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A Bowl of Words…fragment

“What would you do?” Laura asked Paul.
“Do? You mean if I wanted to kill myself?”
“I don’t know, Dr. Kevorkian, is this a multiple-choice question?”
“Yes, of course it is. But seriously, haven’t you ever thought about it? I mean not actually thinking that you would do it, but, you know, just thinking about it?”
“Yeah, I guess. But mostly when it’s in the news — Vince Foster or Kurt Cobain.” Paul was quiet for a moment, then said, “When I was a teenager I was pretty pissed off for a while and used to think that I would kill myself and really show my parents what small-minded tyrants they had been. It was always a gun — just a neat hole in the temple — and my father would barge into my room screaming at me for some petty infraction of the rules and there I’d be, on the bed, cold and dead. And he’d collapse and never be the same, and my mother would come in and cradle my lifeless body in her arms and finally have to be pried away. You know, teenage angst. It didn’t come to me in so many words, but even then I could see the difference between wanting to be dead and wanting revenge. I didn’t want to be dead; what I wanted was to put on this drama and watch it unfold and really bask in it and then jump up and say, ‘Just kidding!’ I wanted to hurt them.”
“What changed?” Laura asked.
“When I went to help my uncle rebuild after the tornado. Spent a couple of months swinging a hammer and after that I was different, and my parents seemed different too, though it’s hard to say who really changed. Took my mind off revenge, anyway…”

more fragments from A Bowl of Words

A Bowl of Words…fragment

…Slowly, as Laura dressed and went downstairs, other names slipped into her awareness — Marilyn, Sylvia Plath — and then other deaths — needles and airplanes and car crashes that had preserved a famous face in perpetual youth — Janis, Jimmy Hendrix, Buddy Holly. That list was too long, she thought, and death was too big a word for one day.

“You look far away,” Paul said, finding her at the kitchen table with nothing but a cup of coffee in front of her. “What’s the word, mockingbird?”
Suicide,” she said.
“Ouch. Larry’s mom, in the bathtub, with a gun. Sounds like we’re playing Clue.”
“A gun?” she asked. “Guns aren’t typically the weapons of choice for women.”
“Yeah. I don’t know. It was a mess. Larry found her.”
“Oh,” Laura groaned. “Was she sick?”
“Yeah. No. I’m not sure. She had something. But after Larry’s brother died, she was never the same. She tried to put together some semblance of a normal life, but he was her baby and she never did come back all the way. Obviously.”
“Who else?” she asked.
“Isn’t this a fun breakfast conversation,” he said, used to the serious turn their days might take. “Would you like to ruminate on some granola?”
“Sure. Banana, no raisins.”
“No thanks.”
“What would you do?” Laura asked Paul…

more fragments from A Bowl of Words

A Bowl of Words…fragment

“What ever happened to Brian?”
“Richie’s friend Brian?”
“Oh Mom, you must remember. Remember he used to race sailboats? In the summers, during college, he sort of hitchhiked around the world, crewing on sailing yachts. Then in the summer of his junior year, Brian and a friend and the friend’s sister were sailing off of Hawaii and the boat just vanished. Remember?”
“Oh, yes, now it’s sort of coming back.”
“After the search was called off, his parents wouldn’t give up. They took a second mortgage on their house and kept looking. They continued to believe the boat was blown up in some kind of weapons test. They tried to get satellite photos, but the feds weren’t very helpful. Brian was such a great sailor and a really strong swimmer, and there was no weather of any consequence the day they disappeared. It was very suspicious, but ultimately, it’s been what, 20-some years now, and Brian and his friends and the boat are still gone without a trace.”
“Those poor parents.”
“You and Dad weren’t really friends with them, were you? How come? Richie and Brian were such good friends.”
“I don’t really remember. There was something between Mason and Brian’s father, I think. Some male line-in-the-sand kind of thing. Maybe your dad will remember.”
“Didn’t I hear that Brian’s father died a year or two ago?”
“Maybe. I don’t know, honey.”
“I know Rich said Brian’s parents wouldn’t both leave the house at the same time for about ten years, in case someone called with news, or Brian walked through the door one day.”
“God. What an awful story.”

