Category Archives: Allegory

Avara Rising: A Story of Beginnings

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Eleanor’s hands trembled slightly as she flicked the end of her cigarette on the edge of the porcelain ashtray. Her other hand nervously clutched the locket around her neck. Ashes from her cigarette fell from the overflowing ashtray onto the expensive table. Her eyes followed mine as I watched the ashes fall. She laughed nervously and waved dismissively at them. “No one knows I smoke. It’s the same brand my mother once smoked. There’s a lot people don’t know. I think you know that now, don’t you?”

We were both dancing around the central question of her life: how did she survive and flourish in the midst of such chaos. My editor wanted me to lob softball questions for the 6000-word piece I had been assigned. To my surprise, I had immediately felt a kinship with Eleanor. Her features reminded me of princesses from the Disney stories of my childhood. I wanted nothing more than to simply sit and talk to her for a lifetime of minutes. Her celebrity status seemed to fit awkwardly on her.

I’d followed her career for the last fifteen years and watched all of her movies. When my editor initially asked me to work on a special story about Eleanor, I had to conceal my enthusiasm. Seeing her first movie evoked something inquisitive in me. I noticed that Eleanor had a small diagonal scar on her neck, below her left ear. Later, I heard her tell an interviewer that the scar was a reminder of her childhood. When she said the words, I watched almost imperceptible clouds pass over her face. I recognized those clouds of trauma. Like me, she had survived a violent childhood, one seemingly hidden from her public life.

On a whim, I turned off the digital recorder on the table in front of me.

Pushing aside my misgivings, I laid a photo on the table. I heard an audible gasp as Eleanor took in the photo. I looked to her face and noted that her expression retreated into itself. I knew the look well from my countless interviews. The photo had pushed her to retreat far past her public veneer. Eleanor was once again the wistful girl in the photo. I wasn’t sure if she’d seen the photo in the 50 years since it was taken.

Eleanor looked up at me, locking my gaze. Tears formed in her eyes as she attempted to blink them into submission.

“So, you know? That day and my story?” Her voice trailed off in a sigh. “Where did you get the photo?”

I sat quietly, out of respect. I nodded. “Yes,” I said, needlessly. “One of the children of your neighbor had a box of keepsakes. I found it there. Finding things and people is what I do. It’s unquestionably you in the photo.”

Both of Eleanor’s hands reached for her locket as the tears poured from her eyes. I could see that her white blouse caught the droplets as they rolled down her wrinkled face. Strangely, she said, “It’s almost me, that’s true.”

“Can I see the picture, Eleanor?” I whispered. “The one inside the locket? I’ve noticed you wear the locket anytime you’re not working.”

She shook her head, a little violently.

I waited.

After a minute, Eleanor reached behind her head and fumbled with the clasp of her locket. She managed to unclasp it and pulled the gold necklace away.

She gracefully piled the necklace on the table near the ashtray, waiting. I noticed that her hand returned briefly and touched the small scar there.

I reached over and touched the locket. I lifted it and brought it closer to my gaze and opened it. Inside, I discovered the face of a beautiful, smiling little girl, one who shared the features of young Eleanor.

“Her name was Avara, a name my mother saw on a tin of cooking oil. She was my twin. As you may have guessed, she left me on the day that picture was taken.” She pointed to the picture of young Eleanor that I had placed face up on the table. “The other picture is of my maternal grandmother.”

“Tell me more, Eleanor, in any way you can express it.” I had forgotten all professional pretense at this point.

Eleanor adopted the faraway look once more as she began to speak:

“It was the early 1980s. My mother had found herself in a life she’d never have imagined, one defined by the birth of two twin girls she hadn’t planned. She shared the lives of these two girls with the most unlikely of husbands, one unlike any she had imagined. She was born in a very small town on the fringes of the state. He had courted her with the most gentlemanly manners. Once she was pregnant, my mother had to accompany my father to the place we called home, away from everything and everyone she’d known. He ruled their lives with a range of abuse. He had studied human psychology through the prism of violence and artfully applied its domesticating techniques with curled fists and cloistered shouts. Day after day of fierce application resulted in my mother surrendering all of her abilities to the whims of this man dedicated to anger.

Each time my mother attempted to put life in its proper place, her husband would remind her of her diminished value. The taste and stain of blood served as a reminder that escape was an illusion. As her twin girls aged, she noted that her husband realized that no greater bargaining chip or amulet of fear existed.

