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Misfit

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My people, Josh and Stephanie, named me Misfit after their favorite punk band. I have soft brown and white fur, a pointed nose, and a long skinny tail. It is a thrill to go places riding on the hood of Josh’s sweatshirt. I'm a mild kind of fellow, and don’t cause any trouble, so I am bewildered when other people see me and act wild and crazy.

We were riding the bus last week. I poked my head out of the hood to see what was happening, when this straggly haired, toothless old woman starting screeching and waving her hands around and yelling, “A rat, an ugly rat!” She quickly pulled the stop cord and the bus driver pulled over at the next stop. The old woman hobbled out the door, cursing the whole way. I should have been the one screeching. The bus driver came back to investigate and Josh told her I was a service animal. What could she say? She just shook her head and went back to her driver’s seat. Two young punks in leather jackets chuckled and made a rude comment. "What a rat trap this is." they sneered. I hear plenty of nasty comments from strangers and it hurts my feelings, but Josh and Stephanie ignore them and continue to suck each other’s face. I have no idea why they do that, but they do it any chance they get.

When Stephanie had long hair, I loved to cuddle on her shoulder and hide in it, but then she shaved half of it off and dyed the other side cherry red. It stands up in spikes. Stephanie takes a lot of time to smear this black stuff on her eyes and lips, and wears a silver ring in her nose. It really grosses me out when she has a cold and it drips all over the place. I jump over to Josh when that happens. They eat strange stuff like hamburgers, French fried potatoes, pizza, and gummy worms. My fur would be a lot nicer if they would eat some greens I could share, but they never buy any. I tried to eat grass one time, but it stuck in my teeth and gave me a bellyache. Occasionally, they buy a banana or an apple, and I'm thrilled to get bites of those.

I decided my life isn’t so bad when I heard about my cousins. Humans kept them in a cage and fed them strange foods. Joe lost all his fur, Mabel couldn’t walk because her bones were misshapen, and Sylvester lost so much weight he died. Whew: that was a bad scene.

Some distant relatives of mine lived in an old house. They were content because there was a big attic and cellar, and the walls had plenty of space to travel throughout the house. The people were not good housekeepers, so there was plenty of food around. One night, Elmer got hungry but was too lazy to go to the kitchen. Instead, he chewed on some wires and got zapped, then the house didn’t have any lights. The next day, a big truck arrived and put out traps and poison disguised as corn. That was the end of that clan.

Another one of my cousin lives close to a river and has the run of the place. He finds plenty to eat in all the gardens nearby. He has grown so big that cats are scared of him. No one messes with Big Al. He lives outside all year long, and it gets cold in the winter, but he doesn’t seem to mind. He can always find a warm place to stay.

It is beyond me why people go all google-eyed over guinea pigs, rabbits, cats, and dogs, but I have this horrible reputation. Life just isn't fair. But when I look around and see some pampered people who have everything, and others who live in the gutter, I am just happy to have found two people who give me a good life.

The Sky is Falling

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Chicken Little JR remembered her grandmother. A plump, white-feathered gal with lacey feathered feet. A real dish according to the stories. She knew the story by heart. Grandma screamed, “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” So many of her friends joined in the hysteria. No one really knows how the story ended, but after Grandma’s disappearance they had their suspicions that maybe the fox and his friends weren’t as friendly as Grandma thought.

In November 2016, Chicken Little JR felt something and knew the sky was falling! She tried to remain calm, but when she told her friends they became hysterical. “Now, now, “clucked Chicken Little JR. “We don’t want a repeat of Grandma’s fate.” They thought for a while, and then devised a plan. They decided to march with placards, make phone calls and send letters reporting that the sky is falling.

Chicken Little JR and her friends tried to talk with the fox and his friends, but all they got was a toothy grin and an invitation to come into their den.  “Not this time,” said Chicken Little JR.

