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First pages


Whatever You Heard, This Is What Happened...



mutable; adjective. From the Latin mutare (to change). Capable of change or modification. Of course there’s no way to tell how something, or someone, will change.




I once read a book that said life is a big game. The whole point of living is to figure out which piece you are and how the game is played. On the day you do that, the day you finally figure out the rules and understand what’s going on... you die, because at that point, the game is over.


I will live forever.


The whole thing started, as so many things do, with a cake in a tub.


There it sat, a tiny, yellow cake in a little, plastic tub, its plain, white icing scratched and smeared from where it had bumped against the plastic walls of its cell, the top of which bore a sticker with the celebratory exclamation, “Cake for One!” Yes, it included the exclamation point. It also said, “$3.99,” which if you round up (and why not be generous), worked out to 40 cents for each of the ten years I’d been working there.


The cake was only six inches in diameter, accompanied by a single can of energy drink from the office vending machine. This was awkward, because there were at least 20 people in the conference room, each of whom was going to enjoy a very small portion unless I figured in the next sixty seconds how Jesus managed to feed a multitude with a single fish and a loaf of bread. I’d never shown any special aptitude for miracles, so the outlook wasn’t promising.


And honestly, even if I suddenly developed miraculous powers, would I spend them on that? What if it turned out I only had enough juice for one miracle?

While I was puzzling over what my first, maybe only miracle would be, if I ever did one, my boss cleared his throat, looking like a chronically-depressed lop-eared bunny in horn-rimmed glasses and a plaid shirt. “Well.” He looked about, but no one had anything to add to that. “So. You’ve been here ten years.” I nodded. It was true. I had been. “You’ve worked on one edition of Rexworth’s Heritage Dictionary.”


This was more debatable. True, we published one new, official print edition every decade, but we constantly revise the online dictionary, plus we put out trade dictionaries, and a version for board gamers... In terms of effort, it was more like 25.


He shoved the cake and can at me. We smiled, me uncertainly, he insincerely. And...? It became evident he had no more to say on this subject and no segue ready. He’s never been comfortable complimenting or praising anyone, and wasn’t going to start now. “Actions,” he was fond of prosing, “speak louder than words.” For a guy in charge of writing a dictionary, he was surprisingly inarticulate.


I looked vaguely over the heads of my coworkers, mumbled “Thank you,” and sat down. He moved on to the next topic on his list, keeping our common kitchen area clean.


Here was a subject that could command the passion my ten years of service could not. We discussed it with all the camaraderie of a sack of wet cats. Keeping our common lunch area clean wasn’t on anyone’s roster of duties? Damn!


UpChuck pointed out my lone cottage cheese indiscretion, which I admitted, while pointing out that I did at least try to mop it up with a wad of paper towels. Bridget claimed none of us did anything as bad as what UpChuck did with his leftover ketchup packets, which he called “catsup,” even though “ketchup” is the preferred spelling in the very dictionary we all work on, because, in his own mind and nobody else’s, he’s a rebel. He collects ketchup packets the way some people collect souvenir spoons. This wasn’t the first time anyone referred to him as UpChuck, but it did mark the first time it happened to his face, which meant my party, such as it was, was over.


Throughout the meeting, whenever we got to anything that was happening or due in the next two weeks, our boss would shoot me a sideways look, purse his lips, and observe that it would, of course, have to be done without my input or assistance, since I would be taking a (faux hearty laugh), “Haha! Well-deserved vacation.” Indeed I would. My first in years. Two whole, glorious weeks poised to sprint with me in their arms to safety, before I killed someone.


We were staying home, away from my boss, king of the passive-aggressive e-mail, but still within the aura of our neighbor, Bonehead the Barbarian, semi-deaf amateur deejay of the automotive boom box. We’d still be accessible to the list of people who only get in touch with me when they need something, but squatting at home hating Bonehead still sounded better than being at work.


