In #Gratitude for the 400th Review of my #Memoir “Empty Chairs” It is #Free From Oct 8th, till Oct 12th. #RRBC #IARTG #WritingCommunity.

 

Hello and welcome.

How does it feel when the reviews of your work click over to 400 on Amazon.com?

Now there’s a question I never believed I’d ask myself! My first reaction was stunned. I sat here looking at that number and shaking my head in amazement. Then this tough old girl had a damned good cry.

Why?

Because these people I may never meet in person, made the time in their lives to read of my journey. Then they sat and shared their feelings in a review, and many of them gave me a glimpse into their own journeys. I count myself forever grateful to them. I have been inspired by so many of them as they shared their wisdom.

There are so many marvelous people that have stepped forward and offered their unrelenting support on my writing journey. Many of them are fellow members of #RRBC Rave Reviews Book Club.

I’d like to share a review with you that continues to make me smile through grateful tears. My dear friend and fellow author Gwen Plano made this wonderful clip.

In celebration of the 400th Review, I have listed “Empty Chairs” FREE From October 8th thru October 12th.

Again, my warmest thanks for your kindness and support.

Seasons of The Muse. Does your muse have a favorite season? Mine does. #RRBC #WritingCommunity #IARTG

Seasons of The Muse.

Does your muse have a season when it’s at its most active? I’ve discovered that mine does.

SNOW

It’s winter here in the Land of Oz and a quick glimpse out my window confirms what my bones have been telling me all morning, we have more snow on the way. I’ve been awake since 4.00 a.m and have already indulged in way too much caffeine. I’m edgy, and my thoughts are all screaming in unison to gain my attention. I’ve been caught up in a cycle of examining all my past works and the discoveries I’ve made have caused me to faceplant and groan more than a few times.

I’ve learned so much since those early days, and I have so much more to learn. I hunger for that knowledge.

I also began to notice a pattern to my writing, something I’d never consciously thought about had recurred far too many times to be a coincidence.

I discovered that I’d written countless short-stories and six of my eight novels in winter.

I also found these particular works to be my writing at its very darkest.

Seasonal disaffected disorder? Possibly. Yet I don’t venture outside much at all no matter what the season.

I’m beginning to understand why my muse demands so much more of me, why it pushes away any doubts and self-imposed limitations I’m still carrying as baggage. And why it surfaces so strongly when the cold wind blows and the clouds billow outside.

We all draw from our past. Subconsciously reliving both the best of times and the absolute worst of them. The tools our lives handed us back then go into our personal arsenals. We draw those weapons to protect us when survival demands it of us.

Winter honed those skills for me. That’s when my muse first surfaced. I recall sitting around a fire pit with the other street kids and telling stories that made us laugh or punch the air with a “Hell, yeah!”. Taking our minds away from the hunger for a while, enriching us, and connecting us as a family.

I still tell those stories now. Only now I write them down and share them with friends across a far bigger fire pit.

Winter will lash our small town until Mid-October. And yes, I’ve just finished writing another novel. With one more underway. Are they dark? Uh-huh, and then some. The cycle continues.

Grab a moment and share your own insights.

Do you recognize a particular season when your muse fires up and hits hyperdrive? Do you know why that is, or is it always planned that way? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Contact me here:

 

Suzanne Burke Amazon Author Page

On TWITTER.

On Facebook.

My Blog

 

 

 

“Old Habits Die Hard” A short-story from my upcoming Anthology. #RRBC #IARTG #WritingCommunity #WritersCommunity

Old Habits image

Hello and welcome to “Old Habits Die Hard” a new short story from my upcoming anthology “Glimpses Across the Barricades”

 

Old Habits Die Hard

From the upcoming collection: Glimpses Across the Barricades

By

Suzanne Burke 2019.

 

Cassie sucked in a deep lungful of nicotine and waited for the coughing to start. She shook her head in acknowledgment of her own weakness and abject stupidity, coughed as expected and finished the cigarette. She grinned at herself. Old habits die hard.

The thought caught her unprepared. Were they all simply old habits? Did she cling to things so desperately only because they were familiar? Was it a comfort to know ahead of time how each would respond in any given situation? If that knowledge gave us the tools to avoid the more painful outcomes, did that automatically presume that we’d use that wisdom?

