Joseph E Bird

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literary fiction

breakfast at the diner

The truck horn reverberated through the car, through her skin, through her bones. Without conscious thought, she knew what it was and knew that the impact was imminent. She squeezed the steering wheel and her body stiffened as she looked in her rearview mirror and saw nothing but the ever-growing front grill of a massive truck. The impact never came and for a moment she thought that he must have already hit and was pushing her down the highway. Then the horn blasted again and the truck backed off.

She looked ahead. All was clear. A car blew by her on the left, the horn blaring. She looked at speedometer. She was only going forty-five. She passed a speed limit sign. Seventy. Another blast from the truck behind her and she pulled onto the shoulder.

Her hands were shaking.

She didn’t remember getting on the interstate. Didn’t remember pulling out of Robert’s driveway. Didn’t remember getting in the car. The last thing she remembered was his hand on hers.

She put the windows down and turned off the engine. She sat for fifteen minutes, the cool air swirling her hair every time a car went by. Her hand shook. She told herself it was just nerves, but she knew that was a lie.

She took the next exit that promised lodging. In the distance she saw MOTEL in white, glowing letters and drove past the national chains to the two-story block building with rooms that opened onto a parking lot that was shared by a waffle house. She had seen worse. She asked for a room on the second floor, even though it meant carrying her bags up the flight of stairs. On her second trip, she noticed a man and a woman sitting in a pickup a few cars down from hers. She was halfway up the stairs when her left leg buckled and had she not been able to steady herself with the bag she was carrying, she would have gone down. She glanced back at the pickup. They were still watching. The woman had those eyes. Too big, too wide, too alert, too something. Too long on meth, more than likely. Haunting eyes. Predator eyes. It didn’t matter. She wouldn’t leave the room until the next day.

Inside, she turned on the television for some white noise. She lay on the bed fully clothed, covered only with a blanket from the car. Even so, she fell asleep almost immediately and slept until dawn.

Because it was a Sunday morning she knew traffic would be light in Charlotte and make for a less stressful drive until she got back on a long stretch of interstate. She looked out the window and was relieved to see the pickup truck gone. She checked out and walked across the parking lot to the waffle house. There were only a few people in the restaurant so she took a table by the window and while she waited on her order, she mapped out her day’s travel on her phone.

Breakfast smells. Bacon, coffee, toast, sweet syrups. There was a constant clatter of plates and clinking silverware, muffled conversations. A man and a woman two tables away shared an easy laugh, probably over an inane comment, Heather guessed, that if made four hours later, would be annoying, but because their sensibilities were rested, anything said would benefit from an extra measure of forgiveness. She understood. Morning grace, as it were.

It had been a long time since Heather had shared such a morning. She thought back to her life with Robert and remembered the early days before the boys, where even after a hard night she would fry some eggs and bacon in the closet of a kitchen in their tiny apartment. They drank a lot of tomato juice back then to help ease the headaches. Then her mother died. She changed, and Robert didn’t. So she threw him out and the house immediately became more serene. Breakfast alone can be relaxing, but a peace shared is a gift. So she sat at her table in the waffle house, enjoying the ambiance of a loving home, even if it was a store-bought substitute.

“No, no, no, no, no, no.”

A little boy, maybe up too early. It had been going on for a few minutes, but she hadn’t noticed until the persistence of his cries demanded attention from everyone in the restaurant.

“Jacob.” His mother’s voice, from the table beside her. “Jacob, eat your waffles.”

“No, no, no, no, no, no.”

“Jacob, please.”

She turned without thinking. The boy, maybe five years old, stood across from his mother, fidgeting.

“Sit down.”


She turned to the mother and offered a smile of encouragement, before she saw the eyes. Those same eyes, not quite as baneful as last night, but their essence remained unchanged. She was thin, which served to intensify her eyes, and her hair was pulled back from her face and accentuated her hollow cheeks. Her plate was clean, even the yolk from her eggs had been sopped up.

“Eat, Jacob.” She turned to Heather. “He’s a handful.”

