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Joody – family fiction told in four stories


Joody is not a good mom to her three kids.  She’s not dangerous, she’s careless; she self-medicates with pot and beer; she’s allergic to responsibility.  Life is a big mirror with her in the center.  Her all-perfect sister Janet with the good job and the nice car and the big house can certainly afford to share with her and the kids.  It is the fourth pregnancy that convinces Janet that it might be time to take the kids away from her sister.  If it was time, she wasn’t ready.

Four narrators tell their side of the story, this is a family in crisis with sisters in conflict.


 Joody (A Case Study in Post-Dramatic Stress Disorder



“You were pregnant?”

“I didn’t know.  Until it was too late, I just didn’t know.”

“How could you not know?  Joody… what is going on with you?”

“I knew you’d be mad.”

“Mad?  You think this is about me being mad at you?  What have you done?”

“I figured it out, that I was pregnant, so I got some girdles.”

“You were wearing girdles to hide the baby?  Is that why I didn’t see what was happening?”

“It wasn’t just girdles, I had to squish my boobs flat until they about burst, my clothes looked terrible, lucky for me you’re blind to fashion.  Like that sweater, Janet, really.”

“Focus, Joody.  The baby… what about the baby?”

“It came too early or something, I mean, it just kind of slipped out.  It never cried or anything.”

“When?  When did this happen?”

“Wednesday night.”

“You had the baby Wednesday night and went to work yesterday?  And today?”

“I’m fine.  I have given birth a few times before, you know.  I did what I had to do.  It’s over and I’m telling you I’m fine.”

 “If there is a dead baby in this house then you are not fine.”



It seemed horrible that my plea to Joody to be careful and avoid getting pregnant again was interpreted as not letting me know when she did get pregnant.  I suspect I was her test case because if she could fool me, she could fool everybody.  She was fooling us for our own good, according to her, so we wouldn’t get all worked up and blah-blah-blah in her face.  By the time she faced facts about being pregnant, one of those facts was it was too late to “do” anything about it.  I have no experience making this decision, having made an earlier decision to avoid the risk or be prepared to face the natural consequences.  Only child-bearing women ever live through this issue and I don’t qualify (yet) to judge any woman’s choice even if I have a strong opinion.  This thinking brought me back to the dead baby, the poor little soul who wasn’t celebrated in the womb, wasn’t spoken of with anticipation; didn’t have a cute nickname like Fetal Attraction.

Joody confessed she hadn’t seen a doctor or midwife, she bound her belly and crossed her fingers.  She thought the baby would come at the end of the summer but it was only June so that’s why she wasn’t prepared.  Why did we have to tell people now when she’d done such a good job of hiding it?  We could take care of this on our own, just the two of us, right?  I insisted my sister get some medical attention, more importantly I wanted the baby treated like a human being.  I knew CPS would get involved, maybe the police… it was a nightmare.  It was Joody’s nightmare.  I knew she wasn’t looking that far ahead:  she thought going to the emergency room was a complication ruining her Friday night.  I knew it was the floodgates opening.  Some part of me wished it wasn’t so but, really, she’d been adrift in dangerous waters, not under­standing her kids were real live people, they were her burdens, they were her joys, they were hers.  She did the best she felt like doing and then expected others to lend her a hand for the sake of her kids.

Down deep, I knew that the lifeless baby was a human being no matter how inconvenient it seemed to uproot all of us over a death that couldn’t be changed now.  Joody had bound her body and kept her weight down in denial of her responsibilities to see beyond herself.  I didn’t know where Juniata found the baby: my toddler niece had been left alone in the house, poking around the kitchen cupboards like little kids do, probably banging the doors.  I was glad Bryce hadn’t seen the bundle, and that Suzanne hadn’t understood it.  I intended to transport the remains in a valise I knew was in the front hall closet.  Even wrapping the swaddled bundle in the table cloth left my hands feeling stained with death.  Some part of me understood Joody had actually handled the slippery baby, had waited for the afterbirth, cut the cord then discarded the placenta in her trash can the next day on her way to work.  She went to work to smile at the restaurant staff and customers like any other day in the melodrama of her mind.



I have a reverse guilt of knowing I have enabled Joody to avoid the most severe consequences of her choices.  She is weak; she lacks a sense of perspective.  Her pregnancies were all complete surprises to her, as if she had caught the Martian Flu here on Earth ‑‑ astounding.  It was true I had grown more exasperated with her as the years went along and she didn’t pass out of her party-phase.  Now Bryce didn’t like it when she came home drunk and even Suzanne didn’t laugh at her stumbling around anymore.  Juniata had been the ‘it isn’t just me’ flag on whether Joody was as bad as I thought.  The sailor-daddy felt his child was safer with his aged grandmother taking point for his interested family so he made legal arrangements before the baby was even born.

