The Bells

By Helen Black

••• Munich
They were in Marienplatz on a Sunday morning when all the bells began to ring. They stood in the middle of the square, where fat pigeons flocked around aimlessly wandering clumps of tourists in swift graceful fans, when all the bells began to ring. The sightseers, momentarily stunned, lifted their heads, searched open-mouthed the Baroque swells of high cathedral niches, the cornices of colorful post-war reconstructed facades, the clouds, the spires, the picturebook blue sky, as though the better to hear, as though collectively, instinctively, seeking visible focus for this large wash of sound. Under its cover he took her hand. As musicbox peals waffled above them, he smoothed the hair from her forehead, and, as a silent moment fell between the strokes and clusters of strokes like those odd moments in crowded parties when nobody speaks, he planted a kiss, like a break in the waves. Then with both hands he held her head, looking over it into the distance with knitted brows, memorizing its shape, the weight of thick and silky hair. They listened to the bells. They were indescribably beautiful—not the functional metallic clang of a New England white clapboard belfry, but music, real music: sweet, rich true, a joyful noise, the Germans’ consolation. Pressed against him, she smelled the wool of his sweater, then his shirt, and underneath it, faintly, the odor of his skin; then he exhaled. “Let’s go,” he said, already moving, tucking her arm firmly under her own. “Where are we going?” He stopped. Brown flecks in yellow irises gave his gaze a perpetually startled look. “To the café, of course.” They turned down Rathausgasse and the bells began to fade. He pulled her closer to his side, her hip against his leg, but she moved away. “You must not pull away, that is the way a man and a woman walk together in Greece, you must learn it.” “Well, I’m an American, and we’re not in Greece.”

“Yes,” he sighed, “you are an American.” She laughed at him shaking her head, her gift to him the sudden vision of his comic self: the weary tone, the woebegone expression, and the thought flashed through his mind: she is young, she does not think of the future, she is right, for the moment I must abandon this line of thought. His brow softened, and he seized her hand and kissed it, held it aloft. To the cobblestoned street he proclaimed, “Du lachst, und das is ein Wunder!” You laugh, and that is a wonder! “You must not be so serious, you have to keep me laughing,” he ordered, still holding her hand in his own; then squeezing it fiercely: “My God, you make me so happy.” She smiled, detached her hand, telling him invisibly, we are here, and indeed, their they stood, in front of the café. The letters of its name formed a sparkling golden bow on large plateglass windows which took the full brunt of the midday sun and threw it back like a mirror. Most of the white metal tables in front were still empty; he moved to one, and pulled out her chair.

Few girls in Athens appealed to Theo. They were all so stupid; they threw themselves shamelessly at the feet of any man who had money. It was the state of education, he scowled, the state of the economy. It was the culture, so backward. He tipped his chair back, nudged at the pile of books on the floor with the toe of his sandal. And the smart ones—many of them with jobs better paying than his as a teacher—either simpered to camouflage their intelligence or flaunted their independence like cumbersome armor, refusing to retreat, brazening it out. Whenever he saw such women—women who were alert, held their heads up, perhaps carried a book or dressed a little differently—and approached one, it was always the same. She’d bristle with anxiety and resentment as he circled in, her presence shrilling mutely: “Ha! I know I’ll never be married! I dare you, I dare you to court me!” Why was it so difficult to get along with people—with women—at home? He didn’t

understand. Athenian women either looked up at him greedily or across at him angrily, whereas abroad, people accepted him as he was: he got along with almost everyone. Opening the desk drawer, he drew out a chocolate bar loosely wrapped in foil and popped a square in his mouth, then hunched again over his pad of airmail stationery. It is green here, he wrote his mother, it has rained every day this week, a good rain, not just a shower. I have met a nice girl—is this too abrupt?—an American student also living here in Oberndorf. There was a noise beneath his window, he grasped at the distraction, leaned out to see a tractor slowly rolling along the linden-bordered lane that led past the pond to the fields. His landlady marched behind it, carrying a wide-toothed rake, her hair afrizz. “Grüss Gott!” she trilled, and he waved back, grinning from ear to ear. “Das is ja unsere lieber Professor,” she clucked for the benefit of no one in particular as she reshouldered her rake; she liked to call him Professor though he really had only a Magister. She was no dummy, she had a degree in sport therapy, for all the good it did her, inheriting as she did through a bizarre chain of events this farm, but that man, that man was way over her head. Her name is Anne, and she is from Wisconsin, U.S.A. Quite a bit younger than I but quite mature—thus glossing over a fifteen year age difference, but what could his mother expect now that he was closing in on forty? All his female contemporaries were long since married off, and it had been over three years since Ariane, a friend from the university of whom his mother had entertained hopes, had gone to Boston to visit distant relatives and married one of them. And this is all I will say, he thought, best not to get into things. He stared at the geraniums in the window, made dots on the blotter. He’d returned to Germany for the year with no conscious ambitions other than to steep himself in the language, read voraciously in the way he couldn’t during a school year, and obtain certification in the computer courses which would help him with his physics classes. He’d simply taken the sabbatical as it fell to him, eagerly grasping the opportunity to get out of the country. It was bliss

