Saturday, March 19, 2011

Ramblings...not really a story

It's funny how illness puts you down.  With my mother it was cancer.  With me, it was a sprained ankle and now a very bad virus.  I really can't compare our situations, but when cancer hits me, as I'm genetically predisposed to it, I'll know what to expect.  Sort of.  I know you can never know with cancer. 

It will be time that will haunt me.  Time that says "You haven't done enough, you silly girl."  I have so much time now and yet not enough.  I've called in sick for the past two days and I've gotten so much writing done and it's still not enough.  I thought I was obsessive compulsive, but maybe I'm just a workaholic.

Eleven Paper Girls - Chapter 2

Eleven Paper Girls
Terri spent the last remaining hours of light hiding in the attic.  Some part of her was hoping the boy would come back, but another part of her was hoping he wouldn’t.  That part of her wanted to die of embarrassment. 
School would be an embarrassment too.  She could already feel it.  She didn’t fit in with these people in Southern California.  They were all burnished bronze skin and surfer tans.  Not her.  She had fit into Seattle perfectly.  She could hide her red hair and pale skin in large jackets, in hoodies, in anything she could hide in.  Her freckles and imperfect skin could be disguised by makeup and scarves.  Not here in Southern California.  Her makeup ran with sweat and made her break out the first day.  Her hair frizzed up.  She couldn’t hide in any of her old clothes. 
They’d nicknamed her Strawberry Shortcake.  It had meant to be hurtful, but she had worn the name with pride.  And when Josh had asked her for help, she’d exulted in the looks of derision that the popular kids had steered her way.  It didn’t matter.  In terms of brains, she’d been untouchable.  It was her only protection from the others.  It didn’t protect her heart, but Josh had been sincere in asking for help.  She had been hoping that finally, finally in her senior year, she would have someone to call a friend.  Now she would never know. 
Sulking again, she decided to go downstairs.  She could hear her mother calling about something, probably dinner.  Ever since they’d arrived here, her mother had insisted on having dinners together – “Like a family, again,” her mom had said brightly. – but it hadn’t worked out the way they all had thought.  Terri had sulked through most of the week’s dinner and her father had distractedly been writing notes in a notepad.  Her mother too, despite her insistence on dinner, had been stuck to her phone, feeling the need to have it close by in case someone called to reserve or ask for a job. 
With heavy feet, she made her way to the trapdoor of the attic, when something caught her eye.  The light from the window must have been catching on something because out of one of the attic’s dark corners was a golden glow. 
Terri took apart the boxes and junk that crowded around the glow and saw what it was that had shined so brightly.  A mirror had reflected the light onto a very shiny, very beautiful book.  It was made out of white, tooled leather.  Scrolling ran up and down its sides and the pages were edged with a golden sheen.  It was titled, “The Book of Happiness.”
Terri couldn’t help the smirk that came to her mouth.  Riiiiight.  As if there was such a thing, such a secret to happiness that reading a book could solve.  Stupid self-help manuals.  But it was such a pretty book nevertheless.  It had a clasp, like a diary, but there was no lock.  It clicked open easily and when she turned to the first page she gasped. 
It was like an illuminated manuscript.  She’d seen some of those in museums, but this book was better.  It was truly beautiful.  The colors were swirling and seemed almost alive.  She saw that it was divided into sections, like different chapters.  After the title page, the chapters were each fronted by a glowing picture of a girl.  They were all of varying ages, but none seemed to be older than herself.    There were eleven in total; eleven paper girls. 
She scanned through the first chapter.  It was about a girl named Marie, who lived in France.  She seemed to have been a peasant even though, when Terri flipped back to her picture, she looked like a princess.  She was just getting into the story when her mother called loudly from just below the attic trapdoor. 
“Fine!” she called back, none too happily.  She flipped yearningly through the rest of the pages.  The pictures were all so happy, all so gorgeous.  Oh, how she wished she were that happy and that gorgeous.  How beautiful all the girls were!   She came to the last girl and turned the page.  Curiously there were no more pictures.  The rest of the book was blank. 
She ran her fingers over the blank page.  If only she were like those girls: pretty, confident, perfect.  With a frightened yelp, she threw the book away from her.  It landed like a thud in front of her.  Closed, it was no longer glowing, the light outside was fading and throwing the attic into darkness. 
Strange, she swore the texture of the paper beneath her finger had changed.  It had suddenly felt cold, like the texture of chicken meat straight from the fridge.  And it had felt like something else, it had felt like it had curled around her finger. 
Freaked out, she scooted from the book and practically fell out of the attic. 

