Sunday, February 27, 2005
It all seems so unfair...too much to bear...but, of course, it is not. It's not right or wrong, it just is (and my friend, however disoriented and wounded and heartbroken he is, understands this and is coping to the best of his considerable abilities.)
The world is a big, sometimes wonderful, sometimes scary place, and we're all in it together (whether we choose to consciously accept that or not.) Helping my friend pack up his life, being a shoulder (for whatever it was worth) for him to lean on, reinforced that undeniable truth.
Our hearts go out to strangers in need...tsunami victims, homeless children, AIDS patients, battered women, anyone we see on the nightly news that makes us shake our heads with empathy (and/or reach for our checkbooks to give whatever we can)...but as important as that is (and it most certainly is), it is those within our own personal circles of love, friendship, and acquaintance who do (and should) get our first, best efforts, support, and encouragement (maybe "saving the world" starts with being truly there for one friend and radiates out from there...I dunno, it's too early on a lazy Sunday morning to think too much :-)
I am blessed to be part of powerful circles of love, friendship, and acquaintance...I am not an easy person to get to know but a fast, fiercely loyal friend and companion when you do...And I try not to take it for granted (though, being human, I probably do sometimes.) Life is not "fair"...it just is. But, that said, life is much easier to bear knowing that, in ways that matter most, I'm not alone...that I'm part of circles and communities and nations, a part of this grand, wondrous, scary, beautiful world of ours and connected to each and everyone else in their own circles and communities and nations.
Friday, February 25, 2005
This site asks the question...So What Can I Do?...and then attempts to find some answers with ideas, links, and phone numbers that can lead you to ways to help...ways to contribute...ways to make the world (yours, mine, and ours) a better place (in ways big and small.)
It's a very worthwhile and admirable way to use the blogging medium.
Because I haven't done one of these in a while (and because I think they can be kinda interesting.)
Bold the states you’ve been to, underline the states you’ve lived in and italicize the state you’re in now.
Alabama / Alaska / Arizona / Arkansas / California / Colorado / Connecticut / Delaware / Florida / Georgia / Hawaii / Idaho / Illinois / Indiana / Iowa / Kansas / Kentucky / Louisiana / Maine / Maryland / Massachusetts / Michigan / Minnesota / Mississippi / Missouri / Montana / Nebraska / Nevada / New Hampshire / New Jersey / New Mexico / New York / North Carolina / North Dakota / Ohio / Oklahoma / Oregon / Pennsylvania / Rhode Island / South Carolina / South Dakota / Tennessee / Texas / Utah / Vermont / Virginia / Washington / West Virginia / Wisconsin / Wyoming / Washington D.C. /
(Looks like I still have a ways to go to finish my complete tour of the good ol' USA :-)
Thursday, February 24, 2005
The sky and the earth had melted into an endless expanse…still and cold and white as far as the eye could see. Patricia sighed…not because it wasn’t what she had expected but indeed because it was exactly what she had expected. She tugged at her overcoat and fussed with her fuzzy scarf and then, with another heavy sigh that took misty form in the frigid morning air, she pushed through the doorway and out into the snow. Winter, you son of a bitch…
Patricia Allen was a woman of substance…full-bodied, sharp-minded, a good neighbor and a skilled business owner that everyone in town either admired graciously or hated enviously (though there were, on balance, far more of the former than the latter)…but that wasn’t something that you could really get her to agree with on this day. The cold that cut through the layers of clothing that she was wearing meant nothing to her…she didn’t feel it at all. The cold outside was no match for the coldness she felt in her being. Wandering, seemingly aimless but in fact not, along the outskirts of town and into the woods she moved like a ghost…the snow settling into her footprints and softly starting to obliterate them before they were even fully formed…lost in a haze of unfocused thoughts and unsettled emotions.
At one point, one sharply focused thought cut through that haze…if the damn thing was “broken” again, she thought of her weary heart, why didn’t it just stop hurting and leave me alone…and then she shook it off, laughing at her hubris and succumbing to that same haze once more. Jack, you son of a bitch…
Patricia took the hill. The slight, gently-sloping hill that would be covered in a blanket of verdant grass and bright wildflowers come spring. Walking slow and steady…never losing her footing despite the snow and the slush…not really paying attention to where she was going because it was a path she knew all too well. The haze cleared a bit when she reached the top of the hill and she grunted a bitter laugh and unceremoniously sat down in the snow. She looked down on the town…the small, closeted community that had been the center of her existence for as far back as she could remember…finding equal measures of affection and resentment in its importance to her life.
But that melted away…as did the town itself…covered in a frigid sheath of snow, the only signs of life being plumes of fragrant smoke billowing from chimneys up and down the way. Patricia felt a familiar tug at her tear ducts and she closed her eyes. She laughed bitterly again when she realized that there were no more tears to fall just then. There would be more tears, of this she had no doubt…but in that moment there were none…all of them were back in her house, soaking deep into one of the plump down pillows her grandmother had made especially for her birthday two years ago.
Jack, you…she sighed yet again, it wasn’t his fault…he was just a man and sometime men can’t help what they do. Of course, too often they don’t even try…
Blaming a man for being a man is like blaming winter for being winter, she thought…realizing the foolishness of the thought instantly but clinging to it just the same. Patricia hadn’t made it through so many years…so many men…so many tear-soaked pillows…without having come to some small epiphanies (right or wrong, they were hers and she would hold tight to them because they were keeping her from drowning.)
Patricia laid back in the snow on top of the hill and looked up into the trackless sky…all gray and white and unrelenting…wishing she could flat away into the void and never have feel numb or achy or heartbroken or anything ever again. Winter, you son of a…
She closed her eyes and looked within…finding space she was all too familiar with…the spaces where her heart kept zealously-guarded mementos of every man she had let into her heart…the spaces where the children she never had would have been kept safe forever…the spaces where the game the woman and the child she was free reign to dance…to gleefully curse winter and embrace summer…all of the myriad, endless spaces that soothed and satisfied her soul (that were in fact part and parcel of her soul)…all of the spaces.