Piggly Pig refused to listen and followed fox and his friends into the den. After several days, the fox tried to lure Chicken Little JR into the den with some fresh moo shoo pork. The rest of his gang jeered at Chicken Little JR.” You’re crazy, the sky isn’t falling. It a sunny day.” The fox and his cronies refused to see the devastation and death in parts of the country where the sky had fallen.

Chicken Little JR had a few converts. Bernie the burro brayed as hard as he could and Michael the mule joined him. Al, the wise old owl, flew from tree to tree yelling, “The sky is falling, why don’t you give a hoot?”

Chicken Little JR and friends worked tirelessly and knew the only way to change things was to get the fox and his cronies out of the den. One day her distant cousin, the golden eagle, came to visit. When she heard the dire situation, she hatched a plan. “I will carry off the smaller foxes and will get help from my friends in the forest.” Soon the badgers and wolves formed a coalition. They soon ended the reign of the evil foxes. Chicken Little JR and friends cheered and cheered. They elected Bernie the burro to ensure that no more of the sky would fall

The Reflecting Pool

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June’s sun drilled heat and humidity into the early evening air around him. With the Washington Monument on the right and the Lincoln Memorial on his left, the Reflecting Pool stretched before him like a blank page on which to write his next chapter. He had to make his decision by the end of the shift. The park surrounding the Pool, with its bugs, butterflies, birds, and squirrels always put him at ease. He found it a good place to clear his mind and contemplate.

With the building that temporarily housed the Agency where he worked hovering behind him, he considered his options. They talked of a posting in Rome. He recalled Allen Dulles, who led the only spy ring to penetrate the German High Command during WWII undetected. This offer sent him on a romantic, if anxious, fantasy. Growing up in DC, he had met children from foreign lands. He had friends whose parents worked for America around the world. He knew he was meant for this life. And Rome, sliding through the shadows of history, treading marble steps worn smooth by the centuries of pilgrims, strolling along roadways laid down for Roman legions who conquered the western world, catching the echoes of Caesar and Cicero, Saints Peter and Paul, maybe Chianti at every meal, “Ciao” espresso and, better yet, sultry brown-eyed women. The romance of a life overseas while working for the good of democracy found fertile ground in his dreams. Too much to ask for? Maybe. But why not him? And they wanted an answer before his shift ended at midnight.

Until his talk last week with his confessor, Father Tom, his answer would have been easy. But Father Tom talked about how a guy could fulfill those same dreams through work as a missionary. He said the young man was a great candidate for the rigorous life of a Dominican Friar. Africa, Asia, the world waiting for a guy ready to sweat blood for God. The life of a friar was the only true life of service to mankind. A friar is one of God’s he-men. The words, “God’s he-men,” flashed in bold, large-point caps across his mind. Besides, Father Tom could guarantee a full scholarship to finish college, then on to ordination and finally off to save the world. When Father Tom spoke, the young man could smell the incense, hear the chant in the priory chapel every morning, feel the white and black habit wrapping him in service and grace.

“You need to think about making your spiritual life your first priority, son. Then you can focus on your service to your fellow man. God’s path isn’t always without pain, but it’s worth it. Sacrifice and courage; pray about it, son, everything will come out right.”

On the park bench in the midst of that hot summer’s eve he had to ask, which called to his heart more? Is it to be a life of a celibate, of sacrifice and service to God and human souls, or a life of service to country and democracy? Don’t forget the romance of Rome – oh yes, and the beautiful women. A celibate in the halls of the priory or a celebrant in the dancehall, incense or perfume, the blood of Christ or the blush of a woman?

As he finished the last of his meal, he said a quick prayer: give me clarity, Lord, a sign, any sign. He swatted at a fly buzzing his food, when he noticed the squirrel. The bushy-tailed critter had been playing a game of peanut tag with him for several months now. He kept a few unsalted peanuts on hand to offer it. At first he flipped a couple of nuts a few feet in front of the squirrel to see if it would take them. Each time it did, he dropped one a little closer. Lately he would hold one in his hand to see if the squirrel had the courage to take it from him. The squirrel got within an inch or two the last few weeks, but would not take that last step. Tonight he would hold it on his fingertips and speak to the squirrel.

