Monday, December 28, 2009
2. Reading List: I'm so fortunate to have so many good books to work through! Here is the top of the pile:
- The Republic, Plato (which I need to read in honor of one of the best teachers I've had, and so that now, as friends, we can talk about it)
- The Last Queen, CW Gortner (the excerpts of this are just lovely, I can't wait!)
- East, Wind, Rain (which I bought because it was repped by a potential agent; that didn't work out but I still want to read it)
- The Rebels, Sandor Marai (as I continue my fascination with Hungarian culture, all sparked by my wonderful Hungarian friends)
- Women Building Peace (on my Christmas list, but from a long time ago - am I still the young idealistic feminst I was? We'll see)
- Mentors, Muses & Monsters (this and the other wonderful books on writing that I have. I'm excited to work on improving my craft)
- research for the next novel (ok, I get to be a little mysterious about that)
Those plus my reads for the Historical Tapestry Challenge - so much reading! What a joy. I worry sometimes that I'll die prematurely, and won't have had a chance to do all the learning and growing I would have, a large part of which will come from books!
Monday, December 21, 2009
Friday, December 18, 2009
On the afternoon of his last day, he ran into a few of them in the hallway. They were bundled up, heading out for coffee. "Oh yeah, your last day! Be sure to stop by and say farewell," they told him. "I'll try to come over before you leave," a nicer one said. He nodded. "Thanks."
He had enjoyed the two years. The assignment was much longer than he'd anticipated, and the work, even though it was mundane, was a joy compared to his previous assignment as a telephone receptionist, a mere conduit, no one's destination. Here he had responsibilities, and people came to him to ask questions.
The sun set before the day closed, and as his office dimmed, he waited, watching the clock march towards his conclusion. No visitors came. He sat in silence, then picked up his box, glanced around to make sure he hadn't forgotten anything, and walked out.
The cold outside was bracing, and he wished he had leather gloves, any gloves, to protect his fingers as he gripped the cardboard box. He took a deep breath and launched himself forward.
"Hey!" A voice called. He kept walking, the voice tuned out, intended for someone else. "No, wait! I wanted to catch you but got stuck in a meeting." He turned to see the woman who had supervised him, measuring his productivity in folders filed and cases referred, standing shivering in the cold. Her arms were wrapped around herself, little protection from the winter, and a white envelope dangled from her hand.
"I wanted to make sure you got this," she explained, holding out the envelope. "A reference. You were great, really you were. So hopefully this will, I don't know, explain. Help make sure you get another job you like. I know you liked it here." Her voice trailed off, and she looked at the ground.
"Oh, wow, well, thank you. Thank you very much." He bobbled the box around so he could grab the envelope, and managed to slide it under the lid. "That's nice of you."
"Well, I'm freezing, I'd better run back in. But good luck, I mean it."
He nodded, and watched her hurry back to the glass sanctuary of the lobby. He smiled the whole way home. A reference. Someone else's praise, solidified and permanent. He didn't notice the cold, not for a long time.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
I grabbed this book in a five-minute panic at the library, and I'm grateful I didn't have any more time to peruse the shelves. The cover to this book turned me off - it looks like an Asian sexual fetish story - but because I couldn't find another historical fiction book written by a Mr. or Ms. B_, Honolulu won by default. Now that I've met Jin, learned about her homeland in Korea and her efforts to make a life in early 20th century Hawai'i, I'm definitely glad I was in such a rush.
Jin starts off life as a young girl named Regret, for her parents' feelings upon welcoming her to the world. She has greater ambitions than Confucian Korea smiles upon, and so she strong-arms her way into some luck and adventure. That takes her, as a "picture bride," to Hawai'i, where she meets the man who selected her picture from the pile. It's hardly love at first sight, but Jin ("Gem," as she now calls herself) vows to make the best of it.
The book follows Jin's life in Hawai'i, as she and the young society there work to make their ways. Jin watches, close but on the sidelines, as Honolulu struggles to come to terms with its racially-mixed identity, and she shares with the reader her own struggles.
The writing is often lovely, with evocative sentences like, "Her hair was mostly white, with a few strands of black threading through it like old memories." The prose occasionally wanders into purple, stretching the credibility of a first-person narrator who has had little education (though she treasured what she found) and speaks English as a second language. But, we can ignore these excesses for a tender and moving story.
My largest gripe with the book is the narrator's insistence on spelling out Korean and Hawaiian traditions to the reader, introducing expository paragraphs that break up the narrative. There are more graceful ways to explain habits or cultures foreign to the reader, and it reminded me too much of the author behind the curtain. Fortunately, these fade away as we get to know Jin and, in the end, her story and lovely personality make for a memorable, enjoyable read.
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
"And the first reading is tomorrow!" She told her invisible interlocutor. "But that's the only reading I can make for two weeks, because of the thing at [prominent local performance venue]. Oh, I didn't tell you about that? It's a dream come true! They're paying me $200 to sing in two shows there! They're actually going to pay me!"
I walked away smiling. I was happy for her - she'd apparently just been picked for a play, and on top of that was getting paid to do something she was thrilled about. What a nice thing to find in the basement.
