Leftovers

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William T. O’Reilley was two years away from retirement. He had a plum job, at least that’s what the bus dispatcher, Stewie, told him every morning when he started his shift on the M2 at 6:30 a.m..

“You’ve got the plum one, that’s for sure, Billy. Right through Manhattan, yeah, right through the upper crust of it.”

“I don’t know about plums, Stewie.” Billy mopped his brow and stuffed his handkerchief in his back pocket. It was a tight fit; he had put on a few pounds since the funeral. “Never liked the heat. This week has been the worst, can’t wait to blast the air-conditioner on this baby.” He tapped the steering wheel of the bus.

“Yur good to go, pal, see you tomorrow. Stay out of trouble.” Stewie fiddled with the electronic pad, punched William T. O’Reilly’s number into the system, and the M2 rolled north.

Billy liked routines. He was a creature of habit and having his bus paced and monitored at each stop gave him a satisfaction that could be measured.

But it was on days like this, the hot ones, that some of the people getting into the bus annoyed him. He was doing his best, he thought. No one likes the heat. “Just doing the best I can,” he mumbled to the elderly lady who wanted the steps lowered faster than was possible at 4th Street. It made him think of his second wife, Heather, and the fight they had at Christmas.

 

“Just doing the best I can, honey.” That’s what he told her when she asked him to get a raise. “You don’t understand.”

“How’d you expect me to keep myself dressed nice,” she gave him a look and went into the kitchen. “I need a new pair of boots for the winter, Billy. Do you really think the ones I’ve had for three years—three years before we were married—are good enough,” she raised her voice so he could hear her.

“Nothing will ever be good enough for you,” he said.

“What’s that, I can’t hear you,” she said.

Billy sat on the couch and picked up the remote. He turned on the game and sighed.

“Football?” Heather shouted from the kitchen.

He heard his wife bang two pots on the stove. It almost gave him hope that they were going to have a real meal instead of take-out.

“What kind of soup do you want?” she said. “Chicken noodle or Beef and Barley?”

Irene, his first wife, was a good cook. She made real dinners that the family sat at the table and ate together.

“Chicken noodle.” Are you making anything else to go with that?” He called into the kitchen.

“Why don’t you get off the sofa and find out.”

Once there was a time he was content with everything and everyone. But, then, at sixty-three he wasn’t. William T. O’Reilley made three mistakes in his life: the first was to cheat on Irene with Heather.

He met Heather at his niece’s wedding; she was bubbly. Mistake number two was marring Heather who seemed to lose her fizz as soon as she had a ring on her finger. Mistake number three was ordering Chinese food the Sunday before Christmas.

 

The young woman who got on the bus at 10th street looked as though she hadn’t slept; her face had on yesterday’s makeup. Billy looked at her chipped nail polish as she dipped her metro pass into the kiosk. The bus was starting to fill up. No one wanted to sit in the back; the riders clustered around the front door waiting their turn: like rabbits ready to jump out the door when it opened.

Billy looked at the time on dashboard monitor, he was running three minutes ahead and he knew that there would be a message to hold the bus at 23rd street. He also knew that the passengers would get annoyed and start talking to him: asking him why he wasn’t moving.

“Gotta keep to the schedule and we’re ahead of it right now,” he said.

“Well that’s not my schedule, I’ve got a meeting in ten minutes.” A young man, holding his jacket and a New York Times, was leaning over the bar that separated the driver from the passengers.

“Back up.” Billy pointed to the sign that told passengers to stand behind the yellow line and not talk to the driver.

“Just getting your number off the dash,” the man said.

 Two people got off the bus at the back door, and as they did a kid jumped in.

“Hey—you!” Billy yelled. The young man leaning into Billy’s face jumped back.

“You—in the back! I saw you jump the ride.” Billy was watching him in his rear-view mirror. “Get off. We’re not going anywhere until you get off.”

The other passengers started to mumble and the ones in the rear of the bus told the boy to leave. By the time he did, Billy was on schedule and the bus moved forward, heading toward 34th street.

On good days, Billy would take the time to call out the important landmarks of each stop. It was PR they told him at his last training seminar, helpful for the tourists, too. He was tempted to say something at his next stop, but the memory of the Christmas argument took over.

 

“Soup isn’t dinner, Heather. I work hard all day. I need a real meal when I come home.” Billy looked up as his wife approached with a tray holding two bowls of soup and a box of Ritz Crackers.

“There’s still some moo-shoo-pork left over,” she said.

