Thursday, December 11, 2008
The two rabbit guards brought the chipmunk to a hollow log.
"Go on," they said, indicating for him to enter. "We stay here; your path lies ahead."
Nodding, the chipmunk straightened his knapsack and entered the log. The entry was overhung with leaves, and it quickly became dark inside. He inched his way forward. After a few steps, he collided with a mass of feathers.
"Excuse me!" harumphed the feathers.
"Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't see you," the chipmunk apologized.
"I, um, am looking to pass through the log," the chipmunk offered.
"Are you? Well."
"I've been invited to see the Badger King."
"The Badger King? Yes, come along then."
The chipmunk followed the sound of feathers scraping against the log. They soon came upon some luminescent drawings upon the curved log walls. Glowing in strange yellow paint, they depicted a pheasant holding a goblet, turtles running on small strips of bark, squirrels balancing on tightropes and, most strangely, a crowd of animals, including fawns and tigers and beetles, gaping at an exalted badger.
"These are wonderful drawings," observed the chipmunk. In the light from the walls, he could see the form of his guide, a large pheasant.
"Why, ho, thank you," guffawed the pheasant in mock modesty. "I painted them myself. I am the keeper of this log shrine."
"Yes, of course."
"Where do you get the paint?"
"The fireflies. There is a basin at the top of the log, a stone bowl. The fireflies, in their frenzied devotion to my shrine, land there and, using a few pebbles strewn about, take their lives. Right there, in the basin. I use their sacrifice as paint."
"Oh," commented the chipmunk, at a loss. "That sounds, er, dedicated."
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Ustery laughed. The red stain on the floor tickled him, although he couldn't have explained why. He leaned back against the rough counter and watched the Councilwoman flail on the floor, astonished by her own blood. The dirty little boy ran over to help her, the vagabond. Ustery was tempted to kick the boy, but didn't want to create too much trouble. For all Chayman's faults, Ustery liked him. Or didn't mind him. If someone other than him had to care for the words, Chayman was better than most.
Ustery had shoved the Councilwoman because, in a moment of fiendish emotion, he confused her with a woman he had known in life. Strange that her name escaped him, a man of words as he was, but he didn't even notice the absence. Woman she was, haughty and powerful, those forceful words shaping her more than a name could. Ustery was torn between his fascination with the pooled blood and a desire to pour himself into the "woman" word box, to feel its curves and warmth and frigid rejection. That box was, naturally, one of the oldest in the shop, its maker long perished and even his spirit dissipated.
Ustery's first secret, his shame, was that he himself had never crafted a single word box, at least not one that made its home on any shelf. Polish them, even breathe new definitions into them, he could do. Grant a new word entry into their sorority he could not. For 94 years he guarded his words, a eunuch protecting his harem, excluding interlopers and pretenders, even as he knew they needed new blood, beautiful new words.
His second secret, his pride, was that he had killed to defend his words' purity. It was no great story, merely a dark night, shattered glass, a scuffle and a warm grunt followed by the smell of death. Some emissary of some regent sought to change a definition, likely related to a trial or an inheritance, although Ustery neither knew nor cared. He had been reading late one night and heard someone break into the shop below his living quarters. Armed with a letter opener, he slew the vandal as the fool searched the shelves. Ustery dragged the body out to the river, mingling its carrion with that of the night's many other victims.
Maybe that was why the Councilwoman's blood, testifying to previous blood spilled on those wooden floors, made him smile.
Thursday, October 30, 2008
Councilwoman Mirschett swept into the store, tinkling the door's tiny bell with a violence that caused Chayman to look up from his reading - the fourth volume of Hesse's Authority on Semantics of the Third Epoch. Councilwoman Mirschett caught his eye and raised both of her sculpted eyebrows in response. Before addressing him, she surveyed the shop, taking in its surprising sense of openness and light, underlined by broad pine floorboards and a thick red carpet, small like a door mat, in front of the long counter. In the corner to the left of the front door lurked a young boy, with a colorful wooden box lashed to his back, pretending to browse in a store that clearly had nothing to browse through.
