Joseph E Bird

Let's talk about reading, writing and the arts.



I miss you, Darlin’.

clown 2 for web

Halloween’s never been my thing. With all the genuine evil in the world, do we really need to be celebrating the dark side? I’ll pass on the make-believe macabre, the bed-sheet ghosts, and ouija board spirits. Who needs that when you have real hauntings? It’s a rhetorical question, of course. One that I wish I didn’t have to consider. But it’s not my choice.

It’s been five years now. Three since I moved to Arizona.

We lived in Ohio at the time, Carolyn and I. Chillicothe. We’d been married for a couple of years and life was good. You know, the honeymoon that never ends. We were a good match. I’m a practical guy. Sensible. Reasonable. Just this side of boring. Maybe not even this side. Carolyn was anything but. Everyone loved Carolyn. She was a real free spirit. I loved that about her.

It was fall. For me, that meant football. I would have been happy staying home watching games all weekend, but Carolyn was restless and wanted to get out. She needed a change of scenery, away from the unrelenting flat land of Ohio.  The mountains, she said. The leaves would be at their peak and the weather promised to be nearly perfect, with just a slight chance of rain. I never could resist her enthusiasm. We got up early on Saturday morning, threw a change of clothes in a duffel bag and headed across the border to West Virginia.

We drove for hours, stopping now and then at scenic overlooks, taking pictures of everything. We got to one of the state parks around noon and had lunch in the lodge, then walked it off with a hike to the falls.  There was another park about three hours away and we thought that would be a good place to spend the night, so we jumped in the car and headed west, chasing the sunset, as it were.

We never made it to the park.

River Mills. Such a nice sounding town. Carolyn had been reading the tourist flyers while I drove and she thought she remembered reading something about the town. A restaurant, maybe. She flipped through her stack of flyers, looking for the one that mentioned River Mills, but she never found it. Or course she wanted to stop anyway. I wanted to go on. I was beat. A lumpy state park mattress was calling my name. But it was Carolyn. Her persuasion was hard to resist.

We got off the four-lane and as we drove the seven miles on the winding highway toward River Mills, the sun hid behind thickening clouds and after a few minutes, a light rain began to fall. A mist rose from the warm asphalt.

A worn, wooden sign welcomed us to River Mills. We passed a gas station, closed since forever. Not a convenience store, an honest-to-goodness gas station with a two-bay garage and a glassed-in office where the owner would sell tires and ring up the sale on a cash register and the old men of River Mills would gather and gossip worse than the women ever did. The windows were broken. The gas pumps were gone.

Then another dilapidated building. More busted windows. Faded white paint on red brick spelled out River Mills Hardware.  I began to calculate how long it would take us to backtrack and get to the park.

Just a little farther, Carolyn suggested. I didn’t argue.

Up ahead I saw a traffic light. I took that as a good sign. That traffic light is gone now. At least it was the last time I was in River Mills.  That was four years ago.

The streets were empty.  Not completely empty, but there was a uneasy quiet about the place. Most of the storefronts were vacant. Some of the buildings had been gutted, stripped of walls, floors and even the roof, so that all that was left was the facade and the back wall. We drove past a second-hand shop that might have still been in business, but it was hard to tell for sure. Another store had mannequins clothed in old wedding dresses. There was no sign out front, no name on the glass, nothing to indicate what that was all about.

street for web

We drove on.  Carolyn was sure there was a place to eat. Another two blocks and we came to what looked like an old courthouse. Closed, of course. It was nearing six o’clock, after all, and there was no sign of life anywhere.

And then this.

clown 3 for web

Yeah, Halloween was a couple of weeks away, but this seemed a little over the top for a small town. A little too scary. We both forced a laugh.

They really get into the spirit here, Carolyn said.

Looking back, I think that spirit had always been there. And I know it still is.

The town completely creeped me out. I think Carolyn was feeling the same thing, and just as I was about to suggest that we go on to the park, she saw what she had been looking for. The River Mills Cafe. The lights were on. There were people inside. So Carolyn was right again. Except this time she wasn’t.

