There were three of them, sitting at the end of our table at Benihana, the Fungus-Fearers.
Oh, that isn’t what they called themselves, of course. It’s what I called them in my head.
In reality, they simply looked at their bowls of mushroom soup and elected their pumps-and-pearls wearing spokeswoman to speak for them, her prissy voice pushed from her pursed lips as if she resented having to speak of such things.
“We neglected to inform you earlier,” she said, her tone haughty, disdainful, “but we – none of us – do not care – for mushrooms.”
The chef, an affable local man who had engaged the other five of us – my husband and our friend, and a fun couple at the opposite end from the Fungus Fearers – quite easily, immediately became contrite. “I’m so sorry,” he said, as if the fault was his. “Are you allergic? Your meal doesn’t come with any more mushrooms, and neither does hers – ” He gestured to the cardigan-clad younger woman between the one in pearls and her bald, male, companion, obviously their daughter “- but yours does.” He continued, addressing the man, whose body was angled toward his family, and hand was cradled protectively around his glass of chilled Chablis, as if he might not be allowed another.
“No, not allergic. We just… dislike them.”
“Alright then,” the chef replied. “Because if you were allergic, I’d make sure your food was cooked before they touched the grill.”
The girl, who had insisted she’d ordered tuna, not chicken, then refused to eat the tuna because it was rolled in sesame seeds. (Apparently Fungus Fearers are incapable of reading menus.)
While the rest of us laughed with the chef, and with each other, becoming temporary friends, though we’d never met before and would never meet again, the three at the end remained stiff and aloof.
Why, I wondered throughout our meal, and after, would you come to a place like Benihana where you know you’ll be seated with strangers (they were clearly familiar with the setup) if you don’t like sharing space with strangers?
And how could anyone possibly be so agitated over mushrooms?
How frustrating is it when you have to deliver something to a deadline, only to realise afterwards what you could have done better.So this is your opportunity to re-do a challenge. Pick any of the previous 26 challenges we've done, and write a NEW play following that brief.I bet you've thought of a few better ideas since sending in your first version.But don't just re-do the play you did - it has to be a completely different concept!
I chose the “TLC” Brief. You can read the details and my original submission here.
Yes! Yes, exactly. Like, for me, my tree, it might be a willow… or maybe an aspen. But for you, it might be a salt pine or maybe even a beech tree.
Can it be a copper beech, like in that Sherlock Holmes story?
Copper? I don’t know. Maybe. The thing is… you have to find your tree. And I have to find mine. And until you do, a relationship between us can’t work.
Wait… you’re breaking up with me because you have to go find your tree?
Yeah… I have to find my tree. And you have to find yours.
To Read the Entire Play
Click here: 1902.26 – True Love Cafe
Coz every year we do poetic briefs –
To do with either rhythm or with rhyme…
But this is now the fifth month of our game
So this year we’ll do both, I think it’s time.
We’ll take some inspiration from the Bard
But mix it up so that we do it new.
We’ll write a play that’s all Iambic Pents,
but also make it rhyme, we must that do!
“what sort of rhyming pattern should we use?”
I hear you ask with panic in your voice
Well, you can choose whatever fits you best
That’s right, you have the power – make your choice!
Right, that’s the easy part, and now the trick,
the language must remain ‘au natural’
Do place the play in modern times and themes
Maybe even make it factual.
I don’t want any mention of old Will
or texts that could be taken from his plays
No themes that maybe he has written ’bout
instead deal with our lives these modern days.
So write about things Shakes-boy couldn’t write
Like Mars bars, Gogglebox or World War II.
I hope you like this challenge, my dear friends
I think it’s fine. I do. I do. Do you?
The sound you’re hearing is just a branch on the roof
I’ll show you in the morning if you require proof.
I love that your dreams are never boring,
And that you think of ships at sea when you hear me snoring.
But right now, I’m so tired I almost feel like I am dead,
So maybe drive the Master and Commander novels from your pretty head
Cuz all too soon our dogs will bark and growl and whine and peep
And we’ll have lost all chance of ever getting any sleep.