Note:  One of my older works that never made it out into the ether.  I find it much more difficult to write short stories than longer ones.  Enjoy. 


            The fog rolled in from the sea early in the afternoon and turned the grounds of  Gull Island into a white soupy mess.  It muffled the waves that had brought it in, blinded the gulls, and made Peter’s wife wake him up early.

            “Peter, Peter,” she whispered in his ear.  “The fog’s come in.”

            Without a word, without conscious thought of what he was doing, Peter got up and stuffed his cold feet into his slippers and shuffled out of their bedroom.  He yawned as he mounted the stairs and placed his feet into the well-worn steps. 

            Three generations of Peter’s family had lived in this lighthouse.  Three generations had tended it faithfully, beaming the light over the waves.  Two generations before that, his family had lit the fires on the point.  Only when the weather was calm and bright, did they rest, knowing that the ships could see, the eyes on their bows scanning the horizon where the land treacherously began thrusting its fingers high into the air.  But when the sea was restless and the waves high and strong, Peter’s family was in the lighthouse, dusting the mirrors, polishing the windows, lighting the fire high, making sure the ships could see the light.

Peter headed up the high spiral staircase and into the round tower with its glass walls all around.  He lit a fire in the stove to warm the room and melt the mist gathering on the glass.  Everything had to be perfect and clean and clear.

            “Do you want your eggs scrambled or sunny-side?” Mrs. Peter yelled up the staircase.

            “Scrambled,” he yelled back.

            Their days were strangely backwards.  In the afternoon, when the light waned and the stars began showing, Mrs. Peter would get up to cook her husband his breakfast, eggs and potatoes and butter on fresh bread.  His lunch was taken at midnight, when the earth was most quiet and he could meditate on the silence.  Dinner was taken when the early rays of sunlight streamed in from the east, bringing with it the quickening of a new day.

            Shining dully from a layer of salt deposit, the mirrors reflected Peter’s face back at him.  He was pale from a lack of sun and creased from long exposure to the salty water and wind.    He had a permanent squint from long years of staring into foggy nights and a high forehead, somehow making his ears stick out.  His wife had told him sweetly that it happened because he was always straining his ears to hear the tolling of ship bells.  Yet despite the allotments that nature had given him, his face was not an unkind one.  The creases were the result of laughter and smiles as much as they were of wind and water.  It was only now in his old age that Peter rarely smiled.

            “Breakfast, Peter,” Mrs. Peter called and waited for her husband to descend and get dressed.

            “You’ve outdone yourself today,” Peter said over a bite of Mrs. Peter’s fresh bread.

            Mrs. Peter dimpled in pleasure.  She was most proud of her bread.  It had won the blue ribbon three years in a row, a new record for the island. 

            “Mayor Sommer rang for you earlier today,” she said.

            “What about?” 

            “He said he wanted to come and visit with you.  About the ship coming tonight.”

            “I know about it,” Peter said.  He was slightly offended.  After all, hadn’t his family been faithful keepers for years on years?  Part of that job had been always to be the first to know of a ship’s coming.   

            “I know,” said Mrs. Peter.  “But the town gets concerned sometimes.”

            “Oh the town,” he snorted scornfully.  “Knowing everyone’s and everybody’s business.  No less the lighthouse keeper’s and his wife’s.”

            “Now, now Peter,” his wife said.  “Do remember your heart.”

            He sighed.  “Aye, lass.”  He watched his wife as she made his coffee carefully and he said, “Did you think it would be so hard?  This life?”

            Mrs. Peter thought about it.  “Maybe for the first year.  I didn’t know the ships would be so big or would come so close.”

            “And now?” he asked.

            “How can life be hard with you?” she laughed and came up beside him to straighten his collar.

