Thursday, April 17, 2014

Cain and Minos


You know what happened between Cain and Abel. Cain, in a fit of selfishness, killed Abel and left him laying in the field they had been cultivating. What we haven't been told is what happened next.
Cain, returning to his home, was confronted by Ilona, Abel's wife of many years. She knew Cain's fits of rage and cowardice only too well, having been married to him before leaving him for Abel. She demanded, "Where is my husband?"
Cain had no answer, so Ilona went to the field and found her dead husband. She took word of this deed to Mnemosyne, future mother of the muses, mistress of Mithras, who had, on a whim, created Cain's parents long ago. Mnemosyne summoned Cain.
"You will take Abel's body to Crete, to Minos. You will ask him to summon his brother, who can restore life to your brother. If Minos refuses, you must kill him."
Cain, knowing the dangers of disobeying Mnemosyne, did as he had been instructed.
Arriving in Crete, he asked for an audience with Minos. After bribing the appropriate officials, he was finally taken, along with his brother's body, to a small temple. Entering by himself, he found it empty. "What is this?" he asked. "What am I to do here?"
The guard who led him to the doorway simply said, "Enter. Do not try to leave." Then he closed the large door, sealing Cain in the small antechamber. As the door closed, all light disappeared and Cain was entirely in the dark.
"Hello?" he said. After some time, he spied a soft light at one end of the room. Walking toward it, he saw a massive throne that had not been there before. Braziers lit themselves on each side, revealing a cavern of seemingly endless dimension. He smelled sulfur. He sensed he was surrounded by small scurrying animals that chirped and moaned softly. Atop the throne, a massive figure stirred.
"Who are you!" said the creature, who appeared to be a very large man with the face of an ox. His lower extremeties appeared to be a nest of very large snakes.
"I am Cain, good king. I am sent here by Mnemosyne, queen to Mithras. I am to ask you to restore my brother to life."
"You are a curious creature to make such a request," rumbled the creature above. "How is it that your brother no longer breathes?"
"Your highness, I murdered him in a fit of rage."
"Why then would you wish him to be restored?"
"My action was wrong, good sir. I would undo it if I were able."
"And so you expect me to do this for you. What would you do for me in exchange?"
"Sir, I have nothing to give you. I have only these clothes I wear and my pitiful body, as you see before you."
"You might give me your life in exchange for that of your brother."
"That I cannot do, good king. I have a wife and children who depend on me."
The creature above suddenly jumped down. He thrust his snout into Cain's face and snorted. "I owe you nothing, human! You are not even of my clan. You deserve death for coming here and asking me for something with no intent to repay me!" His breath stank; Cain shrunk back, near to fainting from the stench.
Then he remembered Mnemosyne's instruction. He took out a dagger hidden in his robe and thrust it into the creature's eye.
Minos thrashed and wailed and twisted in agony and finally dropped to the ground, clearly dead. Cain, who had moved back into the shadows of one corner of the cavern, trembled in fear but watched carefully.
After some minutes, he heard a slithering sound coming from the depths of the cavern to one side. Then he saw it: a snake with a girth larger than Cain's body. It slithered slowly toward the fallen form of Minos until it's mouth was directly over Minos's head. Opening its great mouth, it extended its fangs until one was directly over Minos's mouth. One large drop fell and Minos stirred back to life. The other fang secreted one additional drop, which fell to the stone floor and pooled in a low spot. They seemed to speak briefly in hissing sounds, then Minos returned to his throne. The snake closed its mouth and returned to the depths.
Much later, after sitting silently for hours, Cain felt Minos was asleep. He crept to the pool of serum and scooped as much as possible into his empty water bag. Then he carried his dead brother out of the chamber and returned home.
The cure worked. Abel was restored to life. Ilona rejoiced in his resurrection and returned to Abel's bed and bore him many children.

Cain's wife also bore children. But before Cain could die naturally of old age, as his brother and his brother's children all did, he became sick in his old age. His memory of all things faded; he wandered, delusional and lost until he finally fell and struck his head. This fate, and worse, was unfortunately borne by each of his offspring as well, who passed it to their children. In this way insanity and pain became the legacy for at least half of humanity, who had no idea of the cause, nor how to prevent the onslaught of this deadly heritage.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Silhouettes

 Eve walked through the door of Kaldi's looking, as always, like a movie star. Dressed casually in elegant, perfectly pressed black pants and a white blouse with a print scarf around her neck draping down her front, accenting her robust breasts, her long legs thrusting forward like those of a determined soldier (of the culture wars, no doubt), I could see her mostly against the lights blazing from the stores across the street. I half-stood, just to get her attention. She was looking straight at me, waving me back into my seat with one hand.
Instead of sitting, I went over to the coffee bar and poured her a cup of almond-scented house blend. When I returned and put the coffee in front of her, she said, "Yes." Simple, crisp.
"Nice to see you, as always," I said.
She answered with a quick half-smile. "You too. How are you, Stephen?"
"The usual. You?"
"A bit off, actually." She busied herself looking for a tissue in her voluminous purse. She pulled one out and put it to her nose.
"What's wrong?"
"Spring allergies, I expect." She sniffed and put the tissue back. "Nothing really."
"Stiffed by a lover, are we?"
"More like annoyed by an old one," she said, eyes flashing.
I knew nothing about her current love life. It had only been an attempt to tweak her a little, something I had rarely succeeded at in her case. Slightly chastened, I pulled out a single sheet of paper from my laptop case and handed it to her.
"What's this?"
"It's a brief descriptive study I wrote this afternoon. I'd like to get your impression of it."
This was our routine. Meet weekly for an hour or so on Sunday evenings, or sometimes Thursdays, and talk about things. Mostly what I'd written that week, an essay or bit of fiction. Sometimes she brought an article she had found interesting. Ideas. We preferred to talk about difficult topics - what do stories mean in people's lives; what is the purpose of ego; what is consciousness itself. We rarely talked trivia, though we often ended our conversations touching on things that had happened to us that week. Just enough to remind ourselves that we had more than intellectual curiosity about each other.
She sat quietly, reading the scene I had written:

