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Welcome to my short story blog. These posts will be updated as I write new material, and develop new ideas. I don't plan on frequent posts, as this type of material takes longer to develop than my other blog, Travelighter. I welcome comments from you, and hope these are inspirational and enjoyable.
Copyright,2011

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Thirty-One, A Novel


DAY ONE, MONDAY

Morgan stood at the front window, her afternoon coffee mug wrapped snugly with both hands. October first. New month. What could make this month different, different from the last few months of - of what, of hollow void? What would have to happen to feel really different by October thirty-first? Life seemed so flat now that she was alone, alone and quiet and with nothing. Well, she had the house, she had stuff. But wasn’t life about more than that? She did not want the familiar old discouragement. This daily hamster wheel with its tired squeak.  It’s annoying, she thought. Going nowhere. I want different. New. Unusual. Fresh. A spark of life. Was it possible?

She leaned her head against the curtain, both hands wrapped around the warm mug, looking out the window, but not seeing.  Winter, coming soon.  She was not ready for the cold dark days of winter.

Across the street, a car pulled up. A family piled out, the three kids lugging backpacks. The mom walked to the back, opened the trunk, took out three big bags of groceries and balanced them in her arms, her purse slung over her shoulder. The youngest child, a little boy of about five threw his backpack onto the grass and climbed back into the car. Morgan didn’t really mean to be staring, eavesdropping, spying on the neighbors. She just happened to be looking out the window, sort of. But the activity caught her attention. She drew back a little, to be sure she wasn’t seen, guilty, but amused by the action across the street. She hadn’t talked to the new neighbors, though she had noticed their comings and goings since they moved in a few weeks ago.

The boy (she heard them call him Jimmy), brought out a puppy.  A bundle of yellow lab, snuggled in his arms. His sister and brother tossed their backpacks on the grass and competed for the puppy’s attention. It was a cozy, happy scene. Morgan smiled, watched them. The mom attempted to herd them into the house, juggled grocery sacks, keys and her purse. She gave up and went in the door with the groceries. The kids moved toward the door, slowly, talking to the puppy the whole way, coaxing it. The backpacks were left behind. Still watching, she saw the mom come back out front, pick up the abandoned backpacks and go back inside. The door closed.

Memories, the ones she didn’t want to face yet, flooded back to Morgan. The years of her own little ones. The years of the man, the boys’ father, coming in through the door at the end of the day. The house on the street lined with big trees, the stop sign at the corner. The years of…No. She snapped herself out of the reverie. She would go weed the flowers behind her house. Enough of this daydreaming, this thoughtfulness. No more of that, work to be done. Keep busy. That fixed it.  Work.   But there has to be something more. What is it?             

DAY TWO, TUESDAY

Morgan awoke as the light glimmered through the sheer curtains, reflected off the mirror on her dresser. She should cover that at night if she wanted to sleep in. It woke her up each morning like some magic mirror speaking to her, calling out her name.

Why did it matter if she got up? No one would notice if she slept in all day. No one would notice at all. She began her usual round of glum thoughts, discouragement, self-abasement. Regrets, her days were full of them. Not like any of it was her fault. Enough already. Get up, get to work. What was today’s work? It didn’t matter. Just something to keep busy. Keep moving. Eat something.

She looked in the mirror, the sun reflected on her face. It wasn’t a bad face. Her hair was a mess, but a comb would fix that. Why did she feel so heavy? Like weighted down with an elephant. Like she was a baby bird in the nest of a diligent mother elephant, sitting on the nest. An elephant on a nest? Where did she get that idea? She thought of an old Dr. Seuss book, about Mayzie the lazy bird sitting on her nest. What was the name of that book – who was the elephant who took over the egg sitting for her? Horton, that was it. Morgan smiled at the happy memory, sitting on the couch, curled with four short legs entwined in her own, reading together. She caught the expression of her smile in the mirror. It was the first time she had seen or felt hope. In a long time. Perhaps there was a way out of this emotional hole. Perhaps.

But for now, get dressed, turn on the coffee pot, pour the cereal into the bowl, cut up the banana. Water the plant next to the sink. Maybe that’s what she needed. Life. To tend for, care for something. That’s what she did all those years. Tend to those little lives that grew into big lives, that walked away…and the thoughts deteriorated again. Why was this hurdle so hard to jump? Why was she so stuck? There had to be a way, she just had to figure it out. “I will figure this out,” she spoke aloud, then laughed at herself.  Who am I talking to? Crazy people talk to themselves. Am I crazy or am I just confused? I wonder.

DAY THREE, WEDNESDAY

Do you close the bathroom door when you live alone? I’ve never lived alone, I wouldn’t know. How do I cook for one? Morgan wondered.

Why was I always so driven, so paranoid of being unproductive? Why didn’t I just live?

Now, that is all I have to do. Live. I want to be good at living. But I don’t know how.

And, here I am talking to myself again. I have to get out of this house.  Morgan set her lunch plate in the sink with a clatter. She put away the container of leftovers. It seemed one dinner lasted her a whole week. She would have to work at making smaller portions. It didn’t make sense to cook so much. That was an idea. She would go to the book store and look at the cook books. Find one or two, maybe one about cooking smaller, maybe one about a new style of cooking, Mediterranean, or vegetarian, or one she had never heard of before. Pick a recipe or two, go to the grocery store. That ought to fill most of the afternoon.

She would buy a bouquet of sunflowers, too.  Sunflowers were her favorite. Their large, yellow heads dared her to be grumpy or lonely while they shouted their cheerful golden glow around her kitchen.  Set in the middle of her table, their big brown eyes would watch her every move in the kitchen, encourage her, reassure her with their sunny, bold color.

Things will be okay. She will figure this out. She will live. And yes, she thought, I will still close the bathroom door.


DAY FOUR, THURSDAY

Morgan picked up the telephone, the phone number, scratched on the back of a receipt, held in her other hand. She clicked in the numbers. Slowly, doubting, questioning.  Why did it have to be so hard to make a simple decision? Actually, she didn’t have to make a decision. Yet. This was just for information. Just do it. She finished the row of numbers and stood, waiting for the ring on the other end.

“Sunnyside Home, this is Clarisse.”

“Yes, Clarisse, I spoke with you yesterday at the book store. About visiting there, maybe volunteering?”

“Oh, Morgan, yes, I remember. Thank you for calling. Would you still be interested in coming?”

What am I doing? Morgan thought. I hate old people places. They smell and they are depressing. Why am I doing this? Yesterday, at the book store, when she and Clarisse had reached for the same book off the shelf, they had laughed and talked. Comfortable and natural, the conversation turned toward work. Which made her uncomfortable. Why was it that one’s identity was so closely tied with what one does? “What do you do?” was the inevitable question to come up in a conversation. What were you supposed to say when you did nothing but mope around? “I talk to my plants.” Or even worse, “Nothing,” scares people away faster than a bee buzzing around their head.

Emptiness over the phone snapped her from her reverie. Clarisse waited for her answer.  Without over-thinking (another one of my problems, over-thinking, came the fleeting thought) she answered, “Yes, I would like to come. When would be a good time?” The fears welled up. Why am I doing this? What am I thinking? No over-thinking, just do it, then decide. Get the facts, first, then drive yourself crazy with the thinking.

“Wonderful.  I have off the next two days, but could you come in Sunday afternoon? About two o’clock?”

“That would be fine. I will see you then.”

“I will be at the front desk. Come in through the door off the parking lot. You have the address?”

“Yes, thank you. See you on Sunday.”

She hung up the phone. Her breath was short and shallow. Once, I will go once. That is all. Just once.


DAY FIVE, FRIDAY

Friday had always been cleaning day. She enjoyed the smell of clean, the feeling of complete. The routine. She had to hold on to some of her old routines or she felt like she would fly all to pieces, a dandelion puff scattered, drifted, disappeared into the wind.

The day was gorgeous. A deep blue sky. White billowy clouds. A soft breeze. She opened the windows in several of the rooms, allowing the fresh, brisk air to flow through. A scent of apple and cinnamon drifted in.  Baked apples. She hadn’t made those in years. That would be an easy  treat to make for herself, one that would fill the empty rooms with warmth and good smells. Topped with some walnuts, too.  This would be a good afternoon to take a walk. Pick up some baking apples while I am out.

At eleven-thirty, she heard the mail truck pull up out front. The brakes squealed as it stopped at each mail box. Morgan swiped the mop over the last stretch of the wood floor in the hall, set it into the bucket. She walked out to the mailbox. The door of the mailbox was propped half open, a package sticking out. She wasn’t expecting a package. The return address was Washington, her friend from years ago. A smile stayed on her face as she walked inside.

Scissors, cut open the box, what could it be? A book, Winter Solstice, by Rosamunde Pilcher.  The letter was written on bright yellow paper, a few flowers sketched in colored pencil among the words. Becky, her friend, wrote of her new house, the antics of her grandchildren, her afternoon work when kids came to her house after school and she kept them busy until their parents picked them up, and the art she was developing. The book, she said, she found at the thrift store, and thought of Morgan. “I read my own copy every year in the late fall. I love Elfrida and her crazy hair and her crazy joi-de-vivre, and her ability to make a home, built with her heart. Read it. You’ll love her, too,” she wrote.

October is close enough to winter. I will start this today, thought Morgan. She put away the mop, dumped the murky water out on the lawn, poured another cup of coffee, and sat outside on the patio. The sun warmed the chair, the breeze and the concrete beneath her feet. For awhile, she sat and watched the few clouds drift across the sky, grateful, remembering, thinking of her friend, of their times together. She sat back and opened the book.


DAY SIX, SATURDAY

Farmer’s Markets intrigued her. She had been to one, once, years ago, on a vacation. She didn’t remember for sure where it had been, but she had a clear picture in her mind of white canvas covers, tables spread with bright red strawberries, crisp looking lettuce, peas and beans with drops of water on them, orange carrots with feathery green tops, piles of squash and pumpkins. Must have been fall, then, too. Jars of honey reflected the sunlight. Buckets of fresh cut flowers, mostly purples and yellows decorated one stand. Where would that have been? She couldn’t think. Tom and Eli had been beside her, she did remember that.  Shane, in the stroller. That would make it twenty years ago? Seemed like forever.