            Peter looked at his wife and her shriveled hands.  They had grown old without his noticing.  Softly he asked, “And the children?”

            Mrs. Peter stopped fussing with his collar to hug him tightly.  “I never blamed you that we had none,” she said fiercely. 

            A knocking on the door brought them out of this momentary tenderness.  When Mrs. Peter came to open it, Mayor Sommer abruptly pulled his silver headed cane back.  He had been using it to knock on the door. 

            “Hullo, Mrs. Peter,” Mayor Sommer said and tipped his hat to her.  “Is Mr. Peter up top?”

            “He’s right here, Mayor,” she said.  “How’s Mrs. Sommer?”

            “Booming and healthy.  She’s just had her fourth child you know.”

            “Don’t I know it,” Mrs. Peter said.  There were no traces of regret in her voice.  “You must be busy then. Coffee?”

            “Aye.  The older ones are a help. But here’s Peter,” he said as he spotted Peter sipping his coffee.  Peter was scowling.  He disliked the mayor speaking about his large brood so soon after his wife’s words. 

            “That’s me,” he said.

            “Now, Peter,” Mayor Sommer said.  “Your heart old lad.”

            So they spoke about his heart first.  Then Mayor Sommer remembered the jar of jelly in his pocket that Mrs. Sommer had sent and brought it out to the delight of Mrs. Peter.  Then they spoke about the sea and the dangers and rewards in the waves.  All the time Peter got stiffer and stiffer until finally he interrupted and spoke his mind.

            “Cut it, Sommer,” Peter said.  “You’ve come to talk about the ship.  I know it.  Talk.”

            Mayor Sommer laughed a booming laugh.  “That’s what I’ve always liked about you, Peter.  Forthright and to it.”

            “I know it’s coming.  Got the message yesterday.  Merchant class.”  He almost couldn’t resist adding that he had the job in his blood, passed down from generation to generation.

            “Aye, you do a fine job.  Never failed all these years.  We don’t know what we’d do without you here.”

            “I’m not dead yet, Mayor Sommer,” Peter said coldly.   

            “No you’re not,” Mayor Sommer said.  “But we worry.”

            “I’ve not grown soft either, if that’s what you’re implying.”

            “Of course not,” Mayor Sommer said.  “We just wonder who’ll take the lighthouse when you’re gone.  None of the new lads have volunteered.”

            “I’m sure there’s someone with the constitution to do what I do,” Peter said bitterly.

            The mayor reassured him profusely that there was none and there never could be one to do a more splendid job than he.  He had come only to see how an old friend was doing.  “And there is something else,” he said.


            “I’ve a growing family, Peter,” Mayor Sommer said and his face turned serious.  “I depend on you for all of us.”

            Peter nodded.  “I know it,” he said. 

            “We’ve tried to bring business but it’s not working.  They’ve said that our population isn’t profitable enough.  They’ve said it for years,” Mayor Sommer said.

            “That’s because they haven’t tried,” Mrs. Peter suddenly spoke up.  She was rolling dough vigorously.  “Haven’t tried since Peter’s family came here.”

            “Aye,” said Mayor Sommer.  “And they go up the coast to Point Hill.  What’s the mainland got that we don’t?  But we show them.  Bastards.”

            “I know it,” Peter said again.  “Put your worries to rest.  We’ll bring that ship in tonight.”

            “I know you will,” he said standing up and swinging his cane.  “There won’t be another ship for at least thirteen months.  This one’s got to come.  Even the weather’s cooperating.”

            Peter and Mrs. Peter both got up to walk him to the door and Mayor Sommer laughed.  “Besides,” he added, “I’ve bought a new double barrel shot to celebrate.”

            “No time wasted, eh?” said Peter.

            “You only live once,” Mayor Sommer replied.

            “Are you sure you won’t stay until the roll is baked, Mayor?” Mrs. Peter said.  She looked out into the white blanket of fog.  “It’s a cold night and no moon.  Fog’s thicker than white chowder.  Coffee will bring some warmth to your bones.”

            “Much thanks,” said the Mayor.  “But I’ve got to go to my newest pup.  The boy’s got a set of lungs to wake the whole island.”