“They can be.”

“You have kids?”

“Two boys.”

“Two? I don’t know how you do it. They’re holy terrors.”

She spoke in quick, hurried clips. She was a smoker. At least Heather imagined that she was. She could see her taking puffs in between sentences, dropping the cigarette to the ground before she was through, grinding it with the sole of her shoe. Or maybe carefully snuff out the burning end with a few quick pinches of her fingers to save it for later.

“They can be. Especially at that age.”

Jacob was staring at her, his fidgeting had stopped for the moment.

“Hi, Jacob.”

He was quiet, studying.

“How old are your boys?”

“Mine? They’re grown.”

“Lucky you.”

The woman reached across the table and stabbed Jacob’s waffle with her fork.

“If you’re not going to eat it.”

She gave Heather a shrug, but didn’t bother with a smile. Jacob had moved to the end of the table, standing at the side of Heather’s booth, still staring. His eyes were brown and gentle, and though his blonde hair was uncombed and his shirt stained with food from days past, he had the innocent softness that all children have, despite whatever hell they’re living in.

“It’s your hair. He likes your hair.”

“Do you like my red hair?”

The boy nodded. She patted his head. “I like yours, too.”

He giggled. Then he reached out, took a handful  and pulled it toward him. Heather leaned in his direction.

“Geez, Jacob, don’t pull the woman’s hair out. Get your ass back over here and eat your food.”

Her words, her tone, though familiar, surprised Heather. She had been that way with Robbie, no doubt. For the most part, Micah had had a sober mother.

Jacob didn’t move. He ran his fingers through her hair.

“I give up.” She finished his waffles.

“It will get better.” Heather didn’t know if that was true, but she felt like she had to say it. The odds were greatly against anything getting better. It had taken her own mother’s death to turn things around for her, and even then, it was tenuous for a while. This woman looked to be deep in the abyss, beyond alcohol, probably beyond meth. There were likely needles in the floor of the pickup truck. Jacob’s future wasn’t promising.

“I’ve got to run out to the car. Can you watch him for a minute?”

Before Heather could answer, the woman stood and gulped the last of her coffee. She pulled her sweater up over her shoulders and leaned over and kissed Jacob on top of his head.

“I’ll be right back.”

Heather knew she wouldn’t be. She knew she was leaving.


It happened too quickly for her to respond. She was out the door. Heather watched as she walked across the parking lot toward the motel. She got in a car. She drove away.

“Oh my God.”

“Where’s mommy?”

Her heart raced. She looked around the restaurant. Nothing had changed. People were still eating. A waiter stood beside a table, one hand on his hip, one on the back of a chair as he chatted with another man, a trucker, judging from his appearance. Another poured coffee for an old man and his wife. The sounds were the same, the smells were the same. Nothing had changed.

“Where’s my mommy?”

The boy had wandered back to his table, to his mother’s chair, pulled out from the table.

“She’ll be back in a minute. She had to run out to the car.”

He turned and looked at her. His expression was hard to read. She half expected that he would realize that his mother had driven off, and in a child’s comprehension of reality, know that she was never coming back. Then the uncontrollable crying would start. Any second now. Except that it didn’t. His expression didn’t change. This had happened before. Which gave Heather hope that his mother would indeed return.

The waiter who had been talking to the trucker brought her breakfast and filled her coffee cup. He looked at the table where Jacob stood and then looked around for his mother. Then he smiled at the boy.

“She had to run out for something. She’s coming back.”

He looked out the window to the parking lot, then set the coffee carafe on the table and started gathering their plates.

Heather looked at the boy.

“Do you like donuts, Jacob?”

He nodded.

“Can you bring us a couple of jelly filled donuts?”

“Sure. We have lemon and berry.”

Jacob smiled for the first time. “Lemon.”

“Why don’t you sit over here while we wait for your mother?”

He slid into the booth and looked up at Heather, his hands in his lap. The waiter returned with two donuts, each one on its own plate. Jacob picked it up without waiting and took a big bite. He giggled.

