“For this, that now was coming, he had very little curiosity. For years it had obseessed him; but now it meant nothing in itself. It was strange how easy being tired enough made it.
Now he would never write the things he had saved to write until he knew enough to write them well. Well, he would not have to fail at trying to write them, either.”
–– Ernest Hemingway, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”
I self-published a book of poetry recently.
(Technically, it’s the second book I have published, but the first was a children’s picture book designed for the iPad. I’m old-fashioned and have this prejudice that it isn’t really a book unless it is printed in ink on a page made of paper.)
Therefore, as far as I’m concerned, I published my first book.
It’s not important to anyone else, but it marks a milestone for me. There can never again be a first one, and I’m letting the feeling settle in slowly and warmly. You never forget your first one, they say.
An itch that I haven’t been able to scratch for more than 60 years has to leave me alone, now. I still feel I can get better, and there is still beauty and meaning to be explored. That is what keeps us young, after all. Always feeling there is more to learn, to do, to feel. Truly young, until we die of old age.
It has only been a couple of days, and a few copies have sold. I don’t have any expectations– oh, maybe to break even on the costs of marketing and buying author copies, perhaps. But that’s about it.
Practice. That was one reason. But for what?
Confidence. That was another. I needed to build my confidence. But again: for what?
I saw the Hemingway quote above, and all of a sudden realized what this book, and all the work over the last two and one-half years was about.
I hope I have not left it for too long. I could have another stroke and be unable to move or write, of course. That’s a thought I carry with me each day. It worries me, but I have had to learn how to move on, and into deeper places in me, in spite of that fear. I found out how to use it for motivation.
I don’t want to be caught short like Harry in “The Snows of Kilamanjaro.” But I also know that anything might happen. And I have to be ready for whatever comes. We all do, whether we like it or not.
(The story: Harry, a writer, and his wife, Helen, are stranded while on safari in Africa. A bearing burned out on their truck, and Harry is talking about the gangrene that has infected his leg when he did not apply iodine after he scratched it. As they wait for a rescue plane from Nairobi that he knows won’t arrive on time, Harry spends his time drinking and insulting Helen. Harry reviews his life, realizing that he wasted his talent through procrastination and luxury from a marriage to a wealthy woman that he doesn’t love.)
So I will press on, take care of myself as best I can. I want to sit under an apple tree in late summer for as many years as I can, and listen to them fall, wasting their sweetness. But I want to make sure I taste as many as I can.
I will keep writing, and write the things I’ve been putting off. “You pays your money and you takes your chances,” as some old friends used to say. There’s no point in waiting any longer. None of it is 2far–until it is.
Besides, I published a book! A little, self-published book of poetry. Just look at me.
Please call if the Pulitzer Committee tries to reach me. 🙂
Without fail, monthly, the full moon sheds
her inky cloak of night and stars
and slips a leg and then the rest into the lake,
her cool fire subtracted from the sky.
She leaves the nights more lonely, barren.
But her life is not extinguished,
merely hidden, recovering, re-energizing.
She must withdraw from sight,
make herself desirable, let her belly be lush and fertile again
so she may breath passions onto the world, be
drunk with the reckless, raucous, ribald dance of life. Continue reading “Song of the Hidden Moon”
This is listed as a “gentleman’s quote” on another site, but I don’t see why it can’t apply to everyone. The age of oversharing is getting sort of tedious, isn’t it?
“Keep your sex life, bank account and next move private.”
I want you to move in slowly,
To pin me
With hot and deep desire.
Wrap me in liquid fire.
Then I shall take my turn,
and coax from your heart
Grateful prayers to
the wisdom of a loving god.
I write younger than I am, but my voice
cracks on the high notes now.
I don’t know how much longer I can fake it.
I wish I had a daughter, who would sit and
listen, and forgive me in the
way only daughters can.
Instead, I sit with my laptop
facing a bank of windows with a
view of a mountain,
snow flurries in the sun.
I encounter many me’s
in various stages of becoming.
It’s as though I enter
a Greek amphitheater
in ancient Corinth,
my many selves sit on the old
blocks of stone, twitching.
I point to one and say
“OK, come on down.
Today’s your turn to whine about your life.”
We all lean in, ready to pounce,
evaluating the honesty, the growth,
knowing that one of us
will be judged next
and found wanting.
“I just want to see how long the string is. This never gets old. It gets more interesting, actually.” — Keith Richards, Rolling Stones
Each day is here then gone, a brief chance to
roll the salt and savor of it on the tongue, to enjoy
each passing smile and twinkling eye and lovely curve,
reminding me I am still alive.
Teaching me why, in the now.
Each sunset red on the world,
a hint at what becomes of us all.
Each day at 5 a.m. when the birds
wake and start yapping at each other
about territory and nests, about the
thrill of rising air under their wings,
the taste of freedom in the climb closer to God.
Each dawn when the sun
comes up like thunder
to set the edge of the
world on fire, and my mind,.
Each night, the deep comfort from my love’s hand,
slid under my clothes to rest warm on my waist,
and the times she does more,
or I do (which is none of your business).
It is so common to hear someone say,
“live like this is your last day”.
That’s harder than it sounds,
especially when you’re young.
And when you’re old, it’s all too real,
but it is still hard to
change the dumb habits
of a lifetime of mostly mindless routines,
of buying into the herd’s opinion
and preference for bland ignorance,
and migrating out of habit toward
a dreamlike future, always
scheming, fearing, guessing,
hoping you don’t die
in the swift waters of the rivers
the dumb herd seems to feel it
Then, after years of this,
you must pretend you’re not surprised
when everything turns out differently,
when few things actually work as planned.
When you get to a certain point, this happens.
At first, you make up stories about
a life of heroic triumphs, never
talking about more numerous failures.
Then, you will look around, and back, and
laugh at the absurdity of
a young fool who had it
all figured out.
That’s when it’s good to
pull a love close and
fall asleep under the comfort
of the touch of someone who
knows you, and likes the feel
of your skin.
by: W. B. Yeats (1865-1939)
I AM worn out with dreams;
A weather-worn, marble triton
Among the streams;
And all day long I look
Upon this lady’s beauty
As though I had found in a book
A pictured beauty,
Pleased to have filled the eyes
Or the discerning ears,
Delighted to be but wise,
For men improve with the years;
And yet, and yet,
Is this my dream, or the truth?
O would that we had met
When I had my burning youth!
But I grow old among dreams,
A weather-worn, marble triton
Among the streams.
Maybe it is time to forgive God
For the hundreds of women
who have rejected me over the years,
Starting in third grade,
(theoretically, of course,
whether they knew it or not.
And for the one or two who
didn’t, but should have).
I’ve reached the point in life
too late where I
Would actually be of some
use to them,
Could gently walk forward with them without harm,
And be remembered, I trust, with generosity and a little fondness.
But I have reached the age
of their fathers,
And so, instead, have become,
And over there on the coasts, maybe it’s time to give hip irony the
last rites and heave-ho,
And just admit that it is as
empty and useless as
Yet another beer or Viagra
It’s a rant. A rant about poetry. But I guess it hit a nerve. @Spillwords made it a featured post this morning…AND put a trigger warning on it. 🙂 That made me smile. But be warned: it might bruise your peaches.
I think you can handle it, though. (Photo: Pat Mansell)
Let’s talk “Poetry” for a moment, if you don’t mind.
Some things have been bugging me. I’ve been reading…
So many lost lusts,
So many ‘why doesn’t he love me’s’
So many sacrifices of dignity,
Continue reading “Spillwords: “What It Is Not””
Found this morning on Writer’s Almanac. Men– if we’re completely honest–are envious of women, as a group, in some rather superficial ways, but particularly in the birthing abilities she talks about–that we will never have. It is a power that is beyond us. We know it. And you know we know it. And we know you know we know it.
Things weren’t very specific
when I was in labor,
yet everything was
there, suddenly: all that
my body had known,
even things I’d only been
“American men are allotted just as many tears as American women. But because we are
forbidden to shed them, we die long before women do, with our hearts exploding or our blood pressure rising or our livers eaten away by alcohol because that lake of grief inside us has no outlet. We, men, die because our faces were not watered enough.”
― Pat Conroy,
Give one yielding hour,
All forgot in the moment.
Pretend to care not, if you must.
But you may be believed not.
In that hour, completely.
