Monday, November 28, 2011

Into The Fog--by Linda Kozar

“Don’t go.” I grabbed at her sleeve, a breathless fear rising.
She stared ahead, oblivious to my touch. “I have to.”
“But it’s getting dark. People round here don't cross that bridge when it’s foggy. They take the highway. The road to the bridge gets slick. Can't see two feet in front of you.”
She shook her head, “We’ll be fine. Besides, I want to drive at night when the kids are asleep. It’s easier that way.”
I looked her over, gathering clues to her state of mind from the state of her appearance. Her shoulder-length red hair, once beautiful, was matted in a rat’s nest of neglect. And the dress she wore--an orange and brown pattern, baggy and twisted out of shape, like she’d slept in it. My cousin Kelsey was nothing less than a mess. Six kids, six years and a sick marriage had taken its toll.
Was this woman the same “Kels” I knew growing up? Back then, she was slender with cascading curls of long vibrant red hair and transparent blue eyes, blue as sun-jeweled waters.
“I need to leave.”
Voice low as a purr, I’d heard that familiar tone before. Call it determination or stubborness, I realized she wouldn’t be listening to anything I had to say.
“You think he’s with her, don’t you?”
She hesitated. Pulled a thread from her sleeve. “Yes, I do.”
“What do you hope to accomplish? Do you plan on confronting them with your kids right there with you?” I shook my head. “Not a good idea. That would be traumatic. You can’t do that to them.”
She tugged at the same thread, this time successful at unraveling a line of cloth.
“Look, Kels—why don’t you just stay here with me for awhile? Move here with me and start your life over. He’s not worth it.”
            Instead of answering, she continued to pull and tug at the lone thread,
Why she married him. . .
Kelsey could have had her pick, but she chose a man who never worked.
Why she married . .
Beat her too.
Why him?
Suddenly, she spoke. “I know what I look like to you. I do look in the mirror, you know.” Her eyes fixed forward as if focusing on something. “Just tired, that's all.“
She rubbed her right eye and as she did so, I noticed her wrist looked crooked.
“What’s with that?" I asked.  "Your arm looks odd.”
She drew her arm down and tucked it under her sleeve. “A tiny fracture. Guess I broke it lifting furniture or something. It healed okay though.”
I stomped. “Why, why do you stay with him?”
She smiled from the corner of her lip. “He’s my husband, silly.” She looked away. “Besides, I love. . .” She shrugged—as if the gesture itself finished the sentence. "He was, was so romantic when we first met. Flowers, even when he couldn’t afford. . . Her voice caught in he throat for a moment. “I was beautiful.” Her voice trailed off.  “He said so.”
I grabbed at straws, “Well good riddance. You may have lost him, but you have the kids. Even if he doesn’t love you anymore, he cares about his kids. He does care about his kids, doesn’t he?”
She leaned back against the car and looked up at me.
A chill ran through me. Something about her eyes seemed to set off an innate fear. Something.
Uneasy, she must have sensed my thoughts. She turned away, instead focusing on the kids playing on the merry-go-round at my apartment complex.
Nodding her head, she answered, “Oh, of course he likes the kids. He just doesn’t want to be bothered with raising them.” She slapped a mosquito off her arm.
“The kids are my responsibility.”
“And his too. He needs to step up and help you.”
She dug the heel of her shoe into the gravel edging the lot. “He won’t.”
“But. . .”
 She cut in.  “Look, it’s getting dark. We’d better go.” She held her hands to her mouth and let out a shrill whistle. “Kids--get in the car, we’re leaving.”
            I gripped the door handle. “Please Kels, don’t go. We could--we could take the kids to the zoo tomorrow. How about it?”
With a gentle, but firm touch, she peeled my hands off the handle and took them into hers. “You have to work tomorrow. Besides, we’ve already overstayed our welcome.”
“But you only got here yesterday. One day, that’s all. It’s nothing.”
She laughed. “Say goodbye to the kids, dear cousin.”
            She opened the door and threw in a diaper bag. The kids surrounded the car, scented with sun and play, glistening hair clinging to their heads. My brow, still crinkled in disapproval at her decision, I stared down at Shay and softened. He was the oldest, the one who’d seen the most. Things a child shouldn’t see.
Tall and thin for his age; he seemed older than six years, guarded, yet vulnerable. My heart went out to him. I wrapped my arms around him and gave him a big bear squeeze. “I love you, buddy.”
The freckled face smiled back at me. For a moment, he reminded me of Kels, the way she used to be. I lifted him up and planted a kiss on his cheek, then turned to the others. Amy, Tammy, the twins Bobby and Trace and the baby, little Marce-- my namesake. I lingered longest with her and nibbled on her tiny ear until she giggled.
“Time to go.” Kelsey ordered.
I helped her fasten the children in her old blue Impala. Finally, she leaned in to start the chugging engine. A gray cloud of noxious smoke from the exhaust blew out. I coughed.
Her eyes met mine as if longing to tell me something, lips moving as if to speak, but no word—nothing escaped her mouth.
I broke the silence. “Kels, is there something you want, something you need to tell me?”
She leaned in to kiss my cheek. “I love you Marcy, always have. You are my truest friend in the world. The only one.”
Tears swelled and overflowed my eyes. “I-I love you too.” Reaching into my pocket, I pulled out a wad of money and pressed it into her hand.
“What this for?”
“Oh, I don’t know--to help you start a new life maybe.” I closed her fist around it with my hands. “I mean it.”
With surprising force, she pushed the wad of money back into my hands. “Keep it, Marcy. Keep it. I won’t, don't need your money.”
“Don’t be proud.” I fired back. “You know you’re going to need it. If not for you, then take it for them.” I pointed toward the kids, their tiny faces turned toward us, hanging on every word.
“My answer is NO. And you know how stubborn I am. I don’t need it and I won’t take it from you. Not now. Not ever.”
Her features set in stone, I knew it was pointless to argue. Why upset the kids? They’d certainly been through enough.
We fell into each other’s arms and clung, trembling.
I spoke what was in my heart. “I’m so sad all this happened to you. I-I wish your life had turned out better, happier.”
For a moment, I thought she’d break down, that the tears would come, the wall would crumble. But she pulled away. Her eyes moist, fluid, she kissed my cheek. “Bye now.” Kelsey slid into the tattered driver’s seat and put the car in reverse.
“Hey,” I yelled over the sound of the struggling engine, “Can we say a prayer together?”
She shook her head. “No time.” With that, she switched gears and pulled out the lot.
Following the car, I motioned. “Aren’t you going to buckle up?”
“I will later,” she yelled back.
I blew her a kiss in the same moment she blew me one, inspiring a weak smile. I smiled back, my own lips trembling. The kids waved and said sweet goodbyes in little singsong voices.
Maybe they’ll close that old bridge tonight.
A high-pitched whine of cicadas punctuated their departure as the old blue Impala rattled off down the road, a trail of gray fumes in its wake. Lips moving in prayer, I ran down the road after it waving at the kids, following with my eyes as far as I could see.
But long shadows swallowed the light between us, the view quickly diminished to a mere dim and blur.
What was she hiding? 
I thought of her eyes again. Blue as sun-jeweled waters.
And watched as the opaque fog coiled in, fear cementing my feet to the ground as thoughts came together like puzzle pieces. 

