Dog walker

Richard had been dead three days before his wife even noticed his dog was missing. It was an expected death, to be sure. He was 92, after all. They had made most of the arrangements years ago when they left that church, the one they had always gone to, once it started having modern music instead of the good old-fashioned hymns they had grown up with. If they changed something as big as that, no telling what they’d change next. They might say it was okay for men to start wearing dresses. You never knew.

But since they’d always planned on being buried in the churchyard they had to make other plans now. They considered burial in the backyard but thought twice when they remembered trying to put in the garden years ago. Too many rocks! Emma would have a hard time digging it, and they might not be able to count on the children to help. They were always busy – too busy it seemed to notice when their family needed help.

Jack was Richard’s dog through and through. Sure, he’d answer when Emma called him to dinner, but Richard was the one who pampered him, who slipped him treats underneath the table at dinner. Jack was a Jack Russell, feisty and friendly, and loyal as the day was long. Richard thought it was a clever thing to name him after his breed. It didn’t matter what he was named, it turned out. Jack would’ve followed Richard no matter what he had named him.

They had buried Richard in the grand old Catholic cemetery on the hill overlooking downtown Nashville. That location had been the outskirts of the city when it had been consecrated, but that was a century ago. Sure, he wasn’t Catholic, but it turned out some of his family was buried there and since they were Catholic, that was good enough for the keepers of the cemetery. Emma had found this information out when she was doing genealogy research as a favor to the kids. It was a simple matter of asking at the cemetery (and a donation of course) and space was reserved in the family plot for the two of them.

The house had finally cleared out from all of the visitors and Emma finally had time to breathe. She noticed little Jack wasn’t around. She called, but he didn’t come. He didn’t even bark. Oh well, he’ll have to fend for himself. She can’t be tending to everyone she thought. Who was going to look after her, she thought mournfully? She was so tired after all the hullabaloo of the funeral, and putting up the family that had come to pay respects. They were underfoot for a week! She meant to put Jack out of her mind. But then again he was her last connection to Richard. Where was that dog?

Jack had followed Richard. It was as simple as that. Not his body, of course. That wasn’t who Richard really was. That was just a shell after all. Jack had followed the real part of Richard, the only part that mattered. Jack, like all dogs, could see souls. Dogs knew the soul of the person, could see how it was, and more importantly in this case, where it was.

The moment Richard left his body, he walked silently through the walls of his bedroom right to the corner of the barn where Jack was. The family had gathered by that time, awaiting the inevitable. But they, those somewhat interlopers, had banished poor Jack to his summertime lair in the barn, where he liked to keep an eye on the chickens. He would have rather been by Richard’s side in that time of transition.  Jack was the one who had been by him every other day, unlike his children and grandchildren. Who were they to send him off? He was more family than they were. Family has little to do with blood and a lot to do with behavior.

Richard hadn’t been in a state to argue at the time, but now he could do something about it. He’d taken three days to die, to slide out of his body like one would slip out of work clothes. It wasn’t easy at such an age. He’d gotten used to wearing it, and taking his leave of it was harder than he had expected. Being in a body was a habit he’d had all his life and now he had to give it up, like smoking or drinking. It was for the same reason, of course to be free, to be unencumbered, but just the same it was hard to make the change.

But now he was free of the weight of his body, free to go wherever he wanted, however he wanted, and what he wanted most right now was to go on a wander with his best pal, Jack.  He found him in the barn, and it took some effort to get Jack to notice Richard.  He couldn’t whistle or call to his friend like he wanted – one of the disadvantages of an otherwise perfectly pleasant experience, to his mind.  He wondered what all the fuss was about being dead that he’d heard all his life.  Of course, the people who were complaining about it hadn’t ever experienced it.  It was like complaining about going to visit France before you’d even gotten on the plane.  You had no business having an opinion about a place until you’d gone there. But death, unlike France, was a one-way ticket, and all the residents of that unknown land weren’t the ones saying disparaging things about it.  No, that was the living doing that, and what did they know?