It was on one of my father’s good days that he gave me the scar. My mother was outside talking to one of the neighbors who needed someone to watch his two kids on Saturday. My father overheard voices and exited our trailer. Without taking a moment to listen, he grabbed my mother by the neck and hauled her inside the trailer. He told the neighbor, “Mind your own g-damned business, Robert!” Once inside, he had us all sit on the couch in the tiny living room. Once his rant started, his jealous words became louder and more incoherent. He grabbed one of the four framed pictures on the paneled wall to break it. My mom raised her hand to ask him to please stop. He threw the frame with as much force as he could manage. It flew sideways and shattered on the side of my face. A piece of the glass stuck in my throat. Blood went everywhere. Even as I thought I might die, I welcomed it. My mother was forbidden to take me anywhere to be treated. She used a decorative towel to stop the blood until my father fell asleep in his recliner. Another neighbor, Sheila, put three stitches in my neck using a sewing needle.

For the day in question, my mother awoke on Easter with the idea that if Jesus could sacrifice himself to save mankind, she could at least do something to save her girls. I’m not sure what convinced her that particular day was the day, so to speak. Nevertheless, she rose early enough to use the eggs from the fridge to make colored Easter eggs for her precious girls. She ignored the possibility that her husband might exact his vengeance upon her for wasting the eggs. She carefully placed each dyed eggs back in the egg carton. Before anyone awoke, she crept around the perimeter of the trailer to hide the eggs where her two daughters could find them. No one else was outside that morning. Most of her neighbors had burned the midnight oil. Saturday night was the one night they could all forget their mundane, repetitive lives for the week.

When everyone woke up, my mother dodged the verbal barbs of her husband as she coaxed him to drink his coffee and eat biscuits and sausage. He didn’t seem to notice the absence of eggs on his cracked plate.

While he begrudgingly ate his breakfast, my mother helped us get dressed in our dresses and brushed our hair. We assumed we were dressing to wait for the church bus that made its way around the trailer park each Sunday morning.

“Let’s go outside, girls, and find the Easter eggs!”

My mother camouflaged the fright in her voice. No one except her knew that either she or her husband would not survive the day. She hoped in her secret heart that Jesus and his message of forgiveness would absolve of her of the harsh necessity of that day’s choices. Only she knew that her husband’s pistol, the one he’d held against her head several times, would finally help her.

Avara and I stepped carefully down the old iron and wood-plank steps onto the sparse grass surrounding the trailer. I held the empty egg carton and Avara clutched the single basket we owned. Both of us were dressed in our finest summer church dresses.

As I began to gather the eggs, my mother took a picture of me as I searched the ground with my eyes. She was proud of the camera, even though it was used.  My mother took pictures as if they were made of gold.

Immediately after she snapped the picture, the back door of the trailer flew open. There were no steps there. Anyone wanting to exit had to double back to the front or simply jump the three feet to the ground.

My father chose the second option. His anger propelled him. He jumped the distance without hesitating. He balanced the pistol in his right hand as he landed. Somehow, he found it under my mother’s clothes in the dresser where she’d hid it last night. How he had come to the conclusion that his wife was planning something nefarious is still a mystery. Avara came up behind me as I looked up. My father lifted the pistol to fire it at my mother. Instead, the bullet hit my precious Avara and killed her instantly. My mother screamed in agony and anger and hurled herself at my father. They struggled for a few moments. I think my father was shocked to find himself needing to defend himself against his wife. That hadn’t happened since the second time he had beaten her. My mom seemed to have found new strength as she fought him. Moments later, another shot reverberated between the row of trailers. Since it was a Sunday morning, the deafening roar once again filled the air. My mother froze in shock as my father’s face shattered and a bullet passed from under his chin through the top of his head. He fell to the ground. My mother laughed, a high-pitched and untethered scream of laughter.

My mother grabbed me and pulled me close. She slumped against the underskirt of the trailer, next to Avara. I don’t know how long we sat there. We both watched as my father gurgled blood, trying to speak. Finally, he felt still and silent. At some point, my mother had taken off her locket and put it in my hand. After a long minute, a curious neighbor poked his head around the trailer’s edge to find us. We heard a shout, followed later by more shouts. Much later, a police car slowly pulled up over the curb with its lights flashing. I remember that it didn’t arrive in a hurry. I think the officer knew that being in a hurry in our neighborhood was a waste. The police had come by several times in the last year. They’d note the broken furniture, the beer cans, the bloody faces, said a few words, and depart. It was a story all too common in the South. Even on the night my mother had the courage to tell one of the officers, “Please don’t leave me with him,” the officer took my father aside and asked him to take it easy.

