Follow-up to story bites: BTW for the week of 8/28/2017

 A writer — and, I believe, generally all persons — must think that whatever happens to him or her is a resource. All things have been given to us for a purpose, and an artist must feel this more intensely. All that happens to us, including our humiliations, our misfortunes, our embarrassments, all is given to us as raw material, as clay, so that we may shape our art. -Jorge Luis Borges, writer (24 Aug 1899-1986)
Thank you all for your responses to last week’s BTW. They helped me feel connected to something much greater than my fear. I have a needle biopsy of a nodule in my thyroid tomorrow. If you know me, you know that death, dementia and cancer are the three Horsemen of the Apocalypse for me. I won’t know for as much as a week what the results are, so I need our connection more than ever. Here is a prompt for this week: Hummingbirds strafed the feeder. S/he/I wondered how they took in enough food. Their primary goal seemed to be to drive away the other hummers. 
Here are this week’s writers
Survival, by Lynette Sheppard
If there was one word that described my childhood, that word would be survival. I remember the day when I looked at my father, really looked at him, and thought, “Oh my god, he’s crazy. Really and truly crazy. I am dependent for my survival on a crazy person.”
From the outside, people saw a charming, handsome man devoted to raising his daughter. At home, I saw a man who lied as easily as he lifted a beer. LeRoy Williams could charm the barnacles off a whale. But I knew that woe be unto any creature who opposed him. He was the reason that my mother was lost to me.
I made up my mind early on that I would never be like him. I would not lie. I would not use people for my own self-aggrandizement. I would not drink to excess. I would not force my children to be adults before their time. And most important, I would not overtly cross him. I would survive.
 Through my teen years, the standard hormonal shitstorm made it harder to keep these vows. I managed by retreating into my mind. Words and knowledge were my sanctuary. I read voraciously and drilled down into various philosophies. My “real” life was in the mental realms.
 I must have been around 17 years old when I read “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert Pirsig. Midway through the book, an epiphany struck me. “There are multiple flavors of crazy. Getting lost in the labyrinths of a mind is certainly one. Mr. Pirsig is brilliant. And crazy.”
 Holy shit! My genetic makeup was half Dad. What if I were headed toward my own unique version of crazy? I realized that I originally envisioned my mental meanderings as a wander through pine scented trees into sunny meadows filled with wildflowers and birdsong. Lately, the forests had become darker, labyrinthine, and I had drifted farther from the temporal world with each foray. Finding my way back became a challenge.
I heard a voice clearly then. “You have a choice. Wander only so far into the underbrush, then retreat. Don’t go too far. You’ll know how far that is. Only then will you stay sane.”
Some would say that voice was my higher self, others would claim it was a guardian angel, or even the voice of God or Goddesses. I don’t give a rat’s behiney if it was aliens or Erma Bombeck. That voice saved my sanity. It saves me still.
 Cin Norris: Sometimes it’s a misheard song lyric that bites me. It foams and froths until I can take that idea and write a poem, a story, or even just two lines to get rid of it. If I can’t, it just hangs on like a burr or a hungry kitten and me all unwitting in my fuzzy pajama pants.

“That would make a great story,” I would say. I gently pat the sharp clawed kitten and go on my merry way. Most of the time I can shed myself of it before it gets infected. Before the idea starts to wake me up at night, mewing pathetically first from the vicinity of my ankles, then moving north and getting louder. I scratch the kitten’s ear at 3am and think, “There’s got to be a story in that somewhere.”

I saw some interesting things during my time working with the Medical Examiner’s office, things that often made me wonder how people could end up in such horrible, sad, undignified and sometimes unbelievable situations. “I’ll bet I could write a story about that.” More kittens.

The man walking in the rain with the folded up umbrella over his head, a line from a movie (“leaves-sometimes past, sometimes future, sometimes just tea”), a phrase (“from a kiss to pistols”)- they all accumulate like an ever fattening clip file in my brain. Or a bunch of kittens on my fuzzy pants.

What to do, oh what to do? Too many stories, not enough time. Mostly I just forget them in order to make room for new ones but some of them sort of just stick around. Near my right hip I have a cougar hanging on for dear life. Someday I’ll find him a place, but I’ll be sad to see him go.

