I've found a good conversation starter is to tell someone I don't have a TV.
Vaguely, somewhere deep in the back of his mind, he could still see a blue sky. It wasn’t the kind of memory he could think of simply by closing his eyes and trying; rather, it came to him on the rare occasion, in a dream, in the unsettling feeling of deja vu or a forgotten longing, in the depth of another's eyes. On the nights when he slept he saw it clearly, and lost it the moment he woke. If he had been asked whether he had ever seen it, he would have replied, no, he hadn’t, of course he hadn’t, the blue sky was just a fantasy. Someone invented it to give themselves hope.
But still, he couldn't let it go. He needed something, something that belonged to him and no one else, something that could not be taken. They didn't know he remembered the sky. He would never tell.
It was his.
"I kicked myself in the head when I tried to do a front flip," he explained to me, rubbing his temple with one hand. I believe he stopped his game and ran over just to tell me that. Sometimes I wonder why they bother telling you about the idiotic things they do.
"Well, that was dumb."
"Yeah." He smiled. "But it was fun."
I mean, really.
I don't know who told them that clasping someone round the legs and ramming your head into the backs of their knees and sitting on their chest and rolling over and over with them until you're breathless and muddy and your hair sticks on end is a game, or what keeps them intact when they've been kicked and shoved and crushed and sat upon a million times, or why they continue trying to impress when no one's watching.
I wonder how their energy never runs out and their minds never tire and they manage to put all their effort into the silliest, least important things, like front flips and back flips and kick flips and whatever other kinds of flips there are, and I think it's funny how they style their hair and stop smiling for photographs like they did when they were six years old, but on occasion forget they are men and skip around and scream like little girls and excuse their faults with, "Aw, come on, we're just kids!"
I find it curious how they run about the place and stand on their heads and pretend they're chickens or chimpanzees and put dirt down one another's collars and trip one another over as a means of amusement and repeat everything they hear twice as loudly
and collect sticks
and throw sticks
and break sticks
and fall over sticks
and hit each other with sticks
and hit sticks with other sticks
And don't care a tad that you're watching in bewilderment, but you do them a simple favour and they thank you as though it's the most difficult thing in the world, summoning all manly courage from their toes, which prove to be particularly intriguing at such times.
Can anyone tell me what makes them unashamed nuts one moment and awkward little gentlemen the next?
The sixth grader with long curls and arrogant eyes pranced around me with taunts of, "You're too slow!" as, worn out and close to dropping dead with the exhaustion of playing his game, I tried my best to catch him.
"You're too fast," I gasped.
"I'm not too fast," he said, then added in a self satisfied murmur, "Only the fastest kid in school. Anyway, this game is boring."
Next time I saw him he approached me shyly and asked, "Helena - are you going to play tag again today?"
I mean, really.
She kissed the warm, sweet smelling head of her baby and cradled his tiny body close to her own, allowing the tears to slip from her eyes and fall onto his closed eyelids. She dared not wake him, but oh, how she wanted to see those beautiful grey eyes again just one more time. It was risky enough just to hold him - he stirred more than once and her heart leaped to her throat each time with the fear of his making a sound. “Shh, shh,” she crooned, feeling herself choke with the tears. “Hush, now. Shh.”
Out in the hallway a light turned on and the young woman froze, trying to control her frightened breathing and the tears that would not dry. Still the baby lay quiet in her arms, his chest heaving gently up and down, up and down, his mouth set in a perfect line, a wisp of hair curled on top of his soft head. The light switched off, small bare feet were heard padding softly along the wooden floorboards, and a child passed the room without noticing the woman in the dark. She relaxed. The little girl had only been getting herself a drink.
Once more she kissed her son’s perfect sleeping face and laid him tenderly back in his bed without waking him. Her son. She pushed the thought away. He was not her son anymore; he could never belong to her. He was someone else's, someone's little boy, and his name was no longer the one she whispered into his ear before brushing her cold fingers against his cheek, slipping out the door, and leaving the house alone in the silence of the night.
The Greatest Summer
That summer the wildflowers bloomed in a glorious array of colours and the girls went out to the fields and came back with armfuls of lilies and lady’s bedstraw, and put cornflowers behind their ears and made chains of daisies. The ducks waddled up and down the stone path with noisy chatter and the cats lay on the windowsills and dozed, purry and soft and warm in the afternoon sun.
That summer Tom Gardner married Sally Herbert, Mrs Salisbury’s little blue-eyed baby cut his first tooth with great to-do, and the Orville children borrowed Jim Clove’s old canoe to go out on the river and came home half drowned and very humble, to tell their anxious mother that they had capsized, and the boat had gone round the bend and was on its way to the next town. The rain came and went, the wind played in the leaves, and the old men sat in the shade to drink wine and smoke as they had always done.
And that summer Peter came home from the war, and the golden sunlight felt just the same as he had remembered it, and he knew that he was free.
Sondre leaped. Like a goat. He leaped over the daisies spread across the green carpet of grass, over a basket of cloudberries, over a fallen tree. He leaped for joy, pure delight surging through him, beginning in his toes and reaching the top of his head with electric warmth. He seemed to touch the fluffy white clouds with his fingertips and greet the sun each time he left the earth. His brother Rudi sat cross legged on the ground by the little hut, playing a waltz on his precious melodion, his soft blonde hair nearly white in the sunlight, and beside him knelt his sister Greta, darling Greta; oh, but she was lovely with her flaxen hair tied in braids, blue ribbons entwined in them, a new lamb held carefully in her arms. Sondre ran to her, set the lamb down, and danced with her in that fresh mountain air, laughing and teasing, full of excitement and glorious life. He wished her sparkling eyes could see his rosy face, could see the purple of the cloudberries and the gentle white and blue of the sky above the hills. But her ears could hear it all, he thought consolingly. She could hear the melodion music playing happily nearby, could feel his hand around her waist, could sing a song to God in praise of the morning. So Sondre leaped. He leaped for joy, with the kind of spring that gets into young lambs and possesses them with a lovely wildness. He was happy, and there was nothing, nothing in the world that could dampen his spirits. Today the sky was blue.
