This brightened my afternoon. On my campus, this sort of nonsense is all too common, so I guess I’m just jaded.
“Yes, the statue of a hyper-realistic sleepwalking man on the Wellesley College campus is truly creepy. His outstretched arms and lolling mouth make him look like a pasty, middle-aged zombie. His flaccid penis sagging in his graying briefs will haunt your dreams forever, like the ghost of your future sex life….”
I suppose I’m missing something profound, but I found myself agreeing with this paragraph in the story:
But the problem with Awareness Culture is the expectation that once offended – or, in most cases, once a hypothetical offensiveness has been identified– the world must immediately act to make the “bad thing” disappear. There’s something spoiled about our knee-jerk reaction to abolish anything that could be considered even remotely insensitive. The message is, “it’s possible that someone somewhere might feel momentarily bad because of this, so get rid of it right this second! And by the way, you’re an asshole if you don’t agree.”
Note: This was written a while ago, in the depths. Since this one, last June there was a fourth (3 were breast cancers). Like all the other times, she came through it OK.
Three cancers, different each time.
I watched you climb the stairs, two steps,
Then a pause, a rest, then on up like that.
Your stubborn courage gave me courage.
If you could do it, so could I.
We were so innocent, once, you and I,
Young and Beautiful. But since then
Death has taken a seat at the table,
Waiting to be fed.
We learned to ignore him, mock him,
But he doesn’t care. He gets us all in the end.
Hard lesson: accept that, but never surrender.
Can I keep going,
Keep plugging along, keep a happy thought?
I am so tired.
It just wears a person down, and I’m not even the sick one.
My burden is hidden to everyone but me.
At times like this, I just want someone to turn back the clock
And let me be a child again, scampering off to play
And jump in rain puddles until I’m called into supper.
I’ll just have a glass of wine and write a few words.
It’s all I have, all I can do.
There’s always tomorrow.
We just have to make it through the nights. The nights…
Sorry, Phillip. I had to gun the engine to get through you and your teammates this morning.
This is all so new to me, and yet, I feel like I’ve been a snowflake forever, just waiting to get the call, and my chance to be part of creating a Winter Wonderland. Can’t wait! ****
I think I should have a name. Don’t all things have one? I’m going to call myself Phillip. I have no idea why. It was the first thing that popped into my head. Do I even have a head? I’m not even sure how I’m forming words and ideas. Must be the Magic of Winter that I seem to know so much about. ****
It really is crowded inside this cloud. I can barely move, but I’m eager to explore and talk to the other snowflakes. …
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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.
I emerge from enveloping shadow and hear
my feet slap the pavement, feel my breathing
deep and even. Brownstones whiz by
my fluttering eyes and I recall the last time
I whizzed this effortlessly was forty years ago.
A rumbling regiment of cavalry cuts off my route
at Lark Street. Smart in their dark blue uniforms
trimmed in gold, black hats sit jauntily upon their heads
just as the riders perch with élan upon cantering steeds
that match their headwear. The echo of this mounted
all-baritone chorus out of a John Ford western
follows me north. That’s when I see him again,
standing on the corner, at the corner of my eye,
and spy him through the open doors of a UPS truck.
Turning west toward our old place, I sense his back
quickly turned toward mine. A bus grumbles by
and I catch a new aroma, its exhaust like coffee
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From Canadian photographer Corrie White, some ineffably beautiful images for your Monday enjoyment.
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.
I’m keeping my promise.
To get the juices flowing as I sit down to blow the dust off of the book project, I’ve reread some sections of a book I’d like to recommend here.
“The Art of War for Writers: Fiction Writing Strategies, Tactics, and Exercises” by James Scott Bell. It’s full of very practical and pithy ideas for how to work on long-form writing, and adds some useful tips on how to navigate the publishing world. Advice from a best-selling novelist and writing teacher.
$10 at Amazon: http://amzn.to/1lwS06Z
This suggests some science-fictiony story possibilities. Anyone want to take a shot?
Artist Lucy Glendinning’s “Feather Child” series explores “the allure and dangers of artificially propelling human evolution”:
Inspired by the Greek myth of Icarus, she imagines future humans treating our DNA as a medium of expression and wish-fulfillment; in the poem accompanying the sculpture, she envisions feathers like “A decoration applied with / a gene, not a needle.”
