Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Serial Fiction: Mistake 4

Come Fly With Me

I went through the motions of crying, but I guess I must have been too dehydrated to create many tears. Oh Momma. I miss you so much. Just when we finally understood one another. Oh I hope, God please let Momma understand that I love her and she was a good Momma. To me and to Daddy’s son Perry and to Tammy, the chosen one. The little girl they adopted. Even if they are arrogant, greedy, ungrateful, manipulative conniving so and so’s. It’s not Momma’s fault. They learned that from Daddy.
It occurred to me that my siblings weren’t crying. Didn’t they believe me? Were they in denial? No, then they would’ve asked who had called and for all the details. “Why aren’t you guys crying? Our mother just died. Aren’t you even curious what happened to her? I mean she could’ve been beheaded in Iraq for all you know.” I eyed them suspiciously. My grief was morphing into seething anger.
Tammy screamed, “Ohmagod! What was she doing in Iraq? I’m gonna be sick.” She clutched her taught stomach.
At least Tammy has some sort of feelings, even if it’s just she’s grossed out.
Perry asked, “Oh-Donna, who was that on the phone?”
“That was Momma’s friend, Mike.”
He questioned, “Mike who?”
“Mike Taurus. They used to work in the Secret Service together. That’s where she went the first week of August every year. To spend time with him.”
“While she was married to my Dad? That ‘hoe. Right there, grounds she shouldn’t inherit his estate.”
I smiled. Good for you, Momma. Having a real boyfriend. Someone who treasured you. Not like that sociopath you married in his hideous plot of convenience. Perry’s father.
“So where is the body?” Perry questioned.
“As if you care. And as if I’d tell you.”
“Oh-Donna. Where is Chloe’s corpse?”
Tammy blurted out, “Al Qaeda operatives are in Florida? Ohmagod!”
Perry said, “So you sent us to California on a wild goose chase. Thanks a lot little sister.”
I said, “Oh no! Norma Jean!”
Tammy asked, “Who’s Norma Jean?”
“My dog. That’s her name. I can’t go to Florida and leave her alone. Will you take care of her?” I sized up my brother, begging with my expression.
Perry said, “No. We’re all going. Toss her in a kennel or something.”
“No! I’m not locking her in a cage. Her first incarnation was just horrible.”
Tammy said, “Honey, no, you shouldn’t give her Carnation evaporated milk. Too many sugars in it. She needs Purina—”
“No, I meant her first life. Oh never mind.” These two would never believe that this beautiful Great Dane is the reincarnation of Marilyn Monroe. And I’d better not slip, or they’ll have some good ammo toward getting me committed to the loony house.
Perry dialed his cell phone. “Judge Payne here. Is Roddy available? Right.” He unzipped his black judge’s robe. “Listen, I just got word that Chloe died...in Florida...thanks...I appreciate it...hold on.” He tugged his robe over his head, revealing a huge pair of black sweat pants and a white undershirt covering his portly highness. “Oh-Donna, are you going to have a service for your mother?”
“Of course.” I noticed how the cold ungrateful step-son addressed the woman who lovingly raised him. “She’s being buried in the Florida Keys.”
“That’s what she wanted.”
“Where? Key Largo? Can they even bury people there? Isn’t it below sea level?”
“It’s on a little uncharted island.”
“What? How in the hell can we find it? What am I supposed to tell Meddlestein?”
“Give me the phone.”
He huffed and then handed it to me.

I told my mother’s neighbor what had happened and he insisted on attending the service with his wife, Gloria. She and Momma were close friends. I instructed him about the Fontainebleau Hotel and we agreed to meet there.

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Monday, January 30, 2017

My Melanoma

Melanoma is the #1 Cause of Cancer Deaths for Young Americans

This article was written in 2005 and is regularly updated.

The largest mole on the left shoulder blade was my melanoma in situ which is the very earliest Stage 0. It looked like a normal mole to me. If my nurse practitioner hadn’t suspected it, I’d be walking around with invasive cancer now, oblivious until it settled into my lungs, liver or brain. Notice how white I am. I’ve never had a suntan and always use sunscreen. I apologize for not having a close up of the mole. This photograph was taken so I could see the back of my hair at the Love & Hope Ball. I didn’t take a before and after picture of the malignancy because I never in a billion years dreamed it would be cancerous. I’m still in shock that I have Melanoma, I didn’t think I was at risk.

That’s correct. My dermatologist advised me Melanoma is the leading cause of cancer deaths for Americans between the ages of twenty and forty. Everyone fears breast cancer and prostate cancer. Why isn’t the media getting the message out?

Most of us think skin cancer is preventable. We limit our sun exposure between ten in the morning until four in the afternoon. We apply sunscreen. We use cosmetic tanning creams, go to tanning spray salons or lay in UV-free tanning beds.

