This blog is closing

Apparently, in its latest iteration, WordPress.com has turned off support for XML-RPC remote editing, and has chosen to replace it with nothing at all. I am not willing to put up with the formatting limitations of the native so-called editor, nor am I willing to do all of my composition and editing of blog posts while online.

Therefore, unless and until WordPress.com comes to its senses and reinstates support for XML-RPC remote editing, there will be no further posts at all on this blog.

I encourage you to visit me at http://www.levimontgomery.com, which, although it is powered by WordPress, is not hosted at WordPress.com (due mainly to an increasing frustration at the narrowing limitations of being hosted there), and still has XML-RPC support.

The Great American Roadtrip 2010

Just a reminder for all those who follow me on this blog:

I am currently on an extended roadtrip with my daughter. Well, actually, that depends on how you define “on an extended roadtrip.” See this post for more details as this adventure unfolds. Slowly.

“The Death of Patsy McCoy” Now Available in ePub and Kindle Versions

TDOPM cover for Kindle - 002 After many false starts (and more than a few errors by a certain caveman-fingered writer 😦 ) I am pleased to announce that my novella,

The Death of Patsy McCoy, is now available as an ebook!

“When you cross the boundaries of society, you are outside society. When you reject rules, you become unruled. When you turn your back on civilization, you become uncivilized. Each barrier you cross is a little easier. You gain a little momentum, pick up a little speed, each time.”

The Death of Patsy McCoy is an exploration of peer pressure and the need to belong, and what these things can do to us.

The ePub format is up now at Lulu, and the Kindle version is at Amazon. These versions are $1.99 each.

Meanwhile, if you don’t want to pay for it, you can get it right here for FREE! (If I do this right…)

The Death of Patsy McCoy in ePub

The Death of Patsy McCoy for Kindle

(if you don’t have a Kindle, you can download the free “Kindle for PC” from Amazon)

(I think I did that right!)

Thank you, Rob!

I’d like to take this opportunity to publicly thank Rob Siders of www.52novels.com, who did the conversion for me, and Joe Konrath, who recommended Rob. Zoe Winters called the conversion “amazing,” and I have to agree with her. Watch this space for an upcoming interview with Rob.

 

 

The Death of Patsy McCoy

DofPMdlcoverimage I know I’ve posted this before, but in honor of its upcoming release as an ebook, here’s the first chapter of

The Death of Patsy McCoy

 

 

Farm Boy

Approaching your hometown after twenty years, to attend the funeral of a childhood friend, I guess your thoughts are pretty much destined to run backward. There was a time when I knew beyond any reasonable doubt that my life was going to be wasted. That it was, in fact, already wasted. I’d sit alone on the back porch, reading some crime thriller or space opera, and I’d feel all the same urges that have united sixteen-year-old boys since crime thrillers and space operas were invented. I’d be a famous detective, or a fearless astronaut, or a brain surgeon, or a quarterback; something, anything, if only I didn’t live in Bumhole, Kansas.

     Fifty years earlier, a hundred and sixty acres would have been a lot of land. When I was sixteen, it was small enough my dad could work it by himself, just him and a few machines, and still work at the mill.

     Twenty years sooner, and I might have been busy enough in the work of the place to have been ok. Twenty years later, and I would have had MTV and MySpace and Google to keep me company. We had neither, and we found our own trouble. That summer, we found Patsy McCoy.

His death began the moment we saw him. It just took a long time to consummate that death. We began to kill him when we first saw him, walking slowly up the road that led past Stud’s place, his eyes flicking away from us and shifting from bush to chimney to tree, and then flicking away from us again.

     Stud got up like he was going to go talk to him, his basketball trapped under one arm, but then he just stood there. We didn’t get many new guys in Bumford. Sometimes somebody’s cousin would show up for a visit, but that was it. We were sitting there on Stud’s steps, all five of us, doing nothing, not even talking much, just wasting our lives and not really caring. What else was there to do in Bumhole?

     The new kid slowed, but he kept coming. Pudgy and doughy, sweating like it was hot out, squinting a bit. His eyes began to flick away from us a little later, a little more slowly. He began to lick his lips as he approached, like he thought he’d get a chance to speak, like he thought he had anything to say.

     “Think fast!” Stud said, launching his basketball at the new guy’s stomach. He didn’t think fast enough, grunting wheezily as the ball bounced off onto the road.

     “Hey! Pick my ball up, stupid! Don’t let it bounce on the ground like that! Who do you think you are, Fatso?” Stud shoved him a little with both hands. We circled around behind him, surrounding him. He began to shift around, like he was trying to keep tabs on all of us at the same time, but we had some kind of group-think going on, and we sidled around and around so he couldn’t track us. It was like we’d been harassing new guys all our lives. That was Stud. He could do that. He’d get some plan in his mind, and it’d spring full-blown into the minds of all of us, like he was some kind of god or something. He thought he was, anyway.

     He stood there spread-legged like the eye of our storm, not following us as we circled, his eyes on the new guy’s, his arms crossed high on his chest.

     The new guy stooped down over his baggy belly and groped for the ball, but it rolled away from him a bit, and he had to stand back up to go after it. He bent down again, and Spittle kicked it to Stud just as his fingertips brushed it.

     “Hey! Don’t kick my ball, Fatso!” Stud said, trapping the ball under his foot and smacking Fatso on the arm. “Who do you think you are?”

     “I didn’t

     “Don’t argue with me, Fatso,” Stud said, dead quiet, and Fatso fell silent.

     “I’ve asked you twice, now, Fatso. Who do you think you are?”

    

Fatso licked his lips again, his eyes flicking from one face to another, back to Stud’s.

     “Um

    

Um my butt! Pay attention! Your name, Fatso! What’s your name?”

     “Uh, Patrick, Patr

     “Patricia? Your name’s Patricia? My little sister’s name is Patricia!” Stud looked around at us, demanding laughter.

     “No, it’s Patri

     What’s that? What’s that you say, Patricia? Patsy? It’s Patsy? Ok, it’s Patsy, then. Guys, meet Patsy!” and Patsy McCoy was born. We created him. We created him, and then we began to kill him.

