Snow falls into the waves. By the thousands, flakes unify with the water while I sip coffee and watch, separated from the chill by my sweater, the fire I lit upon waking, the tall pane of glass that overlooks Keuka Lake.
I dream of winter because the lake is for summers. It’s not cheap at any time of year to rent a house on a shore: if you’re spending the money, you do it when you can kayak or swim or fish, or at least read a novel in the shade of a tree without the upstate January driving you indoors. My wife and I married within sight of our lake in July 2008; since then, her parents have rented a house on Keuka for a week every summer for us to gather. Those seven days are a highlight of the year because they exist outside of man-made time, without external demands or appointment calendars. There is food; there is love; there is the water. Two million years ago, glacial ice scraped out the valleys that would fill. Since then, the lake has been. Lakes invite being.
We have a couple kayaks and a canoe in our garage where we ought to park a car. Between May and October, I’ll hoist the boats atop our vehicles, lash them down and drive fifteen minutes to the public beach, solo or with the family. We admire the various lake houses as we paddle. Our favorites are not the new constructions, whose thousands of square feet dwarf the family cottages they replaced. We prefer the homes that have been here for at least the fifteen years we have, the old favorites.
“I wish we could live in that one,” my daughter said once as our canoe glided by.
“We could have owned a lake house,” I answered. “I started college as a business major on a finance track. Fund managers make a lot more money than teachers.”
“Why did you become a teacher?” she asked.
“People in finance told me to expect 80-hour work weeks, and I knew I wanted a family. A house on a lake is no good if you don’t have time to be with your family. And I wanted to teach,” I added. “I believe in it.”
My own father passed on lucrative promotions that would have uprooted us from our home and schools; he did, genuinely, attend every baseball game and concert. I understood then, as his son. I understand as a father now, and I hope my children will, too.
Regardless, I chose my path. As I told friends at the time I changed my major, I did not want to dedicate my life to earning more money for rich people—I wanted to teach; I wanted to have a family. These were the right choices. There are good days and bad days, but I do not pine for a road not taken. My hours are meaningful and good. The road ahead has unseen twists and turns, and there may be bridges out. Accidents. I feel optimistic, though, that I can continue to glance in the rearview mirror and see a life well-lived. Be a simple kind of man, Lynyrd Skynyrd sang. Be something you love and understand.
A teacher can live securely, not luxuriously. It is still possible my wife and I could someday retire to a lake house of our own through a combination of prudence and luck, but well-lived lives do not necessarily yield dollars. I am at peace with that truth. All the same, as my kayak cuts through Keuka’s waves, I dream sometimes of occupying one of those homes for decades rather than a rented week. I dream not just of summer but winter days, of that coffee and snow on the water. I dream of watching seasons pass over the water a morning at a time so I am part of the cycle of the lake. Of being there.
The Forgotten Fantasy of the Friendly Friendless
Some say I'm the friendliest girl they've ever met.
The sweetest person in the world.
I love to spread kindness in person and online.
I'm always surrounded by so many people who know me or know of me.
I know people or know of them, too, but, do I truly have a friend?
For 24 years, 11 months, and 2 days, I've been a friendly person, but my only true friends are my parents, my siblings, and God. I tell myself that I don't need anyone else, but deep down, there's a longing.
Two has always been my favorite number. Perhaps, it's the whisper of a forgotten fantasy.
My fantasy doesn't have to be romantic at all (though I'm not opposed to that type of friendship possibly manifesting eventually). At the moment, I simply desire true friends. I know I may be considered 'popular', but that's not what I mean. There are people who like my posts and follow me on social media. There are folks in several online communities who frequently converse with me. I have acquaintances and individuals around town I see on the regular basis. Like neighbors, we nod and bid each other 'good day'. They tell me how it's a joy to see me, how I'm always so nice and pleasant. Still, there is a distance. A strange distance that makes me feel like I'm a friendly friendless.
You may wonder how it's possible for someone who is so friendly not to actually, you know, have friends. I wonder this myself. I call myself a friend to all, but then don't many say 'a friend to all is a friend to none'? How can this be helped?
My fantasy is for a like-minded someone to reciprocate what I've projected. Someone to chat with about fun things and even deeper subjects. Someone to connect souls with, to pour my heart into and let pour into me. Someone to laugh with and cry with and play with and love. It doesn't have to be every single day. Just someone somewhere who reaches a hand out every now and again...
...or takes hold of the one that's been held out into the void for 24 years, 11 months, and 2 days.
A fantasy flickers like candle-lit ink
Wet with a freshly felt rapture;
Vivid and luscious, from onset to brink,
Elusive and slippery to capture.
Yet caught, ever ready,
By hands, warm and steady,
Who guide the sweet slide of a tongue...
It's impetuous me who imagines such things,
The me who's too restive to write.
The sap who believes that a beast without wings
Could flap it's crude arms and take flight.
It's the primitive me; the one chained to be free;
The one needing and bleeding and braving
A primordial plea; to beget and to be,
So earnestly yearning and craving...
