Xenia’s Bedraglon

0930 - Bedraglon

 

“Mama! Come look! There’s a bedraglon on the beach! We have to help it!”

 

“A what?” My child confused me sometimes.

 

“A bedraglon,” she repeated. “You know, when a thing is all mussed and tired and fade-y it’s bedraggled, right?”

 

I couldn’t fault her vocabulary. Since moving to Vios, she’d had little to do but read. She read in the house when I was preparing our meals, or in the back of flitter when I made house calls. And as the only xeno-veterinarian in the colony, I made a lot of house calls.

 

But the girl was still talking.

 

“Well, the animal on the beach is a dragon. And it’s bedraggled, so it’s a bedraglon, and we have to help it.” She looked up at me with her liquid blue-grey eyes, the color precisely the same as that of the stormy skies above us. “You can help it, can’t you, Mama?”

 

Ah, the faith of fools and children! You must never intentionally break either. “Let me get my bag,” I told her. “And I’ll see what I can do.”

 

The little girl half-led, half-pulled me down the beach from our back door, to where the poor creature had collapsed in the surf, and I had to admit, her name for it was sadly accurate.

 

I’d only ever glimpsed these native flyers in the air, and once I saw the evidence one of them left behind on one of Mr. Copnick’s sheep, but I’d never been up-close-and-personal with one, and even as a sodden heap, it was a bit intimidating.

 

“Easy there,” I said to it, speaking as I would to a spooked horse. “I’m here to help.”

 

It seemed to understand that I meant no harm because its dark eyes brightened slightly.

 

I walked around the creature making a visual assessment, and that’s when I realized what had happened: the poor beast had been snared by a fisherfolk’s drift net. Long since banned for ocean use, these nets were used on Vios and other colony worlds to catch aerial prey. Specifically, the fisherfolk here cast them out from trawling shuttles to snare the flying turkeys that had become one of our staple foods. Apparently, even when used in the skies instead of the seas, they still caught other creatures unintentionally.

 

“Xenia, darling, will you do Mama a huge favor and bring the big shears from my bag?”

 

“Okay!” She trotted over with them, carried point-down as I’d told her so many times. “Can I help?”

 

I hesitated. I needed someone to keep the dra – bedraglon – calm, but I wasn’t certain it was safe. I did my own sort of casting out, probing the creature with my vet-sense. There was no return crackle of danger, so I took a chance.

 

“Go sit near its head, sweety. If it lets you touch it – like this -“ and I demonstrated, giving the animal’s side a firm but gentle stroke with my flattened hand “- then pet it, and talk to it. Talk soft and slow, like you do with Spot.”

 

Spot was our dog. Or cat. I hadn’t yet determined if the local domestic was analogous to canine or feline house pets, but we referred to them as Viosian Cloud Leopard Dogs, and almost every family had adopted one.

 

“Okay, Mama.”

 

I gave the bedraglon – I was thinking of it that way, now – a few minutes to settle, and was relieved to see that Xenia had dropped into a cross-legged position and coaxed the great beast’s head into her lap. Then I went to work with my shears.

 

Freeing the first wing was easy enough, but the second was folded backwards and the ribs were straining. I had to find the tension point before I could start snipping and balancing it with one hand while I clipped the strands of the net with the other was a little awkward. But I managed, and even though it felt like hours, it was only a few minutes before the animal was completely free.

 

I sensed the bedraglon’s motion before I saw it move. “Sweety, move back,” I warned, but my daughter was already up on her feet.

 

The animal rocked back and forth a few times, then got to its feet. It snaked its thick neck around to look at me, then blew warm air into my face. I could have lived without the strong scent of masticated fish, but I understood it as a gesture of thanks.

 

“You’re welcome,” I told it.

 

I walked toward the front of its body, running my hands along its side as I did so. Nothing felt wrong, but what did I know? What surprised me was that it wasn’t scaled like a lizard or leathery like bats. Rather it had the coarse hair of a Terran hunting dog. A pointer, maybe.

 

By the time I got to where my daughter was standing, the bedraglon had turned back to look at her. She also received the animal’s breath of gratitude, and her expression of disgust only matched her delighted giggles for pure adorableness.

 

We watched as the creature launched itself into the air, and if its first few wing strokes were a bit wobbly, who could blame it.

 

I expected that would be the end of our first encounter with Bedraglon Xenian, as it was officially named, but about a week later as we were sitting on the sand right below our house, a shadow obscured the twin suns for a moment and then our friend was standing before us.

 

Xenia was racing toward it before I could even get up, but I needn’t have worried. The bedraglon had lowered its head so my daughter could hug its neck, just like she had with our ponies back on Earth.

 

My husband came out to join us then, bringing me a glass of iced mint tea. “What’s going on there?” he asked. “Should I worry?”