Then turn away,
Step again onto the twisting path.
Choice is loss.
Note: The nice people @Spill_words have republished this today.
When you’ve been together as long as we have—
the grown children are off making their own mistakes,
and careers have been dropped like bad habits—
the arguments tend to be about basic things.
We no longer tolerate easy answers.
Just the hard ones, such as those about walnuts and flowers.
One of you wants to plant the trees everywhere,
Knowing they’ll grow 100 feet high, and three across.
Their fruit is good, and their wood makes sublime furniture.
This all comes with foresight and patience.
Remembering a father saying one day, a few years before he died,
“Plant a walnut tree and generations will thank you.”
The nice people at Spillwords (and I know some of you are published there, too) have published “The Tunes of Life”, this morning. The link is below, and a visit and a vote would be awesome! (I’m offering a bucket of half-tone dots in a drawing later–and that will only make sense to those who served time as ink-stained wretches in the past.)
Meanwhile, “The Swan” was voted poem of the month recently, so I’m having a little trouble being my normal humble self. I’m sure I’ll get a flat tire or bounce a check or something today to bring me back to reality any minute now. But at the moment….. 🙂
The dry times they predicted are here,
The clouds are scarce and carry no water.
In drought out West, the red cliffs turn black in the moonlight
the way blood does when cooling under reflected light.
You won’t understand, of course, but I’m empty today.
empty of the thing I need,
empty … and likely to stay that way.
‘I have heard, but not believed, the spirits o’ the dead walk again.’
Just when enough time has passed, or should have,
a memory will wake the misery spirit to scour around my ribs
in sticky places where the emptiness still hides
like black blood in the cool, blue light of the moon.
Happened across this this morning. Isn’t this exactly how young love feels? Yeah.
“From June to December Summer Villanelle”
by Wendy Cope
You know exactly what to do—
Your kiss, your fingers on my thigh—
I think of little else but you.
It’s bliss to have a lover who,
Touching one shoulder, makes me sigh—
You know exactly what to do.
You make me happy through and through,
The way the sun lights up the sky—
1 think of little else but you.
I hardly sleep-an hour or two;
I can’t eat much and this is why—
You know exactly what to do.
The movie in my mind is blue—
As June runs into warm July
I think of little else but you.
But is it love? And is it true?
Who cares? This much I can’t deny:
You know exactly what to do;
I think of little else but you.
“From June to December Summer Villanelle” by Wendy Cope from Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis. © Faber & Faber, 1986. (buy now)
Your beauty, nude
not naked on the bed,
is far more a gift
than I ever expected.
I watch languor recline
1n your wise grey eyes
while slate hummingbirds
carved as earrings
dangle from golden hooks.
I quiver in your breath
and the ceiling fan halts
in that instant.
We look at one another
with both eyes open and close.
An intimate wind,
the cause of auroras,
moves north and south,
east and west,
then we swim
into one another.
“Not Naked on the Bed” by Timothy Young from Building in Deeper Water. © The Thousands Press, 2003. (buy now)
I’m not sure how to feel about this. But I suddenly have a craving for bananas. Aaaaand…. I’m pretty sure this is not going to come as a huge surprise to those of you with two X chromosomes…? 🙂
“…Surprisingly, we found that in many ways the gorilla Y chromosome is more similar to the human Y chromosome than either is to the chimpanzee Y chromosome,” says Kateryna Makova, professor of science at Penn State…”
What a prickle of hedgehogs we are,
Ultimately alone, denying the brutal reality of that,
Compulsively looking for love,
For warmth and deep tenderness,
For a touch that says “Come to me. I see you as you are.”
For a look that says
“Let’s mix it up but good, buster!
Let’s leave the sheets damp, the room smoldering and the neighbors jealous.”
All the while bristly with defenses: automatic, deadly.
When we are close enough, and when the sheets have dried;
When we’re drinking coffee and cursing traffic jams;
When silences grow; when the unknowns press against the window,
There come in under the door the sounds of small clawed feet,
Snuffling old things, blind and dangerous things.
Things we’d rather keep hidden.
From each other.
What a prickle of hedgehogs we are,
Driven together, driven apart, dancing on the points
And finding a way.
by Roger McGough
Let me die a youngman’s death not a clean and in between the sheets holy water death
Not a famous-last-words peaceful outofbreath death
When I’m 73 and in constant good tumour
may I be mown down at dawn
by a bright red sports car on my way home from an allnight party
Or when I’m 91
with silver hair
and sitting in a barber’s chair
may rival gangsters
with hamfisted tommy guns burst in
and give me a short back and insides
Or when I’m 104
and banned from the Cavern
may my mistress
catching me in bed with her daughter
and fearing for her son
cut me up into little pieces
and throw away every piece but one
Let me die a young man’s death
not a free from sin tiptoe in
candle wax and waning death
not a curtains drawn by angels borne
‘what a nice way to go‘ death
What can you tell from a person’s hands?
He’s been gone for 32 years, but some of the earliest memories I have of my father were of his hands.
Easily able to engulf my little paw in his, my outstretched fingers couldn’t span much more than his palm.
He had a doctorate., and an office job during the week, but when he got home to the little farm he and my mother bought just before I was born, he reverted to his true self.
The white shirt and suit, the thin dark ties, the polished dress shoes all went into the closet, hung and ready, and he’d put on work boots, leather gloves, khaki pants and a shredded work shirt. He’d head out to the garden, or the barn, or to fix a stretch of fencing, or to tend to the sheep. He was at heart a son of the soil, and needed to keep his hands in it to feel alive, connected. It fed him and let him touch real things after days of politics, effort spent massaging egos, and playing with words. It reminded him who he came from, and where he was going to end up.
In truth, everyone I grew up around had hands like these, battered and worn, but full of self-respect and strength. When they shook your hand, you felt the horny calluses, and the grip was like iron, and the eyes looked into yours to see who you really were.
It’s a legacy I do not apologize for. People who grew up in cities and suburbs may not understand, or much respect those whose hands wore the marks of heavy use, when if you wanted something, you had to build it, or fix it, or wrestle it into submission, or do without. He tried to show me the honor of hard work, and I confess I did not learn the lesson while he was alive. It must have disappointed him. I avoided work, and missed out on time I could have spent with him. My loss.
I learned later, though. I tried to show my sons the same lessons, and they treated me the way I had treated him. It made me smile a little.
I’m dealing with three things at once. I’m feeling a little guilty about it, too.
One is that we’re getting ready for a party tomorrow. Superficially, it’s to celebrate a wedding anniversary and a retirement (her’s, not mine yet, dammit) and an excuse to go to the wine store. But really, it’s just a big ol’ wet kiss to the fact that we’re both still alive. It always comes down to that for all of us in the end, you know.
But the advice to finish what you start applies to the writing work. I am working on the book. I haven’t been talking about it, because i found out that if I was talking, I wasn’t writing. But I haven’t done much yesterday and won’t today.
Yesterday was due to the third thing, which is the aftermath of that annoying little blood clot in a tiny part of my brain that is still making itself felt. Yesterday was a day it was making itself felt, and I wasn’t able to get out of the chair much. Today I feel great. It seems to go like that. So today is party prep, tomorrow is the party, and then “Running Girl” is going to feel my hands all over her again.
Hmmm. Come to think of it, maybe I shouldn’t wait. 🙂
But who, intact,
would Venus [de Milo] be?
ingénue. Give me
a woman who’s lived
a little, who’s wrapped
her arms around the ages
and come up lacking: that’s
the stone that can move me.
—“Truth in Advertising,” Andrea Cohen
Ted’s doorbell, which sounded like Big Ben, rang at 9 p.m. precisely two days, seven hours and 23 minutes after he left the old Mill’s bar floating on the updrafts of new love.
He had music playing and had cleaned things up as much as one can in a house that’s full of carpenter’s tools and stepladders, the smell of fresh paint and polish.
Rose stood outside on the porch with her hair down on her shoulders, and breathtaking in a low-cut but still modest black dress that ended just above the knees, a silver necklace and playful eyes. She fairly glistened under the light.
To say that she was well put together would be like saying Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus” was just an OK little sketch.
And never in the history of little black dresses had there been such a little black dress.
His heart fluttered a bit and then flopped over. His mouth went dry. She was overloading his nervous system. He liked it.