“So what is it to be tonight, my friend? Do I drop the treat on the ground or do you take the chance and take it out of my hand?”

The sound of his voice seemed to calm the squirrel. It edged closer, sniffed the air, put out a tentative paw, minced forward a bit more, sniffed the outstretched hand, nosed the fingers, and finally lunged in to take the tidbit. Ow!  The squirrel bit his finger. The squirrel drew blood. Damn, that puts an exclamation point on things. He cradled his wound in his lap and took a deep, slow breath. His gaze drifted back to the calm waters of the Reflecting Pool. What was it Saint Augustine called for in his prayer? Something like, “Let me be holy, Lord, but not yet.” Beautifully said, Augustine. And let’s be honest here, is he working in the cathedral of morality? Is the CIA the place to nurture the righteous life? Revolutions in Central America, the Bay of Pigs, Francis Gary Powers? Probably not. Probably not. The chattering squirrel brought him back to the moment. The young man raised his hand to his face, smelled his own sweet blood and smiled.

 Blood it is.

The Light From Within

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The day sat heavily in front of me, like an opponent judging the moment to strike. I knew it would not be a pretty picture if I continued to sit here and moan about it.  What was this day to bring?  Who would win; me or the day?  Thoughts of varying degrees of gloom gripped my mind. To survive, I had to move.

Shoving my feet into a pair of old blue sneakers, I stepped outside, determined to push the darkness out.  Replacing it—I hoped—with thoughts better suited to such a bright summer day.

The local park has a wide cement sidewalk circling the playground area, and it was my third trip around before I spotted the message written on the walkway.  In neat lettering, someone had written in rainbow colored chalk, “Nothing can dim the light from within,” and it stopped me in my tracks.

The thoughts raging in my head as I walked were variations on a theme of life being one long, slow process of destroying the hope and enthusiasm I had started it with.  But here—now—was this message.  What did it mean?

As I stared at it, I wondered if it had been there all the time.  Was I so caught up in my own world of darkness I had failed to see it?  Did someone just write it while I was on the other side of the park; but a quick glance around provided no suspects in the vicinity. Did I ask for help?  Could this be a message from the universe? Was I being judged?

I was beginning to feel a little dizzy, and walked over to sit under a large shade tree to think about the meaning of it all.  Closing my eyes, I lay back on the still cool grass and   began to feel lightness along with a sense of tranquility, as if I were now protected by some invisible shield. But where did it come from? 

Humming a little as I lay there, it suddenly hit me like a bolt—the message read, it comes from within and it was then I began to understand. We need to make it for ourselves.

For me, the light within is peace and the day ahead nothing to fear, for it is nothing more than a clean slate.   

I'mNot Fat

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I’m not fat,

I’m just hiding

from the world of pain

I’ve had to endure.

I’m still a person

with lots of love to give.

 

Underneath my blanket,

which everyone calls fat,

I’m just Rebecca,

not a worthless person,

a monster, or a lazy user.

Food is my comfort,

and it likes to hang around,

and I’m still looking for Becky

underneath the covering that

surrounds my body.

 

I still laugh, but mostly cry,

but not for myself.

My pain has consumed me,

having to watch others,

the ones I love,

suffer in so much pain.

A donut, a brownie, chocolate-

chocolate chip.

Consoling me as the

sugar slides on down,

landing in the middle.

I call the family curse

what people don’t understand.

 

Is it better to have a love

for food that stays like an

old friend,

or to be heartless and

not even care

when others suffer, and there

is so much pain?

Children molested, starved

and beaten, hungry and cold.

This kind of pain rips at

my soul.

 

My blanket is warm

and surrounds my heart.

