Skip to content

Essays/Articles

Shaving: Above the Knee

It was what grown-ups did and I was eager to grow up. 

I was told never to bother shaving much above the knee because “no one would see that high, anyway.” This was the same person who’d taken me to swim lessons my whole life – in a bathing suit. But, that’s what happens when you’re raised in the 90’s by someone who was born in the 20’s. I realized she wasn’t talking about someone seeing above the knee but someone feeling there. It made me realize that someday I did want someone to “see” above my knees.

I practiced with the protective cover on the razor. I cut my knees every time after I took it off. And I began to hate the process almost right after I learned. It made me realize that growing up wasn’t what I’d thought it would be.

Girls told me it was gross that I didn’t do it more often. Girls told me it didn’t matter because my hair was so light you couldn’t tell it was there, anyway. Guys never said a thing. I think that’s when I realized that I wasn’t doing it for men,  though that was the implication. Even now, I don’t do it for the husband who has definitely seen above my knees. He was the first man to make a comment, though the comment was just a Chewbacca quote. 

I do it for other women who will judge me. For bosses who might notice and consider it “outside dress code.” I do it for myself a little. I prefer the smoothness, especially in my underarms. But I know where I learned to have that preference and all the ‘whys’ attached to it. 

So I spend the money on the products and the time contorting myself in the shower to remove hair that grows there naturally. And I realize how much being an adult is just spending money and doing things because it’s what others expect. Then I get a little mad and don’t shave for a couple of weeks. Until a co-worker glances at my legs a little too long. 

Maybe I’ll grow up one day and just stop.

Uniforms: It’s Never the Clothing

I’ve had so many by now. Khakis with polos of varied colors, aprons, black dress pants, jeans and branded t-shirt, business casual, and business casual with a scrub jacket, steel-toed boots with clothes I can move in and get dirty. A hat to keep hair out of food or a ponytail to keep it from getting caught in a machine. But the uniform has never been the clothing.

It’s the face I throw on to smile to the faces of people who belittle me. It’s the voice I select from my toolbox; a yell to be heard over noise, a soft tone to quietly comfort where too much yelling has already been used, telephone customer service voice with the smile you have to hear.

The uniform is a way of standing, a roll of the shoulders, fake confidence, a “go—on” nod, and pointing with an open hand. It’s a persona taken from a mental closet and worn too long. It’s a mask that covers the truth; I don’t know if I’m where I’m meant to be, but I’m doing the best I can while I’m here.

I wear them even outside of work. I’m not sure how I look without one.

Poetry

Play Structure – As Published in Issue 1 of FeverDream Magazine (2020)

Bright orange dust on fingers
then on white shorts.
Fingers drawn magnetically 
then repelled like magnets flipped
as bees weaved drunkenly 
through tiger lily stalks.
Starlings screeched above
to keep those dirty shorts 
out of their territory
a preview of the scolding 
I’d later be served.
May as well get dirty, now.
Feet bare in the sharp, dry grass
sweat stinging sunburned skin
the stretched ache of palms
blistered from a swinging rope.
Cool boards against our back
as we collapsed at the top of 
play structure, fortress, pirate ship
and gossiped like robin and meadowlark.
But I was more like a killdeer
my secrets hidden at ground level
like so many precious eggs
and their safety depended on 
my distraction.

https://feverdreammagazine.weebly.com/
Driving

Tonight
out driving
just to drive
and déjà vu
being young
Montana country life.
Rolling hills and rolling tires
fields and fence
posts holding ditches out of pastures.
Swerving into the wrong lane
‘cause no one else was there.
Screaming past stacks of hay bales
and speed limit signs
needle buried deep.
Meadowlarks so loud we heard them
even in the car
even with the music on
though it didn’t need to be.
Words were better
conversation
rolling to a stop on dirt roads
still in Drive but paused
to watch the pink and orange sky
sink behind a farmhouse
and turning windmill.
Knowing it was time to go home
wanting to stay out in the air
the space
land and heaven meeting in a natural place
in a huge circle all around us.
Power lines criss-cross to ground us
and remind us up and down.
Top down
gravel crunching at our 5 miles an hour
the road ahead forgotten
and stars.
Déjà vu so good
I wish I could remember
how I felt it then.

