Saturday, April 30, 2005

Oby Enjoys the Sun

Oby enjoying the sun, drawing by me (Mary Stebbins). Posted by Hello

Discovery at Little Hog Island Part 6

No retreat today. I will make a very brief entry, because everyone else has gone to bed and I'm tired and want to join them.

part 1, part 5

Discovery at Little Hog Island Part 6:

Dana cringed and looked away. She looked at Buck's hands, and then at Buck. Buck looked calmly serene and strangely handsome in a rough sort of way. He sat looking at Glenn with a small smile playing around the edges of his mouth. Everyone waited without moving or speaking. They all looked toward Glenn.

Dana looked back at Glenn. He was still staring at her with utter malice. Then, in an exaggerated motion, he slowly lifted his arms and placed his hands on the table. His face darkened.

part 7

Friday, April 29, 2005

Cat, by me (Mary Stebbins) Posted by Hello

Discovery on Little Hog Island, part 5

Sharon and Frank are coming home tomorrow, and I am headed for Detroit today. It's my last visit with Spuddy, and I'm in a bit of a rush because I have so far to drive (412 miles). Here's my installment for the day:

This story is part 5 in a serial. to begin with part 1, click here.
To view the previous installment (part 4), click here.

Discovery on Little Hog Island, part 5

"I gotta hand it to you, Simon said, "You're the first spy who penetrated our defenses."

"An unprecedented act of heroine-ism," Garrett added. They all laughed. Willie nodded.

"I'm not a spy. I'm a camper. I was just curious."

"More than curious," Glenn said. "Downright nosy."

"Now, Glenn," Buck said, "be polite. Dana is company."

"Unwanted company," Glenn snorted, "Unwanted and unwelcome."

Willie nodded. The others all nodded along with him. Everyone but Buck.

"Put your hands on the table, Dana, palms down," Buck said. Dana did as she was told. She looked down at her hands. They were not typical women's hands. They were tan and scratched, covered with cuts and bruises and reddened bumps of poison ivy. Dana liked taking pictures of wildflowers and was always crawling around in the bushes. She remembered an advertisement for some dish detergent, Dove maybe, or was it Palmolive, where a mother and daughter laid their smooth, lily-white hands next to each other. Their perfect unblemished hands. Dana's hands did not pass muster.

Buck placed his hands on the table beside Dana's. Buck clearly worked with his hands. They were thick and strong, tanned, scarred, and had as many cuts as Dana's. There were embedded with some kind of grime that looked as if Buck had tried to scrub out and failed.

The other men stared. Then Willie placed his hands on the table. They looked much like Buck's. Garrett followed suit. His hands were similar, except Buck's fingers were longer. Simon laid his hands down. The hands all nearly matched. They were sturdy, battered and dirty.

Everyone turned to look at Glenn. He stared at Dana. His eyes were black, narrowed, and full of hatred.

part 6

Rabbit under the spruce. Posted by Hello

Discovery on Little Hog Island, Part 4

Spuddy has knocked over some flowers and cookbooks; he’s friendly and hungry.

I have so much to do that I don’t want to stay too long.

part 1, part 3

Discovery on Little Hog Island, part four, continued from previous post

The men formed a semi-circle around Dana. "So," said one, who was tall, thin, angular, and scruffy, "We have a spy, do we?" His voice was even lower and more gravelly than Buck's."

"I'm not a spy," Dana started, her voice sounding high and nervous.

"Simon," Buck said. "Get our friend Dana a beer. Bring another chair, Garrett."

Two other men disappeared in opposite directions.

"Come have a seat," Buck said, pulling the chairs clustered around the table into a wider circle. You play Black Jack?" Dana took the seat he offered. It was the one he’d been sitting in. She shook her head. "Poker?"

"Well, occasionally, for fun."

Simon came back with a six-pack of beer. He was young and blond, sunburnt. His nose was peeling. Garrett came back with a chair. Buck took it and sat beside Dana.

"Deal us a hand, Glenn," Buck said. Glenn was the lean man who’d asked if she was a spy. He dealt out a hand, looking at Dana from under bushy eyebrows that were knitted together in the center like a bushy caterpillar. He glared at her.

Buck handed around the beers. "This here is Willie," he said, indicating the last man. Willie was a stocky man, slightly pudgy around the face. He had a bland dull look and unfocused eyes. He nodded at Dana, his eyes never turning toward her.

