Archive | September, 2011

Mourning Dove Road – A Butch-Femme Tale

24 Sep

Part II

The Motel

            It was by e-mail and phone that Katherine and I kept in touch during January and February. She’d phone each night or I’d call her. In one e-mail she sent me the pictures of her surgery and I sank when seeing them but wrote encouraging words, words that told her she’d be up in no time; that she was strong, that January was a long month, true; but February was a short one, and that spring would be here before she knew it. I missed her so much and I was missing my cat.

Five Mondays in January is no fun and I felt each one of them settle on my bones like a wet sock. By the third week, returning home one night from working late, I was unprepared for what I was to encounter. For fifteen years I was greeted at the door by a friend who, if he could talk, could reveal all my secrets, but he was a better friend than that, and that night, when I’d stepped through the door, I’d found my cat, Romeo, in a remote part of the house, whimpering in pain. Upon closer inspection, he had vacated his illness in nearly every room. As I held him, he cried in my arms, and I cried for two weeks after, imagining how sick he’d been throughout that day. I’d never see Romeo again, and I wouldn’t see Katherine for several weeks. The year had started badly.


            I kept sending her songs of the day, lyrics that reflected my love for her. I kept saying to ‘wear my ring’, that that was a sign of my love. She’d write to me in sleepy sentences, sometimes she would sleep for hours on end, with little awake time during the day because of her accident. We’d text message nearly every day.

I missed her body, her blonde hair, her blue eyes and the scent of Burberry that she wore. Her image burned in my heart, and the image of her falling was beginning to wane as February came to a close. It was good news:  her mother was returning to New Jersey because Katherine could now drive and was able to bear weight. We made plans in March to meet and she had signed her divorce papers. By the end of March, she would be ‘free’ she wrote saying and she could now love me, ‘totally and completely.” I couldn’t wait. I circled the weekend of March 3rd and 4th on the kitchen calendar three times for three things she always told me:  “you are my love, my life and my friend.”


            Katherine and I planned to meet at the EconoLodge outside of Matthews, NC, in Charlotte — not far from her home. She couldn’t drive long distances because she was only beginning to walk again; she had been using crutches or a cane, and was only walking for two weeks when I’d met her the weekend of March 3rd and 4th. We hadn’t seen each other in two months. I bought a new red shirt and it looked good. I wanted to look good for Katherine.

I drove into Charlotte leaving work early that Friday and though I’d never traveled to Charlotte toward Matthews, you wouldn’t know it by the way I navigated the road on that sunny afternoon. I was going to see my girl. I was finally getting to see her. I had missed her so much. I arrived first. She called to tell me she was going to be late -something had come up with Tom again, so I waited in the lobby of the EconoLodge talking with the manager, making small talk. I had waited about forty-five minutes; we were to meet at 5 p.m.

When Katherine pulled up she was wearing her Burberry sunglasses and she’d colored her hair from blonde to brown and she had lost weight. She got out of the car and she was wearing her brown boots, tight jeans, and a white blouse over a black Danskin that showed off her breasts. She had worn the gold hoop earrings and the silver ring with its blue mystic stone I had given her as a Christmas present. She was limping, but she was walking. I was so proud of her. It was so good to see her, to be in her company. I had missed her so much. She was wearing a brown suede jacket I’d never seen before.

“You look great. Nice Jacket,” I kissed her hello and hugged her hard.

“Hi! You are here before me! I’m sorry, baby. It’s so good to see you!”

We paid for two nights and when we got into the hotel room, we hugged and kissed but something wasn’t right. She broke the kiss and I looked at her,

“What? What’s the matter?”

“Look at the door,” she said.

As she rose, I watched her go to the door, trying to turn on a light that wouldn’t turn on. She wiped the door with her index finger and looked at me.

“Jo, it’s dirt! Dirt. Ugh, how disgusting. When was the last time they cleaned this             door?”

At that point I turned down the bed and looked at the sheets, there was a bad looking mattress underneath.

“Babe, no offense, but this doesn’t look too good.”

She said, “What should we do?”

“Let’s go. It’s not worth getting sick. We could get lice here, who knows. They’ll give us our money back.”

“Where should we go?”

“I don’t know. We’ll find somewhere else, don’t worry.”

Katherine was very upset. I went to the manager and asked for a full refund, but he wouldn’t budge. We were there less than 15 minutes and we were forced to pay one night.

Katherine started crying. I took her out of there and we drove ½ mile down the road and booked an adequate room at a Microtel Inn. She was still upset. Come to find she was menstruating heavily and it was obvious she wasn’t feeling well. Who knew if she’d fought with Tom before meeting me? She wasn’t telling me if she had.

We settled in. The motel room was much cleaner and cozier, and I could tell she felt comfortable when she began to unpack and put out her toiletries. I looked around, unpacked myself, and got into some comfortable clothing. It was getting near dinnertime but we held off and began to kiss.

I hadn’t kissed her in two months. She tasted so good to me. We explored each other’s mouths. I went to reach for her waist and her hips, she had lost weight, but she was still full and eager. Her breasts bounced toward me and she let out her bra onto my chest. I was so completely enthralled by her giving and her beauty and the love she held for me. I surrendered becoming completely naked without any props, allowing her to touch me without embarrassment. I had missed her so much and I needed her so badly. I couldn’t contain myself and I moaned, “Kath, I love you so much. I’ve missed you so bad. Baby…”  And we made love and we stroked each other in a way that spoke of sadness for being apart and a freedom for finally being together again. I teared up and she did too.

Sunday morning, before leaving, we made love again and she orgasmed so strong and quick she began to cry and then she began to weep uncontrollably. She said,

“Oh, Jo, I’m so sorry. I don’t know what’s wrong, I’ve never cried like this            before. I guess everything’s coming out now, it’s been all bottled up inside.”

I held her and kissed her and said, “It’s okay, honey, don’t worry, it’s okay.”

We were friends and we were lovers. I let her know me. This was my end of the road. She would be my last hurrah. This was it. She was my girl. We spoke of marriage that weekend. I trusted her. I could finally be myself. I was home with my girl, my beautiful, Katherine. She had fallen and could now walk. Her divorce papers would be final at the end of March. We were in love, we would be together. There would never be another woman in my life. I told myself, “I’ll never be alone again.”

On Sunday morning we said goodbye at a Bob Evan’s restaurant. I would remember the breakfast Katherine ordered, a raspberry crepe with so much raspberry sauce it could have easily filled two plates, and lots of whipped cream.  She had given me a couple of forkfuls as I ate an egg and bacon sandwich on an English Muffin.

“That’s all you want?” she asked me.

“Yeah, that’s it. Let me taste some of your crepe.” She fed me a forkful.

“Woooh, that’s sweet, baby. Let me have another.”

She smiled, “Have as much as you like.”

“Yum it’s sweet, but it’s good, and hey! Look at that,” I said pulling out my shirt.  The shirt was bleached out as white as could be.

“Oh, aren’t you lucky,” she said. “A drop of that raspberry sauce on that shirt and you’d be screwed.”

Out in the parking lot the sun hit her face and she positioned her sunglasses to her eyes.  “Oh, that sun…hmmn…it feels good.”

“Yeah, it does.  Babe,” I said, “I love you.”

“Oh, Jo…baby, I’ll miss you. It was so good to see you.  I’ll call you tonight, or    just call me from the road.”

“You know I will. We’re meeting again in two weeks, right?”

She shook her head, “Yes! I may be able to drive to Raleigh then!”

I waited until she started her car and watched her drive away.


