this stuff’s not normal

Oil in Water

Pam Lazos

Chapter Twenty

When they arrived home four hours later, Kori was pacing the kitchen, mad as a wasp and she circled them just as succinctly.

“Where the hell’ve you been?” she demanded of Avery. “And what the hell do you think you’re doing driving Mom’s car? With Gil in it, for God sakes.”

Avery didn’t answer. He walked to the side of the van and slid the door open to reveal the prone body of the newest Tirabi. Gil ran to Kori’s side, grabbing her hand and pulling her over to the van for a closer look. Kori’s face contorted when she glimpsed what was in the back seat.

“Oh, no. No way! We’ve got enough to take care of. She shook her head, refusing to look at the animal.

“Kori, please! Max’s hurt and he’s got nowhere to go.” Gil begged.

“Max! You’ve named him already?” Kori demanded. Gil nodded. Avery looked the other away. “Who’s gonna walk him? Feed him? Pick up his poop?” Kori asked.

“I will,” Gil responded.

“You? You can’t even take care of yourself.”

“Hey, shut up! What’s the matter with you?” Avery said. His eyes smoldered in Kori’s direction, but she met his gaze with equal force.

“We don’t need another dog. I’ve got more than I can handle now.”

“But we do,” Gil protested. “For protection and stuff.”

“No. What we need is for you to get this… thing out of here. Now.”

Gil stomped his foot like an angry colt and stared at his sister. “I hate you, Kori!” He ran to the house and turned, hand on the doorknob, eyes alight with a vortex of unexpressed emotions. “You killed ZiZi, and now you’re going to kill Max, you, you…dog-killer!

He stormed into the house slamming the door so hard the glass rattled in its pane. Avery snorted and shot her a look of disgust before striding into the house after Gil.

Kori stood immobile in the driveway, her breath coming in short quick bursts. Overwhelmed with the weight of her decisions and the lives that depended on them, she dropped to the ground, hung her head in her hands and cried, letting the panic of the last few months gush out like water from an open hydrant. Spent, she stood and braced herself, then walked over to Max who was licking his wounded hip. She sniffed the air and retreated. Max hadn’t had a bath in a while. She reached out a tentative hand and touched the matted fur. He ceased his ministrations and raised a cold nose to her hand which she grabbed reflexively.

“I can’t take care of you.” She tugged his nose and gave it a pat. “I’m sorry.”

A low, piercing moan emitted from Max’s larynx followed by one of a deeper and more menacing pitch through the living room window. Kori looked up in fear. She’d heard that sound before and it could only mean one thing.

“Oh, no.” She ran inside to find Gil on the living room floor, kicking and thrashing at his invisible demons. Avery, responding to the same guttural sounds, ran down the stairs, and seeing Gil’s violent explosion, sprung over the bannister and into the living room with one movement. A flailing Gil threw himself into the leg of the coffee table, banging his head with a whack. Kori stood watching, open-mouthed and helpless.

“Don’t just stand there,” Avery shouted. “Help me hold him.” Avery straddled Gil, restraining his shoulders and turning him on his side. He talked in the soothing tones reserved for a skittish animal. “It’s alright, buddy. You’re alright. Just relax.”

Gil was unresponsive and unwittingly tried to break free of Avery’s grasp, rolling his shoulders and kicking his feet. His eyes fluttered open for a brief instant, then closed to half-mast. He rocked and bucked while Avery sat astride him like a rodeo cowboy. Kori dropped to the floor, entranced by the spectacle.

“Noooooooo,” Gil yelled to the room. “Nooooooo.”

“Kori, Goddamn it. Help me get him on his side,” Avery shouted as Gil wrenched from his grip. “What the heck’s the matter with you.” Kori snapped to life and crawled to them. Gil threw his arced arm into the air and it hit Kori square in the head, knocking her to the ground and taking her breath away. She lay there stunned. Avery wrestled with Gil and spoke to Kori without turning.

“Are you alright?” Kori did not respond. Gil was getting the upper hand in the struggle and Avery couldn’t afford to stop and look at her. “Kori! Are you alright?”

“Yeah, I’m alright,” she said, rising to her knees. She rubbed her head and winced.

Avery had Gil on his side with Gil’s arms locked on either side by the sheer force of Avery’s leg strength. At each attempt to move, Avery clamped tighter. He turned to see Kori kneeling at Gil’s feet.

“Bend his upper leg,” Avery said. She looked up at him with pale, unseeing eyes so he explained. “For circulation.” She nodded, her usually sanguine complexion gone white.

