Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Season

I dream of a white Christmas. Snow covered streets send chilled whispers through each flake.

I live near the beach where Christmas is as blue and expansive as the rest of the year. The sets come up near the shore, drawing smiles out of glassy folds in the water. Surfers slash it open, leaving behind foamy scars that recedes into the sun.

I fold myself between white sheets like I was a packet that can be sent away.  I can't read the message inside, but it feels like a tear that goes on and on.

Sirens blare into the twilight. My friends look at me with sad eyes, tired from traveling. We ride the roller coasters together, our tickets stamped with: single, unlimited rides. We try to sip on our tea, but it spills as soon as we press close. The train puffs white smoke and blue dust unto its gray tracks. We get ready for photos.

Our Christmas cards cross paths but departs before a meeting is possible. Soon there will be a new year, and another set of seasons, dreams, waves, rides and unfolding white sheets.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Dystopian

Nov 8. It is beginning to feel a lot like I am living in the middle of a dystopian novel.

The catalyst and plot twists are looking all too familiar. I don't want to read it, let alone live it. The book hides its covers and refuses to be put away. I traverse the lines with my own feet and brace myself for the next pages.

They are written. We can smell the ink, see the blurry cloud of black words bleeding out like a river breaching into beds of white rocks.

Too tiny to see ahead, no matter how long we try to stretch our necks.

We know the good news. Eventually will be a resolution of sort, then a lesson. The bad news is that those living in the midst may not survive the conflicts. We are due for this, many say. Though the word due implies too much to think about now. Our feet bump against those rocks, white as snow.

So I pray, that it will be a very short short story. Flash fiction. Mini-word play.

A single tweet. And hide those access buttons.


Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Three Beautiful Things

* * * Going out to breakfast on a weekday.

The bagel joint is not quite awake. The muscular bald man who punches the keys on his point of sales system gives out a motorbike riding, leather boots wearing but friendly nonetheless uncle Jimmy vibe. He gets the order wrong three times and cusses in between takes. I wait patiently. We are so early this is amusing rather than frustrating. He sees the smirk on my face and waves me away.

Please take a seat and we will get it out to you soon.

Somehow he can act frustrated with himself and the register without making me feel bad. It's a gift of sort. We get our orders sooner than expected. More people file in as we wait--long haired high school girls glued to their phones. Dads whose wallets bulge from the back pockets of their jeans. The older crowd hasn't arrived yet. They know to wait out the morning rush by settling into Thai Chi poses somewhere near the greens, behind the home plate at the nearest community park.


* * * Curly hair

He was born with baby hair so tawny and fine it curled  up at the ends, a bit Shirley Temple like. Then he became a toddler, and his hair straightened out, though still soft. Too soft to curl, it seemed at the time.

- Did I really have curly hair when I was a baby? He'd ask me on the way home from preschool.
- Yes. Your hair was longer then. It's too short to curl up now, perhaps.
- Then I want to grow my hair out so it can curl again.
- Maybe.

It was only a mild case of intellectual curiosity. I figured. We never did let it grow. Little league, cub scout, violin recitals. Many more things demanded our attention, and time. He never mentioned it again, not one to fuss about his appearance.

He is fifteen suddenly. One day I looked up, his head now somewhere above mine. His hair has grown darker, longer. It has been six weeks since his last hair cut. Tendrils have grown past his ears, reached down his neck and are touching down to his eyebrows in gentle, curling waves.

- Your hair is curly now.
- Yes.
- Do you remember...?
- Yes.
- Oh.

He still spends no time on his appearance. No time in front of the mirror other than putting on or taking off his contacts. I reach out on my tiptoe and touch his hair. Surprised.

It's still soft.


* * * Candles on my desk

There are pots of candles on my desk. They are thick and white pillars set inside flower pots. When they are lit, it looks like I have orange and red flames growing among my piles of electronics. Contained. For now.

I love to buy orchids from the supermarket when I spot them. Weeks after in fact. They are lovely, tendrils too weak to carry the heads of flowers so they get propped up by a green floral stick, clipped with a tiny hair clamp. I like the white ones, for they remind me of clouds. Of Beijing. For some reason I know once but can no longer remember.

The orchids never survive for more than a week or two, unaccustomed to the sharp changes in temperature, moisture level and erratic watering routine. I bury them away but save the pots. Then I place my candles in them, and watch the warmth kiss the raw clay surface inside, until it too, glows.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Fiction: Black Soot

I cover them in my prayers. But it's no use. She insists on ruining everything.

Not everything is her fault.

I was never much of a mother, except when she was an infant. I washed her every day, fed her until she was white and fat--a symbol of success way back then, where we came from. The water always turned gray, black, as if she had spent the day inside a coal mine. Those winters. We might as well rolled around in coal. Beijing. It felt like another time, another world.

He used to beat me at night. When all was asleep. But I knew she could hear it. She never stirred, so I could tell she was pretending. Deep sleep like that wasn't a thing she knew. Her lashes pressed too tight against her eyelids. Her breath held for too long.

I'd tremble, bleed and beg him to stop. But nothing worked. He needed the release and I was his punching bag. As soon as he heard the sounds of my bones crunching against the ridges of his fist, his face would soften, crumble. Tears, apologies. Then we sleep. I'd hear her sigh, a long choppy exhale like how babies sobbed through their sleeps.  It'd grind on my chest, like some sort of a rock. Ridiculous. The sound of one breath.

She'd get sick. So often I lose track of the times she was well, so far and few in between fevers, coughs and sleepless nights. He'd hover over her, wash towels, treats, boiled pears cooked slowly in rock sugar to sooth her bronchi. Eyes so tender it broke me, lit me up from the inside with rage. I'd yank her up as she worked up another sleepy cough and told her to sit up for the rest of the night, pounding on her back. That would stop you from coughing. I shouted. It wasn't me. I didn't recognize that woman who shouted at her own sick kid.

