Labor Day Weekend election ennui astrological alignments a YouTube vortex ... okay, laziness on my part (and a touch of writer's block), this week's chapter will be delayed until morning.
The staff apologize for any inconvenience this causes the patrons, and the writer will be punished.)
And here it is, finally, with special thanks and kudos to Jen for helping me:
It had been a quiet week in the city in the mountains. The final paperwork had gone through on the inheritance, and I found out I would only have to sell a third of the paintings and other artwork to pay the taxes, so that was good. Arianne and I were settling back into our relationship comfortably, and had decided to go up to the house on Beech Mountain for a few days. I had hired an assistant, a young man by the name of Albert Cerrano, and told him to keep my desk chair warm and refer any clients to Fizzy Joines, a private investigator that I had worked with often in the past.
So we threw some stuff in the back of the Woody, Arianne grabbed her laptop, and we headed up the Blue Ridge Parkway towards Banner Elk and Beech Mountain. Like a lot of the homes up on the mountain, Dirk's house had been available for weekend rental during the times he wasn't using it. We figured we would do the same, so once we got to the top of Beech Mountain, we pulled into the lot of Beech Realty to sign the paperwork and pick up a set of keys to the house.
Arianne decided to go next door to the General Store while I took care of things with the Realtor, so I was alone as I walked into the office. I didn't see anyone, so I called out - "Hello?"
"Be with you in a minute," I heard a woman's voice call out from behind a closed door. Then I heard a flush and the door opened. The woman who walked out of the bathroom wasn't what I expected in a Realtor's office. She was dressed conservatively, as Realtors tend to be, but something about her gave me the impression that she would be more comfortable in a logging camp or on a soccer field.
"Whew! Hope you don't need to use the facilities, friend," she said, waving her hand in front of her face. "That's why you don't light a candle in the bathroom," she added, then burst out laughing.
"Janey Hicks," she said, holding out her hand and taking mine firmly. "How can I help you?" She stepped over to the front window and saw the Woody in the parking lot. "Oh! You must be Mr. Noir. I recognize Dirk's car. So sad to lose him, but life goes on. Let me get the paperwork and we'll be done in a jiffy. I'm sure you want to get on over to the house and check it out."
We were going over the documents when her computer beeped. While I continued reading the rental details, she opened the incoming email and read for a moment. "It's from my worthless ex boyfriend," she said to me. I could tell just by looking at her that, after reading the email, she wanted to reach through the computer screen and smack him for his burning stupidity. "Best day of my life was the day I told him what he could do with himself. We were at the marina over to Watauga Lake, waiting for some friends we were gonna go boating with, and I just had enough of him. He was drunk again - as usual - and when he tried to paw me right there in front of God and everybody, I punched him in the gut, smacked his face and shoved him in the water. Bam, pow, oof, splash!"
I smiled with her and then she burst out in a loud guffaw, "You probably think I'm an awful person, don't ya!"
"Not at all, Ms. Hicks. Sounds to me like he had it coming. So, I just need to sign here?" I added, wanting to finish up and get over to the house.
"Yep. That takes care of things at this end. As soon as you and your ladyfriend figure out when you're most likely to want to come up here, you just let me know, and we'll block those dates from the rental schedule. Welcome to the Village of Beech Mountain!"
It shook her hand again as she handed me the keys and took my leave, smiling at the Mountain Woman image made flesh. Arianne wasn't back to the car yet, so I walked across the parking lot to the store. As I was climbing the steps up on to the porch, I heard a voice cry out, "Stop him!" and a young man came barreling out the front door.
My finely honed instincts kicked in and I reached out to grab the fleeing miscreant. He goosed, then ducked. Unluckily for him, though, I'd been nabbing perps for longer than he'd been alive, and was wise to their tricks. I tackled him, and the package he had tried to get away with went flying.
The rogue lay there for a moment, stunned by the impact with the sidewalk, and then moaned loudly. He wouldn't have believed it if he hadn't seen it with his own eye - there was his other eye, looking back at him. He reached out and picked it up - I could see it was glass at that point - and popped it back into the socket.
The Village Police Station was just on the other side of the real estate office, so it took only a moment for an officer to run over and take control of the would-be (and, frankly, not very intelligent) thief. As the cop was securing the prisoner, I could hear the young man babbling. Much like the Internet, there was some useful, possibly even vital information hidden amid the rambling and bravado. He swayed on his feet, clearly intoxicated, and let loose a spew of colourful bile on the sidewalk - it furthered the metaphor, and I was delighted.
Arianne stepped out the front door of the store as the crook shouted something along the lines of "It's in the lutefisk!!" and jerked his chin toward the package, which had burst open as it hit the concrete sidewalk. Arianne walked over to it and I joined her there.
"What is he talking about, Guy?" she asked me.
"Not sure," I replied, squatting down to look at the contents. It had the consistency of pudding, but the scent wafting off its quivering bulk spoke volumes about un-emptied dumpsters and forgotten stacks of crusty socks. "Definitely lutefisk," I said, moving to stand upwind.
"I'm gonna snitch a bit of it so we can check it out," Arianne said, pulling a small plastic container out of her shopping bag.
"I'm on vacation, Darlin'," I said as I smiled at her, knowing that she knew that I wouldn't be able to resist the mystery implied in all these goings on. She scooped some of the fishy stuff into the container, and stood as a man in dark glasses came out of the store and strode directly to the package. He quickly gathered up the contents, and carried the mess back into the store, without saying a word or even looking at us.
I had to make a statement to the cop, but there was no problem once Janey came out of her office and vouched for me, and then Arianne and I headed on over to the house.
I had been to Dirk's house several times, but it was Arianne's first visit. She was quite impressed as she walked through the rooms, and positively thrilled when she saw the hot tub on the deck off the master suite upstairs.
"I think that, after the drive and the excitement at the store, we deserve to ... relax... in the tub for a bit," she called to me.
I walked out onto the deck to join her. "Sounds good to me, but you better read the house rules over there," I said, pointing to the carved sign hanging on the wall.
She stepped over and read for a moment, then turned to me. "Naked?" she cried, aghast. Then she burst out laughing and quickly stripped down.
All I could do was join her....
Some time later, Arianne was looking around the house and found an old microscope that Dirk had used on a couple of cases involving priceless collectible Tibetan Hopping Spiders.
Few are privy to the inner workings of the insular world of competitive arachnid collection, but Dirk had shared a few anecdotes with me at the time. I knew, for instance, that the insanely intricate yet frequently modified qualifications for any given year's Prize Specimen made for lively discussions and heated controversy at the biweekly meetings. All in all, the Arachnid Fanciers' gatherings were a morass of strong opinions loosely held - and loudly expressed.
On a shelf beside the microscope, Arianne discovered a prize specimen specially mounted in a small glass box. She slid it under the lens and bent to the eyepiece.
Looking into the microscope, her first thought was how much the spider looked like Dame Penelope's insufferable Yorkie, Ewok...but with more eyes.
To be continued....
Sunday, August 31, 2008
Saturday, August 30, 2008
I bring this question to you, loyal ShakesQuillers - should any type of erotica be permissible here? And what about fiction that contains graphic sexual interludes?
I ask this mainly because it's just not something I had thought about before. And when I thought about it, it wasn't something I could immediately answer. My initial instinct was no to outright erotica as this being a safe place was more important than anything else. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized it was a question I couldn't immediately answer.
Work that has only the purpose to titillate won't be accepted, but obviously there are works that can combine erotica, great story telling, social commentary, etc. And I'm hesitant to make blanket rules on writers who are truly making an effort.
At this point my opinion is thus: Anything that I personally think is too graphic yet worthy of consideration would be tagged as such on the front page and then jumped, so that to continue reading it would be the reader's decision.
Mainly, the words "safe place" are important to me and I take the responsibility given to me here seriously. And while I'm confident my judgment is solid (and even then, there are others whose judgment will override mine), I think this is a discussion we should all take part in. So let me know your thoughts, please.
Friday, August 29, 2008
Function: intransitive verb:
Etymology: Abscond comes from Latin abscondere, "to conceal," from ab-, abs-, "away" + condere, "to put, to place."
To depart secretly; to steal away and hide oneself -- used especially of persons who withdraw to avoid arrest or prosecution.
"The criminal is not concerned with influencing or affecting public opinion: he simply wants to abscond with his money or accomplish his mercenary task in the quickest and easiest way possible so that he may reap his reward and enjoy the fruits of his labours."
— Bruce Hoffman, Inside Terrorism
Thanks to Constant Comment for today's WOTD entry
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Etymology: obs. haught (sp. var. of late ME haute < MF < L altus high, with h- < Gmc; cf. OHG hok high) + -y
1. disdainfully proud; snobbish; scornfully arrogant; supercilious
2. Archaic. lofty or noble; exalted.
"I don't know why, but he despised me even beyond all measure and looked at me with an insufferable haughtiness."
— Fyodor Dostoevsky, Notes From Underground
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Etymology: Thaumaturgy comes from the Greek words for "wonder" (thauma) and "work" (ergon).
The performance of miracles or magic.
"There was ever a cautious hesitancy on the part of the clergy to recognize evidence of thaumaturgy, and the superstitious use of relics."
— John Mcgurk, "Devoted People: Belief and Religion in Early Modern Ireland", Contemporary Review, September 1998
Thanks to Constant Comment for today's WOTD entry
Tina had inherited her father's work ethic, but she was too risk averse to start her own business, so instead, she was the manager of a successful dog training school - dog daycare - kennel facility. The Dog House took care of up to 40 dogs in the daycare section each of their three facilities, with locations in central and Eastern Connecticut. Tina worked almost every day, either hanging out with the dogs, doing paperwork, or teaching training classes. She was a firm proponent of positive reinforcement training, and had introduced some new techniques to the owner of the company, Tabitha "Tabby" Hunter.
Tabby was a Shar-Pei enthusiast with a lot of time and money on her hands. When she was training a newly acquired puppy, she decided that there was not a satisfactory school for dog training around. She spoiled her dogs, and couldn't make herself pull a choke chain on one of her little darlings. So she hired a consultant to research less negative training theories, and the consultant introduced Tabby and Tina after meeting a friend of Tina's father who had hired Tina to train his new puppy and raved about her ability to communicate with dogs. Tina had helped Tabby create a curriculum for positively based training methods, and had helped Tabby pick out an appropriate space for the first Dog House facility. The first class Tina led was a puppy kindergarten class, basically designed to help socialize new puppies and begin the process of training the owners how to train their dogs with loving guidance rather than harsh authoritarianism.
Tina loved the fact that she could bring Rosco and Bela with her to work. She arrived early in the day, although Laura usually opened the building up.
"Good morning, Laura!" Tina said. Laura Carvalho, Tina’s co-worker, was a tiny woman, standing just under 5 feet tall, and thin, although she had that wiry appearance that suggested strength.
"Mornin', and good morning you little boogers!" Laura said, as she kneeled down and greeted Rosco and Bela. "You guys ready to go to school?" Laura asked the dogs, as she did every morning, and as they did every morning, Rosco and Bela wiggled their tails and Bela barked excitedly. Laura gave each of the dogs a treat and led them to the play area. She returned after handing the dogs off to the two teenaged girls who were working for minimum wage as dog sitters.
"So," Tina said, "who's here?"
"Digby, Buckley, Snow and Frosty, and we're waiting for a bunch more, including Cyrus," a word that caused Tina to scrunch up her nose and say "Ew." Cyrus was a spaniel mix, a high strung dog and devoted coprophage. Tina had been trying everything she could think of to stop Cyrus from eating his own shit, but nothing seemed to work.
"You know," Tina said, "before I worked here, I never thought that there might be some dogs I don't like, but I don't really like Cyrus."
"Oh, he's not so bad," Laura said. "He's no Silver, anyway." Tina laughed at the mention of Silver, one of the most difficult dogs she'd ever dealt with. Silver, a dolorous looking bloodhouse/border collie cross, had become a student of The Dog House after being spectacularly destructive at the home of his owner, a very nice but rather clueless about dogs woman named Bonnie. When Bonnie's children went away to college, she felt lonely at home with just herself and her husband, so she decided she would get that dog she always wanted. But she never really researched how much work a dog would be. Bonnie left Silver confined in the kitchen during the day while she was at work, and one evening, Tina received a call from Bonnie, who was sobbing so much Tina could hardly make out what Bonnie wanted. Eventually, Tina pieced together the story. Silver, being a rather intelligent dog, had been chewing on the cabinets and the chairs while Bonnie was at work, and Bonnie just decided to let it go, since the kitchen was in need of remodeli ng and both items were scheduled to be replaced. But Silver apparently got bored with chewing on the same old stuff, and started working on the refrigerator. At some point while Silver was chewing, he managed to open the refrigerator, and started eating everything he could get his mouth around. After Silver was done pillaging the fridge, he leaped over the barrier that kept him out of the newly decorated living room, and threw up all over the couch.
