Friday, March 30, 2012
Featured Book: SADIE’S SONG
BLURB: This book opens with the disappearance of nine-year-old Ally Buckley, a circumstance which bears too much resemblance to another recent and chilling event. Fear spreads throughout the New England fishing village of Coffins Reach and the local church that Sadie and her family attend. When Sadie discovers a drawing done by Ally among her abusive husband's possessions, she suspects danger may be closer to home than she'd ever known possible.
-How/why did you start to write?
In truth, I think I was born writing. I don’t ever remember a time when stories weren’t a part of my life. When I wasn’t reading a story under the covers late at night, I was working on one of my own. I remember walking home from school by myself when I was a little girl, and making up stories in my head. They usually involved me in some sort of heroic role and saving my school from certain and imminent disaster. When I got home I would race to a notebook to write everything down, but I never got much past the first page before becoming bored with the actual writing part of it. (Ah, maybe I’m still a little bit like that?)
-How did you become an author?
Because I always knew I wanted to be a writer when I ‘grew up’, I studied journalism. As soon as I graduated I worked on newspapers and wrote many freelance articles for magazines. In 1990, I decided that if I was going to write a novel in my life, I had better start now. So, I did. I’ve been writing novels full time ever since. Hmm. That’s a long time now, I just realized.
-What was your first published piece?
My first full-length novel was a futuristic thriller entitled The Josiah Files. But, don’t go looking for it. It’s been out of print for a long time.
-Where was it published?
Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN
-How long ago?
-What did you do before embarking on your writing career? Was it an asset to your writing? How?
Oh yes! Journalism and working for a local newspaper benefitted me in a number of ways. I’ll mention two of them: 1) Deadlines and 2) Editors.
Newspapers run on deadlines, and newspaper deadlines are daily, quick and immediate. Sometimes I had only hours to write up a story before the afternoon deadline to make the next day’s edition. It might seem that writing a novel is a more languid pursuit. But, meeting deadlines is important for the novelist as well. Even when the deadline is self-imposed, it’s important to strive to meet them.
Another thing that journalism taught me was the importance of editors. They have the final word and the final say. It’s always good to have a second eye on your manuscript.
-What inspires you?
Chatting with writer friends inspires me. Writers’ conferences inspire me. Books on the craft of writing inspire me, but what inspires me the most is reading other good novels in my genre - which is mystery. One of the pieces of advice that I tell my students is to always read things novels that are better than yours. That will inspire you to always write better.
-Please share one of your successful marketing techniques
Oh my. I’m not sure I’m all that successful at marketing. I’m just doing what others are doing - tweeting, Facebooking, and doing what I can online. etc. And I will continue to put down my ideas in stories.
Always be looking to improve your writing. I want to reiterate what I said above - don’t read books that are more poorly written than your own. You won’t learn anything from them. They will just bore you. Read Instead books and stories with writing that is better than yours. Let those good words encourage and inspire you to always write just a little bit better than you already do.
Tuesday, March 27, 2012
I was digging through my filing cabinet hunting down something else and came across something. This something is an essay I wrote in November 1996 for a university course I was taking. Here's hoping you enjoy it. (FYI, I resisted the urge to re-write.)
I offered the first part of this three-part post last Tuesday. You can find it here.
Today I'll offer the second part...
Pauline accomplished much in her career. She wrote scores of articles, poems, and prose for children and adults. She also wrote six books: White Wampum, Canadian Born, Legends of Vancouver, Flint and Feather, The Shagganappi, and Moccasin Maker.
White Wampum was published in 1895 after her successful tour of England. "Those were the days of the drawing-room entertainment, and Pauline was in great demand throughout the season of 1894.' (Marcus Van Steen, p. 22- 23) 'London...spontaneously...accepted her as both the cultivated lady and the princess from the primeval forests." (Betty Keller, p. 106)
Canadian Born was published in 1903. 'This book contains poems that show Pauline's pride in her native land. Her eight years on the roads and railways of Canada had increased her love of her country.' (Brenda Willoughby, p. 34). She brought her unique entertainment to remote communities. She helped to build a unified Canada from a country separated by geography.