Someday maybe I can

remove it and get a fresh start.

Why can’t people take the

time to see?

Hey! Underneath this blanket there is a ME.

Hurt, suffering and pain.

But having extra pounds to

others is not the same.

Drinkers, smokers, druggers,

gamblers and liars are shown empathy,

but when it comes to fat,

you should hide in shame.

Little Red Riding Hood- Take Two

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Little Red Riding Hood loved walking through the woods. She carried her basket filled with prunes and bran muffins on her trip to visit her old grandmother. Katie loved the woods and never was afraid.  She was entertained by the song birds and the squirrels who performed tricks for her by whirling and jumping from tree branch to tree branch. On her many walks, she had befriended a wolf pack and they trusted her around their pups.

Grandma has been a hunter in her younger days and shot any animal that came into sight. She had made the red cape and lined it with rabbit fur. Katie was opposed to killing wild animals, but loved her Grandma, so she wore the cape on her weekly visits.

It was June and Katie stopped to pick some huckleberries. She kept picking and eating the juicy berries, walking deeper into the woods. Suddenly a mother bear reared up on her hind legs, growling and gnashing her gigantic sharp teeth. Katie screamed and backed away, but the mama bear kept growling and crashing through the brush. Her cubs followed at a safe distance. As Katie backed away from the bear, she bumped into a huge oak tree. The bear took a swipe at Katie, but only caught the red hood, suspending her in midair. Just as the bear pulled Katie closer to her sharp teeth, a pack of snapping and growling wolves surrounded the bear. The alpha female wolf went after the cubs. Enraged, the bear dropped Katie and ran to protect her cubs. Katie ran for her life with the wolves running beside her. Grandma had heard the commotion and was out on the porch. She was aiming the shotgun at the wolves. “No, no Grandma. The wolves saved me!” Exclaimed Katie. Grandma’s hearing was poor and all she heard was “wolves” Her eyesight was failing so she just aimed and fired toward the noise, grazing Katie’s arm. The wolves scattered and ran into the woods, quickly escaping from this crazy old woman. Katie’s yelp and stream of profanity stopped Grandma in her tracks.  Grandma bandaged Katie’s wound while listening to her story of how the wolves had saved her. She was ashamed and put away her gun. “It is time to make peace with the animals,“she said. The cape was in shreds, but she promised to make another one without the rabbit fur. Grandma kept the prunes and muffins and sent Katie on her way with a thick steak for her wolf friends.                                                                     

Rocky the Noble Spider Saves the World

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After her arduous journey up the stainless-steel leg of the stockbroker’s desk, and across a desert of fake mahogany, Rocky finally hopped onto the stockbroker’s keyboard, the “shift” key, specifically. She shouted as loudly as possible, and finally the stockbroker noticed her, on that shift key, and prepared to squish her. 

“Stop!” Cried Rocky. “Please, stop. I’ve come such a great distance.  Don’t let it end this way, I beg of you.”

Amazingly, the stock broker did stop.  Furrowing his brow in puzzlement, he bent over so near to the keyboard that all Rocky could see for a minute was an army of mid-sized pores on the stockbroker’s nose. 

“Am I having a conversation with a spider?”

“You are, yes. I have business here.”

“I don’t believe I’ve ever had a spider client before.”

“Your loss.”

The stockbroker’s eyeballs shifted down left as he struggled to process what was happening.

“I wish,” continued Rocky, “to invest in socially responsible securities.”

“Well, but —may I ask who referred you?  How did you learn about me?”

“I saw your commercial on the TV in the employee break room.”

“Here?”

“It was on CNN.”

“Here?”

“No, I believe CNN broadcasts remotely from some place down town.”

“I mean you. You were watching the TV in our break room?”