Her hair glowed in the light of late evening and the porch lamp. She must have done some fairy magic with makeup, because all he saw were her eyes and lips, a hint of swelling bosom…and felt something break loose in his chest. Everything about her looked understated and expensive, and he forgot his own name.
Rose looked a little worried at first that he wasn’t saying anything. It had taken a lot of work to look like this, after all. But then she looked more closely and saw the wordless appreciation in his face and then blushed at what she saw behind it, and felt a thrill run through her at what that look did to her. She laughed, held up the bottle of wine she had in her right hand, and waggled it at him.
“Are you going to invite me in, or do I have to find another guy to share this with?”
That shook the spell off, and opened the door wide.
“Hi, Rose. I’m sorry. You … . You’re so gorgeous, I forgot how to speak there for a minute. Please…. Come on in.” She smiled up at him warmly and stepped across the threshold, presenting the wine bottle.
Their fingers brushed lightly as he took the bottle.
“You look beautiful, too,” she said, a little shyly, almost too softly to hear. “What say we get started on that wine?”
He took the wine and led her back to the kitchen, opened it and filled two glasses. Then, even though they both knew they were delaying the inevitable, he played tour guide to his pride and joy renovation/rescue project, all three floors. It took the better part of 40 minutes. Back in the kitchen, he refilled their glasses, pulled a tray of cheeses and olives and meats and crackers from the refrigerator, and tried to tuck another bottle of wine under his arm. She held up a hand, took the wine from him, picked up the open one and a cork screw with her other hand and he grabbed the food tray and led her up the winding staircase to the tower room with its 360-degree view of town and treetops, where he’d earlier put some candles.
The summer sun was just touching the top of the mountain to the west, filling the room with a golden glow. They had had a spell of clear, dry air settling down from Canada over the valley, with sunny days and cool nights, so the windows were open and a slight breeze moved through.
He sat on one of the couches as she took her time inspecting this last space, sipping wine without saying much. She took in the view of town below, of the mountains to the west and north, and the tree tops of the old neighborhood stretching to the east toward the gigantic old limestone open mine a couple of miles out in the forests that surrounded them. It was just getting dark enough that the glow of the university town 10 miles away over a ridge to the south could be seen blotting out the first stars. The street lights and the yellow glow of the lights below in the downtown looked more inviting. He took in her presence, smiling at how lovely she was, how she moved so effortlessly. She’d chosen the dress well, too, and he watched her body move under it, enjoying the swish and sway of the fabric falling from shoulder, and breast and hip, but stopping at two of the finest pair of legs he’d seen in a long time, bare, with no stockings.
After she paused back at the beginning, looking pensively toward the glow of the western sky, he cleared his throat.
“What’s your story, Rose Tyler?” he finally asked, breaking the silence. She turned at the question, eyes dark and serious. He indicated the tray of food and offered to refill her glass. He stammered… “You know a lot about me — God knows I’ve been doing nothing but talking about myself all evening — but now it’s your turn.”
She didn’t answer right away, but took another sip of wine and held it to her lips for a few seconds, looking at him over the rim of the glass with unfathomable eyes. She moved to the seat opposite, but close enough that he could have touched her knee if he had just leaned forward a bit.
She held the stem of the wine glass with both hands in her lap with knees together and ankles crossed.
“Let’s eat first. I’m starving, and much more wine on an empty stomach and I don’t know what I’ll do,” she said. “But then you’ll get the whole sad story.”
Later, after the food and after they shared some more of their personal stories, they sat in silence for a while, sipping wine, neither knowing exactly what to say.
He put his wine glass down and leaned forward. Might as well be blunt, Ted thought.
“I’ve been thinking about you almost non-stop since the other day at lunch,” he said. “Truth be told, I’ve been thinking about you a lot even before that. And I want to kiss you,” he said. “Almost more than anything I can think of right now.”
She put her glass down on the side table and looked at him with a frank invitation in her eyes. “If you hadn’t said that pretty soon, I was going to,” she said, her voice a little husky. “And then I want to see more of that bedroom.”
Somehow– he later couldn’t remember moving– he was next to her and the room was lit only by a candle by the time they broke away. The sun’s glow was gone from the sky and the moon was rising, but it seemed as though no time had passed for the two of them.
They were both breathing hard. She put her head against his chest and ran her hand up and down, then back inside where buttons had been opened before. Her touch seemed infused with fire.
“Oh, my,” she said, voice husky and hushed. “Oh, my.”
He kissed the top of her head and stood, then moved around blowing out each candle. The moon was rising, filling the room with blue light, enough for them to see now. He took her hand and drew her up from the couch to him, kissed her once, touching her tongue with his. Without another word, he led her down the stairs.
The next week was a rushing memory. Rose left at mid-morning the next day and went to the restaurant. Ted met with a decorator and a plumber and some other tradespeople finishing up the upper rooms, and felt like he had a grin plastered on his face the whole time.
When he was alone he found himself whistling, something he hadn’t done for years. He also realized he wasn’t very good at whistling, but didn’t care.
Rose came back that night and brought some samplings from the restaurant, and also had a snack of cheeses at the big table in the kitchen. They washed it down with some German beer, and talked again for an hour about their lives and their losses.
She grew quiet after a while, and he could tell she wanted to say something. He waited.
“I like you, Ted,” she said. “I really do. Last night was unbelievable. But I need to be clear about something.”
“Um, Ok,” he said, wondering what was coming, fearing the worst.
“We’re both grownups,” she started again. “We know what we like, and what we don’t, and neither of us has time for games any more. That’s for kids. I’ve got issues. You’ve got issues. But I do love the way you use your hands,” she said.
“I know, I know,” he said, waving modestly. “My hands should be insured. I’m gong to call Lloyds tomorrow,” he said. “You certainly were vocal on that point last night.”
“Very funny,” she said, dipping a finger in her beer and flicking it at him. “But I’m not looking for anything permanent here. It might happen. I like being with you. We’re two people who need each other right now, who can make each other laugh. But it’s too soon for either of us to get too serious. I’m too scared about something bad happening again. The divorce was brutal. But I should warn you, I could very easily fall for you, and if that happens, it will be very hard for you to get away.”
“But let’s try to keep it loose for the time being, OK?”
As she said this, she reached over and took his hand and squeezed it.
“I get it,” he said, choosing to make light of it for now. He was feeling much the same. “You just want me for my body. And… “ he gestured at the shirt with a few cracker crumbs and the remnants of a spare tire under it…”I can’t really blame you. This is… well, it’s just irresistible.”
“Let’s just say that with the lights out, I can forget the cracker crumbs,” she said, rising and patting his stomach.
She led him toward the bedroom, although they didn’t make it all the way up the stairs on the first try.
The next hours were memorable. They dozed and then found each other again and again. At the last, she held him with arms and thighs, whispered urgently in his ear, made herself the safe habor into which the storms of his buried selves burst and were forgiven. At the final moment all of the grief and pain and doubt and anger stored inside from all those hard years of loss and disappointment left him.
Afterward, she lay quietly, fingers moving languidly over his skin, a feeling of deep contentment filling her.
They lay side by side, not speaking in the dimness of the giant old room. He let himself drift and wondered at what was gone from the day before— a darkness in his gut that he had felt so long that it seemed normal. He had a brief sensation of sliding down a warm slope. In an instant, he was deep asleep for the first time in months.
She pulled the sheet up over them and settled in under his chin, her head on his chest and one leg and arm thrown possessively over him. He stirred and murmmered something unintelligible and put his arm around her shoulder and then was still again, breathing deeply. With a strand of hair across her face and enigmatic smile at the corners of her mouth, she closed her eyes and followed him into oblivion.
A father sees his son nearing manhood.
What shall he tell that son?
‘Life is hard; be steel; be a rock.’
And this might stand him for the storms
and serve him for humdrum monotony
and guide him among sudden betrayals
and tighten him for slack moments.
‘Life is a soft loam; be gentle; go easy.’
And this too might serve him.
Brutes have been gentled where lashes failed.
The growth of a frail flower
has sometimes shattered and split a rock.
A tough will counts. So does desire.
So does a rich, true wanting.
Without wanting nothing arrives.
Tell him too much money has killed men
or left them dead years before burial:
the quest of lucre beyond a few easy needs
has twisted good men
into dry thwarted worms.
Tell him time can be wasted,
but that it is sometimes a tyrant.