Legends of Vancouver was published in 1911. Critics proclaim it to be one of Pauline's most important works. The book was based on the legends of Capilano tribe of British Columbia. Pualine had befriended Chief Capilano in 1906. He and a small party of chiefs had journeyed to England when Pauline was making her second tour. The chiefs had journeyed to England determined to discuss their people's plight with the King and Queen. Pauline and Chief Capilano formed a friendship that would last until his death in 1910. 'She heard from his own lips some of the ancient legends of his people, which she started writing down... This was the first attempt to record tribal mythology of the Pacific Coast Indians.' (Marcus Van Steen, p. 32)) True to native oral traditions Pauline embellished the legends.
Flint and Feather was published in 1912 shortly after its publication Pauline died of cancer. Flint and Feather was falsely labelled as 'the complete poems of E. Pauline Johnson.' Pauline had long since retired from the stage. She was tired and took up residence in Vancouver, BC. However, her fans did not forget her. The demand for a book was great. The task of making the selections for the book fell to the ladies of the I.O.D.E.
The Shagganappi and Moccasin Maker were published in 1913 posthumously. The books were a loving tribute. The Ladies of the Press Club compiled a series of articles. The Shagganappi 'was composed of the boy's stories that (Pauline had) submitted to The Boys' World.' (Betty Keller, p. 260) Moccasin Maker was composted of 'stories that had been submitted to Mother's Magazine and included her four-part story, 'My Mother'.' (Betty Keller, p. 260)
Wednesday, March 21, 2012
In Encore Edie Annabel Lyons explores how the “able” view the “disabled”. Main character, Edie Snow struggles between feeling pity for her cousin Merry and being embarrassed by her.
In the end, pity outweighs embarrassment and Edie elects to spend two weeks with Merry rather than go on a family vacation.
I thoroughly enjoyed Encore Edie. The discussion Annabel Lyon has begun is an important one. She has been generous in her frank and honest portrayal of Edie Snow. I saw Edie as a three-dimensional teenager with flaws, attributes, and questions. To further the discussion and to answer some of these questions, I write...
It’s natural to judge another’s happiness by peering through the magnifying glass of our reality. Yet, I would caution against doing so. I don’t need your pity and neither does your cousin. Yes, we were born, have lived and will die disabled. However, we are capable of joy. We can have a good life. In fact, we are. Thank you for your concern and know that you are part of this good life. Now loosen up and have a little more fun.
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
I was digging through my filing cabinet hunting down “something else” and came across “something”. This something is a paper I wrote for university way back in November 1996. Here’s hoping you enjoy it. FYI, I resisted the urge to re-write.
Pauline Johnson was a strong voice for the native people over her twenty-seven year career. She attempted to build understanding in the white race for the native viewpoint. Her mixed heritage gave her a unique advantage in accomplishing this goal. Her English mother taught her social graces and introduced her early to fine British poetry. Her Mohawk father taught her pride in her native heritage.
Pauline’s career as the native poetic voice began innocently. Pauline wrote a moving poem to honour Red Jacket. The poem was used on October 9, 1884 during Red Jacket’s reburial ceremony. ‘This (was) the first poem Pauline wrote in which she boasted of her Indian lineage and expressed sympathy with her Indian forebears.’ (Marcus Van Steen, p. 15)
Two years later Brantford honoured Joseph Brant, a great Mohawk chief, by erecting a statue in his memory. Pauline wrote a poem honouring Brant. After the success of this poem Pauline adopted her great-grandfather’s Indian name, Tekahionwake double wampum. She hoped this would call further attention to her native lineage.
‘By 1889 Pauline was well-enough known to have two of her poems included in Songs of the Great Dominion, a poetry anthology compiled by Montreal lawyer poet William D. Lighthall.’ (Marcus Van Steen, p. 17) This would prove to be a very important inclusion for Pauline.Frank Yeigh was browsing through the Songs of the Great Dominion. He wanted to compile a list of poets to perform during a literary evening. Yeigh was surprised and delighted to see Pauline’s name. Frank and Pauline were old friends. He included her name. On January 1892 Pauline gave her first professional recital. The Young Liberal Club of Toronto was receptive. Pauline’s selection, A Cry from an Indian Wife, captivated the audience. Her encore featured a legend that her grandfather had told her. The legend was of a brave warrior ‘who chose to die on a bed of live coals rather than live as a slave… The audience was entranced by this moving tale of courage.’ (Brenda Willoughby, p. 26- 27) Under Frank Yeigh’s careful management this successful evening started Pauline on her life-long career.
