Photo by Jody McKinney

Becky loved her brother, Ben, but hated how he’d chase guys off from dating her.

“He’s not good for you, Becks. You deserve so much better,” he’d say.

So Becky would look for solace in the kitchen, baking — and eating — cookies and cakes that would drive Ben crazy with their seductive aroma.

“Oh, man, Becks, that smells incredible. Lemme have a piece,” Ben would say.

And Becky would slap his hand, replying, “It’s not ready yet. It needs time before I can make it pretty.”

“But, Becks, it’s pretty enough now.”

“Sorry. And Coach Babbitt will pitch a fit if you can’t make weight this week. Besides, it’s not good for you,” Becky would remind her wrestler brother.

After a match, he’d burst through the door looking for whatever Becky had made. “Did you leave anything for me?” he’d always say. But, inevitably, he’d find Becky had finished most, if not all, of her creation.

In April, Becky started seeing Art Linski. He was looking for some of Becky’s delights, too. Just not the baked kind.

“No, Art, I’m just not ready,” she said.

But Art wasn’t to be denied and violently took what he could.

In an alley the next night, Art Linski looked up with his one good eye at Ben Stenson, and whined through swollen, bloody lips, “I’m sorry. Please, please, no more.”

Then Art heard a girl’s voice from the shadows. “Thanks, Ben. Did you leave anything for me?”

“Just a crumb, babe,” Ben said.

A super-quick flash story in response to this week’s Thursday’s Threads friendly competition on novelist Siobhan Muir’s website.  The story was prompted by, and must include, the phrase, “Did you leave anything for me?” I’d say not too bad a first draft batter of words. Fluffy, bittersweet and ready for a little more to make it pretty.


Before It’s Too Late

Father, mother, and brother Bill,
first love, some others, none named Jill,
upon my life’s way walk unfulfilled,
following me over another hill.

Old friend, best friend, only one,
I said “See ya, I gotta run.”
Next call I got was from his son,
so now my list of friends is none.

In every case, including romance,
we parted in some macabre danse.
When I look back it is askance.
You see, I never got that chance.

What chance you say? I thought you’d know,
at least by now in my tale of woe.
But in stringing rhymes I ain’t no Poe,
just a sad old poet name of Joe.

All these regrets have made me cry.
It’s too late, see, after they die.
But if you should go first, or I,
let me at least wish YOU goodbye.

Sorry, I threw some slant rhymes and extra beats here and there into this piece. But this poem came to me because recently I’ve had a closer brush with my own mortality than I cared to brush. It’s a small part of my relative absence (compared to the Prolific Joe you know) from this space for the past several months. I never got the chance to wish these people I loved goodbye before we parted, one way or another. Just my youngest brother. So I decided to get ahead of the possibilities, just in case one of us trips on a rainbow, so to speak. 

Such Stuff As Dreams Are Made On

Finally, after all the miles, the training, beatings I took as a kid, the beatings I handed out as I got bigger, I was here.

After all the amateur bouts for nothing but experience, the prelims for little more than bus money, the sparring, the body shots I’d take on purpose, the headshots I didn’t, the blood, the sweat, the loss of old friends, the making of new enemies, I was here.

Vegas, the big one, the championship of something more than a gym, a city, a state, some little pissant boxing fed, to the bigger ones, to this.

And now it’s all up to me. I’ve never been more fit, more excited, more ready for anything in my life. All the kid’s daydreams, the dreams I made, the dreams I had, the dreams I’d shattered, I’d seen it all on the way up. I saw it again before I left home.

“Daddy, you going to beat that guy?” my son Dakota said to me, breaking into the last little bit of positive thought meditation I had before I took my flight to Vegas.

“You know it, Ko. You and I worked really hard to get ready for this one, right?” I said. I’d kept Ko and his mother with me in my last weeks of training, even though old Eddie Marcin, my trainer, said it was bad business for a championship fight.

“You need to an absolute animal when you step into that ring, Jose,” he said. “That means on the bleeding edge of want, want for the belt, want for the fame, the money, want for your woman, your kid, want to put that guy on the canvas, but most of all, want to do anything to get out of there alive with your hand raised. Having your family here takes away some of that want, as far as I’m concerned.”

“C’mon, Eddie, you know I’ve never been sharper or fitter. I beat a guy better than this chump champ in five rounds at our last fight,” I said. Just as I saw it in my meditation, in my last dream before the bout.”

“You and that dreamy shit. I never had a fighter just sit and do nothing for a half hour like you do. Like you was taking a freaking nap or something, right there in the gym.”

“I’ve been doing it my whole life, since Mrs. Ito taught it to me back at Maria Regina in Gardena. It kept me from becoming a gang banger, kept me clean, kept me focused and kept me in touch with who I am and where I want to go. I’ve seen it all ahead of me along the way. And now I’m here. And you try telling me there’s no power in what you call napping?” We’d had this argument before. I think he was just trying to fire me up.

