Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Mind of Melissa

My mother died when I took my first breath. Her’s was the earliest life I took in payment for the gods’ blessings. I have memories of that time given to me by the spectators of the grave moment. Chaos as I struggled to free myself from the confines of my mother's body. The medical staff fought to keep us both in the world. The calm that descended as she moved on and I moved into the world. My first experience with admiration for the perfection of my physical appearance.

Father worked three jobs to buy me the latest fashions. He gave me designer clothing, dance lessons, horseback riding, salon treatments. All the best pampering money can buy. He grew in stature in business and the community to elevate my status, knowing it took more than money. You need a name for fame. So he gave me one. I rarely saw him.

Nanna sat me in front of a mirror. She brushed my hair and told me her daughter’s death was a worthy fee to pay for such a beautiful child. She pampered and preened me. She didn’t mind giving up her child for the doll she received as long as I knew the cost.

As she made my hair shine, she’d pull out a strand here and there. I understood the lesson she tried to teach me. When she guided the silk slip over my head, her hands would trail to the soft skin under my arms. She pinched me, watching to see if tears sprang to my big, blue eyes. They never did.

Someone had to foot the bill for my beauty. I vowed that someone would always be someone else.

* * *

“Ms. Tamlin,” said Jessica, as she waved to our second-grade teacher. Her voice carried over the heads of the other children on the field.

“Melissa has my bracelet and won’t give it back.”

Ms. Tamlin stood in front of us with her hands on her hips. She wanted her students to work out their arguments without her involvement. Jessica had gotten the attention of everyone on the playground, students, and teachers. Now Ms. Tamlin had to get involved.

“Melissa,” she said to me. “Do you have Jessica’s bracelet?”

“No, Ms. Tamlin.” I looked up at her through my long eyelashes.

“She does,” said Jessica. “Look. It’s in her hand.” Jessica grabbed my left wrist.

I winced, a tear sliding down my cheek.

“Jessica. We do not touch each other in this school.” Ms. Tamlin handed me a tissue. I blew my nose, wiped my eye and smiled at Ms. Tamlin. She smiled back. Jessica’s cheeks turned red.

“She has my bracelet. Make her open her hand.”

I held out my open palm to Ms. Tamlin before she could speak. A bracelet with a letter M charm lay in my hand.

“See,” said Jessica.

“This is my bracelet,” I said. “See, the letter M for Melissa.”

“I got that for my mom,” said Jessica.

“Do you have a receipt?” I asked. She had told me she had shoplifted it this past weekend.

“No.” She scowled at me.

Ms. Tomlin walked away shaking her head.

For the rest of the school year, I pinched Jessica in the soft skin of her underarms when no one was looking. She grew pale and thin. She did not return for third grade.

* * *

“You’re putting on some weight,” Nanna said to me as I licked the sugary 13 off the top of my birthday cake.

I reached for more frosting while maintaining eye contact with her. She slapped my hand.

Later that night at bedtime, I gave Nanna her tea.

“You are sweet,” she said. I handed her the cup, wrapped in a lace doily, so the heat would not burn her fingers. “Did you enjoy your birthday party?”

“You made it memorable for me,” I said. I kissed Nanna’s cheeks and went to my room to sleep.

The next morning, Nanna’s cup lay on the floor. Digoxin-laced tea soaked her quilt. I removed the cloth napkin from her stiff fingers. I used it to place her empty pill bottle next to the saucer on her side table. I tucked the linen into my pocket. I used it later to wipe the tears from my face when the police and paramedics came to take away the body.

* * *

My image splashed over screens on phones, computers, and TVs around the world. The hoi polloi acknowledged my fame. I stood accused of hiring illegals to wait on me hand and foot. One of my maids had escaped the compound and flagged down a black and white.

“Nonsense,” I said to my high-priced lawyers. I crunched on a cheese doodle. “Who’s going to believe I hurt her in any way. I saved her from death in her own country.” I wiggled my orange fingers in front of my maid’s face. She licked off the salty powder.

“Melissa,” said the larger of my two lawyers. They were new, so I didn’t remember their names. “Someone beat her.”

“I have no control over what they do to each other.” I leaned back in my white leather chair.

“She says there are dead bodies buried in the basement,” said lawyer number two. “That you killed at least two young girls when they failed to please you.” He coughed. “That you made them bury the dead bodies.” His voice squeaked. He’d have to go.

