Father Kindness

This poignant poem and sweet photo posted today by a dear friend really do say it all. Happy day to all who read this, father or not! My dad died 32 years ago. He never reached retirement age and the comforting coverage of Medicare as I have. I know he’d be appalled at obscene attempts to remove healthcare benefits from millions now. How I miss him! Happy Father’s Day, Daddy. ūüėė

Na'ama Yehuda

fatheringPhoto: C. Moriah-Gibor

Be a father to the vulnerable

Guide the path of those who need

A lift

A helping hand.

Be a father to those seeking

To find shelter

Who need help to

Understand.

Show the way.

Provide

Kind counsel.

If by biology or presence

Be the best

Model

You can.

For it is by kindness

That fathering

Takes hold

And

Grows children

Strong

In body, heart

And mind.

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Serial Fiction, Chapter 5: Better Now

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Photo and graphic by Shielagh, copyrighted 2017.

She sat on the beach, a few feet from the water where the sand was dry, watching the waves as they slid in and out, their swish and sizzle setting a soothing rhythm. Being down here was so wonderful. Staying with Gramma was a little weird with all the old people she hung out with, but feeling safe was worth it.

Michelle hugged her knees to her in the cool morning air. She came here a lot, mostly because¬†Gramma could see her from the big picture windows of the¬†apartment. In¬†a way it felt she wasn’t trusted, or like being treated like a kid, but she knew it was because Gramma¬†cared enough to keep her in view. She had her cellphone on her all the time, and Gramma would call her when she wanted her to come home. She figured, too, that if Gramma ever saw someone unsafe nearby, she’d call her, and if, God forbid, anyone¬†tried to hurt her, she’d call 911 in a heartbeat.

Besides, she knew she was helping Gramma just by being there, because her grandfather had died a few years ago, and now Gramma had lost her son. It must be hard, Michelle, thought, and she was glad she could help Gramma too somehow.

The last¬†few months had been a blur. Amanda had told her mom that Michelle’s mom’s boyfriend had been “inappropriate.” The first night she spent over there was one she knew she’d never forget.

“Let’s call your mom now,” Amanda’s mom had¬†said, and Michelle got on the extension so she could listen. After a couple of moments of small talk, Amanda’s mom, Gloria, had told Michelle’s mom, “Michelle isn’t safe at your house, Donna. Your boyfriend has been touching her, and you have to do something. Get¬†him out of there, and report him to the authorities.

“You little liar!” her mom had screamed. “You’re just making that up! He wouldn’t do anything like that!”

Michelle had sobbed, “It’s true! He comes in my room!”

“I don’t believe you,” her mother had said in a weird, quieter voice.

Gloria had spoken to her mom calmly and clearly, continuing to say that the creep had to go, or Michelle would be staying at her house. It had only gotten worse. Her mom had shoved her clothes into a couple of black garbage bags and dumped them on Amanda’s front lawn the next day. Thank God¬†she’d taken most of her personal¬†stuff and school books to her locker and had the rest in her backpack. Looking back, she began to feel as if she’d known she’d be getting out of there fast.

Gloria had helped Michelle tell the police what had been happening. The policewoman who came over had been really nice. She took a lot of notes, and she said a social worker would come see her, too. That had been okay. By then she’d told Amanda and her¬†mom, the police and now this nice lady who reminded her of her English teacher, and the more she told it, the easier it was, especially when they all¬†seemed to believe her.

“We need to find a better place for you to live. I’m sure you can’t stay here at your friend’s house indefinitely,” she’d said, looking at Gloria. Gloria had said that Michelle was welcome as long as she needed to stay, but they’d talked about a lot of other things, and it was decided that staying with her dad’s mom, her Gramma, in Florida, was the best thing, and the social worker had called Gramma right then.

“Oh, baby! I am so sorry!” Gramma had said, and in a few minutes, it was¬†all arranged. The next week she’d flown down to Florida and in a few days was registered in a school with¬†a lot of smart and creative kids. Gramma had been¬†a teacher and she knew all about the Sunshine Academy. A friend of hers had taught there and she said they¬†even had a school psychologist that kids could go see for free if they had problems. “It’ll be good for you to talk to¬†someone,” Gramma had said.