“Yeah, well now I want you to take a real nap if you can. I want you fresh as an eager virgin when you hit the ring,” Eddie said. He left the hotel room with the rest of the guys. And that left me alone with my thoughts again.

It started out as a meditation, but I must’ve fallen asleep, because this was as vivid a dream or whatever the hell it was as I’d had during all my training for the belt.

I felt myself sitting in the forest, like we were in Yosemite or someplace. With my eyes closed, I could hear Maria and Ko calling me. But I couldn’t open my eyes. It was like they were swollen shut, like I got stung by a bee or something.

But Maria and Ko were coming closer to me, so I just went with it. I mean the sun was warm on my face, I felt a great peace and I could hear what sounded like a roaring waterfall nearby.

“Jose, please be careful with this man,” I heard Maria say. “I never worry about you in the ring, but this is something different. Just make sure you come home tomorrow, okay?”

“Not a problem, honey. This is my dream, right? And I’ve been making dreams come true all my life.”

“I’m not worried, daddy,” Ko said. “I’m even giving you this for luck. Just to keep you safe and bring you home.”

And just as I could feel his hand touch mine…the dream ended. I was suddenly in a state of confusion because my dreams always have an ending. That’s when I heard the phone ringing next to me on the nightstand. The screen said Maria and Ko.

“Hello,” I said with must have sounded like fat, mushy lips.

“Hi, Daddy. You all ready?” I heard Ko say on the other end.

“You bet, Champ. Tomorrow we’ll be both be champions, right?”

“Jose?” I heard Maria say, “I couldn’t keep him from calling you. I’m sorry, I know you’re probably resting.”

“It’s okay, honey. Just had a little nap and now I’m ready to go. Even dreamed about you guys.”

“You did?” It was Ko again. “Was it a good dream?”

“Sure was. In fact, you were just about to give me a good luck charm in it when the phone rang.”

“Really? ‘Cause I did give you one. It’s in the pocket of your gear bag. Didn’t you find it yet?” Ko said, sounding a little disappointed.

“Oh, sorry Ko. Old Eddie, he took all that stuff and kept it with the other things I’ll need for tomorrow. I’ll look for it when I get to the arena. Under the brightest lights, little man!”

“Yeah! Well, what I gave you was just to keep you safe and bring you home.” Ko said.

“Jose? I’ll let you go and get ready now, baby. Be careful. And know we love you anyway you come home tomorrow, Champion or not. But you will be champion when you get home. I know you will,” Maria said.

“Thanks, sweetness. You and Ko just wait and I’ll bring you home the fanciest belt, and a check for about nine million to buy us an ever bigger house to come home to,” I said.

“Don’t want a bigger house. Just you. Buena suerte, mi amor,” Maria said. And then they were gone.

By the time Eddie, me and the boys got to the arena, all hell was breaking loose. I had all I could do to make sure my cup, as well as my sweet-ass trunks with Maria and Dakota embroidered in gold script, were each on in the right direction. But I was focussed, man. When they made the introductions, all I could see was that want Eddie talked about. I was on the bleeding edge of it and I was going to make sure I sliced this dude up and was the one whose hand was raised and walked out of that ring to go home the champion.

That guy across the ring, I didn’t even give him a name in training for him, he came at me like a bull, but I met him with enough jabs and counterpunches to keep him off me. We felt it each other out for three rounds and then I began to execute the plan I’d seen in my meditations. It was going as I planned. But my waking dreams never envisioned that sweaty slick spot on the canvas. My foot slipped just a bit, my guard dropped and that son of a bitch caught me a shot right between the eyes. I dropped to my knee and he caught me another one.

Now the whole world felt like a dream and I knew he’d hurt me, could feel my eyes swelling and blood dripping into them. What was it Tyson always said: “Everybody has a plan until you punch him in the mouth?” I got it in the eyes. But this wasn’t going to keep me from the sight I’d seen in my mind for twenty years. I’d seen my hand raised and that’s what was going to happen.

I came out the next round knowing I’d have to drop the guy fast before the ref stopped the fight because of my bleeding or I went blind from the swelling. The swelling, just like in my dream. I managed to step outside a couple of his jabs, each time popping him in the side of the head, a left hook and then a straight right, which I countered with a right uppercut to the button. And then it was his turn to go down on his ass.

But not for the count.

“Jose, man, you better get to this guy soon. I dunno if I can keep your cut together much more and, shit, your eyes are swelling fast,” my cut man Bobby Delaware said.

“You got him figured out, Jose. That punch he got you with was a fluke,” Eddie screamed above the crowd’s roar like it was a waterfall. “Now finish him. I don’t know how much longer you got, either. But I know it’s enough. Now put that sumbitch down!”

