Monday, January 31, 2011
HOW I CAME TO WRITE THIS BOOK: DICK ADLER
I guess I began with the title from watching THE SOPRANOS. Then came the invention of Al Zymer. After a lot of research, I realized that it had to be funny -- a serious novel about Alzheimer's would be too painful to read or write. Mordecai Richler did it well in BARNEY'S VERSION, but I'm not him (though we did play poker in London). And it had to be a mystery: that's what I know and mostly read.
And I'm also blessed/cursed with a punster's pain -- so Manny LaMancha was born. The idea of serialization on my own blog came when I realized that writers from Dickens to Hammett needed the deadline to keep them focused.
DICK ADLER has won the Ellen Nehr Award, given annually by the American Crime Writers League to the best mystery reviewer, and has been a judge on the crime panel for the Los Angeles Times Book Awards. His books include a novel, THE MOZART CODE, and several non-fiction works, including PUBLIC JUSTICE, PRIVATE MERCY: A Governor's Education on Death Row, with Edmund G. (Pat) Brown.
Dick's serialization can be found on his blog.
Sunday, January 30, 2011
THE NIXON LIBRARY
The Nixon Library/Museum is on the grounds of the house where he was born. The museum is a curious mix of past attempts of his daughters to control its presentation of him through a foundation and the new curator's attempt to tell the real story as all documents concerning him move here. While Phil worked away in the basement, I toured the grounds, his helicopter, his childhood home, the museum.
I am always amazed at how uninformed most people are. In the section about Watergate, the exhibit had the audio tape with the twenty minute blank where his secretary erased his words available.
It explained the gap in great detail on the wall above it, but more than one person picked it up and said, "Oh, I guess this one doesn't work; there's nothing on here." These were not school children but middle aged people. Do they not remember? Do they not read the explanatory parts plastered on the wall above the headphones?
When you read about Nixon's family, Quakers, upstanding, humanitarians on the whole, it both confounds and explains his actions. How could he not succeed with ancestors like this and how could he do what he did? The explanation that he lost two brothers was true of many people of that era.
There were things to like about Nixon and he certainly would be considered a moderate within the party today. But why did he do what he did? How much would we cling to power? I'm not sure. A very sad chapter in our history.
Saturday, January 29, 2011
I rarely criticize the work of a live writer on this blog but once in a while I do on someone else's--not really thinking much about it. Last week, I made a slightly negative comment about a current book and to my embarrassment the author responded. Now he was gracious and gave a good explanation for what I criticized, but it reminded me again of how small this world is--especially with google blog alerts.
Almost every writer is able to track what people say about them. I do it myself. So my question is: where does good manners meet open discussion. Are you hesitant to say I didn't like the ending of a book? Do we need to monitor every word? I am not sure.
THE KINDNESS HORMONE
And because I rarely shut my mouth, here is a review of Another Year on Crimespree Cinema.
I have always wondered why people I know, people that seem cordial and helpful and splendid in so many ways, spew venom when various people (and by this I mean ethnic groups) come up. You know what what I mean without me saying it and it really doesn't matter who they dislike, just that they dislike various groups for what they claim are legitimate reasons. Certain people are outside their concern and indeed, inspire hatred.
Now a study has come out explaining it. Oxytocin, the kindness hormone, only applies to people within your group. In other words, Lutherans like Lutherans but not non-Lutherans. So this hormone is a causation agent of ethnocentrism, in effect. You may be very nice to me, but hate the Baptist down the street.
The question is: how can we extend the good effects of this hormone? How can we make people see the entire world as part of their "group?" Any ideas? And does this theory seem to make sense to you. It sure explains one couple I know.
Friday, January 28, 2011
Friday's Forgotten Books, January 28, 2011
The Main by Trevanian
By John McFetridge
John is the author of EVERYBODY KNOWS THIS IS NOWHERE, LET IT RIDE and DIRTY SWEET. You can find him at Do Some Damage as well as his own blog
A couple weeks ago, Gerard Saylor talked about two Montreal-set novels by John Farrow (the pen name of Trevor Ferguson), City of Ice and Ice Lake and that reminded me of the first Montreal-set crime novel I read, The Main, by Trevanian (pen name for Rodney Whittaker).