Tell him to be a fool every so often
and to have no shame over having been a fool
yet learning something painful,
hoping to repeat none of the cheap follies,
is a path to intimate understanding.
Tell him to be alone often and get at himself
and tell himself no lies about himself
whatever the white lies and protective fronts
he may use against other people.
That this is harder than it sounds,
but is the greatest treasure of all.
Tell him solitude is creative if he is strong,
loneliness is not,
and the final decisions are made in silent rooms.
Tell him to be different from other people
if it comes natural and easy being different.
Let him have lazy days seeking his deeper motives.
Let him seek deep for where he is born natural.
Then he may understand Shakespeare
and the Wright brothers, Pasteur, Pavlov,
Michael Faraday and free imaginations
Bringing changes into a world resenting change.
He will be lonely enough
to have time for the work
he knows as his own.
For women out there who talk about “bad hair days”, I’ve got another for slightly better days:
It’s the “I look pretty good from afar” day.
In case you missed it, that was a joke. Seriously, we think you look fabulous even when stumbling to the bathroom in that ridiculous flannel shirt in the morning. Do you really think we judge you as harshly as you do yourselves?
Correct answer: Nope.
Effortlessly, simply, without regret,
Not with malice, with little forethought,
Or reflection, after.
Simply, smoothly, charmingly.
With a smile, a turning away
Like you don’t care that I see through you.
But each time, with each lie,
I wish you saw what I see.
You shrivel a little, your soul
Darkens, your bones get more brittle,
Your eyes dim.
I hate the way you lie.
You’re slipping away,
One lie at a time.
And that’s no lie.
By my favorite humorist, Dave Barry. I’m old enough, and married long enough, to certify that this nails it down, tapes it shut and puts a bow on it. Each side is charmingly, sweetly nuts in its own ways.
Let’s say a guy named Fred is attracted to a woman named Martha. He asks her out to a movie; she accepts; they have a pretty good time. A few nights later he asks her out to dinner, and again they enjoy themselves. They continue to see each other regularly, and after a while neither one of them is seeing anybody else.
And then, one evening when they’re driving home, a thought occurs to Martha, and, without really thinking, she says it aloud: “Do you realize that, as oftonight, we’ve been seeing each other for exactly six months?”
And then, there is silence in the car.
To Martha, it seems like a very loud silence. She thinks to herself: I wonder if it bothers him that I said that. Maybe he’s been feeling confined by our relationship; maybe he thinks I’m trying to push him into some kind of obligation that he doesn’t want, or isn’t sure of.
And Fred is thinking: Gosh. Six months.
And Martha is thinking: But, hey, I’m not so sure I want this kind of relationship either. Sometimes I wish I had a little more space, so I’d have time to think about whether I really want us to keep going the way we are, moving steadily towards, I mean, where are we going? Are we just going to keep seeing each other at this level of intimacy? Are we heading toward marriage? Toward children? Toward a lifetime together? Am I ready for that level of commitment? Do I really even know this person?
And Fred is thinking: …so that means it was…let’s see…February when we started going out, which was right after I had the car at the dealer’s, which means…lemme check the odometer…Whoa! I am way overdue for an oil change here.
And Martha is thinking: He’s upset. I can see it on his face. Maybe I’m reading this completely wrong. Maybe he wants more from our relationship, more intimacy, more commitment; maybe he has sensed – even before I sensed it – that I was feeling some reservations. Yes, I bet that’s it. That’s why he’s so reluctant to say anything about his own feelings. He’s afraid of being rejected.
And Fred is thinking: And I’m gonna have them look at the transmission again. I don’t care what those morons say, it’s still not shifting right. And they better not try to blame it on the cold weather this time. What cold weather? It’s 87 degrees out, and this thing is shifting like a garbage truck, and I paid those incompetent thieves $600.
And Martha is thinking: He’s angry. And I don’t blame him. I’d be angry, too. I feel so guilty, putting him through this, but I can’t help the way I feel. I’m just not sure.
And Fred is thinking: They’ll probably say it’s only a 90-day warranty…scumballs.
And Martha is thinking: Maybe I’m just too idealistic, waiting for a knight to come riding up on his white horse, when I’m sitting right next to a perfectly good person, a person I enjoy being with, a person I truly do care about, a person who seems to truly care about me. A person who is in pain because of my self-centered, schoolgirl romantic fantasy.
And Fred is thinking: Warranty? They want a warranty? I’ll give them a warranty. I’ll take their warranty and stick it right up their…
“Fred,” Martha says aloud.
“What?” says Fred, startled.
“Please don’t torture yourself like this,” she says, her eyes beginning to brim with tears. “Maybe I should never have…oh dear, I feel so…”(She breaks down, sobbing.)
“What?” says Fred.
“I’m such a fool,” Martha sobs. “I mean, I know there’s no knight. I really know that. It’s silly. There’s no knight, and there’s no horse.”
“There’s no horse?” says Fred.
“You think I’m a fool, don’t you?” Martha says.
“No!” says Fred, glad to finally know the correct answer.
“It’s just that…it’s that I…I need some time,” Martha says.
(There is a 15-second pause while Fred, thinking as fast as he can, tries to come up with a safe response. Finally he comes up with one that he thinks might work.)
“Yes,” he says. (Martha, deeply moved, touches his hand.)
“Oh, Fred, do you really feel that way?” she says.
“What way?” says Fred.
“That way about time,” says Martha.
“Oh,” says Fred. “Yes.” (Martha turns to face him and gazes deeply into his eyes, causing him to become very nervous about what she might say next, especially if it involves a horse. At last she speaks.)
“Thank you, Fred,” she says.
“Thank you,” says Fred.
Then he takes her home, and she lies on her bed, a conflicted, tortured soul, and weeps until dawn, whereas when Fred gets back to his place, he opens a bag of Doritos, turns on the TV, and immediately becomes deeply involved in a rerun of a college basketball game between two South Dakota junior colleges that he has never heard of. A tiny voice in the far recesses of his mind tells him that something major was going on back there in the car, but he is pretty sure there is no way he would ever understand what, and so he figures it’s better if he doesn’t think about it.
The next day Martha will call her closest friend, or perhaps two of them, and they will talk about this situation for six straight hours. In painstaking detail, they will analyze everything she said and everything he said, going over it time and time again, exploring every word, expression, and gesture for nuances of meaning, considering every possible ramification.
They will continue to discuss this subject, off and on, for weeks, maybe months, never reaching any definite conclusions, but never getting bored with it either.
Meanwhile, Fred, while playing racquetball one day with a mutual friend of his and Martha’s, will pause just before serving, frown, and say: “Norm, did Martha ever own a horse?”
And that’s the difference between men and women.
This is so well said, but the imagery of the failure pill was what grabbed me.
Take the pill of failure upon your tongue, roll it around until the flavor fills your mouth and penetrates your senses and mind, but never, ever swallow it whole. Let the taste flow through your consciousness, store the memory for days to come and spit it out when you’ve taken what you need.
Never let failure enter your system fully or it will be with you forever. Let the sensation return when you need it most, when the days grow dark and cold, and when you feel the icy, numbing touch of personal crisis around your throat. Use your failure to fuel your hunger for success. Let it be your companion all of your days, but refuse to let it take root in your center, lest it consume you.
And yes, I carry luggage for a living – and…
View original post 34 more words
I don’t know what will happen tomorrow,
I don’t know if someone amazing will cross my path,
Or the proverbial bus takes me out, instead.
There are no guarantees; life is a crazy ride,
A moving surprise. Yet despite the fear of this,
Despite a strong desire to give up and lie down,
I’m beginning, after all these years,
To lean into it more and more,
I feel it in my chest, a bubbling laughter that’s
Finding its way out, and it’s there more and more.
Somehow it means being
Open to amazing people and avoiding buses,
Doing things that used to scare me,
And wondering if you can surprise me
And make me glad we are
Both alive in this place, in this time,
To laugh and feast on life and love forever.
Well, can you? Surprise me?
Hello sweet Miss,
That empty chair there…
Mind if I join you?
Maybe buy you a beer?
Now, before you say no…
I’ve haven’t a plan,
Besides soaking my troubles
‘Til they don’t seem so bad,
But it’s sadder just drinking
Let’s hoist a few pints,
Get stupid and free.
Oh, I see…
You’re not talking,
You’re here to forget?
