Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

4:30 a.m.

Okay, you can stop standing there, cussing out the coffee pot now. Just unclench your jaw, pick up your cup, and pour the son of a bitch.

It perks one cup then stops. So I have to turn it off, turn it back on and listen to see if the heating element is still heating up the water in the well. What a piece of shit.

I fantasize about it sitting on top of the garbage can next time the trash man comes to pick up. I fantasize that it is sitting there, in the morning sun, feeling ... embarassed. Inept. A complete failure.

Why? Why am I picking on the poor coffee pot. It's not its fault that it was poorly designed by a recent graduate of a design school who's mom probably still washes his sheets every week.

Lately, I have been obsessed with the movie, "Sleeping With the Enemy." So much so, I can't help but watch it every time it comes on cable, which has been maybe 30 to 50 times in the last few months.

I can tell, it's Hollywood, it's missing pieces. I watch and think up obvious questions that have gone unanswered (like, it took her three and a half years to get away from him? I bet the men were shaking their heads when they saw that and I bet there were even some women out there who thought to themselves that they would never stay in a relationship like that, no matter what, they would give that man the back of their hand or what for or a heavy chair over the back of the head when they weren't looking or a gun to the crotch while they were sleeping ... ) and then I think: I wonder if it came from a book? I bet it did! I bet it came from a book, written by a female author, maybe one who has gone through this, either first person or third.

So it's Hollywood and melodramatic and overdone and all that ... but the nugget of the story is still true.

There isn't one or two big, dramatic, epic battle scenes, storyboarded on the wall that defines when one will stay or leave, there is not one defining moment that lets anyone know, they've had enough.

It's the thousands of tiny cuts over ten or twelve years that start to add up to an almost imperceptable bleeding out.

The soul, shaved off in microscopic slivers ... until there is only an empty shell left.

It's so slow, this taking away of a person's identity under abuse, that there isn't an actual crime one can point to, or even a point to give one an object at which to stare.

A thousand tiny cuts. As many days as it took to create a personality, that's almost as many as it takes to deconstruct one.

The thing is ... it's not the hit or the next hit or the next rape or the next drunken blacked out sodomizing ... it's the promise that the situation will get better, that it can't possibly be this bad, nobody is that bad.

A kind of insulating shock surrounds us, after. A warm, fuzzy blanket of endorphins perhaps, Nature's sedative, to save us, to protect us from the reality of the brutality.

For me, it was my grandma's arms, holding me, rocking me, invisible, I could swear, sometimes I even smelled her lavender perfume, a whiff, a lifejacket.

And every smile, every kindness, like making a pot of coffee for the little woman when he didn't even drink coffee himself, ... well, ... that just reinforced that hopeless, helpless, hopefullness -- that everything was going to be okay, now.

And those son of a bitches -- they know it.

They know it's those little kindnesses, like making a pot of coffee to wake up the wife in a surreal honeymoon Hollywood, Doll's House Dollywood way, with the little bluebirds coming in and singing like in the fairy tale, gently opening up the drapes on the sunshine of the day, to bathe the sleeping princess in her giant, gilded bed, the smell of coffee, made with love by the same hands that banged my head against the refrigerator or the floor or which broke my fingers, crunch, crunch, when I tried to get the hands off my throat, the same hands that held mine, warm, shaking with blushing nervousness, during the wedding ceremony, those hands, those long, graceful fingers that could have created beauty playing piano or painting a canvas, they were in the kitchen making me coffee.

But, you know, he's been dead for almost four years now.

So you can stop bitching out the coffee pot.

Just breathe ....

Breathe in freedom ... breathe in the aroma of fresh-brewed coffee ... just fucking breathe.


Thursday, November 11, 2004

Chapter Three, continued

Just give me one thing
that I can hold onto.
To believe in this livin'
is just a hard way to go.


"Phyllis. How's our Martha this morning?"

"She's fine, Detective. She slept well. I just took her to the bathroom. She's getting dressed now."

"I'm on my way in."


Phyllis returned the receiver to the cradle and registered a look of worried thought on her face. She wondered how Martha really was holding up through all of this trauma and how her son was doing on his end. She wondered if there wasn't something she could do herself, to help Martha's plight. Anything.

Almost as a matter of course, natural violence restrained and retrained as a reflex action, Phyllis suddenly slapped the metal control board in front of her displaying all the switches and dials and intercom buttons that operated the inside of the holding facility. The house lights came on, making it instant daylight in the cells. Moans and groans and hacking coughs could be heard coming from various cells, movement, water running, toilets flushing, and shrieking hoarse morning yells at Phyllis to let them the fuck out now.

The inmates were cranky in the morning. And bored. And restless. And they probably needed a smoke, bad. They had to be escorted to the day room, where, against the rules, smoking was allowed.

It was too cold for half of the year to make the inmates stand outside in the yard to smoke. The other half of the year, it was easier on everybody if the guards turned a blind eye to this minor infraction. The cells were so full, overflowing with more and more drug busts due to the newly instituted Narcotics Force doing their jobs eagerly, in an all-out effort to prove to the city fathers their payroll budget was justified ... by emptying the neighborhoods of petty drug dealers and users, they created and reinforced their own jobs, maxing out the capacities of both the jail and the prison.

Most of the times, there were so many arrests made that prisoners who had already stood before the judge and been handed down their sentences, were shipped off to the overflow prisons in Arizona, much to the consternation of Arizona wardens, already full of their own local infractors.

Having no love for these inmates, Phyllis decided to check on Martha first. She brought in her little compact that held pressed powder, her own comb, and a tube of Blushing Rosebud lipstick. She helped Martha look as best she could, so she would have a better chance in front of the judge. Martha was cool for an old lady.

Martha had seen her sleeping on duty, but Phyllis had a feeling no body would ever hear about it from Martha's lips.

She lightly passed the lipstick over Martha's dry lips. "Smack your lips, honey. That's it. Now," handing her a tissue, she said, "blot off the excess. You just want a little bit of moisture and a hint of color. You don't want to look like no hooker."

Martha burst out in laughter behind her hand, which she had instinctively put up to cover her mouth, as if embarassed.

"Why, Martha! What a beautiful laugh you have! Don't cover up your pretty smile, you're a pretty lady. Now, let's see what we can do with your hair."

As she combed through Martha's greying silver hair, long and thick, except for a raw bald spot in the back, looking fresh, some of the inmates started yelling obscenities at Phyllis for leaving them in their cells so long.

Phyllis screamed, "Shut the hell up and wait till I get to you!" making Martha jump slightly, as she continued twisting Martha's hair and then roping it around in a bun, carefully placing it on the back of her head to cover the bald spot. She fastened it with her own hair clip, which she had taken out of her hair, letting it fall down to her shoulders, under the hat.

"There now. You're as pretty as a picture! Here, look." She handed Martha the compact so she could see herself and Martha looked a little startled when she saw her lips.

"I don't usually wear makeup, dear. Are you sure this is going to look all right? For the judge? I don't want to give him the wrong impression of me."

"Nah! You look beautiful! Not too much, I swear. Just enough to add a little color. Here, let me just rub a little bit on your cheeks. You're so pale, honey." Phyllis took the tube of lipstick and wiped a bit on her ring finger which she then smoothed on over first one of Martha's cheeks, then the other, blending it in till it all but disappeared, leaving a slight blush behind. "You have the softest skin. How do you do that?"

"It's a secret. An old crone's secret that I will take to my grave," said Martha with a twinkle in her eye. Then she laughed. "I use baby oil with lavender in it. It's something I learned from my mother."

"I'll have to try that. Sure seems to be working for you. Listen, can I get you a cup of coffee or tea? You've got a little wait till Detective Bronson gets in, but he called and said he's on his way."

"Thank you, dear. I would like that very much, if it's no trouble." Martha started twisting her ring around and around on her finger. She looked far away, back in time, while Phyllis gathered up her things.