Our office building looks like a prison. When I leave for the weekend, it feels like I should get $100 and a new suit of clothes. Usually I leave with nothing more than a headache, work I never manage to get done since my duties continue to expand as my number of paid hours stays the same, and a sense that I’m wasting my life. This time I also had a six-inch cake wad in a plastic tub.


Maybe I could talk Jerry into a couple of lunches out in the weeks to come. Maybe. He had a list of chores, things that never get done in the normal course of our lives, all stuff that needs doing. But...


That list was getting less and less inspirational, and it was getting harder to get up in the morning. There was nothing on the list I could look forward to. Oh, I had dreams, but dreams have no dates attached. When you wake up in the morning, you’re not one day closer to “some day.” I needed something of my own, something I could anticipate, and “go to work, go to store, take care of somebody’s something” wasn’t doing it.


I could drive to the grocery store, my mother-in-law’s house, or work, in my sleep. On the rare occasions I tried to go anywhere else (like the doctor’s office), if I wasn’t thinking, I’d automatically head for one of those places. More than once lately, I’d set out for someplace else, only to end up in the parking lot at work.


Sitting in front of our house, listening to the engine tick quietly to itself as it cooled down, a sure sign it needed to spend some expensive quality time with a mechanic, I clenched my hands in my lap until my fingers cramped. Something new, please. Somewhere I hadn’t been before. New faces that didn’t already expect the least of me, and look smug when they got it, or the most of me, and accept it without noticing. Something new!


A day later, I was standing on a worn redwood deck, wondering if the smell would ever come out of my clothes, when a bird dropped from the sky, splatting dead at my feet. Out of a blue sky, at my feet.


I don’t believe in omens.


I don’t.


My mother-in-law’s wiener dog staggered up to me and let loose a projectile barf that drenched bird, shoes, and a good portion of the deck.


I’ve always hated that saying, “Things can only get better.” There are other options, after all.


I tried to wiggle some barf off my shoe. Well, it was a new experience. Had I known the universe was listening, I’d have been more specific.


My first vacation in years. Let the good times roll.



anfractuous; adjective. Sinuous, winding, containing many turns. Circuitous. Dates back to the 1600s. From the Latin anfractus, bending or digressing. Life, in other words. We’d like to believe we travel in straight lines. We don’t.




It’s not like I didn’t have warning. The universe had been flinging signs my way from the moment Jerry told me he was spiriting me away from it all. I’d have rushed into his arms, squealing with joy, but...


“We’ll have fun,” he continued before I could work up a squeal, “walking Midge on the beach...” Walking Midge? Why would we be walking his mother’s dog?


We usually take care of Midge when Molly is out of town. Well, I take care of Midge, and Jerry gets the credit. He had dropped her off just yesterday, when Molly came home from her church women’s retreat. She comes back from retreats percolating with righteousness and brimful of built-up religion, with nowhere to put it. “We can’t take Midge,” I said, confused. “She gets car sick, remember? Mt. Vesuvius car sick.”


Jerry’s smile got wider, tighter, more determined. “Mom will take care of her.”


He was bringing Molly along? His mother? The woman who disapproves of almost everything about me, except my job, and that only because she can’t remember what it is I do?


“This is...” she’d flutter a hand around as if batting away butterflies, “Jerry’s wife (not “my daughter-in-law,” and there is a distinction). She’s...” more hand waving, “a... proctologist?” At which point people would scatter, or worse, try to lure me into the bathroom for a chat, so I’d blurt out, “I’m not a proctologist. I’m a lexicographer!” As I’d explained in Molly’s hearing many times.


My job won’t cause relatives to say, “We always knew you’d do well.” It won’t make your high school crush (who now has bad hair plugs and a slight squint, which is hilarious if you’re nowhere near a mirror yourself) regret standing you up to take the head cheerleader to the homecoming dance. Not that it still bothers you after all these years. Of course not.


For most people, my job is a combination of unimpressive and confusing, at best a curiosity, like announcing I make a living sculpting busts of celebrities out of cheese. Molly forgets what I do even as I say it.