"Don’t mind Willie," Buck said, "he’s a little under the weather." Buck opened Dana’s beer and handed it to her.

Willie nodded slightly. Glenn snorted. He popped open his beer, took a huge slug, and turned to Dana. "So," he repeated, glaring at her, "you’re a spy."

part 5

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Thanks for the Tasty Treat

Spuddy: MMMMmmm--Thanks for the tasty treat! (detail from earlier photo) [This and all others by Mary Stebbins.] Posted by Hello

Discovery on Little Hog Island, Part 3

I just fed Spuddy, gave him fresh water (washed the dish), washed the cat food cans etc. He’s eating. The bad news is that my laptop seems to have died. It will not turn on and does not indicate that it is getting any power. The green power light was on when I got here and went off when I tried to turn it on.
This will make it harder to do my retreat assignment.

This story begins two posts earlier. Scroll down to read it sequentially or
Click here to read part 1
Click here to read part 2

Discovery on Little Hog Island, Part 3

He looked her up and down. "You don’t look wet," he said.

"No, I took your advice and did not swim out here." Dana heard her voice come out calmly and normally, though inside it felt squeezed with fear.

"Good choice," the man said, gruffly, his voice low and gravelly. "So what did you do, fly?"

"I paddled."

"At night? Why are you standing in the munitions shed? What are you doing here?"

"I was just curious. I wanted to look around."

"You could see better during the day. Name's Skillin. Buck Skillin."

He held out his hand. She took it gingerly. It was warm and dry. Hers was clammy with fear. "And you?"

"Dana. Dana Waznik."

"Wanna Beer?"

"A beer?" Dana heard her voice rise with surprise, almost incredulity.

"You a TEE-totaler?"

"No. I just didn't expect you to offer me beer?"

"Why not, seems like the polite thing to do when you have company. Come on, I'll introduce you to the guys."

Buck Skillin turned and walked back toward the stone building. Dana followed, still feeling nervous. She didn’t know if she should bolt for the darkness, grab her kayak, and paddle madly away. But she didn’t. She followed Buck. He held the door for her.

"Boys," he said, "We have company. Four faces turned toward Dana. They all rose to their feet. They did not look happy.

next installment (part 4)

* * *
I took a break for a second round of Spuddy petting and gave Spuddy a little more food. He seemed to want it.

Spuddy Licks his chops, 4/27/05 Posted by Hello

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Discovery on Little Hog Island, part two

Spuddy was anxious for food again today, didn't even want any attention until after he had eaten.

This story begins in the previous post. (Click here to read the first installment first.)

Discovery at Little Hog Island, part Two

Dana crept along the tumbled edges of the ruins, carefully stepping over and around fallen stones. She pressed close to the wall, but if anyone came out with a flashlight, they would see her. There was nowhere to hide. This is really stupid, Dana thought, Why am I doing this? She was playing a hunch, and she felt compelled to find out if she was right. When she got to the window, she slowly, carefully raised her head and peered in.

Four men were playing cards by the light of a kerosene lamp. The one facing the window, was the man who had warned her not to swim to the island. He was looking at the cards in his hand and did not see her. Dana walked past the door and past the next window, which was dark. She climbed over the crumbled wall, walked along the intact wall, past three more windows, and turned to walk behind the building. She was hoping to reach one of the other windows where she could look in without being spotted by someone coming or going.

But someone was behind the building. Dana heard him crashing around, saw his light moving. She crouched in the deep shadows between the wall and some tumbled stone. There was another building out there. In the light of the man’s flashlight, it looked like a stone shed. The man went in, banged around a little, and then was silent. A little while later, he reemerged and went back to the card-game building.

Dana waited a little while, and then walked over to the shed. A rusty padlock hung on a hasp. She looked for a window, then realized the lock had not been pulled shut. She slipped it off, pulled the loop from the hasp, swung the door slowly open, and peered in. On the wall were rusty swords and bayonets. Footlockers were stacked on either side of the inside of the shed. Dana opened one. Guns. More guns. On the other side, grenades. Dana shut the lids and headed for the door. A light shown in her face.

“What have we here?” asked a voice. It was the man who had warned her about the tides.