She wondered…fleetingly…why part of her still longed for his touch…longed even to hear his lies and evasions; she wondered why she was so smart about almost everything else but so stupid at the “game” of love. And, again, she found herself laughing…bitterly, softly, tenderly, ruefully…hubris was something best laughed at when all was said and done.
Pretty lady, where have you been all my life?...
Baby, you know I love you…but I’m not ready to get married…yet…
Honey, it didn’t mean anything…she didn’t mean anything…I’m…I’m sorry…
It’s not you, Tricia…it’s me…I just don’t know what I want…I’m an asshole…
She needs me, Tricia…she’s not as strong as you are…I…I’ll send for my other things…
Patricia shook her head, forcing the ghosts who spoke the words of the man out of her head. Jack, you son of a bitch…
For an eternal instant, it seemed like there were indeed a few more tears ready to be shed…but the feeling passed. And then, just as suddenly, there was something on her face…something warm and soothing…war and soft as a midsummer’s breeze. Patricia opened her eyes and recoiled from the glare. When she looked up again, she found there a radiant crack in the sky…a sliver of space in the clouds through which a golden shaft of sunlight was blazing through. The light tracked gently across the outskirts of town…a quiet herald of things to come…and up the hill to where she lay. Spring wouldn’t be too very long in coming she realized…and then summer after that…cursing winter was a fool’s game, a game best played quickly and then just as quickly forgotten.
Patricia sat up, feeling the sun on her face for a scant few moment before winter reasserted itself and sealed the rift in the clouds. But it was okay. She stood up and shook the snow off as best she could. Patricia looked down over the sleepy, blanketed town and shook her head. She took a deep breath and then let it billow out…tangible wisps dancing like angels in the cold winter's air…before she stood up and started back down the hill. She had work to do…pillows to dry out…”other things” to stuff into boxes…spaces to be embraced and cried over…mending to be done. Spring was coming…and summer after that…and there was so much to do.
Wednesday, February 23, 2005
It's not so bad. I take the antibiotics and the painkiller and I swill the foul-tasting mouth rinse and I eat a little bland soft food (I feel like a child gingerly taking in mashed potatoes and oatmeal and pudding and then rinsing my mouth with tepid water to keep the mouth as clean as possible.)
At least I'm getting a chance to get caught up on some reading and some movie viewing (see here for more about that.)
Thanks again to everyone who's left good wishes and welcome advice. It is all very much appreciated.
Regular (non-oral surgery related) blogging should resume in a couple of days or so.
Monday, February 21, 2005
Of course, now there are ice packs and bloody gauze and a general feeling of woozy disconnection (my poor numb lips and my violated jaw don't feel like they belong to my body right now.)
And did I mention the pain? To be honest, it's not excruciating, "please kill me now" pain...just a dull, persistent ache from a couple of the new holes in my head. We shall keep good thoughts that this is as bad as it gets. (The good doctor...a wonderful human being...has given me Vicodin...one of which I've taken a few minutes ago...and hopefully the pain experience will continue to be mitigated.)
Thanks to everyone who've left good wishes and words of encouragement on the previous post, I really appreciate it.
It's a gray day here...the rain has been pouring down since the wee hours of the morning...and that suits me just fine as the after-effects of the anesthesia...and the coming effects of the painkiller...will likely leave me a gray shadow of my normal self (not always a ray of sunshine in and of itself :-) for a little while to come. We shall see.
Ooo...a nap sounds good right about now....
Keep smiling, folks (me I'll grin as gallantly as I can...good soldier that I think of myself as...and hopefully spend the next several hours in a glorious, relatively pain-free stupor...)
Sunday, February 20, 2005
Maybe I should have re-thought that...but the die is cast now and I'm ready to deal with whatever I have to deal with.
Writing will probably suffer for a couple of days (I've been warned about pain and supplied with painkillers and told that I will probably spend a lot of the next few days being grouchy, drowsy, and, one hopes, asleep) and blogging may be non-existent. We shall see.
(One just hopes that whatever little wisdom I possess doesn't desert me when the teeth are ripped from my soon-to-be put-upon mouth...)
Ah well...as someone said, perseverance furthers (but hey keep a good thought for me just the same, 'kay? Thanks! :-)
Saturday, February 19, 2005
No One's Child is the vividly-told, brutally honest story of the author's abusive childhood...she tells the story in a finely-detailed sketches filled with a beautiful mixture of clear-eyed prose with subtly poetic undertones. Going through this site will make you, if you have any empathy in your soul, want to hug and protect the little girl the author used to be...and, more importantly, to celebrate the woman...the survivor and the gifted writer...that she grew up to be. If I had discovered no blog other than this one, I would consider the "blogosphere" to be enormously worthwhile and valuable just for its existence.
It's not for the faint of heart...brutal truth rarely is...but attention must be paid. If you've a mind to, start at the beginning...and allow the journey to unfold for you as it did for me.
Friday, February 18, 2005
And then I screamed. Or maybe I didn't...nobody came to see what was wrong so perhaps I dreamed that as well.
Perhaps I only screamed to end the dream. The never-ending nightmare that haunts my days, brings anxiety to my turbulent nights. The dream of the eyes.
Its always the same.
Eyes. A hundred eyes. A million eyes. Staring...probing...watching...looking through me, through everything. Nothing else...no hands...no mouths...just eyes. And darkness. Eyes and darkness waiting to overwhelm me...waiting...
Eyes...hard and unforgiving...and darkness. Darkness given a voice..."Christopher"...a voice calling my name..."Christopher"...as if that's all it had to do to make me understand.
I listen and then I run. Run as hard and as fast I could. Run from the eyes and the darkness towards the uncertainty of a sudden light on the horizon. Run hard and long and fast and yet still end up right where I started from.
The eyes look on impassively. Waiting. The voice sighs impatiently..."Christopher"...a burning spotlight burned down out of the darkness and I recoil in horror..."don't let us down, Christopher"... and for an instant everything is perfectly still, and then..."dance, Christopher"...the voice says dryly..."dance for us, Christopher, dance for us now..."
