I had been away for five years, but it felt like I had never been gone. Finally I had decided to see about Mira, to come and look for her and find out what had happened. Very well aware that many people thought I should have gone earlier, but I was just not ready. From the outside, it looked like we were all a group of friends like a set of coffee supplies; each piece having a function and a purpose in the group and forming a perfect match.
Reality was not like a set of coffee cups and a sugar bowl.
It should have been just a holiday, a holiday we could barely pay for, except for Mira, whose parents were the head of a company selling medications and farming supplies. She would certainly take over the business one day, like she took over the leadership of our group (the teapot was the hugest in the set, but didn’t it just bend down and pour the liquid?)
I remember when she held hands with Brian next to the tree where we met in the 15 minute break just after I had confessed I liked him. I held her head when she had had too many Long Island Ice Teas and helped her get home, having her stumble next to me and yell how much she loved us girls for being her friends.
(The plane is approaching the island. I look at the last drip of tomato juice, then squish the cup before stuffing it in the front bag.)
There was this letter from her, the day before we were supposed to fly home again. Our sun-filled minds did not really want to grasp the sense hidden in the piece of paper our tanned hands had just grabbed from the dining table. She was gone, she would not come back. She told us not to ask or look for her, but this was so unlike her, too. She had been rambling about the colleges she would be going to all summer and no way she was going to miss any chance to defend her pole position.
Diana was certain she would show up at the Check In to laugh at our scared faces. “Did you really believe that? Oh, you are tooo cute!!!” That was something Diana believed she would say.
But Check In came and went and the plane took off. I could not have afforded to miss my flight. The little devil on my shoulder even noticed how much more relaxed the other girls were without Mira around. The angel on the other shoulder shrugged it off.
(The plane finally touches ground. I breathe. Deeply. If she still exists, I am going to find her.)
The air is hot, as hot as the day we left five years ago. Will I be able to recognize her? What will her parents say if I come back without her? They paid for the flight in hope that I might be the one to get through to her. What if I just disappoint everyone and Mira is already somewhere else?
Deep breath as I grab the wheels of the rental car, Mira’s old bag and a picture of her on the seat next to me. If she was a friend or not. I might find out when I find. Her.
Zeitungsverweigerer - German word for a person actively refusing the receipt of free newspapers with adverts by registering at the newspaper provider.
Horace, aged 63, had recently established the habit of watching people from his window. He took one of the chairs from the dining table in the living room and placed it in front of one of the larger windows so he could better observe what was going on inside. Horace could easily have gone outside to pursue his newly found hobby there, for there were plenty of places in the park and in town where people could just sit and watch strangers walk by.
However, he seemed to be quite pleased with the distance between him and the other people in the world. Horace had just retired from his position as a head of Quality Assurance for the main manufacturer of silent vacuum cleaners in his area and he was so used to handle all his communication through the phone or e-mail. He was not used to talking to someone or being near someone, except for his wife.
“Why don’t you do something else for once?” Wilma, his wife of 40 years, tried her best to encourage him to use his newly won freedom and free time for something else than observing the life of others, but to no avail so far. At least she had managed to get him put his binoculars away after the neighbour from the house in front of them rang their bell and stated she was going to sue if “that” was not going to stop.
“Apologies” mumbled Horace and walked back into the house and let his wife do the extended version of the talk.
(Some miles away in a newspaper distribution center)
“Oh and Paul, something else!” Paul turned around. He did not like the commanding tone of this young guy but he swallowed a nasty answer because this was his first day at this post-retirement side job and he wanted to keep it in order not to ride on the unstoppable train of boredom.
“Yes”, Paul replied instead, checking his right pocket for the car keys.
“Please take notice of the addresses which do not like to receive the paper, ok? There have been some, uh, incidents in the last few months and our main wish is to avoid them happening again!”
Mark, the young guy, poked the writing pad with his pen as to put more emphasis in his words. “I will”. Paul was not a man of big words, but he knew instructions were part of every job, no matter what it was really about.
The day started out really quiet, he hoped that he would get to distribute the papers without any problems and to breathe some fresh air. The entire car smelled of printing paint on soft paper.
(Meanwhile at 25 Hollowside Drive)
“You know Wilma, if I catch one of those guys again putting some adverts into my letterbox, I will tell them what to expect for crossing that line!”
Horace had been watching the driveway carefully. His letterbox was next to three others and while the others did not mind receiving free newspapers with a lot of adverts, Horace did not want any piece of such kind of paper to take up any space in there.
“Horace, calm down, please. There are always new guys distributing the papers, and you can’t expect them to not make any mistakes when they start their jobs.”
One of the new guys actually faced (he had to) Horace appearing on the driveway with a bucket of cold water (and if it had been just from the tap it would not have been Horace). It was icy water with some half melted pieces of ice swimming in it. Before the poor (maybe 20 year old) guy could listen to the complaint and take the paper out again, he was blessed with a rather cold shower from Horace’s bucket.
“I am prepared, Wilma, that is all I say. I registered with them. I do not want any more of their shitty papers, and they should take better note of their files. THAT is real service to the customer, or to the non-customer, in my case.”
A car stopped in front of the house. Paul got out of it and looked at his list and then looked at the driveway. Three letterboxes but two newspapers to be tucked into them. There was a note for this address on his pad that one of the residents did not want to receive the newspaper. The names on the letterboxes though were bleached from the sun and rain and he could not really figure out the correct one.
Just as he spread a hand with one newspaper in it to put it into box number one, a window opened with a light, screechy sound. A man, almost certainly in his sixties, put his head out and yelled: “Read your damn instructions for once, it is known what happens to people not following them!”
Paul turned around. The voice of this man sounded like he had been talking a lot, but not smoking or drinking. “I am sorry sir, but which one is your letterbox?” Paul figured that some simple and plain question would solve the situation.
“I am going to show you!” Horace closed the window, made his way to the kitchen equipped with a bucket, where he opened the freezer, then took out a lot of ice and filled the bucket with some cold water.
“Horace, please!” Wilma tried to build a connection she would have assumed would work to talk some sense into her now energized husband, but it did not work.