            On the ride home to Raleigh I didn’t call Katherine, I figured she was sleeping, but I’d made it home pretty quickly. I had slept good with Katherine at Microtel, I had relaxed. We watched some movies in the room, I’d felt comfortable. I couldn’t make love to her hard because her leg was still healing and so my lovemaking, my style, was sweeter and gentler. I knew she’d tire easily and I didn’t want to push her. We embraced in a soft and sweet balance I’d never shown her before, but I knew to go easy. I was so in love and I was so happy driving back because I knew that I would be seeing Katherine, she’d be visiting me, she’d be coming into my home on Mourning Dove and all the visions of her falling would fade away once she walked through my door. It would be like it never happened.

I put in a CD and played it loud, I was singing, I drove back home doing nearly 85 mph, just to call Katherine, to speak with her for our evening phone call.

Fly Away

There’s been a bird, a red-breasted robin, flying into two upstairs windows of my home. At first I didn’t know where the noise was coming from, when dressing I spotted him flying toward the window. I remember a Chinese proverb, something symbolic, or a Confucius saying, that a bird in a home is good luck. Still, several days later, the bird flies toward the glass on mornings when I dress. I’ve given thought that maybe the bird is crazed with bird flu disease, or maybe he’s just stubborn, wanting only to befriend his reflection.

For three weeks straight I drank and smoked, falling into the same exhausted, drunken slumber from the night before. I’d wake up weak and dizzy, drink some morning coffee, and go to work where I was barely recognizable to myself and to others.

Last night I looked up an old phone statement and retrieved a number I hadn’t called since New Years.


“Hi, it’s Jo Battle.  Sorry to call so late.”

Katherine’s mother had sounded the same from our first meeting at the airport.

“It’s fine. How are you, Jo?”

I was nervous calling her now, calling her at all – but I had to find out how Katherine was.

I began, “Elizabeth, I’m hanging in there, but please tell me:  how is Katherine?  Is she okay?”

“Yes,” Elizabeth said with a smile, I could hear her nonchalance through the phone,” she’s fine.”

“Are you sure?” I pressed.

“Yes, yes.  She’s fine.  She not working yet-“

“Well, I don’t care about that,” I interrupted.

“But she’s fine, Jo, really.”

“Elizabeth, I’ve called Katherine so many times, she’s not taking my calls. Where is she? She’s not speaking with me.  She’s not answering the phone. I am worried. That’s why I called you.  Where did she go?”

“She’s fine, she’s just doing her own thing.”

The phone call between Elizabeth and I lasted a little over three minutes.

At 3 a.m. I called Katherine. She didn’t answer. She hadn’t answered the phone in two weeks. I left a four-minute message on her cell. She didn’t call back. I called the house phone, left a message there. I’d lost count the number of times I tried to reach her.  It was now several weeks since March 3rd, well passed our last meeting, and Katherine wasn’t taking my calls. She had stopped texting. Katherine had moved on without a word. She had closed the door and closed it hard in my face in order to move forward with her life.

I dream of  Katherine, sometimes seeing her walk toward me. When this happens I masturbate and use her body, her face and her hands to hold me. Every night is the same. I wake at two or three in the morning, and call Katherine’s name. I pretend to reach for her, stroke her waistline, her hips, touch her hands, and smell her hair.


            Into the month of May I’m wearing shorts. I sweated today, breaking up the ground, trying to get rid of clover, wanting grass instead. I paint, repaint, scrub walls, get out the drill, build, break down – find projects that need attention, I do all these things to forget about Katherine.  Sometimes I can still hear my cat scratch on the doorway wanting to go out, he would have wanted out today; it’s beautiful.

The birds are singing and their songs sound like ‘cheater, cheater, cheater.’  I think of Katherine and hope that the reason she left me was because she needed space or something and not because she cheated on me. I think of her everyday. I miss her more than I’ve ever missed anyone.


            The summer came and I went to Atlanta for a writing contract. It was a hot summer. I rented out a room in a woman’s house – she lived in Decatur, and not too far from where I was working. It was a crime-filled area, and I endured three consecutive car break-ins, a house fire in a nearby house that roared so large it was too hot to sleep in my rented room that night (and I had to stay at a motel), a daily commute on the train while my car was in the shop, and the worst part was losing my house keys when they slipped off the back of a turbo toilet in a restaurant. Atlanta wasn’t looking too good for me. And for some reason my boss did not like my aggressive style. I didn’t like him. I guess my New York attitude was just a bit too much for this part of the genteel south, so I planned to return to Raleigh and chalk it up.

The Meeting

Before the sun leaves to its nighttime horizon it’s a little cool before it goes, but when the moon rises and the wind settles, the night takes on a quiet of its own. It’s here, between the twilight, where I go down.  So on the drive back to Raleigh, I passed Charlotte, turned around, took out a pen and piece of paper, bought a map, and found the hamlet of Matthews, NC.

The driveway was long, she was right about that; the house was huge. This was an affluent neighborhood. Bicycles were in the driveway. I saw the Black Rendevouz. I walked up to the front door, and the doorbell sounded hollow as it rang, one, two and three bells. A young girl answered the door,


“Hi, don’t you remember me? You came to my house only last year, we made smores.”

I was standing on the front porch, “Oh, right.”

“How are you?” I asked.


I began to feel awkward, it was still hot out even though it was nearing October, that’s just how the weather is in the south. And then I hear,

“Who is it?”

I gulped. Oh, this was a bad idea. Here I was unannounced, no warning. I hadn’t seen Katherine in months. What if she called the cops. What if she …

She came to the door.

“Jo, oh my God.”

I didn’t know where to look. I couldn’t look at her. “Please come in,” and she opened the door.

We walked back to the patio, it was just as well because I was warm and wanted some air – even if it was a thousand percent humidity – to smoke. “Do you still smoke?” I said to her. She was wearing shorts, sandals, a simple tank. Her scars were evident, you knew from the length of her scars, and scarred circles where the screws were, that her operation was extensive. She saw me staring.

“It’s pretty bad, huh?”

I didn’t say anything, but veered my eyes to face her. “Katherine, what happened? Where did you go?”

The children were near us, Patrick was precocious, listening, wanting his mother’s attention. “Go in the house, I’m talking! You’ve had me all day. I have a friend here. Go inside!”

We smiled at each other. I continued, not wanting to miss my chance, to hear what I’d been dying to know. “You just left me. You never called me. The last time I saw you was at Bob Evans restaurant. What happened?”

What she told me, she had to tell fast because it was going on 4:30, and she alluded to having company.

“Jo…I’ll just tell you: during the time I was sick, when I broke my leg, after I was operated, they gave me all these painkillers. I was taking so many. I was sleeping the days away. I became addicted.


“Yes. I was addicted – heavily. Oxycodone. Well, one day, night…I can’t recall. I got back on Curve Personals and …” She stopped, like a there was some large stop sign looming over her forehead.

“What…say it! I’ve been waiting all this time without knowing! Say it! Say it!” I was very upset, my heart raced. I held back my tears but I was filled inside with pain as wide as a river. I’m sitting there waiting for the words, and nothing is coming out of her mouth.

I said, “Did you meet someone or not? Is that why you took the chicken way out, just totally forgetting me? Not taking my phone calls? Ignoring me when you told me how much you loved me over and over? Say it!”

‘”Yes! I met someone!” and with that she threw out her left hand to show me the ring.

“Where’s my ring? You took my fucking ring off?” Why I said that, I don’t know. It was a moot point. There was silence. I looked at her, she could not face me.

