Saturday, March 6, 2010
I met my wife at a dinner party. My sister had a habit of putting these things together so that they always ended with a fierce argument, and I dreaded going for just that reason. This one was no different; her husband's friends began arguing about social philosophy, of all things, and even trying to follow the conversation gave me a headache. I took my drink and wandered into the library, and there she was, standing in front of the bookshelf, glass of wine in one hand and a book open in the other. She was dressed smartly in deep maroon, and with the evening sun catching her hair I fell in love at once. I cleared my throat, and she looked over at me.
"Lovely party, don't you think?" she said with a wry smile.
I chuckled. "I hate these things. All of those pompous people arguing about useless things. But," I continued as I settled into an armchair, "Marcy's cook is top-notch. The food almost makes it worth it." She smiled slightly at me. "I'm Richard, by the way. Marcy's brother. It's why I'm forced to come to these silly gatherings."
"Susan." She set down her book and shook my hand. "I'm one of John's publishers. When Marcy found out that I'm... unattached, she insisted I come by and meet her husband's charming friends." She shook her head. "At least the library's been worth a look."
"What do you think of John's books? I couldn't get through the first one, myself."
"Well, they certainly have their audience. Not exactly my cup of tea." She took a sip of wine and turned away from the bookshelf. "And what do you do? Business, like the rest?"
"Oh, no," I laughed. "I'm afraid I let my family down entirely and became a chemistry teacher."
She shook her head at me and chuckled. "Maybe Marcy's hoping they'll rub off on you."
"I wouldn't be surprised." I watched her tuck her hair behind her ear. "And you? Have any siblings meddling in your life?"
"No. I, um, used to." And a shadow passed over her face.
"Oh. I'm sorry." I stood up. "I didn't mean to upset you."
"No, it's all right." She gave me that little smile again.
A knock came at the door; it was Marcy.
"There you are! Oh, come now, they'll be serving dinner soon. Susan, I have you sitting next to Theodore, he's a writer like John, you know, and I think the two of you will get along fabulously--"
"Marcy," I interrupted. "Why don't you sit Susan next to me instead and let those boring gentlemen entertain themselves?"
My sister glared at me. But Susan was smiling at me, really smiling, and I knew anything was worth that smile.
Every year on the anniversary of their death Susan went to visit her siblings. We were two months engaged the first time I went with her. I bought flowers beforehand, a variety, because I figured, with three of them, they might have had different tastes. I confessed as much to Susan, feeling foolish, but she smiled a little and kissed me on the cheek.
At the cemetery, we had to park the car and walk up a hill to get to the right spot. I scanned the stones as we walked by, and then, there we were. One headstone for Susan’s parents, and one slightly smaller next to it, listing the names and dates for the three children. Underneath it read “Beloved brothers and sister, cherished friends.”
Susan stood before the grave stone and stared at it somberly. I stood next to her in silence, as a breeze stirred the grass in front of us.
“It was a train accident,” Susan said after a while. “They were coming into the station, and there was an explosion—a bright light. Twelve people died. There was a lot of wreckage, and they, um…” She looked down and gulped. “They never found the bodies.”
I squeezed her hand, and she breathed deeply as a few tears fell from her face. I looked down at the ground, and noticed how small it was, too small, in fact, for three coffins.
“Even if they’re not here,” Susan said quietly, “I wanted them to be near Mother and Father.”
I handed her the flowers, and she carefully placed them at the base of the headstone. Then we stood again in silence, holding hands, until the sun started to set. Susan looked at me and nodded, and we stiffly walked back down the hill to the car.
Susan didn't have much family. With her parents and siblings gone, the only family she was at all close to was her uncle. She told me that she had met him during the war, when the children were sent to the country for safety. Susan liked to visit him, and I looked forward to meeting him.
Finally we went to the country together to see him, since he wasn't strong enough to come to the city. His estate was lovely, and I tried to picture Susan running across it. I could almost imagine her siblings, from the photo and the stories I had heard.
The uncle was thoroughly pleased to meet me, he said, beaming at the both of us. Over the course of our visit, though, I got the idea that he and Susan were more comfortable without me around. I was encouraged to appreciate the grounds and enjoy the rest, and the other two would sit together and talk. I obliged like a good fiancee, though I did wonder about their conversations.