"I saw her first when she entered the cafe and spoke to the maitre di. Her looks struck me: so young but quiet and serious. She might have been waiting for someone. She was small, not much more than a girl; petite, dark hair cut shoulder length, wearing a dark long sleeved shirt. Under that, what must have been pajama bottoms, colorful with bright printed patterns, loose and floppy, of thin cotton.
As she turned around to find a seat for her wait, I could see her form more clearly. Thin waist, thin legs. Round, clearly defined buttocks that moved with a gentle rolling motion, as if alive, beneath those pajamas. I was mesmerized.
I was in the midst of my breakfast, sitting elbow to elbow with my band mates after our morning gig. Chattering about ... what? Nothing, of course. It's what we talked about when together. Except musically, we barely knew each other.
Finishing the last of my biscuit and gravy, vaguely listening to Mark, next to me, carry on in a booming voice about something, I glanced past him and there, at the next table, she was.
She was defined by the early afternoon light of the window behind her: a silhouette. Blinded by the backlight, I could see no more than a dark outline of her sitting in the chair. Next to her, not across but to one side, the dark form of a man. He looked older, though perhaps not by much. Clearly older than she was. I could just see his face, half turned toward her, a handsome man with a steady smile. As he spoke, his expression barely changed. He watched her from the side of his eyes rather than directly, never glancing away. I thought that if I were he, I might do the same, too stunned by her beauty to do anything but stare at her, but wanting to avoid embarrassing her by looking too directly.
For her part - and this was the oddest part of this - she appeared never to look at him at all. Two things held my attention until I could barely stand it: her expression never changed. Her face, in outline, was clear. Forehead, nose, lips, all perfect, as if drawn by a master artist in charcoal. Her lips moved only slightly as she seemed to make the briefest possible replies to the man. Otherwise, there was no movement at all.
The other thing that struck me was her posture: she sat straight up, her back a good six inches from the back of her chair, her spine straight as a ruler. It might have been the posture of an experienced yoga master.
What I was looking at was a statue; a brilliant study in the human form, though an unnatural one. Who she might have been and why she sat so still for the minutes that her companion spoke to her, I have no idea. But it chills me to think of her. I have not been able to rid myself of the image of her still, perfect form in that chair, in that unnatural moment. She haunts me, the girl in the pajama bottoms."

She read it slowly while I refilled our coffee and fetched madeleines. When I returned, she glanced up at me, then back down at the paper. It looked like she meant to read it a second time. I was pleased by this, until she put the paper down suddenly and looked up at me.
"What is this?" she said.
"Well," I said, "I guess it was, you know, a moment."
"A moment? What does that mean?"
"It was just something I saw, and I was kind of struck by it. I wanted to make sense of what I felt when I looked at this girl, so I wrote that."
"So, you're saying this actually happened? This isn't a bit of your fiction?"
Eve and I had been meeting like this for close to a year now at four p.m., usually at the coffee house we favored because it was large enough and quiet enough to allow us to talk. Often I would bring her something I had been working on, the first draft of a short story or notes toward a longer one. Sometimes I'd bring sketches of characters in one of the novels I pretended to be writing. She brought a book or a copy of an article that had caught her attention. For a couple of hours, we talked, exercising our minds in attempts to make sense of the world of ideas to which we were both drawn.
It had started differently. We met at a party. Both a little drunk, we flirted. We ended up in her bed. Briefly. One time only, she insisted. She liked sex, she said, but she didn't want a relationship. I was okay with that. I thought I'd never see her again.
Then she called. She wanted to meet. Just to talk, she insisted.
I expected that meant we would have sex again, but I was wrong. We were attracted to each other but the attraction was less physical than intellectual. Neither of us could quite get enough of the other's mind.
I felt the pull of sexual tension too, each time we met. It was part of the fun of it: would we, or wouldn't we? Was this a kind of prolonged foreplay, this talk, these explorations of various topics of interest to both of us?
It was, of course. But "prolonged" in this case meant exclusively. We both realized this connection of minds, which amounted to a kind of tantric yoga, was much more fun and sexier than body to body sex ever could be. Anyway, that's how I chose to think of our meetings. I don't know if I would have been able to continue them otherwise.
"Yes, it actually happened. I wrote that right after. Every word is true," I said. I waited for her response. I wasn't quite sure why I shared it with her, though I hadn't prepared anything else for our meet up. Besides, I really had been puzzled by the "moment" I described. There was something about it that tantalized me, something I didn't fully understand. I hoped she might help me parse it.
"What do you want me to say? You were attracted to her."
"Well, yes. Suppose I was," I said. She looked unhappy, which surprised me. "Why, are you jealous?"
"No. Or not exactly jealous," she said, picking up the sheet and staring hard at it. She paused. This wasn't how most of our conversations proceeded.
"What then?" I said.
"Look," she said, staring hard at me now. "She was a kid, right? That's how you describe her. An adolescent. And your desire for her …that's what this is all about."
"Maybe," I said. It sounded like an accusation. "No. It was more than that."
"Come on, Stephen. There are limits. She's a child."
"Not a child," I said. "She was not a child. I mean, she had breasts, right? And she came in alone? Looking for this guy?" I stopped. I had to consider. Had I revealed something about myself that …I couldn't take the thought further.
"Yes, a child. 'Stunned by her beauty,'. You were attracted to her. Mesmerized even, a deer in headlights, am I right? That's what you've described here."
"Eve, it isn't like you to judge," I said. "Yeah, I was attracted to her. Of course."
"I'm sorry Stephen. It's how much, how intensely. And how young."
"What, does that make me some kind of child molester? Even if I felt that way, you know I'd never act on it."
Eve didn't reply. We finished our coffee and then talked about other things for a while, then made excuses to leave, a bit earlier than usual.