Back in the 70’s when I first thought about trying to write stories and I mentioned that to my father he handed me The Main so I could read a book set in familiar territory. At the time the book had no impact on me, I just didn’t get it. Then when I thought about doing this Friday Forgotten Books about it I was very happy that two minutes (and less than ten bucks) later I was reading it on my Kindle app. So, thanks Three Rivers Press.
Now, the book. It’s melancholy. Well, it’s set in Montreal in late November during what the characters refer to as, “pig weather,” so yeah, it’s melancholy – it gets dark early, it’s cold but it hasn’t snowed yet so it isn’t even fun. Like the John Farrow novels with “ice” in the title, I guess that’s the most significant thing about my hometown but I have to wonder, why there are no novels set in the summer during the Montreal Jazz Festival or the Just For Laughs Comedy Festival or even the Grand Prix?
And the main character is pretty melancholy, too. Lieutenant LaPointe is a widower still mourning the loss of his beloved wife twenty-five years earlier. He still ives in the same apartment and has changed nothing. Although he has been promoted many times he still acts as a beat cop walking up and down Rue. St. Laurent, the Main, the street that once divided English and French Montreal before the English part of the city moved further west and the centre became a much more multi-ethnic ‘mosaic’ as we say in Canada instead of the American ‘melting pot.’ In the beginning of the book (which goes on a long time, there’s a lot of description here of people and places – this could be written for Patti) LaPointe is playing cards with his friends, Moishe the concentration camp survivor, David another recent widower and a priest, Father Martin, who feels he’s lost his flock. And instead of playing cards Moishe leads them a long discussion about the difference between a crime and a sin. Barrel of laughs these guys.
Oh, and we find out early on, before we even get to the body (this is a murder mystery afterall) so I don’t even know if it qualifies as a spoiler, that Lieutenant LaPointe has an inoperable heart condition and won’t make it through the winter.
So, it starts out depressing and gets worse. Why is this book forgotten?
Let’s just say the fifty-something me appreciates this a lot more than the teenage me did.
When the body finally does show up it’s a truly unlikable guy – a young man, probably a criminal illegal immigrant just stopping off on his way from Italy to New York, known on The Main for his sexual prowess with too-young women. So his murder may not be a sin but it’s certainly a crime and it’s on LaPointe’s “patch” so the old cop takes over the case from the homicide detective it’s been assigned to and gives it a full investigation. And he takes over the other cop’s “Joan,” the young cop he is training. This device gives LaPointe the chance to expound on his views to someone – and his views are sort of the left-wing version of Dirty Harry. Yes, the politicians and the police brass with their political correctness and over-concern for the “rights” of criminals has made being a cop impossible but for LaPointe the real problem is that it makes it impossible to protect the citizens of The Main who are never far from the centre of his thoughts – the citizens who are too poor to be of any concern to the politicians or the rest of the police force.
The Joan is a college educated Anglo named Guttmann who would prefer to do things ‘by the book.’ Still LaPointe and Guttmann make a good team.
At one point a character says about himself that he, “looks for philosophy where there is only narrative...” and that’s a good description of the book – there is more philosophy than narrative and that’s what makes The Main such a great book.
It’s become a bit of a cliche to say that setting is a character in mystery fiction but there’s no doubt Montreal, or at least Rue St. Laurent, is a main character here and it’s captured extremely well.
At some points in The Main, though, it’s hard to tell if the book is a serious murder mystery or a satire checking off requisite cliches as it goes. Trevanian has said he was disapointed the critics didn’t realize his novel The Eiger Sanction was a “spoof” so he followed it up with an even more intense spoof, The Loo Sanction.
He shouldn’t be disappointed, though, because when the books are so well-written and the characters so well-developed most of us will just be grateful and keep reading, spoof or not.
I have little doubt that if The Main were one of a series, Lt. LaPointe would be among the very best and well-known fictional detectives. And now comes news that the terrific Don Winslow has written a sequel to Trevanian’s Shibumi, so you never know, there may yet be more stories with Lt. LaPointe on The Main in Montreal.
The rest of today's links can be found at Kerrie Smith's blog, right here.
Welcome a new contributor to the group, John Norris. You can find him here.
Richard Robinson, returning to us from a galaxy far away, is here.
Richard Pangburn is here.
Thursday, January 27, 2011
Do you hate looking at pictures of yourself? Are people that don't mind looking at pictures of themselves more realistic, do they see themselves differently, are they less judgmental?