We parked out front and went inside. Helen greeted us and showed us to a table. I didn’t know Helen’s name at the time, but I found out later. Helen King. She wore an old-fashioned, yellow shift dress. She smiled as she seated us and then winked at me. She asked us what we’d like to drink. Coffee for me. Carolyn asked if they had hot tea.

Sure thing, honey.

She touched Carolyn’s shoulder. Her hand lingered. Then she left and Carolyn gave me a look that acknowledged the weirdness.

She winked at me.

She winked at you?  What does that mean?

I was going to ask you.

I’ve got to find a bathroom.

She left. Helen brought my coffee.

Where’s Carolyn? she asked.

How do you know her name?

You said, tea for you, Carolyn?

But I hadn’t. At least I didn’t think I had. Maybe I did.

She left and returned with a small porcelain tea pot, a matching cup, and a box of assorted teas. I remember these things distinctly. Ordering hot tea at small diners can be surprising. So I noted the tea pot, the cup, and the box of teas. I remember thinking that Carolyn would be pleased.

Carolyn returned and smiled at the arrangement set at her place. Maybe this would be ok.

I excused myself for my turn to the bathroom.

Hurry back.

I thought nothing of those words at the time. Now I think of them every day.

Hurry back.

After I washed my hands, I looked at myself in the mirror, knowing I was little tired, but thinking I might be able run my fingers through my hair, maybe freshen up a bit for Carolyn’s sake. My reflection was hazy, as if the mist from outside had somehow settled on the glass of the mirror. I pulled a paper towel from the roll on the wall and wiped the glass, but the haze was still there. I tossed the paper in the trash and headed back to the dining room. The haze came with me. I could barely make out Helen standing behind the counter. I stopped and rubbed my eyes and blinked hard. Helen gave me a strange smile. I half expected her to wink again. The haze was slowly clearing from my eyes, but there was soft edge around Helen. A soft, fading edge.

I made my way back to our table. Carolyn wasn’t there.

I looked around. Maybe she went back to the bathroom. Or maybe she saw a gift shop and wanted to check it out. I sat at our table and took a drink of coffee.

The tea was gone. The tea pot, the cup, and the little box of teas. All gone.

Are you ready to order? It was Helen.

Where did Carolyn go?


Carolyn. My wife.

I’m sorry?

What are you talking about? She was here with me. You brought her hot tea.

Hot tea?

With the tea pot and tea cup.

Helen took a step back. We don’t have hot tea here.

I looked around, knowing that I’d see her. She had to be there. Then I noticed the others were gone, too.

Where’d everybody go?


The other customers. My wife. Where is everybody?

It’s been a little slow today. You’re our only customer this evening.

She must be in the bathroom.

I got up, almost running to the bathroom. I banged on the door and it swung open.


No answer. I checked the stalls. Nothing. I went back to the dining room.

Where is she? Where is she?

Through the door to the kitchen. An old lady stood over a pot on the stove, stirring. There was no one else. Back to the dining room.

Where is she? My heart was racing.

I went out to the car. There was no sign of her.

Back to the dining room. Helen stood, her arms crossed.

Sir, you came in alone. I would have noticed if someone else was with you.

Why are you doing this? Is there a gift shop close by?

I didn’t wait for an answer. Up and down the streets I ran, looking for some place she might have gone. When I got back to the cafe, a deputy sheriff was waiting for me.

What seems to be the problem, son?

He didn’t believe my story.

I gave him my I.D. and showed him our duffel bag in the car. The flyers. Told him about our trip. How she insisted on stopping in River Mills. He looked me up in the system and confirmed that I was married. But my wife was missing. Last seen by anyone but me a hundred miles away. And just like that, I was a suspect in my wife’s disappearance.

The deputies looked all over River Mills but they were more interested in retracing where we had gone after we had left the park. I spent the night in a run-down motel just outside of town. The next day was more of the same. More searching, more questions, but no answers.

Another night and another day. Then another. Then another.

The deputies grilled me pretty good, but friends back home vouched for our relationship. I know the sheriff’s office thinks I killed Carolyn, but lacking a body, evidence, or a motive, they had no choice but to rule it a missing persons case. For them, a dead end.

