Thursday, October 17, 2013

A Little Something For Halloween

We used the first sentence of a novel to begin our 500 word homework assignment this month in my writing group. I decided to take Catcher in the Rye in a new direction.

"If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth."

As a matter of fact, the thought of my parents screwing is about as revolting an image as I can conjure up. But squirt, squirt, there I was in all my miraculous life essence, sliding around my mother’s insides like some kind of fleshy pinball. And I dare say, it was the last time I had a good night’s sleep and a decent meal.

The truth is, my mother never wanted me to begin with. She had one kid already, my darling sister, the angel from heaven. I was an accident and an expensive inconvenience, and she went out of her way to try to end my time insider her, stretching and reaching on her hands and knees, scrubbing floors, carrying heavy buckets of water up and down stairs and hoping to miscarry. She hasn’t worked as hard since.

But I came out early, and the old man quit his job to care for me, ‘cause she couldn’t be bothered.

“Let that thing die,” she said to my father as he hunched over my tiny body. “We can’t afford it.”

But he just ignored her, and I’m pretty sure I understood what she was saying, because something gave me the strength to survive and to think little baby thoughts of someday growing up and killing her. And survive I did, though I was sort of sickly and kind of a runt.

They say there’s no such thing as a bad child, but I set out to prove them wrong. In church I stole money out of the offering plate and got told to stay home. At school I spat in the Principal’s hand and got suspended. Those things happened by the first grade. It was later that I set fire to some paper towels in the janitor’s closet. What a ruckus that caused. Half the school burned that day and a bunch of children with it. I watched from the playground, enjoying the show and tossing rocks through the openings in a chain link fence.

When I was older I got blamed for just about anything bad that happened in our town. Church didn’t want me, school couldn’t stand me, and my mother died and ruined my murderous plan. So I started trapping animals in the back yard in a shoebox propped up by a pencil attached to a long taut string. Those critters died slow, especially when they bit me, and I carved ‘em up with the knife daddy gave me when he showed me how to whittle. I collected the fur and bones and set fire to the rest.

So here I wait, just as happy as can be. They bring me three squares every damn day. I taught myself to read and write just as good as any school could. They say I’m bad to the bone, a freak, and I think they’re right. That’s why they put me in a special place all by myself. But that’s ok. I have lots of thoughts to keep me entertained. I think about the things I done. Wonderful things. Awful things.

And tonight I get one more good night’s sleep and tomorrow one more meal, whatever I want, and it better be good. ‘Cause tomorrow at midnight they’ll take me down the hall, strap me to a cart, talk about mercy and crap and ask me if I have anything left to say. Oh and I have a few things to say alright, ‘cause that’s the last time I get to say anything. After that I’ve got a date with the devil, and she looks a lot like mom.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Extreme Gardener

I have an experimental garden. It is roughly the shape of one of those idiotically dangerous trampolines you see in the yards of every otherwise obsessively cautious parent these days. Fortunately our trampoline did not claim any victims. We were among the lucky ones, and I relished the clanging sound of tubular steel being tossed into the back of a garbage truck the day it was finally hauled away.

What remained were pleasant memories and a large circular burned out spot on our back lawn. If Google had timed it right and updated the aerial photographs of our neighborhood it would have appeared like a crop circle or a large letter “O.” Well-placed pumpkins and a semicircular row of beans would have created a smiley face worthy of Forest Gump when viewed from the air.

I decided that half the work of creating a vegetable garden had been completed by the trampoline. All I had to do was turn over the topsoil with a shovel and water the Earth with the sweat of my brow. Lots of sweat. The area was loaded with rocks and crisscrossed with tree roots from Pines and Oaks. Only about two inches of rich black topsoil had supported the layer of grass we enjoyed prior to installation of the heat-focusing trampoline bed. Beneath that was clay and sand, a testimonial to the river-bed nature of ground conditions two blocks away from the mighty Des Plaines. In other words, the dirt was crap. 

I began to add things; “amend” as the professionals would say. Peat moss, mushroom compost and manure. I even rented a very fun rototiller and discovered a deeper layer of tree roots that caused the machine to kick and buck. I brought out an axe and a wheelbarrow to cut and haul the underworld cartilage. A week later I planted my crops.

