Mental Health Resources, Book Review – Inherited by Cathleen Maza, Short Story – You Get What You Pay For

Mental Health Resources for Adolescents

The topic of today’s rant, er, blog is something that’s been on my mind for many months: the availability of mental health hospital beds – actually, the unavailability of mental health hospital beds.

Yes, I know, in general, mental health resources across the board are insufficient.  But, I want to focus here on critical care, and even more narrowly, on critical mental health care for adolescents. 

The feds say there are approximately 42 million adolescents in the U.S.   Up to .28% of them, that’s almost 118,000 children between the ages of 13 and 18, have early-onset schizophrenia.  According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 2.6% of adolescents experience severe impairment from bipolar disorder.  That’s more than a million children age 13-18.  A study completed in 2019 estimated that 18.8% of adolescents contemplate suicide, with 8.9% of them attempting it, due to depression.  That’s almost eight million kids who contemplate it, and almost four million who attempt it.  (It’s probably worse:  It is generally accepted that the pandemic has increased the incidence of suicidal depression in all age groups.)  Granted, many of those children may overlap with the children diagnosed with bipolar disorder.  The UNC Health Center in North Carolina estimates that nationwide, approximately 100,000 adolescents experience unspecified psychosis. 

Okay, let’s assume that at any given time 5% of the adolescents with mental health issues will experience crisis so dire as to require inpatient treatment.  That’s 260,900 mental health beds needed for adolescents.  How many total mental health beds are there in the U.S.?  Well, in state-run facilities there are fewer than 40,000.  I was unable to find a number on private facilities, but all the information out there indicates that it’s certainly not 230,000.  Even if it were, most of those beds are filled with adult mental health patients. 

Critical mental health care in the U.S. is a disaster, but, in my opinion, the worst impact of that particular disaster is upon the adolescents needing care and their families.  The impacts, in order of severity, are:

  • Death – of the child or someone else
  • Serious injury – to the child or someone else
  • Destruction of the family
  • Incarceration of the child
  • Drug abuse
  • Financial calamity

In my opinion, the parents of adolescents with significant mental health issues additionally suffer immeasurable impacts when they are unable to acquire critical care for their children.  Oftentimes, the adolescent may be as large or larger physically than their parent(s). If the child is out of control, the potential physical threat exacerbates raw emotions, increasing the likelihood of tragic outcomes.  The parents’ fear of their child is not only for themselves, but for other family members and the community, as well.  The stress level is out the roof, leading to mental and emotional crises within the family as well as the mentally ill child.  In addition, parents face stigmas as being the parents of “that child,” and hear, directly and indirectly, uninformed criticisms of their performance as parents.  “If he’d been present in his kid’s life instead of running around, this wouldn’t be going on.”  “If she’d made him behave when he was younger, he wouldn’t be so out of control now.”  “They’re just trying to put her away so that they don’t have to deal with their child anymore.” 

Perhaps even worse, because these people with mental health issues are legally minors, the parents can be held legally accountable for their actions.  It puts parents in untenable positions and destroys families.  Years ago, when I worked for a social services agency, I saw situations where one child in a family acted out due to mental health issues, and social services removed all the children from the home, essentially accusing the parents of failing to keep the children safe.  All the children, and the parents too, were irreparably harmed as a result.

Families wait weeks, and in some instances, months to get their child the care they need.  Sometimes because the treatment the child needs is unavailable, the child is shuffled off to generalized alternative care placements euphemistically referred to as “group homes” where physical, emotional, and sexual abuse by other adolescents occurs.  NO ONE is helped by such haphazard placement, and at-risk children are substantially harmed.

What’s the answer?  I wish I had a magic solution to offer.  As with nearly everything, money is part of the answer.  But, just indiscriminately throwing money at this problem will not address it.  There needs to be comprehensive planning involving input from mental health experts, child development experts,  parents, and adults who, as adolescents, were recipients of mental health services. And, there needs to be adequate follow-up care to help prevent the need for repeated crisis care.   

Clearly, the mental asylums of the previous centuries are not an option, but adequate beds for adolescents in mental health crisis must be made available.  Not knowing what else to do, I wrote to my legislative representatives.  I received very nice form emails in response.   Perhaps if more people wrote to their representatives about this failure to serve the children, the response would be more, well, responsive.  Perhaps.

Book Review:  Inherited by Cathleen Maza

Inherited by Cathleen Maza traces an inherited psychic gift through a family from the 1700s to the present day.  The gift is only passed down to female family members who receive it when the previous holder passes away.  Elise McGregor and her older sister Sarah were primed to receive the gift from their Aunt Ronnie.  Sarah eagerly hoped to receive it; Elise didn’t want it.  They were both disappointed.

Sarah aids her sister with research and moral support, and Elise makes the best of the situation, doing what’s expected of her, until she runs into a particularly malevolent spirit.  Spirits cannot kill, she’s been told, but her experience with that particular spirit shows her that they can influence situations so that unwary people do die.   After that experience, Elise decides to hide away in an apartment above Sarah’s garage, which is spirit free.

Still trying to help her sister, Sarah arranges a chance meeting with an eligible young man, and as Sarah had expected, sparks fly.  Fast forward a couple of years, and Elise has married Mike, they have an infant, and they’re living in Mike’s spirit-free home – or rather his almost spirit-free home.  There are some “sprites” that Sarah and Elise hypothesize are unborn children.  Then one day, a dark spirit, as strong or stronger than the one that had turned Elise from her inherited responsibility, invades their home.  To get her family and her life back, Elise, with the help of Sarah, must learn who the dark spirit is.

Cathleen Maza has delivered another wonderfully written tale in Inherited.  The brief glimpses into life during earlier time periods and other countries were colorful and set the scene for what occurs in present-day Michigan.  Clever and subtle foreshadowing is resolved in a very satisfying series of plot twists toward the end.  Some minor editing issues, but not enough that it seriously detracts from the story.  I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone who loves a bit of a ghost story!

Short Story: You Get What You Pay For

Don saw him pull into the lot.  The truck was distinctive with its custom orange fleck paint, chrome package and backlit running boards.  He remembered it and its owner vividly.

He hadn’t been the one to deal with the guy the last time he came in for a sunroof estimate, but he’d heard enough to know he was a jerk.   That designation was confirmed when he pulled up to the service bay and honked his horn when the door didn’t immediately open.

But, Don greeted him with a smile after he pulled the truck in and stepped out.  Actually, the guy in his wannabe Wranglers had to jump out because of his stumpy legs.   Don thought to himself, “What is it with little guys and overblown lift kits?”

Aloud, he said, “What can I do ya for today?”

The man looked Don over, from his grey hair needing a cut, down his paint speckled overalls, to the paint paper booties covering his shoes.  Then, he brusquely answered, “Where’s the manager, Tim?  I always deal with him.”

Don crossed his arms and said, “Vacation.”

The man pursed his lips and grunted.  He looked at Don.  Don looked at him.  Finally, the man said, “My sunroof is leaking.”