Pauline Johnson: selected poetry and prose introduced by Michael Gnarowski will be released in September 2012
Saturday, March 17, 2012
I’d worked myself up into such a state of anxiety by the time I arrived at Karin’s that I nearly ran back down the stairs when she opened her door. I had to remind myself that a party is just a sandbox for grownups.
This particular sandbox was already crowded. It pulsed with people and music and flashing lights that made the guests look like jerky marionettes. I certainly would have retreated if Karin hadn’t caught me by one arm.
She wore a thigh-length black satin dress that revealed the pale tops of her breasts. Around her neck, Karin had wrapped a white scarf studded with gold stars, and her earrings were enormous gold moons. She embraced me in a musky hug.
“No hiding,” Karin whispered in my ear. “You look too fabulous. Now listen: there are at least a dozen single straight guys here. They’ve all got good jobs, and I’ve tried two of them out personally, so I know they’re hot.”
“Jesus, Karin.” I didn’t know whether to laugh or call Animal Control.
She giggled and led me into the living room, announcing my arrival with the subtlety of a talk show host. “Hey, everybody! This is my best friend from back home, Jordan O’Malley!” Karin elicited a cheer from the crowd, then left me while she greeted more guests at the door.
I had a strategy for surviving any party: graze. There was plenty to nibble. I’d seen to that myself; I even knew where to find the extra bags of tortilla chips if we ran out. I gravitated towards the dining room table, but Karin reappeared before I could fill my plate. A man followed in her wake.
“This,” Karin said, docking in front of me, “is a friend of mine from the hospital, David Goldstein. He’s a pediatrician and you’re a teacher, so you both must like kids, right? That should be a good ice breaker.”
Certainly, nobody could ever accuse Karin of procrastinating. I shook hands with David, the first contestant in Karin’s private Dating Game, wondering whether she’d had the chance to, as she put it, “try him out.” The only thing I knew for sure was that he was employed.
Karin embraced us both, pulling us together like salt and pepper shakers, then zoomed off. David shifted his feet. He wasn’t much taller than I, which made him short in a man’s world, and he had the slightly stooped shoulders and slender frame of an academic. I could have looked him in the eye if his gaze hadn’t been focused on the floor. Instead, I studied his hair. The curls were as silver and metallic as my mother’s favorite brand of kitchen scrub pads. He was probably about my age, but his hair made him look older.
And what was he looking at? My boots? Or, rather, Karin’s boots. I had the urge to squat down and peer into his face, which is what I did with students whenever they felt too overcome to look me in the eye. But no. Let him rise to the occasion. I waited him out.
Judging from David’s wire frame glasses, baggy jeans and pocket t-shirt, he was the sort of boy who had coached the high school math team. He had been laughed at in gym class. And he had probably gone straight from college to medical school, then completed a residency in a clinic for the poor.
I deduced this last bit from David’s shoes, which were the thick leather sandals worn by teachers I knew who had done Peace Corps stints in countries with more dust than rain. They were the shoes Moses must have worn to lead the way through the Red Sea, and David Goldstein wore them with frayed socks. All in all, David looked like someone I could talk to. I was sorry he couldn’t possibly think the same thing of me, since I was dressed in Karin’s Whore of Babylon ensemble.
It was too loud to talk in the living room. I led him out onto Karin's porch, where at least there was a decent breeze. We leaned against the railing and David told me that he did work in a clinic for the poor, as I had suspected. He also served as a pediatric emergency physician in the same city hospital where Karin worked. He’d recently spent a year working abroad, he added, and was having trouble readjusting to life here.
“Where were you?”
“Nepal,” he said, sounding wistful. “Right up until last month, I lived in a mud hut and practiced medicine in a converted cow shed.”
I conjured up dirt floors, dung heaps buzzing with flies, and bloody sheets. “Why there?” I spun my mental globe and found Nepal: Land of Sherpas, yaks, Mt. Everest, and yetis, according to one of my fourth grader’s oral reports for social studies.
“Not for the noblest reason,” David said. “I went for the mountains. Ever since I was a kid, I’d dreamed about climbing Everest.”
“And now you’ve done it? That’s wonderful!”
David shook his head and made a face. “Not quite. Weak knees,” he explained, pointing down at the betrayers. “The curse of being in my thirties and spending my whole life lifting books instead of weights.”
“I bet you saved a few lives, though, even if you didn’t climb mountains.”
