Labyrinth

Labyrinth Photo by Kathy GreyShe walks, following the pattern of the stones. Her feet sink into the soft earth and when she’s on the outer rims of the shape the evergreens reach out to snatch bits of her hair, letting go with only a little reluctance.

The only sounds she hears are the birds above, and her own breath. The ground is clear enough, soft enough, that her bare feet make no sound.

She traces the switchback paths with her whole body, one quadrant at a time until the circle is complete. The sun is partially occluded by lingering morning fog, but she likes it that way. It makes this place feel more mystical.

A smile curves the corners of her mouth upward; she is amused by her own whimsy.

Half-way through the ritual, standing in the center of the circle, she pauses to reflect. Unlike the story, there is no spool of thread to guide her out if she loses her way. Instead, the only tether she has is the one that binds her to friends and family. A mixture of love and obligation, of belonging and duty… life isn’t ever purely one thing or another, after all.

There isn’t a great beast waiting in the dark to prey upon her. Sadly, David Bowie doesn’t lurk here waiting to escort her to a different world, either.

But there are still monsters.

There are always monsters.

These monsters, though, aren’t tangible. Rather, they go by names like Fear and Doubt, and they travel with impish sidekicks like Impatience and Annoyance.

She moves on, into the last quarter of her journey, and considers: no king created this collection of stones. She’s pretty sure most of the maintenance on it is done by women. And she likes that notion.

Women’s hands, women’s work creating a sacred space for all to walk, and think, and just be. She wonders if they sang while they worked, sending their energy into the rocks, trees, and soil. She hopes they did. She imagines they did. She thinks she might hear the echoes of their voices blended into the whispers of the trees.

The end of the path is met with a sigh. She has completed the circle, and emerged back into the light, and maybe no big decisions were made, or problems solved during her walk, but maybe that isn’t the point.

Maybe it’s enough that she walked the trail with her monsters and left them behind to make their own way out, shrinking in the sun – as such creatures are wont to do.

She wonders how long it will take them, then smiles at the thought.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday Brunch: Leonardo Was Right

Leonardo DaVinci once wrote, “In time, and with water, everything changes.”

Over the last year I’ve lived very closely with that tenet, as we’ve had to replace pretty much every household appliance that uses water. The washer, the dishwasher, and the water heater were the big-ticket items, but we also replaced our electric kettle and my water-pik.

And then February happened.

The atypical side effects of “Winter Storm Uri” as experienced by those of us in Texas and other parts of the south made national news. Our state’s greed meant that our electricity infrastructure had not been winterized, even though a similar storm ten years ago made the need quite obvious.

We were warned that we’d have rolling power outages. We were told they’d be 15 to 45 minutes long, every few hours. Instead, in sub-freezing weather, the rolling outages in my neighborhood gave us one hour of power every seven, but that level of surging caused a lot of the grid to fail entirely.

In my house, our heat and hot water are gas, but everything else is electric. If there’s no electricity, there’s no way to distribute the heat (it’s a forced-air system.) We have twenty-foot ceilings in our living room and the registers are at the top of the room. Even if we wanted to, we couldn’t have closed off that room to make the rest of the house warmer. We have a fireplace, but it’s mainly decorative and doesn’t really put out heat. During a typical winter, we might use it on a rainy night to cut the dampness a little bit.

This winter was not typical.

On the morning of Tuesday, February 16th, it was 40 degrees in my bedroom. My 12-year-old pointer-mix, Max, was shivering in his bed. His hips are arthritic, and he can’t control his bowels so curling up in our bed is no longer an option. My chihuahua, Perry, had been shivering since the initial power outage on Sunday night.

A gracious friend told me to pack up all four of my dogs and come to her house. It’s a tiny house. 2 bedrooms with a connecting bathroom. Her college-aged son was in his room doing virtual school (he’s in the theatre arts program at DePaul, and he’s going to be a huge talent someday). She gave us her bedroom, and we squeezed the dog crates and dog beds into it. (She had a trundle bed in her office, sewing room).  Initially, I’d resisted her offer. Surely, I thought, we would have normal rolling outages.

I’m glad I changed my mind.

As I was packing with numb fingers (our closet is beyond the master bathroom and shares a wall with the garage, so it was even colder in there), there was a loud KA-CHONK sound from somewhere inside the bathroom walls. We’d been dripping the taps – all of them – but apparently it wasn’t enough. When Fuzzy went upstairs to check that bathroom, he found that the tub and one sink were no longer dripping, and the toilet wouldn’t flush.