She pushed back the hood of her yellow overcoat, approaching the counter. The Word Smith, dressed in his daily silk, had returned to his reading and appeared not to notice her. She cleared her voice. Nothing, except the sensation of a faint breeze. Councilwoman Mirschett shrugged and began to speak.
"Word Smith Chayman, I have business with you. Two definitions, or so."
Without looking up he trudged over to the counter.
"Just two this time, Councilwoman?"
"Likely. Do you know what he said to me, Chayman? 'Either we will build the bridge or we will not build the bridge,' he thundered! At the Council, can you imagine? What nonsense."
"Perhaps you mean effrontery, Councilwoman."
She ignored the remark.
"So of course I've come to you, Word Smith, the best in town, no, the entire district, to plumb the precise meaning of both 'build' and 'bridge.' As you might guess, I intend to discover whether I might, in fact, build the bridge without, precisely, building the bridge. Or bridge the build. Or however it comes out. You catch my meaning?" She flicked a piece of dust off her sleeve, and raised an eyebrow in question.
"Mm, perhaps. I'll get about extracting those definitions for you." He turned away from her and then paused, before spinning back. "Hey boy!" He yelled, ten years slipping from his face. "Don't touch anything! If you want help, I'll help you. Youth discount even. Just don't touch a single thing."
His mask fell back over his face and he walked off in search of 'build.' The words were grouped in meadows, where many different types of words might cluster and they all flourish, separated from the next meadow over by a thicket of wooden shelves. Chayman had first wondered why they were not sorted alphabetically, but learned, through unfortunate experience, that grouping them by their accidental letters rather than their essence caused them to dry out, to wither away. Some had even been known to die.
One hand resting on the counter, Councilwoman Mirschett watched him finger the polished word boxes on the shelves, as though divining their identity by the slant or curve of the protruding side. She curled one corner of her mouth upwards as she anticipated her coup, but quickly banished the thought, out of fear of incurring bad luck.
Just then, her hand slipped out from under her, sliding recklessly down the edge of the wooden counter as she fell to her side. The seemingly smooth surface birthed giant splinters, tearing her palm in half. She hit the floor on her hip and cried out in pain. Blood flowed from her hand, and her anxiety spiked as she watched it pump out.
The boy was at her side in an instant, offering a scrap as a bandage.
"You alright, madame? That was quite a fall."
She nodded, silently, trying to stem the blood flow. She stood, careful not to step in the blood smudge below. On the other side of the counter, Chayman waited with her first definition.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
The face in his hand was a marvel of paint and carving, whose sum was a frozen expression capable of representing a dozen different emotions. Simonth was particularly proud of this puppet, his leading lady, and often removed her from her case just to wonder at her, his hand wrapped in silk so as to not soil her wood with his hands. Those same hands had birthed the puppet only two years ago, but two years was over fifteen percent of his life, he calculated, so he felt justified in feeling that it was an eternity.
Eternity seemed often on Simonth's mind these days. As he raked in the payments from his shows, he wondered if his youth could possibly fund his eternity. As he carved a new puppet, or danced them through a new show, he wondered how long their shared legacy would last. He yearned for fame, he knew he deserved it. He just wondered how long he would have to work to ensure it. He intended not just to ensure it, but to cement it.
While it was commonly accepted that boys made the best puppeteers, and men made the worst, Simonth had decided he would remain a puppeteer into adulthood and beyond. His soaring success after just four years - a full 25 percent of his life, he figured - had persuaded him that such a duration was possible. Even fated, he told himself. Why else would the Neurstra have deigned to grant him with such skill, if it hadn't intended for him to bend the world's rules to that skill?
In the whispers of his darkest thoughts, Simonth hated the Neurstra. Hated the shadows between all his cells where the priests said Neurstra lurked, shaping the world. Hated that someone, something else could weave his body. But Simonth feared giving voice to those thoughts and tried to silence them, to keep them from the Neurstra's reach.
