Flash-fiction: In Every Age

<a href='https://www.123rf.com/profile_karaidel'>karaidel / 123RF Stock Photo</a>Cantor Sylvia never expected to be playing the guitar and singing ancient songs in the lounge of a starship, but then, she’d never expected to be on a starship in the first place. She was too old, they said. She wouldn’t last the trip from Earth to Centaurus.

And yet, here she was, sitting in the common lounge, staring out the huge window – viewports -they called them viewports –  at the streaking stars, her great-grandmother’s acoustic guitar resting against a belly that had seen a few too many latkes and maybe not enough salad in her lifetime, sharing the old songs with kids who would never remember that they came from Earth.

Actually, the Goldberg twins had been born under the dome at Curiosity Village, on Mars, and little Rachel Levi had grown up at Luna Colony. Earth might be in their blood, in their DNA, but it wasn’t where they were from. Not the way she was.

She played the chord again, and saw the children gathered around her focus their attention. And why not? They’d grown up with digital instruments: violins and cellos that relied on computer chips for their tone, guitars that made their sound through a wireless amplifier, and pianos that could be rolled into a cylinder the size of a zip-top sandwich bag. Her guitar didn’t have any chips, and it couldn’t be made smaller. It was wire and wood and care and love and history, and its lines were the only ones Sylvia had caressed since her beloved Harry had passed on five years before.

“I’m going to sing you an old song now,” she told them. “And you’re going to sing it with me. It’s in Hebrew. So, listen once, and then repeat.”

Mi yimalel gvurot Yisrael,
Otan mi yimne?
Hen be’chol dor yakum ha’gibor
Goel ha’am!

Their singing was tentative at first, as their tongues learned the shapes of the long-ago language of their people, but they repeated the verse and then moved on to the next, learning the words a line at a time, and then singing them as a cohesive verse.

Shma!
Ba’yamim ha’hem ba’zman ha’ze
Maccabi moshia u’fode
U’v’yameinu kol am Yisrael
Yitached yakum ve’yigael!

“But what does it mean?” Rachel asked.

Sylvia understood that what the little girl really meant was, Can we sing it in English?  She reached out and tugged one of the child’s strawberry-blonde braids. It was gentle. Harmless.  “My granddaughter used to ask me that, too,” she shared. “In English, it goes like this.”

Who can retell the things that befell us,
Who can count them?
In every age, a hero or sage
Came to our aid.

The little girl wrinkled her nose. “I like it the other way better,” she said. “It’s prettier.”

Sylvia’s eyes twinkled, and her face stretched into a broad grin. “You know what?” she asked. “I like it both ways. Do you want to know why?”

“Yes, please.”

She changed her focus to include all the children. “When we sing it in Hebrew, we’re remembering the old stories, the country and the planet where all our families originated. And when we sing it in English, we’re making our stories and songs accessible to new generations. Someday, maybe we’ll sing these songs in languages Earth has never heard – or Mars or Centaurus either.

She didn’t really expect the children to respond, but when she looked up, she saw the reflection of their parents in the glass of the window – viewport – whatever – for they had gathered around behind her during the singing.

“Can we do it again?” Benjamin Goldberg wanted to know.

“Yes,” Sylvia said. “Yes, we can.”

They say space is silent. They say that you could scream your loudest inside a starship, and never be heard beyond the hull. But on that night, Sylvia was certain, if there were any creatures who existed outside the warm and oxygen-filled atmosphere of their vessel, they would have heard the voices of children and adults lifted in song.

 

Notes: Mi Yimalel is a traditional Jewish song, and was suggested by my friend Joy Plummer.  Photo Copyright: karaidel / 123RF Stock Photo

Elseblog: Sunday Brunch: The Coming of the Cardinals

The Coming of the Cardinals

 

On the first Sunday of each month, I write a column called “Sunday Brunch” over at the e-zine Modern Creative Life. This excerpt is from the piece I published in November. You can read the whole piece here. You can also listen to me read it at BathtubMermaid.com.

Excerpt:

We have a whole family of those bright red birds, and they return every year. The females are feathered grey and rust and red, and arrive with the first signs of being egg-heavy. The males are brilliant crimson and scarlet, and when they cock their heads and stare at me from their bright eyes, I’m convinced they’re appraising me in the same way I’m assessing them.