Richard had to learn to use new ways of interacting with his old friend now, but fortunately Jack had been waiting for him.  He was surprised to hear Richard call to him, speaking heart to heart, but not see him.  And then he understood that the change had happened, that it was time.  Jack wiggled and shivered over all his body, not just wagging his tail but his whole self. He was overjoyed to be with his master once again, glad to know that he was free of his failing body. They walked out of the barn together, and towards the setting sun.  They had many mountains to climb together.


Invisible war wounds – poem

My Dad had PTSD,
invisible war wounds
from a war
he never left home for
in fact, he had to
leave home
to leave the war.

He was a son of a veteran
who brought the war home
in his pockets,
in his perfectionism,
in his need for things to be
just so
and it never was,
because it never could be.

Gone were the days
of an innocent youth,
it never happened.
He was trained by an incompetent,
drill sergeant,
masquerading as Dad.
He was living in an army
he never enlisted for,
was shanghaied
simply by virtue
of being born.

Poem for a not-so-happy Mothers’ Day

If Mother’s Day is hard for you –
because your Mother has died,
because your Mother didn’t know how to love you,
because you always wanted to be a mother but couldn’t,
because you are a Mother and your children are dead, or cruel,
Then take today to rest and restore your soul,
to re-Mother yourself,
to show yourself that You are valuable.
Do something in honor of the Idea of Motherhood –
be creative, and kind, and selfless, and giving
to someone else
especially if they are hard to love.

Relatives in sepia

Henry Bascom Rudisill Sr 


Birth: Sep. 10, 1859  Sandersville  Washington County  Georgia, USA

Death: Jul. 28, 1942  Anniston  Calhoun County  Alabama, USA

He was employed by the Anniston Water Supply Company between 1887 and 1890. He was president of the Anniston Foundry and Machine Company in 1908. Between 1922 and 1929, he was the president of the Rudisill Soil Pipe Company. He married Emory Helen Wilson on 17 October 1899 in Calhoun County, Alabama. He served as Mayor of Anniston, Alabama in 1922 His middle name was also variously spelled Bascom without the “b” on the end.

— His father —

Captain John Weiry Rudisill


Birth: May 1, 1823 Powelton Hancock County Georgia, USA

Death: Apr. 24, 1885 Anniston Calhoun County Alabama, USA

He married Martha Ann Rebecca Pournelle on 14 December 1847 in Washington County, Georgia. He served as a Georgia state legislator. He was also an educator, having established the Mount Zion Academy, which may have also been called the Washington County Male Academy, for which he was the superintendent in December 1853. He was listed as the principal of this school in February 1866 as well. He served as a lieutenant with Company E, 1 (Ramsey’s) Georgia infantry during the Civil War, having joined on 18 March 1861 at Sandersville, Georgia. Ramsey’s infantry was disbanded and most soldiers went over to join the 12th Battalion. He was elected Captain of the 3rd Company of the 12th Battalion of the Georgia Light Artillery. He was also a Captain with the 1st Company D, 12th Battalion of the Georgia Light Artillery. In April 1864, he was on special assignment by order of General Anderson, but became ill. He was admitted to the Jackson Hospital in Richmond, Virginia. He later fought and was captured on 22 September 1864 at Fishers Hill, Virginia and was imprisoned first at Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, but was later sent to Fort Delaware on Peapatch Island, Delaware. He was released by the Union Army on 10 June 1865 after he gave the Oath of Allegiance to the United States. He had little of his land left after the war, as most of it was confiscated by the government for redistribution.

–John’s wife, Henry’s mother —

Martha Ann Rebecca (Pournelle) Rudisill


Birth: Sep. 30, 1829 SandersvilleWashington County Georgia, USA

Death: Sep. 1, 1911 Forsyth Monroe County Georgia, USA

She was the daughter of William F. Pournelle and Martha Ann Fairchild.