“Not as many as I would have liked.” David set his beer bottle on the railing and turned to look out over the rooftops. I did the same, our shoulders comfortably touching. A jet flew overhead, silent and twinkling.
“Once, a villager brought me into his house,” David said, “and begged me to look at his daughter. I went upstairs, where the whole family was gathered around a heap of wool blankets. The only light was from this smoky little fire, so it took me a minute to realize that my patient was actually under those blankets. She was a little thing and skinny as a stick. Her temperature was soaring, up to 105 degrees. She had a severe pelvic infection. A pelvic infection!” He shook his head. “In our country, sulfa drugs could snuff that out in a week, but that kid was on death’s door.”
I could imagine it all: the shadowy figures, the smoky room, the moaning child, David huddled over her. “So what did you do?”
I never found out. Our conversation was interrupted by a loud beeping from David’s pager. He grabbed it off his belt and grimaced at the number. “Sorry. I need to make a call.”
“Karin’s room is quiet,” I suggested. “Down the hall, last room on the left.” As I watched David make his way through the dancers, I wondered whether he already knew where Karin’s bedroom was.
I lingered on the porch, listening to the night sounds of the city. For the last party I’d gone to with Peter, I’d bought a tight little black dress, the sort that would give a dead man an erection. Peter had looked me over and only asked if I could please blow-dry my hair straight, just this once.
Karin materialized at my side. “Why are you moping out here?” She took me firmly by the elbow, leading me back into the apartment.
“I was waiting for David. We were having a nice talk.”
She rolled her eyes. “That figures. Takes a nerd to know one. Listen, David’s as dull as dirt and piss poor besides.”
“But you’re the one who introduced him to me!”
“Just as a warm-up exercise. You said yourself that you’re through with nice guys. Peter was nice, remember?”
“Look, David’s got a billion stories, every one of them sad to the bone. That’s the last thing you need right now. Besides, he had to leave for an emergency room consult. If you really want to pursue things, I’ll give you his number later. Now mingle!” she ordered.
Karin drew me into the brightly lit, crowded kitchen and pointed. Next to the table, which was barely visible beneath six-packs and wine bottles, stood a man whose freckled face was haloed by a cloud of blonde hair. We watched for several minutes while he performed tricks with a tiny Frisbee for several female groupies. He was tall, with a lanky runner’s build and a face that might have been handsome if it were plumped out a little. As it was, his small dark eyes, flat nose, and pert mouth looked stamped onto his skin. He was dressed in a blue Hawaiian shirt, baggy green shorts, and running shoes.
“What do you think?” Karin breathed into my hair. “Wouldn’t you rather frolic with a feral Frisbee player than ponder the world’s woes with a pensive pediatrician?” Karin waved and the man grinned, flexing one arm like Popeye. “Isn’t he amazing?”
“He's coordinated,” I said, as Surfer Boy shot a miniature Frisbee into the air and caught it on his forehead, where it balanced on edge.
Karin elbowed me in the ribs. “You don’t know the half of it,” she moaned, fanning her face theatrically. “Come on, what do you really think?”
I studied the guy more closely. “Sorry. There’s not enough beer in the world.”
“Oh, give him a chance. Break loose for once,” Karin said, and abandoned me again to join the dancers in the living room.
I wandered over to the dining room table, loaded down a plate with food, then hovered in the kitchen doorway, watching the object of Karin’s admiration spin a palm-sized red Frisbee across his shoulders. The man saw me watching and advanced. When we were scarcely a foot apart, he pulled an even smaller Frisbee out from behind my ear, rolled it down his arm, then balanced it on one finger. He lifted my hand to pass it to me; the Frisbee continued spinning on the tip of my forefinger.
I had to laugh. “Now what?”
The man shrugged. “Keep it. Consider it your Welcome to California gift.” He flashed a grin and made his way back into the kitchen.
I eyed the Frisbee uncertainly. It seemed a shame to stop the spin, but how long could I stand here like the Statue of Liberty, especially with a plate of food in my other hand?
“Neat trick,” said a woman beside me.
I turned to look at her and dropped the Frisbee, but caught it in mid-air. I hastily slid it into one of the many pockets of my leather pants. “Too bad I couldn’t keep it up.”
