Herculean.

Oh, hi there. It’s been a while, huh? In short, I loathe winter and with all the polar vortexes and all that, my writing has been suspended by a lack of desire, inspiration, and general movement in my hands. But here we are. Hi, again.

This will be brief. I’m here to post a song that I find hard to not play 100 times in a row, something that pretty much exemplifies my absolute and near manic love of music. (I’ll write another post about music and writing and how, for me, the two go hand in hand.) It’s a song entitled Hercules by Sara Bareilles (if you’re not a fan of hers, I very much want to pinch you for this error in judgment) and I just think it sums up the struggle and the subsequent rallying that exists in the writing life, the female life, the daughter life, the sister life–essentially, everything it takes to be a woman and an artist living on this earth right now today. All encapsulated within an inescapable melody, lovely vocals, and a thumping beat. Listen, won’t you?

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Short Story Prompt – 01/06/14

Title: My Problem

Finish these sentences: “I have a little bit of a problem. I like to __________. It all started when I was __________, when __________.”

I have a little bit of a problem. I like to follow people. Stalk them, to be specific. It all started when I was 10 years old, when my mother and I would follow my father around to see if he was cheating on her. Back then, even at 10, I was aware that something wasn’t right with my father. He stopped coming to my concerts and to Parent Night at school. He also started going away a lot, either on business trips or visiting out of town friends; disappearing into the basement when he would get a call and whispering into the phone. My mother saw those things, as well.

I remember walking into her bedroom one breezy, warm afternoon. The windows were open because our air conditioner was broken, and we couldn’t afford one just yet. We could never afford things back then. My father never seemed to have enough money when it came to us or the house, and he was the only one working. She was sitting on the bed, crying, gripping the cordless phone in her hands. I immediately began to cry, as well, as I could never stand to see my mother in pain or distress, and usually joined her in however she was manifesting her feelings. A kind of adolescent solidarity, I suppose. I sat next to her.

“Mommy, what’s wrong?” I asked, out of breath from sobbing along with her.

“Nothing, my love. But no more soccer after school. We need to take care of something with your father.”

After that day, my mother would pick me up from school and drive to my father’s office. We would park far away to ensure that he didn’t see her car, but close enough to keep an eye on the building. She would buy bags of snacks and books to keep me entertained while she kept a fixed stare on the building. She never ate. She barely replied when I would remark about something exciting in the latest book I was reading. She simply stared at the building. Eventually, I stopped eating and reading, as well. I climbed into the passenger seat and stared at the building right along with her.

The first few times, when my father finished work and got into the car, we would follow him to bars, or jazz clubs in the city. We never saw a woman. He would stay inside for hours then drive home. My mother would stay behind a few cars, again ensuring that she kept a good distance but enough to see him. Once we were sure he was heading home, we would drive to the grocery store or to the bookstore and then come home later. “So that we’re not lying when we tell him where we were,” Mom liked to say. It was like this for about a month, and then things changed.

We didn’t see a woman leaving with my father from a bar, or a club. Rather, she walked out of the office with him one afternoon. She had long, blonde hair, and the kind of tight dress that looked like breathing would tear it in half. My father had his arm around her, and he walked her to her car. When they reached her car, my father kissed this strange woman in a way that didn’t give me the butterfly feeling, the tickling in my belly when I would see two people kissing in Disney movies. This was wrong, and it made my stomach hurt. I recall hearing my mother gasp.

After that afternoon, we followed my father to all kinds of places after work. The blonde woman was always with him. They went to hotels, motels, the woman’s apartment building. My mother seemed to hold her breath during those long hours in the car when my father was inside with the woman. She rarely moved. I knew not to complain about the heat in the car, or that I was dizzy, or to ask whether we could turn the car on for some AC. I knew to keep quiet.

My parents divorced when I was 11 years old. Mom and I moved from Savannah to Syracuse, where my grandparents lived. Mom never re-married, and she never mentioned my father again.

It started with a boy I liked in high school. Billy McGee. He was the smartest boy in our class; in Honors everything, it seemed. By the time I was 16 and inherited my Grandpa’s Cadillac, I began to follow Billy from school after tennis practice. I can’t really describe the decision to follow him around. Maybe I wanted to see what his life outside of school was like. Maybe I wanted to just see him, or just be in the proximity. I don’t know. After Billy, it was Mike Cousins, my next crush. After Mike, it was Candy Russo, who started dating Billy when we were seniors. I wanted to catch her doing something illegal, to prove to myself that she didn’t deserve Billy, even though I had moved on from him.

