How to Age 10 Years in 24 Hours

Saying good-night to my boys last night, Jacob (the youngest!!) gave a big stretch in his tank shirt (yes it is that warm here, sorry Northerners) and he was sprouting pit hair. At 12…this seems a bit excessive and Eric, of course, went bounding in and did a full scale pit hair investigation to confirm that, yes all Fillinger pits are furry. I do not wish to know this, yet I can’t un-know it. Sigh.

The second aging event happened in the pre-dawn hours as I stumbled into the bathroom past an incredibly long mirror and startled myself. You see, I thought I saw my Grandma Moodey in my sleepy, peripheral vision which is impossible as she died 4 years ago. What I actually saw, of course, was my own reflection looking like my Grandma Moodey. Luckily, she was a lovely person inside and out. Unluckily, I did not meet her until she was in her 50s and therefore much older than my current age. I will be overjoyed to look like her in 20 years, I assure you… just not yet.

I know that I am not the only one aging, that it is one great constant, but it smacked me in the face like a smelly, cold fish and I am still adjusting.

It’s Gonna Take a Latte Love

Lucy got out of her minivan 30 seconds before the Buick Riviera turned the corner. Even in the pre-dawn darkness, she recognized Nicholas in his land yacht. She grinned at being earlier than him for once and wracked her brain for the appropriate pop song for the moment.

On her first day when Nicholas had trained her, he looked askance at her and said “Lucy? As in “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds?”

“Guilty as charged.”

“When were you even born?”

His question struck her as interested and not impertinent, so she replied, “In the summer of ’69.” And they were off and running. Among the college kids who worked the bar, they shared a common cultural landscape and that was enough to bond them.

But 5:00 a.m. is no time for cleverness, so all she could come up with was “You left me standing in the rain.”

“First off, it’s not raining any more. Second…Husker Du? Really?”

“I got nothing. Espresso first, then witty repartee. Hey- hit me with your best shot!”

“No. You are forthwith banned from puns and lyrics until 6:00 am.”

“Grouchy. Wake up on the wrong side of the bed?”

If only he had been to bed. Nicholas loved wordplay and Lucy, but hungover didn’t begin to describe his mood. Sometimes he’d like to tell Lucy about his other life, the one that ended as the coffee shop opened, but she wouldn’t understand the darker aspects. She would think less of him and their friendship was the only thing that got him through the morning rush. “I’ll be fine once I’m caffeinated.”

Lucy was concerned for her friend. He smelled of stale cigarettes and he loathed smoking. He was also a little too musky for working in a dining establishment. She winced inside, why was she always jumping to conclusions and searching for the worst in people. Perhaps, dealing with so many benevolence concerns in New Orleans had jaded her. Everybody had a hard luck story or a gimmick to get you to part with church funds. It was her job to be a good steward and be skeptical of conmen. Nicholas didn’t know any of that. She had worked hard to let herself be “normal” here. She knew missions groups and pastors recognized her as they passed through the line, but she fought to keep the pedestal from rising up under her. Sometimes, she felt guilty and subversive, but mostly she liked having the freedom to just be “Lucy.” Her other ‘hat’ was so unnecessarily formal, that she rather liked the baseball cap she got to hide behind a few hours a day.

Morning rush was in full swing when the caramel macchiato incident occurred. Lucy had thinned the counter line to the point that she could duck over and get the syrups started on the cups she’d written. She had three cups ready as Nicholas turned back toward the syrups to do the top drizzle for two caramel macchiatos as the bottle at the espresso machine was empty. At 6’3” he didn’t see his tiny friend helping. He hit her at shoulder level, but the drinks both sloshed down her front. He let loose with his basso profundo laugh and they both lost it. Lucy had a great throaty giggle and together they were the picture of joy.

“She’s hot…sticky sweet.”

“From my head to my feet. So nasty!”

“So you’re a nasty girl?”

“All right, nutball, let me run and get a new apron from the back.”