I destroy most of them. I thought this might be important once: that so few pictures of me after age 40 exist but on seeing the albums my parents saved and their fate, sitting in a closet, I decided that one or two pictures was enough. How often do you look at pictures of your grandparents? Is there anything sadder than coming across old snapshots at a flea market, knowing no one wanted to hang on to them. I am throwing a lot out here. But the main question is: do you mind looking at pictures of yourself? I'm betting men can do it easier than women.
"How I Came TO Write this Book" Hilary Davidson
HOW I CAME TO WRITE THIS BOOK: Hilary Davidson
Several years ago, I went to a travel writing conference and met a journalist who made a powerful impression on me. She had just come back from a cruise in China, and had been in Brazil, Argentina, and Australia the month before that. Over late-night drinks at the hotel bar, I told her that she was living my dream life, but that I’d tried doing it and hadn’t been able to put up with public relations people controlling my schedule, falling behind on my non-travel assignments, and the loneliness of being away from my husband for long stretches of time.
“If I had to stay home, I would kill myself,” she told me. Bits of her life spilled out: her difficult relationship with her husband, whom she hated but couldn’t imagine divorcing; the debt that was crushing them; her relatives and their nagging demands on her. Life on the road, moving from place to place, was the only thing keeping her life together, or at least that was how she felt about it.
That conversation came back to me when I started writing THE DAMAGE DONE. I knew that the novel’s main character, Lily, had a troubled past and a painful relationship with her sister. At the outset, I had Lily returning to New York after being away for months without explaining where she’d been or what she did for a living. I remembered that conversation, and realized travel writer would be a perfect fit. Lily is something of an overachieving “good girl,” and it’s tough for her to be completely honest, even with herself, about how much she hates being responsible for her sister, who has always been the wild one in the family.
The more I thought about Lily’s need to escape harsh realities, the more that desire fleshed out the character and her background. I wondered what her escape valve had been when she was growing up, and that was where old films came in. Lily wasn’t the kind of person who would run away from her troubled home, but I could picture her losing herself in old films and craving the glamour of the past. That, in turn, created Lily’s love of vintage clothing and style. It also shaped her romantic life to some extent, particularly her refusal to see certain men for what they are, especially if they fill the mold of hero that’s been cast in her mind. I started to see a pattern with Lily, where she would let herself be overburdened for a time, but then she would crack under the strain and need to escape. There’s a kind of restlessness in her that never lets her fully be in one place. Understanding that was key to writing the book.
Hilary Davidson is the author of THE DAMAGE DONE (Forge, 2010). Her second novel, THE NEXT ONE TO FALL, will be published by Forge later this year.
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Movies Defined by Their Music
What music leads you back to the movie that used it most effectively?
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Happer (Lancaster) sends Mac (Riegert) to a remote Scottish village to secure the property rights for an oil refinery they want to build. Mac teams up with Danny, a local company man, and starts the negotiations. The local villagers are delighted. However a local hermit and beach scavenger has other ideas.
Lancaster eventually arrives and both Americans are overcome by the charm and magic of the village. Happer is more interested in the Northern Lights and Danny in a girl with webbed feet, Marina (Jenny Seagrove) than negotiations over land.
The film was directed by Bill Forsyth after the equally charming Gregory's Girl and before the delightful Comfort and Joy.
It manages to be about something while being charming, funny and magical. How many movies pull that off?
More forgotten movies can be found at Todd Mason's blog right here.
Monday, January 24, 2011
Does Where You Live Affect Your Disposition
James Reasoner was talking about Winter's Bone recently, the movie and book, and said that while he appreciated its merits, it just didn't speak to him. Its bleakness put him off.
And I began to wonder why it spoke to me. I live farther from that part of the country than he does. But I live in a place that is similar in many ways--a place where poverty and despair are a few blocks away.
I wonder how much where we live and where we come from affect the sort of books and movies we watch appreciatively. Do people from Detroit, Manchester, Newark, Mexico City and the Ozarks relate to books and movies like Winter's Bone more? If you live in a bucolic place, does a movie set in Detroit or after an apocalypse or in a meth lab in the Ozarks seem foreign and thus uncomfortable to you. Or is it an innate sensibility that forms us. Or childhood? What do you think?
Saturday, January 22, 2011
Music as a Muse
Writers out there. How influential is music as your muse, the initiator of ideas, an influence in what you write?
