Novel by Christina Carson
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Quote from Suffer the Little Children:
"Perhaps what we call misfortune is actually a place where the universe interrupts our habits that keep life so limited and small, forcing us to respond differently. The opportunity it offers depends on how hard we work to close the gap or hold it open, allowing ourselves to glimpse realities we've never glimpsed before."
Novel by Christina Carson
Quote from Dying to Know:
"I knew in that moment, we were never meant to surrender our childlike innocence, to trade a world in which we fit like a glove for one that hung on us like ill-fitting hand-me-downs. However, all about us insisted on our membership. And instead of a handshake or a mystical password as entrance into this spurious society, we agreed instead to share a lie, the one that says we’re safe, secure, and fulfilled living this way."
Come relax and enjoy
What follows is a page just for you, giving you access to that delicious moment when someone says to you: Let me tell you a story. If you click on the Contact Me button to the right, and email me your Twitter name, I can alert you to when I've added a new story.
To read a funny and poignant series of short short stories entitled "Northern Exposure Meets James Herriot," go to: http://twimagination.com/user/CarsonCanada .
A Tribute to Johnny Carson , The Beagle
My short story that follows was inspired by the strangest little dog my husband and I have ever known, and we’ve had lots of dogs. Bert found him on our front yard one cold winter day. All he said as he ran back into the house and began rummaging through the fridge was, “Boy is there a wreck out there in our yard today.” You might think that a strange statement to be said that matter-of-factly, but living on a dangerous curve of road, we often did have wrecks in our yard. This particular reference, however, was to a small stray Beagle who looked as if he was at his end, though still fighting to avoid that which threatened him more - people. Bert was searching for our tofu hotdogs to tempt him, both of us realizing that this was one of those moments when vegetarianism might well fail us. We nabbed him finally, but the effort he’d made to get away seemed to use his last bit of energy. As my husband cradled him toward the car, he appeared to be dying in his arms. We raced him to the vet’s office hoping we might somehow save him. A week later and a vet bill that shifted the net worth of the family most decidedly in his direction, Johnny, the name we grabbed in order to finish the vet’s paperwork, looked bloody good, considering, and the little guy came to live with the Carson’s.
It soon became apparent how deeply damaged Johnny was both emotionally and physically. It took a year and a half before some of his more self-destructive tics started to abate. But the strangest thing about him was the air of peace and authority he brought everywhere. He trained me to understand that he would not live apart for one moment from his family, carrying his bed, water dish, and food eventually into Bert’s office, of all places, followed by a withering glance in my direction to insure I understood.
Next there was his community peace project. He would touch noses with dogs growling at him through their fence, and they would stop and wag their tails. If a dog tried to pick a fight, that little tyke could make friends in an instant. I took to calling him Johnny Gandhi for he walked the earth like a pilgrim of peace and concern.
Eventually we placed him with a new owner, as we were moving out of country. That, however, marked the beginning of the most extraordinary stories of Johnny’s life He moved in with Betty, four states away, and they fell for each other immediately. Unknown to us, Betty was at a tumultuous time of her life. Her husband had just died, and since they had used their life savings trying to heal him, she was now alone and bankrupt. Betty and Johnny faced some hard times. Years later, I found out that even included a stint of living on the street. My only comment was, “Well, dear friend, you couldn’t have picked a better partner to have with you. Johnny’s very experienced at street life.” And by then we could both laugh at it.
One more brush with the agonies of poverty, however, gave us the sweetest Johnny story of all. Betty was diabetic and had no money for insulin. She was taking only small amounts in the hope of somehow making it to the next check. But one night she passed out in her bedroom into a diabetic coma. Johnny, undaunted by his predicament rose to the challenge. As told to her later by the emergency medical staff that saved her life, Johnny knocked the phone off the hook and barked into the receiver. An operator finally investigating the open call heard the dog barking and patched it through to an emergency dispatcher. They told Betty they now take barking dogs on a phone very seriously. When the paramedics arrived at Betty’s trailer, they saw Johnny jumping at the door barking and then running off to the other end of the trailer and back. They knew they had a problem and got through the door as fast as they could. Johnny had saved Betty’s life.
