Family: Can Live Without Them (May)



Welcome back to many of you and Welcome to those writers who are new to the Round-Table. This is the strangest, most haunting time of existence I have ever encountered. So, I’m thankful you will be with me and we will focus on something other than the fragility of life. Here’s hoping this hellfire of insanity and tragedy of suffering and death lifts very soon! I’m sending you ALL huge HUGS! Please stay safe!

You can imagine how the subject of family came up. Holed up with these folk can be taxing at the best of times. I doubt anyone’s going to have to wrestle with a scene within this squalid island we’ve been sequestered on. Remember to write into the depths. Give us something we won’t forget.

We will be working together for four months: May through August, 2020.


Let’s revisit how each month will work:

  1. The course material will be available on our website on the 1st of each month.
  2. On Saturday, May 16, at 11A CST we will have a Round Table gathering on Zoom!
  3. On Saturday, May 23, at 11A CST there will be one-on-one meetings for 15 minutes to 30 minutes with me. Please sign up ahead of time so you get the timeslot you want.
  4. You can post ONE PIECE (750 words or less) per month, between the 15th and the 24th. If you need more time, let me know.
  5. For the remainder of the month (24th -30th) please comment on all writer’s pieces.
  6. The May stories will stay up on the website until June 14th.


 “The other night I ate at a real nice family restaurant. Every table had an argument going.”

–George Carlin 

“I stayed at home for six weeks. Until one night, when the phosphorescent skeletons were piled high in the paddocks for burning and grinding, and the literate wind was distributing near and far its own cultured manures, and the compulsive sea was going and coming with eternal news of itself and recent summer intimations of humanity––ice-cream cartons and orange peel–and the texture of the trees and the people in the sky seemed to have been applied like papier-mache’ soaked in light, and my father groaned and my mother sat bailing the blood from her enormous shoes, I found myself in Cliffhaven, in bed in the observation dormitory and gazing with terror at the treatment room…” –Janet Frame 

“In my mother’s house, in the layers of tans and bronzes, brown-golds, creams and pale salamanders, I realize that this woman is not the same person I knew in childhood. Francine is something newly created, both inventor and invention. For her, the future is white and amorphous, flat and etched in something hard like stucco. The past never happened. It was savage and painful and now it is gone, over, finished, less than dust, less than the memory of dust.” –Kate Braverman

Examples of family intensity

In “Good Country People,” O’Connor uses irony and a finely controlled comic sense to reveal the modern world as it is—without vision or knowledge. As in O’Connor’s story “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” a stranger—deceptively polite but ultimately evil—intrudes upon a family with destructive consequences. In Hulga’s case, despite her advanced academic degrees, she is unable to see what is bad, and her mother’s stereotyping perspective proves to be equally misleading and false.

Good Country People by Flannery O’Connor


Ghostbread by Sonja Livingston


“When you eat soup every night, thoughts of bread get you through.” Ghostbread makes real for us the shifting homes and unending hunger that shape the life of a girl growing up in poverty during the 1970s.One of seven children brought up by a single mother, Sonja Livingston was raised in areas of western New York that remain relatively hidden from the rest of America. From an old farming town to an Indian reservation to a dead-end urban neighborhood, Livingston and her siblings follow their nonconformist mother from one ramshackle house to another on the perpetual search for something better.


Make sure to read Chapter Two. This is a preview of this flash memoir titled “Ghostbread” by Sonja Livingston.


Ghostbread: Part One, The Get Go by Sonja Livingston


“I know where I came from.


It must have been April or May of 1967 when he came through town, a

vacuum-cleaner salesman with a carload of rubber belts, metal tubing, and

suction hoses. Spring in western New York, it was probably a sunless day–

he may have been chilled as he grabbed hold of his Kirby upright, walked

to the door, and rang the bell.


She was a well-formed redhead with a dry-cleaning job and a house full

of children to forget. She must have put hand to hip, flashed falsely shy

eyes, and said something about not needing another vacuum.

He had full lips, and used them to throw a smile in her direction. And

she, who was partial to full-lipped smiles, let him in.


He rang; she answered. She was hungry; he had a bit of sugar on his

finger. He was tired; she provided a pillow for his head. Soft. Sweet. Easy.

Sometimes it’s just that simple.”


*     *     *     *


I have written many stories of family. Here is one that was published in “Lined Up Like Scars”.



Dad lies in bed at night and wonders what has confused his damn kids. He has never hidden anything. Did he kill someone? Never. There is no evidence of anything. He adjusts his sleeping apparatus. They told him he hasn’t been breathing for years in the research lab. Now, that is something to hear. Blasts of oxygen are flushed in through his nostrils while he sleeps. He has had a few good years without nightmares.


I lay in bed at night and wonder what gray, old men look like when they’re dead. Nelson is already faded and sagging, but doesn’t die. What color will he be when the space between us is forever? He’s been married three times. I am just one of an army of women who swallowed their words in front of that creep like a snail-packaged caboose that picks up new ones at this stop and dumps the faded ones at the next. Interesting that his last wife, Beatrice, was a bus driver. Nelson never looks behind to see what might be washed up in his wake.


Abby lies in bed at night and blasts through a few bottles of wine. She has been married three times. George-psychiatrist was a man walking a dog, a man nosing her into a bar, a man shuddering on top of her, a man at the altar, a man walking a woman, a man with a leash. One day they stuffed wedding cake into mouths and one day he pushed her down a flight of wooden stairs. Tom-electrician installed Abby’s new appliances. Run, Tom, run. He changed all her light bulbs, got rid of a hornet’s nest on the porch, put up her new drapes, fixed her cracked windows, changed the locks on the doors. Stay, Tom, stay, until Abby finds him face down on her best friend, Rita, rerouting Rita’s withered wind. Then there is Horace. He came with the name. They lasted a few years until he blurted a few things out in couple’s therapy, took off with her hormone pills and the name Hortensia.


