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Oct. 15th, 2009


Chapter 4


     At school on Monday, Susan kept hearing music from Friday night in her head.  One song in particular—she remembered dancing with George to a tune that kept haunting her.  He had been trying to teach her a special variation to the dance steps, and she had almost gotten it.

     Out on the playground, standing alone by the corner of the blacktop, she still heard the music, and started walking slowly through the steps, seeing if she could figure it out.  Lucinda was up on the monkey bars with Piper when she looked over and saw Susan.  She watched her a minute, wondering what in the world the girl was doing.  Then she recognized the pattern of her steps.

     Piper noticed her too, then, and said, “What is Susan doing?”

     “Practicing,” Lucinda said, climbing down from the monkey bars.

     “Hey, you need a partner?” Lucinda asked, when she got close to Susan.

     Susan looked up and smiled.

     “Do you know that thing George was trying to teach me?  It goes with that song that goes . . . ” and Susan sang the chorus of the song that was in her head.  She had to sing it all la-la-la because she didn’t know the words, but the tune was unmistakable, and Lucinda knew right away what she meant.

     “Okay, I’ll be George,” she said, and she and Susan started to dance together, humming the tune or saying the steps as Susan gradually learned the bit she was working on.  When she had it down, they danced to the song at full speed, Lucinda singing the words and Susan backing her up with la-la vocals.  It was fun and silly, and they didn’t care if the other kids thought they were nuts or not.  Piper had followed Lucinda from the monkey bars and she clapped when they finished.

     “That is so cool!” she said.  “Teach it to me!”

     When the bell rang, Piper knew the basic steps and was dancing with Susan, while Lucinda was showing Cassie how it went.  It was not easy to dance and sing at the same time, especially since only Susan and Lucinda knew the music.  So the next day, Lucinda brought her little boombox to school, with one of her uncle’s CDs.  Dancing was much more fun with real music, and the four of them got pretty good.

     By the end of the week, both Cassie and Piper knew the steps by heart, plus George’s fancy variation.  They could dance without having to think about where to put their feet.  It was no surprise that Piper learned so quickly; she was, by her own admission, a dancing fool.  But Cassie was amazingly graceful and light on her feet.  She wasn’t fat when she danced.  Trisha had joined their little troupe, and so had three other girls who used to hang on the fringe of the cool girls’ clique.  So everyone had a partner, they all took turns leading and following, and once they got the hang of it, it was great fun.  Better than jump-rope or kickball or even soaring on the swings.

     It didn’t take Ashley and Brittany and Jessica long to notice what was going on over at the far end of the blacktop.  Kids were standing around, watching the dancers.  Lots of them were interested; it was obviously fun.  But how embarrassing, to dance like that, in front of everybody!  That is what the kids who were watching were thinking.  They were wanting to try it, but too self-conscious to move.  The girls laughed and whooped, and screamed when they made mistakes, and all the time their feet were flying and they were whirling each other around.  When the music stopped and the dancers paused to catch their breath, the kids who were watching clapped and whistled.

     That was too much for Ashley.  She stopped twirling her jump-rope and jerked it out of Jessica’s hands.  She looped it loosely in her hand and strode purposefully across the blacktop to where the music was starting up again from Lucinda’s boombox.  Ashley walked over to the boombox, leaned over, and pushed the off button.  She stood there, hands on her hips, glaring at Lucinda.

     Lucinda, who had already started to dance, and who especially liked the son Ashley had just cut off, looked at her questioningly.

     “Problem, Ashley?” she asked.  Her voice was quiet, but had a hard edge to it.

     “Yes, there’s a problem, Lucinda,” said Ashley.  By now the girls she had been jumping rope with had drifted over and were standing around behind her.  “You’re not supposed to bring CD players to school.  And there’s no dancing allowed on the school playground.”

     “Since when?” said Cassie, who was standing by Lucinda.

     “Says who?” demanded Piper.

     “I don’t see Mrs. Perkins over here, telling us to stop,” Lucinda pointed out.

     “That doesn’t matter,” said Ashley.  “Mrs. Perkins can’t be everywhere.  She doesn’t see everything.”

     “Ashley, we’re a mob of wild women, playing raucous ethnic music and dancing all over the southeast corner of the blacktop,” Cassie said.  “I’m pretty sure Mrs. Perkins knows what we’re doing.  And if it was against the rules, she would stop us.  So why don’t you just mind your own beeswax and go back to your rope jumping?”

     “Why don’t you lose some weight, you big cow,” said Ashley.  Her friends snickered and Cassie’s face went red.

     “Ashley Vanderlaan, we have a zero tolerance rule at this school.”  The cold, stern voice of Mrs. Perkins rose up from the back of the group of kids who had gathered to watch the dancing.  She had moved over to their part of the playground when she noticed Ashley and her clique marching across the blacktop to confront the dancers.  She’d been expecting a scene like this.  She had been a recess aide for twelve years; she knew how playground politics worked.  “Zero tolerance for name-calling, zero tolerance for bullying, zero tolerance for disrespecting fellow students,” she went on in her most menacing tone.

     “Mrs. Perkins,” said Jessica, “isn’t it against school rules, to be playing loud music and dancing on the playground?”

     “Not to my knowledge,” said Mrs. Perkins.  She looked at her wristwatch.  “It’s almost time for the bell, anyway.  Let’s break this up.  Ashley, I want to talk to you.”

     Susan and Lucinda looked at each other as the crowd moved away.

     “What is wrong with them?” Susan asked.  “Why does it bother them so much to see us having a little fun?  Are we hurting them?  What is their problem?”

     This was quite an outburst from quiet Susan, who usually kept most of her feelings to herself.

     “They’re jealous,” said Piper.  “Here we are, having fun, dancing like lunatics, while they’re over there, being a bunch of stuffed shirts, jumping rope and admiring each other’s clothes.  They’re losers.  Rich, well-dressed, physically perfect losers.”

     Even Cassie laughed at that.

     “Maybe we should invite them to join us,” suggested Lucinda.

     “The Barbie Dolls?” Cassie asked incredulously.

     “Dancing with us?” Piper looked at her like she was crazy.

     “They’d never do that,” said Susan.

     “Why not?  I mean, if that’s the problem.  If they are resentful because we’re having more fun than them, why not just include them?  Then maybe they’ll chill out.”  Lucinda was saying what she knew her mother would say if she were here.  She did not entirely believe it herself, but she thought it was a point of view that ought to be considered.

     “It’s a nice idea,” said Cassie.  “Maybe it would work if we lived in a utopian society, where everyone was sensible and kind.  But this is the real world.”

     “Yeah.  I bet the Barbie Dolls would rather be miserable than have fun with the likes of us,” said Piper.

     Lucinda shrugged.  “It was just a thought,” she said.

     But they never got a chance to try that approach, because when Lucinda got to school the following Monday, the principal, Mr. Leonard, met her in the hallway.

     “Lucinda Dimirovitch?” he said, looking down at her.  His forehead was wrinkled like a letter M; he looked both worried and cross.

     “Yes,” said Lucinda.

     “Would you please step into my office?  I’d like a word with you.”

     Lucinda followed him, carrying her backpack and her boombox.  They walked past the outer office, where Ms. Wheeling, the school secretary, sat at her desk.  She gave Lucinda what was probably meant to be a sympathetic smile, but just came off sort of sickly and half-hearted.

     Mr. Leonard shut the door of his office when they got inside.  He sat down behind his desk and waved toward a plastic chair he wanted Lucinda to sit in.  She took off her backpack, heavy with books and lunch and several CDs, and set it on the floor next to her boombox.  She noticed Mr. Leonard looking at the CD player and pursing his lips.  She began to have an idea what this might be about.

     She sat in the plastic chair and looked at Mr. Leonard.

     “I’ll get right to the point, Lucy,” he began.

     Lucinda cringed, but decided that correcting him at this point would not be diplomatic.

     “I’ve had some calls from parents, complaining about inappropriate playground conduct.”  He put his hands together like a steeple and leaned his elbows on the desk.  He looked at her and made that M on his forehead again.  “Is it true you have been playing suggestive music and dancing in front of the other students?”

     “Suggestive?”  Lucinda did not know what that meant.  “And I dance with other students.  There are eight of us, so far.”

     “Boys and girls?”

     “No.  Just girls.  The boys are all too embarrassed to try.”

     “Sometimes it’s good to embarrassed, Lucy.  Sometimes it’s appropriate.”

     “Dancing isn’t embarrassing.  It’s fun.”  Lucinda did not understand where he was going with this.  If he was going to tell her that music and dancing on the playground were against the rules, she wished he would just say so and be done with it.

     “What kind of music is this, that you’ve been dancing to?”

     “Dance music.  Folk music.”

     “Do you have any disks with you?”

     Lucinda opened her backpack and took out two of the CDs.  She handed them to him.  He craned his neck to look in her pack, and said, “All of them, please.”

     She gave him the other two and he turned the CD cases over in his hands, looking at pictures of bands and singers he didn’t recognize, and printing in languages he could not read or even identify.

     “What kind of music is this?” he asked again.

     Lucinda looked at him, trying to figure out what it was he really wanted to know.

     “It’s traditional folk music.  It’s folk dancing, that’s all we’re doing.  There’s no harm in it.  It’s not what you said.  It’s not suggestive.”  Lucinda didn’t know what suggestive meant, but she was pretty sure it didn’t apply to their dancing.  “It’s just dancing.”

     “Well, I’m afraid I don’t think it’s an appropriate playground activity.  Some of the students have been upset by it, and I have concerned parents phoning me.  I’m going to have to ask you and your friends to confine your folk dancing to your own time, and somewhere off the school grounds.”

     By now Lucinda was expecting him to say this, so she wasn’t particularly upset.  She was actually glad he had finally spit it out.

     She nodded.  “Okay,” she said evenly.  “Can I go now?  I don’t want to be late for class.”

     He blinked.  He probably expected her to whine or complain.  Lucinda thought it was degrading to plead with an adult who had obviously already made up his mind.  She shrugged.  What was the point?  So they wouldn’t dance at school anymore.  He was probably right; school was no place for dancing.

     With that depressing thought, she started to get up and put her backpack on.

     “Just a minute, Lucy.  We’re not through talking yet.”

     She sank back into the chair, and looked at him.  She carefully kept her face very still.

     “Do I have your assurance that there will be no more of this folk dancing activity on the playground?”

     “Yes, sir.  No dancing at school.”

     “Very well.  You may go.”

     Lucinda started to pick up her boombox and CDs.

     “You may pick up your things in the office at the end of the day,” he said.