I don’t remember looking at my dear sister. I recall a neighbor picking me up like a doll and talking to me in a low voice. I saw Avara’s Easter basket on the ground, holding four or five dyed eggs. My mother was taken away in a patrol car. Though she was defending herself when she killed my father, the police decided that because she admitted she was planning to kill him, it wasn’t self-defense. I lived the rest of my childhood with my neighbors. That’s how it came to pass that my mother spent the rest of her short life in prison for murder. She convinced herself that prison was appropriate for staying too long within the reach of her violent husband. She missed Avara’s funeral. I never saw her again after the police shoved her in the back of the patrol car.”

Eleanor finished talking and simply sat in her chair. Her regal features seemed to be resigned to the sadness that the story held for her. “I’ve never spoken the names of my parents since that day, either. My mother’s name was Kimber and my father was named Gerald. I took the last name of the kind neighbors who raised me as their own. My real last name was Holloway.”

She leaned in and whispered to me. “Gabriel, do you know the real secret, the one that no one alive knows?” She hesitated.

I couldn’t believe that she held more secrets. It felt like she was in a confessional and I was her confessor. I nodded.

“That day? It wasn’t Avara who was killed. It was Eleanor. When my neighbor pulled me away, I told him that my name was Eleanor, my dear sister’s name. I don’t know why I blurted out my sister’s name. I’ve lived my entire life and career using her name. I’m Avara. I think the only reason I survived was by adopting her name and promising that I’d rise above the thing that killed her.” Once again, tears rolled down her face.

I stood up and walked around the table. Eleanor didn’t resist as I pulled her close and we both cried until time slowed. I knew that Eleanor, or Avara, was transported back to the trailer park all those years ago. In some ways, despite people not knowing it, Eleanor had spent a great deal of her life buried in the past.

Three weeks later, my editor demanded the 6000-word piece for the magazine. Instead, I handed him a full draft of the book that Eleanor had authorized: “Avara Rising.” She had decided to finally come out to the world and reveal the story of the crucible which had formed her. Her sister’s name had found fame in the world. It was time for the other little girl to find her real voice and speak to the world. Like her mother, she’d find the courage to plant her feet and insist that the reckoning commence.

It all started with a picture, an oath given freely by a mother, and a young life consumed by violence. Gabriel could only hope that the little girl picking up her Easter eggs was still frolicking in a nondescript yard somewhere, with her sister laughing joyfully behind her.

Amen, Avara. Godspeed, Eleanor.

 

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Obituary: Apostrophe

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Obituary

Today marked the passing of the dubious Apostrophe, whose real named is spelled ‘. The word “Apostrophe” is Greek, meaning “…the act of turning away…” It was born sometime in the 1500s. Shakespeare was a close friend of Apostrophe, employing him haphazardly and without regard to decorum. Through the centuries, writers and the general public have argued relentlessly over the usage of Apostrophe. Some have foolishly attempted to speak on behalf of Apostrophe; all are posers and speaking on his behalf without authority. No one truly understood Apostrophe or his real purpose.

The Apostrophe suffered a slow and agonizing death, one literally punctuated by debates about its viability. Apostrophonies (ardent admirers of Apostrophe) wept in silence, unsure if theyll be able to communicate without their beloved obsolete claw mark. Plans are being made to address whether we will or wont be able to understand written English after its passing. Its unclear what the cause of death was for the misunderstood punctuation mark, although an autopsy points to a complete lack of a reason to continue living as the most likely culprit.

We will still be able to determine possessive forms in writing, even in Apostrohpes absence. We have also surrendered any intention of honoring the ridiculous use of an apostrophe for so-called awkward plurals and the bane of all sane people, the plural possessive.

If youre not sure what was intended when reading, simply read it aloud to immediately clear up any confusion on the matter. The spoken word and Apostrophe have never needed one another.

In observance of the death of the Apostrophe, its remains will be cremated and its ashes scattered in the mouths of angry grammarians everywhere.

A eulogy will be provided by Apostrophes terminally ill cousins, Colon and Semicolon. It isnt clear whether Colon will be able to speak without several lengthy pauses.