I’ve never been a sun goddess. I do my gardening early in the morning or late in the evening. I take the kids to the pool after four p.m. and liberally slather on the sunscreen. I’ve never sported a suntan. I don’t smoke, drink, drug or fool around on my hunky husband. I have skin cancer.

My risk factors were strawberry blonde hair, blue/green eyes and two bad sunburns during my sixth summer, when our wonderful neighbors took me to the beach in Ocean City, Maryland with their kids.

How many of you have blue, green or hazel eyes? Blonde or red hair? Get yourselves and your loved ones to see a medical professional ASAP. Skin cancer can creep up on anyone at any age. Even you tall dark and handsome types. All ages, races, skin tones, eye and hair colors are at risk. Human? Get checked.

Like many of you, I thought Melanoma was the curable, no big deal cancer. They remove the mole and it’s gone. No problem. Wrong! Melanoma begins in the surface of the skin, travels down through the layers to the lymph nodes, where it hops on and is transported to the lungs, liver and brain. Cancer that originated in the skin is still Melanoma in the other organs, and it is just as deadly as if the cancers originated in them. This is how people die of Melanoma. Yes, non-smokers, non-drinkers and non-thinkers do contract lung, liver and brain cancer.

At my annual well-woman check-up, I asked my nurse practitioner to take a look at some itchy raised ugly lesions on my back that were bugging me. I thought they were Seborrheic Keratsois, which are benign lesions most people eventually get. She confirmed this. I asked her to recommend a dermatologist. She did, and said, “While you’re there, have him look at this mole on your shoulder blade…”

The initial biopsy showed a severely irregular nevus. The dermatologist explained this could turn into Melanoma, so he wanted to remove it ASAP. The total excision a week later confirmed Melanoma in Situ in the epidermis, the top layer of skin.

Yep, that mole which I took no notice of was Melanoma. It didn’t look like any Melanoma photo I’d seen. It wasn’t black and blue and red and crusty and bleeding. Those photos are what the advanced stages look like. The early stage looks like a normal mole, but has a slight irregular shape to it or a subtle color difference of hues within. I can’t even guess how many seemingly healthy people are walking around with early Melanoma and they have no clue.
I was stunned. How could I have Melanoma? What about all of the little-black-bikini-moms sautéing themselves poolside all day? They were bronzed beauties and just fine. I was a pasty white frump and I had skin cancer.

I endured three operations at the primary site. All layers of skin and some fat were removed, along with a margin of healthy tissue. Stitches in my shoulder blade prohibited me from doing so many activities. Tying my shoe. Yanking clothes in and out of the washer & dryer. Unloading the dishwasher. Pulling weeds. Typing! Oh that hurt so much. Two pathologists agreed all cancer cells have now been excised. I was very fortunate the cancer was only in the very top layer of skin and hadn’t begun to penetrate. I won’t need to undergo radiation, chemo or immuno therapies. God bless my gynecologist nurse practitioner, Brenda Hagan, for suspecting this mole.

My dermatologist tossed me onto a surgery-go-round. Every two weeks I had one or two suspicious moles excised or re-excised. The sutures were removed in seven to fourteen days, and then I had another round. This dragged on for six months in 2005.

I joined a Melanoma Yahoo Group. The other sufferers and their loved ones basically told me that Melanoma always comes back. They remove it all, and then in a few years, or maybe even a decade or more, it comes back. This time in the lymph nodes, or worse. I eventually had to unsubscribe, it was too sad.

The local news didn’t help my mood. A 27 year old pregnant woman who had Melanoma removed as a teen, wasn’t feeling well. She went to the emergency room, and they found Melanoma in her brain. She lapsed into a coma that night. Her husband quit his job and stayed at her side. They kept her on life support until her fetus grew large enough for a premature delivery. She died when her baby girl was born. The baby died five weeks later.
According to the National Cancer Society, the average person with Melanoma has a reduced life expectancy of 18 years. Factoring in my parents’ and grandparents’ long lives, that takes me to around 62, just when I will be eligible to receive my deferred pension. I might not live long enough to receive the first check. It’s doubtful I’ll ever draw Social Security, since I’ll have to be 67 to receive full benefits. But then again, that’s the statistical median. Half the people live longer. Half die sooner.

Once the shock of the cancer diagnosis sank in, I didn’t cry and freak out. I educated myself, and looked back at the lifestyle changes I’d made over the years. I’m going back to brewing a pitcher of iced tea daily. It’s rich in antioxidants. I’m tired of diet soda anyhow.

I did get grouchy and annoyed at the inconvenience, pain and limitations suddenly imposed on my daily life.

I never did the Why me? drill. I’ve had other devastations to endure, and I learned early in life there is no answer to the riddle Why do horrendous things happen to good people? I’ve accepted my disease and that I have a little less time to go. I have chosen to spend the rest of my life on the sunny side of my dreams. I want to take a great big bite out of life with my blue-eyed blonde family.