Short Fiction

The Fence – as published on my blog for Halloween 2017

Chantal leaned in the doorframe, phone to her ear.

“No, no, we don’t want that. I’ll be right over, Clive. – – Yep, see you in a few.”

Chantal set her cell phone on the kitchen counter and turned around to find her husband looking at her with a raised eyebrow, magazine forgotten in his lap. 

“What’s that about?” he asked.

Chantal sighed and looked around the living room for her sweatshirt. “That was Helen’s ex, Clive Dunmar. Remember?” She crossed the room to the piano, where her hoodie had been tossed and began to pull it over her head.

“Yeah,” he replied. “What’s he want?”

“There’s a loose dog in his neighborhood, barking at trick-or-treaters, freaking everyone out,” Chantal replied, feeling around in the front pocket for her keys. “I’m gonna head over and check it out.” At the jingling of the keys, two dogs popped up from opposite ends of the room, stretched, and began to circle Chantal, wagging.

Michael’s frown deepened. “No one trick-or-treats in that part of town. Shit, no one goes into that part of town after dark unless they have to.”

Chantal shook her head at him. “Michael.” She set her jaw.

“Seriously, that’s a bad area,” he sat up straighter and looked her in the eye. “I don’t want you going out there.”

Chantal pulled out her pony tail and began to redo it with impatience. “Helen used to live there. I spent lots of time out there with her and the kids. Don’t be so judgmental.”

Michael slapped the magazine onto the coffee table and stood. “I’m going with you.” He headed through the kitchen without waiting for a response. Chantal hurried after him.

“You don’t have to come, I’ll be fine,” she said, exasperated. “If you hate the area so much, you probably shouldn’t go.”

Michael slid his arms into his coat without reply. Chantal watched him for a moment and then shrugged. She reached into the corner for her catch pole and pulled a canvas bag from a hook on the wall. She peered inside to make sure she had treats, a spare collar, a leash, a squeaky toy. When she looked up, Michael was watching her, looking more weary than angry. 

She slid the straps of the bag over her shoulder and looked down at the hopeful faces of her mutts. One nudged her hand the other pushed into him, vying for attention. 

“Not this time,” she said in a calm voice. “We’ll be right back.” She rubbed the tops of both heads and turned to the door. She hurried down the path to her truck, tossed her gear in the back, and climbed into the seat. The passenger door slammed and she paused before turning the key in the ignition.

“I like to help,” she said without looking at Michael. “By the time the sheriff’s department sends a car out here, the dogs are usually long gone or dead. And they don’t know how to handle a scared dog anyway.” She glanced at her husband and shrugged. “People call me because they don’t know what to do.”

“I worry about you,” he said, tilting his head to the side. “You’re not animal control, babe. I just…” He broke off and looked out the window. “I know you’re good, but I worry.” His tone softened with his expression and Chantal offered him a half-smile.

As they drove, they tried to chat but the tension wouldn’t dissipate. Chantal braked to allow a young woman in a sexy nurse costume to dart, shivering across the street, arms crossed over her chest. 

“See?” Michael said. “Have you seen any trick-or-treaters? Anywhere in town? We’ve never had any. Everyone takes their kids to the school’s Trunk-or-Treat deal. Or they head over to Richardton.”

Chantal frowned but didn’t say anything. She thought about it as they crossed the tracks and the houses became shabbier. Yards were overgrown and cars were parked haphazardly, jutting out into the street. Michael was right; about this neighborhood and the trick-or-treating. She scanned the area for any movement that might be a lost dog and noticed that Michael was doing the same in the seat beside her. 

She pulled up into the driveway of the large, poorly-kept house where her good friend had lived with her boyfriend for almost two years. There were no lights on and a large, unmarked van had been backed up to a tall, wooden fence that she didn’t remember. 

“That’s new,” she said nodding toward it.

“The fence?” Michael asked. “Odd color choice.” The fence was freshly painted black.

“Well, we’ll have better luck on foot,” she said, opening her door. 

“Where is he, anyway?” Michael followed suit and climbed out. He grabbed the catch pole, which had rolled across to his side of the truck bed during the drive.  “Doesn’t he plan to help?”

Chantal rolled her eyes but reached for her cell phone in the back pocket of her jeans. Crap, she thought. It was at home.