At first, Bonnie wanted to sell the dog or give it to the pound. Tina talked her into signing up for some obedience classes, and suggested that Silver might benefit from being occupied during the day as well. Silver became a regular at the Dog House after that, but he was such a bright and stubborn dog that Tina had to work hard to stay a step ahead of him.
Tina went into the small office behind the main counter. In addition to all the dog day care services, they sold some retail items, include some specialty dog foods and toys, and various dog spoiling items that were more for the owner's entertainment than the dog's pleasure, like sweaters and little boots. Tina also occasionally offered private coaching for persistent bad dog behaviors, like dogs that didn't seem to be able to be housetrained, barkers or biters.
She was working on some paperwork when the Laura buzzed the office extension from the main desk. "There's a reporter on line 2," Laura said.
"Thanks, Laura," Tina said as she took the call.
"I swear, the Senator and I are just friends," Tina said as she picked up the phone, knowing that her best friend Kell was on the other end.
"I'm done looking for a boyfriend," Kell said.
"You're done as in you've found him or you're done as in no more men? Or have you decided to become a lesbian?" Tina teased.
"I'm not kidding, Tina," Kell said. Tina was surprised to hear the serious tone in her friend's voice.
"What happened?" Tina asked, suddenly concerned. Kell was a frequent dater, going through men like Kleenex during allergy season. She usually followed up a date with a post mortem call to Tina, but Kell rarely seemed serious, either in looking for a partner or in complaining about her dates.
"He picked up another woman while I was in the bathroom," Kell said. "I came back to the table and he was sitting across from this little Bratz doll, with collagen lips and D cup sized implants on a size zero body."
"What a prick!" Tina said, outraged on her friend's behalf.
"And this little human equivalent of a vaginal wart had the nerve to call me Plus Size Barbie!" Kell continued. "I've been dating for a lot of years, and I've had some great times, and I've had some clunkers, but lately, it feels like I'm actively seeking punishment by going on dates! So I did some thinking last night. I'm a sexy, intelligent woman, I have a great career that I love, and I have a wide selection of sex toys available to me. What more do I need?"
Tina, good friend, said "I can’t think of anything."
"Tiiiiny," Kell whined, using Tina's brothers' nickname for her, "I need someone to take care of me when I'm old and crumbling, that's what I need."
"Kell, I'll always be here to take care of you," Tina said.
"I need someone to warm up my side of the bed in January before I get under the covers," Kell continued.
"Get a dog," Tina offered.
"Tina," Kell said, sounding tired. "I'm lonely. I'm getting older. I haven't ruled out children. Everyone tells me they love me - you're gorgeous, you're dynamic, you're funny, you're intelligent...why doesn't anyone want me?"
Tina couldn't remember a time when her friend sounded so low, so lacking in confidence. Tina wasn't quite sure what to say to her.
"Fuck anyone who doesn't want you," Tina said. "Anyone who would turn you down is just stupid, that's all." Tina knew her friend had trouble compromising, but Tina also knew the rewards of friendship with Kell, and it was truly worth the trouble, in her opinion. Kell was a person who stood by you no matter what, and would always be honest with you.
"Aauggghhhh," Kell exclaimed. "Damn, my editor is staring at me, I have to go. Can we get together tonight?"
Tina knew she was supposed to go to her aunt's dress shop to look at wedding dresses, but she thought her friend would need her more. "Sure, I just have to cancel my dress appointment at Zia Dinella's." She felt slightly relieved to once again put off the appointment, but her hopes were dashed when Kell replied, "no reason we can't bitch while we're shopping. I'll meet you at D's at 6ish?"
"Okay," Tina said, with some reluctance. "We'll solve your problems and find my wedding gown before my mother can complain anymore,"
"Of course," Kell said sarcastically, "and then we'll solve world hunger and end the proliferation of nuclear weapons."
Tina laughed. "Bye, chiquita," she said.
"Adios," Kell replied.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Pronunciation: \TSYT-guyst; ZYT-guyst\
Etymology: Zeitgeist is from the German: Zeit, "time" + Geist, "spirit."
The spirit of the time; the general intellectual and moral state or temper characteristic of any period of time.
"Like other figures who seem, in retrospect, to have been precociously representative of their times, Kerouac was not simply responding to the Zeitgeist, but to the peculiarly twisted facts of his own upbringing."
— Jack Kerouac: The Beat Goes On, New York Times, December 30, 1979
Thanks to Constant Comment for today's WOTD entry
It's Tuesday morning, and so I come to you, word processor in hand, to ask for your input for this week's chapter of the ongoing story. You know the drill by now - you give me snippets of action or dialog, and I weave them into the story. Something like:
I stepped outside to stand in the cold rain, and let it cool my overheated body.
Hit me with your best shot, everyone!
The story so far can be found in its entirety here.
Monday, August 25, 2008
I've spent part of the past week at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario. I've been making the pilgrimage to Stratford since 1970, and it has been a major influence in my love of theatre ever since.
Part of my secret identity as a theatre scholar is that I have a doctorate in playwrighting and dramatic criticism. So it's only natural that I would write some reviews of some of the plays I saw when I was there.
First, here's a video introduction to Stratford and the festival.
Here follows my thoughts on three of the plays I saw.
Unless you're a theatre scholar -- or you took Dr. Delmar Solem's theatre history classes at the University of Miami -- you probably never heard of the plays of Spanish playwright Lope de Vega (1562-1635). But this contemporary of Shakespeare was probably the most prolific playwright in history, cranking out over 1,500 full-length plays, with about 450 still extant. Compared to Shakespeare -- and Lope de Vega is often called the Spanish Shakespeare -- the bard of Stratford-upon-Avon is a piker with his mere 37 plays.
The best-known work of Lope de Vega is Fuente Ovejuna. As Dr. Solem explained to me, the title translates literally as "The Sheep Well," but the play is not about a hole in the ground where sheep drink. It is a small town in Spain, and Lope de Vega wrote this play relating an actual event that occurred there in 1476.
While under the command of the Order of Calatrava, a commander, Fernán Gómez de Guzmán, mistreated the villagers, who banded together and killed him. When a magistrate sent by King Ferdinand II of Aragon arrived at the village to investigate, the villagers, even under the pain of torture, responded only by saying "Fuente Ovejuna did it."
That sums up the plot neatly, but in the new translation by Lawrence Boswell, the play explores much more than just a village rising up against tyranny. It explores the people's view of their status in Spanish society, the role of women in that time and their stature, and the intense feeling of community that brings these common folk together to stand up for themselves.
I must admit that when I first read the play, over thirty years ago in a translation that did its best to convey the language of the time, I didn't find it any of those. But in this production at Stratford's Tom Patterson Theatre (a converted curling rink) Mr. Boswell has done a masterful job of finding nuances in words and characters that surely must have been intended by the playwright. The villagers are as multidimensional as Shakespeare's characters, and the plot, while complicated by the politics of the time, moves along smartly, never taking your eye off the real story, and that is how the people of this benighted village respond to their mistreatment at the hands of their government. There are powerful performances by James Blendick as the mayor of the village, Sara Topham as his daughter Laurencia, who is abused by the Commander (the wonderfully villainous Scott Wentworth), and Jonathan Goad as the peasant who initiates the confrontation by having the nerve to stand up to the Commander by protecting Laurencia's virtue. Robert Persichini does a wonderful job as Mengo, the shepherd, who provides both comic relief and the brutal truth in the role of the classic clown.
This play, as the villagers state under threat of torture, is not about them as much as it is about the sense of community: "Fuente Ovejuna did it." There is a populism to this drama, and where Shakespeare enlightens us and delves deeply into the human character, Lope de Vega shows us those human characters working together as one. (Shakespeare did not write a play with only the name of a town in the title and turn it into the main character, and no, "Hamlet" doesn't count.) Fuene Ovejuna is the main character in this play, and yet we never forget that there people who live there.
Hughie and Krapp's Last Tape
Brian Dennehy is a force of nature. With just a look he can hold an audience breathless for as long as he wants, and for a big man, his subtle moves, his sly grin, his glaring eyes will tell you what he's thinking.
Mr. Dennehy is appearing in two one-acts on a double bill here at Stratford; Hughie by Eugene O'Neill, and Krapp's Last Tape by Samuel Beckett. Both plays are unusual for each playwright; Hughie, set in the lobby of a 1920's fleabag hotel in New York, is a short and succinct piece, which, for those of us with the sitzfleisch to make it through three-plus hours of Mr. O'Neill's other works like Long Day's Journey Into Night, is a change of pace. But Mr. O'Neill gives us as full and compelling character in the person of Erie Smith, a down-on-his-luck gambler, as he does in any of the Tyrones, and watching Mr. Dennehy take him through the intricacies of his reminiscences of his late friend, Hughie, make you understand him in a word that would otherwise take a page or a scene.
Krapp's Last Tape is an unusual play for Beckett; starkly real and harsh as compared to the absurdism and other-worldliness of End Game or Waiting for Godot, but with touches of humor and even slapstick, albeit given that minimalist treatment by the playwright who made Harold Pinter seem verbose. Again, it is Mr. Dennehy's portrayal of Krapp that makes it work. In the opening moments of the play we see Krapp sitting at a table surrounded by his tapes and his tape recorder, but it's the eyes...the haunted, terror-filled, angry, lost, and eventually pitiful look in them that holds you and doesn't let up, even when his back is turned.
There's a central theme to both plays, and that's the sense of loss the main character feels and cannot overcome. And in both plays there is a listener that acts like a chorus. In Hughie it's the Night Clerk who stands by passively and responds in a few words that cuts right through to the truth and reality, providing a counterpoint and a foundation to Erie Smith. In Krapp's Last Tape it is the tape recorder, playing back Krapp's words from thirty years ago and brutally reminding him of what he was, what he wanted to become, what he never achieved, and what he lost.
It's Mr. Dennehy that makes these plays work so well, and once again Stratford has proved its ability to choose both the right plays and the right actors to make it work.
Casear and Cleopatra
George Bernard Shaw always has something to teach in his plays, whether it's something as profound as Jack Tanner discovering the life force in Man and Superman or something as basic and class-defining as speaking properly in Pygmalion. Once again we have the teacher and the pupil in the form of Julius Caesar and Cleopatra, and once again we have the situation where the master becomes the pupil.
Christopher Plummer takes the stage here at Stratford like the consummate performer that he is, and regardless of how many other things you've seen him in, be it in film or on stage, you never think of him as Christopher Plummer, but as the character, and that is the true hallmark of a fine actor. You're not seeing Captain Von Trapp in The Sound of Music or General Chang in Star Trek Six, as millions of movie goers think of him; you're seeing Julius Caesar. And not the Julius Caesar of Shakespeare, either, but a man with a sense of humor, limits, and self-awareness that isn't seen in any other portrayal of him. Shaw's voice is very clear in this play, but it's not so overwhelming that you forget that you are looking at a historical figure about whom everyone thinks they know and who's famous utterance, "Et tu, Brute?" is so well-known it shows up in cross-word puzzles every week. Mr. Plummer handles the role with effortless grace and charm so that you care deeply about Caesar, regardless of his manifestation as a conqueror.
But he would have a lot rougher go at it if he didn't have the amazing counterpoint of Nikki M. James as Cleopatra. She is both a girl and a woman, a petulant child and a powerful queen; endearing and frightening. Shaw knew how to write women of equality, and he does so here, but in the free-flowing and utterly devastating performance Ms. James gives, you feel as if Shaw's vision of a 16-year-old girl taking on and holding her own against a much older and more experienced warrior was written with Ms. James in mind. She's given the thankless job of taking a character who has been portrayed in so many ways and has become such an archetype that the mere mention of the name "Cleopatra" gives you visions of Elizabeth Taylor (and Tallulah Bankhead) that all you can think of are the really bad jokes about asps (i.e. "fangs for the mammary"). Not this time. Not only does Cleopatra become fully dimensional, Shaw even tweaks Shakespeare by giving us a prequel, as it were, for Antony and Cleopatra. In this case, take the Shaw.