to be in Europe, though when he called his parents once a week from the post office he took care not to sound too happy. He broke off another piece of chocolate and sucked on it, then wrote swiftly, Perhaps I will bring her for a visit sometime in the future—sufficiently vague—and you can meet her then. That’s all. He knew his mother, the temperamental pianist, who’d given up her nascent concert career to manage her small family, wouldn’t be able to bear the thought of someone replacing her. In company, she complained about her son the academic who had such high standards, but he knew. It was she who wouldn’t give up without a fight the privilege of serving the tea in the morning to first one man, the husband, then the other, the son, not without a fight even if the woman were one she approved of. It was she. She wanted to be irreplaceable. He sealed the letter and tucked it in his briefcase.

Anne read philosophy for only an hour because it was Sunday, then devoted the rest of the morning to Fontane. At one o’clock exactly she closed her book and went outside. Noonday sun beat down on the narrow cobbles as she stood on the corner next to the geranium urn, watching for Theo to appear at the foot of the hill. Behind her was the ivy-framed window of her landlady’s housewares shop. The wall dripped with ivy, carefully trimmed around the metal plate bearing the street name in script: Lehrer-Schwab-Straße. The stems climbing the stucco wall were thick as small tree trunks, thinning as they framed the second floor balcony where Herr Stoeger sat smoking his pipe and listening to the radio after a Sunday dinner of veal and dumplings, reaching up to her third floor window where they curled in delicate tendrils around the sill and reached inside when she opened it in the evenings to hear the lady across the street play the flute while she studied. Theo appeared, turning the corner by the drugstore at the foot of the hill. His face lit up as he saw her and he began to hasten. She smiled to see him running up the hill, He must have a

story for me, he is excited by some story or another, but no, he had a bag in his hands. He caught up and opened it to disclose his bounty. “Look! I have peaches! Peaches from Greece. I got them on the corner, peaches!” he said, in short forceful gusts, not of breathlessness but excitement. Herr Stoeger leaned over his balcony and lifted his pipe to his friend the Greek (who raised a hand high, palm open, hail!) then leaned back, listening to Viennese waltzes drift through the August heat as the two continued up over the crest of the hill and plunged into the countryside, a deep wide valley rolling out before them like dough: green quilted fields, tidy squares of pines, then more fields, all swimming in a buttery haze, spreading to the distant cusp of wooded hills—foothills of the distant Hocheifel, focal point of the wooden outlook tower they often climbed along the way. “The corn is as high as an elephant’s eye,” sang Anne, swinging along the narrow paved road between cornfields that led to the tower. He swung happily beside her, but then she frowned. “I can’t remember the next line.” He shrugged, tried to hook a finger in her belt and draw her to his side, but she would be American right now, an isolated bundle of energy, directed by individual vision to private end, caught up, refusing to share. “I just can’t remember the next line,” she repeated. Suddenly she was weeping; she stood there stockstill, weeping. He offered his handkerchief. “I’m sorry,” she said, wiping her eyes, then folded the handkerchief back into a careful oblong; she wouldn’t meet his eye. “It’s the sun,” she fretted suddenly, “I can’t stand this hot sun,” condemning the entire fairytale landscape with one sweeping gesture. “If you can’t bear this heat, you can’t live in Athens!” She flinched at his visible dismay. “No, don’t say that,” shakily, for she had only just mastered tears. “Do you think that’s true?” She began to ponder, pressing the folded handkerchief between her palms; momentarily absorbed, she could no longer reassure him. Perhaps, he tried to comfort himself, she hadn’t really meant it. She took his arm: “Let’s not