For me, not so much. It's often a distraction if I play music when I work, and I don't think I hear the lyrics well enough to make use of them. I love music to relax after hours though.
Readers: do you listen to music when you read? Music with lyrics. How do you separate the words on the page from the ones in the tune? I cannot read with lyrics.
Friday, January 21, 2011
Friday's Forgotten Books, January 21, 2011
With any luck you should find a list of links for gotten books at Evan Lewis' blog, right here.
Happy Anniversary, Phil. Not a bad day in ?? years.
Thursday, January 20, 2011
Thursday Night Dancing: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
How I Came to Write This Book: John McFetridge
How I Came To Write This Book
By John McFetridge
I think it was a member of The Eagles who said that you spend ten years in a band learning songs, playing gigs, touring, refining your sound and when you get a chance to make a record you take the best from all that.
And then you have six months to make another record.
I spent years writing short stories and screenplays and a couple of novels that never saw the light of day (my version of touring) and then took the best of all that for my first novel, Dirty Sweet.
And then I had six months to write another book.
Well, I suppose I could have taken a lot longer than that but after trying to get something published for over twenty years when I finally did I wanted to keep the momentum going.
And I was in my mid-forties and thinking about something from another band, Canada’s Tragically Hip, “No dress rehearsal, this is our life.” It’s a sentiment I’ve heard a few times, how do we know when our lives really start? We have no real rite of passage into adulthood anymore, we just kind of slide into it. Well, it’s gotta be by 45, right?
I was looking around at my life and liking it a lot and wondering, how did I get here? I certainly hadn’t followed any kind of plan or design.
I thought that was something worth exploring, how do people end up where they do?
Another musician, Niel Young, provided a great title, “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere.”
I like to be as direct as possible in my writing, so the first page in the book is from the point of view of a young prostitute wondering how she ended up where she is in her life as she gets into a customer’s car.
And then a body falls from the roof of an apartment building and lands on the windshield.
From there I just moved outward finding new characters that were all at a point in their life where they’d never expected to be; a detective coming back from leave after his wife died, the captain of a laker frieghter fighting bankruptcy by selling a little marijuana, a woman running a grow-op in the apartment building, a biker taking his gang to a new level in a new city, an illegal immigrant woman working in a massage parlour and so on.
The book could probably have used another nine years of gestation, but I do think it captures how I was feeling at the time and might get you thinking about how you ended up wherever you are.
John is also the author of LET IT RIDE and DIRTY SWEET. You can find him at Do Some Damage as well as his own blog.
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Getting anything down on the paper is better than getting nothing down. Those few pitiful words are the scaffolding for what will come.
Just write them down. Just do it.
And maybe you will win an award like our great friend, Evan Lewis. Congrats to him on the Robert L. Fish award for his story in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Books Read in High School
What book assigned to you in high school had the biggest impact on you over time? Which book did you hate the most?
THE GREAT GATSBY. I've read it two more times. Each time I liked it more.
Worst-THE SCARLET LETTER. I went to a Christian school and we were never let in on what Hester Prynne did exactly and were too dumb to figure it out. We spent a lot of time guessing...wrong.
Monday, January 17, 2011
"How I Came To Write This Book". K. A. Laity
How I Came to Write this Book, K. A. Laity
Kit Marlowe, Tease Publishing, Dec 2010, ISBN 9781607671275, $5.99
In 2002, I moved to Houston, Texas with my then husband. I hadn't quite got around to finishing my dissertation, but I had finished a novel, which came out the following year months prior to my dissertation defence. Nonetheless I had managed to get that pearl of academic ambitions, a tenure-track job in my field, as had my husband. Reason to celebrate, surely. People told us, "You can never leave these jobs. Lightning will not strike twice."
My apologies to those who love Texas, but we hated it with a passion. First there was the humidity. I thought 100% humidity meant it was raining, but it just means you wish you would die. The whole of Houston seems to be paved from one end to the other, the better to facilitate the flooding that happens every time it rains, let alone in hurricanes. Enron, far from being an anomaly, is just "the way we do things here" I was told. In no time I had my fill of Texas chauvinism: apparently they invented everything first, then made it bigger and better than everyone else. I've never seen anyone with a Connecticut tattoo.
In all fairness, I must admit the food was good, so was the theatre and opera. We made some terrific friends, too.
