Third Time's a Charm

This will be the last story for a while for a variety of reasons. I will be traveling out of the country starting this Friday. I’ll have no internet connection for most of the time. Yes, I expect withdrawal symptoms. My birthday occurs during that time (Dec 11). Feel free to send me birthday wishes. I’ll be back just before Christmas, but have things I have to do. What, you think I live for this blog? After Christmas I will be traveling again until the beginning of January. Also, the quiver of stories is getting low. I still have some and a few I’m still working on. I’ve been spending a lot of time on my novel. I just added a new chapter. That thing has become such a timesuck.

I’ve got articles and books I need to read on how to write a short story. There are some online courses and local college courses I thought about taking. But, all hubris aside, I like how I write. I don’t want to change that. Only enhance it.

And an article I read said that writers should read a lot to keep their minds fresh with ideas. So when am I supposed to find time for that? I plan an operation in March that will leave me bedridden for several weeks. Maybe I can catch up on my life then. Who ever thought I’d be looking forward to being an invalid?

In the meantime, happy Christmas, New Year and/or whatever celebrations you have this time of year. I find it interesting that all religions have some sort of holiday around the winter solstice.

I mentioned here before that I got a professional review of Do This One Thing. Following the reviewer’s comments resulted in losing a good bulk of the story, but I understood. I was confusing two stories as one. However, the review said I had “hit a homerun” in my description setting the place. I hated to lose that homerun, but it didn’t factor into the story I wanted to tell. I have decided to toss out some of his notions. Even though it is primarily a ghost story, it doesn’t hurt to set the scene of who is telling it. Does the interplay of Peter Falk and Fred Savage detract from the pleasure of The Princess Bride? Does the first half of The Wizard of Oz movie cause problems with the second half? Scene setting is important. With this in mind, I resurrected my original and took the parts I liked and tacked it onto the severely cut version. The resulting story probably suits no one but me. I don’t care. I like it. And the title always seemed kind of clunky to me, so I changed that also. I decided to use a word that my granddaddy would use. The new title is a better clue to what the story is about.

As an aside, I got a professional appraisal of another story. I asked him to take a look at It Went Down Like This. His review opened with: “This is a wonderfully entertaining story. The voice is a fun, familiar noir-style narration and the plot plays out at a mostly smooth and steady pace.” He goes on with some suggestions. I’m still working on them. That’s the kind of review I like. If you haven’t read the story yet, it’s in the archives. Go take a look. I have it on good authority it’s ‘wonderfully entertaining’.

The Haint

I remember sitting on Granddaddy’s porch when I was a child listening to the adults talking. I remember in particular a Saturday evening in summer in the mid nineteen-sixties. Granddaddy’s house sat on the top of a low hill, the highest land in the area. From his front porch we could see the entire community for a half mile or more in every direction. It was twilight, what Grandma always called the gloaming. The heat of the day had dissipated, and we were outside to catch any cool breezes that might float by. The front lawn twinkled with constellations of lightning bugs providing us with our own private light show. It was a large lawn, stretching about a hundred yards down to the main highway. Granddaddy always called his lawn the avenue. His avenue was dotted with cedars, catalpas and large hardwoods.

            A couple of my cousins and I were on the steps that evening. Mama and Daddy and my cousins’ parents had gone to the city to dinner and Grandma always watched us for them. So, we sat on the porch, watching the sky turn purple, the insect light show, munching on popcorn Grandma had just popped, and experiencing the joy of being a family. As sometimes happens in these types of gatherings the conversation turned to ghost stories.  

            Granddaddy said he remembered one from when he was a young man. Grandma said, “Good Lord, don’t tell that story again, honey. You dreamed it.”

“Dang if I did,” Granddaddy declared. “I know what I saw.”
“What?” we all wanted to know. He had us then. We were spellbound.

            I pulled off my straw hat and mopped my face with my damp bandana. Squinting, I looked up. The bright August sun appeared to be nearly directly overhead. Near enough to take our lunch break, anyway.

            “Time,” I said loud enough for both Sam and Lonnie to hear. They were both within a few yards, chopping cotton like me. We were in the big field north of the Bass Woods. Off to the south, just beyond the hedgerow was Sam’s house. We could have gone there to eat, but we saw no sense in walking all that way. Closer by was Miss Alice’s home, the old Garris place. While a simple two-story farmhouse, it boasted details that made it stand out among its peers. Things like delicate curlicues on the porch columns, fresh painted clapboards and shutters, a clipped privet hedge surrounding the front yard. Old Miss Garris didn’t get around much anymore, but she made sure her home reflected the style she had always embodied. It was near sixty years after the Great War and a couple after what they were calling a World War, but Miss Garris was still the lady of the manor, ready to serve tea on the verandah. Surely, she wouldn’t mind the three of us stopping to eat lunch under the shade of one of her elms. I figured I should ask before we drew water from her well, just to be polite.

            Lonnie, my wife’s Uncle Lonnie, trudged over to sit under the shade of a tree at the edge of the yard. At 40, he was getting too old to work in the fields all day. My cousin Sam and I, both in our 20s, each did twice the work of Lonnie, but he needed to feel useful. Sam sat beside Lonnie.

            “Let me pay our respects to Miss Alice before we pump the water,” I said to them as I headed up the back-porch steps. 