"He's the only one who's been where I've been," Susan told me when I asked. I nodded. She smiled at me, a little sadly. "We do a lot of remembering," she added.
When her uncle died, Susan was very upset, but she had known it was coming, so she held my hand tightly and stood firm. That was my Susan; she was the strongest person I knew. She was grim but collected throughout the funeral, the visits and condolences of relations, and the business of her uncle's estate. The only time she let it get to her was when we dealt with the furniture. A few of the more interesting pieces we would keep, some were going to relatives, and the rest was being appraised.
"Yes, I think I know an interested party for that vase," the appraiser was saying, "and--ah. This wardrobe is a quite intriguing. What an interesting piece!"
"Oh--" Susan said, eyes wide. "No, not this. We can't sell this one. Richard," she said, turning to me, "let's keep this. We needn't keep it in our room; we can put it in the spare bedroom." She looked at me pleadingly, almost frantically.
"Of course, dear, whatever you like," I said, a bit taken aback. She was relieved, and squeezed my hand in gratitude, looking at the wardrobe. "I don't mind if you'd rather have it in the bedroom," I told her.
"Oh, no, it wouldn't match," she replied distractedly. But after a moment she turned to the appraiser, and nodded for him to continue. After that she had herself under control again, and the wardrobe ended up in our spare bedroom, where it sat for years, ignored most of the time.
No one knows what having children will be like until it happens. Susan was astonished when she got pregnant for the first time. And for the next nine months we tried to prepare ourselves. But we both cried when our daughter was born.
"Oh, Richard," Susan whispered to me as she held her in her arms. "She's so beautiful. How can she be so beautiful?"
The first night home from the hospital, Susan stayed up late to watch Elizabeth sleep in her cradle. I woke up and saw her leaning against the door with tears in her eyes, just looking at our daughter.
"I thought I'd done everything," she told me with a smile. "I thought I’d lived a full life. I thought I was complete. But I never knew what this would mean. It's so much more than I'd imagined." She sat down beside me, leaned over, and kissed me. "I love you, Richard," she told me. "I don't know what I'd be without you."
"I love you too, sweetheart," I replied groggily, "now come to bed."
Susan kissed me again and got into bed. We slept in each others' arms for the few hours before Elizabeth began to cry again.
I found her crying one night in the spare bedroom. She was huddled in front of our antique wardrobe, sobbing quietly but wretchedly. I knelt beside her and wrapped my arms around her, and she cried into my shoulder for a long time.
"Susan," I said, "Susan, what's wrong?"
"They left me," she whispered back, and shook her head. She sniffed and wiped her eyes, and tried to laugh, but it came out as a sob. "It's been so long; I know I should give it up. But I always thought they would come back for me. How could they leave me behind like this?"
I rocked her in my arms, trying to think of what to say to comfort her. "Susan, sweetheart, they didn't mean to leave you. It was an accident. There’s nothing anybody could have done about it."
She shook her head. "Oh, Richard," she sighed, "you don't understand. Of course you can't understand."
"Susan," I told her gently, "I know what you're going through. When my father died, I felt the same way. But you have to go on living."
Susan reached up and stroked my neck. "Richard, you know I love you. I wouldn't give you up for the world. But... It's so hard to let go of my siblings. Even after all this time. I thought that with time it wouldn't bother me anymore. But it still does; there are times it hurts so bad I can hardly think." She looked up at the wardrobe, tears forming in her eyes again. "They were so important to me. We were important to each other."
"I know, sweetheart. I know. And of course you were. You went through war together."
"It's more than that," she mumbled. She paused, then continued, "it's much, much more."
"What do you mean?"
"There's... there's something I never told you, Richard." Susan was quiet for a moment, and I held my breath, afraid of what my wife would say, afraid of what secrets she had kept even from me, even after all these years.
"Peter, Edmund, and Lucy, they didn't die that day," she began bitterly. "No, don't say anything yet. I know it sounds insane. But, when we were children..." Susan sighed and shook her head, then stood up to stare at the wardrobe. "There's no real way to explain what happened to us. But when we were young, we discovered a hidden world. Lucy went through the wardrobe, and on the other side..." She closed her eyes and said quietly, "On the other side was a world with magic and danger and it needed us badly."