The rest of the cast does a great job, including Diane D'Aquila as Ftatateeta and Steven Sutcliffe as Brittanus. The set, by Robert Brill, was simple yet powerful with towering sandstone pillars and portions of a sphinx. The Festival stage, which was the original three-quarter thrust designed by Tanya Moiseiwitsch, was the right venue for this play; Shaw does well in three dimensions, and director Des McAnuff knew how to make it work without making the actors look like they had to be constantly moving to be seen by the audience; a technique a lot of directors in thrust and round have yet to master.
(Cross-posted from Bark Bark Woof Woof.)
Etymology: origin unknown
chiefly British : a scientific expert; especially : one involved in technological research
"Prior to pairing up with Andy, the wandering electro boffin had formed a pretty-boy-going-on-pervy synth band called Depeche Mode."
— Richard Smith "Being Boring: Erasure", Seduced and Abandoned, 1995
Happy Monday, ShakesQuillers! In this episode of MMO, we're going to do some dialogue work. Basically, we're going to make this thread a conversation. During this conversation, we want to try and make the two characters as three-dimensional as possible, as well as create a storyline. Here's the set up:
Sandy entered the room and saw Bob sitting on the sofa. She felt conflicted upon seeing him, knowing that they needed to have this conversation. Yet it was a conversation she dreaded for so many reasons.
"Hello, Bob," said Sandy.
Bob's trepidation was equal to hers. He had longed for this discussion, yet feared it with the same intensity.
"Hi, Sandy," he said.
Feel free to add action in as I did, but focus mainly on the two speaking to one another.
So now it's your turn. Let's have a conversation.
That – is your wife – leaning against the tree?
Ahh! She is lovely,
boughs and roots
& two fine apples in her dress.
Do not be angered – she is beautiful.
Look how she looks over the land,
seeing how everything is
lit with the setting sun.
She wears a face like longing.
I could love her, here
here – in clean air & dying grass
finally, effortlessly new.
Do her thighs smell of apples, there in your bed?
Oh, the darkness presses thick on the windows then,
& her skin is tired to you.
The sunset has all faded from her face.
Look how she looks over the land,
unseeing you or I.
The wind holds her dress tight to her hips.
With one hand
she tries to push it away.
Submitted by Shaker F. Lynd
Sunday, August 24, 2008
Arianne sat in her car, the engine off, and stared at the Acme Building. She knew that Guy would be up in his office, but she just couldn't get herself to open the car door and cross the street to the building.
And then the pipe exploded.
Arianne stared in amazement as the manhole cover fifty feet in front of her car flew up in the air, borne aloft on a stream of waste. Almost immediately the stench hit her, giving her the impetus she needed to leave the car and head for the front door of the Acme Building. A gust of wind blew some of the airborne shite her way and she got splattered just before she got to the door.
She pushed her way past a group of teens staring out the door, pointing and laughing as people ran from the excretory rain, and headed for the ladies room to clean up. She looked at the empty towel dispensers in disgust, and then stepped back out into the lobby. A quick glance at the news kiosk by the stairs caused her to shake her head. Then she had an idea....
It had been a quiet week in the city by the mountains. Despite their threat, the Cousins Avaricious decided to not contest Dirk's will, and I was in the process of getting all the legal stuff taken care of so that I could take possession of Dirk's estate. The Woody was a real blessing for me. I had already saved twenty or thirty bucks in cab fare, plus people smiled and pointed when they saw it coming down the street. Jimmy had fully recovered from his food poisoning and was back at work at the Five Spot, so my drinks were just the way I liked them again.
The only thing I didn't have was a case to work on, but after the events of the last couple months... I didn't really mind that much. And so it was that I was leaning back in my chair with my feet up on the desk, dozing, when my office door opened and Arianne walked in. At first I thought I was dreaming, but then a ... smell reached my nose. A smell that heretofore I had not associated with Arianne.
Seeing my nose wrinkle, she held up a hand to silence me before I could ask, and said, "Have you looked out your window in the last ten minutes?"
When I shook my head no, still somewhat taken aback at seeing her in my office, she told me what had happened and finished by saying, "...The paper towels were used up and there was no newspaper. I muttered something the kids couldn't hear and started ripping pages from the phone book to clean up the mess. And then I came on up, since I was in the building and, well, didn't want to go back outside."
"Hello to you to," I said, standing and crossing to her. I started to reach out and hug her, but a strange weakness hit me.
His once strong arms felt as though he had been heaving bales of hay onto a truck all day.
I looked at Arianne and said, "Did you hear that?"
"That voice... It seemed to be coming from everywhere and nowhere." She looked at me quizzically and I hastily added, "Just kidding. Damn, it's great to see you!" My arms worked just fine this time, so I hugged her tight.
"Oh, Guy, I'm sorry I just ... left before. I was still messed up from the incident with the Samoan lawyer, and dealing with the police and all, and...." she trailed off as I put her head on my shoulder.
"None of that matters now. You're here. And, ummm, you smell like shit." I smiled at her to make sure she knew I was being playful, and said, "Let's blow this office and get you to a shower."
As we started down the hall she said, "Wait. My car's out front, and probably covered with...."
"Don't worry, kid," I replied. "I've got my own wheels now. And it's parked in the back lot." I told her about Dirk leaving me his estate in his will as we rode down to the basement in the elevator.
Freddie the custodian was standing by the back door as we walked out, and asked, "Where are you off to, Guy?"
"It's Tuesday, and that means it's time to wax the cat!" I shouted to him as we got to the Woody. Arianne laughed at his look as I put the car in gear and pulled out of my parking space.
We got to the apartment and while she was cleaning up, my cell phone rang. It took me a moment to realize what the sound was, as I'd only had the thing for a couple days and wasn't used to it, but then I pushed the button to answer and said, "Noir here."
"Hey, Guy. It's Frank Kirby, with the metro PD? I don't know if you remember me, but -"
"Yeah, sure, Frank. I helped you guys out with the DiNozzo case last year. How you doing?"
"I'm doing all right, but my cousin Jim, who works as a detective at the Department over in Waynesville, could use some help. They've got a case that's just up your alley."
"Can it wait til morning," I asked, as Arianne came out of the bathroom wearing only a towel. "I've got something I ... need to look into this afternoon."
"Sure, Guy, just stop by the station over there in the morning and ask for Jim. I'll let him know you're coming by. I owe you one, Noir," he said and hung up.
Arianne walked over to me and reached her arms up to my neck, and the towel fell to the floor....
The next morning, bright and early, I slipped out of bed without waking Arianne, got dressed and drove over to the Waynesville Police Department. I was still getting used to driving and not riding in the back of cabs, which meant I did more looking at scenery than I really should have.
As I drove past the shopping centers, I could sense the excitement in other drivers; the abundance of parking lots with empty parking spots is always a strange thrill in the suburbs. The whole scene was as nice as ever. Nothing ever changes, not ever, out here in suburbia.
I pulled into the police station and walked in. I told the desk sergeant I was there to see Detective Kirby, and he pointed me down the hall. My first take on Detective Jim Kirby wasn't all that good. He was in his office, which he shared with the K-9 unit, and, all things considered, Jim was having far too much fun with the Jiffy-Lam 3000 laminator. The dog looked at him reproachfully.
He looked up from the machine as I walked in and said, "You must be the PI cousin Frank said was coming over. Jim Kirby," he said, holding out his hand. We shook, and I asked him what the case was.
He explained that a Mr. Ralph McMahan had died of arsenic poisoning after eating dinner at the annual Kiwanis talent show. They had several suspects, but couldn't get the goods on any of them. He gave me a list of the names, with addresses, and I told him I'd check them out.
I read the report, including the statement of the deceased's wife, "He said, 'Sure; it was a small town fund-raiser, but that was by far the best plate of enchiladas he'd ever had.'" was about all she could say, and then I left the station to go interview the suspects.
The first name on the list was Dr. Emma Jones, Professor of History at the university in the city, so I called her office to make an appointment to stop by. On my way over there, I tried to come up with an excuse to be seeing a History Professor, as my general process is to talk to suspects without letting on that I'm checking them out. That way I get a feeling of them as a person. My intuition had rarely ever failed me. I was stuck for a bit for a topic to start on, but then I remembered about my great-great grandmother.
I walked into the office and introduced myself, then told the tale of my great-great. She really had died of mysterious circumstances, and the date had been lost for a long time. I told Dr. Jones the story, finishing up with, "The class of 1857's class letters had provided me with a general idea about her death – some time after October 4, 1862, but not more than a couple weeks. I can't get any farther than that, though. Do you think you can help me?"
While I was telling her my story, I had been getting a strange vibe, and the itch just wouldn't go away. She seemed excited to hear my tale, but not in the "oh boy, a history mystery" way. It was more the "oh boy, someone died mysteriously" way. In fact, she was way too excited, and my radar was pinging like mad. But I didn't want to move to fast.
Catching hardened criminals is like landing a fish. Always give them some line, and then set the hook. I learned that from Snappy Leftowitz. About criminals and fish.
So, I left her my phone number and asked her to call me if she found out anything, but that I would check with her in any case in a couple of days. She said that was fine, and walked me out to my car with a gleam in her eye.
By the time I pulled out of the parking lot, I was sure that The professor was the murderer, and just had to figure a way to prove it. So, instead of checking up on the other people on Detective Kirby's suspect list, I headed home to Arianne.
I got there and suggested that we go out to dinner, but she wanted to cook, so we went to the market to pick up some things. While we were out, we went by and got her car and took it to the car wash - and ran it through twice.
I offered to help fix the dinner, and while we were chopping veggies and prepping the meat, Arianne started asking me all kinds of questions about the case. I was still so thrilled to have her back in my life that I forgot all about professional ethics and was telling her all about the case before I realized it. In the Private Investigator biz, there are things you just don't share, but there was no holding back now. I told Arianne all my suspicions and just why I felt the way I did, and how my intuitions were almost always spot on. Not since Snappy had retired had I shared that secret with anyone.
Arianne was thrilled by the whole process, and asked if she could go with me when I confronted Professor Jones. I was going to refuse, but one look in her eyes and I had to say yes.
Two days later, Professor Jones called me, and asked if I could come over to see her, that she had some info on my great-great grandmother for me. I said sure, and she gave me directions to her house, as she had no classes or office hours that day. Arianne and I got in the car and headed over to the address.
We were met at the door by a maid, who led us to the Professor's study. I introduced Arianne, and we sat down while Dr. Jones went through the information she had gathered about my ancestress - all of which I already knew, of course. She was almost finished when we were interrupted by a loud squawking. Arianne and I looked at each other, confusion writ large on our faces, and then a parrot came riding through the study on a miniature tricycle.
As it crossed the room, it said, "Put the arsenic in the enchiladas. He'll never know what hit him! Hahahahaha!"
That was all it took. I called Detective Kirby and detained the Professor while we waited for him to show up and arrest her.
As the uniformed officers were leading her out in handcuffs, I overheard her say, "This is the last time," she said to herself, "the very last time I will let the parrot ride the tricycle."
And so, another case went into my book.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
Pronunciation: \BODE-luh-rise; BOWD-\
Function: transitive verb
Etymology: Bowdlerize derives from the name Thomas Bowdler, an editor in Victorian times who rewrote Shakespeare, removing all profanity and sexual references so as not to offend the sensibilities of the audiences of his day.
1. To remove or modify the parts (of a book, for example) considered offensive.
2. To modify, as by shortening, simplifying, or distorting in style or content.
The president did not call for bowdlerizing all entertainment, but stressed keeping unsuitable material away from the eyes of children.
— "Conference a start toward loosening grip of violence", Atlanta Journal, May 12, 1999
Thanks to Constant Comment for today's WOTD entry
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Alric Kamen was nobody special. He wasn't the greatest student, his transcripts at the University of Missouri bore that out. He was never known as a party animal; in fact most times he was specifically not invited to any party on campus. He knew people didn't like him much, and he knew exactly why: they knew he was better than they were and didn't want to give him the satisfaction of knowing it. Submitted by Dr. Weird About the Work "When I wrote Rynkari, I wanted to create a genesis story for the main villain in my novel series that I'm currently working on. I also wanted to see if this was as good an idea for a novel as I thought it was and I would appreciate any feedback on this little blurb I wrote."
Unfortunately, like most college students, he was frequently strapped for cash. So, after his first class, he picked up the college fishwrap. He tore through the news and sports sections, gave a passing glance to the comics, but ultimately turned to the section that held the most importance to him: the want ads.
