Just stick your nose in that

Smell_RockUSautéing garlic. Freshly ground, or brewing coffee in the morning. The salt air gently blowing in off the bay. These smells I love.

There is a small potted lavender plant on my deck and I love to rub the leaves in my fingers and breath in its piney, herby smell. I do the same with mint leaves, cilantro, lemon verbena, and freshly ground nutmeg. A whiff of honeysuckle, jasmine or eucalyptus will catapult me back into childhood in an instant. Christmas tree greens and baking chocolate chip cookies are always a source of happiness. And, of course, I thoroughly appreciate the ever-wonderful scent of a rose.

I have an old empty bottle of my mother’s favorite perfume I take out and sniff when I need a little mom moment. She used to tuck old bottles of perfume into the corners of all her dresser drawers, so all her clothes had a subtle smell of her perfume. My father kept an ornamental Meyer Lemon tree in their sun room, and when it bloomed, it filled the entire room with the most incredible pungent, fragrant sweetness. It was like walking through a field of giant lilies. I smell any citrus blossom and I am transported to that sun room.

But, of all smells in this world, there’s nothing like the salt air off of the sea to calm or comfort me and make me smile.

Spite and Malice

lavendar eyesI noticed her the moment she walked in the coffee shop. She paused to scan the room. As soon as she saw me, she walked to me. Her face was oddly expressionless.

“I am looking for you,” she said.

“Oh? Well,” I said playfully. “Here I am!” I beamed at the girl, who couldn’t have been more than fourteen years-old. I had no idea who she was.

Short and very slight, she was the most striking beauty I’d ever seen in a man or woman. Jet black hair hung down past her waist, the sunlight reflecting iridescent strands of Safire. There was not a blemish on her stunningly perfect heart-shaped face. Her large eyes were deep lavender with bright flecks of gold, outlined by thick, jet black lashes and elegantly arched brows. Transfixed by her beauty, I couldn’t help gazing at her the way a little child openly gapes at something that fascinates them.

“May I sit with you?” she asked.

“Of course,” I gestured somewhat grandly to the chair opposite me. She took the seat, leaned a little bit forward over the table with her hands in her lap, and stared intently at me. I didn’t move muscle.

“This book you are reading, it is good?” She asked, gesturing with her head to the novel in my hand. Her head moved in a kind-of reverent nod as she spoke. Mimicking her a bit, I nodded in reply.

“You will tell me about it. Please.”

“Uh…I just started it, actually, so I have no idea what it’s about. Not yet.”

She was silent, now searching my face, for what, I wasn’t sure. I felt my cheeks flush.

“So, how can I help you?” I snapped. I needed to take charge of the strange situation. “You say you’ve been looking for me…” she started to reply, but I put up my hand to stop her, “…but, I think you mistake me for someone else; someone who looks like me, perhaps?”

“Your mother told me what you look like and where to find you.”

I flinched. “My mother? My mother…my mother died years ago. You must have me mistaken for…”

“Yes. She died when I was five years-old.”

A strange girl mentioning my mother years after her death was downright weird. I was suddenly comforted knowing I was in a public place with many people around. Adjusting my posture to an upright position, I put my inherent no-nonsense sensibility into play.

“I don’t have a clue who you are. I never met you. But, if you knew my mother, like you say, though I find that highly doubtful, given how young you seem to be…” the girl started to reply but I stopped her with a flash of a upheld hand. “If you knew my mother, then you know that, were she here, she would insist you answer my questions, so,” counting off on my fingers as I went, “how do you know my mother, who are you and, how the f…how in the world do you know who I am?”

The girl lowered her head almost to the surface of the table before looking up again to meet my gaze. “Your mother is a friend of mine. She is very amusing! I like her very much. She taught me the card game she calls Spite and Malice. She says, with more practice, I will become very good, and one day I will win and she will lose.”

As she spoke, a smile broadened wide across my face. “My mother taught you Spite and Malice…when you were very little?”

“You have other questions,” she said. “I must reply as you requested.” I gestured for her to continue.

“My name is Amrusha Koshi. I live here, in the city …”

“With your parents, I assume?”

“Yes. Why do you ask?”

I shrugged. “You seem young. How old are you?”

