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Archive for the ‘Short Stories’ Category

Green As A Dollar

Hazardous Duty

Julie Buffaloe-Yoder

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Gator Jonson is the best worker we’ve ever had.  Unlike the younger guys,

he doesn’t whine about physical labor.  Sometimes he works inside

underground pipes.  Sometimes he hangs from ladders or operates

backhoes.  Other times, he’s on the side of the road, shoveling diesel fuel

spills.

.

Environmental cleanup is nasty work.  Our office has a high turnover rate.

The field workers are on call 24-hours a day.  They handle chemicals, mud,

sludge, oil, meth labs, shit, and sometimes blood.  College students often

come to work for the summer.  Many of them don’t last three weeks.  Gator

is here for the long haul.

.

The boss refuses to promote Gator to supervisor.  “That frigging hillbilly is

older than dirt,” he says.  “I need boys who can hustle.”

.

But I love it when Gator works a job, because I’m the office grunt, the

schmuck who pretties up this place on paper and sends it all to the E.P.A.

Gator turns in his field notes on time.  His paperwork is neat, and his

numbers are always correct.

.

Every day, Gator takes off his hat, peeks around the door, and I wave him

into my office.  The pants of his uniforms are ironed with a crease.  He is

soaked with sweat, but his shirt is buttoned to the collar.  Those are

company rules.

.

Gator has bright green eyes.  He has a long, gray ponytail, but his pork chop

sideburns are solid white.  When he hands in his paperwork, he always

tells me a joke.  Even when Gator’s jokes are corny, I throw back my head

and laugh.

.

“Have a good day, ma’am,” he grins.  Then he heads out the door.  His left

arm hangs a little crooked.  He is short and has a bow-legged limp from all

the pins and rods in his legs.

.

Gator was a poor boy from the Appalachian mountains.  When Uncle Sam

called his number, Gator went to Vietnam.  He became a Tunnel Rat.  He

crawled through tight, dark holes with a pistol and a knife.  Gator came

home from the war with a purple heart, crushed bones, and a lot of bad

dreams.

.

In those days, Gator drank too much.  Then he met a sweet, chubby woman

from Arkansas who set him straight.  They had five children.  Gator got a job

with a large cleanup company.  He bought a brand new trailer for his family.

For the next thirty years, Gator crawled through pipes and sewers, cleaning

up underground leaks.

.

Gator is the only one at this branch who is licensed to drive the vacuum

truck.  It is a large truck with a tank on back that holds thousands of gallons

of liquid and sludge.  Companies call for the vac truck when there is an oil

spill in a waterway or if waste in a factory tank needs to be disposed.

.

Earlier today, the boss sent Gator to a factory to pump waste from a tank.

The tank wasn’t leaking, but the liquid must be disposed.  As usual, I was

mad when I heard about about the job, because the boss didn’t bother to get

a Material Safety Data Sheet.  I had no idea what we’re dealing with.

.

So I made a few phone calls and found out that the tank holds some type of

acid.  I looked it up on the internet.  There was a large skull and crossbones

next to the information:  Hazardous material.  Extremely toxic.  Fumes will

cause severe burns to skin.  Corrosive to stainless steelOverexposure will

cause lung malfunction and death.

.

I printed off the safety information and ran into the boss’ office.  “You’ve got

to stop Gator,” I said.

.

The boss looked up from his computer.  “What?”  The screen was turned

sideways, and I could see that he was playing online poker.

.

I shoved the paper under his nose.  “Look at what it says!  Corrosive to

stainless steel!”  I was almost yelling.  The boss didn’t look at the paper.  He

gave me a long, quiet stare.

.

I sighed and tried to calm down.  “You know…the liquid you’re sending

Gator to suck out of that tank?  It could burn through the valves of the vac

truck.  Aren’t the valves made out of stainless steel?  Do you know?  The

fumes are hazardous.  It could kill Gator.  It could kill somebody in the

plant.”

.

When he still didn’t respond, I added “We could get sued.”

.

The boss looked at me without blinking.  His face turned red.  I could hear

the ticking of his clock above the door.  “You don’t need to worry about

what goes on with my men in the field.  It’s taken care of,” he said.

.

But I knew it wasn’t.

.

I went back to my office and spent the next two hours leaving messages for

Gator.  I paged him.  I called the factory.  A bored, female voice told me the

plant supervisor had gone to lunch.  “Look, can’t you page him?”  I asked.

“This is an emergency, damnit!  It’s a matter of life and death.  People in

your plant could get hurt badly or even die.”

.

“I’ll be sure to pass along the message,” she said, and hung up.  I called back

several more times and received a voicemail.  The message inbox was full.

.

