A Good Mattress

The marriage was falling apart. Loralee sensed it, but she didn’t know it with the depth of factual knowledge many of their friends had. “Hubby” wasn’t home much. He had other “interests.” Loralee hadn’t let herself look directly at Hubby’s absences, his late nights, the fact they never shared a bed. She just drifted.

Then, it seemed out of no where, she caught the eye of one of their friends — Mike, very tall, thin, blonde hair to his waist, pale blue eyes, younger by fifteen years. He was so interesting and so beautiful!  She felt like Mrs. Robinson, but she wasn’t, not at all, not in real life and not in his eyes.

They had a few dinners together, dinners filled with amazing conversations. They began writing long letters to each other, though they lived in the same town. They took her dogs to the beach at night. A led to B and B led to C and then came the evening when they were grateful for the 1960s travel trailer parked in her driveway.

“Where’s Hubby?” asked Mike.

“No idea,” sighed Loralee.

“Will he be home soon? Will he look in here?”

“I don’t know when he’ll be home. And he won’t look in here. He’ll go right in the house to bed.”

“Will he expect you to be there?”

“Are you kidding? We haven’t shared a bed in I don’t know how long.”


“Yeah. I don’t think he likes me, actually.”

“Wow. Why not?”

Loralee sighed. “If I knew the answer to that I’d…” she stopped. She didn’t know what she’d do, think, feel. “It doesn’t matter. I sleep better alone anyway.”

“Me too,” said Mike. “C’mere.”

Then ensued the redundant always-new coupling of humans and resulting, this time for Loralee, in feelings of completion and peace.

“Wow,” said Mike. “Older women! No, not women. YOU!”

Loralee just shrugged inside. She was and that was all there was to it.

They heard a car door slam in the street in front of the house. Each was silently grateful that Loralee had driven that evening and parked in the driveway, and Mike’s car was not in front of the house.

“Oh my god,” said Mike. “What’s going to happen? I don’t like the way he treats you, but I don’t want to be caught, either.”

“Shhh,” said Loralee. “I think he’d find it a relief to discover me with you. He’d be off the hook,” she whispered.

They heard the front door of the house open and close.

“You’re going to have to take me home,” whispered Mike. “What if he comes back out and sees your car is gone?”

“Oh well,” whispered Loralee. “I guess it’s my car.”

“You sure he won’t look for you? You guys have separate bedrooms?”

“Yeah. He won’t look for me, believe me. He said sex with me was boring.”

“My God. That’s cold.”

“And unforgettable.”

“I’m sorry, Loralee. It isn’t true, by the way.”

Loralee melted. “Oh Mike, thank you. I think I should take you home, yeah?”

“I can’t spend the night here. I have work tomorrow.”


The pulled on their clothes. Very quietly, they got out of the trailer and got to Loralee’s car.

“He’ll hear the car start!” said Mike.

“No. His room is in the back. Besides, cars start on the street all the time.”

“I never thought I’d get into it with a married woman.”

Loralee spun a U-ee, silently wondering, how she had become a married woman, 40 years old, in such a situation as this.



Casting Sylvester Stallone…

“I always thought ghoulish was macaroni, tomatoes and meat,” said Stan, poking his fork at his dish of noodles, meat and spices.

“What are you talking about?” Tammy had spent time on this dinner, Stan’s first at her apartment. It was her grandmother’s recipe. Stan was gorgeous, had a good job, took her nice places, sometimes was funny. “I’m not getting any younger,” she’d thought when she decided to take this step in what might be a relationship. “I’ll invite him over.”

“How is this ghoulish? What’s with the sour cream?”


“Yeah. I don’t see how this is ghoulish.”

“GOULASH you illiterate dweeb! GOULASH!”


“Not ‘ghoulish’. Gou-LASH!”

“OK, but this still isn’t it.”

“You’ve just never had the real thing before. You’ve just had the school lunch version.”

“We didn’t have school lunches.”

“OK, whatever. You had what your MOM had for school lunch. Do you like this?”

“It’s OK. I’m a little disappointed, though.”


“Yeah. I miss my mom’s cooking, and I was looking forward to ghoulish the way she made  it.”

Tammy looked up toward the ceiling and saw the handwriting. “Not this one, sweet cheeks,” it said. “Find someone who can read.”