Cassie was irritated with herself for even asking the questions.

She looked across at her iPhone for answers, already knowing she’d find none waiting.

When had he become just another old habit to cling to?

Cassie drew in a shaky breath as the memory of their last conversation played out vividly in her mind.

The 5th anniversary of their sad farewell was tomorrow. They’d been friends long before they became lovers. Their lives had collided the first time three decades earlier. Each acknowledging the chemistry that lit up a room whenever they were both present. They both smiled at each other and refused to allow that fire to burn. Life moved on and so did they.

Then twelve years ago fate had flung them together again.  What had been intended as a casual fling, a one-night stand, had become a passionate affair that neither of them had attempted to prevent from spiralling out of control.

She smiled briefly as a sweeter image tugged at her thoughts. The first weekend they’d run from reality, they’d danced on a rickety old pier in the rain. It was foolishly romantic and memorably perfect, and so was he. She could hear the music they’d played. “Nights in White Satin” by The Moody Blues had echoed out across the deep water of the bay. They’d made slow sweet love in an old fishing shed, and watched on in shared wonder as a violent summer storm came sweeping up from the south. It played out a symphony with shattering crescendo’s and their lovemaking met and matched its passion.

Cassie reached for the safety of the present moment and whispered into the darkness, “Stop it. Don’t do this. Think about something else.”

She stood then and moved about her apartment, only vaguely aware of straightening things on the mantle that didn’t need straightening, and moving books around in the bookcase that hadn’t required moving.

She walked across to the bar, poured herself a double shot of JD and sat back on her sofa and lit up her bong. The balcony beckoned and she moved into the cool night air and the silence, alternating the hits of good weed and the alcohol and waited for the calm she craved so desperately to envelop her.

Yet the memories continued to invade. She was too stoned to avoid them, and they came at her without pity for her vulnerable state of mind.

Her marriage of thirty years had limped to a final conclusion twelve years earlier. She’d initially clung to the memory of it, allowing her mind to paint much prettier pictures of what had actually happened; she’d clung to it long past its use-by date.

Her lover’s staunch Catholic upbringing prevented his long marriage from taking the same course. He never spoke of it. Cassie never asked the questions. It was so much easier to pretend that their relationship may someday lead to them being together.

The memories flowed now, but not in sequence. The laughter they’d shared echoed through time, and conversations that made sense only to the two of them etched themselves afresh in this place and in this moment.

A jigsaw puzzle with pieces missing. Pieces that she now went in search of.

They’d been fishing and hunting together often. They’d spent so many cold nights sleeping out under the stars, where their shared body warmth sustained them completely. They both loved the sounds of the night. Or the sounds of that long stretch of beach on the hottest summer days on record, swimming just after sunrise, cautiously waiting until the great white sharks had fed in deeper water off the reef. Cassie moaned as the sound of his deep voice surfaced unbidden, “We need to burn this into our memory. So, we can take it out and look at it when the world goes to hell.”

She brushed the moisture from her eyes. She’d never forgotten that moment. He had a way with words that echoed the romance of his soul.

The years had gone by so quickly. She watched and waited, wondering if she’d recognize the end if she saw it coming.

She saw it over five years ago. Phone calls that had begun every new day for years suddenly stopped coming, until they spoke only every couple of weeks. The visits went from a driving need to be together as often as they could steal the time, to a late-night knock on the door heralding a man who had only one need that remained to be met.

Cassie had tried so hard to ignore it, she floundered like a fish out of water on the sands of indecision.

She began wrapping her isolation around her like a comforting shawl.

The knock on her door at 3.30am on a hot summer’s morning had awoken her.

She knew instinctively who it was, and was angry well before she opened that door.

He stood there looking sheepish, then smiled. “Aren’t you gonna ask me to come in?”

Cassie stood aside without speaking and waved him across to the sofa.

He looked surprised as she stood there watching him, “What wrong, hon?”

“When was the last time we spoke?”

He looked away uncomfortably as he answered, “Guess it’s been a few weeks.”

“Try for three months!”

“Shit. Really? I’m sorry.”

“So, why are you here?”

He stood then, “You’re upset. I’ll call you later.”

She touched his arm. “I deserve better than this.”

For the first time in the thirty-plus years that she’d known him his dark hunter’s eyes filled with tears. She barely heard him as he struggled to speak, “Yes, honey. You do.”