So here she was, on a beach in the morning before school, mentally¬†tossing her problems into the¬†water as her therapist had suggested. Math test, sadness over not seeing Timmy anymore, not even getting to talk to him because her mom wouldn’t let him, missing Amanda and other friends, and some of the boys. The creep¬†was gone. He’d gone to jail for a little while, but Gramma said his lawyer had gotten him out, and he could stay out as long as he went¬†into counseling and did community service, but he wasn’t allowed to be near kids. Her mom said she would never¬†forgive her for this. Michelle¬†didn’t care. Not really. Like her therapist said, it was complicated. Mom had problems she needed to work out. A tear slid down her cheek and she brushed it away with her sleeve. Yeah, she cared.

She watched the seagulls wheel overhead, mewing like cats. A big brown pelican suddenly swooped down and scooped up something in its bill. Probably a fish.

Her phone pinged and she looked at it. “Time to come up and get ready for school,” was Gramma’s text. She got to her feet and brushed off the sand. She realized she really did¬†feel¬†better now.

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For the Daily Post

Blur: Serial Fiction, Part 4

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“I want a drink of water!” said a little voice by the door and her mom’s boyfriend Bill pulled back his hand and jumped up from the side of the bed in a flash. “G’night, Michelle” he muttered and went out to help Tommy with his drink.

Thank god for little brothers, she thought, switching¬†on the bedside lamp and rushing to shut the¬†door. It wouldn’t help to lock it because the lock could be popped easily with one of those funny little keys in the junk drawer, or even an unbent paper clip.

The last few weeks had been a blur–hospital, funeral, relatives, refrigerator overflowing with food from strangers, missing school then throwing herself into schoolwork to miss the drama, and now dealing with Bill who was one weird dude. Kissed her on the lips when she said goodnight to them a few nights ago, hand on her shoulder, huge eye contact. He kept saying she should be a model, but then he was a freelance photographer. Or so he said.

What was with her mom anyway? Ever since Tommy was born she’d been like a different person. She’d pushed her dad away with yelling and crying and acting crazy until he left, and in the three years since she’d brought home a parade of guys. Bill was just the latest loser to walk through the front door and appear at breakfast after a few so-called dates.

She pushed her dresser in front of her door. It would probably fall over if he could push the door open, but at least she could wake up and get out of bed. She searched her room for a potential weapon if he ever ambushed her like that again. She picked up a big Mickey Mouse figurine from a trip to Disney World. It was made of heavy resin and she loved it dearly. Her dad had bought it for her before the word divorce had ever been spoken in her presence. It would hurt if she had to hit somebody with it. She moved it from the dresser to her night table.

She grabbed her cellphone and texted her friend Amanda. Maybe she could go over there after school and then spend the night. She tapped out a quick question and got an enthusiastic answer back immediately. So that was settled. Amanda would ask her mom and tell her in the morning, and she’d wait to text¬†her mom at work. It was easier than dealing with her face to face. She stuffed a clean t-shirt and underwear in her backpack and started to feel better.

Sleep was nowhere to be found, no matter how long she lay in the bed, so finally she moved the dresser, listened in the hallway for sounds of life but heard nothing, and walked quietly into the kitchen. She found an opened package of Oreos. She was about to stuff some into the pocket of her robe, but thought better if it when she saw there was another unopened package behind it. So she took the whole opened package and hurried back with it to her room. After putting it in a drawer of her night table, she went back in and got a can of Diet Coke, just as her mom opened her door and walked into the kitchen.

“Michelle? Can’t sleep?”

“I was thirsty,” she said, grateful to have stashed the cookies already. Not that her mom would care if she ate them but she wanted to eat them in private. Her mom would probably pull out the milk and want to sit down with her for a late night snack and a talk.

“Well, okay, but at least take a caffeine-free can, so you can get to sleep.”

“Sure,” she said as she switched the can, and mumbling “goodnight,” she hurried back to her room before a conversation could start. That mother-daughter talk might be okay¬†later, but tonight she wanted to keep her thoughts and feelings about her mom’s creepy boyfriend to herself. Her outrage smoldered white hot, and it made her feel strong. She wanted to keep it and nurture it and use it when the time was right.

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For the Daily Post

Lush

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Artist unknown, courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art

“How was school today, Michelle?” Her mom was dishing up her¬†casserole of the¬†day as she spoke.

“That’s too much!”

“You need to eat enough or you’ll lose more¬†weight.” Her face scrunched up as¬†she extended the plate across the table.

“You can’t make me eat more than I want!” She took it but had no intention of stuffing herself. She didn’t even like her mom’s cooking. Mushy dishes of overcooked pasta with some kind of cheese on¬†top.

“You used to love my tuna-noodle surprise!” Her little brother Tommy giggled and said, “Sa-prise!”

