by Raud Kennedy
“You’re not supposed to tell your friends the truth,” Ray, a boy of ten, said to Lucy, his golden retriever, who was the best listener in his entire world. She’d stare back at him and pant in agreement at anything he said. “At least not when it’s the real truth of why you think they do the things they do. You’re supposed to keep it secret because they’re not gonna want to hear that part.”
The two of them were sitting on the grass in the backyard, and Ray talked to her as he brushed her. Lucy was blowing her winter coat, and they were surrounded with so much loose fur he’d brushed from her that it looked as if they were seated on a picnic blanket made of yellow blond mohair. Every now and then the breeze would lift a tuft of fur into the air and carry it up and over the fence into the neighbor’s yard. He hoped the neighbor liked dogs.
Ray pulled the fur from the brush and added it to the rest. “Boy, Lucy, we could make a wig for dad out of all this.” He put a handful on her head. “Or one for Mom in case she goes bald like Grandma. She’d like being a blonde. You like it.”
Ray’s mom and dad thought he and his sisters were too young to notice or understand the things they didn’t want them to see, like the hard looks they gave each other when Ray or one of his sisters came into the room when they were speaking in hushed voices that somehow were louder than any shout. But Ray noticed and he understood. His mom and dad liked to drink, wine from the box, light beer that defeated its purpose when they drank twice as much of it, and sometimes hard stuff on weekends, but Ray’s dad had gone away on a trip and since getting back a few days ago he hadn’t been drinking. But his mom had. She kept at it like she hadn’t noticed, and when his dad made a point to say he wasn’t going to have anything when she was opening the tap on a new box of Riesling, she gave him a look as if he’d betrayed and abandoned her to raise three kids she didn’t want to have much to do with. She hated their constant need, their constant questions. She was hiding from too much pain of her own for their questions to simply be questions. Each one was a potential opener to a lid she was trying desperately to keep on.
Once Ray had asked, “Do you love Dad?”
“Of course I do. That’s why we got married.”
But Ray’s older sister had told him otherwise. “Cynthia says you got married because you got pregnant with her.”
His mom’s voice quickly snapped from patronizing to angry. “Cynthia doesn’t know what she’s talking about. She needs to mind her own business and keep her mouth shut.”
“She said she did the math.”
She called Cynthia a little bitch under her breath. She said it quietly so Ray wouldn’t hear, but he did, and if she’d been honest with herself, she’d wanted him to hear. She’d never liked her eldest child and felt huge amounts of guilt over it. She thought a mother was supposed to love her children and she thought she was a bad person for feeling so little when her daughter was born. She hated feeling that way, like something was wrong with her, so she hid it from herself and grew cold toward Cynthia even as she gave birth to her son and youngest daughter. As Cynthia grew older she sought the approval that her mother wouldn’t give her, and the hurt and frustration at not getting it grew into anger and defiance until the two of them openly undermined each other. Once when the fighting got bad, Ray asked his mother if she loved his sister, and she felt so exposed and guilty that her only safe recourse was to fly into a rage of indignation and send him to his room. How could he ask such a question? she’d called after the cowed boy, but he knew why he would and so did she. Everyone did except maybe the youngest. A mother didn’t have to love her children just because they were her children, but she couldn’t accept that and hated herself for it and took her hate out on her daughter until the hate was mutual.
She’d seen a program on television about dogs and at one point they talked about a mother eating her young and it struck such a chord with her that just for a brief moment it cut through all the lies she’d told herself, all the glasses of wine she’d drank to keep a lid on her feelings, and she admitted to herself that she’d never wanted to have kids and had never wanted to marry the man she married and she hated everything about her life. But it was a short lived admission. She drowned it in wine and by morning it was again deeply buried among the lies that propped up her self-image.
What had gotten Ray in trouble this time and sent out to the yard to groom Lucy had been another question about love. Like his older sister he had uncovered another uncomfortable truth. His mom had been picking at her morning grapefruit, feeling more hung over than usual and pretending it didn’t show like she’d learned to do from her own mother, when Ray had asked, “Have you stopped loving Dad because he doesn’t drink with you anymore?” If her husband gave up drinking it put her own drinking in far too bright of a light. She resented always being made out to be the bad guy. Now she was being bad for drinking, but she couldn’t imagine her life without it. The idea filled her with such panic she literally could not even think of giving it up.