think about it.” They left the asphalt farm lane and climbed to the tower. At the top, the far-off peaks were obscured by air too warm and moist to offer distant clarity. But cars snaked along the valley’s main road; a tractor, in the middle distance, moved back and forth on one small patch as though confined by an invisible rail; and closer, two towheaded children and a dog played by a barn. They climbed down and sat at the picnic table placed by the local Schützenverein. Theo opened the bag of peaches. She took one and ate it slowly, thoughtfully; “I am so hungry!” he exclaimed, gulping three down. “Didn’t you have breakfast?” “Just some chocolate.” He came around the table, seized her and kissed her, one hand on her shoulder, the other cradling her head; eyes open, concentrating with furious intensity upon some inner vision he kissed her hard, sought with his tongue as though desperate to capture the last sweetness of peaches clinging to her teeth, her tongue, slipping down her throat. He stood up, pulling her with him, and pushed her down on her knees on the soft bed of pine needles. “I have to make love to you now,” he hissed, drawing her over to the trunk of a tree. He buried his face in her neck; she twisted her head to kiss his cheek. Afterwards she leaned against the tree and examined the pattern the bark had printed on her palms, sticky with sap. Frowning, she flexed her hands. “Couldn’t you start using some protection?” He resurfaced, startled, from contented immersion in the simple task of buttoning up his shirt. “But I thought you could not conceive,” he floundered, “right now,” he said, “You’ve been sick and you’re still underweight and aren’t having your periods yet,” he repeated what she’d told him, in consternation, out of his league. “I’d hate this to be the way I found out otherwise,” she snapped, brushing pine needles

out of her hair. She sat down at the picnic table, punched down the paper bag full of peach pits; it flattened on the table. He sat down beside her, laid his hand on her knee. “Of course,” he said, “of course, from now on, I will use protection.” I won’t be so rough again, he thought, I must not be too rough. He thought of the letter in his briefcase. I don’t want her to be unhappy. I have just written my mother.

•••Salzburg
They almost missed the train for Salzburg. The electronic chime rang, they rushed onto the crowded platform—she had the Festspiel tickets in her hand—and suddenly he disappeared. The train was about to leave; Anne stood still, saying softly, “I am here, where I was,” but he had vanished entirely. She turned in a circle as the crowd thinned. Auf Gleis 24, bitte einsteigen und die Türe selbst schliessen, the prerecorded female voice blared over the loudspeaker; the second hand on every clock on every platform swept simultaneously around to 10:42 as she tried to think, quickly, what to do, and the train, her train, their train, moved away. The crowd thinned, Theodor did not materialize, and her heart plummeted: she’d made the wrong choice. There were three other trains bound for Salzburg in the next twenty minutes and she moved from platform to platform with no sign of Theo—no excited shout behind her, no hand on her arm. Train after train pulled punctually out of the station with an efficiency that now seemed to border on malevolence. The familiar station warped into the contours of strangeness, and her sense of being in a foreign country, a sense which had evaporated over a year before, reawakened with a lurch. She left the station and walked. Through the Marienplatz, past the Residenz, where they’d attended the Mozart series in the courtyard; past their café near the Hofplatz, full of strangers now, and eerie. She sat in a corner of the Hofgarten uninhabited by old people and their

dogs. She’d traveled alone all over Europe, but this was different; she wasn’t supposed to be here, but on the train with Theodor securely by her side. She’d ruined their weekend, he would be furious. She wiped her nose. A loden-suited woman leaned slowly by on her cane, the feather in her matching hat quivering with each jolting step of the thick legs on the gravel path. Anne pretended to search her weekend bag, so that she wouldn’t have to say Guten Tag. The next moment a tight pack of American Marines burst on the scene, jogging around a tightly-clipped ornamental box hedge, crunching the gravel, filling the wide path, chanting in rhythm. She sat up and snapped her bag shut. No problem, she thought, I’ll just take the next train and find him in Salzburg and if I don’t I’ll go to the concerts alone. But Theodor was not waiting at the station when she got off. Nor was he down in the street outside. She walked slowly through the Mirabella Gardens where they’d been on their last visit, but he was not there either, so she went to the Festspielhaus. There he was, furiously pacing the sidewalk, sparks visible a block away. “My God!” he grabbed her am. “You are entirely too headstrong and independent. I am so angry I have to walk around the block.” He pushed her along swiftly, jerkily. Gone was the languorous Mediterranean roll. “What in the name of God happened to you?” “Why did you get on the train without me?” “I did not get on the train without you. I met every train coming in at that station for two hours. Thank God I found you.” He took her to the hotel where he had optimistically obtained a double room and marched her up the stairs. The room had twin beds. “I tried to change,” he shrugged. “They said they had no other.” “They said that because you were a Greek,” she shot back, “and not wearing a suit. How much did it cost?” “Enough for me. I’m not a rich extravagant American.” He stood there, hands on hips, a