At the beginning of the season, I watch them building nests, but as the fall deepens into what passes for winter in this part of Texas, they aren’t quite so visible. Instead of witnessing constant activity, a morning visit feels like a kind of gift from Mother Nature herself.

It’s not only live cardinals that come into my life each year, however. As I slowly turn the decorations in my house from fall and harvest, Halloween and Thanksgiving, to winter, Christmas, and even Valentine’s Day, these ruby-plumed birds have a presence inside my house.

Cold as Ice

Empty Sky Photo by Maia Habegger on Unsplash

The winter ocean was dark blue and slate grey, and the waves were choppy and tipped with white, but Harmony didn’t feel the cold when she was swimming. And she was swimming, fast and purposefully, following the hiss of raindrops falling in the cold sea, and the rumbling voice she knew so well, except that this time, her thunder god, her Oskar, wasn’t merely calling her name. He was singing.

Vinterns frost har fångat min skog

I vitt ligger kullar och berg

Frusna fält där ängarna låg

Som bly ur himmelens färg  

The louder his voice became, the more intense was the precipitation. Rain was joined by sizzling sleet and hail that sounded like jingle bells.

She found him, sitting on a blanket of white fur that was spread across an ice floe. She knew he’d registered her arrival, but she let him continue the song, his voice vibrating through her and compelling her to move closer.

Vandrar kring i min vinters land

Längtande efter en värmande hand

Långt, långt bort är mitt paradis

Stelnad och kall är min själ

Som av is

Harmony folded her arms on the edge of the fur-covered ice, and rested her chin on top, keeping her tail in the water. Oskar met her eyes, and quirked his scraggly brows at her, hesitating for a moment.

“Keep singing,” she told him. “It sounds wistful; sing away the pain.”

The man who boomed when he spoke was so much softer when he was singing, that the siren in her couldn’t help but be drawn to him. She didn’t understand his language, but it didn’t matter. She comprehended the emotion.

Oskar acknowledged her request by falling back into tempo.

Tänd en glöd i min vinters land

Räck genom dimman en värmande hand

Visa väg till mitt paradis

Stelnad och kall är min själ

Som av is

 As the last note died away, so too did the ice and water that had been falling from the sky. Oskar patted the fur beside him, inviting Harmony to join him, and she accepted his wordless invitation, hoisting herself onto the ice.

He wrapped her in more white fur, pulling her back against his chest, and she relaxed against him, enjoying the warmth of his arms, of his body, of his breath tickling the back of her neck as he nuzzled her hair then lowered his head to place a gentle kiss on her shoulder.

She kept the tip of her tail-fin in the water. Later, she would allow herself to form legs – Oskar would keep her warm – but for now, just being held was enough. She stretched her head backward for an upside-down kiss.

They were quiet, just being together, for several minutes, and then Harmony rolled in Oskar’s arms and her tail melted away.

Their joining was mostly silent. Sighs and moans, soft murmurs, low rumbles. Words weren’t needed.

Afterward, nestled against Oskar’s chest once more, her delicate legs nestled between his more powerful ones, his arms crossed over her belly, her head tucked under his chin, she spoke again. “The song you were singing… what did it mean? Can you translate it into my language?”

The thunder god didn’t speak, but he hummed the tune once, and then again, and his voice flowed through her body and filled her as much as their joining had. He was silent for a moment. Then he wasn’t. Softly – well, softly for him – Oskar began to sing the song, in the language of the mermaids.

Winter’s frost has captured each tree

The hills are all covered with snow

Frozen fields wherever I see

And gray skies wherever I go

Wistful herself, Harmony interrupted the song. “I’d like to see fields someday. I’ve never been that far inland. Would you take me some time? It doesn’t have to be in winter.”

Oskar’s reply came in the way he held her tighter for a beat or two, then loosened his grip. He hesitated, likely translating the next part of his song for her, and then the music resumed.

Wandering in my Winter’s land

Longing once more for the warmth of her hand

Far away is my paradise

Bitterly cold is my soul

Cold as ice.

Under the furs, Harmony covered his hands with her own. “Paradise is right here,” she insisted. “Right now.” She turned in his embrace, kneeling between his legs so she could meet his eyes. “Paradise is every moment we have together. I will always come when you call.”

