• Lincoln Watched

    Lincoln Watched | LenaStark.com

    The order sat on her desk, waiting to be signed into law. This could cost me my second term, she thought. But then, half of the other bills that had passed across her desk had been equally likely to result in a one-term presidency: health care, military funding, tax reform.

    Today it was immigration, and this one she wrestled with. The world is a dangerous place. In case the American people hadn’t noticed that, the speaker of the house was explaining it on television, reminding everyone of the possibility of terrorist attacks as though they had forgotten. She didn’t need to watch it to know what he was saying. Besides, that’s what aides were for.

    She twirled the smooth wood-barreled pen in her hand, rubbing her fingers across the cool cherry. Her father had hand made that pen and given it to her as a gift when she won her very first election to the state legislature all those years ago. She had replaced the ink many times. It had gone with her everywhere she went, reminding her of where she came from. It had done that job well, and it was doing so again now.

    Deny all refugee applications for the next five years, it said. How could both the House and then Senate have passed this? Well, it wasn’t too hard to see, really. People were afraid, and scared people lash out or close ranks. Last year’s bombings had been one-offs, proving the theoretical sleeper-cell spectre was, in fact, a reality. The crashing buildings, mangled people, and dust-covered rescues had been replaying constantly since last June. People were afraid.

    The world is a dangerous place. She had grown up hearing this from her own parents, but for them it meant something entirely different. The danger wasn’t coming to into their homes and lives and country. It was already there, shooting their men, raping their women, starving their children until only death remained, until the peril had overwhelmed them and everything became subservient to one purpose: escape. They would have done anything. Anything at all. Something, anything, anywhere, from anyone – death unknown became preferable to death certain.

    When she was young, her parents hadn’t talked about the refugee camp they spent nine years in before they finally made it to the United States where she was born; but as she grew older and her parents accumulated some money, they began to return every couple of years to the camp to visit. Aunts, uncles, cousins – all stuck there for years and decades, trailing on.

    Their relatives planned camp weddings to other refugees around her family’s visits. Her mother visited her older brother’s grave when they returned. He had been born there and died there. An entire, short life lived in squalor, disease, and uncertainty. He was six. There were no photos, but Maman said he was beautiful.

    The world is a dangerous place. It was true, of course. But how could she sign her own name to a document that would damn people, people like her own parents, back to the hell they were trying to flee? How could she not sign something that might protect people, the very people who had taken her family in and given them a life, from having their own lives turned into that same hell?

    Both houses of Congress had already passed the bill. It would become law whether she signed or not, and from there the courts would have to decide what to do with it. She could just do nothing.

    She dropped her pen on the burnished, Resolute desk and looked around the room. Her room. Her office. Abraham Lincoln eyed her from the far wall, reminding her that human suffering was always worth fighting for even if the cost isn’t just your presidency but your life.

    The portrait of the earth rise taken from the Apollo 8 mission spoke to her of world reborn with every new day. What would that world look like? What did she want it to look like? What could she do to move it along toward that vision?

    She picked up the snapshot of her parents beside her on the desk, smiling but separated from her behind glass and gilt. She wished, as she often did, that they were here to talk things over with. Six years now had passed since the car accident, but the loss never really went away.

    It wasn’t so much the loss of her past, though she did still find herself thinking of things she wished she had asked them. No, it was the loss of the future that still pained her. What would they say about this bill? What would her mother think if she denied safety to desperate people? What would her father say if she denied the protection of safety to those who already had it?

    And that was really it. How could she turn away people dying at her door, begging to be let in?

    “Send in Gerald,” she buzzed to the secretary in the outer office. She needed her Chief of Staff to arrange a press conference of her own. She was not going to sign this bill. She was going to take a trip, a tour of the three camps worldwide that generate the most refugee applications.

    The world is a dangerous place. And in many places, home is infinitely more dangerous than home is here. We have resources. We can protect both ourselves and those who come to us in need, and we will. It needn’t be either/or, nor should it be.

