Sea Dance

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She was a stranger in a very strange land and yet everything felt so familiar, like it can in the most impossible of dreams. She wasn’t dreaming, but it felt like she was, as she moved among the different sculptures in the new art exhibit. The walls in the large gallery were painted in wavy patterns of swimmy blues and murky greens and the effect was like being in an underwater cavern and the statues and sculptures seemed to sway in a current unfelt by human skin.

She’d worn a modest bathing suit, as instructed by the art gallery owner and she shivered a little as she walked among the statues. They were almost familiar too, like child drawings of sea creatures. There was a mermaid with a forked tail so it was like she had large fins, instead of legs, and silvery hair sweeping down her scaly back. A porpoise with whiskers drooping on each side of its snout. A very large lobster, with tentacles instead of claws. She gasped, as one of the statues opened its eyes and turned towards her. It was a man, dressed in a coat that looked like intricately woven seaweed.

“Do you like my creatures?” he asked.

“Oh, yes!” she said. “They feel like I know them from a dream. I mean, they seem so unreal and yet so familiar.”

He patted the back of a sea turtle that had rows of centipede legs on each side of its shell.

“You very well may be dreaming,” he said, and smiled an impish grin at her.

“I most certainly am NOT dreaming,” she said. “but I may as well be.”  He was quite handsome, she thought, with his goatee and boyish red curls. She had sworn off dating artists but now she couldn’t remember why.

He moved closer to her. “Do you know how to swim?” he asked.

“I do, but not well. I don’t get the opportunity very often. Why do you ask?”

“It’s part of my show. But you have to trust me. You need to not be afraid of water.”

“I would never be afraid,” she said. “There may be things that scare me, but water is not one of them.”

“I knew that when I saw you,” he said, and raised his hand to blow three sharp notes on a small pipe whistle.

Water started pouring out of the base of each statue, quickly filling the floor of the gallery and starting to rise. Soon it was a foot deep, and then two, and as it began to reach the creatures they began to move languidly, stretching and tossing their heads back and forth. At three feet deep some were able to rise off their bases and they began to swim around the gallery, diving and weaving among each other. The porpoise nudged her leg and the whiskers tickled.

“Shall we?” he said, and taking her by the elbow, he guided her to climb on the back of the porpoise. The water rose higher and he swam with strong strokes beside her as the porpoise moved here and there around the other creatures in the room. The water kept rising and soon it was just a few feet from the ceiling. There was a bell hanging from one of the chandeliers and he swam to it and rang it, once. The creatures began to dive, one after another and he swam to her, pulling her off the porpoise into his arms.

There was a loud rushing sound and the water began to lower, and as it lowered he held her tight and swung her into a tumble. They tumbled and rolled together as the water lever kept dropping and the creatures settled back onto their bases. One last tumble and they felt the floor of the gallery beneath them. She had starting laughing in sheer joy as they tumbled and as they pulled apart she laughed again.

“I have made quite a mess of your seaweed coat,” she said.

“Ah, well, that’s the beauty of seaweed, you see,” he said. “There’s plenty of it.”

“I still think I might be dreaming,” she said.

“That’s for you to decide,” he said. “Would you rather this be a dream? Or real?”

“Real,”  she said. “I’d rather my real life be this intoxicating. Given the choice, I’d rather have more fun awake, than asleep.”

“Good choice,” he said. “Real, it is, then.”

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Slide

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With her faded dress and worn shoes, she knew she couldn’t go to her normal haunts, like her favorite bookstore or the tea shop where they served her favorite scones. She’d dashed out of the house intending to just drop some things off at the thrift shop on the edge of town but then her car kept going and soon she was on Main Street on a unseasonably warm sunny day. The last time she’d gone out dressed like this luck would have it that she ran into Bill at the grocery store, with her hair uncombed and no makeup on. He’d grinned and said, “Slumming it today are we?” and she blushed and said the first thing that came into her head, “I didn’t think I’d run into anyone important.” That made her blush deeper and he just laughed and patted her on the head like she was his kid sister. She hated to blush. And she hated the pat on the head even more. She was 31 and he was 32 and they weren’t neighborhood kids growing up together now–they were full grown adults. He was already married and then divorced, for Pete’s sake.  He’d married his high school sweetheart and they’d had two kids together and then at some point she up and moved out with another guy, leaving both Bill and the kids behind.

She turned down 4th Street and her car seemed to know where it was going so she just kept driving and she wound through side streets until she realized she was close to the prettiest park in town. She parked her car in the parking lot and took a blanket out of the trunk, and cradled under one arm the book she was currently reading. As she headed for the shade of one of the large Elms that curved the borders of the small lake, she heard a familiar voice and stopped short. You’ve got to be kidding me, she thought.