“I will be fourteen in two months.” I smiled. I was right about her age.

“My auntie lives with us, as well. And I have an older brother. Do you want to know their ages as well?”

“No, no. Not necessary. Please, continue. You’ve not said how you know my mother. I mean, I have to assume your parents were clients of hers, or maybe your aunt?”

“She came to see me two weeks ago.”

I did not completely fathom what Amrusha said. “She? Who, she? Your aunt?”

Amrusha shook her head. “Your mother. We are speaking of your mother.”

“Amrusha, can I get you something?” I abruptly asked. “Maybe something to drink? A soda? Water? Tea?”

“Yes, thank you. I would like tea, please. Black. Or Oolong, if they have it. No sugar or cream.”

I excused myself and walked to the counter to get Amrusha Koshi—the very odd and very beautiful fourteen year-old, who knows her black tea from her Oolong tea, and who apparently was visited by the spirit of my long-dead mother for the specific reason of teaching her how to play the card game Spite and Malice—a mug of English Breakfast. Neat.

As the barista prepared Amrusha’s mug and topped off my coffee, I watched her. She sat still, staring straight in front of her, when suddenly she let out a loud, high-pitched giggle, which drew looks from others in the coffee shop. Just as suddenly, she went silent and still again.

I placed the mug of tea in front of her and asked her why the laugh.

“Your mother!” Her incredible eyes were bright and wide. “She is so very funny!”

“Yeah….Mom was a very funny lady,” I quipped.

“The answer to your last question…”Amrusha started to say.

“Oh, I’m sorry…what was my last question?”

“How I know who you are.”

“Ah, yes. How?”

“I assume the answer is obvious, because I have told you. I know your mother. She is my friend.”

I drew in a deep breath and took a moment to gather my thoughts. “And, so, Mom, my mother, came to see you…in a dream, perhaps?” Amrusha shrugged. “…and apparently knew I was here at this particular coffee shop, told you what I look like and told you to drop whatever you were doing and come find me? Is that it?”

“Not exactly. She…”

I interrupted her. I needed an explanation planted firmly on the ground, not riddles flying overhead. “My mother, from the great beyond, told you to find me here today, at this hour. Here, in this place.”

“Yes.”

“It’s just that…not including how strange this all is…I don’t come to this place often. At least, not regularly.”

Amrusha was nonplussed. “She said you were here, told me what you look like,  and asked me to come see you, as I have said.”

Curiosity superseded my disbelief. I had to ask. “Did she say why?”

“No.”

Was this kid playing me? If so, why? I narrowed my eyes at Amrusha and asked in scolding tone, “Do your parents know you are here? Or, where you are? And, most importantly, why you are here?”

I waited for her to respond, but Amrusha didn’t reply. She blew air over her hot mug of tea before taking a tentative sip and set the mug back on the table.

“OK. Whatever,” I shrugged.

My mother never gave any credence to anything she couldn’t actually see, touch or hear. Ghosts did not exist, except as the Holy Ghost, a Halloween costume, or in summer campfire tales. She certainly did not think anyone could talk to someone who died. This girl telling me she’s been sent by my mother, of all people, was kind-of funny.

“Ironic, to say the least,” I muttered to myself.

“What is ironic?” Amrusha asked, herself now looking a bit confused. I shook my head. I wasn’t entirely sure if she was asking after the meaning of the word, or why I found the situation as such. Either way, it was clear Amrusha possessed absolutely no sense of irony.

If Amrusha hadn’t mentioned Spite and Malice, my mother’s all-time-favorite, best-way-to-kill-the-time card game; if she wasn’t so unaffected, or if she possessed an inkling of a sense of irony, I could write the entire encounter off as nothing more than being the unwitting punk of some geeky teen prank. But, I believed Amrusha. I believed this strange girl befriended the ghost of my mother.

“Ya know,” I ventured, “I thought I spied several decks of cards, in the bookcase, over there…” Amrusha turned to see where I had indicated. “Why don’t we play a game of Spite and Malice. I’ll give you a few pointers of my own.”

Amrusha paused and then let out another high-pitched giggle. “Your mother said to me just now that you do not play well, but if you happen to win, I am to accuse you of cheating!”

