April 28, 2014

The Anguish of Anxiety - A Swedish Short Story

The prompt for this one was unusual. We were given a list of characters/objects [a nervous teacher, a coal miner with twin daughters, a discredited physicist, an unused musical instrument, a kaleidoscope (etc.)] and a list of places [A broken-down playground, a small-town zoo, a box, a frozen foods factory, a secret underwater lab etc.] ... we had to pick 2 from each list and write a story based on that where Character A tells some sort of confession / conversation about their past to Character B. As usual, we have a 2 page cut-off [roughly 600 words]. 

I got some very confused responses as to where it was taking place- though I hoped it was obvious, in case you are not familiar with the cultural references (names, places, food, inclusion of fathers in assumptions of stay-at-home parenting, language, & even preferred mode of transportation ... I thought this would be enough clues to capture the cultural context but I guess not). It takes place in Sweden.  Enjoy! 

The Anguish of Anxiety
As I sit down at the blue picnic table in the schoolyard, a breeze begins to blow. It pushes against the rusty old swing-set and makes it creak eerily. I was already feeling anxious but the cries of the metal in the wind and the sight of the playground, normally so full of cheerful little bodies throwing balls, sharing secrets, and living without worries, all of it is gone right now. I am done for the day. 
The bell rang nearly an hour ago permitting the children to run into their mother’s and father’s open arms, waving their art projects about, vying for their parent’s attention and affection. By now they would probably be at home enjoying a warm plate of fish and knäckebröd- crispy rye crackers. Wherever they are, throughout the village, the children and their parents, they do not know what I do. They live with smiles and perfect contentment, never knowing the danger I have brought to their quiet little town. Yes, me, Ana Nelson, the local kindergarten teacher- the innocuous-looking, pale woman with thick blonde braids with a past darker than a winter night.
Today, like every day, I smiled, concealing my anguish, and waved to the other teachers as they mount their bikes and disperse in every direction. They don’t know either. Nobody knows but me and Mikel, the little kaleidoscope I keep in my pocket. 
            I reach my hand deep into the pocket of my heavy coat and produce him. As I wipe some smudges off his side I whisper to him softly “They’ll be coming for us.” Mikel does not respond. “I don’t know who will come first but they will definitely be coming.” And nobody will be safe.
            With one eye squeezed shut I peer into my friend and companion, little Mikel. He was a gift from Mormor, the mother of my mother, who told me it possessed both the deepest and simplest of all magic. In a sense this was not entirely untrue, Mikel, could brighten any day. As I look into the little metal tube, I give it a twist, trying to distract myself from my overwhelming thoughts. The tiny shapes dance around inside. It is beautiful and reminds me of the Northern Lights, but today it gives me no comfort so I set it down beside me on the children’s blue table.
            “I’m sorry, Mikel. This whole mess was my fault and now I’m dragging you into it too.” The wind blows and sends a shiver down my spine. “When I took that research job I thought we were going to Stockholm, maybe even London, or Prague. I had no idea there was even such a thing as aquatic subterranean research facilities.” The wind blows harder. Mikel moves across the table, silent and ignoring me, he even rolls over to face the opposite direction.
            Why were we even there? I thought it was just a tech-company. They are known for the controversial testing but what could be so secretive that the researchers themselves are forbidden from leaving on threat of death? Would they really kill me? Just for leaving?
            “Ignore me all you want, Mikel. When they find us I’ll make sure you end up as scrap metal” I tell the little metal object harshly. What if they come for me during class? When I am with the children? When I am sleeping? When I am in the grocery store? Or in the bathroom? Or doing dishes? Or folding laundry?... What about the people in town? Will they be safe? Oh, God! They don’t even know.

“Perhaps we should just go back.” Mikel shines in agreement. 

April 23, 2014

Beauty & the Beast : A Modern Stockholm Syndrome “Love Story”

Our prompt here was to create a retold version of a classic / fairy tale. Naturally I chose Beauty and the Beast but I wanted to make it a little darker (as if it were a German rather than French story). Belle is deluded and reinterprets some of what (we, the audience - aware of the traditional story, know to be true ... such as the fact that she is not there by choice etc.) 

