My Work

Bits and pieces

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A Noir Christmas

It was a frosty Christmas Eve, the kind of night that makes a girl wish she was all snug in her bed while visions of Florida danced in her head. I ain’t sentimental about Christmas so I was working the tail end of a double shift at the Tip Top Tavern when he came to town. He walked into the room and sorta looked it over, you know, checking it…twice. And then he squeezed into a corner booth.

“What’s your pleasure?” I said.

He just pressed his finger against the side of his nose and winked at me.

I told him, “I don’t know what that means, Big Boy.”

He laughed and ordered an eggnog, and when I brought it back, he asked me to take a load off. My boss Joe would’ve hung me by my ears if he’d caught me sitting with a customer, but there was something about this guy. He smelled like a fir tree that’s been sprinkled with cinnamon. And he had a beard that was as white as clean underwear, except for the bits of sugar cookie that were stuck to it. Ah, what the heck, I thought. So what if I get fired? My bank account was as empty as a promise from my ex-husband, but this was the kind of guy who can make a girl forget that she needs a paycheck. I sat down and asked him his name.

“Nick,” he said, “Saint Nick.”

Okay, I wasn’t buying the “Saint” part. He didn’t look like no saint I’d ever seen. We got to chatting and pretty soon I was telling him things I ain’t never told nobody before, personal things like how I’m afraid of pigeons and how my middle name is Gary. Before I knew it, it was past closing time, but I did NOT want him to leave. I wanted the night to go on forever.

And then Nick said, “I got a present for ya,” and he opened his hand and showed me a prune. “It’s a sugar plum.”

I reached over to take it and as I did my fingers touched his skin. That’s when I felt it: a current that ran through my body like a rabid chipmunk, leaving me hot and tingle-y in that place that a lady ain’t supposed to talk about. I had to pull my hand away just sos I could breathe again.

“You married?” I asked.

Nick didn’t answer right away. Instead he tore holes in his napkin till it looked like a paper snowflake. Then he smiled at me, but the twinkle had gone out of his eyes. “Yeah,” he said.

“Crap!” I said. Then I added, “You wanna come over anyway?”

He just shook his head.

Well, I hid my face in my hands and cried like a baby that’s been punched in the gut. When I got around to looking up again, Nick was gone. All that was left of him was that prune.

I ain’t never seen him again. But now, every single Christmas morning, under my tree, I find a prune.

I was wrong about Nick. He is a saint.

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My Cinderella Story

I was born with a bump over my right eye. It was a relatively small bump, about the size of an un-licked Tootsie Pop, but it pushed down against my eyelid so that my eye always remained half closed. Or, if you’re an optimist, I guess you could say it remained half open. Some of the meaner kids at my school would run away from me in the halls, shouting things like, “Here comes the Cyclops!” But it wasn’t just my eye bump that made me a social outcast. My family had emigrated from Morocco, and we lived in a town that was pretty much all white, all middle-class, and all American. While I was desperate to fit in, that wasn’t something anyone in my family could easily do.

But everything changed the day my second-grade teacher announced that our class would be putting on a production of Cinderella for the whole school to see. Or, at least, it almost changed that day.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. First there was the audition process. There were no scripts, instead we were asked to get up in front of the class and basically riff. After that, the kids would vote on who got to play the parts. I was content to watch quietly while the other children auditioned for the evil stepfamily, the Fairy Godmother, the King, the Queen, and the Prince. But when it was time to audition for the role of Cinderella, I raised my hand.

Of course, the popular girls were picked to go first; they were the pretty girls with blonde hair and cute dresses. Then the mid-level girls had a go. And finally it was time for the misfits. We were the ones who got snickered at as we walked to the front of the room. I was the last misfit to go up. For my audition I picked the part of the story where Cinderella is left home alone after the others have gone to the ball. I don’t remember my exact words, but I do remember feeling genuinely sorry for myself. I talked about the cruelty of my stepsisters, not the cruelty of my classmates, but the feelings were the same. As I worked myself up into a fever pitch of self-pity, I could feel tears and snot run down my face. But I wasn’t ashamed because in that moment I was in my own little corner by the fireplace. When I finished, the classroom was silent. I made my way back to my desk feeling odd, as if my feet were too far away.

