This is it—the next to last day of my National Sentence Writing Week! And here is my output: One random sentence from some random novel that I will likely never write.
December 8, 2009
December 6, 2009
Indeed (and much to her surprise), the only things she required were ___, ___, and all the yellow M&Ms from a _____ bag.
This draft was ready yesterday but went through a couple of incarnations. I have to do some research regarding the size bags M&Ms come in. I want a big bag—preferably the biggest bag Mars makes. And for some reason, I think the color must be yellow. I fooled around with the first two necessary items. A few I liked because of the content, but the rhythm was all wrong. So I still have some work to do.
Still, I am continuing to make progress!
December 4, 2009
Already, a rewrite is in order. On a whim, I googled my sentence so far and got a hit: “In fact, and much to her surprise, they were seeking her out as an expert talking head on a new crime series.” [Source] Different punctuation, but still—not very original. And since I am only aiming for one sentence, the least I can do is make it original.
So, draft two so far:
Indeed (and much to her surprise), what she required
I’m not really feeling “indeed.” Musically, “in fact” was so much better, using three notes on the scale to say instead of just two. But I’m going to work with this for today and see where the sentence takes me tomorrow.
December 3, 2009
October 20, 2009
Violating the posted rules of the conference room, Saturday had brought liquor.
And a stack of red ribbed plastic cups, a bag of ice, nonalcoholic mixers, bar tools, and plastic containers of olives and sliced lemons and limes. Wednesday looked at the collection and scowled.
“I assume coffee will not be necessary,” Wednesday asked.
“Not unless you want an Irish Coffee.”
Monday walked in, balancing a pile of papers. One sheet fluttered off the top and escaped through the open door. A split second later came Tuesday, clutching the apprehended sheet in one raised hand.
“Thanks”: Monday to Tuesday. Then, noticing the makeshift bar, to Saturday: “I do not suppose it would be worth my time to remind you of the explicit rules regarding alcoholic beverages.”
“You suppose correctly…or, is it, you do not suppose incorrectly? Really, Monday, your language could use a colonic.”
Friday and Thursday entered next. Sunday, last.
As Saturday had already taken residence at the head of the table, the others filled in as per order: Sunday to the chair immediately right of the head, then Monday and on through Friday. Monday closed the door and glanced clockwards: “It is early still, but because everyone is here, why don’t we begin? It is Saturday’s turn at the front and it seems we are to be treated to happy hour in addition to a joke.”
Saturday just smiled, unscrewing the top off of a bottle of gin. “What can I get started for everyone?”
Protests…requests for nonalcoholic drinks…claims of I’m not thirsty…were all dismissed by Saturday, who commenced to mixing whatever came to mind for each of them. Soon a filled red plastic cup sat in front of each; eventually, in all cases, one sip followed another, all protests forgotten.
Said Monday, “Before you get started, do we have any old business?”
A few moments of silence were broken by Wednesday. “Will you please let us know who is to get coffee next time? Will we skip whoever’s turn it was supposed to be this week, or will we proceed where we left off last?”
Monday consulted notes, while around the table came the sounds of sips and sighs. “That would be me, if we do not skip. Oh. But that is the day I have that meeting to go to and—”
Tuesday, quickly: “I’ll be happy to take your turn. Then I’ll do next time as well. It’s fine.”
“Alright. Thank you, Tuesday. So, moving on—”
“I would just like to ask, then, Monday, what your plans were for today. Since it was to be your turn and you apparently had not made plans to get the coffees.”
“Yes, Wednesday, I was running late today. But I had still planned to make the run. Perhaps we should set aside this topic until a later date and move on to new business. Anyone? No? Then, Saturday, the front is yours.”
“Fan-tas-tic! First I’d like to make a toast.” Holding up a cup and waiting for the others to do the same. One by reluctant one, they did. “A toast to Tuesday, who always knows just the right thing to say, and when to say it. Usually, of course, right after Monday. To Tuesday!” Saturday sipped. The others repeated, less enthusiastically, “to Tuesday,” before sipping.
Tuesday said, “Thank you, Saturday, for that unexpected, if somewhat backhanded, compliment.”
“Yes, Saturday, as the…’compliment’ engaged me by implication, I ‘thank’ you as well.”
“No need to—” here Saturday demonstrated exaggerated air quotation marks— “thank me, friends. That was quite sincere. And now, for another. A toast to Wednesday, for keeping our toes to flame on such important matters as coffee and tea! To Wednesday!”
“Alright, we can all see where this is headed. I think you should stop with the toasts and just—”
But Thursday interrupted, red ribbed cup held high, “To WEDNESDAY! Who I follow with GREAT honor!” Thursday’s loud, prolonged gulps were barely heard over the reluctant, non-unison mumbles of “To Wednesday” from around the table. Sips, less brief than previously, filled the space between this exclamation and Saturday’s continuation.
“And to all the rest! My peers and friends! Without whom I would be nothing! Here-here!”
“Here- here,” in unison, this time, if not all as enthusiastically as Saturday’s cheer.
After this round of sips, Saturday began refilling all of the cups—with little logic, it seemed. No questions this time about what everyone was drinking; indeed, no one received the same drink as the first time. But this time, no protests.
“Soooo, my selection today involves this joke I heard. But this isn’t about the joke per se. Instead, I would like to…to deconstruct a joke and the joke-telling and joke-creating process. And I would like this to be participatory.”
“Sounds like it might be fun,” said Friday, reaching for a lemon wedge.
“So long as you are open to the criticism such participation may entail,” said Wednesday.
“Oh, perfectly open. In fact, that would help me a lot. See, it occurs to me that my jokes have not been as funny lately as I would like them to be. At first I thought, well I just need more jokes—better jokes—jokes no one has heard before. But now I’m thinking it might not be quantity or even quality, but delivery. I’ve been obsessed with this. I think about it all the time. I can barely sleep and my eating’s been off, too. I even considered medication…like, maybe I’m clinically depressed or something.”
Saturday paused, and everyone’s eyes focused front, computing this unexpected show of reflection and self-doubt. Then Thursday spit out a spray of rum- and spit-laced fluid halfway across the table in an unsuccessful attempt to stifle a laugh. Saturday kept the straight face for a moment, but then joined Thursday’s guffaws.