There was a small children’s playground on the south shore of the lake and standing there on the edge of the chipped wood playground surface was Bill, standing with his back towards her, his hands on his hips.  Two small children were climbing the jungle gym apparatus.

“Keep going, Emily,” he called. “You are doing really good.”

A small boy reached the top and stood at the top of the slide. He put one foot on the slide and then moved it back. Slowly he sat down on the slide.

“You can do it,” Bill said. “It’s fun to slide, remember?”

The boy stayed at the top of the slide.

She found herself walking over to the playground.

“It IS fun to slide,” she said. She enjoyed the look on Bill’s face. She stood at the bottom of the slide. “It’s like riding a rainbow down to the ground. Do you want me to slide with you?”

The boy nodded. She set down her things and climbed nimbly to the top of the structure, picking the boy up to place him in her lap on the slide. They slid down together.

“Do you want to go again?” she asked.

“YES! YES!” the boy shouted. They climbed up to slide down several more times.

“You see?” she said. “It’s fun and easy.”

She turned to Bill. “I’m slumming again.  Hope you don’t mind.”

He blushed. “We’re going for hamburgers and fries after this,” he said. “Want to join us?”

“Sure,” she said, and smiled. It looks like she wore the right thing after all.

 

 

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Lucinda and the Barn

 

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They say everyone who looks into their family history will find a secret sooner or later. My sister sat down with my grandfather shortly before he died and asked him about his life and relatives and anything he might be able to share about our family history. She had one of those old-fashioned click on click off tape recorders, so when you listen to the tape you can hear all the times she turned it on and off. She says she turned it off a few times when he started rambling too much or when she wanted to give him a break because he was getting tired. She also kept turning it off when he would start talking about Lucinda. His sister Lucinda. She knew he didn’t have a sister Lucinda. He had an older brother Bart but no sisters.

He grew up on a farm in Nebraska and went into the military at age 18. He never went back to Nebraska to live.  After his service he settled down in Iowa and opened up a feed store in a little town and married the daughter of the town doctor. By all accounts, he’d had a remarkably easy going life, raising three boys and a daughter with his loving wife.  He told stories about his brother being kicked by a horse and his crazy uncles who were the town hooligans when they were teenagers back in the 1920s.

I kept hearing more and more clicks as the tape progressed. I asked my sister what had happened. He kept talking more and more about Lucinda, she said. Aren’t you curious? I asked. There’s no Lucinda, she replied. How do you know for sure? I asked.  Our parents would have told us, she said, getting irritated. Somebody would have told us about Lucinda. You don’t know that for sure, I said. You are SO ANNOYING, she said. Stop listening to the tape if it bothers you so much. Why can’t I be curious? I asked. Go ask him yourself! she said. Fine, I said, I will.

The next day I went to the nursing home where he was living and after kissing him hello, sat down next to his hospital bed, holding onto his nearest hand.

Poppa, tell me about Lucinda, I said.

His eyes filled with tears and one ran down his cheek. He brushed it away with his free hand. Oh Lucinda, he said. She had the most beautiful brown hair. She was a year and a half younger than me and just the light of our eyes. She was so sweet and simple.

His voice shook as he talked. She was just so innocent, he said. Even though she saw animals together she was innocent and pure. We didn’t expect what happened. We didn’t think that….

He stopped.

What, Poppa, I said.

A boy from church was starting to court her, even though she was but 15. He’d come over and they’d sit on the front porch together. We never saw them anywhere else. We didn’t.

He stopped again.

The boy stopped coming over. She grew sickly. She kept mostly to her room up under the eaves. Until one day I heard crying coming from the barn. I went in and…

It’s okay Poppa, I said.

He was crying in full earnest then.

I went in and there she was, lying in one corner, bloody with something wrapped in some rags next to her.

It was a baby. And it had died during the birth. She was lying there and I didn’t know what to do so I got my parents. They buried the baby behind the barn and brought Lucinda into the house. There were some harsh words spoken. Then the next day Lucinda was gone. My brother and I were told that we weren’t to ever speak of her. It’s like she never existed. I never felt the same way about the farm after that. I left as soon as I could.

I am so sorry Poppa, I said.

He looked at the empty doorway. He smiled.

Lucinda, he said.

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Soot on the Fireplace

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 Soot covered the walls around the perimeter of the fireplace tiles, like a small child fighting to color within the lines. There was a light spot in the soot like someone had scribbled with a finger. She chose a high-back woven reed chair close to the fireplace and in the farthest corner, facing the door, with her back to the stained walls. Waving away the approach of the sullen slouching mead maid, she nervously played with the folds of her long dark skirt, watching the door.

Malicson came through the door in his usual brusk rush and nodded to her, before making a drinking motion with his hand to the suddenly much cheerier mead maid. In three strides he was at the fireplace and settling into a large carved wood chair, by far the best seat in the small  room.

