Hang A Shining Star - Chapter 3
"Never worry about the size of your Christmas tree. In the eyes of children, they are all 30 feet tall." *Larry Wilde
I can tell I am going to have to keep on top of things, or I will forget to keep the ball rolling. I run on a pretty tight schedule now, since it’s just me and Grandma. And she’s a little more detail oriented than I am.
I jump up from the couch, where I have been sitting next to Gail, and head to the back of the house. I can see her take in the whole thing as we trot through it, and I can see she likes it. Grandma’s house is beautiful. When her and Grandpa were finally able to have a house of their own, they took great care in making it perfect for them. You can see touches of them everywhere.
As we duck through the dining room, the giant oak table and its carved chairs peer back at us, reflections of my grandfather’s understated, but excellent taste. Passing in to the kitchen, my Grandmother’s country childhood is reflected in the rooster theme, which she has taken pleasure in decorating with. Glass roosters sit on the shelf that runs the top of the room, next to antique milk bottles and old cutting boards with funny sayings on them.
I barely have time to register Gail’s look, one somewhere between amazement and amusement, before we head through the mud room into the garage.
Flipping on the light and reaching up on to the wooden pegs that have hung there as long as I can remember, I grab two pairs of work gloves and toss her one.
She pulls them up over her sweatshirt sleeves as I cross to the far side of the room and tug on an old cord hanging from the ceiling.
I always, always forget to cover my eyes and nose, and I sneeze for the first time today as the shower of dust and plaster flakes flutter down in to my eyes and nose at the attic ladder drops down from the ceiling. I unfold it carefully, making sure to set in down to where the climb will be relatively even, and turn to signal to Gail its time to go upstairs.
"You’ll love the attic. We’ll come back some time when we have more time and spend an afternoon playing up here. This is a real attic, not the kind they build in those fancy houses now days."
"Okay, old woman," Gail jokes as she mounts the stairs behind me.
I somehow forget every year how much I love the climb in to the attic. Its smells of old clothes, Christmas trees and insulation. The plastic from three generations of women’s dolls permeates the atmosphere, and there is a strange lingering scent of perfume mingled with the dust. I breathe deeply, and enjoy the sound of the light bulb coming of when I yank on the pull cord over my head.
I survey the attic with a soft smile. I can remember years of pulling the Christmas tree down and scurrying down the stairs trying not to fall. I remember the sound of boxes sliding down the stairs and my Aunt Carmen telling my mom and Aunt Susanne to be careful or they would break every ornament and we wouldn’t have Christmas at all. Then she’s set them to making paper ornaments and how would they like that?
I remember laying in the floor of the attic, getting dusty and my mom yelling at me. I can still see Moriah dancing around, wrapped up in tinsel she had found laying about.
In the dim light of the attic, I can see myself as a child, full of wonder at the treasure trove of games, dolls and things to explore.
I am brought sharply to by the feeling of Gail’s head smacking into my rear end.
"Hey Why’d you stop?"
"Sorry," I feel a little sheepish. "I got lost in memories. I’ll keep going up."
"Sure," I can hear her grinning at me. "Why don’t you share with me while we wander around up here? Like why we have to come up here?"
"Sure." I forget how many people have real trees. I crouch over low, stepping over the toys and boxes as I move to the rear of the attic.
"Most people have real trees, but we got a fake one. There were a lot of good reasons for it. Grandma has a pine allergy. Its mild, but its better to have the fake tree, because she doesn’t sneeze as much, you know?
Gran also has a bit of a black thumb with Christmas trees, from what I hear. They had them when mom and all of the aunts were younger, but I guess she kept killing them. Grandpa had to sneak off a few years and get a new tree on Christmas Eve because they would find it half dead and wilting and brown.
Plus there’s the cat. One ear they had a real tree, and I guess their old cat ate some of the needles and got really sick. I don’t remember it, I was too young, but Grandpa used to go on and on about how nasty green cat vomit can be. When they got the new one they figured they had better not risk this one having the pine appetite as well. I don’t think it matter though.
This one likes to get up inside the tree. He usually leaves the ornaments alone, but he thinks he needs to lay up inside the branches. We have to work pretty hard to keep him out of the tree, and to keep him from knocking it over. A real one would be even more of a nightmare, I am sure.
I am sure you saw the fireplace. That was another one of Grandpa’s worries. All those dead trees were combustible. I always put it in the corner away from the fireplace anyway. But I guess Gran likes the look of the tree and the fire for a long time. I just don’t think its practical. Especially not with all of the kids running around. Recipe for disaster if you ask me.
Ah, here we are."
Back in the corner is where we always keep the box with the Christmas tree and all the ornament boxes. I don’t know what possesses us to put them in the back. I walk past some boxes every year, some that have never moved, but I think habit makes us put it where we always know we can find it.
I can see Gail surveying the boxes, taking stock of everything in the corner.
"Which ones do we need to get?" The wariness in her voice makes me sure she knows what my answer will be.
"All of them." I follow her eyes again, this times, letting my gaze linger over the large pile of plastic tubs stacked haphazardly around the corner, and I counted them, while she took stock of the size, and amount of them.
"There’s only six outside the tree box." I try to sound nonchalant.
"Six Six, Barb. Six. How many are ornaments?" Her incredulity is almost too much. I can feel my shoulders start to shake with laughter.
"Those are the ornaments. The decorations are over there." I point to the other corner, and I can see she is almost faint with the surprise.
"Wow. You said you take Christmas seriously, but…" She trails off and I burst out laughing.
"Come on, we’ll get everything inside so you can inspect it." I lift one edge of the tree box and tug it over to the stairs. She follows me, still looking a bit surprised.
"Now, all you have to do is lower it down to me as I walk down the stairs. We have to go slow, though, okay? Because I’m-"
"A total klutz. I remember." Her pointed teeth are flashing at me from over the box.
Slowly, we lower the tree down. I try hard to remember how my grandpa used to tell me how to get down the stairs backwards. Thinking of how far apart each step is, I wobble a little all the way to the bottom. I can feel that I’ve made it, and then suddenly, I realize I missed one.
Falling off the bottom step of the attic, I am discovering, is humiliating. Gail is at the top of the stairs, laughing her funny-I-can’t-quit-laughing laugh, which sounds like a cross between a ‘tee hee’ and a ‘har har harp.’ I can’t help but laugh little too, as I lay here on the floor with a 7 foot
Christmas tree on my chest.
The box is bobbing up and down and I am almost sure I can’t quit laughing right now.
"Come down here and get this thing off me," I call up to her. "And stop that laughing. You sound like a seal that’s eaten a parakeet."
"Harp har har," She answers as she shimmies down the stairs. She lifts the box off of me and we head back up the stairs for the rest of the stuff.
* * *
"This is a lot of decoration. Where does it all go?"
We stand in the middle of the living room, looking at all the boxes, now spread out in front of us, with paper strewn everywhere.
"That’s the fun part, putting it somewhere different each year. I used to go looking for my favorite decorations every year. Especially the ornaments. Because Grandma would theme the tree, and we would have to look for our old favorites among the new theme.
She did a lot of great themes. I liked the gingerbread theme the best. I have a few gingerbread people I look for each year. I try to remember which box we put them in, so I can lay them out. They go on last, so I can put them where I can seethem on the tree. I am sure you’ll find a favorite as well.
Here, take this end of the lights and put it in the socket, see if they work." I pass her a strand of lights, and turn to go back to the boxes, to hunt for more strands.
"Ahh " Gail’s exclamation takes me by surprise.
"Hey, what’s wrong?"
"Oh, the cat. I forgot about the cat. He just jumped out at me, and I wasn’t expecting it. Awww. He’s cute. Here, kitty, kitty."
"Be careful. He’s not that nice. I mean, fun to play with, but he doesn’t like to be pet."
"What’s his name? Aww, you’re a sweet thing aren’t you? Oww Little devil He bit me." I watch with my I-told-you-so look as she jerks her hand back, shaking off the bite.
"Aww. Did the widdle angel bite you?" I tease. "His name is Lucifer. Appropriate isn’t it. Grandma said he was too cute to be a sweet cat when we got him. She was right. He’s beautiful."
"But deadly, right?" Gail giggles at me.
"Well, he did bite you…" I trail off, reaching for another strand of lights. "I think we have enough if you want to start putting the lights on the tree.
The Christmas ornaments are all very special to me. Seeing each one brings back special memories. Sometimes, as I unwrap them from their newspaper, or remove them from their boxes, I feel a pull at the corners of my eyes.
Some of the ornaments have been gifts to grandma over the years. Some of them have been souvenirs brought home from trips. Some are the remnants of themes grandma had chosen that managed to make the cut some garage sale season.
I recount the stories as I pull them out. It seems a lot like a museum in here during this time, with me thinking of the past. Gail sits in the floor, on occasion offering up a comment or a question about a particular ornament.
I can see she is living my Christmases with me as I tell her. I can see sadness in her eyes, reflecting my own, sometimes; mirroring my wish that there would be the happy times that we had when these ornaments were first placed on the tree.
"What about these?" She asks as she hangs a hippopotamus and monkey side by
side on the tree.
"Those went to a set of Noah’s Ark animals. When I was 8 or so, Gran decided to have a Bible story themed tree. We found this set, it had Noah on the little boat, and a whole menagerie of animals. Peacocks, giraffes, elephants, zebras…it was actually very cool. When that tree theme crashed and burned, we kept the Noah’s Ark because we liked the animals on it. "
"Oh, is the rest of the set in here somewhere? Should I separate these two?" She dug around in
the box she had been pulling the ornaments out of.
"Don’t bother. Lucifer has been eating the animals one by one for years. You should have seen the look on mom’s face when she found the boat with Noah’s head chewed off in the floor."
"Har, har, har." Gail laughed. "I bet that was hilarious. What did she do?"