A poster she saw at the grocery store announced a Farmer’s Market Saturday mornings at the old town center. She could walk there. She grabbed her canvas shopping bag and hat from the hook, and locked the door behind her.

Across the street, the minivan was pulling out of the driveway. The mom waved to her as they drove away. I do need to learn her name, Morgan thought.

In half an hour, she approached the Farmer’s Market. The street was closed off for two blocks, the tent coverings and awnings set up along both sides. People milled, talking, browsing, carrying their own bags. Some had dogs on leashes, some pushed strollers, one gal pulled a wagon piled with bags of fruit and vegetables, two toddlers almost buried underneath. One of them pulled a couple of strawberries out of a bag, handed one to the other, they both giggled, red juice dibbled down their chins.

Strawberries. She picked a container of big, bright red berries. Morgan ran her fingers along the carrots, bunched with yellow string. A carrot salad, with raisins and sliced almonds. That would be good. She bought one bunch. It all looked so good. She could imagine crock-pot stews made with the squashes, big mounds of salad, her wooden bowl piled with fruit. Be reasonable, she told herself, it is just me, not a crowd.

At one end, several of the booths had handmade items. She saw a stack of books, piled in an arc, each one turned a little more than the other to fan them out. The covers were sewn from a flowered fabric, stiffened, the pages between the covers raw edged and rough. She picked one of them up. Blank pages, empty. She fingered the paper, textured and knubby.  What would you do with a book like this, she wondered? The printed sign next to the stack said, “Journals. $8.00.”

“Have you ever kept a journal?” asked the gal behind the table.

“No, I haven’t,” answered Morgan.

“I think you should try it, you might be surprised how much you enjoy it,” she said.

“What do you write about? I am not a writer.”

“I do mine every morning, a couple of pages. I write a little about what happened, but not just a diary. A journal is more about how you feel about something, what you are thinking about, what you want to happen, the impressions you have from a day. Not for anyone else to see or read, just for you.”

That’s good, thought Morgan. I don’t have anyone to show it to anyway. She said, “I might try it. They are beautiful books. I’m not sure I would be brave enough to mess it up with my writing.”

“Don’t be silly. I make the paper and sew the covers so people will write in them. Mess it up all you want. Draw in it. Paste magazine pictures in it. Copy quotes. It’s yours to do what you want in it. I like to buy pens of different colors. Every time I change topic, or want to emphasize some words, I use a different color. Makes the book look pretty as I thumb through it. Makes me feel artistic.”

“I like that idea. Thank you. I’ll buy this one, with the reddish geranium leaves.” She paid her, and tucked the book in to her bag.

Flowers. She wanted to buy a bouquet of flowers. One had to buy flowers at a Farmer’s Market. Wasn’t that a rule? The aroma of fresh baked bread came from the next booth. Artisan breads. Beautiful to look at. Amazing to smell. She bought a small loaf, cinnamon and raisin. The flower booth had sunflowers, exactly what she wanted. The grocery store didn’t have any last Wednesday. She bought a bunch, knowing how bright they would look on the table.

Enough. She shouldn’t buy any more. The displays were tempting, though. A fresh, crisp bunch of spinach, tied with string. Oh, one more thing. Perfect for salads this week.

A quiet walk home. She put the flowers in the white ceramic vase, set in the middle of the table. Now, the kitchen didn’t feel so empty.


DAY SEVEN, SUNDAY

October seventh. First time to write in my new journal. Bought this yesterday at the Farmer’s Market. No, not to eat. To talk to myself. Attempt to make some sense out of my life. Crazy, yup. That would be me. Not as crazy as Elfrida in the book I started yesterday, Winter Solstice.
What is really crazy? Today I am going to an old folks home. No, not moving in. Yet! Visiting. Don’t even know who I am visiting. Met a gal at the book store, looking for a cookbook. She works there, invited me to come. Why did I say, “Yes?” Who knows. Something different to think about, I guess. Wanting to make some sort of impact on the world. Wanting to do something with my life now that I am alone.

Alone. Still don’t like that word. Still don’t like to wake up in the morning in an empty house. Empty except for me. Strange.

At quarter to two, Morgan sat in her car, her keys in her hand. Why am I doing this? she asked herself. It would be so much easier to stay home and take a nap or read that book or go for a walk. What good could possibly come out of going to see a bunch of withered old people? Why did she even agree to do this? She didn’t even know this person, this gal from the bookstore. But she had said she would go, and she made a point of doing what she said she would do. Note to self, be more aware, more careful in the future about what you agree to do on a moment’s notice. But, for now, just go and get it over with. Deep breath.  She started the car and pulled out on to the street.

At the Sunnyside Home, she parked near the side door. The entrance was cheerful and well manicured, colorful flowers filling the beds around the steps. Purple and yellow and magenta chrysanthemums, white alyssum, and orange marigolds competed for attention. Inside, on the reception counter, a bouquet of bright sunflowers greeted guests. So far, so good, she thought. Any place that has so many flowers must not be too bad.

Clarisse came around a corner, a packet of manila folders tucked in her arm. “Morgan, glad to see you. Thank you for coming,” she said.

“Hello, Clarisse. The flowers are beautiful. Very cheerful.”

“Yes, thank you. We have several people who make sure we have flowers here and in the dining room. They do a good job of keeping them fresh and pretty.”

“Out front, too,” said Morgan. “The entrance, with all the flowers, makes it feel like a well cared for place.”

“I am glad to hear you say that. That is the impression we want to give. And, more than an impression, actually, that is what we work to achieve.”

“What is your position?” asked Morgan.

“I am the operations manager,” said Clarisse. “I manage the work schedules, oversee the activities schedules, and in general, all that goes on.  I answer to the owners, but I see my job more as answering to the people who are here. I want them to be happy and comfortable.”

“That must be a challenge,” said Morgan.

“Yes, but not impossible.” Clarisse directed Morgan down the hall. “First, I will give you a quick tour.”


DAY EIGHT, MONDAY

Morgan woke up, the sun streaming in across her walls. Scenes from the visit the day before at the Sunnyside Home floated across her mind.

They had walked the hall, making a circle around the entire building. Most of the rooms were private, spacious. Clarisse wanted to think of them as family, at home.

The people’s rooms faced to the outside of the building, all with windows. The center of the building held offices, kitchen, storage, and the large dining room, also used for activities. Big windows opened on to the hall, to allow for visibility. Off the dining room, through large sliding glass doors, was an inner courtyard with a patio. It was concrete, with scattered beds of flowers and a small tree. Wind chimes were hung from the eaves, and several colorfully bright and cheerful wind whirly-gigs were placed around in the plants. Wheelchairs could easily be placed there, and a scattering of chairs and small tables were pleasantly arranged. She was impressed with the efforts made to make everything pretty and comfortable.

As they walked by the dining room, a church group sang for the people sitting there.  Several guitars, a flute played by a teen girl, and six voices, together. Morgan guessed there were about twenty listening to them, most of them attentive, a few singing along. They listened, absorbing the music. She and Clarisse walked on past.

Clarisse showed her the kitchen and her office, which had a window looking out on to the inner patio. She told her, “Now that you know your way around, I would like to introduce you to two of the ladies here. Gertrude and Marie. Marie is in room one hundred two. We’ll go there first.”

“Marie, I have someone here to see you. This is Morgan. Morgan, meet Marie. Marie is blind, but she always helps us see how happy life is.” She emphasized the “see.”

Morgan reached out and held Marie’s hand. “Glad to meet you, Marie. You are wearing a pretty pink blouse.”

“Thank you,” she answered in her scratchy voice. “My daughter brings me tops that are pretty colors. She knows I like to know what color I wear each day, so I can picture it in my mind. They tell me about the flowers in the garden, too, what is blooming. I like that.”

“Did they tell you about the beautiful golden yellow sunflowers at the front desk? They have a huge bouquet up there.”

“Sunflowers. Oh, I remember the fields in Kansas. Miles of them. Sunflowers as far as you could see. In the morning, they would all face east, and by the afternoon, they would turn with the sun and face west. Funny, how they would do that.”

“Did you live in Kansas?”

“No, I’m from the east coast, New Jersey. But we would drive across the country to visit family we had in the west. It was a long drive, all the way across. Days of driving. There was always so much to see. Back when I could see. Wheat fields. Corn. But I loved the fields of sunflowers, when we drove past those.”

They talked a few more minutes. Clarisse told her they were going to visit Gertrude. “Tell her hello from me. Nice to meet you, Morgan. Please come back again, we can talk some more another time.”

Morgan hesitated, with her answer, but took Marie’s hand again. “Marie, I will come back to talk, again. I will bring you some flowers from my garden, some roses that smell pretty.”

“Oh my, thank you, you are very sweet. Please do come, don’t just say you will come, then don’t. I do want you to come.”

“I will, I promise,” said Morgan.

DAY NINE, TUESDAY

In the two months Morgan had lived in this house, she had avoided the second bedroom. The stacks of stuff seemed to glare at her every time she opened the door.  Intimidated no more.  She wanted October to be different. That meant confronting the mess.

She walked in to the room with a pad of paper and a pen.  She wasn’t going to do anything today, just plan. Write up a plan, break the impossible task down into manageable pieces, and plan how to tackle the project. And when to complete it.

She would start with the three boxes of books. Empty each box, make two piles. Ask, thrift store or on the shelves? She assumed most of them would go to the thrift store since she couldn’t remember what books were in there.