     “Come on,” Stud said, turning away, three-pointing the ball into the porch swing on the way by. Patsy stood there a few seconds, like he wasn’t sure he was supposed to come along, but Bowels was behind him, and he gave him a shove to get him started.

     “Come on, Patsy! What’s the holdup?” he demanded.

Patsy took a couple of steps, but then he stopped and looked behind him. “I, um, uh, I think I’d better

     Stud, almost into his side yard by now, stopped and turned toward us. “Look, Patsy,” he said, and his voice was almost friendly, almost helpful. “School starts in six weeks. You want to be the new guy then? You want to see what that’s like, going to our school and not being one of us? Come on. You gotta do this.” He turned and walked away, confidently, like he knew he’d be followed, like he knew we’d all troop along behind him, like we always did. That was Stud.

     Across the big gravel farm yard, down behind the barns, there was a wide, shallow gully, choked with willows and cottonwoods, scrub forest up the slope beyond it, a slow muddy stream at the bottom. We called it the river, but I don’t think it even had a name. There was a place there that we called the swimming hole, but if you’d tried to dive there, you would have broken your neck. We had a rope swing that went out over the water, and if you dropped off of it, you had to do a cannonball, or you’d hit bottom. Sarah Gilbert had broken her ankle, the summer before, when she was twelve, because she didn’t tuck quite hard enough. She let me sign her cast, and after the first couple of letters, I pretended I had to hoist her foot a little higher, but it was only so I could see more of her leg under her yellow skirt.

     We weren’t headed there, though. We crossed the river on the old log bridge, one at a time, arms stretched out to our sides for balance. Patsy went last, and we threw sticks and rocks at him, urging him to fall in. He made it, but it was a close thing.

     Downstream a few yards, on the far side of the river, a big birch tree stood alone among the cottonwoods, and we had slowly put together a pretty decent treefort up there, dragging pallets and planks from any construction site we could find. There was a ladder of sorts up the side of the tree, and remodeling the treefort was one of things on our minds that summer. Not that we’d done a whole lot about it.

     Patsy went last again. We’d get used to that, before the summer was over. He almost always went last. When we were all up in the treefort, gathered on the big uneven platform we called the deck, Stud said there’d have to be an initiation for Patsy. All that went through my mind was the thought that none of us had had to undergo any initiation, but I didn’t argue. We’d been born to it, so to speak.

     Babyface goes “Yeah, we should put a sack over his head, strip him naked, and beat him with blackberry vines!” He had that avid look he always got when he talked about stuff like that, but we were used to him, and we all ignored him. Except Patsy. Patsy looked pretty worried. Babyface would have been about fifteen then, but he looked like he was twelve, and I could see how it might spook a stranger to see this little kid talk about beating a naked guy with blackberry vines, especially with that look on his face.

     “Hold your arm out,” Stud said. “We all get to hit it three times, as hard as we can. Just our fingers, open, like slapping. Like this,” hitting the air in front of him like it just lost at rock, scissors, paper. Patsy hugged his arms against his ample stomach, but Spittle and Bowels were both between him and the ladder, and there was no railing, and he looked a little scared. I admit, there was a slow stirring of some lurking evil, deep down within me, knowing we had him trapped up there until we felt like letting him go. There was a power there, there was something there that said Your life is wasted? No, look at this. Look what you can do!

     “Hold your arm out, Patsy,” Stud said, and he slowly put his arm out to his side, his other hand clutched below his bicep like he could keep the pain from climbing up through there. His eyes were clenched, but there was still a tiny slit of wet glimmer in them as he looked from one to another, not looking at Stud at all.

     Babyface went first, of course, his hand sweeping down so fast and so hard his heels came up off the boards, his open fingers sliding from the inside of Patsy’s forearm in that welt-raising lash he’d developed for rock, scissors, paper. There were tears in Patsy’s eyes before Babyface’s three strikes were all laid down, but still, there was that tiny watchful gleam.

     I went next, think. Either that, or I went after Bowels. I remember my fingers stung for twenty minutes, afterward. I know Spittle was next-to-last, and then Stud took his turn.

     “Look at me, Patsy,” he said. “If I have to do this for you, the least you can do is look at me. Why are you crying? Baby. Crybaby. Now I have to do this, just because you’re a crybaby,” he said, slowly licking the fingers of his right hand. Patsy’s eyes widened in fear, like he couldn’t have closed them if he’d wanted to, as Babyface started in about getting to go again. We should all get to go again, he said, because we hadn’t licked our fingers.

     “No,” Stud said, “that wouldn’t be fair. That would just be cruel,” and he slowly laid down his three lashes.

     Afterward, we went inside. There were only five seats, though, two old car seats and the Woolsack, Stud’s broken recliner. We’d hauled them all up on a block and tackle. Patsy had to sit on the floor. He sat there and snuffled and sniffed as Stud laid out the plan. We’d see to it he was one of us by the time school started, so he wouldn’t have to go through that alone, and all he had to do was put up with a little hazing. I was watching his eyes, and I think he thought he already had, that it was already over. It hadn’t even begun.

     “Have you moved a lot?” Stud asked, sounding almost like he cared.

     “No, this is the first time,” Patsy mumbled, rubbing his arm. The welts were pretty impressive, but I knew from rock, scissors, paper that the pain would go away quickly, and I wasn’t sure he wasn’t already starting to milk it.

     “Well, then,” Stud said like that settled something, his hands out like there you go, then. “Do this, you’re in like Flynn, dude! You’re one of us by the time school starts. You’re in, not out. You’re accepted, not a new guy. Believe me, you don’t want to be the outsider. No parties, no girls, no nothing. What’s a little hazing to all of that?” and he looked around at us, demanding our agreement.

     We taught him the secret handshake, made up on the spot by Stud, explaining our own fumbles by telling him it wasn’t the one we used. It was the Lesser Secret Handshake, only used by initiates, and we’d teach him the real thing when he became one of us. After his hazing was over.

     He’d get his new nickname then, too, we promised, his cool nickname like the rest of us. Patsy was just his initiate nickname.