A Bowl of Words…fragment

“Mom, I thought you had lemonade.” “On the porch. Just get yourself a glass and some ice cubes.” “Are you going to have some or do you want more iced tea?” “Yes, both, I think. I’ll use the same glass, but throw a couple more ice cubes in it, would you, honey?”

The lemonade pitcher sat on the table next to a bowl of lemons. They were craggy and pocked and some were nearly the size of grapefruit. Each year, the lemon tree scented the back yard, porch and kitchen with its fragrant flowers. It was a lemon factory, audible from 20 feet with a constant buzz of bees, year after year producing bushels of lemons. It had been the first planting in the rocky slope of the back yard when Rosemary and Mason moved in to the house, when Laura was an infant, Mason unable to imagine a summer without lemonade and lemony iced tea.

Each year, Laura had watched the fruit grow from tiny nubs to hard green peas to miniature limes, then expand until the tree’s slender twigs looked like they would break under the burden. In adolescence, she had rubbed wedges of lemon over her nose and cheeks to make her freckles go away, and faithfully squeezed the juice into her hair, hoping that one morning she would find a sunny blonde looking back at her from the bathroom mirror.

A Bowl of Words…fragment

Rosemary waved at Stephanie, who emerged from the house across the street on the heels of three Westies. The small white dogs streaked to the ends of their 25-foot leads before she slipped the hand-grips of the retractable lines over a stout pole. Until they became hopelessly entangled around the tree, or around each other, the dogs had the run of the large front yard, their leashes holding them just short of the driveway and the sidewalk.

Stephanie turned back into the house and reappeared a moment later pushing the side-by-side stroller. She wheeled it down the ramp that sloped along the front of the house from the front door to the driveway, then went back and lifted the dogs’ lead from its stanchion. The little dogs clustered around her ankles eagerly, then bolted toward the stroller.

“Yikes,” Laura said.

“Yeah,” said Rosemary. “The twins have just started to crawl. Wait till they’re toddlers. So how ‘bout some lemonade?”

She handed Laura the shoebox, having replaced the things she had removed, rose from the step and led the way into the house.

A Bowl of Words…fragment

shoebox“Hi baby, how’s your foot?” Rosemary asked. Rich had tweaked his ankle six months earlier playing racquetball and while it had healed without a problem and he’d been back to the game for nearly five months, his mother couldn’t quite let it go.

“Mom…Step…Away…From…The…Shoebox,” he boomed in his most threatening tone. Rosemary’s legs jerked slightly beneath the box, as if it might blow up in her lap.


“Um, Mom, maybe you should just set the box aside and I’ll come have a look at it.”

“Sweetie, it’s just pictures.”

“No, Mom, it’s not just pictures; it’s teenage angst and it’s stuff a boy never, ever wants his mother to see or know.”

“But Richie, you’re not a boy any more. For heaven sakes, you’re practically middle aged.”

“I wouldn’t go there if I were you, Mom. If I’m middle aged, what does that make you?”

“Well, semi-ancient, but that’s common knowledge. I’ve been semi-ancient since my hair turned white when I was 25.”

“Don’t change the subject.”

“So who is this girl?”


“Laura’s looked in it.”

“Mom!” Laura wailed.

“He wants to talk to you,” Rosemary said, passing the cell phone to her daughter.

“Oh nice, really nice, LaLa,” Rich said.

“Nice yourself, Richard. Our mother just turned her children against one another and she’s sitting on the front step looking like the Cheshire cat in a blue work shirt.”

“When did you look in the box?” he asked.

“Oh baby, I looked in that damn box almost as often as you did.”


“You know, stacking it with the other shoe boxes was brilliant, for a 14-year-old, but none of your other dress shoes came in boxes covered with skulls and nuclear waste stickers.”

“That was pretty smart of me,” he conceded.

“Yeah,” Laura said.

“But why? What did you care?”

“Richie, you were so clueless. I wasn’t interested in your Baywatch babe — although I have to admit I tried out some of her hairstyles and bought a red bikini, though I never had the nerve to wear it. I had a huge crush on Brian…”

“Brian? My buddy, Brian?”

“Yes, your buddy Brian…”

“But, LaLa, he was a kid to you.”

