Welcome to my online portfolio!

I'm a writer living in St. Petersburg, Florida. I was raised in rural Maryland, a stone's throw from Baltimore City.

Here you'll find short stories, sample articles, and publication links.

I'm also found on: Pexels, a free stock photo sharing site, Redbubble, an indie artist hub, and YouTube, the largest internet video sharing website.

Thursday, August 4, 2022

New Nonfiction, Butler Road

Hello, I've been hard at work on my next collection of poems and also on a few horror thrillers, but have made a breaks in order to continue my work as Sunny Lancaster within the realm of nonfiction.


On the sidebar and below, you can read the newest addition to this portfolio, Butler Road



Butler Road

 

“Those who can’t do, teach,” he said. His hand wrapped around the steering wheel, while the free one reached up to wipe the condensation from his forehead. He stared at the road ahead and was likely referencing my mother’s new career. He was the one who left, but was insecure about her becoming a competent, independent woman. He’s always been mean like that, threatened by the success of anyone; he was threatened by the smallest things. 

He had a double chin, chestnut hair, and high cheek bones. Most of my life, he was pudgy and the rest of the time, he was a "two-ton Sally," although he'd never admit it for long. None of us in the family won the genetic lottery when it came to metabolism, as all my relatives struggled with weight. My grandparents were large, my aunt was both tall and rotund, my extended family too, all were old and quite big. I was the fattest kid in my kindergarten class, and stayed hefty as the years progressed. 

When they were married, things were one way. When they split, things were the same, but amplified.

My mother ate pan-seared ground beef with pepper and ketchup. She also made dry, oven-baked chicken. I'd watch her from the door frame, my hands held on to the white molding, and I'd do my best to hide my body in the darkness of the dinning room. She cooked in disposable, foil pans, and sprinkled on pepper from the shaker from atop the stove. Then, she'd set the oven, turn her back to me, and walk into another room.  

She didn't really do meals. Sometimes we had dinner, other times she'd eat once a day, and on others, nothing at all. It all caught up to her eventually. She didn't do well living on her own.

At first, my father left and I saw him drop pounds pretty quickly. During one car ride to his apartment, he bragged to me about his diet of one or two breath mints a day. He went on and on, electrified by the prospect, wondering out loud just how thin he could get. 

He didn't make it very long. It was unsustainable. A year or less later, he got hooked on opiates from his back and spine doctor. This new bodily chemistry made his emotions take off like a roller coaster and his appetite increase. As the dependency took priority, his memory short circuited.

Obviously, I tried the breath mint diet too, but I was a bottomless pit. It didn't go well, nothing did. I guess eating to cope is just in the genes. It took a long time for me to understand that the extreme highs and lows of my father’s mood were likely due to his inconsistent diet, although I’m sure the pills, alcohol, and traits of narcissism didn’t help either. 

Butler Road was an amazing stretch out in the country, smack between two small towns, just north of Baltimore. During the 90’s, it had open fields, large mansions surrounded by horse pastures, and a handful of historic, stone houses with dappled, garden walls made of the same brown and gray rock. There were old-growth trees and the land was flat, although much of Maryland is rich in rolling hills, or was at the time. 

In the last few decades, much of farmland has been replaced by newly built houses, each cluster sat on a cul-de-sac, court, or small street. Part of me wonders when the entire state will succumb to one long, unbroken chain of housing developments. I often wonder if places like Butler Road still exist, or are as beautiful as they once appeared. 

It was a cloudy day, one with thick, soupy, rain clouds padding the sky. During long car rides like this one, he took the opportunity to dump his chaotic advice and wandering ideas onto my fragile mind.

We had finished the days’ appraisal appointments, and were cutting across the state to return home. He didn’t work for any bank specifically, instead contracting for anyone who would have him, choosing the entire middle of Maryland as his territory. He appraised slums in the hood, houses where the walls moved from infestations of roaches, to houses that were so large and grandiose, that most of the population couldn’t fathom the square footage of living space equal to, or larger than, a multistory department store. Most of the time, he assessed average homes, those scattered and dotted within the state, belonging to families or credit unions, depending on circumstance, or life’s happenstance. 

