(*** for Vidhika at “The Grateful Dead” blog***)
[a Short Story – by Sha’Tara]
(*** for Vidhika at “The Grateful Dead” blog***)
(*** for Vidhika at “The Grateful Dead” blog***)
[a Short Story – by Sha’Tara]
[poem by ~burning woman~ ]
Sharp footsteps clack evenly
Down the old faded-gold hallway
With blistered hardwood floor.
Rain beats the window pane,
As wind blusters, impersonal, cold.
The front door like a thunder clap
At two thirty five in the morning
Slams so hard it fails to latch
Creeps back slowly on dried hinges
That creak like skeletal bones
Rattled from a dusty sleep.
Now you know, now it tells you
Even the ghost of her is gone.
All you can feel, all you can hear
Is the slap you gave her in the night
When she asked why you lied.
(“Now I predict the future / merely by listening to echoes. A slamming door / can tell you everything you need to know. It’s not a trick / only a simple matter of wisdom, an obsessive attention / to dreams.” — Mary Jo Bang)
a short story by Sha’Tara
Call it a day in the life, hey? OK, a couple of days, whatever. I drove 300 miles for this. Cancelled plans. Re-scheduled jobs. You be the judge whether I was a complete fool, or whether lady luck and Jove were vying to entrap me, set me up, or bless me with something I’d spent over half a life avoiding.
Approaching, and just as I expected, there’s Lady Ruthledge in full evening regalia leaning casually against the front entrance door frame of her sprawling mansion. I slow down to negotiate the rather tight curve in the old drive and pull up in front of what was once the garage and chauffeur’s living quarters. Strange to see only two other cars in the vicinity. Am I that much too early? As Lady R is certain to remind me, “How gauche, my boy.”
“Well my boy, congratulations. You’re late by one whole day.”
“Well, good evening to you too, Diane. Impossible, I’m early actually my dear. It’s 18:33. Dinner, said the invitation, is at 21:00, promptly.”
“Ah, the invitation. Dinner, my dear boy, was last night. You haven’t changed, have you.”
“Changed? Am I supposed to have changed?”
Sardonic smile times two. Diane and I go back a few years. No, a few years more than that, thank you.
“What day was the dinner party last year, Sims my boy?”
“Saturday. Saturday evening.”
“As it was the year before? And before that, yes? You can remember that much, can’t you?”
“Yes, yes, of course I can remember. It was always Saturday. How well I remember. Those girls you imported from Paraguay or Taiwan or Bosnia, wherever. Damn, I sure do remember.”
“Fine, stop remembering so well for a moment and tell me what day this is?”
“Day? Of the week? Sunday.”
“But the date said, July 6th.”
“What do you mean, exactly? You sent me a date, I came on that date.”
“You came on a number on a piece of paper? Weren’t you coming to a party, and aren’t my parties the greatest parties in the county, always?”
“Sure they are. Oh, sure. Yes! Dammit, yes. Mind, heart and body twisting best.”
“Who in their right mind has parties on a Sunday evening?”
“Exactly. Well, do come in. There are leftovers, and I’m sure Letta will rustle up something for you. Hungry?”
“After driving over 300 miles like a bat out of hell, non-stop? I’d say so.”
“Then say so. I’m afraid all my guests have left, hangovers and new-found loves thankfully gone with them. But who knows, there may be one or two still lingering about in the upstairs rooms or hanging in some closet. I don’t keep the maids on weekends anymore, what would be the point?”
“The point? I don’t know. Sure, what would be the point?”
We enter the dining room to sit at a table that would have made the Knights of the Round Table and King Arthur blush with envy. Two servings waiting under cover.
“Well, there you are. Sit. And dig in, as the plebes say. I’ll keep you company while you eat. As I was saying, there may still be a couple of guests about, and perhaps you can help me dig them out. If they’re back to standing shape, maybe a bit of dancing and singing later? Some drinking and love making?”
“Ever the master manipulator and tease, Diane.”
“Exactly. My specialty. Is the wine to your taste?”
Between mouthfuls. “The wine? Excellent. Of course.”
“Yes of course.”
So it went, all through dinner. Just the two of us, Letta having left the room to attend to her kitchen duties. Just Diane Ruthledge and I. Talking. Just small talk. She sat opposite me, watching me eat, smiling when I let show how much I was enjoying the wine. Ah, the wine. I should have remembered the wine. Well, I did, but I did not want to. You know what I mean.