She followed him across to the door and he turned and touched her cheek, then tucked a wayward curl behind her ear. He was shaking and his voice wavered as he spoke, “Goodbye, my love.”

Cassie felt the sobs tear through her, and she let them come.

He’d phoned after that, every couple of months and at ungodly hours. She’d register who was calling and declined the calls. The loneliness threatened to overwhelm her at first, she recalled using a telephone box to phone his work number just to hear his deep voice when he answered. She tortured herself like that constantly after they’d ended.

And now, what about now? She grimaced at her own question.

For now, she’d just get herself through the next anniversary.

And just before the alcohol lulled her into sleep on that anniversary morning her iPhone rang.

She was drunk, but not suicidal. She declined to take the call.

*

And for your enjoyment. “Nights In White Satin” by The Moody Blues.

 

Welcome to the WATCH “RWISA” WRITE Showcase Tour! Day 2 #RRBC #RWISA @dlfinn

RWISA SHOWCASE BADGE 2019

The Poetry of D. L. Finn

POETRY by D. L. Finn

ICICLES 

The icicles dangle downward

Reaching for the substantial snow

Each drop bringing them closer

As the landscape merges into itself

It is silent in its existence

Until a raven reveals itself

Wondering what’s in the trash

Yet, the moment remains peaceful

Sitting and surveying in the chill

An instant promising potential

When there is no celerity

When crackling fires call

When surroundings are concealed

Soon, the renewal will be revealed

But now it’s the stage of contemplation.

For sustenance

For solace

For soul

To live on our abundance of the past

This is the gift of the snow

When we can replenish our hearts

In the silence of the icicles.

 

 

FREEDOM (Musings from the back of a Harley)

The freedom of the blue skies

Welcome us warmly back

Our path is asphalt

Our vehicle a mechanical horse

Our guide is the wind

Lush green walls soar

The sun illuminates the way

Oaks are waking up after a long nap

And I…

I fill my soul

With nature’s flowering renewal

Bursting with beauty and abundance

In the freedom of spring.

 

WHERE THE RIVERS MEET
Roaring white, pounding the granite

Swirling, swelling, splendor

The air is heavy with anticipation

It blows over me like a lover’s touch

Filling my heart with sweet floral ecstasy

I relax into the experience

Each breath carries away my worries

My eyes fill with abandonment

As the rushing liquid serenades me

Singing the praise of this paradise

Until the different directions converge

After a brief resounding rumble

They combine and continue on their way

Leaving the moment where the rivers meet.

 

OCEAN

As I sit perched up high on our lanai

Comfortable on my recliner in the shade

The ocean draws my gaze

Its sapphire and emerald water calls me

While the blue pool floats in its space—uninviting

I hear the sea’s song as it smashes onto the shore

The surfers ride its motion

The snorkelers gaze into its depth

And the swimmers float on its perception

Our attraction is undeniable

Opposites: one of air, one of water

It beckons, and I must respond

Offering myself up to the hidden world

Under the cerulean summon

I answer, embracing the ocean completely.

 

Thank you for supporting this member along the WATCH “RWISA” WRITE Showcase Tour today!  We ask that if you have enjoyed this member’s writing, please visit their Author Page on the RWISA site, where you can find more of their writing, along with their contact and social media links, if they’ve turned you into a fan.

We ask that you also check out their books in the RWISA or RRBC catalogs.  Thanks, again for your support and we hope that you will follow each member along this amazing tour of talent!  Don’t forget to click the link below to learn more about this author:

D. L. Finn RWISA Author Page

 

 

Book Review: “Memoir of a Mad Woman” by Vashti Quiroz-Vega @VashtiQV #RRBC #IARTG #writingcommunity

Book Cover Memoir of a Mad Woman

Hello and welcome to my book review of “Memoir of a Mad Woman” By Vashti Quiroz-Vega.

Meet Vashti!

Vashti bio pic

Vashti Quiroz-Vega is a writer of Fantasy, Horror, and Thriller. Since she was a kid she’s always had a passion for writing and telling stories. It has always been easier for her to express her thoughts on paper.

She enjoys reading almost as much as she loves to write. Some of her favorite authors are Stephen King, Michael Crichton, Anne Rice, J.R.R. Tolkien, J.K. Rowling and George R. R. Martin.