I didn’t understand much of that then. His job was nothing like any of my friend’s dads had. In totality and essence, he was nothing like any of them. His personality was a level of inconsistency that kept me timid, a fact he’d often read and criticize, when feeling so bold.

My lips were too big. My stomach was too fat. I was too soft. I was too stupid. I was too smart for my classmates. I really understood things. I was wise beyond my years. I was the most immature person he'd ever met. His criticism was followed by praise, and then followed criticism again, so I’d try to steer the conversation to anything other than myself, which would always lend itself to the “advice” he spewed like a fountain.

He was a man who was erratic and hypocritical within his opinions and beliefs, and yet he couldn't stand to be wrong. He'd twist any sentence to suit him and argued details far past the expiration of their significance.

The car in front of us was driving 35 miles per hour. The speed limit was probably 35, but it could have been 40. My father drifted forward, closing the gap. He got so close to the bumper ahead of us, I could see the white hairs on the back of the driver’s head. 

Without so much as word, he jerked the wheel, narrowly missing the back corner of the other car, and accelerated. We darted parallel, into the lane for oncoming traffic. 

The road was freshly paved, with black asphalt and sporting a golden, double line. At first I turned to my window, trying to look at anything or anyone but him. I tried to look out past the other car, as the fields and barns, houses and trees.

He pressed the gas,

The car beside us did the same, zapping me back to reality, as I watched his car door stay next to us and linger ever closer.

Panic hit me. My father chirped like a sparrow, "You want a race, motherfucker?" 

He truly beamed. His red-faced smile gave way to laughter, and I recoiled from the sharp, high pitched sounds that erupted from his throat. I found myself glancing at the dashboard.

The speedometer reached 50, then 60, and then 65, but the other man matched us at every interval. The white sedan wasn’t fazed at all by this race, kept pace and stayed beside us, and both vehicles rapidly approached the stop sign at the end of the stretch. My father's words noodled out of him in spectacular fashion, many new combinations of curse words and threats, were yelled in my direction, at the other car just beyond me. 

He grimaced, red-lined past 80, and got in front of the other car. It was just in time to decrease to around 40 miles per hour and make an unstopping, left turn onto another road. We missed the ditch, but it was close. 

Both of his hands were wrapped tight and his knuckles were white. Sweat swamped his forehead and down his cheeks. One side of his mouth still smiled.

He then set his sights on me. He cussed me out, just as he did that old man, his vitriol and malice dripping from every word. He spat my name in the anger at the end of every threat. 

I had yelled and pleaded for him to stop, at around the 65 MPH mark, interrupting his diatribe, yelling over his laughter, and ruining his fun. 

After his rant ended, he followed with some guilt, and then a complex explanation that amounted to nothing. He then gave me the silent treatment the rest of the way home. It was both a burden and a relief wrapped into one.


Friday, June 3, 2022

The Absurdity in Wonderland

 This is a nonfiction story of the first time my father told me a story. Writing about my family is the only way I've come to understand them and my relationship with them. I hope you can join me in laughing at the absurdity of the events, rather than being cajoled into feeling emotional.

  


Into Wonderland

 

            I never figured out why he took me all the way up there. I always suspected some ulterior motive, somewhere within my head creases. I mean, he was out of his mind, high on bad thoughts and mania. What business did he have, bringing his daughter to an amusement park in Pennsylvania Dutch Country?

            It was pink, a pink outdoor castle. There were carnival rides, slides, and games. I wore a puffy jacket that made swishing noises when I flapped my arms. He watched me play coin operated games and stood at the bottom, while I rode down a pink tube on a potato sack. I was in hog heaven, lips stretched ear to ear.  