Sunday, December 6, 2009
Thursday, December 3, 2009
Sunday, November 29, 2009
The next day, a small man with greenish-blond hair falling over his forehead knocked on her flimsy door. As she opened it, he announced himself.
"I am the tunnel consultant, Marco Van Whimmel. Just call me Marco. Shall we sit out here?" He gestured at her peeling rocking chair and the wicker chair with a faded floral cushion.
"Yes, perfect," Julie concurred. She wrapped her cardigan around herself and took a seat in the wicker chair. Marco rocked awkwardly across from her. "So you ... build tunnels?" she asked.
"Exactly. I'm so sorry about the mix-up. I should have been here first. The bottom line is that someone has bought you a tunnel -" he flipped open a notebook and scanned down a page, holding it closely to his chest. "I can't disclose who. But the point is, you have a tunnel. So, where would you like it to?"
"To? I'm not in jail, so I'm not sure I need a tunnel to anywhere," Julie observed. She flicked the heels of her flip-flops up into her feet. "Where do most people get their tunnels to?"
"Oh, well there is no 'most.' But some popular choices are China, naturally, or the Grand Canyon, or the house of a married lover. Which reminds me - I should point out a few rules, tunnels we won't dig. No digging into bank vaults. Or jails, as you mentioned. We won't break the law, it wouldn't be good for business. Also, no tunnels into hell. You wouldn't think that'd be a problem, but we get the request every once in a while. Same concept as the jail break, I suppose. Anyways, it's more trouble than it's worth, so we've ceased doing that. Finally, no tunnels back in time. Or forward. Only lateral travel."
"Wait, China? Isn't that rather far?"
Marco glanced up at her, his blue eyes twitching. "Tunnels work differently. Nothing's 'far.' Please don't consider geography an obstacle, minus those restrictions I already mentioned."
Julie ran her fingers through her tousled hair, frowning and then repressing a giggle. "What about to your house?"
Marco pulled his lips into a tooth-baring smile that was either intended to show indifference or aggression - Julie couldn't tell. "No, I'm sorry, that's off limits."
"I was just kidding," Julie replied, releasing her giggle. "Let's see ... a tunnel to anywhere I want ..."
"You can mail me your answer, if you prefer," Marco noted, hugging his notebook to his chest.
"Oh yes? I think I'll do that. I need some time to think it over."
He handed her a business card with a simple P.O. Box address. "Send it by tomorrow and the technicians will be here in a week."
"You can't tell me who gave me this?" Julie asked as she showed Marco off her porch.
"No. Definitely not. Terms of the deal."
Julie nodded, and returned to her kitchen. She made up a pot of tea, and sat thinking about where she would like her tunnel to go.
In a week, the same booted man again stood on her front porch. Julie invited him in, and led him down to the basement.
"We can start it from here, you think?" she asked, pointing at the grey cement floor. She had pushed back her dusty boxes and broken furniture to clear a place.
"Why sure, that's no problem. But miss, uh, do I have your plans right? I mean, this is a bit unusual."
"A tunnel that loops around and comes back here? Yes, that's right. Just make sure it's cozy. It's the journey that matters, after all."
He nodded, made some notes, and thumped back up the stairs to get his equipment.
"You mean you haven't picked one out yet? Goddamn. How'm I supposed to install a tunnel if you haven't even talked to the damn consultant yet ..." His final words trailed off in a growl of frustration.
"Wait, you're joking right? Tunnel? Consultant?" Again, Julie considered shutting the door in the man's face.
"No, ma'am. You got a gift certificate, like I told you. It's not uncommon, that's how most folks get their tunnels. Mm, prob'ly all of 'em, tell you the truth. Anyways, we need to set you up with the consultant." The man pulled a cellphone out of his back pocket, tapped in a text message, and replaced it. He sighed, and shifted his weight between his heavy boots. "It'll just be a minute."
"Til the consultant gets here?" Julie asked, alarmed at the prospect of having these mad people invade her house. She began to wonder if she should call the police.
"No, no, til he tells me when he can meet you. Listen, I know what you're thinking - but this is for real." He shrugged, and offered no argument to support his claim. Strangely, Julie found his confidence credible.
An electronic melody announced the text message. "Twelve noon tomorrow alright with you, miss?" the man asked, holding his phone open, waiting.
"Tomorrow? Well, alright."
"Ok. Think about what kinda tunnel you want, and the consultant will be happy to talk it all over with you. We'll be seeing you later then. Sorry about the mixup. Goddamn schedulers," he muttered as he walked down her creaking wooden stairs.
Slowly, Julie shut the screen door.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Sunday, November 22, 2009
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
My cat, apparently, has an intuitive understanding of what makes "interesting." He pointed out to me today that, when sitting in a laundry basket, it is far more entertaining to try to catch the catnip-filled toy mouse through the holes of the basket than it is to simply reach up and over. When he can see all the mouse in its lame, grey cloth glory, the game loses its fun. Its mystery.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
I'm still astonished by the experience. Selfishly, I can't believe I got to hear the story straight from the lips of someone who lived it. But more deeply, I'm reminded of the horror of the Holocaust - something that is easy to forget, as it is so difficult to comprehend. How could so many people become so hateful, while even more look on in indifference, or, at best, cowardice? How could they forget that those they killed were people, individuals with stories and feelings? Eichmann in Jerusalem has some interesting discussion of that, as do many other works, but in spite of reading about it, it's still nearly impossible to truly, truly feel, to understand it as something people lived through and died in.