Bobby’s use of the chilled steel press on my brows had helped a little and even I knew this was probably my last shot at this guy before the ref called the TKO on me. SO went right at him. Threw everything I had at him while taking more shots to the body and head than I ever had in two and a half minutes. But with about thirty seconds left in the round, I caught him on the temple with a straight and hard a right as I’d ever thrown. And down he went like a sack of wet clothes.

And stayed down. They took him away in an ambulance. Me, they stitched up in the dressing room. Good doc in Vegas. I’d see the plastic surgeon on Monday.

I was the one who had his hand raised, who had his eyes closed, who heard the waterfall, who had done everything I’d seen in my dream, except for one thing. I reached into my gear bag and found something hard and in the corner of the pocket. When I pulled it out I saw it was one of Dakota’s Hot Wheel toys. The ambulance. I put it on the shelf and the last thing I remembered was seeing it there with the bloodstains from my hands from wiping my eyes. And then everything went black.

My dream had come true. Everything, like that last dream. Except for the abrupt wakeup. This was an abrupt sleep.

They took me home the next day in an ambulance, but I came home, safe for the most part.

This is my sixth and last story of this winter’s Six Weeks, Six Senses project from Sarah Salecky. This themed story is about the “sixth sense” some of us have. Maybe it’s instinct. Or maybe, like Jose, it’s the ability to meditate and dream of his future. And then make those dreams happen. The photo prompts were a young man (with some seriously knobby knuckles), a B&W scene of a club or arena full of people and bright lights shining from the ceiling and finally, a toy ambulance sitting on a white shelf with red smudges.

No, I never did do Week Four, but I’m working on it..from the neck up.

A Certain Light in the East

Photo by Pawel Janiak on Unsplash

This was a Christmas unlike any Skyler Van ever experienced, so far removed from the small tree in the three-bedroom ranch back in Bethlehem, outside Albany. She had no memories with which to compare the way her boyfriend, Schuyler Hewson and his family made their season jolly.

But the Hewson’s celebration triggered one memory which sent Skyler to the back of their living room, with its red-flocked wallpaper, glittering eight-foot spruce and away from the huge hewn-stone fireplace with its mantle full of embroidered Christmas stockings. One of them read “Skyler.”

But she couldn’t stand there with the Hewsons next to the warming glow of their roaring Christmas fire. The pungent aroma of the burning kindling, dusted with a pinch of some sort of evergreen incense, the tang of which Schuyler said tasted of Christmas, tasted of something quite the opposite to her.

“You feeling okay, Sky?” her boyfriend asked, putting his arm around her shoulder.

“I think I might need some air, Schuyler. Maybe that Christmas punch of your grandmother’s was a little too potent for me after all.”

“Well, it’s been known to grow hair on your chest. But don’t tell my sister I just revealed her big secret,” he replied with a grin.

That grin was one of the things that drew Skyler to her now-boyfriend in the first place. That and his sense of humor and confidence.

They’d met a year before at the Starbucks on the Yale campus, each grabbing for the same cup when the barista called, “Sky-ler? Double-shot, skinny, eggnog latte, cinnamon, no nutmeg.”

Truth is, Schuyler never saw her there, since she barely came up to his armpit in height. And that’s where her arm came from–her left, his right. Each suffered from morning blindness and deafness until they had dipped into the mountain-grown elixir some Incan god gifted the Western Hemisphere.

She was an Asian girl in a knit cap and scarf. And she looked up at him and said, “I believe that’s my coffee”

“No, I’m sorry,” he said. “He called my name and the drink I ordered.

That’s when the other barista walked over and called, ““Sky-ler? Double-shot, skinny, eggnog latte, cinnamon, no nutmeg.”

They each looked at the cup in their hands, then the one on the counter, then back at one another and then laughed.

“Here,” Schuyler said. “This is a coincidence for the ages.”

“Yeah,” she said. “The fact the names are the same is one thing, but who the heck orders the exact same oddball espresso drink as I do.”

“I guess I do. By the way I’m…”

“Schuyler, I’d imagine,” she said.

“And so are you, I gather. I haven’t seen you around here before.”

“Well, since your eyes are way up there and your attention is even further up, I imagine I could be pretty hard to see little five-foot-nothing me down here,” Skyler said.

“You in a hurry? Anyone with our particular tastes in Starbucks drinks maybe should see what else they have in common,” the six-three Schuyler said.

“Not today, but I’ll be here tomorrow and I won’t have a class until 10:30. Maybe then.”

“Great. I’m looking forward to it, Skyler…?” The vacant name holder hung in the air by its interrogation mark.

“Van. I’m Skyler Van. And you’re…?” she said, hanging out her own opening.

“Hewson. Schuyler Hewson.”

And, starting the next day, their relationship built up to and including next Christmas Day. From eggnog lattes to strawberry smoothies, to Pumpkin Spice and back to eggnog. All with a little cinnamon.

Outside the Hewson house that evening, Schuyler followed his girlfriend. He found her leaning against a wall with her eyes closed and taking deep breaths.