I am having a hard time swallowing the two bad childhood sunburns caused my Melanoma. Yes, I have been lightly sunburned and peeled a few other times in my life, but never a severe blistering burn. I have kept my sun exposure to a minimum and applied sunscreen. Yet I know many people who sunburn every year before tanning to a dark brown and they don’t develop this in the prime of their lives. Are UV rays really the sun cancer villain? Could something in the sunscreen cause it?

Every house I’ve ever lived in has tested positive for radon gas in the basement. We tested our current home. A normal radon reading is below 4. Two tests indicated our radon level was 20! We stopped spending time in the basement until my husband and son installed a fan to vent the radon out from under the house up through the roof. The next test came back at a reading of 1.2, which is comparable to what the radon concentration is outdoors. I’m very proud of their hard work and proper installation. The fan runs continuously, I hear the hum in our master bathroom as it is adjacent to the attic where the pipe vents through the roof.

Could radon gas exposure have been the culprit or catalyst that triggered my Melanoma? Do any of you with Melanoma have radon exposure?

My husband has his peanut butter theory. Everyone who has ever contracted cancer has eaten peanut butter. His point being we are probably poisoning ourselves and are clueless.

I have skin cancer.

I want to get the word out to everyone. I’M TALKING TO YOU! Each time you see a doctor or nurse, for any reason, ask them to look at your moles. Don’t insist “Oh, mine are fine. I won’t get skin cancer.”

Everyone is at risk…
Update March 15, 2007
I had another follow-up full-body-check today. My dermatologist wants to biopsy a mole on the right side of my neck, near my jaw line. He’s concerned it could be basal cell carcinoma. I had one on the opposite side, same location removed in 2005. That one was a severely irregular nevus, which was on its way to turning into melanoma.

Basal cell carcinoma is not usually deadly like melanoma is. Basal cell carcinoma can be disfiguring if left untreated.

I’ve had a lot of benign seborrheic keratosis popping up and I don’t like the ones on my face. He froze three today.

I also have benign skin tags on my neck which I want snipped. My doctor will remove them when he does the biopsy. Then I’ll be all set for ponytails and up-doos this Summer.

Please, please, please! Even if you have always slathered on sunscreen and stayed in the shade, like I did, have your moles checked. Anyone of any race can develop melanoma. Its a silent epidemic.

Yesterday I was contacted by a textbook author who had visited my website. I granted her permission to publish my above photo in two medical terminology textbooks. One for high school, the other for community college. I feel like Lucy Ricardo in the I Love Lucy episode where she writes a novel and they want to use it in a book about how not to write a novel. Nobody wants to be in a medical textbook. I’m giggling inappropriately and I don’t know why.

Update March 25, 2013
My father was diagnosed with Melanoma at age 91. It didn't kill him, he died of heart failure after a long life in the sun as a farmer, cowboy, Marine and police officer.

As I wrote in 2005, I'm still suspicious that environmental factors in addition to the sun contributed to my early Melanoma. Now there is a lot of talk of the chemical BPA in plastics and lining food and drink metal cans. I rid our home of all plastic that didn't say 'BPA free', the vehement protest of my Disney daughter who loved all of her cups she'd collected from the theme parks. Good news. I did save them and they have a "5" recycling symbol. I just learned that "7" is the one that might contain BPA, so the cups are back in use. Now to use up all the canned food and soft drinks then start buying only frozen or in glass or plastic containers.

Nobody has said BPA causes cancer. There have been studies that show is a hormone disruptor, and in small doses is not dangerous. Still, I don't want it in my body.
I just had another six month full body check. For the first time in eight years, there were no suspicious moles to be biopsied. Usually I have three done:  one mole the doctor is concerned about, one I'm concerned about and one that spooks us both. This is my second visit to this dermatologist and I really like her. I have lots of seborrheic keratosis, which are wart like benign lesions on my trunk and a few on my face and elsewhere. It was always a bother for the male docs/physician's assistant to freeze a few off with liquid nitrogen.
At my first visit to her last year, this lady doc froze sixty from my back. She allowed her nurse to freeze eighty-five yesterday! Pretty much all that we could find. You'd think liquid nitrogen would feel cold. It actually stings like a bee with a blow torch as she zaps each spot for x amount of seconds which seems like a minute but I know it isn't. I flinched and curled my toes and made fists and scrunched up my face but kept a stiff upper lip. She apologized continuously for the pain, but I wanted them gone. The immediate reaction was redness and swelling, I looked like I had hives. And it burned for several hours, I felt as though I was on fire. I took one dose of Aspirin when I arrived home. The pain subsided and now I'm just left with the brown and red spots (some of which bled, probably due to the Aspirin). They will dry out and flake off during the next thirty days. Then I'll look so much better in my summer clothes this year with all of them gone. And it will be easier to keep an eye on changes to my moles and freckles since there won't be so much to look at. Yippee!

