Archive for December, 2011

TWO SOLDIERS

 

Cornered bedlam

Does even hope’s sharp-edged shrapnel

sleep its dusty milestones away

Much less live here anymore

Beside those beautiful yet fallen stars

The ones that burn down battles

In our Heart

Of want and tears

 

Scope of pierce

Outrage of silent scream

Crippled memory to faltering aorta

Spilled like nuggets of hardened courage

 

Are we all to blame for the gold that is lost

In each of us exists the lava of molten dreams

Cursed for the sword of reckoning it bleeds

Stabbing through sinew and bone

 

I hear you across channels of ancient mist

No avalanche can freeze such driven lust

No tundra’s stillness can out-vast

Your lips devoid of stolen kiss

 

Only the less of me, now dismantled,

Dying distant from your fumbling arms

And so afraid that even eternity is not

 

Near long enough to bury what is

Left of us both in the same space

That ate our fragile glory into the abyss.

 

*•.¸♥♥¸.•*

© Susan Joyner-Stumpf

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LOST EMBRACE

 

What inches

but this memory forth,

slow as lingerings left unfinished

or the lips of a frozen song

the crawl space of your sweet embraceGraphic by Susan Joyner-Stumpf

torn in a cobweb

while a spider screams

am I tethered only to its loss

shattered now, a prism buried

in an ancient sarcophagus

ruins someday to be unearthed

another millennia of

forgetableness away

who knew now of its tenderness, then,

mummified as any stone-cold artifact

of myrrh and golden-rod

lost poem of the Great Masters

last taste of hemlock, bitterroot

eyes forced open to witness

even dust’s unfolding demise.

 

*•.¸♥♥¸.•*

© Susan Joyner-Stumpf

This story is fictitious, however mention is made

of facts relating to the Blue Ridge and Appalachian Mountain Ranges, and

Mt. Mitchell, which are real and located in

 the western region of North Carolina.

But any other similarity to any of the characters
related here, names of  towns, horses,
or the transpire of any events are purely
coincidental.
_ _ _ _

PALOMINO DREAMS

 

 

PALOMINO DREAMS

 

As far as days go, it was a beautiful brisk, fall morning in October in the quaint town ofRocky Bed,North Carolina, a small community nestled within the foothills of theBlue Ridgeand Appalachian Mountain Ranges.  This Mountain Range involves a trail, hiking 2000 miles fromGeorgiatoMainealong what they call theAppalachian Trail, the world’s first and most famous long-distance footpath.

 

The Wild Field Stables off of Highway 26, with endless, scenic horseback riding trails leading into BLM land and National Park areas of theAppalachians, was beginning to come to life and it was still early, only 8:30 on a Saturday morning.  The first snow was capped atop surrounding rocky summits, but the sun was already bearing down with accompaniment of a cool, gentle breeze, the unspoken promise of a wonderful day to be alive, and definitely outdoors.

 

Exhilarating equine smells drifted on the wind.  Horses snorted and stirred awake in their stalls, anticipating with excitement arrival of their breakfasts of grain and flakes of hay.  Their horse calls were a welcoming sound to all horse owners making their way up the long, winding gravel road to the massive 100-stall red barn where the horses were boarded, and not cheaply.  It was $350 a month per stall for one horse, but salaried stable managers were willing to help feed horses their daily rations, once in the morning and once in the evening.  They would also, with your permission and a signed contract, take the horses out for thirty minute intervals in large corral areas if you were unable to ride or exercise them on any given day, yourself.  And if you wanted to pay extra, they’d even muck your stall out once a week.

 

But Heather Stillwell prided in taking care of her horse personally, even as far as feeding her seven year old Registered Palomino Tennessee Walking Horse Gelding, Golden Fly Nugget.  Nugget was a grand champion Endurance Racer, English Pleasure, Jumper, and Trail Riding Show Horse known, respected and revered in all show circles fromNorth Carolinato neighboring states likeTennessee,AlabamaandGeorgia.  But above all, despite his athletic abilities and unquestionable, impeccable bloodlines, her handsome Palomino was truly the passion and center focus of her life.

 

Heather emerged from her red Jeep Wrangler and took a moment to glance around at people starting to filter to and from the barn entrance, leading their mounts to open corrals, fenced pastures, or grooming racks.  She was thirty-three years old, divorced, no children.  Though not beautiful by society standards, Heather was, without a doubt, considered attractive with natural, long blonde hair, blue eyes, and managed to keep her slender form at a fluctuating 125.  She worked as a Legal Secretary for a local Attorney in downtown Rocky Bed.  She had been with Mr. Steiner for ten years and he treated her like his daughter.  Even attended some of her equine events with all his family in tow; his gorgeous, model-wife and three cute kids, two twin boys and a little girl.