    That was her new world – both protection and kindness. Safety with generosity. She looked again at her parents, her earth rise, her Lincoln, and what she saw was herself, the child of two worlds, uniter of peoples. From the corner, Lincoln watched.

  • The Song of the Almighty

    The Song of the Almighty | LenaStark.com

    The clouds overhead deepened, and as the rain began, Sigge knew thunder and lightning would follow. She had to move. The air would soon be filled with ribbons of light flying down from the sky, each searching for a target, each strike setting a new blaze along the parched valley floor.

    The dry leaves and tiny bones of small, dead creatures crunched under her feet as she ran, eyes darting back and forth, hear and there, to and fro. She had to find a cave. This rocky ground always had a cave. The forest was too far to the north to reach before the storm began, and with the dry season stretching on for so long this year, it was only tinder anyway.

    The rain died down wind began its climb from breeze to gale, sweeping around her ears, tossing about her hair, kicking up the sand. The first rumble of thunder echoed across the plain. It was coming.

    What had she been thinking? What on earth had made her think that escaping her master’s hold under cover of an electrical storm was a good idea? At least he provided shelter, crumbling as it was. In another two minutes, she was going to be in the thick of thirty strikes a minute.

    No caves. Sigge stopped and looked around her. In her panic, she had been running straight through the middle of the plain. Of course no caves were appearing. Caves are in the cliffs, which ringed the plain and were now much too far away.

    She was going to die out here; and as soon as the lightning cleared, the carrion birds would strip her flesh clean. By morning she would just be another pile of crunchy bones for the next poor runaway slave to crush beneath her feet.

    The lightning was nearly upon her, firing up the inky night with its crackling dance and the terrifying drum beat that followed. Sigge closed her eyes and took a deep breath, then another and another, watching the lightning trails streak along the back of her eyelids. Then she sat down on the barren ground and crossed her legs. She waited

    This was better. It was not the freedom she had hoped for, but it was freedom nonetheless. Her skin began to tingle with the electricity in the air, and she stretched her fingers out before herself. These were the lined, broken hands of an old woman, hands of too much labor and not enough food or rest, hands of a slave. They did not belong on the body of a twenty-six year old; they should not belong to her.

    The lightning was coming for her, and that was ok. The charged air prickled along her back, over the barely scabbed stripes from last week’s lash and over the older scars from the lashings stretching back years before that. No more of that for Sigge. Yes, this was better.

    Her arms, too, remembered the children she had held over the years; and again they ached. The weight of the tiny one who had died on Sigge’s back because the master had insisted she tend his field instead of her withering child hung on her body like an anchor. “Hope” Sigge had named her, but her own hope had died that day. Today she would see her again.

    Beneath the thunder, another song began to ring. Sigge had heard stories of the sand that sings in high wind. The grains rub together and make music. Quietly at first and then growing stronger, the airy, woodwind sound of the sand song hung above the low pound of the thunder. Sigge sat in the seat of music itself. The very earth and sky mourned for her and sang her into glory.

    Yes, this was better. She would not die from another’s whim or cruelty. She would not perish in agony and despair. She would pass from life in music and awe. And love. This moment, this riot of sand and spark and song glowed for her alone, and she knew it for what it was. It was the voice of the Almighty saying, “I love you, and I’m bringing you home to me.”

    And then the lightning struck.

  • Occam’s Razor Applied to the Murderers Upstairs

    The puzzle pieces were scattered across the cherry floor when I arrived home, little disconnected bits of hobbits and horses and forest glaring up at me. Damn cats! I was almost finished, too.

    As I began trying to salvage the larger sections and locate all the smaller ones, I heard it – the muffled rumble from upstairs, like something being dragged across the carpeted floor.

    The cats hadn’t been inside last night. Remus and Sirius’s tearing around the house had finally irritated me so much that I had thrown them outside. Slowly I stepped backward far enough to peek out the window while still keeping the stairs in view. A light thud came from the ceiling. The girls’ cars were both gone. I was home alone.

    I stared at the ceiling, frozen. This was silly. Obviously, someone else let the cats in. They knocked over the puzzle and then ran up the stairs. Every sci-fi book I had ever read, every detective movie I had ever watched had prepared me for an Occam’s razor event – the simplest explanation is often correct.