The other stuff in the room, she wrote down as an inventory list, without thinking about what they were: two lamps, two broken chairs (her little kitchen table had once had six chairs), a dresser missing two drawers, a pile of old blankets she had used for furniture padding when she moved in, an old spaghetti mop, a broken CD player and speakers,  a plastic storage box of vases and candles, the bed, piled with winter bedding and extra pillows, an old table, and a big cushy chair that didn’t fit in the living room, piled with old magazines.
Once it was all on paper, it didn’t look so intimidating. Good. Project done for today.  

She stood at the door, looking at the room. Imagining.  A guest room, but even more, an office. The bed, off to one side. The table as a desk, with the comfy chair across from it, add a bookshelf, find a small file cabinet, a table lamp. It could be a pleasant place, a happy, productive place rather than a closed door hiding the mess.

The closed door. That signified something, didn’t it? Like a door to her past that she did not want to open. A part of her life she did not want to acknowledge. Yes, she needed to deal with this room. To open the door. To find the key to the place in her heart that was closed, shut, tight, locked away.


DAY TEN, WEDNESDAY

The knock on the door made her jump. Morgan was lost in the world of Winter Solstice and Elfrida.
She recognized the mom from across the street. “Come in. We haven’t officially met. I am Morgan Butler.”

“Nancy Murphy, nice to meet you, finally.” They shook hands. “We have waved, but I’m sure you don’t appreciate all the noise my kids make.”

“No problem. I live alone. Some noise is refreshing. Sounds like life. Please, come sit down. Would you like some coffee or ice tea?”

“Thank you, but not this time. Maybe another time. I have a favor to ask. A quick question.” She held her hands tightly in her lap. “You may have noticed, my husband is not around. He is deployed, in the military, in Afghanistan.”

“Oh, I am sorry for you and your children. But, know that I have complete respect for the guys over there, the difficult job they have, the sacrifices they make. One of my sons is over there.”

“Thank you, then you understand. I think he actually enjoys it. But, anyway, I just got word his term has been extended another four months. We were hoping to have him home before Thanksgiving. Now, it will be February, or maybe even March before he gets back.” She sighed, then drew a long, slow breath. “My favor, and I am even embarrassed to ask this…”She paused.

“It’s okay. Tell me, I’ll listen,” said Morgan.

“Would you be willing, or do you know of anyone who could clean house for me one morning a week? I have to go back to my work. I’ve been on leave of absence, for our move to this house, here, but now, especially with John not coming home, I have to get back to work. I work every morning, Tuesday through Friday, and I just can’t keep up with all the cleaning and getting the kids to school.”

Morgan, surprised, sat silent.

“I’ll pay. I’m not asking you to do it for free. I know the kids make a mess and it’s probably the last thing you…”

“Of course, of course. I’m sorry, yes, I actually would love to do it. I’ve been thinking of some sort of work to do, not too much, one morning a week would be perfect. And I do enjoy cleaning.”

Nancy, relieved, sat back in her chair. “I was afraid you were offended.”

“No, not at all. I am glad you asked me.”

“We are not completely organized yet, still have some boxes and stuff around. I won’t ask you to do that, but if the cleaning was done, I would have time to finish all that up. The puppy will be in her crate, she won’t bother you.”

“Would you like me to start this week?” said Morgan.

“Tomorrow?” If you could come over now, I will show you around, give you the key, then you could start tomorrow.  Would it work for you to make Thursdays the cleaning day?”

“Tomorrow I go to a convalescent home in the afternoon, maybe Tuesday would be better as the regular cleaning day? But I could still start tomorrow.” Morgan laughed at herself. Am I saying this will be a regular routine? Did I really say that?

“Do you work there?”

“No, just started volunteering, talking to the people. I didn’t think I would like it, but the people are interesting, and they really do need someone to talk to.”

“Yes, I could imagine that. I have wanted to do something like that, but with the kids…”

“You are plenty busy now.  You have your hands full.”

“Let’s go over to my house. I’ll show you where stuff is, then let you get back to whatever you were doing when I interrupted.”

“I am glad you did. I was reading, it can wait.” Morgan grabbed her sweater off the hook and slipped on her shoes. “Ready.”


DAY ELEVEN, THURSDAY

It was a full day. Nancy paid her well for the three hours she spent cleaning. She came over when Morgan returned in the afternoon, saying her house looked and smelled wonderful. Saying she was very grateful.
Morgan knew, though, it had not been a good idea to do both the cleaning and visiting on the same day. She was physically and emotionally exhausted. She picked up her journal, to write, but the blank page looked back at her, her thoughts wandered off.

Tom, her husband, coming in through the door after a long day, drained, grumpy.

Eli, the young, energetic son, greeting him with all the enthusiasm of a puppy.

Tom’s impatience, not understanding Eli’s happy ways or Shane’s fussing.

Eli, hurt, pulling back, going back to his room, unhappy.

Morgan, returning to the kitchen to finish dinner while Tom flopped down on the couch, his stocking feet up on a pillow, his arm covering his eyes.

Trying to keep Shane quiet, putting him to bed early.

Eli, all through dinner, quiet, aloof. She, reading him his bedtime story, while he listened, quietly.

Tom, tired, going to bed early. Morgan, alone. Again.

Maybe being alone isn’t such a new thing after all, she thought.

She thought of Gertrude, this afternoon at the convalescent home. Gertrude had talked and talked and talked.  About life. About love. But what stood out, different from the others, Gertrude talked about now. About her today. She didn’t live in the past. She lived in today. Aware. Alert. Grateful. Awake to all that was going on around her. She was present. They laughed as she talked about the two teens who helped serve lunch in the dining hall. She talked about them, not like gossip, but as if she was intrigued by their characters, getting to know and understand them. She talked about the plants in the garden, how they had grown and changed and bloomed in just a few days. She talked about the kindness and gentleness of the workers there, who helped her each day. She talked about the lady who came in to clean her room, not gossipy, but expressing concern for the woman’s elderly parents whom she cared for at home. She talked about the singing group and the harmonies they sang. She talked about the birds outside her window. Gertrude’s life was busy, full and rich. And happy.  Amazing.

Morgan set aside her journal, the page still blank. I do not have anything to write about, she thought. I have nothing to share.  But I see a little window of hope. Today. Thank you, Gertrude, she thought.


DAY TWELVE, FRIDAY

Morgan woke up to rain tapping at her window. The street lights were still on, casting a soft glow through her curtains. She got up, and walked over to look out the window. In the east, a fine line of blue-gray rested on the horizon. Across the wet street, the lights reflected, created lines of shining brightness on the dark asphalt. Rain. She loved the rain. The cool wetness, the smell of clean, the dust washed away from everything, the plants bright green and shiny.  She slipped on her robe and went to the kitchen to start the coffee. In the living room, she opened a window a little, then returned with her coffee cup to sit and listen to the rain, drip, dripping off the eaves.

At eight-thirty, the doorbell woke her up. Her neck was stiff from sleeping propped up on the couch pillows, her back not wanting to bend straight as she tried to stand up. Who could be knocking at the door? She checked out the little window, prepared not to answer it if it was someone she didn’t know.

Her neighbor, Nancy stood at the door. Morgan snugged her robe tightly around her, and opened the door.
“Nancy, come in. You are soaked.”

“Thank you. Oh, did I wake you up? I’m sorry.”

“Well, sort of.  I was awake earlier, but fell back asleep on the couch. No problem. Would you like some coffee?”

“Yes, please. Thank you.”

Morgan started a fresh pot of coffee, and excused herself to scoot and dress, quickly. When she returned, Nancy sat, staring out the window, not even noticing.

“Nancy, are you alright?”

She began crying. “No, I’m sorry. I was trying not to cry.”

“It’s okay, don’t worry. It is a crying kind of day.” Morgan handed her a box of tissues.

Nancy took a deep breath, to regain control. “John, my husband called. He has been wounded, and is being transferred to Germany. He wants us to come stay with him, be there with him, on the base, in Germany.”

“Oh, Nancy, I am sorry. Is he hurt badly?”

“I’m afraid I’m not really sure. I kind of fell apart. For his sake, for the kids – we just moved in here, they just started school, it is all too much.” She struggled to get control of her voice. “We have moved five times in the last three years. I thought, I hoped, this house would last us a little while.” The tears flowed again.

“Well, what can I do to help? How soon would you be going? Or, are you going to go?” Morgan added as an afterthought.

“I think I need to call the family liason, see what information I can get. I can’t make a decision right now. It’s too much.”

Morgan waited, giving her time to sort out her thoughts.

“I don’t know what to do,” said Nancy.

“Are the kids in school today?”

“Yes, I dropped them off at eight.  I was supposed to be at work at nine, but I just couldn’t do it. I called in sick.”

“Let’s go do something, together. Where would you like to go? Not a great day to do much outside. What else could we do?”

“The mall? We could walk around inside, window shop, wander.”

“Good idea. And I will treat you to lunch somewhere quiet and pleasant. Tonight, I will bring pizza for your dinner – or you could come and eat here, if the kids would like that more. How does that sound?”

“You have no idea how much I would love that. I, I didn’t want to be alone. Silly, it’s not like he won’t be okay. I think. Thank you.”


DAY THIRTEEN, SATURDAY

The smells of pizza and garlic bread and popcorn and chocolate cake and wet dog permeated her house. Last night, they had laughed and ate and partied until much later than the kid’s normal bedtime.  The puppy, Joey, kept the party lively and happy with her antics and goofy expressions. She loved the pizza, and popcorn, too. To the kids, the idea of going to Germany to see their dad was a great adventure. Nancy brightened with their enthusiasm, and relaxed, setting aside the worry over the details and the crisis.

Morgan asked why a little girl puppy was named Joey?  They all laughed.

“Long story,” said Sarah, the talkative one. “Mom wanted to name her Joy. We all thought that was corny and there was no way we were going to go in the yard and call out, “Joy!” like it was Christmas all the time or something. Jimmy wanted to call her Joe, because he had a special friend at one of our houses that he really liked. Which was kind of like Joy. But a girl can’t be Joe, that’s just weird. I had the idea to name her Josephina. I had some friends, at school, that had girl’s names, but guy’s nicknames, like Samantha was Sam, and Andrea was Andy. We could name her Josephina and call her Joey, which almost sounds like Joy, and everyone would be happy with that.” She took a deep breath, after rattling off her story at a rapid fire pace.