Here's a sales position, thought Kamen, for Jetpacks of Columbia. Good salary, commission…commission…gross. He skimmed past everything after he saw "commission." What about this one, part-time work, virtualnet operator, no experience necessary…something to keep in mind, but it won't pay for today's lunch. He went further down the page and came to the last ad on the paper. Students wanted! Department of chronological sciences looking for test subjects for new vaccine. See Dr. Holtz for details…perfect!
He folded up the paper and tucked it under his arm as he dashed for the DCS building.
The chronological sciences building was, on the outside, boring. It was a simple brown brick building with the occasional black window dotting every few feet. Once in a rare while, however, the windows would flash with powerful, blinding white light. The DCS had the highest broken window budget in the entire university.
Kamen entered the building and looked for Dr. Holtz' office on the directory board, room 808. He summoned the elevator and rode, at the elevator's leisurely pace, to the eighth floor for his meeting with Holtz.
Dr. Holtz was a short, rotund man in his late eighties, but you would never guess it by looking at him. He looked as though he were still in his fifties. His hair still had flecks of the original dark brown that graced his scalp, and his green eyes still had lots of life left in them. Time should be so kind to people, thought Kamen, who reflexively reached toward his own receding hairline.
"Dr. Holtz, I presume?" The joke rarely went over as well as Kamen hoped it would, but it never stopped him from saying it.
"I am, indeed," Holtz replied in his finest deadpan, "and you would be?"
"Alric Kamen, I saw your advert for test subjects, and wanted to sign up for trials." Kamen threw out his hand to shake Holtz'. Holtz timidly offered his, obscured by his lab coat and his signature titanium gray wrist brace.
"Well, aren't you a brave one, Mr. Kamen. I'll have you know that nobody has responded to that ad yet. I was thinking of pulling it if nobody replied by the end of the week."
"It's a good thing I picked up the paper then, isn't it?" Kamen chuckled slightly at this thought, Holtz did not.
"Do you know what this study is for, Mr. Kaman?"
"Some kind of a vaccine right?"
"Right, you know that we've been able to time travel for a little over 100 years?"
Kamen answered, "Of course, it's the single greatest discovery of the 21st century."
The first successful time machine was built in 2011 by a group of engineers at Eastside Laboratory Cooperative in Seattle. Since then, people used the machine primarily for purposes of tourism.
"Right, then you know what happens when a person who is unprepared for the trip goes through time."
"Yeah, tachyon poisoning."
"Exactly, what happens is, when you time travel, sub-atomic particles called tachyons become drawn to areas of lower tachyon density, such as people. When this happens, the tachyons scramble people's brains like eggs, either killing them or driving them insane."
"Okay, I'm with you so far, what does this vaccine do?"
"Well, if we're right, and we believe we are, this should create an immunity to tachyon poisoning."
Kamen pointed at Holtz' bracer, "What's wrong with just using the bracers for immunity?"
Holtz grabbed at his bracer and twisted it around his wrist, "They work, in the short term. But they wear down over time and if they're used too often, they'll draw tachyons rather than ward them away from the wearer. With this vaccine, we wouldn't need to wear another bulky bracer again."
"I see," Kamen grew tired of hearing the scientific mumbo-jumbo. "How much do test subjects get per day?"
"Like to get to the nitty gritty, huh? Okay, for the day, you'll get $100 and an excused absence from the rest of your classes. We'll need you for the entire day."
"The only class I have left is accounting, and I wouldn't mind terribly missing that," Kamen said with a slight grin.
"Excellent, testing begins in an hour at Lab One. In the next room is a suit we designed specially for our subject. Please change into it."
Kamen stood up, "You won't be sorry, doc."
"I certainly hope not, Mr. Kamen."
Kamen walked into the next room and closed the door. The suit Dr. Holtz mentioned was a black shirt, pants, and a black coat with a strange blue insignia on the breast pocket; a snake eating its own tail. The computer on the ensemble scanned Kamen's body and tailored itself to his measurements. He stepped into Lab One looking like a preppy version of a goth-metal rocker. If he had black hair instead of sand brown, the illusion would have been complete.
Dr. Holtz stood next to a large stainless steel table with a long syringe on a blue cloth. The syringe had a strange white liquid within it, it looked like it was glowing.
"Please, have a seat, Mr. Kamen."
The only chair in the room was a steel chair placed atop a circular podium and loaded with mirrors beneath the glass top.
"Hold still Mr. Kamen," requested Dr. Holtz as he picked up the syringe. "This vaccine was made with the DNA of Adam Calvin, the first man to successfully travel through time."
"First one ever?" Kamen inquired.
"I didn't say that."
"Well that makes me feel warm and fuzzy all over," snapped Kamen. He closed his eyes as the needle made contact with his skin.
When the needle finished its hideous work, Kamen saw the room spinning in two different directions.
"Chet, set the machine for a trip through the Stream for about five minutes. Alric, we're going to send you into the Stream and pull you right back, okay? Do you hear me?"
Holtz' assistant Chet set the machine for October 17, 2119, at 11:27 a.m., five minutes ahead of the current time.
Kamen's half-open eyes turned brighter and brighter red with blood. "Doc, something's not right here."
The machine began to whirr and scream as it came to life, canceling out any noise quieter than a jackhammer.
White light consumed the room, and obscured the fact that Kamen fainted mere minutes after the injection. Then the machine blinked, and Kamen was gone.
Five minutes seemed to take six times longer than that to pass, for Dr. Holtz.
For Alric Kamen, he was roused from his unwanted nap when he discovered himself floating in a sea of white light.
Images of days past, and ahead, flickered into view. A portal appeared before Kamen in which showed the entirety of human history, and he had no choice but to watch.
As he watched, he felt a pulsing sensation throughout his body. He also noticed that his body began to glow and increase in luminosity. The look of fear vanished from his face eventually turned to horror as he watched the highlight reel of humanity's worst behavior. He felt himself laughing, a soft chuckle at first, slowing growing into a maniacal howl.
He felt the Stream pull on him as the machine that sent him there summoned him back.
Dr. Holtz examined his subject carefully, looking for signs of tachyon poisoning, but ultimately finding none.
Kamen looked as healthy as he did when he first walked into Dr. Holtz' office. Over the course of several hours, Holtz performed a myriad of tests to see the effects of their vaccine on a human test subject. Prior to Kamen, all of their simulations had gone off without a hitch.
"Well, Mr. Kamen," declared Dr. Holtz, "you seem to be 100%, so we're going to send you home with a check for $100. "You certainly earned it."
Kamen glared at Holtz, his hands balled into fists, "Go ahead, send me home, you filthy ape," he muttered under his breath.
"What was that?"
"Huh? I didn't say anything," Kamen said blandly.
"Well, go ahead and change, and thank you for your time, Mr. Kamen."
Kamen changed back into his own clothes and exited the building, putting a hand to his head. Something still isn't right, thought Kamen nervously.
He took a few steps outside the building when he felt the sting of a rock pelting his head. Kamen looked to see who threw the stone at him, and saw a group of football players laughing; one of them tossing an even larger rock into the air and catching it in his hand.
"Hey, loser," bellowed the largest of the three men, "oh, what's the matter, are you gonna get mad and throw a rock at me? Heh, good luck with that noodle you call and arm, skeezix."
Kamen's left arm was his biggest sore spot, it hadn't developed the same way his right arm did. It was twisted and contorted and frequently hurt; fate had also cruelly decided that his underdeveloped arm would also be his stronger one.
A second player chortled as he hurled the rock at Kamen.
Kamen cringed, closing his eyes, preparing for impact. But the impact never came. He opened his eyes, still hunkered down close to the ground, waiting for the rock to land. Seconds passed, still nothing happened. Kamen expected the football players to resume taunting him, whether they hit him or not, but there was only silence. He slowly stood back up, not expecting to see the scene that lay before him.
The football player who threw the rock pulled his hand back but he took a long time, as though his arm were stuck in mud. The students walking around campus seemed to be going slower than their usually brisk pace. The rock, itself, hung in the air, drifting at a snail's pace toward Kamen.
Kamen couldn't believe what he saw, time had slowed down before his very eyes. He moved his right arm, to see if he was caught in the slowdown. It moved normally; he was the only one unaffected.
"Am I doing this?" Kamen asked to himself. "Well, I guess there's only one way to find out for sure."
Kamen walked over to where the stone drifted and plucked it out of mid-air. He threw his right arm back and flung the rock back at the football player. He held out his arm and commanded the rock to slow down.
The rock slowed down immediately upon Kamen's command.
Kamen had, indeed, slowed the flow of time. The thought of this caused an enormous grin to form on his face.
"Okay, time in!"
The languid speed returned to normal as Kamen watched his assailant get struck in the forehead with his own rock. It sent the football player crashing to the ground.
Kamen laughed mightily at his foe's suffering, "Serves you right, jackass."
The two other football players dashed at Kamen, "You're dead, twerp!"
Kamen softly commanded, "Stop."
No sooner was the word out of his mouth than his would-be attackers froze in position, and Kamen strolled away grinning inanely.
Night came and after today's events, and a God-awful amount of homework, Kamen was ready for some sleep. As he slept, he dreamt of the horrors of humanity he saw during the experiment, he remembered the Neanderthal who plunked him in the head earlier that day, and every other person who had caused him trouble in the past. The pain and suffering swarmed his mind and gave him fitful nightmares until he bolted upright with bloodshot eyes wide open.
"People have been cruel in the past. The Holocaust, Sudan, the wars with China and Iran and exploitation of human suffering all prime examples."
Kamen paced around his room as he muttered more about human cruelty.
"Nothing has changed. Humans are still generally despicable beings so what incentive do they have to clean up their act? None, I say, none at all. So what can be done to make these primates treat one another better? Are they redeemable? What good does it do to change their behavior if their nature is immutable? But what about me? I'm not the same as they are. I am their superior. I am exempt from their foibles, their twisted nature."
Kamen closed his eyes and watched the rich tapestry of human history roll by once again; another of his newly discovered skills. He could see humanity's past, its present, and, most importantly, its future. He saw the way humans treat one another and the world they inhabit.
"Filthy creatures. I see now, these apes are irredeemable. So that leaves me with one last question: why should any of them be allowed to exist? They—"
Light shone brightly, angrily from his eyes. "They must be stopped."
Kamen blinked his eyes and found himself standing in the middle of yesterday afternoon near the parking lot at his school.
Parking had been a major hassle for students who commuted to school on a daily basis. Too many cars, not enough spaces.
"Well," snarled Kamen, with gleeful malice, "this should make parking a lot easier for everyone."
Classes just ended and people slowly piled into their cars ready for the trip home.
The first explosion happened at the southeast corner of the parking lot. It had been a yellow Hummer but now it was black as pitch with flames spurting from the engine. A chorus of exploding metal, people screaming, and car alarms blaring broke the silence of the day as Kamen watched the carnage and cackled maniacally through the destruction.
"Filthy apes! Enjoy the chaos and discord that you have brought upon yourselves. You will all be exterminated, it is your fate!"
Blue-clad officers scrambled to the parking lot and trained their guns on the man, now wearing the black coat he donned for the experiment. "University police! Don't move a muscle or we'll open fire!"
Kamen chuckled softly at their threat. "Stupid humans, don't make me laugh, I'm working here." He threw up his right arm in the direction of the police.
"Fire!" A hail of gunfire volleyed at Kamen.
"Stop the bullets." The bullets froze in air and dropped harmlessly to the ground, clinking against the pavement.
"My turn, primates." Bolts of white light sprung from Kamen's fingers and connected with the police who confronted him.
The policemen were engulfed in a halo of light and slowly shrunk down in size. They grew disfigured and hairier than before.
"Well, well. This is new. Now you really are a bunch of damned dirty apes. Ha!"
Kamen enjoyed watching the humans suffer, it was what they deserved, he figured. All of a sudden, the flames and explosions halted in their tracks, people froze in position and Kamen looked around with a puzzled look on his face.
"I didn't say stop. What is going on here? Resume, I say!"
Kamen felt two hands land on his shoulders. He looked to either side and saw men wearing black masks, and the same black uniforms that he wore.
"Release me at once! Freeze these apes!"
The flow of time did not comply with his demands. As they kept their hands on him, he felt the flow of time stop within him. He couldn't move, let alone wield time.
"Alric Kamen, son of Rynkari, lord of time, you are under arrest for time sorcery by order of the Knights of Saturn," declared one of the agents.
A white light blinked and the three of them vanished.
The "Parking Lot Massacre" as it was called in the news, was the single biggest disaster in Missouri history, and the culprit was never found…by the Columbia police anyway.
