Short Story Contest Entry: Bedpans and Walther P38s

Today we have another entry received for the Writers Forum 2020 Short Story Contest.

Since the contest judges are supposed to be judging the entries without knowing who wrote them, the author’s names will be withheld until after the winner selection. After the winners have been chosen, all authors will be identified, and the top three stories will be re-posted. The contest is only open to Writers Forum members. Click here for the complete contest rules.

So far our Member Monday Short Story feature is looking pretty good!


 

 

Bedpans and Walther P38s

(A Christmas to Remember) 

 

Many people escape via expensive out-of-the-country vacations or by weekend get-a-ways.  Some escape by watching movies or by playing games. Me? I Amazon. I am addicted to seeing that brown box (the box with a questionable phallic logo) resting on my front porch as if to say, “Pick me! Open me!”

Amazon’s intrusion began several years ago. My “old-school” wariness would not release me to commit such sin as shopping online. The realization that I could stay in my pajamas and get the all the grandkids their Christmas presents convinced me to risk everything.

True joy begins from that moment I see a screen-full of possibilities on my lap-top or iPhone, items to feed my addiction. The beautiful (sometimes ruinous) journey is afoot.

It didn’t take Amazon long before they offered the best marketing scheme ever: Buy Now With 1-Click?   If ever a sentence could be described as delectable, this would qualify.  But they didn’t stop there––Prime delivery––why, you can have this in two days for “free.”  Free for an annual fee––ingenious.  A recent addition is the “buy again” button––extremely convenient. What will they think of next?

As I sat pondering potential deliveries, I remembered past disastrous purchases: the Christmas ornaments that looked huge on-screen but arrived a mere one-quarter inch diameter; the children’s animal book that failed to pique interest from the four-year-old; weirdly (and putrid) colored shoes; wall décor sized completely wrong for my walls. I have learned to read with care and read between the lines as my hand hovers over the keyboard ENTER key, I think twice– three times–before making the final click.

I choose my items, and proceed through the steps: would you like the arrival date to be this Tuesday, postage-free; for $3.99 more you could have this on Monday; add to your dash button? It would be ever so easy to reorder.  Thank you, Amazon.

I’m always eager to help family find just what they are looking for.

“Gramma, did you say you need a bedpan? Let me look for you.” I am giddy.

If only hindsight had been my guide.  I now have a bedpan in my Face Book feed; subject lines of countless emails read: because you bought a bedpan; just press “click” to buy again; people who have purchased a bedpan have also purchased the following items; and finally (although, I’m sure it won’t be) I have a picture of Gram’s bright, shiny––thankfully still unused––bedpan in that blasted buy again? button.

* * *

It was seven days before Christmas, and I still had to purchase gifts for 21 grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, and 10 adults. Technically, Christmas was eight days away, but our family gathers for dinner on Christmas Eve, opening gifts after the grandchildren wash the dishes.

Ho! Ho! Ho! Oh, here I go. I snuggled into my favorite love-seat position: blanket; feather-pillow; pajamas; steaming mug of coffee latte at the ready, with the Amazon page brightly shining and resting on my lap. Christmas/Sarajevo 12/24 by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra transmitted via Apple TV; it was so loud that I thought I heard the neighbors singing along.

I read that Amazon Prime members were extended an offer-of-the-day to have purchases gift- wrapped for free. I started to clap my hands. I had forgotten I was holding the latte, and nearly doused my shopping cart.

The doorbell rang. I was greeted by a small crowd; my third-born daughter, Angela, her six-month-old twin daughters, Annakate and Adeline, and her ten-year-old son, Dylan. I welcomed them in, and as they were seated, Dylan spied my computer and asked if he could play Minecraft on it.

“Of course,” I said with a wink at the platinum-haired boy, “That’s why I downloaded it, silly Dilly.” He carried the laptop to the dining table, and I set my attention to oohing and awing over the twins.

They left. I returned to my Amazon shopping, made my selections and set about washing dishes, making the bed, and tossing clothes into the washing machine.  As I cleaned, I made a mental grocery list for the big dinner. Then, it came to me; a jolting revelation, so jolting I swear I heard the angels sing. I could order all my groceries on Amazon.

***

I opened the door to the UPS delivery truck driver asking for my signature and I happily signed, although I wasn’t sure why this particular delivery required a signature; she didn’t look happy. She must have made 12 jaunts––truck to doorstep, using a dolly–– getting more red-faced each time, as I stood gawping. Her parting words were something about why I thought I needed 42 Christmas hams and concluded with a caustic Merry Christmas.

I smiled, dripping with saccharine to shield my consternation, I called out something about her job security. I ogled (my face as frozen as the hams) for a few minutes at the mass covering the front porch and decided the Amazon SNAFU could be dealt with in the morning and began dragging the boxes inside.

The new day arrived; the sun shining in a clear blue sky despite putting my order with the Big Guy for snow. I wondered if I should have checked with Amazon Prime.  I hoped and prayed that the one special gift would arrive before dinner as I baked all day for the expectant, hungry horde.  The gift was delivered at last, and I placed it upon the swollen mound that exceeded the “under the tree” notion.