To read the entire play…
The eighth day after Christmas, before they could suspect
I bundled up the…
Eight maids a-milking
Nine ladies dancing
Ten lords a-leaping
Eleven pipers piping
Twelve drummers drumming
(Well, actually, I kept one of the drummers)
And sent them back collect
I wrote my true love we are through love
And I said in so many words
Furthermore your Christmas gifts were for the birds
– The Twelve Days After Christmas, by Frederick Silver
My earliest memories revolve around my grandmother’s dining table. Laughing aunts and uncles and cousins would sit around the table talking as loudly with their hands as they did with their voices. Some nights the Canasta cards were brought out, other nights the game was Pinochle or for us non-cardplayers, Scrabble was the game of choice. Inevitably though, whether there were two people at that table or twelve, my grandmother would announce that she wanted a ‘little something.’
Invariably that ‘little something’ would be dessert.
And more often than not, the dessert would be an Entenmann’s coffeecake. The kind with a crumb topping and pastry cheese filling. That taste, slightly metallic from the foil tray, but always just enough sweetness to temper the strongest of coffees (or the brattiest of little girls) was the taste of my childhood. I remember it as strongly as I do my grandfather’s raisin bread or my grandmother’s meatballs or her recipe for pasta e fagiolli, which, by the way, is nothing like the swill they serve at the Olive Garden.
For Christmas this year, my friend Fran in Massachusetts sent me not one, not two, but three Entenmann’s Cheese-filled Crumb Coffee Cakes. Two immediately went into the freezer, to be saved until I just can’t stand it anymore. The third, we cut into almost immediately. Even my mother, who doesn’t eat carbs (she says), couldn’t resist the siren call of this coffee cake.
You see, they don’t sell it in my part of Texas. Believe me, I’ve looked. And even in California, it was a rare thing to find.
They say you can’t go home again, but sometimes, home can come to you, and when it does, it’s packaged in a white and blue box.
There’s a song that’s been haunting me since just after Thanksgiving. It’s a lullaby that some people think is a Christmas song. It’s not; it’s really just a lullaby. But when songs get stuck in my head, what that usually means they’re sparking a story.
I know that doesn’t seem like a problem, but it became when I realized two things:
1) The story I’m working on will have to be part of my podcast this month.
2) Since I can’t find a podsafe version of the song, I have to record it myself.
Well, okay. I can sing. I’ve been singing since before I could walk – literally. I can also play the cello, koto, dulcimer, autoharp, and musical saw, but I sold my cello a year ago when I realized my carpal tunnel had gotten too bad to play it, and I don’t own any of the others. (Well, we own a saw, but not in my key.)
What I cannot do – could never do – is play the piano.
It’s not for lack of interest.
It’s for lack of ownership. To play the piano without a piano, is kind of a trick.
So, I’m trying to learn this song well enough to do a decent job of singing bits of it as punctuation to this story I’m writing, but there’s this weird key-change in the middle and I can’t find a version to sing with (for practice) that’s in a key where I’m comfortable. (The perils of being a lyric mezzo / belter, and not a true alto or true soprano.)
My frustration led to the following exchange with my husband about an hour ago:
Me: Fuzzy, if you hear singing, ignore it. I need to be comfy with this song so I can use it on pod.
Him: I don’t hear a thing.
Me: Keep it that way. (beat) I really need this about a third lower.
Him: You can’t find it in a key you like?
Me: No. I want a holographic accompanist for Christmas.
Him: I’ll get right on that.
Christmas, long ago.
We all know the story: a young husband and his heavily pregnant wife seek a safe place where she can birth their child. With no room at the inn, they find shelter in a stable and lay their new babe in a manger. There are shepherds and wise men and a star to follow. There are gifts of silver and gold, frankincense and myrrh. There is a promised savior, a symbol of hope and love and all that is holy.
It’s the first noel. The first Christmas. But it’s far from the last.
