Friday, August 22, 2008

Pies and Cowboys Falling In Love

Ann knelt beside the bed and kissed the cross on her night stand. She wrapped up in a worn housecoat and walked barefoot across the cold floor. The walls were still gray as the sun had not yet crept above the trees.

She opened the cabinets and took down flour, salt, and shortening. She sprinkled flour on the counter and smiled as the birds sang to each another outside. She'd throw something to them in a little bit.

She scooped out shortening with one hand and flour with the other. Ann squeezed them together and added handfuls of flour and more shortening until a large, soft ball was formed. She sprinkled a little salt and kept working at the dough. Her hands ached in the morning, but were strong from years of practice. The dough was soon as soft and smooth as baby's skin.

She rinsed her hands in the sink. The sun was bright and came in strong through the windows. Ann closed the blinds and took her rolling pin from the top drawer. She kept it in the bottom drawer for a long time, but as she got older, she baked more and more. She turned on the oven, allowing it time to heat up.

Two blue pie plates came down from beside the regular plates and were placed to the side. The rolling pin pushed into the dough. She sprinkled flour on the roller and turned the dough to spread it as far as she could. She took a knife from the dish drain and cut a large circle before delicately lifting it and placing it into a pie plate. She formed a ball from the remaining dough and went through the process again, until there was enough to fill the second dish.

From the refrigerator, she took out a large bowl of apples and pears. She waved off a pair of fruit flies and turned back to roll out another circle of dough. When it was thin enough, she cut it into perfect strips. Ann weaved them carefully atop each pie before neatly trimming the outside edges.

The oven was not quite ready. She collected the loose dough and carried it across the kitchen. She tossed the dough out the screen door, into the driveway. Two cardinals lighted down and made a quick breakfast of the tiny bits.

She ran water through the coffee maker and put two tea bags in a tall mug. The hot water steamed as she poured it on top of the tea. The gurgling of the coffee maker stopped and the house was quiet again. The birds still chattered outside, making their pretty songs.

Ann sat at the breakfast table. Most of it was covered with bins of buttons, old newspapers, and rinsed out bottles she had forgotten to put with the other recycling. She tried to be good at it, but could never remember what could be recycled and what couldn't. Her nephew, Jim, had shown her the symbols she could look for on the bottom of the bottles, but she never remembered to look.

It was Jim's birthday. He was coming home from college and her sister, Kathy, had invited everyone over. Jim liked pies better than cake. Kathy had never been much of a cook, so Ann made him two pies every year on his birthday. She always looked forward to it. Sometimes she made them for no reason at all. She loved making pies for people.

When she was younger, Ann was a quiet girl. She waited patiently, hoping a man would come along and ask her to marry. There had been a couple who had, but when they did, she was afraid she wouldn't make a good wife. She told them she couldn't marry them. She worked quietly at the furniture plant for twenty years, until it shut down. She never spent a penny more than what she needed to live on and what she could spare for the collection plate.

After the furniture factory closed, the church helped place her with a program for helping older members of the community with cooking, cleaning, and home assistance. She'd never been a big reader, but Mrs. Owens said she had a beautiful voice. Ann never thought her voice was beautiful, but she discovered she loved reading Mrs. Owens' books to her. They were mostly romance stories disguised as westerns. Zane Grey had been Mrs. Owen's favorite. She missed Mrs. Owens.

Ann's thoughts drifted back to the present. She got up and picked up one of the plates with a towel. Hot air billowed out as she opened the oven. She put in the first pie, then the second, and closed the door quickly. Her forehead beaded with sweat as she sat back down to her tea. She took a small sip and put it down. She was never good at drinking hot drinks. She always waited until there was no steam trailing off.

The smell of cinnamon and brown sugar filled the kitchen as the sun climbed higher in the sky. It would be good to see the family. Maybe she'd make a couple extra pies for Jim to take back to school.

