Monthly Archives: April 2012
Rebecca gave one of her best big smiles as she surveyed the living room.
“I’ve heard so much about you, Janet, and am so glad to finally meet you in the flesh!”
“Oh?” asked Janet, handing cups of coffee to her newest visitors, “Good things, I hope.”
Rebecca nodded her head vigorously, burning her mouth on the hot, stale coffee.
“Thank you so much for putting us up like this,” Jackson ran a dusty hand through his equally dusty hair. “I’m not sure where else we would have gone.” He looked around for a place to sit, but decided against it. Both he and Rebecca were covered in bits of broken plaster and dirt, and the cream-colored furniture in the Bell’s living room didn’t seem up to the job of accommodating him. He and Rebecca had already disturbed the vacuum tracks of the pale blue carpet with their dusty shoes. Rebecca didn’t seem too concerned, however, and was already at home on the loveseat.
“Yes, the whole county’s a mess, isn’t it,” Janet carefully slid a coaster under the cup Rebecca had balanced at the edge of the coffee table. Rebecca was staring at Maura who refused to return the attention. “Rebecca told me that your building was razed, almost taking the two of you with it. Thank God that you survived in one piece!”
Jackson winked at Janet, “Aw, it’d take more than a tornado to carry me off!”
“Oh!” Janet smiled at Jackson and then looked over at Andrea. Andrea was staring at Rebecca who was staring at Maura who was looking at the ceiling.
“Um…Andrea, you know where everything is – can you show Rebecca and Jackson where they’ll be staying? Rebecca, you can take Mr. Bell’s study, upstairs, and Jackson can have the den in the basement. I hope you’ll be comfortable. Maura, could you help me get dinner started?”
Maura shook her head but followed her mother into the kitchen, giving Andrea a sharp look as she walked out but still refusing to acknowledge Rebecca.
“I can understand why you like that girl,” Jackson said, pulling Rebecca up from the loveseat and trying to brush off her dusty imprint. “She’s got a terrific ass!”
“Cut it out, Jackson – it’s not just her ass I like. And please remember that it’s totally uncool to flirt with your sister’s girlfriend. Got it? I’m not joking.”
“I can show you to your rooms if you want.” Andrea looked carefully at her feet.
Jackson grinned at Rebecca. “Sure, sure, we’re being jerks here. Please, Andrea, give us the tour.” Jackson put his arm around Andrea. Rebecca rolled her eyes and Andrea stood still, confused about what she should do next. “Uh – this way.”
Jackson let her sidle out of his embrace, but kept his hand lightly on the small of her back as they climbed the stairs. After installing Rebecca in the study on the top floor, Jackson followed Andrea down to the basement. She could still feel the spot where his hand had rested, just below the waistline of her baggy pants.
She pointed at the pullout couch and said, “I think that’s for you. Mrs. Bell said there are pillows and sheets in the closet in the bathroom down here.”
“Ah, bathroom, that’s what I need. I’ve been dreaming of a shower all day!”
Andrea turned to go, but not before Jackson was half-naked. He reached behind his head and pulled his dusty shirt off with an easy tug. Andrea stood there, frozen mid-step, staring at his chest. He was a little on the skinny side, definitely not a candidate for the firemens calendar, but not totally devoid of physical charm. When he put his hand on his belt buckle, the spell was broken and Andrea fled the room with, “Don’t use all of the hot water, other people need showers too!”
“I’m willing to share, if you want to double up,” he called after her, laughing.
She could hear his jeans fall to the floor as she took the stairs two at a time. She ran past Rebecca to Maura’s room and pulled the door shut.
“So friendly,” Rebecca muttered.
Maura backed out of the kitchen with a stack of plates, and Andrea poked her head back out of the bedroom. “Maura, do you mind if I borrow something else to wear?”
“If you can find anything in that closet that fits, go crazy.”
“How come you don’t mind if she wears your clothes?”
“Shut it, Rebecca. Why don’t you go help my mom with dinner? You were always so eager to spend time with my family.”
“Maybe I’ll do just that!”
Andrea called from the bedroom, “Maura?”
“Okay, Andrea, I’m coming. And Rebecca, no joke. My mom needs help but she’s driving me insane – go in there and sing for your dinner or something.”
Maura walked past Rebecca and into her childhood bedroom. Andrea was kneeling by the dresser with a bunch of pastel sweaters piled beside her. “Is it really okay if I wear one of these? They look brand new.”
“Yeah, my mom picked those out and I never really wore them. They might be kind of small, though. I think they’re from junior high.”
“Well, I’m supposed to wear more fitted clothes than I do.”
“Oh really? Who told you that?”
“When I was trying on the bridesmaids dresses, earlier today. The women at the store there. Said I shouldn’t hide myself in big sweatshirts.”
“Dear lord,” Maura laid back on the bed, looking tired and miserable, “I can’t really believe this day.”
