April News 2015

Congratulations to James Tipton of Laredo, Texas, the March 2015 Penn Cove Literary Arts Award recipient.

Plumber of the Year
by James Tipton

Henry Wellman never wanted to be rich. He only wanted to be the best plumber in La Perla, a simple town in south Texas near the border city of Del Rio. Rosalina, his wife, had never wanted to be rich either. What Rosalina wanted was, when they retired, to return to Agua de Esperanza, in the mountains of central Mexico, which she had left when she was just a little girl.

As often happens when a man organizes his life around one thing only and when he marries well he indeed becomes successful. As in the Mexican proverb, in most things their “four eyes saw as one.” Henry and Rosalina, although not wealthy, had money beyond their desires. Henry handled the pipes, Rosalina the books.

The only thing that bothered Henry was Rosalina’s belief that they would retire to the place of her birth, Agua de Esperanza.

Henry had become part of the history of La Perla, the best plumber La Perla ever had. The yearly visits to Agua de Esperanza with Rosalina had been a pleasurable duty, but Henry was shocked by the plumbing, which for the most part consisted of a few pipes extending through the village, tacked to the sides of the simple adobe homes. Behind each home was a large tank, of concrete, usually shaded, where dishes were washed, clothes were cleaned, and bodies were bathed.

Henry loved his life in La Perla. He loved the house he had created, which easily had the finest plumbing in town. Above the bathroom door he had mounted the plumber’s wrench—gold plated with two dangling gold feathers—that he had received after he had five times been voted Plumber of the Year at the annual meetings of The Apache Valley Plumber’s Association.

Of course Henry also loved Rosalina, and he remembered that night when he had proposed. She had made him promise her that together they would work hard, retire early, and return to Agua de Esperanza.

To Henry, promises were like appointments. You always kept them. Otherwise you would never become Plumber of the Year.

Thirty-five years earlier, Henry had been in Del Rio stocking up on some new augers and snakes when he had discovered in a coffee shop the young waitress with the sturdy body and beautiful brown eyes.

Their first date had been to the movies, to The Outlaw, where together they saw Jane Russell stretched out on straw, wearing a very sexy and revealing silk blouse slipped down off her right shoulder. The following week he found, across the border in Ciudad Acuna, a silk blouse in deep red that was almost like the one that clung so nicely to Jane Russell.

Rosalina wore it the next Saturday night to the West Star Drive-In. Henry told her she was a knockout.

“I may be ‘knock out,’ señor,” she said, “but I may also be very proper.”

“But you wore this,” he said, tugging lightly at the right sleeve.

“I wear this outlaw blouse only for you, because it was your gift to me,” she said, smiling. His eyes were fixed on the gold crucifix that dangled between her breasts.

When he left her at her door, she said, “Come tomorrow morning and watch me feed the chickens. I will fix you very fresh eggs.”

As she served him huevos rancheros she said, “I always want to have pollos.”

“I promise you that you will always have chickens,” he said.

“Gracias,” she said.

He stood up and put his arms around her.

“Besos solo,” she warned.

“Kisses only,” he said.

But what kisses they were, full and soft and sweet.

The years had flown by. Drain after drain had been unplugged, pipe after pipe carefully laid, washers replaced, roots removed. And Rosalina’s chicks continued to hatch. Now Henry was 60 and Rosalina was 55. Their only child, Teresa, was teaching Spanish in Tucson.

With some unspoken reluctance Henry honored his promise. They sold almost everything, loaded a box trailer with the few things they really still wanted, put heavy bags of plumbing tools and large cases of supplies along with three crates of chickens into the back of their red Ford 150 and headed south to Agua de Esperanza.

Soon Henry was happily at work repairing the plumbing in their little adobe home; and then, with the help of the villagers, he added on a large bath, with shower and tub—the first in the village.

“You know, Henry,” Rosalina announced after her first hot bath, “You have always been el plomero de mi corazón.”

