He smiled apologetically. Jostled past her. One more wallet.
I’m very excited to announce Ozone and Belongings have been published by Barry Basden, Editor of Camroc Press Review. This is the first time my work has appeared in this journal.
Camroc Press’s editorial emphasis is work that has a deep emotional focus.
These works are in company with several other pieces I’ve gotten published this year that I’ve challenged myself to write since they explore territory that goes far beyond what I’ve written in the past. It’s difficult to be so “naked” in front of a reading public, but it’s taught me about honesty in my work to “go there.”
I hope you’ll take a moment to read these pieces here: http://www.camrocpressreview.com/2013/10/carol-deminski.html
A permanent link to these works will be available on my Published Stories page.
No amount of words can express how wonderful most of the people are here in New Orleans. A few encounters today encapsulate the best of my experiences.
I went out and did some shopping before the holiday, and as I walked down Magazine Street, I stopped to photograph a charming storefront. It was Probst Decorating and Interior Design. I liked their old time lanterns, potted plants and worn brick building combined with green holiday wreaths along with the requisite NoLa bicycles out front.
After taking the photo an older woman looked at me from inside the store – even though the sign on the door said Closed. I walked up to the door and wondered if I was in trouble for taking photos of her store. When I got to the door she said through the closed door, would you like to come in? Yes please, I answered. So she walked into her back workroom to get her door keys then back to the front of the store where she unlocked the door, let me in and started turning on all the lights.
I’m not open today, but I saw you wanted to come in. I don’t keep the door open when I’m here by myself, she said. That turned into a wonderful conversation about how her family has owned this 130 year old building and run this decorating shop in it for the last 60 years, and she has worked in it all 60 of those years. She told me about her mother opening the shop, and how after 60 years she is ready to turn things over to her daughter. She mentioned she makes all the pillows and curtains and is now referred to as “the lady that works in the back.” I joked with her that they only needed to call her one thing: Da Boss. She laughed at that. We said our warm goodbyes and she encouraged me to come back around sometime to visit.
I went across the street to pick up some groceries and walked to the bus stop to grab it going back home. A man approached and struck up a conversation with me while we waited together. He asked me if I was from New Orleans, because he thought I was. When I told him no, but that I’d been in town for about 2 weeks, he asked if I was staying for Mardi Gras. Unfortunately no, I said. That’s too bad, he answered, because I’m about ready to adopt you as a native once you been to your first Mardi Gras. And anyway, he continued, by the end of this conversation we’re gonna be just about family.
And that sums it up for me: we’re all just about family – the human family. New Orleans can be such a great example of how people rise up to meet their humanity. The family of compassionate souls includes people like that woman, making pillows and curtains for 60 years running her decorating shop. Or the man at the bus stop, who got up early today to deliver donated toys to children on his way to work as a painter and said gently yes, he was a little tired. When he shook my hand with his paint covered hand, I felt like I’d never done an honest day’s work in my life.
New Orleans is a very special place, and I’m extremely glad I decided to come here and stay awhile. These vignettes and experiences in the neighborhoods are, I’m convinced, the real gumbo of NoLa with an extra helping of love.
This is a collection of photos of the wonderful people of NoLa I’ve spotted in my wanderings here…please enjoy.
Of course the French Quarter is an endless source of wonderful images of musicians…
This gal sure could sing. She was belting it out without a mic. She projected loud and strong, along with her back up band doing a great job.
The personality of New Orleans pours out of every brick and lantern in the city, and of course from the hard working people…
There are quiet moments when you can’t help but be charmed by such a place….
And take in so many smiles and good wishes…
…yes, these things and more are what gives New Orleans its flavor.
Enjoy this wonderfully moving song by Susan Tedeschi called 700 houses, her impressions of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina…
and Happy Holidays everyone.