    “Often.” That was a problem. What if today wasn’t one of the often? What if today wasn’t cats? What if today was murderous, burgling rapists like the cases that occasionally showed up on the news? That happens!

    I should get out of the house and call the police. Halfway to my car, it occurs to me… Philip! Maybe he’ll come home from work and see if it’s… cats. And then tease me until I die. That’s ridiculous. I don’t need my husband to come home and see if our own cats are upstairs. I can do that without any assistance, thanks.

    At least the police would go home afterwards and not harass me until the end of time. Or… do I really want to end up going viral as the woman who called the cops on her cats?

    I turned back to look at the house. No violent maniacs glowered at me through the upstairs window. I took a few tentative steps toward the front door.

    My, look at all the cobwebs in the corner of the doorjamb. Is that the beginning of a paper wasp nest under the eaves? Spring will be here soon (three months really isn’t that long). Maybe I should sweep the porch and rearrange the outdoor furniture to make it look more inviting. We may want to sit out here next time we have company over.

    I shivered and pulled the jacket I hadn’t bothered to zip more tightly around myself. This was silly. I can’t stand on the porch all morning because Sirius and Remus knocked over my puzzle.

    I flung open the door and marched straight on through the living room and up the stairs to the girls’ room. I almost marched straight on through the living room and up the stairs. My brain wanted to go up the stairs. My feet decided to detour to my and Philip’s bedroom so my hands could liberate Philip’s utility knife from his sock drawer.

    Weaponry acquired, I tiptoed up the stairs and slowly pushed open the door. **creeeeeakkkk** I jumped. All else remained silent. With my knife ready for stabbing bad guys, I peered past the door and slid into the room.

    The girls’ laundry was strewn about the room; and various schoolbooks, art projects, and school supplies littered the desks and beds. Though the room certainly looked like it had been ransacked by robbers, the evidence was inconclusive. This level of disarray matched my daughters’ habitual bedroom style. Well, almost. The lamp that usually lived on the corner table as splayed on the floor. Its ceramic base was cracked.

    I slunk past the beds and desks and rounded the corner to the last remaining hiding spot. I edged open the closet door. Nothing.

    As my muscles slowly unknotted and the tension leached away, I folded my knife and tried not to feel silly. The two cats slept on the bed, curled together in a ball. The girls must’ve let them in when they left for school.

    Between piles of snoozing fur lay a third creature, tiny and helpless. Tiny and helpless and dead – a half-eaten rabbit kit. I sighed. Murderers had been upstairs after all.

    Some days I do a lot of staring. I stare at out the window, at the blank wall, at the cobwebs I should be sweeping off the ceiling. I stare because writing presents too many choices, too many characters and subplots and arcs. Where do I begin today? So, I begin with writing warm-up, like wind-sprints to wake up my brain and remind it to focus. I don’t edit them, and they are often short and non-sensical. Occasionally they are sublime.

  • 1995 Chateau L’Evangile Pomerol

    The wet slides down my throat and again I am unsure: wine or blood? The ceiling spins somewhere far above me, and I can’t tell. I think I smell plums, but I don’t taste anything at all.

    Maybe if I concentrate hard I’ll be able to tell. Maybe the spinning will slow long enough that I won’t throw up and obliterate the flavor of the stickiness I feel in the back of my throat. Is that iron? That doesn’t seem good. But it is kind of a warm sweetness. It could be wine. I was drinking wine, wasn’t I?

    Huh. I don’t remember how I got here. Actually, I’m not even sure where here is. Someone was with me. We were together. She? No, that doesn’t seem right. He. Definitely a he. He should be around here somewhere. How long have I been here? Huh. He. That seems right. Where is he? He should be here. Maybe I could roll over and… no, that seems really hard. I’m really tired.


    WHOA! I’m awake. Really, I’m good. Must’ve just dozed off there. Weird dream. All the air in my body was rushing out my pores, and I couldn’t breathe. Actually, it was just like how it feels… ummm… okay, this isn’t so good. I think I’m not doing too good here. Can’t… breathe… too… well. Kind of. Important.


