June 7

This morning, just to get a grammatical rise out of me, my husband uttered the follwing:
“I thought this morning we’d eat brakfest, then head over to the liberry, read about callepittars, and try not to get fustrated.”

Yup, I had a hard time finishing the diaper change with that one. It took me a minute to realize he was joking, because he really does talk that way. He knows it’s not right, so it’s endearing.

I bought the boy an inflatable baby pool today. The store was all out of the hard plastic ones, so now I have to figure out how to inflate the thing. The air compressor scares me. It’s amazing how much time and money I spend on a four-month old.

Music for today: Amos Lee, “What’s Been Going On” (Forgive the shoddy video. I just wanted a link to the song.)

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River

I live next to the east fork of the Stones River.  It is not very big, so we call it a creek.  Everyday, I drive this amazingly curvy, tree-lined road next to the river before getting on the interstate to go to work.  I watch the scenery progress through the seasons; the river progresses, too. 

Usually this time of year, the river is at its ugliest.  It lies low and stagnant, growing pale brown organic material on its surface like old pudding.  The deer seek water elsewhere.  No one fishes on the limestone shore.  It sits alone, waiting for someone to stir the waters.

Something unusual has been happening this week, however.  The normally dry late summer has broken its hold over the rain clouds.  Three days of rain culminated in a deluge over my fair vicinity yesterday morning.  The little river could not contain it, and neither could the surrounding fields and farms.  Homes and lives were threatened by the rising water.

After work yesterday, oblivious to the amount of rainfall that had actually occurred, I came around my beloved road to find it closed.  I could not enter my neighborhood.  Fields had become lakes.  My street looked like an overrun dam.  After much pacing and questioning, I was able to face the current and make it safely to my undisturbed home.  By the time my husband arrived later, the water was almost totally off the road.

The next morning, in an attempt to view the damages and drive my normal path, I drove to the slab bridge that had been closed.  One would have thought a hurricane had struck: ancient trees lay prostrate across the steel girders of the bridge, limbs and branches stuffed the gaps, warning signs barely clung to their posts with exhaustion.  My car, along with others, crept across the bridge at a funeral pace, as if honoring the wounded and fallen.  The swollen, brown river moved quickly beneath, like an embarrassed guilty party sneaking out of the room, hoping no one notices.

Tomorrow, though, and with each passing day, I will see a river progressing.  The level with go back to a comfortable height.  Cranes will visit again, hoping to snatch away the fresh fish brought by the waters.  The limbs and debris will be carried away as driftwood.  The organic film on the river before won’t be seen again until the summer.  The river will once again support life, not destruction.

Someone once said that there are two great metaphors for life: a garden and a river.  I saw the river metaphor flash before me today as I mourned at the bridge.  We progress.  We too become dead, stagnant, and unlovable.  And what we need to renew us might just hurt at first.  We might lose some limbs, but we will realize that those that were lost were dead anyway and just holding us back.  We may end up swollen, overwhelmed, and overflowing, but we will settle just as quickly as we rose.  And all of this purging will leave us better: cleaner, renewed, ready to be of use again.  This is the progress of nature and the process of life.

5-7-5 in the 6-1-5

And now, in addition to yesterday’s poem, here are some haikus about Nashville.

Hot air from a vent,

Morning traffic thunders past

Their only bed.

Sharpies, every shade

Coded tags like wallpaper,

Friday night Obie’s.

“Cash” t-shirt, dreadlocks,

All baristas look the same –

Hipsters of West End.

Ten-second green light,

Orange barrels, concrete walls,

Construction season.

Giggles in summer,

Blinking lights against the night,

Trapped in a glass jar.

Red Planet, Chapter 5

Medina shared her embarrassment with Abner over a BLT on wheat with homefries at the café.  “Well, if I know this boy, and I do, I’d say he’ll still show up, fix your water heater, and restrain the urge to over-charge you or make snide remarks,” Abner chuckled, feigning comfort.   Linda, the coffee pot-shaped waitress, patted Abner’s shoulder and silently refilled his sweet tea, making a delightful sloshing.  For a moment, Medina’s crankiness subsided.  Perhaps the all the home cooking at the café had gotten to her; maybe it was Abner’s way of making everything seem less important, less worrisome.  Whatever the cause, there was a temporary relaxation of the little muscles between Medina’s gray eyes.  They kept eating and recounting the court scenes. 