“NO one looks good in orange, Trish.”

“Oh mother. I look good in orange.”

“No. It makes your skin look green. Hell, it makes everyone’s skin look green.” She took a long drag on her cigarette.

“But it’s my favorite color.”

“Be that as it may, you want to look good, don’t you? Or do you WANT to look like a Martian?”

“It is the ‘it’ color this fall, madame,” said the store clerk, holding up two fluffy orange dresses for Trish to look at. “Perhaps this one? It’s a little more pink? More toward salmon?”

The dress was beautiful. Ballet length with wide chiffon “straps” that rode below the shoulder.

“It’s something Audrey Hepburn would wear,” rhapsodized the clerk.

“Trish here is a LONG way from Audrey Hepburn,” said mother. “So you want to try it, honey?”

But Trish had lost interest. Shopping with her mother was never any fun. “I don’t know mom. I don’t know what I want.”

“Do you want to give up for today? We still have two weeks before prom.”

“Yeah. I don’t think I want to do this any more.”

“Thanks for your help,” the mother said to the clerk. “She’s pretty picky. Always been like that. Nothing is ever quite good enough.”



Happy Ending

She wrapped the shawl around her cold shoulders and went out into the fog. The yellow street lights made piss poor progress in that wet darkness, but it didn’t matter. She knew her way. “Either he’s there or he isn’t. If he isn’t, I’ll go home. If he is, I don’t know what I’ll do.”

It occurred to her that this was no choice at all.

“Wow,” she thought. “I’ve been pacing the floor this whole evening and THAT’S the best I can come up with?”

She knew herself. She wouldn’t raise her voice. She wouldn’t complain. She wouldn’t drag him home. She wouldn’t lock him out. She wouldn’t do anything, so what was the point of this?

“I saw him at the Purple Breasted Pigeon with Carla,” said her co-worker, Lucy, just two days before. “They were clearly not ‘just friends’ if you get my drift.”

“Why are you telling me?”

“We women have to stick together. It’s us against them.”

“If it’s ‘us against them’ why are we with ‘them’ in the first place?” The thought crossed her mind. She didn’t think of her marriage as an adversarial relationship, just sometimes a crappy one.

“I guess,” she’d said to Lucy. “I don’t know why it’s like that, though.”

“The nature of the beast,” Lucy said, nodding wisely, “the nature of the beast.”

Beast,”  she thought as she made her way through the fog. “Beast,” she said aloud to the empty street. Ahead she could see purple neon reflected on fog. It was a neighborhood bar, after all, and she was almost there. She heard music. She thought of their dating days, hers and Lamont’s, and how often they would go out dancing and how they never did anymore. “What happens to love?” she asked the vague and heavy air. “Maybe it’s the nature of the beast.”

She turned around. There was no reason to go inside looking for her husband and her friend. She would only look foolish, a step down from merely feeling foolish. Soon she was home, a three-story 1950s apartment building near the park. She and Lamont loved it when they first saw it, couldn’t believe their luck. She opened the front door, went upstairs to their apartment and unlocked the door. Lamont stood in the kitchen chopping onions.

“Where have you been, honey? I’ve been worried. Visibility is crap tonight. It took me over an hour to get home from work. There were crashes everywhere. Hey, did Carla tell you the news? I ran into her a couple nights ago when I was passing the Purple. Remember when I couldn’t get any close parking? She and her dude are moving to Oregon! He got that job he wanted. I bought her a drink. Anyway, I thought I’d make us some chili. Sound good?”



Dusty T. Dog’s Recitation of the Legend of the CATapult

There are very few objects in history or daily life that bear the imprint of canine thinking. Canines are creatures of action and response. They are pack animals, who cooperate with each other, sharing the responsibility for the welfare of all. This does not make them creative or innovative animals and for this reason about the only objects or ideas in our world that have come from dogs are “doggerel” and “doggone it.”

Cats, on the other hand, being independent thinkers, spend their time on their own rather than caring for their pack-mates or their humans. They have come up with many interesting ideas and objects.

Two that are most striking are the “catapult” and the “catamaran.” I want to talk specifically about the catapult and how and why felines invented it. The catamaran is obvious. Felines dislike water and they needed a way to get across a river. But the catapult has a more interesting — and less obvious — story and it involves a canine/feline relationship.