“Whatever!” She poked at the heap with her fork and began picking out the peas and putting them into her mouth one by one.

“Young lady, don’t be rude to your mother!” Bill glared at her. She studiously avoided his¬†gaze and kept her face a mask. He was a jerk.¬†She didn’t know what her mom saw in him. She wanted to yell at him to leave her the fuck alone, but that would make him look at her¬†with¬†his¬†creepy smile.

“Bill, remember what I said.” Her mom looked at him, darting her eyes away from the table. Trying to play peacemaker, probably. Why was this guy over here all the time anyway? She knew he was staying over nights but they always acted as if he’d stopped by for breakfast early in the morning. In the same clothes, riiight!

She pushed the food around, nibbled at the pieces of tuna she could separate out from the goop and noodles. When her mom and Bill got into a heated discussion about how he had no right to discipline her kids, she slipped out of her chair and using her paper napkin, in one quick motion swept the food into the garbage.

Sitting on her bed doing homework she felt at peace for the first time since she got home. The¬†girls she knew said they hated homework, but she loved getting lost in the books, in the math problems, the history lessons, the American and English literature and the science. She also loved the A’s. Her good grades were something that belonged to her and not to anyone else.

She heard Tommy having his bath down the hall, Mom playing with him with bath toys while trying to clean behind his ears. Michelle gave him his bath sometimes. It was okay. If Bill ever volunteered to help him, she’d quickly volunteer and do it before he could get into the small bathroom. She thought¬†maybe¬†he was probably a perv.

They were reading Huckleberry Finn in English right now, and she loved the adventures he had on the river. Where were his people who should have watched after him? He could just take off and no one even looked for him. She thought this might be nice. She knew that there were a lot of bad people out there, though, and runaways who went to New York often ended up turning tricks for some skeevy pimp just to have a meal and somewhere to sleep.

The house was quiet now and she yawned. A quick trip to the bathroom to wash her face and brush her teeth and she got into bed. She turned out the light and lay there trying to let go of her worries about the¬†family. Even though her parents had divorced last year, her dad had always been there. She could call him, and every other weekend she’d stayed at his apartment and they’d done fun stuff like going to museums or shopping or to the movies. Now he was gone, dead and buried just a few weeks ago, and she wondered¬†what was her life going to be like.

There was a creak in the hall and she sat up, listening intently. She saw the dark form of Bill in her doorway and get larger as he came in.

“I just came in to say goodnight, and tell you¬†I’m sorry I told you off at the table.” He sat on the bed. “I want your mom to be okay, and¬†her life is hard right now.”

She shrank to the other side of the bed, not wanting to say anything and wishing he’d just go.

Then¬†she felt him touch her hair and heard him whisper, “Your curls are¬†so…lush.”img_0116

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For the Daily Post

Have You Heard?

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As she walked down the long hall to French class, her head felt crowded with the possibilities. What if she gets a brain tumor? What if her mom marries her skeevy, loser boyfriend? What if she fails today’s French quiz after missing so much school, between hanging out at the hospital,¬†and then the wake and funeral? It had felt to her sort of as if everyone had been¬†staring at her as she walked from the bus. Could they tell she was now different than everyone else?

Asseyez vous, mes √©l√®ves!” sang out Mme Pierce at the front of the room as Michelle¬†slid into her chair¬†and stuffed her backpack onto the rack under the¬†seat. For the next 20 minutes she pored over the questions and checked her answers. It actually wasn’t that hard.

Merci bien, Mademoiselle Harris,” said Mme Pierce, adding softly, “Comment √ßa va?” with a gentle smile as she came down the row collecting papers. She¬†shrugged, tried¬†to smile but it felt more like a sneer,¬†and she looked away. She felt a weird¬†sensation, almost like nausea, but more like the homesickness she felt at sleep-away camp.

“√Čcoutez!” From the front of the room,¬†Mme Pierce enthusiastically launched into the lesson of the day.

She turned to the page in the book they were covering but her mind wandered. Just this morning as she was opening her locker, one¬†girl whispered to another across the hall, “Have you heard that Michelle Harris’s¬†dad just¬†died of a brain tumor?”

Her face burned now with the memory. How lame! No one had said a single word to her this whole day. Except for Mme Pierce. Maybe she actually cared. A tear slid down her cheek and splashed onto the textbook.

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Namasté

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For the Daily Post

All Packed

No one knows kids as well as my dear friend Na’ama. She conjures a sweet vision of a little girl and her insights about transitional objects so beautifully you feel the little one right beside you.

