Words Unsaid

I wrote this last year. It is loosely autobiographical: the party happened, but we left immediately and there was no conversation. The thoughts are mine.

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Words Unsaid

I am late. Mother of the year. But when I found out about the preschool Christmas party for parents—and they specifically said “maminky”—it was too late to change my work schedule. So, I am the last mom here. The school is packed, and I don’t like crowds. I feel boxed-in. How long should I stay? Is half an hour enough to be polite? I have chocolate chip cookies. I put them down next to all the intricate Czech Christmas cookies.

Drinking that Coke Zero was a bad idea—caffeine always makes me nervous. So does skipping lunch. The teachers and children have prepared a program for us. All the children come out and line up, singing and playing instruments. Well, except for my kid. She immediately ran off and hid behind me. She doesn’t like crowds either.

I should talk to someone. My Czech is basic, but I don’t like forcing people to speak English with me. Do I look aloof? I’ve been told a few times that I look aloof. I’m not aloof; I’m uptight. I’d really prefer to talk to one of the teachers, but they’re swamped. The mom in the red shirt looks friendly; maybe I should go talk to her.

I say dobrý den and introduce myself. I was right; she is friendly.

“This party is nice,” I continue. “They decorated well.” You doofus! Couldn’t you think of anything better to say?

“Yes, they did,” Red Shirt (Crap; I forgot her name already!) answers. “Is this your daughter?”

“Yes, this is Arvaneh.” I don’t know why I gave her a name that’s so difficult for Czechs.

It takes Red Shirt a few tries to get it right.

“And is that your son?” Call me Captain Obvious.

“Yes, this is Honza.”

“He looks like he’s having a good time. Does he like this school?”

“Yes, he’s made a lot of friends here. Does your daughter like it?”

“Yes, she does.” She is very reserved like me and hasn’t made any friends yet. I don’t know how to help her.

I decide to change the subject. Dale Carnegie says people love talking about themselves. “So, are you from here in Prague?”

“No, I was born in Moravia, but I came here for school and stayed because I found a job. Do you like Prague?”

“Yes, I like it a lot, but I get homesick. Especially in the winter!” I smile. This is true. But I also feel a lack of sensitivity here. But maybe that’s all big cities. Maybe it’s just everywhere now. And I’m afraid of going home in today’s socio-political climate, and where is “home?”

“What do you do here?” Red Shirt asks.

“I’m an English teacher now, but I’m trying to change careers—to some form of writing or editing.” I’m getting closer to 40 but still don’t feel like a real adult. You look like you have the adulting thing down, and you’re probably younger than me.

I don’t really want to talk about myself. “What do you do?” Probably an office job, surely something stable.

“I work at Raiffeisen Bank.” Bingo!

“And do you have other children?” I ask. I’m sure you’re a much better mom than me. You seem “grounded.”

“Yes, I have another boy; he’s seven years old now. Do you have any more?”

“No, just Arvaneh.” Even with just one, I’m afraid of screwing up. I don’t know much about kids. I had no experience with them before. All I have to offer her is love, and it’s not enough. I couldn’t even get her to take a bath last night and she watched Masha and the Bear for way too long, and I let her do it because I like hearing her laugh.

“So, what does Honza like to do?” I’m running out of things to ask. How long have we been talking?

“Oh, he’s into cars. And buses, planes, fire trucks, tractors. Typical boy stuff.” Oh really?

“Arvaneh likes tractors too. And animals. Do you like the Museum of Agriculture?” I lurk on their page looking for free events.

“We’ve only been once. But he sits on the tractors when we visit my parents in the country. He likes animals too; we have a dog.”

“Oh, what kind?”

Red Shirt mentions the name of a dog breed I don’t recognize and asks if we have any pets.

“No. I’d like to have a cat someday, but we can’t now. I’ve always had cats.” I pause. “Those cookies look good,” I say, and proceed to take a few for my plate. “Which ones did you make?”

“I made these.” She points to the Linzer cookies.

“Oh. They look pretty.” I can’t pinpoint the exact difference, but the ones I had in Germany were better. I never eat the Czech ones.

“Do you bake Christmas cookies?” she asks.

I prefer American sweets. ”No, I usually make a gingerbread cake for Christmas. Or pumpkin pie.”

“Pumpkin pie? What’s in it?”

“Well, it’s usually made with pumpkin puree—I use the Hokkaidos—sugar, eggs, milk, and lots of spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and clove.” Actually, my recipe is vegan, but I’m not going to tell you that because you will think I’m being pretentious or condescending. “And we serve it with whipped cream.” I use the spray can. I know how silly it sounds to use that stuff on a vegan pie, but I really can’t be bothered to make coconut whipped cream. The minute they put coconut cream in a spray can, I’m on it!

“Sounds interesting. I only use pumpkin for soup.”

I smile and nod. Your lipstick is perfect. I wonder if that color would look good on me. I’ll look for it at DM next time.

”Oh, I’d like to talk to Arvaneh’s teacher while I’m here. It was nice meeting you!” You’re a nice person, but I’m out of things to say.

