The Ticket



“You can’t do this to me.”

The words seemed to echo between the walls of the small room, hitting Carla like a slap to the face. She sat on the corner of Mitchell’s bed, her toes working nervously into the pile of the blue carpet. All of her clothes, except for her underwear, were strewn across the floor with his. They left a trail up the hall, through the kitchen, and on to the front door of the double-wide. Carla wanted to get her clothes and run, suddenly embarrassed by her near- complete nakedness. It took all of her concentration to stay where she was, to not let the blow of his words level her to the floor. She felt vaguely nauseous. So she sat, unable to even wipe the tears she felt snaking down her chest and soaking into the pink silk of her bra.

Carla stared blankly at the walls of Mitchell’s bedroom, which were plastered with posters. Among the Ferraris and football players, a red and white wool “MC” was pinned to the wall. It was the first set of school letters that Mitchell had earned playing football. The set he earned last year was stitched onto the school jacket that he had given her. The jacket was crumpled up next to her feet. Mitchell stood, equally naked, with his back to her. He looked wordlessly out of the window.

Finally, she managed to whisper:

“We did this, Mitch. I ain’t doing nothing to you.”

“You know what I mean, baby. I just can’t deal with this mess right now-”

“And I can?” Carla shot back at him, her voice still a whisper, but sharp. She tried to look up at him, but the light from the window sent daggers through her head. Mitchell stayed at the window.

“Yeah. Why not?” he answered flatly. “You got your mama. She can help you. You can stay here with her. You know I got… plans.”

“What about my plans? You think I want this?” Subconsciously Carla rubbed her belly, closing her eyes to shield her aching head from the torture of the morning sun stabbing through the window. Mitchell walked around Carla to the far end of the bed. He seemed to make an effort not to touch her as he maneuvered around her in the tiny room. He sat on the opposite end, as far away as he could get from her and still be there. The distance was only a few feet, but it might as well have been miles. Five minutes earlier they had been making love, and now suddenly Carla felt completely alone.

“You don’t want it you know what you can do, then.”

She said nothing but dug her toes deeper into the blue carpet.

“Carla. Baby. You know I got scouts coming to see me. They recruiting me hard. Coaches coming to see me every week, I’m getting mail from them every day. This time next year, I’mma have a free ride to any school I want. Football will get me out of here, Carla.”

“What that got to do with this?” Carla replied.  This was not the first time that Mitchell had told her about his plans. For him, those cleats and shoulder pads were like a plane ticket taking him anywhere he wanted to go. Many times, they had sat and talked about conference championships, graduating from Morton County High, punching that ticket and launching themselves into the adventures that only life beyond the county limits of Morton, North Carolina could offer.  For the first time Carla realized that those adventures might not include her.

“They look at everything. My grades, who I hang with, if I get in any trouble. Carla, you know you just sixteen and-”

“My being sixteen didn’t bother you five minutes ago. And you are only one year older than me!” Now Carla was angry. She couldn’t decide whether to run or to hit him, so she continued to sit, working her feet against the floor. Her toes were numb. Her eyes were still clenched tightly, seeking some comfort in the darkness.

“This ain’t about me. It’s the coaches. You think they gonna give me a scholarship with a baby and a sixteen-year old baby mama dragging behind me?”

“So that’s how it is? That’s all I am, now? I thought you loved me, Mitchell.”

“Yeah, and I thought you loved me. I can’t believe you doing this to me, Carla.”

For a moment they both sat silently. Carla watched condensation form on the window pane. Here and there, tiny diamonds of reflected sunlight glinted on the trails of water drops that had broken loose and rolled down the glass.

“I am not getting rid of it.”

“Well, it ain’t mine, then.”

“God…are you serious?”

“You heard me.”

Mitchell stood and noisily started putting on his clothes. He grunted and sighed as if pulling on the shirt and zipping his denim jeans were manual labor. He kept his back to Carla, once even feeling around blindly on the floor behind his ankles just to stay out of her line of eye contact. Finally, he spoke.

“Uhh, look, you know my mama’s gonna be coming back soon.” The words were mumbled, more to himself than Carla. He stared at the wall in front of him, the ceiling, the floor, anything his eyes could settle on but her. “You know what I mean…”

Carla knew as well as Mitchell did that Mrs. Sinclair would not be back from work for hours. Her weekend shifts at the plant didn’t end until two o’clock. This was not the first Saturday morning that they had spent in his bedroom. It humiliated Carla to realized how stupid Mitchell thought she was. She realized just as quickly that he had been right.