When I graduated high school, my father sent me a card and $1,000. I gave the money to my grandparents.

In college at Syracuse University, there were so many I followed—friends, crushes, professors.

These days, there’s a man I’m seeing. I actually think I’m in love with him. And I want to trust him, to not believe that he won’t hurt me or take up with another woman. I don’t want to follow him around. But how else can I be sure?

Short Story Prompt – 12/30/13

Short Story Prompt – Make a list of five things that you’re afraid of happening to you. Then write a story in which one of them happens to the character…

Thanks, Ms. L! (I cheated a little with this one, though. You’ll see…)

The List

In the past, she had therapists who couldn’t abide by her silence. Some would visibly shift uncomfortably in their leather chairs while waiting for her to respond; others would allow it for mere moments before breaking the silence apart, eventually pressuring her toward a reply/conclusion that they themselves created.

Robin Thurston was nothing like this.

Dr. Thurston had a way of almost retreating into the shadows after posing a question or a thought, almost disappearing into thin air while Jean customarily took her time to wrap her mind around an idea. It was jarring at first; she had become used to impatient therapists, using their intolerance as an excuse to continue with the desperate and toxic acts that now framed her life. Ultimately, however, she realized that—surprise, surprise—Dr. Thurston was neither intolerant nor a fool. She simply wanted to help her.

That morning, after they did away with their usual pleasantries, Dr. Thurston placed a blank sheet of paper on the glass coffee table that sat between them. Jean regarded her and waited. They tended to do these kinds of exercises. Dr. Thurston would ask her to write down silly things like her favorite memories from childhood, or five things she was grateful for. To date, not one exercise had resulted in Jean writing anything down. She wanted to tell Dr. Thurston that she was killing trees, wasting paper on someone who was enshrouded in so much darkness.

“I want you to write a few things down for me,” Dr. Thurston said.

Jean sighed inwardly. It would be another quiet session, another blank piece of paper.

“Make a list of five things you’re afraid of happening to you.”

Swallowing thickly, she peered at Dr. Thurston, waiting for an explanation. They’d never done something like this before.

“Go ahead, Jean. Here’s the pen; write them down.”

With trembling fingers, she accepted the pen and picked up the piece of paper. There was no need for her mind to assimilate the request, as she was prone to do. She began writing, and quickly.

Death

Assault

Drowning

Spiders

Everything

Dr. Thurston looked over the list, and then smiled. “These are the first honest things you’ve said to me in the six months we’ve known each other, Jean.”

She nodded slowly, unable to halt the hot, unrelenting tears that descended onto her chin, her neck, her clothes.

“Now,” Dr. Thurston said, gently tapping at the piece of paper, “now we can talk to each other.”

Thursday and Friday.

I’m sure you’re wondering what I wore yesterday? And if I’m grateful for anything today? Have you? Well, since I forgot to post what I wore yesterday, let’s combine the two, shall we?

Gratitude

1. You, because you visit this blog.

2. You, because sometimes you click “like.”

3. You, because sometimes you leave a comment.

4. Anyone who supports my writing.

5. My 4th grade teacher, who inspired me to become a writer in the first place. (Have I mentioned her before? I am mentioning her again. I love you, Mrs. Chrytzer!)

6. My 11th grade English teacher, who recognized my love of writing and shaped it by saying, “I think you should major in English in college. That would be perfect for you.” (And I did, and it was.)

7. My mother, who shaped my love of writing and storytelling from the beginning by telling the most marvelous stories and introducing comic books and fairy tales into the lives of her daughters.

8. My creative writing professor in college, who taught me the value of research in fiction. It’s important!

9. My old college friend, who told me to stop using writer’s block as a crutch for not writing.

10. Music and art, for being the best friends this writer could ask for.

Ok!