Friday, November 18, 2011

Mine to Keep--A Short Story by Linda Kozar

I swallowed hard, steeling my will against the rising tide of dread. Grasping the cold brass knob, I pushed and the heavy mahogany door ticked open with surprising ease. To a grand foyer, the grandest foyer I'd ever seen. Pausing to take in the sight, I turned full circle. An elegant ambience of crystal chandeliers, wood floors burnished to an aged sheen and a checkerboard of ebony-framed photographs along the wall. A timeline of family history, the wall held stories, whispered of legends, hinted at secrets.

The charm of the photos summoned me to look closer and survey the details. The solemn faces of immigrants in a copper wash of sepia, Victorian beauties coifed in impossible hats, a broad-shouldered crew in rowboats, white-smocked babies with rattle scepters, and fresh-faced boys in uniform photographed in the stark sincerity of black and white. Family photos from the 70s, in overexposed colors as vivid and unnatural as the fashions. Pimply teens in plaid pantsuits and smiling women, hair curled to stiff cornucopias. Linear lives measured in shutter clicks. Moments in time caught in a net of film and a liter of chemical.

I followed the line of photos on the wall, daring to reach out and touch one. The change from film to digital marked a paradigm shift in technology--an implausible leapfrog from Hell to Valhalla. Colors suddenly vivid and real seemed to jump out from modern frames; silhouettes pixelized and photo-shopped to perfection--redefining reality. The faces, the voices, ectoplasms drifting through plaster and sheetrock, treading water at the ceiling, eavesdropping on conversation and content. The faces of those who loved and were loved.

Strolling with familiar ease through the rooms and corridors, I sank into the comfort of an overstuffed wingback chair, and lolled backwards onto a tufted velvet divan. With the house so still, so quiet, my ears tuned in to the slightest sound. I could almost swear I heard people conversing in the parlor. And there were other sounds as well. Scraping for instance. Aunt Agnes, one leg shriveled by the polio, dragged her cane when she walked. And Skeeter, our favorite Lab used to skitter across the polished floor when he ran. 