Horace, on the driveway, having trouble carrying that bucket because it was way too full this time, stopped in front of Paul.
Paul, still the newspaper in his hand, looked at him in a quite different way than the previous guy.
“You must be very bored, are you?”
Horace took a deep breath and lifted his arms to put that bucket where it belonged, over the heads of people who did not read their papers and knew what quality customer service was. Then something inside him put down the bucket slowly.
“Well, I am used to a little more action than the one I get here, to be honest”.
Horace was a little out of breath. Paul smiled. He did not smile often, but when he did, it was an honest, decisive act.
“Then take this. I could use some help here.” Paul stuffed the newspaper into Horaces arms before he put the other ones into the two mailboxes that apparently had names on them if you looked closer.
That day was the first one any of that papers made its way through Horaces and Wilmas front door to their kitchen table.
Equipped with just one first name, I entered this world one wet day in November of 1982. My mother had visited the fairground two days before but did not go on any rides of course. She just loved the scenery. So do I until now. I visited the same fairground that takes place every year in November as a child and still as a teenager.
When I was younger, I was terribly afraid of saltos. That is probably why I waited upright in my mother’s womb to be born instead of turning myself upside down for the exit.
One day I went on a looping ride and cried the whole time I was in it. After that, however, I had lost any fear of viewing the world upside down. I even got to collect enough courage to go on a five-looping rollercoaster ride. I only noticed what I had done when I sat in that wagon going up way too high to take up speed for the first looping. Like many others, I shouted and closed my eyes when the coaster went down and up into the first looping. During the second one, I opened my eyes and really saw the world turned around.
And it was not just the little victory over my fear. It was the scent of popcorn and hot cheese. It was winning plushies at the camel race (where you must roll a wooden ball towards holes with numbers from 1 to 3 and your camel will go the number of steps the ball falls through). It was a place of hope and gifts, since my birthday was near and I knew that even my great-grandmother had visited the fairground years before my mother walked on it with a girl sitting upright in her womb.
All the lights, the scents and feelings have, no matter if upside down or upright, been a part of me.
knows no tales of grey days
there is no darkness in this place
But my light is muted
and all people are strangers,
unknown feet carrying random faces
across the streets, the veins of
a being that never rests
not even at night my feet get lighter
and my mind yearns for the sea but
refrains from its view now and then to keep my own waters
behind that barrier
Imitating the expressions, randomly
(they call it smile?)
hearing a laughter, barely audible,
from the top of the concrete tower and its observing transparent eyes.
Then there is a tone, a sound,
the fragments fitting a long distorted form
(I remember they call it melody).
the vibration of joyful calls through my inner hallways.
In the city of heated pavements,
I know the tales of grey days
when the eyes of glass shimmer at me
grey is not forever
This post has been written in LJ Idol Week 20.
The chosen topic is "Rapture of the Deep" and I worked with kandigurl
in this week's intersection. You can check out her entry here.
The water only reveals its secrets, its luminous details and dark revelations to those who dare to dive underneath the surface.
For weeks I had been watching my resources shrink until the very last can of cheap ravioli had been eliminated.
When old Frederick appeared near my hut on a chilly afternoon, I kind of expected he had news, because he, as seldom as he came, never arrived without a good story.
"The Pelargonia", he mumbled while lighting a pipe.
"Yeah, what about it?" I asked wearily. I was hungry and tired.
"I heard rumours they are about to find the wreck down there." Fred pointed to the sea behind him.
"That is a very vague description of a location, admit it."
I was not in the mood for speculations.
"You do not know me at all boy, do you?"
Frederick got up from the chair and pulled a sheet from one of the back pockets of his worn out trousers.
"I have good eyes, good ears AND I can write."
The sheet had been scribbled on with a blue ball-point pen. Those were coordinates which pointed to a location on the sea.
"Remember? You should find some gold and diamonds down there. Enough to buy a proper house and get somethin' to eat, my boy Trent."
He inhaled deeply then said: "Some tell stories about what might be down there still, even after 150 years. Not all bodies have been floating to the surface, you know?"
He coughed heavily, a deep cough, but not loud enough to interrupt my thoughts.
Gold and diamonds. Money. Just for a dive. I started getting my equipment. An analysis of the coordinates revealed the exact location, the possible location of those treasures. I had been diving for so many years, no matter how deep I was going to have to dive down, I would go straight down until I would find the wreck.
Nothing to lose.
The sea was calm the next morning. The oxygen bottles were loaded with life to last for 3 hours. I saw the sun rise before I went down from the little boat. I had stopped it at the place Fred's coordinates had pointed me to.
It was all of a brighter blue than I had expected to see, but the deeper I went, the darker it got. Like a deep sea fish I wore a head lamp that lit the way.
None of the treasures I had been diving for in the past years had been deeper down than this one. At some point it was almost so dark my lamp could not provide for enough sight anymore. I pulled a second lamp from my side pocket and lit it.
Then I saw it. About 10 metres below, densely populated by sea pocks, the wooden parts nearly eaten up, she had put herself to rest. The Pelargonia, a once beautiful and impressive ship a millionaire named Ivenheim had rented for a birthday cruise. His daughter, celebrating her 21st birthday, never was to return. The ship had been missing for more than 150 years now. As I reached the wreck, I felt the increased pressure on my body. I was diving far too deep, but I had come too far to return now.
The cabins were still there. Impressions of Mahogany chairs and large sofas, matrimony beds and even porcelain. In one of the larger cabins, rather a suite, there was a square-angled container sitting heavily on a sea-pocked iron table. The container's door crumbled away under my hands and revealed an impression that reminded me why I had gone on this dive at all.
It was gems, smaller ones lined up on strings of gold and a white, strong and sparkling heart in the middle. I touched it to see if it crumbled, too, but it remained undamaged. First I perceived this as the reflection of my head lamp on the heart of diamond, but the light was way too strong and seemed to have its source behind me.
I turned around.
The wooden floor was no longer rotten and covered with seapocks and starfish. It looked like it had been polished minutes ago. And on the sofa, the sofa of thick, lush blue velvet, sat a woman, rather like a girl. She seemed to observe me with curiosity and fear alike.