A man’s in the picture,
I’d be willing to bet.
I sure know the feeling,
The guts turned to goo,
So if it’s silence you need,
Well, I need that, too.
But your sad, sad beauty
It touches my soul.
There’s a smile to be found there,
Let’s make that our goal
Seems both of us crave
Something stronger than beer.
Maybe vodka? Or whiskey?
“Hey Barkeep! Two drinks over here.”
But look into my eyes–
It burns in your’s, too–
That we’re here in the City
And it hasn’t been kind.
We’ve come up against it,
Bruised in body and mind.
So only if you agree,
I’ve got no big plan–
Not looking for love,
Or to stand in for your man.
We’ll just share a drink–
In silence; we must.
Let’s keep out the cold,
And let the pain pass,
Good company, simple,
Just a lad and a lass.
©Hemmingplay 2014, revised 3/21/14
Her name was Rose Tyler, like the 10th Dr. Who’s traveling companion.
This Rose was from New Jersey, though, and was part owner of a bar and restaurant in the old mill. She moved to Mossy Creek from a working-class neighborhood after a bad marriage ended. She’d worked as a translator at the UN. No one could learn more than that. Several had tried.
She had the air of someone who had been let down too many times. While she was friendly and exchanged sometimes vulgar banter with regulars, her eyes were always a little watchful and wary behind the smile.
Ted read her that life had not been one that lent itself to easy fantasies. More than one half-drunk male customer had learned some choice New Jersey words, too, if he laid a hand on her.
He met her the first day he was in town, listened to her conversation and quickly placed her origins and attitude. He kept his distance at first, but found that he ended up there a few nights a week after working on the house. He didn’t share much of himself, either, and resisted enough of the ways the locals had of prying without being rude. He and Rose had both been let down too many times, and each had learned to value their privacy. They circled one another, closer and closer, without words.
After a week of almost daily visits and neutral pleasantries, though, he hurried to lunch more than he used to, and she looked up and smiled when he came in, a little more than was really required. That made him happy.
On a sleepy late April afternoon, he was later than usual, held up by an argument with a painter about an estimate that had ballooned out of control. By the time he got to the Mill, he was hungry and grumpy.
The parking lot was empty, as was the bar. Rose had her back to the door and was cleaning glasses, listening to music on a stereo and obviously lost in some private thoughts. Ted recognized the song she had on, one of his favorites, “Suite Judy Blue Eyes,” by Crosby, Stills and Nash. The lyrics at the beginning were wafting around the dark corners of the old room:
It’s getting to the point
Where I’m no fun anymore
I am sorry
Sometimes it hurts so badly
I must cry out loud
I am lonely
I am yours, you are mine
You are what you are
You make it hard….
She was somewhere in her early 40s, but was fit and curvy, and her partner in the business was the chef. Ted discovered eventually, and to his delight, that Ronald already was involved with Elliot. Elliot lived in Pittsburgh where he was a TV producer, and commuted on weekends.
Rose wore a simple black skirt that flattered her hips and legs, and a starched white blouse. Her sandy-blond hair was tied up in a bun and held with a carved wooden pin, but some hair escaped confinement in a borderline wild way that he thought was charming. As she turned to put the wine glasses into the overhead rack, she turned slightly and her breasts strained against the fabric in a way that he approved of completely. He noticed she wore a plain gold chain necklace with a small cross that rested in some cleavage that was showing. He noticed that more this day because the second button was undone more than usual. He smiled to himself. Not that he hadn’t noticed her before, but that day he realized that his interest in her was something that needed to be admitted. He realized that he had stopped just inside the bar’s door and was staring, just as she caught him out of the corner of her eye, saw how he was looking at her and slowly lowered her arm smiled.
At that moment, the song slid into the next to the last stanza —
What have you got to lose?
Chestnut brown canary
Ruby throated sparrow
Sing the song, don’t be long
Thrill me to the marrow
Voices of the angels, ring around the moonlight
Asking me, said she so free
How can you catch the sparrow?
Lacy, lilting, leery, losing love, lamenting
Change my life, make it right
Be my lady
They both laughed at the same time. And then did what two people do at times like that: they pretended the moment hadn’t happened.
“Hey there,” she said, a little too brightly, “I was wondering if you were going to be in today. The usual? ”
Ted tried to move, but only managed to bump into one of the chairs at a table near the door, nearly knocking it over. He fumbled it back upright, feeling as clumsy as a teenager at his first prom. Rose seemed amused.
“Um, yes. Let’s start with an Ayinger. And could you ask Ronald to whip up a corned beef platter?”
“Of course,” she said, slight color tinging her cheeks, fumbling a bit herself as she put the order through on the computer to the kitchen and filled a frosted glass with the Bavarian wheat beer.
She slid the beer across the counter and leaned in against the inside edge with both hands.
He caught a whiff of her perfume and noticed a strand of hair dangling by one ear. It suddenly got a little harder to breathe.
“How’s the work on the house going? Still fighting with Harold about the painting bill?”
Nothing was secret in this town, especially if you were a barber or bartender.
“Harold’s been sniffing paint fumes too long,” Ted said with a wry smile, gratefully sipping the ice-cold liquid and wiping the foam from his lip with the napkin she’d put by the glass. “But I think we’ve finally got it settled. That’s what I was just finishing up. He says he’ll be done with the upstairs bedrooms in a couple of days, and that’s about all there is to do. He’d better be, too. The decorators are coming Monday to hang curtains, put the carpets down and make it all pretty and such.”
“I’ve been waiting to get an invitation to see the place, and I’m tired of waiting,” Rose said. “When can I come over and see if I approve?”
He was very aware of her proximity, and his hands felt like he was wearing boxing gloves. Picking that sandwich up was going to be a problem.
“Harold just had his deadline moved up. Give me two days. How does Thursday night sound, around 7 for a dinner? I’ve learned to be a pretty good chef since living alone.”
“I’d love that. But it’ll have to be a little later, after nine. Ronald closes up Thursdays for me anyway. Would that work? I’ll bring the wine. We just got a very nice Sirrah in from California, and I’ve been wanting to try it out.”
They talked for a bit about a wine and cheese tasting in the restaurant later in the week, and about the house. The feeling between then had subtly shifted, and both were aware of it and felt comfortable, and excited, although neither said it out loud.
Other customers came in and they broke off the conversation while she took their orders. He ate his sandwich. The dim, aged stone and wood atmosphere of the bar was comforting. It had been absorbing such moments for nearly 200 years.
Another old song was playing, a quiet instrumental he couldn’t quite place. He was tired, but found he was thinking about Thursday night with anticipation. He leaned on the bar and watched the bubbles rise in the liquid in his glass, bits of foam clinging to the sides. He took another sip.
He felt Rose’s presence return from the other side of the bar, which was in a “U” shape around a central wooden support beam and cash register. His awareness of her was of a rustling sound of cotton, a sensation of heat and a fragrance both subtle and disturbing. Rose was looking at him with an expression he hadn’t seen in a while. A nice one, one that hit him right in the male part of his brain. She was resting her hands on the bar, and moved one hand with a bar towel in a slow, back and forth motion. The surface was already spotless.
Her fingers drew his eyes for some reason. Part of his brain registered mild surprise at that. His heart beat a tune he hadn’t heard in a while. There were many things about Rose that he liked looking at, but what he looked at just then were her fingers. He was a connoisseur of such things.
It’s just like you can never mistake a girl’s knees for a woman’s. Young girls might have perfect skin and no signs of wear and tear, but experience in life is underrated when it comes to beauty. For one thing, there’s the confidence. That’s a real plus. That and no giggling.
And their knees aren’t as nice as a woman’s. These things matter to a man after a while, if he’s paying attention.
Rose’s fingers…. were not pudgy, young-girl fingers, but …womanly. The kind that comes after living a little. The kind that know what to touch, when to touch, and how long to touch; when to grab and hold on, and when to let go. Long and slender, with well-trimmed nails with a clear coating. Languid, graceful, with the beginnings of a few wrinkles. Hands that had seen hard work, but would just as naturally cradle a baby or slide beer across a bar.
All of this flashed through his fatigue and beer-mellowed mind in less than two seconds. Her fingers absolutely mesmerized him.
God, the raunchy truth of it was that he loved women and women’s bodies. The whole and the parts. They fascinated him. And it had been a long time since he’d thought much about that. Too long.
