Every so often our writing group gathers. We eat and laugh, cry and share our lives that were once more closely connected but now seem to only pass occasionally. We need to gather more often.

Today at Sandy’s house she supplied the prompt. We read an old poem – The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes. It brought some of us back to our childhood poetry classes where we didn’t understand what was happening. But I remember the girls loved the love story and the boys, well, there is a robber and muskets. What more can I say?

This day, after we finished a shared reading of the poem, we looked and one another and wondered how this was going to help us write. Then we each took a page, closed our eyes and pointed to a word. We came up with eight, and our prompt was born.

We had four entirely different stories flavored by the poem. One story happened on a ghostly walk to church on the night of the Easter Vigil. Another was a rhymed poem about a carousel gone terribly wrong. The next was a heart-touching story from one of our members who was recently widowed. And mine is below.

The words we were to use in our story:
breast      attention     musket     listened     jeweled     trigger     riding     ghostly


The jeweled box sat on the ledge of the bedroom window. It drew the attention of the moon. As she smiled down on the delicate vessel, the box proved itself to be a treasure of hues. Each jewel’s essence threw itself against the wall like raindrops kissing a pond. Colors radiated from each pinpoint melding into the next.

Rio waited for the full moon riding across the sky. She knew exactly when it would find her windowsill triggering a light show. Tonight was no different. She sat on the small padded stool covered in baroque tapestry of purples and gold. There were tassels on each corner. The short and spiraled legs made of alder wood curled into lion claws. It was her grandmother’s.

Rio’s grandmother was a gypsy and the stool accompanied her across the land as she traveled. When Rio’s grandmother didn’t come back from her last adventure, a large box of her belongings were left on the steps of her parents’ house. The stool was discarded immediately. A “flea trap” her mother called it. But Rio knew better.

In the middle of the ghostly night with fog hanging low and before the trash pickup in the morning Rio took a large plastic bag bulging with old clothes and items that no longer served purpose for her to the curb in front of her house. Carefully and as quietly as she could, Rio replaced one bag for the other and like a flea, flitted back up the stairs to her room to retrieve her treasure from the black sack.

Rio stilled herself to hear the rhythm of her parents snoring. She knew, after years of listening, when their deepest sleep arrived, when no noise would trigger their attention. She was in luck. Their breathing siphoned in and out between their clenched teeth.

Rio pulled the stool from the bag.

Something slipped out of the bag and crashed to the floor.

It was small but the noise startled Rio. In the quiet between the inhales and exhales down the hall, the sound went riding through Rio’s room and out the bedroom door like a locomotive. She reached down and snatched up the object that fell from the bag, an item she didn’t know existed. She held it tightly next to her breast as if that would erase the crash. With her stilled breath and eyes trained down the hall to her parent’s room, she counted slowly as she released her breath until her mind could hear the rhythmic snores once more. By the time all her lungs were emptied, all was well.

Rio reached to the windowsill and placed the small box on the ledge. Then she turned her attention back to the stool. It needed some cleaning, but not too much. She remembered her grandmother telling her that dirt and grim held stories to be remembered, things to be learned. There were stories within this stool to be discovered.

A flash of light caught her eye as if it was shot out of a musket. The clouds covering the moon parted just enough and stood as still as Rio’s breath had been held just moments earlier. The moon’s brilliant array filtered through the window, gypsy ribbons catching hold of the jewels covering the tiny treasure.

Rio could hardly take her eyes off what seemed like a movie. She sat down gingerly onto the stool to watch. Her seat fit perfectly into the pillowed top. Her legs bent and crossed naturally at the ankles with her knees pointing to the floor. It was as if someone had measured the stool and her for a perfect fit.

Soon Rio was bathed in a cascade of hues, colors swirling all around her. She spun around on the stool to see the reach of the jeweled light. That’s when she noticed the dancing colors on her wall. As she watched, the colors moved and jiggled. After a few minutes they stopped and came together to form words.

As quickly as Rio rose to grab her journal and a pen, the clouds closed back over the moon and the words made of color and light fell into a puddle on the rug and faded away.

I am so blessed to be part of these women’s lives. We must get together more often.



Azalea, In Detroit


Lately I haven’t been able to shake it off. You know the feeling when something is supposed to be, but isn’t? Oh, it’s there all right. But you can’t see it. You can sorta feel it. Know that’s it watching you, but from somewhere you can’t see.

This morning I tried to shake it off and decided to go to Joe’s and have my regular, a Pumpkin Latte Fallout. It’s not yet fall, but Harry at Joe’s caters to my needs come spring, summer, winter or fall. Harry’s a good man, as my father would say.

I come from Polish stock that settled in the Detroit area around the turn of the twentieth century. The first batch came through Ellis Island. But after that, since family was already here, others had a more direct path. Either way, everyone came through Detroit, whether or not they stayed. Some stayed. But most went on, mostly West. Some landed in Denver to open a shoe shop and radio repair. Some fanned out to Los Angeles where they changed their names and melted into the big pot of stew where no one ever heard from them again.