"Am I in big trouble?"

"I don't know, honey. I guess it's going to depend on how your husband is, what charges he wants to press against you and what kind of mood the judge is in this morning." She draped Martha's sweater around her shoulders and put her hand under Martha's chin, lifting up her head so she could look into Martha's blue, blue eyes.

"The most important thing for you to do, for your son to do, is to get you a good attorney, as soon as possible. Do you understand me? You must have an attorney present to stand with you, to stand beside you, when you face the judge. That will make all the difference in the world."

Martha hung her head. Her shoulders drooped. She twisted her ring around and around, deeply, hurtfully, almost wearing a raw spot under the metal. She worried and wondered where her son was, how he did, if he had any money.

She worried if he was too little to remember when she showed him the coffee tin. She wondered if he remembered where she buried it on the side of the hill above their camp, right beneath the lookout pine that stretched up to heaven, that stood guardian over them all.

The one Abe would never climb because he said that would have been disrespectful.

The one they used to call The Sentry.

Detective Bronson pulled into his spot, got out, plugged in his car to the heater and pulled on his coat. He crunched through the several inches of snow that had fallen the night before and into the courthouse. He pulled his coat back off, waved at the guard, stepped around the x-ray machine and headed for a side office, down the hallway around the elevators in the lobby. He got to a door that said: "PUBLIC DEFENDERS OFFICE," and stood there for a moment, regarding the lettering on the door.

He reached out, grabbed the knob, and slowly opened the door, creeping inside silently on his big feet.

"ALL RISE! The State of Alaska, Third District Court, with the Honorable Judge Reinhardt presiding, is now in session."

The courtroom had no sooner gotten to their feet, when the judge whisked in through a back door, slammed down in his chair, the bailiff said "Please be seated," and the judge slammed his gavel down with a sharp lightning-like crack on the wooden platform and said, "What's new pussycat?" to the clerk.

The clerk handed over a sheaf of papers, saying, "Up first, your Honor, is Martha Bernard, an interesting A.M. case."

"Really? I love those! What a great way to start the day! And where is Ms. Barnard?"

"Uh, that's BERnard, your Honor."

"Huh? Oh. Right. Which one of these lovely folks is Ms. BERnard? Anyone? First one up gets a prize ..."

"Holding is bringing her up, your Honor, it will just be a moment. I just called down there. They're on their way."

The door off to the side of the jury box opened and Phyllis personally led Martha in with a protective arm around her shoulder. Detective Bronson followed and took a seat at the prosecution's table. The doors to the court suddenly swung open and in rushed a little man in an overcoat with a briefcase, and fogged glasses.

"Sorry, your Honor. Mr. Sheldon from the Public Defender's Office. I just got word about this case on my cell phone as I was driving in. Can you give me a moment to collect myself?"

"By all means, Frank. Collect yourself. We wouldn't want you in pieces scattered all over my courtroom."

Some titters and chuckles rose up from the small crowd of people gathered in the court room, some defendents, some lawyers, some wives and husbands, other friends and relatives. The lights flickered. Somebody coughed. The judge hummed a little tune, tapping out the beat with the eraser tip of his number two Ticonderoga pencil.

Martha regarded the man beside her, dropping papers all over the floor as soon as he opened his briefcase, snow melting in puddles around his shoes.

She cast a frantic look over her shoulder in the courtroom for her son.

But, Abe wasn't there. He hadn't returned yet from his drive on slippery snow, over a mountain pass, his little pickup truck still wearing its summer sandals.

Although he might have thought of his favorite guardian too late to be any help at all, he still had to give it his best shot. Swinging by his house first to pick up his heavy coat, hat, gloves, boots and a shovel ...

Abe had gone to visit The Sentry.

Martha pulled the bear roast out of the oven and scooped its juices, the drippings, from the bottom of the pan in a big spoon and ladeled it over the top. She hummed a little tune she had learned when she was a little girl, one her mother used to sing to her.

George came slamming in suddenly through the front door, stomping his muddy feet all over the throw rug Martha had learned, through experience, to put there in hopes of holding most of the mud in one place.

"Are you going to help today at all? Or are you just going to hole up in this house?"

Martha put the roast back in the oven and stood up, regarding her second husband carefully. She had learned through the past five years how to take a measure of his vocal inflections, taking his temperature, as he could run hot and cold simultaneously with little or no warning.

She rubbed her wrist with the red mark on it, still holding the big spoon in a vice grip.

"Well, do you want me to feed the help their dinner today? Or do you want me to help you out in the field?"

Martha had learned how to give this man options, so he could sort out his feelings better, before reacting to her words issued as statements that could be misinterpreted.

"Well, shit fire, woman! You've got the roast in the oven already, what more do you have to do it? Do you have to sit here on your lazy ass and babysit the goddamned thing all day long?"

"Remember, I also have an appointment in town this afternoon with the tax man. Your quarterlies are coming up due."

George coughed up a wad of spittle and angrily spat it out on the carpet. He looked at her with hard eyes, a look between smoldering anger and loathing. He was perplexed, realizing she couldn't be at two places at the same time and feed the help, too.

"Well, shit. Did you have to make the appointment for today? You knew I was planning on clearing that back lot. That we were burning today. For Christ's sake. You know we need all the hands we can get to watch that fire. We got to get it done today because tomorrow there's supposed to be wind."

"This was the first time I could get in to see him, George. And it's pushing it as it is. Your quarterlies have to be filed by next week, at the latest, to avoid a penalty."

George wiped his shoes on the carpet and put his hands on his hips.

"Well, all right then. Just drop off the paperwork and get back here. You don't have to have tea with the man. But first, serve up that roast so I don't have to hear no belly achin' from that damned crew. If they don't eat, I don't get no work out of them. And get your ass back here as soon as you can. We'll start without you, but you get your ass back here."

"Okay George. I'll carve up the roast and put it on bread so they can eat it faster and I won't have to haul any dishes back and forth. I'm sorry I forgot about the burning. I'm really sorry to mess up your plans."

George turned to leave, mumbling about not giving a shit whether they had it on bread or on a birch leaf and he hoped they choked on it and she was the worst, laziest, dumbest-ass woman he'd ever met and she could hear him all the way down the driveway.

She looked at her wrist where he had twisted her arm the night before, when dinner had been late because she'd been out in the field, working then too.

She wondered how Mary had handled his temper and if she really was a Perfect Wife after all.

Mary looked at Martha from the mantlepiece with sadness in her eyes. Martha looked back and noticed for the first time, how utterly devoid of life Mary's eyes seemed, wondering why she had never noticed it before. She looked suddenly looked like a cardboard cut-out, lifeless, and wearing a sad mask.

"Mrs. Bernard, let me do the talking, okay? I have had a conversation with Detective Bronson and..."

Martha smiled at the mention of her Gentle Man's name and she looked over at the other table, not knowing it was the Enemy, never having been in a courtroom before, that it was the prosecutor, who would be trying to put her behind bars. She caught Detective Bronson's eye and smiled at him a lovely smile and he nodded respectfully, returning her smile with a little wink. Then he leaned over and began to whisper in the prosecutor's ear.

The prosecutor's face looked suddenly very grave and he was nodding his head first up and down and then from side to side.

Detective Bronson put his big hand around the prosecutor's arm and squeezed, ever so slightly, leaning in closer, closer to the ear of the man whose arm had helped him skin moose hide from hunts they had gone on together every year since 1985.

"Helloooooo.... Doesn't anybody want to talk to me? And here I thought I was the guest of honor! Mr. District Attorney, will you be joining in eventually in this conversation, or should we sent out for lattes and bear claws?"

Abe skidded to a stop at the end of a dirt road covered in snow, tracks leading back from where he came off the highway up above. Wondering if he would be able to get his truck back up out of here and onto the road again, he realized he could worry about that later.