Abstract of her obituary as it appeared in the Monroe [Georgia] Advertiser, issue of September 8, 1911. – Mrs. M. A. Rudisill died at the home of her daughter, Mrs. George R. Banks [Sarah] in Forsyth. She was 82 years of age. She died September 1, 1911. She was the mother of 11 children, 10 of which survive her. They are: John W., H. B., E. J. of Birmingham, Mrs. J. D. Rivers of Griffin, Mrs. T. B. Willis of Forte Meade, Florida, Mrs. George R. Banks of Forsyth, George B. of Fort Worth, Texas, Mrs. William Roberts of Selma, Alabama, Rev. J. F. of Birmingham, Alabama and Mrs. A. S. Coombs of Memphis, Tennessee. Mrs. Rudisill was born in Sandersville on September 30, 1829 as Martha Pournelle. She married in 1847 to Col. John W. Rudisill, one of the best known educators in middle Georgia prior to his death. Mrs. Rudisill’s body was shipped to Anniston, Alabama early Friday morning and interment was in that city on Saturday.



(All text and photos are from Find A Grave)

The Mungeon house


Very few people really knew where Mr. Mungeon lived. It wasn’t like it was a secret. It was just that his house wasn’t easy to get to.

You could drive to the address, that was easy enough. 216 W. Church St. was right in the middle of town, just off the town square. The Presbyterian church, the big one, the first one, made of substantial granite stones, weathered brown with all the years they’d seen, was just across the street. The house just simply wasn’t there, not as far as anyone could see.

Mr. Mungeon had lived there all his life, as had his parents before that, and their parents before that. They had moved to this town as soon as they’d saved up enough money after arriving by ocean liner from Romania. That trip had cost them all they had, scraped together over the years and added to in the last month before they left by selling all their furniture and most of their clothes. Not like they could have taken any of it on the ship. They were lucky they could take as much as they did, as everybody was subject to a weight restriction.

Mama and Papa were sure they could make the grade, but they weren’t sure all of their five children could. Every ounce counted. Once a week they weighed themselves and their belongings, all together, on the scale down at the local hardware store that served the farmers. Every week they had to pare back more, unsure what more they would have to give up the next week. Papa started exercising to lose weight. Mama cut her meals in half to do the same – not like she could afford to, stick thin as she was. After they had sold everything they could, it still was obvious that as a group they were over by 46 pounds. It was decided that the oldest child, their eight-year-old son Bogdam would stay back with his grandparents. There were tears of course, but it was for the best. If it wasn’t him, then two of the younger children would have to stay behind. He promised to be brave, promised to make his parents proud by working hard on the grandparent’s farm, promised to obey them as if they were his own parents. That was many years ago, but the effects of that separation were still felt.

After the family had endured the poking and prodding and paperwork at Ellis Island, along with all the other hundreds of newcomers searching for a new life, they stayed in the cheapest housing they could afford, tucked away in a narrow back alley, a warren of an immigrant neighborhood in New York. Papa Mungeon, Ionut by name, worked hard at the shipyard while his wife Beata took in laundry and watched other people’s children for a few pennies a day. It took them nearly 2 years to save up enough money to relocate.

All during that time they never mentioned Bogdam. It was as if he’d never existed. It was easier that way. In many ways he was dead to them because this trip had been one-way all along. Everyone knew it. “The American wake,” the Irish called it, mourning their living at the docks because they would never see them again. Letters were possible, of course, but they took months to travel across the sea. But it wasn’t as if anyone in the family could write, or read, for that matter. No, this way was for the best. A clean cut heals faster.

The house was perfect for the family when they finally saw it. Ionut had bought it on faith, having heard about it from another immigrant he met in the shipyards. Members of his family had already moved to this town, so far away from the hustle and bustle of the city. It took nearly a week of travel by rail to get to it, and after the sleeper cabin, not to mention the nearly 2 years of being packed like sardines on the fifth-floor walk-up apartment they had in New York, almost anything would have been an improvement. But this was palatial to them. Three bedrooms, a living room where they could all sit in chairs and visit at the same time, an actual kitchen, and even a bedroom with a real tub. It was a dream come true. Sure it needed some work. What would you expect for a house for $20,000? But Papa was good with his hands and had learned enough while working at the docks to do most of the work himself. You had to do a little of everything to get by.

