Carolina Woman received entries from extraordinarily talented writers in this year's competition. In April, we published the winners of the grand and first prizes. In May, we printed the second- and third-prize champs. This issue features honorable mentions.
Karen Kent, of Chapel Hill, for her essay "She Was Dying"
Diane Pascoe, of Raleigh, for her story "It's All In How You Say It"
Beth Browne, of Garner, for her poem "Getting My Daughter Her Learner's Permit"
Sheryl Cornett of Raleigh for her poem "Apples in Winter"
Bonnie Korta of Pittsboro for her poem "Snow Day"
Susan Beckham Zurenda of Spartanburg, S.C. for her story "Shattered Light"
by Denise P. Sherman of Raleigh
My step-daddy asked me why I wanted to go to the dance cause he said I won't going to dance with nobody.
That's some shit. Whatever.
I started bawling when Everette stood me up, but I tried to hide it. I won't about to have my tutor see me crying. And if she hadn't of hauled all the way out to Johnston County from Raleigh, I'd have gone home and ate pizza with my daddy and said, Man, oh, man, you're right on. Me dance?
I went straight to the bathroom with Alexa and Sherina and we danced in the mirror just to try things out. Won't too bad, if I must say so myself.
I started bawling again, telling them about my mama. My mama's another story. She's a bad ass, but it really ain't her fault and all. She pulls my hair when I don't clean up my room. And yesterday, she hit me so hard for not minding my two-year-old brother Kevon I still have the bruises. I showed them too. Just so they wouldn't think I was being dramatic.
Dramatic. That's what my math teacher Ms. Lavonda Kincaid calls me. She weighs 200 pounds, but she's real sweet. I like her real good. She says I'm her best student, a sure fire wiz bang. (At least, some things are okay.) Some of the bad ass boys get out mirrors and reflect the light on her boobs. I mean, those things are big. It makes me so mad how they give her a hard time about her size and all. I mean, she can't help being fat. My mama's fat, and she can't help it. I don't fault her one bit for that. It's just the beating she can help.
Or maybe not. My guidance counselor says she's probably doing the best she can, but I shouldn't stand for her hitting me and to let her know real good and right if it ever happens and she'll call the social services on her. Hell, they don't do shit. Just take Sherina.
But that's another story. Well, my mama didn't grow up the minister's daughter like my tutor who takes me skating and even pays our electric bill, once, but she wouldn't go for twiced. What'n gonna have my mama shitting on her, I reckon. My mama's daddy was in prison her whole entire childhood. She used to walk down Western Boulevard and stand outside the gate and sing You are My Sunshine every Saturday.
Ain't that the saddest thing. I never had heard that story before and it kind of made my heart hurt and feel right bad for my mama. It came out in her life's story my tutor was getting her to write after she gave her some book called the Artist's Way. Trying to get my mama to be an artist. Shit. My mama's got enough on her without trying to make artiste. What I mean, she's got to look after Kevon, work the night shift at Waffle House. Everette calls it the Awful House. Clean up the trailer, watch the grocery ads at the store - we don't get no papers which is a bitch when it comes to doing projects, clean gutters to get extra money and cook my step-daddy's dinner. He likes fried chicken. No wonder she steals my babysitting money from my tutor to go play bingo, which really pissed me off before I heard about the singing and all.
So imagine, mama trying to do artiste on top of all of that. But I will say, her mood did improve when she was writing her life story. I didn't get hit onced. So what do I know.
I think I got it bad. But whenever I go singing the blues. I think about Sherina. Her uncle who I'd of never thought was up to no good the way he was so sweet and gentle-like, always giving us candy, not doing anything that would put you in mind of being dirty minded or sick in the head. He just seemed genuinely taking an interest in us younguns.
