Story A Day for May, Day 11

letter

For WC

Stuck in the middle of one of her grandfather’s notebooks, Kate found a single sheet of lined paper with a poem scrawled onto it. “For WC,” read the title.

It was, loosely, a sonnet, though every line except the final couplet assiduously avoided iambs, a challenge in English. This made the final two lines of rhyming iambic pentameter all the more striking.

Like all her grandfather’s poems, this one was beautiful, musical, and sad, but it was filled with yearning, too. It was a love poem, filled with images of thighs, the backs of hands, the curve of a cheek, a straight nose, and “eyes, light, eyes.”

Kate had seldom thought of her grandfather as a man in love. Her grandmother had died before she was born, and, to Kate’s knowledge, he had no romances during the years she lived with him or after.

But clearly there had been someone. Who was WC?

She had sat with him one afternoon in hospice when he’d been time-jumping, as he often did during his last days. She held his hand, but his eyes were closed; he was far away. He raised eyebrows. He kissed the air. He giggled, and tilted his head, coyly. Kate grew embarrassed, intruding on that private moment he shared in time with someone else. She kept his hand in hers, but she looked out the window.

“I drifted off there,” he said, when he returned.

“And now you’re back,” said Kate, holding the glass of water to him, helping him with the straw.

“Thank you, Katy-Moon,” he said when he’d finished drinking. “Promise me something. Do you love someone?”

“I love you,” she answered.

He laughed. “Not what I mean. You know what I mean.”

“Not in that way, no,” she said.

“Then promise me something. If you do–when you do–promise me that you will tell that person. Don’t just sit there, longing, writing hopeless poems. But tell the person, ‘Your eyes. Your light. You’re all.’ Tell them in that way, so you don’t regret it when you are close to the gate.”

She nodded. “Was there someone you wanted to tell?” she asked, in the quiet room.

“There was,” he said.

“It’s not too late,” she said. “Would you like me to help you get in touch with this person?”

“Would you do that?” he asked.

“Of course,” she replied.

He closed his eyes again. “I would like that. I would like this person to know. ‘Your eyes. Your light.'”

But they didn’t have a moment to come back to this conversation. The following days were full of nurses, the great aunt, the cousins, always a buzz, never a second for them to talk again, in private.

It had been one of those wishes, not quite a promise, that had faded.

There are so many people we love who will never know what we feel, what they are to us. It doesn’t mean the feeling didn’t exist, that it didn’t buoy us somehow. It would be cleaner to share the gratitude.

Kate worked on, through that notebook and the next, transcribing her grandfather’s poems. When she returned to the closet for the next box of notebooks, she found a shoe box, tied with a strip of leather, so brittle, with the knot so fused, that she had to cut it to open the box. Inside, she found bundles of folded rice paper, each with a hand-written poem to WC.

She knew then she had to discover who this person was. Whom had her grandfather loved so? Maybe WC was still alive. Or if not, maybe a child or grandchild was.

She remembered her promise to her grandfather that she would tell someone if she loved them this way. She didn’t. But he had. And maybe it wasn’t too late to let them know.


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Prompt for May 11: “Write a story in which your hero wants something, tries and fails to get it, and eventually has their life-changing moment at the end of the story,” from StoryADay.org 

Author’s note: This story may not seem to fit the prompt, but if you check out the tips, you can see that it sort of does.

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Story A Day for May, Day 10

angels

Each Other’s Angels

I’m always surprised when someone remembers me. Why would Solomon’s granddaughter remember me? I was no one important, and we were together five, maybe six times. No more.

I had daydreamed about playing fairy godmother to her! I thought: If I get the position at the university, I will be able to take Solomon’s granddaughter on hikes! We could ride the train into the city to watch a play, and afterwards, we’d eat sundaes. She made me light up–so funny, so earnest. Shy, until she saw you were listening with interest–and then, she spoke with sparks!