“What’s the matter, Sky? You look so sad. I thought bringing you here to celebrate with us might make you happy, We do put on quite the ostentatious show, I grant you, but the spirit is universal,” Schuyler said.

“Oh, it’s been wonderful. Look, I’m even wearing Christmas lights, for Christ’s sake,” Skyler said, fingering the necklace of bulbs she wore.

“True, you make a very cute little tree. Much cuter than that behemoth in the living room.”

“Why thank you…I think,” Skyler said with a weak grin.

“Aw, man. You’re not feeling well, are you? I told Mom not to have the cook put so much pineapple, brown sugar, clove and ginger on the ham. Non-Hewsons might find that a little too much for their stomachs. Plus that damn punch. Ya see, that Manischewitz wine my grandfather slipped us when we were eight or ten was the gateway drug to this bacchanal…”

“No, Schuyler, I just felt….uncomfortable by the fire, that’s all.”

“Oh, yeah, the old man really builds that bad boy high, doesn’t he. I always wondered how the ell Santa was going to make it down the chimney with that thing going all night. Poor son a bitch would end up barbecued and…”

“Schuyler, stop,” Skyler cried, her voice cracking like the logs in the Hewson hearth.

“What? Did I say something wrong? I’m sorry, my family’s Christmas parties can be pretty overwhelm…”

“No, Schuyler. It’s not your family, nor the ham, nor the punch. It’s my family that’s putting this sickening taste in my mouth.”

“You mean the cultural difference? I thought Buddhists didn’t mind celebrating Christmas. Think Jesus was some kind of Bodhisattva or whatever,” Schuyler said.

“No, that’s not it, either. We even have a Christmas tree back home in Bethlehem. It’s another thing I don’t talk about, so…”

“C’mon, Sky. I thought we had a deal. If I did something to overstep my bounds with your Vietnamese culture or religion, you said you’d let me know so I could do better,” Schuyler said, pulling his girlfriend closer.

“I…I don’t know if I can this time, hon,” Skyler said. A tear clinging to the corner of her eye.

“Help me make it better, Sky. Really. Was it something I said?”


“Well, I’m sorry, whatever it was. But unless you tell me, I can make the same mistake twice. I never want to upset you like this again.”

“It really is the fire.”

“Like I said. The old man, he..”

“Not your father, Schuyler. My grandmother,” Skyler said with a sob.

“I don’t get it. Your grandmother died years ago back in Vietnam. Before your family came to the States, you told me.”

“It’s how she died. And what you said about the fire and Santa and the image was just too much. My family still can’t take the whole sensory panoply of a fireplace, a bonfire, even fireworks.”

“Oh, man. You mean she was killed by an explosion or in a fire during the Vietnam War?”

“No, Schuyler. She WAS the fire,” Skyler said, trembling in Schuyler’s arms.

“Was the fire? How does somebody… Oh! You don’t mean…”

“Yes, I’m afraid I do. After my grandfather was killed in the war, she became even more devoutly Buddhist, especially when my dad came here to go to Cal. So he wasn’t there to help her until just before she and a few nuns sat in the street with their gasoline cans and…and…”

“Holy shit. Sky, I’m so sorry. I had no idea.”

“Who could? Who really could understand how grief and faith and protest can intersect in such self-inflicted horror on a street corner in Hué?  Skyler said. She looked up into Schuyler’s eyes.

“No. I’m afraid I have no sense of that, I’m sorry. How can I help you, Sky?”

“Just hold me. It’s freakin’ cold out here. I don’t think I can go back in your living room for a while. Unfortunately, I’ve seen the photos of that day and it made me very sick. Seeing your fire just triggered it again, Your parents think I’m some kind of Asian punk weirdo, Don’t they?”

“No, of course not. And screw them if they did. What do you say we go back inside to the kitchen and have something to drink to help wash that taste out of your mouth? No punch. Maybe I can make an eggnog latte?” Schuyler said with a grin.

“Okay. But how about a strawberry smoothie? Christmas is over anyway. And can you come to Albany for New Year’s? I think this is going to be Năm của kẻ si tình,” Skyler said and hugged her boyfriend close.

“What’s that mean, said the willing-to-learn-Vietnamese half-Jewish boy,” Schuyler said as they headed toward the back door.

“Year of the Love Birds. I love you, Schuyler.”

“And ‘Anh yêu em,’ Sky. Told you I was willing.”

After a holiday-induced break and creative malaise, I’ve jumped back into responding to Sarah Salecky’s Six Weeks, Six Senses feature. This past week’s theme was the sense of Taste. One of the photo prompts was of a forlorn young Asian girl in a knit hat and a light-bulb necklace, another of a pink drink, and the final of something aflame in the middle of a street. Not sure I did Taste all that much justice and my use of the pink drink is weak, but the other two photos evoked this story of two kids from different cultures – on many levels – whose love seems like the real deal.