Andrea turned carefully away from Maura and pulled on a very small pink sweater. She turned around. “What do you think?”
“I think it looks a little tight,” sighed Maura.
“Okay, but in a good way?”
“I don’t know, Andrea. If you like it, you should wear it.”
Andrea waited for further advice, but Maura just lay there.
“Jackson thinks you have a nice A-S-S.”
“What?” Maura sat up. “How do you know what he thinks about my ass, or anything, for that matter?”
“Because he said he liked it, right in front of me. Actually he said it was terrific. Your A-S-S, that is.”
“Why would he say that to you?”
“Well, he wasn’t saying it to me. He was actually saying it to Rebecca, but I was RIGHT there. I guess that would only make sense, him being attracted to you, since he’s related to Rebecca and all.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about, but feel free to find a bigger sweater if you like. I’m going to see what kind of disaster is going on in the kitchen.”
Jackson strolled by the open door dressed only in a towel, “Whatever is cooking, it smells delicious!”
A Prompt of One’s Own or How to Start a Story
- There are no rules for how to start a story.
- Suggestions, though:
Start in the middle (jump right in).
Start at the end and work backward.
Start at the beginning.
Think about what you want to write about.
- Think of a situation or an event that resonates with you. Change some of the details.
- Think of an interesting character, made up or real. Write about him/her.
- Think of a place you have been. Who lives there, who is visiting?
- Think of an issue that you care about. Who are the people who disagree with you about it? Why?
Once you have figured out what you want to write about, you are ready to begin. Tell the story. Tell the whole story. If you get to the third page and you are only halfway through, then you are writing a six-page story. If you are out of time, then at the end of page three, write “End of Part I.”
Remember the guidelines that we have talked about:
- A story is about something that happens to someone.
- It’s better to show than tell.
- Vivid writing includes details that make the characters or incidents come alive.
- Great writing evokes an emotional reaction. What reaction do you want? Make that happen by creating characters your readers will care about.
April 24th is our last class before the break. For next class, start your longer story, using your own prompt. Send it to me in a Word document by end of day on the 23rd. Don’t put your name on the doc. (I’ll know who sent it to me, but that’s okay.) On Monday night, I will email all the story starts. Then on Tuesday, we’ll discuss and see if we can identify the authors.
I’ll be back from Spain in time to meet on May 22nd. Hope to see lots of long, juicy stories! At that point we can discuss whether you’d like to have a reading in early June and when we should break for the summer (doesn’t that word sound exciting!)
It’s a pleasure to meet with all of you and read your stories. Great work you guys!
Mingus Beats the Smingus Out of Dingus
This Smingus-Dingus day was going to be different, Anya thought. “Molly, Catherine,” Anya called out, “Bring me all the Mingus records. I have a whole new idea for this years Smingus-Dingus day celebrations.”
Molly was the first to find her mother’s Charles Mingus records in the vast collection of vinyl her mother had collected through the years. Catherine followed behind her elder sister. “I don’t get the Mingus thing that mom is doing.” Catherine said.“ I’m more into the singers of that era. People like Mingus are just to heavy for me.” Catherine was the spitting image of her mom. She had fair hair that was very curly. Molly was her father’s doppelganger. Her hair was dark and she wore it in an exuberant Afro.
Anya was the most exotic person in the community. She had married Bob not giving a damn that he was a black man. His family was Buffalo royalty that had settled in Buffalo before Revolutionary War. He was handsome and very wealthy. Anya, able to pursue her musical career, had made quite a name for herself as a top-notch musician when she was younger and since they both loved jazz frequented all of the hippest jazz clubs. After the clubs closed they would invite all of the heavy hitters to their get away apartment in Harlem for jam sessions, cocktails and expertly rolled joints.
Anya’s parents had settled in Buffalo with a whole tribe of Polish refugees where Anya grew up at her father’s knee playing the accordion, first on a cut down model then graduating to a full size custom accordion in opalescent pink and pearl white. All she ever wanted was to be a musician. She mastered the accordion and then piano, guitar, bass and saxophone. She had great success touring in her youth. When she retired from touring to raise her family, Bob had a recording studio built in the garage.
Her record collection took up a whole wing in the old mansion. “I wonder what she has in mind for tomorrow. I’ve already bought a new outfit guaranteed to be completely see-through when I get doused.“ Molly knew how to exploit her body. She was a fast girl and all the local boys love to hang out with her. “I wonder if Peter is going to stop by. I really like him. I hope he throws a whole bucket of water on me. I’ll have to spank him extra fierce.”