Grinning, Don replied, “That truck doesn’t come with a sunroof.  Confucius say man who cut hole in roof gets wet.”

“Are you some sort of funny guy?  I don’t have time for jokes.  Can you fix it or not??

“I’ll be glad to take a look.,” Don said. “Let’s step over to the desk and writecha up.”

“I just told you I don’t have time.  Can you just fucking look at it without all the bullshit?”

The friendly smile froze on Don’s face.   He could’ve taken a quick look, but this guy —  Don was pretty sure his name was Mitchell — had just used up everything in Don’s goodwill bucket.  In a take-it-or-leave-it tone, he said, “No sir, I cannot touch your vehicle without you signing an authorization.”

Without a word, Mitchell stomped his little feet in their drugstore cowboy boots – red and black — over to the service desk.  Don followed behind, and wordlessly signed into the terminal.  He asked the guy his name (indeed, it was Mitchell), address, phone number and vehicle year, make and model.  Then, he printed out the work order and slid it silently across the countertop for Mitchell’s signature.  Mitchell scribbled something that might’ve been his name; it could just as well have been Martian curse words.  Don didn’t know and didn’t care. 

“Okey dokey,” Don said.  Motioning to the doorway to his right, he continued, “If you’ll just have a seat in the waiting room. . .”

“Absafuckinglutely not,” Mitchell said.  “I’m not gonna have you take my truck somewhere and make the problem worse.  I’m staying with the truck.”

Don wanted to quote his grandaddy and say to the younger, much shorter man, “You are really chappin’ my ass, you little peckerhead.”  But, he didn’t.  Instead, he said, “Sure, suit yourself.  But that means the inspection will have to happen here, and that means you’ll have to help me do it, because our technicians only work in the shop.”  It was complete hogwash intended to further irritate the insufferable little jackass.  It worked.

“Why should I have to help you do your job?” Mitchell spat back.

“It’s not my job,” Don responded.

Mitchell waited futilely for Don to continue.  Finally, grasping that Don wasn’t going to offer any more, he asked, “What do you mean it’s not your job?”

“I’m sorry, but I don’t really know how else to tell you that assessing your leak and estimating what it’ll cost to fix is not my job.”

“If you can’t do it, why the fuck am I even talking to you?”

Don’s eyes narrowed, but his tone was even when he replied, “I never said I couldn’t do it – just that it’s not my job.”

Mitchell sputtered.

Tiring of the game, Don said, as if speaking to a child, “You have choices.  One choice is that you can let us take the truck back to where the technicians will evaluate it.  The other choice is that you stay with the truck, I do the assessment and estimate here, and you help me.”

“Or, the third choice is that I fucking leave,” Mitchell snapped.

“You’re right,” was Don’s even reply.

Mitchell glared at Don.  Don looked back at him. 

“That’s all you’re going to say?” Mitchell demanded.

“What else would you have me say?  You’re very right: you do have three choices.”

“Goddamn it,” Mitchell said.  “How do I need to help you?”

Don clenched his teeth, and then raised a finger and said, “You wait here – I’ll be right back.”

He returned a few minutes later carrying a five-gallon bucket full of water.  He set it down before Mitchell, and said, “Okay I’m going to get inside the truck and make sure the sunroof is fully closed, and then you’ll slowly pour water around the edges of the sunroof.”

Mitchell looked at him dubiously and said, “Are we really going to need five fucking gallons of water for that?”

Don took a deep breath.  Then, he said, “Probably not.   But better to have too much than not enough.  Now, don’t just dump it – pour it slowly all around the edge of the sunroof.” 

He looked at the bucket and then pointedly back at Mitchell.  He held up a finger again, walked around them both to the back of the truck, and lowered the tailgate.  Then he hurried back, picked up the bucket and said, “Here, I’ll put this up in the bed for you.”

After he put the bucket in the truck without spilling a drop, he turned to Mitchell and said, “Okay, hop on up there, and we’ll get this thing done.”  He made a show of having a concerned frown play across his face.  “”Uhm, do you need a stepladder?”

Mitchell exploded, “No, I don’t need a fucking stepladder!” 

He strode to the back of the pickup, put his left hand on the tailgate and attempted to jump in.  He ended up in a quasi-reclining position on the tailgate, and in scrambling to his feet, he kicked the bucket, jostling water into the truck bed.

Don turned away and choked down the guffaw welling up inside him before Mitchell got to his feet.  He didn’t really need water poured onto the sunroof to assess the problem.  But, he was so going to enjoy watching that little buffoon try to hoist that bucket and carefully pour the water.  He climbed up into the cab and yelled back to Mitchell, “Okay, I’m all set in here – start pouring the water – carefully.”  He turn and watched out the rear window as Mitchell picked up the bucket.  “No way he can lift that above the cab,” he thought to himself.

As Don watched,  Mitchell lifted the bucket by its handle with both hands.  When he got it about chest high, he stood like that for an interminable moment.  Don assumed he was trying to figure out how he put an arm around the bucket without dropping it.  Don was right because suddenly Mitchell let go of the handle with his left hand and tried to catch the bucket’s body before his right hand dropped it entirely.  He was mostly successful, but in the course of catching the bucket, he sloshed water all over himself.

Don chuckled to himself and thought, “Uh oh, those precious boots got wet.”  Aloud he yelled, “You okay back there?”  In response, he heard a string of obscenities.

“I’ll take that as a yes,” Don said and chuckled again.  More loudly he said, “Okay start pouring the water slowly along the edges of the sunroof.”

Even with the water that had soaked into Mitchell’s clothes, Don figured the bucket was still heavy enough that it would be impossible for a man of Mitchell’s size to have any control of how the water poured out.  He was right.  As Mitchell lifted and tipped the bucket, a wave of water splashed on the pickup’s roof and ran down the windshield.  It also flowed backward onto Mitchell as he leaned against the cab for stability.

“That wasn’t what I had in mind,” Don yelled at Mitchell. “In order for me to pinpoint exactly where the leak is, you need to pour the water slowly around the edge of the sunroof.”

“Goddamn it!” was Mitchell’s reply.  But, he picked up the bucket and tried again.  And again.  By the time the bucket was empty, it was raining inside the cab – Don stepped out – and Mitchell was soaked to the skin.  He threw the empty bucket down and walked to the tailgate.  Then, with his right hand on the bed wall, he attempted to jump down.  He would’ve been fine except that it turned out that his precious boots were slicker than snot when wet.  As soon as his feet hit the smooth concrete, they flew out from underneath him, and as he went down, the gold link bracelet on his arm cut a scratch marking the path of his fall into the paint of the rear quarter panel.

Mitchell littered the air with expletives as he got himself up (he refused Don’s hand), and caught sight of the scratch in the quarter panel.  Don stood silently, waiting for Mitchell’s verbal fit to subside.

Finally, Mitchell growled, “So did you fucking figure out what’s wrong?”

Don treated Mitchell to a sardonic smile, “Yes, you have a very leaky sunroof,” he said.