            Mrs. Peter laughed.  “Thank Mrs. Sommer for my jelly.”

            “I will.  At the meeting-hall tonight,” said Mayor Sommer.  “Do you want me to ring you when we’re ready?”

            “No,” said Peter.  “I’ll ring you when the ship is here.”

            “Good night to you then,” Mayor Sommer said and tipping his hat soon disappeared into the fog. 

            That night Mrs. Peter insisted on staying up with Peter and they sat side by side on the single bench in the lighthouse tower.  Before them, the light blazed, cutting into the fog.

            “You should rest,” he said.

            “Nonsense,” she replied, pulling her knees up to keep warm.  “I can’t always sleep while my husband stays the night. And besides, I couldn’t sleep with all the excitement.”

            “It will be cold tonight,” he said. 

            “Aye,” she replied.  “I’ve put an extra shawl with my basket and a heavy coat for you.”

            “You’ve got the baskets ready?”

            “I’ve been married to you for twenty years,” she said.  “I’m always prepared.”

            “I know it,” he said.  “But what if I fail?”

            “You never have, you never will,” she said with a finality to end the discussion.

            In the silence that followed, thoughts of the morning came back to Peter. 

            “Do you ever regret this?” he asked.

            “We do what we do to live,” she said. 

            “I know it,” he began. 

            Suddenly he sat up stiffly beside her, leaning his head sideways, his ears to the wind. 

“What is it?” Mrs. Peter asked.

Peter put a finger to his lips and smiled.  Then he stood up and covered the light.  After several minutes, he removed the heavy lens and replaced it with another and uncovered the light.  The beam shot out again.  This time it seemed fainter somehow, more narrow.  They waited several minutes and then Mrs. Peter heard it, the faint uneven tolling of ship bells out in the sea. 

“Ring the Mayor,” Peter said quietly.

Mrs. Peter did as she was told, walking slowly and trying to contain her excitement.  Every ship they brought in always brought the same feelings in the gut, like having had a bad fish but in a pleasant way. 

“What number, please?” the operator on the line asked.

“Mayor Sommer,” said Mrs. Peter.

“He’s at the meeting hall with the others,” said the operator.  “I’ll patch you through, Mrs. Peter.”

“Thank you, dear,” Mrs. Peter said.  “And have a good night.”

There was a click and “Hello?” Mayor Sommer answered.  In the background were a babble of voices and the high wailing cry of a child.

“Ship’s almost here, Mayor,” said Mrs. Peter.  “Peter thought I should ring you.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Peter,” Mayor Sommer replied.  “We’ll be right down.”

When Mrs. Peter came back up to join Peter, she saw that he had changed lenses twice since she was gone.  The light now looked bent, a trick of the mirrors that Mrs. Peter had never learned.  The ship bells were closer now, urgent.  She watched quietly as Peter covered the light and switched lenses.  When he uncovered the light for the last time, the sudden flood revealed the looming mass of a ship, passing them by in a desperate swerve to the side.  There was the horrible cracking of timber against rock and the shouts of men, the sound muffled in the fog.  The violence ran a shudder through the lighthouse walls but Peter had been ready and had his feet braced.   

Calmly, Mrs. Peter went to get the baskets as Peter covered the light and put it out.  In the dim grounds below he could see the first shapes of people emerging from the fog.  At the very front was the Mayor, his wife missing.  He carried two baskets in one hand to make up the difference and his new rifle in the other.  Behind him the others came carrying lanterns and torches, the light reflecting off their pitchforks and rifles and knives, igniting the fog from the inside like a glowing cloud. 

“Shall we go down, love?” Peter asked using an endearment he hadn’t used in years.

Mrs. Peter smiled at her husband and handed him a basket and his old rifle.  She had never doubted him.  He smiled back gratefully and hand in hand they descended the lighthouse steps to join the others.  Already the rifles were being fired, their sound strangely sharp even through the walls. 