The Art Circus Review adds:
Covered from head to toe, the feathers may act as a camouflage, keeping the children hidden or they may enable them with a unique ability to survive whatever landscape they now populate They may also just be tired freaks, taking refuge in art galleries. Glendinning’s tactile sculptures are beautifully crafted, showing a very sensitive and vulnerable side to her bizarre subjects, leaving the viewer uncertain whether to take the mutant child into their care or throw them into the fire.
More photographs of Glendinning’s sculptures here.
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I’m writing a book.
No, I’m not; I’ve started, but for months I’ve been telling myself I’m doing it, when in fact I’m just circling at 30,000 feet. Talking is not doing. Time to land the damned plane.
There’s fog and a wicked 20-knot crosswind below 800 feet. The carb is icing up. Are those geese milling around halfway down, just where it’s too late to gun it and go around again? Yes. Of course, there are. Perfect.
F*ck it. I’m going in. The fuel gauge is kissing the big E and I swear there’s smoke coming out of the starboard engine. I have to take piss. No choices left.
I’ve got characters waiting for me to get back to them. They’re looking at me, and at each other, killing time, waiting. Toes tapping. Knives being sharpened. Lives on hold. They are not happy with me. And with this bunch of psychos, this could get ugly, fast.
I’m happy I started. I’m proud of getting 60,000 words into a draft (maybe a leetle too proud. I may need to murder a lot of them.) I like the characters and want to let them live out the stories I’ve put them in. That’s not enough. Time to finish. There’s mystery in there, questions, breathtaking stupidity and evil and sex. Lots of sex. What’s not to like?
“Do not repeat the tactics which have gained you one victory, but let your methods be regulated by the infinite variety of circumstance.” — Sun Tzu.
It is time to ride to the sound of the guns, ” ‘Cry ‘Havoc!’, and let slip the dogs of war.”
No frickin’ idea. But it’s fun to guess.
You have until noon on Tuesday to guess it. City and/or state first, then country. Please put the location in the subject heading, along with any description within the email. If no one guesses the exact location, proximity counts. Be sure to email entries to email@example.com. Winner gets a free The View From Your Window book or two free gift subscriptions to the Dish. Have at it.
“To a Butterfly” by William Wordsworth (1770-1850):
I’ve watched you now a full half hour,
Self-poised upon that yellow flower;
And, little Butterfly! indeed
I know not if you sleep, or feed.
How motionless! not frozen seas
More motionless! and then
What joy awaits you, when the breeze
Hath found you out among the trees,
And calls you forth again!
This plot of Orchard-ground is ours;
My trees they are, my Sister’s flowers;
Stop here whenever you are weary,
And rest as in a sanctuary!
Come often to us, fear no wrong;
Sit near us on the bough!
We’ll talk of sunshine and of song;
And summer days, when we were young,
Sweet childish days, that were as long
As twenty days are now!
(Photo by Dwight Sipler)
As some comedian once said, “Well, ain’t this a kick in the pants?”
Someone who’s a lot better at this than I, the sexy young thing who writes “The Migrane Chronicles,” just nominated this blog for the “Versatile Blogger” award. That is really gratifying. You should read her poems, you’ll see what I mean. Ripping good stuff. I think she may have a thing for older men, though. I know I have a thing for her. 🙂
I hate false modesty and humble bragging, so let me express how I feel this way:
Rules of the award: I will tell you seven things about me, and nominate 15 others.
1. I’ve thought I was a writer since I wrote a fire safety play that was performed in front of the whole school in the third grade. It was mostly “adapted” from a book my teacher gave me, but I did try to make the dialogue edgy. I added a scene about a fireman saving a puppy, which I was real proud of.
2. I sent some jokes and a short story in to the Readers Digest back in my distant childhood, and they published them. I got a check for $10. I don’t remember the jokes, but the story was about my grandfather who kept bees and chewed tobacco. Once, he forgot to tie the mask around his neck, some bees got up inside and he got a bit agitated and spewed tobacco juice all over the inside of the mesh. I thought it was funny when I was 8. Still do; that should tell you about my maturity level at age 64.
3. Oh, yeah, I’m in my sixth decade. I embrace it, but gently. I just took one of those Facebook quizzes that said my emotional age was 25. So. There. Bite me, Grim Reaper.
