"This can't be right," she said, turning wide eyes to meet the old woman's. "In the stories she never uses it! She lets the sleeping prince and his new bride live; she chooses to turn to sea foam with the dawn rather than kill the man she loves!"
The crone cackled.
"That much is true, dearie. She chose her path and left this world with soul unstained. But her sisters... they chose differently. Mind you, the merfolk believe strongly in justice, and are by nature merciless- that's what made her so unique among them. And after all, they'd traded all their hair- their beauty!- for that dagger, for a single chance to save their sister... Why should they let it go to waste just because she was too weak to use it!"
And then I'm outside, collapsed against the rough brick of the wall, drawing in deep, shuddering breaths. Was that what an asthmatic feels like, in the throes of an attack? I suddenly have a lot more sympathy for my nerdy cousin Alvin. How horrible to constantly feel like you're encountering the ex-love-of-your-life whenever a dog walks by.
This thought makes me giggle. Maybe hysterically; I don't know. What's an appropriate giggle when you're suddenly drowning in four years of memories that you've spent the past seven years flushing?
I bite my knuckle, and the sharp pain focuses my mind. Sharp pain, in contrast to the dull, bone-deep ache that sprang up when I realized that I was not okay, not okay at all and what the hell possessed me to come to this? Sure, Amy was sick and that's why we were all here because we all still love her even if we can't stand one another. Even if, until I got the email, I couldn't even stand the thought of her because of all the other thoughts snarled up in the same ball of horrible painful thought-yarn.
But she was my best friend, man. We did everything together, back then. How could I not come now? And how could I not expect that he would be here, too?
Not that he is. I mean, not his body. But that's not the point- the point is that his presence, it's everywhere, it's in everything. People look at me and they don't see me, they see half of a whole that hasn't existed for a long, long time and it makes me feel like a crippled ghost, you know?
Is it better that he's not here? Do I wish that he was? Would it be easier if it was actually him, instead of just the expectation of him?
I don't know. And I don't know if I can go back in there.
She liked it. It was comforting, like a soft gray blanket to wrap herself up in: something she could hide under, so that the world wouldn't notice her as it went about its dreary business.
She always did feel better in the water.
She wandered down a deserted street, noting the difference between the water droplets striking her bare arms: some fell from the sky, some from the leaves of the trees that arched overhead. Each droplet had different experiences, and therefore brought her different stories. Each one was unique- and yet they blended together on her skin as though they'd never been apart.
They were like God, she thought.
(She didn't bother to explain what she meant by this.)
She'd come to an abandonded field, and as the street lights dwindled in the distance her pupils grew so large that if anyone had been around to see her eyes they'd have seen only the barest hint of color around the edges. Dilated pupils always made her feel like a wild animal- she bared her teeth in the rain: a savage with a grin.
Laughter, bouncing back from the waving grass. She waded through the stalks, danced with them to the variable beat of the droplets. They caught at her hair, at her skirt, each one tugging her a different direction.
"You're unruly," she scolded them, then sank down to lay on her back amongst them. The rain beaded on her eyelashes, and the imagined what the stars were doing behind the clouds. Probably sleeping in, she decided, and rolled over to count the grains of sand mixed in with the soil.
1. I love my rubber-face, I really do. As much as I love the conventionally beautiful photos that Nathan takes of me, I sometimes almost prefer the ones like this, in which I am doing something highly implausible with my expression.
2. I love Jeff's grin. I love that grin because of what it represents: how much fun I have with my brothers-in-law. They really are like brothers to me (the good kind) which is something I'm incredibly grateful for.
3. I love the little thumbs-up Jeff's giving, down in the bottom left corner. It's easy to over-look, but it's the sort of thing that (as we used to put it in our senior art seminar in college) "rewards the patient viewer". Little details like that bring you deeper into a piece, deeper into the story- which in turn deepens your appreciation for both the piece and the artist (regardless of what Nathan has to say about this shot being "not art").
4. The lighting. The lighting- especially on my face- is just fantastic. The ironic thing is that the batteries in Nate's flash had died, and so he was working without it, and therefore a touch crabby (he hates it when his equipment malfunctions) because he didn't have perfect control over the lighting. But he worked with what he had and I think it came out wonderfully- the higher contrast on my face gives the scene a sense of drama. Comedic drama, but drama nonetheless.
(that beautiful woman
they say she enchanted
a valiant knight-
then abandoned him
damned him to wait for her
no one stopped to think
that maybe she, too,
but that he
is on the wrong
(also, in case you haven't read it: La Belle Dame Sans Merci)
"...it's clear that women are willing to buy books by male writers, but men seem much more reluctant to buy books by women."
In my experience, men are not only less willing to read a book written by a woman, they are far less willing to read a book about a woman. Obviously this is a sweeping generalization, and does not apply to every man, but it is definitely prevalent enough that you notice it if you work in The Industry. Even my husband, who happens to adore the Honor Harrington books, as well as author Naomi Novik's work, did not pick those books up without prompting. My mother introduced him to the first, and I to the second.
In their defense, I do believe that men are conditioned to this from a young age. I remember one specific incident where I was working back in the children's section, and a mother came in looking for an adventure story for her son. I gave her a selection that met the criteria she laid our for me, and do you know that woman rejected every single one that had a female protagonist? She even came out and said she would prefer he have a book about a little boy. And these were not coming-of-age stories, people. They were picture books. Like this one. Ladies and gentlemen, the "gender-appropriate" brainwashing of our youth.
It is for this exact reason that, when I started toying with the idea of writing a novel, and I got far enough into it that coming up with a pen name seemed like an excellent Procrastination Exercise (you know you have them, too, fellow writers), I knew without doubt that I wanted one that was at the very least androgynous. Initials are a good way to go, I figured. And then came the quandry- author's photo, or no author's photo? Because I honestly feel like I could probably sell more books if no one knows my gender- specifically if men don't know my gender- but at the same time, I also know that being attractive has rarely hurt anyone's chances at anything. And my husband takes some darn flattering photos of me, knowhatI'msayin'?
(And before anyone points out to me that things like pen names and dust jackets really ought to be reserved for after the novel is finished, I say to them- hush with your kill-joy-ness.)
