Monthly Archives: July 2009

Healthcare – No Joking Matter

Some people are worried about their health care coverHealth Care Nowage   We should be.   If we don’t do something about it soon, it will get much worse.  Obviously the millions who currently have no coverage may wonder how could it get worse?   It could, and in a sense, has already gotten worse over the last twenty years.  Furthermore with more people unemployed and underemployed, millions more people will join the ranks of the uninsured. 

I will predict this much.  Something regarding health insurance will pass the Congress this year.  Whether it will be worth anything is the big question.  Sometimes the concessions made to get enough votes to pass legislation water down the final product so much so that it is a hollow victory.  Something is not always better than nothing.  Our health care system doesn’t need a band-aid; it needs major surgery.

 Yes, it is indeed a dilemma.  We need something and we’ll get something.  But will it do the job?  Aye, that’s the rub.


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Lilly’s Tattoo

It is just an ordinary day in Washington DC until Francesca BritLilly's Tattoot enters Lilly’s Tattoo Parlor setting in motion a chain of grisly events. A hard boiled police detective and a fifth grade teacher become unlikely allies in a pursuit of a diabolical killer.

Available now as an Ebook on Smashwords

Lilly’s Tattoo by Brenda Mantz

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Life Changes in the Instant

Life changes fast.

Life Changes in the instant.

You sit down to dinner and life

As you know it ends.

                              –  Joan Didion

The cabin we lived in wasn’t much different from the cabin Aunt Irene lived in on Pungo Creek. We lived close to her. Just across the branch. Aunt Irene was a doll maker. She made each doll in the image of her daughter Joann and called them her Jo dolls. Jo had the kicking disease. That’s what my sister Addie and I called it after being warned our whole life to stay out of range of our cousin’s flailing limbs. Jo had the eyes of a wild stallion and a mane of dark brown hair that Aunt Irene brushed and brushed before tying it back with a blue ribbon. When Aunt Irene brushed her hair Jo was calm. She stopped kicking and her eyes looked almost normal.

No one knew. No one knew I was going to have a baby.

When I was a child there was nothing I wanted more than a Jo doll. Sometimes, after making sure my hands were scrubbed clean, Aunt Irene let me sit on her bed and hold one of the dolls. I’d sit there and watch her as she sewed doll after doll after doll. Turning them out like the cupcakes lines up on the trays at the Belhaven Bakery. All of them almost alike – but not quite.

How could I not remember Aunt Irene and her Jo dolls as I sat in that cabin on the Rio Grande – a cabin so like the one that she lived in on Pungo Creek? One room with a bed shoved against the wall and a table in the corner and a wood burning stove. Aunt Irene burned hard wood – usually oak. I burned pinion wood. She could see Pungo Creek from her window. The Rio Grande was not visible from our cabin.  Looking out our window I saw cactus and rocky hills that grew into mounts much bigger than the pine and myrtle forests of North Carolina.

I was baptized in Pungo Creek. The baptizing took place right behind out house. It always struck me as odd that on Saturdays the creek was a spot for swimming and crabbing but on those Sundays it was transformed. A line of somber faced men and women would hold hands and walk out as far as the stake where granddaddy tied up his bigger boat.

They would stand there in a line. The men wore white dress shirts and dark trousers. The women wore light colored dresses.

In the days before I was to be baptized I made Addie rehearse with me. We walked solemnly out to the stake. “Now, Addie, you put your left arm behind my back like this and I hold my nose with my right hand. You put your right hand on my forehead.” Addie did like I told her.

“Now you say this: ‘Sister Brenda, I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen’ On the Ah you dunk me under and you bring me up again on the men.”

We did it over and over until I had it down pat. And I dunked her a few times just so she would be satisfied.

On the day of the baptism I was wearing a gold colored dress that Aunt Irene had made for me. Gold was her favorite color. Some of the Jo dolls had dresses made out of the same gold fabric.

As I joined the line of people walking out to the stake it dawned on me that I hadn’t counted on my dress floating up. I couldn’t hold it down because Nelma Linton was holding my right hand and Lorraine Voliva was holding my left hand. My gold dress floated up around my waist. I hardly heard Reverend Gaskin call me over to him. “Are you ready to have your sins washed away my child?”