Catherine leaned back against the packed bookshelves and let the Mingus albums spill around her. “I think Pete likes you too. I wonder if, you-know –who, is ever going to be serious with me. He always jokes around but he’s never made even a little attempt to kiss me and I have tried everything.” Her red hair hung loosely in front of her face. The weak spring sun streamed into the lace-curtained windows lighting the young-girl tableaux like an Andrew Wythe painting, Snow White and Red Rose sprawled on the wooden floor punctuated by 12×12 squares of artistically rendered poses of Mingus and his bass in black and white.
“Mom here are the albums you wanted. What exactly do you have planned for tomorrow? You realize that our whole gang has been getting ready for Smingus Dingus for weeks.”
Well girls, I have lived here all my life and if I never hear the words Smingus Dingus again in my life that would be great. All of you kids dripping wet ruining your clothes. This is going to be my last Smingus Dingus and I am going to have a blast doing it.”
“But mom!” Molly said, “You used to love playing for the big parties.”
“Yeah, but now days no one has those huge parties. In fact for the past few years, more and more kids refuse to get wet and the police have come down so hard on everybody. I mean busting people for drinking in public. We’re all good Catholic adults for Christ’s sake. Plus the parties are now just DJ’s playing that horrible rap music.”
“Oh mom, you are so old fashioned.” Molly said. “I’m disappointed in you.”
Catherine looked surprised and kept her mouth shut.
“Oh my girls. Don’t look so defeated. I’m going to go out in style. Smingus and Dingus, wait till you meet Mingus.
The following morning after Easter, Molly and Catherine took time getting dressed and primped for dousing. They started with beautiful new bras and panties all sheer, low cut and down right sexy. Both girls had bought new summer dresses lightweight and almost see through. They were armed with freshly cut pussy willow branches to whip the boys into a frenzy. Molly was thinking of Pete and how he wouldn’t be able to resist her charms all pale pink in a perfect contrast to her dark hued skin. Catherine was a vision in pale green voile, her mind mulling over the best way to get you-know-who entangled in her red-haired web.
The pastel sisters found Anya and Bob downstairs. Bob was drinking coffee with a bemused expression. Anya motioned them all to the front porch. She had taken the Mingus records to the local copy shop and gotten huge posters of the best of Mingus albums, and hung them ceiling to floor around the porch. In the middle of the porch was a professional DJ set up, two turntables and two huge speakers. Anya dressed for the occasion in her finest gigging clothes, pink and white fringed jacket, skirt and her most prized Nudie snakeskin boots. She strapped on her accordion and perched on a stool in front of the turntables. “Check this out!” She sang out and put the first Mingus record on the deck. “Here we go, Hold on tight. Mingus is ready to rock this town.”
And, Anya rocked the house till 2 in the morning. Throughout the day everyone in the community came by. There was a heap of food and drink. Anya played all Charles Mingus on the turntable turned up tastefully loud. Her friends brought their instruments and would join her jamming to the steady onslaught of Charles Mingus. She played Moanin imitating the horn lines on the accordion, kicking out the Baritone riffs with ease. Goodbye Pork Pie Hat was played at least three times during the day with various side men including local hip-hop kids hooking up fierce beats with their I Pads. On and on they went: Hobo Ho, Pithecanthropus Erectus, Don’t Be Afraid, the Clowns Afraid Of You.
Bob kept the action flowing smoothly until midnight. Anya was relieved when he signaled the end of the festivities. The girls were nowhere to be seen having joined their friends escaping from the relentless Mingus Dynasty. The last stragglers of the evening a bit out of tune mumbled as they danced towards home into the night. Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus
The Day Before—Clark Humphrey
The day before Harmony Day, the same-age cousins met at their usual after-school rendezvous, the alley behind the Burger King. Because neither they nor anyone from their ethnic community ever ate there, it was a place their respective parents would never think to look.
Turmera (school nickname “Tammy”) still wore the “normal American” clothes she’d worn at school. She hadn’t had the time to change into her “home” clothes.
“Still no idea about tomorrow?”
Her cousin Orix (school nickname “X-Man”) had shook his head.
“Absolutely no idea. None of the adults will talk about it, and none of the kids really know. Just the same guesses we’ve always heard.”
“So we’re just going into the adult version of Harmony Day for the first time. And we still don’t know what it is.”
“They showed me the costume I’m supposed to wear. But they wouldn’t tell me anything.”
“My parents were like that too. Mine’s just like my robe from Children’s Harmony Day. Except it’s got all this frilly lace stuff at the neckline, and there’s these skinny little slits up the sides, almost to my knees.”
“My robe’s like the one I had last year, except it’s this gross greenish blue color, and it has these weird designs all over it, like geometric patterns and shit.”
“I don’t get what the big deal is. It’s supposed to be our people’s great bonding ritual. But they won’t tell their own kids what it is.”
“Or anybody outside.”
“Yeah, or anybody who’s not ‘one of us.'”
“Well, I’ve heard everybody drinks this disgusting-smelling drink from the homeland. Then everybody trips out, like they’re on acid or E or both. And they crawl around on the floor and scream a lot, and it’s supposed to mean something somehow.”