            He was distracted, like his attention was fully elsewhere, and although I tried to get him to play with me, he seemed like he would rather watch from afar. This was before cell phones, but the feeling he was busy talking to someone else persisted. Maybe that’s how he always was.

            I was six.

The mood flipped on its head. It went from reckless abandon to pestilent in an instant, so much so, that the color drained out from the world around us, leaving it bleak, black, and blue. He sunk to meet my gaze, with his hand on the bottom of my chin.

            “I’m going to tell you, what my father once told me.” He smirked and then forced down the corners of his mouth into a frown.

His eyes swallowed me.

            He was like a big, brown bear, sat snugly in a striped sweater, leaned over, and inches from my face.

            “When I was a little boy,” he began, in a sickly-sweet falsetto, “I was a spoiled boy. I always wanted more from my father, more, and more. It was never enough. Then, one day, when I was pitching a fit, bitching and moaning, about not having enough tickets to ride the damn merry-go-round, and my father takes me and turns me by the shoulders.”

            I shuddered, as if he grabbed mine from nowhere.

            He continued, “And when we turned, I saw… Now, this was in downtown Baltimore in the 1960’s, so you can just imagine what that was like. My father, your grandfather, then pointed, at this little boy, with a handful of crumpled tickets, and my father said to me, ‘Son, those tickets mean more to that boy than anything in the world’ and I was just taken aback, I looked and could see his eyes, then I noticed the little boy had holes in his feet, his shoes, and I felt so bad, for asking for more when all that other little boy had were those crumpled up tickets.” His voice turned into a rambling singsong. His cheeks were wet.

            There was a silence between us, as he seemed both satisfied and empty.

            In a tiny voice, I asked, “Did you give him your tickets?”

            He tilted his head with an exasperated expression, and as if I had no right to respond, and blurted, “I don’t think you understand the meaning of the story, and that makes me deeply sad.”

            His words and emotions went in, but they didn’t have an effect. Instead of guilt, I felt confusion; instead of shame, I was closer to stunned.

            More cautious than ever, I tried to clarify. “I asked if you gave him your tickets, like a nice thing to do, since he didn’t have any.”

            The air hung like suspended pennies, my chest tightened, and ghosts lingered in the peripheral.

From my perspective, the only logical, moral end to the story was obvious. I was just a kid, but I knew adults wanted us to share stuff, so much so, that it was repeated in classrooms and media all the time.

I guess he couldn’t stand to be outdone. Or maybe, he hadn’t thought that far ahead yet, choosing to get swept up in emotion rather than having a point. Either way, my father had a contingent lesson to instill: blatant, relentless sadness was virtuous. So, be sad. Feel unworthy. Hurt people.

Eventually, he taught me this over and over, through parables of intense emotion. His wording, the high tone of his storybook voice, his eccentric hand motions and little jabs at my character, all said the same thing to me: I could never be sad enough to win him over.

My confusion then, escalated.

Directly after his morally draining story, we entered the park’s souvenir shop and he told me to pick something. I thought it was some kind of test, so I didn’t, and that upset him further. I hemmed and hawed. He increased in moist, red-faced exasperation, and the clerk was staring holes into us. I hated being the kid of the crazy adult.

I got a cheap, resin cast ring. It held a pastel rainbow, suspended in clear blocks, and my little kid fingers were so fat, I could only wear it on my pinky. It was almost pretty and made in China.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday, May 30, 2022

New Nonfiction

Below is a story I've been trying to capture for years. It's not much, but it's almost my like my very own A&P. Some names have been changed. Others have not.



Not So Starry-Eyed Anymore

           

            Maybe, there’s a time outside of time, a way to bond by leaving our starry-eyed souls adrift on a raft floating on the universe’s tide, connected to life sideways, and sewn to one another with gossamer threads, like helium.

            It was at least 8 o’clock. I was freshly showered and my work clothes were jammed into a laundry bag. I was a cotton dress and flip flops, a headband, and adorned with maybe one trinket around my neck.