 

“Nope,” I told him. “That’s just a girl and her bedraglon. It’s all good.”

 

And it was.

Art by: Rasmus Berggreen – http://conceptartworld.com/artists/rasmus-berggreen/

 

 

Hope and Keep Busy

Orchard House

In the cold gray dawn the sisters lit their lamp and read their chapter with an earnestness never felt before. For now the shadow of a real trouble had come, the little books were full of help and comfort, and as they dressed, they agreed to say goodbye cheerfully and hopefully, and send their mother on her anxious journey unsaddened by tears or complaints from them. Everything seemed very strange when they went down, so dim and still outside, so full of light and bustle within. Breakfast at that early hour seemed odd, and even Hannah’s familiar face looked unnatural as she flew about her kitchen with her nightcap on. The big trunk stood ready in the hall, Mother’s cloak and bonnet lay on the sofa, and Mother herself sat trying to eat, but looking so pale and worn with sleeplessness and anxiety that the girls found it very hard to keep their resolution. Meg’s eyes kept filling in spite of herself, Jo was obliged to hide her face in the kitchen roller more than once, and the little girls wore a grave, troubled expression, as if sorrow was a new experience to them.

Little Women and its sequels have been more than mere fiction to me, but lifelong companions. When I was a gap-toothed seven-year-old my mother and I were reading the first book together at bedtime, a chapter a night, until I became impatient and started reading ahead.

It was the last book we ever read together in that way, although my teens and early twenties would find us going to the library together and fighting over which of us got to read the new releases first. Somehow, “but I’m the one who checked it out,” never holds water with your mother, even when you’re a legal adult.

While a lot of people believe Alcott wrote for kids, that’s not really true. She was a writer in a time when, except for books targeted for very young children, books were just… books. “Young adult” didn’t exist as a category. If it wasn’t a picture book, a piece of fiction was meant for everyone.

And Little Women has universal appeal. Sure, a lot of boys and men are turned off by the title, but once they really start to read it, there’s a realization that even though the four protagonists of Alcott’s most famous work were girls, she really understood boys.

It’s also a book that has come back to me, time and again, albeit with different perspectives. For example, when I was first reading it, the part that hit me the hardest was when Beth dies. But once I’d started dating, and especially once dating became “adult” relationships, the scene where Laurie proposes to Jo and she declines is what really affected me.

More recently, Alcott and Little Women returned to the forefront of my consciousness when, a couple of weeks ago, I caught a Facebook Live presentation from the executive director of Orchard House, once the Alcott family home, and now one of the many literary museums in New England. (If travel has opened up by mid-August, when I turn fifty, the plan is for my mother, my godmother, and I to go there together. My godmother was the “book aunt” for my generation of cousins, and she’s the one who gifted me with the book in the first place.

The presentation I watched was low tech, but heartfelt. Jan Turnquist sat in a chair and spoke about the way the Alcotts – in reality – and the March family – in the novel – faced times of trouble and tribulation. “Hope and keep busy.”

And isn’t that what all of us have been doing – or trying to do – since our various shelter in place orders began? We are crafting more, baking more, sharing our artistic talents more freely, and in more public – if virtual – venues.

We are holding onto the people and things that are dear to us, and rediscovering things like cooking from scratch, the joy of an evening walk, and the beauty of real mail.

Hope and keep busy.

It sounds so simplistic, so basic, so old-fashioned… but even when we have all this amazing technology at our fingers – when we can engage in video chats with virtual backdrops that put is at Hogwarts or on the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise, what we seek, what we have always sought, is human connection, and if that doesn’t embody hope, I don’t know what does.

My husband and I work from home all the time and have done for over a decade. On the surface, our daily life hasn’t changed much. Our dogs are not getting any more or less attention than thy ever have. We were never out of toilet paper, or desperate to find more  (although the lack of it in stores did hasten my decision to sign up for a subscription for delivered bamboo toilet paper) and we haven’t had the time to take on major DIY projects. Sure, we miss things like going out to restaurants or to the movies, and most of the shows in our theatre subscription were canceled, or postponed, but for the most part, we haven’t faced a lot of changes.

But psychologically, the knowledge that we can’t do certain things is still a heavy weight. And concern for our family and friends still affects us, not to mention almost every article in the local or national news. (Here in Texas, a side-effect of shelter-in-place is that with gyms closed, people are taking more walks and hikes at dusk, which means snakebites are on the rise – springtime in Texas is snake season after all. I know, because we have to keep fishing baby rat snakes out of our pool.)

But even we are finding ourselves in need of more distraction. My husband is an introvert, but I’ve had it confirmed in these past few weeks that while I can be reserved in large groups of people I don’t know, I’m really an extrovert. I’m also – for the most part – an only child, which means I’m accustomed to being independent and entertaining myself, which is why I thought I was an introvert until fairly recently.