Heather glanced out the window without turning her head, hoping to see the car pull back into the parking lot. She had probably just gone for cigarettes. Rude and irresponsible, but for a mother on drugs, forgivable.

The two ate without talking, their thoughts undoubtedly on different tracks.

Jacob poked the jelly filling with his finger, then stuck it in his mouth. She would have admonished Robbie or Micah, but she let it go. Anything to keep his mind off his mother.

“Do you go to school?”

He shook his head.

She thought of other things to ask, but she was sure she would get the same response. No brothers or sisters. No pets. No friends. Left for hours in front of the television. Just as she had done with Robbie.

“What’s your favorite show?”

He shrugged. He seemed tired.

“Are you sleepy?”

He yawned.

She glanced out the window again. Nothing.

“What’s your mommy’s name?”

It was a risk, but she had judged correctly that his sleepiness would overrule any worry about his mother.


“No, I mean what does your daddy call her?”

“I don’t have a daddy.”

“It’s ok. My boys didn’t have a daddy, either.” Not exactly the truth, but close enough to serve the purpose.

“What do your mommy’s friends call her?”


“What’s her last name?”


“Is that your last name, too?”

“Yes. I’m sleepy.”

He yawned, and then lay down on the bench of the booth.

Heather looked out at the parking lot again, and then back at the restaurant. The elderly couple had left. Her waiter was standing by the cashier counter, his arms crossed, a towel slung over his shoulder.

Ten minutes passed.

Heather walked to the cashier, an older woman with gray, wiry hair. She wore no makeup. Her waiter met her there.

“I’ll pay for both.”

“Do you know her?”

She looked back at the booth, Jacob still asleep on the bench.

“I know her name, that’s all. She asked me to watch him while she ran out to the car.”

“What if she doesn’t come back?”

“Let’s give her until ten o’clock.” Another twenty five minutes.

She went back to the booth. The waiter followed, refilled her coffee cup and gave her a look and a shake of his head that said this whole thing wasn’t going to end well. He was probably right. She was already thinking of what her next move would be. She could call the police, who would probably take Jacob, then call CPS. She could do an internet search for Amanda Brown. She looked over at the motel. Maybe they stayed there last night. She was about to get up and explain to the waiter what she was going to do when her phone rang. It was her brother.

“Well, he’s here.”  Her father.  Their father.  Finally out of prison.

“In your apartment?”

“Still asleep in the back room.”

“What would they have done if you hadn’t agreed to take him?”

“He’d still be in there.”

“It’s where he should be.”

“He’s not well. He’s not who he was when he went in.”

“Having second thoughts?”

“I’m not sure I’m going to be able to take care of him.”

“Send him back.”

“I can’t do that.”

“I’m not taking him, Wayne. I don’t know why you agreed to it in the first place, but there’s no way I’m taking him.”

“It was the right thing to do. He’s our father.”

“He murdered our mother.”

There was a long pause.

“It wasn’t like that. She wouldn’t have wanted the life that was ahead of her.”

“Not his call. He’s a murderer and he should have stayed locked up until he died.”

Another long pause.

“I just wanted you to know.” His voice softened to a whisper. “He’s not well and I don’t know how long he’s got. A year, maybe a couple.”

“Can’t be soon enough.”

“Come on, Pip.”

Jacob rolled a little on the bench and for a second she thought he was going to roll off onto the floor, but he settled against the back rest.

She didn’t want to tell her brother that she was on her way down. That might give him some relief and she needed him to figure things out on his own. She didn’t want him thinking that she was going to be any part of their father’s post-prison life. It was his problem, not hers. It was his father, not hers.

“We’ll talk about it later. I’m kind of in the middle of something here. I’ll call you tomorrow.”

She looked out at the parking lot again and saw more cars, none of them Amanda’s.

The waiter was talking to the cashier. They glanced toward her between words. Where before they had looked at her with sympathetic smiles, their looks had changed, their eyes danced nervously as they tried not to look her way, but they couldn’t help themselves. The cashier shrugged her shoulders and shook her head.

