Wednesday, August 7, 2019


Hi there, let me introduce you. This ↑is Marcus, or maybe I don't know who the kid is in this *photo. It's not mine, as I don't own any rights to it. But that's not really the point. Marcus like most book characters is in the mind of the reader, and the author of course. How your character looks can be vague or have clean cut lines where deviation is nearly intolerable. For instance, Harry Potter must be that dark haired kid with glasses that Daniel Radcliffe embodied, or they could be as vague and ambiguous as Mr. Darcy.

I have spent the last few weeks going through Pinterest pages labeled Character inspiration or ones with similar names enjoying the story ideas such pictures can produce.

So naturally what I'm talking about today is character. If you want to know how a writer ticks-you'll find there are many different schools of thinking on that subject-you need only look at the photo above.

When building a character I go for vague to start with, how the populace of my worlds appear to the reader, I hope, is in the mind.
But as there are many methods to writing fiction and many prefer a more concrete image of their favorite character. Here are some tips that will help you write real world characters.
Whether your fictional character is a Marcus or the creature from the black lagoon there are universal qualities, techniques, and imagery all writers need to employ to give a character an appearance.
No one reading Marcus would say he is a blond haired, blue eyed boy, because those simple features are cut out of the narrative by informing the reader his hair is black and his eyes dark.

The qualities I'm speaking of when writing are those real world things that ground the reader. Giving them something from this world that allows them to see your world. Your alien/monster must have qualities a reader can see or they will be a blob on paper.

Close your eyes.

Picture a car driving down a country lane. Maybe it's hot, maybe dry, maybe it's so humid you can drink the air.

Can you picture it?

The car window is down and a girl is letting the breeze blow her hair.

That is vague, even a bit open ended.

Now to make the girl and the car come into view for the reader, you could say a girl around twelve, with wispy blonde hair was hanging her head out the window of a blue ford.

Better, but not great.

Let's try this, a blue ford rumbled down the dirt road. I watched a preteen hang her head from the car. Her wispy blonde hair blowing in the breeze.

That sounds alright, but what does she look like? And what is the atmosphere that will bring this character to life?

Let's try something more all encompassing.

The hot July sun was dipping now. Perhaps it was a nod to my prayer for relief.
Across the blank expanse of fields and trees a road cuts a gravel path through. A raking sound was coming from that way. That noise irked me.
No doubt a car from Passa, headed to the market, and in a hurry. They'd have to rush; the market would close by eight.
The dusty blue Ford rounded the bend in the road, gravel crunching under the tires. Windows down, letting the breeze created by speed blow through, coating the seats inside with as much dust as the outside of the car.
A girl hung her head out the window. With narrow gangling shoulders, she looked to be wilting in the heat. Her eyes searching the horizon. Her fair skin reddening from the battering of wind. She shook her head, bridling against the breeze blowing her thin blonde hair into her eyes.

There are many ways to give your character a body, hair, eyes, and so on. But it's often in the action that real characters can be seen. The girl isn't just blonde and fair, she is thin skinned sensitive, defiant against something she has no control over. Her eyes are searching for the next horizon her gangly shoulders, giving away her still growing frame.

The narrator has no body. This is the essence of vague interpretive writing. But they give life to the sun, as if it is answering their prayer. The noise of cars in a hurry to get to town before closing time bothers them. They are blunt and to the point. "That noise irked me."

What character comes to mind?

While the girl clearly looks a certain way, the narrator could be an old man or woman, they could be an irritable child, a spiritualist who can feel the bridling of a preteen's soul.

There is a third character in this scene as well, even more vague. One who procrastinates until sun down to get to town, one who must speed down a gravel country road, paying little heed to the preeteens discomfort, not to mention the possibility of rocks being slung from the speeding car into the face of the girl. One who has left the windows down despite the dust getting in. Maybe they are a overworked mother, maybe they are too low on funds to get the car's air conditioning fixed. The possibilities are endless and we'd need to read on to find out.

How much detail when it comes to character varies widely from one author to the next. Personally, I'm a fan of small snippets of detail, through activity. I like that better than a list of traits. But not everyone would agree some people just want a list to speed things up.

Dickens was known for naming the character with a trait that stuck out. Thus fixing their persona with a name concreting the reader's perception of them and it didn't need to be a physical characteristic. It was often a whole persona in one name Now that is some good writing.

So when writing characters have fun experimenting. Think of what you like in a story, how many fixed physical features does your favorite character have?