“Look at me, Katherine. I have to know this: do you love her more than you loved me? Tell me. Tell me and I will go and I will never bother you. But goddamn it. Do you love her more than you SAID to have LOVED ME!”

She looked away, then down, then the tears came, then she started crying. I pulled out a paper towel from underneath a drink of soda and handed it to her.

“Here, blow.”

She took the towel and all she said was, “Jo….I’m sorry.”

After that, there was no reason to stay, there was nothing to talk about or take back. I stood, and quickly got in my car, navigating backwards down the long driveway, never losing sight of her face, watching her wave goodbye, I turned the corner, and made my way up Interstate 40.


At my Mourning Dove home, children in a nearby backyard are learning the alphabet, and you can hear their father recite,  “C. C is for cat,” he says. You say it, “A, B, C” and “C” stands for what?”  “C” stands for Courage” I say under my breath.

The children are playful. Sirens go off in the distance, somewhere, someone is hurting. Other children play with a basketball and yell, “That’s what you get!  Hurry up, man!” And the birds go, ‘woo, woo, woo.’ The twilight begins again.


© Terry Rachel 2011

Mourning Dove Road – A Butch/Femme Tale

18 Sep

Part I


Before leaving a flat fine line to the west, October’s sunlight burns down to fragmented dots and dashes infusing color to the liqueur bottles standing like soldiers behind the bar at Restaurant 518.  Familiar are the scents of bread and tomato sauce as I witness the cooks in the kitchen labor through the cacophony of pots and pans. One cook mans the larger stove replacing lids to the escaping steaming water. Steam charges his face with every lid he removes as he takes his apron to wipe the sweat pouring from his forehead. He catches my stare, nods, and manages a smile.

Launched from speakers set high off the corners of the ceiling come the breath of a soprano’s voice and the dramatic timber of a baritone.  As I stand beneath the glow of an amber light, I wonder if the other patrons knew that in opera some divas go mad, some leap to their death, some are stabbed, always in some tragic fashion, over immortal love?  Maria Callas, one of opera’s great sopranos, said, “When the curtain rises, the only thing that speaks is courage.”

Waiting for Katherine, I felt fearless.


 It was early Saturday night and Katherine and I settled into a booth near a brass railing. I rested my arm on the rail and lit a cigarette. She leaned in to smell the flowers   arranged in a glass vase for the table centerpiece, then moved the unlit candle to the side, then pressed both palms into the linen to lay flat any unwanted wrinkle, but there was none. “This is so nice, Jo,” she said.

I lit the candle and sat quietly admiring Katherine’s face; her blonde hair fell in curls to her shoulders. Her jewelry was simple but elegant and her nails were polished a translucent pink.  Under a white blouse her camisole revealed a lace border. “You look lovely,” I told her, “and your blouse is beautiful.”

At a height of 5’ 8” Katherine was long-legged with a fast walk that spoke of certainty and happiness. Voluptuously built, her breasts full and supple, one night I asked her why she wore a bra to bed. Smiling coyly, she revealed that she “didn’t want the ‘girls’ to sag.” Blessed with a good sense of humor she’d call herself “The Burberry girl.” She carried around a big Burberry bag and in it she carried everything. She wore Burberry sunglasses and a Burberry scarf and when she wore her hair up, she’d shake her big gold hoop earrings making sure they didn’t catch in her hair. She’d wear sandals or boots but never wear socks because her feet were always warm; she liked going barefoot. She never threw off airs and never thought about her looks. I told her she was a ‘lady’ for never having gossiped, never having an unkind word to say about anyone, her modesty didn’t allow comfort with even the slightest compliment.  She was a shy girl who could pout and cry in a moment’s notice and she would explain, as if it were any consolation, that she was “just feeling emotional,” and then, by that admission, she would cry again.

I loved her company, she was exciting and loved doing anything.  I loved watching her dance. Her dancing was a mix of American erotica and Middle Eastern belly dancing, a siren’s song, a dance I’d never seen before. When I’d tell her that her dancing made my heart race, she’d say,

“Oh, I probably look like a fool up there. My daughter’s friends must think I’m crazy. Come on, I’m forty-one. I don’t care. I just dance. But I’m glad you like it,” she’d say, and kiss me.

Katherine had no idea how beautiful she was – she never kept to the mirror, never felt beautiful, felt her looks only adequate, sometimes she felt pretty. But in her soul, in her heart – her deep-down beauty, the beauty I had seen in Katherine, the goodness that she couldn’t hide, that which radiated from within, that which she could not contain, had taken front and center as I watched her turn heads in Restaurant 518.


                        The month of October is sun-kissed and cooled just enough from the remains of summer’s heat and a weekend away in early fall has always been a welcomed favorite of mine. It was Columbus Day weekend and I had Monday off. I woke early to pack and gave Romeo, the cat, food, water, treats, and a clean litter box. I nuzzled him close and kissed him goodbye, “I love you.  I’ll be back Monday.”

Asheville from Raleigh is about two hundred fifty miles east. It was a blue and clear fresh morning and I had an early start. I was spending the weekend with Katherine!  Katherine had rented a cabin in Asheville every year booking for the same week – Columbus weekend –  a year in advance. Because she had expressed that the cabin was her retreat – a place where she could wind down and be alone (and I suppose, nurture her soul), I was reluctant to join her at first. But she encouraged me to go by sending links of the cabin, various museums, antique shops, restaurants – even directions, and with these assurances I decided to join her.

‘We only know each other a week’ I told myself on the drive out.

How I came to find Katherine at all, came only just a month before on Labor Day. It was a quiet holiday, and I began searching different dating sites and found one called Curve Personals. I limited my personal search to North Carolina and found Katherine’s profile. Her status read, “Seeking friends/pen pals.”  She described how she “loved the fury of the ocean in a storm,” that intrigued me, so I wrote her saying that I had grown up on Long Island, near Jones Beach, and walked the beach in many a storm. When she finally responded on her birthday from a hotel computer, her e-mail began, “I’m here with Chris and I’m here writing you, this is not good or is it?”

Everyone has issues.

I was going through menopause. I liked not having my period anymore, but I was going through night sweats and would often wake up soaking wet. I didn’t like my mood swings either. I was very touchy, edgy, and would become strangely melancholy. This behavior had affected me professionally and was costing me my livelihood. I didn’t want to tell Katherine – it was too early to say anything. I blamed it all on being butch and not being able to voice my sensitivities.

When I arrived at Willow Woods in Asheville my thoughts settled. The air was free of clouds with big skies, and I swallowed hard to clear my ears because of the mountainous elevation. When I arrived Katherine was in bed. I guess I arrived too early. She answered the door, smiled, took my hand, ushering me inside, and then ran back to bed because the cabin was so cold. I undressed and got into bed with her.

We had taken a picture together on the cabin couch near the fire, posing cheek to cheek. We were so clear-eyed and hopeful. The next day, Sunday, we took a walk, got lost, and walked two miles out of our way. We laughed it off. We’d found a good tree to carve our initials “JB & KP” inside a heart and wrote the date. She carved in the date but carved the wrong month:  11/06, when it was really 10/06.  “Oh, Jo – why didn’t you say something?” she whined. “I don’t know,” I said. “It’s okay.”.

