Category Archives: Fiction

A Woman Turns to God

Journal entry 2003? 2004?

B grew up Jewish and vegetarian in a cattle-ranching, German-Lutheran town somewhere in Texas, with a mother who ‘flip-flopped between belief and non-belief. So one year there’d be a God, the next year none.’ She remembers resenting this. I try and imagine what that experience must be like for a child. Now you see Her/Him/It. Now you don’t. Some people believe God created the world in seven days. But how many days I wonder, does it take for some people to ‘create’ God?

And B? Long story short: ‘Years later here I am and having grown up the way I did, I find myself searching for-’ she pauses, glows earnest and sheepish,–‘a place to be spiritual in.’

***

Writing Exercise 2008 modeled on Rick Moody’s Boys (employ a simple action, repetitively, and use it to convey much more than the action)

A Woman Turns to God (a fictional scrap on flip-flopping between belief and non belief)

A woman turns to God, a woman turns to God. A woman turns to the idea of God (powerful, shifting, periodically forgotten and recalled). A woman once a child, taught to place palm against palm shut her eyes bow her head, turns to God. World dips in and out of view, namaste a play on peek-a-boo, a woman turns and smiles: I see you. Tight black braids in ribbons, tongue-tied by visitors, prodded into prayer, a performance piece for parents and a pantheon (three hundred and thirty million gods to choose from) the loose end of a sari flutters as a woman turns to God. Memories of a girl’s long red skirt, border shot through in gold, wondering if temple idols in their splendid silks understand English, chants in an intricate language she does not know. Ancient words like polished marbles roll off the tongue, gleaming like doorknobs trailing like vines. She is the Magician’s Assistant muttering a mantra under her breath, capable of causing lightening to tear across a sunburned sky, turning tap water into holy milk, and a failing grade to a first.  What you don’t understand is what makes anything possible.

And a woman waking to the shrill cry of the bell on the milkman’s bicycle turns to God. A woman haggling over the price of bottle gourd and papaya with a street vendor on her doorstep turns to God. A woman carrying gratitude like a clumsy bundle of firewood (blessings are bought this way) turns to God, offers thanks for whitewashed home, gentle husband, healthy children, college degree, gold bangles and red banana tree. Lamp-lit stories at grandmother’s knee of a divine monkey who mistook the sun for a ripe mango tries to rip it from the sky, an exiled prince in hermit’s bark , a roguish cowherd who plays the flute, lifts a mountain to shield a village from the driving rain, dances on the hood of a serpent, smiles at death. The pixie dust of myth and legend settles as a woman turns to God preoccupied with more domestic stories absent-minded devotion a daily custom with long-term benefits (like brushing your teeth).

But on a waiting-for-the-monsoon Wednesday in October, a woman grates fresh ginger into her tea, turns to God, with quiet recklessness questions for the first time what good this mode of interaction does either of them. For almost a week a woman dizzy with daring, elated and curious, does not turn to God. A woman smiles at her husband rendered freshly boyish by the barber and does not turn to God. Loses her silver toe-ring, finds a trickle of ants in the sugar jar, gossips over the garden wall with her neighbor, a woman hums an old film song, spends a few foolish moments in front of a mirror, listens for three whistles of the rice cooker, loudly scolds the sheepish, slightly deaf hung-over (again) dhobi not once, not once ever turning to God. Until on the sixtieth night watching her youngest child asleep, a woman fills predictably with fierce tenderness and unaccountable fear of a nameless future, turns to God.

A woman newly fragile turns to God, rising with mild repentance and an updated agenda, makes an offering of coconut (to be cracked on the stone slab of a shrine by a priest), a garland of jasmine and soft pink country roses (to be draped around the shoulders of a dark-skinned deity), three tablets of camphor (that will flame in the smoky chamber after she is gone). A woman turns to God wonders briefly why the insides of churches are so still and quiet and the insides of temples are not. A woman turning leans unwittingly into the old paradox of peace within circumstances of barefoot, vermilion-smeared, incense-scented, brass-bell-ringing chaos. Deep in the belly of a temple a woman turns, knows in her bones to prepare for push-comes-to-shove reverence as pilgrims press forward to snatch a glimpse of God. Thin priest inches through with his flaming plate as a woman on tiptoe turns to God. Cupped palms drop softly clinking coins, stretch towards the light, press transferred warmth and comfort to closed eyes. Feels the envelope of an invisible presence, the stirrings of an old familiar knowing that thought cannot reach, reason cannot unseat. Warm air thickens with mingled motivations, ordinary mortal yearning and the riddled timeless burning of one woman’s baffled turning, yet once more, to God.