Listen to me read this story
It was dark when Traveler wandered into the village. The first thing he did was look for places where he could beg for food and find a warm place to sleep. He trotted past the town’s gas station and the general store which were both closed. He kept going until he smelled something wonderful coming from a ramshackle farmhouse at the end of a tree lined street. He went around back and saw an old woman bent over her stove. He scratched and whimpered at the door.
Hortense looked up and saw a mottled brown mutt on her porch. She turned the porch light on to get a better look.
“Hello boy, where did you come from?”
She looked at the chicken and potatoes browning in her iron skillet and back to the dog who was licking his chops.
“I see there will be two for dinner tonight.”
She cut her portion in half and opened the screen door.
Traveler sat on the kitchen floor while she put the food onto a plate. When she put it in front of him, he wolfed it down in a few bites.
“My Teddy always loved my chicken and potatoes too,” she said. “He was a good boy. We lost him in Korea,” Hortense said.
Traveler cocked his head to let her know he was listening. Humans always seemed to appreciate his listening to them, although he did not understand what the sounds meant. He liked the woman’s voice, it was kind.
“Teddy wanted a dog, but his father wouldn’t allow it. He’s gone now too, so I make my own decisions,” she said by way of muddled explanation.
She pulled a braided mat from under the kitchen table to a warm spot by the stove. “I’ll be in the next room if you need me. I’m glad you’re here. Goodnight.”
When Hortense woke at first light she padded into the kitchen in her robe and slippers. The mat by the stove was empty and the unlocked screen door was ajar. Her head was fuzzy from the night before; she dreamed Teddy came to visit and she wasn’t sure whether or not it was true.
Although she wasn’t hungry, she put on her apron and cooked sausage links and eggs in case Teddy wanted something to eat. Before she finished, the dog reappeared.
“I thought you might want breakfast,” she said.
The woman put the food in front of Traveler and he gobbled it up, glad for something warm in his belly.
“Your father never meant you any harm Teddy,” she said. “He was strict but you shouldn’t have run away. To think you were only sixteen when you joined the Army.”
Hortense shook her head as she pushed the remaining sausage links onto the plate along with the second fried egg. “It hurt me that they never found you; it broke your father for good. We buried an empty casket,” she said. She sat down at the kitchen table.
Traveler licked the plate clean. He went and nuzzled the woman’s hand.
Her tears wet the creases of her cheeks. “I didn’t know he was beating you; I swear it Teddy.”
Traveler put his head on the old woman’s knee. She stroked his ears. “I don’t deserve forgiveness for what happened to you, but I thank the lord you’ve come back to me,” she said.
She shuffled across the floor toward her bedroom. “I’m worn out Teddy. I need to lay my bones down and rest my weary soul.”
Traveler curled up on the mat beside the stove and fell asleep. When he woke, he barked and whimpered for the woman, but she did not rouse to feed him or stroke his ears.
As the long light of the afternoon made shadows on the kitchen floor still she did not come. He nudged the screen door open and went off to hunt frogs by the river.
The boy’s kindergarten laughter rippled out in circles as he rode the painted horses. She didn’t like the merry-go-round, said it made her sick. She organized the bake sale in third grade and read stories in the school library once a month. She was voted President of the PTA that year. In fifth she chaperoned a trip to Washington. At the Lincoln Memorial she cried at the feet of the great leader, moved by his suffering, she said. We went down the staircase, her face in the reflecting pool. I wonder what she saw. Then the news of how she and the boy hurtled off that bridge, her gripping the wheel, pointing the grill of their boxy car down, down until it hit the river. The day of his graduation.
I wanted to share the great news that my story A Hammer and a Nail has just been published by A Twist of Noir.
Although I usually don’t write crime fiction, this story was inside me and just needed to be written. A special thanks to A Twist of Noir’s editor for his guidance as the final version of the story was being crafted.
As always, a permanent link to the story has been added to my publications page.
I’ve never been as heart-sick as the day I shaved Jacob’s beard. It was his twenty first birthday and he had decided to leave our Hassid family for worlds unknown.