    I’m here! Still here. Wine! It was wine. Really good wine too. 1995 Chateau L’Evangile Pomerol. This stuff’s $200 a bottle! How do I know that? I don’t care about wine. 1995 Chateau L’Evangile Pomerol. He said that, not me. Why can’t I move. Why can’t I breathe. Where…


    It spins. It spins with fins and wins the pins. The ceiling is blinking.


    He left me here. Four years together and he left me here to die on his kitchen tile. His tile. I hate this floor. My money; his floor. It can’t be. He promised. He promised me he’d… No, he must be hurt. Maybe he’s dead too.


    The sink is running. Dishes! He’s doing dishes! HELP!!! HELP ME!! Did any sound come out? HEEELLLLPPP!!! Can’t you see me?? Oh, please come… Ohh… please… Oh. Oh no. He never does dishes. He hates doing… Oh no.


    Four years. But he… he said… he. no. Four years, and he’s killed me with summer and plums.

    Some days I do a lot of staring. I stare at out the window, at the blank wall, at the cobwebs I should be sweeping off the ceiling. I stare because writing presents too many choices, too many characters and subplots and arcs. Where do I begin today? So, I begin with writing warm-up, like wind-sprints to wake up my brain and remind it to focus. I don’t edit them, and they are often short and non-sensical. Occasionally they are sublime.

    Want to read the first chapter of my book? It’s about a girl who just wants to heal her Dad from his terminal illness and ends up sparking an intergalactic incident instead. (Oops!). Check it out here.

  • Snowbound

    Horsetail Falls. PC: George Shubin

    I know it’s not spring. The frozen mess from the last few days that has now melted into a soggy blob of dripping grayness outside my window tells me so. However, the single-minded purpose and extreme frustration of the last couple years is wearing off, and my brain is starting to feel that constipated itch that universally means I need to write fiction. The subconscious part of my brain has something to say and it only gets to do so well through fiction. Life is good. Today I wrote this:

    ~ Snowbound ~

    Ripples in the frozen stream
    Flow around the rocks and dream
    Of warmer days to come.

    Ripples in my frozen heart
    Flow in warmth and dream of art
    Of days I’ll write again.

    Spring comes at last
    I’ve made it past
    My snowy heart now thaws.

  • The Sword Maiden

    Trinity Art #2 - The Sword Maiden | LenaStark.com
    Trinity Art #2 - The Sword Maiden | LenaStark.com
    I commissioned my daughter Trinity to draw this for me for another small project I was working on and then liked it so much that I wrote a story about it. This is Trinity’s first paid art piece. She was pretty thrilled. So was I.

    Siobhan unwrapped the sword carefully, noting the position of the blade in relation to her fingers. The heft, the cold solidity of the steel, the straight line from pommel to point – all was as she had left it with no chips or imperfections. Once satisfied, she pulled her shield out of the chest on the floor before her and performed the same inspection on it.

    “Don’t follow me,” Nioklas had commanded before kissing her firmly and riding hard into the night. But that was foolishness. She knew it before the darkness had even swallowed him from sight, and she knew that at some point he would likely realize it too.

    Siobhan was a sword maiden. She had sparred Nioklas since they were children. Her sword style was different but equally deadly to his and her horsemanship slightly better. The hour was late, the need now, and none else was nearby to help. The raiders would attack by morn. With the mist they would rise and drench the white, frosty ground with her own red blood, and Nioklas could not rout them alone.

    Even so, Siobhan placed her shield beside her sword on the earthen floor and fidgeted with the strips of worn cloth that had wrapped the sword. Nioklas had told her to stay, and she usually tried to respect his wishes as he tried to respect hers. He would likely be angry if she disobeyed tonight, this most deadly of eves. 

    Deep in the tangled woods behind their lodge, the yip of a fox was followed by the final, harrowing scream of a rabbit before both ended in abrupt silence. Siobhan listened, but only a feathered hush replied. Nioklas’s anger did not matter; his life did. And her life did. And both had a better chance of continuing past tomorrow morning if they fought together instead of being picked off one at a time.