"What do you think you are doing?"
Her voice was bright, ethereal and filled my head like the overwhelming chime of a nearby belltower. Her hair was of a white-golden colour and she wore a white dress that appeared rather old-fashioned to me.
"Nothing. Who are you anyway?"
I took the collier from the box and carefully placed it in my back pocket.
"You cannot have this, sir, this is mine. My father gave it as a present to me for my birthday."
"Who are you?" I inquired once again until I got the reply.
"Elise Ivenheim. You are not very polite, sir, as you should have introduced yourself first."
"You are kidding me. The Ivenheims all went down with this ship."
Then she was right before me, how she got there, I did not know. Her skin was white, as white as the porcelain around the room. The lights of the golden chandeliers lit some sparks in her hair. Chandeliers… in the water…
She leaned forward and whispered in my ear. Her whisper was airless. "My father is arriving shortly sir. He will not approve of your attempt to invade this room of mine. You cannot have this."
Then my brain started working. Ivenheim. Ivenheim was the name of the millionaire and this was his daughter.
"You cannot have it, Trent. You cannot have it."
I tried to loosen myself from her grip and move upwards, as my oxygen seemed to have been almost used up. But she held on tight while she pierced my view with a pair of glowing green eyes.
We turned around, me in my diving equipment, she in her lace dress, like in some awkward dance where she was taking the lead, while I attempted to free myself. I was dizzy and felt one of her thin, pale white fingers reach out for my back pack when the whole scene went black.
The last thing I felt before my eyes shut was my hands grasping her sleeve in a last hope for rescue. It was a first impression of how it would probably feel when you leave, forever and irrevocably.
"Holy mother of all sharks." That voice and the cough that followed I recognized immediately.
Fred kneeled beside me after the guards had apparently pulled me out of the water.
They explained I had suffered a severe loss of oxygen levels and had been rescued only just in time. My back pack, the back pack I had placed the collier in, was gone. In my hands, I held a piece of fabric. It was old, but white, and … laced.
"Ain't nothing down there." I mumbled while they carried me away. Elise's voice, however, remained as the aftermath of this dangerous dive and served as a reminder of a now-certain truth.
I should never risk a life for a treasure that was not mine.
Some diamonds belong to the sea and must remain there, eternally.
My original dream got cut off and a new picture appeared. It was the picture of my grandmother, looking exactly as she did when I last saw her, seated in a huge bed-like hospital chair, wearing a blue-white nightgown. For the first time in my life, I was aware this was a dream.
“Don’t worry about me, I am fine.”, my grandmother spoke to me.
“What does this mean?” I asked myself.
She continued: “You have your school, your horses. You must go on with your life and not worry about me. I am fine.”
“Why do you tell me all this?” I addressed my question to her. “Why am I having this dream?”
She did not answer. Then, suddenly, something seemed to begin to disintegrate the picture of her, a still soft, but persistent sound that seemed to invade this moment of time.
“Grandma? Can you hear this? What is this?”
But her moving features seemed to have been frozen and what remained was a still picture of her smiling at me. Yet, the invading sound continued to dissolve the picture of her, like duck’s feet causing water ripples and distorting all reflections on the surface of the water.
The strange, repetitive sound first defeated the picture, then the whole dream.
I woke up and was aware that the sound which had ended the dream was the house phone, ringing… and ringing … and ringing.
I switched on the light and turned around. 4:30 a.m.
Contrary to other nightly calls, the phone did not stop ringing.
“She is gone.” I thought, when I heard my parents get up and my mother pick up the phone. “Take the phone, I cannot understand this.” my mother said soon after she picked up and I heard the voice of my father talking.
The death certificate we later got said: Deceased November 25th, 1997 at 4:15 a.m., just 15 minutes before I awoke from that dream.
A beloved mother of one and grandmother of two had passed away in these morning hours at the age of 73, and spoke her farewell words to me before she left to rest in peace in some other, unknown place.
It had been one year, six months and exactly fourteen days since Ebony fell, down by the small lake, and succumbed to the crack of her right spine. Since then, I had not looked at horses, I had not touched them or even ridden one of them.
On this autumn saturday, however, something seemed to be dragging me towards this place out of town, where a huge riding festival with celebrations and high level competitions was held every year.
I had been none of those proficient ones in the black and white trousers and jackets. Instead, I flew through the woods, near the sea, and, when it was ebb tide, it was just me, Ebony and the now exposed wavy ground of the sea.
Now I observed horses and their riders from the distance of the spectator’s corner. It was crowded, and I just leaned towards the fence when a demanding hand grabbed my shoulder.
“Elby, there you are. Come on, you need to get ready.”
I turned around. That woman must have been in her forties, red and curly hair wildly surrounding her head. She wore a green jacket and riding boots. I would have followed her, but the problem was that my name was not Elby.
“But, I am not…” I started, but she would not let me answer. “But, my name is Isobel”, I was going to say, but instead of holding on and listening, she just dragged me towards the contestant's quarters, just like in a bad dream when you are pulled into something you are unlikely to escape. “Go and get dressed!”
That red-haired woman pushed me towards a small cabin and closed the door. It was a small room with a mirror, some bags and a pair of shiny leather riding boots. Near the mirror, there was a complete rider’s attire hung up, including white gloves. A black smooth riding helmet was sitting, working as the exclamation mark of this outfit, on the makeup table in front of the mirror. I did not think much, I put off my clothes and put on the white trousers first, then the white blouse and the black jacket.
Never had I worn such clothes. I pictured myself on freshly cut grass, near the lush woods, on the back of that high black horse with a white star on its forehead. She would never be near the woods again, I thought, when I heard a knock at the door.
Where could Elby be now? Maybe she was hiding somewhere, or locked into some place where she could not be found. At least, I must have looked a lot like her, because in this moment, for some people, I WAS her, playing her part, the part she was missing.
