Why are writers so often drawn to cats? For some inspiring possibilities, head on over to this month’s issue of Hippocampus and my article, “Oh, For the Love of Cats.”
“Ain’t nothin’ easy ’bout fixin’ broken hearts.”
Poor advice, but it was all that Grandma Lucy gave her when she died. That, and Spangle’s Heart Repair, the family business. Grandma Lucy had been sour, but that didn’t mean she had a market on the truth. Natalie picked up a wrench, set out to prove her wrong.
She’d grown up inside the wheels and gears. She knew the many ways that hearts can break and how to grease the chains, replace the shattered bearings, polish off the rust. Still, she eased in, slowly, mending hearts that weren’t much more than knocked about, no substantial damage. There were spurned accountants, teenage girls crushed out on teachers, boys who lost their hamsters. Natalie tinkered with the casings and the pins. “Good as new,” she said. They were. She built a reputation.
The challenges got harder. Widowers came, peering through the grimy window, lifting their fedoras. There were runaways and vagrants, soldiers who had “Dear John” letters crumpled in their pockets, nuns who’d lost the sight of God, bakers weakened by remorse, pianists sunk in sorrow. Tough cases, every one — and yet they each left whistling, healed. Word began to spread. Customers came flocking. Natalie often winked at Grandma Lucy’s ghost, transparent in the mirror.
She fell in love, and more than once. Eventually, she married. And yet, with all of that, her own heart stayed untroubled, like a lake without a ripple. She had a child, a daughter marked with wild hair and sparkling eyes. Natalie named her Sunshine, and took to mothering with ease. All those years repairing hearts had set her up to soothe the early hurts of childhood, skinned knees and purple bruises, the cracks of minor disappointment. So many injuries could be fixed with kisses, a Band-Aid, a lollipop or cookie.
And Sunshine was a natural, gifted. Tucked beneath her mother’s wing, she learned to disassemble heartache, tally up love’s follies, replace the engine oil and fuses. Natalie was proud, replete, and so, when she felt the first awful, wrenching pull, she didn’t recognize the cause. She didn’t know her heart was breaking.
Sunshine had become. . . less sunny. She tripped and fell more often, broke places that a bandage couldn’t reach. Her fingers shook, and her spark forgot its language. Sunshine . . . .wasn’t, and Natalie could not save her, no matter how she bent herself, contorted, thrashed or prayed.
“Ain’t nothin’ easy ’bout fixin’ broken hearts.” Grandma Lucy squinted from the mirror. Natalie didn’t need to ask her what she meant. Her own heart was a lake that roiled, thrashing, inconsolable, bereft.
The fact is, she should have known. Broken mothers never came into the shop, never asked for her repairs, never splayed their shattered mainsprings. They held tightly to their wounded children, hands pared down to iron bones, no matter. They did not release the broken hearts that rived them to the core.
Natalie dropped her wrench. She took hold of Sunshine, and she
Learn more about Wing-Feather Fables here
For the past few months, I’ve been working in mama-bear cave land. I climbed out once or twice. And this is what happened. My latest piece for Hippocampus Magazine is about murderers and dictionaries (the really big ones), Shakespeare, nagging pebbles and shenanigans. I hope you’ll join me there.
My first blog title was “This Messy Life,” an acknowledgement of — and tribute to — small grace inside a tumbled day. Life hasn’t let me down.
In the last three-plus years, I’ve strung words through everyday disruptions – car repairs and children’s colds, wild pets and homeschool hills and self-replicating laundry piles. Sometimes, rejection letters came in triplicate, or worse, but there were always bright rays of acceptance too, in all its varied forms. Foster kittens came and went (and climbed and clawed), until the last three stayed for good. A bad concussion stole a year. Through it all, the dog stole socks. He’s good at that, and merry.
Ups and downs. This messy life. It’s what we all go through, between, around and over.