Jacob was the last of the six of us, I was a year older than him. We were closer than anyone else in the family. When he told me his decision, I wasn’t surprised. He wanted to be a writer and thought he’d never experience the world if he stayed in the Hassidic community. I didn’t try to talk him out of it, but it frightened me to think of him living away from us.
He packed a suitcase with starched white shirts, black pants and one suit jacket. The silk tallit he had received from our grandfather lay in a velvet pouch atop the clothes. He wore his good cotton tzitzit’s underneath his shirt along with the kippah I had crocheted for him set at a jaunty angle on his head. I had embroidered his name on the side.
He sat on the toilet seat and held a towel across his arms as I made the first tentative snips with a pair of scissors. My hand trembled as the brown wisps fell into the towel he held across his arms. I trimmed the center portion nearly to the bottom of the cleft in his chin. I hadn’t seen that cleft since he was sixteen and he grew fuzz over it. I made my way to his left cheek and as the hair fell away I uncovered the scar he got when he fell off his bike. He was only six and went to the hospital for a few stiches. I held his hand when the doctor sewed him up and Jacob hadn’t cried. His right cheek had a lovely birthmark in the center.
I looked down at the towel covered with his hair and began to cry. He soothed me and said he’d write to me every week and that he would keep me in his prayers.
I took the towel and gathered up his hair. I carefully put it into my father’s discarded tobacco pouch. It still smelled of the sweet cherry leaves he had kept in it for stuffing the pipe he no longer smoked. Jacob made no comment as he watched.
Jacob left the house on a Saturday night while my family was at Shul bringing the Shabbat to a close. Jacob wrote me a note and left it under my pillow with an address and phone number in Brooklyn.
He wrote to me each week as he promised; his letters were filled with details of a world I knew little about. Through his eyes I saw places I had never been before and I marvelled at his ability to adapt so readily to this new life. He took a job as a delivery boy for a deli near the Bowery.
The day he got hit by a car was a Saturday. He was crossing Houston Street with his bicycle. My family did not answer the telephone that day. We were not home when the phone rang – we were in Shul. Jacob broke his leg in two places, but thank god it wasn’t worse; he could have been killed.
We listened to our messages after the sun set. I told my parents I was going to see him; they didn’t argue. The next morning my father drove me to the train station. He gave me two twenty dollar bills and told me to call if I needed anything.
I got out of the train in Manhattan and walked to the subway. I had memorized the directions given to me on the phone by the landlady. Mrs. Weinberg met me at the door and let me into Jacob’s apartment.
I went into the bedroom; he was on the bed with his cast propped up by a pillow. My brother had become thin in the months since I had seen him. His face was pale, and he was obviously still in pain.
“Becca, do you think I’m being punished for working on Shabbat?” Jacob said.
“Don’t talk like that; I’m here to take care of you.” I began to tidy his room and shushed his talk of guilt and the sins he had committed.
Within a week, Jacob was able to walk with his crutches and my cooking helped put some color into his cheeks. In a moment of quiet, he admitted to me that he had second thoughts about his decision to leave. It was difficult to live without the family around him, separated from his community. He had written a few chapters of a novel, but it wasn’t going anywhere.
There was no question, I said, that our parents would want him to live at home until he got better. I thought it would be best for him to come home where we could care for him. Jacob didn’t argue.
My father drove to Brooklyn in our family station wagon. He helped Jacob get into the back seat and laid the crutches beside him. My father kissed him on the cheek and closed the car door without a word.
Eddie Brown sat in a wooden chair with a beat up acoustic guitar over his knee, tapping his foot to the ancient rhythms of the blues. He rocked back and forth in time with his strumming.
“That sweet talking woman, she done lied to me…”
Riley wiped down the bar and then tucked the towel into her apron beneath her bump of a three month grown belly. She had heard all of Eddie’s songs, but she never tired of listening to him sing.
Her four o’ clock regular came in and sat at the end of the bar on the same ripped vinyl stool he’d kept warm for the last few years.