“Of course. I live here. You can find my website right above the floorboard under the microwave. It’s a great location. Your colleague Maxine can’t pull anything out of the microwave without spilling. Perhaps she has Parkinson’s. A spot of hot chocolate on the floor, and the ants come running. Voila! There’s my dinner.  What a life! I am blessed.  And now I want to share. I wish to invest in socially responsible securities.”

“You’ll have to forgive me,” said the stockbroker. “This is a radically new idea for me.”

“I’m a radical spider.”

“OK. OK. You say you wish to invest in socially responsible securities.”

“Bingo. Good for you. You’re catching on.”

“How much?

“Huh?”

“How much do you wish to invest. What is your medium of exchange? Pesos?  Euros? Yen?”     

“Oh, I see. I have 6,221 ant skeletons squirreled away on the bottom supply cupboard shelf in the employee break room. It’s a fortune.”

“Ant skeletons?”

“Yep.” 

“I’m very sorry, Ms. Spider—”

“Just call me Rocky.”

“Rocky’s a boy’s name.”

“Don’t give me grief about that.”

“The bottom line is ant skeletons are not on any medium of exchange that we recognize here.”

“What are you saying?”

“I am saying that you will not be able to invest in socially responsible securities, or any other securities, for that matter.

“Noooooooooo . . .”

“Right. No.”

“Noooo.” There was a long silence. Finally, Rocky spoke again.

“I feel so crushed.”

“I can arrange that,” said the stockbroker, lifting a finger.

“Stop!” Rocky said. “I’ll go peaceably.”

Rocky seemed so sad. The stockbroker felt an unfamiliar twinge of guilt.

“It’s OK. I don’t think spiders are put on this earth to invest in socially responsible securities.”

“I just wanted to make the world a better place.”

If spiders could cry, Rocky would have been wading home in a pool of her tears.  The stockbroker scratched around in his head for comforting words.

“Rocky. Rocky. Listen.”

“La la la la la.”

“Listen, you already make the world a better place, just doing your spider job.”

“I do?”

“If you weren’t in the break room eradicating ants, we’d have to call in the Pest Control guts. And they’d spray down the place. Squirt something from Monsanto.  And that would be really bad.”

“It would?”

“You couldn’t get more socially responsible, stopping that. You’re saving the world from Monsanto.”

“I’m saving the world!”

“You are! Well, this office, at least.”

“Gee,” said Rocky. “Gee.”

The stockbroker felt curiously better.

“Well,” said Rocky. “Guess I’ll move along now. I’m so glad I consulted you.”

“Goodbye now.

And Rocky went back to the employee break room, and the stockbroker went back to business as usual.

Game of Life

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The deadline was the next day. She vacillated about doing it for days. Her mind was a complete fog, causing loss of concentration at work and forgetting to pack her daughter’s lunch.  Mandy heard the news just three weeks ago and was stunned. “How could this be? What shall I do?” The questions kept her awake at night and she walked around like a zombie during the day. Her life has been routine until now.  A single woman with an eight-year-old daughter. Mandy is proud that she is raising her daughter on her own, making ends meet by working as a restaurant server and occasionally substituting for the chef. She loves to cook, and felt she was very creative. Her dream is to own her own restaurant someday. But it is only a dream. She lives paycheck to paycheck and hoped to avoid any catastrophe that would cause her to lose her apartment or her job. Her few friends were people she worked with, and they were in the same situation.

Joe was a short little man with a round belly and bulging eyes. He reminded Mandy of a toad. He managed to sit in her section of the restaurant every time he came in for a meal. Joe always had a big smile when he saw her. She smiled back, but felt he was just a bit creepy. He didn’t fit the stereotype of a common laborer, but always dressed in slightly dirty painter pants and a T-shirt that barely covered his big belly. Mandy knew she was being judgmental. Her X-husband was a handsome guy, but knocked her around and never took her opinion seriously. She quickly learned her lesson and left him with her four- year-old daughter to start a new life.