“Nah. Just another kids’ rumor. You heard any guesses?”
“Like the version where they all squat down on the floor on mats, and bounce up and down?”
“And pretend they’re floating in the air.”
“Or the one where everybody gets into these two circles, all the guys in one and all the women in another, and they take turns kissing and groping each other?”
“Or the version where they get naked and all have sex, right in the temple room?”
Turmera turned away and closed her eyes. “That CAN’T be true! And if it is, I WON’T DO IT.”
Orix raised a hand out toward her. “Relax. It CAN’T be anything like that. Not with all the times they’ve hounded us that we’ve all got to stay ‘pure’ ’til we’re married. Even the guys.”
“My mom told me to never ‘do it’ years before she’d tell me what ‘it’ was.”
“As if there wasn’t an Internet.”
“Or kids in school who stole their dads’ DVDs. Which are COMPLETELY disgusting by the way.”
Orix nodded in at least tacit agreement. “So it can’t be THAT.”
Turmera opened her eyes and turned toward Orix again. “Thank the Deities! But we still don’t know what it is.”
“Eh, it’s probably just everybody singing and chanting shit in the old language, and telling stories, and repeating secret words, and promising to keep the old ways alive.”
“And promising not to tell the kids how boring it is, until they get to find out for themselves.”
They stood, shared a platonic hug, and walked back to their adjoining homes. Turmera headed straight to her room and changed into her “home” clothes, before her mother could see her.
Thirty hours after this conversation, Orix and Turmera were officially adult members of the temple.
And they were sworn never to tell children or outside people what happened on Harmony Day.
But that didn’t stop them from spreading some cool and/or gross rumors.
SMINGUS DYNGUS BY SMINGUS DYNGUS
Do we really have to suffer this tradition? Anya thought. Oh well, a small price to pay. She would chalk it up to a bonding experience with her mother.
What better way to say “HE HAS RISEN” than to gorge yourself on a Smingus-Dyngus casserole provided you have enough sauerkraut and kielbasa left over from Easter dinner. Anya helped while her mother barked orders.
You need a basket, get a basket, a nice basket!
Now, we make the butter lamb.
You know, the lamb mold I sent you for St. Stanislaus Day. Go get it!
Where did you put the butter? I left it out last night to soften? Get the butter.
After hours of restructuring Easter’s leftovers Mom proudly put everything on the table.
Yeah, dinner’s ready everyone; mmmm look what Babki made for us.
The kids were horrified knowing they were going to have to eat because Babki went through “so much trouble” to prepare this nice traditional meal.
Anya couldn’t help but Thank God that she had a husband with a non-discerning palette. Jerry would eat a big heaping help of anything as long as he could smear enough mayonnaise on it.
Anya would have to keep her gag reflexes in check. She had always hated Smingus Dyngus food. Easter food was disgusting enough. She wasn’t a fan of the food when it was new. Now, today, Mom was going to re-introduce it as a Smingus Dyngus feast.
The red and green cabbage leaves held the sauerkraut and cheese next to the kielbasa. The ham topping looked like finely shredded peeps bleeding all over the casserole.
Every year, Easter Monday was the same torture. Well, this Smingus Dyngus day was going to be different Anya thought. She excused herself from the table and returned with her Accordian to play “Who Stole the Kishka”, followed by a nice Polka.
Her children silently wondered if the torture would ever end.
Anya knew that by the time she finished the Polka her buckets on the back stoop would be filled with cold water from the garden hose.
* Some internet plagiarism
The Adventures of Lily Leigh
The dream pushed me back in time. The moon spilled it’s white light onto the frosted cobbled street. I stumbled trying to find something I had lost: an expensive set of emerald earrings, a stack of letters tied in violet ribbons, a well trained black French poodle. And then it faded. I opened my eyes. The room was cold and dark. Full moonlight brightened the rectangles of clear sky from the stone clad windows.
Oh, where am I, I thought bringing my senses back to my present predicament. The last thing I remember is standing on the train platform at Waverly. I remember I taking the night train from London up to Edinburgh.
I wanted to sit up but I could only manage to roll over on my right side facing the windows. I closed my eyes and in my foggy state the fragments of the dream floated like an unfinished jigsaw puzzle. I was running across the High Street. In the distance Arthur’s Seat was dusted with snow. The cobble stone streets were black with frost. I was cold with fear. There was a man ahead of me. I felt I had to catch up with him. The dream broke and my thoughts found their way to Waverly. I had never seen his face but I knew I would recognize him instantly.