Fashion

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It’s Casual Friday here at the farm, so the details on what I’m wearing:

Skinny jeans, gifted to me by my sister. I was late to the skinny jeans thing, so, in actuality, she forced me to wear them. They’re nice. I’d like to happily report though that they’re now a bit loose. Time for new (skinny) jeans…

Cowl neck blouse – this may have come from Mom’s cloest. Love cowl necks. You can’t really tell from the photos, though. Plus, I tend to pull up the cowl part, which hangs a bit low, to prevent the entire office from seeing the world up top, if you get mah drift…

Silver chain, Avenuethey have terrific accessories. Got this one on sale.

Cream Crystal Studded Beret, Claire’s – one of the purchases I made when I did this three weeks ago.

Standard Black Boots – the usual. I live in these things.

Bon weekend, all!

Short Story Prompt #2 – 12/25/13

Short Story Prompt – Fashion a story using these five things:
1. A rotten gala apple
2. A pair of lime green sneakers
3. A missed appointment
4. A pig
5. A goodbye hug

Lime Green and Time Machines

“What time is it?” she asked, out of breath, as she came bounding into the bedroom. “I’m so late. I think I missed the appointment. God, this will be the fourth time.”

Quietly, he gazed at her from the bed, pausing in his tapping of the keyboard. As he took in her splotchy, red face, the sweat-stained exercise clothes, and those unfortunate lime green sneakers, he couldn’t stop the disdain that crept into his chest.

“I lost track of time. It was such a good run, honey,” she went on, pulling off her clothes and throwing them to the floor. “You would have loved it. Sandy found this trail by Miller’s Lane, and there were these beautiful creeks and brooks. It was so picturesque.”

After the baby, he was the one who introduced her to running when all the dieting and convoluted weight loss plans became ineffectual. She had taken to it immediately, increasing their twice-a-week morning runs to once a day a month shortly after they started. Eventually, he was replaced by a neighborhood running group. (“Honey, you work so hard. You can sleep in and I’ll run with the group.”) They called themselves The HouseMiles, a silly play on the fact that all of them were housewives. He wasn’t sure what annoyed him more: the mornings when the women showed up at the house at dawn, disturbing their home at such an early hour with their obnoxious laughter, or the fact that she hadn’t lost one bit of weight in the six months since she had started running. If anything, as he regarded her bulbous, equally splotchy belly, she seemed to have inexplicably gained more weight.

“I should call Mrs. Appleton, shouldn’t I? I should call her.” With that, she walked over to the bedside table near him and picked up the telephone to call their son’s teacher. “Hello, Mrs. Appleton, it’s Mallory Renaud…yes, I’m so sorry…I lost track of time…is there a way to reschedule…oh, you can’t? I understand that this is the fourth appointment I’ve missed. No, my husband injured his foot, so he won’t be able to…yes, I know how disappointed you must be. Yes, yes, I’ll hold.”

He watched her close her eyes and take a prolonged, deep breath. She was obviously embarrassed at having missed another appointment. He didn’t feel sorry for her. If she spent less time gossiping with those hens after their runs, perhaps she would have arrived home at a reasonable time.

“Yes, I’m here. Next Tuesday at 7:30? That sounds perfect. Thank you, Mrs. Appleton. We really appreciate it.” She hung up the phone and sat down on the bed in a huff. “That woman will be the death of me. I’m sure she’s told the other parents what a horrible mother I am.”

As the pungent scent of her sweaty body consumed his senses, he wished she had put on a bathrobe instead of sitting here like this, in a wet bra and underwear.

“What are we going to do, Lewis?” she asked, shaking her head.

Here come the waterworks. Sure enough, as she began to softly cry, he wished there was a time machine somewhere in the house, something to take him back to last week. He’d been so stupid last week, heading down the stairs without paying attention. That’s when he slipped and tumbled all the way down. With the time machine, things would be so different. No toy, no fall, no two-week long condemnation in a house he could hardly bear.

“Why is he this way, Lewis? What are we doing wrong?” she asked, tears falling down her chubby face.

A month ago, their 11-year old son had decided to pull yet another prank on his teacher. During recess, LJ took advantage of his empty classroom and filled Mrs. Appleton’s desk (as well as the coat closet) with rotting and/or rotted Gala apples. There was no investigation on who could do such a thing; his track record having been proven since the beginning of the year, it was obvious who the culprit was. Apparently, he had saved a month’s worth of apples for the plan, hiding them in his room until the time was right. His reason for the prank? Mrs. Appleton’s last name. It just seemed perfect for a prank, the boy said.

