Rear View

She surfed into the room on a wave of perfume.  We’d heard her stilettos clacking percussively as she approached, and both Pam and I looked up with more than usual interest when she entered the reception area.

We work for the mayor, acolytes of the outer office, answering phones and greeting visitors for His Honor.  While always polite, we make it a point not to be bowled over by the high and mighty, especially those who proclaim their own height and might.

Our visitor was definitely a proclaimer.

“I wish to see the mayor,” she announced, her eyes focused somewhere above our heads.

“Yes, ma’am,” Pam said.  “Do you have an appointment?”

“No, young lady, I do not.  Tell him his most generous campaign contributor is waiting.  The name is Virginia Payton-Price.

Still no eye contact.

“Yes, ma’am, I’ll do that as soon as he’s free.  He’s on the phone now.”

“Do you know who I am?” Virginia Payton-Price asked, her voice rising.

“You just said.”

“Then I strongly suggest you notify the mayor immediately.”

“Please have a seat.  I’ll tell him you’re here as soon as he completes his call.”

“You’ll regret this. I’ll visit the ladies’ room while I’m waiting.  Show me where it is.”

Pam rose and silently led the way.

“What a sweetie!” she said when she returned.  “It was hard to resist giving her a swirly. I think I could’ve done it, too. She doesn’t have much traction in those shoes.”

We heard the clacking heels coming our way again and Virginia Payton-Price swept back into the room, but this time with a difference:  the hem of her soft silk dress was caught up in the waistband of her pantyhose.  Fully displayed, her ample derriere gave literal meaning to the phrase, “showing one’s ass.”

Pam’s smile radiated pure joy.

“The mayor will see you now,” she said.




Who’s a Good Dog?

Twinkie and Doodle are talking thought the picket fence that separates their respective back yards. They used to bark and snarl and snap at each other, sending their owners racing to break it up, screaming, “No! Bad dog!” But after a while, the humans got tired of running and began ignoring the fracas at the fence. All the joy went out of it then. Now the dogs just sniff, their black noses wrinkling as they take in one million megabytes of information about each other. Then they sometimes sit and talk for a few minutes. Their humans think it’s cute, the two dogs communing.

(English translation)

“You seem a little down today. What’s the matter?” Doodle asks.

“It’s just…sometimes I think I’ll never find out who’s a good dog,” Twinkie says, scratching behind her right ear.

“I know what you’re saying,” Doodle responds sympathetically. “I’ve been hearing that ‘who’s a good dog?’ question for years. Don’t know why she keeps asking me, like I’d know.”

“Yeah, who even understands what “Bad dog! Good dog!” mean? Humans. Can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em. They do give good treats, though,” Twinkie says philosophically.

“Well, now treats – that’s a sore subject!  She says I’m too fat, and I only get these dinky little Milk Bones once in a while. And she’s really cut down on nibbles from the table. That hurts.” Doodle sneezed for emphasis.

“In fairness, you have put on a pound or two.”


“Okay, okay, just kidding. You need to be using your sad puppy eyes. Remember, we talked about that. Have you been practicing?”

“Oh, I’ve gotten much better at it. Sometimes it even works well enough to get me the last bite of whatever she’s eating.”

“Show me.”

Doodle stretches out on the ground with his head resting on his paws. He rolls his eyes up at Twinkie and slowly wags his tail once.

“Oh, wow! Very good!” Twinkie says. “I’d give you a treat myself if I had one.”



The two dogs prick up their ears and look over their shoulders at the humans calling them.

“Later, ‘gator,” Twinkie says.

“In a while, crocodile,” Doodle says.

They trot back to their houses, tails in the air, collars jingling. Doodle hears Twinkie’s human say, “Oooh, who’s a good dog then? Who’s a puppy-wuppy boogems?”

Twinkie glances back at Doodle. If dogs could shrug…


Jett married at seventeen just to get away from home.  She and her equally young husband called it quits after less than a year, their union ill-fated from the start.  But Jett got a baby out of it; she got Brittany. She found she loved Brittany in a way that was new to her. She’d do anything for that little girl.

At eighteen, she had to move back home with her folks.  She needed a babysitter and her mother was delighted to help out.  Well, more like take over.  When she got a job at McDonald’s, her Mom tended Brittany every day. Jett fell back into her familiar slot in her parents’ home, only now she was a child with a child.  But the day that Brittany called her grandmother Mama was the day Jett knew it was time for a change. Planning was never her strong suit, but this was her life, dammit, and her kid. She had to take charge.

She needed a better job than flipping burgers, but she had no particular skill and no patience for spending time and money to learn one. Jett, true to her name, liked to move fast, and she was not over-burdened with scruples.

