Cinnamon Girl

THE BOOK: Cinnamon Girl

: 2016

  Lawrence Kessenich

: Anne Rasset (now an independent editor:

Lawrence KessenichTHE PUBLISHER: North Star Press “is a family business with nearly half a century’s commitment to quality in books, relationships, and service, and the publishing of books that matter.”  

SUMMARYCinnamon Girl is a novel about family conflict, love, sex, drugs, protest, and the end of the 1960s—literally and figuratively—in the lives of young Americans on the home front during the Vietnam War era. It will resonate for those who lived through this era and intrigue those who wonder what the era was really like.

I wrote Cinnamon Girl because I lived through the tumultuous era it describes and felt that the home front experience had not been adequately represented in fiction. I protested the Vietnam War, had intense family conflicts—especially with my father, was involved in a complicated love relationship that reflected the era, smoked weed, and occasionally experimented with LSD and mescaline. We wanted to change the world, and I believe we did in some important ways, even if we didn’t achieve everything we wanted to achieve and didn’t turn out to be the total idealists we thought we’d be as adults. 

Much of what happens in the novel is drawn from my own experience and the experiences of people I knew, but I did have to go back to some original sources—such as the “alternative” publication Kaleidoscope magazine—to find some details about Milwaukee and the University of Wisconsin branch there in 1969 and 1970. It took me about a year to draft the novel and another six months to revise it. 

WHY THIS TITLE?: The title is taken from the song of the same name by Neil Young, who is one of the representative musicians of that era. It is a song I associated with the woman in the “complicated love relationship” I describe above, so it seemed appropriate for the main character of the book to associate with the woman he becomes involved with.

I have found that Cinnamon Girl appeals both to the generation who lived through this era and to younger people who wonder what it was like to live through it. As the Baby Boom Generation—the largest population cohort in the history of the nation—moves into retirement age, more and more of us are looking back on our youth and pondering our generation’s role in the social upheaval of “The 60s.” For young people today, the Vietnam War era is as far back as the World War I era was for us as young people, and it is a fascinating era of tremendous change. I believe that this novel presents the widespread upheaval of that era—political, social, and personal—in a dramatic context that is both thought-provoking and entertaining.

“Cinnamon Girl, poet and playwright Lawrence Kessenich’s first novel, recreates the dreamscape of the late 1960s in subtle, successful tones. John Meyer is working his way through college, navigating the shoals of a conservative family, radical student politics and a complicated love affair with all the aplomb you might expect from a 19-year-old.

“Kessenich remembers the trials of being young; Try this, or not? Believe this, or accept the status quo? Risk a forbidden emotion, or remain cocooned in a world that may well cease to exist before you turn twenty? There is excellent art in this story of a Milwaukee boy tuned in to the societal television show of student violence, experimental drug use and the changing moral code and wondering: How does all this apply to me?

“Low-key and insightful, Cinnamon Girl is a lovely tale of youth’s travails, told by an artist still in touch with those turbulent feelings and times.” — Alex Beam, Boston Globe columnist and the author of The Feud: Vladimir Nabokov, Edmund Wilson, and the End of a Beautiful Friendship                                                               
“In this haunting, perfectly observed debut, poet extraordinaire Kessenich shows that he’s a skilled novelist as well. Whether you’re of the Vietnam era or not, Cinnamon Girl will remain seared in your memory.” — 
Steve Ulfelder, Edgar finalist author of Purgatory Chasm                                                    

“Milwaukee, 1969—student protests, draft deferments, family dissension, free love… Lawrence Kessenich, a novelist with keen muscle memory, takes us on a spirited journey to a time and place in some ways as distant as ancient Rome and registers the first tectonic shifts that have left us a divided nation today.” —  David Payne, award-winning novelist and author of Barefoot to Avalon

E: I have been writing since childhood, but for a long time after I became “serious” about it, in college, my relationship to the writing process was a stormy one.  Part of this stemmed from the fact that as a child I used fiction to avoid confronting the world. I dreamed of what I wanted to do, instead of doing it. For a long time, I wanted as much to be a writer as to actually write. This realization hit me while I was in grad school in creative writing, and it led me to leave grad school and go into book publishing, where I could be involved with writers but not have the pressure of trying to be write myself. 