The description I had received from my cousin Ed was explicit. “He is a tall, thin man who dresses in old-fashioned garb: wide brimmed hat, long waterproof overcoat, over a three-piece tweed suit, and to add to this distinctively eccentric outfit, he adorns his figure with a long thick scarlet scarf.” Uncle Ed added in his email,” My dear Lily, it is of vital importance that you go immediately to Edinburgh and try to find out the whereabouts of the good Reverend Bertram Leigh. You needn’t contact him, I’ll do that when I meet you there in two days time.”
There was a lamp on the bedside table. I reached over and turned it on. The fluorescent light slowly illuminated the very large and cold room. I shivered and pulled the comforter tighter around me. My mind was numb and I couldn’t think clearly. I closed my eyes.
I booked a room in a Bed and Breakfast in the Old Town, at the tourist kiosk at the station. I remember leaving the busy station. I walked up the ramp into the cold windy morning. The familiar smell from my school days hit me right away. Edinburgh reeked of breweries cooking up delicious libations in the morning air. I climbed up twisting Coxburn Street past my favorite northern watering hole, The Malt Shovel, and turned right onto the High Street. Here is where I would start my search because sooner or later everyone had to cross or shop or pray.
I couldn’t hear a sound in this place, outside or in; the walls were thick granite slabs and the windows high. I looked around for my purse and backpack. Both were on a chair on the other side of the room. I needed to get some answers. I trudged over to the chair, covers clutched around me. I felt a bit shaky. I grabbed the bags and scuttled back to the warmth of the bed.
The clothes I ‘d worn on the train were not here. I had on a very old fashioned nightgown that wasn’t mine, a pure white, heavy cotton gown with frills and lacy edges. I rummaged around in my purse. No cell and no charger just my wallet and makeup. My laptop and my notebook were gone from my backpack as well. I sat back against pillows trying to figure out where I was and why I was here.
This morning or as least I think it was this morning after settling into my garret, I ventured out with the intention of searching the town for the Reverend, or at least the part of town he was known to haunt when he was in the city, the focal point being St. Giles Kirk.
“Lily, he should be going to the Kirk on Wednesday afternoon. Let’s hope you can intercept him there.” Uncle Ed said in the email. I planned to be in place at the right time. I wandered into the church after the noon service. I sat in an out of the way corner. I expected to see him in situ, so to speak, but stupid me, how would I know him without the absurd overcoat and tall brimmed hat, and this ridiculous long red scarf, if he was here on official business. Any man attending the service or hanging around could be him. I knew he was suppose to be tall but up here in Bonny Scotland, tall was relative.
I made up my mind. Right now I needed to find out where I was and maybe the past few hours will become clearer. What I do realize is hunger and I have to pee. I put on the sweater that was in my backpack over the nightgown. There were two doors in front of the bed. I tiptoed to the door on my right. It was locked from the outside. The door on the left opened into a nice hotel type of bathroom all white porcelain. Next to the light switch was a knob for the wall heater. I turned that up and basked in the warm forced air, which made me feel alive.
I looked in the mirror. Ooh, now I see why I feel woozy and why my head hurts. My forehead was cut above my right eye and someone had expertly patched me up. I started feeling faint and dizzy. I made my way back to the bed but before I sat down I recognized the TrimPhone on the table. I guess it registered in my addled brain so slowly because I, like most of the world these days, never use anything but my personal cell phone.
I picked up the one-piece apparatus and instinctively dialed -0-. It rang and was answered in two rings. “Miss Lily Leigh. I guess you’d be a wondering where you are?” The man’s heavy brogue rattled. “And I guess you’d be a wondering wha’ happened to you?”
The voice reminded me of what had happened after I left St. Giles. I was determined not to miss him when he came out, but the ever-changing Scottish skies were now pale grey and snow was rapidly falling. I hustled up the High Street to Deacon Brodies Pub to wait out the storm. I found a seat at the bar where I could look out the window and search for a waterproof Macintosh overcoat, a wide brimmed hat and a red, trailing scarf
After an hour or so the storm passed but the clouds stayed and darkened. In the north winter a premature dusk descended at three as the streetlights started to glow. I guess I’d been sitting longer than I thought. I checked my mobile and left a text for my uncle letting him know the name of the B & B I’d checked into and the progress I was making here at my temporary office here at the Deacon’s.
As I looked up from my screen I noticed that the streets had been abandoned in the wake of the storm and then I saw him. There he was or what appeared to be him heading towards the Castle red scarf flapping in the breeze. I left enough pound notes to cover the bill, quickly gathered my things and ran out onto the High Street. I saw the flash of red as it turned down Bow Street towards the Grassmarket.
“Lily, Lily lassie, are you still there?” The brogue shouted on the other end of the phone.
“I’m still here. I mean where can I go. You or someone has my clothes and my phone and my…” I started crying. I was scared. I was cold and my thinking still was foggy. A key turned in the door on the left. The heavy door silently swung open. I drew myself into the pillows pulling the cover up under my chin. I felt utterly abandoned. “What the hell? “ I whispered to myself. A tall man entered carrying an enormous tray loaded with plates, cups and carafes. I smelled bacon and coffee.