"I know. Of course I know. All children have imaginary worlds. But this was different. We slipped through the wardrobe the one time, and lived there for years. We were kings and queens, and only when we had grown up did we find the wardrobe again, and come back to be children in a land without magic, where we could do nothing and change nothing."
Susan fingered the carvings on the door of the wardrobe. "Growing up was so much worse the second time around, Richard. With the war... And I couldn't do anything about it, couldn't even control my own life. But I tried to move on. And then when the others left, I didn't know how I would make it through a second lifetime on my own."
I stood up to hold her again, searching her face, trying to find a sign of what was going on inside her head.
"Richard, I know you think it's crazy. I can see it in your face. But I swear to you, on my life, that this is real. I wish I could prove it to you. I want to so badly. But I don't think anything I could do would make it all make sense. I have nothing to show for it. Just a lot of pain."
I grasped for something to say. "This wardrobe..."
"When we stayed with my uncle, during the war. Lucy stumbled through by accident, and took us all back with her." Susan's eyes filled with tears. "It didn't work after that. But I couldn't let a stranger take it after that."
I looked at the wardrobe. I had never given much thought to it after it was put in this room. Now I could get no answers from the carvings on the front, so I pulled open the doors and pushed aside the winter coats.
In the back was a wood panel. I stood there and looked at it, not knowing what else to do, but Susan reached out and put her hand on it, and began to cry in earnest again.
"Aslan," she sobbed, "why? Why them and not me?"
She cried, and I looked on, bewildered and afraid. Finally I led her back to bed and held her until she fell asleep. It took me a long, long time to do the same.
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
"Do you know how to drive stick shift?" he asked, one eyebrow raised. She was fairly certain those eyebrows were not merely facial features. They were black flags he hoisted to warn all in the area that he was well-armed with sarcasm and skepticism.
"Stop making assumptions about me, asshole." She clawed at the door handle and staggered gracelessly out of the truck and back into the empty expanse of the abandoned car lot. She stomped around the vehicle and wrenched its hood open. She noted the stunned look on Ryan's face with pleasure as she poked around at the engine.
"Try it again," she called victoriously.
Ryan cranked on the key and the engine roared to life with an indignant puff of dust. She smiled as she slammed the hood back into place, but she could feel her smugness dissolve into fear as figures began to materialize from the darkness beyond the car lot. She scrambled back into the truck as Ryan hit the accelerator. She could see the panic touching his eyes, too.
They didn't speak again until they were out of the spooky little town and back on the open highway.
"So where'd you learn that little trick?" Ryan asked, his voice neutral.
Amber looked up from the stained cuffs of her designer jacket and glared. "I wasn't always rich, you know. My dad was a mechanic. I used to sit around in the garage with him when I was young."
Ryan didn't respond. Just like him. Amber had no idea what her gentle roommate saw in this geek. She went back to cataloging the damage to her expensive clothing, trying not to think about what they had seen in the town that was now a good twenty miles behind them.
"Look," Ryan said softly. Amber glanced at him. His eyes were glued to the bright spot of pavement in front of them. "I'm really sorry I've been impatient with you. We've all been under a lot of stress, but if we're going to make it through this we need to get along."
"Get along?" she repeated sharply. "Maybe you and your little friends can make up a ragtag fellowship out of some fucking fantasy novel. Soon as we get back, I'm going to make some phone calls, contact the proper authorities, and get my ass out of this nightmare. I've got resources, and I'm not going to stick around and watch my people get swatted to death like insects!"
"Amber," he said quietly, "when was the last time you had cell phone reception?"
"I don't know," she said snottily. "My cell phone got lost back there. You know, when you almost got us both killed?"
"Shut up!" he snarled. "I had to check if those people were okay! How was I supposed to know they were done for?"
"Oh, I don't know. Maybe that kid's twisted neck was a clue? Or perhaps the man groaning 'braaaaains' should have tipped you off?"
"Goddammit, Amber. This is what I'm talking about."
"What, your ridiculous hero-complex? You can't save everyone, you know. You can't even save yourself!"
"Oh, and you think Mommy's money is going to keep you safe?"
"That's what money is for!" she yelled. "You work hard, you play the games, you make friends with the right people so that when the shit hits the fan you can protect the things that really matter!"