challenge. Silently she folded bathrobe and towel over her arm and marched down the hall to take a bath. “What I must go through,” he sighed, closing the door behind her. He sat down at the desk to compose himself, aligned his books, chose one, sharpened a pencil. He was working, as an exercise, on translating French into German. Anne returned wrapped in thick American terrycloth, smelling fresh, her hair damp around the edges. He smiled kindly at her; he could tell she was tired and wasn’t going to talk back anymore. She touched the book. “What’s this?” “Balzac.” “You should teach me French.” “No, first I must teach you Greek.” He turned to put his arm about her waist—all he wanted in life, he was thinking, were his books and a woman, oh, and music too, classical of course—but she’d already slipped beneath the duvet. “Of course. You rest now.” He reached over, grasped her ankle, gave it a shake. “We’ve had a bad day, but now we are together, and tonight there is Brahms.” She turned over and buried her face in the pillow. “Theodor, you are so pompous.” He blinked, perplexed, irritated, but said nothing, and turned back to his book. When he felt she was asleep he turned out the desk light, stripped to his underwear, and folded down the duvet. He lay on his side on the other bed and watched her, her light hair on the pillow, the side of her face smooth and uncreased, her naked arm and shoulder rising and falling gently with her breath, the whiteness of her skin—it never ceased to amaze him—gleaming in the dim room. Such delicate skin, with freckles clustered on the arm, so unlike his own thick olive flesh and so transparent that in places—on her wrist, across one temple—he traced blue veins. In her sleep she tucked her hand beneath her chin. He lay down beside her and when she

awoke they made love in utter silence, and it was good, he didn’t need any help. Then he lay flat on top of her, legs on her legs, arms on her arms, grasping her wrists, and kissed her voracious gratitude. When she protested that she couldn’t breathe he rolled off but kept one hand, rubbing it between his own, biting her wrist. “You will be a Greek,” he said, then put his head down on her breast and fell instantly, soundly asleep; it was a talent. He lay there, composed to slumber—male, confident, unguarded—so she examined him: his closed eyes, their sharp gleam hidden, looked soft and fatuous, child’s eyes; unlined though he was almost forty. His forehead already had a deep thinker’s crease. His nose, perfect classical statuary; his chiseled, thin lips the saving grace of a jaw which in sleep crumbled into the shapelessness of a man ruled by his mother. Then, as she gazed longer, he began to fragment before her eyes. Boyish enthusiasm, confidence, serendipitous temerity, the appalling egotism of the only child and the domineering virility of the southern latitudes—such a contradictory personality could only be sustained by conscious effort, it seemed; in sleep it collapsed, leaving only the shell of a general masculinity which he seemed to exude like sweat from invisible pores, and she felt saddled with a heavy stranger. She turned her head slightly so she couldn’t see him, only feel the warm, familiar weight of his body with its heavy sweet scent—that was unchanged, that was his own. He adjusted himself to her movement, draped one leg over hers, spread his hand on her belly. His hand was warm. They lay together on their sides on the narrow bed. Light shone through the blinds and angled across the wall above a garland-festooned chair, revealing its cheery blue. All else was in shadow, the walls a dim grey. Anne listened to Theo’s breathing and watched stripes of light flicker on the wall. Saturday afternoon: lying there, she left Theodor, the bed, the room, Salzburg, and imagined home. Saturday afternoon, on a day like this, her father would bring the television out onto the porch to catch the lake breeze while he watched the baseball game. He would sit upright behind his little worktable, polishing something: boots, belt buckles, his wife’s