The eviction notice came two weeks ago. No reason was given. Just orders to vacate the premises with in the month. Mandy was frantic. She had no place to go, no family to help, and unable to afford any apartment in the area. She couldn’t hide her distress, and Joe noticed it quickly. Mandy couldn’t stop herself from telling him about her dilemma. He came back the next day and made her an offer. He had a big house which he was renovating. She and her daughter could have their own bedrooms.   He needed a housekeeper and cook, and would pay her a small salary. He would pay her a little extra if she wanted to paint or help with renovations. Mandy hated the idea of having to depend on a man again. What would he expect? She was not attracted to him. She asked many questions and made it clear that it was a business deal. Joe agreed. He gave her to the end of the week to decide.

Mandy and her daughter moved into the huge house. The seven bedrooms and three bathrooms had been renovated and were very pleasant. The rest of the house was in shambles with cracked plaster, creaky steps, and missing tiles on the kitchen floor. Her daughter was happy because she could stay in the same school and had neighborhood children to play with. Mandy spent her days painting, doing housework, cooking, and learning carpentry. She became proficient at dry walling and painting.

Joe was always kind, and they thought of him as the big brother they never had. He worked at Intel during the day, occasionally played cards with them, and then locked himself in a small room remaining there until morning. The only sound Mandy ever heard was a faint clicking, but Joe never explained. The door was always locked during the day.

Several years passed. Mandy had time to become involved in her daughter’s school activities, take cooking classes at the local college, and was content with their lives.

One morning Joe didn’t appear at breakfast. She thought he left for a conference and forgot to tell her. After several days, there was a strong odor coming from the locked room. Alarmed, Mandy called the police.  The detective knew immediately that it was the smell of death. They broke open the door. The room was filled with computers and the walls were covered with swords and knives. Joe was slumped in a chair in front of a screen that read, “You Are Dead!” The gaming addiction had become real to Joe and he succumbed to his virtual enemy.  There was no sign of foul play, although Joe held a sword in his tightly closed fist.

Mandy was in total shock! When she was able to think again she wondered what would happen to her now.

They found a will. The house was left to Mandy with the stipulation that she run it as a bed and breakfast for gamers.

 

                                                                               

 

Still Significant

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First meeting, small town hangout in diner parking lot

Astride his motorcycle, he holds court to young admirers

Hanging back, she is presented more than introduced

Relaxed and smiling, asks if she wants a ride

Excited and watchful, accepts her first of many

 

He becomes her everything, she becomes his

His family and friends adopt her, and she them

Without looking back, they move in

A life together, simple but enough

Working at diner, he cooks, she waits tables

Both young, waiting for wonderful

 

Blushing at unexpected attention, she blossoms

Observing others looking, he blames her

Fearing she may leave him for another, he blames himself

Craving love and each other, neither knows how

Searching for answers in drink, he is miserable and unkind

Wanting answers for herself, she leaves to find them

 

Years pass, both trying to make a better life

Needing a friend, she searches him out

Guarding his heart, watching her face but not her eyes

Talking nervously, wondering why she came

Barely breathing, knowing he will give whatever she needs

Seeing his painful restraint, she cannot ask

Watching her drive away, he thinks ……. someday

 

Time passes, each begins to find their own ways

Hearing where she works, he visits her

Talking easily, pleased to see each other looking well

Proudly and calmly, he tells her about his job and new love

Watching him walk away, she thinks ……. someday

 

More years go by, she dates versions of him, he does the opposite

Grown children, both find other loves

Crossing paths again, they sense a strong connection

Having found themselves, they understand each other

Going their separate ways, they thinking ……. someday

 

 

 

 

 

That Day on the River

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The day Twerp fell in the river I remember wishing I hadn't yelled at her like that. I mean some of us are just born a pain in the you-know-what, and the rest of us are, well, easier to get along with. We were up the Badger River in central Alaska on a family fishing trip, which we did almost every weekend in the summer. By “we” I mean Mom, Dad, my sister, Twerp, my brother, Twig and me.