Which, as usual, brings me to reading - not to understand after the fact (which is, of course, essential), but to try to prevent these things from happening in the future, to guard ourselves from indulging in such hate. Reading fiction is perhaps the most empathetic act we can do - inserting ourselves into the mind of a character. If the writer is doing her job, that character is truly human, and we feel through them. I can't help but believe that the more we read, the more human we become, through the forced exposure to other people's stories and other viewpoints. I realize reading is by no means a panacea (hell, Hitler read a ton), but I firmly believe that it opens a door, or at least has the possibility of doing so. And the more doors we crack open in our souls, the more we are willing to explore each other, the fewer chances for horrifying dehumanization. It's worth a shot, at least.
* A note: With all my emphasis on the moral enrichment available from reading, that doesn't mean I've forgotten that reading should also be ridiculously, overwhelmingly fun and entertaining. Not in the way that brussel sprouts are good for you but also a little tasty, but in the way that dark chocolate has anti-oxidants. So does red wine. Yum.
Saturday, November 14, 2009
It started with the coffee shop. Each day, from 2-3pm, Marlene would escape, before the kids got home from school, before she had to start cooking dinner. She knew she was out of place in the hipster hangout, all worn vinyl booths and retro stained glass lamps, but she loved it nonetheless. She liked feeling transported into a more rarefied world, pretending that she was one of its denizens, even as she knew that no one truly belonged to the life she imagined the coffee shop held. Marlene sipped her rich coffee and stared out the picture window. She particularly liked it when it rained.
One day the coffee shop switched its black-and-white photos, hung rakishly across the walls, for some bright oil paintings. Beside each was a cream-colored business card displaying a scrawled price and the artist's name, Y. Peirte. Marlene stared, fascinated at the paintings. They glowed blue and green and yellow, but didn't speak to her at all. In their failure to grab her they intrigued. I could do that, she thought. Maybe even better. Maybe.
For three weeks, she stared at the garish paintings. She wondered about the artist, Y. Peirte, wondering if the paintings sold, if they provided a livelihood, or just satisfaction. After three weeks, her heart pounding, she bought two canvases, twenty paints, and five brushes from an art supply store.
For another week, she continued going to the coffee shop, but now it was only to hide. As she stared out the window onto the sidewalk, all she could see were the colors of her paints and the blank canvas.
One day at 2pm, Marlene inched her way towards the closet where she'd stashed her supplies. She pulled the bag up into the attic, laid everything out on the rough plywood floor. First a dab of blue, then of red. Mixed, made purple. The thoughts, feelings that had been percolating in her mind over the past few weeks slowly trickled onto the canvas. The art lessons from her youth crept up to the surface of her mind and her hands. She painted.
She painted each day, from 2-3pm. Bought another canvas, and painted some more. Sometimes she hated it, sometimes she loved it. But always she painted, always in secret. Her husband suspected, but he caressed her cheek and knew not to ask. She was terrified to reveal herself.
It was a year before she returned to the coffee shop. She didn't recognize the barista anymore, which made her both sad and giggly. Marlene drank her coffee, sipping from the edge of the white porcelain cup. When she finished, she rested it carefully in the saucer and, glancing at the paintings - different - on the walls, approached the clerk.
"May I speak to your manager?" she asked.
"That's me," the young woman replied, wiping her hands on her brown apron.
"I was wondering ..." Marlene mumbled, and lay a battered white envelope on the counter. Out from it she pulled eight photographs. Her paintings.
Gingerly, woman shuffled through the photographs.
"For the shop, you're thinking?"
"Yes," Marlene said, little more than a whisper.
The woman smiled. "Wonderful."
Sunday, November 8, 2009
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Sunday, October 25, 2009
Saturday, October 17, 2009
The bus ferries us – to the world of the living, is it? – across the city, beyond where grit is glamorous and into where it is simply a fact of life, not an accessory but a uniform. We rumble over potholes, across a cavernous overpass. People descend from the bus, some of them trudging, some bouncing as they near home. A low brick apartment complex approaches outside the bus, halts by my window and a number of riders descend. So does the violin player, so do I.
I follow twenty feet behind him, no attempt to dissimulate, just walking. He does not turn around, I am nothing to him, no threat.
He enters the building, I cannot follow. A light on the ground floor illuminates a square window. I approach. Behind the iron bars, I can see. I observe certainly that he can see. His eyes, walnut brown, drink in his surroundings. An old woman hunched in an armchair, flashes of television colors muted on her wrinkled face. He kisses her cheek, she pats his arm. He moves to another room, I follow, the dark night silent behind me, the rooms in front of me delicately humming. A younger woman, wife perhaps, with pendulous breasts and thin brown hair pulled back reaches down to pull a chicken from the oven. I want some, so does he, he pokes a fork at it. Dirty dishes peek above the edge of the sink, trying to stage an escape from their pit.
No children that I can see, just the three of them. A shadow moves – perhaps a cat, perhaps the television’s dreams. A carved clock sits on a shelf opposite my window, I think it tells the right time, but I cannot see that far very well. It looks cheap, plywood shapes and laminate stickers. I wonder why he has it, the violinist.