Beauty and the Beast – A Modern Stockholm Syndrome “Love Story”
“Beast” I called him. For indeed that is what he seemed to me at first. Ghastly, and despicable, but time has healed our tensions. Time has transformed my ability to understand the truth- I made the lonely journey through depression to the softer lands of toleration to a love so passionate and pure the sun itself burns in envy. A love like ours will last unrivaled until the end of time itself.
Master’s home is enormous, as big and grand as something you’d see on TV. When I met my love, I had just lost my job and my lease expired- given the choice between being homeless and living with “Beast”, it seems like a pretty obvious choice. How could I ever decide otherwise? Now that I have come to know him, I never want to leave his side!
Initially I thought he was crazy. I eventually came to realize my master is simply eccentric- a man who carries the troubles of world upon his shoulders and the burdens of an artist in his heart. Beast swore the house was magical. He wanted a muse to help him with his art but only one that could hear the voices, see the colors, feel the magic lingering in the air. Confused, I listened, trying to understand. He told me to go to the wardrobe and pick an outfit- whatever “spoke” to me. I didn't understand but I complied. I began to browse and came across a yellow dress – it was perfect – almost as if it was calling my name – I told him this and he was pleased, he stroked his beard as he always does when he is beaming. “I’d hoped you’d picked that one. The voices, you can hear their magic?” There was no voice, just intuition, but I did not want to disappoint him, my master, and so I lied and said I heard it. He was pleased with me that day and most days after that. It was sometime after that I stopped resisting him – if he asked me to wash his paint brushes for him – I’d do it without complaining. Make coffee, change the sheets, clean the dishes, it does not matter to me so long as he remains satisfied with my work.
There’s rules of course, like his soft leather bound journal with the little roses etched on the cover. I’m not supposed to look at it– his words moved me made me crossed into his world- could see it from his eyes. Once he caught me with it in hand, it would have been hard to deny that I was reading it- I didn't even try. My master’s face grew long with disappointment, as if I had committed some heinous act of treason against him and all he held to be dear. He ran his fingers through his long hair. This was my fault. Master told me not to look at it and I disobeyed him. I did not mean to offend him.
           Truly, there was no singular, defining moment. My change of heart was a gradual process- forgetting all I knew and loved, my Saturday morning runs in the park, the opera, Friday night crochet club– and accepting my new reality with stoic contentment. Of course, being with Master, I managed to escape other horrors of the world- like the relentlessly flirtatious Mr. G. Aston across the hall in 32B, girl scouts, and of course public transportation.  
Slowly, as I watched him day by day, at first looking to escape but later for signs of his affection, I felt the ground slip from beneath me- like a cliff eroding, pebble at a time. The taste of the words I used to insult him, mocking him with “Beast” and “Master”, had changed on my tongue from honey to ash. How could I be so cruel to- overlook his love for me and lash out with hateful words against him? I still use these, he has yet to correct me with a legal name, and insists on calling me “Belle” rather than Isabelle. Still, every time these words flow off my tongue I take caution so as to give it a nature half as noble as he, my loving master. I would like to stay with him here— together for all time.    

April 19, 2014

Life's Disappointments- Another Perspective

This week's prompt was to rewrite one of our old short stories from the perspective of another character. I took into account some of the comments made by classmates in workshop and tried to give Megan a more likable personality. [Somehow everyone thought she was racist ...?] It may be interesting to reread the other version first. -Enjoy!

Life’s Disappointments- Megan’s View

How to Make the Most out of Your Life! A Guided Journey through Self Discovery –Part One Chapter One: Appreciation…  It can be easy to overlook the many things in life which are …

The tin bell rings as the door is shoved open. The middle aged lady slides into a booth. Another customer. My book will have to wait. I look around. What a dump. It was never like this when Harold was alive. My dear husband ran this place beautifully, with the delicate precision of clockwork. I’m trying the best I can but can never seem to get anywhere. I’ve just about had it- between incompetent employees, the coffee machine always in need of repair, the broken dishwasher, and the customers. They have no respect. They never seem to care, spilling their coffee and sugar and crumbs in all corners of the little shop, the teens carving their names into my tables and benches or scratching it into the bathroom mirrors. I underline appreciation. I need to work on that. The clock ticks high up on the wall, it is getting late. My feet are killing me. My knuckles are sore and raw from scrubbing.  
            I stuff my cleaning rag into the deep pocket of my apron. It’s dirty again. My apron. “Can I get you something, honey?” I ask politely. She informs me she’s waiting for someone. I miss that, having someone to come.
My book in one hand, my dingy bleach rag in the other, I return to the counters…
On the page below, write a list of the things you are grateful for… 1) I’m alive 2) I’m not dead 3) I’m not a ginger. 4) … this is tougher than I thought. Perhaps I really do lack appreciation.        
The wretched bell chimes again. When will my day be done?  I swipe the pad and paper off the counter and swiftly shove it into my pocket. I toss the bleach-soaked rag onto the counter in its place but the scent still lingers. It clings to my skin, my clothes, my hair. It just clings.
            The machine is broken and the filters hardly filter, I warn. They ignore me and order coffee anyway. With furrowed brows and a silent tongue I fetch their drinks. The customer is always right. Especially when they aren’t.
            The women are somber and hardly speak, except to one another. Each one mid-thirties, they sit together and talk quietly in a mix of Spanish and English.  I retreat to my little spot behind the counter. Like every day, I just want to read and be alone. The old man does not seem to notice. The late afternoon light shines on his greasy head. He leans in over his half eaten sandwich as he speaks. I nod politely as the grouchy old man mutters something about the weather and everything not being like it used to. “Yeah, I hear ya’,” I force a smile. My eyes immediately find my husband’s picture on the wall. “You’re right. Nothing ever stays the same.” I say with a sigh.
            “No, no, no.” he insists, shaking his head fiercely. “I mean that,” he tilts his head, motioning towards the women, “the immigrants. They’ve changed everything!” he rambles between bites. I turn my back to him and roll my eyes. What an idiot. I can see in the reflection of the toaster that one of the women in the booth has raised her middle finger in response. His face is filled with shock and I must suppress my laughter. With a single motion, he stands, tosses a few wrinkled bills on the counter, and heads for the door. Good riddance.
            After a few hours, the women leave too. I shut the blinds, bolt the door, and flip the sign to Closed. One by one, I shut the lights off until my little spot behind the counter is all that is lit.