“What’s a few years when a girl’s found the perfect specimen? Maybe you never noticed, but he was the perfect specimen.”

“Yeah, that, and he was gay.”

“But we didn’t know that, and truly, from my worldly 16-year-old’s perspective, nothing could have persuaded me that he was anything other than my future husband.”

“God, you must have been crushed when he came out.”

“Actually, by that time, I was over him and was starting to lust after men Dad’s age.”

“Oh ick.”

“Oh ick yourself, screwball, you’re the age Dad was and I doubt that you’d spurn the advances of a hot 18-year-old. Um, listen Richie, I don’t want to change the subject, but Mom is slavering over your shoebox.”

“Slavering? Where do you get these words?”

“What do you want us to do with the box?”

“I don’t know. I don’t care. I really don’t remember what’s in there. Is there anything she shouldn’t see?”

“You expect me to remember?” Laura asked.

“I guess it’s okay. She can look in it.”

“Just wait til she takes a notion to clean the garage…”


“Gotta go, baby. Talk soon.” She snapped the phone shut.

“You’ve got the green light, Mom. But if I were you, I’d do this on the dining room table, not out here. The last thing we want is for this stuff to get whisked away on a breeze. Do you have any lemonade?”


shoebox photo

A Bowl of Words ~ fragment

…They took their glasses out onto the screened porch, the shoebox momentarily forgotten on the kitchen table. Stretching nearly the full width of the back of the house, it was Laura’s favorite room, the scene of innumerable slumber parties and romantic gropings and tumblings. She had come here to write in her diary, and had nearly pulled the curl out of the phone cord, stretching the handset from the kitchen wall phone to the cushioned glider, where she’d sprawl, rocking and talking, for hours. While the front of the house seemed to sit neat and orderly, a house on a street in a neighborhood, the back, by a quirk of geography and some astute landscaping, inhabited a country in which there were no neighbors, no structures and no limits to the imagination….
glider photo

A Bowl of Words ~ 3

…The roll call of Laura’s lost lives and loves was short but dear: her uncle Lenny, her unrequited college love, Paddy, and a lover from her 30s who had been dead nearly ten years before she learned of it. Guns, she thought. Each of them had chosen their weapon of death, hoping no doubt to make it swift and decisive. She thought of the friends, the lovers, the children young and grown, whose lives would be forever altered by having come upon this gory scene of destruction. The loss of the person compounded by the violence splashed permanently on the retina.

Washing her face, she thought of stories she had heard of families in which high windows had proved an irresistible lure. Defenestration. A handsome word for such an end. She thought of the tumbling bodies in their final flight on September 11. No, she corrected, not suicide, but a tragic hope for life, that, just this once, the arms would feather out to wings and bear them away from the fire, set them gently back onto the welcoming earth below…

A Bowl of Words ~ 2

Laura had known she would draw this one sooner or later. It wasn’t an order. It was a theme. For more than two years, her days had explored a word at a time, each word a pair of tinted glasses that colored every thought and action of her day. She had, in that time, ranged through her vocabulary and her thesaurus, poking the dark corners of her knowledge, her beliefs, her doubts and prejudices. Spotted, the slip of paper would say. Muslim. History. Fertilizer. Chrome. Each word, even the most benign, forced her to stretch, to learn, to imagine. The words had taken on a nearly mystical role, seeming to emerge not from the random hundreds in the bowl, but from the raveled threads of a silken cord that was connected inevitably to the events of today, and yesterday, and tomorrow.

Laura would savor the word, like a hard candy or a small salty stone in her mouth, all day long. She had found that her words often surprised her by jumping out of newspaper stories or drifting on the airwaves from NPR broadcasts. That once the word was in her mind, it was everywhere.

So today I’m to do suicide, she mused…

beginnings…A Bowl of Words ~ 1

As she awoke, Laura checked to see whether Paul was still in bed, quickly surveyed her bladder, the weather and light outside the glass doors, and any sounds that might require her attention: barking, dripping, ringing, knocking. She did her leg lifts and stretches, then she rolled onto her right side and, from the small, hand-blown glass bowl on her nightstand, she withdrew a tiny slip of paper. Suicide, it said. The printed letters were just large enough that she could read them without her glasses…