An hour later, my phone was ringing off the hook.  A lot of impatient voices

wanted to talk to the boss.  Then Gator walked through the door.  He wasn’t

wearing a shirt.  His pants were hanging in strips.  Red marks across his

cheeks were turning into welts.  His right eyelid was swollen.  Blisters

bubbled up around one of his nipples.  The skin on his shoulders was a swirl

of red, black and purple.  Bits of blood dotted his chest and looked like a

thousand tiny stars.

.

The acid had leaked from the hose as soon as Gator started pumping.  He

stopped the flow and capped the tank.  That was all he could do.  It ate

through his clothes before he could get to the emergency shower.  The plant

had to be evacuated.  His cell phone and pager stopped working.  Two

people fainted from the fumes.  He left just as the ambulance was arriving.

.

The boss leveled his gaze at Gator.  “An ambulance?  They sound like a

bunch of paper pushing pussies to me,” he said.  Then he chuckled and

handed Gator a little envelope.  “Here’s your paycheck.  That ought to make

everything good.  You’re not hurt, are you?”

.

Gator glanced down at the envelope in his hands.  “Nah.  I’m okay.”

.

Gator hobbled off to the shop out back.  The boss went into his office and

shut the door.  He talked for a long time in hushed tones.

.

The phone in my office rang several more times for the boss.  Then the

phone rang for Gator and me.  Another plant on the east side of the county

needed a vac truck immediately.

.

I knew Gator would go to the new job instead of the hospital.  The boss has

given several lectures about how our accident numbers are too high.  It

costs the company a lot of money.  Still, I wanted to urge him to go get his

burns checked out.

.

I found Gator in the back of the shop, sitting on an old bench, rubbing

petroleum jelly on his chest.  There was a fresh uniform hanging next to

him.  It was neatly pressed and ready for work.

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My short story, Miss Fish Refuses To Evacuate, won the grand prize in the Carolina Woman 2010 writing contest.   Many thanks to the editor and publisher, Debra Simon, and her staff.

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Carolina Woman is a North Carolina lifestyles magazine with a readership of 100,000 professional women in the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill region and beyond.  Debra Simon is a writer and editor whose work has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Seventeen Magazine, Adweek, Reuters, The Miami Herald, The Hartford Courant and The Financial Times.

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I enjoy the articles in Carolina Woman, and I especially love finding out what’s happening in the arts scene in North Carolina.

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You can read my story HERE.  Scroll down to read the work.

You can also see the 2009 winners HERE.  Please stick around to read all the winners.  There is good work there!

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Thanks again to the kind folks at Carolina Woman magazine.  Please be sure to check them out.

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And thanks to everyone who has taken the time to read here.  You are most appreciated.

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One of these days, I won’t feel the need to add disclaimers.  For now, I’m trying to stay out of trouble.  This is not my mother or father.  It is fiction.  But “Cully Jean” is a very real woman.  I love her dearly.

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Red and White

Julie Buffaloe-Yoder

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My sister is graduating today.  I sit on a sweaty, metal folding chair at

the community center and wait to hear them call her name.  Cully Jean sits

on a folding chair across the room beside ten other GED graduates.  Nobody

wears a cap and gown.  The air conditioner’s not working well, and the small

room smells strongly of felt tipped pens and hot bodies that are too close

together.  Babies cry and little kids squirm on the floor.  An administrator in

a cheap green suit stands up and looks at his watch.  He wipes his forehead

with a handkerchief and reads a speech called It’s A Brand New Day.

.

Cully rolls her eyes and looks like she really wants a cigarette.  She is

dark and beautiful like her Cherokee mama.  Cully is thirty four, but she

already has stripes of white in her long black hair and dark half moons

under her eyes.  Her breasts are large.  She has one good arm and one

stubby arm.  Her stubby arm ends where her elbow should be and has three

small, working fingers on it.

.

My legs are sticking to the metal chair, and I wish I had worn pants

instead of a skirt.  Cully is wearing black jeans and the cute new top we

picked out at Wal-Mart today.  It is dark red with short puffy sleeves and is

covered with tiny white dots.  Cully points to her top and mouths the word

RED.  Then she flips me off with her good hand and grins.

.

The women at social services nicknamed us Red and White.  We were

born on the same day, but we’re not twins.  We have the same white father.

He was almost fifty and already had a bunch of abused and abandoned kids

by the time he got our mothers pregnant.

.

My mother was white.  She turned fourteen on the day I was born.

Cully’s mother was full-blooded Cherokee and a little older, maybe sixteen

or seventeen.  Our father wanted to look noble for once in his life, so he

allowed both of his pregnant girlfriends to move in with him.  He lived in a

dumpy little house on the outskirts of town.  That’s where Cully and I were

born.

.