“OK,” said Saturday. “I haven’t exactly been depressed. But it has been bugging me.”
“Saturday,” Wednesday said, sliding an empty cup across the table to Saturday for refilling, “have you considered that the context for humor has changed? Frequently your jokes are, well, questionable, at best, when it comes to…race and gender.”
“And sex. And profanity,” interjected Sunday.
“Or stupidity and childishness,” said Monday.
“Actually, what I was getting at, is that there was a time when you could depend on marginalized groups not being able to speak out against some jokes. Not to mention,” continued Wednesday, “that the contexts in which jokes are told are much more likely to be diverse now. Which means it is harder and harder to tell some jokes without them offending someone listening.”
“I hear what you are saying, Wednesday—I hear what all of you are saying. But I can usually deal with aspects of a joke that might make it…problematic for some audiences. Here, I’ll give you an example. Let’s say I want to tell a joke that involves two little old African American ladies arguing in church.” To Monday, who was taking notes in between sips: “Now, this isn’t my actual joke, I’m just giving an example.”
Then, back to group: “This is an old joke; you’ve probably heard it. But it’s a good example. OK. So there’s two Black old ladies arguing in church. Now, I would only tell this joke in front of people who’d already get that these are specifically two Black church sisters. I’d make my voice do like,” and here Saturday’s voice transformed—more nasal, “dis like I hab a mouf full of faws teef or sometin an ima ole lady—see, that’s how the audience would already know.”
“Yes.” Friday’s voice was as laced with sarcasm as with vodka: “and we all know how much Black audiences love to hear themselves sound like that.”
“Ah. But this is a joke originally told by a Black person. Context. Like Wednesday was saying. This would have been a Black joke told by a Black joke-teller to a Black audience. So—where was I?” Sipping: “Oh. So this joke’s about these two old church women arguing and—sorry, Sunday—in the original version, there’s a dirty word repeated. You could use lotsa words, some dirtier than others. Like, if you wanted to tone down the dirtiness, you might use ‘dick’—again, sorry, everybody. I’ll just say ‘the d-word.’ OK. But to amp it up you could say co— I mean, the c-word, for…you know…that part of the male anatomy.”
“Will you be actually telling the joke, Saturday,” asked Thursday, pushing an empty cup down for a refill.
“Yes. Sorry. But just as an example, right?” Saturday did not miss a beat, pouring, mixing and talking simultaneously. “I explained that the original joke is contextual and involves profanity. And part of the humor comes from the image of these two little old ladies, in church, talking in this funny voice, saying this word—either the d-word or the c-word. But I could change all that, easily, to remove the racial aspects, the profanity, the religious stuff. And the joke would be just as funny. So here’s the joke in it’s new form:
I ran across my neighbors, old Mrs. Johnson and old Mrs. Jones, the other day while I was walking Rex. They were arguing on Mrs. Johnson’s front porch.”
“—Now, see, this is something else I did with the joke,” said Saturday in self-interruption. “I put myself in it. That’s personalization. Makes it even funnier. And I could even make it funnier by giving the dog a name the listeners all know. Say…my dog, Wednesday—”
“—Except, that might not be funny to Wednesday,” said Wednesday in self-reference.
“Ah, but a joke doesn’t have to be funny to everyone listening, as long as it is funny to most. Joke-tellers often make an audience member the joke’s butt, for more laughs from everyone else.”
“AND…” Monday, making an exaggerated tapping motion with fingertip to wristwatch face.
“Oh, sorry. So:
I ran across old Mrs. Johnson and old Mrs. Jones the other day while I was walking Rex, arguing on Mrs. Johnson’s front porch. ‘I says, ‘What’s going on?’ Mrs. Johnson said, ‘What’s going on is that she said that my late husband, rest his soul, had warts on his wee-wee.’
Notice how now I am just talking in a high-pitched, frail, universal old lady voice? And notice how calling it a wee-wee is still funny?
‘I did not say your late husband had warts on his wee-wee,’ said Mrs. Jones. ‘I clearly heard you say my late husband, rest his soul, had warts on his wee-wee.’ ‘Bertha, I did not say your husband had warts on his wee wee!’ Well, by now Rex is straining on the leash, and I’m thinking I could be here all day.
So I says, ‘Look, you two have been best friends for so long. Why can’t you just let this go?’ ‘But I can’t let it go! Sheee said that my late husband, rest his soul, had warts on his wee-wee!’
‘For the last time, Bertha, I did not say your late husband had warts on his wee-wee. I said it always looked like he had warts on his wee-wee!’ “
Saturday paused, and a split second later the laughter began—first a small trickle, swelling to a sustained outpouring.
“For the record,” said Wednesday, laughs subsiding, “there remain problematic aspects even after you have removed the d-word and the racial elements. Age-ism, for one. The joke depends on a myth of elderly women not being sexual beings. Not to mention the implication of infidelity.”
“But,” said Tuesday, “even you, yourself laughed. That would seem to suggest that a significant portion of the populace accepts these tropes as humorous. Which, of course, is not to say that they are less problematic. I guess I am just trying to say…” Trailing off. Less sure. “Well, anyway, I think that this is a good example of how a joke could be adapted.”
Said Sunday, “I like the use of wee-wee,” followed by chuckles and more beverage spray.
“Yesss,” said Monday, “When all else fails, resort to toddler-influenced potty language. So. Saturday. Example noted. But are you going to get to your point? We only have the conference room for—”
“One hour fifteen minutes. I know.” Saturday poured seven new drinks in fresh cups and passed them out. Most had not finished with the drink in front of them. Moments of indecision round the table were resolved by strategies of quickly downing existing drinks, adding old contents to new cups, or setting aside old cups in favor of the replacements.
“As I was saying. I don’t think good joke-telling’s a matter of context or times. All that can be overcome. It’s the delivery. And I think it just took a good joke-teller—someone even better than myself—to make this clear to me. And here’s where I’m gonna tell this joke I heard, but I have to give you the background first—” Here Monday again turned watch-checking into high drama— “But it will only take another few moments.”
“It happened the other day when I caught a cab to go uptown. I’d just climbed in when this woman piles in beside me and asks if she can share the ride with me to J Street.”
“Wait just a minute,” protested Tuesday. “This is a joke, right? You’re going to say that her right breast was exposed and she left her baby on the bus.”
