Forgotten Art: Norman – Newt 6

A reply to: A letter from Newt

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Salut, Newt!

Sorry it’s taken me time to write back. I had no idea having a kid around would keep me so busy. No surprise to you, I’m sure.

The latest thing Aari wanted me to do was to make her a puppet theater. I took an old chest of drawers, sawed it up, put it back together, and now we’ve got a theater good enough for Punch and Judy. And I’ve got splinters to show for it.

Man, I am so sorry to hear about your cousin. I think I read about him in the Gazette. A real hero. Our company has a hero’s fund, so if he needs any help with medical expenses, or even paying mortgage or rent when he gets out, just let me know. I can pass on the word to the foundation president.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what you said about me being in denial about my feelings.

In fact, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking.

When I think, I turn to art. I guess I never mentioned to you that I’m an artist in my spare time, did I? Maybe I did.

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I haven’t just been thinking about Ira. I’ve been thinking about work, too.

Soon, Windenburg Wind and Sun is going to become Windenburg Sun. In fact, we’re going to do it before raptor breeding season. I’ve decided I can’t have another osprey, eagle, hawk, or falcon on my conscience. Even if it means losing money. A lot of money.

I’ve been thinking over the records and plans, over and over. We can do it. We’ve got enough in savings and investments to tide us through for a few years, to cover salaries and expenses, while we complete the conversion. I’ve worked out negotiations with power collectives in other areas to take up the slack until we’re back up to capacity. It’s going to be tough. But it’s also going to be really good.

I wish I could tell you what’s going to make it so good, but we might be going public. You don’t want to get caught up in insider trading scandals. Neither do I. Let me just say this: Imagine Tibetan singing bowls. Now dream big.

So, the other day, business was on my mind. And Ira was on my mind. And I was stuck between the end of the legacy of wind power and the beginning of something really big.

You know how they say some things are worth waiting for? I figure they’re right.

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So I did what I always do when my mind is stuck and I need inspiration–I turned to art. I went to the art center in the city where my sister’s art group meets. Ira’s in that group, too, but she wasn’t there that day. She had to go to a parent-teacher conference. Something about Aari “acting out.”

I tell you, that kid has a mean streak. I love it. To me, it signifies strength. There is no way that what happened to her mom will happen to her. It’s the other guy we got to watch out for. Aari is not going to end up in a shelter for abused women, but anybody who tries anything with her might just end up with broken nose.

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I found my sister in the studio. Class had just ended.

She could tell I was deep in it.

“How’s the painting feeling?” she asked.

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It felt all right. Kinda twisted, actually. I chose all the wrong colors: blacks, grays, and red.

“Here,” she said. She handed me some clay she’d been working. “Don’t look at it. Just feel it.”

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I pounded that clay for a while. I started loosening up. My mind got quiet. You should try it sometime, next time you’re stuck in the thoughts.  Grab a lump of clay and pound it!

I was starting to relax when one of Ira’s friends came up to me. She’s also in Meadow’s art group.

“You’re Norm,” she said. “You know, you should really talk to her.”

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We sat down. She told me that Ira talks about me all the time.

“I don’t know what you’re waiting for,” she said. “I mean, you two live together, right?”

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I told her I didn’t want to ruin a good thing.

She said there was a fine line between not ruining something and spoiling it.

“You know,” she said, “the Rose Petal Festival is tonight. You should ask her. I’ll watch Aari.”

“You’d do that?”

“Certainly,” she said.

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So I called up Ira, and when her friend got to our house, Ira caught the speed rail and met me at the festival.

It had this really hip vibe. Everybody was feeling it.

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Ira and I headed into the karaoke joint across the way. She walked right up to the stage, as if she were some rock star, and started singing.

The way she moved her hips. I’ll tell you. That Ira is something.

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I sat at a table and watched her finish her song. When she joined me, I told her I’d never seen anyone so hot before.

I was feeling it.

She looked at me, and she went white. The whole mood changed, just like that.

“I can’t do this,” she said. “Not yet. I’m just not ready.”