“Bet he could, though.” The woman gestured with her sharp chin in the Frisbee player’s direction. She was attractive with the anemic, alien good looks of a super model. In her rayon pink dress, pink leggings, and black Chinese slippers with embroidered roses, however, she looked like a little girl playing Cinderella. Her hips were slight, but her breasts held their own against an enormous metal necklace that might once have been part of a chain link fence.
“He certainly has energy to spare,” I said.
The woman examined me with huge, kohl-rimmed dark eyes and introduced herself as “Anna, Anna Mendez,” exhaling each time on the final “a” of her name as if she were doing abdominal crunches: “An-ah, An-ah!”
“I work with Karin and wanted to meet you, Jordan. Karin thinks the world of you,” Anna said in a voice so ragged and small that it wafted in my direction like a scrap of paper caught on a breeze.
“Are you a nurse with Karin at the hospital?”
Ah. Hence the death-by-starvation appearance. I’d seen more fat on a ribbon snake. “That must be interesting work,” I said.
Anna shrugged. “Not really. People are bent on killing themselves through excess in this country.”
I glanced down at the paper plate in my hand, which sagged in its greasy middle under the weight of artery-choking cheese, pastries, and chips. My leather pants squeaked and wheezed as I shifted my weight and slid the plate onto the tiny folding table beside me, where the fats could congeal in peace. I struggled to think of something to say. “So, how do you encourage people to change their habits?”
“She terrorizes them.” A man joined our conversation. “Our little Anna is a real Discipline Diva with a crop in her boot.”
The speaker was dressed like someone on the cover of a romance novel, in a billowy white cotton shirt, black jeans, black cowboy boots, and a black scarf wound in a complicated way around his neck: testosterone on the hoof. He had a sturdy handlebar mustache and shoulders so broad that Karin must have turned him sideways to fit him through her bedroom door. I had no doubt that he’d been there. She would not have let this one go untouched.
Anna introduced us. “This is Ed,” she breathed.
Ed: a name meant to be stitched on a mechanic’s overalls. He had kind dark eyes, but looked too much like a cartoon villain to be truly appealing. Anna, however, devoured his beefcake proportions the way I’d go after a brownie.
“I do not ever terrorize anybody!” Anna was protesting, speaking in the lilting cadences of uncertain women. “You can’t scare anyone into anything? Not really, when it comes to changing their eating habits? Because people have to motivate themselves?”
I was glad that Anna wasn’t my nutritionist. I was also happy that nobody was standing behind us. My butt would look like a beach ball next to hers, which was as small and tight as two clenched fists.
Our conversation meandered. Anna, it turned out, was from Minnesota. “Horrible, horrible place,” she said. “Bleak skies, lots of snow, and nothing but white bread in the bakeries.”
“What about you?” I asked Ed. “How did you end up in San Francisco?”
Ed smiled handsomely. How else could he smile? “I’m an anomaly, a native San Franciscan. Third generation!” He pulled a wallet out of his pocket and displayed a photograph to prove it. A collection of at least two dozen people, all ages and sizes, smiled into the camera. Like Ed, they had strong chins, hairy forearms, and broad shoulders. Even the girls.
“That’s really something,” I said.
Anna looked stricken. “I always wanted to come from a large family. But I was an only child, the spackle on my parents’ marriage.”
Uh oh. Here it was: The California Confession. One thing I’d learned in my two days here was that Californians could bring out the big guns of personal pain on a moment’s notice. Just today, I’d been in the corner market buying party supplies when I overheard one woman emphatically tell another that she was learning to honor her clitoris after her divorce.
“Are your parents still together?” Ed asked, proving his true California colors by forging ahead fearlessly with the conversation.
Anna shook her head, her satiny black curtain of hair swinging around her elfin face. “They got divorced five years ago. That’s when my repressed memories of the emotional abuse first surfaced enough for me to own them,” she explained.
Ed folded Anna into his arms, then cupped her chin in one hand and tipped it towards him. “I want to say one word to you. Just one,” he said. “It’s a word I want you to repeat as you process your past and progress with your life’s work.”
Embarrassed but fascinated, I stepped closer, anxious to shoplift any soul-saving secrets I could use for myself.
Anna’s eyes brimmed. “What is it?”
“Forgiveness,” Ed murmured, stroking Anna's hair the way you’d calm an anxious horse.
“That is so beautiful,” Anna told him.