Oskar lifted his hands to the mermaid’s face, caressing her cheeks, pushing her hair back, and then covering her ears before he spoke. “IT IS NOT ENOUGH!”

“No, it’s not enough, but for now it’s all we have.”

“I KNOW.” He paused and smiled. His hands still protecting her ears, he said. “YOUR TURN TO SING.”

Harmony smiled. She knew Oskar wasn’t referring to music.

Their second time was full of passion and heat, and they were both panting when it was over, though panting eventually faded into softer, sleepier sounds.

Harmony woke to a full moon and a starlit sky. She stretched her arms and flexed her toes, and, reluctantly, she woke the sleeping thunder god. “I have to go,” she said. “I’ll see you soon.”

She kissed him three times and then slipped back into the water and began the swim toward home, but his voice called to her under the waves, and she broke the surface to look back toward his ice floe.

Soft snow began to fall like stars that melted into the waves.

Light a fire in my winter’s land

Let me once more feel the warmth of her hand

Lead the way to my paradise

Bitterly cold is my soul

Cold as ice.

 

Notes: Inspired by the song “Som Av Is” (“Cold as Ice”) by Roger Pontare. Song suggested by Berkley Pearl. Photo by Maia Habegger on Unsplash

Only if it’s Eartha Kitt

Santa Baby - Eartha Kitt“If I hear one more remake of ‘Santa Baby,’ I swear I’ll scream, Lena said as she poured hot water – just off the boil – over the hand-filled sachet of orange spice tea waiting in her mug. “Really, it’s the most insipid song.”

“Except when Eartha Kitt sings it,” her niece amended, in the sort of sing-songy tone that meant they’d had the same discussion more than once.

“Well… Eartha. Eartha Kitt could do no wrong.”

“So you say.”

“So I know,” the older of the two women answered. She joined the younger at the table, carrying her mug with her. “You’re not drinking your coffee.”

“I was waiting for you,” the younger woman said, amused affection in her tone. “Besides, it’s still plenty hot.”

“Hmph.”

Both women were silent, stirring their respective beverages in a fashion that made it obvious they were related.

Finally, the younger woman spoke, her words coming out in tentative fits and starts. “Listen, Auntie… I was wondering if you’d join us for Christmas this year. Mom won’t admit it, but she really misses her favorite older sister, and there’s someone I want you to meet.”

“I’m her only older sister,” Lena replied automatically, but then she continued: “Oh, Tessa, I don’t know…”

The older woman’s dithering lit a fire in her niece. “Aunt Lena you have been playing hermit at Christmas since I was sixteen years old. I’m twenty-six now, and Brian is probably going to propose on Christmas Eve, and I want my only aunt to be there.” She took a beat. “Besides, who else will I be able to mock all the cheesy Christmas music with?”

It would have been obvious to an outside observer that Lena wanted to agree almost as much as Tessa wanted her to. “He’s really going to propose?”

“I’m almost completely certain.”

“And you’re sure you want to marry a musician.”

“It worked for you, didn’t it?”

“Well… yes.”

“So, you’ll come?”

Lena fussed with her tea, removing the sachet to a small glass dish that was waiting to be used for that purpose. “I guess I will.”

“Yay!” For just a moment Tessa was a child again, delight written in every line of her.

“Can I bring anything?”

“A positive attitude,” Tessa answered immediately. “And that record you have – the one on vinyl – of Eartha Kitt singing ‘Santa Baby.'”

 

*Inspired by a recent conversation with my friend Fran, and of course, the incomparable Eartha Kitt. Also? Welcome to Holidailies 2017.

 

Counting the Days

Copyright: <a href='http://www.123rf.com/profile_bajneva'>bajneva / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

 

I’m not feeling the Christmas spirit. I could blame the severe hypothyroid condition which is sapping all my energy, or the cold I have on top of it, which is just exacerbating the situation, but whatever the reason, I’m just not feeling the magic.

My tree stands in the dining room window, lit, but naked, as if it’s tottered in drunk from the cold, unsure of whether or not it really belong here, and of what might have happened to its shoes, or, for that matter its pants.

I’ve mostly decorated the mantle with my motley crew of Victorian Santas, but it feels like they’re mocking me this year. Like they aren’t interested in anything except being tucked away safely between layers of tissues and bubble wrap, waiting for next year, when I might be in the mood again.

Maybe it’s the political climate that has me feeling this way, like I’m caught in some kind of limbo.