Friday, March 18, 2011

Giselle's Diary (an original story)

Giselle’s Diary
March 6
One week!  Jerry and I have been married one week!  I can’t believe I’m now Mrs. Gerald Allano.  Giselle Allano.  What do you think?  It has a nice ring to it, right?  And I’m still sore.  I can’t stop thinking about it.  Who knew sex would hurt so much and yet be so nice at the same time? 
Jerry and I are leaving for Venice tomorrow.  We really can’t afford it, but he says that with the money he saved up from tips and now his new job at the shop, we should be able to make it.  It’s been like a whirlwind, like a dream almost.  I can’t believe it. 
I’m starting this diary because I think it might be nice to keep a record of our first year of marriage.  Besides, Jerry has always said I should write something.  He bought this for me as a sort of wedding gift. 
My parents have finally come around to liking Jerry despite the fact that he didn’t graduate from college.  I didn’t really care about that.  I love him.  I finish all my credentialing in June this year.  Only a couple of papers left and I can finally start teaching. 

March 7/8
The airplane ride was a bumpy one.  Storms all the way across the middle of the country.  I’ve never been outside of California.  New York had some late snow on the ground and we almost decided to make snowmen on the tarmac.  Jerry laughed at me when I said tarmac.  I had to explain that the airport runway was called that.  He just said that I’m too smart for my own good. 

March  8
We’ve made another stop here in London.  We had to walk from Heathrow airport all the way to the bus.  I fell asleep on Jerry’s shoulder on the way to the hotel.  I’m afraid I may have drooled on his shoulder a little.  Some romantic I am. 
I’m sitting here now while he takes a shower in that closet of a bathroom.  The hotel rooms here are weird.  Tiny.  The bathroom is split into two parts.  One has the shower and the sink and the other has two toilets.  One’s a regular toilet and the other, we couldn’t figure out.  I think it’s to wash yourself after.  It’s so embarrassing right now, all these little things you never thought about.  I mean, peeing in front of your own husband shouldn’t be embarrassing, right?  I’ve barely gotten over the being naked in front of him part, though I have to confess I like seeing him naked. 

March 10
We are staying in London tonight and leaving tomorrow.  The ticketing agency screwed up our train passes.  Jerry was upset because the hotel at first refused to let us stay on for one more night.  He convinced them for one more night but they charged us an arm and a leg.  I’m afraid we have to withdraw some more money.
The strangest thing happened today.  We were at the top of St. Paul’s Cathedral when Jerry pointed out that we could see the whole entire of London including the Thames.  It was breathtaking except for the height part.  I hate heights.  Then something happened.    
I was turning to hug Jerry when suddenly, one of the gargoyles on the roof moved.  I swear it moved!  I screamed and the next thing I knew, Jerry was hugging me and when I looked again, it wasn’t the gargoyle that had moved but a large crow sitting on its wings.  I don’t know why I panicked so much.  He asked me what was wrong, but I couldn’t tell him that I had seen a gargoyle move.  The marriage vows were “for better or for worse; in sickness and in health” not “for saner or for crazier.”

March 13 - Morning
I think I’m in love with Venice.  The town is magical.  Who knew that I would love all the little bridges all the little canals?  And the ice cream!  Oh my god!  Heavenly.  The Italians call it gelato.  I call it delicious. 
If we are what we eat, I’m going to turn into pasta, red wine, and gelato by the time this trip is over.  I’m going to take a few more pictures of the food we’re eating now before our gondola ride since Jerry is giving me the “what are you doing?” look.  I think he’s going to regret giving me this diary as a wedding gift.             

March 13 - Afternoon
The gondola ride was a disaster.  The gondolier cussed us out in Italian.  It wasn’t my fault, and Jerry, sweet man defended me. 
We were going through an old part of Venice, very quiet, very old.  The gondolier, an old guy, was trying to explain in broken English that sometimes when it floods the graves of the people in the churches would float in the water.  I don’t know if he was sensationalizing it, but I could almost picture it.  I was looking around at the walls when everything went black.  When I could see again, the town was still Venice and I was still in a gondola but everything was burning.  There were bodies everywhere and people dying.  And there was someone, someone tall and dark coming toward me and I couldn’t resist, I stood up.  He said he had come for me.    And then I came to, wet and in the water. 
Our gondola had capsized and the gondolier blamed me!  I thought those gondolas were supposed to be uncapsizable! 
Jerry won’t tell me what happened, but it must have been pretty bad.  He looks worried.  He says that it looked like I was sleepwalking.  I think I might have had too much red wine.    

