Prune Princess

Prune Princess, Betty Presell pinched herself trying to believe her fortune.  At nineteen with raised hopes she wouldn’t have to take a job as a shop girl or taking in laundry like her mother.  Betty had no suitable suitors to help matters.  Now, the headline in her right hand looked fabulous, Persell Wins Prune Princess.  The prize money folded into her palm melted into her left hand.  It was enough for a new outfit and enrollment at the community college in dramatics and art.  She possessed a flair, as her mother put it, and it wasn’t a compliment; she suggested more practicality.  Betty was more than pretty, but not a beauty, instead she carried herself with a presence, making her appear to be of wealthier stock.  She was also unflappable, smooth and confident, skills to carry her through many years.  1941, war flared in Europe; mean while in Vancouver, Washington, thousands of miles away, it was a segment on a newsreel during the movie.

Her mother had struggled; Dorothy Pursell was a widow and mother of two, Betty and Barkley.  A terrible and sudden accident at the vulcanizing operations left her independent.  She was fortunate to have had a husband who took a chance, investing in a life insurance policy with Woodmen of the World.  No fortune, but it made their high school years comfortable. Still, untrusting, she took in laundry and ironed for some of the town’s wealthier women.  Dorothy swallowed pride for stability, it seemed what she should do; it embarrassed her daughter.  Betty liked it when she was noticed but not with that poor girl sentiment.

Her mother had coddled Betty’s whim and attitude in high school but made warnings after graduation.  Dorothy wondered why her own example hadn’t penetrated Betty’s character.  Dorothy was a meticulous seamstress and she’d dressed them well, but Betty thought the garments were out of style and longed for store bought.  Dorothy chastised her waste of the prize money, she’d didn’t see the quality in ready-to-wear.  She’d scoffed when Betty told her about dramatics and art at Clark College.  The war was going to make such a career obsolete, buy bonds and go to work, contracts were coming for Kaiser and ship building.  Dorothy had every intent of taking on her part in the war effort, it seemed eminent.

Betty invested in a smart suit of the latest style with broadened shoulders.  Hendrick’s on Main also sold her a trim pair of tasseled pumps, stockings and a broach to compliment the look of the ensemble.  The prize shrunk; immediately Betty boarded the 34 north bound bus and exited at Clark College.  She walked with purpose but became weary with packages when she couldn’t find the registrar’s office.  Arthur, tall, slim and attractively dressed stopped and asked if he could assist the small framed girl.  “Oh thank you,” she sighed with relief as he took the boxes.  ” i should have picked a different order of my errands and shopped last.  How silly of me.”

“Where are you headed?” Arthur asked.

“The registrar’s office, I’m enrolling in dramatics and arts.”

“How commendable, I’ll show you the way.  I just came from there, a bit confusing.  I’m taking a business course.”

“Swell.”  Betty loved his chivalry and followed.

“Take my arm,” Arthur poked his elbow out and she put her hand on it, not in and around, just touching.  “You look familiar.”

“You may have seen me in the papers, Persell Wins Prune Princess.”

“Well, I am a lucky man today; I have a princess on my arm.  I wish all of my friends could spy on me.  How would that headline look, Jeweler Rescues Princess?  I rather like it.”

“I think it is appropriate.”

“I remember, Betty Persell.  Nice to make your acquaintance.  I am Arthur Reynolds.”

“Delightful,” Betty said, feeling like she’d won all over again.



In 1940, Burton Mills was twenty years old and had accepted a job with W.O.W. Credit Union, Woodmen of the World, a fraternity devised to provide life insurance and community service.  Burton’s father, a member, encouraged his musician son to join, join the band, promote yourself, all the while, give back to the brotherhood of man.  Burton did, played the drums, his favorite, the snare, marched a lively step.  Most snares have rattles of gut or metal stretched across the bottom head, marching drums have a second set, tight against the upper head, hidden inside, like his desires taut under the surface, trembling noises.

Burton was tall, lank and handsome, dimples outlined his smile and trimmed mustache.  Creases etched, from an early age, a man destined to humor and lively, light moods.  Now October 1945, ticker tapes trashed, blind from a flash explosion, he fought depression more wearily than he fought the Japanese.  Thankful for life or not, the beat of his drum persisted, hidden snares still clattered, pattered and sizzled, acoustic resonation, emotional reverberation, consonance and dissonance.  All days were night, night, night.  

