knit this: words, dreams, stories


a guide to writing

cynthia gregory

Have you given yourself over to a brand new, never-been-done project? It’s tricky business. A couple of years ago, I decided that I was going to knit a sweater. I could see it in my head, the seafoam green color, the nubby texture. When I told a friend of my intention, she asked if I was an accomplished knitter. “No,” I replied. “I’ve never done it.” She gave me a funny smile. Then she said, “Well, maybe you should start with a scarf.”  First I was offended, but then I took her advice and shopped for a pair of needles, an instruction book, and some beautiful skeins of yarn, then went on to knit a series of fabulous scarves, which I then gave away as Christmas gifts. The first ones were something only I would wear, but they got better with time and effort.

Oh, I know what you’re thinking: knitting is not writing. But you know, maybe it is. You start where you start, and each time you do it, it become a bit easier, a little less freakish. Keep at it long enough, you become adept, and your new passion will give you a glow. Look at a hand-knitted sweater closely; it will reveal a story to you. Was the hand that made it loose and confident, or was it tense and fighting the yarn? Knit one, purl two.

There is always a learning curve, whether you’re knitting or writing or making paella. Don’t beat yourself up. Start at the beginning. Make an effort. Take a giant leap of faith. You may not be accomplished in the beginning, but make an honest effort. Become a channel of the spirit of the thing and eventually, with enough practice, your hand will relax and the yarn will flow.

There may be times when you’ll look at your journal and be tempted to pull a string and unravel the whole mess. It isn’t what you thought it would be. The words fall heavily on the page, tight as turds. It isn’t the beautiful creation you intended. But you cannot judge these things. What would a teacher say about your knitting, your journaling? She would be gentle, she would be kind. She would say, “That’s very nice, this here. You see where you did this so beautifully? And here – you can do better than this. Pay attention. Practice.”

At lunch one day, my friend Kate told me that she has kept a journal for twenty years, consistently, except for one year. “What happened,” I asked, curious about that empty year. “I had a room mate,” she replied. “I found out that when I wasn’t home, she ready my journal without my permission.” This was a violation of the worst kind. I sympathized. Journals are not something to share randomly; they are an intensely private affair. Kate’s roommate had found a string, pulled it, and unraveled a precious creation.

In a way, it is easy to understand the temptation of the roommate. There is something pure and delicious and overwhelmingly seductive about the discovery of uncensored thoughts. When we’re small, we’re programmed to not say certain things, not to even think them. So we exile such thoughts to an underground of sorts, in order to gain acceptance from the people who have the power to dole out or withhold love. But the years trickle by and as adults, the thoughts don’t just evaporate, they go underground. Therapy is one route to release them, journaling is another. Journaling can become an outlet for the millions of thoughts jumbled in our heads. We may not wish to acknowledge them, but the thoughts are there nevertheless, and it feels good to get them down on paper. Very good. Soon, if you give yourself permission to get used to creating a personal narrative, journaling become s a delicious habit.

Once you get used to writing in your journal, you may find that you want to keep that sacred text with you at all times. You carry it around in your purse, your bag, your car, the way little grannies carry around their tapestry bag of knitting needles and yarn. When you are waiting on line at the DMV, lunching on a park bench, sitting on a bus; you’ll pull your journal out and look around for a moment and then move the pen across the page, knitting words, narratives, belief, into something lasting. You may even find yourself arriving early to appointments, just to give yourself that space of time to sit quietly, to write.

After Kate and the intrusive roommate were no longer sharing a living space, she began to journal again. You see, the evil roommate couldn’t stop my friend from keeping a journal, for the desire to write was too strong and the satisfaction from having written was too sweet. Now, as if confessing, she tells me that she doesn’t record her thoughts every day, but still, she journals. “Some journals are a single year,” she says. “Some journals contain two years.” She journals for the peace it gives her, the gifts she will one day make of this deep art to her children.

Kate doesn’t journal daily, but she writes often, and keeps her journal on the table beside her bed so that before she sleeps, she can place her thoughts where she can see them, touch them, keep them in a safe place. She, and you, and me, we create something when we journal.

Knit one, purl two.

to be continued. . .

the idealist, revisited

copyright 2011/all rights reserved


a novel by



Dave Hartos scrambled eggs over a low flame, his broad shoulders leaning into the alchemical task as the runny, yellow liquid sizzled into tangible shape.  Satisfied with their consistency, he scooped two heaping portions onto plates and flushed the pan with water, scaring the steam out of it.