*I don't own any of these pictures.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Short Story

I thought I would share one of my short stories. I enjoy working and reworking my writing.  I suppose you'd call revising a hobby for me. It's a what I do to decompress.

The day my father died working on the rail in Charlesbourg, I took his red cup—given to him for ten years working the rail—out to the woods for a drink.
I’ll say to the innocent face of that boy that what was in it was hot chocolate. Because I wasn’t quite there yet, a boy not ready to admit I was stepping off a cliff.
Inside was the warm whiskey dad hid in the back of the shed near the radiator, so mom couldn’t find it.
I took it out for a drink. Dad always used to do that, when things went bad. He was right; soon it all felt better.
I slept the day away, and woke up in my bed. Mom must have found me. She never mentioned what I’d drank. I guess when dad died, she just didn’t need the bother. I came down the stair, hoping it was all a dream, but the absences of dad’s coat and the smell of pancakes cooking on a Sunday, was a sure sign it was all real.
I found the cup on the counter and filled it with stale burned coffee, that had been sitting since the day before when dad filled his thermos to head off to work.
The farm wouldn’t run itself, eggs had to be gathered.
No doubt my older sister had gone off to grandmothers or some friends house. I could hear mom crying in her room, I hesitated a minute, wondering if she’d want me to come in. If I did, no doubt she’d want me to cry. I wondered if I’d left any whiskey in the shed. Perhaps dad had another bottle somewhere? The nausea and headache were not bad enough to negate the warm ease it gave me.
I marched out sipping the horrid black liquid, before dumping the last of it on the shriveled mums that were discarded on the porch outside. As I did a tiny shard of a memory reared its ugly head, going out with dad and Margret, my older sister, to get them for mom’s birthday. Tears threatened to seep from my eyes, wrecking my resolve. Crying was no use. Dad told me it was best to pick up your tools and work until you forgot. If that didn’t work, I figured, I could drink it away. Dad never said that, but it seemed like a solution. It certainly worked the day before.

That was twenty years ago today. I held up the photo walking across my office and pinned it to the bulletin board.

“Milton, this is car 6 we have a shoplifter in Arrow’s….”

I sighed, not bothering to answer. It was times like this, that I missed the whiskey. No doubt the shop lifter was some snotty city kid. They were coming in since the factory shut down in town. Many of them thought the countryside was a good retreat from angry parents. They would hang out in cabins in the woods. Unruly gangs of them would walk into shops, or would head to cheap burger places, looking for companionship among the locals, or more often something to do. That's something to do almost always led to trouble. Otherwise it might end in something useful, resembling hard work.

“Milton, this is…”

I rushed to the desk, picking it up before they finished. “I’m here. I’m on my way.”