And the melodious voices of children echoing through barren hallways, bouncing balls or pinging pebbles in hopscotch squares. Voices resonating through empty rooms once filled with posters, school banners and trophies.

Later, I witnessed apparitions--newlyweds crossing the threshold, presiding over ghostly dinners, babies crying, crayon drawings hanging like masterpieces on the refrigerator. Though I could scarce believe it, I saw gossamer images of children grow up before my eyes; the chubby limbs of youth grown lean and long. Young lives filled with promise. Dreams lofty as tree houses.

Every plank and timber, tile and joist is steeped, infused, and saturated with memories. The place is crowded with them. But don’t rely on my testimony. I’m an old woman. My eyes are dim, memory foggy, legs stiff as corn stalks. Perhaps I see and hear things that are not really there. Perhaps I only wish they were there.

Come and see for yourself. In fact, today is a good day to visit. Maybe your last chance.

Today is moving day. I watched as men in jumpsuits packed, wrapped and carried my life away. The curtains gone--beds and mattresses, dressers, chiffarobe, chairs, divans—all out the door. Strangers hard at work, gathering bushels of history, of sweet memories. Life’s triumphs and tragedies bubblewrapped and hidden away in double-taped boxes. 

The objects that meant so much to me will no doubt find their way to tag sales. The pictures, a mere curiosity for strangers to wonder about. But the memories, the love are mine to keep. My heart overflows with the extraordinary treasures of an ordinary life.

One last look, a longing glance, and I closed the door, which clicked shut with surprising ease. To a grand foyer, the grandest foyer I'd ever seen.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Why is a Raven Like a Writing Desk? by Linda Kozar

A raven like a writing desk? Though I'd read Alice in Wonderland as a child, I seem to have skipped over that question.

If your memory needs refreshing, as does mine, the quote comes from a tea party Alice attends in the company of the March Hare, the Mad Hatter and the Dormouse. The Hatter poses the question:

"Have you guessed the riddle yet?" the Hatter said, turning to Alice again.
"No, I give it up," Alice replied. "What's the answer?"
"I haven't the slightest idea," said the Hatter.
"Nor I," said the March Hare.
Alice sighed wearily. "I think you might do something better with the time," she said, "than wasting it in asking riddles that have no answers."

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by British author Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll tells the story of a girl named Alice who falls down a rabbit hole into an upside-down world of equally topsy-turvy, anthropomorphic creatures. Classed in the literary nonsense genre, Alice in Wonderland sets a permeable barrier between logic and illogic, setting the stage for delightfully ridiculous dialogue.

Which brings us back to the question: "Why is a raven like a writing desk?" Is the question a riddle of some sort? Is the question supposed to make sense, or is it simply nonsense?

Readers have been clamoring for the answer since the book first released, so much so in fact, that Lewis Carroll added a preface to the 1896 edition of the book:
Enquiries have been so often addressed to me, as to whether any answer to the Hatter's Riddle can be imagined, that I may as well put on record here what seems to me to be a fairly appropriate answer, viz: 'Because it can produce a few notes, tho they are very flat; and it is never put with the wrong end in front!' This, however, is merely an afterthought; the Riddle, as originally invented, had no answer at all.
Unfortunately, his answer did little to satisfy people, so they set out to venture their own solutions to the riddle--none of which made much sense or offered a satisfactory explanation. No one, it seems, was willing to accept the lack of an answer to a nonsensical riddle. Considering the source of the riddle, the Mad Hatter, one has to wonder why.
Postscript: In 1976 Carroll admirer Denis Crutch pointed out that in the 1896 preface quoted above, the author had originally written: "It is nevar put with the wrong end in front." Nevar of course is raven spelled backward. Big joke! However, said joke didn't survive the ministrations of the proofreaders, who, thinking they understood the author's intentions better than the author, changed nevar to never in subsequent editions. The indignities we authors suffer! Sure, we make up for it in money and groupies, but still, if in some book (e.g., one of mine) you come across a line that really clanks, be assured: It was funny before. ( 
So, it seems, Lewis Carroll had the last laugh. 

But the irony raises another question--how should an author respond when readers "read" too much into a story? 

Cozy Mysteries by Linda Kozar

Gate Beautiful Radio Show--November 21, 2013

Family Reunion--Oregon 2012

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Meet The Christian Authors--2011

Meet The Christian Authors--2011
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