Wednesday, November 24, 2010

My Favorite Thanksgivings

Thanksgiving has always meant a overheated home, steamy windows, and the din of 20 family members talking while a football game plays in the background. It’s meant the biting cold and stark silence that hit as soon as you stepped outside of the family home; the rustle of brittle leaves blowing over brown grass or dirty snow.


But when I was single and living far away, it also meant bringing a dish to a co-worker's house and standing up ram-rod straight as I politely made conversation with strangers. Every year people tried to get me to their houses for Thanksgiving, but, introvert that I am, all I wanted to do was sit home in the same clothes I’d slept in and read, write, paint, or talk on the telephone. One year, when I was in graduate school, I claimed to a co-worker that I had too much studying to come to dinner. Yes, I literally insisted that I didn’t have two hours free on Thanksgiving to come to her house for dinner. Do you know what she did? She came by my house with two plates – one of turkey, stuffing, yams, and green beans, the other with slices of three different pies, and a jelly jar filled with red wine. You would think her generosity of spirit and pie would have made me shut up and politely attend every Thanksgiving dinner I was ever invited to again. Instead, when I was dating my future husband, and he invited me to his family’s Thanksgiving, I told him, “I have lots of offers for Thanksgiving dinner. You don’t have to invite me to yours.” What I meant to say was that I didn’t need him to give me an invite out of pity. (We'd only been dating three weeks.)  What I should have said was, “Thank you. I’d love to come.” But he understood me, so it worked out okay in the end. And that was the Thanksgiving that I met his family for the first time, so I’ll always treasure the memories, even though they are touched with embarrassment, nervousness, and downright fear.

Now that I’m an old married lady, things have changed. This year, I expect to start cooking as soon as Lynn Rosetto Kasper's Turkey Confidential comes on NPR. I like to drink wine while I cook, even though it will only be 10AM. I’m making pies. Normally, I’d make an apple pie and a chocolate pudding pie, but we have frozen peaches from this summer, and my 90-year old mother-in-law loves peach pie, so it will probably be peach and chocolate. I like to wear my pajamas the entire weekend, (except of course when I leave the house), so I’ll probably be cooking in my flannel pajama pants and a long-sleeved t-shirt, drinking wine, listening to NPR, and not taking phone calls from family (because I don’t like Turkey Confidential interrupted) while my husband hangs out with our kids.

At my sister-in-law’s I’ll spend most of my time trying to have conversations with people while I keep the kids from falling down stairs and pulling tablecloths to the floor. Maybe we’ll get home in time for me to walk my dog and watch other people step outside of their noisy, hot homes to smoke a cigarette or enjoy a moment of quiet. I’ll take a moment to be thankful for my dog, who is coming on 9 or 10 years, and who still makes me laugh and keeps us safe. I’ll be thankful for my family, my husband and children, who bring me a continuous stream of quiet joy on a daily basis, but also for my parents, siblings, aunts, and uncles. I may take a moment to be thankful for our high standard of living and wish that everyone on earth could have the kind of good luck and fortune that I have. Then I’ll probably head home with my dog, change back into my pajamas and play a game of Go Fish with my family. What a fabulous day Thanksgiving has become!

Turkey Confidential

Friday, November 19, 2010

Books Sales/Mice Update

Sales have been chugging along on my book, and, sadly, no more mice have been caught.  (See Dead Mice vs. Book Sales post.)  Raised an Irish Catholic I am, of course, deeply superstitious which is why I can't rejoice that we have no mice.  I can only wait for a sales slump and listen for the traps to go "clack, clack, clack!"

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Three Minute Fiction

This is a story I submitted to the fifth round of NPR's 3 Minute Fiction.  There were over 5000 submissions, so I won't take it personally that I didn't win.  :)   The contest was announced on 9/11/10.  I was in the kitchen, cooking dinner.  I turned my ideas around in my head for the rest of the evening, and as soon as I got the kids went to bed, I ran upstairs to type it out.  The next day, I cut about 200 words to stay within the 600 word limit.  And then it was done.  And here it is.  600 words exactly.

The Neighbors


Some people swore that the house was haunted. Even before the brownstone stood empty, the family that lived there was isolated; the mother wore a black burkha that made her look like a negative image of a ghost floating down the street. Maybe it was unfair to blame the family for the distance; neighbors on the block felt uncomfortable making small talk.

“I’d be in a tank top,” said Marie Costa, three doors down, “and she’d say ‘Hi,’ covered, from head to toe, with her two kids. And I’d flashback to my grandma telling me I had loose morals because I’d gotten my ears pierced.”

Eric Williams, one door down, regretted that he’d never learned their names. “If we’d known them better, we could have tried to find out what happened to them.”

The family disappeared on 9/11/01, but no one noticed at first. Cynthia Rice’s husband was killed in the World Trade Center. In the aftermath, everyone was shell-shocked. Jet fighter planes roared overhead and paper from the towers floated across the East river to land in Joan Wellington’s backyard.

Joan was the first to realize they were gone. As anti-Muslim sentiment rose, Joan decided to pay them a visit, to extend a hand of friendship. No one answered her knocks. Chinese food menus were piled up at their door. Talking to neighbors eventually established that no one had seen the family since Mr. Smith, an elderly renter, saw them leave together on the morning of 9/11.