So: something illegal, then? I don’t think I’d be very good at robbery. Murder? No, I don’t have the stomach for that. What about a con game of some kind? Victimless, because the mark will want what I’m offering, something that’s a step outside the margins. Harmless, because no one will get hurt. Well, not physically hurt, anyway.

She toyed with a few ideas, like faking a fatal illness to get money through a GoFundMe page. But a glance in the mirror confirmed there was no way to disguise the bloom of health and youth. Could she pretend to be a Russian mail-order bride? Probably not, she wasn’t good at accents. What about a womb-for-hire scheme? She’d already been through a pregnancy, so she could easily feign one. Get some of those foam pregnancy bellies in escalating sizes, collect money as her “condition” progressed, then disappear with the cash before the due date. People who were that desperate to have a kid wouldn’t care about the money. They’d have already tried everything legitimate, and would be ready to color outside the lines to get what they wanted. She’d relieve them of some cash, then she’d take Brittany and get the hell out of Dodge. Leave behind her girlhood bedroom, bossy mother and, best of all, that horrible hamburger grill. Start over someplace new.

Jett told no one her plan. She needed secrecy and knew that a secret told to one is told to all, so she kept her mouth shut. She placed an ad on Craig’s List: “Healthy young woman in desperate need of money. Willing to conceive and carry your baby.” She added her e-mail address.

She got a response within fifteen minutes. “We are a couple in our forties, been trying for a baby for ten years. Very interested in your offer. Can we meet?” Jett typed back: “Name time and place.”


She saw them the minute she entered the coffee shop. Well-dressed, carefully-groomed, obviously nervous, Richard and Gabriella sat together on one side of the booth, never taking their eyes off the door. She saw their faces light up with hope when she headed toward them. Jett slid fluently into the story she’d rehearsed: how she was a single mom, had already had a healthy pregnancy but now needed money for her mother’s operation. She described – truthfully – how much she hated her job and how little money she made from it. The couple nodded at all the right places. At one point, Gabriella reached across the table and squeezed her hand sympathetically. Jett could tell they believed every word.

“We’d need you to donate an ovum,” Gabriella said. “And then you’d be artificially inseminated.”

Jett was prepared for that, too. No reason to give good money to a lab when it could be coming to her. “Doesn’t that cost a fortune?” she asked. “Why spend all that money when we could do it the old-fashioned way for free?”

She didn’t miss the spark of interest in Richard’s eyes, quickly extinguished when he glanced at his wife.

“No emotional commitment,” Jett hurried on. “I know exactly when I’m fertile. It’d be one and done, and then I’d be carrying your baby. And in nine months, you’d have a son or daughter in your arms, I’d have money to help my Mom, and we’d all be happy, right? I don’t want any future contact. We’d never see each other again.”

Gabrielle and Richard exchanged a long look. Richard shrugged.

“How much money would you need?” Gabriella asked, and Jett knew she had them.

“Twenty-one thousand,” she said. “Payable in three installments.”

“We need to think about this,” Gabriella said.

“Sure. But tomorrow is my peak day for fertility. If we wait, it’ll be another month.”


They went for it, as Jett’d known they would. Now, wearing only a robe, she waited for Richard in a utilitarian motel room off the interstate. She wished it was a more seductive space. Because, actually, Richard wasn’t too bad. Steady job, owned a home, nice car…He just might be her ticket to ride, good for a lot more than twenty-one grand.   Forget about faking pregnancy; she’d go for the real thing. She’d score a nice big house, a new daddy and a sibling for Brittany in one swoop.

She heard Richard’s knock, pushed her robe off one shoulder, fluffed her hair and went to let him in. To her surprise, Gabriella was with him. They hardly looked like the same couple. Gone was the careful grooming and nervous aura. They pushed past her without a greeting. Richard was carrying a small black bag which he set on the bed and unzipped immediately. From it he pulled a roll of duct tape and a scalpel. They eyed Jett, standing open-mouthed in her robe, and exchanged amused looks. Richard snapped off a length of tape like a man who’d done it many times before.

“Looks like she’s been waiting for us,” Gabriella said. “Do you want to carve first, darling, or shall I?”

“After you, sweetie. I went first last time.”

You May Already be a Winner

You know that Publisher’s Clearing House letter that begins, “You may already be a winner”?  Well, let me tell you how that works in real life.  There I was, just on an ordinary Tuesday, October 30, doing a little laundry, thinking what to fix for supper, when the doorbell rang.  I opened the door of my doublewide to find two shined-up people, a man and a woman dressed fit to kill, and holding a great, big cardboard check with my name on it.  There was a truck with a big antenna and a guy with a furry microphone, which he stuck right in my face.  And there I was, in my jeans with bleach stains and an old shirt of Dwayne’s.