She enjoys making people feel an array of emotions with her writing. She likes her audience to laugh one moment, cry the next and clench their jaws after that.

When she isn’t building extraordinary worlds and fleshing out fascinating characters, she enjoys spending time with her husband JC and her Pomeranian Scribbles who is also her writing buddy.

Book Cover Memoir of a Mad Woman

BLURB.

A novelette from the award-winning author of The Fall of Lilith and Son of the Serpent, Vashti Quiroz-Vega.

Who can explain how madness begins?

This is the story of Emma. Reared by a religious fanatic, orphaned at a young age and sent to a mental institution and an orphanage. Molested and betrayed by the people who should be watching over her…

Who can say that madness has no logic?

During a fight, Emma’s best friend punched her in the abdomen. Since then, Emma has believed there’s something damaged inside of her.

Every month… she bleeds.
She tries to fight it all her life, but the pain and the blood return twenty-eight days later… and the cycle begins again.

But Emma, even in her madness, knows how to take care of herself.
She knows how to make things right…

You may not agree…
But, who can reason with insanity?

Read this tragic but fascinating tale and traverse the labyrinthine passages of madness.

My Review ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Uncompromisingly brutal and utterly riveting.

In this uncompromisingly brutal novella, author Vashti Quiroz-Vega takes you on a jagged and painful journey. Many authors stop short when it comes to writing scenes of brutality, they tend to hint at the violence and not follow through. Not this author.

She gives us all the tools to explore the depths of Emma’s damaged mind. In order for the vengeance Emma undertakes to make sense, the horrendous acts perpetrated on her helpless body and soul allowed us an insight and an understanding into her motivation.

This author shows a deep empathy in her characterizations. An enviable understanding of the demons that drive us.

An insightful look into the darker side of humanity. Emma’s betrayal was absolute … so was her revenge.

The characterizations are superb, and well developed. The visual imagery is acute.

If you’re looking for a riveting and thought provoking read don’t miss this one.

Find the author;

The Writer Next Door website.

On TWITTER 

Purchase this book on Amazon.com

Thanks so much for stopping by.

 

 

#Valentine’sDay #ShortStory “Shall We Dance.” #RRBC #IARTG #Romance

love is ommortal valentines day image

“Shall We Dance”

By

Suzanne Burke.

 

Valentine’s day was looming again and Candace resisted the temptation to rip the month of February from the calendar hanging on her kitchen wall.

She needed no reminder of the celebration. For so many, it heralded a beginning, a step into the future with a love that they were certain would last a lifetime.

For her, it had been both the beginning and the end. Mitch had proposed on that long ago Valentine’s Day. He’d taken her dancing that night. He’d danced her around a room filled with uniformed Marines and as they watched on he’d dropped to his knees in the middle of the dance floor and proposed. They’d all cheered as Candace had given him her answer.

The sad-faced pastor and Lieutenent Colonel Brian Henderson had arrived at her door on February 14th almost a year ago.  Her Mitch wouldn’t be returning from Afghanistan. What followed was now etched forever in her memory. The hushed voices of their friends as they’d rallied around her to offer their understanding support and comfort. The wives who had hurriedly blessed their own lives, grateful that their own men were safe, for now.

Candace had searched everywhere for comfort. The inside of a bottle gave her only a temporary respite from the agony of his absence.

She and her Mitch had refused to discuss the possibility of him dying in the service of his country. That knowledge hovered unspoken on the peripheral of their lives. Giving it life was unthinkable. The future unimaginable without the enduring love they’d shared for almost fifteen precious years.

They’d already mourned and accepted the fact that they couldn’t have children of their own. Mitch had been eager to explore all the other avenues now available to childless couples. It had been her choice to remain childless. For her, Mitch would be the only love she’d ever need in her life. Her decision came back to haunt her now in the desperate solitude of her days and the eternal emptiness of her nights.

The new future danced in her nightmares. She’d stopped drinking when even the oblivion of alcohol had handed her no solace.

There had been no coffin proudly draped with their countries flag. No headstone to dignify his final resting place. A plaque on a wall was all that signified his passing. He was listed M.I.A and presumed dead along with two others from the Seal team he’d led with such utter devotion.