     She stopped and looked at his face.  It was bland and flat; devoid of expression.  His pale blue eyes were watery.  She shrugged.

     “Okay,” she said, slinging her backpack up on her shoulder.  She did not like it.  Those CDs belonged to Uncle Stefan, and she’d saved her allowance a long time to get the boombox.  She looked at Mr. Leonard again.  “You’ll keep them safe?”

     He nodded.  “Yes, I will.”

     Lucinda left his office, a little sad and confused, but not really angry.  That surprised her.  Usually that was the first thing she felt when someone crossed her—angry and ready to fight.  In the city, that was the way she had to be.  She had to learn to push back or be trampled on.  But she felt different here in Parkdale.  Maybe it was because here she had Susan; Lucinda had never had a best friend before.  For whatever reason, for the first time she could remember since before Papa died, Lucinda had a peaceful, calm feeling inside, even when something stupid like this happened—this pasty-faced principal telling her that she and her friends were not allowed to dance.  It was just a rule; Lucinda was learning not to take rules personally.

     What bothered her more than being shut down by Mr. Leonard was the fact that parents had called him to complain.  Whose parents?  Lucinda had a pretty good idea.  But why?  Even if the Barbie Dolls’ noses were out of joint because Lucinda and her friends were having way too much fun, what would motivate their parents to get involved and object to a bunch of girls bouncing around on the tarmac?  And what the heck did “suggestive” mean?

     Later, on the playground, Lucinda, Susan, Cassie, Piper and Trisha sat in a circle on the top bar of the jungle gym.  They faced inward, their backs forming a wall to the other kids below, going about their business.  Lucinda told the others what Mr. Leonard had said.

     Cassie shook her head.  “I had a feeling something like this was going to happen.  I saw the way Ashley was looking at us last Friday.”

     “But why would her parents call the principal about it?  Just because it bothers her?”  Lucinda tried to imagine her mother calling the principal every time something bugged her at school.

     “No, it’s more than that,” Trisha said.  “It’s that church they go to.  They don’t allow dancing.”

    “Oh, yeah, that’s right!”  Piper leaned forward and talked fast and low, as if imparting secret information.  “Ashley and Brittany and Jessica all go to that church.  And a bunch of other kids.  I forgot; they don’t allow dancing!  Can you imagine?  A religion that thinks dancing is sinful?”

     Lucinda was thunderstruck.  She stared at Piper in disbelief.  She thought of Father Frank at the church she and her mother went to.  He loved to dance, and was pretty good, too.

     “They’re not allowed to dance?  At all?  What kind of church is it?”

     Cassie shrugged.  “Pretty strict, I guess.  I mean, it’s not like we’re a bunch of hootchie-kootchie girls, doing a strip-tease on the playground!”

     The girls dissolved in laughter.  Cassie could always crack them up.

     “It is kind of hard to understand,” said Susan.  “But I guess I can see how it would be uncomfortable to see it going on at school if you’d been brought up to think it was wrong.”

     “It’s getting a little cold for dancing outside, anyway,” Piper pointed out.

     “But I don’t want to quit,” Cassie said.  “We’re starting to get good.”

     “And it’s so much fun,” Susan said wistfully.  She missed it already.

     “Hey, aren’t we dancing today?” a voice came up from the ground.  The girls turned and looked down at Emma, one of the girls from the edge of the Barbie Dolls clique who had abandoned jump-rope for dancing.

     “No, Mr. Leonard says we have to stop,” said Lucinda.  “Dancing on the playground is against the school rules, apparently.”

     “That’s right.”  Ashley was there, now, with Brittany and Jessica in tow.  She had her hands on her hips and was smirking up at Lucinda with an expression of smug satisfaction.  “I told you it wasn’t allowed.”  She turned to Emma.  “And you can forget about ever jump-roping with us again.”  With a toss of her head, she flung her long, blonde hair back over her shoulder and flounced off.

     Emma stood there, looking devastated.

     Susan and Lucinda scooted apart on the bar, making room on the jungle gym for another person.

     “Come on up and join the outcasts,” said Piper.

     Cassie reached into her pocket and pulled out a handful of Jolly Ranchers.  “Yeah, climb up here and join the Ashley Vanderlaan fan club!  The Jolly Rancher Sisterhood!”

     Emma climbed up with them.  Cassie handed her an orange Jolly Rancher, and passed various other flavors out around the monkey bars.  They sucked on sour candy in companionable silence for a minute or two.  After a while, Piper spoke.  “We gotta find some other place to dance.”

     That day, after school, Susan went home with Lucinda.  They went through the waiting area at the front of Sophia’s office.  It was empty, and as they moved down the hall, they saw the gold and orange and red sun plaque hanging on the door.  Sophia was seated at her desk, but leaning back in her chair, looking toward the doorway, clearly expecting them. 

     Susan had not been inside Lucinda’s mother’s office before.  She tried not to stare, but she could not help looking around with interest.  She was not sure she understood what it was that Lucinda’s mother did; she thought she was something like a therapist, and is some ways this room reminded Susan of the office of the psychologist she had seen for a while after her father died.

     The room was furnished in soft, inviting colors.  Against one wall was an overstuffed loveseat, flanked by end tables with gorgeous stained glass lamps on them.  Multicolored spots of light dappled the wall and made a warm, comfortable glow.  There were a couple armchairs, too, so several people could sit and talk.  In a corner was a small round table and two chairs.  The table was draped with a fancy silk cloth with a long gold fringe.  A light with a stained glass shade hung down from the ceiling over the table.  In the center of the table was a large chunk of purple rock crystals.   The light sparkled and glittered across the surface of the crystals.

     Susan dragged her eyes away to look at Lucinda’s mother, who was talking to them.

     “So, girls, how was your day?”  She had a sympathetic look on her face, as if she knew what they were going to tell her.

     “Mother, you will not believe what happened at school today.”  Lucinda dropped her backpack on the floor and flopped dramatically back onto the loveseat.  Susan set her backpack down near one of the armchairs and lowered herself into it, still looking around the room curiously.  There were cabinets with paneled doors and bookcases full of not only books but large seashells, massive quartz crystals, fat candles and roundish pottery jars with cork stoppers.  A large, healthy green plant hung by the window, and another one sprouted happily out of a big planter on the floor.  The pictures on the walls were soothing seascapes and still lives of flowers and seashells.

     “Let’s hear it,” said Sophia.  She was wearing one of those long, colorful skirts and a blouse of deep, blood-red silk.  She had the front part of her hair pulled back from her face in a fancy gold clip at the back of her head, but mostly it fell down all around her shoulders, thick and wild and curly.  It was just like Lucinda’s hair.

     “Remember I told you we taught a few of the girls at school to dance?  We’ve been taking music, and using a corner of the blacktop, out of the way, not bothering anybody, and we’ve been dancing.  It was really fun, and more and more kids were joining in.”

     Lucinda’s mother was nodding her head.

     “Well, it was making Ashley and the Barbie Dolls really mad—“

     “Ashley and who?”

     Lucinda stopped.  She had never used their nickname for the cool girls in front of her mother before.  “Um, the Barbie Dolls,” she said sheepishly.  “That’s what we call their clique.  The Barbie Dolls.  You know, because they’re so perfect.  And they don’t seem like real people.”

     “They are real, Lucinda.  You may not like them, but they are real, and they have real feelings and real problems, just like you.  And nobody’s perfect.  But go on.”

     “Anyway, they came over and told us it was against the rules to dance at school.  We didn’t believe them, and even Mrs. Perkins said it was all right.  But then they went home and told their parents, and it turns out dancing is against their religion!  Against their religion, Mama!  Can you imagine?”

     Sophia nodded.  “Kind of hard to understand, but I know there are churches that forbid dancing.”

     “So their parents called Mr. Leonard, and now we’re not allowed to dance at school anymore.”

     Lucinda’s mother had been leaning forward while her daughter spoke, her chair turned toward them.  Now she tilted back in her chair a bit, crossing her legs, knitting her fingers, and gazing up at the ceiling.  She seemed very relaxed and peaceful to Susan, but Lucinda saw the way her mother’s foot was wiggling up and down at the end of that nonchalantly crossed leg, and knew that she was struggling to keep her temper.

     “I see,” she said.

     “We were having so much fun,” Susan said.  “Everybody was getting really good at it.”  Her voice was sad.

     Lucinda’s mother took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

     “Well, it’s completely unconstitutional,” she said.  “It’s a public school.  If Muslim parents called complaining about girls with their heads uncovered, would they make you all wear headscarves?  If Jewish parents complained about pork being served in the cafeteria, would they switch to kosher lunches?  I think not.  We have every right to launch a protest, write up a petition, remind Mr. Leonard about a little thing called separation of church and state.”

     “All we want to do is dance, Mom,” said Lucinda.

     Sophia took a breath, as if she was about to argue, then exhaled, and smiled at her daughter.  “Then all we need to do is find a better place.  I bet Father Frank would let you use the Fellowship Hall at St. Bart’s.  Some weeknight after school.”

     Lucinda looked doubtful.  “I don’t know if the kids will come if it’s an after school activity.  It’s one thing to dance on the playground; kids are already there, and they don’t have anything better to do.  But I don’t know if they’ll make the effort to go to St. Bart’s.”

     “The ones who really want to dance will dance.  It’s only two blocks from school.  Kids will come.”

     Lucinda glanced over at Susan.  “What do you think?”

     “It’s worth a try,” Susan said.  “If you really think your pastor will help us.”

     “I am quite certain he will,” Sophia said.

     Suddenly Lucinda remembered something she’d been wanting to ask.

     “Mom, what does ‘suggestive’ mean?”





Chapter 3



     After that, Lucinda and Susan spent every recess together.  They hung out on the monkey bars with Piper, or sailed on the swings with Trisha, or invented their own complicated games and dramas, with frequent guest appearances by Cassie, Piper, and occasionally even Trisha.  Cassie played with them more often as it grew too cold to read comfortably outside.  Cassie hated the cold, and it was easier to keep warm while leaping around, pretending to be one of the X-Men, rescuing Susan from Lucinda, the evil sorceress-queen of the Zargon Empire.  They continued to be objects of scorn and contempt in the eyes of Ashley and the Barbie Dolls, especially now that the little group of oddball misfits were having so much fun together.  But Lucinda hardly noticed what the cool girls were up to anymore.

     Susan went home from school with Lucinda at least once a week.  Susan was not allowed to have friends in the apartment when her mother was not home, but one Saturday morning Lucinda walked over and got to see Susan’s room and meet her brother.  Susan’s brother, Sean, was very cute, Lucinda thought, though he barely glanced away from his computer screen to acknowledge her.