Heedless and heady
The mind swirls an eddy
As subtle musk clings to a lung...
Caressed and undressed, heart-throb blessed and confessed,
Is it dream or reality bending?
Obsessed and impressed, youth by love is possessed,
So immersed in an alternate ending...
But fantasy's thready;
Sun-faded and consciousness-stung.
Rockingham 1973: When The King Ruled The Rock
It is not the perfect beginning to a fantasy, but then it is. In "it" I am standing in the hot morning sun, suffering from a hangover. My head is a fog, my mouth an ashtray, my stomach an anchor; each symptom a miserable consequence which naturally follows overindulgence lest we all end up happily drowned in whiskey… and all of these symptoms despite the “hair of the dog” I’d drunk for breakfast. I am watching a woman make her way over to where I am leaned against my Mercury. I do not know the woman, but I know who she is. Hell, everybody does. She is at least somewhat locally famous. She is Tippy Topp, the sports reporter at Channel Five News in Charlotte. I am inwardly thrilled as I watch her dog trotting across pit road to interview me, a woman on a mission with her cameraman in tow, but I am also disappointed that she is crossing over not because she wants to, but because she must. I am her story, or soon will be; no matter whether I end the day dead or alive. Tippy Topp is perky, clear-eyed, clever, and freckled. On this particular morning she is also particularly annoying.
Her approach ends suddenly, a step or two before she intends it to. The sudden stop causes her unobservant cameraman to climb up her back, knocking her that extra step closer, furthering her already obvious irritation. My greeting from her, a complete stranger, is “Jesus, what bus ran over your ass?” Horror and disgust cling as vividly to her smirking lips as the bright pink lipstick she has slathered upon them. My initial impression is that she does not care for me, so I run with that.
The microphone in her hand is not live, nor even raised. My eyes are locked on the ground when she arrives, down where her feet happen to be, feigning shyness as a country boy will. The first thing after the smirk to catch my attention is the fact that she is not wearing any panty hose, which seems unusual for her kind. My eyes take their time digesting this tidbit. They take in her hose-less toes, primly painted in the same gaudy shade as her lips. They then move on to admire the nice shape her stiletto heels give to her feet and ankles, and to the muscular swells of her calves. The eyes stop altogether just above her knee, where both her bare thigh and skirt hem begin their ascents. My imagination wonders if hose are the only things that are missing under there? I clear my throat, a diversion which allows my eyes time to linger even longer as they continue upward, over her curved hips, flattened stomach, and down into the silky v-necked blouse which cuts low, almost rudely between a pair of seductively supported breasts. The breasts prove that she did not forget everything that goes underneath. By now she is aware that I am playing her. My shit eating grin has given me away once again, but she is not so different from me as she would like to think. I see the traces of a smile hedge it's way through the smirk before my seduction attempt wanes.
”We’re on in two,” she says, gathering herself, and rallying the cameraman. “Really though, tell me what happened to your face? Off the record? Are you going to try to drive with your eyes swollen like that? How will you see? You really look like shit.” There is nothing so painful as brutal honesty from a beautiful woman.
The pool cue to the face had been a surprise, sort of. When you are drinking in the kind of place where that sort of thing happens regularly then nothing should ever be totally unexpected, should it? And I had been drinking in that sort of place. What the hell else was there to do on a Saturday night in this shit-hole town; a town that quadruples in size on it’s biannual race days? But rather than give vent to her curiosity I reach into my pocket for a Marlboro and make a show of lighting up, which proves not so simple. The act lacks the intended savior faire, what with my split upper lip and all. But not to worry, I remind myself. It is only a fantasy.
The initial influx of smoke and nicotine eases my misery somewhat, magically clearing my head of it’s fog. Who knows, perhaps there is some magic hidden in a tobacco leaf; the good sort of magic, to off-set the bad. The camera clicks on, whirring to life, and so does the woman. “We are here trackside with pole sitter Huckleberry Hoo. ’Huck, yours is a fresh, new, if somewhat battered face in the racing world. Do you think you can pull off an upset in today’s 500 miler?”
“Yep.” I end the interview there.
She waits, her microphone outstretched, expecting more. I take another soothing drag before reaching inside the glass-less window of the car for my helmet. There is no sense in talking when it is time to show out, and I am ready. She has made me ready.
Hell, I was born ready. My daddy was a racer too, a damned good one. Raised me in a tool shed, he did. I have a half-a-life behind me of busted knuckles, greasy t-shirts, AM radios, and long-eyed hounds lounging in the corner shade. There was no room in my Old Man’s world for fishing, football, or even women. In his mind there was only so much time until Saturday Night, and what little time there was, was not to be wasted.
Folks would never know it, but he was a talker, my Old Man. With our feet sticking out from under that dented up Mercury I heard, and re-heard, every detail about every corner of every lap of every race that his old Mercury ever slid a turn through. I knew more about driving at eleven years old than most folks will ever learn. I understood how to steer into turns, how to turn with the accelerator, how to accelerate while braking, and how to brake for more speed, all before I ever sat behind a wheel. Once I did finally get into the driver’s seat I burned up every dirt and asphalt road in Albemarle and the surrounding counties with a determined need to go ever faster.