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Now she’s never told me what happened that caused her and Aari to end up at that shelter. I’ve never asked.

Once, I saw the scars on her lower back when she was getting out of the shower. She covered up real quick, and I turned away and didn’t say anything.

I don’t know how to ask about that.

I can understand that she’s not ready to go there. It hurts.

I also know that some things are worth waiting for, and I decided right then that will wait forever for Ira. I decided I would wait as long as it took.

I headed across the way to the festival. I found the easels they had set up for the public art event, and I painted, just so I could release some of these feelings.

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As I was finishing up, Ira joined me.

Pardon moi, monsieur,” she said. “‘Ave you zeen mon petit chat?

It’s our running joke. I realize it doesn’t sound funny at all when I write it. But it cracks us up every time.

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The tension dissolved. We ordered some phở from the vendor and poured ourselves some tea from the festival tea house.

And we started to feel pretty good.

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It got late really quickly and we had to catch the speed rail home.

I slept on the couch that night. I wanted to give her space so she would feel safe. If that’s what she needs, that’s what I give. She’s worth it. Like I said, I’d wait forever for her.

The next morning, we had breakfast together in the study while Aari played math games on the computer.

Ira was full of stories and jokes. It was like she was a different person from that white-faced ghost that sat next to me at the table in the karaoke joint.

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When we finished eating, I did the dishes and then helped Aari with her homework. She’s already doing elementary chemistry, and I get such a kick out of helping her work out equations and formulas.

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When Aari went out to play with her new puppet theater, I joined Ira in the living room.

“I can’t believe it,” she said. “You’re amazing.”

I’m not making this up, Newt. She actually said that to me. I guess the little things make a difference. Things I don’t even think twice about, like making the puppet theater, scrambling eggs for breakfast, doing dishes, helping Aari with her homework–even sleeping on the couch the night before–those things actually mean something to Ira.

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I felt a little weird when she told me how much those things meant.

“Cupcake,” I said, “I don’t do those things to make you think good about me. I don’t do them because I’m trying to get physical with you, if you know what I mean.”

She took my hands then. “I know that, Norm,” she said. “And that’s what makes them special.”

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She told me then that when she’d said that she needed time, I’d given her time. And now, she didn’t need anymore time. Now she was ready.

Woot!

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She was ready.

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I tell you. I gotta tell you. Some things are worth waiting for. And I would still wait forever for this woman.

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Newt, you gave me the courage to talk to her. It blew up in my face. And then once the smoke died down, there she was, smiling crooked at me.

I’ve got a feeling my smiles will never stop. I got you to thank for it. You’ve been here all through that awkward time when I first met her. I’m no lonely bachelor anymore. I’m somebody’s boyfriend. It was a long haul to get her, but with you on my “support team,” as my sister would say, it’s worked out great.

Thanks, pal.

Now: What can I do for you?

–Norm

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Whisper 2.27

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Dear me,

I’ve decided to take Shannon up on her suggestion–well, request, really–that I date other people. So, the next time this guy called me up for a date, I went. I rode my bike through the snow to the park above the campus, where he said we’d meet, but I didn’t see him.

I didn’t mind, for it was so beautiful there in the snowfall.

I stood and watched the snow blanket the meadows and felt the silence grow deeper.

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Then, my phone rang and this woman I know asked me out. I decided sure, why not. So I rode my bike back down the hill, into town, to the arcade, which was closed. She was standing outside in a sleeveless gown.

I got a text from that guy who’d asked me out. “I’m thinking of leaving soon.” Well, sure, if maybe he would’ve shown up, he could leave. I didn’t even bother texting him back to ask where he’d been.

My new date talked about art.

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Then she asked for my autograph.

I love giving autographs to people. I mean, they get so excited, and what does it cost me? Nothing! I always write something personal.

When you’ve got a flame burning bright inside
The coldest night begs frost to hide.

Keep burning, Beauty.

Love, Marigold Tea

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Then she started talking about her career plans.