I got into my cruiser, sweat pouring down my brow. The department could barely afford the gas, why would they bother fixing the air conditioner?
Arrow’s used to be Willy’s. I walked through the door with the red paint chipping off the ledge revealing the metallic green of yesteryear. I could see myself at twelve and a half, stepping inside, demanding a job. At the time thinking I was quite the man. I was hardly able to hide the fact that my heart was racing, and mind swirling. I told old Willy Roberts I was fifteen. He’d seen me every day, probably since I was no higher than my dad’s knee. He didn’t believe one word of it. He gave me a nod anyway. Whiskey wasn’t a cheap habit, on an allowance of twenty dollars, every couple of weeks.  
“What seems to be the problem here, miss?” I looked to the register. The teen in her bright red uniform could have been just as easily the culprit, judging by her scowl.
A woman near stood, arms folded beside a scraggly dark-haired teen, looking every bit the future criminal. His hair hung down over bushy eyebrows, his face was pointed and his eyes were large and puppyish. In fact, he was all together like some scrappy stray dog, only uglier and without half the cause for sympathy.
The woman waved a hand over the pile of petty cigarettes and candy, that caused this mess. “He took them, then tried to run. I was glad my husband was in the lot. He grabbed him before he could get away.” She pointed to the window where Mr. Andrews stood outside, in the heat, finishing his smoke with sweat soaking the back of his gray Union-freight shirt.
“Well, it’s good he was.” The words came from my mouth automatically.  It would have been no different to me if she hadn’t bothered. Insurance could pay for petty theft and save me the trouble.
“Come along son,” I ordered.
He walked out in front of me and I put him in the back of my cruiser. Shutting the door, locking him in. I stood outside, catching the last spare bits of breeze, before ducking in myself.
The kid in the back was sweating and red faced by the time I started the car, but he said nothing. He at least could keep his mouth shut. It was a step up from most of the riff raff that blew through my station. This was usually the turning point for a kid, assuming it was a first offense. Scared witless, they would beg off, never to be seen by a cop again. Either that or they were some snot nosed and spoiled kid. Their parents would end up being called. Suddenly aware of what their kid was doing with their free time, they would leash them and take them home. In the end though it was usually up to the parents.
You could always tell the apologetic ones, embarrassed by their own flesh and blood, from the sardonic spoiled folks. The ones that made every excuse in the book for their angel. Those almost always ended up back in the stations. Until they outgrew petty misdemeanors, graduating to full on prison terms or eventually found better things to do with their time.
It was exactly five minutes and ten seconds back to the station. I couldn’t help but count. Uncomfortable situations always made me count the length of time I would be forced to endure. Used to it was an easy way to comfort, ‘only ten more minutes of school than I can have a drink’. ‘Once I finish my shift, it’s 88 steps from the door to the car. I have 18 ounces of whiskey left, and only 24 hours of time before I get paid’. Now I could only count the time until I was back under the cool air, and able to pull a wad of big league chew out of my desk, for a bit of relief. Straight sweet sugar could give me a burst of energy. Sometimes it was enough to push me to get a frozen coffee, from the gas station. If not I had to endure the black molten lava, I made each morning. Given my dislike of black coffee, why I still made it only caused me to question my sanity.
“Come along, son.” I marched him ahead into the station, naturally empty, since my last partner married and moved to Fresno.
I had no desire to ask for help, nor was the town in a financial situation to provide.  “Well, do you have a name. I need to call your parents.”
The boy narrowed his eyes but said nothing.
I chuckled. Silence was a unique tact. “Alright, if you won’t talk, I’ll have to book you.” I reached for my keys and started to the nearest cell.
“Matt Laur,” he squeaked out. His accent registered normal to me. City kids always had strange shortened words, with heavy Hollywood imitation accents. “I guess you’re from here, I’ll have to call your parents. Laur? Are you Mathew Laur’s son?”
He nodded, looking down at the floor.
“Sorry about your dad.”
“Could you not tell mom?” He looked up teary eyed.
“That’s no good. Next time your mom goes into the store, she will know.” You don’t think old lady Andrew’s will keep her trap shut. She knows everyone, I’m surprised she didn’t say first thing who you are.”
“Me too. If she was going to say she would have just called mom, not you.”
“True. Still, well let me think about it.  What’s with stealing candy and cigarettes? Your dad didn’t smoke?”
“Not when mom could see him. She always pretended she didn’t know. He’d come in smelling like tobacco and she’d blame the other guys.”
“Alright, I’m going to let you off with a warning. Do it again and I’ll…” I looked about the shabby office if I wasn’t mistaken, I had at least a couple packs left. I pulled from the draw a box of cigarettes. “If you tell your mother…” I hesitated, holding up the box.  
“No thanks,” he groaned. They're not the same kind. I wasn’t going to smoke them just burn them in the car it…  mom drove and she let the windows down. Now it smells like leather seats and hot mud. It used to smell like… well you know… Dad and I he’d take me to get some pop over at the drug store when we’d pick up grandpa’s prescription.”
I shrugged the sentiment was not unfamiliar. I couldn’t recall which of Laur’s boys Mathew was. The elder Laur was a sharp nosed, weasely looking man, but a good fellow. He did his service in the armed forces before he retired to be a minister. None of his boy would drink and smoke or so they let on. I knew at least the eldest went on a three-week vacation in the mountains out in California. Around here that was code for rehab a few towns over.
“Well, if you want the truck to smell the same you best keep your mother out of it. How old are you? “Fifteen.”
 “Is your mother, Amy Laur?”
“No, she kept it Clay. Don’t know why. Laur’s a better name.”
I shrugged, he wasn’t far from it, the Clays were back bush hippies. “Amy Clay.” I squinted. I could see her face, vaguely from my muddle junior high memory. A sort of washed up flower child. She never did deem her and her family as a local bunch, but more of the upper crust artsy types. Destined to live in high rises in Manhattan, and had somehow lost their way, and ended up in Hicksville. But my memory of her could have just as well been clouded, by the half pint of whiskey I had stashed in my backpack. It seemed all my youthful memories were tainted by clouds of hateful people. Everyone was worse or angrier, than they seemed now. It was the effects of alcohol poisoning, or so my new-found conscience told me.
“You can go, but if it happens again, I’m…”
“Hey, my dad had a cup like that.” He pointed to the picture on the board.  
“Yeah, I pulled that picture out last night. After the railway explosion, it reminded me of my dad. I guess you and I are in the same boat, son. My dad died on the job as well.”
“He’s got a green one too… I guess. He had. I don’t know what happened to it.”
“Probably got rid of it. You don’t keep the five-year ones. They are bad luck.” I nodded, as the vague memory of my uncle saying that, a month after dad died. He took the green cup off my dad’s high shelf and pitched it in the trash.
Matt left swiftly out the door. My day ended with nothing, but that clank, as I hung the cell keys back on my belt. I started for home in earnest. Mini would take the office overnight. She was a fair enough officer from what I had heard. I never waited around to meet her at the door. Leaving the coffee pot brewing and the station doors unlocked, I took my phone and picture and headed out.
Matt was just passed the parking lot as I came out. He stood with a gathering of three other kids. They were just off school, no doubt. They headed toward the town center. That’s where you found the local kids. They’d be in the street, eating candy, or drinking pop, while talking big, and pairing up for a Friday night.
 When I was a kid, I never had time for it. Dating and movies, it was a waste of money best used for drinks. The local track team held my attention for a little while. But I couldn’t run wasted, and I couldn’t get wasted while running. The adrenaline drew up unpleasant thoughts. I quit before I met any real competition. I headed the same direction as Matt briefly before veering to the left.
Margret had gone off to the city for more schooling. Mom died a few years after dad. Cancer was a grueling task master it took her piece by piece. First her hair, then her weight, and finally, after days in hospice it came for the rest.  If it hadn’t been for the whiskey I would have died alongside her.