The Knights of Saturn, who watch the past and preserve human history, took Kamen to Citadel Prison at the End of Time where he could no longer pose a threat to anyone. To this day, he remains in his cell, suspended harmlessly in a time stasis field, waiting patiently for the day that he can escape and complete his "work."
Submitted by Dr. Weird
About the Work
"When I wrote Rynkari, I wanted to create a genesis story for the main villain in my novel series that I'm currently working on. I also wanted to see if this was as good an idea for a novel as I thought it was and I would appreciate any feedback on this little blurb I wrote."
Etymology: late ME < L bellicōsus, equiv. to bellic(us) pertaining to war (bell(um) war + -icus -ic) + -ōsus -ose]
1. Inclined or eager to fight; aggressively hostile; belligerent; pugnacious.
"John McCain's bellicose tendencies should be enough to scare off most intelligent voters."
Thanks to Constant Comment for today's WOTD entry
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
It's Tuesday, and that means it's time to wax the cat! No. Wait. That's not right. What is it? Oh, right!
It's Tuesday and that means it's time to submit your comments for this week's CCCW chapter. All you have to do is come up with some snippet of dialog, or narrative and drop it in the comment thread.
His once strong arms felt as though he had been heaving bales of hay onto a truck all day.
and then on Sunday I will weave all the comments into the latest chapter of my ongoing
The entire story so far is available here.
Etymology: Imprecation derives from Latin imprecatio, from imprecari, "to invoke harm upon, to pray against," from in- + precari, "to pray."
1. The act of imprecating, or invoking evil upon someone.
2. A curse.
"After a while, he stopped hurling imprecations ... and, as he often did after such an outburst, became quite remorseful."
— Wayne Johnston, The Colony of Unrequited Dreams
Thanks to Constant Comment for today's WOTD entry
Monday, August 18, 2008
Ok, ShakesQuillers, another weekend is behind us and it's time to get our brains focused back on the work at hand. Or something like that.
This week we'll be looking at the ABC's of Monday Mind Opener, as your job, should you choose to accept it, is to write a 26-word paragraph that follows the alphabet, meaning your first word will start with an "A" and the last word starts with a "Z."
Here's my example:
And Brad called Deborah every Friday. Grappling hard, I just knew love's many nuances obliterated people quite readily. Still, the underlying voice was x-rated youthful zanyism.
You see, if you try hard enough, you can almost make sense. And yes, for those of you wondering, I saw this idea on The Daily Show when Jon Stewart was promoting the Colbert Report.
Now it's time to see what you can be, from A to Z.
Etymology: Pettifogger is probably from petty + obsolete fogger, "pettifogger."
1. A petty, unscrupulous lawyer; a shyster.
2. A person who quibbles over trivia.
"The nitpickers, the whiners, the pettifoggers are everywhere."
— Bill Kraus, "Without Health Care Reform, Forget It", Capital Times, December 15, 1993
Thanks to Constant Comment for today's WOTD entry
Sunday, August 17, 2008
It had been a busy few days for me. After the funeral and somewhat eventful wake for Dirk Easley, there was the reading of the will. I was quite surprised to find that not only was Dirk's estate much more extensive than I had ever thought, but that he had left the bulk of it to me. This fact did not please the Cousins Avaricious, as I now thought of the trio that had showed up at the wake and caused such a ruckus. In fact, they were now threatening to challenge the will in court. So the only access I had to my new-found wealth was the 1949 Plymouth Woody - which, truth be told, was the best part.
I had never been a materialistic person, and the idea of owning masterwork paintings and other artwork, not to mention all the rest, was a bit daunting. Well, I didn't really have a problem with the house on Beech Mountain - not that I would ever go skiing. But the pictures showed a nice house with an absolutely wonderful view, and I looked forward to going up and seeing it... assuming the court case went my way, that was.
The reading had been on Tuesday in Charlotte. I caught the bus down the mountain and sat through all the yelling from the Cousins Avaricious, and after it was over - and they had sneered at the Plymouth - the lawyer handed me the keys. I walked the five blocks to the garage where the car had been stored, signed the paperwork, and got in. I turned the key and the engine purred to life, the solid old motor sounding brand new.
As I sat there, listening to the engine idle, I noticed a button on the dash that didn't look original. It wasn't labeled, so I pushed it to see what it did.
"Do not attempt to defeat this safety feature," blared a voice from the radio speakers. I waited nervously for a moment to see what would else might happen, and when nothing did, I put the car in gear and drove it out of the garage and toward the highway. I had gone less than a block when I saw Jimmy, the bartender at the Five Spot, standing at a bus stop.
I pulled over to the curb, rolled the window down, and said, "Hey, Jimmy. What are you doing here? You need a lift?"
"Guy! Where'd you get that sweet ride?" the young man asked, coming over to the car.
"It was Dirk's, and he left it to me in his will," I replied, gesturing for him to get in. "What brings you to Charlotte?"
"Wow! It looks brand new!!" the exuberant bartender exclaimed as I pulled away from the curb. "Oh, I came down to visit my Aunt Sofia. She lives in the Panther Den Rest Home over by the Stadium. Thanks for saving me bus fare back up the mountain."
"No problem, kid. I'm heading back that way anyway."
As I drove, the feel and sound of the old car took my thoughts back in time to when I was just starting out in the Private Investigator business.
"Did I ever tell you about working for old Snappy Lefkowitz?" I asked Jimmy as we tooled down the highway.
"No, Guy, you haven't," Jimmy answered.
"I had been out of high school for a couple of years, and was still trying to find my place in the world. My Granpa had been a police detective and I had always thought that was a cool job, but being a cop held no interest for me. So I drifted from part-time job to part-time job, unhappy with them and hanging out on the streets more than I should, until one day in August my Granpa came by my place.
"'Come get in the car,' he said to me. Now Granpa was not someone to be disobeyed. Before he became a policeman, he spent five years working in the steel mills up north. As the saying goes, his muscles had muscles, and growing older hadn't diminished him at all.
"Anyway, I dutifully followed him to his car, which was very much like this one, and he drove us across town to the old Jackson Building. We went up to the 8th floor and to the office of one of his old buddies, Jerome "Snappy" Lefkowitz. Snappy was like those detectives you read stories about. Crisp linen suit, freshly blocked fedora, trenchcoat.. .the whole deal.
"Granpa walked into the office like he owned the place, and said to Snappy, "This is my grandson. Teach him everything you know." And then he walked back out the door."
Jimmy's eyes were huge as he looked at me and said, "He just left you there? Without asking you?"
"Those were different times, and Granpa was a different kind of man," I replied as I wheeled the Woody onto the interstate. I settled back in my seat, keeping one eye on the road and one on the speedometer as we sped down the road.
"So what happened then?" Jimmy asked.
"Well, Snappy looked at me, all gangly arms and legs - remember, I was only 20," I said as Jimmy looked at my ... no longer slender form, "and said, 'First thing is, you need a suit. C'mon.' He stood up, put on his hat and coat, and took me to the tailor.
"For the next year and a half I worked hard as Snappy's errand boy/assistant, learning all the basics - and many of the tricks - of the Private Investigator biz. We sat stakeout for days at a time, waiting to catch the philandering husband in the act. We tracked down the daughter that ran away from home to become an actress. We found the missing family jewels. All kinds of things.
"I asked endless questions, and Snappy never failed to answer directly... except for the one time when I said, 'Why do you wear gloves when you're loading the guns?' 'Oh, you know - just in case,' he answered curtly. I didn't figure out the real reason for several years, but that's another story for another time.
Sadness crept into my voice as I continued, "It all came to an end at the Jackson Building Christmas Party in 1978. Most of the offices in the building were one or two-person businesses, and so the whole building got together to have an annual party. Old Doc Hawkins, the dentist, dressed as Santa and chased all the secretaries around, there was spiced wine and strong eggnog, and everybody participated in the secret Santa.
"I was young and stupid at the time. As such, it never occurred to me that giving unrefrigerated olive loaf as a secret Santa present at work might have unforeseen consequences."
My stomach rumbled and I remembered I hadn't eaten since breakfast - and that was two cups of coffee and some dry toast. I felt giddy with the promised wealth, so I said something I'd never said to another man before, "Let me buy you some dinner, Jimmy."
"Gee, Guy, are you sure?" Jimmy said with no small amount of astonishment. This was a man who had seen me nurse a gin and tonic for three hours, just so I wouldn't have to buy the next round.
"Maybe it's the spirit of Dirk, but I feel like splurging a bit. Let's have some seafood," I replied as I saw the sign at the exit. I turned down the exit ramp,took a right at the light, and pulled into the Wharfed Mind Restaurant. We walked in and were seated at a table by the window.
"Order anything you like, Jimmy," I said as I looked the menu over. Jimmy was scratching his nose as the waitress arrived to take our order. His hand stopped suddenly and a look of concentration crept across his face. He glanced at her to see if she was watching, she wasn't, of course, so he went ahead and picked his nose. I chose the Calabash shrimp and Jimmy ordered clam chowder and a salad.
"So, what happened with the olive loaf, Guy?" he asked after the waitress had brought us our drinks.
"Hmm? Oh, that," I replied. "Well, the Christmas tree in the lobby was right next to one of those big old radiators. So when Mrs. Rimble, who was Doc Hawkins' receptionist and whose name I had drawn, opened the package, it ... well, it sort of exploded as she tore off the wrapping paper, and the most horrible smell filled the room. Judge Henderson, who had the whole top floor for his offices and who oversaw the Christmas party, was furious.
"'Who in the hell chose that as a gift!' he thundered. All of the partygoers shrank back from him - and away from the offensive smell emanating from Mrs. Rimble's lap. None of them had ever seen a full-blown conniption before and were quite unprepared for the mess. When no one answered - I was too terrified to say anything - he strode around the room, glaring at each person in turn, grabbing all the other presents and flinging them across the room.
"The longer he waited for someone to speak up, the angrier he got. Poinsettias went flying, and the other decorations that had been put up for the party fell to his wrath. As he finally approached me I was quaking in my patent leather shoes, certain that the guilt was clear on my face. Snappy must have seen it too, cause he stepped in front of the Judge, and whispered something in his ear."
By this time our food had arrived, and I ate while I continued my story. "Whatever he said to Judge Henderson deflated the anger like a tire runing over a nail. The Judge cast his glare once more around the room, then stomped to his private elevator, glancing back over his shoulder at Snappy, who stood there calmy, arms crossed.
"As soon as the elevator doors closed behind the Judge, the whole crowd bolted for the doors, to get some fresh air. I started moving that way, too, but Snappy's arm shot out and blocked my way. 'Let's go up on the roof,' he said, and grabbed my elbow. We took the other elevator up, then climbed the stairs to the roof.
"The stars were dim, blocked by the glare radiating from hundreds of empty parking lots. We stood there for a minute in silence, then Snappy turned to me and asked, 'Why didn't you own up to it?' I stammered and stuttered, giving excuse after excuse. It was kind of like painting one's self into a corner. Finally, I admitted that I had no good reason, other than I honestly feared for my life, the Judge's rage was so severe.
"Snappy was silent for a few moments, then said quietly, 'As of the new year, the office is yours. I've taught you all you need to know, and it's time for me to be moving on. Especially since I played a trump card tonight I'd been holding for years.' He looked me up and down, and then said 'I think it was worth it, though. You'll be a good PI, son.'
"He started to walk back to the stairs. I was stunned that he was turning over his business to me, but recovered just in time to shout, 'What did you say to the Judge?' before he went through the door.
"Snappy smiled as he replied, 'Oh, just a couple of things I overheard the Judge say to the preacher's wife several years ago.... There's nothing like the smell of sex in the morning. and,'..." I paused, noticing that Jimmy was turning an incredibly unhealthy looking shade of green. "Are you all right, Jimmy?"
"Boy, that chowder wasn't any good," he said, and jumped up and ran to the bathroom.
It was nearly an hour later - and after much apologizing by the manager of the restaurant, and a $20 gift certificate, which I tossed in the trash as we walked out the door - that we got back in the Woody and headed toward the city in the mountains, Jimmy laid out in the back seat, still not quite over his bout.
I'd been driving for 15 minutes when Jimmy suddenly said, "Uh oh!" and I heard the distinct sounds of vomiting. "I'm sorry, Guy. I threw up on your books."