As my mother used to say, “Molly isn’t hard of hearing, she’s hard of listening.”


People quickly realize I am NR (Nobody Really), and can’t do a thing for their popularity or profitability. They also suspect I’m proofing their conversation (no, I worry they’re proofing mine) and feel a sudden, compelling need to be elsewhere.


Or they lob questions at me, always the same ones. “Where does the word “booger” come from?” It shares a history with “bogeyman.” That seems to satisfy most people, but if they seem interested, I tell them it may be derived from the British “boggard,” or goblin, and in addition to its “mucussy” definition has also come to be a general noun (“He was a cute little booger,” which is probably related to “snot-nosed kid,” but more affectionate).


I say “may” because we’re almost never sure where a word began. Sometimes we can tell you the first time a word appeared in print, but even that has to be qualified by “that we know of.” Most words are birthed in the dark, without records.


The other perennial (usually asked with a smirk) is, “why isn’t ‘fuck’ in the dictionary?” It is, in ours and several others. Our online edition says there are “five entries found for fuck.” My boss, an Olympic-class avoider, refused to discuss that and said it needed no rewriting, so into the book it went.


It probably comes from the Middle Dutch “fokken” or the Swedish “focka,” most likely in the late 15th or early 16th century. Here’s something about the word “fuck.” It not only means sexual intercourse, it means to treat unkindly, interfere with, be frivolous, waste time, or bungle, depending upon whether you add “with,” “around,” or “up.” Add “off” or “you” and you get other meanings.


Most of the meanings of the word are negative, which says something about how conflicted people are about sex. And yes, because most of the people asking about “fuck” are watching me for signs of embarrassment, I do include this whole explanation, each time. Every. Single. Word.


Molly’s been in the audience for this performance. She tunes out, all glassy eyes and vague smile, taking herself to a happy place where her son married a woman with a job that doesn’t encourage people to say dirty words. So why does she say I’m a proctologist? I don’t think she remembers what they do. When the conversation turns to problem poopers, she’s surprised and uncomfortable. Every time.


I had walked in that evening primed to talk about my job, my boss, my lovely two-minute party with six-inch cake, which sat on the counter unnoticed. Jerry launched into vacation plans, and how the three of us, four if you count Midgie, had never taken a long trip together.


There were many things we hadn’t done together, mostly because they involved doing, together.


I looked for arguments that might head off the impending train wreck, while Jerry waxed rhapsodic over the joys of a road trip with a person who doesn’t like me much. He didn’t seem to realize that I wasn’t completely checked in to our conversation.


People do talk to me. Not with me – to me. Plant me on an empty city bus, buried behind a newspaper, and the next person to get on will sit beside me and regurgitate the details of his life. Jerry says my normal facial expression – that face you make when you’re not trying to make any face at all – says “please, tell me everything.” This despite the fact that most of the things people are just dying to tell someone are things I don’t want to know.


Trapped, in a car, then a house, Molly and I would have to make more conversation than we’d ever constructed together. Jerry mentioned that he’d already rented the house and it was non-refundable. I went into that panic where I’m frozen like a stuck cursor, stumbling around in my skull, looking for an answer. “Ah... ah...”


“It’s a three-bedroom house,” Jerry chirped. He never chirps. He pried the lid off my anniversary cake absently. “Mom’s really excited about it.” No, she wasn’t, but she wasn’t going to tell her son she wasn’t. He took out a fork, just one, and took a bite. Of my cake for one.


I cleared my throat. “Ahhh... Midge gets carsick... and so does Molly. Very.”


“I know.” Jerry carved the single rose from the top of my mini-cake, took a bite of pure frosting, sucked on his fork. We both come from long lines of stress eaters.


I took a fork from the drawer, nudged him aside and ate the leaves from my rose.


“Hmph-humph.” He nodded, mouth full of cake. “We’ll just have to keep them distracted.”


Distracted? What was I supposed to do, juggle? Jerry says he can’t talk while driving, which is probably why he usually drives, and my entire relationship with Molly depended on us not talking much.