Anthony stood at the fence and watched Lily go by, holding her mother’s hand. Lily’s smile was made of sunshine, but Anthony forgot how to smile sometimes. He waved, a little wave. There was something in the way she turned her head and peered back at him that told him she was sorry, sorry he wasn’t like her, sorry his dad didn’t look after him the way he was supposed to. Trailer trash, that’s what the schoolboys had said when they had seen Anthony standing at the fence that way. But it was alright. Lily didn’t wave to them. She waved to him, every Saturday when she walked with her mother. Anthony watched her hair swish from side to side and thought about the way her mother didn’t look at him, just pretended he wasn’t there; but Lily looked, Lily cared. If only she would turn around just once more. He kept watching until ten seconds after she had gone round the bend in the road before running back to the caravan. Next time he would not forget how to smile.
It’s funny, when she was ordinary she used to have such little worries, worries about things that didn’t matter, couldn’t be helped. She used to wonder if the dark haired boy who passed her in the street would ever think to stop and say more than good morning, give just a little more than a beautiful smile. She used to fret over her dress and whether her hair was pinned up quite nicely; didn’t like to hear the paper read out because it upset her, couldn’t stand to look slovenly or to have her hands unwashed. Then her worries started appearing bigger, but still they didn’t matter, not in the slightest, not when they came and took her in the night and she found herself in a place she didn’t recognise for a reason she didn’t understand. They said it would be for one night. They called it “questioning” because it was a harmless word that uneducated people could grasp.
Now her hair is cut short. You can’t keep it long or pretty, not there. It’s too much trouble. And she hates herself for the way she used to worry about money for clothes and food, because it didn’t matter, it never mattered, how could it? Once she had a room of her own with a mirror and a table spread neatly with brushes and powder where she could sit and look at herself, just sit there giving all her attention to changing the little flaws in her rosy face, admiring her own deep eyes; she wonders what she looks like now, her features marred by illness, those same eyes devoid of their old carelessness. There are no mirrors in a prison camp.
She pushes her back against the wall and closes her eyes to the bars of her cell and her ears to the sounds of the women next to her. It’s funny how she used to wish to be loved and admired, to have friends, and now she sits so close to other women that their bony elbows push into her ribs and their whimpers torment her day and night. She can’t complain, she cries too. Not for the things she used to cry about. She remembers how she cried all those years ago because a little grey cat died - a cat, just a cat, and she can’t even recall its name - and how she used to be afraid of the dark and thunderstorms. She’s not even afraid of guns anymore. She was when they first pointed one carelessly in her direction, she was when she heard them fire in the streets at night, but not now. Even death doesn’t matter, not really, just so long as it doesn’t come to any of the women in her cell. But she knows it will.
It’s funny how even though it doesn’t matter, when she closes her eyes as she’s doing now she starts to wonder - she doesn’t try, it just comes to her - wonder if the boy with the dark hair is in a place like the one she is in, if he still smiles, if he closes his eyes the same way with his back against a damp wall and his head back home. If he’s dead. Of course, he probably is. Everyone she knows is. But if he’s not, if he’s alive, she wonders (oh, she knows how ridiculous it is!) does he think about her? Try to picture her face again, piece fragments of memory together bit by bit, wonder himself if she’s dead or alive?
But he wouldn’t. Her lips press together till they are white - it doesn’t matter, not anymore. She opens her eyes and takes the food bowl that has been passed through the bars, dips her fingers into cold porridge, licking them clean, tasting tears, salty. She wonders how many minutes she will count before they open the door to let her go to the latrine. It takes three hundred of her steps to get there, but the guard on duty doesn’t always notice if you walk a little slowly and look through the grates of the hallway out of the corners of your eyes. She’ll make it three hundred and ten today.
Just the way I am
If I fantasized
Discontent with who I am
If I cut my hair and changed my name
And called myself a man
Well, I guess all I can say is
I just wouldn’t quite be me
I’d be Helena in a masquerade
Playing games of make believe
It wouldn’t satisfy my longings
Change my worth or give me joy
I have not the natural character
That belongs, alone, to boys
I could spend my time in idle dreams
Wishing to be someone new
But things are ordered as they are
That’s the good old fashioned truth
I’m head over heels in love with life
I have all that I need
And while boys are wonderful, I’ll have to leave them be
For I’m busy being lady-like-original-old me.
I Can’t Spotlight One ...
I mean, you couldn’t possibly expect me to choose one, could you? I generally abide by the rules, but sorry, today is the day I do something illegal.
@LexiCon, because she’s so lovely and encouraging and writes just beautifully
@EmileStylo, because her chapters and stories encompass the kind of old-time feeling I’ve always loved
@Chacko_Stephen, who, despite being too nice to give any criticism, leaves the kindest, most enthusiastic comments there are and writes such intriguing and humorous pieces
(but not least)
@Sinha, because there’s something special about everything she writes that makes me read it over and over and keep on thinking about it long after I’ve finished
And because, like the aforementioned authors, her comments make my day.
In short, each of them is original and originality is highly undervalued in this modern world. Just my two cents, ladies and gentlemen.