4. I lived overseas in high school. Two years in Karachi, Pakistan. Best experience an Ohio farm boy ever had. I visited places that were old when Europe was just coming out of the Dark Ages, saw a skeleton of a soldier that had died in an attack on Mohen Jodaro 1500 years ago, and stood in the Taj Mahal. I went to high school with the greatest kids I’ve ever known. We world travelers like to hang out, you know?
5. Our flight to Pakistan was supposed to leave on Nov. 23, 1963. We got as far a Washington, DC, but stayed on for two weeks because the country was shut down following the assassination.
6. While I was staying there with my sister in Alexandria, I spent a day on my own down around the Mall. I saw men with submachine guns and shotguns lining the street. They all had skinny ties and dark suits on. Then motorcycles and a big black limo roared by at 70 mph. It was Lyndon Johnson on the way to Capitol Hill a week after the JFK killing. Later on that day I met Jimmy Stewart’s grandson and did stuff boys do. We climbed the steps of the Washington Monument. (You could do that then, especially if you were 14.)
7. I am a student of the human experience, despite having a mixed record at being human myself. I love wine and women, not necessarily in that order. I love the very idea of them, even though I’m married 43 years. (Hey, I’m married, not dead!). But everything we people do seems fascinating. I am afraid I’ll run out of time to tell all the stories I see all around me. I wonder about what it would be like to fall in love again, one more time, too. I think that’s when we feel most alive.
But the love of my life would probably kill me, which would make the experience rather brief. Still…. :-).
Nominations for other really good blogs
- Rambling Rowes
- Mike Steeden
- Must be this tall to Ride
- Blue Venice: Lost in the Midlands
- The Trouble with Kids Today
- Carrying the Gun
- Is This Gentleman Bothering You?
- Lightning Droplets
- The Wandering Poet
- A House of Pommegranates
- The Ancient Eavesdropper
- Beautiful Chaos
- The Prodigal Londoner
- The Public Blogger
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.
Random Woman: “You’re that Confucius bloke aren’t you?”
Confucius: “Might be luv, what’s it to you?”
Random Woman: “I’m your biggest fan that’s what. I hang on your every saying. That one that goes, ‘Confucius says, ‘ Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves,’ has always done it for me and I lived my entire life adhering to the spirit of your masterful gem, ‘What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.’ So can you give me one today?”
Confucius: “Don’t know about that luv; I mean if you really want to I suppose I might feel inclined to slip you one.”
Random Woman: “Oh you are a very ribald man aren’t you? No I didn’t mean any of that malarkey. I meant a saying. A proper ‘Confucius says’ one. Anyway maybe you could knock…
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“It is not true that people have nothing to fear if they speak the truth. They have everything to fear. That is the reason for falsehood. And, familiarity breeds contempt, and ought to breed it. It is through familiarity that we get to know each other.” ( Ivy Compton-Burnett, British novelist, 1884-1969)
The biggest challenge for me right now is conjuring up characters with the right mix of good and evil. Any of us is both, depending on the circumstances. But the darker impulses are always there. I want to believe the best of people, but have learned the better angels of their nature might hide a devil or two. How do you all approach this when you’re working in fiction?
As Stephen King said: “Fiction is a lie, and good fiction is the truth inside the lie.” So, lies are also the reason for fiction, and fiction is one of the best ways to expose them.
A Hundred Years from Now
by David Shumate
I’m sorry I won’t be around a hundred years from now. I’d like to
see how it all turns out. What language most of you are speaking.
What country is swaggering across the globe. I’m curious to know
if your medicines cure what ails us now. And how intelligent your
children are as they parachute down through the womb. Have
you invented new vegetables? Have you trained spiders to do your
bidding? Have baseball and opera merged into one melodic sport?
A hundred years….My grandfather lived almost that long. The
doctor who came to the farmhouse to deliver him arrived in a
horse-drawn carriage. Do you still have horses?
“A Hundred Years from Now” by David Shumate from Kimonos in the Closet. © University of Pittsburg Press, 2013. Reprinted with permission.
Written in 2007 when I was going through a phase of intense interest in the early history of the Church, the 20 years or so after the crucifixion. Before Paul. Twenty years before the then-general-and-future-emperor Titus obliterated Jerusalem and the Temple and Judaism as it had been for more than three millennia.