Social Services took us away when we were eight.  I was small for my

age.  Once my blond, curly hair was deloused and combed, I became a hot

commodity.  I was placed with an older couple who live in a large Victorian

house on the good side of town.  Eventually, they adopted me.  Cully got

bounced around to different foster homes on the bad side of town.

.

When we were kids, our town was relatively small, and Cully could ride

her bike to my house.  She showed up once or twice a week after midnight

and threw rocks at my window until I climbed down the trellis from my

second story room.  The last time I snuck out with Cully Jean, we were

eleven.  I didn’t really want to go anywhere.  I was in a comfortable bed.  I

liked my life and didn’t want to mess it up.  But she kept throwing rocks, and

I was afraid she’d break the window.  So, down I went.

.

Once my feet hit the ground, I turned around and saw Cully leaning

against a maple tree, smoking a cigarette. The rows of lights that framed the

lawn cast weird shadows on Cully’s face, and it made her look like she

had no eyes. What the frig took you so long? she asked.  Little puffs of

smoke came out with her words.

.

We rode our bikes down Oak Street with its respectable rows of ivy

covered houses.  We passed the Episcopal church and the new Elmwood

Elementary building where I went to school.  After a while, we came to a

twin set of railroad tracks.  We rode over the tracks and through the housing

projects and trailer courts.  We passed the shabby little Ridgerock

Elementary school, where Cully may or may not be the next morning.  We

passed the non-denominational church with Good News! spray painted in

neon yellow across its gray, windowless building.

.

We finally came to an abandoned gas station that was next to a row of

empty buildings.  This was Cully’s favorite spot to hang, especially when her

foster father was in town.  The street lights were still intact.  We saw bullets

and needles on the ground.  Sometimes, there were stray cats who would

let us pet them.  When we got tired of sitting out front, we could slip inside

the gas station through a broken door in the back.  There was an old, dust

covered cash register still on the counter.  One time, we found a box full

of comic books.

.

Instead of going inside the gas station, we decided to sit down on a

rickety bench in front of the building.  Cully pulled a joint out of her pocket

and lit it.  We took little puffs and coughed until we gagged.  The weed made

our heads feel big and put us in a silly mood.  Broken glass sparkled on the

asphalt.  We started doing hand clap games and laughing at how hard it was

to keep a rhythm, because we were stoned.

.

All of a sudden, a car pulled up.  I didn’t hear it coming.  I was laughing

too hard.  Cully’s eyes got real big, and I laughed some more.  Oh, shit, she

said.  The car was a banged up piece of junk, and it squeaked and rattled to a

stop.  A big man with a pot belly got out of the car.  You little bitch! he

screamed.  The state don’t pay us enough to put up with your crap!

.

Cully jumped up and started to run, but the man caught her by the hair

and flung her on the ground.  He pulled off his belt and swung it high in the

air behind his head.  Cully sat up and tried to get away.  The belt came down

across her face with a snap.  Cully screamed and fell back on the ground,

holding her face with her good hand.  I jumped up and ran behind a pile of

wooden pallets while the man continued to beat Cully Jean.

.

I peeped around the pallets.  I was so afraid the man would kill her.  He

grabbed Cully by the hair and dragged her behind the gas station.  I could

hear the sickening sound of his belt on Cully Jean’s skin.  She screamed a

few more times.  Then I heard nothing, except for the sound of my own

loud heart.

.

I waited for what seemed like forever.  When I couldn’t stand waiting

any longer, I snuck to the side of the building and looked around back.  The

man was sitting down on something.  Cully Jean was on her knees in front of

the man.  He was holding Cully’s head between his legs.  Her shirt was off.

.

I was too terrified to run.  I walked backward until I couldn’t see the

man or Cully anymore.  I found a huge cardboard box on the side of the

building.  I hid under the box.  My pulse was beating loudly in my ears.

Something skittered by my arm, and I clapped my hand over my mouth so

I wouldn’t scream.

.

Eventually, I heard his heavy footsteps go past.  The car door creaked

open.  Then the car gurgled to a start and sped away.  A few minutes later, I

crept out, and Cully’s bike was still there.  I found her behind the gas station

on her hands and knees.  She was crying and throwing up.  Cully struggled to

her feet, still crying, and I helped her put on her shirt.  Cully’s cheek was

bleeding.  One of her eyes was closed shut.  I didn’t know what to do, so I

reached out and tried to brush her hair away from her eyes.  Cully Jean

spat in my face.  Get away from me, bitch.  I hate you, she hissed.  Then she

got on her bike and slowly rode away.

.