Sometimes, it gets harder.
hiatus: a break, a gap, an interruption or suspension
I haven’t written in awhile. I’m not inventing tales or stitching up the seams of essays. I’ve got no wayward characters in my head. No voices, lilting.
lacuna: a pit, an empty place, something unfilled or blank or missing
In a true bit (or bite) of irony, just after publishing an essay on how I learned to manage motherhood and writing, the motherhood got more intense, demanding. Right now, my daughters need more Mom — more in scope and time, more in challenge and inventiveness. There isn’t any me left over for the spill and catch of words.
break (noun): an interlude or intermission, a hitch or lapse, an open space or breach
break (verb): to fracture, fragment, impair or injure; to hesitate or interrupt — but also to change, decrypt, decipher, as with codes — and then there’s the breaking of a dawn, engendered.
On my worst days, I wonder why I ever started writing, if it just ends up like this. On my better days, I try to be less black-or-white, less absolute, less humorless and bleak. My latest piece for Hippocampus touches on the struggle, the ebb and flow of writing:
”For a myriad of reasons, sometimes we are writers on the other side of words. We are mired in low tides, gasping. . . . for all the years I’ve tried, there is no perfect balance, no deft juggling move that leaves me mistress of all realms. Instead, I dog-paddle through a shifting mercury of roles. Sometimes, I have to put the pen aside. This is never easy, never smooth.”
I hope you’ll join me there for the rest of my essay on writing tides and lessons learned from seabirds. As for this space, it may be quiet for awhile. In hiatus, a lacuna, a break and somewhat broken, in every varied sense.
Noelle goes to Booker’s every Monday at eleven. She sits out on the patio, if it’s nice. She’d rather sit inside, but Tookie likes the brick-paved terrace with its wrought-iron chairs and half-leaf roof, sun-dappled. Today, the fairy godmother is late.
“Fudge, fudge, fudge,” Noelle whispers. She checks her watch, smooths her list out on the table, checks her watch again. Her eye begins to twitch.
“She couldn’t really mean it,” Noelle says, “could she?” Last week, Tookie said, “I quit, dear. You’ve worn my wand out. Enough’s enough.” The fairy godmother tugged the lacy edges of her sleeves, hummed off tune, and looked up at the bluing sky. Noelle laughed, sure it was a joke.
Now, there’s a new waitress refilling Noelle’s coffee. “Fairy godmothers are usually precise,” she says, ”They say exactly what they mean. Otherwise, with all those spells, there’s bound to be big trouble.”
“But,” Noelle tries not to wail, “she can’t desert me now?” The waitress shrugs and plunks more creamers on the table.
Tookie has been fixing Noelle’s life for years. First, there was a prince to snare, and then the kids came — one, two, three — and, after that, problems multiplied like rabbits. There were always sore throats, missing mittens, dust bunnies, dirty dishes, floors to mop and clothes to fold and homework, incomplete. Every Monday, Noelle brought a list and Tookie waved her wand, ta-da.
“Every girl deserves a rescue, now and then,” she whimpers, staring at the empty chair. The waitress clicks her tongue. “What?” Noelle demands. She doesn’t get an answer.
It’s one-o’clock, and Noelle is late for kindergarten pick-up. Tookie is still missing. “Fudge,” she tries again. Of all the rotten timing. On Friday, the kids came home with lice. Noelle spent the entire weekend scrabbling through scalps, picking nits and washing laundry, vacuuming the couch, boiling hairbrushes. It really was too much.
In the filtered light, the fairy godmother’s chair makes crisscross shadows on the bricks. It looks warm, inviting. Empty. Noelle re-checks her list. There’s the lice, of course, and Juju lost her favorite toy. Evan’s failing math, and Audrey watches too much tv. The dishwasher is on the fritz, library books are overdue, and Noelle would like to lose some weight. “What’s next?” she bleats.
As if in answer, the empty chair shoots forward, bumps against her knee. Noelle tries to scoot away, but the chair shimmies to the left and blocks her. They dance like this for twenty minutes, until Noelle is out of breath. The chair is obviously determined. Noelle gives up and switches seats.
All at once, she pictures Juju, the last child left at pickup. She’s got to hurry. After school they can check the library for a manual on dishwasher repair. What has she been waiting for? Noelle thinks, and then she’s gone.
The new waitress crumples the forgotten wish list in the trash. She hums off tune. From her apron pocket, a silver wand tip winks. Ta-da.
Learn more about Wing-Feather Fables here