Click here to read the next installment.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Spuddy, preparing to accept his due. Posted by Hello

Discovery on Little Hog Island, Part 1

Spuddy was more anxious for food today than for loving. He ate all his supper and wanted more. After I lavished food and affection on him, I started a story:

Ruins on Little Hog Island

Dana stood poised at the edge of the sea in her bathing suit. A rough wind tossed and tangled her hair. She studied the island, its rocky shore and the tangle of dark hemlocks and spruces. Sweeping away, barely visible behind the trees, was a barren rocky spit with birds flying in and out. Her birds, terns, by the look of it. The island was wild, intriguing and tempting, as well as close enough to swim to. She stepped between the rocks into the shockingly cold water, and paused, shivering. A man coming up the beach waved his arm urgently. She considered going on, but decided to wait and stepped back onto the damp sand.

She was a little embarrassed because she no longer trim, but bulged a little in her suit. The man was fully dressed and did not look as if he would ever wear swim trunks. He was gruff-looking, weather-beaten and sported a two-day beard. He looked to be about her age, fifty-ish.

“You thinking of swimming out to Little Hog Island?” He asked. “Not from these parts, eh?”

“Yes, I thought I’d swim out and back. I like a destination, when there’s one nearby.

“I need to warn you it’s not safe. The way the tide comes in and out around the island, there are currents, and they get very fast. People have died trying to swim out there, visitors. Most of the locals know better. Ask anyone. Want to swim? Go over the dunes there and swim in the lake. It’s warmer, too.”

“Thanks,” Dana said, as the man turned and disappeared back down the beach among the rocks.

She went over the dunes and found a lake, picturesque amid the pines. After she’d swum, she lay on a blanket and half-dozed, thinking dreaming of the island until voices woke her. A group of teens set up a volleyball net and were playing, diving for the ball, leaping high. From their banter, she gathered they were locals.

“Excuse me,” she asked, “Has anyone drowned swimming to Little Hog Island?”

“Yes,” a girl said, “a couple people, three or four. I guess there’s bad currents there.”

“Have any of you been out there?” The kids all shook their heads.

“My Grandpa said he’d been out there, and kids used to go out when he was a kid. I guess the current shifted. He said there was some ruins.” one boy said.

“But you never went out to look?”

“Nah, never thought about it much.”

Dana couldn’t stop thinking about it. As soon as it got dark, she hauled her inflatable kayak out of the trunk of her car and blew it up. She felt like a spy or a criminal. If there were bad currents, she would avoid them. She paddled along the shore until she was well past the island, then out to sea, and then back around. She landed without incident on the far side of the island and stowed the kayak in the bushes. Then crept carefully up a narrow path through the darkness, shining her flashlight with a red gel on it low to the ground.

Did she think she was some kind of sleuth? Who was she kidding? She just had an overactive imagination, thinking that man was trying to hide something. And if he were, would she be able to find it? Then what?

The trail climbed steeply, winding between rocks, and then opened into a clearing. There were ruins dimly visible, stonewalls, foundations, a small stone building that looked intact. There was a light coming from the window—and voices.

To be continued, hopefully, at the next Spuddy retreat!

*(to read the next intallment, click here)

Monday, April 25, 2005; 9:06 PM

Spuddy, lying in front of me at the entrance waiting to be carressed. Posted by Hello

Spuddy Retreat Day Three: A Calico Wind

Spuddy wants more attention than usual tonight. I sit on the couch petting him for quite some time. I feed and water him and then pet him some more. He’s lonely and needy. I have an agenda. I want to write a Spuddy retreat piece for day 3. When he gets off my lap of his own free will, I sit at the table to write, thinking, at least he has company.

Earlier tonight I lost not only today’s work, but also yesterday’s. It wouldn’t download last night, something is wrong with the program. I probably need to uninstall and reinstall it. I suppose I shouldn’t talk about these behind the scenes aspects of writing. “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.” Meanwhile, I am grieving the loss of two day’s work.

Today the muse is asleep. I prefer it when the muse speaks plainly. Give me something exciting, something tasty I can sink my teeth into. I think about the assignment for the contemplative writing group: to write from a dream. I had a dream to write from. In fact, I had several. And pieces already partly or almost entirely written.

