If you like to read, and enjoy quirky, welcome. There are about 30 random things here for you. After you read a short story you may even find some personal comments/insights! The main purpose of creating this blog is for writers. I see so much written about writer's block, and honestly, I don't have it. Occasionally, I write short stories, longer stories, books, plays, one act plays, monologues, and sometimes I even think one is good enough to submit somewhere. Of course, when you submit a story to a magazine that receives 200 stories a month and publishes five, you'd better enjoy the process of writing. I'm not suggesting that I'm a good writer, merely that I can sit down and just start writing.

It is important to write, to constantly be working on your art. If you are constantly plagued by writer's block, perhaps you are being too selective in what you write about. With that in mind, I wanted to share with you some examples of my writing, from someone who can write all the time. Occasionally the topics are a bit strange, but I don't let that slow me down, I love to write and get to a finished product. Hopefully, by looking at some examples, you will say to yourself that phrase that all artists who visit MOMA in NYC say: "Well, I can do this!" That would be good, because you can! One of my posts is about a talking tomato. (You have to be able to do better than that!)

In part I'm trying to get some of my stuff in one place, so keep in mind I never claimed it was going to be an incredible read. You can decide that. I will tell you that occasionally I have a story in me that seems to fit the goal of a publication, and I try to write specifically with that goal in mind. Lately I've been considering publications that publish nonfiction memoirs, so some of the entries you'll find here will have that flavor. Perhaps this is a way to get past writer's block - find a publication looking for something that you'd like to write. It seems like memoir-based publications may be a good place to start, because we're all experts in our own families. I'm using a blog here to share some of the things I've written; the blog format is not ideal, so you need to poke around a little at old posts, to see if you can find a story or something else that may interest you.

Two last items. None of these are finished products. I usually get to a point where I have something written, and then stop. If it is something I may decide to submit for some reason, I'll finish formatting, following the specific rules of the magazine or organization (the rules are alwaysdifferent). If you do see something in here that you may be interested in using, don't hesitate to contact me.

So welcome to my blog. Welcome to my writing. Write, people, write! It feels good.

Please also consider getting a copy of my first book, Saturday Night at Sarah Joy's. All Royalties go to the Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund. Please check out the book's blog at:

Thank you!

© 2012 John Allison

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Breaking the Law With Edna Mae