Was I the same person who had their sins washed away in Pungo Creek?

I’d stand on the rocks next to the Rio Grande and wonder to myself how I’d managed to run so far away from home – from people who loved me – from Jo dolls and cupcakes and gold colored dresses. Did Jesus know where I was now?

No one knew that at that moment I was standing barefooted in the cold water with the river rushing over my feet.

No one heard me when I sang childhood hymns. “There’s a land beyond the river that the call the sweet forever…”

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Taos – Day Four

This is what I wrote in this morning’s memoir workshop. I needed a narrative to explain how I came to live on the streets of Washington DC in 1970.

I had lost my mind – or that’s what everyone thought.  I ran away from William and Mary. I left the white clock radio mama and daddy had bought me as a graduation present and packed only what I could carry. I ran from my own expectations and the expectations of my family. I ran from student loans. I ran from the prospect of returning to that ramshackle house of Sharp Street where my Mama was slowly drinking herself to death and Daddy spent most of his time in bed drinking Seagrams and reading paperbacks. Anything had to be better than that. They expected me to be the success they never were. I couldn’t go home again. I couldn’t sleep in that closet sized room with Addie’s music blaring through the too thin walls – “Tommy can you hear me” – with mama’s Chesterfields burning in the ash tray I’d bought her from Luray Caverns – with Willis, eleven years old, still sleeping on the nalgahyde couch  in the living room because Mama thought her daughters needed their own rooms.  In four years of college I’d come home only twice. For four years I’d lied myself into believing I wasn’t their daughter. For four years I hated them for being poor. Everytime I went to the post office and found a letter from Mama – with misspellings and a five dollar bill, I hated her. “I write you everyday in my mind. You’re the only one of my children I’ll never have to worry about.” I’d take the five dollars that I knew she’d earned by selling Avon door to door to women that couldn’t afford the Topaz perfume or the Here’s My Heart talcum powder – I’d take it to the snack bar and buy myself and donut and a glass of orange juice and pretend I hadn’t just spent all the money I had. 

One of the times I’d gone home was so mama could fit the dress she was making for me to wear to the Phi Mu pledge dance.  It was white eyelet.  A beautiful dress. More beautiful than the store bought dresses the other pledges wore. How could I tell me mama I ruined that dress making out in the back of John Harbert’s Ford – drunk on vodka and orange juice. Those seams she had stitched just ripped apart by his fumbling hands.

No I couldn’t go home again.




Filed under DC, My Writing, Poetry

Taos – Days Two and Three

This is K2 - the only friend I've made in Taos

This is K2 - the only friend I've made in Taos

Sorry to leave y’all without a Breadcrumb yesterday. You’d think it would be easy to write at a writer’s conference but it hasn’t been. My excuse for yesterday’s failure is that we spent the day trekking through Carson National Forest. We led llamas along trails lined with raspberries, hemlock, mushrooms, columbine, birch, wild roses and a hundred plants I don’t have names for. We crossed back and forth across a stream – being careful not to let the llamas pull us into the icy water.

We got back to the Sage Brush Inn and Conference Center just in time for me to pick up my registration packet and get ready for the “introductory dinner”. That is where I realized this week’s workshop might not meet my lofty expectations. At dinner I met the other nine women in my workshop. The sole male participant had the good luck or the good sense to skip the dinner. Seven of the women were or had been middle school teachers. One was a guidance counselor. The ninth sold real estate between marriages. The instructor looked like she would rather be anywhere but Taos, New Mexico teaching memoir writing. She left before the end of the meal. 

The evening was salvaged by Wally Lamb’s reading. He read, at length, from his new book – in its final edits – Wishing and Hoping, A Christmas Story. It was light and humorous – a total departure from his three previous novels.

Okay – that takes care of Day 2.

Today I got up at 5:00 am to read two more of the books the instructor had assigned. I’d finished her memoir on the flight but I still had Caroline Knapp’s Drinking: A Love Story and Stephen King’s book on writing to plow through. Knapp’s book made me want to drink and King’s book made me question whether I really wanted to write. 

Again, Wally Lamb to the rescue. I chatted with him and his wife at breakfast and decided that writers really are nice people and that some of them can even write from the perspective of someone they haven’t been.