We packed the car for the first trip across town on icy, unplowed (because Dallas doesn’t own plows) streets. I stayed at my friend’s house and drank hot tea until I felt warm, while Fuzzy made more trips.

When he got back to the house the first time, he found water pouring into our master bathroom (on the first floor) from the tub pipes in the bathroom upstairs. The fire department came and shut off the water at the main, and I called in a claim to our insurance company.

It was Thursday evening before a plumber could come and fix the pipes and at that point the power had just come back on. We were lucky – there are people in my city STILL waiting for plumbers a week and a half later.

We got even luckier: the plumber’s wife is a general contractor. Normally, we’d be getting bids and vetting people. We don’t have that ability right now.

With water, heat, and power restored we could return home. But we are still in limbo. Our insurer wants water mitigation to come and dry things out (it’s been almost two weeks since the initial flood at this point, and it reached 80 degrees outside a few days ago) before the contractor can be allowed to start. There’s other damage to the house, related to the storm, but not necessarily related to the pipes that may or may not be a separate claim (and thus a second deductible), and as it is our deductible is based on our property value and is over three thousand dollars.

The contractor has identified a lot more work than I anticipated, including replacing the sheet rock on the bottom two feet of most of the back of the house, and basically gutting the upstairs bathroom. (The entire subfloor did get drenched. It’s been raining this weekend, and my house smells like a pirate ship… and not in a good way.) Because there are thousands of people in similar  – or worse – situations materials are scarce and places where we can relocate during the work that must be done – with four dogs, one of whom has mobility issues – as I do – are even more challenging to find.

Water used to be my best friend. It has always been where I felt safest, where I felt calmest. But right now, my tub is full of debris, and the intense lightning storm the other night had me awake every hour because I’m now paranoid about losing power.

My husband is a calm, stoic Midwesterner. He has faith in the process and believes we will be okay. I cannot share his optimism. I’m frazzled and anxious and exhausted. I look around my house and feel nothing but anger at being cheated out of enjoying a rare snowstorm, and at the fact that the Texas government would prefer that people freeze rather than lose a penny.  I feel like I’ve betrayed my dogs by allowing them to suffer, to be confused by being moved away and then home, and by not behaving in ways they expect. My house is no longer a haven, but a prison I can’t escape. If I had a place to go, if I could AFFORD to buy something new, I’d sell this place to a flipper and bail in a heartbeat. In half a heart-beat.

And yet, there is some good that has come from this. My friendship with the woman who gave us sanctuary grew stronger. We’ve connected with some of our neighbors we only really knew by sight before. My husband and I have both experienced moments of clarity about what we want for the future. And my friends, my awesome friends, many of whom are included in the list of my podcast patrons, started a fundraiser to help us offset our deductible and the inevitable expenses that insurance won’t cover, and FEMA may not be able to help with. (I’ll link to it in the show notes.)

“In time, and with water, everything changes.”

Leonardo was right, but what changes I will ultimately see are as yet unknown.

FUNDRAISER: Dog Days of Podcasting  – Help Melissa

Mermaid Meditations 001 – The Reef

Image by Leandro De Carvalho from Pixabay

“She looks so natural,” I hear my aunt say.

“I can’t believe she’s only two hundred,” my grandmother replies.

“That color really isn’t her best look, though,” my mother adds, and she’s right, because where once our dearly departed was rosy pink and bright orange with streaks of green and blue, now she’s a dismal, ashy grey.

“Why do we keep coming to these things?” I hear my father mutter to my uncle.

“Family obligation, I guess,” my uncle answers back.

I move away from the crowd, end up crashing fins with three of my cousins. Bubbles are suddenly everywhere, and it takes me a moment to re-orient myself. One of them, Red, a couple of cycles older than me, waits to make sure I’m alright. The other boys swim off, giggling. I guess it’s good that someone can still laugh.

“You okay, Starfish?”

“My name is Estrella,” I remind him.

“Estrella de Mar,” he responds. “Star of the sea… but in one of the human languages, they say ‘starfish,'”

“Human languages are complicated,” I grouse.

Red grins. “Humans are complicated. They claim they love the ocean, but then they do this…” He waves his hand toward the grey mass where the aunties are still gathered.

“Kill our reefs, you mean? I don’t think they do it intentionally. And a lot of them are trying to reverse the damage being done.”