Right now he had some digging to do. He crawled up the hillside in back of their cabin, Home, the Homestead, the only place he'd ever known growing up, nostalgia seeping in deep, as he slid, crawled, slid, and started using his hands and the shovel to give him traction.

Breaking out in a sweat and out of breath, he stopped to take off his heavy coat, wrapped the arms around his waist, tied it in a loose knot and continued on up till he reached the bottom of his favorite tree in the whole world.

"Hello, Old Friend. I sure did miss you. Let's see what surprise you have for me today."

Martha remembered a kinder, gentler man. A tall, strong, serious man who knew how to work hard, who made a good living, who loved his first wife with a passion and promised to love her the same. He promised to take care of her. He wooed her, courting her the old fashioned way, with Sunday afternoon visits and rides, flowers at the door, nothing inappropriate, not language, not insinuations, no hands grabbing, no gawking at other women when they were out in public, he always opened the door for her, carried her packages, held the car door open for her, making sure she got her skirts in before shutting it on them.

If he thought she might be chilly, he would produce a lovely, hand-made blanket to place on her lap or over her shoulders, which he said his bride made for him.

Martha thought he was the most loving man she had ever met. It didn't take long for her to begin looking at George with eyes towards spending the rest of her life with him. She knew he would always take care of her, would always love and appreciate her, and stand by her. She knew instinctively that this man would always be a hard worker and make a good living, even though he didn't really need to work anymore, he couldn't help it, work was in his blood. He could no more sit around doing crossword puzzles or socializing than a man in the moon.

And Martha knew ... these qualities that George displayed over the few months after he had discovered her in the grocery store, were the most important things in a marriage.

"The first thing I would insist on," George announced one afternoon, "is that you quit your job. No lady like you should ever have to work. I know that's old-fashioned, whatcha call -- chauvinist -- but that's the way I am. If it was good enough for my mother and father, and it seemed to work pretty good for them, then it should be good enough for my woman too."

Martha had worked hard all her life. She had never had a dull moment. She didn't even know how a lady of leisure was supposed to conduct herself. She'd never known a rich married lady before. What did they do, to fill up their days?

Even though she wasn't sure if she was cut out to be a Lady of the House, she was pretty sure, in time, she could figure it out.

Martha was smitten.

Three and a half months after George first saw pretty, strong, Martha, wearing no makeup and bagging his groceries with the strength of one of his hired hands, they were married.
Chapter Three

Make me an Angel
that flies to Montgomery
Make me a poster
of an old rodeo.

"What do you want for dinner?"

Abe looked up from his morning paper and smiled. His mother was still beautiful and strong and he knew he was so very lucky to have her.

"I don't care, Mom. Whatever you cook will be delicious."

"You got so thin, Son. I had no idea you weren't eating right while you were here. Didn't they feed you at that school? Don't they have a good cafeteria? What was I paying all that extra money for, to make sure you were fed properly, if you just ended up so darn thin? You're still a growing boy!"

Abe broke out with a hearty chuckle, leaning back in his chair.

"Mom! I think I've pretty much grown all I'm going to now. I'm just always going to be pint-sized, I guess."

"Oh stop it!" Martha shushed him. "You're a bigger man than most I know. It's not what's on the outside, it's what's on the inside. ... What's that got to do with why you're so thin?"

"I don't know, Mom. I guess ... I guess it just wasn't your cooking, is all. It was okay for what it was. But it didn't stick. It seemed so watered down, so thin. Some of those cold winter days when the temperature would drop down to 40 and 50 below, and there would still be classes -- I swear those professors were nuts -- and most of us would be hanging out in the cafeteria in between times, trying to get warm with their watered down hot chocolate and soups so thick you could stand your spoon up in them. It wasn't the good thick, either. This was pure starch, to make the watery versions seem more ... 'hearty fare'." Abe stuck both hands up in the air, to signify making quotation marks around the PR put out in the college brochures.

"But we figured it out early on: the cooks, who I swear came from the Army or prison or something, would take whatever was left over from dinner the night before and throw it in a big stock pot, fill it up with water, throw in some frozen vegetables and rice and try to make it turn into soup, as if by magic. Then, before serving it, they must have thrown in a bunch of flour or corn starch or something, because there was our dinner, looking back up at us the next day, suspended in cosmic glue."

Martha laughed and wiped down the metal frame around the steel kitchen sink. Her laughter was infectious, bubbling up from her depths, a great effusive explosion that ended with a hanging chime tinkle.

Abe loved making his mother laugh, because it sounded so musical but mostly because it was so easy to do. She laughed at everything in her sweet innocense, as she watched the wild life that would come into camp, curious or hungry, at the miner's basic attempts at humor, and now since their return to town, she laughed at the antics of neighborhood dogs, as people walked them by their fenced yard, and at the crows who had too much personality for their own good, those the Natives referred to as "Grandfather," or "Uncle," believing they were ancestors, reincarnated as Heckle and Jeckle.

"Well, how about some good old stew? We still have a bit of moose meat left over from the neighbor's hunt and we haven't had that for a while. Some good, sturdy stew, the thick and stick to your ribs kind, and I promise not to suspend it in any glue." She rang out a tinkling chuckle and finished drying the breakfast dishes.

Martha remembered that morning like it was yesterday. They hadn't been moved into their new home very long. Abe had gotten a job at the local grocer's, stocking shelves, sweeping and mopping aisles, even running the cash register when there were long lines of people in a hurry to get home with their dinner fixins after work.

She had felt guilty not working, but Abe had insisted that she just stay home and enjoy herself, for the first time in her life.

For the first time in her life.

Martha had been working, non-stop, for 60 years, since she was a small girl, performing chores on her parent's farm. She woke up at 5 a.m. to feed the dogs and cats, to wash up any dishes in the sink leftover from the night before, while her mother helped milk the cows. She had to get herself dressed, washed up, and make her bed. She remembered. She had very important chores.

As she grew, her chores became more complicated and more varied, making longer and longer lists, till it seemed every minute of every day, starting before the sun came up and continuing till long after the sun had set, Martha's hands were busy.

And now she didn't know what to do with herself.

Abe sat on a cold, wooden bench inside the police station, swirling the watered down hot chocolate around in his paper cup, from the vending machine. He looked up at the clock on the wall for the hundredth time: it read 6:05. In the morning.

Any hour now, the court clerks would be coming in to turn on lights, start the coffee brewing, start shuffling papers, and glancing at the print outs of the arrests made the day and night before, to see how to stack the incoming cases for arraignment.

Martha Bernard's name was on the top of the list. She would be called, first thing. Right after the judge had hung up his coat and put on his long black robes, right after the bailiff had cleared his throat, calling "All rise!"

Abe had not yet gotten a lawyer. Nobody was answering their phone. The calling card was empty, as was his wallet. And he'd just spent his last three quarters on breakfast.

Martha had found ways to keep herself busy, by taking up quilting with a ladies group in town. They met once a week, sometimes twice if it was nearing the holidays and they needed to finish a charity donation to raise funds by selling raffle tickets. The townsfolk were good that way. If someone was in need, it didn't take long for the people to rally 'round and make short work of medical bills or transporation bills to get someone to a bigger city like Anchorage or Seattle, that had the kind of hospital that could actually save someone's life.

She loved that about this town. It had grown so large since she had spent her winter and spring here, waiting for Abe to be born. There was a pipeline being built now, and tens of thousands of people from all over the country had invaded, looking for their own gold in those big oil pipeline dollars to be made.

Knowing they were lucky to be here, they were generous with their wages. Their earnings fueled this town's economy in ways unimagined by the planners. Real estate went sky high, as there was a shortage of homes to house them all. The cost of living also went out of sight, as the locals took every possible advantage of the worker's high wages. It was a vicious cycle and some of the fixed income people or employees still working for the same low wages they always had, suddenly found themselves victims of a bloated economy.