But I was never able to leave writing entirely behind. While an editor, I wrote poetry and one novel (which I promptly decided was no good). It wasn’t until I had children and started writing stories for them that I relaxed about the writing process and got my overly vocal internal critic off my back.

But my internal critic hasn’t been banished; he’s been integrated. In his proper place, he’s essential to my process.  When I have completed a piece, when the joy and glow of creation has waned, when I have had some time to disidentify with what I’ve written, my internal critic steps in and gives good and fair advice about what could be better—and now he even says what he likes, sometimes.  

So, writing has become the form of meditation that I’ve always known it could be. When I write I transcend my everyday experience. I don’t reject life any more, as I did as a child; I simply step aside from it—disidentify—and immerse myself in a timeless creative flow. The words seem to come through me, rather than from me, and the experience of being the conduit for them is delightful.

The first thing a story needs to be is entertaining. Readers need to care about the  characters in a book, care about what’s going to happen to them next. I’ve had a number of readers say that they couldn’t put the book down, that they just had to know what was going to happen next. So, although this book has something to say about a historical era, it is, first and foremost, an engaging story about Michael, Claire, Tony and Jonah, about how they interact with each other and with a world that is changing rapidly and dramatically.



Television lights flared on behind the police line, blinding us. For a few seconds, it was eerily quiet. I heard a siren in the distance. Then they charged. Time seemed to stand still. I saw their clubs waving over their heads, but in the penumbra of TV lights it all seemed unreal, like a war movie in slow motion with the sound track cut out. Then one of the TV riggers stumbled and fell, dousing his lights, and I snapped back to reality. It was only thirty or forty policemen against 200 or so of us, but we were bareheaded and wearing jeans and sneakers and they had helmets and billy clubs and jackboots, and they meant business.

We all realized simultaneously what was happening. Somebody yelled, “let’s get the hell out of here!” and everybody ran for it. a couple of people fell, and for all I know got trampled, if not by their brothers and sisters, then by the cops. Some of the cops were yelling and had their clubs up high, ready to bring them down—happily—on a hippie head. Someone near me was foolish enough to taunt them, but I just kept running.

I headed for the bluff that overlooked lake Michigan, where the underbrush was thick around the trees. I reached the verge as a smaller guy slipped through an opening in the brush just ahead of me. We crashed down the hillside together, barely keeping our feet, branches whipping our face. at the bottom of the hill, we emerged from the vegetation at a gallop and, exhilarated by the chase, continued through the lit park and across Lincoln Drive and out onto the broad beach, collapsing on the damp sand at the water’s edge.

As we lay there on our backs, panting, unable to speak, I gave my confederate a closer inspection. he was lean and wiry and wore a black t-shirt and black jeans. he had a high forehead and a shock of black hair, pulled back in a ponytail, a roman nose, and a thick goatee. his deep-set brown eyes brimmed with mirth, even as he struggled to get his breath. Laugh lines etched their corners, although he was clearly no older than I was. When he’d caught his breath, laughter overtook him, the goatee jumping as he howled into the darkness. I stroked the anemic blonde hair on my own chin and smiled.

“Goddam cops,” he finally said. “When it comes down to it, you just can’t argue with ’em.” He turned on his side and extended his hand. “Tony Russo,” he said.

“John Meyer,” I replied.

We shook, joining palms and grasping the heels of one another’s hands.

“Most people just call me Russo,” he added, running his fingernails through his scalp, maybe combing out sand.

“Want to smoke a ‘j’?” he asked. he dug into his jeans pocket and pulled out a crushed cigarette pack.

I looked around warily, and then felt embarrassed by my caution.

“Why not,” I said. “The cops are all busy cleaning up the park.” Tony extracted a joint from the pack, but it was broken in two places.

“Shit, this is no good,” he said. “Let’s get a few hits off of these pieces, then we’ll go back to my place and do up a decent one.”

“You live nearby?”