"She called the cat the devil. It was fantastic. She was going on about the sacrilege and all that. Uncle Jeff stepping in and was like ‘He’s just a cat, Charlotte. He doesn’t know any better.’ She really went off then. Poor Jeff. You’ll like him. Anyway. I saved it, and thought I might put it in her stocking this year.
What do you think?"
"That’s great She’s going to make a scene, though." Gail looked worried.
"Don’t worry," I could feel the gloom creping over me. "She’ll make a scene long before we get to the stockings. This will be a little comic relief. I promise. We’ll need it by the end of the night. I have to tell you, things have been a bit depressing the last few years. Its not like it used to be."
"Its okay." Gail answers cheerfully. "We’ll make it better. It’s a good joke. How about this one?"
Gal passes me what looks like a little pair of gold knitting scissors on a red ribbon and smiles. I can tell she is trying to change the subject. I let her.
"These are from the lady across the street. Her name is Sunshine. She gave Gran these because they do needlework and all that together. I think she has a pair on her tree as well. Only hers are silver. I don’t like them, but Gran thinks they’re cute. But I appreciate what they mean to the both of them."
"Wait, wait. Her name is Sunshine? Really, her name is Sunshine." Gail goggled at the scissors, as if they were named Sunshine as well.
"Yes, her name was Sunshine. I heard all of her family names were funny. Gran says she had a sister names Rainbow. I dunno. Maybe their parents were hippies. But she is really nice. I likeher a lot. And she makes a mean gooseberry pie."
"Right." She draws out the word, as if she thinks I am pulling her leg. But when I don’t answer, she goes back to the box in front of her, sifting through the paper to find ornaments to hang.
"Have you spotted all Twelve Days of Christmas yet?" I ask.
"No, are they all here? No gease-a-layin’ been eaten yet?" She teases, scanning the tree for the ornaments I’ve just mentioned.
"No, apparently his ornament proclivity only stretches as far as biblical characters. Do you think it’s the name?"
"Anyway, Gran did the Twelve Days of Christmas thing really hot and heavy. See those pears over there? They go in the spaces in between the branches. Gran loved how they looked like they were frosted. Oh, and for the sake of continuity with the song, and someone making a remark about it, put the partridge next to one of the pears."
"Sure. What does a partridge look like anyway?"
"Um, it is a small bird with a long tail and a short beak. Its usually brown and white. I think Gran’s has a "pear tree’ bit in its mouth. "
"Got it. I will duly hang it up near a pear for you."
"Thanks for that," I mock. "The whole set is in there somewhere. Twelve drummers, eleven pipers, ten lords, all that jazz. Actually, the maids a milking are a little freaky. I don’t like them. I’ve tried to get rid of them a few times, feed them to Lucifer. No luck."
I reach behind me, to the coffee table and pull out a set of ornaments I had brought with me last night, and set them next to me. Pulling out another set from the pile, I smile as I begin to lay them out.
"Come over here, and look at these, Gail. You’ll like these a lot. We have picture frame ornaments with all of the family members in them. See the blonde with the poufy hair? That’s Aunt Carmen in the ‘80’s. We tease her about that picture every year. You have to put it on the front of the tree, right at eye level so everyone can get a good look at it, because she’ll
move it to the back of the tree before the end of the night. I swear, she only makes it worse for
I watch as Gail shifts through the ornaments, taking a minute to pause and examine each one. She flips them over, tongue between her teeth, looking as though she is guessing who each person is before she flips it over to look at where the name has been engraved on the back. I can feel the moment she reaches mine, because her pointed teeth begin to show a little more and her nose starts to wrinkle up the way it always does when she is laughing.
"This is you, isn’t it?" she giggles at me, holding up a pewter snowflake ornament.
"Yes, that’s me. Put it away. I know I look awful in that picture. They took it when I was in high school I was going trough my ‘I need to be gothic because no one understands my angst’ phase."
"Oh, I see. And you’ve left that phase now," she says with a very serious look on her face.
"Yes," I retort defensively. "I have as a matter of fact. Or at least I started bathing and washing my hair."
"Hygiene is a good thing, sis."
"So I’ve heard." I roll my eyes and turn back to the pile that is in front of me. "But, something is missing. I think you might like to look at these as well. I hand her the pile I had brought from the evening before.
"You didn’t." Her smile betrays her pleasure, before she even looks at the ornaments I hand her. She knows what they are, I can see it written all over her face. I flush, unaccustomed to these moments where I feel like the sweet one of the two of us. "Do you want to add yours to the tree, or would you like me to hang them up?"
She is turning each one of them over and over in her hand, as if she can’t quite believe that she has them.
"This makes us officially part of the family, you know." she smiles.
"I know," I answer back, rubbing my hand up and down the side of her arm in affection. "I wouldn’t have it any other way. You know, Nathan gave me an awfully funny look when I asked him for photos of you guys that he didn’t want back. But after I explained myself he didn’t mind nearly as much. Now, I did have to go to a little more effort to get a picture of him. You’ll see
that is his high school yearbook photo. I went to his old high school and got a copy made. I am sure he’ll love it."
"He’ll love it. Thanks, Barb. You really are very sweet when you want to be," I can see her
tearing up again. The feeling it gives me is one I haven’t had in a long time, like I belong, like I am special. Like love.
"Now, don’t go getting all misty and cute on me now. We’ve got work to do."
"Hateful bitch." She smiles.
"That’s better." I reply with a grin. Reaching down to the box in front of me, I get a hold of a small package wrapped in Christmas paper. I smile as I unroll it, revealing bit by bit the little ornaments inside. "Come here and look at these, they are my favorite ornaments."
I pass the ornaments to her after examining each one with pleasure. They are from when we had a gingerbread themed tree, and I think I am the only one who really liked that theme other than James. We had saved these little ornaments from the yearly garage sale purge for several years before everyone gave up and let usput them out without a fight. Every year I wrap
them in Christmas paper so I can find them easily.
The first one is a snowman, who is also an ice cream cone. The sides of him are dripping over the waffle cone edges and he has a bit of a lopsided look I find oddly endearing. He sparkles a little from the sprinkles that decorate him, and he is slightly cross eyes because the person who "hand painted" him got the letters on his candy eyes just a little off center.
The next is a little gingerbread girl. She has her little feet and face outlined by "frosting" and her dress is decorated by little chocolate candies with the word "Noel" spelled out on the bottom. Her little gingerbread arms are loaded down with heart-shaped cookies and long, thin
peppermint striped candies. You can barely see her eyes from the cover of her red licorice hair, which actually falloff the back of her gingerbread head, a little lopsided, but very cute.
Last, and best for me, is a little gingerbread Santa. He is pathetically over-decorated. Peppermint swirls line his little gingerbread suit in intervals far too frequent. He has a cookie that is shaped as a star in the middle, a little to far down to be called a belt buckle, and looking far more like a cookie codpiece. His frosted beard is cure, but the person who made him designed a little licorice tongue to stick out from it, as if he is making fun of all the naughty children in the world.
"They’re a little pathetic aren’t they Barb?" Gail turns them over, bit by bit and looks a little astonished that these might be my favorites. "These certainly weren’t what I was expecting for favorite Christmas ornaments. You’re a softy inside aren’t you? You wanted to save these sad little ornaments from the trash bin, huh?"
"Don’t let it get out, okay?" I joke with her, slightly uneasy that she noticed my love for these sad little ornaments, which drew me to them because of how awful they were. "Mom thinks I keep them because she hates them."
"Alright, then." She grabs another ornament as I hang the Santa on the tree, well out of Lucifer’s reach. "Hey Is this a hobbit? I think it is Who put this in here Tell me it was you. You’re a closet nerd too "
Gail lifts up a tiny Frodo figure with a look of ecstasy on her face. She turns him over and over, examining the hair on his tiny hobbit feet.
"I am, but that wasn’t me that put that one on there. Maria did that. She’s one of Catherine’s twin girls. She is obsessed with Lord of the Rings. She said we needed to paytribute to all the little people, not just the elves."
Gail’s eyes bugged out a little. "Are you serious? How very, erm, politically correct of her."
"Very." I answer. "Well, we’re almost done. Do you want to put the star on top of the tree this year? I mean, I get to every year…" I trail off, hoping she can tell this is a big moment for me, and I want to include her in it. It’s actually my favorite part of the Christmas tree decoration. I loved to watch as a child putting it on.
"Sure. I mean, thank you. I would love to."
As I watch her wobble up the ladder and reach for the top of the tree with a feeling in my chest
that reminds me a lot of the feelings I got as a child. Not quite the same, because along side the wonder of how big and beautiful the Christmas tree is, I also feel a bit of pride that we made something so beautiful together.
Gail startles me by wiping a tear from the side of my cheek; one I hadn’t even noticed was falling. I try desperately to pull myself together.
"Well, that’s done. So now all we have to do is load up the squirt gun, and we’ll be all set."
Gail looks puzzled.
"Yeah. It keeps the cat out of the tree. And its fun to shoot him with it."
"Alright sis. Lock and load."
An Extraordinary Life...
Last years NaNoWriMo, Chapter One.
----------------------"We have 50 per cent of the world's wealth, but 6.3 per cent of its population. In this situation, our real job in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships that allow us to maintain this disparity. To do so we have to dispense with all sentimentality, we should cease thinking about human rights, the raising of living standards, and democratisation"
- George Kennan
, US Cold War Planner, 1948
Before I start, before we start, before anything else, before birth even, remember, no one can conquer death. No one is special. No one is gifted. No one is a genius. One only occasionally sees flashes of genius, and translates them. I wasn't, nor could I ever be, what people thought I was. As a person, I wasn't special.
I did the same things everyone did. Ate food made in the same factories, used the same electricity, slept in the same beds, wore the same clothes, made in the same factories, massproduced individuality. I shaved like everyone else, washed my armpits like everyone else, combed my hair. Like everyone else, everything I did.