He reached out without thinking about it and took her hands up in his, and held them.
“You have lovely hands,” he said.
Wow, he thought. How original.
She appreciated the impulse, if not the dumb delivery. She laughed and flushed. That was a good sign, wasn’t it?
She stammered a little and managed an “oh, they’re so dry”. But she didn’t pull away. After a second’s hesitation, she rubbed her fingertips on the palm of his hand and moved her hands inside his, and then clasped his hands with an intensity that surprised him and stole any words he might have uttered.
“I’m feeling warm,” she said with a nervous laugh, and looked a little unsure. But in a flash, her body was still and her large, dark brown eyes looked right into his with a serious, but twinkly look. He had the giddy feeling that he was falling into them.
“I wonder why?,” she said.
“I’m feeling pretty warm myself.”
He actually blushed, probably for the first time since he bumped into Linda Vogel’s new boobs in the sixth grade. But he wasn’t in the sixth grade any longer, he knew what he wanted to do and, what’s more, that Rose wanted the same thing. The realization sent an electric shock clear down to his toes. She smiled a little at the corners of her mouth and tilted her head to the side a little, watching him.
Without quite realizing he was doing it, he found his fingertip gliding over the fine hair of her forearm, on the way to other things. He didn’t care who else was in the bar, even though they were alone. The feeling of her was electric to his fingers and he was aware of every detail. She leaned closer, her eyes closing a little.
Then the phone rang. Her eyes opened slowly, regretfully and she gave a little shrug that said ‘what are you going to do?’.
No more for now.
But soon. Soon.
They smiled at each other knowingly as she answered the phone, which was right behind the bar next to the cash register. He softly kissed the back of her free hand, which he still held, gathered his things and stood to go. Her throat flushed and her eyes darkened and softened. She stopped listening to whoever was on the phone.
At the door, he paused, half-turned and looked back, and pantomimed that he would call. She nodded and her smile lit up her face. Her eyes lingered on him, shining, but a little troubled, too. Then they cleared. Her lips mouthed the word “Yes.”
Outside, he felt like a schoolboy again, lighter than air. The sun was a little brighter and the birds were singing. He could feel the stock market rise, except it wasn’t the stock market.
Ah, life, he thought, giddy as a 17-year-old after his first kiss. What a grand thing it is.
It’s gonna be a busy day at work as I’m back after a 5-day break. It was productive, though, as there are now many more words in the can on the book. I’m just tossing this at you for a place-holder. I don’t feel old, but that’s a relative thing. If you’re in your 20s – 40s I qualify, probably. You may think you’re old when you hit 30 or 40, but trust me, you’ve only just hit the half-way mark. My advice? Don’t dwell on it too much. You’ll just make yourself look somewhat daft and whiny. Yes, it’s a shock when you realize the opposite sex doesn’t see you the same way as before, and sometimes doesn’t see you AT ALL!!!! But you’ll get where I am, too, if you’re lucky. Suck the marrow out of life as you go and keep your eye on the horizon. You’ll be fine. 🙂
I know I am getting old and I say so,
but I don’t think of myself as an old man.
I think of myself as a young man
with unforeseen debilities. Time is neither
young nor old, but simply new, always
counting, the only apocalypse. And the clouds
—no mere measure or geometry, no cubism,
can account for clouds or, satisfactorily, for bodies.
There is no science for this, or art either.
Even the old body is new—who has known it
before?—and no sooner new than gone, to be
replaced by a body yet older and again new.
The clouds are rarely absent from our sky
over this humid valley, and there is a sycamore
that I watch as, growing on the riverbank,
it forecloses the horizon, like the years
of an old man. And you, who are as old
almost as I am, I love as I loved you
young, except that, old, I am astonished
at such a possibility, and am duly grateful.
“VII.” by Wendell Berry from Leavings. © Counterpoint, 2010.
On a beach somewhere
A flash of thigh, a sigh,
Sidelong glances, mysterious smile,
Hints of pleasure,
Share glimpses of your heat:
Is this revelation of desire?
Or wrinkles in the mirror,
Dame Mortality slithering near,
Beside you, mocking?
The old tricks don’t work as they did,
Do they? A cold stab of fear.
I’ve felt it too. We all do.
Let me see your secret selves
The parts you don’t like
And the parts you do.
I can already see them, but
It doesn’t matter to me. But you
Need to quit pretending
They matter to you.
Then let’s take it from there, shall we?
We’ll sit on a beach and watch the sunrise,
Dig our toes in the sand,
Sing our sad songs one last time,
Let the gulls and crabs scavenge them.
So the healing can come in
With the tide.
NOTE: I’m doing some heavy revisions on this and the other excerpts. This scene will remain fundamentally the same, but I’m seeing Eleanor in this version now as a little too much the bimbo. She’s not that at all, really. So I’m removing the more graphic sexual overtones, as i don’t want that part to give the wrong impression about her.
‘Aegroto dum anima est, spes est.’ : “Where there is life, there is hope.”
Her captor moved Eleanor, half-walking, half-flying, from the bedroom to the family room and threw her face-down on the couch. Her head throbbed and she almost passed out again. She turned her head a bit to see him from the corner of her eye. His strength made any resistance pointless.
He pulled a pistol from under his jacket — probably a holster in the back on his belt, she noted automatically. All she really wanted to do was let the blackness overwhelm her, to make the pain stop.
But the training, and the way her brain was wired, meant she couldn’t NOT notice these things. They used to call it a photographic memory. It was just a thing she was able to do, like breathing. Noted and filed: A black Beretta 92. Sixteen rounds, if he had one in the chamber, she thought automatically. Not everyone did, for fear of accidentally shooting oneself in the butt or leg. So, 15. Probably.
“Don’t move,” he ordered. From a side pocket of his jacket, he pulled out plastic zip ties. He cinched one too tightly, around her ankles.
“Put your hands behind your back,” he barked. She slowly complied and he cinched another zip tie around wrists. Her knees were on the floor now and her ankles were secure and he had the gun on her.
“Turn over,” he said.
She rolled to her right with difficulty and slid her rump onto the carpeted floor, her legs bent to the side. It was uncomfortable, but she could stand it. She shifted until her hands were in a less painful position and got her first good look at him.
The guy was about six feet away, feet apart for balance, up on the balls of his feet. He was 6’2” or 6’3” and around 235 to 240 pounds, she guessed. His shoulders were broad, but he stood with a slight hunch, the parts of his face she could see through the mask felt as though it was crimped in a perpetual bad mood. The eyes were brown and sunken in rolls of skin, and at first seemed to miss nothing. But then they’d occasionally lose focus and dart around.
Weird. She could feel the anger and sadism in him. That gave her an idea.
He was strong, she knew that, but had gotten a little thick around the middle. His legs were short and the muscles of the thighs were tight inside his cargo pants. He wore the same black outfit as the other man: ski mask, black military style winter parka with no markings, black pants and laced black military-style boots. Gloves. Thin leather ones. He carried himself like he’d had military training, but had let himself go a little.
She looked again at the eyes — brown, flecks of gold, a little crazy — and saw that he was watching her.
Stepping closer, he used the barrel of the pistol to flip both sides of her robe open, uncovering the full length of her legs. He let out a little sigh.
“Nice. Very nice.” he said.
OK, so this was how it was going to go.
Guys had been hitting on her since she was 11. They usually weren’t pointing guns at her, but that was just a minor detail at this point. She knew the urges in those eyes very well. She’d never been raped before, though, unless you counted that one time in college when she’d gotten too drunk at a party and… well, she just wasn’t eager to find out what the real thing was like.
She looked down, put a look of fear on her face, then slowly looked back up. “I hope this looks scared,” she thought.
“Don’t hurt me, please,” she said. “I don’t know why you’re here”—which was true—“Let me go, and I won’t say anything.”
Fat chance of that, she thought, but it was worth a shot.
“Shut up,” he said. “You’re not going anywhere.”
But he kept looking at the parts of her peeking out from the silk robe. The fabric didn’t leave a lot to the imagination, either. She leaned forward a little and her robe fell open more.
His eyes widened involuntarily.
“Gotcha, pervert” she thought to herself.
“Just don’t hurt me,” she said out loud, wriggling a little for effect.
“I’ll do whatever I want, sweetheart,” he said, licking his lips involuntarily, red spots starting to bloom in each cheek.