That is so much hooey, I thought, as a commotion broke out behind us. Dancers were skipping to the left and right, the women climbing onto the sofa and chairs, the men spinning around, flapping red paper napkins.
“Look out! A rat!” a man cried.
It was a mouse, actually. The terrified rodent scooted between feet and furniture legs. A bearded man in a black t-shirt and black jeans stepped forward with a dish towel held in front of him like a fireman offering a net. “Jump up here, little guy!” he coaxed. “Jump!”
The mouse ignored this invitation and continued to zip around like a wind-up toy. Various people squealed and shrieked, including the bearded man.
Finally, Ed dropped to a crouch, scooped the mouse into one hand and flipped it into his shirt tail. He toted the mouse in this cozy shirt hammock down the back stairs.
A minute later he was back, not even breathing hard. “Dance?” he asked.
I looked for Anna, but she had disappeared in the stampeding herd of mouseophobes. “Maybe just one,” I agreed.
Three, five, then seven dances. I lost count after that. I would never wear leather pants again, I vowed, as sweat streamed down my thighs. Ed didn’t dance like anyone else I knew. He gyrated, strutted, twirled, and even took me in his arms for a number that left me upside down and seasick.
When we finally retreated to the kitchen for more beer, he told me about his family. Ed grew up on a houseboat in Marin with his two sisters, two brothers, artist mother and carpenter father. His father had died five years ago; Ed took his mother out every Sunday for dinner, wrote poetry for love, and made money by taking carpentry and modeling jobs.
“Remodeling?” I shouted over the music.
He shook his head, dark eyes dancing beneath the thick brows. “Modeling.”
“You mean for magazines? Department stores?”
He shook his head again. “Artist’s model.” He struck a manly pose: Atlas on one knee, holding up the world.
“Oh, no!” I laughed.
“No? Well, how about this, then?” Michelangelo’s David was next.
It was easy to imagine these poses in their unclothed entirety. I held the cold beer to my forehead. “Where do you model?”
Two art schools used him on a regular basis, Ed told me. Occasionally he did private sittings as well.
“But doesn’t your construction work interfere? What if you bash your thumb with a hammer or take a two-by-four to the forehead? Do they still want to draw you when you’re all bruised and splintery?”
Ed grinned, teeth flashing beneath his mustache. Seeing Ed smile was like unwrapping a turkey sandwich when you’re hungry: its appeal was its simplicity. “You bet. The more bruises, bumps, tools, and dust I bring to my modeling jobs, the more they love me,” he said.
The imagery was taking me by storm. I closed my eyes and felt Ed’s breath on my face as he leaned close to kiss me. I let him, and it was better than just all right.
Karin chose to appear at that instant. “Oh good. I'm glad to see that you're hooking up.” She patted my back pocket meaningfully, to remind me of the condoms she’d put there earlier, hard-rimmed tokens of good luck. A look of confusion crossed her face when she felt the Frisbee instead.
“I’m about to invite Jordan to my house, if you don’t mind the guest of honor leaving early,” Ed said.
“Mind?” Karin rubbed her hands gleefully. “Not a bit. As long as you both PROMISE not to do anything I wouldn’t.”
Ed shrugged. “That should be an easy promise to keep. What do you say, Jordan?”
What could I say, but yes? Here was my golden opportunity to act impulsively for a change, instead of planning my next move. That's why I had come to San Francisco after all.
Ed drove a filthy Saab with a muffler problem that prohibited all conversation. His apartment was just south of Market and flaunted the same inattention to detail as his car. A couple of webbed lounge chairs stood on either side of the fireplace, a battered chunk of redwood served as a coffee table, the bookshelves were swaybacked wooden planks separated by cinder blocks, and a pair of ancient snowshoes hung on the wall.
“My father’s snowshoes,” Ed said, as reverently as if he were presenting a cremation urn.
In the kitchen, I began to doubt my own intentions as the beer wore off and reality set in. Was I ready for this? There had been a few other men before Peter. (I could still count my lovers on one hand, something that Karin found hilarious.) To varying degrees, I’d been in love with each one. But Peter was the only man who had ever seen the scar on my breast. I thought I’d keep my top on tonight, avoid the issue entirely, then remembered I was wearing a body suit beneath Karin's leather pants. I’d have to convince Ed to turn off the lights if we got that far.