"Books?" I asked, pulling over to the side of the highway. I opened the back hatch of the Woody and there were several boxes of books there, partially covered by an old ratty blanket. Some vintage erotica, hand written diaries and what appeared to be a complete set of German-Hungarian/Hungarian-German dictionaries. It was hard to tell, though, because not only do I not speak German or Hungarian, but they were covered with ... well. They were unseemly. It was the first time in my life (as best I could remember) that I had thrown away books, but volumes H through Q were left by the side of the road.
I got back in the car and pulled onto the road as Jimmy piped up weakly to ask, "What was the other thing Snappy overheard the Judge say?"
"Heh. He said, '"Muskrat" was never meant to be a verb.'"
Friday, August 15, 2008
1 : a priest in ancient Greece; specifically : the chief priest of the Eleusinian mysteries
2 a : a person who explains : commentator b : a person who defends or maintains a cause or proposal : advocate
"Very few women can be coerced into spending $4,000 for green leather trousers embroidered with silver petals — simply because some fashion hierophant declares it a trend."
— Cathy Horyn, The New York Times, March 30, 1999
Thursday, August 14, 2008
[This is the first chapter of a novel I wrote about six years ago. If anyone likes it, I'll post the rest over the next few weeks.--MM.]
To the north there is a cornfield. To the south there is a cornfield. Cornfields stretch to the east and the west. And in the middle, there's me.
If there were ever a time to leave, this is it. Yesterday, Annie Stokes died, reducing our population by half. I’ve been sitting on my porch, looking at the fresh tomatoes scattered around her and lamenting their fate to rot on her front steps, rather than simmer in one of her bronze pots. I don’t know if she died and then fell, or fell and then died; I don’t know if I’ll even be able to tell when I look at her. All I know is that I’m going to have to dig a grave, but I think I’ll wait until the sun goes down, when it’s a little cooler.
It looks like Annie’s fall is what killed her. There’s a gash on her head, and her soft white hair is matted with blood, much more brown than the red I had expected. I sit beside her, holding her frail hand in mine, stroking its thin skin. I don’t want to let her go yet, even though I expected this day, in some sort of hazy way. What I didn’t expect was this feeling, sneaking from my insides and then down my spine, leaving me in chills in spite of the searing sun. I didn’t expect to feel that I’ve reached my fate, that I have nowhere to go from here, stuck at the end of an awkward, rhythmless song with no verse, no crescendo, the music quickly fading with nothing but silence left in its place.
I close my eyes, hoping, maybe, that I will disappear, or reappear somewhere else when I open them. But when I do, I am still sitting on the ground, next to Annie, the loose ends of her apron strings dancing in the breeze in a way more beautiful than this moment should allow.
I didn’t expect to feel quite so lost in a place I know so well.
Even though the sun’s gone down, it’s still brutally hot, and I’ve only dug about half what I need to. Sweat is stinging my eyes, and I have to keep stopping from crying jags--some about Annie and some about me. I’ve been left here by things I don’t like to think about, and because my mind is the only thing over which I’ve ever felt I’ve had any control, I manage it with fierce vigilance, holding my history at bay. It is surprisingly easy to suppress thoughts of the past when one lives a life of days so similar that time has lost all meaning. I am now feeling the burden of that decision; in not thinking about the past, I have also foregone considering my future, and now that it’s here, I am woefully unprepared.
The shovel crunches into the dry earth, and my teeth gnash and grind together. I’m hot and sore, and I want to be finished. I want Annie to bring me a cold glass of lemonade.
I feel an unpleasant solitude creeping, filling in the empty spaces around me, and a keen but distressful sense of Annie’s sorrow, always present to varying degrees since Lester died a decade ago, presents itself for consideration. She never told me about it, not in words, but there were days that its shadow would crawl across my skin and then slip underneath, when she sat at her piano and made a sound so haunting that it could have come from nowhere but her loneliness. It was part of her I never really understood until now, now that she’s gone. I never knew she was playing that music for herself as much as for Lester, that it asked why she was still here as much as why he wasn’t. Three feet more and she’ll be beside him once again.
I remember the night my father and I dug for Lester; it was cold. The ground was nearly frozen, and although the work was a lot harder, I think I might have preferred it to soft dirt and this unbearable heat.
It’s almost sunrise, and the sky is turning a shade of purple that any unwilling insomniac has seen a hundred times, but only people who choose to be up this late can really appreciate. I didn’t want to be up all night, but it took me longer than I expected to bury Annie, and now I’m back in the place I am each time after I’ve buried someone. Just get in your car and go. Go. It was always quite comforting before, immersing myself in thoughts of leaving and hiding there for awhile. But this time I feel different. There are no excuses now--everyone else is gone. It’s just me. I am faced with the possibility that maybe I am the thing that’s been holding me here.
I push these thoughts away and instead sit and watch the sun rise. The constant humming of an unengaged mind cedes, but eventually creeps back unsolicited, and once again I am contemplating my position as the sole resident of Syntax, Indiana. Lost somewhere between Chicago and Indianapolis, and worlds away from each, it’s not even a town, really--just a collection of six houses and a defunct post office. And me, right in the middle, the only one left standing. The best I can manage right now is to delay any decisions or conclusions. I don’t want to think about anything except crawling into my bed, but it’s Tuesday, and Jimmy will be bringing groceries from Merrittville today, so I’m going to stay up until 7:00, when his dad’s shop opens, and cancel Annie’s order.
George Fowler used to deliver the groceries himself, but once Jimmy was old enough, he took over the deliveries. I liked it better when George made the trip; he’s the kind of robust man who always has a joke ready, and tells it well, making you feel it’s the first time you’ve heard it. Jimmy is rail-thin, with a pointy, expressionless face. He regards me with a complete absence of consideration. I would prefer it if he’d show disdain or disgust or at least confusion as to why I’m here--after all, why should he have the good fortune of not being confounded by it when I myself can’t boast the same? But there is no disdain or disgust or confusion; it is just nothingness on that face, and I dread his visits. I feel a person in my situation deserves at the very least to be regarded as confusingly freakish, although pleasantly eccentric would be preferable.
7:00. I call George and tell him about Annie. He gives me his condolences and tells me he’ll do the usual. The usual is calling the Merrittville Gazette and telling them to run an obituary, then calling Ben Wright, the attorney who handles all the Syntax estates. He’ll mail the paperwork for me to sign. I’m Annie’s sole heir. Just a default, really. There was no one else to leave it to.
I now own all six houses. I probably own the post office, too. No one else would want it--even I don’t. Its wooden frame is so rotted now, it has outlived not only its usefulness as a post office, but probably any potential it might have had as kindling.
After putting down the phone, I walk down the narrow road on which all the buildings lie. This is the only road in Syntax, so limited in its purpose that no one ever bothered to give it a name. Those who need to know--the IRS and the National Geographic, primarily--find me at #4, Syntax, Indiana. I walk until I reach the end, where it forms a T with State Road 62. The fields of corn all around me stretch so far I can’t even see the farmhouses which shelter the men who work them.
I look left. Somewhere up there is Merrittville, although I’ve never seen it. I look right. Somewhere down there is Darby, although I’ve never seen that either. I have a car; in fact, I have several. I could just get in one and go. Go further than Merrittville or Darby or Lafayette or Indianapolis. I could go to Chicago and get on a plane and fly to Perth, Australia, which might not strictly be the furthest point from Syntax, Indiana, but it seems far enough. I turn and walk back toward my collection of unused cars. I’ve never driven before, but it doesn’t seem like it would be all that hard. I lift the dusty tarp covering the ’67 Cadillac left to me by the Faulkners, and run my hand across the grill. Just get in your car and go. Go. I go into the house and lie down.
Jimmy shows up right on time--an hour late as usual. I hear the grumbling engine of his crappy truck and walk out to the porch to greet him. Although there is an expanse of empty road and a driveway devoid of obstacles, he pulls his truck half onto the lawn, not even managing to settle his wheels into the deep, ugly treads he left last time.
“Hi, Jimmy. How’s it going?”
He doesn’t look at me; he looks up, but past me rather than at me, and nods his head in silent greeting. He looks around at the other deserted houses, and I think I see him shiver. “Just me now,” I say, and he looks startled, glances at me quickly and then away as if I spooked him. I never figured that the first and only reaction he’d ever give me was one he might give a ghost.
He starts to unload the brown sacks from the back of the truck, and I move down the stairs to help. When I lean over the side next to him, he drops the bags he is holding and moves to the other side of the truck. This is not unusual, and I think it has less to do with his fear that I could be a wraith than his fear I could be gay.
Without exchanging a word or glance, we carry all the bags into the house. “How much do I owe you?” I ask him. It never varies--$56.62--but I always ask, just in case George has raised prices, although I don’t think he has since the Johnson administration.
“Fiffy-sis sisty-two,” Jimmy says, and I hand him sixty dollars from the envelope of twenties I have specifically for this purpose, telling him to keep the change. He folds the bills and shoves them in the front pocket of his jeans, turns and leaves without a thank-you. There is never a thank-you.
As I’m putting my groceries away, I notice that there is a long, slimy trail of tobacco down the side of one of the bags, which obviously made it out Jimmy’s window but didn’t manage to clear the back of the truck. I look down at my shirt, see that I must have had the unfortunate task of carrying the bag, and decide it’s a good day to do laundry.
Dinnertime. A cheeseburger and a baked potato with Tabasco sauce again. I need to think of some new things to add to my grocery list now that I’ll be cooking for myself a lot more often.
The day after I bury Annie is hot and humid, but cut with a cool breeze. Fall will be coming soon, and today is the first day I’ve felt it. I stand on the front porch and look up and down the street. It’s so deserted. It doesn’t seem like one person missing would make such a change, but it has. I wonder what will happen when I die. I won’t be left for long; whoever is making the deliveries from Merrittville will discover me within a week. Oh, God, I hope it isn’t that idiot Jimmy. I picture my corpse lying facedown, Jimmy standing next to it, nudging it with his toe. “Hullo? Hullo?” Nudge, nudge, nudge. He’d probably get a stick and poke at me and try to flip me over.
The thought of my soulless body being jostled upright and then lying there, staring up with unfocused eyes, with Jimmy gazing down at me, spitting carelessly out the side of his mouth, is too much to bear. Maybe I should get a cat. Perhaps it will eat my face before any slack-jawed morons come to gawk at it.
To take my mind off my pitiful demise and its horrific discovery, I pull out some of the cuisine magazines of which Annie used to be so fond. I look for recipes; actually, I look at the pictures. I intend to expand my grocery order, but many of the ingredients are unfamiliar. I wonder if George will have them. I don’t even know how common they are. If my mom didn’t make it, I haven’t eaten it. Annie had cooked for me quite a bit, too--I remember liking okra and risotto and scallops. None of the dishes in the magazines have any of those things in them, though.
I start writing down some chicken recipes, and then remember that I can just take the magazines. A wave of melancholy passes over me. As always, it is met with equal parts I need to go to China and I need to lie down. I once read that on the flight to China you bear witness to two sunrises and two sunsets. I’m not sure it’s true, but I’d like to find out.
I’d like to stand on top of the Great Wall, and see a live panda, and eat authentic Chinese food, rather than the steak and peapod stir fry I occasionally make in my 1970’s avocado green wok. I’d like to stroll though shops and see plucked ducks strung up by their necks and resolve to be a vegetarian until I have a hankering for red meat that can’t be ignored. I’d like to learn phrases and mispronounce them and blush when people laugh at my terrible accent.
I wonder if there is a man in a small, isolated village somewhere in China, looking at the rice paddies surrounding him, and wishing he could see a cornfield for a change.
I take out the atlas, and my list of Places I Want to See falls out. I scratch off India, Egypt, and Morocco. Too much unrest. Plus, I couldn’t handle people judging me because I am an American; I’d at least like them to get to know me and then judge me based on my actual flaws.
China and Australia are now at the top of the list. I conclude that I’m not as interested in seeing anything actually in Australia as I am in how far away it seems, and scratch it off. China has the Great Wall and rickshaws, so it stays.
Japan. I want to sleep in a tiny little tubular hotel in Tokyo, falling asleep to the sounds of a Japanese sararuman talking excitedly on his cell phone. Great Britain. I want to climb a munroe in the Scottish Highlands and have a desperately clichéd picture taken of myself standing in front of Big Ben. Kenya. I want to go on safari and feel my heart beat with elation and fright when I stare into the eyes of a lion lazing on the Serengeti. Russia. I want to traverse the country on the Trans-Siberian Railroad, sipping Vodka from a crystal glass and invoking the spirit of Tolstoy....