They became the fastest of friends, and in his waning years (he had a heart condition when we found him), Betty and Johnny finally had a home. It abutted a small section of woods and that is where the last miracle of this little Beagle took place. Rabbits would come in the yard to play with Johnny (I know, I know but Johnny made no apologies for his behavior.) They even brought their offspring to Johnny as he could mother anything, having already raised several kittens.
On his last night, he stretched up toward Betty, who was sitting in bed, and touched her arm with his paw as if saying good-bye, she told me later. She thought it strange as he lay back down in his bed beside her, but the next morning he was gone. If it weren’t for dogs and babies, I would worry even more for the human race. What grace they bring to all around them, reminding us without end what love and joy look like when truly lived.
If It Weren’t for Dogs and Babies
Short Short Story by Christina Carson
Inspired by Johnny Carson
Marley came up the dusty drive faster than usual creating a cloud about him that his sudden stop in front of the house caused to settle back down on his 50’s pick-up, already encrusted with dirt. It wasn’t that he couldn’t afford a current model vehicle. Rather, keeping old relics running spoke to some part of his lack of certainty that life’s supposed progress was indeed heading toward improvement. He jumped out of the cab and walked faster than his usual amble, taking the porch steps two-at-a-time. This was his third trip to Charlie Frances’s empty house in three days; his gut tensed. A scabby looking little beagle lay in front of the door across the small doormat this time. That wasn’t there yesterday, he thought. Marley’s eyes narrowed, creasing his brow along well worn lines. He looked up with a quick right and left glance. There she was seated in the wicker rocker on the shady side of the wraparound porch. Charlie Frances was back.
He took a quick breath in and blew it out audibly to calm himself. He swallowed hard and then walked around the corner and slid quietly onto the glider across from her, oblivious to the dust that had settled on its cushions. He leaned forward, his hands clasped and dangling between his knees. Clearing his throat one more time, he asked, “Heh, where’ve you been, Sunshine?” His voice, though not as steady as he would have liked, was soft and sincere. He waited.
Charlie Frances had been sitting with her head down as if in deep thought. As she lifted it slowly, her eyes rose from his dusty boots, to his callused hands, pausing at his chest, garnering confidence to meet his stare. Gentle and accepting, his expression caused her to smile as sweet as when she was six. It always did.
“Tough couple of days, Marley.” Though she seemed calm, the foot on her crossed leg incessantly beat a soundless rhythm on the air beneath it. Marley remained stone still. “Went up to Sawyerville Monday to that estate auction they have there. Wanted to unload some of those old pieces of furniture the folks left me. They could almost pass for antiques, but I think it’s just junk. That’s my inheritance, Marley, this old place, the junk in it, and of course this goddamned diabetes. She paused offering a response to a question he hadn’t yet asked. “I ran a little short of cash.” She saw his mouth open in protest, but raised her hand like a traffic cop to hush him. “My deceased hubby’s hospital bills and funeral expenses arrived three days back. Five invoices in one day totaling $125,000. It’s not doable, Marley. I can’t fix it any longer, this broken mess I call my life. I figured it finally got the jump on me.” She smiled back at him, her face not so much a picture of defeat but confusion. “So I started scrimping on my insulin and chose lights and water over food and drugs.” The implications weren’t lost on him, and he felt panicky inside. “I was thinking the auction house might spot me an advance, then I’d fill my prescription, but before I got back to my pick-up, I started feeling woozy. In a flash, I was down on the sidewalk, couldn’t talk, couldn’t move.”
She tried to blink back tears but was unsuccessful. Unable to bear what he felt from her words, he moved over by her, and squatted next to her. As gently as his thick, awkward hands could move, he pushed the strands of hair the tears began sticking to her cheeks, back behind her ears.
“Shh, shh, shh, shhhh,” he soothed. Oh if only she weren’t so sure she deserved all this suffering, he thought not for the first time. He’d seen those storm clouds gather over her when they were just kids together and then build up through the years. It was her husband’s death, however, that unleashed them into a steady downpour. Not only had he given her a shitty life, but also he’d wiped out any savings they had, dying as slowly and as expensively as he could. There was no doubt in Marley’s mind that it happened just like that.