But the fact that the thought entered my mind at all- what is this, the 19th century? Shall I call myself Currer Bell II, perhaps? To ensure better sales and a chance at legitimacy, rather than being banished to the realms of Genre Fiction? Part of me is disgusted with myself that my brain just automatically went there- but then the pragmatic part of me just sort of shrugs. I guess I, too, am just a product of my society.
Skeptical Jenny O listens to her mother (and others) and dutifully tries native food whilst in Portsmouth, England; her mind (and taste buds) are summarily blown.
So yes, I am now what one might call A Fan of fish and chips, although I have not had them since that fateful day, over three months ago. Recently, however, a Craving rose up in me, and I started to make pathetic I-Need-Fish-and-Chips noises to my dutiful husband. Sunday night we agreed we'd go out and get some during the week. We were going to go out last night, but between one thing and another (Nathan not feeling well and me being Utterly Exhausted and in bed before nine) we didn't. But we promised each other we'd go out tonight, after my eye exam.
We figured that The Fish Market would have fish and chips, but as it turned out they use a country style cornmeal batter for their fried fish, so that was a no-go. The next place Nathan located was McCormick and Schmick's, but I took one look at their menu and realized I could not bring myself to pay $16 a plate for what is essentially the British equivalent of a Big Mac. My boss gave me a few suggestions, and I used them as a springboard to do a little research of my own, until I found The Fox and the Hound. They didn't have their menu online, but I called up and was reassured that yes- they carried properly beer-battered fish and chips, for about $9 a plate. That was more reasonable, so Nate and I declared Success.
As we were walking in he said that it wouldn't be as good as it was in the UK, and I told him I knew that- I knew that it was basically like heroin, and I would spend the rest of my life in search of that "perfect high"- ie, fish and chips that would live up to my memories of the First Time. But I hoped it would at least be "good", if not "perfect". That it might dull the craving for a while, if not fully satisfy it.
Weeelllll.... it kind of did. But as much as I thought I'd braced myself for the disappointment, I must have still been hoping in my secret heart. I was expecting a piece the size of my forearm (we'd had cod, before) but instead it was four tiny pieces, each not even the length of my hand (Nathan posits they were culled from white fish). And rather than the dense, velvety-smooth-yet-flaky flesh I remembered, these guys were... a little gritty. And the batter wasn't airy and crisp- the whole thing was sort of... limp. But the flavor of the batter was okay. And the vinegar was good.
We have to go back to the UK.
Speaking of which, check out Nate's shot from today, which, when I first came in and glanced at it, I thought was from our trip.
Of course, I can't live with my parents yet. They say I have to stay here with the woman who birthed me, at least for a few more years. I'm supposed to call her 'Mother', and I do if there are other people around, because it pleases my parents, but when we don't have company I call her Agnes, because that's her name and she's not my mother. It upsets the others, but I don't care. They aren't my real siblings. All you have to do is look at them and you can tell the difference. Any idiot could. They're all flushed and pink and noisy, constantly breathing in and out and beating hearts and spewing mucus. It's disgusting. I'm glad I'm not like that. But Mother says that I will become more and more like that, until no one will be able to distinguish me from normal people. That frightens me- I don't want to be like them. And I tell Father that the villagers can't tell, anyway, but he says that the sharpest amongst them have noticed a few tell-tale signs, but they don't dare move against me while I'm so young because what if they're wrong and the church takes dim view on child-murder. And then I ask why I can't just come live with them, where it won't matter that I'm not quite human and then they look very sad again and say that I couldn't survive in their home. And I say well why can't we just go somewhere far away from everyone anyway and they say that it's not an option and to be quite and behave myself.
And I do because I love them and I'm afraid if I don't they'll stop visiting me and then I really will be nothing but a stupid human filled with disgusting blood and breath and mucus.
I sometimes wonder about Agnes, tho'. Sometimes I think she knows full well what I am, birthed from her body or not. But it's like... she doesn't care. And sometimes she looks at me with such tenderness and tries to stroke my hair and murmurs about how beautiful my father was, and it frightens me because I don't think she means the man everyone thinks is my father (whose name is Henry and who is not handsome by anyone's standards and anyway he drinks too much), I think maybe she means my real actual father, and I don't like to think about that so I run away. And then other times she can't bear to be around me and just looking at me makes her cry and really, those times are better.
The preacher likes to come around every so often and rant at my so-called siblings about how their antics will land them with the demons in hell. I always laugh behind my hand at this because even if my parents say I'm not fully demon like they are, I'm demon enough and the other children are already stuck with me in this life, so it's like they can't win. The best part is that the preacher thinks I'm an angel, because I'm so much more clever than him and I never get caught at anything and Mother makes certain that I know my bible really well and can quote it on demand because she says you never know when it's going to come in handy, even as a demon. Maybe especially as a demon.
Now, the vast majority of people who may or may not be reading this blog probably don't have any problems whatsoever with my rats. But there are people who do. And this is addressed to them.
When we are at a party and I happen to mention that I have rats, it's totally cool if you want to say something along the lines of, "Ooo, rats. I'm not really down with rats." I mean it would possibly be more polite for you to smile and say, "That's nice," before quickly changing the subject, but it's cool- I get it. Rats are not for everyone. But here's the thing- there is no need for you to go on a long diatribe about how much you are not down with rats. I could quite probably do without the theatrical facial expressions, the repetition of the words "hate" "disgusting" and "bleaugh", and to be frank the pretty dang offensive stories of you having to call the big strong man next door over to discard of the tiny mouse you killed with your stupid trap. And then you made him put it in his garbage can instead of yours, because apparently you're not just skeezed out by rodents, you also fear rodent zombies. I would probably call antics of these sorts "insensitive", to say the least.
It's especially annoying when you act this way even after I've carefully explained that I do not keep New York sewer rats as pets, but rather domesticated fancy rats. Seriously, lady- it's like the difference between a wolf and a particularly good-natured dachshund. Most people would not like to be in the same room with a wolf, no matter how well-behaved. But few of those people would put a dachshund on the same level of Uh-Oh.
And it's not like I'm whipping out pictures of my little darlings, demanding that you admire them- they just came up in passing conversation. Because come on. I cannot tell you how many times I have refrained from using the words "bug-ugly" "disgusting" or "bleaugh" in regards to people's hideous human offspring. And I have never told stories about inhumanely killing them when they stumbled onto my property. So why can't you show me the same consideration when I happen to mention the small creatures in my care? At least mine are cute, well-mannered, and clean.*
*Of course this entire paragraph in no way relates to the children of any of the people I know and love... I'm only friends with people who have superior genes, so they necessarily breed superior kids.