Out of Character

Elaborate. If he had been asked to describe Chandralekha in one word that’s the one he would have picked. It did not strike him that she might be offended by his choice. He was not an elaborate man. Everything he uttered originated off the top of his head. Some found this an endearing, even relaxing quality. Others had stopped speaking to him years ago.

Everything Chandralekha uttered, on the other hand, welled up with scarlet urgency from subcutaneous layers of her being, like blood to the surface of a wound. She was a woman given to curlicues. Living in loops and swirls that would have dizzied anyone but a dervish. When she signed her name, the C distended like a sail in high winds, the stalk of the d blew backwards, the foot of the l dipped below the plane of the other letters like a toe in a tidal pool. Not to be left behind the k kicked up its heels like a Russian dancer and the tail of the final a defied gravity springing into the air and rainbowing over the completed name in an extravagant arch that ended in a complex series of pen-tip pirouettes. A miniature performance unto itself, and one not easily forged.

Of the two he was the more ethical, and she the more kind-hearted. He never broke a traffic rule or fell behind on his bills and he donated an exact percentage of his income to charity every year, never a penny more or less. She treated stop signs as suggestions, borrowed copious amounts of money, books, clothes and jewelry from friends and returned them haphazardly and not always to the person they came from. But there wasn’t a single thing she owned that she would not give away if she came across someone she thought could use it more than she. None of her umbrellas had ever lasted longer than the first rainy day after purchase.

When he asked her to marry him they were at a stoplight walking home with a group of friends after dinner at a local diner. A block earlier Chandralekha had bought an impulsive armful of sunflowers from a flower stand, “because there are just too many people in this city walking around with mournful faces when they have no business to.” Then she’d proceeded in her usual modus operandi (reckless abandon), to give all the sunflowers away, delighting some strangers and alarming others. It occurred to him then, standing at the red stoplight, that in a million years it would never occur to him to do what she had just done, or anything in the same or even neighboring zipcode of what she had just done. Unless they were married. In which case given enough time, her verve, passion and spontaneity might possibly rub off on him. And even if it didn’t, it would still be accessible. Like a window that he could look out on the world through, and lean his forehead against when the view grew too puzzling.

“Will you marry me Chandralekha?” he asked with unusual feeling, and she opened her mouth to say laughingly, “When cows do cartwheels!” So she was as surprised as any of the others when as the Walk sign flashed on, she said instead simply: “Yes.” And taking his arm crossed to the other side with no further elaboration.


Green Sombreros

From 2003 in response to a request to write a true-ish story featuring green sombreros and elephants .

 Rabble-worn gravel path gradually traveled/A rebel unraveling stumbled and babbled…

You must leave here at once said the wind. Jump out of your window and into my arms and I will carry you far away from this danger and foolishness.

Will you really? she asked.

You have my word whistled the wind- Come on- it’ll be a Vacation.

A vacation from what?

Sense and Supposed-to-Bees.

I am not a huge fan of Sense and Supposed-to-bees.

So you’re waiting for what exactly?

She jumped and was caught in a cool rush. Arms so strong and safe that she laughed out loud for the first time in the longest time and the moon came out from behind a cloud to see what it was that merited such mirth.

Where are you taking me? she asked.

Do you think the wind knows where it’s going?

She smiled into the darkness.

Does it matter? he asked.

Not so much.

Good said the wind. That means we’ll get there.

Below them a smorgasbord world, set like a table for the feast of a king. Such muchness she thought. Her heart filling and spilling dizzy with delight as the wind dipped and spun a boyish ballet below the stars.

Alice down the Rabbit Hole he said. Wonderland is Everywhere.

Why have I never been here before?

Because you were too scared of falling.

He that is down need fear no fall…

No Fear No Fun said the wind and spun her upside down.

When she finally caught her breath she started to laugh and when she finally stopped laughing she said honestly I should go home now.

Why?

I have my reasons.

Reasons-raisins said the wind. You’re not that important.

I’m not?

No.

She smiled.

I am tired so tired. I have sleep to do and work to dream that’s it isn’t it?

Something like.

You don’t really want to go home do you?

She smiled.

Jump said the wind suddenly and it was a command.

What?

Jump.

She looked down. There was a longish ways to look.

Go on. Dive deep.

For what?

For pearls maybe. Maybe for fun.

For fun pearls?

That too.

When you’re diving it helps to believe there’s water under you, no?

That’s one theory.

Right she said.

And jumped headfirst into the jasmine-scented night.

***

The gecko looked at her critically. May I ask a silly question?

She nodded yes sticking flat to the wall and thinking life would be a whole lot easier if she could see it in the singular. Talking geckos were an entirely new phenomenon to her and she wanted to pay attention to the experience, something not so easily done when you are seeing things in triplicate.

If wishes were horses what would horses be?

If wishes were horses…she trailed off there trying to think.