Just when you think you got life figured out, it goes and throws you a curve ball. Well her uncle, just looked all sad in the eyes when I caught him looking at me from the bus when we let Sherina off yesterday after I had told Social Services on him. It made my stomach hurt. What happens to people that they have to do such things. Her uncle is doing the down and dirty with her, and I don't think of it as the down and dirty excepting when it's in the family. Now that's sicko.
But you know. I started thinking real hard about it. What would make somebody do such things. And I really think he fell in love with her youth and her innocence and just outright desired it. Twisted, I know. But that's the only way I could see how someone like him could get confused in the head and do something so wrong and think it's right.
I called Social Services myself right after Sherina told me. I felt like a snitch. But I didn't want her getting hurt. Now that's stupid. She's in too deep not to get hurt. I thought hard and long about calling. I mean her mama don't have no place to go. Social Services'll likely take Sherina away from them which would break her heart, not to mention splitting her up from her twin sister Katrina. But still and all, I figured that's better than being in her place right now.
Social Services asked me how I knew this information and I told them Sherina told me what you think I'm making this stuff up. They said they would investigate and thanked me for calling. But I don't put no stock in their thanks and for them to make things right.
They've been to my house six times (my tutor called them on my mama the last time I had bruises) and they ain't done nothing, cept send my mama to some parenting classes. Lot a good that'll do.
Sometimes I wish I could go live with my tutor. She'd paint dolphins on my walls and take me skating every weekend which my sorry step-dad won't do as he won't get up off his lazy ass to even go to the movies. My tutor would take me as long as I did my homework and kept my grades up. Piece of cake. I'd have three square meals, new jeans and maybe even a little kiss on the cheek when I went to bed at night. I stayed with her one weekend and she got out her guitar and sang this sad, sad song that made me cry called I'm Just a Poor Wayfaring Stranger. I wondered how her soul could know things that made her sing like that, having a preacher daddy and housewife mama that made all her clothes, living in a little brick house with three sisters and a swimming pool in the back.
My tutor told me if I made A/B honor roll, she'd take me to Florida to swim with the dolphins. If I could just do Language Arts I'd be talking Flipper, I mean.
Well, I didn't mean to go telling you my life story and all. I'm not that interesting. I wanted to tell you about the eight grade dance. Man!
It got off to a slow start and we just stood around drinking this Cheerwine punch that Ms. Kincaid made out of pineapple juice and Cheerwines.
She said when her daddy went up to New York City when he was a boy and asked for Cheerwine they didn't know what he was talking about seeing how it was made in Salisbury, North Carolina and asked him did he mean cherry wine and that he was too young for it anyhow. That made me feel a little better seeing as how my sad self was proving my step-daddy right and I'd have to go home and eat crow. Made me tingle right inside my nose, like those little burns you get when you drink a Cheerwine too fast.
Anyway, me and Alexa and Sherina started playing this game of matching the preps together and guessing which one would dance with which one when. Tired. I tell you. Finally, I said, I'm not going to be no damn wall flower. Let's get up off our asses and get down. Girls, can I have this dance?
We started giggling, being silly and all, and Alexa almost peed in her pants. She does that all the time. I think she needs that bladder medicine you see advertised on the television with all those women dancing around to that I've Got Ta Go song.
We got out on the dance floor, the mirror ball shining down on us like stars and I felt beautiful. I mean beautiful. Bout like I did the time my tutor bought me that red velvet dress one Christmas and took me to Memorial Auditorium to see The Nutcracker. Wow, I felt rich and just loved the way those ballerinas could move their bodies all different directions. Ain't that dancing.
But I was moving just like a ballerina. I'd of done the Nut Cracker hands down right then at Memorial Auditorium no less in front of all of Raleigh and Johnston County to boot. Then Ms. Kincaid kind of joined us while Aretha, Aretha Franklin, I mean my nanny who still works every day of her life even though my step-granddaddy gave her AIDs, plays her music and gets all misty-eyed lying on the couch, drinking a beer after cleaning houses all week for Swisher Maid, taking care of Douglas, Donny and Devon cause my sorry aunt Belinda would rather shack up with Bean Pole, convicted felon that he is, than take care of her own younguns. Some people don't know how to act.