Lost in my dreams, I shut the atlas and lie back, closing my eyes and picturing the places I’ve never been, and have a strong suspicion I will never go. I drift and lose myself in the world that exists in my head. The atlas is heavy on my chest, and I enjoy the gentle strain it causes as it rises and falls with my breathing.
I’m struggling through the snow, lagging behind my sherpa, who is accustomed to the altitude and in considerably better shape than I am. He turns to catch my attention, and I squint into the sharp, snow-laden wind, following the direction of his extended finger. He is pointing at the peak of Everest. We are so close, and I’m struggling a bit for air, but I’m going to make it. I climb, and climb, and climb....
I grab the atlas and toss it to the floor, where it lands with a dull thud, rattling the loose pane in the front door. I crush my Places I Want to See list into a ball, tossing it disgustedly into the bin, but I’ve crumpled it loosely, knowing I’ll retrieve it later and return it to its rightful place in the atlas.
Wandering restlessly, I walk along the bookshelf in the den that stretches from ceiling to floor along the length of the west wall. My fingertips absently touch spines from Homer to Irving; The Iliad, The Odyssey, The Cider House Rules, The Hotel New Hampshire, A Prayer for Owen Meany, A Son of the Circus, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Other Stories....
I move past the desk, glance at the photo albums stacked haphazardly on the closed top of a broken Victrola. It is an assorted collection of large and small albums; my mother had favored the traditional large photo albums, three photos or more to the page. I favor the small photo albums, one photo per page. I find them less unwieldy to page through, although my mother’s assertion that her multi-photo pages were happier might have something to it. In her albums, your image is never alone; even if you’re the only one in the photos, you’ve got some grinning doppelgangers to keep you company.
Her big albums are all carefully labeled: May 1978-October 1979, November 1979-March 1981, and so on until they come to an abrupt halt in 1996. My albums aren’t marked; the pictures may not even be in order. Since 1996, there are only two of them, anyway.
I reach for the album labeled “Syntax.” It is thin, far fewer pages than most of the massive albums she preferred to use, which better accommodated her compulsive picture-taking. Each set of pages starts with a hand-written headline. “The Havens.” I look at pictures of my mother and father, smiling, happy in front of our big white house. There’s a picture of my dad holding me in the crook of his arm, pointing at something not captured in the frame, therefore long forgotten. Whatever it was, it was making me laugh, evoking the wide, crooked, semi-toothless grin reserved for six-year-olds and old men.
“The Stokes.” Annie and Lester looking proud in their beautiful garden. Annie is holding up a basket of ripe tomatoes, and I shake away the image of the strewn tomatoes from the day before. Lester with his horse, Grundy, who spent his days loose in their backyard and never wandered away. He once wandered onto their front porch, peering in through the window that looks into the dining room and eliciting a scream of such pitch from Annie that the rest of us went running out to see who had been murdered. “I was just serving up dinner, and there he was at the window!” she explained breathlessly. By the time we had arrived, Lester had already shooed him into the backyard, and we were left to examine the evidence--smeary wet smudges left on the glass by his velvet snout.
“The Faulkners.” “The MacLachlans.” “The Andersons.” “The Learys.”
I close the book and return it to its perch on the Victrola. I resolve to take “Syntax” with me when I go.
I lie in my bed in the darkness, and gradually the sound of the crickets is replaced with the noise of memory. It is the Fourth of July, and I am seven years old. Everyone is setting up chairs at the end of the road, where the enduring flatness of Indiana allows us to see Merrittville’s fireworks. Jack Leary has dragged his grill down to our chairs, and he’s cooking bratwurst--bratwurst for everyone but me, a cheeseburger for me, a cheeseburger for little Carter who doesn’t like my bratwurst! His mock indignation makes me laugh, and he hands me a paper plate with two little cheeseburgers smiling up at me with mustard eyes and ketchup smiles. I put the tops of the English muffins on the burgers--Jack always put them on English muffins instead of buns, and I’ve eaten them that way ever since--and squoosh them around to spread the condiments.
Mary MacLachlan asks my mom if I can have caffeine this late in the evening, and my mom says, “Oh hell, it’s one night a year,” so I get handed a soda. Later, I’m given a blanket to cover my legs in case it starts to get chilly--a very unlikely event in a midwestern July. Someone else gives me an ancient pair of binoculars, and with nothing but darkness surrounding us now, I can’t tell how far they’ll let me see. When I look at my dad with them, all I see is a giant nose. He flares his nostrils at me, and I giggle, “You sure got a lot of bats in those caves, mister!” He grabs me and tickles me and tells me what a horrible brat I am, and then my mom tells us to settle down because the fireworks are beginning.
Every year, we see the lights and hear the pops. Every year, we ooh and ahh as if we’d never seen fireworks before. Every year I lose track of the existence of the faceless people who are sending these beautiful explosions into the sky, and regard the event as a cosmic wonder, sent expressly to mystify us, the people of Syntax, the only place on Earth.
The oppressive heat returns the next day, and so I decide to clean out Annie’s refrigerator and freezer; at least the chore will keep me cool for a bit. I clear out all the stuff that’s starting to spoil and food I don’t like--peaches, eggs, cottage cheese--and take it all to the compost heap. The rest I put in bags and take over to my place.
Afterwards, I walk through the house and unplug all the appliances, then use her phone to call the utility companies and have everything turned off. I call the post office in Merrittville and tell them to bundle her weekly deliveries with mine.
It crosses my mind that perhaps I should list her house with the real estate office in Darby, but the Learys’ place has been on the market for three years with not a single enquiry. The Stokeses’ house is bigger, but I don’t think the size of the Learys’ house is the root of the disinterest.
I cover the furniture and the piano with sheets from Annie’s linen closet and make sure all the windows and doors are shut tight. I gather all the cleaning supplies to take to my place, and on my way out, I also grab the toaster; hers is better than mine.
The old toaster goes to the Faulkners’ place, which I have been using as a storage facility, keeping there everything I have slated for charity donation. I tell myself for the millionth time that I need to organize it all so someone can come around and collect it. It’s not that I don’t have enough time; it’s just one of those jobs so immense that even thinking about where to begin overwhelms me. The potential exhaustion is always enough to summon at least another two month’s worth of procrastination.
I pick up a rock which is sitting under the boarded up front window and put it in my pocket, then look around the collection of furniture, curios, appliances, stacks of books ... everything is tumbling over something else. For a moment, I have a small surge of momentum. I nudge the leg of a chair with my toe, peek under a sheet covering an ancient but still functioning console television, and a vague will to tackle this beast stirs. I reach for a lamp, to brush the grime off the shade; my elbow catches the top of a pile of books and at least twenty go crashing to the floor. Dust flies up, filling the room and highlighting the streams of light poking through the blinds. My eyes burn from the contaminated air and whatever motivation I had is now gone. I turn and head for the front door, searching out fresh air and a place to lie down.
I’ve been stretched out on my bed, a glass of milk on my nightstand and a well-worn copy of Great Expectations in my hand, for about an hour when I hear a faint voice.
“Hello? Is anybody home?”
I go the window of my room and look out. Wandering around the perimeter of the house, peering in the first floor windows, there is a woman, a young woman, carrying what looks from my perch above to be a briefcase. I call down to her. “Who are you looking for?”
She backs up so she can see me, holding her hand above her eyes to shield them from the sun. “Oh, hi. I’m looking for Carter Haven. I rang the bell--I wasn’t sure if anyone was home.”
“The bell is broken,” I tell her. “I’ll be right down.”
I swig the last of my milk and mark my page in the book, read so many times that the corner of each page is creased, having served as a bookmark on one occasion or another. I go down the stairs and open the front door; she is standing there, waiting.
“I should put a note on the door about the bell,” I tell her. “It’s just ... I don’t get many visitors, so it’s never been important.”
“Oh.” She smiles; her eyes are big and blue. After a pause, she holds out her hand, which I shake as she tells me her name is Bromley McClemont.
“Bromley--that’s an unusual name,” I say, and immediately feel the cringe that accompanies an inevitable, a-moment-too-late realization that you’ve just made the same observation that everyone else has been making for a hundred years, as if it’s a brand new idea.
She chuckles, but generously. She has seen my cringe and knows I would do anything to erase the last ten seconds. “It is unusual,” she agrees, and manages to say it as if it’s the first time she’s ever had to. “My dad chose it.”
I don’t know if I am meant to continue this thread, asking the obvious, “What is the significance?” so we can further draw out this painfully polite conversation, or whether I should just change the subject altogether. I settle on the latter, reserving the questions for a later time, should the opportunity present itself, because now I am genuinely curious. “So, um, what brings you to Syntax?”
“Carter Haven,” she tells me, and it occurs to me that I’ve never heard anyone say my first and last name together like that. There’s never been any occasion for it. “Do you know where I can find him?”
“Uh ... yeah. Yes. I mean, you’ve found him.” I feel like my eyes are bulging out of my head and my tongue has swollen as if stung by a bee. This is the first new person to which I’ve spoken face-to-face in probably twenty years, and I am suddenly, inexplicably, nervous. Can she tell I haven’t met anyone new in twenty years? Why am I sweating? “I’m Carter Haven.”
“Oh!” She smiles broadly: mission accomplished. “Nice to meet you, Carter.”
“Thanks.” She looks at me expectantly, shifting from one foot to the other. “You, too,” I add, a beat too late.
“Can I come in for a minute?” she asks.
I look at her blankly.
“I’m from Ben Wright’s office. He sent me over with some paperwork for you to sign.”
The blank look continues. I don’t know why she’s here. Ben has never sent a person along with the paperwork for me to sign before.
She gets it. “It’s a little more complicated than the other estates,” she explains, more patiently than I deserve. “You know Annie and Lester had a son—-”
“And a daughter,” I interrupt, inexplicably. There is no reason to mention this. Their daughter died before I was even born, but I feel a strange competitive feeling welling inside me, as if The Stokeses belonged to me, and this interloper before me couldn’t possibly know them better than I did. I immediately feel embarrassed, and I sputter, “Sorry, go on.”
Again I receive a patient and empathetic smile. Her eyes say, I know this is hard. It’s okay. I am further ashamed of myself because of her calm tolerance; how could she be so indulgent with someone who is handling themselves so awkwardly?
“That’s okay. You’re right. They had a daughter, too.”
“Corrine,” I say, and the voice in my head screams SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP!
“Right, Corrine. I think she died quite awhile ago—-” I manage to just nod in agreement rather than spewing the date “--and then a son, Russell, who is presumed dead, but, in fact, it is not known whether he is dead or alive, but--well, you probably know this better than I do--but to my understanding he went missing after he was drafted, and hasn’t been heard from since.”
She reads me so well. She is acknowledging these odd territorial feelings I have, and somehow she understands them: you probably know this better than I do. She is making this so much easier than I am. She’s just so nice. Bromley McClemont.
“Right,” I say, and then quickly add, “I don’t know much more than that, though.” It’s not true. I know what Russell looked like when he left; I know what day he went missing; I know all the efforts Annie and Lester made to find him, and how much it hurt them that they never did. I know all about Russell, and what was left in the wake of his sudden departure.
She is nodding, leaving a pause as a transition. “So, because of his indeterminate status, we need you to sign some additional papers, since their wills didn’t make any provisions regarding the possibility of Russell returning and contesting your designation as sole beneficiary. It’s extremely unlikely, after all this time, and I don’t want to scare you ... it’s really just some standard paperwork, where you’ll indicate you haven’t had any contact with Russell, that he hasn’t approached you to try to make any claims, that sort of thing.”
“Yeah, yes, well, of course, that’s makes sense, I can see, sure.” I am stammering like an idiot, and I don’t know how to stop it. I can’t get my mind to stop focusing on the stupid things I’ve already said and start paying attention to what I’m now saying, to prevent further stupidity. “You, uh, you have the papers with you then?”
She holds up her briefcase and pats it. “Right in here,” she tells me.
I stand back, holding the door open, and wave my arm, ushering her in. “Please come in,” I say, and all at once my mind is back on track. “Come in and make yourself comfortable. I’m sorry I’m being so ... I just ... wasn’t expecting all this. You caught me a little off guard.”
As she steps by me, she looks at me and her eyes, so blue, are incredibly close. “I know, I apologize. I thought if I just stopped by with the papers, it would be easier. It’s on my way home, you see. I work in Merrittville, but I live in Darby....” She stands, looking vaguely uncomfortable, not knowing whether to go to the kitchen or the living room, both equally close and visible from the front entryway. I motion toward the kitchen, figuring paper-signing is best done at a table of some description, and she moves in that direction, looking relieved. “So anyway, I apologize. I should have called.”