The weather was turning. It would be spring soon. I was home alone on a Saturday. I took my bowl of microwaved bulger and brown sugar to the postage stamp deck just outside my living room French doors. Standing at the rail, I watched the outline of the buildings beyond emerge from a gray mist. A gray squirrel clung upside down to a tree, chattering with what I imagined must be fury at something on the ground, one angry neighbor asserting his territory to another. I could see the tops of the woodlot and some of the creek cut within, still dry, but ready to route dirty backyard runoff down to the city's sewer system. Beyond, low square cinder block buildings, the light industrial district that backed my neighborhood. All was quiet except for my squirrel. I could hear birds but didn't see them. It wasn't too early to see robins or redheaded or downy woodpeckers, finches, chickadees, nuthatches or cardinals.
Saturdays were always a little hard for me - the mornings especially. So many options for my time, the day open to possibilities. It made me happy to have this unscheduled time. It also meant I had to choose how to use it. Every choice meant I eliminated other choices. Silly, I knew, but it was an annoying response to freedom that I had never been able to resolve.
I put my empty bowl in the sink and poured my first cup of coffee. I opened my laptop at the table in front of the kitchen window. This was the best moment to write, if words would come. Always a tough call, that if.
The moment I touched the keys, I knew what it would have to be. It flooded back to me, the conversation with Eve.

"Yes," I wrote, "I described the girl in pajamas in response to my libido. My lust. I do desire a young woman, in my imagination at least. What red blooded man would not? I have no idea how I might respond if actually given the opportunity to have sex with her though, or even to converse with her.
"But, though it may have been inspired by that at first, the point of my sketch was something entirely different. It was an aesthetic moment, not a sexual one. Or, as I've seen argued, there may be no real difference between the two.
"My whole encounter with the girl in pajamas (if I may call it that) couldn't have lasted more than three minutes. It was as if I had wandered into a room in a museum filled with stunning and mysterious art. I experienced a vision of great and unusual beauty. Unexpected beauty. A crush of serendipity in that most ordinary of circumstances.
"That, and nothing more. The moment ended. I looked away. Just as I might have looked down and walked on in that magical gallery in my imagination. I needed to look away, needed to close off my thoughts, for that moment at least, to give room for something else - the feelings of mystery that the glimpse of her beauty brought to the surface of my consciousness, or just under the surface."