James Park: My world changed at the funeral home while looking down into my father’s casket, knowing how I was supposed to act yet wholly unable to bring myself to do so.  I could feel fifty sets of eyes locked onto my back expecting me to wail and sob, to show some visible sign of being respectably distraught but even at the tender age of thirteen, I knew that I lacked the acting skills to convincingly pull it off.  I wanted to pull the plug on the charade and just go back to my seat, but knew decorum required me to spend some time next to the body so I did, and tried to figure out what it was I actually did feel about it.

Mercifully, the man had not damaged me so much that I was actually happy to see him pass.  Relief may have been a more accurate description of my emotions.  I was relieved that we were now safe and that the violence was over.  I was relieved that the rest of us survived and I was relieved that he had perished at his own hands before forcing us into a situation where he would have perished at one of ours.  I was relieved that, though our road ahead from here would still be very difficult, we could dare to look ahead with hope instead of trepidation.  I also found myself relieved that I did not grieve for him with the intensity of his mother, who screamed in hysterics from the back of the funeral home like a woman blinded by a love so deep that she would never be able to see him for the monster that he really was.

And he was a monster, but there in the casket, he was a beast fallen in defeat, forever vanquished.  We had beaten him.  I took a moment to look back at all we had gone through, all we had survived, and could not help but feel that I had overpaid some sort of cosmic misery debt and life owed me a check for thirteen years’ worth of exuberance and contentment, which I felt myself becoming increasingly impatient to collect.  I knew better than to expect that fate would open up the heavens to shower me with kittens and sunshine the moment my father was dropped into the ground, but I promised myself as I prepared to leave the casket that I would not take any opportunity to feel happiness for granted and would seize it with relish.  As if to test me, the cosmos presented me with one of those opportunities the instant I turned my back on my father for the very last time as I saw Lydia Miller walk into the funeral parlor.

I had heard at school that Lydia liked me, but thought it was some sort of mean joke.  She was kind and smart and funny and I knew that I was dirt.  My father had made sure that I knew it and my lack of friends reinforced it so I avoided her as best I could to avoid embarrassing myself by believing what I had heard.  Seeing her at the funeral home though made me wonder if I had been wrong.  I still would not allow myself to believe that a girl like her could possibly have feelings for someone like me, but I knew I would never know if I did not try to find out.

We had made eye contact as soon as I had turned around and without paying attention to anyone else at the funeral home, I walked right up to her and told her I had been there long enough, asking her if she wanted to go for a walk with me.  She nodded and without saying a word, took my hand and led me outside.  I heard my own mother call out to me, but ignored her as I left the building.

The first block we walked in silence, but after that, Lydia began telling me how she had skipped taking the bus home and walked more than a mile in the opposite direction to get to the funeral home after hearing about what had happened in school.  She also laughed a little as she told me just how much trouble she was going to be in when she got home and that is when my tears just burst out.  I fell to my knees sobbing while Lydia threw her arms around my neck trying to console me.  It was not consolation I needed though as I was not crying in grief.  I was crying for joy as the realization set in of just how much my world had changed.

Elizabeth Maginnis: My world changed November 9, 2016. When I awoke to the news that Donald Trump was our president-elect, I felt as though the universe had shifted. Our noble citizenry, power to the people and all that, had elected a horrible, narcissistic pig of a man as our next President. Stunned, I went about my day mechanically, drained of all emotion and hope. Then I remembered. I remembered a time when I wanted, no, I ached, to join John and Yoko in Toronto, to demonstrate against all the evil in the world and restore peace and love to the masses in one joyous orgy of music. (My parents were no doubt greatly relieved that I was too young to figure out how to get myself across the border without parental guidance. I was, sadly for me, too young for a driver’s license.) What had happened to that girl? Nothing! She still lives deep in my soul. It was time to pull my hippie pants back on and get to work saving the world from that man’s destructive agenda. Nothing can be accomplished if good people lose hope.


Theresa Souers:

True to their proud marketing word, the bright yellow and green German bus was clipping along at a steady pace. The tires humming a steady rhythm as they rolled through the Rhineland countryside assured Lila the Frankfurt airport would be reached without issue. As her head rocked ever so slightly against the headrest’s cushioned upholstery, she could almost taste the cold glass of the Mother Land’s best white (that of course depends upon which region you’re in at the time “the best” was declared.) She would hold her glass high to honor the official end of a successful jam-packed week. Day after day, hour after hour was filled with high pressured meetings and standard tourist attractions. Auf Wiedersehen for sure. She welcomed the soothing vibration rising up through the floor, into her seat and spreading throughout her tired body. “Almost as good as Magic Fingers and no coins needed” she smirked inwardly.

