Most of the time, we were happy. We danced through the day wrapped in freedom, whirls of emotion and song. It was easy to be happy when the sun was up. It was after the sun went down that we returned to a kind of uneasy stasis, like a demolished building between the blast of dynamite and the cloud.
Mom used to shimmer like gold, but he was the tarnish. Not a Dad, but someone playing a part. Only he hadn’t practiced his lines, and they never came out smooth. They came out like he was chewing rocks. Spitting out broken teeth.
Jimmy. That’s what everyone called him. He never suggested we call him anything else, but we did. Behind his back, we called him all the ugly words we knew and hoped he never heard us. My older brother, Jeremy, would talk back to his face, but he was the first born, which made him closer to our mother in time and space.
The younger kids. Me and the twins. We just kept our heads down. Tried to sit like stone lions, the kind that live outside libraries. We guarded nothing and instilled no fear. We were decoration, an overly frosted cake. Our smiles turned stomachs.
The day he left, nobody cried. We crossed our fingers and tried not to jinx it.
The dock is old and weathered. Ancient boards with claws of old, twisted iron. Nails and hinges betray the history of the place, a place where old doors become docks where people fish and catch nothing.
To catch fish, you need a boat. But no one I know has a boat. We use the boat ramp for skate tricks and dodge the boat owners who look at us like old bait. We are inconvenience. We are a knock in their engine, fouled lines, old nets with holes.
The men with the boats laugh like gulls and grumble like earthquakes. They sit high in their trucks like God, the ones who can use the whole water. They feel superior to us, and we feel inferior to them.
There is a natural order to it.
Sometimes, the drunks who watch the boats will give advice. No one listens. They are focused on boat-having. Boat wanting.
Boats bob on the distant waves like driftwood, sun stabbing their chrome.
When I die, I would like to come back as a raven. One who watches the boats, but does not care. One who knows the score.
I am not one of those who throws pennies into fountains. I keep my pennies in a hole-free pocket. I stack them on the edge of my desk so they can grow into dollars. I do not carry crystals or consult the stars.
My hope lives in stacks of old, worn copper.
My grandfather was a great collector of coins and rubbish. He walked with his eyes on the ground like bloodhounds, scouting pennies, rubber bands, old bolts and pretty stones. He taught me to do the same. Made it a game. We were walking junk drawers on the hunt for treasure.
My sister would never play the game. She refused to keep her eyes down. She was the kind of sister who could talk to adults on their level. Not me. I was happy to have something to distract me.
Someday, I will teach my grandchildren to keep their heads raised high, but their eyes down. Not in humility.
In search of treasure.
She is the kind of woman who breathes sadness. She smells of sadness, and sadness fills the open spaces between her words. She jumps the steps when she gets home, but it is fear that drives her, not exuberance.
She is someone we can make up lies about. She can be whatever we want her to be, because, really, we know that there will never be a confrontation. She has enough on her plate; it is stacked high like a potluck plate before it falls and splatters. Before the crash and the shaking grandma heads.
People in the neighborhood call her Auntie, but she isn’t related to any of us. It is a sign of respect. We don’t understand the weight she’s carrying, but we respect it. There is a certain strength to her posture, her ability to stand when the world is pulling her down.
She is marble, ready to be carved.
To the uninformed observer, she is a much-maligned old woman, but we know things that we cannot express. There is truth, but there is also consequence, and they don’t always come together.
If she is marble. We are play-doh. We are young, and we wear our youth like chain mail. She lets our opinions bounce off the callus of her skin. The pigeons don’t care about any of this; they are involved in dramas all their own.
1. I love the ending: we crossed our fingers and tried not to jinx it. Like the idea that he is the tarnish.Delete
2. Like the idea that they are inconvenience and old bait. And the image of the old men laughing like gulls. Also like the idea that each one is wanting a boat. By the sea they’re all fixated on getting on the water.
3. Like the idea that the pennies are the things he trusts, collects and finds his way with – his star sign. They’re lucky. Like the image of the grandfather as a bloodhound, noticing everything. Love the end lines too.
4. I love the line ‘she is marble, waiting to be carved’. And ‘if she is marble. We are play-doh’. Also like the end line about the pigeons.
Man, these are gorgeous. Like shiny little gems to unwrap. Great images, and lines I kept wanting to copy and paste in here.Delete
I love these linked vignettes you’ve created here. A number of phrases leap out for me – Mom used to shimmer like gold, but he was the tarnish; We are a knock in their engine, fouled lines, old nets with holes – to name only two. You’re a master of imagery and the mot juste. Every one of these is like a finely balanced watch, but together they’re a knockout.Delete
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The hotel roomReplyDelete
We wander through empty rooms,
stroll lit, indelible silences.
Catch the mood in your eyes,
steal sunlight with your arms.
