Eight Pieces: A Single Tree


The best days happened when she stayed at the casita. Sunlight poured across the cleared jungle and over her south-facing front porch.


When she was two or three, she played in dappled sun beneath an oak tree. She hadn’t known the word “lonely” then; her playmates were acorns, sun shafts, and crinkled brown leaves.

She hadn’t known loneliness until she’d been married for a decade. These last twenty years, the ache had become habit.


For a moment, she forgot the meaning of the word “lonely” now, for the sunlight, the sunlight, the pouring warmth, the comfort, the yellow, echoed in the rising blooms of the kitinche tree outside the mission chapel, the sunlight spread into all, and into her, as well. And she wasn’t lonely, she was alone. She was all one.


She rested in solitude.


That particular ache would never be filled, the one that stirred when they stopped listening to each other. He would never listen to her again. She could never listen to him. That option had closed.

But she didn’t have to hold onto that ache. Though it had become habit, it could be unlearned.


When they got married, she thought, “I will never be lonely again.” She would always have someone to listen to her, and someone to listen to. She’d stopped listening first, she realized. It was because it was the same thing. And he held a snobbery behind his socialism. He scorned those who wanted to buy things. That’s what had made her stop listening.

“Look at those little rats,” he said, as they passed Walmart driving to the university. “Scurrying to the cellar for crumbs! Hurry, little scruff-bums! Scurry! Scurry! The sale is ending! Get your plastic bags! You can’t live without ten bottles of dishwashing soap! Buy it! Buy it all! Buy it fast! We’re selling out!”

She looked out the window to see a young mom holding her son’s hand.

Besides, rats were graceful, intelligent, resourceful creatures. First, you don’t criticize other people, especially when they have to work hard simply to establish a comfortable life. He didn’t know struggle. And second, what would ever cause one to think that another creature, another living being, would be something to be used for an insult? What does this say about how he perceives other living creatures?

She tried to get past that day, for it was still early enough in their marriage that their ritual of jokes and what she liked to refer to as their “herd chatter” served to maintain their bonds. But then, not long after, he stopped listening.

“I took a long walk during lunch break today,” she said on an early spring evening. “The dogwoods are blooming–have you noticed? And when I rounded the admin building, I caught the sun, shining through a storm of petals! It looked magical! Like the fabric that was the petal had become filled with something so pure, so beautiful! Like liquid love.”

But he had turned away and was washing his hands. And after he dried them on a towel–she still remembered, it was that red checkered towel her grandmother had given them two Christmases before–he left the room. Her eager speech rattled through her mind and settled below her larynx in a hard knot.

She had thought once that when you were married, you always had someone who would listen to your innermost thoughts, and that was what loneliness was: the discovery that this wasn’t so.

The kitinche tree rose its golden branches towards the late afternoon sun.


It stood, alone, by the chapel door.

If she were a young girl on her way to Mass, she would look up at it.

Let me lift my face to the light, too! She would sing to it, “O holy, holy! Bathed in sun! O holy, holy! Solitary one!”

She didn’t feel lonely when she painted. She felt alone. All one. The thoughts, the feelings, the tiny moment that opened into the immense expanse of life! It all poured out onto her canvas.

One chapel. One bell. One door. One tree. One me.


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Puppy Love 21


We’d been expecting it. And I was sure to be there. But it didn’t make it easier. The visits of the hooded one were always hard to bear.

She’d been the best mom to Crackers.


And to Caleb, too.


She’d taught Dustin well, and she welcomed Chloe into the family.


Mochi’s acquaintance with the hooded one went way back, to her first day here, when he came for Majora, Nibbler, and Babe, all three taken on the same day. And now, he was here for her.


With a start like that, it’s no wonder she had great depth of feeling.


She was no bigger than Lucas’s hand when she first arrived!


She knew Tanvi, though–and how happy they would be to be reunited in the After!


After Tanvi let, she consoled Lucas, becoming his next best friend.


She was always there, watching over her pups, encouraging Otter.


She and Otter were such good friends.


Well, they’ll be together now, too, so they can play on the breeze, like we all do.


“Looks like I’ll be here pretty frequently, then,” the Shepherd said, consulting his log.

“You don’t have to stick to the schedule,” I told him.

“Yeah, I do,” he said. “Some things can’t be fudged.”

Emery was at his hem, trying to grasp his cloak, growling like the fearless Twister he is.


“I’m not exactly corporeal, you know,” the Gray Bones mumbled.


It was too much for the pup.


It was too much for all of us.

Bones prolonged the show.