And then Mrs. Scott asked us to vote. It came as no surprise, at least not to me, when I was chosen to play Cinderella. You see, back then, I believed in the Cinderella story.

The next day I wore my favorite dress to school. It was a pink, lacy thing that my mom had made for me to wear to her friend’s daughter’s communion. Not knowing anything about theatre and having no notion of rehearsals, I assumed that we would be putting on the play that day, and I wanted to look my best. But the day passed, and the subject was never brought up.

The following day I wore the pink dress again. But again, no mention of the Cinderella play.

On the third day of wearing the pink dress I loitered in the classroom during recess, hoping to get some info out of Mrs. Scott. A bolder girl would’ve just asked her teacher what the hell was going on. But boldness wasn’t really my thing. Mrs. Scott shooed me out of the room and, to demonstrate that I was a good girl, I obeyed without saying a word.

On the fourth day of wearing the pink dress a boy asked me if that was the only dress I owned.

It wasn’t until the afternoon of the fourth day that Mrs. Scott told us that we weren’t going to do Cinderella after all. “It’s been canceled,” she said. It was a matter-of-fact sort of announcement, like it was no big deal.

And so, I never did get to be Cinderella, except sometimes in my mind. But it was okay; life went on. And anyway, let’s face it: Cinderella is a timid little mouse who never does anything to help herself.

So, you know, screw that.

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A Turkey's Tale

There’s this thing us turkeys do. Ya’ll mighta heard about it. Whenever Farmer Henry comes into the yard with his butcher knife, especially in November, what we do is we run away. I mean, we may be turkeys, but we ain’t bird brains. Runnin’ away is important to this story. I’ll come back to it.

So, I first met Tom ‘bout a year ago over by the back feeder. I was just hangin’ around, gettin’ stuffed on corn. Oh. I probably shouldn’t a said, “getting’ stuffed.” That’s an unfortunate phrase. Anywho, this fine-lookin’ Bourbon Red turkey walks up doin’ this cocky strut. I could tell right away he was tryin’ to git my attention. He starts walkin’ ‘round, showin’ me his tail. I pretended like I wasn’t interested, but then he shook his wattle at me, and, well, it was an unusually large wattle, and I’m only human. I mean…I’m not, but you get where I’m goin’.

Pretty soon, Tom and me was going steady. We was always together—eatin’ corn at the feeder, strollin’ around the pepper tree, or just havin’ intercourse behind the hen house. We was so happy. It was like we was livin’ in a fairy tale. Too bad fairy tales ain’t real.

See, one day last November, a little bird told my daddy that I’d been seein’ a Bourbon Red. Well, Daddy turned all shades a purple ‘cuz he hates Bourbon Reds! He told me, “You best break it off with that red turkey.”

Lookin’ back on it now, if I had to do it over again, I’d a done things different. But I was young last year, and I was stupid. So, when I met Tom behind the hen house, and he started shakin’ his wattle, I stopped him cold. And I said, I said, “Tom, I cain’t. We’re through.”

Tom looked at me like I’d hit him in the face with a garden hoe. Then a teeny little teardrop slipped out of his eye and he said, “Why?”

I was gonna explain, but then I got this cold feeling—you know, like when a sharp wind cuts betwixt your feathers? I turned, and there was Farmer Henry with his butcher knife! Without even thinkin’, I tore off like my tail was on fire. But when I looked back, I saw that Tom was still standin’ there, just starin’ at Farmer Henry. It was like he was a frozen turkey, not runnin’ away or nuttin’.

I said, “Look out! Look out! Look out! Look out!”

But it was too late.

Now, there is a happy part to this story. About three weeks later, Tom, junior got hatched. Junior’s just like his daddy. He’s got the same cocky way of walkin’ and the same unusually large wattle. And I taught him that he can be with any turkey he wants. It don’t matter if it’s a Bourbon Red or an American Black, or a girl turkey, or a boy turkey. Just so long as there’s love, ‘cuz…the most important thing is love.