The horse was dark, almost black and I held my breath when I first saw it. It did see me too, and did not watch me even as I stood next to it. The blanket under the saddle said “Avalanche”. Before I could even remember I was not able to get on any horse but my horse which was never going to return again, I was on the back of Avalanche, being guided towards an arena full of spectators. I was counting with the rhythm of the steps of the horse, 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4, until I was there, held my breath and waited.
Then they announced me, or Elby, or whoever they wanted to see. “Ellen Holby Simmons, junior champion and future Olympic contestant with Avalanche, a ten year old stallion in his third year of this competition”. That was certainly not me.
I went to greet the judges as I had seen it on TV, then turned around. Obstacle number 1 was near me. Avalanche was apparently aware what he had to do and he went straight for the obstacle while I already looked for number 2. He flew high up in the air and I pressed my knees together when that indefinite power from the dozens of muscles pushed us over obstacles higher than any stick or fallen tree I had ever jumped over.
And the legs of this horse kept up with the pace, landed safely. I did not know what I was doing, so I held on tight to the reins and the mane, which was as dark as Ebony’s mane had been the last time I stroked it before they pulled me away from her.
When we approached the last obstacle, I was certain we would fall down and disappear somewhere between the walls and the waters and never get back. I closed my eyes shortly before we reached the wall and anticipated the cracks, the crashes, the fall.
Nothing of that came. Instead, I felt we lifted off, took off from the ground right into the air. I thought of flying, imagined nothing had happened on that day more than one year ago, imagined me flying over that incredibly small lake, sparing Ebony from that malicious hole she stepped into, making her live on for real and not as a picture I carried with me in my troubled mind.
When Avalanche landed, it was quiet for a moment until the cheering broke out. I opened my eyes to see a huge red zero on the board. This had been a flawless ride, I concluded, unbelieving, when I was dragged from the horse and shouted at, unable to react on what had just occurred in that minutes, during the last hour, around me and inside me.
After the lawsuit filed by Ellen Holby Simmons against me and the red-haired woman had been arranged for good, I returned to other horses, bought an old stable, learned to repair saddles, but never again jumped higher than 90 centimetres. The woods and the lakes became my friends again and the wind my graceful company.
Avalanche joined the ranges of Olympic gold medal winners and Ebony was somewhere out there, with the stars.
The tracks were just being cleared when Coach Hanson approached Coach Graham.
“Foggy day, isn’t it?” Coach Hanson scratched his almost bare head with his right hand.
Coach Graham nodded. He was watching the tracks carefully, where hurdles were being built up for 100 metres ladies run.
Coach Hanson was in his last years of teaching at this sport’s school, the years had taken his hair and provided him with a deeply sun-tanned, wrinkled, leather-like skin under which he had managed to develop a controlled temper.
This was useful, and by owning and maintaining this relaxed mode of mind, he made a difference to younger teachers and coaches, who still raised their angry voices over thrown down hurdles and failed javelin throws.
“Who is that?” asked Coach Graham when the ladies lined up. “I mean, number 3”, he added quickly.
“Deidre Heaton”, Coach Hanson replied, his voice seemingly expressing surprise about the fact that Coach Graham did not recognize her.
“Who is she?” Coach Graham raised one eyebrow.
“She is a substitute for Carla Erler.” Coach Hanson arranged the glasses sitting on his huge nose. “She fell from the stage during an experimental theatre rehearsal.”
“A substitute?” Coach Graham now raised the other eyebrow as well. “But this is…”
“The qualification run? Yes, indeed. Heaton’s first qualification run.”, smiled Coach Hanson.
Then they heard the shot. The run had started. While Coach Hanson took a pipe out of his pocket and lighted it, Coach Graham’s eyes widened as Deidre Heaton flew past the others, all muscles in her body working, her eyes only aiming at the finish line.
When she crossed it (it must have been only seconds, but Coach Graham looked as if time had stopped), people cheered and jumped from their seats.
“How…” began Coach Graham and Coach Hanson took a deep inhale from his sweet pipe.
“I told her there was no way she was going to qualify for the next round and that she was THE SLOW ONE”. Coach Hanson released his fingers from the pipe to form invisible quotes in the foggy air.
“For her, these words triggered the miracle that you just saw.”
“Get to know your team members, they will be yours someday.”
Coach Graham’s eyebrows were still high up towards his forehead. He took a deep breath of the sweetened air around him and walked towards Deidre Heaton, who stood beside the track, blushed and as astonished as he was.
John knew he had to have a real name, somewhere behind the wall that separated him from his about 30 years of memories, in a place he must have lived when he still remembered. He had not given up trying to find a trace, a sign, some leftover piece of that memory, but, for now, he had turned to a state of momentarily acceptance that calmed him down enough to think clearly and follow the undertakings of Remulus.
Remulus’ rugged appearance had made John feel uncomfortable at first, as he stood there, wild ungroomed black hair, thick and barely touching the shoulders on which he wore a leather coat that had surely seen younger and better days. However, as John did not know any obligations that were his own, as there was no hint of a former life which could have entitled him to any rights or duties, he was utterly thankful being allowed to follow Remulus, although John suspected he should not be of any use to this strange thin man.
John had not heard a single sound for a long time, not a breath or a voice. The occasional singing of the birds and hammering of sparrows had been added to the sound background that haunted his squirms anyway, so he almost drifted into a half-sleep by closing his eyes, succumbing to the dark, when something struck him.
It came from far away, a dull sound which revealed itself to be a rhythm of repeating beats as it came closer. John looked up to Remulus who nodded and turned away in direction of the approaching rhythm. John now recognized what it was. This hammering movement, this strong staccato came from the hooves of a huge horse. As John could now barely observe, a small human being, most probably a woman, was riding that horse, leaning across, her hands to the right and the left of the horses neck. Remulus statue stiffed, the eyes fixated on the first beings that had come here since they had mounted the tree for some unknown reason.
They had almost reached the tree and John noticed the rosy cheeks of the rider, who was, in fact, a woman wearing a black helmet, gloves, leather riding boots and a tan-coloured vest over a read sweater.
John expected them to pass the tree and dive into the distance, disappearing behind the numerous trees, hidden by the green.