As soon as she saw the hooks where fresh aprons usually hung, she remembered seeing Crud’s name on the schedule for closing last night. His name was really Craig, but he was dubbed Crud for trading his skanky aprons for clean ones leaving funk and patchouli behind.

Lucy walked back out front and raised her eyebrows at Nicholas.

“Crud.” they said in unison.

The line, always long before 8:00, stretched well beyond the pastry case. 17 she guessed as she hopped back to her spot behind the register.

“I’ll have a large latte. 5 shots. Half & half.” said her first customer.

Of course, he knew the real drink name, but didn’t feel faux Italian was quite manly enough for a construction foreman. As cold and wet as Lucy was, her head wasn’t in the game. “Venti, 5 shot latte. Recall. Venti, 5 shot breve…”

“I know, Lucy- Quinte venti. It’s ready.” Nicholas, as usual was on top of things.

“Yada, yada, yada, $5.72.”

Lucy smiled at one of her favorite regulars and took the cash. 

They ran through the line like the well-oiled machine they were.

“Do you have an extra apron, Nicholas? C’mon and cover me.”

“In my car.” He had 3 cups lined up and he was steaming milk.

“I’ll go get it. Can I see your keys?”

He lifted them out of his apron pocket to show her, then dropped them back in.

“Ha, ha. Seriously, this is gross. Let me run and get it.”

“I’m only 3 drinks back, I’ll get it.” He knew that if Lucy caught sight of the other things in his trunk, their playful banter would be over.  Lucy joked about being the white sheep in her family of misfits and malcontents. Nicholas was definitely the black sheep in his. He liked having a moment in his day where he could be fun and light and goofy. He only stayed awake to open if Lucy was working.

“I’m shivering. I got chills. They’re multiplyin’.”

“This much is true.”

“Please hurry!” She saw he wasn’t handing over the keys. What the heck could be so bad that he wouldn’t let her see it? She imagined size 14 stilettos or a case of duct tape and a ransom note. Lucy knew he was officially in New Orleans to take care of his grandmother, but based on the people that recognized him from at work, she knew he got out plenty, and with some interestingly disheveled guys. Artfully downmarket, poor-geoisie. She loved to make up stories about how they knew one another. One thing was certain, there was more to Nicholas than pop songs and coffee. “I ask myself, who’d watch out for me, my only friend, who could it be?”

“I hate to say it, I hate to say it, but it’s probably me.”

The Pass

“You can’t keep driving the Pass, Rae.” Tom looked over his coffee cup wishing he’d had his hat on so he could look under the brim at her.

“Watch me.” Rae said over her shoulder.

“You know it’s not safe in this weather.” He set his cup down on the table, just hard enough to spill a few drops.

“But, I can’t…” It was the catch in Tom’s voice that stopped her from going on. South Pass was treacherous this time of year. Even with snow tires, if you hit black ice there was nothing to stop you from plunging into the valley. There was no need for an argument because WDOT would close the road if it got bad. After 25 years together, she knew when Tom was looking out for her and when he was looking for a fight. He just wanted her safe and Rae didn’t want to leave the house mad.

 

It was the thought of that steep drop that had her turning left out of the general store parking lot later that day. Her thumping heart just didn’t match the gently falling snow…there should be no beauty now, no clean white snow.

She knew just where her truck was heading.

The place was nearly unrecognizable in its sparkly white disguise. If it were a picture in a travel brochure, she might find it pretty, quaint even. She hadn’t been on this patch of road since the snow melt when things were springing to life, when the birds sang, when things made sense, when…

Rae couldn’t even think the words.

A mama bird is supposed to push her baby out of the nest.

The baby bird is supposed to fly.

Soar.

She really thought he’d fly.

She hadn’t known that he wouldn’t fly, that he couldn’t fly.

She hadn’t known that he would spiral so far down, so fast.

Her fingers trembled as she hit the speed dial. Rae knew she was in no shape to drive and she knew she couldn’t stay here alone.

“Tom?” her voice broke, betraying her emotions.

“You OK, Rae?”