My sister had the unfortunate kind of nature, that makes you want to fix the world’s problems. When mom died, she decided she would someday cure the world of cancer, and every other ailment that came along.
She threw herself into school after dad died. After mom died, she threw herself into medicine. I didn’t have the head or the moxie for that.
When I got desperate enough, after years of drinking and brute labor, making a farm run, I finally decided if I had managed this long to keep out of jail, or any kind of trouble, that the quietest and safest place on earth in a town, like this, was in the police station.
I did my training with as much ambition as I’d given my first job. A need for money, led me to do just enough to keep on the up an up with the management. With no desire for promotion, I set out on my career path in earnest.

I passed the rail station, still quartered off, with yellow tape. A large segment was in ruins. Three vans were parked close and a few cars scattered the makeshift parking area. FBI, CIA… It didn’t matter much to me. Out of towners were assigned to investigate. Only the sheriff had to put up with them. I could keep my head down and pass unnoticed.

If not for my uniform, I wouldn’t have felt obligated to look up. But I nodded their direction and started passing. No sooner had I tapped the gas than a slender, agent trotted my way, waving an arm to halt me. The woman neared her heels on the grassy pasture sunk and made a slurping noise. The smell of wet, swampy mud met my nostrils, as I rolled down my window a bit more. She made way up the small ditch to the road. I glanced toward the tiny gravel bridge that would have saved her the muddy mess, that was now stuck all the way up to her ankles.

“Officer, Milton?”

“That’d be me, ma’am?” I nodded trying to be polite. I really didn’t want to look at the railway let alone be stopped here. The track butted against the end of my farm. I could recall a half dozen times drunk and wishing I was never born. I would stand on the rail waiting just hoping that a train was headed my way. I tore my eyes from the mangled remains, of track and train. I focused them on the matter at hand. Her ebony skin was dotted with greenish mud and sweat was making her face-makeup run. The whole scene was a bit like looking at a movie, where the city goes from civility to barbarism. Where dressed up, businesspeople, are doing things that you know they never would have worn a suit for.
“I’m Patricia Goil. The sheriff told me that your father started working for the railway around twenty years ago.”
I nodded. Thirty years ago, was correct. I was ten when dad died, and the cup for ten years of working there was new. I pushed the thought away, it didn’t matter and saying that aloud seemed like a silly thing to do.
“I get the impression,” she continued, “that this is not the first time the railway was sabotaged, a similar incident happened before.”
Two rail accidents in thirty years, if that warranted an investigation, I supposed I was correct in my assumption that joining law enforcement in Charlesbourg would be a cake walk.
“Yes, it seems that way. Although I was under the impression the last time it was deemed an accident. Heavy rain washed out the rail and the inspectors got slapped with a lawsuit.”
“Where did you hear that?” She cocked her head.
I shrugged. “I don’t know. I was ten at the time.” I closed my eyes, unable to recall. I gave the most expedient answer I could think of. “My mom said that.”  I nodded wishing I had driven on by, without a word.
“Well, I’m under the impression that there were no charges filed, but I do think that sabotage was eventually considered the most probable cause. Someone switched the rail, getting the train on the wrong track.”
“I’d say that’s the most likely explanation.” I started to roll back up the window, she placed her hand on the door. If I could have a word, perhaps with some of the locals? Someone like your mom who would recall the events?”
“I… well, mom is dead. My sister was only a bit older than me, but there are plenty of locals to ask. Anyone here for that long would probably recall something about it. Why not try Mrs. Andrews? She works at the grocery.”
“Thank you.” She seemed somewhat grateful for the assistance. With a nod and a smile, she worked back down the hill.
I started my car forward, rolling up the window a little as I did. I let the cool air blow across my face turned the radio up to full blast, and headed for home. It would be a long night without anything to drink. I could at least allow the sounds of blues, and dry beer commercials, drown out the feeling of dread that came with every tick of the clock.