She gave me the picture in a frame and took the complimentary cookie tin from the cabin and used it to hold autumn leaves from our walk and sent these to me with a card saying how she loved our weekend together. We made love in the hot tub outside, on the couch, on the king-sized bed, and on the floor in front of a roaring fire. In the middle of the night, with her hands touching mine, exchanging caresses and kisses, stroking every line, every curve, licking my fingers, sucking them into her mouth, our hands made love for a long while until I nearly orgasmed from her touch. It was hard leaving her that weekend, but there was never enough time between us.

The Affair

            Katherine and I began our love affair in the fall of 2006, and when I’d suddenly and completely became so involved, I realized I had wasted my time with everyone. Nobody was like Katherine. She was sexy, sassy, a whore in bed. She loved that I talked dirty and I loved the way she gave it up. She allowed me everything: spanking her, pulling her hair, throwing her down, fisting her, nipple play, anal intercourse, love bites, hard kisses, strap-on sex for hours and she loved my butch cock. She would suck it and love me for it. I was in a beautiful Dom role that I hadn’t been in for years. She was a beautiful submissive. I was so horny all the time for her. She loved sex and I loved sex with her. Then we’d lie down and she’d rest her head on my shoulder, playing with my hair. We’d exchange soft and sweet kisses. I’d touch her hands and tell her how beautiful her hands were, how beautiful her body was, that her body was a ‘gift’ and she should love her body.

She’d say, “Why do you love my body so much?  You really think it’s beautiful?”

“It’s a fast car.. It’s such a beautiful body, you just don’t see it.”

She tapped her stomach, “Even with this kangaroo pouch? Come on.”

“That’s a beautiful sweet belly,” and I’d kiss her.

She’d smile and we’d continue to lie in bed talking, sharing secrets. She had the softest skin. “Jo, I love you. I love you so much, baby. You’ve made me so happy.”

Through November and December she visited Saturday afternoons, stay twenty-four hours, and leave Sunday.  We’d share every other weekend together. It was a promising love and I was ready to give her what no other had woman ever seen in me. We had exciting sex and shared a deep warm chemistry. She assured me she loved me over and over again. She’d write loving e-mails, send romantic cards, and call nearly every morning and every night saying how much she cared and loved me. She got a Star Registry Certificate and named a star after us in the Constellation Drago. She planned on getting a tattoo with our initials, we talked of marriage, she wanted to marry and have a baby with me, she gave me a ring on Valentine’s Day, and her card read,

“You are my life, my love, and my friend, and that’s forever, baby.”

We fit in bed like puzzle pieces. Katherine was a dedicated and loyal lover. She was kind and consistent. She was the only woman who never tried to change me. She never nagged me. She’d found me ‘perfect.’ I was lost in her in so many of our lovemaking sessions.

“Jo, I want to have your baby,’ she said over the phone.

I said, “How are we going to do that?”

“With one of your first, closest male cousins.”

“You’d sleep with one of my cousins?” I was astounded. “You would do that? You’d get pregnant because I like kids?” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

“I’d do anything for you, for us. I love you that much. I want a part of your lifeline in me.”

Katherine spoke of love all the time. Maybe she needed to speak the words to remind herself of how love could be, maybe she needed to say them in order to have them returned, maybe she’d miss tender words because she was going through a divorce and Tom had treated her so cruelly in their marriage. I didn’t know what it was. I trusted Katherine and believed her.

When her floral bouquet arrived at Halloween, her card read,

“Jo, you love me so well.  Thank you for loving me.   If you could see my tomorrows, you would see yourself in every one of them.  You wreck me, your holiday, your Wifey, Katherine”


            One weekend in early November, Katherine arrived on a Friday evening with her children. She packed their bicycles into her SUV, along with a camera, firewood, a model car kit, and the game of Twister. It was a time to bond with Katherine’s children. The first thing I did was get out an old football because I didn’t want to corner the children into conversation, but I knew a game of catch was an ice-breaker, so that’s how we began.  We went out for pizza, rented a scary movie (where I was the most scared), we rode bicycles, pieced the model car together and decaled it, saw a Saturday matinée, made Smores – which I’ve never made before –  and played the game of Twister where I nearly wrenched my back, even falling backwards on purpose, just to get a laugh.

Patrick chased Romeo in circles around the couch, and the cat looked forlorn as if to say, ‘help.’ But he never scratched or hissed and even let Patrick pick him up. I think Romeo liked the attention. Neither of us had much company and that weekend our lives had been satiated with love and laughter.

I didn’t realize when the children left that I’d never see them again.

Katherine stayed during weekends in October and November and part of December, arranging schedules with her ex-husband to be, making sure her son, Patrick, 9 and Jessica, 12, would be okay until she returned on Sunday afternoon. Tom had the children on weekends, but it seemed every time Katherine wanted to leave on a Friday to visit me one day early, he’d always throw a wrench in the plans, having to work late or some other engagement would pop up out of the blue, and she’d call to say,

“Baby, I’m sorry. Tom is being a prick. But even though I can’t come tonight, I’m dropping off the dogs at the kennel tomorrow–early, and I should be to you no later than one o’clock.”

I felt like shuffling my feet when I’d say, “Ah, it’s okay.”

“Don’t be mad.  I love you. And baby, I can’t wait to see you. Jo, you are everything to me and I will do whatever it takes to see you.”

Sometimes I felt like a mistress, I really did. I’d never been to her house; I’d never seen the way she lived. I wanted to, but I never pushed the issue. Her house in Charlotte did look pretty in the pictures she’d sent. It looked like a big house, lots of land, pretty nicely furnished. It would have been easier for me to travel to her, but she never invited me. And since she was still technically married, soon to be divorced, I didn’t think it appropriate for me to stay there. I didn’t want to upset her divorce proceedings or get in the middle in any way.

When Thanksgiving rolled around, she’d gone with Tom and the children to New Jersey. I felt badly, but I never said anything. “Next year, baby, it’ll be different,’ she said.

“I know, sweetheart, its okay. Did you enjoy your holiday with your family?”

I always tried to be on her side. I just couldn’t find it in my heart to be unkind to her.


She told me in a crying jag one night that she was bulimic.

“That’s why my teeth are so bad, Jo.”

“You’re bulimic, Katherine? You throw up?”

“Yes. But I’ve never thrown up at your house.”

“Is that why you don’t eat, or you eat very little with me?”

“Jo, if I feel like I’m eating junk, like fast-food, I purge it.”

“Wow.  I can’t believe it.”

“Look, I’m sorry I told you, “she said indignantly.

“I mean, you’ve been doing this since …how long? Have you gotten any help?”

“See, this is what I get.  I’m sorry I ever told you. You don’t know a thing about bulimia.  You don’t know a thing about it!”

“Kath, I—“

“I’ll call you tomorrow. And don’t write me an e-mail telling me how you’ve got to think this over.  I don’t want to hear it. I am the way I am. You don’t have to like it.  But it’s my life. I thought I could tell you, talk with you, but I see I can’t.”

I was just listening; I didn’t know what to say. I mean she had an eating disorder and for three months I didn’t know. I didn’t know anyone who was bulimic, until Katherine.

“Kath,” I said, gently, “I would have found out if you didn’t tell me. I would have noticed.”

“No, you wouldn’t have,” she snapped, “Tom lived with me for 16 years and he never knew.”


The first Saturday in December I went to Flowerama and bought a dozen red roses then headed to a local jewelry store and decided to buy Katherine a ring. It was a beautiful ring in silver with a misty topaz stone cut on eight sides and beveled high so that when you viewed the ring, it shined green, magenta and turquoise. I wasn’t sure of Katherine’s taste in jewelry but I had chosen this type of ring because it was how I felt my love should be: bright and bold, out in the open, willing to change colors, and one of a kind. I would present the ring today because she was spending Christmas with her family and I probably wouldn’t see her until New Years.