Sonia found him at the sink, still holding the pan, staring out the window.  She approached on silent feet, wrapping her arms around his waist, a difficult task given her considerable girth around the mid-section.  Even at 5’8′, her lips reached only as high as his shoulder blades so she planted a kiss between them.  Hart set the pan down and scooped her up.

“Soon my fingers won’t touch back here.” He laughed.

Sonia smacked him, then sniffed the air.  “Mmmmm.  Lightly scrambled with cheese.”  She flopped down at the table and pulled the heaping plate to her.  “Besides.  You can’t care that much if you’re serving me portions like this.”  She spread blackberry preserves on toast and bit into it with unbridled delight.

Hart rubbed her belly, the size of a bowling ball, in slow, concentric circles, then stopped.

“Felt that, did ya’?”  She moved his hand to the side and he felt the baby kick again.

“Stronger every day.”  He kissed the spot and was rewarded with a light jab to the face.


“You’re a glutton for punishment,” she said, shoveling a forkful of egg into her mouth.  “So.  Tell me.  What strange and dangerous task awaits you?  Where’s he sending you?”  Sonia’s eyes watered and she became preoccupied with her juice.

Hart set her glass down and took both her hands.  “Iraq.  I’m off to Iraq.  It should only take two weeks, less if things go well, and then I swear I won’t leave your side for a second until the baby’s in college.  Not even when you have to go to the bathroom.”  He managed a weak smile.

“David. . . I was kidding.  I knew you were going away, but. . . .”  Her eyes turned hard.  “Bicky’s idea, I presume?”

“Desert life’s tough on machinery.  Some of the older rigs have problems.  Akanabi volunteered to help get the equipment up to speed.”

“Volunteered?  Since when does a corporation volunteer to do anything?”  She spat out the words, sat back and folded her hands over her belly.  Dark circles hung beneath Sonia’s hazel eyes, clutching weariness to them like a baby blanket.

Hart said, “What’s good for Akanabi is good for the country.  The money they make will help them build their infrastructure.”

“You’ve been brainwashed,” Sonia huffed.  “Likely in response to toiling under the close tutelage of my father for the last seven years.”

Hart stood and refilled his coffee.  “I’ve got to assess the rigs and decide what needs to be torn down.  I can’t do it from here, Sonia.  I have to see them for myself.”

“And I guess Akanabi’s going to do the rebuilding, right?”  She wiped her mouth with a napkin, stood, and stretched her back.  “You know what I find so repugnant?  The war had barely begun when American contractors were staking their claims to rebuilding the country.  Don’t you find that attitude a bit imperialistic.  I mean, shouldn’t the Iraqis make those kind of decisions?”

“Sonia.  Please.  It’s not that simple.  If that country is ever going to get on its feet, it needs outside assistance.”

“Assistance.  Here’s how we assisted.  We bombed them into infancy in the first Gulf War, took out their power stations and hospitals, bombed the crap out of their water supply stations.  Their barely crawling because of our assistance.

Hart leaned back and took a sip of his coffee.  “Two weeks and I’ll be back.  I promise.”  “Somebody else can go.  Someone who’s not about to have a baby.”  She wrapped a hand around her throat to stall the inner turmoil threatening to jump her voice.

“There is nobody else.”


“Sonia.  No more.”

He brushed the hair back from her long, angular face and  kissed her open mouth.  She pulled back to speak, but he shushed her as one does with an agitated child, then kissed her again.  She broke free and sat down.

“What happened to the idealist I fell in love with?” she asked.

“Baby, you fell in love with a chemical engineer.  This is what we do.”

“It’s not all you do.”

“No, but it makes way more money than most things.” Hart said.  “What if I couldn’t afford to buy you the things you’re used to?  What then?”

“Money is not something we need, David.  Time is.”  She took her plate to the counter, dumping the eggs in the sink.

“I don’t want to leave you.  I just don’t have a choice.”

“All we have are choices,” she murmured, but the hostility was gone from her voice.  She rinsed her plate and ran the garbage disposal.  He came up behind her and massaged her neck, lightly at first, and then with more pressure.  Sonia leaned against the sink and gave over to his healing hands, allowing her neck to fall to the side.

His nimble fingers poked and prodded, kneading the muscles, banishing the knots.  “I promise when I get back we’ll talk about this until you can’t stand it anymore.”