Molly views everything through church-colored glasses. I’ve been going through a spiritual crisis, which I can’t discuss with Molly, or around Molly.


“She came back early from her women’s retreat just so she could go with us.” Jerry took another mouthful of cake.


I dived for the last bite and ate it without tasting it. Jerry and I rarely discuss matters of faith. Molly doesn’t discuss much else.


“I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.” I was tired of staring into the distance, getting eyestrain. I did try a couple of churches, but my questions were met with shock, discomfort, sometimes outright hostility. The answer to my spiritual crisis, I was told, was to have no questions. I questioned that.


I’m not a great conversationalist, even on topics that aren’t sensitive. I’m often called upon, even chased down, to listen, but rarely required to speak. My social skills rusted shut years ago. This is true of many people. We email, tweet, text, post and emit short burps of words at each other. We blog, an experience akin to flashing with your eyes closed. Sure, we’re showing it, but is anyone really looking?


People, including Molly, only call me when something needs doing (I’m a great doer of things) or when they’re mad at someone else. Whoever it is unloads his collection of unmet needs or inadequately appreciated whatever and decamps, acknowledged, satisfied.


When I talk to Jerry he assumes that slightly bored, slightly confused, attempting-to-be-supportive expression guys don when girls want to pour out their hearts. It’s the same expression dogs get when you talk to them, “I have no idea what you’re going on about, but I love you.”


Everyone needs someone to talk to, so I talk to... myself. In my head. I live with a constant internal commentary, like a Greek chorus, only slightly more cheerful.


Jerry caught my expression and turned away, stiff, shoulders hunched a little. “I thought you’d be happy about this.”


He did? Why?!?


“We’re making an event of it.”


A public hanging is also an event.


“I thought we could spend time together.” Jerry, me and his mother? He’d never shown a real urge to do that before, and goodness knows it hadn’t occurred to Molly or me.


Jerry found a half-empty jar of something. Peanut butter? Paint? Did it matter? He jammed his dirty spoon in, making it his from then on. “Weren’t you just saying you miss when we used to take road trips together?” Well, yes... him and me together. Not him, me, her, and her dog.

He leveled a frustrated look at me. “You’re always saying you need to get away from work...”


Everybody at work thought I was crazy to take vacation “at a time like this.” They didn’t seem to realize that it was always “a time like this.”


“We do the same stuff every day,” Jerry said, rinsing out the empty jar and putting his spoon in the dishwasher. “Maybe if we get away from the stuff we have to do all the time, we could do things we’re always saying we want to do.”


The same thing I’d been thinking only a couple of hours before now sounded like a foreign language. “Like what?”


Sorting through the mail, Jerry shrugged. “Like, I don’t know, write an actual book?” He winced. “I mean, you know, a real book, the kind of book you really want to write, instead of...”


“Instead of the stuff I have been writing for ten years?” Officially, I “edit” dictionaries, but what I actually do is write definitions for words. “Somebody writes the dictionary?” Of course. Without explanations it’s not a dictionary – it’s a spelling list.


“Don’t you ever wonder what you’d do, what you’d be like...” Jerry looked earnest in a way adults usually don’t, “who you would be if you did what you wanted to do?”


Since most adults aren’t circus performers, rock stars or astronauts, this is the human condition, isn’t it? Who doesn’t let his coffee get cold while contemplating what might have been, before realizing it really is too late to be a ballerina or a baseball player, and going back to work?


What do rock stars, astronauts and circus performers daydream about doing while their coffee gets cold?


“Hey,” Jerry said, putting an arm around me, “someone else can make up words for once.” I stiffened, and he let go. Make up words? Excuse me?


Here was my loving husband, and despite moments when I want to kill him, he usually is, pointing out that I’ve spent ten years struggling to hang on to a job that nobody, even my nearest and dearest, understands.