When I come home from college, I find my father sitting on the livingroom floor in the small shack where we live. He is surrounded by newspaper and holds a scrub brush. He is scraping and scrubbing chicken poop from the floor. The floor is textured tin, like an old-fashioned ceiling, and the chicken poop is embedded in the textures. My father scrapes with a putty knife trying to remove the poop. There is one chair in the livingroom, a wooden dining room chair. I sit in the chair and tell my father about college while he digs chicken poop from the crevices. The chicken is still running around the room pooping. The newspapers don’t stay in place. It is my chicken. I feel deeply upset and guilty about this, but helpless to change things.

I wonder why the chicken is in the house, and why we don’t move it outside. I wonder if this is an allegory of sorts where the two or three characters in the story are parts of myself. There is part of me that goes around pooping and making impossible messes, part of me that tolerates this and doesn’t make an appropriate effort to change, and part of me that quietly cleans up. Or, is it poor Keith who is quietly cleaning up after me? And is the chicken Rocky the cockatiel whom Keith does not want pooping on Susan’s textured tile floors. He’d be quietly and patiently cleaning up while I’m gallivanting. Perhaps it is a message that I need to find a new home for Rocky. I am very torn—very torn—about that. I feel a responsibility to the bird, but I never really wanted it in the first place. I got it for Erin. Then Mom had it for a while. But he or she has become part of the family. And I would only want him or her to go to a new home if I was confident it would be a good one.

I am not sure I can make that dream into a story or poem. The fixer-upper part of me wants to get in there and move the chicken to a shed or coop with straw on the floor and access to the outside during the day. That’s hardly an interesting story.

I could write, like Russell Edson or Chris Kennedy a weird little piece, or I could make up a fairy tale about how the chicken is actually my twin sister under a magical spell.

This is a static image, fairly still. Very little happens. It seems to represent a condition or relationship or both.

I could write a prequel and sequel to the dream. Maybe. How and why did the chicken get there, and what happens next? Why do we seem to be living in poverty in a place I never lived in in real life? A hovel. My house is a hovel. Perhaps I’ve been neglecting the physical chores for the intellectual. But why would anyone build a floor out of textured tin or leave a chicken in the livingroom? The dream is too far-fetched to be real.

A story has to have action. It’s a sort of a mood piece as it stands, and brief, like a little flash piece.

I decide to stick with what I was given, only fleshing it a little:

A Calico Wind

My father scrubs chicken poop from the textured indentations of the tin floor in our livingroom. This is how I find him when I return for spring break. I walk from the train station up the series of muddy two tracks to our shanty in a wet, calico wind. Papa is surrounded by newspaper and holds a scrub brush. He doesn’t look up, or speak. He scrubs and scrapes with a putty knife trying to remove the poop from the crevices. I sit in the wooden straight-backed chair, the only chair in the room, and tell my father about calculus and physics. About the dorm, the sorority girls and their make up. The abundance of fancy food at the dining hall. All you can eat. Peg, my one-legged pet chicken, flaps her wings, scattering the newly laid papers, exposing the floor. I rearrange them, and go out for rocks to hold them in place. I bring in some groundnuts, too. As it gets dark, Papa leaves off scrubbing and stows the brush on the shelf under the washbasin table. The calico wind whistles in the windowpanes, rattling them slightly. The candle sputters, but doesn’t quite go out. In the pines around the cabin, screech owls quaver. With the one egg Papa left on the counter for me, I make us, for dinner, a groundnut omelet. It reminds me of the frittatas they serve for breakfast at the dorm.

Mary Stebbins
050424 Spuddy Retreat (3) Journal FLASH

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Spuddy Prepares for Battle!!! Posted by Hello

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Spuddy Retreat Day 2: Getting a New Job

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Spuddy was pleased to see me tonight, eager and hungry.

Because I was a little late getting here, my "retreat" will only be about twenty minutes or less long—I’ve already been here a while, petting, feeding and watering Spuddy.

Getting a New Job

“I am thinking of quitting my job here and looking for a new job,” my mother says when I arrive at the nursing home. “I’m just not sure what else I can do.”

I don’t know how to respond. All day, my mother has been parked in front of the TV in her wheelchair in the lounge. I cannot guess what kind of work she thinks she’s been doing. “You don’t like it here?” I ask, somewhat ambiguously.

“It’s okay, I guess, but some of those other girls are so bossy.” She waves her hand toward the aides.