“You too, have a nice Christmas!”

Between my broken Czech and the teacher’s broken English, we manage to have a conversation. I kill enough time that I feel comfortable saying a general na shledanou and leaving. The nervous energy has built up inside me and the walk home will do me good. If my daughter wasn’t with me, I would run. But I’m glad I went. Those people are nice—it’s me that’s the problem.

 

Photo courtesy of RitaE on Pixabay
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The Familiars (excerpt)

Again, I’ve been neglecting my own work due to ghostwriting projects. I am working on a braided essay of my own, but I will want to pitch that somewhere when it’s finished. Here is an excerpt from a piece I might do more with in the future.

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The Familiars (excerpt)

The most intriguing room of the house for Mina and me was the attic, with its ramshackle, gabled ceiling, its lead window, round like a porthole, its hoard of treasures enticing us from within square, rectangular, and round boxes and lurking, ghostlike, under once-white, moth-eaten sheets. As we opened box after box, dust specks sparkled like tiny bits of silver in the light from the window. It coated our bodies and heads, even our tongues, like stale icing sugar, and caused explosions of sneezes that startled moths out from the crevices.

We found a rough, wooden box packed with gold, silver, and bronze coins with unfamiliar engravings, some of them even with holes in the middle, flaking letters written in strange characters, stiff, ruffled dresses, capes, and men’s vests, all black, some of them moldy and some in pristine condition, brittle marionettes, the strings long ago eaten by mice, blue and green glass bottles that smelled a bit like licorice, and a cold, steel revolver.

And then we spied the chest, ensconced in the corner. It was golden and ruby-red, shining, untouched by the dust that blanketed everything else. A faint, almost imperceptible, hum tickled our ears and drew us into its orbit. The clasp gave me an electric shock as I touched it and I jumped back. Then Mina reached for it and, after some forcing, managed to snap it open. The lid of the chest sprang back on its own. Mina and I hovered over the open chest, our breath merging with the now-clearer hum.

Inside rested a bee. Its body looked like an emerald and was the size of a lemon. Its legs and antennae were black glass. Its wings were miniature stained-glass windows. “So beautiful,” Mina whispered, and her hand drifted over it and touched its head. It burst like a confetti popper into hundreds of live bees, which escaped between her fingers, over our heads, and out the door. Mina and I exchanged a glance—I think I screamed—and we rushed through the door after them, nearly tripping each other on the threshold.

From the Ashes

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From the Ashes (excerpt from my short story)

Zora felt the hot pressure flood behind her eyes again and willed the images away. The taxi would arrive soon and there was no time to redo her makeup.

The sound of a news broadcast caught Zora’s attention as she waited in the lobby. “His life is pretty well ruined.” The TV screen displayed the curly-headed and chinless face of Brock Turner, round eyes staring blankly into the camera. “Those who say, ‘Oh, he’s not really being punished,’ it seems to me, are missing the point.” Zora frowned and dug her short fingernails into the underside of her arm and shuddered as the action awoke a stray memory of other fingers clutching that same arm. A flash of yellow from outside pulled her back and she hurried out the door.

As the taxi crawled through the traffic toward Midtown Atlanta, Zora gazed out the windows, taking in her surroundings. She filed each image away like a keepsake in her mind, inwardly preparing answers to questions no one would care enough to ask her. Zora saw glossy-leafed magnolias in full bloom, the silver of ultra-modern condominiums, banks, and hotels, red stone churches, a wall plastered with concert posters – one of them depicting a woman in chains…

Zora willed herself to stay focused, and looked out the other window. “I’ll see you later tonight,” she whispered to herself as the car glided past the Fox theatre.

Cut and Dried

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Cut and Dried (excerpt from the beginning)

I opened my body to the sun one morning. Warm, emerald life pulsed through me and the morning dew dried on my skin. In our birthplace, we are cared for every day. Humans in hats make sure we have enough water and that there are no green insects devouring our flesh. My only worry is that I often hear sharp cries as our comrades down the line are severed and taken. This cold, silver “snip” invades my dreams at night, shivering me until the sun caresses me awake.

I am told that we’re often portrayed as the paramours of nightingales, but I have never seen one. The only birds that come here are pigeons and they, no devotees of beauty, ignore us. The bee is a much more likely candidate, although he doesn’t sing well. Bees are pleasant company and gentle as they take what they need, but afterward they just fly off, tipsy, buzzing their goodbyes as they return to their queen.

Greener

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Excerpt from the short story, Greener:

Hearing a rustling sound to his left, Callum turned. Then he saw the heron. A green heron. They were notoriously difficult to see in the wild. The heron stared through him with knowing eyes, and Callum knew that something was wrong. He came closer, and the bird let him run his hands over his feathers. Callum found the break – in the radius bone of the wing, and not serious. The bird would make a quick recovery. Callum would take him home. He should take the bird to Crow, the nearby wildlife hospital where he sometimes volunteered, but he would take it home.