Before Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, too.
Those were dangerous, chaotic times for the disciples and other companions. The Jewish Temple authorities tried to suppress them, and the Romans were annoyed at any group they thought subverted good order and tax collection schedules. They killed people who annoyed them.
So…. They scattered, fearing both Rome and Jewish authorities. With good reason.There’s a whole body of legend about one of them, Mary Magdalene, including the unproven and problematic idea that she was Jesus’ wife and mother of a child, and that she was a co-equal disciple– until Jesus died, that is.
The whole story plays into the modern mutual smear campaign between men and women, and her story is used by some to say “see, those bastards have been repressing women for a looooooong time…the fascist bastards.” Personally, I think it’s a mistake to put modern interpretations on ancients, but I did become intrigued with the what-ifs: what if the legends contained some kernel of truth, including the one that said she and 40 others were set adrift on the Mediterranean on the west coast of Italy (she’d had an audience with the Emperor, pleading for justice for the proto-Christian movement) and eventually landed on the coast of Gaul, near modern-day Marseilles. This poem was an attempt to see things from her point of view, based on all the early history scholarship I could find.
The legend says she stayed in Gaul for 40 years, preaching and founding churches.
*This is my Last Testament, left here for my friends to find when they bury me among the rocks that have been my bed these many years.”
Because I was true,
My bones grind each night on bare rock, but I remember what was;
I wish that you were beside me again; the pain reminds me that you are not
And I welcome it.
In the pain and dreams, my stony bed becomes a wedding bower and I dream of times long past–of Jerusalem, and Rome and my girlhood home in Magdala.
Because I was true to You, all fell away, save a few who suffered with me in those hungry weeks on a stormy sea.
In times long ago, those I thought my friends were not, and my enemies grew numerous and cast me out with slashing lies, abandoning me on the waves in a boat with no sail or rudder—telling me I would die a worthless and forgotten failure.
And when the tides brought our starving bodies to this shore, those that knew me not walked past quickly, scowling, on the other side of the road, never knowing who it was they passed, or whose child was curled, safe at last, in my belly.
Because I was true, my enemies made the world believe my name was female sin writ large, The Harlot branded with letters of flame and shame forever; my body forsaken by other men; my words tossed aside as the rantings of a mere woman; my womb barren save the one girl child— who walks as a light in my life–and my life was seen as worthless, or dangerous, even as yours was thought to be.
Because I was true, and stood almost alone, sharing your final agony; because I and I alone saw you rise when no one else believed; because, when you were gone, and no longer protected me, those who desired only a return to the old ways finally tossed me aside and thought themselves righteous;
Because I was true I was—and remain—a nothing, a nobody, forgotten and shamed.
But I am not what the World says of me. I am nothing, a nobody, but I am not forgotten and wear my shame like a crown. I live. I know the truth and it has warmed me in this lonely cave.
Because I was true, my heart is glad; I have lost everything men value but have gained the heavens; I forgive and forget the actions of those who did not understand. I am blessed beyond measure, and lay my head on a stone every night, content and filled with gratitude. The owl calls in from the gnarled spruce in the night and the stars above the great inland sea whirl above me. My soul is one with the Infinite, and I know that this barren cave will be my grave, but can never hold me.
Because I was true…I wait with a light and singing heart.
Mary of Magdala (as I was known); the Harlot; companion of the Son of Man, and one who, for 40 years, has never forgotten what we began together.
On the southern coast of Gaul, ready to leave this life and join my soul.
That light at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming locomotive?
Well. That changes things, doesn’t it?
I spent a lot of years making a living, making excuses. Now I feel like I’m trying to beat the train to the railroad crossing.
“Sometimes people say to me, “I want to write, but I have five kids, a full-time job, a wife who beats me, a tremendous debt to my parents,” and so on.
I say to them, “There is no excuse. If you want to write, write. This is your life. You are responsible for it. You will not live forever. Don’t wait. Make the time now, even if it is ten minutes once a week.”
When you catch an adjective, kill it.
Sure, easy for you to say, “Mark”.
This is another bit from the book, “Running Girl,” introducing the assassin Mohana Das. She plays a recurring role.