“Are they mean to you?” I ask, a little worried.

“Not exactly, but they won’t let me leave. I need to do some shopping. I want to go home. But sometimes, they make me spend the night.”

“You have a room here,” I say.

“Is it the one at the end of the hall, with the picture of Erin?”

“Yes, that one. You live here now.”

“I have two rooms. I have two rooms now.”

“Where is the other one?”

“I think it’s on Ellsworth Ave. In the house on Ellsworth Ave. Or did they sell that house? I’ve been wondering, are Mom and Dad still alive?”

“No, your Mom died before I was born, fifty-eight years ago. Your Dad is dead, too, and your brother John and his wife Roberta.” I watch her face to see if this upsets her. I can’t tell.

“How old am I, anyway?”

“You’re 81. You’ll be eighty-two in August.”

“That’s why I need a new job. I’ve been working here too long. I need to go back to the house on Ellsworth Ave.”

“They sold that house. More than 50 years ago. You have another house.”

“What house is that?”

“The one in Liverpool where you lived with Pa. The brown house with the birch in the front.”

“I don't remember that house. Where is Pa, anyway? The rat. He hasn’t been around to see me in a long time.”

“He died, Mom. Seven years ago.”

“That’s why I need another job. Because Pa’s not taking care of me any more.”

“Mom, you don’t have to work. Pa left you enough money to pay your bills. Don’t worry about it. No one is putting you out on the street.”

“I wish they would, so I could walk back to Ellsworth Ave. They won’t let me out.”

“Let’s go out Mom. I’ll take you for a walk. It’s nice out. The daffodils are open.”

“I can’t go. I have to work. I need to get a new job.”

“They said you could leave for a while. I’ll take you for a walk.” I push her wheelchair toward the elevators.

“Okay. I want to stop by my grandmother’s house and say hello to her. She lives on Ellsworth Ave, just down the street from Mom and Dad, remember? She might know where I can get a job. I’m getting tired of this one.”


After I write this, I get a heavy feeling in my heart. I realize that is because I had a dream when my father died, one of a series of dreams about him. In the dream, he left me (died) because he had gotten a new job (“in heaven” or in the afterlife). Getting a new job becomes a metaphor for death, in my father’s case. But my mother is her own person. She has her own set of metaphors. Her search for a “new job,” and for her parents and grandparents (who have passed on, of course) does not necessarily mean she will die soon. At the moment, she seems pretty healthy, physically .

Don't even THINK about it!

Spuddy: Don't even think about it! Posted by Hello

Friday, April 22, 2005

Spuddy Retreat Day One: Take Two

Spuddy Retreat: Spuddy Poem One
This week, I am cat-sitting for Sharon and Frank’s cat Spuddy. I brought my laptop over and after loving him, feeding him and giving him attention, I sat at the kitchen table and wrote. I wanted Spuddy to have some company for a while. This poem is the result of my first Spuddy Retreat:

Take Two

You sip blue shadows from the gathering dusk. Bite
moon cookies, the cracked light shining sweet
on your tongue. We play in the heaving, honeyed void.
What passes for earth, falling water, thistles, ordinary
grass and wet leaves slips over us, chiffon and silk. I watch

my foot dip into undulating transparent layers, the solid gone
liquid, gone empty, everything shining, flowing. You slide
in and out between layers, luminous and translucent. I think we
are twins. I think we will marry. Perhaps I am the riverbed and you
the river. Together, the vast and crashing fall.
But if you leave, we cannot be twins,

can never marry. I shout and run
after you. I want to hold
this overflowing cup to your fingertips and lips,
touch your tongue to this ambrosia. I call and call
until you turn back
to me. A sip of nectar: your fingers twine into mine.

The earth settles into solid silence, shivers. Hunkers down
a moment before the shimmer song


Mary Stebbins
for KeithFriday, April 22, 2005 Earth Day.

This poem is one of a series of poems re-envisioning my miraculous first meeting with Keith.

Full Tilt Retreat

I have been turned down for the Saltonstall Retreat Again. I am apparently not good enough. That's how I feel, rejected (again). I can only make my own retreats until I get accepted somewhere. Retreating is important to me. It allows me to focus on my creative work and set aside daily concerns. But I am very busy right now attempting to move, sell the house, get divorced, and so on--so my retreats are full tilt retreats, on the run.