And now I am here, a cocky twenty year old starting on the pole at North Carolina Motor Speedway. There are 33,000 rednecks in the stands and fifty times that number tuned in from all points south to hear Eli Gold and Tippy Topp describe the action on the syndicated "Motor Racing Network". As I gaze across the colorful Fruit Loop bowl of humanity that is a race track I wonder that it is real, and that my time is finally come. The crowd is humbling, the moment frightening, the responsibility unnerving, but there is not a damned thing to lose while there is everything to gain, so I climb through the window and strap myself to a rocket.
It is not the perfect midpoint for a fantasy story, but then it is. Tippy Topp is still standing beside my sponsor-less Mercury when it fires up, her forgotten microphone still in hand, and still hot. She has never before been so close when the monster is unleashed. The low, deep-throat rumble that never fails to thrill a country boy stands the hairs of her body on end, tickling her senses deeper still when the other forty-two cars follow suit, loosing an electric, almost sexual current that courses up from the ground and through her body as though she was some lightening rod for thrill. The burnt odors of intoxicating, high octane vapors emitted from the unmuffled engines whisks her lightened head up with them high into the atmosphere where she swirls along, sucking in behind the train of cars, looking down as the twin lines of racers snake onto the track, and through turn one. She never asked the big shots at the station for this racing gig. She had not even wanted it when they offered it to her. "Who cares about a bunch of rednecks driving around in circles," she had thought at the time? But in this moment there is no place she would rather be as the train of cars weaves it's way down the backstretch, their echoes bouncing off the grandstands sounding for all the world like some giant child hidden behind them is warbling a great piece of sheet metal and laughing at the fun.
“Shit-fuck,“ she whispers, forgetting that her microphone is live, and not understanding the happy roar that erupts from the front stretch grandstands as her words echo through the cheap carnival speakers dangling from the catch-fence poles.
The day is perfect for racing. High above the infield sponsor’s flags pop brightly against a Petty blue sky… Purolator, Goodyear, Budweiser, but it is mostly STP flags dancing on the August breeze, long live "The King". Below the flags a predominantly male crowd waits and watches in their short sleeved, plaid button-ups and their faded ball caps. They eat from buckets of fried chicken, tossing the gnawed bones onto the track once the meat is sucked clean, and then mindlessly wipe their greasy fingers onto their Levi's. They drink Pabst Blue Ribbon’s, plug the engine noise from their ears with cigarette butts, and wave their caps at their favorite driver as he passes them by during their warm-up laps. Our reporter finds the hillbilly scene amusing until the green flag falls.
There is a new roar now, not like a playing child, but an angry roar, like an innumerable swarm of hornets seeking a target. The cars are off in earnest now, testing each other's speed, and seeking out early advantages. Her eyes go to the front of the line, to the white car with the red #10. She watches as the car sweeps through turns three and four. It enters the front stretch in the lead, but is chased by a pack of lean, equally hungry, and more experienced racers. The lines of cars part around the youngster as they yip at his heels, attacking him high and low through the steeply banked turns. He somehow holds his line through the dog-leg, then pushes back to the front as they enter turn one, though not without contact, and not without his car ice skating shakily high-up towards the concrete barrier before brushing lightly off of it, allowing room for Bobby Allison in the #11 car and Richard Petty in the #43 to clear the rookie via a lower line through the turns.
The reporter finds her body tense, every muscle tightened. Her free hand covers her mouth as the white car slides back down the race track, seems to find it’s footing, and then screams above the roars of the other cars to a spot beneath the #43 car, the famous blue and red car driven by Richard Petty, the undisputed “King” of NASCAR. Unintimidated by his reputation, the youngster pulls inside of Petty. When his bumper draws even with Petty’s driver side door the kid lets his car ease up the track until Petty has to either give way, or crash. It is a gutsy move, but it is also early in the race. Petty withdraws, knowing there is time, knowing it is a rookie to his inside. He is “The King” for a reason. Richard Petty has been here before. He has done that. He is not willing to race the kid hard… not yet. Bobby Allison though? Now he is another matter.
It is the most thrilling afternoon in Tippy's memory. She is utterly exhausted with 25 laps to go, and can not imagine what the men in the cars must be feeling after four hours of non-stop, high speed danger. The kid, Huckleberry Hoo, has more than held his own with the greatest racers in the world. For the last 30 laps he and Allison swap the lead through nearly every turn, with Allison having the straightaway speed, and Huckleberry enjoying the advantage through the corners. Tippy Topp has unintentionally transformed from reporter to fan. She cheers the youngster on so enthusiastically that her radio audience picks up on her excitement, making the rookie driver with one race under his belt an instant fan favorite. He had made a mockery of her interview, had made her look foolish even, but the way he looked at her had captured her like a fly in a web, and she could resist her curiosity no more than a fly could have. Four hours and an entire race after the fact the memory of his eyes was still with her, they still lingering on her, right where she wanted them to be. Swollen from some untold accident and blue with bruising, those eyes had still smoldered with a fire that admittedly could have been eagerness for the upcoming race, but she did not think so. She thought she had seen something more in them, something personal, something that made her skin crave his hands, and her hands crave his skin... but I hope the reader will please allow her these desires. It is a fantasy after all, even if it is not hers.