Anyway, Ms Kincaid started dancing. Her fat rolls were shaking, but don't tell nobody I told you. And Mr. Parker, the science teacher, tapped her on the shoulder and started dancing with her. He's real big too. Ain't that great. I think they might get something going.
And Aretha was singing about respect and you could just hear the passion in her throat which made you know that Aretha had been around the block a time or two. And Alexa made up a dance she called the Alligator and Sherina was copying her and I was just doing my own thing.
Then Everette comes up and whispers in my ear he's sorry, he just got nervous. Would I take him back and do him a favor by dancing with him right then and there? And I about died. He looked kind of cute. Just like my tutor said. Which I agreed with excepting for his long nose which I know he can't help one little bit.
So me and Ms. Kindcaid and Mr Parker and Alexa and Sherina was light on our feet. And we laughed and the mirror ball went round and round and Aretha belted out about Sock It to Me Sock It To Me Sock It To Me.
And no matter how life had socked it to us, we socked right back, big time. And it was beautiful. And I felt the way I felt the time I got saved at Open Door Baptist back when Brother Allen was driving the bus and picking me up on Sundays. He told my grandmaw who raised me before my mama got out of prison and got her life turned around except for pulling my hair and all and wanted me back that the devil had worked hard on me but that I was a good girl referring to how my daddy tried to kill me when he got in a fight with my mama when I was six months old.
I remembered thinking. That damn devil didn't make him do it. But I do like those devil songs they sang at Open Door and the songs about the Good Lord like that one I loved Do Lord Oh, Do Lord Oh Do Remember Me and If the Devil Doesn't like it he can sit on a tack, that funny part after I've got the Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy down in my heart. And I knew right then and there that if'n there was a Lord and Jesus and all that stuff they talk about in church that the big honcho hisself was winking at us. That God comes out of his castle window of gold and looks down on this crazy messed up, beautiful world and says life is downright hilarious and sad as hell and he's doing the best he can and to please forgive him and you just need to keep your sense of humor to get along. And maybe, just maybe, he'd send a little angel, maybe one that wore her dresses too short and low-cut, to sing in our hearts and make us feel happy and beautiful and skinny and short-nosed and not beat up by our mamas or dissed by our step-dads nor sexually abused by our uncles and I wanted to say Do Lord Oh Do Lord, Oh Do Remember Me, Hallelujah! I'm from Sin Set, You're From Sin Set, We're All From Sin Set Free. My Sin's Are All Forgiven and I'm On My Way To Heaven And That's Enough To Make Me Sing. Sing it Aretha. Sing it.
by Sadie L. Harper of Raleigh
Clipped, pinned back
I stretch my arms up and down and left and right
I cannot reach
The ties that cinch the expanse of feathers to my back.
Dreaming of days long past where I used to fly
Or are they but musings of my mind
Gone mad at the bindings?
They were beautiful, my wings.
Lovely, and soft, and so, so strong.
I never had to fly because I knew I could,
I could if I needed to.
But you wouldn't let me fly
'Your wings don't exist' you scoffed.
Brows furrowed, fingering the ends of soft, soft feathers
I cannot see them, but I feel them, I know they're there.
'You can't fly anyways – you're weak,
And silly, silly girl to think you could fly
Away from me, from your problems, from this
Reality I made for you.'
Turning away to hide hot, stinging tears
Steaming down my cheeks, red with shame.
Fingers fall limp by my sides.
Maybe my wings don't exist.
I ignore them, angrily push the feathers away
from where they tickle my cheeks and hips
'here, let me tie them up so they don't bother you'
'here, let me put a bag over them so no one else sees their ugliness'
'here, let me fix you into the image of me'
And so they were: tied up, hidden away until I forgot them
So used to ignoring their presence, their reality
Now you're gone, booted out of my life, excised from my home and world
And with you went the ties, the sack
I turn in the mirror to see these things attached to my back
Oh, hello! I'd forgotten about you.