She could sense the bus passing through a tunnel or the shadow of a mountain by the flickering patterns of light dancing along the inside of her eyelids. She couldn’t help but remember the struggle not to laugh as the curator at one of the art shows she attended proudly bestowed upon the peons (herself included) the most recent “video installation” from some famous mucky muck. Even if she could remember the artist’s name, Lila knew she would never be able to pronounce it. Seriously . . . It was nothing more than three flashlights turning off and on intermittently upon a white sheet tacked to a wall. ” But mommy, he’s naked” was at the tip of her tongue. “Did the rest of them buy into that Emperor’s Clothing crap?”

She wasn’t tired, not really. She figured if she kept her eyes closed she could avoid the inevitable chit chat with the perky woman sitting in the aisle seat to her left. She sent out a quiet thank you to the good-luck gods. This phase of the journey featured no hyper teens outdoing one another with hand-clapping skills, no squealing babies, no reprimanding mothers, no loud braggarts boasting of their latest round of golf/stock market/female conquest (or whatever it is that indicates German manliness.) Aside from the hum of the tires, she only heard muted tunes emanating out of headphones, an occasional soft cough or the murmur of indecipherable conversations. The air inside the bus had been a bit stifling so when she felt a gentle pulsating breeze tickling her left bare shoulder, she peeked through her lashes curious as to the cause. Lila acknowledged that her companion here in row eleven was fanning herself with the grace of a Southern Bell. The powder blue fan sported a bright yellow hibiscus in the center, an eyelet trim and a shiny tangerine colored handle. Lila contemplated making a suggestion on the feedback form she was sure to receive from the bus line that they should consider keeping the temperatures a bit cooler. Advertising that benefit would surely win the menopausal women that appear to make up the majority of their clientele. She rocked her hips gently back and forth to the right and left until her spine loosen up a bit and then succumbed to the call of the “neither here nor there” world. After the third or fourth time she caught herself nodding off, she gave up the “I’m not tired” charade and crossed over to the land of dreams.

The changing octave in the song accompanying her dream drew her to consciousness. The drone of changing gears and brakes confirmed that a stop was indeed approaching. Curious as to where she was at the moment, Lila opened her eyes and gazed out the window to her right. Looking downward, as far as her eyes could see was a large meandering river. The Mozelle? Sunlight was highlighting granite peaks as they appeared to be shedding a cloak of soft fog. The entire hillside beyond the river was one vertical vineyard. Row after row after row of lush green vines twisting and grabbing onto wooden crosses. And to top it all off, a medieval castle stood majestically at the top of the ridge, its red, green and yellow flags flapping in the breeze. Turning her head toward the left side of the bus, she leaned forward to see what was outside the opposite windows. To her astonishment, she remembered this very scene (or at least one just

like it) from a giant jigsaw puzzle she and her grandfather used to work on together. Red tiled roofs complimented quaint cobblestone paths. And there it was . . . the gothic church steeple, probably from the 12th century, holding court over the village below. Surely she had awaken in a time warp and was now a character in a fairy tale. The fantasy quickly passed as she became aware of the locals meandering about. They all appeared to be unaware of their surroundings. Some were chatting it up with a neighbor. A man was sweeping a storefront entry while a woman was reading notices on a bulletin board. But mostly the people within her sight were staring down at phones. No one was looking forward. No one was looking up. “My God,” Lila gasped. “Look around you people,” she wanted to scream. “Do you ever wake up and see this view? Do you hear the voices of the past when they tell their stories? Do you feel their joys or their tears? Do you even appreciate the history that gave you this gift you call home? Wars destroyed yet your surroundings survived. Babies were born and babies died. Dreams were spun and dreams faded. One of you, oh please – just one of you . . . look up. Look up and see, really see where you are. LOOK UP!

The bus suddenly gave a little lurch as gears once again shifted. The red tiled roofs and the gray cobblestones began to blur and smoosh into one with the river, the vineyards, the church, the castle. Like a mother gently jostling her child back to sleep, Lila felt her eyes grow heavy again. The bus tires started humming a lullaby. “Hush little baby, don’t say a word.” Lila’s eyes grew heavy and closed. The fairy tale was no more. Next week’s itinerary was taking form.


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