It is not the perfect ending for a fantasy, but then it is. Victory Lane awaits the fortunate. It requires more than skill to win a grueling 500 mile race. It requires the speed to get to the front, the team to keep the car running, the luck to avoid wrecks, it requires all of those and the money to pay for them. Richard Petty has the money. Huckleberry Hoo does not, but sometimes money is not the end all, do all. Sometimes good things happen to good people.. errr... to regular people, anyway. This fantasy is one of those times. It is, after all, my fantasy.
For while Bobby Allison and Huckleberry Hoo battled the afternoon away, Petty had lurked in third place, allowing the two doing battle to wear down their brakes and trade their paint. A wiser, older King Richard held back awaiting a mistake, knowing the likelihood of it, and biding his time 'til it came. Bobby Allison was a tough cookie, Petty figured. Bobby would find a way to knock the kid out, and then the two old pro’s would battle it out with each other for the win.
But that never happened. Petty waited too long, and Bobby finally slowed. Worn tires were the reason. The kid was faster through the turns all day, and the last 50 miles were too much for Allison’s Chevrolet. By the time Richard Petty saw what was happening it was too late for him, too.
Oh, he made a run all right. They don’t call him “The King” for nothing. That familiar blue and red Dodge came like a bat out of hell during those last five laps. There were several moments when Tippy Topp thought Petty had the lead, moments when Petty’s car got up under Huckleberry’s, pushing the youngster for all he was worth, nipping at his heels and bumping at his fenders, but somehow the kid hung on. Somehow he wrestled that Mercury from off of the wall, and from out of the pits until the checkered flag finally flew for him and for him alone. Somehow, Tippy was sure, it was her prayers that kept that Mercury in the lead when nothing else could have. Somehow, she was sure, she was the reason for Huckleberry’s success, and he was hers now to love forever. She was a fan. Huckleberry was hers; her driver, her man, and no other would ever do. And so, it was with the understanding that love works in strange and mysterious ways that Tippy Topp made her way to the Winner’s Circle, and to her newly “self-anointed” man.
Huckleberry Hoo was already on the podium when she arrived, basking in the thrill of victory. The flying confetti, popping flashbulbs, spraying champagne, and the pretty girls in skimpy Winston cigarette outfits clinging to either of his arms gave Tippy Topp pause. What, after all, had Huckleberry Hoo said or done to make her think he cared about her? Was she some love struck teenager lost in her own excitement? He had blown her off during her interview. Who was to say he wouldn’t do so again. She hesitated, not wanting to risk another rejection. She turned to sneak away, mumbling under her breath as she did so, “I’d still like to know what happened to his face.”
"Shoot. I can tell you that."
Eli Gold, her radio partner, had come up beside her while she was lost in her thoughts, catching her off guard. “Oh, Eli! I'm sorry. I was just thinking aloud.”
"Yes, I heard. It's a bad habit, but I can tell you what happened to his face. Huckleberry got it smashed in by a cue stick at The Palomino Club last night.”
"What? How could you know that?"
“Why, I was there!”
"You were there? You’re a married man, Eli! What were you doing out drinking all night?"
"Yes, I’m a married man, and happily married too, but I’m also a sports radio guy. If I want to talk about the racing scene, then I have to be a part of it, don’t I? But no worries Tippy, I was drinking soda." Eli winks, and smiles at her like a guilty school boy.
"So tell me already. What happened?" She did not try to hide her curiosity.
"Some drunks playing pool started talking bad about this woman, see. Huckleberry Hoo put his drink down and went in to ’em swinging. He laid two of them out stone cold before a third one clocked him with a pool stick."
"Really?" Tippy seemed lost in thought. "Was the woman his girlfriend?"
"Nah… that's the funny part. She was just some woman on the TV above the bar." Eli’s devilish smile told her that the woman in question was more than just some unknown person on the television. Tippy felt her cheeks start to burn with a very comfortable fever.
"What woman, Eli? Tell me, dammit!" She could not help but ask the question, even though she already suspected the answer.
It was surprising to no one when the beautiful female reporter climbed the steps to join in the victory celebration. It shocked no one when she approached the race winner, who was still toting around a lovely and talented Winston Girl on either arm. What was surprising to all who were there was how the reporter dropped her mike as she approached him, took his battered face roughly in her hands, and pulled his lips to her own. What was shocking to all who saw was how those two young Winston lovelies tumbled so quickly from the vast heights of celebrity vain-glory down into instant has-been dismay. What impressed the men in the crowd was how the young racer seemed overmatched by the aggressive reporter at first, and seemed about to slam into the outside wall before recovering his lost nerve. But it did not take him very long to catch on to her notion. It is true that her initial forwardness blindsided the youngster, setting him back on his heels, but just like with the earlier challenge from Richard Petty, Huckleberry Hoo quickly recovered his footing. Like the true competitor and champion that he was, the youngster quickly assessed the situation and managed to give as good as he got. In fact, it was not long before Miss Tippy Topp found herself on the defensive, although no one could have called her surrender unwilling.