Over time, that old story, the one with the babe in the straw and the star in the sky, has been turned into a song or several. We sing their tale and celebrate its anniversary with symbols incorporated from other traditions. We try our best to remember that message of peace and love and hope and add in a sprinkling of patience, a dash of wisdom, and the occasional burst of innocent delight.
But at the same time, we’ve commercialized that chronicle. Merchandised it. This second noel – really the two-thousand-and-somethingth noel – finds us juxtaposing stuffed stockings and decorations on sale since Halloween (a different old story, that) with the pressure to buy the perfect gift, make the perfect dinner, be the picture perfect family.
And yet, as humans we are imperfect. Our families are created, cracked, recombined. We have half-these and step-those, inlaws by marriage and relatives-by-choice, and some of them mix well and others repel each other like the matching poles of the strongest magnets.
But the star still shines in all our hearts, even though we may interpret it differently.
Christmas, far in the future.
The third noel is the once-and-future noel. It sees the star – that star – leading us to new worlds. We plant new communities, feed and water them, and hope that they bloom. We sing the old songs of a far-away place and time and realize that we have used our technology to repeat the journey. We are now that husband, that wife, looking for shelter in unwelcoming places, and making the best we can of what we find.
The children born in the age of the third noel, may not be the saviors of the expanded universe, but they still hold promise and potential.
For the star continues to lead us.
And each night a child is born is a holy night.
The sand was cold and slightly damp beneath her bare feet, but despite the chill, Annie couldn’t stand the thought of wearing shoes. Not to the beach. Not even on Christmas morning.
Otherwise prepared for the cold weather in a fisherman’s sweater she’d acquired from an old boyfriend and a pair of jeans that had reached the maximum level of softness from repeated washings, she carried her steaming mug of coffee up the slight rise to the best vantage point on the shore.
Behind her, in the house with the bleached pine floors and wraparound porch, she knew her present partner was still sleeping, flanked by their two adolescent Labradors. The three of them would be harmonizing their snores for at least another hour, which gave her this moment of solitude and ritual.
Drinking coffee on the beach at sunrise was something she’d done since she was a teenager, and her mother had dragged her from her bed one winter morning.
That day, they’d worn galoshes because the beach had been covered in snow. Her mother had also brought along a tarp and a wool blanket. “Cold is one thing,” she’d said. “Hypothermia is quite another.”
The older woman had given her a piece of wisdom or a snatch of her own story every year from that Christmas until the one when she’d left the world of the living, and after that there had been no more family holidays. Annie’s father had never been part of the picture and she and her bother had drifted apart, their relationship relegated to one of holiday cards and birthday texts.
Sometimes, Annie wished she’d had a daughter with whom to continue the tradition, but it was a minor regret, one note in the rich song that was her life.
Annie wrapped her hands around the warm mug, letting her fingers meet through the handle. Her new ritual was to send a silent prayer to the universe: for peace, for patience, for wisdom.
She sat there in communion with sea, sand, and sky until the sun had risen completely. Then she drained her mug and rose – more stiffly than she would have liked – to her feet and moved closer to the water’s edge, where the sand was smooth and damp.
Using a fragment of a clam shell, Annie wrote her mother’s name in the sand, and her grandmother’s – the two women who had most influenced her – and traced a heart around them. Below, she wrote “Merry Christmas,” followed by the year.
Then she cast the shell back into the sea, and walked back across the sand, up the stairs, and around to the kitchen door. She left her mug in the sink, and started a fresh pot of coffee, setting the machine to begin brewing in ninety minutes.
Creeping back into the bedroom, she stripped down to a tank top and underwear – she hadn’t bothered with a bra; it wasn’t like anyone else would be on the beach on Christmas morning – nudged one of the dogs out of her way and slipped back into bed.
Later, her partner would wake up and she would feel his whiskers against her chin when he kissed the salt from her lips.
But right then, it was early on Christmas morning, and Annie was exactly where she wanted to be.
The humans called them “angels.”
They were meant to be calming figures, feathery beings who provided whispered advice at crucial moments. Their guidance typically came in the form of gut feelings or sudden inklings – those subconscious reactions that cause a right turn rather than a left or staying home rather than going out.