“How did it all come to this?” she asked. “Who would have thought my life would end lying paralyzed on a sidewalk? I had so many good chances in life, Marley. I made it. I got out. I went to university. Away from these bigots. I thought anyway. But some part of me sure stayed stupid. Maybe it was his title, PhD. and all the seeming prestige of being a professor’s wife. It certainly wasn’t his kindness. But, Marley, I was the one who said yes and married the sod. What accounts for such stupidity, Marley? Mine, I’m talking about.”
He knew she wasn’t whining, that her question was sincere, but Marley always felt nervous when she asked such questions. He couldn’t answer them. He wasn’t even sure they had an answer. He just didn’t want her to continue the drumming she’d taken as a child, only now by her own hand. She was different. No question about that, had been from the first day he saw her; and it was to that sweetest of memories he’d drift when she’d ask the hard questions.
They met the day his dad, a local farmer, was taking him to town but stopped first at Charlie Frances’s home place to see her dad. She was sitting on this same porch, singing to a stray she’d just rescued, a coarse-coated mongrel with cloudy eyes and bones sticking out every which way. She had him in her lap and appeared not to notice his stench or his filth. She was doctoring his sores, digging out the ticks, and singing a song she made up as she went along.
Marley had tried most of his life to understand what happened in the magic of that moment, how it is that love begins. He wasn’t dull-witted. But it was something that hid in his heart away from the prying eyes of reason and logic. He didn’t even get to speak with her that day, and truth be told, he was glad, as absolutely nothing would have come out of his mouth in that moment. But he sensed how different she was, and he began to notice how she never fit in. People labeled her a dreamer, as they couldn’t figure out any other way to describe a child whose interest in the world gave wonderment a whole new meaning. She wasn’t making an acquaintance with the world. It was like she already knew it, and now was only deepening her relationships with it. As a result, she saw things no one else did. It was hard to explain, for she seemed to live from a totally different frame of reference. The world for her wasn’t subject to object. She was like a baby discovering its toes only to realize they were part of her. She knew the world in that way, each new discovery somehow connected to her and her to everything else. It was people who eluded her grasp, for they kept demanding of her that she see the world from how they thought it was. And that seemed down-right silly to her.
Amid the sweaty practicality of a farming community, her behavior seemed foolish and unproductive. Her innocent need to understand most everything wasn’t valued, but considered instead as haughty, blasphemous even. Only Marley knew her, sensed who she was, and felt the strange energy of life that swirled about her. She created the pounding in his chest, the same thrill of just being alive he got when he’d test himself playing chicken on the river road or taking over the controls on his uncle’s plane. She made him feel whole and useful and more a man he respected. All he ever wanted to do was make it right for her, let her know someone got who she was, and loved her for every inch of it.
“People walked right by me, Marley. Right by me, lying there, helpless. One even made some comment about being drunk in the middle of the day. Even the old street guy, who was sitting there drinking out of a paper bag, moved off a bit as if I was defiling his space as well. The light around me was starting to close off into a cone, and my one thought was, how did I make such a mess of my life? I was sure I’d die on that pavement with nothing but peoples’ judgments being the last words ringing in my ears. I wasn’t in any pain, just losing control of everything. And then it happened, as if right out of a Disney movie. That old pile of bones over there on the doormat; he came sniffing down the sidewalk.” Charlie Frances’s eyes lit up again, and she smiled warmly at Marley. He moved back over to the glider, but sat just on its edge so he could stay within arm’s reach of her. He smiled back, no less thrilled now by her glow than fifty years ago. The child she’d never lost touch with, reached her hand out toward his face and played her fingers lovingly down over its rough stubble and sun-etched wrinkles.
Then she continued. “He started sniffing at my feet and ran his big, wet nose right up my body until he was licking my face. At first it was gentle, but then he got insistent and licked on me like a mama trying to bring her new offspring to life. When I didn’t respond, he started digging at me, but with his little feet, not his claws, like he was saying, ‘get up; get up.’ But I couldn’t. When that didn’t work, he began to speak Beagle, not barking but baying - loudly. He didn’t quit. He sounded like the hounds of the Baskervilles. A young man sitting in traffic with his car window rolled down looked my way. When the little guy felt the man’s attention on him, he turned toward him baying right at him. The man jumped out of his car and, as he came around in front of it, he saw me. He ran up and knelt down, asking if I needed help. When he saw I couldn’t speak, he swept me up in his arms and put me in his car. Then he ran back and grabbed the beagle and threw him in too. Off we went to the hospital, and that’s where I’ve been for the last three days. He never left his name. and, since my vision was so fuzzy, I couldn’t tell you what he looked like. But he left some money and that old dog.” She shuddered at the thought of all that happened, and then smiled half questioningly, half shyly at Marley.