But back to Zumba.
I love aerobic dance classes, primarily because I love to dance, period. And Zumba is lots of fun because it's a lot of music you don't normally hear when you're out clubbing (ha hah- as if I've seen the inside of a club in the past year). I'm talking cumbia, belly dance, tango... the list goes on. The downside to that is that there are certain dances that are set on, like, the third beat, which results in my tripping all over myself as I try to do my more familiar four. But that's cool- I know how to look good whilst tripping.
I wish I could go to more dance classes- but unfortunately they're scheduled during times when I'm a) already teaching my own class or b) during the weekend, when I'm often out of town. I know I should get out and dance more often (it makes me almost as happy as surfing) but sadly no one seems to know of any good places to go dancing around here. Furthermore, I find that when it gets to be ten or eleven at night (the time to go out) I start feeling like it's probably not so much worth the effort of getting all dolled up when I have a perfectly nice bed waiting for me.
Oh, so very ancient and decrepit.
I'd be more likely to make the effort for a sure thing- a club I knew would be playing excellent techno, that's not a meat-market, with a reasonable cover charge and nearby parking (or hell- within walking distance of my apartment would be ideal). But the thought of putting in all that work just to find another lame place (or worse, one of the ones that is constantly being shut down due to knifings) is just... exhausting. Especially since the mister is not one for clubbing, himself. Nor are any of the other people I seem to meet. ::sigh::
I hammered away a bit at Preconceptions (or Preconception, singular, as it has become in my files) today. I think I might actually go somewhere with that one- it's fun. Also? Finally got around to seeing Layer Cake. Delicious. As was the cold velvet corn soup I made for dinner, which Nathan demanded we eat while it was still warm because it smelled so good. Man I love food.
I wish I could say that this time it's different- that it starts with a whisper at midnight or a smoking gun or hell, even something dropped in my drink- but the truth of the matter is that it starts just like it always does:
With a dame.
It's after-hours, which for me is any time I decide I'd rather have my feet up than my nose to the stone- one off the perks of being freelance, get me? So it's after-hours and my ankles are crossed on my desk and a flask is weighing heavy in my hand and the "closed" sign is definitely in the door, but does she care?
Do they ever?
So she walks right in, heels clicking on the tile and I'm thinking to myself, "Gotta' get that damn lock fixed," and then I see what's attached to those heels and all I can think is, "Damn."
"I want to talk to the PI," she says, in a tone that tells me she's all business. "Tell him I'm here."
Well now I like a gal who knows what she wants, but I like it better when she uses what's between her ears. "What's it say on the door?" I drawl, taking a slow sip. It's still after-hours, after all.
"Robert A Harriman, Private Investigator."
"But- you're a woman!"
"Thanks for noticing, sister. And it's Roberta Harriman. 'Course, you missed the 'closed' sign, too, so maybe you ought to give in and put your cheaters back on."
"Oh shit. Ohshitohshitohshit!" This screech came from the largest of the three men in the car, and was let loose at an octave that made the others wonder, briefly, about the height of their companion's testicles. Their minds were swiftly re-focused, however, as the silhouette in the road began to stalk toward them with a very familiar swing of the hips.
"Oh shit," muttered the front-seat passenger, mentally forgiving the man in the backseat for his earlier shriek. Apparently Gooner had been quicker to recognize the situation. "Shit, Lizard Daddy, I'd know those curves anywhere! It's-"
"I know who it is, Chains," snapped the driver, knuckles whitening on the wheel. "It's that damn Sassy Alabaster!"
"What are we gonna' doooo?" wailed Gooner as he clutched at their head-rests.
"What do you mean, what are we going to do?" asked Lizard Daddy through gritted teeth. "We're gonna' run that bitch down!"
"I'm sorry but... I don't understand, Excelsis One. The flood worked so well the last time- why not go that route again?"
"Because, Raguel," the Creator sighed, obviously feeling burdened. "Because of the damn dirty atheists."
Raguel flinched. When He called someone "damned", He meant it. "I- the atheists, Glorious One? Will they not be wiped out just as easily by flood as any other mortal?"
"Yes, well, that's rather the problem, isn't it? Back in the good old days, I could send down a flood, or a meteor, and by Me people knew that I was pissed. These days they start talking sun flares and weather patterns and el neen-whatever, and go about their sordid business, with nary a sacrifice in sight. It's depressing. I mean, is it too much to ask for a little bit of credit for One's work?"
"Of course not, Your Most Auspiciously Self-y One."
" 'Self-y One'. Hmph. That's new."
"Well yes, I just now thought of it, Lord."
"Hmph. I think I like it. Anyway the point is that if I send down legions of sleep-deprived angels with flaming swords it may not be as efficient as flooding the earth- the slaughter might not be quite as wholesale- but at least people will know it's Me sending the message, and not some made-up Mexican."
I'll just wait until you're done snickering, shall I?
It's possible that you remember this post from a while back, in which I picked apart the squandered potential of Daybreakers. Just in case you don't feel like going back to it, here the part of that entry which is especially pertinent to tonight's entry:
"...I fully expect a thoroughly bad movie with Legion. I mean, come on- end of the world, holed up in a diner, fallen angel Michael defending the soon-to-be-mother-of-the-next-messiah from other, non-fallen angels (sent by a pissed-off God, no less) with a sword and automatic guns. Eff. Yeah. Everything about that movie sounds terrible (well, minus Paul Bettany, whom I sort of adore a lot) but that's part of the appeal for me- there's no pretending to be anything more than what it is- a movie about kicking ass. In a diner. Against freaky-deaky angels who remind us that they're just demons who haven't fallen yet. Brilliant. Social commentary on our squandering of natural resources? Um, no. Decapitation? Probably yes."
Gentle readers, I should not have hoped for decapitation; I did not receive it. And as bad a movie as I expected Legion would be- it was even worse. I'm talking it was so bad that Nathan and I agreed that Paul Bettany must have lost a friggin' bet to have been a part of it. So bad. So very, very bad.