The funeral is at 11 oclock on Wednesday.

A Reverie For Then

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In a nearby cavernous auditorium, perchance in another cosmos, voices rose and fell, each youthfully jockeying for position. The camaraderie of teamwork still lit each of their souls in excitement. Youth is a fuse which can be subdued only with great effort. Its exuberance is a trumpet’s undeniable fanfare.

I could hazily sense the subtle vibrancy of life percolating through the concrete walls as I sat on the right end of a worn wooden piano bench in the chorus room, a place I seldom ventured. My own voice was broken and even in the moments that I might have something to herald, doubt dutifully clamped my lips. Caged birds seldom discover their voices.

The lights were dim about us. I sat in awe, next to a transcendent creature whose humble mastery of those eighty-eight keys hypnotized me. Her long, nimble fingers playfully and effortlessly waltzed across the keyboard. She smiled at me, in part in the simple pleasure of sharing music she had created and in part from the delight she noted written on my face. If imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery, I’m unsure how to compare fathomless wonderment.

It’s a simple satisfaction of life to share a moment with another soul, one which transcends personality and place. Everything extraneous falls away, leaving people to face one another. The overlap of engagement is the subtlest of all possible harmonies. If the metronome of the universe finds the perfect synchronization, each person walks lightly and without recognition that their guards have yielded.

She continued to play as I sat, mute, imagining that I could see the notes float from the opened piano into the spectral air. Absent the vocabulary to express it, I realize now that I was living one of my first moments of bittersweet experience.

After a few sustained minutes, the tumult from the nearby hall spilled out and someone entered our shared sanctuary of the chorus room. The spell was broken as her devout hands moved away from their natural home above the ivories. She instinctively knew that the interloper had ruptured whatever interlude we had experienced. The notes which were magically suspended in the air dissolved and fell to the floor.

She and I smiled at one another – and for a breathless moment, I was rendered floorless.

I returned to my bestial life, one whose existence was the antithesis of that shared melodic moment. That the savagery of my separate life had suffered a momentary rest deepened its claw into my soul. I had managed to peer out the smudged window of my life for a moment.

As the years bury their minute-filled corpses in the past, I am able to sporadically recapture those minutes of rapture, listening. Out of time, out of place, she sits unhurriedly beside me, sharing the gift of presence and music. That moment resides forever in an absent place. In other moments of fanciful experience, I can feel its vacancy beckoning me, though I know it will be but a pale shadow of an iridescent memory of youth.

The gift of experience is that we often fail to appreciate the moments as they wash over us. The agony of wisdom is to discern how fleeting the sublime sensation of joy can be.

And so, we look back, away from the monumental gray of our mundane days.

Our lives often lack cadence and tempo except when sleuthed in reverse, in reverie, and in reverence.

Those melodies, though, they remain; eternal, and accompanied by the decrescendo of our bodies.

 

Cleanliness Is Next To What?

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It’s never a great idea to make a grown man cry.

I called a mobile car detail service. The young gentleman exited his van and shook my hand. I pointed to my allegedly white Ford Focus in the driveway. The man’s face immediately wrinkled as he inspected the outside. (The DMV added ‘allegedly white’ to its list of approved colors last year, thanks to me.)

“We do all variety of vehicles,” he told me proudly. “We’ve seen everything, X!”

He opened the driver’s door and leaned inside. He immediately stepped back out, his face suddenly blanched and tight.

After he returned from running down the block and realizing he needed his van to get out of my neighborhood, I handed him a kleenex. He dutifully wiped away the tears and just shook his head.

“Sorry, X. Apparently, we haven’t seen EVERYTHING.”

An Allegory Of It

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The light summer evening rain faded after a couple of minutes. I walked for quite a while along the edge of a long ridge as I admired the vista that was unfolding in front of me.

The air pressure seemed to plummet.

The horizon’s colors evaporated and the air slowed. The lazy blue sky darkened as the lighter clouds coalesced into ribbons of black. Insects ceased their instinctive chatter. For a brief moment, I could hear the faint murmur of what sounded like thousands of voices. Though I could see no one, something on the horizon was watching me.

