Lisa’s Last Dance

Author’s Note: I’ve always thought dancers are just about the most athletic in terms of strength and conditioning. There are those that excel, those that get by, and those who will never realize their potential, through no fault of their own. This story is for them, because they still dance in their memories, their imaginations, and their hearts. They are still, to my mind, dancers…

In the halls of her school, Lisa heard the comments.
“Such a promising career ahead…”
“Never dance again…”
“…a tragedy…” “…a shame…”
“Never walk again …” “…dancing is finished…”

Her face would heat, and she’d roll the chair a little faster, enduring the day, the comments sown like bitter seeds in her heart. Time was against her; her muscles hadn’t atrophied yet, but they were on the way.

She sighed, but today, she managed not to cry.

Her father rolled her like a cargo of five gallon drums into the back of the van after school, and took her home.
She did her homework before dinner since there wasn’t much.
Her parents were watching television when she rolled the chair in front of them.
“Lisa? What is it, honey?” her mother said.
“Take me there.”
“Honey, please. We’ve been over this. The doctors…”
“Yes, I know, Dad. The doctors, it’s always the doctors said…”
“Lisa, be realistic!
She slammed her fists on the arms of her wheelchair, and her parents jumped. She got her breathing under control, kept her eyes averted to blink back the tears that threatened; if she cried now, it would be over.
She looked up at them after a moment, her eyes clear, her gaze steady.
“No. Take me there.”
Huffing in frustration, but without another word, her father clicked off the tv and loaded her into the van. Her mother rode shotgun, and they rode in silence.

The dance class stopped when Lisa came to the door.
“Hello, Mrs. Castro.”
“What are you doing here?”
“I came to start over.”
“Lisa, honey, I can’t…”
“We told her, Mrs. Castro,” her mother said. “We told her what the doctors said, but she insisted.”
Mrs. Castro sighed. “Let her come to grips with it. It’s the only way they’ll stop sometimes. I’ve seen it before.”
Lisa rolled the chair past Mrs. Castro.
The other girls watched in stunned silence.
Stopping before the mirror, Lisa took a good long look at herself, taking stock of what she was about to do, and whether or not it was worth it.
And she turned the chair sideways, placed her feet on the floor and placed her hands on the barre, her breathing deep.
The other girls watched at first, as her arms began to shake, her knuckles tighten and slip; she wiped her hands on her useless knees, and got another grip, and pulled again.
And little by bit, Lisa began to pull herself up, trembling, shaking, but slowly rising.
“Lisa, don’t do this,” her mother said, her hands over her chest.
“Lisa, stop!” her father said.

She bit her lip as the tears stung again, and one escaped, and she rose a little higher.
With her next pull, she gave a small cry of pain, and one of the girls broke from the circle and got behind her, and put her arm around Lisa’s middle, supporting her, her knees and thighs aligned with Lisa’s own, which were almost like a marionette’s, but there was still something there, and she pushed the chair a little distance away.
Lisa went higher, her breath hissing between her teeth. The girl behind her was straining with the weight, and she didn’t want to fall backward.
Another one joined her, and stooped to put Lisa’s hands on her shoulders as she supported Lisa’s arms.
Lisa went higher, even as the pain ripped through her and she cried out again.
Two more joined and supported the two girls who were holding Lisa.
She went up a little more.
And another came, and another, and then the rest, reforming the semi-circle that had been around Mrs. Castro, and they began to call out.
Do it, Lisa!”
“Come on, girl!”
“Kick, Lisa! Higher!”
“You call that a pirouette?”
“If you can’t hack it, pack it!”
“Get that leg up!”
“Balance, keep your balance!”
“Spin faster, stupid!” They all laughed a little louder at that, and Lisa strained with the effort.
And kept rising.

The girls began to cry through their smiles as Lisa struggled, inch by inch, her own cries lost in their laughter and shouts and cheers of tough love that sounded like reprimands they’d all heard and said, standing together back then as vulnerable and fearful children, standing together now as vulnerable, fearful young women with confidence and hope.
And today, centered on their broken, fallen angel, they anointed her with all they had, and it filled the studio like morning vespers.
And when Lisa finally stood, leaning on their arms and shoulders, wracking, drenched, and beautifully terrible, still shaking, crying and trembling as they embraced each other in bittersweet victory, it was for different reasons.