She had lost the edge in her voice, maybe she was trying to make-up, Billy thought. But he knew better, it was more than likely she was about to ask for something he couldn’t give her.

“I’ll heat it up for you, honey.”

Billy changed the channel from the commercial to the news. Heather walked back into the kitchen and he could hear her putting the Chinese food in the microwave.

“I met someone interesting today.” She kept her eyes on the television when she returned and handed him the plate.

Billy sniffed the Chinese leftovers that were sitting in a pool of grease.

“You sure this stuff is OK to eat, it smells a little funny? Isn’t it from last Sunday?”

Heather ignored him and started eating. “Tastes OK to me. You’re so particular. Maybe you should be the one who cooks?”

“Well, I wouldn’t eat that if I …”

Heather interrupted him. “I went to the library to return my book. The woman behind the desk told me about a book club that meets on Wednesday afternoons. I thought I should try it out.”

Billy took a deep breath. “You know, if you were working, you could use all of your salary on new clothes. It wouldn’t bother me. I want you to be happy.”

“We’ve been through this a thousand times.” Heather raised her fork and began to jab the air with it. “I can’t possible work, not after what happened to me at my last job. I told you that before we got married. It was all right with you then that I didn’t work. Look how much you’ve changed in six months. You use to be so sweet and understanding.” She shoved more leftovers into her mouth.

“I’m the one who’s changed?” Billy turned and watched her put the last bit of Chinese food on a Ritz Cracker.

“Don’t raise your voice at me.” Heather started coughing. She pushed the tray away and started to twist her charm bracelets back and forth on her wrist.

“That act is not going to work anymore, you can’t have it both ways,” Billy said.

“What do you mean?” she sniffed.

“You can’t be helpless and try and push me around at the same time. That’s what I mean.”

“I should have never married you, you’re too old and set in your ways.” She left the sofa and went into the bedroom slamming the door behind her.

 

“34th Street, Empire State Building to the east and Morgan Library just one block north,” Billy sung out. He looked at his monitor, he was running right on schedule. Billy looked out the bus window and nodded to the stream of people crossing in front of him. Letting Heather eat the leftovers wasn’t a mistake.

 

 

 

 

Deeds Not Words

In an exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery in London in 2015 (reviewed here), the images of women marching for the right to vote remind me of all the women who came before us, our grandmothers and great-grandmothers. Those women had a voice to raise, just as our voices were heard last month and all the days to follow. The difference is our ability to vote.

I hope that this month, where we celebrate Women’s History (in the U.S.), we will encounter voices both present and past, those we know and especially those that are waiting to be discovered.
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Deeds Not Words was the rallying cry of the suffragettes. Women’s Rights is a recurring back-story in my novel, The Last Daughter of Elizabeth Light.

 

 

In Chapter Three, Sydney, Australia, Maude Anderson reads to her mother, Caroline, from the London Times.

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It is the story of Emily Davidson throwing herself under the King George V’s horse at the Epsom Derby.

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In Chapter Four, Caroline Light speaks to her suitor, Bernard, about her teacher Ada Wells. Later she invites her mother, Martha, to attend a meeting of the Temperance League with Kate Shepard.

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Kate Shepard

In Chapter Five, Christchurch, New Zealand, Mary Müller  speaks to Martha Light about whether she ever thought for herself without first consulting her husband.

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Mary Müller

The ideas of Mary Wollstonecraft in Vindication the Rights of Women, written in 1792, are pressed forward through multiple generations.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. –George Santayana

 

 

More reading:

Sophia: Princess Suffragette

More on Emily Davidson

The Hunger Artist – Marion Dunlop-Wallace

Primary image credit: ALEX BROOK LYNN/THE DAILY BEAST

Warning

Jen stubbed her cigarette out on the window ledge. The room behind her was quiet, her stepsisters still sleeping, lay twisted in the cotton sheet that barely covered them: Lucy faced north and Mary south, positions they had negotiated when they were six.

Hart Street was dark; there was only a hint of the morning sky. Jen looked over at her pack of Marlboro Lights. People should have warning labels: Dangerous to your health, Not fit for family gatherings, Unable to keep promises. She held the pack and counted the number of cigarettes left. If she didn’t have one now, the five would get her through the afternoon. The argument last night with her mother had kept her awake; if only her mother knew what she had to do today.

“You need to get away from him, you’re better than he is, don’t you know that?”

Jen’s mother, Maureen, was washing dishes while Jen slowly dried them. Mary and Lucy did their homework at the small table. The kitchen became too crowded when Jen’s brother walked in and opened the refrigerator door.