“Congratulations, you’re the newest Publisher’s Clearing House winner!” yelled the man, grinning like a mule eating briars.

The woman yipped and yelped and waved the big check back and forth as best she could, considering the size of it and the size of her hairdo.  The camera came in real close and they poked that furry microphone at me.  I just looked at them.  When I’m surprised, I get real quiet.   After a minute or two, the man said, “Cut,” and the cameramen took the big heavy-looking cameras off their shoulders and looked bored.

“Uh, Mrs.….Douglas, is it?  Delladean Douglas?  Look, Mrs. Douglas, we need a little more enthusiasm.  This goes on T.V., you know.   Aren’t you happy to see this giant check with your name on it and all those zeroes?”

“Why, yes, I reckon I am,” I answered slowly, “only I wonder is it for real or some kind of joke?”

“It’s for real, believe me.  You just became a very wealthy woman.  Now, when we turn these cameras back on, could we have a big smile and maybe a little jumping up and down?

Well, no, they could not.  I may be a poor person, but I’ve got my dignity.  Eventually it all got sorted out. The Publisher’s Clearing House folks gave up and left without no pictures of me jumping and smiling.  They was aggravated, I could tell, but they left the check.   Guess I won’t be on the television any time soon.  I went to the bank with the regular-size check they give me and I opened me a ginormous checking account and got a fistful of ten-dollar bills.  I had plans for those tens.  The bank manager put the rest in something he called short-term C.D.s until I can figure out what to do with it.   That night when I went to bed, I was just as tired as if I’d worked real hard.

Here is what I did the next day.

I drove my old junker to the Ford dealership and wrote a check for a new red Mustang convertible.  While I was at it, I bought my ex, Dwayne, a pickup truck.  Dwayne’s had a streak of bad luck.  After he divorced me, he got laid off at the creamery and then his old truck died.  His girlfriend dumped him and he had to move back in with his Mama and her third husband in their singlewide.  Dwayne’s step-daddy don’t like him and that’s close quarters to be in with somebody who don’t like you.  Now he’s got no job and no ride to go looking for one.  I have found out I can get along just fine without him and I ain’t taking him back, which is what he will want when he hears about the money.  So the truck is a consolation prize.  Maybe I wanted to mess with him a little, too.

Then I went to see my brother, Hank.  Him and me ain’t spoke for about a year, since Mama passed and he acted so ugly about her things. Mama sure didn’t have much, but Hank wanted it all because he’s the oldest boy.  I didn’t think it was one bit fair and I still don’t, although I’m shamed that we fought about household plunder. Mama would have whupped us both.  So there’s been bad feelings between Hank and me, but Hank’s boy, David, is a child I purely love.  He’s a senior in high school, and smart!  That boy has made us all proud.  I asked to talk to him.

“David,” I said, “are you planning on going to college?”

“Yes’m, Aunt Delladean, I sure want to, but I don’t know if I can earn enough….”

“Stop right there,” I told him, and I felt my face near split in half with smiling.  “You’re going to college and it ain’t costing you a cent because I’m paying.  I won the Clearing House prize, y’all!”

Well, Hank and me started talking again right then, and there was hugging, and yes, there might’a been some jumping up and down but it was private, in the family.  David’s face turned white and then red, and he cried some, and so did Hank and me and Hank’s wife, Carlene, but pretty soon we all settled down and I told them about the cameras and microphones and the shined-up people with that giant check.  Hank seemed real glad for me and didn’t act ugly at all.

It was a good day, and it wasn’t over yet because it was Halloween night, which was always my favorite holiday.  I liked it so much as a young’un that Mama would laugh at me and call me her little Witch Hazel.  That night the children came to my door as usual and after I oohed and aahed over their get-ups, I give ‘em each ten dollars in their little trick or treat bags.  It was the best fun I’ve had in years, seeing how their eyes got big when they saw those tens.  I figured ten bucks was just right – enough to be exciting to a kid, but not so much that their parents would freak out.   A ghost and a mermaid came back three times, but I pretended I hadn’t seen them before.  Kids in my neighborhood don’t get much give to them, so let ‘em enjoy it.

I ain’t an educated woman, but I ain’t stupid, either.  I know I’ll need help to handle all that money, and tomorrow I’m going to see about getting me a lawyer and an accountant and I don’t know what all.  I don’t intend to blow the money, but I needed one day to spend it however I wanted so I could stop feeling poor and start feeling rich.  You know what?  It felt good to give money away and it felt good to spend it, too. It didn’t take no time at all to get my brother back and give my nephew a bright future.  The Publisher’s Clearing House folks were right:  I already was a winner.