“Nooo, that was from last time. And it was her left breast. This isn’t a joke. It was a a real woman and she wanted to be dropped off at J Street uptown. Fully clothed. Oh. And she was wearing clown make up.”
“Clown make up?” Monday’s note-taking paused, pen in mid-air.
“Yes. Clown make-up.”
***End, Part One***
October 13, 2009
Almost every Black person has one. Or, at least almost every Black person of a certain generation (or older). A N***** Story. That first time they were called the n-word…or the most memorable time…or the most surprising, hurtful time. For one freind of mine, it was when one of her (White) friends said during recess, “Hey, I know! Let’s play keep away from the nigger” and she (the only Black kid on the playground) said “Yeah!” because she did not know that she was the nigger. For another friend it was the time when he was mowing the front lawn of his house when a car full of White teenagers drove by and yelled, “Go back to Africa, nigger!” while one of them displayed their pale white backside to him from an open car window. One of my stories involves a little girl who was my student in a preschool classroom, informing me that her father told her she could invite everyone in her classroom to her 4th birthday party—”‘Cept he said no niggers.”
But that one is not The Story for me. This one is.
I have told this one before—maybe not here…maybe at my Old Blog—so just stop reading if you know the punchline. I actually do not dwell on it that often. In the long list of slights against me—racial or otherwise—this just does not figure that prominently. But I have been thinking of this story in light of a discussion I have been having at Anti-Racist Parent about the merits of teaching Huckleberry Finn in school classrooms. So, here is my N***** Story.
I was in junior high school, the only Black kid in the class. In English class our teacher did what was called “round-robin” reading, where every child took turns reading a section of a book aloud. We’d go around the classroom, each of us taking our turn—the slower readers struggling to keep up and embarassed when their turn came, and the more able readers reading ahead while trying to keep place so that they’d come in at the right point when it was their turn.
Well, in my N***** Story a slow reader was struggling through his section and I was (discretely) a page or two ahead, into the story and not paying much attention to the painful attempts by my classmate.
But the words of my English teacher caught my consciousness. “You have to learn how to use the context of the story to help you figure out what the word is,” she was saying. ”If you are reading along and the sentence doesn’t make sense to you, you should stop yourself and, like my father would always say, think to yourself, Hmmm, there’s a nigger in the woodpile.”
Probably what fully snapped my attention back to the there and then was the sound of all of my classmates’ heads rotating on their necks so their eyes could focus on me.
Seeing this reaction, my English teacher, too, looked directly at me and quickly added, “Oh, and by ‘nigger,’ [PPR_Scribe], I do not mean you. A nigger is any bad person.”
October 8, 2009
My first category here at this blog I named “Riddle, Poem, Tale, or Joke” and it included brief pieces that were short-short stories or other creative writing. (The story of how the category came about is here.) My thinking was that I would just do freewriting, or very very very rough drafts, and polish them later. And that was fine. For a while. Until more people besides my initial 3 visitors started to read the blog. Then I became self conscious about these fledgling works of fiction and stopped posting them here.
But every so often an idea occurs to me and I feel a hankering to write it out—and make a commitment to it by posting it here.
Well, I have two such drafts sitting in my drafts folder right now. I’ll post them soon. But first I just wanted to reflect a little about what I have already written, because when I first posted those other pieces I provided no context or explanation.
A two-part piece I posted called “Friday at the Front” still gets several hits a week even though it has been some time since I first posted it (Part 1, Part 2). I am not sure what folks are getting out of the two posts. (No one has ever posted a comment about them.) The piece is a take-off on a short story by Neil Gaiman called “October in the Chair” (in Poe’s Children: The New Horror, edited by Peter Straub, 2008, Doubleday). I think of my story as making some statement about topics related to the theme of this blog (e.g., racism, race relations, gender). But exactly what that statement is is something that I did not think a lot about before or during the writing of the posts. I could make some ad hoc claims now about what that statement is. Or I could just hope that I achieved something in fooling around with Gaiman’s stroytelling style and that people will have a moment of pleasure reading it.
Except that one of those posts I was talking about in my drafts is a follow-up—now it is Saturday’s turn at the head of the conference table. Where the first time I just freely wrote and worried about message later, now I am stepping more cautiously. I would love to be more intentional about message, but I do not want the message to take over to the extent that the story is crap. That’s not a thought process that builds much creative confidence. But I will be going for it. It’ll be posted sometime soon and then I’ll just see.
The second draft story-post features a suburban, middle class, professional Black woman. You may think that this suburban, middle class, professional Black woman is me. You would not be correct. I definitely know this fictional woman. Quite well. I have written about her before—In “Water Under Bridges” and “Inside-Out,” for example. And she may have had some initial experience that is very similar to one I have had in my real life. These blog posts may, like in some movie disclaimers, have been “inspired by true events.” But just so you know, they are not 100% fiction-free, not 100% about-me. Which is why I classify them in my category just for these types of posts. Anyway, the draft I have follows this fictional woman as she consolidates aspects of her life…with unintended consequences.
Should be fun. In fact, both of these have been fun to think about and begin writing so I hope they are just as fun to read and (hopefully) talk about.
Tune back in soon at this same Bat-time, same Bat-channel…
April 28, 2009
The movie gave her nightmares for four nights running—nightmares like she had not had since her husband had convinced her to watch a gruesome film in which an unknown madman arranged for person after person to kill themselves in inventive and horrible ways. Which was strange because unlike that other movie, this movie was intended for small children. It was animated. It was rated G.
But it was absolutely terrifying, at least once her subconscious took hold of it after her conscious mind turned in for the evening.
Each dream was more or less the same. First she was running through debris-strewn and dirty streets devoid of any other humans. Shop windows jailed blank-faced mannequins observing her as she passed, their wigs askew or gone altogether…some with arms or hands amputated. Newspaper vending machines held breaking news frozen in time from decades ago. The sun shone brightly on hundreds of dusty, cracked windshields of haphazardly parked, driverless cars.
As she ran one thought propelled her ever forward:
Where are the People?