Yan would leave the room, riding his bicycle around town for hours, hunting for cures. He came back one morning, having been gone all night, holding a white paper square. Inside were ground up powders of deer antlers. A thimbleful.

I cried. I didn't know how he got them. How much it cost. But I could guess--a fortune. Everyone knew they cured coughs and strengthened even the weakest lungs, bronchi.  He wore a white bandage on his arm, and a blue sheen over his face. Did you sell your blood? Or liver?  I asked him, fire in my eyes, though I couldn't stop crying.

He waved me away and began boiling the powder with other herbs. I prayed it would cure her, or kill her. I hadn't slept for a month, spending days making shoes for others, nights with him, and her. One who beat me, one whom I'd love to beat. But the stale air soaked with boiling herbs and coal fire and our recycled breath stifled me, pressed on my mind and my hands. I could only move in a predetermined pattern my own mother had taught me. Cook, clean, care for the young. I had seven younger siblings. I'd carried six on my back, one at a time, while Mother worked in the field, swept around the house, taught me how to cook and locked up on the bed with Father.

Why am I thinking about all these? She's the one ruining things, not me. But I have my part, I guess. That's why.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Long Black

The cowboy sauntered into the coffee joint, sporting an Aussie accent. He wore his hat askew, his shirt sleeves high on his elbows.

"A long black please?"

The teen girl behind the counter had dance in her movements, the bounce of her flaxen hair. She giggled on hearing the request, and seeing the man in black leaning against the counter, his smile crooked. She held up a mug high next to her chin so the cowboy could see it.

"Like this? Coffee inside?"

She giggled again. The cowboy's face turned red. He nodded quickly, shifting his weight and turning around to check out the room while the girl filled the mug with coffee.

A woman stood behind him and watched the exchange, her eyes curious. She smiled at him.

"Guess I'm making a fool of myself here." He bowed forward slightly and touched his hat again.

The woman chuckled. She took a little bow herself and said, "no more than any other long blackers out here." She swept a finger across the room and gave him a wink.

The cowboy grew more red. He swept his chin with his palm. "Sorry to have offended you like that."

"No. I'm sorry. I couldn't help it. You didn't say anything wrong... but it sounded funny."

"You must think I'm a circuit freak." He took the coffee from the counter and tossed a few notes to the still giggling girl. She flipped strands of her long locks before clinking open the register and putting away the money. As the cowboy turned around, she waved a milky white hand toward him and said, "By-e... come back again soon, for long blacks...and more."

The cowboy bowed his head and walked out with two red ears, hunched shoulders and a bounce in his steps.

The woman stepped up to the counter and pointed to his departing silhouette and said, "I will have what he is having."

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Inside Out

The heat of summer days has a way of turning everything inside out. Another fire has erupted in South LA, charring through bushes brittled by desert droughts. We are still far from needing to worry, about an actual fire, that is. Our pavement looks parched, lit, in fact, by boundless rays of white flames floating between its bone-dry surface and the cloudless skies.

It hurts my eyes to look.

The beach carries a high tide and the last of the summer crowds. A good number of schools have reopened for fall, reclaiming those families from the sand. The swells are adolescent small, but the ocean is glassy. I run on the wet sand, passing groups of surf-camper kids too young to fall into the clutches of schools. Their moms watch from the pier above, face tied into knots. A group of surfers pass me dripping salt and sand, surf board leashes. A bald man in a low camp chair hugs a professional camera between his legs, its long range lens pointed at me.

I wave.

News would reveal later that the US swimmers may have lied about being robbed in Rio, Brazil at gunpoint to cover up a bathroom incident. It reminds me of searching for bathrooms on New Year's eve in that tight little square in Hong Kong, while waiting for the ball to drop, the countdown to begin. Mike had been drinking as we walked along the crowded sidewalks, listening to the sounds of celebration and felt at peace for being by ourselves, strange for being in a country where one's allowed to drink on the sidewalk. The evening hadn't resulted in anything but fireworks for us. The bathroom lines had been ridiculous, impossible. But Mike found a way in and I had spent the evening dry in anticipation of such problems. Less lucky for those swimmers, being pulled off the plane and spending the night in a Brazilian police station doesn't seem like their idea of fun.

Mike had also been robbed in Rio after returning alone from a party. He was doing a six month study aboard program there. He moved back after the incident, ending the program midway.

There is a lot I don't know about Brazil, the world or myself. It is impossible to find a mirror that can shine the light on one's inside. And for something that much bigger than yourself you simply lose perspective in the same way that is still different--an ant crawling through the forest trail can't see or anticipate dapples of sunlight filtering through the canopy. It is a mystery to him or her when light changes from dark to light and back again. It has no choice but to plow forward and continue its path, hauling weight much too heavy for its body and size, yet somehow not its capability.

I reel against these thoughts as I uncap my pen and set about to write. About what? I can't say. The next chapter has no title. The only truth I know is what I can see, the small patch of light, or shadow set onto my narrow and determined path.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Home and Away

It usually takes being away for me to appreciate the sweetness of home. As I have grown older, the shorter and nearer bouts of such away-ness have brought on equal (if not stronger) sense of homeliness in me. The things that normally annoy me about that good-ol' home, the snorting bunny, the squishy old couch, the oddly placed piano, the forever humming fridge... all take on a new voice. It says, welcome home, sweetheart! It says so in the voice of a calm and patient friend, a throaty lover, a cat you've had for so long that you tend to forget her aloof presence except on those days you stayed home sick and she curled up next to you, lowering your stress and fever with her quiet purring, and her warm, soft fur brushing against your clammy skin.