Ann brushed away a wisp of hair that had fallen in front of her eyes. The birds darted in and out of the bushes outside. Ann let out a sigh and blew on the tea to cool it down. She was lonely, but would always have people to make pies for and books to read about cowboys falling in love.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Secret Ingredient

I came in behind Michael. He screamed his head off, ran for his mom, and buried his face in her dress. Sara stroked his hair and looked at me with those beautiful, blue, accusing eyes.

"What happened?"

I shrugged and tossed my glove on the counter, failing to notice she'd just cleaned everything in the kitchen. "He wasn't looking and stepped into a pitch. I think he's more scared than anything."

She bent down and felt around Mikey's forehead. "Oh. You've got a bad knot, honey. Why don't you get a bath cloth and wash your face. I'll fix you some ice."

Mikey ran past me while she rummaged through the freezer. I could feel the cold from across the room.

"What?" It didn't matter that it had been an accident. Her little boy was hurt and I was the bad guy. I changed tactics, putting my arms around her from behind. She pulled away.

"I've got to help Mikey." She stopped and looked at the glove on the counter. "I just wiped that off."

"Sorry." But she was gone. I picked up the glove and wiped the counter down, trying to get all the imaginary dirt she hated so much.

Sara and Mike came back from the bathroom. He had stopped crying. "You can put in one of your movies. What do you want to eat?"

"Chicken sandwich."


She walked back in the kitchen and wiped off the counter again, dissatisfied with the job I'd done. I smiled at her. "I want a chicken sammich, too."

She tried to keep her frowny face focused on what she was doing. "You haven't been good enough for a chicken sandwich."

"What I gotta do? You want to throw a baseball at me?"

She looked up, pointing her knife at me. "I might."

She tried to get the lid off the mayonnaise jar. I watched her struggle, knowing she'd break the jar before asking for my help. I took it from her and twisted it...well I thought it would twist right off. I strained against the lid for a minute, until it came loose, then handed it back.

"Thanks, puny."

I smiled at her and she couldn't help smiling back. I put my arms around her again and messed with the chicken sandwich she was making. "Here. I'll help."

"Stop it." She smiled as I wiped the mayonnaise knife on her hand. "I'm going to hurt you."

I reached up and stuck a finger in her nose. "Ah! I found the secret ingredient!" She wriggled away and stomped my foot. "Oww!"

She smiled. "I told you I was going to hurt you."

I turned to see Mikey standing in the doorway. "What are you doing?"

She put the sandwich in the microwave and smiled at Mikey. "Your dad thinks he's being funny. Do you think he's funny?" Mikey shook his head.

I gave them my smuggest expression. "My comedy is for sophisticated audiences."

"Is daddy a weirdo?"

Mikey nodded. The microwave beeped and Sara handed the plate to him. "It's hot. Be careful."

Mikey looked up at her. "I can't make the TV work."

Sara looked at me. "I don't know how it's set up. I'll bet dad can fix it."

I winked at her as I walked with Mikey from the kitchen. "Hilarious and handy."

She smacked me on the butt and smiled. "I'll bring you a chicken sandwich with the secret ingredient."

Sunday, August 17, 2008


She parked outside, underneath the street light. The house was completely dark. She rolled down the window and debated over another cigarette. The smoke trailed up as the windshield fogged up.

She looked at herself in the rear view mirror. Her mascara was ruined, but it wasn't messy the way she thought it would be. She took a napkin from the dash and wetted the corner with her tongue. She rubbed hard against her eyelids, wincing a little before looking back in the mirror. It was better.

Wyatt's door opened. He stepped out in jeans and a t-shirt, staring at the car, deciding something before walking down the drive. She stubbed out the cigarette and practiced her smile as he came to the passenger side. He tapped on the door and she waved him into the car.

He got in beside her, looking worried. "I heard you pull up."

She wanted him to touch her, to touch her face. The tears were coming now, but she smiled at him. Wyatt never did things like that, even when they had been together. He waited as long as he could, watching and figuring everything out. She couldn't remember a single impulsive move. He was always steady, never jumping into anything head first.

"What's wrong?"