I didn’t see Cully Jean for a long time after that.  The next time we met,

we were thirteen.  I was standing in front of the 7-11 store, and Cully came

whizzing up on a brand new skateboard and slammed into me.  She told me

her mother had bought it for her.  It still had the price tag on it.  I doubted

what she said, but I tried to act impressed for her sake.

.

Then high school came along.  People said I was a hottie.  I got invited

to dances and had a lot of friends.  Cully dropped out of her school midway

through freshman year.  She was already addicted to crack.  Once I saw her

when some friends and I went to a bar where underage kids could drink

without question.  The place was a pit, and it reeked of underarms and

hot beer.  Cully was working as a bar maid.  She wore a short skirt and fish

net stockings.  Old men slapped her on the ass and made mean remarks

about her stumpy arm.  We pretended not to know each other.

.

I joined the debate team and the chess club.  I graduated with honors.

Then I went to college and started drinking for real.  Somehow, I managed

to get a degree in business.  I put on a fairy tale wedding gown and married

a good looking bastard named Jim.  He and I partied and fought our way

through our twenties.  We cashed in my trust fund and bought a

condominium in Fort Lauderdale.

.

I moved back home when I was twenty nine and went into my adopted

father’s business.  Now my ex is suing me for alimony.  I make a lot of money

in real estate.  My teeth are capped and bright white, and my face is on

billboards all over town, smiling like a fool.  Cully won’t take a dime of my

money.  If I mail her a check, she mails it back to me with cram it up your

ass written in big red letters across the front of the check.

.

Cully and I reconnected four years ago.  She had just finished her last

session of rehab.  Our reunion wasn’t a tearful one.  We just saw each other

at the mall and started hanging out.  Now we’re together most of the time.

If I don’t come around for a day, Cully calls and demands to know where the

hell I am.

.

But we don’t have long, meaningful conversations.  We reveal ourselves

to each other cautiously and quickly, bit by bit.  I told Cully about my

nervous breakdown while we were watching a sit com on television.  When

we were waiting in line at the frozen yogurt stand, Cully told me she had

spent two years in jail.

.

Now Cully lives in public housing with her three youngest kids–two

girls and a boy.  The apartment walls are thin, and we can hear people

arguing or having sex next door.  Teenagers sell crack in front of the

apartments, and Cully yells at them until they leave.

.

Cully’s three kids are all under the age of five and have different fathers

they have never met.  Cully has never gotten any child support.  Two of the

fathers are dead, and she doesn’t know where the other one is.  The kids are

sweet, but they’re a handful.  They scream a lot and run around the

apartment, banging into walls.  They leap on the kitchen counters like cats

and pour cereal all over the floor.

.

Five mornings a week, the kids take a little purple bus to daycare.  Then

Cully takes the city bus to Wal-Mart, where she works all day.  She goes to

school after work.  At night, they all come home and run around the

apartment like crazy.  Cully sings while she stirs spaghetti in a big, black

pot.  She taught the kids how to write their names.  She frames all of their

work and hangs it on the apartment wall.

.

In just a few minutes, Cully will have a high school diploma to hang on

her wall.  The man in the green suit has finished reading his speech.  The

folding chair hurts my ass.  It feels like the air conditioner is completely

broken now.  Cully is standing up with the other graduates, and I lean

forward to take her picture.  The man in green has visible beads of sweat

running down the side of his face.  He calls out the names quickly.  Cully is

the last name on the list–Culletta Jean Whittaker.

.

Cully walks the few steps with her head held up.  The man reaches out

and holds Cully’s good hand to shake it.  There is an awkward moment when

he looks at her arm and is not sure where to put her diploma.  Cully takes

the diploma with the three fingers on her stumpy arm and holds it up as

high as she can.  Somebody behind me snickers.

.

I clap loudly for my dark sister.  Tonight, we will go to Chuckie Cheese

to celebrate.  She will show her kids how to spit wads of paper through their

straws.  She will talk loudly and call me a dork.  She won’t let me pay the bill.

.

We will go back to her apartment, and the kids will be high on

Mountain Dew.  They will run and jump and break things until Cully

screams.  Then they will put on their footie pajamas and settle down on her

bed, sucking their thumbs.

.

Cully will read a pile of books to them.  The kids will fall asleep, but

Cully won’t stop reading until she finishes the last page of Good Night

Moon.   When I wake up in the morning, I will be on the couch, covered with

Cully’s soft blanket.  She will already be up, dressed in her Wal-Mart

uniform, ready for a brand new day.

.

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Miss Fish Refuses To Evacuate

Julie Buffaloe-Yoder

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…..Miss Fish sits on the roof.  She is seventy-five-years old and hanging onto

shingles.  The water is now above her windows.  It is hot, and the sun

threatens to shine.  She wears a red bandana as a kerchief.  It flaps in the stiff

afternoon breeze.  Her black boots are muddy.  She cut her leg and tore her

favorite jeans climbing through the bedroom window and up the old trellis.

