When I overheard someone say the word perturbed recently, the word danced around in my head until I put pen to paper and wrote this vignette.


The police station hugs the railroad tracks in this rural New Jersey town. I contemplate retirement most mornings and especially today, as I skip over rain puddles to the precinct door. When I climb the steps, an umbrella pokes my neck. Inside I turn around and observe a woman hiding a closed umbrella in a corner. Then she walks toward me, her hand extended and says, “I’m Dolores.”

Usually, I am not quick to shake hands, but do so automatically and introduce myself.  “Officer Hawkins. How can I help you?”

“My husband went missing last night.”

Her voice is raspy. Her long jet-black hair parted on the side, frames the opposite eye. I wish I had gotten a haircut, or at least trimmed my mustache.

I respond. “Standard procedure is to wait twenty-four hours,” then stomp my feet on a rug, “your guy will probably show up before that.”

“Officer Hawkins, it’s so unlike Steven.” Her doe like brown eyes fill with tears.

“Well, file a missing person’s report if you want.”

I walk behind my desk, and search for the appropriate form. Dolores eases into an interview chair uninvited, and slips off her raincoat, to reveal; what my ex-wife called, a sweater dress.  She trembles at the sight of the paper work, reacting as though it is a hot potato.

Reluctantly, I complete the form for her. She describes Steven as tall, dark, and handsome. Then quickly produces his wallet. The contents spill out. She gathers the singles and worn scrapes of paper with her hands and almost perfectly manicured red nails. The index finger nail is broken.

I say, “Tell me what happened last night.” Her lips purse together before she responds.

“I was perturbed.”

Her pronunciation; emphasis on the first syllable without ignoring the rest, grabs my attention. I confirm her intent. “Perturbed. . . As in annoyed, agitated, or troubled.”

“Yes,” she studies the ceiling, “so. . . I took the dog for a walk,” she pulls nervously at a sleeve, “when I got back, Steven wasn’t there.” She tugs repeatedly at the dress to cover her knees. “I was perturbed.”

I mimic what she says, “You were perturbed?”

Now her doe eyes light with anger as she contains her passion. “Yes, perturbed,” she slips into her coat and stands, “what don’t you understand? Surely you’ve been perturbed, Officer Hawkins.”

She is guilty. But of what, I do not know . . . yet.

I watch her leave the building perturbed.

. . . . just saying


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W is for Wheels of Circumstance

New Thoughts on Words


Aging & Attitude

In 1966, during college orientation, we were instructed to look to our left, then to our right, and told one of us would not graduate. The glaring statistic stimulated conversation. Vera, on my right, was from Long Island, and had an unfamiliar accent. She escaped from Hungary as a child and remembered running across the border grasping her mother’s hand. I was watching Betty Boop cartoons while she was chased by Russians. Her experience stayed with me and is incorporated in my fiction story, “Wheels of Circumstance”, published In Florida Writers Association Collection, Volume Four.

Wheels of Circumstance

   Mama and I press our bodies flat against the frigid ground and pray the wheels do not stop. A gloved finger to her lips tells me what I intuitively know: we are in danger, and a disturbance may reveal our presence.

   The day is crisp; the strong sun’s reflection on clean snow hinders our vision. I am a fawn watching a doe’s movement frozen by headlights, mirroring the behavior.  Mama’s fudge colored eyes wide and alert do not move while her lashes flitter. 

   The wheels stop not by choice, but by circumstance. They rotate in the mud clockwise many times. When the engine shifts gear, the wheels twirl counterclockwise so fast, the steel spokes blur together. The vehicle, encumbered in mud, stalls and several soldiers jump out. I tremble, and see only soldiers’ feet in heavy boots with metal toes from where I am lying. I close my eyes at the thought of a soldier lifting his leg to kick me.

    The engine restarts and the uniformed men study the wheels as they spin again. The puddle gets deeper, a chocolate cesspool, and goop splashes, dirtying my face.  I watch two soldiers shift metal guns slung on their backs, and ready themselves to shove the vehicle from behind as a driver yells in a foreign language that reeks of anger. The noise muffles the sounds I do not make.

    The soldiers rock the truck, making the ditch bigger, and the wheels more trapped. The engine cuts out leaving a quiet sound. The driver jumps out of the cab enraged, a semiautomatic gun raised above his head, and shoots into the air and around the tires. 

   Mama rolls her body on mine, secures my mouth shut with her hand to muffle any sound, and listens to an approaching noise, another vehicle.

   The soldiers, who were pushing the pick-up yell, punch the driver and point to a deflated tire, as the second truck comes to a halt.  

   With chains and shovels, the angry team of men release the truck from the muck, and afterwards shove and slap each other in good cheer at the success of their efforts.

   I start to cry when they drive off.

   It is November 4, 1956 and what started as a birthday lunch at the University with Papa is the Hungarian Revolution.

   In the morning, we sleep late and dress leisurely for the special day.  I wear my favorite navy blue taffeta dress. Mama insists I wear leggings with my green winter coat adorned by gold buttons and a velvet collar, a matching headscarf tied under my chin. The leggings have inside zippers.

   Mamma wears a camel wrap coat and a fake fur hat.