The moment I realized that the movie had lost me was a small one- probably not even noticed by your average movie-goer. And you'll laugh because it's such a nit-picky thing, but to me it was important. There is a scene in which a (yet to be revealed as possessed) woman orders a rare steak. When they bring it out to her the damn thing is raw. Not rare- raw. And that just... it just pissed me off, readers. A rare steak is one that has been seared on the outside and left red on the inside. It is not effin' raw. So in that moment, when they felt the need to point out how creepy this woman is because she's eating her meat raw, I knew that they weren't even going to try.
The other thing that I kept exclaiming about? (Because oh yes- we MST'd the crap out of this film right from the opening credits) Surprisingly fragile angels. You'd think that celestial beings would be impervious to bullets. Or, at the very least that they couldn't be killed by them. Well you'd be wrong. Also you'd be wrong if you thought you couldn't choke an angel to death. So very wrong. As such, I kept remarking about the serious design flaws in the angels (and by the way apparently Heaven is a space ship? In the sky? Who knew!) because man- God was apparently not thinking things through on that one!
Okay, enough blasphemy for tonight. All I can say is, I hope someone with a shred of non-suckiness can maybe take the bare bones of Legion and turn it into something worth reading (perhaps a comic? Eh?). As with Daybreakers, the concept was pretty great (especially had they chosen not to take themselves so damn seriously) but the execution? ::shudder::
Also? Check out the finished (and highly adorable if I do say so myself) product:
No, wait. First I'd better explain that her name isn't actually Anne-Marie. It's Chanel. You know, like the fancy perfume? Yeah, her mother named her that because her mother thought it was would be a chic, urban name for a little girl to have. Anne-Marie's mother is very chic and urban herself, but that's to be expected, since she was born and raised in the city where we all live. And I don't mean the used-to-be-suburbs-now-called-"the city"-because-modern-suburbs-are-so-much-more-depressing part of the city, where there's still the occasional yard and even a driveway or two. We live in the actual city, nothing but glass and concrete and fluorescent lights and maybe a park if there aren't too many indigents around. But once young Chanel got old enough to start having her way about things, she went from Chanel to Anne-Marie. I asked her once why she chose that name, and she said because of Mary Ann Summers, from Gilligan's Island. And then I asked why not just go for Mary Ann, and she looked at me like I was crazy and said she might be from the city where morals were a little looser, but she wasn't about to go around stealing peoples names.
And that's the thing about Anne-Marie: most kids our age would give anything to live here, where it's exciting and glamorous and there's always something new and none of it ever sleeps. But not Anne-Marie: she longs for the country-side. It's the weirdest thing. I am certain there are girls who pin up pictures of New York, Paris, and Milan in their bedrooms: but not Anne-Marie. Do you know what she has on her walls? Cornfields. I am not even making this up. Like I said- the weirdest thing.
But then I'm not entirely normal myself (no one else our age really cares about architecture), so I overlook her bizarre preferences. And I will say that she's managed to uncover some of the coolest places in this city. I'm not talking about exclusive clubs, or hole-in-the-wall diners that are actually portals to taste-bud nirvana. Nah, any urban girl worth her salt has an arsenal of those kinds of places. But Anne-Marie... she knows where we can go to get wheat. Actually, growing-out-of-the-ground wheat, in the frigging city. And she's discovered this random wooden door back behind a condemned apartment complex that she is certain leads to her own secret garden, if we could figure out a way to get over the wall without shredding ourselves in the razor wire.
So she's a weird girl, and we have weird adventures- but I wouldn't have it any other way.
Well I'll tell you what comes after: embroidery.
That's right, embroidery. I take those cast off mortal threads and I use them to embellish the universe. So much dark canvas stretching out before me- how could I not take advantage of it? Anyway what else am I supposed to do with my time? Let's face it- cutting off a life only takes a split-second, and then I'm stuck waiting around for the next thread to be spun and measured. My sisters may call my hobby morbid, but in truth I believe it's because they are jealous. Indeed, there are times when I think Lachesis deliberately measures out shorter lives just so that it's more difficult for me to utilize the thread. And don't even get me started on Clothos, who wants to spin just about everyone's lives in the most boring colors imaginable. She says it's not practical to make everyone's life a different color, and blah blah blah limited dye batches- but I say who gives a fig for practicality? Embroidery isn't about practicality, it's about embellishment. And it's damned hard to embellish with a dull ecru thread that only spans fifty years. I mean really.
i turn my face to the sun
awaiting your touch.
sailing deep blue skies
you glide back into my life
tasting of nectar.
your honey-tongued lies...
i stand rooted by our past
swaying in this breeze.
gentle brush of lips
turns my trembling to a dance;
i have surrendered.
a final caress
from fluttering heart/wing beats...
your love flown once more.
Wherefore the hedge-pig? (I'm not British, but it's more fun to say that way, isn't it?) Well, according to Nathan, his brother (that being JRSR) had a pet hedge-pig when he was younger, that went by the name of Hobart. Apparently Hobart was pretty much the worst pet ever- he didn't like to be touched, and he had the means to ensure that his preferences were respected. Furthermore, he ran all night long, which rarely does much to endear one to one's diurnal college student owner. Hobart was either given away or returned to the pet shop, but my brother-in-law retains a fondness for his species: hence the bib.
I, too, am rather fond of them. In fact, I've a track record with spiny creatures, myself. When I was in about the fifth grade my school had something called Writer's Workshop, a wonderful program which taught kids about the writing process (complete with brainstorming, first, second, and final drafts, as well as critiques of each). One of the stories my time in WW turned out was the story of Bob the Bashful Porcupine. Bob had the unfortunate habit of blushing bright red with the slightest provocation. I can't remember exactly what the plot was... although I know it ended happily: I believe with his marriage to Patricia the Porcupine, who thought his blushes to be exceptionally cute (there was even an ill-advised attempt at a sequel concerning their rainbow-hued offspring). In restrospect a blushing hedge-pig would probably be much more adorable than a porcupine, so maybe I ought to revisit the theme one of these days...
Oh, in case you're curious, here's my progress so far*:
*(and by so far I mean by 08/15, because that's when I had Nathan take this picture)
It was so excellent to have people over for dinner, especially people we get along with so well. You probably know that I'm something of a social creature, and I really do love playing hostess- it's just that I haven't spent a lot of time living in apartments that work well as social venues. Even now we can't have more than like three (maybe four, if they don't mind wonky chairs) people over at any given time- and those people had better not be allergic to cats. The fact that we had my Mom and Dave over last week, and this week we got to have Sam and Cory... well. I'm feeling like quite the little socialite these days.
