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.