Fig Newtons and Café Au Lait

Photo by Katie Moum on Unsplash

Never in a million years, would I have thought I would someday be wrestling a seven-year-old’s hair into an acceptable level of neat confinement. But then I never figured Jen might die before I did. I never expected our daughter Melissa to have a baby by “that guy.” Never dreamed that child would become my day job and one of my only reasons to get up each morning, once I retired.

Yet here I was running a spiky brush through Mimi’s coarse, tightly curled hair, as she wriggled and whined that I hurt her when my brushing would slide and stop with the discovery of yet another snarl.

“I’m sorry, Mimi. I’m trying not to hurt you, but your mother would kill me if I let you out of the house with your hair full of knots,“ I said as I worked the brush with my right hand and held onto my neat harvest of frizzled hair. The hair she inherited from her father, but her sweet little face was a café au lait version of her mother’s at her age.

“I hate my stupid hair, Grandpa,” Mimi said as I finally contained most of the subject of her dismay with four twists of a hair band at the back of her head. 

As I withdrew my finger from that elastic mini-tourniquet, I said, “Now why on the world would you say that?” 

I know, at that moment I wasn’t too fond of her hair either. But it was the perfect crown to her angel face.

“It’s just…just…all over the place. I hate it. I want hair like Taylor’s,” Mimi said.


“You know, Taylor. She’s the most beautiful girl in my class. Everybody loves her and she’s really nice and I want long straight, shiny blond hair like Taylor’s,” Mimi said with a defiant stamp of her foot on the floor that I felt through my slippers. Yes, I’m retired, so now I wear slippers, moccasins, around the house.

“Mimi, everybody loves you, too. You’re sweet and smart and musical and you look just like my little girl, which means I think you’re absolutely beautiful,” I said with a touch of my hand on her chin. Which was sticky.

“What the heck is on your face?” I asked her while I went to fetch a wet wipe from the white plastic container on the counter. She smiled. And that’s when I saw the brown stain on her tooth.

“Fig Newtons, Grandpa. I traded with Taylor. She wanted my ‘Nilla Wafers.”

“And when did you eat these Fig Newtons? You took your shower last night. I cleaned up the water after you were done, Miss Squeaky Clean.”

“In bed. I snuck ‘em under my pillow. Some of the crumbs got kinda itchy, but I still slept okay.”

“I see. Well, why don’t we both march to the bathroom and you can brush your teeth,” I said with a gentle hand on her warm little shoulder. Though I could see she was getting bigger every day.

“Okay, but I still hate my hair. I want to be as beautiful as Taylor, beautiful like a flower,” Mimi said.

“You already ARE beautiful. Here, let me load up your toothbrush. Now brush, and listen.”


“I know you think you’re not as ‘beautiful,’ as Taylor,” I said, emphasizing beautiful with air quotes. I’m sure they were wasted on a seven-year-old, but I was out of practice with that age. Boy, with Melissa at work, did I miss Jen (again) right then.

“But sometimes beauty is more than only looks, of which you have plenty, little lady. There’s a city on the other side of the world called Singapore. And in Singapore is this stunningly beautiful park. EVERYBODY says it’s one of the most beautiful parks in the world. Now at the center of this beautiful park are these giant metal frames that look like trees. They’re made of twisted bars of steel that reach way up like redwoods and spread out at the top like another tree I’ll tell you about in a second.”

Mimi spit into the sink and said, “Is this gonna be another long story, Grandpa?”

“Keep brushing and listen. Now on these frames of metal trees, beautiful vines and flowers climb and grow. Just like the grapes do every year on Grandma’s arbor in the yard. But inside these phony trees that everyone says are so beautiful are these concrete towers, just like you’d see in Charlotte or Raleigh or even Washington. They aren’t beautiful but the beautiful phony trees cover that up,. Sometimes outside beauty isn’t the whole story about something. It’s just…outside.” I said, hoping I could get this next part through to her.

“Uh huh.”

“These metal trees branch out at the top something like a fig tree, the kind of tree that made the fruit in the sticky and sweet middle of your Newtons. You have to agree that a fig is a pretty sweet thing, right?”

“Yeah, but…”

“Well, did you know that the fig is the only fruit, sweet as it is, that doesn’t grow from a pretty blossom or flower first? Nope, the fig’s blossoms grow on the inside and help make it sweet and different in a very good way. Just like you. Beautiful, sweet and different from any other girl in the world. Except maybe your Mommy. Now rinse and spit,” I said.

“Thbbbbb… But I don’t want to be different,” Mimi said.

“Are you kidding? Do watch TV? These blond news bunnies all over the air are like dandelions in my crappy lawn. All pretty and yellow when they pop up, then BOOM, they turn into those white floating seed thingies that make you sneeze. And, by the way, dandelions are a weed.”

“Are you saying Taylor’s a weed, Grandpa?  That’s not a nice thing to say. Taylor’s my friend,” Mimi said. And I realized that my half-assed parable had merely served to pass the time that it took for her to focus on what made her my sweet girl.