     It was late by the time we left, walking through the gloomy woods to the bridge, and we didn’t even try to make him fall as he shuffled across behind us.

Oh, I know. Believe me, I know. I knew even then. Even while some small part of me was enjoying it all, I knew it was wrong. It was like signing Sarah’s cast on her front porch. Even though I hardly knew her, even though she was just a friend’s little sister, even though she was two years younger than me, I squatted there on the steps in front of her, her foot in my lap, lifting her knee farther and farther off the porch trying to see her panties, and the thrill I felt was mostly shame. I don’t think she ever did catch on, but she reached down by some female instinct and tucked her bright yellow skirt in under her thigh before I ever got that flash of white, or baby blue, or lavender. I was almost as relieved as I was disappointed.

     The hazing of Patsy McCoy was the same thing all over again. I knew it was wrong. I’m pretty sure Stud knew it, too, even though he was the force behind it. Bowels I don’t know about, Spittle was too dumb to know the difference, and I think Babyface thought it was all great stuff, but I knew it was wrong, and I still think Stud knew. But for months after that day on the Gilbert’s porch, I dreamed long, detailed dreams of her, asleep and awake, and for all those weeks we persecuted Patsy, I lived in a thrill of secret pleasure.

     We rebuilt the treefort that summer, after two years of saying we should. We’d talk about how we’d learned all the things not to do, all the ways not to build a treefort, but we never did anything about it until Patsy came along. Until we had a grunt to do our grunt-work.

     We made him haul on the block and tackle, hoisting things. We made him tote the heavier pallets and planks we stole from construction sites. If we had nothing for him to carry, we’d make him walk ten feet behind us, or we’d make him walk in front while we made fun of his rolling waddle.

     Every time he began to grow a little bit of backbone, saying it wasn’t fair, saying that surely, by now, he was one of us, Stud would go into his routine again, about how soon school would start, and how badly he needed to be one of us by then. He’d always fall silent then, pushing his wire-rimmed glasses up and staring off into the distance, or down into the fire, or at the boards at his feet.

     When we first saw him, on the road in front of Stud’s place, he wasn’t really fat. He was pudgy. He was well-padded. We hounded him so much about how he ate like a pig that he began to eat like a pig. We called him fat so often, he got fat to earn our approval. We mocked his waddle until he began to waddle.

     I don’t know how it would have ended, had things just gone on the way we all thought they were going to. If we’d all gone back to Bumford High School like we thought we were going to, would he have been one of us at last? Would he finally have earned that? Or would we simply have taken it all to school with us, to recruit all the other students into the I Hate Patsy McCoy Club?

     They closed the mill. A week before school started, the owner made the announcement on the local radio station that the mill was closing effective immediately, the end of day shift today. If you’re scheduled to come in tonight, or any time after that, don’t. We’re closed.

     I don’t know how it would have ended.

     All of our fathers worked at the mill. All of us except Patsy lived on places that could be called farms, but none of them really paid off, and all of our fathers except his worked at the mill to try to make ends meet. Stud’s old man had been going along pretty well, till the energy crisis spiked the fuel costs up into the sky, and then he had to work, too. Now, with the mill closed, they all congregated down at the diner, talking about the places they could go and the things they could do to try to make up for it. Talking about losing places that had been in the families for generations.

     One by one, all the old places would be boarded up and emptied. Most of us would never see the inside of Bumford High that fall. Stud’s old man took a night job driving a milk tanker to Topeka and back, and Patsy’s dad had been working for the city, anyway, but all the rest of us would leave that fall.

I haven’t been back since.

My fingers clench harder and harder around the steering wheel as I close on Bumford for the first time in over twenty years. I’ve called around a little. I’ve googled a little, and I know the diner’s still there, still the social center of this backward-looking ex-milltown. I know Patty, Stud’s little sister, works there now. I’m hoping we can forget, or ignore, the string of quickies in the big barn behind their house.

     Stud went on and on all the time about his kid sister, how she was the definition of sweet and pure, and it was almost like Patsy and his waddle. The more I heard about Patty and how pure she was, the more I wanted her, until I decided to make a try for it. Looking back now, I think she had an awful lot of knowledge for being so pure. I think she knew what to do just a little bit too readily for being so sweet. Actually, I’m pretty sure Bowels was doing her, too, but at the time, I thought I was the only one. I thought I was in love. I tried to keep it from Stud.

     When Stud thought Patsy’d been staring at Patty, he made a big deal of asking us for suggestions on how to help Patsy not let that happen again. We all looked around at each other, and I don’t know what the others were thinking, but I was thinking along the lines of making him spend one whole day in his house, not coming out at all, or something stupid like that. Not Babyface.

     “Sew his eyelids shut!” he shouted, leaping eagerly to his feet. “I’ve got this sewing-kit thing I got from my grandmother! We can sew his eyelids shut for a day, and then he’ll learn not to stare at girls!” He was serious, and he got Bowels and Spittle on his side pretty quickly. We didn’t let him do it, but the look in Stud’s eyes as he thought about it made me even more determined not to let him ever catch me with Patty.

     The place is called Danny’s Diner, although no one seems to have any idea who Danny might ever have been. I can’t even begin to tell you how she ever tracked me down. When she emailed me out of the clear blue, about the funeral, I went on Google to see what I could find out about present-day Bumford, and I tried to reverse the process, just to see what it would be like. I found thousands of Patty Fishers, Pat Fishers, and Patricia Fishers, and of course, I had no way of knowing whether she might be married, with a new name by now. Without her email address to help me, I certainly never could have tracked her down, the way she found me.

     But I did find a website for Danny’s Diner in Bumford, Kansas, and most of the pictures showed Patty, a little older, a little more worn-down looking, but still Patty. Not as skinny as she was then, but still sleek and fit-looking.

     Park the car. Shut the engine off. Sit there with one hand on the door handle, remembering the way the heat would hit like someone had opened an oven, or a sauna, any time you opened a door. I can see Patty’s face at thirteen, stacked up on the face from the internet pictures now. Her damp parted lips from then, stacked up on the hard grim line from now.