    As she packed her gear and prepared her horse, she finally understood. All those years she had begged for and then insisted upon sword training with her brothers (to her mother’s horror and her father’s amusement), all that time she had spent learning a purposeless skill for a girl destined to domestic life, all the jeers and taunts and lectures – as she paused in the stillness and inhaled the vibrant breath of night, she knew what it had been for.

    She was perfectly fitted for Nioklas: for this night, this hour, this moment. One glance back at the home she loved, one forward towards the inky unknown, and away she rode into the quivering forest with the newfound glow of certainty burning in her heart.

  • Today You Almost Died

    Dear Henry,

    Today you almost died. I was sitting right there, close by and didn’t even see you. You and Faith had been just a few feet behind me on the shore climbing a boulder, and I was keeping an eye on your other sisters splashing in the lake. You were nowhere near the water. The lake was so still; the sky so clear; the sand so soft. And then you almost drowned.

    “Mom, I think I went a little too far out,” you whispered in my ear. I didn’t see you walk up until you appeared beside me, terrified and dripping. Your little six-year-old body was shaking.

    “What?” I said. You had been on the rock behind me, you see.

    “Well, I wanted to see how far out into the water I could go.”

    “What??” my repeated cry echoed across the lake. I could feel the color draining from my face.

    “I got out really far,” you said, “and then I couldn’t touch the bottom anymore, and I couldn’t call for help because the water was covering my mouth.”

    It took a moment before I could coherently respond. “Henry,” I whispered, trying to choke back my own panic, “how did you get back?”

    “Well, I tried to get back closer to where I could touch the bottom, but the water was taking me away from shore.” You fidgeted with the tie on your orange fishy swim shorts and dug your toe in the sand before telling me the rest. “Finally, I sank down into the water and then the bottom was there, and I could touch it with my tippy toes, so I just walked back.”

    You shrugged as you said that last bit as if it wasn’t really that big of a deal, and to tell the truth I’m a little blurry on what happened next. I remember hugging you and trying to purposely speak calmly so you wouldn’t freak out while still trying to impress upon you the seriousness of the situation and how you could have died and I would never have even known you where you went and how I would never be ok again if that had happened and how much I would miss you and cry every day and how you are NEVER to do that again and NEVER EVER EVER!!!

    You’re lucky I didn’t crush you from holding you so tight. And then in some magnificent feat of mothering, I carried you back into the lake myself and held you there, curled up in my arms, and helped you float on the water until you weren’t scared anymore. Swimming lessons start on Monday, and I didn’t want you to be afraid.

    There were other things, though, that I didn’t tell you today. The lake? The still lake with the warm water and gently sloping beach? It’s not actually a lake. It’s a flooded rock quarry. The bottom is uneven and has places that drop off twenty to fifty feet deep. If you had sunk down in one of those places, you would not have found footing so close beneath your feet.

    You would have simply slid away into the water, and since I didn’t even see you sneak into the lake, I would not have known you were gone. I would have looked for you on the shore, in the wrong place. They would have had to drag the lake, and you would have died. On my watch.

    Two families I know of this summer, both friends of friends, have had children die in terrible accidents. I don’t know why. You are alive. You were a shadow away from death, yet you live. Their boys are dead and mine is alive. You are alive, and I don’t know why. Thank you, Lord, for returning my son to me.

    We packed up and came home shortly after that, and you spent the rest of the day playing happily like nothing had happened because you are six. But I didn’t. After you kids went to bed, I sat on the couch with your dad and cried all evening. Because, you see, you scared the shit out of me. You don’t really seem to understand what almost happened today, but I do. I almost lost you today. Today you almost died.


  • Book Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

    Book Review: The Martian | LenaStark.com
    Book Review: The Martian | LenaStark.com
    Not the ideal vacation destination

    The Martian by Andy Weir

    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    Mark Watney has a problem. Not a small problem like running out of clean socks or a medium problem like your subordinate trying to maneuver for your position at work. An actual problem. A colossal problem. A marooned on Mars because your crew mates thought you died during the emergency sandstorm evacuation problem. Mark Watney is now The Martian.