I wasn't special. I just had an extraordinary life. I don't have an extraordinary life anymore. Maybe ordinary, or in fact extra ordinary, but not extraordinary.
I remember Castello. By the time you read this I am probably dead. Dead, or disappeared. Found in an impossible, improbable suicide, a rare form of laboratory cancer, a obscure flu, hanged from a stairwell in my own house, a mysterious lack of fingerprints in the house, a single gunshot wound with a trajectory impossible for the weapon I was holding, a multiple cause of death, a drug overdose of 94 milligrams, an impotent overdose with mere traces of Tylenol, a previously secret drug addiction for a man in his thirties with a mysterious lack of a large number of cash withdrawls from my generic bank account. By the time this is published, I am either under surveillance, or deceased. Which one matters not. They know, and they will try to silence me.
I need to stay alive, to tell my story, to sell my story. I need to make money. Fundamentally, I am unemployable. A year - or two years - with a weapon on either arm, placed in high-risk combat situations in countries I can't remember the names of, or countries that don't exist anymore, makes it difficult to integrate. I can't go back to a life of the normal. The prison of the real. I can't live like that. A world of queues and of bills and bank statements. They sentenced me to forty years of boredom.
You train someone for a year, and you make him a killing machine for two years, and for those two years, that's what I do. I kill. I render. And then I'm dumped, like the war was a one night stand, some intense affair that's forgotten about, and I'm left at the corner as they speed off into the night, and I have to forget everything. I forget that if someone yelled at me because I was late for work, or because I wasn't smiling enough and pleasing customers, that in another country I would've been able to jab them with a machine gun until they were quiet. I forget that, weeks earlier, I would've been able to break their jaw with a rifle butt and nobody would've arrested me. Hell, they've made me a hero.
That's what they did. They made a Hero out of me. And they forgot the man. Superman is more than just Super, he was also a man.
I took an oath, under the penalty of death, that no matter what I saw or heard I would never divulge the information. Also, I signed a waiver that states I would willingly give up my life if I was found guilty of 'treason'. I am a traitor. I have commited treason. And the reason? I violated an agreement. I broke my word. I lied when I signed the document that stated an act of treason included disclosing : "ANYTHING that mentions the details of daily operations at this facility, when outside the confinement of this base."
Don't believe me. I am a liar. This is a fantasy. What I am about to tell you never happened. I am an outpatient in a facility. I am on a medication you may have heard of. In a world where our reality is defined purely by electronic signals firning between synapses, by perceptions of reality received inside my head, how can I tell what is real, what isn't real, and when that reality is received incorrectly, when there is a fault between the eyes and the ears and the brain, how am I know what is real and what isn't?
My name is unimportant. But the Official Secrets Act forbids me from telling you what my name is. I could be anyone. I could be living in the block of apartments next door to you. I could be sat next to you on the commuter train. Or behind you in the queue for groceries at the Supermarket. I could be standing next to you in the queue for the ATM. You'll never know, and I'll never want you to know who I used to be and where I used to go. What I used to do. That's a black book in it's own right.
It's not the black book made of former lovers - the details of them all, their names, their birthdates, their foibles, a map of their tattoos, the memory of the shape of their genitals, their backs arched on hotel beds and suburban bedrooms, their hair forgotten as their faces curl into something transcedent. Like drugs, but cheaper. It's not that black book made of 22 names and 17 tattoos and 39 cities and several fetishes and late night, fumbling, lusty phone calls and drunken confessions. It's not that one. That's the book inside of us, made of songs about girls cooking chicken soup and what she said.
That's everyone's story. Your shy glances across nightclubs, across bus stops, across internet chatrooms and flirting sites, across ineedlove dot com, across the cyberspace, the love made out of circumstance, out of financial necessity, out of a desire for a friend, out of a need not to be alone, out of a need not to keep secrets. Out of a need to make a narrative life out of the day to day situation we find ourselves in.
I want to blend in. I want to become no-one. I want to be back in a world and to unsee what I have seen. I want to undo what I have done. It's too late. The past is a country w ecan never revisit and a world we can never change.
I can't talk to my lover about this- if I have one. I can't tell anyone. I know it can't be a secret unless someone knows, but right now, I know, and the secret is like a branding iron, burning my skin. I need to tell someone, so maybe, sometime, someone, somewhere will see this, read this, understand my confession, see the facts and the truth and the whole messy business inbetween, and recognise that this, this thing we called life, is but merely a skin over the muscle, sinew, bone, the blood beneath the veins, the facts of the matter, and the reality lies somewhere between fact and truth, between perception and reality, between desire and orgasm and conversation afterwards.
The one who sees me at my most vulnerable, my gabbering, incoherent self in the moments as I wake or as I sleep, the moments when I come to in the middle of the night and say "Monkey stole my money", they don't know what I am going to tell you. If I die and tell no one, no one will ever know this, and a life will be lost with no story to tell. Even to her, I am actor in the play that is my life.
If there is a her. I miss the love I used to have. I miss what used to be. But the world has changed me. I am less lovable than I used to be. The innocence has been lived out of me.
We're all actors of course. Everytime we stay quiet instead of saying something, every time we profess a diplomatic response instead of uttering our thoughts, every time we wear a suit, or smile at someone who wins the Oscar instead of us, we're acting. We act all the time. The train conductor, the Sainsbury's Checkout Girl, the slut in the bedroom, the mother, we're all acting, fulfilling various roles in our lives, showcasing parts of my / our personality. Our everyday lives are facades, no more real than thinking a Hamburger isn't actually made out of Cow or Pig. And that the animal people make kebabs out of really does have a 3 foot thick leg with a square bone in the middle made out of steel.
Self-delusion is as important a part of reality and survival as realisation that we are all deluding ourselves. We know it's a lie, and we swallow it up, we suck it like a vacuum, and we know that the only way to enjoy this comfortable lie is not to admit that it is a lie. We all believe ourselves to be special, to be amazing, to be unique and beautiful snowflakes, and we're just a collection of cells made out of DNA and semen and ambiotic fluid, fuelled on carrion and water and bile.
We're just one of the millions. Of the 6,000 million on the planet, the telephone number, long hand-memory of Pi type figure, the 6, 243, 172, 098 people on the planet, I am just one. And whilst there may be more atoms in a glass of water than there are people in the world, how big is an Atom? Or more correctly, how small are we? How small am I? Just another parasite on the face of the world. If Earth is a body (of what? Water? Pollution? iPods?), then we are the cancer.
A virus with shoes. Killing the host. We multiply and multiply, and we think not of the consequences or the sustainability of all things. And one day we will be extinct. And we will deserve it. Man is a bad animal.
Sometimes I look at who I used to be in disgust. Sometimes with admiration. Sometimes I wonder why I didn't just take the money and run. Sometimes I think that maybe yes, there are higher powers than money in this world, and what I did, and what I do, is more honourable and more beautiful than just merely doing my job, I may very well have said at one point, to someone, about something, "Just doing my Job Madam", with the mock humility one always should have when they've averted disaster and saved the world from imminent destruction again, but to me, it was never just a job, but a way of life.
Where I live, nobody knows me. Nobody knows the real me. Even then, nobody knew me. I was a cipher, an interpretation, an icon, not a real human being, with real human feelings, and backaches, and stubborn ingrowing toenails. I'm just a man, like Flash Gordon was just a man. You can only do this so long. So far, so hard, before you stop, before you look at your life, and know that you can go no further. And now I am living a life I never thought I would, a quiet, anonymous life. I can mingle in crowds I never used to be able to.
When I first disappeared, it was a long time before I could venture outside. It had been so long as one person, I'd forgotten who I really was. Or more correctly, I'd become the part I was playing, and I had stopped being who I really was. John Doe, born 1973, had ceased to exist, and become a former life, like we become former lovers, like we become former friends, former children, now grown up to be men.
Trying to work myself back to the innocence, to who I used to be before this happened, before I became a Government hired killer, it's like trying to claw back your virginity, like trying to go back to a life without electricity, like trying to rewind the world to a way of life without atomic bombs. It was impossible, and bullshit to think that it could ever occur. The journey of life is always forward, never back.
For the first year or so, I decompressed. Like a deep sea diver with the bends, I spent an age in a cage, bored, reading, watching, waiting, being probed and treated, being analysed and taken apart and being put back together, like a jigsaw, like a Airfix model kit. Except I was a human being, and when you take human beings apart they dissolve, they die. Like an Alien on a Roswell Bench, as soon as you open the skin, remove the parts to see how they work, and then put them back together, they don't. Something changed. The one thing that makes them work, that makes a person live, once that dies you can't kickstart a heart like a bad rock song. It took a very long time before I was able to go back into the world, to stand in an aisle in jeans held up by a belt and wear three year old trainers with flat soles and the tread crushed out of them, clad in a generic t-shirt for a popculture icon, maybe something witty in khaki that mocked our established cultural heroes, a parody of David Hasselhoff that says "You are nothing without Your ROBOT car! NOTHING!!!", or maybe a plain white shirt that is as bland and featureless as the life I am trying to live now.
That's the wonderful thing about anonymity. You can be anyone - and no-one at the same time. Anyone can be a millionaire - but not everyone can. Not everyone could do what I did, but anyone could. It just happened to be me. I can't help that.
We have manifest destiny here in the US. The idea that whatever happens, whatever powers are gifted to us, whatever oil fields we rape and pillage, whoever we have to kill and enslave to get cheap Coke and plentiful cotton, however many Indians we have to ghettoise, abuse, and steal from in order for our 4 x 4's, our ranches, our bungalows, our SUV's, our 10MPG Hulks, our multiplexes, our skyscrapers, our tower blocks, our projects, all these things, they are our reward for being God's Chosen People. Being given this reward is our payment on Earth for what we cannot wait for in Heaven.