When I returned home I was beside myself with excitement and before Katherine arrived I called Laine.

“Laine, I’ve got something to tell you!”

“Well, if it’s about Katherine, I don’t know about her, Jo.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I don’t know…but I just get the feeling she wears a mask.”

“What do you mean?  Laine?”

“Seriously, Jo. I don’t even know why I’m saying that, but I just get that feeling.

“I’m not calling to complain, Laine. I love this girl.”

Her voice was calm. “I’m only telling you this because I don’t want to see you get hurt. Jo, you’ve been down this road before. Remember Sharon? You have a house that you bought for Sharon and she’s not even around. You always give too much too soon.”

“Don’t worry about anything, please. After her divorce goes final –– Laine, look, this girl loves me. She does. I just bought her a ring.”

“You bought her a ring?”

“It’s beautiful. I’m giving it to her today. She’s coming this afternoon. I can’t        wait.”

“Oh, Jo, I hope you know what you’re doing.”

“Laine, I love her. You don’t know her. But she’s everything to me. And she         loves me. You know something?”


“She’s getting a tattoo with our initials.”


“Well, this is what she told me, she said:  “’Jo, you are my love, my life and my     friend and I’m going to get a circle of that on my back with those words.’”

“That’s gonna’ be some big tattoo.”

“Well, it’ll be something, right! But, Laine – can you believe it?  She loves me!”

“And I love you too, Jo. Just be careful. How much was the ring? Wait…don’t tell me.”


After I’d hung up with Laine, Katherine arrived wearing her hair up in a French twist with her sunglasses, tight jeans, boots and she smelled delicious with her signature scent, Burberry.

“Oh, baby! Come here,” she said, “God I’ve missed you so much. I want to make love right now. Please can we go upstairs?”

In bed I said, “Kath, I’ve got something for you. I know it’s a little early in our relationship, but I can’t help it. I know we won’t be together for the Christmas holiday and I want you to have this.”

The jewelry box was purple with a pink bow and bagged in black lace. I handed it to her, at first I thought about slipping the ring on her finger, but I wanted her to enjoy the presentation, I wanted to see her face when she opened it.

“What’s this? Baby…” she said coyly.

“Honey, I love you.”

As she untied the ribbon and opened the box, the ring sparkled as the afternoon sun shined through the bedroom window.

“You got me a ring?”

I took the ring and said, “What finger should we place this on?”

She had bought herself a ring after Tom left and she had worn it in place of her band. She took off her ring. “It goes here.” She put out her hand and I placed the ring on her left ring finger.

“Oh, Jo! I love it!”

“Do you?”

“Oh, I love it. I love you, oh, Jo, baby…”

She and I sat outside on my deck as the afternoon sun melted away in our eyes.     “Do you really like it?” I asked.

She sat and stared at the ring, flashing it all ways, bringing it back to her face and pushing out her hand. “Oh, it’s beautiful, Jo, really. It really is.”

“Kath, I didn’t know what you liked, but it’s—“

“It’s perfect, it’s perfect.”

“I know we won’t be together for Christmas, but I wanted to let you know that I’ll           be there, in spirit. Wear my ring, that’s a sign of my love.”

“I will, baby. Always.”

“I’ve got to get this Christmas tree up, want to help?”

“You better believe I do!”

We decorated the tree and it looked beautiful. Something about the way she decorated it made my heart lift. I hadn’t had any help decorating my tree since living with Linda. The tree went up in less than a half hour. She said,

“Now that it’s all up, I’ve got something for you! I’ll be right back.”

She ran out to her car and she came back with two boxes, both wrapped pretty and neat. One box was smaller and I thought, “God, how come femmes wrap gifts so good and I can’t?”

She placed the two boxes under the tree. I smiled, “Are those for me?”

“They are! Open them now!”

“Can’t I wait for Christmas? I won’t have anything to open Christmas morning if I open them now.”

“Oh no! You can’t. Please open them now. Please, please, please? Honey, this        isn’t just it, they’ll be more. But please open them now, please?”

I opened the small one first.

“Katherine, you got him a toy?  God, I can’t believe you remembered him. That’s so nice of you, really.”

We placed the toy in front of Romeo, spun it around and toyed with the ball and feather contraption, teasing him, taking it back and forth and moving it around in circles. He batted the feather a couple of times then went back to sleeping. “Oh, you old man, “ I said, “now if Angelo were here, my once great former mouser, he’d be all over this ball.” I picked up Romeo, kissed him and he licked me on my nose, “Okay, go lie down boy.”

“Kath, that was so nice of you, really. Thinking of Romeo.”

“I like Romeo, babe. He’s the coolest cat. He’s the only cat I’ve ever really liked. …Now open the big present.”

I was wondering what could be in such a big box. I hadn’t asked for anything. For me a gift is good enough if it’s got socks and underwear, maybe a car wash certificate, but she had gone overboard and felt I’d deserved it. The wrapping was perfect, but the gift was better, “Wow! You got me a CD player?!”

“It’s from the kids, now mind you.”

“Kath! You knew I needed a CD player! Honey!” I immediately put the speakers and wires together and programmed my favorite radio stations.

She commented, “You’re reading the manual?”

“I always read the manuals. Actually, this one is written pretty well.”

“Oh, God,” she said and started to laugh.

That night we danced in the kitchen while The Stylistics CD played, one that I hadn’t listened to in a while, I began to sing to her as I held her close,

“You are everything and everything is you, whoa-oh, you are everything and everything is you…you are everything and everything is you.’


            Katherine and I would go out to clubs and she’d order a “Jack, back.”  I’d ordered several of those for her one night, not knowing what I was ordering, but the bartenders knew. Jack Daniels and Coor’s Light. Her drinks came in at $10 bucks a pop, and between my Chardonnay at $6 bucks a glass and her drinking requests, we’d spent a small fortune many nights when she was in town.

When Katherine came on New Year’s Eve day it was a slow day in Raleigh, there was no traffic anywhere. I had gone shopping for some special groceries the day before.  I bought shrimp and scallops and good cheeses, dips, and a bottle of champagne. I was planning a nice meal with the uncorking of the champagne to toast at midnight. She had arrived early, before noon, and she had packed very little. She had the clothes she was wearing and in her overnight bag, her make-up and a lingerie.

I asked her if she’d like to go to lunch, get something to eat, but two places that I’d chosen were crowded and we wound up at a bar and grill called the Bull and Bear. We sat and talked at the bar and watched some football. It was the last day in 2006.

I don’t know why I took her there except that I could blame it on my own melancholy that day. Suddenly I’d become sad on the last day of the year—even with Katherine’s company, and I wound up in a dive bar with her, without even ordering a burger. So she began with the beer and chasers and I sipped a cheap glass of wine.

We then proceeded to drink some more. We went back to my place, made a little love, and I asked her if she wanted to go to Cinelli’s, a local restaurant, one that we’d both been to before. Before we left, I made the scallops and shrimp, and put out a cheese platter, but she didn’t want to eat. “Let’s eat later,” she said.  So, I refrigerated everything and we left for Cinelli’s.

It was raining and on the way into the restaurant Katherine tripped and fell on her leg. She didn’t get up readily. I was half-drunk but she was drunker than me. It was New Year’s Eve and we were celebrating. I watched her fall in the rain, wearing my borrowed shirt, I asked her, “Are you okay? Baby?!”

“Oh, I’m all right,” she said.