After they left Nathan and I did his night-time shot, which I think came out quite well:
"I. Cannot. Believe you let it happen! Tonight!" her short, freckle-faced sister hissed from the shadows. Crap. "Tonight of all nights! I cannot believe you, Zoe! How could you? How could you?!"
Zoe winced. No one did righteous indignation like Bianca. It was one of the many obvious differences in their temperaments.
"C'mon Bia, you know it's not like I make it happen,"
" 'It's not like I make it happen,' " Bianca mimicked, round face twisted into a sneer. "Well you could try a lot harder to keep it from happening! I mean, do you know what I was doing when you pulled me away?"
Zoe's fine-boned face immediately flushed.
"Um, yes. It was kind of hard for me not to notice that I was suddenly kissing Derek Wagner."
The temperature in the room immediately dropped by several degrees.
"What did you say?"
Crap. Apparently Derek had gone in for the kiss the moment Zoe's anxiety had triggered the Switch.
"Er, nothing," she backpedaled, but Bianca wasn't having it. She grabbed Zoe by the arm, short nails biting deep.
"Are you telling me," this through gritted teeth, "Are you telling me that you got my first kiss with Derek Wagner-all-star-quarterback while I was getting your dumb body down out of that tree?"
Zoe's heart-rate shot up, and they Switched. Suddenly it was her nails digging into Bianca's arm. Which technically had been the case all along, but now her consciousness was back in it's home body.
"I didn't know it was your first kiss!" she protested, immediately releasing her sister. "I thought you'd been kissing him for ages! Besides, the last time I stopped doing whatever you were doing when we Switched you got mad at me!"
"That's because you made me look like a totally spastic freak by running off the football field in the middle of halftime! Do you have any idea how long it took me to repair the damage that little stunt did to my reputation?" Bianca stomped over to a mirror to check her face. She always did this after they got their proper bodies back, as though afraid that Zoe had somehow marked it during her brief possession.
"But Bia, if I'd dodged Derek's kiss, he would have thought you didn't want him kissing you!" Zoe could hear the whine in her voice: she hated that whine. Hated that she was the timid younger sister of Bianca the Bold. Hated that it was always her fear that caused them to Switch, forever putting her sister into dangerous situations while she screwed up Bianca's life with her awkwardness. When they were little the Switching hadn't been such a big deal- sometimes it had even been fun- but now that Bianca was in high school it was getting more and more inconvenient. And Zoe just didn't know how to make it stop, short of removing her adrenal glands as Bianca had once joking suggested. At least, Zoe hoped it had been a joke.
Not the sorts of musicians most girls her age dreamed of- those fey creatures covered in glittering grit, prowling upon stage, burning so brightly you could barely look at them before they burned out on toxins or tyranny or a bullet to the brain. They had their place, rock stars, but that place was not in her dreams.
No, she dreamed of a boy- a faceless boy, but a real boy- who might pluck at strings that would resonate with the vibrations in her soul. A boy whose ability on the guitar extended beyond a painful, stumbling butchery of Stairway to Heaven. A boy who played because he had to play, not because it might impress a girl.
A boy like that she could respect. A boy like that she could love. A boy like that would know that you can't buy your way out of this mundane life in this shit-hole town. A boy like that would know you have to play your way out, and keep playing, keep strumming, keep your head full of the music so that there wasn't room for anything else... but until he came she was a single note in need of some serious harmony. Until he came she couldn't progress, could only repeat her solitary cry, over and over. Until he came she wasn't music, she was just noise. And so she sat by the crumbling brick walls of her world and she fingered imaginary chords on green creeping vines, and she dreamed.
(Stairs to Nowhereseville)
It started out with me going to the doctor with Elizabeth, for one of her "Dude I'm Totally Pregnant" checkups. That was neat and interesting, especially listening to the baby do what I'm pretty sure were spin-kicks in her uterus. Probably much more fun for me to listen to than for her to experience. Anyway while I was there with her my boss called to let me know not to come into work- the air conditioning had broken again and the coldest part of the office was like 90 degrees. Yech. But yay unanticipated three-day weekend! (I mentioned to Elizabeth that I had written just such a thing into my story the night before, and she told me I'd better start writing more! I suggested a lotto-winning scene, and said she thought that would do nicely...)
Faced with such freedom, Elizabeth and I elected to hit the Pig and pick up some cinnamon rolls (we are thrifty- we got five for the price of what one would cost at a specialty shop!), then came back over to my place to make it smell good. After that indulgence she headed back home, and I found myself overcome with tiredness... not to mention that my stupid clavicle started to flair up again.
It's been aching since about Thursday or so, but today the pain crept all the way up my neck to the back of my right ear, and all the way down my arm to my wrist, and all the way down my back to the bottom of my shoulder-blade. What's worse is that the pain was starting to come in waves accompanied by nausea, which is never pleasant. This combined with the sudden sleepiness resulted in me curling up in a pathetic ball on the couch while Nathan worked, and eventually crawling into bed to sleep for a few hours. (Nathan helpfully let the cats into the bedroom to give me a little fuzz therapy- they were very sweet.)
I got out of bed around four and realized that it would probably behoove me to get someone to cover my six o'clock BodyFlow class, since there was no way in hell I'd be able to do plank or any other weight-bearing exercise. I started putting out pleas, but unfortunately it was so last minute that everyone was already committed to something else. So I slapped on a pain patch (left over from the Great Foot Incident of 2009), popped more pain pills, firmly told my nausea to shut the hell up, and went to go teach my class.
Fortunately the pain lessened enough that I was able to teach, although it was low options for everyone! Fortunately I have a really great class of regulars- I explained what was going on with my shoulder region and they were very understanding. They even teased me about running to get a trash can or something if I looked like I was going to hurl. I reassured them that I have an Iron Jaw.
By the end of class the pain started to flare back up again (along with the really weird nausea), but I was so grateful it had stayed low for the majority of the hour that I almost didn't care. The thing is, at its worst the pain is what I would call maybe a seven, so the nausea is weird to me because normally nausea is something reserved for like a nine or ten. It's less like the pain is causing the nausea, and more like the nausea is just accompanying the pain, if that makes any sense.