     Susan’s bedroom was painted a beautiful, clear, pale blue, like a robin’s egg.  There were white ruffled curtains on the window and a braided rag rug on the floor.  Her bed was an old wooden four-poster, with knobs carved to look like pinecones.  It was covered with a patchwork quilt and about forty-seven stuffed animals.  In the corner near the window was an easel holding the watercolor Susan was working on, a picture of the potted geranium on the windowsill.  The room was crowded with a desk and a drafting table, both littered with drawings and pads and notebooks and art supplies.  A large corkboard hung on the wall near the drafting table; pinned to it were dozens of drawings and sketches and little half-finished watercolors.

     Lucinda stood right in front of the corkboard, looking with interest at Susan’s work.

     “Oh, that’s just. . .stuff,” Susan said, blushing.

     Susan’s drawings were either of very ordinary, everyday things—a coffee cup, an armchair, a pair of shoes—or they were fantastic imaginary visions of unicorns and fairies and castles and dragons.  The watercolors were mostly flowers and different views of the courtyard outside her window, which was green and grassy and nicely landscaped.

     Lucinda turned to look at her friend.

     “Susan, these are really good,” she said, her voice full of respect.

     “Oh, well. . . really?  You think?” Susan was as pink as the geranium in her watercolor.

     “Yes.  Really.  I mean, I knew you could draw, from watching you doodle at school.  But this is--” Lucinda gestured toward the corkboard and shrugged in bewilderment.  “Amazing.  How did you learn to do this?”

     “My dad taught me to draw when I was little.  He said I had a gift for it.  He was an artist—a  designer.”

     “That is so cool,” said Lucinda.  “You are so lucky to have a talent.”

     “Everybody has a talent,” said Susan’s mother, standing in the doorway.  She was wearing jeans and a flannel shirt.  Her long, straight, sandy hair was tied back in a pony tail.  She looked relaxed and cheerful, Susan noted with relief.  She worried about her mother.  She got pretty stressed out sometimes.

     Lucinda smiled.  “Do you really think so?” she asked.

     “Yes.  I really do.  The trick is to find out what it is.  Then, once you do—go for it!  Do it!  Follow your bliss!”

     “Oh, brother,” said Susan.  “Mom, please.”

     “All right.  I know when I’m not wanted.  I’ll just go back to folding laundry.”  Susan’s mother gave a great, long-suffering sigh and walked away.  Susan rolled her eyes and shut the bedroom door.  She moved a small bentwood rocker close to the window and started moving and adjusting her easel.

    “Come over here and sit in the light,” she told Lucinda.

     Lucinda sat in the rocker and looked out the window at the green courtyard while Susan drew her in pastels.  Lucinda could sit very still.  Still as a stone.  She stared out the window without really seeing; just quiet and blank, thinking of things.  Remembering things.  Hearing the scratch of Susan’s pastels on the paper, some crows squawking outside, the soft thud of her own blood, beating inside her ears.  Motionless as an ancient statue.

     Susan’s fingers moved swiftly.  Lucinda was a wonderful subject—her strong, dramatic features were easy to draw, and she held so still!  Susan marveled at her uncanny stillness.  She seemed very far away; her eyes were focused somewhere in the distance; she was alone in her silence.

     The drawing was quickly finished.  Susan looked at it critically; she hadn’t gotten it quite right.  The nose was a little off, and the forehead seemed a bit wide.  But it was pretty good.  She had done a nice job with the eyes.  They were big and dark and brooding, with tiny little sparks of light deep in the bottom of them.  Lucinda’s hair had been fun to draw.  Lots of big soft curly swoops and spirals, black as night.

     Lucinda held the drawing in her hands and stared at it in fascination.  Was this what she looked like to Susan?  This was more or less what she saw in the mirror, except for the forehead, and the nose was a bit odd.  There was something so dramatic and intense about her features as Susan had drawn them.  Was it just some random expression that passed across her face while she was daydreaming out the window?  Or was that the way Susan saw her?  Full of fierce emotion and deep thought?  That seemed strange to Lucinda because she didn’t feel that way at all.  But she could see that the eyes were just like hers, and the shape of the chin was perfect.  And the hair was very nice, though Lucinda doubted that in reality her crazy hair looked as decorative as Susan made it in the picture.

     Lucinda looked up at Susan and smiled.

     “May I keep this?” she asked.

     Susan blushed.  “Sure,” she said.  “If you want.”


     Lucinda kept the drawing in a manila folder with a sheet of tissue paper over it to protect the pastels.  The folder was in a special drawer in Lucinda’s desk, where she kept important papers and other things of value.  It was where she kept all the old letters she had gotten from her father when he was travelling for his music, and the poems she had written after he died.  There was a cigar box full of photos and clippings, and other things she wanted to keep—small seashells and polished stones, a keychain that had been her father’s.  She hated to put the drawing away in the dark—but it seemed vain to hang a portrait of herself on the wall.  So she kept it in her special drawer, and took it out several times a day to look at it, and to try to imagine herself as others saw her.

     On a warm, breezy Friday evening in October, Susan went home after school with Lucinda, her overnight things in her backpack.  Lucinda’s mother had called Susan’s mother, inviting Susan to sleep over, and after chatting and laughing on the phone for several minutes, Susan’s mother had given permission.  The two friends walked down the leaf-littered sidewalk together, not talking much, both just enjoying the sunny fall afternoon and each other’s company.

     “Uncle Stefan scrubbed his grill with the wire brush and got the propane tank filled,” Lucinda said.  They shuffled through a particularly thick carpet of leaves as the sidewalk passed under the spreading branches of a huge oak tree.  “He even got new lava rocks.”

     “What does he like to barbeque?” Susan asked.  She had an idea that Uncle Stefan might cook some exotic and scary kind of food, like blood sausage or goat meat or something.

     “Chicken.  Uncle Stefan calls himself the Chicken King.  He’s got it marinating right now.”

     There was a woman reading a magazine in the waiting area when the girls walked into Lucinda’s mother’s office.  She looked up briefly at the sound of the door chime, then looked back at her magazine and turned away from them a little.  They took the hint and walked quickly through the waiting area without talking.  As they passed the closed door to Sophia’s office, Susan noticed that there was a small wooden sign hanging on the door.  There were no words on it, just a picture of a crescent moon, beautifully painted in delicate detail, in pearly white and pale blue and lavender.  The moon had a feminine face, with long, downcast lashes and a gracefully curving mouth.  Susan stared at it in admiration.  It was really good.

     Lucinda tugged at her hand and leaned her head toward the back stairway, indicating that they should keep moving and not disturb her mother’s work.  When they got up to Lucinda’s apartment, Susan asked about the moon picture.

     “On the other side of it is a picture of the sun.  It’s our code for whether it’s okay to disturb her or not.  The moon means no, she’s with a client; the sun means yes, it’s okay to bug her.  Usually the door is open when the sun is up.”

     “It’s a beautiful thing.  The moon picture, I mean,” Susan said.

     “I know.  The sun is nice, too.  Very jolly.  I’ll show it to you later if you remind me.”

     Lucinda found a bag of potato chips in the cabinet to keep them from starving before it was barbeque time.  She took a bottle of ginger ale out of the refrigerator and poured them each a generous glassful, straight up.  The girls sat down at the kitchen table with the open bag between them.

     “Our assignment,” Lucinda said, “once we’ve regained our strength, is to make the salad.”

     “Oh, good.  I love to make salad.”

     “Wait till you see all the beautiful vegetables we have for it.  Uncle Nick brought them from his garden this morning.”

     “Your uncle has a garden?”  Susan asked in surprise, thinking of the shiny white and gold Cadillac, the gleaming shoes and gorgeous shirts.  She could hardly imagine him with dirt under his fingernails.

     “Yeah.  He and my aunt love to garden.  Aunt Millie especially.  You should see her herb garden.”

     They ate potato chips and drank ginger ale and talked about school, and television shows, and books they were reading, and what color nail polish they liked best until they felt like making salad.  Then they got up and turned the radio on; Lucinda’s mom had it tuned to an oldies station, and that was kind of fun, so they left it there and bopped around the kitchen while they washed and peeled and sliced and tore up mountains of glorious fresh green lettuce and peppers and cucumbers and scallions.  It was a magnificent salad.

     As they finished, and were stretching Saran Wrap over the two huge bowls needed to contain the salad, they heard Lucinda’s mother coming through the door.

     “Oh, my goodness, girls.  Do you think you made enough salad?” she asked.

     “Hey, we’re going to need a lot of salad,” Lucinda said.  “Remember, Uncle Nick’s whole clan is coming.”

     “How big is Uncle Nick’s clan?” asked Susan.

     “He and Millie have four boys,” said Sophia rather grimly.  “The oldest is twelve.”

     “And they eat a lot of salad, believe me,” said Lucinda.

     Susan nodded.  She’d been watching her brother eat for years.

     Sophia went to the oven to check on her contribution to the feast.  It was a casserole dish of some sort, made with rice and beans and tomatoes and garlic.  It smelled wonderful.

     The girls went to Lucinda’s room to look down on the patio, where Uncle Stefan had just lit his gas grill.  He had brought out some additional patio furniture—some chairs and small tables.  The CD player was out and already playing some of that wild dance music he liked.  Susan had to admit, she liked it too.  They met Uncle Stefan on the stairs.

     “Hey, you two—I got a job for you.”  He handed them several bills and some change.  “Go down the street to the store and get two bags of ice.”

     They gladly accepted this mission, and were soon back again, with cold, heavy bags which they dumped into waiting coolers on the patio.  Uncle Stefan appeared with an armload of 12-packs of soda and beer.  They loaded up the coolers.  Lucinda’s mother brought out chips and salsa.  Pretty soon a mini-van, every bit as white and shiny as Uncle Nick’s Cadillac, and with just as much gold trim, parked in the lot.  The side door slid open and out trooped four dark-haired boys.  They charged across the parking lot and descended upon the chips and salsa like ravenous animals.  Uncle Nick and his wife followed at a more sedate pace.  They were carrying food.  Uncle Nick held a tray with two pies, and Aunt Millie had a big basket full of loaves of fresh bread.

     Susan was introduced to Lucinda’s aunt and cousins.  The boys didn’t stop stuffing chips in their mouths, but they did nod politely in her direction to acknowledge her.  They looked so much alike, they reminded Susan of a canister set; the same boy in four different sizes.

     They were named Nicky, Steve, George and Angelo, but Susan had no clue which was which.  Aunt Millie had glossy black hair which she wore up on top of her head in a bun, with soft, fluffy wisps sort of puffing out.  She had large, dark eyes, like the rest of Lucinda’s family, and a beautiful smile that completely changed and lit up her face.  She looked at Susan very carefully with her piercing black eyes before she gave her that smile.  Then she went to Sophia and kissed her on both cheeks.