The steady rhythm continued until the horse had reached the tree and was only a few metres away from John’s feet on the tree branch. A sudden flash, or cloud of light (John’s eyes shut themselves to protect them from observing further and getting exposed) then disrupted the scene.
When he opened his eyes, the horse was still there, it had stopped and stood, breathing heavily, where it had been left, for in the saddle on its back, no woman was sitting anymore. John first thought she might have fallen when the horse had stopped its itinerary all too abruptly. But there was no woman. Instead, there was a second horse standing there, not a colt, but looking like it had just been born, looking confused and bewildered.
Remulus made the first move, jumped down from the high branch (John wondered if he actually had ankles made of iron, as the cracking sound he expected when Remulus’s feet hit the ground could not be heard).
John observed, still puzzled, Remulus walking to a spot near the horses and pick something up, a small piece that might have been a stone to John’s unknowing eyes. Remulus carefully took the piece, examined it for a moment until he let it slip into a small velvet bag he took from the pocket of his leather coat.
“Come”. Remulus ordered John to jump of the tree branch. He obeyed, but raised his voice then, hesitantly.
“The horses..” His voice was rusty, as if it had not been in use for years.
“We are going”. Remulus did not seem as if anything could persuade him to take on plans other than the ones he had and so John walked off with him from the strangely distorted scenery.
The piercing whinney of one of the horses they now left behind touched some of the blank strings of John’s mind. When and where, he did not know, so, for now, he followed.
This is an entry for week 16 of LJ Idol, this week's topic being "A terrible beauty has been born". The entry was inspired by a dream I had years ago and some ideas I had following that dream. Usually, dreams come in and they fade as they leave, but this one still remains.
The weak lights in the movie theatre could hardly illuminate the place enough for them to re-read the place numbers on their cards before they actually sat down. She wore a cappuccino-colored sweater, a pair of black jeans and, on the ring finger of her left hand, a tiny silver ring. He paused his breathing for a second, then held on to his popcorn as the lights slowly went out and the movie started.
It was a nostalgically themed evening. She, the girl in jeans and with the ring (that reflected tiny bits of light coming from the screen). When Kyle McLachlan found the ear, he used the moment to study her face, but got distracted by the ring, yet again.
Was she engaged, and, if so, why did she come out to the movies with him? In the meantime, she grabbed some pieces of popcorn out of the bag and her face went bright red. On the screen, Isabella Rossellini threatened the troubled Kyle with a knife.
He remembered having written an essay for college on the color symbolism in David Lynch movies, which he should have taken more seriously. He wondered why he had not taken this movie as an example. Blue, red, yellow, red and then blue.
The face of the girl next to him was covered in this rich blue. When she wore the ring for no special reason (for the same reason she would wear bracelets or earrings, there should be nothing to worry about. In fact, what was he worrying? She was not that special, but special enough for David Lynch movies and special enough to make him come and watch one of them with her).
He got so absorbed in his thoughts that he did not notice her glimpsing to her right where he was seated. Kyle and Laura Dern had a walk outside in the dark and he started to wonder if there was any moment of suspense prepared somewhere to burst out when the audience least expected it. Some Laura Palmer guest appearance maybe, with a silver ring on her finger, just like the girl next to him. Laura Palmer would utter some half-significant sentence, such as: “Do you want some coffee?” before she’d pass them to disappear beyond the borders of the screen.
The movie ended softly and when the lights went on, they got up and left the movie theatre. “Ouch” she moaned suddenly and rubbed her finger.
“What is it?” he asked, as the finger she had rubbed was the exact same finger with the ring on it.
“My friend Julie asked me to try and wear it for me, as she said it hurt her finger. Which is now proven.”
She took off the ring and let it slip into one of the small front pockets of her handbag.
“Let me ask you something: You do not really like me, do you?”
His face was now changing colors as well.
The inside of the box could be accessed through a small door, which revealed an entrance far too narrow for an average adult.
Mr. Havensworth smiled, but he supposedly had never smiled brighter than on the day he grabbed and pulled the coloured cloth from his strange and mighty creation. Nobody, except for me and Mr. Havensworth knew that, inside the box, I was sitting on a tiny stool, maneuvering the rubber arms, controlling the movements. Even the narrow door was invisible and camouflaged by a scarf hanging from the machine’s neck.
“Let’s play chess”, shouted Mr. Havensworth, and from the dark he pulled a chess table with thick wooden pieces in black and white. The board, as well as the pieces, were exquisite and had been imported from Toledo years ago. The reason, however, for getting this equipment was not its valuable materials, but the fact that the pieces were thick and heavy and could not be knocked over by the hands of the machine that easily.
Me, a small boy, smaller than the others at my age, could see the board through the glass eye of a small camera and could control the hands through two steering implements you would refer to today as joysticks.
“Do not let them all win, boy, and do not knock them all over at once. People shall believe that they are more likely to win than to lose.” Mr. Havensworth was certain in what he told me. When being asked whether whatever he did was morally correct (I did not ask it that was, to be honest, as I was only 9 years old), he just flipped open the cover of his pocket watch, took a glance at the clock face and replied: “That is what people have dreamed of”.
And of course, he was also certain in his opinion that the machine’s secret should never be revealed. “You are in this just like I am. Don’t destroy the magic.”
He let me out in the evening and nobody raised any objections, since it was our 6 weeks summer vacation.
In the beginning, I did not really know why he chose me. I had lost nearly all games at the local chess club recently, and the club leader seemed to have lost all faith in me.
Mr. Havensworth showed up one day as if having materialized out of nowhere with his car and wagon full of mysterious tools and metal pieces.
And then, in this metal box, my long dormant spark finally ignited. While the bona fide opponents lost their stakes, Mr. Havensworth warmed his hands at the newly lit fire. Nobody seemed to notice the changes at first, except for Boyd Miller at the chess club, who lost three games in a row he played against me. I did not notice it myself, that, when the arms of the machine became my arms and I won more and more games, a fact which seemed to discourage the people of this town, so that fewer and fewer came to compete against the machine. Once an opponent, a man in his sixties, stared directly into the camera without actually knowing he did so. I felt exposed for a moment, but then remembered to continue the game.