He must have overheard her conversation. What had she said?

The word murder came to mind. Yeah, that might trigger suspicion.

She walked toward them and they stood straight and stiffened as she did.

“That was my brother I was talking to. My father’s been paroled in Texas. That’s where I’m going. It’s a bad situation.”

They relaxed a little, but only a little. In their eyes, she was no longer the good Samaritan. Maybe closer to the woman at the well. But they weren’t Jesus. More like Pharisees. A woman with a murderous father couldn’t have much good in her.

“Can you watch Jacob? I think they stayed at the motel last night and I thought I’d check to see if they had any contact information on her.”

The waiter didn’t speak, deferring judgment to the cashier. Heather looked at her, waiting for a response.

“Do you know the woman’s name?”

“Amanda Brown.”

“I’ll call.” She picked up the phone and found the number in a spiral notebook beside the register. It was a quick conversation.

“The manager wasn’t working last night. He checked the records from yesterday and the only woman registered was a Heather Roth.”

“That’s me. No Browns registered?”

She shook her head.

“I guess we need to call the police.”

The cashier picked up the phone and dialed.

When the cruiser pulled into the parking lot twenty minutes later, Amanda had been gone for nearly an hour and a half. Heather met the two officers outside the waffle house. One was older and had to be near retirement, the other was a young African-American so fresh-faced that he looked like a boy playing cops. The younger officer stood with his arms crossed while his partner spoke with Heather in even tones, showing no shock or surprise at the situation, as if he had encountered child abandonment before, as if he were numb or calloused or simply resigned to the heartless condition of some people. She found his manner comforting.

They ran Amanda Brown through the system. Shoplifting. Petit larceny. Possession. Marital Status: Single.

They said they could put out a BOLO, but she wouldn’t be a high priority. They would take Jacob back to the precinct and call in Child Protective Services. Even if they found his mother, he would likely end up in a group home for a while. She would have a hard time getting him back after abandonment. Eventually, Jacob would end up in a foster home, if he was lucky.

“Can I ride down with him?”

They looked at each other. She sensed she had asked for something that was a breach of protocol.

“Sure. He’s inside, I guess.”

“He’s asleep. Let me go wake him and I’ll bring him out.”

“Get in the car, Wilson.” He gave his cap to the young cop.

Heather went inside.

“Jacob.” She shook his leg. He opened his eyes, looked at her, and sat up. He looked over her shoulder, then back at her.

“Your mother’s not back yet.”

His expression didn’t change.

“We’re going to go down to the police station to wait on her, ok?”

“Is she in jail?”

She took him by the hand and started walking toward the door.

“Where do you live?”

He shrugged and kept walking. “Different places.”

At the station, the officer suggested using the front door so they wouldn’t have to walk past the holding cells. They went through the lobby to another room with a sofa and two upholstered chairs. A television sat on a table across from the sofa.

“You two can wait here. CPS should be here before too long.”

The clock on the wall said 11:55. She was way behind schedule, not that she had a real schedule. Still, she would just as soon get the business with her father over with and get back home. They were in the room ten minutes when the young officer opened the door.

“May I see you, ma’am?”

She followed him down a corridor to a large room full of cubicles where the older officer sat at a desk.

“Ms. Roth.” He wasn’t smiling.

She’d seen that look before. A cop with bad news.

“The boy’s mother is dead. Found her in her car about a mile from the waffle house.” There wasn’t much more to say.

“What’s going to happen to him?”

“It’s still a CPS matter. They’ll try to locate a father. A relative. Maybe his grandparents are around, but in cases like this, it’s not unusual for them to be as messed up as his mother. More than likely, he’ll be put in the foster care system.”

“Can I stay with him until CPS gets here?”

It was another hour before they arrived. She had tried to talk to Jacob, but he was more interested in the cartoon he was watching than talking to her.

“Your mother isn’t coming back.” She hadn’t even thought about saying that, it just came out, and when she said it, she knew she had probably made a mistake. But Jacob didn’t react. Didn’t turn to her. Didn’t cry. Didn’t do anything.