She dropped her canteen of water.  It took too long to get up here.  Now all

she wants is to be left alone.

.

…..She didn’t ask anybody to rescue her.  She won’t go.  It’s her house.  Her

land.  If she ends up drowning in flood waters, well then.  That’s her business.

At least she’ll die with North Carolina salt water up her nose.

.

…..After the last hurricane, she never saw Almeeta again.  Almeeta is her best

friend.   Now she’s gone.   Almeeta’s kids talked her into moving to Chapel Hill

with them.  Just for a little while until we can clean up, they said.   Ha!  They

sold so fast it made everybody’s head spin.  Now Almeeta’s laying in a nursing

home, dying with the hard hands of strangers flipping her over twice a day.

.

…..Miss Fish is right where she intends to draw her last thin, blue breath.  She

was born with a silver bucket in her hand and has worked at McCumber’s

Shrimp House since she was old enough to carry it.  This creaky yellow house

next door to McCumber’s is her home.  She grew up here.   She falls asleep

every night watching the lights of shrimp boats slide across her bedroom

walls.  She loves the deep gurgle of engines, the shush of shovels in the ice

room.  She loves the way the fishermen cuss.   She loves the smell of marsh

mud, the mockingbirds in the trees.   Every cypress root and thick patch of

moss on this beautiful black ground sings her name.

.

…..McCumber’s is on the verge of closing down, but Miss Fish refuses to

move.  When the developers came in and made their big offer, she wouldn’t

sell.   And now, she won’t move off this roof until the waters go down.  Then

she will clean it all up, stick by stick.

.

…..Miss Fish hears a helicopter again and looks up.  It’s the people from the

six o’clock ActionNews! team.  They will show her on the television tonight.

She gives them the finger.  She might be an old woman, but she knows what

the finger means.

.

…..Let people call her a fool.  What people say never worried Miss Fish.  She

gave birth to Cully back when having a baby out of wedlock was unheard of.

She refused to quietly leave town.  She refused to give him up for adoption.

Miss Fish held her head high.  She marched to the front row of Oak Shore

Baptist Church every Sunday with no husband and little Cully boy in her

arms.   She made them love Cully.  And they did.  All the men in the

community became his daddy.  He had cousins galore.  They patted his curly,

black head and swung him high in the air.  They built him a flat bottom skiff.

He spent his childhood in that boat with crab pots and nets.  He was a fine,

strong boy.

.

…..Cully paid them all back by moving upstate.  Mr. Big Shot computer

programmer.  He lives in a fancy mansion in some subdivision that smells like

lettuce.  He just turned forty, and he looks like an old man.  Always talking

about how stressed out he is.  His prissy little wife acts like she smells dog

crap when they visit once a year.  And the kids!  Two sad, fat boys who don’t

even act like boys at all.  They sit on the couch all day staring at gadgets in

their hands.  Whoever heard of an eight-year-old with a cell phone?   Kids

should be out in boats or playing in the woods.

.

…..She wonders what happened, where she went wrong.  Miss Fish was the

first and only woman in the county to become a captain.   She knows

currents, wind, and tide like the back of her two big hands.  She ought to

be taking those kids out on the water and showing them a thing or two.  If she

hadn’t let Cully sell the boat, she would be on it right now.

.

…..Miss Fish was so proud of Cully when he went to college.  He was the first

one in the family to go.  Then he came back and announced that he didn’t

want to be a fisherman.   Well, that’s his choice.   But he could have at least

helped her on some of the campaigns.   For years now, she has fought on

behalf of the small commercial fisherman.   She has protested, written letters,

joined groups, gone to meetings.  She even goes to the capitol to speak for

them.  “You just can’t fight it, Mama,” Cully says.   “There are too many

government regulations.   The price of fuel is too high.  Too many of the

waters are closed.  Real estate is the only way to make any money around

here anymore.  You could sell this place, get a nice condo in town, and never

have to worry about finances for the rest of your life.”

.

…..A condo!   They may as well put her in jail.  She won’t do it, not even

for Cully.  Miss Fish hears an engine in the distance.  It might be the Coast

Guard.  They’ll climb on the roof and carry her off.  The muscles in the backs

of her legs are knotting up in cramps.  She scoots her backside a little to see if

she can move.  That doesn’t work too well, so she lays down on her stomach

and slides toward the chimney.  Shingles come loose under her as she

moves.   She pants.  The skin on her arms is on fire.

.