Getting no reply to several raps on the door, I was unsure if I should look in. Miss Garris was a little hard of hearing and I didn’t want to alarm her. Or if she was on the chamber pot, it would be embarrassing. But she was very old and might have fallen and need some help. I knew a colored girl comes in about once a week to help with cleaning but wasn’t sure when that was.

Lonnie and Sam were near enough that I could talk to them from the porch without shouting.

“When’s the last time you saw Miss Garris?” I asked them.

“She won’t at church on Sunday,” Sam said. “Somebody said she was feeling poorly.” For some reason I suddenly felt a shiver run down my spine.

“Reckon we ought to go in and look,” I said. There are no locked doors in our

neighborhood. We all trust each other. I opened the door a crack and spoke into it.

“Miss Garris. Can you hear me? You all right?” After a few minutes with no answer, I pushed the door open wider. As soon as I got the door open, I ran back into the yard and threw up. She was definitely dead and after several days in the August heat she was smelling. As I wiped my mouth on my sleeve, I heard Lonnie and Sam muttering to each other. 

Dammit, I thought. I’m sorry old Miss Garris died, but it would also make us lose a day of work.

“I guess one of us needs to go fetch either the doc or Sheriff Stephenson,” I said, rejoining them under the elm. 

“Why break off work? Let’s finish the field and then go get the doc. The old lady ain’t going nowhere.” Sam’s comment was practical if cold hearted.

“Naw, that ain’t right,” I told him. “That old lady deserves more respect than that. Plus, I don’t think I could work knowing a dead body was just a few yards away.” Lonnie nodded his agreement. He and Sam gathered our tools to take back to my barn. I headed off to Gumberry. It was only a mile or so through the woods and there was a telephone at the general store.

            They had her funeral the very next day. The preacher told me she had been dead at least three days and was far gone. He said he didn’t know if they would ever get the smell out of the house. They even had the funeral out by the graveside instead of inside the church. Prim old lady that she was, I know she’d have been embarrassed by all the mess.

***

            That night was hotter than ever. Mollie and I didn’t have any covers on the bed and all the windows were open. We even had the front door propped open to catch any breeze it could. Mollie had insisted that I install screens in the windows and a screen door at the front of our cabin so we could open it up at night without letting in mosquitos and other varmints. On nights like this I was happy I had listened to her. 

From where I was lying in bed, I could look through the door and down the long lane to the main road. I could see low-lying mist down by the end of the lane. It just drifted back and forth with whatever breeze caught it. After a bit it seemed the mist was drifting toward the house. As I watched it, it seemed to get thicker. Suddenly it took form and I could see it was a woman in a white dress standing outside the house. I froze in terror. I saw her put her hand on the doorjamb, lift her skirt and step into the house, walking through the screen door as if it weren’t there. I immediately recognized it as old Miss Garris.

            She stood there looking at me a minute. Then she walked over to the bed and reached down and touched my hand. Her hand was so cold. I wanted to scream but I couldn’t move or make no sound. She said, “Lloyd, they didn’t find my will. It’s in the Bible in my study. You need to tell them. Do this and you won’t ever see me again. You don’t do it, I’ll be back. I’ll haint you.” She disappeared suddenly, and it released me. I set to squalling.

            Mollie said I liked to have scared her out of ten year’s growth. She said I was yelling and wrenching around; raving about ghosts. She soothed me, saying I just dreamed it.

“There ain’t no such thing as ghosts, sugar,” she murmured to me, stroking my brow as she held me. Even drenched with sweat in the hot August night, I still shivered in fear.

“But it was so real.”

“Dreams usually are, honey. Just go back to sleep. I’m here and won’t let nothing happen. You’ll see. In the morning, it’ll all be gone.”

            “But she said she’d come back and haint me,” I whimpered.

            “Shh, honey. Mollie’s here. Go to sleep.”

***

The next day, I went to the general store, and Doc Moore happened to be there. I told him a lie. I said Miss Garris told me before she died that her will was stuck in a Bible in her study. I knew he wouldn’t believe me if I said her ghost told me. It turned out there was a second will in a Bible in her study. And like she promised, I’ve never seen her again. And I want to keep it that way.

DWTS Finale

DWTS’ messiest season finally came limping down the home stretch. It was more of a Finally than Finale. Still, like all seasons it had moments of greatness and moments of what the hell? And the Finale seemed to sum it all up nicely. Moments of greatness and moments of, well, you know.

Three editorial comments.

1 I want Bruno’s jacket! It totally rocked.

2 I miss Cher’s original nose. It gave her character. It looked like they rolled in the wax mannequin from Madame Tussaud’s. I know she’s had some work done, but she’s approaching Michael Jackson creepiness. I saw Cher some years back, twice. The first one was actually a man. Well, both were men. I was on a ski trip to Tahoe with a local ski group. They had us all on the same floor in rooms beside each other. Me and the guy I was rooming with were at the end. It turned out we had no hot water in the room. Management couldn’t fix the problem, so they offered to move us to another floor. Just us. No. I wanted to be with my friends. Across the street was an award-winning spa. They gave the two of us access to the spa. We went there every day after skiing for relaxing and then cleaning up. Not so bad. The management also gave my roommate and I passes to the hotel show. I hadn’t paid any attention to stuff like that, but we went. Not until we got in line did we notice it was a drag review. Got to admit I laughed my ass off. Great show. The only problem with this Cher is that she was too thick. Think Cher built like a tank. Original nose, though. The other sighting was on a cruise, over Halloween, with 250 gay men. No, I was not part of the 250 gay men. I was on a dance cruise. We just happened to be joined by the Friends of Dorothy. If you want a rocking party, put 250 gay men on a boat on Halloween. Late that night I was in the disco with a few of our ladies. The lights were low, and a slow ballad was playing. Looking out over the floor there were mixed sex couples and same sex couples, all embracing on the dance floor. The thought occurred to me that no one cared. We were all there to dance. Maybe dancers should run the world. It might be a better place.