Neglected you, pretended you weren't there
Even as you made sleeping uncomfortable.
There you are! You're beautiful!
Slowly, slowly they unfurl a little
But oh! no – don't do that! Panicked a little
What if someone sees? What if I ... fly?
I huddle my shoulders close, hoping to pull the wings in closer
so they're not seen.
But wait...what is this? When did I ever feel the need to
Hide from the world?
I loved my wings once, back before you, back when I was me and only me.
Peeking askance in the mirror, I lift my chin;
Breathe, breathe, breathe
'you can do this' my mantra
Perhaps if I say it enough I'll believe it?
My fingers find the feathers by my hips
And of their own accord, my wings spread, spread, spread
This room is too small for my wings
Must find more space
I run, feeling the wind flutter and fluff and rustle
No shame, no guilt, no hiding, no binding
Looking down, the ground far beneath me –
"She Was Dying"
by Karen Kent of Chapel Hill
She was dying. One might take that as an overly dramatic opener to this story, perhaps to capture attention and sympathy. But those three words are meant only to capture the heart of this story. I could pretty it up a bit. "She didn't have much longer." or "Her time with us was coming to a close." But I keep going back to the simplest truth: she was dying.
Those words clung to me at the time, like a frightened hiker on a tiny ledge, during a sudden thunderstorm. And those same three words affect me still, years later, as I go back in my mind and remember each moment. So they are here to stay, dramatic or not. They are meant to start this story.
My father called me, that unforgettable late August afternoon, to give me the news from Mom's doctor appointment earlier that day. She wouldn't come to the phone. I don't blame her. If I were dying, I wouldn't answer the phone either. I have never been a fan of talking on the phone. This I got from her. And here was as good an excuse as any to simply declare she wasn't going to do it anymore. "Come see me if you want to talk. Time's a wastin'."
I hung up the phone and began to cry. The baby kicked inside me, and my husband pulled me close, not knowing what to say. I had no words to share either, so I just cried, and he just held me; both of us storing away those mysterious unspoken words for later. As I curled up into myself at that moment, I began to grieve for my mother, who was still alive. Would she make it until the baby was born? It was August, and the baby was due at the end of December. It wasn't looking good. I'm no mathematician, but that was four months away, and the doctor wasn't optimistic about two months.
What in the world would I do with a baby without my mother around? I've had two babies already. You would think I'd have gotten the hang of it by then. But she was my motherhood go-to person. I needed her, if just to call to whine a bit about both kids having the chicken pox. And then to listen to her say, "You think you have it bad. I had FOUR kids with the chicken pox!" She beat me every time with that four-kid card. I should have known I was never going to win the "one-up" game with Mom.
When I did see her after this news, she really wanted to talk about her final arrangements, and I really wanted to talk about American Idol, or anything else. But I listened to her wishes to not have a funeral or even a small gathering with friends. All she wanted was for our immediate family to be with her, and she wanted to have her ashes spread in a beautiful rose garden in the city near us. Okay, got it. But this one time recitation of her last wishes would not be enough for her. Maybe the sickness was affecting her memory, and she forgot she had already given us these instructions 500 times. Or maybe she thought we all weren't very bright. I'm leaning toward that last one.
After that initial fun conversation, it seemed like every time I saw her, we went through this same final wish scenario. I wanted to yell, "STOP WITH THE ROSE GARDEN AND FIGHT HARDER!" But I let her talk, while I rubbed her back with lotion. She didn't just tell me; she told the entire family, as well as a few close friends. I mean the mailman didn't know, but other than that, I'm pretty sure she was covered. But I guess the dying don't have scripts. They have rambling monologues, and whatever it is they need to say, they seem to have to say it repeatedly. They want so badly to be heard, never realizing how the people around them are hanging onto their every word.