“More wine, dear?”
“Dear? What happened to ‘my boy’ and ‘my boy Shims’?”
Am I slurring words? Dimples betray a repressed smile.
“How were the veal cutlets? Still palatable, I hope?”
“Excellent, excellent. Never tasted any better.”
I felt very thirsty, so I drank more of her marvelous wine. Local, she said to me once. I only serve local wine. That, I will not import. I drank local wine, more local wine, and each time I wanted more. She served more but now I could not tell whence it came. It just seemed to appear, one bottle, another… then she was sitting next to me. Smiling. I had the presence of mind to realize I was totally, astonishingly, famously, utterly and irretrievably drunk. Drunker than Bacchus at his inaugural bacchanal. On wine of all things. Past the point of feeling shameful I tried to get up, staggered, sat down, and watched the room begin to rotate, and if I moved my head, it would wobble. It was the earth spinning in space. And it wobbled – another scientific theory proved beyond any doubt. By a computer programmer. I heard something.
“Sims, listen to me.”
A voice talking to me from space; from another planet. A voice I once knew but cannot place.
“Lisssssssssten toooooo meeeeeeeee!”
Slowing down, down. Lights going out, candles snuffed, lamps dimmed, extinguished. Sound of waves washing over shale.
I wake up frightfully late the next morning. Unfamiliar surroundings, large four poster bed. Blankets, spreads and sheets twisted as a sea surface caught in a Caribbean typhoon. Perhaps I’m exaggerating, but don’t blame me for that: you expect it, don’t lie. And you want more. You want to know, you know – “What Happened, and What Happens Next” – so predictable.
Slowly I turn my head. There is the definite indentation of a body having laid beside me. Who? Couldn’t remember. There’s a breakfast on the side table. One look and I’m off to the bathroom. Thank God for toilet bowls. After that hellish purge I remember the wine. Red. Red everywhere. Red lips locking onto mine, eternally demanding satisfaction. Whose lips? Hips? And all those other parts coming together in the definite form of a potential woman? I stagger out of the bathroom to encounter a woman struggling to undo the effects of the typhoon over the bed.
“Er, hmmm…” I hear myself say and suddenly I feel, not pleasantly or lasciviously nude, but vulnerably naked.
“Oh, sorry Mr. Dearborn. I thought you’d left. May I help you dress?”
I realize it wasn’t a question after all. And now she is being very thorough.
“You’ve done this before I gather.”
“Will you turn around please? I have to tuck your shirt in.”
“Ok, fine. Have me your way. This is Monday, yes?”
“No sir, this is Tuesday.”
“Tuesday sir. This is the day. The auction is this afternoon.”
“I believe Mrs. Ruthledge is waiting for you downstairs.”
“Thank you, uh…”
At the foot of the stairs:
“Sims dear boy, are you going to grace us with your indulgent presence finally?”
“Come on Diane; I’ve got a splitting headache. The sun’s too bright.”
“That’s the dining room light dear. High clouds today, no sun. But no rain either, I wouldn’t stand for it, not today. Do you need some refreshments? A light lunch?”
Again those dimples, the repressed smile.
“Please don’t mention food. Not now, not today, maybe not ever. What’s that about an auction? The maid said something about an auction.”
“Selling the place, dear boy.”
Ah, that I caught. A difference in her tone. And an unfamiliar shrug, just a touch of apparent defeat in slightly sloping shoulders. I hear vehicles approaching. Diane has a tear, one tiny pearly tear, hanging at the edge of each eye.
“What is this all about Diane?”
“That’s it Sims. I’m done for. Broke. If I’m really lucky today, I’ll break even. Gone. Gone with the wind. Romantic, isn’t it.”
“Why didn’t you tell me sooner? Maybe I could have done something.”
“Make me look like an incompetent, having someone else manage my affairs, Sims? No, I had to take it to the end, take the plunge all at once. This is an all or nothing world. You can’t just go down gradually. So I threw one last party. The staff stayed on to help knowing that it was unlikely there’d be any extra money from the auction to pay their salary. I don’t even know how to say ‘thank you’ to them. I really don’t.”
And suddenly I saw her. I saw, not Lady Ruthledge, but Diane. A pretty, vulnerable petite brunette with waist-length hair brushed straight down. In a plain, knee-length blue dress and slippers. Tears running down her face. And suddenly, just as suddenly, I realized that I loved her. That I had always loved her. Not the Princess and Queen of Ruthledge House, but this woman, this… Diane. I walked up to her and took her in my arms just as her dam of pent-up sadness, of helpless fear, of sorrow and shame to be the one to witness her family’s downfall, broke, shattered.