I had my Manifest Destiny too. The life I lived, the choices I made, the people I killed, the women (and men) I fucked, these were too, God's choices for me, I was His Will made flesh. If there was a God. I saw enough to know that if there is a God, he is a quiet God. And his long silence, the one that lasts our lifetime and speaks without words, that will keep us in communion, that is his way of talking to us. His way of saying I'm Not There.
Thes ethinsg I did were not my will, but his. If there is a God. Then I was absolved. My sins were washed clean.
After all, if Humans have Gods, surely then, so do animals. Or do they? Does the lack of a Dolphin Diety, a Great Dolphin called say Klof, who oversees the world of all dolphins, and sees their ascenion to heaven in the days before the destruction of The Earth, mean that dolphins are more - or less - evolved? Do Vogons have their messiah?
In these times, we built our strikeforce. We need our myths, our legends. A couple builds it's own mythology, it's own fairytales, it's moments of Great Import within their love, from the first moment they met in a club or a pub or a bar or a trainstation or a website or a supermarket, walking up and down the single meal aisles looking for similar victims or spinsters or bachelors or singletons who may also be looking for Mr Right Now or Miss Right, these all become moments of narrative importance. We can remember the music we heard, the sweep of grand Mobyesque chords on the Movie Soundtrack of our lives, the camera views the nudge of flesh across aisles dispassionately, a conversation that seemingly could be nothing or everything in the movie called our lives, a bit part actors becomes a minor character, becomes the love interest, becomes the woman or man who will define us, the Batman to my Robin, the Yin to my Yang, the Lennon to my McCartney, and all these things become our lives.
I know they're going to make a film out of this. I hope they cast Ewan McGregor if they make it in the next ten years. Drew Barrymore would do well as the love interest.
A man can dream. I dream of a mankind free from our tyranny, a human race that can be won.
In these times, we need our heroes. We need people who show that you can transcend this world, move beyond man and the mundane to become a Superman, an Uberworld, A life outside - extra - the ordinary. An extraordinary life. Popstars, rap stars, entepreneurs. We're all selling a brand.
That's all I was. The physical embodiment of a brand. The moment of an ideal made flesh. My brand? Freedom.
Hang A Shining Star, Chaper 2
Chapter One is only two posts down. If you can't scoll down I can't be arsed to link to it. Got a compliment on the last one [thanks] so if you want me to put you out of your misery, better tell me :)AG
"There is no ideal Christmas; only the one Christmas you decide to make a reflection of your values, desires, affections, traditions." * Bill McKibben
The air is still quite chilly this morning, although the sun has already risen into the clear morning sky. I look up, and note that there are few clouds, which is a good thing considering all the time we are going to be spending outdoors today putting up the lights.
My cup of coffee is warm against my fingers as I watch out Grandma’s front bay window. There is a soft smell of Irish Cream tickling my nose as the steam swirls up from the mug, creating a warm mist that causes my nose to dew up just a bit with the warmth that contrasts with the cold of the window I have pressed my nose against.
Grandma is still asleep in her room for a change, and I told her to stay in bed for a while this
year. This year, I know I will have company putting up all the decorations. Any other year, I would mock myself for my blind faith. I would berate myself for being to hopeful. No one comes, not anymore. But I have a guarantee; my new step-sister Abigail.
My mother, if I can say anything for her, is a persistent woman. She stuck out five years of miserable marriage to my and Moriah’s father before leaving him. Her next three marriages were successively shorter, and the only benefit I can see coming from them is that she didn’t have any more kids to make miserable with crazy visitation schedules. Still, being a self-proclaimed woman of faith and, as I said, persistent; my mother saw no reason why her fifth marriage could not be a happy one.
Abigail is the oldest daughter of my mother’s fifth husband, Nathan. He had been previously married before, unlike the rest of my mother’s husbands, so maybe he knew what he was getting into. Maybe not. But he did have children by his previous wife, four of them, and hence I have Abigail and her other sisters to love as my own.
Nathan is also pretty close to my mother’s age and so I am fortunate enough to have a step-sister relatively close to my age. Gail and I bonded almost strait away, and she has become not just a sister to me, but a good friend as well.
I was not surprised when she volunteered to join me during my ritual Christmas preparations this year. Gail has a sweet disposition that always manages to stun me. It seems her patience never runs out, a product no doubt of helping to raise her younger sisters. Gail has a remarkable ability to read people, and always seems to know what I am thinking. Of course, she is no angel. She has a dry sense of humor and a biting bit of sarcasm when roused. This, I think, is a by product of treating her father more like a peer than a parent for most of her life.
She acts as if she is very eager to learn about the traditions I had as a child; and whether she does it because it is to humor me, or whether she is genuinely interested, I am going to be glad to have her. Years of doing this by myself, or with Grandma have started to wear on me a bit, and I will be happy for the company.
There is also a voice in the back of my mind that keeps hinting that this may be the time for me to bring back the old ways from my childhood. That maybe, just maybe, I will find a kindred spirit in Gail, and she will love the traditions the way I do, for their own sake. For the memories that can be made from the yearly habit of trying desperately to love everything about your family.
Whatever her motivations, I feel a small thrill run through my chest when I see her bouncy, royal blue Toyota pull up the drive. I can tell I am smiling, as I set my mug on the little table that sits just inside the front door, and reach for the knob.
The shuffle of her feet becomes louder as she skips up the driveway with her half hopping, half lazy gait. I give up all attempt at pretense and pull open the door, relishing the squelch and swoosh it makes against the cold air spilling into the house, and rush out the door.
Gail is smiling too, a crooked, sleepy smile that just barely exposes her slightly pointed teeth to the morning sun. I have a sneaking suspicion she saw me looking out the window.
"Good morning I am so glad you are here." I pull her into a hug, and she pokes me in the side.
"Cheerful this morning, aren’t we? Not our usual bundle of sarcasm and cynicism. I think I like the holidays. You’re friendlier." She wrinkles her nose as she laughs, and hugs me back.
"Oh, it’s early yet, dear. But I am excited."
"How did you get here so early? You look like you have been up for hours already."
"I have," I laugh, tugging her inside. "I always stay the night."
"But you live a block and a half away."
"I know. But I always stay the night. It’s tradition."
"Ahh, yes. The traditions," she teases, as she settles on to Grandma’s couch; crossing her legs. "Tell me about what I have gotten myself into."
"Well, we have a rather full day." I begin.
"I should think so, if I have to be here at 7:30 in the morning What time is the party?"
"Ah." She raises her eyebrows. "So, my family does not have any Christmas traditions. Since this is my first time at your family Christmas, I suppose you better bring me up to speed."
I take a moment to wonder if my excitement is palpable or not. I know it must be radiating off of
me. It seems so long since I had someone to plan my day with. Year in and year out, Grandma always knew what to do. I grin again.
"Well, first, we are going to get the Christmas tree set up, and then we will go outside and put up a light display that will rival the Plaza in New York. Then we will come inside, make Christmas dinner, change clothes and party the night away."
"Wow." Her eyes are wider than I thought a person’s could be. Oops. Maybe I shocked her a bit.
"I know," I giggle in a sarcastic way, "All that fun in just one day. Its almost too much.
Really, the family Christmas traditions have begun to wane. As you can see, no one in the family comes here to help out anymore. Used to, you could hardly move with all the aunts and uncles and children running about the place. No one seems to care anymore, though. No one misses they way it was. Except me, I suppose. I wish you would have had a chance to meet Grandpa. He was fantastic. And he kept the family in line, throughout the day. Oh, I forgot, you’ll get to meet everyone in the family for the first time since mom’s wedding too. That should be fun."
"Oodles, I am sure." Abby rolls her eyes.
"Speaking of family life, how are my mom and Nathan. Is she coming over today?"
"She and dad are doing fine. I think he is a little overwhelmed with her Christmas excitement, though. Did you know she puts a Christmas tree in every room of thehouse?"
"Sick, isn’t it?"
"Well, the girls love it. They keep telling her they want to go get more ornaments for their tree. She says they will later. They are supposed to be coming by later this afternoon to help with the cooking. Charlotte says that she has some ideas for the dinner for tonight."
"Oh, gosh We better get going if we want to get the turkey going on time "
Untitled - chapter 4
I'm working on something visceral and American Psycho-like, but as I compose that in my head and work out how you go about nailing someone's tongue to a table, here's the next chapter of my Nano novel.
Previously in our exciting serialisation: Chapter 1
, Chapter 2
, Chapter 3
Rob and I drove up to Charnborough in separate cars. He was heading straight back into Oxford after the open day, and I was heading back up to Nottingham. It was actually quite strange to be driving myself there after so many years of arguing with my brothers over who had the pleasure of sitting in the passenger seat next to my mum, and who had to sit in the back. I actually got lost at one point, but managed to find my way to the sloping drive down to the school, parked up in front of the croquet lawn and steeled myself for the hard part: meeting people.
The headmaster had changed since my time, and when I was approached by a small, weasley man with a pointed nose and a pronounced stoop, I guessed it was probably him.
“And you can only be one of the Archer clan!” Both of my brothers had also attended this school, and apparently although it had been more than a decade since any of us had last been taught here, our names were still remembered.
“Yes. Hello. James Archer”
“Andrew Meredith. Headmaster. Welcome, welcome. Drinks are on the main lawn” He was a bit of a sniffly little man, all things considered, and although he was being perfectly cordial, I couldn’t really warm to him. He didn’t recognise Rob, even though both he and his brother had also attended this school. Rob has always been fairly low-key and is generally happy to be anonymous. Maybe that was a good thing. Right now I certainly envied him anyway. We were ushered onto the lawn and helped to a glass of Pimms. It’s a funny drink really, and it’s not something I ever go out of my way to drink, but in the right place it can be just the thing. I had to remember that I had to drive home, but right now the alcohol seemed like a really good idea.
