Thursday, August 17, 2017

Seek Suffering

Right now I'm supposed to be working on my short story that's due in a little over a week. But my soul feels achy so I will post a quote that's been returning to my mind -- and then go to bed.
If the evil-doing of men moves you to indignation and overwhelming distress, even to a desire for vengeance on the evil-doers, shun above all things that feeling. Go at once and seek suffering for yourself, as though you were yourself guilty of that wrong. Accept that suffering and bear it and your heart will find comfort, and you will understand that you too are guilty, for you might have been a light to the evil-doers, even as the one man sinless, and you were not a light to them. If you had been a light, you would have lightened the path for others too, and the evil-doer might perhaps have been saved by your light from his sin. And even though your light was shining, yet you see men were not saved by it, hold firm and doubt not the power of the heavenly light. Believe that if they were not saved, they will be saved hereafter. And if they are not saved hereafter, then their sons will be saved, for your light will not die even when you are dead...You are working for the whole, you are acting for the future.
-Fr. Zosimov in the Brother's K by Doestoevsky.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Maybe

“But you believe, don't you,” Rose implored him, 'you think it's true?'

“Of course it's true,” the Boy said. “What else could there be?” he went scornfully on. “Why,” he said “it's the only thing that fits. These atheists, they don't know nothing. Of course there's Hell, Flames, and damnation,” he said with his eyes on the dark shifting water and the lightning and the lamps going out above the black struts of the Palace Pier, 'torments.'

“And Heaven too,” Rose said with anxiety, while the rain fell interminably on.

“Oh, maybe,” the Boy said, “maybe.”

-Brighton Rock, Graham Greene

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Bus Encounters

Was groping for the topic of my next short story which is due in a couple of weeks. At first, I thought that perhaps I would adapt an old myth but it's hard to adapt things like: "once there was a maiden and the devil wanted to take her but she was super clean so the dad forbade her to wash but her tears bathed her and then the dad chopped off her hands..."  (Src.)

But, then, FB reminded me of this past encounter via memories:

Grumpy bus driver versus elderly proper Englishman -- WHO WILL WIN?
Englishman: *pushes stop button*
Bus Driver: *blatantly ignores stop*
Englishman: *standing up and going to the front* Sir! I say! Sir! I DID push the 'request stop button'!
Bus Driver: *keeps going without comment*
Englishman: SIR!!!
Bus Driver: *stops the bus and just -looks- at the Englishman*
Englishman: Oh I say! Thank you, sir. Have a good day, sir. *exits bus*

----------

So I decided to write on bus encounters, since public transit is a weird set of weird/scary/beautiful vignettes, and below is the start. The bit with the woman making out with her reflection is something drawn from experience albeit with details modified and some stuff left out.

-----------

Basil was having a troublesome day. Firstly, his car wouldn’t start. Secondly, his front tooth had cracked and fallen out. Thirdly, he had an important interview. Cursing, he flipped open his phone to take a look at the bus times. One was a convenient 10 minutes away - enough time to book it over, lanky limbs splaying with unaccustomed gait, and breath coming out in chuffs. He slowed down about half a block away from the stop, pretending to the world that he was not wholly desperate, and casually took his place in the queue. The woman in front of him caught his eye, dressed in subdued work hues but with a brightly colored necklace and scarf to add some pop. She gave him a friendly smile and he grinned back in response, watching her the muscles on her face stiffen to hold her smile as the macabre interior of his own mouth gaped open. Well, shit. The bus pulled up just then, giving him cover to glance away and fumble for his bus pass. Thank goodness he still had it. Or did he...? Yes, there it was.

He got on, showed his pass, and looked around for a seat. A seat would be nice. This bus would take 45 minutes. Ah, ok, a pretty full bus but one seat left - next to a lady who seemed like she wouldn’t be weird. He sat down, gratefully, and sat back into his chair, absentmindedly tonguing the place where his tooth should have been. A few stops later and an old granny gets on the bus. Her eyes swing around like flaming torches, seeking a seat or someone who would give up theirs. Basil hunched down and pretended to be very focused on this interesting article he was reading about the strength of the dollar. The granny slowly went and stood in the middle aisle of the bus and looked as piteous as possible. Don’t make eye contact, don’t make eye contact, don’t make eye contact.