Thanks for a great book launch

Here’s every author’s dread: there you are at your book-signing table with a stack of books at your side, pen in hand. And there you are. Just you. And the books. Nobody shows up. Nobody cares.

That’s what didn’t happen at the launch of my latest book, Mrs. Entwhistle, held on Feb. 26 at the Gone With the Wind Museum in Marietta. I didn’t count noses, but about 50 people showed up and nearly 70 books left the building with them. My friends really turned out for me, and there were also some new faces in the crowd.

We had a great time eating homemade cookies and drinking iced tea (this is the South, you know). My guests allowed me to read them a story, and they asked good follow-up questions.  Everyone browsed the museum, which is a destination in itself. All in all, it was a great day for me, and I sincerely thank everyone who helped make it possible.

Now back to work on Book #4.

Mrs. Entwhistle Arrives

Cora Entwhistle has been meandering around in my head for a couple of years. Now she’s in print, so I hope she’ll be meandering around in yours, too. This is my third book, and it’s a compilation of short stories about the same person – Mrs. Entwhistle. You’ll also meet her grown children, Diane and Tommy, her best friend, Maxine, next-door neighbor, Ronnie Sue, and her old dog, Roger.

Mrs. Entwhistle is 78, but you’d better not call her old. She can cope just fine with whatever life throws at her – and it throws a lot. She’s mistaken for a mob trial witness and put into witness protection; she rescues Roger from a kidnapper; she’s trapped in an elevator with six strangers; she wins the Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes, even though she never entered. None of this is her doing, as she’s quick to point out, but she can handle it.

Mrs. E. and I got to be great friends during the writing process. Contrary to some opinions, she is not autobiographical, nor are her children based on mine. My children haven’t tried to take away my car like Mrs. Entwhistle’s kids did – at least, not yet – so I want to stay on their good sides.

Come help me launch Mrs. Entwhistle on Sunday, February 26, 1:30-3:30 p.m., at the Gone With The Wind Museum on the Marietta Square.  Refreshments, prizes, reading, signing and general hilarity will ensue, and I’d love for you to be part of it.

Plus you’ll get to browse the Museum for free that day. It has the finest collection of GWTW memorabilia in the South. Admit it: haven’t you always wanted to see Scarlett’s dresses up close and personal? And in case “you see it in the windah and you just hafta have it,” there are reproductions for sale.

Should you want to plan ahead: I bet your mom would like a copy of of Mrs. Entwhistle for Mother’s Day.  To purchase, go to Amazon Books, type in my name, and have at it.

Mrs. Entwhistle Cancels Christmas

I’m working on my third book, a compilation of short stories about a redoubtable woman named Cora Entwhistle. (All rumors that she and I bear a resemblance are totally untrue.) Here’s a Christmas story, Mrs. Entwhistle-style. Merry Christmas, everyone.


Mrs. Entwhistle Cancels Christmas

         Cora Entwhistle had mixed emotions. The thing was, she didn’t believe the Christmas story, but a respectable elderly lady living in a small town couldn’t voice such doubts. In her opinion, a virginal conception announced by angels was highly suspect. Why not just admit Mary was expecting before she got married? That was a story old as humans.  As for the whole manger/shepherds/wise men meme, she couldn’t buy it. The unassailable fact of the matter was that a person who’d lived hundreds of years ago was still so influential that all the years before and after was dated from his birth. That seemed significant enough without all the attendant window-dressing. But she kept such views to herself. After all, Winter Solstice had been celebrated from time immemorial; it just came wrapped in red and green these days.

Some things about the holiday she liked: midnight service on Christmas Eve, when the familiar old church took on an air of mystery and strangeness; the table groaning under the feast of favorite foods; seeing her children and grandchildren all together.  Some things she disliked: all that cooking; the difficulty of finding a date to gather family, the mad orgy of shopping and wrapping presents, the tension of deadlines and budget versus list. But she’d learned to concentrate on what she liked and ignore the rest as much as possible.

Mrs. Entwhistle was not one who did her Christmas shopping in July.  She believed the holiday season had already overlapped its boundaries like a fat man in an airplane seat.  She refused to think about it until December first.  That was still plenty of time if you didn’t plan to go mad and make a big fuss over everything. In due time, she called her daughter, Diane.

“Hello, Mama,” her daughter said.

“How did you know it was me?” Mrs. Entwhistle demanded

.        “You always ask that.  I have Caller I.D., remember?”

“Oh, yes.  It’s spooky, though, like you can see through the telephone.”

“Yes, Mama.  How are you today?”