There weren’t actually all that many people there, and the ones who were there were all much older looking than I was anticipating. I suppose it’s easy to assume that a school only really exists when you are actually there, but Charnbourough had been churning out pupils to be devoured by the great English Public School system for the best part of a century. To see that some older alumni had turned up was actually quite comforting for me though, as it meant that I probably wasn’t really going to have to make small-talk about the good old days. There were a couple of familiar faces, but in the main I was able to keep them at a safe distance.
“James Archer” It was a statement, not a question. I turned around to find myself face-to-face with a small, dapper man. A little older than I remembered him, but it has been a while. My old housemaster.
“Mr. Dawson. How are you?”
“I’m well thank you very much. How are your parents? Your brothers?”
This is small talk, of course. I am capable of small talk, I really am. I don’t like it very much, but I am capable of it. This is not a difficult conversation to have. Mr. Dawson is a wonderful man. He seemed fearsome when I was seven years old, but he really grew on me. He was my housemaster, my maths teacher and my choirmaster. He used to smoke like a chimney, then he gave up, collected the money that he had saved and bought himself a car. He’s still teaching, albeit not at Charnborough. Blah blah blah. He’s a nice man, and I’m pleased to see him, but small talk is small talk and I wasn’t listening really, so I can’t expect to remember what he said. I had very similar conversations with my old science teacher, my old geography teacher and my old French teacher. Nice to see all of them. Not much to report. I’m getting itchy feet to have a wander around, and I can see that Charles Hodgkinson is edging ever closer. He was a contemporary of mine, and unless my hearing is deceiving me, he still makes that odd croaking noise which was the only thing that he was notable at school. I do hope he hasn’t waited since the 80s for this moment. That would be quite sad. Or maybe he’s just come to have a look around his old school and is pleased to see some faces from his past. That wouldn’t be sad at all. Isn’t that essentially why I’m here? I don’t make a croaking noise though, do I? I nearly ask Rob for some reassurance, but manage to restrain myself instead.
“Let’s go for a wander.” He’s sort of hovering at my shoulder, and I think he’s trying to make himself invisible. I reckon he’s happier at the idea of moving away from these people than I am.
We slink off into the main building and start to explore.
I don’t know what I was expecting, but it’s all still there and everything seems to still be in the same place. I wonder if they still have two shifts for dinner, one at five-thirty and one at six? I wonder if the custard still comes in a giant vat with a crust of skin about an inch thick on the top. I bet it isn’t as nice if it doesn’t. It’s in the dining room that I realise why the Archer name hasn’t been forgotten at Charnborough. There are honours boards lining the walls detailing things like Captain of School, Captain of Rugby, Scholars and that kind of thing. Over the whole time that I was there, I must have read some of those names hundreds of times, thousands of times. I used to wonder what kind of a person Stephen Capley must have been to have appeared on those boards so many times. I’d say he must have been an unbelievable geek, but that doesn’t tally with being captain of rugby. Would you really want to know him? I think I’d have hated him. A goody-two shoes at best, and a horrible, crawling worm at worst. Of course, by the time I had left, the name James Archer was on the boards six times – one more time than Stephen Capley. God I hate myself. Heaven knows what kind of reaction the simple mention of my name must provoke in hundreds of people who once ate in this dining room. If it’s anything like the way that I felt about Stephen Capley, then it’s probably better that I don’t get to meet many of them.
Perhaps Stephen Capley is here today. Perhaps we could share a moment.
Rob and I move on upstairs to the dormitories. Each dormitory has a name. In my time they were all named after great generals: Napoleon, Wellington, Haig (yeah, I know), Montgomery, Wolfe. Going to bed was like a little history lesson. As we walk down the corridors, I notice a new one. I think this used to be a laundry room. Now it’s a dormitory called “Lennon”. I think they must have had a change of naming policy.
You know what the really amazing thing is though? The place smells the same. I first noticed it in the dining room, but now I’m picking it up everywhere: the dormitories, the changing rooms, the boot room, the classrooms, the gym… and sadly the toilets, but I suspect that toilets smell the same almost everywhere. It’s probably no great revelation to you, but I’m knocked out by how evocative the smells are; they throw me right back to be ten years old. I can remember polishing my shoes at night, just before I head off to bed. I can remember pulling on my boiler suit and Wellington boots to head off to the woods during break time.
It seems we aren’t the only people to have wanted to escape the crowds and just wander. We are approached by a girl. Although it was technically a mixed school, there weren’t very many girls at Charnborough when I was there. In a school of several hundred boys, there were perhaps twenty girls. Oh yes, they focus on a rounded education here.
I recognise this girl before she gets close enough to speak. It’s Caroline Johnson. Caroline was head girl to my head boy (well, technically she was head girl to my head of school, but I wouldn’t want you to think that the exact nature of our hierarchical relationship was still important to me after eighteen years). Inasmuch as I knew about these things, I had never considered Caroline to be an especially pretty girl. She was a farmer’s daughter, and somehow just looked it, especially after she had somehow managed to knock out one of her front teeth. By the looks of things though, she has aged into her skin.
She recognises me, in spite of the fact that at some point in the course of the last eighteen years I have grown a bit, and I’m balder than I was too (when I was a pupil here, we used to be in the habit of damping our hair down with a bit of cold water in the morning so that we could style it. Someone once told me that doing this would make me go bald in later life. I laughed this off, partly because it sounded like rubbish even then, but mainly because I knew that my dad had a full head of hair. “I’ll believe it when it happens to me”, I said, and there’s a part of me believes firmly that my subsequent hair loss can only be explained by this).
“Hello Caroline. How are you?”
I have two overriding memories of Caroline. The first was when we were both down by the swimming pool at the bottom of the grounds one summer evening. On nice days we were allowed to have a swim before we went up to bed. I can’t remember if I was actually swimming or not, but I do remember Caroline seeing a figure in a broad hat walking down towards the pool from the direction of the main school building, and she instantly set off. It was her elder brother returning from a year away in Australia. The thing that I specifically remember about this was the way that he swept his sister off her feet when she reached him, and gave her an enormous hug. The second memory I have is of the two of us sitting in the corner of the common room after games. I was feeling ill with what turned out to be a nasty bout of the measles, and Caroline was just sitting with me keeping me company. Isn’t it funny what sticks in your mind.
I think she recognises Rob, but I think I may have to do some introductions, as I don’t think that she can remember his name. Or is the cunning swine trying to disappear again to leave me with all of the small talk?
“I’m well. I never really expected to see you here”. Why the hell not? Why would I not be at this Open Day? Do you all laugh at me at the other reunions?
“Well, I was passing…” I shrug. It’s actually quite nice to see her.
It turns out that she has come along on her own, and asks us if we mind her tagging along with us whilst we wander around the grounds. Of course we don’t. We continue our stroll around the new classroom block (the science classroom smells just the same, although all of the furniture in the room looks strangely small to me). Whatever else has happened in our lives since we last spoke in 1987, we have a shared past and we can make small talk on the basis of that. I update Caroline on how I have followed the well-beaten path from prep school to public school to university to job. Amazingly she has done the same thing, only she studied at an agricultural college and is working as a farm manager. Sounds like a useful job to me, and her father (and brother) must be proud.
“I haven’t been back to Charnborough since the day I left, but when I got the invitation through the post, I thought it might be quite nice to have a look around the old place, so here I am.”
“Have you come on your own?” Rob is single, but I think he’s making conversation, rather than angling for an opening.
“Yes.” She’s not wearing a wedding ring, but one doesn’t like to make assumptions based upon one’s memories of a slightly awkward girl missing a front tooth. Well. All right. One does.
“I’ve left my husband at home with our daughter.” So much for my memory. I sneak a glance at Rob, and he seems to be taking the news well. We’re in danger of a silence.
“How old is your daughter?” I think the correct thing to do in these circumstances is to feign interest in the offspring.
“She’ll be five in March. She’s quite a handful. She starts at big school in a couple of years”. There is nothing more certain to make me feel the passage of time than the age of someone else’s kids. Five years old. At least she’s stopped counting in months. I hate that. Why say 36 months when you mean three years. I imagine there’s some guidebook that tells you at what age you have to stop doing that and start counting properly. I nearly ask Caroline, but restrain myself to asking about her brother.
“He’s a farmer, he’s taken on the farm from my dad”. Who’d have thought, eh?
I start to feel old and a little bit sad. I am thirty-one years old. I don’t have a daughter, I have a job but I don’t really feel like I have any grasp on my career. Caroline seems to be sorted on every count. She is happy and she looks it. How can this be so? She’s welcome to her happiness, but my name is on the honours board six times! Does that count for nothing?
I didn’t meet Carl on my first day at Charnborough. He wasn’t there. I didn’t meet him until I went up to the dormitory one night to discover that there was an extra person there. Term had started the week before, but here was Carl. In all the time I knew him, he never really explained this to me. I know that his father was a self-made man, and that before his couriering business really took off, he had done all sorts of things, including driving a taxi. I think that the reason for Carl’s late arrival was that his father got the necessary funds to pay the fees at the very last minute. Carl never liked to talk about money – because his father had lots and I think he was a little embarrassed by it. Naturally, at a fee-paying school like Charnborough, he was far from unique in having wealthy parents, but he always seemed to be acutely conscious of his father’s humble background.
I don’t think we were even really friends at the start, and we weren’t in many of the same classes. It wasn’t until I was moved up a class and into the year above that we began to spend a lot more time together. Because we were both a year ahead of our age group, we spent two years in the sixth-form together as the rest of our peers caught up. Instead of sitting the same classes for a second year, we were put into a scholarship stream and prepared for our Public School entrance exams. As if this wasn’t enough, our parents had put us both down for the same House in the same school, so we were likely to be spending a lot more time with each other over the next five years.