I rang the Amazon office contact number only to reach an automated response: closed for the holidays, please try again December 26, 2017

***

The moment the kids had waited 365 days arrived. I beamed at my family–– mostly for the expectant joy on all faces. I donned my Santa hat and began dispersing gifts. The family rule was to wait until everyone had all their gifts piled at their side. The teenagers offered to play Santa’s elves to speed things up.

I gave the traditional secret Santa signal and madness ensued. The neat freak son-in-law trailed behind, best he could, crumbling shreds of wrapping paper into large, black trash bags.

Holliss, seven, shrieked, “How did Santa know I like red foxes?”

Her mother, Rebecca, the family baby, gave me the look that she was famous for and I asked what was wrong.

“Really, Mom? You gave my daughter a water bottle that reads “‘What the Fox’?’’

I couldn’t answer.

“Mother!”

It was Christa, my second-born and mother to seventeen-year-old Janessa, who screamed, “What are you thinking? The Kama Sutra? A book on sex?”

Oh boy, I thought, I know I’m in BIG trouble. Still, I said nothing.

“Gram-Gram.”

I turned toward Nathan, his face as white as Christmas snow.  He told the room that Cohen had just opened his present. As he spoke, he twirled what looked like a toy gun in his hands. Nathan, 15, was a sharpshooter whose goal was to become a Special Ops sniper.

“Did you know this gun is real? It’s a Walther P38. You bought a five-year-old a gun?”

The room was still, not-a-creature-was-stirring, not-even-a-mouse kind of still. And quiet.

I felt the blood drain from my face as I stammered, “I-I-I.” I proffered a weak defense that I knew nothing.

“This is a mistake, Amazon doesn’t sell guns,” I yelled, and I snatched the gun away, “You all know how Amazon is, remember the fuzzy elf slipper incident?” Details best unknown.

Dylan started blubbering. His mother clutched him at the elbow and escorted him into a bedroom.

Everyone began gathering their things. The grandkids begged to stay and be entertained by the annual reading of The Night Before Christmas, and the parents acquiesced. They helped themselves to a glass full of my home-brewed eggnog. I was thankful this year’s batch was alcohol light. (The cook may –– or may not have––consumed the 16 ounces of rum the recipe called for.)  I noticed a flask being extracted from Rebecca’s pocket.

I was called into the bedroom and Dylan tearfully told me the tale. He noticed my Amazon page open and thought he was being helpful. When questioned about the book he said he added that to the cart because Janessa likes to exercise, and the book cover looked like people were exercising. He admitted he looked at toy guns for his cousin because he knew Cohen wanted to be a policeman.

“How did you order?”

“Easy. Buy now with one-click, Gram-Gram.”

“What about your mother’s stack of ten road signs that read ‘Drive like your kids live here’?”

“I have little sisters.”  I was thankful he didn’t order a sleigh full of toys. Or an Oozie.

“Gram,” Dylan added, “When I was playing Minecraft, you got an email attachment that I clicked on. They might have downloaded spyware.”

“It’s O.K., Dylan. I’m not mad and you’re not in trouble,” I comforted, “I’ll get to the bottom of this after Christmas.”

I remembered getting a package that didn’t quite look like it came from Amazon, but the gift inside was in wrapped in Santa Claus paper so I shrugged it off.  My imagination exploded like gas on flames and visions of ruthless arms dealers in Nigeria popped into my mind.

As I turned to the hopeful crowd waiting for their story, memories of my own childhood prank streamed like an Amazon Prime movie. When I was nine, my little sister, Lisa, and I walked across the field to Gramma’s house. She was outside hanging clothes on the line and unaware of our presence. I had a flash of brilliance and coerced Lisa (so she claims) into making the house appear ransacked. Then we hid while waiting for Gramma’s reaction. No one laughed at that either.

***

The families were leaving, and I was informed by unanimous consensus I was to send a screenshot prior to all purchases for their children. My four-year-old self’s inner monologue screamed, “You’re not the boss of me.” Instead, I shouted that I wasn’t in an assisted living home yet and asked, “What’s next? Taking car keys away?  Don’t forget who will be having to taxi me around town, if that’s what you’re thinking!”

I stopped just short of threatening to have an appointment every day when I remembered the party scheduled the next day and abruptly changed my tone to be as sweet as Royal Icing on a sugar cookie. I reminded them to drop the littles off at 4:00 p.m. They weren’t sure if that would happen.

“But we always have a Mad Hatter’s Tea party on Christmas Day,” I implored, “Since you were knee high to a grasshopper. It’s a thirty-something-year tradition.”

They weren’t convinced. I slammed the door. I heard engines roar and tires squeal.

Four o’clock Christmas Day came, and grandkids filed into the house, all in smiles and costumes appropriate for the Mad Hatter. But I suspected their attendance had more to do with quiet time and free babysitting––their parents looked quite disgruntled and no one spoke.

“Don’t mind them,” Holliss, a precocious child, piped up and hugged me with the strength of a baboon and within a split second I was cocooned in a group hug, “You’re the best Gram ever–– parents just don’t understand.”

 


Writers Forum is open to submissions for the blog or the newsletter. Please submit copy to the editor at writersforumeditor@gmail.com . Electronic submissions only. Microsoft Word format, with the .docx file extension, is preferred but any compatible format is acceptable. The staff reserves the right to perform minor copy editing in the interest of the website’s style and space.