“Yeah, I know exactly what you mean.” She stood on numb feet, looking around to find her clothes. She grabbed what she could find and put them on as quickly as she could, following the trail of garments to the front door. By the time she found her shoes, the numbness in her feet was replaced with a dull ache. One of the socks she put on sprouted a small spot of blood at the big toe. Carla fumbled with her boots, trying to get them on and get the hell away from Mitchell and anything else that he had to say.

“Look, baby, I’mma call you later, you know, when you cool down and got some sense. We can talk this out.”

Carla found her shirt last, pulling it down over her head. She held the jacket he had given her in one hand, the door knob in the other.

“Fuck you, Mitchell,” she yelled, and slammed the door. She had hoped the small pane of glass within it would break, but it only rattled and held tight.

It was cold; the sharp morning air hit Carla like a slap and momentarily took her breath away. She put the jacket on, hating it but needing the warmth. She hated the red jacket, with its white wool sleeves. Even worse than the fact that it came from Mitchell, she hated the blocky red chenille ‘MC’ emblazoned on the front of it. Morton County was too small a place for anyone to really live a life. You breathed, you went to school, you ate, but real living, real ‘honest-to-God-I’m-alive-and-living’ living, could not happen in a place so small and so isolated and so…Morton. Every town should have subways, and places worth riding them to. At least bus stops. Morton had neither, unless you counted the school buses. Even before this morning, before she had told Mitchell that she was pregnant, and before he had decided that it was no concern of his, Carla knew she would have to get away. But she had not planned on doing so alone.

The coat did little to keep out the damp coolness of a November Saturday morning. The jacket and the big red Morton “MC” felt about as thin and comforting as wet paper. Through the pockets she rubbed her belly, trying to at least keep it warm.

Carla had been walking forever. The country mile that separated Mitchell’s trailer and her house stretched on a marathon’s distance. Her legs ached, but at least the pain that had pounded in her temples like a hammer was starting to subside a little. She breathed deep, in and out, watching the wisps of vapor drift and disappear into the air. She looked at the fields, greyish-green with frosted dew, and the dull reds and yellows of the trees beyond. Patches of grass were turning a dry brown color, dead for the year. Carla was sick of trees, sick of fields, sick of everything. She was going to leave Morton, all of its country ways and country people; and most especially, she was leaving him.

Mitchell did not want her anymore.

The thought stopped her mid-step, bending her over in pain that was not physical but hurt worse than anything she had ever known in all of her sixteen years. Carla did not think that she could cry anymore and she was right. No tears came, but her stomach quivered and for a moment she was certain that she would vomit onto the asphalt.

She could not believe he had treated her that way.

The nausea passed and Carla continued walking. All she felt was the cold and the shared pains of her head, legs and feet. Everything else was numb. Ahead in the distance, she knew that just past the next hill her house was waiting.

For two weeks she had known about it. She had not told her mother, nor anyone else. She did not plan to now. Carla was going to go home, pack a bag, and she was going to leave Morton and Mitchell and her family and any nosy neighbors that would care who she was or whose baby she carried.

New York sounded about right. It had people, probably none of them from Morton. The Big Apple, the City That Never Slept, where everyone was all -the-way-alive all the time. It was big. It had subways and buses, and plenty of places worth seeing. It was nothing like small, tiny, country old Morton.

She truly thought that Mitchell would be happy when she told him.

Carla was startled to find herself so quickly at the corner of her own yard. The house was right there. Vaguely, she could make out her mother on the screened porch, doing something. As tired as she felt, Carla did not have the courage to stop walking. Even when her mother looked up at her, she continued past the driveway, fear keeping her feet in a steady cadence. Carla was scared, scared down clean to her bones. She was not even sure why. She had kept it secret this long, and by the time she was no longer able to hide it Carla planned to be long gone from Morton.

Still, when she heard her mother call out to her, asking what was wrong, the only thing that Carla could do was run. She ran as hard and as fast and as far as her sore feet could take her.





Harry and Sylvia

A post-Valentine’s Day love story



The hospital room was quiet aside from the persistent bleeping of the monitor and the electronic whine of the television, which was on but muted. Sylvia tapped away at her cellphone screen, diligently lining up and destroying rows of colored bricks. Harry sat in the chair beside her hospital bed, the newspaper in his hands but his eyes firmly on her.

“Sylvia, darling,” he said, almost in a whisper. ‘We got to have us a talk.”

“About what?” Sylvia squawked, still assaulting the cellphone. “I almost got this level beat!”

“You know what we have to talk about.”