*****

A New Beginning (a short story)

A New Beginning

(c) 2008 Levi Montgomery

     Miranda sorts through her closet with her face squeezed hard, somewhere between a pout and a frown. Mostly, she’s upset with herself. She really wants to be either really, really cool and aloof and big-deal-who-cares, or else totally angry about the uproar, but all she can manage is to be ticked off. Ticked off about having to dress up, ticked off about not being able to be cool and aloof, ticked off about caring.

     Dress! Who wears dresses anymore? If he thinks sixteen-year-old girls wear dresses, he’s been a lot farther away than anybody ever told her. That might explain why he never wrote. No, it can’t. Nothing can. The blue one. She’ll wear the blue one, and she strips off the pale red one, drops it in the pile. Not pink. Pale red. Not pink. No way she’d even think about wearing pink, not for him. Not for anybody, but totally not for him.

     She drops the blue dress down over her head, but it barely even pauses before she steps out of it. The blue dress joins the pale red one in the rapidly growing pile on the floor, and she stands staring into the closet, her whole face clenched so hard it hurts.

     Maybe he’d like pink. She holds the pink dress up again, looking in the mirror.

     Looking in the mirror, Peter turns sideways. There’s a bit too much Peter hanging over the waistband of the slacks, and he shakes his head in disgust. This is why he wears the jeans he does, big baggy things that’d count as sagging on anybody else, lots of pockets to disguise his shape. This pair’s almost as bad as the first pair, and he sits down, pulls them off carefully, one leg at a time. Carefully, with swift and practiced moves, he fidgets the cuffs together perfectly, slides the hanger down them, drapes them neatly. When they’re perfect, they rejoin their brothers on the closet rod. The third pair, the third pair out of the three pairs he owns that aren’t the big baggy jeans, are the best fit, the least constricting, the least ridiculous. Well, he’ll have to wear something, it’s too late to commit suicide, and he turns to his shirts. A little easier going here; he always wears big baggy tee shirts, but he at least has a white dress shirt that fits him ok. He has to wear it for orchestra, for things that Dr Emerson says aren’t formal enough to merit the tux. He thinks, for a moment, about trying to hang it down over the waistband of the chinos, but discards the thought before his hands can even pause in the tucking.

     He could’ve worn the jeans, actually. Mom told Miranda to wear a dress, and no one thought she was kidding, but then, Mom’s opinions on proper dress are nothing new. Girls wears dresses, in the absence of a “compelling reason” not to. Not that Miranda pays much attention. Telling her to wear a dress didn’t mean he had to dress up, but somehow, he feels the need.

     Carrying his horn and stand, he goes downstairs.

     Katie dresses slowly. When he called yesterday, after the shock, after the long silent sitting in her room, the first thing she did was go to the mall. She didn’t even tell Peter and Miranda, not until today. Her first stop was Victoria’s Secret, and now, stepping from the shower, slowly slowly drying and powdering and oiling, everything she puts on is brand-new. Brand-new for him, from the skin out. Each line of elastic snugged carefully perfect, each fold tucked down just right, every smoothness spread slowly flat, each patch of lace fingered smooth. She stopped at the salon on the way home, for her first-ever bikini wax, and she let them talk her into doing her legs, too.

     She remembers her wedding night. Their wedding night. She’d made him wait, and he’d seemed willing. She hadn’t let him touch her until that night, and she’d spent almost two hours just like this, stroking and tucking and smoothing till everything was perfect for him. That night was a beginning, and tonight will be another. A new beginning, only now she knows how to be what he needs.

     In the living room, Peter spends a few minutes getting the French horn and music stand to look like he practices in here all the time, like he just got up; like he heard a car outside, set down the horn, and stood up to see what was up. Miranda watches, pacing, wearing the pink dress she calls pale red and never wears. He doesn’t like that dress, doesn’t like the way it makes him want to watch her knees. He turns away, leafing through the music on the stand, wondering what piece he should have just gotten up from to go check the street. Seven years ago, her knees were always skinned and scratched. Skinned and scratched like his were, the last time he remembers seeing his father.

     Even then, he was chubby. Even at eleven, maybe especially at eleven. He’d a whole lot rather be in his room with the recorder he’d gotten in third grade, or the old metal clarinet his uncle’d given him a year or so later, pretending he took music lessons like the boy next door, but he’d had to go out in the back yard and “throw a few” with his father.

     Even now, he’s not sure why. They’d done it in the past, but he thought he’d been given up on. He knew he was a disappointment, but he really wasn’t sure what he could have done differently. He just wasn’t that boy, wasn’t that son you could take out in the back yard and “throw a few” with. His father’d left him alone for months, and then suddenly, there he was again, juggling the big stiff mitt, trying to fend off the ball his father threw. The third or fourth time he fell down and cried, his father’d gone inside. He didn’t come home from work the next day, and some deeply hidden, sneaking part of himself still won’t believe that he wasn’t directly responsible.

     Horn and stand as good as they’re going to get, he begins to pace, working opposite to Miranda. She goes north, he goes south. She goes south, he goes north.

     “Seven years,” he says. She just nods, distracted. He wonders how well she remembers. She’d have been what? Nine?

     Mom comes in, looking soft and dreamy and ten years younger. Last week, there was a tea-and-cookie thing after the last concert of the year, and there was this new kid, a trombonist. He’s standing there by Peter and Jackson and some other guys, and he looks up and goes “Wow!” and everybody looks around. “Is that someone’s sister? Man, I’d like to–” and Jackson’s smothering the new kid. “Dude, that’s my mom,” Peter says, calmly. “She’s like, thirty-five,” putting another cookie in his mouth. She’s always looked younger than she is, but right now she looks like she’s not even twenty yet. And happy, she looks happier than he can remember seeing her for a long time.

     “Where’s your school picture, Peter? Why is that there?” pointing at the chess club plaque he hung up an hour ago, where his stupid-looking senior picture was. “He’s not going to care about that, Peter. Put the picture back. Miranda, are you wearing nylons? You’re not wearing nylons. I told you to wear nylons. Get yourself up there and put some on. Peter, hang the picture back up.” Well, happy but anxious.