    How do you survive on thirty day’s worth of supplies until the next mission arrives in four years? How do you grow food in dead Martian soil? How do you separate hydrogen from rocket fuel in an oxygen-rich environment so you can make water without blowing yourself up? How can you let someone, anyone, know you are even alive and need help getting to that next mission’s landing site when all of your communications equipment is destroyed? Just a few problems of the variety that can kill you at any given moment.

    First-time author Andy Weir thinks like a scientist (he’s an engineer and son of a particle physicist, both of which absolutely show) but writes Mark like he’s your favorite, snarkily enthusiastic friend (Mark’s first words on being reminded to keep his communications clean because they are now being read around the entire globe? “Boobs”).

    The entire book is problem-solving one catastrophe after another, and the science is both fascinating and apparently accurate based on the amount of vetting done by massive numbers of online fans who are not me but who seem to have lots of available time. If you have one of those brains that constantly formulates the logical scenario within any given parameters, you will adore this book.

    In addition to the general cheeriness that Andy gives his protagonist and the intensity of the writing in general, Andy Weir manages to pull off one of the hardest parts of writing fiction in an utterly satisfying way: the ending. Thank you, Mr. Weir, for writing one of the best closing passages I’ve ever read in fiction.

    The Martian began life as a free serial posted on Andy Weir’s blog, grew into a $.99 ebook due to reader demand, debuted at #12 on the NYT Best Seller list after Crown Publishing picked it up, and is now set for theatrical release in October 2015 with Ridley Scott directing and Matt Damon starring. If you are remotely interested in science, sci-fi, space, Mars, or survival stories, you will love this book.

    View all my reviews

  • Sarah Poetry #2

    Sarah Poetry #2 | LenaStark.com

    Since publishing the first round of Sarah poetry a couple of weeks ago, I have been feeling a little better. The first month after she died was pretty super crap. Publishing the poetry seems to have been pretty cathartic (probably the St. John’ Wort hasn’t hurt either…).

    However, this weekend was rough. Everywhere I looked, it seemed Sarah was looking up at me or talking to me through the mouths and faces of other people. I dreamed of her Friday night and woke up crying Saturday morning. Tough day. Sunday I spent half of church in tears followed by a two hour nap and three hours in the hot tub (don’t bother lecturing me; I didn’t overheat and die).

    Poetry arrived in the middle of all that, which is usually what happens when I’m hurting.

    You’re there in my dream
    Standing far away.
    I jump and wave
    And run toward you,
    But when I arrive
    You’re far away again.
    Still in sight,
    Never near.
    Even in dreams
    you do not stay.

    I’m mad at you
    But I shouldn’t
    I have no cause
    I have no right
    You wanted to stay
    You wanted to live
    You wanted to watch
    Your children grow and
    Your husband gray
    But still you left
    And this morning
    I awoke
    But I have no cause
    And it doesn’t help
    And I wish it would leave
    And I hate it

    There is one more, the first one I wrote (probably the best one, of course), but it isn’t quite right. A verb is wrong. It’s imprecise and won’t say what I want it to say, what I feel inside. I’m beginning to think it might be because there isn’t actually a word that fits the emotion, not in English anyway. Seems like I’ve heard one though, something old, something from when English was young. It’s lurking around, and I can’t find it. Maybe later. Or maybe never.

    Anyway, this is all for today. Monday arrived fresh and new, and this week has been much better overall. The poetry helps.

    If you missed it, here is Sarah Poetry #1

  • Pipe Dream, Part 2

    Pipe Dream #2 | LenaStark.com

    Part 1 is here in case you missed it.

    “I knew you would know where to go,” I said to my friend Angie as we pulled into the alleyway behind the boutique pipe tobacco shop down the street from her house. Knowing where to buy a pipe and tobacco is useful when one wants to take up pipe smoking. She grinned. Angie has a massive cache of unexpected information inexplicably quartered in her miraculous brain. It’s a huge part of why I like her.