Her smile broke for a moment. She looked down and smiled up at him again. "You were right about me." He frowned. She was ruining this, too. A million times, he'd told her it didn't matter who was right. "I'm going into a program tomorrow."

She waited.

God. Why didn't he say something? She tried to read his face in the shadows and the glow of the streetlight. He looked down at his hands. "That's good. You'll do great."

She nodded. "Yeah. I think so."

What did she expect? Silent tears kept coming. She felt them rolling down her cheeks, but couldn't feel anything inside. He wouldn't take her back just because she was getting cleaned up. That's what she wanted, wasn't it? She wanted him to ask her in, to make love to her, to hold her until morning. She looked out the window at the pools of yellow light on the sidewalk.

"A residential program?"

She turned back to him. "Yeah."

"That's good." He moved his hands and she felt herself about to break. "How long?"

"It's open-ended. I had one evaluation already. After three months they'll do another one."

He swallowed and held his hands together. He wouldn't let himself touch her. She wanted out of her dirty skin, to be clean. Not for herself, but clean in his eyes. He had forgiven her too many times.

She almost choked on the words. "Are you seeing someone?" She knew he could see her heart breaking.


Somehow, the answer made her more sick. Hopelessness was easier than knowing he was free to love her and wouldn't. She exhaled the breath she didn't realize she had held in and wiped her nose on the napkin.

"Can you hold me?"

"I don't know." He closed his eyes. She was hurting him. She moved her head out of the light, wishing she could hide forever. He opened his eyes again and slid his arms around her. She put her head against his shoulder and kissed his neck. They stayed that way, quiet for a while.

"I love you."

She listened to him breathe. He didn't answer back.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Richard Diamond, Mr. Director.

"For the love of Christmas! CUT!"

Richard walked in front of the lens, shaking his head as I hit the red button.

"What's wrong? You look like you're going to cry. Can I get a little more Sylvia Saint and a little less Sylvia Plath? Come on, Mandie. This goes for everybody. Leave your personal lives at home." He turned back toward Mandie. "If you can't look sexy, look scared. Look like he's going to break you in half with that thing." Richard clapped his hands a couple times. "Alright, everybody. Let's take a breather. Erika, do some rails. No booze. You're sloppy. You okay, Tom?"

Tom nodded.

"Great. Grab a Red Bull." Richard turned to me and motioned toward Alice. "Alice, why don't you take Citizen Kane in one of the rooms for a quick one."

"That's alright."

Richard frowned. "Sorry. Forgot you've got a girlfriend." He muttered to himself as he popped a couple tic-tacs. "I don't understand anything, anymore."

He was Richard Diamond. The Legendary Dick Diamond of more than 200 adult films, from "Yakuza's Daughters" to the epic "Squirticus." A man who could still grease up female robots when the right sci-fi scene called for it.

He unzipped and buried Alice's face in his crotch while he looked over the shot list. "How was it for camera?"

I was still uncomfortable talking to the guy during these breaks. "It was good. Everything looked good. No boom in the shot."

Richard laughed and glanced down at Alice. "You hear that? No boom in the shot." He took a joint out of his breast pocket and lit it. Smoke trailed from his mouth and nostrils as he lowered his shades. He leaned his head back, letting the sun hit his over-tanned skin. He took another drag, pushed Alice's head away, and handed her the joint. "See if you can do any better with this."

He zipped up and walked towards the camera, pushing his sunglasses back on top of his head. "So what's the story, Hollywood? What kind of movies you want to make?" He called me Citizen Kane or Hollywood because I'd been to film school, unlike most of the guys he'd worked with on these shoots. I took the job because I figured it was a step up from working at the video store.

"I don't know. Comedies."

Richard smiled. "Jesus. See what you can do with Mandie. You'd think we were doing a scene of the grieving widow here." He sized me up. "I'm sorry I give you crap." He dug around in his pocket and pulled out another joint. "A lot of us, we work together so much, we're kind of like family. Five years ago, I did a scene just like this with Mandie's aunt."