“Oh, thank you, dear!” Phew. Someone else had given up in the game of granny-chicken. Relieved, he looked past his seatmate and out the window.  36 minutes to go. At the next stop, a large woman with long dark hair got onto the bus and stood holding a pole by the window. She was humming to herself “love me like you do, lu-lu-luve me like you do.” She started to sing along. Her voice started to rise in volume until she was almost sobbing the song out and everyone watched intently as this woman locked gaze with her reflection and then started making out with it. Typical morning commute. A few stops later, the woman got off.

Next, a couple got on, in the middle of a fight. The guy had cheated on the girl with a mutual and she was not going to let a public audience get in the way of a good tongue-thrashing. But the guy was not going to take it lying down. It was all HER fault for being so cold and unavailable. She screeched at him, he yelled at her, and the rest of the bus was very uncomfortable caught between the two until the guy finally decided he couldn’t be in her presence and strode to the back of the bus saying “we’re through, you mother-fucking bitch!”  Everyone let out a breath of relief as the girl took out her phone, didn’t follow the guy, and began angry-cry texting someone. Basil did not feel sympathy for her. Maybe now for some peace and quiet?

“Excuse me, I’m getting off at the next stop. Could I squeeze by you?” Basil retracted his legs as far as they would go and his seatmate brushed past. Now for a strategic choice: did he inch in and take the seat by the window? He wouldn’t feel the pressure, then, to get up should some other elderly person climb aboard the bus. But then there’s a trade-off: take that seat and you could get hemmed in by someone who is smelly and takes up more than their share of space. Basil slid over and watched to see if his gamble had paid off.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Here Be Dragons


Second take, with ending. Gonna tweak it and then tweak some more.

The ending is not strong enough.

----------

It was a hot evening. The smell of chlorine from a pool somewhere drifted enticingly on the almost-still breeze. Her phone, thrown with abandon onto the bed, buzzed and hummed in its soft nest. Erin ignored it and walked to the window - watching the sunset reflected in the glass panes of a neighbor’s window with a view, turning on no lights, hearing the sounds of the world revolve around her. The father of the family next door was teaching his son how to play basketball in the dwindling light, giving muted pep-talks and, somewhere, a ukulele was gently strummed. All around, the world brimmed with lazy contentment. She resolved to go to Mass the next morning. Mass might shake this feeling. Turning on a tv episode of a cooking show, she watched stiff-mouthed figures create whimsical dishes as she opened a can of sardines, squeezed lemon over it, and ate straight from the can.

The next morning, she listened to the priest with the too-plump mottled face as he gave a homily. The golden light of grace spilled in through the high stained-glass windows, creating soft blurred pastel colors on the floor within, and the dark wood pulpit stood directly beneath a scowling statue of Jesus that seemed incensed at every word the priest uttered, every prayer of the faithful, every living thing within its line of vision. The priest's voice belied his appearance - it was like a lilting bird that lifted and dipped, sweet and clear. But his words were out of focus.

He was saying something about God being love.

She prayed: "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed."

"Say the word," she begged the implacable plaster face.

"Please, say it."

After Mass, she genuflected and walked away.

She strode along, a silent fury of frustration amid the street lights and stop signs. Passing a playground full of laughing children, she saw a nondescript tan car parked, its butt bestrewed with bumper stickers. "Practice random acts of kindness" one advised her, smugly, she thought. She drew her keys from her purse and glared at the vehicle before crouching down and methodically scoring the sticker several times with her jagged metal extensions.

Pedestrians looked at her one lone time. Only the owner of the car could practice such precision obliteration, they guiltily projected: perhaps she’d found the universe cruel, the words empty and void - a giant X over a previous state of mind. The more attuned felt the billowy emanations of wrath, wondering uneasily for a slo-mo blink what her deal was, allowing a wide berth on the sidewalk, and then disappearing into their lives.

Erin wouldn't have minded if people were honest but conveyed with cliché. The obverse was odious. These mealy-mouthed moieties resonated with people who had no dirt about them. Pristine and secure, platitudes fell from their mouths like vomit from the balcony of a third-story apartment. They didn't have to deal with the stench or the clean-up, and were left with the purgative feeling of a tum tum emptied of alcoholic turbulence. 

Standing up, she noticed with irritation that crossing the strip of short dry stalked vegetation between the sidewalk to the car had left plant debris clinging to her trousers. Burred seed faces looked up in hope. Destiny held for them a watery death followed by hot blasts of dryer air. They would never touch soil.

