Sleeping Positions (A Basil and Zoe vignette)

Robot head looking front on camera isolated on a black background“You don’t sleep.”

“Zoe?”

We’d just been intimate – sexually intimate – for the first time, and while there’d been some pleasant pillow-talk before and some flirtatious talk during, after had me feeling a bit off-kilter.

“You don’t sleep,” I repeated. “I mean, I know people don’t always spend the night after sex, but skulking back to my mother’s quarters isn’t my idea of fun, ever, and especially after…”

“Have I done something to cause you discomfort?” Concern filled Basil’s voice, and when I turned onto my side to look at him, I saw that it was evident on his silvery features as well.

“No, not at all. It’s just… you don’t sleep, and I’ve never… I mean all my other experience was in summer camp dorms or at home, hoping a parent wouldn’t show up at an inopportune time. I don’t know the protocol for…this… especially with you. You don’t sleep.”

Basil reached out and brushed some of my hair out of my face. “It is true that I do not require sleep,” he said in a gentle tone. “But I am capable of sleep. However, I do not believe that is your real concern. You have ‘crashed’ here many times while I was working or writing.”

“Yeah, but none of those times ended up with us naked in your bed.” I pointed out. “It’s different.”

“It is,” he agreed. “And it is not.”

“Now you sound like me.”

“Zoe, dearest,  if I ‘sound like you’ it is only because we are spending significant time together and your patterns are becoming integrated into my own. However, we are digressing from the issue at hand. If you are truly uncomfortable remaining here, I will not be offended if you return to your mother’s quarters. It will not be ‘skulking,’ however, as we have nothing to hide.”

“O… kay?”

Basil continued. “I would much prefer that you remain here, though.” His silver features softened into a vulnerable expression. “I have never had a sexual encounter last through the night. I’ve also  never had a lover wake up in my bed. I find I want both.”

“With me?”

“Yes, with you.”

I relaxed back into the bed. “So… your programing prevents you from hogging the covers, right?”

“I am afraid we will have to discover that together.”

I couldn’t think of an adequate response, so I just curled against him. “I can live with that,” I said. “But if you decide to experiment with snoring, it’s grounds for a break-up.”

Basil didn’t answer me. Instead, he just ordered the computer to dim the lights for sleeping.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zenia’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.

 

“Zenia, 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, sweetie. 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, by then – a few minutes to settle, and was relieved to see that Zenia 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. “Sweetie, 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 Zenian, 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.

 

Zenia 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/

 

 

Just Desserts

666 - Route 666

They were somewhere in the desert, the one that spanned Nevada and Arizona but changed names, or spellings anyway, at the state line. Mojave, Mohave, either way it was Mo-freaking-hot-as-hell.

Tracy could even see the heat waves rolling up from the ground, making the endless stretch of empty road look more like rolling sea than a black asphalt river bleeding its way across the parched flesh of the empty land.

Sure, there was another car from time to time, but mostly the only thing that punctuated the monotony was the occasional mournful whistle of a cargo train – they were automated, those things – and over a hundred cars longs – and their whistles made Tracy shiver every time.

“Too much a/c?” Steve asked? The outside temperature gauge read 106 but it was 72 in the car.

“No, just the train whistle.”

“You like trains,” Steve reminded her.

“I like passenger trains,” she said. “These cargo things… they’re more like ghost trains. Sometimes I think maybe it’s just one endless train on a loop, never ending or beginning…”

“Drink some water, babe; you’re dehydrated.”

“I’m not!” she insisted, but she reached for her water bottle anyway, and took a healthy swallow. “How’re we doing on gas?” The design of the dashboard meant she couldn’t read that information from the passenger seat.

“We can make to Flagstaff.”

“Oh. Goo – Shit!” A red sports car had come zooming up beside them in the wrong lane, nearly clipping her mirror. “That wasn’t the same car we saw leaving Vegas?”

“I think it was… ”

Tracy reached out and teased the nape of Steve’s neck. “Crazy.”

“I know.”

They kept on driving, stopped at a couple of truck stops for bathroom breaks and gas. And then, just outside Flagstaff, they turned off the interstate, following suggestions to a tourist destination on the old Route 66. “I-40 parallels it along this stretch,” Steve told her, when Tracy questioned the detour. “There’s a ghost town with a burger joint that supposed to be to die for. They keep it open for tourists.”

“What tourists?” Tracy wanted to know.