When the first voices raised about how much money had been wandering into Mr. Havensworth’s pockets and how they wondered this machine actually did work, it was not long before, one morning, the place where his car and wagon were parked, was empty when I got there. Some called him a liar, a traitor, some claimed his machine contained some radioactive material which would have made all inhabitants of this city sick if he had not left by now.
Wherever he went to, I did not know and I never heard of him again. He left me, however, as a player ready to respond to any attacks, to defend his king and queen, more confident than I had ever been. And this did not happen through the magic of some mysterious machine, but it was the result of hours and hours of playing, being the heart of the machine, a small, but steadily accelerating nucleus of chess power and an increased faith in my own abilities.
This purely fictional piece, written for LJ Idol’s Week 14 topic “Confessions from the Chair” was inspired by some years in a chess club, a strange fascination for humans and machines, and a rebuilt chess playing turk recently seen at a museum.
“What’s next?” someone asked.
“Rope-skipping” replied Miss E.
I wiped my hot face with the hand I had been holding against the floor for some cooling.
“You each take one rope and all start skipping. The last one that remains wins one bag”. The bags were located on a table next to the door of the gym hall with the wooden floor, in which the air carried the heavy scent of old leather and sweat. Each bag, featuring a christmas-tree themed design, was filled with chocolate, cinnamon stars and other sweets, as it was the last gym session before Christmas. On the top of each bag, I could spot some small oranges and a wrapped Father Christmas of chocolate.
One bag had gone to the winner of some ball-throwing game, in which I got lost quickly. But rope-skipping! I was good at it, or so I thought. My head felt hot, but not only from the game. It was a mixture of pre-Christmas excitement, that kind of excitement you can only feel when you are a child, when you are certain that the sweet rosé colouring of the sky are some angels baking cookies in preparation and of an upcoming fever that had started to rise to its full proportions on this friday evening.
My hands, now sweaty as well, took the rope, and then everyone started skipping, so that the wooden floor under our feet swung and creaked each time our bodies came down again.
Soon the first ones tripped, some fell, entangled in their ropes, some were exhausted. I was exhausted, too, but I had been drifting apart to another world, while my legs and feet worked on their own. More girls stopped, then they sat down and watched.
Suddenly, we were only three skipping girls in the large gym hall. The occasional talking had stopped and the only sound was the drumming of six little feet that were still in the game for a prize.
When the third girl stumbled and sat down quickly I looked up. The other one was one of the best girls in my age group. She wore a red gym dress and red shoes. I wondered how long we had been skipping. 15 Minutes? 20? I suddenly felt tired, ready to give up, to pretend I had gotten entangled in my rope, too, and then smile politely and tiredly, congratulating the winner and lay my feverish head to rest in my bed at home.
But a part of me was not ready to pretend a fall. If I was going to fall, then for real, maybe because my feet were too sore to jump, or because my shoe was falling apart. The reason had to be another one than to pretend a fall and accept defeat.
“She is not going to give up, I know her”. This came up in my head and I looked away from her, to the bags of sweets. I could almost taste the warm spicy cinnamon, the fresh oranges, and I could hear the sound of a chocolate Father Christmas just being unwrapped and suffering the first bite that cracked the whole milk chocolate.
Then I heard it. The jolt that went through the floor, caused by a pair of tripping feet. I looked up and the girl in the red dress stood where she had been skipping, the rope between her feet.
“It’s ok, you can stop, you are the winner”, someone called from somewhere in the hall and my feet stopped, my knees gave in and then I sat on the floor, which was now turning before my eyes.
That night, my mother peeled one of the oranges from my bag and gave it to me before I went to bed, where I closed my eyes and could not really believe that this had just happened. The proof in form of the bag full of sweets, waited patiently for me until the next morning.
“No, I’m not going”, I moaned when Janey got the bottle.
Dressed in a piece of cloth from yesterday’s workouts, my back was glued to the sofa.
“No, I am not getting up”, I mumbled when she poured whiskey into my glass and placed it on the table near my phone, which buzzed, now and then, unattended.
“Come on, you must have something to wear, this will not be the king’s reception”, Janey exclaimed while raiding my wardrobe.
“Too spontaneous”: In reply I let my phone fall on the not so shiny table and emptied my glass.
Outside, the few lights we had just started to illuminate the dark.
“I look like I have been pulled out of some clothes container” I complained when we were out on the street (finally). My arms were not dressed for “Put your hands up in the air”, my feet were not polished enough for dancing.
“We need another drink” I whispered in Janey’s ear when we arrived, with some short skirts and badly arranged leather ties already occupying the space supposed for dancing. Janey’s almost invisible nod rushed me to the table in the corner, where drinks were handed as if from an eternal fountain of golden and white liquor.
“Who said this was not going to be fun?” I shouted over to Janey, an hour later, when one song, just one song from a night I then just did remember, set my feet and mind in a state to celebrate.
“This has not been killed by plans”, Janey shouted back, holding on to the shoulders of a stranger.
Opening the metal box for the 10th time. Among the bills and ads and mistaken notes for the neighbours, no envelope has the signs my eyes watch for so eagerly. I walk back, up the long staircase and sit, on a chair next to the open door. It has been 10 days since I glued the stamp, 10 days since I had the certificates copied and 10 days since I said goodbye to the big brown letter at the yellow box around the corner.
“Here is a nice offer” said dad the other day. “You’ll learn something you can use, something you will surely find a job with.” I read the offer and it said: “Executive office assistant apprentice”. I swallowed my poached egg and turned the page.
“You could get a degree in science. You were always good at math.” suggested Muriel. I nodded, then shook my head. The only chemistry I knew and wanted to know was the reaction of my brain to freshly brewed caffeine in the morning. More like medicine.
15 days and I thought I knew what it looked like through the small plastic window of the metal letterbox. When it is black, no letters. When it is gray, a few letters. None of them for me.
“Why don’t you write other applications?” asked Jenny two days ago.
