Sharing Stories: Appalachian Writers Retreat

Hindman Settlement School For 38 years, writers have been gathering on the banks of Troublesome Creek in Hindman, Kentucky, to write, learn, share stories, fellowship and honor Kentucky literary greats like James Still.  This year, I have the opportunity to join them.

Troublesome Creek

Troublesome Creek

The Appalachian Writers Retreat officially kicked off last night with readings by Kentucky Poet Laureate George Ella Lyon and former Kentucky Poet Laureate Gurney Norman, author of “Divine Right’s Trip.” After the readings, we gathered on our covered porch, rocking in the red and white metal chairs, to hunt and peck through facts and details of the lives of one another. West Virginia, Ohio, New Hampshire. Poets, essayists, food writers, novelists, short story writers. One of my favorite housemates is Key, the Great Dane-German Shepherd mix who is accompanying his companion, Lexington poet Rebecca Gayle Howell.

Today, writing workshops began and there were afternoon readings by several participants.  One of my housemates, E. Gail Chandler, encouraged me to read because she was going to, and I read a short story called “Another Minute.” It was well-received.  Even Robert Gipe, author of the ballyhooed graphic novel “Trampoline” complimented me (which made my day!).  I thought I’d share the story with you.

Another Minute

          Darlene wiped Amethyst Ablaze lipstick from her lips with a greasy McDonald’s napkin as Earl’s Camaro shuddered to a stop. Go back with Maybelline on her lips and the screws might figure she’d been gone for five hours.

Earl wrapped a rubber-band around the gearshift to hold neutral, grabbed the crowbar from the back seat, then scuttled behind the back of the car to keep watch while Darlene slid low in the seat and emptied out the contents of the Wal-Mart bag: three tubes of Great Lash Mascara, two tins of Camel Spice snus, and one “Thrill” rechargeable personal massager. She’d get enough to buy commissary for the next three months and then her bit’d be up.

Darlene shimmied out of her jeans, pulled the “Go Vols” t-shirt over her head and then reached for the orange jumpsuit crumpled behind the seat. She put her feet into the leg holes and slid the sleeves up and onto her shoulders, feeling like she was clamping shackles on herself.

Earl wrenched open the passenger door.

“Earl, put this mascara under my bra in the back.” She lowered the back of the jumpsuit, giving him full access while she arranged each round tin of tobacco in the front cups of her bra. “Now all’s left is the vibrator for Screamin Nina.”

Earl snorted. “Don’t reckon you’d wanna . . . ”

“Earl. God. Don’t be gross,” she said, but snickered. “Anything coming?” Darlene examined the road in both directions and saw no traffic. She stepped out of the car and stood hunched next to Earl with the jumpsuit hanging open off her shoulders. The vibrator tucked neatly inside the back of the grayish-white prison-issue granny panties.

She snapped the front of the cheap cotton cloth back together. “Sounds like bars closing, don’t it, Earl?”

“Damn baby.” Earl enveloped her body. “I hate leaving you here again. You call when you’re back in now.”

Darlene nodded once, sniffed back a few tears. She knew Earl felt bad; he’d told her many times how sorry he was she got caught with his deal. But there it was, he was out and she was in. She didn’t want a blotchy, tear-stained face to be the last thing Earl saw. She wanted him to remember those two hours at the Motel Six and hoped it was enough to keep him honest for her final ninety days. She stepped away and turned her back to him. “You don’t see nothing?”

“Nah, baby. You’re good.” Earl leaned against the passenger door, grasped Darlene’s ass in his hands then turned her for a final kiss. Behind her on the hill was nothing but grass and trees and silence. If he hadn’t known better, he would’ve thought this was just another of the rich, loamy farms in the area; limestone swiss-cheesing below the surface of the grass they called blue, glossy millionaire horses chawing on blades of it from above.

“I’ll make it back fine before the count as long as they ain’t looking for me.”

The sound of gravel spraying surprised them both but it was just an old Chevy parking in front of a yellow frame house across the road. A sturdy man in jeans got out of the car, glanced quickly at Earl’s beater before popping the trunk and pulling three brown paper Kroger sacks to carry into the house.

“You’re a good man y’know, Earl? I couldn’t of stood this place another day if you hadn’t of got me this morning. I needed you in that motel room.” She pressed her groin against him, hard. “Don’t forget that. This shit for the girls inside is just a little extra for commissary, you know? I hate having to ask you for money.”

Earl groaned. “Gal, don’t do that or I’ll take you right back to the motel and no Wal-Mart this time.”

Darlene giggled and ground against him tighter. With her head on his shoulder, she could see a mile down the road. She heard a growling Harley, saw it approaching from far away. “When I’m done, let’s get one of them bikes and just go. God, I wish it was now.”

A job in a Seven/Eleven; fixing food she wanted, not something slopped out of a can barely heated; maybe somewhere down the line a pink baby with Earl’s red hair wrapped in a soft, blue blanket.