I stayed two more nights.

She was gone.

I went back to Ohio, but called the sheriff’s office every day for two weeks. Not a trace, not a clue. I knew I would never see her again. I knew I would never know what happened.

It was a long, cold winter, the kind that keeps you inside and makes you think about things. I couldn’t just give up on her. After the first of the year, I went back to River Mills. I had to find something, anything, that would give me answers. Up and down the snow-covered roads. The town hadn’t changed a bit. The cafe was still open. I saw Helen through the window serving customers wearing that same yellow shift dress. I parked across the street and watched for a couple of hours. I stayed in River Mills all night, cruising the streets, in and out of town. As dawn broke, I found myself sitting on a bench overlooking the river that runs along the highway. Cold, tired, and utterly alone.

Back in Chillicothe, I tried to go back to living a normal life. Well, not normal. There was no such thing as normal anymore. But Carolyn’s words wouldn’t leave me alone.

Hurry back.

I could hear her voice.

Hurry back.

It was more than just something to say. There was tension in the way she had said it. The more I played her words back in my mind, the more I thought about it, the more I knew that it was fear in her voice.

Hurry back.

Did she know? Was it a premonition?

It was fall when I returned. The Halloween decorations were out again. Another scary clown stood staked in the courthouse lawn. And the stoplight was gone.

I spent all day and all night there. This time I talked to Helen. She stood with her arms crossed. Her answers to my questions were cold and unsympathetic. She wanted me gone. I searched the cafe as I had the year before and again found nothing. The old woman in the kitchen sat on a stool, her hands clasped in her lap, and just stared.

I spent the night in a motel in the next town over and the following day I made the rounds through River Mills again. And again, I found nothing. Heading out of town, I passed the same dilapidated buildings. The old hardware store. The gas station. The ramshackle shed that looked like it would fall with a strong gust of wind. I’d passed it probably dozens of times in the last year. But something was different. Graffiti on the side of the shack. Writing. I had gone by too fast to read it so I turned around and drove by again.

I miss you, Darlin’.


My heart stopped.

It’s what she called me, sometimes. Darlin’. With the g dropped. Country style. Darlin’.

And the butterflies under the message. Her favorite doodle. Butterflies.

I pulled onto the gravel in front of the shed, almost hitting it with my car.


I stuck my head in the door. It was dark and all I could see was trash and rotting timbers.


I ran behind the shack, calling her name as I went.

I found a piece of pipe and went back to the front. I kicked the door open and with pipe in hand, made my way through the shack. A black snake hung from rafters. But that was the only sign of life.

I called the sheriff’s office and told the deputy that Carolyn was alive and that they needed to search the area out by the highway.

Just kids, he said. They paint their little love notes all over town.

But the butterflies.

Yeah. Butterflies. 

I stayed three more days. I came back a month later and the message was gone. Not painted over, just gone.

Hurry back.

But I coudn’t. I just had to let it go. For the sake of my sanity.

No more River Mills. No more mountains. No more fall colors. No more hauntings.

But it hasn’t helped. I still hear her. In the still of the desert air, on the cool nights, with a million stars overhead, I still hear her.

Hurry back. I miss you Darlin’.

darlin for web

This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resembelence to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

copyright 2017, joseph e bird

Appalachian Spring

Larry Ellis posted this over at Home Economics. It’s a great description of where we live, in the heart of Appalachia.

At the end a character is introduced and then left standing there. The story of Jack Sampson is told in Larry’s award-winning novel, In the Forest of the Night.

His ancestors settled in the central Appalachians without a thought for aesthetics. They came not for the beauty or value of this place, but only to escape from servitude and second-class citizenship in those cities to the north where their own forebears had landed as indentured servants. This new land to the south was steep, overgrown and not particularly amenable to the plow, but it was away from those engines of commerce and social institutions that had benefitted those to whom they were beholden and had just as certainly kept them a class away from full participation in the new nation’s economy.

