Goat Tales

I took one last swipe at the floor with the mop and stepped out onto the back porch. I’d mopped my way out of the house and now stood looking through the open screen door at my clean and empty house. Moving day. I glanced through the kitchen into the living room. The front window sparkled in the early morning light. The rug was vacuumed, shampooed and free of any doggy odor. The house, bare of any trace of our residence, was cleaner than it had ever been while we lived there.

Bruce peeked past me. “Looks good,” he said as he picked up the bucket of dirty water and dumped it into the flower bed.

I filled the empty bucket with cleaning supplies and carried it, the mop, and paper towels to the back of the truck. Bruce followed with the vacuum.

The tail gate was down, exposing all our tightly and systematically packed possessions. Bruce slid the paper towels in an empty pocket of space, making the packing job even tighter. I lifted the vacuum into the one empty corner of space in the back of the pick-up.

“It can’t go there,” Bruce said, “that’s the spot for Anabel.” Anabel was our goat.

“Where’s it go then?” I asked trying to envision the diagram Bruce had drawn weeks before that neatly displayed how every box, piece of furniture, sock, shoe, pot or pan would fit into the truck for our 1000 mile move to Virginia.  He’d even duck-taped his shoes and socks inside the bumpers in order to not waste any space.

Bruce stared at the back of the truck, totally silent. I repeated the question. A rather sheepish grin spread across his face. “I forgot about the vacuum,” he said.

I looked at the 2 foot by 2 foot space neatly cleared in the right back corner of the pick-up. Just big enough for a little goat to stand, lie down, turn around. Just big enough for an old upright Hoover vacuum to fit. Obviously, not big enough for both.

I shrugged. “We can leave the vacuum.” We’d paid twenty-five dollars for it at a garage sale five years before. We’d definitely gotten our money’s worth out of it. “I’m sure the next renters wouldn’t mind inheriting a working vacuum.”

“We can’t leave a perfectly good vacuum.” The pitch of Bruce’s voice rose a few notches at the very thought of leaving behind the vacuum. “It cost twenty-five dollars!”

“Well, we can’t leave the goat behind.”

So, the vacuum went in the back and Bruce and I, our two dogs, Anabel all climbed into the cap of the truck for a 1000 mile trip to Virginia.

Bruce drove. Piper, the Border Collie, curled up at my feet. Finn, the Golden Retriever, lay on the bench seat between Bruce and me. Anabel stood on my lap, her little cloven hooves digging into my bare legs. Obviously, despite the heat, it wasn’t a good day to decide to wear shorts. Unfortunately, all my other clothes were packed in a box somewhere in the truck.

I folded Anabel’s back legs under her, making her sit like a dog. As I bent her front legs under her, trying to get her to lie down, her back end popped up. When I pushed her back end down, her front end came up. About the third try, I managed to push down on her back with my chest while pulling her legs under her and got her to lay down.

It lasted about fifteen minutes. Piper stood up to change places with Finn. Finn stood up to go down on the floor. Anabel stood up to join in the fun and we started the whole process over. Tiny round little black and blues started to appear on my legs.

After about the fourth time the dogs changed places, I saw a sign for a rest area.

“Let’s stop for a minute,” I said.

We leashed up the dogs and Anabel and headed to the dog walk area. Leaving everyone with Bruce, I headed to the bathroom. When I came out, a small crowd had gathered around the dog walk area. I wanted to get in the truck and leave, but I was attached to Finn and Piper. So, I braved the crowd.

The dogs, tales wagging, stared happily at their adoring fans. Anabel stood her back legs, trimming the bottom leaves off a young maple. Bruce handed me the leashes and headed to the rest room. As he walked away, a woman came up to me.

“What kind of dog is that?” she asked pointing at Anabel. Finn pulled on the leash trying to lick the woman’s hand.

“She’s a rare European Goat Dog,” I said as I turned and walked the dogs and Anabel back to the truck. I loaded everyone into the cab and slid in behind the steering wheel. We waited for Bruce to return from the restroom.

Women Can Like Dead Things, Too

So, a few years ago on Columbus Day when the library was closed, I did what all librarians do on a day off – I went to Barnes and Noble. At Barnes and Noble I disguised myself as a real person and went up to the help desk, where I said, “I’m looking for a book, but I don’t remember the title or author.” I’d like to say I did it just to see the guy’s reaction, but alas it was true. I heard the author interviewed on the radio, but hadn’t written her name or the title down.

I then did what everyone does in that situation. I tried to come up with some way to describe the book. “I think it has crematorium in the subtitle.”

“Oh yeah,” the Barnes and Noble guy answered, “I’ve heard of that book. And the weird thing is, it’s by a woman.”

What’s weird about that, I wanted to say. Women, after all, can love dead things as much as any ten year old boy. After all, in fantasies it’s often the queen running around saying “off with their heads.” And how many murder mysteries have little old ladies trying to figure out who done it?  And then there’s Dr. Brennan on Bones, who thinks a session of dissection and rearticulating skeletons is good family bonding. Or there’s one of my favorite reads, Stiff: the Curious Life of Cadavers by Mary Roach. But I restrained myself from climbing up on my soap box and waited while he tried to come up with the book title.

He searched crematorium and didn’t find anything.

I said, “It has smoke in the title. Like maybe…. Up in Smoke,” I added, which sounded like an excellent title for a book about cremation.  But that didn’t bring up any books in Barnes and Noble’s database.

“That’s okay,” I said. “I can look it up on the NPR website.” Because that’s what I would do if someone came to the library wanting a book they heard about on an interview and couldn’t remember the title.

“I’ll do that for you,” Barnes and Noble guy said, thereby earning brownie points and making me feel obligated to actually buy the book if he every managed to find it. Which, of course, he did.

The book was called Smoke Gets in your Eyes: and Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty. I bought the book and because I am a woman who likes poking dead things with sticks, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes became one of my favorite books about the dead. It also contains one of my favorite opening lines. “A girl always remembers the first corpse she shaves.”

A week at Highlights

I just got back from a week at the Highlights Foundation Retreat center in Honesdale, PA. Stayed in one of my favorite cabins, no. 16. Hard as a try, it takes me six months of writing at home to accomplish the amount I get done in one week at Highlights.  It helps that I have my own little cabin.

I live in pretty rural area, so it’s not that the woods and deer are that much different than home.

Still, when I sit at the writing area in my cabin, spread my books out, have space to work scenes out, and enjoy three meals a day prepared by someone else, I get work done.  The food is excellent. The cabins are homey. And there are no distractions.

I first went to Highlights about five or six years ago for the Whole Novel Fantasy workshop. I learned more about writing in that week with Laura Ruby and Anne Ursu than I’d learned in my whole life up to that point. Now, I meet the writing buddies I made at that first workshop every year for our own writing retreat. If you haven’t been, check out their website.

This time, I did I final edit on my middle grade fantasy. Now, to start querying agents!