I got the scholarship. Carl did not.
Carl did get his name up onto the honours board once though: he didn’t get an academic scholarship, but he was awarded an art scholarship. He was – he is – a very talented artist, but I think he saw this as second-prize. Perhaps he had scholarship envy. Perhaps he had board envy.
Dammit. I’m talking about Carl again. Caroline hasn’t even asked me about him. She probably assumes that I haven’t seen much of him either. I don’t bother to bring him up. What could I say? We wander around the school for a little longer, posing for photos in a few places. I get Rob to take a picture of me hamming it up at the organ in the assembly room. Caroline asks if we would mind posting her copies of the pictures. Of course not. She hands me her address.
I lost it before I could remember to send her the prints.
As the afternoon begins to wind down, I begin to get a slightly uncomfortable feeling. It’s been pretty good to spend a couple of hours wandering around the place. There are ghosts from my past at almost every turn. There’s the step where Mark Jones came haring round a corner, tripped and nearly lost his eye. I can almost still see where the tell-tale drips of blood tracked his progress up to Matron and some stitches. I think he joined the RAF. I must look him up on that website to see what he’s been up to. There’s the radiator outside the dayroom that I used to sit on when it was cold, and where my friend Chris first introduced me to the “The Dark Knight” returns, a batman comic that I’m still reading eighteen years later. Much to Catherine’s bemusement. I think Chris is an artist now. All these people were an important part of my life, but they have now all but disappeared from view. How many of them do I still speak to? There’s Rob of course, but apart from him I don’t think there is anyone else now that I cannot count Carl. I am hit by a sudden wave of affection for Rob and a pervasive sadness that these people have dropped out of my life. Many of them I haven’t seen since the day I left the school. A few, like Rob and Carl, went on to attend the same public school and so we stayed in touch, the rest just faded from view. I never really thought about it before, but suddenly all I can think about is how they have been getting on, how they have been living their lives. I don’t know if this sudden wave of nostalgia is hitting me because of Carl, or simply because walking around the place has brought the memories flooding back. Perhaps it’s both. It’s a melancholy feeling, and I have the sudden urge to get home to Catherine and to seek some comfort.
Hang A Shining Star - Chapter One
Right, In the grand tradition of Swiss Toni, I am going to start posting my NaNo novel. I need to finish it, and having feedback will help, I am sure. So, if its good, let me know. If its terrible, tell me to jump ship so I dont waste anymore time.
Oh - it is set at Christmas, so sorry about that...
"For Christmas time is tradition time - - Traditions that recall the precious memories down the
years, the sameness of them all." * Helen Lowrie Marshall
Christmas is a time for tradition. There is a comforting, yet odd beauty in the rituals we set for
ourselves over the years. How we say to ourselves, ‘It isn’t Christmas unless I do this or that.’
There is a special feeling that comes from laying out each special ornament, hanging the star on
the tree, or breaking the wishbone with a loved one every year.
There is this feeling that tugs at your chest and pulls at the corner of your eyes. It makes you
breathe deeply and smile. You look out the window hoping to see snow. You wander through the house singing Christmas songs and doing little dances around the corners.
I love Christmas traditions. I love the feel that it is the same, yet different. I love adding
something special to each passing year. Somehow, the memories seem sweeter as each year
passes. And each memory feels more special to me, as I do over again every year.
Growing up, my family had a number of traditions. Christmas was an event we did together, on
one special day. I looked forward to it for weeks at a time, thinking of how I would see all of my
aunts, my cousins and my grandma and grandpa. I looked forward to the stories and the joking
We would get up early in the morning, and put up the Christmas tree together. Giggling, we
would take turn plugging in the lights, and laughing at the one strand that never stopped blinking. We would set aside our favorite ornaments to put on last, in a place of prominence. We would tease Grandma over the theme she had chosen for each year, and sing songs as we unwound the tinsel from its cardboard holder and wound it about the tree. I would stand close the tree and breathe in the smell of the ornaments, that musty, sweet aged smell that comes with age and love and being wrapped in newspaper year after year. I would rub my nose against the tinsel until I sneezed, and grin at my Aunt Catharine telling me I wouldn’t sneeze like that if I kept my face out of the tree, and how one day I was going to sneeze so hard I would knock the tree over.
We would finish with the tree and go outside to help Grandma put up the outdoor Christmas
lights. My sister Moriah and I would get in the way, dancing around the yard with the light-up
soldiers and angels. I can still hear my Grandpa yelling from the porch that we should stop all our silliness and come sit with him, he had cocoa on the porch. Cocoa with Grandpa was always
better than Aunt Susanne telling us about her days of dreaming she wanted to be a ballerina, and how if we kept eating cookies we would never be ballerinas. James always pointed out to her that the hippos in Fantasia were ballerinas. She would say "Hush, son." And he would scurry to the porch with us, where we basked in the warmth of Grandpa’s arms and cocoa and his love.
When we started to get older, Grandpa would let us come inside with him when we were finished and he would let us "help" him with dinner until the ladies ran us out. We would poke at the bag of giblets and put our fingers in the gravy. Sniffing in the back, we usually found cookies, pies and home made candy that we could sneak away, or slip to Grandpa when Grandma wasn’t
As I grew older, and I could decide whether or not I wanted to go to the Christmas preparations, I kept going. At first, it was a way to keep in touch with all of my aunt as I got older and we all
grew apart with school, jobs and families. When I was little I would see them all the time, and we joked and laughed about our everyday lives when we got together. When they began to be busy
with their own families, get married and have children of their own, I would ask them how my
new uncles were or when they would go ice skating with me like he used to. It seemed we
stopped seeing each other the way we used to, and I grew to miss those times throughout the
When the family stopped coming, and it was just me, or me and a my mom and sister, I kept
coming to help Grandma and Grandpa with the decorating and cooking because I knew it was
important to them. My family as always been taught to love and respect traditions, and it made
my grandparents sad to see it slipping away. I wanted to show them that I remembered. That I knew how they felt, and I wanted to keep the traditions with them.
When grandpa got sick, and passed on, it seemed like no one wanted to be there at all, even my
mom, who always was there. I could see the heartbreak in my grandmother’s eyes the year I was the only one who came to help. We stuck it out though, and we loved to spend the time together every year. It reminded me of the times when I was little. As I put up the tree with her I would remember the sense of amazement I felt at how big and beautiful the tree was. It was amazing, exciting. I felt the love coming from my family with every bulb we hung, cookie we baked and light we strung.
This day depresses me now, just a little. The older I get, the more I wish I was a child again. The more I wish things would go back to the way they were. I see how Grandma still waits by the
door, thinking someone might show up late. I see how she sighs when we break the wishbone
together. It breaks me a little bit inside every year.
I come now from habit. I have my Grandfather’s spirit. I refuse to let the traditions die. I refuse to forget the memories we made when I was a child.
I want to make each Christmas better. I don’t know how. I don’t know which Christmas will be
the one. But one year, I will feel that special feeling I had as a child. I will be amazed at the love
of my family. I will feel warm with their laughter and smiles. I cling to that feeling. The one I hold inside from all those Christmases, the ones from what seems to be ages ago. I want to get it back. I will get it back. I have to.
Pioneers - Chapter One: Ascendency
Sorry I've been away for awhile, it wasn't intended. But the good news is that I've finished Chapter One of Pioneers, a science fiction piece. It's told, in retrospect, by what will become the main protaganist in later chapters (I'm already planning chapter 2 right now).
Pioneers is based on the computer game Phantasy Star Online, which was a Massively Multiplayer Online game made for consoles back in 2002 - visually stunning and with a great sound track. As far as I know, no one really wrote up the story about it though.
Before I post it, I just wanted to add that I'm not very good with writing long pieces. As I posted in my blog, I excel in the sprint, not the long distance. I kind of like to tie things up very quickly, concentrating on quality descriptions and conversational narrative rather than a long drawn out story. So go easy on me please, I'm very uncomfortable trying this out...
Imagine a spring day, where in the morning the sunlight has just that sort of radiance that makes you smile. A spring day where the smell of honeysuckle drifts through the air, a day where children laughingly play in the parks with dogs yapping at their heels. A time of freshness and rebirth, where you have a bounce in your step as you walk on your way to work. It was a day like that when the world abruptly came to an end; or thereabouts.
Throughout the parks, the ground shuddered, like a minor earthquake, and had it just been confined to one area, then it might have been dismissed for some such. But no, it had been felt across the continents, those in daylight and those shrouded in darkness. Viewing channels sprang to life as the media companies began to disseminate the very scary information that the quake had been felt across all landmasses at exactly the same time.
They say that there were those in the government who had known for decades about this eventuality and that this was nothing new. Certainly enough they released the knowledge incredibly quickly. Studies had been done, scientists had evaluated, and governments had kept secret.
The world was coming to an end.
Panic flared throughout the major cities, people fled to the countryside, to the remotest areas they could find. But of course, there was nowhere far enough to go, nowhere that would ensure their safety. The military were drafted into the major cities to keep the peace and even though several thousand people were killed in the ensuing riots, the vast majority of inhabitants returned to their abodes and wailed and gnashed their teeth in quiet fury of their eventual demise.
The details of the impending doom of the world were released to the public in a day-long news conference. Something about how the magnetic field of the planet had been breaking down over the past few centuries and how now it was going to finally collapse – something like that. Even though everyone was glued to his or her media channel, it was just too much to take in, in one sitting. People just couldn’t get their heads around what their government was saying.
Of course, now we know that this was something that had been coming a long time. Vast projects to mine minerals and materials from the planet had finally done to the world what we, its war-like inhabitants, could never have been able to do in a million years. Ironically, the Pioneer project was the final project to rape the planet of its mineral and material wealth. When the Pioneer star ships finally launched themselves into space, all that was left behind was the doomed voices of over several billion lost souls, deemed too useless to society, and the wasted, barren planet that we once called home.