Erin continued walking, her destination a few blocks ahead. Abruptly tripping on the lip of a sidewalk edged up by the ambitious roots of a nearby tree, she fell onto her knees, stiffening her wrists against all reason, and felt the shock of compression run up her arms, the grit of ground stinging into her palms. Gingerly getting up and shaking her arms loose of the trauma, she figured it must be karmic retribution for what she’d just done, and mentally apologized to the owner of the car for destroying their property though she retained the right to judge based off a single declaratory sticker. How dare they?

A homeless man with grey matted hair and a ripe scent, sitting cross-legged by a boutique store-front, asked with aloof concern:
"You ok, miss?"
"I will be, thanks."

She could feel him sizing her up, using the estimative powers common to higher-animals, gauging whether to ask and, if so, with what words and pathos. He settled simply with: 

"Spare some change?" 
His twangy voice lacked conviction and she felt stung by his doubt. Reaching into her purse, she yanked her wallet from its dusky interior and pulled out a $20 bill. Suddenly embarrassed, she dropped it into the makeshift-bucket he’d fashioned from an empty fast food cup, limping briskly past so as not to seem to want or care for his thanks. Indeed, she didn't want or care for them as charity for her was not a performance art and she felt uncomfortable receiving thanks. Who was she to be thanked? It was a drop in the bucket, a temporary stay against the pressing indignities of life, a shifting bit of nothing. But, then, was she any better than the Pharisees? You can’t give in secret. The receiver knows.
"THANKS, LADY!" she heard from behind.

She didn’t respond.

Stopping in front of a cheerful looking café with potted petunias strewn about a small outdoor patio, she double-checked the name in the text message: Baladin’s Café. Yes, this was it. Pushing open the door, her eyes traveled around the bustling yellow room decorated with nondescript paintings of idyllic local scenes, stripped of all elements of color, until they rested on a group of friends in moods of full weekend gaiety. Sara’s deeply brown eyes met hers; she grinned and waved Erin over, indicating a seat that had been saved for her. Of course, it had to be the seat abutting the busy narrow aisle.  Of course.

A chorus of good mornings exchanged, Erin settled in and edged gingerly into the flow of the conversations around her.

Jennifer, who’d organized the ladies bruncheon, was telling Sara and Elizabeth about her umpteenth trip abroad to Italy: how she’d rented a little villa in Santa Marinella, a beach-town a short train ride away from Rome. Even in college, Jennifer of the jet-black hair had dressed with a mature understated elegance, fastidiously learned everyone’s name, been present but always distant. She facilitated, but she did not engage.

Elizabeth, perpetually unkempt, was fidgeting restlessly with the cutlery. The shadows under her eyes spoke of long days or troubled nights - working? Drinking? Insomnia caused by the weight of stress in fighting for shifts at the several restaurants she worked at? Erin watched her take a long pull of water from a tall glass, eyes glossed over, looking like her mind was already elsewhere and wishing body could follow.

Sara was more brightly engaged, having just returned from Europe, and still regaling any captured ear ad nauseam about her adventures, crossing her legs to show off to advantage the new sandals that Erin had unwisely complimented her on a few days before. “I bought these in Firenze,” she’d said, “at a shop away from the city centre. Nobody spoke English, but the lady running the shop had this intuition and knew exactly what I wanted!” Sara and Jennifer could form a haute world, reveling in their gnostic knowledge, eclipsing with their foreign leathered goods those who had never been and might never be.  

Jennifer passed around the phone to show pictures of the villa and Erin looked at it ravenously. The exterior was orange. Not the neon American orange that’s so bright that it hurts the eyes, but a fuller deep orange with white trim. It bordered a piazza dotted with fan palms and had a view of the azure ocean lipped with foam, holding a promise of tranquil afternoons spent on beaches and eating frutti di mare followed by scoops of gelato. A rooftop garden contained inviting beach chairs that you could image yourself into: let your bones be toasted by the Mediterranean sun, it whispered, let your marrow run like clouded water. “Very pretty,” she commented and passed the phone to Elizabeth before picking up a menu and scanning it to find something that her stomach could keep down.

“We’ll be spending about one week there before heading north. We always make a point to stop in Verona for a couple weeks. Dino has family there - so many cousins! I’m just worried that one day we might have to return the favor...”

Imagine Jennifer a host to a horde of her husband’s Italian cousins seeping through their sterile apartment doors with effusive due baci greetings, Moka pots, and motorino mentalities! Erin had met some Italians once. They were almost too large for life and mesmerized the small bar in this small town they’d happened to find themselves in because they’d misjudged the great distance from Los Angeles to San Francisco. One had kissed her in the stairwell as she was leaving, holding her close in the dim light, letting her go breathless.   