3 I generally like Erin. She seems to actually have a brain, unlike Tom’s two former pals. However, last night her mouth seemed to be on autopilot, and she made a few howlers.

  • “Tonight, the judges don’t count”. I took that to mean that the judges wouldn’t be giving scores. I would have missed that, although at this stage it’s mostly pro forma 10s.
  • “Pitbull is a multi-grammar winning artist”. I’ve listened to Pitbull’s rap and grammar does not seem to be his strong point.
  • Kel’s last dance “was the best freestyle I’ve ever seen”. Say what? What has she been smoking?

Enough of the digression. On with the show. We finally were rewarded with a glitzy opening number. I missed the JV dancers. Nice to see them again.

It’s Freestyle night and my expectations are different. With four dancers I expect to see four incredible exhibitions of the art of ballroom dancing and four glamorama, Busby Berkley extravaganzas, with maybe a wee bit of ballroom content. Well, three out of four on both isn’t too bad.

Ally (aka Tina) and Sasha. This jive was one of my faves the first time around and still maybe my favorite dance of the season. No one channels the Tina like Ally. Sell it, girl. Like Bruno said, a full diva turn. I give it a 10 paddle and maybe the rare 4 paddle added on.

Lauren and Gleb had an oh so floaty foxtrot. Done the way it should be. I love that Dolly Parton song with all its dark inferences. She embodied it, just drew me in. Even had shaping. We saw a whiff of Gleb’s chest. No waxing. Good on ‘im. Rotten eggs to all the judges. A solid 10.

Kel and Witney. JAZZ IS NOT BALLROOM. Nevertheless, they weren’t together on the synchronized moves and that had to be some of the worst break dancing ever. Reminded me of grandpa at the wedding reception showing that he still has it. Usually ends up in the emergency room. Disqualified. No score.

Hannah and Alan’s VW was perfection. I loved it. Light and airy. At times it seemed a bit rushed but that may have just been the music. It was kind of fast. I like Alan on smooth dances. 10

Okay, after that we were ‘treated’ to a promo for the Bachelor. Now, I have never seen an actual scene from any Bachelor or Bachelorette season. I believe it is an insult to personal relationships. The promo showed people in a shower and rolling around in bed among other things. It implied that a lot of sex was going on. Correct me if I’m wrong but people having sex in front of cameras is kinda the definition of pornography. And this is prime time viewing? And we wonder why our kids are whacked?

Then there was some guy singing something about criss cross and Pitbull rapping about something. I liked the latin music part. Hated the rap. I liked Pitbull much better as a judge than as a performer. I hesitate to call him a singer because I have never heard him sing, only chant. Interesting that the house dancers only came on stage for the actual singing part. Evidence that you cannot dance to rap, therefore, it is not music.

Freestyle

What happened to the giant posters of the celebrities dancing through the season? That’s like a staple. If I were a contestant and I came in the practice room on the last day and there were no posters I’d feel cheated. Man, what a rip off, I’d say. I loved the giant posters.

Ally and Sasha. I liked the salsa and samba parts, the tribal parts, not so much. The lift dismounts were awkward. Not Sasha’s best effort. I expected more from him with such a talented partner. He blew it. 8

Lauren and Gleb. Loved it, loved it, loved it! Country is my thing and loved the country gal in her element. It was like a memory of a night at the Longbranch, our long-lost saloon. 10.

Hannah and Alan. He definitely brought his A game. Chills ran down my body when the three tango dancers checked in sequence to the three drumbeats during the opening. Super tango section. Wild, no holds (or lifts) barred. And the dismounts from the lifts were so smooth and liquid. Earlier in the season, especially in her faceoff with Lauren, I found her to be stiff. No stiffness here. Definitely the best of the night and probably in the top ten of the twenty-six or so predecessors. I give it a 10 paddle and add on a 6.

Kel and Witney. Really? That’s all they had? A total waste of my time. As an old white guy, I didn’t relate to the song and definitely did not relate to their jumping around. I can’t call it dance. And even then, he wasn’t keeping up with the extras they brought in. They were all outshining him. Once again, grandpa at the wedding reception. Carrie Ann’s attempt at black slang was disgusting and patronizing. And again, Erin thought it was the best in history? I must be totally out of touch. Just put me in the old fogey’s home with Len. He was the only one with the guts to say the emperor had no clothes. He called it right. 5 (and that is generous)

I’m satisfied that we are back on the right track of awarding the trophy to the dancer who showed the best stuff and danced her heart out. No more stumblebums, please.

DWTS 10

First off, my heart goes out to James van der Beek and his family. The loss of a child is devastating to any family and he has my deepest sympathy.