Anyway I shouldn't whine so much, because at least I have a very sweet husband who has offered to massage it (he has theories regarding nerve pinching). And at least I didn't have to sit in a horrible hot office while dealing with it. And I got to hear my nephew's heart beat all crazy funky whoa, and had tasty cinnamon rolls with my sweet sister-in-law. So really it was a good day, and the pain can just suck it.
(...and now for a new pain patch...)
“Okay, Zeb, here’s what’s up; we need to do some reconnaissance,” Zeb cocked his head to one side and let out a questioning chirp. Sallie reached over and rubbed the flat plane between his ears. “Sorry. It means we need to go back to the menagerie and do some spying, try to figure out the best way to steal that amulet from the Horrible Woman. As far as I can tell, she uses it to steal life force from kids with blue eyes- and that’s probably why she doesn’t age. Although why she keeps you in animal form to do it, I have no idea…” She gave her head a violent shake, as though to bring her mind back on track. “But that doesn’t matter! What matters is figuring out how to get the amulet and either use it or destroy it. So that probably means another late night for me.” She hesitated, and then continued. “It… might be best for you to stay here, Zebbie. I don’t want to give her a chance to get you back.”
Zeb let out a string of lemur epithets and flung himself onto his sister, wrapping his arms firmly around her neck. His tail tickled her nose and Sallie couldn’t help but grin into his fur.
“Well I didn’t think you’d take me up on it, but I thought I’d better offer. Now let go so I can breathe!” Zeb released his stranglehold, still grumbling. Rather than return to where he’s previously been sitting, however, he moved to sit on her stretched-out legs and glared at her as though daring her to leave him behind.
“Right. Well, we know that she stays with the menagerie at night- or was the night I rescued you an exception?” Zeb shook his head to the negative. “Good. At least we don’t have to worry about tracking her anywhere else. We just have to figure out whether or not she ever takes that amulet off. Did you ever see her without it?” Again the negative head-shake. “Rats. Well, maybe she takes it off to sleep. Or shower.”
Quick as a flash, Zeb darted forward, poked Sallie in the chest, and was out the windowsill and into the tree before she could react. He opened his mouth in a grin.
“Zebbie, what are you-” but again he darted forward, plucked at the front of her shirt, and darted away again. This time he shook his fist at her meaningfully. Sallie was utterly confused.
“Do you need to go to the bathroom?” She guessed. Zeb made and impatient noise, sprang forward, snatched the pen out of her hand, and sprang away- again, all before she could react.
“Why are you stealing my pen, you weird little- oh!” She suddenly felt very foolish. “You’re saying it doesn’t matter if she takes it off or not, aren’t you? You think you’re fast enough to steal it!” Zeb nodded his head vigorously, climbed down out of the tree and held her pen out to her. Sallie took it and stared at her lemur-brother while biting her lip.
“I don’t know, Zeb. That seems awful dangerous. If it’s so easy to steal from her, why didn’t you just do it before?” Zeb shrugged his shoulders, an awkward gesture in his current form, and began bathing his tail. “And anyway, didn’t she put you to sleep the night I rescued you from the menagerie? What’s to keep her from doing it again if she sees you?”
Zeb paused in his grooming, pointed at her chest and let out a noise that sounded like ee-aow!
“Me? You- what? You expect me to distract her while you grab the amulet or something?” Zeb nodded and gave a little chattering purr.
“Well how am I supposed to do that?” Zeb stared at her hard, then returned to his tail.
“Great,” muttered Sallie, “Just great. You’re the one with a plan, and I’m the one who doesn’t speak lemur.”
In all the excitement of finding Zeb again, Sallie forgot that it was a three-day weekend; she didn’t remember until Mommy happened to mention it at dinner that evening.
“Any big plans for your day off, sweetie?”
“Don’t grunt, dear. I asked if you have anything special planned for tomorrow, since you don’t have to go to school.”
“Oh, um,” Sallie’s mind whirled. She had thought she’d have to wait until Friday to break back into the menagerie, but not having school in the morning meant that she could try again tonight! “Nothing really: thought I might go to the library for a while.”
“You’ve been spending a lot of time there, lately,” Daddy said as he cut into his grilled portabella. “Working on a project? Or just found a new obsession?”
“Er- new obsession,” she said. “I’ve been reading about our town’s history in the newspaper archives. Today I found some articles from back in the 1800s!” She knew this would go over well with her father, an amateur history sleuth himself: plus it had the added benefit of being somewhat true.
“Excellent!” Daddy beamed. “That’s my girl.”
“Well don’t get so caught up in research that you neglect your homework,” Mommy said.
“Yes ma’am.” Sallie shoved a giant fork-full of potatoes into her mouth in an attempt to avoid further discussion. It worked, because Daddy turned to Mommy and asked if she was making any satisfying progress on her latest piece, which led into a long conversation between the two of them about the properties of red glass. Sallie spent the rest of the meal silently planning that night’s adventure.
It says something about the temperature that it did not even occur to me to suggest that we walk; OPH is only a mile from our house, but baby you'd better believe we drove that mile. Normally when we go we try to go early (before nine) because it's a very popular place, and the wait time can be outrageous. This isn't so bad on a pleasant day, when you can sit outside on the fountain and watch the Crazy People of Birmingham creep out the tourists, but today was the sort of day that has you squeezed into the minuscule yet air-conditioned foyer, getting unintentionally snuggly with a bunch of strangers. Anyway getting there before nine tends to reduce your wait time, but apparently getting there after eleven has similar results, so that was fortunate. We only had to wait about ten or fifteen minutes before we were herded back to a little window alcove (from which I could conveniently carry out the people-watching I'd missed out on earlier). I never bother to look at the menu in OPH- I long ago gave up pretending that I'm going to order anything other than french toast- and Nathan already had his Final Contenders in mind (he opted for blueberry pancakes) so we managed to get our order in as soon as our waitress showed up.
Brunch was absolutely splendid (minus the part where the waitress kept trying to refill Nathan's "coffee"- which was actually hot cocoa) and after we waddled back out onto the street we decided to pop into Golden Temple to see if they carry dandelion coffee. Nathan made noises of trepidation, but I promised to protect him from my hippie brethren. As it turned out the did not have what we were looking for, but I did notice their lovely variety of non-peanut nut butters, so I'll have to go back once I've finished the almond butter jar I'm currently making my way through.