That day, when he met Arthur, hope crescendo, dal niente, from nothing, out of silence, a soft helping voice changed his course forever.  A young couple had cavorted across the parade green in front of the bandstand, Burton stood instinctively, leaned toward the happiest of sounds: love blooming, teasing, playing with one another.  Burton had felt the stair edge too late, tumbled helplessly on the next and the next, balance perceived, then deceived.  It hurt; damn it hurt, but nothing felt broken.  Eternal dark, he lay face down feeling the grass, cool with moisture from the previous rain, yesterday.  In Vancouver, Washington there was always rain, yesterday.  A voice soft and rushing, rustling, a voice of beautiful masculine tremor.  “I’d help you, if I can,” Arthur said on arrival.  “Do you feel anything broken?”

“Everything feels broken,” Burton replied, “but I believe I am intact.”  Burton twisted his body upward.  “You sound handsome.”


“I can’t see you.” The pause should’ve been awkward but was not.  “You sound handsome.”

Burton dispelled Arthur’s notion that he’d been drunk in the middle of the day.  “Ah, thank you.  You are quite well, too; that is, you look well.”

Burton had righted himself to sit on the grass and brushed at debris he could only expect, phantom actions.  “Forgive me, I must look a mess.”

“No, in spite of your tumble, you are very okay,” another pause.  “Here is your cap.”  Arthur put the W.O.W. band cap into Burton’s hand, unemployed, yet in the non-marching band. 

“Thank you,” Burton said and placed it, slightly tilted, like always. “Did you hear me play?”

“No, you must have rested a while, I’m newly arrived.  It’s a lovely day for a stroll.  I love the trees here, so grand.”

“It is indeed a lovely day.  Would you like to, if you are not in a hurry.  You can remind me what I’ve see, show me how grand they are.”

“I’m not in a hurry.”

“Burton Mills,” he outstretched his hand for a lift.

“Arthur Kane,” a flash fire passed between them, this one didn’t hurt.

On Officers Row

Crisp, that’s what they call it, the sky is bluer than summer blue, the maples on Officers Row in front of the enlisted men’s barracks fluttered in shades associated with season changed.  The world was at ease; the war won, if one could call it that, yet America, the United, were champions in world opinion, a much wanted, much needed big brother.  Cares were free.  Tidal waves of change swept on shore.  

Arthur was lonely with Betty.  He did everything she wanted, did what she needed, they shopped, danced and he told her she was the most beautiful creature he’d laid eyes upon.  Four years now, two boys for her doting.  She loved Arthur.  He loved her.  She hated sex.  He wanted it from someone else.  He escaped the house, defeated, winning.  The last comment, “Do what you want, with whom you want, just tell me how much you love the way I look and don’t embarrass us.”

The grass was crisp even under his lightest step, silent crunches rang loudly in a tiny world.  He paused on the parade grounds, shoes shined, Tommy Dorsey blared from more than a football field away in one of the barracks halls, and laughter tumbled over the chords.  Under a magnificent conifer, he adjusted his wool trousers and laid sight on a man slumped by a drum.  Arthur adjusted his fedora, squinted the sunlight; yes, at this distance he thought it was indeed a drum on its side at the top of the bandstand stairs.

A uniformed man and a young lady ran laughing in front of Arthur between he and the slumped figure.  The couple gasped, kissed, twisted in some kind of embraced circling dance, her printed skirt fluttered in haphazard choreography. The young man lost grip and she ran toward East Evergreen Boulevard, her fella followed.  The slouched man had risen while Arthur’s gaze followed the couple’s fleeing gaiety.  Betty would’ve been upset for her shoes condition.  Tumbling sounds grabbed Arthur’s attention back to the bandstand, percussion on the stairs, the drum lay silent where it had been while the man lay sprawled face down, toes on the last tread.  Arthur tripped over tufts to aid a drunk enlistee.  Soon, he’d learn his name was Burton.  He was recently blinded in a flash explosion, light took light till someone lit a match, a kind someone named Arthur.  

Twenty Minute Free Writing Exercise


Twenty minute free writing, here goes.  

I’ve been to Vancouver Washington in the last month.  It was a funny start of a trip, my partner asked me if I’d like to make his business trip, teaching an adult dance camp, my vacation to.  Problem was, he said only Vancouver, not Vancouver Washington. Ha ha, of course I expected I was making a return trip to a beautiful city I’d visited twelve-ish years ago.  The problem was solved when he told me that I needed to purchase my own ticket to Portland, Oregon.  “Why would she give you an airline ticket there.”  