“Oh, by the way,” Abner remembered as they paid their checks at the red-checked counter.   There’s a stage gonna be set up on the square tomorrow night.  The town likes to put on music on Saturday nights in the summer.  Probably nothin’ you’d like, but I didn’t figure you had anything else to do.  Bring a lawn chair.  We get started around six.” 

Medina thought Abner’s invitation sounded more like a command, so she didn’t bother trying excuse herself.  If anything, it was better than spending the whole day on the couch alone. 

 

 

 

At four that afternoon, the oxidized green truck pulled up in front of Medina’s house.  Like Abner had predicted, Mr.Payne came in and got to work with little more than a standard greeting and remark on the heat.  After twenty-five minutes, she had signed the invoice and a check and the truck was gone again.  Medna covered the little kitchen table with files and her laptop, put water in the kettle, and settled in for a quiet evening.  Glancing out the window as the sun went down, she saw the rhythmic bouncing of brown fur at the bottom of the window frame, followed by a shaggy tail.  She had learned her lesson and, wanting to make peace, took a bowl of water and some leftovers outside, laying them on the porch.  We all have to eat.

Red Planet continued

The next morning, promptly at nine, Medina paced into the county judicial building, room C5.  The preliminary hearing was not set to begin for another thirty minutes, but Medina wanted to arrive early for some preparation.  Her motivation for punctuality was more than a little influenced by a desire to avoid an uncomfortable hallway confrontation with Mr. Payne.  Confrontation would, of course, necessitate communication.  Medina would much rather let her presence in the courtroom take care of the need to vocalize her position as this man’s persecutor.   Every experience, every feeling in this town so far had been awkward, leaving Medina feeling clumsy, altered, and jittery.  She was going to do everything in her power to prevent more irritating encounters.

Mr. Payne entered twenty minutes later with his lawyer leading the way.  August Taylor, as he was listed on the court documents, appeared as young as she.  She guessed from his thrift store shirt and tie, hipster half-beard, and plastic-framed glasses that he took the idealistic, public-defender, fight-the-man position.  Maybe you really can tell a lot about a person by the way he looks. 

Medina kept her eyes averted from their table.  She was hoping to avoid looking at him until absolutely necessary.  This would give him a chance to recognize her first and make her totally innocent of knowing who he was.  An announcement was made for the judge and, as she rose, Medina observed a squaty, older man waddle from the judge’s chamber to his seat at the front.  He wore a faded green Polo shirt, khakis and a ball cap with a bass fish embroidered on the front.  Abner leaned over and whispered, “This should go quickly.  It looks like Braghman intends on fishing today.”  

“Alright, let’s get a move on, shall we?” Braghman began.  “Sage, do you have all of the subpoenaed documents?”

Abner re-rose, “Yes, we have everything we need from the defense.  Also, let me introduce you to my co-council, Medina Franklin.”  Medina should’ve predicted Abner’s anxiousness to put her on display.  He wanted to impress Judge Braghman with a firm heiress and intimidate the defense attorney at the same time.

Judge Braghman took off his reading glasses and squinted in Medina’s direction as though he hadn’t noticed her before.  Etiquette forced Medina to rise.  She could feel Mr. Payne’s eyes, probably trying to be sure that it really was the woman whose water heater he had to fix later.  She focused forward and tried to turn on the staunch professional  within her.  “Are you Franklin as in Barron and Franklin?” the judge asked, still squinting. 

“Yes and no.  Nate Franklin is my father.  He is the original partner.  I am from the Nashville office, here for this case.” 

“Well, now that we all know each other, let’s get this over with.  I’d like to be on the river by eleven,” the judge responded coolly.

The rest of the hearing went quickly.  Exchanges of documents, requests for delays here and there.  Medina spent so much time shuffling papers, making notes, and changing dates, she didn’t have the time to worry about Mr. Payne’s feelings.  The session adjourned within forty-five minutes and Medina hoped that the defense would make a quick exit.  To the contrary, the idealistic lawyer wanted to talk with the prosecution.  He immediately came over to Abner at their desk and made pleasantries.  Then he politely introduced himself to Medina while Mr. Payne slowly walked up behind him.  She looked at him and saw no humiliation or anger, although she herself felt the pain of guilt.  He spoke first, much to her relief.

“Small world, I guess.  Well, at least, small town.”

“I’m sorry.  I didn’t realize who you were.” She found it hard to lie.  “I think I’ll call someone else to fix my water heater. “

“No, that’s not necessary.  I’ll treat you fairly.  Like I said, this is a small town.  We all have to live and work together, even when we take each other to court.  I’ll be there around four.”