Jerry kept talking about something. I was slumped against the kitchen counter. I’d spent ten years doing something I thought was useful, if not glamorous, to the best of my ability, for a boss who is impossible to please, that nobody thought of as important or even interesting. “Make up” words? That, for a lexicographer, is the cardinal sin. We record these bits of history. We explain them. We don’t just make them up.


I was a snarling animal, crouching in my cave ready to devour anyone daring my wrath. I didn’t explain this to Jerry, because I was feeling pissy, and the only thing worse than being in a pissy mood is having to explain it, or having someone trying to fix it.


There are dances couples do. Over time, you both figure out if it’s “dum-dah-dah-dum-let’s have sex,” or “dum-dum-dum-dum-I’m pissy, let’s fight.” This was clearly the latter, only Jerry had already started dancing some strange new dance without me, and now expected me to catch up.


I’d been complaining about my stress levels, how dull and predictable our lives are, without any of those happy little surprises that show that someone – him – has been planning something wonderful with someone – me - in mind. I’ve been growling about how tired I am of our endless round of “work, home, grocery store, home, family thing, yard work, clean house, work,” and... well, I’ve been complaining, period, because I’m tired and frustrated and thanks to our neighbor Bonehead and the “completely awesomely sweet” subwoofer-of-doom sound system in his car, I usually have a headache.


There are topics I revisit whenever I re-notice it’s unlikely I’ll turn out to be wildly successful at something and never have to clean my own bathroom again, and life is a wet wool sweater, several sizes too small. I don’t expect them to be fixed. I want them transmuted, in a “then my fairy godmother waved her magic wand and I was perfectly beautiful, healthy, rich, brilliant and kind-hearted and my road was smooth and strewn with rose petals that never fade” kind of way, but I don’t want them fixed.


Fixing requires effort with no chance of perfection. If you can’t get transmutation, I say, go for complaining. It produces no real results but gives a lovely, self-righteous feeling that life isn’t fair to you specifically and the universe doesn’t realize how wonderful you, particularly, are – which means you are both more wonderful and more perceptive than anyone else.


Jerry is one of life’s “fixers.” Give him a broken something and watch him tinker until it’s working, if not perfectly, then better. He picked “dull, predictable and stressed” from my list and found a deal on a rental house only a gasp and some hyperventilation over our budget.


He showed me the rental agent’s web page touting a cozy little nest overlooking the ocean in “historic, peaceful Barbados, California.” It would have been wildly romantic that he actually made the arrangements, if he hadn’t invited his mother to come with us.


I landed back in the present moment with a mental splat, mouth agape, big cartoon question marks popping up in the air around me. What was he thinking?


“You and Mom could be really close if you gave it a chance,” he said, gulping house-brand diet soda. My vacation was turning into another cake in a tub.


My mother-in-law and I get along “ish.” We get through Christmas without hair pulling. From Jerry’s point of view, we’re slightly broken, and he saw a chance to tinker. Plus, he gets all pleased with himself when he can multitask. It wasn’t enough to take me somewhere to celebrate my “achievement.” We had to accomplish other things as well, whether I wanted to do them or not.


He put on a smile so broad, so patently false, that I could see his dental fillings. “This is going to be great!”


My least-favorite word is “confrontation.” I prefer sidestepping uncomfortable issues like dog doo on the sidewalk, assuming they will be swept up somehow before I have to go there again.


Who wants to be the person who raises objections? Wouldn’t we all rather be the nice person, always agreeable and cooperative? So what do you do when offered something that isn’t for you? How do you juggle being nice and saying “no,” especially to someone who very much wants you to do the one thing you don’t want to do and love it, even though he knows, or should know, exactly why you won’t?


I didn’t bring up how his mother and I can’t spend a whole lunch together without rubbing each other the wrong way. Jerry’s supposed to know my likes and dislikes, and not subject me to things I don’t like. I’m not supposed to have to explain it.


Nobody understands me.


Oh, they will, when I’m gone and my unfinished novels are published posthumously, and I’m finally recognized as one of the century’s brightest literary lights, cut down before my genius could flower at the tender age of 84. What good will that do me, cold and moldy as I’ll be by then, my brain rotted by cheap coffee, stale donuts, and one too many office meetings?