And then there was my family, the gypsies. They didn’t settle, as a true gypsy Jehovah Witness Truckwould never do that. They traveled for a generation or so not calling themselves gypsies but attaching themselves to the one group who also traveled – Jehovah Witnesses. My great grandmother was one of those women who stood on street corners next to a car with a large bullhorn attached to the top. While the men shouted repentance, she handed out pamphlets hoping to save the world.

I often wondered if her heart was in it, in Jehovah’s that is.

My mom told stories of family gypsies in Poland of which my great grandmother, grandmother, and mom had the heart. In Poland my great grandparents would travel in sunshine and camp and sing and cook over open fires. Even though I grew up in Globeville, I always felt my mom was really elsewhere in her thoughts.

Well, I guess that’s where my heart comes from. Since the time I was born the stories of the Gorniak women echoed in my ears. Even when my grandmother was hospitalized for “being crazy,” I listened in full belief to the stories.

The Blessed Mother Mary appeared to my grandmother telling her that her job was to take care of her six brothers and sisters. She was the youngest and listened. You always listen to the Mother Goddess. Right?

I believe my mom wanted to belong to the gypsies of the sixties and seventies, the hippies. But she was just a hair too young to act on it. And being an only child she never felt brave enough to be her own person and strike out one her own with her gypsy soul bared to the world showing who she truly was.

Then came me, Azalea, the one who watched all of this and just couldn’t stay any longer. When I was sixteen, my mom handed me her gypsy heart and sent me off to Detroit. Yep. Detroit called, if only to see what I could find. Were there any remnants of those first arrivals and did they have something to offer my gypsy self?

I stepped onto the porch. Cool morning air drifted by and I locked the door behind me. Today I ad-libbed my outfit more so than usual. It was going to rain, a bleak day, a grey-cloud day. Factory smoke hung low.

This called for color.

So, with my eyes closed I chose each piece of clothing by feel. Nothing matched and by good luck most pieces added bright color and patterns that would shout at the passerby, “SMILE, BUDDY!!!!! It’s not as bad as you think!”

I decided to take the quick route to Joe’s since it was starting to sprinkle. That meant some shortcuts through a few alleyways.

Umbrella in hand, closed, not opened, I started my trek.

The umbrella belonged to my great grandfather. It had been carefully wrapped in brown paper and tied with string, well knotted so it wouldn’t come lose. It was packed away in an old steamer trunk that sat in the basement of my parents house until it was time to sell after both of my parents died without any notice or my permission.

It was as if my great grandfather was waiting for me to find the umbrella. When the steamer trunk arrived at my apartment, I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. But I was afraid to open it. For days, I just watched it. That’s when the feeling started, you know the one I mentioned earlier, like someone is watching me.

The day I finally opened the trunk, it was raining like crazy. There was a stream of water running down my window so thick I couldn’t tell if someone was looking in even if they were standing nose to nose with the glass.

I made myself a pot of coffee and plopped down on the footstool that I stationed by the trunk when it first arrived. I would spend a few minutes a day sitting on the pouf making up stories of what was inside, using pieces of stories from my mother that her mother had told her from the stories her mother had told her mother.

At this point who knew what was true in their stories. It’s kinda like the bible. Jesus was real. He said beautiful things and did miracles. His words were carried by mouth for a long time before they were written down.

I believe truth is distilled. When the honest soul tells a story, truth thrives even if details wander.

What I had hoped was contained in the trunk was the scarf that once wrapped my great grandmother’s hips. The one with bundles of cascading roses in every shade of red and pink – maroon, scarlet, fuchsia, magenta, and mauve – with touches of green leaves tucked here and there. All sitting on a background of creamy ivory and trimmed, not in black silky fringe, but the deepest blue of midnight one could imagine.

Or the shoes.

Yes, the ones with the pointy toes and delicately carved heels that a princess could dance all night in at the ball with her prince without nary a pinch. The ones my grandfather carved and cobbled for his new bride’s wedding day.

But inside the trunk among the hodgepodge was the umbrella. Black silk tied with a curiously red braided cord from which swung a beautiful tassel of the same color. The handle was made from white willow. It was smooth, golden and very light. It was the point at the other end that gave it presence. A sterling silver tip about four inches long narrowing to a fine end capped with a small wooden knob completed its form.

I carried it closed.

In Detroit I learned quickly that one needs some form of protection.




Author’s Note:

Back to a bit of fiction.

Our writing group, although there were only two of us at the breakfast table, met to write using Bonnie Neubauer’s Story Spinner. Our setting was Detroit. The beginning line was “Lately I haven’t been able to…”. And we needed to include the words: pumpkin, ad-lib, sunshine, and azalea.

I’ve never start writing my fiction narratives in first person. I’ve always changed it to third. I guess I wanted the distance. But I took the challenge.

This challenge led to using family stories. Now with my parents and most of my immediate relatives deceased, I think I might want to write about a little family history. I might also use this at the beginning of the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) challenge in November.

Lots of pots on the fire right now. Feels good.