I let her cry on my chest as an army of professionals, buyers and onlookers filled the yards and took over the house. I held her as each member of her staff came over and kissed her goodbye, wiping their own tears. I held her as I guided her through the grass to my car, opened the door for her and placed her in, fastening her seat belt.
We’ve been together five years now, married for two of those. I think she’s getting used to the idea, but who really knows with a Ruthledge? She’s certainly good to me and I think she loves me, as much as her state of mind will permit. There’s a piece of her heart missing, a hole that I know I can never fill. Too much of me is the rescuer—a bad spot to be in, and too much is too completely unlike her. And I must admit, being of that part of the world, I haven’t given up on other women: they’re still there, as available as ever. Don’t you love her? You’ll ask, and why don’t you respect her? And I’ll tell you I do love her, of that there is no doubt. And I do respect her. The reason is, she lets me have my way and doesn’t express resentment. And I let her have her way.
Any other way and we would be at each other’s throats and we’ve both seen enough hell for one lifetime: that we have in common, if nothing else.
[a poem by ~burning woman~ ]
I got a snail mail letter from him
From some distant place I’d never heard of
Up in northern Canada, it said
Up by the Arctic circle or beyond.
In it he wrote in his simple style,
I miss you so much, so much
And what am I, lost in this endless land
Of snow and ice and very strange lights?
It’s so cold, so cold, way up here
And the aurora borealis is like a distant battle
Flashing ominously in tortured skies
And under my feet the pink snow crackles.
How cold is it? Can I even explain?
It’s like standing all night in the frozen snow
Watching a single candle burn slowly
In a window across a street I cannot cross.
Near morning the candle guttered out,
The window went strangely dull black
And I knew then without any doubt
That what we’d called our love had died.
Do I write back to tell him I’m happy
With my new man and new baby?
Do I confirm the truth of his vision
And break his heart a second time?
a short story – by Sha’Tara
His greatest remembered impression was of the sea, how it fascinated him. It was not only alive, but relative to the rest of his world, very big. It was always there and it had moods so deep, his heart was always touched by them: moods that frightened him when he stood on the rocky shore and it trembled as waves many times his height would rush at him raging, then sweep back hungrily sucking every loose particle of matter they could grasp; moods that calmed him when a silver moon rose slowly, painting a shimmering trail of soft-hued light over the waters of a windless night.
The sea had many other moods, not nearly as extreme in either terror or beauty, but moods he could identify with. He would strip and dive off a smoothly rounded stone and float among the debris, pretending to be but another piece of half-life the sea had found and tucked between her breasts to be put to sleep by the rising and falling of her tidal breath. He loved her deep laughter as she chased herself through crevices among the stones.
Yes, he loved the sea more than anything else he had discovered on his world. And he wondered why. What was it about the sea that attracted him so, even, and perhaps especially, in her madness? Who was the sea? He knew if he could answer that, he’d know who he was.
He wasn’t the only one who liked the sea. Many came, for as many reasons. They sat on the sand, swam in the cove, or took small crafts out when the weather was calm. He remembered once, asking another much like himself, what brought him to the sea. “My parents.” was the reply. “No, I mean, what brings you here?” “I told you.” “But, what do you like about it?” “I like watching other people, especially the girls sunbathing or swimming. I like looking for stuff in tidal pools; throwing sand at the anemones. And I like swimming when the water’s warm enough.”
He opened his mouth about to rephrase his question, then stopped, realizing he was not going to get the answer he was looking for. He wanted to ask, “What calls you here?” but understood intuitively the other had not been called. What he felt for the sea, these others did not feel. They came to get, and to take. He was alone on this shore. Only he could hear the music of the great oceans all the way around his world. Only he could hear sea birds who glided far away from land, for months on end, crying, calling to one another. Only he could hear the whales telling their sad story. For they too had found they were alone and the sea could not protect nor save them.
For a new sea had come forth and was covering his world. This was not a sea that gave life. It was full of feet that trampled everything; full of hands that grasped, choked and killed; full of mouths that ate and ate but were never sated. The pieces of this sea looked like him and he would wonder at times if he was of the same material, but when he saw the mouths open and eating their own children, he knew then it wasn’t so.