“I guess there are more than we think.”

Tracy shrugged. “Sounds fun.” They weren’t in a race, after all.  They were headed to a new life in a community of artists and writers in Taos, New Mexico, but their schedule was their own. So why not enjoy a slight diversion?

Unlike the Interstate, the road they turned onto was faded and crumbling at the shoulders. The paint marking the lanes was barely discernible, but ruts in the road marked the divisions as well, or better.

The burger joint – a roadhouse, really – had a rusty highway sign on the top, Tracy froze looking at it after they got out of the car. “Steve. There are three sixes on that sign.”

“What?” he said. “Baby, we really need to get some protein in you.”

When Tracy looked again, the sign was a normal Route 66 sign.

Inside, the place was full of tourist kitsch. Stuffed jackalopes and Route 66 t-shirts were everywhere, and the song – that song – blared from the speakers.

A tired waitress in a polyester uniform greeted them with a dusty smile. “Welcome to the Roadhouse.” She reeled off a list of specials and left them to decide while she went to get drinks. A few minutes later, they were sipping iced tea and waiting for bacon and cheddar burgers.

“You headed somewhere specific?” the waitress asked, when she brought their food.

“Taos,” Tracy said.

“Nice town,” the other woman answered. “You’ll like it there. Best cheese enchiladas ever come from Gloria’s. Don’t miss them.”

“Thanks for the tip,” Tracy said.

The burgers were wonderful. Steve ate his own and half of hers, but that was typical. She ate all of her own fries, though. They had garlic on them. They watched people come and go as they ate – families mostly, and a few couples like themselves – but then he entered.

Tracy could tell he didn’t fit. Didn’t belong. His teeth were too white. His sunglasses were too expensive. His t-shirt had a logo that meant it had cost more than their typical electric bill.

“Can I get service?” he asked loudly. He’d barely been waiting fifteen seconds.

“I can seat you at the counter,” their waitress offered. “If it’s just you.”

“Fine, I guess. Could you wipe the grease off it first, though?”

Tracy couldn’t see his face, but she could practically hear him rolling his eyes.

“Asshole,” Steve muttered under his breath.

“Bet you anything he’s the guy in that red penis-car that keeps almost killing us,” Tracy whispered back.

In an attempt to wait him out, to not be ahead of him on the road, they decide to order pie and coffee. Tracy went for peach – her favorite – Steve was excited that they offered strawberry-rhubarb. “Good choices,” their waitress approved. “You want a la mode? It’s on me.”

“Because we’re going to Taos?” Tracy asked.

“Sure. That.” The waitress gave asshole-customer a furtive glance. “And because I know you don’t want to be on the road with him. I can tell.”

“He’s… we keep running into him. I guess the upside is that he’s the one who’s been caught in every speed trap since Vegas,” Steve said.

“Don’t doubt it.”

“A la mode sounds fantastic,” Tracy smiled. “It’s summer, after all. Thanks.”

“You bet.”

They finish their dessert, by which time the guy with the attitude has disappeared. “Bet you anything he’s from L.A.,” Tracy said, as they paid the check. “Leave the waitress a generous tip.”

“I left twenty-five percent,” Steve said.

“And that’s why I love you.”

“Not for my hot body?”

“Well, that too.”

They paused for a selfie in front of the roadhouse. It was dark by then, but there was so much lighting in the parking lot that it might as well have been noon. There’s a mark on the ground telling people where to stand so they can guarantee the sign is in the picture.

Back in the car, they headed back to the Interstate, only to be halted by flickering red and blue lights. “Sorry folks,” a highway patrol officer says, coming up to their window. “Gotta redirect you. To get back on Eastbound 40 do this…”

Tracy took down the directions with the “Notes” app on her phone. “Can I ask what happened, Officer?”

“Bad accident,” he said. “Speed demon in a red car wrapped himself around the signpost on the ramp.” He took a beat, then added. “These roads… they may seem flat and empty, but they make you cocky. You drive safe, hear?”

“Sure thing, Officer.” It was Steve who answered.

They follow their detour directions which take them to a ridge on the other side of the Interstate. Looking down, they can see the car that was smashed. No surprise, it was their “friend” from the road. The asshole from the  roadhouse.

“Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy,” Steve said.

“Hush, honey. No one deserves that. Not really.” She paused. “We should go.” But their vantage point also let them glimpse the sign from the roadhouse, and Tracy shivered when she saw it. Checking her phone, she confirms what she’d seen before. The sign on the roof. One side was the normal road sign for America’s most famous highway.