“ Oh there, there Miss Lily Leigh, don’t ya be so afraid. You must be a starving. Here eat this and I’ll light the fire. You’ll be all toasty in a wee minute. That’s right, eat and I’ll tell you what’s befallen you. Don’t fret lass everything is…”
His voice faded into the background. The hot coffee put my mind in focus. I remember now. I was running to catch up with who I thought was the Reverend. I slipped on the icy stones. I took a bite of toast after smearing it with Marmalade. “I remember now. I slipped and fell didn’t I?”
“Lucky for you lass or I should say lucky for me. I saw you when you fell and smashed your wee head. You had fainted or blacked out. I put you in my van and brought you home, I mean to my house. I have your electronics. They are a charging downstairs. I thought you should sleep undisturbed for a while. Well, I must make a wee confession. I did snoop to find out who you were. And oh, by the way, let me introduce myself. Miss Lily Leigh, I am The Reverend Bertram Leigh, your very own uncle. I guess you were trying to find me?”
Lilly (historically incorrect, damn the Northern Pacific) by Laurie Michaels Lee
Stepping off the train, Lilly scanned the platform looking for a face she’d never seen before but knew she’d instantly recognize. She surveyed her surroundings from her vantage point and liked what she saw.
Up until now her older sister Flora kept Lilly clothed, fed and out of harms way. She was the only female living at the brothel that was not a prostitute and Flora meant to keep it that way. She knew she would seize every opportunity and claim every inch of luck for Lilly to have the kind of life Flora would never see. Flora was just southeast of honest. She didn’t come right out and steal or swindle but got close enough to recognize it in the dark. She ran her north end brothel in Boston with gusto and business acumen that led the local people to believe that there was a silent owner. Rumor had it that the owner was a prominent figure and a man of public importance.
Not so far off as rumors go. The owner of the building kept the business so secret that when he died Flora just kept on as nothing had changed. That’s when Flora realized the importance of rumors and their benefits.
Flora had been hiding money for years knowing she would have to be ready when the opportunity presented itself for Lilly’s sake.
Flora had gotten word about a businessman coming to Boston looking for hundreds of young girls to transport west as brides-to-be. He would pay a family $100.00 a piece for their fine daughters. Asa Mercer had collected $300.00 from approximately 500 men two years earlier. The money was to bring brides from decent Boston families to Seattle so that men could marry and start families. The more women Asa could bring to Seattle, the more men were enticed to come to Seattle for work, and the more men meant more money for Asa’s timber business.
This was the type of opportunity that Flora had dreamed. This was Lilly’s pass to a new life, a proper life.
Flora set to work and started a rumor meant to reach the finer Bostonian stock. After all, when it came to her clientele, not much separated the middle from the upper class men except their tailors. Her rumor had been brought back full circle within 2 weeks time. Seattle was a vile, muddy town known for it’s wild Indians, filthy living conditions and the men were nicotine and beer-soaked, whisky-greased, red-eyed devils. The rumor had caught hold and spread like a plague and shelved the notion for any respectable family to send a young woman to a place as damnable as this.
Flora knew by now Asa Mercer would be desperate for women. For 3 months the brothel girls sewed, stitched and tatted clothing and hats, stockings, and gloves that would make as close to a trousseau for Lilly as she was ever going get. Over the years, Flora had paid to have Lilly tutored by spinster women who found themselves low on means. Lilly, now seventeen, could pass as a fine upstanding young lady.
She would be at the dock waiting to board the ship with the rest of the Mercer girls. Flora had given Lilly one last set of instructions. She was to study these women for the next 3 months and make their mannerisms hers once she disembarked. Lilly knew she could do that, she’d been pretending her whole life. She had learned so much at Flora’s.
Lilly never had a minute of worry about a gentleman’s intentions as long as he had money. Flora would kill her if she ever knew. Lilly was happy to be out of her sister’s watchful eyes and short leash. She was ready to live her own life and was lucky enough to have the opportunity of a lifetime.
Flora also instructed Lilly to stay clear of a man who smells of work and to mind the condition of his hands and cuticles.
Lilly knew Asa Mercer would be waiting. In one fast year her life had changed from living at Flora’s in the north end of Boston to standing on the Seattle waterfront waiting for a man who had essentially purchased her for another.
Lilly was in full possession of her fine and genteel self when she and her 7 traveling companions were introduced to Asa Mercer and just about a dozen other men that afternoon. She thought Asa to be a fine looking businessman, maybe a bit boring but that was no concern. His friend David Maynard, however, seemed very interesting and she detected a glint in his eye and the faint smell of liquor on his breath when introduced. He wore a well-tailored suit and spoke with authority. He looked like a prominent figure. Although Asa had introduced him as David, Lilly notice that people referred to him as Doc. Lilly believed this was a man of public importance and surely he would know a good business opportunity when it presented itself. She knew with her feather and his money they’d both be tickled rich. Lilly smiled and watched Doc as she thought, let the others find their homes to bake and birth in, I have other plans.