“Are you ladies ready to order?” an officious waiter interjected, scattering her thoughts. The café was a popular brunch spot and these ladies took up a four-top.  

“Yes, I’ll have the biscuits and gravy,” said Jennifer.
“Biscuits and gravy for me, too,” said Sara.
“The french toast, please” vaguely intoned Elizabeth.

The waiter was now staring pointedly over his small writing pad at Erin. “I’ll have the oatmeal with the fruit bowl, please.” She hoped it wouldn’t cause her to run to the toilet with bowels spasming in angry protest as Satan’s tic tacs danced around her innards.

“Thank you, ladies.” He snapped closed his pad and industriously moved to put their order in.

“Oooh, you’re so good, Erin,” said Jennifer, smiling into her face but not her eyes, eyes shifting for a millisecond to covertly check her plum purple manicure for chips.

“You don’t exercise but you never put on even a bit of weight. How do you do it?” asked Sara, enviously.

Erin felt a wave of bile whelming up her throat, but laughed deprecatingly instead. “Some people just win the genetic lottery.”
---

Later the next day, Erin was on a plasticy throne. The attending nurse asking the routine questions: “Do you want a blanket? Or some juice?”

“No thanks, I’m fine.”

“Ok - name and date of birth?” the nurse asked, not unkindly. They asked this several times and Erin had once made up a date of birth, to break the tedium, and received an exasperated frown from a harried nurse with one too many patients. She would have rather been someone else, born on a different day, to be otherwhere.  

“Erin McGhee, 3/11/1989.”

The nurse held up a scanner to register pre-meds, frowning irritably as the medical equipment refused to take the code, and giving a small satisfied grunt as it success was finally indicated with a faint beep. Laboriously prying open the little pill packets with stubby nails, the nurse dumped them into a small paper cup, and handed them over along with a glass of water.

Downing them all in one go, Erin pressed the button to recline and look up at the drab ceiling. Everything here was anemic: the walls were white, the chairs were off-white, the privacy curtain was beige. There were no cheerful bright baby colors to assuage the the sensory palate the whole place felt wholly unsuited for corporeality.

Her temporary roommate, a large defeated-looking woman with scraggly blonde hair lying loose upon her chest, was having her IV line set and closed her eyes as another nurse plunged into the veins several times before striking gold and threading the plastic tubing into the rubied blood. The woman did not even protest or make a sign that the needle digging around in her flesh was somehow an uncouth violation.  

After pushing a few buttons, the nurse visually confirmed that Erin’s saline drip was going, the clear liquid’s steady drip creating a mesmerizing metronomic metre. “They’re mixing up the meds now. We’ll bring it out when it’s ready. Let me know if you need anything.” The nurse drew off the blue plastic gloves with a faint snap and tossed them into a biohazard bin before pushing away on her stool and standing up to enter a few more medical details into the computer.

Erin’s eyes followed the nurse as her capable body tended to others: stolid, secure, healthy.

When her sister had given birth, Erin had gone to visit in the hospital, bearing the gift of freshly minted sushi. Her nephew, hopelessly ugly and squished from a long labor, had been passed into her arms as the exhausted parents gobbled down pale bits of hamachi flesh and green wasabi while looking up and murmuring soothing gibberish at their creation. She’d looked down into his angry sleeping face, thrust into a cold world, and found her arms trembling under the load of 7lb 3oz. Her hands might not even be able to rock a cradle.

Some people in the clinic were cheery and outgoing. They told you all about their disease, what medications they were on, and how it affected them, glorying in medical details and lurid scatological affairs. Others preferred silence as they submitted their bodies to instruments of healing. Modern medicine may have advanced, but the initiate knew that beneath the surface of white coats and chemical compositions still lay the sticky, troublesome, blood and bones.  

Patients often came alone, ashamed to condemn others to their lengthy term, with the company of a book or a tablet to keep entertained. Some rooms had excellent reception so you could distract yourself from your own pain by watching that of the rest of the world. Others had the x by the bars: trapped.
One wry old man had looked up as she entered a shared room and said: “Welcome to purgatory. May your stay here be short.”

-----
The sun had set by the time she got out, but there were remnants of its passing. Purple clouds lowered to meet the shadowed mountains underneath, leaving an ominous dimming gash of red light between the two darknesses. It took an hour to get home.

Pulling into the apartment garage, she exhaled: “fuuuuck.” A tan car occupied her spot.”Fuck, fuck, FUUUCK. SHIT and PISS.”