“Get on now, ‘Lene.” Earl held her tighter for a heartbeat and then released her with the changing of the wind. Darlene sighed, detached herself and edged up the hill. She heard the clang of the crowbar Earl threw it into the floorboard and turned back to wave. But the man across the road had come back out his front door and was looking at Earl too. He spoke to Earl from across the black border of asphalt. When he started walking toward Earl, Darlene froze.


There were no trees, no shrubs, not even any long grass between the road and the brick walls of the minimum-security prison. Only short-termers and low risks were housed here with the expectation they would stay put. If you were dumb enough to screw up your last minute, the bulls would make sure you got enough time you didn’t make that mistake again.

Brophy stood in the road, completely focused on shouting at Earl to move the Camaro and damn if that Harley wasn’t headed right for his stupid ass. Jesus God, Brophy, Darlene thought. Look up.

He did not.

As the bike got closer, the noise got louder but still the damn fool didn’t move. Surely to God Earl heard it. But Earl was still as a catatonic holy roller.


Darlene stood rooted ten yards away from Earl, undeniably outside the low, wire fence that marked the boundary. “Brophy,” Darlene shouted. “Move!”

He jumped at Darlene’s shout, saw the motorcycle headed for him and ran toward Earl. The Harley swerved, continued without slowing, the growl decreasing as it passed. Darlene watched until it shrank to a pinpoint on the vast blue horizon. When she turned back, the Corporal’s narrowed eyes were fixed on her face.

“Thanks, Cooper,” he said. “Course, that’s escape. I gotta charge you. You’ll probably get transferred and do two more years.”

“Yeah.” Darlene put her hands behind her back.

LuLu and the Authentic Mexican


A couple of years ago, I went for a drive down Old Frankfort Pike on a lovely autumn afternoon.  A friend and I were headed to Wallace Station for a Monday night fried chicken dinner.  Along the way, we saw a sign for a restaurant proclaiming “LuLu’s Authentic Mexican.  I thought it was worthy of its’ own short story.  Here it is:

She never really felt like a “Lucy,” but that was what they called her.  By day, at tea parties with other debutantes and while shopping with her mother and grandmother at Pogue’s, “Lucy” seemed appropriate. “Lucy” was blue starched cotton and white kid gloves and Emily Post and hand-written thank you notes in opulent, navy blue ink on creamy Crane paper. 

But at night, her sun-burnished cheek crushed against a satin lapel smelling of Grey Flannel and horsehair, she couldn’t bear the sound, the feel, the touch of that name kissed into the cilia of her ear.  No, at night, she was no Lucy.   

Now as daylight seeped from an early autumn afternoon, Lucy tied her hair into a high ponytail and slipped a light green cardigan over her shoulder-baring halter hoping to avoid her mother’s censure.  She peeked into the kitchen where Margaret bent over the enamel sink.  She waved goodbye and winked at her to keep quiet.  Lucy slipped out the kitchen door, holding it from banging closed, then ran toward the converted barn and grabbed the keys to her 1957 T-bird off the wall.  Within seconds, she was on the road to Lexington, the top down and wind whipping her ponytail across her face.  As she turned onto the main road she faintly heard her mother calling her name but knew she was far enough away to claim later she hadn’t. 

Despite the October date, the wind was warm and dry.  Days without rain turned much of the grass brown but here, in the pristine farmland of Woodford County’s horse country, chestnut-colored yearlings ran along white fences, their well-manicured hooves nestled in lush, well-watered foliage.  The sun set among bands of charcoaled clouds shot through by prisms of color.  Lucy looked past the top of the windshield and felt the sky envelop her as if she was actually flying into the clouds instead of driving beneath them. 

She pulled the band off her ponytail and let her hair stream behind her like a yellow banner.  She checked her lipstick in the rearview mirror:  Strawberry Meringue. She needed something darker tonight though. Lucy pulled her handbag into her lap and dug around for the tube of Ruby Red, the same shade Marilyn Monroe wore.  Not there.  She tried again.  Nothing.  She knew it was in there.  Lucy glanced down and just as she located the cylinder, felt a shift.  The pavement was gone. 

Lucy watched as the tires lost contact with the pavement.  She flew above the steering wheel, into the open space above her head and saw the sky coming to meet her until a white fence interfered with the brief flight.  The car plowed through the wooden slats and came to a shuddering halt.  Lucy’s hair swung forward and for a long time, everything was dark and quiet.

She became aware of a sound coming to her across a vast distance and tried and failed to put her hand to her head.  She opened her eyes and saw blinking white diamonds in a black velvet sky.  She smiled.  How beautiful.  Then came that sound again, closer now but not so near that she needed to pay attention to it.  Must be her mother calling after her as she drives away.  No, no, this is deeper, darker.  But a voice, yes.


Hmmmm, miss.  Miss what?  Who?  Oh, no, wait, the voice was talking to her.

“Miss?  Can you hear me?”