A Friend of few words

Thinking back on it now, she never really said much.

Not that she was shy, mind you.

She could wax eloquent on the things that mattered to her, and be knowledgeable enough and persuasive without being smug, condescending, or dismissive of a different view.

Truthfully, I don’t know how she managed it.

I did ask her once, though, why she didn’t speak up more.

“Silence stacks the deck in your favor.” she told me, but that was all she said, leaving me to puzzle it out.

So we sat in our overlong silences, drinking overpriced coffee, then going our overly lonely, separate ways.

Eventually, I got it: when encountered by someone who’s (overly) content to be quiet, people will pay more attention when they do finally say something, or they’ll reveal something about themselves to fill the silence.

I knew her when we were young, and when we pulled ourselves into mutual orbits, she gradually trained me to be more like her: quietly comfortable, and comfortably quiet. I don’t remember how or when the silences grew longer, only that they did.

When the orbital pull eventually weakened, I emerged from the eclipse of her shadow, and the words, my words, returned to me, albeit tempered.

They were seasoned, if not sage, with my own brand of pop wisdom and zodiacal frippery.

We’d grown from aligned planets to two different kinds of meteors; she’d make an impact in her world, and I’d do the same in mine, but never simultaneously.

Now, when I sit alone in this coffee place on rainy days, listening to the backwash of raindrops accompanied by a background of soft, classical strings, I feel her enigmatic smile on my own lips, and wonder what we’re thinking about now.

And who will be anointed to hear it.

A Writer Walks into a bar

(*A story written back in 2016)

In the dying light, evening shadows spilled like ink across the city streets as neon lights buzzed and flared with new life, and I finally arrived at the bar.

Millie was there, as always, her face tan, leathered, with deep lines sketched and stenciled by the tandem drawing of time and alcohol. She turned to look at me through eyes still somewhat beautiful, not quite bleary, but full of lost hope and unrequited love.

A local girl, she’d been feeding off the carrion of maudlin, weepy drunks for too long.

Getting out had been her dream. She’d been waiting, as they say, for her ship to come in, but someone told her to hold the anchor, and when she did, the ship left without her.

She squinted at me through a screen of patchy, blue-white smoke, slowly unfurling like spirits on drugs.

“Hey, Al.”

“Hey, Millie.”

“Book’s done?”


“Good for you.” She swiveled the stool to turn her whole self toward me.

“You need an agent?”

“I do. Know anyone?”

She shook her head. “Not anymore, sweetheart. Think you’re good enough?”

“I’m hoping.”

She tapped the cigarette ash into a gray-black ashtray and looked over my head. I followed her gaze to see a huge fly buzzing around a light bulb.

We watched it longer than was normal, until she finally looked at me again.

“I used to write.”

“I know, Millie.”

“I wasn’t good.”

“Not what I was told.” I ordered a beer.

She smiled, showing stained, chipped and missing teeth; if you weren’t used to seeing it, it was disconcerting at first. It never ceased to be heartbreaking, at least to me.

“You believe what you’re told?”

I straightened up on the barstool, seeking some sort of lumbar support that wasn’t there.

“You didn’t believe in yourself?”

Her eyebrows arched at that, and in a couple of heartbeats, her eyes welled.

She wiped the water away before it ruined her overdone mascara, but somehow she managed smudging it anyway.

“No, I didn’t.”

I waited a bit, letting her get back to herself.

She shifted on the stool, hooking an ankle around the circle on the bottom.

“Hard to get an agent these days, Al.”

“But not impossible.”

“No,” she shook her head slowly, and turned her left profile to me, “not impossible.”

We worked on the drinks, each of us sitting in separate silences of rising ambition and faded glory.

She finished her double, put out the cigarette, sidled off the stool, put her hand on my thigh to steady herself, and kissed me on the cheek.

Her lips were bourbon scented, her breath heavy with tobacco.