Maybe it’s the Texas weather, chill, grey, murky, but with no sign of precipitation coming any time soon.

Or maybe it’s just me.

Who knows.

I started Holidailies wanting to write fun stories about holiday magic and everyday magic, and I haven’t written in over week. I wanted to do a podcast project with a bunch of other Doggies from The Dog Days of Podcasting, but I feel like there’s no point because I don’t have anything new or interesting to offer.

My characters whisper to me, ever more insistently, to progress their stories, and I just tune them out.

I’m not depressed, at least, not clinically.

I’m just tired. And feeling stale and burnt out.

The cold ashes of a two-days-past fire.

And even opening the doors on the advent calendar isn’t helping this year.

So, I’m counting the days to something new.

I don’t know if 2017 will be better or worse (dear God, I hope it’s better), but at least it will be different

Won’t it?

Flash-fiction: I’ll Be Home for Christmas

Copyright: <a href='http://www.123rf.com/profile_fotoall'>fotoall / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

I’m dreaming tonight of a place I love
Even more than I usually do
And although I know
It’s a long road back
I promise you

 “Hi, sweetie. I’m checked into the hotel, and I’ve got The Nutcracker on the television. I’m sorry we couldn’t see it together, but I know you’re having a great time at the ballet with Grandpa. I miss you, sweetheart, and I love you.”

The voicemail system wouldn’t leave her leave a message that was any longer. It was the 20th of December, and instead of being home with her daughter, putting up their apartment-sized tree and watching cheesy Christmas movies on the Hallmark channel, Rose was in yet another hotel room, in yet another city, preparing for yet another sales presentation in the morning.

Being a single mother was tough enough when she was home full time, but with her recent promotion, Rose was on the road nearly two weeks of every four. It was only temporary, of course. A new sales rep was coming on board after the holidays.

Until then, there would be four more nights of hotel sheets and hotel shampoo and hotel food, and the knowledge that she was missing all the holiday traditions she and her seven-year-old daughter had established in their life together.

I’ll be home for Christmas
You can count on me
Please have snow and mistletoe and presents under the tree

“Hi, honey. I’m sorry I missed you. I’m sitting in the lobby of the hotel listening to a man play Christmas songs on the piano, and sipping peppermint hot chocolate. Grandpa promised to record your choir concert tonight – did you get the flowers I sent? Did you like the chocolates? – We can watch the video of your show when I get home, okay? I love you.”

It had to be the Peterson account that made her late for her evening call with her daughter. They were one of the oldest clients her company had, but they demanded special care. Sure, they’d provided a lovely meal, but the filet mignon had tasted like sand, especially when they were eating it in a restaurant decorated with a chocolate Christmas village. (She snapped a picture with her phone to show Daisy.)

“Is this seat taken?”

Rose looked up to see a man about her age, maybe a little older. Brown hair with a touch of gray at the temples, expensive suit with a whimsical Christmas-themed tie (Peanuts? Really?) and brown eyes that twinkled pleasantly. Any other night, she’d have said no.

“How can I say no to a man who’s willing to wear that tie in public?” she said, by way of an answer. “I’m Rose.”

“Michael,” he said, trading his name for hers. He settled into the seat across from her, adding, “My son picked out the tie.”

“You have a son?”

“Charlie; he’s eight.” His expression grew slightly sheepish. “I have to confess: I overheard you leave that message, and thought another parent would be a safe person to share a table with.”

Rose softened toward him. “I was trying to reach my daughter, Daisy. She’s seven. Her school’s winter concert is tonight, but my meeting ran late, and then there was dinner and…” she trailed off. “Sorry.”

“It’s fine,” he said. “I wish I were home with Charlie, probably about as much as you want to be home with your daughter. I had to leave him with my sister.”

“You’re divorced?” It was a safe bet. Single fathers always went for the silly child-provided ties.

“Widowed,” he answered softly. “My wife died last January. This is our first Christmas without her.”

“I’m so sorry,” Rose said. “That can’t be easy.”

Michael shook his head. “We’ll manage. We have to. What about you? You mentioned a grandfather…”

“Divorced. Daisy’s father and I dated in high college, got married too young, and ended things when she was one. He’s a good father, but he’s active duty army. Deployed.”

“Wow. Do you… is he safe?”