And, to my horror, I do. I begin to dance. A ghastly smile blossoms on my face and I begin to dance with all my might. Salty tears blind me...I think theyre mine but I'm not really sure...but I keep dancing just the same. Dancing blind in the darkness for the entertainment of a million faceless eyes..."faster, Christopher"...the voice demands..."dance faster for us, Christopher"...and, acid tears eating away at my face, I dance faster. And faster. And faster. Dance 'til I feel like I was going to explode. And then I dance faster still...
Christopher lurched up in his bed, his heart pounding a desperate staccato rhythm, his skin sticky and damp; his brown eyes moist and wide to the still darkness. He wondered, fleetingly, why his Mother hadn't come to him.
But then cast that thought aside...he was too old for that baby stuff. He glanced at the perpetually-smiling face of his Spider-Man clock. in the morning. He sighed and slumped back onto his pillow.
in the morning...it was a time for all good little boys to be fast asleep. But sleep frightened Christopher. The million eyes were waiting there for him, this much he knew all too well. And no one could save him from those eyes. No one could, not even his Mama. No one ever even seemed to try to save him.
He climbed out of bed and pulled the blanket off of it. Dragging his blanket behind him, he crept out of his room into the hall. The shadows were fluid and ominous, but he ignored them.
He paused at his parents' door noting with a slight, wry smile, the incessant rasp of his father's snore. He knew he wouldn't be allowed to stay there.
"It's was only a dream, boy," his father would say irritably. "Get on back to your own bed."
"A boy as smart and capable as you shouldn't let silly old dreams frighten you," his mother would say softly. "Be a good little man and let Mama get some sleep."
He trudged over to his sister's door and gingerly pushed it open. Amanda was sleeping contentedly.
"Tomorrow's a long ways away, baby boy," his sister would say with a smile, you should be asleep. Youve plenty of time to be grown-up...plenty of time to be the star everybody wants you to be. Do me a favor and be a snotty-nosed brat for just a little longer, okay? And hey, those stupid eyes won't hurt you for as long as I'm around, kiddo. I promise."
Christopher smiled and quietly squeezed underneath his sister's bed. The eyes wouldn't find him there. And for the time being, that was enough. Tomorrow was soon enough to learn the dances for a million eyes in the night. Tomorrow was more than soon enough.
* * * * *
A week to go and I have, not surprisingly, utterly failed in my self-appointed task of trying to see a majority of the movies nominated for Oscars before the awards are announced (where the hell does the time go? You'd think I had a life or something...) It ain't the end of the world, of course...as much as I love them, they're just movies...and this failure has happened more years than not since I first started making this promise to myself 30 years or so ago so I'm cool with it (and hey, I still have a week to turn it around...)
* * * * *
100 Things About Me:
Nah, I'm just messin' with you...while it's true that there are at very least 100 things I could put on such a list I have to believe that it would not really be of much interest to you to read (or, for that matter, for me to compose.)
That said, I have read through such lists on other sites and found some of them kinda interesting (I find myself composing sometimes fanciful mental pictures of the people based on their lists never knowing how close the portraits crafted by my fertile imagination are to the truth.
Life is full of willful contradictions.
* * * * *
A big Presidents' Day weekend shout out to Abe Lincoln for the whole emancipation and preserving the Union things. Thumbs up from this quarter, big guy, good calls. (And yes George, the "father of our nation" gig was really cool, too. Much love to ya.)
Thursday, February 17, 2005
Comic strips were fun then. They were clever and engaging and full of wit and whimsy, action and intrigue. Nowadays? Not so much.
I rarely even glance at the comic pages in my newspaper (now it's the San Diego Union-Tribune), it's too disheartening. Charles Schulz has died (and, to be honest, Peanuts had been on automatic pilot for years before that), Doonesbury has been relegated to the editorial pages, and the wry and wonderful Bloom County sailed off into the sunset.
And what is probably my favorite comic strip of all time, the incomparable Calvin and Hobbes, ended its (relatively) brief but astonishingly great run with Bill Watterson steadfastly adhering to the old showbiz adage to "always leave them wanting more."
The once-delightful comic pages of today filled with bland, tired, wholly un-amusing and uninvolving offerings...nothing that would capture the attention of an imaginative child...or of a cynically optimist adult.
All of this is preamble to my suggestion that you surf over to Brian Anderson's Dog Eat Doug site, home to the warm, and wonderfully rendered, daily comic strip of the same name. It's the tale of a dog, the long-suffering but philosophical Sophie, coping with a strange new arrival/rival: Doug, his owners' rambunctious new baby. It's filled with gentle good humor managing, despite the fact that its two principals are a dog and a baby, to be utterly charming and engaging rather than cloying.
I go to the site almost every day (the newest strip is always on the top of the page, previous strips are a mouse click away) and the strip almost never fails to make me smile, chuckle, or even laugh out loud. Just like good comic strips should.
Everybody came to Michelle's place...the Sad Cafe...at one time or another (or at least so the legend goes.) It was just something you did when you came to the west side of town.
Something you never talked about...something you never even thought about until the clouds grew gray and foreboding. It was just something you did when life deposited you on the west side of town and you needed to feel alone in a crowd.
Yeah, everybody came to Michelle's place...the loft above the Sad Cafe...at one time or another (or at least so the story goes.) It was just something you did when you came to the Sad Cafe. (Michelle, the story says, was always home...cocooned in a claustrophobic tangle of books and long-playing records and souvenirs of memories false and true. Her best friend Christine tended bar in the Cafe...her ex-boyfriend Nick cooked the food.)
She said never said anything to anyone...but they came nevertheless. Michelle would nod sagely and immediately return to her reading and they, somehow fulfilled, would drift back downstairs and have another drink or let tepid rivers of grease and ketchup run down their shirt from one of Nick's forbidding hamburgers.
The melancholy voices of languid trumpets and saxophones... Miles, Coltrane...lingered, always, softly... blue shrouds in every corner of every room of the Sad Cafe and the loft above it as Michelle, her counsel always jealously clutched to her bosom, waited patiently for the end of time.
One particularly stormy night...a grey day in late February to be a bit more precise...nobody at all came to Michelle's place...neither the Sad Cafe nor the loft above it...the rain pounded insistent rhythms underneath the languid saxophones and no one at all (not even Christine or Nick) came to the Sad Cafe.