jewelry, the silver; he couldn’t justify sitting still. Anne could not imagine him a European, sitting at a café stacking sugar cubes and watching passersby all afternoon, though once when she was fifteen and had refused to accept the fact that her parents were ever young he had shown her in a fit of pique and wounded pride a picture: in France, there he was, young, hirsute, one arm draped over the back of the little wire chair, the other, cigarette between his fingers, perched lightly on his crossed knee: the picture, despite an impish grin, of suave and elegant repose. A beret lay on the table. She could hardly believe it. In mind’s eye Anne watched as her father paused, cloth in one hand, buckle in the other, to wait for the hit. At the tiny crack of the bat his eyes narrowed; cigarette dangling from his lip he traced the trajectory of the ball across the screen and grunted a muted profanity along with the miniaturized boom of the crowd as the ball landed in the stands, a home run for the opposing team. He grimaced, then dabbed more Butler’s Apprentice onto his rag. Theodor turned toward her in his sleep. She wrapped his free hand around her stomach and pressed herself into the curve of his body. His other arm arched around her head. She tipped her head up and saw the open hand hanging over the bed’s edge. It was a thick hand with wide flat fingers. If you didn’t see the soft palm, the clean pink fingertips, you’d call it a laborer’s hand. It was a curious hand for an intellectual and a scholar, and she liked it for that, she liked it that a man who wrapped round wire glasses over his ears and read Herodotus on the train should have such hands. Her movement roused him. He raised himself up, put his hands on her hips and turned her flat. He crouched over her. “Your hips are so bony you will wound me,” he pouted. “Get off then.” “No, no,” he said earnestly, bending close, smoothing out the hook in her brow with his finger. “You must get fatter, you must eat meat and get fatter and stronger so that you can have children. You should have two children,” he declared, “Two children at least, maybe three. You

will have magnificent children,” he finished, excited by the strength of his own idea, carried away, “oh, yes.” He lowered himself down again, took her hand and rubbed it against his temple, his cheek, his dreamily smiling mouth, as he gazed at the shadow stripes on the wall, “Oh, yes.”

She put on a soft watercolored dress for the concert, and high heels. He drew a tux jacket from his garment bag, observing her face in the mirror as he did so. “Evening dress! Now we’ll be a pair. Whatever possessed you to bring that to the Bavarian countryside,” she asked sternly, smoothly his lapels, feigning suspicion. “To show you”—he squared himself before the mirror, flicked his bowtie, gave his cummerbund a tug—“that I am not without my own small resources.” They walked the few blocks to the Festspielhaus. Her high heels brought her up to his chin; she clutched the tickets; her face glowed with anticipation. “According to Hegel,” she said, “music,” she said, “is the highest of the arts.” “The very pinnacle,” he concurred; she echoed, in a breath, “The pinnacle.” They crossed the street and stepped up to the curb. Before them, majestic and dignified, stood the Festspielhaus, alight like a steamship. They washed in with the crowd, sat in blue velvet seats and read the program notes. Behind them sat a Scotsman, conversing merrily in English with a quieter, perhaps less fluent, companion. She listened to his burr. “What is he saying?” frowned Theo, but smiling, she flapped her hand at him, scrunched down in her seat: she did not want the effort of translation, as words she hadn’t heard in months on end rolled from his lips: “delicious,” he said, in the course of conversation; and “impulsive,” “ornamental,” “acceleration.” Acceleration, she repeated. Theodor reached for her hand but at that moment the lights flickered and she straightened in her seat, flipped hastily through her program—the Goldberg Variations were first—before they dimmed altogether.

* * * Once when Theo was about ten, he bounded into the apartment after school one day to find his mother standing stockstill in the living room listening to Glenn Gould’s newly-released recording of the Goldberg Variations. His snack was not ready on the table; she didn’t bark at him to put his slippers on; but stood there in her apron as though frozen in the act of housecleaning: dustrag in one hand, the other held up, wrist bent, palm out, as though in warning—no, as though in preparation to address the keyboard herself, waiting in that lifted moment like an intake of breath before coming in with bass notes after the long high trill that signals the end of a cadenza. But of her hands, of her limbs, she was unaware; it was only her head that moved, slowly, with puzzled concentration, from floor to chair to table. Theo put his bag down and listened, staring at her, trying to decipher the silent, rich, remote inner world of this woman whose face at rest was sullen and imperious, in motion volatile. As Theo had grown and there had been no more children, as her husband’s career hit its invisible ceiling—lower than she had anticipated even in her most pessimistic moments—she became more shrewish, less tender: the unfortunate but inevitable result of disappointment in a powerless woman. Pride had shifted her center of gravity; it required more energy to maintain goodwill outside her own four walls now, and there was none left over. Her eyes moved blindly along the bookcase from silk-shaded lamp to wedding-gift icon to Theo’s framed high-school graduation picture. Then she shook her head, raised her eyes, and uttered: “This man has no reverence.” In later years he realized, bitterly, that it was one of the only times she had ever spoken to him as an adult.

