An Invitation


Summer’s winding down, but the memories made will linger. Come with me and revisit your favorite  island getaway, if only in your mind.

An Invitation

Come walk with me on sifted sands

Along my island shores

Come find the peace within yourself

That leaves you wanting more

The gentle swells, the rolling waves

Will mesmerize your heart

The azure skies, the silent breeze

You’ll never want to part

The moon will rise to greet you there

To cleanse your weary soul

The lofty palms will wave to you

And whisper ‘please don’t go’

by Diane M How

Where is your favorite beach? I’d love to hear from you. 

This poem received an honorable mention in a 2014 contest. An Invitation and two short stories, Love Revealed and Autumn’s Predicament, are published in Writing Sense-Ably is Saturday Writer’s 2016 Anthology 

 

 

 

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Autumn’s Predicament


The writing prompt for this story was “Fear the Challenge.”

As the summer winds down and temperatures cool, perhaps you’ll relate my tempered love of fall. Enjoy and drop me a line if you have time.

Autumn’s Predicament

Ah, how I love fall.  It’s a nearly perfect season when hillsides are filled with splashes of vibrant crimson and gold.  A time when nature’s chilling breeze orchestrates a blissful dance of leaves drifting to the ground.  Apple orchards celebrate the season with mounds of pumpkins stacked on bales of hay.  Children dash in and out of corn mazes, squealing with delight.  Large barreled pots compete for attention with boastful yellow, rusty maroon and faded purple mums spilling to the ground.  The taste of sweet, mellow cider lingers on my lips.  I envision long, leisurely walks in thick woods and mesmerizing evenings spent snuggled near crackling bonfires.

It’s nearly perfect, this autumnal equinox.  Yet, anticipation of what follows disturbs my pleasures of October and November and causes my emotions to rise and fall like the swells of the sea.  The joy of the season is tempered by the impending void that is left when the page turns into winter.

In the silence of the night, roof tops are christened with a fine layer of glistening white.  It is a signal to dress in layers before taking my morning walk.  I round the corner of my three mile hike with my spouse and notice the chill has disappeared into delightful warmth that urges me to shed my windbreaker.  Enjoy the moment, I repeat to myself like a mantra needed to survive the inevitable.

We return home and I am drawn to the bay window for another glimpse of the masterful day.  Even after a lifetime in the area, the contrast of Missouri’s unpredictable weather still amazes me.  Yesterday’s gray clouds brought gale-force winds that stripped many trees of their treasures.  I pause to admire the inch of muted foliage that camouflage the fading green earth.  A beautiful carpet left by nature.  The sun glistens through the nearly bare branches and my heart wants to stay suspended in this place until spring arrives.

Then poof!  The spell is broken with the sound of our electric garage door opening.  With it comes a familiar knot in my stomach that begins to tighten in anticipation of the task ahead.  Mentally, I prepare to enter the war zone.

The childhood joy of diving into large piles of raked leaves evaporated many years ago.  In its place is a yearly battle between nature and man.  I hear the grinding pull of the cord and the mulching mower is cranked up.  The battle has begun.  I watch my husband take off with a vengeance.  No leaf is safe from his quest to reclaim the well-manicure yard he spent nearly two decades perfecting.

My partner of forty-plus years views the arrival of the unwanted visitors as an intrusion on his space.  His constant wrath toward the harmless innate objects begins with the first leaf that glides to the ground, daring to lay claim to his sacred ground.  Each year, his passion swells to obsession and it pushes me to dark places where angry words linger behind pursed lips.  We dangle at opposite ends of the spectrum as I struggle to understand the need to alter the natural occurrence of fall.

I force the worn leaf rake to serve as my accomplice in the vengeful attack on the helpless victims entangled in the chain-link fence.  My unwilling weapon rebels by tightening its spokes around the metal structure.  I choke back expletive phrases that threaten to escape my clenched jaw just as the hum of the motor stops.  It is my cue to come help hold the large body bag.  I pretend to ignore the signal, but guilt forces me to give up the battle with the fence and toss the rake to the ground in order to fulfill my obligation as a cohort in this crime.

