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An Ode to the Mental Vacation

Or, perhaps some would posit that I am ALWAYS on a mental vacation. Ha. The month of July was a banner month for emptying my grey matter onto a computer screen. It was a month of celebration for MTM, with the approval of a years’-long work project happening mid-month.

That’s how we found ourselves drifting toward Hell.

I mean, Arizona.

In July.

To boil our brains relax. To forget every pressing stress. To read three books in three days (me) and catch up on bazillions of NY Times crossword puzzles (MTM). To get weird sunburn lines, even though we wore 50 sunblock and always sat under an umbrella.

A mental vacation. I can’t really remember the last time I took one. I highly recommend it.


I will be glad to be back with a vengeance tomorrow.

You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile




A smile.

It was the smile that did it, ten years ago today. MTM claims otherwise, that I looked back with naked longing on my face upon exiting the restaurant where I saw him for the first time. That I sent him a message to find me again, coded into one scant look back.

Smiling wasn’t something I’d done much of in the years leading up to that scorching July afternoon. It’s hard to smile when your heart is gone, an empty cavity where it used to beat. Used to care. Used to feel. Used to love. It’s hard not to wallow.

I wallowed.

For too long.

I wasn’t really sure what I was doing when I started dating, because I never really knew how to date in the first place. Married too young. Leaping into another relationship too soon. Unsure where to even go to meet an eligible male. Running headlong into numerous ineligible ones. Learning how to be alone.

July 30, 2002 found me meeting another ineligible one. Plowing my way through my sandwich because he was late. Or standing me up. In a flash of blue, a man said hello to me, and I smiled and said hi.

In spite of everything – my still broken heart, my seething resentment at All Men, my mortal fear of ever again loving someone enough to endure losing him – in spite of all of it – I smiled. A smile that sloughed off the last vestiges of my heartache, that watered the last kernel of hope that sputtered where my heart used to be, that made me think maybe there was something in there besides a vacancy, a void, a nothing.

It was the smile that gave the Love of my Life to me.

Sex Bomb

Desert storms arise out of nowhere. A bruised sky. Fat raindrops crashing into parched earth. Eerie, sideways wind, ratcheting the temperature downward twenty degrees in one hour.

In all of the threatening terror, I got the car from the valet. I veered into the soaked roadway, drove over the rushing canal.

To the mall.

To Lush, that bastion of fizzy bath bombs and swirled bubble bars. That place where one can go to watch cash money fizzle like fireworks in the bath tub.

The store that sells the Sex Bomb, one of my favorite things to do with almost seven freaking dollars. I think it’s the smell in Lush. It permeates the nostrils like cocaine and forces helpless females to buy and buy and buy.

I’m a helpless Sex Bomb addict.

Gunfight at the OTay Corral


Photo montage by Kenneth Andrews

Pink tinges the eastern horizon, and Lou ‘The Buckeye’ Mello knows he’s got to hurry. Daylight won’t be on his side when he tries to rob the train. He can’t help himself, though. With an energetic spew of tobacco juice, he stares at the morphing line of sky one last time.

He’s still cold, and he wonders about his horse. The desert, she’s tricky. Cooking him to the insides of his chaps at high noon. Causing his as-yet-to-be tobacco-stained teeth to clatter inside his skull under the open sky of camp. With a ‘ya-hooooooo,’ he runs around in circles, kicking up dust everywhere. Partly to warm up. Mostly because that’s just the way he is. The Buckeye is feared because he NEVER sleeps, especially not when he is yards from a busy rail line, already vibrating faintly with the rhythm of the approaching train.

Michael ‘The Conductor’ Carnell is asleep in the wheelhouse. He knows what it takes to make time in the trek across the red desert. This much coal to that much muscle, measured out just so. He’s run this line so many times that it paints the insides of his eyelids when he dreams.

Not that he wants to miss the ride. Trains are his life. He breathes them through his cracked nostrils and exhales them into the charcoal air. Riding trains for pay? He never thought a job could be more enticing. That he gets paid to indulge in his lust for machinery every single day is one of those exquisite turns of life.