Na'ama Yehuda

beyondtherack-com-cupcake-backpack beyondtherack.com cupcake backpack

She packed a snack, Baby Bear, her¬†rainbow¬†blanket. She stashed a book and some crayons, last week‚Äôs¬†(slightly stained and missing a corner but still meaningful) drawing of butterflies and ‚Äúmaybe aliens.‚ÄĚ

She added a half-eaten cookie,¬†a seashell, a necklace (you just never known when you might need one). She tried to squeeze in¬†her¬†pillow but it ‚Äúwon‚Äôt¬†go.‚ÄĚ

She put her shoes on (wrong feet, still fit).

She zipped the bag and pulled her hat on. Splayed the coat on the floor, pushed her arms into the sleeves, and flipped the whole thing over her head just as she’d learned. The coat slid on but tugged the hat off as it went, sending it to lodge someplace between her shoulder blades.

She paused in apprehension, then shrugged, jumped in place ‚Ķ¬†‚Äėbirthed‚Äô the hat¬†from under the hem and victoriously¬†repositioned it¬†on her head.

She nodded in satisfaction, reached for her bag and hoisted a strap over one shoulder…

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Success

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She leaned her forehead against the cold metal of her locker, wondering what she should do next. Mrs. Carter said she could go home, but her mother would be at the hospital and her little brother would be at the day care. A bell rang and kids came streaming out of classroom doors and flowed past her laughing and talking, clutching their books, animated and unaware of her. The polished floors squeaked with the rubber of their sneakers. She turned away and fumbled with the lock, failing to get the combination right until the third try. As the door opened, her mirror swung into view and she saw her face. Skin pale and wan, eyes rimmed red, hair curling wildly as it always did, mouth grimly set and devoid of color. She pulled out her backpack and found her makeup bag. She grabbed the silvery pouch, shoved the backpack deep into the locker and slammed the door. Just as she turned on her heels to head for the girls’ bathroom, she bumped into someone.

“Sorry,” she mumbled.

“No prob,” said a towering guy with bad skin and a nice voice. “My bad.”

“It’s okay,” she said and tried to smile at the boy she’d never seen before. He wore a varsity jacket. Basketball. No surprise being he was so tall. “See you,” she added, hurrying to the bathroom to get out of the awkwardness.

“I sure hope so,” came the voice as she pushed open the door and almost ran in.

She set her makeup bag on the counter and took another look at herself. The pallor was gone and her cheeks were as pink as if she’d already put on her blusher.¬†She leaned against the counter, wondering what she should do next. It wasn’t going to be an easy day. She put her hands through her long hair, combing the stubborn curls with her fingers. She’d been brought¬†to the office to take a call from her mother. They had this stupid rule about cells in the classroom, and she’d had hers¬†confiscated too many times to bring it¬†out to check for texts or leave¬†the ringer on.

Yesterday her dad had had brain surgery and they’d all been there, except for Tommy who was too little to be allowed in. Mom, her boyfriend Bill, her aunt Mary and Mom’s best friend Alice. Dad always said they’d had a friendly divorce, and she supposed this was proof. The doctor had come out in his green scrubs, just like on tv, cap on his head and¬†mask down around his neck. The surgery was a success, he’d told them. They’d gotten the tumor and he had an excellent chance to¬†recover fully.

Dad had looked really funny last night as they wheeled him from post-op to recovery, wearing what looked like a big white shower cap on his head. He’d smiled at her and she’d squeezed his hand, and he’d told them he felt great.

“See you, kid!” He’d said with that funny, crooked smile.

And then Mom was leaning in to give him a sort of hug and kiss him, and they’d all said, “See you!”

But that was yesterday. Today he wasn’t doing too well, Mom said with tears in her voice. Something had gone wrong. He was unconscious and they weren’t telling her anything but acting like it was really bad. His face was swollen, her mom had said.

“You can come,” she said, “but I don’t want you to feel you have to. If something at school today is important, stay. I’ll let you know if anything changes.”

She played that over as she put some gloss on her lips and pressed them together. Yeah right. If anything changed she’d be pulled out of class again. Forget that. And she took her things and walked out and headed for her locker. Opened it in a flash, stuffed the pouch into her backpack, swung it onto¬†her shoulder, and slammed the locker closed.

She strode down the hall, oblivious to anyone else around, and out the front door of the school. The sun was shining fiercely. She rummaged into her backpack and pulled out her Metrocard and her cell.

“Mom? I’m coming up there. Tell Dad I’m coming, okay?

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