“Did you hear me?”

“Is she dead?”

His eyes were still on the anime characters bouncing around in an unrealistic television world. Then she saw his eyes weren’t moving, weren’t following the action. He was just staring.

She moved close to him and wrapped her arms around him. They sat like that, with her rocking slowly while tears ran down the boy’s face. Soon he was asleep. She held him until CPS arrived and took him away.

The two officers were gone by then. She asked the dispatcher if someone could take her back to the waffle house. She sat alone in the back of the squad car.

copyright 2018, joseph e bird, from the novel, Heather Girl

lost in a room

An excerpt from my novel, Heather Girl.  If you’re new, here’s the backstory.  Heather’s elderly father has been paroled from prison in Texas where he’s been serving a sentence for the murder of her mother. He’s suffering from Alzheimer’s, and through a series of unexpected events, he’s staying with Heather until she can make other arrangements. Her brother has died and a friend of her father’s from prison, Darnell, aka Booger, has come to visit.  In this scene, about two-thirds through the novel, Heather, who has her own serious health issues, has taken a nasty fall in the garage of her home, where she found one of her mother’s private journals.

She stood, lightheaded at first, but quickly steadied herself. She tried to move her right arm, but again the pain was unbearable. She knew it was broken. She reached behind her head and felt the knot, then traced the trail of blood down her neck and onto her shirt. The bleeding had stopped, but there had been so much. She would likely need stitches.

She picked up the journal, made her way to the garage door and headed back to the house. The kitchen light was still on. Through the window she saw her father and Booger sitting at the kitchen table, Booger talking, always talking, her father listening but not likely hearing a word he was saying, lost in a room of his own imagination, where the past is the present and the present is whatever he wants it to be and the future is not something to be considered. Booger’s cowboy hat sat on the back of his head as he leaned away from the table, lost in a room of his own imagination, where the past is the past and the present is the prelude to a future of grand possibilities. At that moment, with her very real pain of the present and the haunting anguish of the past and a future dark and bleak, she envied the childlike simplicity of their existence and couldn’t quell the contempt that was borne of jealousy and self-pity.


She opened the door and went inside.

copyright 2017, joseph e bird, from the novel Heather Girl.

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.


tell me what I don’t know
see which way the wind blow
spinnin like a gyro
playin with the vertigo
puttin on a big show
fakin like a puppet show
hear me up in idaho
this is it, here we go

it don’t matter what it is
it don’t matter if it true
listen what i say to you
dig my words, dig me, too

leavin on a jet plane
hoppin to the south of spain
sippin on the champagne
scared to try the cocaine
stayin home it so mundane
want to be like charlemagne
livin large, i can’t complain
it ain’t real, its all in vain

it don’t matter what it is
it don’t matter if it true
listen what i say to you
dig my words, dig me, too

tell me that you like my song
yo to me, i can’t be wrong
be my posse, be my throng
if you like, you sing along
ring the bell, bang the gong
dig it man, like tommie chong
fifteen likes and goin strong
make me feel like i belong

it don’t matter what it is
it don’t matter if it true
listen what i say to you
dig my words, dig me, too

copyright 2016, joseph e bird

Writer’s Log – 11/27/16

In novel writing, much importance is placed upon the first sentence, the need to capture the imagination of the reader – love at first sight, if you will. Certainly there are many terrific opening lines for great books. (Do you own Google search, just for kicks.) Is this one of them?

“The Swede.”

It’s the opening of American Pastoral, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Philip Roth.

Ok, let’s not be so literal so as to limit the “opening line” to simply the first sentence. Let’s say we’re evaluating the opening in general. Roth follows the not-so-descriptive introduction of one of his pivotal characters with this:

“During the war years, when I was still a grade school boy, this was a magical name in our Newark neighborhood, even to adults just a generation removed from the city’s old Prince Street ghetto and not yet so flawlessly Americanized as to be bowled over by the prowess of a high school athlete.”

Are you hooked yet?  No?  Me neither.