As for the show:

They wasted their budget this week on the sleazy commercial instead of a snazzy dance number for the opening. All those dancers on budget just standing around. Nothing to do. Maybe a little bit of dance? And apparently despite efforts to the contrary this became the unintentional My Most Miserable Moment episode. I know, weeping sells only second to sex, but I thought we might be spared this season.

On the upside, without Stumblebum Spicer, the dancing was great, without a missed heel turn in sight. The first six dances were all my favorites until they came to a jarring stop. Three disqualifications this week for not dancing ballroom. Can I have about five minutes alone in a room with the weasel that does this each week? Just five minutes. That’s all I need. This was my last night to see great ballroom. Next week they’ll all be doing some ignominious mishmash jumping around like escaped lunatics. Yes, the Freestyle. Although I think they give the dancers to redo their favorite one. That’s always a treat.

I definitely award Lauren redemption on her Paso Doble. I got chills right out of the gate. Great side by side moves and I loved her PD face. Not angry, more like “I’m above all this.” And the dominatrix outfit must have been stolen from Peta’s closet. Do they even know what a dominatrix is in Alabama? Raspberries to Gleb for waxing.

I missed part of Kel and Witney’s dance because I was wiping the tears from my eyes from laughing so hard at those ugly wallpaper pants. What in God’s name was that about? Who thought it was a good idea? From what I saw of the dance, the judges were way off. They seem to go way too easy on Kel. Are they afraid of being racist for picking on the black guy? For his tango he seemed to take some classes at the Sean Spicer school of dance. He was marching around with his nose in the air like he was inspecting the troops. Not the level I expect to see in the semifinals. And what’s with all the weird faces? No redemption. Although the way Witney popped up after each sit spin was cool.

Ally on VW. OMFG! So many chills. I was totally transported. Sasha always delivers in the smooth. Not always so for short guys. But they floated around as if on air. Definitely achieved escape velocity and made it halfway to the moon. And what a great red dress. Redemption and Best Dance of the Night award.

Hannah in a beautiful rumba. It was wonderful. I love a rumba that’s more than just vertical sex. This was proper rumba and so, so sinuous. And just remember the first word in sinuous is sin. Kudos to Alan for saying no to the wax. Redemption achieved.

Last out was JVDB. My first thought was “could those pants be any tighter?” I would have preferred less line dancing and acrobatics and more cha cha. OMG, I sound like Len. I did like the disco vibe of the whole thing. It was like a flashback. Haven’t had one of those since the disco days. Sorry, like a Coke bottle: no redemption, no return.

I’m not sure what the theme of the second half was except to drive me nuts. Only 2 dances and 3 messes. Okay, I give the Charleston partial credit.

Lauren and Gleb led off with a floaty VW directly out of a fairy tale. She was dressed in a princess pink dress. All she needed was a tiara. Gleb on the other hand. What was that jacket? The last time I saw something like that there may have been some psychopharmaceuticals involved. At first, I thought it was shadows. Then maybe he grabbed it from a housefire and forgot to get the soot off. Only in full light did I realize it was totally LSD inspired. I think the costume designer needs to pee in a jar. However, the dance achieved orbit. I give it a 10.

Then the crap began. Kel kept looking questioningly at Witney as if asking “what’s next?” All his moves were heavy. He never achieved the lightness the dance needed. Oh, yeah, some good lifts, but we’ve seen all that. Move along, nothing to see here. BTW, CONTEMPORARY IS NOT A BALLROOM DANCE. I thought it was interesting that after the whatever it was, Erin said “Now, back to dancing.”

Ally and Sasha were ambushed. Sing Sing Sing is a QS. Everybody knows that. WTF? But they pulled it off with a Busby Berkley extravaganza. “Golddiggers of ‘19”. What Bruno said, a Hollywood musical. Very cute. NOT BALLROOM but at least a recognizable couple dance

JVDB had a great Foxtrot considering what he was going through. It was one of his better dances. Weird costuming, though. What was the look they were going for with him? Tails, collarless shirt and no tie.

Hannah and Alan. What a mess. The moves had no relation to the musical tempo mostly because there was hardly any music and no tempo. No harmony, no rhythm, just word salad. They made some beautiful shapes and acrobatics, but it would have been no different with the sound turned off. Maybe better. That “music” was awful. They were sabotaged. Whoever is the dickhead who picks the music and assigns the dances?

So, did I pick it or what? I said JVDB was on the way out. Going into the finals, it’s anyone’s to lose. Didn’t we use to have three people do the freestyle? I remember years ago when Laila Ali was one of the three finalists. Halfway through the final show they announced she was kicked out. Whoever Tom Bergeron’s puffball sidekick was stuck a microphone in Laila’s face and asked how she felt to be kicked off. Laila looked at her like she had lost her mind (Laila was the master of “the look”) and said, “Well, I’m pissed. How do you think I feel?” So why four this go around. Was it four last year?

My analysis is that it’s between Kel and Ally. He is the worst of the four dancers, but the judges keep giving it to him. It may not matter, though. I imagine as usual; all contestants will get 30 points. The judges seem to have lost all but their 10 paddles in recent years for the finale. That puts it totally up to the viewers. And that’s what may put Ally over the top. Hannah and Lauren stepped up last night but who can pull the most viewer votes. Gleb and Alan have large followings, and Lauren, Hannah and Ally pull very different demographics. Lauren pulls the country music fans but how many of them watch DWTS? Hannah pulls the Bachelorette fans. It boggles my mind that any of those people exist and that they can function in the real world. Ally is the girl band breakout and could really push the girl power thing but seems to be wilting on that point. However, IMO she is the best dancer among the four. Lauren tends to be stiff when unsure of herself. Hannah has moments of looking ungainly. Her Alabama butt is starting to fill in. And Kel’s just not that good.