I’ll just cut to the chase. It didn’t work. My vegetable garden yielded six tomatoes, five beans and a handful of lettuce. I now have profound respect and admiration for the farmers who grow our food and for the abundance and variety of beautiful items in the produce section at Dominicks.

So I tried something else this year.

I went online and bought a pound of zinnia seeds. I can grow these. Each year for the past half dozen, butterflies and neighborhood children stop to worship the colorful display I cultivate near our streetside mailbox. Zinnias require little care other than periodic watering and pruning that causes even more zinnias to bloom.

“Can we go see Mr. Vic’s garden?” ask the kiddies.
“Yes you can dear,” say their mothers.  “He’s a genius with a green thumb.”

If you’ve ever purchased a packet of zinnia seeds, you know that for $1.79 you get about two dozen lighter-than-air disclike seeds in the bottom of a paper packet. A pound of these “California Giants” is enough for Vincent Van Gogh to scatter over acres of land in preparation for painting a masterpiece if he chose to repeat the giant sunflower experiment. I used half a pound in my trampoline garden.

That was May. I planted the seeds in two waves so as not to overwhelm neighbors or low flying aircraft with the explosion of color that would burst skyward at ground zero. Google, prepare for something spectacular! This is the time for an update.

Well, I’m writing this in August, so you can imagine what I’m dealing with after ten weeks of unrestrained growth. Daily harvests of bouquets for my wife. Requests by artists to set up easels and chairs for the day while they paint. The photojournalists with their annoying clicking shutters and the legal contracts that Ken Burns insists upon before panning and zooming to the sound of harmonicas and the droning of a vaguely familiar narrative voice. Yeah, none of that.

For all my planning and dreaming, I never expected this. See the photograph below. I took it myself. Click for a larger, more stunning view.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Hammock Gazing Skyward in the Night

Hammock Gazing Skyward in the Night

The humor and its goodness fade away
With screen door slamming sweat and jangling bliss 
While longing, notwithstanding empty arms
Spilled sparkling fluid memories of this.

The starlit summer sensual decay
Cacaphony of cricket-grinding greed
Impassioned by the lengthening of the day
Has celebrated solstice in our need.

Unwinding through the intervening years
Departure, such a simple thing to do
Left ringing all the seasons in my ears
And darkening the image that was you.

This subtle devastation of the night
For me, provides the equinox you might.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Cone Dip

First, a confession. I went to Dairy Queen tonight.

With that out of the way, the following transpired:

It's important to know the depths to which my chocolaholism takes me. My standard DQ order is an Oreo Blizzard, made with chocolate ice cream mind you, with an extra ingredient - chocolate cone dip.

This is the meth-level craving buster I order when I get shaky from eating healthy all day. Usually sushi puts me over the edge. It's so...fishy and ricey.

The new summer crew is staffing the local DQ. Personnel change each summer as you might imagine when school lets out, and several times during the summer when the kids find out how awful customer service/food jobs can be. So the girl at the counter was new, and most likely has never dipped anything but a cone. I will not use the word "dip" in any other way in this story, albeit a profound temptation.

"Large Oreo Blizzard, made with chocolate ice cream..." I ordered.

"Chocolate ice cream?"

"Yes," I said, as she punched extra keys on the register.

"And chocolate cone dip."

She looked up, then back at the register, and pressed far too many keys.

"That will be $13.49," she said, smiling sheepishly as if to say, please don't use a credit card, because I don't know how to do that.

I waited for my order, watching the proceedings in the food prep area. Counter girl went back to help, swirling a football sized chocolate cone and dipping it upside down in the cone dip container.

At this point I must say, I've always been fascinated by the quickly solidifying hard shell and the magic by which ice cream defies gravity, seemingly glued to an inverted crunchy wafer cone.

She brought her giant creation over to a boy in the prep area and proudly displayed what she had made for him. He looked puzzled, glanced at my order on the overhead display and shook his head. He escorted her back to the cone dip container with a smaller version of the same thing, dipped and returned to his station. She returned to the counter somewhat deflated.

In a few moments prep boy came to the front counter with my order. There in a standard large Blizzard cup was an entire chocolate dipped soft serve cone protruding like a Beehive hairdo above the rim. I could only imagine that the entire crunchy wafer cone was submerged in chocolate ice cream and crumbled Oreo bits, but under the pressure of the moment I could focus only on the perverse mutant creation sitting on the counter between us.

