Lori Thatcher

Writing and Thinking about writing


Difficult Characters

“I can’t have red hair.” That’s the first thought I notice in my rousing-from-sleep brain. The second is, “Was that thunder?”

It might have been the thunder that woke me. I enjoy changes in weather: lightning, rain, fog, thunder. They often wake me predawn and call me to sit in the dark with the sliding glass door open, watching and listening.

At least I hope it was the thunder and not the redhead. It’s bad enough the characters in my WIP intrude on mealtimes, grab me in the middle of the grocery store so I have to scribble words on the back of a receipt. It’s bothersome when I can’t get to sleep, compelled to spend hours contemplating how to get Harry from the beach where he wanted to kill himself to the backroom of the seedy bar where he’s going to rescue the damsel in distress.

But to have one of you wake me up in the middle of the night is just too much.

Go back to sleep, redhead. The morning will be soon enough to bleach your hair blond, or figure out how to describe that shade of brunette which favors people of Italian descent.

It’s 2 a.m., and if it was you, I implore you, “Leave me alone and let me sleep.”

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Once a month or so, a pinpoint of light appears in the center of my field of vision. If I’m watching TV or driving in the car, I don’t notice it at first, but if I’m staring at a blank page or even the blank computer screen, I see it right away.

This time, I pick up the bottle of liquid Advil capsules nearby and realize it’s empty. I shake it to make sure, and then panic. I yell to my husband to help me find some. There’s usually a small supply in my handbag and another in the car, since I don’t want to be caught without it. The sooner I take them, the less time I will lose to this migraine.

By the time I down the pills, the point has grown to a circle, the size of a penny at arm’s length. Within the tiny circle, the colors are brighter and distorted by undulating lines. It’s not dissimilar to the areas of wavy glass on very old window panes that bend and alter the light passing through them.

It’s impossible to look away from it. As I avert my gaze, it follows, always in the center of my field of vision. It’s like the floaters in my aging eyes, except when I try to look straight at those, they jump to the side. This spot is impossible to look away from. Even closing my eyes doesn’t make it disappear and it carries into the dark of shielded eyes or unlit room, the last colors in view, magnified and sparkling.

By now it’s impossible to read written words. Soon it would be dangerous to drive, or for me, even to walk.

By the time it’s grown to the size of an apricot at arm’s length, the spot will change into a zigzag, wavy, backwards C. It will continue growing, usually until it takes up half of my field of view.

I go and lie down with my hand over my eyes to wait out the twenty minutes it usually takes for it to develop and then dissolve.

Except that this time, the capital C is not backwards and it disappears before it gets much bigger than a grapefruit. Different than usual.

Still, I’ll have to wait another twenty to thirty minutes to know if I medicated fast enough to dodge the headache completely, or just to mute it. Regardless, I’ll be left slightly nauseated, like I imagine a mild hangover would feel, similar to how I feel the day after taking the Valium that allows me to tolerate being constricted in an MRI.

The first time I experienced this migraine, I was in my thirties. Late for supper, I was making a quick stop at a discount store after a long day at work and before a long drive home, desperate to find an appropriate white blouse for a performance by the chorus I had joined recently. Without warning, the light in the store changed, increasing in intensity and appearing to flicker. I tried to ignore it, but finally, with several white shirts in my hand, I ducked into the dressing room and cowered on the bench. Lines of fluorescent lights above me changed into menacing zigzag teeth. Was I losing my sanity?

Closing my eyes didn’t help, the gaping mouth stalked into the dimmed area behind my eyelids. I froze and attempted to slow my breathing and relax; perhaps it was just stress playing tricks on me. After a while the visions dispersed and I flew out of the cubicle and thrust the hangers at the attendant mumbling something about the clothes not working.

I was already more than half way home when the nausea hit and horrid pain clamped onto my head. I took some aspirin from the glove department, dissolving several of the foul tasting tablets in my mouth. But it was too late to help. A half hour later, I limped up the steps into my home, said barely a word to my husband and tunneled under my bedcovers. Sleep brought relief but the next morning, I felt hung over.

The lull between the visual disturbance and the headache was such that it took two more occurrences before I made the connection. Now it’s a rush—get some pills into me as soon as I see the pinprick and I can intercept and knock down the worst. I still get the hangover, but it’s not dreadful.