You don’t know do you? Three accusing pairs of gecko eyes glared at her with unconcealed contempt.

Does it matter?

Do you?

Yes!

Well then.

This wasn’t going well for her.

She shook her head trying to clear it.

Now there was just one gecko but one with three voices.

She’s not very bright is she?

Maybe she fell on her head when she was a baby.

That’s one theory.

Did not!

And she was about to follow that with something suitably cutting, but the wind came by and shushed her with a cool finger laid against her lips.

Make-believe he whispered.

What?

When you don’t know- the answer is Make Believe.

Go on. Make-them-Believe.

But-

Sometimes said the wind, the Truth is a matter-of-fiction…

And then it was just the glaring gecko and the girl again

Flamingos she said loudly.

Flamingos!

Three voices in almost-unison. The gecko looked beamish.

If wishes were horses, horses would be-

Flamingos.

Absurd.

Excellent!

Why thank you.

Why thank me? Instantaneous indignation in a green gecko glare.

Oh help.

Off the Wall! thundered three voices

She shrugged and smiled.

I’m done with you she said.

And fell off the wall.

***

She fell for a long while and didn’t notice the flamingo flapping amiably alongside her until he cleared his throat with significant politeness.

A Flamingo she said blankly because she felt rather called upon to say something and nothing else seemed appropriate to the occasion.

No ma’am, a horse said the pink bird smugly and a poet at that.

To prove his point he then proceeded to declaim the following

Roses are red violets are blue.

I think it’s funny that last should be true.

…Well what do you think?

It’s very- succinct, she said.

Succinct said the horse-who-was-a-flamingo and profound yes?

That also.

You’re not a poet too are you?

No no.

That’s all right. Somebody has to be ordinary so it may as well be you.

She wasn’t sure she liked that take on things, but the horse-who-was-a-flamingo continued with a knowing sidelong glance-

You didn’t intend to turn out ordinary did you? No matter. Accidents happen.

I am not an Accident she said hotly.

And just then hit the surface of the cold water with a loud splash.

***

Can we talk about something else please? I’m off cigarettes, alcohol and dreams.

She looked up at the man across the table from her, he was blowing bubbles out of a purple pipe and sipping something frothy from an orange and green coffee mug that said “World’s Greatest Sister” across it in sky blue lettering.

What were we talking about?

Doesn’t matter said the man let’s talk about something else.

Why are you off Dreams?

Why aren’t you?

Oh but I am.

Why?

I used to think if I sat around dreaming out of windows and over the moon then sure as death and taxes Someday My Prince Would Come etc.

Mass-marketed Disney Dreams- When You Wish Upon A Star etc.

What?

Pay no attention to me. You were saying?

That dreams mean nothing unless you wake up. That Wishing Upon Stars is all very well but then you have to get up and do something. That you can’t sit around waiting for things to happen to you. You have to Go Out and Happen to Things.

You make that up yourself?

Actually, I saw this poster once.

Ah.

Anyway, I’m no longer the casement window sort.

And what sort are you pray?

A different kind of stereotype: The Hungry-for-the-Big-Bad-World sort.

By that sin fell the angels.

Yes but I’ve always thought Lucifer would have been an interesting conversationalist. Are you laughing at me?

Yes.

You think I speak in jest?

Jest is a good word.

It is.

Do you remember me?

Should I?

Try.

So she wrinkled her brow and blew softly over the fingers of one palm- then – yes she said her eyes bright and indecipherable. I remember. We met in a dream on Wednesday night at that corner street restaurant. You were sitting at the table across from mine wearing an orange tie with purple flowers and singing the national anthem backwards, yes?

No he said kindly.

It was a nice thought though.

It was. And there’s another one coming up right behind you.

She turned and her arm brushed against the orange and green mug that said “World’s Greatest Sister” in sky blue lettering, and as it fell of the table in slow motion the room began to spin like a top on the asphalt and she wondered what next.

***

Am I in your way? said the great blue elephant sadly.

Not particularly she said.

Well that’s neither here nor there.

Well neither am I.

Yes but you’re in my way.

You might’ve just said so you know.

I was being polite said the great blue elephant with haughty gloom

I was not to the ill-manner born. And where I come from rights-of-passage are respected.

Rights-of-passage?

Yes. Gullible Girl before Great Blue Elephant, Great Blue Elephant before Godforsaken Treetoad, Godforsaken Treetoad before-

I think I understand.

You think you’re rather clever don’t you?

I didn’t say that!

Ah- but you thought it.

How do you know I’m gullible?

Well you’re here aren’t you.

I – I don’t know.

So you see- you’re not so clever after all.

You’re very unhappy.

Yes said the great blue elephant and burst into copious tears.

And what’s worse is you’re bored.

Unbridled Boredom said the great blue elephant passionately, is my middle name.

