Jean Louise

From adventofreason’s Xanga Archives . . .

jeanlouise

I will probably always remember those days with the bittersweet sepia color of a gracefully aging photograph.  Bitter because I saw that truth doesn’t always win and that ignorance and poverty can turn anger into hate.  And, yes it was also sweet.  Sweet and fragrant like the camellias of  my childhood that dripped their snowy petals onto the sun-dappled lawns.

I found, if not friendship, something akin to it in the most unlikely of places.  Not too many summers after we met, he died.  We all paid our respects to him, but were mindful of his shy ways.

Many years later, Father retired from law and continued to hold at bay the never-ending requests that he run for public office.  I remember that the only time I ever saw him cry, was the day that a misguided man ended the life of another; one who had a dream.  Even my brother, ever the grown up, coughed into his hand and took several passes across his eyes with his handkerchief.

He, my older brother, his hopes of being a football hero dashed, followed in our father’s footsteps and may one day run for governor.  We all believe he will succeed.

The sweet friend of my youth never did marry me, though he continues to flit in and out of my life, bringing with him his odd mixture of pathos and humor.  He is part flamboyant thespian, part wounded spirit.

In the years closely following that summer, we began to see past the facade of our own genteelness and saw an ugliness that we became ashamed of.  I think we became better people that summer; all of us.  I believe we did learn, after all, how to climb into another person’s skin and walk around in it.

 

*Although this piece is an  original piece by me, and created from my imagination, it is based on the incredible characters created by Harper Lee in her breathtaking novel, To Kill A Mockingbird.  This is what is referred to as metafiction, whereby I have inserted thoughts into characters created by someone else

ceg 7.15.08

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This Fallen Angel

From adventofreason’s Xanga Archives . .  .

fallenangelArtwork by Ryn Li

Suddenly, as the owl-topped clock strikes eight, a mysterious figure enters the room. It is Herr Drosselmeyer, Clara and Fritz’s godfather. He is a talented toymaker who has brought with him gifts for the children, including four lifelike dolls—a Harlequin and Columbine, and a Vivandière and Soldier—who dance to the delight of all.
~The Nutcracker

Herr Drosselmeyer, late of Ost-Speicher, had moved, taking the gears and velvet, tools and paints of his trade with him.  He set up shop in East Burnham-On-Crouch.  Only a few of his dolls adorned the windows, but they were enough.  At first, it was only the scruffy urchins from the streets, with their smudged faces, rosy from the chill of New L’Ondon’s cold.  Soon, mothers and fathers, trying to find their absent children came also to his shop.  As word spread of his works, the clientele became more genteel.  He welcomed all of them.  They wanted to be angry, those wealthy ones; angry at the good Doktor.  He would not sell his beauties.  He would sell clever watches that would light up in the darkness.  He would sell music boxes that could fill the room with the loveliest fragrances and the most mysterious music.   He would sell cunning puppets which could dance by themselves when a pipe was played at just the right pitch.

To say that Herr Drosselmeyer was a genius, was a laughable insult.  He was courted by the wealthy patrons of New L’Ondon and plied with food and drink and whispered promises of riches if only he would sell one of his beauties.  Always, a smile he gave them, and a head shake.  They were not for sale.  Why not, he would query, purchase a walking stick with the carved head of the Sphinx, that would chuckle at its own irony as it tapped the ground.  Or a jeweled butterfly that would fly about the room before settling on the shoulder of the sweetest child.  As beautiful as all of these creations were, they would not satisfy the hungry longings for the beauties.

Sir Edmond wanted only Vivian, Herr Drosselmeyer’s most beautiful of his beauties.  A ballerina, she, with hair spun from angel whispers, lips of the essence of sweet dreams and eyes the envy of the sky itself.  She would pirouette and twirl, dancing with such grace and beauty, that Sir Edmond had indeed lost his heart to her.

“Gentlemen, this fallen angel is the illegitimate daughter of art and science. A modern marvel of engineering, clockworks elevated to the very natural process which even now is in your blood, racing, your eyes flashing at such irreproachable beauty. Here is Gaia, here is Eve, here is Lilith, and I stand before you as her father. Sprung fully-formed from my brow, dewy and sweet; she can be yours and yours again, for her flesh is the incorruptible pale to be excused from the wages of sin.” *

Gears and paint bedamned, he loved her.  He would gaze upon her for hours, memorizing her softly parted lips and smooth porcelain skin.  He tried everything to encourage Herr Drosslemeyer to sell her to him.  Money, power, women, and eventually rage and tears.  Drosselmeyer remained unmoved.  And so it continued day into night, week into month.  Edmond, a pale imitation of his former self, sat, rumpled and weeping, gazing upon Vivian.  New L’Ondon had moved on without him.  Always a new delight, always a new allure.  Drosselmeyer’s shop became quiet again, save for the tinkling sounds of dolls which dreamt real dreams and soldiers who fired muskets at unseen enemies.  Overhead, a candelabra bearing flames that sang, and below, carpets whose woven ocean tapestries carried the scent of distant seas and spices.  These were lost to Edmond, as he began to leave this world and enter Vivian’s.