Stalling for time, I asked Ed to put a kettle on for tea. He lit the stove and plopped a couple of herbal tea bags into a pair of oversized pottery mugs. Tan linoleum curled beneath my boots and the speckled Formica table teetered on the crooked floor, its surface not quite leveled by a wad of newspaper. I could only hope that Ed’s carpentry skills, like Karin’s talents as an OR nurse, weren’t represented by what I saw in their apartments.
I sat down. The leather pants cut grooves into my thighs. My earrings, silver hardware also borrowed from Karin, angled into my neck. I might as well have worn a straight jacket and fish hooks.
I gazed into the mug when Ed put it in front of me. The tea bag puffed and floated like a jellyfish, yellow gradually seeping into the steaming water and sending the aroma of spring grass into the room. What was I doing here? I didn’t know this man. And I hated herbal tea. What was the point of a hot beverage without caffeine?
“So talk to me,” Ed said. His broad shoulders dwarfed the chair.
“I don’t know what to say.”
“Do you want to go back to Karin’s?”
“I'm not sure.” I sighed. “I don’t even know what I’m doing in San Francisco, much less here in your apartment.” Ed was watching me closely, his eyes kind. Now that I saw him in good light, he looked older, closing in on forty. “I thought you were interested in Anna,” I confessed.
“I am interested in Anna.”
“So why didn’t you dance with her?”
“Because I’m not interested in Anna the way I’m interested in you.”
“True. But skinny isn’t necessarily a good thing. Anna strikes me as someone who would be very high maintenance. Anyway, why are you trying to get me interested in Anna, when you’re the one sitting in my apartment?” Ed took my hands in his. My hands felt small, safely enveloped, warm. “Are you hoping I’ll ask you to leave? Let you off the hook, so you won’t have to hurt my feelings? Sorry. That’s not going to happen.”
I started to cry. A steady stream of tears rolled down my cheeks, as salty as the San Francisco fog. I sniffed, wiped my nose on a paper napkin and crumpled it. I tossed the ball into the trash basket near the window, banking it off the wall.
“Good shot,” Ed observed.
“Hours of playground basketball.”
“I bet you’re a great teacher.”
“You don’t know anything about me,” I sniffed.
Ed’s gaze was steady. “Oh, but I do. You love to dance. You’re a terrific listener. You’re a good friend to Karin, who’s one of the dearest people in the world to me. Your left blue eye has a very interesting spot of brown. And you’ve got a luscious body.”
I blew my nose on another napkin and tossed that one, too. The shot went in again. “You’re right. I’m a good teacher. My fourth graders love me. The parents love me. Even the principal thinks I walk on water. But get me out of a classroom, out of those four walls where I can plan every minute on paper, and my life is a wreck. Karin told you, I guess, that I’m just out of a relationship? That I was engaged, but broke it off?”
Ed nodded. “I think what Karin said was, `Thank God she’s out of that one.’ But listen, Jordan, most people almost get married. A lot of us even go through with it. And then a lot of us get unmarried.”
“Have you ever?”
“Yep. You can’t get to my age and not be married at some point in your life.”
“Why, how old are you?”
Pretty old to be a poet and a model, I thought, never mind scampering around on carpenter’s scaffolding like a monkey. In my circle of friends back home, the fortysomethings were lining their ducks in a row to put children through college.
“You don’t look that old,” I said.
“I don’t feel that old. But I’m that experienced.”
“Where’s your wife now?”
Ed ran a finger around the edge of his mug. “She found herself a house and a man to keep her in it, so she left me. We don’t talk any more.”
“How long ago did you get divorced?”
“What was she like?”
He smiled, playing some private reel in his head. “The tough kind of woman you never realize is soft and hurting until it’s too late.”
“Have you been in love with anyone since then?”
Ed laughed. “You ask the worst questions. You must be a relentless elementary school teacher. Yes, of course I have.” He cocked his head at me. “You know, just because you're here doesn't mean that we have to hook up. I can take you home. Or you can just spend the night with me and we'll see how things go. Would you like that?”
“I don’t know.” I was shivering slightly.
Ed rose from the table, washed out the cups at the sink. “Stay with me tonight. I promise you won’t come to any harm or do anything against your will.”
“Have you got a couch?”
“Afraid not.” He led me into the living room. “Just the lawn chairs or the bed. You choose. Though I’ll tell you right now that the lawn chairs have been known to swallow my guests whole and spit them back out on the floor.”