“Oh, fine, honey, just fine.  Listen, I’m calling about Christmas.  When’s a good day for me to have everyone here?”

“Well, let me just look at my calendar.  It’s already filled up; seems to do that earlier every year.  Let’s see.  We have John’s family coming on the Sunday before.  And the kids are in the church program on Christmas Eve.  And on Christmas Day, we want to stay home so they can play with their new toys.  The week-end after, we’re taking them to Dollywood. It’s their big present this year.”

“Any week-days available?” Mrs. Entwhistle asked, through gritted teeth.

“John has to work every day except Christmas.”

“I see.”

“Sorry, Mama, I don’t mean to be uncooperative, it’s just such a busy time with the kids and two sets of families to celebrate with.  And you’ve left it kind of late.”

“Only one family is celebrating, far as I can see.  And today is December second.  I wouldn’t call that late.”

“Why don’t you just come here, Mama?  You could come over on Christmas Eve, spend the night and watch the children open their presents in the morning.”

Mrs. Entwhistle shuddered at the mental image of two over-excited grandchildren ripping and shrieking their way through the ridiculous pile of presents that she knew lay under the tree at her daughter’s house.  She pictured the mounds of wrapping paper and empty boxes, the hectic red cheeks of children who didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, and so did both. She envisioned the spilled cocoa, sticky on the floor; the quarrelling over who got more or better presents; the exhausted faces of parents trying, against all common sense, to enjoy the occasion. No, thanks. Not even if they were her own children and grandchildren.  She had an ace up her sleeve for just such an occasion.

“What about Roger?” she asked.

“Mama, you know Roger can’t come.  Jeannie’s allergic; she’d spend the whole holiday sniffling and coughing.”

“Well, I can’t just leave him at home.”

Mrs. Entwhistle’s little dog, an ancient Shih Tzu of uncertain lineage, was her built-in excuse when she didn’t want to do something. Nobody much wanted Roger to visit, not that it was his fault that he had those skin problems and a bit of an odor. He was old, after all.  And he did get confused sometimes when he was away from home, and forget to go to the door when he wanted out.  That one time he’d lifted his leg on Diane’s new sofa, Mrs. Entwhistle had never heard such a scream.  Scared the poor little dog so much he dried up in mid-stream.  It was not lost on Mrs. Entwhistle that Jeannie’s allergy developed right after that visit.

“All right, Diane,” she said into the phone now.  “Let me check with Tommy.  You be thinking if there is some time you might squeeze your mother into your schedule.”

Mrs. Entwhistle hung up, hearing Diane’s sputtering as she replaced the handset of her old-fashioned desk model telephone.  She dialed Tommy’s number at the office.

“Accounting,” he said crisply.

“Tommy, it’s Mama.”

“Oh, hi, Mama,” Tommy said, his tone changing instantly from business-crisp to whiney-casual. “I’m being rushed off my feet right now, could I call you back later?”

“This won’t take a minute.  I’m just trying to see when you can come for Christmas.”

“I’m not celebrating Christmas this year,” Tommy said.  “Since Judy took the girls and left me, I don’t have anything to celebrate.  In fact, I’m going to ignore the whole deal.  Maybe go skiing.”

“You don’t ski, Tommy,” Mrs. Entwhistle said.

.        “I might learn.”

“I see.  All right, then.  ‘Bye.”

Mrs. Entwhistle was darned if she was going to spend one more minute begging her children to fit her into their plans.  She sat staring out the window at the bird feeder.  The black-capped chickadees and sober gray sparrows were having a grand time kicking the expensive sun flower seeds to the ground, where a couple of gluttonous squirrels Hoovered them up.  Apparently they have time to get together, Mrs. Entwhistle thought.  Then she rose decisively.

“Come on, Roger,” she said, rattling his leash and harness.  The little dog walked stiffly over and extended his neck toward the harness.  She slipped it over his head, buckled it around his belly, got into her coat, warm hat and gloves, and they set out for their daily walk.  Walking was a good time to think, and she had some thinking to do.

“Well, who says Christmas has to be celebrated, anyway?” she said to herself.  Mrs. Entwhistle often talked aloud as she walked.  Let people think she had one of those cell phone thingies clipped on her ear.  Half the population could be seen talking into thin air these days, like crazy people escaped from the Home.

“I’ll just do something else this year, on my own.  Maybe I’ll volunteer to serve the Christmas meal at the homeless shelter. I can plop turkey and dressing onto a paper plate as well as anyone.  That’d show Diane and Tommy.”

Of course, Diane and Tommy had a fit when she told them.  They felt guilty, as Mrs. Entwhistle knew they would.