     Uncle Stefan put the chicken on the grill and closed the hood.  Little tendrils of smoke from the wet hickory chips he had scattered on the lava rocks piped out through the cracks.  He turned away from the grill and beckoned to his brother.

     “Help me move this table,” he said, starting to lift one end of the picnic table.  “We need to clear the dance floor.”

     “You can’t move the table, it’s full of food!” said Lucinda’s mother, moving quickly to stop the bowls of salad and casserole that started to slide down the tilting table.  Uncle Nick picked up the other end of the table, leveling it, and he and Stefan moved it to the side of the patio.

     Uncle Stefan turned up the CD player and in moments the four adults were dancing.  Nick and Millie moved together eagerly, as if they had been longing for a chance to dance.  And of course, Uncle Stefan and Lucinda’s mother danced together as if they had been doing it all their lives—which they had.  To Susan’s surprise, Lucinda’s two oldest cousins, George and Angelo, immediately abandoned the chips and salsa.  They had the courtesy to wipe their hands on their jeans before George grabbed Susan’s hand and Angelo latched on to Lucinda.  Before there was time to think about it or get embarrassed, Susan was dancing with a boy her own age; it was fun, and she pretty much knew how, because Lucinda had taught her the steps and they were coming back to her easily now.  George danced effortlessly, obviously enjoying himself.  Susan felt relaxed and comfortable with George; dancing was just something to do for fun, after all.  She glanced over at Lucinda and Angelo.  Lucinda was very beautiful when she danced.  Her cheeks were pink and her eyes sparkled.

     Lucinda liked dancing with her cousin Angelo.  Angelo was one year younger than Lucinda, and he was named after her father, who had been great friends with Uncle Nick.  Angelo was tall for his age, so he was a good height to dance with, and he moved well.  They had been dancing together at family reunions and barbeques and camping trips since they were little kids.  Nonna said that in the old days they could have brought in a lot of money.  Lucinda’s mother laughed when she heard that.

     “Listen, they’ll bring in a lot more money when they finish school and become doctors or teachers or lawyers,” she said.  Everybody had respect for the old ways, but Lucinda’s mother was a realist and she believed education was the secret to life.  She didn’t like the idea of her daughter dancing for money.

     They danced till the chicken was cooked.  By then it was getting dark.  Millie and Sophia lit candles in jars and placed them on the tables and among the potted plants.  They all sat at the long picnic table and ate barbecued chicken and spicy rice and beans and fresh bread and lots and lots of salad.  They boys were quiet at the table, concentrating on food.  Lucinda was hungry, too.  Dancing always gave her an appetite. Even Susan, who never seemed very interested in eating, was tearing into a chicken leg with gusto.

     “Great chicken, Uncle Stefan,” Lucinda said.  A chorus of grunts chimed in from people with their mouths too full to agree verbally.

     Uncle Stefan bowed gracefully, without spilling a drop from the bottle of red wine he was holding.  He poured some into Millie’s glass, then Sophia’s.  He looked at Susan.

     “How about it, Susan?” he said. “Vino for you?”

     “No thanks,” she said, blushing.

     “I won’t offer Lucinda any,” he said.  “We all know what an awful lush she is.”

     The food was good, and Susan enjoyed the easy, affectionate arguing that passed as dinner conversation.  Lucinda’s family made her laugh and treated her as one of them.  Susan felt safe and comfortable with these people.  She wondered why that was.  Usually she was shy and anxious, especially around people she didn’t know very well.

     After apple pie and coffee, Uncle Stefan moved to one of the chairs and sat down with his mandolin.  He strummed it lightly, looking expectantly at his brother.

     “Well?” he said.

     “Well, what?” said Uncle Nick.

     “Did you bring them?”  Uncle Stefan looked at Millie.  “You did bring them, didn’t you?”

     “Bring what?” asked Aunt Millie innocently.

     “Oh, come on.  Quit jerking me around.”

     “Yeah, Nick, quit jerking him around and go get them,” Lucinda’s mother said, as she started to clear the picnic table.  “Girls, boys, if everybody grabs an armful and carries it up, we can do this in one trip.”

     “What are they talking about?” Susan asked Lucinda as they walked up the stairs together, carrying leftover salad and chicken.

     Lucinda grinned.  “You’ll see,” she said.

     When the girls came back down to the patio, Uncle Nick was sitting on top of the picnic table, his feet propped on the seat, a guitar cradled in his lap.  Aunt Millie sat on the seat beside his legs.  She held a guitar, too.  They were tuning while Uncle Stefan leaned back in the deck chair, showing off with his mandolin.  The way he could make it cry sent shivers down Susan’s back.  Lucinda’s mother came out and sat on the picnic table next to her brother.  All at once three of them began strumming and singing in harmony, Sophia coming in with the melody.  The music was wild and exotic and foreign to Susan—but she loved the way it sounded, and the way it made the hairs stand up on her arms and the back of her head.  She could not understand the words; they were sung in a language she didn’t recognize.  She looked around at Lucinda and the boys and saw that they were singing along. 

     When the song ended, Susan clapped her hands, then blushed when they all looked at her.

     “That was beautiful,” she said softly to Lucinda.  “What language was that you were singing?”

     “It’s called Romani.”

     “Romani?  Is that like Romanian?”

     “Kind of.”

     “Is that what you are, your family?  Romanian?”

     Lucinda scowled.  “We’re Americans.  We come from all over, like you.”

     Susan thought about her mother’s family, which was Dutch and German, and her father’s family, which was Scots-Irish; she saw Lucinda’s point.  Anyway, it seemed to Susan that her friend was a little touchy on the subject, so she dropped it.

     Another song had started, this one sung by Uncle Nick with the rest supplying harmony.  It was raucous and fast and involved rhythmic hand-clapping and foot stomping.  Lucinda and Angelo got up to dance, and Susan was just looking back at George when a car came squealing into the parking lot.  The car was a convertible.  There were three young men in it.  They threw beer bottles at the patio.  One of them shouted, “Dirty Gypsies!”

     The car spun around in the parking lot, which really was not big enough for that sort of thing.  It barely missed the bumper of Uncle Nick’s gleaming minivan.  The car made black tire marks on the pavement and the smell of burning rubber blew across the patio.

     Before Susan even had time to be frightened, the convertible had roared off down the street.  One of the young men yelled, “Go back where you came from!”

     There was a moment of silence on the patio, after the car had gone.  Millie and Sophia scurried about, sweeping up broken glass and making sure no one was cut.  They made little jokes about rude neighbors and litter bugs, trying to cheer up the little kids, who were scared.  But George and Angelo and the men just shrugged their shoulders and gave each other knowing looks.

     Susan did not understand any of this and completely forgot to be shy when she asked, “Why did they do that?”

     Uncle Stefan smiled at her, and the relaxed, amused expression on his face made her feel better.  He didn’t seem to take it very seriously. 

     “They probably didn’t like Nick’s singing,” he said.  He chuckled at the look his brother gave him.

          The glass was cleaned up and the guitars started again.  Somehow, the car and the beer bottles were forgotten, and there was music and dancing until the little kids got too sleepy.  Then Uncle Nick and Aunt Millie packed up the minivan with guitars and leftover food and tired kids.  They drove off, their tires crossing the rubber streaks on the pavement.

     “Come on girls, it’s time you were settled down for the night,” Lucinda’s mother said, blowing out candles.  “Say goodnight to Uncle Stefan.”

     Lucinda went to where her uncle sat in the deck chair, apparently relaxed, still plucking idly at his mandolin.  She planted a kiss on his cheek, and hugged him briefly around the neck.  He set his mandolin down to embrace her, kissing her on both cheeks.

     He looked over at Susan, and extended his hand to her.  When she took it, he turned her hand and placed a very proper, courtly kiss on the back of it, right by the knuckle.

     “Goodnight, ladies,” he said, as he leaned back in his chair and picked up his mandolin.  Susan looked back over her shoulder at him just before she walked inside.  He was strumming softly, gazing off into the distance.  He seemed far away and still.  It was a look like Lucinda’s.
















Oct. 4th, 2009


Juvenile Wiction: Chapter Two



     The next day, after school, Lucinda and Susan walked together down Front Street to the brick building Lucinda’s uncle owned.  It was three shops in a row downstairs, and two apartments upstairs.  Uncle Nick, who owned the building, had the biggest retail space, for his jewelry store, in the middle.  To the right of the jewelry store was Uncle Stefan’s cutlery shop, and Lucinda’s mother’s place was at the other end of the building.  As the two girls walked closer, they could see the deep blue velvet curtains that covered the lower part of the big windows.  The gold lettering on the door said “Sophia Dimirovitch, Personal Counselor”.

     Chimes tinkled harmoniously as the girls pushed the door open and stepped into the waiting area.  It was cozy and comfortable, with two soft armchairs and a loveseat, in soothing colors of dark blue and green and gold.  The lamp on the table cast a warm glow; the velvet curtains blocked harsh daylight and provided privacy for clients awaiting appointments.  There was no one waiting at the moment, and at the sound of the door chimes, Lucinda’s mother emerged from a back room and stood in the doorway, beaming at the girls.

     Lucinda hugged her mom while Susan watched rather shyly.  Lucinda’s mom had the same thick, wild black hair as her daughter.  She wore it in a loose French braid that hung down her back all the way to her waist.  She was dressed in a colorful skirt that was long and full, with a black silk blouse and several gold chains.  She looked across the top of Lucinda’s head and smiled at Susan.

     “Hi.  You’re Susan, I guess,” she said.

     Susan nodded.  She knew she should say something, seem more friendly, or polite, at least.  She hated being shy.  How did people know what to say, how to act all the time?

     Lucinda’s mom was looking at her intently, and her smile did not falter.

     “It’s nice to meet you,” she went on smoothly.  “I’m glad you and Lucinda are friends.”

     “No appointments, Mom?”  Lucinda asked.

     Her mother looked at her watch, which was set into a gold bangle.

     “Got one at 4:00,” she said.

     “Okay.  We’re going up to the apartment to do our homework and stuff.”

     “Fine.  I went to the store this morning so there’s food in the fridge for a change.  Remember the TV rule.”

   “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” said Lucinda, rolling her eyes.

     “What’s the TV rule?” asked Susan as the girls went to the stairway at the back of the building that led up to Lucinda’s apartment.

     “TV stays off till homework is done.”

     “Oh, yeah,” said Susan.  “We have that rule too.”