And yet I kept reading. Page after page after page about the old neighborhood and its people. Not much action. Some conversations in a class reunion about days gone by.  in medias res?  No, not really. It’s all backstory. It’s what writing coaches would call exposition, and they greatly advise against it.

Take another look at that second sentence. It’s really long. The coach would advise to break it up, to get that comprehension level down a couple of notches. Roth also uses big words that most readers would have to look up. Again, not something they say you should do. It takes the reader out of the story.

I used to read a lot of John Grisham. Lots of story and action, and Grisham will keep you turning those pages. He follows the rules, has lots of fans, and piles of money. Roth probably does too, but he’s not exactly a household name.

Yet Philip Roth is a highly respected novelist. He breaks the rules and wins a Pulitzer.  How?

On page 86, he wrote this:

“The daugher who transports him out of the longed-for American pastoral and into everything that is its antithesis and its enemy, into the fury, the violence, and the desperation of the couterpastoral – into the indigenous American berserk.”

It took Roth 85 pages to get to the reader to the point that the meat of the sentence is understood mentally and emotionally, and so on-point that its resonance is profound.

I’m starting to get it.

It’s all about what you’re trying to acccomplish. It’s all about what you want your writing to do, and not so much about how many people read it. The truth is, the odds are greatly against any of us writing a best-seller. If you’re going to put in the hours, it had better be for something worthwhile. It had better bring at least one reader some satifisfaction, that one reader being the author.

Footnote:  The number one best-selling author from 1996 to 2000 was John Grisham. Philip Roth didn’t even crack the top 15 in 1997, the year American Pastoral won the Pulitzer.






The Stolen Child

Author’s Notes:  This an excerpt from my novel Song of the Lost. It’s the story of James and Katherine who struggle for the lives while lost deep in the forest.  Chloe is Katherine’s estranged daughter who lives on the streets of Nashville. Although mentally challenged, she has occasionally expressed a latent musical genius.  She has been befriended by Brad McNear, a country music star in Nashville. In this scene, Chloe is hanging out a public library.

Chloe had two hours before the library would close and she went to her usual place, a table near the newspaper racks across from the reference desk. She wheeled her cart beside the table, took off the blanket, set her brass compass on the table, and took out her book of poetry. She had read the poems so many times that their rhymes and rhythms had shaped not only the songs which seemed to emanate from her spontaneously, but also her everyday speech patterns. She would have been regarded as special and lovely simply on her own natural countenance, but to those who took the time to talk to her, her poetic expression created an aura of special knowledge or prescience. In the sense that they conferred wisdom and understanding upon her, it was, of course, unwarranted. But in realm of simple clarity of truth, there was no one like her. For these reasons, Chloe Nielsen attracted people of kind and gentle heart.

Georgia Taylor, one of the librarians, was such a person.

“Hi, Chloe,” she said as she approached her table. She sat down beside her holding a book, which drew Chloe’s eyes. Its binding was old and worn, with frayed strings which at one time helped form the cloth that was glued over the cardboard cover. Along the spine in gothic letters that had faded into barely visible shadows was the name of the author: YEATS.

“Hi, Georgie,” Chloe said.

“It’s late for you to be here, isn’t it?”

Chloe nodded, then reached into her jacket pocket and pulled out the pass to the show at Willie’s. She handed it to Georgia.

“Oh. This is to Brad McNear’s show tonight. Where did you get this?”

“Brad gave it to me.”

Georgia leaned back in her chair. Her look was quizzical. “Do you know Brad?”

Chloe nodded. “We play music together sometimes.”

“You play music with Brad McNear.” It wasn’t a question, it was a statement of implied doubt.

“Sometimes. He recorded my song.”

Georgia could no longer feign her belief. “Are you making up a story, Chloe?”

Georgia had heard Chloe play and sing, but she had never witnessed her genius – only the three-chord cover songs that eventually disintegrated. She had never known that there was more. She gave up her pursuit of the truth.