And then, the flash of light! The quickening of my own spark!


Stay! Stay! I will deliver you to Tanvi!


With reluctance, the hooded one handed over her spark.


“I always leave empty-handed,” he grumbled. “Hardly seems fair!”


“A bargain is a bargain!” I reminded him.

“If ever there’s a time when you’re not here!” He warned.

But there won’t be. I will be here each and every time, and the spark will be delivered to me for the short journey home.

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Puppy Love 20


At Babe, Bosko, and Bartholomew’s whelping, I made a promise never to choose favorites. How could I when each pup was as cute and smart as the next?

Emery has taught me that favorites are always possible.


Without intending it, we’ve each abandoned impartiality. This white pup is adored beyond compare by all of us.

It won’t move if you bark at it, Caleb told his grandpup. Can’t go over it. Gotta go under it, Little Twister.


How, grandsire?

Under! Squeeze Like I do!


Lucas made sure that, even while we doted over the pup, the big ones and the old ones got plenty of attention, too.


And Chloe made sure that Lucas, no matter how hard he worked to keep up with the never-ending chores, had cheerful company while he toiled.


Lucas wasn’t the only one she cheered up. Chloe adopted for her role “Resident Happiness-Maker.”


She taught Pounce to the pup.

You’re silly, Ma-Dog!

Not so silly as you, Little Twister!


One night, I found Dustin cowering on the porch and Caleb looking on with concern.

“It’s too soon for another visit from the hooded one,” I told them. “What are you two scared of?”


Caleb nodded towards the pup-bed where Otter slept in her transparency. I smiled to see that the memory crossed paws had stayed with her, even as she moved from realm to realm.


In the morning, the Twister had become a dust devil.

“Weren’t you white once upon a time?” Lucas asked the pup.


Chloe smiled at her dirty puppy.

“Time for your first bath, little guy,” said Lucas.


And by the time tea had brewed, Emery was as bright as the Dog in the Moon once again.


I can fly, he said. I am Moon Dog!


Wait! There is someone behind me!


It’s Tail the Magnificent! I’ll get you, Tail! You can’t escape me!


Oh, no, you don’t! You’re not faster than me! You’re not faster… you’re not… you’re… 


OK. You are. A-oooo! My tail is faster than ma-eeee!


And with that, everyone’s favorite sat to contemplate tailness, and how, though it always seems to follow, we can, no matter how hard we try, ever actually catch it. Ah! Such vast mysteries in life! And what is a tail, anyway, and why do we even have them!


Chloe left life’s riddles to the little one, while she went in search of the next to need her smile.

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Eight Pieces: Rungs of the Ladder


More tourists than locals frequented the plaza. The vendors sold trinkets and supplies that only tourists would desire or need, though the food stalls attracted residents before and after Mass.

Kristal had hoped to practice the language, but when she stumbled over the syllables, lengthening vowels, rushing through consonants, and misplacing the accent, the person she conversed with would smile politely and default to English.

“It is easier for us this way, Miss,” the vendedor said. “More conversational, yes? Less confusing.”


Of course he was right. He earned money by selling tortas and huaraches, not conducting language lessons.

She saved her practice greetings for the stray dogs that meandered through.

Hola, chien! ¿Qué pasa?


One evening, when the day vendors had closed, and the night vendors had not yet opened, when the tourists were in the cantina and the locals at evening Mass, she shared the plaza with only a bobcat who’d wandered down from the mountains.

They looked at each other in silence, in that momentary meeting that can happen between two beings.


Then Mass let out and the night vendors arrived, and the tourists, tipsy from beers and salsa rhythms, began to chat in over-loud voices.

“Doesn’t it just beat winter at home?” said Victoria, a woman who lived one city over from Kristal’s. “Just think of the mess we’d be shoveling!”


She was like her, Kristal realized. Rich. White. Educated. With the money, experience, and confidence to escape whatever boredom or hardship waited back home.

She had thought she was doing something bold. Something liberating. And maybe, in one way, she was. But this choice opened to her because of the specific rung of the ladder she stood on. So, in another way, it was simply the circumstances of her birth and marriage–her race, her class, her country-of-origin, her socioeconomic group–that opened this option for her.

They liked to dress in the fashion of local peasants, these white, single, female tourists–just like she did. We’re of a sort, she realized.


Maybe it had been cowardly to come here. Maybe the strong and brave choice would have been to stay home–to dedicate the resources she was funneling into this retreat towards a more meaningful cause, something that could enact a change. Green Peace. The Nature Conservancy. Amnesty International. They always needed money.