“Brady Street. above Headroom.”

“Is that your shop?”

“Nah. I couldn’t run a business if I tried.”

He struck a match and lit a piece of the joint, taking a long, deep hit as he did, he handed the joint to me, and I took a good hit myself. It was smooth and sweet.

“Nice stuff,” I croaked, holding in the smoke.

“Yaaaah,” said Tony, breathing out luxuriously, like the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland with his hookah. “I got it from my friend Jimmy. He knows some South American dudes who get the stuff from home.”

The piece was nearly burned up after two hits. Tony told me to toss it or eat it. I popped in into my mouth, putting out the live coal with saliva, and swallowed it. Tony was already lighting the second piece.

“You have roommates on Brady?” I asked.

He smiled but couldn’t answer right away, because he was holding in a hit. He held out the piece of joint to me. I took another hit, too, drawing some of the sweet smoke up my nostrils. Tony exhaled and laughed.

“You might say I have roommates,” he said. “A wife and a kid.”

I blew out my hit. “No shit? A wife and a kid already?”

“Claire and I have been married almost two years, now, and Jonah’s six months old.”

The dope was beginning to make me feel everything in an exaggerated way. My chest ballooned with every breath of fresh lake air. My eyes were wide, taking in the sparkling lights across the bay in South Milwaukee. The sound of lapping waves was captivating.

“It freaks me out, sometimes,” said Tony. “Hey, man, watch yourself.”

I looked down at my hand, which seemed as if it was detached from my body. Then I felt the heat of the coal on my fingertips.

“You want to eat it?” I said.

“Pop it into my mouth.”

I did as he asked. It sizzled on his tongue. he chewed it up as he set about lighting the last piece of the joint.

“You meet Claire at UWM?”

“Uh-huh. You go there, too?”

“I’m an education major . . . I guess.”

“Hey, me, too. But you don’t sound too sure about it.”

“Are you sure?”

“I guess not. Seems right for now, though.”

“How about Claire?”


“That’s ambitious.”

Tony nodded agreement as he toked on the freshly lit joint, and then handed it to me. I sucked in a small hit, then snorted a few more to fill my head with the lovely aroma. I was getting good and stoned. I handed it back to Tony.

 “Let’s split,” he said.

We started walking along the beach, not saying much, just enjoying our buzz with the soft breath of a breeze off the lake and the whoosh of cars on Lincoln Drive. It was perfectly clear, stars shining through the glow of city lights. Out on the horizon, where the sky darkened above the water, stars massed like fireflies. We walked right by the Brady Street footbridge, which would have taken us more directly to Tony’s apartment, and continued on past the floodlit marina, past the old Coast Guard station with its tall white mast, devoid of flag for the night, past the duck pond lined with willows swaying sensuously.

We followed Lincoln Drive as it curved up toward downtown, then turned onto Prospect Avenue and headed back toward Brady Street. Prospect was a busy street lined with shops, apartment buildings, gas stations, and the occasional private home. It followed the bluff above the lake, but the roar of traffic shattered our meditative mood.

“That was nice stuff, Tony. Thanks for getting me high.”

“Not bad, is it? It’s a perfect night for it, too. I could get used to this kind of weather.”

We passed an old church with a half-timbered parish house attached to it. On the wall beside the house’s entrance was a carefully lettered wooden sign that said “Draft Counseling Center.” We noticed it simultaneously.

“Bummer,” said Tony.

We walked in silence for a minute under the garish yellow glow of the streetlights. Tony tugged his beard thoughtfully.

“What would you do if they drafted you?” he finally asked.

“God, I don’t know. There’s no way I’d join the army with that dumbass war going on, and I sure couldn’t deal with prison, so I guess I’d have to go to Canada. But that scares the shit out of me, too, running off someplace where I don’t know anybody, not being able to come back and see my family. I can’t see faking insanity or pretending to be a conscientious objector, the way some guys do—there are wars I’d fight in. What about you?”

“Pretty much the same. I’d try hiding out in this country before I’d run off to Canada—maybe somewhere out West. There’s a lot of open space out there. Like the song says, ‘Any way you look at it, you lose.’”