The family history was well-known to the current Mr. Mungeon who occupied the house, all except the part about Bogdam. When there are many generations living in the same house year upon year, the history tends to stay intact along with the heirlooms. No need to pack up the fine china by putting plates, saucers and serving trays in a big pieces of brown butcher paper to prep them for a move when you stay put. No need to divide up the bedroom furniture among the grandchildren. No fights over who got the dining room table or the coveted rocking chair that Grandpa carved. It never left – any of it. They never had to buy housewarming gifts, never had to have going away parties. They never had to fool with undertakers or coffins either, because they created a cemetery in the backyard.

At every funeral they opened with a recitation of all the previously deceased members of the family, and that was when the problem started. Everything was fine until Bogdam died. Since they had omitted him for their story, they had no way of knowing their mistake. He died unnoticed, unremarked, all those many miles away in Romania. He was living alone by then, the grandparents having died years before. He kept up with the farm, same as he’d done since he moved there. Nobody in the village knew how to contact his family in America when someone finally went to check on him nearly a week later, so they buried him without any ceremony and went on with their lives.

The first funeral in the family in America after his death, there was a pause in the air, heavy and expectant, after they read the customary list of names. It was the same kind of pause a parent imposes while waiting for their child to say “thank you” after someone has bestowed a kindness upon them. Everyone felt it, but no one thought twice about it.

Until it happened again, eight years later.

Then, when Papa Ionut died, it was more present, more dense, as if silence can have presence, as if silence can take up space. It was as if there was someone else in the backyard with them, someone they had forgotten to invite.

Every year after that the presence grew heavier, denser, taking up space in an invisible yet present way. Every year it sought to make itself noticed and known to them. It focused on the bricks of the house itself. One by one it made them disappear to the eye. They were still present, still a part of the building. One by one they just weren’t there, but yet they were.

The spirit of Bogdam hoped that they would come to question it, wonder about this happening, wonder how something could be there and yet not be there at the same time. It hoped they would see it as a sign, or maybe an omen. What else was missing? What had they forgotten? Who was absent in their hearts? Secrets cannot stay that way for long. The burden is too great. They spring forth like jonquils, pushed up out of the ground all of a sudden one spring morning.

Yet they never noticed. The secret had been unspoken for so long it had stopped being a secret, had stopped being real to them. The memory of Bogdam had not been suppressed, so much as erased. It wasn’t even like a palimpsest – there was no trace of the former message. It wasn’t as if the page had been pulled out of the family records book. It was as if they had created a whole new book from scratch.

Over the years, the house had simply faded from sight. It wasn’t as if the walls were see-through, though. Anyone who went inside vanished from view as well. There was no trace of furniture at all. It was all there. It was simply that the house and anything inside it was not visible from the outside.

Because it happened so slowly, the family did not realize it had occurred. They rarely invited people over, so friends never mentioned anything was off about the family homestead. Because the furniture was still visible once the family members got inside, they never even suspected anything was wrong. It was as if their minds simply expected to see a house, so they did.

The mailbox and front steps near the street were still quite visible, so they still got mail. The postman had gotten used to it the same as they had, and since there was little turnover and nobody else ever bid on that route, the same postman served that street for nearly 25 years, the time it took for the house to fade from sight. By the time he retired, his son had taken over the route and he knew better than to question. Nobody bothered him at the house. Not children, not dogs. The mail was collected daily – it was never left to the vagaries of the weather. Who was he to question? They never seemed to order any parcels that needed to be signed for, so he never had to negotiate that potentially awkward situation. If he had, he would have discovered the house was just as real as it had always been. It was just as solid, just as present as ever. Just like Bogdam, who was still part of the family even though he was out of sight (and out of mind).


While writing a story yesterday, I realized that I am / was expecting something of my brother that he did not agree to. I expected the “Hallmark” family and instead I got an abuser as my role model. I now suspect that he did not want to be anybody’s brother. Perhaps he wanted to be an only child. Perhaps he didn’t want to share his time or toys, didn’t want to share our parents attention and energy.

Basically, I’m accusing him of violating the contract he didn’t sign. He didn’t agree to having a sister, so he never said he would act like a brother.

This is the very same thing I’m saying that my sister-in-law is doing to me. She is mad that I wouldn’t help out with our in-laws estate, when I never said I would. In fact, I told my husband (the only person I need to tell) that I wouldn’t, because it was his task to do with his brother. I had done the same task, alone, at 25. Perhaps she has a script that says “daughters-in-law should take care of all family matters”, like I have a script that says “brothers should not abuse their sisters”.