     The girls sat at the kitchen table and ate bagels with cream cheese and drank apple cider while they did their math and their spelling.  Afterward, they went to Lucinda’s room and flopped on the bed, looking up at the ceiling.  There were a few cracks in the plaster, a cobweb hung in one corner, and Lucinda’s mom had stuck glow-in-the-dark stars and planets on the ceiling, in the patterns of the actual constellations.

     “What does your mom do?”  Susan asked.  “I mean, what is a personal counselor?”

     “My mom helps people with their problems.  Sometimes all they really need is someone to talk to.  She listens, gives advice, helps them figure out how they want to deal with different things.”

     “Like a therapist?”  Susan asked.  “I saw a shrink for a while after my dad died.”

     “Yeah, me too,” said Lucinda.  “It’s like therapy—only it’s not really psychology that she does, unless you count Jung.  She calls it ‘intuitive and spiritual counseling’.”

     “Oh,” said Susan, nodding her head, though she didn’t really understand.

     Susan liked Lucinda’s room.  There were lots of bright colors—India print curtains and matching bedspread, with lots of pillows and stuffed animals.  Posters and prints covered the walls, shelves were crammed with books and CDs, her little desk overflowed with papers and notebooks and art supplies.  It reminded Susan of her own room.  She got up and went to the window and looked out.  She was looking over the small parking lot at the rear of the building.

     “So your uncle lives in the apartment next door?” she asked.

     Lucinda nodded.  “Uncle Stefan.  The one with the knife shop.  Uncle Nick, the jeweler, has a house and a wife and kids and stuff.”

     Susan nodded, still gazing out the window.  She saw a man crossing the parking lot below, walking from the far corner of the building toward a white Cadillac parked in the shade of an oak tree at the back of the lot.  He had thick, black hair and was wearing a beautiful shirt.  Susan had never seen a man wear such a beautiful shirt.  It was loose and soft and open at the collar—not like the stiff, white shirts the men in Mom’s office wore.  More like the shirts Dad used to wear on weekends.  But Dad never had a shirt like this—it was three or four different colors all swirled together like watercolors.  The man wore black trousers and shiny black shoes.  He had a way of walking that was different, somehow.  Smooth, comfortable, and graceful—almost like dancing.  It was the way Lucinda walked.

     “Is that your uncle?”

     Lucinda got up and crossed to the window.

     “Yes.  That’s Uncle Nick.”

     Lucinda pushed the window up and leaned out.

     “Hey, Uncle Nick!” she shouted.

     The man turned and looked up at her.  His smile was a white flash in his dark, handsome face.  He had a thick, black mustache.  Susan saw that he wore gold around his neck.  When he waved at Lucinda, rings glittered in the late afternoon sunlight.

     “You going home already?” Lucinda asked.

     “Yeah, baby, I’m a rich man!  I go home when I want!”  He had large, shiny black eyes.  Susan shivered a little when he looked at her.

     “This is my friend, Susan,” Lucinda explained.

     “From school?”

     “Yes.  From school.”

     Uncle Nick beamed.  “Nice to meet you, Susan.”

     Susan stammered something and he waved again and got into his big white car.  The windows were tinted so she couldn’t see him inside.  The gold and chrome trim gleamed as he pulled out of the parking lot, sounding the melodious horn in farewell.

     The girls remained at the open window, looking down at the nearly empty parking lot.  Only Lucinda’s mother’s gray Toyota and Uncle Stefan’s black Corvette were still occupying spaces.  Beyond the lot was an empty field with a few trees around the edges of it and a mound in the middle where someone dumped some dirt and rocks they didn’t want, and weeds and bushes had grown over it.  Almost directly below the girls, between the building and the parking lot, was a small patio garden with a picnic table and some flowering plants in containers.

    “That’s where Mom and my uncles eat lunch and have coffee breaks, on nice days,” Lucinda explained.

     Just then Lucinda’s mother emerged from the back of the building.  She stood for a moment, taking a deep breath of the fresh autumn air.  Then she let it out, giving her whole body a little shake, as if ridding herself of something she didn’t want.  She seemed to sense that the girls were there, because she turned and smiled up at them without surprise.

     “Hi, Mom,” said Lucinda.  “Done with your session?”

     “Yes, thank goodness.”  She sat on the top of the picnic table, with her feet on the seat.  She propped her elbows on her knees and rested her chin on her hands.  She sighed and looked pensive for a moment.
     "You okay?"

     Lucinda’s mother smiled.  “Yes,” she said.  “I’m fine.  I was just feeling a bit sad for a client.  Some people bear terrible burdens.”

     “Lucky for you.  Keeps you in business.”  Lucinda’s Uncle Stefan had come out of his shop to have a cigarette and this was his cynical comment.

     Uncle Stefan looked very much like Uncle Nick, but taller, and no mustache.  He also wore a beautiful shirt.  It was a solid teal color and looked like it was made of silk.  There was gold at his neck and wrist and on one pinky finger.  And, as he looked up at the girls in the window, Susan saw that he wore a small gold hoop in one earlobe.

     “Hey, come down and join the party, girls,” he said.  “And stop in my apartment and get me a beer.”  He glanced at Lucinda’s mother.  “You want a beer, Sophie?”

     Lucinda’s mom looked down at her wristwatch and said, “Yeah; I’m done for the day.”

     “Girls—you bring down snacks and beverages,” Uncle Stefan directed.  “My apartment is open.  There’s beer and sodas in the fridge.  Find whatever provisions you can.”

     Lucinda led Susan down a short hallway at the back of the building that led to the door of Uncle Stefan’s apartment.  They went inside, Susan looking around curiously as they walked through the living room to the kitchen.  Uncle Stefan had a long, low black leather couch with lots of fancy pillows in bright, wild colors and fabrics.  They looked like pillows from a sheik’s tent.  There was a white fur rug on the polished wood floor before the fireplace.  Leaning in a corner of the couch was a musical instrument.  It was a stringed instrument, made of wood, like a guitar, but it was smaller than a guitar and was shaped differently.  Lucinda noticed Susan looking at it.

     “That’s my uncle’s mandolin.”

     “A mandolin.  Does he play?”

     Lucinda smiled.  “Of course.  Like an angel.  We’ll take it down to the patio with the beer and get him to play for us.”

     In Uncle Stefan’s small, messy kitchen, the girls soon found beer, sodas, a bag of pretzels that were not too stale, and a jar of dark, strong olives that had cloves of garlic and hot peppers floating around with them.  Lucinda seemed to know her way around the cupboards and drawers; Susan guessed this was not the first time she’d rummaged for snacks in her uncle’s kitchen.

     They put the food in a grocery bag, and Lucinda picked up the mandolin as they left the apartment.

     When they got down to the patio, Uncle Stefan had brought out a CD player and was just popping in a disk.  The music that burst out was unlike any Susan had heard before.  At first she thought it sounded like Spanish music, like flamenco, but there was something about it that also made her think of India or the Middle East.  It was exotic music, mysterious and strange and oddly exciting.  It gave Susan goosebumps, though the afternoon sun was warm on her face, and the patio was well shielded from the breeze.  She sat at the picnic table and accepted the Dr. Pepper Lucinda handed her.  Lucinda put the jar of olives on the table.  Her mother and uncle both made moaning sounds of approval and reached for the olives at the same time.  Uncle Stefan was a little quicker; he got it first and snatched it away from his sister, laughing and holding it high over his head where she couldn’t reach it.  Susan watched the two adults teasing and playing and goofing around like kids.  It made her smile; reminded her of how her mom and dad used to be together.  She tried not to let that memory make her sad.  Uncle Stefan was feeding his sister an olive.  Then he put the jar back down and cracked open his beer.

     “So, Lucinda,” he said.  “Who’s the gorgeous blonde?  You gonna introduce me to your friend or what?”

     Susan blushed crimson when she realized he meant her.  Her hand crept up to her short, straight hair.

     “My hair’s not blonde,” she stammered.  “It’s brown.  Light brown.”

     He grinned at her.  His smile was dazzling, framed by deep, curving dimples.

     “Listen, tootsie, where I come from, you’re blonde, believe me.”

     “Anyway, her name is Susan, Uncle Stefan,” Lucinda said.  “She’s my friend from school.”  She looked over at Susan as she said that, wondering if it were true.  Were they friends now?

     Lucinda’s mother stood up and stretched her arms up over her head, making her bracelets jangle.  The CD had moved on to another piece of music, this one having a driving beat and an infectious rhythm that made Susan’s feet move as she listened to it.

     “Oh, I love this one,” said Lucinda’s mother.  “Dance with me, Stefan!”

     Uncle Stefan did not need to be asked twice.  He swept his sister into his arms and they began to move around the patio together.  The dancing was like the music—wild and emotional, but graceful and quite wonderful to watch.  Susan sat, entranced, almost hypnotized by the fluid way they turned and whirled.

     “My mom loves to dance,” commented Lucinda.

     “She’s a good dancer,” said Susan.  It seemed like a lame thing to say.  The music and the warm, late afternoon sun and the way Uncle Stefan’s feet moved and the spicy perfume that wafted from Lucinda’s mother’s hair were all buzzing around in Susan’s head, and words were always such clunky, awkward things.  She wanted to tell Lucinda that this was maybe the most interesting afternoon of her life, so far, but that sounded lame, too.  So she just smiled at her.

     “Thanks for inviting me over,” she said.  “I’m having a really good time.”

     Lucinda nodded.  “You want to dance?” she asked.

     “Me?” said Susan.  “I don’t know how to dance; I mean, not like that.”  She leaned her head toward Lucinda’s mother and uncle, still moving their feet to the music throbbing from the boombox.

     “Oh, that?  The dance is easy; the steps are very simple.  Those two are just fooling around, showing off, adding fancy little whirls and flourishes.  And look at Mama.  She loves to shimmy.  That’s not even a part of the dance.”

     “It is now,” said Lucinda’s mother, without missing a beat.

     Lucinda stood up and took both of Susan’s hands.

     “Come on.  I’ll teach you.  It’s fun.”

     Susan looked up into Lucinda’s steady dark brown eyes and saw that she would not laugh at her if she couldn’t dance well.  More than that, she saw that Lucinda believed she could dance.  And as Lucinda clearly know more about dancing than she did, perhaps she should take her word for it and give it a try.

     “Okay,” Susan said, and stood up.