Then came the first day of the workshop. The missing male student showed up and instructor had regained her energy but not her warmth. For the first time I saw the Socratic method applied to writing. All that was missing was the hemlock I’d seen on yesterday’s hike.

Homework – a thousand words. Done. I know she’s going to rip them apart tomorrow.  The only subjects that seem to appeal to her are anorexia and midwifery.

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Taos – Day 1

The young ones join the dance

The young ones join the dance

Dancing in 95 degrees

Dancing in 95 degrees

Grand Entrance
Grand Entrance

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FASTOPWhat follows is the beginning of another short story that will probably never be completed.  The place is real. Everything else is fiction.

There was definitely a face at the window. And below the face a body gleaming in the moonlight. A naked body. A man’s naked body. Cupcake growled. The man growled back, baring his teeth. The naked, growling man dropped to his hands and knees and pressed his face against the glass door.

Even in the darkness, she could see the blood streaming from the side of his mouth.

“I must be dreaming.” She thought..

The man – if man it was – rose to his feet and resumed his banging on the door. He howled like a wounded animal. The door vibrated. Philomena prayed it would withstand the assault.

Suddenly he stopped. He brought his face very close to the glass and seemed to smile at Philomena. Then he pointed to the river, turned and walked away – beckoning her to follow.

She tried the phone again. It was still dead.

“Cupcake we have to get out of here now.” Still wrapped in only a sheet she picked up the trembling cocker spaniel and grabbed her keys. Her car was parked at the top of their steep drive – 200 feet from the back door. Philomena opened the door and ran.

Cupcake barked.

“Shhh, Cupcake. Quiet, baby.”

The gravel tore into her bare feet. The little dog wiggled in her arms. The sheet wrapped itself around her bare legs. Her breath came in gasps.

“Thank God for remote keyless entry” she thought as the opened the car door and slid behind the wheel. She locked the doors and sat there holding Cupcake and trying to catch her breath.

Her breathing didn’t return to normal until she reached Rousby Hall Road and she could see the lights of the all night gas station.

She pulled in next to the full service island and sat there wondering what to do next. She honked the horn once – then again. The attendant seemed not to have heard her. He hadn’t moved from his perch by the window. She tried again. Still nothing.

“Shit! Stay here, Cupcake.” Philomena pulled the sheet up to cover herself and made her way into the Fastop.

“Didn’t you hear me, I…” She stopped. The attendant didn’t hear her. He would never hear anything again. He was dead His throat had been cut. A large filet knife lay on the floor at Philomena’s feet. Without thinking she picked up the knife and walked behind the counter to the telephone. Just as she was reaching for the phone the door opened.

“What the hell? Sammy! She’s killed Ronnie.”

“No. You don’t understand. I…”

Sammy grabbed her roughly from behind. The knife fell to the floor. The sheet dropped away and she stood naked in the Fastop – her hands covered in blood.

“I’ve got her. You call the cops.”

Philomena tried to free herself.

“Hold still, lady. Don’t make me hurt you.”

In just a few minutes, flashing lights and sirens signaled the arrival of the Calvert County Sheriff.

“What do we have here?” he asked as he lumbered through the door – his hand already on the gun that rested in his holster.

“Looks like she’s gone and killed Ronnie, Sheriff. Damndest thing. We caught her here with the knife in her hand and Ronnie’s head barely hanging onto his shoulders.”

The sheriff moved closer to see for himself.

Philomena stood next to the body, still naked. Sammy grasping her arms roughly from behind.

“Look here, Sheriff.” Harvey pointed to a pile of clothes over near the dough nut case. He bent over to pick them up.”

“Hold on, Harvey. That’s evidence. Leave that be.”

He pointed to Philomena. “Those your clothes, lady?”

“No they aren’t mine.”

“Well, if they aren’t where are your clothes?”

“I have been trying to explain. There was someone at my house – a naked man – trying to break in. I ran. I didn’t stop to get dressed. I just grabbed the keys and my dog and got out of there.” She pointed to the dead man. “He was like that when I got here.”

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If Only I Could Love My Husband Like I Love My Dogs

Darcy_and_ArloI love John and I know he loves me, but I would be happier if I could love my husband like I love my dogs.

 If I could just grab his sweet face between my hands and look into his eyes and say “I love you I love you I love you.”