I’m coming to understand that it is best to start with a clean slate, to not be prejudiced for or against situations / people / experiences.

Brown house

living arch




Joan hated the house. Hated the wood floors, the bare walls, the sheer curtains. Who needed all this light pouring in when there was nothing to look at? How many different shades of brown could there be? Everything was neutral, just like the inhabitants.

She’d spent a week with her in-laws and now knew the shape of her life. That dull heavy feeling in her stomach let her know that her worst fears would come true. Not soon, certainly, but surely. Within a handful of decades her husband would grow into the same sort of people he’d been raised by. There was no argument over nature versus nurture. He’d gotten a double dose. She was done for.

They’d not had a chance to meet each other’s family before they got married. Well, perhaps that isn’t fair to say. They didn’t make time. Perhaps they were so enraptured with each other that they didn’t want to allow anything to trespass onto their self-made island. Perhaps they felt they were old enough to not have to seek parental approval. Perhaps they forgot that such meetings work both ways, just like with a job interview. With both, it isn’t just the potential new member that gets looked over. S/he too has a chance to see if these people will be agreeable (or at least reasonable) to spend a lot of time with. Spending 40 hours a week together was one thing, while spending every major and minor holiday together was another. When you married, you spoke vows to that person, but the unspoken vows were to their family. So much for the idea that “a man shall leave his family and be united to his wife”. You never really left your family of origin.

It was a very long trip to Birmingham, Alabama from where they married. But then again, everything was a long way from Arctus 3. The planet was so newly discovered by Earth that the settlers hadn’t agreed upon a name yet, so it had a holding name, comprised of the name of the sun it rotated and how many orbital bodies back it was. It was kind of like how the indigenous peoples of America named their children – a holding name for starters, and then a new one when they showed who they really were. Nobody is who they are at first. You wouldn’t try to identify a flowering plant until it bloomed, would you? People and planets were the same in that regard.

Joan and Clifford had first saved up money for their wedding and then their trip back to Earth to meet the folks. They agreed to not make that the honeymoon. Something seemed wrong doing it that way, like getting a dishwashing machine for Mother’s Day. Honeymoons, like birthday gifts, should be enjoyable, not obligatory. There should be no hint of work involved. Meeting the in-laws was most certainly work.

So here it was, not quite a year after they had exchanged vows in the 24/7 Chapel of All Faiths in Homestead, Arctus 3 that they had made time to show each other off to friends and family back home. They managed to save up enough vacation time to be away for a month  – a week at his folks, a week at hers, and two weeks between to travel all over the country by car and jet rail, letting their eyes soak in all the greens and blues of the Earth before making it back to their new home. It was going to have to be at least a decade before they could return so they decided to make it worth their while.

They had met at that little Chapel, having both come separately to Homestead to seek their fortune. Just like in the gold rush towns of the Wild West, everybody and everyone came, hoping to find their future in this forlorn frontier. There wasn’t gold here, of course. People had gotten over their fascination with that meaningless metal three centuries back. It was too soft to build anything with. Sure it was good for electronics, but almost nobody used those gadgets anymore. Well, not anybody worth admitting you knew. Cultured people didn’t fall into that sort of addiction these days. When schoolchildren today were told that kids as young as six had been given smart phones and unlimited access to online games back then, they shook their heads with amazement the same way kids many hundreds of generations back were amazed that cocaine had been in sodas and opium was in over-the-counter preparations for malaise.

The Chapel had been the first place of worship that was built in Homestead by the settlers. It was assumed that other such sites had existed for the indigenous population, but there was no trace now, so they couldn’t be sure. The entire planet resembled one huge abandoned house where everyone had suddenly left one Saturday afternoon just after lunch. Dishes were in the drying rack, food was in the pantry, and clothes and suitcases were still in the closet. It appeared that they had all just walked away for a stroll and simply never came back.