     “Mom, it’s a picture of me. Just the way I look, right now. He doesn’t need to see a picture of me, when he can see me. Remember how he used to say I spent too much time inside? I needed to go and play with the other boys? I’m proud of that plaque, Mom. I want him to see it,” and something in the way he says that, something firm and tall, makes her relent. She turns to Miranda, ready to stand her ground on nylons, at least, but Miranda’s already headed upstairs.

     She can’t find any nylons, and she calls down to her mother, offering to make the sacrifice and wear jeans after all, but Mom says look in the linen closet, so she does, and there’s half a dozen new pairs in there. Drat. There’s a mirror in the closet door, and she pivots a bit in front of it. Pink. Definitely pink, and she goes into her room. Sliding the the nylons on, hating the icky way they cockle-burr onto her fingers, she studies the ribbons and medals on the wall. Not a bad idea, Peter. Make a stand. This is me. Like it or lump it. Ribbons and medals from cross-country, a couple of trophies from fast-pitch. The cross-country things would have to be hung up, but the trophies are actually a little cheap looking. There’s so much pulse and heartbeat tied up in every one, so many tears, so much of her life, that she’s never noticed that, and doesn’t much care now, but there’s a school picture of her that she can take down, on the wall in the living room. Why take a chance on having him think the trophies are cheesy? Her best medal in hand, she opens the door. Third in the state, last fall.

     Heading for the stairs, she feels a draft in an awkward place, and she has to stop to pull her skirt out of the back of her nylons. This is why I wear jeans, Mom.

     Mom’s gone somewhere by the time Miranda comes back. He watches her come down the stairs, wearing a green dress, longer and fuller than the pink one. This one makes her look like a little girl, all puffy sleeves and a big bow in the back. “You going to a tea party?” and that came out a lot meaner-sounding than he meant it to, but she just grunts at him. All he really meant was the pink one made her look like the girls at school, but he doesn’t think he can tell her that. He turns to the window, watches the stop sign for a while. It’s just standing there, being a stop sign, waving a little in the breeze.

     Tea party. Her father’s knees were up by his ears, sitting in her tiny wooden chair in the back yard. The cup looked like the toy it was, plucked between his thumb and finger like that. When she holds it, it looks real. When she holds it, it is real. The cup, the tea, the cakes, the other guests, all are real, but she doesn’t think he gets it. She thinks he sees a plastic toy, and Kool-Aid, and lemon sandwich cookies, and a bunch of dolls and stuffies. He’d never come to one of her tea parties, back when she still did all this, and then today, he came and asked her if she wanted to. Even for her, the magic’s almost gone now, and she’s sure he isn’t getting it. When he goes inside, she puts the tea cup down and hugs her knees, skirt flapping.

     He didn’t come home from work the next day. She still wonders if it was her tea party that was the last thing he couldn’t stand.

     She takes the picture down and puts it on the piano. It has one of those things that fold out, and it stands there looking like it’s supposed to be there, like maybe there’s some connection between her and the piano. Ha! Fat chance! That shiny black demon hates her with a passion matched only by her hatred for it. She’s hanging the medal up where the picture was when Peter gently rolls a few chords from the old piano. All he has to do is look at it, and it starts to sing for him. Yeah, but he can’t run. Or play first base.

     “Oh, Miranda! Not you, too!” Mom’s back. “You know how he feels, honey. He’s going to see that medal and he’ll think. . . oh, who cares? That is you, isn’t it?” and she sighs a deep sigh. That is Miranda, and the chess club thing is Peter, and if he’s coming back, he’ll just have to get used to it. She can be what he needs, she can be all he needs, and the need he felt for his kids to be some old standard will just have to die. They are what they are, and he’ll love them just as much as he did before. He did, he did love them. He just didn’t know how to show it. Now he will, with her being what he needs.

     She checks her watch, checks the clock on the living room wall, goes into the kitchen and checks the microwave clock. They’re all traitors. They all say he’s twenty minutes late, and there’s no way he’d be late to this. She’d check the clock on the DVD, but they never did get it reset after the last big winter storm. The book was gone, and who can figure out a DVD player with no book? She straightens Peter’s plaque a little, slides her finger down behind the medal’s ribbon for no reason at all, hitches the sheet music on the piano a sixteenth of an inch left, turns the page on Peter’s stand. She doesn’t even notice when he comes along behind her and turns it back.

     Check the clock again. All right, check them all again. They’re still all wrong.

     They all three drift in and out of the living room, never leaving it completely empty, like they’re taking turns on sentry duty. If it’s your turn on sentry duty, you can pace, you can fidget, you can put your fingers on the edge of the window frame and do calf lifts, but you have to check on the stop sign out front every few seconds, just to be sure it’s still there, still being a stop sign, still alone out there.

     Four hours late, a pickup pulls up outside, and they all troop out the door, all thinking they look over-eager, none of them wanting to be last one out.

     For just a second, Peter thinks they were wrong, this isn’t the right truck at all, because a total stranger emerges. But then he recognizes the sweat-stained John Deere hat, and then the bony hands, and then the stranger isn’t a stranger at all, it’s his father.

     “Hey, Sport!” his father says too loudly, “Good to see you! Know you anywhere, Tiger! Chip off the old block!” and he laughs a forced-sounding guffaw. Yep, definitely the right man. He squats back a little, tries to shadow-box with Peter, but Peter still doesn’t know how to respond to that, and he stops. He raps his knuckles a little on Peter’s pudgy belly, saying “Oughta lose a few pounds, there, though, Sport! Lookin’ a little pudgy!”

     “Princess!” holding his arms out to Miranda to be rushed into, but she just looks down at her feet. “It’s good to see you, too, Baby! Still cute as bug, after all these years!” but the moment’s too awkward, too stiff, and he moves on, to the woman he was married to for twelve years.

     “Di– Katie! Long, long time!” he says in lieu of a greeting, watching her eyes. What is that he’s seeing there, in her eyes?