The Plumber of Her Heart, Henry thought… good enough for me.

Then they helped Rosalina’s sister, a young widow, buy a house that had been abandoned and Henry added indoor plumbing.

Her sister’s son, Ramón, a boy of seven or eight, came racing in after school one day.

“Everyone wants to come see our house,” he announced proudly.

“But,” Rosalina said, “Uncle Henry hasn’t finished fixing it up. What did you tell them?”

“I said our house is very ugly, but it has a bathroom.”

And so it was, in casa after casa, that Henry—now called Enrique by most of the villagers—remodeled or installed for the first time, bathrooms, showers, sinks. Whatever they could pay was always enough, and sometimes it was only a basket of plump cherries, some ripe papayas, or a bucket of avocados. But never eggs, because Rosalina’s flock had prospered, happy in their new home.

“Enrique,” Rosalina whispered one night as she snuggled against him, “Do you still miss La Perla?”

“I’ve been too busy doing what I love to miss La Perla,” he said, although he had mounted his Plumber of the Year gold-plated wrench above the door into their new bathroom.

One warm summer night when everyone in Agua de Esperanza was in the plaza, the excited villagers, who were now like a large family, presented Henry a t-shirt that read El Plomero del Año.

March News 2015

Congratulations to Abigail Rose Munson of Arvada, Colorado, she is the February 2015 recipient of the Penn Cove Literary Arts Award.

Shadow of You

By Abigail Rose Munson

There are claw marks on the yellow

Wallpaper and blood on my pillow

Nothing is mine not even the

Mold in the fridge because you didn’t

Clean while I was away

You left things

Rotting and exactly the same

I thought I would stop choking

My fingers would stop running over

The indents in the wood pretending

Your words made sense when you left

Instead I fell in love with sharp teeth

And ran away from home

Only to end up back here again drowning

In the bathtub, please don’t forget how

It all felt in the beginning

I will wash your blood out of the sheets

And forget all your places

Tell the wolves I’m home

And they no longer take up my space

I will destroy their beating hearts

Just so I can hear mine

February News 2015

Congratulation to Sarina Dorie of Oregon City, Oregon, February’s Penn Cove Literary Arts Award Recipient.

The Right Note
By Sarina Dorie

My nine-year-old dragged his heels. “One more minute,” Billy said. He closed his eyes and listened to the music coming from the open door of the art gallery. A man sat at the grand piano, his hands flying over the keys.

The player wasn’t just skilled; he was passionate. Billy swayed, eyes closed. When his vision had declined three years before, the piano had become his refuge.

Only, these days since the divorce, it was rare to see such contentment on his face.

The song abruptly ended when the man at the piano stood. Billy’s smile faded. He angled his head to the side to see the man’s approach. Peripheral vision was all he had left.

“Would you like to view the art?” the man said. He was younger than I’d realized, in his early forties, but with a shock of white hair that would have rivaled Mozart’s—only I didn’t think Mozart had such brilliant green eyes. “We currently have a new sculpture exhibit on display,” he added.

I shook my head. “We really must be on our—”

“Please, Mom. I’d rather listen to the music than go to the park.”

The man raised an eyebrow. “What have we here? My first and only fan?”

“Please, Mom. I can’t even see the birds anymore.” The expression on his Billy’s face was so full of longing it made my heart break.

“Why can’t you see the birds?” asked the musician.

Billy toed the edge of the sidewalk with his sneaker. “I can’t see.”

I was ready for the musician to say something insensitive like people sometimes did when they first realized my son had Stargardt’s disease. Instead, he said, “Would you like to feel the sculpture exhibit?”

Billy’s feet were already stepping forward. “Really?”

I cleared my throat. “Don’t you think the artist would mind?”

The man winked. “I know the artist. She’d say these sculptures are meant to be touched.”