“Look at me,” I said as I rose. I spun around for the men. “Do I look like a monster to you?” I pointed at my maid. “Does she look abused in any way?” The girl whimpered. She ran from the room crying. “See how upset she is for me?”

I picked up my crystal wine goblet. The dark red liquid reflected the light of the candles placed around the room. “This will be a piece of cake,” I toasted.

In response to the prompt at terribleminds - The Danger of Undeserved Power

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Keeping Warm in Revena's World

Revena lives in Castle House, built for battle and protection. It's made of the local Nagelfluh stone quarried from the glacial lakes created during various ice ages. A combination of limestone, sandstone, gneiss, amphibolite schist, dolerite and quartz, with a surface that looks like it's dotted with nail heads. It hardens upon contact with the air and resists deterioration, weathering and erosion. Buildings made with this material last for centuries and are perfect for resisting sieges and attacks.

Unfortunately, it makes for a cold and drafty living space, especially when located on a ridgeline surrounded by the rushing Salt River, fed by alpine snow melt, on the north and west and the High King mountain range (elevation 3,000 m) on the south and east. While the hilltop has been occupied for over 4,000 years by the time Revena was born in the year a.i. 883, (ab initio, from the beginning of the Principatus) the fortress was begun in a.i. 866, by her father, The Margrave.

To keep occupied and warm during the Winter months, Revena spends her time creating woolen clothing. She uses a technique, thousands of years old, called needle-binding or knotless-netting. Unlike knitting and crocheting which won't be invented for another 700 or 800 years, needle-binding is made using short lengths of yarn and one single-eyed, flat needle. This form of fabric making is used across the world. With this technique, Revena makes socks, mittens and scarves.

By layering clothing, indoors and on the rare occasions when she ventures out to get a bit of sun and to combat boredom, Revena keeps warm. She knows that covering feet, hands and head will prevent the chills and prevent cold weather ailments.

If you are interested in learning NÃ¥lebinding and working on a piece this month with me and Revena, here's a video tutorial to get you started.

Mittens, hat and scarf pictured above crocheted by vvk.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Let the Real Work Begin

It's been six months since I've looked at Revena's Revenge: not a pretty love story. That should be enough time to let it look fresh to me so I can do one more edit/rewrite.

There are a few areas I want to tweak and expand, things I didn't have time to do while I was preparing it for my Pitch Week in Vermont.

I will take the opportunity to review the story and characters for the eventual movement into book two of the Storm Sword Trilogy, The Bastards' Battle.

My deadline for finishing will be March 31, 2018.

I am also working on my synopsis for Revena's Revenge. This is hard work. My deadline for the second first draft (the first one was ok but too short) is Sunday, January 7, 2018. This deadline is so short because I've been putting it off for way too long.

Finally, I am writing a short, short PDF book in the What Would Revena Do? (WWRD?) series that will be a give-a-way to build my email list. It will be about the basic tools of magic that Revena would use and how to duplicate them in your own home. The deadline for this is January 31, 2018. 

Thank you to my friend, Mike Keren, author of FOUR FUNERALS, NO MARRIAGE, a funny memoir of love, care taking, and loss for the WWRD? idea.

Time to go write those deadlines on my calendar and then actually do some work.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Last WiP for 2017

One thousand, seven hundred and forty-five people from eight hundred twenty-four households located in one point one square mile of a valley in the Shale Tier. Jon knew the names of all of his constituents. He greeted them on the street, in the grocery store and the VFW. They smiled when asked about their families, their jobs, and pets. As mayors went, he was the best. He kissed babies, shook hands with farmers and listened to women. In every election year, the good people of his town re-elected him. He led his fiefdom for twenty years now.

He was born in 1956, in this town. His mother gave birth to him at home in her marital bed. He grew up here, running between corn stalks, laughing, mouth wide open, occasionally swallowing a bug. He stacked bales of hay into tunnels in a barn, crawling through the straw up to turrets above the cow stalls. He warmed his bare feet in fresh patties, squishing them between his toes.

In one of these rocky mountain fields, at the age of twelve, Jon spoke his promise to a hawk circling over his head.

"One day, I will be king."

He spoke these words in a rush as he ducked behind the old rusting cars his father had dumped in the upper cow pasture. He peeked around a dry-rotted tire. The old man carried his black belt between both big hands, snapping the leather and clicking the pin against the buckle. The sound traveled up the hill to Jon's hiding place. Jon picked up a rock. His father came around the car. Jon stood. He topped his father by three inches. Jon looked at the house. His mother leaned on one of the porch columns, blood from her forehead smearing the white paint. The wet dark smudges called to Jon like a neon sign telling him it was time.