Update Thanksgiving 2013
My beautiful non-smoker sister, Beth, died of lung cancer two days ago. She hid it from me, wanting to beat it before she told me. Her husband contacted me one week before we lost her. Beth's voice was long gone. I don't know what type of lung cancer it was. I instantly assumed it was caused by second-hand smoke as she had lived with smokers since college. Her husband still smokes. But now, in May 2015, it's occurred to me it could have been Melanoma that caused the lung and brain cancer. She may have never even found the mole, if like mine, there was no tell-tale pigment in it. Bless you sister, I miss you every day.

Update November 2014
My latest full body skin exam revealed a change in a mole on the back of my upper inner thigh that my dermatologist found troubling. The biopsy came back benign. This wound is a challenge to care for. I have to place a mirror on the ledge of my bathtub and hoist my leg over it to see what I'm doing. The Vaseline is leaking through the band-aids and staining my pants. Sigh.

On an up-note, my doctor let me in on a secret:  Silicone Scar Sheets. They're like band-aids and they flatten and lighten keloid scars. I'm like why didn't anybody tell me about these 9 years ago? I've been tortured this year with so many steroid injections into my scars and stinging laser scorches. Which did nothing but irritate the big raised ugly purple scars on my chest and back. These expensive scar sheets really do work and I am using them diligently. They are available at drug stores and Walmart. $18 a box.

Update April 2015
Had my 6 month full-body skin exam by my dermatologist. She found a worrisome mole on the center of my lower back which she immediately removed. The biopsy showed it was a mildly atypical nevus. Benign, but morphing into badness. The margins were clear, so she got it all before it did evolve into Melanoma. I've been cancer-free for ten years. Unfortunately, since I have an open wound on my back now, I'll have to temporarily discontinue the Brazil Butt Lift workouts, yoga et al. I'll try to run tomorrow and see how I do. Might need to be content walking. Walking is better than dying :)

My 22-year-old daughter also had a worrisome mole biopsied this week. I'd been concerned about it for two years. The doctor she went to back then said it was beautiful, just to watch it. The physicians assistant at my dermatologist last week didn't think it was anything, but did a shave biopsy because my daughter insisted. Guess what? It was a mildly atypical nevus, and now she has an appointment with my doctor to have more skin removed. Momma knows best.

Moles don't have to have all of the signs and symptoms to be cancerous. My melanoma had no pigment in it whatsoever. It was just larger than a pencil eraser and had an irregular border. It surprised the physicians assistant, he wasn't expecting a malignancy.

I've told my 25-year-old blonde haired, blue eyed, fair skinned son to have a skin check as soon as his new job insurance kicks in, and then every year thereafter. He takes after me and my father, who didn't have melanoma until age 91 and it didn't kill him. Something in my generation has accelerated the skin cancer's arrival.

Update May 2015
The margins were clear on my 22-year-old daughter's subsequent biopsy. My doctor took enough extra skin around the atypical nevus to create a 4" scar on her shoulder blade which I am dressing with Vaseline and gauze after every shower. She is just fine.

Please have your skin checked every year by a dermatology professional (doctor, nurse practitioner or physician's assistant). And make appointments for your whole family. Melanoma and other skin cancers are quiet killers. All races and ages can be afflicted, whether you are a sun worshiper or vampire.

Anecdotal Update June 2015
This blog post has begun a dialogue on Twitter. I've been told:

More Australian men die from Melanoma than automobile accidents.

Melanoma is detected at a later stage if covered by a tattoo. Please if you have tattoos, get a full body skin exam by a dermatologist as soon as you can schedule it. Please!

Update April 2016
At my six month full body check, my dermatologist biopsied a mole on my leg she said had a white ring around it. I couldn't see it, but she did with her magnifying light. It came back as a dysplastic nevus, which means it is morphing into cancer, but isn't there yet. Two weeks after this biopsy, I went back today to have the skin reshaved. The doctor determined the wound is too irritated to do that now. It had gotten infected and I finished up a course of Keflex antibiotics this morning. She wrote another script in case it gets really red but told me to hold off on another course of antibiotics. She gave me instructions to create a vinegar rinse, which she feels will clean out the goop and heal it better than antibiotics. I have just done the first soak. It stung a little. My next appointment is in 3 months.

Update February 2017
I continue to have full skin exams every six months. My dermatologist has my polka dots memorized. One of us always finds something new or changed and it gets biopsied and depending on the results, I either wait another six months or she has me back in two months to make sure no pigment is returning. In the meantime, I'm on pigment watch, and if I find any, she will re-excise the scar immediately. Since my initial Melanoma in 2005, no more has been found. We're staying on top of my skin, and anything suspicious is removed before it can evolve into malignancy.