I feel lucky not to undergo the excruciating, debilitating pain most migraine victims do. If I have to be a migraine sufferer, this silent migraine or “aura type” is probably the best type of migraine to have. As soon as I think that, it seems silly to me, like I had any choice in it. But not quite the same way it did in 2003 when my gynecologist called me in on lunch hour with the office closed and dark—“Knock on the window and I’ll let you in.”—to hold my hand and gently tell me I had cancer. She said, “If you have to have cancer, this is the one to have.” I pray it will be, one day, a world where no one has to have cancer, or for that matter, migraines.

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Fleeing the Cold

A grey day on St Augustine Beach

A grey day on St Augustine Beach

I would celebrate yet another windy grey day here in Florida if it weren’t for the family in the vacation rental next door. I can afford a few days of bad weather, a trifling part of the three months I’ll be here. And besides, something about lousy weather charms this Northern-girl-at-heart. Even a crummy day here rarely features the icy walking conditions which trap me inside in Massachusetts.

Instead it’s a refreshing deviation from Florida’s boundless sunlit days for someone in love with the “wait a minute” New England weather.

But not for this family. They’re here to trade seven days in the refrigerated north for a blissful week in warm, sunny Florida. Except it isn’t. Not now. One balmy bright day bookended by seemingly endless grey, foggy rifts with rain thrown in here and there. I watch Mom and Dad drag their beach chairs and sand toys across the walkway, the kids cocooned in freshly purchased sweatshirts. They huddle on the sand, determined to have a time on the beach to recall.

Me? I’m inside, But I can’t draw my gaze away from the seascape. The palm tree fronds whip back and forth, the ocean flaunts whitecaps as far as I can see, and the horizon is cottoned by grey. I slide the glass door open just an inch to relish the wail of the wind. The kid’s voices are gusted to me by the squall, “Daddy, can we go inside?”


The Cutting Saddle, 400 word Challenge

The cow was to be separated from the herd. The rider kept light contact on the reins, and quietly walked into the herd. Natural aptitude, “cow sense,” and intelligence helped, but it was good training that made this horse a master. The herd milled, but didn’t bolt. The horse waited, without anticipation or nervousness.

Finally the rider identified the cow, and smoothly drove it to the edge of the herd. When a slight separation was attained, the rider dropped the reins, sat deep in the close-contact cutting saddle, grabbed hold of the horn and allowed the horse to take control.

With a good horse, that moment was absolute magic. Anticipating every move the cow made, staying between it and the herd, barring the way, countering every change in direction. Like a ballet, or maybe more likened to a prize-fight, stopping short, whirling and changing direction, without over-shooting each turn.

The horse’s concentration was palpable, nostrils flaring, ears pointing, and every sinew of his being focused on the cow. Nothing else intruded, only the smell of horse sweat, the creak of the saddle, the pounding of hooves. And then it was over. The cow tired and gave up trying to return to the herd. With a lift of the reins, the rider told the horse to quit the cow. The best horses did it quietly, relaxing into calm and waiting for the next one.

After a long day, the rider would un-tack his horse, throw his cutting saddle over a fence, and loose his horse until the next day.

“And I was part of that. My rider sat deeply in my seat and listened to the creak and groan of my leather as his horse moved. I didn’t need polishing because his denim-covered bottom accomplished that each day.”

I imagine that the Circle Y cutting saddle is saying that, remembering those times and the riders which depended on it. Now it sits on a saddle rack in a seldomly frequented tack room. I brush away the thick layer of dust that somehow manages to waft under the covering.

Somehow I hear the saddle’s voice and it says to me, “It isn’t fair. I want to be on the back of a good horse working the herd with a rider sitting quiet.”

I no longer ride and have kept the saddle in sentimentality. But today, maybe I’ll listen to it.

The Challenge is from:

RemembeRED: Personification 

Write on Edge: RemembeREDOn Tuesday, inspired by Terry, I asked: Do objects have a memory? Does a rocking chair hold the essence of the snuggles it has witnessed? Does a pottery mug remember the comforting warmth it offered a struggling soul?

The dictionary defines personification as “the attribution of a personal nature or human characteristics to something nonhuman, or the representation of an abstract quality in human form.”

Now it’s your turn to tell a piece of your story from the point of view of an object who bore witness in 400 words or less.