So Martha helped out wherever she could, volunteering at the Food Bank, sorting canned goods, organizing donated food stuffs into categories, helping big families trying to survive on a one-person income, fill their cardboard boxes with a wide assortment of items.

She also thought she might help out Abe with the household expenses by getting a part-time job down at his store, helping to bag groceries. She already had experience at the Food Bank and she was still strong, with strong arms and a strong back. She was so pleasant and smiling, genuinely loving people, that she quickly became very popular.

Abe didn't mind. He loved to hear her laughter ring out across the store. He would wonder if she was the one who had told the joke or if it was the customer, dropping by to tickle the old bag lady with a new one heard down at the lodge.

Martha looked down at her wrinkled, strong hands and twisted her wedding ring, around and around.

She'd give anything in the world to be back in that little house with her son, back at the store, placing with precision, the cans on the bottom and the bread on top.

Phyllis snorted awake and simultaneously slammed the chair back down on the floor, making her jump and grab her gun holster.

She looked around, saw where she was, looked at the clock and said, "Oh SHIT."

She jumped up, rubbing sleep out of her eyes, fixing her hat on straight, tucking her shirt into her slacks and running to the place where she had left Martha the night before.

With a long sigh, she was relieved to find Martha, sitting on the edge of the cot, her legs covered by the nightgown, her hands in her lap, her head down. Was she asleep? Or was she crying?

"Martha," she whispered quietly. She didn't want to wake her up, but if she was crying, this was not the way to greet the judge. And she was sure she only had a few minutes left before the phone rang with Detective Bronson on the other end, calling from his home, wanting a progress report on Martha.

Martha lifted her head and saw Phyllis, rumpled and disheveled. She smiled. "I tip-toed in earlier, dear, but you were ... ah ... I decided to wait a little longer. But if it would be okay with you, I really need to use the lady's room."

Phyllis exhaled loudly, a smile spreading widely over her face, relieved Martha was not only all right, but that Martha was still there.

She should have known this little old lady wouldn't try to escape, even if Phyllis had been resting her eyes for a few moments.

She showed Martha down the hall to the private rest room and stood outside with her arms folded, like a good officer should.

George liked to come into town on Saturdays. This was his reward for putting in a long day, a long week, riding herd over lazy workman that needed constant supervision. And now his perfect Mary was no longer there to warm his bed, the house had grown cold and so empty. He needed to get out on Saturday nights, to get away from the pictures on the mantlepiece, to try to fill his emptiness with a little distilled warmth.

So George liked to tip a few now and then down at the Caribou Lodge. He also liked to play bingo once and a while, because he fancied himself a Lucky Man.

And sometimes, George was very lucky, indeed.

There were always a few lonely women at the lodge on Saturday nights, all painted up, dressed up in their finest catalog-ordered frocks, smelling sweet, smiling sweetly, at any unmarried man ordering a drink at the bar.

George didn't particularly like those kinds of women. He still liked the innocent, subservient kind of real women who knew their place.

But, at least these women could be counted on for a good tumble, now and again.

And that's how George, tall strong strapping tanned rich George, got lucky.

After bingo.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Chapter Two

If dreams were thunder
and lightnin' was desire
this old house would have burnt down
a long time ago.

There has long been a tradition practiced throughout the ages called "marriage of convenience."

Not based on love -- but need -- a kind of marital barter system, utilizing the age-old economic concept of Supply and Demand.

A single man, in this part of the country where the winters are fierce, needs to be taken care of because his days are long when it's not winter. When the sun comes to spend summer vacation up in the higher latitudes around the arctic circle, there is no night time. He blazes stubbornly down on the tundra, and allows the gentle, hard working residents to grow crops in record time, a speeded up time, to make up for the shortness of the growing season. Kohl crops, like cabbages, broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, and squashes, like zuchini and yellow crooked neck, all grow under a never setting sun that is positioned straight overhead, pouring down light and heating up the permafrost of a perpetually frozen ground underneath the top soil, heating up the air, all the way up to the 90s, and this sudden intensity allows the crops to grow to giant sizes, if left unpicked.

Farmers grow large fields of hay to bundle, to feed the large animals all winter long. There are fields of potatoes that make it to market to feed the population all winter long. Tomatoes multiply like rabbits and what doesn't make it into the pantry, is sent to market. Summer is a busy time. And this is why it helps to have an extra pair of hands at home, who not only can cook three squares a day, but who can put in a garden, who knows how to can and pickle and make preserves to put up a nice pantry for winter. Someone who can keep the place neat and relatively clean,
organized, take care of the bills, darn socks, patch holes in sleeves, knit hats and mittens and scarves to keep the cold out. It helps to have someone who knows how to cook wild meats and fowl, from field to table, plucking ducks and grouse; someone who is able to dress out a moose or caribou or bear carcass, carving out steaks and roasts, grinding up the leg meat of the hooved beasts with rennet into hamburger, all destined for the deep freeze.

One bull moose that can weigh up to 1600 pounds could yield a thousand pounds of that much weight in meat and feed a family of four or five all winter long. A moose cow that weighs half that can feed a couple like George and Martha, and when George's hunting skills add in a black bear and a caribou to the total, they have enough to feed not only themselves all year, but all the hired hands as well, from late spring to late fall.

Living on the land is hard work and it sure helps to have an extra pair of hands, especially out in the field when the weather takes a turn for the worse and every person has to drop what ever it is they are working on at the time to run to the fields where they can lend their extra pair of helping hands.

That's why George married Martha.


Martha liked this cabin. It wasn't too small to be cramped. It wasn't too large to take care of, either.

It was old, but as it was made with fine white spruce trees, which George had fallen himself on his own land and then had them skinned of bark, sanded smooth, notched to fit perfectly together and then lined with putty to fill in the chinks, the log cabin worked well enough to keep out the wind and cold, making it a very comfortable home all winter long.

The cabin had been built by George's own two hands, with two stories, two small bedrooms upstairs, a downstairs with kitchen, dining room table and living area with a big hearth fireplace on the south wall, and a woodstove in the back of the downstairs room against the east wall, which fed heat into the upstairs rooms.

In later years, George had even figured out how to install plumbing for sinks, bathtubs, and toilets. He first installed a downstairs bathroom, but then decided it would be more convenient to also have the luxury of an upstairs bathroom, so he didn't have to trip down the stairs in the dark on his increasingly more frequent night runs.

The cabin was all open downstairs, with no walls separating any of the areas and the front facing west was full of windows, which Martha particularly liked. She could stand at the sink and look out onto the sun light as it filtered down through the leaves of giant birch trees and spruce pines, scrubbing fine silt off her potatoes, just dug up from the garden outside, on the south side of the house, where it received warm sunlight, almost 24 hours a day.

She could sit on the couch, on the end nearest the fireplace where it was warm all winter and do her knitting and darning, watch the sun set early in the winter afternoons, watch for squirrels and birds, keep an eye on dinner, keep busy, keep warm, while staying useful.

She didn't mind it a bit that the cabin had been built by George for his bride of forty years ago, his First Wife. There were still pictures of Mary on the mantlepiece and on the hallway wall leading up the stairs. Mary seemed to bless this house and her kind eyes always watching gave Martha a kind of unexpected comfort, a sense of company, through the long hours and days and months that Martha needed to fill up, mostly alone.

Mary had been a beautiful woman. She had some strong Swedish genes from her ancestry that gave her platinum blonde hair, the real kind, not out of any bottle, and high cheek bones, penetrating blue eyes, and thin lips. She looked strong, too.

And, as George never tired of telling Martha, she was The Perfect Wife.

Too bad she had to die first.