I haven’t trusted the public to pick the better dancer on here or SYTYCD in years and doubt they will disappoint me. But I like Ally and Sasha needs a mirror ball.

In the Midnight Hour

I have found that revenge can be a strong motivator. Like this example. With apologies to Wilson Pickett.

In the Midnight Hour

I’m gonna wait ‘til the midnight hour

That’s when my love come tumbling down

I’m gonna wait ‘til the midnight hour

When there’s no one else around

I’m gonna take you, girl, and hold you

And do all the things I told you, in the midnight hour

            I screamed with every fiber of my being. I screamed as if the very devil were after me, which in a sense he was. I screamed long and loud.

***

            I guess I can blame my parents for some of what went wrong. After all, they were the models that taught Bobby and me most of our life skills. And they were selfish and self-centered. Or are those both the same things? They put their own needs before everything else. It’s my opinion that if you have children, you at least spare a little thought for how your actions affect them. I mean, now that I’m fourteen I realize that my parents are real individuals with dreams and desires of their own, not just cardboard cutouts as stage props in the movie of my life. And I don’t think their whole lives should revolve around the kids. But there is a middle ground where you consider your actions in light of how your children will see them. Our parents never had this quality.

            When I was in first grade, Bobby was my hero. He was ten years to my six and although he wasn’t the biggest kid in fourth grade, he could soundly thump any second grader who dared to pick on me. He took his role as big brother seriously. And soon he branched out to thump the bullies who picked on my friends. All the girls swooned over my handsome brother, and as it became clear he was protecting my girlfriends, they all wanted to be my friend. First grade was rather grand. But not our home life.

            That was the year Mama and Daddy began going through a rough patch. Daddy worked at an office and Mama stayed at home. I’m not sure, but I think the trouble involved money. They would snipe for what seemed like hours, reminding me of the distant rumbling of a big storm. Then suddenly it would erupt. Both had a temper, and they had no qualms about screaming at each other, slinging invectives and accusations. I got that word, invectives, from Mary Jane Slater. She thinks she’s so cool because she’s read so many books. I think she’s stuck up, but it’s still a cool word and describes exactly what Mama and Daddy did. He would call her lazy and a spendthrift. She would call him a lowlife cheater, though I don’t know what he cheated on. Sometimes she threw cups or plates. Daddy would knock pictures off the wall. The sound of something shattering accompanied every fight.

            As you might expect it scared me. It scared me badly. I would run from my room and jump in Bobby’s bed and burrow under the covers. I’d roll myself into a ball and snuggle up to his midsection. He’d put his arms around me and whisper that it would be okay.

            “It’s okay, Joni. Don’t cry. You’re safe with me. I won’t ever let anything happen to you.” Only later did I find the wet spot on my head where his tears had fallen. He would hold me and rock me, long into the night, as we weathered the storm of our parents. He was my rock and my protection. He loved me. He said he would always protect me. And I foolishly believed him.

***

            I heard someone say hindsight is twenty twenty. That’s so true. You never notice all the little things people do as they are happening. Only looking back do you say, “Oh yeah, I should have noticed that.” Nobody ever thought anything was wrong with Bobby. I was the one to worry about. He was a perfect student, straight A’s throughout primary and middle school. I was a competent A/B student but had conduct issues. I just didn’t like being restricted and told what my role as a lady should be. I wanted to be who I was, not some character from history. Girls don’t talk like that, girls don’t do that, ladies don’t behave that way. All I heard was don’t. Well, I wanted to DO. So, they labeled me a problem.

            It only mattered to my teachers. My parents quickly forgot any notes sent home. They were too busy leading their lives to worry about school problems. The only time they met with my teachers was once when the administration dragged them in for a ‘consultation’. It quickly became clear in the meeting that the teachers knew me better than my parents. The meeting accomplished little more than getting me grounded for a week. But even that didn’t last. My parents just lost interest.

            They took a little more interest in Bobby; he was ‘the son’. However, it was only a glancing interest. They didn’t seem to notice that he had no friends. The younger boys were afraid of him because he bullied them mercilessly. His peers thought he was a jerk. At least that’s what Mary Jane Slater said. Although he was handsome, the girls avoided him because he had this permanent sneer emblazoned on his face. Everyone could sense a feeling of cold calculation emanating from him. Mary Jane said he gave her the willies. Maybe. But to me, he was just my brother Bobby.

            At home I was the problem, too. If something got broken, Bobby always convinced me to take the blame. He said that Daddy would beat him, but they would only ground me for a week. And we knew they’d forget to enforce it. It seemed reasonable, so I always went along. He remained the perfect child.

            I remember how he didn’t like it when I brought home Mr. Whiskers, a stray kitten. He said he didn’t like cats. I figured Mr. Whiskers could melt any person’s heart and tried to get him to play with the kitten. Mr. Whiskers didn’t like Bobby, though. He laid his ears back and hissed. Within two days, Mr. Whiskers had disappeared. There was a suspicious scratch on Bobby’s arm, but I never had the courage to ask him about it. I think that’s when I started to be afraid of Bobby.