I choked back a laugh and simply asked, "What is THAT?"

Prep boy looked down at what his arms and hands had led him to assemble, obvious at this point that his brain had become completely disengaged in the process. He did his best to explain.

"Oreo Blizzard...with a chocolate cone dipped."

I apologize for not taking a picture of this one-of-a-kind treat. I doubt it has ever been attempted before, and probably never will be again. Suffice it to say, I gently redirected the production and left with the order as intended. The owner got involved, refunding much of my money when she saw the number of items that had been rung up by counter girl.

Laughing most of the way home where I planned to lapse into cone-dip ecstasy and a subsequent state of lethargy, I rationalized my experience thusly: for the cost of a DQ Blizzard, I received a delicious ice cream creation, a number of good laughs, a great story and this blog post.

It's gonna be a long summer.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

A World of Hurt

I recall turning twenty-five being an unpleasant milestone that got me thinking a lot about my future. I considered how unimaginably old I would be in the year 2000, the bar against which everyone measured time’s passage in the last century. Forty-five. Holy crap. What would my life be like by then? A doddering old man wearing Depends, soaking my dentures in a glass of Efferdent?

Twenty-five was an age at which I could still jump off a three foot wall if I wished, landing and bounding like a coiled spring without injuring myself. Pain was usually a temporary annoyance, maybe a few throbbing hours after a hard workout. A pleasant burn that made my muscles sing. And there really weren't many three foot walls where I lived. Parkour hadn't been invented yet.

Twenty-five was also the age at which I got my first glimpse into the kind of pain that becomes familiar and more frequent as the decades pass and the body loses its resilience. It was the year I headed to Wisconsin with a group of friends for a weekend getaway. Upon stepping out of the car into the cool north woods I took a deep breath of naturally pine scented air and promptly choked on a bug, coughed hard and heard a snap in my upper back that doubled me over. It was an immobilizing dislocation of something in my rib cage that was crucial to standing up straight and breathing without wincing. It was not a spasm that could be stretched out, a knuckle that could be cracked or a fatigue that could be rested away. It took me out of action for the entire weekend, flat on my back and swallowing my friend’s mother’s potent pain relievers in hopes of rejoining the fun.
But still, I recovered from that incident within a few days or weeks.

I visited a chiropractor yesterday for my injured knee. As a new patient, I was presented with forms to fill out and an interactive patient history program on a small computer terminal. A diagram of the human body, front and back, covered with small circles to indicate regions for treatment accompanied a list of qualifiers. To click inside a circle, in my case on the left knee, indicated an area of pain. Associated adjectives helped the doctor understand if certain activities initiated, aggravated or alleviated symptoms.

Presented with this cartoon version of myself and a crayon stylus, it occurred to me that recovery time from injuries in your forties and fifties leaves you with a patchwork quilt of pain, overlapping in time and debilitating to the point at which a pain free day is noticeable in the way a terminally ill patient is often reported to sit up in bed and state, “that feels great!” just before collapsing dead. “Wow, I feel great today!” Oh crap, that won’t last.

I began to poke the screen with my electronic pencil. My left shoulder hasn’t been right for four years. It is aggravated by exercise or lack of it, a true no-win scenario. And come to think of it, my right knee isn’t what I’d call a hundred percent, nor is my right wrist. Hell, I haven’t been a hundred percent since 1972.

Poke, poke, poke, I colored in the circles. My back hurts all the time, sometimes when I awake in the morning after a night spent running down hallways looking for a classroom on the last day of the semester or chasing antelope in my dreams. My stomach hurts. Apparently I can no longer digest pepperoni. Poke, color, poke.

Doctors shouldn’t ask questions they don’t want answered, I thought as I completed the exercise. But maybe this guy had magical methods unrevealed to older, less athletic patients afraid to admit their frailty. After all, he is the team chiropractor for a major professional Chicago sports team. These young bucks take a beating regularly and come back for more within hours or days. Many of them are in their twenties. Some are twenty-five. Oh yeah. Just starting to hurt. They have no idea what lies ahead.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


Homework: up to 500 words on the following prompts.

An out of work flight attendant
Top hat

Katherine sipped cold latte at a café table in an outdoor market. The touristy area was crowded for a Monday. Weekend street performers who usually returned to day jobs were in full force, juggling, on unicycles and in top hats. Those painted like bronze statues jerked to life in response to donated coins and bills. Foot traffic was unusually heavy. Out of towners mingled with college kids. Backpacks, baseball caps and baggy jeans abounded.