So he plied his trade and planned for his future, intending to discover the road already laid for him. One day, while visiting the Word Smith's shop to look up 'calumny,' of which he had been accused, Simonth decided to look up 'adulthood.' More accurately, not wanting to pay the look-up fee for a word he felt to be quite obvious, he decided to negotiate a re-definition. He had heard of that happening. Or, at a minimum, he could have an alternate definition inserted. Just a little wrinkle, a small exception, slipped into the word.
Monday, October 20, 2008
Six decades beyond that day, Chayman still spent every morning pulling open the bamboo shutters of that same shop. He could mark his own small blood stains on the wooden floors, and could differentiate them from the blood spilled that cold morning from the veins of the Councilwoman. He could remember which nick in his worktable corresponded to the construction of which word box - an easier feat than perhaps one would think, given the relatively few words he had permitted entry to his shelves. And he could, for a few of those older words, tell the interested browser when was the last time, decades ago, that he had slid that word box from its shelf. Sometimes it saddened him to see those grand dames fall into disuse, but most days he accepted it with magnanimity, enjoying his privileged position as caretaker for the old, fragile words.
For truly, that's what it meant to be a Word Smith. Each day he hung his guild's motto outside his storefront, naturally preferring the advertisement of a sentence over the visual allure of a showcase window.
"Words are our tools. We have to take care of them." - C. Mejia
After having repeated that mantra thousands of times with his bruised knees against cold stone floors in the Guild's rectory, Chayman had felt it creep into his heart and overtake him with its simple poetry. Each word box that he built, shaping each hollow letter into a unified wooden word, capable of holding all the meaning they would place into it, was stamped with that motto. All of the word boxes he inherited from Ustery, who had worked in this store until the day he died, bore the same motto. The Guild dedicated their lives to it.
Chayman, being not quite old but certainly not young, and with his lungs bearing the testament of his youthful indulgence in jade weed, expected that his life had been fully dedicated to the motto and foresaw no more than two decades of future dedication. Of course, as we know, he was rather mistaken in that prediction.
* Credit for the Word Smith Guild's motto goes to this author's wonderful co-worker; many thanks for his insight and inspiration.
Monday, May 12, 2008
Alice has worked in this office since Bingam started the business. There are dirty rumors that she got her job doing dirty things, but I suspect Alice got her job because she sold the boss on religion. Her own particular type of religion - that the machines surrounding us have lives of their own, and any malfunctions they have are of their own doing. It's actually pretty compelling, isn't it?
Today, I was leaving the office to get some much-needed fresh air and I passed Alice whispering. Curious, I slowed, and overheard her coaxing, "Come on baby, you know you can do it. That's it, come on." I thought she was coaching her dog (Maybellina) through puppy-birth over the telephone. (It happened last year; she was heartbroken to have missed the event.) "That's it, Mr. Shiny, give us the file." Nope, no puppies. Just the computer.
Alice has a theory, she tells us. The computers are part of a karmic network. They give back to us what we give them. If we talk to them nicely, keep them clean, and don't gossip about them behind their backs, they will cooperate with us. Alice's theory is so indisputably nice, so innocent, that she's really won quite a few converts. The other day I did find myself nuzzling my mouse.
Monday, April 28, 2008
George, bless his heart, was the inspiration for Boss Bingam's business, for which we all labor. George lost his eye. He says it was "in the war" but I chatted up his drunk his wife once at the holiday party and she whispered, in a conspiratorial tone, that it was really a childhood mishap. A playmate launched a rock at him and, lacking arms, he wasn't able to shield himself. Who would have guessed their game of rock tag really would put an eye out.
I think George has since then been on a crusade to prove that he really does only see half of what's out there. Selective sight is excellent - it allows him to ignore the signs in the kitchen instructing employees to wash their left-overs down the drain, to disregard the stares of his coworkers when he dips his tongue in the coffee pot to test its warmth, or to fail to observe the dried mustard on his tie. It's been there for THREE MONTHS George! Good god.