The musician escorted us to a row of sculptures that resembled children made of plastic. The material was spongy and felt like marshmallows. Don, as we learned the musician was named, instructed Billy to explore the sculptures with his hands. Considering most people treated Billy like he was automatically going to break everything he touched, this was a first. Billy poked his fingers into a sculpture his size, giggling.

“Is this your gallery?” I asked.

Don nodded. “My sister and I own the space. She does the art. I do the music lessons and events.”

“That song you were playing before,” I said. “It was beautiful. Did you write it?”

Don’s eyes widened. “Yes, how’d you know?”

“You played it like it was part of you. I might not be a musician myself, but that doesn’t mean I can’t recognize good music when I hear it.”

He blushed. “Well, maybe I have two fans.”

Billy turned away from the art. “Would you play for us again?”

As Don played, Billy sat beside me on a couch. He leaned his head against my shoulder. “I wish we had a piano.”

“I know, baby.”

Billy made do with a miniature keyboard, but it lacked the warmth and resonance of a real piano.

Don finished another of his original pieces, this one even more impressive than the last. “Anyone else interested in taking a turn?”

Billy jumped to his feet. “Me!”

He played Bach and Beethoven, and ended with Chopsticks. Don joined my clapping.

“Come back and practice any time you want.” He shook my hand. From the genuine warmth in his green eyes, I felt like he truly meant it.

Billy asked later. “What does he look like?”

I smiled. “Like Mozart, but cuter.”

Two days later, we returned. As soon as he saw us, Don’s eyes lit up. “Back for more?”

Billy headed straight to the piano. “Yes, please.”

Don occasionally pointed out a place to slow down or a correction to a note. While Billy practiced, Don sat on the couch beside me and we chatted. He face brightened when I asked him to play one of his compositions.

He shook my hand before we left. “I hope you’ll be back.” His fingers lingered on mine. Warmth tingled up my spine.

It was on our third visit that he presented Billy with the brail music book.

“No way! For me?” Billy said.

“I have to do something to keep you two coming back.” Don laughed.

Billy shook his head. “No, you don’t. My mom thinks you’re cute.”

One side of Don’s mouth crooked upward as if he were fighting a smile. Heat flooded to my cheeks.

It was after we’d gone home that I found a card in the book asking me out to dinner. It looked like we’d started on the right note.

The End

Temporary February News 2015

Heh — I just wanted to use two words back to back that had two R’s in them. :0)

Lots to discuss, so I’ll try to be brief with all of it.

Your’s truly has been very very ill — pneumonia. If you get it, take care of yourself!! He’s also been knee deep in courses, being a TA and worrying over the Whidbey Student website (believe it or not!). Oh yes, a new computer (I’ve been through five keyboards and three computers in the last 8 years) that has clunked its way through printers, etc. Oh, and a novel. I got one of them, too, and a few poems out.

Keep the poems and non-fiction and children’s literature (we’ve seen a lot more of NF and CYA these days and that’s nice) and, of course, fiction coming — bring it on! Thanks for remembering and being patient with the webmaster. He appreciates it.

We do have a recipient for February but it has been my policy of late to consider suggesting edits for work that needs just a little bit. This is reflective of the maturing nature of our courses at NILA, I suspect, as well as a desire to see borderline work and emerging writers get their exposure. For me the difficulty is in reformatting material that comes from one word processor, fixing it in another and then putting it into the WordPress format. If I seem a bit too familiar, my apologies, I’ve been at the helm over three years now and will soon be stepping down. Not all has gone according to plan, but I’m quite proud to have had the honor of facilitating the Penn Cove Literary Arts Award every month. And, as always my gratitude to those students who have helped judge along the way.

keep ’em coming!

January News for 2015

Congratulations to M. M. Pryor of Seattle, Washington, the Penn Cove Literary Arts Award recipient for December 2014.

Glitzgirl

Barbara finds the teeth in a box of toddler beauty pageant paraphernalia. As part of her countdown to her twenty-nine-year-old daughter moving back home, Barbara has steadily been cleaning house. Today it is the attic’s turn, since it is the future site of her adult daughter’s bedroom. Barbara crouches on her knees amid the dust of the attic and examines the plastic teeth. The false teeth are tiny and yellowed from age.