Joody had tolerated that pregnancy knowing the long-haul work of raising the baby would be passing her by for the immediate future (she has a short horizon).  In her fuzzy-thinking dream-world she would reunite with Juniata sometime after the girl was potty-trained, or maybe when the kid was old enough to run errands.

You can look back at my river of tears tracking scars that she made, and see how the gravity of the situation has determined the course of my life.  These children are real, and they are now, and they are precious in and of themselves beyond any blood relation to me.  In that sense I cry for all children… because I constantly consider the kids I know best in juxtaposition to the circum­stances of little brains worldwide convoluting with their own experiences.  There are starving children and battered children, militarized and sexualized children.  Just being born in the USA improves the odds you’ll survive infancy (although not as high as Sweden’s).  Just as importantly, I know most kids grow to productive adulthood.  Part of loving children is to know their world, and help them through it by celebrating their contribution to it.  Joody and her kids live in an urban environment, lucky to have good schools, affordable housing and public transportation, with a vigorous economy.  And me.

I’m so appreciative of our advantages that it makes it hard for me to forgive anybody wasting opportunity, opting out.  Joody is guilty of consistently choosing herself above her children.  Joody chooses herself above all.  The degree of her self-absorption makes it impossible to communicate with her about anything but her.  She can be goaded to at least look like a good mother at times… motivated to improve her own image rather than act on behalf of another.  Bone-deep, Joody believes she is special.  If she thinks she’s doing her best, then that is good enough.  No matter if the results are inadequate, that’s not her problem.  She did what she did and it’s done. 

How was I to know what was truly in her heart?  I can only look at the thirty years I’ve known her and use that to predict her most probable reactions.  All of this anchored my thinking as I ran through a dizzying recalibration of what I knew about Joody with the dead baby between us.


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The Lent Hand – Adventures in Beach Town Towing

The Lent Hand is a family-fiction novel about tow truck drivers and the women who love them. Starlight begat Jeromeo then left him at her mother’s husband’s house to continue her hippie search for Being and Otherness. Jerry grows up to run a tow truck down at the shore. Rose Hardeen married a pig. The first baby was an accident and the second was a disaster. Life tosses these two characters together but it is up to them to make something of it.


Our first kiss was at the shore. I was telling her about a senior couple I’d met on the road. Their RV had overheated because the old man had underestimated the volume of water and oil required to keep that big rig rolling. His wife paced the side of the road, I couldn’t tell if she was laughing or crying but her shoulders were shaking. She was one of those trim old gals; I bet there had been many a terse verbal exchange inside that “recreational” vehicle. He looked exhausted and I knew I had another victim of RV itis. He’d bitten off more than he could chew, it was a huge piece of machinery to fight on the road, wind shoved it and curves tempted it. It consumed mass quantities of gasoline which made it doubly-stupid he hadn’t watched the other fluid levels. To his credit, he’d lunged to the shoulder immediately on seeing the gauges approach redline, and mostly we waited for it to cool down so we could replenish his behemoth. I didn’t mean to eavesdrop but people forget I’m there (or don’t care). She said they were selling this fucking (!) thing and getting one only half the size. All they needed was a bed and a table for quick stops on their road trips. She’d rather spend the money on simple motels where they could shower, sleep on a bed, go out to eat. It wasn’t any FUN to wear themselves out dragging such a big shell around. The idea of retirement had been to get free, wasn’t it? Not so she could cook in a smaller kitchen. She looked at him for an answer. He practically fell to his knees in gratitude; she seemed to be saying what he’d been hoping to hear but was unable to say. The rig was too big, period. They’d get farther, faster in a luxury camper, they felt better for voicing the truth and I envied them their positive future. I loved telling these stories because Rose really listened. This time she leaned over and aligned her lips with mine, pressing lightly to sample the shape of my mouth. I was so surprised I reflexively pulled back, afraid I’d blacked out, lost time, and somehow forced her to kiss me. Her hand slipped up behind my head and pulled me back to her lips and I felt a rush of heat, she was treating me like a male. I liked it. Way better than the movies!

Our years of friendship did not erase the shyness we felt as we began dating. To our great joy, things were different, we didn’t talk about the children as much, and we discussed our lives on a more existential level rather than the daily-do of it. It was while talking to Rose that I realized how much I learned from towing. It was like having access to a behavioral lab. By adding stress to a situation, people were pushed up or down a level or two. Even on routine jobs with my pickup truck, I was called upon to change the status. I was picking up, dropping off, moving or removing. Rose made the point that I had done the same with her and the children, I’d made myself useful.

As we approached the deepening physical intimacy of an adult relationship, I was plagued by erotic dreams. I had successfully shut myself off from bothersome stimuli. Surely, my body noted its readiness each morning but a simple salute sufficed. No need for full formation. Now, as if laser-aimed, my imagination had a target and I was driven to distraction by Rose’s femininity. I loved the shape of her upper arms, her feet, the set of her shoulders. I felt protective around her, not because she was weak but because in her strength she was precious.

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