As everyone familiar with felines knows, they like to climb. Many felines are willing to climb very high and leap off, almost taking flight, before they land perfectly on four paws. This is something canines also enjoy, but differently from felines. We like to jump so that we can see over walls and fences.

Long ago, many thousands of human years ago, a canine and feline were walking past a city wall. Their noses were sniffing eagerly because they smelled fish on the other side of the wall. The wall was too high even for the cat to climb and the dog, of course, could only jump a couple of meters straight up into the air.

The cat decided to take a nap and think about it while the dog ran back and forth along the wall barking, digging and sniffing. You might think the dog barking would keep the cat awake, but it didn’t.

When the cat woke up, she had figured it out. They would build a machine that would send her over the wall. Once on the other side, she would throw fish over the wall to the dog. The cat sent telepathic blueprints to the dog who immediately set about gathering sticks, old tires, worn socks and gunny sacks to build the machine. In just a couple of days — even without opposable thumbs — they had built the machine. In truth, the dog built it, but the feline gave directions.

“We only have one shot,” said the dog. “It had better work!”

“How can you doubt my powers?” responded the feline, in a snit, feeling insulted.

“I’m sorry. I just meant…”

“It doesn’t matter what you meant, dog. Did you think of this? No. I thought not.”

The feline often took an imperious tone with the dog which was not fair. While the cat was a decent hunter, the dog was better at it and was able to catch bigger things than the cat and he always shared. She never shared. “Share does not exist in any feline vocabulary,” she would say refusing to part out the miniscule mouse she’d killed one afternoon after playing with it for several hours.

“Keep your mouse,” the canine replied. “I’m going after a rabbit.”

“Ooooh! Rabbit! Will you share it with me?”

“Of course. Sharing is a canine’s purpose.”

Anyhooo… The feline jumped up in the bucket from which she would be sent over the wall. “Pull down on this with all your strength, dog,” she said.

“What if you’re hurt?”

“I won’t be hurt. I’m a feline, remember? I will land in the city and find the fish.”

“All right.” The canine pushed down on the bucket with all his strength and when he couldn’t push it any lower, he let go. The feline went flying over the wall.

The canine never knew how his friend fared. No fish ever came back over the wall and he never heard from her again.


Mythical Beast

“Do you want a story before you go to sleep?”

“Yes! Tell me the story of Osita!”

“OK. A Long, long time ago on a remote hillside near the small town of Antonito, Colorado, lived a family that raised sheep. One day, a marvelous creature came to live with them and her name was Osita. Osita was as big as a fifth grader, with long, white fluffy fur that shed dirt and water. She had big feet like snow shoes that held her up when she walked on the snow. She…”

“Dad, there was never a dog like that.”

“There was, honey, and she belonged to me. Or, maybe I belonged to her. I am sure she saw it that way.”

“How could you belong to a dog? I don’t get it.”

“You know that when I was a kid we lived…”

“I know, I know, out in the middle of nowhere and you walked 25 miles uphill in the freezing wind and snow to school every day.”

“It was only 2 miles. After a while there was a schoolbus.”


“Osita was never any good at guarding the animals, but she was a wonderful babysitter. My mom would leave us with Osita while she went out to get the eggs or feed the animals or help dad with something. Osita made sure we never went anywhere or got into any trouble.”

“How would a dog do that?”

“It was the instinct of her breed to guard young, helpless things. She was born with it. She just didn’t happen to see goats and sheep as her job. She thought my baby sister and I were her job. What a break for your grandmother it must have been to be able to leave us for a few minutes, even a half an hour. We had a big wood stove in the kitchen and, once my sister and I were walking, your grandmother was afraid to leave us alone for fear we’d burn ourselves. But in the dead of winter, it was the warmest place in the house. When Osita saw your grandmother putting on her headscarf, she would gently nudge us to a corner of the kitchen and make us stay there until your grandmother came back.”

“A dog did that?”

“Osita was a special dog, honey. She pulled me out of the pond one summer afternoon when I was three. I’d have drowned if she hadn’t been watching. She kept my sister and I out of all kinds of trouble. The thing is, we wouldn’t have had Osita if it hadn’t been for her blue eyes.”