Mary's sudden and unexpected passing from an aggressive cancer diagnosed too late to treat had left George a widower. All those years together and he'd never really appreciated all Mary had done for him, till she was gone. Now all of a sudden, all this land he had acquired throughout his life, his real estate business, his home, his very existence seemed so ... empty.

He had spent the last forty years buying up land, clearing it, selling it at double its value, acquiring more and more, till he had become known secretly amongst the town folk in that tiny community of Moose Creek as "The Land Baron."

George knew that land was the last gold left on the planet. He knew all this acreage around him, covered in virgin forests, filled with bogs, wild berries, and wild life, would someday fetch princely sums. Nobody wanted to clear land, it was back-breaking work. Or build roads to the land, for access. Not many people knew how to (or wanted to,) dig wells or dig out holes to lay down a septic system.

But George did. And he knew people would pay big money for a few acres to call their own, if it was already cleared and ready to be built on.

He charged for his services. He could buy big swaths of uncleared land, for 25, 50 dollars per acre, several hundred at a time, then clear it, build an access road to it, parcel it up and already, he had doubled or tripled its value. If he went even further with improvements, he could increase its real estate value by ten or twenty times.

So he did. He had been the proud owner of slightly less than 100,000 thousand acres, making George one of the largest land owners in the state, after the State of Alaska and the Native Corporations -- that is, until he bequeathed a total of 60,000 acres, divided up neatly and given away to trusts in honor of Mary's life, to Mary's favorite charities and even to some of her relatives.

George was very, very sorry he had not taken better care of Mary while she was alive. He felt guilty at some of his old-fashioned ways when dealing with her. Making gifts of the land they had acquired while they were married, through the hard times, seemed the right thing to do now. He gave until it hurt, till he could appease his guilty conscience that he mistook for giving thanks in celebration of Mary's life.

Besides, he could always acquire more land. George "Aquisition" Barnard, he would be known as some day, he thought proudly. A philanthropist of high regard in the community.

George had always made it a policy to keep his overhead as low as possible. This frugal practice was what had made the game so rewarding and to him the road to riches had seemed so simple: he always hired men and boys out of work, poor, eager to make enough money to live on throughout the winter and pay them next to nothing for their 12-hour days that stretched non-stop into many weeks, for three or four months at a time, and sometimes longer, weather permitting.

He owned his own equipment, bought from a long and varied list of gold mines with which to mine out his various acquisitions, for pennies on the dollar, from a "going out of business sale," "bankruptcy sale," "estate sale," "state auction," all for a song. He was able to purchase much of his land that way too, when the state would sell off entire tracts by sealed bid. He knew people. He used his financial heavy weight status to swing deals his way. Relentless, he never stopped. And lately, his tracts of improved land, "ready to build" land -- were fetching upwards of $5 - $7,000 per acre -- each parcel turning George a net profit worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

George was proud of the fact that he was a very rich man, a business man, a self-styled Real Estate Tycoon, even going so far in his mind to fancy himself a Perfect Man.

George knew he was a Good Catch.


Martha knew about clearing land. She knew all about getting untouched, stubborn ground that had been happy to lay there undisturbed for millennia, and by sheer will power and back breaking work, coaxing it with equal determination to the point of accepting crops or a house or a barn.

She had grown up on a farm. She had been born and raised in another place that was traditionally subjected to harsh winters and short summers, a place that made its living on crops, in North Dakota. She had come from a long line of pioneering women, a heritage of Germans, Danes and Swedes, and she was strong, both in will and in muscle. Determined. Independent. Martha had a strong back bone.

Till she got pregnant with Abe, at the peri menopausal age of 44.

She had been married, but her husband had died, leaving her with a farm to run by herself. She was suddenly alone, for the first time in her life, and broke, not knowing where the tax money would come from to pay for the farm, the few farm hands they had hired over the years that had stuck with them through droughts, early snowstorms, and hail damage throughout those many years, sadly all had to be let go.

Except one. A cowboy. A new guy. A little younger than Martha. Still fit, but tired of the trail, looking for a place to hang out for the fall, to make a little money to add to his summer's wages, so he could travel around the country, seeing places he'd never been to before in his lifetime, without being worried how he was going to eat.

He took a fancy to Martha's cooking right off the bat and ended up staying a little longer than he had planned at first. He was getting too tired to bust cows and drive herds on thirty-year-old saddle sores, had ended up at Martha's farm one day by pure accident, evidently not six months after her husband had passed away.

He didn't care if she couldn't pay him. Her vittles and a bed roll in the old bunkhouse kept him happy. And she needed help, in more ways than one. He knew how to mend fences, how to clean out the barn, how to take care of the animals. There had been no crops planted to harvest, as that is when the husband had suffered a heart attack, which was lucky, because he'd never been on a combine in his life. But he knew all about animals and didn't mind caring for them. Just as long as Martha gave him three hot meals a day, that was all he needed to keep him happy. Her food was so much better than the shit he had eaten for most of his life, as the chuck wagon cooks never, ever were good for nothing. What they did to food was criminal, he thought. He had heard there were good trail cooks, he just hadn't ever been fortunate enough to meet any in his lifetime.

So, at this point in his life, tired of following dumb cows and hearing their endless moaning, tired of living in saddles, Martha's food and a dry, warm bunk was more than he could ask for.

He didn't stay long in the bunkhouse, however.

Pretty soon, Martha was frantic, embarassed, too old she thought, betrayed by her body and sad, broken heart, missing her husband, betrayed by the doctors that told her early on, for several years after she got married, that she could never have children, it just wasn't possible. So what was this? Now what was she supposed to do?

At first she thought she may be entering menopause, but it was clear after a couple of months that the sudden free-flying vomit accompanying her meals and terrible smells of cooking that were making her sick at her stomach, her inability to keep anything down, be near any kind of food, for the first time in her life -- she knew -- she must be pregnant.

By the end of the third month, she was sure, as she looked at herself in the mirror and saw the little pillow growing under her navel and she was never so frightened and excited in her life. What would her relatives say? Her neighbors? She would be shunned by everyone. She would have friends no more. There wasn't any way to say this was her husband's. No possible way she could feebly attempt that explanation -- the timing was all wrong.

The only thing she could do was hope for the best reaction when she told the man who gifted her with this frightening but blessed miracle.

But, the cowboy was no help at all.

She saw him riding out on his pinto, heading south, early the next morning after she had told him the night before, so early, the sun hadn't even had time to stretch and yawn.

Martha sold the farm as quickly as she possibly could, wearing larger skirts to hide her belly. She told her friends and relatives that since she was now alone and could no longer manage the farm on her own, it was time for her to start a new life in a new place. She told them she'd always been fascinated by the stories of wild life, gold mines and auroras in Alaska, so that's where she decided to go.

A trunk of books, a trunk of pots and pans, a trunk of clothing and bedding, and she was on her way.

She had enough money from the hasty sale of the farm to live on for several years if she was frugal, time to give her a good view of the northern landscape, time to raise her son to toddler age, when, she hoped, she could then go out and look for employment. That was her plan.

She had heard good money could be made as a camp cook. Long hours, long weeks, no time off, for months at a time. Most crews took off winters, but enough money could be made during the times of operation that one could live on that till the mines were functioning again. Sometimes, if necessary they could arrange for a substitute to come in and switch shifts for a few weeks at a time, every few months, but that was about the extent of their bending. The miners worked hard, many, many hours a day and all they wanted was good food to keep them going and a nice place to lay.

All Martha wanted was a place to raise her child and enough work to keep her busy, to keep her mind occupied.

Martha got a room in a little town at the time, called Fairbanks, right downtown, where she would be close to the news and the doctor. She worked all winter and spring, knitting, sewing, keeping herself busy while she waited for the birth, making baby clothes.

She was lonely, but had her baby growing inside, which she talked to often. She sang to it and rocked him in an old, hand-made rocking chair, left behind by the last tennant. She was scared but determined to bring this baby into the world by any means necessary.