“Get me a pillow,” said Avery. “And a towel.”

Kori threw him a couch pillow and ran to the kitchen for a dish towel. Avery wrapped the pillow in the towel and put it under Gil’s head. Gil had fallen asleep and was snoring. He choked, then coughed, interrupting the sonorous rhythm. Spittle mixed with phlegm ran out of the side of his mouth onto the dishtowel. After a few more cacophonous moments of coughing and throat clearing, he lapsed back into a deep sleep, the snoring marking his passage.

“Go call the doctor,” Avery whispered to Kori.

She didn’t move, but watched Gil sleep, his breathing in rhythm with her own. Avery snapped his fingers in her face. She stood and wobbled to the kitchen holding her head as if she were the one that just had a seizure.

Avery relaxed his leg grip. Gil snored and shifted positions, but did not wake. Avery rubbed Gil’s back in long, slow strokes and spoke softly to him. “It’s alright, buddy. I’m here.”

Kori returned after several minutes, more composed. “The doctor said if he’s sleeping, just let him be and to move anything he could bang his head on in case he has another attack.” Kori moved the coffee table, one end at a time, out of harm’s reach. “He’s sending an ambulance.” She grabbed a blanket off the couch and draped it over Gil. “Maybe he’ll sleep it off.”

She slumped down next to Gil and rubbed his head. “Did he take his meds today?” Avery nodded and Kori ran her hands tenderly through Gil’s hair.

“I’m sorry I was so useless. I never did this before.”

“What?! How is that possible when you live with an epileptic?” Avery asked, staring.

“Mom or Dad was always there,” she said. “They always told me to go away.”

“They never did that to me,” he said. “I think I was eight or nine the first time I saw him do it,” Avery said, no trace of malice.  He released his leg hold on Gil whose snoring had reached epic proportions, and sat, cross-legged behind his brother.  He grabbed a pillow off the couch and propped it behind Gil’s back, then laid down behind him.

“You can go. I’ll stay with him,” Avery said.

Kori shook her head. The whole episode had rattled her more than she cared to admit, but she sat down anyway. “I’ll stay, too.” She tucked the blanket under Gil’s chin.

“Avery, what were you thinking taking Mom’s car? And that…. ” she nodded in the direction of Max outside.

“I took a look at the checkbook. I know it’s not like you said. We need money, Kori.”

Kori folded her hands to hide the fact that they were trembling.

“Hey. It’s not your fault,” Avery said. “Just bad luck. I mean, how many kids our age have gone through half the stuff we’ve been through in the last two months. This stuff’s not normal.” He said the last bit with an air of authority that made Kori burst into giggles.

“What’s so funny?”

“I don’t know. Nothing. Everything.” She sighed and turned her neck from side to side, working the kinks out. “You’re right. We do need money. But you can’t work for it. You need a scholarship…”

“Stop, already. You’re not telling me something I don’t know. It’s just that if we starve to death, I’m not going to be able to make much use of a scholarship, will I?”

“Don’t be ridiculous. We’re not going to starve to death.”

“I know that. But we could lose our house. And maybe get split up. What would that do to Gil?” They looked in unison at their brother.

“The house is paid for. They bought it outright with money from one of Dad’s inventions. We’ll always have a place to live.”

“Yeah, but we’ll soon have taxes to pay. And then there’s everything else.”

“I’ve got some new clients. Robbie said he’d send money. And we should be getting the insurance money soon. As soon as they finish the investigation…”

“I wish they would have planned better,” Avery said.

“They probably thought there was time.” Kori said. “All Dad needed was one big invention….” She ran a finger up and down the carpet pile, a sad, strange look on her face.

“There’s thousands of dollars sitting out back,” Avery said. “It could hold us over.”

Kori walked to the window. The landfill sat off in the distance shrouded by trees. Patches of corn, grown in rotation to keep the soil healthy, dotted the landscape. A dozen dairy cows walked single file along a fence playing a game of follow the leader. “We can’t be sure that it’s not all connected, Avery. The porch. The oil. And if it is, we’ll put ourselves in danger again.” She stared out the window. Choice had immobilized her.

“No we won’t. I’ll limit my sales to one customer.”

“No,” she whispered, kneeling down next to him. Gil snorted, but did not wake.

“We’ll figure something else out.” Kori smiled, hoping she appeared confident. “We’ll wait. Something’ll come along. You’ll see.” She smiled and squeezed his hand.