“Still the funny guy.  I fucking knew that before I came in here.  What’s wrong with it?”

Don continued smiling, “Well for starters, the sunroof itself is crap quality.  But the leak is because the people you had install it cut the hole too big.  They tried to rectify that problem by putting the gasket in upside down, but that just guaranteed it would leak.”

“Can you pull it out and flip the gasket?”

Don replied, “I could, but I won’t.  It might stop leaking for a while, but like I said the hole’s too big, and I can’t believe you haven’t noticed this: it wasn’t even cut plumb with the cab.  The driver side is at least an inch closer to the windshield. And, like I said, the sunroof itself is crap.  We won’t touch it.  I’d suggest you take it back to where you had it installed.”

Mitchell rolled his eyes.

Don nodded, “I’m guessing they told you that the price they gave you offered no warranty on workmanship, and you’d have to prove the sunroof was defective.”

Mitchell didn’t indicate whether Don’s guess was right.  But it was confirmed when he  asked, “Can you put a new sunroof in?”

Don smiled his sardonic grin again and replied, “I absolutely could get you outfitted with a high-quality sunroof, correctly installed.”  He pointed to the service desk.  “Do you want me to write you up a detailed estimate?”

Mitchell snapped, “Just fucking ballpark it for me.”

Don looked to the ceiling for a moment, and then looked Mitchel directly in the eye.  “Ballpark, I’d say $13,400.”

The small man’s eyes bulged.  “What the ever-loving fuck?  That’s more than $10,000 more than what you’d estimated to fucking put one in before!”

Don nodded understandingly, “Yeah, yeah it is because now we have to replace the roof and match the color to the rest of the truck, and that color’s not cheap.  Plus, there’s the blue surcharge that currently sits at $1300.”

Arms waving furiously, Mitchell yelled, “What the fuck is a blue surcharge?”

“It’s $100 for every time you’ve dropped the f-bomb and $150 for each GD.  I gave you a break while you were dealing with the water, and I didn’t add your last few.  From here on out, though, it’s $250 per.”

Mitchell opened his mouth, but Don interrupted him, “Before you let another streak fly, let me tell you this:  Any reputable shop’s gonna tell you that you’ve ruined the cab roof, and it has to be replaced.  Few of them, however, will take on that job.  And, the thing with the mess you have going on there, is that it’s just a matter of time before the sunroof falls in on you, or most likely, goes flying off as you’re driving down the road.” 

“You can’t f…charge me for cussing!   I’ll talk with Tim, and I’ll have your fucking job!”

“The surcharge is now $1550,” Don said calmly.  “And, Tim’s gonna go along with me on this.”

“We’ll see about that,” Mitchell said smugly. “Tim and I go way back.”

“Doubtful, but it doesn’t matter,” Don replied.

“And why the fuck is that?”

Don grinned down at the tiny, red-faced man.  He said, “$1800, and my name’s on the sign out front.  Now, you have a good evening – better mind the weather report; I think they’re calling for a lot of rain.”

Supporting Loved Ones, Book Review-Mystery at the Abbey Hotel, Short Story-Salisbury Ave

Supporting Loved Ones After a Suicidal Death

A blog post of the top 10 things not to say to a person recently experiencing the loss of a loved one to suicide caught my eye a few days ago.  After skimming through it to see what comprised the list without reading the accompanying explanation, my initial reaction was a warped reflection of the famous line from the movie Billy Madison:  “I am now dumber than when I clicked that link.” 

The first no-no on the list?  I’m sorry. 

“No,” I thought immediately upon reading it.  “I’d say the number one thing not to say is, ‘Suicide is a sin; your loved one is going to hell.’”  I imagined myself face to face with that blogger, telling her that, using the ol’ backhand clap to emphasize each word. 

Then, I read her post more fully.  I had taken the list out of context. She’s not speaking as a psychiatrist or grief expert.  She’s speaking about her personal experience with a family member’s suicide, people’s reactions to it, and how she felt about those reactions.  Okay, for her I’m sorry is meaningless and awkward.  For her

That’s the thing about suicide, except for the fact that it immediately triggers sorrow and questions for the loved ones left behind, the circumstances of every death are different, and every survivor’s perspective, experience and needs are different.

Well, except, I believe one thing is universal:  not one of them wants to hear “Suicide is a sin; your loved one is going to hell” —  or any set of words conveying that message.  I’m not saying that people cannot hold that as a religious belief.   I’m not trying to police people’s thoughts.  I am saying that if you feel judgmental, preachy and sanctimonious enough to say it aloud to a grieving loved one, you should be prepared to get knocked on your ass physically, verbally and socially, and you should have the grace to just walk away when it happens. 

Please note:  In what I say from here forward, I am not speaking of physician-assisted suicide. I know that compassionate, physician-assisted suicide can be an intensely emotional event.  I’m not trying to in any way discount its impacts.  I’m just saying that here, in this post, that is not the type of death I’m speaking about.

A loved one’s suicide packs a wallop that few other deaths do.  Most suicidal deaths inspire a multitude of “whys” that can never be fully or satisfactorily answered.  Many also trigger regrets and second-guessing in loved ones — “Maybe if I had” or “If only I didn’t.”   In still-young children left without a parent by suicide, there are thoughts such as, “Why wasn’t I worth living for/caring for?”  In parents whose child dies by their own hand, their thoughts may turn to, “I somehow failed my child.”  These feelings and thoughts can have substantial, lifelong impacts.   Insensitive remarks and questions can worsen that impact.

For some of us who have never felt so low or so trapped that we see no other way out, a young, vibrant person’s suicidal death is unfathomable.  I recently, clumsily, voiced such a thought to one of my most very favorite people on Earth.  Luckily, my sister-friend knows my heart and didn’t call me out for my insensitivity.  It’s not that my inability to fathom the decision was out of bounds, but I should’ve been more careful in my voicing of it.  Coming from anyone else, it might’ve been taken as, “What the hell was he thinking,” which is unlikely to be a reaction that a grieving loved one wants to hear – especially when the wound is fresh.

In some ways, if the loved one had a debilitating, diagnosed mental illness, it makes the death more readily accepted by people.  But, for the survivors, that can be a double-edged sword.  They may find that all people want to remember about their loved one is the mental illness – not the other wonderful aspects of that person’s life.  If the mental illness was suspected, but not diagnosed, then the grieving loved ones may face not only their own second-guessing, but have it thrown in their face by well-meaning people who immediately launch campaigns on social media on how to spot suicidal intentions or clinical depression.  All coming, perhaps, from a place of love, but not necessarily sensitive to the raw wounds of everyone grieving.

That brings me back to my original point.  The circumstances surrounding every suicide are different.  The needs of the grieving loved ones are individual to each person.  Some will need to find an outside cause for their loved one’s action.  Some will want to talk about their confusion about their family member’s death.  Some will want to ignore the manner of death entirely.  And, some, like the author of the blog I read, will find I’m sorry awkward to hear.  There’s no set script to follow, no list of things to say or not to say that can be depended upon.  Take your queue from the individual, put aside your own questions, and be sensitive and supportive. 