There was no majority faith tradition represented with the settlers, and in an effort to foster a harmony which had been elusive on Earth and other planets, they chose to pool their resources and create one building for those of all faith traditions. Sometimes they had group worship events, and sometimes they met separately such as the Muslims on Friday, the Jews on Saturdays, and most Christians on Sundays, for instance. The rest of the week the place was a hub of activity for all the faiths to practice the tenants they all held dear – a food kitchen for the hungry, a clothes bank for the needy, and a center of learning, sharing, and understanding for all. It was not uncommon to find children of every tradition playing together outside in the 40 acre park the Chapel had chosen when the settlers had agreed upon a building site. Only 1 acre was allowed for buildings – the rest was to be perpetually preserved as a nature sanctuary. The pagans, Wiccans, and atheists were especially pleased by this. There was also a farm on that one acre, where the Chapel grew its own food.

It had been difficult at first for the settlers. Nothing grew on Arctus 3 that they were used to. They had brought seeds and starter plants from Earth to produce their own food, but none of it would grow in the acidic soil or under the glare of the red giant star at the center of that solar system. Arctus made all plant life on its now third planet appear in reds, pinks, and oranges, with magentas and deep purples making an appearance in what passed for its autumn season. The settlers resorted to eating their travel rations a few weeks longer than they intended until the survey team’s scientists could analyze the local flora to determine if it would be safe for humans to consume. While it was safe, on the whole it wasn’t very palatable. Most vegetables had the taste and texture of cardboard or Styrofoam, at least for the first month of consumption. After then, either you got used to it, or enough of it was in you that it changed you so that it actually started to taste good. Nobody was really sure what was the truth.

The philosophers thought that it was a defense mechanism of the planet, to keep the local produce from being consumed. Who would want to stay in a place where the food was terrible? It was as if the planet was trying to keep travelers away, showing its inhospitable side. Perhaps it was like parents who downsized after children moved out, hoping that they’d never come back to stay, or even visit for very long.

But something changed after a month of eating the  indigenous food. It was as if the people themselves changed, transformed. Perhaps it was that they became part of the environment, so that it no longer seemed foreign, because they were no longer foreign. Return visits back to their home planets then became difficult. If away from Arctus 3 for more than a week they had to undergo the acclimatization process all over again.

Most settlers saw their trip to Arctus 3 as one way. Not just because of the food issue or the distance and cost to get there. It was a chance to start over with a clean slate. The majority had felt out of place on their home planets, so felt no need to go back. They’d shaken the dust off their feet from those who persisted with their perverse cravings for anything and everything that caused them to feel unwell in body, mind, and spirit.

Joan had come to help start up the postal system here, while Clifford was a language teacher. They’d met because of the natural overlap of their professions. Clifford often had his students practice their letter writing skills by sending letters to people within Homestead or in any of the other nearby settlements. With so many people moving here from all over the galaxy, they all had to work hard on learning three different languages so they could make themselves understood. The founders had modeled this after the state of Israel that overcame the polyglot cacophony it experienced upon the rapid settlement of so many Jews from all over Europe after the last World War by teaching everyone a language none of that generation had ever used for communication before. Hebrew had been an everyday language for thousands of years, but after the Diaspora, it had only been used for worship.

In a similar way, everyone who immigrated to Arctus 3 had to learn Latin, Hebrew, and Arabic. They were allowed (and in fact encouraged) to learn at least two other languages. It was very common to hear people speaking blends of these languages – words, syntax, or idioms – to get across their meaning. Sometimes one language simply doesn’t have enough words to express how you feel. Sometimes the other person hasn’t learned the word you want to use. There had been an attempt to create a whole separate language to fill the communication needs of so many people from so many different places. In the end it was decided that too much time would have been wasted trying to develop it. The need for communication was immediate, and this patchwork of languages actually had a sort of charm to it.

The postal system was a real necessity here, as it was how people communicated when not in person. The founders of the settlement had decided to forgo electronic technology of all sorts to create community. They learned from the collapse of society in 21st-century America. Everyone spent so much time interacting with electronic devices than each other that they forgot how to live as human beings. The devices no longer served, but enslaved. Their children preferred to text their conversations rather than talk with each other. Not only did conversation skills degenerate, literacy became nonexistent. Spelling was arbitrary, and nobody had the patience or desire to read anything that took longer than 30 seconds or didn’t have animations or sound effects.