Morgan told them of her son, Elliot. Elliot was her name, before she was married, but they called him Eli. Same kind of thing, a name within another name, another meaning behind it.

And Johnny added in his eleven year old style, “If you say Joey and draw it out really long, it sounds just like the pig farmers calling, ‘Sow-eeee!’ with a high squeak at the end. And she eats like a pig, anyway.”

Morgan smiled at the memories of the evening. Her quiet, calm, peaceful house turned upside down by three kids and their happy puppy. She wondered if they would be able to take the puppy to Germany with them. But enough of that, there was still clean-up to do. She left it last night because she was so tired. Exhausted.

It was fun to have a lively house again. She was happy they had all felt so comfortable. They ate pizza with sodas, then cleared off the table and played silly card games. They watched a movie, ate popcorn (four bags of microwave popcorn – she didn’t know how kids could eat so much) and then ate pieces of the chocolate cake she made. Nancy probably had a terrible time getting them to sleep last night, she thought, with all that junk food in them.


DAY FOURTEEN, SUNDAY

Sunday morning. The town was extra quiet on Sundays. No gardeners blowing their ridiculously noisy blowers and mowers and weed whackers. The streets quiet without the weekday traffic. The families sleeping in. Peace seemed to settle down, like a pond in the early mornings, no ripples, no wind.

 She remembered once, at her uncle’s cabin on the pond, as a teen, going out, early, in the canoe. The water was so still and so clear she could see what was on the bottom, magnified by the water. Besides the dip of her oar, nothing moved. The stillness was like a cold drink on a hot day. Refreshing. The pond was  big, more like a small lake. She paddled slowly across, soaked in the calm.

By the time she got to the other side, the wind came up. Small waves lapped at the edge of the canoe. She turned the canoe around to head across to the cabin. The wind, head on against her, made going very difficult. For every stroke of the paddle, she had to correct against the push of the wind. She  worked hard, made no progress. Struggling against this wind was not going to work. She decided to turn back toward the shore. Along the edge of the pond, the wind wasn’t as strong. She hugged the shore, working her way around, following the shoreline. It was certainly the long way back, but at least she was making progress, out of the force of the wind. Eventually, she made it back to the dock, relieved to step on solid ground.

Her life had been like that. For the most part. Until it all fell apart and every effort just made things worse. Until every stroke of her paddle risked dumping her canoe. Until the wind roared at her door. Until she was forced to take the route she did not want. The long way around to home. Home. What was home, now? She felt like she was still paddling, still searching.

But, today. A new day. This morning, relax and read.  Go to Sunnyside this afternoon. Her three pots of chrysanthemums were beginning to bloom. She wanted to move them to the front porch. Trim back the scraggly petunias and the overgrown alyssum. Pruning. An important part of flower production. Fruitfulness involved pruning. She seemed to be in a pruning part of her life. She had to trust that the blooms, the fruit would come.


DAY FIFTEEN, MONDAY

The project for today was the second bedroom. She made that list, and let it sit. Now, it was time to start.
The book boxes first.  The first one was all children’s books. No wonder she left it unpacked. She thumbed through, remembering read aloud sessions, times the boys would beg her to read one more chapter. But, this task, today, was not about remembering. She closed up the box. That one is thrift store.  Easy choice.

Second box. Craft books. Sewing patterns. Most of those she wanted to keep. She would make it a sewing, craft room. Fix up the table, fix one of the chairs. Plans formed in her head.

Third box, mostly over-size books. Atlases, a set of encyclopedias, old textbooks, no wonder it was so heavy. That one, too, on its way to the thrift store.

That was easy. Next item.  Two lamps. One worked, one didn’t. Another easy choice. Why had she moved all this stuff here? Two broken chairs. She flipped them over, looked at the legs, decided which was easier to repair.  The dresser, with two drawers missing. She had seen photos in magazines of painted dressers, with baskets slid in where drawers were missing. Looked cool. The drawers would be perfect for her sewing and craft supplies. She would move it to the back porch for sanding and painting.

 The old blankets?  She saved two to toss over her plants when early frost threatened. The rest she tossed in the trash. Old mop, trash. Broken CD player, thrift store pile for electronic recycling.

Candles. Those she would be using soon with the shorter days and the time change. Tom had always fussed about candles.  He thought she was forcing him to be romantic. She liked soft candle light, the motion of the shadows and flickers across the room.  A basket in the pantry would be good for the candles, the holders, some matches. Some of the smaller ones could go in the bathroom drawers, too. Once the daylight savings time changed, she decided she would eat dinner by candle light. That would be pleasant, calming, help her to slow down and relax while she ate her dinner.  Most of the vases would go to the thrift store. Jars worked just as well.

The old table she could paint the same as the dresser. The big cushy chair just needed a slip cover. She could sew that in her new sewing room. The winter bedding, she thought, could go in the small closet if she had a basket or storage container for them.

Last, the old magazines. She picked them up, thumbed through a few, and decided, “No.” Out to the recycling bin. It took three trips, carrying the stacks, but she loved the sense of lightweight, of freedom, of less baggage.

She looked at the clock. Not a bad morning’s work. In four armloads, she carried the thrift store stuff out to the car. All she needed to buy was paint and a storage bin for the winter blankets.

 Morgan stood in the door. Imagined the room. Thinking colors, arrangement, design, mood. She would put the table in the center. A room for productivity, creativity. Red and yellow for energy? Or, should she go with soft blue and light green – she liked those colors better. Would have to think about it.


DAY SIXTEEN, TUESDAY

Cleaning day at Nancy’s. She walked across the street at nine-thirty, the day already warming. This time of year was like a teetering act between summer and winter. Warm days, hot days sometimes, and chilly nights, the air with a bite in it, an edge of freshness. Morgan unlocked the door with her key, and heard Joey whining in her crate. She let her out.

“You don’t like being alone, do you? Me either.” Joey’s tail wagged hard and fast. She tried to jump up on Morgan, who held her hand out flat, a trick the kids taught her. “No,” she said, and squatted down to Joey’s level, ruffled her ears, talked to her.

All morning, as she went from room to room, cleaning, Joey stayed close by. Usually under foot. Except when Morgan pulled the vacuum cleaner out of the closet.  She laughed as the puppy dove under the table, peeking out from behind a chair. “It’s okay,” she told her. “I won’t get you.” But Joey stayed under the table the whole time she vacuumed.

Sweeping was a different matter. Joey chased the broom and scattered the dust piles so Morgan had to sweep them again. “No,” Morgan told her, but Joey wagged her tail and pounced again. “Outside with you for a little while.” She put the puppy out the back door. She raced around the yard once, did her business, then came and yipped at the door.

Morgan remembered the big dog her boys had. It stayed in the yard, never in the house, her own rule. She couldn’t stand the idea of a muddy, messy, hairy dog adding to her workload. Besides, she had never been a dog person. Never liked them, had no patience with them. The boys would play with the dog in the yard, tearing up grass and plants. She ended up doing all her pretty gardening in the front yard. The dog got old and died, and she didn’t even care.

Now, with Joey, she enjoyed her. She could understand some of her personality (funny word to use on a dog, she thought – “person”ality), and appreciate her enthusiasm. She could see that the puppy was just trying to please her, and that the puppy enjoyed being with her. Of course, Joey would have preferred her own kids, but she knew Morgan, too. 

I guess no person can match the exuberant greeting of a dog when you arrive home, she thought. She used to greet Tom at the door, get a hello from him. Then, he would go to the backyard and the dog would wag its whole hind end, bark and jump in circles. Tom would laugh and play with the dog a little. She remembered thinking she couldn’t compete with that.  And decided she didn’t like dogs.

This puppy, though, wasn’t about competition. She wanted companionship and comfort. Morgan found it easy to give, and get plenty in return.


DAY SEVENTEEN, WEDNESDAY

Morgan was on her hands and knees in the front yard pulling weeds out of the border around the lawn when Nancy and the kids pulled in to their driveway. Nancy unlocked the house door for the kids, shooed them inside and walked across the street.  

“I am so tired, today. I could hardly think straight at work,” Nancy said.

“You have a lot on your mind. Let’s go sit on the porch steps.” Morgan brushed the dirt off of her knees. “Would you like some ice tea or lemonade?”

“Oh, thanks, no. I have to get back to the house. Just wanted to chat a minute. I really appreciate your cleaning. It is such a help to come home to a clean house and not feel completely overwhelmed as I walk in the front door.”

“No problem. I enjoy it. I have the opposite problem, needing something to do. So it helps me out, too. And Joey is hilarious. Not too helpful, but right there to keep me company. To make me laugh.”

“Yes, she is good at that. She has the kids in hysterics half the time with her antics.”

“I do like to hear them laugh and play. I will miss the life you bring to the neighborhood.”

“Don’t mention moving. I can’t even think about it yet.”

“Sorry,” said Morgan.

Nancy asked, “Morgan, if you don’t mind me asking, I don’t mean to intrude. I’ve noticed you still wear your ring. What happened? Why are you alone now?”

Morgan brushed more dirt off her hands, rubbed a mud smudge off her thumb. “Tom, my husband, he left.”

“I’m sorry. Very sorry.”

“When he told me he was leaving, he also told me he sold the house. I had to leave, move. We’re not divorced. That will have to be his call.”

“Do you think he might ever come back to you? Would you want that?”

“I don’t know. I think about it. Wonder what it would be like. I do know that forgiveness is always, always a better choice than revenge and bitterness.” She rubbed more dirt off her jeans, dusted off her hands. “But blame does rear its ugly head. And anger. And resentment.”

“But he is to blame,” said Nancy.