     “Hey! Presents! I have presents!” and he’s turning back to the truck, digging in a big bag, turning back. “Didn’t bother with gift-wrapping!” he says, like they couldn’t see that.

     “Hey, hey, Sport! Hunh?” holding out a football like it means something else, his head on one side, that huge grin glowing. “How ’bout that, hunh?” and every syllable says “Be excited! This is cool!” but it really isn’t. Peter takes the football awkwardly in both hands, and he’d tuck it under his arm like they do on TV, drop down into that stance, put his knuckles on the ground, call out some numbers and dodge slickly past his father, dance that jiggy toe-dance in the end zone, if only he could. He holds the ball awkwardly in both hands, smiling and nodding, the old helpless tears sliding down his mind, way in the back. Come inside, Dad, he says, way in the back. Come inside and hear me play.

     “Princess! I saw this, and it made me think of Daddy’s little girl, right away. I saw it, and it just called out your name, right there in the store!” his hands making a megaphone, being a toy calling out. It’s a soft plastic pony a foot high, glittery pink with a rainbow mane so long it would sweep the ground, if it was real. She thinks it’s really stupid, and she wants to drop down on her knees and play on the gravelly front walk, so he’ll know how much she loves it. She wants to show him her medal in the living room. She wants to show him the cheesy trophies and all the medals she ran so hard to get, so hard she threw up. She wants to throw her arms around him and cry, and tell him she’s sorry, she’ll never do it again, please please please come back, but she doesn’t know what she did.

     “D– Katie, this is for you. I still remember,” he says, like he’s holding back some deep emotion. He hands her a gift-pack of the perfume she wore in high school, the perfume she quit wearing in the first year they were married. He never did remember that, and she takes it from him now with the same old frustration she used to take it from him with every birthday, every anniversary, every Christmas. She hasn’t worn this stuff for years, but she’d wear it now, she’d slosh it all over if it meant he’d follow her up to her room and unwrap the gift she wrapped for him so slowly, so perfectly. She’s opening her mouth to say something about going inside, when he speaks again.

     “Well. . .” he says slowly, like this is something he’d rather not say, “Well. . .” shuffling his toe a little, looking down. “I, uh, yeah. I really don’t have any time, right now. There’s, uh, someone waiting, actually. Met her last night. She’s at the motel now, so, uh. . . Hey, though! Good to see you all! Real good! We gotta do this again, ok?” and then he’s gone.

     “Seven years,” Peter says, when the sound of his truck is gone completely, watching his mother watch the stop sign at the end of the street. “Seven years,” he says, shrugging one shoulder at Miranda as he starts up the stairs. “I hereby declare him dead,” and he’d throw the football clear over the house if he thought he could, but he drops it in the porch swing on the way by, whistling a few bars of Beethoven, his fingers already working the keys of the French horn that waits for him in the living room.

“Remembering” (A Short Story)

I thought I’d post a short story here. This is not a new story (I don’t really write very many short stories), but it will give you a taste of what I do while I hammer out a few more chapters of Blood Bonds, my current novel.

Remembering

(c) 2008 Levi Montgomery

I

Blue. He remembers blue. A blue so deep, so dark, so blue, you can smell it in the back of your throat like swallowing a crayon, like the crayon shavings under your nails from peeling the paper back.
     Strawberry. That clean cool first-lover smell of strawberries. The scrape of her nails, the swift kitten of her hair on his arm, the slick pearl taste of her teeth.
     He remembers the taste of the palm of her hand, the warm drift of her hair in his face, the gentle tug of her teeth on his lip, both hands greedy on the back of his neck, combed into his hair.
     The silken swell of her rising breasts, the taper of her back in the palms of his hands, the untracked dunes of her hipbones, the flat uncharted sea of her stomach.
     Amber. He remembers Amber as he wakes. He’s dreamed of Amber again, dreamed of her still, dreamed of her forever. He sits on the muddled bed, sits in the darkened room, shuffles into his slippers, into his past, into that timeless dream he knew her in so long ago. He peels back the layers of paper, baring the raw blue core of the old dreams.
     She was everything he’d ever wanted from a girl, everything he’d ever even dreamed they could be, from his earliest preteen dreams. She thought her name silly; he thought it mysterious, steeped in time, holding all the frozen relics of the unknown. She thought her dark eyebrows ugly; he thought them perfect counterpoint for her icy hair. She thought her hands too big and ugly; he thought them perfect embodiments of grace.
     In the stark bichromatic perfection of hindsight, she is plainer than in the Kodachrome of dream, but he loved her then and he loves her now, standing in his slippers at the window, his fingertips pressed to the slick cool glass. The moon blurs across the sky, a time machine dragging him forward into that black and silver past.
     Black and silver. Black and white. Right and wrong. Amber and Dana. Dana was everything he’d ever thought wrong about girls. Tall and lean and alive, her perfect eyes, her perfect breasts, watching him, luring him. Everything he’d ever thought wrong.
     He met Amber in the first week at the new school, perhaps the first day. He ran into her, actually, rounding a corner in the musty booming echoes of the old building, head down in the schedule in his hand, puzzling the details from it, prizing out the clues. He rounds the corner and bumps into a girl, the girl, the one in his dreams for so long. Her long hair an icy blond, her eyes the blue of dreams, the blue of life, her eyebrows darker, beetled down in frustration perhaps, but her mouth is grinning, the wide mouth of his dreams, the lips he’s kissed so many times. He’s never seen her. He’s new here.
     He watches her lips quirk as he says “Oh! Sorry! Wasn’t watching where I was going,” and she points him on, on to the room he’s seeking and on through his life, moving away down the hall. At the corner, she looks back, looks a deep electric shock into his still-hooked eyes. He’s never seen her. He’s known her forever.
     Not there, she haunts his morning classes, watching him from the corners of his eyes. He can’t see her straight on. He smells her scent in the breeze of his mind, feels the flow of her hair on his face. He can taste her perfect lips, the salt of her straining neck, as he writes out answers to useless chalky questions.
     He sees her in the lunchroom, goes to her half-filled table.
     “May I sit here?” he asks them, asks her, asks only her. She nods, and though the others may have answered also, he can’t hear them in his memory. He can’t remember the words of that first time, can’t remember any of the questions or answers, the dreams stated, the revelations made and discovered. He remembers laughter. He remembers her eyes flashing and flicking in the cold white light, the gleam on her icy blond hair, the long slipping slope of his helpless plunge.
     He remembers watching her breasts move, watching her shoulders move, her hips scoot her forward as she makes some deep-held point, her hands flying like moths. The others may not have been there at all. The memories may be tangled, now, may be braided together with other times. There were so many other times.
     She’s in all his afternoon classes, and by the time they get to the first, they’re together. They walk together, sit together, move to the buses together. He touches her hands the very first time there at the buses, taking her fingers in his for one eternal instant, taking her eyes in his, breathing her warm scent and telling her he’ll see her tomorrow.
     Touching her the first time. So many first times. The first time he kissed her, the first time he touched her breast, the first time he moved his hand to her buttons, his eyes on hers, his thoughts on hers. So many first times. So many more times.
     The weeks rolled by in a long perfection of time, just time together, simple time passing as they lived their perfect moments. He’d start thoughts and she’d finish them. She’d move her hand a certain way, and he’d be the rest of the movement. They’re one voice in two minds, one curve drawn with two pens. They are perfection itself, the perfection of timing, the perfection of movement, the perfection of being.
     Chestnuts, fallen. Park benches where they cuddled in the fall cold. The laughter and snowballs of winter. The green of crocuses, the pulsing rebirth of spring, he remembers all these things as blue, the deep blue of belief, the blue of her eyes. The blue of love.
     Dana. Amber’s best friend Dana. Dana watched him from the first, the flickers of her ember eyes telling him things he didn’t get. When Amber missed three days to a bad cold in late spring, Dana talked to him, comforted him, kept him company in the interminable lunch times. She flashed those eyes at him, heaved her breasts, finally made one certain move one time too many. She tapped the spin of some ancient flywheel deep inside herself, threw him on that potter’s wheel, worked the clay of his mind into a flat and shallow vessel, a vessel incapable of thought, incapable of logic.
     When Amber came back to school, he was gone. He was there, but he was gone, melted into the puddle of Dana. Dana was everything he’d ever thought wrong about girls. Mean and shallow-minded, vindictive. She’d hated Amber for years. When she laughed that last time and walked away from him, two days later, Amber was gone, melted into a puddle of hatred she never came back from.
     His hands to the window of his lonely bedroom, his fingers wrinkled, his eyes faded, his thin body shivering in flannel pajamas, he remembers blue and strawberries and icy blond hair.
     He remembers Amber as he drifts toward that welcome sleep.

