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.

 

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

New Years Eve at the AT&T Store

iPad Air 2 Jonathan at the AT&T Store in The Highlands of Arlington is awesome. I just thought I’d get that bit out of the way first.

Now to the real point:

I love my husband. Fuzzy adores me, supports my creative endeavors, still flirts with me after almost 21 years of marriage, and even remembers to recycle cans and boxes most of the time. he’s also Midwestern, which means “It’s okay,” is high praise, and making a decision is an agonizing experience.

It has taken him since September to figure out how to allocate his birthday money.  (He couldn’t figure out what he wanted, so we agreed that he could spend the equivalent of the cost of my guitar on something he wanted.)

When I asked him what he wanted for Christmas, he told me that he’d like to combine his birthday money with his Christmas gift and get a new iPad. This was a perfectly valid request, as Fuzzy has never had a brand-new iPad. Usually, I get a new iPad and he inherits my old one, largely because I’m a power-user, and he just plays games. I was happy to agree to his suggestion.

However.

He couldn’t decide which iPad he wanted. The current version of the iPad Air would be an upgrade beyond my Air, but the Pro was launched earlier this summer, and it’s really pretty.

Finally, on Christmas Day, he said he needed to go look at them.

But we were both exhausted and spent Christmas weekend in blissful lassitude, reading and puttering and not leaving the house.

And then he had to work.

Today, when his half-day of work was over, we trekked to the closest AT&T store, where the salespeople, who  I will not name, included a woman who kept pushing us to buy DirecTV, even though we already have Uverse, and love it, and a man who was saturated with cologne. (And I do mean saturated. Seriously, it would take him a week to sweat away all the scent he was wearing.) It turned out that they didn’t have the make and model he wanted, so we left.

Then we went to Best Buy, where they told us there would be a 40-minute wait.

There are very few pieces of mobile technology that are worth waiting forty minutes for on New Year’s Eve.

But the time in both those stores wasn’t entirely wasted. He decided the Pro was too large to be used the way he likes to use tablets.

I went online and learned that the other AT&T store near us, the one in the shopping center that is also home to our favorite movie theater, had ONE  128 GB iPad Air 2, but it was gold. “Fuzzy,” I said, “they have what you want in gold. If you REALLY want silver we’re driving to SouthLake or  Frisco.”

“Gold is good,” he said. For him, that’s almost excitement.

The Highlands AT&T store is newer, and much more spacious than the one nearer to our home. It caters to a slightly more affluent clientele. While we still had to wait, there were tables and chairs, plush benches, and lots of other things to look at.

(I might have had a brief affair with a Microsoft Surface 3. Don’t judge. I liked the fact that the keyboard, while small (which is actually good for me – I have tiny hands) was satisfyingly clicky. )

I also had a conversation with a wild-haired customer who was ranting about how AT&T is changing all their plans to scam you out of more money and how if you cancel your service while you have an installment plan on a device, you have to PAY OFF THE BALANCE!!!!! (He said it in all caps, I swear.)

And seriously, is that news to anyone?

I mean, really??

Finally, Fuzzy got his iPad and we went to the grocery store to get napkins and recycling bags and a gazillion other things, including the ingredients to make empanadas, because YUM.

So we spent a good chunk of the afternoon in the AT&T store, but that’s okay, because even in the AT&T store you can find a touch of holiday romance, like the light in your beloved’s eyes when you tell him, “Yes, sweetie, you can buy whichever one you want.”

Holidailies 2015

Thoughts from the Bath

My usual Saturday evening ritual, at least in cool weather, is to soak in the tub while listening to Selected Shorts on NPR. (I know. I live a wild life.) I use the time to just relax, away from smartphones and computer screens. Sometimes one of the dogs will join me in the bathroom, splashed on the floor like a puddle of breathing fur, but most of the time the current pack all congregates on my bed, as if they’re guarding me from whatever might come through the bedroom and into my bathroom.

So far, their vigilance has paid off, and only my husband has ever come into the room. I’m sure they feel very smug about their track record.

Sometimes in the bath, I plot out the stories I’m working on.

Often, I read.

Last night, however, as I soaked in lavender-scented water and formed castles out of the mounds of bubbles, I let my mind wander and ended up with a stream-of-consciousness that was part life commentary and part idle musing.

It went something like this:

I really need a pedicure. It’s been over a month since I had my toenails done, and hey, this purple polish has pretty good staying power, but really, purple in December? I want to make that chocolate gingerbread again, the one we put the peppermint schnapps frosting on, and I can’t remember where I put the recipe. I just realized; it’s almost Christmas and I haven’t yet used my Christmas mugs. This weird warm weather is freaking me out. I’m so tired of mosquitoes. I promised Deb I’d shoot a picture of her book somewhere in my house. Is that a thing now? I didn’t ask any of my friends to take pictures with my book. Should I have done that. Oh, hey, that quantum relationship thing I wrote for Medium needs to be in the next book; everyone seemed to really like it. What day is tomorrow in MusicAdvent? Oh, right, it began on the first so tomorrow’s the 20th. What letter are we on? Oh, right T. We’re on T. T-t-t-t-t-t-t-t. Oh! that scene in Easy A just popped into my brain.

You get the idea.

Holidailies 2015

 

I Keep Writing Entries in My Head

Dinner, December 16I keep writing entries in my head, but somehow they never make it to the blog, which is a problem since I actually look forward to Holidailies every year, as a way to recharge my writing. I’m writing other things, of course… working on the collection of cafe vignettes I’m releasing in February, working on a chapter of a story for a private group of people, but mostly, I just feel tired this month, and that’s absurd because I have to real reason to feel tired.