One table, one chair, one bed.
There’s a paucity to the room,
laid out strictly for one person.
Even the rug recoils from two.
The moon moves slowly into orbit,
casting a pallor on the steel balcony
upon which we squeeze ourselves,
ready for the night and its alone
time, the sky a hazy dash of non-
colour. It opens still and cloudless.
We raise our glasses, clink,
taste Prosecco on our tongues
and repaint the day into a Pastoral.
In our imaginations we will fit.
The bed will widen, accommodate
our mutual sleeping patterns.
Love the images, the tone. This line is among my favorites: Even the rug recoils from two.Delete
Repaint the day into a pastoral. Love that. I dig the galloping energy of this. I want to read it out loud, but I don't want to wake everyone up. ;)Delete
Over a hilltop we rise, talking words
cast as in a talking game,
rash nonsensical afterthoughts
of truths and departing memories.
The hike takes us through meadows,
a purple lake of pungency. We stake
our claim on our last vestibules.
This is where the sky meets the soil,
cleanses it with the wind’s hands.
Every step extends our living roots
beyond the upright stretch of trees,
down into the depths of our mother
earth. We stand on ground trodden
by a hundred others, revisiting and
echoing, sewing new paths on to
the back of others. A patchwork quilt
of knowledge and exploration,
soaking colour into the damp grass.
I can smell green when the breeze blows,
and only it knows where it leads me,
beneath the whispering of the leaves
and the solitary shine of the sun.
Purple lake of pungency is rad. There is so much meat in this one. Cool word choices, too. Steady and neat.Delete
He stands so small,
enclosed within tight fencing
soldier-straight to the sun.
The soil so soft to touch,
he buries his fingers in
deep, searching for movement.
In sienna shorts, long socks
and sandals, his golden locks
dazzle, blue eyes fixed on his task.
His pawing soon finds one. Tensing,
he surrounds it, digs it out.
It squirms, the pink flesh peeking
through his fist at the day,
seeking the safety of lost soil.
The boy laughs and runs inside,
grasping his trophy of the earth.
I love how well you’ve caught this small boy hunting for worms. Phrases like ‘It squirms, the pink flesh peeking through his fist at the day, seeing the safety of lost soil,’ are super-effective and so evocative of the scene. It’s such a perfect snapshot taken from life.Delete
Agreed. This taps into a time most of us have forgotten about. The thrill of the hunt and hands in the soil. I like the form a lot, too. Spare and powerfulDelete
The words on the viewscreens hadn’t changed for several minutes. If an AI could sleep, the one that moderated these pages must be dozing, its red standby LEDs glowering in the dark of the bunker it called its home. But it wasn’t unusual for the masses of the faithful to be quiet now, the days of the Church community pages being the voice of the nation long passed, but he knew they were still a comfort to many, anyone finding themselves alone at home having the assurance that someone somewhere else was awake and that they could transcribe their thoughts to this journal so that one person could read them.ReplyDelete
“I can remember when we had to have the pause feature added,” the priest said, looking up at the monitor looming over the pulpit. “We began to get so many hits that anyone wanting to read it would need to take screenshots, the text scrolling up the screen too quickly for them to ingest its meaning. And then, of course, the local tradesmen cottoned on. It became a shop window for them for a while, everyone adding their adverts and QR links to their businesses. It pushed the people we set it up for away until we found a way to moderate the postings. It’s more secure now, but I still miss the early days.”
Detective Inspector Cavanaugh stirred his tea. It felt strange for him, sitting on a nestable plastic chair behind a table where he remembered the nave being full of dusty, graffiti-ridden pews and those embroidered kneelers the youths used to play football with. He had played innumerable games with them himself, back in that long-past time when the world had seemed changeless. He wondered if anyone else had had any inkling of how fragile it had been and if they too looked back on those days with the same mellow fondness, instead of the excruciating boredom they had felt then.
“It’s funny how you mention security,” he said. “Given the current situation.”
The priest nodded, adding a sachet of sugar to his cup. “It’s something that we should have thought of. Here particularly of all places.”
The text on the monitor screen above them used a spiky, elaborate font with severe, angular serifs and a minimum of kerning between the letters. If you had entertained any doubts about the mind responsible for the post, you would only need to read one or two lines, words such as ‘torture’ and ‘retribution’ recurring in most sentences. Cavanaugh had scrolled through five or six pages before feeling a compulsion to look away. He had felt disturbed giving this message the smallest of chances to corrupt him, its writer’s intentions anything but benign.
“I presume you’ve ruled out hackers,” he said, uploading a series of screenshots he had taken to a cache on the secure server at divisional headquarters. “It’s the kind of thing bored teenagers used to get a thrill out of doing in the nineties.”