We met again the following Thursday night. It was a cold, windy night and had rained that afternoon, leaving the streets with the chilled slick look of a noir movie. Reflections from street lamps and store signs streaked the wet asphalt and ricocheted from car hoods like pinballs in a psychedelic arcade. I didn’t feel like going out. I never did in cold weather, but neither did I want to call Eve to cancel.
Even on a Thursday night in cold weather, I had to park a long block away. Ninth Street in Columbia bustled with students on their way to their favorite bars and pizza joints. When I got to the coffee house, Eve was already seated, her thin hands wrapped around a mug of steaming coffee.
Her e-mail earlier that day had said, “I’d like to talk about the story you just published on your blog. About stealing and cheating. Please bring a copy. And you were so defensive Sunday last about the pajama girl. Want to talk about that?”
I nodded to her as I came in and headed to the coffee bar. When I returned with my own mug, Eve had her laptop open. She turned it around so I could see. It was a page from the appendix of my first novel, a description of Lila, one of the characters.
“She’s like your pajama girl,” Eve said as I moved my chair around to see the page. “Young, small, undeveloped. The portrait, I mean. You avoided saying much about her in the chapter where she first appears."
“Avoided? I didn’t avoid describing her,” I said. “More like I didn’t want to clutter the chapter with too much descriptive material. That chapter is about more than her.”
“All right. But don’t you think you might be describing the same person? An archetype maybe? The idea of a barely mature woman with the power to mystify?” Eve looked at the page and scrolled down. “I mean, she has magical powers, right? She’s a breatharian, and she prepares food that gives special power to the rest of your characters?”
“Energy. Her food energizes them. Wakes them up. Refreshes them,” I said. “But yes, I guess you’re right.”
Eve looked up at me. “And your narrator - you, really - is in love with her. Has a child with her by the end of the book. Stephen,” she said, smiling now, “you want a relation like that. Maybe you need it. With a young woman. A very young woman.”
Silence.
“What?” I said. “Is that wrong?”
“No, Stephen. Not wrong. It just makes me wonder. I mean, you're my friend and you have this unmet need. Something missing in your life.”
I couldn't figure out where she might be going with this. Why it seemed so important to her.
“My first girlfriend,” I said. “We were very young. My parents were very cautious about it and wouldn’t let me spend much time with her. Her parents were even worse. Then she moved away, just when I felt it might be possible for us to ... “
“Have sex?”
"We were very young. First love. I was curious about sex, but it was more than that."
“So you were frustrated. Unfulfilled. Maybe you never got over her?”
I looked down at my coffee, considering what to say. “Maybe I didn’t. Maybe I expected too much. Hoped for too much. In the end, I idealized her, or the memory of her. The idea of her.”
“Okay,” said Eve. “That explains a lot. I sense a lot of reserve in your characters, especially in the way your male characters interact with female characters. Like they're holding back. Reluctant to engage emotionally."
I sighed. “Like me, you mean. Eve, I'm just a guy trying to work things out.”
To my surprise, she looked sheepish. She closed her laptop. "Of course. I'm sorry."
I sipped my coffee and pulled out the sheets I had brought. I was ready for a change of subject. “Eve, look. I know I’m naive about relationships and that I tend to romanticize them. It’s just who I am. Maybe it’s why I can’t rid myself of the impulse to try to create characters and stories. I’m trying to make sense of how I grew up, how I became whoever the fuck I am today.”
Eve chuckled. "Whoever you are today. That's good. I could say the same thing. Maybe we all could." She put her hands on top of her laptop, as if to warm them, or to keep it from flying away. She looked up with a wan smile. "Stephen, I am sorry. I don't know why this bothers me. Maybe I am jealous. I'm sorry I'm not her. Thin and young and ephemeral and mysterious and brimming with potential."
“So,” I said, “do you want to talk about ‘The Tent’? Did you have questions about it? It’s about two of the most important relationships I had as a younger man.”
Eve remained silent, watching me. “Stephen, I’m leaving. I wanted you to know.”
“What? Leaving? When? Where? For how long?”
“I don’t know for how long. I need to go to the west coast for a while. An old friend of mine. She called me. She wants me to come stay with her for a while.”
“Wow, just like that?” I said. “Did she say why? Where will you be going?”
“Malibu. She’s wealthy. Or her husband is. She said she’s dying.” Eve’s look struck me. I’d never seen her like this. She looked both sad and angry. “Cancer. Pretty far along, I gather.”
“Well fuck. Halfway across the country. You two must be close.”
“It’s strange. We’re not,” said Eve. “Or not in the way you might think. We were roommates in college. We were called the twins by our friends because we looked so much alike. People mistook us for each other all the time. We did have a lot of interests in common, but there were also some important differences.”
I didn’t know what to say. “When will you be going?”
“Right away. She's sending me a plane ticket. In fact, I wanted to ask if you’d drive me to the airport.”
“Sure,” I said. “So how long ... oh, you said you didn’t know how long you’d be there.”
“She wants me to be there when …you know. When she dies,” Eve said, almost in a whisper. “That could be pretty quick. Or maybe not.”
“Uh. Jeez Eve, are you ready for that?”
"Is anyone ever ready for that?"


Three months later, almost to the day, I had a dream about Eve. I struggled to remember it when I woke; it was a dream I'd had before, but not for many years, filled with aching longing. I was in a small sailboat that, oddly, didn't belong to me. I'd borrowed or stolen it for the day. In the boat with me, there she was, the girl I longed for but felt I would never be able to touch. We were both young, barely teens. We both glowed with passion and longing and something else - fear of what was coming, of separation, of growing up. Behind our swelling love for one another was the knowledge of what was fueling it: the tenuousness of it; the coming loss of it all. We knew we'd part soon, and never see each other again after this day.
I knew I wanted to be with her, lay with her, kiss her body, find a way to meld her soul with my own, never be apart from her; the need for it was swamping me. But I could not move. To do so would kill it, would bring us both back to the reality of who and where we were. More than we wanted each other, we wanted to preserve this feeling of impossible love, for as long as possible.
Sitting on the side of my bed, eyes closed, struggling to recall and hold on to as much of this dream as I could, eyes wet with the knowledge that that moment with her would be gone in seconds, I realized something: the girl in my dream was Eve.
Eve as a thin, magical, evanescent girl, about to bud into a woman. Eve as she had longed to be.
I wanted to share this experience, what was left of it, with her. I went to my computer and logged into Facebook and found her personal page, meaning to message her with a brief version of the dream. I knew this would amuse her. It wasn't like I was suggesting we resume or deepen our relationship; or maybe it was, but I wasn't sure of that and wouldn't have admitted it if I was. Such a childish act would surely just annoy her.
What I found on her page was this: "All love to the ascending soul of our sister, Eve, who passed this morning in the home of her sister in Mt. Carmel, California. Her end was dignified, quiet and painless. She was attended by her family. Flowers may be sent to …"

I couldn't read the rest for the tears in my eyes.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Tent

THE TENT

Mark Amblin was trembling. That was the point. Jack up the adrenalin. Feel alive. Do something dangerous. He had worked out the reasons to be sitting here at 4 a.m. in a small mountain tent in total darkness, trying to figure out what to do next. To possess this thing without getting caught.