“I hope so,” Rose said. “He usually manages to get time on the satellite phone on Sundays, but this Sunday is Christmas, so…” She paused, and sipped from her drink. It was peppermint hot chocolate, as she’d told Daisy in her voice message, but the mint came from a healthy shot of peppermint schnapps. “I’m sorry; I don’t usually talk this much to total strangers.”

“We single parents have to stick together,” Michael said. “Don’t apologize.” He stared at her cup. “What are you drinking?” She told him, and he grinned and flagged down the server. “I’ll have what she’s having… and a plate of those butter cookies.”

It was a pleasant hour or so, Rose reflected later, sipping the beverage that warmed her in more ways than one, and sharing the lightly-lemon flavored half-moon cookies with her new… friend? Acquaintance? It didn’t really matter. She likely wouldn’t see him again.

Christmas eve will find me
Where the love light gleams
I’ll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams

“Hi, Daisy. I’m at the airport but there’s snow here in Chicago, and my flight is delayed. I know tomorrow’s Christmas Eve, and I promise I’ll be home in time for pancakes and seeing Santa at the firehouse. Remind Grandpa to ask Anna to have your red velvet dress ready for tomorrow night.  I love you.”

The weather had caused the delay or outright cancellation of so many flights, but Rose had gotten lucky. She was flying away from the storm, not into it, and even though her original flight had been scratched, they’d found a seat for her on the ten p.m. to Denver. She wasn’t thrilled about having to drive the hour-plus home after midnight, but at least she’d make it home for the holiday.

And they’d bumped her to first class for her trouble.

Settling into her seat, Rose accepted the offer of a single glass of red wine, and arranged her neck pillow so she could look out the window and still be comfortable.

They were about to close the aircraft door when there was a flurry of activity and a brown-haired man appeared in the aisle. For a moment, she wasn’t entirely certain he was her companion from the other night, but then his tie – Calvin and Hobbes this time – swung free, and she smiled.

“Rose,” he greeted. “We meet again. Is Denver home for you?”

“Michael,” she responded. She sipped her wine before sharing, “I live about an hour away from the airport, in the mountains. Georgetown.”

“Oh, I know it well. Quintessentially cute, tucked in at the bottom of the switchbacks before Guanella Pass.”

“Okay, no one knows that…”

“They do if they live in Silver Plume.”

She couldn’t help it; she goggled at him. “Silver Plume kids go to school in Georgetown.”

“They do.”

“So if either of us were ever home…”

“We’d probably have met at parents’ night. I’m loving the irony.”

The plane had pushed back from the gate while they were chatting, but Rose barely noticed. What would have been one more excruciating flight had become a pleasant interlude in a month of disappointments and frustrations.

They chatted amiably from take-off to landing, parting ways in the parking garage, though Michael had insisted upon walking Rose to her car before going to find his own.

Inside her vehicle, Rose texted her father an update on her status while she waited for the engine to warm up. She’d forgotten to ask for Michael’s last name, but she could always ask Daisy about a boy named Charlie, one grade ahead of her.

Or not.

She saw him stowing his suitcases – like hers, one was full of presents for a waiting child – in the trunk of his car as she drove through the nearly-empty parking structure toward the exit. Impulsively, she pulled over and rolled down the window. “Hey, Silver Plume!”

“Georgetown!” he grinned at her. “We’re not using first names anymore? If you call me ‘Colorado’ does that mean we’re breaking up?”

She laughed. “Tomorrow morning, nine-thirty, the Happy Cooker. Daisy and I do ritual gingerbread pancakes and then see Santa iat the fire station down on Main. You and Charlie should join us.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah!” She hesitated. “Make sure  he chooses a really good tie.”

They exchanged numbers, just in case, and then Rose put her car back in gear and headed home. The Christmas lights on their vintage Queen Anne-style home were switched on, waiting to welcome her back, and she smiled as she wheeled her luggage up the stairs.

Inside, her father was sitting at the kitchen table working a crossword puzzle. “Hey, traveler,” he greeted, rising to enfold her into a flannel-clad hug.

“Dad. You didn’t have to wait up.”

“Now, you know that’s not true.”

“Okay,” she said. “Would you mind heating up some water for tea? I want to peek in on Daisy.”

“She was out like a light, last I checked.”