Ed’s bed was inside a closet in the living room. The bed filled the entire closet, and it was a cozy place, covered in a red flannel quilt and lined with blue flannel pillows. “I’ll tell you what,” he said, coming up behind me and resting his hands on my hips. “Let me entertain you.”
“What do you mean?” I looked around for a TV, saw none.
He guided me onto the bed gently. “Lean back against the pillows.”
“Mind if I take off my pants first?” I rubbed the leather seams along my thighs. “I feel like I’m sewn into a sausage casing.”
“You’re asking permission to remove your clothing?” Ed leaned against the closet door, grinning.
“Just my pants,” I warned.
“Sure. And anything else, if the mood should strike.”
I tugged off the leather an inch at a time while Ed pretended to busy himself with the stereo. My legs were creased and dented with the memory of every seam and metal rivet; the leotard had worked its way uphill in a most unattractive way. “Could I borrow a t-shirt? And maybe some boxers?” I asked. “And would you mind if I took a shower, too?”
“Yes, yes, and a most emphatic no.” Ed gathered things out of his bureau and showed me to the bathroom.
This room was clearly the showpiece of the apartment. The new tiles were red, and inside the shower a black bench ran the length of the wall. I turned on the water and perched on the bench to massage my feet, which still ached from Karin’s high-heeled boots.
It all felt so good that I found myself humming by the time I got out and examined myself in the mirror. Ed wouldn’t necessarily notice the scar on my breast if we did go to bed. I’d just keep the lights low. Or off, better yet. I pulled on his green V-neck t-shirt and a pair of plaid boxers, feeling almost relaxed.
Back in the bedroom/closet, Ed told me to get into bed. I propped myself up against the pillows and waited. He disappeared into the kitchen, put on slow reggae music, then began to dance for me.
He was a good dancer. No surprise there. But then Ed began to strip off his clothes, slowly, unwinding his scarf and draping it over the floor lamp before he undid the buttons of his shirt. The shirt fell to the floor and Ed moved about the room, wordlessly inviting me to admire his broad, smooth back and muscular carpenter’s shoulders.
As he danced, Ed touched himself with his hands just enough to make me shiver. I tried not to think about who else had seen this particular mating ritual. But a part of me stayed on alert and wary, observing the action instead of being fully engaged in it.
Perhaps that’s why I reacted the way I did when Ed unfastened his trousers. His pants were held together by a Velcro strip, and he ripped them open with such deliberate flair, such noise, that I gasped. As his pants puddled around his ankles, Ed's penis reared its head like a prairie dog popping out of a tunnel.
That’s when I laughed. Uncontrollably.
“I’m so sorry,” I wheezed, once I’d stopped snorting. Ed’s proud manhood had shriveled to thumb size and now dangled despondently. “You just surprised me, that's all. I've never seen anything quite like that.”
Ed hurriedly hiked up his trousers and fastened them again. “It’s all right,” he said with dignity. “Some women like something different, that’s all. I just wanted to please you.”
The phrase “some women” got to me. I didn’t want to be one more mare in the stable. On the other hand, Ed had honestly been nice, hadn’t he? Trying to please me in bed had to count for something. For a lot, after Peter. After all, wasn’t that why I was here? For the joy of sex without the ponderous weight of love? To leap my own life's boundaries?
“I’m really sorry,” I said again.
“Don’t worry. It’s fine,” Ed said, waving a hand, but we both knew it wasn’t.
Ed took a shower then, and I lay miserably against the pillows. Would it be better if I left? Or worse?
He seemed cheerful enough, though, when he came back, toweling his hair. Ed slid into bed naked beside me, hiking the covers up over his bare chest. “I hope you still feel comfortable enough to stay what little is left of the night,” he said, turning on his side to face me.
Ed smelled now of the night outside, as sweet as the sea. The covers had slipped to reveal one brown shoulder. I traced it with one finger, then touched his collar bone. His bulk was comforting. “I might,” I said.
“I hope you will. You’re a wonderful surprise,” he added, lifting the covers up to look at me.
“All those wonderful curves. Much nicer than I expected. And I expected to like you a lot.” Ed’s voice was drowsy and his eyes were at half-mast. I touched his dark hair, which was thick and soft and just long enough to tug between my fingers.
He didn’t stir. He was sound asleep.
I slipped out of bed and dressed again, then let myself out of the apartment.