            Just before the Bad Stuff happened there was a telling moment in the car. Bobby was sixteen. He had just gotten his license and Mama and Daddy would send him on errands in the car. He loved to drive around. One night, Mama sent him to the store to get her some cigarettes. She told him to take me along. It had been raining earlier, and the streets glistened in the early evening under the streetlights. He was driving Daddy’s big Oldsmobile. As we were driving through a residential section, we saw a couple out for a stroll. I tensed when Bobby sped up. What was he planning? As we roared past the couple, he swerved to plow through a puddle sending a wave of muddy, oily street water over the couple. As we kept going, I could hear them yelling. I looked back and saw we had drenched them. They were shaking out their shirts, furious at what had happened. Bobby had a satisfied looking sneer on his face.

***

            Late summer meant evening thunderstorms. A short time after the incident with the car, we were having a late-night boomer. I used to be afraid of thunder and lightning. I would go jump in Bobby’s bed and cower under the covers while he held me. I no longer needed his reassurances. The storm seemed to circle us. It would intensify and then simmer down, only to start up again a few minutes later. It went on into the night.

            BOOM

            I snapped awake. I had been dozing, not deeply asleep as the rumbling went on. I opened my eyes just as lightning flashed the room. In the brief light, I saw the outline of a man. It terrified me. I couldn’t move or speak. Another flash and I saw it was Bobby. I was so relieved. At sixteen he was almost a man, now.

            “Bobby, what are you doing here?” I whispered. He came over and sat on my bed.

            “I couldn’t sleep. I remember how you used to come sleep with me when there were thunderstorms.”

            “I was a little girl then. I know thunder can’t hurt me now.”

            “Little Sis is growing up,” he smiled as he said it. I could tell because the lightning illuminated his face. “Can I hold you for old time’s sake?” He pushed back the light sheet I had over me and stretched out next to me. He wrapped his arms around me like he used to, but we were closer to the same size, so it didn’t work like it once did. He was shirtless, wearing only his pajama bottoms, and it felt weird for him to be holding me like this. But I let him. For old time’s sake.

            When he laid down beside me, it caught part of my nightshirt under him, causing it to pull taut against my chest. The lace decorations rubbed roughly across my newly budding breasts, causing me a quick intake of breath. Each breath caused it to rub again, and I found I was breathing shallowly to avoid it. I could feel Bobby’s breath on my neck, hot and uncomfortable in the humid room. I shrugged trying to create a little distance, but Bobby wouldn’t let go.

            “Bobby, let go. I’m hot,” I complained. He relented a little. The movement caused his hand to brush across my breast.

            “Oh. Little Sister’s nipples are hard. You excited about having a man in your bed?”

            “Don’t be stupid.” Luckily, the dark kept him from seeing how deeply I flushed.

            “I don’t know. Seems kinda definite to me.” Then to my horror he began stroking my breasts. Involuntarily, the nipples became even harder. “Seems like somebody likes this.”

            “Stop it. Stop it, now, Bobby. Stop it or I’m telling.” A renewed flash of lightning illuminated an iciness I had never seen in his eyes before. He slapped my face, then grabbed both my wrists and whispered directly into my ear. “You ever say anything about this, and I will hurt you. I will hurt you so bad you will never forget.” He removed one hand from my wrist and began brazenly fondling my small breasts.

            “Don’t,” I whimpered. He stopped, then he placed his hand on my neck and began squeezing. I couldn’t breathe. I could see his still silhouette, dark against flickering light from distant lightning, his face in shadow. I tried to pull his hand away with my free hand. Then I began hitting him in the side with my fist. Nothing moved him. I began seeing sparkling lights around the edge of my vision. Suddenly he released me. I gasped as much needed oxygen returned to all my systems. I wanted to get away from him, but he still had me trapped. I feared what he might do to me.

            “Don’t fuck with me,” he hissed. “I can make you suffer.” He returned to fondling my breasts. “I can hurt you in ways you never imagined. Just like that fucking cat. Why not lay back and enjoy it?” While my anatomy had little choice but to send sensations of ecstasy, my brain interpreted them with disgust as my brother assaulted me. Tears slid from my eyes as I cried as silently as I could. He slid his arm under me up to encircle my neck, reminding me he could strangle me if he so chose. His other hand slipped under my cotton shirt and then slid down the front of my panties. I had only been having my periods for a few months. I silently wished I was having one now. He deserved to get a bloody hand. I clamped my eyes shut as he tried to slide his finger into my opening. I was dry and it hurt. At the same time, I could feel him pressing his groin into my backside, the lump in his pajama bottoms noticeable. He humped me like this for a few minutes then stiffened with a groan. We lay still for a moment. Then his arm around my neck began to close. I had both hands free and reached up pulling at it. Once he felt he had made his point, he eased the pressure.

            “Remember what I said.” Then he crept out of my room. I felt so dirty I wanted to jump in the shower right then, but how would I explain that in the middle of the night? I balled myself up in my sheet, buried my head in my pillow and sobbed until I fell into an exhausted sleep.

***

            Even my self-absorbed mother noticed my pale complexion and dark smudged eyes the next morning.