“I want to teach all the poor children in the inner cities,” she said, “you know, the little underprivileged ignorant kiddos who can’t afford books and whose parents don’t get them library cards. What a waste! I want to bring education to the unwashed masses.”

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I exaggerate. She wasn’t that bad. But she still rubbed me the wrong way, going on in such a sanctimonious manner, feeling so superior.

I sort of lost it. I yelled at her, I’m afraid. I told her that her own ignorance was showing by making assumptions about urban families. Yeah, I’m afraid I totally lost it.

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That pretty much ended the date.

When I got back to the dorm, one of my dorm mates was eating a midnight snack.

“How’s it going, Mari?” he asked.

“Not great,” I replied. I told him about striking out on both of my dates.

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He just laughed and told me the campus was full of beautiful people.

“Open your eyes!” he said. “Take your pick! It’s like a supermarket out there! Every aisle is bursting with the ripest fruit, shipped in from all over, just waiting for you to sample!”

On my way to the lecture the next day, I kept my eyes open. He was right! There were beautiful women everywhere!

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I made it a goal to talk to a few of them before the lecture.

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During the lecture, I sat next to Jaclyn. While I listened to her snore, I wondered, what was I doing?

Why was I even thinking of other people?

Just because Shannon told me to?

They’re beautiful, but I’m not into them. They’re not Shannon.

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I guess my heart may be four chambered, but, right now, each chamber is full of Shannon.

If I can’t boot her out to fill it with other people, maybe I should just let it be.

I spent a few hours playing video games, so I didn’t have to talk to anybody or think about anything except crunching zombies.

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I got high score, and it felt great to see my initials on the top of the leader board.

Tomorrow, I’d take my finals. Then I’d graduate and head back home.

While I studied, I thought back on this time at campus. Had it really been different than last time? My classes were easier. My dorm mates were great. I made a few more friends, and I think I learned a bit about myself, and, maybe, about life. But if I’m really honest with myself, I’ve got to admit that, just like last time, the whole experience centered around Shannon, once again.

I don’t know what makes love, and what makes us fall in love with the person we fall in love with. Why did Mom fall in love with Dante, and not Uncle Shea or Frank Renaldo?

Why don’t I love Jaclyn back? Why was I so rude to the flaming-dress girl?

“The heart is made up of around half a billion cells,” I read in my physiology text. “The rapidity of atrial contraction is such that around 100 million myocardial cells contract in less than one third of a second. So fast that it appears instantaneous.”

Less than one third of a second. That was how long it took for me to fall in love with Shannon. And I guess that her image was imprinted on all these half a billion cells. No wonder I can’t fit anyone else inside!

No amount of logic can outsmart the reasoning of half a billion cells!

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I realized that with finals coming up, I should just go with what I feel. I didn’t have the energy to argue with all my cells. We needed to save our energy for tomorrow’s tests!

Heck. I’m a physiology student. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that the body’s got its own wisdom.

Stay wise,

Me

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Whisper 2.26

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Dear me,

When Shannon called near the end of the semester to invite me over for a snow party, I balked at first.

“No bonfire,” she said. “I really want you to come.”

She was standing in the snowfall playing her guitar when I arrived.

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“I want to play with you in the snow again,” she said.

We played again, letting our music blend.

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When we ran out of song, she called my name and walked toward me.

“I want to talk with you,” she said. “It can’t wait.”

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I felt hollow in my stomach. Does any good every come from those words?

When I turned to look at her, she was gazing at me with her sad half-smile, and her eyes were soft and misty.

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I felt nervous.

“Great party!” I said.

I was just stalling for time. She was going to say something, and I knew it would be heavy, and I was just trying to postpone it for as long as I could so we could enjoy being together in the snow just a little longer, if we could.

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“Let’s sit and watch the snow fall,” she said. “It’s like magic.”

She watched the snow, and I watched her. She looked so beautiful, so young–like a child lost in the wonder of it all.

“Do you know,” she said, “ever since what happened to Corrinne, I’ve been thinking about my own death.”

I gasped. It was so sudden.