     A half an hour later, there were two couples on the patio dance floor.  Uncle Stefan’s CD player still wailed on the picnic table.  The music still made Susan’s feet move practically by themselves.  But now, she had learned the steps, so when the music made her want to move, she knew what to do with her feet.  Lucinda had agreed to lead, to be the boy, because she was taller, and because she knew how to dance.  Gradually Susan’s feet learned the steps, till she didn’t even have to think about it anymore, and she and Lucinda danced as a team, leading and following and feeling the music.  It was great fun.  They danced until beads of sweat sparkled on Susan’s forehead.  There was a pause between songs and Uncle Stefan pushed the “stop” button.

     In the quiet, they all flopped down at the picnic table and drank from their respective cans, wiping wet brows.  Lucinda said, “Uncle Stefan, we brought your mandolin out.  Play something for us.”

     “Nah.  I’m exhausted.”

     “Oh, please.  Please?  You must.”  Susan watched how Lucinda made her eyes big and tilted her head a little as she asked.  “Please, Uncle Stefan.  Susan has never heard you play, and I told her how good you are.”

     “No, no; how could I possibly live up to such high expectations?”  He shook his head, but he was smiling as Lucinda put the mandolin in his lap.

     “You must.  Play whatever you want.  Mama and I will sing with you, won’t we, Mama?”

     “Of course,” said Lucinda’s mother.

     “Oh, all right,” he said.  “If you insist.”

     He sat on the picnic table with his shiny black boots on the seat, hunched forward a little, cradling the mandolin.  Lucinda and her mother sat on either side of him (“We’re the backup singers,” Lucinda explained).  Susan sat cross-legged on the warm cement which was still dappled with late sunlight, looking up at the three of them.

          When Uncle Stefan began to play, strumming and plucking with fingers that moved fast and smooth, Susan felt the goosebumps prickle up and down her arms and the back of her neck.  It was a lovely, strange, foreign sound, a little like the music on the CD, but different, somehow.  Susan was trying to remember where she’d heard music like this before, because it seemed familiar in some way.  It “rang a bell”, Susan’s mother would say.

       And then Uncle Stefan began to sing, and Susan didn’t think about anything else for a while.  He had a strong, rich voice, but the way he sang was wild and edgy, as if the song made him sad or angry.  He sang in some language Susan didn’t know, and Lucinda and her mother joined in, singing harmony.  Meanwhile, the notes and chords kept pouring out of the mandolin; Stefan’s long fingers were lightning fast; and Susan just listened, entranced.  She didn’t understand the lyrics, but the feeling in the song had grabbed her, and even when the music stopped—the song was done and Uncle Stefan and Lucinda’s mother were smiling at each other—she scarcely breathed, and hated to speak and break the spell.

     But of course she did.  She clapped her hands and tried to say how much she had enjoyed the music, but only managed to mumble, “That was good.”

     It seemed like enough to say, though.  She realized that Uncle Stefan had played to please himself as much as anyone else.

     Lucinda’s mother looked at her wristwatch.  “What time did your mom say she wanted you home, Susan?” she asked.


     “Oops.  We better get moving.”

     “No!  Susan’s not staying for dinner?!”  Uncle Stefan sounded appalled.

     Susan sighed.  She wished she could stay.  But her mother had said no, Susan had to be home for her famous crockpot meatloaf.

     “Not this time,” said Lucinda’s mother, sounding equally disappointed, but resigned.

     “Next time,” said Uncle Stefan.  “Next time come on a Friday—no school in the morning.  We’ll fire up the grill, have a barbeque!”

     Susan nodded, and felt the heat in her cheeks that meant she was blushing again.

     It was a short drive to Susan’s apartment.  Susan could have walked if it hadn’t been getting dark.  Lucinda’s mother parked outside Susan’s building and got out of her car.

     “We’ll walk you to your door,” she said.  “I’d like to meet your mom.”

     “Okay,” said Susan, wondering how that would go over.  When her mother got home from the office in the evenings, she tended to be a little tense.

     Susan let herself into the apartment with the key on the lanyard around her neck.  As they stepped into a small hallway, she called, “Mom, I’m home.”

     Susan’s mother emerged from the kitchen, wiping her hands on a small towel.  She wore a tan skirt and a white blouse; the blouse was loose at the neck and had been pulled out of the waistband of the skirt so that it hung own to her hips.  She still had her work pantyhose on, but pink fluffy slippers replaced the brown pumps she wore to the office.  When she saw Lucinda and her mother, she lifted a hand to the tendrils of straight light brown hair that escaped from the knot at the back of her head.  She smoothed her hair a little, then smiled tentatively.

     Lucinda’s mother extended her hand.  “My name is Sophia Dimirovitch.  I’m Lucinda’s mother.”

     “Sandy Anderson,” said Susan’s mother, taking Sophia’s hand.  As she did, Susan saw how she visibly relaxed; as if the warmth of the touch convinced her of Lucinda’s mother’s good intentions.

     “We so enjoyed having Susan over today.”

     Susan’s mother was genuinely smiling now.  “Well, thank you for having her.”

     “Yes,” Susan chimed in on cue.  “Thank you, Mrs. Dimirovitch.”  Susan had been practicing pronouncing the name, and it came off flawlessly.

     “My pleasure, Susan.  You must come again.  On a Friday, like Stefan said.  We’ll barbeque.”

     Susan beamed and looked at her mother.  “I would love to do that,” she said.

     Susan’s mother looked at her thoughtfully, then said to Sophia, “I’m sure that could be arranged.”

     Lucinda and her mother left, and Susan caught her mother staring at her again, with an odd expression on her face.

     “What is it?” she asked.

     “Nothing, sweetie.  It’s just that you’re smiling.”


Juvenile Wiction: Chapter One

     One of the things I've been doing to keep myself from going cuckoo for cocoa puffs over the last 2 months or so is working on a piece of juvenile fiction that I'm kind of tickled with.  It's a story about friendship, dancing, love after death, and real magic in everyday life.  You could call it Wiccan fiction, or Wiction, if you will.
     Here is the first chapter, if you are interested:




     Lucinda stood alone by the edge of the playground, looking out past a chain-link fence at a maple tree that was glowing vivid gold-orange in the morning sunlight.  The color, like a flame against the clear blue sky, drew her gaze, and a sense of peace and comfort came over her as her eyes drank in the glorious hue.  She watched the graceful shimmer of the leaves on the branches as the autumn breeze shook them, like bracelets on a dancing girl’s arms.  Her mother had taught her to draw strength from trees and rocks and natural things of the earth.  It wasn’t something she talked about with other kids, but it was helpful when things got lonely or difficult, as they often did at school.  Unconsciously, her breath slowed and deepened; she began to faintly hear the tree’s song.

     Lucinda’s mother could see auras; Lucinda could hear music coming from every living thing she encountered, if she could still her mind enough to listen.  She could hear the music, but she could never make out any lyrics, so it seemed like a fairly random and useless ability to Lucinda.  She would much prefer to have her mother’s talent for seeing the colors a person generated, glimmering around them like their own personal aurora borealis.  Lucinda’s mother could tell what was going on with a person by looking at the colors surrounding her.  The music Lucinda could hear was just a silly noise—sometimes pretty, sometimes abrasive and unpleasant---that seemed to emanate from everything living, and even some rocks.  Her mother said that someday the music would start to mean something to her—she’d begin to understand what it was trying to tell her.

     Lucinda and her mother had moved to Parkdale from the city because they didn’t feel safe in the city anymore, since Papa died, and Lucinda’s mother said they needed a change.  Lucinda’s uncles lived in Parkdale; Lucinda knew her mother liked being near her brothers.  Parkdale was nice.  It was quiet, there were lots of trees, and it was much cleaner than the city.  Lucinda thought she would like it well enough, once she got used to things.

     Her new school was hard, though.  The teachers seemed okay, and Lucinda could do the work, but she felt very new and strange.  Lucinda was nothing like the other girls at her school, especially the girls everyone seemed to like and admire.  Lucinda would watch the popular girls in the classroom and outside at recess time.  She looked at the way they wore their hair.  Most of them had smooth, pale hair that seemed to hang straight and look elegant no matter what they were doing.  The popular girls dressed like pictures in magazines—their clothes always fit perfectly and looked stylish.  The popular girls were pretty and funny and confident and good at sports.  They always seemed to know just what to say and how to act.  Lucinda wanted to be like those girls.  More than that, she wanted to be accepted and liked by them.

      But Lucinda was not like them.  Lucinda’s hair was thick and dark and curly; it rose up from her forehead in crazy, corkscrew curls that tumbled down across her back and shoulders.  Lucinda’s clothes never seemed to stay straight on her body.  She looked sickly in the soft, cool pastels favored by the popular girls.  Lucinda looked good in red and purple and hot pink and turquoise.  Lucinda loved ocean colors and fire colors.  The cool girls looked at her and rolled their eyes and smirked at each other when Lucinda came to school wearing the colors she loved.  So she started wearing black.  Lucinda looked good in black, she thought, and how could there be anything uncool about black?

     Lucinda was not the only girl in her class who was different from the cool, popular girls—the ones who laughed loud and leaned together to whisper.  There was Cassie, who was fat and wore glasses and read all the time.  There was Piper, who had a million freckles and red hair that was almost as crazy as Lucinda’s.  Piper wore braces on her teeth, and Lucinda had heard one of the cool girls call her “Metal Mouth”.  There was Susan, a thin, pale, quiet girl who mostly kept to herself.  And others.  Girls too shy, too plain, too geeky to be accepted by the popular girls.  Not a group Lucinda particularly wanted to be a part of.

     That morning, when Lucinda was getting dressed for school, pulling on black jeans and a black tee shirt, she glanced toward her closet and saw the beautiful silk scarf her grandmother, Nonna, had given her for her birthday.  It was patterned with swirls of vivid turquoise and bright purple.  There were small gold beads knotted in the long fringe.  It was a flashy, dramatic, fun thing to wear.  Lucinda loved the way the fabric flowed when she moved, and the tiny clicking of the beads.  Nonna wore stuff like that all the time, usually with a very plain black dress.

     Thoughtfully, Lucinda took the scarf off its hook and held the soft silk against her cheek.  Then she threaded the long scarf through the belt loops of her jeans and knotted it at her hip, so the ends with their fancy fringe hung partway down her right thigh.  She examined  her reflection in the mirror on her closet door.  She smiled.  It was nothing like what the cool girls at school wore.  They would think it was really weird.  But Lucinda liked the way it looked, and the way it made her feel to wear it.  Wearing the scarf her Nonna gave her made Lucinda feel happy to be herself.

     That morning on the playground, Lucinda stood apart, not really paying attention to the other kids for a change.  She was focused on the gorgeous color of the maple tree, devouring it with her eyes, letting the tree’s bittersweet autumn song ring in her ears, when she was distracted by the sound of giggling behind her.