With my place by the commander’s side, I steady the flimsy container as the dusty remains are deposited.  My body is positioned to avoid eye contact with the enemy for surely my fellow warrior will realize I am a traitor.  The internal struggle rises in my throat and urges me to speak my mind, but I have done so before to no avail, so I hold my tongue.  The warfare will end soon enough.

I return to the hillside to search for my weapon which has become one with the muted masses that soon will face a dismal fate.  I pry its fingers from the tight hold on the fence and continue my disheartened efforts.  My mind drifts to poetic words I think that I shall never see, a poem as lovely as a tree.  The sweat on my brow slowly dissolves the anger in my heart.

With the emerald land temporarily restored to its fiscal owner, the weapons are cleaned and stored away.  We retreat to the safety of our shelter, dusty and worn.  My gray-haired, weary warrior advances toward the bay window and nods as he admires the recapture of his territory.  I am moved by the moment and step closer to him.

“Good job babe.”

He grins, pleased with his victory, and bends down to plant a pleasurable reward on my lips.

“Thanks.”

His comforting embrace warms me and I try to savor the moment.  Tears dampen my cheeks as I watch autumn slip silently into winter.  How many more battles await us?  I fear the answer.

Love Revealed


Dear Blog,

I’m ashamed. It wasn’t my intent to neglect you. Really.

I was charmed by short stories contests and I needed all those ideas in hopes of getting published. I know, it was hurtful to ignore you for so long, but there is good news. I did get published and now I can share my winning entries with you. See, good things come from change. And now that I’m back, I’ll be sharing more often. I hope they make you smile.

Sincerely, Diane M. How

This short story was published in the 2014 Saturday Writer’s AnthologyUNDER THE SURFACE, Anthology #8.

Love revealed

I noted my morning appointment on the calendar.  The fine print underneath my scribble caught my attention.  Valentine’s Day.  It probably would have slipped by unnoticed had I not checked my schedule.

Amorous fantasies of this holiday had faded into reality sometime during our 40-plus years of marriage. Perhaps its complacency or indifference, whatever, but a simple exchange of a box of candy or a purchased card usually marks the occasion.

But, romanticism is incurable.  While the sea appears calm, under currents are never still.  Dreams, as translucent as they are, swirl just below the surface, waiting to be resurrected.  My romantic dream involves a scripted poem or a passionately profound thought, penned on linen paper, left on my pillow or tucked somewhere unexpected.

With my empty coffee cup placed in the already cluttered sink, I grabbed my coat and looked for my husband to say goodbye.

“I’ll wash those when I get back,” I nodded toward the kitchen.

“Ok.  Be safe.”  He gives me a quick peck before trailing off into the computer room.

Guess he didn’t remember either, I reason.  A deep sigh escaped my lips while I buckled the seat belt and pondered the dispassionate parting.  Even our kisses had faded to a mere brush of our lips.  I tried to remember the last time we’d hugged.

The thought dissipated when Willie Nelson’s voice echoed through the radio speakers. You Were Always on My Mind.  The song always makes me cry, so I pushed the scan button and searched for a distraction.

I pulled into the driveway of the couple I’ve come to visit and opened the car door.  The wicked, cold wind blew the notepaper from my hand, but I quickly caught it before it got away.  I grumbled under my breath while I fought to untangle the graying strands that whipped across my face as I walked to the entrance of the brick bungalow.

“Good morning, Mr. Smith.” I said to the slightly built fellow when he opened the aging red door.  “Just wanted to drop by for a short visit to see how you’re doing.”

“Please, please, come in out of the cold.”  The elderly man ushered me in and closed the door. I followed him as he shuffled past the antiquated brown couch into the tidy family room where his wife rested in a medical reclining chair.

“Look who came to see us.  It’s the hospice volunteer that called earlier.”  He grinned at the woman he had spent 67 years adoring.  I couldn’t help but notice the difference in their size.  Mrs. Smith outweighed her husband by at least 30 pounds.  How did he manage to get her into the chair, I wondered?