Horse graphic courtesy of: website at: http://alove4horses.com/free-horse-clip-art/


The Boundless Sea

        When I was fourteen, I saw the sea. I might have enjoyed it more if I hadn’t been convinced that I was approaching my last breath.

        My Dad had lived with his sister ever since he was released from the hospital after being shot by his lover’s husband. His visits were wrapped in disagreement between him and my mother. I grew sad and fearful.

        I took to consulting a Ouija board. It spelled out words I didn’t know. We spoke to souls of the dead – one hanged for stealing a chicken. It was an appealing diversion for sheltered country kids.

        When my father decided to take my brother and me to Maine on our first-ever vacation, I was ecstatic—the sea. My mother bought us new clothes, normally a once-a-year occurrence.

        Before we were to leave, the Ouija board spelled out that if I left Massachusetts in the next month, I would perish. “Doesn’t perish mean die?” I asked.

        Suddenly the trip was a death sentence. But it would be unthinkable to even tell my father, never mind cancel.

         I felt like a person on death row. The world was at once sweeter and sadder. I said goodbye to my mother and my horse. I wore my seat belt without being told. I awaited my impending death.

        We had not yet seen the sea before we crossed the border to New Hampshire. I was sure I would die without having seen it, but the border fell behind us and I still drew breath.

         Then it came into view—the vast, the limitless, sea. I breathed easier, surely this could not be the last time I would see it. Somehow I came to believe it wouldn’t be. Little by little, I relaxed.

         It indeed wasn’t my last time.


This Challenge prompt was from: 

Write On Edge: Red-Writing-HoodThis week,  Kir of The Kir Corner gave us this quote:

“The cure for anything is salt water….sweat, tears or the sea.”
~ Isak Dinesen, pseudonym of Baroness Karen von Blixen-Finecke

Did you come to a resolution by the sea? Did a character reach a crossroads of sweat and tears?

Link up your 300 salty words (oooh!), but only if you’ve responded to the prompt.


Lift Off Response to Write on Edge Surprise Challenge

I wasn’t sure if it was the earth moving or just the air vibrating, but the tremble sunk to my bones. It felt at once all around me and inside me. The light was so bright, it took over the task of casting shadows from the sun.
I watched it in binoculars until I saw the two pinpoints of light that were the solid fuel tanks jettisoning.
When it was gone we turned to each other and I couldn’t stop laughing. It was bubbling up from the vibrations that had been forced into my bones.
One of the ladies who had been standing next to me turned and said, “Well, isn’t that something?”
That statement has always felt like it didn’t really mean anything to me, but I found myself answering, “It sure was. It was really something.”


Far Away

The doorbell rang, but Louise ignored it.  There was no one she wanted to see in the entire state of Florida, no one she even knew except her landlady, a wrinkled, crabby old woman.

After her last fall on an icy doorstep, her husband Alan had insisted they spend the winter in a warm climate, and she felt she had to comply, but she missed  her Vermont home and family members who visited often. Now it was Christmastime.

 The doorbell rang again. “Wait,” she called, opening the door, sporting her own wrinkled, crabby-old-woman face. The young man’s smile wavered as he swayed on the doorstep balancing a big cardboard box.

“Hi, I’m Jeff, your daughter told you I’d be coming.” At Louise’s confused look, he continued. “Mrs. Alan Webster? I’m delivering a Christmas present from Sally.”

She held out her arms to take the box, but he said, “I need to set up this computer, so you can video chat.” He came in before Louise realized she had stepped back.

She woke Alan from his recliner-nap and told him to watch the boy while she called Sally.

“Mom, I forgot to tell you.” Sally apologized. “It’s our Christmas present. Everyone is coming for super tonight and I know you’re sad you can’t be here. ”

Before long the young man was showing Alan how to connect. Like magic, their daughter Sally was right there on the screen in the living room, and at suppertime, Louise and Alan grinned and waved into the screen as they spoke to each grand child.

When Sally returned to the screen, Louise had tears in her eyes. “This is the best present ever,” she said.

“Look Mom.” Sally turned the camera toward the lighted front yard, and the snow began to fall.

Red Writing Hood

Write On Edge: Red-Writing-Hood December calendars are filling up, notes about what to cook and who to see; some of the obligations traced lovingly with a smile and some met with a frown.

This week we asked you to use the holiday season to inspire you to write a piece beginning with “The doorbell rang” and ending with “snow began to fall.”