“Maybe we’re not—we’re not strict enough with him. We spoil him.”

We? Yeah, right. He was the one who refused to pamper the boy, suggesting that they send the boy to military school for a dose of hard reality. Nevertheless, with her constant waterworks at the idea of sending the boy away, he stopped arguing. Let the boy be a terror, he told her the last time. And now, as she cried and blamed herself, he did nothing to dissuade her. It was her fault. Moreover, their 10-month old baby would be the same way as his older brother: spoiled rotten. Again, as he watched her weep, the disdain crept up in his heart. He could no longer decipher whether the feeling came as a result of isolated moments like this, or whether it had always been there.

Just then, the squealing, screeching welcome of the boy’s pet pig pierced the bedroom. He leaned back against the pillows, wanting to punch something. As usual, their son left that blasted cage open, and she, naturally, left the bedroom door open. Wiping her face, she scooped up the miniature pig from the ground, holding the squealing animal to her chest. “You escaped again, Kumquat. What are we going to do with you?” she cooed. “Isn’t he adorable, Lewis?”

He had said “no” to the pig, as well.

“Hon, I’m going to throw on a robe and check on the baby,” she said, turning toward him. Before leaving, she leaned forward and hugged him tightly, the pig’s fur rubbing against his chin. “Everything will be all right, won’t it? Won’t it, Lewis?” Without waiting for an answer, she hugged him again and kissed his forehead.

As he watched her go, he silently uttered his second wish of the day: that her hug had meant goodbye.

35.

35 is a very attractive age. London society is full of women of the very highest birth who have, of their own free choice, remained thirty-five for years. — Oscar Wilde

Oscar ain't never lied...
Oscar ain’t never lied…
Reflecting: we’ve been together for three months now, me and 35, and I have to say that I’m enjoying it so far. A few things…

1. Keeping it All in Perspective. My back hurts, you know? I need an Advil, not your complaint about the long line in the store.

2. I Sing the Body Electric. I accept that I will never have a flat stomach, or abs, or actual, visible hips. I’m so ok with that right now in my life. So, so, so ok with that. I’m not entirely sure where this peace of mind about my body and loving it came from, but I will take it.

3. Some Things Need to Be Said. I tend to shy away from confrontation. (My Sissy will dispute this, but whatever you do, don’t listen to her.) I’d rather let it go and leave it most of the time. But these days…certain things need to be said, acknowledged, dealt with, and then let go. If you say something silly that bears discussion, we will discuss it. K? 

4. This.

5. My Mother, my Friend. I think my mother and I are at a stage where we can really be friends. Although I very much respect her role as mother, parent, and all-around CEO of everything, I still think we can chat, laugh, and joke without me worrying about not being able to sit down because of being swatted on my rump. Within reason. Within reason.

6. This Writing Life. I’ve experienced the following phases with my life as a writer: joy, confusion, comparison, quiet, returning, acceptance, joy. The latter phase is what I feel at present, and I believe I feel this way because I stopped comparing my work to the works of others; stopped putting pressure on myself, stopped giving in to the excuse that there was nothing there, creatively, for me to work with. Once I left many toxic habits behind, my writing and the process itself has taken on a completely different and exciting feel.

35. What whaaat?

In the Corner of the Center of Your World.

so I revolve around your world, do I?
the gravitational pull within your cosmos?
believe what you want,
dearest,
but I fear the truth is shinier than the
stars above your supposedly impassioned head.
here I am,
in the corner of the center of your world,
relegated to afterthought, vague memory, the fabric of a lingering dream.
I starve for your attention while you fool me with galaxies.
well, simply leave me in the corner of the center of your world,
dearest,
in my tiny niche, my nook, my cranny,
and let me enjoy the real stars.

Wednesday Writers’ Spotlight: L. Taylor

Because this blog, first and foremost, is about writing. Every Wednesday, I’ll spotlight a fellow writer and bring you his or her thoughts about this writing crafts of ours by way of a brief interview. First up is Ms. L. Taylor, a wonderful friend of mine and an equally amazing writer. I’m not just saying that; one of her short stories recently blew this mind of mine. And it was a sweet, sweet implosion. She also provided the writing prompt for the short story I wrote and shared this week, so another yay for her. Read on, won’t you?