“I—I know,” she stammered. “I already know that. You’re strong, I’m tied up and you have the gun. You can do what you want and I can’t stop you. But…” she hesitated.
“But what?” he asked, despite himself.
“But it doesn’t have to be bad for me, does it? I mean, you like me…I can see it. I would rather cooperate than get hurt any more. I don’t have to draw a map, do I? Do what you want, and then let me go, OK?”
He just snorted.
“I don’t need your cooperation. I think I’ll just take what I want from you. And we’ll still do what we came here for. I know about you, Eleanor…. Or whatever your name is. Ex-water-rat, right? You’re just a Navy whore, trying to do a man’s job. So drop the coy young thing act. It ain’t gonna work.”
“Shit!” she thought, again, then took a shot in the dark. This guy had a certain feeling about him. Maybe it was the body language.
“Ah. A jar-head,” she said, leaning back a bit and trying to project as much arrogant contempt as possible. “Thought I smelled the stupid. You reek of it.”
The age-old insult of Navy to Marine hit home. He tensed and his beady eyes narrowed some more.
Bingo. Now to work this a little.
She was the daughter and sister of Marines, and had heard the stories all her life. They thought Navy officers were stuck up preppies, and saw red when talked down to. She joined the Navy, over their half-hearted objections, because there were more opportunities for women at the time. So, they conducted a little training and orientation program of their own before she left for Annapolis. Where to go, and not go; who to avoid; when to fight and when to run; and how to fight dirty when cornered.
They also taught her to take the initiative, especially when in a weak position. Surprise and aggression, especially when coming from a woman and the adversary is male, were always advantages. A bold move can change your luck.
She sighed a little to herself, knowing what was coming next.
“This is going to get ugly, father of mine,” she said in her head.
“Let’s hope you’ve learned how to take a punch, daughter of mine” she heard her father’s voice say in her ear.
“I’m about to find out,” she answered. “I’ll get back to you.”
She straightened up and pinned Brown Eyes with The Look, the command look of superiority and dismissal: me big shot officer, you toe-jam-moron-cannon-fodder inferior, it said.
“Yeah, I was in the Navy. But even as a woman I’m a better man than you, Jar Head. Did your partner dress you today, or have you learned how to do that yourself? I like your style sense, though. Very feminine. ”
She never saw him move, just had the impression of a blur. He grunted once and a vicious blow exploded against the side of her head and she fell over again. She passed out for a time, but woke as his arm circled her belly and he lifted her body roughly onto the couch, her knees on the carpet and face mashed into the cushion. He flipped the hem of her robe up above her waist and ripped her panties off.
She heard him loosen his belt buckle and pull his zipper down and forced one last insult out. Or thought she did. It seemed like she was in a dream again. She turned her head and sneered out of the side of her mouth, every word causing pain stabs in her head.
“So it’s rape now? Christ. Fine. Get it over with so I can compare you with a real man. If I can even feel it. But the least you could do is loosen my ankles. I won’t put up a fight, but at least do that,” she snapped, trying to sound bored and contemptuous at the same time.
He paused. She could almost feel him shrug and then he cut the thin plastic strip from her ankles. She gritted her teeth and tamped down the shame. Just get through it. Stay alive. Get loose. Escape. And maybe kill this guy. That would be a bonus.
He kicked her knees apart with his foot, the soles of his boots smacking the bones. More pain. His aroused breathing was loud. She steeled herself for the next pain, reminding herself that it really wasn’t a big deal, being raped. She’d get over it. It would be just like the gyno exam, without the fun parts. She was on the pill, so wouldn’t get pregnant.
“Any help here, father of mine?”
“Where there’s life, there’s hope, daughter of mine. Stay alive. Whatever you have to do, stay alive.”
This raced through her mind, just ahead of the fear. She was in charge. She was no victim. At least she would stay alive a little longer. She briefly imagined the look on Brown Eyes’ face when she cinched his balls with one of those zip ties. Sheep farmers used rubber bands to castrate ram lambs. Seemed appropriate to see how it worked on a grown man, she mused, consciously thinking of anything other than what he was about to do to her.
The voice of the other man yelled from the bedroom.
“Hey, what’s taking so long out there? Get your ass back in here. She’ll keep.”
“Goddammit!” Brown Eyes growled through clenched teeth. “Goddammit!” His hand was on her hip, he was up against her and she felt his hardness and his body trembling.
He hesitated, fumbled with his pants and belt then cursed again. He was afraid of the other man, that much was clear. He put another plastic handcuff strip around her ankles, but she held her feet as far apart as possible and he wasn’t careful. There was some slack this time. He thrust his hand between her legs and grabbed her there roughly and squeezed hard. Pain shot up through her stomach.
She rolled over and sat on the floor again, ears cocked intently until she heard the voices in the bedroom. They were far enough away that she couldn’t make out all of the words, but soon she heard Henry’s voice raised in fear and there was the wet, thwunk of fist striking flesh. Henry grunted loudly followed by the sound of retching.
Henry. He was a crooked banker and twisted in some other ways that repelled her, but these guys were seriously evil. He had no chance.
As the sounds of angry questions, hitting and sobs and grunts continued from the bedroom, she got her feet under her enough to leverage herself erect. Listening for a moment and hearing no one coming, she hopped tentatively to the end of the couch, leaning against it for support. With a little work, she managed to slip one foot and then the other out of the restraint. She stopped to listen and then hurried five feet across the open tile to the kitchen. One foot was nearly asleep and tingling, and she nearly fell, her wrists were still tied behind her, and she couldn’t stop the fall. The counter corner’s point jabbed her hip hard enough to make her clamp her jaws to keep a cry of pain from escaping. She worked her way around to the drawer with the knives.
Opening it as quietly as she could, she backed up to it and clawed fingers around until she felt the handle of a knife near the front. She flipped the blade vertical and quickly sawed through the plastic strip holding her wrists. She stopped again to listen to see if she’d attracted any attention, rubbing feeling back into her hands as she did so, but the voices from the bedroom continued. Eleanor stepped to another drawer, holding the knife pointed in the direction of the bedroom, and grabbed the spare keys for the SUV. Then she saw the Sig sitting on the counter where she’d left it, dropped the knife and pulled the gun out of it’s holster.
She heard Henry’s voice rise to a scream, cut off abruptly by the unmistakable sharp hiss of a silencer. Then another shot.
The short, unhappy life of Henry Bouchier had ended, just like that.
They would come for her next.
Time to go.
She sprinted on bare feet across the family room, through the mud room and into the garage. She reached the SUV in three strides and opened the weapons bag she’d put under the driver’s seat. She pulled out one of the Glocks, checked that it was loaded and pulled the slide to put a round in the chamber.
She closed the door softly, locked all doors with the remote on the keychain, tucked the Sig in the robe’s left pocket, leapt to an outside door beside the overhead garage door and opened it. A gust of cold air swirled in with a cloud of fir needles and dead leaves.
The dry ground wouldn’t show tracks but they might think she’d gone that way. A trackless forest of fir trees was across the road, too. Glancing quickly outside to make sure one of the men wasn’t coming on her flank, she turned and headed to an area next to some open metal shelving on an inside wall of the garage.
Pushing aside a calendar hanging from a hook, she pressed a small button that looked like a pine knot. A soft click sounded and a panel in the wall popped open an inch. The edges of the opening matched the lines of the pine paneling that covered that wall, and when closed were invisible from the outside. It had taken her the better part of an hour to find it earlier, and even with the help of the blueprints, she’d missed the cleverly disguised button twice before she saw it.
The bottom of the compartment was two feet from the floor, its top less than four feet above that. It extended left of the opening, about three feet wide and too short to stand up in. But, it was large enough to hold two or three large suitcases—or a federal agent, if she doubled her knees up to her chin and backed in, squeezing her body in tight.
She hopped on her butt into the opening scooted back until she could pull her legs and feet in and gather in her robe. She realized that there was nothing on the inside to use to pull the door shut at first, and began to panic. Then, frantically scanning around the edges, she saw a screw head sticking out a half-inch, about halfway up the door’s outer edge. She pulled the door shut with just two fingernails clutching the screw and gratefully heard the latch click just as her attacker’s angry voice boomed a foot away, outside.
“Come to Papa!”
She heard the sounds of violent searching in the garage, doors opening and slamming, objects crashing to the floor, cursing.