With that, Mr. Payne and Mr. Taylor left the court and Abner started to organize papers.  “See what I mean.  Mr. Payne’s a decent guy, it’s the rest of the town we’ve got to worry about.  But, like I told you, let me handle the public relations.  You work your professional magic with the insurance company and that hippie public defender.  Just steer clear of the folks in town as much as you can.  They’re not going to like you, so it’ll be easier that way.”

“Too late,” Medina admitted.  “Come on, I’ll tell you about it over lunch.”

Chapter 2

After her less than positive lunch experience and vague directions from a man with no teeth, Medina managed to locate the rented property that would be home for the next few months.  The grass, patches of browning, brittle weeds yielding to the ruddy and cracked dirt below, crunched beneath her feet as she pulled onto the gravel drive.  The sky had the nondescript concrete color of late August: neither sun nor cloud, just haze, humidity, and weighty hopelessness.  Medina’s hair frizzed, her neck perspired, her whole body itched with the sound of southern summer insects.  The thought crossed her mind that she might be allergic to the country.

The only redeeming part of the day so far was the swiftness with which she found her new home.  In a town so small, one could only say lost for so long.  Medina’s father had taken the liberty of renting her a house for the duration of the trial.  Since rental properties, and real estate in general, are in short supply in such a rural area, an apartment was simply out of the question.  Her father used his connections to acquire a small, Victorian-period cottage recently vacated due to the death of its owner, a Mrs. Lloyd A. Jensen.  The widow Jensen had lived in the home for fifty-some-odd years and had kept it intact enough to be of some real value for its historic look.  She did not, however, have any heir to whom it should be left aside from an ungrateful great niece.  This relative lived in Chattanooga with her boyfriend, and she despised her great aunt the way she despised the little town and everything in it.  Suffice it to say, dear great niece did not inherit the home.  Widow Jensen, while a product of old rural gentility, carried some of the famous southern audacity.  She would’ve rather the lawyers in charge of her estate own the home than let that child sell it for a profit.

Medina studied the exterior of the house before unloading her few lonely belongings.  Yellow-painted wooden siding and white lattices.  Paint peeled from every surface, the results of years of Tennessee Valley spring storms.  Ghostly ivory lace curtains blew gently inside the obviously drafty front window.  “I’ll bet there’s no air conditioning, too,” Medina allowed herself to talk out loud, breaking the uncomfortable silence between her and the house.   


Medina’s first night in the house was the most restless of her life.  Her assumption about air conditioning was correct, leaving her no choice in the August heat but to open the ancient windows.  She was only able to open successfully two windows, spending half of the evening fruitlessly fighting the others for fresh air.   “Drafty windows that won’t open,” she thought, “now that’s a picture of this town.”  Medina let her disdain for Mars Hill be reflected in the broken, stubborn house.  The bed creaked, half the light bulbs needed replacing, the ice box whirred every twenty minutes, and every shelf and picture hung just slightly off level, creating the dizzying fun house effect with every glance to a wall.  The house, it seemed, prided itself in its backwardness, labeling it “character.”  She cringed, twitched, sweated, nervously moving with every cricket and bullfrog. 

Blogging…no, really, I am.

So I have found myself here, not really sure why except that I’m tired of sorta writing.  I’ve been working on a smattering of pieces and, not surprisingly, I seem to be unable to settle on any one genre of writing.  There also seems to be an issue with my actually finishing anything.  Talking with my arts life group last night, I realized that in every other aspect of my life, I am an uber-perfectionist.   I finish everything, and how!  But when it comes to writing, I drag my feet like a horse about to be put out of its misery.   To remedy, I am going to begin uploading some of my work here, hoping to put some accountability beneath my posterior.   I’ll start with pieces of the book I’m attempting, which is tentatively called Red Planet.  It is a draft, so things will change.  Enjoy, bash, suggest, praise, whatever.

 

The drive to Mars Hill was surprisingly serene.  “The calm before the storm,” Medina imagined.  She knew the job in that tiny town would be difficult, which is why Abner couldn’t handle it alone.  Any other case, any other attorney, and she would have flatly refused.  Medina was stepping off into unknown territory.  Six months, maybe eight.  There was no way she would stay any longer.

After about an hour on I-24, Medina started to notice all of the exits went from street names to numbers.  No more Main Street, now all you saw were Highway 96 and State Route 231.  Medina never was the best with numbers, causing her to nervously check and re-check the GPS.   Off the interstate, a four-lane highway eventually led to a three-lane, then a narrow two-lane route.  The more narrow the road, the curvier and hillier it seemed.  When it was clear, she could relax, but when some redneck dually came barreling towards her, all she could do was hold her breath and hope that she stayed on the road. 