“Yeah,” he says.

“Yeah,” I answer.

“It’s time!” I hear my grandmother announce.

“Let’s go!” Red grabs my hand, and we swim back into the school of merfolk.

“Mermaid tears,” Grandmer says,  “are the only thing that can heal a dead reef. Everyone, summon your sadness, but also summon your hope.”

One at a time, from oldest to youngest, we swim along the gray reef, and let our tears cleanse the water around her, bringing back the shrimp and krill, willing the restoration of color.

Some people say that the reef is the godmother of all mermaids. Some people think something about her let us become real, instead of merely existing in the tall tales of sailors and the dreams of children.

In this case, the only truth that matters is this: The coral reef is where we begin, and where we end. She is our first home and our last. The least we can do is give back what we were given.

Image by Leandro De Carvalho from Pixabay

SwimTime

I’m participating in the Summer Love Notes project this summer. (If you’d like to contribute, feel free to drop me a line.) Here’s an excerpt from my piece “SwimTime,” which ran on June 8th.

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She drapes her pink and white striped beach towel across the arms of one of the patio chairs and leaves her flip-flops underneath it. Her sunglasses, she leaves on as she descends the steps into the pool. They’re a little too tall for her, so her movements aren’t graceful, like a reverse Aphrodite slipping back into the water, but more half-way between a step and a hop.

Read the rest of this piece here: SwimTime at SummerLoveNotes

(De)Caffeinated

This was supposed to be for Day 8 of Like the Prose – Heroes and Villains / Good and Evil  – but I had to twist it.

clay-banks-_wkd7XBRfU4-unsplashHe is her hero.

Dark. Silent. Slightly broody.

But he’s also reassuring.

When she needs a boost he’s always there for her, in a stance that even Superman couldn’t imitate.

When a migraine threatens, when she has a thousand tasks and only time for ten, when sleep is threatening to steal her senses – he comes to the rescue.

But…

He has an evil twin.

Equally dark, equally silent.

Possibly a bit less broody (villains always are; their evil deeds instill delight.)

When he shows up, she trembles in fear, because she knows – she knows – that her energy will not be enhanced, her tasks will not get done, her drowsiness will not be swept away.

But she’ll enjoy the experience, even so, because he’ll lure her in with assurances that he’ll treat her the same, that her lips won’t know the difference.

Yet, every morning, every evening, she must choose:

Hero or Villain?

Regular… or Decaf?

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Deception Betwixt R and T

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a lipogram

 

It had begun, like much did, at a bar. There hadn’t been a band that night. Rather, the entertainer had been a magician, of a kind.

The title he’d claimed had been “Mental Deceiver,” but I remain certain that he were better called a charlatan or conniver.

The food and liquor had flowed like – well, like food and liquor tend to flow in a place where the barkeep let you run a tab and the final check never actually arrived. Gourmet, all of it, or high-end where gourmet didn’t apply.

The blue drink offered by the Deceiver, we imbibed by the tumbler, one after another after another.

And then the he began to… nudge.

Not out loud, but with a piercing look, a tiny hand movement, a voice in your head.

To me, the order came mentally: For a fiveday, no longer will be, that letter betwixt the ‘r’ and ‘t’.

I laughed… anyone would. The Deceiver couldn’t really eliminate a letter. Could he?

But come morning, I found to my horror that he could.

Annoyance!

Anger!

The feeling of being completely tongue-tied and fighting it.

For a week, I could neither greet my lover by name nor utter my own.

I could not even affix it to a legal document.

The initial two of the fiveday were extremely difficult.

After that, I learned to be mindful of my thinking, I learned to hear the tweeting and chirping of the flying and the feathered. I appreciated the din of a downpour and let ever-whirring electrical hum be my lullaby at night.

At midnight on the final day, I heard the Deceiver announce in my head “Challenge Completed.”

I let my mouth curl up in glee and gave in to my dreaming  knowing that in the morning, all would be like before.

Mainly.

Photo by Markos Mant on Unsplash

Cognitive Dissonance

File Jun 11, 10 27 00 PM

A Basil and Zoe story

“Basil… ” I hesitated because I know this is going to be a sensitive subject. “Why do you always hide your laser gun the second you come home?”

My partner regarded me with his sapphire eyes, and answered in his usual well-modulated tone. “I am not hiding it, Zoe. I am simply stowing it in a safe place until I require it for another away mission.”