Disappointed, I turn away from the windows and walk through the stiff grass back to the bus stop. I hope there is a bus back to the city. As I wait, I consider my failure.
A bus does come, eventually, and I am grateful, aching from standing. I return to the city, and it occurs to me that I have a chance to do it all over. Not to follow the violinist again, reenacting my selfish curiosity, but to discover what I was looking for. And the answer lies, as the violinist probably could have told me, in not looking, in closing my eyes. The next time I ascend the escalator, accompanied by the violinist’s hard-earned notes, I know I will close my eyes, even if briefly, and hear just the music. I will see the man as he presents himself, no need to search, to judge. There is the music, and that is all I need to know.
There is often, like with Orpheus, a mournful melody to accompany me but, unlike Orpheus, I am not the player. Instead, the shimmering, slightly off-tone garlands of music falling down the escalator come from a street musician. When I arrive in the sunlight, I will see him, large bottom overflowing his tiny perch (a bucket?), his dark, rough hands cradling the small violin. His eyes closed, always. I think it was the eyes that caught my attention.
When I reach ground level, my test concluded, I can end the curiosity. Out of the purse comes my cell phone. Time known.
I have imagined that once I will emerge, extract the phone, and there will be no time. Orpheus, unaccountably obedient, turns around and there is no Eurydice. If there is no time, I suppose the skies will be grey, one lonely note from the violin will hang on the air, and Einstein will have been wrong. (What was his ignorance, trailing behind him as he ascended?)
Naturally, that doesn’t happen. But subterranean escape after escape, the music, flimsy as it is, has enchanted me. As I often do, this day I put a dollar in the violin case, worn red velvet and quarters with a 20 for show. Then I go and sit where time has stopped, or at least made us invisible. A park with peeling benches and indifferent pigeons milling on the bald turf. I sit and wait, resolved, invisible behind the violin player. I cannot see if he opens his eyes but I believe he does not, no more than a peek at least. When the commuter exodus ebbs and the clouded sky is lit only with our own reflected luminance, he rests the violin on his wide lap, empties his earnings into a plastic baggie, zips it up, and puts everything away. The bucket – I can see it is a bucket now, for he has stood – is flipped and turned into a suitcase. He walks off. I follow him.
The story is continued in Part 2.
Monday, September 21, 2009
Sunday, September 20, 2009
She had been so absorbed with her three new lives, blind, mewing and heart-wrenching, that she had not even noticed that the path by which she had entered her refuge was now closed. It was only when her body ached with hunger, when she was forced to leave her innocent, defenseless charges, that she realized. Anxious, she paced the perimeter of her space. It was large, but closed. Had she been human, she would have realized that the garage door had been closed, with only two inches of space remaining, leaving her in a concrete cube, without escape.
She hoped for mice - not rats, they might prey on her babies before she could prey upon them - but none entered. Soon, hunger terrorized her. Desperate, she cried out, sticking her nose out through the tiny bit of space that remained to her, her only reminder that the real, open, free world still existed. Food, release, help, she cried. Her belly, her pleading babies, drove her to distraction.
As she cried, a warm smell of meat, flesh and fat and blood, crept towards her. Then, miraculously, the meat itself appeared, slipped through the crack, glowing in the remaining sunlight. She snatched it and ran away, back to her nest in the corner.
But the meat only held her for a short time. Soon she was starving again, her kittens larger, their eyes open and looking to her for food. On black paws, she crept around the space again. No mice, no nothing. Hunger drove her, she cried. She cried and cried. The light disappeared, then, after the cool night, reappeared. Still she cried.
Inexplicably, the meat came again. She snatched it away, glimpsing bare fingertips and hearing whispers in foreign, human tones. Her hunger satiated, she calmed.
When the sunlight next returned, a rattling cacophony came with it. The cat mother blinked, startled, as the bright day slowly invaded her space. The door was opening.
She was too astonished to do anything for a moment. A man walked in, his face widening in surprise as he saw her. She cringed, waiting for the violence. He bent down.
And cooed. If she could have understood, she would have known he said, "Oh, aren't you darling! So sweet. Maria, come look at these kittens!"
He thrust a weathered, darkened hand at her. The cat laid back her ears, but was too tired, and too hopeful, to do anything more. She remembered the meat, proffered by similar hands, though smaller. He caressed her head.
"There there. We'll take care of you my love. Maria, can you get a box, blanket? We've got to move these kitties to somewhere better." He ran his hand down the cat's black fur, and extended a heavy finger to stroke the grey head of one of her kittens. "We'll take care of you," he promised.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
"That is fundamentally irreconcilable," he announced.
"You've had too much of that mead," she observed. "Mary is at it again, pouring you too much."
"Curses, Lucinda, you're not listening!" Richard yelled. He pulled his sword from the sheath at his hip. It did not emerge easily, seeming to grasp at the inside of the sheath. "I am telling you, the fool's claim is irreconcilable!"
"Why is that? It is entirely possible he had made his plans first. Just because the records -"
"NO!" He bellowed. He grabbed the sword hilt in both hands and drove the weapon into the bed. Lucinda raised an eyebrow as she watched, and marveled that he was able to push the blade through the fabric and avoid the metal springs.