 It would be ten hours, and six minutes before I could be back at my desk. That was twenty steps from my car to the house.
Ten steps to the fridge where I could retrieve the case of pimento spread that I made the night before. Slathering it on bread only ate up ten seconds of ten grueling hours.  Fixing a new batch for the next night would take up 16 minutes. It shouldn’t take that long, but I made a great effort to hide the can of red peppers in the very back of my cabinet at the top. That way I would be forced to get the step ladder to dig it out. I always bought the kind that took a can opener, and mine skipped and cut unevenly, eating up an extra five minutes to get into the can.  
Once it was made, it was exactly ten after seven. I turned on the nightly news, that way I skipped the headlines and first commercial break. Otherwise, it felt as if I’d already seen the whole thing.
I frowned to find the man across my screen, was not Sandra, the usual newscaster. I flicked off the television and ate in silence at first, but the void of the dimly lit room, and the noise of my own chewing frustrated me. I flicked it back on, only to find myself in the middle of a car commercial. The air in the room stifled any desire to rise from my chair and test the radio. Going for a drive would eat up the money I was saving for soda pop. I had decided a week ago to replace my drinking habit for a new drinking habit. The shot of caffeine, I figured, might at least negate the need to pour coffee each afternoon. That was before I found out how much a coke costed now. Nothing at all like my boyhood days, when I could pick up a pop for a quarter, and if I was in a mood I would walk down to the Pioneer Village, where the machine was broken. It would drop out a couple every other time. I got lucky that way more than once, I could drink one than and save the other to pay off my sister for holding a bottle of booze in her dresser drawer.
 The clocked only ticked slower. If I could just fall into bed when I reached home, and sleep twelve hours instead of eight, but my internal clock was preprogramed. It was beyond my control. Since I stopped paying it in shots, it stopped doing as I commanded. Now I was lucky to get eight hours of sleep.
More than likely I would end up jumping awake, in a cold sweat from some dream, I couldn’t even recall. It was times like that I wanted to go and sit on the tracks. For a week now, though, I knew it would do me no good. The train was out of commission, and if I sat on them now, I would have to walk an extra three miles. That time always lessened my resolve, that and not knowing the train schedules, in the next town over. Before when I went down to the tracks, I knew in the back of my mind that the train would never round the bend until a half past three. Or if old Lanky Johnson was having a bout of the crud it would come at 3:45. So, I would sit on the track at four o’clock pretending to want suicide and wondering if some passerby would even notice. The lack of drink was starting to make me face the realities. Thinking I had sat on the tracks wanting suicide was one of those rose-colored realities that whiskey kept me believing.
The clock struck ten. I hadn’t watched the news, but had lost myself in thought. It was Sandra’s fault I gave it up. One night after drinking through my lunch break, I hit the signpost with the cruiser and she came on television showing the wreckage, and the words that came from her mouth were scathing.

“No witnesses were on the scene, but it was believed to have been done by a drunk driver. Local law enforcement, asks for anyone with details to come forward.”