Rose smiled, but she climbed up the stairs anyway, and kept her footsteps as quiet as possible as she moved down the hall to the end room where her daughter slept. The door was cracked open, as usual, but she pushed it wider so she could see her child’s still form.

She’d kicked the covers off again.

Rose moved into Daisy’s room and settled the sheets and blankets back over the little girl’s shoulders. Then she placed a gentle kiss on her daughter’s forehead.

The child stirred in her sleep. “Mom?”

“Yes, Daisy. It’s Mom. I’m home.”

“Good. Love you.” And she was asleep again, just like that.

“Love you too, sweetie,” Rose whispered. She retreated to the doorway where she remained, watching her sleeping child, until she heard the low whistle of the tea kettle.

Christmas eve will find me
Where the love light gleams
I’ll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams

 

“I’ll Be Home for Christmas” was written by Kim Gannon and Walter Kent, based on a poem by Buck Ram.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flash-fiction: They Grow Up So Fast

Copyright: <a href='http://www.123rf.com/profile_gpointstudio'>gpointstudio / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

They had just pushed the button to illuminate the Christmas tree when the power flickered out. It came back a few seconds later, but the blackout had lasted just long enough to disrupt the time on every digital clock in the house.

“Mom, I think we lost internet!” Her son was leaning over the upstairs balcony railing.

“That happens when the power goes out,” her daughter shouted upwards. “Anyway, you were standing next to me when the lights went out… you teleported didn’t you.”

“Geez, Sam, rat me out, why don’t you?”

“Patrick, do not blame your sister for your own actions. The internet will reset in another minute or so. Please come back down here – and use the stairs. Samantha, tattling on people only makes people resentful.”

“But you know the power glitches every time he does it.”

Helen sighed. “I know. But your brother is starting puberty and his power is fluctuating.”

“You mean he’s getting hormones?” The ten-year-old imbued the word with a sense of wonder. Well, really it was affectionate mockery and wonder.

“Yes.”

“Didja have to tell her that?” Patrick had returned to the first floor of their house.

“It’s a fact of life, Patrick. And at least you’re a boy. When Samantha gets to that stage a few power fluctuations are the least we’ll have to worry about.”

Patrick glanced at his sister. “Wow. That kinda sucks.”

“Yes,” Helen agreed. “It ‘kinda’ does. In any case, we’ve talked about this before: no big magic in the house – it alters the electrical fields and affects all our technology, not just the power grid.”

“Teleporting isn’t big magic.”

“Maybe not for you,” Helen countered. “But displacing the mass of a human, and then reintegrating that mass in a new location takes a lot of power, even if you’re not feeling the effects yourself.” She paused letting her words sink in.

“So, how do I practice?”

“Well, you’re thirteen now. I think it’s time you started Magical Education Classes. When the winter break is over, we’ll see about getting you enrolled.”

“Is it true there are all-wizard schools, like in Harry Potter?”

Helen chuckled. “Oh, if only. Just think how much easier life would be without your friends constantly asking if you could just make their homework appear or speed the time ahead so they didn’t have to go to gym. No, Magical Education is sort of like… you have friends who do their Confirmation or Bar Mitzvah classes after school, right?”

“Yeah, sure. Zachary Schwartz has been bragging that Lady Gaga is performing at his party.”

“Well, this doesn’t come with pop singers, but Mother Margery at the Episcopal church teaches a Coming of Magical Age class on Tuesdays and Thursdays. You’ll be doing that.”

“Mother Margery’s okay,” Patrick allowed.

“Mom, are we ever gonna light this tree? Dad’ll be home soon.

“Oh, sweetie, I’m sorry,” Helen apologized. “Yes, let’s do it right now.”

Mother and children gathered around the decorated tree, and Samantha grabbed for the remote with the button that controlled it.

Helen put a loving hand on her daughter’s shoulder. “Would you mind if we let Patrick do it his way, just this once?”

The younger of the children took a beat to think it over. “I guess,” she shrugged. Then she glared at her brother. “But if you make the lights go out again, I’ll tell Josie Frye that you like her.”

For a moment, Helen thought her son was going to argue the point. Instead, he said. “I won’t. I promise.”

Patrick faced the tree and closed his eyes, just concentrating. After a moment, the lights on the tree began to glow, softly at first, then more brightly, one at a time, from the light on the bottom row in the back, all the way through the circuit.