He took a drag and passed it to me. I hated the way I felt operating camera while high, missing little things in the frame. I took a hit and passed it back. He smiled at me, proud of Citizen Kane.

"New people just take getting used to. If you don't want to give Alice a throw, it's cool. I respect that." He pulled the smoke in deep. It trailed out again as he spoke. "I just want you to know, I'm glad you're working on this. It's nice to have somebody around who takes this stuff seriously." He laughed. "I mean, Christ, try explaining three-point lighting to these guys."

Erika stumbled back out of the house with a bloody nose and a drink in her hand. Richard hurried over, taking the drink away. "What did I say? What did I say? Your problem is you don't listen." Richard yelled over to Alice. "Get a paper towel." He turned back to Erika. "You're sloppy. Nobody wants to watch that." Alice handed him a damp cloth. "Here, clean that off. You think white boys want to download that?"

Mandie came out of the house, looking fresh and reinvigorated. Richard gave her a pat on the ass. "That's my girl. How you feelin'? You good? You look beautiful." Richard smiled at all of us and yelled into the house. "Tom! I got a couple girls out here that need your help."

Erika and Mandie laughed.

Tom walked out, smiling. "Sorry."

Richard grinned and slapped him on the shoulder. "No, you're great. You feelin' good? You ready for these wildcats?"

Tom smiled and nodded.

"Great. That's what I love to hear." Richard dropped his sunglasses down and clapped his hands two times. He walked over beside the camera as his voice boomed out. "Alright. Places everybody. We're gonna take this from where Mandie is upside down with Erika down low. Tom, you're behind Erika." Richard paused for a second, glancing over at me. "Is that going to match?"

I gave a half shrug. "We'll make it work with a cut-away."

Richard laughed and slapped me on the shoulder. "Make it work with a cut-away. I love it. Citizen Kane does it again." He stared out through the sunglasses at all the sweat and hard bodies. "Everybody ready? Sound?" Alice pressed the button the way I'd showed her that morning and held the mic pointed at the actors. "Camera?"

I hit the red button. "Rolling."

A smile spread across the face of Richard Diamond, Mr. Director. "Action."

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Wine, Women, and Psalms

He dropped his matches and stumbled off the stool to pick them up.

Mariana beat him to it. She put them on the bar top as he sat down again. "Everything alright, Mr. Angel?"

"Why not?" He lit his cigarette and glanced back up at her. He didn't know anybody else who hated their last name. "How many times do I have to tell you to call me George?"

Mariana looked away embarrassed. On some guys, the name George made them seem older. Somehow, it made him seem younger--like he was a little boy dressed up in a wrinkled Oxford shirt and olive green slacks. She pretended to wipe down the bar while he fidgeted with his collection of napkins and tray of half-finished cigarettes. "Can I get you another drink?"

George shook his head and swished around the last of the whiskey he was making last. As a general rule, he tried to get belligerent on no more than four drinks in an afternoon. He felt it would be fiscally irresponsible to go through more than that, since his generous advance was paying for every drop. Especially since he'd not yet told his editor he was starting the book over entirely. "You're a pretty lady."

Mariana smiled. "Thanks."

George nodded. Mariana had a kid. That's why she worked during the day, when bad tippers came in and business was slow. "Sit down for a bit."

Mariana looked back at her only table--an old man and a young lady in a power suit. She took the stool beside George and took out her own cigarettes.

"Parliaments." He slid his matches over.

She lit one and smiled. "I'm trying to quit."

George smiled that self-defeating smile of his and toasted her with his half-swallow of whiskey. "Aren't we all?"

Mariana blew smoke at the ceiling. "You celebrating something?"

George had downed a few more than usual. "I've decided on the title for my new book."

Robbie brought him another, then walked around the bar. Mariana glanced up, but Robbie motioned for her to stay put as he went to check on her table.

George noticed their exchange and smiled, embarrassed. "Robbie's a good guy."

Mariana nodded. "Yeah, he is." She studied George. "What's the book called? Or what's it going to be called?"