I’ve been keeping up with #MusicAdvent, at least, but that’s a lot easier because I can do that from my phone. Interestingly, it’s been more difficult than I expected because I committed to only using songs that are either cello covers or feature the cello in their instrumentation, and trying to do that while also not resorting to only classical, and stay in alphabetical order, has been more of a challenge than I thought it would be.

But I can do that from my phone.

So, I keep having these ideas for posts, and then I forget to write them down, even in my head, and when I sit down to actually type, my mind goes blank.

I’ve been enjoying cooking up a storm, though. It’s been unseasonably warm, which means I’m trying to balance lighter foods with the seasonal flavors I’m craving. Tonight we roasted yams with herbed sea salt I brought home from Mexico, curry, and ginger, and baked salmon with Mediterranean Rub from Tom Thumb (it’s really good; I use it for everything) and mixed greens. I love the $5 tubs of herb salad or spring greens from the O! Organics line. Most nights we add dressing, but we don’t even bother adding other vegetables.

I baked a metric ass-load of chocolate chip cookies today, because I like to have them to give away. I don’t usually chill the dough, but I did this time because (see above) I was so tired that I napped from four til dinner-time (actually, that was also the hormone-induced lethargy that always hits me really hard at certain times of the month).

It’s 12:04, but technically this entry is for the 16th, because I started it at 11:43.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll actually write something real.

Holidailies 2015

 

Big Dogs and Big Storms

You know that line in A Visit from St. Nicholas? The one about dry leaves flying before a hurricane? I always thought it felt out of place in what was, otherwise, a sweet and fluffy poem, but today that line is echoing through my head, as leaves are being blown about outside my house.

There’s definitely a storm brewing, but whether my part of the DFW metroplex will get any measurable rain is still a toss-up. Most of the time, the fact that our little corridor of I-20 seems to live in a sort of weather-proof bubble is a good thing. A couple of years ago, when tornadoes were hitting all around us, my neighborhood didn’t even lose power.

Stalking Maximus

Be very quiet; Max is stalking something.

Sometimes though, like today, I want the storm. We had crisp, cold weather until about a week ago, and then everything crept back into the 70s, which is fine, I suppose, except that it’s  December, we’re twelve days from Christmas Eve, and we still have mosquitoes.

I actually have air conditioning turned on.

Also, rain and fog make all the Christmas lights look pretty – enhancing the sparkle factor. Not that I’ve finished decorating. In truth, I’ve barely begun, and the recent weather is a big part of that. (Finishing my first book, and getting it ready to put on Amazon is another part of that, but that post has already been written.)

I’m not the only one feeling a bit off-kilter because of the weather. Max and Teddy, my two biggest dogs, have been acting kind of spooked since last night. They’re asking for extra attention, being overly clingy (even for them) and then bouncing off to chase each other around the house and yard as if they have to burn off every ounce of energy that they have right this very minute.

Watching big dogs play can be kind of intense. They slam into each other with all the force of football players, and there is much gnashing of teeth and swiping of claws.

Curious Ted

Teddy is always a bit perplexed.

They growl and roooooo! They dance around each other like prize fighters looking for the perfect opportunity to jab or cross, and then they back off, tails wagging, as if to say, “Aww, shucks, I was only playing.”

After a heavy play session, Teddy, who is four years younger and 20 pounds heavier than Max, will go to his brother and lick his ears, as if to say, “I may have bigger paws and sharper teeth, but you’re still my big brother.”

Max turned seven a few days ago, and his age is starting to show a little. The black parts of his face are bearing more and more flecks of white hair, and his stamina is fading a little bit. Of course, he’s always been a bit of a couch potato, sprawling his spotted legs over the arms of chairs, or letting them dangle off the sofa. Ted is more a hunker-down-on-the-floor kind of dog, as if he knows his soft, black fur will pick up every single bit of dust.

One thing both of these big boys have in common is that they never go too long without coming to my side, poking a wet nose into my hand, offering a callow paw to shake, and then heading off to romp again.

The leaves are flying.

The dogs are rough-housing happily.

A storm is brewing.

And I can’t wait for it to come.

Holidailies 2015

Buy this Book: The Bathtub Mermaid: Tales From The (Holiday) Tub

The Bathtub Mermaid: Tales from the (Holiday) Tub

File this under shameless self promotion.

I haven’t posted an entry here in two days, because I’ve been busy editing my book.

MY BOOK

I’ve been part of Holidailies for over a decade now (this is my eleventh year), and I’ve amassed quite a lot of holiday-related content, many of which were designated ‘best of…’ in their years of publication.

You could cull through all of my archives (a decade of archives) to find the best ones, but why, when you can buy my book?

Just in time for Christmas (or Hanukkah, Yule, Kwanzaa, whatever – it’s kind of Christmassy though, because that’s my winter holiday of choice) comes The Bathtub Mermaid: Tales From the (Holiday) Tub, and it’s available from Amazon either in paperback or for your kindle.

Here, have a very brief excerpt.

I used to walk my dog, a poodle mix named Taffy, through the packed powder in Georgetown, CO, and then flagrantly disobey my mother’s rules (and common sense), by taking her down near the frigid waters of Clear Creek, to the place behind the post office where the bank was climbable and the sandbars that were islands in the summer became mini-glaciers in the winter.

It was in the curve of that creek that my friends and I would spend hours pretending to be arctic explorers, while Taffy played the alternate parts of either a sled dog or a polar bear.

Afterwards, we’d trudge home (because trudging is really the only way you walk through snow), and I’d de-mat her paws, and we’d cuddle by the fire, while I drank cocoa with tiny marshmallows.

(Somewhat ironically, while people can get the paperback by Monday with Prime shipping, I won’t receive my author copies til after Christmas.)

Holidailies 2015