A chilly breeze drifted leaves across the yard. Morgan reached up to push aside wisps of hair and left a dirt mark on her cheek. “Yes, and no. Any marriage is about two people. Both are always part of any problem. Blame never falls fully on one person. We both had faults. But I realized, as I was packing up what was our home, that it wasn’t location that made a home. No matter what the realtors say,” she added. “It was heart. My heart. My part. My memories of them, but of me, too, who I am. You build a home with your heart. Your soul. I had to deal with my heart. All that goes with you, no matter where you live. Like with you, Nancy. You are doing a beautiful job with those kids. They love you, they are happy, and they are happy together. Wherever you are.”

At that moment, Johnny opened the door and hollered across the street, “Mom, Sarah won’t let me turn on the Wii!”

Sarah stuck her head out, next to his. “He didn’t put the dishes away like you told him to.”

Johnny flinched as she yelled right next to his ear. He elbowed her in the side and ducked back inside, sheepish.

“Well, guess I had better go rally the troops. I like what you said about the heart. It helps me put things in perspective. We haven’t known each other very long, but you are a good friend.”

“It felt good to talk about it. Thank you.”


DAY EIGHTEEN, THURSDAY

At two in the afternoon, Morgan pulled into the parking lot at Sunnyside Home.  She had promised she would come back to visit. Why did she still feel this sense of resistance? Reaching out of her shell was hard. She would have made a good turtle, she thought. But, she wasn’t a turtle, she was a woman, and there were other women in that building who needed a friend. She picked up the jar of roses for Marie, got out, locked the car and stuck the keys in her pocket.

Clarisse met her at the counter, an armload of files tucked in her arm. “Morgan, good to see you, glad you could come. I am really busy for a few minutes. Can you find your way to the rooms by yourself?”

“Of course.” Clarisse walked down the hall. Morgan turned and looked out the door. I could run, now, she thought. No one would know. But they would know. And she would know. Marie’s room was close. She went there first.  She spoke as she stepped through the doorway. “Marie, I brought you some roses from my yard.”

“Oh, Morgan, that is so sweet of you. I am so happy.  Come, sit here in the chair beside me.”
Morgan took the flowers over and held them so Marie could smell them. She guided her hand to touch the soft petals. “Here, I’ll set them on your little table. The fresh air from the window will carry the scent over to you.”

“Thank you. You are very sweet.”

Morgan thought of how she almost ducked out the door.  “Marie, tell me about your family.”

Marie held her hand and talked. And talked. And talked. The years. The children. The husbands (her first one died in the war). Their house, left behind, the move to a new country. The distance between her and her children. The ache as she watched their struggles, their growth.

She said being a mother was kind of like life, now, for her, being blind. Sometimes you have no idea where you are going. You do the best you can with what you have, what you understand, what you feel, you make it work with the tools you have. You trip, you run into things, you step on things. Things break, you forget where you put something and have to feel for it. You have to walk, take steps, trusting your instincts there isn’t some huge danger lurking just ahead. But it is part of life. For the children and for you.

Morgan only needed to prime her with a few questions. The words, the stories, flowed like fresh, clear water from an old pump with a deep well. She listened, enjoyed, appreciated this woman who had seen so much, felt so much, struggled so much.

An hour passed. Morgan said she wanted to visit Gertrude today, too. Marie, reluctant to let her go, held her hand tightly, thanking her again and again for coming.

Next time, Morgan thought, I will be eager to come. It is such a small thing for me to do, but it means so much to them.

DAY NINETEEN, FRIDAY


Today she wanted to weed in the backyard, sweep off the patio, go to Home Depot to buy the sandpaper and paint for the table and dresser, and read. Winter Solstice was waiting for her.  How were Elfrida and Oscar coping with all the changes? And who was this Sam guy? How would he be part of their story?

First, her cleaning day. She made a quick pass through the rooms, stopped especially to enjoy the space and emptiness of the guest room. She left the door open, now. This will be a happy place, a productive place, and soon, she thought. She vacuumed and dusted and straightened, opened windows to bring in the crisp breeze.  She stood at the open window, drinking in the cool air. Her house was becoming more than a place to hide in, a place to keep her busy. Her house, like herself, was opening up.

Before she went to Home Depot, she measured the spaces with the missing drawers on the dresser. The frame pieces for the drawers were still there. It would be simple to nail a piece of wood on to those to make a floor for the baskets. Morgan tried the existing drawers in different spots, deciding where she would rather have the empty slots, deciding on the top two spaces for the baskets. She would have them cut the pieces there, then she could nail them on and paint them. Should be simple. She measured for the baskets, too, and put the measurements in her wallet to have when she found some she liked.

By two o’clock, she was back home and out on the patio, her feet up on the footstool, a glass of cold lemonade beside her. The book sat unopened in her lap. A soft smile on her face, she gazed across the yard. The yellow and purple chrysanthemums bloomed happily. The alyssum spilled over the edges of the pot. The purple and white petunias still had blossoms, although they were starting to look tired.

She thought of the other back yard. Run ragged by that dog. Trampled by her boys. Ignored by her husband. She loved having a space she could take care of, keep beautiful, enjoy on her own. Surprised by the calm she felt. A few months ago, she wouldn’t have thought this possible. Then, in the middle of the crisis, she didn’t feel like life would ever feel normal again.

An army of memories marched by. Tom, leading the way with his banner of anger and resentment toward anyone, everyone. Her boys, Eli and Shane, caught in the sour moods, unable to gain his respect or attention.  She, unable to balance the atmosphere in the house, unable to keep the peace between them all. Until that last blowout happened.

She picked up the book. Opened it to her bookmark, and sighed. Perhaps, this odd combination of characters will be able to sort themselves out, recover from their mistakes, rebuild their messed up lives. I hope so. It would give me hope and courage, too, she thought.


DAY TWENTY, SATURDAY

Morgan walked to the Farmer’s Market, her bag swinging on her arm. Nancy asked her to pick up some fruit for them, too. They were busy packing, sorting, deciding what to take and what to put in storage. For the kids, this trip was like a long vacation. Nancy said it was more like a walk into a very long tunnel.

She picked up two bunches of spinach for her salads, some apples and berries for Nancy, and tomatoes. Wandering slowly past the tables, she watched and listened to the conversations. Old friends, neighbors, meeting. Apologies when a stroller bumped someone. Questions over prices, over quality. A low humming, a comfortable buzzing of activity. Community, sharing talk, connections. Comfortable, happy. Connections made between friends and strangers.

She loved the smells of fruit and flowers, the rainbow array of squash and eggplant and carrots and tomatoes and onions, the flowers, bunched in tall galvanized buckets, deep fall colors of russet and maroon and gold. She bought another bunch of sunflowers, these with smaller blossoms, a deep russet. She bought another loaf of the artisan bread. This time, one with Italian seasonings baked in. She would make a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch.

The gal with the artful journal display was there again. Morgan stopped to chat with her. The gal remembered her, asked her how her journal was filling up.

“Not too well, really. I sit down to write, then I get lost in thought, and the page sits, empty.”

“Yes, I know it takes a certain amount of courage to fill up the pages. As you write, your thoughts will reveal themselves in ways beyond what happens just in your head. Crazy, I know, but it is true. Getting words down, on paper, gives them new quality, new depth.”

“I don’t know how to get started,” said Morgan
.
“Lists. If I can’t think of what to write, I make a list. What am I happy about today? What am I frustrated with today? What made me angry today? What beauty did I see today? What did I say today that I wish I hadn’t said? Anything like that. Even a grocery list will get you thinking and you will be writing about a hidden desire to visit France and eat at a sidewalk cafĂ©. Crazy, wild, funny stuff. You’ll be surprised.”

Morgan thought of Elfrida, in Winter Solstice. She wasn’t afraid to be crazy, wild, funny. To take risks. Huge risks. To attempt something impossible. To open her heart to the new and different. She smiled at the gal behind the table, “Yes, okay, I see. I will write more this week.  Thank you. Maybe I need to get over the school paper mentality.”

“Absolutely. This is just for you. No one will ever see it. Write for yourself, to yourself. It might sound a little selfish, narrow minded, but, really, writing in the journal opens your heart to others, to the world around you. Somehow, by writing inside your shell, you stick your head out and look around you more. I’m glad you are trying, keep it up.” Another customer walked up to the table and she turned to talk with her.

Big signs were posted around the market. “Last Day. Closing for the Season. See you next Summer!”

The flowers tucked in her bent arm, the weighted shopping bag hanging from her other hand, Morgan walked home. The leaves, in full color, dropped, floated in the breeze, crunched under her feet. A few drifted in to the top of her bag. As she crossed the grassy area of the park, many leaves were piled on the ground. She scooped up several handfuls. Her low wooden bowl, some leaves, some apples, a few walnuts would make a pretty center on her coffee table.

She walked slowly, enjoying the air, feeling the change in the weather. Fall was packing up its things, getting ready to leave, the arrival of winter around the corner. Today, the few clouds, puffy and brilliant white, floated in the deep blue ocean of the sky. She was ready for change. Change was already happening.


DAY TWENTY-ONE, SUNDAY

The morning, spent quietly, reading and relaxing, went by quickly. By one o’clock, Morgan was ready to go to the Sunnyside Home. Early. She laughed at herself. What a change from the first time she went there a few weeks ago. If someone had told her she would enjoy visiting an old folk’s home, she would have told them they were crazy. And she was crazy, a happy crazy. The women, somehow, gave her more than she could ever give them.

She cut two of the sunflowers, shortened their stems to fit in jars. One, she would give to Marie, the other to Gertrude. Her new friends.

At Sunnyside, she walked down the hall, around to Gertrude’s room. “Hello, Gertrude.”

“Morgan, come in, come in. How are you today?”

“Okay, and you? How are they treating you here? I brought a flower for your table.”

“Oh, good as always. The flower is beautiful. A spot of sunshine.”

“Yes, that’s why I love sunflowers. I buy a bunch whenever I go to the Farmer’s Market. They cheer up my little house.”

“And why does your house need cheering up? Are you discouraged?”