“I’m not mad at you,” she explained several times.  “You are both busy.  Fine.  I can fill my time quite nicely, thank you. You’re off the hook, because Christmas with me is officially cancelled. I’ll see you after the holidays, when things settle down.”

And that was that.


         They were glad to have her, at the homeless shelter.  “We always need volunteers,” said the perky lady who took Mrs. Entwhistle’s call.  “We start prepping the night before, get those big turkeys into the oven at midnight, carve early in the morning, everything goes in the warming oven, and then we begin serving our clients at eleven.   People come through until around three, and then we clean up and go home.  Can you come for the whole day?”

“No, dear, I’m seventy-eight years of age.” Mrs. Entwhistle didn’t hesitate to play the age card when it suited her.  “I’ll come at ten-thirty and stand in the serving line.  As long as my old legs will allow,” she added, prudently giving herself an out in case she needed it.  Advanced age should have some compensation to balance out the things you lost, she figured.  Heaven knew there were enough of those.

At the appointed time, she drove into the mission’s parking lot.  Spaces were scarce.  You’d think the homeless people wouldn’t be driving, she reflected, maneuvering gingerly into a too-small spot.  The person on her right would not be able to get their driver’s side door open, but it was the best she could do.  Maybe she’d leave before that person did.

Entering the warm, brightly lit kitchen, she felt shy.  She knew no one, and that in itself was a novelty.  Having lived in her house for fifty years, her neighborhood and its inhabitants were as familiar as her own face in the mirror.  A smiling, hurrying woman in a big apron came forward, holding out her hand.

“Hi!  I’m Marge!” she shouted.

“Cora Entwhistle.  I called…”

“Yes!  I was expecting you!  Come on in and get your apron!”

Mrs. Entwhistle mentally christened her Shouter. Obediently, she slipped the stained white apron over her head and tied the strings in a firm bow behind her back.

“People!  People!  Our clients are waiting at the door already!  I need someone to go out and tell them to line up in an orderly way!  Mrs. Entwhistle, would you do that?”

Mrs. Entwhistle nodded and moved toward the glass double doors, beyond which could be seen a jostling throng.  Everyone seemed to be dressed alike, in dark jackets, black knitted caps and camo pants.  They looked cold.  And menacing.

She pushed the door open, stepped outside and heard the lock click as the door shut behind her.  Great, now she was locked out in the cold without a coat, in the middle of a mob of hungry strangers.  Sure to get pneumonia, if not get shot.

“Uh, folks…friends,” she said in her naturally-carrying voice, “I’ve been asked to tell you to form an orderly line before the doors are unlocked.”

“I was in an orderly line, until this shit-head pushed in front of me,” said one woman.  She cast a baleful look at the offender.

“She left and then came back and jumped the line,” he said.  “If you leave, you give up your place, right?”

“Now, now, ‘tis the season,” Mrs. Entwhistle said, but she was met by stony stares.  “You know, to be jolly,” she explained.

“Ain’t nothin’ jolly about standin’ out here in th’ cold,” someone muttered.

“If you’re too good to wait, why don’t you get on outta here?” said an anonymous voice in the crowd.

“Don’t you tell me what to do; I’ll break your sorry head.”

Mrs. Entwhistle wondered how the newspaper headlines would read in tomorrow’s paper:  Elderly Woman Killed in Riot at Homeless Shelter.  Or, best case scenario:  Saintly Volunteer Quells Homeless Unrest.  “I certainly wouldn’t call myself a hero,” she rehearsed in her mind.  “I just did what anyone.,..”

At that moment, Shouter swung the glass doors open wide and Mrs. Entwhistle surfed into the warm dining room on a tide of humanity.  She washed up near the kitchen door and took her place in the serving line. The plates started coming.  Plop, shuffle, plop, shuffle, it was endless.

“Make eye contact!  Say Merry Christmas!” Shouter shouted.  But Mrs. Entwhistle barely had time to glance up from the enormous vat of dressing.

She remembered the old I Love Lucy episode in which Lucy and Ethel worked on the candy factory assembly line, and, unable to keep up with the conveyor belt, stuffed chocolates into their mouths and clothing.  At least dressing would be warm next to the skin, if it came to that.

Finally the line slowed and then trickled out. The volunteers were encouraged to fix themselves plates and Mrs. Entwhistle did so, having worked up a good appetite.  Like the clients, this would be her only Christmas dinner.  She looked around for a congenial table.

“Mind if I join you?” she asked, approaching three seated women.

“Sit down, dearie, take a load off,” one of the woman said.  “I’m Rachel, this here is Patricia, and that’s Mary.”

“Cora,” Mrs. Entwhistle said, dropping heavily into the folding chair.