Then came hospice and the final waiting. My mom never spoke again after she was admitted there. She slept. I was seven months pregnant and sat for a week in that home with my family. The baby hiccupped inside me, as she liked to do, while we waited. We watched Judge Judy, pressed mom's pain medicine button, swabbed her mouth and told stories. To this day, I can't watch Judge Judy. Mom held on longer than the hospice home thought she would. She wasn't ready to leave our father. But on the night of Oct.31, 2002, I guess she didn't have a choice anymore. Maybe you go willingly, or if not, you are taken when it's your time. With her, I have a feeling which one it was.
My sister was the only one with Mom when she passed, as it was late at night, and I had taken Dad home to rest. It was the only night that entire week that I had laid out my clothes for the next day before I went to sleep. Somehow I must have known. I sat up in bed quickly when Dad knocked on my bedroom door at midnight, and I knew before he uttered a word. "Karen, your mother passed away. I'm leaving now to go see her." I cried out, "No Dad. I'm coming with you. Don't leave me. I'll be out in three minutes"! I didn't want him driving alone.
When we got there, we each went in and said our final goodbyes. There were many other people in the room, including the kind nurses I had seen all week, getting my mom ready to leave the hospice home. They were now just waiting for the Eye Bank to arrive. I wanted to tell them, "Don't forget! She has an extra pair in the back of her head!" because it seemed we could never get away with anything as kids. Mom was always two-steps ahead of us. But I stayed silent, as I squeezed into that busy room. She was still in the same bed, with gauze covering her beautiful brown eyes. The same eyes people used to call "bedroom eyes" when she was younger.
I said my goodbyes, as I had every day that week, and slowly backed out of the room. This is not a graceful feat for a seven months pregnant woman to attempt alone, never mind in a crowd. I made it out of the door, but before I could turn, I backed into the wall that was across from her room. I could feel I hit something, so I turned around to see what it was.
I had been in and out of that room a hundred times that week, but I had never noticed the picture there; the one I had just gracefully backed into on that wall. How could I have missed it? It wasn't small, by any means, and it would have been directly in my line of vision each time I walked out of that room. So, in shock for a moment, I just stared at this beautiful picture, and then a little grin popped up on my tear-stained face. Mom knew all about my "distracted thinking" while I was pregnant, which often caused me to miss obvious things happening around me. So, of course, I had to back into the picture to notice it. That was Mom's gentle way of hitting me over the head with it.
I immediately went to find my sister. As I was searching for her, I looked up and down the hallways to see if there was another picture in the home, just like the one outside of Mom's room. There wasn't. When I found Linda, I grabbed her arm and said, "Follow me. You're going to love this." I'm sure Linda thought I was nuts, or maybe crazy with grief and pregnancy hormones. What in the world would she "love" in that place at that moment?
When we got to the hall outside of Mom's room, I pointed at the picture. Linda leaned in and read the caption under it. Then, ever so slowly, a grin widened her mouth too. The picture was a print of the rose garden my Mom would not stop talking about for weeks, ever since the words "terminal" and "nothing we can do" came out of her doctor's mouth. This was the rose garden in which she wanted to have her ashes spread.
She had been a gardener all of her adult life, so the request made sense. It was just the sheer number of times she made this request that drove us a little batty.
As my sister continued to smile, she said, "Well, Mom always did have to have the last word." I looked up toward the heavens and whispered, "Rest now, Mom. We've got this."
"It's All in How You Say It"
by Diane Pascoe of Raleigh
The young kid at the grocery store checkout had just finished ringing in my avocados, pigs-in-blankets, and a bag of egg noodles, the ones without the egg yolks. Norman, as his Food Tiger badge said, seemed really uncomfortable as he shifted back and forth from foot to foot. I was wondering if he might have a bit of an itch down there that he was dying to scratch, but had thought better of it because his mother had said Norman, don't touch yourself in public.