“No, don’t,” she said. “It’s not like that. It’s nothing horrible. It’s peaceful, really, to know I’ll face that final radical moment soon. I don’t really know if I think it’s the end or not, but I don’t feel afraid.”

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She looked at me.

“I know about your mom. I know about her endless love with Dante. Sometimes I wonder if you believe that you’ll share something like that with me.”

I hadn’t really let myself think about it. I decided early, as soon as I realized I was drawn to Shannon, that I wouldn’t analyze it–that seemed somehow poison, or something. That would ruin the magic of it. I’d decided just to enjoy it, as long as I could. I tried not to think about its end–Shannon’s end–and what that meant. I tried to just see her, who she was as a beautiful spirit, and not worry that this form of hers would be ending soon.

But as she said those words, I knew she spoke the truth.

“My mom and Dante had an amazing love,” I admitted. “That’s what I grew up in.”

“I know,” she said. “And those are the loves that form us.”

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I thought about what I wanted.

“The thing is,” Shannon said, “you’re not really like your mom. I think you need to breathe the same air as the one you love, to share your life with someone warm, who you can hold.”

I didn’t want to admit that she was right.

“I can’t be that person for you,” she said. “Even if I could, I mean, even if I were younger, I couldn’t be that person for you. Not for that kind of forever.”

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“I want you to see someone else,” she said. “Don’t stop seeing me. But I’m not going to be around always. And you should keep looking. You should be looking now, in college. Because there are a lot of radical people here, you might just be into some of them.”

I didn’t say yes. But I didn’t say no, either.

“I know you get a lot of people asking you out,” she said. “Next time somebody does, think about saying yes. For me. OK?”

I don’t know why I felt so sad, but I did. My throat hurt.

“I’ll think about it,” I whispered.

“Want to know a secret?” she asked.

I did.

She leaned in and whispered into my ear, “My butt’s freezing!”

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“Mine, too!” I laughed. “Do you want to go in?”

“Not just yet,” she said. “Let’s stay out a little longer.”

We watched the snowflakes drift down. There were thousands and thousands of them, each a microcosm of individuality.

“There are different kinds of forever,” she said.

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We looked out into the infinity of the snowfall.

“This right here, for example, this very now… it’s a kind of forever,” she said. “And I’m happy to be sharing it with you.”

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It was one of those nights that marks a person. I’ll carry this inside, always.

Love,

Me

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Whisper 2.23

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Dear me,

Jaclyn’s been writing to me. In fact, I get a letter from her nearly every day. I’m not going to ask her to stop writing. I’m not going to reply directly to her letters, either. They’re just little things: “You looked so cute concentrating in class.” “Maybe we could study together–do you think?” “You should give me a shot.” I just smile, fold them up, and put them in the back of my sock drawer.

It’s not that I’m not interested. I’ve thought she was beautiful since the first time I saw her. And she’s got a style that draws me in. The thing is, even if Shannon and I don’t have the simplest or most straightforward of relationships, I kind of want to be true to her. My mom was true to Dante even beyond the grave–she was forever faithful. And growing up, I always admired that. I think it set up an expectation in me: I want that same thing.

The other night after class, Jaclyn walked across the quad towards me. I got the feeling she might make a move.

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I was wondering how I’d respond if she did. I mean, I really like her, so I didn’t want to out-and-out reject her. At the same time, I was thinking of Shannon. Still, I thought, if Shannon has lost interest in me, it would be a shame to deny a chance to get to know Jaclyn on a different level.

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But before Jaclyn had a chance to do more than say hello, a woman approached to ask me for an autograph.

I felt so relieved!

Saved by the fan!

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And then, as soon as I handed her notebook back to her, I got a text from Shannon, inviting me to a party.

I was so excited–she wanted to see me! I told Jaclyn I’d catch her in class tomorrow, said goodbye to the fan, and dashed off to where I’d left my bike.

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When I arrived at Shannon’s, she was talking to a young guy I’d never seen before. He didn’t look like he was from around here. Maybe he’s Swiss? He was wearing lederhosen.

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“Is your name Franz?” I asked him.

Shannon giggled.