“Did it work?” he asked, a bit uncertainly.

“It’s beautiful,” Samantha breathed.

Patrick opened his eyes. “The regular power will keep them on,” he said. “I just got them going.”

“That was cool,” Sam pronounced. “Dad’s gonna love it.”

Helen stepped away from the tree to dim the room lights. Her husband would be home from work shortly, but she was enjoying this precious moment. All too soon, Patrick would be too old for tree-lighting, and Samantha’s magic, when it manifested, would likely have nothing to do with electricity.

They grow up so fast, she thought.

Image Copyright: gpointstudio / 123RF Stock Photo

Flash-fiction: Poinsettias

Copyright: <a href='http://www.123rf.com/profile_barbamauro'>barbamauro / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

 

“They say that things just cannot grow
Beneath the winter snow,
Or so I have been told.”

 – Sarah Bareilles & Ingrid Michaelson, “Winter Song”

The signs on the greenhouse doors warn against the use of magic in six different languages, but even so, it’s tempting to do just a tiny warming spell to ward off the chill. Inside, Ophelia knows, the air will be warm and humid, but outside it’s Deep Winter, and she resents having her fingers go numb on the walk from the main house to the greenhouse where the Work is done.

With a mittened fist, she presses the button for the intercom, waits for the buzz, and then announces. “Ophelia Bloome. Incoming.”

Hold for retinal scan.

She peels her hat away from her eyebrow and lowers her scarf just enough to give the scanner an unobstructed view of her right eye.

Scanning… scanning… scanning…

It always seems to take longer when the weather is cold, Ophelia thinks, but if she mentions that to Gran the old woman will tell her it’s Nonsense and remind her that Everyone Knows Cold Makes Computers Work More Efficiently. (Gran always spoke as if every word was capitalized and amplified, the result of a lifetime of living with a husband who excelled at situational deafness until age finally took his hearing away for real.)

Identity confirmed. Good morning, Ophelia. Please come inside.

It’s her imagination, isn’t it, that the computerized security system is always much more polite once the scans are complete? It doesn’t actually have a technopixie working inside it, imbuing it with personality, does it? That would be dangerous for the plants.

The outer doors swish open, just like the doors on Star Trek, and Ophelia steps into the airlock. Vestibule, she corrects herself. It’s just a vestibule. This is real life, not science fiction.

With the outer doors closed behind her, she strips off her outerwear, trading her snowsuit and boots for denim overalls and sneakers. Then she triggers the inner doors, which don’t so much swish as creak.

The inside of the greenhouse is a technological marvel, with heat lamps and misters and every kind of measuring implement ever invented to track growth rates and division patterns, to determine optimal climate zones and confirm hardiness. Even the ceiling was programmable on a section-by-section basis so that day-lilies could thrive next to night-blooming cactus if the Gardeners so desired.

“You’re A Bit Late This Morning,” Gran announced too close to Ophelia’s left ear.

“The coffee maker was infusing every cup with Daydreams,” the younger woman explained. “Alex had to shake me out of them twice, and then I had to return the favor, before we figured out it was time to descale the thing.”

“Magic Builds Up Just Like Minerals,” Gran explained. “Your Grandfather Is Supposed To Maintain The Kitchen Gadgets.”

“Well, maybe you can remind him of that,” Ophelia suggested with only a hint of a smirk. “What’s on schedule for today?”

“Poinsettias.” The old woman pointed a gnarled finger at the farthest corner of the mile-square space (like many magical edifices it was bigger on the inside), under an arch of candy canes. “You Know They Call Them Flors de Nochebuena In Spanish?”

“Yes, Gran. But I didn’t know we Worked with them.”

“Of Course We Do!” The old woman had a way of making Ophelia feel like a six-year-old more often than not, and her loud speech didn’t help. “Come, Child.”

Dutifully, she trotted along behind her grandmother on the moving sidewalk that ran down the center of the building. There were golf carts, as well, but Gran preferred to walk, and on the days Ophelia had to Assist her, she walked, too.

At the poinsettia grove, both woman stopped, and the older one activated one of the touch panels and called up a recipe. (She preferred that term to ‘spell,’ but really, the two were interchangeable.) “Read That Out To Me, Child.”