…..She makes it to the chimney and catches her breath.  The sun has come

out now in full force.   It is so hot.   She wishes she had her canteen.   Her

tongue has never felt so dry.  She wonders how much time has passed.  It may

have only been minutes, but it feels like hours.   Mosquitos swirl around her

eyes.   Her leg below the knee is bleeding.   She takes off her bandana and ties

it tight around her leg.

.

…..It used to be that the wishes of elders were respected.  When Cap’n Orrie

wanted to die on his boat, people let him.  Nobody rushed him to the hospital

to be hooked up with tubes and machines.  His time came, and he left the way

he wanted to go.  Rocking gently in his boat on a soft pile of old nets.

.

…..Miss Fish sits up and leans against the chimney.  She’ll rest for a minute

and get over this dizzy spell.  If she can get a good toe hold on the chimney,

she’ll climb inside.  They’ll never reach her in there.   If they try, she’ll jab

their hands with her little pocket knife.

.

…..The helicopter circles above her head again.  How they would love to see

an old fool drown!  She sees the boat coming closer.  Heat shimmers on the

roof.  She feels like she might throw up.  She looks down at her backyard.

Clothes are hanging in the tree limbs.   The red and blue patchwork quilt

Grandma made looks like a jellyfish flapping in the water.  Little white squares

float all over the yard.   She hopes it’s not the box of pictures she tried to

shove up in the rafters.  She sees a patch of green cloth float by.  Maybe that’s

Cully’s boyscout uniform.

.

…..Her little Cully.  He was such a sweet boy.  He used to peek around the

corner of her bedroom to see if she was awake every morning.  Then he’d grin

with those two front teeth missing.  He couldn’t wait to get to the fish house.

When he grew up, he couldn’t wait to get away.

.

…..It is so hot.  So hot.  Little white spots dance in front of her eyes.  The

water has leveled off now.  If they would just leave her alone, she could make

it.   The men on the boat are coming too fast.  She can see them now.  Their

faces are young and round.  She hears the beeping of crazy computers inside

their boat.  A boy talks on a radio and looks bored.  Miss Fish gets on her

knees and puts her arms around the chimney.  She hangs onto the chimney.

She stands up.

.

…..She never said Cully had to be a fisherman.  Even after he came back from

college, she didn’t pressure him to go out on the boat with her.  He sat in the

back room for days at a time.  He liked to build computers.   He could take an

engine apart and put it back together when he was in the tenth grade.  It

seemed logical that he’d want to work with some kind of machine.  She

cooked his supper every night and left it covered on a little table by his

closed door.  She tried to leave him alone.

.

…..But Cully could have helped his people with the computers.   He could

have spread the word.  All she wanted him to do was help her make a flyer.

She made flyers with an old typewriter.  His machines could make fancy

colored letters and spit out twenty of them at a time.  “This dump is not worth

saving!” he screamed.  He crumpled up her handmade flyer and moved out

that night.

.

…..Miss Fish feels faint.  Her legs buckle.   She tries to hold onto the chimney,

but her hands slip.  She falls on her side and begins rolling.  Sky, roof, sky,

roof.   It feels like she is rolling into space.  Any second now, she will feel the

drop.  The warm water will clap around her body.

.

…..She stops rolling.   She is on her stomach again, still on the roof.  Her body

is perpendicular to the gutter.  Her face hangs over the edge.  Miss Fish

stretches her arms sideways and feels shingles.  She digs her fingers

underneath the shingles as hard as she can.  She should have kept going.   If

she rocks her body back and forth, she can roll into the water.  It will only

hurt for a little while.

.

…..Miss Fish pants.   The sun slaps like a demon against her body.   A wild

horse floats by, struggling to swim.  It is a pretty one, dark brown with a

blond mane.   It holds its head above the water as far as it can.  Its eyes are

rolled back and white.  Slowly, the head goes under.   It comes up again.  Then

it goes down.  The eyes disappear.

.

…..There’s a pile of muddy nets wrapped around the trunk of the live oak

tree.  The net is full of trash and beer cans.  There’s the gold lace tablecloth

Almeeta gave her.  There’s  a crab pot buoy.  She sees more things from her

house float by.  But she can’t imagine what they are anymore.  Colors appear

beneath the surface and turn into a thick, gray line.  Everything looks the

same.

.

…..The men climb up on the roof.  In no time, she hears boots thudding

toward her.  Hard hands grab Miss Fish around the waist.  They flip her over

on her back.   They cut her shirt and favorite jeans from her body.  The hands

wrap her in a scratchy, wet sheet.  Quickly, they carry her down.  She refuses

to cry.

.

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For lack of a better term, I’m calling this one a short story. It’s really more of a sketch. Maybe a rant. I met this woman and her little girl this week, and I wonder what will happen to the girl in a few years. I’ve never seen a more miserable eight-year-old in my life.