“Well,” she said, “if you’re going over to Willie’s, be careful. The hustlers will be out trying to take advantage of the tourists. They prey on the vulnerable.”

“I know,” Chloe said.

Georgia looked at the ticket. “The show doesn’t start until eight,” she said. “You’ll have to be out of here by six. Where are you going to go until then?”

Chloe shrugged.

“Have you eaten?”

“I ate lunch at St. Mark’s.”

Georgia thought for a moment, then went to her desk. When she returned, she put a folded twenty-dollar bill into Chloe’s jacket pocket.

“There’s a sandwich shop between here and Willie’s. They’ll make you whatever you want. Get you a cup of coffee, too.”

“Can I have tea instead of coffee?”

“Of course. Just stay there until you can get in the club. They won’t care as long as you buy some food.”


Georgia smiled, then slid the book in front of Chloe. “I thought you might enjoy this. I know you like poetry. This is William Butler Yeats. One of the great poets of the twentieth century. I’ve had this since I was a child. It means a lot to me. I want you to have it.”

Chloe ran her hand over the worn cover, tracing the edges with her fingers. She opened the book to a random page and felt the yellowed paper. She followed the words with her eyes, her lips moving as she did.
Georgia patted Chloe’s hand. “I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.”

“Thank you, Georgie. I will.”

Georgia went back to her desk; she had work to do before closing. Chloe opened the book of Yeats poetry to page one. She read the half title, the title page, the colophon, the table of contents, and the forward before stopping at the first poem, The Stolen Child. She glanced at the verses that seemed so long, with words that were strange and unknown. She read the first few lines, stopped, and read them again. The meaning wasn’t clear. What was this poem about? A lake, herons, rats? She read more, grasping a phrase here and there but failing to put it together into anything coherent. Until the last line of the first verse.

the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

That, she understood.

She spent the next hour pouring over the book, reading verses and even single lines at random. It wasn’t easy. But there was something in the difficulty that was beguiling. She doubted that she would ever understand it all. She knew she would never stop reading.

It was almost six and Chloe was the only one on the main floor. She looked up at the desk, looking for Georgia. She wanted to thank her again for the book, but she didn’t see her. Chloe packed up her cart, putting her book of Yeats underneath her book of Frost, then covered them both with her thin blanket. She walked around the first floor, looking behind the stacks for Georgia, but there was no one. She started for the double doors at the front of the library and walked by the main desk.

She almost missed it. It was just another book among a dozen others to be re-shelved. But her mind filtered the blur of images so that the one book stood out and caused her to stop and turn around. She took a step back to the desk, and stared, her mouth open.

The elevator door to the right opened and Georgia exited pushing a cart. Chloe didn’t move or otherwise acknowledge her presence.

“What is it Chloe?”

“Katherine,” she answered. “That’s Katherine,” she said as she pointed to the back of the book jacket.

“Yes. Katherine Loudendale. That’s a new bestseller.” She turned the book over, revealing the cover art of the blue sneakers. “In the Forest of the Night. The story of her survival in the forest.”

Chloe turned the book over. “Katherine. My mother.”

“Katherine Loudendale is your mother?”


Georgia stared at Chloe. Anyone would have recognized the look as incredulity, but Chloe was oblivious.

“She got lost in the woods,” Chloe said.

“It’s been on the news,” Georgia said. “She was on The Shelley Show.”

“Dad got me a compass so I wouldn’t get lost.”

Georgia put her arm around Chloe. “Do you want me to take you back to the shelter?”

“No, I’m going to go hear Brad McNear.”

“Maybe I should just take you home.”

“I should go.”

“I’m worried about you Chloe,” Georgia said, but she didn’t say why.

“I’m ok, Georgie. I’m not sick that I know of.”

Georgia sighed, then hugged her from the side. “Please be careful. And go to the sandwich shop and get something to eat, ok?”

“I will. Thank you for the book.”

“You’re welcome. Try to get some rest tonight.”

“Miles to go before I rest.”

“Robert Frost,” Georgia said.


Coyright 2015, Joseph E Bird

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