   My birthday gift is a white rabbit muff with a cord I loop around my neck making certain it is not lost. I skip to the 9:45AM train to Budapest and nestle my hands inside my birthday gift,  occasionally, fluffing the rabbit fur on the ride.

   We arrive an hour later, and when we step down from the train, the crowd is noisy and the station disorganized. People run in different directions and change course unexpectedly. Papa is at the exit gate not at the University. He whispers in Mama’s ear after their kiss and her eyes droop in disgust. Papa grabs me in a birthday hug that lifts me off the ground and smiles his million-dollar smile.

   There is a “change in plan” goes the conversation between tickles to my chin and behind my ears. Mama and I are to take the train to Austria; Aunt Marion will greet us for a Birthday Holiday. Papa will come on the weekend. Mama’s eyes continually question his prediction. I am happy with the promise.   

   We get back on the train. Papa hands us a bag lunch and an envelope with Aunt Marion’s address and spending money. We wave from the window not knowing it is for the last time.

   Mama reads a newspaper on the train, turning the pages quickly and with tears in her eyes. “Who is Aunt Marion? Do I know Aunt Marion?” I ask of her.

   “Aunt Marion is Papa’s relative, really a cousin. I have not met her either. It will be nice . . . I think. Yes, Trudy it will be nice. Now close your eyes and rest, we have a busy day.”

   Near the Austria-Hungary border, the train stops, empties, and people are rude and loud.

   “Is everyone on holiday, Mama?”

   “Well, it seems…” and Mama holds my hand with intensity.  “Let me ask for directions,” she says and approaches the conductor now standing on the platform. I cannot hear but watch heads nodding and shaking.  Mama continues walking tentatively and then with determination.

   “I am going to call Aunt Marion and see if she knows another way.”

    Mama deposits several coins in a pay phone, and engages in a speedy conversation.

   Smiling Mama says, “Sure enough, Trudy, we can follow the road and cut through the pasture. It will be fun and faster, maybe we’ll see a deer.”   

   Our walk is interrupted by the sound of Soviet tanks, trucks, and gunfire. Mama pulls us down behind tall grass brushed with snow. We listen, hidden until the sounds of people screaming and crying disappear.

   Mama explains. “Mean people are invading our country and we must leave, for now. Papa will talk with them. It will be fine. We will cut through the meadow, and cross the border to meet Aunt Marion. She told me the way.”

   That was before circumstance and the mud. Now Mama’s eyes close and there is blood on her coat. The fake fur hat sits crooked on her head surrounded by brunette hair curled for my celebration and I grow up fast within these seconds.

    “Trudy, run ahead and tell Aunt Marion I stopped to rest.” Her soft words linger as she hands me the envelope and struggles to say, “She will help us. Run like the wind and do not look back.”

   I kneel beside Mama. “Let me stay Mama, you need help, let me stay.” My words hang small and meaningless in the air.

   Mama opens her eyes, “Gertrude Zimmerman, stop your silliness, listen to your Mama, go find Aunt Marion.  Run… I’ll see you in. . . .

   I finish her sentence, “Heaven.”

   The sounds of wheels stay connected to the loss of Mama, her love buried in my memories.


….just saying


A Big Box Thanksgiving


Aging & Attitude

Forget about that seductive tryptophan induced nap on Thanksgiving evening, we are going shopping. Yes, after watching football all day, get in the car, start the engine, and be the first on line. The doors open at 8PM for Sears and Toys R Us, and 9PM for Wal-Mart and Target.

Twitter and Facebook chatted about a petition Target employees were circulating, in the hope corporate would rescind, to no avail.

Target is the second largest discount retailer in the United States, Wal-Mart the first. Target has 1,763 stores and 365,000 employees; a company spoke person said only one-third will have to work.

Both companies’ net income, or bottom line profit, is in the billions. Target’s CEO’s salary/incentive bonus is 24 million dollars.

Why would retail corporations want to open their doors hours earlier? To increase sales and profit. Profit is the reason to widen the gateway/window for purchasing holiday gifts, and it is knocking on the Thanksgiving Day Door. For several years, profit has snuck in the back around midnight, looking to be center stage and more important than family time together.

This year there is no pretending, Americans value stuff and are puffed when purchased on sale.

Thanksgiving is a federal holiday, a public holiday; however, the government cannot prevent businesses from opening, Blue Laws do.

In 1961, Chief Justice Warren upheld Maryland’s Blue Law of closed doors on Sunday not for religion reasons but “to provide a uniform day of rest for all citizens” McGowan v. Maryland

Thanksgiving is a uniform day of rest for all citizens. Retail should be closed.

I was getting agitated, upset about the future and wondered, would our great grandkids have fond Thanksgiving memories as I had.

Then I read Chris Hamilton’s post Gold Happens When Your Characters Are Wrong and considered being mistaken.

I lack the ability to see the future, and might be wrong.

People may not text instead of talk at the table, perhaps linger after dinner, longing for that turkey on white bread sandwich after dinner. It is possible people will not be seduced into buying more stuff and calling it a holiday celebration.

Perhaps Wall Street will forego profit, stay home and play Monopoly with fake money and experience the real deal.

A blizzard could deposit a blanket of snow over all of North America, or Chicken Little could cry “The sky is falling, the sky is falling”.                                                      

                                                                                     ….just saying