Her coffee was hot when she arrived an hour earlier. At 49 degrees, the day chilled her beverage almost to the temperature of her blood. Yesterday had been warmer, but yesterday seemed eons ago, and her job with Swiss Air felt like a memory from another lifetime.

She waited for a phone call in the cool sunshine. Her stern demeanor kept strangers at a distance. Even foraging birds knew better than to approach. An aggressor who asked to join her at the table appeared perplexed, even violated at the suddenness with which he found himself alone. Without a word, she stood and moved to a less congested location. Her sunglasses hid dark circles and darting glances.

Occasionally tilting the undrinkable coffee to her lips, she reached into her oversized handbag for a newspaper. It occupied the open tabletop as a deterrent to future interlopers and provided a backdrop to the cellphone at her fingertips.

They rehearsed and reviewed a hundred times at her insistence. Drop. Call. Confirm. The protocol was solid, but time drained her of confidence and fed her angst. It was a recipe that had proved to be her undoing on the final flight in her four-on-three-off overnight schedule. The passengers were restless and demanding, the Atlantic crossing choppy and her nerves frayed by the time they approached Logan. They circled for two hours as her anger mounted. 12C pushed her too far.

The phone rang. She fumbled, edgy despite her readiness.

“Clear, Go” came the message. The call ended.

Moments later a second caller.

“Clear Go.”

Katherine reached into her handbag. She counted to fifteen as practiced. Her fingers stroked plastic shields and flipped them open. She pressed firmly, first one, a count of ten, then the other. Canon fire echoed twice in the distance. Commotion ensued in Quincy Market.

Tamerlan would be proud.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

I Promise

My entry in the April Writers Weekly 24-hour writing contest. Results to be announced in June. A few modifications in this posting are thanks to some very respected writing friends.

Instructions - write no more than 925 words to this prompt:

"She sat in her favorite spot on the porch of the weathered beach house, the salty air
sticking to her skin, the oncoming storm blowing sand across her bare feet. The crisp envelope bent beneath her fingers as she laid it on her lap, and reached for the pen in her dress pocket..."

“Azure,” she says, and then “porch.”

The beach gradually comes into focus. Terns sprint between tide pools on comically thin legs, startling small crabs back into their glistening sandy burrows. The color of the sky and the front of her weathered house are the first images with which she can associate words. Others follow as her head clears.

“Low tide,” she whispers. 

She sits in knee-deep water that will be over her head in a few hours. She faces the shore. Summer heat bakes the sweat and salty air onto her forehead. Water laps gently at her legs. Sand oozes between her tingling toes, circulation impaired by the ties that bind her to a partially submerged chair. Minnows dart beneath the water’s surface, alternately visible in cloudy shadows, hidden by reflected sun.

It is afternoon in the tropics. Lightning flashes in the distance. Roiling hot and cold rivulets of air slap the surface of the ocean and disrupt its gentle rhythm. Gulls and wind chimes are the only sounds for miles. Beach grass sways in the breeze. A crisp envelope on her lap bends beneath her fingers. He has found her.

She slowly withdraws a lifetime of obsessive artifacts from the carefully prepared package. A short hand-written note speaks to the depth of madness that has led to her predicament. She has only wanted to be left alone.

Her trembling fingers sort through a stack of photographs, many of them recently captured and from unimaginable vantage points. It is when she views a photo of herself painting an ocean scene from the front porch that she recognizes the offspring of serenity and jeopardy as terror. Her stomach clenches.

She looks up and around. She is being watched.

Screams will not be heard. Her home’s greatest feature is its isolation. An attempt to stand is immediately thwarted. She is chained to the chair at her waist. Too great a struggle could result in tipping, drowning in the shallows.

“I have been diagnosed. My time is short,” says the note. “Write the words I long to hear. Your love will save you. I promise.”

The pictures swirl through her tears. A marker has been carefully placed in the breast pocket of her dress. The situation demands that she comply or die.

She prints “I love you” in large block letters across the back of the envelope, displays it and drops the marker in the water as if holding it pains her.

He appears suddenly, rising from behind a stabilizing outcropping of plants on a frontal dune. His face is familiar, an older version of the stalker she’s been fleeing since college. He is the reason she has moved to this isolated location and in fact the reason for several moves before this, along with a change of identity a decade ago.