The other? It had three sixes.

Get your kicks on route sixty-six.
Get your kicks on route sixty-six.
Get your kicks on route sixty-six.

Uneasy Lies the Head

662 - Uneasy Head

“They whisper,” the Crowned one heard her confession. “They whisper all sorts of things to me, and I’m never which advice to follow.”

“Can you be more specific?”

“Big Nose said I should trip Samuel as he was reaching the top of the stairs. I thought he might tumble and slide. I didn’t expect to hear the cracking sound. Or for his head to turn all the way ’round like that.”

The Crowned One frowned. “Samuel died at the bottom?”

“He was very pale… and so quiet. There wasn’t any blood though. I thought there was always blood when people die.”

“Not always, Georgia. Not always. What other whispers have you heard?”

“Twisted Lip said Nanny was plotting against me and I should switch my teacup with hers.”

“And did you?” the Crowned One was concerned as well as curious. What would the child’s answer be?

“Yes, I did. We’re looking for a new Nanny now. Because that Nanny started foaming at the mouth and then went all twitchy and fell off her chair. She’s not dead though, just really sick.”

“I see. It would seem Twisted Lip’s advice was wise, then.”

“Yes, but… I miss Samuel.”

“I am certain that you do. You and he have always been good friends.”

“Except he said that he would ascend to the throne because he’s a boy even though I’m six weeks older,” the little girl announced. “And Mother said those rules don’t matter anymore, because she sits on the throne now, after all.”

“Yes,” the Crowned one confirmed. “Yes, she does. Have you spoken to your mother about these things, Georgia? Told her what the Advisors are whispering to you?”

“I have,” she told him, nodding her head up and down. “She said it’s the way of things. People always try to eliminate the people who have power so they can have power instead. And sometimes we must act to protect our own interests.”

The Crowned One understood his role in Princess Georgia’s life. As a former head of state and current, well, state head, albeit a disembodied one, he was to offer the child as much wisdom and guidance as he could. He had hoped this could have happened without so much intrigue. He had fervently wished for a lot less murder. But it was the way of the world. The other heads – former guards and statesfolk, all – would whisper to the Heir, their advice to be heeded or not, as the child’s will dictated.

But his counsel was given openly.

At that moment, he wished he could give more than counsel. A friendly hug, perhaps. A pat on the head. But the reality was that this small girl was, at ten, already more ruthless than half a dozen mercenaries. She had to be, if she truly meant to take the throne someday.

All he could hope was that his wisdom would temper her more… expedient… choices.

“Dark Eyes also whispers,” the young princess offered, perhaps to assuage his obvious unease. “Dark Eyes says I must remember to be compassionate, when I can.”

“That is wise advice,” the Crowned One said.

“I’ve tried to heed it. Benjamin and I have been playing together since Samuel left us.”

“Since he died, you mean?”

“Yes, that.”

“It’s good that you’ve reached out to his little brother.”

“Benjamin will never sit on the throne.”

“It is highly unlikely that he will.”

“But… he makes me laugh, and when we are together, I don’t focus so much on the whispers I hear from the Heads.”

“It’s good,” the Crowned One said, “that you can still be a child from time to time. Stay young as long as you can, Georgia.”

“I will try.”

“It is late. You should rest.”

“Yes…”  She released the magic holding him in place, and the Crowned One floated up to the Keeper’s Space. “Goodnight, sir.”

“Goodnight, Georgia.”

The little girl was soon asleep. But the Crowned One was still fretting. She was becoming too hard, too cold… he was concerned. A leader must be able to act swiftly and make tough decisions; it was true, but a leader must also be able to be lenient, to know when kindness was the better path. He would speak with Dark Eyes in the morning. They would push Compassion at her a bit more heavily.

A line from Shakespeare went through his brain, and he chuckled softly. Old Will had really nailed it with that one.

“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.”

 

 

 

 

Eternal Companion

656 - Eternal Companion

You’re the same in every city. Every country. Every continent. You have been so ever since Velázquez first used you as the model for one of his gods.

You knew he would.

How could he resist?

Your flowing platinum hair. Your alabaster skin. The faint glow of otherness about you. These things made you compelling to men and women of all walks of life, so why not one of the world’s greatest painters?

But then his vision changed.