Barbara ordered the flipper for Glinda’s first glitz pageant. She’d hid the credit card bill and made the minimum payments using her paycheck from her part-time secretary job. After the teeth, though, came the spray-tans, the make-up, and the gowns tailored to fit Glinda’s slender four-year-old waist.

Setting down the teeth, Barbara opens the next three boxes. Artifacts from Glinda’s beauty queen days glitter beneath the skylight. For a moment, Barbara feels transported back to the stage: those hotel conference rooms, the rows of metal folding chairs, the tension as big as the hair on the girls’ heads.

Dust has not dampened the sparkle of the tiaras. Barbara lifts her favorite out of the box and places it on her head: a silver heart-shaped one with pink jewels. It teeters before steadying, the ends flattening her already limp and graying hair. The crown is from the South Carolina Mother’s Day Pageant. Glinda was five. She didn’t place, but they gave every girl a consolation tiara under the category, ‘Mommy’s Favorite.’

Still wearing the crown, Barbara spots the trophy. During Glinda’s best year, when she was six, she won second place at the Little Miss Lace and Grace Pageant in Little Rock, Arkansas. They drove all day and night to get there in time, sipping coke through straws shaped like bows as they chased taillights.

Barbara picks up the trophy. Glinda had fumbled her talent during the second half of the show. Her pink-and-white hula-hoop had caught on the microphone stand and come shuddering down her stick-straight frame. Boom! Glinda didn’t miss a beat. Just looked straight at the judges and smiled wide. She hadn’t cried or run off stage. Barbara had hoped, nervously, that Glinda might at least scrape third place. Composure was weighed the heaviest, and might save Glinda from slipping out of the ranking altogether. When Glinda’s name was called for second place, Barbara clutched her fists so tight the bones in her wrists popped.

She handles the trophy carefully. It is the pinnacle of her daughter’s success. She ought to place it somewhere visible. To inspire Glinda when she comes home. To remind her of how things used to be, when the two of them would buy cupcake dresses and white shoes. When Glinda would float out on stage and Barbara would think maybe this time.

Barbara remembers when Glinda told her about the breakup, how wet her voice had sounded, as if the tears had drenched her vocal chords. After six years of waiting for her boyfriend to propose, they had gotten in a fight. Glinda had related the news to her mom on the phone in Glinda’s old room, which Barbara had converted into an office. The delivery was factual, but strained. The spat had combusted, turned acidic. Glinda related, between small gulps of air, how her boyfriend didn’t even want kids, even though he knew full well that she did. She had wasted seventy-two eggs on nothing.

Barbara insisted that she come home, even though they didn’t really have the room. She promised to clean out the attic, set up a space for Glinda up there. She could put the boxes in the garage. Sure, her husband liked to work on his motorcycles, but he wouldn’t mind if she stacked a few boxes downstairs.

Of course, now that she thinks about it, he’ll probably look inside them, and Barbara knows he is still mad. They have paid the flipper off, but the interest keeps climbing every month, and she is still waiting for her home business to turn a profit. If he sees any of the dresses or the crowns, they’ll get in a fight themselves. He will insist on trashing it all, but Barbara can’t bring herself to do that. She knows it is just stuff, but she’d had so much fun. All Barbara had ever wanted was for her daughter to be happy; to have the type of life Barbara wished she could have had.

Barbara stands up. She wipes the dust from her knees. She pushes an old bookcase against the wall and sets the trophy on the top shelf. She takes the trophy off the shelf and polishes it with her sleeve. When she sets the trophy back on the shelf, it looks duller than before.

It is too dark in the attic for the trophy. Too dark for her daughter. She will move her office up here instead. Glinda will be much happier in her old room.

Barbara smiles, just in case anyone was watching.

The End