     She turned, and there were three of the popular girls—Ashley, Jessica, and Brittany—standing together, making a great show of examining her outfit and snickering together.

     The tallest and blondest of them, Ashley, said, “Hey, nice look, Esmerelda!”

     “Yeah,” added Jessica, “where’s your tambourine and your goat?”

     And then, incredibly, the three girls started singing that old Cher song from the seventies—“Gypsies, tramps and thieves, we’d hear it from the people of the town. .  . 

     Lucinda’s face began to burn.  She felt her scalp prickle like it always did when she was very frightened or very angry.  There was a roaring sound in her ears and her eyes began to water.  She turned and began to walk away, but the girls followed her, still singing, “But every night all the men would come around.  .  .  .”

     Mrs. Perkins, the recess aide, was a nice lady.  She saw what was happening and started walking over, a very serious expression on her face.  The girls saw her coming and stopped singing.  They moved away toward the swingsets.  Lucinda kept walking, her head held high, pretending she didn’t know kids were looking at her, until she got to the picnic tables at the far end of the playground.  Then she sat on one of them, her feet on the bench, elbows resting on her knees, looking quietly down at  her loosely clasped hands, trying to appear casual and relaxed, not like someone who was trying really hard not to cry.

     She felt the table move a bit as someone sat beside her.  Blinking hard, she tried to get the moisture in her eyes under control before she looked up.

     It was Susan, the thin, pale, quiet waif of a girl, who always seemed to be sort of off to the side of things, quietly watching.  Susan had straight, light brown hair that she wore very short.  Her eyes were pale gray and very direct.

     “Those girls?  Ashley and Jessica and Brittany?  They’re jerks.  You realize that, don’t you?”  It was the longest speech Lucinda had ever heard Susan utter.

     Lucinda nodded and sniffed a little.  “I really wanted to be friends with them, but right now I don’t know why.”

     Cassie approached them.  She was holding a small brown paper bag which she extended toward the two girls on the picnic table.

     “Jolly Rancher?” she said.

     Susan looked into the bag with interest and took out a candy.  “Grape,” she said.  “My fave.”

     Lucinda reached in and took a watermelon.  “Thanks,” she said.

     “I saw that little performance by the Barbie Dolls,” Cassie said.  “Very nice.  Real classy.”

     “Barbie Dolls?” Lucinda said.

     “That’s what Cassie calls the ‘cool’ girls,” Susan said.  She made quotation marks in the air with her fingers when she said “cool”, and rolled her eyes a little, as if she thought Ashley and her group were ridiculous.

     Cassie stepped a little closer and touched the fringe of Lucinda’s scarf.  “I think this is fabulous,” she said.  “But what do I know?  I’m just a nerdy fat girl with glasses.  Not a member of the elite.”  She pushed the tip of her nose up with her finger and lifted her chin haughtily, speaking in a snobby, upper-crust accent, “Nobody’s wearing beautiful silk scarves as belts down at the country club this season.  It simply isn’t done.”

     “Yeah.  God forbid anyone should look a little different around here.”  This came from Trisha, who was leaning against the school building nearby.  Trisha was one of the handful of black students at Lucinda’s school.  Lucinda had never seen her smile—she always seemed angry, bored, or sad.  She was very pretty, and wore her hair in dozens of braids with blue and white beads at the ends of them.  She rattled a bit when she moved, and it was a nice effect.

     Cassie held the bag out toward Trisha.  “Jolly Rancher?” she said.

     Trisha seemed to think it over for a moment, then pushed herself away from the wall and came over to them.  She looked into the bag.  “Got any green apple?”

     “You betcha,” said Cassie.  “Help yourself.”

     Just then, Piper, who was hanging upside down from the top of the monkey bars halfway across the playground, spotted them and quickly climbed down.  She ran over, chanting, “Jolly Ranchers, Jolly Ranchers, I must have Jolly Ranchers!”

     “Geeze, Piper,” said Cassie, “I already gave you three of them on the bus.”

     Piper rummaged in the bag till she found a strawberry-kiwi and popped it into her mouth.  She looked over at Lucinda.  “I want you to know I think the Barbies were being totally heinous to you just now.  If it’s any comfort, we all know how you feel.”

     Lucinda wondered if they really did.  Still, these girls—the geeks, the outcasts, the misfits—they were kind.  They didn’t have to come over and be friendly to her just because the cool girls had humiliated her, but they had.  Lucinda had thought the pretty, popular girls were the best ones to be friends with.  After all, she wanted to be popular and accepted, too.  But it felt good to be sharing Jolly Ranchers and resenting the Barbie Dolls with these girls, even if they were nerds and losers and outsiders.

     “I know what you’re thinking,” said Cassie, and Lucinda looked at her, startled, hoping she didn’t.

     Just then the bell rang, and they all ran to line up by the school doors.

     In class that day, Lucinda started noticing things.  She noticed that when the teacher called on Cassie, she always answered correctly, except during math, when she was reading a book instead of paying attention.  She noticed that the doodles Susan made around the margins of her notebook pages were amazingly detailed little drawings of castles and dragons and beautiful sorceresses.  She noticed that Trisha was great at math, though she stood up there at the blackboard with a big attitude, very disgusted, one hand on her hip, sighing with bored exasperation as she quickly wrote all the correct numbers without seeming to even have to think about it.  And she noticed that what she had always thought was Piper just fidgeting restlessly at her desk was actually tap dancing.  Her feet were practicing dance steps, over and over.  Piper wasn’t even thinking about what her feet were doing.  They paused for a moment when the teacher called on her in social studies, but she answered correctly without missing a beat, then resumed the routine, shuffle-ball-change.

     At recess, instead of hanging around at the edge of the group of popular girls, Lucinda found herself up on the monkey bars with Piper.  Piper loved to hang upside down, especially from a height.  She dangled by her knees, swinging gently back and forth, singing softly to herself as coins and pencils and one Jolly Rancher dropped out of the pockets of her overalls.  Lucinda dropped down and picked up her stuff.

     “What are you singing,” she asked, looking up at Piper, whose wild red hair was hanging down.

     Piper sang a little louder and Lucinda recognized the tune—it was “The Music of the Night” from Phantom of the Opera.  And Piper sang pretty well.  Even upside down.

     “I was watching your feet in class,” Lucinda said.  “Do you take dance lessons?”

     “Yes I do,” said Piper.  “I am, in fact, a dancin’ fool.  How about you?  Do you dance?”

     “I never had lessons,” said Lucinda.  “But I like to dance.  Everybody in my family dances.”

     Piper nodded.  “You know what?” she said.


     She grinned at Lucinda.  “All the blood is rushing to my head.”  She swung herself up to sit atop the bar, accepting the pencils and coins and candy Lucinda had retrieved for her.  “Thanks,” she said.  “So, are you going to give up on fitting in with those snotty Barbie Dolls?  I’ve been watching you try to be friends with them since the first day of school.  I gotta tell you; it’s a waste of time.  Those princesses will never accept someone new and different like you.  And besides all that, they’re no fun.”

     “They aren’t?  They always seem like they’re having fun.”

     “Oh, sure—being boring and conventional is an absolute riot for them.  They don’t know any better; they think life is all about fitting in and maintaining the status quo.  Not one of them ever had an original thought in her life.  All they care about is being cool.  And what does cool mean to them?  Being exactly alike.  Look at them.”

     Lucinda looked across the playground to where Jessica and Ashley and the other popular girls were jumping rope.  From this distance, especially, they did seem sort of, well, uniform.  Lucinda couldn’t think of a better word for it.  Not that they were dressed alike, but their outfits were similar in cut and style, and all in navy, tan, and various muted pastel shades.  No bright colors, no funky accessories.  Not one of them had a hair out of place.

     “They all shop in the same store,” Piper said.  “They all live in the same neighborhood, go to the same church, get their hair cut in the same shop.  They all belong to the country club.  Their dads all work in the same law firm, except Brittany’s dad, who owns the bank.”

     “They have a lot of money, huh?” asked Lucinda.

     Piper shrugged.  “I guess.”

     Lucinda climbed up to sit next to Piper.  They were round, spaceship-shaped monkey bars.  When not dangling upside-down from the crossbars at the top, Piper liked to sit on the highest rung and survey the playground.  Lucinda could see why.  From up there, she felt that she could see everything that was going on, and yet was somehow invisible, unnoticed up above it all.  The kids on the playground were too wrapped up in whatever was happening on their own level to raise their eyes to the top of the monkey bars, so Lucinda could watch them unobserved.

     The line of girls playing jump rope with the Barbie Dolls had grown considerably.  There were always people willing to risk the possibility of ridicule and contempt for the privilege of playing with the cool girls.  They were the best jump-ropers.  Ashley was the one who brought the rope every day.  It was a bright neon pink and green nylon number with ball-bearings in the wooden handles.  It was the Cadillac of jump-ropes, and Ashley and her friends were not about to let just anyone jump it.  Any girl who missed too often, or dressed too weird, or just didn’t meet with the inner circle’s approval that day was likely to get tapped on the shoulder by Jessica and given the thumbs down.

     “You’re out,” she’d say with a shrug, as if it wasn’t her fault; she didn’t make the rules.

     Out on the field, a bunch of boys were playing touch tackle.  Another group was playing slide tag, although that was against the rules and Mrs. Perkins would put a stop to it as soon as she noticed.  Lucinda saw Trisha on one of the big swings, pumping hard and swinging real high, her gaze focused far off in the distance, as her beaded braids swung and danced around her head.  Cassie was sitting at one of the picnic tables, still engrossed in her book.

     “What is she reading?” Lucinda asked, nodding toward Cassie.

     Piper looked at Cassie and smiled, shrugging.  “Who knows?  It’s always something.”

     “Cassie reads a lot.”

     Piper nodded.  “That’s why she’s so smart.”

     Just then, Lucinda saw Susan emerge from the school building.  She was wearing a hat—some sort of old fashioned brown felt hat like gangsters used to wear.  A fedora, that’s what it was called.  As Susan came closer, Lucinda could see that the hat was rather old and worn, but it retained a certain snappy style.  It looked good on Susan, the way it tilted to one side just a little, and shadowed those sharp gray eyes.

     Susan was walking past the jump-ropers, minding her own business, seemingly lost in thought, when Brittany happened to notice her hat.  She nudged Ashley, who stifled a laugh and grabbed Jessica’s arm, pointing at Susan and whispering in her ear.

     “Hey, cool hat,” Jessica said sarcastically.  Susan looked up, a little startled at having been spoken to, not sure at first whether she was being made fun of or complimented.

     A round of snickers from the Barbie Dolls settled the question.

