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Joseph E Bird

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literary writing

as they may believe again

The night was falling down from the east and the darkness that passed over them came in a sudden breath of cold and stillness and passed on. As if the darkness had a soul itself that was the sun’s assassin hurrying to the west as once men did believe, as they may believe again.

Cormac McCarthy, from The Crossing

the long walk

pier for web

There were a few people on the beach, walking slowly, their heads down, scanning the sand for surprises from the deep that always appeared after a storm. A yellow umbrella pitched in the sand near the surf caught her eye and though she couldn’t see, she knew there was an old man underneath, his skin dark and leathery from his years in the sun, his shirt – a short-sleeved button-up, despite the cool weather – bleached a pale blue. There was a tackle box by his side and an always empty creel, though surely he would catch something sometime. Surely. He would sit in his beach chair and smile anyway, as if he knew he were part of the scene, part of what the people from the city expected to see when they came with their pale flesh, soon to be pink flesh, to walk on the hard, grainy sands and evaluate their lives and make big plans that would carry them back to their tedious jobs and their monotonous neighborhoods with a feeling of hope that would last a couple of weeks, maybe three, before comfortable complacency engulfed them once again and relieved them of any responsibility of living a more meaningful life. And it always happened on days like this one, not in the bright of a too hot day where the heat and lotions and kids crying in the distance worked to produce nothing better than a brief nap, followed by a short walk to the water to cool the feet, maybe venture in up to the knees, but never farther. No, the deep contemplation happened on the overcast days where the obligatory roasting in the sun was excused and those with no inclination for inner reflection went to the mall, while those who still had hope went on the long walk to the pier.


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

and the darkness he called night

“I guess I misjudged how quickly the darkness falls.”

— Heather Roth, from the novel Heather Girl


copyright 2018, joseph e bird

dystopia

kmart for web

what’s that building?

it used to be a store.

a store?

people used to go there to buy things.

what kind of things?

clothes.  paint.  medicine.  watches.  televisions.  tools.

why didn’t they just order it?

it was different then.  people wanted to see what they were getting.

why?

i don’t know.  something about feeling the heft of a hammer in your hands.  seeing how a watch looked on your wrist.  or shoes on your feet.

seems like a lot of trouble.

i guess.  sometimes they’d sell hot dogs out front. or brownies.

why?

cheerleaders raising money for uniforms.  veterans helping veterans.

what’s a veteran?

people who went to war defending our freedom.

war is bad, isn’t it?

yeah.  it can get complicated.

why is there so much pavement in front?

people used to drive cars.

you mean ride in cars?

no.  they actually drove cars.  everybody had a car.  they’d keep it at home and drive it to the store.

no way.

yes. and they’d leave their cars all over the pavement while they went in the store and shopped.

that’s just crazy.

maybe.  but it worked.  i met your grandmother in that store.

was she shopping?

no.  she was a cashier.

what’s that?

we used to buy things with money.  dollar bills.  coins.  we’d pay the cashier before we left with whatever we bought.

grandma was a cashier?

i went to the store a lot.  bought things i really didn’t need just for the chance to talk to her.

why didn’t you use an app?

you can’t flirt with an app.

why do you need to flirt?

you don’t.  it’s just part of the dance.

you danced, grandpa?

oh yeah.  we danced, all right.

so what’s with the rocket?

beats me.  we never did figure that out.

rocket for web


The first photo is the former K-Mart in my small town, closed just a few weeks ago.  It’s unsettling how deserted the parking lot is now.  To the right, just out of the frame, a Kroger store continues to thrive, so it’s not quite the apocalypse.  Not yet.  The sign in the second photo is soliciting tenants for the vacant building.  In the background, across the highway on the riverbank, is the rocket of St. Albans.  I’ve lived here all (most) of my life and have no idea why we have a rocket on the riverbank by the highway.


images and story copyright 2018, joseph e bird

 

 

it’s a west virginia thing

The temperature and humidity were rising as she drove farther south and just outside of Montgomery she stopped for gas at a convenience store, filled her tank, and went inside for a cold drink. When she came back out, she paid no attention to the car parked at the pump behind her.

“West Virginia, almost heaven.”

She turned to look. A black man, about her age, wearing a tattered ball cap. He was smiling,

She gave him a friendly look and unlocked her car.

“Your license plate.” He pointed to the back end of her car. “I’m from there.”

She stopped. She couldn’t resist.

“Where?”

“McDowell County.”

It was a West Virginia thing. If you’re from southern West Virginia, you’re identified with your county, not your town. Mingo County. Boone County. Lincoln County. McDowell was the poorest of the poor. She didn’t have to ask why he left. The decline of the coal industry affected everyone in southern West Virginia. As the jobs left, the drugs came in. Anybody with any hope for the future left. At least that’s the way she saw it.

“I’m from Charleston.”


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

writing tip – rearrange the furniture

from January 21, 2017


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.

But.

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.

 

Heather Girl

Heather Roth has little to look forward to. Her two sons, who have occupied most of her adult life, have grown and left her alone in the house in which she grew up.  Her ex-husband, for whom she still has feelings despite his abusive nature, lives hundreds of miles away.  And she’s being treated for Huntington’s, a disease that ravaged her mother, and for which she knows there is no cure.

Then the news she wasn’t expecting. Her father is being paroled from prison in Texas where he has been serving a sentence for the murder of his wife, Heather’s mother.

She’ll do anything to keep him out of her life, but when she is forced to take him into her home, she learns that the lives of her family weren’t what they seemed to be.  A story of tragedy and heartbreak, Heather Girl, delivers a whisper of hope and an abundance of compassion, even in the darkest hours.

i have to go

“I shouldn’t have come here. I’m sorry.”

He reached across the table and put his hand on hers. She pulled away.

“I need to go.”

“Can’t you stay a little longer?”

There was no guile in his expression. His eyes had turned soft and pleading, his smile gentle and nervous. He was seventeen again, unsure of himself, captivated by the girl with the flaming red hair who could persuade him to do her bidding with her own teasing, alluring smile. He looked at her, a strand of his brown hair in front of his eyes, enticing her to brush it away, to touch his face, to feel his shoulders through his white t-shirt, tempting her to stay, to finish dinner, to find the bottle he had hidden behind the cereal in the cabinet above the refrigerator, to sip and smell the sweet liquor on his breath, and let the evening take them back in time to their wonderful and terrible lives of so many years ago, that would delight the flesh, break the heart, and leave them in ruin.

“I have to go.”

He stayed at the table as she got up and walked out. As she opened the front door, she heard him from the kitchen.

“Heather.”

She closed the door behind her.


Copyright 2018, joseph e bird, from the novel Heather Girl.

rest a little longer

do you remember
the smell of spring
and the freshly cut grass
when it’s ok
to sit in the sun
for a few minutes
without guilt?

do you remember
driving with
the windows down
and walking without
a jacket
for a few days
without worry?

do you remember
the daffodils
and the beans
and the tomatoes
growing so freely
for a few weeks
without tending?

do you remember
the windows open
and the breezes flowing
and the skies so clear
in the night and the day
for a few months
without winter?

do you remember
to everything
there is a season
and a time
to every purpose
under the heaven
without apprehension?

tomorrow will come
soon enough
so find peace
in the rest
and gain strength
for the labor
that is tomorrow.


copyright 2018, joseph e bird

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