Even worrying about issues like this was a mark of privilege.


Her husband–or rather, her ex–for all his lousy personal qualities, held  some decent political ones. He was a Marxist, after all. She usually closed her ears when, after a few beers, he began to rail against the system, but some of what he’d said had snuck through deeply enough to seed some broader ethics.

Well, she was here. She’d left home out with the energy of spite and stubborn passion. For art! To become an artist! What whimsy. What an irresponsible use of resources.

She calculated what she’d spent on airline tickets, luggage, oil paints, and cabin rental. Surprisingly, it came out less than what she’d leased her home for, to the visiting professor. So, perhaps it wasn’t exactly a waste of resources, merely a redirection.

But there was no denying that it was her privilege–and her divorce settlement–which gave her the freedom to come here as a single woman to devote three months to painting, without a single other responsibility.


If she was starting this far up the ladder, she had damn well better become a good artist.

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Eight Pieces: Fragments


After her husband of thirty years left her droopy old self for some perky thing half her age, Kristal Kraft faced the empty space that stretched before her the way many do: She filled it with the old dream dredged from the recesses of freedom she abandoned when she married that jerk.

She would finally find her talent.

She would become an artist.

She googled “artist hideaway retreat three months availability someplace secluded,” and on the second page of listings she found what she was looking for: a small, simple studio cabin near the plaza of Santa Maria, El Selvadora.

She subleased her home for the winter to a visiting professor, and by mid-January, she found herself in the tropics, walking the path to her cabin.


It hit her then that she was alone, in a town where she knew no one and barely spoke the language.


The cabin was simple, but, as advertised, well-appointed for the visual artist, with a fancy tea-maker, three easels, and stacks of canvases. She’d brought her own brushes and oils, but the agency provided the Turpenoid in 2 liter bottles and a can of linseed oil.


The light felt like cream and the shadows like velvet. She chose a larger canvas and set it on the easel on the porch.

The cabin stood in a small clearing, with the jungle pressing in around it. Her thoughts felt like this, tangled, confused, one wrapping around the other, choking off its growth. The softness was there, the cream and velvet, but it only draped the pain and hint of terror underneath.


She truly was alone.

There had been an afternoon, when she was eighteen, during a summer spent at her grandparents’ cabin in the rain forest in the Pacific Northwest. The grandparents had gone into the city for some reason, and she’d stayed behind to paint. She painted the forest, with ferns and huckleberries, lichens, moss, and cedar. The painting had felt like this one, overcrowded, without a focal point, a jumble of shape and texture, lacking contrast. But she had liked it. It showed how she felt inside.

This one did, too.


OK. She was a mess, she admitted it. It was OK to be a mess after your husband becomes your ex. It’s OK to be angry, sad, lost, confused, afraid, and also, maybe a little bit excited. Maybe a little determined. Maybe a lot stubborn.


Maybe it was OK to pull out those pieces that had been forgotten about for decades, to look at them in their jumbled mess, and to begin to consider where each piece might rightfully belong, to slowly put the fragments back together again.


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Author’s note: It’s a new bonus short! Eight chapters, an artist finding herself at last, and lots of pretty jungle pictures! 🙂

S-Boys: Episode 3 – Honeypop


The boys were lining up to audition at Planet Honeypop. I passed on the first two, but the third guy stopped me in my tracks. Akira Kibo.


Of course I knew who he was. You can’t follow the YouTube pop scene and not know Akira Kibo. He traveled with his own fanbase, namely Miko Ojo, his roomie at the time.


His voice slides smoother than the cream on top whole-fat yogurt. His style goes easy.

I was a little surprised, frankly, that he’d try out for our group. But this was a real chance, with real contracts, and a real producer–me. And the exposure couldn’t hurt the numbers of subscribers for his regular Youtube channel. We didn’t have an exclusive clause, so he could do both.

I started to get excited, daydreaming about him being the center of the group. I mean, the other potentials had personality and quirky charm, but Akira, he had talent and skill and experience. He was the real bomb.


He winked at me when he finished.

“Your turn,” he said.

No one else was waiting to sing at the moment, so I indulged him. He’d punched in one of my numbers on the karaoke machine–never mind how old it made me feel to have a hit song listed in the Golden Oldies section. I rocked it, and that made me feel like a teenager.


When I finished, I heard somebody calling out, “Hey! Hey! That was really awesome!”

It was Vaneer! I was tickled that he showed up. His spot was waiting for him, and all he had to do was agree to the terms, but here he was, at the evening auditions, lending support.


“The guy down there was asking about you,” he said.