It wasn’t that hard to find parking in her neighborhood, but the parking spot was like a port in the storm, sheltering her from carrying heavy burdens lengthy distances or the effort of remembering where she’d left her car and whether it had to be moved every two hours. Sometimes, things were fuzzy in her mind now. Words, meanings, and associations that used to coalesce and slip out easily on the tongue now had to be laboriously pried from the vaults of her mind and haltingly ejected. Angrily, she backed out and found parking a block away, squeezing the car into a spot just barely large enough, seesawing the few asphalt inches back and forth, until she gave up the job as good enough. What did it matter, anyway?

Walking back, she entered the garage to leave an aggressive note and saw a young man heading for the car.  “HEY!” she yelled from a long distance, her voice carrying powerfully, “Is that your car? You’re in my spot!”

“Yes,” he responded, turning briefly, backing up a bit and holding up his hands placatingly: “Sorry! Sorry, I was just picking up my mother...so sorry!” Erin glanced at the car and saw in the passenger seat an ancient face, accustomed to pain, coldly watching this strange little woman yelling at her dutiful son. Erin realized that, perhaps, it appeared as if she’d been lying in wait: apparating out of the darkness after the defenseless had been safely ensconced and unable to act as a proximate pleading intermediary. Disgusted at herself and with the situation, Erin muttered “Ok,” distaste for this whole human interaction choking any ability to say more. The son, apologetically leapt into his car and drove out as fast as was safe.

Later, taking a shower to wash away the metallic smell of saline, she noted glumly that the drain catch was thick with red hair.

--------
Laying in bed, she wasn’t sure if the reverberations she felt were from a small earthquake or the tremors of her heart.

It wouldn’t be long now before she knew - before the doctors told her. Dragging herself out of bed, she whimpered softly at the unfairness of it all. She’d done everything right: lived a clean life, was nice to small animals, went to church - she’d never killed anyone, wrecked a life, or done anything too terribly wicked. Just a little wicked.

A couple of friends she’d told had taken it as a black mark: a sign of either spiritual or material malfeasance. Like Job’s friends, they offered false comfort by way of telling her she deserved it. If she’d only prayed harder! If she’d only eaten more kefir and less ice cream! This was on her.

So she stopped telling people.

What was worse: a universe where small transgressions are repaid 100-fold with divine retributive wrath, or an impartial universe that smote at random? She couldn’t quite decide where the truth lay. If God is love, how was this love?

Shuffling down the steps to the garage, she saw a piece of paper stuck under her windshield wiper along with a white daisy.

The note read:

Hi:
Sorry I took your spot last night - hope you weren’t too inconvenienced! Felt really bad so here’s a flower, Hope your day is a beautiful one. - Your Neighbor

Erin picked up the white flower and wept.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

I Got Angry Online Today

Few things get me into a really fighty mood - or, at least, fighty *enough* so that I forget that online back-and-forths are more like dipping oneself into the fondue pot of insanity versus the more civilized brawls one might happen into at a dive bar.

Two things that get me into this mood are:
1. Dissing Bay Area Catholics
2. Dissing the Bay Area

The Bay Area is visible, an epicenter of sorts, so it gets an immense amount of casual hate. From my teenage years on, I felt a sense of inferiority started and reinforced by what I read/experienced online: Catholics from other localities would raise a virtual eyebrow when they heard my origins and I would lol as I fanned out my Catholic credentials as proof that I wasn't going to be lobbying for women priests or defending PP anytime soon.

And it hurt!

It hurts to feel apologetic about a place you love, where you see genuine good taking root and growing, where you hope for better things.

In college, I was a member of Cal Students for Life. We'd run diaper drives, host conferences, and offered babysitting services to the student parent center on campus (we never were taken up on that offer, but we made it earnestly). I also spent a lot of time designing, volunteering, and promoting a group that would do things like...host a Humanae Vitae conference! Give lectures on encyclicals that stuck to Church teachings like the close-talker to an excessively polite victim! Offer classes on the history of Catholic art!

Weary, I'd go online, find that someone had taken another cheap shot at the Bay Area, and feel like my breath had been knocked from my body.

It's true, I rag on SF and places east of the Caldecott Tunnel. But there are friendly city rivalries (mostly between EB and SF) and then...there's that one person who finds themselves the butt of every ill-natured joke, the one whose head you step on so that you can feel elevated by a few more inches, the one you snigger at as you trip them when they're just trying to go about their business.

*That* is how it felt.