“Don’t cut my hair, Ma. I need to go to a beauty place. Please!”

My mother told me to stop whining. I knew I had only a few seconds before she would say I should go tell it to the chickens, so I talked faster. “Janey got a perm and everyone loves her hair. No one likes my hair. I hate my hair.”

“Come here.” She peered at me and I peered back from under my too-long bangs. She fluffed up my straight, shoulder-length brown hair and sighed. “We’ll go tomorrow.”

I was thrilled, even though tomorrow was Friday and I would have to wait until Monday to show off my beauty-place hair.”

Friday at school was two days long. I ran all the way from the bus stop, charging through the stubble in the corn field. Ma met me on the doorstep with her old black pocket-book. We walked to the neighbor’s house and got a ride into town.

The place smelled smoky and there were old men sitting in chairs against the wall, but I was delighted when the man draped me with a black plastic cape. I couldn’t see the mirror, but I watched the hair fall onto the floor and imagined what everyone would say. I felt special; I couldn’t remember ever going to town just for me.

Monday morning, my hair was messy, but I combed it all the way to school. I paraded in beaming and everyone smiled at my beautiful hair. When Janey asked me where I got my hair done, I said, “At the beauty place.”

She said it looked like someone had put a bowl on my head. I didn’t care. My ma hadn’t cut my hair. She took me to a beauty place, and I felt beautiful.

Write On Edge: Red-Writing-Hood

This week we asked you to write about hair. So many of us have a love-hate relationship with it. For some of us, it’s our defining feature. Whatever it means to you – or to your characters – we want to know about it.

But we don’t want you to simply describe it. We want you to use it as a vehicle to tell us something about your character, a situation, you or your life. And you needed to keep it to 300 words.

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The Forest

“Close your eyes and think of a place where you feel relaxed and safe. You could be lying on a sandy beach or overlooking the Grand Canyon. Choose a place you can see clearly in your mind.”

I closed my eyes. The counselor was guiding me through a relaxation exercise to help me manage anxiety I was feeling during my freshman year of college. I was a high school dropout who began college as an adult with complications: a job, a marriage and a kindergartener in a parent cooperative school.

When she asked me to visualize a place, I knew immediately where it was – a small section of forest I had stumbled upon earlier in the year.

We moved to New Bedford in 1975 for my husband, David, to complete his bachelor’s degree. Our rundown apartment was on a peninsula that separated the harbor from the cove. The setting didn’t faze me, especially since the smell of sea salt infused the air. Although the ocean was right at the end of our street, the deep channel on the other side of the sea wall was too dangerous to bring five-year-old Justin, so we brought him to play at a little beach not far away. The water was chilly but he dug channels and constructed castles and moats.

There were no facilities and after a while I left David with Justin playing in the sand and looked for an alternative convenience. I crossed an open grassy field and found a small path leading through some bushes. As I parted the branches and stepped into the deeply shaded forest, I entered another world.

The temperature dropped and surrounding noises disappeared. Only a trace of sifted sunlight reached the forest floor and the earth was like a thick sponge, covered with emerald moss and miniature ferns. Rivulets crisscrossed the ground and fingers of mist rose from each one, giving the forest a primeval aura. It was not just beautiful; it was enchanted.

I forgot my original mission. I lay down on a smooth mossy bed looking up through the pattern of leaves to tiny patches of blue sky. I listened to the raucous call of a crow and suddenly, I was the big black bird perched in the canopy surveying the scene below. I examined the cushion of moss with its little reddish capsules, like miniature flowers waving over a green lawn. I picked out a tiny path between the moss gardens. Little stick fences bordered the trail leading to a notch in the side of a tree – a diminutive door to the fairy’s bower.

I felt a deep yearning to remain in this tranquil place, divorced from the mushrooming responsibilities of my life.

It seemed only a few minutes, but my sense of time must have warped, and when I returned to the beach, we had to leave so I wouldn’t be late for my GED class. I described to my family the magical place I had found, the memory already indelible.

During David’s spring semester, he had encouraged me to apply for admission. I was full of doubt and insecurity, but I unenthusiastically signed up for a prep class for my GED. I passed easily and registered for the fall semester. Justin was enrolled in Learning Tree School, a parent cooperative in Tiverton, so we moved to Portsmouth, Rhode Island.