Also, I taught him it’s good to run away.

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One Hundred Years of Vacation

“I hate this place! I want to go on vacation!” Juanita cried as she ran from the hovel that she shared with the maggots that had hatched in her grandmother’s ears. She threw herself onto the dirt beneath the old mango tree and wept. It was the same tree to which her grandfather, Francisco Espinoza Valdivieso de la Fuente, had been tied for 73 years, and beneath which he had eaten the meat of goats that her grandmother had slaughtered by the full moon, tickling their bellies as she stabbed them in the neck with a sharp cuchillo. Juanita wrapped her arms around the tree, and against its trunk she hit her head. Poom, poom, poom.

“Don’t hit your head,” said a voice that was at once sweet and bitter, like the taste of milk that has dried on the corners of a baby pig’s mouth.

Juanita looked up. Hiding behind the branches of a nearby goom-goom bush she discovered Manolito Javier Escobar, a poor neighbor boy who was so dirty that earthworms lived on his skin and sweet potatoes grew out of his belly button.

“Come. I will take you on vacation,” Manolito said.

During his years tied to the mango tree, Juanita’s grandfather had often urinated on its trunk, thereby imparting his wisdom to its fruit. So Juanita plucked a mango off a low branch and asked of it, “Oh, wise one, should I go with this filthy boy on vacation?”

“Do the thing you must,” the mango answered, for a mango can be a cryptic fruit.

“Come,” Manolito said again as he took Juanita’s hand. His skin felt hot, like a burro’s back as it stands in the plaza on a summer’s day, waiting for nothing, waiting only to die. Manolito pulled her to her feet and together they ran. Through the goom-goom bushes they ran, into the village of Los Mocos Verdes, past the statue of La Virgen de las Pesadillas, and out of the village again, into the mountains, and out of the mountains. And on and on until, one hundred years later, they were still running.

“Please, Manolito,” Juanita cried, “stop! I need to rest.”

“We are here,” Manolito said as he sat on the dirt beneath a mango tree. “Now we are on vacation.”

Juanita looked around her, and her eyes and mouth opened as big as if they belonged to a baby cotinga bird, waiting to be fed a regurgitated caterpillar from its mother’s beak. The mango tree was exactly as she had left it, as were the goom-goom bushes and the old hovel. She stepped inside her home and saw that her grandmother and the maggots that had hatched in her ears were having their siesta under the kitchen table, just as they did after every meal. Nothing had changed. Everything seemed frozen in eternity like the pieces of corn that were hopelessly entangled in her tio Fernando’s beard.

And, for the first time, Juanita recognized beauty in her home. It was the beauty of a mango blossom after it has withered and fallen to the ground and become a part of the earth but can still be smelled on an autumn night when youth is gone and longings are strong.

“Are you hungry?” Manolito asked her as he pulled a sweet potato out of his belly button.

“Yes” Juanita said. She tied Manolito to the mango tree, as was her family custom, and sitting together in its shade they shared the sweet potato, listened to the screeching of the cicadas in the goom-goom bushes, and enjoyed the comforts of home.

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Dear Diary

Dear Diary,
Exciting news! A new man moved into the building today. I saw him carrying boxes through the lobby, so Tootsie and I followed him up the stairs. That’s how I got a good look at his butt. It’s nice—sort of round and friendly looking. I didn’t see a wedding ring. Must learn his name. More to follow.

Dear Diary,
Saw Mystery Man getting his mail when I brought Tootsie back from pooping this morning. I said “Hi,” and Mystery Man said “Hi” back. I was going to explain about the tumor on Tootsie’s side, but somebody yelled, “Murray,” and Mystery Man ran upstairs. I think his name is Murray. More to follow.

Dear Diary,
Murray wore shorts today! Tootsie and I were loitering under the “No loitering” sign in the lobby when he came downstairs. I said, “Dang, it’s hot.” He didn’t say anything back. I think he’s playing hard to get. The game is afoot!