Today George sneezed vociferously onto his keyboard. He then leaned over, squinted his remaining eye, and examined the bounty. We're lucky to work with such an interesting fellow.
Saturday, April 26, 2008
Friday, March 28, 2008
Wow. I am currently watching a movie entitled, oh yes, "Doggie Poo." And yup, it's about a small, ridiculously cute pile of canine excrement. It cries. It shivers. It makes you feel bad about a pile of soil's imminent death. Sample line: "I'm just a doggy poo! What can I do?" Don't worry, kids, the doggy poo finds his way. Well, so I assume, I'm only 14 minutes into it, out of 34. If it has a sad, tragic ending, I won't let you know. I guess it's intended to be a good way to teach kids about death. "It's sad, but everything faces an end. That's the way nature intended." It is kind of a cry-baby doggy poo. Who knew.
You can catch this charming toon on Netflix's Watch Instantly. Probably elsewhere too, though I'd hate to think you'd pay for it. I mean, it just seems wrong to pay to have your heart warmed ... Right ... Geez, now I feel like a jerk for making fun of cutsie doggy poo.
Monday, February 25, 2008
Saturday, February 23, 2008
My mom refers to it as “before” and “after,” but I don’t, not really. My life is a continuum, not two stages. But I can see how, for people looking at my life from the outside, some days are different than others.
As a thirtieth birthday present, my two older brothers took me on a two-week trip to
I was walking back to my hotel when someone grabbed me and swung me into an alley. My back slammed against the wall.
A voice growled something in Portuguese I didn’t understand. I mumbled back, my tongue thick with fear and confusion. After a few more growled commands, I fumbled to extract my small wad of bills, and handed it over.
The next thing I knew was pain. Searing, blinding, pain engulfed my face. I screamed and crumpled to the ground. I tried to put out the flames on my face, but it only caused my hands to burn. I got up and stumbled a few steps, and when I collapsed again, I heard voices all around me. The voices faded into a blur, and all I could think was pain.
I woke up some time later. My face was covered, with only my eyes exposed to the air. I couldn’t see much around me. After a moment, I concluded I was lying in a hospital bed, closed in by curtains. I tried to sit up, but it moved my skin, so I groaned in surprise and hurt. Drew jumped into the small space.
“Oh sweetie, oh sweetie,” he murmured, petting my hair. “I’m so, so sorry.”
He paused and looked at the ground.
“We found you surrounded by a crowd, down the street from the hotel. Someone threw acid on your face.”
I didn’t leave the hospital for another week. When I did, I flew directly back to
After a month, I was ready. I called him and we chatted a bit, and then he inquired delicately about my health. I told him I was fine, but different.
“Will you get better?” he asked.
“Better? I had acid thrown on my face,” I replied. “I don’t think there’s a very good cure for that.”
“I know. I’m sorry,” he said in a low voice. “Listen, I promise I’ll come and visit soon, in just a few weeks. Just give me some time to sort out my plans.”
He never came, and I never heard from him again. I didn’t pursue it, because I understood. I did wonder if he got my postcard.
As the months passed, the claustrophobia of home and family pushed me out into the world. It took time to become better at refocusing myself, disregarding strangers, but I did. Ignoring the wide-eyed looks of surprise was impossible, but I imagined they were looking at someone else, someone I didn’t know. I think they were.
One night, on a girl’s night out, my friend Laurella knocked back a shot of vodka and looked straight at me.
“When are you going to start dating?” she asked.
I laughed. “Dating? Hmm … That will be about … never. Come on, people like me can’t date.”
“People like you? What does that mean. You’re being ridiculous,” she pressed. “You’re fabulous! The right guy is out there for you.”
I stared into my glass and swirled the contents around. I could feel my fears and pain rising into my throat, but I pushed them down with a drink.