But I didn’t get the job, even with Solomon’s recommendation. Or possibly, because of his recommendation. He fell so quickly, so fast. But he had been an angel to me.

I was offered the position at the university in the city. Of course I accepted. It was hard for a woman philosopher to find a position, even with the secondary emphasis in gender theory and linguistics. It took thirty-five years and dozens of significant publications before I could pick and choose where I wanted to teach, and that’s what led me back here, a few years after Solomon had passed on.

Sometimes, former students will find me in the library. “Oh!” they say, “I became a teacher because of you!” “I became an anthropologist–librarian–mathematician–journalist–researcher, or yes, even philosopher–because of you.”

And I can scarcely remember their names. Had they spoken in class? Had they ever attended office hours?

“You were so important to me.”

I never knew. Did Solomon know how important he had been to me? Surely, I must have told him.

I remember the first time I met him. I’d just arrived in town the day before. I wandered into the lobby of the Humanities Hall. “We are so glad you’re here,” he said, confusing me. How did he know me from the other entering first-year grad students? Weren’t there dozens of us? Was he glad we were all here? He told me later that my application letter, my transcripts, and the recommendations from my undergrad professors singled me out–plus, my GREs were top-rate, especially in logic. “I could tell you would make it. Those types of students–the types like you–are few and far between.”

He was my mentor, and I was his assistant. But I don’t think I really did much for him besides copy articles I’d hunted down in the stacks and listen. I did a lot of listening. But that was for me, not for him.

When I taught in the city, I often walked through the alleys. One of my research focuses for a few years was the constructed realities of those who live outside of the main consensus reality. And it was in the alleys that I found some of my best subjects.

For about four months, I spoke most mornings with Oskar, a leather-skinned man in a crusty Greek fisherman’s cap, a wool jacket on cold days or a striped polo shirt on warm ones. His corner was behind the pet shop, and sometimes, the store clerk brought out a cat or puppy to sit with him.

Holding a calico kitten in his lap, Oskar told me once, “We are each other’s angels. How does God work? He has no form. He has only this.” He gestured around him to the backs of the buildings on either side of the alley, grimy from exhaust and dirt, to the slice of the bay we could see at the alley’s end, to a dandelion, growing from a crack in the cement. He held out his two hands.

“How does Spirit work, when Spirit has no form? It must enter form. And then, we can do God’s bidding. We become his angels.” Oskar nodded as he rubbed the kitten’s ears.

Who are my angels now? There is a singer in a Korean pop band whom I love–he lights up when he sings. He records videos for his fans with his i-Phone and posts them to YouTube. He is so candid, so fresh, so unrehearsed. In the comments, teen girls write, “I stopped self-harming because of you.” “I used to spend all day in bed. But when you say, ‘Let’s all be happy,’ I get up. I try. And now, I am happy, too.” “Thank you for helping me love again.” We might think this isn’t real–he is an idol, and they are idolizing him.

But I have been observing my own responses–yes, even me, an old lady. His black eyes are soft–he lights up. There is no other way to say it. And what stirs in us? What stirs in him? It is love.

The work of angels is to teach us love.

My students say, “Because of you, I finished school.”

Kate Elder tells me, “You were so important to me.”

I fall in love with a woman on a street corner, whom I will never see again, most likely, and in that instant, she saves me.

We never know when we are someone’s angel. It’s not our doing. It is love, moving through us. It is Spirit. The best we can do is to be ourselves–honestly, openly, generously, bravely. Then, when Spirit needs to work through our form, we are available. It is not our doing–we are only the containers, the medium. We are each other’s angels.


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Prompt for May 10: “Write a story in under 1000 words focusing on creating one brilliant image in your reader’s mind,” from StoryADay.org 
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Story A Day for May, Day 9

teaparty2

Tea Party

The older woman and her Australian shepherd sat beneath a birch at the dog park. While her own dog, Speckles, raced through the meadow, Kate approached the woman. Kate had entered the park after her, and Kate recognized something in her gait–the way she held her elbow out, the tilt of her head, her long legs and slim build. Funny, the things that stay with a person from childhood.