I looked down the bar to see a bronzed god of a man. Oh, that facial structure! It looked familiar, somehow, but I couldn’t place him.


He approached me when he noticed I was looking his way.

“Well, you left your card,” he said. “Here I am.”

“Statue guy?”


“None other!” he replied. “Tony McCarthy, at your service!”

He had a great speaking voice. A little high, but rich. I bet he had a killer falsetto.

“Tell me about yourself!” I suggested.


“I’ve always wanted to perform,” he said. “That’s why the statue thing. I can hold one pose for an hour. Maybe more. It’s OK. Takes discipline, which I got in abundance. But I’d kinda like to move. I wanna dance!”


“And sing?”

“I’m more the quiet type,” he said. “Statues aren’t a speaking role.”


Meh. We’d work on it. And even if he, primarily, danced, that could work out, too. We could always use handsome.

Akira sauntered past.

“Am I in?” he asked.

“Of course,” I replied. I gave him the info. He sauntered off.

“Later, then.”


We had a few more auditions. Nobody really reached me. They were mostly too typical, too timid, cookie-cutter knock-offs. I’d had my heart set on a quintet. There’s just something balanced about five–lead in the center, flanked by two duos. But I guess we could settle for a quartet. Four wasn’t the loneliest number.

My throat was parched. Maybe I could get a cup of tea and ask the bartender to spike it for me.


Or maybe I didn’t need it spiked.

You make me feel…
Like I’m already tipsy.


Oh, he was something else. Sweet on the eyes! Very good with his hands. Every boy band needs somebody who can do tricks, right?

“How’re the auditions going?” he asked.

“OK, then not-so-OK, until now.”


We talked a bit. He was interested. The bartender was interested.

I sat down, humming the new song.

You make me feel…


And then Vaneer finished the verse for me:

Like a unicorn, baby.”

“Vaneer! That’s it!”



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S-Boys: Episode 2 – Where You Find ‘Em


No one else showed up at the 2W to audition. That was OK. The main try-outs would be held that evening at Planet Honeypop. I ordered one last mango lassi from the juice-girl and headed across the street. There were usually some pretty amazing buskers in the plaza, and I had this romantic notion of discovering the undiscovered.

I took my spiked lassi with me.


“Not supposed to carry out the drinks,” said a repair-guy working on the utilities box.

“Oh, it’s OK!” I lied. “I’ve got like special dispensation!”

He looked at me skeptically. He was cute, and I was picking up a Village People vibe from him.

“I like your overalls,” I said. “They match your hat! Or is that a cap?”


I watched him work, letting my mind imagine him singing back-up to Vaneer. He began to hum in a rich tenor.


“You have a lovely voice,” I said. “You ever think about singing?”

“I am a singer,” he replied. “I just don’t have the guts to quit my day-job yet.”

“Maybe you should.”

“Come again?”


I laid it all out for him. Sierra and the S-Boys. New boy band. I didn’t care if they were older than boy-boys. Men-boys would do just fine. We were going for an older demographic, anyway. The inner teeny-bopper of the hot-flash crowd.

I could really see this guy working out for us!


“I guess I could give it a try,” he said, at last.

“Ah! That would be super!”

We worked out a few details. He’d swing by the house, do a trial, look over the contract. I got a good feeling about this.


Rylan Hitchcock, Handyman Extraordinaire. Potential S-Boy Number Two. I watched him walk away, enjoying how his tool-belt hung low on his hips. Tool belts. We were gonna have to pick up a few of those things.


You make me feel…
la, la, la, la, la, baby.


I was working on our first song. I wasn’t sure what it would be, exactly. I just had something running through my head.

You make me feel…
Like a lalala lady.


The sun was setting, and I had half an hour before I had to be at Planet Honeypop.

Nobody was playing violin or keyboard or drums or guitar or harmonica or dancing or singing. But there was a guy pretending to be a gold statue.

Now, yeah. I was definitely feeling that Village People vibe. Like real strong.


This statue guy was awesome! His gold face-paint accentuated his fine facial structure. I’m talking cheekbones. And perfect lips. And those kissable eyelids. Dreamy.

And his skill was amazing. Three of us jeered, cheered, and cat-called. And he didn’t blink. What if? What if we did a golden statue number?


You make me feel…

Oh, yes. I could so see him there in the background, frozen, until the right moment, then come-to-life!

I left him a hefty tip and dropped my business card along with it.


“Planet Honeypop,” I whispered to him. “Eight o’clock tonight. I got an offer that’s pretty sweet, and you’re one of the guys I wanna make it to.”

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