Not very catchy.

No. Frankly I’d prefer Hortensio.

Nice.

Isn’t it though?

You need to be meaningfully engaged.

To who tell? I asked the Love of my Life and she said Come back Tuesday.

When you’re not meaningfully engaged you start to spend vast quantities of time and thought on stuff that doesn’t matter or shouldn’t- and eventually you end up believing that you’re Unhappy.

Is that True?

I would never lie to you.

I need to be meaningfully engaged.

What’s stopping you?

Well- he stopped there sheepishly (and for a great blue elephant no small feat that.)

Oh- I see- I’m in your way.

The great blue elephant shot her a grateful look as she stepped aside. Bless you he said in Tamil tapping her head lightly with his long trunk and as he did so the ground gave way beneath her and she found herself falling.

Here we go again she said.

***

The girl in the mirror looked decidedly- cross.

What ever took you so long?

I didn’t know you were waiting.

That’s what they all say. Don’t you want to get to know yourself?

Yes.

Well then?

My mother told me never to talk to strangers.

How has that worked out for you?

More or less.

More. Or. Less?

Less.

Figures you know. If you don’t go within you go without.

So I’m too late?

As it happens you’re just in time. Come on In.

She took a step forward, tripped and fell through the silvery surface.

Well that’s one way of doing it said the girl in the mirror.

Quiet down you she said.

***

Are you looking for Jeffrey? said a creature looking most suspiciously like a Godforsaken Treetoad.

No.

I don’t think that’s true.

And who are you?

I’m Jeffrey.

I don’t think that’s true.

No it’s not said the creature and fell on his knees I’m just a Godforsaken Treetoad.

You ought to abandon your pretenses you know.

And would you take care of them if I did ?

Not so much.

Well then.

You can get up now.

Aren’t you going to knight me first?

I think no.

What good are you he said rising sulkily.

There’s nothing wrong with being a Treetoad.

Go away.

Treetoads are Real.

And that’s a good thing?

Yes.

Are Moose Real?

Yes.

What about Jeffrey?

Who’s Jeffrey?

I am said the oddly shaped piece of furniture in the corner, raising its head. And she realized then that it wasn’t an oddly shaped piece of furniture at all. It was a Moose.

You’re Jeffrey?

I could be.

What does that mean?

What do You mean?

I- I’m not sure yet.

Everyone said the Moose must mean something. To someone.

That’s what makes you Real.

You are very Real she said quietly.

And very Ugly said the Moose and he twinkled at her.

I think you’re Uncommonly Attractive said the Treetoad with schoolboy earnestness.

Let that be a lesson said the Moose.

To who? She asked

Whom corrected the Moose and abruptly disappeared taking the Treetoad with him.

She stood there for awhile. Mulling. And as she mulled the room turned into a giant chute and she was sliding down it faster than she could think down to the very Bottom of What Exactly she Did Not Know.

***

The back of the bus was rather bumpy, her head unexpectedly encountered the ceiling several times in the space of the first five minutes and as she rubbed its top rather ruefully the girl with the billion-bitty-braids said without looking at her, I hope you don’t mind I’ve taken the aisle.

Not at all she said.

I have to be able to see where we’re going or I feel sick she explained opening a Protein bar and proffering the part sticking over the top of the package.

Thanks she said taking a small bite wondering the while why she had never found it necessary to see where she was going when she was going anywhere and wondering if that was at all sane.

You know I was supposed to be visiting the Taj today said a voice somewhat pointedly from the other side of the girl with the billion-bitty-braids.

I thought this was your Day of Silence said the girl in the aisle seat her head still unturned.

No that was Thursday said the voice cheerfully.

It is Thursday.

That’s a bald-faced lie.

She leaned forward to see where emanated this voice from and thus encountered the rugged features of a young person wearing a shirt of sheer lavender and a faded blue lungi patterned with sarcastic looking elephants.

Are you very upset about the Taj? she inquired solicitously.

Devastated he said comfortably, dried cherries anyone? And he passed around a small bag of the jeweled fruit.

Where are you supposed to be? asked the girl with the billion-bitty-braids.

She summoned the word Home to her lips from where it was buried deep down inside her, but The Floating Islands got there first so when she opened her mouth that’s what fell out.

Over-rated said he who was supposed to be visiting the Taj.

So are Supposed-to-Bees said the girl in the aisle turning for a brief second to smile before her gaze whipped back to where they were all going. All that really matters is what IS.

Have to say I’m with her on that one he said.

And what Is- I mean are – you going to do now?

I’m going to get married.

How do you feel about that?

It’s Interesting.

Who’s the girl?

Manjula Subramaniaswamy. She’s from a village near a city called Madurai you probably haven’t heard of it.