Ray cleared the brush of more fur again. Lucy was shedding so much he could pull little tufts free from her flanks and hind legs. “But I can tell you the truth, can’t I girl?”
Lucy panted contentedly.
Ray’s mother appeared at the back door. “Come one, Ray. It’s time to take Lucy to the vet.”
“The vet? What for?”
“She’s gonna get fixed.”
“What do you mean?”
Instead of explaining, she just got short. “That dog is not having puppies. Ever. You hear me?”
Bio: Raud Kennedy is a writer and dog trainer in Portland, Oregon. To learn about his most recent work, Portland, a collection of short stories, please visit www.raudkennedy.com
by Rick Hartwell
As a remedial reading teacher, I used to read Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech with my morning students. In it Lewiston, Idaho, burgeons bigger than life and memory for the central character searching for her mother. As the protagonist of my own life, I also spring from Lewiston, metaphorically speaking. Family mythology places my sire from this locale. It was to there he returned with his new bride after World War II and to work in a gas station and to live in a quarter-sized apartment above a four-car garage.
The sire paled at the presumed good life of Southern California and sought to return to roots buried in the soil of rural Idaho. I'm certain this was the idealized normalcy he had carried through four years of war. So he swept his bride back in time to the western slope of the Rockies and Sunday chickens dashing madly about an unfenced yard with their heads chopped off on an old tree stump. This is the legacy my mother remembers to tell me when I ask as a child. This is a legacy of her being cast from La Cañada heaven unto Idaho hell. This is the legacy of exodus from there back to California, bearing both a grudge and me, internally, and to my delivery in the Glendale Sanatorium. No jokes, pleas; they've all been used before. She also had idealized a life for four years, but the idylls of the queen were much, much different than those of the king. The royal schism ensued. So, that is why I was not born in Lewiston and why I am not from Idaho.
I was named Richard. In Old German this means "powerful ruler." I've looked it up. I am old now, but not German. I am powerful, at least in my own mind, but I am not a ruler, at least not in the mind of my wife. I have no idea why this name was given to me, other than it was supposedly the name of my mother's boyfriend, my father. I was probably named after him; another regret of my mother's with which she learned to live, I also.
Ah, my nicknames. Yes, I've had several. If I must share them I caution you -- nothing leaves this room! I have been Pinky, at least until I declared my independence from this at six or seven. I have been Rah Rah, an appellation applied by the mother of my best friend who apparently thought me far more extroverted than I felt. I have been Ricky, until I grew beyond the cuteness of a hanging vowel, except for those few old enough to get away with it when I feel condescending. And I have been Dick. No, not just to my ex-wife, but as a name of familiarity. I was Dick until I reached a point of adulthood when I didn't appreciate the creeping smiles of others when I was introduced and they thought of Nixon, or sex, or both, and may have laughed out loud. I now use Rick, just Rick, or Dad, or Grandpa. With Grandpa it seems I've come again to hanging vowels, but from little kids hanging on me this seems okay somehow. I would not change my name now, even if I could, for it is old, like me, and comfortable.
How much different would I, could I, have been if delivered unto Idaho soil rather than greater L.A.? We all have roots. Some of us spend lives trying to find them. Some of us spend lives trying to dig them out. It's okay, for I, too, have returned to California where I understand most of what I read, some of what I dream, and bits and pieces of what I live. I now create my own family mythology.
Bio: Rick Hartwell is a retired middle school teacher living in Moreno Valley, California, with his wife of thirty-five years (poor soul, her, not him), their disabled daughter, one of their sons and his ex-wife and their two children, and ten cats! Yes, ten. He has previously been employed as an: apprentice carpenter; dairy ranch hand; plywood mill worker (twice); plastics manufacturing plant; newspaper delivery; armed security; facilities analyst; telecommunications analyst, supervisor (twice) and manager; business manager; US Army - infantryman, legal clerk (twice), legal clerk instructor, Warrant Officer and law office manager; and, high school teacher for the emotionally disturbed (twice).