Signs of the People were discarded everywhere: here, a soda bottle, its label announcing better taste and fewer calories…there, a neon yellow personal music player with its postage stamp-sized display cracked down the center. Here and there some of the machines that the People had built were still working. One was forever broadcasting a vacation spot to an island locale, telling of its stress-reducing and partner-reconnecting powers and urging interested parties to book soon to take advantage of low holiday rates. Another was a two-child Ferris wheel outside of what once was a store that sold organically-grown apples and 12-count collections of toilet paper rolls and sweet-smelling multicolored cosmetics and shiny dvds enclosed in thin hard plastic packaging. The two riderless horses chased each other in a circle—nuzzle to tail, nuzzle to tail—to the warbled tune of a long-forgotten nursery song.
But no matter how far she ran, or how fast, she could not see the People themselves anywhere.
There were other things that moved, however, that were not the People or their machines. These were dark brown, hard shelled, long-antennaed things that had grown huge in an atmosphere of chemical non-interference. These things did not skitter from her approaching footsteps as their ancestors would have, or seek shelter in the dark caves of mounded debris. They sunned themselves openly, and congregated in threes and fours and fives to explore the empty containers in her path. She was the one who skittered from them, avoiding stepping on them lest they injure her bare dusty feet.
Then at some point in the dream during the running and searching in the dusty sunlight the point of view shifted, as points of view in dreams often inexplicably do. She was now stalking and hiding, fearful of being seen. Everywhere here was gleaming white—a white hard and sharp and cold like a photograph that had been mistakenly overexposed. Here was high above the earth. Here there was a constant hum, like background music, and the machines that were collectively responsible for the sound whisked around inches above the gleaming white floors doing things that they had been programmed to do with calm routine and indifferent efficiency.
Here there were People. These People had grown huge in an atmosphere of physical non-interference. They floated like the machines, but inclined as if ready to sleep. They drank from soda bottles with labels announcing better taste with fewer calories. But these were not the People. As many as there were here—huge and floating and sipping—there were not enough of them to account for how many there should have been back down on earth. These were only few, comparatively.
Where were all the Others? What happened to the People?
She stalked and hid, here behind a towering bin containing discarded debris from these huge People, there inside of a walk-in freezer containing colorful treats for the People’s future consumption. She was afraid of being seen, but not sure of by whom. She was aware, as she stalked and hid, that she was leaving dirty dusty bits of herself everywhere she went. She was a blight on this cool, clean, calm, gleaming white world. She in her brownness knew that she did not belong here in this place. Nor was she stalking and hiding in an attempt to somehow fit or stay in this place. Her mission here was the same as it had been on earth: Find the People.
(Now this is the point of the dream that for four nights running caused her to awaken with her heart pounding and sweat pooling in the crevices of her neck.)
She was emerging from behind a rolling cart of folded white bath towels that she knew would be soft and fluffy to the touch if she dared to soil them with her fingers. The coast seemed to be clear. No machines or huge People were there to see her. She had only to head to a door a few feet away. But as her foot was landing on her second step a machine that only came up to her waist emerged from nowhere. It was, like all the other machines here, gleaming white. Only a small area where its face might have been was gleaming black, like a dark visor. It was legless, and its arms were like fishes’ fins. Something on its front where its belly might have been revved up and a green light began blinking wildly. At this the machine raised one of its fin-arms, from which had sprouted a weapon as long as the machine was tall. It pointed the weapon right at her.
The revving noise was the last thing she heard those four nights before consciousness rescued her.
She never knew why the nightmares stopped, but was greatly relieved when they did. She never told anyone of the dreams. She knew people would laugh at her. What adult suffers nightmares from a G-rated, animated, children’s film? Watched on pay-per-view from the comfort of one’s own family room, no less?
So she never told a soul. But some days long after the nightmares had stopped, she would taste dust in her mouth, or a strange tangy metalic flavor, and she would be reminded of her frantic search and frenzied hiding and implied violent demise. Usually this sense memory would come while she was surrounded by people–people tossing footballs and frisbees in a park, or people jostled together in a line waiting for entrance to the zoo, or people in their cars while she was in her car sipping four dollars’ worth of vanilla flavored coffee from a paper cup during morning rush hour. Surrounded by the People and all their machines and all their things.
March 11, 2009
Up until a little while ago, all posts to PPR Life were grouped in one category: “Uncategorized.” Geeky me–I got such a big kick out of seeing all my posts assigned automatically by the WordPress gods to a category that denies itself. So very GEB. At any rate I thought it pretentious to start categories before I even had posts to post to them, thinking instead I’d let my categories develop “organically.” (A word that over-educated folks use when they really mean “haphazardly”…)
Well I am pleased to announce that now I have my first category: “Riddle, Poem, Tale or Joke.” A description:
Mostly pieces by PPR_Scribe. Some are semi-autobiographical, others are purely flights of fancy. Everyone should share their stories, in whatever form of storytelling best suits them… (See “Friday at the Front” parts 1 and 2.)
The posts so far in this category:
- People Make Bikini Bottom Go Round
- All Up in the Kool-Aid
- You and Your Womanish Ways
- With Hair Like Brillo
- Down to Earth
- Friday at the Front (Part 1)
- Friday at the Front (Part 2)
- Water Under Bridges
In other housekeeping news, I am also experimenting with writing additional reflections and other posts that may not be appropriate for this space in a BlogHer user blog here.
March 9, 2009
Both sisters had laughed at the laminated card on their beds:
“Water is one of Our Earth’s most VALUABLE resources! Please help Save Water by putting this CARD on your bed. Then we’ll KNOW not to WASH sheets! We’ll make your bed, as usual. Hanging your USED TOWELS up means ‘Please do not wash!’ Towels on the floor will be laundered. Thank you! From, The Management.”
It is not that they were against Saving Water or helping Our Earth. It was just that the cards were left by management of a resort hotel in which the main attraction was a ginormous water park. Three hot tubs. Two pools. A wave pool. A lazy river. Four spiraling water slides. A pirate deck featuring eight water guns. Two erupting water volcanoes.
Surely if The Management was really concerned about Saving Water they would simply close down or even just pare down the water park.
By the same token, of course, if they themselves were really that Earth-concerned then they would have chosen a very different place for their vacation….
The vacation required that sort of putting to the back of one’s mind thoughts that ordinarily would not sit well together. Like the idea of lounging in a giant tub with a dozen strangers–adults and their kids, including babes in (hopefully) leak-proof special swim diapers. Sitting with strangers, sharing a tub full of hot bubbles and chlorine-infused steam.