“You’re not Security.”

“No, I am not. You are well aware my specialties are science and research, as well as navigation and – ”

“Basil!”

“You have more to say.” It was not a question. We’d been dating for two years… not that you can really date on a spaceship, especially when half the couple is away at a music conservatory a good chunk of the time.

“It’s not just for show, though, right? You’ve used it.”

“Yes, I have”

“And, when you’ve been on the bridge, there’ve been times when you’ve had to fire torpedoes or lasers or order someone else to do so?”

“That is also true.”

“But you’re not a killer.”

“I… do not believe so. My core programming includes a strong prohibition against committing violent acts of any kind, and the beliefs I have acquired since my activation support that belief.  Is there something specific troubling you, beloved?”

I sat on the couch, not in the corner as I often did when we were sharing tea, or watching an entertainment program, but in the center, cross-legged. Basil remained standing, directly across the coffee table from me. “The mission you just returned from… resettling the Seluvians… it made the news-nets. You… they showed you shooting at someone.”

“I did ‘shoot at someone,'” Basil confirmed. “But it was only after they shot at our team. It was self-defense, and we were careful to minimize the…” he paused before using the technical term. “… collateral damage.”

“I’ve never seen you fire a weapon before.”

“And it bothers you that I have?”

“No. Yes.  I don’t know. I think of you as a poet and a scientist, and then watching video clips of you being all ruthless and soldiery…”

“Soldiery?”

“You know. Military… scary.”

“You are having trouble incorporating the person you know me to be with the officer you saw on the news?”

“Yeah. Pretty much. I mean… I didn’t like seeing you firing the laser.”

“And I disliked that I had to. It was a last resort, Zoe. It is not a first choice, ever.”

“I guess it’s… there are people who think I’m with you because you’re somehow safe. Not a threat. And it that moment I realized how scary, how dangerous you could be. And it bothered me, and then it bothered me that it bothered me, because I know you’re not a killer. It was part of your job and…”

“The experience you are having is called cognitive dissonance,” Basil interrupted. “It is a typical response to  seemingly opposing information, ideas, or observations.”

“So, how do I get past it?” I asked.

“Perhaps begin by asking yourself if you are afraid of me.”

He had a point.

“I’m not,” I said. “I’m truly not. I know you’d never hurt me, and it’s not just because of your programming. It’s because you’re just not that kind of person.”

“Perhaps it would also be beneficial for you to allow me to explain our missions to you, before we leave.”

“Can you?” I asked. “I mean… wasn’t it classified?”

“Officers are allowed to share sensitive information with their spouses, Zoe.”

“But we’re not married.”

“No, but we are in a committed relationship, are we not?”

“Well, yes.”

“And we share a home,” Basil added.

“We do when I’m not at the conservatory, yes.”

“Then if it will help you to be less ‘bothered’ by the more unsavory aspects of my ‘job,’ I see no reason to withhold information from you.”

I nodded. “Okay.” Then I moved from my cross-legged position. “Could we start now? Would you explain the background of the Seluvian conflict?”

“I will be happy to do so. Would you care for some tea while we talk?”

“I’d love some,” I said, and then I added. “Thank you for putting up with me.”

But Basil didn’t accept that. “There is no thanks needed, Zoe. You are my partner, and you are troubled. It is my duty to assist you in easing that state, if I can. Just as you have done for me.”

I laughed. “Okay, fine. But…”

Basil favored me with the slight smile that was just between us. “You are welcome, Zoe. Always.”

Milano Musings

A Basil and Zoe story – sort of.

This was for day 4 of this year’s Like the Prose challenge, in which we were supposed to write in third person, which I don’t do a lot.

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“I’m about to make some coffee; would you like some?” Charlotte greeted as her roommate, Zoe,  entered their apartment. They two young women had gotten lucky, scoring a two-bedroom, top-level place with a real kitchen – not just food replicators – and a view of the docking rings as well. Other members of their troupe had not been so fortunate.

“Thanks,” Zoe answered, reaching up to pull her chestnut hair out of the elastic keeping it in a high, tight, ponytail. “I thought today would never end.”

“Team-building with the cadets again? Charlotte asked sympathetically. The blonde woman knew that her friend hated working with the newest members of the Star Navy. They always wanted to ask questions about the other woman’s relationship with her partner, the Coalition of Aligned Worlds’ only sentient synthetic lifeform.

