Posts Tagged ‘shortstory’

Necklace of Youths

August 9, 2009

The sky above the island is a palimpsest for centuries of celestial motions, as is the sand for prints of youth gone generations; at least, that is the impression on an open mind whose viewpoint is the pre-eternal.

The tiny island had posed for time-exposures of a heavenly paparazzi since long before the scandal sheets of legend went to galley stage.

The island and adolescence have disappeared now. All that remains are some footnotes in history books, this vagrant idler’s prose and, oh yes, the necklace of youths in its museum case.

Museums and briefer genres are a sanctuary for would-be artists with open minds and shutters.

I have been pressed close to the glass staring unblinking for hours, rousing an old guard’s curiosity.

“What is there to see?” he asks me.

“Just visiting with the prisoners, sir. I see canoes setting out at sunrise.”

My press card as eccentric buys much freedom of speech.

“And there is Gauguin by the tree, a child’s unread letter lines his paint box.”

Gauguin had his problem, and I have mine. His problem was art. My problem is hidden pearls.

How difficult it must be to prepare the pearls for threading, and so easy to break the string and see the work undone. There are works which can never be undone but only fictionalized. Authors do not work as hard as
jewelers. A bunny hides the pearls for all the youths to find on Easter morning. The reader must only have faith not to be strung along.

The island had its good and bad months. The divers had their ups and downs. Sometimes a shark would have his way. The youths grew up quickly in their hardship. Some grew up not at all.

Some things are rare and we reckon that rarity as priceless. How often does a month see two full moons? But it does happen. And once in a blue moon a young diver would surface triumphant with a perfect pearl.
Such a treasure was not his. He would give it to the entire village and there would be a feast. Some became brides during such festivities and the fuel of the village fire was stoked deep into the night.

Twice a year, a ship would come with merchants who purchased all the pearls. The perfect ones were for the Imperial jeweler.

Before the empire collapsed, the Queen would wear this necklace of forty such perfect pearls.

King David, of olden times, grew thirsty from battle; a thirst which nothing satisfied. He thirsted for water from the enemy’s well. Guards were sent by night at great peril to their lives to fetch a pitcher back. As the King filled his cup, he saw, not water, but blood to the brim. He poured it out as a libation and never took a sip.

The Queen loved her necklace. When the assassins slew her, the thread broke and the pearls scattered. There is always someone to mend what is broken when the price is right.

But I see you heading for the exit. I must tell you the joke before you go. The Queen never learned how to swim!

How many pearls are in the sea? How many stories are in me? How many worlds are in the metaverse?

I sought a pearl of great price but found only the paste of Maupassant.

Winthrop Sargeant translates it this way: “On Me all this universe is strung like pearls on a thread.”

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Sleeping Thieves

August 9, 2009

The city is at its darkest several hours before sunrise, when the thieves have only just fallen asleep.

Good reader, you ask “Who are these sleeping thieves and what do they steal?”

All thieves sleep at such an hour that are unsuccessful and have given up and gone home. Even a thief has a home. Home is a good word, even when someone bad lives there.

A gentle rain begins to fall, more like a mist than a rain, and the practical nurse pushes the wheel chair much faster now, hoping to catch the light and cross the street. They approach the clinic door.

The old woman in the wheelchair says, “Wait! Don’t go in yet.”

The nurse asks why, surprised.

“It feels so good.”

“What feels good?”

“The rain on my face. It has been a long time since I felt the rain.”

“But, who are the thieves?” the reader asks.

“Well, I am one of them.”

“But you are not asleep.”

“I did not say that all thieves sleep; only thieves who have given up.”

“Look at this old chest I found! What do you suppose could be inside?”

“It is always the wrong people who die.”

“What do you mean, ‘wrong people’? Who is right for death?”

“Well, the ones who really want to die never die when they really want to. Only those, who want to live more, die when they least expect it.”

“But, we all die sooner or later.”

“Yes, this is true. We all die. We all go home and sleep at some point.”

“We are most alive when we are most free. And we are most free when we have lost our desire to live. I am free just now, writing these words.”

“But, to whom do you write?”

“I write to no one. I write to myself. I write to unborn children.”