Whatever it might be sensed that I was observing it and the voices immediately ceased. I could feel it shift to make its approach. My hair didn’t stand on end but I felt like falling to the damp ground. My stomach gurgled and my neck constricted like it often does at that moment immediately prior to nausea. “It” slowed as it crossed the flat valley, stopping near a large solitary tree. As it hovered, the tree lost form and its living leaves began to swirl and shimmer as if they had become thousands of imperceptible insects. The nothingness of the ‘it’ enveloped the tree and began to coalesce along the fertile ground.

Oddly, I stood my ground, my curiosity in defiance to self-preservation. After decades of walking the earth, it seemed as if the worst truth would still be a comfort to me.

“Not today,” a quiet voice whispered, literally in the air.

My chest compressed as ‘it’ passed over me and through me. I could feel the interminable nature of it as it passed.

After it went, I stood motionless, watching the sky infuse with sapphire hues again.

As I stepped toward the place where the tree once stood, the insects began to chirp and hum again.

My pace quickened. I knew that all my steps were now counted and measured.

It’s A Place Which We Never Leave

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On the way back home from Texas, I turned off the discolored and uneven blacktop highway and drove through a small farming town in Arkansas. It was almost 7 p.m. on a windless Sunday evening. My windshield was a graveyard of hundreds of insects. The richness of the delta has its gifts.

I had lost all sense of urgency and time. Because I knew I wouldn’t drive all the way home that evening, I chose the blue highways to take me across part of my journey. These highways were once the only way to traverse the country and each one of them pierced rural communities, loosely connecting them to the outside world. As interstates rose to meet the demands of speed and commerce, the blue highways remained, like half-forgotten pictures tucked away in the top drawer of a dresser in one’s extra bedroom.

Downtown was a disintegrating and deceitful testament to the past. The solitary water tower still stood, rusting, and even the town’s name, once proudly emblazoned there, was long erased. The youthful graffiti always found on such a tower was illegible. The few young people who might live nearby attended school in another town, their own hometown mascot supplanted with another. Each of them quietly reminded themselves that they’d leave as soon as graduation came.

The jolt of crossing a desolate set of railroad tracks caused me to reach over and turn off the radio. A town’s railroad crossing conveys a clear message: a smooth transition indicates a thriving economy and nicer vehicles, while an uneven and poorly maintained one usually means that people live lives filled with less. People with money and separated from their agricultural roots clamor for better roads, ones devoid of historical reminders of commerce and transport.

History accompanied me as I made my way slowly across the brick-paved street. Without any evidence, I knew that several years ago, some well-meaning resident with a little money had vainly attempted to rejuvenate the corpse of this place, one founded on the backs of farmers. With his passing, the enthusiasm for saving the heritage of the place no longer loomed large on the psyche of the town. His tombstone, larger than those surrounding his resting place, is easily found in the cemetery not too far from the train tracks. In a generation, most of the cemeteries would be overgrown and many of these buildings would fall in on themselves, a gradual shattering and splintering of history. If I were to look, somewhere in the juncture of the small side streets would be a shuttered museum; its existence once contained within but with time, opened to spread out and include the entire town. My own hometown shares a similar and degenerative trajectory; the fiercely loyal will stay until nothing remains. They are the geographical observations points for entropy. Death need not make haste in these places.

Somewhere within the 4 blocks traversing west to east, I noticed a particular vacant storefront, displaying a single white rocking chair perched haphazardly up front, undoubtedly home to the bones of a once-thriving furniture store. The setting sun illuminated the faces of a hundred stacked cardboard boxes near the front windows. As carefully as the boxes were stacked, I couldn’t shake the feeling that they had been packed in haste and then abandoned, much like the store and probably like the town in general. I was certain that human hands hadn’t touched the boxes in years and that no one had relaxed in the rocking chair since its placement there. People were choosing to leave with as small a burden as possible.

Something about this store spoke to me. I pulled unevenly toward the broken curb and hesitated as I shut off the engine. The brick pavers had ended with the last block, probably as fund-raising dried up and people chose to leave instead. Every few feet a clump of grass was triumphantly sprouting from the untarred cracks in the road. I sat there, hands on the wheel, watching. Nothing moved around me. Maybe nothing had moved in the last hour, day, or week. A block ahead, the only traffic light in town blinked a dull red, casting a strange pall on an approaching evening. The light wasn’t blinking to any certain tempo and its arrhythmia went unheeded.