II

The drawer won’t actually slam, of course, it’s far too discreet for that, but she bets that’s harder than it’s been banged shut in all its hundred-plus years, and the carpet’s too soft to let her heels sound their anvil chorus as she marches to the table, but two glass paperweights and a fifth of single-malt fire a nice angry salvo when she dumps this last armload down by the box. They’ll hear her, all right, all those sniggering losers out there with their keyboards up their butts! She’ll see to it they at least hear her! She’s spent the best years of her life trying to control the emotions of others, and look where it got her! Fifty-nine! Fifty-nine and the snow globe from Paris sails nicely through the frosted glass and into a sudden shivering silence. Oh, they’ll hear her! They’ll yammer about this day for years. They’ll probably get a bodyguard to escort the next one out, after today. The crystal whale almost goes through the big window over the street, but the lawyer in her screams something about liability, and then it almost follows the Eiffel Tower into the outer office, but she hears his voice in her mind’s ear, and then she’ll smash it down on the table, but a smaller, softer voice somewhere whispers something, and she sets it gently into the box, instead.
     Fifty-nine. Not even sixty, not even the sixty-five they’d all expected of her, much less the seventy-five or eighty she’d planned on. Fifty-nine! Fifty-nine years old, twenty-seven years at Lehman, Lehman, Hammarskold, and this is how they repay her! Damage control, they called it. Fair enough, that lawyer part murmurs, fair enough. She’d said the same thing when they’d dumped Albertson last year, even though she’d known it was all so her boss could move up. Best way up the ladder, she’s found. Help your boss move up. And drop your panties for him, go to your knees for him. Whatever.
     But now she’s not even moving, not slamming things any more, not stomping, and her fingers soothe the crystal whale like she’d make it sing, a wine glass whispering in a quiet room, a sad wind sighing in a stony desert somewhere.
     A deep breath like she’ll sigh herself, and catch it hard at the last moment, force it out like anger from her core, and she and her boxful of years stomp one last time out through the silence.