            “Goodness, I hope you’re not coming down with something,” she said accusingly. Yes, every childhood illness I had was done for the express purposes of inconveniencing you, I thought sourly. Bobby glared at me with a warning in his eyes.

            “I’m fine,” I mumbled.

            “You’ve always been so sickly,” Mama said. What the hell? I’m hardly ever sick. “Sunshine, here’s never been sick a day in his life.” Mama ran her hand over Bobby’s hair. ‘Sunshine’ beamed at her. I wished them both dead.

            Bobby didn’t return that night. I couldn’t have stopped him. My door had no lock. I considered pushing my dresser in front of it, but it turned out too heavy to move. But Bobby was not done with me yet. Not by a long shot. Every few nights, I guess when the teen-age urge got too much to bear; he came to my room. I just closed my eyes and tried to be elsewhere in my brain. That didn’t last as Bobby wanted more participation from me. I just dully looked at him the first time he said that.

            “I’m going to stick it in your butt, your pussy, or your mouth. You decide.” My first thought was the butt, so I wouldn’t have to look at him, but I considered how painful that must be. I refused to play his game, so he decided on my mouth. That didn’t satisfy him, though so he would jerk himself and then finish in my mouth.

            By this time, anyone paying attention would have noticed that my life was falling apart. I ate almost nothing, I rarely bathed, never washed my hair, spoke to no one. I had no interest in taking care of myself. I just wanted to be dead but was too afraid to do even that. Mama decided I had anorexia and lectured me on that nearly daily. She also said if I didn’t take better care of myself, she would come into the bathroom and scrub me herself. Like that would ever happen, hah.

            My few friends left at school knew something was wrong but didn’t know how to reach me. I just withdrew and shut everyone out. One of them one day texted me a magazine article about ‘Girlpower’. It was all about stepping up, defending yourself, being your own person. All the things I used to be. It brought tears to realize how far I had fallen. It also caused me to take stock. Bobby would be at home at least two more years so I could expect the abuse to go on that long. I knew there was no way I could live that way. Something had to change. The easiest way was to kill myself or failing that, him. But how?

***

Looking back, I’m surprised how long it took me to realize that there was another path out. It was brazen, Machiavellian and very much the old Joni. It was dangerous, but I had to go for it. The next time Bobby came to my room, I chickened out. He had me conditioned to submit to him. I realized it would be harder than I thought. Not knowing his schedule made it more difficult to psych myself up. Two days after my last attack, I noticed Bobby fondling his testicles in the living room when he thought no one was watching. It aroused him. I could count on a visit tonight.

            Late, after everyone else was asleep, he slipped into my room. There was a half moon, making everything in my room seem silver. I could make out Bobby’s figure with the silvered permanent sneer marring his face. He kneeled on my bed, pushed his pajamas down to his knees, and straddled me. I gathered up my courage and said I was tired of the same old thing. Why not try putting it in me? Even in the dim light, I could see his eyebrows go up in surprise. He quickly shifted his knees and laid down over me, fumbling under my shirt to strip away my panties. I had to work quickly. As soon as he sprawled on me, I wrapped my legs around him, locking us tightly together. I threw both arms around his neck and pressed as hard against him as I could. Then I was ready. I screamed with every fiber of my being. I screamed as if the very devil were after me, which in a sense he was. I screamed long and loud. I continued screaming until I heard the thumping from my parents’ bedroom. Bobby was fighting, trying to break free but could not break my hold. As my bedroom door burst open and a second before the light came on, I released him and began beating at him. My scream changed to “Get off! Get off me!”

            “What the hell!” Daddy roared. The tableau he saw was me trying to cover myself and Bobby crouched over me, pajamas down, cock erect and a guilty look on his face. Daddy was on Bobby in a second, grabbing him by the neck and actually throwing him across the room. Mama rushed to me, pulling up the sheet to cover me and shielding me in her arms.

            “In your room!” Daddy yelled at Bobby, who scurried out like the vermin he was.

            “Oh, poor baby,” Mama crooned. Maybe she had finally found her calling.

            “Did he hurt you, I mean, did he do anything to you?” Daddy asked. I made my eyes wide and round, looking fearful. I shook my head.

            “He said he’d hurt me if I said anything,” I whispered, just loud enough for them both to hear.

            “Oh, baby,” Mama cuddled me again. Daddy stormed out. In the light from my overhead fixture, I saw him turn left and head to their bedroom. He came back a moment later carrying his big leather belt. He entered Bobby’s room, across the hall from mine. Bobby would get a thrashing. Good.

            “It wasn’t like that, Daddy,” Bobby whimpered. “She wanted it.” The smack of skin on skin sounded loud even across the hall.

            “I don’t want to hear another filthy word out of your mouth! Pull those pajamas down. You seem to know how to do that well enough.”

            Mama held me tight, but she cringed with each smack of the leather across Bobby’s backside. Various cries and shrieks from Bobby accompanied each blow. It was all music to my ears. He got fifteen licks. Nowhere near enough, in my opinion. Daddy stopped at Bobby’s door as Bobby lay on his bed sobbing.

            “Don’t come out of this room until I come for you.” With that he slammed the door with all the finality of a jail cell.