Norman looked across the conveyer belt, staring me directly in the eye (well okay, through my bifocals) and then said without hesitation, "And your senior citizen's discount today is $3.43."
Whoa! Wait just one minute, Mr. Norman-with-an-itch. Who said anything about my being a senior citizen? I sure don't recall your asking my age or asking if I was over-60-but-possibly-under-100?
That itchy cashier kid had actually said "senior citizen" like it was totally obvious, like the whole grocery store absolutely knew for certain that I was a senior citizen, like I had it tattooed on my forehead for heaven's sake.
That boy didn't even allow for the possibility that maybe, just maybe, I was a few weeks or even months under the "age of seniority" whatever that was in this store.
What age are we talking about Norman? Age 65 when Medicare kicks in? Age 62 when you can start collecting back your 40 years of social security contributions? Age 60, when you sound a whole lot older than you do at 59? Did you learn to guess ages at the state fair and then hand out stuffed toy giraffes when you got it wrong, Normie? Maybe you owe me a giraffe - did you ever think of that Norm?
I mean, Norman had to be making a wild guess based on...on what? My grayish hair mottled with some dark hairlets? My very slightly sagging turkey neck? The hot coral lipstick bleeding into my lip creases? I mean those things can happen at 49 or 53 or 57, right? These are not legal evidence of age that little Norman should use to certify me as senior. Shouldn't I have to present a special card declaring I'm a senior?
Look at the facts, Norman - I have a paying job, and I have a kid completing his 4.5th year in college. So how can you, a young whippersnappper, think I am a senior citizen!
And for the record, the name "Norman" sounds way older than "Diane" so maybe Normie should get the discount too based on his old name.
I just don't know what they teach cashiers in cashier school about good customer relations, but I can assure you Normie snoozed through that lesson. Does he not get it that woman are very sensitive about their age, their looks, and how well their $80 per ounce anti-aging cream is working? The question that was on my mind, forcing me to bite my tongue until it bled onto the avocados, was this: How old did Norman think I actually was?
I faced every woman's terrible dilemma. If I asked Norm how old he thought I was, just to satisfy my vanity and curiosity, he might guess older than I really was and then I would feel depressed, compelled to get TV's "Lifestyle Lift" and spend all our retirement savings to look non-senior-like, which would then prevent us from going on that RV vacation to Yellowstone Park that Honey has been dreaming about. But I just can't face the tourists in the RV park looking older than I am, now can I? Jeepers, this is getting expensive. Norman has really opened a can of marital worms.
I'd bet my last buck that the Normster would even say to a woman with a tubby tummy, "So when is the baby due?", which any man worth his whiskers has learned not to ask unless the woman is actually humming lullabies or is in labor in the breakfast cereal aisle.
When in doubt, leave it out, Norm.
So here's my advice to junior citizen Norman on the issue of senior citizenry: To the next youngish old lady who approaches your cash register, say, "It's too bad you don't qualify for the senior citizen's discount, Ma'am - you'd save $3.43."
At which point she'd happily proclaim, "But I do qualify Norman - I really do. I know it's hard to believe but see my license?" She'd push the card under his nose. He would then subtract that $3.43 from her bill and she'd walk out of the store with a spring in her step because little-Norman-with-the-itch thought she was much younger than she really was.
You see Norman, we'd still get to the bleeping $3.43 discount, but by playing this little game with a woman my age, you would have a friend and customer for life.
It's all in how you say it, Norm. Pass it on.
by Susan Beckham Zurenda of Spartanburg, S.C.
Manney was a beautiful, brooding boy whose father had killed himself during the year I knew I was in love with him. It wasn't his father's death that created my devotion. In fact, the death didn't seem to change Manney in any discernible way. I had simply gotten old enough at 14 to believe I knew.