“We are free when we are alone and have something worth saying. Only, whom to say it to in solitude?”

Do you see how we need to be in control? We demand to know who the thieves are and what they plan to steal. Who is the old woman in the rain and where is she headed? Does the nurse grant the drizzling request? And what is in that chest? Where did you get it?

A prince is not a prince without his realm of paupers to pay homage. And who steals from whom? Does the prince steal the poverty of the paupers? Do the paupers steal the prince’s fame?

The nurse patiently waited for twenty minutes while the old woman had her fill of rain. A composition by Pachelbel played softly in the background.

When I opened the chest, I found inside, another world. Many worlds. It was a Dr. Who’s Tardis of alternate realities.

A master of words is also a Time Lord.

I stole that memory from the nurse. She mentioned the scene one day, in idle conversation.

I am finished now. I must go home and sleep.

Affair With The Reposed

August 9, 2009

I am not speaking to you now. I am speaking to that other person (over there)… you see. Oh, I guess you can’t see from where you are. But that other person has been reading me for a while now. They sort of started reading by accident, out of curiosity. But then, as they read, they began to know not just the words, but me, behind the words. And as they read, I opened up to them, and they opened up to me. And I showed them more and more of myself. I exposed myself slowly. I stripped before their very eyes until I was as naked as the wrestlers in the Palaestra. But then, I stripped down even more, exposing the atoms of Lucretius. And before they could catch their breath, or say no and leave the room, I stripped
down to the very waves of Patanjali. But for all my nakedness, they never came to know the me that I know. They fell in love with the me that they thought I was, and that me became them, but a them they shall never
show to me. So now, there they are, over there, looking somewhere else than my direction. And now, I feel slightly cold, being so naked. But that is ok, because if it weren’t for being that someone else that they love, I would never have been anyone at all. And it is the love which matters
really, not the self. Is this not so?

We never think of titles until the end. We never know until its over. So now I must think of some title, or perhaps, epitaph for the cenotaph:

“Affair with the Reposed.”

Flowers

August 9, 2009

Flowers, flowers red, blue, white, yellow random wild flowers and fancy ones filed in rows peopled the lawn which fell from the windows and milled as the wind rolled through them.

A slight breeze rustled the open blinds, the classroom was filled with the quiet of thirty people breathing in and out, the girls with their hair piled above their heads, or braided in buns, or smoothed out straight and long across their backs and shoulders; the boys with scalps, sat quietly in their chairs, or squirmed and scuffed their shoes restlessly, and thirty pens and pencils scratched and hummed across the sonorous desk tops, and papers smacked and crumpled under thirty hands gliding over them, bracelets tinkling and rings tapping and sweaty palms squeaking over plastic-finished tops, sped by the teachers gaze rolling through them and the electric drone of the big hand erasing minutes from the face of the clock. She made thirty-one, but she was not writing. Three giggles and the brassy tones of a chair leg broke the surface tension of the sound, and her eyes shot quickly to the source. Is that paper in your hand so funny? she said, smiling, Bring it to me and I will show it to the class so that we may all enjoy the joke.

Her young face drained and her skin turned pale and tightened against her cheeks. She held the paper between her fingers as though it were a dirty napkin that she wished would disappear. Hesitating, and then drawing in her breath, she stood up cautiously, her legs sliding her chair into the knees of the boy behind her, and walked solemnly to the waste paper basket by her desk, crumpling the paper in her hand as she walked.

No, no, she said, still smiling, stretching out her hand, How can we read it if you crumple it like that? Still smiling, she took the paper ball in her hands and unfolded it slowly in the puddle of sunlight which shimmered on her desk. As her eyes rolled up and down its crease-lined surface, she caught her breath in surprise. Blood rushed to her face and her smile fell limp and drooped about her cheeks.

She caught a glimpse of the sketch on the paper in her hands before she folded it in half. She let out a sigh of relief.

Did you draw this?

No no, I found it in my desk. A sarcastic cough from somewhere singed the air.

She cast a sharp eye in the direction of the cougher and then returned her attention to the folded paper in her hand, its inky lines had seeped through the porous paper and had made a faint image on the underside. She sniffed the cleaning fluid fragrance of the magic marker ink. This is fresh, and look, there is some on your hands.