This was followed by a piece on the horror of drinking, and what it does to the liver. Complete with a doctor, who had pictures of drunk driving deaths, and liver disease victims. Sickened, I tossed the bottle out the window where it shattered, and liquid gold spilled down the storm drain. To this day, I wished I had bad aim and had tossed it in the grass, where I could safely retrieve it once the wave of fear had passed. Instead, it was gone and with it my excess earnings. Between rent and car not to mention all the other bills it was a week before I could again afford to replace it. By then I’d been through the worst of it, and images of blackened livers were burned into my eyes.
I fell asleep at half past two. That was six hours of sleep, “not enough,” I grumbled chastising myself for allowing excess hours to pass unfilled with productive activity. I was halfway waiting for Sandra to come on the screen. It wasn’t until the comedy show was on, and a commercial for the next night’s newscast played, that I was at ease enough to rest.
I rose at two to four. Unable to sleep more I paced. I could go to work, but then breakfast would be completely thrown off. The deli didn’t make up egg sandwiches until five. “The diner.” I spoke half to myself and half to the clock that ticked away, uncaring at all, about what torment it gave me.
I showered and dressed. Tonight, was laundry and tomorrow I would shop. I looked forward to grocery day. It ate out three hours of my ten at home. I could catch the end of the news and fall into bed.
I started the car in the cool summer morning. Its headlights were like eyes peering out below a thick fog.

I hesitated, driving in this kind of murky black reminded me too much of the nightmares that haunted my dusks.

I was back momentarily that same boy in his red coat wandering through the haze of a foggy autumn dawn, working my way ever closer to the train tracks. I could hear the whistle blow deep in the still frost, the smell of oil and the rush of warm wind as the train blew passed, then I would jump awake.

I shook the thoughts away. Turned up the radio. Some Latin tune was playing a sultry sound. I didn’t want to hear it. I flicked the station to some witless pop star singing of fun times and dancing. I pulled out of the driveway without another thought, but the diner.