They were part of a caravan of mothers and daughters on their way across the country to some kind of beauty pageant.  Nope.  Little Miss Sunshine this ain’t. 

The big topic of discussion among the mothers was what product to buy to spray on the little girls’ asses to keep their bathing suits from riding up.  Little girls’ asses!  I’m still reeling from that one.   

Mothers.. Please.. I’m begging you. .Stop. .

There are enough screwed up women in the world already.

.******************************************************************************************************************

.

An Ungrateful Daughter

Julie Buffaloe-Yoder

.

…..All I ever wanted to do was help that girl. The money I have spent on her! Ballet, tap, jazz, gymnastics. All those cute little outfits at two hundred bucks a pop. A professional makeup artist. On my salary. Running around to the local events. Then County.. Regional.. State. .All those trips in sweaty vans with all those no-talent brats and their snooty mothers. I worked overtime, on my hands and knees, to pay for those contests. Virginia, Texas, California—my little girl won them all. Without even trying.

…..What a beautiful baby she was. On day one, I looked into those big blue eyes and saw something special. A shining star above all the rest. It was like God said to me, “Jennifer, I took your mother when you were five. I gave you a drunk, no account father. I stole your childhood and made you work like a mule. You had to drop out of high school before your sixteenth birthday. You married a man you didn’t love to get away from your father. But now I’m going to reward you for all that heartache. I’m giving you the perfect little girl.”

…..My girl could sing like an angel. She looked like one, too. Everybody on both sides of my family has frizzy brown hair. But my girl was a real blonde. Golden. Corkscrew curly blonde hair bouncing around those sweet pink cheeks. People couldn’t stop admiring her. And not just family, either. Total strangers stopped us in the street to ooh and ahh.

…..Then she had to go and get chunky. Sure, every girl has an awkward stage, somewhere along about ten or eleven. But no matter how many calories I counted, no matter how many exercise classes I enrolled her in, that girl just kept eating nonstop. Out of spite. Nobody in their right mind unwraps a stick of margarine and eats it like an ice cream cone. But she did. It doesn’t matter how much makeup you put on a pig, well…chunky girls don’t make professional cheer squad.

…..Then there are the years I don’t even want to think about. Other women got to take pictures of their cute teenage daughters in strapless homecoming gowns. I watched my daughter stagger in the house, reeking of smoke and alcohol. If she even came home at all. Those weirdos she hung around with changed her. “If you lay down with dogs,” I tried to tell her. But she ended up in juvenile detention, no matter what I said. Then there went more money for lawyers.

…..And the purple hair. Oh, God! The night she shaved it all off and told me…her own mother…to go to hell. It was like the devil was standing in my living room, blowing smoke out of her nose. Then all that money I spent on all those shrinks. That fancy mountain retreat where they said they’d cure her. She ended up finding more drugs there than she did on the street.

…..Now she finally decides to get her act together. Thirty two years old. Still ungrateful. Still rolls her eyes and snorts when I open my mouth. I guess every mother has crosses to carry. Believe me, I’ve heard a lot worse on talk shows. Kids see too much violence on TV and those video games. Drugs are everywhere. It’s a wonder any of them ever come out okay.

…..They’ve got her on some new nerve pills, and that has helped a lot. She still looks pretty good in makeup, considering she’s over thirty. As for all the things she could have done, well, there’s no need crying over spilled milk. Her ship has sailed.

…..At least we can laugh nowadays. We go shopping. I buy her nice ladies’ dresses or we get botafirm facials done at the mall. It makes us feel like young girls again. Today, we’re having the baby’s portrait taken at a professional studio. She’s an auburn haired beauty. Only the best for my granddaughter. Now that one—she’s my real heart.

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Hold on, Nellie. Here we go. I’ve been delaying this topic, because once I get started, it’s hard for me to stop.

Last week, a lady stopped by my workplace with some pamphlets about environmental issues. That’s cool. I was born a tree hugger and a mud lover. But when I started reading the part about how small commercial fishermen are overfishing the oceans, my head almost blew off.

Bless her heart. She was a sweet, well intentioned lady from the middle of Ohio. So I was nice to her. She just needed a little education from the other side.

Yes, overfishing happens. But not in all places and not by the people I know. The commercial fishermen I know love the land and the water better than anyone else you’ll ever meet. They are part of the landscape. They have a vested interest in it. It’s their culture and their family heritage to pass down to their children.

And they’re not stupid enough to defecate in their own livelihood.

The problem, my friends, is greed. And whenever there’s greed, I smell a politician right around the corner. Often, it’s on a local level. Both parties are guilty as charged. And the gavel comes down.

The story I’m posting today is happening right now. It’s certainly not a new story. This story is regional to my beloved Southern Outer Banks. But it is happening all over the world, wherever air conditioners are sold.