She looked down at the red smudge that her lipstick had left while she was biting her finger (she had a nervous habit of biting her finger), and then looked up again.

Step into the hall with me for a minute. She stood up rapidly and her leather cushioned seat rolled up against the wall behind her.

They marched in a line, one leading, the other following, the sharp clicking heels punctuating the silent padding loafers. The door closed smartly behind them and the rush of wind rustled the open blinds; patches of whispers sprouted in the sunlight.

She leaned in a relaxed fashion against a locker door, her clean, white fingers unfolding the paper, and, with a sarcastic smile, turned it, flat open, so that the back side faced herself and the front side faced the young girl standing before her, shifting first to one foot, then the other, chewing the lipstick smudge on her finger.

Do you know what this is?

She stared back blankly.

Ha, dont tell me! I just bet you dont!

She shifted to another foot and deposited another layer of lipstick on her finger.

Dont be afraid. Im not mad at you. Im quite fond of you. Im here to help you to grow up nice and clean. A nice young girl like you should be thinking of other things nice things flowers; not this! Nice girls dont think about these things! This is dirty!

When you’re a woman like me, you’ll understand. She slipped for a moment into her natural voice and the young girl raised her head in surprise.

The young girl started on another finger, the first finger being quite happy and content.

And take your fingers from your mouth; that’s a dirty habit, she said, fingering the paper which she had nervously rolled into a tube (she had a nervous habit of rolling paper into tubes while she talked,) and was gesturing with it, for emphasis you understand, to one side of the young girls cheek. Nice girls don’t do that. A woman certainly wouldn’t. ad she took hold of her hand and gently pulled it away from her mouth.

Well, the young girl didn’t understand, and she never would. Neither of them would ever really understand, although there was really no difference, and there certainly was nothing difficult about it. The simply marched back into the room in a line, one leading, the other following, the soft padding loafers filling in around the sharp clicking heals. The paper mysteriously disappeared and was never seen again.

The young girl sat down at her desk and turned around to smile. She loved the smell of hair tonic and she was very happy; the breeze was blowing it her way. The pretty young teacher sat down at her desk to think of all the pretty young faces that she had seen come and would se go. She looked at the long, slender vase sitting on her desk, brimming with water and filled with fresh-cut flowers, and with the wind. It was coming her way. And, it was very, very nice.

– Sitaram

(written 1965)

The Noonday Siren

August 8, 2009

What is it about this blank page that I fear?

When I allow my mind a certain freedom, yet with introspective resolve, then my mind becomes a vehicle of time and the past and travels, adrift within the tangled forest of my memories. Why do I want to write them down? Shall they become your memories too?

I was too young to read or count or tell time when I was aged 5 in 1954. Perhaps I was not too young had someone taught me. But those were the days when small children were expected to be small children and play. There was no pressure to get them into an Ivy League college.

My mother would send me out each morning to play. Somewhere, unseen, in a place I had never been to, was a firehouse with a noon siren; at least so I was told. I imagine it had been an air-raid siren during the war, but I was not aware of such things as wars or bombs or terror or death nor concerned by them. But with dependable regularity the siren would sound each day at noon. That was my signal that it was time to come home for lunch. My mother would have a scrambled egg sandwich ready for me on Wonder Bread. She would cut off the crusts, and then cut the sandwich into quarters. I never liked bread crusts at that age, for I found them bitter. Crusts resemble death. Perhaps the small quartered sandwiches were easier for my small hands to grasp. I assumed that everyone lived this way. I took for granted that everywhere around the world, an anonymous invisible siren would sound unseen at noon and children who could not read or count or tell time would come home to quartered egg sandwiches with the crusts cut off and a mommy for whom the sun rose and set on her one and only child. I was the center of her world as well as mine.

Odysseus heard Sirens too. My childhood and Mommy, dead and buried in the distant past, are a Scylla and Charybdis to crush my voyaging heart. If I fill my ears with the molten wax of melancholy, it is only a navigational precaution.