It took a lot of looking, but eventually he was found. Exactly the way he’d been described.
Just a little shorter than the average of the males here. Designer eyewear but a discount-store suit, a little too tall and a little too small. Cropped dark hair that looked like it desperately wanted to escape its pomade restraints. The slightest hint of a beer gut. The only man looking anything like him here at the main DB station in Bremen.
The only detail Lily’s best friend had not mentioned was the color of his shirt, a sickly institutional off-yellow. She knew she would have to assert control of his wardrobe if this thing was going to work out.
She also knew precisely what she was to do. Her best friend Cynthia, who had discovered this 32-ish man at a film screening, had given her detailed instructions.
Lily was to feign a lot of ignorance. She would tell him he needed much more from him than he was originally supposed to do. She needed an English speaking person who could lead her around the city, who could get her to her hotel and to the obscure little arts center where she supposedly had a residency. Who could show her the best little shops and nightclubs that didn’t blurt out loud repetitive techno all night (something she knew he hated). She would go where he liked to go.
She would discuss his favorite books and music and films, and turn him on to hers.
She would tell him how much America needed the influence of Europeans to help adjust into a more urban, more sophisticated future. Europeans such as him.
She would lure him out of his introverted shell, a centimeter at a time.
She would lead him into her arms, her bed, her heart, and eventually her life.
All this was possible because of Cynthia’s groundwork. She had test-dated him, and yes, “test driven” him.
Cynthia’s conclusion: He was not, and would never be, “intense” enough for her tastes. But in his quiet charm and his low-key playfulness and his solid soul, he’d be perfect for Lily.
Cynthia had made many things happen to make this moment happen.
Cynthia had gotten Rolf involved in the little contemporary arts collective, as a part time administrative assistant; even though he had no experience, and had previously expressed little interest, in the visual arts.
Cynthia had arranged for Lily’s small, quiet, sensual mixed-media works to be displayed there, in her first exhibition outside the U.S.
Cynthia had emailed what Lily should and should not say and do.
Do let him ramble on about why Germany knows what to do about the world economy and America doesn’t.
Don’t interrupt him, even when he’s struggling to find the right English word to say.
Do make the first move sexually.
Don’t lie about liking any film/book/music/food you really hate.
Most of all, Lily must never let on that Rolf is being fixed up with her.
Because the one thing Rolf had always told Cynthia he’d hated most of was a woman who played games, who manipulated a man for her own priorities.
No, this must be a carefully staged work. A performance art piece, if you will.
Lily looked ahead toward Rolf. She held her breath for a second, silently told herself to break a leg, walked up to him, set down her suitcase, and said hello.
Stepping off the train Lily scanned the platform looking for a face she had never seen before but she knew she would instantly recognize.
His response to her letter had been brief. A couple of sentences of gratitude that she had worked so hard to find him, a short description of the town he lived in, a few words about his deceased wife. He’d said his work schedule would slow down in December. She could visit then, if she was up for it. He wouldn’t be able to leave the animals, so if she wanted a reunion (first meeting, actually) she had to travel to him.
She had been dreaming of him, her ghost father, for years. Her mother had died giving birth to her. She’d seen the death certificate and had some photos and other keepsakes that her adopted parents had saved for her. Surprising for the time, actually, back when adoptees and the people who brought them into the world were supposed to suffer complete amnesia that the other existed. Lily’s adopted parents had thought she’d want the hat and coat and the train case her mother had left behind in the hospital, and that she’d want to see the pictures of the woman she’d grow to resemble. Lily was grateful that they had tried to help her hold on to that part of herself, but when she asked about her biological father they couldn’t help her. His name was Bill McCullough, but no one knew who he was or where he went, and the fact that he’d abandoned Lily’s mother in her hour of need made the quest to find him less attractive for Albert and Helen, who had responded to the call from the hospital when the infant Lily was left with no next-of-kin. Bill McCullough was MIA.
And so, Lily had fixated on him. When she showed early musical talent, she knew where she got it from. When her shoulders freckled in the sun, she imagined a fatherly figure who looked like her, with freckles dotting brawny forearms. If someone picked on her at school she fantasized about that same man, charging across the playground, sending the offending boy off crying and threatening anyone else fool enough to mess with his little girl. Her adopted dad, Albert, would never do that. He’d encourage her to stand up for herself, claim that his interfering would only make things worse. Offer to teach her to throw a proper punch. He did, in fact, instruct her how to keep her thumb on the outside, put her shoulder and upper body into the swing, protect her face with her other fist. She was never a fighter, Lily, but she could hold her own when push came to shove. She believed however, at least as a young girl, that her real father would have made self-defense unnecessary.
