So much of what we do is invisible, until it’s shaped and edited and proofed and published between hard or soft covers. Today, in the spirit of sharing, my friend Beth Kephart proclaimed a Work-in-Progress Day, inviting other writers to post brief excerpts on their blogs or Facebook pages. I posted, tagged friends I thought would be game — and then raced off to meet various deadlines. A few hours later, I returned to my post to find a shelf full of work I can’t wait to read in full.
“Mount Zion” by Andrea Jarrell
When we get off the plane, I tell my kids to look for my father’s cowboy hat. I haven’t seen him in a couple of years but I know to look for the hat. But when I spot him, he’s wearing a baseball cap pulled down low, standing off to the side with his hands tucked into the front pockets of his jeans and his hip cocked.
He’s incognito befitting the Hollywood star he was supposed to become but never quite did. Despite this, people sometimes think they recognize him. Maybe they have seen him on a rerun of The Rockford Files or the old Battlestar Gallactica – a set I visited when I was in high school, eating lunch with him in the commissary. Or maybe they’ve never laid eyes on him and have fallen victim to his knack for looking like “someone.”
He sees us but waits a moment. Once we are fully in his orbit, he steps forward, opens his arms like he’s feeling rain come down and shimmies his hips. He sings “Viva Las Vegas” loud enough to make my 13-year-old daughter cringe and look around to see if anyone is watching.
Her look of mortification is the same one I’m usually wearing, but it’s not on my face now and this surprises me. Despite my pounding headache, I feel a gentle shift as if I’ve just switched a sack of groceries from one hip to the other – lighter for the moment.
My 10-year-old son dutifully moves into my father’s arms for a hug. I watch them together warily the way I did when my boy was small and tentatively approached a strange dog, hand outstretched for a sniff.
Then it is my turn to hug my father who doesn’t bite but is indeed like hugging the hard body of a dog – small, wiry, unyielding.
* * *
Breakfast at Tuli’s by Paul Mosier
Among my own variety of fish I am considered reasonably attractive. But when humans see me, they jump back, grimace, laugh, and describe me using words that would break my mother’s heart if she could hear them.
It hurts. I cannot pretend it does not.
But that’s not how it is with Tuli. When Tuli sees me she says things like “Hello, handsome.” She smiles at me. She kisses my glass bowl. She makes fish faces at me, undoubtedly because she respects me for the creature that I am. It’s like taking the trouble to learn the language of your housekeeper. Tuli doesn’t have a housekeeper, but if she did, I am sure that she would try to speak to them in their native tongue. But in spite of the fact that she finds me attractive, and treats me respectfully, I have been unable to have the relationship that I desire with Tuli. I suspect she could not even guess my intentions.
But enough about me and my problems. This is Tuli’s story. And Tuli has problems that make me feel ashamed for mentioning mine.
* * *
Less Than Kind by Carla Spataro
I sat across from Josh on my ratty couch, my blouse open to my waist, my boobs spilling out of my bra. We were both a little drunk on cheap chardonnay. Josh fumbled with his zipper, cursing under his breath. I placed my hand over his, not to help him, but to slow him down. He looked up at me, stared at me with those lovely green eyes of his and then leaned in and kissed me again. I fell back onto the couch, pulling Josh down on top of me, wishing that I’d thrown the comforter we were now laying on in the wash before Josh had come over. It was covered with cat hair and that was bugging the shit out of me.
* * *
Saving the Raven by Michelle Yasmine Valladares
Help me, cried the small child, with her pale hair and green eyes.
Where does it hurt?
Here. She points to her chest both palms pressed against her heart. I kneel close and pull her thin hands away. I lay my palm against over her coat. A flock of geese. A splash. Children playing. falling and chasing each other round and round an old oak grove. Boulders and rocks slip into a stream. A mountain lion. I pull my palm away.
Ooofff. I smile. There are lots of pictures but I have to go a bit deeper. Is that okay? She nods. Sea gulls, a cave, bone instruments, flying fish, a rainbow, girls singing in a choir, storm clouds gather, a swing beneath a tree. And from my palms and fingers came golden light and air thick with swirling. More pictures — the thin red cord that binds to the other life, the dark womb cave, the white mist, the bardo. My hands travel to the previous life where sadness follows.
Better. She nods.
Now help my bird. The raven was pitch and hopped near her red shoes. I kneel again, stretch my long arm with one finger pointing. The bird hops onto the hand, its pointy claws stinging.
I lift and it tilts its head, cocks its raven eyes at me, points its beak to the chest. Gentle as down, I stroke feathers. Worms. Baby birds. caw. caw. caw. Dive. Tree branches. Blizzard prophecy. Scraps of fern and twine. Again lights pour from me, red, orange and yellow. The sharp raven claws prick my skin until points of blood pop, red pearls.
Then, as if the healing was not enough for one story, the snow begins. First rain, then sleet and snow, then wind that cuts through our coats and freezes the tips of our noses. Come. I reach for her hand. The raven disappears. We stumble and trip, cling to each other. Within seconds the world turns white.
WHERE ARE YOU? I hear a man’s voice.
PAPAPAPAPAPA … the girls cries turn into a birds caw.
We stumble forward until a block of blue jeans, blue jacket and blue eyes meets us.
He lifts the child into his arms. Tells me to hang onto his coat and we keep hiking and do not stop until we are off the mountain. Twice he reaches back to pull me up after I fall. The trail is slippy. At the bottom of the hill near the car lot, he puts his daughter down.
The bird. I say. The raven is still out there. Hurt.
You want me to return for the fookin crow. He looks back at the mountain but there is no up, only white, white and white.
* * *
Eleri Mosier, Untitled
Camille searched her closet for her homework. She looked under her toy chest and on top of her drawers. She collapsed onto her bed. Her heart felt empty and sunken, and salty teardrops sat under the small lumps below her eyes. Her eyes were large, but pretty. Her irises were sky blue and the whites of her eyes were the color of creamy milk. But today her eyes were even larger than before. She had the look in her eyes that a Grizzly Bear had chased her around a forest.
But that event was not a reality. In this certain situation Camille had lost all of her homework. Camille had been a student of perfection. Straight A’s and B’s were the grades she had received in the past three years. But this year Camille was sure she would be a student of failure. It was only the second week of homework and she had already lost the first two packets she had received. Camille had been asked by her teacher to stop twice. But ahead of her lay a pathway to success and behind her lay misery. It was just that Camille didn’t know this.