“How? What difference did that make?”

“Oh, our neighbor — a rancher, lived five miles away — bred these dogs and sold the puppies to sheepherders. This puppy showed up with blue eyes. It’s rare, but it happens. That rancher was going to shoot her.”


“He thought blue-eyed dogs were all deaf and blind. Your grandfather picked out two pups and left them with the rancher until they could be weaned. He brought Osita home with him, tucked in his coat. Your grandma fed her by hand.”

“So she WAS real?”

“Absolutely, honey. As real as you or I. But some creatures are so special that stories become legends and, if enough time passes, they become myths.”

“What about the other two puppies? Were they mythical, too?”

“Absolutely, in their way. Osita’s two brothers stayed with the sheep all the time. The sheep were their family. They were fine dogs, too, doing what they’d been bred and trained to do. Your grandfather says that more than once they chased bears away from the herd.”

“These dogs sound like heroes.”

“To a farmer or rancher they are heroes.

“Do you think someday there will be ‘The Myth of Osita’?”

“Maybe, but I think, for most people, her heroism is as remote as the hillside on which I grew up. Maybe someday you can write her story.”


Here’s a video of an Akbash defending her sheep from a bear.


Icelandic Sagas

A long time ago when I was first researching and writing Martin of Gfenn, I was wandering around Hillcrest in San Diego with my friend, Denis Joseph Francis Callahan (RIP). He bought me a book and made a wisecrack, “If you’re so interested in medieval shit you’d better read this.”

It was Njal’s Saga.

I did. I loved it. It’s Beowulf on steroids. I didn’t know much about Icelandic sagas then but then last year I took an online class which was pretty tedious and academic about “Space in the Icelandic Saga.” But I learned about more sagas and something about Norse mythology and I finished the class “with distinction” and that was cool.

In two weeks, I will be in Iceland. What drew me to Iceland in the first place wasn’t the sagas but the horses. I saw them in a movie Beowulf and Grendl which was filmed in Iceland. I was amazed at the little horses that hung around like buses or cars waiting for Vikings to ride them. I began researching the little horses and learned where they were.


Then I began to put the country together with Njal’s Saga and that added a whole dimension of interest. Now I’m reading Egil’s Saga which is about Egil (duh) but also about Norwegian history, telling of the tyrannical king, Harald, who drove many good people out of Norway including Egil’s father, Skallagrim. And, as it happens (quite accidentally!) I’ll be staying not far from Skallagrim’s original homestead.

I did a little research into saga sites, too, and found one I would love to go visit but it doesn’t seem practicable for this trip. One of the responses I got, though, asked me if I were a teacher or something that I was interested in the sagas.

I thought about that and felt sad. The sagas are popular literature — folklore that was written down in the 13th century by a guy with the most awesome name: Snorri Sturllsson. But now, because of their age and obscurity have been relegated to the grey/brown realm of “literature” much like Beowulf and the Odyssey. Really and truly, though, these are adventure stories that are nine million times more accessible and fun to read than anything by Richard Brautigan, Dan Brown, Danielle Steel and I dunno, the Game of Thrones guy. They are wonderful.

Egil is a big, violent, dark, bald guy; he’s a superlative viking. He fought for the English King, Athelstan against the Scottish King Olaf (Olaf?). Through this I see a lot more clearly how the British and Viking cultures became inextricably connected during the years of viking raids. I’ve also learned that viking raids were the normal activity of the “hot bloods”  — restless young men trying to make a fortune. Most of them settled down on a farm when their viking years were over. I’ve learned about going “berserk” as a viking quality.

Egil was a poet and the saga is filled with his spontaneous verses. The book is fun to read and an object lesson on basic human nature (jealous, vengeful, passionate, hard-working, longing for home).

Let’s follow a friendlier
Feeder of wolves:
Let’s beat the oar-blades
Of our shield-adorned boat
That sword-bender won’t shun
Me, seeking his company:
Let’s sling our shields
Aboard, let’s make sail.


The Date

So then he said, “Do you have a photo of yourself when you were young, 16? 17?

I said, ‘Yes, but it’s nothing special.”

“Of course it’s special. There is a lot in a photo.”

I don’t know why he asks; I jump to a conclusion and get pissed off.

