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Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Her body doesn’t know the season. First hot, then cold, then much too hot, and she is flinging the back door open, fanning her shirt from neck and chest, uttering “Ugh!” “Oh!” “Uhh!”

It is October, 66º in the house and 44º outside. She sits at the desk wearing short sleeves and jeans, bare feet in sandals — and she is hot. Still, the shoulder turned toward the big window — only that shoulder — is chilled. Warm air from the heat vent under the desk moves the fine hairs on her face but in a moment she will be too cold altogether, looking for a sweater and the wool-lined sheepskin boots for wearing indoors through the fall, winter, and spring. A runny nose from September to June so her body requires a box of tissues at every endpoint: by the bed, by the couch, on the writing desk, at the computer, next to the reading chair, on the kitchen counter, in the car. …


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photo: patti witten

The boss is speaking to a dozen office workers seated around the conference table. He mentions an unfamiliar name, and a young man asks, “Is that a new employee?”

“Yes,” the boss replies, “we have a new employee.” Maybe he says her name is Marion, or maybe he doesn’t say her name. Maybe she needs a new, sharp pencil.

While the boss speaks, I rise and go to the supply room adjacent to the conference room and push a brand new, yellow №2 pencil into the electric sharpener. It whines and grinds loudly.

“Do this some other time, will you?” says the boss to me over his shoulder, his voice rising above the noise. …


I want to return to normal, to play guitar, to rake leaves, and turn a doorknob without pain.

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photo / Patti Witten

Despite having taken melatonin around midnight, I wake for good just after 5 a.m. A strong breeze from the southeast has turned the curtains into sails, the door thumps in its casing, and the cat meows for food on the other side. My ears ring, and the sharp odor of cellulose insulation fills the room. I look up.

Must paint the ceiling, I think, for the thousandth time.

Feed the cat, turn the coffee on. Pull a pair of pilled and grayed athletic socks out of the top dresser drawer. My physical therapist had recommended fitting a sock into a light compression sleeve over my nerve-wracked left wrist to quell the fiery pain and tingling from the break and surgery I’d undergone five months before. …


Was it a ghostly pressure of air or sound, an eddy in the vast current of molecules, atomic particles, and solar winds?

“A full Dolphy step in time”

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photo / Patti Witten

In the Tipping Point, poet Billy Collins wonders if anyone felt a subtle tremor on the 36th anniversary of Eric Dolphy’s death at the age of 36.

I wonder –
did anyone sense something
when another Eric Dolphy lifetime
was added to the span of his life,

when we all took another
full Dolphy step forward in time,
flipped over the Eric Dolphy yardstick once again?

The line, a full Dolphy step in time, reminded me of my recent 30th sobriety anniversary. It also reminded me of the sensation of movement I often feel just as I fall asleep.

A few minutes after I have turned out the light and turned on my side and slipped one hand under the pillow beneath my cheek, I might feel a tremor on the blanket near my feet or at my back — so slight — as though the cat has settled there to add its heat to mine. …


All I had done was to move in next door.

The long, raging road to a #metoo moment.

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Pixabay

It took more than 20 years to begin writing about the man who stalked me for 18 months after I’d moved into a new neighborhood in 1996. The #metoo movement gave me courage. But then a road-rage encounter silenced me, again.

My stalker lived in the house next door. I was 39 years old, my second marriage had ended, and my father had recently died. Our two houses were only 20 feet apart in a steep, quiet city neighborhood of older single-family homes. …


Dark clouds over a hillside and field of yellow grass.
Dark clouds over a hillside and field of yellow grass.
photo / Patti Witten

MAYLIN’S SPIRIT WAS NOT HELPING THEM FIND ANYTHING TO SOLVE THE MYSTERY OF THE WORDS IN THE ADDRESS BOOK — “NEVER” AND “OCTOBER 1998.”

A chapter from a novel-in-progress

Robert did not tell Cynthia about confronting Smith, about almost betraying their suspicion that Smith hurt Maylin when she was a girl. He kept it from her because she would be furious at him. And he was ashamed of losing self-control. He couldn’t even muster the defiance to justify his behavior, so he just wanted to forget it.

They sat opposite each other in Maylin’s room, leaning over the boxes looking for clues among the CDs, dolls, clothes, and jewelry. …


I couldn’t see the owls, but I imagined they could see me.

moon with spiky tendrils in a dark sky against bare tree branches
moon with spiky tendrils in a dark sky against bare tree branches
photo collage / Patti Witten

I fell asleep watching a mindless show on my iPad, woke up an hour later, turned off the iPad, and the light. Eleven p.m. The cat was curled against my side like a cake hot out of the oven.

Sometimes the cat’s heat wakes me from an initial doze but this was different. I heard a sound outside, an almost-music. I listened and waited until it came again — an owl, a female Great Horned Owl. A male joined the song with his lower, darker voice.

The owls must have been just above my room in the tall white pine tree crowding this side of the house. Even with the windows closed against the cold, their calls were loud through my chronic tinnitus and the glass. I lifted the quilt and sat on the side of the bed to hear better. It was like lowering myself onto the first step of a swimming pool. The cold wrapped my legs and arms and my bare feet whispered on the floor. …


She had seen a man crawl out of the dark beside a slithering brown torrent, his ghastly face lit by her car’s flashing orange hazard lights.

A chapter from a novel-in-progress

Two deer graze in a field with misty trees and a hill behind them
Two deer graze in a field with misty trees and a hill behind them
photo / Patti Witten

As soon as it was light, Leah left the church and drove home through the fog. She needed to see if she still had a house.

She had not slept, just sat and talked a bit with the volunteers and half a dozen others who’d escaped the flood, like her. She’d gone numb despite the harrowing stories they told. In the cat carrier, Emmy had lapped some water from a paper plate, wide-eyed and silent. Probably traumatized. The rain had slowed as though the blood-clot clouds had nearly bled out. In the car, the driver’s door and seat were spongy and water pooled in the footwell. She was exhausted and wearing donated clothing, her wet things wadded up in a plastic grocery bag. …

About

Patti Witten

Writer, songwriter, essayist; novel-in-progress. Writes for Cornell U College of Architecture, Art, and Planning. swaytothis.wordpress.com

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