“I am still struggling, sorting out my new life. Finding my way, alone, instead of with a family. With just me to care for.”

Gertrude said, “Sit down, here, next to me. Honey,” she took Morgan’s hand, “Life has so many turns and corners. This is just another corner, another intersection on the road. When I was learning how to drive, ages ago,” she grinned, “My dad would tell me to go any direction I wanted.  Come to a corner, and choose. He said it didn’t matter where we went. Just keep going. Keep driving. Keep practicing. Keep moving. We would get sort of lost, but never completely lost. We made some great discoveries, places we hadn’t known about, sights we hadn’t seen, all because we were not afraid to take the unknown road. Don’t be afraid to take the unknown road. It has surprises ahead.”

“That’s what I am afraid of, the surprises. What if a bridge is washed out, or it dead ends, or ends up in a swamp? Or if I get lost?”

“What kind of talk is that? No! If the bridge is washed out, you go around. If it dead ends, you turn around and go back, take a different way. If it ends up in a swamp – where are you, anyway, this is Colorado, not Florida.”

Morgan laughed, “I know, just an illustration, I guess, of the way I feel.”

Gertrude looked at her. “Morgan. I will guess that you feel guilty. That blame weighs heavily on you. Blame and shame. It is a game that some people play. If they play that game they are not responsible. That’s how they hold you.”

Morgan looked down at her hands. “But when their voices are loud, blaming, criticizing you, it is hard not to listen.”

“But you do not have those voices anymore. They are not here. They are only in your head,” said Gertrude.
Oh, thought Morgan, she is right. What voices do I hear, now? Gertrude, Marie, Nancy, her kids, even Joey, with her eyes looking up at me, begging aloud to be petted, the gal at the journal table, telling me to write, my friend, from Washington, sending me a book to read. “You are right, Gertrude. I am living in the past. I need to turn that corner, don’t I? Go a different direction, find new scenery.”

“Good girl,” said Gertrude.


DAY TWENTY-TWO, MONDAY

Morgan picked up her journal, took it out to the back patio, sat down at the little table and began to write.
I thought a lot last night, about what Gertrude told me about the voices in my head. Yeah, those voices that only crazy people hear! No, the voices from the life I had. The voices, angry and accusing and blaming, wishing shame on me. “Shame on you.” Words I refuse to say to anyone, ever. Does anyone really think about what that means? Are they really wishing that the horror of shame would fall on that person? Maybe not, but it is a curse to heap on someone.

Sidetracked, but maybe this is what journaling is about. Writing to see, writing to discover, writing to learn, writing to explore.

So these voices, are all from the past. They are not here, now, speaking to me. They are memories. Regrets. Makes me think of that old song. “Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention…” Ok, what regrets would I mention? I could make two lists: what I did, and what I did not do. She set the pen down, leaned back in the chair, looked out across the yard. Her yard. Her flowers. Her patio. Her house. Her life. Now. Today.

She wrote, Gertrude was right. I am accepting the blame, making choices based on what I think they would say. On what I think they would think. That does seem kind of silly. Instead of being afraid of what Shane would think, I need to write him letters. Maybe he feels forgotten, over there in Afghanistan. Maybe I have been blinded by my own little problems. He did help me move in to this house. Then, a week later he was gone, on the other side of the world. I let the stress-filled things he said to me, in the move, get to me. Maybe, just maybe, he was expressing his own fears, and I was too sensitive. Or was it insensitive? Took it all personally. Maybe?

Responsibility. Opens a whole new world of ideas. What can I do? Write newsy, friendly letters. Not ask anything or expect anything. Attempt to rebuild the washed out bridge. And Eli? Don’t know how to reach out to him. Will think about it, find some way.

What can I do? Be aware, be grateful, be thankful for all I do have, here, now. I will start a list, add to it each day. Today.
 #1 my house 
#2 this patio and yard 
#3 new friends 
#4 flowers 
#5 food in the cupboards 
#6 encouraging words
 #7 the mountains 
#8 clouds in the deep blue sky 
#9 books to read 
#10 creativity. 
Wow, makes me think in a different direction. Looking at all I do have, not at all I have lost. I like this. A lot.


DAY TWENTY-THREE, TUESDAY

At Nancy’s, Morgan found a note on the dining room table, tucked under the edge of a placemat. “Morgan. Two friends asked who does my cleaning. They asked me to give you their names. If you don’t want to call them, that is fine. I am kind of embarrassed to ask you this, hope you are not offended. You are doing a great job, and since we are moving, I thought, maybe, you would like to work at someone else’s house? Here are their names and numbers. No worries if you don’t want to call them, or pursue this. Oh, and by the way, don’t be afraid to charge these gals a bundle – they will gladly pay it, and you are totally worth it (as Sarah would say).”

She tucked the note in her pocket. Do I want to start a business? Wouldn’t be a bad way to earn money. Flexible. Independent. I will have to think about an income at some point, anyway. Interesting idea. Looks like I could start without advertising, too, just word of mouth.

In the afternoon, she heard car doors slam across the street, the usual noisy chaos when Nancy’s family arrived home from school. She could hear Joey yipping her “hellos,” and smiled to herself. The neighborhood will be quiet without them, she thought.

Her doorbell rang. At the door, stood Sarah, Johnny and Jimmy. Nancy, behind them, had Joey on a leash. All three kids had tear-stained faces, Jimmy was still crying. “Come in. What is wrong?” Fears for their father flashed through her mind. Oh no, please, no, she prayed.

All three kids walked over to her couch and slumped down, like a choreographed move. They looked so glum, like they were acting out a desperate scene in a play. It almost made Morgan smile.

“Please, tell me what is wrong.  Nancy, sit down. Come here, Joey, what is going on with your people, huh?” Joey scooted over to her, her tail swinging so wide it almost hit her in the face.  No answer, the kids just looked at the floor. Nancy looked uncomfortable. Morgan was afraid to ask, but she took a breath and said, “Is it your husband?”

“No, no he is fine. Well, sort of, they let me talk to him today. He is recovering, in therapy, a long haul, but he should be okay.”

“That sounds like good news. What makes all of you look so sad? Are you still able to go see him?”

“Yes, we are still leaving on the twenty-ninth.”

“But we can’t take Joey!” blurted out Johnny. Jimmy sobbed again.

“Oh, that is sad,” said Morgan.

Sarah, never at a loss for words, said, “Morgan, we want you to have her. She likes you, she knows you, she would be happy with you. We can’t stand the thought of taking her to the pound, or giving her to someone we don’t know, or…” and then her voice caught in a sob and she cried, too. Joey sat on the rug, looking from person to person.

Morgan looked at Nancy, not sure what to think. She said, “Well, this is sudden, but I could keep her while you are away, then you could take her back when you come home.”

Nancy said, “No. We talked about that. We don’t know when, or if we are coming back. Or what country John will be assigned to, or if we will be with him. There are too many unknowns. And it is crazy for you, too, to have her, then not have her. We agreed.” She paused, to look at the pained faces on the couch. “We agreed it would be best, if you are willing, for you to keep her. She would be your dog. And, as soon, as we can, if we ever settle somewhere again, we will find another dog. We know she would be happy and well cared for, with you.”

Silence, except for the sniffles from the couch, sank over the room. Morgan was not sure if she was the bad guy or the good guy in this scene. Take away the puppy from the kids? Bad Guy. A home they knew and were comfortable with? Good Guy. She wasn’t sure she wanted to be part of this. But, if she didn’t take Joey, what then? Where would she end up? Joey came over to her, nuzzled at her knee, her deep brown eyes looking up at her. How could she say no? Was she crazy?

Morgan looked at the three on the couch. Jimmy still cried, his hands tight in his lap. Johnny looked right at her, his eyes, begging. Sarah looked at her too, pleading. She looked at Nancy, who looked down.
“Yes, I will take her.” She should probably have said she would think about it overnight, but she knew she would still say yes, so why prolong their agony.

Sarah came over and stood close to Morgan. “You know, Morgan, I thought of something. Oh, first, thank you. Really, really, really thank you. But what I thought of, your name, the nickname could be, “Mo,” short for Morgan. And Joey, she could be “Jo,” short for Joey, so together, you guys will be MoJo. You know, get your mojo on, find your mojo – you guys will have it all the time!”

“Sarah, that is ridiculous,” said Nancy, shaking her head.

“I kind of like it. I could use some mojo,” said Morgan.  “I won’t take her until you guys leave. Until then, she is totally yours. Enjoy her. I know you will miss her, but don’t worry about her, she’ll take care of me, keep me company when I am missing you. And we’ll have fun.”


DAY TWENTY-FOUR,  WEDNESDAY

Picking up a pen and this journal seem a little easier now. Why was it so hard to get started?
Yesterday, Nancy left me a note with some references to friends of hers who wanted their houses cleaned. It is fairly easy work, I can set my own hours, still work by myself. I thought about it last night, late, lying in bed. My aunt’s money, the account that earns me interest and bought me this house, is solid, gives me some security. But an income would be a good idea, independence. Gives me strength, too, that type of work.

So I called the two gals this morning. They were both thrilled, enthusiastic, Nancy had given them an over-rated report of my work. But, maybe  it isn’t over-rated. Maybe I am under-rating myself. Maybe I do need to re-think this whole thing, do some research, come up with a business plan. Will have to learn about taxes, expense reports, record keeping, I don’t even know what all else. A trip to the library, later, to pick up some business type books. Exciting, scary, but a step that feels right. Encouraging. Forward looking. I told them both I would start in November. I want to be available to Nancy these last few days they are here, and it gives me time to research, set up more definite plans and thoughts and treat it like a real business, not a favor for a friend.

Actually, this has me thinking in a whole new line. Working for myself. Self-employed. There are several things I could be doing. Having kids come to the house after school, until their parents pick them up, like my friend in Washington does. Adding organization to my skills, helping people organize their homes, sort through the stuff, help them make the decisions they can’t get around to making on their own. Maybe even some painting. Or gardening. I like planting things, weeding, helping design a pretty yard, use potted plants to decorate porches. More ideas keep coming. I will start a page in this journal, put a paper clip on it, and jot down ideas as they come.