And even we are finding ourselves a bit on edge. Sure, I’ve been seeing my chiropractor most weeks (it’s allowed because it’s for pain management) and having massages (my massage therapist is in my chiro’s office, and time with her is also for pain management), but our schedules don’t really allow us to hang out on video calls or join virtual games, except on rare occasions.

I’ve also been struggling to write. Partly this is a combination of hormone flux and my migraines being out of control. Partly it’s a reaction to the state of the world. I would not describe myself as depressed, because that’s a very specific chemical and neurological condition, but I’ve definitely had moments where I’ve been unable to find my spark.

So when Orchard House and Jan Turnquist reminded me of how the Alcotts – and the Marches – handled tough times, it resonated with me, the way Little Women has always resonated with me.

Hope and keep busy.

So I must. So must we all.

Nobody talked much, but as the time drew very near and they sat waiting for the carriage, Mrs. March said to the girls, who were all busied about her, one folding her shawl, another smoothing out the strings of her bonnet, a third putting on her overshoes, and a fourth fastening up her traveling bag…

“Children, I leave you to Hannah’s care and Mr. Laurence’s protection. Hannah is faithfulness itself, and our good neighbor will guard you as if you were his own. I have no fears for you, yet I am anxious that you should take this trouble rightly. Don’t grieve and fret when I am gone, or think that you can be idle and comfort yourselves by being idle and trying to forget. Go on with your work as usual, for work is a blessed solace. Hope and keep busy, and whatever happens, remember that you never can be fatherless.” – Little Women, Chapter 16 (“Letters”) by Louisa May Alcott

Twirly Girl

0893 - TwiirlyGirlShe twirls.

She has to, you see, because Mommy put her in the dress with the floofy skirt to take pictures for Grandma and Grandpa, and it swirls when she moves at all, so full-on twirling is required.

She manages to stand still for the pictures. Out on their wooden porch, leaning her back against it, she smiles for the camera, but in her head, she’s already on the lawn, twirling in the soft, cool grass.

As soon as Mommy says the pictures are done, she kicks off her shoes and runs down the steps, stopping near the big tree where Grandpa hung her tire swing last year.

She twirls.

She spins round and round until her head is as dizzy as the wind-tossed leaves on the branches above her, and then she collapses onto the grass and squinches her eyes closed and lets herself get lost in the spinny spacey feeling that comes from twirling.

When she opens her eyes, she thinks she’s become one with the earth, because she can feel the world spinning and see the clouds circling above, and she thinks it’s the best feeling ever.

She twirls.

Even when she’s twelve, fifteen, seventeen, twenty-two, she keeps doing it whenever she has a private moment in the yard, or on the beach at the summer place Mom bought with her new husband.

She doesn’t need a special skirt anymore.

But when things press too close, or her head and heart are too full, she channels her inner child and spins and spins until she can’t keep her balance, and falls, laughing to the ground.

She likes the beach best… warm sand, the ocean tickling her toes… she’s lying there, feeling the world spin with her when a shadow falls over her.

“You okay?” a male voice asks.  “I saw you fall.”

She sits up, and her brown eyes lock onto a pair of blue ones that rival the ocean for depth and purity.

“I’m good,” she says. “I was… it’s hard to explain.”

“Spinning,” he says.

Twirling,” she corrects. “It’s like getting high… only cheaper… and…”

“Can I try?” he asks, interrupting. He extends a hand, and she takes it, letting him help her to her feet.

She twirls, and he follows her, only this time instead of collapsing onto the sand, they spiral into the waves and come up, soaked and silly with joy.

“I’m Eric,” he tells her.

“Sophie. I mean, I’m Sophie.”

They go for a burger and a beer and talk long into the night. She’s too old to need to sneak back into her mother’s house after a date, but at the same time, she’s a little disappointed Mom isn’t on the couch, waiting to grill her.

She twirls.

Only now it’s not always literal twirling.

Sex with Eric, that’s a kind of spinning, swirling dance, too. It’s so good. He’s so good. And he gets her. Like, really gets her.

At their wedding… they dance respectably while people are watching, but after the guests leave, they go back to the arbor that was placed on her grandparents’ broad, cool lawn, hold hands and twirl under the stars until they’re twice drunk, once from the champagne they drank earlier, and once from their shared motion.

“I’ve been thinking,” Eric says, “about what brought us together.”

“You found me lying on the beach,” Sophie answers.

“No, that’s how we met. What brought us together was centripetal force.”

“Centripetal?”

“It’s when spinning pulls an object toward the center. You’re my center. And I’m yours.”

“I love you,” Sophie says, because what else can you say when your heart is still swirling?

“I love you, too,” he answers, “Twirly girl.”

Four Dogs

Dogs

Here they come, I warn,

Make sure you’re sitting down.