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“This is Kristoffel,” Shannon said, and she chuckled under her breath. “He’s here for his Junior Year Abroad.”

Wilkomme,” I said.

Danke,” he replied, sullenly.

Shannon was doing everything she could to keep from breaking out in laughter, and I was torn between trying to say the most ridiculous things I could think of, to see if I could get her to lose control, or to keep it together out of propriety.

My manners won out in the end.

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Eventually, Kristoffel wandered into the kitchen in search of beer, and Shannon and I were alone.

She seemed actually glad to see me.

“I really thought I was going to lose it there,” she said. And we both laughed.

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“I thought you didn’t want to see me,” I confessed. I told her everything: how I felt disappointed at our reunion, when she didn’t seem at all excited I was there. How I was hurt when she told me not to write anymore. How all the signs seemed to point to her not caring for me.

“Oh, crud,” she said. “It’s not like that at all. It’s just–Oh, man. I’m so bad at these things! I don’t know how to do this. I’ve never had something like this before. This is all so foreign to me. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

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She explained that when she saw me the first time, it just felt natural to her–like this was where I belonged. So why make a big deal of it? And then, why write? When I’m here, and we can talk, why bother writing?

I really tried to see her perspective. I decided not to try to explain mine–at least not at this moment. You see, I was able at that moment to realize that her way of looking at things is so different from mine. She’s not a romantic. She doesn’t like flirting or big showy gestures. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t feel love.

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She told me I was the first person she’d ever loved in this way. I knew that. She was my first, too. But then she told me that that was different. I would have lots of others after her. She wouldn’t. This was it, for her.

“I’m so sorry I hurt you,” she said. “You gotta know that wasn’t what I meant. You’re such a part of my life that being with you is normal now. It’s not that I take you for granted. It’s that I’ve…” She searched for the right word. “… I’ve incorporated you.”

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I didn’t really get what she meant. I still don’t exactly get it. But I definitely picked up that this meant something to her. It was significant.

Later that night, I was out skinny dipping in the moonlight, and Shannon came down to the pool.

“KaZAM!” she yelled. “Marigold Tea! You rock star, you! Light of my life! Everybody! Listen! Listen, you old Moon! I love this woman!”

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She watched me while I finished swimming and put my clothes back on.

For the first time, I finally realized it. Shannon Arkers loves me, and I was a fool to have ever doubted her.

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Stay true,

Me

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Dr. Jasmine’s Casebook: This Wide Green Home

This story was written for the August 2016 Monthly Short Story Writing Challenge held by our writing community at the EA Forums. If you write SimLit, we’d love to have you join us! We have a new challenge each month.


Walking to her flat on the evening she quit DeConsenny and Sons, Katie Hildebrand noticed for the first time that pavement and cement smothered this entire quadrant of the city. Iron cages encased spindly trees, and the tangled vines withered before reaching the promise of wilderness offered by the canal’s green waters. A lone shoot of grass, stubborn and resilient, poked through a crack in the sidewalk. She thought for a moment about what can be contained and what can’t.

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She knew it was within her legal rights to keep the job: in theory, laws protect employees who report sexual harassment. But every legal secretary knows that theory and practice dwell on parallel planes. You can’t legislate gossip, sneers, innuendo, or cold shoulders. The day after she filed the first complaint, the man who was now her former boss began to shift her tasks to copying and filing–jobs any intern straight out of high school could perform and which used not even a tenth of her education, experience, logic, or imagination.

At least she reported it, she reminded herself. She could have kept quiet and kept the job, trying to avoid being alone with him in empty offices or abandoned hallways. But what of the next person, male or female, that he did this to? She could have kept the job and suffered it out. But she did the right thing, she reasoned. She spoke up. She quit. It’s on record, so the next time someone has to report it, he’s already got a file. Now onto something else.

After she secured a teaching job for the fall, the whole summer stretched before her. She stowed her couch, boxes of books, suitcases of business clothes, and crates of dishes in a storage bay in her new town, cashed half her severance pay and deposited the rest, and then she took off for the mountains.