“It’s their airport,” he says.

“”That’s crazy, why?  There is a state between.”

“No, it’s Vancouver, Washington, not Canada,” he says.  “You’re funny.”

Well, need I tell you that communication isn’t our best feature.

Anyway, I went.  I thought there wouldn’t be anything for me there and that I’d certainly be making trips across the Columbia River to Portland.  Well, I was wrong again.  Vancouver was a sweet town with much history.  I made myself at home at Fort Vancouver, Officer’s Row and the Barracks, the river walk and a lovely Starbucks on Esther Short Park.  That is where I met two of the characters for my next stories.  The first was sitting in the Starbucks while I wrote in my journal.  She was likely eighty-nine, lovely lady with a perfect white wig, matched clean clothes and coordinated jewelry.  Her doggy, white as well, sat, behaving in the walker basket, I could only assume belonged to her.  The next morning I repeated my routine and she came in after me, with a companion.  The baristas said in unison, “Good morning, Betty.”  Now I knew her name.  The next character was there too.  I hadn’t seen him, but I heard someone trying to help the man find the east door, there were two.  I didn’t know east from west at that moment.  I saw him then, he was blind.  A barista said to wait, an associate was coming to help him, he did.  I have named the blind man Burton.  I needed a third character I thought, to make the story sing.  I want to write a piece for these two, a historical piece, as they both looked the same vintage.  I bought about $150 worth of local history books.  I saw Burton on the bandstand at the parade grounds, a military band.  The others looked but I could see this man’s soul, it was Burton.  I saw another such photo with a man looking out, it is Arthur.  He’s a jeweler.  I don’t need to see more of Betty, but I saw her one more day and she is alive in my brain, very alive and talking about how she wants someone, on or both of these men to tell her she is pretty.  The time was after WWII, shortly after an accident blinded Burton.

This was a twenty minute free writing exercise.  :o)

Retrospect & Revival



Here’s a little more evidence of Friday’s opening.  

I’m standing in front of three newly framed pieces.  Older but shown for the first time.  Poetic passages written in images of floating feathers and leaves; technique, multicolored traced monotypes.  As the title to my show indicates, I’m looking back and reviving some past ideas, combing my writings and art.  Sometimes when too many ideas are fluttering, making too much wind, collaborative endeavors maybe the answer.  


These are new panels inspired by my first novel, approximately seven eighths finished.  It’s a story about two young men of varied backgrounds meeting over a summer break.  They are brought together in the goodness of one’s wise grandmother and another’s giving neighbor and best friend.  I hope it will be a novel that transcends the gay genre and sees a wider audience as the story is about surviving life with others’ expectations and burdens.  Stayed tuned for excerpts.

P.S. If any one has ideas or instruction about the next steps to publishing, I’d be happy for the advice.

Beginning Entry

I’m desiring a change, mid-life, not bored, only stressed over the direction of “the rest.”  An artist frustrated by making a living as a hairstylist.  Hmm.  It’s great; I love the people, my clients, my peeps.  Okay really, not every one of them, but every one of them tells a story.

Of yes, I took writing classes from an author who made my brain hurt; I’m absolute sure, she still would.  I started characters in her class and dropped them for years, hmm, seven I think, a perfect number.  They talk, they tattle, they tell, and THEY CHANGE, become more!  More what?  Alive, real, they were making me crazy, so I am writing them, again.  They calmed and now talk freely.  I love them.  Their numbers are growing.  Hence the changes in my life; they are urgent at 52.

Hmm, my clients, they beg and plead for time, evidently I’m good at what I do to make money.  Now, I am getting lax about what inspires me to chat with a client about her hair; I want to chat about my characters and what they are doing today and what they did yesterday and of course what they’ll do in the future.

Stick with me, I’m going to write a blog about the transformative powers I’m digging for in the well.

Oh yeah, I’m an artist, I mentioned that, right?  I just opened a show at the Piedmont Arts Center in Martinsville, Virginia.  Hiedi Pinkston did me wondrous favors by hanging a superb show alongside Ed Dollinger, also of Roanoke, Virginia.  Please see it, friend the Piedmont Art Center and watch for the great things they do.

Hang with me, I’ll tell you about all of it.

Thank you if you are interested.

Mark T. ShepheardIMG_0014

P.S. That is my beautiful, creative dancing partner, Pedro with our two pups, Clara and Fritz.  They are our favorite peeps, funny, endeared, constant.