Oh I’ve heard of it she said crushing a soursweet cherry between finger and thumb before streaking a vertical line of vermilion across his brow: Wish You a Happy Married Life.

Thank You Ma’am.

A friendly silence ensued. She chewed the red fruit thoughtfully and began to feel maybe there was some method to this madness after all.

I think now you should tell me a story, said the young person wearing the shirt of sheer lavender, fiancé of Manjula Subramaniaswamy from a small village near Madurai, and I think it should have feature: green sombreros and elephants.

She frowned trying to understand why this story sounded so strangely familiar to her. Just when she thought she might have it, the bus hit an exceptionally obnoxious speed breaker and she felt herself sailing out of her seat and right out the window.

***

The wind caught her easily, You’re a long ways from home young lady he said feigning sternness.

Where is your home? she asked feeling suddenly very sleepy.

Nowhere. Where’s yours.

Everywhere she said her eyes drifting shut.

Same Difference said the Wind softly without stopping.

***

We think you should wear this said the two salespersons in perfect unison pointing to a very minute overtly outlandish outfit hanging on the clothes rack in front of her.

What’s wrong with my sari? she said and then saw that it was coming all undone.

This will be more Comfortable, they continued still in chorus, and infinitely more Entertaining.

She surveyed the suggested costume skeptically.

Do you have that in red? she asked finally.

The salespersons smiled over her head at each other. One of them led her to a stool and said Forget the dress and sit down.

The other brought over a glass of cold milk and a plateful of cookies.

She gathered up as much of her trailing sari as she could and tucked it in at the waist belligerently. I detect a distinct air of condescension here she said. And I dislike it intensely.

There There chimed the salespersons soothingly. Don’t let us upset you child.

I am older than both of you she said stormily, and Three times as scandalous.

Scandalous? they fought a hard, desperate and losing battle against the kind and disbelieving laughter in their eyes.

So there was nothing left for her to do but stand up on the stool with the air of The Boy who Stood on the Burning Deck and flash forth the following in full voice:

When it feels like sin

Is extra thin

And you can through it see

It isn’t called a nightdress then-

It’s called a Negli-gee.

And then she looked around triumphantly challenging any living soul to stand up and declare she was anything less than outrageous, outlandish outfit or none. No one spoke, thus vindicated she moved to get off the stool her foot caught on her sari, the stool tipped and the room tilted dangerously.

***

Stop said a voice sternly. It was a girl dressed all in white save for a bright red patch sewed onto one pant leg munching popcorn out of a plastic bag.

So she stopped.

You need to quit running away said the girl authoritatively. This behavior is thoroughly unacceptable.

Running away from what?

From what you need.

I want. I don’t need.

More than anything else-

It’s a question of Greed.

Cute. But True? Not so much said the girl impassively and then impulsively- I’m like that too.

Like what?

An Escapegoat.

An Escapegoat?

That’s one word for it. Yes. Running bleating and frantic and foolish from-

From what?

Fate.

Fate?

That’s one word for it. Yes. So why do you cut and run?

When the heart of me to butter turns the tongue of me to stutter then the butterflies inside of me do flutter soft but rampantly they mutter most incessantly oh what an utter fool is she and I can only splutter not deny.

Poetry to postpone Pleasure?

Or put off Pain.

And how does that work for you?

Not so much. Can I ask a silly question?

Shoot.

What is happiness to you?

Laundry said the girl firmly Laundry, soap-scented, sun-faded, serenely flapping in a slight breeze on an old clothesline in someone’s backyard or sweetly waving like so many young lovers over paint-peeling balconies on a narrow sidestreet somewhere in Italy

Or like prayer flags on snow-tipped mountains where the air is diamond sharp and incense-sweet somewhere in southern Tibet?

Exactly.

I don’t want to run away from something like that.

Then don’t.

Remember: In every passing moment lies the chance to Turn it All Around.

That’s very wise. Did you make it up?

Actually I saw this movie once.

I need to start watching the right movies.

You need to start Turning it All Around said the girl with the red patch sewed onto one leg of her pants and even as she spoke the world started up into a slow whirl up and down and around and up and down and around and up and down and…like an irresistible carousel revolving to a faerytune on the misty fairground of a future that seemed at once impossibly near and impossibly far away.

***

I’m tired, said the Boy-Who-Didn’t-Particularly-Want-To-Ever-Grow-Up, sitting on green grass skipping small stones over the glass surface of a borderless bluegray sea.

Tired of what? she asked

Options. Too much. Too many. They give me headaches.

She thought about that for a long while.

Would you care to originate a sentiment? enquired the Boy somewhat dryly after what he deemed to be an inordinate interval of inconclusive silence.