Book Review:  Mystery at the Abbey Hotel by Clare Chase

Love a cozy English mystery?   You’ll love Mystery at the Abbey Hotel by Clare Chase!  It’s the coziest of cozies, complete with oodles of scrumptious-sounding cakes with tea and an amateur detective who works through her suspect list by talking to her ever-present dog.

This is the fifth book in the Eve Mallow mystery series, but it completely stands on its own except for not giving much of a physical description of Ms. Mallow herself.  In this mystery, Eve and her dachshund Gus win a discount stay at a posh historic hotel, and within approximately 24 hours of their arrival, the bodies start dropping.

Of course, there is a sizable group of suspects including the hotel staff, the notable hotel guests and local residents.  In a cozy mystery, the amateur detective usually either has a police detective she regularly works with or a police detective who views her as a meddling nuisance.  Enter Detective Inspector Nigel Palmer who rudely tells Eve she cannot question any of the hotel guests until he’s completed his questioning. 

DI Palmer’s edict barely slows Eve’s investigation, and with the help of her best friend Val, her mysterious gardening love interest Robin, and, of course, her canine sounding board Gus, Eve begins winnowing her list of suspects as the body count increases.  Eve tells both Val and Robin that she’d be careful and that a recent case where her investigation put her life in danger would not happen again.  Almost immediately,  she figures out who the murderer is,  at the same moment the murderer figures out that Eve has put together the puzzle pieces.  Will she be saved?  Well, she is the amateur detective in a cozy mystery series…

This is a well-written story with twists and turns toward the end that fit nicely with clues laid earlier in the book.  I highly recommend this book!

Short Story:  Salisbury Avenue

Jared inched forward in the mile-long traffic snarl caused by the interminable project to widen Salisbury Avenue. When traffic came to yet another complete standstill, he gazed out the passenger-side window at the low slung plastic wrap barriers marking the construction boundaries. The border they defined promised that, when the project concluded, homeowners on either side of the road would be left with little buffer between their homes and the major thoroughfare Salisbury Avenue had become in recent years. For not the first time, Jared felt grateful that he didn’t own a home along Salisbury Avenue.

As the standstill stretched into minutes, Jared thought that he should’ve stayed at the office instead of wasting his time sitting in rush hour traffic. But, the office, his firm, his career didn’t hold the appeal they once did. He admitted to himself that he’d become a clock watcher. When he was a bit younger and felt the fire in his belly, he never noticed when 5:00 p.m. came and went. That fire made him successful, made him wealthy, but somewhere along the way, the work began to revolve around greed, including his own, and the fire, along with his satisfaction with his life, began to wane.

His wife told him that if he wasn’t happy with what he was doing, to do something else. Like it was just that easy — and maybe it was for her. But, he’d mapped out his whole life by age 25, and starting a new career at 48 smelled like failure to him. He didn’t know what the answer to his general malaise was, but he was fairly sure he wasn’t going to figure it out stuck on Salisbury Avenue.

He crept along another 15 minutes and finally crossed Perkins Road – another half mile and he’d exit the bumper-to-bumper parade of commuters trying to get home via Salisbury Avenue. As he followed the temporary yellow line diverting his westbound lane into what had previously been the center turn lane, he spied a woman up ahead waving a sign in front of what he thought of as “the yellow compound.”

The “yellow compound” was a cluster of structures that had seen better days. It was anchored by a sprawling, one-story, mid-century house clad in faded yellow siding. Like satellites, the other buildings were scattered around the house. To one side was a detached stuccoed garage painted a brighter shade of yellow, and on the opposite side was a building almost as big as the house painted in yet another shade of yellow. Just behind that building and to the left was a small buff-colored shed. Prior to the road construction beginning the previous year, all but the garage had been hidden behind a thick grove of trees alongside the road. With most of the trees removed, the “yellow compound” and its state of decay were laid bare to everyone driving by.

Another previously hidden feature of the property was the largest sycamore tree Jared had ever seen. It was about five feet in diameter and almost 100 feet tall, and its huge boughs extended into a broad canopy easily 60 feet wide. Its peeling bark exposed white wood beneath, making the trunk and its four main boughs appear spotted in some areas and striped in others. The first time Jared spied the tree, he was shocked to see that what he had long thought was a crowning canopy of several trees was actually just the one.

As he moved nearer at an agonizingly slow pace, he could see that the woman waving the sign wore what his sisters in their adolescence had called a “granny skirt” – an ankle-length, cotton print skirt with loads of gathers at the waistband. This woman’s granny skirt was bright pink with some sort of print – Jared assumed it to be tiny flowers. On top, she wore an oversized grey shirt and some sort of shapeless vest in multiple colors – none of them matching or complementing the pink granny skirt.

Jared was straining to try and read the sign, when suddenly the woman stopped waving it and gestured angrily at someone a few vehicles ahead. Before he could roll down his window to hear what was going on, he saw something go flying at the woman, hitting her squarely in the face. She wiped her face and continued yelling. Two more missiles went flying at her, and trying to dodge them, she fell hard, face down in the ditch. Immediately, a large pickup truck pulled into the eastbound lane, cutting off oncoming traffic, made a screeching U-turn on the opposite shoulder and roared past Jared.

Jared paid the pickup truck no mind because he was pulling onto the narrow shoulder to check on the woman. By the time he put his Volvo in park and stepped from it, she was struggling to her knees. Another driver reached her first and gave her a hand out of the ditch. He overheard the woman saying, “Did you see that little chickenshit peel outta here? What a lowlife, just like the rest of ‘em tearing up this neighborhood!” The man, clearly uncomfortable, replied, “Well, if you’re okay, I’m going to head out.”

He hurried past Jared with a nod, as Jared stepped through the ditch and over to where the woman stood beside the plastic barrier. “Hi,“ he said. “Are you all right?”

The woman turned toward him. He saw from her weathered face that she was 75 years old if she were a day. Her wrinkles creased more deeply as she smiled broadly at him.

“Oh, I imagine I’m going to feel it somethin’ awful tomorrow, but I’m a tough ol’ bird!”

Chuckling, Jared asked, “What was that all about with the guys in the truck?”

The woman waved her hand as if dismissing the incident, but then spat out, “They work for the company destroying my home, and they don’t like me protesting it!” With that, she picked up her sign. Jared reached out and held a corner of the poster board to steady it so that he could read what it said in letters no more than two inches high: Decker County and the Parsons Construction Company are destroying the land. In the name of progress, they just bulldoze everything without caring about its historical importance. Call The County to stop this atrocity!!!

Letting go of the sign, Jared said slowly, “You know, no one driving by can really read that – the letters are too small.” He kept to himself that her chaotic waving didn’t help.

The woman puffed up, and snapped, “Well, Mr. Know-it-all, I’m a small person, what would you have me do? I can’t carry a bigger sign!”

Jared smiled gently, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend – I was just thinking maybe fewer, but bigger words would be better.”