Ever the storyteller, Diego chose to tell different stories with his paintings. Instead of capturing encounters between gods and men, he focused on the earthiest of the earthbound. The kind who most people made a point of never seeing: the poor, the ugly, the ill, the malformed.

But you; you were beautiful, and you knew it.

So, you went on a mission to show off your terrible, dangerous beauty.

Killing sprees across every city in Europe. Milan. Paris. London. Madrid. Amsterdam. Rome. Berlin. There was no pattern. You went wherever your bloodlust took you, leaving your crimson stain on the statuary, since you couldn’t leave a tintype or photograph.

And I watched you.

I watched you grow paler and more luminescent as last vestiges of humanity were bitten from the necks of your victims and spit, sizzling, to the ground.

Your humanity, not theirs.

And I began to wonder who the real victim was: those whom you killed; you, who did the killing; or I, who allowed it all to continue.

If I were a stronger person, if my resolve were better fortified, this is the point in which I would inform my readers that I’d left you, or better, that I’d committed the ultimate act of altruism and driven the final stake through your marble-esque chest.

But I am not that strong.

And love can be so weak.

And so, because through it all, my angel, my demon, my eternal companion, I do love you, I offer you my neck, and hope beyond hope that in doing so, some of your madness is abated.

After all, the blood is the life.

 

 

La Petite Mort

Like the Prose: Challenge #30 – Write a cheerful story about death.

Robot head looking front on camera isolated on a black background

“Was it good for you?” Basil asked me when I came back to myself after our first ‘intimate joining,’ as he called it.

I burst out laughing. “Are you really using that line?”

His silver face was guileless. “Is there something inappropriate in the question, Zoe? I wished to ascertain if I pleased you adequately. I know of no better way than to simply… ask.”

I rolled over in his bed and propped my head on my hand. “Aren’t you supposed to be the galaxy’s greatest observer? Couldn’t you tell from the way I was practically unconscious?”

“I was aware you had… become somewhat absent… but inducing a physical response is not the be-all and end-all of sex, Zoe, even for a synthetic lifeform like myself.” His tone softened. “I wish to know if you were  – are – emotionally satisfied as well.”

“Oh, Basil…” He really was so caring. “Yes… and… no.”

“I am confused.”

“Yes, I was in the moment. For a first time… it wasn’t terribly awkward, we fit together rather well, I think?” I paused to let him respond.

“I concur.”

“Good, and you read my responses really well. And… god, you already know I love you.”

“I love you, also, Zoe, but I am not a god, only Basil.”

I grinned; this was his default response to my colloquial invocation of a deity, and it never failed to amuse me.

“Okay, good.”

“But why did you also say ‘no?'”

“Because, Basil, darling, we – you and me, as a couple – as lovers  – we’re just beginning. And complete emotional satisfaction would imply there’s nowhere else to go, nothing left to experience, and that’s not true, because we’re constantly growing and changing. Even artificial lifeforms like you.”

“That is true.”

“You know, some people refer to that blissed-out, semi-conscious, post-orgasmic state as la petite mort. The little death.”

“I am aware, Zoe. And you are no doubt aware that the term is not limited to post-coital bliss, but also refers to the sense of satisfaction on might feel when connecting to a great work of art or completing a piece of literature or connecting with a scientific theorem.”

“Basil…”

“You were not finished with your thought.”

“Not exactly, no.”

“Please continue.”

“I only meant to say that I observed your circuits getting a little frizzled there after you came.”

“‘Frizzled?'”

“Your auditory processors weren’t working correctly, and you were blinking a lot.”

“Ah. Perhaps it would be sufficient for me to simply say that… it was good for me, too.”

Carob and Peppermint

Like the Prose: Challenge #29 – Revisit one of your previous challenge pieces and rewrite it from a different POV. (I chose Carob Drops.)

wrinkleintime

“I will check on her,” I say, “Stay by the fire. Enjoy your wine.” I leave my wife on the couch and move into the kitchen. Calling up the stairs, I assure our young houseguest, “Sophie, it is just a power outage from the storm. You are safe.”

A tremulous voice responds, “Okay.”

I’ve already got the kettle on – fortunately our stove is a gas one – and a mug ready with a bag of fragrant peppermint tea. Peppermint was my favorite, as a boy, and I suspect the child in our loft will appreciate it also. If you stir in just the right amount of turbinado sugar or organic honey it is as if you are drinking a candy-cane.