Marley smiled back and said jokingly, “You always knew how to pick ‘em, Sunshine, dogs, that is.”
“When they stabilized me and adjusted my medication, I felt like nothing had happened. They gave me some free samples of what I use and a stern lecture about being less careless. A peach-fuzz faced doctor lecturing me on behavior. I guess they don’t want to deal with reality the way it is these days - that some people can’t afford the medicine that keeps them alive.” There was no self-pity in her voice, just matter-of-fact reporting. She paused, thoughtfully. “When I was driving home I had this thought.” She looked Marley square in the face. “I do believe that if it weren’t for dogs and babies, the cosmos might just flip the switch on gravity for a few minutes, wiggle the earth’s axis a tad, and shake off as many of us as it could, cleaning house, so to speak. We’re not making much headway, Marley. We can’t seem to quit judging each other and admit we’re just plain scared, then nuzzle up to each other, wagging our tails, knowing there’s something good in there regardless.”
They continued to stare at each other. Marley broke first. He chuckled. Then he shook his head slowly from side-to-side. He reached across the gap between them and tapped the tip of her nose playfully with his index finger. Her smile widened with each pat until she too broke into a soft chuckle. Shyly she said, “Sometimes it’s just down right embarrassing being me.”
“I think of it as entertaining,” Marley rejoined. “And I think one more thing too. Without sounding judgmental, I’d like to suggest a bath for that dog as I can smell him all the way over here.”
In that moment, as if all the years they knew together shed like hair off a dog in spring, he offered her his hand, and she took it giggling, going off with him like two school kids. It wasn’t the first time either of them had walked away from despair, between her ugly marriage and his uglier war; though death this close was a new wrinkle. As she hunted under the sink for a wash tub, clear-minded and comfortable in her skin once again, she heard herself think, Don’t flip the switch just yet. We may have made some headway today, reflecting on the kindness of that stranger.
On the front porch, the old beagle, with eyes so big and round each looked like a fortune-teller’s crystal ball, watched Marley come toward him and thumped his thick tail against the boards of the porch floor, raising small puffs of dust. Marley squatted down and began rubbing the dog’s boney head, its breath doggy and smelling almost as bad as the rest of him. He slid his hand down what was once a silky flap of ear, now scarred from cuts and tears, and lifted it tenderly, whispering inside it, an intimacy meant only for him, “God bless you whoever you are; and whatever you want, you got it.”
Short Short Story by Christina Carson
The dishes done, another meal completed, one more mundane day near its end. Is this all that life’s about , I wonder? Go to work. Come home. Call the kids. Make supper. With no retirement in sight, I covet my older neighbors' routines, drinking their morning coffee on the porch, newspapers spread on a small glass-topped tables, their days starting slowly and peacefully while I trudge off to the office. The worst part of aging is no longer being able to believe that maybe something grand will yet happen in life, that I’ll feel inspired one last time, granted one more worthy act. But hell, I work at an insurance agency. The best anyone could do there is beat the odds.
I sigh as I wipe down the kitchen counter, hang the dish towel on the oven door and check the night outside. It’s hot and so muggy I quip there’s more water than air out there. I lean against the windowsill as darkness begins to swallow up the yard. The quarter moon rising doesn’t have much light to spare for the world beneath it. I think, it will be dark no matter what time I ran, so I feel no need to rush. My husband, bless him, invited me to run with him many years back, and that which I thought I’d loathe, running, became the one thing in each day I looked forward to. At sixty-five, running is my elixir, the activity that keeps old age and all its miserable predictions at bay. I get out there as many nights of the week as my schedule permits. For as I lace up my shoes, bent over straight-legged from the waist, clucking merrily to myself at being more flexible now than at twenty, I have a moment where I can believe. I remember the fearlessness of my youth, the unbridled laughter that came so easily, the wild sense that anything was possible; and for just a moment, I sense something within me that has never aged.