It wasn't about desiring recognition, it was that *keeping on going* was made harder by fellow Catholics who always had a sharp word and a hundred opinions about the bad but remained silent about the good things that people threw themselves into heart and soul.

The good can wither and die from silence as much as silence can foster the existence and growth of evil.

Perhaps I am over-sensitive - it's entirely possible. But at least think twice when you're about to heap abuse on a locality or its inhabitants for the sake of scoring easy laughs. *Why* are you doing that? Are you also supporting the good? Or just...hatin' on it?

With all its faults, with all that is wrong with the Bay Area (and there is much!), there is also much good, much source for joy, much cause for hope.

Plus, as a 6th-gen native on my Dad's side, I WILL fight you.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Short story in-the-works

Threading together some of the things I've written for the creative writing class I'm in. Behold something unfinished - still gotta write a couple of pages more, but I **think** this will keep its form (more or less).

--- 

It was a hot evening. The smell of chlorine from a pool somewhere drifted enticingly on the almost-still breeze. Her phone, thrown with abandon onto the bed, buzzed and hummed in its soft nest. Erica ignored it and walked to the window - watching the sunset reflected in the glass panes of a window with a view, turning on no lights, hearing the sounds of the world revolve around her. The father of the family next door was teaching his son how to play basketball in the dwindling light, giving muted pep-talks. Somewhere, a ukulele was being gently strummed. All around, the world brimmed with lazy contentment. She resolved to go to Mass the next morning. Mass might shake this feeling. She turned on a tv episode to watch marionette figures create whimsical dishes as she opened a can of sardines, squeezed lemon over it, and ate straight from the can.

The next morning, she watched the priest with the too-plump mottled face as he gave a homily. The pulpit stood directly beneath a scowling statue of Jesus that seemed incensed at every word the priest uttered, every prayer of the faithful, every living thing within its line of vision. The priest's voice belied his appearance - it was like a lilting bird that lifted and dipped, sweet and clear. But his words were out of focus.

He was saying something about God being love.

She prayed: "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed."

"Say the word," she begged the implacable plaster face.

"Please, say it."

After Mass, she genuflected and walked away.

She strode along, a silent fury of frustration amid the street lights and stop signs. Passing a playground full of laughing children, she saw a nondescript tan car parked, its butt bestrewed with bumper stickers. "Practice random acts of kindness" one advised her, smugly, she thought. She drew her keys from her purse and glared at the vehicle before crouching down and methodically scoring the sticker several times with her jagged metal extensions.

Pedestrians looked at her one lone time. Only the owner of the car could practice such precision obliteration, they assumed: perhaps she’d found the universe cruel and the words empty and void. The more attuned felt the billowy emanations of wrath, wondering uneasily for a slo-mo blink what her deal was, allowing a wide berth on the sidewalk, and then disappearing into their lives.

Erica wouldn't have minded if people were honest but conveyed with cliché. The inverse was odious. These mealy-mouthed moieties resonated with people who had no dirt about them. Pristine and secure, platitudes fell from their mouths like vomit from a third-story apartment. They didn't have to deal with the stench or the clean-up, and were left with the purgative feeling of a tum tum emptied of alcoholic turbulence. 

Standing up, she noticed with irritation that crossing the strip of vegetation from the sidewalk to the car had left verdant plant vegetation clinging to her trousers. Seed faces looked up in hope. Destiny held for them a watery death followed by hot blasts of dryer air. They would never touch soil.

Erica continued walking, her destination a few blocks ahead. Abruptly tripping on the lip of a sidewalk that was edged up by the ambitious roots of a nearby redwood, she fell onto her knees, stiffening her wrists against all reason, and felt the shock of compression run up her arms, the grit of ground stinging into her palms. Gingerly getting up and shaking her arms loose of the trauma, she figured it must be karmic retribution for what she’d just done, and mentally apologized to the owner of the car for destroying their property though she retained the right to judge based off a single declaratory sticker. How dare they?

A homeless man with grey matted hair and a ripe scent, sitting cross-legged by a boutique store-front, asked with aloof concern:
"You ok, miss?"
"I will be, thanks."