There were telephones on Arctus 3, of course. They were voice only – no 3D hologram viddies here – and for emergency use only. If you wanted to meet up with someone, it involved making an appointment or waiting for a letter to get to them and their reply back.

It took a bit of adjusting to this vastly slower pace, but all the settlers knew what awaited them here. It wasn’t a surprise, but a welcome relief from the hullabaloo of what they were escaping from. Within a month, every settler’s blood pressure returned to normal and their stress dropped off to nothing, because there was no longer the need to keep pretending that life operated at such a frenetic pace.

There were no mental health facilities on Arctus 3. There was no need. After the initial disorienting acclimation, the planet’s pace coupled with the intentional and mindful choices of the settlers eased out any reason for stress.

Joan was still concerned. Stripping life down to the bare bones was part of the appeal of Homestead, but Clifford’s parents were at the extreme. Perhaps this was the draw for him. He was raised in an environment much like Homestead before anyone had even thought of it. It wasn’t a stretch for him to adjust to the vastly slower pace there, because “there” was a lot like his “then”. However, this was going too far. Perhaps he was going to become an extremist, refusing to buy anything other than the bare necessities. Those people existed on Homestead, but nobody really talked about it. Most figured it was a self-righting phase, where they careened from one extreme to another and eventually found equilibrium.

Sure, Clifford tolerated her dabbling with art now, but would that hold true a decade from now? She liked to do art-crafts which were seen by some as not suitable for a woman since the revolution in the mid 20th century. Women had risen up and declared themselves free from all feminine things, no longer relegated to playing with dolls and toy kitchen sets as children, no longer expected to be teachers or nurses and not inventors or doctors. No, all traditional female roles were abandoned and that supposed liberation. The only problem was that everything turned upside down. No longer would girls be mocked for playing with trucks. Instead they were mocked for wearing makeup and wanting to shave their legs. No longer were women discouraged from being engineers or architects. Instead they were discouraged from wanting to be housewives. The pendulum went too far, and it had never really come back.

Joan did her needlepoint in secret, just like her mother did, and just like her mother did. She painted openly, as that was one of the few arts still allowed to women, seen as non-gender specific. She even had half a dozen of her paintings on display for sale in the Homestead town hall. They were unofficially for sale, with no prices posted but given out upon request. On the surface it looked a bit like an art museum, but in reality it worked like a consignment shop. The fact that everything was for sale was one of the worst kept secrets there, but it amused everyone to keep up the façade.

But if things went the way she feared, she’d soon have to quit painting. Was her new husband just biding his time before he told her how he really felt? Was he already upset about her art? She suddenly realized that he would only allow three of her paintings on the walls of their small apartment. He said that any more would be clutter, so she’d taken to rotating them out. Some she sold. Some she gave away as presents. At one point when money was tight she even painted over a few of them because she had new ideas but no new canvases. She thought that one day when she was famous, someone could scan these canvases and recover the older work.

And then she thought more about it. Wasn’t that what she was doing now, with herself? Painting over who she was?

She had to figure something out, and soon, or otherwise she’d disappear, just like those paintings. She thought more about it and realized that she’d treated her paintings with the same attention and care she’d shown to herself, which sadly wasn’t much. Giving away her paintings was like giving away herself. Even selling them was bad because she always set the prices very low; sometimes it was just the cost of the materials. She’d always justified it to herself saying she was just a beginner even though she’d made art for at least a dozen years.

Then she thought more about it. There were plenty of people who commanded very high prices for art that she saw as less sophisticated, less skilled than hers. She remembered hearing about an artist in America in the 20th century who simply threw paint at the canvas and charged many thousands of dollars for it. It was time for her to start asking and expecting more.

Clifford wouldn’t like it, she was sure, but there was no reason she should always be the uncomfortable one. Ideally they’d both be happy, but happiness always comes with compromise. For too long, Joan felt she was always the one who had to move when push came to shove. She was forever making peace by letting others have their way.