Of course, I’m getting ahead of myself.
Once the world began to take stock of the consequences of their actions in the past and the inevitable destruction of our species and of our home, mineral and metal obsessed corporations and governments began to set aside their differences to fund practically any project that bore the ability to salvage our race from extinction.
Before the quakes, the Pioneer Project had been a scientist’s wet dream. It had had no funding and no backing of any real worth. But the scientists working on it spent their free time devoted to pursuing the intricacies of space travel and how it would all work. My grandfather, Leonid Malagance, who was in his thirties at the time, wasn’t a big wig. He was just a guy who did some number crunching and thought up fancy names for ideas. But that was before everything changed.
The Pioneer Project had been highlighted by one such corporation, and while before funding was pitiful, suddenly there was an abundance of resources and wealth. Suddenly, people were taking notice and action. Of course, it might have been a dead end but here we are. Pioneer would become a dream given form, a way of leaving behind our mundane worries and travelling to the stars, to explore the unknown possibilities of the universe.
It was 10 years later that they did it. I tell myself that it might have been my grandfather that finally resolved the complex mathematical and scientific equations that allowed them to do what they did. But of course although I have no idea what his standing was in the project, I still like to think he had something to do with it. During the course of some hypothetical computer simulations, one of the scientists noticed an infinitesimally small deviation from the expected results; something so small that it didn’t even bear investigating. But investigate it he did, and what he discovered was something that was so monumentally amazing, it had everyone at the Project excited.
What he discovered was that whilst trying to create a simulated Faster Than Light engine, a minscule portion of the output engine ionisation had disappeared. We’re talking about a few hundred particles here, something that could easily have been overlooked. Whilst most of the scientists carried on with the main research, a few splintered off to investigate this anomaly. Where did those particles go, they wondered?
About 2 years later, they had a very, very hypothetically rough idea of what had happened to those particles. When the simulated engine had been powered up, some of the particles had somehow been transported across space to another part of the solar system within the computer simulation. They had discovered this because extensive computer scans had finally demonstrated that there was a patch of minor radiation in our simulated solar system that wasn’t there before. This, then, was what had happened but we would never have found the information if we hadn’t been looking for it.
The particles had somehow jumped about 200,000 miles through space. What the scientists began to theorise was that when the simulated engine was fired up, space had somehow been “folded” to create a link between two points in space.
Here, I’ll try and explain a bit better. Take a piece of paper and fold it. Then take a pin and punch a hole through the paper. Remove the pin and unfold the paper. What you will find are two holes some distance apart, but which have been created by one pin. This is what the scientists decided had happened. Rather than creating a simulated Faster Than Light [FTL] engine, they had, in fact, created a hyperspace wormhole between two points. Obviously, the distance was very minor but the scientists believed that this was due to the duration of the engine burn.
At this decision point, the Project fell into debate and conflict. One group believed whole-heartedly that with the support of the entire world, a faster than light engine could be created. The other group, a very small percentage, believed that a hyperspace wormhole drive could be created and that it could be powered by a much smaller amount of energy than a conventional FTL engine.
Cue ensuing madness.
It was Administrator Lomar who calmed everything down and changed the directionless movement into something more positive.
“Calm yourselves, please. Now, listen to me carefully. These are both very good approaches to the same dilemma but we cannot place our faith in a singular project. Thus, I suggest this project diverges here. One group will evaluate and create this Faster Than Light engine whilst the other will begin work on this theoretical Hyperspace Wormhole drive.
“Now the Lantrian scientists have begun their final theoretical development on a hull for a ship. We have decided, since their ability to create orbital vehicles is far superior to ours, to allow them to design the final space ships we will use to leave this world behind for our new one. Finishing these ships will take many years so please, do not discount any possibilities for interstellar travel. Thank you.”
The proclamation that the Lantrian people, our immediate rivals, would have anything to do with our survival brought about an immediate outrage from our people. Our government responded with a statement that, in no uncertain terms, indicated that these projects were for the survival of the Humar race, and not just for countries or territories any more. Either we would all survive or our race would become extinct, and all our achievements – the rise of the Newmans, genetically engineered Humars with an unlocked gene that would enhance their Force ability, and the ascendancy of Robots that had come to co-exist with our people – would be lost forevermore.
Work began in the Pioneer project, in both camps, but it would be many years before any fruitful results were achieved. The first was a small probe that was launched 8 years later. For a few brief moments it sped through our atmosphere and into space before suddenly ‘jumping’ faster than light and disappearing from our scopes. Months later and we received telemetry from the probe indicating it was billions of miles away, near the edge of our solar system – the race to find a new home was on.
Meanwhile, the Wormhole scientists were having much less luck. The government hushed up their initial design when it successfully created a wormhole but then caused an explosion in deep space that resulted in the deaths of the astronauts of the space ship that had towed it there. Saddened and disheartened, they were ready to dismiss the whole idea but Administrator Lomar encouraged them to continue. He believed that there was something to be gained from the hyperspace wormhole idea, and even if the scientists did not create anything useful, they should take heart that they were working for the survival of our people, even though they were not directly working on the faster than light designs.
During all this time, the quakes began to increase slowly. At first, they were an annoyance but that soon changed when the quakes became unpredictable, striking both civilised areas and wastelands. Countries formerly at war with each other began to rely on international aid from their one time rivals. More and more countries began pouring in aid into the Pioneer project or with the Starfall codex, as the Lantrian project began to be called.
Both projects increased in speed and in numbers of scientists. Engineers were conscripted to help with the building of probes and test vehicles. The military began to draft members into the construction of small Prowler-class sub-light space vessels in an effort to create a small fleet of warships for the defense of the larger space vessels the rest of the population would be travelling on. Advances in Cryogenic suspension were made with the help of the Robots and Newmans, as well as other technological advances.
In time, the Starfall Codex began to be implemented. Over the course of 10 long years, a hull was designed and then constructed just out of orbit of our planet. It was a marvel to see as military vessels patrolled its borders, checking for, well, anything. As more and more modules were flown up, a small orbiting space platform began to grow into a mission headquarters. Heads of State were flown up for tours and media channels were allowed to film the construction of what the Lantrians called, in acknowledgement of our people’s achievements, ‘Pioneer One’ or P1.
P1 was designed with practically everything the Humar and Newman races needed to survive – life support, entertainment, foods, recyclable water supplies, absolutely everything a person could imagine. As the ship began to take shape, it became listed off-limits to all but security personnel and the people directly working on that module. These security precautions were beginning to be enforced due to the attempts of some doomsday madmen who believed that our race should die with our planet. Ultimately, their decisions to terrorise us would result in their wish of a doomsday coming to realisation when we would leave them on our world as it crumbled away.
During the course of construction Pioneer One, work began on a new hull shape. It quickly became apparent that Pioneer Two would be a much larger vessel for the majority of the population whilst Pioneer One would be a medium sized scout vessel. When our government asked theirs, the Lantrians responded by saying that it was their intention to allow Pioneer One to be the advanced scout vessel – a ship that would take engineers, architects and some scientists to the new home world. There, they would begin the majestic task of building and terraforming the new world into something our people would be able to live in.
After much discussion the leaders of both projects finally released the information we had all been waiting for – news of our new home world. The planet was called Ragol 4 and it orbited a star much like our own. Probes sent by faster than light engines had reached Ragol and their telemetry had informed us much about it. It had a similar gravity, a similar size, roughly 10% more water, slightly richer in oxygen and it was crawling with life. Not intelligent life, or at least if they were intelligent, they hadn’t yet begun the creation of a civilisation just yet but life none the less. But it was habitable and it would be somewhere where our people could walk in the fresh air and smell the scents of honeysuckle as they trod bare foot amongst green lush grass.
My grandfather didn’t have much time for either statements; he had been told that he unfortunately wouldn’t be able to journey to our new home. Most of the people on the two projects had been assured of a place on the ships but those with medical conditions were being screened out. My father told me that when he was sixteen, his father had been told that due to a malignant cancerous growth, he would not be able to come, although his son would.
My grandmother of course stayed with him. I always wonder what it would have been like to remain on our old home world as the cities crumbled away with the quakes, whilst the madmen gloriously revelled in the deaths of everyone around them; whilst you sat there with your loved one and had a last meal and drink before everything around you exploded into the void.
Whilst work on the FTL engines was finally nearing completion, the hyperspace drive work was just coming to fruition. After several dozen tests, the scientists finally managed to send a probe to Ragol – in far less time than a FTL probe would have taken. This represented a huge advancement and it was decided that Pioneer One would be equipped with the Hyperdrive engine whilst Pioneer Two would be equipped with the FTL drive so that Pioneer One would receive much more time to complete their work on constructing buildings on Ragol before Pioneer Two arrived.
This, of course, meant that the Hyperspace engine had to be completed as soon as possible. Work was immediately shifted over and old friends who had been separated on the Pioneer project were finally reunited, along with jokes and stories of “I told you we could do it!”. It was an amazing time and the Hyperspace Engine began to take shape.
Meanwhile, the quakes were getting much worse. Those able bodied people who were working on the projects were finally transported to orbital platforms that had been transformed into living quarters. Reconstruction on our cities was finally abandoned as the projects began to overtake everything else that mattered to our people.
Finally, the rivalry between our differing nations was put aside as the various heads met to discuss who would become the leaders of our new world. Eventually, our leaders emerged and announced that forever more we would be known as the Humar people, that no nation would claim sovereignty over another. Newmans and Robots were now considered free people and that ties of ownership were forevermore removed. The Lantrians and our nation no longer existed.