Tears instantly welled up in my eyes. Whenever I happened to win at Spite and Malice, my mother always teased it was only because I was cheating.

“Oh, my dear girl,” I reached across the table. Amrusha raised her hands from her lap and held them open to me. I grasped them both. “You don’t know how much it hurts to miss your mother.”

Amrusha smiled.

“Has anyone told you that you are a very beautiful girl, but also a sort-of odd little thing?”

This time she frowned. “All the time. My brother, in particular. He calls me ‘weirdo,’ and tells me that I am to leave him alone. He is very mean to me.”

“Well, brothers can be like that. Don’t worry. He’ll grow out of it, eventually. Maybe. Anyway, c’mon. Let’s play some cards.”


Inspired by the prompt: You’re sitting at a café when a stranger approaches you. This person asks what your name is, and, for some reason, you reply. The stranger nods, “I’ve been looking for you.” What happens next?

Online Writers Guild #12: No, We’re Not

chickenvacationAre we there yet?

Are we where?

There! Are we there?!

I don’t know what you mean.

I’m asking, are we there?

Well, I suppose.

Then, why are we still driving? I want out.

OK, but then what?

What?

Then what?

You said we’re there, so that’s what.

We’re no longer there.

WHAT?

We’re here, not there. There is back…there. Now we’re here. Oops, no, sorry, now we’re here instead of there. The other ‘there,’ which is also back there. With the other ‘there.’ Oh, and now, here’s a new ‘here!’ Aren’t road trips fun?

No, not really.

Aw, c’mon. This is fun! Why would you want to be there when there is so much here to see?

Why? Because I want to sleep. In a bed. I want to eat a meal. At a table. With utensils. I want to walk, not be transported in a vehicle. I want to stop moving. Stay put. I don’t want to be here. Here is not there. I want to be there. So, I’m asking: Are we there yet?

(I swear, kids these days)

What?

Nothing.

You say something?

Forget about it.

Seriously, did you just say something?

Hey! Forget about it, OK?! Leave me alone!

Alright! Jeez!… All I was asking, was if … if we have yet arrived at our destination.

And all I’m saying is, it’s about the journey, not the destination.

OK, but does this journey include ever getting there? I’m hungry and I’m tired. And, I have to pee.

(sigh) Whatever.


This week’s OLWG prompts are: Are we there yet?; These kids today; Scram. And, guess what? I wrote it AND edited within the 25 minute rule!

An afternoon at the waterfront park

ship canalI recently made the mistake of drinking mimosas at a friend’s brunch. The rest of the afternoon I wanted nothing more than to sleep. Because naps are something I don’t do at all well, there was nothing else for it than to head out for a lazy afternoon reading, picture taking and people watching in a park.

As waterfront parks go around here, the one I chose was relatively unpopulated. Very late on a Sunday afternoon notwithstanding, I’m the only one sitting in this particular part of the park. I suppose it’s because this park is a little hard to find by car. Most people access it from the Locks and the larger park on other side of the channel, but I know the road that leads here.

I situate myself under two big trees on a bit of grass between walkways, facing the channel that leads out to the bay. Boats slowly pass by, as do people. Tourists aimlessly wander, occasionally stopping to read the interpretive signs and warnings to keep far away from marine life. Locals are out for a brisk walk with the dog or a bike ride. A couple of bicyclists stop to pull out their phones and take pictures of the passing boats. In the distance, at the end of the channel, I spy cruise ships in the bay, headed out for a week’s trip to Alaska. I count four.

Two young hipster men stroll by, deep in conversation. Everything about them is carefully styled, from shoes to hair. One is overdressed for a hot afternoon stroll through the park—narrow slacks, rumpled white button-down, ‘European styled’ leather-soled dress shoes and skinny tie.

“I guess watching the people would be OK,” the overdressed one says.
“You aren’t missing much,” the other replies.
“Yeah, and they let you smoke in the casinos. Try getting that smell out of your clothes.”
“You aren’t missing much.”
“I wonder what the future of Las Vegas is. World’s largest reservoir…”

They stroll beyond my ability to hear anything more.