“My legs hurt,” she says as he releases her from the chair.

“I’ll carry you,” he replies with a hollow persistence that stiffens his smile and causes an unseeing darkness to come over his glazed eyes.

The envelope and pictures fall from her lap onto the water, scattering like the minnows, rising and falling with the shore-bound waves, sinking as they become saturated, like forgotten memories in need of deep recall.

As he carries her toward the house, he mutters unintelligible words as if reading from a script, long practiced and playing out in a monologue. In his mind she is Christine to his Phantom, Esmeralda to his Quasimodo.

Inside the house he seems nervous, seeking control, especially when she begins to speak. She knows she must alter the script, introduce unexpected plot twists for which he is unprepared, unrehearsed.

“Would you like something to eat or drink?” she asks.

“A drink. Please,” he replies.

“May I?” she motions to the kitchen.

“Yes, of course,” he says as she heads into the next room. “You’ll come back…” he tests.

“I promise,” she says emphatically, and is true to her word.

She establishes trust over the next several hours. She is the perfect companion in his lifelong fantasy. He never sees it coming.

* * * * *

The next morning she stretches a canvas and squeezes out her paints. The front porch is once again a place of serenity. She paints a sunrise during rising tide.

A figure in a partially submerged chair nods to wakefulness. The drugs were strong, but the ties are stronger. Less forgiving.

She establishes her horizon line, her perspective. She will finish the painting only when the annoying, pleading head completely disappears below the playful azure waves.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Hamlets and Bars

I’ve long insisted that a life crisis is evidence that you simply haven’t been paying attention. But looking in the mirror at graying hair is a singular awakening experience, whereas navigating an auditorium filled with “old people” is like swimming upstream with a population of decaying salmon. It hurts to see how old we’ve grown.

The average audience age at a recent Gordon Lightfoot concert had this effect on me. And honestly, the ghostly apparition who took the stage with his guitar and backup musicians made it clear just how long this troubadour has been writing and singing to a very dedicated, if somewhat eccentric, fan base.

I have been attending Lightfoot shows since the singer was thirty-five, when he was riding high on a second wave of popularity with his Sundown album. Now a frail fragment of his former physical self, he is one of a small group of aging musicians still touring and selling tickets to several generations of fans. And the passage of forty years caused the remnants of my eighteen year old inner child to reach for reading glasses to see “Row E, Seat 1” on my ticket at the charming Pabst theater in Milwaukee.

And then there are those younger fans. The next generation, old souls born out of synch with their own time and longing for a taste of the unparalleled music of the 1970s, or perhaps watching “That Seventies Show” for insight into the journey their parents traveled to get here.

A concert several years ago was attended by a particularly enthusiastic young fan dressed entirely in period attire, sporting an afro (he was white) and drinking far too much at his personal Lightfoot pre-game tailgate. To his credit, he knew the title of every song and most of the lyrics, at one point shouting “Hamlets and Bars” at just the right point and at the top of his lungs. He subjected the audience to slurred outbursts at Gordon right up until the intermission, when he was summarily removed from the concert by two no-nonsense security guards. He wailed in protest, maybe not so much in reaction to the assault as in grief at the realization that he would not be enjoying the second set.

The most recent audience featured a young-sounding female fan shouting repeated pleas from the darkness at the back of the theater to “Give it to me Gordon!” Gordon, ever the gentlemen, continued to strum and sing without comment, but no doubt appreciated the option of an offer to “give it” still, at age 75.

So the show goes on. Skeletal Gord, in one of his infrequent spoken comments, mentioned that the band plays for ticket sales. There are no more albums coming, no merchandise to be had. He struggles with the high notes, sounding at times like air blown through a whale bone, increasingly nasal with each passing year. But through it all, fans show up for his unique musical tales of life on the Carefree Highway, On The High Seas and in the Early Mornin’ Rain.

We’ll continue to buy tickets as long as you sell them Gordon, popping Tylenol and dragging our aching bones to the nearest venue, settling into our comfy chairs and “waiting for you.”