I returned from an overnight party this afternoon, agitated to go out again after a proper shower and a change into something comfortable. The neighborhood coffeehouse gave me the last of its brew on clearance before closing its doors. So I sat outside in a common area tucked away between two buildings. The management of this urban strip mall had stepped up in the last few years, upgrading it with new storefronts, outdoor seating and water fountains. On one of the newer outdoor couch I noticed a shopping cart parked in a corner, piled high with homeless essentials: backpack, empty bottles, shopping bags stuffed with unseen objects. The lady sleeping next to it was dressed in clean shirt and pants. Her summer hat looked crooked around the edges but also stylish in a way. She covered her face with one arm but I could see her snowy hair and weather lined face. She looked Asian in some ways, like one of those grandmas who had came across the ocean to visit her child and grandchildren. They pushed strollers around the park in the afternoons and did Tai Chi there in the morning. Occasionally you'd see them gather around the stone benches next to the park playground in a pot-luck party, chattering in languages that sounded familiar yet not quite understood.

This woman was alone. Perhaps because of this she seemed to resemble all yet no one ethnicity in particular. I wanted to ask if she needed help, yet she slept soundly, feet propped up on the wooden handle and arms blocking her eyes so I couldn't see whether she was really sleeping or simply tired. I set down with my books and my drink, deciding not to intervene. A few mall workers came by a few minutes later, making a racket with their trash emptying and leaf blowing. When I looked up again the lady had gotten up, grabbing an empty bottle from a neighboring table with the type of slow walk reminiscent of a recovering stroke patient. I tried to walk up to her but the cleaning crew blocked my way, their arms strategically stretched out in front of me wherever I turned as if to keep me from bodily harm. Their equipment covered my voice, and the whole thing seemed a bit fruitless and absurd in the end when I gave up. She wobbled away with her shopping cart towards the back of buildings where no shoppers typically went, her floppy brimmed hat and her polyester mint green pants flapping gently with each step. From this angle, her clothes seemed to be from a thrift store or a discarded donation pile left on the curb on trash days. She disappeared around the bend surprisingly quickly, as when I finally freed myself from the maze of workers stepping all around me I couldn't find her trace. Nothing remained between the white stucco walls of the buildings, and the now clean concrete patio floors, empty outdoor furniture. The whole scene of her being next to me, close enough for a conversation, a touch, had vanished like a dream. When I questioned the workers about her whereabouts, they shook their heads and shrugged their shoulders the way my son did whenever I asked him about missed homework, lost jacket after field trips. 

I lingered in the mall for another half an hour, eating a quick dinner that seemed exorbitantly expensive at $11. After that the evening out crowd rushed into the restaurant, surrounding my table with the kind of loud chatter you only find in American restaurants. It was still early, the summer sun high overhead, so I kept my sunglasses on and read quietly until the tide of crowds finally irritated my server, and he asked me for the 3rd time whether there was anything further he could help me. Quickly I paid and left the hubbub of this rich, clean and classy world with free flowing wine and grass fed sirloin burgers piled high next to wild caught Alaskan shrimp bowls.

Home, quiet, unassuming in its worn edges and patient with my ceaseless washing of the old sofa covers, was extra sweet after that. I sighed and cooed into my floppy cushions and ten-year-old blankets. Memories of the homeless lady lingering in the back of my mind like a negative image, fainting into a recess but ready for a special kind of light, to bring it to exposure.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Heat and Pray

When this familiar wave of summer heat arrives, I pray for rain, knowing the chance of an answer is slim. Still I pray at the dawn of each morning, when gray light shifts into the color of fish bellies, before the even brighter shade of sunlit blue blasts into view--all hope is lost. Here in the southern tip of the country, it can feel like we bath in the midst of a hot tongue, the golden center of flames where fire burns at its hottest. Though this is just how a spoiled child talks--someone who has grown so used to blue skies and golden sunshine she has developed a blase attitude towards both. I know in many places things can get worse, hotter, stuffier (even when you go outside there is not the least hint of a breeze like we often get here, nearer to the ocean) and more crowded in so many ways.

Still I dreamt of rain and dark forests and a chill that allows a tighter pull on the covers, until it buries your chin and feeling the official comfort of a proper snuggle. In this dream I also met coworkers with whom I haven't spoken for years so I no longer remembered the angst I felt when I worked with him or her daily. We sipped tea and commented on rain in a way that seemed both realistic yet unfamiliar, tangible yet out of this world. We each carried a backpack and walked around gates that seemed infinite, in and out, around and around, we searched for some elusive tables where we could sign up, register and check off our names so we could move towards the next item in the agenda. Yet the table never appeared so we took breaks and found ourselves instead, a version we'd never met before. It was green all around, cold, soothing. Until it wasn't. A white room appeared for some time. Then again it was no more.

I knew not it was a dream until I woke up so I experienced emotions whose names I can no longer remember but I sense a lingering sweetness in having had the experience.

In the dream we wore the rosy veil of time, like the song says. Or perhaps that too was about something else (La Vie En Rose). But somehow the dream air glossed over faults and rough edges and differences in opinions. The longing to roll back in time became almost unbearable, the rush to win all those dusty trophies we can no longer find in our attics had been so ruthless and singular minded then.

Perhaps there is something else to seek when the morning light finally appeared, gray and white then blue before the golden flames of heat took over. The moment of stillness in the cool gray dawn lasts forever, in how it comes around and around again, for as long as we seek it and see it and remain awake for it, each day. That is something to celebrate, a reason to bear and pray, through the heat.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Fiction: WCKid -- Night

I drank all night.

After three big glasses my feet became numb but happy. Then the happy numb feeling crawled up my legs, torso. It couldn't go much further than that, on account of the hole in my chest--not an actual hole but what felt like one. Gaping, tearing, pressing.