"Listen, Richard. You are going too far with this. Look at yourself. Get out of that ridiculous RenFest gear, drink some water, sober up, and we'll call the club. Just because Dave says he booked the gig before you had a chance doesn't mean he's lying."
Richard glared at her. "You never believe me. You're just trying to keep me from succeeding."
"You know that's not true," she retorted. "I drove you to the Renaissance thing today, paid for you to rent that horse even! How can you accuse me of not being supportive? So I don't want you to quit your day job for your two fantasy jobs. Not yet at least. There's nothing wrong with that. I know you'll get there eventually," she softened her tone. "Whether it's knocking guys off their block every day in front of a movie camera or signing with a major label with the band, I know you'll get there. You just have to enjoy the ride."
Richard collapsed onto the bed, the weight of his armor sagging the mattress, which pulled his sword into a painful angle. Like a splinter sticking out from his hand.
"Ok. Can you help me get these damn boots off?"
Monday, September 14, 2009
... But I'm hoping to add a number more of fiction posts. This writing and posting is good practice for me but, I can't tell how good (or not) the practice is without reader reaction. Therefore, in case you're reading this and happen to have any thoughts (no really, any at all) about my work, I welcome your comments. I'm open to feedback as well as all your gushing, glowing, overwhelming praise. So, please help me feel like I'm not mumbling alone to myself in a dark damp corner of the internet basement, and let me know what you think!
Monday, August 31, 2009
Saturday, August 29, 2009
"Can I help you?" He asked, the irritation seeping from his voice. Or so he hoped.
"I'm just resting," she smiled. "Thank you." She made no movement, except to recross her legs. They made the cloth of her skirt flow, heavy liquid cascading down from the wall.
Her gratitude was genuine, if presumptuous, and he paused in his indignation for a moment.
"Well," he said, and then faltered, uncertain what he had intended.
"This is a beautiful view you have," she added, flicking her wrist towards the other side of the street. A hill sloped down across from them, empty of houses, showing lush green trees below. "You are fortunate."
He followed her eyes, and nodded. Fortunate, yes, he thought, he knew, though it was easy to forget. Startled, he sat next to her to look at it.
"You don't mind?" he asked.
She laughed. "It's your wall."
Monday, May 4, 2009
She felt a bright wave of cold and then the humid air of the jungle. She had never seen a jungle, no more than the scrawny trees that struggled to grow at the edge of the city's polluted river, but her heart recognized it nonetheless.
"Let me see your hand," the boy commanded gently. She offered him her upturned palm. "No, not like that," he scolded. "Fairytale nonsense, palm reading." He flipped her hand over, and traced his fingers across the faint shadows of veins. "The trees, they echo their lives here. Their power sings here, in your hands. We will teach you to learn it."
He nodded, and led her past a curtain of vines. Two other teenage boys crouched around a small fire, and a girl her own age, not yet into her teens, stood behind them. The fire was unlike any she had seen, leaping up from the ground without leaving scorched black behind. The flames danced playfully in front of the boys' hands.
"Shamaan," her guide said, in greeting to the others. "I bring you Ulethe."
"Ulethe?" she asked. "But that's not-"
"Your name? Yes, it is. Perhaps you didn't know it, but it rises from your skin like your scent. This is one of the things you will learn."
The boys stood to greet her, and the girl behind them inclined her head in a small bow.
"I am Serij," her guide explained. "These are Ret, Veleu," he pointed at the boys. "And Kiuxo." The girl nodded again.
"Ulethe," she repeated to herself. "That's me?"
"Absolutely. You will learn to recognize this as the truth, but for now I hope you will trust me. Come, have some water." Serij offered her a hollowed gourd, with crystal water. She drank deeply.
The weekend hours spun past, filled with gossip and laughter and fresh-squeezed fruit juice in the heat. She did not think of the boy until she descended from the rickety bus and saw him sitting, wrapped over the plant.
"You would have a skill for it, you know," he said as she approached. He had not looked up, and she jumped at being addressed. "I can hear the jaguar in your blood."
"Are you crazy? Maybe you escaped from the hospital, eh?"
"Some people would say that. But I've escaped from nowhere. This is the prison." He looked up and around, grimacing. "Listen," he continued. "We have spun the song. Come here."
Stopped, she furrowed her brow in doubt.
"I will not hurt you. Look, I'll step away. Just come near."
He rose, revealing the plant for the first time. It had shed its yellow paint, and sprouted vivid purple flowers.
She hesitated, looked around, and then shuffled closer.
The flowers became transparent, wavering things constructed more of air than matter. A hum crept into her head, undulating in rhythm with the ephemeral flowers. Shocked, she stepped backwards.
"You see it then," the boy said flatly.
"Yes," she whispered.
"They did not teach you that in your school, did they."
"No. But I don't know what it is."
"What it is? It is too big to have a name, not properly. Some have tried to call it magic, but that is false. I prefer life, but I guess that could be vague."
She shook her head.
"Come with me," he said. "I can teach you much more."
"No, I ... school ..." she whispered, and hurried off.
She regretted it the rest of the day. All day, wedged into her hard desk at school, she thought of the boy and his wonders. I always wanted something to happen, something different, like the movies. I have to do this.