And Michelle (who was, of course, home) understood that the end of time had, at very long last, finally arrived.
She was not unhappy about that fact.
She put on her best summer dress (the willowy pale yellow one with the white trim) and put John Coltrane..."A Love Supreme"...on the stereo. She sat on the edge of her bed and drank two fingers of the 25-year-old scotch that she had put away for the end of time...slowly, deliberately.
And then, without further ceremony, she placed a cold, black revolver in her mouth and pulled the trigger.
The thunder of the shot joined in awful voice with the thunder of God as the storm outside reached a brilliant, roaring crescendo...and there was, for one eternal instant, absolute stillness in the loft above the Sad Cafe.
(Michelle, the tale goes, slumped back onto her bed gracefully and died with her eyes open and willfully unblinking.)
From somewhere close by, someone (it might very well have been Nick) laughed bitterly and spat while John Coltrane chanted..."a love supreme...a love supreme..." as though he understood something about the end of time, too.
The Sad Cafe, time having moved on without Michelle, was boarded up forever two days later. Christine moved to the north side of town and became a Jehovah's Witness; Nick moved downtown and became someone you wouldn't want to know.
Michelle became an even more revered martyr to bad poets, jilted lovers, and any west side alcoholics who needed something...anything at all would do...to justify yet another toast.
(And Michelle's memory...especially as colorfully embellished by inebriated myth-makers...was as good a thing as any other.)
And now nobody comes to Michelle's place...the Sad Cafe...but its legacy lives on in the broken hearts and the weary spirits of all the sad souls who still longed to be there.
(Michelle, they imagined, sat in a lonely corner of Heaven listening to the rain...playing scratchy old records...waiting patiently for someone to come visit her in her sad, lonely place.)
Wednesday, February 16, 2005
But I've only just finished a marathon writing project...15 subjects and nearly 7,500 words in the space of roughly 36 hours...and all I feel in numb and ready for a nap...or a hug...or both :-)
Of course the fact that my personal muse had little do with this project and the fact that the subjects were not of my choosing play a big part in my ennui. (But hey, this too will pass.)
Researching and writing(hopefully) informative little pieces on a wide variety of subjects wouldn't have been my first choice for a project to concentrate on for the past two days but hey it's a paying gig...and when someone wants to pay you for writing you gotta go for it. (Of course, had I not let events and whims of the past week cloud my judgment, today's deadline wouldn't have loomed so large so "suddenly" and I wouldn't have had to tackle so many unconnected subjects in such a relatively short period...but I did and there's no use fretting overmuch about it. The job is done...done well, I think...and so it goes.)
There being no one here to hug...and no more topics to tackle for the time being...that nap sounds like plan :-) I'm off (in more ways than one :-)
Tuesday, February 15, 2005
"Do I...?" Oh-oh, the question...truth and/or consequences...
I told you "no" in a strained, self-consciously evasive way.
I really meant "maybe" but I knew that you had little patience with indecision...and "yes" was much too daunting a mountain for me to climb just then.
No matter, you didn't believe me anyway and proceeded with your agenda just as if I had indeed said "yes."
You know me a little too well sometimes.
I said, full of ardor and anxiety and anticipation, "I wanna make love with you."
Three words got lost in transition and somehow you only heard "I...love...you..." Three words make a universe of difference...but I was too horny to correct your "mistake" at that heated moment...("I love you, too?" What on Earth are you talking about?!)
I cried "I love you" while our loins were joined in the fever dance...while my sweaty hand clung desperately to your pliant breast. Of course I really meant "I want you to shudder for me...I want you to tell me I'm the best man you've ever been with."
You called me "baby"...which was cool....but then you said it again..."I love you, too." Oh Jesus.
You said "we need to talk" in a hushed, portentous tone of voice. (In my mind's eye, I saw a penguin in a shower of long grain rice...)
I was satiated and compliant...but not that compliant. I murmured sleepy man‑sounds and rolled over on my side away from you.
You persisted, spooning your damp body against mine. "Let's talk..." Aw, man...
"Tomorrow," said I, grunting through a pre-dream haze, "let's talk tomorrow, 'kay?"
One heartbeat...two...three heartbeats..."Okay."
Communication isn't always easy.
In that time, I have been exposed to a handful of truly remarkable blogs...sites which draw me in and hold my attention because of their brave (or even brutal) honesty...or their wonderful use of language...or their remarkable ideas...or their wit or whimsy or wisdom...or their gentle, everday humor and warm, inviting openness and simplicity...or delightfully unexpected combinations of any or all of these.
This then is one of a irregular series of spotlights on such sites (most of which are highlighted in the links column on the right.) Your experience with these sites may not be the same as mine but, for whatever it might be worth, I think they are more than worthy of some of your open-hearted attention.
* * * * *
I've read the entirety of A Gag Reflex to date...it is too compelling...too beautifully well written...too engrossing (sometimes heartbreakingly so) for me to have stopped once I had begun (and, almost as a matter of course, I am compelled to return almost daily, re-reading some older entries and anxiously looking forward to new ones.)
The complex relationship of a woman's relationship to her own life...her complicated past, her complicated now, and, most especially, the willful, amazing, awful, undeniable force of human nature that was her mother...is explored in beautifully sketched out episodes, asides, flashbacks, and songs. It is at turns harrowing and frank, unexpectedly wry and witty, and, most importantly, utterly accessible if you're open to the bittersweet experience as it unfolds at its own pace and in its own quirky... yet completely natural and rational...rhythm.
Start at the beginning (there are very helpful chapter links on the site)...take your time...the journey will richly reward your investment of time, empathy, and attention.
Saturday, February 12, 2005
One balmy day in late July, the sailor returned from one of his walks. He had a book in his broad hand as he passed through the side gate into the garden.
The butterfly lady was on her hands and knees weeding the rosebush beds when he approached.
“Good afternoon,” he said with gentle soberness. “Would you like some help?”