He knew the history of this new sea. It had begun as an accidental intrusion in a very recent past, had grown into an invasion and become a cancer, a destructive force without any sense of purpose. Nothing of his world was safe from the greedy motions of this chaotic mass. Not even the mass itself, for he saw it had no mind of its own, yet moved as if it was the only legitimate force on his world. It mindlessly absorbed everything it came in contact with, including parts of itself.
As he sat by the sea, he noticed the stars gradually fading from his sight. Less and less of them could be seen. They weren’t being extinguished, he knew that. But they were using the sad blanket of effluents created by the cancerous sea to hide their faces from his world. Even the greatest stars, with memories that spanned billions of years, would no longer look upon his world.
He noticed the songs of the deep changing year by year. The whales’ mourning was ending. The great birds no longer flew over the tossing waves for too many had died. And the stories brought forth from the oceans spoke of death; of rivers of poisonous waters draining from the lands, or oozing from broken ships. And the sea spoke of sands red with blood, of raging fires and billowing black smoke… and sometimes the fires burned over the skin of the sea and he felt her pain and it was his pain.
“What should I do?” he wondered. “What can I do? I have the language of the ancient sea, but not of this new sea. I do not feel its rhythm. I cannot enter into its moods, for they are savage, always at odds with one-another. I belong to the old way, yet have the form of the new. Why? Where are those like me? Are they all gone now? Am I the last? Or am I the first?”
The old sea, his mother, rose from her bed and extending a giant arm to his perch, swept him within herself and holding him firmly, cradled him to sleep.
A poem by Sha’Tara
You’re in the twenty-first century, son:
don’t bother looking up, there’s nothing to see.
Keep your head down and another laced cookie
will reshape the world differently, no need
to lift your eyes, there’s nothing to see,
is there. Vacant eyes studying the rug:
perfect pose for the occasion.
Everything that’s shopped for
gets carted away in stretching plastic bags
under sagging shoulders and drizzly clouds.
You’ve seen it a million times, or you’d have
if you’d ever opened your eyes
beyond the keyboard. But hey, forget it,
never mind that, I can wax philosophical
at the most inauspicious moments.
It’s all completely meaningless, isn’t it,
a happy meaninglessness created just for you.
Don’t let me spoil your high. Build it up,
your high school reunion is tonight. Not
all of ‘em are dead yet if they’re still
on Facebook. Was I talking about
global warming, or warning? Maybe.
Maybe it’s a train; maybe it’s the rain,
that clatter, maybe it’s your pain.
But what does it matter to you
sitting there not knowing why, or where?
You’ll get through it, son, you will.
You’re special, like everybody else and
death is there for you too, so don’t worry
there’s always somebody who cares
enough to put you in the stretchy plastic bag
after being photo-shopped for; after
your environmental fee is duly paid.
Oh please! Don’t get up; don’t thank me.
[a poem by ~burning woman~ ]
There, I’ve shown you:
No hope, no hope left
Not for you, not for them.
Your children are dying
Don’t you see?
Are you blind?
I’ve taken away every strand
Of your pitifully weak hope
And what can you do now
But admit my power,
And bow to the inevitable,
She looks upon her foe
As he gloats over her,
She turns and stares ahead
At a land stretching before her tired eyes
Dark, menacing, parched, dead.
She hears the incomprehensible,
The language of the damned
As tortured screams
Rise from places she cannot name.
She looks down at the children
Cowering at her bloody feet
Whimpering, hungry, frightened,
Shivering in their bits of rags;
Her own clothes in no better shape.
She feels the hollowness
Of her own body and tired mind
Dragging her down to yield,
To sleep and to forget.
This must be the end
She reasons once again,
And I’ve been misled,
Lied to, to take this way
Try to lead the children
And find a way of escape:
I cannot go further.
I have nothing left.
Her enemy laughs again.
You’re done then, hey?
Say yes, give up, give up!
“No!” she says to his face,
Her cracked lips bleeding:
This isn’t our end,
This is our beginning.
Hope there may no longer be;
No comfort may be waiting
When we walk from here
But know this:
Where hope fails, as it must,
There is always despair.
Rousing the children
She leads them into the darkness:
We shall not be his slaves
She tells them,
Let death take us then
If that’s how it must be.
But it wasn’t death that waited there,
It was freedom earned
From courage to say “No,”
Taking that last resolute step
Where he could never follow.