“No, no, it’s fine,” I tell her, convincingly I hope, because it really is fine, and I have no idea why I was so easily flustered. “It was good of you to stop by. I appreciate it.”
“Well, okay,” she says, and I’m not sure if it’s meant to accept what I’ve said, or whether she’s just getting down to business now, or perhaps both. She seats herself at the table and opens the briefcase.
“Do you want something to drink?” I ask. I’m hovering around the table, still feeling a little too self-conscious to sit down and relax just yet. I need another thirty seconds or so. “It’s really hot. Are you thirsty?”
“Water would be great,” she says. “Thanks.”
I busy myself with the loud noises of plopping ice cubes in tall glasses and running the tap while she loudly shuffles papers. Neither of us has to talk for a minute, and the interlude, though brief, is enough to erase the clumsiness of our meeting. I hand her a glass of water and sit down across from her. “Thank you,” she says, and I tell her it’s no problem.
The papers are all laid out, handwritten Xs where I’m meant to sign, and it occurs to me that it will take a shorter time to perform this task than it did to complete the discomfiting dance in which I’d engaged us. There is a quick explanation of what is written on the pages--the same thing on each one--one copy for Ben’s file and one copy for me, and feeling it’s entirely clear and well-worded and makes sense and all that, as if I really have a place (or a reason) to question any of it, I sign my name to it. Carter Haven, near each of the two little Xs.
“I guess that’s it,” she says, and smiles at me as she returns their copy to her suitcase. She pushes my copy across the table to me; “That’s yours.”
“That was easy,” I say, and she nods.
“Yep. I guess—-”
She is probably about to say, “I guess I’ll be going,” and I don’t want her to finish. “Do you want to stay for dinner?” I blurt out, and I know my face has contorted into a desperate expression. I try to force my facial muscles to relax into some sort of casual look, but they’re having none of it.
She stares at me, surprised, for a moment, then says, “Can I use your phone?”
“Um, sure,” I say, and my voice cracks. I am crimson. I gesture to the phone on the wall, and I’m sure she can hear me gulp. She is probably calling the police, or a judge, to have me committed.
She dials a number, waits, says, “Hi, it’s me. I’m going to be late getting home. Can you make sure Josie gets her dinner? Thanks. No, it’s nothing--I’ll explain when I get home. Okay, thanks, Chris. Bye.”
My mind races. Ohmygod, she’s married. Her husband has to cook dinner for their kid now because I’ve made little Josie’s mommy feel obligated to stay and sup with the pathetic loner man in Syntax. Nothing? It’s nothing? What does she mean nothing? Isn’t dinner with me something? Surely, it’s something. No no no, it’s nothing. It’s nothing to Bromley McClemont and her handsome husband Chris and their beautiful daughter Josie.
I look at her finger. No ring. Still....
“If it’s inconvenient,” I say, “I don’t want you to feel you have to ... I just thought that.... If you have to get home to your ... husband...?”
She laughs, and her eyes flicker as she does. “Oh, no,” she says quickly. She sits back down at the table. “I’m not married. I was just calling my neighbor to see if she could feed my cat. Josie, my cat. She’s diabetic, has to eat at certain times.... She’d probably be fine--I’m just a worrier.” She shakes her head. “It’s silly.”
Silly?! Ha--it’s the greatest thing I’ve ever heard in my life.
“I understand,” I tell her. “I’m a worrier, too. I look at her and let her look back for a moment. “How do you feel about cheeseburgers and baked potatoes?”
“You’re younger than I expected,” Bromley says, wiping a bit of ketchup off the corner of her mouth.
“Oh?” I’m chewing a massive bite of burger, and it’s all I can manage without half-chewed food falling back onto my plate.
“Mm-hmm.” She cocks her head to the side, squints at me. “I figured you’d be in your forties or fifties. Somehow I had gotten the impression you were about the age the Stokes’ children would have been.”
“Yeah. No, I’m only twenty-seven,” I tell her.
“My God, you’re a baby!” she exclaims.
“How old are you?” I ask her. I remember my mother telling me that it’s impolite to ask a woman her age. Despite the warning, I have it in my mind that only women whose faces are starting to crease in that way that is as disappointing to them as it is exceedingly sexy to younger men would really be bothered by that question.
“Thirty-one,” she replies, and seems decidedly nonplussed by answering, so I assume I haven’t offended her.
“An old woman,” I note.
“Indeed,” she chuckles.
“Did you grow up in Darby?” I ask her.
“No. Did you grow up in Syntax?”
We are both quiet. It seems that she is no more ready to volunteer what brought her to Darby than I am to explain what left me in Syntax, and so we move on.
“Why did your dad name you Bromley?” I ask her suddenly, surprising myself.
She smiles and waves her hand at me. “Oh, it’s a terribly boring story--you don’t want to hear it, trust me.”
“No, I do,” I assure her. “Come on, let’s have it.”
She gives me a look, lifting her eyebrow and pursing her lips. “Okay ... but don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
“I won’t,” I promise, nearly squirming in my chair.
“My dad is from Scotland,” she explains, “and while my mom was pregnant with me, his grandmother died, and he had to fly back to Edinburgh for the funeral. My mom couldn’t fly at that point, because it was so late in her pregnancy.” I’m not sure if this has to do with changes in air pressure, the logistical problem of trying to squeeze a very pregnant belly into an airplane seat, or some other reason altogether, but it isn’t really the time to ask, so I nod noncommittally and Bromley continues. “On his way home, Dad stopped and visited a friend in London, and while he was there, he and Mom were talking on the phone--and get this ... he was calling her from a pay phone because he had gone for a walk and lost track of the time. He didn’t want to worry her by missing the time he’d promised to call, so he called collect--can you imagine?!--from a phone box.”
“Right!” she exclaims. “Anyway, they started discussing baby names. They knew I’d be Malcolm if I were a boy, but they couldn’t agree on a girl’s name.” She is tracing a deep scratch on my table with the tip of her finger, and I break our eye contact for a moment to look at her hand. It is beautiful, her fingers tapering into perfectly painted nails. “So while they were talking, he said, ‘How about Bromley?’ And she said, ‘Bromley. Bromley McClemont. I like it!’ And when she asked him how he came up with that, he told her, ‘I’m standing outside a store called Russell & Bromley.’ And because they both liked the idea of being four thousand miles apart, and missing each other, but still feeling this closeness while talking about their baby, the name stuck.”
“That’s amazing,” I say, and she shakes her head. “No, really--it’s a great story.”
“You think?” She squints at me, makes a face. “The funny thing is, I usually don’t bother with that whole story when people ask about my name. I usually just tell them I was named after the borough of Bromley in London.”
“Oh, right,” I say. Nod, nod. Sure, the borough of Bromley. In London. Of course. “Well, I’m glad you told me the real story. It makes your name that much more interesting.”
“Well, thanks.” She blushes a little, or maybe I just think she does. “I like it, anyway. It suits me.”
“It does.” I look at her. Bromley McClemont. There is a pause while I ponder how we got here, and she does, too, or maybe I just hope she does. “What kind of store was it, anyway?” I ask.
“A shoe store!” she exclaims, and bursts into laughter. “That’s the non-romantic part, but it could explain why I am a compulsive shoe-shopper.” She swings her foot out from under the table and holds it up for my consideration. The shoe being modeled by her small foot is a black leather shoe, with a short heel and a strap across the front of her ankle. “My favorite MaryJanes,” she tells me.
“Nice to meet you, MaryJane,” I say to her shoe, and she gives me a grin.
“And where did the name Carter come from?”
“He was president when I was born,” I say. “My parents liked him.”
“Agh!” she cries. “You’re two whole presidents younger than me. Damn, if I had been born in August instead of May, I could say one, but no....”
“Be thankful your parents chose a shoe store instead of a president then, or you’d be Nixon McClemont.”
“Good point.” She nods, looks around the kitchen, then back at me. “So what do you do?”
“Read, mostly,” I say. “And, uh, well ... I’m trying to learn how to cook.”
She stares at me blankly for a moment, then chuckles and shakes her head. “I meant, what do you do for a living?”
“Oh.” I feel a hot flush of embarrassment, and my head spins, frantically searching for an acceptable response. I am probably two seconds away from blurting out an entirely ludicrous answer when she cuts me off at the pass, much to my resounding relief.
“You like to read?” she says, and it sounds as much like a statement as a question. I am too occupied with trying to discern whether she’s interested in my reading habits or attempting to veer away from what do you do to respond. She continues, “I read a lot, too. Almost constantly, if I’m honest.” She smiles. “If I were home right now, I’d probably be curled up on the couch with a microwaved dinner and a book.”
I’m elated that she’s a reader, a real reader, one of those, nose always buried in a book, as Annie used to say about me. My mind tears off in a new direction, and I’m determined to stay on this subject, because I love it, and because if I don’t, I’ll faint from mental motion sickness.
“What do you like to read?” I ask, and we’re off.
“I love Dickens,” she is saying, because I have told her I am re-reading Great Expectations. I haven’t told her I am re-reading it for the twelfth time, and my head is too buzzy from happiness at hearing she loves Dickens to fully concentrate on the requisite caveat she is providing, the one that all fans (or the four fans I’ve known, anyway) seem to feel obligated to give after professing their fondness for his work. “I know that’s a bit like saying ‘I love breathing,’ because if you love literature, it seems almost trite to verbalize loving Dickens, but I really do just adore him.”
She is smiling, and I am smiling back.
The conversation turns and weaves and tumbles, and each time we approach a fork in our curving route, we find ourselves traveling down the same prong of the path without a word or a nod or the consultation of a map to set us on the same course. It’s a discussion that could go on forever, having no definite beginning, middle, or end, and providing no opportunity for resolutions or eurekas. It’s just the shared thoughts of two people about something they love, and it wouldn’t even have a purpose, really, except that we have given it one.
Each of us wants to know the person sitting across the table from ourselves, the stranger with whom we agreed to sit down and have a meal, but direct questions seem premature, and somehow insufficient. Instead we talk about books, which happens to be, I discover, a deceptively revealing subject between two avid readers.
I hold on to books I have read; a shadow of every idea and every character resides deep inside of me, informing my own ideas and self. When I look out at the world, every image and experience is filtered through the thousands of little eyes behind mine, seeing what I see, because I have made them a part of me. When I talk about George Milton, or José Arcadio Buendía, or David Copperfield, I’m really talking about a part of myself. And so I feel a particular comfort, and thrill, when I forget to censor myself and say something silly, like, “I miss Owen Meany,” and Bromley sighs and tells me she misses him, too.
“I would be hard pressed to think of many books I like more than A Tale of Two Cities,” Bromley says, continuing on Dickens.
“Me, too,” I agree. “Absolutely.”
The topic is winding down, and I am eager to find the next thread. The words are suddenly tumbling out of me, and I can’t stop them. “Since we’re talking favorites, or I am, at any rate, why don’t we play Fahrenheit 451? Imagine it’s become reality, and all our favorite books are being relegated to the flames. Which one book would you commit to memory for the sake of posterity, and which would you feverishly shovel onto the pyre, screaming ‘Burn, you bastard, burn!’ at the top of your voice? You first!”
She looks at me, I’m not sure with what thoughts behind it, but it makes me feel warm.
We’ve finished Fahrenheit 451 and had a rousing rapid-fire discussion about the best first lines ever. I stand by “The clock struck thirteen;” she stands by “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” I probably agree with her that it is the best first line, but my unwillingness to be so obvious prevents me from saying so.
I want her to stay stay stay, but it’s getting late, and she tells me so, in a way that suggests I might not have noticed, and because her presence is so enjoyable, I might not have, had the thought that eventually she would have to leave not crossed my mind so frustratingly often.
I walk her to the door, and I’m not sure if I should do one of those movie-things. Do I kiss her cheek? Do I ask for her number? Do I give her mine? No, she already has it.
“I had such a nice time talking to you,” she says, and she looks like she really did.
“Yeah, I feel the same way,” I say, and I am lost. What do I do? Are we supposed to see each other again, or was this one of those things that happens once and never again? I would say I’ll see you around, but the thing is, I won’t.
“Goodnight, Carter,” she says, and hops up on her tiptoes, taking hold of my upper arm for balance, and kisses my cheek. “Thank you for dinner.”
“Any time,” I say after her. She is walking down the steps, down the drive, to her car, getting in, waving. Goodbye.
Long after her scent is gone from the kitchen, I can still feel her hand on my arm and her lips against my cheek.