From there we headed home again, to pick up laundry and for me to change into my painting clothes, for today was the day I'd promised to go over to Jeff and Elizabeth's and paint a tree on their nursery wall. I spent about five or six hours on it, and I'd say it's looking pretty good- although I'm going to go back and look at it with fresh eyes tomorrow to see what needs touching. Plus it doesn't have any leaves yet... need to go by Michael's and buy stuff to make a stamp, 'cos damned if I'm going to paint all of them by hand.
So I have this weird feeling of not really having done much today, even tho' I guess I did. Five hours of drawing/painting is definitely doing much! But it didn't really feel like work... it's been a long time since I've gone into the kind of painting trance where you lose track of time; Elizabeth had to scold me for not drinking any water! She's a good sister-in-law. She says I could do that sort of thing for a living, and I guess I could. But it just seems weird to charge money for something that, to me, is so easy. Meh.
The scientists like to tell us grunts that we don't dream in wet-hi, that our brain waves have shut down with the rest of us. We grunts smile and nod and let them keep the comfort of their rational fables- because every last one of us has dreamed while in the cradle, to greater or lesser extent. Makes you think that maybe there's something to those cultures that thought dreams were the soul taking a break from the body. Makes sense, don't you think? I mean, if our bodies are shut down, and our brains are shut down, what does that leave to hold things together? The soul. And I figure the soul's gotta' get pretty bored with nothing more entertaining going on than a warm red glow and the hypnotic hum of maintenance droids. So out it goes, in search of adventures to keep it occupied.
This last hop I dreamed of Home. Sort of. I mean, it wasn't my literal home that I grew up in (the sky warrens of Ateel) but it was one of those dream-scapes that feels like Home. All the more-so because she was there, waiting for me. Not charred and crippled as I'd last seen her, but whole and young... no, not young, really- ageless. And so was I. And she had something to tell me, something about the mission; she leaned in close to whisper in my ear and all I could think was that she smelled just like blackberries, real blackberries, not that fake perfume crap... and then I realized I'd missed what she was trying to tell me, so I tried to get her to repeat it, but the bees were buzzing louder and they kept distracting me, telling me I had to wake up now, I had to wake up...
(Cradled in Light)
Now that we are human again, I am expected to take up where I left off- heir to a kingdom I am no longer intimate with. I sometimes wonder, after having woken from dreams of flight, if I am man enough for the task.
We were more than our parents bargained for. They had their heir- what a shock to come out with not one but two spares, just one year later! It might have been a disaster, had we been born first- but we weren't, and so we were more of a marvel than anything else. Identical twins- what fun we had!
It's likely that the years of practice we had in one another's thoughts are what helped us with the transition to swan form. We were used to communicating without words- it was less frustrating for us than for any of the others- well, except perhaps the other twins. But we were the originals, around for a good six years before they showed up! We still marvel, sometimes, at the way what was once our private means of communication is now open to all our siblings. But we don't mind, really. It's nice to have others who understand.
My life is strangely balanced- half man, half swan. Eighteen years of each. I had always been intended for the Church, but now... I find myself full of thoughts that the Fathers would find blasphemous. I feel God gave me my life to live twice, once as a man and once as a beast. Perhaps He felt I needed a better understanding of His plan for us, and for the beasts over whom we are said to have dominion. Perhaps now I enter my third life, a strange hybrid of both.
I was sixteen when my sister was born. The girl that I should have been. Oh yes, I know what my parents were hoping when they had me- they had their heir, their spares, their one for the Church. It was time for a girl, time for an offering to be bartered off to some other kingdom in exchange for trade routes, or some such. But instead they got me. I was their first disappointment, although certainly not their last.
In a way it was very freeing to become a swan, to leave behind the vague embarrassment of my gender. No one cares if a swan is male or female. No one feels they have to make up a role for it to play. It can just be whatever it is.
Some days I miss that.
Every day I miss that.
I was already the middle child, even before my sister was born and we became thirteen. By all rights, up until her birth I should have shared that middle spot with the next youngest, but he went and had himself a twin, thereby denying me of my chance to have a partner in crime. My next oldest brother wanted nothing to do with me- he was two years older and a strangely solitary child. So not only did I become a middle child, I became a solitary middle child.
That changed with the curse. Oh, I was still the middle child- but suddenly I felt I was truly part of something. We were all in it together, a real family like we'd never been in human form. I loved being part of a flock, especially when it was my turn to lead the formation. I felt like I mattered, like I was important. I finally had something I could do just as well as any of the others- I could contribute.
I just wonder if they'll remember that, now that we're human again. If they even want to remember that.
We know we're not considered very original. The other twins were already six by the time we came along, and the castle was long used to their antics. That just meant we had to be craftier with ours- we never got caught.
We were thirteen when our sister was born, which we find interesting, since she was thirteen when she found us again. We're sure there's something to that- we just haven't figured out what. Yet. Magic has specific patterns, we've noticed- and we mean to learn as much about them as we can. We figure we have a leg up on most students of the arcane- how many of them can claim to have survived such a powerful curse? Not many, we'd reckon. But we'll find out. We always do.
It took my parents a few years to recover from the second set of twins, and when I came along they didn't even bother trying to pretend they didn't wish I was a girl. I can't blame them- they already had eight boys, which is more than enough to drive even the sanest of people a little bit crazy. Really I kind of felt bad for them... even once they had their girl, and we were swans, I still worried about them. Wondered what it must have done to their psyches to lose all twelve sons at once. Would they consider a daughter worth it? Somehow I doubted it, no matter how my fourth-eldest brother might think of them.
They seem happy now, our parents. All their children are safe and whole once more (mostly whole, anyway). Their daughter is queen to a powerful kingdom, their sons are reassuming their lost roles in life. It's as though the curse never happened.
But the curse did happen- and I worry about its affects on us, their children. Some of my brothers seems to have emerged less scathed than others. But my sister... of course its impossible for me to know what is normal for her. But still- I worry.
I was eight when the curse changed us. Eight when I finally got a baby sister. Wish I could have known her- I bet she would have been more fun than the little brothers I had. Everyone was bored of brothers by the time I came along- but I always figured a girl would have been able to come up with new mischief none of us boys had even conceived of. I used to try thinking like a girl- but I never could get my head around it. It's weird to think that I went from boy-who-tries-to-think-like-a-girl, to a man-who-tries-not-to-think-like-a-swan. Sometimes I can't help but laugh at myself- will I ever be comfortable just being what I am?