“One part Spirit of the Season, one part Hospitality, and two parts Pleasant Dreams,” Ophelia read from the digital display. “To be Worked by someone in the first third of life, and someone in the last.” She looked up, understanding, suddenly, why they would be doing this project together. “Oh… Gran.”

The old woman didn’t speak, just took up her position at the Working station, and jerked her head to the left so that the younger one would follow suit.

It took two or three hours of concentration, but when they were through, the red, pink, and white plants glittered faintly in their foil-wrapped pots. They’d been infused with Holiday Magic, and were ready to be loaded onto the conveyor belt that would take them out of the Shielded greenhouse and onto the loading dock, where Alex would ensure they were packed into temperature controlled trucks for delivery.

Hours later, Ophelia was curled up in her favorite chair in her cottage on the family property. The winter storm had killed the electricity again, but she’d Enhanced her Roku-TV so that she could get Netflix without it, and with cheesy holiday movies playing on the 40-inch screen, a pot of spiced tea, and a crackling fire, she couldn’t imagine being any cozier.

The holiday season had officially begun, and Bloome and Greene Florists was looking at a banner year.

Once Upon a December

Copyright: <a href='http://www.123rf.com/profile_michaklootwijk'>michaklootwijk / 123RF Stock Photo</a>This is not a #MusicAdvent post. It’s also not a #Holidailies post.  Oh, and it’s not a #DecemberReflections post either.

This is an admin post warning you about what’s going on with the Bathtub Mermaid this December.

Because I like to challenge myself (or because I’m insane, possibly both) I’m doing a triple cocktail of Holiday Blog/Twitter/Instagram projects, and may (or may not) be combining them.

(Actually, I may be doing a fourth project at the same time, but that will only be 12 days, and not 25 or 31)

So, here’s the lowdown on what to expect.

Today (1 December 2016) is the first day of MusicAdvent, in which people share a song every day from now til Christmas. This year, the challenge is to chain the songs together, so that each song somehow connects to the previous one. I came this|close to using “The Alphabet Song” or  “Alligators All Around” because that way the instant connection would be that they’d be in alphabetical order, but that would be cheating. So, you’ll have to go follow me on twitter (see my link in the sidebar) to find out what song I start with.

Today (1 December 2016) is also the first day of Holidailies, which I’ve been participating in for over a decade now. If you visited this space, or listened to my podcast, in October, you know I also participated in the darker version of that project, #HorrorDailies. But this month is for the original.

And finally, today (1 December 2016) is the first day of December Reflections  which I’ll be doing mostly on Instagram (link in sidebar).

Oh, and that fourth project? It will be a 12-day podcast thing, like a mini-version of Dog Days of Podcasting, and you’ll be able to follow that at BathtubMermaid.com when it begins.

Now, if this all sounds a bit ambitious, please remember that I reserve the right to skip days when necessary. (12/21, for example, I’ll be on a plane).

I hope you’ll take the ride with me this month. Some blog entries may incorporate the music or photo from that day; some may not. Let’s see what happens.

Oh, who am I kidding. This is totally a holidailies post.

It’s not you; It’s me.

I’ve hesitated to write anything that feels like a Holidailies wrap-up, because I sort of fizzled out of participation this year. While I laud Richard and JeniPurr for keeping the project and the community going, I just didn’t feel very connected to it this year, which is a shame, because it’s the decade of Holidailies writings that morphed into my book.

I don’t blame anyone but myself. I’m just feeling really hermit-ish this winter. I didn’t decorate my Christmas tree until I absolutely had to, and if I weren’t having guests – beloved guests – on Sunday, I’d be itching to take everything down, even though it’s not yet Epiphany.

I wrote a short story for a fan community I belong to, which seems silly, but I use it as a playground to stretch myself – write in different voices, experiment with with different points of view, different structures. It’s a good way to learn and grow without having to spend tons of time world-building.

But none of that has to do with the new year.

2015 was a challenging year for me. It’s the first year in which I’ve had hardly any paid gigs, but it’s also the first year in which I really focused on writing, so I think, in the end, it was a good year.

I mean, I published a book.
And I bought a guitar.
And made several new friends.
And made my marriage even stronger.

So, if I’m having issues with a favorite holiday project being unsatisfying this year, it’s all on me.
And actually, I’m okay with that.

Here’s to a new year. May it be full of wonder and joy.
And just a few surprises, to keep us all on our toes.

Holidailies 2015