Alfred Lord Tennisball echoes, “That which we are we are,” and I know how much more THIS somewhat worn carapace is than that juvenescent carapace was. For one thing, THIS carapace, and the heart and mind it carries around, was quite expensive; the price was my whole life so far.

It is gold; it is worth so much more than all that shining possibility; it is the fruition of that shining possibility with possibility not yet dead inside it. Given a choice, I’d choose this carapace over that terrified wavering phantom.

I think of offering a choice, a picture or a future, but I already know the mindlessness of most conversation and that the meaning I ascribe is not always (not even often) right. I continue to sit, to listen, to smile, but the retreat is accomplished. I am not there any longer. I’ve lost interest.

“I don’t know what this relationship is going to be, still not yet,” he goes on, “but the moment of our meeting was something that never happened to me before.”

That, I think was possibly the pinnacle. I’m bored. I think, maybe it’s true that men don’t fall in love with a woman; they fall in love with themselves reflected in the love a woman feels for THEM, or, as trophies, the value the beauty of a woman lends to their value.

My mother’s echo, “let him feel you need him. Don’t be so smart all the time. Get a sexy nightie.” I am sitting with this man here and castrating him; I don’t like that I do this, but I hate  what he represents, what he IS. I won’t repeat this.

He talks to me about Kathryn Tate, how six years ago she was his instructor, and now she’s all cold and professional and old and “getting fat” he says. Who doesn’t? You will, too, I think.

“She’s lost her fire,” he adds.

Perhaps you drowned it, I think. Or you insist that she burn with yours; maybe she has her own. I look up to see myself floating beside this building, up about two stories, watching.

My dog lies here on the sidewalk beside me, my hope, my love, my gift from God; my never boring companion and friend, a challenge to my mind, the preserver of my soul. Ahhh, yes! There is no need for this bitterness.

Angry? Yes. Will I overcome it, get over it? I probably won’t. I know that, too. Too many kicks, too many fists, too much time alone, ignored and cheated on, too many remarks about my ugliness, my fatness, my lack of desirability.

You can believe it after a while, or, not believing it, still become tired of it and unwilling to risk it all again, and again, and again, especially at 50 which is where I sit here tonight. Or nearly — 49 years 4 1/2 months — 50!

I never imagined it would be like this absurdity; blue-jeaned, Doctor Martened, tattooed, socks with goats and a hairy gray dog, wild gray hair and bifocals — graduated lenses, if you please!

Downtown, with such a strange past, walking between fancy people, (like I was once, like I was raised to be) going to plays and restaurants, looking for a Chinese restaurant and fried rice.

My dog takes a shit on Market and Fifth and I’m proud of her candor. I watch skinny-hipped big boobed blonds and their rich fortyish balding boyfriends; a man drives past in a newer Rolls than my ex-friend Martin drove.

He blocks the intersection so my dog and I have to walk around him. I wonder about the homeless people but not much and not long; my stomach churns at the thought of what my brother might be doing.

I ask a Maitre’d of a fancy Italian restaurant where I might find a Chinese restaurant; my date —a fine artist—earns his bread in a parking garage. His life is chaos. I’m looking for dinner for him somewhere on the streets; wonder why he didn’t think of Ralph’s.

I like the walk, my dog likes the walk; horses go by and their drivers comment on my dog. “She’s beautiful,” they say, “I have an Aussie, too.”

“She’s only half,” I answer. I am proud of the Malamute in her as I’m proud of the Swede in me; indomitable snow people, my dog and I, drive on.

“Really! Well, that’s a beautiful mix!”

“Yes,” I say, “it is.” At Ralph’s I tie up my dog and go in; buy three apples, a banana, crackers — having returned to the parking lot kiosk to offer my suggestion that Jorge give up on fried rice and ask, “What can I get you at the store?”

“Why didn’t I think of that?” he says.

Because, I think, maybe you haven’t traveled alone with very little money in your pocket, a middle-aged woman in Italy, invisible in restaurants but hungry, all the same. My god, I like myself, I like my life, this whimsical peripatetic existence. I’ll cling to it as long as possible.

Jorge wants to mean something to me, but he doesn’t. I don’t know why; part of it is the gold ring on the third finger of his left hand. He has never mentioned a wife; I have never asked him.