I tired but couldn't cry. The sweetness of that simple release refuted me. Something in me clung to the pain that cut at my chest. It felt like a heart attack. Worse. The pain kept going without making me sick, lose consciousness. Vicious.

Rachel called around seven and asked about summer plans. It had been a year since we talked so I had trouble telling her voice at first. She had moved away three years ago to get treatment for some rare disease and nurse other wounds she couldn't really talk about at the time. I slurred in my words but we managed to catch up and make some promising summer visiting plans. Her voice sounded like mercury, slow, smooth and calm, stilling me through the shakes that was beginning to charge through me in waves. After half an hour, her break time was over and she had to go. I let myself sink slowly back into the aching knowledge of the hole. The teeth that seemed to tear at its edges.

My bottle had turned empty, the last drop burning down my throat before Rachel's call. The night air thickened when the neighbors fired up their grills and their dutiful kids practiced their pianos. A chirp or a bark here and there diluting the sound of traffic from a distant road. Sweet evening sounds, like a symphony, for which I was but an audience. I listened with hunger, absorbed in its warmth, palpable yet far from my touch.

Ned the neighborhood event organizator eventually swing by to ask why I had left the party so quickly. I claimed a headache.

"Headache? You don't sound sick... are you having a party here without us?" He handed me a pizza box, eyes full of mockery.

"Not sick, just a little dizzy from seeing so many neighbors at the same time. I'm a loner. Thanks for the pizza though." I caught the box and lifted it an inch to his direction in a half-ass attempt of a salutation.

"No problem. We are neighbors. Like family." He winked, patting my legs and leaving his hands on my thigh. I wore a long skirt. The fabric didn't hold up to the heat emitting from his hand, spreading and thinning until it felt like nothing sat between his skin and mine. I felt all the liquor swishing in my head, making sharp noises no one but I could hear. I saw blue and black squares tangled up with the fading sun, or a memory of it, like blood around the edges of a darkening lake, swimming and sloshing in front of my eyes. Ned's hand felt closer and the noise grew louder, the shapes moved faster. I gave him a desperate look, staring hard at the gold wedding band on his other hand. I had seen the way he walked around the complex with his wife, his hand on her waist, occasionally slipping down a few inches and squeeze into her sari hugged curves. I stared hard at his ring, and imagining the two of them walking, imagining his wife looking up at me with her large eyes framed in dark charcoal. She had a lovely round face with a red dot between lush eyebrows. They called it the third eye at the Yoga World.

I stayed still like that for what felt like an hour, meditating on Ned's presence outside of my apartment and his wife staring down at him. Finally he shook his head and said, "well, it's late." Then he gave a small wave and shoved off.

I stared out my window, my back in a thin film of cold sweat, soothed by the singularity of night colors. Black tree limbs. Dark sky. Then the wind blew and the moon rose up and swam through currents of clouds, winking playful winks at me. It was full. That might have accounted for all the craziness. I had thought Michael cared a wink, not like the others. He dropped off items on my porch since that time we watched a movie together and... almost kissed. But even before I hurt my legs, I couldn't claim to have known how these things worked. It could have all been in my head, pure imagination. 

When I blinked again the moon hid and for a long while I couldn't see its face. The wind was high so the cloud thinned like skimmed milk dissolving into water. Still it hung around like a veil.  Sounds recede so suddenly it reminded me of horror scenes from low budget films. Then my ears adjusted and tuned into the quieter music of the night. Insects buzzing, moon light splashing against shiny palm fond, traffic from a road not too far away but muffled by several community walls. They faded too, over time, leaving me alone with my thoughts, wondering whose windows may still be open, like mine.

I stuffed up my ears when the sound of Michael and his woman smacking lips and moaning pushed through the quiet evening air.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Fiction: The Wheel Chair Kid -- Wall

There is a wall that separates us, Michael and I.

It all started at the party. The community gathered at the pool, acting neighborly. Kids slapped the concrete with their wet feet, leaving behind dark footprints disappearing under the hot sun. No barbecue. A stack of pizza boxes from Costco littered table tops next to bottles of Cola. Women perched on the edges of lounge chairs chatting to each other, their swimsuits in various stages of revelation under summer dresses or skimpy cover-ups.

Michael was sitting by the Jacuzzi, his hair wet, feet dangling in the swirling water. I wheeled up to him and opened my mouth to say hi, except a woman had appeared out of nowhere and wrapped her arms around his neck.

She was young, firm and spotless. Dark hair in perfect streams of curls, breasts squeezed into two perfect half dooms by the spandex of her suit, eyes sparkling blue. Somehow all the splashing from the pool, pizza grease and flowing soda cups never touched her or nary left a mark on her. She pouted before she spoke. "Honey, how long are we going to stay here? The sun is giving me a headache. Let's go get some ice cream at that new store in the plaza..."

She swung her arms so Michael swung with her, the two of them in a sort of dizzying dance. My stomach squeezed itself hard, and I wheeled my chair around.

"Charlotte!" Michael called from behind me. I looked over my shoulders, the woman pressed a palm against the far side of his face--the side leaning towards in his call--and pulled it toward her. She leaned forward so the top of her high breasts came dangerously close to Michael's down turned chin.

I wheeled away.

The sun bore down at me, noisy in its brightness. It always reminded me of the cicadas from when I was little, and how my brother Tom and his buddy Luke used to chase it away with long bamboo sticks. That was summer for me. Bright light, dark shiny leaves sleeked in oil from various insects. Boys running around in ill-fitting shorts. Me looking up and leaning back until the top of my head touched my back. Our arms and legs were always so spindly they didn't look strong enough to carry our bodies until we jumped into the pool--a community mud pond--and swam like our lives depended on it, splashing to cool the burn from running bare feet, 100-meter-dash-style from the changing room to the water's edge. I never felt like I could run then, my legs threatened to buckle with each step I took, yet I always made it, unaware of the bliss that I carried in them.