“Where to?” I replied, slightly absent-minded. “To some place I do not want to be anyway?”
Cross-armed and reluctant, I looked at Jenny, who continued her questioning:
“What if they do not accept you?”
I take a deep breath. “I don’t know.”
“But you have to know. Why don’t you come and work with me at Fedderson’s and Davenport if it does not work out with your application?”
I close my eyes. “No.”
Day 20 was the first day I actually took out the trash first before heading to watch out for the letters with a beating heart.
On this day, the sight behind the plastic window was brown. Brown? My hand with the key was shaking and when I pulled out the letters some of them fell on the grey-tiled floor.
On this day, it finally arrived and I ripped it open, standing at the foot of the stairs, looked to the ceiling for a second or two, and then started to read.
“Tell me, how is my favourite wizard today?” She did her best to make her voice sound cheerful and happy like in an ice cream ad spot, but her eyes were the only part of her that was icy.
Luke lifted his head. “Huh?” In the middle of drafting the next posts for the “Wonderful me” campaign, he was only giving half of his attention to Alma, his boss.
“Oh huh, come on, huh, do you want to know about the magic you did for me on your desk the last days and nights? Don’t say you do not remember! I had a visitor this morning.”
Luke put down the stylus of his drawing tablet. “What kind of visitor?”
Alma sat down on Luke’s desk, her left leg dangerously close to his hand (the one that had just let go of the stylus). She moved her lips next to his ear: “A… LAWYER”.
“Oh yeah” Luke only moved one eyebrow, waiting for more details.
“OH YEAH” echoed Alma, “That is what YOU SAY to this. Do you know what I learned today?” (She did not actually wait for his reaction and answer, but instead continued without leaving enough time for him to open his mouth).
“I learned today that some pictures are better to never have appeared in this oh-my-holy world wide web of ideas. NEVER.” She flipped back her hair and fixated Luke with a blend of blue eyed word-cutting intensity he already knew. “I agree”. Luke had picked up the stylus and had his fingers play with it.
“How nice of you to agree. Would you mind having a look at this one?” She smashed a stack of photos on Luke’s desk and he immediately recognized the scenario. “Salchicha Man” he muttered.
“His real name is Wilbur Johnson.” Alma took up one photo and held it close to Luke’s face. “ He cannot even walk outside, let alone go to work without being called Salchicha Man”.
(“Well, that’s what he is” Luke was about to respond, but he knew this was not a good idea). “That was just a play, just a campaign. I only took his photo for the Spicy Mexican campaign, which he agreed to, as you remember.”
Alma clenched her teeth: “And then this whole picture was taken and transformed into this insulting phenomenon that YOU supported because you admitted those pictures of shame in our facebook page my lovely dear social media expert.” She breathed.
“Half a million dollars is what this is going to cost us if we lose the trial. Just for your information. THINK of something you wanna do, and do it CAREFULLY.”
She slid off his desk and vanished into her office.
When Luke walked home, the air was thick and it was getting cold, a steaming cold with air that carried the scent of iron.
“You jerk.” The voice was twice as loud as the voices Luke was used to hear, including Alma’s. He turned around to see a familiar face. “Salchicha Man!” Luke had to clear his throat. It had been a long time since he got to say “Salchicha Man” so many times a day. The man carried a pan with a lid on it. “Excuse me?” The man looked about ten years older since the photos had been taken.
“You are the dirtiest piece of garbage that you can find. Thank YOU, I have no job anymore, no private life, I am being ridiculed and discriminated.”
“I am sorry” Luke replied, calmly. “I did not mean to...” But he was interrupted.
“It is too late.” Wilbur Johnson lifted the lid. “You want Salchicha Man? You get Salchicha Man. And my famous salsa!”
Wilbur threw the pan at Luke, who reacted too slowly and got hit on the head. The white spot somewhere in the distance he had been observing even when talking to Wilbur was coming closer as Luke fell to the ground, his face covered in tomato salsa. Through the reddened view of his eyes (either blood or tomato, he did not know) he saw this white spot flying up to him. A bird, a seemingly big white bird, who had landed next to him only to watch Luke, the reddened Luke, on the ground. No reaction from the bird, no sound, no fluttering. Salchicha Man was gone, but the bird remained. Luke let his head sink down on the ground when he finally heard the sirens.
“You really got hit hard on the head, didn’t you?” Alma was as charming as she had ever been when Luke presented the new campaign. There were photos he had created himself, as he had managed to find the bird in the neighbourhood he was attacked in, and take some shots before returning him to the local zoo.
“The indifferent cockatiel?” Alma came closer to Luke and stroked his neck with one of her long white nails.
“Nobody is going to remember Salchicha Man anymore. And, besides, where did this upcoming trial go? Discarded, wasn’t it? See, I did my work carefully.”
Luke smiled when he just typed another text on the photo of the white bird.
At least, birds cannot file lawsuits.
The woman was calmly seated on one of those wooden benches munching on a bloc of milky ice cream. It was midday, almost afternoon and her eyes wandered over the green grass, the small bungalows, the people wandering around on the meandering pathways. The woman, who may be called Gabrielle for the sake of data protection and privacy, was just starting to get bored until she spotted something in the distance, or rather, somebody.
Another woman was approaching the round, mushroom-like building that hosted the library. Gabrielle called: “Hey!” but no reaction came from that woman, who continued her walk without slowing down. Gabrielle swallowed another bit of ice cream, then she raised her voice again after straightening the upper part of her high grown and slender body: “Hey you, young woman in the blue shirt and with long hair!”
This time, the other woman turned around (her real name is irrelevant and we will call her Anna). “Hellooooooo you.” Gabrielle smiled and waved with the hand that was not holding the ice cream. Anna pointed to her chest as if to ask: “Who, me?”
“Yes, you”. Gabrielle called over cheerfully, taking another bite from the melting bloc in her hand while Anna approached her, hesitantly, as if she was not sure if she was to expect something good from Gabrielle.
“What are you doing here?” Gabrielle was curious, but managed to handle her impatience.
“I was going to the library.”
Anna’s voice was quiet. She seemed nervous, rubbing the back of her left hand with her right thumb.