1. When did you start writing?

Ms. L. Taylor!
Ms. L. Taylor!
I’ve been writing in journals since I was about 11. That’s how it started, really – chronicling my daily thoughts and feelings. Later, I moved into the realm of teenage angst and began writing poetry. My early twenties saw short fiction stories added to that collection, and I’ve really never stopped writing since.
2. What or who was your inspiration to start writing?
My sister was my inspiration. I don’t think she’s written in a long time, but when I was little, I remember her writing these wonderful short stories that absolutely captivated me. I would always think, “I wish I could write like that.”
3. What are some of the themes you like to explore in your work?
The broad spectrum of human emotion has always been my favorite thing to write about. Heartbreak, loss, self-discovery and appreciation, love – you name the emotion, and I can write about it. I love to explore it all in different ways.
4. What’s your writing schedule?
I have always been able to write best late at night, when the rest of the world is dreaming. That’s when I’ve come up with some of the work I’m most proud of.
5. How do you combat the dreaded writer’s block?
When I have writer’s block, prompts are my best friend. Nothing shakes me out of a block like being given a story idea and meeting the challenge of bringing life to that idea.
6. Conversely, I’ve heard that writer’s block doesn’t exist; it’s actually having too many ideas that’s the problem. Do you agree with that? Why or why not?
I can’t speak for all writers, but for me personally, writer’s block is not about having too many ideas, but rather about not knowing how to develop those ideas. As a writer, I find that I always have ideas. What to do with those ideas, though, is sometimes the cause of the block.
7. Who are your favorite authors?
John Grisham, Mary Higgins Clark, Michael Crichton, William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and Louisa May Alcott.
8. Do you write only fiction, or do you dabble in poetry and other genres?
I mainly write fiction and poetry. As bad as it probably sounds, I spend a lot of time in my own head, and those genres indulge my inner dreamer and hopeless romantic.
9. Do you think blogging aids in creativity?
Definitely! One reason is because it gives you an outlet for something that might be hiding within, waiting for the right time to come out and develop at the flourish of your own. It gives you a voice, and it’s good practice in letting other people read (and sometimes critique) your thoughts, feelings, and ideas.

Thanks, L!!

I see we have a lot in common, particularly when it comes to when our journeys as writers began, as well as the overall themes in our work. If you’d like to read more from Ms. L. Taylor, check out her blog at www.passionatevoice.tumblr.com.

And if you’re a writer and would like to be featured in the Spotlight, feel free to contact me in the comments or via the email on my Contacts page.

Short Story Prompt – 12/16/13

Short Story Prompt: Write about a a person whose family member is suffering from amnesia and tries to get that person to remember them.

One year after the search parties had disassembled and the leads had run cold, she decided that it was time to restart her life. She moved back into their bedroom from the guest room; she opened windows and pulled up blinds; she began accepting requests for dinner with family and friends. It wasn’t that the grief was gone; she simply woke up one morning and decided to live with it rather than pretend it simply wasn’t there.

Naturally, when her best friend, Harriet Monroe, asked her to come along for a weekend business trip to New York City, she accepted. The sole hesitation she had, that of Harriet’s demand that Grace make full use of the former’s American Express card, was eventually silenced when her friend regarded her sternly and remarked that she deserved it. You do deserve this, a voice not unlike his, reverberated in the back of her mind.

*

After a Saturday filled with horse-drawn carriage rides, Central Park, and a plenty of food, Grace decided to call it a day. Had she remembered to turn left at 11th Avenue instead of making a right, she would have never walked by the Grotto Café and glanced inside, and she certainly wouldn’t have seen her presumed dead husband sitting at the counter that faced the window, sipping from a coffee mug. But she did make the wrong turn, and there he was.

With a deafening roar in her ears and her vision swimming, she stumbled toward the window and touched it.

He looked up.

She smiled and waved, tears springing to her eyes.

He looked behind him, then back at her, clearly puzzled.

She tapped at the glass repeatedly, as if to communicate, if she could speak in that moment, for him to come outside. The fact that the patrons inside the café peered at her in confusion remained unnoticed.

He hailed a waiter and spoke to the young man while gesturing toward her.

Moments later, the freckled-faced waiter stood next to her on the sidewalk. “Ma’am,” he said, “do you need some help? My customer thinks you might be upset.”