“You know when people tell each other, ‘Oh, he’s way out of your league,’ or, ‘You don’t have a chance with her,’ they’re not talking about dazzling personalities,” I replied. “They’re talking about looks. That’s the first stage of attraction, right?”
“Attraction goes nowhere without personality, though,” Laurella retorted. “It’s the whole package that counts.”
“Yeah,” Sandra interjected. “I have some friends who weren’t physically attracted at first but they found themselves interested in each other as their friendship grew.”
I shrugged, and let them talk.
“What about internet dating?” suggested Mayra.
The other girls chimed in, but I told them I didn’t want to hide. I am who I am.
But loneliness wears, and, well … I set up an online profile – without a photograph. I took care in writing my profile, saying nothing about my appearance but being otherwise expressive. I could check off my physical attributes – blue eyes, slim, 5’4” tall. There wasn’t a box for “pretty,” thank God.
I admired numerous profiles of men, but I never wrote to a single one. I decided that if there were someone who’d be interested in me, he’d find me first. For weeks, the only messages for me were spammers and creeps asking if I was hefty and looking for a lay.
Then, Jeremy wrote. He told me that my profile intrigued him and wanted to know more about me. His profile didn’t have a picture either, which made me mistrustful (ironic, I know), but I put that aside and I wrote him.
Soon, we were corresponding several times a day. I got butterflies in my stomach every time I checked to see if I had a new email (which was pretty constant since all I was doing was working at home on my computer). After a few weeks, I gave him my phone number.
That night, the phone rang and the caller ID displayed an unknown number. My heart spun into my stomach, and I almost didn’t answer. When I did, his voice replied, smooth and deep, although a little nervous. I laughed, and we both relaxed. Our conversation unfolded easily, and the night flew by until the next thing I knew, I was wrapped up in my sheets with the phone barely cradled in my hand, exhausted and ready to fall asleep, but unwilling to hang up.
We talked like that for months. Jeremy asked, a few times, if we could meet, but I demurred, after explaining to him what happened in
I know it’s a regular refrain in these days of online fantasies, but I feel it so I’ll say it again: our conversations sparkle, and when I talk to him I feel spiritually connected like I’ve never felt before. But can I trust him? Do I deserve to be loved?
I’m writing this on a Friday night, sitting here at my computer in a blue silk dress, with my blond waves styled loose around my face. Tonight I’m going on a date. We’ll meet tonight. I’m scared, and I hope my eyes don’t water up and mess up my mascara – not like the mascara helps that much anyways.
I ask myself why I am doing this. Why open myself to the judgment of a man I don’t know? Who’s likely to avert his eyes and try not to look at my face? Why go on a date that could end as soon as it begins? I guess I don’t know. I just have to try.
All text © 2008
Friday, January 11, 2008
The show's premise, or its promise maybe, is that deep down, everyone can be beautiful. Physically, that is - no claims of inner beauty compensating for plainness here. Is that true? It's certainly amazing what a little bit of make-up can accomplish. But does that improvement matter? In December the Economist printed an article arguing that not only are beauty and success correlated, but so are beauty and intelligence. The article cited both biological and economic studies, and repeated claims I've heard elsewhere that beauty is our interpretation of good genes showing themselves off. So good genes also include intelligence. Hrm. That's tricky stuff - pretty dangerous, if you're going to start discarding all the Plain Janes and Joes in your life. And daunting for those of us who aren't at the top of the beauty pile. Does that mean we're defective? (Maybe I shouldn't have kids after all.)
Perhaps that's why we all want to be beautiful - we want to show off what good people we are deep down inside. All the way down, in our cells. And I guess, because I'm a softie, I believe that most people do have something good to show off (even if we also have plenty bad to show off). Humans have an incredible capacity for doing wondrous things. So maybe touting our beauty is a starting point for highlighting the other good things we have to offer. Or maybe I'm just trying to rationalize buying a new wardrobe.