Suddenly the speed limit dropped and the street signs once again held words.  Surreal images of ancient brick store-fronts and three-story Victorian homes rolled past Medina’s windshield.  Wind-frayed flags hung mournfully from porches, unmoved by the unforgiving August heat.  The downtown, if one could call it that, spanned about three city blocks, ending in a town square, complete with a county courthouse at its center.  Surrounding the courthouse were tiny cafes, antiques shops, boutiques, and an old-fashioned barber.   The square’s buildings looked like a bar graph, with buildings of alternating heights and colors, but each about the same narrow width. 

Medina suddenly came to two realizations:  she was hungry, and she didn’t have a clue as to where she was going.  She pulled the old Volvo into a spot on the square.  “Free Parking: 2-hour Limit” read the sign in front of the row.  “Now there’s a new concept,” she thought as she stepped onto the sidewalk.  Mars Hill Café looked like just the place to meet both of her needs, so she stepped out of the sun and through its heavy wooden door.

It took a minute to adjust to the light.  The term “restaurant” could not be applied here.  “Dive” seemed more appropriate.  The width of the place could not have been much more than your standard dormitory bedroom.  There was just enough space for a counter, a single-file line of booths, and a one-waitress walkway.  Every furnishing appeared faded: aging photographs, Coca-Cola signs, newspaper clippings on the painted panel walls.  The blurred atmosphere carried the smells of chicken grease, ashes, and coffee.

Lost in thought, Medina had been standing in the entry way for an inordinate amount of time.  She felt the awkwardness of unfamiliar eyes on her.  She scurried to the first empty booth and looked around for a menu.   A waitress automatically came with a coffee cup, filling it up and taking her order.

“Do you guys do specials here?” Medina asked as confidently as possible.

“Yep.  Today’s chicken fried steak, greens, carrots, and corn pone,” the waitress replied.

“Sounds great.”  Medina couldn’t remember the last time she ate like this, if she ever had.   However, the last thing she wanted to do was start off on the wrong foot by asking for a Caesar salad and green tea in this place.  For all she knew, anyone in here could be connected to her case, and she didn’t want to get on anyone’s bad side…yet. 

Medina flopped an accordion folder out of her bag and onto the table.  “No need to waste this time,” she thought, turning her mind to the case that brought her to town.  She would be representing the defendant South First Bank, a longtime client of the firm, in its fight with a local over a family’s property.  This family had owned twenty acres just south of town for years, but several years ago, they were forced to take out a second mortgage.  When the owner died in March, the only surviving family member was forced to pay up or relinquish the land.   While it would normally be a simple case, the survivor, a grandson of the decedent, is claiming that the stipulations in the second mortgage are unfair. 

Medina skimmed the case files, attempting to summarize the plaintiff.  Silas Payne, twenty-seven years old, worked add jobs as a contractor and landscaper and had lived on the disputed property all of his life until a little while just after high school.  He had returned at the onset of his grandfather’s illness to take care of him and the land.  “Under-employed, under-educated: what does he think he’s doing?  Does he know what he’s gotten himself into?”  Medina was lost in her own thoughts when a plate clanked onto her table.

“That’s a mighty big folder  you got there, honey.  You might oughta get a bag or somethin’.” 

Medina did not look up to acknowledge the plate-wielding voice.  “I’m fine, thank you.  I would like some more coffee, though.”  She continued to maneuver her folder’s contents.

“Honey where you from?”  Her tone shifted now, equal parts annoyed and amused, like a cat with a new toy.  Medina took notice now, lifting her head to address her interrogator.  A stout woman, shaped like the coffee pot in her right hand, her elbow stuck in a ballooning hip to form the handle.  Her hair was piled loosely on her head, ready to collapse at a moment’s notice.

“Well, obviously not from here,” Medina half smiled, half snapped back before realizing the offense the statement caused as evidenced on the waitress’ face.  She deflated a bit, “I’m from Nashville, well, Atlanta originally.  I’m here for a while on business, you see, I’m an attorney and the firm I work – “

“Honey, I didn’t ask for your history, it was a simple question.  Figured by the looks of yuh, well…,”  the waitress left her sentence hanging in the air, sensing that finishing it was unnecessary.   Carolyn, as the nametag showed, refilled the coffee mug and swiveled towards the next table.