The story was carried as an afterthought in the New L’Ondon Carrier-Times.  A ruin of Herr Drosselmeyer’s shop was pictured, still smoking.  No sign of Sir Edmond was ever discovered.  Cryptic stories of Drosselmeyer entertained the residents of New L’Ondon for many years, but no evidence of him ever emerged. Scattered and broken marvels were found in the ashes, as well as Vivian.  Vivian, broken yet still lovely.  Vivian, the object of adoration and unrequited love.  Broken yet still pure.

ceg 6.12.11

Herr Drosselmeyer’s Doll, by Abney Park

Bugiardo and the Signorina

bugiardo2

Link to Part 1

I stared dumbly at the man, who before had seemed rather benign, but now appeared more sinister.  He leaned forward and reached for my hand, shaking it and introduced himself as Signore Bugiardo.  He then stood, bowed slightly and left without another word.  As I watched him depart, I was baffled, somewhat irritated and more than a little concerned. It was then that I realized that he had secreted a small piece of paper into my still-opened palm.

I had watched enough movies and read enough books to know better than to sit there and read the note.  I may be an amateur but I am not a stupid one.  I gently closed my hand over the note and continued gazing out the window, concentrating on acted interested in the view.  I counted to 100 tend times before rising and carefully making my way to the ladies’ room.  With practiced disinterest, I looked over the heads of the other passengers who were in various states of bored sleep.  Of the man, I saw no indication.

I opened the door to the lavatory that I would have never gone to if it weren’t for the note pressing itself into my hand.  I entered, put the seat down and sat.  Wasting no more time, I quickly opened the note.   In cramped writing I saw:

bugiardo

I stared at the note for a few minutes trying to fathom the implications of Bugiardo’s note, simultaneously memorizing every word, every nuance of it.  After a few moments, I returned the note to its former state and pushed it into my mouth.  With a grimace, then a cupped hand of water, I swallowed the note.  The short melodrama of the act amused me somewhat and when I caught my reflection, I saw a wry smile playing about my lips.  I quickly left the confining space and returned to my seat and resumed staring out the window.
Later, as I watched the train pull away from the station, Canada bound, I picked up my suitcase and asked the ticket agent about applying my refund towards a return ticket.  The man simply smiled and wordlessly handed me an envelope with my name written in a familiar hand.  Inside was a return ticket.  I looked at the ticket agent, who nodded.

“You have made the right decision, signorina.”

He turned away and I was left standing and staring at him before turning away myself to wait for my train.

Years later, sitting at a café with one of my few friends, we talked about trifling matters before she lit a cigarette and after a long pull, she commented on how I had changed after that trip that I had refused to speak of.  I asked her how she thought I had changed.  She mulled it over for a few long moments and then spoke carefully, looking at a place just beyond my shoulder.

“You seem more secretive now.  You rarely give straight answers to questions. I think of all the times I asked you about the time you left with little explanation and returned abruptly with even less of an explanation.  What happened?  Really.”

“Nothing,” I returned.  “I just changed my mind.”

“Bugiarda,” she replied, angrily stabbing her cigarette out.

With a start, I asked her what she had said.

“I called you a liar, cara mia.”

ceg 8.28.15

Agatha Christie, Chekov and the Train Ride

train

What is it they say?  Something about a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step?  Something like that.  And I suppose that’s true in its most basic sense.  However, I believe that journeys begin someplace else and long before the feet are engaged for walking.

I never really saw the need to leave the city.  I had lived here all my life and never wanted to go elsewhere.  I guess that’s because it’s all I have ever really known.  I have everything I need within walking or biking distance.  Work, library, bar, restaurant, grocery store, friends.  Seriously, what else is there?  I also hate traveling.  I find it dirty, exhausting and uncomfortable.  So I guess you’ll understand when I tell you my friends thought I had lost my mind when I told them I was planning a trip to Canada and would be leaving at week’s end.  Or maybe you won’t.  It’s not like you’re that invested in what I do and what seems odd given my character.  Just take my word for it; it was weird.  But, I had a thing that needed to be done and so I packed my bag (one I had gotten years ago from my parents after I graduated-“Well, we’re done with educating you, perhaps it’s time to go”).  For this particular journey, I had opted, in all my wisdom, to take a train.