It was harder to find the Celeste she’d known nearly fifty years ago in the woman’s face, but the light in her eyes was the same.

“I think I know you,” Kate said. “Celeste, right?”

“Yes, I’m Dr. Templeton,” the woman answered. “Were you a student? A philosophy major?”

“No, no,” replied Kate. “But you knew my grandfather, and you spent time with me, long ago.”

It had been during the spring of fifth grade, the season for the school’s annual Mother-Daughter Tea. In second grade, the first year that Kate came to live with her grandfather, she had been permitted to skip the formal event; Grandfather sensed that it was too soon after her mother’s passing to subject her to such a tradition.

The next year, and the year after that, he escorted her. He looked so dapper, with a felt hat, a tie, and red suspenders, that she endured the torture of a dress, with a scratchy slip underneath, tights, and shiny shoes.

In fifth grade, the tea landed during a time of her grandfather’s closed door. Kate schemed: When all the girls filed out to form the line to greet the arriving mothers, she would duck aside–she’d bring her play clothes in a bag–and she’d race to the meadows. She and Baron would spend the day at the beach. No one would miss her. That was a fact.

But the week before the event, her grandfather opened his door.

“Suppose it must be close to time for that tea party,” he said.

She tasted dread, and her feet grew heavy.

“Of course I can’t take you.”

She hopped, just a bit.

“But I know someone who can.”

He said it in the way that meant, this is how it will be: no resistance, no questions.

“What do you want to wear?” he asked. “Do you need money for the salon?”

She said she’d wear her black slacks, a white shirt, and a tie.

“I suppose you’ll want to be borrowing one of mine then,” he said. He opened the door to his room, and she followed. It felt warm and dark with the shutters drawn against the spring sun, and it smelled oddly delicious–like books and black ink. His bed was half-covered with open notebooks and sheets of paper, save for a little nest of his pillow and covers in the corner. He led her to the closet, where inside the door hung all his ties. She fingered them. Wool. Polyester. Cotton. At last she settled on a black silk tie, with embroidered butterflies on it–pink, purple, yellow.

“This one.”

“Your mother gave me that,” he said, sliding it off its hook and gently placing it around her neck, where the silk felt cool and liquid. “She always had impeccable taste. Like you.”

Kate looked away.

“Can I show you something?” her grandfather asked. He took a notebook from his bed and read to her a poem about a willow and the moon.

“It’s sad,” said Kate.

“I’ve been working out, very unsuccessfully, what suffering is about. What do we gain? What purpose does it serve?”

“When I hear that poem, I feel soft here,” Kate said, bringing both hands to her chest. “When I’m sad, it makes me soft. It makes it easier to love other people, don’t you think? Even those who are mean to us? When I hear that poem, I can love everyone, like the moon does.”

Her grandfather kissed her on the top of her head, then motioned her out the door, which he closed after her.

The next week, the night before the tea, a tall young woman arrived when it was getting dark out. She wore her chestnut hair in a loose bun, and tortoiseshell glasses low on her nose. Grandfather’s door remained closed.

“I am Celeste Templeton!” she said. “I’m one of your grandfather’s doctoral students. I am here because he has asked me to be your escort tomorrow, and I want to make certain that is acceptable to you.”

Celeste suggested a trial run, so, with Kate’s help, she made a pot of Darjeeling, a platter of cinnamon toast, and a bowl of peeled and segmented tangerines. They practiced holding out their pinkies and laughing discreetly behind their napkins, even when they told the most outrageous jokes. And then, just to get it out of their systems, they pretended to be cowboys at a bar so they could drink tea out of jars and throw their crumbs to the floor and laugh until the tea came out of their noses.