“You could be a healer, David, with hands like those.  You don’t have to work in oil.”

Hart leaned into Sonia’s hair and kissed her ear.  “Friends?”  She tried to say something but he had moved to her lower back, rubbing with great care.  Sonia moaned.

“David, what if…”

“When I come back, we’ll talk to your father.  Maybe there’s something else I can do.  Who knows?  I may have to give him another year, but we’ll set a definite date.  I promise.”  He turned her face to him and kissed her nose.  “The best part of my job was always the field work, but I’m less inclined to go tearing around the world now,” he said, moving his hands down to her belly.

Hart pulled Sonia over to a chair and sat her gently on his knees.  She put her arm around his shoulders and rested her head in the crook of his neck, listening to the steady rhythm of his breathing.  He smiled and whispered in her ear.

“I’m still the same idealist I was when you met me.  I just got sidetracked is all.”

to be continued. . .

empty your mind


a guide to writing

cynthia gregory

Sometimes, it feels like that are too many words in the wide world to squeeze down to the size of a journal page. At other times, it feels as if all of the words have turned to smoke and there is literally nothing left to say. The universe is eternally creative; you just have to remember that when you approach the blaring, blazing, empty white page of your journal. Emptiness is an illusion. This is always more.

There is a wonderful parable that I think about when the emptiness arrives. This is a story of a teacher and a student. A new student comes to a teacher one day and begins to tell the teacher all the places he has studied, and all the wonderful teachers he has had. The master listens patiently and then begins to make tea. When the tea is ready, she pours the tea into the student’s cup until it begins to overflow and run across the floor. The student watches the chaos of the overflowing teacup and shouts, “Stop, stop! The cup is full; you can’t get any more in.”

The teacher stops pouring and says very calmly, “You are like this cup; you are full of ideas about knowledge and skill. You come and ask for teaching, but your cup is full; I can’t put anything in. Before I can teach you, you’ll have to empty your cup.”

Periodically, you have to forget everything you know about a subject. You may have studied writing for years. Or, maybe not.  At the very least, you were forced to sit through years of grammar and composition training in school where you were taught how to spell, craft a sentence. As a writing teacher, I’ve often told my students to quit trying so hard to sound like a smarty pants.  Somewhere along the line,  we developed the idea that to write well, we must adopt the voice of an expert with a PhD in microeconomics or some such thing. In fact, the opposite is true.

Have you ever read A. A. Milne? He is best known for his books about a bear named Pooh who is much beloved by a boy called Christopher Robbin. Milne also wrote some astonishing poetry, and he had a penchant for writing everything in lowercase. Sometimes without punctuation. The trick to his writing is that it seems so simply and elementary. In fact, its complexity is brilliant. His work seems to be written for an audience of five year olds, but if you look closely, the beauty of his prose staggers.

Pablo Picasso said that every child is an artist. It’s true, isn’t it? A child is completely open to the creative process, she resides wholly and completely in the Now moment. She does not project her thoughts to tomorrow, or think critically about how to shape a hand or what color to paint the sun. She lives completely and utterly Now, and is willing to put it all out there without filters, without revisions, without guile. You must approach your journal with the same integrity.

Empty your mind and release all expectations. Forget what you wrote yesterday, don’t give a nanosecond of thought about what you might fill your page with tomorrow. Just show up and use whatever material is at hand. Look at it, find the shape of it, bounce it around in your mind for a moment and then put it on the page. Don’t think about what it means about you; that is none of your business. Don’t worry about what someone might think if they snoop in your very private, very personal journal. Don’t wonder if the Nobel Prize committee will publish your journals in their entirety when you are dead and gone, dazzled by your genius.

Empty your mind, pour every drop out of your cup. What is your cup so full of that it crowds out the possibility of an original thought?

We all have incredibly complex lives. Sometimes it is astonishing when you consider what it requires to navigate through a single day. All of our busy lives and the lives of those we love requires thinking, and organizing and planning. Add to the responsibilities of a single day, a lifetime of memories, or worries great and small, anticipation of future events, future plans, all the might-haves and could-be’s. There is so much crowded in our cups!

But then, we have moments of clarity. We empty our cups and we just are. Have you noticed  that when you’re completely absorbed by a project, whether its painting the fence or writing a letter or playing a Bach prelude, that time falls away? That you are no longer aware of sounds outside of the room, of the pattern of your breathing in and breathing out, of anything but the melody? You can lose hours and gain lifetimes of pleasure by simply being present to the creative process. This is the paradox: only when you empty your cup, are you open to the possibility of filling it.