Michael's steps didn't follow and I was relieved. We are all better off this way. I have a nice bottle waiting under the bed for me. Behind solid white walls. At home.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Spring Dandelion Clouds

Spring arrives in different colors here and there. Here it's still so cold at night that I squeeze myself under the covers and slam my windows shut. Frost appeared one morning. My rose wore it like dried up tears on a child's face. My neighbors stayed quiet until night came on when the sounds of their TV barged into my bedroom, uninvited.

Later in the month I went to see an old pair of friends from Germany. They arrived from Berlin three months ago and we met on a 'like sunshine, like rain' kind of afternoon. The chic downtown loft style cafe featured chrome tables and spindly chairs, sleek long bar counters and monochromatic gray color schemes. The expense of the space, the three window walls and the exposed ceiling pipes gave one the feeling of stepping onto the runway of a funk fashion show, or perhaps a particularly well lit rock concert.

Jen and Tom took turn to squeeze me tight in their arms. It made me feel small, like a child again. We ordered drinks, wine for me, beer for them.

"How is D-town so far?" I played the native and inquired them about my city.

"It is so warm here!"  They exclaimed.  Tom was born in Norway but studied in Berlin, where he met Jen. They both looked Nordic enough, blond, eyes the color of lakes swimming with curiosity and candor.

"Sure." I concurred. To them this was warmth. Cold rain drizzling and slicking over the road with leaked engine oil notwithstanding, it still beat snow and ice and blistering wind.

"But I miss Berlin."  Jen piped up after a second. "The city, the energy, the friends."  She told me about the old neighborhoods. The pizza place with real Italians working at the kitchen and in the dinning room. How they wanted to steal a kiss from her when she first went in.

Tom smiled a generous smile. Jen's beauty had both a startling and arresting quality. They had traveled the world together and had grown at ease with each other's attraction, the effect it had on other people.

"We all became friends."  Jen followed up.

"After I gave him a big nose job." Tom coughed out this next line.

"Oh!"

"Yeah. They had a good old fashioned (is that how you say?) alley fight."

"One on one?"

"No. Tom had to fight his four brothers. The pizza man watched and kept scores."

"Tom won?"

"No. He was beaten badly at first. But they didn't continue after that. They left him once he fell to the ground."

"You were there?"

"At first I was. Then I called my two brothers. They brought their friends. The Italians surrendered when they saw this group of German guys walking toward their little restaurant."

"I can't imagine the Germans do that!"

"Well. They were just going to talk to them. But they looked big and serious. You know?" Jen gestured big with her hands by framing a space above and around her, outlining the rough sizing of large doors.

"They didn't have to say anything in the end."  Tom jumped in, slightly flushed.

"The pizza boy treated everyone with pizza and beer.  They drank and sang together." Jen jumped back in, "Then they told us they didn't know I was with Tom and wanted to marry me. They didn't mean to disrespect."

"I think he was telling the truth." Tom squeezed Jen's shoulder gently.

"That's why I love you." She pressed a kiss onto the side of his face close to her.


On the way home, I noticed the hills along the highway was blooming with small yellow flowers. The wild kind no one paid attention to. The rest of the city was still brown and gray, dressed under the hands of winter.  But those wild flowers covered hills sent out a new scent in the air, conquering the motor oils, the rain, the hovering gloom.

A first note of spring, echoing the occasionally hidden faces of the sun.


Sunday, March 20, 2016

Fiction: The Wheel Chair Kid--Two Fingers

It rained all night and all morning. Rain drizzled down the gray windowpanes and I heard it gushing down the gutter. No point in getting up so I pulled my cover up and closed my eyes, imagining Michael was still siting on my bed, steady breath and smelling of soap and something else.

I didn't feel like eating. Michael had left the juice bottle out, only half a glass worth. I had an almost full bottle of Vodka under the bed behind a stack of books so I took it out and filled up the juice bottle with it. I hated the taste of alcohol, but I wanted to sleep, or day dream, or lazy about the bed so that was perfect for it.

It was Sunday. The only thing on TV were televangelists and newscasters. In a sense they were one of the same. But I wouldn't go around saying that to them. People got weird about their jobs.

Sirens blared in the distance. It reminded me of a friend named Carol who worked as an EMT and she was always six minutes late to class. The university nearly failed her but I gave her some make up lessons and she took me to a tour in the hospital where she worked. That was three years ago. She said she was late usually because she got used to the idea that she could get anywhere quick--usually within six minutes. I had read somewhere that Ambulances had to arrive six minutes or less after dispatch sent them on their ways.

I wondered how long it took the ambulance to get me after the crash. I woke up in the hospital so it felt like years ago I sat behind the wheel and watching that black car ram into me from the far lane. I wondered why no other cars got into his way. I never saw who the driver was. Didn't want to know. Some things didn't need revisiting. I wanted to pretend I was born this way, with scars running from the hairline to my right temple, no hearing in one ear, and both legs busted so I would never walk again. It was easier to carry on this way. Easier to face the Michael's of the world when I didn't stop every second imagining what it would be like if...

Then the rain stopped. My head felt foggy and thick so I closed my eyes and let the world spin around me, until I fell slowly at first, then all of a sudden, into the darkness that was sleep.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Reading

I have developed the curious new habit of reading in bed, for seven or eight hours a day, six days a week. Suppose it is not so curious for someone with a bad pair of legs.

But I used to wheel myself around, before my lungs started bleeding and I'd cough out a thimbleful of blood each morning. It got cold outside which made the coughing worse. Soon I got used to confining myself to bed, and watching youtube while reading.