“Yes. That was the first thing we suspected.” The priest tugged at his collar and sighed, giving the impression he thought I considered both him and his church naïve and still entrenched in the eighteenth century or even earlier. “We’ve had problems like that in the past, but we paid people to solve them. Firewalls, compartmentalised systems and now the AI. We got it to be a single solution to everything. It moderates and compiles our tax returns - it can even calculate the dates for Easter every year. We thought we’d be able to leave it to manage without anyone needing to do any more. But instead, it’s created problems of its own. Problems beyond anything we can cope with.”
Cavanaugh’s phone buzzed. Its screen lit up with a message, the characters in the text severe, angular and spiky. They began to march up from the bottom of the screen to the top, the words filling each line from the right to the left. He put the phone down on the table and pushed it away, knowing the magnitude of the mistake he had just made.
“Tell me?” he said, knowing his career was effectively over. “When did you first suspect your AI had been possessed?”
There is such a cool old word clashing with new world vibe here. Really interesting concept. Vonnegut would have approved, I think. You have a fertile mind, my friend. Makes me feel like I only know how to play in a few keys.Delete
This week Grandma brings day-old brioche and a wedge of Swiss cheese and slightly wilted daisies. While Anya sets about making the spread festive, she thinks about a day long ago, when she was a child, in a different country, trundling after her mother on the way to the market.ReplyDelete
For as long as Anya could remember, the walls of their city had been gray. Her world had not been completely devoid of color—she had a red winter coat and pink snowboots, and the small bedroom she shared with her sickly aunt was a pale shade of green. And there was the blue sky, of course. But the wall never changed. It was long and even, broken in spots to allow for automobiles to come and go, and by signs in big, bold letters that made her stomach wobble, the messages of which her mother would not explain to her, so she stopped asking.
She could measure time by those long stretches of gray. Their apartment building was ten segments of wall from her school. The market, seven. Which was where they were going that morning.
But when she saw something new on the wall, something fascinating and colorful and not at all frightening, she couldn’t make her feet go forward. It was a flower. A painting of a flower. Unlike any flower she’d seen in all of her six years. It was certainly not their country’s national flower, the tiny chamomile, with its white petals and tiny yellow center, which her mother used to make medicine for her auntie. This one…it was almost all yellow center. Towering over the sidewalk, the yellow center seemed to Anya as big and high as the sun itself, the tiny petals almost an afterthought.
“Mama!” she cried out.
“What? It is getting late. They will be out of everything if you do not stop this—”
“Mama, what kind of flower is that?”
Her mother made a sniffing sound, one Anya had heard when Mama didn’t like a fish at the market. “That is not a flower. It’s a weed.”
Anya pursed her lips. With her mother she’d pulled weeds from the community vegetable garden in the back of their apartment building. The grownups told her that they pulled weeds because they took all the food and water from the good plants. So all weeds must go, all the way down to their roots. But this did not look like any weed she’d seen.
Much later, she learned that this “weed” was not a weed at all. And the painting of such in a public place in the country of her birth was considered blasephemy.
The next day, it was gone.
“You need help in there, mamaleh? Or shall I ring for the maid?”
Her grandmother’s gentle teasing brings Anya back to the present, makes her smile. She brings the tray, sets it on the table, pours the tea.
But still thinking of the “weed” on the gray wall, she strokes a white petal of one of the daisies in the vase, as if she could coax it back to life. As if she could transform it into a different flower. Anya sighs. “I wish we could bring them inside.”
Grandma also sighs. “They would be beautiful on your table. But it would mean the death of them. That flower, it belongs outside, don’t you agree? Forever reaching for the sun?” She gestures to the daisies. “At least here we can have something that reminds us of them.”
Anya agrees, thinking of the difference between the country where she now lives and the one she left behind. Here, a flower is revered; there, it is criminal.
“May I offer the blessing today?” Anya says, noting that Grandma had just filled her plate.
“Of course, mein shayna maidel.” She makes a big show of putting the cloth napkin in her lap and reaching across the table for Anya’s hands.
They bow their heads. “Thank you for this bounty before us. Thank you for the blue sky and the green grass and most of all for the sunflower.” She breaks into a tiny grin and adds, “Putin khulyo.”
“Putin khylyo,” Grandma repeats, and they both spit, and laugh, and eat.
You’ve got such a great ear for language and dialogue, Laurie. Snippets like That flower, it belongs outside, don’t you agree? Forever reaching for the sun?” stand out, for example, but you’re also excellent at creating a world up from every direction, using details and colour and backstory and effortlessly mixing them all into a melange of family and location that rings so true to life. Fabulous, as always – what more can I say?Delete
I agree. You're so good at putting specific "things" in your work. You populate the words with specificity. It's visual, but it's also relaxing as a reader because we know you know the places so well.Delete
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