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Granite replaced concrete. Trees grew unrestrained. Everywhere the calls and songs of birds sounded. And the air! Pine rosin, mint leaves, and wildflowers perfumed the air with sweetness.

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All the crumpled pieces of Katie slowly unfurled. She forgot the iron sheen in her boss’s glare and the sibilant whispers that fell to silence whenever she walked into a room.

None of that mattered when Jezebel butterflies hovered over the meadows.

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Katie spent long days wandering and exploring. The meadows and pines made better companions than any person–friend, lover, or coworker–she had known.

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Each day, she discovered treasures. Deep in the forest, she found Boisduval’s blue butterflies hovering over sages.

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In one meadow, traipsing through the tall grass, she flushed grasshoppers with each step.

She caught one and held it gently in her hands. She looked in its striped eyes, and it gazed back. When she spoke softly, the grasshopper moved its antennae towards her, raising and lowering them in time with her voice.

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She set it on a young alder and watched as it grabbed a leaf between its lower mandibles and slowly devoured the whole thing.

Watching luna moths in the alpine meadow, she reflected that, while once common, they were now endangered.

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When she was a child, one day her father bundled her into the truck. “Are you ready for wonder?” he asked. They drove all morning, at last pulling into the dirt parking lot by the beach.

“What will we find?” she asked her father. “Is it the ocean?”

The ocean had been wonderful, rich with the scent of algae and seaweed, but that wasn’t the wonder. They walked through the salt marsh, following the trail into the grove of eucalyptus.

“Look up,” her father said. The leaves shimmered and opened and began to fly, and the grove was filled with flashing orange.

“What are they, Father?” she whispered.

“They are butterflies,” he said, “here to pretend to be the forest leaves while they hibernate all winter.”

Would the monarchs return this year, foliating the forest?  She had read that they were endangered now, too, disappearing with the milkweed.

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What love isn’t tinged with the bittersweet? Is it loss that makes us treasure it more?

Beneath the anticipated sorrow of waiting bereavement, Katie felt comfort, poised here in her embracing home, cradled by this broad green planet, spiraling slowly through the galaxy.

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Her old crowd in the city, when they weren’t talking about rising sea levels and estimating the number of years before their city were underwater, loved to talk about the “next life.” They were believers in reincarnation, all of them. “Next life, I’m blowing this place,” Davon said. “I mean it. I’m not coming back. This planet is harsh.”

“Oh, for real,” said Cynthia. “There’s gotta be a better planet out there, right? Something more gentle.”

“Something not populated with self-destructive idiots,” Brent said.

“Someplace where you think it, and it happens. Where it’s not person against person. Where it’s not cold in winter, or hot in summer. But it’s always lovely. Where it’s made for individuals.”

“Where we can thrive,” Miranda said.

Katie never joined the conversation. She loved her friends; and often, she felt she belonged with them. They joked that they traveled through time together, popping up each lifetime on a planet where they could do something significant. They’d messed up this time by coming here. They weren’t coming back.

But Katie, having actual memories of six distinct lives and snippets of several more, each one lived on this green earth, was more than just a believer in hypothetical reincarnation. It was part of her remembered experience. And when they joked about never coming back, she felt alone and dismayed.

This summer, she discovered what she always knew: she had one love, and it was this earth.

Friends will come and go. The jet stream will disappear. Sea levels will rise. The green water from the bay and canals will flood the old city. Populations will be displaced, and the poor will suffer most. Extinctions will occur, and parents will describe to their children “what used to be” with tears in their eyes. The earth will heave and moan. We’ll grieve the incalculable losses, too tragic to name, together with trees and ferns and the keening rhizome. And she’ll come back, back to her home, to do whatever a good person can do on the planet that that is her one true love.

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Summer ended. She packed her tent and gear and stood in the wide meadow.

Nine months of teaching biology to seventh graders extended before her, and then, it would be summer again.

“I’ll be back!” she shouted to the pines. Through their own language, whispered in phytochemicals spread through the air and the underground network of mycorrhiza, they shouted in reply, “Until you return!”

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