“I like being a cowboy better than a lady,” said Kate.

“Me, too,” said Celeste.

The next day, when Kate, in her black slacks, white shirt, and black silk tie embroidered with butterflies, stood in the line to greet the arriving mothers, she found that Celeste had dressed to match, wearing the same dapper style her grandfather always had, even down to the felt hat and the suspenders. They sat at a small round table near the window with a faculty wife and her daughter, who was in the gifted program with Kate, and who might, on occasion, be called a friend. They talked about books, about cellos, about hawks, about where to find the best pollywogs, about which trees in Ratchet’s Forest were most climbable, and about the purpose of suffering. And all three of them thought that Kate’s answer, that it makes it easier for us to love others, even those who have been mean to us, was a good one.

“I remember you,” said Celeste Templeton in the dog park. “We had a most delightful tea together, didn’t we?”

“That we did!” laughed Kate. “Do you remember what we wore? I was such a Tomboy!”

“And I was such a Butch!” laughed Celeste. “Still am, when the mood strikes. I was sorry to hear about your grandfather, though it was so long ago, now.”

“Not so very long,” said Kate, thinking that the decade of grief had only just ended. “You were very important to me,” Kate said softly. “You gave me something–showed me something. Thank you.”

Celeste gestured across the street from the park, to a small gray house surrounded by flowers. “I live there,” she said. “Maybe some afternoon, you’d like to come visit. I would imagine you have all sorts of questions about your grandfather, and with you, I would be happy to share.”


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Prompt for May 9: “Establish, within the first couple of sentences, your character’s desire. Put them in a situation that conflicts with that desire. Tell us how it works out,” from StoryADay.org 

Author’s note: I like the technique of thinking about the prompt before I go to sleep and waking up with a story. Even if it doesn’t fit the prompt, it points in a direction I enjoy going and might not have thought of without the prompt. Guess that’s why it’s called a “prompt” and not a “dictate.” Also–as I’m sure you can tell–this is turning into a novel (or at least a collection of inter-connected short stories, what John Keeble calls “sprung fiction”), rather than isolated short fiction.
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Story A Day for May, Day 8

forger

The Forger

Transcribing a long series of haiku written by her grandfather, Kate sometimes encountered words she couldn’t make out. The pencil marks were faded, and her grandfather never did have clean script. She set a sheet of trace paper over the notebook, and followed the lines with her pencil: the letters’ path helped her to decipher the words, for her hand was was like his. The trail that looked like a snake was “river of moonlight.”

She flashed on a scene she’d forgotten from her childhood. She had sat at the kitchen table with her grandfather’s notebook, tracing word after word until she could write like him. That was how she achieved a similar hand.

She had done this, for hours, so that she could sign her grandfather’s name. It was during the months when his door was mostly closed. School was always sending home letters that needed to be returned with his signature. She didn’t mind being held back from the field trips, for it meant she got to spend the day alone in the library and avoid additional rides on a bus full of kids. There seemed to be no consequences for her not returning the report cards and midterm report notices. But she wanted him to sign the testing release form, for if she were tested, and if she got into the program, that meant fewer hours in the big classroom with the kids who wouldn’t look at her or else would glare. Instead, she would join one or two others–the quiet ones, the ones who asked the good questions, the ones who also had books always at hand–in a small room with Dr. Sanchez (who wasn’t a real doctor, but was the kind like her grandfather, someone who’d gone to extra school) where they would paint on actual easels with paint from tubes, listen to classical music on the stereo–with two speakers–read anything from the double-tall bookshelf, talk about anything they wanted–even imaginary stuff, or what they might have discovered outside–do science, and even sit quietly, thinking. She wanted to get to do that. And the only way she could was if her grandfather signed the form, and his door was closed, and the form had to be turned in on Thursday.

So she spent the week tracing the lines in his notebook. Though she didn’t concentrate on the sense of the words, she remembered one line that sank deep inside of her–it stuck to this day:

When I see the moon, I want nothing. 