Because Teddy is kind of flaily

And he’ll bark at you while wagging

His Shepherdy tail

But then he’ll turn his head and show off

His Rottweiler  profile

And you’ll think he’s mean

When he’s just shy.

 

Hush, don’t talk!

Piper will have meltdowns

And try to phase through the floor

Or forget how the doors work

And don’t let her kiss your face

(She eats poop)

But if she comes to you

She’ll let you pet her soft, soft fur

And she’ll lean against you

Sharing the warmth of her solid form.

 

Watch your step – Perry’s coming.

Skitterbug, I tease him,

Because he runs all akimbo and askew

On an angle.

He’s a pint-sized powerhouse

The main dog in charge.

(Just ask him.)

If you pick him up you may never move again

Because Chihuahuas control gravity

Everyone knows this.

 

Old man Max comes lumbering out last.

He had to check the others’ crates

In case they had better toys

Than he does.

His hips are creaky

And his blackest bits are salt-and-pepper now

But he chases flies like a puppy

And more than the others

He is Mama’s dog.

My companion, and defender.

 

Okay now, ignore them…

They’re eating their dinner, and then they’ll go Outside.

Wait…

Outside.

Are they being quiet?

This is never good.

Note: inspired by the work and writing style of Naomi Shihab Nye, for Covid’s Metamorphosis prompt 8 which is to emulate a favorite poet’s style.

Fireflies

Note: The excerpt is the poem used in the play, Fireflies, by Robert Frost. The challenge was to write a play that could be produced in isolation. The full script is linked to preserve formatting.

Excerpt:

Here come real stars to fill the upper skies,

And here on earth come emulating flies,

That though they never equal stars in size,

(And they were never really stars at heart)

Achieve at times a very star-like start.

Only, of course, they can’t sustain the part.

To read the whole play, click here: 05 – Fireflies

Photo by Andrew Bui on Unsplash

Family Planning

Robot head looking front on camera isolated on a black background

Note: this story is for prompt #2 of “Covid Metamorphosis,” in which we were asked to begin and end with provided quotations from Ovid.

“I want to speak about bodies changed into new forms.”

I looked up at my partner, who was hovering in the door of the workroom while I was slicing tomatoes for a salad. “Basil?”

He held up the head – or ‘cranial unit’ as he preferred to call it – “as you know, my first attempt at creating a child did not go well.”

I remembered. We’d become friends not long after his first child – Noelle – had died after a series of cascade failures caused her neural net to disintegrate.  “And you’re concerned it will happen again?”

“I am, but only in the sense that any parent is worried about the survival of their children. I worry about Elizabeth injuring herself while snorkeling with you, or climbing trees with her friends or…”

“Okay, I get the point. So… what’s this about bodies and changing forms… and why are you quoting Ovid, anyway?”

“Ovid’s line seemed an appropriate entrée into this conversation.”

“Oh.” I rinsed tomato guts off my hands and dried them on the towel near the sink. Turning around and leaning against the sink, I gave my husband my full attention. “So, which bodies are we changing?”

“This one. I believe… I believe it would help me to move past the loss of Noelle if, rather than allowing this child to choose their gender and appearance, we select it for him.”

“Him?”

“You lost a son.”

We lost a son,” I corrected. And we had, two years before Elizabeth was born. Our son, Jake, had been stillborn. There had been no discernible cause. Sometimes, even with all the technology of many, many worlds, horrible things just… happened. “We are not building a replacement.”

“No, we are not. But, we have a living, thriving, daughter. I believe this child should be a son. For balance.”

“Balance, hmm?” I sensed there was more to it than that. “Not because a son would likely be a lot like you?”

“Perhaps, partially, but, by choosing his gender and appearance, we could blend our features to create a child that truly represented both of us.”

“My skin, your eyes?” I asked, with only a hint of a teasing lilt in my tone.

“Precisely.”

“Your hair, my nose?” It was bad enough Elizabeth had inherited my wild, unruly hair. We would not curse a synthetic child with the same.”

“If you wish.”

“You feel really strongly about this, don’t you, love?”

“I… Yes, Zoe, I do.”

“Alright.”

“All-right?”

“Alright,” I repeated. “Congratulations, Dad, it’s a boy.”

Basil turned back to the workroom, but I called his name, and he paused. “Dearest?”

“What’s the other reason – the true reason – you want a son?”

“Elizabeth is our daughter, but she is your child. Blood of your blood. I wish… I wish to have a similar child, to follow after me.”

“A legacy.”

“In a sense. Many poets have written of immortality via offspring, as well as great works….”

“And that’s why you want a son?”

But Basil didn’t give me a simple affirmative. Rather, he quoted Ovid again,  From anyone else it would have seemed pompous. From my husband, it made perfect sense:

“If there is truth in poet’s prophecies, I shall live.”