Getting excited about this. A purpose to my days. No more hiding at home, living in quiet non-existence, secluded from myself and from others. That gal at the Farmer’s Market was right. Journaling is amazing. Somehow, putting these random thoughts on paper does open surprising ideas. Like opening a gift, wondering what is in the package, pulling off the ribbon and tearing the paper, peeking inside, and seeing something you wanted, but hadn’t even realized what it was you had wanted. A wonderful gift.  A thoughtful gift. Given by someone who loves you. Who might even turn out to be yourself.

DAY TWENTY-FIVE, THURSDAY

Morgan wrote in her journal. 

Late evening. So many thoughts ranging around in my head. Will try to get some down on paper.

At Sunnyside today, Marie talked and talked. I held her hand, she held mine. The connection, perhaps because she is blind, seems extra important to her. I think, though, really, they all need it. A hand that isn’t doing something to them. A hand, just to hold, just to be there, to touch and talk about whatever. So much is on their minds. To look at them, on the surface, you’d think they are bored and boring. But they are not. They are deep wells.

Marie talked about why she had to come live there, at the Home. Funny word for the place, Home. An effort, I guess, at making it what it isn’t. Yet it is, to them.

 A neighbor came over one day, to bring her some fruit from her tree. When she put it in the frig, she was shocked to see the refriegerator empty.  She asked her what she ate. Marie told her she cooked rice, or opened a can of beans. The gal looked in her cupboards. They were almost empty, too, with nothing on the higher shelves. “I can’t reach those,” Marie had told her. Soon, she had to ask for help, often. Her children were too distant. The neighbor lady had been very helpful and willing, but one day she sat her down and told her it was too dangerous for Marie to live alone. She took her to Sunnyside, where she knew Clarisse. They talked and planned. Marie rented out her house, she couldn’t bear to sell it, and it gave her a little income to help each month. Two weeks later, here she was.  A strange turn of life.

Marie didn’t seem sad about it, she seemed grateful. It left me feeling sad, though, wondering about life. It also gave me an idea. Another business idea. For older people, ones who are mostly capable, but who have a hard time keeping up a house, cooking, gardening, the things that are hard on older bodies. I could run a service for them. Grocery shopping, errands that they need to run, cleaning, weeding, cooking. I couldn’t charge much, volunteer would be ideal, but maybe I should charge a little. I don’t know, will have to think about this. I am sure there are a lot of older people who need tasks done, and don’t have family or those who help them regularly. Even checking in with them each day to see how they are doing. How would I connect with them? Word of mouth is always best, I don’t want to advertise, just build up as I go.

Looking forward to Saturday. Taking Nancy and the kids and Joey on a hike in the mountains. They need a break from their packing and I (selfishly) want one more day to spend with them, a good memory. Funny, I didn’t even know their names just a few weeks ago. Now they are special friends, I love them all. Will miss them.

And, a few more for my thankful list: my health, strength, working in the garden, a bouquet of sunflowers, a warm mug of coffee, feeling loved – again.


DAY TWENTY-SIX, FRIDAY

Wow – three days in a row of journaling. Maybe this is a new habit. Hope so, the more I write in this pretty little book, the more I enjoy the writing, the thinking, the process of learning. Instead of talking to my plants or my quiet house, I can dialogue here, a pleasant conversation with a close friend, who surprisingly, is myself. If someone told me that, I would think they were really strange, psycho. Reality, though, it is good. Healthy. 

Not much time to write this morning. I told the two new cleaning gals I couldn’t clean until November, but one of them begged and pleaded and offered to pay me a huge bonus if I came today. She’s having a party this weekend, desperately needs my help, not just cleaning, but preparing stuff for her big gathering. So, I’ll be working all day at her house. Will be exhausting, but kind of fun, organizing and making her place party-ready. Wonder what her house is like? Will find out in thirty minutes.

Morgan pulled up to the address. The streets in this development circled and looped around, with only one way in. It took her two tries to find the house. She was impressed. It looked immaculate. The yard, perfect.  If the inside looks as nice, this will be an easy job, she thought.

Her knock on the door was answered by raucous barking. Uh-oh. Hope this dog is as friendly as Joey. Sounds quite a bit bigger, thought Morgan.

From inside, a woman’s voice shouted, “Sammy, hush! Get back from the door, you brute.” The door opened. The woman held a huge German Shepherd by the collar. “Morgan? Hi. Come in, just step in here, let him sniff your hand, he won’t bite, that’s right, see, Sammy, she is okay, you don’t need to eat her.” The dog’s tail wagged, thumping against the wall. She let go of the collar, extended her hand. “I am Shandra, sorry about the welcome. So, so glad you could come today, Morgan, I love your name. I am going crazy. Could not have done this by myself.  I have a list pages long, and can’t seem to know where to start. Madness. What was I thinking when I agreed to do this at my house?” She rattled on, barely breathing between sentences. Maybe they weren’t even sentences, just ramblings.

Morgan took off her sweater, hung it on the row of hooks behind the door. “Well, how about you show me your list, we’ll decide where to start, and see what you want me to do.”

“That would be wonderful. Would you like a cup of coffee, I just brewed a new pot. I am on my third pot just by myself, felt like I needed the extra energy today.”

That would explain the rambling sentences, thought Morgan. She smiled. “Maybe you could give me a brief tour, first, and then we’ll look at the list?”

“Good idea.” Shandra gave her a quick pass through the house and a large, covered patio off the back of the house, bordered with potted plants, two sets of patio tables and chairs, and an outdoor couch. “We will have drinks and some snacks set up out here, it is supposed to be a warm day, not too cold, but we may have to change plans if it gets too chilly or too windy. It is late in the year, but this is so pretty out here, and we have lights hung all around the edge of the roof, and there are still flowers blooming, and it is comfortable here.”

“Okay, let’s look at your list,” said Morgan. She could see this was going to take some organizing, but it would be fun, and she could use that cup of coffee.


DAY TWENTY-SEVEN, SATURDAY

Morgan was sore when she woke up. A long day yesterday. She and Shandra had worked all day. Sammy followed her to each room, getting underfoot, asking for a pat, wagging his tail whenever she talked to him. Guess dogs do like me, if I like them, she thought. 

After the party rental truck arrived, she worked in the kitchen, arranging trays of cut vegetables, mixing dips, and making a new list for Shandra so in the morning, she could go straight down the list, setting up the food items. She made notes as to where she put things like the bags of chips, and she put the big bowls she found next to each item to make it extra easy. Shandra invited her to come help, but Morgan declined, saying she already had plans for the day. It made her think though, to add party organization to her possible business plan list. The extra money Shandra paid her would enable her to take Nancy and the kids out to a special restaurant for dinner after their hike.

At nine, Nancy and the kids loaded in to Nancy’s car, since Morgan’s car wasn’t big enough for all of them and Joey.  They drove across town, turned up highway twenty-four, a few turns, and left to Gold Road. A few miles down, a parking lot held about twenty cars, parked in a row. One family was distributing water bottles, putting the baby in the backpack carrier, and leashing their dog.

“Look, their dog has a red leash and collar just like Joey,” said Jimmy.

“So?” said Johnny. “Do you know how many dogs have red collars? Thousands.”

“Hey guys. Today is for fun. No teasing, no arguing. Okay?” said Nancy.

They all grunted. For a moment, Morgan doubted the wisdom of this hike. But once they were out of the car, packing up their water bottles and getting Joey ready, they caught the excitement and were eager to go. It was an uphill climb, over rocky terrain, loose gravel and steep dirt paths. It didn’t take long to begin to see out across the open plains. As the long range views came into sight, they identified familiar landmarks, tried to figure where their house was located. Some of the trees still held their fall colors, though most of them were bare. The scent of winter was in the air, with the warmth of fall still hanging on.

At one turn, Jimmy stood, quiet and still. “Is that the ocean?” he asked.

“No, the ocean is two thousand miles away. Across a whole lot of states from here.”

“It looks like the ocean. I think it is the ocean. I can see the ocean from here! Wow!”

“Jimmy, it is not the ocean. It is Colorado and Kansas, and many states beyond that before you get to the Atlantic Ocean,” Nancy told him.

“I still think it is the ocean. I see it. It is blue and it goes on forever. Hey, I can see Germany!”

“Well, let’s keep hiking. The top is farther, still,” said Morgan to distract him. The kids complained about the climb. It was too steep, too hot, too dusty. Joey wasn’t complaining. Her tongue was hanging out of her mouth, a sign she was very, very happy. Several groups of mountain bikers rode past. The kids were impressed with that, saying it must be much harder than hiking the trail.

“I can’t believe they actually ride their bikes across these rocks,” said Johnny.

A track team ran by them. The gals had their shirt sleeves pulled up around their shoulders, most of the guys had their shirts off, tucked in their shorts, swinging behind them like tails. Sarah watched them go past. “It is hard to complain about walking this trail when others run by you, and they make it look easy. Even fun. Wonder how often they come up here and run this? Looks like they do it every day.”

At the top, they ate snacks, sipped their waters. They sat a long time on the rocks overlooking the valley below, the plains beyond. It was an amazing view. Morgan decided she would come back up here, with Joey, more often. The perspective, the distance, made it hard to view life as narrow or small. Or, the opposite, it made your life look small, compared to the vastness. She couldn’t decide which was accurate, settled on both of them, like two sides of a coin.


DAY TWENTY-EIGHT, SUNDAY

Sunday. Spend the afternoon at Sunnyside. Still can’t believe how much I enjoy those gals, Gertrude and Marie. I almost missed them, by not going. Wonder how much else in life I miss by not even trying, figuring it would be too hard or too uncomfortable or too much work. Or I am afraid.

These thoughts floated in her mind as she washed up the dishes and clipped a scraggly sunflower. She fluffed up the arrangement, admiring it. Sunflowers. She never got tired of them. Her favorite flower. Other gals could have their bouquet of roses. She would take sunflowers any day.