The bodies of his two team members had finally been located and identified. Candace had attended their funerals and wept along with their wives.

After shutting herself away for many months and drawing the increasing concern of her friends she’d finally begun to see a counselor. Yet as much as she’d understood the words he was saying, as much as her intelligence had accepted the innate wisdom of those words, she’d still steadfastly refused to accept the finality of Mitch’s death. How could he be gone when she could still hear his laughter? And on the long nights, as she lay in the darkness she’d smell the scent of his favorite aftershave waft through the room.

She’d reach for him in the darkness and moan his name, then cry for hours at the empty futility of her longing.

Candace dragged her mind back to the present. The sound of her cell phone had interrupted her thoughts several times in the past two days. She’d ignored the calls. Tomorrow was the anniversary.  She knew it would be folks ringing to check on her and offer up their kindness and willingness to help her in any way they could.  She’d hidden away from the repeated knocks on the front door that had been increasing in frequency. She couldn’t deal with the pats on the shoulder and the looks of sadness. Not now. Maybe not ever.

A car pulled up out front and a young Marine slid an envelope under the front door. Her hands shook as she picked it up, it was from the office of Lietenant Colonel Henderson and marked as extremely urgent.

Candace couldn’t bring herself to open it. She knew what it would be. This explained all the calls and the attempts to make contact. It could only be the acknowledgement that Mitch’s body had finally been recovered. Opening that envelope would leave her no choice at all but to believe he was gone.

It must wait till after Valentine’s Day tomorrow.  She gave herself permission to have this one last chance of disbelieving.

Candace sat on the sofa in the gathering darkness, she leaned her head back, closed her eyes and began humming Shall we Dance from the King and I. That was the marvelous music that Mitch had arranged to be played on the happiness fuelled Valentine’s night when he had proposed.

The memories swept her away for hours and she welcomed all of them. The day was beginning to dawn as she fell into a troubled sleep.  Today would be the final day before she was forced by facts to move on with her life.

Candace jumped with shock at the sound of someone pounding on the front door. She flicked a glimpse at her watch, “Jesus!  Hold on. Do you know it’s four o’clock in the morning!” She threw on her bathrobe and hurried across to the windows and pulled back the curtains. A base staff car with flags flying waited outside the house. “What the hell?”

Candace opened the door. The uniformed man stood alone in the semi-darkness. “Yes, Marine?”

“Candy.”

“That isn’t funny.”

“Candy, honey, it’s me.”

Nobody ever called her Candy … only … “Oh my God! Oh my God! Mitch?”

The man stepped into the light shining on the porch from the sitting room.

Mitch stood there holding himself erect with the aid of two canes.

“Darling, oh my darling, I knew it. I knew it. Hold me close before I believe that I’m dreaming again.”

The man leaned his walking aids against the wall and held out his arms. “It will be a little while before we can go dancing again, honey.”

Candy heard the hesitation. “Mitch, my dearest love. We now have forever to practice.”

All the explanations and questions could wait.

Their arms enfolded each other and they cried together in the joy of reunion.

Valentine’s day had now become their new beginning.

***

Valentine’s night. Five-years later.

Mitch Avery swept a bow to his wife and gave her his perpetually cheeky grin. “Shall we dance, m’lady?”

He held her in his arms and they moved in perfect unison around the dance-floor.

The poker faced Marines watching on cleared their throats as tears threatened, then they began to cheer.

Delighted whoops of joy from their two adopted six-year-old sons rang out as they ran across the dance-floor and threw themselves into the loving arms of their parents.

Candace had finally acknowledged that she and Mitch had more than enough love to share.

The future waited.

They walked forward as a family to greet it.

#

I have a further treat for you all. For those that know and Love “The King and I” Here is the original clip of ‘Shall we Dance” For those who may have never seen it I envy you the new experience.

 

 

 

 

My #Christmas on The Streets: 1966. A sweet memory.#Memoir #RRBC @pursoot

CHRISTMAS BLOG BANNER

Thanks so much for stopping by. I like to share this post every Christmas. It remains one of my sweetest memories.

CHRISTMAS MORNING 1966: 2:00 AM.

The Christmas season is the harshest of all when you live on the streets.

On ANY streets. In ANY town. In any Climate.

A miracle happened in our small dark world that hot and steamy Christmas morning all those long years ago. I’d not yet turned twelve years old. Yet I felt older than time.