“Oh! Good afternoon,” she replied. She stood and smiled, feeling strangely self-conscious about being covered with sweat and the soil of the burgeoning garden. “No, thank you, I love working with the earth and the flowers. I just wish it were a just a bit cooler today”
He smiled, fleetingly, as though he understood both her discomfort and her point. “Would you like me to bring you some iced tea from the house?”
“Yes, that would be lovely. It’s a warm one today,” she said. As he disappeared through the back door, she began to dust herself off furiously. And then she stopped and laughed at herself...the sailor had been living in her house for the better part of two months and something about him still brought out the coquettish girl in her. It was a scary feeling. And, at the same time, it was an extremely liberating feeling as well.
The sailor came back humming the song as he handed her a frosty glass of tea. She smiled in gratitude and took a long sip.
He took his glass and his book over to the shade of the great tree her grandfather had planted so many years hence. He sat back against the tree and began to read. The butterfly lady returned to her weeding.
In due course, the sailor began to sing the song out loud (albeit with a husky delicateness that reached directly into the butterfly lady’s heart.)
“That’s a pretty song,” the butterfly lady said nervously. “I’ve heard you singing it a lot...”
The sailor was startled and self-conscious. “Hmm? Oh, I’m sorry...I didn’t know I was singing out loud.”
“Is it a song from your childhood?”
The sailor looked down towards the ground. “No, it’s an old country song...a mate of mine played it for me a long time ago. He was a red-necked old boy and he thought that answers for everything important could be found in one country song or another...”
The butterfly lady rose and walked over across the yard and sat down by the sailor. “And what was the question you were looking to find an answer for?”
The sailor smiled wistfully and sighed almost inaudibly. “The eternal question,” he said after a long, thoughtful pause, “love.”
The butterfly lady shuddered but she said nothing.
“Why do they call you the ‘butterfly lady’?” the sailor asked after a long, electric silence.
It was her turn to be flustered and self-conscious. “Who told you that?”
“A child I met down by the beach,” the sailor responded. “I was reading and she came up and asked me where I was living while my ship was here. I told her and she said ‘Oh, you live with the butterfly lady! She’s nice.”
The butterfly lady chuckled warmly and shook her head.
He added, “I was going to ask her more but her friends called her to run in the surf and she excused herself.”
The butterfly lady took a deep breath. “Well, the flowers here do attract an inordinate number of butterflies...” she said.
She smiled demurely and discreetly opened the top buttons of her blouse. There on her right breast was delicate violet butterfly soaring gracefully towards the heavens. “...but the nickname was earned for this.”
She blushed and closed the buttons. “Two summers ago, I bought an especially low-cut bathing suit and wore it to the beach. The tattoo was there for all the world to see...and the rest is history.”
The sailor nodded again. “It’s beautiful,” was all that he said.
They sat in silence for a long time until the sky started to shade towards twilight. The sailor suddenly rose to his feet and looked up into the sky. “You hear that?” He asked in a voice colored with soft wonderment.
The butterfly lady was perplexed. “Hear what?”
The sailor held out his great brown hand and she placed her gently tanned hand into it and allowed herself to pulled up to her feet.
He grunted a deep, welcoming laugh and wrapped his arm around her and pulled her close. The sun was muting to orange and looked up as though he was hearing something. “The music of twilight, dear woman,” he said, “it’s all around us...it’s beckoning us to dance...”
The butterfly lady sighed and nestled her head against the great expanse of his chest. His hands, she noted with wonder, were rough and work-callused and gentle and expressive at once.
The sailor began to sway and they were, just like that, dancing in the gathering twilight. The butterfly lady closed her eyes and the sailor began to sing...a different song but a song of gentle love still the same.
The sailor stopped dancing and the butterfly lady opened her eyes. Their eyes and spoke without words. Their lips met tentatively and the night exploded with color once again. He twirled her in a slow, smooth arch and then pulled her close once more. And then they danced until the last crimson rays of sunlight disappeared into the sea.
They spoke not at all during supper that evening. Afterwards they regarded each other with humid apprehension until they could stand it no longer and then they retired to their rooms.
Outside, a sudden summer rain shower began to fall.
The butterfly lady lay in her bed listening as the rain fell...listening as the sailor showered and sang his songs. A bit later, she listened expectantly as his footfalls echoed tentatively up the hall towards her door.
The sailor knocked softly as if he were hoping that she might not hear him and he could forget the madness and retreat back to his room.
The butterfly lady’s throat was swollen with dread and longing. She spoke but two strained words. “Come in.”
After a small eternity, the door creaked slowly open and closed. The sailor said nothing as her slipped into the butterfly lady’s bed. They lay there looking up into the darkness for a small eternity and then the sailor rolled over towards her.
He kissed the nape of her neck and she caught her breath in sudden rush. In the darkness his lips brushed against hers...gently at first, then heated, and then gently again. His head traveled down past her neck to her bosom. He kissed the butterfly on her breast and she shuddered involuntarily.
The butterfly lady was almost overwhelmed by the dark, masculine immensity of the sailor. Her gown melted away and he loomed over her.
Outside the rain had gone away as quickly as it came and the moon was peeking through the curtains.
In the golden moonlight, the sailor and the butterfly lady were joined in tender, brutal, sweet, wild, giving, uncompromising, comforting, terrifying union.
The butterfly lady, who had not been with a man for many, many months, gasped at the quality of his entrance as he gingerly surged into her the first time. She cried out and he stopped. She ran her hands through his woolen hair reassuringly and drew him deeper in one brave thrust.
The sky exploded yet again and they danced the dance eternal inarticulately for what seemed like blissful hours.
In the morning, they awoke entwined in each other’s arms. They kissed and teased and then they lay back and talked. The sailor told her that the sea was going to claim him come September. The butterfly lady told him that she had dreams of her own to pursue as well.
Today, they agreed, was all that they had for sure. Today…and a scant handful of tomorrows…was all they promised each other.
In the weeks that followed, he taught her how to dance to the music all around. And he taught her how to sing the songs he knew.
In the weeks that followed, she taught him how to smile more often and how to laugh at his own foolishness. And she taught him how to accept the now without conditions.
In the weeks that followed, they taught each other how to savor fleeting, eternal dreams.