Once I began college, free time was non-existent. Morning car pool; a twenty mile commute to SMU; a full course load; and five to ten hours a week doing work study and tutoring at Learning Tree kept my days hectic. In addition, I worked overnight shifts 20 to 30 hours a week as a private duty nurse’s aide in Newport, Rhode Island. I was routinely sleep deprived.

When I arrived home on Saturday or Sunday mornings, I found it almost impossible to give up the day with my family just to go to sleep. I would lie awake a long time, doze for a few hours, and then drag myself out of bed to get ready for work again.

But I loved college as much as I had hated high school. Finally I hungered to learn. The other freshmen all seemed so young and carefree, but I was determined to do as well—or better—than they did. This resolve multiplied my stress.

I was feeling swamped when I saw the poster at school which mirrored my thoughts: “Feeling Overwhelmed? Our counselors can help.” I made an appointment right away.  

I used the image of the forest in meditation frequently during that year, when I was terrified before a biology test or feeling such panic that dropping out of college seemed inevitable. But I never had time to go back to the forest physically. I intended to, and I planned to, over and over again. But each time, something would intrude or some necessity would supersede my goal. When I finished my freshman year, we were bound for New Orleans. I transferred to Southeastern Louisiana University and carried the forest with me.

After many moves, we ended up returning to our home region in western Massachusetts. We added two new members to our family when David’s young nieces came to live with us after their father died, presenting new kinds of challenges. David and I were also struggling to run a fledgling automotive advertising publication.

I learned to use other methods to de-stress, different meditations and prayer, but whenever I would call the image of that forest to mind, it would spring to life complete with its peacefulness and magic.

In the mid-1990s, we took a snorkeling trip toRhode Island, but met rough surf so we followed the coast toNew Bedford looking for a sheltered cove. As we approached the familiar, yet unfamiliar, beach, I found myself holding my breath, excited but with an underlying trepidation. How would time have tainted my haven? The small beach hadn’t changed much, although the nearby parking lot was somewhat spiffed up.

While everyone went to the water, I veered away, pausing to orient myself. Although I located the grassy area behind the beach, I could not find my forest. It hadn’t been replaced by development; it just wasn’t where I remembered it. I walked back and forth, trying to recreate my path. In one area, a fence barred my way, but beyond was an open rocky knoll which probably didn’t  replace the moist low area of the forest. At times, I thought I caught a whiff of the sweet moist loam and swamp decay, but it dissipated with any slight turn of my head. 

I searched until I heard the others calling for me. I was tired, but reluctant to involve my companions in the hunt, so I left without finding the forest. Curiously, there was a strange relief in my leaving, as if, by not locating it, I had preserved something precious. Was I hesitant to perhaps discover that it was not all that I remembered?  I’m not sure, but somehow I haven’t felt like going back to try to find it since.

The memory of the forest remains etched in my mind as vividly as if I walked there yesterday, with an added ethereal property springing from my failure to find it again.  The explanation is probably simple, that it seemed much closer when I was twenty years younger. Still, I can’t help fantasizing that it was like Brigadoon, appearing only once every hundred years, or like Shangri-La only being findable to someone who really needed it.


What is your biggest frustration about driving?

Scott Berkun | September 10, 2011 at 9:33 am |
Topic #246:
What is your biggest frustration about driving?
Is it people who don’t know how to merge? Or the ones who leave their turn signals on for decades? Maybe it’s simply the horrors of a daily commute in traffic? Identify your biggest annoyance and explain why it frustrates you so much.

My answer:
The only thing that actually makes me frustrated is drunk driving or dangerous driving. If someone is going too slow or a bit too fast, or merging too slowly, or using the breakdown lane in a traffic jam – that’s no more than a minor inconvenience to me and so what?. I figure the world is full of imperfect people and I have pretty much made every mistake or foolish move that any other driver has. Why spend my time worrying their moves? If I have to go slower I try to savor the extra quiet time. If I’m stopped in a traffic jam – I take out my binoculars and examine details of a nearby structure or a beautiful tree in the distance. Life is too damn short to fill it with anger towards my fellow drivers, and every moment of life is worthwhile.
I know this seems a bit too “peace and love,” for me but it’s actually mostly self-preservation. I can’t have all that emotion battering me every time I drive, and I have wasted too much time worrying about other people’s behavior.