“Alright,” he said. “But in the meantime, can I drive?

copyright 2012

to be continued. . ..

to read what came before click here

100 things

Journal THAT

a guide to writing

Cynthia Gregory

Every once in a while I get the feeling that I’ll crawl right out of my skin unless I clean out a closet. Nothing makes me happier than to fill bags and bags of unused stuff to haul off to the Goodwill store, where they always ask me if I want a receipt and I always say no. I have a theory is that everything ends up where it needs to be and if I don’t need it, it doesn’t belong to me, and how could I possibly take  a receipt for someone else’s stuff?

Closet cleaning. It’s a useful skill. Some people like a clean stovetop or a clean floor; I like a tidy closet. This isn’t just me being obsessive – well maybe, but I like to think that I am not so much a collector as an experiencer. I am not so much interested in getting stuff as I am in having insights and impressions wash over me like high tide on a blue moon.

Once, when I lived in Pennsylvania, I tried to temp my Amish neighbor into letting me take photographs of her beautiful young sons with their straw hats and wide blue trusting eyes. “For later, when they grow up, to remember them by,” I said, and she turned me down flat. “It’s not our way,” was all she would say. And I got it. She didn’t need  to take measure of the moment to save it for later. She wasn’t keeping a piece of now to reminisce; she was fully present. I liked that. I wanted to emulate that.

So, I like to throw/give stuff away. Make no mistake, I don’t exactly shun materialism, indeed, I find that a certain measure of pretty things make me happy and content. However, truth to tell, I find that I can’t quite think as clearly or creatively when things all around me are jumbled up and drowning in clutter and I can’t find my car keys.

Writing is like that, which is why I think I’s so important to write. A lot. If not every day, then several times a week, at least. It’s not because all that practice makes you a better writer, even though it does. It’s not because all the best writers do it and you’ll become  a best seller by osmosis, because that’s just silly.  No, writing every day is important because it gets all the clutter out of your head so that when you have something really important or profound or dazzlingly brilliant to say, it will be seen as diamonds sparkling on the sand, instead of dull objects half obscured beneath a verb-dump.

Timed writing exercises or list making exercises are great ways to purge the shrunken tee shirts and torn jeans of your brain. Oh sure, you think you’ll wear them again, but you’re just kidding yourself. They’re hanging out reminder you that the time is passing you by and those jeans will still be waiting there for you. Some day.

I used to think that I need to save my creative stuff up, like there was a limited supply of juicy ideas. You laugh, but it’s true. I thought, “well, I’ll just save that good idea for later, because then I’ll really have time to develop it and it will so rock.” It seems strange to think that now, but why else would I want to withhold my creative spark? Because, I thought, maybe that creative sliver of divine creative spark might be too good or not good enough to share with the world.

Let me just make one thing perfectly clear: there is no shortage of good ideas. If you use up one good idea, three will appear in its place. It’s when you stuff a good idea or ignore a good idea, that they stop flowing in through the open window of your mind. So use them up! Fast! And then use them some more!

And you know what else?  When you use up all your good ideas, when you pour them onto the page like good maple syrup on homemade sourdough pancakes, you’ll get to a place much sweeter than the place you’re at now. I totally promise.

Do this: write a list of the 100 things you know for sure how to do. I bet you’ll dash off ten things you’re good at without breaking a sweat. You’ll push on to twenty and start to chug. Climbing up to thirty, a little voice inside your head will start to sound like The Little Train That Could. Forty? You may feel like giving up. But here’s what you get when you push past the point that you thought was the outer edge: the ideas dam has burst and they start to flow fast and frenetic and suddenly you see the wisdom in the 100. It’s not the first or second or even the fifth ten things, it’s the ones past where you thought you knew where you were going that are the really interesting ones.

You can do this for a year. Write about the 100 things you look for in a soulmate. The 100 things you learned in college. The 100 places you want to visit while you still inhabit the planet. This is important stuff. Not because of the things themselves, but  because of the process of learning to open up to the place in your heart that exists beyond everything you think you know. It’s the stuff beyond that, that gets really good. Use it up! Use it all up as it comes in.  You can never use it up completely. Unless you want to, and that’s an entirely different choice, baby.

unloading the booty

Oil in Water

Pam Lazos

Chapter Nineteen

Avery and Gil saddled up with baseball caps, and sunglasses, and sporting dog collars wrapped around their wrists and calves, rode off into the clear light of day in search of fortune.

Three hours later, they rode home, exuberant with the success of unloading the entire booty. Avery had pitched them to the owners of three different hardware stores and left with each believing that no self-respecting dog owner could be without one.