“You mean… you do not work here?” Gabrielle raised her eyebrows in absolute surprise. Anna could have said she was going to get on her time machine and travel back to find out where she left her keys.
“No, I don’t work here.” Anna seemed very shy still, but it looked like she slowly relaxed because Gabrielle was not going to laugh about the way she walked or the way she wore her hair. No danger, hopefully. And Anna added: “I am a patient here, just like you.”
Gabrielle smiled even brighter. “You look so normal, I mean, not like someone who is in treatment. More like a doctor, someone curing others from the disorders.”
Anna had to smile, too, for the first time, since this conversation had started.
“What is your name? I am Gabrielle.”
“I am Anna.”
“Ok, Anna, do you wanna hear a song? I was once in a famous pop combo and we had that smash hit you might remember… Five Rays of Light: Party all night?”
“Sure.” Anna nodded. “Yes, why not.” Anna’s overly surprised look on the outside only reflected half of the thought going on on the inside. Not only was Gabrielle the first one in years that had called after her like that without intention of bullying her (at least, Anna had decided that she was going to believe Gabrielle was not bullying her) but also in this place, of all places, she got to meet a former pop star to sing her a song.
Gabrielle climbed on the bench, pushed some button on her mp3 player for her music and started singing. Her voice soon filled the air around the wooden bench, but nobody stopped and stared, except for Anna, who stood still, listening, not knowing where to take her hands, or her legs, or her facial expression.
When Gabrielle finished the song, she got down on the bench, switched of the playback and investigated Anna, waiting for her feedback.
“That was amazing. You have a beautiful voice.” Anna was feeling lighter, she blushed and looked down on the concrete tiles of the path.
“Thank you.” Gabrielle happily acknowledged Anna’s words. Anna then checked her watch. “Sorry, I need to go. As I do not work here, I need to join everyone for coffee.” She actually had some sense of humour. With her feet on the secure ground of knowing she was not going to be bullied, she could place her steady steps wherever she wished to go. When the ground was shaky and fractured, she used to move her feet carefully, minding the gaps she could fall and disappear in.
“It was nice to meet you, Anna.” Gabrielle got up, put her headphones on and walked off, singing. It was seconds after Anna had seen Gabrielle’s curly head turn right behind the white door of department II that she noticed this conversation had really, actually and in fact, ended much more positive than she had anticipated.
And so Anna walked off, too, not singing, but moving her lips a little with the song in her head.
Jameson approached Hitaro, his hands folded behind his slender back. Mr. Hitaro lowered his eyes on the running feet there down in the sand, bodies leaping onto boats, arms that were paddling, others had motorboats, some were swimming. “Foolishness.” spoke Hitaro, stretching the “o” almost unbearably for Jameson. “They will wish they had never left. Who leaves a place like this?”
Jameson left this question unanswered as Hitaro seldom expected any answer. Corona Island was hosting its farewell gathering and in a few hours, every grain of sand, every tree trunk with its lush green leaves would be down on the ground of the sea.
“Your helicopter is ready, Mr. Hitaro. It is necessary to leave in one hour at the latest, sir.” Mr. Hitaro turned to him. “Don’t be as foolish as them, Jameson, and don’t think you might fool me.” Jameson shook his head. “I won’t.”
He felt the uncomfortable sensation of increasing heat rising up his body and he rubbed his neck for relief. Jameson knew that just a few minutes ago, the air-conditioning system had failed. The overheated nucleus had destroyed the cooling chambers much faster than he had anticipated. Hitaro turned around, the first fine pearls of sweat on his chin. Jameson had never seen him sweating, not when playing tennis, not even in the most blistering heat in the middle of summer. “What I gave them, no one has ever given them before.” Hitaro wiped his forehead with an embroidered tissue he took from his elaborate black jacket. “The nucleus has all the power to let us live here with endless sources of energy. Stupid and ignorant are those who put up unnecessary efforts, when there is one way that is so much more efficient, so much more intelligent than the others?” Hitaro smiled, but Jameson recognized more sweat on his chin and the little red lines in his black and white eyes.
“Now they are leaving, they are all leaving. Where is their thankfulness, their will to endure those times and wait for the better ones? Should I keep them as my hostages?” Jameson saw the blue water in the distance. It was calm and only distracted by the boats represented by white and coloured dots that became smaller and smaller as he watched them. Now he could feel the heat under his feet. “Meltdown” was the word that made the first people leave, they went silently, followed by others, almost imperceptible.
“You may leave as well if you wish, Jameson.” Mr. Hitaro slowly walked back to his desk, sat down slowly to bury his face in his suntanned hands.
Jameson had just seen the last boat turn into a small yellow blob on the sea. He took off his jacket and threw it on one of the luxury leather stools. He wondered what they would look like in the moment of explosion.
“I might.” replied Jameson.
Then he sat down and waited for the light.
It is silence now, the silence after another question. The teacher reads from a stack of thick cards and the answers come in from different corners of the classroom. My hands in the pockets of my jeans, I hypnotize the irregular lines of wood on my table.
“The capital of Nicaragua?” The answer of the question is in my head and yet, I remain in this silence, I remain a part of it.
Managua. The water and the rain and a hand on wood. As long as I keep my lips closed, there will be peace. For if I don’t, tiny drops of laughter will start to fall and form a rushing wave in my ears. It comes and it goes with my words, this laughter, that grows from an invisible poisonous cloud.
So I wait, for someone else’s words, someone else’s answers, that are not followed by the cloud’s wet watering drips and the cutting painful flashes of public shame. My silence is my precautionary umbrella.
“Nobody, really?” the teacher exclaims. I take a breath, hearing the murmuring behind my back. A town, maybe, so I think, where people laugh a whole hearted laughter that is nourished by rays of sun and salt crusts on lower ends of high rising palmtrees. For when they laugh, it dries away the deadly quicksand that is not to be distinguished from the safe white sand of the beaches near the sea.
“Managua”. I speak, then hold my breath, again, under the gaze of roughly 20 pairs of eyes. Managua. And there is silence.