Type of Material and Guidelines for e-newsletter and Website Submission: 1.) Your articles on the art or craft of writing. 2.) Essays on subjects of interest to writers. (200 words can be quoted without permission but with attribution.) 3.) Book or author reviews. 4.) Letters to the Editor or Webmaster. 5.) Information on upcoming events, local or not. 6.) Photos of events. 7.) Advertise your classes or private events.

Queen’s Letter: Notsobrighterday

Writers Forum President and Queen shares her take on the covid-19 restrictions as we enter the Memorial Day weekend.


May people are optimistic that places are opening up. I remain crabby.

Redding City Council meeting was bullied and bull-horned by a mob this week, demanding things open up further. They also want churches to re-open because, God.  The federal government wrote a letter to our governor to re-open churches because, First Amendment.

I know it wasn’t any of you who went to the Mother’s Day church service in Butte County where an old guy had Chingona and infected others there. I’m pretty sure none of you went to the Cottonwood Rodeo that same weekend. Both in violation of state orders. And no one was wearing a mask, ‘cause, where’s the fun in that?! Happy Mother’s Day. Way to celebrate.

Churches are the places that have infected more people than any other gathering spots besides nursing homes. It’s not the touching and the hugging. It’s the breathing and the singing. Physical distancing is negated by raising your voice.  This is why we can’t have a nice Quarantine.

And it’s not enough that you don’t go to church.  It’s that after exposure to people from many neighborhoods who have gathered at the church, people go to the store. Your store, your take-out restaurant, and expose those people. So, Butte County’s church becomes your store’s infection point.

I’ve argued and negotiated distance and 30-minute timers with people coming into the law liberry without masks in violation of the posted policy on my door.  I’m gonna use a squirt gun next. I’m tired of wiping staplers, counter tops, desks, chairs and door knobs after each person uses them. And that’s just the stress at my workplace.

This staying the ‘eff at home has been hard on all of us. Some more than others. There are some Writers Forum members who own their own small business who have had to shut down. There are those who own professional solo practices who have had to close up. Essential First Responders who work at grocery stores, and families who live with nurses and are caregivers to First Responders’ grandchildren are trying to stay safe from infection while trapped together.  There is even someone who works the 911 phones. Imagine how hard that is.

There are now cases in all counties but one up here. Know what that means? It means that someone from Trinity County went somewhere and got Chingona and came back with it, or let someone visit from somewhere else who gave it to him. We know that because for two months, there were no reported cases in Trinity County. This was not an Immaculate Infection. It came there from a person carrying it inside them who wouldn’t stay the ‘eff at home. Cases are not rising in Shasta County, but they are everywhere else in California.

This is Memorial Day Weekend and people want to get out and remember the war dead, and to blow off steam. I’ve heard celebratory gunshots and fireworks at night this week in my neighborhood. Assholes abound. Please don’t go to Walmart or Costco. Masks are not enough to protect you from the crowds there who are buying party supplies for this weekend.  Go on Tuesday.  If you have to go there at all. A smaller market is best. During the earliest hours. With your damn mask on.

If you think being outside is just fine, think again. If you’re in a crowd this weekend, it won’t help you to be outside where people are not wearing masks. Even walking past them won’t help. They’ll be shouting, laughing and spreading Chingona far and wide if they have it, making a cloud of droplets that will linger for several minutes while you walk under it. Fresh air doesn’t kill this Chingona.  And you can’t tell if they have it. That’s the thing, isn’t it? You can’t tell by looking at people. They may know they have it, they may not know for sure. And some people don’t care enough about you. Stealthy Assholes.

I’m going to be occupying myself at the ‘eff home, doing yard work with my online supplies from Home Depot delivered directly to my door; reading, and viewing classes on Udemy.com. I’m taking Sell Your Novel to a Major Publisher, Write a Bestselling Novel in 15 steps, and The Foundations of Fiction Writing Mastery.  Really these are so good! And it’s not reading which takes concentration and comprehension! They are video lectures with prompts and examples and exercises! And you can make them repeat!

I have writer friends in New Jersey who are having trouble concentrating one day and then getting a burst of creative energy another day only to be felled by no-energy the next. None of them have Chingona, they are just getting Quarantini Blues. They joke about gaining the 19 pounds of Covid-19 stress eating. They are also trying to keep young children educated and alive at their houses. I have writer friends in San Diego, CA; and St. Augustine, Florida who are being intimidated in the street for wearing their masks. I have writer friends in the Bay Area who were laid off and are about losing their minds trying to get the Unemployment Office to answer the damn phone after writing out online applications and receiving nothing. For days and hours each day. They have mortgages and small children who need to eat. And these are all published writers who have agents and everything.  This is really hard.

What I want to do is stay the ‘eff at home in preparation for the next wave coming in two weeks from this weekend. The Asshole Factor for Memorial Day Weekend will infect people and start making new Chingona cases within 14 days. It may come in day 2 or day 13.  We don’t know. But we can stay home this weekend and not be spit on, or shouted at, or sung to.

I love you. Stay safe. Stay the ‘eff at home.


Writers Forum is open to submissions for the blog or the newsletter. Please submit copy to the editor at writersforumeditor@gmail.com . Electronic submissions only. Microsoft Word format, with the .docx file extension, is preferred but any compatible format is acceptable. The staff reserves the right to perform minor copy editing in the interest of the website’s style and space.