As she got older, she gained more perspective. Another girl at school, not a good friend but someone Lily knew well enough, had gotten into trouble and been shipped off to relatives. To Texas, people whispered. Her name was Camilla and everyone knew who her boyfriend was. His conscience didn’t seem weighed down at all by Camilla’s situation or her subsequent disappearance. His school career wasn’t interrupted in the slightest and Lily heard he’d found another sweetheart within weeks of Camilla’s departure. Lily had fantasized about Bill McCullough being heartbroken at the death of her mother and fleeing the hospital in sorrow, maybe not knowing that his infant daughter survived. Or that he hadn’t known Lily’s mother was pregnant in the first place. But her wiser self knew it was more likely that he did know, that he didn’t care, that he was maybe just like poor Camilla’s rotten boyfriend.
Her adopted parents, Albert and Helen weren’t terribly exciting people, but she was always clothed and well-fed and knew herself loved. She was positive neither of them would ever abandon her, and knew they had gone to great pains to make sure she’d be taken care of should something happen to either or both of them. Not like her poor mother, or her delinquent father.
Still, the idea that he was out there, somewhere, gnawed at her consciousness. She made up reasons for needing to find him. What if he had other children? She was Albert and Helen’s only child and the idea of siblings made her heart race. Plus, if she had a brother she’d want to make sure she didn’t somehow meet and marry him.
“Simple enough,” her cousin Kate had teased, “Don’t date anyone with the last name of McCullough!”
What about inherited diseases or family medical history? There was very little medical record left by her mother and if she could find her father she’d know what was in store for her, or what she should watch out for. He’d definitely be able to tell her more about her mother, and that would be valuable even if it turned out that he was a bum. She just needed to see him, talk to him, at least once.
Helen nodded her head when Lily confessed her overwhelming desire to find Bill McCullough. She pulled out an old manila file folder that Lily had seen before.
“This is all we’ve got, I’m afraid.”
There was a handwritten note attached to Lily’s birth certificate, with the name Bill McCullough and a local phone number and address penned in careful script.
“The hospital tried to contact him when you were born,” said Helen quietly. “We sent him a letter – our lawyer told us we should – and never received any response. Honestly, we didn’t expect or want one. I’m sorry now that we didn’t try harder to find him then, Lily, but we were just so happy to have you. We weren’t looking for complications.”
Lily stared at the address. It was on the other side of town, a neighborhood she didn’t know well. She couldn’t picture any of the houses or apartment buildings there.
“He never tried to contact you or find out about me?” Lily asked.
“No, he hasn’t.” Helen paused. “Your dad and I did send one of your high school graduation announcements to the address here, thinking it might get forwarded if he had moved, but it came back with UNKNOWN written next to his name.”
“Unknown – that’s about right.”
“Yes. You’re right about that.”
Lily and Helen talked through possible places to research. Albert said he’d go back to the hospital with her and check again for records that hadn’t been offered when Lily was handed over to them. Their adoption lawyer was retired, but still living close by, and might know something. Lily’s mother hadn’t any immediate relatives to claim her, but there were some distant cousins that Helen had tried to contact a couple of times over the years. That was definitely worth another shot.
The main clue that led to Bill’s discovery came from one of the older nurses at the hospital, a woman named Peg. She knew Albert and Helen through their church, and had apparently known Lily’s mother when she arrived at the emergency room for an unplanned delivery. Peg had made the call to Albert and Helen that day, with the news of a baby who needed a home and a family.
“I honestly don’t think Bill McCullough is worth finding”, she gave Lily a searching look, “but I’m pretty sure he worked for the US post office and then ‘relocated’ to Saskatchewan. Supposedly had some family up there.”
The post office did have employment records for a man named Bill McCullough in Tacoma in 1958, and a forwarding address in Edmonton. That address led to several other addresses, and eventually a response to Lily’s letter.
And now she was standing in the freezing cold Calgary afternoon, clutching her suitcase. The first man who approached her seemed likely enough, friendly, outstretched hand for her luggage. But it turned out that he was only a cab driver trying to drum up business.
Finally, after most of the arriving crowd dispersed, someone called her name. She noticed him then, in a broad hat, pulling himself up from the bench by the door. He was older than she imagined, and walked with a limp. He looked rather worse for wear.
“Hello Mr. McCullough.”
He smiled at her and, with no little force of will, she smiled back. He walked toward her. The backs of his hands were freckled, and though his hair was faded and graying, she could tell it had once been the same strawberry blond as hers.
She swallowed and felt her heart sink. Despite her wishing and longing and dreaming, despite the freckles, despite the arm he offered her as she stepped off the platform, this wasn’t the man she was looking for. In fact, she didn’t recognize him at all.