I could be caught between decks eternally
Waiting for you to ask what's keeping me
The skies of North America are covered in stars
Over factories and farms, over hamlets and bars

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Seventh Spring

Seventh Spring

Curls of white steam that drifted from a cradled mug and over Sarah’s fingers dissipated into the chilled darkness of an unheated living room. Embers crackled in a wood stove, the only source of warmth in this sixth winter since onset of the reversal. Cambridge was a distasteful memory still, eight years after her dismissal. She felt as fragile as one of the glass flowers exhibited at the university’s museum, and as breakable.

April arrived with weather that seemed to mock lengthening days with temperatures that seldom rose above zero. Her supply of firewood was almost exhausted and the food she stored in September was running low. She stared at the glass specimen on the kitchen table. Galanthus nivalis, the snowdrop, her favorite from Harvard’s collection, stolen on her last day as professor of botany.

Sarah sipped hot tea and recalled spring festivals in nature preserves where spiked trees sported buckets that gradually collected oozing liquid life. As a student volunteer she served Maple syrup on stacks of pancakes and sold jars of clover honey from the previous summer. Trickling streams fed by snowmelt signaled the approach of warmer weather, of life emerging from the sterilizing chill of the dark season, snowdrops sprouting from under layers of ice-encrusted brown and yellow leaves.

On early spring mornings he would leave their bed, dress quietly and tromp into the woods with a hand shovel and a small clay pot. By the time she arose, coffee and a small floral arrangement graced their breakfast table. Often a handwritten note accompanied the snowdrops she so dearly loved, but most often a message was delivered in person and with a kiss.

The April sun lacked its pre-shifted intensity, but still melted the snow on Sarah’s roof, compressing layers until an overhanging drift fell with a light thump on the front porch. It remained a sure sign that spring would eventually triumph over winter, perhaps by July. If only life on Earth could say the same.

In the seventh spring, Sarah emerged from confinement and slowly opened her front door. Wind and snow swirled and the cold lashed her cheeks. Footprints led to and from the front porch. She imagined that they were other than her own, that the postman had made his rounds, delivering ads, bills and perhaps a birthday card. She would be forty-two. She could not remember if he was older or younger. She cried as she struggled to remember his face. Her tears froze instantly on her cheeks and shook her into the moment. His body was hidden by snow at the far end of the porch, carefully preserved for later burial when the ground eventually softened.

The loneliness inside the house was different than that which she found outside, exposed to the wind and alone in the snow. She felt tiny at the edge of a blanketed white expanse between her house and the next, only fifty yards away. She couldn’t help but admire the sparkling landscape. Fragile tree branches, encrusted bushes and frosted houses were reminiscent of the beautiful glassy exhibit where she first noticed her precious snowdrop.

The stinging air froze the tiny hairs in her nostrils, causing her to breathe through her mouth. Gasping on the frigid air, she raised a scarf up over her face to her eyes. With a snow shovel and broom she cleared fallen snow, uncovering a wicker swing, an old milk can and a pile of inverted terra cotta pots. She paused to pick one up and examined it in a loving flood of memories until the cold forced her back inside with an armful of firewood and an intriguing idea.

Returning to the porch with the glass snowdrop in her gloved hand, Sarah scooped snow into an empty pot. She carefully planted the glass flower in the white potting mix and set it on the ground at her feet. There, the first snowdrop of spring proudly emerged against all odds and according to a forgotten timeline. Sarah smiled and glanced at the neighboring homes. The Johannsons lived to her north and the Muellers to her south. She had discovered their frozen bodies earlier in the winter, but continued to visit and ensure that they were undisturbed.

Over the next two weeks, Sarah worked diligently at her newfound creative pursuit. Her garden expanded with different specimens and over a wider area. She worked until her limbs grew numb and the cold forced her back indoors. The wood stove served as a hot plate to melt buckets of snow. It gave her purpose.

A gentle snow fell on Sarah’s garden, her exhibit. She shoveled a path to the buried street, plunged the shovel into a snow bank and turned to admire her work. Scattered across the neighbors’ adjoining snow-covered lawns, new growth sprouted from a series of rounded pedestals that Sarah had packed and molded like the bases of snowmen. She carefully applied the water she had warmed to thaw and reshape frozen limbs. The specimens seemed proud and alert in their icy matrix, especially Sally Johannson, arms outstretched, her naked gray body defiant against the elements and glistening like a glass flower. Her white hair fell about her shoulders like the three milky petals of a snowdrop. Sarah laughed and laughed until she cried.