The camping store faced the busiest street in town. As spring warmed to summer, Mark admired the display as he drove to and from his janitorial job. Then the owner decided to improve sales by setting up  tents on the strip of lawn between the store and the street. Mark was struck by one tent in particular. The smallest one, orange and blue, shaped like some kind of jungle creature. Just right for him and his wife.

It didn't matter that they no longer went white water canoeing in the pine forests of northern Wisconsin anymore. That had been part of their mating ritual: daring the rushing cold waters to defeat them.

Although truthfully, it had been Charlotte's ritual. She invited Mark to go with her when they started dating. The time on the water was the best part. The noise, the rush of water, almost freezing cold, the danger. For the rest, it was mostly a matter of sitting on hard ground, swatting huge mosquitoes in the heat, or huddling beneath sleeping bags, spooned with Charlotte.

Now, married and living in a cottage near the outskirts of this town where Mark had dropped out of college after two years, things were different. He was comfortable enough, even on the small amount he made sweeping floors and emptying ashtrays and setting up chairs at his former school. But without the G.I. Bill that had been paying rent while he went to school, he and his wife couldn't afford things like a mountain tent.

Mark wanted it. For Charlotte, he told himself. He couldn't afford to buy it. But he could steal it.

###

Charlotte Amblin turned in circles in the middle of her kitchen. She was looking for Velvet, her kitten, who had followed Charlotte when she came downstairs and walked through the livingroom. Velvet liked to walk behind her, watching the heels of her shoes. At some point, it would jump up and try to snag the shoe with a claw. Barefoot, or weariing her thin slippers, that was painful. Mark already had had to paint her heel and ankle with iodine, which was even more painful. "Infection," he said. "Can't let that happen."

She couldn't disagree, but Mark's annoyance with the kitten was growing: he seemed unwilling to even try to train Velvet, or get along with her. Last night, coming down the narrow stairs from their bedroom, she heard Velvet screech as she flew through the air from the living room. Mark stood, scowling and rubbing his leg. He glared at her. "I can't wait for her to get out of her kitten stage," he said. "She hurts."

"Mark, don't throw her like that. Don't ever do that." Charlotte found Velvet huddled under the bench behind the kitchen table and gently coo'd her out and into her arms. "All you have to do is love her. She'll love you back."

###

Careful planning was key, he knew. Think it all out before acting.

It had been Mark's goal when he returned to college to learn the craft of writing fiction. Now, each evening after the day was over and Charlotte had gone to bed, Mark hovered over his typewriter and thought about the story he was trying to write. Mostly this meant staring into space, struggling in vain to quiet the noise in his head and to hear the little voice that might be that of a character, or a narrator. More often than not, he failed at this. As the weather warmed and the nights became nearly as uncomfortable as the days, all he could do was strip down to a tee and shorts and sit in front of the fan.

Instead of stories, the image of the mountain tent grew in his mind. Having it, and what he needed to do to get it. Imagining the theft was another way of creating a story. He had his French ten-speed bicycle, which he liked to ride, silent as a panther moving across the savanna on hot nights with no lights. He felt invisible when he rode at night, the later the better. Invisible and invincible.

The plan, when he had thought it through, was simple. Ride to the camping store after everyone was asleep and there was no longer traffic on the boulevard. Park the bike in total darkness. Get in the tent and when the moment was right, disassemble it from within. Back on the bike and ride it, silent and invisible, down the back streets to his home.

###

"Lea is coming to visit," Charlotte said one morning that spring.

"When?" said Mark, dipping a measuring cup into a bag of whole wheat flour. Saturday mornings were Mark's day to make pancakes for breakfast. He was proud of his recipe: half whole wheat, half unbleached white; eggs and baking powder and milk. Make it thick and chewey; smear it with peanut butter and slather with syrup. Eggs over easy on the side. A full protein meal.

"Tomorrow."

Mark paused, thinking about their inventory of groceries.

"I'll have to pick some stuff up from the grocery store then," he said.

"Yeah," said Charlotte. "We'll all go. I'm sure Lea will chip in."

"Good. Because we're almost broke until payday."

"She'll chip in," Charlotte said, looking up from her copy of Scientific American, her bathrobe exposing her thin legs. "She always does."

###

It helped that the camping store was located in the dim stretch between two street lights and well to the north of the main part of the city. The shopping center a quarter mile on up the boulevard, anchored by Walmart, had been closed for several hours. A light industrial park too. All closed. Everyone slept at 4 a.m. in this sleepy Midwest town in northern Illinois in 1972 except a few city police in patrol cars. And people like Mark.