I'm pretty sure I was an accident. It had been three years since my next oldest brother, so I'm pretty sure I was unintentional. Maybe my little brother was, too- who knows. I don't remember much of the time Before. I remember that my little brother didn't talk much- which I guess is why he doesn't talk much now. I don't know. I'm still getting used to this crazy body of mine. Sometimes the balance just seems so wrong; swans were not meant to spend a lot of time walking around on dry land, but to tell you the truth humans don't seem to be much better at it. Plus this new body can't swim all that great, and it certainly can't fly.
Still, there are good things. Like cherry tarts. It's pretty good to have those again. And hugs. I like those, although people seem to think there's something not quite right about a fully grown man wanting to hug his parents all the time. But I don't care- I remember bobbing on the lake at night, and all I wanted was for my mother to kiss me goodnight. So now that I can have that again, I'm not going to let any court gossips stop me. No sir.
I was only three years old when my sister was born. Only three years old when the curse came down on my eleven older brothers and I, forcing us to take literal flight. Which, if you do the math, means that I spent six times as long in swan shape as I did in boy shape. Is it any wonder I cannot feel comfortable as a man?
Of course, the single wing I bear in place of a right arm might have something to do with it, as well.
My family pities me- they think I am deformed because of this wing, less than whole. I am the unfulfilled prophecy. What they don't understand is the wing is the only piece of me I have left- it's the rest that feels like a deformity.
(Note: this ties in to this entry, as well as being inspired by today's photo)
(Yes, I realize they're geese and not swans. Hush.)
Well, that's not strictly true. It was pretty easy to find the right ink to write a biography: each and every one of us carries our own in our veins. But that's what led to me giving up the wonderful, terrible pen. Long before that happened, back when I thought it merely a sort of mystical toy, I tried dipping my pen in a rainbow, and learned the true story of the creature that men called Iris...
The past few days just absolutely flowed from my fingers to the screen, with very little effort on my part. I assume it's because I was writing about surfing, and I've never had any difficulties writing about surfing, or feeling inspired to write about surfing. It may just be that my true calling is a journalist for a surfing magazine. Maybe I ought to submit something one of these days... I've got quite a bit to choose from, and most of it's pretty damn well written.
Maybe the trick isn't so much writing what you know as writing what you love.
Of course, if I stuck only to that rule you'd end up with endless variations on the theme of Nathan's beard, and nobody wants that. Well, Ben, maybe.
Also? It was 102 in Birmingham today, never mind the heat index (which was like 118). We're under an "excessive heat warning" through Thursday. And no convenient ocean to jump in. Bleh. Come on, Universe! Let's align on some fabulous PNW jobs...
Today Mom and I made the drive back to Alabama. It took me about nine hours to get home to Birmingham. So that was eighteen hours of driving (although Mom did relieve me for two of them) for about six hours of surfing, during which I had maybe five truly good rides. Also I spent three nights sleeping on a floor with a sheet, which is not the ideal sort of rest for sore muscles.
I’d have to say yes. But I’d have to say it with the sort of hesitation that comes from waking up to an ankle you hadn’t realized was sprained until it stiffened up during slumber. Yes with the sort of hesitation that comes from being exhausted as hell after driving longer than you’d normally have spent working. Yes, it was worth it, but no- I couldn’t do it every week. Or even every month. But definitely more than once every two-and-a-half years. So I guess that gives us an idea of the parameters of my devotion.
To tell the truth I have a bit of fear in my belly, now that I’m back. It was so joyful to be surfing again (especially yesterday’s experience) and I have that joy still racing through my bloodstream, buoying me up. But the flipside to that is that I’m dreading the gradual loss of the joy. The way it will inevitably drain away and I will have to go back to longing for it. And not being able to have it. And crying because I miss it so badly. And I know I shouldn’t think about that- I should focus on the now-happiness rather than the coming-despair, lest I taint the Now, but it’s hard.
Of course, first I had to make the appropriate sacrifice to the Oceanids. Remember all that smack talk from yesterday about gentle waves and being able to surf with my sunglasses on? Um, color me hubristic. I went leaping into the water for a little pre-surf frolic whilst wearing said eye protection, and guess who Took Their Due. Yup. So I forfeited my sweet shades in return for some truly surf-able waves. I’d call that a damn good return on my investment.
Mom and Steph elected to watch my performance from the relatively safe confines of their beach loungers, and I’m pleased to report that I gave them something worth witnessing on my first attempt. Beautiful, perfect, lovely wave that I caught and rode like someone who actually knows what they’re doing. I even stepped gracefully off at the end, rather than my typical hapless bailout (from whence the epic bruising on my knees arises). So that was pretty fantastic, and they cheered, their mental preconception of my Surfing Prowess confirmed. I, of course, knew from previous experience that I had just officially blown my Talent Wad on the first wave of the day, and that from there on out it would be nothing but hilarious mishaps. I didn’t have the heart to shatter their illusions verbally, however- I knew my subsequent performances would eventually get it across.
No really- I wasn’t that pathetic. But I did pretty much hit my peak on that first wave. Plenty of flailing and falling and “I guess I’ll just surf this one on my knees as though I intended to flub the pop-up,” ensued, but Mom and Steph continued to be convinced that I was truly Epic. Bless their biased little brains.
There were a few other surfers out there with me, running the gamut from raw beginners to effortless artists. I was disappointed to find that the surfing culture does not, in general, appear to be as friendly as that which I’d grown accustom to in Oregon. I expressed my sadness at this to Mom, and she pointed out (and rightly so) that to be a surfer in cold-ass Oregon waters you have to really love surfing- you get out there to do it because you’re dedicated to it, and you’re necessarily stoked to meet anyone else with that same level of love and dedication (and okay touch of insanity). In Jacksonville people can afford to be sort of “Meh,” about surfing, because they can do it pretty much whenever the hell they get a whim- they live on the beach, and it’s warm all the time, and the waves trend towards the very-easy-to-catch (my latter performance notwithstanding). So the ratio of rude-holes is bound to be higher.
Still. I can’t help but be a smidge resentful that people take what is to me a great and joyous spiritual experience and turn it into an occasion to be an off-putting jerk. Now I guess I have an inkling of what a lot of my Christian friends experience on a regular basis…