As the crowd began to disperse the happy ending became more HBO, and less Hallmark Channel. Mothers began pulling their children away from the stage, covering their eyes while the older southern gentlemen who regularly tithed before the Sunday races found themselves unwilling, if not unable, to look away.
When the couple finally did pull themselves apart, Tippy‘s hunger was obvious. Her perfect coif askew, her breasts heaving in great gasps beneath her low, v-necked blouse, she grasped Huckleberry by the hand and led him down the Victory Lane steps and away from those five thousand prying eyes, hurrying him off toward the safety and privacy of her hot pink, '55, Coup de Ville. (Come on now, what fantasy is complete without a hot pink Cadillac convertible? The perfect ride for the perfect woman?)
”Eli told me what you did at The Palomino last night,“ Tippy said, her bedroom eyes aglow. “How you defended your lady.”
There followed an uncomfortable silence as Huckleberry took in what she said before finally responding. “Son of a bitch! Let a woman gussy herself up all nice and she sure does begin to think highly of herself, doesn’t she? The hell you say, Woman? I just went in there lookin’ for a fight!”
Tippy grabbed him by the belt buckle then, using it to pull Huckleberry onto the rear, white leather seat of the Barbie pink car.
“Well, Huckleberry Hoo,” she whispers as she unfastens the buckle. “If it’s a fight you like, you are in for one.”
And that is all you get to know about my fantasy, as there are some things that even a fantasy woman doesn't want told...
Knocks Me Off My Feet
It happened between the sheets but not the way you might think. I; dressed in my tattered pajama pants, the ones with the dime size hole in the left leg (I can't bear to toss them), with messy hair, no makeup, not even lip gloss, experienced my greatest fantasy with a man, who is also a dead author.
Years ago, I learned quickly to keep my unique predilection private, when a friend of mine said point blank, "What difference does it make?" After I had asked one too many impertinent questions. We were at our monthly book club, where anyway, in theory we put more effort into discussing the wine we were drinking and what was going on in our lives in comparison to the amount of time we spent talking about any given book. The book we had just read was Beloved by Toni Morrison, the year was 1990 and at the time Toni Morrison was very much alive. Although I loved the book, it was the first time it occured to me I felt just as interested in the writer, as the writing. Curiously, at the time I had no interest in writing, so why would I need to know if Toni Morrison pulled on her pants one leg at a time? Why would I feel the need to know everything there is to know about her? Even if I was interested in writing, "What gives?" Said the same friend. "Stop obsessing about whoToni Morrison is as a person and why she wrote what she wrote. We are here to talk about the book." My friend's words pinched me, a little, but when she took another swig of wine, so did I. No hard feelings. She was right. It was one of those moments where a person close to you can see something in you that you can't readily see in yourself.
As time went on, long after my book club was disbanded, and I had more time to dedicate to reading, this tendency of mine only intensified. I would get part way into a book, and be smitten, not just with the words, but more so with, "Who is this incredible mind that was able to craft this story?" I had to google them, read everything about them, look at pictures of them, always before I could finish the book.
Recently, I fell in love again with Sherwood Anderson. I remember reading a short story written by him when I was young. The name of the story was "The Discovery of a Father" and it knocked me off my feet. It was the moment I fell in love with fiction. In trying to depict my feelings at the time, I would have to say I felt an intense level of intimacy previously unknown to me. I fell in love with his words in a way that I had been unable to replicate in any intimate relationship. That may sound sad. And I suppose it should have been something discussed with a therapist. I presume my feelings rang true because there were few people I could trust enough to experience a deep level of intimacy with compared to the magic that was happening between the page and my mind. Currently, I can't say there is any fiction I love more than I love my family, my dog and my close friends (maybe), so who needs therapy? Still and all, besides dearly departed Sherwood, there are countless other dead authors I have developed a bond with. Truth be told, and please don't judge, I keep pictures of Sherwood Anderson on my phone that I look at from time to time. I once sent one of them to my sister and told her it was a picture of my dead boyfriend. She totally gets me. She laughed.
This feeling happened to me again the other night with James Baldwin. Insomnia has plagued me, but is pretty much a thing of the past for me, so it was unusual for me to be awake at 2 a.m.
James is dead, has been since 1987, and from what I have read about him, he preferred men over women, or he may have been neutral when it comes to his sexuality, but that does not mean an old heterosexual lady can't crush on him. I am old, I'm not dead, and anyway my crush does not have anything to do with physicality, it is mental. Undoubtedly the level of intimacy I felt with him at 2 a.m. in the morning was stronger than the smell of bleach. I had recently finished reading his novel, If Beale Street Could Talk, and of course, due to my standard operating procedure, part way into the book I had to read his bio. It is always slightly depressing for me when I finish reading a book that I love, although at the conclusion of this particular book, I was also ecstatic, applauding his masterpiece. In reading about his life, I knew what he was up against to get his due recognition. As well, I was sad, because I had reached the end. Untypically, I decided not to wait until such a time as I would forget some of the story, to reread it. It was too good, so I read it again, knowing it would not be the last time. And then I had to pick up something else he had written, non-fiction, The Fire Next Time.