“Fine,” she huffed. Sylvia put the phone down on the tangle of bedsheets and did her best to sit up. She could not get far, with her leg suspended from the hospital-frame something-or-other and encased in itchy plaster. “Jesus Christ, Harry, what did you expect me to do? I had to get out.”

Harry peeked over the top of the morning edition paper sheepishly. “But Sylvia-” he pleaded.

“But nothing! Whattaya think, I want to stay there with you stinking up the whole car like that?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Harry protested quietly, his face turning rosy and eyes cast back down to the paper.

“Oh, you know, Harry. Don’t give me that! I mean, there you are, pooting all over the place like something crawled into your hind parts and died.  Really, Harry, what else was I going to do?”

“But Sylvia!” Harry persisted.

“But what?”

“I was driving.”


“On the highway,” Harry replied, folding the paper into a neat rectangle.

“Does that change anything?” Sylvia asked, crossing her arms. “You, with your gas all over the place!”

“I was going forty miles an hour, honey. You broke your leg! What the hell were you thinking?”

“What was I thinking? Jesus Christ Harry, for thirty-eight years you’ve always farted in the car. Always. Even when it’s too cold to roll down the windows. That damn pillow you sit on smells like death. Always pooting. Poot, poot, poot! Swear to God, strike a match, and the whole car would probably go up in flames. I can’t take it any more Harry, I’m sick of it!”

Harry slumped back into his seat. “I’m sorry, Sylvia,” he said. “But you could have just said something-”

“Said what, Harry? What good would it do?” she replied. “You know you have ass problems. Your insides are rotting or something. You better go over to Doctor Horowitz and have him take a look up your wazoo before it’s too late. You need help.”

I need help? You’re the one who jumped from a moving car. Going FORTY. On the highway! You’re lucky you just broke a leg and got concussed. You could have died, Sylvia!” Harry sat back up in his chair, having made a valid, irrefutable point.

“Do you know what thirty-eight years of that can do? I mean, why, Harry? You don’t break wind like that anywhere except the car. You know I can’t drive, so I just got to sit there and suffer. Every day. Your gas has poisoned me!” Sylvia said seriously, pointing accusingly toward her husband of nearly four decades. “Your ass gave me temporary insanity.”

“I swear to God, Sylvia, you drive me bananas. You’re crazy as a bedbug!” Harry unfolded the paper and returned to the sports section.

The room settled into relative silence. The constant din of hospital machine bleeps and blips continued in the background. As it grew darker outside, the silent television bathed the room in a bluish glow. Sylvia’s cellphone died, and it soon became too dark for Harry to finish reading the home and garden section. So he sat quietly with the paper folded in his hand, dozing off. At some point, the other hand had made its way to Sylvia’s bed. His fingers intertwined with hers, and when the television light was right, her wedding ring sparkled just as much as the day he had put it on her finger.

“Looks like it’s getting on bedtime,” he said to Sylvia, who herself barely held her eyes open.

“Yeah, I guess it is,” she replied sleepily.

“I love you, crazy old woman.”

“And I love you too, stinky old man,” Sylvia admitted. She buried her head into the pillow and for a moment the hospital room almost felt something like home. In minutes they snored together contentedly, in time to the rhythm of the hospital noises surrounding them.

Have a seat…


The teller’s stump…

Most of my childhood was spent listening to stories.  Some of them were true, some were flat-out lies, and most were that perfect blend of both that leave you planted in your seat waiting to hear what happened next.  A lot of these stories I heard spying in that way that only children can do, absorbing all of the ‘grown folks business’ that I could before being shooed away.  My favorite stories, though, were the ones that I was meant to hear:  sitting on the ground, with the teller (my uncle, grandmother, whoever could tell the tale) weaving their stories.  Many of those stories were told on the porch of my house with me sitting on the cool concrete.  The storyteller sat on the old sawed off tree stump that sat in one corner.  The stump was the closest thing to a proper chair on the porch, and the Teller got the Stump.  The best stories left my butt numb from sitting on the ground so long.

The porch, stump, and most of the storytellers from my childhood are long gone.  This blog is the place that I will now choose my seat and sit down (to quote one of the greatest storytellers of them all, Son House).  From this stump I will share some stories of my own as well as updates on my ongoing progress with my very first novel, Sugar Spring, which I am now in the process of writing.  Along the way I also will highlight storytellers of all kinds that have struck me in one way or another: artists, musicians, writers, poets, all with stories worth telling and worth hearing.

I hope that you will enjoy.  Have a seat.  And if your butt gets numb, feel free to stand up if you have too!