A pall hung over us for the next few blocks. Then we turned onto Brady Street and walked silently past 1812 Overture Records, Age of Man, The Silver Shop, B.J.’s Antiques and other storefront businesses until we came to the Headroom head shop below Tony’s apartment. We peered in the window at paraphernalia, ranging from tiny alligator roach clips on beaded leather thongs to a huge, freestanding glass bong. our mood brightened immediately.

“Maybe you should get to know this guy, Tony.”

“I should. Maybe he’d give me that bong for my birthday.”

He unlocked the electric pink door next to the storefront and we entered a dark stairwell.

“The light’s busted, so watch your step.”

My moods are vulnerable to my environment, especially when I’m high, so I felt like my whole world had gone dark as we climbed the steep steps. I kept a hand on the wall, which was covered with peeling paint. Tt the top, Tony slipped his key into the door, and while I wondered how he’d managed to find the keyhole, he jiggled it until it turned, then pushed open the door.

Maybe it was just a function of standing out in the narrow, dark stair, looking into the bright expanse of the room, but the place seemed like a shining refuge in an ominous realm. In truth, it wasn’t all that bright, just a couple of lamps casting pools of yellow warmth on the shabby rug and furniture. In the far pool was a ratty green couch with a woman perched on its arm, her long bare legs crossed. She wore a short, lacey white dress, and a magazine rested on her lap. She held a cigarette in her hand and the smoke from it caught the light of a standing lamp beside her, obscuring her face. She looked like a Vogue magazine version of an impatient bride waiting for her groom. As we entered, she swung her head toward us, her long, straight, strawberry blonde hair sweeping away the smoke to reveal a lovely, pale face with green eyes and a few freckles sprinkled like cinnamon across her nose.

“What are you doing home so soon?” Tony asked her.

“The shower was cancelled at the last minute,” she replied. “Rosie got sick. So Katie and I just sat around here and drank beers.”

“Bummer. How’s Jonah?”

“Fast asleep, thank God.”

“Oh, hey,” said Tony, “this is John. We met at the park. John, Claire.”

She focused those green eyes on me. They caught the light and glowed like cat’s eyes.

“Hi,” I managed to croak, my throat suddenly dry. I swallowed to wet it. “Tony and I just happened to choose the same hill to run down. We almost got our heads bashed.

“Bashed?” she said, concern in her voice. “Did it get that bad?”

“We didn’t let it. We all scattered like leaves to the wind, huh, Tony?”

He was already reaching into a small rosewood box on the mantel for more weed.

“It wasn’t worth getting our heads busted for that pissy little park. This’ll

blow over, and we’ll be sitting at the fountain smoking joints in no time.” He sat down on the couch, spread out some of the marijuana on an album cover and began to clean it, picking out seeds and stems. I just stood there staring at Claire, who had finished her cigarette and was stubbing it out in a big green glass ashtray on the sofa. She leaned over and started rummaging around in her fringed leather purse on the floor.

“Hey,” Tony said to me, “sit down and make yourself at home, will you. You’re making me nervous.”

Claire sat back up, a fresh cigarette and a pack of matches in her hand.

“Do you want a beer?” she asked.

“Sounds good.”



She lit her cigarette before getting up. As she held the match to it, I noted the contrast between her delicate wrist and her full breasts, revealed by the scooped neck of dress. It was an extraordinarily sexy combination. When she rose and went toward the kitchen, I had to stop myself from following her.

“Hey,” Tony said to me, “if you’re not going to sit down, why don’t you put on an album. anything you want.”

“I was listening to Neil Young,” called Claire from the kitchen. She pronounced it “Yun.” “Would you mind playing ‘Cinnamon Girl’ once more?”

“Happy to,” I called back.

I went to the stereo, which sat beneath a screenless window that looked out onto Brady Street. In an apartment across the way, illuminated by a blacklight, a strobe flashed in time to a rolling Stones tune. I fixed on the throbbing light and sound, completely spacing out for a few minutes.

“Hey, man,” said Tony, “are you going to turn that thing on, or what?”