This was why she started painting so many years ago. She could express herself without ruffling any feathers. It was as if everyone was speaking English and she decided to speak Welsh. They’d never know if she was agreeing with them or not. The sad part is that they never even noticed she wasn’t communicating either, not really. Once she had decided to be silent for a week as a test. Her family never even asked her if anything was wrong. They were so used to overlooking her that she was the only one who noticed that the week was different.

She’d hoped things would be different when she married, like starting fresh with a clean canvas. They could paint whatever picture they wanted together. The trouble was that she’d not realized that just because the other person is different, you are still the same. No matter where you go, there you are.

Divorce wasn’t an option on Arctus 3. When you married here, you married for life. This wasn’t a religious decree, because all religions had gotten out of the marriage business centuries back. Rather than being expected by law to marry couples whose values didn’t align with theirs, they all relinquished performing marriages to the government, who was happy to marry anyone over the age of 21 who had enough money for the fee.

To avoid the unpleasantness associated with divorce (sadly just as likely if you had married in a church) the government  insisted on a six month long premarital counseling course, which necessitated a psych evaluation, credit check, three letters of reference, criminal background check, and an extensive class on parenting skills. If the government and the couple agreed that marriage was a good option after all of this they sealed the deal in a simple no-fault ceremony that was a binding contract. Sure, some still got married in a religious building, for old time’s sake or to appease their more parents, but the former grand fetes were a thing of the past, now forbidden by sumptuary laws.

Rather than poor couples feeling left out, or middle-class couples going into debt to prove they weren’t poor, everybody’s wedding looked more or less the same. It made things saner.  Couples had more money to start their new lives with, rather than starting out in debt.

Even death was equalized. Once people saw how freeing it was to not have to keep up with the Jonesevitches when it came to paying for a wedding, they started to look at everything differently. Religion got out of the burying business shortly after they got out of the marrying business. The councils started to regulate the funeral industry and immediately started to question the wild and extravagant expenses that it had insisted upon. With the monopoly crushed, people finally had real choices.

Weddings and funerals are more closely connected than most people realize. Both services are about 20 minutes long. What you are in is inordinately more costly than the length of time it is seen. Why should a wedding dress or a coffin cost a year’s salary, when both are viewed for at most an hour, and then never seen again?

The ground was too hard for burial on Arctus 3 so nobody got buried there anyway. Some practiced Tibetan or Zoroastrian style “air burial”, leaving the body for the wild animals to consume. Some built funeral pyres and set their loved ones bodies ablaze. Nobody suffered under the delusion that the body was going to be used again. In most cases that would have been a horror beyond mentioning, what with how they died. Who wants to resurrect with a body eaten up by disease or decay, or one mutilated by accident or war?

Part of getting married here was filling out a will and writing down funeral plans and setting up a savings account. Nothing was left to chance. Far too many in the past had said they’ll “do it later” – and later came sooner than they’d realized. They thought that by postponing making funeral plans for themselves, they were postponing death itself. Making each partner fill out these forms was another method of weeding out those who were not quite ready to marry. What with the extreme difficulty in getting a divorce, it was important to do this right. Sometimes another year of waiting was enough to allow one or both partners to mature. Sometimes it allowed an opportunity to reflect upon the pairing and decide if it was really viable. Sometimes what seems like forever at 23 looks like “what was I thinking” at 43.

(Background information – I have a collection of pictures from my grandparent’s old house and from the house I grew up in. I have been going through them and using them as journal prompts to work on my past, to dig up the roots and examine them. This is a very hard but important process and essential to my healing. I do not post those writings, as they are too personal, too visceral, too intimate. I was going to do that with this picture, but I started to wonder why I felt it was OK for me to make up fictional stories about pictures that I had no information on, but I felt that I had to write truth about pictures of places or people I knew. So this time I started to write a story instead. This picture is the front door of my paternal grandparents’ house, seen from the inside. The photo was taken by a realtor many years after it had been sold by my family after my grandparents had died/gone to a nursing home).

I broke up the story into small parts. I started writing it on vacation and did not realize it was going to be so long. I had to skip ahead pages to keep writing, as I wanted to write down other things from the trip as well.