“You just ate, Billy,” Maureen said. She turned away from her daughter who was drying a glass and faced her son. “Look at you, you’ve grown two inches in the last month. I can’t keep enough food on the table.”

“Sorry, Mom, just wanted something sweet. Do we have any ice cream? It’s so hot tonight.”

“Not in the budget this week.” She looked over at Jen and shook her head.

“Don’t worry Mom, I won’t get fired. I told them I was sick, had the flu, and needed to be out for two days so I wouldn’t infect anyone.” She touched the bruise around her eye.

“Well, I hope they believed you, because you know….”

“I know, Mom. I know you need to cover the bills.”

When Jen’s stepfather walked into the kitchen, she turned so he wouldn’t see her face. If he had seen the black eye, he would have gone looking for Lewis, and he would have taken Billy with him. That’s what Maureen had told her.

“Having a family meeting without me?” He leaned over the table and looked at what the twins were working on. “You girls must be really smart to be able to answer all those questions with this noise.” He smiled at his wife. “I guess you two have learned to block it out?”

“I don’t think so, they keep one ear on our conversation,” Maureen said.

Lucy looked up at her father. “They call it multi-tasking, Daddy.”

“See, honey, I never heard of that, and yet, Lucy and Mary are doing it in front of me,” he laughed. “I’m going back to the game, come on, Billy. Let’s leave the ladies alone in the kitchen.” He motioned to the boy, who moved around the two girls at the table.

Maureen looked at the closed kitchen door. “He had a good day today, Jen. I’m glad he didn’t see your eye.”

Continue reading “Warning”

Moving Day

Lizzie Bower waited on the second floor landing while the next load of furniture was hauled up the stairs. Decisions needed to be made: the contents of her mother’s apartment had arrived on Ellis Street.

“Oh, oh…so who is sending you these things? They are all so—so beautiful!” her landlady shouted up the staircase.

Lizzie didn’t need to see her face, she could imagine Mrs. Thorn’s mouth open as each item marched up the stairs: a five foot gilded lamp from a South Hampton estate sale, a small Chinoiserie desk, an iron Napoleon camp chair with brass arm rests and a leather seat. It was a seemingly endless parade of exotic furniture and boxes whose contents could only be imagined.

“Belated wedding gifts from my Mom,” Lizzie shouted back.

Turning toward the growing piles, Lizzie showed the movers where to place the excess of her mother’s life. The men positioned the alien furniture next to the Goodwill discards that decorated the apartment; they demolished any semblance of balance the room once held.

“Jeeze, whoever packed this … supposed to use the fourteen by fourteens for books, Miss, the little ones, yah know, the ones that say: BOOKS.” The mover gave Lizzie a look as he heaved himself through the door.

“Sorry, my mother…”

Lizzie raised her eyes toward the ceiling; she couldn’t expect him to be interested in the details of her mother’s move to London. It was difficult enough for her to explain her own life, but now she had to come up with a rationale for these castoff pieces of furniture. Slicing open one of the boxes with a knife, she found dirty ashtrays and cigarette butts.

Continue reading “Moving Day”

Frances Liked Oranges

Combing Frances’ hair, Mrs. Buhle turned her around and tried to smile with lips too thin for the gesture. Her black eyes squinted. The skin on her forehead was marked with lines and two oval brown splotches. Mrs. Buhle was very old, but then everyone appeared very old to Frances, who was five. The woman’s shoulders were rounded, padded with a thick black sweater, fluffed like feathers. Frances tried not to move. She was sure she was going to be eaten, or at least pierced by some hidden instrument.
“Now Frances, your mother is coming to visit you today. She wants to see a happy girl. You’re a happy girl.”
This was not a question.
“I’ll take you downstairs, you can go into the front room today. Don’t look so scared. When your mother leaves, I will have a little present for you. How about that…Frances?”
Frances turned her face up toward Mrs. Buhle. Maybe she would get an orange, she liked oranges. She closed her eyes and waited for the blow that didn’t come.

“Frances, Frances, where are you? Are you hiding…sweetie?”
She was trying to hide from her mother, Maude, but her small foot stuck out from behind the large rose-colored wing chair.
“I think I can see you, I see you.” Her mother began a singsong voice.
“Come out, come out, where-ever-you-are. I have a present for you, come out, come out.”
Peering from around the chair with one eye, Frances saw her mother holding a big box with a yellow ribbon.
“Come on, come on…. I’ll help you open this big box. Is it too big for such a little girl to open? Let’s just see what could be in here. You can do it along with me, sweetie.”
Frances crossed the room, smiled and began to pull on the ribbon. The box contained a tea set, a real tea set, not play size like the one she once saw a girl playing with in a book. Frances was very disappointed.
“Give your mum a big squeeze. I have missed you so much. Give me a big hard hug so I can always remember how it feels.”
Her mother had a soft face, with blonde curls falling from under a little red hat. The hat matched the color of her lips and her fingernails. The hug pulled Frances into the folds of a white dress where an exotic scent sealed the moment.