At Sunnyside, Morgan told Marie about the hike yesterday, about Jimmy insisting it was the ocean. Marie laughed, listening, but she seemed distracted. “What’s wrong?” Morgan asked her.

“I am tired, discouraged. Here, day after day, I sit in the chair, I lie in the bed, I walk twenty-one steps to the dining room and sit at the table. Morgan, you have no idea how much I enjoy you coming. Without you, here, to tell me about life out there, I would feel lost. Useless.”

“Useless,” repeated Morgan. “That is how I have felt, as if all I used to do, what was my world, who I used to be, is gone, lost. What do I do now? I take care of my house, my plants, but shouldn’t there be more than that?”

Marie said, “When you have a house full of little ones, your days are full. You are busy. As they get older, your days get emptier and you have to find a new measure of value. The connections you make, that is what is important, not just being busy.  Now, I have a different challenge to find worth. Seems to be part of growing oIder.  I guess we both, in our own ways, find it hard to feel useful.”

Morgan shared her idea from yesterday, of the two-sided coin, the vastness and the smallness. How the perspective made such a difference.  “ Marie, you have a large heart. And that is what matters. You do connect with those around you. You still have so much to share, so much love to give. You have given me more than you can know. My little, narrow world has become much bigger, and that is because of you, and Gertrude, too. Don’t be discouraged. Your life is valuable, to me, and others. You are still useful.”

“And Morgan, I can say the same for you. You are valuable, too, to me.”

Out of the corner of her eye, Morgan saw a gal walk by in the hall with a big Golden Retriever. She told Marie, “There is a dog out in the hall.”

“Oh yes, she brings her dog in to visit us. The dog is Brandy. She lets us pet her, talk to her. I can’t see her wag her tail, but I can feel it in her body, her sides wagging back and forth.”

“Really? I wouldn’t think the health department would allow dogs in a place like this.”

“They are certified, or something, part of an organization that goes to visit at homes, hospitals, schools, even jails, I think.”

“Interesting. Maybe I’ll get a chance to meet her.”

“Meet who?” said the gal as she walked in with Brandy.

“Meet Brandy. Marie was just telling me about her.”

Brandy did wag her whole body. The red vest she wore said, “Pets As Partners.” She greeted Morgan, then walked over to Marie. She put her chin on Marie’s knee, looking up at her with big brown eyes. Marie stroked her head, talking softly to her.

“Marie said you go to other places, too, to visit. Brandy must like to get out and go places.”

“Yes. She has been trained, knows how to behave, what to expect, what to do. She is a good girl.” Brandy wagged her tail. “Dogs make an easy connection with people. They seem to have an innate understanding of just how much attention each person needs.”

“Connection. Marie and I were just talking about that. What kind of training does she have?” asked Morgan.

“Basic obedience, polite behavior, good manners, simple stuff. Brandy just has the basic training. Some of the dogs become much more advanced to be service dogs, do specific tasks. I just wanted to go visiting with Brandy, so we just did the basic stuff. We go to reminder classes once in awhile with other dogs in the group.”

Morgan said, “I am getting a puppy tomorrow, a lab. What would it take to train her, like Brandy?”

“Bring her to our next meeting. They are starting a new series of training classes on Monday evenings, they start the fifth of November. The first one is just information, getting to know what is expected, meeting some of the others. Here. I have a card, you can call that number to reserve a spot. How old is the puppy?”

“Five months, I think.”

“That is perfect. And labs are good dogs. They love to socialize. Happy dogs. Then you could bring her along when you visit.”

“That sounds really good. I wouldn’t have to leave her at home. It would give us both something to do, something more to think about. I like that idea. I had no idea this was possible, it is amazing.”

“Call the office tomorrow. They will set you up. Maybe I’ll see you there. I am Sandy, by the way.”


DAY TWENTY-NINE, MONDAY

Nancy and the kids were leaving today. Joey, coming to stay. She wished, for the kids, that they could have kept Joey. But, for herself, she was glad the puppy was staying. It would give her a little bit of them to keep close.

The deep window-rattling rumble of the truck let her know it had arrived. The movers would load the truck, drive a few miles and unload it into a storage unit, stored until they knew where they would be next. Yesterday, a container had arrived for the stuff that was being shipped to Germany.  Their suitcases were stacked in a pile in the dining room. Morgan would take them to the airport at eight o’clock tonight, for an overnight flight. And tomorrow, they would be in Germany. Their house would be empty.

Nancy asked Morgan to help with the kitchen. The cupboards still needed to be emptied. The dishes were packed, but not all the food stuff. Because they couldn’t take any food with them, Morgan boxed it up to take to a church that had a soup kitchen. Tomorrow, not today. Today was busy enough. Loose ends. No matter how organized and efficient and planned, there were always loose ends.

The kids were excited to go see their dad, to go to Europe, to fly in a plane, to wonder and talk and imagine what it would be like. But they were sad, too, and the tensions stretched all of their limits. At lunchtime, they all trooped over to Morgan’s. All of Joey’s bedding and leash and collar and bowls and food went, too. Joey was excited, a part of all the activity. They were all back and forth across the street often, carrying the food stuff over, keeping Jimmy busy and out of the way.

By four, the moving van was ready to pull out. Nancy gave them directions to the storage unit. Sarah, Johnny, Jimmy, Nancy, Morgan and Joey stood on the sidewalk and watched it drive away, lumbering slowly down the street, shifting gears as it swung around the corner. It disappeared. They could still hear it, but it was out of sight. Gone. All their stuff, for an unknown time.

“Well, it will be better than Christmas when you get to unpack all that, somewhere,” said Morgan, attempting to sound cheerful.

“No, I am going to have Christmas in Germany,” said Jimmy.

Nancy sighed. They were all exhausted. “I want to make one more pass through the house, checking cupboards and closets. Then, Morgan, may we put our suitcases in your car and come to your house? I would like to lock our door for good, and try not to think about it again.”

“Of course. I’ll go start dinner, come over whenever you are ready.”


DAY THIRTY, TUESDAY

The key twisted in the lock with a click. Joey, at her feet, pranced and panted, excited to be going home. As Morgan opened the door, Joey bolted inside and skidded on the empty floor. She spun to turn down the hall, heading for Jimmy’s room. No one there. She snuffled along the floor, smelling, searching. Each bedroom, empty. Confused, she ran the loop through the kitchen and dining room. Barely making the corner, she bounced off the door frame.

Morgan called her over and squatted down to talk to her. “They are gone, girl. I know it is strange, but it is just you and me now.” She ruffled her ears, digging her fingers deep into the fur behind them. Joey leaned into the scratch. “We’ll be okay, you and me, once we get used to this. Today, I have to clean this place. The owner is coming at three to inspect and pick up the key. Let’s go out back for a little bit, then I’ll get started.” She walked through the kitchen, opened the back door. Joey ran out, made a circuit around the yard, checking, smelling, still searching. No one, nothing. She walked over to the patio and sat, staring out toward the yard, waiting.

The cleaning supplies were in the pantry cupboard. Morgan picked them up, left the back door open so Joey could come in when she wanted, and went to work. Through the morning, Joey would come to check on her. She would always stop, talk to her, pet her, reassure her, ache with her. But they would be okay. She kept telling Joey that, more to reassure herself. She needed someone to tell her that, too.

The work went quickly. Cleaning an empty house is a breeze, she thought. “C’mon Joey, let’s go get some lunch. I have some treats for you, and I imagine you are thirsty.” They stood on the front porch a moment. Morgan looked across the street to her own house. My home, she thought. “That is your home now, too,” she said to Joey.  The puppy looked up at her and wagged her tail. “So, let’s go settle in together, what do you say?” She locked the door behind her, trying not to look back, but to look forward. Ahead.

The afternoon was quiet. Even the town seemed more still than usual today. It all felt so empty. They sat out on the patio, Joey sprawled on her side in a patch of sunlight, Morgan with her feet up on another chair, reading Winter Solstice. She hoped for a happy ending. She could use a happy ending today.


DAY THIRTY-ONE, WEDNESDAY

Morgan stood at the front window, her afternoon coffee cup wrapped snugly in her hands. October thirty-first.  The house across the street was quiet, empty, closed. It would have been a bustle of activity tonight. But they were gone, the house, deserted. Joey nuzzled at her feet.

Thirty-one days ago she stood here, wondered what it would take to make life different, full, rather than quiet and empty. Nothing earth-shattering had happened. No cataclysmic events. But she was different. 
Her pretty journal sat on the coffee table. She sat down on the couch, picked it up with the pen next to it. Joey leaned against her knee, looked up at her. “Hey girl,” she said as she scratched her forehead. She wrote.

I am different.

Thirty-one days ago I wondered how I would survive this month. The discouragement, the alone, the quiet was overwhelming.

I have survived. I have changed. I have stepped out, and I am alive.

Never, would I have suspected that my new friends would be in their nineties, in an old folk’s home, and that I don’t even think of it as an old folk’s home. I think of it as their home, because they are there.

Never would I have suspected that a neighbor family would draw me in so closely. And leave me such a gift, this puppy at my feet.

Surprising, how my home, my life, has filled with life. Fresh foods, flowers, and now a puppy.
Amazing to me, my days are full and happy (Well, not today. Missing Nancy and her busy household terribly).

I have a future.

I am not alone.

What I thought was the end, a period, an exclamation point of finality, was a pause, a deep breath, a page turned, a big step into a new chapter of my on-going story.

You know how you strike a match, and there is a pause, a waiting, a moment before it flickers and sparks? You wonder if it took, or if you need to strike it again. Then, it flames up and catches you by surprise. I feel the flicker, the spark. Surprised by the warmth of the flame.

Morgan set down the pen. She was busy, she thought, but not for the sake of being busy. Busy because life was full and exciting. Her life had more than a spark. It had light.

“Joey,” she said, “Let’s go for a walk.”