Pioneer One was finally fully constructed when I was 8. I had been born in space, aboard an orbiting platform, under simulated gravity with simulated light and recycled air. The space traveller generation had finally arrived and looked down to the world their grandparents had called home, wondering what it felt like to walk upon real green grass and to breath non-recycled air. But we weren’t allowed to travel down there for fear of contamination. Ironically, they had given up caring about the planet, they were more concerned with what we might pick up; that is, if they ever had really cared about the planet to begin with.
I saw my grandfather once, before we left. He was an old man with silver hair and an odd smell about him. He said he was very proud of his son and of me, Crucifer Malagant, his grand son, and gave me a pen telling me that it was this pen that had been used in the theorization about the anomalous readings that had led to the discovery of Hyperspace. I still have it somewhere.
The enormous task of choosing P1’s population began that year. Scientists, heads of state, military personnel, construction workers, and engineers – all sorts of people were being moved over. This, of course, meant more space for the rest of us so living space was expanded. But I wasn’t too happy when my parents were chosen to go with Pioneer One.
They sat me down and told me why they – they, in particular – had to go. My mother was a leading botanist and Ragol had plants that no one else had seen before. It would be an exacting task for our people to research them and for this arduous task they had chosen her. My father was going for a completely different reason. He had been asked to take over the responsibilities of his father, my grandfather, who had specifically chosen his son to replace him. It was a great honour and one that no one would have been able to turn down.
And so I watched, from the living space of my foster parents, as Pioneer One’s sub light engines powered up, leaving sparks trailing like behind it like a firework display. We all watched mesmerized as the powerful Hyperspace engines began to create the huge wormhole directly ahead of P1.
We all held our breath as Pioneer One moved in the direction, as its nose tipped downwards and then slipped into the wormhole before disappearing out of sight. A tear ran down my face, as the wormhole closed.
I would never see my parents alive again.
One foot in the grave - cont.
This takes up directly from where the first part
ends. It's heavy on the dialogue, so please tell me if it doesn't work or if it's still ok. Luv, Hen.
“So, are you going to call him?” Matilda put Carla on the spot.
“No, I gave him my number.”
“Oh, girl! It’s the twenty first century! Men expect you to call them these days. It’s easier for them.”
“Easier or easy? No offence, Matilda, but if the man is interested, he will call. And I am not interested in a man who is not interested enough to make that call.” Matilda raised her pencil thin eyebrows at Carla’s seemingly old-fashioned ideal.
“You haven’t been reading that book have you? The Rules? You know those women are divorced now.”
“Matilda, don’t start on me” Carla made the move toward her desk “Oliver’s staring at us again. God he looks stern. I’m off.”
“You will tell me more.” Matilda ordered “Lunch!”
The foot in the shoe was all over the media. Thankfully the police hadn’t released her name and Carla was managing to maintain some semblance of normality within her life. At lunch with Matilda in the buildings sidewalk café they dissected Carla's lunch date with Marcus. Despite Matilda insisting otherwise, Carla had not called the police officer. He’d given her his card, but so had Detective Davenport and she wasn’t about to call her, so why should she call Marcus?
“Because you like him, ninny!” Matilda scolded.
“Mat, I hardly know him to know if I like him. Like is such an objective word. I am attracted to him, but I am also attracted to the manager of my gym and I’m not about to ask him out.”
“Why not?” Matilda shot back.
“Really, Mati, you’re impossible!”
“No, why not ask him out?” Matilda insisted.
“Because you don’t ask every single person out that you’re attracted to. Life would get too…complicated.”
“Is that what you think my life is?” Matilda feigned hurt.
“Frankly, Mati, yes!” The two women laughed.
“And anyway, he’s gay.” Carla added, sipping on her ice water.
“Who’s gay? Marcus?” Matilda was confused.
“No, the manager of my gym.”
“Oh. That’s a shame.”
“His boyfriend doesn’t think so.” Carla smiled. Matilda nibbled on a carrot stick.
“So, what happens now?”
“What happens with what?” Carla asked.
“What happens with the shoe thing?”
“Well, nothing I guess. I suppose they investigate, find the rest of the man who the foot belongs to and work it out from there. Frankly I don’t care.”
“But you’ve got to admit it’s interesting.”
“For you maybe Mati, but for me, not so.”
“But what if it is the Mafia?” Matilda persisted. Carla shot her a look of despair.
“It’s not the Mafia. And besides, even if it was the Mafia, as you so insist on calling them, I don’t see how it affects me.” Carla took a bite out of her sandwich. Matilda looked worried.
“It would affect you because they will think you know more than you do. They will come and find you and then they will send you the way of the foot. I can’t believe you’re not worried.”
“And I can’t believe you are. Look Matilda, let’s just pretend it didn’t happen and talk about something else.” Carla was about to take another bite from her sandwich when her mobile phone rang. It was a local number she didn’t recognise. She let it go to message bank.
“I don’t know how you can do that.” Matilda looked almost hungry to take Carla’s call.
“It’s easy. You just ignore it.”
“But someone wants to talk to you! Don’t you like talking to people?”
“Well, quite frankly, no.” Carla laughed. She really didn’t care for the phone, or for needless talking. She made exception for Matilda. For all that Matilda drove her insane, she was a good friend and had Carla’s best interest at heart. Carla’s phone beeped, notifying her that the caller had left a voice message.
“Are you going to listen to that?” Matilda was insistent.
“Will it make you happy if I do?”
“Yes.” Matilda said as Carla dialled her voice mailbox. She leant back in the metal café chair and kept a poker face as the voice of investigating Officer Marcus Levy asked her voice mail if she was free that night. At the end of the message, after Levy had left two numbers for Carla to call him back on, Carla flipped her phone shut. Matilda waited expectantly.
“It was officer Levy. He’s like to see me tonight.” Carla couldn’t help but to smile. Matilda shrieked.
“Calm down!” Carla insisted, but was laughing all the same at her friends’ enthusiasm.
“Ohhh! Are you going to call him back?!”
“Not straight away, no.”
“Ohhh! Call him! Call him! I thought you said this wasn’t a game. Call him!”
“Matilda, I will call him. But not straight away. And if I was playing a game I would not make myself available tonight.”
“Does that mean you will?” Matilda asked. Carla thought about that for a moment. It was all happening a little too fast and was more than unexpected. She wasn’t really sure that she was ready for a man like Levy. She wasn’t sure if she was ever going to be ready.
“I really don’t know.” Carla conceded. The disappointment in Matilda’s face was obvious and she was about to protest, but Carla got in first.
“You know why. Don’t give me a hard time about this.”
“But he’s not Byron. And that was six months ago at least now, Carla.” Matilda argued for the absent beau. A pained expression clouded Carla’s eyes.
“Six months not long enough. It…” Carla paused “it hurt, Mati. You of all people should know that.” Matilda put a hand over her friends on the café table. Carla smiled.
“You know I only want you to have some fun, be happy, right?” Matilda asked.
“I am happy. And I have fun every day. With you. That’s enough fun for me.” Carla teased.
“Ha ha. No, really, you need to move on from that jerk.”
“I will. Just give me some time. And I might see Officer Levy tonight yet” Carla offered.
I've finally got some creative writing to share with you (although do be sure to go and check out "It will never go away
" by Jenni and "One foot in the grave
" by Di)
This was originally written as my debut piece
for Alecya's other blog -- "The Secret Room
". If you are a fan of erotic fiction, then I heartily recommend that you get over there and have a look, as the girl can really write.
This is something of a departure for me, but I decided that I wanted to have a go. Let me know what you think.
I wonder if she knows that I’m watching. But how could she know? My eyes are hidden behind mirrored sunglasses and I’m lying so still I could be asleep. I’m watching her so intently I’m barely breathing. She is lounging by the pool, soaking up the late afternoon sun. I don’t think she has even noticed that I’m here. What am I to her? I am nothing. I am less than nothing. I am an ant. I am invisible. And so I watch.
She shifts slightly and my heart skips a beat. She is beautiful. She is incandescent. She stretches her long legs on the lounger and arches her back, but only for a moment before settling back down. It is all I can do to stop myself from reflexively sitting up to get a closer look. I resist. I lie still. I remain anonymous and unseen a while longer.
Her blonde hair is pulled back off her head into a loose ponytail. She has been sweating in the heat, and her hair is slightly damp and a little darker than normal. I close my eyes and I can almost smell it. My eyes shift down and flick again across the length of her long, lean body. She is tall, her long legs stretching to the end of her lounger, one knee slightly bent, her toes hooked over the edge. She parts her lips, opening her mouth slightly to allow her tongue to slide out and flick slowly from left to right, moistening her lips. I am transfixed.
It is a hot day. Her body is glossy with a slight sheen of sweat, a few beads forming around her navel and between her breasts. Her breathing is shallow in the heat and I can see her chest rise and fall. With every breath that she takes, the curve of her belly rises up above the waistline of her bikini bottoms, stretching the fabric for a tantalising moment before she breathes out and the moment passes.
A breath of wind passes and sends gentle ripples across the glassy surface of the pool. She stirs again, and I can see the goose bumps rising on her skin, as though under a lover’s touch.
Suddenly she turns over, rolling onto her stomach so that her back is exposed to the sun. The lounger has made marks across her back; red welts running in parallel lines down her back and across the backs of her legs. She flicks out a hand, reaches around and casually extends a finger inside her bikini bottoms to flick them out around the curve of her buttocks. It’s a small gesture and lasts perhaps five seconds before her hand returns to her side, but to me every move she makes is poetry. She sighs, and her breathing begins to deepen. With every intake of breath, her ribs press against her skin, casting a new set of shadows on her flank. A fly lands on her thigh, and she first twitches and then that hand reaches back again and lazily swats it away.
I want to touch her but I glance at my watch and the sands of time have slipped away and I have to leave. The spell is broken and the moment is gone. I stand to leave, pausing for a moment to see if she will hear me go. Her breathing remains deep and regular, and I slip away unnoticed. When she wakes she won’t even remember that I was there.
Perhaps I never was.