Something heavy slammed against the door of the compartment. She raised the gun in the dark and held it steady where she pictured his head would be— just in case the latch opened. She had a vision of the perplexed expression he would have on his face when she put a small round hole into the exact center of his forehead.
She rested arms on knees, both hands holding the gun steady at the height she thought would be about right, took a deep, shuddering breath or two to calm her heart and waited.
One corner of her mouth twitched upward, and she waited in the darkness.
(Reposted.) Ol’ Rudyard’s ghost has his imperialist legacy, but this advice seems valid still for sons–but daughters, as well.
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
“We observed a steady regime around the baseline before the day the relationship status changes,” the Facebook Data Science team wrote on their blog (a Facebook page) on Saturday, “followed by a discontinuity on that day with a more than 225 percent increase of the average volume of interactions.”
“This points towards people receiving support from their friends in times where they need it,” they conclude, “whether it comes in the form of private messages, timeline posts or comments.”
“Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you irritable.”
— Matt Swayne
Oh, yes. This.
Do women dream differently than men? Researchers from the University of Montreal plunged into the gendered unconscious in a new study forthcoming from the journal Sleep. Their focus: nightmares, defined as dreams intense and disturbing enough to wake you up. (An unpleasant reverie that doesn’t rouse you is simply a bad dream.) The study uncovered a trove of captivating facts about nightmares in general—that they prove “more bizarre” and “less rational” than regular dreams, that they don’t necessarily provoke fear. (About one-third of these nocturnal ordeals instead breed sadness, confusion, guilt, or disgust.) But of special interest to me was the discovery that nightmare themes often vary by gender.
Fears. We all have ’em. But bravery or courage — which to me means doing the right thing despite being afraid, even terrified to the point of near-paralysis– that’s much more rare. According to this article, we’ve changed the definition to being the simple act of accepting our fears. That’s kind of a warmfuzzything, not bad; but doesn’t that mean we’re lowering the bar too much, and not asking enough of ourselves? A sort of suburban version of the battle with nature, bloody in tooth and claw? Maybe we’re getting too soft?
I’m working on a story where the people must decide, over and over, how to act in spite of fears. It’s made me realize that it is a process that is never finished. Courage can be seen in ordinary people facing extraordinary challenges — cancer comes to mind, for instance. It isn’t always looking down the barrel of a gun. But as a culture, and as the roles of men seem to be changing without good alternatives being offered, the way we value, or devalue, bravery in traditional or new ways is a troubling issue…
I’d like to hear from others on how you define bravery, and what you think of the article.
He knew her— or rather, his body did —instantly and dramatically. The familiar softness of her skin, bare hip and breast, her lush warmth against the length of him, leg thrown over his thighs, possessive and provocative and wanton. Every nerve ending seemed to be on fire where she touched him, and the flame spread.
He tried to say her name with lips that would not move, to raise an arm to pull her into him. The heat and smoothness of the perfect skin of her perfect, bare leg was the sweetest feeling he could remember. He wanted it to last forever. He wanted to feel the rest of her, surround her, fill her and make love to her forever. The sudden rage of lust consumed him.
Her eyes were large and dark, simultaneously calculating, teasing, sad and amused. He fell into them. Head tilted back, she parted her lips slightly. She rolled halfway onto him and kissed him with lips and tongue. Then the kiss changed, became slower and more tender, and a look of sadness crossed her face. Her eyes closed, then opened slowly, her hand softly on his cheek. She pulled away, face back in the shadows. And then she was gone. A feeling of loss and panic overwhelmed him.
“Miriam….No!” At least, that was what he wanted to say, but it came out a strangled cry.
The big Lab sleeping on blankets in the room raised his head at the sound.
Ted smelled faint perfume, her perfume, fading fast.
He sat in the half-light, fighting to come out of the dreamworld, and looked around, legs tangled in sweaty sheets, heart pounding.
Bluish-white moonlight cast distorted shapes from the bay windows onto the marquetry floor. A wing back chair, his clothes draped over the back and heaped on the floor beside it, lurked along another wall. An old armoire and matching dresser huddled darkly on the third. His bed was in the middle of the wall opposite the big, solid mahogany door, now slightly ajar.
Chest bursting, he leapt, naked, to the floor and spun around. She was nowhere in the room. He ran to the hallway, down the house’s formal center stairs and out onto the lawn. The grass was cool on his bare feet.
Nothing moved in the late-night silence. The air was still, cold and silent. A sound escaped his throat, something between a grunt and a cry.
Nothing was there. Loneliness and grief were cold fingers around his heart. A dog barked in the distance, the sound echoing between the walls of old houses.
Ted Brown became aware of the sound of someone sobbing and then slowly realized it was himself. His cheeks were wet with tears, and he touched them with one finger. The lawn was damp with dew. He shivered, becoming gradually aware that he was outside on his lawn, au naturel. The eastern sky was just lightening but the streetlights in the next block were still on.
Shocked awake and self-conscious, he hurried on bare feet up the stone stairs to the open front door, hoping no one saw him. Sleepwalking during the nightmares meant his grieving was anything but over. It was embarrassing. He glanced around and saw that the windows of all the nearby houses were still dark in the pre-dawn. He hoped his new neighbors hadn’t seen him on another of his nocturnal episodes, but couldn’t count on it. Small-town people tended to be observant — most would say nosy— and he could imagine someone tossing out a snarky question at the coffee shop, to general chuckles. Some would just look at him and shake their heads, if he happened to be there. Others would exchange knowing glances and smile to themselves, tapping their finger to temple. As a newcomer to the community, he was automatically assumed to be a bit odd; he didn’t want to add to the impression. But incidents like this weren’t helping.
He slumped up the big central staircase of the old mansion he was restoring, turned down the hall and hurried past buckets and drop-cloths, step ladders and stacks of paint cans and re-entered the bedroom. The musty but pleasing smell of fresh plaster was fading after a month. Soon, the painters would come and work on the next phase of the restoration.
The lanky old chocolate Labrador rose stiffly from his jumbled bed of foam and well-worn blankets near the chimney wall and padded over, toenails clicking on the hardwood to meet Ted at the door. He touched a cold nose to Ted’s hand and flicked a tongue tip to his fingers in greeting.
Brown absently scratched behind the big ears and stroked the wide head. Happy to get some response, the big dog glanced up with raised ears and inquisitive eyes to see if there was any chance of an early breakfast. Ted looked down at the silent pleading and smiled, then shook his head.
“You’ll have to wait,” he said sleepily, trying but failing to sound stern.
Ted flopped back into bed, the damp sheets cold and clammy. He didn’t shift them around, welcoming the cold as a kind of reality that seemed to never be far from his life. Hearing the “wait” word he hated, the big animal realized there was no chance of food yet and moved back to his own bed. He collapsed with a disappointed grumble but held his eyes on Brown for a few seconds, unblinking. His eyes drooped and he plopped his big head down, tucked his nose behind curled paws and was asleep in seconds.
“Wish I could do that,” Brown said, glaring at the dog and then stared back up at the fine cracks in the horsehair plaster overhead. He knew it would be some time before he could do the same. Seeing the cracks depressed him, a reminder that the long process of restoring the house was not finished.
The red LED display of the clock radio said 4:47 a.m. He rolled out of bed, slipped into a T-shirt, robe and sweatpants, stuck his feet into a pair of slippers, and wandered out into the hall again and down the wide flight of stairs to the kitchen. A window taller than he was let more moonlight in to bathe the hall in blue and grey. There was enough light to see by.
As he descended, he remembered the dream and the memory of the woman. There was seldom a day that he didn’t think of her, or wonder where she was, whether she was safe and whether she ever thought of him.
He sighed once, put the tea kettle on the stove and sat at the kitchen table without turning on a light. The moon lit the room through the tall Victorian window, and he stared up at it, sadness settling in his gut.
The tea was ready. He poured and sipped it with no cream or sugar.
Bitter. The hot liquid burned his tongue.
He welcomed it.
No – Please
don’t bother with me.
it only hurts,
when I breathe.
It only hurts
open my eyes
that’s a lie
it hurts when I close them too.
I think of you.
don’t you see
you have hurt me.
perhaps, that’s the plan.
you’ve done well,
you are the man!
no – please,
don’t worry about me,
it only hurts
when I breathe.