The brutal sun churned Karachi’s open sewers, diesel fumes, rotting trash, bubbling asphalt and smoke from a million charcoal cooking fires into a exotic, noxious stew that spread 50 miles downwind, into the great Sind Desert. The monsoon season was brewing in the warming waters of the Arabian Sea. It was only mid-morning, but thermometers shimmered. They could hit 115F by early afternoon.
The city would bake like a rock on a grill, day after day, until the monsoons brought drenching rain that could drown a child, bring insane winds and monstrous, otherworldly clouds. For a while, this was better than the heat. It filled reservoirs, flooded rice and wheat fields, refilled the aquifers, ran in sheets from the mountains to flush new life into rivers, flushing the filth of the city out to sea. They also brought misery and death with drownings and malaria and cholera when slum sewage was flushed into hovels of the destitute, of whom there were millions.
In April, though, from early morning through the muezzin’s call to evening prayer, nothing moved outside by choice unless driven by greed or hunger or bad intent. Only the insane or the criminal or the desperate slipped from shadow to shadow when Sol hurled death onto the unprotected below. But when the he wearied of the game and moved away over the edge of the ocean in the west and onshore breezes carried cooler, saltier air over the city, the city’s millions emerged to celebrate. Cafes filled with the sounds of jangled chatter and shouts of greeting, of street vendors singing of fresh vegetables for sale, playing children and all the complicated noise of life in all of its joy and brutality.
A man and a woman made love in a darkened bedroom. A window air conditioning unit rattled softly. The woman straddled him, hands on either side of his head and pumped her hips faster and faster with him inside. Her café au lait skin glowed with a light sweat from the exertion, small breasts swaying, nipples hard. The man, flushed and breathing loudly, grabbed a breast and squeezed it roughly. She didn’t seem to notice except for eyes that flashed briefly in anger at the sudden pain, a look he did not see.
She finished with short whimpers, sighs and finally a long, shuddering moan. After a pause with closed eyes and mouth slightly opened and smiling, she lowered herself and lay still. He pushed himself into her hard a few more times and she tensed again to receive him, ignoring his grunting, looking bored. After a moment, she rolled off. He turned away with no more notice of her and was almost instantly asleep.
Mohana Das’ black eyes flicked with contempt and frank appraisal, even as a small smile played across her lips. She sat up and straightened the silk scarf that was wrapped tightly around her short-cropped hair. Then, utterly still, she watched him until she was sure he was asleep. Slipping slender legs over the side of the bed, she moved into the shower to bathe his smell away and flush all traces of him down the drain.
Upon return, still naked and damp, she pulled a long, thin blade of black carbon steel in its leather sheath from hiding under the bed. A rush of heat flashed down her abdomen and up to her breasts, as it always did at moments like this. She closed her eyes and relished the tremor of a second orgasm, feeling her legs go weak for a moment.
The blade, honed so finely that the edge reflected no light, resembled a long, deadly letter opener. Tiny parallel lines were etched down the middle, forming a channel for lubricating fluids. The raised metal sides were polished to a mirror finish. But the true genius of it was the purity of the edges and the hypodermic tip. A custom-made Rosewood grip, inlayed with a cat’s head made of ivory, nestled perfectly in the palm of her hand.
It was the creature of a Japanese master. His handiwork was known only to a small and exclusive clientele willing to pay the price of a modest house for such a weapon. It was said he worked on only one blade at a time, and sometimes took weeks to complete it. He didn’t take orders, so much as listen to a visitor and decide whether he felt the person was worthy of perfection. Das had sat with him daily for two weeks, sharing tea and silences, the first time. She waited on his judgement, willing herself to utter calm and acceptance. Then one day, he handed the blade he’d been working on to her, along with a custom scabbard.
A year later, she returned, with the same result. And again a third year.
The master’s wizened old wife waited in the outer room of the house, bowing as Das left. She took the cash Das offered with many mutual bows and smiles, tucking it quickly away in the folds of her kimono.
One blade was hidden in London. The third was her gift to someone who had trained her, loved her and, finally, betrayed her.
Das gently pulled the sheet down from her bedmate’s neck, looking with detachment at the structure of his spinal bones. He stirred in his sleep and his hand reached blindly for her bare thigh. She moved his hand away with a shushing sound, and murmured ‘No. Later.” She waited motionless a few minutes until his breathing slowed.