Nelson wakes up to another holiday. Some of his children are meeting him at a Greek restaurant. He thinks of memory as shattered pots glued together in museums. He spent a few weeks in Athens when he was younger. The coliseum unhinged him. Whisper something at the bottom and someone a thousand steps above can hear you as though you are standing next to them. It is the first time he realizes that molecules are migrating and shadows bend over themselves until every secret is an echo of itself. He keeps hearing the name Jacob.


I wake up to another nightmare. I’m in a foreign city waiting for a train at night. No one understands what I’m saying and everyone gives me directions that compromise all before them. I am a tangled garden of anxiety and misunderstood moments. Today is a day with Sister and Dad. I pace the rooms of my apartment, aware of deadlines that betray each minute, tick by, without any consideration for my brain lobes unconnected like puzzle pieces in a box. Nelson told me more than a few times that I am inconsequential. No one gives a shit about what I have to say. I sign up for speech classes and drop them within the first week. The thought of standing in front of an audience has me shaking and nauseated.


Abby wakes up to three cats and a tubercular Dachshund plastering her in. Their warm bodies create lack of need. She talks to them every morning with no reason to correspond with humans. Anything memorable said by her species can fit easily into a cosmetic bag. Today is a day with Sister and Dad. From her bedroom window, Abby watches the geometry of bodies outside stiff as two-dimensional arrows, barreling into a tunnel of wind that slams against them. She will be one of those arrows in a couple of hours shooting blanks into relentless edges of awkward family.


Nelson is always late. Things simply happen and multiply in his head when no one is around. He wanders from room to room fumed with multiple conversations that may or may not have transpired, fluttering like gashed birds on the sides of roads.   He drinks shots of Jameson and waits for the uglier side of himself to get back into bed. Why did his last wife have to die?


Abby and I share tiny tidbits of nothing while we wait for Dad.


You look amazing. Where did you get that haircut?


Oh my god, you are skinnier than you were in high school? Are you doing Yoga again, you goddess?


I’ll have a cosmos, one says to the waiter. Make that two, says the other.


We laugh as the compliments get drunk on each other. I will never let Abby know that I am taking anti-anxiety meds every day to keep myself on this planet. Abby will never let me know that she hooks up with men on chat lines and pretends to be single. They connect over favorite sitcoms and talk about their kids.


Teenagers? Are you kidding me, there’s no hope, says Abby, who has two of them. Only a few more years and I won’t have to hide the liquor.


We laugh, study each other, wonder who looks younger than the other.


That L’Oreal rinse can’t even cover the gray weeds sprouting up everywhere, thinks the one.


She looks like a decaying sandwich with that Covergirl powder plastered over her face, thinks the other. Her pores are screaming.


Nelson follows the waiter to their table. The girls jump up and swallow Nelson. They fawn and lean into him with every acre of a want that they don’t even get. Once that moment is over they all sit, smile, stare into menus, order a few bottles of wine.


They ask him about his lower back.


How has your blood pressure been? asks one. Your cholesterol level?


Are you taking your pills? asks the other.


Nelson had a heart attack. His wife used to hiss “Jacob” when she got drunk. They never slept in the same bed after that. Nelson considers everything another scar from his lack of wife, who confused Nelson with the bleeding in her brain. She had an aneurism while driving the last shift one night, blasted over the curb and well-kept lawn into a suburban home crashing through the front door while a family ate their supper.


I had a lump on my breast, told Abby I was having oral surgery, and had a lumpectomy.


Abby gained ten pounds she couldn’t account for. Her doctor said a glass of red wine at night was the way to live a healthy life and Abby agreed. He didn’t know about the two and a half other bottles she pounded through as well. Everything sits inside her like a balloon ready to pop. She doesn’t tell me that she hasn’t returned to the doctor after he told her that her white blood cell count was extremely elevated.


Nelson lifts his glass and toasts to his incredible children. These are girls? What happened to Jacob? He looks at each of them, but can’t recall their names. Down’s Syndrome was what the doctor called it. Nelson didn’t need a name for it. He knew there was something wrong when he looked at the kid. Everything on the baby was too large, too small, not of this species. He remembers coming back from the lake one night with an empty baby’s blanket, while his wife burned photos of Jacob.


The daughters smile and ask the waitress to take pictures. They pick up their iphones and make sure to document the occasion. They lean in on either side of Nelson and smile. Later they will post the photos and write of their deep love for each other on Facebook.


And a poetry collection titled “Why I Didn’t Go To Your Funeral”, by Colin Pope. A video collaboration of poets reading his poem, “Still Life With Casket in the Distance,” that is published in Bending Genres Productions Presents…

Haunted and heartbreaking collection of a partner’s relentless illness and then suicide.

Here are two ekphrastic examples of family


Papa Was a Rolling Stone by the Temptations (1972)


Freedom from Want (1943) Norman Rockwell



Here are some prompts that hopefully will inspire you or set you off into new terrain:


  1. What was your first rebellion against your parents and family? Give us the tension.


  1. Is there some family experience that you have shared with only a few? Can you get into the scene of what transpired?


  1. Has there been a brusk, brutal moment with a family member you are quarantined with? Work with dialogue if you can. (Remember always, that this is fiction. Make it interesting. Give us what you a writer would want to read.)


  1. Did someone whom you are living with set you off into a panic mode or create anger through their lack of concern for what’s happening in the world?


  1. Any power trips going on in the house? Does someone act as though they have authority?


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