It came again but sounded funny.  She giggled a little bit and tried to move her hand to her head again.  This time it worked.  Aha!  She sat up and the diamonds gave way to a dark male shape sitting directly in front of her. 

“Miss.  Hello?  Miss?”

“Yes,” she said, “Yes.  I am.”

If it is possible to hear a person smile, she thought, I just heard this one.  She smiled in return. 

“How may you be feeling, Miss?”

“I’m ok, I think, I’m ok.  Who are you?”

“I am called Carlos.”

“Carlos?”  Lucy didn’t recall an angel named Carlos from Sunday lessons at First Presbyterian Church, but she generally didn’t pay too close attention.  Maybe her car had flown and actually landed in some other country.  “Carlos?  I don’t know anyone named Carlos.  Are you an angel?”

Now the man actually laughed.  “No miss.  I was riding home and I have watch your automobile fly across my fence.  I am come to see that you are well.  My name is Carlos de Leon.  I have just purchased the farm onto which you have landed.”  Now Carlos moved to Lucy’s side and she saw for the first time his white teeth grinning at her. 

“Now, may I have the pleasure of knowing your name?”

“Me?  My name is Luciana.  But you may call me LuLu.”



A Little Getaway

Spring Break is upon us.  School children have been released to the dismay of parents.  Teenagers head to beaches to the dismay of adults.  Teachers breathe a week long sigh of relief.

The Spring Breakers movie has apparently revealed for the first time just what happens on those college and high school vacations.  What’s most shocking is that people are pretending they didn’t know this.  My favorite spring break movie is a golden oldie that I must have seen on TCM:  Where the Boys Are with Connie Francis, George Hamilton, Jim Hutton and Paula Prentiss (according to IMDb).

So for today’s song list (mostly retro), I’ll include Where the Boys Are, by Connie Francis.  And some other beachy favorites.

Soak Up The Sun, Sheryl Crow

Margaritaville, or insert your favorite, Jimmy Buffett song

Fun, Fun, Fun, The Beach Boys

I Love Beach Music, The Embers

And then The Entire Soundtrack from Grease.  Just because.

For another version of a little getaway, here’s a very short story I wrote called A Little Getaway.Image.

Darlene checked the bag of stolen make-up as Earl’s Camaro shuddered to a pause outside the prison gates.  Five cartons of Nice’n’Easy – check. Seven tubes of Great Lash – check. One bottle of Jergens for Screamin’ Nina – free, no questions.

Earl put a rubber-band around the gearshift to keep the car in neutral, grabbed the crowbar from the back seat, then scuttled across the back of the car as low as possible to pry open the passenger door for Darlene.  She shimmied out of jeans and t-shirt, pulling her orange jumpsuit on over the Wal-Mart bag full of contraband fitted into the small of her back, right above the prison-issue granny panties.  When Earl reached her door she was ready.

“Damn baby, three hours ain’t enough with you.  I hate leaving you here.  Again.  You call my cell once you make it inside now.  Right?”

Darlene nodded.  “Right Earl.  I will.  You sure you can’t see this bag?”

“Nah baby.  You’re good.”

Earl leaned up against the passenger door, pulled Darlene toward him to give her a final kiss.  He glanced up the hill.  Nothing, just grass and trees and silence.

Darlene kissed him.  “Relax.  I’m good Earl.  I’ll make it back fine before the count.  As long as they ain’t looking for me.  And it seems like they ain’t.  It’s all quiet.”

They both started at the sudden sound of gravel crunching but it was just an old Chevy parking across the road.  A man in jeans and a windbreaker got out and headed toward the house.

“You’re a good man y’know, Earl?  I couldn’t of stood this place another day if you hadn’t of got me this morning.  I needed you in that motel room.”

She pressed her groin against him, hard.

“Don’t forget that.  It’s you I need, this shit for the girls is just extra.”

Earl groaned.  “Girl, don’t do that or I’ll take you right back to the motel and no Wal-Mart this time.”

Darlene giggled and ground against him tighter.  With her head on his shoulder, she could see a mile back down the road.  She heard a growling Harley, saw it approaching.

“Let’s get one of them bikes and just go.  God, I can’t wait til I get out of here for good.  Only a few more months Earl.”

Darlene detached herself and edged up the hill.  She heard the clang of the crowbar as Earl threw it into the floorboard and turned to wave.  But the man from across the road had returned and was looking at Earl too, was talking to him. As he started toward Earl, Darlene recognized Corporal Beatty.

He hadn’t seen her.  She scrambled several yards away up the hill toward the prison.  Beatty was in the middle of the road, shouting at Earl, so focused he didn’t see the Harley hurtling toward him.

“Beatty!  Beatty!  Move!”

Beatty jumped back at Darlene’s shout.  The Harley swerved, continued on.  Beatty shuddered, realizing she had saved him then motioned for Darlene to come down to him.

“Thanks for the shout,” he said.  “But that’s escape.  Two more years.”

“Yeah.”  She put her hands behind her back.