“Tired you out, didn’t we?  You have yourself some turkey now and catch your second wind.”

The women continued the conversation that Mrs. Entwhistle’s arrival had interrupted. “You need to leave now if you’re gonna walk to the women’s shelter in time to get a bed,” Rachel said.  “I’m gonna sleep in my place. I’ve got a little pup tent up in those woods off the interstate.  Got me a propane heater, so I’ll be okay.”

“Willy caught hisself on fire with one of them heaters,” Patricia said.

“Yeah, but Willy’s an idiot.  Probably had all kinds of blankets and papers piled right up on it.”

Mrs. Entwhistle thought of her own bed, never before viewed as luxurious, and of the hot bath she intended to sink into when she got home.  The women had draped their outerwear over the backs of their chairs – second-hand woolen coats that had seen better days, cleared from closets of plenty.  The requisite knitted caps were still on their heads, no doubt to hide hair that wouldn’t stand the light of day.  Fingerless gloves and one pair of mittens knitted in a reindeer pattern lay on the table.  Were they warm enough on this glitteringly cold day?  And what about the nights?  Where were these women’s families?

Mrs. Entwhistle spoke up.  “Do you have children?  Have you seen them over Christmas?”

All six eyes turned to her.  They regarded her silently for a long moment.

Rachel spoke first.  “My boys are in California, I reckon.  That’s what they said when they left a couple years ago.  I heard from one of them for awhile, but when I had to give up the house, I didn’t have no address to give him.  I had a cell phone ‘till someone stole it off me while I was sleepin’.  I don’t guess my boys would know where to find me if they was lookin’.”

“I never had kids,” Patricia said.  “Never been married.  When the factory closed, I couldn’t make my rent no more, so I had to get out on the street.  Been out there for three years now, and it ain’t so bad, once you figure out where to get help when you need it.”

Mary’s head was down.  Tears leaked slowly from her closed eyes and made tracks down her cheeks.  She said nothing.  Mrs. Entwhistle drew in her breath to speak, but Patricia caught her eye.  No, her head shook, and she placed a finger on her lips.  Mrs. Entwhistle exhaled and closed her mouth. She understood.  Some things went too deep for words.

“So!” Patricia said, with forced cheer, “The women’s shelter is real fine.  We c’n take showers and wash our clothes and on Saturdays there’s a gal comes and gives haircuts.  Lotta times someone brings in a big pot of soup.  But…” she hesitated. “Well, it’s a mite far from here. If you was to give us a ride, that would sure be a help.  If it wouldn’t be too much trouble.”

Mrs. Entwhistle’s glance fell on Mary’s foot, clad in a filthy orthopedic walking boot and elevated on another folding chair.  “How did you hurt your foot?” she asked.

“Oh, just got a dang infection between my toes.  Feet are wet a lot.  It’s getting better, but it still hurts like hell when I walk on it.”

“Of course, I’ll drive you to the shelter,” Mrs. Entwhistle said with some difficulty. There seemed to be a big lump in her throat.  “Whenever you’re ready.”

Coats and gloves were donned, with much winding of scarves around necks.  They need waterproof boots, Mrs. Entwhistle thought, resolving to go to Wal-Mart the next morning and purchase several pair.  And maybe some warm flannel shirts, too.

Rachel said good-bye in the parking lot and set off on foot for her pup tent in the woods.  She turned and waved several times before she disappeared into the trees.  The other women climbed into Mrs. Entwhistle’s car.  Never had her old Buick been so appreciated.  Patricia and Mary commented on how nice and clean Mrs. Entwhistle kept it.  They complimented her on the soft seats and strong heater and smooth ride.  When they arrived at the women’s shelter, both women gripped her hands, told her she was as good as an angel, and wished her a Merry Christmas as they hauled themselves back out into the frigid and darkening day.

“Merry Christmas,” Mrs. Entwhistle said back.   She’d slipped a twenty dollar bill into Mary’s coat pocket.   A little voice whispered in her head:  she’ll probably buy a bottle with it.  I don’t care, Mrs. Entwhistle answered.  Whatever gives her a little comfort.

She resolved to go back to the shelter in the morning with the contents of the crowded coat closet in her front hall.  After all, I can only wear one coat at a time, she thought.  Any more just get in the way.