Each time you approach your journal take a moment to empty your mind to all but the intention to write. Let the words come. Trust that they will. A bit like magic, it works.

 to be continued. . .

falling fast: in suspended animation

copyright 2011/all rights reserved


a novel by



Aunt Stella busied herself at the stove making hot tea for Kori and Avery, warm chocolate milk for Gil.  She waddled back and forth between the stove, the microwave and the refrigerator, pulling out milk, mugs, tea bags, honey, and checking the clock on the microwave every thirty seconds.  If time were about to stop, she needed to be the first to know.

“Can we call Mom and Dad again?” Kori asked.

“You already left three messages, honey.”  She checked the microwave clock again.

“Well, can we have them paged?” Avery asked, walking into the kitchen.

“Anything else burning?” Kori asked.

“Nope.  Just the porch still,” Avery said.

“You don’t want your parents getting into an accident on I-95 because they’re racing home to you kids, do you?  You’re safe here.  The firemen will take care of the rest.”  Aunt Stella set a plate of chocolate chip cookies in the middle of the table.  Gil reached over and grabbed three at once.

Kori smacked his hand.  “One at a time.”

“Oh, for Godsakes, the boy’s starving.  Let me fix you a sandwich, Gilly.”  Aunt Stella shuffled back to the refrigerator and pulled out imported ham, Swiss and provolone cheeses, prosciutto, salami, sliced thin, a hunk of asiago and a giant loaf of bread.

Avery left the room; Kori’s gaze followed him.  She bit her nails.

Aunt Stella cut chunks of bread with vigor, a woman in need of a purpose.  She filled a basket, set the meat and cheeses on a plate, and put it all on the table, checking the kitchen clock this time, and then the clock on the stove.  She knew time hadn’t stopped, not yet, but she could feel its relentless grind in that direction and the thought made her throat thick.

Stella sniffed the air:  “I smell smoke.”

Kori peered around the door jamb and across the living room to where Avery stood on the front stoop, watching the fire.  The open door allowed the smokey night air full ingress.

Like a giant luxury liner, Aunt Stella turned toward the smell.  “Anything else?” she asked Avery.

“Still just the porch.”  Avery shut the door and returned to the kitchen.

Gil reached for the bread and Aunt Stella, happy for something to do, intercepted him and made him a sandwich.  He devoured it.

“Who else is hungry?” she Stella asked.  Avery shook his head and Kori grimaced.

Aunt Stella sighed, letting her gaze slide across the hands of the kitchen clock.  Barely two minutes had passed.  She held out the plate to Avery who took a piece of cheese and placed it on the napkin in front of him.  Aunt Stella rolled her eyes and set the plate in front of Kori who preferred her fingernails.  Aunt Stella turned her gaze to meet the stove clock behind her.

“Well, children, the party’s got to be winding down by now.  Let’s give your parents another holler, eh?”  She padded to the phone.

“Nice slippers.”  Gil smiled at Aunt Stella’s feet.  Giant Mickey Mouse heads sat atop each one.

“I’ll get you some next time I go to Disneyworld, Gilly,” she said.  She handed the phone to Avery.

“Why doesn’t Kori call,” Avery said.

“Because you’re the man of the house,” Aunt Stella replied.  “At least until Robbie gets home.”

After a few rings, Ruth’s voice mail picked up.  “Hey Mom.  It’s Avery again.  Call us as soon as you get this message.  We’re still at Aunt Stella’s.”  Avery hung up the phone and handed it back to Aunt Stella.

Gil took a piece of bread and made another sandwich while Stella poured him more milk.  “Where the heck are they?  It’s almost midnight,” Avery asked.

“Ah,” Stella said, “now the shoe’s on the other foot.”

“I’m not the curfew abuser.”  Avery folded his arms and raised his eyebrows at Kori whose response was drowned by Robbie’s entrance into the house.

“What the hell happened over there?” he barked.  A wave of relief passed palpably through the room as if Robbie’s mere presence alleviated all woes.  Even though he was younger than Kori by two years, he was in charge when Ruth and Marty were not around.  Gil ran over and threw his arms around Robbie’s muscular torso before scuttling back to his seat to finish eating.  Everyone but Gil started talking at once.  Robbie raised his hand; his eyes settled on Kori.