I had this long-held romantic notion of what rail travel would be like.  If you’ve ever seen that one Agatha Christie movie with the train,  you would have a pretty good idea about how my fantasy train ride would look. It’s where all the men and women are rich and svelte and hoity toity and they travel with their small yappy dogs, which are named Bayard or Fluffy.  Sprinkled in the mix of these hoi polloi are the kind of greasy, slightly sinister guys who are from some foreign country and tend to be on the swarthy side of melanin scale. Of course, those are the bad guys. Except when they’re not.  Aha!  They were simply a red herring and the really bad guy was . . . Mrs. Myra Elisabeth Smythe-Winters?  But, she’s so lovely and why would she kill that poor girl?  Anyway, yeah, not like that.

What I noticed first and foremost was the smell.  Talk about your wretched refuse and there was I.  Yearning to breathe free. Imagine the rancid odor of last week’s deep-fryer oil.  It seemed everyone exuded that smell.  Throw in a little rotting bacon and some lettuce that has given up on being completely solid. This lovely miasma swirled around me.  Its origin was the collection of huddled masses who had, at best, questionable hygiene practices.  I concentrated on breathing. Slowly.  Through my mouth.  This, as it turned out, was a spectacular failure.  I quickly decided that the smells were preferable over the taste that seemed to have permanently taken up residence on my tongue.  I quickly found my seat and looked out the window, praying that we would soon be off.  The sooner off, the sooner home.

The windows were surprisingly clean, given the condition of the rest of the train.  I fixed my gaze through the glass, hoping to send an obvious message to my fellow travelers that I was not particularly interested in starting up some lively intellectual conversation which always seemed to start with the obvious . . . “Going on some sort of journey, are ya?”  No.  Not really.  I think to myself what sort of snappy answer I could come up with to quiet even the biggest of oafs, but nothing came to mind.  Maybe I wouldn’t be verbally shanghaied and the snappy answer wouldn’t be necessary.  Hope springs eternal, right?

The man who sat opposite me, barely gave me a glance as he sat down.  He pulled out a book and began reading and completely ignored my existence.   Good.  I have learned to revel in even the smallest of miracles.  As the train moved forward with a lurch, I settled into my seat and continued to look out the window.  The largely empty platform slowly slid past and I was relieved to be on my way at last.  Soon the city gave way to green expanses that I had only really seen in movies.  Trees, wildflowers, tall grasses, fields all flew past my window until my eyes grew weary of the view and I moved my eyes forward again to the man seated across from me.  He was on the younger side of middle age, no facial hair, horn-rimmed glasses and no watch.  At least none that was obvious.  He smelled of licorice and of pipe tobacco.  Pleasant combination.  My eyes drifted towards his book; something by Chekov, but I couldn’t tell what it was. He continued to completely ignore me, so I let my eyelids begin to droop and let the sway of the train lull me to sleep.

When I awakened, the landscape had changed dramatically and was now flat and unremarkable.  Across from me, the man was no longer reading, but studying me closely.  I was at first amused and then uncomfortable by the fact that he didn’t try to hide his examination from me.  He was blatantly staring at me.  I didn’t flatter myself that he found me attractive; I knew better than that, but I was nonetheless the object of his rapt attention.  I cleared my throat and was about ready to say something when his eyes locked with mine.  He pursed his lips and laid his index finger across them.  The international sign for “shhhh.”   (to be continued)

ceg 8.24.15

Immediacy

images

He watched my foot tapping turn to a full-force dance and he laughed.

Not the sweet laugh from long ago, but the kind that is mean.  I don’t think I will ever forget the ugliness of it.  He knew I was almost frantic in my need, and yet he laughed, finding humor in my pain.  What is it they call it?  Schadenfreude? Coming from someone who is supposed to love you, it is never appealing.

That incessant need-It starts with a gentle nudge and builds to this screaming demand that refuses to quit until heeded. Unrelenting.  My thighs were squeezed together and I was using those I internal muscles I had learned about when I was pregnant.  Squeeze.  Hold.  Breathe.  I was terrified of losing it completely in public, but he thought it was funny.  He laughed as he saw tears begin to swim in my eyes.  I had come to terms with his bullying.  I had learned to ignore the almost constant stream of belittlement.  This laughing thing was an unwelcome addition to an awful repertoire that he had displayed for years now.

Through the blur of my tears, I spied the urban equivalent of an outhouse.  To me, it looked like a green gateway to paradise.  My nose found it as well, but my need was too great to worry about that.  I “ran” with my knees squished together, beginning to gag from the smell.  I heard his peals of laughter ringing in my ears and the sound of my own retching, as I grabbed the handle and slammed the door shut behind me. Fumbling quickly with the button and zipper of my jeans (had it always been so difficult?), I managed to yank them down and sit before my bladder completely let go. I cried in relief and gingerly rubbed my tender side.  In a fit of pique, his boot had connected with my ribs. The resulting bloom of blue, purple and black was impressive.

When I emerged from that little hut of horror and blessed release, I looked for him and contemplated, and not for the first time, what it would be like if I could just run away.  Run away and not look back.  I had stayed with him all these years.  I couldn’t just leave, even though he was a monster.  A monster.

But, I stay.

It’s not like you can divorce your own child.

ceg 7.24.15

A Story and A Dream

     Image

People said that “her hair was as black and as wild as the grackles which kept vigil at her window.”

I don’t know if this is true, but I can tell you that it framed her face with visions of midnight dances against the glowing embers of a January fire.  

Her laughter was a song, almost lost to the capricious winds that made sailors dream of spice islands and nights spent in the arms of desire.

They say the her lips were succulent berries, plucked from vines no man has seen before or since.  Men would swear that if you kissed them long enough, passionately enough, you would taste the essence of ecstasy. 

The contours of her form were meant for delight, joy, and enchantment.  

Goddess, woman, stuff of fairy tales; I do not know which.  

But I do know that I loved her once.  

In memories.

Or dreams.

she dreams of knights and maidens fair
and wonders now if she should dare
to see beyond her virgin’s bed
a man who yearns see her wed
who, swept up with passion’s thrall
would beseech her to forever call
his favored name as her true love
a radiant blessing from above
if only she should dare to pray
that he will find her some golden day

ceg 1.23.14

a story before sleeping

z219993582
-tell me the one about the old, man;
the one who carries the tide in his hands
(this is how i imagine you would ask me
at night when i am tucking you in to sleep)
-innuit man with aurora borealis shining in his hair-
yes, he lives in the faraway north, mamma
-as far north as the barn owl flies-i answer,
i touch your face, remembering its contours
did he fly too, the innuit man?-
-he flies each night take the blackberries back home
for his little boy to eat-
i see the puzzled look on your face
-there are no blackberries in the far north,
he has to sneak them away-
ah– the puzzled look disappears as your eyes begin
to droop
does he love his little boy very much?-
-forever and a half- i answer
what about the key?-
-it is made of bone etched with caribou and opens
secret places made of snow and ice-
(you divorce yourself from waking and begin
to fly across the moonlit ice
with the innuit man who holds the tides in his
hands and blackberries in his pockets
and the aurora borealis in his hair)
ceg 4.12.11

Gone Away

i.

desertification-1

brother hasn’t been right since
the war so daddy has him out
in the fields with the hands
they treat him right and take
his hand when he starts
wanderin’ off and sometimes
bring him back to the house
when he takes to cryin’ and
everyone gets worried that
he might go off like he did last
May, tryin’ to hurt hisself and
even raised his hand to daddy
but he never goes after me
he just strokes my head and
calls me goodpup
i know daddy’s mad ’cause he
says they ain’t no woman ever
gonna marry him up what with
him havin’ a boy who’s gonesoft
and me no bigger than a
rabbit turd
sometimes daddy looks at him
and it scares me what he’s thinkin’
not that there’s much i can
do on account of me being just
a pup or a rabbit turd
dependin’ on who you ask

ii.

3885622226_b7c8d73459 (1)

hell, i know i ain’t right
i know he has me workin’
with the hands mebbe
’cause he’s scairt of me
i dunno
funny how a furrow just
turns into a trench and
‘fore i know it, i’m back there
with the blood and the screamin’
the screamin’ and the cryin’
the cryin’ and the prayin’
i remember this pup, this good pup
he took my bullet
shoulda been me that died
in all that mud
god, he was a good pup
and yeah, i see how he looks at me
can’t tell if he hates me or
just wants me gone
next time i wander off to ypres
wonder if he’ll just let me go
dunno when that’s gonna
happen though, but i’ll tell you this
i’m takin’ the pup with me
heard it said that
war is hell and it’s true
but what they don’t tell you
is that sometimes you bring
it home with you

iii.                                                             smallsoldhouse1903

good lord, how i loved
that woman-the boys’ ma
beautiful and sweet she was
sweet as spring
we buried her while he was
off killing the kaiser
died of a busted ‘pendix
don’t know if the little ‘un
even remembers her
he looks like her though
hurts so damn bad to look
at him, so god help me,
i don’t
the big ‘un looks like me,
folks say, and now
look at him
got hisself busted up over
there and looks at me like
i’m some damn kraut
pretty sure he thinks about
running me through with
that bayonet he thinks
he still carries
cursed and damned is
what i am
woman dead and one son
i can’t even look at ‘n
the other one all messed up
p’raps next time he walks
i’ll just let ’em go
start over
find a new gal and
start plantin’ again

©ceg 2009

A Winter’s Tale

Aurora over the Hay River, Northwest Territories

and was he very brave?

indeed, he was, brave and strong and
so handsome it made us almost cry

why would you cry, mummy?

not sad tears, mind you, but tears
that were proud and full of joy
sometimes, as you will see, very strong
feelings sometimes cannot be kept
inside your heart, but they must find
their way out and up into the sky

will i see him again?

i see him in your baby brother’s face
and in the lights of the skies at night
sometimes i think i hear him still calling
my name and i want to go to him

you won’t leave me though, will you mummy?

no never, my sweet
he would not want it, nor would i
he lives in the deepest woods
in the falling snow
in the silence of the night
and the brilliance of your eyes

does he love us still, do you think?

he loves us forever and a half
and he will always be here
when we think of him
and call him home

© ceg 11.26.11

The Red Beast

Image

She fell in love with it the first time she saw it.  She actually squealed with delight and declared then and there that she must have it or die.

He looked at the bright red monstrosity and  shook his head; whether in disbelief or deep regret none of the smiling old timers knew.  But Joe knew that  Maddie would give him no rest until the natural gas-powered Servel refrigerator was hogging up space in their new house. He found out later that it had been custom painted in a body shop.  And it was BRIGHT red.  Very bright. And heavy.

After several sighs on his part and pleading eyes on her part, the deal was made and a delivery date set.  Joe was certain the quiet chuckles erupted into yowls of laughter and disbelief as soon as the door shut behind them.  Maybe even an undercurrent of sympathy for him-the man Maddie had set her cap for twelve years ago.  The man who did whatever it took to make her happy.  The man who just bought a bright red Servel gas refrigerator.

The layout of their home was a bit unusual; the only way to the kitchen was to go through the main level and down a staircase.  A very narrow staircase with a 90 degree turn in it. And then another.

Maddie met the delivery men out front and told them how it was going to have to go in.  The delivery men looked at her dubiously and asked to see the kitchen.  She led them in and brought them to the stairs and down to the kitchen.  After an abbreviated discussion, they knew she was right.  A look of dread passed between the three men’s eyes before going out to get the beast.

The thing easily weighed 400 pounds.  Probably more.

And it got stuck on the stairs.

For four hours.

The house was filled with salty expletives, grunts, thuds and the occasional prayer.  Joe came home and offered nothing but sympathetic looks to the weary, sweating men.  Maddie fretted about the living room, asking the ceiling how she was supposed to use a refrigerator whose new home was on her stairs.

After more grunting, thudding, cursing (and the occasional prayer) the red behemoth finally moved and found its new home in Maddie’s kitchen.  The men made short order of getting it installed and handing her the user’s manual.  They explained how it had to be charged from time to time and that she had to put her food items in it a certain way to maximize efficiency.  She waved them away absently; she only had eyes for her beloved red Servel.

Joe, for his part, was glad that he had surrendered to her desire.  It made her happy.  She had this way of pushing the door shut with her hip that always got him thinking how much he loved those hips.  And how the color of the kitchen beast often reminded him of the color of her lipstick when it was a “going out on the town” night.

That had been almost 60 years ago.

The bright red Servel still stood, hogging up more than its share of the kitchen, but Maddie had died years ago.

Joe still could hear her cooing over it the first time she saw it.

The way she pushed it shut with her hip.

The way she kissed him with those Servel red lips when it was a big night out on the town.

He stared at it as it hummed quietly.  With a sigh, he rubbed the spot on the door that had kissed Maddie’s hip for so many years. He shut off the lights and clambered up to bed, wishing, not for the first time, that she were still there. Still telling him how to make her happy.

© ceg  6.11.13