But we were miserable. If you've taught a 4/4 job, you know what it's like to prep for four classes of 20-35 students every semester, grade all their assignments, hold office hours and then participate in all the administrative duties required of faculty members, especially junior faculty who need to impress if they are to be kept on (e.g. committee meetings, department meetings, lit journal, interdisciplinary groups, College Bowl).
Now multiply that by at least another 10% for the junior faculty member who wants to fill her CV with superb work so she can get a better job in a better location (cf. the Red Queen's conversation with Alice). People always ask me, "How do you get so much writing done?" Houston was my boot camp. I focused on the goal of getting out, but I feared that I would not be able to also keep up with my fiction writing, so after starting a blog in 2004, I also started another blog as a serial novel to amuse myself.
Initially it had no name. The first line of the novel hearkens back to a running joke from grad school. I moved to eastern Connecticut AKA "the Quiet Corner" from Boston, which became our getaway-from-grad-school destination. My friends and I used to compose a faux 18th century epistolary novel on the 90 minute drive, complete with an elaborate slate of characters including the stable hand, Dick Spiggot, who did make it into the novel, too.
The rest of the story unfurled in entirely unplanned ways at the pace of about 500 words a week, every Sunday. As Octavia Butler teaches, persistence is the key to completing a writing project. Almost painlessly I persisted: occasionally I missed a week and offered some outlandish excuse like brain fever or kidnapping by pirates or highwaymen for the absence, but mostly it crept along with the only aim amusing myself and the initially small group of folks who followed the silly and sometimes surrealist Gothic adventures of Alice and Lizzie. I ran a contest to name the story and had some terrific entries. When TextNovel launched, I started posting episodes there as well.
By the time I'd got a new job, moved to New York and published a short story collection (so much for not writing fiction), I realised I had a novel's worth of material—a rather substantial novel's worth of material (100K). I knew it was a bit off-kilter for traditional genres, but my pal Stella Price, artist and writer, urged me to submit it to her publisher. Tease Publishing accepted it almost immediately. I had a fabulous cover designed by Stella before I got the first round of edits from Tease, which helped me start the publicity process. The nom de plume started as a joke, but now I'm rather fond of it. I even made a book trailer for Kit.
So, I recommend the lazy way to write a novel, as long as you have the patience. On the other hand, I have written a novel in ten weeks, so it can be done. I've also begun a new serial, Airships & Alchemy, that's likely to be just as silly as The Mangrove Legacy. I seem to like that sort of thing. And I still have way too many things going on all the time despite getting tenure this past year, because I have ambitions beyond academia. Audaces fortuna iuvat.
Kate is the author of Pelzmantel (Immanion Press, 2010) & Unikirja (Aino Press, 2009), a collection of short stories based on the Kalevala, Kanteletar, and other Finnish myths and legends, for which she won the 2005 Eureka Short Story Fellowship and a 2006 Finlandia Foundation grant, as well as other stories and essays
Saturday, January 15, 2011
Friday, January 14, 2011
Joseph and Jasmine
This is for John Kenyon's Challenge to write a story based loosely on a fairy tale. I don't think you will have any problem guessing which one this comes from if anyone is out there. Sorry to rush the Summing Up away, but this had a deadline.
Links to other stories can be found here. (I think)
Joseph and Jasmine
By Patricia Abbott
“You two be okay while I run to the store?” Joseph’s mother stood in the doorway of her father’s house, an unlit cigarette see-sawing from her lips. One hand was propped on the door frame, the other scratched her head with a Zippo. Joseph wondered if the day was coming when her hair would catch fire. But it hadn’t yet 'cept for the one time she’d lit her fag on the front burner of the gas stove and her bangs got nipped.
“Singed fringe,” she called it, flaking off the ashes and wrinkling her nose at the smell.
Janice wasn’t allowed to smoke in here. Or be here, come to that. Had her own place a mile or so away. Nasty stuff happened there only last year. Jasmine got some scabies disease that poor people get for one thing. Another time, a man broke in while Joseph and Jasmine were home alone asleep. Maybe took some stuff, maybe touched Jasmine where he oughtn’t.
The Court put Joseph and Jasmine in their grandfather’s care after that.
“Man’s too old,” Janice complained, but the judge didn’t care to hear her, told her to be still. Her mouth and opened and shut like Nemo’s a few times, but she shut up.