The Badger is a dangerous river, cold and swift, with invisible whirlpools, backwashes and sweepers (low-hanging branches just waiting to scrape some poor kid off a boat). It was a nice day in June, though, so it didn't seem like a time when anything bad could happen. I was about ten years old, which meant Twerp would have been seven.

The ride upriver to the cabin took a couple of hours. Once we got there, Dad tied the boat to the water pump, and I started fooling around with it. It was fun to pump the handle hard until river water gushed out all over the place. The minute I started having some fun though, Twerp started horning in.

"My turn," she insisted, trying to pull my hands off the pump handle. "You have to take turns."

"No I don’t," I said. "There's plenty of stuff to do around here. Go find your own fun."

"It's not fair," Twerp said, stomping her feet. To listen to Twerp, she was always getting the short end of some stick. "I'll tell Mom," she said. Now, there was nothing that made me want to do my sister's bidding less than her threats to take things to upper management. I maintained a firm grip on the pump.

"Mom!" Twerp yelled toward the cabin. "Twyla isn't sharing! It's my turn to play with the pump."

"Back off," I hissed. "Stop copying my life."

"You two," Mom called from the top of the bank where she stood with a dishtowel in her hands. "I don't want to hear another word. Not one. Not on such a fine day. Twyla, you share."

"Let me, let me," Twerp said, pulling at my arm.

I could hardly see her, what with the sun shining off her teeth because she couldn't keep her big mouth shut.

"Oh, take your damn turn," I said before walking away. I didn't even bother to look back. Instead, I wandered out onto the boat to watch Dad. He was working on the motor. Several minutes passed before he said, "Where's Twerp?"

I shrugged my shoulders. What did I care, right, as long as she wasn't in my hair? But then I noticed the silence and realized something wasn't right. Twerp was never quiet. Never. Dad must have had the same idea I did. We looked at each other, then turned and looked back toward shore. There, by the water pump, all we could see were white bubbles in the water.

Dad pushed me out of the way and took what seemed like impossibly big leaps back to where Twerp had been. He stepped right on the duffel bags and tackle boxes and fishing poles, something that at any other time he would have yelled at us kids for doing.

What he pulled out of the water didn't look like anything living. It was all loose. The only thing that looked familiar were Twerp's yellow boots.

I remember looking at them and then up at Mom. She must have come out to call us for lunch or something, but when she saw Twerp and Dad her mouth fell open and stayed that way. Dad was holding Twerp upside down and pounding her on the back. And for the first time in my life I realized what life would be like without her, how it would leave this big hole that we would have to walk around for the rest of our lives. And I realized how quiet everything would be. Too quiet.

Just then, Twig walked around the corner of the cabin carrying an ax. When he saw what was happening, he dropped the ax. It landed on the dirt and raised a cloud of yellow smoke. Dad put his finger in Twerp's mouth and yelled, "Breathe, you little shit kicker. Breathe!" She must have heard him, because just then Twerp started to cough and choke, which made us laugh, which made her angry. Twerp hates to be laughed at.       

That night, inside the cabin, after the sun had gone down and we’d finished eating dinner, we sat around the table as Dad lit the Coleman lantern that hung overhead. The shiny table threw back the warm light as, for the first time, Dad told the story we would come to call “The Day Twerp Almost Drowned.”

"Someone must have been watching," Dad whispered as he lit the first of the two bootie-shaped mantles. "Otherwise, how do you explain my turning around just then to check on Twerp?"

And we all nodded, knowing something mysterious had happened. We'd almost lost Twerp, but then she'd been saved. I couldn't take my eyes off her. Her hair was all washed now and freshly braided, and she was wearing her flannel pajamas so clean and soft. She was enjoying all the attention, of course. Almost made you think she'd done the whole thing on purpose. Ever since the accident, she'd refused to leave Mom's lap, where she sat with a big smile on her face.

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