A few days later the tea set disappeared into one of Mrs. Buhle’s cabinets. Mary was determined to get it back to their small room on the third floor.
“It doesn’t belong to them, does it, Frances? It belongs to you; it will always belong to you. I don’t care what she does to me…I’m getting it back.”
Mary was caught, standing on a chair in the pantry. Mrs. Buhle’s daughter watched as her mother pulled Mary off the chair and dragged her into the back room where they kept the punishments.

Draft From: The Last Daughter of Elizabeth Light

My mother was raised in multiple foster homes.  Once she received an orange as a Christmas present.  Her mother never gave her a yellow tea set.

Have I Been Here Before?

At what point did it look familiar? Maybe this was one of those dreams that disappear the moment you open your eyes.  Certainly, I never climbed to the top of Mount Major before, never been to New Hampshire, never wanted to go. But now I’m here, looking out at the view, afraid of getting too close to the edge and falling off. When I pick up the scent of a past moment, I have my feet on the ground, but I’m flying. If I just raise my arms and tip into the air stream, I will be soaring. Flying dreams are the best.

“If I had ever been here before I would probably know just what to do. Don’t you?”- Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young – Déjà Vu

One of the themes of my novel, The Last Daughter of Elizabeth Light, is Eternal Return. Because my story goes backward in time, the present hints at the past. We know the results of actions before they take place. This was easier than it sounds because I was telling a familiar story: a family saga whose story unfolded like an origami bird.

From The Last Daughter of Elizabeth Light-  Frances Baker, 1990 dreaming of San Francisco 1942 :

‘Frances cringed; Milton, the manager, was standing six inches away from her face. Smelling his stale cigarette breath, she tried looking at his yellow teeth but it confused him, so she pretended to be nervous and looked at the floor.

“You know there are many girls I could have hired, Frances, but I chose you, you know why?”

Frances thought this was a question and she started to open her mouth.

“You know why, Frances, you were the prettiest one. Yes, the prettiest one of all of them. You, with your blonde hair. You had the best eyes and legs. You have legs just like Lana Turner.”

Frances managed to step backwards a few inches but he was pressing in. Reaching forward, he slid his hand from her waist to her thigh. Frances jumped and hit the wall with the back of her shoes and head. Her eyes narrowed as she moved out of his way. He tried to block her by putting one arm out to the wall.

“Frances, this is a really good job.”

Milton looked around the lobby with the glow of the concession stand at the end of the hall. The ticket booth had closed, the last show was almost over and they were alone with the muffled sound of a movie playing in the theatre.

“It would be a shame if you spoiled things for yourself. I’m going to be watching you very closely. I better not catch you doing anything wrong. You know what I mean, don’t you, Frances? I mean I better not catch you letting your mother in here for free. Everything has a price. You know we are at war now, everything has a price including this job. Where do you think you’re going? Don’t walk away from me.”

Running, Frances heard him yelling behind her. She turned down one hall, and it led to another. The door was not where it was supposed to be. She felt the wall for knobs in the darkness and realized they were all missing. Suddenly she heard the noise of planes, the building vibrated as though there was an earthquake. The theatre wall began to crumble. Frances started to climb over a slab of cement when a plane appeared to come straight at her.

Droning in some far off room, a vacuum cleaner saved her.’

Fact or Fiction

“Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.” – Mark Twain

Autobiography, Memoir or Fictional Memoir?

An autobiography tells the story of a life, a memoir tells a story from a life with touchstone events and turning points. Relying on memory, well, you know how that goes.

We remember what we want to or how we want to.  There is the saying that there are three sides to every story: mine, yours and the truth. Memory is often a liar.

Is there such a genre as Fictional Memoir?  I think so.  Here’s a list of famous fictional memoirs according to goodreads. 

So why is there a picture of a trapeze artist attached to this post? She is Erma Ward and she could fly.

My grandmother was in the circus = Fact

She had TEX tattooed on her arm = Fact

She saw Erma Ward fly = Fiction

“ I will make it okay. Everything is possible, see—look at Erma, she just lets go. You have to believe.”  – From The Last Daughter of Elizabeth Light