She patted me on the chest then stepped out of view behind me.

“Good night, Al.”

I watched her in the mirror as she opened the door and went out into the oncoming night.

I looked up at the light bulb.

The fly was gone.

“Good night, Millie.”

Whaler’s Night

One gets to know a road frequently traveled, gets to know the bumps and dips in it, and where the animals cross and the rocks slide. If the weather turns bad, one knows where the dangerous slick spots can put you on your back, or send you over the side, where maybe they’ll find you, and maybe they won’t.

Not like that with the sea.

Yes, whalers get to know the currents, the stormy bits, and the stars, but still two things will ever escape him: everything that lies below, and what he’s killed that may come back to haunt him.

I no longer brave the sea. In truth, I wasn’t brave when I sailed it, but you can never say you’re scared of it, or the things in it, when your family’s dinner depends on your skill at killing those things.

Alone now in my landlocked dotage, in my brine-kissed cottage, I shuffle along from rooms cluttered with things I no longer recall where or why I collected, to other rooms, cluttered with memories too painful to revisit, but too painful to throw away; they remind me that once upon a time, there were people in this world who loved and cared for me.

Restless at nights, I cross the cooling sand down to where the waves rock the boats to sleep on the little waves that lick the shoreline, and the stars bejewel the veil of the sky with silver, white, and blue pearls of light, and the moon plays tag with the tide, and hide-n-seek with the drifting clouds.

And from the silent shore I see their gashed and bleeding specters breach and crash the calm waters, and smell their breath and blood in clouds of foul perfume, but that’s not the worst of it.

Their songs come to me on the wind, the songs of those I helped to kill, and I stand, and listen, long past weeping but breaking all the same, all over again.

They are songs of mourning, of saying farewell to the pod, to their young, and the elders.

They are songs of sacrifice, granting us mercy in not smashing our frail vessels to splinters with their superior might.

They are the songs of the slaughtered, asking why we took more than we needed, why we laughed at the pain we caused with our cruel, barbed weapons.

They are the war songs of scars and salted wounds of seasoned navigators with every great migration, and songs of joy at the calves that grow strong and well nourished.

They are the songs of warning for the coming of ships, and the wrinkled, leather-skinned men of calloused hands and hardened hearts, coming on skimmers to make their mark in whale blood and oil, and earn their gold and copper to feast on whale flesh.

They are the songs of peace to soothe the spirits of the bones in our wind blown homes, songs that see the burning oil of their bodies in our lanterns, and their meat on our cook-fires.

Songs that scold the spirits of the ones who lost their way, and gave themselves over to the sand, the gulls, and the shelled legions that plucked their flesh and scoured their bones.

They are the songs telling of the day we will join them in the sea, the earth, and sky, not as hunted things, but creatures in the great eternal, our bawdy chanties blending with the songs of innocent souls that understood our dominion, and made their peace.

And as the songs fade toward the night’s horizon, I pour a stream of rum over the side of my boat, and cry my tears of sorrow, wondering if their spirits can taste them, as I long for, yet dread, to hear the songs they will sing if they do.

The Crofter of Words

The sun dips low, its gold fire now subdued to pleasing persimmon, and the the chiaroscuro of purples, pinks, and blues that quilt the twilight sky flare in a final flash of glory seen by the herald evening stars.

They form the night clusters that humanity marveled at, and pondered on, then feared, ascribing them power over the earth and the soul for ages untold.

And on this lonely, verdant hill, in this lonely, weary land, the breeze lacing through the branches hisses and warbles at the silence, incanting dirges of lost love and hard life among the stones and peat fires.

At night, the imprints of specters, felt more than seen, press against the walls of ether, retiring to their eternal beds of soil and decay, their farewells echoing down the halls of crumbling crypts, marbled with time, works, and fortune.

The names on the lids of their final possession fade in the dampness, becoming one with the surface again like a settling ripples.

And the crofters, the crafters of words, the farmers of feelings, caretakers of pruning the souls of unblessed believers in their words….they plant their poems and prose by night as well as day.