Blow Wind Sun Shine Water Run Climb Vine Twinkle Twinkle Little Star Knowing Who and What You Are Knowing What You Have to Do Choiceless Lucky Ducks are you.

There you are he said The Freedom of the Fateless vs the Prison of Plural Possibility.

Boy?

Yesmm.

Choices concern and control mere Circumstances. Decisions don’t determine your Destiny.

And what does?

You do.

It’s the same deal.

Not Really. I once ate an entire bowl of Fortune Cookies.

Why?

Trying to find a Fate I liked.

And-?

All I got out of that was The Mother of All Stomachaches and a Realization.

That?

That it’s not so much about which cookie do I eat and how’s it going to crumble. It’s about okay so this is what’s on my platter irrespective of who dished it out and now I’m going to deal. And you can toy with it indefinitely, you can slip it to the dog when no one’s looking, you can maybe start a foodfight- or you can eat it with gratitude and find a way to grow through it with grace and humility and without harm maybe even helping a few people along the way and living to make a small difference somewhere. Sometime. Which could be Now, Tomorrow and All the days after.

All that just involves more decisions.

But you see the difference.

Almost.

Almost what?

Almost I thought you were going somewhere with the Fortune Cookie story, and he smiled engagingly and with the air of one who means no harm and much leg-pulling.

So she splashed a handful of the sea in his face.

Grow up he said laughing.

You first and she flipped some more saltwater in his general direction.

You and I she heard a voice say then, are going to rumble.

And it was just about here that she found herself being lifted up and bodily thrown into the briny bluegray of a borderless sea.

***

The man behind the counter looked up as she walked in. Don’t tell me he said, You need a sombrero.

I do?

Everyone does.

Where I come from she said, it is customary for one’s parents to pick out for one at the appropriate time an appropriate sombrero.

Inconceivable said the man behind the counter what a curious custom.

It’s true she said.

Tell me though, given a choice wouldn’t you much rather pick out a sombrero for yourself?

And just how would one set about doing that?

Well it’s a fairly straightforward procedure said the man behind the counter First you look around some and then you pick out the one that catches your eye. The one that speaks to you somehow.

A speaking sombrero?

Hypothetically speaking- yes.

Please continue.

So let’s say it’s a green sombrero-

With a good heart?

A green sombrero with a good heart. Is that important?

It’s important.

Well then- yes.

Please continue.

So you try it on and-

I like it. I keep it. And live Happily Ever After. I see how it works.

Not quite.

Not quite?

No. Because you haven’t yet seen the Red Sombrero or met the Blue one not to mention-

What’s wrong with the Green Sombrero?

Nothing but-

So why look at the Red or the Blue?

Because they might fit better.

And they might not.

True but-

So I might as well stick with the Green.

If you like but-

But what?

Then you’d never Really know.

How does one ever Really know?

There was a short silence.

I suppose one doesn’t ever Really said the man behind the counter slowly.

I don’t think that’s true.

How can you be so sure of things you know nothing about?

Because if some things aren’t True than nothing is.

A brief pause and then:

May I show you our selection of green sombreros Ma’am?

I don’t want a green sombrero.

No? the man behind the counter was beginning to sound a trifle confused.

I want a sombrero the color of night in the darkest hour before dawn, a sombrero star-spangled cloud-swathed and set with the crescent moon, a sombrero as constant and ever-changing as the summer sky. A sombrero that knows how to speak in silence, how to laugh and have a good time. A sombrero with a sense for the sublime- one that knows its own mind and can carpe the diem like none other.

Is that all?

Except for the bit about the good heart.

Because that’s important.

Right.

Yeah, we’re out of those smiled the man behind the counter, Sorry.

Doesn’t matter she said easily, I’d just as soon wait for one to fall on my head from heaven anyway.

Do you know you are full of the strangest ideas?

Yes. And do you know your left pupil is substantially larger than your right ?

Said Frederic and I quote Je le sais. Even as he spoke the dark center of the man behind the counter’s left eye began to spin very suddenly through the space between them and she realized suddenly and with a start that it was in truth a Frisbee and one that was moving very fast towards her indeed so she picked up her legs and jumped high to catch it which to her boundless astonishment she did only for some reason she couldn’t then come down but felt herself being lifted like Superman- Up Up and Away.

***

You again said a voice. And it was the Wind.

I think I’m falling she said.

Wouldn’t put it past you.

Either that or I’m flying.

I see how one might confuse the two and by the way right there that was sarcasm.

You know what my problem is?

They’ve found a name for it?

You can’t keep me Up. Or Down.

Is that a bad thing?

I don’t know. It’s interesting though.

That’s one word for it.

Vacations are Good things.

Have to say I’m with her on this one.

Any advice?

Don’t know that I have any worth giving.

I’m asking.

I won’t like any advice I have to give.