“Huh? Oh, ya. Sure.”

I found “Cinnamon Girl” on the record label, clicked on the turntable and poised the needle over  beer in each hand.

“I want to live with a cinnamon girl,” Neil Young sang, “I could be happy for the rest of my life with a cinnamon girl.”

Claire handed my beer to me and smiled, then set Tony’s on an end table and went back out to the kitchen for her own.

I sat on the floor, across from Tony, who had rolled several thin joints. he lit up the first one and passed it to me. I took a long, languid hit. When Claire came back into the room, I handed it to her, my fingertips grazing hers as I did. She took a couple quick hits and announced that she was going to change her clothes. Tony suggested that she take the joint along, which she was happy to do. He handed me another and put a match to it.

“You live on the East Side?” he asked as I toked on the fresh joint.

I held up a finger to indicate it would take me a moment to answer, and passed him the joint. Then I blew out the smoke, feeling the gentle collapse of my lungs as I did.

“I still live with my folks up in Whitefish Bay. It’s not ideal, but it’s free, and they mostly leave me alone.”

“I can dig it.”

“You both work?”

“Claire’s an aide at a nursing home near UWM and I work at the docks—when they’ll take me, that is. You’ve got to go down there every morning, take a number, and wait around to see if they call it, unless they’re so busy that everybody works. The longer you work there, the lower your number gets, because guys are always quitting, but you’ve got to go every morning.”

“Must be tough work.”

“It’s either really tough or no work at all. And it’s all day, too, so I have to take night classes. Sometimes I think I’m crazy to try to—”

A pair of motorcycles roared by on the street below, drowning out his words.

“—but the money is so damn good, I hate to give it up, especially with the kid.”

We smoked in silence for a few minutes. Neil Young was singing about a man needing a maid. Claire came back into the room wearing a bright red tube top that outlined her breasts and ragged, cut-off jeans that displayed her slim, tanned legs. her feet were bare. I paused in mid-hit, my eyes wide. The jeans were cut off so high that the white pockets peeked out below. Her long, golden hair was pulled forward over her right shoulder. She sat down beside me on the floor, smelling of sweat and herbal shampoo. I felt the vibrations from Neil Young’s guitar go right into my chest and down through my body.

“Should I light another ‘j’?” asked Tony.

“Not for me,” I said. “I’m buzzed.”


“Not right now.”

We sipped our beers for a while without speaking. The album ended, and there was a break in the traffic below, so, for moment, it was almost quiet. Then a sudden breeze sprung up, rattling the Venetian blinds, and the traffic noise resumed.

“You live around here?” asked Claire.

“In Whitefish Bay, with my folks. But I work part-time at Siegel’s Liquor Store, over on Oakland, delivering booze and stocking shelves. It doesn’t pay much, but the hours are flexible, so it’s good for school. I hear you work at a nursing home.”

She was pulling another cigarette from her pack of Kool 100’s.

“Colonial Manor—just up the hill from Siegel’s, as a matter of fact.”

“I’ve noticed that place. do you like it?”

She lit her cigarette, shook out the match, and tossed it into the green ashtray, which sat on the floor in front of her.

“It’s a living,” she said.

Tony took a cigarette for himself and offered the pack to me. I didn’t smoke much, but it seemed like the thing to do at the moment, kind of like Indians passing the pipe to a new friend. I took one. Tony struck a match and lit mine before lighting his own.

“I can’t imagine working in a nursing home,” I said. “You must have to deal with a lot of disgusting stuff. I admire you.”

“I’m not sure I can deal with it, either.”

“You should see her when she gets home from work sometimes,” said Tony. “She’s so wasted and bummed out she can hardly move.”

“But at least you’re trying,” I said. “That’s more than I could do.”

Just then, the doorbell rang. In my stoned condition, it took me a moment to comprehend what the sound was.

“Who could that be?” Claire asked Tony.

“Who else? Kolvacik. He must have had to take Mina home early tonight—probably to avoid getting his legs broken by her old man.”

Tony went to the window, leaned out, and called down, “Kolvacik, you thoughtless slob, go away. We’re in bed.”