He saw no one on his ride to the store. Now Mark sat quietly in the dark of the tent that would soon be his. He listened, not moving, almost not breathing, for cars or other sounds. Nothing. When finally he did hear a car approaching, he noted the way it illuminated the tent, confident he couldn't be seen in it. He tried to estimate how long it was between passing cars, but no more came after the first.

The danger he felt was danger he had chosen, and that thought thrilled him. He listened. All he heard was a long stretch of silence. He knew he would have to decide: dismantle this tent and in doing, expose himself, or crawl back on his bike and disappear and pretend he had never been here.

###

Lea arrived around lunchtime Sunday, chirpy and restless from the long drive as she always was. She and Charlotte were best friends. They had graduated together from a private high school in Kansas City's south-town six years ago. They'd never lost touch, though their lives had diverged from each other when Charlotte moved to Illinois to go to college. Lea had gone on to some school near her home, Mark hadn't paid enough attention to their chatter to know where. They hugged; Lea pulled two bags from the rear seat of her aging BMW. "There's more back there," she said. "Some stuff for you."

Charlotte grinned and grabbed one of Lea's bags and her free arm and marched them both to the house.

"Mark," she said, "Would you mind getting the rest of Lea's things from her car? I'm going to get her settled and start lunch."

Lea and Charlotte had grown up together and gone to the same schools, but they could hardly have been more different. Lea was taller; round faced where Charlotte's high cheekbones and narrow chin gave her the appearance of a rough-cut gem; large bones; a thin waist with large breasts that Mark could imagine were soft and smooth like overripe fruit, where Charlotte's figure was straight, almost no difference between her hips, waist and breasts, the body of a small athlete, which Charlotte had been in high school.

The box remaining in Lea's car contained nick-nacks for Charlotte. A small hand-thrown jar with a lid, brown with blue streaks; a plastic icon that Mark recognized as the Indian elephant god Ganesh; salt and pepper shakers in the shape of small birds; copies of The New Yorker magazine. Mark put the box on one of the dining room chairs.

"Hi Mark," said Lea, coming out of the kitchen. "Thanks. These are some of Charlotte's things that her mother gave me to bring up." They were nearly the same height. Mark just looked at her. "So how are you? How's your job? Still writing?"

"Still writing," said Mark. "If you can call it that."

"Well you know. One bird at a time," she said, smiling.It was a reference to a book she had brought him on her previous visit. Anne Lamott's "Bird by Bird, Some Instructions on Writing and Life." A book to encourage him to keep working on stories. She smiled, a warm, lingering look.

###

There was no way to predict when another car might pass. Mark decided it was time to act. He popped loose the flexible rods that formed the tent's skeleton.

Mark sweated heavily while furiously trying to disassemble the tent and collapse it upon himself in the dark. He dared turn on the small flashlight he carried just long enough to be sure he had all the rods and gathered them into their bag. The tent by now had settled down around his body.

He crawled out as fast as he could, heart racing, and pulled the tent into a tight bundle under one arm. He could see the lights of a car in the distance. He had maybe twenty or thirty seconds to get himself and the tent out of sight. He stood up, a little unsteady after sitting cross legged for so long in the stifling tent. Why did he want the thing anyway? Would he actually use it once he had it?

He pulled up the stakes around the tent's perimeter as fast as he could, refusing to let himself look up at the approaching vehicle. It would only slow him down, only increase his nervousness. Finally, stakes tucked into the folds of the bundled tent, tie-down strings dangling dangerously close to his feet, he skittered to the side of the building and into the darkness where he had parked his bicycle.

He sighed with relief as the car - not a police car, he gratefully noted - drove past without slowing. He watched its lights recede while he searched the bundle for the carrying case he knew was inside it. He stuffed the tent into the case along with the bag of poles, zipped it closed and strapped it to the small carrier on the back of his bicycle.

Mark rode as quietly as possible down the back and side streets the way he had come.The night air was still and warm as the ground continued to give off its day's heat. The moving air as he rode helped cool his face and arms. It was the beauty of a bicycle in summer. He savored the rush of the night air around his grinning face.

###

Lea, like Charlotte, came from a comfortably middle-class home. She didn't have work that summer; Charlotte encouraged her to stay. It wasn't a problem for her to chip in on expenses. Groceries at least. Her presence seemed to make Charlotte happy, a good thing, as Charlotte had not looked for another job and was lonely at home by herself during the week when Mark worked.

Mark couldn't complain. He came home each day to a meal freshly prepared, and to interesting company. After sharing their day all day, Lea and Charlotte were ready to turn their attention to Mark. Both were smart, well educated, interested in his ideas. Discussions sometimes ran late into the evening, after which Charlotte retired early. Her psychiatrist had her on anti-depressants that caused bloating at the same time it lessened her appetite both for food and for sex. This left Mark and Lea alone, reading quietly in the living room together each evening.

They shared their silence comfortably. Occasionally Lea would ask Mark about something she was reading, always in a low voice. Mark would reply as quietly, even though Charlotte slept soundly with the help of sleeping pills in the bedroom above.