She finally moved one finger until it barely rested on his skin. The other hand positioned the point of the blade in the slight hollow between the bones, palm on the rounded silver inlay of the handle. She pushed it in, the movement of the blade barely perceptible as it slipped though his skin and ligaments as though moving through damp gauze, and cut the spinal chord between the 3rd and 4th cervical vertebrae. He woke, but too late. A quick flick of her wrist killed all motor control below that point and stopped his diaphragm. His brain would die quickly, starved of oxygen. He was paralyzed and powerless, but aware he was dying, only able to stare at the wall. He could hear her behind him, but was paralyzed and bewildered. His eyes darted wildly and his mouth made soundless screams.
She examined her work. There was very little blood, just seepage from the sliver of a wound. With any luck, he would not be found for days. The more time zones between her and this spot the better. It wasn’t absolutely necessary, but professional caution was the rule. Disappearance without leaving a trace was one of her specialties.
But she could take a moment. She slid to the floor and moved languidly around the bed where he could see her. She stood and watched without expression as his eyes flickered around in fear, slowly clouded and became still as his worthless spirit floated away.
She washed and dried the blade and slipped it into its sheath.
She glanced around and with quick, practiced movements, wiped down every surface she had touched with a hand towel. She switched off the air conditioner and sealed the windows tight, knowing the aggressive heat of April would soon turn this room into an oven and speed the decomposition of the man’s body, obscuring what few clues she’d left. Not that the police in this slum had the tools or competence or even interest in solving this crime, of course.
The man in the bed was a smalltime crook and occasional drug dealer, smuggler and pimp who lived on the underbelly of society. In the complicated world of Karachi’s poor neighborhoods— which is to say, most of them— he also dealt stolen weapons to whomever had the cash. He didn’t care what they did with them. Unfortunately, he had cheated the wrong person, a person with connections— the details were not her concern. Word had been sent through a cutout that her services were needed.
In short, she knew the police would not investigate this man’s passing very enthusiastically. His death simply removed one more vermin from the streets, and any hint that his exit was expedited by powerful people would further discourage inquiry.
Besides, the same Hawala bosses that had hired her also paid bribes which purchased official blindness. It was a very efficient system, if corrupt. If you were the one with the cash.
Her brief passage through this man’s life, for all practical purposes, would be as if it had never really happened. It was the natural order of things since ancient times in her land. Though not from Karachi, her ancestors were here to meet Alexander, and many still showed the blue eyes and hair coloring of the Greek and Macedonian and Persian genes deposited in the wombs of women in the valley of the Indus. Babies survived, even if their fathers had their throats slit by the brothers of the women they raped. Like all invaders since, the Greeks left only the results of couplings, either voluntary or forced. But they all left eventually.
The assassin slipped on light cotton pants and pulled tight the drawstring at the waist, shrugged on a blouse and stepped into open sandals. After tying a small pouch around her waist, she slipped the sheathed blade and the rest of her effects into it, threw a black chador over her head and pulled the floor-length semicircle of fabric together in front. She fastened a dark ruband veil on her ears and over her nose, which left only her eyes exposed. She was now, to any prying male eyes, a married, conservative Muslim woman: invisible and untouchable.
Das glided into the glare of the day, breathed in the stench of the city born on superheated air, and stepped delicately through a partially open wrought-iron gate in the wall of the compound.
Across the empty street, she opened the rear door of a battered yellow and black taxi and folded herself inside. The driver had been pretending to sleep in the afternoon heat, then started the engine as soon as she left the gate. He had the old car in motion before she closed the door.
They did not speak. In seconds, the taxi pulled onto a main street, trailed by a cloud of blue smoke. Their first destination was a small, poor-looking mosque, tucked in a side street nearby. She would slip a coded message through a slot in the door, word that the mission was compete. Payment would appear in one of several numbered bank accounts in Switzerland. Then she would pack a small bag and board a flight to London, and from there on to America for her next assignment.
Belching a cloud of fumes, the car soon blended in with dozens of others just like it, with trucks and cars and scooters in the vast honking chaos of the city of 15 million. In seconds, it was lost in the crowded, churning haze.
Life is hard. I’ve always heard that,
But thought it had to be cinematic to be true.
You know, like it had to have a music score by John Williams and play on the big screen.
A friend decided this week to separate from her husband;
They have two small children and a house to sell.