“Can you call Taylor’s mom and ask her if she can come over today? She’s got this new American Girl doll we can play with. It looks like her,“ Mimi said, half hopeful and a still a little down.

“Of course. You tell her she can bring her doll over to play with yours.”

“But I don’t have one. Mommy said maybe for Christmas.”

“Mommy has yet to learn that Grandpa’s don’t need Christmas to spoil their granddaughters. C’mere,” I said, leading her into my little office space downstairs.”

“Grandpas who don’t have too much to do sometimes just sit around and think what they can do to make their beautiful granddaughters happier. With Grandma gone, I needed help, so I enlisted the aid of Kendall here.” I pulled the box with the slick plastic window on its front from behind my desk and handed it to Mimi. Inside was one of those American Girl dolls, only this one had tight curly hair pulled back in two puffy pigtails and her pretty face was the color of Jen’s coffee, when I got it right. Sure it was for her birthday in two weeks, but now I could get her even more stuff.

“Oh, Grandpa, she’s beautiful,” Mimi squealed.

“Say that again.”

“She’s beautiful, she looks just like…”


I think I got it right this time, Jen. 

Another Six Senses, Six Weeks assignment. This one was to center on the sense of touch, which i didn’t do as well as I’d hoped. But I enjoyed writing this little story. It kept revealing more things to me as I went along. That photo was one of the prompts, as was a photo of that park and a halved fig in a glass dish. Used the prompts, just gagged on the theme, unless it touches someone’s heart.

Here, I Made This for You


I’m told these holidays are for wee ones,
or for those people who wish they still were.
I know some adults want more than just ski runs,
where season’s warmth’s overcome by chill brrr.

And maybe that’s why I never skied much,
preferring the embrace of family.
Okay, maybe we’d glide on sleds and such,
but home’s hearth we could reach quite handily.

We all grow up and make new homes someday,
with distance ‘tween ourselves and our own.
But even if we’re alone that one day,
we can still reach out and not just by phone.

Christmas makes All our sister or brother,
so why can’t we share with one another?

I know, corny. But if I can’t be a little corny, schmaltzy and sweet this time of year, when can I? And yes, You (You know who you are), I did make this for You. Maybe you’ll find some more from your secret Poetic Santa soon.

Who Knows Where the Time Goes?

Photo by Namroud Gorguis on Unsplash

The road from Plattsburgh to Chateaugay wound through the Adirondacks, past farms and little clusters of gas stations and McDonalds and such, just as it always did. But now there was a Dunkin Donuts where the old Dairy Queen would tempt me with deep-fried and soft-serve goodies. I had to laugh at that, as I passed the sign signaling the turnoff to the Dunkin Reserve State Forest outside Cadyville.

“Even the North Country’s got to change, I guess,” I said to the static-filled radio voices out of Plattsburgh. Soon enough, static would be all I’d hear.

I’d decided to take the long way, Rte. 374 West, just for the scenery and the time to remember. But a rainstorm was watering down or washing out whatever of the old sights I had wanted to see. And my memory wasn’t as good as it was the last time I passed through. The trip should’ve taken me something like an hour to complete. Though in my head, it was taking years. One, because of the weather, and Two, because it was taking me back forty-some years.

As if the weather wasn’t dreary enough, one place I really didn’t need seeing was the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora. Even with the rain turning some of the scenery into an Impressionist watercolor, Dannemora is perpetually dreary. Its drab and chipped painted walls sit right there, not ten feet from the curbside. The exterior gave only a small taste of the depressing and dangerous world within those walls.

Passing the final tower, I took a look at the prison in my rearview mirror, like one would a traffic accident, when I hit one of Dannemora’s year-round potholes. I should have remembered how the town grew potholes like weeds and drivers were always going hub-deep in some of them when they hid beneath the shiny surface of a puddle that filled and camouflaged them. Taking another peek at my rearview mirror, to see the size of the crater my car just crashed through, I almost hit a young guy with his thumb out, who was walking by the side of the road. He dove into some weeds.

“You okay, man?” I asked after I’d pulled by the side of the road and jumped out. I found him wiping mud from his glasses, his faded denim jacket and pants covered in wet and sticky dead leaves.

“I think so. What the hell were you doin’, mister? You coulda killed me,” he said.

“I’m sorry. I hit one of those damned potholes and I guess I lost control of my car.”

“I’d say you sure did. What’re you one of those people who spend their days staring into a damn phone? Ow, my ankle,” he said as he took a step toward the road. “Jesus, bad enough I gotta hoof or hitch my way to Brainardsville, now I’ve gotta do it on a twisted ankle.”

“Jesus, I’m sorry. Um, maybe I can give you a lift. Brainardsville is on my way. Let’s get you out of the rain at least,” I said.