She saw him, actually, just a couple months ago. Crossing a street toward his car, and the shaking in his hand was probably just the struggle to sort keys one-handed. The look of age was probably just the affectation of the hat and the old-fashioned haircut. He wore a brown overcoat against the fall chill, and she was so stricken by his age that she’d done the math. Sixty, he’d be. That’s not old. Why’s he look so old?
     Driving one-handed, she cuddles the whale in her lap, like it matters to her. When he gave it to her, she’d known his time was up. Never take a gift from a boy, she’d decided. Well, not really. Take the gift, take the next half-dozen, but begin to plan his downfall as your hand reaches out toward that first one. The whale means nothing to her, and she’ll put it back in the box so she can drive, but she tucks it safely back into her lap, fitting her hand along the curve of its breaching back.
     That first time, the time at the swimming hole by the river. You swing out on this big rope swing, dropping from the top of the arc, and if you tie your swimsuit top just that perfect bit too loose, it slides off as you go under, and floats away toward where he stands on the bank. “Don’t worry!” he calls to her, wading out. “I’ll bring it out to you!” embarrassed and blushing, but nowhere near as flustered as he is when he gets there, and she hands him her cut-offs, grinning with a practiced coyness.
     Then, on the riverbank, in the tall sweet grass, that sweet release again, like nothing she can ever do for herself. She tries, and it’s okay, but this… this is what it’s all about, right here. This is why she’s sought out all those boys, ever since she was thirteen. “This is my first time, so go slow, ok?” she whispers to them in a little shivery silver voice. “No, no, it doesn’t hurt!” she tells them, squinching the skin by the corners of her eyes, baring her teeth a tiny bit, biting the edge of her lip, blinking hard. “It’s fine, it’s just that it’s so– big!” Works every time.
     That’s the trick that got her all her jewelry and a good part of her clothing, all through school. It got her that summer clerk spot under old Judge Robard, and the internship with Evans and Evans the following summer. It got her this job, for that matter. And it got her fired.
     It probably wouldn’t have shattered if she had slammed it down on the table. It would have been best to chuck it through that big plate-glass window after all, and somewhere in her mind, she storms back into the office, just so she can, just so she can see the looks on all their faces. Somewhere in her mind, she circles the blocks back around to the building and slams it through from the outside, but all she does is drive one-handed, her hand snugged down along the whale’s back, tears on her face and clouds in her mind.
     When he gave it to her, it was clear he’d saved for months. It was clear there’d be no more for quite a while, too, so she started planning. Dana. Sweet, naïve, subservient Dana. She’d give him to Dana, and kill that old bird with the same stone.
     In first grade, they’d walked to school together, she and Dana. If she got mad at someone at school, she’d slap Dana’s back just barely too hard to be play, over and over and over all the way home. She’d make Dana walk three steps behind her, telling her it was to give her a chance to think about her tone of voice. In the giggling, running girl games at recess, she’d volunteer Dana for all the bad parts in the playing. If they played school, Dana was the dunce. If they played house, Dana got stood in the corner.
     But by their junior year, Dana’s dog-like patience was getting annoying, and she wound her up with hints about how Tyson was getting restless, she was getting worried, he was looking at Dana like he maybe saw greener grass on the other side of that fence. You’re my best friend, Dana! I’ve known you forever! What can I do, how can I keep him? Then she skipped school for three days, and when she came back, neither of them was ever going to bug her again.

The fifth of single-malt from her desk helps her through a long slow evening, sudden fits of anger threaded on a string of melancholy, and when it’s gone, she snatches it up to smash it through the window, but she stops, her fingertips pressed to the cold cold glass, to watch the moon slide down between the city towers.

III

All six kids together in the house again, and every time she thinks that, it makes her cry again. No sound, just two big tears that come and quiver on her eyelids like they’ll fall, but then they subside again. All six kids in the house together, the living ends of six long strands through time and space, leading away to those distant points where they each began. Those strands lead through Iraq, through Afghanistan, through car wrecks and tornados and one smoky, spark-riddled, sliding emergency landing in a 747, but they all come together here, and she’ll cry this time, she’ll drop those two tears this time, but they subside again.
     It always happens this way. Every time she can get them all together again, every time she can gather up those strands and knit them together one more time, she ends up on the couch in the living room surrounded by her photo albums. The kids are all off in the yard, or in the TV room, or playing the Xbox. Well, kids. Evelyn, the youngest of the bunch, is twenty-one already, treated by her brothers as just one more boy. She was the one in the 747.
     They’ll come and look at the albums with her, at first, paging backward through time, but then the time gets too far back, the pictures too old, and one by one, they’re gone. She keeps turning pages, keeps slipping further and further back as the evening wears on, fighting down her two old friends every time she hears a blur of laughter from another room.
     Here’s the wreckage of their last tornado, the one that decided them. The house looks like so much splintered wood, and the old Chevy’s parked in the elm like it belongs there. Look how young Dan looks, his arm around her waist, his hair wind-blown. “We’ll rebuild!” he’d laughed the first time. “It’s not too bad,” he’d said the second time. The third time in nine years, he’d said, was too much.
     Here’s that big picnic, the last time they got all their friends together. Two years out of school, and everybody’s already moving on. Jobs, and college, and careers. Her barely-started family was her career, the only career she’d ever wanted, and the two tears appear again, but they’re gone before she can threaten them with her clutched kleenex. Look how young she looks there. She sits up a little straighter, lifts her breasts a little higher. Dan still says she’s sexy, but she’s begun to doubt his sanity.
     Look, here’s a clipping from the small-town paper, vicariously celebrating, local-girl-makes-it-big. Summer clerk’s position for Judge Robard, all the way in New York City, two hours drive. Amber smiles grimly from a blurry head-shot, gilded letters unreadable on frosted glass behind her. They hadn’t talked at all since their junior year, but when her mother sent this to her, she couldn’t bring herself to throw it away. They hadn’t talked since…
     And look, here he is. Her one picture of him, cut from the yearbook. She’d had others, she’d taken dozens, but they all had Amber in them, and they didn’t survive the upheaval of her late teens. The doubts, the darkness and depression, the long grim evenings with the razor blade from Dad’s garage held ready, but never used. And then she’d used it finally, used it to slice up all the pictures she’d ever taken of Amber, all the pictures she’d ever taken of Tyson, the one long letter she’d written him and never sent. Used it to slice herself away from all that past. From that small pile of shredded regrets, she finally could go on, and the blade had never called her name again.
     Here’s Amber again, though. Her mother sent her this, too. Two little girls, dressed up for their first day of second grade. What’s that look in little Amber’s eyes? What’s in Dana’s? She thought for years that Amber was her best friend, and then Tyson shook that all up. Three days. Three days she’ll never forget, although she never thinks of them. She thought he was the one. That last night, before Amber came back to school and he disappeared into that eddy of bewildered longing, she remembers that night even now. She wouldn’t let him do it right, she made him use his hand, but in her view, that shuddering gasping violet haze is when she lost her virginity. She has no doubt now, he was wrong for her, but only because Dan was better.
     The evening’s gone dark and cool now, and she stands with her hands against the glass of the window, watching the moon. Remembering.

***

Read more of my short stories here.

It’s Saturday Again? Where’d My Week Go?

All she wants is to hide her scarred face.
all he wants is to take the perfect portrait.

Sometimes the deepest secrets are hidden behind the thinnest veils.

 

The first five chapters of Light Always Changes are up now. If you’re getting impatient, you can buy the book here.

introduction
chapter one
chapter two
chapter three
chapter four
chapter five