“This calls for a celebration, Gil,” Avery said. “There’s a Rita’s Water Ice just up the road. Gelati?” Gil nodded, irrepressible, and bobbed and weaved the whole way to Rita’s.

The boys rode home in the daze following a good sugar dose. Gil smiled, trails of chocolate gelati on his mouth smiling with him.

“You gotta wash your face and change your shirt before Kori sees you,” Avery said as they parked their bikes. Ignoring Avery, Gil ran inside to find his sister.

“Kori? Where are you?” He checked the basement, but it was dark. He ran to the hallway stairs and yelled into the air above them, “Kori.”

Avery joined him at the base of the hallway stairs. Gil looked perplexed.

“Robbie’s car’s gone. She probably finished those wedding invitations and went to deliver them. Which means…” Avery smiled wide and stared at Gil, arms folded.

“What?” Gil said, eyes wide with anticipation.

“Which means she won’t be home for a couple hours going over the changes.” Avery rubbed his hairless chin in contemplation. “I got an idea,” Avery said. “But first you need to get cleaned up.”

➣➣➣

Half an hour later, Avery climbed in behind the wheel of Ruth’s minivan. Wearing his father’s lightweight overcoat and hat, Gil slipped into the front passenger seat and onto the phone books Avery had stacked, enabling Gil to be higher than the dash board. He struggled with the seat belt until Avery snapped it into place. Three fifty-five gallon drums, one oil, two gas, were loaded in the back. It had taken a makeshift ramp and their combined strength to roll the drums in and now there was no time left for second thoughts.

“You ready?” Avery asked, hands gripping the wheel.

“Kori’s going to be pissed,” Gil said, rocking.

“Not if she doesn’t know, she won’t,” Avery replied. Gil shook his head and wrung his hands together, moaning softly.

“Easy, Gil. It’s no big deal. I can drive, but I need an adult with me. So sit there and try to look old. No cop’s going to stop me with my dad in the car.” He cocked his head and looked at Gil for emphasis. Gil nodded and stared straight ahead. Avery crawled out of the driveway and onto the street.

“Oh, no!” Gil shouted. Avery looked in the direction Gil was pointing.

“Jesus, it’s Aunt Stella,” Avery said, ducking down in his seat. Stella was walking back to her house, sorting through the mail, her back to the street. Gil moaned and Avery put the window up. He crawled past Aunt Stella’s house then gunned the engine, disappearing over the hill before she looked up. Avery glanced in the rearview mirror long after they were out of sight; Gil turned around to see if they were being followed.

“She’s not going to run after the car,” Avery said. “I don’t even think she saw us.”

Gil mulled this over a moment then broke into laughter so contagious that Avery started laughing so hard that he violated the first rule of driving:  keep your eyes on the road.

“Look out!” Gil shouted.

Avery’s head snapped back so fast he could feel the air around him swirl. He cut the wheel and zigzagged right, grazing the hip of a mangy-looking dog now limping to the side of the road.

“Stop,” Gil screamed. “Avery, stop!”

“Shut up!” Avery said. He cut the wheel hard to the left, and the combined weight of the drums sprang to life, bolting in the opposite direction and wreaking havoc on a suspension system already under duress. The van bucked and moaned and after much screeching of tires, Avery skidded to a halt.

Gil bolted toward the injured animal now lying on a soft patch of grass under a tree. He knelt down, shed his father’s coat and pillowed it under the dog’s head. He scratched its ears, hummed softly, and placed a hand on the dog’s hip. The dog licked Gil’s hand in return.

“Gil!” Avery parked at the curb, got out and ran to check the back hatch for damage. The walls of the van had been scuffed in the pandemonium, the drums dented, but the lids remained secure. Avery breathed a sigh of relief then turned to Gil and the stray.

“Gil, we can’t keep him.”

“We have to. He doesn’t have a collar and he needs a vet. And you have to take him because you almost killed him.” Gil eyes grew wide, his face resolute. Avery leaned over and scratched the dog behind the ears. He tried to examine the dog’s hip, but the animal winced and pulled away so Avery withdrew his hand. He looked at Gil’s pleading eyes and his own softened.

“Alright. Let’s take him to the vet and get him checked out. He probably needs shots, too,” Avery said, wondering how he was going to pay for it. Gil smiled so big that Avery could feel the force of it.