            “Are you really okay, kitten?” Daddy said, sitting on my bed, morphing from avenging father to tender father in an instant. I said that I was but let them know about Bobby’s bullying at school, his implication in the disappearance of Mr. Whiskers, and all the times he had bullied or talked me into taking the blame for things broken or gone wrong. I may have added a few that actually were my fault, but I was building a case here. I also poured out a flood of tears, but these were real. I found that once they started, I couldn’t get them to stop.

            “My God! My poor child. I had no idea. How did you let this go on?” he angrily asked my mother. She was quick to take the bait, and they readied for another battle.

            “Please don’t fight. Not tonight. I’m scared. I afraid of what he’ll do to me.” I managed to say this between whimpers as my bout of crying died out. They both looked ashamed for a moment.

            “Don’t you worry, baby. He won’t ever hurt you again.” Daddy promised. Wow. Maybe military school? Daddy went down the hall to the pantry. When he came back, he had a length of cord in his hands. He wrapped one end around the doorknob to Bobby’s room and secured it. Then he tied the other end to the door to the bathroom beside my room.

            “You’ll have to use our bathroom if you need one tonight, but at least we know that little creep can’t get to you. You’re safe now. Tomorrow we’ll figure out a permanent solution. Do you think you can sleep?” I nodded, dashing tears from my face.

            “I think I’ll sleep here for a while,” Mama said. “I’ll just feel better knowing my child is safe.” Wow, Mama was in the running for Mama of the Year. She and I dozed for about an hour, then she got up and went to join Daddy. I laid there for a minute. One more thing I wanted to do. I got up and crept across the hall to Bobby’s room. I scratched softly at his door.

            “What?” came his ragged, tear-stained voice.

            “Bobby, it’s me,” I said with sympathy in my voice. “Does it hurt so awfully bad?”

            “Y-yes,” accompanied by a sniffle.

            “Good!” and I slipped back into my room.

DWTS 9

Apparently, there is a god. And he smiled on us last night. DWTS shook off Sean Spicer like a pesky case of crabs. I was woot wooting around the house so that my wife thought I’d gone crazy. The joy of it was almost enough to forgive them for two indiscretions. Almost, but not enough. JAZZ IS NOT A BALLROOM DANCE. While Ally may have perfectly done what Sasha taught her, and deserved her 10s, refer to the previous sentence. Actually, I liked JVDB’s better. It was more hip hop than jazz. HIP HOP IS NOT A BALLROOM DANCE, EITHER. However, it had swag and suited the song. They pulled out Magic Mike moves that Carlos Penavega used a couple years back. Then, they called it rumba. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kqTKUUYAVVE  Especially at the one-minute mark. And why do they keep wasting him on jazz and contemporary when he can throw down some great ballroom if they’ll just let him. His jive was a real showstopper for me. High energy and the kicks I like to see. Could have used more pumping as Bruno said. But then I went down the rabbit hole thinking about Bruno talking about pumping.

Smilin’ Len seems to have been moodier this season than in the past. If any of the celebrities say anything to him, he pulls an attitude. And his mouthing off to Ally of “Don’t touch me” was inexcusable. He has pulled few punches in his dislike for Spicer, at least twice telling him that he didn’t belong where he had gotten. Truth. He should have been dumped first or second week. I especially liked Len’s comment about his Argentine tango “The best thing about it was that it wasn’t very long.” Len’s still got it.

THE dance of the night had to be Hannah and Alan’s tango. It was classic tango; sheer elegance and a thing of beauty. Perfection. I had chills several times. Quite possibly best dance of the season. Their salsa on the other hand, was lacking. It had energy and flash, but, yeah, the lifts were sloppy. If you’re gonna lift, make it perfect.

And when they weren’t jazzing, Ally and Sasha had a near great samba. I’m with Joey Fatone; where’s the rolls? I don’t pull out my 10 paddle for a samba unless it has rolls. No one but Derek ever did linked forward and backward rolls, but at least give us a notion of a roll. Here’s an homage to the king of rolls. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AJdz4OMAQJg

Lauren and Gleb seemed MIA last night. Their QS was nice, but nothing to write home about and where did they dig up that ugly dress? It should be burned immediately before someone tries to copy it. As for the rumba, I was still recovering from AJ being completely covered with tattoos. What the hell was he thinking? There is no universe where that is remotely close to attractive. He looks like a sideshow at a carnival freak. As for the dance, Gleb did a lot more rumba than Lauren, but it was still nice.

Kel and Witney’s Paso briefly turned into Riverdance. Who were those guys and where did they go? Just a brief cameo. Way too angry. And wasn’t that the same song Mel B. used a few years ago, and then someone else after her? Have they run out of songs? Their VW had an airplane and a flekerl; what’s not to like? Not airy enough though. It felt grounded whereas it should float. A couple of wobbles on the landings. And as my partner tells me, he should take bigger steps.

Now that the true deadwood is gone it’s anybody’s game.

The Southern gals definitely got game, but both are inconsistent. So are Gleb and Alan. That looks like a recipe for disaster. JVDB seems to have faded into the woodwork. He needs more facetime if he wants to win it. I don’t think the fanbase is there. Same with Kel. Most of Kel’s success is due to Witney. She is almost like a female Derek in pulling dance out of anyone. My money’s on Ally. She has the most raw talent and Sasha knows what he’s doing. They’ve made him dance with old people and midgets. It’s great they finally gave him someone he can work with. They already have Emma’s mirror ball at home on the mantelpiece; it’s time for Sasha to have one to balance it out.