By Thursday morning, she was able to replicate his signature passably. She turned in the form. After she took the test and got accepted into the program, the principal called her into the office.

“I hear you’re doing very well in the gifted program, young Miss Elder,” the principal said. “It’s a good fit. A good fit. We have only a slight problem. Can you write your grandfather’s name for me?”

He handed her a permission form and a black pen.

She looked at him, flushing with guilt and shame.

“Go on!” urged Mr. Simon. “It’s quite a skill to be able to write like someone else! Show me you can do it!”

Kate knew she was caught. She didn’t know how. She was always found out. She signed her grandfather’s name, doing her best: If her forgery had been detected, she might as well receive the honor of being a skilled forger.

“Excellent! You are quite a marvel!” laughed the principal, before growing stern. “Now you know, you mustn’t do this. It isn’t fair to your grandfather to sign his name without his knowledge. And you know, you nearly got the school into a heap of trouble! Now, what would be a good consequence?” Mr. Simon made an act of thinking, pacing the room. “Perhaps you should be put to work as the official signature person. Yes. I think that would be good.”

He handed her a stack of forms, a rubber stamp of his own signature, and a red ink pad. She spent the next half hour stamping Ignatius Simon on every paper in the stack.

“Good job, young Miss Elder,” Mr. Simon said when she finished. “You have saved Mrs. Holly a heap of work!”

Every Friday for the rest of the year, she was to report to the office after school for her tasks as the official signature person.

One day, Mr. Simon called her into his office. “I need these signed, but they can’t be stamped. Think you can do my signature?”

He gave her a piece of paper and black pen that dribbled ink, like a monk’s quill. By the time the first sheet was full, Ignatius Simon was written in a slant nearly identical to that on the stamp.

“It’ll do!” said Mr. Simon.

“But I thought it was wrong,” said Kate, softly.

“Not if someone asks you to.”

From then on, she reported directly to Mr. Simon’s office. Usually, she used the stamp. But now and then, he gave her a clipboard with a thin stack of forms on it, fastened to the board with a rubber band, so she could only read the one on top.  She lifted up the bottom portion to sign the form beneath it, and in this way, worked her way through to the back.

One afternoon, when she reported to Mr. Simon’s office, no one answered the knock at the door.

She sat in the hall.

“Can you believe it?” Mrs. Holly said to Nurse Jane. “A principal driving a Ferrari?”

“Did they think we wouldn’t notice?”

“Did you hear how much they think he got?”

“I heard a few thousand.”

“Much more,” said Mrs. Holly.

“So where is he now?”

“No one knows. Not even the wife!”

“The ex, by now, I’d assume,” said Jane.

“What are you doing there, child?” asked Mrs. Holly, as she came around the corner. Kate jumped. “Get along, now! No more office work for you!”

That was the end of Kate’s career as a forger. She never found out exactly what Mr. Simon had done, other than some sort of embezzlement from the school’s budget. As she thought back on this incident now, she could remember clearly some of the forms he’d had her sign. Some were terribly official looking! Suppose he had asked her to forge his signature on the budget transfers! But why would he do that? So that, if caught, he could claim it wasn’t his signature! After all, how skilled could a ten-year-old forger be!

Kate chuckled at her unwitting part in his petty thievery. Or maybe it hadn’t been petty at all! Strange she never heard more about it. And then she thought that wasn’t the strangest part of the incident. No, what was strange was that no one inquired why she had needed to sign her grandfather’s signature. Surely, a professor would grant permission for his granddaughter to be tested for the gifted program!

What was strange was that all that year, the year he stopped teaching at the university, no one inquired as to why he never came to any of the parent-teacher conferences and why he didn’t come to a single school event. What was strange was that no one besides her seemed to know–or take the effort to find out–that he had spent most of the year behind a closed door, leaving his ten-year-old granddaughter to care for herself.