“Ah, this is the life, ain’t it,” one of those strangers asked them one time, his red face coated with a mix of sweat and steam, his buzz-haired head leaning back against the hot tub’s ledge.
“Yes, it sure is,” she said amiably. Her sister agreed, her head also leaned back against the side of the tub.
“Kinda makes all the damn overtime worth it,” the stranger said, picking up and taking a sip from a plastic cup half full of frothy beer. “Boss almost tried to call me in at the last minute to work a shift for a guy called in sick. I says no frickin’ way, I had these reservations for five whole months I can’t back out now. You gonna pay for my deposit?”
“Mmmm,” she nodded, hoping that their conversation was now over but fearing it was not.
“So. Which building you gals in?”
“I forget the number. We ride the shuttle over here,” she said.
“Oh, OK–You must be in the West building. Those’re nice rooms over there. We woulda got those but we’re here with my brother and his family and they got four kids and you can only have two adults an’ two kids in those rooms, tops. So we gotta stay here in the East building. Rooms’re still nice, though. Makes it quicker to get down here, anyways.”
“So. You both here with your husbands or what?”
“Um. Yes, we are. And our children.”
“Oh, yeah, yeah. Nice when everybody can get away from the job at the same time for a weekend. And it’s such a great place for the kids, too. And not too far of a drive, too…. So you all staying in the West building, huh?”
The thought passes through both her mind and her sister’s–Actually, no, they were not in the West building. They were staying in one of the detached villas on the north side of the resort property. Next to the day spa and salon, which they had membership to for the duration of their stay. But somehow it seemed rude to admit to this so they both nodded vaguely.
“Well, that’s a nice building.” The man took another sip of his beer. “You know, I just think it’s great all sortsa people come here and have fun together, ya know?”
She spoke up, quickly, knowing the conversation was heading in a direction that might set her sister off. “Oh, yes. It really is nice.”
“Everybody gets along real good,” he continued, now sitting upright in the tub.
“Yes, everybody does.”
“You gals might not know this. But was a time when you all weren’t allowed around here.”
This time the sister spoke up, before she could offer the nicety that was poised on her tongue. “Oh yes, we do know. But we were certainly allowed to work here–cleaning rooms and cooking meals.”
The stranger faltered for a moment, thinking perhaps he had offended. But then she spoke and allayed his budding fear. “Yes, but that was a long time ago. Thankfully things are different today.”
“Exactly! Ya know, I always been around all sorts of people. Worked around ‘em. Lived around ‘em, too. I always say it doesn’t matter color–Anybody can be a jerk and anybody can be a good person, too.”
She kicked her sister’s foot discretely under the hot bubbles. But her sister spoke anyway. “Yes, that is quite true. It certainly does take all kinds,” the sister said, purposefully clipping her syllables in her “professional” voice.
The stranger did not notice the change in her speech pattern. Or if he did, he did not find it significant. “All kinds! Exactly! Hell, ya know, I don’t even see color! It don’t matter to me if you’re Black, White or–”
She cut him off, “So, you say your kids are here with you?”
“Um, yeah. Yeah…”
“Oh, what do you have–girls? Boys? Both? How old?”
He seemed slightly dazed by the barrage of questions, but soon recovered. “Two boys. Jake’s eight and Mikey’s six.”
“Oh, I love that age,” she said, feeling the water surrounding her sister growing hotter.
“What about you gals? You been able to get some alone time away from your kids on your vacation?”
“No,” the sister said. “We generally like to come here to spend time with our children. And each other. And our husbands.”
“And of course it’s nice to meet new people, too,” she interjected, with another kick to her sister under the bubbles.
“Exactly! I meet people from all over here. Last year I met this nice Oriental couple all the way from China! Cutest little kids!”
The sister rose out of the hot tub in one sudden movement.
She said to the stranger, before slowly standing herself, “Yes, well, um, we should probably go find our kids, actually! It was really nice meeting you.”
“Oh! Yeah! Same here. Um, look, you think you all might wanna get together sometime? I snuck a cooler of beer in the room–the good stuff, too, not this watered-down crap they serve down here, and–”
“Um, well, I think we might have plans, but it was nice meeting you. Bye!”
She followed her sister to where their towels were. They both slipped on their flip flops. “Okay, well you could have let that pass, couldn’t you have? I mean, he was obviously drunk. He didn’t mean anything. At least he’s trying.”
“So am I,” the sister said. “You ready? They should be up from their naps anyway.”
Together the two walked through the east building, past rooms with open doors. Coolers were open just inside the rooms, revealing cans of beer and soda and juice-filled sippie cups chilling in slowly melting hotel ice machine ice. Pizza crusts hardening in boxes and empty bags of McDonald’s fries aroma’ed the hallways. Swimming suits and towels were drying on the backs of chairs. Cots still jumbled with pillows and blankets were squeezed between twin beds. TVs blared cartoons and basketball games and commercials for free credit reports. Room after room they passed, each overflowing with adults and their children and babes in diapers.
At the end of the hall they exited out of double doors into quiet, and walked to the shuttle bus stop. The driver greeted them by name and held out his hand to help them aboard. They rode north in silence to their villa. Once there they tipped the driver after he helped them out of the shuttle. The kids were, indeed, just up from their naps and anxious to go sightseeing in town. Their husbands lounged on the couch in the living room sipping imported beer in long-necked bottles fresh from the full-sized refrigerator in the kitchen, watching the final quarter of the ball game on the 50-inch flat screened television and claiming it should be over in 15 minutes, barring overtime–certainly by the time the sisters had finished washing their hair and changing.
Her sister took a 12-minute shower; hers was 21 minutes. After stepping out of the shower she hung her towel neatly on the rod and placed the laminated card on the pillow of the bed that her previously napping child recently vacated.
February 23, 2009
**Part 1, here.**
Friday began quietly: “Once, in a time not unlike this one, there lived a child of about 8 or 9 years–”
“Sorry–” interrupted Thursday, “point of clarification: What is the race, ethnicity, or nationality of this child?”
“Not relevant,” said Friday.
“Respectfully,” said Sunday, “race and such frequently does matter where your stories are concerned.” The others around the conference table nodded solemnly, looking at Friday.