He gently lifted the bird and settled him in the basket of his bicycle, covering him with a jacket. Would he stay that way? He would. It was probably illegal. No; scratch “probably” – he was sure it was illegal. But, Callum told himself, it was temporary and he knew what he was doing. And the bird wanted to go with him; he was sure of that. But why did he have such an overwhelming urge to treat the bird himself? Callum tried as hard as he could to avoid any uneven pavement on the way home. Back at the house, he found a wide but shallow box, set it on the table, which he pushed into the corner, added an old flannel sheet and some pieces of bark, and placed the heron inside. After digging out his first aid kit, Callum bound the bird’s wing.

Dinner. It wasn’t a question, but a command. Callum needed to buy fish, something he didn’t keep handy. He had been a vegetarian since the manifestation of his gift, and he had terrible nightmares if he ate meat or fish, even by accident. The heron looked comfortable enough, so Callum left to stock up on groceries. The bird ate a few sardines as Callum ate leftover pasta, his chin on his hand as he contemplated his houseguest. The phone rang just as he finished.

 

* Photo courtesy of E.J. Peiker, http://www.ejphoto.com/green_heron_page.htm

A Dryad’s Lament

I wrote this piece for our local writing group; the exercise was to come up with the last line, and then write the rest. The speaker is the figure in Max Ernst’s painting, The Eye of Silence.

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A Dryad’s Lament

I came from the dense, verdant shelter of the wood. To taste the open air, and to wait for you. We were to meet on the big rock by the lake, the one that was flat and the perfect size for two people to bask on. All around was green. Not the rich, majestic green of the wood, but a happy, hopeful, light-hearted hue. It was early spring, and the tulips were just blooming, waving their heavy heads in the breeze. Blue and orange butterflies fluttered lazily as if they had more than a mere half a heartbeat to do so. The sun kissed and warmed my skin. I could see my reflection in the water and was pleased at what I saw: lithe limbs, fresh, smooth face, generous lips, dreaming eyes. Such a romantic day; pity you were late. No matter; I had all the time and beauty in the world. A light breeze made the grass whisper words of love, life, and eternity. The sun and sweet air made my eyes grow heavy…

I’m not sure how long I slept. My first thoughts on waking were of your face, and then my dear trees. Do they miss my touch, my presence alongside them? Do you long for me beside you? But I soon realized I was not alone – there was activity near the water’s edge, across the lake. The clang of fine hammers onto luminescent stone. The scrape of chisels as supple, delicate forms were carved into it. I recognized the artists: tall, willowy men and women with long hair, worn flowing or braided. Their clothes were brown, green, or golden and their features angular and symmetrical. They often sojourn in the woods with us. They are kind to me and this place is interesting. I will wait a bit longer.

The days have grown longer and suffocating. Spring has been eclipsed by an unusually arid summer. The sun beats upon me without mercy and I long for the cooling embrace of the trees. The butterflies are gone and the flowers have shriveled up, and so has the grass. The elves have long since finished their temple and returned to the fuller refuge of the wood. I should follow them, but surely you will come to me now.

One day I found that our beloved lake had dried up and become a cave. That’s when the others came. They came with their dampness and their scaliness and their eerie, stoic near-muteness. They came out from the steaming foulness of the cave, out from the layers of decomposing, unfortunate beings who could not make the transition. They came out stinking of algae and decay. They came out to survive, to build a new life next to their old one. They are awful and grotesque. Some have the heads and hooves of horses, and I was alarmed to see them shift their forms at will, walking on four hooves and then two, having the upper bodies of terrible men. While in this form, they are strangely handsome, but in an evil and villainous way. Others look like great, poison-green serpents with four scaly legs. Others are humanoid, web-footed, blue-grey beings with long, grim faces. I was terrified at first, but they seem to think I am part of the terrain, and they take no notice of me. I dare not move.

They are also builders, but what a difference! The elves’ building is radiant, graceful, green-gold, living, and airy. These creatures have brought rotten-looking materials from the stinking cave. Even the bones of dead water-creatures were not left to rest in peace. Everything is covered with mud and algae. They hammer furiously, splattering filth onto the neighboring temple walls and defacing them. Algae is growing and spreading on the beautiful, glowing stone.

The landscape was transformed before my eyes. As the walls of the water-creatures went up, the shapes of the first temple shifted like quicksand.

Then the eyes appeared. Eyes, eyes on all sides! Watching. Watching me. Watching the creatures. Watching each other. Glowing green-gold eyes watching algae-covered ones and algae-covered eyes watching glowing, green-gold ones. Faces emerged beneath them. Noble faces on one side; twisted ones on the other. Ominous, threatening. I dread what will come. I want to escape, but I cannot.

Most terrifying of all is the snake. The snake is inspecting me with its calculating, icy gaze. Staring, waiting, hungering, silently menacing. I cannot move. The blood is chilled to ice in my veins; my body becoming one with the faithless rock.

My love, why didn’t you come? Why don’t you come?

I cannot escape. I cannot run. I cannot move.

I will wait here for you until the end of time.