“So what?” Kolvacik called back. “We’ll just make it a threesome, like always.”

Claire smiled at me and took a sip of beer.

“In your dreams, Kolvacik,” Tony shot back.

“Come on, Russo, let me in. I promise to keep my hands off Claire, okay?”

Claire laughed.

“Come on, Tony,” she said, “let him in before he wakes up Mrs. Rosetti. She’ll call the landlord again.”

Tony turned back to us.

“Ah, she’s deaf as a post,” he said. “She only calls if she sees something she doesn’t like. But I’ll let him in.” He put his head out the window again. “Sit tight, Kolvacik. I’ll be right down.”

He went out the door to the stairwell, leaving it open behind him.

“Tim’s an old friend of Tony’s,” said Claire. “They’ve known each other since they were kids—and that’s just about how old they act, sometimes. Tim is fun, though. You’ll like him.”

“Holy shit,” Tony exclaimed from the bottom of the stairs. “What the hell is that thing?”

“It’s a conga drum, dipshit,” said Kolvacik. “Imported from darkest Africa.”

“What do you plan to do with it?”

“Eat breakfast off of it, what else? Come on, Tony, take the chain off, will ya. You’re stoned, aren’t you?”

“Me? Nah.”

“Well, in that case, I’ve got an even better surprise for you.”

Kolvacik’s voice dropped to such a quiet level we couldn’t understand what he was saying.

Then Tony said, “Well, why didn’t you say so? You can throw that ugly drum into the dumpster next door, but bring that shit up here.”

“No way,” said Kolvacik, as they started up the stairs. “Love my hash, love my drum. This stuff’s going to help us make beautiful music together.”

My first impression of Kolvacik as he came through the door was that he wasn’t much taller than the drum he carried in front of him, chest high. thin, short legs in jeans appeared below it, and a small head with wild, frizzy black hair and dark, beady eyes peered over the top. The drum was made of dark wood carved with African figures and had an animal skin with the fur still on it stretched over the top. Kolvacik plopped it down on the carpet and gave it a few loud, quick raps.

“Remember, kemosabe,” he intoned, “I’m leaving the safari at Nairobi.” Then he looked at me.

“Who the hell are you? Whoever you are, if you’re thinking about getting into Claire’s pants, forget it. She’s already promised if she ever has an affair, it’ll be with me. right Claire-bear?”

I blushed, but Claire just laughed. “right, Tim,” she said.

Tony closed the door and shook a finger at Kolvacik.

“You touch my woman and I’ll cut you up in little pieces and bury you inside that ugly drum, you hear me, boy?”

Kolvacik put on a look of horrified innocence.

“But, Tony, baby, I thought we were friends. Friends share and share alike, right? Come on . . .”

“You ‘come on’ enough for both of us,” said Tony, then turned to me. “John, this is Tim Kolvacik—a certified maniac, in case you haven’t noticed. Tim, John Meyer. We met at the demonstration tonight.

“Oh, man,” said Kolvacik, “don’t tell me you actually fought the cops over that dippy little park? What a waste of time. I, on the other hand—” He reached into his pocket and extracted a small foil package. “—was using my time wisely, scoring a gram of pure Indian hash.” He set the foil on the drumhead and pulled it open. “Look at how dark this shit is.”

We gathered around to admire the hash. As much as I was put off by Kolvacik’s big mouth, I had to admit he wasn’t exaggerating about this stuff. It was dark and rich, smelling of wild flowers and earth.

“Care to sample it?” he asked.

“Of course,” said Tony. “That weak weed we’ve been smoking is already wearing off.”

“Then, let’s party!” cried Kolvacik. “But, hey, where’s the music? What is this, a morgue? We need sounds, Russo, I want Santana full blast, or you aren’t touching this stuff. I’m not sharing it with a bunch of nuns. I came here to break in this drum and, by God, I’m going to break it in!”

We snorted a few small pieces of the hash by sticking them on a pin and lighting them. It was exhilarating stuff—not too hard on the head, but plenty of body rushes. Before long, we were following Santana’s beat, Kolvacik on his conga, me on Tony’s bongos, and Tony on an end table. We beat our hands raw while Claire danced around and around the room, hypnotized by dope and sound.