This was her blessing. Her very own miracle. She was so thankful, she wasn't even mad anymore that God took her husband away.

She kept her eyes on the classified ads in the local newspaper, and on the bulletin boards at the grocer's, the arctic entrance ways to all the businesses, like the bank, the baker, the laundry. She found many ads for camp cook and she wrote letters to apply for these jobs.

It seemed that most of these men wanted a woman that not only would cook, but also do laundry and some even suggested that if the cook was comely enough, and friendly enough, maybe they wouldn't mind providing a little comfort on occasion, if requested.

But ... Martha didn't do laundry.

One reply was written by all the men together in a small camp a little bit farther north, on the other side of the mountains. They used humor in their letter and Martha liked that a lot. They also sounded half-starved and described how they were so sick of each other's cooking and so hungry that their "belly buttons were rubbing against their spines."

These men would do. This camp would be a pleasure to work in. All they wanted was food.

So even though this employment had come through a lot faster than Martha's original plans, she felt sorry for the hungry men and wrote asking if they could wait for her for another month, so she could give birth to her baby and then she could come fatten them up on her farm cooking.

Farm cooking. Those two words sealed the deal.

And those crusty ol' sourdoughs didn't even seem to mind if there was a baby in the camp, treating him as an oddity, a freak show, as none of them had ever been around a baby before; or a big gold nugget unearthed to gaze upon intently, as their insides thawed, and the blood of beating hearts began to pump baby love through their veins.

Martha made a lot of money cooking for those miners. They loved her. They took a real shine to Abe. Even though he was already a stubborn little red headed man at three, they still treated him like a baby, carrying him around, his feet never touching the ground whenever the men were in camp, passing him from one to the next.

They even fashioned a little hard hat for him to wear when they took him on rides on the ore carts on Sundays. He would be beaming in his little overalls and hardhat, bright blue eyes peeking over the top of the cart, chubby hands clutching the edge for dear life, his squeals of delight as he rode on his own private roller coaster, barely heard over the crushing clatter of the wheels on the tracks.

Zoom! went Abe. Vroom vroom! For hours....

And so Abe was loved and raised by everyone in the camp. Being so far away from civilization, he was home schooled by his mother and any others in the camp who might have an interest or particular knowledge in one subject area of his study. Abe was smart. He studied hard, helped out the miners when he could, the situation becoming one of symbiosis: a great learning experience for Abe, courtesy of the rest of the camp, an extra set of hands to help out the miners when needed, and a woman who didn't mind being in a camp with little or no luxury, cooking for half a dozen life long, craggy friends, who just liked to spend their lives digging holes in the dirt.

About the time Martha and Abe had spent their first summer season with the men, they were so enamored of their new family, they knocked off early for the first time ever after fall had arrived to build an actual cabin with several rooms inside, with enough space for Martha and her child to live and cook and conduct classes.

During the winter, the men worked inside to build a sleeping loft for themselves, so they could come inside and warm up by the fire after dinner was served, taking turns reading out loud; so they could all sleep under the same roof. It made the men feel better, to be close enough to the M'am and the Boy, to protect them while they slept.

They had become a real family. They may have been an odd family, but with emotional ties and true compassion for one another, just like in any other.

One day Abe was a toddler, banging into walls and tree trunks, chasing squirrels; the next he was 18 years old and itching to drive himself away to college. He had an interest in geology of course, but also of law. He wanted to help not only these miners, the only family he had ever known, but all small, independent miners so they could legally retain their claims to work and this had lately become a source of major irritation for all concerned.

Big Business had discovered the vast wealth hiding in Alaska, under the snow and ice and had crept in to ravage the state's resources, sucking up all claims and deeds owned by anyone in their way. Heavy, expensive equipment, paid for by Big Oil razed the land looking for precious resources. Little mines were sucked up by big mines. It seemed all the big companies had ties to Europe and beyond, with banks of attorneys eager to shout the little guy down.

Even though he thought the miners were getting to a point in their lives where they ought to start thinking about knocking off (surely they had mined enough by now to live very comfortably for the rest of their years,) Abe felt it was still their choice and they should have a say in whether or not they still wanted to work their claim, for how ever long they desired. It wasn't fair that big business was coming in and kicking the little guy around and he wasn't going to tolerate it if he could help it.

He'd given them his brawn. Now it was time to lend them his brains. They were his family.

Ah, but the best laid plans ... Poor Abe was not able to finish even his third year of college. As Abe approached the legal age of manhood, his mother, now 65, had announced she'd had enough of camp life and wanted to move back to civilization.

In reality though, the miners had decided it wouldn't be worth the battle to try and fight these big rich companies who would suck them all dry of everything they had worked so hard for all their lives, but decided instead that it was time to call it a day, force Martha into an early retirement, take their grub stakes and head on down to the Lower 48, to fan out across the country, a couple wanting to fish off the coast of Mexico, a couple wanting to dig around in the Bad Lands for other precious and semi-precious stones, and a couple wanting to open up their own businesses down in Texas and Louisiana.

They all felt it was time to go spend their ride down the other side of the roller coaster a little bit closer to where they had come from originally.

Abe thought maybe his mother, who was still strong and able, would need some company to keep her occupied, to help keep her busy, to feel needed, by taking care of him.

Sure that his mother probably did not have much money left to live on after sending her son to school, Abe sacrificed his college plans to give back to his mother what she had given him all those years in camp, love and attention. Since "the Uncles" were all moving away now anyway, he dropped out of school and got a job that would support them both.

They got a small place together in town. It was old but still hooked up to the steam heat generated by the plant that had run heat to all the original homes built after the turn of the century.

Martha wasted no time putting in a garden in the front yard, inside the picket fence and she hung a bird feeder on the great aspen right outside the kitchen window.

Once again she had a place of her own to call home.


Friday, November 05, 2004

Chapter One, continued

Martha looked down at her hands, twisting her wedding ring around and around. She wasn't really there. She wasn't anywhere. Martha had left a long time ago.

She wondered where she went. And why.

No, she knew why.

But she did wonder if she would ever find her way back again.


Detective Arnold jumped in excitedly, boiling over with enthusiasm. "What d'you mean, you've been expecting this? Is your mother a violent person? Have you witnessed acts of violence from her before or have you yourself been ..."

Detective Bronson stepped quickly inbetween Detective Arnold and Abe. "Now, Detective, that's not really ... uh, we're not going to go there, okay? Listen, it's been a long day for everyone." He put his arm around Abe and started to steer him out, toward the lobby. "I'm sure Abe just wants to do what he has to do, to get his mother taken care of as best and as fast as he possibly can. Right, Abe?"

Abe was putting one foot in front of the other, shaking his head, hanging his head, so sad, so sad.

He was sick. He had no money. George was the rich land baron in the family. And he hated that man. They hated each other with a passion that went beyond words. Abe wasn't even allowed on the property. It was a tense situation, for everyone.

He wasn't even allowed to visit his own mother. If they wanted to see each other, be with each other, they would have to secretly arrange for a meeting time and Abe would drive over, park way down the road, pulling off the highway onto a cleared section of forest, and wait. Sometimes for over an hour. His mother would have to make sure she could sneak out, sneak away to join her son, without being seen leaving. Otherwise, if she was spotted by either one of the workman, or her husband, there would be questions. Even though they liked each other, Martha and the workmen, they knew they had to report anything "suspicious" to their boss. Immediately.

They felt terrible doing that to the woman who lovingly fed them lunch every day, good food, made with a kind heart and years of experience in the kitchen, always brought out to them wherever they were working, in all kinds of weather, faithfully, every day, the only perk they appreciated that made working for this man tolerable, doing a job only convicts would do, clearing land, pulling stumps, digging ditches, and yet, here would come her smiling face, with hot food, they could smell her coming, their mouths watering, her warm, cracked hands, ladeling out carribou stew and fresh scratch biscuits, or grilled mooseburgers big as a plate, with home fries, made with gold yukon potatoes she dug up from her very own garden.