“How be you, Katydid?” he asked her.

She smiled at the nickname. “Better now,” she said. “But I fear…”

He raised his hand slightly to quiet her as the mead maid approached with his drink.

“Thank you darlin,” he crooned and tucked a few coins into the pocket of her apron. She blushed and curtsied and backed out of the room slowly. When the inner door was shut he took a long draught of the beer, both hands clenched around the mug.

“You charmer you,” she murmured.

“Not charm, love,” Malicson said. There was foam above his upper lip. “Just keeping loose lips hopefully sealed.”

She made a wiping motion to her own lips. He grinned and with one long finger swiped the foam off his lip. He leaned forward and presented the finger to her. Keeping her eyes on his, she bent half out of her chair and took his finger into her mouth….sucking the foam off it.

His face went blank. “Who’s the charmer now?” he said.

“No time for spooning nonsense, Malic,” she said. “I need to know what the primson hell my mother is up to. That’s why we’re here. I chose this place because this street is spell blocked by the Chartlatain family living two houses up.”

He sighed and drank the rest of his beer. “It’s no good Katy,” he said somberly. “Your mother has started movement to shut down the pavilion palace. She’s weaving her loom with threads pulling in all directions and one of those threads is you. There’s talk that you are a threat.”

“Me?” she said. “Why in Clamant’s Ring would I be a threat? I couldn’t possible keep my head any lower. I’d be eating mugbugs out of the gutter.”

“I don’t know why yet,” he said. “But it’s a very real rumor. I trust the people who have told me.”  He glanced at the sooty wall to the left of the fireplace and stood up quickly. “What is this place Katy? Where have you brought us?”

“I don’t understand,” she said.

“That mark by the fireplace, where the soot is. That’s the emblem of the Cannarego Society. They’re a nasty bunch.”

There was a thump outside the front door.

He yanked her up out of her chair. “Let’s do hope there’s a back way out of this place,” he said. “Otherwise, your mother will be the least of our worries.”

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For My Sake

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Please try to persuade him to come, for my sake, she said, and I wondered, not for the first time, what sake she meant. It’s a funny phrase, for my sake, that is, and I was always thinking about how funny words were when you really started thinking about it. What exactly is SAKE? She had a funny turn of phrase anyways and a way of giggling when she talked so it was hard to take her seriously most of the time and I tended to tune her out, if I am being truthful.

She was my best friend Jim’s sister and she wanted me to convince my son to come to her birthday party so her daughter, who she thought had a crush on him, would be around him, and everyone was convinced (or at least she was) that if he was around her enough he’d fall madly in love with her and they’d get married and live happily ever after. Her daughter, who tended to roll her eyes whenever talking about her mother, had mentioned to me that her mom was always talking about my son and calling him her future son-in-law. And they weren’t even dating! But that was Clarissa for you, always knowing what was right for everyone around her and pushy about it too. I put up with her because Jim and I had been buddies since high school and we were all a big extended family. And even though she was a meddler she had a kind heart and meant well.

I was on the phone with Clarissa, who had called to request the presence of my son at her party and I was trying to figure out how to decline for him politely.

“Tell him there’s going to be good beer at the party,” she said, giggling. “He’ll be sure to come.”

Inwardly, I sighed. “I can tell him that, but I can’t make any promises. His work keeps him pretty busy these days and he has quite an active social life too.”

“What could be more important than a party for me?” she laughed. “just kidding, just kidding. I know if you try hard, you can convince him…please? pretty pretty please with sugar on top?”

“I will try.”

Her tone grew more strident. “With a cherry on top? For me?”

I didn’t respond immediately. I was counting to ten, inside my head.

“I said I would try, Clarissa.”

“He should feel lucky I want him there,” she said, with anger in her voice. “After all, he’s got that weird thing going on with his neck. It’s not pleasant to look at.”

I sucked in my breath. For all her pushy sweetness I had never believed Clarissa capable of being cruel. I didn’t think she had it in her. I was wrong.

“It’s cancer, Clarissa. It’s not some weird thing. It’s cancer and he had that surgery and he’s really self-conscious about it. So thanks for pointing that out. Maybe it’s best that he doesn’t come to your party. I wouldn’t want all your other guests to freak out.”

“I know I know I know. I am just frazzled with all the planning and I was trying to get a good guest list and, well, it’s all very stressful.”

“If it’s so stressful to have this party…why are you doing it?”

“It’s my 45th birthday!  I want my family and friends to celebrate with me! It’s a big deal. We are hiring a yacht to take us around the bay and there’s going to be a cake from the famous bakery downtown and maybe even live music if I can find the right band.”

“It sounds like you are going to have fun,” I said.

“For Pete’s sake!” she said. “Now it sounds like you aren’t going to come either!”