Serial Fiction: Mistake 3

The damned Donna song. Why did Ritchie Valens have to write a song with my name in it? Oh-Donna. That’s my miserable nickname. They always use it to pull me outta my happily ever after. I hate belonging to the Payne family. Ashley, promise you’ll be waiting for me when I come back? Don’t forget to send some music to pull me back to you. Keep Make Believe Island just for us, will ya lover boy?
My stomach burned with sourness rising up into indigestion. When I breathed in Bellissimo, Tammy’s perfume, I quoted a famous bear, “Oh bother!” and opened my eyes. There she was.
Tammy screeched, “Good! You’re back with us. Don’t do that to me again Oh-Donna. You scared me to death.”
I focused on my stereo system across the room. The amber clock blinked and winked. My song wasn’t playing. I’d set Dobie Gray’s “Drift Away” on repeat and was pulled into the best dream ever. Ashley and I had been consummating our love. That secret agent man freed my soul and beckoned me to the passageway of erotic delight.
Darn it. What had happened to the music that transported me to him this time? I groaned, “Did the power go out?”
The pitter-patter of four enormous paws announced the dog’s eminent return.
Tammy replied, “What? No. Well, I dunno, maybe. How long have you been sleeping? You ought to be ashamed of yourself. I shoveled out wall to wall poop in the kitchen. And scrubbed the nasty dried pee residue. Look at your poor dog. She’s starving.”
I felt her thick tongue licking my bare feet. Plenty of slobber. “Norma Jean” I said, weakly. I swung my legs off the sofa and thumped onto the floor, hitting my head on the glass topped coffee table. “Oww!”
I pushed myself up, shaky on my hands and knees. I tried to stand again.
Tammy gently helped me to my feet. “I’m sorry, Sis. You really are sick. I’ll make you some food. Sit back down.”
“No. Bathroom. Quick.”
Tammy got me there, just in time. She even helped me onto the seat and then she closed the door. That was scary. Tammy helping me.
“I’ll be right outside if you need me, Sis.”
I did what needed to be done and washed my hands. Oh did I look horrible in the oval mirror. I ran a brush through my tangled hair and washed my face with some liquid hand soap. When I flung open the door, my sister helped me stumble to the kitchen. I plopped down in a chair.
The grinder moaned as she dispensed crushed ice and then some water into a glass. She handed it to me.
I gulped it down and wiped my cracked lips with the back of my trembling hand. She refilled the cup. I shivered.
Tammy asked, “Where’s the thermostat?”
“The thermostat. I feel like Lucy Ricardo in the meat locker. It’s cold and raining outside. The air conditioner shouldn’t be set so low.”
“By the front door. Push the warmer button. Until you hit seventy-two.”
Tammy wiggled off on her mission.
Norma Jean laid on my feet. Her warm bony body felt comforting. I stroked her head with the tips of my fingers. “Oh poor girl. I’m so sorry you didn’t get to eat for...Tammy what’s today?”
My sister returned. “Monday.”
“Wait a minute. I paid the bills this morning. She couldn’t have pooped that much and lost weight in a few hours.” My head hurt. “Hey, you and Perry were leaving to go look for Momma today. I saw you.”
“You did not. And that was last Monday.”
We both gasped.
Tammy flipped a grilled cheese sandwich she was melting in a small skillet. She served it on one of my palm tree motif plates, with a dill pickle.
“I’m on a low carb diet. I can’t eat the bread.”
“Oh-Donna, you haven’t eaten in a week. And you’re not fat. Eat!”
“Cut it in half for me. Diagonally?” I gazed up at her pitifully.
She grabbed a steak knife from the block near the stove and slit the gooey sandwich.
I took a bite, huffing on the hotness, rolling it around on my tongue.
Norma Jean hurtled to the door, barking. The door bell chimed “Aura Lee. I didn’t want any more company. Tammy sashayed down the hallway. I could see her open the door.
I chewed and swallowed. It tasted so good and creamy. It’d been so long since I’d eaten bread. Even this old stuff she’d found in the freezer tasted so buttery and comforting. And the gooey Swiss cheese was so yummy.
My stomach reeled taking in the residual doggy potty scent. The citrus disinfectant didn’t quite kill the odor. It stunk as if there was still a fresh pile. I leaned down and looked under the table. No wonder.
I overheard hushed whispers.
“We’ve got to do something about her. Have her institutionalized or something, Perry. You can sign a court order, like you did with Mom.”
“How bad is she? Crazy? Dying? Sick?”
“Yeah, yeah yeah. I feel sorry for her though. I mean, what a way to go, losing her mind and all. She was mumbling when I woke her up. It was as if she didn’t want to come back, she wanted to die.”