The woman looked at him a moment, and then shrugged noncommittally. Jared motioned at the compound and asked, “Your home is well outside the construction barrier – much better than some homes on Salisbury. If you don’t mind my asking, what about the construction are you protesting?”

In response, the woman walked past Jared toward the house. Nonplussed, he watched her walk away, and then called out, “I’m sorry!” He didn’t know really what he was apologizing for, but it seemed he’d clearly offended her.

“Come over here,” the woman demanded in response and kept walking. He chuckled to himself and followed her over to the giant sycamore tree, which stood about 20 feet outside the construction barrier. When the woman reached the tree, she extended her hand and touched it lovingly, and then turned back toward Jared.

“This tree is almost 200 years old. It was here when my great, great, great grandfather Harris built my family’s first house on this site. . .”

Jared interrupted, “Harris? As in Harris Plaza and Harris Parkway?”

The woman smiled proudly, “Yes, they’re named after The Honorable Morton Bartholomew Harris, my great grandfather on my mother’s side.” Then she stuck out her hand, “I’m Nadine Jensen, daughter of Molly Harris Martin.”

Shaking her hand, Jared replied, “Jared Barnes.”

Nadine, who punctuated everything she said with very animated hands, leaned her sign against the tree and continued her story. “So, anyway, when my great, great, great grandfather Edward Harris, built the original house, the nearest neighbor was miles and miles away. There was nothing but trees here with a single rutted path to get a buggy through them. He cleared the land himself – can you imagine — leaving this tree and a few others of about the same size for shade – there was no air conditioning in those days, of course, so you needed shade trees.  Harrises lived in that house until 1956 when my daddy had it torn down to build a modern rancher we were all so excited to move into.” She pointed at the faded yellow house. “What I wouldn’t give now,” she continued wistfully, “to have that old, drafty limestone house with its wide front porch. They don’t build houses like that anymore.” Her voice grew softer, and her proud smile faded. “It’s gone, my daddy’s gone, my family’s gone ‘cept my brother who has the Alzheimer’s. But, this sycamore’s still here – it’s seen the war between the states, the industrial revolution, two world wars, and it’s seen seven generations of my family come and go. It’s been here for the happiest moments of my life and the saddest moments of my life, and it’s still shading my home.”

With that last, Nadine’s voice cracked, and she patted the tree as if it were the one that needed to be comforted. Then she continued more forcefully, “And, now, those. . .bastards are going to kill it!”

Jared, looking at her quizzically, shot back, “How? The tree is at least 20 or 25 feet outside the barrier.”

In response, Nadine pointed up at the tree’s canopy. “See where they cut that bough? Its branches used to extend out almost to the road.”

Jared looked up at where a huge tree limb ended abruptly, clearly sawn. The cut was more or less parallel with the construction boundary. His voice giving expression to the confusion he felt, Jared said, “Okay. . .but if that’s going to kill the tree, the damage has already been done.”

“Losing that bough will not kill the tree,” Nadine snapped, “And, I’m not some senile old woman tilting at windmills!”

Before Jared could even respond, she continued, her hands even more animated, “When I made the deal to sell them the land up to the barrier, I had no idea they were going to cut the bough that extended beyond it. That’s on me – I should’ve made myself better informed. I cried like a baby when I saw what they had done.” She paused a second, and then said, ”After that, I requested the full plans for what would be done along Salisbury Avenue. That’s when I learned that they’re going to put in a stormwater sewer on this side of the avenue, and to do that, they will have to dig down a least 10 feet.. .”

“And, that means they may cut through the roots of your tree,” Jared finished, nodding understandingly. Then trying to be encouraging, he said, “But, it’s not for sure they’ll hit any major roots or that even if they do hit one, that the tree will die.”

She replied, “I can’t just wait and see what happens,” and pointed again at the severed bough. “They plan to start digging next week. I asked them to move the stormwater system to the other side or to hold off until I can get a study done to map out the tree’s roots. They told me they have a legal right to do whatever they want outside the barrier. They said time is money, and they can’t delay.”

Jared nodded. Those were all things he would have expected them to tell Nadine in response to her requests. Thoughtfully, he said, “That tree’s a piece of living history. Did you try getting the county historical society to intervene?”

Nadine laughed bitterly. She said, “Some historical society,” and snorted derisively. “They only care about buildings. Their resources are limited, they said, and trees die. They said I should hire an attorney.”

Jared nodded and thought, but did not give voice to that thought, that hiring an attorney would be much more effective than waving a sign no one could even read.

Nadine pointed a finger at him acknowledging his nod, and continued, “Believe me, I tried. Most turned down my case without even hearing me out. Then, I paid about a thousand dollars for one, and all he did was call the same people I’d already called. He told me they’d need thousands more – upfront — to initiate any court action against the county or Parsons, but that I’d probably lose.”

Again, she laughed bitterly “I don’t have thousands to waste on attorneys who already gave up. So, I decided my only choice was to play the crazy lady by the side of the road to try to get The People behind me.” Her voice cracked, and she paused a moment trying to get her emotions in check. Then, in a voice still filled with emotion, she said, “And for my effort, I get pelted with soda and coffee cups, and my tree is still gonna die.”

As Nadine strangled a sob, Jared looked up at the tree, marveling at the history it had seen. He felt the old fire stir. Then he looked out at the barely moving traffic on Salisbury Avenue. A lawsuit would result in a stay on any further construction — freezing everything as-is and perpetuating the traffic nightmare for months. He grimaced at that thought, but it didn’t quench the growing fire. Finally, he looked at Nadine and saw a woman in the twilight years of her life trying to save the last living connection to her family history.

His eyes glowing from the fire in his belly, he said, “Nadine, I’m a litigation attorney – a damn good one.”

Writers’ Lift Etiquette?, Book Review – Once a Man Indulges, Short Story – Open Door Opportunity

Writers’ Lift Etiquette?

Over the past few weeks, when I engage with a “writers’ lift,” I follow the writers who acknowledge the lift sponsor rather than immediately launching into their sales pitch.  I’ve observed that most people engaging in the lifts do not even say hello to the host.  It’s not a requirement, and I suspect most hosts don’t care.  Seeing as it’s a common occurrence, it apparently is not considered as discourteous by the #writingcommunity.

Sometimes, a host tries to flavor the lift with their own twist.  In one I recently saw, the sponsor asked that responders turn things around and give the reasons why readers should not buy their books.  Of course, many of the usual suspects did not follow that direction – they just posted their regular pre-fab marketing blurbs.  Kudos to that sponsor and the people who truly engaged with her – the responses were highly imaginative and immensely entertaining.  I followed several of those and added a few books to my reading list. The people who didn’t engage as requested missed out on a great community activity. 

Another thing I’ve noticed that gives me a little satisfied smile:  The people I’ve followed because of their courtesy in writers’ lifts consistently display that courtesy. Each time I see that they again say hello or thank the sponsor for the lift, It’s like a confirmation of  community for me.  Thank you, #writingcommunity!