     “Yeah, what did you do, dig it out of a dumpster?” Ashley said.

     “Nah, she got it at Goodwill, where she buys the rest of her clothes,” Brittany said.

     Susan’s face went beet red.  She took the hat off and looked at it.  Then Lucinda saw a very calm look settle across Susan’s face, though even at that distance it was clear that she was fighting tears.  She put the hat back on, gave it the proper little rakish tilt, straightened her shoulders, and walked on.  A few more snide remarks followed her, but she gave no sign that she heard.  When she got a little closer to the monkey bars, Piper called to her.

     “Hey, Susan, up here,” she said.

     Susan glanced up, and climbed to sit between them.

     “It’s an excellent hat,” Lucinda said.  “You were right about those girls.  They’re jerks.”

     “Totally,” agreed Piper.  “I like the hat too.  It suits you.  Gives you that kinda tough guy look.”

     “Yeah?” said Susan.  She took off the hat and looked at it again.  “My dad bought me this hat.  We used to go to the flea market together every Sunday.  There was this lady selling old fashioned clothes.  Dad bought me this hat, and he got a vest.”  Susan’s eyes were far away as she remembered this.

     “Your dad sounds cool,” Lucinda said enviously.

     “He was,” Susan said quietly.  “Very cool.”

     “Was?” said Lucinda.  “Is your dad—“

     “Dead.  Yes.  He got real sick and he died, okay?  And I don’t want to talk about it.”

     “Okay.  Sorry.  But I know how you feel.”

     “You do?  I don’t think so.  How could you?  Is your dad dead?”

     “Well, yes, as a matter of fact he is.”

     “Oh.”  Susan looked away for a few seconds.  “Sorry.”

     “What happened to your dad, Lucy?” Piper asked.

     “Don’t call me Lucy, please.”

     “No?  How about Cindy?”

     “Anything wrong with Lucinda?”

     “No.  It’s just sort of a mouthful.”

     “It’s my name.”

     “Gotcha.  Lucinda.  What happened to your dad?”

     Lucinda sighed and took a deep breath.  By now she could usually talk about it without crying.

     “My dad was a musician.  We lived in Chicago then.  Papa played violin in the symphony, and he also played with this little band, a bunch of guys he’d been friends with forever.  They were playing this club in the Southside, a kind of rough, scary place.  My mom hated for him to play there, but it was a great place for music.  That’s what Papa always said.  Anyway, it was in a bad part of town, and I guess there were these two gangs that were mad at each other, and there was a fight.  And my dad got stabbed.  And he died.”

     “Geeze,” said Piper.

     Susan said nothing, just looked at her with those clear, calm gray eyes.

     “Anyway, it’s a nice hat,” Lucinda said.  “It looks good on you.”

     “Thanks,” said Susan.  She put the hat back on.

     “Hey, look!”  It was Jessica’s sarcastic voice again.  They looked down and saw that the Barbie Dolls had abandoned their jump-rope and were standing around at the bottom of the jungle gym, looking up at them.  “Metal Mouth, Esmerelda and Hat Girl.  It’s a regular costume party up there.”

     Lucinda looked down at Jessica.  The morning sun gleamed on her smooth blonde hair.  She wore a short blue tartan skirt, with perfect, knife-sharp pleats that fanned out around her when she turned quickly, which she made a point of doing as often as possible, for dramatic effect.  Her long, slim legs were incased in white tights that were spotlessly clean and completely devoid of runs or snags.  Her sweater was light blue and fluffy.  Her eyes were light blue and cold.

     “You’re perfect, Jessica,” Lucinda said, without really meaning to.  It just sort of popped out of her mouth.

     Jessica said, “What?”

     “I said, you’re perfect.  You are.  I mean it.  Just look at you.  Honestly, I just want you to know, I think you’re perfect.”

     Jessica blinked her eyes and looked a bit confused.

     “So true,” Piper chimed in.  “And Ashley.  I mean, look at her.  She’s stunning.  Absolutely devastating.”

     “Don’t forget Brittany over there, looking dewy and radiant,” said Susan, softly, but with a menacing edge to her voice.

     Trisha had made a death-defying leap off her swing when she noticed the confrontation taking place over by the monkey bars.  She made a good landing and tried to be unobtrusive as she walked over to stand at the back of the group of cool girls, who were ranged around the foot of the monkey bars looking up at Lucinda and Susan and Piper.  Something unusual was going on.  The girls up on the bars seemed calm.  There was a nervous, vaguely unhappy undercurrent moving through the Barbie Dolls and their entourage.

     “You are so weird,” said Jessica in a voice that meant to sound scornful but came out a little shaky.

     “I know,” said Lucinda.  “I am nothing like you.”

     Jessica gave an elaborate shrug of her elegant shoulders, tossed her golden hair back with an imperious movement of her hand, and turned away, saying loftily, “That’s for sure.”  She stalked off, followed by her friends, who were strangely quiet.

     Up on the monkey bars, Lucinda, Susan and Piper stared at each other, trying to keep their faces straight till Jessica and the Barbie Dolls were out of range.  Then they began to smirk, and then to giggle.  When the bell rang, they were cackling like lunatics, leaning back from the bars to laugh straight up at the sky.

     After school, Lucinda and Susan walked part of the way home together.  Susan and her older brother and her mom lived in a townhouse apartment in a complex just a few blocks off Front Street, which was where Lucinda lived.  Susan’s mom had some sort of important, difficult, stressful job where she worked in an office and lots of people depended on her for stuff, but they didn’t ask politely and they didn’t pay her very much.  Susan’s brother was thirteen and was permanently attached to a computer.  Lucinda learned these things as the two girls walked slowly down the sidewalk together.

     “You want to come over to my place?” Lucinda asked.  “My mom is at work, too.  We could study together, have something to eat, I don’t know.”

     Susan smiled.  She didn’t smile very often, and when she did, her face lit up and her eyes danced, and she looked like a totally different girl.

     “I’d really like to,” she said, “but my mom expects me to be home.  She’ll call, and if I don’t pick up, she’ll freak.”

     “Call her from my house.”

     “Can’t.  Not allowed to call her at work unless it’s an emergency.”

     “Well, then, call your brother and tell him where you are.”

     “My brother never answers the phone.  He just lets the machine pick up, and then checks for messages later.  Maybe.”


     “Yeah.  But listen, I could ask my mom tonight for tomorrow, if you want.”

     “Okay.”  Lucinda stopped walking.  This was where Susan had to turn off to go to her apartment complex.

     “I guess I’ll see you tomorrow,” Susan said.

     “Yeah.  Well, bye.”

     “Bye.”  Susan started to walk off.  Lucinda continued on toward her mother’s shop on Front Street.

     “Hey,” Susan was calling to her.

     Lucinda turned around and walked backward so she could look at her.  “What?”

     “That was very cool, what you did today.  Up on the monkey bars.”

     Lucinda grinned and tossed her curly black hair over her shoulder in  perfect imitation of Jessica.

     They both laughed and waved, then turned away and trudged off toward home.




Sep. 19th, 2009


Love Poems

     These poems are at least 2-3 years old.  I wrote the first two when I was in the process of falling in love with Jay. The third was written about a year later.  My poems are more like lyrics, I guess.  They are old fashioned in that they rhyme and have a sort of rhythmic structure.  They could easily be set to music.  I am not able to compose melodies, but I have been known to hook up my poems with traditional tunes to make songs out of them, like Roberts Burns and Tannahill.  Not that my poetry compares to theirs in any other way.  I'm just a dabbler.

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Sep. 14th, 2009



     One of the ways I try to cope with my present situation is to think of it as an adventure.  Something difficult that I've never done before; a valuable learning experience; an opportunity for personal growth.  It doesn't have to be a soul-killing tragedy, no matter how painful an experience it may be.  It can be a really harrowing chapter in the fascinating story of my life.  I try to detach and distance myself a little, when I can.  Not always possible.  Sometimes there's nothing to do but keen and howl like a banshee.
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Sep. 11th, 2009



     I sort of stumbled across her MySpace.  I was poking around the Tannahill Weavers page, checking out their Friends, when I saw this picture of a dragon head (dinosaur?), noticed the name and location, and thought "Hmm."
     Of course, I can never leave well enough alone, so I checked out her profile.  She's very cute, and ten years younger than me.  Which makes her twenty years younger than him!  That old coot!
     But her photos and blogs are disappointing.  Photographically, she seems obsessed with urinals and public urination.  And her blogs are really just forwards--no original material.  What's up with that?
     She looks nice, though.  And she posted a few good photos of him and he appears happy.  Or what passes for happy where he comes from.
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Aug. 5th, 2009


Healing Spell

As cleansing flames eat boughs of pine,
As Mother Moon doth glow and shine,
As smoke wafts up to God above,
Melt Jay's tumor with light and love.
T-lymphocytes with cytokine
Kill those cancer cells and clean
Away all illness and disease!
Goddess do it quickly please!
Let antibodies swim around,
Hunting all the bad cells down.
As flames leap high and love burns bright
Let Jay's body win this fight.
Give him strength and clarity,
Passion for battle and wisdom to see.
Grant him courage, make him whole.
Send that tumor to a hole
At the bottom of the sea!
From this cancer, set him free!

Jul. 29th, 2009


Hurt Feelings

     This seems like a petty thing but I'm finding it hard to process.  In recent weeks there have been two relatively big social events that I expected to be invited to and wasn't.  One was a July 4th weekend sort of thing that I've been included in for the past 4-5 years, the other was a wedding that everybody I know went to, of a couple I've been friends with for years.
     What does it mean when something like this happens?  I'm fairly certain that the people involved are not mad at me.  I'm guessing they just had limited guest lists and I was not a priority.  An evolved person would not be hurt by this.  Maybe a person who didn't just find out her husband had cancer wouldn't even be bothered by it.  I'm sort of sensitive and touchy anyway.  Right now I'm a raw nerve.
     It often takes a lot of effort and imagination on my part to convince myself that anybody gives a shit about me.  Except for Jay & Charly, of course.
     Oh what a big baby.  My husband is facing the fight of his life, and I'm sad about not getting invited to a couple of parties.
     I annoy myself.

Jul. 22nd, 2009



     I need to vent and I have no reason to believe anybody ever reads this.
     My beloved husband and I are coming up on our second anniversary in August.  Today he had a biopsy; he has a tumor on his pancreas.
     If it turns out to be cancer (won't know for sure till Friday) I don't know  what that's going to mean, but I know it's not good.
     I want so badly to live in the moment; take things a day at a time & stay positive.  I don't want to poison whatever time we have together (whether it's a lot or a little) with fear and sadness and negativity.
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