The years went by but the house stayed empty. Wet leaves covered the sidewalks. Snow fell. Gum melted to the pavement. Each anniversary, the block mourned the man they had lost. As time passed, some said the Muslim family was responsible for Jeffery Rice’s death. Others said they had fled in fear. Others, like Joan, just wondered what had become of them.

The ninth anniversary was especially upsetting to the block because friends had stopped speaking to each other over the issue of the Muslim center near ground zero. Joan, for example, was no longer on speaking terms with Cynthia, her neighbor of 17 years. They had watched each other’s children, and Joan had practically moved in when Cynthia’s husband was killed. But more recently Joan had called Cynthia “prejudiced” and Cynthia had said that Joan hated America.

On 9/11/10, Joan saw a man unlocking the door of the empty house.

She went outside. “Hello. Do you live here?”

The man turned. “My sister lived here, with her family.”

“I remember them.”

The man didn’t speak, as if he was expecting Joan to say more.

“What happened to them?” she finally asked.

He looked surprised. “They were killed in the attack on the World Trade Center,” he said. “My brother-in-law had an office. They often breakfasted there on days when my sister and the kids spent the day in Manhattan.”

Joan stared at him, in shock.

“I live in London, and I couldn’t bring myself to return to face my sister’s empty home,” he said. His shoulders dropped. “But nine years of being haunted by a house is enough.”

“I didn’t know.”

“The papers printed their names,” he said.

“I didn’t know their names.” Joan bowed her head. “Someone else on this street died there, too.”

“You mean Rice?” The man shook his head. “Haven’t you read the paper? He didn’t die. They just found him, in Canada. He had never gone to work that day. He’d been fired the week before and hadn’t told his wife. When the towers fell, he just left.”

Nothing was ever the same again after that.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Dead Mice vs. Book Sales

Mice. In our house. We have mice in our house!!!

I was enjoying the first quiet period I’ve had, probably in three years. Kids were asleep; husband was at a garage sale. I was in the recliner, reading. The house was gloriously silent. In this dead silence, a mouse ran into the center of the living room, saw me, and ran back under the sofa. My feet were up. I actually had time to read in the middle of the day. Sometimes, as a mother, you make choices you never thought you’d make when you were single. I kept reading. Then a second mouse appeared (different color), saw me, and ran back under the couch. I debated. I read another paragraph. Then I got up and called my husband on his cell. Miraculously, he had it turned on and he heard it. He’d found a used swing set for $10. I asked him to pick up mouse traps on his way home. I brought my dog in from outside. He didn’t want to hang out with me. He wanted to go back outside, so I had to use the baby gate to trap him in the living room with me. I had this notion that he might catch one of the mice. As soon as he fell asleep, a third mouse appeared, saw the dog, and ran back under the couch. My husband called. He was stuck on the interstate, behind an accident, with the swing set strapped to his little pick-up truck. “Get home as soon as you can,” I said. “I have the mice cornered behind the sofa.”

No more appearances by mice. My husband walked in full of doom and gloom about the mice. “Once you have mice, they’re here to stay. They were all in the sofa??? There's probably a nest in the sofa!” etc. By the time he was done, I was totally freaked out. I had to leave the room when he pulled back the sofa.

There was no nest. There were no mice. The little rascals got by me and my dog. Probably through the ventilation system. We set spring traps. That evening, as we watched TV, I saw a mouse run down our hall three times. Our traps caught no mice.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. We got glue traps. I had a mouse problem in college. Of course, that was in a dorm, in Brooklyn, NY. You expect mice there, but not in Omaha. I am morally opposed to glue traps. Mice don’t die instantly – they suffer. But in college, the spring traps didn’t catch them. And on one quiet, Brooklyn day, when I was studying philosophy in the kitchen and my roommates were gone for the weekend, a family of seven mice walked across our linoleum floor. They also got into all our food, including the bag of bread on top of our refrigerator. So I solved my moral dilemma. I only put the glue traps down when I was home. As soon as a mouse was caught, I threw it out my sixth story window. I killed ten or twelve mice this way. (Relax! They all landed in the courtyard in the center of the building. No one had access to the courtyard).

My husband bought twenty glue traps, which we put out after the kids went to bed. No mice.

Now, coincidently, I have an ebook for sale on Amazon, Barnes and Nobles, and Smashwords. Every day I can see the sales I made. You might think I’d check daily for a week, then get bored and check weekly. But no, I check my sales about 25 times a day. I feel like a rat, pushing a button to get a pellet. Sometimes, I get a sale, sometimes I get four sales, sometimes I get nothing. In research studies, the more pellets the rat gets, the less it pushes the button. The more intermittent the reward, the more it keeps pushing. So, basically, I’m a rat. A writer rat. Now, here’s the weird part. The first day that I had no sale, we caught a mouse. Then I had sales for four days. No mice. Then a day with no sales, but a dead mouse. So now, I’m torn. Do I root for a book sale, or a dead mouse? And why can’t I have both? Because God thinks he’s pretty damn funny, I guess. Or fate, or the universe, or the Mouse God. Which would you root for? Book sales or dead mice?