Its winter, and the market is soft.
So, they’ll be living together there for a while, knowing
The marriage is over but unable to move on.
The screaming matches have evaporated from mutual exhaustion,
The warring parties withdraw to separate bedrooms to
Wait for Spring, for the lawyers, for a miracle.
Another’s wife had abdominal surgery,
another’s daughter is struggling with a devastating cosmetic disease,
a another’s child is drifting through life, and her mother worries.
A week ago, a 96-year-old woman went through the last chapter and scenes of her life:
A stroke, a fall, pain, sedation, confusion, fear, loneliness;
Her daughter shoulders a burden she has carried before, four times,
With her husband, husband’s parents (both with dementia and in separate rooms in the nursing home) and an aunt.
Walking with them in their last ghastly hours.
Sacrifice without complaint.
Then, when life seemed to offer a little
Love for her, that was taken away, too.
She found him in his home
When he failed to show up for dinner.
Life is hard.
She seemed to shrink after that.
What’s the use, her body said.
A distant acquaintance gets the flu and, through a series of
Freak accidents, breaks several toes while throwing up.
Then loses her job, just before finding out that her husband
Has been unfaithful with a teller at the local bank and it all comes pouring out,
How much he hates her. She never knew.
Months later, before the divorce is final, the last is that she learns he’s given her a little bug for a present.
Another friend is dropped during a community theater rehearsal while being carried offstage
and shatters several bones in one leg. Months of recovery and rehab and dreariness ensue.
Healing takes so much longer now.
Life. So hard.
A friend watches yet again as disease erodes the spirit of
His mate and best friend of decades.
Long nights in the darkness, wondering if her breathing
will stop this time… or this time… or this time…
He falls asleep, finally, and wakes at dawn in a panic.
Her chest is moving up and down. This day, like the others,
Will be hard. Nothing to do but get through it. Weeks need to pass.
He lays his head back on the pillow and stares at the ceiling.
Feels his advancing age and
Fears his own decay, he wants to quit, to leave.
He think about the restorative power of new love, could he have it?
But he cannot abandon his first when she needs him most.
There is no one to comfort him, no one to care for the caregiver.
No one likes a whiner. He is silent.
A shower. Helping her to the bathroom. Helping her dress. Holding her. Going to work.
These are the questions of quiet desperation in ordinary lives.
Not cinematic, not grand, not all that unusual.
These are our lives, We’re busy with our lives. Our regular lives.
Full of pain and delusion and quiet courage, full of sorrows and sins and weaknesses, too.
And if any pollster wants to check the country’s mood,
They need to find a way to measure the kind of courage it takes
To face every dawn and keep going. Meanwhile, it’s fine for us to
tell the pundits and pollsters and politicians and other vermin like them,
You need to
We’re busy with important things.
Love this, and it drove me to look up that Whitman poem.
…O ME! O life!… of the questions of these recurring;
Of the endless trains of the faithless—of cities fill’d with the foolish;
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light—of the objects mean—of the struggle ever renew’d;
Of the poor results of all—of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me; 5
Of the empty and useless years of the rest—with the rest me intertwined;
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?
That you are here—that life exists, and identity; That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.
I heard Steve Jobs give keynote addresses a couple of times, and he said that Apple’s DNA was to live at the intersection of art and technology. They still are. I don’t know another company that would dare do an ad like this one.
Inspired by Apple once again, so a round of applause where due. I rarely watch television and when I do it’s usually cable or a DVR program, so I tend to miss all of the cool commercials (game day releases excluded) but this one sucked me in last night. Although, they didn’t have to sell me because I’m already sold… enjoy!
Ah. Sometimes the old stuff is still pretty good.
The complete version at the link: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/174659
Tennyson’s Ullyses, 1842, an excerpt:
“…Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks;
The long day wanes; the slow moon climbs; the deep
Moans round with many voices.
Come, my friends.
‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite the sounding furrows;
for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;
It may be that we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Though much is taken, much abides;and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are—
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
For me, it’s always been a process of trying to convince myself that what I’m doing in a first draft isn’t important. One way you get through the wall is by convincing yourself that it doesn’t matter. No one is ever going to see your first draft. Nobody cares about your first draft. And that’s the thing that you may be agonizing over, but honestly, whatever you’re doing can be fixed.