His father raised the belt. Jon pushed his father's drunken arm aside and smashed the rock on his father's head.

The insurance money sent Jon to a private high school and a prestigious college. His mother turned out to be an investment wiz which set them up as small-town royalty. Jon came home at twenty-two to do good works. The next year, he took part in his first election, and he won in a landslide.

Here he sat in his huge black leather chair surrounded by comfort and gilded fortifications. He looked out of his office window. The large panes gave him an unobstructed view the town's main street. His people traveled the center of the village with purpose. They dressed in grays, browns and dull blues. He watched them with an unexpected sense of dissatisfaction.

Yellow caught his eye. Lavender, red and stark white flashed. A girl danced on the sidewalk in front of the bank, her blonde hair floating in the breeze. He leaned forward placing his hand on the glass. His mouth watered. His body tingled. As he watched the girl spin, he heard music swell around him.

She was new. Her name was unknown to him. She blazed against the dull backdrop of his domain. He wanted her. He wanted her in the way he had wanted his father dead. He was now king of all he surveyed so that she would want him, too.

Jon stood in front of the girl, impeccable in his silk suit. He didn’t remember how he got there, standing on the sidewalk. It was like magic. He just appeared. The girl pirouetted, arms raised to the sky, twirling a belt like a gymnast’s ribbon, eyes closed.

“Beautiful,” Jon said, as he reached towards her.

Her eyes snapped open. She pushed Jon's arm aside as she backed away from him, her eyes wide, mouth open.

Jon looked up and down the street. Empty. He stepped a pace closer to the girl. She ducked behind a beat up Chevy with its bald tires cornered by the curb.

“Stay away,” she said. They moved in a perverted sort of tango, Jon steering her into an alley.

“I’m the Mayor here,” he said. “It’s ok.”

“No,” she said.

Jon shook his head.

“I haven’t been told no in many years,” he said. He towered over the girl. Her back pressed against the wall of the Colonial-style bank. Her blanched face contrasted against the rust red behind her.

“No,” she said.

