I think she’s headed for Chesaleen’s


(A snippet of first-draft fiction for NaFloScribMo)

When I was twelve everything became too small and familiar. My mama’s house, my classroom at school, my little circle of friends I’d known everyday of my life, even my blue jeans suddenly became snug in places snug never landed before. And then I got The Visit.

I was completely unprepared for The Visit. I mean, there’d been talk at school and I’d heard mama whisper things about it, but it was a hazy something that never seemed important enough to ask about until I was Visited.

I was dying, knew that for certain. The pull at my belly was too painful for it to be just another sour stomach from too many radishes for lunch. I saw the blood when I went to the bathroom, so I knew I had a cancer or TB or something I’d never recover from, but I kept quiet because it was clear to me I’d have to die a private death. I was never going to let anyone look at my gunny to find the problem. So I sat there at dinner with mama and daddy and my two stupid brothers with a wad of tissue shoved between my legs.

Mama said grace. I couldn’t even consider thanking God for food when there I sat dying on a wad of toilet paper right there in front of my family, so I prayed extra hard instead so I could be strong for my dying moments and not be angry at God for the timing. Teetering on the razor edge of death is no time to start up something with God you can’t take back.

“Sister, I said ‘Pass them greens.’” I’d been praying so hard that when I looked up the whole mess of my family was staring at me like I’d just spilled kool-aid on the rug. I opened my mouth to tell them but all that came out was a wail I didn’t know I owned that lasted from the table clean into my bedroom behind a slammed door.

When mama came in she was mad as hell, hands on hips like one of them Amazon women. I could hear daddy’s boots shifting one foot to the other just outside the door, but I knew he’d stay out there and not come in to see my shame and dying because he couldn’t bear a crying woman.

“Explain yourself.” Mama’s plaid housedress towered over me on the bed and I was afraid, but not nearly as afraid of her as I was this dying.

“I’ve got the cancer, mama,” I wept through a whisper, “Don’t ask me to tell you where because I won’t.”

So mama just stood there and I just cried into my bed quilt for the longest time. I wanted hugging, but I wasn’t sure if I could give someone else the cancer and I just couldn’t be responsible for spreading dread disease. When Scrap Wilson got the fever, the health department man came out and put a quarantine sign over the door and everyone whispered hot and fierce about how wrong it was to subject a whole family to one man’s dying germs. I’d have to move out, I guessed, live in a tent all alone by the pond and wait it out until they found my body.

“You ain’t dying, Sister.”

Mama was unmoved and all I could hear was the muffling shuffle of daddy’s boots making their way back the kitchen. Ill as I was, there was only one thing to do.

Summoning the last of my living strength, I leapt past mama, slung open the door, stopped off quick in the bathroom to resupply, then ran through the kitchen and out the back door into the mosquito dusk. It was a long way to the road, but I ran it all with a half-roll of flowered toilet paper in my fist, and it wasn’t until I hit the gate that I looked back. No one was coming after me.

(This is another crooked piece of the Chesaleen stories. It’s NaFloScribMo rough, but there it is. I resisted the urge to write two pages on mama standing there hovering over the bed, which was the image I started with. We’ll see what happens when our new little woman makes it over to Chesaleen’s house and find out the real scoop.)

Storm Chasing


I knew it would happen. I wrote tornado stories for four days and I conjured one. Maybe more. Dammit.

We’re used to tornado watches around here, so that’s not much of a scare. I generally don’t grab my purse until the sirens actually go off, and only because I have my daughter and grandson here. If I were alone, you can bet I’d be out on the porch right now watching for funnel clouds between lightning flashes. My daughter – normally a rock – tends to get a little anxious about my standing outside during tornado weather. She’s never quite shared my fascination.

Maybe in twent-um, thirty years when I reach retirement age, instead of volunteering at the hospital or making people crazy by driving 15 miles per hour down Donaghey Street, maybe I’ll become a storm chaser. Imagine! I could load up the Avalon with a thermos of iced tea, my makeup bag, and some binoculars. Off I’d go. I could take pictures of the twisters on my cell phone and send them off instantly to CNN, because I figure in thirty years I may actually know how to work a damn cell phone. The Perfect Grandson and all his friends would mention me in hushed, reverent tones imagining me to be the coolest Grammie alive.

“Let’s go over to Levi’s house and watch his Grammie chase tornadoes on CNN!”

You have to agree that beats the hell out of greeting pre-surgery patients in the hospital lobby. Wearing a smock, no less.

Enough daydreaming. Since it looks like I’m going to be up half the night waiting for watches and warnings to pass, I might as well get to work on the tornado stories. Besides, I left Chesaleen clinging frantically to the underside of a horsehair divan, and I suspect someone needs to come extricate her.