Ditch it then.

Done.

She was almost Home. And the Night was thick with all that had passed since she had jumped from her window what seemed like long ages ago.

What’s that you’re holding.

A Frisbee she started to say and then realized it wasn’t. Not anymore.

She opened her fingers and found a fistful of luminous pebbles irregular in shape and size. And in their depths shone strange and familiar images. A girl with a billion-bitty-braids and a bag of popcorn, a gecko’s green glare, lines of fresh laundry dappled in the sun of late afternoon, the trailing end of a sari, the very Real faces of the Moose who could be Jeffrey and the Godforsaken Treetoad who thought him Uncommonly Attractive…she tore her eyes away from the shifting silhouettes.

Fun Pearls she said softly, gratefully, just as they reached her window.

You’ve been an awesome support.

Was just standing around anyways- figured someone might as well lean on me said the Wind shrugging in his usual way. So when’s the next Vacation?

I don’t know. But I think next time I may want to go Ice-skating.

Ice-skating?

Yes. Because it’s the thing to do here you know, and I am told it requires a fine sense of balance, great agility, flawless co-ordination and natural grace talents I happen to possess in abundance and by the way right there- that was sarcasm.

Ice-skating it is then.

And all this is a lesson for you.

How is this a lesson for me?

It just is.

All right then he said, Platonic hi-five?

Platonic hi-five.

And as she put a hand up against the palm of the wind the sudden scent of jasmine wafted across the world.

***

Epilogue

All alone in the still silence of that night, leaning over the window sill and into the darkness, she gathered all her strength into one arm and unfurled her clenched fist like a flag in the moonlight flinging the soft white pearls far and wide across a vastness of sky where they stuck hard and fast- and where they remain to this day–to witness if I lie.

 

 

 

 

 


Redeeming Qualities

Fiction scraps

M is always making disparaging remarks about her husband in front of dinner guests. But she has never once complained about being the sole caretaker or her invalid, and live-in mother-in-law, whose three daughters, though well-settled and in the same town, have never offered to have their mother stay with them. Not even for a weekend. R is is an incurable snoop who turns eavesdropping into a high art. She reads other people’s emails when they are away from their desks, and asks prying questions of private people with all the delicacy of a chainsaw. But she never passes a homeless person on the street without stopping to give them something to eat. C has an explosive temper and a dagger sharp tongue. He regularly reduces the people in his life to tears. Even telemarketers. But he would lay his life down for his dog who is old and very sick. Sometimes the dog falls asleep with his head on C’s feet, while C is reading in his easy chair. On those nights C sleeps sitting up because he doesn’t want to disturb the dog. T is incredibly pompous and overbearing. He is always interrupting people and never bothers to learn anyone’s name. He hasn’t had a real conversation since the turn of the century when his company went public. But he is single-handedly, and anonymously funding the education of all the little girls in the village he grew up in. Because his mother, who died when he was young, always told him how much she regretted not being able to read and write.


The Girl Who Ate Her Horoscope

[Fiction :)]

Twist time’s arm behind its back and see me as I was by moonlight. Roof warm (and forbidden) beneath me, the night air still. I am listening to the wheels of the bullock cart trundling down the road as I chew on my horoscope chart. Planets and constellations slip down my throat. Taste of faded ink on aged yellow paper. I am twenty-three years old and swallowing my destiny in an ingenious attempt to avoid it. They will not be able to match my horoscope with any man’s now.

In the morning my mother, who is given to much hand wringing and disaster prediction, has a merry fit. “What kind of girl eats her horoscope?” she asks me, her eyes wide with horror and fascination.  My mother married my father two weeks after their horoscopes were matched. They had spoken to each other only once and in the presence of both sets of parents. My seated father had cleared his throat and addressed the border of my standing mother’s sari where it touched the floor. “Do you like music?” he had ventured to ask. And she had tilted her chin towards her hidden toes and whispered, “Yes.” And on the basis of that slender, innocuous interaction they were married the very next auspicious day on the priest’s calendar, even though my father is about as musical as a coffee grinder.  “What shall I tell the people who are coming to see you?” my mother asks sorrowfully.

There are always people coming to see me.  I am asked to braid my hair, put on a sari, gold necklace, bangles, and a humble expression. I try staring at the perfect red dot between my brows. “Tell them your daughter is cross-eyed,” I say, “and that she has a marvelous talent for street dancing.” My mother fills her eyes with tears and sharpens her voice to broken-hearted viciousness, “The trouble with you –”. The trouble with me, she is going say, is that I don’t understand reality. This may be somewhat true.