The kettle whistles. I pour the water over the bag, agitate it with a spoon, and gather the rest of my supplies: a storm lantern, a battered paperback novel, a zip-lock bag of tiny brown candies. Separately these things seem ordinary. Together, they are an arsenal meant to battle a small girl’s fear of (I chuckle to myself as the clichéd phrase comes to mind unbidden) a dark and stormy night.

The tea is ready. I remove the bag after pressing out the water, and decide honey is better than sugar on this night, though I’m generous with the sticky sweetener. In doing so, I become the little girl’s co-conspirator, and perhaps, one day, a friend, rather than the strange brown man who married her mother’s college roommate.

I light the lantern, and place it, and everything else on a bed tray – the kind the with the fold-down legs. So armed, I leave the candle-lit glow of the kitchen and climb the stairs to the loft where our bedrooms are. Sophie is in the smallest one. It’s not more than a nook, really: a small space for a small child. Perhaps, one day, the child will be his child. (I spend a moment imagining a daughter with Emily’s bright blue eyes set into tawny skin slightly lighter than my own, but with my jet-black hair. Or a son, with my dark eyes, but his mother’s soft features. It doesn’t matter… but I hope… oh, I hope….)

“Sophie?” I balance the tray on one arm and knock on the open door. “May I enter?”

“Hi, Rajesh.” Her dark eyes seem huge in the flickering lantern light. They’re not as dark as mine, and yet, I feel a kinship with this child. “Is Mom okay?”

“She is fine. She called earlier. Her conference is going well, and she said to tell you she loves you and to be good. Your Aunt Emily is so cozy on the couch that when you called out, I asked her if she would let me come keep you company for a few moments. Do you mind?”

She shakes her head, and I see her golden braids bob back and forth. “No. I don’t mind. What’s on the tray?”

“Supplies,” I say, making my voice mysterious. “The storm is loud, but you know it cannot get in, yes?”

“Yes,” she agrees. “I know.”

“Still, it makes it difficult to sleep. When I cannot sleep, I like to read, and your mother has mentioned that you, too, like stories, so I have brought you one of my favorites.” I place the lantern on the desk near the bed while I talk to her, just far enough away so that an errant hand cannot knock it over, and then I show her the cover of the book. “A Wrinkle in Time,” I intone. “Have you read it? It’s about a very brave girl, a little older than you are.”

“Is there magic in it?”

“Not precisely. There’s science in it. And sometimes science can seem like magic. Would you like to try it?”

But she’s already taken it from me and is reading the blurb on the back. “I think I’ll like it.”

“I think so, too. I first read it when I was nine.”

“I’m only eight.”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“Oh. Okay.” She sniffs the air. “I smell peppermint.”

“Ah, yes. More supplies.” I take the mug of tea from the tray. “Peppermint tea with honey in it. It’s still quite hot, so sip it carefully.”

“I will.”

“And one more thing.” I dangle the bag of candies in front of her.

“Chocolate?”

“Not quite.”

“Then what?”

“Carob drops.”

“What’s carob?”

I smile at her. “It’s a sort of bean from my country. It comes from a kind of evergreen tree, but not the kind we have here. It tastes a lot like chocolate, but it has its own flavor, too. Try one?”

Her small hand reaches into the bag and pulls out a carob drop. She pops it into her mouth, and I watch as her face first grows serious – she is analyzing the flavor – and then lights up: she approves!

“It’s a little… earthier? Is that the word?” I nod and she continues. “It’s a little earthier than chocolate. And there’s something else in the flavor. But I like it. Thank you, Rajesh.”

“You are welcome, Sophie. Now, cuddle up with your book and your tea, and let the storm become a friend instead of a foe. When you’re ready to sleep again, the carob drops will bring sweet dreams, and in the morning your mother will be back.”

She nods at all of that, her eyes wide like saucers and her face so serious. But before I can leave, she puts her hand on my arm. “Rajesh, wait.”

“Is something wrong, Sophie.”

“No. Only… Emily is Aunt Emily.”

“Yes.”

“So, aren’t you Uncle Rajesh?”

“If you wish it, Sophie.”

“I do, please.” And she stretches up and presses her little-girl lips to my cheek.

One day, I think, my own child will give me goodnight kisses like this. Sticky with honey or carob. And I will do to my child what I do with Sophie: I reach out and tug gently on her nearest braid. “You are very welcome, Sophie.”