Hovering over the shoulders of humanity, they nudged gently and gave subtle pushes. Nothing overt. Just keeping things on track. That sort of thing.
But little by little, the human world changed. People divided themselves in arbitrary ways that had little to do with geography or culture and everything to do with anger, bitterness, and fear.
The angels’ voices were no longer heeded; their ethereal suggestions went unfelt.
The choir sang to deaf ears, and their enfolding wings were brushed aside by harsh hands, if they were noticed at all.
Humanity was no longer a noble race, full of wonderous creations – art, music, science, technology – and potential.
Instead, it was in danger of destroying itself, and the world it inhabited.
The choir convened.
Discussions were had, and heated debates, and finally a decision was made. They would have to solve the human crisis in a way the bitter, frightened people would comprehend.
They began to appear in selective places. They let their halos show, but they also displayed their weapons: shining, silver-outlined, mostly transparent versions of the projectile weapons the flesh-and-bloods seemed to treasure.
When merely showing up had no effect, they fired booming warning shots that ricocheted across the skies like thunder – only louder, stronger, and more ominous.
And when the warnings failed, they had no choice.
They eradicated humanity for the greater good.
Afterward, their white and silver forms stained red (time would let it fade, they knew), they reconvened at their undetectable headquarters and sang songs of mourning and remembrance, until they could sing no more.
Finally, so much time had passed that the angels were ready to try another experiment. “There is another world with a crop of humanity,” one said. “Let us try again, with them. Perhaps this time, they’ll thrive. The natives call it ‘Earth.'”
And so, they moved their headquarters across the universe to a blue-and-green world with diverse lifeforms and humans who were still receptive to their influence. But they also made a unilateral decision: they would act sooner, more swiftly, and with more surety.
This time, they would not fail.
This time, they would be better angels.
Rather, they’re the memories of all the people she’s loved and lost. Keepsakes and memorabilia, photographs and old letters are all tucked away in cedar-lined darkness, waiting to be acknowledged, accepted, assimilated.
That box represents her grandmother: pearls and rose petals and half-done knitting projects, the needles still attached. And that other one? That’s her grandfather’s collection of old cameras and model trains, seed packets and artisan bread recipes.
Other boxes are smaller. One holds an assortment of dog collars and old chew toys, and vials of the ashes of lost companions. There’s room, yet, in that one. Another protects the tiny clothing never used by the baby who was never born. Tucked inside, a grief counselor’s business card, and the wristband from her hospital stay. (Keep those boxes closed, she reminds herself as she moves through the attic space, squinting her eyes to ward off unbidden tears.)
Cardboard boxes hold traces of old boyfriends, relationships that were fine in the moment, but flickered out, and friendships left hanging as people grew up, moved on. (She really should call her college roommate. It’s been five years since they last spoke… or is it six?)
She freezes when she sees the newest box, its shiny lid cracked open. That one… that one was added just this past summer, and it never will stay closed. It’s got soil samples and pencil stubs, a book on improving your memory (lost for years, found too late). Printouts of emails and silly cards, a brooch she can’t stand to wear right now – copper and brass safari animals dangling from a central ring – but creeps in to pick up and hold. She pushes the lid down, knowing that she’ll have to close it again all too soon, but every time, it stays shut a while longer.
These boxes don’t hold horrors.
If she’s careful lifting the lids, she can slip a smile out. A friendship bracelet made of knotted fairy floss, a sun hat that still has grains of beach sand embedded in the straw.
She tries so hard to be careful.
But memory is fickle, and grief is tricky, coming back day after month after year after decade, usually when she least expects it, and smiles are still smiles, even when they’re tempered with tears, and missing people means you loved them, doesn’t it?
She’s no Pandora, with one box of horrors to share and one bright spark hidden at the bottom, but like that woman from myth and story, she knows that spark, and treasures it.
She moves out of the room by the same route she entered, eddies of dust swirling in the sunshine that drips in through the skylight.
At the attic door, she turns, and addresses the boxes. “All my hopes.”