Janice was allowed to visit Joseph and Jasmine, chaperoned by a social worker, twice a month. Sometimes, Janice didn’t show up. Being Detroit, other times, it was the social worker.
“Nobody should get between a mother and her babies,” she told Joseph after they moved out. She looked at him for an argument. But by ten, he knew how to duck her clip to his head with a nod.
Joseph’s grandfather was at the hospital today, seeing his doctor. An emergency. “You stay inside, kids,” he’d instructed on leaving. Hadn’t counted on his daughter showing up though.
“I should only get what’s handed out on that city pension of his,” Janice was always saying. “We all paying for it, you know. I’d like someone to pay for my next round of penicillin.”
Lung trouble or not, the man could smell smoke in the house from two miles away. And he could especially smell stale smoke from his daughter’s cheap no-name cancer sticks hours later. “A head-shaking girl,” Poppy often said. “Sorry she dragged you kids into this. Be better if….”
Joseph knew what would come next should the old man say it.
“Sure,” Joseph said to his mother now, not knowing why she’d even told him ‘bout her plans. She’d left him and Jasmine alone every night back when they lived with her.
“You’re the man,” she told him at six when Jasmine was an infant. “You take care of your sister, hear?”
House rules were different here though. No Janice, no smoking. “East-side rules,” Poppy said when they moved in. And he’d never left them alone before today. But Joseph was closer to eleven now than ten, and it was daytime. Plus Poppy was havin’ trouble breathing. Too much smoke had snaked down his throat from all those years puttin' out fires. Poppy’s house was in a neighborhood where city workers used to live. One of the safest in Detroit. At his mother’s house, Joseph heard gunshots every night. You hardly even noticed the Fourth of July or New Year’s. You learned not to play near windows. Those were house rules near Gratiot Avenue.
“Going to Mr. Cs and then Target,” his mother told him. She must be having a nooner, Joseph reasoned, though it was nearly four o’clock. “Your granddaddy should be home soon. He be out of milk so I’m goin’ out to get some.” She harrumphed and puffed up like getting a carton of milk was somethin' special.
“Carton’s in the fridge,” Joseph started to say. Then stopped. She knew that. It was just an excuse—for somethin'.
“And you need some other stuff too. Old man don’t notice, but I do. Only a Mama knows certain things though he’d never confess it. I be over to Eastland Mall. Maybe get Baby Girl some clothes.”
Joseph nodded. When she called Jasmine Baby Girl things weren’t looking up.
Jasmine, four, never lifted her head throughout this conversation, occupied with deciding what charm to pick for a game of Monopoly. She picked each one up and put it down, looking thoughtful. She’d even added some tokens of her own to the pile over time. An orange rubber ball that always rolled off the game board for one. Joseph’d taken one of those orange sticks to it, but still it rolled. There was also a token from Greektown Casino and a John Kerry 2004 button.
Jasmine was too young to play Monopoly, but Joseph made the moves for both of them, playing his best on both their accounts. His sister was content just moving her dog or iron or ball to wherever he pointed, pretending to read the cards, shuffling her money around importantly. She loved that pastel money. Joseph always told her she’d won when he grew tired of playing.
Poppy and he played Battleship or checkers after Jasmine went to bed. “Never did like counting money,” his grandfather said and then chuckled. “Lucky, cause I never had much to count. Anyway, we’ll leave money-counting to your sister.” Sometimes Jasmine slept with the stacks of money next to her bed. Asleep, she breathed with wet gulping sighs like she’d caught her grandfather’s disease. “Asthma,” the old man said when Joseph first told him.
Joseph listened while his mother’s feet went down the front steps. What was she doing over here? Had some kind of witchy instinct about when Poppy’d be gone, usually showing up on those rare occasions. Usually tried to get them to come over her house. Promised them cookies. Rule Number Three. Don’t go over near Janice’s house. Most of their house rules concerned Janice.
“Oh, say Joseph.” His mother had her head back in the door. Here it was. Joseph knew it. Flexed his muscles, waiting.
“Think you and Jasmine could run over my house and wait for a package. You know, while I’m doing all this crazy-ass stuff for you all. Going shopping and that. You just gotta sit at my house and wait for the delivery. Probably take fifteen minutes. I even got some DVDs you can watch. More a treat than a chore.” Her eyes were black slits. “When the package comes, just open the door wide enough to take it. No reason for anyone to come inside. Hear?” She took an audible breath. “Don’t care for no strangers in my house.” Since when?