“Worse. Teaching improv at the middle school.” Part of their job as members of the Astral Theatre Troupe was Theatre Education, and while Zoe was actually fairly good at it, she also hated it. “Their principal told me they ceased to be intelligent beings when they turn twelve, and don’t revert to their native species until they start high school at fourteen.”

Zoe flopped on the couch, and Charlotte moved to join her, bringing two mugs of coffee and a bag of cookies on a tray.

“Dark chocolate Milanos? You never replicated these! And I know the station store charges an arm and a leg for them.”

“And a couple of ribs, yep,” Charlotte grinned. “A certain silver-skinned gentleman had them delivered and asked me to hide them til you ‘really required them.’ Feels like today was a good time.”

“Basil, I love you,” Zoe said the words to the air.

“And he loves you, too. Which begs the question: Why are you spending the summer break here on a space station in the back of beyond instead of on his ship, in your quarters, canoodling between his duty shifts.”

The darker-haired of the two grimaced. “It’s not a masochistic streak, I promise. Basil isn’t on the Cousteau this summer. He’s temporarily assigned to the Ballard, filling in for the executive officer. It was entering its spawning period and had to return home to Okeanos Four.”

The other woman nodded in sympathy. “So even if you went home, you’d still be apart? That’s all kinds of suckfulness.”

“It is, and it isn’t. This assignment will make Basil a better candidate for exec on the Cousteau when Captain Kr’klow retires. Maybe even captain. He has the required time in rank, after all.”

“So, you’re gonna be a captain’s wife someday? How fancy!” the blonde woman teased.

“It’s just a job, Char, and honestly, our jobs are just as fancy to people outside the troupe. Now… do you want to share these Milanos with me or not?”

“Not… ” Charlotte began claiming one of the cups of coffee and pushing the tray toward her friend.”

“Charlotte?” Zoe looked shocked.

“Kidding!” the other sing-songed. “Just trying to keep you on your toes.”

“Why, exactly, are we friends?” Zoe demanded, only half-joking.

“Because I keep you from missing your fiancé and I make excellent coffee.”

Zoe gave her friend a look. Well, at least the coffee part was true.

Photo by Joshua Ness on Unsplash

Swing on a Star

0921 - StarMaidThere are many kinds of mermaids. Sirens. Whatever you want to call them.

The mermaids you know, the kind on earth, the kind that spend their lives in the ocean –  they have fins and tails and can breathe saltwater as well as they can breathe air. Their inspiration is bilingual, in a sense.

These sirens, their bodies hybrids of human and fish (well, really porpoise – they’re mammals, after all – how else could they interbreed?) are thought to call ships toward rocky endings in order to find new blood  – new partners – with which to mate.

It’s not true, of course. Just a tall tale told by sailors who saw lonely comrades jump overboard because they fell in love with a voluptuous figure, a beautiful face, a lustrous head of hair.

But my kind… my kind swims through a different sea. Instead of starfish, we have actual stars to play with… like that old earth song. “Would you like to swing on a star? Carry moonbeams home in a jar?”

And we do. Swing from one astral body to another. Play hide and seek inside nebulae. Have incredible games of follow-the-leader through asteroid fields. Surf on solar flares. Like humans, and saltwater mermaids, we are made of stardust, but we are a bit more of the star than the dust.

Also like our cousins on that big,  blue and green marble, we love to dance.

Our cousins – sisters, really – dance on sand or stone, under constructed roofs, or under the moon. They dance with partners, sometimes just for fun, sometimes as a precursor to another, more private sort of dance.

But while we do merge with others of our kind from time to time, our dancing is pure art. Or pure physics. You decide.

I have pirouetted around Pluto and jitterbugged in and out of the rings of Jupiter. I’ve mamboed from earth’s moon to the mountains of Mars and bopped my way to Betelgeuse. Or at least, that’s the closest description I can come up with in human language.

Because when we astral mermaids – starmaids – dance, we make dark matter wish it were light. We grab onto the tails of passing comets and let the whiplash whirl us across the cosmos. We spiral around the Milky Way to the beat of the Universe’s heart.

And then we rest.

We are not the sirens you thought you knew. We don’t call astronauts to mate with us… though we do peek into passing ships, and flash space station viewports, and when we aren’t dancing, we do sing.

Our call isn’t easy to discern, but if you listen to the sounds your scientists refer to as “space noise,”  – listen with all your imagination – you might – just might – be able to hear our song.

Image copyright: Hugh Pindur