She recounted the story beginning with Gil’s imperative need to leave the house, but broke down soon after.  Robbie put an arm around Kori’s shoulder, and looked at Avery who finished the story with the call to Ruth’s cellphone.

“Have you talked to the police yet?” Robbie asked.

“Yes.  They’re coming back later for a statement,” Aunt Stella said.

“I give it two stars.” Gil said.

“Give what two stars?” Kori asked.

“The explosion.”

“Gil, somebody just blew up the porch.  The windows even shattered,” Kori said.

“That’s why I only give it two,” Gil said, taking another bite of a cookie.

“I don’t get it,” Robbie said.  “Why would someone bother with us?”

“I know,” Gil said.

Avery shrugged while Kori gnawed at her pinky nail.  Robbie waited for Gil to swallow.

“They were looking for the drawings.”

“What drawings?”

“Dad’s waste-to-oil machine.”

“What would they want with that?” Robbie asked.

“What anybody would want,” Avery said.  “The patent.”

“Oh c’mon,” Robbie said.  “How did anyone even know?”

Avery made a line of defense with a group of crumbs on the table.  “You know all those 55-gallon drums out behind the barn?  There’s gas in a lot of them.  I don’t know if Dad realized how much he’d refined or if he just wanted to give me an opportunity to fatten up my bank account.”  Avery moved the crumbs, rearranging the line formation like a general strategizing his next move.  “I sold some to Cooper’s Gas Station.

“How much?” Robbie asked.

“Four or five fifty-five gallon drums a week for the last couple months,” Avery said.

Robbie burst out laughing.  “So they blew up the porch?”

Avery looked hurt and concentrated on his crumb line.  “Maybe he canceled his deliveries from Akanabi Oil and the company got pissed,” Avery took a deep breath. “Maybe they found out that Marty Tirabi makes better gas then Akanabi, and he doesn’t need to drill a hole to get it.”

“Avery, think about it.  Four fifty-five gallon drums a week is two hundred and twenty gallons.  My tank holds twenty gallons and I fill it once a week.  At that rate, you were giving Mr. Cooper enough to supply a whopping total of eleven people with gas for a week.”  Robbie raised his eyebrows; Avery blushed a fiery red.

“Look.  It’s not like Dad didn’t tell everyone who was even remotely interested all about the TDU,” Robbie said. “There was that magazine article in Omni a few years ago.  So chill out.  It wasn’t your fault.”

Gil sat back and placed his arms over his now-protruding belly.  A big burp escaped and Gil giggled, covering his mouth.  Avery laughed.  Aunt Stella grimaced.

“Excuse me,” Gil said.

“It was pretty damn stupid though,” Robbie said.

Avery’s smile faded and he returned to rearranging crumbs.  Robbie squeezed his shoulder and Avery smiled half-heartedly.

Robbie sighed.  “So how do we tell Dad the drawings are gone?”

“We don’t,” Gil said, rose and walked out the kitchen door.

“Where’s he going?” Kori asked.

A minute later Gil returned with the cylinder tucked under his arm.

“The drawings!”  Avery hugged Gil so hard the boy’s face turned crimson.

“Excellent!” Robbie said, spinning Gil around.  “High five me.”  Gil smacked Robbie’s hand.

“Try Mom and Dad again,” Robbie said.  Kori obliged, but got Ruth’s voice mail.

Robbie bit the inside of his lip in concentration.  “They went downtown so they’ll be coming back I-95.  They may have broken down…. I’m going to go look for them,” Robbie said with an authority belying his twenty-two years.

“I’m coming with you,” Avery said.

“Me, too,” Gil said.

“You stay here, Gilly,” Aunt Stella squeezed his hand.  Gil looked at her with imploring eyes, but her face was resolute.

“No.  I have to go by myself.”

“I’m the one who started this,” Avery said.

Robbie shook his head.  “You gotta stay here to talk to the police when they call.”

“Kori can do that.”

“Avery.  Please.”  Robbie tilted his head in Kori’s direction where an ash-white Kori sat, leaning against the table, hugging herself tightly..

Avery looked at Kori and sighed.  “All right.”

Robbie squeezed Avery’s shoulder and Kori’s hand and kissed Gil on top of the head.  He looked at Aunt Stella who checked her watch and nodded assent.