Type of Material and Guidelines for e-newsletter and Website Submission: 1.) Your articles on the art or craft of writing. 2.) Essays on subjects of interest to writers. (200 words can be quoted without permission but with attribution.) 3.) Book or author reviews. 4.) Letters to the Editor or Webmaster. 5.) Information on upcoming events, local or not. 6.) Photos of events. 7.) Advertise your classes or private events.

 

Short Story Contest Entry: Let Freedom Ring

plantation

Today we have another entry received for the Writers Forum 2020 Short Story Contest.

Since the contest judges are supposed to be judging the entries without knowing who wrote them, the author’s names will be withheld until after the winner selection. After the winners have been chosen, all authors will be identified, and the top three stories will be re-posted. The contest is only open to Writers Forum members. Click here for the complete contest rules.

Let’s see if we can make our old Member Monday feature our Short Story feature!


 

plantation

Photo by Ron Dauphin on Unsplash

 

Let Freedom Ring

 

I wasn’t terribly surprised to be summoned to the bedside of my dying Granny. Rumor had it that she was getting ready to croak, and the vultures were starting to gather. My second cousin, once removed, and her bratty kids were flocking around trying to kiss up to me, and relatives I’d never heard of were coming out of the woodwork. I had a pretty good idea that I would be Gran’s heir and beneficiary, being her only grandkid and all. Mom was in a nursing home, probably never to recover from that stroke, so that left me, semi-famous writer living off the residuals of a few lucky books, as the one to whom good things were about to befall.

I drove the curves of the country road as fast as the Mustang would comfortably take them. With the windows down and the radio turned up, I lazily spun the wheel with one hand while I mused about what I’d find when I got there. I’d visited her mansion before—huge, Southern Plantation style thing—when I was a kid. I always felt like I was stepping back in time, just like the books I liked to read, when I’d cross the wide veranda and step over the threshold into her house. Old brocade drapes hung down over the tall windows, and worn velvet stretched across the seats and backs of antebellum furniture. Probably highly valuable.

The monstrosity had been in the family forever, at least since before the Civil War, but not many of the many distant relatives had actually been inside to behold its fusty grandeur. Few were invited in. But I was. This time I wondered what I would find.

“Ghost walked over my grave,” I said under my breath as an unexpected shudder twitched my shoulders. That was one of Mom’s old sayings, and looking around, I wished I hadn’t given in to the habit. I’d just passed under the wrought-iron entrance arch, and a cold dimness seemed to settle over the overgrown driveway. I peered through the hanging Spanish moss and tried not to wince with every pothole as my Mustang scraped bottom.

The car rolled to a stop in front of the entrance. I killed the engine. Dead silence and the humid Southern air closed in around me as I walked up the steps. I wiped my forehead with a pocket handkerchief.

“Granny?” I called. A square stained glass inset depicting plantation life was set high on the heavy wooden door. I tapped on it and peered through the translucent glass panes trying to see movement. I leaned back, lit a Camel, and waited a bit.

“Hello?” I called again, tapping this time right on the glass balls of the white plantation owner, the benevolent god, standing over the smaller colored shards of his slaves. It gave me a perverse pleasure, and I rapped on the glass again.

“Neil, is that you?” A faint voice drifted through the open casement window nearby. “Come on in. The door’s open.”

I opened the door into the dimly lit sepia foyer, pausing while my vision adjusted. In the cool darkness, something brushed my arm. I jumped and almost dropped my cigarette as a dark figure was suddenly standing beside me.

“Geez, Calpurnia!” I said. “Give a guy a little warning! You startled me.”

“Madam is in the parlor,” she said. “This way.” As usual, her deep mahogany features were calm and unruffled. The several times I’d met Granny’s live-in help, she had never been anything but polite and reserved towards me, in spite of my efforts to get her to loosen up, to laugh a little, get a joke, or even become offended by my Aunt Jemima cracks. Silently she led the way to the parlor.

I looked around me, at the grand staircase, as we rounded the corner to the sitting room. I wasn’t counting my chickens yet, but I was inspecting the basket of eggs. Although badly outdated and peeling a bit, the old girl—house, that is—wasn’t in too bad of a shape. Lordy, who’d want to LIVE here? But in this part of the genteel south, it would be prime real estate for someone to come in with a do-over and turn it into a bed and breakfast. I could take a year to go through the antiques, getting the best prices out of the good stuff, and maybe let the other stuff go with the house, sort of “value added.” Hell, I might even want to turn it around myself, sort of a second career.

Granny isn’t gone yet, I cautioned myself, shutting down the excitement that might be showing in my face. But when we entered the parlor, and I saw her lying on the sofa, a little form of bones, parchment stretched over her frame, barely moving with each breath, I thought, Not yet, but not long. Calpurnia turned, her eyes glittering, and I thought she could read me. I lowered my eyes.

“I’ll leave you two alone now,” she said, and drifted off into some other dim room in the mansion.

Granny turned her head to look at me. Her pale blue eyes burned into mine. “Sit here,” she motioned to a frail red velvet chair beside the sofa. I obeyed, easing my body into the broken-down cushion, hoping the perch would hold up to my weight.

“I’ve called you here because I need to settle my affairs. I haven’t long, you know.” Her voice was not thin and weak, as I had expected. It was strong, as I remembered from before, but hoarse and rusty.