The last time reality was introduced to me it came in the form of a photograph. Of a 6 foot 2” anesthesiologist from a small town 250 kilometers away. A town best known for putting its women and children to work in firework factories where every once in awhile there are unfortunate explosions. Such a decent boy, they told me, no bad habits and from a good family. The only thing he is looking for is a tall girl. The questionable nobility of that particularity leaves me underwhelmed. I am a tall girl. But I am also just waking up to the wild beauty and adventure of life that lies just beyond the purple horizon and I intend to hitch my wagon to a star, etc. Not the mild-eyed young man in the photograph with his uninspiring mustache and his professional talent for putting people to sleep.

When they told me he was to come with his parents to see me once our charts had been matched, I put on a demure expression. Not something I consciously cultivate, it seems to have grown on me of it’s own accord. It is a convenient thing to have in these parts. But that was the night, out on the roof, the white-hot moon as my witness, that I ate my chart.

My mother summons my father from the depths of his newspaper. He is a perpetually preoccupied man and a Physics professor. He works very hard, speaks very little and looks to my mother to define his paternal responsibilities. “ You talk to your daughter,” she tells him. So my father clears his throat, wipes his brow with a folded white handkerchief, stares at the ceiling for a brief moment and then tells me, that this is no laughing matter and it is high time I settled down.

Settle Down. The phrase sets a stallion pounding along the shore of my heart every time. A stallion that shies impressively, with tossed mane, powerfully flailing forelegs and a whinnying cry of rebellion. None of my friends seem to have such stallions within them. They drop into marriage like flies one by one. Settling down as if life were some sort of sediment belonging at the bottom of someone else’s glass. Settling down as if life were a bargain and you at the raw end of someone else’s deal. That night my mother announces with chilly formality that they are proceeding with the prospective bridegroom’s family. Chart or no chart. There will be a “bride-viewing” day after tomorrow she says, in a voice tender as a slammed door.

I am an unmarried girl of marriageable age and as such I am answerable not just to my parents, but to society at large. An elderly woman on the bus the other day wearing a large nose ring and a solicitous expression poked me in the ribs, “Not married?” she rapped out the question sharply and I involuntarily straightened in my seat, assumed an appropriately guilty expression. “No Auntie.” Well you are not getting any younger she informs me. And then, “You know this is the age to have issues.” She is referring of course to the sort that enter the world through the womb.

Masticating one’s planetary charts is a decidedly dramatic gesture. I must hasten now to tell you, that under normal circumstances, I am not a girl given to dramatic gestures.  Not because I object to them, but largely because I am too lazy to be bothered. I admire the passion and intensity other people seem to be able to summon up at will, but have never aspired to that kind of fervor. Curled up with a book I have generally been content to let the world wag on as it chooses. Until now.

The next day I consider my options. Jumping off the roof might do the trick. I can, without difficulty envision myself stepping gracefully off the ledge.  Poised, courageous, ready to prove my point. But then I see my parents stricken faces. No. I will not do that to them. And besides, I like being able to use my legs, and I do not do well at the sight of blood. Perhaps I could ring up the prospective bridegroom. With a false and cliched confession. Tell him I am madly in love with the boy-next-door, and plead with heartbreaking eloquence for him to call off the visit. But what if he tells his parents (he looks the sort), and they tell the town? Things would get rapidly and tiresomely complicated. I am not clever with webs of deception. What else then?

I could always disappear tomorrow. Pack a few bananas and steal away before dawn. I could catch a bus to one of the obscure villages a few hours away, and spend the day posing as a cultural ethnographer. I could interview men and women for a fictional thesis on, say, the differences in their child-rearing philosophies. I entertain this possibility for awhile, fleshing out the details. The warm welcome and too-sweet cups of coffee the women will give me as we sit cross-legged together on mud floors. The reserved suspicion of the men, before my well-practiced air of deference and well-mannered charm dissolves them into loquaciousness. I will love listening to all of them, and I will be loved for listening.

It is then that my mother walks into the room. Her shoulders are squared, but not for combat. I have seen women with shoulders set like that when they are carrying heavy loads on their heads. Their matter-of-fact elegance always moves me. They are not over-thinking their burdens, but just doing what needs to be done with Zen-like simplicity. Chopping wood, carrying water, tending home fires and one very wayward daughter.

“We called it off,” she says quietly, reaching out with both hands to tuck my hair behind my ears. “We told them not to come.” Wonder breaks over me like a wave. It is pulling me into an ocean. One that I have lived alongside all my life and am yet somehow surprised by. The curious feeling of sands shifting beneath my feet, a vast tug that I am powerless to stop. I am flooded by a sense of how small I am in my smugness. And how little I know of love’s deep waters. A strange enthrallment settles over me like a spell.

“What did you tell them?” I ask, and my voice is as hollow as someone speaking in a trance. “I told them my daughter is cross-eyed,” says my mother, “and that she has a marvelous talent for street dancing.”