Chapter Two- Being Patient … It is important to remain patient with others…  

April 15, 2014

"Life's Disappointments"

I wrote this last week for a creative writing Lit class that I'm taking just for fun. The assignment was "vivid detail". Symbolism, politics, culture, its got a bit of everything - enjoy!  

"Life’s Disappointments"
I spot her immediately- Jackie. Tall and slender with skin like cinnamon and caramel. I was always short and, well, “curvy”. Her hair is almost like I remembered it.  It always reminded me of the night sky—a canvas of black stretching far and wide in every direction with a few twinkling strands of silver. Today, Jackie’s frame was a little thicker, her eyes were lined with exhaustion, her smile was not as big, and she was greyer than I expected. I can only imagine Jackie would think the same of me. It has been years since we’ve seen each other- she looks so different and yet somehow, almost the same. As I fumble to set my purse down, we hug each other awkwardly over the table.
I smell the stench of bleach before I see her. “What do you want? …” the waitress barks, peering down at us over thin reading glasses, with pen and paper in hand. Megan. Her name tag is chipped and barely legible. Like everything else in the diner, she had been worn through the years. How fitting, I thought, this abrasive woman seemed to fit the place well. As I watch Megan, I can’t help but notice that her faded pink dress and stained apron match the walls perfectly.
 “Ma’am!” Megan snaps her fingers at me, interrupting my thoughts, “What’ll it be fo’ you?”
“Uh … Just coffee.” I manage to mumble as the waitress furrows her eyebrows and turns away.
Jackie and I sit in awkward silence as she twists her gold wedding band. She’s silent. Does that mean I’m supposed to start? What am I supposed to say?
“You look great Jackie!” I force a polite smile. “How are you? How’s your sister? And … and …  I’m sorry.  What’s your husband’s name again?”
“Ramon … He wants a divorce.” Jackie blurts out. I came prepared to make excuses about why I’m still alone and my general lack of success in life. I was expecting to hear of her painfully perfect life-certainly not this. 
 “Ten years, three children … and he doesn't even want to try! Ramon just wants a divorce.”
 “What’d you say when he asked?” I gently inquire, before taking a big sip of the gritty bitter shit the diner serves as “coffee”. Jackie peers down into her cup as she rips open two or three little pink packets of sweetener and slowly pours them in. “La verdad – I’d rather us struggle together than be alone… Who the Hell wants to be alone? … He can bring me papers but I won’t sign them. I won’t.”
Her phone lights up as it buzzes on the table. “Mierda, excuse me… Hello?” 
My eyes wander as Jackie softly switches from English to Spanish and back to English again. She does not notice the man sitting at the counter glaring at her, disapproving of her foreign tongue. He mutters to Megan something about immigrants. I decide to share my opinion as well as I lift my hand and diplomatically extend a certain American finger gesture. I don’t know why but I’m glad Jackie does not notice.
I try to listen but she speaks faster than I can mentally translate as she whisper-yells at one of her children on the phone. “Then just wait until your father gets home” she whispers into the phone. Finally, she hangs up. The awkward silence resumes.

A few hours together is all we can manage before we eventually run out of things to say. We hug once more, this time with nothing in between us. We go our separate ways. Jackie returns to her family at home, and I return to my empty apartment. We are both unhappy but are strangely comforted by each other’s misery. At least we’re not alone in that. 

First Post!

Hello & welcome!

As I've recently explained on my other blog I began writing a comic for one of my little brothers as a gift but soon discovered how much I enjoyed it. I've always had an active interest in art but am often shy when it comes to sharing it with others.

I'm trying to break that habit. I once heard it said that it takes 2 people to make art - 1 to craft it, the other to appreciate it and agree that "art" is an appropriate label. Thus far I have been working alone, hording my stories and drawings- but if I am ever to improve I'll need to hear the voices of others. Will you be my other person?