I sat up. The third bite of the sandwich did it. I was full. And angry. I light-headedly rushed down the hall, smack into my seven feet tall and seemingly seven feet wide fifty year old half-brother, with a shaved head. Perry was wearing his usual emergency visitation garb:  his black judge’s robe. He was always such a show off, running around in it. Couldn’t he see how silly he looked out of the court room?
Perry steadied me. “How are you feeling Oh-Donna?”
“Like throwing the two of you out. How dare you come to my home, uninvited and unannounced and then talk about me like I’m retarded and can’t understand your evil hurtful words?” I cried.
Perry escorted me to my living room sofa. I didn’t have much of a choice but to comply, because of his size and my shaky state.
I said, “No! In the recliner.”
He obliged.
At least I’d be able to get myself up easier from the chair.
My half-brother squatted at my side. He brushed a stray curl from my eyes. “Oh-Donna. You have a brain injury. Remember when you collapsed at work and they rushed you to the hospital? The neurologist said it likely happened when you totaled your Suburban, after hitting the deer. Remember?”
Oh yeah, I remembered. I was moments from leaving home, to catch a flight to New York for the writers’ conference. I was up for an award and I had been assigned an eight minute appointment with the acquisitions editor of Charlatan Press. But Daddy telephoned me and said Momma was trying to kill him. He was a pathological liar. I’d only figured this out two years ago. My whole life had been smoke and mirrors, all orchestrated by the great puppeteer, Dr. Nathan Payne.
But my conscience made me check it out. I was driving to my parents’ house when Daddy called again, on my cell phone. I knew it was him because the distinctive ring tone I’d set for him was “We Wish You A Merry Christmas.” I couldn’t unhook it from my belt. I remember the deer smashing through the windshield and pinning my shoulder with his antler. Then I woke up in the hospital.
I shuddered. “Yeah, I remember.”
“They wanted to run more tests and keep you under observation. You ran off against medical advice.”
“So your little narcoleptic-like incidents are getting worse. You need to get some medical help. Maybe a nice long rest away from all the stress you’ve been under, I know it was tough on you—” He cleared his throat, “When Dad died. You were his favorite and all.”
I was his favorite. Oh yeah, right. That’s why he named me executrix, but willed everything to you and Tammy. Greedy needy children that you are. That was in the will Perry produced. Roderick Meddlestein, Esquire, my parent’s across-the-street neighbor for thirty years, later revealed daddy had retained him to draw up a more recent will, leaving everything to Momma.
Perry stood up and said, “I’ll call Saint Christopher’s. They have a nice unit—”
I flipped him the bird. Poked him in his big floppy belly. “You sonofabitch, Perry Lucifer Payne! You’re trying to have me committed like you did Momma, so you can sell my house and things and split the money with Tammy and laugh all the way to Hell. That’s where you are both going. Go now! Get outta my house! You go to Hell! You couldn’t keep Momma in the nut house and you won’t stash me there either! I’ll go to Momma. You’ll never find us.”
Tammy said, “So you do know where Mom is. You sent us on that wild goose chase to Palm Springs on purpose, didn’t you?”
The phone rang. Tammy answered. She handed it to me. I didn’t want to talk to anybody. I sniffled and said, “Hello.”
“Donna? This is Mike Taurus...your mother’s friend...”
Something in his voice didn’t sound right.
“Yes Mike. How are you?”
I cleared my throat as I listened to him exhale.
“You’re mother died in her sleep this morning.”
I threw my head back onto the firm gold recliner. “No.” I choked out. “Are you sure?” What a stupid question. If he weren’t sure, he wouldn’t have called me.
“Yes sweetheart. She’s in a better place now.”
I swallowed hard. “I’ll fly down right away. Give me directions to the island.”
“Just go to the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach. Call me when you arrive and I’ll come and get you. Tell the concierge you’re my— You’re Chloe’s daughter. They’ll take care of you.”
The historic Fontainebleau. Where old Mike works as a bell hop. Love the place.
Mike coughed. “She wanted to be buried next to her babies. Is that all right with you?”
I closed my eyes. Remembering talking to Momma on the island, by the graves of her stillborn twins. “Of course. Yes. Yes.”
“I’ll see you some time tonight or tomorrow then?”
“Yes.” I clicked the off button.
Tammy asked, “Just where do you think you’re going? Have a date with a Starbucks barista? Can he hop you up on caffeine long enough to stay awake during dinner and dancing?”
I closed my eyes tight and then broke into a breathless round of tears. Oh it hurt. My whole body hurt. My soul hurt. The little girl in me was dying.
I finally blurted out “Momma died. Momma is dead. I’m an orphan.”