Grace glanced at the waiter, wondering why this boy was interrupting their moment. Somehow, amid the deafening roar and the violent shifting in her equilibrium, she found her voice. “Please leave me alone. I’m trying to tell my husband to come outside. In fact, tell him to come outside, please.”

“He’s your husband?”

“Yes, he is. He’s my husband. My God.” With that, Grace burst into tears.

Moments later, her husband joined the alarmed waiter on the sidewalk. Carefully, he touched her elbow. “Is there someone we can call? Someone that can help you?” he asked.

It was the voice she had listened to for the past twelve months. Days after he went missing, she would repeatedly call his cell phone and listen to his outgoing message, allowing the warm timbre of Kyle’s voice to drape over her. That voice had saved her during those harrowing days when taking her own life seemed to be the only option after months of searching for a man that couldn’t be found. Nevertheless, here he was, on a sidewalk in New York City, standing before her.

“Kyle,” she sobbed, before throwing her arms around him.

Behind her, the waiter followed the silent instructions of his customer and went back into the restaurant to call the police. He then patted her back gently, carefully.

“Kyle, hold me,” she said, looking up at him, tears cascading down her face. “Why won’t you hold me?”

“Ma’am…”

The word pierced through her tears, through her engorged, pulsating heart, and landed right in the center of her chest. Ma’am.

Grace stepped back abruptly. “Kyle, what’s wrong with you?” she demanded.

He regarded her sadly, pity etched across his demeanor. “Ma’am, I’m sorry. I don’t think I’m the person you’re looking for.”

“Stop that.”

“Stop what, ma’am?”

“Stop calling me that! I’m—” The words I’m your wife sat on the edge of her tongue, waiting to be uttered, to be screamed. Instead, she took a deep breath and attempted to steady herself, finally recognizing, amid the rush of senses, that something wasn’t quite right here. “Your—your name is Kyle Walsh, isn’t it?” she asked.

“No, ma’am, it’s Henry Baylor.”

Henry Baylor.

“Is this your first time in the city? It can be overwhelming, with all these people. And it can be very easy to confuse one person with someone else.”

Her husband, the only man she had ever loved and trusted, was speaking to her as if she was a child. “It’s me,” she muttered to the ground. “It’s me.”

“Don’t worry; someone will be here to help.”

“It’s me,” she repeated, louder this time. Some passerby turned and glanced in their direction, a feat in a city where nothing seemed to faze its residents or turn their heads. “It’s me. It’s me.”

“I’m really sorry. I don’t know who you are.”

With shaking hands, she dug into her handbag and pulled out her wallet. Opening it, she shoved it toward him and tapped at the photo behind the plastic cover.

He frowned and gazed at the photo. A bride and a groom stood on white sands, the waves of a nearly translucent blue ocean crashing behind them. The bride and groom grinned happily at the camera and held each other tightly. The bride, lovely in her long, white gown, resembled the woman that stood before him. Her dark hair was longer in the photo, but it was indeed her; the same big, brown eyes that now peered at him in bewilderment looked at the camera, albeit happier and beaming with joy. And the groom…

The groom had his face. The same sharp jaw, the same tiny mole underneath his left eye, the same dimpled cheeks.

He looked up at her, blinking rapidly. The strange buzz that he occasionally heard, like a fly let loose inside his head, started up again. After dozens of MRIs and brain scans, the doctors still couldn’t tell him where it came from, other than that he could have possibly suffered from a fall or blow to the head. It was louder this time, the strange buzz, pronounced. Did he and this woman truly know each other?

She came toward him again. “Your name is Kyle Matthew Walsh. I fell in love with you on our first date,” she said softly, her voice quivering. “You proposed to me on our third date. We got married on that beach in Antigua, five years ago. You’ve been—you went missing a year ago. If you can’t remember what you were doing a year ago, then something is wrong.”

This strange woman…with her big, brown eyes that seemed awfully familiar. And, no, he could barely recall events beyond the current year. He strained and pushed, but had resigned himself to being a simple man with no real memories.

Moments later, Grace took his hand into hers and steered them away from the café. She wasn’t sure where they were going; perhaps to find Harriet, to find a hospital; to fly back home. All she knew that was her husband didn’t let go of her hand.