“Well, it does not matter at this point in the story. If it does later, I will let you know.” No apparent objections. “This child was the ugliest child of all the children in the town–the ugliest, even, that had ever been born in town in all of living memory. None of the other children would play with the child. The child’s own family only gave to the child the barest minimum of needs for basic survival and–”
“So–sorry again–do you intend to tell us the name of this child?”
“Again, not relevant to the tale.”
“But names are always relevant,” said Wednesday. “Names make us who we are, connect us to our past and to our future!”
“Not to mention,” said Saturday, “that your tale will soon become very confusing if you keep calling him ‘the child, the child.’”
“Aha!” exclaimed Tuesday, “but that is just it! Not only has Friday not specified a name, the child has no gender either! Is this so?”
A glint of excitement lit Tuesday’s eyes. The others looked from Tuesday to Friday, waiting.
“Yes, so,” said Friday. “Gender, is also not relevant. But I suppose we can call the child D. ___________.”
“Dee Blank?” asked Monday, pen poised above paper.
“No. Capital letter D, dot, blank line.”
Monday lowered pen to table without making a notation. After a moment, Friday took up the tale again.
“So, D. _________ was extremely unattractive, and without friendship and love. The child’s days were filled with solitary exploration of the town and the woods beyond. Frequently, D. _________ would wander through the woods well past the town’s border, to the edge of a larger, wealthier town.
“Once there, D. _________ would hide behind a building that might have been a post office. All day the child would observe the people of this other town going into and out of the building, and moving about their business on the street in front. These people were the most beautiful the child had ever seen–even more beautiful than the people who made the child’s life a living hell within its own town.”
“Shhhhhhhh,” said Sunday. The shush seemed to bounce around the walls before dying away. Starting out slowly again, Friday continued.
“As D. _________ crouched behind the building, watching, the child would sing softly the same song:
Though my heart,
it may be broken;
And my soul
will be undone
I will never
fear the darkness
Nor the wrath
There was a silence filled only by the memory of Friday’s more than adequate singing voice.
“One day, during D. _________’s secret and one-sided rendezvous with the residents of the other town, the child happened to spy a figure that it had not seen before. I say ‘figure’ because the child could not seem to see it clearly. It was definitely human, but it was blurred around the edges, and faded in and out. The harder the child strained to make out hair color or facial feature or even gender or height–the more the figure seemed to shift and blur.
“The other people of the town, those beautiful folk, seemed not to see the figure. They walked nearly right through it. They greeted each other, tipping hats and smiling, but never once said anything to the blurry form in their midst.
“For several days the child returned to that spot in the other town and attempted to catch a glimpse of the figure. The first day D. _________ saw no sign of it. But the next two days the child’s efforts were rewarded with the sight of its form, blurring and vibrating and fading and moving through the streets.
“On the third day the child decided to risk discovery and follow the figure once it moved from the vicinity of the building. Ducking behind other buildings and large trees with leaves that seemed to glow, D. _________ hurried along, following the figure, always keeping it within sight–”
Saturday interrupts. “And then the boy–excuse me–the child, comes upon the figure and it turns out to be the ghost of him or her as an adult and the child gets a lesson in it being okay to be different and that the only true beauty is the beauty that comes from inside.” Saturday paused, refilling lungs with air. “You’ve told ones like this one before, Friday.”
“Well,” said Friday calmly, “that is not how this one goes. May I continue?” Silence. “Well, then. D. _________ is following the figure through town, trying not to be seen. The child follows the figure to a quite lonely spot. It appears to be an area of town that is still under construction. No one else seems to be about. Partially completed structures look new and expensive, but abandoned.
“D. _________ watched the figure for some time just blur and vibrate and fade in and out. At one point the child sang only in its own mind its song:
Though my heart,
it may be broken;
And my soul
will be undone
I will never
fear the darkness
Nor the wrath
“Much to D. _________’s surprise, the figure stopped moving and seemed to look over to where the child was hiding. Alarmed, the figure spoke: Who is there? For some reason, the child felt some kinship with this figure, and so stepped from behind a half-built brick wall. ‘I am sorry. I meant no harm. I am from the town next to here and am only visiting here and I…’ But D. _________ could think of nothing else to say, and was somehow aware, despite its blurriness, that the figure’s eyes were upon the child. D. _________ immediately became aware of being so very ugly, and was sure the figure would say something cruel, or laugh, or run away in horror.
“But the figure did none of these things. Instead it spoke gently in a voice that–like its appearance–could not be adequately be perceived. It’s alright. It is only that I thought I heard you singing a song, and– The figure laughed. D. _________ relaxed, though the child did wonder that the figure could hear a song that had only been sung in the mind. Perhaps the figure was magical? Like a fairy godparent like the child had heard of in fairy tales?
“The possibility thrilled the child, enabling boldness. ‘Are you from this town?’ Yes, said the figure, …and no. I work here, and must stay here during the time that I am working. But I am not allowed to be a part of this community. The child’s heart quickened at these words, ‘I, too, am at the same time a part and not a part of my town!’ Somehow, D. _________ knew that the figure was nodding, even amidst the blurring and fading.
“You should see how the townsfolk treat me. They look at me with contempt in their eyes. I am good enough to do the work that they feel themselves too good to do, but not good enough to live among them. Often they will even strike me, sometimes until I bleed, and I am not allowed to defend myself in return.
“Tears pooled in the child’s eyes. D. _________ was remembering a time when, while the child and its mother were walking together, the mother met one of her friends on the street. The other woman kept glancing at the ugly child, who was standing a pace behind the mother. The child knew not to make eye contact, and had stared at the ground praying for invisibility. The mother soon became aware of the other woman’s stares. Turning to the child, she delivered a slap to the face that knocked D. _________ several steps backward. Both women had then begun laughing, then turned to each other to resume their conversation.”
Around the room, all eyes were at the Front. Some eyes threatened to spill tears. The sound of breathing and breathing only filled the room. Monday was vaguely aware that a watch or clock should be consulted, but consulted neither.
Friday began again.
“Mind if I come sit by you? said the figure. I have a ways to go before I reach where I must sleep. The child nodded, excitement building in its chest. The figure drew nearer. D. _________ observed, with some anticipation, that as the figure neared it seemed to blur and fade a little less. Finally the figure drew near enough to the child for the child to finally see it clearly.”