Inside Cinelli’s the music was playing, and there was a good singer doing his very best at Karaoke. Everyone there was dressed nice, except Katherine and me, with our rag-tag jeans. But she was pulling out the credit cards and I had some cash, ‘Fuck it’, I thought, it was New Year’s Eve. We were sending out 2006 with a bang. On the dance floor she started her hypnosis on me, gyrating into my groin with her ass. She and I were both deliberately out of control. We were fucking each other on the dance floor in front of a bunch of white Anglo-Saxon Protestant people and then started making out in front of them. We ordered a round for a couple of people we knew and I placed a party hat on Katherine and she placed an Hawaiian lei around my neck.

When we were leaving Katherine’s arm had caught the door and she tripped going out the door. The manager followed us, holding an umbrella, yelling through the rain, “Are you okay?!” Are you sure?!”  It was pouring. I told him, “Glen!  We’re fine!  I live just around the block!”

When we returned home I said, “Are you hungry?” and she said, “Yes, I’m starved.”  Of course we both were—we hadn’t really eaten anything all day.  I gave her a plate of Gemelli pasta with shrimp, scallops and mushrooms, and she took the plate upstairs to the bedroom. I stayed in the kitchen making my plate, finishing up a few things before joining her. But she had eaten fast and came running down the steps saying, “Can I have seconds?  Baby, I’m sorry I finished so fast!  It was good!” and off the last step into the living room she had fallen.

I looked at her lying on the floor. She had fallen three times in one night. She was holding the empty plate. I never thought she was fooling for a second. I knew immediately something was wrong. She said, “Jo, I can’t get up.  My leg really hurts.”

She laid there in her underwear and a top. I went from being half-drunk to sober in a matter of minutes and called EMS. I dressed her in a pair of green sweatpants and put her in a new air cast I had purchased for my own ornery ankle that was prone to sprains, just three weeks before.

The driver drove slowly and I followed behind in my car. We arrived at the emergency room and she went in right away, but everything after that, the X-rays, the diagnosis, the doctor coming, the wrapped leg, the paperwork, took long. We were told at 4:30 a.m. that she had severely damaged her leg but they couldn’t operate because of her insurance carrier being in Charlotte, so they bandaged her up, gave her a few pain pills and I drove her back to my home in Raleigh. She was given a prescription but it was New Years Day and it was hard to find a store open to fill it.

I didn’t know what to do. Katherine said, “Jo, I’m going to have to call my mother. I’m going to have to call Tom.”

Through the phone his voice was loud enough, “Were you drinking?” he said, “Were you?”

I left the room. I didn’t want to hear it. I knew she was drinking—we both were. I had not taken care of my lady. I did not watch out for her. I had let her down. I called her mother, entering the number for Katherine, never having spoken with her mother before. “Hello, Elizabeth?”

“Yes?  Hello.”

“Happy New Year. I’m calling for Katherine. This is Jo.”

“Happy New Year,” she said.

“Hold on, Katherine needs to speak with you.”

“Mommy?” Katherine started crying.

I left the room again.  I went downstairs looking at the step where Katherine fell.  Romeo was sitting and staring into his food bowl, it was dinnertime for him. I fed him, washed a few dishes, took out the garbage and washed my hands and face. When I went back upstairs to my bedroom where Katherine was now laying, she said,

“Mommy’s coming. Can you please call her back and talk about some things?”


            At Terminal A in RDU Airport, bag handlers were busy with the last-minute rush of holiday travelers. I pulled my car close to the curb where she was standing; it didn’t seem to faze her; I knew it was her standing there lanky and lean, dragging long on her cigarette outside in the wind, as the terminal police stood by, eyeing me for any violation, waiting for my departure.

“Hi, I’m Jo.” I greeted her as happily as I could, hurrying to load her bag into the trunk.

Her first words, “Mind if I smoke in your car?” took me back.

“No, not at all,” I said, politely. “How was your flight?”

“Expensive.” She stretched out a hand and awkwardly shook mine while my left hand took the wheel, “Nice to meet you, I’m Katherine’s mother Elizabeth.”


            On the evening of January 3rd, I called Laine. My Christmas tree lights were shining and I had heated up some left over pasta and shrimp and scallops from the night before.

“Laine, it’s me, Jo.”

“Jo! Happy New Year!”

“Happy New Year, but it ain’t so happy, Laine.”

“What’s the matter?”

“Well,” I began slowly, nearly choking on the words, “on New Years Eve Katherine broke her ankle, kneecap, fibula, and tibia. And today Katherine’s mother flew from New Jersey into Raleigh..”

“Are you kidding me? How?”

“She fell in my house, she fell down the last step, Laine, it’s unbelievable.”

“Is she going to sue?”



“Are you crazy? Have you completely lost your mind?”

“Jo, hey, you never know.”

“Look, I didn’t get much sleep last night, I’m a little aggravated. We were at the emergency room till four in the morning. Last night, New Years Eve, we were both out of control, but she was worse than me and she broke her friggin’ leg because she was so damn drunk! …Laine, do you know what a ‘jack-back’ is’?”

“Yeah, it’s a chaser of Jack Daniels with a beer.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“Jo, this is not your fault.”

“In a way it is,” I said.


            Katherine left the morning of January 3rd.  I gave her a comforter, two pillows and a pair of green sweat pants. I kissed her goodbye. I laid the comforter underneath her on the backseat and propped up the two pillows. Her mother sat in the driver’s seat adjusting the mirrors for the ride back.

“Are you comfortable?” I asked Katherine, “are you sure?” “Yes,” she said. “Baby, I love you. I love you so much.” And she’d said that right in front of her mother. I said,

“I love you. I will call you. Okay?  I’ll call you tonight.” I tapped the door and said to Elizabeth, “Drive safe.”

I said goodbye to her on Mourning Dove Road.  She waved goodbye in the silver-gray, Buick Rendezvous that came to greet me every other Saturday.

To be continued

© Terry Rachel 2011

Just Fetching

11 Sep

 “But that’s the part I do understand, Swillie,” he stuttered, “It is, ‘Swillie’?”

She obliged him ‘yes’ with a quick back and forth head shake.  He smiled.  “It’s a different name.”

“Yes, like silly! Don’t ask, don’t ask. My mother must have been drunk when she named me. Do you know – this is a true story, I swear! When they put a wristband on a hospital patient, one woman – this is true – this woman, after having her baby, she’s looking at her wristband, right, and she says to her husband, ‘Lookey here, Dave, (let’s say his name is ‘Dave’ – I don’t know – but let’s just say), anyway, she says, ‘Dave’ isn’t that so nice. The hospital people named our daughter ‘Fem’ale’’. Now isn’t that a hoot! Some people are idiots!”

“For ‘female’? That’s a riot. True story?”

Swillie slaps her chest, crossing her heart, “I swear to God. You can’t make up this shit. I’m kinda’ glad my name – at least – sounds like ‘Tilley’ or ‘Sally’ even!”


“I’m a regular riot, stick around.”

Anyway, Swillie.  No, I don’t know you, it’s true, and it’s no problem to me, that you’ve divulged these things.  It’s actually ironic that you can speak up, you know, be so matter-of-fact, about a topic that is, well, taboo.”

“‛Taboo’!” she remarked quickly. “Oh!  I remember that as a fragrance!  Yes, yes! My mother would buy Tabu at Jaller’s Pharmacy!  We’d stop in for Easter or whatever and she’d buy Tabu and old man Jaller would wrap it up, pulling out some generic wrapping paper from under the counter!  He’d take forever too.  He was, like 100 years old and he walked liked this,” she stood, rounding her shoulders, the pretense of a lame foot dragging along the floor. He smiled at her; her mimicry wasn’t lost on him. “Parkinson’s?” he remarked.