 

Though she went through a painful divorce with Ronnie, Heather felt lucky today to be alive.  She thought back of how much she had loved her first husband.  For the first five years of their marriage, it was perfect.  Ronnie understood her passion for horses and never interfered with her riding or shows, though he himself was frightened of them.  But somehow, he changed, and became physically abusive toward the end.  She walked away from the ten year marriage with no regret.  Some nights did get especially lonely, and it didn’t help having grown up and still residing in her small town ofRocky Bedwhere she had a few friends but there wasn’t a whole lot of things to do.  She was glad Ronnie left the state ofNorth Carolinaand returned to his home inAinsburg,Kentucky.  They would never run into each other again, especially since the divorce, acquired six months ago, was legal and final, now.  She was a free woman now.  Uninhibited to pursue all her dreams with no one to stand in the way.

 

Heather liked walking towards the barn.  It never ceased to amaze even her that Nugget picked up her scent even while she was still out of sight-range of him.  She could hear his familiar, beloved whinny above all others in the misty distance, and her heart pounded and glowed with imminent pride.  Suddenly, someone she never met before almost ran her down and she side-stepped just in time to allow him to safely pass.

 

“Oh, I apologize, please forgive my rudeness.”  He stood before her, someone she had never seen before.  Not that she knew everyone here at the stables.  That would be impossible, for there were over seventy-five boarders like herself and she knew about twenty of them because they often competed in the same local fairs, parades, and shows, and trail rode the nearby mountain trails together on planned-event picnic rides and barbecues.  And Paige DeWitt, her best friend who also worked at the same law firm, also boarded her show horse here, so this was home away from home for most of the folks at Wild Field Stables.

 

“That’s okay,” Heather mumbled beneath her breath, shyly.  Why is it that when she met really good-looking guys, her normal, outgoing personality decided to take a back-seat?  The more handsome a guy was, the more intimidated she became, and less reluctant to open her mouth and speak first. Her eyes were cast downward, her face partially hidden beneath her Wrangler hat.  She often laughed with her girlfriends, telling them that she’d prefer not to date someone better looking than herself or they would never have anything to talk about.

 

“No, its not,” he said, and extended a leather-gloved hand.  “Name is Daniel Marrone.  Friends call me Dan.  Just came in last night, moved into the area.  Got my mare Moon all set up in her new stall.  She’s a little skittish right now, with all the newness and everything.  We’ve been on the road for days.  Here I go rambling.  I’m exhausted.  Let me get you some coffee.”

 

Before Heather could even protest, Dan slipped his gloved hand between her arm and body and led her to his black Dodge Dually.  He opened the door and retrieved a silver thermos and two styro-foam cups.  He proceeded to pour what appeared to be steaming hot black coffee, handing her one.

 

“Sorry I don’t have all the trimmings to go with it, you know, cream or sugar or Sweet-N-Low, not that you need that,” he added.  Heather thanked him with a nod and sipped the wonderful black coffee without any “trimmings.”  Though she loved her coffee with cream and a little Equal because she wanted to watch her weight, she didn’t care.  This black, bitter liquid tasted delicious for some reason today, she chuckled to herself.  And surely, she thought, of course it had nothing to do with standing beside the most gorgeous man she had ever seen in real life.  He was too good to be true, almost a Tim McGraw-type, though his hair was much longer than the country singer, and solid black beneath his smart Stetson hat.  He also sported a thick but well-groomed moustache, black form-fitting Dockers jeans, expensive, authentic snakeskin boots with gleaming silver spurs, and complete with a red-checkered scarf around his muscular, tanned neck.  He was broad at the shoulders but narrow at the hips. And oh Lord, she was looking at him far too long and darted her eyes away quickly, embarrassed, hoping and praying he didn’t notice her over-extended perusal.

 

Heather tried to think of something to divert her attention away from staring at him.  “Well, I’m Heather Stillwell, and I have a gelding named Nugget that I board here.  But tell me about Moon, your horse?” she asked.

 

Dan smiled, with a pride she felt as well anytime she discussed the topic of her own horse.  “Oh Moon, well, she’s my lady, of course,” he laughed, now displaying rows of perfectly white teeth.  He could be on a teeth commercial.  She looked down at the dusty ground; safer that way.  Dan continued, thank goodness seemingly unaware of his affect over her.  “Moon, well, her registered name is Moon’s Favored De-Lite.  She’s a Quarter Horse, and I acquired her from a man who left forScotlandand wanted to make sure she went to a good home.  She’s been bred before, had a filly, which I sold last year.  Oh, and I’m originally fromNewride,Virginia, about 400 miles from here.  Got a new job at the Laser-Tech Plant outside of Rocky Bed, about ten miles out.  I’ll be one of their new Computer Programmers.  Start Monday, actually.”