During the second movement of the Brahms, tears streamed down Anne’s face, and she wiped them with a handkerchief. In the pause between movements, as the pianist mopped his

brow, she whispered apologetically, “I never did this before I got sick, it’s part of my weakness perhaps.” Theo was stunned. “It’s part of no illness I know of,” he whispered indignantly back, for he felt it only natural, had just been thinking if I were a woman I’d be weeping too; she saw that he admired her for feeling, and gave him a quick, grateful smile. Fortified, he closed his eyes and floated on the waves. During the third movement a phrase in English threaded in and out of her head, counterpoint to the Brahms: The sunshine and grass of far-off years…the sunshine and grass of far-off years… It puzzled her, but suddenly she placed it, and the whole passage from “Mill on the Floss” snapped into place: such things as these are the mother-tongue of our imagination. No sooner had she done that than Walt Whitman crowded in: I ask for no more delight / I swim in it as the sea, then the Gettysburg Address she’d memorized at twelve, the Shakespeare in college, the voice of her mother at the breakfast table: Did you brush your hair this morning? and All the news that’s fit to print, Coke is it—a door flew open in her head and all her English flooded back in. She sighed and inserted her hand into Theodor’s relieved and contented to possess her past, her native land, while sitting next to him wrapped in the palm of his hand. And she had the Scotsman to thank for it all. He felt her hand in his. The music bloomed again with a cadence so sweet and strong their eyes lifted and met with one accord, a link across the bridge of tone so silent and complete that at the interval as they jostled to the railing she forgot George Eliot, forgot whence her ruminations sprung, said only, happily, in words, “Music is my second language, weißt Du, German a poor third.” He fetched a lemonade to share. She took it with one hand, dabbed anxiously at her eyes with the other. “Is my makeup smeared?” He shook his head no, too happy to speak. She sipped the lemonade, then passed it back, and looked down at the crowd on the mezzanine, where

couples in stiff elaborate evening dress milled about solemnly, drinking champagne. Her tears were gone, her face once again smooth and calm, like a goddess in three-quarter profile on a classical frieze. Theo stood close, holding the glass in one hand, leaning the other on the balcony railing in a proprietary manner. “You have the face of a child, a girl, a woman,” he murmured junder his breath, thinking not in Greek but in German—das Gesicht eines Kindes, eines Mädchens, einer Frau. Then he saw that the handkerchief she was holding in her hand was his. How had she come by that? His heart leapt; no matter: she stood there in a beautiful flowered dress, holding his handkerchief: she would be his, she would belong to him. For despite all his confident talk that afternoon there’d been some doubt, faint, concealed, in his mind, as to whether she would, actually, come down to Athens and visit his home, meet his parents. Now he knew she would, and was made even more sure just then, when, as they were still awash in the tide of music that had swept them out for the interval the chime rang to signal its end and he saw her tighten her hand on the railing, stare over the bobbing heads, take in her breath; then turn her head slowly as though underwater or blind: “Do you remember the bells?” He bit his lip, almost groaned with joy: “how well she’s always known what I’m about,” he thought as respect for and pride in her grew, yes pride in, for he knew she’d be his wife, even if they had to live in Europe, he could surely swing that, he’d do whatever was necessary, he could do whatever was necessary, his heart swelled with enthusiasm. “Do you remember the bells?” as the chime reverberated over the hubbub she cocked her head and with a smile he took the handkerchief and tucked it in his pocket, looking down as he nodded to conceal his own moist eyes. “The bells,” he said, “Oh, yes. The bells.” The chime rang one last time, and as it did, he turned her gently, took her arm, and led her in.
Helen Black is the author of “Seven Blackbirds,” (Four Elk Press, 2008) and the top-subscribed female author on Scribd, where she publishes the humor column MOTHER’S DAY OUT. She lives with her five children in Portland, Oregon.

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