It is their hope that all the ragged, tattered universe, the deities that guide their thoughts and hands, see that it is good, and declare it.

Amour Involuntaire

He thought he’d never see her again.

His life of indolence, unsupported by the finances needed to indulge it for prolonged periods of time, was new and exciting for her at first; she’d been a sheltered girl, and he’d taken full advantage.

Toward the end of things, as she realized living on the edge without money for a safety net, you landed on hard times, or wound up doing hard time, the excitement lost its novelty, and on a rainy night when he was passed out and dissipated, she decided she had enough of the stench of danger, and him.

Did he ever tell her he loved her….? Well, it didn’t matter now, did it?

Shuffling past the cafe’s now, in search of food as the cafe owners chased him and his new ragged entourage away from their doors and outside tables full of diners, he not only saw her, but she was with someone new.

The way the light hit the man’s hair, he wasn’t sure if he was gray or blond; he looked older, but not feebly so.

And there she was, sitting across from him, laughing and happy in the moment.

Had he ever given her a reason to smile? He couldn’t remember.

His stomach rumbled, and the cup he carried for spare change grew heavy in his hand.

He didn’t belong here. Not anymore.

Not even on the edge.

He struggled with whether or not to reveal himself, to let her know he was at least alive, if not well, but she was laughing, and he wasn’t the source of it. If she laughed at his shame, or took pity, it would be even worse.

And the man…the man…what would the man do?

The cafe owner on his side of the street saw him stop and stare, and went out to tell him to move along, a warning glare indicating things would go bad for him if he didn’t.

She was laughing.

His stomach growled again. He wasn’t the source of her laughter, just the source of his own sorrow, with no reason to destroy her happiness.

I guess I do love her, then. After all. He didn’t want to, but now it was amour involuntaire, and would remain quite unrequited.

He shuffled off, out of sight, out of range, into the shadows he once embraced so willingly, believing they ‘d never have the substance to return his embrace and keep him.

Now he knew better.



I found the camera among Grandpa’s things in the attic before we sold the house.

When Grandma died he never remarried, content to live alone until the ravages of age told him he no longer could, and we eventually took him to hospice to finish out his days.

Sometimes in his sleep he’d mutter Check the camera, but as we’d never known him to have any particular love of photography outside of the usual family gatherings we no longer held, we chalked it up to the ramblings of an old man in decline.

But they were also his last words, uttered on the rainy day he died, and we stood around his bed to bid him farewell. When he said Check the camera for the last time, it was as if in that moment a spider’s silky web thread attached itself to my mind, and no matter how I mentally swatted at it, it wouldn’t go away and leave me alone.


When I finally saw the old camera on a dusty shelf in a shadowed corner, it was like I found a gold coin. Expecting to see boxes of pictures and the like, it was just the camera itself; there was nothing fancy, expensive, or high tech about it.

It was off-brand, unremarkable, and inexpensive. What else would he have? He wasn’t a photographer, right?  Though I couldn’t hide my disappointment at night finding a picture stash, I was still curious enough to test the camera out and see if it still worked. There was a magnifying glass next to it, and on impulse I took that too, (an unwelcome acknowledgment of my own decline), if there was anything that needed closer inspection.

I went outside and sat at the picnic table we’d used when the cookouts were a frequent thing and Grandpa would command the grill.

Placing everything on the table, I dusted the camera off and looked through the viewfinder.


I was in a speakeasy, the air tinged with smoke, laced with a slow jazz tune that couples swayed to amid the clink of glasses and the low chatter and laughter of the late night crowd.

The dapper gent in the black suit and shiny shoes who sat two stools down from me at the bar was chatting up the cigarette girl, who looked like she didn’t want to be anywhere else until she got a dirty look from the floor manager.

The guy winked at her, and she winked back and gave him a cigarette with another slip of paper around it.

And without knowing how I knew it, I’d just seen how my grandparents met.


There were romantic walks, where they held hands, moonlight kisses, silent movies, hayrides, hot kitchens, cold bedrooms, fireplaces, snatches of arguments followed by slamming doors, crying babies, running children, laughter, scolding, quiet moments with books, dancing by candlelight to music long forgotten.