It was not a ‘miracle’ of biblical proportions. Yet for the fifteen of us that lived in the damaged shipping container, it was a miracle that we would hold in our memories forever, to be taken out and looked at whenever life grew harsher.

I am sharing it with you here.

I hope that it makes you nod in understanding. I hope that it reminds you of what joy your smile and a simple hello can mean to the lost and the lonely.

I am smiling through my tears as I remember…..

***

Christmas was barely a week or so away, and the mood in ‘the palace’ wasn’t good. That’s what we’d named our rusty old shipping container. ‘The Palace’ was exactly that to us. We constructed our own safety barriers, dodging between smart-mouthed bravado and silent despair.

Christmas out here meant different things to each of us I guess.

My memories of Christmas’s past were all bad. Even last year when I’d been on the streets alone for barely a month had bad stuff attached to it, yet it hadn’t been nearly as bad as the ones I had lived with back in the home I called ‘hell central’.

I asked ‘Baby Jenny’ our youngest member to come for a walk with me down to see Big Mike. The guy was built like a mountain and I never did learn his last name. He was the go-to man for everything here on the Sydney docks. I wanted to ask him if he could scrounge up some left over decorations to put up in the palace to lighten the mood a little.

He gave me a thoughtful nod, and said he’d “see what he could do.”

He bent down and spoke to Jenny, “I swear you get prettier every day, Jenny. Don’t let Sassy here teach you any bad habits.”

Jenny grinned at him too afraid to respond.

I kept my mouth shut for a change, except for a “Gee thanks, Big Mike.”

He smiled and wandered off, and we headed back up to the palace. We spent a lot of time outdoors during the heat of the summer. The cooler breezes drifting in from the water gave us a little welcome respite. The heat inside our metal home was dreadful. It was difficult to breathe in the late afternoons. We complained to each other long and loud. But I had to shrug and smile at our bitching. Winter was far worse.

We figured Big Mike had forgotten when a week passed with no contact. It was disappointing, but the man didn’t owe us anything. He’d already rushed one of us to the hospital and probably saved her life and the life of the baby that she’d been giving birth to. So we didn’t really expect the decorations, we just hoped for them.

Jenny was extra quiet. I wondered if she would ever be able to talk about why she was here. I didn’t ask her. I hadn’t discussed my background with any of them, even Jamie. So I understood that it was not open for general discussion. These streets were harsh and difficult regardless of why you found yourself here.

Christmas Eve dawned fiery red. It was going to be a very, very, hot day according to the radio forecasts, with a cool southerly change expected later in the evening.

We all headed up to Hyde Park very early and took a Christmas bath in our favorite fountain. At least the palace wouldn’t stink quite so badly for Christmas day.

It was tempting to just jump into the ocean so close to the Palace, but Big Mike had warned us all about the sharks, so we didn’t dare.  We planned on heading down to the Botanical Gardens for a dip in the lake that evening. We figured there wouldn’t be many people around at that time because it was Christmas Eve and they’d be home with their families. It was a sad thought until we reminded each other that we too were a family.

The sky began to darken and the thunder rolled in early in the afternoon. The southerly buster was heading up the coast rapidly. We were all unusually quiet and sitting around outside in the shade of the container when we heard the sound of vehicles heading toward the palace.

We headed around the front to see who had arrived and watched in stunned amazement as Big Mike and two of the other guys whose names I can’t recall, began unloading boxes of stuff from their cars and placing it in the shaded opening of our tin home.

Big Mike looked uncomfortable, if possible, he was even gruffer than usual. “You lot need feeding up, so we brought you some stuff.”

We were all too stunned to say much at all, these hard men were all smiling and a little red-faced. I swear if they could have, that they would have scuffed their shoes in the dirt like little kids with embarrassment.

Big Mike shook Jamie’s hand and accepted the ‘thank you’ from him.

I was speechless which wasn’t a common occurrence. I just grinned at them all. and gave the guys a hurried “Thanks.”

They were the unlikeliest Angels you would ever see, sweaty and dirty after a long hot day’s work, but the sight of them unloading the Christmas goodies and punching one another in the arm in a gesture common amongst males remains etched starkly in my memory.