“I guess that ramp’s going to come in handy for the second time today,” Avery said and trotted off to the car to retrieve it.

 copyright 2012

to be continued. . .

to read what came before, click here

simple arithmetic

Oil in Water

Pam Lazos

Chapter Eighteen

The walk-out basement was light and airy, one wall comprised completely of French doors, the opposite wall built into the bedrock below the house. Kori’s drafting table faced out to the back yard and the bucolic setting where, beyond the horizon a decomposing and noxious mountain hid at the edge of her tranquility, its spawn leaching exponentially into the groundwater while she worked.

Avery bounded down the stairs. “What are you doing?”

Kori was draped over the table. “A wedding invitation for Stacey Clinghoffer.”

“That cow?” said Avery. “Who would marry her?” Kori stifled him with a look. “Hey, Kori?” .

“What?”

“Since you’re bringing home the bacon, I want to do something to contribute – other than every single menial, yet necessary, task that goes into running a household, that is.”

“Why can’t you talk in English? I’m not sure I even understood what you just said.”

“That means, I don’t mind cooking and cleaning and helping with the laundry, but you’re not sticking me with all of it.” Avery picked up the medicine ball and bounced it off the wall.

“I never said you had to be my personal slave. It would be nice, but….”

“I was thinking of selling off all that gas and oil out in back of the barn. We must have more than a hundred of those fifty-five gallon drums. It would take a long time for us to use it all. We may as well make some money with it. At least until Robbie’s checks start coming.”

“We don’t need any trouble, Avery. I just paid off the porch repair.” She paused to look at her work. “As long as I keep getting jobs, you don’t need to. We’ll be all right. Just worry about school. You need the grades.”  She flashed her steel blue eyes at him.

“I have the grades.”

“Yeah, well.” Unlike her average self, Avery was always a straight A student. Kori thought he could simply sleep with a book under his pillow and still get an A. And although he didn’t have Gil’s ingenuity when it came to inventions, he could recreate either from drawings or Gil’s verbal direction, anything Gil envisioned. Kori seethed at the ease with which Avery excelled, but then she discovered that art was her forte and forgave her brother his gifts.

“I was also thinking of creating a web page to sell some of Gil’s contraptions on the Internet. You know, he’s got that state-of-the-art juicer. And now that dog collar thingee,” he said, repeatedly tossing the ball. “A couple other things kicking around in the garage. Maybe some of the local hardware stores would want something.”

“Sounds like a plan.” Kori looked up at the incessant noise. “Could you please stop bouncing that ball. It’s hard to concentrate.”

Avery nodded. “I’m going to get started on the web page right away.”

“Let me know if you need help with the graphics,” Kori said.

Avery stood looking at her, but said nothing.

“What?”

“I could help with the checkbook, too, if you want. Especially if I’m going to start selling stuff. I’ll need access to the house account. For the deposits.” Kori didn’t even look at him.

“Robbie told you to do that, didn’t he?” she said.

Had Kori not suddenly been swamped with the responsibility of raising her siblings, the fact that she couldn’t balance a checkbook wouldn’t have bothered her. She could care less how much money she had as long as it was enough for art supplies. But phone, gas and electric bills, not to mention groceries, cost much more than art supplies and the need to know exactly how much money she had in her checking account took on new significance. She’d already been denied the use of her Mac card at the grocery store once and had to use a credit card to buy the weekly groceries because of bad planning. She was furious, and later determined there were insufficient funds in the account as a result of a simple arithmetic error on her part.  Still she was too embarrassed to ever shop at that store again.

“Did he?”

Avery’s lips formed a tight line and he nodded once.  When Kori didn’t answer, he went upstairs. Kori could hear him banging around in the kitchen. She wanted to jump at the offer, but to turn the checkbook over with a zero balance and not look like a moron would be tough. He’d press her to sell off that stupid oil.

“Avery!” she yelled up the stairs.

“What?”

“Let me think about it,” she said. Avery walked halfway down.

“Okay. Well do you mind if I take your car? I want to take a ride over to Cohen’s Hardware and see if I can unload a couple dog collars.”

Relieved to switch topics, Kori he tried to sound motherly, but remembered those first days, itching to get behind the wheel. She’d go anywhere with one of her parents:  the gas station, the grocery store, even the dump, just for a chance to drive .  “You don’t even have your license.”

“I have my permit.”

“For which you need a licensed driver.” She gave him a look, but wanted to giggle, and turned away before she lost her composure. “Take your bike.”

“Fine!” Avery stomped up the steps.

“Take Gil with you,” Kori yelled after him.

 copyright 2012

to be continued. . .

to read what came before click here. . .