An East Indian or Pakistani family comes by in the other direction. Two aunties and one grandmother are in traditional dress. Father, mother and two teenage girls are in western garb. All speak their native language. Father and mother point out things of interest. The teens drag behind, their gate not much more than a shuffle. Clearly bored out of their minds. I note they are not holding iPhones. These days, it’s a strange site to see teenagers not bent over a smart phone.

A middle-aged man with a long-lens camera appears out of nowhere. He checks his watch and faces out toward the bay. In the distance, a train’s whistle blows. The man checks his watch again and repositions himself, and aims his camera at the train trestle over the channel, just as the trestle lowers from it’s upright position. He adjusts focus, checks settings, and again raises the camera to ready for the shot.  The train passes and the man takes several shots. He reviews his shots and then moves on.

Not just the one train passes by on the trestle, but several: The regional commuter (must be taking people home from a baseball or soccer game downtown), a mile-long Burlington Northern Santa Fe cargo train with many graffiti-festooned containers, and an Amtrak, probably headed for Bellingham or eastern Washington.

A giant modern pleasure boat with an almost equally giant pink inflatable dinosaur lashed to its bow, like some sort of masthead, heads in the channel from the bay. As it passes I read the name on the stern: ABSOLUT. Can you say, “party boat”?

The photographer returns, this time with two other photographers. They consult, aim their cameras at various things, and consult some more, then go back the way they came.

Suddenly, I’m alone. No passers-by. No boats. Not even squawking gulls or crows, or cars driving on the road just behind me. It’s a strange experience to be entirely alone, if only for a minute, in the middle of an busy, busy city.

Three state fisheries outboard skiffs swoop in from somewhere up the channel, obviously checking in on the “salmon stairs” nearby. The men are dressed in wader overalls and rubber boots. They deftly handle the outboard motors as if they learned to drive a boat long before they learned to walk.

A large vintage yacht, a Chris-Craft maybe, pulls up to the sea wall to wait for the Locks to open. A woman on the bow holding a bow line, yells to the man on the fly bridge, “There’s none!” He says something to her and she yells back. “None I tell you. Only plants. They’re gone or something.” The woman on the stern has the same issue. The captain, unhurriedly, which is disconcerting, descends from the fly bridge to the bow, calmly takes the line from the woman and loops it around a piling. He goes back to the helm to nudge the stern back in, then in the same unhurried manner, walks back to the stern to loop that line around another piling. “You didn’t say to loop it!” the woman on the bow scolds.

Behind them comes a Police boat with a small weekender tied alongside it. Obviously the rescue of a disabled boat. The Police boat gives a formal horn signal to the Lock keeper. Other boats arrive, but choose to circle in the channel to wait for the locks, rather than tie up.

Somewhere in the distance, someone is playing a flute. I decide to pick up the book I brought and read a while before heading back home.

Six Words Say It All

A literary arts organization I follow on Facebook occasionally posts, “In six words or fewer, write a story about…” and people reply with their miniscule stories. Fun thing to share! Here is the prompt from yesterday:

In six words or fewer, write a story about a first time.

  • The butterflies danced in my stomach.
  • “I can do that!” Then did.
  • On stage: terror, then euphoria.
  • Wrote six-worded story, this one.
  • Earth far below, she leapt forward.
  • She felt the secured rope knot.
  • Tentative at first, I surrendered.
  • Extreme trepidation buoys my intricate preparations.
  • Blood ruined my silver sharkskin pants.
  • Downy wings unfold, bravely stretching skyward.
  • Time of death: six forty-five.
  • The students parted seas while walking!
  • Hesitantly approaching the door of hope.
  • Mother called me, I was busy.
  • Screaming. Cut. Painful. Crying. Messy. Laughing.
  • Ouch.

Family Anthem

Road-TripOlivia started singing at the top of her voice when the chorus came around.

Well I’m on my way, I don’t know where I’m going…I’m on my way, I’m taking my time, but I don’t know where…Goodbye to ROOWZEE, Queen of Corona…See’n me and Julio down by the school yard…” Olivia continued humming along, her head pulsing to the rhythm.

She and her father Jason cleared the city about 20 minutes before; the seemingly endless sight of buildings, row houses, strip malls, concrete and asphalt finally giving way to empty rolling hills of tall spring grass and the straight line of highway stretching out in front of them. The uncluttered expanse made Olivia feel like all that crap could actually be left far behind.