In other news:

  • After seeing more than one writer refer to themselves as a “psychopomp,” I took the clue that it may be an actual word.  Derived from ancient Greek, it traditionally has referred to a guide who helps the dead find their way to the afterlife.  Less traditionally, it describes the role of someone who guides others through transitional phases.  I’m not exactly sure how the people in the #writingcommunity are defining it.  I look forward to learning more.
  •  I’ve decided that trying to do this blog on a weekly basis is too much.  I’m getting little other writing done.   Consequently, I’m moving to bi-weekly, or perhaps monthly.  I’ll shoot for bi-weekly first.

Book Review – Once a Man Indulges by Tony Kelsey

Are you a fan of a hard-boiled detective story set when men wore suits and women wore hose, every head had a hat, and every hand held a cigarette?  Ready to take a tour around 1940s Denver and the surrounding areas?  Do you love a story where the good guy gets away with doing a bad thing for a good reason?  Wow, do I have the perfect book for you:  Once a Man Indulges by Tony Kelsey!

Harry Thorpe’s role as a Marines Corps fighter pilot in WWII ended with him being shot down over New Guinea.  He bounced around a bit before getting his private detective license in Denver.  It’s the end of the 1940s, and Harry’s making ends meet spying on cheating spouses, when Christian Marquand, a WWII war hero Harry had the dubious luck to train with during the war, comes into his office and lays down a $1000 bill as a retainer.  That’s almost $13,000 in today’s currency.  Marquand is receiving threatening letters, and he wants Harry to find out who’s sending them and put a stop to it.

Before Harry has a chance to look into anything, a member of Marquand’s family is reportedly kidnapped, and Marquand expresses little confidence in the cops’ ability to safely locate and return his family member.  So, he sends Harry to enlist the aid of local mobsters.  Harry becomes increasingly uncomfortable with the way everything is progressing, especially when the bodies (including that of his goldfish, Oscar) begin to pile up.  He distracts himself with alcohol and Marquand’s sister-in-law Loren, but things become even more complicated as Loren’s checkered past unfolds and hints she could be involved in the threats and the kidnapping.

Harry’s good at his chosen career.  He sees what doesn’t fit together, and he does the legwork to find the truth.  As a result, he becomes the target of a murder attempt, which although unsuccessful still has tragic consequences.  Harry, no longer uncertain whether he should ”just let it go,” goes in search of those responsible.

This story is brilliantly written.  The characters, in particular main character Harry Thorpe, the cop Greenberg, and Johnny Two-nose of the Capra crime family come to life off the page. The story’s text flows smoothly, and the incorporation of history and well-known Denver-metro locales gives a foundation that lends authenticity to the tale.  This would be a five-star read for me except for the editing issues.  They don’t detract greatly from the story, but do require rereading some sentences.  As indicated by the four stars, I highly recommend this book, and look forward to other Harry Thorpe detective stories!

Short Story — Open Door Opportunity

Sara was out in her yard weeding the landscaping in front of her house, when the faded, pale green, sixties sedan pulled into her long driveway.  She pulled off her work gloves and tried to smooth her wavy red hair, which was threatening to go full on Bozo the Clown in the humidity.  The driver went all the way down to the open garage door at the side of the house, and Sara walked down to greet whoever it was.

A man who looked old enough to have purchased the sedan brand new got slowly out of the car.   He was a study in a grey continuum, from his scraggly almost, but not quite, white hair plastered to his head, to his light grey button down, to his darker grey work pants, and ending in the well-worn dull black work boots, which Sara guessed were steel–toed.  She figured with the boots, the long-sleeved shirt, and what she assumed was a lack of air conditioning in the vintage car, that the state of the man’s hair was due to sweat.  Her assumptions were proven correct when the man removed his thick and heavy rimmed eyeglasses, revealing very pale blue eyes, to wipe his forehead with the sleeve of his shirt. 

“Hello,” she greeted him.  “It’s a warm one today!”

In response, the man bellowed, “I drove by here twice, and your garage door was open both times!”

Sara was trying to guess why that fact had him so agitated, but she didn’t get a chance to ask. 

“You’re just asking to get robbed.  They’ll clean you out lickety split!”

It was daylight, and she was in her yard where she could see everyone driving by and also see everyone, like the old man, who chose to come down her driveway. 

“You don’t know this neighborhood!” Then gesturing vaguely toward the back of Sara’s property, he said, “There’s a trailer park right behind that grove of trees back there.  You know what kind of people live in trailer parks.”

Sara thought, but didn’t get an opportunity to say,  “Two of my family’s best friends, and at least three relatives I can think of.”

“Thievin’ people, that’s who.  It’s a den of thieves!   They’ll come traipsin’ through those woods and the meadow in the middle of the night, jump your fence, come in through your garage, and next thing you know your TV’s gone!”

Sara managed to get out in a purposely light tone, “But, it’s not the middle of the night, and my TV is too big for them to cart it back through the fields to the woods in broad daylight without being seen.“

He waved his hand like she was spouting nonsense and said, “Even better for them, they can pull up to your open garage and just load everything up!”

Sara replied, less lightly,  “You mean, pull up to my open garage like you just did?”

“Exactly.  You’re just invitin’ someone to take your stuff.”

Sara gave him a tight smile and said, just shy of sarcastic, “Uhm, did you not see me out working in the yard when you drove by two times and pulled down the driveway?”

“Exactly,” he replied.  “All those thievin’ people from the trailer park will see is that your garage is open, and you have a lot of stuff.”

Sara replied pointedly, “And, did you not see how I immediately came over when you pulled up to my garage?”

Still yelling, he replied, “Yeah, but you might not see ‘em!  They’re tricky!”

Sara screwed up her face and bellowed back, “Tricky like they’re invisible, or what?  I’m. Right. Here.”

He wagged his finger at her and said irritably, “Sure, go ahead and make fun of me, disrespect me.  All you young people do nothin’ but disrespect us older people like we don’t know nothin’, when you’re the ones that don’t know your ass from a hole in the ground.   But, mark my words, missy:  you keep leavin’ that garage door open, and you’re gonna be sayin’, ‘I wish I listened to ol’ Abel’!”

Old man or not, trying to be helpful or not, Sara took offense at being told she didn’t know her ass from a hole in the ground in regard to knowing when to close a door.  She said coldly, “First of all, I’m not that young — I’ve been taking care of myself for more than 30 years.  And, second of all, I’m not gonna open and close the garage door over and over in broad daylight when I’m working in the yard!”

Before Abel could launch into a new tirade, Sara’s neighbor, Jeff, came walking across the lawn between their houses.

“Hey, Sara,” he said.  “I see you’ve met Abel.”  Then pointing to the grove of trees behind Sara’s house, he said, “Abel’s our neighbor from over in the Shady Grove trailer park.  How’re ya doing, Abel?”

Abel looked at Sara.  She raised her left eyebrow in reply.  He grumbled, “I gotta be going,” and immediately got back in his car.  Sara and Jeff watched him maneuver it  out of the driveway. 