Several of the listeners around the table became aware that they had been holding their breaths. There was then in the room the sound of exhaling. Friday looked around the table, making eye contact with each of them while reciting the next words.
“And what a sight it was. D. _________ was no longer under the delusion that this was some benevolent fairy godparent. The child saw a sight that caused its blood to rush through veins that were nearly bursting to contain it.
“Then…there was a great gnashing sound, with a grinding and ripping mixed in. A scream arose so loudly and so sustained, that it traveled to all the edges of the town. Soon, the sound of running feet: first one pair, then two, then five, until a large crowd of townspeople stood at the abandoned construction area. Their beautiful faces were marred by shock and horror as they gazed down at the ground. Both ground and brick wall were covered with blood and wet bits of what might have been organs, skin, or muscle. Torn fabric mixed in here and there. The air was heavy with fresh death, and already buzzing things had flown in to feast.
“‘God in heaven,” gasped one of the townspeople, a beautiful young woman.
“‘Was it…the ghost again?’
“‘Do not be ridiculous! Surely you do not believe such fanciful tales!’
“Said the first woman, ‘Who is it this time?’
“‘I think it is Tempe Johnstone’s boy. He does her wood chopping and errands. Shame!’
“‘Shame?–surely, not! Merely another Negro. So far no one of consequence has been killed!’
“‘But–but–this time it is a strapping full grown buck! I have seen this one lift twice as much as any normal man! What could have done such a thing to him?’
“The other townsfolk were silent, considering this. Finally, a young man who had been the first to arrive spoke up. ‘The ghost. This I know, for like Joseph Taylor did last time, I heard its song as I arrived at this spot.’ There was some commotion as believers and non argued. ‘Well, what song would that be?’ someone finally challenged.
“The young man looked around, feeling somewhat unsure of himself now that all eyes were on him. ‘I could not make it out just perfect…but it was something like:
I will never fear the darkness, or the wrath of any man…’”
Friday calmly laid both palms onto the table’s surface to signal the tale’s end. No one spoke, or looked away, for some moments. Finally Saturday, in a voice that was intended to be much more confident, said, “I told you we were in for a treat.”
There were a few nods. Monday coughed softly. “Well, then. We are well past our time so I move to adjourn. Saturday, you are next at the Front. And I believe it will be my turn to make the coffee run.” Nods. “So…then…we are adjourned.”
The sound of chairs scraping and cups being crumpled and tossed in the trash bin. They filed out, Monday first, then Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday–the last turning around and giving Friday a half wave.
Friday sat in the chair at the Front for a few moments longer, then stood and walked slowly out of the room, flipping down the light switch and closing the door on the way out.
Inspiration: “October in the Chair” by Neil Gaiman, in Poe’s Children: The New Horror, edited by Peter Straub, 2008, Doubleday.
February 22, 2009
The conference room smelled of pizza. Its previous occupants had held a lunch meeting, or else had been celebrating someone’s birthday or promotion or some such. There were crumbs on the half oval conference table that Wednesday was at this moment cleaning away, scowling, with a damp brown paper towel from the bathroom next door.
Saturday entered, sniffing the room’s air dramatically: “Ahhhhh, pepperoni…sausage…and–what’s this? Pineapple and Canadian bacon? What a party we missed! Hey,” this, to Wednesday, “if you’re getting coffees, I’ll take an Amaretto latte. Thanks.”
Wednesday threw the damp, crumb-encrusted paper towel onto the middle of the table and stormed out of the conference room. At that moment, Monday walked in. Glancing at the table, Monday frowned, picked up the paper towel by a nonwet, nonsoiled edge and carried it to the overflowing trash bin in the corner.
Tuesday rushed in, out of breath. “No need to hurry,” said Monday. “Most everyone will be late as usual.”
Monday went to sit in the third seat to the right from the head seat of the table, but saw that this would not be right, as Saturday had already taken up residence in the seat to the right of the head. Monday frowned in Saturday’s direction, then took the seat to the immediate left of the head. Tuesday rushed over and sat to Monday’s immediate left.
Over the next few moments the others arrived. Thursday came in and sat at the curved end of the table, directly opposite the head. Sunday came next, filling in the next seat to the left. Friday came in after, pausing briefly and looking at those already seated.
“You are at the Front this time. You might as well go ahead and sit there,” said Monday without looking up from a stack of notes.
Friday hesitated a moment more, then turned away from the head and sat in the empty chair to the left of Tuesday.
Wednesday returned carrying a tray of white paper cups, steam forming clouds above them. “I got your usuals, as you were not here to tell me what you wanted.” This, meant for all except for Saturday.
Finally they were all seated, with the large chair at the straight end of the half oval table empty. Monday spoke, “Alright. Any announcements before we begin.”
Wednesday leaned forward. “Yes. I think we ought discuss how I always seem to be taking everyone else’s turn getting coffee. I hardly think this is fair.”
The next few moments were spent with the others stating how they, too, had taken turns not their own. Then followed a chorus of explanations offered as to why their turns had not been able to be taken: that one time Saturday had been hung-over; this time Monday had had an important meeting just prior to this one that could not be got out of; there was the time that Thursday had been held up by inclement weather…
“Alright, alright,” Monday finally interrupted. “Let’s table all that for now. We really must begin. We only, as you all know, have this room reserved for one hour fifteen minutes.”
Sunday spoke up, “But, no one follows this meeting until tomorrow morning. Surely it does not matter if we go over time.”
“We. have. the room. for. one. hour. fifteen. minutes.” Monday took a deep breath. “Now, according to my notes, Friday is at the Front today. Shall we begin?”
No one spoke, so Friday stood, walked to the head of the table, and sat down. “I’d like to open the floor to anyone else before I begin mine,” Friday said, looking around at the others. Saturday’s hands clapped together loudly. “Me, me, me–call on me!”
“Alright. Saturday first. What is it to be: riddle, poem, tale or joke?”
Saturday made quite a show of deliberating. “Hmmm. Hmmm. I think…I think…a joke.”
The others contributed to a group sigh. “Of course,” Monday said in stage whisper.
Saturday paid no mind. “Oooooo-kaaaay. Here goes. Pretty sure I haven’t told this one yet.
“A man is walking down a downtown street one morning, on his way to work, looking glum–”
“Hmm, must be Monday morning,” said Wednesday. Sunday and Thursday laughed quietly, while Monday and Tuesday scowled.