The weather here was no more inviting than the soil. The winters were long and damp and made of days and weeks of snow so deep that travel was nearly impossible and in the summers the heat and humidity and insects were relentless. No one who had the luxury of considering the comforts a location might afford would have chosen to live here. There were no beautiful waterfronts and no rolling, thousand-acre spreads of black soil. All of life was closed in to narrow valleys and closed off to the flow of goods and information common to the new cities on the coast.

Those who came to escape the cities paid no heed to the hardships the land and the weather imposed, but lived their short lives together on subsistence farms, learning how to hunt and what to gather in the vast forests that surrounded their villages.

The generations brought change, of course. When those in the north learned that this land was rich in coal, oil and gas, industry came to Appalachia and the tiny villages became small towns and small cities and some made enough money to move themselves back into the mainstreams of commerce and society in the cities of the eastern plain..

It was, and is, an unromantic place. There are no ancient gardens or master artworks on display. There are no homes of famous artists or statesmen and no classic myth to fill the air with mystery.

But in the spring, something happens that no one who settled here saw coming and no one who has not lived here knows of or could even imagine. There are days in April when the scent of the blossoms all over the forests – the tulip poplar flowers, the lilac buds, the honeysuckle, the white blooms of the apple and plum trees, the new buds of the sycamore and the birch – all are lifted from the mountainsides in the softest breezes and the new warmth of the spring sun dries the stones on the edges of the creeks and branches and sends into the air cleansing mineral aromas and the trees on every hillside unfold in new green and soft rains fall and the forest floor thaws and releases the essence of the earth into the air. There are a thousand varieties of tiny plants that sprout under the canopy of the forest in these days. Only the Shawnee knew them. Only the Shawnee had given them names. They are tender and live only for days and in those days they release their own perfume, each a different, subtle taste. The clouds part and the grey of winter disappears and the sky is clear and high above the hawks soar and wheel on the gentle, warm thermals. The sun glistens on the rivers and those rivers run for those few days green and blue like the purest emeralds and sapphires. It is a season all its own, hidden from those who give names to such things, and in those few days the romance of this rugged place is enough to fill the longings of men’s souls and to ignite in their hearts even deeper longings.

It was in this time, in the middle of these days, that Jack Sampson fell in love.

Copyright 2017, Larry Ellis

The garage.

I recently attended the Design and Equipment Expo in Charleston and met a local photographer, Emily Shafer, who specializes in industrial photography. She has a creative sensibility and transforms ordinary images from the blue collar world in to works of art. Like a set of greasy Craftsman tools.

The next day I walked across the street to the mall and saw signs outside the Sears store announcing its closing. I went in and browsed a little, but there wasn’t much left. Empty shelves where the Craftsman tools used to be. With all of that, I couldn’t help but think of a scene I had written in my novel, Heather Girl.

Heather is traveling to Texas to see her father, who has just been paroled. She stops for gas in Montgomery, Alabama and has car trouble. A man and his son are watching (and eventually offer to help). As she’s trying to figure out what the problem is, she remembers learning about cars in her father’s garage.

She turned the key and the engine turned slowly a couple of times but didn’t start. She turned the key again. Same thing. And again.

She popped the latch on the hood and got out of the car. The boy looked up, then looked away. She opened the hood and looked at the battery.

Always start with the battery.

Her father’s voice. What was it now, thirty years ago?

Easiest thing to check, easiest thing to fix.

The smells of the garage came back to her. Warm, oily smells. There was a gas heater on the back wall and in the winter, there was always a hint of unburned fumes, but most of the time it was tools and parts and greasy rags that made the garage feel heavy and comfortable. The same garage that now is more of a storage locker. Her father’s tools went with him when her parents moved across town, then were sold when they moved south to escape the cold winters of the mountains. She and Robert bought the family home.  Robert took over the garage as his own workshop, complete with a table saw and other carpentry tools. His tools are still there, but are never used. Boxes of boys’ forgotten toys and yard sale finds make it nearly impossible to even see them. She keeps the lawnmower by the door, along with a few garden tools, and every spring makes the same promise that she’ll never keep to throw out the junk and put some order to the mess.