He talks about all the things he and I are going to do; but I don’t believe any of it. I don’t believe we will ride mountain bikes, or go to the beach to drink wine, or go to Italy together to run after trains and look at frescoes.

I realize that where once I believed a man, a lover, was the vehicle through which I would experience life, I now see a man, a lover, as an obstruction. None of them were vehicles; they were all obstructions.

Who am I? What am I that it took so long to see these things? Walking down 2nd with my small bag of groceries and my gray animal, I run into a young woman with her own dog.
Dogs make people friendly, make them warm and unafraid. We pet each others dogs and chat for a minute or two.

“I am still an indistinct shape on the horizon of your life,” Jorge said once. “I have not taken you over yet; I have not become the sky.”

I thought, “Thanks for the warning,” even as I appreciated the poetry. I reach the parking garage and hand him the bag. Jorge talks about this and that and asks, “Why won’t you participate in the reading next week?”

I want to say, “I don’t have anything to say in front of everyone and I don’t want to.”

He says, “I won’t ask you why.”

I say, “You just did.” I use my brain to keep him away. I feel it zap him like a bug zapper whenever he gets too close.

Two horse drawn carriages cross the intersection and I try to muffle with my mind the sounds of the cars and Jorge’s voice to imagine being Goethe with this sound outside the window with no cars, no Jorge. I want the momentary time-transport of the clopping hooves.

“What? I’m sorry.”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“Maybe it does. I got caught up in a daydream.”

Things get busier in the garage and I sit in the cold night and worry about my dog’s arthritis. I haven’t connected with Jorge at all. I don’t mind. I just want to go home.

Tongues of desire have licked at me fleetingly around Jorge, but nothing sustained, nothing driven. I have no means of sexual expression, I think. The children around Chernobyl are not allowed to go to the forests, nor will their children, or their grandchildren; the radioactivity lingers long and dangerous.

Their fathers talk to them of hunting mushrooms, but it will only be a fable by the time people can go mushroom hunting again.



Hot Potato

“What happened? I thought he was the man of your dreams!”


“Last week he was ‘the one’. You were imagining lots of green-haired little kids with him.”



“You know what? It’s just, I don’t know. I’m just not seeing Lamont any more. ‘Why’ really doesn’t matter. What matters is I got out of it before it got icky. Let’s drop the subject.”

“But you’re still sad.”

“Well, yeah. One hopes, right?” She stirred her Italian soda with her straw, mixing the raspberry syrup with the soda water before taking a long drink.

Trey nodded.

Rain hit the window, incandescent drops of reflected streetlights. The door opened, the Pakistani camel bells hanging from the door handle confirming what the blast of cold, damp air had already conveyed. Trey looked up, happy Mattie’s back was to the door.

Lamont swept in with a tall brunette, her absurdly toned midriff bared, her flowing Indian sari-silk skirt hanging on her hips. “I get it, now,” thought Trey, looking thoughtfully at Mattie who was pretty, but never the pretty that could make an entrance like that. The woman with Lamont was traffic-stopping-stunning. No wonder Lamont had dropped Mattie. “Mattie is saving face saying she dropped the guy. I see the whole story.”

Lamont and the woman stepped up to the counter and ordered. Trey saw the strong line of the woman’s back. His heart skipped a beat as she tossed her head and the swath of long brown hair wafted across the top of her skirt. “Jesus,” he said out-loud. Mattie looked up, followed his gaze, and saw Lamont and the woman.

“Poor guy,” she said. “Now that I’ve dropped him, he has to go for coffee with his bitch of a sister.”


“Isolation and Courage in Martin of Gfenn”

Stephanie Hopkins of Layered Pages asked to write an article about one of the characters in one of my novels, and presented me certain topics I could use. I was struck by the topic of courage and isolation as demonstrated in the life and choices of the protagonist in Martin of Gfenn. This article was published today.

Layered Pages and IndieB.R.A.G. work together to promote high quality, self-published books. It’s a wonderful service and needed not only by serious writers who self-publish but by readers! If you’re a person who likes to read, I recommend checking out Stephanie’s blog, Layered Pages, to learn about good books that are not published by the mainstream press.

Here’s the article, “Isolation and Courage in Martin of Gfenn