The clickety-click on the steps was a sign she’d more than shopping in mind. High heels. Poppy owned the only car in the family so his mother must be taking DDOT to wherever she was really going. Or perhaps her lover-man had a car waiting at the corner. Anyway, no milk would be coming their way today. No clothes for Jasmine.
Nodding, Joseph rolled the dice, preparing to move his race car to Ventnor Avenue. A car pulled up outside, its engine loud.
“You hear me, boy. Get moving,” Janice said, sidling out the door.
On the street, Jasmine had a fist full of Monopoly money he hadn’t seen her grab. “How we gonna play the game next time, girl?” he asked, as a fluttering green bill caught him smack in the eye. Eye tearing, he led the way along deserted streets, ignoring what Jasmine did with the bills because it was too late to stop it. One or two got caught in her hair. Maybe he could make new bills out of construction paper. Or probably they could get a new old game at Salvation Army. Lots of games had money inside the box probably.
Why was she was throwing the bills in the air? Jasmine still didn’t talk so he couldn’t ask her. Twice he had to stop her from running into the street to grab one. She hated to lose the gold ones. “Guess we can find our way home easy enough now,” he said, humoring her. "You left us a trail." She grinned. Her teeth were perfect whereas his were crooked pegs. Good thing he wasn’t a girl, Janice always said.
Jasmine was going to be real pretty. But “not talking” like she did was gonna hold her back. Poppy had her hearing and other stuff checked out. “She’ll talk when she gets a mind to,” the old man decided. When you tried to talk to Jasmine, she just smiled that big half-moon smile. When she cried, tears came but no sound.
Joseph thought if he could see inside his sister's head there’d be wondrous things there instead of the nasty things he saw in front of him now. Maybe she saw things in colors that he couldn’t even name. She was full of secret smiles for no reason he could see, so it hadda be somethin’ like that going' on in her head. Some different place entirely stretched out in front of her.
They arrived at their mother’s house fifteen minutes later. He’d forgotten what a mess it was. It looked like she’d been sleeping on the sofa by the front window instead of in her bed. Why? He looked out that window, noting you could see the whole street from that perch. The window was propped just the right amount for surveying the lay of the land. The curtain was tucked back just so. A lookout like in a cowboy or cop movie.
Jasmine and he were watching Die Hard 2 when he heard the car pull up. He could make out two faces on the passenger’s side windows. Meant at least three people were in that car, counting the driver. Scowling faces that didn’t look like they had any mind to deliver a package. Looked like they were scoping out his mother’s house, in fact.
The woman next door came out of her house just then and threw the men a dark look. The car sped away. She shambled across the lawn and knocked at the door. “Back again, huh? This for you?” she said when Joseph opened it. “Some guy in a Tiger's hat and shades left it.” Mama’s package. He took it, thanked her, and closed the door before she could ask about why they were there. He listened as she waited on the porch a few seconds before shambling off.
That car again. It’d slowed down, idling a house or two away. Same two faces checking out Mama’s house. A really bad feeling came over Joseph. Couldn’t have said why ‘cept that it was Janice’s place. Where bad things happened. Stay away from Janice’s house was a house rule for good reason.
Joseph grabbed Jasmine’s hand and yanked her toward the back door. They dashed out the door and down the back alley, knocking over a trashcan or two, dodging some mangy cats, an overturned milk carton, and a heap of trash. Someone yelled, a dog barked, but they kept up their pace.
They weren’t more than a block away when he heard the explosion, felt the heat even. Jasmine found one of her gold dollar bills on the sidewalk and held it up. “Time to go home to Poppy’s” he told her, shaking. He could picture the old man coming in and finding them gone. He could imagine what Janice’s house looked like now. Die Hard 2 probably floating through the air.
“Do not pass go,” his sister said, somehow keeping up with him.
For a minute he thought he’d imagined it. Imagined Jasmine talking. Always thought her first word would be something like “Poppy.”
He turned around, and her grin stretched wider than her face. Teeth sparkled like jewels.
“The witch’s house burned down,” he said, smiling a little, too. It felt strange with his lips turning up. Unnatural.
They followed that Monopoly money all the way home, recovering a sizable portion of it.