I nodded, trying for the best expression of sympathy and affection that I could put on my face. It wasn’t totally faked. I did carry fond memories of her special attention to me when Mom would take me there for occasional visits. She would offer me gingerbread cookies, baked by Calpurnia, and she seemed genuinely interested in my life and my dreams.

“My will is drawn up and filed. There’s a copy for you on the table over there.” She gestured. “You might have guessed, and I’ll go ahead and say it. The whole estate is going to you.”

My chickens immediately began to hatch.

“And don’t worry, it’s ironclad,” she continued. “There are things… legal things, and other safeguards that, well, insure it goes to you.”

“Oh Gran,” I said, “How kind and thoughtful of you to think of me so.” I was sincere, but trying to keep the glee from rising to the top of my smile.

She paused, and it seemed she was struggling over what to say next. “I am not sure I would have chosen you to inherit,” she finally said, “But then, it wasn’t really my choice.”

I was confused.

“So don’t blame me,” Granny finally forced out.

I tried to mollify her.

“Don’t worry, Gran,” I said, “I can handle the place. I’ll make you proud. And the ancestors watching over will be proud too. I’ll do right by the family heirloom.”

She moved her head from side to side, obviously exasperated. “Where’s Calpurnia?” she furtively whispered.

“It sounded like she went upstairs,” I said.

“I haven’t got much time, maybe only minutes. I can sense my spirit drifting, floating out of this world.  Maybe that’s why I feel like I can get these few words out.” She pulled out a much-folded piece of paper. “Take it. It’s about Calpurnia. She isn’t what you think.”

I skimmed over the pertinent details.

“This is a manumission paper for a female slave,” I murmured. “Except it’s been copied over, since this actual piece of paper isn’t from the 1860’s.”

“I copied it over, from another copy, which was probably copied from another copy. I have forgotten the count. But the original was from 1843, when Calpurnia was twenty-eight.” Gran looked at me closely, and I gave a little laugh, trying to lighten the intense mood that had settled over the room.

“You mean, Calpurnia’s ancestor.” I said.

“No. Calpurnia was offered her freedom at the death of her former master, OUR ancestor, but the new master refused to honor it, and instead of filing the manumission, he tucked it away in his papers.” Granny paused, “She was the best house slave in the county, they say.”

I couldn’t help a chuckle. “Are you saying Calpurnia’s a ghost?”

But Granny was serious, and she shot a dark look at me. “I don’t have time for this; just listen. You can decide whether you believe it later.” She continued in her raspy voice.

“The new master tried to honor the manumission upon his deathbed also, but his offspring was as greedy for the always-efficient and perfect house slave as his father had been, and he also refused the manumission. Until his deathbed. And so it goes. But you, you have a chance, a chance to make it right. I… I can’t say more. I…” she coughed and struggled to speak. “I just pray you to take this, sign your own name, and before you step over the threshold as the new owner, take this in and have it filed, officially.”

“I don’t understand,” I said. “What if I can’t find some county official to take it seriously and file this… thing? So I’m not supposed to even go in the house until I file it? How’s that supposed to work, if I’m the executor or something?”

“Don’t be an idiot. You aren’t the owner until you have the deed in your name. That takes a long time.”

I paused several seconds, thinking. “What happens if I don’t file it?”

Her pale eyes, washed-out denim, pinned me to the rickety chair like a bug on a pin. Uncomfortable, I tucked the creased paper into my suit pocket. Granny tried to speak again, but no sound came from her cracked lips. She stared at me as her throat spasmed while she swallowed. I put aside my distaste for touching her and picked up one frail hand, afraid the bones might split her papery skin.

“Don’t worry, Gran. I’ll file it.”

Her eyes shut, and her head dropped.

The coma lasted three days, and the probate lasted a year.

Funny how you think you know people, until they find out they get left out of the will, and then sweet Cousin Emily turns into a banshee, and self-proclaimed “Uncle” Bedford tries his hand at a little extortion. But sure enough, in spite of the lawyers, Granny was right—her will was ironclad. The estate was mine, all mine.

I thought a lot about Granny’s last words concerning her servant. I had a lot of occasions to ponder what she said, and also to observe Calpurnia at work during the long probate period. I wasn’t convinced that she was a ghost slave, and I found it hard to consider her as anything but the best live-in caretaker and help that a body could wish for. I spent some long weekends at the place, making notations for the court and taking measurements of the rooms. Thanks to Calpurnia, the house was cared for, a hot meal was always waiting in quiet peace upon the long dining room table at dinner time, and the linens were always crisp and clean. Once I asked her about her pay, and she just gave one of her rare smiles and said, “Don’t worry, Suh, that’s taken care of already.” I tried other ways to get her to open up about herself, but she didn’t reveal much, just continued to make herself indispensable to the running of the mansion.

Was Calpurnia a ghost? She seemed solid enough, but what did I know about ghosts? Was she a slave? A ghost slave? She never left the premises, and mostly kept to herself when visitors were over. Everyone but me only had a vague sense of her even being there.

If she were a ghost, well, so what? If I had lived back in those days, I would certainly sign off any inherited slaves I received from an ancestor! But did ghosts even suffer? Ghosts weren’t people. They didn’t get sold and have to give up their children and spouses at the whim of a master, or be beaten. I would never beat a slave! Hell, I would never beat a ghost!