Sara said quietly, “He just told me the trailer park was full of ‘thievin’ people.’”

“Yeah, well, he should know,” Jeff replied.

The Oxford Comma, Book Review — The Fateful Dance, Short Story – A Little Too Physical Training

The Oxford Comma and Other Editing Musings

This week I learned from the #writingcommunity what a final comma in a series is called:  the Oxford comma.  When I was back in school, way back when blackboards were a staple in all classrooms and school newspapers were mimeographed, I was taught that the Oxford comma is unnecessary except in situations where it was needed for clarity.  One such example put forth on Twitter this week was something like  “I had a discussion with two strippers, Washington and Lincoln.”  Without the comma, it could be taken that the strippers’ names were Washington and Lincoln.  (I know –what self-respecting strippers would choose such names!)  If the Oxford comma is added, the meaning is much clearer:  “I had a discussion with two strippers, Washington, and Lincoln.”  (Of course, the sentence is nonsense; although strippers have always been around, Presidents Washington and Lincoln are from different periods in time and couldn’t possibly  have engaged in the same conversation!)  If I were writing that sentence, I’d probably reorder the series, but the example does illustrate the point.   Today, some grammar utilities/apps such as Word’s editor, expect it always, and that has resulted in a fairly large debate among authors and editors.  When I write, I usually don’t use the Oxford comma, but when Word’s editor wants to put it in, I’ve been capitulating.  (I’m much more inclined to go to battle about removing a comma than adding one.  I figure I’ll choose my comma wars carefully.)

Grammarly says use of the Oxford comma is a personal choice.  (Along those lines, using deodorant is also a personal choice, but for polite society, there really is only one right choice.)  However, it also says that if you are working somewhere that uses AP Style, you absolutely do not use the Oxford comma; if you feel like it’s needed, then you need to rewrite your sentence.  (Years ago, I did work somewhere that claimed to use AP style.  I looked it up,, and they weren’t really.  When I pointed out violations, it didn’t go over well.  I think someone thought I was being a smartass.  She was right.)  The AP style does agree with what I was taught back when there were like two computers in the school – if you feel an Oxford comma is needed, you actually need to rewrite your sentence.  Wikipedia points out several style guides that mandate the Oxford, and seems to indicate that it’s more expected in the U.S. than in Great Britain or Canada.  Wikipedia also states that occasionally the Oxford comma can introduce ambiguity.  Their example of this is “To my mother, Ayn Rand, and God.”  The reader is left unsure whether Ayn Rand is the author’s mother or not.  Additionally, Wikipedia provides examples of sentences in which the addition of the Oxford comma doesn’t introduce ambiguity, but doesn’t provide clarity either.  In those instances, there’s no choice but to rewrite the sentence. 

I’ve now decided I will no longer let Word’s editor bully me into that extra comma.  Whew, I feel so liberated!

Barely related to the comma discussion, I also read a large Twitter debate  on whether punctuation and even spelling matter!  I was shocked at the number of writers saying that they do not think they’re important, and some even saying that if a reader gets caught up in poor spelling and punctuation, they’re not going to get the story anyway.  They’re, of course, right  When I read something full of spelling errors, I put it aside, and so I will never get that story or any other stories by that author.   Punctuation errors don’t usually make me decide not to read a story, but they are damn annoying, and if they’re hugely evident in one book written by an author, I am unlikely to read another book by that same author.

That takes me to editing.  In the past month, I’ve picked up eight  books by independently published authors.  Three of them, for me, were unreadable because they were so poorly edited.  (Okay, for one of these, it had problems that even the best editor would have been highly challenged to resolve.  It seemed like someone had an acid-induced dream about Scooby-Doo, complete with The Mystery Machine, and decided it should be a novel.  Well, it was marketed as a novel.  Novella is more like it, and that’s being generous.) One of these books had an excellent premise, but it was so poorly laid out, and read so much like a first draft, that the premise was wasted.  Two others that I did read completely could have been five star, WOW books, had they been better edited. 

Yet, a conversation in the #writingcommunity this week leaned almost completely toward professional editing being unnecessary.  Their view seemed to be that it was just fixing spelling, grammar, sentence structure and punctuation, and the writer or a utility such as Grammarly could do that.  (My reading experience over the past month would say that almost a third of writers cannot self-police in those areas, but my sample size would probably not be considered statistically meaningful.  I’m not a statistician and don’t even play one on TV.)   But, good editing is more than just fixing spelling, grammar, sentence structure and punctuation.  A good editor would tell you when you’ve missed the mark on the voice of one of your characters.  For instance, in a book I’m reading right now, the author has the antagonist saying supposedly popular phrases that the character he’s described would never say.  Actually, all the characters say stupid things, that, I guess, are meant to be funny.  I’m struggling to get past that because really the story itself is good.  My point is that a good editor would point out that the incongruent and sometimes ridiculous dialogue is preventing the book from being what It could be.

So, what I’ve learned this week boils down to I should stick to my guns on the Oxford comma, and I think I made the right decision to send Notches out for professional editing.  We’ll see what I think when it comes back bleeding red. . .

In other news, my dog Chico, who suddenly went almost completely blind last week, was the best boy ever at the vet’s on Friday.  That is, he was the best boy ever until it came time to pay the ginormous bill.  He first tried to pee on the reception wall, but I’d made sure he was outta juice before we went in, making that little protest less than what he’d hoped for. Always resourceful, he humped over, and with about eight people watching, took a big, and oh so fragrant, dump.   Yes, Chico, my love, that pretty much sums up how I feel about the whole situation, too.   

Book Review: The Fateful Dance by Natalie Demoss

Are you looking for a fantasy book filled with fae folk, magic, a princess who doesn’t know she’s a princess and a dragon, but you’re not so much into reading pages of world building description?  Well, The Fateful Dance by Natalie Demoss is the book for you!

Shortly after King Caelan and Queen Orlagh ascend to the throne of Aiheoven, a seer warns them that she’s seen a vision that the evil Malorra of Braydor plans to kill them and overrun their kingdom.  But, they can avert the disaster for their people by going into hiding until their line produces a Warrior Queen.  So, the king and queen cross the veil into a manor in Scotland.  Three generations later, the Warrior Queen, Isla, is born.  Luckily, time moves more quickly in the human realm than it does in Aiheoven, where mere days have passed.

The Scottish manor immediately becomes unsafe, and Isla’s parents move her via an Elven portal to Chicago to keep her safe until her 25th birthday.  In Chicago, Isla’s sister Teagan is born.  When the girls are quite young, Malorra’s creatures catch up to them and attempt to kill Isla.  Her father protects the children, but both parents die. The girls, who have no idea they’re Elven princesses endure a traumatic childhood and manage to avoid additional assassination attempts with assistance from other fae folk in the human realm. 

Then on Isla’s 25th birthday, they learn that she’s inherited the Scottish manor, and they immediately depart for Scotland.  A few days later, they find the portal to Aiheoven and step through.  From there, their lives change forever as they’re faced with the imminent attack by Malorra’s forces.