God damn! they hated doing that to her, snitching. It made them feel like rats. Dirty, diseased rats, in a sinking ship.

So Martha had to sneak away. Martha didn't drive. Not that she couldn't drive. But she and George had made an "agreement" that he would be the one to do all the driving in that family, right from the beginning of their courtship. He had made it sound so gentlemanly, such a quaint custom, so it didn't really bother her at first.

She had even enjoyed her ride into town that morning, to the police station. It was a very pleasant drive to town, her first ride in a real police car and she had the whole back seat to herself. She felt very safe. Protected.

Now Abe was wondering how in the hell he was going to not only retain a lawyer at this hour, but how he would get her out on bail, how he would take care of her. He had no money. He barely made enough to make ends meet, living from paycheck to paycheck. He lived in a one-room cabin, with no running water, no plumbing, just an outhouse and a wood-burning stove. Typical lodgings for students, musicians, and people who liked to live that famous "Alaskan Experience," hunters, trappers, mushers, miners, ... and tourists.

He was lucky if he could get his little pick up truck started every morning, to get to work. Work!

Maybe his boss would give him an advance. He'd been a loyal, dependable employee at the Clearwater Marina for the last five and half years. He started working there as an apprentice and shop boy a few weeks after his mother had re-married and moved into her new husband's home.

Abe had always been close to his mother, had always spent a lot of time with her, and it didn't take any time at all for his new step-father to make it clear he didn't want any "no-good, lazy-ass, good-for-nuthin' beatnik relatives hangin' around his place, eating up all his food and taking advantage of his generous nature."

Abe snorted at the thought.

Detective Arnold rushed up to his side. "Did you remember something? Anything at all, that could help us with our investigation? Your mother hasn't been very forthcoming, if you know what I mean."

Abe looked at the nervous little man with a glare. "I'll have to get back to you on that," and walked out of the police station into blackness.

"We better go tell Martha her son is trying to help her and you'd better back off, Detective Arnold."

Detective Arnold hadn't graduated that long ago, from the police academy down in Anchorage, but several large busts to his credit, even though he just happened to be at the right place at the right time, when he had pulled over suspected drunk drivers in his curious interpretation of "probable cause" and after rifling through pockets, glove compartments, trunks, lifting out seats, and peering under hoods, his eager beaver proboscis had led to big arrests -- and a meteoric rise to detective status, thereby saddling the slow-natured, easy-going Bronson with a new partner who acted like a yipping chihuahua.

Even though Detective Bronson was generally a "Just Say No" kind of guy when it came to drugs, he thought Dectective Arnold could benefit from a liberal prescription of doggy downers.

The two extreme natures of said partners made very for long days on the force. Bronson had lately picked up the very annoying habit of constantly sighing and Arnold was in a perpetual state of pout.

The two detectives entered the interrogation room. Martha looked pale. She looked very fatigued. She was obviously in pain. She groaned every time she moved in her chair.

Concerned, Detective Bronson said, "Now, Martha, your son is out right now trying to find you an attorney so we can get your bail posted. But until we can get an arraignment, which won't be until tomorrow morning, you are going to have to stay here. Do you understand?"

Martha looked up into his face with a pleading expression. "Abe? My son Abe is here?" Her voice cracked with a brittleness of aged paper. She looked around to the door and the mirror, peering into the glass as if she could see through to the other side. "Where is he? Where is my son?"

"He's gone to find you an attorney, M'am, like I said." He reached out and touched her shoulder, breathing in a subtle aroma of lilac. His grandmother used to wear that fragrance.

"Are you okay? How are you feeling? Can we get you anything?"

Martha almost smiled. These boys were so polite.

"No thank you, Sir. I'm just so ... sore, from sitting up so long. I would really like to lay down."

"Okay, M'am. We'll call down for a female officer to come up and get you. We'll put you in a cell, just for tonight so you can lay down and get some rest and by tomorrow morning, I'm sure you'll be on your way back home."

Martha's eyes grew hard. Wide. Frozen. She stopped breathing because her throat closed up, puckered into a tight knot. Her eyes darted around the room, her head shook back and forth in a worrying motion, her lips moved in silence, no words or sound escaped.

Detective Bronson put one of his big hands under her arm and the other around her shoulder and lifted her up, as gently as he could, out of the chair. She was so stiff he could hear her bones creak but she seemed not to notice. She was preoccupied.

Thinking she was fearful of the metal bars, of spending a night in an actual jail cell, Bronson said, "There, there now. No need to worry. The cell will be very comfortable, I assure you, M'am. I hear the beds are soft, it's dry and warm and quiet, it's not in the main part at all, you will be close by yet far away from the main population. You'll be fine. And if you need anything, all you have to do is call out and the female officer on duty will get you anything you need. I'll be sure to tell her. Okay? Do you think you can manage that? It's just for a few hours. It will be morning before you know it."

Martha looked into his face, deeply. She looked into his eyes, down into his soul. She regarded a strong man in front of her, a big man with a big heart, a real Gentle Man.

She nodded, too tired to hold her head up any longer. She shuffled out of the room, into the hallway where they were met by the female officer pulling night duty in charge of the holding cell.

"Now Phyllis, you take real good care of Martha here, she's had a long day and she's tired. She gets whatever she needs, okay? I gave her my word you'd take special care of her."

Phyllis looked perplexed. She stood there in her crisp, starched uniform and spit-shined shoes, polished badge, hair up under her hat, gun, baton, cuffs, mace, flashlight and ammo belt on her hips. Lean and mean, this was not why she joined the force, to lock up little old ladies.

She looked at Detective Bronson with a puzzled face. Then she looked at Detective Arnold, who shrugged his shoulders. She looked back at Detective Bronson and knowing she couldn't put this old lady in the general lockup with the hookers, drunks and drug dealers asked, "Just where am I supposed to put her?"

Detective Bronson tilted his head back and in a quiet voice, looking down on this officer said, "I told Martha we would put her in a special cell, just for overnight. She's far away from home. Her son is out right now calling to find an attorney to retain and since we can't get her arraigned till morning ..." He looked down at Martha's drooping head and shoulders. "I figured we'd give her a special place to lay down and rest while she's waiting."

He lowered his head, jutted it forward in the officer's face and said, "Is that all right with you, Phyllis? Can you think of a special place, just for tonight, so Martha can get some rest?"

Phyllis took a step back, adjusted her belt, making all the hardware clang and cleared her throat.

"I think I know just the place, Detective," wondering how he knew about the cot behind the duty cage that was hidden behind a mess of broken and stacked office chairs, next to the evidence cage where they kept all the stolen property and confiscated dope.

It's hard to stay awake all damn night in that creepy place, she thought, nothing much ever happens anyway, and an inconspicuous twenty minute stretch out on the hidden cot is sometimes just what it takes to make it through these crazy-ass shifts.

"Come on, Martha. Let's leave these crusty old men behind and let you go get some sleep. I think I can even rustle you up a toothbrush and a nightgown."

Detective Bronson stuck both hands in his pockets, rocked back on his heels, and shook his head, as he watched Martha shuffle down the hallway.

Abe was on the pay phones across the street from the police department. He had a calling card his mother had given him for his birthday but the minutes were slowly being eaten up by "connection charges." He was blowing sixty cents every time he dialed a number, not including the minutes he used up listening to recorded messages.

He had nearly gone through the phone book already, only getting answering machines. It was the middle of the night and this town was not exactly what he thought of as a metropolis.