    Upon entering the small, acceptably wood-and-leather inspired shop, we were greeted by a gray-haired, amiable looking man with the biggest mutton chop sideburns I’d ever seen.

    “I’m looking for a cheap pipe,” I told him.

    “Oh, well I’ve got a wonderful, refurbished Master Craft for $35. Here, take a look at this,” he replied as he removed a small pipe from a glass display case and handed it to me. It was very nice, but not quite what I had in mind.

    “Actually, it’s for me, and I’ve never smoked a pipe before. I’m really just looking for something cheap like a corn cob pipe so I can decide if I even like smoking it or not.”

    “Oh, it’s for you!” he said. He did not seem to be expecting this and immediately became more animated. I got the impression that I was not his usual demographic. “You can buy corn cob pipes anywhere. Well, except here because mine just sold out.” Not a promising start.

    “How about tobacco?” I said. “Do you have Sail?” According to my mother, this was the brand my grandfather used to smoke. My mother does not approve of my pipe smoking.

    “Sail! No, that’s horrible stuff, all chemically processed. I don’t carry any of that here. All of my tobacco is organic, and I blend it myself. Here, smell this,” he said as he shoved an open plastic bag labeled “Grandfather’s Blend” in elaborate calligraphy under my nose. “I made this blend myself fifty years ago for my own grandfather.” The proprietor puffed proudly, and the difficulty with which Angie was stifling her giggles at his rapid demeanor change was becoming a palpable threat to my own attempts to remain collected. “This is eight dollars, but if you buy it today with the pipe, I’ll give it to you for six.”

    The thirty-five dollars in my purse roughly comprised my pipe experiment budget. Maybe I could just buy the tobacco here and get a corn cob pipe at the smoke shop up the road that had “Pipes Here” emblazoned on the iron-barred windows next to the gang signs. “What’s this one?” I asked, pointing to the bag beside the grandpa one. “And can I smell that one too?” I pointed to the one on the other side.

    He seemed rather pleased that I was sniffing and admiring the aromas of his other tobacco blends. “Actually,” he said, “if you buy the pipe, I’ll throw in the tobacco for free. Just for today.” There was my $35! I looked at the smooth, wooden pipe in my hand. It really was beautiful, and it wasn’t too big.

    “Okay, I’ll take it,” I said. “Hey, do you have a pouch I can keep this stuff in?”

    “A pouch? Hmm, I don’t think so. Let me check,” he said as he began pulling out and rifling through each of the drawers behind the cash register. “I don’t usually keep them, but I might have an old one floating around… yes, here’s one. Here are some matches too,” he said as he threw a small box on the counter, “and you’ll need a tamper. Hang on.” He went back to the display case and pulled out a small metal tool that was flat on one end and tapered into a very thin scoop on the other. I could feel Angie snickering again behind me.

    “What is your problem?” I asked her as the man was whizzing around accumulating gear that either wasn’t for sale or that I hadn’t asked for.

    “Nothing. Nothing at all,” she said with amused eyebrows and an abysmally stifled grin. I turned back to the checkout counter which now claimed a pipe, a bag of tobacco, a box of matches, a tamper, and a pouch to carry everything in. This was going to be way over budget.

    “Soooo… what do I owe you for all this?”

    “Oh, you can have it for $35,” he said. I hadn’t told him how much my budget was. I offered to pay for everything, but he declined.

    As soon as we got back outside, Angie exploded in laughter.

    “I think I just snookered some old guy out of a bunch of stuff,” I said.

    “Yeah, I think so.”

    The next week my Mom was over, and she wanted to see my new pipe. Grandpa hadn’t smoked since I was a kid, and although I have fond memories of the smell, I had completely forgotten what his pipe looked like. She hadn’t. “This pipe looks exactly like your grandfather’s,” she said. It wasn’t until she brought over the picture of Grandpa two weeks ago for Pipe Dream, Part 1 that I realized just how right she was.

    Lena Stark | Pipe Dream, Part 2
    Grandpa Style: Me with my pipe on the porch swing.