"Why?" I asked.  "It's one small cardboard box!"
Protected by an exceptionally wide desk, she calmly explained, "It can't be done."
"I'm sorry,” she calmly added, "I understand this is an emotional time, but we'd be breaking state hygiene laws."  I blocked out her name, even though it stared me down from the nameplate on her desk, along with her title, "Family Facilitator".
I said nothing, but stood, twirling a small porcelain elephant between my fingers, waiting for her to calmly feel awkward enough to perhaps come up with something.  She did not.  "It isn't allowed."  That was her final calm statement.  She purposely spoke as if she were reading off an index card.  Lack of emotion was apparently a job requirement; an inability to even consider creative solutions was an extra trait that she lovingly brought to the position.
I miss checking on Mrs. Wilson every day.  It really wasn't a burden and I really did care about her.  I liked the fact that her house, the row house next to "mine", had that mustiness that brought back memories of aunts and grandmothers, and that she still owned things that she obtained using S&H Green Stamps. 
I'd often use my leftovers as an excuse to check on her.  She'd never refuse free food.  It was simple to lean over the back porch rail and knock on her kitchen window.  The random clicks and clacks of her lock collection would eventually start up and she'd stick her head out, often in her housecoat. The food offering was an excuse to ask her if she needed some milk or anything at the store. The next day, the bowl, plate, tray or dish would be cleaned, washed and sitting on the wooden porch rail for me, often guarded by a cat.  When I was little and my parents were still alive, Mrs. Wilson would often send me down to the corner store and give me a few pennies or maybe even a nickel for getting her some things.  Now, with my parents gone and the house now apparently mine, we'd long ago agreed to let me go to the store for her, gratis, even though we still had a decent little corner store, one of the last, and she could still walk down and back when she felt like it.
I should probably explain that I'm divorced, and single people are often quirky, I'm constantly told. Some believe that, without another around, single people start to believe their thoughts are normal, when they're often not.  Constant interaction with others apparently helps you to sort out strange thoughts.  I apparently do not have such filters, so at times I do and think things that are perhaps not quite appropriate.  I share this with you for later consideration.  At any rate, suffice it to say that my parents are gone, and I still live in the house I grew up in, fortunate to still live next to the same neighbor.
About once a week, I hear a knock on my kitchen window, when Mrs. Wilson taps out her own personal code.  Sometimes it's not to ask for anything, but just an excuse for some conversation, since she must be quirky as well, living alone.  Often it's just old people stuff.  A neighbor dog keeps pooping on her lawn - would I be a dear and ask them to please stop?  It's either dirty work, or a request for more milk and Corn Chex.  Of course, I rather enjoy harassing people with pooping dogs, so such requests are those I look forward to.  Taking her car to get inspected is a different matter - I resist it because she shouldn't be driving any more.  Fortunately, the battery is usually dead, because when I take it to be inspected I leave the radio turned on, so I know the car doesn't ever get used.  "Just in case" is her excuse, when I tell her it's time to get rid of it.
This week's knock met me with tears running down her wrinkled little face.  She pointed out to her rose bush and said "Just look, just look for me, will you?  Edna Mae's been lying under the rose bush and won't come when I call her.  Oh, dear . . ."
I walked out of my small back yard's rusty gate, and down the alleyway to her rusty gate, which creaked open.  There, under her bush that was covered with white puffs of roses, was Edna Mae.  Mrs. Wilson has the best roses I've ever seen, because she puts her coffee grounds out there every morning.  The grounds, however, didn't help Edna Mae.  Anticipating the worst, I didn't want to touch her, and I could see that her body was not moving at all; she wasn't breathing.  I don't know how old Edna Mae was, but she seems to have lived at least two normal cat lives. 
"It doesn't look like anything bad happened to her, Mrs. Wilson,” I said, as she stood on the porch, "It is just her time.  At least she decided that she wanted to spend her last moments under your roses.  This must have been her favorite place."
"Oh, Edna, dear Edna Mae" she cried.  But she quickly composed herself.  Mrs. Wilson had had many cats and we've seen them come and go.  She loved them but is very practical in matters of life and death, I've learned. 
"Could you take care of her for me . . . please?"  This would be the first time that it wasn't my father "taking care" of one of Mrs. Wilson's cats.  It would have to be me.  Fortunately, I was familiar with the drill, and in a few days I stopped off at the cemetery to collect Edna Mae's remains.  Mrs. Wilson always had her cats cremated - she never told me why. 
I'd seen Mrs. Wilson lose cats before, and had seen her grieve, and knew that she had them cremated, but never saw her quite affected like this before.  When I gave her the box, she pushed it back at me.
"I need you to do something else for me.  I'm sorry I always seem to be asking for favors, but this is special.  You've been such a good neighbor over the years; I do appreciate it.  I hope you understand that."  She looked down.
"And you've been a good neighbor too," I replied.  "I've been very lucky to have had you on the other side of the wall all of these years."
"Well, I'm glad you feel that way.  You know, I always loved my cats, but these past years, with Ed gone, it's just been me and Edna Mae.  She knew I needed a little extra love and was so good to me.  I know I'm not going to last forever, and I don't think curling up under the roses is going to be what people want me to do, but I need you to hold onto Edna Mae for me, and when I go, I want you to make sure she's with me.  It would mean so much."  She stared at me with her most serious game face.