"Wine, Women, and Psalms."

Mariana smiled.

"What? Is it too cheesy?"

"No, I like it."

"Me too."

"What's it about?"

"I don't know. It was about a bad man doing something that matters because of love. Now, I think it's about him losing everything important to him while pursuing dreams he'll never achieve." George laughed at himself. "I guess it's really just about murder and politics. That's what the readers buy them for. No one ever reads them for the reasons I write them."

"How much have you finished?"

"All of it."

"And you can't decide what it's about?"

George smiled. "I'm rewriting the whole thing. I didn't like my first go at it."

Robbie came back and placed a few glasses and plates in the sink. He glanced over at George and Mariana before washing the glasses and lighting a cigarette of his own. It was one of those bars where everyone smokes.

Mariana tried to smile reassuringly. "I guess that can be frustrating."

George shook his head. "No. That's not why I'm celebrating." He glanced over at her, wishing he wasn't talking so much. "Celebrating" had taken on a new meaning.

"What's wrong?"

"I don't know. Maybe I'm just tired." He took a pull from his drink and laid it down, the hard glass connecting with the bar top. He never took ice in his drinks. "This girl told me she couldn't help wanting to change me and thought we should stop seeing each other. She said she'd never be happy until I wanted to change."

Mariana wished she knew what to say. "I don't think people who go through life trying to change other people ever find the happiness they're looking for."

George finished his drink. "You said it, there."

She couldn't help but smile. His cynical resignation came from a real place, but he always made a little show of it, trying so hard to be amusing, even when he was sad. She glanced back at her table. They were still laughing. The young lady trying to show her boss a good time, earning a raise in her own friendly way.

She turned back to George. He looked at her with hopeful eyes, glancing over her shoulder at the neglected customers. She smiled. "They're alright."

George nodded, gratefully. "You've got a kid, right? Boy or girl?"

Mariana frowned. It wasn't the time or place for getting that personal. "A boy, Alexander."

"Alexander. That's a good name." George swallowed hard. Why had he brought up her kid? She didn't want him asking about her kid.

"John Alexander, after his father. I started calling him Alex after his father left."

George nodded. "Is he an Orioles fan?"

Mariana nodded.

"Good. It's important kids learn to root for the local team. Unless, of course, they live in New York."

She laughed. He was so quiet when he drank alone and so animated when he showed up with friends. She'd never seen him there with a woman. She wasn't sure why it mattered, besides all the reasons she watched him and talked to Robbie about him when he left each afternoon.

He stood up, stubbing out another cigarette. "I guess I'd better get back to the office." He frowned. "That's the problem with working from home. Even when you're asleep, you're stuck at the office."

"It must get lonely." She hadn't meant it that way. He hoped he wouldn't take it that way. She turned a little red.

He put a couple bills on the bar. "Sometimes." He shrugged it off. "Some people are lonely no matter where they are."

She put a hand on his arm and took it away, surprised at herself. "You're a good writer."

He winced at the compliment. He'd never gotten used to hearing that sort of thing from people who'd never read his books. He never quite knew what to say to empty compliments. "Thanks."

"I read 'High Court Indecision.' I liked it."

George sobered up for a moment and looked her over again. He'd always hated that title. It had been his editor's idea. It wasn't one of his better books. "You read it?"

She nodded.

He'd have to reconsider it. "That's nice of you. Thank you." What's her name had never read anything he'd ever written. Mariana looked at him, trying to figure out how to say something.

"Would you like to go out sometime?" She closed her eyes. Where the hell had that come from. "Sorry."

"I'd like that."

Oh god. "Yeah?"



He laughed. "Okay."

She watched him walk out and turned around. Robbie looked up as he cleared off the bar. Robbie laughed. "So you finally did it. Nice work, playa." He dumped out the ashtray.

"How'd he know I had a kid?"

Robbie shrugged. "He always asks about you. I must've told him. Sorry."

"No, it's okay." Mariana smiled. "He asks about me?"

Robbie laughed, shaking his head. "Go take care of those guys."