonderful things are being done by so many–and the changes they are effecting.  These messages of how the world can be and is being healed need to get out as well. As you say, this is going on around us all the time.  This is what encourages people to try to effect changes themselves.”

I live in a community where there are incredible numbers of people–both Mexican and expat– getting involved to make life better for kids, older people and the pueblos in general.  I feel so lucky to live in a place where the positive natures of people can so easily be seen.  I know when most people see the name MEXICO, they think of cartels and corrupt politicians, but there is so much love and positive energy here as well.  These are the things we are more likely to see in our daily lives than in the news.  As you say, good is still existing everywhere.”

At this point, I realized that in these two comments I had actually written a complete blog post, so instead of sending the last comment to nonsmokingladybug, I decided to publish it here.

If you’d like to see The happy Quitter’s original statement that prompted this confused chain of messages, please go HERE.

For news of wonderful things going on in my community, you might want to read these stories:

https://judydykstrabrown.com/2014/11/02/agustins-story/
https://judydykstrabrown.com/2015/07/21/camp-estrella/
https://judydykstrabrown.com/2015/07/23/the-boy-in-the-blue-feathered-mask/
https://judydykstrabrown.com/2015/07/26/camp-estrella-final-show/


One No Trump: JNW Prompt Generator

Today, in honor of my sixth posting to Jennifer’s site, I decided to take the first six prompts given by her prompt generator and to try to use them all, in order, in a poem, story or essay. What occurred was this short short story. The phrases that were generated were: hurt awareness, fair incident, muddy kitchen, innocent ring, tired reputation, stupid recommendation.

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One No Trump

I wouldn’t say that she was totally disillusioned with life, but she did carry this air of hurt awareness that one unfair incident after another had worked against her best interests in life. She remained stubbornly sure that her choices, if they had worked out, would have led to a glorious life. No one even tried to convince her that her goals and means toward them were destined to fail from the first–not because the plans themselves were not worthy ones, but because she had an innate talent for messing them up.

She started in working diligently to attack the one wrong thing in her life she could most easily alter: her muddy kitchen. When the first giant crashes of thunder had been loosed upon the world, the dogs had set up a tremendous chorus of howls, scratches at the door and barks. She had let them in immediately, not realizing that the little one had been amusing himself in her new flower bed. In their great rush, one had upset the water dish and that combined with Hampton’s muddy paws, had made quick work of her earlier labors in creating a spotless kitchen.

She washed the mop out in the kitchen sink, creating a second dark ring around the sink. It was the innocent ring—dark black—that paralleled the slightly raised reddish-rust ring a few inches above. It was that red ring that she needed to scrub off before the break of day. It would not do to let anyone see that guilty ring. No matter what her justifications were, the world would not believe her. She had one of those unlikable faces that turned people against her, no matter how reasonable her arguments were. It was too late to alter the frown lines that pulled her lips downward, the darting eyes that said “I am not entirely believable” and the hands that wrung themselves by habit.

It was not, given the record of her entire life, that she did not have an adequate reputation—respected family, charitable acts, donations to the correct causes. It was just that over the years she had started espousing strange causes and slowly her actions had started becoming a bit odd as well. Chasing odd cars down the rows of the Walmart shopping center screaming abuse at their drivers for the sentiments revealed on their bumper stickers. Standing on a corner on Main Street holding up a placard that read “Polluter!” each time a car or truck passed, spewing black smoke.

She called the parents of children she witnessed bullying other children as she sat on a park bench near the school crossing and harangued the parents of large families about zero population growth. She was so scathing in her criticism of her bridge partner when, even though he had opening count himself, he had failed to raise her one trump opening bid, that he’d dropped out of bridge club; and when no one else would consent to be her partner, she, too, had been forced to quit.

So, it wasn’t so much that she had a bad reputation but that she had a tired reputation. She just couldn’t bother with the niceties anymore. She said what she thought—without taking tact into account. Bastards didn’t deserve tact. But even her best friends, the few of them she had left, admitted that her behavior was becoming ever more aggressive and bizarre.

And this is how she came to have that damned second ring in her sink. She knew she never should have gotten into a discussion about politics with anyone in this town, let alone a stupid plumber who lived up to all the stereotypes of plumbers when he knelt down showing his butt crack.  What tipped the balance was the cretin smugness of the plumber as, seeing her Hillary sticker on the fridge, he declared that he was going to vote for Trump just to see the fun that resulted.

This, coupled with the coincidence of his request that she give him the big wrench, had caused her, for that one moment in her life, to act to the full extent of her wishes. She gave him the wrench full force over the back of his head. He then departed this life with no fuss, no struggle, merely sinking forward into a full bow, his forehead against her kitchen floor.

There was a lot of blood, and although it was an unplanned act, she congratulated herself in her choice of locales—the kitchen being the best possible place to get rid of the evidence. That was why she had taken care of the hard job first, digging the new flower bed a good bit deeper, dragging his body out, head in a black garbage bag pulled tight, pouring the quick lime and then covering the body well with soil, planting the bushes that would establish the deepest roots. Putting the ring of flowers around the bushes and raking a solid cover of largish stones over them, fooling herself into believing this would discourage the new terrier’s digging instincts.

So now, taking the pup’s paws into account, she supposed she’d have additional work to do on the flowerbed, too; but her first priority was the blood rings in the sink. Like Lady Macbeth, no matter what she did, those stains held fast. She rued, then, that penurious nature which had caused her not to replace the porous old sink, older than she by far, that held stubbornly on to everything that passed its way–blueberries, coffee. Blood. She scrubbed to no avail.

Looking out the window, she could see where the puppy had uprooted Peony bushes and flowers and ground cover. More work there to complete before sunup. Hours ago, she had called a housekeeping company in another town to ask about the best way to remove bloodstains from a worn porcelain sink. The woman had been no help. “Call a plumber,” she had said,“He should be able to solve your problem!” Stupid recommendation.

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