“Chantal!” Clive appeared from his backyard, slipping past the truck. He jogged toward them, raising a hand in greeting. Seeing Michael, he slowed. “Hey there. Michael, right?”

“How ya been, Clive?” Michael asked. 

“Hanging in, hanging in.” Clive came to a stop near the front of the pickup, catching his breath. “Anyway, I’ve got the dog back there.” He gestured over his shoulder with his thumb and gave a laugh. “Got ‘im penned up in the old chicken coop of all things. Lured him with some leftover rump roast. Seems pretty tame now, but I don’t know how to handle ‘im.” 

“No, that’s great, Clive,” Chantal said, already walking toward the yard. “Got a light back there?”

“I was just heading in to turn it on for ya.” Clive gave a nod and starting jogging to his porch. Chantal glanced at Michael who was hanging back by the truck, one hand gripping the catch pole, the other in his jacket pocket.

“What?” Chantal asked.

Michael shook his head and started forward. “Nothing. Let’s go get it.” He cleared his throat.

Chantal squeezed between the back of the truck and the fence, noting how tall it was. It was seven or eight feet high and the cross rails were to the outside. It would make a great enclosure for a dog that jumped fences, she thought. Turning, she let out a quiet chuckle as she waited for Michael to push his larger frame past the truck’s bumper.

“Yeah, shut up,” he said, chuckling with her. As he stepped away, the truck seemed to rock slightly. Her smile disappeared as she focused on the vehicle. 

Catching her expression, Michael looked at the truck and then back at her. “What?” 

Chantal shivered. Suddenly, she wanted to be back home. “I dunno,” she said, turning on her heel and heading into the increasing darkness. “Where was that chicken coop?” she muttered. 

She headed to the right where she thought the chicken coop had been, but she didn’t see it. In fact, everything looked different. A warning tug in her gut pulled her to a stop. The tall, wooden fence encompassed not only what she remembered to be Clive’s property, but also a good deal of the woods behind it. In the darkness, the dark colored fence seemed to go on for miles into the trees. Why so big? she wondered.

“What the hell?” Michael asked.

Before she could answer, light flooded the backyard, temporarily blinding her. She held up her hand to shield her face, dropping her bag. The light wasn’t coming from the back porch as she’d expected. Instead, it poured over them from several angles. As her eyes adjusted, Chantal realized that flood lights had been mounted on the fence at regular intervals. Dim spheres glowing through the trees showed that the enclosure was indeed as large as Chantal had thought.

“That’s not -,” she began. Giving up, she spun to face Michael; his nose was crinkled in confusion and his eyes were widened with the beginnings of fear. Her chest clenched and her heart fought within it; she’d never seen Michael scared.

Both of them turned at the sound of an engine turning over. A steady beeping told that the truck was backing, filling the gap in the fence and completely blocking their exit. Chantal started jogging toward it instinctively.

“Clive?” Her throat contracted and the word was more of a yelp. Breathing was difficult. “What are you doing?” 

The truck stopped and the engine died. Chantal slowed. There must be some explanation, she reasoned.

When a figure in a ski mask appeared, walking on the roof of the truck, Chantal let out a gasp. 

“What the hell is this?” Michael’s voice boomed over her shoulder, causing her to jump. “What kind of prank are you pulling here?”

The figure ignored them both and bent to retrieve a rope that had been fastened to the roof. Chantal’s eyes followed the rope down to where it attached to the handle at the bottom of the truck’s cargo door. The man bent his knees and began to pull.

“What the fuck are you doing?” Michael’s voice sounded again behind her, but Chantal’s heartbeat was so powerful in her ears that he sounded distant.

At the first metallic creak of the truck’s door rolling up, the entire frame of the vehicle began to sway. Chantal heard scratching from behind the door; familiar, like the sound of her dogs’ nails scrabbling on the kitchen tile but louder, piercing. The next sound was like nothing she’d ever heard or imagined. A deep, monstrous bellow echoed around the metal walls of the truck like the consuming roar of a fire.

Chantal stumbled back, bumping into Michael. She reached for him and said his name. Hearing the panic in her own voice, she began to tremble. 

The door continued to rise and one of the floodlights was redirected to illuminate the opening. Chantal saw a flash of black, a glint of silver. Next came an eye, rolling wildly; the white glowed orange-red like hot embers. Now, two large black noses pressed into the growing opening and the clamor increased. 