 If only John would chase me around the living room trying to put his nose up my ass.

 If only he would jump up when he sees me and howl for joy.

 If only I could wake up with him curled around my face. 

 If only he would eat from my open palm.

 Dogs are easier to love than husbands. They’re quieter. More loyal.  Less critical. Easier to take care of.  Not as picky about what they eat. Dogs don’t channel surf, leave wet towels on the bathroom floor or succumb to road rage.

On the plus side, John doesn’t chase cars, pee on my hostas or chew my shoes.  He doesn’t hide in the bathtub during thunderstorms or shred newspapers or gnaw the knobs off my bureau.

 What I was trying to say – before I started trying to be cute – is I would love to have the kind of reckless, out of control, undomesticated relationship with my husband that I have with my dog. Maybe one day I will have shed my inhibitions and I will be able to love my husband like I love my dog.

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Naming the Wind

windmillWhen it blows from the south it fills up the bay. The waves are high. We don’t take out the boat. The tide laps our dock. We call it “that damn south wind.”

When it blows from the north it whips through the canyons shaped by the office buildings that line 17th Street creating a Venturi Effect that whips my skirt and turns my umbrella inside-out. I call it “that damn north wind”.  

After I saw Paint your Wagon, I called the wind “Maria” for a while and drove Mama just about crazy singing the song over and over.

I always worry about downdrafts. Don’t like them. I worry about them when I am taking off and landing and they are a real nuisance when I try to light a fire in a fireplace with a cold chimney.

Is there such a thing as an “updraft”?

Some of my favorite names for wind….

Cat’s Paw is a tiny wind that touches the surface of the water as gently as a kitten. I feel it on my face before I see it on the creek.

Mistral is a French wind – cold and dry like wine.  I love that word.  It is also one of my favorite typefaces.

Gale  My Uncle Bill called me Brenda “Gale” and made a whooshing sound and laughed whenever I rode by on my bike. I wished my middle name hadn’t been spelled “Gail”.

Chinook  is  a western wind, of course, and I’m an eastern girl. It’s a word I only think of when I am in British Columbia. I like the word. I also like “Squamish”.

When I am in California I call the wind “Santa Ana”.

Squall reminds me of my grandmother. “Be careful Brenda Gail…looks like there’s a squall coming up.”

Sometimes I wish were the wind transparent and invisible. Just passing through.

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Still Arriving

doveThe tiny dove that made her nest on the top step of our ladder hasn’t moved a feather. I saw her for the first time while I was showing the man from Invisible Fence where I wanted him to bury the wire. John was at a meeting in New Jersey. I couldn’t wait for him to call so I could tell him about our bird. I was reminded of the bird that had nested in our window about five years ago. I recalled the first time I’d seen her. John was away then too – fishing. I had just returned from the National Gallery of Art where I had spent the afternoon looking at all the ways the Holy Spirit was represented in paintings. The Holy Spirit has always been the aspect of the Trinity that has intrigued me. Inspired by those portrayals of the Holy Spirit and my nesting bird, I wrote a poem that I called “The Comforter” recalling Christ’s promise to his Apostles. John and I watched the bird. Watched as her babies hatched. Watched as they flew for the first time. The symbolism united us. It was something that we shared. One or the other of us will still talk about that bird and the experience of watching those babies fly for the first time. Since that day, my faith has ebbed and flowed. Appropriate I should use those words because my faith is always strongest when I am near water. Funny that the turning points in my novel involve baptism and drowning. I am still arriving at belief. Maybe I will never arrive.

The Comforter

(I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. John 14:18)

I pause in the midst of my busywork and look up.
Outside, in the window above the woodstove I see a nesting bird.
So still.
So calm.
So perfect.
Alive or dead?
The pose so flawless as if sculpted by the hand of a great artist.
Alive or dead?
So still.
Had the nest been there yesterday? The day before?
Had it been there for many days?
Has it been so long since I paused and looked up?
Should I draw the bird or photograph her?
I look forward to John’s call so I can tell him about the nesting bird.
So still.
So calm.
So perfect.
But is she alive or dead?
I turn away and continue my busywork, but I hold the nesting bird in my thoughts.
Later, when I look up again, she is gone.
My nesting bird is alive and I know she will come again.

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