“–looking glum. Some people on the crowded sidewalk are walking his way, others hurrying in the opposite direction coming towards him. At some point, in the distance, he spies a beautiful woman walking toward him, quickly, also likely on her way to her place of employment. As both their steps bring them closer to passing, the man notices that the woman–very well dressed in smart business attire–is nevertheless nearly shirtless. Her blouse is unbuttoned past mid-chest and her bare left breast is clearly exposed.”
Wednesday’s eyes roll in their sockets. A couple of the others smile. There was one suppressed giggle.
“Well,” continued Saturday, clearly relishing these reactions. “The man soon enough gets within speaking distance of the woman. He stops before her, clears his throat, and says to her as discretely as he can, ‘Madam, it appears that your, ahh, your breast is showing.’ The woman looks down at her chest, and verifies for herself the man’s observation. She then looks to the sky and says, ‘Damn! I forgot my baby on the bus!’”
The laughs now were quite audible. Saturday sat back in the chair, nodding around the table. Wednesday, not laughing, had another eye-rolling episode. Monday’s laugh was brief, but honest, as was Tuesday’s. Thursday, Friday, and Sunday sustained their laughs for some moments.
“Alright, thank you, Saturday,” Friday finally said. “Anyone else have one?”
“Excuse me”: Wednesday. “Ought we not open the floor to conversation about the, um, joke?”
“Jokes are not meant to be conversation-ed about. They are meant to be laughed at and enjoyed,” said Saturday.
“Come, now, Wednesday. You know Saturday. Let’s just move on,” Monday said, making some marks on a piece of paper.
“The rules are: riddle, poem, tale, or joke–then the floor is open for questions, comments, debates and the like,” said Wednesday. “And, it’s Friday at the Front so Friday should decide whether we quote-unquote move on or not.”
“Oh, come on, now Wed-nezz-day. Lighten up,” said Saturday, smiling broadly.
A loud sigh from Wednesday: “Old English, day of the god, Woden–and you know perfectly well the d is not pronounced.”
“Okay, my dear Mittwoch,” Saturday said. “Please, please do contribute your quote-unquote questions, comments, and debates. And the like.”
“I merely said ‘the floor should be open’–not that I, myself, necessarily had anything to contribute.”
“Yes,” interrupted Friday, to staunch any further verbal bloodshed, “let’s open the floor now to discussion on Saturday’s joke.”
There was silence for a moment. Then, Sunday spoke up. “Might you reconsider, Saturday, the use of profanity in this joke?”
Saturday once again made some show of contemplation. “Mmmm… No. Next?”
More silence. Then, quietly from the curved end of the half oval, “Point of clarification: Why did no other commuters on the sidewalk except the man notice the woman with her chest exposed?”
Tuesday eagerly spoke up. “That is meant to represent the disconnectedness of modern-day, urban life. The hubbub of daily living, and the pointlessness of it all. Everyone is so immune to their own and others’ humanity, that they fail to notice or comment upon a woman so dressed. No one cares for their fellow man or woman enough to intervene in their affairs…”
Out of breath, and somewhat surprised by the outburst, Tuesday sat back in the chair.
“Actually,” said Saturday, “I just neglected to cover that base. I think you’re right, Thursday. I think the joke needs another line or two in there somewhere. How about, after he first notices her breast out… ‘The man was stunned that no one approaching the woman mentioned this to her. They merely glanced, and looked away in shock…‘ That’d solve it, wouldn’t it?”
“Well, even with the added lines, it could still hold the same interpretation as put forth by Tuesday,” Monday said. Tuesday smiled. “Anyway. Would you like for me to write down the suggestion and your potential additions?”
“Oh, not necessary. It’s all up here,” tapping fingers to forehead.
“Fine. Well, Friday, perhaps then you should move us on.”
“Excuuuuuse me,” Wednesday spoke. “I’d like to add something.” Turning slightly left to face Saturday, “These jokes of yours frequently have the same troubling features related to the objectification of women. And–” Wednesday went on quickly, voice louder over several sighs, “I fail to see how the imagery of a small, nursing child left alone on a city bus could possibly be cause for mirth.”
“Hmm. I think you’re right, friend,” said Saturday, looking serious. “Monday, please write that down for me so I can take it under careful consideration.”
There were subdued laughs at this, though it was not possible to tell from where they came.
“Okay, now we really must be moving on,” said Friday. “Another one, please?”
Several moments passed before Sunday’s hand rose slowly in the air. “Well, I think I might have a poem everyone might enjoy.”
“Now wait a minute,” said Thursday, “is this really going to be a poem, or is it another one of your prayers?”
“It is a poem. Prayers begin ‘Our heavenly Father’ and end ‘Amen.‘ This does neither.”
“Sunday, really, the rules are quite clear,” said Monday. “Riddle, poem, tale, or joke. We all appreciate your position, but this we all agreed from the start. Please do not attempt to inject one of your prayers masquerading as a poem or tale or whatever. It is not appropriate.”
Sunday’s arms crossed. “Never mind, then.”
“Well…If Sunday’s a no-go, I suppose I could tell another joke. This one shouldn’t be objectionable to anyone here. Okay: Why was Six afraid of Seven?“
“Because Seven eight Nine,” everyone sing-songed in unison. Only Saturday laughed this time. “Oh-oh-oh, that never gets old!”
“Hrmph,” said Monday. Wednesday began to speak.
“Alright, then,” Friday got there first. “In the interest of time I am going to take my prerogative at the Front by moving on to my own contribution.”
“What’s it to be, then, Friday,” asked Monday, pen raised over paper. “Riddle, poem, tale, or joke?”
“Oh, divine!” Arms now uncrossed, Sunday’s previous upset seemed to have been forgotten. “Friday tells the very best tales!”
“Do you wish to further specify a genre?” asked Monday.
“I think it might best be described…as a ghost story.”
Saturday’s hands came together in a single loud, echoing clap. “My friends, we truly are in for a treat!”
Complete silence, then, as all eyes around the table were aimed at the Front.
***End, Part 1.***
***Part 2 here.***
Inspiration: “October in the Chair” by Neil Gaiman, in Poe’s Children: The New Horror, edited by Peter Straub, 2008, Doubleday.