I have nothing against someone who wants to sell their land to someone else who wants to buy it. Freedom rocks. And it’s not about class warfare or hating rich folks. Wouldn’t it be sweet to never have to worry about money ever again?

I do, however, take big issue with low down, dirty, stinking, rotten bastards who roll over other human beings to get more green in their own pockets.

Thankfully, there’s a lot of beauty left. For now. And a lot of fishermen and women back home are quietly rolling up their sleeves and doing great things to help preserve the beauty of the marsh, the miles of deserted beaches, the wild horses, the ancient maritime forests…and the people.

This story was originally in Clapboard House a few months ago.

****************************************************************************

Circling

by Julie Buffaloe-Yoder

Old man Willis sits in a wooden chair on the front porch of his shack next to the salt sweet shore. His brown-red hands are on his knees. The tongues of his work boots stick out. He does not move a muscle. He used to see bobcats and shy black bears rustle through the tangle of live oaks next to the shore. There was a time when he enjoyed watching the wood ducks fly past his front porch. Now he listens for the sound of the silver helicopters that circle overhead. He does not look up but can hear them come closer. A mosquito lands on his eyebrow and bites hell out of him. He will not move to swat it away.

A new group of real estate developers smell gold in the North Carolina marsh mud. Every day, they circle overhead. Today, they have a tax appraiser and a politician with them. Hot damn! This could mean a sweet retirement. If only it didn’t have to be so hard. If only these frigging marsh billies weren’t so stubborn. They raise hell about their maritime culture and heritage, yet they scrape and sweat with no retirement, no pensions, nothing but a bunch of woods and little boats on the shore to leave the next generation.

The men in the helicopter make jokes about their wives. But they love their families, too. They’re southern men, damnit. Providing for their families and doing the best they can to pay all the electronic bills the twenty-first century brings their way. They smile as they see the aerial view, hues of purple and blue, the stretchmarks of canals on the fertile, black earth. They appreciate the beauty as much as the next man, as long as it’s air conditioned.

The helicopter circles tighter. They see the emerald sparkle of parcels A through M. They’re men of vision, and they can envision a freaking goldmine. An upscale community with its own mall, a restaurant with a view of the bay, wild horses grazing in the distance. Horses crap a lot, don’t they? Build a fence. Tourists love to see wild horses, but they don’t want to step in piles or hit one if it dashes across the parking lot.

They circle even tighter, and they see Lots 3 through 23. Get rid of those oaks and cypress. All that old swamp shit is too spooky nowadays. Fill it all in. If they fill it in, it’s not a wetland, is it? They can get the permit. They’ll grow sweet spring crops of men in pink shirts playing golf, a marina for yachts. How about a gentlemen’s club? A spa for the ladies. Maybe they can plant a few banana trees. Find out if they grow here-why the hell not?

They circle closer and there’s the old man’s life: his paint-peeling shack, Sunday clothes on a line, a yard full of nets hanging, stiff and sun dry, the lap of the tide on the side of a shrimp boat, stacks of carving wood next to a shed, at least two hundred rusty crab pots, some old hip boots, three long-eared hounds, canvas gloves, buckets, knives, and vines wrapping around an anchor by the old front porch. In the backyard, there’s a creaky wooden building with a blue crab painted on the side. The crab’s faded gray and hanging on for dear life. There’s a hand lettered sign: Willis and Son Crab House, 1863.

No need to worry. Their crew can remove all that crap in a day.

They land in a whir of wind, and there sits old man Willis on his porch, looking like Abraham Lincoln in a camouflage cap. He does not move a muscle. The chopper spins a wind that sends loose shingles, boots and boards flying across the yard. Bottles roll across the porch, windows rattle, the porch swing rocks.

Even when a shingle hits old man Willis on the cheek, he does not flinch. He’s lived through seventy-eight years of hurricanes much stronger than this piss-ant little breeze. Old man Willis will never sell. For love nor money, he will not budge. He will not blink. He will not speak to these bastards.

That’s okay. They can wait a while. They slap the old codger on his shoulder and take their bird back up to circle some more. Because they know. The real estate bubble hasn’t burst in this part of the country yet. These waters will be closed to clamming next season due to storm drain runoff. Just wait ‘til the old man gets the next waterfront tax assessment on his little crap shack.

And there’s a moratorium on commercial fishing licenses.

Old man Willis has a son who’s pushing forty, who works double shifts in maintenance at a condominium complex a one-hour commute one way. Old man Willis’ son comes home in debt on payday, feeling like a red-eyed duck swimming upcurrent in a gale.

Every night, when he opens his door, there are four little ones peeping up at him, their mouths wide open.

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