Alone in the dark, between the sheets at 2 a.m. I continued reading his words on my kindle and my heart caught when I read "To be sensual, I think, is to respect and rejoice in the force of life, of life itself, and to be present in all that one does, from the effort of loving to the breaking of bread."
This man was a teacher, a genius, I do believe born to bring us a message, and I, an old lady, was alone with him in my bed, flabbergasted, overwhelmed, in a good way through his words. My goosebumps told me I had to get up and savor the moment. Truth be told, it could have also been my bladder. That does happen to us old folks, but it is not specifically germane to the overall moment. I stopped at the back door and looked out at my yard, my sanctuary, my safe place. It felt right to do so. There was just enough light from the moon to see there was no wind. The trees were unperturbed, not a rustle of a leaf was observed, and suddenly, I heard what sounded like the roar of the wind. It seemed odd to me, as I kept looking at the dead air to hear this roar, but I was not afraid, and considered if it was only my furnace cranking on. It wasn't. My eyes searched outside for movement again. None. You tell me? I do not believe in ghosts, but as a lover of fiction, I would love to believe it was James sending a message, coming to thank me for giving life to him through his words at 2 a.m. in the morning. I got back into bed feeling so connected to him, instead of continuing on with his words, I was compelled to listen to his voice in an old interview on youtube. I lay still, listening to him, watching him, letting him know, if possible, it is I who must thank him.
The standard bucket list is in my rear view. I have spent my time at the beach, I have raised a beautiful family, I live in a beautiful home, I am retired with more than enough money to meet my basic needs. But I will continue to seek my next great fantasy with an author, dead or alive, that will speak to me through the wind or enlighten me in their own chosen way with their words between the sheets be it at 2, 3, 4 a.m., whenever. So be it.
And about that bucket list. Afterthought; I stand corrected. New list. Before I die, I would like to go to visit Clyde, Ohio, Sherwood Anderson's hometown where his literary legacy lives on at the local museum and library.
And after that? Let's see where the wind decides to take me.
Finding Happiness in the Apocalypse
I once told my therapist that my happy place was on the edge of a broken down building, in the middle of an apocalypse that's left the world barren and desolate.
That's probably the least bullshit thing I've ever told a therapist. Dystopia and fantasy are the novels that have always interested me, a kind of forbidden allure that even now I still don’t understand.
Maybe that's why now, sitting here, it feels so surreal. It looks exactly like it did in my head, even all these years later, and I only have one thought in my mind.
God, I was so fucking stupid.
It’s always easy to read about the end of the world. To romanticize it in your head. Somehow, I thought the apocalypse would be exciting, new, beautiful, the kind of danger and glory that I never got as a kid. I thought my life was boring.
But that? That was a carnival compared to this.
Oh, sure, I can steal whatever I want. I don’t have to worry about money, or showers. No obligations, no structure. My to-do list consists of three things: eat, sleep, and explore.
It’s everything I ever wanted, and it’s fucking boring.
Back in my old world, I was lonely. I was burnt out. I was jaded and bitter and I was tired. God, was I tired.
Now? I’m all of those things, but more. I’m more tired, more lonely, more burnt out, more jaded, and a hell of a lot more bitter.
We always want what we can’t have, I suppose.
Yesterday I talked to a raccoon. Or, tried to. It screeched at me and ran off with my sock. That encounter shouldn’t have bothered me as much as it did. But it did; it did bother me. And it still bothers me.
I can’t remember how the world ended. I remember my past, it’s not like full-blown amnesia, but when I try to remember how I got here… nothing. I don’t remember the news stories, I don’t remember a disease, or a bomb. All I know is that at some point, I stopped living in my idyllic bubble and ended up on the roof of this building. I don’t know what it used to be. My sense of direction has always been shit, and these days, there aren’t any street signs to tell me where I am, or where I should be.
I always said humanity was going to end. I’d started saying it long before 2020. I’d been fantasizing about the end of days from the beginning of my days, I suppose.
Normal people, they thought about boyfriends or girlfriends, or maybe the really enlightened ones dreamed of world peace and blossoming fields. But me? I dreamed about apocalypses. I dreamed about fighting monsters and superpowers and living in a haunted house. I dreamed about secret organizations, with me caught in the middle. I dreamed about fiction. And now, my fiction has become reality, and I hate it.
Typical me, I suppose.
I was scared to get into middle school. I’d read too many books about how awful it was. But by the time I got to high school, I realized that the worst years of my life were in elementary school. I lost my pets, was swamped in educational pressure and bullying, and my only friend was constantly manipulating me and I was too naive to realize it.
I made a lot of mistakes in those years. We all did.