Looking at the sun reflected in the terrible facade of that building, I felt a creeping sadness wash over me. It seemed like I could feel the glances of the thousands of inhabitants who had passed here, reluctant to leave their hometown, but certain that they must. Brake lights always yield to a foot on the gas as nostalgia loses inevitably to hope. The fondness we so often feel for the places in our rearview mirrors softens our doubts about leaving yet rarely detains us.

The sun gave me its warmth as I sat in my car. Though the air was still and uncomfortable, I couldn’t break the silence by starting my car. The heat seemed to stir the ghosts of this place. I could hear their whispered names: Robert, Henry, Thomas, Samuel, Maggie and Jane Elvira. It was both melodious and cacophonous, like a choir warming up to an unspecified crescendo that would never quite arrive.

I could picture a shotgun house not too far from here, its ancient inhabitant eating cold cereal or buttermilk-soaked bread from a chipped white bowl. The metal fan nearby would be loudly alternating air through the cramped room. Around the person would be dozens of pictures, spanning generations, each of them revealing the face of someone long departed or of one who visits with less frequency. Next to the stubborn resident was a small wooden table. It was adorned with dozens of pill bottles, knick-knacks, and an older telephone, one wired to the world. In the rare event of a call, I could hear the fizzled and tired ring and recite almost every word that would ensue in the phone call, one measured by regret, loss, and small details.

I imagined the smell of cornbread, mustard greens, and fish quickly fried under the shade of any available tree. This place, once dominated by the sounds of screen doors casually slammed, pitchers of iced tea, and enthusiastic summer baseball games, was losing its voice. It seemed that even the echoes of lives once lived were fading now, departing with their particular smells and customs.

Before leaving town, I turned on the radio again. I pressed the ‘next station’ button and to my surprise, Merle Travis was singing “No Vacancy.” I smiled, pressed the gas pedal with enthusiasm, and took one last glance in the driver side mirror.

As I passed over the railroad tracks, I didn’t even notice the jolt.

I would wake up in another town tomorrow morning and this haunted place would fade to become an uncertain memory. All who had departed this place would unknowingly share this in common with me.

I, too, am from such a town. It is with me, always, in my quiet moments.

 

 

Above It All And Within

 

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Barbara closed her book with resolve, knowing that Pat Conroy’s love of the land which defined him would welcome her once again as soon as she opened the pages. She leaned over to kiss her husband David, even as he paused to remove himself from the world of John Irving. “I’ll be back in a minute, my Lowenstein,” she whispered. He nodded and peered at her over the rim of his ridiculous reading glasses.

She cast aside the bedspread and climbed from the bed. Though the room was a historical catalog of the shared lives of her, her husband, and daughter Elizabeth, Barbara no longer needed to cast a glance at the myriad collection of photos to remember each individual memory. Most of her days filled with recollections of the life they shared before Elizabeth departed. Nineteen eighty-five might as well have been another life. In many ways, it was.

She walked barefoot from the room and turned left, heading toward the darkened room which comprised the epicenter of her life and once belonged to her daughter. She counted the eight paces to the window and pulled it open. The warm breeze enveloped her as she exited to the roof. Tonight, she could smell the honeysuckle floating on the air. A night like tonight was the last one Elizabeth had enjoyed, slightly more than one-third of a century ago.

Barbara knew that on so many previous nights, her daughter Elizabeth had emerged from the same window to smoke. Unlike her daughter, though, Barbara limited herself to a solitary cigarette. She hadn’t smoked a puff in her life until her daughter had died. Since that night, she hadn’t missed a single night without smoking. Rituals demand adherents.

In the event of rain, Barbara would smoke under the overhang of the utility shed, just like Elizabeth. As the drops fell, they reminded her of the minutes her daughter failed to enjoy. Thousands of droplets, accumulating at her feet. At times, she imagined that she could feel each one as it fell.

David knew better than to question his wife. Contemplation requires tranquility, if not silence. Although he would never admit it, he loved his wife more for her dedication to the ritual of remembrance than almost any other thing. He couldn’t bring himself to join her on the roof, even as his absence sometimes drove a wedge between them. 33 years had failed to convince him otherwise.

Barbara measured her inhalations as she watched her quiet neighbors. If anyone now saw the glowing tip of her lit cigarette high on the roof, he or she no longer questioned it. Barbara’s loss was intensely private. When she finished the cigarette, she flicked it out into the yard. David didn’t mind. Collecting the butts was part of his ritual, one he did without comment. In his heart, he knew that one day he would give anything to have the chance to pick up after the people who were no longer with him.