I would skip passing the railway and go straight to the main road.  Reliving nightmares didn’t seem desirable and I was already hungry.
“Nellies” Flashed in red letters on the top of the building. I dodged the semi’s parking lot, nodding to Mr. Andrews. He always started his morning there. Before his daily delivery to Nortown.  He could be seen there again every night with his wife having dinner.
I took a seat at a booth somewhat awkwardly.  A waitress came my way. “Egg sandwich,” I stated before she had time to introduce herself.
“I’ll be with you in a moment,” she said, passing my table and taking the order of the couple just beyond me. I was crimson, I was sure, and slightly breathless. The room was stuffy, and music blared from the nearest speaker.
 Andrews sat down across from me with a couple of other fellows. “Yeah, you should have seen her. She comes around at dinner time right in the middle of my show and pounding on the door asking questions.”
 “Two accidents, years apart. That’s just a waste of time,” one of the others near spoke between swigs of coffee.
“I guess now-a-days, they have to call in the big wigs for stuff like that. Can’t have the locals handle anything anymore.”
 “Feds from Washington think they know it all. Coming down to little towns for a train accident.”
I squinted toward the twig of a man speaking, hunched over a menu, his voice was so brittle it could break should he need to raise it.
“Why, when I was a boy a train would go off those rails once a year. Of course, there were a lot more trains back then.” He looked as old as that. He looked so much like my mother had the year before she died. She was so frail I would have feared a hard wind would blow her away. But as scrappy as ever the man talked on of the horrid Washington types, and city folks infiltrating our small town. He wore his grey uniform with the factory logo in bold red. Most had lost their jobs, save those with the most seniority. They could stay on until retirement at the end of the year.
“Hello there,” A chipper voice spoke.
I looked about, expecting to find the waitress, with a clipboard in hand, for an order she hardly needed to write down. Instead, I was met nose to nose with a small framed, black eyed toddler, appearing as unhappy to see me as I was her. I looked up to the woman at her side, clutching her hand.
I nodded. “Is there problem ma’am?”
“Oh, no I’m Amy Clay, Matt’s mother. I just saw your car out front and wanted to say thank you. My son… Well,” she lowered her voice to a whisper, “certain people can’t keep their mouths shut.”
I shrugged, “It’s a first-time offense, and just a warning. I don’t think you need to worry. Want to join me?” I waved her to the opposite bench and sending the girl ahead she slid in.  
As soon as she was seated, we were joined by the waitress. I blurted my order over a chorus of ‘cake, cakes’, from the girl across from me.
The woman laughed. “My daughter will have the pancakes and I’ll have the egg sandwich as well.”
The waitress smiled and left.  I shifted in my seat somewhat regretting my own manners. I looked at the clock. If I was late for work my day would be thrown off. It was twenty steps from the table back to the kitchen and ten minutes to cook the eggs and pancakes. I mentally counted, but not knowing what went on behind the closed kitchen door, and unable to view the entire restaurant, and how many were awaiting orders I knew it was just a guess.
“Well, I did want to thank you. My son has not been the same since his father died. I didn’t know he’d taken up smoking and certainly stealing never occurred to me. He gets an allowance. And why is he stealing candy of all things?” She shook her head.
I stared back somewhat curious as well. The cigarettes I understood, but I’d forgotten the candy. Maybe I’d let him off too easy?  “Well, don’t make excuses for him.” I stated, before I thought it through.
She stared back with a mix between anger and puzzlement.
“Not that you would. I just mean that’s what happens to parents of kids who go bad. Most times their parents make up reasons rather than punishments. Not that you would, I was just saying.”
“Matty was a bad boy,” The small girl said, with a singsong tone, that was bound to be making her brother cringe, assuming she did it at home as well.
“Catherine, stop that,” her mother’s voice was firm.
“Well, I’m sure it won’t happen again, not if you use that voice.” I stated as the waitress approached laying plates of steaming dishes in front of us.
Amy laughed. “Yes, with the three I’ve had to perfect my ‘mother's voice’. I guess you never would have thought it back in school. That would end up a mom.”
“No,” I agreed. The smell of the pancakes filled my nose. Chills ran down my arms. “I want ten.” My childish voice echoed in my head. “Ten cakes. I bet I could eat ten.”
“You could not,” Margret huffed. My sister didn’t understand my appetite. Every Sunday mom laid out pancakes in front of us. Three apiece, butter on top, and syrup dripping down. Every Sunday until dad died. After that, it was eggs. I would gather them up cook them and serve them. Most went uneaten and unacknowledged for weeks, but I followed the routine, until finally, slowly, mom joined me for breakfast, then after a while, my sister came around.
I shook the memory away, focusing full attention on the woman in front of me. “No, you didn’t seem the mother type in school, but then who did.” I shrugged.
She looked up with a wide smile. I blinked. She was nothing like the girl I knew. Now her face was lightly plump, with a light blue glint in her grey eyes. Her skin glowed with the heat of the day. Her hair was whisked up to the top of her head, in a tight comb, looking like an amber waterfall. As stray curls worked their way loose, she brushed them from her eyes, with a gentle hand. Her thick glasses and flowered braids were gone now. No longer the flower child, sprung up in inclement soil, she was every bit the small-town farm girl, with sun tanned rough arms, and a face to match. I looked back somewhat impressed with what time could do.
“Well, I best be off, I stated, as the clock crept nearer to six. I wrapped my sandwich in a napkin, then dropped money and a tip for three.  
Twenty steps back. Or was it ten? I started to count walking to the car, but notice I didn’t care. My mind was still on the pair in the diner, and the smell of hot cakes lingered. I had to be rid of it. I walked, letting the smell of diesel fuel and fresh cut grass fill my nose and clothes.
“Railway train 10 07…” That was a father's number, I muttered, getting into my car. I drove to work listening to the same pop music, or it all just seemed the same. I arrived early, meeting Mini at the door. She nodded. “I guess I can take off, if you’re early?”
“That sounds like a plan.”
“I made coffee.”
I frowned, looking at the half pot. “I should have stopped at the station for a sweet one.”
“Oh, if you prefer sugar and cream we could always…” Her words trailed off. I guess she knew by now I didn’t care about the coffee, or the room in general.
“Anything overnight?”
“No, but after you left yesterday an agent came in. She wanted to talk to you. She said, it was about the train wreck we had a few weeks ago.”  
“Train 10 07 crashed yes, I know.”
“Yes, it was strange because she said that that was the same rail number that crashed…”
“I know. My father died in that crash, the first one.”
“Oh, my gosh, I’m so sorry!” Her voice raised slightly causing me to meet her eyes. The soft browns were a mix of youthful girlhood and hardened criminal defense lawyer. She had worked for years in the city, before retiring to this town, devoid of anything but petty thieves and the occasional drunk.
“Well, anyway, she said she would come in later, and she hoped to talk to you.” Mini pulled off her work shoes and slipped on a pair of sneakers, then made way to the door. Handing me the keys to the cruiser in passing. “Oh, and I got a call from Sargent Boyar. He says they might be able to fix the AC on the cruiser next week. But you best roll the windows down, it’s going to be a scorcher today.”
 I sighed. The heat in the car was a good reminder to keep away from the whiskey.
She went out the door and I pulled back out the photo of my former self, holding my red cup with its railway marks on the bottom. That day I hadn’t meant to cause that much harm. I only wanted it all to stop. I shook the thought away.
Tacked the picture up to the board, and settled at my desk. I tried to picture myself before that day. Nothing would come, but the smell of pancakes. At ten that’s all I really cared much for. The rest, the big stuff was all routine. It was unchangeable in my mind. I didn’t know the big stuff like dad coming home could change. But with one slip it did, and I was eternally that boy in a red coat, with my father’s cup full of his brew, that no one ever talked about. Going out to gather eggs, to establish a new routine, to replace the old one. But nothing ever set back right. I broke something when dad died and nothing was the same.
The phone rang, causing me to jump. It was 2 already. What had I done with the hours? I looked about locating my phone ringing and shaking. “Three missed calls?” I shook my head. “This is what I get for not drinking,” I grumbled. “Hello?”
“Milton? Is that you?” Margret’s voice had a sound of desperation in it.
“It’s me, yeah. What's the matter, sis?”
“You didn’t answer. I thought… Did you hear about the train wreck?”
“Yeah, it’s all over town. I—”
“Milton, you didn’t…”
“Didn’t what?”
“Have you had your dreams again Milton? Remember when you were— “
I hung up the phone, launching it against the wall. It cracked and fell with a soft thump onto the ratty beige carpet.
Outside I could hear the hum of an engine and rake of tires over the gravel lot outside. Before long footsteps neared. I looked toward the cells to one side of the room. Leaving the keys to the cruiser on the desk, I walked to the door with emergency exit flashing in neon red over it. I walked out
At 3:45 the train would come down the track, at home at least. Here I didn’t know. It could be 4:00 or 5:00.
I sat down with my red cup clutched in my fists. The smell of hot whiskey, wafting up from within, could almost bury the warm smell of hot cakes, from some restaurant near.
I couldn’t help thinking back to Amy. In a different reality, maybe she would have been nice to get to know. But I had wrecked her routine as well. Her husband would not be back home at 6 pm each night to spend time with her and her three children. It was all the better, anyway; The practical stranger, I had met at the restaurant, was nothing like Amy Clay the flower child. She could have been a whole different person.
It was on the morning of a cold autumn day. I half sleeping pulled on my coat. Dad would have to work, Sunday just wouldn’t be the same if dad had to work. Mom might not make hot cakes and my sister said she was spending the weekend with friends, so there was little reason to do a family thing. That’s what mom said.
I dreamed that night I went out to the railway. I only pulled the switch. The train conductors would get all mixed up. They would have to change the schedule if someone messed up the tracks. I was sure I dreamed it all. I got up the next day, and dad went to work, but he didn’t come back. This time I had the same dream. I went to the tracks and pulled the lever, but this time everything in my routine stayed the same. Despite my dreaming, I couldn’t go back. I drank the contents of the cup, sirens blaring in the distance, drew me somewhat to my senses, but the warm drink stole away any worries. The ground shook and the sharp sound of the train whistles blew. 