I had signed my name to the folded paper Granny had given me, but I was curiously reluctant to fulfill the second part of her last request. I finally admitted the truth to myself; Calpurnia had become too important to me to give up. If she were a ghost, then surely it couldn’t matter by now, and if she weren’t, then she was free to come or go if she pleased. And for now, it seemed to please her to stay, I said to myself. I was being sensitive, I told myself. It really seemed as if she liked being there, that it gave her pleasure to serve and to tend the house. What would happen to her if I “set her free?” Perhaps she would have to hit the streets, if she weren’t a ghost, that is. Or lose her identity in the big dark place wherever ghosts go when they check out. And yes, I played the “What would happen to me?” scenario if I let her go.

She would be impossible to replace.

So there. I decided.

Final deed papers in hand, I stepped out of my mustang in front of the gaudy old mansion—MY mansion—and looked around, inhaling the rich humid air, redolent with gardenia blossoms and mossy aromas.  I hadn’t decided yet whether to sell it or turn the mansion into a business, but first thing, those potholes had to go. They were way too hard on my poor little car, and I wanted a good first impression for the investors and realtors. I climbed onto the veranda and stood a moment in front of the door. As before, I followed the gaze of the stained glass white master, benevolent, yet stern, as he looked upon his black property. There was one stained glass woman who could have been Calpurnia, but honestly, most of them looked alike to me. I pulled the much-folded manumission document out of my breast pocket and looked it over yet again. According to my Dear Granny, this was the last moment to change my decision. Why was I hesitating to open the door and go in? This was ridiculous! A grown man getting getting wiggy over a kid’s ghost story!

A little shudder twitched my shoulders and spine. I kept my lips clamped, and the phrase that rose in my mouth stayed there, sour and old. I shoved the document back in my pocket, opened the door, and stepped over the threshold.

Calpurnia met me in the parlor.

“You still got them documents the Missus gave you, ain’t that right, Suh?”

I didn’t ask how she knew about the paper, nor how she knew I had not recorded them.

“Well, yes, Miss Calpurnia,” I began. “And I know that I probably should have done that, and forgive me, I am truly sorry that I did not handle that just exactly like my grandma requested me to. But I just thought it would be best to, you know, have a little chat with you before I made a big decision on that. Because, you see, I’ve sort of noticed how you seem to like your job, and stuff, and you seem pretty happy, or I guess I could say, content, about being here and… stuff…”

This wasn’t exactly how I’d planned my conversation to go. I had some comforting phrases rehearsed, like, “You will always have a home here, Calpurnia, never fear,” but I was getting distracted by the look in her eyes. It was not the calm, neutral look I was used to. It was not a disappointed look that said, Oh Dearie Me! Now I has got to wait for the next massa to get me out of this place! Her black eyes were intense, sort of fiery. Actually, I guess I’d call her demeanor gleeful. Triumphant, even.

I’d been kidding myself when I played around with the idea she might be a ghost. For the first time, I actually believed to my soul that she was a ghost.

Calpurnia leaned back into the red velvet chair. Her proud chin rose, and her eyelids closed to slits as she glanced sidelong at me.

“Ah, Young Suh, I thanks you! Does I feel sorry for you? Hmm, let me think on that.”

Three seconds passed while her lips curled into a sneer. I could not look away. I wanted to. I stared at her, so solid, so commanding.

“NO!” Calpurnia spat, and then she began to snicker. I felt my legs go weak, and suddenly I had to use the bathroom.

“Oh, poor man, you think you got you a slave to make your life nice. But truth is, now I got me my new slave. You mine now!
She went on. “Yup, I shore like it here, ‘specially with the tables turned and all. ‘Cept I need me an anchor, not being true flesh and all. And you the latest one to oblige me in that.”

I was still having trouble understanding.

“Now, first thing. There ain’t goin’ to be no selling, so get that out of your head. No strangers comin’ in. I tell you who can come in. You got a girlfriend? Forget that. You leave it to me who you goin’ to pass this place on to. You think you’ll tell someone what’s up? Try it.”

I attempted to form the words to describe the horror I was feeling, but they were stuck. My throat heaved, and I felt like I was choking. I had to quit trying so I could breathe.

“No, we got lots of years together, Boy. A lifetime.”

Lifetime.

Lifetime.

Lifetime.

The words tolled in my head, a muffled bell that only I could hear.


Writers Forum is open to submissions for the blog or the newsletter. Please submit copy to the editor at writersforumeditor@gmail.com . Electronic submissions only. Microsoft Word format, with the .docx file extension, is preferred but any compatible format is acceptable. The staff reserves the right to perform minor copy editing in the interest of the website’s style and space.

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Podcast Survey Results

 

Writers Forum members may recall that almost exactly one year ago, I ran a survey asking members about their podcast knowledge and experience. The time is overdue to get back to those results!

 

1. Do you listen to podcasts?

  • Yes: 8
  • No: 7

 

Over half of people responding to the survey in 2019 listened to podcasts.

 

2. If not, why not?

  • I don’t have time: 2
  • What’s a podcast?: 1
  • I don’t listen well and really have a hard time watching things on my computer. Eyes are going
  • Most are not of great interest to me personally. Hard to find.
  • Don’t TAKE the time, but my 40, 50 year old kids do, so I know they are popular.
  • Confusing…too many choices.