Rather than walking to the right outside her school to catch the bus home, she ran down the street to the left. As she hoped, the boy sat on the curb. The bright purple flower was nearly as large as his hand, and it breathed ribbons of blue smoke.
"Are you ready to leave now?" the boy asked.
"Absolutely. I don't care where we're going."
"That's good. Because if you had asked me, I could not explain."
He raised his hand to indicate for her to wait, and then he stood above the plant. He hummed, a deep crescendo, and the blue smoke grew with his voice. It snaked up from the blossom, out into the air, forming an arc. When it circled upon itself, it hardened, and the air inside shimmered.
"Let's go." He reached out his hand, and drew her into the circle.
Continue reading Part 3.
She couldn't decide if the plant was a good sign, for in a way it represented the city's deterioration. But she found its tenacity a relief, nonetheless.
One day, a frown took root on her face as she approached the plant, which grew two blocks from the bus stop and just below the the speed limit sign that everyone ignored. Sitting on the curb, next to the plant, was a dirty teenage boy. His back curved into a bony half moon under his thin t-shirt, and he rested his elbows on his knees. The plant was hidden between them, caught between his legs. She thrust her lip out in a frowning pout and did not break her stride.
He was there again, in exactly the same pose, the next morning, and again the following day, a Friday. On that third day, she slowed, pondering him, wondering if he had chosen the plant as his anchor, or if it were a coincidence. She heard him whispering. Her feet dragged along the sidewalk.
"You, girl," he said without turning. "What do you want?"
"Me? Nothing," she said, startled, and quickened her steps to pass him.
"Have it your way. But don't worry. I won't hurt it. I want to help it."
"Help it?" She repeated. She paused, and looked around nervously. She knew always to be on the lookout for the strange, which could so easily become the violent.
"Of course. Help this 'rubber tree' sprout. The colonizer's name, of course, named only for its commodity, but it will do."
"Oh. How are you helping it?"
For the first time he turned to look at her. He had skin just a little darker than her own, with a broad flat nose and almond eyes that angled upwards, following his cheekbones. He was handsome, she admitted.
"Singing to it. You wouldn't understand. But I could change that."
"You're right, I don't. Listen, I have to get to school. I go home another way, so-"
"I know. I will see you another morning.
"You will be here Monday?"
"Is that how it goes? Any way, I will be here. We are spinning a spirit web, Inxitha and I, and it will take time."
She raised her eyebrows and walked on. A moment passed.
"I could teach you," he called softly to her back. She kept walking.
Continued at Part 2
Sunday, March 15, 2009
Another one was ripe. The tree's branch uncurled, taking days to release the great bud ensconced inside. When the branch finally unfurled itself, the bud released and fell to the ground, rolling down the small hill. The bud rocked to a stop, settled in a mossy dip. For a long time it sat there, unmoving. Then, the outer shell cracked and split, falling open to reveal the snail. His bright blue shell glimmered, standing out like a gem against the green moss. He extracted his head and turned it from one side to another. He saw moss, which he knew to be moss, and he saw the massive tree behind him. His eyes swiveled back and forth, taking in the entire landscape. He saw no other blue gem snails, which he knew himself to be, and knew he ought to look for. The snail nodded to himself, accepting this information, and decided to inch his way forward, to explore.
After a long time, ages it seemed, the snail arrived at the edge of the world. He crept up to the edge, recognizing it from afar but wanting to see it, to experience the bliss of crouching upon the cusp of oblivion. He did so, and was amazed. Brown earth reached down below him, but beyond that he could not see anything except darkness. The sound of rushing, whispering air reached up to him. It called to him, begged him to merge himself with it. He shivered, and turned away. He made his way back.
The path he had taken previously was obscured, unrecognizable from the passage of time. The snail did not worry. He made his way as he could, sliding over moss and rotting leaves and bark. He met a moth, and passed a slug. He nodded at the slug and trudged on.
An ant, a massive ant, asked the snail for a ride. "I am traveling and could use some assistance," he explained. The snail pulled his eyestalks down into his shell as he thought. The ant was solitary, strange for an ant.
"Where are you going?" the snail asked.
"Ah, where," the ant replied. "To find something that makes me happy."
"That is a good thing to look for," the snail said. "I should like to look for the same thing. I have seen the edge of the world, and that did not make me happy. Should we search for the heart of the world?"
"You are an accommodating snail," the ant praised him. "I think we should search for the heart of the world."
The ant took his place on the snail's iridescent blue shell, and they commenced their slow journey together. They knew not to ask anyone where the heart of the world was, for they knew they would be the first to find it.
The snail crept along, and one day, as rain drizzled down upon them, he spotted a great cavern up ahead.
"I am certain that is the entrance to the heart of the world," he told the ant. The ant nodded, and the snail observed his agreement. Silently, they proceeded forward.
After a few cycles of light and darkness, they reached the cavern. It was dark inside, but they had no fear. They traveled and traveled, following the path into the heart of the world. The cave began to reverberate with a deep, contented sound. Even more confident, they continued. The air became warm, and all light was gone. The snail did not slow his pace, and the ant silently approved.