Michael knocked on my door on Monday asking if I needed anything. I didn't give  him any valentines, so at first I was scared. But he just wanted to see if I wanted any groceries since he was on the way to the store. I didn't know what to say, so he just stood there staring at me for a while. Finally I said please get me some juice.
He said OK. Then, anything else?
I said, maybe some cakes.
He smiled, then he said I should eat some fruit too. Maybe some bananas?
I said OK.

He left. I couldn't read so I watched a movie about this guy who decided to kill himself by jumping off the building. Then he saw three or four other people on the top of the building, thinking, talking and trying to do the same thing as he.  They decided to go out and get something to eat instead. It was a nice movie, even though lots of it felt made up. In real life, no one ever run into the love of their life just before they decide to kill themselves, just like that.

Michael came back in about an hour. The movie was almost finished but he decided to help me put things away. I asked him to help himself to some cake and juice. He cut me a slice too. We sat on my bed watching the two main characters walk closer and closer to each other, one year after they met, on that same building top. It was obvious they were going to kiss, and normally that was my favorite part to watch. But since Michael was there, I didn't want to watch, and gobbled my cake instead. He was shifting around and turned to me to say the store was crowded at this hour, there was a long line but luckily he didn't have a lot of stuff, so he got to use the express line.

I said yes he got a lucky break. From the corner of my eye I could see the main characters were merging into one dark blob. No kissing sound but I bet that was what they were doing. I showed Michael that the cake had some hazelnut inside, even though they were crushed into tiny pieces of triangles and had the same color as the inside of the cake. You can still tell because when you bite into it, you get this rich and nutty flavor, with a chocolate kind of flavor, except that it was better than chocolate.  I pointed to a few crumbs on my plate to show him a crushed piece of hazelnut so he leaned over to look.

All of a sudden I realized Michael's face was less than an inch from mine. I could smell his shampoo and whatever he used to shave and what not. He also smelled like cake, butter, sugar and hazelnut, a hint of cream. His lips were moist, slightly open, an invitation. I just had to lean forward a little to catch, a few millimeters maybe. I couldn't feel my legs.

Look it's the closing credit. I pointed to the screen rolling so fast with letters no one could possibly read. When I did, my plate tumbled over and I looked like a kid who shouted at any shiny moving thing and couldn't hold anything steady in her hand. Michael grabbed my plate and put it on the floor, then he turned back to me. His eyes were so close I had nowhere to hide. I wanted him to lean over now, and kiss me, but I didn't know how to do it so I closed my eyes, like I did just before Space Mountain swallowed me with its dark embrace. I felt Michael's lips on my forehead, then nothing for a while, until the door clicked close.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Pink Valentines

This morning I got a terrible headache so I put down the work I was supposed to do and opened Facebook. I have seven hundred friends. The way their lives' updates flashed by as I slid two fingers across the track pad gave me vertigo but I ignored it. The mechanics of discomfort aside, doing something I wasn't supposed to do soothed my nerves. The morning flew by quickly this way.

For lunch I had tuna fish and rice, parts of it got so dry I started to choke so I made myself a little juice, mixing a splash of brandy with some water and ice. My wheel chair didn't feel so hot after that or I'd gotten used to it by then. The wheels squeaked when I rolled around too much so I tried to relax after lunch by going back to facebook, lying down on the sofa holding my i-pad high above my face and scrolling around with the soft part of my fingers. I must have dozed off for a second this way. When I woke up I forgot where I was and that my legs didn't move anymore so I took a lot of deep breath when I finally remembered and took my time getting back up.

In the afternoon I went out to the market around the corner because the house got stuffy with heat and the neighbor's loud TV got really annoying. They had these cute valentines candy boxes shaped like those to-go cartons they used at the Panda Kitchen, except they were painted with glitters, red and pink hearts, with a red ribbon strung across the top. I bought ten.

When I got home I pulled out that large bag of candy left over from Halloween and put some in each box, topped with a small card shaped like a heart. I cut those out of left over card stock I saved from the last time I made Christmas cards myself, which was years ago--before I had the accident. Back then my friends liked to invite me to things like card making parties. There were so many I feigned disinterest unless it was hosted by my very bestest friends or the most popular girls.

I knocked my neighbor's doors and introduced myself to each of them and gave them my box of valentines. They were glad to see me and several even invited me to come inside. I told them maybe later. For now I had some work to do then I said goodbye. It was getting dark and I hadn't gotten used to wheeling around in the narrow neighborhood roads yet.

The house was dark and cold when I got back. I had taken all that was pink and red and sweet and sent them out, forgetting to save some for myself. I laid down on the sofa again, hoping to fall asleep soon, knowing I wouldn't.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Settings in Jane Eyre

It is one thing to write about a place you visit for the sake of writing it, it is another to use it inside your novel and turn it into a practical character that has its own mood, personality, and perhaps even challenges and defeats, let alone physical appearances. In Jane Eyre, we find such a setting. It speaks to us, certainly, as it does the heroine. In fact, reading certain passages we get the feeling she is more impressed by Thornfield than some of the characters as she first encounter the lot.

Again I looked out: we were passing a church: I saw its low broad tower against the sky, and its bell was tolling a quarter; I saw a narrow galaxy of lights too, on a hill-side, marking a village or hamlet. About ten minutes after, the driver got down and opened a pair of gates: we passed through, and they clashed to behind us. We now slowly ascended a drive, and came upon the long front of a house: candle-light gleamed from one curtained bow-window; all the rest were dark.