            I grabbed my Manchester United backpack and the handle of Sailor Jerry, because there’s no reason to live unless you go hard, right? I locked up, walked down the stairs, and met a man outside.

            He sat there, plastic cup, empty.

            “Hey,” I said and smiled.

            “Hey girl, hey,” he answered.

            “Noticed you’re empty. Tonight, I’ll be your booze fairy.”

            “Thank you, thank you, thanks.”

            Without removing the bottle from my bag, I unscrewed the cap, pried off the short plastic nozzle with my nails, and refilled him up. It was one of those good spirit moments, and after I left, he yelled something after me, compliments I couldn’t hear over the traffic, on my way to the marina.

            Bopping, I passed gas stations and pawn shops. The night air was cool and wet. Blackness swallowed the sky and the four railway buildings, fancy manila towers, stoic guards of the street looked down upon us tiny peasants.

The small bridge, known to eat cars when the roads flooded was dry and empty. I looked down over the edge into the dark water, seeing my own reflection and the bright orbs of street lamps. The sounds of people laughing and cars swooshing by followed me like music on the seaside wind.

            A car honked, either carrying a friend, or someone I’d know from the future. I reached the light that separated Lincolnville from West King, with only the tiniest shred of memory from when I lived over that way, even though it was only two years before this.

            I went left, passing another pawnshop and the liquor store. I reached the Welcome to Our City sign and started down a path that led to the inlet. I kept one eye on the mangroves, as more than once a ghost crab sashayed out in front of my stride, presented his little claws in fierce sign language, and asked for a dance.

            Flouncing like a cheap napkin, I trotted into the tiny marina, listening to the mumbles of the gathering, already in swing.

            The night felt humble, and it was at least ten hours of freedom until the work day ahead.

            I greeted the group, unzipping my bag, and presented the bottle. While half holding my crap to the side, Peter clasped my elbow, we locked forearms, and he pulled me up onto the deck. I gave him The Sailor, closed my bag, and stashed it in the cockpit.  

            Edmond was the first to grab the bottle. He and Jeff were in some discussion about Spoon or the Decemberists; I couldn’t tell who, to be honest. I knew he played them for me, for everyone, all the time, but I hadn’t bothered to find out which was which.

            Mid-sentence, he tipped the bottle back and took a big glug and passed it to Jeff, who didn’t drink just yet, but instead took it and handed it to Peter, who smiled and took a large swig as well. He wiped his lips with the back of his hand, and then walked the heavy, glass bottle back to me, held it out, and winked.

I said, “Eh, later,” as I really hadn’t had time that day to think. The intoxication of the night air was humming louder than the conversations around me, and I wanted just a few minutes to feel something other than drunk or high.

I saw Benjamin’s ears perk up at my refusal and he gave me a half-glance from over his shoulder, as he lounged within one of the twin nets on the bow.

Liquidized amber colored fire was a better description for the liquor, but we just called her The Sailor. She loved to tease. Drink her once, and the shot will burn you, but all you feel is a tiny buzz. It’s like nothingness zipping through you, as a quick, fleeting haze. Drink her again, and she goes down a little easier, but it’s just more of the first. Drink her a third time, and the first shot finally starts to hit you, followed in rapid succession of numbers two and three.

She takes her admirers from sitting… to tiptoes and screaming!

I wasn’t ready for any of that, so I decided, the nets.

            I slipped off my flops, took cold footsteps on the ridged plastic, toes touching puddles and slid into one on the other side of Ben, facing the opposite direction, with the party before me, and him to my right.

            “Benjamin! What’s up?”

            He filled me in on his musings, life as a first mate, and Peter’s boat things. They were pulling up anchor soon, and heading out to more open waters.

            Peter, as if on cue, brought the bottle over and held it out to Ben, who shook his head also.

            This caused my eyebrows skip upwards, and I leaned over the tiny point between us, and said, “Not drinking? You… okay?”

He nodded.

The conversation behind him grew livelier, sucking the captain back in, who continued with his boisterous stories and pirate tales.