After a month of this, Mark began trying to figure out whether, and how, he could tell Lea how erotic he found her presence.

###

After, at home, Mark felt strange. Not tired, but somehow disoriented. It was hard to focus on anything for more than a few seconds at a time. Planning and carrying out the theft had given him a sense of purpose. It kept him focused. But after, still sweating as he put his new acquisition away somewhere Charlotte wouldn't find it right away and ask awkward questions, he wondered what he would tell her if she did ask.

He would have to tell her. The truth. She wouldn't judge him, he felt sure. He wouldn't lie to Charlotte about what he had done. That would be stupid and there was no need. They were a pair, a team, in it together no matter what, regardless of his feelings for Lea.

Lea slept in the spare room on the ground floor, in the top bunk of a pair of bunk beds he and Charlotte had found from a bulletin board ad at the supermarket.

Mark pushed open the door to her room.

"Lea?" he said quietly.

"Yes?" He could see her propped up on an elbow, the drape of her night gown revealing her body in the dim glow like the form of a young gazelle.

"Sorry to wake you. I just wanted to ask you something," Mark whispered. He wanted to touch her, but he didn't dare. Not yet.

"What?"

"I want you. I really want you. To lie with you. Have sex with you. Is that a terrible thing?"

Lea was silent for a moment. Then, "No. I want you too."

"But we can't, right? Because of Charlotte?"

Again, a long silence. Then Lea gently settled herself back down.

"I don't know," she said. "Good night, Mark."

Mark closed her door and settled himself in the living room, breathing heavily.

Two risky things in one night, he reflected.

It wasn't like he was a bad person. With the tent, he had acted more to relieve his boredom than out of anything like greed. He worked a menial job without complaining, without even feeling it was menial. Still, he could barely afford to live, much less have things that made his and Charlotte's lives more bearable. It was the inequality of it all. Corporate greed. All he had done was exercise what little he did have, his cleverness and courage, to tip the balance of things in their favor just a little. Only a little. It was such a small thing, really. Just a tent.

As for the other, he would work that out too. One way or another.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Bubble

She floats within until she doesn't
wet with the remains of memories

of a day when trees sashayed double time
lime in her glass of Pacifico 

a reflection of the ocean in her eyes 
the sound of wind in her hair 

a wind so fair and dry to the touch
of the arch of her back and I chugging 

in the sand to keep up, wondering 
why she drips so with water of the sea 

fairy splashes that make sinkholes in sand 
that last only seconds then bear themselves 

and me to some lair within and below
sallow invisible trembling hollow trees 

those trees we both have come to love 
so much

Sunday, June 9, 2013

WHAT IS ART?

Everyone, perhaps writers more than most, have favorite quotes. Maybe you'll find a new gem in this list. Many are unattributed due to my laziness. That doesn't reflect my gratitude for the insights and wisdom that are the authors' gifts to us. - Miker

Cynisism is the shamefaced product of inexperience ~A.J. Liebling

One does not see anything until one sees its beauty. - Oscar Wilde

"Remember, when you say 'I love you' you're not just saying it to the one you love. You're saying it to yourself, and to the planet." -Yoko Ono

Between Tragedy & Comedy lies Irony. That's where I live. If you don't live there now, you're missing most of the fun. ~John Perry Barlow

When the effective leader is finished with his work, the people say it happened naturally. - Lao-Tzu

Art is spirituality in drag - Jennifer Yane

Art is a lie that makes us realize truth - Pablo Picasso

Art consists of limitation.  The most beautiful part of every picture is the frame.  ~G.K. Chesterton

Great art is as irrational as great music.  It is mad with its own loveliness.  ~George Jean Nathan, House of Satan

Poets do not go mad; chess-players do.  Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers; but creative artists very seldom.  ~G. K. Chesterton

One of the best things about paintings is their silence.  ~Mark Stevens

Artistry is an innate distrust of the theory of reality concocted by the five senses.  ~Robert Brault

A subject that is beautiful in itself gives no suggestion to the artist.  It lacks imperfection.  ~Oscar Wilde

Art is a kind of illness.  ~Giacomo Puccini

"Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana." Groucho.

“Writing is like prostitution. First you do it for love, then for a few close friends, then for money.” ~ Moliere
   
“Never let your schooling interfere with your education.” Mark Twain

"The bad news is you're falling through the air, nothing to hang on to, no parachute. The good news is there's no ground." ~ Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

Writing fiction can be an act of rubbing oneself up against reality, relishing the abrasion and sharing that with readers.

Faith and Doubt belong together, each inhaling and exhaling the other.

An author in his work must be like God in the universe, present everywhere and visible nowhere. ~Flaubert

Buddhists never conquer anything ~Kim Stanley Robinson

The key to every man is his thought. Sturdy and defying though he look, he has a helm which he obeys, which is the idea after which all his facts are classified. He can only be reformed by showing him a new idea which commands his own. ~Emerson, 1841

I don't disbelieve in miracles. I'm simply not impressed by them. They tell us we have more to learn. ~Lazlo Kovaks

The time may come when you discover the beauty of leading with your heart rather than following it.