This cinematic description opens our view to the palatial residence without overstating it. We sense the grander (through her descriptions of the church, the sky, a galaxy of lights, and the slow ascending drive, the long front, the candle-light gleam) without being told of it, which is all the more powerful. The writer leaves ample room for our imaginations to fly, yet she has offered enough room to pin down the corner of this new world. Thus a partnership is formed, she the conductor and we the musician who follows her rise of a hand, the tip of an eyebrow and her twitching of one corner of her mouth before we dive full heart into rendering the music she has composed and presented to us. There is no question of authority, though another type of authorship is not only possible but potentially equally effective, but here with this narrator and this story this gentle style of conducting catches our breath all the more, and we lean forward from the edges of our seats in anticipation.

We come to the introduction of Mrs. Fairfax thus. Jane has had some reservations but in this scene her apprehension dissolves with another cinematic unfolding (small scale, yet equally eye-catching):

A snug, small room; a round table by a cheerful fire; an arm-chair high-backed and old-fashioned, wherein sat the neatest imaginable little elderly lady, in window's cap, black silk gown and snowy muslin apron: exactly like what I had fancied Mrs Fairfax, only less stately and milder looking. She was occupied in knitting; a large cat sat demurely at her feet; nothing in short was wanting to complete the beau-ideal of domestic comfort. A more reassuring introduction for a new governess could scarcely be conceived: there was no grandeur to overwhelm, no stateliness to embarrass; and then, as I entered, the old lady got up, and promptly and kindly came forward to meet me. 

Like Jane, we have some reservations prior to our encounters with Mrs Fairfax and it darkens our view and perhaps readiness to take in Thornfield at its full splendor (or ghastly horror as the case might be). If the author had forced our hands on this and pushed through with fuller descriptions of the setting, we might have gotten impatient with anxiety and suspense and flip the pages ahead to get a sense of how the human characters might deal with each other. We might also force ourselves to read through the settings only to find disappointments in its lack of response to our anxieties. Again, the writer did not push the issue but gently dealt with it with such a melodic prose that each of her sentence leads us to anticipate the next, wanting to read on and draw closer to her characters and step closer into that world of old stairs, gay blue chintz and flickering candles.

Her evening arrival aids in this respect, we catch a quick glimpse of the impressive castle, then we meet the small, neat, comforting and kind old lady to whom we take an immediate liking. I'm hooked. The next day Jane wake to see the full glamour and scope of the place, we along with her, having met her pupil, another lovely if plain character, we are ready, as she is, to embark on a tour around the house, and learn more of its eccentric, intriguing and somewhat ghost like atmosphere.

Throughout this chapter, I hear a languid and self assured tone sounding like an older Jane Eyre who has returned in her memory to this place and time, and is recounting the story to me slowly as she sits by the fire, occupied in some knitting, and is unhurried by anything other than those offered a strong sense of domestic comfort to her and her visitor. I hear the English accent in her tone as she tell me the story, not only the sounds, but the way she composed her sentences, complex yet friendly to the reader (listener)'s ear so that one will not need of a master's degree from Oxford or the upbringing equipped with a private mansion's governess to understand it. Yet she sounds sophisticated in a way that makes your heart swell, making you aware of the greatness of her mind, despite of (or perhaps in symphony of) the friend activities in which she is engaged.



Monday, February 1, 2016

Super Moon Eclipse

It's a small fire
shut inside a glass sphere
hung up towards the eastern sky
making faces
at the tides
of gatherings below
shadows glow
against the bluest canvas of warmth

It's a small family
shut inside a brick square
maps of the world lining faces
hands and feet
meat sizzles
fat dripping from mouths and chins
one seat empty
save for the weight of silence
filling up his chair

It's a small world
of gatherings and departures
fire shut inside glasses
bitten laughter
forgotten moon
pale fire in all your faces
cast in shadows
pouring light
standing
against the night

Friday, January 8, 2016

Donut Story 1

The donut landed on the sand, and hardly lost any of his sugar dusts. The boys laughed from the balcony, splashing some of their champagne toward the orange sunset. But they held on to their glasses and their laughter.  Soon they turned back to the cocoons of rooms framed by long white balcony doors and English curtains. The beach cottage had a colonial feel, out of place in this California seaside town. Laura stood stretched out an arm toward the boys, sprays of freckles covering her milky white skin. She was laughing too until tears rolled down her cheeks. Her red hair had gathered into clumps of curly mess, still pretty, sexy even, but undone compared to an earlier version of herself. when she had opened up the package, squealing with delight at its pretty green wrappings which matched the colors in her eyes.

But she was disappointed, it was a box of donuts, plain, yellow, fried dough with sprinkles of clear sugar crystals as icing. Not even glazed, or covered in chocolate, filled with cream or jams. She took a bite, and thought it was not bad, fluffy and airy compared to the heavily sugared kinds she had before, but it was no cream puff. She tossed it at the boys, and gave them her trademark glares. "What is this?" she said, "I thought you were going to bring me desert, not breakfast."

The boys threw up their hands and huffed, "Woman, don't you read the news? There was a terrorist attack in downtown, no one knows where they might hit next. You are lucky..."

"Don't tell me if I'm lucky. What am I supposed to do with them? That's it, I'm not going to the The New Year's Ball with you!"

"Fine by me. Who knows if there will be a ball anyway? The whole town is shutting down or blowing up, according to the News Room."

The girl screamed. Something flared up in her face, a patch of red blooming under her skin and growing in shade and diameter. She pulled up her dress, a green silk gown Lucas, one of the boys, had gifted her for Christmas, and danced like a bird escaping from a fire, her feet tipping to their toes, her body spinning, her arms lifted high, holding up the hem of her dress. The boys saw patches of red flare up on her skin, and flailed their arms about, as if to put out the invisible fire burning her down, from the inside. The girl hopped on her tiptoes, looking into a far away place, still holding the hem of her dress so high it nearly obliterated her face, but her arms slacked down slowly, until she screamed again.