We all ran around with each other in the neighborhood, Ruth and I outnumbered by the boys. We played Monopoly and Clue on weekend afternoons in our clubhouse in the dirt basement accessible by a hatch door under my house. While Ruth and I wrote a code of behavior and buried it for safekeeping in a tin can in the yard - believing words would keep order - the boys fashioned a booby trap over the door to brain anyone who wasn't welcome.
The real change that separated us seemed sudden, though surely it had been forming without our knowledge. It happened during a game of Kick the Can one night. Ruth's twin brother Dan said it - I was tired of waiting and yelled for him to hurry up and kick - that he would rather play with my can, just as his right foot sent the soup can sprawling. For a moment we stood stunned, our world rebalancing, until we caught our collective breath and scattered to our hiding places.
I'd been noticed and the awareness played on me. One day soon after, I stood in my underwear and admired the new curves forming inward at either side of my waist. I hoisted my budding breasts close together in the training bra my mother had bought for me. And I thought about Manney. I began to think about him all the time. About his sensitive face with its thick, dark eyebrows and lips like Mick Jagger. I wanted more than I wanted anything for those lips to be my first kiss. I found excuses to walk three doors down to watch him shoot baskets in his driveway.
He would smile at me before a layup, and I thought he must like me, too.
My chance came on an evening with my parents out at a Christmas party, my little brother somewhere so that I didn't have to babysit, and my friend Jan spending the night. Around dark, Manney and his best friend Frank Frazier - I knew Frank was sweet on Jan - rang the doorbell. It wasn't a coincidence. I had told them at school we'd be home without parents.
All they had to do was ask, so that Jan and I grabbed up our coats and trooped with them toward the neighborhood pond. We soon discovered the boys had cherry bombs in their own coat pockets. Manney lit one, aimed and threw. It hit the water and exploded. A geyser shot up.
"Imagine those fish," Manney said.
"Oh wow," I exclaimed, but my stomach lurched at the image of fish dying below the surface or maybe, if caught in the water spout, in midair. It was a terrible image, but I pushed it out of my mind. I wanted to be cool.
After a while, they tired and we moved on. Frank blasted one of the bombs in a mailbox. "Isn't that against the law? I mean really against the law like a federal crime?" Jan asked.
The boys laughed, and we continued to tag behind for another mailbox or two. Then, Frank dropped back and grabbed Jan's hand. He laced their fingers. Manney stepped beside me and reached for my hand, too. "Want a real thrill?" he asked. A balloon of air rose into my throat, and I fought it down.
"Let's go over to old man Lattimer's and put out his Christmas lights."
"Count me out of that one," Frank said. He pulled Jan to him and caressed her shoulder. "We'll see you at the house."
"What about you, Lizzie? Are you game?" Manney winked and squeezed my hand. I would do anything to please him. I nodded my consent.
During our short walk, Manney picked up a thick pine stick, raising it and proclaiming, "That man is so damn mean. He deserves it."
The whole neighborhood knew how Mr. Lattimer had called the pound on Manney's dogs; Mick and Molly had been his daddy's hunting dogs.
The trick was to let one out of the fence at the time; that way the other stayed around. But one day when they both got loose, they went straight to Mr. Lattimer's yard. Probably because of all the junk around the yard to chew on and tote away. Mr. Lattimer had called the pound without so much as a telephone call of warning.
We stood on the damp front lawn beholding the myriad red, blue, green, and yellow lights shimmering around the banister of Mr. Lattimer's front stoop. Silently, I watched Manney's taut body approach, the stick aloft in his right hand. I heard colors shatter one by one. I saw the front door open and heard the shattering stop.
I watched Manney pass me in a blur, and I heard him yell, "Run." I turned in time to see his silhouette shimmy up and over a chain-link fence as adeptly as a rat snake climbing a tree.