The chorus came around again. Olivia blurted again at full voice, “See’n me and Julio down by the school yard!

“It’s not ‘see’n me and Julio’,” Jason said.

“Whatever.”

“It’s, ‘See you, me and Julio’,” Jason corrected.

“ ‘K. Whatever.”

The song played on, but Olivia sat quietly, unaccustomed to talking to her father. She’d been on this stretch of freeway before, when they used to go see her grandparents. Even as a little kid, she was amazed at why, except for the giant green exit signs indicating a road to places unseen, there was nothing out here. Just empty hills and the highway signs. Enormous highway signs, always looking new and shiny, as if someone finally noticed there was something to see of the world out here, beyond the city. Smaller, colorful signs promoting fast food joints, hotels and gas stations, made it seem like those unseen places were some sort of meccas; better than the city, something fantastic and not to be missed, out here, in the middle of nowhere.

The next song started and this time Jason started to hum the tune.

“Know this one?” he asked.

“Nope,” Olivia said.

“No?! Really? C’mon…you don’t know ‘Little Pink Houses?’”

“Nope.”

Oh, but ain’t that America, for you and me,” Jason sang the chorus as loudly as Olivia. He turned and smiled, giving her a wink and continued singing, “Ain’t that America, … something to see baby, ain’t that America, home of the free, yeah…Little pink houses for you and me.” Olivia stared out ahead at the highway, trying to hide a smile. Jason kept singing,

…he says Lord, this must be my destination… (da dumm dadumm dumm…) those old crazy dreams just kinda came ‘n went…OH BUT AIN’T that America, for you and me…!

Jason slapped the steering wheel with his hand, bobbing his head back and forth with the beat. Olivia kept her head turned away, making every effort to hide she was biting her lip to keep from laughing.

What do they know, know, know…Go to work…sum sum dum dummm” Jason mumbled his way through the lyrics and then yelled at the top his voice, “AND VACATION DOWN AT THE GULF OF MEXICO!! OOO YEAH!” He added an extra “umpf umph” through his teeth, accented with more head bobs.

“Oh my God, DAD!” Olivia whipped back around and smacked Jason on the arm. “Stop it!”

Jason mockingly winced, lifting his arm to shield himself. He sang even louder, twisting his face into one of those expressions everyone thinks singers make when they are belting out a song. . “… hey we’re something to see BAYBAY,”

“DAD!! Ohmigawd STOP IT!” Olivia feigned humiliation, holding her forehead in her hand, “Oh, My, God, you are like, so freakin’ me out right now.”

…Little pink houses babe for you and me, OOO YEAH…. OOO YEAH…”

The song ended. Olivia lurched forward and hit the scan button on the radio.

“Oh, hey, now… that was a good station, kiddo.” Olivia repeatedly hit the scan button. “Not going to find much of anything else out here,” Jason cautioned. “Get my CD case out…”

“No!” Olivia snapped. “I’ll find something.”

The radio scanner landed on Mariachi and Norteño stations, a talk show, several Country stations, a man extolling the love of Jesus Christ, and a classical music station before coming back around to the oldies station they’d been listening to.

“Told ya,” Jason said.

Olivia turned off the radio and sat back in her seat with dramatic sigh. To Jason’s surprise, she did not turn on her phone and put in her earbuds.

They drove in silence for a while, staring at the road ahead. It was peaceful. Just the sound of the car speeding over the freeway; a kind of peace neither of them had known in a long while.

“You gonna let me drive some?” Olivia eventually asked.

“Yeah? Sure! Of course. You need some freeway experience.”

“Cool.” Olivia gave her father a quick smile.

“After lunch, then,” Jason thought a second before continuing. “Next exit, we’ll get something to eat. Good time for a break anyway.”

“ K.”

Jason smiled back at his daughter. They sat in silence a while longer before Olivia slowly leaned forward and turned on the radio again, just as Elton John started to beg to not let the sun go down on him.


Wrote this a while back based on two prompts: 1) “I’m an idealist. I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m on my way.” (Carl Sandburg)  2) Road Trip