Tammy and Perry shot looks at one another.

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Sunday, January 29, 2017

Serial Fiction: Mistake 2

Tammy pounded on the front door of her sister Donna’s Virginia townhouse. Her pink manicure reflected back from the clean etched glass. A hulking monster of a dog placed two paws on the other side of the door. Tammy stumbled backwards and grabbed the wrought iron railing. The canine emitted only a pitiful whimper.
Maybe Oh-Donna’s in the shower. The sky began to spit on Tammy. She descended the twelve brown brick steps and marched around the matching path to the rear of her sister’s end unit townhouse. She opened the gate on the six foot tall privacy fence. The first five feet of it was board on board, the top foot was lattice. After latching the gate, she dashed under the deck.
Tammy tried the French doors in the basement. They were unlocked. She stomped in and slammed the door behind her. Immediately turning her nose up at the overdone red walls and carpet, she hurried across a room filled with guitars, a piano, harmonicas, violins and recording equipment. Tammy took the stairs two at a time. Reaching the top, she flung open a white steel door and was greeted by Scooby Doo-ette. “Hi girl, remember me? How are you, Sugar?”
Something wasn’t right.
The dog was nearly emaciated. Her ribs were showing and she wasn’t her boisterous self.
“Eew! What’s that smell?” The kitchen reeked of urine and there were three piles of poop on the hardwood floor.
“You poor thing! Oh-Donna went away and forgot about you.” Tammy unlocked the French Doors in the kitchen. The dog bolted out onto the deck. She filled her water bowl and then scooped three cups of kibbles into the chrome food dish. The whimpering dog slumped on the pressure treated wood deck, surrounded by terra cotta pots of wilted flowers. Tammy let her back in. The Great Dane immediately chomped down the food and lapped up the water.
The stench in the kitchen gagged her. Tammy opened the cabinet under the kitchen sink and dug out a trash bag, disinfectant and yellow rubber gloves. Yanking seven paper towels off the roll on the pistol-gray granite counter, Tammy went to work cleaning the mess, all the while mumbling, “Oh-Donna you good for nothing bitch. How could you do this to a poor defenseless doggie?” Tammy breathed through her mouth, trying desperately not to inhale. “And how could you be so cruel as to cut me off from Daddy’s money?” A tear rolled down her cheek. “How could you? You’ll pay for this little sister of mine.”
Tammy placed the smelly bag out on the deck and then shoved the cleaning supplies back under the sink.
The air conditioning kicked on. A cold shiver raced up her spine. “Where is the thermostat Scooby Doo-ette? Hunh girl?” The dog brushed up against her silk-stockinged leg and licked her throat. She petted the Great Dane. The pair headed down the hallway, in search of the thermostat.
Tammy stopped in front of the living room, where she glimpsed her sister lying on the sofa.
Tammy screamed.
The dog cried and licked Tammy’s hand.
“Ohmagod, she’s dead!” Hey, wait a minute, if Oh-Donna is dead, then that means she can’t be executrix of Daddy’s will and so I can get put back on the dole and hey, wait a minute. She’s an old spinster, so I logically will inherit her estate as well...
Tammy sighed. Oh, I’ll probably have to split it with Perry. But at least I’ll get a nice chunk of change.
She looked the corpse over. Her sister lay in the fetal position, with a smile curling the corner of her pale lips. What an angelic porcelain face. Even now, a twinge of jealousy swirled. Oh-Donna was blessed with naturally wavy blonde hair and flawless Caucasian skin. Tammy never did feel like they were real sisters. Even though the Payne’s adopted Tammy as a baby, she never warmed up to their natural daughter,    Oh-Donna. But Tammy did feel an allegiance to their son Perry. They were more alike.
Tammy stepped closer, stumbling over the clumsy dog. Oh for the love of Prada, her tummy is moving up and down with her breathing. There goes my plan. “Wake up Oh-Donna.”
She didn’t move. Tammy shook her arm. “Wake up! Now! Get up Oh-Donna.”
No reaction.
Tammy remembered Farts (their late father’s proctologist friend) telling her and Perry that Oh-Donna had a brain disorder which caused her to fall asleep at weird times. She recollected discovering her sleeping in the walk-in closet under the stairs at their parents’ house and then she’d fainted in front of her moments later.
Tammy hugged her chilled arms, wishing the damned air conditioner would shut off. “Wake up Oh-Donna. Wake the frick up, you brain damaged witch. Wake up sissy-girl.”
Her sister didn’t respond. It was as though she was in a coma...
“Ohmagod. Oh-Donna is in a coma! I’m so sorry sweetie! You poor thing. That’s why the dog was starved and crapped in the house. How long have you been like this?”
Tammy snatched the cordless phone from the end table and punched in her brother’s cell phone number.
“Judge Payne here.”
“Perry! Oh-Donna’s in a coma! And the dog pooped all over the house and she’s gonna die and that bitch cut me off, I’ve been evicted—”
“What? Slow down. Oh-Donna’s in a coma? Where are you?”
“I’m at her house. I can’t wake her up.”
“Hang up and call nine-one-one.”
Tammy breathlessly squealed, “I don’t have time to look up the number for nine-one-one. What if she dies?” Sweet Jesus forgive me for my earlier thoughts. I didn’t mean them. Honest I didn’t. Her stomach churned. I’m gonna go to Hell for my thoughts. Tears deposited mascara in her eyes. She closed them tightly.
Perry barked, “Call an ambulance. The number for nine-one-one is nine-one-one Goddamit! I’ll be over as soon as I can. Call me and tell me what hospital they’re taking her to.” He hung up.
Tammy conjured up the last time her sister fainted, she’d thrown a glass of water in her face and she woke up. “Water!” She sprinted to the kitchen and picked up the dog’s water bowl. She filled it and jogged down the hallway, sloshing a trail behind her. The Great Dane lapped it off the hardwood floor. In the foyer, Tammy tripped on the edge of a sisal area rug and emptied the bowl onto her designer suit. “Darn you Oh-Donna!” Her scream pierced so loudly the dog skedaddled upstairs.
“Oh...” Her sister groaned.
Tammy dropped the chrome bowl and scrambled to her side. She picked up her arm, pumping it up and down, slapping her hand. “Oh-Donna, wake up Oh-Donna!”
Her sister murmured, “No...! No...! Not the Donna song...” Her smile morphed into a scowl.
Tammy slapped her sister’s face with both hands. “Wake up Oh-Donna. Now!”