March 14
We are leaving for London again and back to the US tomorrow.  I shall write again when we get back to California.  Nothing else happened while we were in Venice.  I guess maybe it’s just nerves or the time shift.  I do feel a little exhausted.  The wedding and the honeymoon were more stressful than I thought.  Or maybe my mother was right, maybe marriage is a sort of mental illness. 

Eleven Paper Girls (A story to go with Rosie Hardy's photograph)

Eleven Paper Girls
To Rosie:  Your images are beautiful (and sometimes macabre) inspiration. 
Rosie's original photograph can be found @
When Terri first walked into the attic, the first sensation she felt was cold.  It was kind of creepy – being that it was in the height of summer – but the sensation was there all the same.  Outside she could hear the buzz of traffic speeding along the San Pedro freeway.  But in the attic, the sounds were muted, the sensation of cold almost all consuming.  Her breath seemed to frost the air. 
This house was the last in the cul-de-sac, a restoration house, her mother called it.  But to her, restoration really meant old.  Not that an old house seemed to bother anybody.  For several days now, her mother had been busy booking reservations for “a charming Bed and Breakfast overlooking the cliffs of Palos Verdes.”  Hmph.  She’d been busy all right.  Too busy for Terri. 
Her dad too was too busy.  He was finally writing that great American novel he’d been meaning to. 
She remembered the day they’d decided that dad was going to be a writer and mom would run her bed and breakfast.  It was right after Gram’s funeral.  Her parents had shed tears, but they hadn’t really been too sad.  Gram and her dad were “estranged” and when they had come into some money when Gram had died, her parents decided to take a few years off and work on “their dreams.” 
Terri kicked at an unpacked box in the corner of the attic angrily.  Yeah, their dreams.  But what about hers?  Moving in the middle of the school year, especially senior year, had been devastating.  She had already made plans.  Her picture was already in the yearbook!  And now, now no one would remember her by the time Spring Break came. 
Outside the late California sun shone onto the blue ocean and suddenly she missed cold, rainy Seattle.  It was damp, but it was home. 
Sighing, she sat down on one of the moving boxes.  There were still a bunch of them unpacked in the attic, mostly raingear and boots.  Her mother had decided that those boxes would be the last to be unpacked.  She had smiled brightly at the moving men and laughed when she asked them to take the boxes up to the attic.  “Rain?  Here?  I doubt we’ll even see the rain in Southern California.” 
She tore off a strip of tape holding the box flaps together.  Inside, her bright red rain slicker bloomed.  She almost cried with the pain of missing home.  The slicker was new.  She had bought it over the Christmas break intending to wear it when she came back for Spring semester.  She had just gotten to know Josh over Thanksgiving.  He was one of the most athletic boys at Washington High.  He was also painfully gorgeous.  He had been her lab partner in biology, his worst subject and he had asked for help in the new semester.  Red was his favorite color.  Again, the heat of righteous anger hit her.  How dare they?  Her parents hadn’t even asked if she wanted to move.   
Outside, the whirr of a lawnmower cut through the sounds of muted traffic.  Uninterested, she leaned over the side of the box to peek out the only window that let in light.  The window was pretty high and she could barely see out.  In the afternoon light, a boy about her age was mowing the lawn.  His dark hair was slicked back with sweat and he wore a shirt with the arms cut out.  He was whistling.  She couldn’t hear him, but she could see his cheeks puffing out.  Curious, she stood stepped on the box.  It rocked unsteadily under her, the rain slickers and boots shifting underfoot.  The boy was carefully guiding the lawnmower from one side of the large expansive lawn to the other.  He called out something to someone unseen and then he laughed.  She leaned closer, trying to see who was just around the corner.  As he turned his face up to the sun, she caught his eye and he smiled unreservedly at her.  Shocked, she slipped off the box and landed in a thud on the dusty ground. 
When she finally scrambled up and got over her embarrassment, the sound of the lawnmower had moved away and outside, the boy was gone, only the clean shaven path of grass left in its wake.