“C’mon, kids.  Help me make up the beds.  You can sleep here tonight,” Aunt Stella said, standing up.  “I’ll speak to your parents when they call.”

“Thanks, Aunt Stella.” Robbie said.

She touched his cheek.  “Be careful, eh?”

“I’ll be back with Mom and Dad before you guys are finished with the beds.  After a chorus of “goodbyes” and “be carefuls,” Robbie left, the air thick and strange and still in his absence.

“Thank God you were home tonight.” Kori said, hugging Aunt Stella.

“Ditto,” Avery said, kissing her on the cheek before heading upstairs.  Gil fell in, one step behind Aunt Stella, his pockets stuffed with cookies.

“Gilly, you just leave those cookies there until tomorrow,” she said without turning around.  “I don’t want any crumbs in my beds.”

Gil halted in mid-step, wide-eyed, contemplating.  He stared after Aunt Stella for several seconds in disbelief, emptied his pockets and ran up the stairs after her.

to be continued. . .

summer reading: the girl in the garden

To really earn its cred as a good summer read, a book has to perform several functions at one time. First, it must amuse. Second, it must spin a tale of adventure without veering into territory that requires too much thinking while the reader flips pages poolside. Finally, a good summer read must linger like a mouthful of sweet-tart sorbet, dissolving slowly, giving you something to think about. The Girl in the Garden, by Kamala Nair is such a novel.

Nair’s first novel is part coming of age story, part fairytale. The story begins in the present as twenty-something Rakhee is about to leave her fiancé with a note promising she will return when she has taken care of the one shameful thing from her past that she has hidden from him. Who can’t love a beginning like that? From the start, Rakhee is on the run and the reader must follow or be left wobbling in the young woman’s wake.

The narrative of the story quickly shifts from adult Rakhee to ten-year-old Rakhee, whose parents are from India but meet by mutual acquaintance once both are in America. The tale begins to spin during the summer that Rakhee’s parent’s shaky marriage threatens to fall apart and divorce lurks in the shadows of every room, tormenting the girl who prays for nothing more than her family to remain together. Rakhee’s Amma is emotionally unstable and grows increasingly agitated until just as school lets out for the summer, her Amma decides to flee middle America and incidentally, her husband, to travel to her ancestral home in India, taking her daughter with her. It’s just a vacation, she insists, but we never quite believe her promises.

An American girl from the get, Rakhee’s initial experience at the extended family’s compound is a shock. There are suspicious cousins, scary aunts, a harmlessly alcoholic uncle, a semi-lucid grandmother, and a sinister near-relative, all of whom are insane or unhappy or both, and nearly all are guarding family secrets. There are also ghosts, and a jungle that looms at the edge of the family property that harbors the biggest secret of all. There is a girl in the garden, but her existence is wrapped in lies and Rakhee  is told to never venture to the garden because it is dangerous, but Rakhee ignores that lie too, and befriends the girl.

As the summer treads on, Rakhee grows accustomed to India and begins to love her cousins. She pulls at threads of the tattered family secret until it begins to unravel and she comes to know more than a child should of the family shame. She secretly befriends the girl in the garden, and makes plans to help her escape. But then everything begins to spin out of control and her cousin is forced into a marriage to save the family’s fortune, her mother plans to run away with a man from her past, and tries to persuade Rakhee that living in India would be more fun that returning to Minnesota for school in the fall. 

Sometimes exotic, sometimes sentimental, The Girl in the Garden is a story of love and survival. What more could you want for a good summer read?

Review by Cynthia Gregory/

and then it begins

copyright 2011/all rights reserved


a novel by



Marty drove slowly down Market Street and took the on ramp for I-95 South.  The lights of the Walt Whitman Bridge did little to illuminate the ghostly night sky which had assumed the pallor of the thick, stratus clouds, hovering close to the city.  Pockets of swollen cumulo-nimbus clouds floated below the tight formation of stratus’ looking as if they might kiss the Delaware River.

“Looks like a storm’s coming,” Ruth said.  She leaned back against the headrest as the car glided onto the highway.

Traffic was light.  Ruth watched out the passenger window long after the city, vague and foggy with the inclement weather, disappeared from view.  Marty pulled his wife in closer and wrapped an arm around her shoulder, moving over to the slow lane.  Three cars back, a pickup did the same.

“First rate party, Ruthie.”  He gave her arm a squeeze.

“It was, wasn’t it?”  Ruth nuzzled into Marty’s shoulder.