The first tickle was slight, almost imperceptible. Soon, more tickles followed, and eventually they became a warm, soft embrace, as the air around them thickened and welcomed them. A rumbling hum flowed around them. The snail and the ant had found the heart of the world, and they were happy. They smiled.
Sunday, February 22, 2009
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
The fourth day after Ranger’s new boss started was one of the few rainy days Bruni earned each year. Jessie was standing over the stove sprinkling cheese on a mac and cheese casserole when she saw Ranger’s green car pull into the driveway. She slid the casserole into the oven and glanced back at the car. She furrowed her brow as the clock behind her ticked away the seconds and no one emerged from the car. The rain ran in rivulets down the window pane, and she wondered if Ranger was hoping it would let up. She grabbed an umbrella and ran outside.
She opened the passenger-side door and leaned inside.
“Hey sweetie, I brought an umbrella out for you.”
He sat slouched in the seat, staring at his hands at his lap. She reached inside to brush her fingers against his thigh.
“You comin’ in?”
“Yeah. Not just yet though.”
“Oh,” she replied, startled. “Ok. Well, I’ll leave this here for you.”
She folded the umbrella and dropped it into the car before running back inside.
Thirty minutes later, Ranger came inside.
“You didn’t even use the umbrella, silly,” she said, brushing the water off his soft, brown hair.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I wasn’t thinking.”
“Don’t apologize,” she kissed him. “What’s wrong?”
He refused to say anymore, and spent the rest of the evening in silence.
It wasn’t until Saturday morning, as Jessie was heading out to work, that he opened up.
“Mitch, the new boss, you know? I don’t think he likes me.”
“That’s ridiculous, why would you say that?”
Ranger swiveled his foot on the ground, like he was putting out a cigarette.
“He told me my performance was sub-par and I was an ignorant red-neck.”
“He said that?” she exclaimed.
“Yeah. The red-neck thing was under his breath, but I know he said it.”
“Well, maybe he didn’t,” Jessie replied, hopefully. “Maybe you heard him wrong.”
Ranger glared at her.
“I know what I heard. So you think I’m dumb too?”
“You know that’s not what I meant. I was just hoping it’s not as bad as you thought.”
“I’m sure it is. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I can’t work with this guy.”
“You’re going to have to,” she said gently. “We need this job. Remember how hard it was to find it? And now, with the mortgage …” Her voice trailed off. Two and a half years of mortgage payments hadn’t made much of a dent in their debt, and the thought of all those zeros they still owed the bank made her nervous.
He exhaled, and his shoulders slumped. She hugged him and kissed his neck.
“I have to go, but let’s talk about this more when I get back.”
“Alright,” he said, and kissed her.
When she returned, exhausted, Ranger was absorbed in a crime drama on TV, with a bottle of beer in his hand. She didn’t want to disturb him, so she tiptoed up to bed.
As the weeks passed, Jessie’s husband spiraled deeper into his own personal misery. She could rarely get him to tell her what was wrong, as recounting it seemed to wound his pride even further. He drank more and spoke less, and seldom agreed to go out with the few friends they had made in Bruni. When she reassured him, he snapped, and when she caressed him, he pulled away. She didn’t know how to make him feel better, how to show him her love. Her heart ached.
And so, nearly three years after last seeing her mother, Jessie decided to write, pleading for help. Jessie’s mother was no stranger to marital difficulties – Jessie’s parents had nearly divorced when she was twelve, after three years of misunderstanding that rotted their relationship and led to screaming. But, to Jessie’s amazement, they reversed their trajectory and reconciled. Jessie wanted that secret, wanted the advice. And when she let herself admit it, she wanted her mother’s consolation. A hug scented with cloves and bread, that’s what her mother’s love was.
Her tears hit the paper before the ink did. She stopped thinking about what to write and just wrote. She sealed the letter without reading it, and ran it down to the mailbox.
When she came back inside, she saw Ranger sitting on the couch, watching TV. She walked behind him and ran her fingers through his hair. The TV was showing Forrest Gump, and the music surged through the quiet room. She leaned down to whisper in his ear.
“This is a little cheesier than your usual fare,” she said, kissing him on the cheek.
“I guess I’m feeling mushy,” he replied. He reached his arms over his head to hug her. Then he released her and reached for his beer.
“Do you feel like going out? Maybe have dinner at Chili’s?” she asked, hopeful and watching his profile.
He drank the entire bottle before answering.
“No. Thanks. I’m just going to watch this. You can go though.”
“No, that’s ok,” she sighed. “I’ll be upstairs if you need me, ok?”
Friday, February 13, 2009
Her pen hung over the paper, suspended mid-air. She watched it, waiting for something to happen. Nothing. She grabbed the brown beer bottle and drank what little was left. She returned to the pen, making it dance swirls above the paper. But still, no words came.
The first line had been easy. “Dear Mom.” After that, she didn’t know how to begin. With a warm salutation? With a formal opening? Or to cut right to the chase – “I need you.”
It hadn’t been so difficult the first time.