The weeks ran into one another and the summer went away. And on a gray September morning, the sailor came down the stairs with his great navy coat and his dark knit cap on. His heavy sea bag was hefted casually over his shoulder.
The butterfly lady fussed with the collar of his coat and stood back to look on him admiringly. She was wearing a flowing skirt of violet and blue; the top buttons of her white blouse were open and the butterfly could be seen soaring just above her bodice.
The sailor put his sea bag on the floor. He bent down and kissed the butterfly. And then he pulled the butterfly lady up off her feet and they kissed each other’s trembling lips.
“You’re still an enigma to me,” she said as he set her back on the floor.
The sailor said nothing. He reached into the pocket of his great coat and brought out a small box. He handed to her. “Don’t open it until I’m gone.”
He picked up his bag and then bent down and kissed her cheek. “I’ll send you a thousand and one kisses on the wind from the seven corners of the world,” he said tenderly. “And part of my heart will always be with you now and forever.”
The butterfly lady brushed aside a tear and looked up into his eyes. “Then that will be enough.”
She promised him that she would keep him in her dreams as she pursued them wherever they took her.
“Then that will be enough,” he said, his heart echoing hers.
He took a deep breath and walked through the door without another word.
She stood watching him...tall and dark and proud...as he walked down the path and off down the road towards the sea.
Just as he was about to disappear around the bend, he turned and looked back as she knew that he would. The sailor smiled...and then he vanished into the grey morning.
The butterfly lady turned and walked back into the house. She opened the small box and inside it was a silver ring. On either side of the setting were two gleaming pearls...one creamy and warm, the other ebon and cool...and in the center, delicately and expertly carved, was an amethyst butterfly, its wings stretched out to catch the light.
Inscribed inside were the butterfly lady’s name, the sailor’s name, and the words: “...then that will be enough...”
The butterfly lady slipped the ring onto her finger and held it up. She reached into the closet and pulled out the “Room to Let” sign and walked down the stairs to place it back on the lawn. And as she went, she began to hum the sailor’s song and she knew that on the ship in the harbor, the sailor was singing his song with her.
And again, now in the warmth of a new spring, the butterfly lady gathered kisses windswept from the seven corners of the world and hummed the songs she knew by heart. And, as she held fast to the dreams all her own, that continued to be enough for the time being.
- for Debra Fae -
- for Debra Fae -
Friday, February 11, 2005
The butterfly lady smiled enigmatically as the sailor’s song came, unbidden but not unwelcome, into her mind yet again. The summer’s day was unseasonably bright and warm and the butterfly lady’s garden was equally vibrant.
Butterflies danced drunkenly amidst the fragrant rosebushes as the butterfly lady turned a graceful arc, in step with the melody playing so warmly in her head and in her heart, dancing through the neatly trimmed rows of green and gold and rich, imperial red.
A warm gust of wind caressed her face and she stopped in mid-step. Her gentle blue-Gray eyes went softly opaque with sweet memory...another smile, chaste and carnal at once, tugged at the corners of her mouth...and the breeze brushed impishly across her face once more playfully tousling her soft brown hair at the same time.
The sailor had promised to send her a thousand and one kisses on the wind.
The sailor had turned up on the butterfly lady’s doorstep on a cool, gray June night. The ships were coming into port and the townsfolk knew that the sailors not going home (whatever the word “home” meant to sailors) would want rooms for part or all of the summer.
The butterfly lady had a room to let in graciously rambling old home and sign on her front lawn said so.
The sailor, a burly, dusky man with an unruly black beard and dark, unfathomable eyes, turned up that June night with the sign in his great tobacco-colored hand and a heavy sea bag hefted casually over his shoulder.
To the butterfly lady, an avid reader, he seemed like a Moorish adventurer in his great navy coat and dark knit cap.
“Pardon the late hour, miss,” he said in a deep, even voice colored by more than a score of different ports, “but my ship has only just docked and this sign says that you have a room to let.”
The butterfly lady, who had given room and board to a number of seafaring men over the years, had never seen anyone quite like the sailor and words were lost to her for a moment. But she quickly composed herself. “Yes, it’s still available,” she said through desert-dry lips. “Would you like to see it?”
The sailor nodded and followed her into the house. She took the sign from him and motioned towards the stairs. The house was warm and close...rich wooden furniture and gentle pastel colors (violet and saffron and turquoise blended, against expectation, with earth tones to soothing effect.)
The room the butterfly lady showed to the sailor was much the same...though, in some unfathomable way, more masculine than the rest of the house.
The butterfly lady pointed to close door off to the side. “It has a private bathroom and meals are included.”
The sailor looked around the room approvingly. He set his sea bag down and felt the firmness of the mattress on the sturdy four-poster bed. “Is it available for the whole summer?” he inquired finally. “My ship is in for major repairs and refurbishment and we won’t be setting sail until September.”
“Yes, that would be ideal in fact as it can be a bother changing tenants every other week or so.”
He slumped down on the edge of the bed. “Excellent. Then, if you will have me, I would like to stay here for the summer.”
The butterfly lady smiled shyly, “We are in agreement.”
They agreed upon the rent for the summer and the sailor reached into his sea bag and produced a worn mustard-hued envelope filled with currency (most of it American but some colorful bills from other countries could be seen as well.) Despite the butterfly lady’s protests, he paid for his entire stay in advance.
The butterfly lady bid the sailor a good night as he began to put the contents of the sea bag into the closet and into the drawers of her grandfather’s bureau. She paused outside the door for a long moment as he began to hum deep and melodically.
She smiled again and walked down the hall and back down the stairs. She put the money he’d given her into an envelope she would take to the bank in the morning. She closed down the house and walked back up the now-darkened stairs.
As she passed the sailor’s bathroom door she could hear the shower going and she could hear him singing soft and deep. The butterfly lady smiled yet again for the song he sang wasn’t the bawdy sailor’s tune she might have expected (the kind she had indeed heard from sailors in summers and winters past) but instead it was a wistful song of love in summer fields.
The butterfly lady crossed her hands across her chest and ambled down the hall to her room. The sailor’s song was already echoing softly in her consciousness as she closed her door behind her and it would lull her into sleep.