"You're not going anywhere quite yet, Mrs. Wilson,” I said, wondering why people always say such things to old people.  We smiled at each other, both knowing the lack of value of the comment.
Now, I know that you've all heard the stories of an old couple where one spouse dies and the other a few days later.  I'd never heard it where it was a cat-person pair, but in this case she just seemed to know. Our gas man, who hops over fences and porches and only knocks on back doors, saw her through the window on the floor and called the Police.  How they got in I'm not sure, but the ambulance was just packing up when I arrived home.  She had passed away probably within an hour of when he reported seeing her body.  Her one daughter, in Baltimore, somehow managed to make all of the funeral arrangements over the phone.  I wondered if anyone would attend.  There really weren't many left who knew her except for a few neighbors as old as her, who still had their cats, but not their spouses.
I decided to go into the house the evening she died, just to check on things.  There was always the chance that the daughter would arrive and find me there, but I was anticipating that I wouldn't see her thin, chiseled face until the day of the funeral, which I only knew about because it was in the paper (the funeral date, not the chiseled thing).  I'm not sure if Mrs. Wilson would have wanted to be cremated or not, but I don't think she was given the choice. 
I waited until dusk to take the key off the hook behind my kitchen curtain, which opened her front door.  We had each other's keys for many years.  I didn't know if anyone would have bothered to have turned off the fans, or the TV, or checked the range, so it seemed a legitimate thing to do.  For me it was a personal challenge of honesty.  I loved the Wilsons.  They were good people and wonderful neighbors, but I always had one tiny "thing" that I never forgave them for.  When I was 12 (1963), one night thick with summer, everyone was sitting out on their back porches or in their back yards, swatting skeeters, catching lightning bugs, and jawboning.  I loved to talk with Mr. Wilson; he always seemed to have a story for me.  Railroad men always do.  They also teach you words like jawboning.  The topic of my coin collection came up and he invited me over.  He took me into his dining room and opened the closet door.  Up on the top shelf was a coffee can that he took down.  Like many others, he would throw his change in something every night.  This particular Eight O'Clock can had been around for a long time, and as he started sorting through it, he pulled out an Indian head penny.  Even then, Indian head pennies were valuable and impossible to find.  Who knows how many were just sitting in this can, and how many other cans he had.  I tried my best to tell him how excited I was, hoping he'd offer me the can, or at least give me the chance to go through it, but he just put it back up on that damn shelf.  On rainy Saturday afternoons, I'd imagine how I could cut a hole in our dining room closet, which would lead me into their closet, so I could do an appropriate penny inventory, but my parents probably wouldn't have approved, so I wondered - now as an adult and alone in the house - would the can still be there?  And, could I just leave it alone? 
First I went through every room.  Mrs. Wilson had done a good job.  No fans or TV's were on, nothing on the stove.  She had even unplugged all of the digital clocks and radios.  The basement seemed quiet, although it was hard to walk past so many boxes without wondering what treasures each held.
I'll be honest.  I did open the dining room closet door.  No, I didn't think there would be any fans or radios running in there, but the can sat where I last saw it many years ago.  I'm not the coin collector I was when I was 12.  The can called me; but I can't steal from a friend, even a dead one.  I decided that I would tell her daughter about my "lifelong dream" and see if she would let me buy the change from her.  Hopefully she'd at least do that for me, in return for my looking in on her mother.  Otherwise, I'd have to return to the hole-in-the-closet plan.
I also have to be honest and tell you that I looked through most of the drawers in the house.  I'm not sure why, just curiosity - curiosity plus I just wanted some little thing that no one would miss, as a memento of her.  On her dresser, there were about 30 small porcelain elephants.  She showed them to me once and told me that they used to put small things like these in detergent boxes, or you'd get them as little prizes at the shore if you played skee-ball on the boardwalk for a while.  I took a small blue one and put it in my shirt pocket.  Then I took a second, smaller one, to keep the first company.  Probably her daughter will have the herd in the trash can in no time - the least I could do is save a few of them.
I'd been in the Wilson house enough times to know what was in every drawer and cabinet in the kitchen, so I skipped that room.  My last exploration was a return to the dining room, before heading out the back door.  The top drawer of the serving settee was designated as their junk drawer - occupied by pens that didn't work anymore, post-cards, stamps, screws from who knows what, and a few tools. My parents had their junk drawer in the same place.  I couldn't even think of what else would be in the drawers below. The second drawer housed cotton napkins and tablecloths.  (I guess I could have reasoned that one out.)  The bottom drawer, I predicted, might hold some curtains or perhaps dish towels.  Instead, it was filled with Mr. Wilson's white socks - the old tube socks with the colored stripes around the top.  My mother had a way of rolling up two socks in a pair, so I'd keep matching ones together.  It looked like a similar collection, although these ten sock balls were extremely well organized with a small ribbon around each one.
I stared at the socks for some time - an unusual place for them.  What if each was filled with more old change?  Is this where they were hiding it?  I picked up a sock.  It wasn't a sock inside a sock, but a sock partially filled with something, then somehow rolled and packaged into small round balls, almost, with a ribbon holding them together.  Whatever it was, it was lighter than a baseball, and a bit crunchy, so coins weren't involved.  I turned one over, and, hand-sewn across the bottom was a word - Samantha.