"Amber. You're being hysterical. You know as well as I do that the entire country is falling apart. Nowhere is safe anymore."
Amber opened her mouth to speak, but Ryan interrupted her.
"Quiet," he said, peering into the night. "Do you see something up there?"
All of the anger drained out of Amber's body. Yes, she saw something in the darkness. As they drove slowly forward, a structure solidified in their headlights. It looked like a hastily-erected barricade. And in the center, built into the wall, was an enormous old-fashioned cannon. Pointed straight at them.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
“Chela!” Trumpet vine leaves drooped down over her head. “Headed home?”
Chela grimaced at the canal bank.
“Hello, Steeplejack.” As she turned to face him, a bit of vine tangled in her hair. She swiped it away coolly. “Didn’t see you there.”
Steeplejack grinned, jostling the potted plant in one arm and hooking the handle of a tattered brown umbrella around the siderail with his other. “Not a very big water trolley, though, is it?”
As if hurt, the trolley jerked forward, giving an oily groan and sloshing muddy water against the channel banks. Everyone lurched tiredly against the siderails, and the trumpet vine nearly upended its trellis onto a harried-looking grocer crowded in beside Steeplejack. Chela caught the vine and nodded civilly at the woman, but she only shook her greasy apron and turned the other direction.
Steeplejack was still grinning. “It’s ornamental. Nearly extinct except in the North American Midwest.”
Chela eyed him. His old-fashioned wire-rims were slightly askew on his nose, and as the trolley pitched into a faster knot, he was settling easily against the siderail, all angles and wiry like an insect. There was a twig in his hair.
“You do?” Steeplejack leaned in close to her, pushing his face through the tangle of leaves. There was stubble on his chin. “An archeobotanist in disguise?”
“I worked in customs.” Chela took a step back—into an elderly street-sweeper dozing against his brooms—and craned her neck, pretending to check the station list tacked at the front of the cab.
“We’ve got five stops still,” said Steeplejack as he stuck out a hand and pulled her out of the startled street-sweeper’s lap. “You work in customs.”
“Worked. Trumpet vine’s ornamental, endangered, and illegal unless you’re carrying a nurseries license. Or labs. You’ve got a labs license? You’re a student?”
Steeplejack straightened and abruptly handed her the potted plant. The trellis dipped dangerously toward the canal bank. “Steeplejack,” Chela warned. “Don’t—”
“It’s Latin, isn’t it?” He was digging through the army bag at his side. The sun was setting quickly now, its dim, red light cutting through the trolley at a strange angle. They were on the inside of a lantern.
Chela growled and shouldered the sagging trellis back to safety. “Is what Latin?”
“I think,” Steeplejack muttered, still rummaging, “I think I read it somewhere.”
The other passengers were staring now. Chela narrowed her eyes and glared out at the canal wall. She hitched her boot against the splashboard, ignoring the leaves bobbing over her head hysterically in the warm canal wind. The whole place smelled like bodies, like warmth and dust. It was only her third day in Upground.
“Here,” Steeplejack shouted over the sudden shrieking peal of the rudder breaks at the next stop. He reached out to show an open book to her—his bag must have been full of books—but lurched forward as the trolley choked to a halt. This time, Chela put out one arm to break his fall and caught him firmly by the shoulder. Overhead, the bio-naptha lamps strung along the aluminum roof of the trolley suddenly crackled and lit, washing the trolley in a soft green glow.
In the new light, Steeplejack caught the glint of the copper hardware of her hand, and smiled warmly. “Ever see any crabs in customs?”
Chela raised her eyebrows.
The street-sweeper and the grocer were edging past them under the naptha light, ducking under the bobbing trumpet vine, looking bewildered.
“Your name. From the Latin. It means crustacean pincer. Chela means crab claw.”
Chela dropped her hand from his shoulder.
“Just get on.”
She sighed, but climbed behind him onto the bike. With a roar they sped off down the dark street, wind whipping her cloak out behind them. The buzz of the bike underneath her was strange and disconcerting, but less so than the fact that she had to hold onto the man in front of her just to stay on. She carefully held his sides, silently cursing every acceleration that made her hands reflexively clutch him tighter.
“I would have had him,” she couldn’t help saying.