Benjamin turned his head around and made sure Peter and the others were more occupied, and then looked back at me with excitement in his eyes.

            “I have a new game,” he said, with intensity uncharacteristic of his relaxed fa├žade.

“Oh?” I answered, with deep interest.

“I sit around and watch everyone getting drunker and drunker. You should try it. It’ll open your eyes,” he nearly whispered.

I didn’t answer, just considered the notion. Nothing seemed abnormal. The guys were just talking, like they always did. Hannah emerged from the back of the boat with Roy, loudly laughing and joining in.

Ben leaned in and said, “It will get funnier, just watch.”

He smiled like a devil and I knew I was in. This would be the night I just watched. Jeff took his first swig and Hannah soon followed.

            Each net was like a hammock, and although they seemed small compared to the size of the deck, I had enough room to stretch out and have some left over. I shouldn’t have been surprised when Baby Bro and William showed up with some other girls, that Bro-Bro climbed right in.

            “I love my big sis!” he said and gave me a squeeze, before l could wiggle free. We leaned back, on elbows, with my toes and his sneakers against the nylon ropes. His words tumbled out, about his first week on the job, his discoveries, friends, and enemies. He was proud and wanted me to be too. In the six months I knew him, he went from crybaby to young gentleman, imminent scholar.

            He went to finish rounds and also headed towards the bottle.

            Peter came over again, to both Ben and I, looking frowny.

            “Drink, drink!” he said, “It’s a party, time to have fun.”

            I said, “I already had some.”

            But Ben was brave, and just shook his head.

            Peter frowned again, pointed at him, and muttered, but I didn’t catch it.

            I repositioned, turning around so as to let the party rumble behind me also, space out, and half sleep, while gazing across the small waves.  

            Things got louder.

            Edmond and William strutted over towards the ladder.

“We’ll be back!” Edmond shouted, and waved, with a drunken sarcasm.

“Where are they going?” someone asked.

            “To get pizza,” someone else responded.

            Things frayed and became looser, so much so that I turned to face Ben, who had also turned his body to be diagonal to the sea.  We didn’t speak, and as I was about to, he held his first finger up to his lips, to tell me not to. It was as if to say, if didn’t do anything, we could be invisible for the entire night, and that was somehow valuable.

            I gave in and remained mute, only speaking with silence.

            Jeff got wild, his jokes were like cocaine, but had no punchline. He posed like a statue, leapt up and shadow boxed, kicked, spun, and almost went off the side.

Ben was right, things got interesting. Although, Benjamin seemed to tune in and out of the chaos, like he was in a boring lecture, I’m not sure my face looked as detached.

My body got sore. Ungraceful as a fish, I climbed my way back up to the sturdier part of the boat, into the hubbub and unfinished sentences.

            I sat by Hannah. She went on and on about I’m not sure. I joined in some of the conversation, but kept my eyes out, watching the shape of the spectacle; it moved like some erratic, deep sea octopus. Every so often, I thought I caught a whiff of Ben thinking, but he always returned his face to ease and detachment.

            Hours passed, like I was inside some strange TV show. I was there, but I wasn’t; not drunkenly fighting for attention, not screaming or singing, or putting my arms around anyone’s shoulders or pushing away someone’s hands or lips. It was like being invisible, but not.

            The comedy flipped, as Baby Bro reappeared, looking angry, and pushed past me on the bench, I said, “Hey!” as he brushed against my arm and tried to collect him. He escaped my hands, and I let him go.

            William and Edmond entered the stage, looking red faced and wrong. William was silent as a stone, and Edmond sputtered like a muddy engine. He paced, shook his hands out at his sides, and ran pale, thin fingers, through thick black hair.

            The two girls, totally wasted by then, went up to him and one asked, “What’s wrong?”

            “My car got hit by a train!” he yelled, probably too loud.

            The one girl looked at the other and started laughing, “No…” she said, still laughing, “No…”

            “It got hit by a train! It’s gone! It’s broken! Ka-blam!” he said, tossing his hands up.