And I leave her there, wrapped in quilts, in the tiny loft bedroom that is her nest for the night. The little girl with book and peppermint tea.

And carob drops.

* * *

Dark-eyed little girl
Golden braids, serious face
May I be your friend?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Surfer

Like the Prose: Challenge #28 – Write a Lipogram (A story where you eliminate a specific letter. In this case, the actual story does not use the letter ‘t.’)

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Sun.

Sand.

Sea.

She feels her skin baking, feels her scalp burning, feels her lips cracking from marine chemicals, from sol’s inferno, from her own obsession.

She and her board are one.

Endless waves command her focus, her balance, her prowess, her finesse.

Her braided hair flows behind her as she flies over boundless blue and pale foam.

Her body hums ocean music, and  her deep blue sea responds in kind.

Her parched lips spread in a broad grin.

She is joy embodied.

She is free.

She is a surfer.

* * *

Hours pass.

She wakes in her wee beach house.

Inhaling, she recognizes cooking aromas.

Her lover has arrived, dinner is in progress.

A fresh smile appears on her face.

She padds on calloused soles and kisses him hello. “Smells awesome.”

“Me? Or my chicken?”

“Mmm. You. And your chicken. How long?”

“Mmm. Mere seconds.”

“Wine?”

“Yes, please. Chardonnay.”

* * *

She knows his body as well as she does her ocean.

He surfs her body as ably as she does each wave.

As one, rising, falling, laughing, sighing.

A kiss.

A lick.

A nudge.

Ahhh.

Sleep comes only when each has given pleasure and been pleased.

* * *

Dawn wakes her. He remains asleep, snoring.

Dawn is shark hour.

She should be concerned.  She will be careful.

She crosses cool, damp, sand, board under her arm.

Pink rays warm her morning face.

Her waves welcome her.

She and her board are one.

She surfs.

And she smiles.

Stripes

Like the Prose: Challenge #27 – Use metaphor to explore a mental illness without naming it. (Special thanks to my friend Fran H. for her assistance & insight.) 

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If you look at a zebra, you might think you’re seeing a white animal with black stripes. After all, these not-quite-horses have white underbellies, don’t they? So white must be the dominant color.

That’s the order of things.

People often associate white with order. Because it’s clean and fresh, I guess. And maybe, maybe if you’re talking about bedsheets with hospital corners that’s true.

But if you’re creating the lightshow of your life, aligning the prisms so they bend and refract at exactly the right angles, you know the truth. White isn’t order at all. White is chaos. The presence of all colors. White is what you get when you spin the top and everything blurs, and you can’t think or process or feel because everything is too much and too loud and too fast…

But you come out of the white, at the end, and you realize that you’ve amassed this collection of art – writing, paintings, light sculptures – but you didn’t really get to experience them because you were in a frenzy of creation when they sprang into being.

And so, you sink.

You sink into black.

And at first… at first the black is soothing. Because you recognize that the black is your true color. Underneath the white fur, there’s black skin holding everything together.

But sometimes there’s too much black.

Too much darkness.

Because if white is the presence of all color, all light.

Then black is the absence.

The bleak nothingness where you are disconnected.

And while a touch of black is soothing, too much becomes a weight, like an anchor pulling you too far down, or, no, not an anchor, but a lame hoof, causing you to lag further and further behind the herd.

Intellectually, you know they’ll watch out for you.

But in the blackness, if you sense anything at all, it’s the predators you recognize. The ones that live on the edges of the dark forest and spring at you just when you’re starting to emerge from total nothingness, pulling you backwards.

They have stripes, too. The tigers. Or spots. The leopards and cheetahs. They have bits of blackness in them. But it’s a different sort of blackness. Still, it’s enough. It allows them to find you at your weakest point.

Eventually, though, there’s a shift.

Dappled sunlight breaks through the darkest part of the forest.

The herd circles around you, protecting you while your lame hoof (lame head) heals itself (maybe not forever – you’re kind of a klutz – but at least for now).

You catch your reflection in the pond before you take a refreshing drink of the clean, clear water, and you realize your stripes aren’t meant to be isolates. You are not black with white punctuation, or white with black interruption.

You are Zebra.

You are black and white, and when you move your shoulders, sometimes the white dominates, and when you stamp your hooves, the black ripples ominously, but both are parts of the whole. And when you manage to accept that, you also find balance.

Maybe not forever.

But at least for now.