“What?” he called back to her. “You’ll have to speak up.”
“I would have had him,” she repeated over the noise of the wind and the engine. “If you hadn’t interfered, he would be in a nice bundle for the police by now.”
“Sure,” he scoffed. “Whatever you say.”
The buildings whipped by, and Barbara focused on watching the car in front of them. They flew through downtown, hurtling down the streets and skidding around corners as the driver tried to lose them. But eventually he miscalculated; taking a turn too fast, the car slid to the side and slammed into a light post.
The motorcycle screeched to a stop as the man pulled himself unsteadily out of the car and began to run. Barbara leaped off and ran after him, the Boy Wonder at her heels. The criminal was moving quickly, but he was disoriented from the crash, so Barbara was able to catch up with him before he could get away down the alley. Coming up behind him, she jumped up to catch a bar of the fire escape built into the wall of the building and swung forward to kick him in the small of his back and knock him over. Dropping down, Barbara quickly jumped out of the way as the man twisted around and tried to grab her ankles. He scrabbled to his feet and faced her, scowling darkly.
The man swung at her, and Barbara dodged his fists, but one connecting with her stomach knocked her to the ground with a grunt. Rolling back from him, she positioned herself to kick out his legs, watching him approach her and waiting for the right moment…
But one of those spinning ropes the Caped Crusader always used, and the criminal was down again. Robin walked up and held out his hand to Barbara, but she went over to see that the criminal was well tied up.
“I appreciate your help and all,” said Robin carefully, “but you really shouldn’t be coming out here like this. Crime-fighting isn’t a game. You can’t just… take it up.”
“Oh, and you were catching crooks at birth?” The knots finished, Barbara flicked an insect off her shoulder and began to walk away. Robin followed her.
“No, but unlike some people, I know what I’m doing.”
“Is that so? Got a diploma in vigilante-ism, huh?”
“I’ve got training. I’ve also got a record.”
Barbara sighed and turned to face him. “Look, I know you’ve been doing this for a while, and you’ve done all right for yourself. But it didn’t happen overnight. When you started out, you were just some kid in a dumb costume.”
He stiffened. “You got a problem with my costume?”
“You don’t exactly blend in, do you?”
“Here’s what you don’t get,” Robin said. “I didn’t start out like you. I didn’t just decide to put on a costume and start fighting thugs.”
“No,” agreed Barbara, “but he did.”
“You think you’re as good as Batman?”
“No.” Robin smiled smugly, and Barbara continued. “But then, I don’t think I’d want to be a billionaire.”
Robin started. “How—what are you talking about?”
She smiled at him grimly. “You think because I’m a girl I don’t stand a chance out here. Well, I’m no idiot; I know my weaknesses as well as you do. Better. I’m not as strong as you? Fine. I’ll settle for being smarter.”
“Won’t keep you from getting killed when you’re cornered in a fight.”
“Don’t you see, Dick? I don’t plan on getting cornered.”
The Boy Wonder, Dick Grayson, stared at her, face pale behind his mask.
“How did she figure it out?” Barbara asked, imitating his voice. “Who is she, anyway?”
“You’re hysterical.” he told her.
“Give my best to Mr. Wayne,” she replied, turning away from him. “I’ll probably be seeing you around.”
He glared at her back, though not without a little fear. Barbara laughed as she walked away. Smarter, she thought.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
- Put two characters in some sort of vehicle. (As in A Thing For Transporting People and/or Goods)
- Employ the following words and phrases (picked at random from the library book on my kitchen table): insect, hysterical, built into the wall
- By the end of the scene, someone is ticked off.
- 750 words. Exactly. No excuses.
- Deadline: Wednesday, June 24th, 2009, 11:30 p.m.
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
I should get my computer back in the next week or so, but until then why don't you tell us about your progress on your romance novel, Captain? I'm deeply interested in the trials and tribulations of Dr. McNamara.
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
God knows I haven't a job/foreseeable future to entertain me. So I'm going to dive headfirst into this one. It ain't gonna get me no MFA, but I think it'll be a hoot and a half.
So. I need your help. I can't decide what part of Chel is actually robotic. Her arm? Her left hand? Her liver? Of all the people I know, I trust you guys the most with this issue.
Dear friends, I miss you. I hope you are well. Love love love you.