 

Answers were sure varied here. But there are answers here I can help you with!

One great thing to know is that podcasts are not videos. You don’t have to stay glued to your computer monitor, stressing your eyes, to enjoy them. Listening to a podcast is like listening to a radio program.

You might not think you have time to listen to podcasts, but you would be surprised about how much time you actually do have to listen. I have a thirty-five mile commute to town, so that is ninety minutes of prime podcast listening time for me any time i go to town. Maybe you have chores to do around the house that don’t require your full concentration. Listen to a podcast while you wash dishes or fold laundry.

There sure are a lot of choices out there, and it can take work to find good ones. How about if you had help in finding good ones that are worth your time? I can help you with that.

 

3. If you do listen to podcasts, do you listen to writing podcasts?

  • Yes: 4
  • No: 11

 

Eight people listened to podcasts, but four of those didn’t listen to writing podcasts.

Say, what?!

I can help you with that! If you’re a writer, there are many podcasts out there that can help you with the craft of writing, or the business, or even motivate you to sit your bottom down and write.

 

 

4. If you do listen to writing podcasts, what is your current favorite?

  • The Well Storied Podcast
  • Writers Digest whatevers
  • I’ve been watching youtube
  • I don’t have a favorite, but they’re always about writing.

 

I can help you here, too. Look forward to seeing podcast recommendations here at the blog in the future.

 

 

5. What types of writing podcasts would be of most interest to you?

  • Interviews with writers: 2 (14.29%)
  • Craft of writing: 6 (42.86%)
  • Business of writing: 4 (28.57%)
  • Writers reading their work: 0 (0%)
  • Other-Inspirational exercises: 1
  • Other- The first three, but this only allows me to make one choice

 

I can help you here! Most respondents were interested in the craft of writing. I can start you out by directing you to DIY MFA podcast. Looking for interviews with writers? I can help you there, too: Writers on Writing, at KCUI, the radio station from UC Irvine in SoCal.  The business of writing? You can find a lot of that at The Author Inside You. I looked into The Well-Storied Podcast, mentioned  by one survey respondent. Thanks for the recommendation! I’ve subscribed to it, myself. (BTW: podcast ‘subscriptions’ are free. That just means that I will always receive updates on the latest episodes which that podcast releases.)

I am going to help you with your podcast listening. Over the summer, starting next week, I am going to describe exactly what podcasts are; how to find and listen to them on your phone, tablet, or computer; and show you where to find podcasts specifically geared towards writers. (It’s not YouTube.) I am going to offer reviews of regular podcast series. And I will also highlight individual podcast episodes that would be particularly valuable to writers.

Look forward to more detailed reviews of these podcasts and more over the summer here at the Writers Forum blog.

 

Geo.

Queen’s Letter: Oneofthesedays

One thing is for sure: stressful times make writers write. And stressful interactions with others can make us write even more. Another word from our President and Queen…written before the Cottonwood Rodeo of last weekend. And before another case of COVID-19 was announced for Shasta County on Monday.


 

 

Miss Translation

by: Laura Hernandez

 

I had a little talk over the fence with my neighbor yesterday that alarmed me. You might be having similar talks with your neighbors as Chingona blows somewhere else and Shasta County starts to roam around.

My neighbor listens to alternative news and online crap fests. You should have seen the list she gave me during Snowmagedon that “Proved” the government was using the electrical wipe out to kill people on purpose, but we could resist by listening to these radio stations. That may have been when they started buying toilet paper online and having it delivered. But I didn’t ask then.

My neighbors have always worked from home with a business that is artistic and global:  they make and manufacture custom buttons for coats and jackets using everything from Czech Republic crystals to plant designs she has created. They have ovens and molds and packaging so they can ship themselves.  Don’t laugh, they pay their 15-year mortgage (the kind where you pay double payments to pay it off early) with the profits from this business and have not had a “supplemental job in 18 years. She is also a fine artist showing in galleries here and trade shows as far away as New York.

She and her husband help me with firewood and I know would give me the toilet paper off their rolls if I asked.

But here is what horrified me yesterday: She doesn’t believe, you know, an act of faith not based on anything, that THIS has all been an exaggeration and people who died in this county ALL DIED FROM SOMETHING ELSE, and the government is lying.

I told her about that 75- year old woman who infected her church after a visit with an infected person in Sacramento. She interrupted me 3 times to say that woman had and died from her heart surgery. Which is not true. I told her she was thinking of another case. She wasn’t convinced.

I told her she and I had to be careful because we have had cancer and we are old. She said we’re not old!

This also tells me she is not reading the Record Searchlight where this 75-year old’s story has been researched, contact traced and documented by a real journalist and real nurses and the real Health Department.  Not reading the paper is weird for her because she still has one of those obnoxious orange mail boxes in her driveway labeled and designated for actual delivery of said paper. Her little newspaper delivery person has even yelled at me, through my neighbors, that I was placing my trash toters too close to the box, disabling her from driving on the wrong side of the street to easily deliver the paper to my neighbor.

But this was not the most disturbing part of our conversation.

The most disturbing part was that she was not going to go to Costco on Monday as she planned because Costco was requiring customers to wear masks and masks “were bad for us” even though Fauci, she spat his name, said we should wear them when going out.