The next morning, the butterfly lady rose just before sunrise (as was her wont) and went down into her kitchen to make tea and blueberry muffins. Not long after sunrise, the sailor appeared in the kitchen. He was wearing faded jeans and a stark white tee shirt that stretched out across the expanse of his dark chest. The beard was gone but the great bushy moustache that had crowned it remained.
“Good morning,” he said softly.
“Good morning,” the butterfly lady said in reply. “I can make some coffee, if you’d prefer...”
The sailor shook his head as he sat across the table and reached for the teapot. “No, thank you, tea suits me just fine.”
She offered him the basket of warm muffins and he took one. “Did you sleep well?” she asked.
Their eyes met and he almost smiled. “Indeed I did,” he said pleasantly. “It’s a fine room and a fine bed.”
For reasons beyond her, the butterfly lady found herself strangely at home in the company of the sailor (it usually took a few days at least for her to feel comfortable with her tenants.) She asked him about his journeys and he patiently told her tales throughout the morning. He rarely smiled...but his eyes twinkled with wit and wisdom and just a bit of whimsy. The butterfly lady found this enormously endearing.
He walked with her into town as she went to deposit the rent money and run other errands. The sailor asked about the town as they went and she told him all that she knew (which was, of course, a great deal as she’d lived there all her life.)
The sailor waited outside the bank as the butterfly lady went in to make her deposit and when she came out she found him deep in conversation with another sailor, a ruddy red-haired brute with a booming laugh. The two sailors laughed at some private joke as she approached. Introductions were made and the men continued their conversation as the three of them wandered the quiet streets of the town.
Presently, the red-haired sailor shook the butterfly lady’s sailor’s hand and slapped him on the back with brusque camaraderie. He kissed the butterfly lady’s hand with awkward graciousness and went off down the lane to the docks.
The sailor chuckled as they walked on and the butterfly lady found it comforting to know that the “dour moor” (as she had begun to refer to him in her head and in her heart) did indeed know where to find his smile.
During the following weeks, the sailor got to know the small seaside town. He walked its length...buying books in the shop near the bakery, sipping coffee or tea at the cafe, wandering down to the shore to look upon the great ship to which he belonged as workers from the city up the road labored to make her ready for new journeys.
Music went with him...he sang or hummed, softly, almost all of his waking hours...and more often than not, it was the wistful love song the butterfly lady had heard him singing the first night.
He volunteered little but would tell colorful stories of life at sea whenever the butterfly lady worked up the courage to ask (which was a more and more frequent occurrence as time went by.) He wouldn’t talk about his life before the sea, though. “Closed chapter,” he would say with something dark and rueful coloring the edge of his voice.
The butterfly lady, though intrigued, never pressed the matter. The sailor, though he never said so outright, was grateful for her discretion.
On the Fourth of July, they stood on the great porch of her house watching the fireworks explode in the night. The butterfly lady laughed with delight as color flooded the skies above the placid sea in thunderous explosions.
She turned when she felt the sailor’s eyes upon her. He nodded self-consciously and turned away. She grew flush and turned away as well. They never spoke of it.
(End of Part One)
- for Debra Fae -
Shameless cross blog promotion: a piece on Valentine's Day music is up at my other site, Neverending Rainbow
Thursday, February 10, 2005
The last guests had gone...they had been sharing the last margarita and snuggling in the living room listening to classic soul music from the seventies until they drifted off wrapped up in each other in front of the fireplace.
And now he is awake...a glance at the clock letting him know it was getting on towards 4 in the morning...and contentedly listening to her sleep.
The room is still and dimly lit, the remnants of the party cloaked waiting to be dealt with when the morning is brighter. And from somewhere far away, the music...Minnie Riperton in her prime...echoes sensuously and he just stares up absently...holding his woman and just reveling in the moment.
Stroking her face brings a wandering: smiles and whispers offered shared softly, wantonly in the passionate nights; laughter, feigned and not, shared... in the way only conspiratorial children and unabashed lover can...often and generously in the bountiful daytimes. Dreams revealed...coy white lies told...innuendo playfully bantered back and forth. She has always been quite a woman,and he wonders if he's told her lately that...
"Jimmy?" A voice calling.
"Jimmy?" Her voice calling.
"Jimmy, are you all right?"
"...uh...yeah, babe...are you?"
There is a moment of pungently pregnant silence. They will make love now...or they will wish for coffee. She groans in tequila-born discomfort and sits up.
They will wish for coffee.
She turns to look at him, her usually bright eyes hazy, her pert breasts inviting, her drowsy smile lusty and apologetic at once. "Damn, what time is it?"
He doesn't reply.
Other hangovers and other women's voices dance fleetingly through his memory as he watches her rise...the sweet curve of her hips holding his gaze as always...and gingerly make her way to the bathroom. She is Mary, who never had hangovers...and Maggie, who did often and loved to wallow in them, whimpering pitiably as he tended to her whims and needs. She is Connie lying deathly still and and emitting a constant rumbling snore against his neck as she slept off the previous night's revelry.
And then she is, quite wonderfully, herself, arms thrown across his shoulders, kissing him. "Get up, lover," she says with a provocative yawn, "it's time to go to bed and get some sleep."
He smiles slightly. It's still too early for coffee. "Sounds like a mixed message to me, woman," he teases.
"Not necessarily," she smiles back, the soft throb in her head fading, poking him gently in the stomach. She leans back from him and makes her way towards their bedroom door absently singing, "...if I ever, ever lose this heaven..."
He smiles humidly, lovingly. That's not Minnie, he thinks fondly...man, that's so much better. He nods and lifts himself slowly up and, a bit unsteadily, he follows in her wake humming. "...if I ever, ever lose..."
(for SJ and Annie M)
Wednesday, February 09, 2005
She wasn't eating...I'd never seen her eating at lunch time.
I'd taken a late lunch and there was nobody in the small lunchroom except for her. I'd nodded at her and taken her return nod as an invitation to share the table she was sitting at.
I weighed my answer for a long heartbeat. "I'm afraid of you," I responded truthfully as I unpacked my lunch bag.
Her eyebrow shifted upward and she looked at me directly for the first time since I sat down. "Afraid of me?" she said, vaguely intrigued.