Maybe I do need a vacation.


Beautiful Barbados, California, just eight hours up a twisting, narrow road with a carsick mother-in-law, and her even more carsick dog.


Jerry gave me a big kiss, which, since I wasn’t happy at the moment, I more permitted than participated in. “Let’s get to bed. Big day tomorrow!” Uh-huh.


As I got ready for bed, I decided that was probably what someone said to the scientists the day before they tested the first atom bomb.



avoid; verb. From the Old French word for “to empty.” To stay away from or prevent. Somehow it’s easier to avoid things you want to do than it is to avoid things you don’t. For example, I often forget when TV shows I like are on, but I never seem to miss the door-to-door religion people.




There are substances club soda won’t remove from car upholstery, no matter how hard you dab, and conversations that, even after forgiveness has been given, leave faint stains on your emotional seat covers that never quite come out. Less than a day into the trip, we had both.


Jerry wanted to get an early start, so we told Molly we’d pick her up at six a.m., hoping she’d be ready by seven-thirty. We got there at eight and I rang her doorbell. I go in first ever since the time Jerry rang the bell and she answered fresh from the shower, nearly wrapped in a bath towel inadequate to the need. She was dressed, her suitcases by the door. An hour later, as Jerry stuffed the last thing she had forgotten to pack into my suitcase since all of the others were now bursting at the seams, I went back into the house, turned off the burner that had been left on, closed the refrigerator, watered her ficus tree, and locked the house. Then I returned to the house to find her glasses, which were perched (of course they were) on the toilet lid.


Parts of the highway were under construction. By the time we neared Petaluma an hour and a half later, I was ready to walk. Back home. The van hit a low ridge of asphalt and swayed. Midgie, her tubular body apparently filled with an endless supply of vomit, made a miserable coughing sound and let fly.


Molly gulped. “Poor sweetie,” she murmured in a wobbly voice, stroking her dog’s head. “Poor little wow-wow.” She pulled a wad from the roll of paper towels bought (along with several bottles of club soda) at the last stop.


I didn’t say anything because this had already happened so many times I’d run out of helpful advice, sympathetic words, even guttural noises. Molly and I don’t have much to talk about even under the best circumstances, which these definitely were not. It’s not just the differences in our ages, personalities, backgrounds, tastes, politics, hobbies, and interests. There’s a basic divide between our approaches to life that goes right down to the bedrock. A very nice hummingbird and a very nice dog will still have trouble finding much to talk about.


Could you explain running in the wind to a fish? What’s the fish supposed to use for a frame of reference?


All we really have in common is Jerry. For his sake, we get through short visits, but we’re relieved when our conversations end. Conversation on this trip was going to require an effort big enough to be visible from space, like the Great Wall of China. I did not, at that moment, feel like lifting the Great Wall of China, and Molly could barely lift her own head.


She cleared her throat. I thought she was going to woof up again, but it was worse. “Casey called,” she said. Now I felt nauseous. “She said to tell you ‘hi.’” Jerry responded with a noncommittal grunt. I didn’t say anything. Molly looked from Jerry to me. I said nothing again.


“Wasn’t that evening fun?” This from Molly. En garde!


“Mmm.” Parry! Make what you can out of that, Molly!


We both have strong opinions but hate confrontation, so we wait until the other party seems distracted, mince in for a weak slap, then retreat. The other person can’t respond directly without looking foolish. It’s not consciously passive-aggressive. We’re not that maladjusted... quite. It’s just what we do.


“She asked about you.” Molly’s turn. Attack!


“Ahh.” Actually, an “ah” that shaded into “uh” and finished with “oh.” Polite, but unencouraging. Learned it from my mother. Displacement!