Despite everything, she found it hard not to think back to when the garage was truly a place for parking the family car, and for the weekend project of rebuilding the brakes or cleaning the carburetor or putting in a new radiator. Her dad had a natural genius for such things, part of the reason he was a good engineer. She loved being around him when he was working. It was when he seemed most content. Anything could be fixed.

She learned by watching, and when it became apparent that her brother Wayne had more interest in music than cars, she became her father’s tomboy grease monkey. She never learned enough to really diagnose a car’s problem, but she could change the oil, put in new spark plugs, and even tinker with the timing. She also learned why he enjoyed that kind of work so much, aside from the peace of the garage. Parts that didn’t work properly were thrown out, never to be seen again. Repair manuals didn’t lie. And the tools were always faithful.

If she had one of those old crescent wrenches, maybe the big one that had been used so much that the brand imprinted on the handle had worn away, she could tighten the nuts on the battery terminal. Though she knew that wasn’t the cause of the problem. She looked at the engine and tugged at the battery cables. They seemed tight. Not much corrosion. More than likely the battery was dead.

copyright 2017, joseph e bird

Writer’s Log – Insomnia

Last night was one of those nights.  Fell awake around 3:00, finally decided to quit fighting it around 3:30.  I made a cup of tea and sat down in front of the computer. My imaginary friend, Heather, has been stuck in a waffle house for a few days now.  I’m sure she wishes I’d get her out of there.

So at 3:30, I was going to make something happen.


4:00, and she was still there.  I had managed to go back and tweak a few things, made a couple of sentences better. But I was still blocked.

Maybe this is the end.  Maybe Heather never gets out of the waffle house. Maybe nobody cares what happens to her.

I’m 10,000 words in.  Not that much, really, in word count. I’ve abandoned novels at 40,000 words. Except that I’ve taken my time with these words, tried to write them better as I go. So it would be disheartening to pull the plug.

There’s a mother and a kid – a screaming kid – in the waffle house, too. At first, the mother was sitting with her back to Heather. I rearranged the furniture. Now they’re sitting beside Heather, facing each other, so that when Heather hears the kid scream and turns to look, she makes eye contact with the mother. It was an uncomfortable moment.

And then.  And then.  And then.

At 5:00, Heather was still in the waffle house. But things had changed dramatically. I was unstuck.  I went to bed.  I still couldn’t sleep, but it was a more restful insomnia.

Lesson 1: Maybe insomnia has a reason.

Lesson 2: Sometimes you just need to rearrange the furniture.

Lesson 3: Sometimes being uncomfortable is good.


Writer’s Log – You think you know your characters?

I’ve been writing about Heather for a couple of months now.  You remember Heather, the woman with the two boys, living alone now that they’re out of the house. She studied Avery’s photographs in the coffee shop until she learned that her father was being let out of prison.  I thought I knew her, too.

But when she leaves for Texas to get her father settled in with her brother, she takes a detour to stop and see her ex-husband three states away.  I didn’t know she was going to do that until she started driving. And on the way there, she reveals a little something about herself that I didn’t know. Something a little disturbing.

How can I not know these things?  She’s an invention of my imagination.

There are fiction writing gurus who will tell you to plan your characters meticulously, to know their history, their families, their personalities, their moral standings, even which toothpaste they prefer. I can see the advantage to writing that way. There is less likelihood that your character will do something, well, out of character. These same gurus will also advise you to allow for the possibility that your character might surprise you along the way.

In my previous work, I’ve tried to outline my characters as much as possible. With Heather, as well as the other characters in my story, I’m completely winging it. It’s kind of like I’m along for the ride. What better way to get to know Heather than to spend three days in the car with her?  So, yeah, I was surprised at what I learned.

Then there’s her ex-husband.  I had some thoughts about what he might be like.  Some thoughts about why they weren’t together anymore.  But Heather hasn’t really told me anything about all of that yet, not even in the four hours it took to get to Charlotte.

It wasn’t until they were face to face that I started to see some things.

The front door opened when she was halfway up the sidewalk.

“I’ll be damned.”

He was wearing jeans and a white t-shirt and looked like he hadn’t shaved for a few days. His once-blonde hair was mostly dark brown now with just a little gray around the temples. It was long and unruly and made her smile. He was aging very well.