"Afraid of your sadness," I said correcting myself. "You live in a deep well of sadness," I said, consciously purging any traces of pity from my voice, "and you don't make any effort to climb out of it."
She nodded slowly with neither regret nor irony. "How presumptuous of you," she responded, though she was neither offended nor angered.
"Perhaps," I agreed, though my footing was solid. "But not incorrect."
She almost smiled. "No," she said with no remorse, "not incorrect."
She shook a cigarette from the pack on the table and lit it with the blue plastic lighter she had tucked into the pack's cellophane outer wrapper. Deftly lighting the cigarette, she looked up and away from me and allowed a thick, acrid mist to sigh from her lips.
I ate my sandwich and waited. Though the conversation seemed over somehow I knew that it was not.
"So why aren't you trying to save me?" she asked, luxuriating in the wispy texture of the cloud of smoke in her mouth before allowing it to escape and join with the rest floating just above our heads.
"Excuse me?" I said though I had clearly heard and understood what she had said.
She snorted a half-sigh through her nose, clearly recognizing the feint, and repeated the question. "Why aren't you trying to save me?" she said, a bit of an edge gleaming along the outline of her words. "You say see me down this well...this well of sadness as you call it...and yet you're not trying to save me. Why not?"
I looked at her face but she did not look back at me. "I'm not a hero."
That caught her off guard and she turned her full attention towards me. "Excuse me?" She said though I knew that she had clearly heard and understood what I had said.
"I'm not a hero," I repeated evenly, putting my sandwich down on the waxed paper that had once covered it. "I'm doing all that I can to keep myself upright and I very much doubt that I would have the strength to dive into your well and pull us both out."
She put her cigarette back up to her lips and took a long drag, her probing eyes boring into mine. She tilted her head up and away from me and blew the smoke out with enough force to scatter the cloud that gathered above.
"Hmph," she said, vaguely impressed, "an honest man. How...unexpected."
It was neither a compliment nor a condemnation. I picked up my sandwich and resumed eating.
Monday, February 07, 2005
The game, I'm told, was no great shakes (Super Bowls rarely are), and even the vaunted commercials weren't, again I'm told, all that interesting (the continuing fallout from last year's Janet Jackson/Justin Timberlake performance apparently cowed the advertisers...a couple of ads having been pulled before the game after the PC police had nervous breakdowns about them...into keeping things as non-threatening as possible.)
I presume Paul McCartney's halftime show was fine (I've heard mixed reviews but they seem to be leaning towards the positive) but I don't feel like I missed anything vital there either.
I had a mild rooting interest in the outcome ("my" team didn't win) but, frankly, it didn't matter that much to me who won. And so, having missed most of the Super Bowl, I'm not at all upset.
I'm more bummed by the fact that the 2004 NFL season is now competely over (and no, I do not count Sunday's Pro Bowl as a real part of the season...the players don't take the game that seriously and so neither do I) and it's months and months away from the start of training camp for the 2005 campaign...where every team starts with a chance to go all the way (Vegas oddsmakers, never ones to let much grass grow under their feet, has apparently already installed the Patriots as the favorites to win next year's Super Bowl) including my hapless (but still beloved...I'm no fair weather fan) Raiders (hope springs eternal until the games start and the contenders immediately start to sort out the contenders.)
Sundays are now freed up for other things (like going to more movies...or taking walks along the beach or around Lake Miramar...or whatever else comes up) until autumn brings the bruisers of the gridiron back to the fields and back to my television screen. I can wait...patience is a virtue I try to embrace as much as possible...but I will be marking the days :-)
The hanged man wasn't from around those parts. He was a drifter...maybe an agitator bent on revolution and miscegenation. That was reason enough. Nobody could say for sure why the hanged man was put to death under the pale Mississippi moon.
But that didn't really matter either.
Maybe he was too smart. Or too dumb. Or too uppity. Or too black. Hell, he was breathing...and that was probably reason enough.
Young Black Joe dancing a jig with the Reaper in the thick Mississippi air...Billie Holiday understood all too well...strange fruit indeed.
Sixteen men doing ghost murders... alcohol-addled avengers in neatly-pressed Halloween costumes howling through the night, fighting their holy war to make things right again...giving glory to their vengeful white god with offerings of fire on the cross, blood in the night, and strange fruit on the trees.
Somebody cut the hanged man down when he began to stink...and it being a humid Mississippi summer that didn't take long at all. Nobody claimed him (of course) and so they dug a hole on the far side of the graveyard...reserved for coloreds only...a hop, skip, and a jump from the hanging tree...also reserved for coloreds only...and they put the hanged man in it. And they forgot him.
Or at least they tried to.
There are those...mostly folks old enough and black enough and stubborn enough to still be Negroes...who swear that the hanged man didn't linger long in that anonymous hole. And he certainly didn't stay forgotten. Not by the sixteen men who had set that particular Mississippi night ablaze with their righteous fury and drunken retribution... spooking the spooks and keeping them from wanting to step above their station (and having a high old time in the process.)
Years passed and, one by one, the sixteen men each met the hanged man one more time...always on a Mississippi night too uncomfortable to be declared sultry by even the most optimistic of souls...and they were forever lost to his patient, terrible vengeance.
Some died screaming in never fully explained accidents...horses and drivers of cars somehow spooked into bloody crashes; some died of seemingly natural causes... hearts and blood vessels giving way explosively and painfully with no prior warning, no prior history of life threatening weaknesses in their bodies.
And always...always...they died within shouting distance of the infamous hanging tree.
One of the sixteen didn't die right away after meeting the hanged man, instead he spent the last twenty years of his life as a human vegetable...having been found wandering in a ragged circle round the hanging tree...struck mute from that day forth, crying cold silent tears, the color forever drained from his face (white as a...)
One by one...according to the story the old Negroes told (a story almost always punctuated at some point in the telling with a rueful, respectful, unforgiving laugh)...sixteen midnight riders, fueled by homemade whiskey and home-grown hatred...met the hanged man one more time and found Jesus a heartbeat too late to save their souls.
Or at least, so the story goes...