"You can look at a thing 999 times without seeing it. But if you look at it that thousandth time, you risk truly seeing it." ~ G.K. Chesterton (paraphrased)

I reserve the right to exist, temporarily at least, in an altogether different universe. ~Lazlo Kovaks

Wanted: Editor for short fiction. Requirements: Appreciation of the cosmic joke. Love of irony. Sense of humor. Minimalist sensibilities. Pay: negligible. Appreciation: boundless.

In what way is it possible we are not music? -Lazlo Kovaks

Composition is the arrangement of unequal things. -Ruskin

The material world is made up entirely of collisions between otehrwise indefinite objects. ~Rae Armontrout

Speak only if you can improve on silence. ~Anonymous

Fiction, like life, is capacious enough not only to contain everything but to make us see how and why the personal, the political, the moral, the spiritual, the economic and historical—and the mythical—fits so seamlessly together. ~Francine Prose

It is the business of the artist to make humanity aware of itself. ~Pound

Life is too short to live a sufficient number of experiences, so you have to steal them. ~Enrique Vila-Matas

With the lamp of word and discrimination one must go beyond word and discrimination and enter upon the path of realization. ~Lankavatara Sutra

For society to survive and reinvent itself in meaningful ways, we must in a sense become a "post-literate" culture. ~Andrew Gurevich

Expressions of poetry are moments of extreme emotion recalled in moments of extreme quietude.

The emotional progression of a small number of clearly drawn characters through a decisively shaped tale, leading to a series of wrenching encounters and a satisfying climax.

It is awe-inspiring when a writer hits a high note, goes dancing along the edge of something; hurls himself against enormous questions again and again.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Attraction

Michael spotted a breakout session at the Reality Formation Conference at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. It was called "Attraction: A Comprehensive Model of Reality Formation." It featured five panelists: a physicist, an astrophysicist, a psychologist, a neurologist, and the host/convener, a young man from MIT's Learning Lab.

"Anything attracted to something else usually follows a similar pattern," he began. "First comes awareness, if consciousness is involved, which is not a requirement. Second, the beginnings of movement toward the attractor, followed by an often irresistible fall into its embrace."

The audience tittered a bit, then fell silent, as Todd, the leader, brought up an image of a planet circling a sun.

"There are many examples of this procession, which we'll call Attention, Mild Attraction, and Fatal Attraction. I could use more technical terms, but what I hope to demonstrate is a general theory of attraction, best expressed in general terms." Todd flipped on a laser pointer and pointed to the planet on the screen.

"We're all familiar with at least two examples of Attraction. This one, of course, is gravity. As two objects approach each other, the force of gravity will begin to affect their trajectory. Let's say that when a change in trajectory due to gravitation can be detected, the two objects are in a state of Mild Attraction. As the force of gravitation increases by the square root of the distance between objects, the closer the objects come to each other, the stronger the pull, or Attraction. Assuming gravitational attraction isn't sufficiently counteracted by, say, centrifigal force, at some point the pull of gravity will overcome the inertia of the two objects, and they will fall into each other. That point of no return, we can call the point of Fatal Attraction.

"We know the same forces apply to magnetism. The mathematics are the same. What other examples of Attraction do we know about?" A hand shot up.

"What about sexual attraction?" said an attractive woman. The audience laughed.

"What's that? Sexual attraction? I wouldn't laugh. Our work leads us to believe it works the same, though it's much harder to measure, and it's complicated by the various dynamics of psychology, physiology, and cultural and social pressures. The extent to which sexual relations between unmarried couples is condoned. Or maybe when was the last time each person bathed." More laughter.

"Surely you've set up studies to try to measure that at MIT?" added the woman.

"We'd certainly like to," said Todd. "We just need sufficient numbers of scientifically minded volunteers like yourself to help us get started," he said, winking and smiling at the woman.

(excerpt from work in progress)

Monday, February 11, 2013

Still Pool


A god and a goddess sat on a park bench. In front of them, on another bench, sat a man, facing away from them. He watched his lover, who played with their child in the field beyond.

The god and goddess whispered to each other. Each watched the man: the god watched his head and saw his thoughts. Though fleeting and coiling in among themselves, as thoughts tend to do, they were tinged with hope, respect, curiosity, even wonderment, tempered by thoughts of how he might improve the lives of his loved ones. The god saw, too, worry and concern appear and then dissipate like sudden bursts of steam leaking from the valves and joints of a mighty engine.

The goddess watched the man's heart and saw his feelings. She saw the gentle pull of physical attraction, deep calm love, not just for his mate but for the child and all the other people around them. She saw compassion and grace, all tempered by a sense of humility. Around the edges hovered flickers of fear, like tiny flames unable to find sufficient tinder.

The god and goddess, lovers themselves, giggled and whispered and seemed to come to an agreement. Each pointed to the man, the god to the man's head, the goddess to the man's heart, and slowly drew their fingers toward each other until they touched.

At that moment, the man's thoughts merged with his feelings and a great sense of focused contentment and acceptance replaced the wildness of his thoughts and feelings. All fear, all disappointment, all concern left him. He felt unified and capable of facing any challenge. He sat very still, the better to contemplate this moment, which seemed to him like a deep pool grown calm in the aftermath of a life-long storm.

With this, the two gods rose, linked arms, and wandered off in search of new adventures.