“No. No. Go back. Ash...ley...”

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Saturday, January 28, 2017

Serial Fiction: Mistake 1

So Much for My Happy Ending

Tammy climbed three flights of stairs. Her breath hitched as soon as she spied her apartment door.
Wide open.
In snakeskin stilettos, she tippy-toed down the stained blue carpeted hallway. The place reeked of industrial disinfectant. As she stepped into the vast emptiness of her home for the last seven months, she screamed. “Help! Fire! Fire!” There wasn’t a fire, but that always elicited quicker responses than Help! Police!
Nobody came. She blazed a trail through the apartment, checking every room and closet. Her possessions were all gone. Nothing remained but pink shower curtain rings dangling in the bathroom and a few shards of her Manhattan skyline mural clinging to the living room wall.
She sprinted down the stairs two at a time while groping the cold metal railing. She had a flashback of running down Beverly Boulevard in pumps and a thong tankini, but this was no publicity shoot for the gym.
Like the Bionic Woman, Tammy ran across the parking lot and stormed into the rental office. A couple sitting at the manager’s desk twisted around to look at her. The husband smiled, ogling her sculpted mocha thighs exposed up to there in a short white skirt. The wife glared at him.
“Where are my belongings?” Tammy demanded.
The manager said, “Excuse me one moment,” to the couple.
He slipped his fingers through his greasy gray hair as he scurried around the desk and motioned for Tammy to join him near the restroom. In a hushed tone he said, “Ms. Payne, you were evicted.”
“When? Why? How dare you!” She threw her arms up in the mildewy office air and then sliced through it with fists dropping at her sides.
The manager stepped back.
“My brother is Judge Perry Payne and you’ll be sorry—”
“You were given the required notice. You know there is no grace period here at Arundel Forrest.” He shot an eye over his shoulder and spoke up. “We are the most sought after luxury apartment community in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan region. You knew that when you signed your lease. There is no grace period. You failed to pay your rent. Our collections department set the wheels in motion.”
What? My rent gets paid automatically by my—my money manager. Check your banking records. You lying little insignificant power tripping nobody.”
Tammy placed her hand on her cleavage, trying to keep her runaway heartbeat under her skin. She remembered an official looking letter from the Sheriff’s office that she chose not to open, thinking it contained a summons for parking tickets. Her rent was automatically deducted from her father’s checking account... Oh-Donna! When Daddy died, she became executrix of his estate. She must have cut me off! I’m gonna kill that sissy-girl!
Tammy clenched her fists and stamped her feet. Her blistered right pinky toe rubbed sorely inside the shoe. “There has been a terrible mistake. I’ll write you a check.” She sifted through her Kate Spade bag.
The manager said, “We have no vacancies.”
“Nobody is in my apartment. It’s empty. And I want reimbursement for my Manhattan mural. No. I want you to find another one and have it hung at your expense. And I expect my personal property—”
“Your apartment has been rented to another tenant. We have no vacancies. Ms. Payne, you no longer live here.”
“Well I’ve never been so insulted in my life. Just wait until my brother the judge hears about this!” Tammy flipped open her cell phone. The battery was dead. “And I want my belongings right now!”
“The sheriff’s department hauled everything to the curb. What the other tenants didn’t want was slam dunked into the dumpster.”
Tammy huffed out of the office and was smacked in the face with the Maryland August humidity. Scanning the parking lot, she drew in a deep breath. Good. At least my car is still here. She dug her keys out of her purse and clicked the door open on her teal Thunderbird. Grabbing the top frame of the door, Tammy stared at the dumpster across the lot.
She swallowed the wad of humiliation in her throat, threw her head back and marched up the wooden ramp. Her nose wiggled at the ode de diapers. She clapped one hand across her mouth and nose. Tammy swatted at a yellow jacket as she peeked over the top of the green metal Mecca of waste. Broken terra cotta pots, burst open plastic trash bags oozing out coffee filters and apple cores and somebody’s old webbed aluminum chaise lay scattered on the bottom.

Tammy fought back tears at the realization the dumpster had recently been emptied. She raced back to her car, climbed inside and slammed the door on her ebony pony tail. “Ouch!” She opened it up, pulled her hair in and shut it. After engaging the locks, Tammy shoved the key in the ignition and cranked it. Good. It started. 

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