The love between them was strong, almost palpable, almost sentient, and feeding on itself to grow even stronger as more years passed.

Graduations, ballgames, weddings, and then…


Inconsolable, he stayed at her grave long after everyone left, on his knees crying out his soul, his suit muddy from the downpour as the thunder rolled above him, and he wished nothing more than to be struck by lightning to end the pain…


I put the camera down, came back to the present amazed, drained, and breathless.

The sun was going down.

I rubbed my eyes and collected myself, taking one last look around.

And I saw the dapper gent and cigarette girl, as he waited for her at the bottom of the backstairs. She came out, all smiles and dimples, and he swept her into his arms and spun her around, both of them laughing as they faded from view.

The camera’s shutter flickered with a bright light as it clicked.

Not knowing what to think or how I felt, I took it back to its shadowy shelf, and removed the “For Sale” sign in the front, putting it in the trunk before I left.

There’d be time enough to settle things, when I checked the camera again to make sure they were gone.












Notebook Miscellany

It’s a silly obsession with some of us who write, these gathered notebooks.

These bound things bind us to them in turn, using our words to link us to all of our thoughts, hold us to all of our promises, keep all of our secrets and confessions.

And yes, hide all of our pain.

Even though we may not use them all, it speaks of longing to fill them with something of ourselves that bears witness to our existence, and will speak of who we were to a world we’ll never see.

It’s the small sacrifice of a seemingly useless purchase that shows determination to leave something of value and beauty behind, born of something inside of us that we feel is worthy of legacy.

The empty notebooks perhaps tell the most noble of tales, bought as an act of defiance amid the onslaught of a world that speaks to us of random, earthly insignificance, an indifferent universe, and dead gods.

The empty, dusty notebooks you never fill are those that call the world a liar, for there is as much longing of the heart, profundity of thought, and depth of emotion on the blank page perhaps more than any other.

While there is yet time, you may impose the will of your intent on these blank pages, but if you never get the chance, or find your words unable to be shared in the end, they are no less a legacy to say something to the world, however joyous or painful.

Your work may be unfinished, Writer, but you are never incomplete.

Along This Foggy Coast

They will not let me see the world, these fickle and capricious gods, but I can hear the ocean’s ever-song serenade the sunrise.

The solitude is welcome, but loneliness is its shadow.

A gull’s melancholy call summons the rest to wake, and in the distance, the prayer-songs of the fishermen carry on the wafting wind, their petitions for full nets and safe returns, and I add my voice to theirs in spirit.

The hissing surf trades my future hopes for barnacled memories that spin on the restless waves. They say I must rejoin this weary world, leaving sand and surf behind as I gather my humanity back to me like children collecting shells and stones.

I bid the foggy morn farewell, and walk back to greet life with a kiss.


Within These Misty Hills

A virgin explorer in a virgin wood, I walk strange paths that coil through the emerald, jade, and peridot sprouts of new forest rising from the wildfire’s weary ashes. They’re coated with the mist that descends in a chilled cloud, draped across the ancient summits of stone like a blanket draped on an old man who died in his favorite chair.

Tender tendrils of cloud and mist meet and kiss, and stroll across the lush new ground, using patches of fog like the kerchief dancers who undulate in sinuous, sensuous, serpentine motion before their night fires. They send coded promises of delight to their betrothed in the circle of elders, who smile as they remember their own wedding fires.

Then fire and blood, steel and rage, swept across the land in a raging conflagration, and everyone lost. It’s heat and savage purging holds no sway here, now.

These misty hills gave silent witness to the uproar, and biding their time, shielded a new offering of seed and soil to give the sun as the hills waited to receive me, and the mist surrounds me like curious children.

     Recognition of an ally? Wariness of an enemy?   

Seeing I mean no harm, the mist bids me welcome with a chaste damp kiss, and I feel the magic shift within me, my body suffused with pleasant heat against the chilly morning, and I don’t know whether to laugh or weep at my fanciful imagination.

I expect that in these misty hills, it doesn’t really matter.

The mist will do it with me.