Each sock reported whose loving remains were within.  The drawer contained the history of the Wilson cats, each lovingly cremated and packaged, except for Edna Mae, who was waiting for my return, in the small cardboard box in my kitchen. 
I got to the cemetery a little early, by not being part of the funeral procession.  I beat the coffin so I beat everyone else to the grave.  Surveying the setup, I moved the first row of chairs about 12 inches closer to the opening of the grave.  I grouped the chairs into groups of three, with small aisles between them.  I then stepped on a lower rung of every other front row chair; Edna Mae and I put all of our weight on them, making the legs sink into the ground.  It rained the night before so that was easy.  One doesn't usually see the worker bees at burials, but they're never far away.  They usually get the grave dug and scaffolding completed at the last minute and are eager to return as soon as grieving ones leave, to fill in the hole and move on.  They were nearby, watching me as I rearranged the chairs, abusing every other one, and leaving a jacket on one. 
I left the gravesite and parked at the top of the hill just as the short procession pull onto the grounds, and up to the gravesite.  All of the pallbearers were funeral home employees because none of Mrs. Wilson's friends were strong enough to do such a job, except for me, and I was not asked to participate.  Probably her daughter didn't actually know my name.  I walked down the hill to join them.
The funeral and burial had more people there than I'd imagined - almost 10.  All of the neighbors who could walk and get a ride, who were her age, were there.  Her daughter showed up and, of course, the Facilitator with whom I'd previously spoken was there.  She nodded to me, acknowledging that she recognized my face but forgot who I was.
The service at the burial site was short.  Tears were generated.  Old people quickly wilting in the summer heat were directed back to air-conditioned cars so they could get home for their overdue naps.  I walked up to the minister and daughter, who felt obligated to be the last to leave.  I introduced myself to her (again) and told her I'd see her back at the house, just to remind her that she really needed to actually set foot in it sometime, and now would be good.  She said, "That would be nice."  Perhaps I'd been a bit hard on her, but I'll reserve judgment until the coin can negotiation is completed.
Both she and the minister looked at the brown bag I was carrying.  It was the size and shape of a brown shopping bag, but it had cord handles attached to it.  If they had looked closely they would have known that such bags aren't used anymore.  She could not have known that her mother had bags like this in the kitchen.   They looked at it one last time, as if they thought I'd been carrying gifts for them in it, and they didn't want me to forget.  They were wrong.
Miss Darth Facilitator stood to the side, there in theory to ensure that everyone's wishes were attended to.  She looked relieved and quickly disappeared as the three of us, the last three, turned our backs to leave.  I escorted daughter and minister back to the car they arrived in, then turned and faced the grave and stared.  They seemed to feel, luckily, obligated to do so as well.  "Oh, it looks like someone left a suit jacket on a chair" she said.  "Oh, that's mine.  Thank you.  I'll retrieve it." I replied.  It was the flaw in my plan, since I did not sit in that chair, or sit at all.  Neither of them realized it.  I dismissed them both by shaking the reverend's hand, and again telling her I'd see her in a few minutes back at the homestead.  They were pulling away as I entered the small sea of chairs.  If anyone had been watching, they would have agreed, it was an unfortunate accident.  As I reached for my jacket that I had left on a front-row chair, my foot snagged another chair that was firmly planted in the ground.  I was flung forward, almost into the gaping hole.  I lay there for a moment, surveying the situation.  I picked myself up, brushed myself off, and slowly put on my jacket.  Probably no one had seen me fall, at least no worker rushed to my aid, but quirky people are nothing if not obsessive planners.  I picked my brown bag up off the edge of the grave, and folded it neatly into a flat little thing that I flipped into the hole.  At that, I quickly returned to my car in the expensive part of the cemetery - the part with a view.  (What a great idea.  Isn't it worth a few more dollars to make sure your loved ones will be buried up high on a hill where they have a great view?)
I heard the growl of the diesel motor as it started up on the earth mover.  The novice worker bees quickly broke down the "tent" and folded up the chairs.  In no time, the burly operator had the hole filled and packed.  Rest in peace/time for lunch.
I often think of the unique view I had at that moment - looking into the grave from grass level, feeling the cool air from the moist soil below - of that budget coffin with ten socks and a small box surrounding it.  It may have been one of my best works to date.  I only could have made it better by adding a personal touch - perhaps an eleventh sock (one of mine) with lasagna in it.  I'd like to think it was good karma that helped the daughter to decide to give me that can of coins, and to even kiss me on the cheek as she said goodbye, not to return for months.  When she returned, she didn't even notice the white rose bush in my yard.  I didn't know if Mrs. Wilson actually had a long-term plan for those socks, but since they were Mr. Wilson's, it was certainly appropriate that the whole family got together in the end.  I know that socks are woven cotton, and dead, embalmed people don't actually feel joy in being surrounded by ashes of dead animals, but in the presence of death we do things we don't normally do, and share dreams and wishes that we know are not real.  Socks and ashes won't let the Wilsons run through fields of flowers with their kittens at their feet in heaven, but even if the probability approaches zero, there's always someone who wins the lottery.  There's no rulebook for doing the right thing, even when all we're left to work with is footwear and a dash of symbolism, so we occasionally must be guided by obligations to good friends.

© 2013 John Allison

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