No answer, just a gulp of air.

“Where are you?”

Just a sob, then he knew.

“Oh, Rae. Are you at the cabin?”

“Please come. Oh, Tom, I miss him so much…”

“I know, babe. I know. I’ll be right there.”

Writing Workshop

The last two posts and next few will be assignments I completed for a writing workshop I just completed at Loyola’s Walker Percy Institute. They all had prompts (these first three had to include a cabin and distinctly different characters) and challenged us toward developing a different aspect of fiction writing. They are better now, having been reviewed by the 15 other writers in the workshop. Enjoy!

Retreat

For some people the mountains are a retreat, an escape.

Cami wanted to escape from them.

They were a beautiful prison. There were no buses, no flights, no taxis and no shelters. There were just nosy neighbors who wanted to talk about your troubles. It was easy enough to have an exit plan in the city. The kid at school with no friends was sure to keep your secrets. Police would always point you to an agency. Guidance counselors would do their best, but out here, if you didn’t have a car, a gun or both, you were a sitting duck.

The overturned trashcan first alerted her to the cabin’s emptiness. It had been on its side near the ditch since she’d been dragged here. She’d seen it lying in the ditch every day since from the school bus. She hadn’t seen lights on or the mailbox flag up, either.

The postcard was her fail-safe. No return address, just the words “Is it safe here?” mailed to the rural route address. She waited a full week before riding her bike back to the mailbox and checking to see if it had been collected. Her heart hammered in her chest as she surreptitiously ‘crashed’ into the mailbox post and checked inside.

It was still there! Her question had been answered.

She looked to make sure the road was as empty as usual and rode up to the cabin to see if there was any recent evidence of life. Just as she’d hoped- waders, empty beer bottles and a too new cowboy hat. This was a hunting camp. If the big orange truck was slung sideways across the lawn or if her mom’s Pinto was gone or if there was yelling or blood, she had herself a Plan B.

As long as she could make it through hunting season, she had her retreat.

Naše Kabina

He couldn’t turn the corner without grinning.

The creek still burbled by. He could imagine the bottles of pivo and root beer clinking there for him to fetch for Papa before there was a proper icebox. He had to look even further up the knotty pine to see where his height had once been etched. Pecka still hung above the door with a familiar driftwood frame.

Jake knew for certain that he had touched every inch of this place. It had certainly touched him. He loved it all.

 

It had nearly broken his heart to drive Papa into town for the last time. He couldn’t bear to look in the rearview mirror at the cabin or at the sunken face next to him.

“Papa?”

“Yes?”

“The kabina, naše kabina?” Perhaps, calling it ‘our cabin’ was overstating things-what could a child really have contributed to such an undertaking? -but his děda just nodded.

“ I would like to buy it from you. Whatever you want, it’s yours.”

“Máte peníze, Jakub?” It was good to hear him laugh so heartily, even at his expense.

“Papa! I have money.”

The old man raised his fuzzy eyebrows at him, “Mám nápad.”

“Fine. What is your idea?”

 

Jake had enjoyed keeping the terms.

Sometimes he drank the pivo, sometimes he drank the root beer, but every day without fail, they drank together. Jake made sure the bottles were ice cold and even when Papa got too weak to sip his, he would lay back and smile as he listened to stories about their shared legacy.

Papa taught him how to laugh, how to work hard, how to love.

“Thank you, Papa. I will take care of naše kabina.”

 

Who Does That Anymore?

I was flipping channels on the way to work this week and one of the DJs said to the other “Does anybody still do that churchy thing anymore? Do you know anyone? Is it just old people or what?” His female cohort says in a small voice “ha ha…I guess not. no.” Then he lights into her for sounding like she’s got Catholic guilt.

It made me tired and sad.

It often seems like I am the odd man out in situations like these: “Who stays home with their kids anymore?” you know the questions…I want to stand in contrast to the world and I guess that takes care of itself, but sometimes it’s exhausting.

Who does that anymore? Me.

Wanna come?