“Hi, Robert.”

“And out of sky she fell, like an autumn leaf floating on a cool October breeze, my beautiful Heather Girl.”

He was off the porch and had wrapped his arms around her before she made it to the steps.

“It’s so good to see you.”

His voice was almost a whisper, but not quite. A true whisper would have been out of place, maybe a little threatening, a normal voice would have lost the sincerity. It was the perfect intonation, the kind of thing that came natural to Robert Scott. She had no choice but to believe his words.

And so on.

Robert is as much of a surprise as Heather.  I’m glad I didn’t plan these guys out. I really think it would have stifled the creativity.  All of this may be a complete train wreck before it’s through, but I sure am having fun writing it.  Which for me, is the whole point.

Joe Durango

I’ve never been big on New Year resolutions, but I think I’m going to try the George Costanza thing and do the opposite. So instead of ignoring the resolution tradition, I’m going all in, baby!

I’m going to change my writing style completely, and while I’m at it, I’m going to introduce a new character that will drive my writing from here on out. Joe Durango.

I realize that’s not so much a resolution as it is just a change, but heck, let’s not quibble. This is a big deal.

Now the name Joe Durango evokes kind of a rugged image. You don’t want to mess with Joe Durango. So with my character, I need to figure out what kind of story to write.  Here are some options.

Joe Durango.  A tough, gritty cop.  Misunderstood, with a lot of personal baggage. Solves cases his way. Women are drawn to him, but don’t understand him.

“You are one damaged cop, Joe Durango,” Damonica said. Then she walked away.  

Joe Durango, the lonely hero.


Joe Durango.  A drifter, just looking for a steady paycheck and a bunk. No one knows much about his past, but he has a way with horses. The other cowhands are afraid to ask him about the scar on his face. Women are drawn to him, but don’t understand him.

“So, Joe Durango, are you ever going to talk about what happened in Carson City?” Annabel asked. She waited.  “No. I didn’t think so.”

Joe Durango, alone on the range.


Joe Durango. Baseball prodigy, came out of nowhere. Throws a fastball like no one has seen before.  He plays one game in the majors, then walks away from it all. A living legend in baseball, but the rest of his life is a complete mystery.  Woman are drawn to  him, but don’t understand him.

“Take me with you, Joe Durango,” Willow said. “I just want to be with you, wherever that may be.”
“Where I’m going is no place for a lady,” he answered.

Joe Durango, man of mystery.

No, not really.


American Pastoral

“I have to go write my review,” I said.

“Why do you have to write a review?” she asked.

“I don’t have to write a review.”

And then I realized that, yes, I have to. Not that anybody really cares what I, an overfed, long-haired leaping gnome, thinks about a book that’s almost 20 years old. Still, I need to get this out of my system. Let’s call it writer’s therapy.

As I said before, I can’t think of anybody in my circle of friends and family to whom I would recommend this book.  It’s just too much…of everything. And yet, I’m glad I read it. It was good exercise.

“The Swede.”

As if to answer who the book is about, the first sentence leaves no doubt.

It’s about Seymour Levov, aka The Swede, and his seemingly ideal American family set in the time of the Vietnam War. The pivotal event: his daughter blows up a post office as a protest to the war and a man is killed. The daughter goes on the run.

This plot line is slowly dripped (more slowly than my father’s decrepit coffee maker) as the author tells us everything about everybody that dares make an appearance in the novel.

Warning: Never volunteer to be a character in a Philip Roth story. He knows all and tells all.

And this is why I’m glad I read the book. It was one heckuva an exercise in character development. Layer after layer after layer.  After layer, after layer, after layer.  After layer, after layer, after layer, with enough hints at a story to keep you interested. Like the daughter has been missing for five years. And then, three-quarters into the book, he finds her.  Ok, we know the characters pretty well, so now the story is going to pick up.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Everytime something is about to happen, we get more dense paragraphs of exposition. Layer, after layer, after layer.