“You got it! Ding, ding, ding! Winner here!”  Swillie was deliriously happy. She felt understood.

“It’s taboo,” he continued.  “It’s a topic that’s got taboo written all over it.  For years it’s been a dark chasm! And it was not discussed in social circles and it will probably be taboo for quite a while.”  He stopped and looked at her for a moment as he felt her steady gaze upon him.

Was he flirting? Or was he just being friendly? She couldn’t tell. To ponder this, Swillie leaned back in her chair, an impractical wrought-iron type sitting on too shiny a linoleum floor, and began to laugh aloud over the thought that she actually told her fantasy to him about being raped by a tall, dark, handsome stranger.  She continued laughing, and in her enthusiasm, the chair went smack! And she grabbed the table to right herself before nearly falling on the floor. Suddenly she was looking in his direction. “Wow! Close call! Hey, do you know all this is natural?” She laughed. “I’m not on any pills!”

“Too much caffeine, then.” he told her.

Something fierce was coming from deep inside her. It was coming. It was coming on very quickly. With a gurgle and growl she jerked in her chair again and this time, she threw her full weight forward into the table.  “‘WaaaarraaarrrghOh, my God! I don’t normally belch in public! Oh! I’m so embarrassed!”

The waiter, passing Swillie’s table said good-naturedly, “Oh my!”

Swillie was flabbergasted.  “Oh my goodness!” she said, “Excuse me!”

“Swillie! Please be careful!” said the waiter. “We want you to return and not fall on the floor. Stay in the chair!”

“Oh, Stankos!  I’m okay!  Thank you!”

“Are you all right, sir?  Anything I can get for you?” Stankos said to the stranger.

“No.  No.  I’m fine,” he said to the waiter, and to Swillie he said, “It’s fine, really,” and started to laugh – but not at her, and ever so slightly.  “A walk might do us good.”

Swillie sat up alert, positioning her napkin, folding its end, demurely touching the corners of her mouth.  She shifted her eyes about the room.  “You know, I love this place,” she told him.  “The waiters make me feel so comfortable and all.  And, not only that,” she whispered, as one of the waiters filled their water glasses.  “They’re sort of a fantasy.”

“What do you mean?”

“Ya know,” said Swillie. To drive home her point she pushed out her left hand to make an “O” with her index and thumb fingers, and with her right hand she pushed her index finger into the O several times.

“Hmmn, both of them?”  He laughed under his breath.

“It would be heaven.”

He said, “And over and over again, eh?”

She flashed her eyes at him over the rip of her coffee cup, “Is there any other way?”

They both sat offering polite smiles to the passing waiters, and then smiled politely at one another as couples do when love is young and fresh, when both parties offer pleasantries and try hard to be on their best behavior.  And it occurred to Swillie that this first conversation was somehow blossoming into something more.

“You know that burp was awful, but you’re lucky I didn’t throw up on you!  Oh God, that would be awful. One time, with hot dogs – I had one too many at a friend’s barbecue, I don’t know how it was in two large pieces.  But, let me tell you, I ran to the ladies room, and forced myself to throw up.  Felt it coming up and boom!  A piece of the hot dog hit the toilet seat and came back hitting me in the face!  A full projectile!”

“Oh, my God!” said the stranger, now standing, his eyes fixed on the TV in the corner behind Swillie. “Turn that up!” he said to the waiter, “Turn that up!” This got the attention of everyone in the restaurant, suddenly Blackberry’s were pinging alerts, and phone calls were buzzing, Swillie turned in her chair – everyone in the restaurant had stopped eating, a waiter, trying to fit between two tables, dropped two breakfast plates, several different languages were being spoken at once – there was a defining freakiness and then the umbrella of fear.

“Oh, my God? Is this real?” Swillie screamed. “Stankos turn on a different channel! Turn on a different channel!” It was the same from one news channel to the next. “That’s right down the block!”

Swillie ran to the window and saw what she could not believe, people running down the street, newspapers being used as shields from the white ash plume making its way up Broadway.

“My dog!” said the stranger, “I’ve got to get to my dog!”

As the white ash was making its way closer and closer to the restaurant, Swillie said to him as the man was making his way out the door and into the chaos, “I don’t even know your name!”

“I’m sorry! I’ve got to get back to my dog! I’ve got to get into my apartment! It’s right on Pine Street!”

People were running in the street, business people, people in shorts, people in suits, people in hats, in sneakers, in sandals, in sunglasses. Cabs were rushing up and the sirens of fire trucks and police were rushing down. “What’s your name?!” yelled Swillie.

And with a split of time before heading out, he yelled back, “Miles! My name is Miles!”

And he was gone.

Stankos yelled to his brother, “Domitri! Shut off all power! Put on security mode! Now! Hurry!” Stankos yelled to the patrons, “You can stay here or go! I’m giving you two minutes to either stay or leave the building!” Some people hurried out – home was where to be, with loved ones, but some people stayed behind, choosing to watch the chaos from behind security bars instead.

Swillie looked to the tray where Stankos had left her check and unwrapped the token candy. She rolled the dark chocolate and mint, sucking in the bitter sweetness to her mouth, sitting in silence, preparing herself.

The End

© Terry Rachel, 2011

The Two Detentions and The Detainee

4 Sep

The Two Detentions and The Detainee

Up until the age of seven I thought my name was Joseph, as I was named for my mother’s brother, Joseph. I was confused when I was called ‘Jo’ while my uncle was called ‘Joe’ and we’d both answer. I went to Catholic grammar school and high-tailed it out of there as soon as I could, being teased “Joseph Battleaxe” was no fun. With my scholastic performance a marginal C, I inched my way into being a terror in school; it was the only way I could find even an ounce of popularity.

I got into trouble in class one day–one of many, but the detention handed down this time was different. On a Saturday morning I was sent to the nun’s rectory at Saint Martha’s for make-up homework. In a basement that was dark and dusky, I sat scribbling the words “I will not throw erasers in science class” five hundred times underneath a clothesline where the nun’s bloomers hung overhead to dry. Underneath casement windows, I spied eight washing machines and, putting my homework aside because I wrote fast, turned on the washers to their full cycle. As each washer filled, I jumped in and out of each one, in series, until I reached the last washer, causing the overhead fluorescent lights to blow out.

When Sister Mary Ethel came into the basement to examine my detention homework, the washers were still going; my eyes bulged seeing a puddle form its way around to where she was standing. Reviewing my homework, her habit down to her ankles (where I couldn’t see her legs) I tried looking into her eyes, to show her my earnestness in coming to detention on Saturday as instructed, but she only said, “go home.”

Walking ten blocks, as I did most mornings and afternoons, rounding the familiar yards of my neighbors, saying hello to George, the Border Collie, and Mrs.Wassick watering her rose bushes, I fumbled with the lock, and no sooner had I stepped between the storm door and landing, my mother was there, standing in a house dress wearing a mopina (Italian slang for a rag that picks up everything) over her shoulder, scolding me, “Josephine  Porcello!” for creating a flood in the basement of Saint Martha’s rectory.