She could feel him sizing her up, using the estimative powers shared by higher-animals, gauging whether to ask and, if so, with what words and pathos. He settled simply with: 

"Spare some change?" 
His voice lacked conviction and she felt stung by his doubt. Reaching into her purse, she yanked her wallet from its dusky interior and pulled out a $20 bill. Suddenly embarrassed, she dropped it into the makeshift-bucket he was holding out, limping briskly past so as not to seem to want or care for his thanks. Indeed, she didn't want or care for them as charity for her was not a performance art and she felt uncomfortable receiving thanks. Who was she to be thanked? It was a drop in the bucket, a temporary stay against the pressing indignities of life, a shifting bit of nothing.
"THANKS, LADY!" she heard from behind.

She didn’t respond.

Stopping in front of a cheerful looking café with potted plants and a small outdoor patio, she double-checked the name in the text message: Baladin’s Café. Yes, this was it. Pushing open the door, her eyes traveled around the bustling yellow room, decorated with nondescript paintings, until they rested on a group of friends in moods of full weekend gaiety. Sara’s deeply brown eyes met hers; she grinned and waved Erica over, indicating a seat that had been saved for her. Of course, it had to be the seat abutting the busy narrow aisle.  Of course.

A chorus of good mornings exchanged, Erica settled in and edged gingerly into the flow of the conversations around her. Jennifer, who’d organized the ladies bruncheon, was telling others about her next trip to Italy: how she’d rented a little villa in Santa Marinella, a beach-town a short train ride away from Rome. She was passing around her phone to show pictures of the villa and Erica looked at it ravenously. The exterior was  orange. Not the bright neon American orange so intense that it hurts the eyes, but muted, almost anemic, with white trim. It bordered a piazza dotted with fan palms and had a view of the azure ocean. It held the promise of idyllic afternoons spent on beaches or eating  frutti di mare.“Very pretty,” she commented and passed the phone to Sara before picking up a menu and scanning it to find something that her stomach could keep down.

“We’ll be spending about one week there before heading north. We always make a point to stop in Verona for a couple weeks. Pietro has family there - so many cousins! I’m just worried that one day we might have to return the favor...”

Imagine, thought Erica to herself, Jennifer a host to a horde of her husband’s Italian cousins seeping through their sterile apartment doors with loud effusive due baci greetings, Moka pots, and motorino mentalities. She’d met some Italians once. They were almost too large for life and held court in the small bar they’d happened to find themselves in because they’d misjudged the distance from LA to San Francisco and had to stop overnight in this town. One had kissed her in the stairwell as she was leaving, holding her close in the dim light and letting her go breathless.   

“Are you ladies ready to order?” an officious waiter interjected, scattering her thoughts. The café was a hot-spot and these ladies took up a four-top.  

“Yes, I’ll have the biscuits and gravy.” “The french toast.” “Biscuits and gravy for me, too.”

The waiter was now staring at Erica. “I’ll have the oatmeal with the fruit bowl, please.” She hoped it wouldn’t cause her to run to the toilet with bowels spasming in angry protest as Satan’s tic tacs danced around her innards.

“Thank you, ladies.” He snapped closed his little pad and industriously moved to put their order in.

“Oooh, you’re so good, Erica,” said Jennifer, covertly glancing to see if her manicure had chipped.

“You don’t exercise but you never seem put on even a bit of weight. How do you do it?” asked Sara, enviously.

Erica felt a wave of bile whelming up her throat, but laughed deprecatingly instead. “Some people just win the genetic lottery.”
---

Later the next day, Erica was on a plasticy chair. “Do you want a blanket? Or some juice?”

“No thanks, I’m fine.”

She pressed the button on her chair, reclining to look up at the drab ceiling. Her temporary roommate, a large defeated-looking woman, was having her IV line set. The nurse had to plunge into the veins several times before striking gold and threading the plastic tubing into the ruby blood. The woman did not even protest or make a sign that the needle digging around in her flesh was somehow an uncouth violation.  

The nurse pushed a few buttons on the machine and saline began to drip from the bag and into the body. “They’re mixing up the meds now. We’ll bring it out when it’s ready. Let me know if you need anything.” She drew off the plastic gloves and tossed them casually into a biohazard bin before pushing the stool away and standing up to enter a few more details into the computer.

Erica’s eyes followed the nurse as her capable body tended to others: stolid, secure, healthy.

When her sister had given birth, Erica had gone to visit in the hospital. Her nephew, hopelessly ugly and squished, had been passed into her arms. She’d looked down into his sleeping face and found her arms trembling under the load of 8lb 5oz. Possible worlds, but not hers.

Some people in the clinic were cheery and outgoing. They told you all about their disease, what they were on, and how it affected them. Others preferred silence as they suffered. One wry old man had looked up as she entered the room and said: “Welcome to purgatory. May your stay be short.” 