“That’d be cool. Thanks. Let me get my bag,” he said. He pulled an Army surplus backpack from beneath the autumn-dead bush that had shed its yellowed leaves on just about everything he wore. After he brushed most of the leaves off, he sat with his bag between his feet in the seat next to me.

“I don’t know whether to thank you or cuss you out,” the young guy said. “But a lift’s a lift, so I shouldn’t complain too much, I guess.”

“No. Anytime you can put Dannemora in your rearview mirror is a good thing, I always say.”

“You been inside?” he asked, his blue eyes widening a little. I wasn’t sure if that was in surprise or actual interest.

“A few times. Back when I worked for the newspaper in Plattsburgh. Now I’m a freshly retired guy and I figured I’d sort of retrace my steps in life while I still have the time. Now I can slow down to see the scenery I missed while I was hustling to make a deadline or blindly running for some other dumb reason,” I said.

“Apparently that’s not working out so good for you…or me,” he said, as he rubbed his ankle.

“Yeah, sorry again. By the way, my names James, but folks call me Jamie…even at my advanced age,” I said with a chuckle, extending my hand.

“I’d appreciate it if you’d keep both hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road, mister…Jamie. I don’t need my Grandma losing another of her own before she passes,” he said. “And my name’s Loyal.”

“Wow, now that’s a North Country name if I ever heard one. And I’ve not heard it in over forty years. Knew a guy from these parts by that name…”

“Yeah, well named for my Grandpa and there’s a lot of us around here living under that curse even today,” said.

“So where are you comin’ from?” I asked him. We still had twenty or so miles to go and WIRY lost its crackling voice a ways back. I figured small talk was all I had. Cellular service had even gone flat here in this section of the mountains, so I couldn’t even stream anything from my phone.

“The prison.”

“Oh, you work there?”


“Oh…I see,” I said, dividing my vision between the highway and him. “Sorry.”

“Meh, it is what it is. I only did three of five to fifteen. Wrong place, wrong time, wrong crowd, if you know what I mean,” he said. He stared out the window. His words turned to steam, clouding the view until he wiped them away with his hand.

“You got any music to play? I mean real music? I’ve had too much hip-hop and country since I been inside,” Loyal said, changing the subject.

“I’m afraid not. WIRY still sucks and cellular sucks and I didn’t bring any CDs. I’m a forgetful old cuss, I guess.”

“This car doesn’t have a tape player?” Loyal asked. It sounded like he’d been away for a hell of lot longer than he’d been on earth. “My family’s truck still does.”

“No, afraid not. Why’d you ask?” I said. Now I was interested.

‘Cause I got this here tape my Grandma sorta gave me when I went inside. It’s tunes she used to play and sing for me when my Mom was alive and even after. This old tape has seen a lot of wear and tear, but I’ve fixed it with Scotch tape every time it breaks,” Loyal said as he fished in the between his feet.

“Would you mind if I played it on this?” he asked, pulling an old portable cassette player from the backpack.

“Jeez, how old did you say you are? I haven’t seen one of those in twenty years,” I said with a little laugh. “Here comes Lyon Mountain, by the way. I’d say another twenty minutes to Brainardsville.”

“Yeah. So do you care if I play this or not? It’s old stuff, tunes my Grandma loved and my Grandpa hated. Ol’ Loyal would pitch a fit and head for the bar if she played or even hummed them.”

“Sure, since I’m driving down Memory Lane today, might as well have the right music to set the mood.”

Loyal pushed the PLAY button and turned up the volume so I could hear the pops and gaps in the tape that began with the harmonized hmmmm-hmm-ummm-hmmmm-hmmmm-hmmm-ummm-hmmm-ummm of Art Garfunkel and Paul Simon, just before Simon laid down one of my favorite acoustic riffs that kicked off his song “America.”

I heard, “Let us be lovers, we’ll gather our fortunes together…” and I got that same cold sinking feeling I always did when I heard that song.

“Man, Loyal, you’re playing one of my favorites. Your Grandma has good taste.

“Yeah, she loves every song on this cassette, A-side and B.”

The sky began to brighten and I could see Chateaugay Lake to my left. I couldn’t help humming along myself. And then came the Moody Blues placing their stamp on what I always called Art Rock with “Nights in White Satin.”

“Wow, been a long time since I’ve heard this one, too.”

“Yup, my Grandma says this is Art Rock, whoever he was. I went to school with some LaRocks, though none of them was named Art.”

That cold dip from Simon and Garfunkel tired into an iceberg in my gut.

“Say, Loyal, you never told me your Grandmother’s name,” I said, almost dreading the answer.

“Her name’s Mary Grandjean,” he said.

“Oh, don’t know her.”

“But she goes by Sandy. She used to have sorta blond hair, so everyone calls her Sandy. Sandy Benson Grandjean,” Loyal said as he hit FAST FORWARD. “I really like this next one. So’s my Grandma and so did my mom.”