Jon picked up a brick.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

When They Leave

     Our mother stopped breathing at 10:10 am on 11/11/2014. She never wanted to be in a home or hospital or any sort of facility. And so she refused to comply.
     She fell down and passed out a lot that last year. It was like her spirit could no longer hold her up. She’d dribble to the ground while sitting in a wheelchair. She toppled over into the shower. Yes, she fell and she couldn’t get up. So many times. She tried to go on. We went to the places she loved. Parks and small festivals where she could be around flowers and children, leaves falling like confetti to be picked up and brushed against soft cheeks. She liked having the sun shine on her face. We ate sherbert in cones in the cold on a park bench. She cuddled her grandsons, one in person, the other in her broken heart.
     Then, like a wounded animal, she lay down, pulled inside herself and faded away from us until that very last moment when we saw her leave in the exhalation of a breath. A quiet exit that took us by surprise by its uncharacteristic nature for our mother.
     Our father willed himself to death on June 4, 2017 at the age of eight-six and fifty-nine days. He refused not to know himself.
He clutched his hands into huge hammers of flesh and bone. He tensed his body, tendons tangled in angry kots. Rage covered the surface of his face, bubbling up from deep within the man he no longer knew. This stranger took over his days and nights and hid who he used to be.
     Big Jim no longer existed except in the shell that remained.
     Restless, awake in the dark, awake in the day, not knowing which was which. Roaming, searching, time confusing his body and mind into constant movement. Up and down. Never still. This in a man who knew how to relax and keep calm. Never a harsh word. Life rolling off his shoulders as he floated to the quiet of his cabin, the next perfect pitch of the horseshoe, the soothing pop of a beer can. He moved through a life empty of all he loved. He roamed the house looking for his former peace, never to find it.
     “Kill me,” he said. “I am dead, so kill me.”
     He woke every few hours searching for normal, a normal forever out of reach of those big hands that worked so hard his whole life. Hands wrapped around steering wheels of big eighteen-wheelers. Now, his new truck, one he wanted all his life, one he never got because someone else always came first, sat in the driveway where he could stare at it, but forever remained a virgin to his hands. He was a passenger, never the driver. He bought it so another would have the joy he never got to experience.
     For a while, he lived in Mayberry with his friends, Don Knotts and Andy Griffith. He laughed when Don dropped his gun and shot at his foot. His laugh was big and beefy, from the belly, full of boyhood and running through corn fields, shoving outhouses down hills with his brothers. And then the laughter was gone, replaced with the embarrassment of having his daughter put a diaper on him each night because he was so afraid of going to sleep and wetting the bed. A different kind of childhood regression.
     The spoon turned over so the bottom of the bowl prevented food from getting to his mouth. He stared at it in wonder, unable to fathom its function, aiming at the dish and hitting the table. He stared at the objects in front of him with unseeing eyes. He didn’t recognize any of them. He didn’t see them. He moved his hands over the space, knocking the bowl and spilling the milk. The spoon followed, clattering to the floor. The sound rang out like a bell, clanging like a death knoll. Everything aimed toward death. It was all over. There was nothing left except the shell. A healthy, still vigorous shell. A body with the man absent. The man was gone.
     The big blue chair that took up all of the free space in the living room had spots on it. Chocolate from the Klondike bars. Crumbs filled the cracks and crevices. The nap was rubbed down and dull, the stuffing was matted and dented where his butt and thighs sat for hour after hour. It stank from old food and improperly washed old man body. The air also included farts and burps, the smells of I don’t care anymore. These were part of the sounds that made up the space, too. Noses blowing, coughing, grunting and many other body sounds that grate on the nerves. When you lose your self you let go of yourself and invade the senses of those around you. There were no longer any borders to personal space.
     There comes a time when you can see it in their eyes. They no longer want to live. There is anger. There is fury. Metaphorical and very real shaking of the fists to the sky. They rage against the universal machine as life courses through their veins but madness shoots through their minds.
     "Kill me,” our father said. He built up walls of resentment, temper and violence, all contained in his big, powerful body. He never allowed it to strike out at others except in growls, grunts and snarls. This man who remained calm and even tempered most of his life, the jolly good time guy, stopped having fun and fumed over his plight. He fought his mental decline every step of the way until he didn’t.
     “Let me go,” our mother said. She pushed us away by closing her eyes and closing in on herself. She let go and stopped. This woman who pushed and bullied her way through the ups and downs of a life lived to the fullest, who embraced the good, the bad and the ugly, she who ran headlong into fight or fun, quit. She settled into her shell, stopped eating, and shut up. There was nothing left to say except goodbye.
     Never was it so clear to us that we are not our bodies. We are not even our minds. We are something so ephemeral, untouchable, undefinable. This physicality we call life is a virtual reality. It sucks us into believing a reality that doesn’t last and only when we see it leaving do we understand that what we are now, today, is not us.
     In the aftermath of the loss of our parents, we struggle with finding meaning. This world we live in, the corporeal existence, has no purpose or value. We are not this. So, seriously, why bother.
Mums in rusty reds, pulsing oranges and bright yellows recall my mother spending hours selecting just the right pots to settle on her door step to greet visitors. Allspice and cinnamon bring back memories of my father baking pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving. Elvis’ Blue Suede Shoes kicked off my parents jitterbugging in the living room, my father flinging my mother around with such exuberance that furniture got knocked over and she giggled and didn’t care. Singing Silent Night in German together on Christmas Eve. Camping out in the old station wagon on a lonely road in the mountains in a snow storm. Horseshoes, die and bowling balls banging into pegs, walls and pins mixed with belly laughs and the innocence of a grown man and his simple pleasures. The love of food, the food of love: Schmandi, Spaghetti, shortbread cookies, smashed potatoes, strudel, strawberry shortcake. The Sound of Music, classical music and country music. “I used to sing on the radio til they told me not to sit on it.” Calls on my birthday to read me my horoscope. Rescues each time I forgot to put gas in my cars.
     The tales we tell each other over dinner, over campfires, over holidays and over time. Deliverance. Windmilling down the hillside. Dancing on table tops after a Manhattan. Cheating at marbles. Hiding see food. Longwood Gardens. The Apple and Cheese Festival. The Cabin. Deer spotting in the woods and on the side of the road. The Queen of the Sales. Four-wheelers.
     As their bodies and minds shut down, as we watch as them leave us, weeks, months, years before actual death, we come to realize they are not physical, they are not even their minds. They are the relationships we had with them. They are many things to many people. They mean much more than the shells they inhabited. They are our souls.