The story flows smoothly and quickly, and the characters’ personalities shine through.  This is an enjoyable read!

Short Story:  A Little Too Physical Training

Janet was engaged in self-torture in the form of 20 reps of the physical therapist’s designated  exercises, when she saw the woman walk into American Physical Therapy (APT). 

She was late middle-age, but her exact age was hard to pinpoint; she was well-preserved.  She had perfectly colored blonde hair, cut in a chin-length bob that flattered her chubby face.  Her eyes caught Janet’s attention immediately – they were a dark blue that shone like violets out of her tastefully applied makeup.  She wore a pink and purple track suit and a bucketload of gold jewelry. 

The woman walked up to the front desk, which was directly in front of Janet’s therapy station and said, “I’m Ronnie, and I have a therapy session with Angela.”   The receptionist told Ronnie that Angela would be right up to get her.  Moments later, an APT therapist walked up to Ronnie.  She was about the same age as most of the therapists at APT —  freshly out of college,

The therapist, said, “Ronnie?  Hi, I’m Angela.”

Ronnie replied, “Hi.  Nice to meet you.”

Then Angela handed Ronnie something and said, “Okay, you’ll need to go into the locker room and change into this.  Then, in the locker room there’s a door labeled “Private.”  Meet me in there after you’ve changed.”

Ronnie said loudly, “What is this?  A hospital gown?  Why are you telling me to put on a hospital gown?”

Angela said more quietly, “It’s to make you more comfortable.”

Ronnie laughed and said, “I’m comfortable enough in what I have on, thank you very much.”

Angela looked at her tablet.  “You’re here for pelvic floor physical therapy, right?”

“I’m here for exercises to help me stop peeing myself,” Ronnie answered loudly.

Angela stepped closer to her and said very quietly, “Yes, that’s what pelvic floor physical therapy is designed to help.”

“Why do I need to put on a hospital gown for that and go into a ‘private’ room with you?”

Angela said something to Ronnie that Janet couldn’t hear.  Apparently, Ronnie couldn’t hear her either because she said, “Please speak up; I cannot hear you.”

“Ronnie,” Angela said.  “Did your doctor not explain pelvic floor physical therapy to you?”

Janet heard Ronnie say in a voice that dripped with annoyance, “No, he did not.  We talked about scheduling me for surgery to tighten up my stuff, and then a week later someone from his office told me my insurance required that I first try physical therapy, and they set up this appointment with you.”

Janet stopped what she was doing and looked at both women.  Ronnie looked as annoyed as her voice sounded.  Angela looked nervous. 

“Okay,” Angela said slowly.  “One part of the therapy program is Kegels training.  That’s why we think you’ll be more comfortable in the gown.”

Ronnie laughed and replied, “Honey, I don’t need to wear a hospital gown to do Kegels, and I don’t need a private room for it, either.”

Angela said, “I assist you with doing the Kegels correctly.”

“I’m pretty sure I’ve been doing them correctly, and I think my husband will attest to that.”

Janet turned her head to the side because she couldn’t stop the smile on her face.

Angela said something very quietly to Ronnie, and Ronnie said, “You’re really going to need to speak up.”

The younger woman said very quickly, “In order to make sure you do them in a manner that strengthens your pelvic floor, I have to use my hand.”

“You have to use your hand to do what?” Ronnie exclaimed.

Janet stifled a giggle.

Again, Angela tried to speak quietly to Ronnie, but Ronnie wasn’t patient enough to even let her finish speaking.  “In case you somehow didn’t notice, I have trouble hearing low tones.  Just spit it out, girl.”

In a rush, Angela said, “I put my fingers inside you to gauge whether you are appropriately contracting the muscles.”

Ronnie stared at Angela like she’d said, well, like she’d said exactly what she did say.   “Inside me,” she replied.  “As in, inside me the way no one but my husband has been for 40 years.”

Angela said hesitantly, “In a clinical way.”

“Well, clinically, it sounds like you just said you’re going to finger me in a private room.”

Janet turned her back to both of them because she was shaking with laughter. This was the best physical therapy session ever!

“Ronnie,” Angela said.  “You could have another therapist in the room if you like.”

“What?!” Ronnie said in a shocked tone.  “No, I most certainly do not want one of your friends to come in and watch  It’s bad enough that I know you’re going to get together with all your buddies later and laugh about my old lady stuff and the way I haven’t kept the property pruned.”

“We are professionals,” Angela said stiffly. “We do not gossip about our clients.”

Janet looked at the women again.  Angela was trying to look offended, but her nervousness shone through.   She couldn’t really read Ronnie’s expression, but pegged it as sarcastic amusement when Ronnie said, “Oh, please.  I’ve been here before, and I know how you all gather up here and talk about people.”

Janet nodded to herself.  She, too, had witnessed that in previous visits.

At that moment, another APT employee, male,  stepped up to the women and said, “Hello.  Can I be of assistance?”

Ronnie looked at him belligerently, and said, “Are you offering to stick your hand up my twat, too?”

Janet couldn’t look away.  While she stood there with her hand covering her mouth, she saw the young man put both hands up and say, “Oh, no, that’s not what I meant at all.”

Ronnie turned back to Angela, “What credentials do you have for this type of ‘therapy’?  How do you study for this type of therapy?  Do all the therapists here do the twat therapy?”

The young man hurriedly walked away.  Janet, grinning to herself, didn’t blame him.

Angela sputtered, and finally said, “We all take courses in pelvic floor therapy.”

“So, it’s not a specialty.  How do you study to make sure you know what you’re talking about?”

Angela looked around nervously.  Janet followed her looks and found that several clients had gathered behind her to listen to the conversation between the two women.

Before Angela could attempt to answer, Ronnie continued, “So, APT is going to charge me and my insurance company hundreds of dollars for just whoever is available to ‘service me.’”  Then even more loudly she said “ Sounds like one of those backroom massage parlors.  Do I get a happy ending?”

Someone must have alerted the manager, because she walked up quickly to the women and said, “What seems to be the problem here?”

Angela, completely red-faced, started to speak, but Ronnie was louder.  “Seems that APT is giving twat massages without the appropriate accreditation to qualify as physical therapy.”

The manager said, “I assure you we only provide appropriate pelvic floor therapy.”

Ronnie, still as loudly, replied, “Uhm-hmm.  Seems to me that if there’s no specialty for the twat massage therapy, that the validity of the other therapies offered here is questionable, too.”

Janet heard murmurs behind her, and turned to find that most of the clients were now gathered to listen, and the therapists all seemed to have disappeared.

The manager said quietly, “You need to leave, please.”

Ronnie took the tablet from Angela and said sweetly, in a much quieter voice, “I’ll be glad to leave as soon as you sign and send the report saying that I don’t have the muscle control for therapy to provide any help for my incontinence.”

The manager took the tablet, tapped, and swiped, and showed the results to Ronnie.

“Thank you very much,” she said, and in turning to leave, she winked at Janet.