Population comes and goes in this town, depending on what new "projects" are in the works. Still, he guessed there probably weren't more than 100,000 people, in the entire North Star Borough, including all the outlying areas and small satelite towns surrounding. He would have to find a 24-hour bail bondsman. He flipped to that section of the yellow pages, not even knowing if there were such a thing in Fairbanks and pulled on his thin fall jacket. He hadn't expected to be here so long when he got the phone call from Detective Bronson and he had dashed out quickly, leaving his thick winter coat, gloves, hat and boots at home, still in the arctic entryway to the cabin. He zipped the jacket up tight as he could under his chin and blew warm air into his cupped hands.

It had begun to snow.

The Second Wife

Chapter One

I am an old woman, named after my mother
and my old man is another, child that's grown old.
If dreams were thunder, and lightnin' was desire
this old house would have burnt down a long time ago.

(Angel From Montgomery, by John Prine)

"I want a lawyer."

Martha looked up, squinting, into the blinding overhead light, behind which, stood two tired detectives from the Fairbanks Police Department.

They had been trying to interrogate her all night long, since this morning when they brought her in. It was getting late and both detectives had had a long day, starting with this call to go pick up an 80 year old woman from a small border town named Moose Creek, about a ninety-minute drive down the highway.

Martha was tired too. She had not slept hardly at all the night before and they had kept her in this room all day long. They were very nice to her, polite, making sure she had plenty to drink and snacks to eat, but the hard-backed chair was becoming agony on her arthritic spine and the lacey osteoporosic bones of her hips.

She was so tired. She just wanted to go home and go to bed.

The detectives sighed, and silently left the room, closing the door carefully behind them.

"Well, that's it. She wants a lawyer. We're not going to get anything more out of her now. I think her son has finally arrived. Maybe he can make the arrangements." Detective Bronson let out a big, long sigh, leaning back against the wall to take some of the strain off his huge frame, wide girth, and pinched feet.

Detective Arnold was a smaller, nervous man, his eyes flitting between the two-way glass, peering in at Martha and outside the tiny listening room, into the main lobby of the precinct, all in glass. He whistled. "Would you get a load of that guy. What a piker. Not sure what he is going to be able to do for his mom."

Abe was thin and short, 35 years old and still wearing a pony-tail and a tie-dyed T-shirt that could have been his same uniform for the last 20 years. He had full facial hair, a Reggae knit cap and wore lots of necklaces. He looked worried and was pacing.

He saw the dectives through the glass and started yelling so they could hear him. "Can I see my mom yet? I've been here for an hour already and nobody's telling me anything. What the hell happened?"

"Sir, your mother has requested an attorney," said Det. Bronson. "Do you have a family attorney or would you like us to put you in touch with the Public Defender's office?"

"No, we don't have a lawyer. I ... guess -- look what the hell is going on here? Why do you have my mother locked up? What are the charges against her?"

"Son, your mother has confessed to trying to kill her husband, which I understand is her second husband, which would make the victim, George Bernard your step-father, correct?"

Abe's eyes grew big and he exploded. "KILL! Are you crazy? My mother wouldn't hurt a fly! What evidence do you have? How did this happen? I want to see my mother, now! You can see she's old, she must be worried sick! How long have you had her locked up? Why won't you let me see her? Is she alright?"

"Calm down, Son," Detective Bronson said, sincerely. "We got a phone call this morning from Trooper Dan Johns stationed down in Moose Creek. He stated he was at your mother's and step-father's residence and that your step-father, George, had called his office earlier saying that he'd been attacked late last night in his sleep. He suspected his wife ... uh, that is, your mother."

Abe narrowed his eyes and became very intense, silent, breathing deep, long, slow breaths, as if to still a storm in his chest. As if he already knew what was coming.

Detective Bronson made note of the change in the young man and became alert, his years of experience teaching him to display a poker face, unemotionally he continued, "When Trooper Dan, er, Johns, arrived at the residence, he found your step-father, George, to be seriously injured and called immediately for an ambulance to bring him in to town to the hospital, so he could receive proper medical treatment.

"He stayed with your mother, talking with her for several hours until we could arrive on the scene. During that time, your mother, who I guess has personally known the trooper for some time ..."

"Yeah, we know Danny. I worked with him a few summers during my breaks at college. It was after he got out of high school and he still didn't know what he wanted to do yet. We worked at that tourist trap, Alaska Salmon Bake. We became good friends. We rented a room together so he didn't have to drive back down to Moose Creek every day. Those were long days we put in, cleaning and filleting halibut and salmon for the grill. He was my first friend and Mom even got to meet him a few times and we all spent time together. She liked him a lot."

"Well, your mother felt comfortable enough with him to explain her side of the story. She confessed to having injured her husband. And since she confessed, we had to take her in." Detective Bronson seemed almost apologetic.

Abe looked down at the ground during the detective's story. His eye twitched. He looked back up into the face of the man standing before him. With a small voice he said "I have been expecting something like this."


Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Is it just me, or is anyone else involved in this exercise suffering from writer's block?

It's not so much even a blockage as such ... more like paralysis. From the neck up. I have thousands of things flying around in my belfry. And this is going to be one long day for me, this election. I almost wish we had cable so we could keep an eye on things.

My husband suggested instead of writing six pages per day, every day; instead, writing seven pages for six days and then taking a break one day a week, to recouperate. Lovely idea. And since I'm already behind 12 pages, having not even started yet, I guess shooting for eight or ten pages per day, to make up for all the other times I put it off or feel ill or life invades my computer room -- now all those wry procrastination jokes by Chris Baty on the NaNoWriMo site, are starting to make perfect sense. I have thought of more ways to kill time during the last two days than I can remember in recent history.

You would think I was putting off doing housework. Or going to the dentist.

For instance, I just spent a big chunk of time trying to figure out how to get the comments inabled. Why? To kill time, of course! Who gives a crap if comments are enabled?

So anyway, comments are now enabled.

Go vote.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Much better. I love painting. Would have liked to have more colors to choose from, like pearl, papyrus, marble, lilac, iris, dusty rose ... but this "silver" is better than the baby diaper olive/mustard and white that was the background and as I will be using this format to edit in, darker will be better on my eyes.

I will be reading in one window, red pencilling in the other. The navy blue is for our winter skies, the background color for our state flag, on which hangs the Big Dipper, upside down, perpetually unused at the well.

It took me hours, all afternoon in fact, to play around with the template, because I don't know how to "code." I just kept looking for anything that said "bgcolor" (background color) and plugged in numbers from which came from the handy "help" section (eventually) up there on my blogger navigation bar.

It was fun! But, only because I didn't have anything better to do... I would have rather paid someone though, so I could use that wasted time working on my character backgrounds instead of color backgrounds.

There is a serious deficit in the user interface services phone book. All this html makes my eyes cross. Some people were born to code, others to count words.*

*50,000 words

Maybe I could use this original blog, the ignored one that subbornly refuses to die, for the National Novel Writing Month excursion into literary insanity. I was looking for a place to put it, I hear people do that, create a blog just for their novel installments and this place looks as good as any.

This being my initiation into NaNoWriMo and novel writing, frantically I see there are many forums to peruse at the site itself, too many, offering helpful hints on every aspect of getting started and sticking with it, this task, just the thought of which instantaneously makes me want to grab a brown paper bag to either a) breathe into or, b) heave into.

Perhaps I'll do both. A little heavy breathing and heaving always seemed to do the trick before musical gigs, in my youth, when I still hadn't learned how to memorize the lyrics to any of the songs on the set list...

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Maybe it's true that you can go back home again. I'm surprised to see this ol' blog still here and powered by a greatly improved-upon engine. And just when I was thinking about moving. I hate moving. Always so many boxes to pack and unpack, things get lost, tossed, distressed.

The good thing is, you can always pick new colors with which to paint the walls and knowing that they're your walls ... and you can pick any colors ... is an exciting, spiritually uplifting and freeing possibility.