Dear Diary,
Ran into Murray this morning. Actually, it’s more like he ran into me. I was squatting in front of his door, rubbing anti-fungal cream between Tootsie’s toes, when he came out and almost fell over us. He said, “Oops,” but I didn’t say anything back. The score is now one to one.

Dear Diary,
I can’t sleep. I can’t eat. I feel like throwing up. Is this love?

Dear Diary,
I didn’t see Murray all day today. I camped out by his front door, but he never came out. What if he’s sick? What if he’s dead? I’m so worried. Had soup for dinner.

Dear Diary,
Murray isn’t dead! Tootsie and I followed him to Yogurtland, and then hid behind a bush and watched him get a yogurt through the window. He sat in the back of the store and ate all by himself. That’s kind of sad, isn’t it? PS Finally finished that little sweater I was crocheting for Tootsie. Now I’m not sure I like the color. Oh, well.

Dear Diary,
I invented a new dessert involving Sara Lee pound cake and chunky peanut butter. Maybe I’ll send the recipe to the Food Channel and win a million dollars. Ha ha.

Dear Diary,
Just ran into Murray by the mailboxes. There was something stuck between his teeth. Was it spinach? I don’t know what to think. Oral hygiene is important.

Dear Diary,
I was doing my word jumble this morning when there was a knock on my door. I made a face because, as you know, I don’t like being interrupted during word-jumble time. It was Murray wanting to borrow a ratchet wrench. I told him I don’t know what that is. I noticed that his left ear is bigger than his right ear. That just seems wrong.

Dear Diary,
Thinking of parting my hair on the side.

Dear Diary,
Exciting news! We have a new mail guy! He brought my heating pad to my door because he said he didn’t want to leave it in the lobby. I’m a sucker for a man in uniform. Mail Guy has brown eyes and is very attractive. Both of his ears are the same size. No wedding ring! Must learn his name. More to follow.

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Peace

Oh, my God! Thank you so much! I was not expecting to win this tonight. The Nobel Peace Prize. Eek! And it’s so pretty! You know, I actually thought it was going to be bigger. Anyway, I have so many people to thank: first of all, the nice folks on the Nobel Prize committee. To you I say, tuesen tu tu feeur takk.

And, also, I would like to thank the Middle East. If it weren’t for you guys I would not be here tonight. So, Shalom.

And now, if I may, I would like to share with you how I came to be a spokesmodel for world peace. I was raised by my grandmother, my meemaw. She was great. She used to knit hats for the dogs at the local animal shelter. Anyway, as a child I suffered from flumititis, which, naturally, made it difficult for me to say my r’s, or my l’s, or a lot of my other consonants. I also had trouble with some of my vowels. And as a toddler I fell off a silo, so I had to wear a back brace until I was 20. It had theses bars, and straps, and pulleys. When I walked it made a noise like eh eh, eh eh, eh eh, eh eh.

So, as you may expect, people sometimes teased me when I was a child, especially Tommy Ledbetter, this kid who lived on my cul de sac. He really liked to call me names.

Well, one day I was walking home when Tommy Ledbetter yelled, “Hey, freak!” and threw a potato at me.

Luckily it just bounced off my back brace, but still, my heart started racing, and my brain got hot, and I picked the potato up, and I swear, I was going to throw it right at Tommy Ledbetter’s head. But…I didn’t. Instead I said, “I have feewings too, you know.” Then I dropped the potato and ran home.

When I told Meemaw what had happened, she put down her knitting needles and grabbed me by my pulleys and said, “Wendy, you should get the Nobel Peace Prize because Tommy Ledbetter is a fucking asshole.”

She’s in heaven now. So, Meemaw, this is for you!

Okay, that’s weird. Some of you guys have turned into Cocker Spaniels. Wait. Is this a dream? I’m not wearing any pants, so…maybe.

I think I better wake up and go to the bathroom. Okay, well, thanks again. Oh, and, Norway, to you I say, farvel fur fur-feurnee.

Peace out.

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