“Good morning Mrs. Smith.  Happy Valentine’s Day.”

The woman’s eyes darted in my direction then quickly returned to study the loose thread that dangled from the soft purple quilt wrapped around her legs.

“Oh, my.”  Mr. Smith clasped his wrinkled forehead.  “I completely forgot.  I’m not very good at remembering those things.  I should’ve bought her some flowers.”  The man berated himself as he leaned over and kissed the woman’s cheek.  “I’m sorry honey,” his voice barely audible.

“Habada, habada, habada, habada, habada.”  The robust woman smiled as she loudly proclaimed her repetitive gibberish reply.  She might be unintelligible but she’s seldom silent, I thought.

“Can you understand her?”  The 93-year-old’s voice paled in comparison to the volume coming from his wife.  His eyes pleaded with me to explain what she said.

Mr. Smith stroked his wife’s hand gently while he waited on my reply.

“Not really, but I think she forgives you.  Look at that beautiful smile.”

The man took a deep breath, patted his wife’s shoulder and wandered toward the kitchen.

“Sometimes, she seems happy, like today.  Other times, she fusses like she’s angry and her chant is more like an argument with herself, or maybe the disease.”  The old man’s voice quivered with emotion as he spoke.

“It must be difficult not knowing what she’s trying to say.”

I looked up at the framed certificate on the wall, recognition from a prominent senator for Mrs. Smith’s efforts as chairwoman of his campaign.  Next to it hung a plaque engraved with stellar remarks for her accomplishments as an instructor of English as a second language.

Every room was adorned with paintings created by Mrs. Smith.  On either side of the cherry wood china cabinet were two exquisitely detailed landscapes she painted while in Germany.  A portrait of a Japanese emperor was suspended over the piano.

Pleasant reminders of yesteryears, of happy times before Alzheimer’s disease invaded her brain and slowly stole away her ability to function independently.  It was an eleven year battle nearing the end.

“Can I help you?”  I asked as I watched Mr. Smith begin the daily routine.

“No.  I can manage,” he insisted.

The frail man picked up a plastic medicine bottle and studied it carefully before removing the cap.  He placed a pill in a ceramic bowl and then repeated the effort three more times.  Next, he prepared some instant oatmeal for the microwave.

“At least let me fix her scrambled egg.”  I suggested.

“No.  I know just how she likes it.  I have to stick to my routine or I’ll forget something.”

His eyes lingered on the microwave oven as if he was trying to decide which buttons to push.  I worried about the inevitable.  How much longer could he care for her in the home without more assistance?

I looked at the large metal contraption that consumed most of the dining room floor.  It looked like an oversize sling shot.  It was another sign that the disease was progressing rapidly.  “I see the medical lift arrived.  Will you be able to learn how to use it?”

“The nurse told me not to touch it.  She said it’ll help the staff when they give her a shower or move her from the bedroom to the chair.”  He muttered in a defeated voice.

“But if you can’t use it yourself, how are you going to get her up every day and then back to bed in the evening?  You’re going to need to make other arrangements soon.”  It was a subject I hated approaching as much as the man hated hearing.

“I’ll find a way.”  The proud man pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and lifted his glasses to dab his eyes.

The despondent look made me decide to table the discussion.

Mr. Smith wheeled his wife into the kitchen and secured her chair next to the table.  He picked up the bowl with the pills in it and using a pestle, he pulverized the contents into a white powder.  He then mixed all of it into some applesauce.

His wife continued to jabber as the proud man fed her each spoonful until every drop was scraped from the bowl.  Next, he tested the oatmeal with his lips to be sure it was the right temperature and consistency.  I felt like an intruder watching their intimate ritual.

I search for a new subject to discuss.  I decide my romantic curiosity needed to hear their love story again.

“How did you meet your wife?”

“We both grew up in small towns in southwest Missouri, not too far from each other.  I was home on leave from the Army and my buddy told me about this diner, so I decided to try it out. The misses strolled over to my booth, chewing gum and holding a pencil in one hand and a note pad in the other.  She had on a white pinafore apron and her curly red hair was tucked behind her ear.”  His eyes glistened as he spoke.  He paused to gently wipe a napkin across the woman’s lips.

“When I ordered toast and eggs, she scowled at me and told me I needed to gain some weight.”  He chuckled as he told the story.  “Those emerald green eyes hooked me and she pretty much ran the show ever since.”  He brushed his hand across her cheek.

I pointed to the collage of pictures hanging on the wall.

“You were an officer in the Army?”

“I was an airplane pilot During World War II.  She spent a lot of lonely days and nights worrying about being a widow.  But she never complained.  When the Korean War began, I flew a helicopter.  She wrote to me every day.  That’s what got me through each week.”

He nodded his head and glanced back toward his wife.  “We had some good times too.  She loved Germany and Japan.  She even learned to speak German and a little Japanese.  I think sometimes she speaks German when she’s talking.  She loved being an officer’s wife.  It wasn’t always easy, but she stayed by me through it all.”

“I can see how much you love her.  It shows in the way you fix her meals and give her the meds, even in the way you touch her so tenderly.”

“She took care of me for more than 50 years.  She kept me on schedule and made sure I remembered people’s names.  I couldn’t have done it without her.”  He gazed into her eyes as he spoke.

“I never told her how much I appreciated it.  I often forgot her birthday.  I seldom sent her flowers, never had a romantic bone in my body.  But I love her and hope she knows it.  Now, it’s my turn to take care of her,” he said as he brushed her thinning silver hair.  “I just hope I’m doing it half as well as she did.”

His soft spoken words made the tears spill from my eyes.  There it was.  Love in its most powerful form.  Tested and true.  Unwritten.  Unspoken.  Unconditional love.

I cleared my throat and wiped my eyes.  “Actions speak louder than words.  You’re doing just fine.”  I reassured the gentleman as I prepared to leave.  He walked me to the door and I gave his hand a gentle squeeze.

The morning replayed in my mind as I drove home.  No flowers, no candy, no card.  Yet, the profound love I had just witnessed left an imprint on my heart and inspired me to make a detour before going home.

A short time later, I pulled into the garage and gathered the grocery bags out of the back seat.  As I climbed the stairs of our split level house, I heard my husband get up from the couch and meet me at the top of the stairs.

“You went shopping?” he asked.

“Thought I’d fix us some steaks and potatoes for dinner tonight.”  I replied as I put the items away.

“Sorry, I forgot to wish you a Happy Valentine’s Day before you left,” he said.

The sun reflected on the shiny, clean counter top.  I glanced toward the sink and noticed the dishes had disappeared and the floor had been mopped.  I smiled to myself.

I drew him close and the unexpected passionate kiss I planted on his lips brought a smile to his face.  “I was going to say thanks, but actions speak louder than words,” I said as I took his hand and led him into the bedroom.

Writers Encouraging Writers


Saturday Writers, a chapter of the Missouri Writers Guild, recently published its 8th anthology, Under the Surface. Saturday Writers's photo.

The stories, poems, essays and memoirs represent the winners of the monthly contests sponsored by Saturday Writers.  The contests are open to writers across the nation.  More information can be found at http://www.saturdaywriters.org

“Writers Encouraging Writers”  is the motto of Saturday Writers and they certainly deliver that to their members.  With their support and encouragement, I dared to submit four entries this past year. Three of my submissions are in the book.

So to all my fellow writers, I share words of encouragement.  Write from your heart, dare to be heard and give thanks for the gift. You never know what you can do until you try.

Recovering From A Laptop Injury


It happened in Chicago on a cold November day.  Perhaps I was distracted by the snow falling or worried about getting to the train station on time.  It happened so fast, there was no time to avoid the crash.  The severity of the injuries did not surface until I was back in Missouri

The three day trip had been a success.  Locked away in a hotel room, diligently working on the final edits of my manuscript, I boasted to my friend that the changes would be finished by the end of November.  It had been a work-in-progress for three years and my goal to publish my first novel would be accomplished soon.

Secure in the warmth of my home, I turned on my laptop and waited patiently for Windows to load so that I could admire the progress made in recent months.  I waited and waited, and waited some more.  Perhaps if I turned it off and tried again. Nothing.  “Noooooooo!”

Images of the suitcase and travel bag tipping over before my departure flashed in my mind.  The unfortunate sound of the bag crashing to the floor echoed like a cry for help in a forsaken canyon.  I look at the blank screen and cover my mouth, stifling another moan.  The small flash drive, overlooked when I packed for my trip, snickered at me from the shelf nearby. Yes, it did.  It snickered as it taunted me, “You fool.  You fool.”

I rushed my beloved to the nearest emergency room and waited anxiously as the patient was examined.  The technician delivered the news.  The injury was not fatal, but the prognosis was not good.  It was a brain injury.  While it could be repaired, all memory of the last four years would be erased.  The black box would not longer recognize me nor all the hours we spent together.

The news sent me into a dark hole.  Devastated, depressed, hopeless.  For two months my fingers have been idle and my sole mate stashed away in the travel bag in a dark corner of a room, waiting for me to make a move.  Week after week, my husband passed me adds as a form of relief.  I tossed them aside.

I have considered my options.  Show support for my loyal friend and pay for a new engine, hoping that nothing else fails.  Trade it in for a newer model.  The decision pains me.  One side of my brain is enticed by the shiny new models that chant “Savvy touch screens, faster speeds, wealth of memory.  Try it, you’ll love it.” The other side screams back.  “Think about the cost,” The software’s in your drawer.  It can be reinstalled.  You recognize it; you’re familiar with it.  You don’t like change anyway.”

My tears have dried.  My mourning has turned into boredom.  My disappointment in myself for not securing my work has formed new resolutions.  So what is holding me back?  Fear.  What if I can’t find the words?  What if I can’t get the router and printer to recognize my companion?  What if I fail as a writer? What if no one cares if I ever write again?

I know the answer to the last one.  I must write.  As steady as the blood that runs through my veins, the urge to write beckons me.  I hear my lonesome pen call my name.  I caress it in my hand and then press it to the yellow pad of paper.  Words spill forth filling the once empty lines and my first post in many months comes to life.  Pen to paper, post to blog, short story to novel.  One step at a time. One foot in front of the other.  The journey continues.

Thanks for the bad stuff too


Being grateful for the good things in life is easy. Maybe it’s time to thank God for the other “stuff” too.

For the feeling of failure and insignificance
Another day passes and I wonder what I have done that will make a difference in this world. I reflect on the gifts you have bestowed upon me and remember that when I do not share them I am doing an injustice to You.

For financial challenges and limited income
Being able to travel or remodel our aging home would be nice. But wealth is not measured by the number of digits in my bank account. When unexpected expenses stress me out, You remind me how fortunate I am that my basic needs are met. Keep me humble and grounded so that I cherish the important things in life.

For the inability to fix the challenges faced by family and friends
It causes me to weep when I can mend a broken relationship or heal the sick. Yet, I know it is not is not my cross to carry. Remind me of the power of prayer and that we are our strongest when You carry us. Help me remember we do not walk this journey alone and You will never forsake one in need.

For the endless news stories of violence and suffering throughout the world

It is easy to be comfortable in the calm and loving corner of my world. Still, I need to be reminded that not everyone knows peace and freedom. It makes me appreciate the soldiers who have given their time and lives to provide me with a harmonious country where I can worship without fear of reprisal. I pray that our leaders will choose the right battles to fight and keep the best interest of the people in mind as they perform their jobs.

For mortality
I love life and it saddens me when a friend or family member passes. I know my sorrow is selfish, because it is the loss of the person in my world that causes me grief. Still, I know that we are all on a journey to a better place and if I were stronger in my faith, I would rejoice that their journey with You begins anew. Thank You for reminding me that every moment of every day is to be cherished and to keep my eye on where I am headed when this life ends.