Lucas grabbed her arm and pulled her until she followed him back out onto the balcony, where sea wind had kicked up just a few minutes ago, against the onset of clouds. "What?" He shouted into her ears, "wake up Laura! What is it?"

Laura poured her body over the railings, nearly toppling over but Lucas grabbed her knees and held her back. She murmured, letting white foams gather around her mouth and drip down onto the sand. The other boy James, clicked around on his phone but didn't know who to dial. "A bit much for a doughnut, isn't it?"

"Pot." Lucas shouted back. He didn't know for sure but he had heard of it, the donut shop on the corner of 5th street had a weird reputation, like they made things to order, including adding pots to brownies, or donuts.  When everything else closed that evening, he was glad to see a light on and the smell of freshly made donuts wafting through their windows. He bought whatever was fresh out and told them to put the pretties green package on it - Laura's favorite color.

Laura stopped midway in her dance over the balcony and Lucas dragged her slackened body back into the room. She smiled. The room smelled good. Lucas smelled good and the bed smelled like home. The little cottage gave her sweet flashbacks of Saturday mornings as a child, of rushing into her parents bedrooms and watch cartoons and eat donuts in bed, without rules, without schedules. She hadn't had these big dreams of moving to California then, of studying marine biology. Home was her center then, that rambling lake house in Michigan where Mom and Dad texted each other about what was needed for groceries until one of them died.  Dad. He had had the same dark eyes and lanky body and wild artist hair as Lucas, an untamed look, not sporty but not weak either. Stubborn. She looked around, and saw the pretty green box, full of sweets, indulgences she no longer allowed herself ever since moving here six years ago. It was not easy to blend in with the throngs of blond beach beauties here but she had managed it, after many years of practice, self discipline and hard work, and finally she looked like one of them, a slim and sleek California girl, even though her skin and hair color still wouldn't comply - they betrayed a heritage too important for her to change, or even disguise.

"No!" Lucas dived for the green box, and pulled them from Laura's reaching fingers. "These gave you hives. Let's keep them away for tonight. Too many weird things happened already..."

"I had shrimp for dinner, that's what gave me hives." Laura stated as a matter of fact.  Who cares? What's a little pot? She knew the minute Lucas went for that dive that something gave her a high in that donut. She wanted it, more of it, the sweet fluffy texture and cloudy revenge it brought later. Revenge for all the times she lost, all the sweets she had forgone, for what? To be blown up by some crazy religious fanatics?  Holidays no longer meant anything to her, and this New Year's Ball, was the first time she had decided to go out with Lucas, her study partner, and fate had brought her a reason to indulge. Why fight it?

"Are you sure?" Lucas hesitated. They have studied together in graduate school for a year and a half, but maybe there hadn't be an occasion where he saw Laura eat shrimp before. He let Laura take the box from him and bite into a second donut.

"See?" Laura opened her palms and showed him the milky white of her skin returning to its freckle spotted state.  "Don't worry, I can handle a little pot."  She winked before taking another bite, laughing from the depth of her throat, her chest and coughing a little to catch her breath after swallowing.  "Just don't let me choke."

"So you know? Yeah, I guess we are Okay."  Lucas nodded and peered at his watch. "I guess we are late for the party. Do you still want to check it out?"

James stepped out onto the balcony and hollered at the moon. He had taken a donut earlier during the chaos and now he began to scratch himself. "Who needs some stupid party? Let's party here!" He howled again, eliciting a chorus of response from the board walk below. "Donut?" He shouted down, though no one answered, he grabbed one from the box, and tossed it into the black forms rising and falling along the lines of the beach. Sand dunes, sea lions resting their noses, or late night swimmers sneaking around coast guards and checking off "skinny dipping" from their bucket list. No one could be sure, and James couldn't care less. He watched the donut make an arc, a silvery casting of sugar flakes spreading like magic dust, leaving behind a circle of gold, simple but fulfilling, from one dreamer to another, one nest to the next, flying and landing without fanfare, without noise, without complaints.

Laura laughed through her tears inside, and circled her arms around Lucas's neck. Why wait? She said to no one in particular, pulling that solid pillar of warmth toward her. He resisted, question marks in his eyes, but she stared back, and without hesitation or regret, kissed him on the lips. It was dry, seeping warmth but awkwardly closed, while his eyes opened wide, filled with some kind of wonder, shock and amusements.  Not your movie magic first kiss, but Laura didn't care. The ocean roared, louder than anything else going on in her head, and it felt good to hear that, the sound of the world, of nature, of silence.  She smiled, tossing another donut to James, and one more, for herself too.





Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Jesus Says...

The sky is crying. Jewel like tears leaking through broken shafts of a flat face. Clouds rush in and out, opportunists wanting something for nothing, rainbows out of a void, skittles and pots of gold.

Palm fronds nod, gentlemen like in their stiff spines, soft gestures, curved arms arching down like polite smiles, well trimmed eyebrows.  Roof tiles catch everything, thirsty in their porous bones, darkness revealed through their crimson coats once they drank. Tears of regrets.

Jesus says, no one comes to the Father except through me. And other line drawing prounouncements. Then he threw himself on the cross, and cast down rain, blurring the lines between heaven and earth, sin and death, letting things blend. Letting Grace, rise.  Grace - God's Righteousness At Christ's Expense.

Her roses bend their necks to concede to the rain, but smiles in between the downpours, and rise up with jewels in between their crimson pedals. Royal Highness. Apt marketers at the garden center named her thus.

His face remains hidden. His words lingers. Puzzles to be solved, treasure boxes to be opened. The search tires me out, she says, but we shall rest and continue.

Tomorrow.

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