I leave the kitchen and go to change into my running gear, wishing my body wasn’t quite so saggy now. Shorter shorts and my halter top would be much more comfortable in this heat. Nights like this, the sweat pops out on you as you shut the door behind you. Temperature takes precedence over tired legs and sparse wind.
I walk down the drive, my t-shirt already showing stains of moisture as I stop to lean against our car and stretch out my calves and a few other parts of me. I can feel my already thinning hair flatten even further in the heat and the damp, but nothing can stop me from taking a little skip at the end of the drive, turning left and feeling the road fall away beneath my feet. I take my flat route tonight, the one where I avoid any hills. The heat is enough of a handicap. My goal this evening is finishing, not setting new records. Past the first bend, I wave to our cigar-smoking neighbor on his porch, having scented his presence long before I reach him. I pass the house where the little orange cat would normally come out for a quick visit, but tonight even it's indoors. I relax in the energy of what I called a quiet night where little traffic and no pedestrians are about. When I reach my first major intersection, I tick off one mile in my head, and try not to focus on the remaining four.
The two cops that meet nightly at the old fire station aren’t there this evening. Perhaps their shifts have changed, or they sought respite from the heat elsewhere. Continuing down Dallas Street, out to the main drag, Pratt Avenue, I turn onto Meridian. There I pass the small park and three neighborhood pubs that sit on the edge of downtown. The heat begins to intensify as concrete replaces the lawns and trees. When I cross Holmes, I'm three blocks from the half-way point. The heat is so fierce my face feels like the red bulb of a thermometer hitting the top of the column. My own saltwater soaks my shirt and stings my eyes. I begin talking to myself, encouraging a mind that is on the edge of rebellion, reminding it what it would feel like to give up on the one thing that keeps me feeling alive. Slowing my pace, I hear myself thinking, Is it too much to ask for a bit of breeze?
At Randolph, I head east into Twickenham, one of the historic sections of town. The elegance of the antebellum houses preserves the unhurried feeling of an era when horses and carriages pulled up to these front doors delivering friends to cotillions or family gatherings. It's easy to distract myself eyeing the leaded-glass doors, the sweeping porches and the huge old trees that buckle the brick sidewalk. It's a welcome respite three miles into the run.
Mopping my face with my t-shirt, I head toward Old Town with one thing on my mind, another little cat friend who just last week ran out to show off her recently acquired diamond-studded collar. Well, that’s what she told me. But tonight she’s nowhere around.
Heading toward the last traffic light on my route, I hex it to turn red. My determination to finish this run, at a run is beginning to slip away. Though I get my wish for a red light, there is no one anywhere, and no reason to stop. Then half-way across the boulevard, the quiet is broken by the strangest sound, like someone shouting out a song. Down the block to my left is the only other person in sight, though I can barely see for the dark and the trees about him. His tune isn’t melodic, and not until I reach the far curb, do I realize he is singing - to me. He thunders out the beats - Boom…boom boom boom. At first I can’t place the melody. He pauses and tries again. Boom…boom boom boom. Then I get it clear as can be – it’s the theme from Rocky. In the split second I put it altogether, a sense of whimsy fills me as if I were a child again. I slow, throw my head back and laugh aloud. I don’t turn to look at him; I don’t need to. This scene has already been scripted; we’re just playing it out. He starts up once more and by now is almost behind me going north to my east. I stop for a second to revel in his wonderful sense of humor. In appreciation for the message he is sending this old lady, running on a hellishly hot night, I raise my arms high in the vee of victory and, Rocky-like, run down the block powerfully and off into the night.
If asked, I would say he and I had a moment, an exchange where all pretense and motive disappear. It results in an unforgettable experience of simple, honest connection, as pure a coming together as we humans know how to create. The moment, by definition is where that happens, and it matters not what brings it about. It can be a young man wordlessly capturing the experience of some old woman honorifically, or a sport's team in the zone, or a horse and rider performing as one. It doesn't matter what creates it. It requires only that two or more gather together and willingly relinquish all that keeps them apart. What results is what we sometimes call beauty or other times call wonder, and at any time call love.