The truck shook again and the masked figure nearly toppled off. He caught himself, but not before the sound of gasping rose swiftly from all directions.

Face contorted, Chantal slowly turned and squinted against the bright lights. Visible along the top of the fence were other masked faces. Dozens of them. There were people somehow standing along the outside of the fence, looking in.

“What the-,” Michael began, gripping Chantal by the shoulders, forcing her body to turn with his as he spun in a circle. There were heads along the fence as far as they could see and under each spotlight there was a person elevated so that their torso could also be seen. These individuals held rifles, aimed toward Michael and Chantal.

As Michael rotated them back to face the truck, Chantal felt suddenly fluid, as if she would drip to the ground if Michael were not gripping her arms. The door of the truck was almost fully raised now, and the light streamed in, revealing the two beasts. 

To her practiced eye, they vaguely resembled wolfhounds, but these creatures were much larger – at least the full size of a horse. Their fur was short and wiry, jutting out from their emaciated forms in matted clumps. Across their withers, the tall hackles looked sharp as barbs. They shied away from the light, muscles pulling across their bone structure. 

Though their movement and behavior was canine, Chantal felt no ease or familiarity as she watched them. When their eyes turned on her and her husband, she saw the depth in them and knew they were like nothing she’d ever encountered; like nothing that belonged in this world.

“Shit, shit, shit.” Michael’s breath was visible as steam spouting over Chantal’s shoulder. “Run for the fence, Chantal.”

Chantal was frozen; the ice in her veins sealed her feet to the ground.

“Please, babe,” Michael said. His hands were on the sides of her face, twisting her toward him. His eyes gleamed as they bore into her. “Run!”

Chantal swallowed and gritted her teeth. Michael shoved her away from him and turned. She watched him run to the left and retrieve the catch pole from where he’d dropped it. He turned to face the massive animals, wielding the pole like a weapon. 

Finally, Chantal turned and ran for the fence. She slammed into it and clutched the top. Something bashed into her fingers and she screamed, jerking them away. She landed and glanced over her shoulder in time to see one of the creatures jump lithely down from the truck. Its lips were pulled back, revealing the full length of its sharply pointed fangs. It made a barking motion but the sound was a broken wailing. It snapped its jaws and bloody saliva flew to the ground and sizzled on the cold earth. Michael did not back away.  

Chantal moved down the fence line a few feet and again jumped, this time propelling herself upward with her feet, sneakers slipping on the smooth wood. She gripped the top of the fence and pulled herself up, shocked at her own strength. This time the person standing there drew back too quickly and fell.

“Please,” Chantal pleaded, straining to pull herself higher. 

Suddenly, the nearest figure reached out and forcefully shoved her forehead. She grunted as her neck popped back violently and she flailed as she whipped toward the ground. When she hit, her left arm surged with pain and she cried out unintelligibly.

She rolled and glanced back to the dogs. Michael was lifting the pole to strike one creature. The second was on the ground now, crouched. Its breath steamed up the air in front of its face so it seemed that Chantal watched it through a fog. It turned its head toward her and its eyes flared with purpose. 

Chantal pushed herself to her feet and ran for the nearest tree. She managed to pull herself up a few braches but heard the padding of incredible paws close behind. Dry leaves crunched under her hands and an ugly gnashing noise rose from beneath her accompanied by the smell of sulfur. She climbed higher, heedless of the branches scraping her face, her fear of heights forgotten. 

The tree bent under her weight; she could climb no further. The hell hound’s steady breathing was drowned out by the agonized screams of her husband. 

“Michael!” The word tore from her throat. She waited, holding her breath, but Michael did not respond.

The instant ache in her chest was replaced by panic. She tried to climb higher, but her injured arm refused to reach the next branch. She felt a searing pain in her foot, a downward tug. She jerked her leg upward, and heard the frustrated scrape of claws against bark. 

“Please!” she screamed into the blinding spotlights, which had all been turned on her. She sobbed at the dark heads along the fence. “Why are you doing this? Help me! Please, help me!”

The sounds of the beast feeding on her husband invaded her mind and she swatted madly above her, seeking another branch and missing. She felt another sharp stab through her calf, the sensation of falling, and the darkness came.

Click to read FREE on Smashwords

LET’S WORK TOGETHER