Not long ago, Jerry and I went to Molly’s for dinner. There was another couple already there, intense, scrubbed and unexpected. Casey and Gideon, members of Molly’s church. Within minutes, Casey was “chatting” with me about my duties. I chewed whatever was on my plate, don’t ask me what, while a DVD they’d brought ran in the background. A group of people, maybe a family, maybe clones – they all looked weirdly alike – sang poorly-written gospel songs to a flock of unhappy-looking sheep.


I left the church during my sophomore year of college. I didn’t leave the faith, but I left the church. I know some people can’t see the difference, but there is one. I need a spiritual life that has a place for me in it that I’d want to occupy. It’s not something I discuss. Most people who ask you about your beliefs want an opening to nudge or haul you back to “the right side,” which is whatever side they’re on.


Driving up the highway in the rented minivan I’d privately christened The Barfmobile, I didn’t want to open the Casey and Gideon Thing, especially in front of Jerry. Tensions between me and any member of his family always end up my fault somehow. He was already driving with his hands clenched on the wheel, peering out of the windshield as though he could pull our destination closer with his eyes.


“Wasn’t that evening fun?” This from Molly. Fun?


All through that dinner, Casey and Gideon Smugfriend lectured us about our proper roles within our marriage. They’re newlyweds; we’ve been married eleven years. TV Family sang gooey, meterless, sloppily-rhymed hymns in the background while wearing identical, vacant grins. The sheep struggled to escape as TV Family clutched them like baa-ing flotation devices.


Casey Smugfriend (their real name was only a few letters from that) told me I was about to miss my chance to fulfill my scriptural obligation to flood the world with my progeny (my not having kids is a tender spot on my psyche and nobody’s damn business). I avoided eye contact by watching TV Daddy hug a squirming lamb and sing as though he could convert the sheep through sheer volume. The lamb squirmed, Daddy warbled and held on even tighter. It was plain disquieting to watch.


Back home, we had a word for people who insisted on annoying the livestock. That word is in the dictionary, by the way.


At his end of the table, Jerry fielded advice from Gideon Smugfriend. Jerry’s better at vague responses than I am. He was tuning out 99% of what was being said, eating, and counting the passing seconds one by one, but you’d only figure that out if you knew him well.


Casey wasn’t interested in an exchange of ideas, unless it was to replace all of mine with hers. I kept hoping Molly would serve something chewy that would stop conversation. Molly beamed, saying how happy she was that we were all getting along so well. Mashed potatoes dropped from Jerry’s open mouth onto her linen tablecloth. That moment would turn out to be the highlight of the evening.


So Mrs. Smugfriend had asked about me? “They want you to come to the Couples Encounter.” As they are among the couples I least want to encounter, I said nothing. The car gave a lurch. Molly gulped. “Ooh, that was a bump! Urp. Excuse me. It’s a whole week at Lake Tahoe.” My brain chanted, “never-never-never” on an endless loop. “The couples from our church share two big houses...” Not big enough. “...and split the rent. You could drive up together!”



About me

Joey Jones is an author and artist whose work has appeared everywhere from NPR to the Bingo Bugle. When she can come up with some free time, she reads, watches old movies, and plays with her dog or her husband, depending on which one is free at the moment. Mark Jones is a broadcaster and writer who has recorded everything from a dog herding ducks to a dying cartoon fish for public radio and film. He became a blood donor to watch movies Joey won't see.

Q. Where did the idea for this book come from?
It's in the title -- we had a string of weird trips. When we'd tell the stories, people said, "You should write a book!" But it wasn't until our friend, author Eva Rutland, said, "You want to write a book? Well, you already are!" that we started putting the stories together in a fictional world.
Q. Tell us about the cover and the inspiration for it.
That's our "Mr. Darcy," Merlin. He was a rescued stray puppy who became our service dog, friend, and adoptive dad (his adopted son, Moby, now raises puppies as a foster dad for a dog rescue organization). Merlin was present for many of the adventures that inspired the book.
Q. Where can readers find out more about you?
You can find us at, and on Facebook at

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Jack's Fight has Just Begun
Saints and Sinners
How would you feel if it happened to you?
Nina's Nebulosity
In full darkness, a ray of light brings hope.