She didn't know how to take that.
 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Vital Signs

The past few weeks have been utterly i-n-s-a-n-e in terms of IRL stuff going on - not so much happening-to-me as much as what's been going on around and affecting how much energy I have to expend on writing versus drooling over a keyboard and mindlessly absorbing transient internet images before curling up to sleep.

But a couple'a things are in the chute.

They're a'comin'. 

xoxo

Friday, June 30, 2017

Connect the Dots LA LA-LA LA

Got a ticket to Connecticut to see a ye olde housemate from Rome who moved back to the States.

When I hear the word "Connecticut," I invariably think of this, even though I am well aware it's not pronounced "Connect-i-cut":


Sketchy Character

Some days the shadows creep in early, when body and soul feel tender and exposed, human interactions become a chore to slog through, and self-doubt wraps its dark arms softly round and watches every move with coalfire eyes. It's not a feeling of self-being-worthless, but of not being-not-additive: leave, and no one notices that you've slipped away.

Chatting with a friend, she said "I'm the sort of person people mentally put aside."After a pause, without demur, her friend added: "...and you don't even try to shove back in."

She admired the minds and words and hearts of those around her - to the degree that it seemed as if "one jot or one tittle" more would be superfluous and ruin the wonderful symmetry of their language, interrupt the ceaseless flow of humor, unbalance the wisdom that sprang forth from their towering souls. If she stretched out a hand and found no tentative answering fingers, hers would drop, and she would step away to watch and smile and yearn to join from a distance. She did not trust herself to match heights.

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It was a hot evening. The smell of chlorine from a pool somewhere drifted enticingly on the almost-still breeze. The phone, thrown with abandon onto the bed, buzzed and hummed in its soft nest. She ignored it and walked to the window - watching the sunset reflected in the glass panes of a window with a view, turning on no lights, hearing the sounds of the world revolve around her. She resolved to go to Mass the next morning. Mass might shake this feeling. She turned on the tv and watched marionette figures creating fantastical dishes as she opened a can of sardines, squeezed lemon over it, and ate straight from the can.

At Mass, she watched the priest with the too-plump mottled face as he gave a homily. The pulpit stood directly beneath a scowling statue of Jesus that seemed incensed at every word the priest uttered, every prayer of the faithful, every thing within its line of vision. The priest's voice belied his appearance - it was like a lilting bird that lifted and dipped, sweet and clear. But his words were out of focus.

"...love becomes the criterion for the definitive decision about a human life's worth or lack thereof,"* the priest quoted.

"Lord, I am not worthy," she prayed. "Say the word," she begged the implacable face.

"...those who draw near to God do not withdraw from men."*

"Please, say it."

After Mass, she genuflected and walked away.

-----------
* Deus Caritas Est

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Another bit of fiction-writing

She walked along, a silent fury amid the street lights and stop signs. Passing a playground full of children-laughing, hearing shrieking, she saw a nondescript tan car parked, its butt bestrewed with bumper stickers. "Practice random acts of kindness" one winked smugly at her. She drew her keys from her purse and scowled at the vehicle before crouching down and methodically scoring the sticker several times with her jagged metal extensions.

Pedestrians looked at her one lone time. Only the owner of the car could practice such limited destruction, they assumed. The more attuned felt the rocking billowy emanations of wrath, wondering uneasily for a brief slo-mo blink what her deal was, allowing a wide berth on the sidewalk and then disappearing into their lives.

These mealy-mouthed moieties resonated with people who lazily spoke nasally: mouth-breathers without dirt. Pristine and secure, platitudes fell from them like vomit from a third-story apartment. The producers did not have to deal with the stench or the clean-up and were left with the purgative feeling of a tum tum emptied of alcoholic turbulence. That is, until the next swell swallowed them.

She wouldn't have minded if people were honest but conveyed with cliché. The inverse was intolerable.

Standing up, she noted with irritation that crossing the strip of vegetation from the sidewalk to the car had left plant vegetation clinging to her trousers. Seed faces looked up in hope. Destiny held for them a watery death topped up by hot blasts of dryer air. They would never touch soil.

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I have no idea as to how to gauge the worth my own fictive writing and have had no training. If it's crap, HAH! Time off purgatory 4 u if you read it! If it's got some actual potential, that's fine by me. If it doesn't, that's fine by me. People in real life (as opposed to the people I know only online) tell me I should try to write, and my nature is to be obliging, so THERE YOU GO.

And this bit on fiction books is worth watching: