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More short writing pieces

When I facilitated a writing class at the Roarke Center in downtown Troy I posed the question: ‘How would it feel to be young again?’

Here is my answer.

It depends upon how young? I always say I would never want to be in my 20’s again even though my health was the best then and I was fearless and inquisitive and knew everything about life there was to know. The downside was the uncertainty of where my life was headed, the heartaches over devastating breakups, the worry about how I dressed, talked, wore my hair. I was always worried about what others thought of me – ugh!

My childhood was pretty great. It was fun growing up on a farm with animals, a pond with a raft on it, the woods to play in. We all had chores to do but when they were done life was carefree.

As I grow older I look back with fondness on days gone by.

I think with nostalgia of being 60 again.

 

Another short fiction topic we wrote about was: ‘Who was Dorian Gray?’

My answer:

Dorian Gray was the penultimate ‘bad boy.’ He cared naught but for the pursuit of his own pleasure. It was an exciting, fun-filled life, in the beginning at least. With no purpose to his existence other than seeking what pleased him in the moment, Dorian’s life was losing its ‘punch.’

He had to keep seeking new ways to feel excited: drugs, alcohol, visiting brothels, dating stage actresses with questionable reputations and finally having his portrait painted by a famous artist so he could stare lovingly at his young, handsome countenance.

But, as inevitably happens, life caught up with Dorian. He aged. The young starlets no longer found him handsome and alluring. The drugs and alcohol ravaged  his face and body and finally his very soul. Even his painted self gazed back at him with dark circles under his eyes and sunken cheeks.

He killed the artist thinking it was he who made him look ugly. He killed the actress who no longer found him handsome. With each murder he became less and less human and more crazy.

Finally, he sought to end his anguished, downward slide by plunging a knife into the offending portrait thinking he would then return to his youthful self. However, the knife struck the solid steel frame, flipped end over end and stuck into his own chest.

As he lay dying in a puddle of melting ice cream he hit on his way down to the floor, his portrait-self wagged a finger at him and admonished:

‘Bad boy. You got your just desserts.’

 

Flash Fiction

In July 2019 I attended a Women’s Writing Retreat at Pyramid Life Center for a few serene, pristine, delightfully free-ing days in the Adirondacks.

A group of women writers, singers, performers, playwrights, educators, yoga and Tai Chi instructors, gathered together to share experiences and learn new ‘techniques of the trade’ in whatever form that took during the week. We shared our stories and songs and poetry each evening.

I took two classes: Art Journaling and learning to write Flash Fiction. The journaling class helped me unleash my creative side in words and form while Flash Fiction was a new genre for me.The idea was to write a complete story including plot, character development, scenes and resolution in 200 words or less! We began by just writing what came into our heads on a subject then spent the rest of the session editing it down and down again.

Following is a short story (although not under 200 words!) and collage I created during the week.

‘Fugue’

She sits at the piano letting her fingers flicker over the keys of ebony and ivory the word pianoforte coming into her mind. A few of the notes combine to sound like something she almost remembers..but no, the Cs,Ds and F sharps float away, unrecognizable, into space.

Her gaze shifts down to her clothes. Pink satin robe cinched tightly over a corset. She hates pink – or thinks she does. As she twirls on the little piano stool she catches sight of a face in the wavy glass of the floor-to-ceiling window. She feels suddenly dizzy and fizzy and is frightened by the image of the auburn-haired woman she does not recognize peering back at her. As she slows her panicky breathing and racing heart the questions come flooding in: ‘Where am I?’ which leads to ‘Who am I?’ which, because of the strangeness of her surroundings, inevitably leads to ‘When am I?’

As these thoughts race and tumble one upon another a young man steps through another floor-to-ceiling window and cries: ‘There you are! I was so worried when you did not return from your walk into town.’

She whispers back, not trusting what her voice will sound like: ‘I lost track of the time and am just recently returned.’

To herself she thinks: Hah! I have lost track of everything – time, place, names – except for Victor here. Ah! his name is Victor!

She does not know who she is to him. Sister, wife, lover? so she treads lightly with her next question. ‘Victor do we have plans this evening?’

‘Oh Emily, my sweet, lovely, disappearing sister, how can you have forgotten we dine with Alistair and Mims at 8?’

Emily gives her head a shake trying to clear her brain of the fuzziness she feels. Who are Alistair and Mims?

Looking around again at the room which is decorated in heavy fabrics and huge gilded picture frames, and at the clothing she and Victor are wearing, she surmises she has awoken from her 2019 stupefying sleep into the world of Edith Wharton.

What was it her 20th century psychiatrist called this ‘time traveling’ she keeps obsessing about each session?

A Fugue state brought on by a traumatic, heart-wrenching event she does not want to remember.

Better to live in the past, in someone else’s present time. Emily’s time.

She rises from the stool and gives safe, reliable Victor her hand.

 

 

Haikus

sunlight through window
dawn is the rise of morning
a cat shivers by

dandelion blossom
beneath the stand of birches
summer weed harvest

yellow moon dog
barking beneath our window
walks between my dreams

fish listen to the wind
spring laughs when winter leaves
I dream of thunder

a small child is crying
her wet eyes windows of rain
a song for evening

journey to mushroom fields
a walk through green shore grasses
I stand in the wild

listen to the wind
howling through snowfield
cold spring shivers

purple clouds above
black night falling up through light
thunder whispers beneath

shell woman walks wild
her wet skin shivering ice
owls cry up in a tree

concrete road beneath
I sleepwalk through a morning dream
cold raindrops whisper

yellow housecat howls
cold autumn evening has come
harvest moon above

happy garden water
trickling beneath plant and grass
a song of summer

an early spring snow
falling on small green blossoms
freeze the weeds

she whispers a song
the wind investigates her sound
laughing at this moon

a dandelion dream
standing by a garden stream
wild flowers bloom green

The Summer the War Came to Town

She stayed quiet as a mouse, hidden behind the ice cream parlor by the railroad tracks that cut her little village in half.  These tracks were the lifeline of this town. People either worked for the railroad, or the salt mines that needed the trains to move the salt out into the wide world, or worked in the few stores, food stands and bars that supplied the salt mine and railroad workers with their physical needs and desires. The sprinkling of churches fulfilled their spiritual needs. The cemeteries cradled their sorrows.

Today she was staying hidden until the noon train came through carrying Army troops from the induction base in Niagara Falls to the docks in New York City where these brave men would ship out overseas to the Great War happening in Europe and Asia. She had it all planned out. When the train stopped to drop off the mail bag she would jump out waving the little American flag she had ‘borrowed’ from one of the graves in the village cemetery. Not from the Catholic section where her family’s dead reside. That would be sacrilegious at the very least. She would put the flag back into the ‘dearly departed son’ Methodist plot when the train pulled away.

Around 11:50 a.m. the villagers start to line the tracks on either side even though the Station Master has yet to ring the bell announcing the troop train’s imminent arrival. Over the past months when the train depot’s bell has rung, all the kids run alongside the slow-moving cars filled with smartly uniformed young men, throwing them candy and cigarettes and yelling ‘kill a Kraut for me – or two!’, or ‘Good luck over there’ or ‘Hurray for the USA’ and other foolish things. She stays hidden until the last possible moment because she is supposed to be at her Grandpa’s Bar and Grill helping her Grandma serve the lunchtime crowd. She sneaked away when everyone was otherwise occupied. Not a great plan, but she never liked missing a troop train going by.  It was the only excitement in an otherwise dull as dishwater weekend.

But today is different. No bell is rung even though she can hear the train rumbling along the tracks, see the black smoke as it rises into the still noonday air. Now, as she peeks around the corner of the ice cream parlor she sees the engine is not pulling passenger cars, but cars used to transport cattle. As the cars roll slowly by, there are eyes peering through the slats and uniformed arms hanging out with  strange-looking marks on the sleeves. The crowd is stone silent. No one throws cigarettes or candy. No one waves an American flag. She hears a man’s voice – the Post Master’s? – say ‘These aren’t our boys. They’re Nazi devils. May they rot in Hell!’

And, in the blink of an eye, she understands what has been going on in the valley a few miles from her village, not far from where she lives with her Grandparents. But why here, in the middle of nowhere? Or is that the point? Who would ever guess there were German POWs near little Silver Springs, New York? Her curiosity pulls her from her hiding place. The villagers who are lining the tracks stand as still as cemetery statues. No one is looking around, so she walks up to the curb in front of the ice cream parlor and, she too, stands stock still while the cattle cars roll slowly by. She is fascinated by the pairs of eyes staring at her and, against her patriotic will, she waves a small wave to one young face partially showing through a fair-sized hole in the side of one of the cars. She sees his blond hair, blue eyes – one eye really – and a chin with very few whiskers on it. Why, he can’t be more than 17! She wiggles her fingers again and he flashes a brief smile, then a look of despair clouds his face once more as his car moves on down the track.

After the last car exits Silver Springs and the train picks up speed again, the few villagers still standing around shake their fists at the receding caboose. A few yell swear words, but most just turn away and go back about their business. She feels she is the only one who wants to follow the train and get a closer look at ‘the enemy.’ She knows about the terrible war in Europe and in the far off Pacific Ocean. Aren’t her two favorite uncles, Rudy and Jimmy, over there fighting the Nazi and Japanese devils? Doesn’t she hear her Grandma crying at night while cradling pictures of her beloved sons? And yet…something gnaws at the edges of her mind as she walks slowly back to her Grandpa’s bar, the American flag belonging to ‘dearly departed son’ left behind at the curb. The young Nazi man she got a glimpse of. Isn’t his mama crying at night for him, not knowing he is alive and right here in Wyoming County scared and missing his home?

She resolves in that moment to go to the POW camp and find that young Nazi man.

Well…that was easier said than done. When her Grandma found out she had skipped lunch duty she was stuck working in either the bar washing dishes or in the house doing just every chore her Grandma could think up for her to do. She couldn’t see any of her friends outside of school for a week!

But, finally, the week ends and on a Saturday afternoon after her chores are done she knocks on  her best friend’s kitchen door and the two are off to the ice cream parlor. While savoring every last drip of their vanilla cones she lays out her plans for sneaking close to the POW camp. She doesn’t say she is looking for any one POW in particular, just spying on everyone in there. Her friend is hesitant to go along but they did everything together so she finally says yes.

They get their bikes and start the four mile trek towards Castile. The road is mostly flat so an easy ride until they reach the small hills that border the camp. As they crest the steepest hill, panting with the effort, her mouth drops open and an ‘Oh my goodness gracious’ escapes her lips. The girls look at each other in amazement then back to the scene below.

There are lots and lots of people down there, maybe hundreds, maybe a thousand! Barbed wire fencing surrounds a huge piece of land. There are many low buildings where the prisoners must sleep. There are outhouses scattered around the perimeter. There are American soldiers with rifles walking around the camp and four small towers with armed men guarding the fence lines from above.  After taking this all in, the thought occurs to her: What do they do here all day? It is late June and getting warmer in the afternoons. There are no trees in this valley for shade and nothing to keep hundreds of men occupied day after day. The general atmosphere seems pretty calm from her perch. Maybe these Nazi prisoners don’t mind so much being away from the war at home. Maybe they are even a little glad to be here. It seems like a safe place somehow.

After an hour or so the girls pedal home, each lost in her own thoughts. How am I going to find the young Nazi  I saw for 10 seconds the day the train rolled by? I will find a way to see him again. I will!

The days and weeks go by in a blur of end-of-the-schoolyear activities. She graduates from the eighth grade and soon it is the 4th of July and the summer heat and general lethargy have kicked in. the girls have no opportunity to go back to the POW camp and are itching to do so. They have started their summer jobs making money that both families need, working evenings in the ice cream parlor when it is busy with kids and even grownups lining up for a cold milkshake or ice cream cone. Their arms ache from scooping ice cream from the big tubs behind the front counter but this is good for their muscles when it comes time to harvest the field crops come early August. She also works every morning and afternoon at her Grandpa’s Bar and Grill.

She daydreams about the Nazi soldier, trying to picture what he is doing, which building he lives in, how he spends his long, hot summer days. She gives him a name. Heinrich. The only other German-sounding name she knows is Rudolph, but that is her favorite uncle’s name and he is overseas in Germany fighting the Nazis, so that doesn’t seem right.

It’s August now and the first field crops of tomatoes and green beans and snap peas are ready to be picked. Because so many area men are away to the war, every able-bodied villager has to go out to the farms to help with the harvest. The girls ride off on their bikes at 6:00 a.m. even on a Sunday morning. The village priest has granted a ‘special dispensation’ for his parishioners to miss Mass for the next month of Sundays. Even he is out in the fields in his funny straw hat picking tomatoes and beans alongside his flock of worshipers.

One especially sweltering Sunday morning there’s a thrumming noise along with a long, single cloud of dust as truck after truck move along the one road leading to the fields. The trucks stop alongside the villagers’ bikes and out jump the Nazi POWs still in their army uniforms, now a bit tattered and frayed but, it must be admitted, still smart-looking. The girl looks up from her row of green beans and there before her stands her German soldier – as she has thought of him these many weeks – tall, blond with the clear blue eyes piercing into her very soul. And she is catapulted into a future in which she is an old woman telling this story to her great-granddaughter Liesle who has the piercing blue eyes and white- blond hair of her great-grandfather, long dead now, whose name turned out to be Heinrich. Really……

Spiral of Time

I have always been fascinated by the theory of ‘time-travel.’ Can this happen? And if it does, how does a person cope with the phenomenon of living in two places at once? How would she keep all the people and places straight in her mind?

During my research I came upon the word ‘fugue’ and looked up its meaning – of which there are a few. They may seem to be very different, but perhaps not. I played a CD of Bach’s Fugues for the Harpsichord while writing and that helped me understand the inter-weavings of time and space through musical notes.

 

Fugue: a musical form consisting of a theme repeated a fifth above or a fourth below the continuing first statement.

Fugue: a dreamlike state in which a person disappears from normal life, travels extensively and loses memory of the previous life. Personality dissociation, a psychotic condition.

Fugue: from Italian/Latin: a running away or flight from

Weaving these various meanings of the word ‘fugue’ together I have written the following short story – the ending of which leaves the window open for my main character’s further travels through time.

 

Spiral of Time

 

She sits at the

pian0-forte

letting the fingers of

her right hand

flicker over the keys

of ebony and ivory.

Occasionally, a few

of the notes

sound like something she

almost

remembers…..

 

The melody is

just beyond

her           reach.

 

Almost has it….

but no,

it is gone again

 

the Cs and Ds and F-sharps

 

f  l  o  a  t  i  n  g   a w  a  y

into

space

 

past the edges of the blank page

that is

her

past.

 

Her gaze lowers to see

herself

seated upon

a velvet cushion

that spins

counter-clockwise when

she pushes on

the carpeted floor with

her satin-slippered foot

to give herself the exact

height she needs to

place her fingers upon

the keys and position her small foot

on the pedal

just          so….

Piano-forte , she thinks,

what a lovely name

for a musical instrument.

soft-loud

or

whisper-shout

or

muted-strong.

Opposites  waiting, breathless,

to make a pleasing collaboration

of sounds……

 

She runs her fingers

over the keys

made from

elephant tusks

and loses herself

in thoughts of

those mighty creatures

hunted down

to make these keys

under her slender hands.

 

While musing thus

on these thoughts

and others

her foot swivels

the velvet stool towards

the floor-to-ceiling window where

her reflection catches her

unaware

she stares

in surprise and not a little fright

at the wavy, muted form and

stands straight up.

 

She feels

dizzy

and

fizzy

puts her hand on  the

window glass

to steady herself.

Thoughts and images

come in

roiling

and

coiling

tripping over

one another

in their haste

to fill her

brain.

She peers closer

at the

reflection

still wavy in

the glass

and sees she is wearing

a dressing gown

of ivory like

the piano-forte keys

and flowing like

the musical notes

she cannot quite

remember….

 

Her waist is

tightly cinched by a corset

the gown’s sleeves of lace

falling away when

she stretches her arms

upward to

pat her hair.

Her hair!

swept up atop her head

and

it looks

red!

She pats her hair once more

re-pinning the

escaping tendrils back

behind her ears with

the ivory combs.

 

More elephants sacrificed for me?

 

She straightens and smooths

the dressing gown and

tries to take a deep breath

nearly impossible in this confining corset.

 

She slows her now rapid

shallow breathing and her racing

pulse

 

Okay

 

She feels a bit

calmer now

dreamy in fact and

curious…

 

Where am I?

which leads to

What is my name?

which, because of the

strange way she is dressed,

inevitably leads to

 

When am I?

 

Just as these

thoughts

race and

tumble

upon

one another

a young man

steps over the threshold of

an open floor-to-ceiling

window

at the opposite end

of the room

and cries

‘There you are!’

 

which outburst answers none

of the questions

posed to her reflection

a few moments before.

 

He rushes towards her

grasps her hands

and declares,

‘Where have you been?’

 

(good question, she thinks)

 

‘I was so worried when

you did not return from

your walk into town.’

 

 

Barely trusting her voice

for she does not know

what it will sound like

to him (or to her)

she whispers instead,

‘I lost track of time’

 

How true!

 

He laughs, then,

‘Of course you did, my dear,

and you look quite tired

come sit on the divan

whilst I get you a glass

of cool lemonade.’

 

She sinks, gratefully,

onto the damask-covered sofa

(divan he called it)

and she thinks how

nothing about her surprises him

not her face

nor her dressing gown

nor her voice

nor the fact she was playing

the piano-forte…

All are familiar to him

so names are not needed.

They must know one another

intimately.

 

Unbidden, the melody

overtakes her thoughts

again

the one her fingers were

absent-mindedly

picking out earlier.

The first few notes sing

inside

her head

repeated in higher

tones

then lower

tones,

disjointed, strange,

yet pleasing and

yes, alluring…

 

Her fingers ache

to play the keys once more

but she folds her hands tightly

before her as

Victor steps back into the room

comically balancing two glasses

and a pitcher on a tiny

silver tray.

 

Victor! that is his name….

and she is saved!

    at least for now.

 

‘Here, drink this slowly so

you do not feel faint from

the shock of the cold.”

(only the shock of the cold?)

‘Thank you, Victor, for the drink

and your concern for my

health and well-being.’

He looks at her strangely

perhaps pondering

her formality with him.

Who is he to her?

brother, 

friend,

lover perhaps?

She will have to tread lightly

and ask questions

that are leading

yet

not so as to arouse

his suspicions as to

her current mental state (which is what?)

 

Boldly she asks, ‘Victor, do we have plans for

this evening? I have quite forgotten whether

we are dining in or elsewhere.’

 

‘Oh, my love,

my sweet Emily,

how can you have forgotten?’