Mommy was simply there. I knew there were mommies everywhere, and noon sirens and egg sandwiches. I was all the world for mommy, but I was not conscious of that. It seemed only natural to me that I should be. I felt special and loved. It did not occur to me that my mother’s love for me was excessive, smothering, beyond the bounds of reason, and something to alienate and displace my father from our lives. Being unable to read or count or tell time, I was far beyond the reach of psychodynamics; beyond the reach of twisted , crazy sorrow.

I would set forth each morning with no plan. The morning simply happened. I would wander and wonder at a stone or acorn or leaf or pebble. I would talk with myself in my mind. I had a notion of the possibility of great adventures, always just around the corner.

In the afternoon, my mother would enforce a nap. Falling asleep was the most arduous labor for me. I felt it a duty. I would try to focus my mind in some fashion which might induce sleep. I discovered that if I lay on my stomach and put my face upon the bed, surrounding my eyes with cupped hands to shut out any light, and stared with my eyes open, then I would begin to see a mass of distant stars; specs of light. This bed of stars would slowly drift beneath my bed and vision, which gave me the feeling that I was sailing; flying; soaring. If I lost my concentration, then the vision would fade. Vision requires concentration.

As a teenager, I remembered my bedtime star wars and wrote a poem about my experience.

Once I thought… to a Pillow-Blanket Time

(circa 1965)

Once I thought
To a pillow-blanket time
When, where cupping hands, I saw
Unworlds of drifting black
Tortured dreamily
With rushing yellow train-tracks
Ribboned in and out
In purpling roars.
Red ladders I could climb
If hard enough I thought.
Red ladders I dissolved
If too hard I remembered.

Once I thought
To a pillow-blanket time
When fingers could find faith
In locks of hair
And we were a congregation
Of something slightly more
Than we deserved.
When a minister touched
On something slightly less than God
In a pulpit
That was all that it could
Or should be.

Once I forgot
To a pillow-blanket time
When ghostly figures moved
Through linen mists,
When ticks of clocks slowed down to sighs,
When sunsets were rainbows
Of tears and laughter.

My thoughts are now no more
Than a cloud’s whisper
Or the sea.
My lips
Are the ripples of raindrops everywhere.
My ribs
Are sweet white birds
In the mystery of flight.
My eyes are new-born spiders
Discovering the tapestry of dew.
My hands are apple trees,
Their fingers hold
Children.

– Sitaram

I had become conscious of pity; of feeling sorrow for another being. When in my room, alone, I would conjure up in my imagination a squirrel, and I would talk to the squirrel and say “Oh, poor little squirrel” and my imaginary squirrel would look up at me in a plaintive, sorrowful fashion, grateful for my sympathy and compassion. I am not quite sure why that squirrel was so wretched except that wretchedness was a prerequisite for pity. I suppose it was my own selfishness and egocentricity which made me choose the role of the pitier over the pitied. Beatrice Potter may well have been my guilty accomplice.

Now that I have written this, I read it aloud. Unexpectedly, I burst into tears and weep uncontrollably. It did not bother me at all when I composed it in silence.

“My tongue is the pen of a swiftly writing scribe.”

Perhaps the fingers are not as connected to the emotive part of the brain as the hearing is.

“Faith comes from hearing and hearing by the Word.”

The Psalms speak of a demon at noonday. The desert fathers, monastic solitaries, called that demon “akedia” in Greek, which means ennui or perhaps depression.

My noonday siren becomes my noonday demon.

All I have of momma?s now is a montage of photos which she assembled and framed, hanging upon the wall, and the delicate crystal wineglass from which she would sip her Dubonette wine, and a clock with the letters of her name, “M-A-R-J-O-R-I-E” around its face where the numbers ought to be, ticking very loudly but with a comforting effect.

When she died, fifty years after those halcyon days of noon sirens and egg sandwiches, it took months to empty her house of memories. How does one empty them from the mind?

Tell me now, do you yet feel sufficiently haunted by my absence, reading the pale penumbra of my memories in words that, like the shadows of ghosts, glide across this page? For I died long ago. My mother and my childhood haunted me in life and now we all haunt you in death. History is a form of haunting. Language is a cruel and beautiful resurrection.