 

Great, Heather remarked inside her head.  So not only is Dan drop-dead attractive, he’s a genius, too.  She knew what was involved in getting a Computer Programming Degree and you had to have excellent math skills, to boot, something she admired because she and math parted ways a long time ago.  She used to hate those hypothetical equations in Algebra, and really suffered through her studies during High School and two years of College with Remedial Math courses.  Ugh!!!  And she knew too, that where there’s computers, there’s good money to be made, and the plant had the reputation to pay well.  So, Dan was well-to-do along with everything else, or would be soon, once he settled.

 

“Yeah,” Heather said, “I’m familiar with the Laser-Tech Plant.  I have a couple of guy friends that work there.”  She threw that in nice and easy, the guy-friend thing, and looked for any arousal in his eyebrows, any sign other than nonchalant interest in her.  But, at least for now, Dan continued to look at her as though he were just talking to an old, long-lost friend, or even a sister, perhaps, instead of as a new, potential date object of interest.  She cursed herself for jumping the gun with her erratic emotions.  Just take it easy, whoa, there, girl, she warned herself.  Put those reins in gear.  You just met this guy.  Give it time . . .

 

And really, she wasn’t lying.  She did know one guy that worked at the Laser-Tech Plant.  Seth Ward, her only gay friend, who used to work at the law office with her as a file clerk, but now put himself through aVo-TechCollege and earned his Master’s in Social Work.  Now he’s over the EAP at the plant making $50,000 a year, good money for around these parts.  Not that it mattered one iota, but Heather knew a good Computer Programmer could make anywhere between $60,000 and up a year at the plant, what most companies pay in your larger metropolitan areas.

 

There was a moment of quiet between them, for which Heather reveled in.  It gave her the opportunity to glance at him every now and then when he looked up or away, and was totally unaware of her lingering gaze.  She felt so ridiculous and silly that he had this affect over her and only prayed that she would never be put in a situation to be mortified with him knowing how she felt.  That would just be the ultimate death of her, she admitted secretly.

 

“It sure is some hell of a beautiful day,” Dan replied, and this time, his eyes found hers, and they locked there, and froze hers into place, so she could not look away even when she tried to.  Heather stood for a moment trembling, her pink lips quivering above the shaky coffee cup.  She wanted to say something then, but was too afraid her voice would come out stuttering or cracked, or even thinking she might say something utterly unrelated or down-right stupid.  Best to be quiet when she felt like that.  Thank God Dan took control of the awkward moment.  “Well, guess you got stuff to do and I’m exhausted, like I said.  I’m living temporarily out of the Summit Hotel offMainuntil I get a chance to buy a little ranch somewhere around here.  I’ll let you go . . .”

 

His voice trailed and Heather knew he was waiting for her to say something next.  She gathered up some courage and asked, “Dan, since you’re new in town and all, and, I don’t know if you have a girlfriend . . .”

 

“Yeah,” Dan interrupted, looking back towards the barn and laughing sheepishly, “my girl is Chestnut with a flaxen mane and tail, about 16.2 hands high, and weighs approximately 1275 pounds.”  Of course, Heather figured excitedly, he was talking about his mare, Moon.  Which means this man was deliciously single and up for grabs, as far as she could tell.

 

“Oh, good then,” Heather continued, “well, I’d, I’m – not the best cook but I do make a mean Spaghetti dinner, if I say so myself, and I could whip up a tossed salad and . . .”

 

“When, where, and what time?”  Dan interrupted, getting in his truck and waiting for the answer, peering at her from the dark interior of his massive truck.  Though his face was partially obscured, still there was no doubt Heather was keenly aware that his marble blue eyes were on her, full force, for she felt their searing, burn-like penetration travel past the bra-area, almost beyond the first layers of her delicate skin beneath.

 

She had thought of asking Dan over for Sunday dinner but his obvious anticipation gave her second thoughts, as well as courage, so she figured, why procrastinate getting together?  “How about – – tonight?”  Heather asked timidly.

 

No hesitation.  “Sounds great, Heather.  Augh, where do. . you . . .live?  And I’ll pick up a bottle of redBordeaux.  That should go well with Spaghetti.  Anything else you can think of that you might want me to pick up?”  He smiled, genuinely delighted he would not be spending his first Saturday night in a new town, alone.

 

“Oh, well, if you want to, the wine will be enough.  And . . . just, other than that, just bring your appetite, “Heather hurried to finish, as Dan was revving up his engine, a sure cue to get the conversation finished.  “And I’m real easy to find.  From here, take a left, then about five miles on your left, there’s a road called County Road 17.  About a quarter of a mile from there, I’m the first place you see, on the right.  The log cabin.  You can’t miss it.  Around seven-ish, does that sound okay?”

 

“Okie dokie, then,” Dan called after her as the truck pulled out slowly onto the gravel road, his window down.  He stuck his head out and flashed that million-dollar smile, waving vigorously until he was out of range.  Heather stood there, waving back but attempting not to overdo it, at the same time trying to control the constant flutter in her heart.  Though anxious now to see Nugget, who was still whinnying after her, wondering what was taking his mistress so long to get to him, for the first time since her divorce, Heather looked forward to this evening where she could entertain her new dazzling friend, Daniel Marrone.

 

– – –

 

Even with eyes closed, Heather could count the well-known paces from the barn entrance to Nugget’s stall on the far right end of Section A, 76 steps, to be exact.  His beautiful head draped over the stall door, his long white mane falling down over the old grey-colored wood, revealing an amazing contrast.  His excitement intensified as she gently rubbed his snow-white forelock across his white blaze and between his large ears, which he adored.  Other than his long white mane, and his white tail which touched the ground, his body coat was of a sharp, golden hue, typical of most Palominos with his coloring, and it was glossy and dappled from tedious hours spent grooming and manicuring him to his sparkling best.

 

“How are ya, boy . . .” Heather cooed with deep affection to the horse, as his soulful brown eyes closed in obvious delight of the attention.  “Hungry yet, my man?”  Heather broke away long enough to open the tack room adjoining the stall and grabbed two flakes of hay and threw it in his hay bin.  Nugget started to nibble as she also grabbed a scoop of sweet grain and placed it in his red bucket next to his water trough.

 

“It’s a fine day for a ride, buddy.  We’ll wait an hour after your breakfast settles and go for a quickie ride around, okay?  ‘Cause momma has plans tonight.  Yep, sure do.  Gonna cook dinner for a new friend.  I think you will like him.  Oh, and he’s got a mare named Moon.  You’ll meet her when we go trail riding someday, soon.”

 

As if he understood, the gelding lifted his soft pink muzzle out from the bucket of grain temporarily to gaze at her, his eyes almost smiling, blinking contentedly.  He loved the human as much as he understood he himself was loved, and it was obvious their bond was deep, and inseparable.  He would never do anything to hurt her, and on trail rides, he often looked ahead for dangers in advance and would warn with soft whinnys and grunts.  He would never think of throwing her, like other horses would when confronted in situations of apparent threat or fear.  Yes, he had the bloodlines to be docile and even-tempered, but it was because of years of constant togetherness and the kindness she had always shown him that developed this mutual trust between them to the point that no one else would he allow to even ride him but Heather.

 

As he ate, Heather watched him, having always enjoyed the way horses eat.  They relish each morsel with unabashed vigor, taking their time, the slow, monotonous grinding of their jaws a pleasant sound to most horse owners.  When he finished the grain, Nugget returned to his nest of hay.  Heather took the time then to refill his water from the hose that stretched from the main attachment for all the boarders in Section A of the huge barn.

 

When an hour was up, and therefore safe to ride, Heather took Nugget out of his stall and cross-tied him in the middle of the aisle to groom him.  She then placed the Trooper saddle on his back, and then on went the bridle with attached braided reins.  A radio was blaring from another section of the barn, and Heather looked around for her friend Paige, who should be coming any time to feed her horse, Sam, if she wasn’t here already.

 

She brought him out of the barn, passing others saddling their horses too, exchanging light conversation along the way.  When Heather got to a metal step ladder, she used it tomountNugget.  He was tall, roughly 16 hands, so she needed the boost and was glad for the ladder being there for just that purpose.  As always, she noticed others watching her when her back was turned, when they thought she wasn’t looking.  How could they not?  She knew her horse was beautiful, and they actually made a smart looking duo, her with her long blonde hair, and him a jaw-dropping, golden Palomino.  They were quite the talk, especially knowing that in the show ring, he was a force to be reckoned with.  Heather and Nugget normally didn’t settle for second-best.  No.  Most of the time they walked away having stolen every first place ribbon they could win for each event entered.  She had a room set aside in her house to display all the various ribbons and life-size trophies heralding the successes of their joint careers.

 

Heather began to lead Nugget away on the road that led to the trails.  But she stopped when she saw Paige’s blue Subaru pull up and stop beside her.  Paige cracked the window.

 

“Hey Heather,” she said.  Paige DeWitt was Heather’s best friend.  They grew up together, went to the same High School, even went two years to the same College.  Now both worked at the same law firm and even lived four miles apart.  They always shared a love of animals, especially their infatuation for horses ever since they were little girls.  Paige was just the opposite of Heather in that she was darker skin-toned as opposed to Heather being pale and fair, and Paige had long black hair and dark hazel eyes.

 

“You’re late,” Heather snapped, grinning at her friend.

 

Paige turned off the engine, rolled the window down more.  “I had Harry feed Sam earlier, so, he should be ready to ride now.  Why don’t you wait for me and I’ll saddle up real quick, and we’ll go riding together, okay?”

 

Paige didn’t wait for Heather to say anything and pulled off to park the car.  She sauntered out, in tight-fitting beige corduroy jeans and a black velvet jacket with knee-high Heritage Field Riding Boots on.  Always the dresser, Paige.  Had to look good even going to the Loaf-N-Jug Convenient Store.  She cracked Heather up.

 

Heather waited patiently as Paige saddled her black registered walking horse gelding, Samurai’s Last Defeat, Sam.  He was a striking animal too, and what a contrast they both made going down the road, golden-haired Heather on her Palomino and Paige, with her long, black witch-hair, astride her ebony-dark steed.  Paige too was an excellent horsewoman in her own right, having a rise to fame in the show circuit perhaps not as widespread as Heather’s, but one nonetheless.  Paige had also won her own share of ribbons.  The two girls would never admit openly but there was an affectionate, friendly rivalry between them, going as far back even as their high school years.  When either one of them won, of course they would sincerely congratulate the other as far as friendship and professional sportsmanship courtesy would allow, but each in turn would secretly think to themselves that they deserved the first place winning instead.

 

Out on the trail, in the conifer and pine forests that paralleled the foothills of the soaringAppalachians, there were scenic roaring creeks with their continuous but restful sound serenading in the background; plentiful waterfalls to pause for a break and marvel at, and enough abundant wildlife to make any outing rewarding in itself, to say the least.  Paige and Heather rode side by side, their sure-footed geldings clip clopping along the winding, rocky dirt path.

 

For a while there was no reason to speak, as both of them absorbed the scenery and the magnificent colors unfolding this time of year.  The horses seemed to enjoy themselves too.  Maples and sourwoods were ablaze with red and orange.  At the height of October, yellow poplars were at their peak.  It just didn’t get any better than with the ground in some places covered in golden leaves strewn along stream beds.  Neither could the Dogwoods be ignored with their impressive maroon leaves, and striped maples were particularly brilliant.  Red oaks peeked through the foliages of golden sycamores.  It was actually the most beautiful time of the year to take in the sights of their own hometown, and neither one of them ever took the area’s beauty for granted.

 

Heather finally broke the stillness.  “I met a new boarder this morning.”

 

Paige garbled augh-huhs between bubble-gum smacks.  The horses were so familiar with this trail, that one could easily and safely close their eyes, let go of the reins, and the horses would walk along almost on automatic, from beginning to end.

 

“Really,” Heather continued, “a guy . . .”

 

Paige opened her eyes, alert now.  She was single too, though, unlike Heather, had never married, and was concerned about her biological clock ticking.  The identical age as Heather, thirty-three, and if kids were in the future, the time to have them was now before she got too much older.  Paige often kidded with Heather and some of their other friends that if she didn’t meet someone eligible very soon, she was going to go to the big city and get one of those sperm-donor dealies done to her and just raise a damn kid on her own.  Look, she said, always using her idol for comparison purposes, Angelina Jolie adopted before she met Brad Pitt, so, you don’t necessarily need a man to be cast in the throws of desired motherhood anymore.  Of course, if she went the route of private donor implantation, naturally the chosen DNA would come from a worthy source, a doctor gene or something spectacular like that.

 

“Anyway, his name is Dan – Daniel Marrone,” Heather went on, knowing she had Paige’s utmost attention now.  The subject of men, of course, would do it every time.  “Met him this morning when I came.  We had coffee and . . .”

 

“And what, what?”  Paige tried to pull it out of her.  Her voice almost sounded rattled, and Sam, her horse, startled at the sudden burst of energy in the voice of his mistress by cocking his ears back and forth to catch the elevated sound waves rocking their once serene world.

 

“Well,” and Heather couldn’t help it as a grin widened at the corners of her parted lips, working its way around her now blushing, pretty face.  “Well, we’re, I mean, I invited him over to dinner.”

 

Paige looked at her friend, perhaps a little curious, or was it envy?  Heather didn’t know, and didn’t rightly care.  The excitement in her voice, which she couldn’t control, was undeniable, and it definitely had Paige’s blood pumping and this was worth it, to see her best friend squirm within the confines of her English saddle.

 

“What?”  Paige pretended to be horrified.  “Heather Stillwell!!  You don’t know this dude from Adam.  When if he – when if he . . .” Paige stuttered, the words ejecting out with spittle, she was talking so fast, “when if he’s a serial killer, a rapist, you don’t invite strangers to your house, Heather.  I’m ashamed of you.”  Though Paige, Heather knew for a fact, had she met Dan, would have done the same thing, thrown all caution to the wind.

 

Heather laughed.  “Then it shall be . . . that I, Heather Stillwell, died at the strong hands of the most gorgeous creature I’ve ever seen,” and patting Nugget on the side of his mane, “yes, even you, Nugget, are a close runner-up to this creature, so, don’t be too jealous.”  And Heather let out a rolling series of giggles that now had Paige more than pretending to be horrified.  She was now bordering on being seriously infuriated.

 

“Where was I?”  Paige spat.

 

“Let’s see, sleeping late, as usual?”  Heather retorted.

 

Heather dug in now, telling her friend, who was doing everything but drooling and waiting with bated breath, everything there was to know, in elegant, meticulous detail,  about the new kid in town, Dan Marrone: what he looked like, what he drove, all about Moon.  And yes, as a reminder to Paige, that they must cut this trail ride short because she had to go to Waller’s Grocery Store and get all the ingredients for a romantic dinner.  And oh, by the way, he offered to bring the wine.

 

Paige bit her lip, proceeded cautiously.  “Okay, since the damage is done, a little word of warning if you don’t want to chase Mr. Marrone away for good.  Don’t make him your Macaroni and Beef Casserole.  You still don’t have that down yet.  Too cheesy.  I don’t know what you do.  You ruin it every time.”

 

“I’m making my mean Spaghetti,” Heather replied, proudly, knowing not even Paige could dare knock this dish that she magically turned into a favorite masterpiece, by accident.

 

“Oh,” Paige managed to muster.  Yes, Heather’s Spaghetti was to die for, so there was no argument there.  “Okay, then.  But don’t be slutty and allow him to spend the night.”

 

“C’mon, Paige, when have you ever known me for a one-night stand?”

 

And the sound in the trees, in the air, and floating above the ears of the horses that loved them, was the shrill laughter between two very close young women who truly had nothing but respect for one another, and genuine friendship and yes, even admiration and love.  At a point on the trail where they could either go left or right or turn back, Heather brought Nugget to a swift halt, and yelled, “beat you back to the barn.  Eat my dust.”  And before Paige knew what was happening, her friend did just that.  Spun Nugget around so fast, leaves scattered in an orange and red array into the air, encircling Sam’s hooves, and the thundering departure of Heather tumbled in Paige’s head and sensitive ears.  And yes, the dust kicked up in her nose and Sam’s flaring nostrils, until, they too, followed in hot pursuit.

 

– – –

 

Heather scrutinized each tomato she handled, throwing ones back that were unacceptable.  Normally, she was not so choosy, but it had to be special, and the tomatoes had to be worthy of her Spaghetti.  When she found four nice round plump juicy ones, she moved on to the meat section and took a number at the Deli.  No regular store-bought ground for Dan.  No, she was using the best of ingredients, even if it meant spending a little more money than she normally did.

 

On the way out, she bought a bouquet of mixed wild flowers for the dinner table she was going to set.  She beamed all the way out to the car.  Yep, going all out, she thought.  French Bread, Deli Special Ground Chuck, the best looking tomatoes Waller’s Grocery Store had to offer, Romaine Lettuce, Parmesan Sprinkles, Italian-Seasoned Croutons, fresh Basil and Parsley, and certain other spices that were her secret recipe that made her Spaghetti stand-out above everyone else’s cliché dish.

 

When Heather got home, she took a nice long, hot shower, washed her hair, put on red jeans and her special occasion White Llama Skin Pull-Over Sweater.  She lit candles and poked the fire in the massive rock stone fireplace, dimmed the lights, and put on some old, soft Poco ballads with a current John Mayer CD as backup.  She wondered what type of music Dan preferred besides Country.  She started dinner and let her dogCocoout in the large fenced yard. Cocowas a very unusual colored chocolate/white Alaskan Malamute with one blue eye and one gold eye.  He was five years old and weighed approximately 90 pounds.  She looked at the clock.  It was only 6:00pm, another hour before Dan’s expected arrival.  Plenty of time.  She checked her make-up.  Not too much.  Good.  Men liked it when women were more natural, anyway.  Ronnie did.  But this wasn’t Ronnie.  She couldn’t worry about that.

 

Time passed quickly.  The next time Heather looked at the clock, it was 6:45pm.  Fifteen minutes.  She checked her Spaghetti sauce.  God, I’m good, she laughed out loud.  Opened the oven.  The French Bread Garlic Bread was browning nicely, but not too fast.  The salad was made and chilling in the fridge.  Heck, she forgot about dessert.  Don’t men like sweets, afterwards?  She scrambled in her cabinets for cake mixes, decided she didn’t have time and that Cappuccinos and Lemon-wedge cookies would have to do.

 

Her White-Persian cat, Vanderbilt, jumped on the dinner table she had set with her mother’s finest crystal and porcelain ware.  She shooed him off and smoothed the place settings down, double-checking to make sure everything was in its place.  The flowers she bought at Waller’s had been set in a pretty Vase taking center stage on the table and she fluffed them out, asking herself why she was going through so much trouble when men probably don’t even notice stuff like this.

 

Before she knew it, she heard Dan’s Dually inch slowly up her driveway, and his remote key locked the doors with one quick honk.  In no time, the knock at the door and she attempted to gain some type of respectful composure by taking one last deep breath and straightening her bangs so they didn’t fall completely in her eyes.  She walked, did not run, to open the beveled-glass door for Dan Marrone, trying to keep her hands from shaking nervously.  After all, this was her first date since Ronnie.  Her first, so, she was expected to feel like this, she reminded herself.

 

He stood there, dressed in black jeans, a beige pull over sweater, flowers in one hand and what looked like the bottle of wine in the other but it was wrapped up in pretty wrapping paper, ribbon and all, with a little card swinging from the bow.  He was not wearing a hat, so now she could see the black waves of hair that danced like silk just above his shoulders.  He looked wonderful and stood there, waiting to be invited in from out of the cold.  It had started to snow.  Little flakes sparkled in his hair and across the tips of flowers.

 

“Come in, Dan, so you found it okay?”

 

Again, their eyes met, and it was he to dart away quickly this time, as he found her mesmerizing as she stood in the doorway, in the half-light, long folds of her blonde hair streaming down below her breasts and down her back; her red-fire jeans and the beautiful sweater she had on.  And he smelled a hint of floral and took a mental note to ask her later what the name of her perfume was because it was driving him crazy.

 

“Yeah, yeah, fine, your directions were great.”  He handed her the flowers.  “These are for you.  I hope you like them.  I asked the florist to just mix up a bunch of whatever is in season right now because I don’t know what you like.”  She took them from him and thanked him, shutting the door behind him.  “This too, for us.  The wine.”

 

He brought it over to the counter, following her, trying not to stare, or be caught staring.  He looked around.  “Awesome place.  I’ve always loved log cabins myself.  You’ll have to give me a tour, later.”

 

Heather searched the cabinets underneath for another vase.  “The flowers are beautiful, Dan.  Thank you again.  Hey, let me put the wine in the refrigerator, keep it cool until we’re ready for it, okay?”

 

She put the wine in the fridge and set the flowers in the vase she found and saw him standing before her fireplace staring into the fire.  He looked so good, standing there, his face ablaze in firelight, the flames lighting his chiseled features to flickering flawlessness.

 

“Are you starving?”  She asked.

 

He looked over at her and smiled.  “We will eat when it’s ready.  I can be a gentleman,” he promised, with a half wink.

 

“I mean, dinner will be ready in about thirty minutes or so, I have some cheese and crackers.  Would you like a drink?  I have cokes, and Jack Daniels.”

 

“Coke is all.  Coke will be fine.  We’ll have the wine with dinner.”

 

“Sit down on the sofa, Dan.  Make yourself comfortable.”

 

As he did, Heather made the hourderves and poured them both a coke, hers a diet.  She brought it over to the coffee table and gently laid it down.  She sat across from him in a big, stuffed chair.  Her cat Van jumped up on his lap, and she winced.

 

“Oh, that’s okay,” Dan said, “you know I love animals.”  He stroked Vanderbilt to the point the cat fell asleep on his lap, snoring loudly.

 

“That’s amazing,” Heather told him, “my cat doesn’t like just anybody.”

 

“I must be special,”  Dan said, taking a sip of his coke and reaching for a cracker piled high with chunks of sharp cheddar.

 

At dinner, he complimented her on the best Spaghetti he ever had.  The wine was a good choice and they shared and toasted their glasses.

 

 

(to be continued…)

TWO PIECES WHOLE

I come reckoning to you

caught between thaw and snowdrift

an illusion if you want me to be

a reality you cannot face nor wanted to

a broken dream once long ago you

tried to fix before accepting that to

love me, was to love the

shattered parts

even

more.

Did the prisms of my wounds

blind you with their trailing brilliance?

Could even darkness from

 my silence deafen

you enough

 to close

 your

eyes

forever?

Can we mend this distance

quick enough

to conceive our

double

vision?

I come aching for you.

The pain is worth every step.

I hope for nothing

 but to die

in your arms as the

 only woman

you ever loved

 enough

 never to

live

without.

Was I the thunder that struck

your desert heart?

 I surrender

to you, but not

 as any

 helpless

thing seeking

 mortuary-pity.

I am the strength of your

weakened core.

 We’ve

finished

bombing the

 atoms of

our

 uncertainties

of love.  Now it’s time again

to watch, like magic,

 how the

pieces

always fall

around us,

as if even

anti-matter

knew of

 no other

existence

but

solidity.

*•.¸♥♥¸.•*

© Susan Joyner-Stumpf

STRANGER AT THE

          FUNERAL

 

I should be used to burying

People, I thought to myself.

And now, at my father’s service,

Grief reminded me without fail

That I had outlived them

All, my entire family.

Survivor’s guilt is

Alive and well.

Mother and brother and now

Father, ashes to the nonchalant wind

And now even laughing stars

forget their Mortal names.

During the Eulogy I didn’t

Even remember speaking,

And after everyone had

Already been settled in their

Pews,

That’s when she slipped in,

Stayed hunched in the back row,

dressed in black finery and

adorned with a vintage

Hat of netted lace veil

Hiding her mysterious face.

She left before I could reach her,

Before the service was

Finished and after I’d already

spoken.

Others prodded, who was she?

I didn’t know.

They joked, she must have been

Your father’s concubine, who

          Else could she be?

I didn’t see the humor until

I realized no one was laughing.

My husband and I were last

To leave with Pastor Paul,

Laden with flowers and cards.

We finally made

It to our car.

Rain started.

I looked back at the brick façade

Of the Leitz-Eagan Funeral Home

Knowing I’d never see it again,

Carrying what little remained

Of father in my hands, then

placing it gently on the backseat.

That life,

That anger, torment,

Successes and failures,

Ice words and

smoldering fires of passion

He left behind for us to

Swallow.

It’s the secrets

He took with him,

Remnants perhaps

Sealed in this porcelain vase,

Or in that dark pool of sky,

Trapped somewhere in

An ebony coiffed bonnet

Of some stranger that whisked in like

A terrible, but small hurricane to pay

Respects to someone she

Knew.

I feel a draft as like a door, left ajar

Where you can’t see in from standing

Outside as hard as you try to

Peer in.

Oh Winter, so on this sweltering

New Orleans July  Saturday,

You have arrived early!

*•.¸♥♥¸.•*

© Susan Joyner-Stumpf

WHEN GOODBYE

IS NOT ENOUGH

(for a pet)

 

our eyes locked

as the vet sunk the

needle into her little soul.    

 

can you forgive me?

I pleaded far beyond

where tears are allowed to go;

a place inside broken stars

and where mountains

crumble steep when we’re not looking.

 

I think as I looked up towards

those painful fluorescent lights on

the ceiling, further away into

an unknown abyss

than even she,

 

I asked of God:

  why my

cat, why now?

 

the gentle nudge of an ethereal

answer stroked across my sorrow

like a soothing feather,

speaking to my sinking heart:

 

because I need her.

 

as I walked away, I heard

the vet’s small voice trailing

the distance

between us…do you want to take her home?

 

some familiar sound spilled from me

giving him a faint, almost inaudible

yes, but it

sounded more like an echo wherever

they go when they are shattered.

 

I didn’t even remember words

dropping like dying butterflies

from my frozen lips…

 

what was left of my

existence came crashing down

all around me once I stepped outside

into winter’s cold, unforgiveable embrace

 

and into the alien world of a

cruel and cat-less dawn.

 

*•.¸♥♥¸.•*

© Susan Joyner-Stumpf

OREO

WHEN GOD CALLS

 BACK A HORSE, II

The other horses gathered

Around her, as she closed her

Eyes forever……….

Oh God did she hear

The thunder as you called

Her hooves trailing like stardust

Raining down in my eyes

With unspeakable

Glitters of tears

Oh, did she ever look back at me

Galloping as she did

Upwards,

Upwards,

To  your precious pasture

In the sky?

*•.¸♥♥¸.•*

© Susan Joyner-Stumpf