It was too late for me. Mr. Lattimer had called my name. I twisted around to see him standing 10 feet away with a shotgun balanced between his hands. "Elizabeth, is that you?" he said.
"Yes sir," I whispered, my feet wooden on the ground.
"I'm surprised to see you responsible for this. But here you are. I wonder if you are thinking what your father will think when he finds out." His voice was self-important, relishing the idea of telling my father.
I started shaking, the kind where you can't stop; I could hear my teeth clicking together. But it wasn't because of my father. His punishment seemed far away. Instead, I was thinking of Manney, who'd departed and left me standing alone in the dark. Who'd scaled the fence in the cloud-cloaked moonlight, and never looked back.
by Bonnie Korta of Pittsboro
Skies heavy with gray wool
winter's sheep ready to take a tumble
fleece plummeting from clouds overnight
cocooning the world with hush, with white
my teacher Mama gives her wishful forecast
Snow day tomorrow if those sheep fall
Snow day the most beautiful phrase in a country child's vocabulary
soft round sound, a moment crystallized in winter's confettied globe
no school, no work, all play - a gift undeserved like grace
amazing the power of icy powder pieces piling up mountains
I press my nose against frosty pane, impatient for that first flake
Mama and I don our night clothes backwards and inside out
gyrating that crazy snow dance
hard to fall asleep, so giddy with anticipation
Wake up to find the snow's erased all of winter's mistakes
frosting over fallow fields, dried up yards, rusted tin roofs
trees bare naked ladies dolled up beautiful once more
ice filigreed gowns cascading of spare limbs
my family delighted prisoners in this frozen jail
Smell of cocoa melting my morning
I pull on red galoshes, mittens that match
haul down my Yankee Clipper sled
streamlined blonde wood gliding on crimson steel
only thing named Yankee allowed in my Southern home
Clippers a storm like this one, invading from the North just like the Yankees, Mama explained
for once, I thanked God for the Yankees, sleds and storms alike
dragging mine outdoors, hoping the snow has sequined a sheen of ice
so I can go flying head first, wild and free
down our hill, the rush, the thrill
almost out of control, again and again and again
Capsizing, I spread my wings, an angel in the snow
looking up to the wool gathering sky I prayed
those sheep will fall again tonight
another snow day tomorrow
by Beth Browne of Garner
We wait, three hours at the DMV,
standing room only, people spilling
across the concrete sidewalk.
Our Lady, a Buddha in a swivelly chair,
tugs at her blouse, sighs and gives
a reassuring smile, showing a surprising
gap on one side, another blackening to the right.
We answer her easy questions, she taps
on her keyboard automatically until
she stops, turns her hazy blue eyes
to the acoustical tile ceiling and says,
"I been a keyboardist all my life."
She gives us a benevolent gaze before
continuing, "I started on pee-a-nuh.
Once, a lady said I was playing along
with the music when I typed."
Behind us, the crowd shifts uncomfortably.
Time swerves and skids to a stop.
We nod and chuckle until
she goes back to entering
our information. We breathe.
No music plays in the stifling office
No sound but the insect click of keys
playing the ghost of a melody.
by Sheryl Cornett of Raleigh
Baking cinnamon smells
Like heaven come down to melt
An icy earth and remind us that
Soon, very soon budding nubs
On bare branches will bloom in a bride's veil,
Snowy petals like those falling fast
And fat this January morning.
I lean back in the window seat, invite my mind's
Eye to vision flowers into fruit; an orchard's hill
In April, lacey pink-white tendrils shifting
This way then that in the windless breeze.
Meanwhile the pantry offers cider-scented storage.
Goldens, Galas, Pippins, and Red-Delish; some Braeburns
From up the road in Virginia. I take one of each, peel
Core and slice into a cast iron skillet, caramelize
In butter and brown sugar; crumble Amish
Oatmeal crust on top, bake at four hundred
Until all is crisp hot apple-scented
Welcome against the cold.