She mis-translated what Fauci said. He has talked about how masks protect the person in front of the mask wearer, not the mask wearer.  Your mask protects other people. Their masks protect you from their germs that you don’t know you have. Coughing without a mask goes some 12 feet (yeah, double Social Distancing). A cough with a mask goes about 6 inches and up, not out. Wearing a mask is Not Bad Protection, just inadequate for you. It doesn’t harm you. Unless you are wearing your mask while driving your car for prolonged drives. (Reference previous Queen’s Letter)

It’s like a game of telephone. Or when my brothers and sisters would tell my one little sister, “Don’t tell dad, don’t tell dad, don’t tell dad.” She was nervous (Dad would see that and interrogate her and she would crack, ‘cause she always cracked). She would repeat, “Don’t tell dad” so much and with such fear that she would very soon forget half of the warning. “Don’t tell dad, don’t tell dad,” Became, “Tell dad, tell dad.”  She totally mis-translated the warning. And told dad.

And as for Dr. Fauci: do not disrespect him in front of me. He is my new Pretend Boyfriend (in addition to Governor Andrew Cuomo). And by the way, I’m not the only one crushing on him. Sally Quinn based her love interest on Dr. Anthony Fauci in her thriller romance published in the 90s. She met him at a fancy dinner a long time ago and was anticipating the dinner would be a bore when she was seated next to Dr. Fauci. Boy, was she wrong! She said she was wrong, and had a fabulous dinner with a fascinating man. She has told Dr. Fauci that he was the inspiration for that fictional character in her Romance Novel, Happy Endings, and he just laughed and said thank you.

If Sally Quinn’s name is familiar to you, it should be. She was a journalist and married to Ben Bradlee the executive editor of the Washington Post from ’68-’91. She was married to him from ’78 to his death in 2014. She still writes a blog in WaPo on religion.

Like Ruth Bader Ginsberg of the Supreme Court, and Governor Cuomo, I pray for Dr. Fauci’s health every day. I wish they’d all get their own morning TV show, but I don’t get everything I pray for.

As we open up, and if Shasta County can go until May 13 without new cases, we can all leave the house, the Asshole Factor has increased.

Traffic around town is up and aggressive. People are running red lights and speeding like I haven’t seen since the last 3-day weekend.

People are also being rude in person. I got my first Rude Patriot in the law library yesterday. Since my counter and lobby can’t be locked with drop boxes like the other departments at the courthouse, I am requiring people to wear masks to come into the law library. It’s posted on my door and the Marshals are telling people that when they enter the courthouse. The courthouse is “recommending masks” for other departments.

This Rude Patriot woman breezed in with an adult man, both 30-something in age (the age group that is getting most of the infections, too), and when I leaned from my chair 6 feet away and politely told her a mask was required to come in here, she moved away from the copy machine and said, “So are you taking away my civil liberties, too?”  I said, “No one is doing that, goodbye,” to her back.

Now, I could tell you with plenty of case citations about how the government CAN tell you how to do your protests, your freedom of speech, in a time, place, and manner that doesn’t take away your civil liberties, and still gives you instructions. You can’t yell “Fire!” in a crowded movie theater (remember those?) and the government says you can’t. You can’t say whatever you want, any time you want, where ever you want. I could give you more examples of that but my critique group gets enough of those, and I’m also guessing you’ve opted out of going to law school, so you don’t need more examples.

Suffice it to say that you don’t have a Constitutional Right to make copies in the law library and wearing a mask isn’t depriving you of anything except the right to smudge your lipstick.

The government, the state governor, by the authority of the 10th Amendment Police Powers can tell you to stay the ‘eff at home, and wear a damn mask when you go out. So far, Governor Newsome has said masks are required in some counties, mostly in the Bay Area and So. Cal and that County governments can require them as needed. So far, ours has not required it.

Does that mean you should try and get away with it? How about not. How about lowering the Asshole Quotient, saving a nurse, and wearing your damn mask?

“Opening up this county” just means our county has decided a we have enough hospital beds in the event of a sudden outbreak of this virus and can treat your acute respiratory problems in our ICUs and have a clean respirator and a tube they can shove down your closing throat with your name on it; based on the guessing models and the math the Health Department has been using this whole time.

Hospital beds, tubes. Not eradication of the virus.

And if Other People are trying to up the Asshole Quotient by driving to our area to recreate, ‘cause they are bored and really, really want to, we will get their stealth virus. They will go to the lake (not likely to let the virus linger and pass around unless grouping on the shores), then go to the store and the gas station near you. Yeah, they’re not wearing masks.


 

What are you writing during our covid-19 stay-at-home? Share it with us! Please!

Writers Forum is open to submissions for the blog or the newsletter. Please submit copy to the editor at writersforumeditor@gmail.com . Electronic submissions only. Microsoft Word format, with the .docx file extension, is preferred but any compatible format is acceptable. The staff reserves the right to perform minor copy editing in the interest of the website’s style and space.

Type of Material and Guidelines for e-newsletter and Website Submission: 1.) Your articles on the art or craft of writing. 2.) Essays on subjects of interest to writers. (200 words can be quoted without permission but with attribution.) 3.) Book or author reviews. 4.) Letters to the Editor or Webmaster. 5.) Information on upcoming events, local or not. 6.) Photos of events. 7.) Advertise your classes or private events.