Big Mike reached into the front seat of his car and pulled out a parcel that was wrapped in Christmas paper, with bright ribbons attached. He walked over and handed it to Baby Jenny.

She looked confused and wasn’t sure what to do with it.

“The women picked this out for ya, little one.” Big Mike said in a voice strictured by emotion.

Jenny still wasn’t sure what to do.

“Go ahead and open it, Jenny,” Jamie said.

“Um, later. Later. Okay?” she replied looking very unsure of herself.

She looked at the men, and gave them one of her sweet smiles, “Don’t matter what it is. I never had a present before, so, um, yeah. Thanks, thanks a lot.”

The men seemed to understand that she needed to be alone when she opened it.

As for the rest of us, we tore into those presents and boxes like there was no tomorrow, squealing in delighted surprise with everything we found.

There was more food than any of us had ever seen.

There were tinned hams, fresh pineapples, cherries, and plums. Cooked Turkey and Cranberry sauce, with all the trimmings. Fifteen red t-shirts all large sizes. Paper plates, and plastic knives and forks, a can-opener. A Cooler packed with ice, and a new radio with spare batteries. A big crate of beer and bottles of cold Coke rounded out the feast.

That night, we all huddled around the new radio. It was much bigger and put out a better sound than the small transistor we had been using. We sat drinking the beer and singing our version of Christmas carols, none of them repeatable. Trust me.

Jenny sat on her sleeping space of folded layers of newspaper. She was a little tipsy having been allowed one-half of a small bottle of beer. We glanced at her as she picked up her present and watched the look on her face as she unwrapped it.

It was a baby doll, all soft and dressed in bonnet and booties with a pretty pink knitted dress. “Just what we needed, another fuckin’ mouth to feed,” she said. But the smile on her face could have lit up the entire city.

We were fed, content, and a little overwhelmed and unsure at the kindness of these people.

We all wanted to believe that maybe, just maybe, they had done it for no motive other than the wish to make this Christmas a better place for us to be. It was an alien experience to all of us,but a welcome one.

We had only sampled a little of the huge amount of food, deciding to save the rest for Christmas Day

That night we were all tipsy, yet strangely quiet as we bedded down for the night. I think we were all a little overwhelmed by the generosity of these men.

It was around 2.00 am Christmas morning I guess when I felt something was wrong. Whatever the something was, it wouldn’t let me sleep. I couldn’t place it immediately. It was a strange sense of something missing, and it troubled me.

Jamie was on watch. I climbed over the others and hunkered down next to him. Jamie smiled at me and said, “You too hey, Sassy?”

“Yeah, I guess. What is it? Something’s different.”

We sat a while just listening. Then Jamie said, “Oh shit! It’s Jenny, she’s not crying!”

My heart was in my mouth. Jamie grabbed the torch and we played it across the others, several of them were already awake, and wondering what the hell was happening. Jenny had cried herself to sleep every night since she’d come to this place. It was a sound we all tried not to hear. She couldn’t be comforted, we weren’t permitted that close. She’d been here for two years now. Jenny was only around eight-years-old and the sounds of her despair echoed through the palace every night.

We stood looking down at her. Jenny lay on her side, sound asleep, with both arms wrapped around that doll so tight there was no space between them.

That was the first time I had cried in a very, very, long time. I glanced at the others, without exception we were all affected the same way. No one wanted to look at anyone else, shit we were supposed to be the toughest kids on the block! Hell, we were the only kids on the block. That Christmas was the first real day of Jenny’s childhood. From then on, Christmas became Jenny’s birthday.

I’d like to tell you that a miraculous change came over her. That she was instantly transformed. In a make-believe world she’d be outside singing all the hits from ‘The Sound of Music’ and wearing a pretty new dress and shoes.  But this is the real world, and the changes took place over time.

Jenny named her doll, Francine.

The greatest change of all, was that, from that night, for all the years that Baby Jenny remained in our world, she never cried herself to sleep again.

 ***

Many years have passed since that long ago Christmas Eve. My darling Jenny has gone.

So many of my Christmas Eves over time have been special ones. But the one I recall with tears of happiness on my face, and a smile in my heart, is this one.

Jenny lost her battle with life in September of 2008.

The doll Francine was buried with her.

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Thanks so much for stopping by and helping share my memory.

Have a joyous and memorable Christmas Season.