“Remember when we were first married?” he asked.  “I had that little English Ford.  That thing took every bump like it was its last.  Why did we get rid of it?”

“We had Kori. The car barely had room for two, let alone three,” Ruth laughed.  “I really loved that car.”

“I wish I could have kept it for you.”

“We couldn’t afford it, remember?”

“Do you regret all the years you’ve spent with me, Ruthie.  I mean, you could have married someone that had more ambition, money-wise.”  Marty stroked his wife’s hair.

“We have plenty of money.  We own our house, our cars….”

“I’m talking big money.  The kind that lives longer than you do.”

“Marty, you’ve been married to me for twenty-five years and you still don’t know me, do you?”  Ruth squeezed Marty’s thigh, sitting up to her full height.  “Silly man.”  She kissed him on the cheek and he turned to wrangle a full-blown kiss on the lips.  She unbuckled her seat belt, and shifted to wrap her arms around his neck.  Just as she kissed him, the pick up rear-ended them.

“What the….” Marty yelped.

The impact and sudden change of trajectory sent Ruth sprawling.  Marty cut the wheel hard to the left to avoid driving off the road and after a few squeals, set the car right as Ruth crawled back up onto the seat.  Marty checked the rear view mirror.

“Are you alright?” he barked.  Ruth nodded and rubbed her arm which had taken a beating against the dash on the way down.

“Did you hit something?” Ruth asked.  Marty pulled over to the side, but before he reached the shoulder, the pickup nicked them.  Ruth screamed and turned in her seat to see two giant headlights barreling toward them.

“Oh my God,” Ruth yelled.  The pickup made contact and Marty hit the accelerator.  Ruth flew back and forward, banging her head on the dash as Marty cut the wheel.

“Get down.” Marty said.  He tugged at her arm, but Ruth remained steadfast, watching as the pickup dropped back and began weaving back and forth.

“It’s a drunk driver!” Ruth said as the pickup began an erratic, dance between the lanes.

“Marty, he’s coming again!

“You bastard,” he mumbled.  “What the hell does he want?”

“Ruth, get down and hold on,” Marty yelled, and pushed his wife to the floor; he veered back and forth across the lanes, trying to lose the pickup.

Ruth crawled onto the seat to look out the back window.  “Marty, he must be drunk.  Stop the car.  Get the hell out of his way,” said Ruth.  Marty checked his rearview mirror, sped up.

“Ruth,” Marty boomed.  “Get down!”  He shoved her onto the seat as the pickup side-swiped them.  “This son-of-a-bitch doesn’t know who he’s dealing with,” Marty said through gritted teeth.  He slammed down on the accelerator the pickup dropped back.  Ruth peeked at the speedometer.  It read ninety-two miles per hour.

“Marty, slow down.  You’re going to kill us.”

“Better me than him.”

As they rounded the curve, the pickup accelerated and rammed into the back end on the driver’s side.  The impact hurtled Marty’s car, already approaching 100 mph, off the road and through space.  The car flew at first, then hung there for a moment, suspended between the finite and the infinite, between the possible and the impossible, between life and death, and at the exact moment when it seemed that Ruth and Marty Tirabi might float away, gravity reached out and throttled them to the ground.  The car landed with an ear-splitting crash, a cacophony of steel and glass and metal.  A loud hiss emanated from the interior as the air bags expanded.

The pickup switched on its turn signal and pulled to the side of the road behind the Tirabis’ car, but no one emerged from the wreckage.  The driver opened a bottle of Mad Dog 20/20, unscrewed the cap and took a long draw on the bottle.  He burped, said “excuse me” to himself, and sucked down another quarter.  He rubbed the raspberry-colored liquid in his hair, poured some in his hand and flicked it with his fingers at his pants and shirt.  He drained the bottle and threw the empty on the passenger’s side; the last few drops, like Chinese water torture, dripped with excruciating slowness onto the seat.

The driver unbuckled his seat belt, checked himself in the rearview mirror, took a deep breath, and floored it.  There followed a spine-chilling scrunch of metal as the front of the pickup crumpled upon impact with Marty’s bumper.  The Tirabi car lurched forward, condensing further like one last push on the accordion.  The pickup’s air bag sprang to life, engulfing the driver who passed out.  The right tail light of the pickup blinked inexorably in keeping with the rhythm of a heartbeat.

to be continued. . .