Driving home in the gathering dusk, she silenced the radio and told herself a story instead.  “Joseph had to register with the census so he could be taxed.  That’s the most believable part of the whole thing.  We can all relate to that.  And anybody who’s had a baby knows they come when they darn well please, so Mary could have been caught by surprise with those first labor pains.  Maybe the shepherds really did leave their flocks and walk a ways to see the new baby, just for something to break the monotony of sitting in the fields looking at sheep all day and night.  A new baby is always interesting.  Now, the three wise men – no way they’d have shown up that night, all the way from Asia or China or wherever it was. But I guess there could have been rumors that got them curious, too.  Maybe they were heading that way anyway, and decided to stop in and see for themselves. It was different back in those days, folks didn’t get their news on the television or the Internet.  Stories probably got better as they were passed along, like a big game of Gossip. Could have been some bright stars in the sky, too.  No city lights to drown them out.  But angels, now—there I have to draw the line.”

It was almost dark now, but home was near.  She pictured Roger, waiting by the door to greet her exuberantly.  Maybe she’d build a fire in the fireplace, take a long, hot bath, have a cup of soup, call the kids to wish them a Merry Christmas.  Her children may have been unavailable today, but they were there for her at the other end of the telephone line. They knew where to find her. They’d always know that.

Filled, suddenly, with contentment, Mrs. Entwhistle hummed a little. Then she sang the words, turning her face up to the first bright evening star, her quavery voice cracking on the high notes:  “The first Noel, the angels did say, was for certain poor shepherds, in fields as they lay.”

It didn’t seem to matter anymore whether the Christmas story was true in a literal sense. There was a kernel of truth in there somewhere, and it was enough.







Shut Up and Vote

Life is short. And because life is short, I’m not going to waste one minute – one second, even – spinning my wheels over things I am powerless to change. That includes the current presidential race.

Do I have opinions? Of course. Do you want to hear them? No? I didn’t think so. I don’t particularly want to hear yours, either. It’s swell if we agree, but if we don’t, we might jeopardize our friendship. My friend, you are precious to me and I don’t want to lose you.

Besides, we could stand toe-to-toe arguing until our knees buckled and we fell over backwards. We could have polite, learned discussions that would light up the intellectual skies. We could blacken each other’s eyes and bloody each other’s noses over our differences. But chances are, neither you nor I would change our opinions as a result.

There is a deafening babble surrounding this year’s presidential race. It’s hard to sort out the issues from the distractions, the lies from the truth. Truth is a slippery little critter at best. My truth may not be yours; yours may strike me as exceedingly iffy. It’s tempting to fall back on simplistic answers and ignore the fact that complex ideas can’t be expressed in slogans. It’s tempting to say, “I’m not voting this year.” Or, “I’ll write in my dog’s name.” But how can we forget there are people in the world willing to die for the right to vote? Remember those Middle Easterners proudly displaying their ink-stained thumbs?

If all the ranting and raving get to be too much, take comfort in the words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, written just before the Civil War: “…sail on, O Ship of State. Sail on, O Union strong and great.”

I have to trust that our Ship of State will sail on, no matter what the outcome of this election is. Meanwhile, I give you permission to dial it down a notch, to ease up on your First Amendment rights, and remember that we’re all in this together.  I give you – and myself – permission to just shut up and vote.

Smashing some words with Smashwords

I didn’t want to do an interview. Who cares what I think, right? And besides, I’m not even sure what I think. But there was this author page on Smashwords with my name on it that remained boringly blah, and one of the options to pep it up was an author interview. Smashwords provides the questions; you provide the answers. Since my goal is to do something every day to promote my latest book, Every Last Stitch, I decided the interview would be today’s thing.

Surprisingly, it was fun. I got to talk about my favorite authors, how I write, what my next project is about, and my earliest experience of reading. (Ah, memories of Dick and Jane! Those of us of a certain age can relate to the See Spot Run (“Run, run, Spot.”) stories in our first grade readers.  Our young eyeballs glazed; our developing minds went AWOL. Kids today have it easy with their peppy little stories. We had to slog along with Baby Sally.)

I’d like to reprint the whole interview here, but I don’t think Smashwords would go for that. So I hope you’ll go to Smashwords, type in my name, and read it onsite. You can hum “Getting to know you, getting to know all about you.”  And then I’d love it if you’d comment on your reading life. For instance, can anyone remember Dick and Jane’s kitten’s name?


Who Likes Lemonade, Anyway?

I read the manuscript,  reread it, and then read it again. Spell-checked it several times. Kind friends read it for me. And there is STILL a misspelled word in the pages of my new book, Every Last Stitch.


Yeah, I know: lemonade out of lemons, and all that. So, in the hope of sweetening some very sour lemonade, here’s my offer: to the first reader who finds the misspelling in the paperback and emails me at, I’ll send a $25 Amazon gift card.  (Hint: it’s an adverb. Adverbs are mean and sneaky, and they don’t like to be speled rite.)

If, in your quest for my mistake, you happen to enjoy the book, let me know. It will make my lemonade a little bit sweeter.