I thought, by the end of high school, I would be fixed. No more mistakes. No more bad decisions. No more pain.
But obviously I must have made a mistake somewhere along the line, because here I am.
I’m living in this apocalyptic wasteland.
And somehow, I keep feeling like it’s all my fault. Like my fantasies caused this, somehow.
But of course, that’s just my imagination acting up again. I’ve always wanted to be a main character, even if I never had the strength to admit it to myself. I wanted to be the superhero who saves the day, with incredible powers, constantly beating the odds and finding strength even in my weakest moments. I’d even settle for being the surprisingly relatable antagonist, fighting for a warped idea of justice.
But I’m none of those things. I’m not a villain, or a hero. None of us are. In life, there’s no such thing as a main character. Even here, when I’m the last person alive, I’m no main character. I’m just another droplet of conscience in the rainstorm of the universe.
Someday, I’ll be gone. No more boredom. No more selfishness. No more pain.
But for now? I guess I'm trapped in my own fantasy.
The Birth of Folly
Every ending has a new beginning.
Well, I ended him all right. He shouldn’t have done it but he did. So I did – end him I mean.
I carefully stirred antifreeze into one of two glasses and handed the spiked tea to him as I smiled and kissed him. He never realized that It was a goodbye kiss as he contemplated leading me to the bedroom. II enjoyed it thoroughly as I watched him swig his tea with its lovely dose of antifreeze. It was no secret to me that he was both a cheater and a liar but I really did not care anymore because I knew I was about to have a new beginning.
If only I had realized that the outcome of my new beginning might not be a good one! As I walked away from his very stiff body, I decided to take a swig of the other tea which I had not spiked. Unfortunately, he had surreptitiously spiked my tea when I went to wash my hands. Not only was he a cheater and a liar but I found out the hard way that he was also was a murderer. In retrospect, my ending wasn’t that bad as I floated off into oblivion, hoping for a new beginning.
When I finished traveling to my new beginning, to my horror, there he was with a malevolent smirk on his face!
Being a Magical Vigilante Heroic Assassin
“I got a granola bar, Twinkies, ugh, crushed up potato chips…” Xan’s riffling through his provisions pack, all sweat and dirt. He lifts his brow and eyes me, a smirk catching his cheek.
“As soon as this is over I am planting a vegetable garden.” I reach over, “hand me a goddamn Twinkie,” I grab the plastic wrapped industrial food item between my thumb and finger, like picking up a strangers dirty sock.
“We’ve got at least six more hours through these woods. The king-all-father himself will be sleeping soundly when we arrive at the camp.” I give Xan a wide-eyed look, “We are going to need some help getting there,” and I pull out two blue powder pills out of my jackets zip pocket.
“Oh no, no, no. That shit?” Xan is a purist. He flaps his hand at me, looks away. The medusa pills.
I blow air in a chuckle, “You want to do everything from your own damn muscle. Take the pill, Xan. Or, am I going to have to save your ass later?”
“Peggi— you, my love, are very convincing,” he reaches out, palm up. I gingerly place one tiny pill onto a smooth patch of skin between his callouses. He flips it up in the air and catches it on his tongue, swallows, “We’ve been resting long enough, let’s fry that authoritarian fuck!”
We start down the ravine, light feet, making use of smooth branches to swing through denser parts of the forest understory. We are on our way to capture and kill the Emperor of Everything, leader of the military coup that drowned international trade and communications, making it possible for the rise of an authoritarian regime.
“Ever since the coup I’ve felt like, like my world has gotten so much smaller, like the continents have spread impossibly apart, went to a different dimension, even.” I glance into Xan’s eyes, “it really feels like they don’t exist anymore.” Xan watches me back, considering my words. We are taking a break, enjoying a cold foot soak in the river. The water absorbs our fatigue beautifully, rivulets of sensation curl around my body, through vessels and bones, through my tongue and scalp.
“We’ve trained our whole lives for this but I barely remember what it was like before.” I take a breath and look into the sweaty haze enveloping the canopy. A crow is studying us.
Xan ignores my ponderings, “We need to focus on the present. There may still be books out there, people alive who remember what was in the books we lost. This is our chance to reinvent what it means to be human.”
I consider his words as we trail the river, let their weight anchor my mind to the present.
We divert from the river and skirt to higher ground on the other side of the road. We do this a mile out to avoid detection from their scent hounds. From this vantage we can get a good look at the camp layout and see where the guards are posted. We can even track the scouts in the forest from their torch light.
“Remember, we have folks on the inside so don’t kill anyone.” He gives me his side eye, winks. “I know Charles is in that camp.”
“I don’t care about Charles being there!” I shake me head and laugh at the jab, “Im not an amateur, Xan. I can deal with that meat head another day.” I take a deep breath, pushing aside the thought that there may not be another day. If we make a mistake.
What if it doesn’t work?
We planned the assassination on a new moon; with help from the medusa pills our night vision will be able to adjust quickly. We can see them, but they can’t see us.