The following Monday I had to return to school and I was very nervous. My mother gave me an envelope, “Bring this to the principal and wait for her. Do not open the envelope.”  I always took my tuition to the principal’s office, but since the dictate came that I shouldn’t look in the envelope, I did exactly the opposite of what I was told. But inside wasn’t the tuition – there was a check – but it was not what I expected; inside there was a note that read,

Dear Mother Victoria,

We feel terrible about the mess our daughter Jo made, so please consider this check for $75.00 for reimbursement for the damage to the basement. Please let us know if any of the washers are in need of repair. Please speak with my daughter Jo. She needs to personally apologize.

Please call us at home if you need. (532) 433-0743

Sincerely Yours,

Mary & Mike Porcello

I didn’t know how I was going to bring this to the principal. In fact I was thinking of ways of not bringing it to the principal. But I also knew my mother was meticulous with her checking account and she would sooner – rather than later – notice the missing check. I had to eat it. I had to go. I had to face Mother Victoria.

I was in luck when I saw the secretary to the principal, Mrs. Poirot. She had a lot of lipstick on her teeth. I left the envelope with Mrs. Poirot and told her it’s the quarterly tuition and off to class I went.  It was a slick move, licking back that envelope, making it seem like it had never been open.  I’d face the consequences for that one later, that I was sure of.

All my classmates found my folly to be quite a laugh. The rumor going around now was that Jo Porcello destroyed the nun’s rectory by blowing out all the washing machines. I couldn’t tell them that they were bending the truth, and by Grade 8, I’d be voted Class Clown.  It felt good to be popular even if was in a warped sorta way.

That afternoon, when I got home from school, my mother said, “Did you see the principal? Did you give her the envelope?”  It’s very hard to lie to my mother. She watches me like a hawk. I’m scared to death of her sometimes. I’m scared because she’s so damn honest about everything. She prides herself on her honesty and she has instilled this in me, in her presence I find I often fall from grace to walk the straight and narrow.

But I tell her, “I left the envelope with Mrs. Poirot, her secretary. She wasn’t in!” I’m feeling indignant and I don’t know why.

“What do you mean? Why didn’t you wait for her? Did you look in the envelope?” My mother has black eyes, she’s thin, she’s tall, and she has a loud voice.

“She wasn’t there.”

“Did you look in the envelope?” I stall. I don’t know what to say. I want to leave the house, run. Run off. I’m searching for time, a way out. “Jo, answer me.”

I have a heavy weight on my shoulders, it’s hard to breath, I look to my dog, my Schnauzer, she’s not really that friendly,  “Mom, I’m sorry-”

“You’re costing us a fortune!”

“I’m sorry you had to pay the rectory, Mom.”

“I don’t want you to lie! I didn’t bring you up to lie! You should have stayed and apologized to Mother Victoria!”

It would be the punishment of a lifetime; it would be another way to detain me. I wished I was better in school.

“You’re going to work it off starting right now. Take all the clothes out of the wash and press all the shirts and underwear. And you’ll do this again, and again for the next month. I want you to strip all the beds, and change the sheets – and that includes your brother’s rooms, too!”

I couldn’t figure out why, at eleven years old, I was saddled with housework as a punishment, but I was. She was dead serious, too. I would be chained to both the house and school and that was it.

I’m running up the stairs, and her orders fade with my hurried steps, but she continues, “Don’t forget the vacuum!”

Oh, my God, I’m thinking, as I swing a large, heavy white Oxford shirt over the ironing board, watching the steam from the iron, as I lay the triangle of heat to my father’s cuffs, and around the buttons, and inside and then outside, and then button it up and hang it, and then start with the next shirt, and then the next, Oh, my God.

I’m into my third day of housework and homework, when a knock comes to the door. It’s Elaine, my best friend, she wants to go out, she wants to take a walk to get an egg nog at the local candy store, and pick up Sixteen magazine and, “I can’t” I tell her. And she asks, “Why not?” and I tell her that, “I was in trouble in school and I flooded the nun’s rectory and then I didn’t apologize, and I opened up an envelope when it was supposed to be private.”

I return to ironing, under my breath, resenting my mother’s orders; she’s so harsh,  “I wish I were back at the Rectory in Saint Martha’s.” I say aloud, loud enough to hear.

And then I hear my mother yell from the basement kitchen, “That can be arranged!”

My father is home from work. He is tired as he is most days; he has the hook from the cargo he lifts day in and day out, as he works in the hold of the ship. He is a longshoreman. He travels from Long Island to Brooklyn every day and he spends a lot of time in traffic. My mother always makes him supper. She makes his lunch so that he eats a warm lunch, too. She fills the thermos with hot soup.

He says to me as he sees me ironing, he notices the pile I’ve already ironed, “You got yourself into a lot of trouble this time, Jo.”

I pout. I love my dad so much (I love my mother, too, but it’s different). Unlike my mother who is so strict, my father is gentle and kind. “Dad, please get me out of this. Mommy’s working me to death. I don’t want to iron anymore.”

“Your brothers are enjoying this.”

I don’t hesitant to let him know how I’ve been working and no doubt stretch the truth just for impact. “I wish I could actually work and then I could pay for the damage to the rectory myself!”

“Well, you’re too young to go to work. You’re being punished and you have to take your punishment.”

I pout quite strongly over this and say, “There must be some other way.”

My father laughs, and goes into their bedroom. I follow him, as I watch him take out change from his work pants, placing it on his dresser, then his wallet next to the change; he leaves his wallet out so we can take a few bucks from it. He knows he’ll get it back empty. My brothers and I think it’s silly that he leaves out his wallet, because we all dip, but I think he does it for a reason.

I plead, “What can I do, dad? I don’t want to iron, vacuum, dust, and make beds, for a month! I can’t! I will die!”

“Ssssh, relax, Jo. How many days has it been?”

“I’m going into my fourth day.”

He smiles at me, my father with hazel eyes, a warm smile, his hands cup my face when he says, “Let’s go see Mother Victoria together. You and me.”

“No way, dad, no way.” I stamp my feet over this one and sit on their bed with arms crossed.

“It’s up to you. But you’d be better off facing the principal and apologizing. You can’t live your life under a rock, Jo. You have to own up to the mistakes you make.”

I yell back, “I am owning up! It’s September and it’s still warm! My track team is starting and I can’t even go to practice!”

My father responds to this not by yelling, but by watching me rattle off a self-pitying tirade. And when I was through, he sits on the bed next to me and unlaces  his boots. He squares my shoulders to face him. “You have to have an alternate plan. If I were you, I’d apologize to the principal, and I guarantee you your mother will ease up on you.”

I choke back, I want to cry, but I don’t, “Dad-“

“Jo, you need to face the errors of your ways. The sooner you do that, the sooner you can be free.”

I had rehearsed the lines I was going to say to Mother Victoria, gosh, it must have been a hundred times, talking into the mirror, I apologize, Mother Victoria, I feel so ashamed, please forgive me, I am so very, very sorry. And when I finally sat in front of her, a large woman, her white face against the border of her habit was a perfect fit from flesh to fabric, I wasn’t so petrified. She told me that I should go to confession and tell my sins to God, that I would be redeemed.  “Go to the House of the Lord and Honor Thy Lord.”


It’s been several years since those days, those days that seemed so hard, so tough, days I thought I’d never get through. We learn our most important lessons when we are young, and we take away those lessons to  make us into the men and women we are today. When I couldn’t find the answer, I would search deep within myself, relying on the values that were ingrained in me. These values of honesty, integrity of character, diligence and responsibility, all that I have learned, all that I take away, there is one lesson I learned as being the most important of all: respect for another person’s property.

Now I lay me down to sleep – without guilt.

© Terry Rachel, 2011