Barbara paused on the other side of the roof, one leg draped over the windowsill. Elizabeth was somewhere out there, in a place of unknowing. Barbara sighed and headed back to her Lowenstein, even as her heart called into the blanket of night.
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Charlotte’s Hope

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Charlotte once resided in a modest house on the corner of Lilly Street and Shumer Way, nestled inside one of the many decaying towns in the delta area of Arkansas. While she hadn’t stepped foot inside the family home in decades, it was still an infrequent and lingering beacon, a place that once defined her. Her mom had departed this world unexpectedly just as Charlotte hit her stride as an adult. Though her own life was full, a little air exited her soul with her mother’s passing. She not only had buried her mother but a sliver of her own life as well. It remained in her hometown, cloistered and protected from the world.

The promise of life blossomed before her, of course, but the loss of the person closest to her heart would always be one characterized by that uneasy and painful feeling one experiences after swallowing too big of a bite. In Charlotte’s case, the bubble of discomfort failed to fade completely. Each new experience, every shared story, and all moments of clarity occurred with an invisible and almost indiscernible hand on her shoulder. As time marched forward, the hand would feel lighter even as the bruise on her soul deepened. If a kind soul such as her mother could find herself so ingloriously subjected to the injustice of unearned disease, it could writhe toward anyone, despite nobility, intention, or merit. It was a hard lesson to accept but her mother taught it with unimaginable and sublime beauty.

She’d find herself in her hometown, often without remembering the interstate or the quaint highways that brought her there, the same byways once traveled by her mother. The engine of her car would be thunderously ticking, even as the beads of sweat rolled down her forehead. After untold minutes, she’d lower the driver window. Her eyes would devour the familiar details of the small covered rear porch and door, the one almost everyone used. The front door was almost ornamental; someone announcing himself there invariably identified as strangers. She knew without looking that there were 18 rows of white clapboard ascending the side of the house, culminating in exposed painted soffits. Some nights she would slowly emerge from a dream and could still feel the rough sensation of those painted boards as she leaned against the house of her youth. In the summer, one could feel the heat from several feet away.

The cacophony of the summer insects would reach her ears, the hum of mosquitoes would play its summertime melody, and she would cry. In her hometown, most memories anchored in the perennial summertime of her youth. Her mother was so close and the echo of her voice was a lingering presence in the humid air. Whispers, languid syllables of laughter and love, all these intertwined and coalesced in the way that only occurs in Southern towns infected by the paradoxical need to move away.

The peeling paint of the place she once called home still called her name. The four side windows once adorned with light and familiar faces now blankly stared outward without regard. The lawn now screamed for someone to show it the attention it once took for granted. No children would dance in its hidden garden again and it was likely that no family would claim it as an anchor before the structure yielded to the inevitable neglect and gravity. This town and all other places like it are the observable results of entropy; all slide toward darkness and disorder without a guiding force to sustain them. She felt sometimes that her mother was the same dynamic demonstration of physics and that her growing absence was slowly accumulating in her own body as a void with a widening precipice.

The apparition of her mom walked the streets next to the house, idly chiding an unseen canine companion as it wandered in exploration. That her mother might indeed be slightly beyond the unseen membrane between this place of the here and now and the unknown seemed plausible. It was a spell without resolution, though. Hours of fondly wishing it to be so proved the fruitlessness of the endeavor.
“Claire,” Charlotte would cautiously whisper, her mother’s name a secret she dared not say aloud, all these years later. The name, once fallen from her lips, would unleash something primal inside her.

The expectation of her mother’s return was the closest thing to an afterlife that Charlotte could anticipate. Perhaps tomorrow, perhaps in a decade, she would also yield to this world’s demands and sleep one last time, to awaken in the place wherein her mother now resided. It was promise enough for her, beyond even the lofty covenants given to her in church.

Mother and daughter would join one another in raucous laughter, undoubtedly in the unassuming kitchen of her youth. Love would be on the menu, forever, accompanied by the foods with which her mother had so gracefully adorned the family dinner table.

For now, though, Charlotte experienced the heat, the buzz of insects, and the observance of the disintegration of the cradle and crucible of her innermost heart. She could feel the fingers of time furtively clawing their way up her spine, just as they were doing to the integrity of the house she once called home. Both she and the house would inevitably succumb.