            From behind, Peter put a heavy hand on his shoulder, and brought him in. He said softly, “calm down. It’s a party. Relax.” Edmond ripped way from him, but did quiet. With shaking hands, he removed his glasses and wiped tears from his eyes.

            He raised The Sailor to his lips and took a long pull. Then, he took the box of cigarettes from his shirt pocket, and lit one up.

            He had a few more swigs, and sat, saying nothing. William and Baby Bro had disappeared to the stern, and the girls they brought were in their own world. Jeff returned to his silliness and Ben remained in the net.

            When he was half finished with his smoke, I stood, and went over to him. Hannah followed.

            “Wait, what happened?” I asked, holding his open hand and looking into his face.

            He took back his hand, and faced the empty cockpit. Without returning his gaze, he said, “We ran out of gas, right on the tracks. The train was coming. William and I got out. There was only time to start running.”

            I gasped, “Wow, really?”

            “All my CDs were in there, all my stuff, we didn’t have time to grab anything.”

            “How far did you run?”

            “I don’t know. It was so loud. I’m probably going to jail.”

            He cried again, so I hugged him. Peter and Hannah found their arms around him also. In the embrace, his breath returned.

            We let him go and he almost smiled.

            We didn’t try to come up with a plan. We didn’t do anything. Everyone knew that Edmon drove his Honda on E with the gas light on for days at a time, and more than once seemed to enjoy being stuck on the side of the road.

            It terrified me, but exhilarated him. That or it was just another way he could prove to everyone that he was unworthy and an outcast.

We got on well, because we understood one another. We both believed we were less than trash, and in this we reveled. A few months later, we’d take my car from Florida to Maine to visit our favorite lobby girl.

As I sat next to him, Hannah speaking, me listening, Peter whistling, I felt the call of The Sailor. I’d hate to lose the game on the first try, so instead I just looked at the packaging.

            Although the boat was full, we felt the missing. I’m sure Edmond’s thoughts were of Devon, back in ‘Bama, wondering why he left and if he’d call.

My thoughts were with Jude, Amadeus, and Bradley. One was back home in Panama City, another was with a pretty lady with glitter in her hair, and the last was either on a train or in Ocala.

The calm in our quiet moment didn’t last. Baby Bro and William made their exit. Wine coolers and beers appeared, along with new faces, and others I barely knew cycled in and out, creating a second, glorious uproar. Eventually, even Jeff turned quiet, as he curled up on his side, precariously close to the edge. Benjamin got out of the net then, only to make sure his friend didn’t roll off.

The chatter died down, and guests thinned, but every time anyone looked over at him, Edmond had his lips on The Sailor. He drank harder and harder, until Peter grabbed it from him, and took what remained somewhere below.

 

I woke up to seagulls and the rising sun. Air flowed beneath me, and through the open windows of the ropes. Morning light glimmered into my eyelashes.

Before I fully opened my eyes, I had no identity, no cares, and no feeling except the embrace of the net, a waking dream that lent myself to feeling more relaxed than I had ever felt.

If things were different, I never would have moved.

As if it heard my plans, the sun perked up, warming me skin, as if to say, “No, you have to go back to real life.”

Groggily, with little sleep, I surrendered to the drudges.

I found my backpack and my shoes. I found missed calls and texts and the time, just past 7am. I found Peter awake and smiling, Ben asleep and drooling, and some kind of cute dog-pile on top of Jeff, with both of those girls and the cushions from the bench.

I didn’t see the bottle and I didn’t see Edmond.

Later that week, I saw him with his CD case, and not a scratch on it or him.

I played the game two or three more times, and without consulting one another, Benjamin and I both returned to the hardy party mindset, imbibing on boats, in houses, or on porches.

 

 

 




About Me

               My biggest inspiration for writing is David Sedaris. I listened to his 2004 essay collection: “Dress Your Family in Corduroy ...