Up ahead, he sees a cloud of dust kicking out of the brush. Could be an animal, he thinks, or could be men. He wants to plow through this barren nothingness, arrive on the other shore as quickly as he can.

Hoofbeats. Carnell hears them reverberate in his chest, in spite of the whistling engine. He whirls on his shovelers, but they are gone. No one has been feeding the mechanical beast. Sweat mingles with the smoke on his upper lip as he realizes the train has stopped.

“Come out, Carnell, and fight like a man!” a voice shouts from somewhere outside.

He knows that voice. There’s no mistaking that midwestern patois, native to Ohio. It can only belong to one person, the scourge of his soul. The disrupter of his vagabond life on the train.

Lou Mello.

The Buckeye fires a warning shot into the engine room, a discharge that buzzes past Carnell’s left ear. He swears he feels what’s left of his hair moving in the gale. With a sigh, he puts a heavy foot on the top step of the engine and trudges down into open air, a heat that consumes him before he reaches the firm footing of the ground.

“I knew you’d find me again, Buckeye,” Carnell snarls through clenched teeth.

“No time for chatting, Carnell. I’m here to kill you dead, dead, dead. You know I won’t stop until I succeed.” The Buckeye rains tobacco juice on everything within range and keeps his pistol trained onto Carnell’s head.

Carnell scratches his head. He’s got to think fast to survive this sticky situation. “Hey. Lou. What do you say we do a shoot-out? Ten paces. Turn around. And powpowpowpowpow.”

The Buckeye smiles a tobacco-stuffed, lopsided grin. “I thought you’d never ask me to kill you.”

They assume their places, back to back. At the signal, they walk ten paces, turn around, and fire at the same time…………..

This is an Act Two of the second post in the series, Grounded: Stories From the American Southwest, an homage to where I am at the moment. If this is your first visit to Grounded, click here to start the series. Lou Mello and Carnell, the subjects of today’s post, will be grateful. As always, thank you for reading my little blog.

Demons and Dragoons

I turned about and paddled downstream with the ebbing tide. Past the rotting gator. Through the Narrows. Stopping to breathe only when I was around the big bend in Black Mingo Creek, the hairpin turn that was like passing through a wormhole in time.

The sun glittered like diamonds on black velvet, their mirage parting to let the front of my kayak slice through it. A graceful white egret burst from the line of green up ahead, dancing on the wind and dipping its downy feathers like it was waving to me. In the stillness of that corridor of atmosphere, between dark liquid and open sky, I inhaled a sense of peace. A split second later, the biggest gator I’d ever seen torpedoed into the soft side of my kayak flailing its toothy maw, its jaws crunching through canvas and rubber, through fiberglass and plastic, through skin and —–

“Miz Watkins! Miz Watkins! Yoo-hoo! Yeah! Sleepin’-in-history-class-girl! I am TALKIN’ to you! Which Red Coat gave General Francis Marion – the esteemed namesake of this institution of higher learnin’ from which you hope to earn a no-count piece of collegial sheepskin – which one of them British harridans gave him the name ‘Swamp Fox‘?”

Silence. Shuffling paper.

“Stop lookin’ in the text book for the dang answer! If you don’t know, just say ‘I did not come to class prepared, Dr G Wayne King, oh mighty esteemed and most overlooked candidate for the title of Prof of the Year in the history of this university’……..Say it! SAY! IT! Dr G Wayne King should be Prof of the Year! In fact, ever body get up in your seats – RIGHT NOW – and shout it as loud as you can! All together now………DR G WAYNE KING SHOULD BE PROF OF THE YEAR!”

That’s what I got for taking Benadryl. It was my first and only experience with what turned out to be – in my whacked system, anyway – a powerful hallucinogenic drug.

This week’s series of fiction is set in historic Black Mingo Swamp. To start the series at the beginning, click here. To read more about the history of Black Mingo, click here. Thank you for reading, for commenting and for sharing my blog. Oh, and if anyone cares who gave General Francis Marion the nickname ‘Swamp Fox,’ it was British General Banastre Tarleton.


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