Then there’s the character Marcia Umanoff, a militant non-conformist whose duty in life is to make people uncomfortable. She’s a thinker and disdains simpletons. She’ll do anything to get under your skin. An elitist. Her actions in the novel are irritating, yet the perfect foil to the perfect world of the perfect Seymour Levov. I’m not giving away much to tell you that his world is not as perfect as it seems. Marcia Umanoff represents reality.

So here comes Joe Bird, a simple man (with a simple name) taking on a highly-acclaimed Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Because he concludes that the book will not be in his top ten of all time, an elitist might conclude that the allegory and symbolism and sheer depth of the narrative might be too much for such a simple man. The elitist may be right.

Page 413: “These deep thinkers were the only people he could not stand to be around for long, these people who’d never manufactured anything or seen anything manufactured, who did not know what things were made of or how a company worked, who, aside from a house or a car, had never sold anything and didn’t know how to sell anything, who’d never hired a worker, fired a worker, trained a worker, been fleeced by a worker – people who knew nothing of the intricacies or the risks of building a business or running a factory but who nonetheless imagined that they knew everything worth knowing.”

Yeah. It’s like that.



A Dangerous Place

She sat in front of me off to the side, this woman. Her years were twenty-something, maybe thirty, and so she was not yet tainted by the disappointments in life and like all of us at that age, she was the embodiment of optimism and hope. At least that’s the way I read it. But I tend to be overly philosophical and maybe find too much meaning in such things. This is true: she was youthfully and innocently pretty. Not that her appearance has anything to do with what happened. It’s just that I noticed.

And I wouldn’t have noticed had she not turned her head slightly to the right and away from the singer on stage. Something had her attention. My natural reaction was to look in that direction. I didn’t have to turn much, but from my perspective, there was nothing to see. Just more people, listening and watching the young man on stage. None of my business, I thought, and got back into the music.

Still, she stared. Almost unblinking. It was more than a curiosity. She had slipped into a state of para-consciousness, aware of what she was seeing, but unaware that she had become so transfixed. It’s a dangerous place to be. There’s no physical threat of course, but there is a distinct possibility that whoever has created this vortex of cognition will sense that they’re being watched and well, you know what happens. At the very least, it’s awkward, and sometimes threatening. The longer it goes, the more dangerous it gets.

Still, she stared.

I looked again to my right. Again, I saw nothing unusual.

And then I saw it.

A person. A young girl. Six, seven, maybe eight years old, hair in a pony tail. She was moving slightly to the music, but instead of watching the singer and smiling, as a young girl might do, she was looking down to her left, almost pensive. She was hearing the music, but she was also thinking. About the song? Maybe, though it was just a Christmas carol. About something else? More likely. School work? Family? Who knows.

I looked back to the young woman.

Still, she stared.

The young girl contemplated, glancing up every now and then, but lost in her thoughts. It was unusual.

Maybe the young woman saw herself in the little girl. Maybe she too, was a thinker, a sensitive soul who had also wrestled with the mysteries at a young age. Maybe she was worried about her.

Still, she stared.

You know what happened. We all have that sixth sense. Maybe it’s a subconscious observation that’s rooted in the first five senses, but it’s so much easier to claim the sixth sense. That intuition that tells us something’s not right. Or that feeling that someone is watching. The little girl looked over her left shoulder and made eye contact with the young woman.

Hers was a reflex that could have been measured in milliseconds. She immediately turned away, as did the young girl.

I felt bad for both of them. Embarrassed for the young woman and sympathetic for the girl.

But almost as soon as they had turned away, they both, instinctively it seemed, turned to back toward each other. The young woman smiled. The little girl smiled back.

Two smiles that said so much.

I understand. You have a friend.

Thank you.

At least that’s what it seemed to me. But then again, I tend to see too much in such things.

copyright 2016, joseph e bird


It was a Monday, the only truthful day of the week. All other days were liars. Only Monday told you how bad your life really was. It had been a long, gray winter, but that morning in March the sun filtered through the trees on the east bank of the Seneca River and tried to convince her that this Monday would be different. It was the twenty-ninth spring for Savannah Joyce and she would be nobody’s fool. Especially not Monday’s.

copyright 2004, joseph e bird

This is the opening of my first novel, Counsel of the Ungodly.

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