“Hey Frank,” Riley said. She put down a shot glass in front of him and poured a generous helping of whiskey. He downed it in one gulp.
“Thanks Riley. Hit me again, wouldja?” he held up the shot glass and Riley obliged him.
“That’s ten Frank. You know what Sonny said – no more tabs.”
Frank grumbled, “Come on Riley, it’s not like I don’t pay my share. Payday is Friday, you know that.”
“I know, but it’s Sonny’s place and we play by his rules. Are you going to argue with that?”
He thought about it for a moment. “Hell, I guess not.” He took his wallet out and removed a twenty and put it on the bar.
Riley took the twenty and put it in the cash register. She counted out ten singles and put them in front of him. Frank set two dollars aside for her and turned his attention to the silent images of the ball game on the T.V. at the other end of the bar as he nursed his ego and his shot.
Eddie propped his guitar against the chair. “Darlin’ I’m going for a smoke, back in a few.”
“Alright,” Riley said.
After a few minutes she heard a commotion outside. It was the muffled sound of two men arguing, something Riley had heard before, usually at the end of a long night of drinking. She came out from behind the bar and opened the door leading out to the unpaved parking lot.
“You liar,” Sonny was shouting at Eddie.
Sonny turned to Riley and grabbed her by the arm. He squeezed her flesh until it hurt.
“You bitch,” he said through clenched teeth. “After all I’ve done for you?”
“Sonny, you’re hurting me. I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said, trying to twist away from him.
“Let her go,” Eddie said.
“She’s my woman and I’ll do what I want to her.” Sonny grabbed Riley by the hair.
“Ow, Eddie, help!”
“I’m telling you man,” Eddie pulled a switchblade out of his boot and pointed it at Sonny, “you better let her go.”
“What are you gonna do with that you fool; put that thing away.”
Sonny yanked Riley’s hair until she stumbled backwards. She fell on her behind with a thud.
Eddie lunged towards Sonny and sliced into his left hand. Sonny caught Eddie in the chest with his right fist and Eddie wheezed for breath. Eddie jabbed at Sonny again, this time trying to connect with his cheek. As Sonny pulled away, Eddie’s blade cut alongside Sonny’s ear.
Sonny looked up in surprise as he put his good hand to the ear. Blood seeped between his fingers. Sonny staggered around the parking lot in a daze until he sat down in the dirt.
“Baby, we gotta go,” Eddie said. He pulled Riley up off the ground and she brushed off the back of her jeans.
“I’ll go get my guitar.” He threw the door open and disappeared inside.
Sonny turned to Riley, still holding the side of his head. “You told him you’re carrying his baby?”
“I can’t raise this baby with you Sonny. I love you, but you’re too mean,” she said.
“He’s gonna find out the truth when that baby comes.” Red droplets trickled down his hand into the dirt.
Eddie came back out of the bar with a towel and threw it at Sonny. “Clean yourself up old man. Come on Riley.”
She took one last look at Sonny then crossed her arms over her chest and got in Eddie’s pickup. A cloud of dust stirred behind the rear wheels as they pulled out of the parking lot. Sonny pulled himself to his feet with the bloody towel held to his neck and watched them drive away.
“Are you alright?” Eddie said. He put his hand on her belly with his right hand as he steered the truck with his left. “Is our little man okay?”
“I’m shook up Eddie.”
“You slide over here and sit beside me, everything’s gonna be better now.”
She nestled into the crook of his arm.
Six months later, the baby was born and she could see a little bit of Sonny and some of her own father. Eddie said the little man looked like him and bought her a bouquet of red roses.
But when the baby turned a year old, Riley mailed Sonny a picture of the baby, without a return address. Not too long after that, she went back to Sonny with the baby in tow. Sonny took her in and managed, in all the years they lived together, never to raise his hand to her again.
Despite that, Eddie swore to his dying day that the baby was his, and for the sake of his blues, he decided to believe it.