I tighten my boots, double check each weapon hold, finally, I reach into my satchel and bring out the ultimate weapon. I unfurl the necklace from its velvet nest, six pouches of dreaming powder dangle from the leather braiding. I look up to Xan; the soft look of his eyes reminds me that this might be our last moment together. I gently hook a stray strand of hair back behind his ear, move to my knees and bring the necklace over his head to rest the pouches along his chest. I place a hand on his heart and lean in; a deep and beautiful kiss sends fire through our bodies, and for a moment we forget everything that happened, and let go of everything that will.
Xan drops first, his arms perfectly tuned for the descent, clasping rock holds and ginger steps, he silently clears the ridge and moves towards the gap between the guards. He will take care of the front line, my mission waits within the golden tent.
Xan has already snuffed out the torches here, I easily avoid detection. I have about 90 seconds before someone comes to investigate.
The Emperors tent is woven in gold, silk, beautiful wools, fine materials mined from the catacombs of department stores below the seas of rubble.
I stop myself from marveling at the rich and impossible textures, the beautiful glint of gold, like stars against the shadows. I steady my heart again.
My knife is drawn, I cut a slit, peek through a moment first before stepping inside.
I hear a deep snore send a rumble through the air. I am crouched, liquid, I glide towards the head of the bed, a cot of suspended canvas over a sturdy bamboo frame. Lush blankets and fluffy pillows envelope the beast. His face is tilted upwards, his crown sitting heavily on his brow, a manicured beard lines his chiseled jaw.
His last wife would have been here too, had he not publicly executed her. What was it this time? Oh yes, she didn’t fully appreciate his genius, evidenced by her suggestion that perhaps he could spare some of the books on medicine and science. He was as brilliant as Einstein, she was made to confess. Her acting skills were not as astute as some of his other yes men.
I bring my hands to his temples, focus. My hands grow warm, then a faint red glow, now palms illuminating his cheeks; i take a deep breath.
A soft white ribbon of light spontaneously connects between my hands, surrounding the emperors head— he awakes. His eyes widen in terror as he realizes what is happening.
A chocking voice, “Witches! Greselda, where are you?”
I whisper back, “You killed her. Remember?” I send a surge into the folds of his mind, showing him the pain she felt when he betrayed her.
He shudders, calls out again, managing only a whisper, “No. No! Doona?”
“Doona is not here, scum.”
“You can’t steal my mind, witch. I am Emperor of Everything, Sole Genius of the land,” he coughs, “the sire of all children…” I send another surge, the fear and disgust that was felt when he took his childrens’ mothers.
“Your echo chamber of grandeur is over. You will know what you really are.” My eyes fall back as the energy in my hands pulses again.
A cyclone of grief, the stabbing pain of betrayal, bloody fear, and the heavy despair of every orphan he created, every widow, each forlorn parent holding the limp bodies of children, the collective pain of each families he broke channelled through my heart into his.
A final surge.
His body spasms and contorts, his gasps desperately before going limp, helpless against the new feeling of loss. Finally, his robust furious ego has drowned.
I lay my hand on his heart- his glassy eyes look at me, ghostly now. “You’re welcome.” I say as I leave his bedside.
I peek through the slit I had made, first just a slight crack, then when I see a pile of sleeping guards and the bemused smiling face of Xan standing by I pull it wide and step through.
The light from my hands fading, we sneak out of the camp, into the woods, past more dozing guards and across the river. Finding a mossy nook a few miles in we bed down together, exhausted but our spirits replete.
A journey somewhere nice...
The ordinary is always undermined; looked down upon or plainly ignored. Where everyone joins the race to be seen; to be heard and to be out there, not just among people, but at the top; I wish to be ordinary. Not just be ordinary but to not be ashamed, not feel less, not be inferior and not be insecure. While walking a path that has the soils of a hundred cities left behind by the shoes that trampled upon this common route. The shoes that walked ahead in uncertainty, the shoes that must have reached somewhere? On a path to nowhere, while being a nobody, I wish to be happy...being ordinary.
Imagine this: hundreds of blood tests sitting in a lab, untested; the lab is closed, backed up, whatever excuse. People are waiting for their results, for their horrible, unspeakable diseases.
Now imagine Brock Turner. Do you remember him? I do. But I don't remember him like Chanel Miller does. Under her dress, inside of her body.
I wasn't talking about blood tests before. I was talking about rape kits. Hundreds sit, getting moldy, not being tested.
Chanel Miller writes, in her memoir "Know My Name", that on the campus in Philadelphia where she lived with her boyfriend, it was reported that 1 in 4 women are sexually assaulted in their lifetime.
Read that again. What did you feel? Are you continuing to scroll, not really invested in this?
Here's the beginning of my fantasy.
Women are respected. Their bodies are not something to comment on, to touch without consent.
Women do not go through years of trial to convict their rapists.
Women are not asked, why were you wearing that? Why were you alone? How many drinks did you have?
Women are not afraid to walk alone after dark.
Women are not blamed for their sexual assault.
In my fantasy, rape does not exist. It is repulsive, like stabbing someone and running. Like leaving hundreds of blood tests untouched.
Women are treated as equals to men.