Why the neighbors didn’t call the police, I’ll never know. I’d have thought even deaf Mrs. Rosetti could have heard us. and we kept it up well past midnight. It was Jonah who finally stopped us. We paused between albums and heard him crying pitifully from his bedroom. Claire went to him immediately. Tony decided it was a good time to cut the music and go help her, and even Kolvacik had the good sense not to protest.

“The natives are restless, man,” he said to me after they’d left the room, a small-toothed grin splitting his hairy face.

I smiled weakly. He began tapping his conga lightly with two fingers, glancing up at me occasionally, though he avoided eye contact. I sensed that he was studying me.

“These are good people, don’t you think?” he finally said.

“They seem to be.”

“They are—you can take that from me. You plan to be friends with them?”

“Maybe. How the hell do I know? I just met them tonight.”

“You know. It’s bullshit to say you don’t know. Do you or don’t you?”

I reached for Claire’s cigarettes and fumbled the pack as I tried to pull one out. The hash and the drumming had made me speedy, and Kolvacik’s questioning wasn’t helping any.

“What do you want from me, man? Sure, I’d like to be friends with them. Is that okay with you?”

He drummed all ten fingers on the conga, making a sound like the drum roll before a firing squad execution. He looked right through me with those beady black eyes. I had to look away. he ended the drum roll with one good thump of his palm.

“Just don’t fuck with them, you hear? They’re the best people I know.”

I still hadn’t succeeded in freeing a cigarette. I stood up, the cigarette pack still in my hand, then threw it down.

“Hey, man, get off my case, will you? I don’t know what your problem is, but I don’t like being threatened. You take care of your business, and I’ll take care of mine.”

I was trembling a little. I went into the kitchen for a glass of water and found Claire walking Jonah back and forth along its narrow length. Only the dim light on the stove was on. If possible, she looked even more beautiful in that light. Tony was nowhere in sight.

“Is Jonah okay?” I asked quietly.

“Fine. I like to walk him in here when the refrigerator is humming. It seems to calm him down.”

Jonah was a fine-boned, brown-haired doll in baby blue Dr. Denton’s.

I suddenly had an overwhelming desire to take him in my arms.

“May I hold him?”

Claire looked a little surprised, and then pleased.


She handed Jonah to me carefully. His big brown eyes fluttered open for a few seconds, but he stayed asleep. He felt warm and vulnerable against me. He smelled of milk and baby shampoo. It was so cool, holding a baby. The whole damn person, right there, practically in the palm of my hand. I knew I’d been held like that, too, but who can remember that far back? For a minute I spaced out on how big a person would have to be in order to hold me like I was holding Jonah. Seems like that was what I needed most, to be held. Then I flashed on holding my little brother, Steven, who’d been born when I was a freshman in high school. Steven always smelled that way, too.

Mingled with those familiar baby smells were others. Maybe I was hallucinating, but I thought I could identify my own sweaty odor, the green smell of the underbrush Tony and I had run through, the sandy smell of the beach, and all of them overlaid with the pungent perfume of the hashish. But there was another, far more exhilarating one. It took me a few minutes to figure out that it was the musky scent of the body that had given birth to the baby in my arms, the smell of a woman, Claire’s smell. I took a deep breath, savoring it.

My website (where you can get a signed copy with, if you wish, a personal message): 
PRICE: Depends on where it’s purchased.

CONTACT THE AUTHOR: Write me through the “Contact me” feature at the bottom of this page on my website: http://www.lawrence-write


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Recently retired after 35 years with the News & Advance newspaper in Lynchburg, VA, now re-inventing myself as a novelist/nonfiction writer and writing coach in Lake George, NY.

2 thoughts on “Cinnamon Girl”

  1. The above review captures the spirit and essence of the book. Lawrence writes interesting and complex characters and as the first chapter example demonstrates, the reader is immediately captured by the interesting and complex nature of those characters. I couldn’t put the book down when I read it.



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