I closed my eyes for a second. I was afraid I knew what was coming up. I was as sure of it as I was that around the next bend was the intersection where I’d leave Loyal off for Brainardsville.

Before it even began, I started humming the intro to “Looking at the Rain.” The strings came up and then the oh-so-Canadian baritone of Gordon Lightfoot. My heart pounded and my hands sweat on the wheel.

How old are you, Loyal?” I asked.

“Twenty-three,” he replied.

“You say your Mom has passed?”

“Yep, when I was five. She ran with one of those wrong crowds, too. Driving home drunk, she went off 374 and…that was that.” Loyal sighed against the window. I mouthed the words, “Wishing this was all a dream…and I’d find you sleeping when I wake…”

“You say somethin’, Jamie?” Loyal asked.

“No, son, just love the words to this song. Always meant a lot to me,” I said.

“Yeah, sometimes poor old Grandma wipes her eyes when she hears it. Well, here’s where I get off I guess,” Loyal said. He seemed so much calmer just from playing those songs.

“Let me drive you to your Grandma’s. I don’t want you making that ankle any worse.”

“No, really, it’s okay.”

“Please, let me. It’s the least I can do,” I said. Was I sounding frantic?

“Okay, just hang a right on 190 and then your first left onto Church Road. It’s the first house on the right,” Loyal said. I could see the excitement in his eyes, could sense his heart beginning to beat harder, faster, too.

If he felt my chest, I’m sure he’d ask to be let out now.

“This is it right here. That’s my Grandma’s place with the redwood porch.”

A woman in her late fifties or early sixties hurried out the door, off the steps and trotted to the road as I slowed the car to a stop and Loyal jumped out into her tearful hug.

“Oh, Loy, I’ve missed you so. I’m sorry I couldn’t make it to pick you up, but the battery went on the truck again and I didn’t have someone who could jump it or change it,” she said.

She looked a little rounder, shorter, and tired. But that voice I’d never forget.

“Well, it’s okay. I got a ride just a couple of blocks from the prison from Jamie here. Jamie, this is my Grandma, Sandy Grandjean,” Loyal said. His grandmother leaned to look at my face through the passenger side window. Her joyous expression quieted, but her eyes widened to their old sapphire glory.

“Thank you. I‘ve been so worried about him. Even getting home today. Would you like to come in for a cup of coffee?” she said. Sandy turned her head to get a better look at my face.

“No thank you, ma’am. I’ve got to be up the road in Chateaugay in about a half-hour. See an old friend. But I appreciate it. And, by the way, I also appreciate your taste in music. That old cassette brought back a lot of memories,” I said.

“Cassette? Loyal?”

“Sorry, Grandma. Grandpa got it for me before he passed,” Loyal said.

“I thought he threw it out after all these years,” Sandy said. “Well, I’ve lived the past couple of years without it. It’s the second copy of the original. But I’m a hundred times happier that I have you back than that old tape. Oh, I’m sorry, Mister…Jamie?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Hey Grandma, we were just listening to this when we drove up,” Loyal said as he hit PLAY again. Lightfoot sang:
Waiting for a line to fall
Telling you it’s all a big mistake
But the words won’t come
I know I’d feel the same
Looking at the rain

Sandy just stood silent for a second and then leaned back into my window, and said, “Thank you, Jamie, for giving me my grandson…again. And that old music, too. God bless you.”

“You’re welcome, Sandy. God bless you, too. Best of luck, Loy,” I said. I slowly pulled away, but looked back in the rearview mirror. There Sandy stood, watching me drive off like the last time I saw her.

I shook my head at how life winds and winds, but sometimes brings you back to people and places you missed from your first time.

It was then I recalled what the next song was on that old cassette, a mix-tape before mix-tapes got that name. I knew it because I put it there, as well as on the CD I replaced it with years ago, the one my wife hated hearing because I’d get all quiet, distant she said, when I played it. And I started hearing that old Fairport Convention song, the one I replaced on my CD with the solo Sandy Denny version, because…Sandy.

Across the evening sky, all the birds are leaving
But how can they know it’s time for them to go?
Before the winter fire, I will still be dreaming
I have no thought of time
For who knows where the time goes?
Who knows where the time goes?
Sad, deserted shore, your fickle friends are leaving
Ah, but then you know it’s time for them to go
But I will still be here, I have no thought of leaving
I do not count the time
For who knows where the time goes?
Who knows where the time goes?
And I am not alone while my love is near me
I know it will be so until it’s time to go
So come the storms of winter and then
The birds in spring again
I have no fear of time
For who knows how my love grows?
And who knows where the time goes?


This is an afternoon’s work (or joy, since that’s what I experienced writing it). It was inspired by three photos from Canadian writer and teacher Sarah Salecky. I used one of them as the illustration. I was supposed to center on the sense of sight, but I think hearing barged in, too. But so much of this story is found between the lines in the things Jamie sees in the rearview mirror of his mind. At least that’s my story…