“Dear Mom: I’m sorry to tell you this in an email. I’m sorry I left without saying good-bye. Don’t worry – I’m fine. I’m more than fine, I’m happy! Ecstatic! Ranger and I are married. We got married three nights ago, in Las Vegas. We drove there all the way from Charlotte, can you believe it? And now we’re headed out, looking for a small town that’s affordable where we can get a job and start a life. The land here is beautiful, Mom, and I can’t believe I’m seeing it with my soul mate. We drove all day yesterday, hair in the wind. Is this how you felt when you married Dad? I know you don’t approve of Ranger, but I hope you’ll give him a chance. He has a beautiful spirit. And now he’s your son-in-law. Write back, and when we find a place, you can come visit! Love, Jessie.”
She never heard a response, not to the email or to the letter she sent when they found their tiny rancher house in Bruni, Nevada. She had given her mother her address, and begged her to visit them. Her mother never wrote, and ignored her phone calls. After a year, Jessie gave up. Frustrated and angry at being rejected, she resolved to cut her mother out of her life in the same way her mother had eliminated her.
Life in Bruni was exhilarating, at first. She and Ranger had cooed over their tiny, charming house, and dreamt about landscaping and baby’s rooms. They joked that the possibilities were as wide as the horizons. Ranger got a job in the office of a small mining firm, and she waited tables in a family-run Italian restaurant down the street. The owner, a mostly-Irish woman named Shirley, welcomed Jessie with open arms. Jessie loved taking her tips and meager paycheck home, to her own house, and curling up on the couch in the arms of her own husband, resting her head on his firm shoulder. She watched Ranger come out of his shell, finding his own two feet in the absence of his father.
Visiting Ranger’s house in Charlotte had been unbearable. He was 23, living at home because his parents had forbidden him from going to college and relied upon him to help pay the rent. His father vacillated between states of drunkenness and rigid propriety, and berated Ranger at every opportunity. Jessie didn’t blame him for wanting to get away, to drive as far as possible. And she couldn’t let him go alone. It would have been like letting her own heart leap from her body and drive away. Painful and impossible. So they left, driving his old convertible towards his freedom, their unknown.
She told him that their love was like drinking hot chocolate – warm, sweet, and more comforting than anything. She knew it was silly, but she couldn't find better words. He laughed and tickled her.
“Ok, pudding,” he teased.
Then, Ranger got a new boss at his office. Jessie had visited the office once – it was a tiny place, just a few rooms in a three-story cement office building on the outskirts of Bruni. Ranger managed the sales contracts, and that Sunday he’d made love to Jessie on his cramped desk. The place felt like a fishbowl to her, and she wondered how he didn’t feel claustrophobic.
Continued at Part 2.
Saturday, January 24, 2009
It started after Grandma died. I was 14 and I missed her a lot. She had always been quite the presence in our tiny home - sitting in that corner, sewing our ratty clothes, telling stories about devils or spirits, and cracking dirty jokes. Her husband had been gone some twenty years when I was born, and I think my birth gave her a new, comfortable role to fall into. Not a widow anymore, but a grandmother. We were tied together that way. And when she died, I missed her.
Our crowded house, so loud during the day, dipped into silence at night. A week after we buried Grandma, I crept out. Tiptoed past my brother's bed and through the shared living space. I cracked the light screen door open and slipped out into the warm night.
Although the street wasn't lit, the moon was bright and I easily ran along the side of the road. The cemetery was close and only a few cars flew past me, blazing headlights and screaming merengue.
You know, I've always loved our cemetery. Lush green and red leaves hug the graves, and it seemed like a fitting entrance to Paradise. I wondered how Grandma felt, and I hurried over to her new tombstone.
It was new but already it wasn't shiny. As usual, we'd had rain storms daily, and a few had brought down waves of soil from the cliffs above the graveyard. So her tombstone, like all the others, was dirty. What a shame, I thought. I pulled my nightshirt off my head and used it to wipe the stone clean. I'll admit, it was a bit of a thrill standing there bare-chested in the warm night.
I put my shirt back on and kneeled down to whisper to the gravestone. "I miss you Grandma," was all I could muster, both because I was a kid with not much of a way with words, and because I was trying not to cry. To distract myself, I looked at her name carved, not all that well I'll say, in the stone. The letters were still dirty and so, one by one, I traced my finger inside them, scooping out the grains of island dirt.
When I cleared the 's,' the last letter in her name, again I told my grandma how much I missed her. To my surprise, she answered back.
"Good lord child I've only been gone a week."
Friday, January 16, 2009
Like Mary, I have a small secret life of my own. It couldn't be any other way, I think. Perhaps it's just the legacy of my name, but I think that everyone should have a secret life. It protects us, keeps some part of our self safe, clean from the scrutiny and insinuations of others. In our secret life, we know what we do is for ourselves, or maybe for God. Now, I don't deceive myself. The presence of a secret life by no means predicates goodness. What are murderers but those who live secret lives? I know the tragedy that such secret manifestation of self can wreck. But that isn't an argument against secret life. People come in all types, and anyone can distort beauty.
But enough philosophizing. It's not like me, usually. Only on this topic. I want to tell you about my secret life, but I can tell I'm delaying the action of turning it over, relinquishing it to the anarchy of others. Still I remind myself, I am about to die, and this secret life will soon be of little use to me. Maybe it will be of use to you, if as entertainment only. And where I come from, we live off entertainment. Sometimes there's not much more to go on.
Continue to Part 2.