As a bead of sweat coalesced against her neck, those same fateful fingers chilled her and she smiled the most secret and indecipherable of smiles that puzzled everyone who knew her.

Not everyone holds onto life with desperation. For some, hope lies beyond, away, and in lingering embraces.

Meanwhile, some of us, like her, sit in the gathering dark in our versions of curious little hometowns and wait. All of this, each detail, is temporary on a sufficiently long enough timeline.

Memories abide and love resists the void.

The Futility of Caring Less In A Couldn’t Care Less World

language

 

If someone says, “I should be so lucky!” it implies that they know they’ll never be that lucky. Everyone except those recently hit on the head with a Wile E. Coyote anvil easily recognize the words spoken and the intended meaning. The word for such a phrase is ‘idiom,’ which can be loosely defined as ‘words which have incorporated a meaning not easily evident in the words themselves.’ In other words, an idiom can take on any meaning we ascribe to it, regardless of how divorced it is from logic, lexicon, and lippitude. The more vibrant and involved a culture is, the more likely that the language used has evolved in an infinite trajectory, one more often determined by confused and seemingly incoherent words.

Those most invested in the idea of a stagnant and static language usually tend to be those who incorrectly think they’ve arrived at the imaginary train station marked as “Correct.” They tend to look at a painting and see that the proportion is slightly off rather than observe that a great work of art sees them as well, in part precisely due to its defect. While language’s mechanics might be best understood in the mind of a master, it is on the lips of the young and those dancing around the fringes of normal usage who see to it that it undergoes the transformation which grants our words magic.

Usage, collectively or popularly applied, constantly creates idioms that defy their own origins. Entire books have been written on the subject and a million doctoral candidates have expounded on the folly and futility of language. The well of this subject will never run dry, as most of its underpinnings sit on opinion rather than science. The rules can be any we choose. Regardless of our choices, none of us will ever learn ‘Standard English’ as a means toward poetry or as a dialect born in our infancy.

For me, it is sport to watch educated and well-intentioned people gnash their teeth at one another for esoteric perceptions of correctness. Almost all who do battle on the field of language do so at their own peril. At feud’s end, the language has already expatriated itself to foreign terrain, evolving even in the midst of disagreement. For those who’ve not noticed, I root for the team advocating a dose of anarchy.

Another peculiarity of our language is that we can juxtapose both negative and positive connotations of the same words and phrases, yet mean exactly the same thing. Our language is stuffed with examples, ones which remind us that language is not math and the roadmap toward language in no way follows a logical course. If I shout, “I can’t hardly wait!” you know that I’m full of enthusiasm. On the other hand, if I shout, “I can hardly wait!” I mean exactly the same thing. Both listener and speaker understand the context and content of the contradictory utterances. You can artfully quibble with this specific example but be warned that our language is an arsenal of similarly-defective pairings.

When you snarl your lip and smugly make your assertions, you are not presenting the scholarly front that you anticipate; you’re demonstrating an unwillingness to bend to reality. Language is not math and it certainly isn’t logic. Its consistency lies only in the recognition that it cannot be learned like a finite subject.

We use the word ‘awesome’ without stopping to consider that ‘awful’ also derived from the same root. Usage redefined the intention of the words. I could literally write a list a mile long, one filled with words which have drifted away from their linguistic docks, often to mean the opposite of its cousins.

Having written all the above, I move to one of my most cherished phrases: “I couldn’t care less.” An idiom which reveals the flawed understanding of its detractors more efficiently would be impossible to find. Many an argument has been waged by those using the word in the presence of those who’ve made up their mind about an idiom that means exactly what it is supposed to.

There is no real controversy here, not really. Before this phrase appeared in popular usage, even before its counterpart of “could care less,” people always said, “No one could care less than I.” If said aloud, this phrase sounds as if it had been born in the stilted and feverish imagination of a terrible English writer. It died precisely because of its ridiculousness.

Saying, “I couldn’t care less” in no way conveys confusion, except in the mind of the person who doesn’t understand language, idioms, or the dynamic and evolving presence of our language. If you persist in your insistence that “I couldn’t care less” isn’t correct, you are doing so in contradiction to all evidence to the contrary. You have become contrary yourself.

Language is whatever we decide it is to be.

The sacrosanct of today will soon lie dormant on our lips, replaced by what is to come.

Your objections?

I couldn’t care less.
Love, X