There was that sake word again. “No, I don’t think so, Clarissa,” I said. “I hope you have a great time, I really do. But it’s just not my style and you should know me well enough to know that. Plus, you said that awful thing about my son and it’s not sitting well with me. So let’s just let this go and you do your party and have a blast.  And I will spend the time with my son, who’s beautiful, even with his neck messed up right now.”

She let out a huge sigh. “Sorry! Okay! Whatever! Gotta go!” And hung up.

For heaven’s sake.

 

 

 

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Clementine

 

Was it simply luck that had caused her to turn down this street? There were so many little streets winding through this French town Chartres and delights around each corner. She lingered over charming storefronts and snapped photos of ornate doorways and pastel macaroons deliciously displayed in windows. She’d been thinking of her little shop and how to make it as enticing from the outside as it was on the inside…and suddenly she stopped short. There was a beautiful shop, with a lovely sign and the name written in a feminine font.  Clementine….Decoration et objets de la maison. It took her breath away. Elegant and not too formal. She could use this as her inspiration. She pictured flourishes painted around the windows of her shop.

Her husband sighed in exasperation. He’d been grumpy since the morning train ride from Paris to Chartres. She never knew what might set him off…it could be something very small.

She turned to him and said with a smile, “Thank you for indulging me. Let’s find you some good French cheese to use for a picnic, shall we?”  They walked on, winding their way down cobblestone alleys and found a shop that suited him and after much deliberation he bought several small pieces of cheese.  She thought again of her shop and how she enjoyed having a place of refuge and creation. It was much needed with so much stress in her marriage. He did resent the shop and the attention it took away from him, but the added tension still didn’t eclipse how much joy the shop brought her every day.  She’d wanted children, but four miscarriages later had realized it wasn’t meant to be and at that point decided to pour her energy into opening up the shop of her dreams. It was her baby and truth be told, her escape from the miseries of her marriage.


Years later, she visited Chartres again, with friends. The marriage was over, thankfully, and her life was much happier. They wandered down familiar small streets. She searched for the little shop Clementine and it wasn’t there any more. Gone, like so many shops….just a memory now. Perhaps one day her own shop would be just a memory too.

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Lurch

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He had an hour to get home. If he didn’t make it in time the dog would pee on the bathmat in the bathroom and there would be hell to pay. He’d hear his wife’s strident voice for the thousandth time scolding him in that all too familiar tone. It seemed to him that as she had put on weight over the years her voice had gained weight too…it was louder and shriller to the point where it hurt his ears, although he’d done his best to try to tune it out. He didn’t mind the weight so much but he did mind the daily high pitched tales of all the things he was always doing wrong.

As he hurried through the enormous hardware store, his shopping list crumpled in one sweaty hand, he thought about their shopping trip the day before to Freddie’s, the superstore a few blocks from their house.  They’d done their shopping and by habit he remained mostly quiet as his wife directed them throughout the store and as he pushed the cart out the electronic doors, his wife at his side chattering away, he noticed a woman coming towards them, pushing a cart towards the store entrance. She was tall and dark-haired, with a serene intelligent face and they locked eyes for a moment as they drew closer to each other.

There was a lurch in his stomach as he kept looking at her. For one wild second he had the compulsion to drop his hands off the shopping cart…swivel…and put his hands on the woman’s shopping cart and walk back into the store with her. Starting a new life. It was such a startling thought he almost groaned out loud. They passed each other and kept walking and his wife hadn’t noticed anything so he was safe….and yet…. so not safe was he. Was he.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

She was thinking about buying salmon to cook for dinner as she walked towards the store, pushing a vagrant cart that had been blocking the parking space next to hers. She noticed a couple walking towards her pushing a cart full of groceries. The woman was short and stout and was talking loudly. The man was tall with gray in his hair and a worried look on his face. Their eyes met and his eyes were pleading and sad.

There was a lurch in her stomach at the sight of such pain. He looked at her in the way men sometimes did, it wasn’t new to her, but there was more in this man’s face than just desire to be with her. Why do people do this to each other, she thought. Why do we make each other suffer so? And why wouldn’t he leave? Just leave? She knew the answer to that, of course, it was always easier to look from the outside at a relationship and pass judgment, and there were always reasons people stayed, right or wrong. It wasn’t for her to say.  But she did hate seeing such pain. She also would never allow herself to be the reason a man left a relationship, it went against her moral grain. He’d have to leave on his own compulsion, with nothing to do with her or it wouldn’t ever feel right to her.

They passed each other and she resisted the urge to lay a hand on his arm and tell him that it was going to be okay. Because it wasn’t her place and maybe it wasn’t going to be okay for him, only he would be able to determine that. She looked down at her ringless hands on the shopping cart and entered the store.

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