Sunday, August 4, 2019


First, if you don't know about me, you should know I work for a wonderful company. It's a family company that specializes in soap, cheese, and sweets. I make fresh goat cheese for a living.
Now you're wondering what on earth that has to do with Audible books. *Don't worry, I'll get there soon.
If it wasn't for my relaxed work environment I might not be able to put my headphones in and glide through two or three books a week.
Let's just say I love Audible.
That aside the point of this post isn't to promote Audible itself, but this amazing movement. IMHO every publishing company and indie author should consider having an audio selection of books. Digital books are turning the book publishing industry over in a revolutionary way that Kindle did only a few years ago.
It's not that we haven't had books on CD (I'll admit I still use CDs in my car all the time) for a while now, but it's the digital portability of music, books, movies and podcasts etc., we lacked.
Audible is revolutionizing this new age of publishing.
Now if you're not familiar with Audible, it's through Amazon, you pay for a subscription and receive credits each month that you can use for a free Audible book. They also have a selection of materials free for Audible users such as The Wall Street Journal Digest, The New  York Times Digest, Free Audible originals etc.
They are not alone in this digital project, many great libraries have a generous selection of the book online and in digital audio format.
My work schedule allows me to work independently and often alone, which is why I've gone through so many books. But the main point is Audio books have freed up anyone to read and broadened the ideas about where we use the technology, expanding the world of fitness, health-mind and body that is one of the greatest accomplishments.
The more we read, the more we know and open our minds. So that even this cheese maker who does a little writing on the side can read to her heart's content.