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Prompt for May 8: “Put your character in a mundane, everyday situation. Then introduce a strong element of conflict,” from StoryADay.org 

Author’s note: Somehow, when I woke up this morning with this story in mind, I thought it fit the prompt. Now that I’ve written it, I see it doesn’t exactly. But it’s a story that wanted to be told! It’s fitting its way into this collection of stories about Kate Elder and her grandfather. I’m not terrifically pleased with the prompts–but I am pleased with the stories that are coming out of them, whether they fit the prompt or not–and I guess that’s what matters!

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Story A Day for May, Day 7

enjambment

Enjambment

Kate’s grandfather entered the study carrying an armful of red spiral-bound notepads and moleskin notebooks. He dropped them with a thud on the oak desk. Slowly, he separated the red notepads from the moleskins. When the notepads sat in a stack in the far corner, he spread the open moleskins across the desk. From his satchel, he pulled a salmon. He took a fishing knife from the pocket of his corduroy pants and began to gut the fish over the open notebooks.

“What are you doing?” Kate asked. “Your notebooks!”

He looked at her, his eyes twin moons. “They serve no purpose,” he said.

“But your notebooks.”

He shook his head.

She held a red notepad in her hand and realized this was a dream.

“Open it,” her grandfather said.

A poem sprawled across the page. She could not make out the words. It seemed to be written in strange symbols that she couldn’t decipher. She studied the shape.

“That was meant for sharing,” her grandfather said, closing his eyes.

She didn’t remember the dream when she woke. She had that strange sensation of her attention still stuck in her subconscious, so she knew she’d been dreaming, but she couldn’t recall the images or the message. She felt the tile floor beneath her feet, the smooth, warm porcelain of her coffee cup in her palms. She inhaled the rich scent.

Her dog, Speckles, padded beside her into the study, and Kate picked up the latest moleskin she’d been working on while Speckles curled under the desk. Then she saw smeared across the open pages the fish head, the guts, the splatterings of blood, thin bones, and scales.

She dropped the notebook.

The dream rushed back, and she knew what she had to do.

Before the dream’s power faded, before she reasoned herself out of her resolve, she called the department chair.

“I can’t do it,” she said when Professor Steinhart answered. “Nor can anyone. It can’t be done.”

“It can,” he assured her, “it must, and you are the one only one for it.” He began to explain that her professional and academic qualifications, combined with her intimate knowledge of her grandfather’s habits and patterns of thoughts, made her the ideal editor of her grandfather’s unpublished journals, written religiously in the moleskin notebooks for decades during and after his tenure at the university. The complete edited work, published by the university press, would be gold to scholars of late Twentieth Century literary thought, and her prestige as an editor would be set.

She thought of her grandfather, scrawling in them, while she played in the hallway, and the wild look in his eyes, sometimes, when he came out of the study. He often spoke, under his breath, quickly, and she could tell that he wasn’t talking to her or for her. He was relieving a pressure inside. The moleskins were like that. They relieved the pressure, and that was what they were for.

“That’s not what I mean,” she said. “They’re not to be shared. They serve no purpose.”

“But your agreement! You can’t back out now!”

“It’s an agreement, not a contract,” she said. “And even if it were a contract, I’d break it.”

She ended the call as quickly as she could.

Three breaths and she relaxed. Oddly, she felt no guilt. It didn’t matter to her that she broke her agreement with the department chair. She didn’t care what he thought of her. It was of no consequence that the university press wouldn’t be publishing the notebooks. Her own swirling hopes about her future as an academic editor had blown away entirely. It was of no consequence.

What mattered was that she had acted on the dream’s message.

She walked with her dog along the beach, and the waves called her name and the wind blew through her.

After lunch, she packed up the moleskins, returning them to the crate where she’d found them, years ago, before she thought to approach the university about them.

After she lugged the crate to the closet, she found another storage box on the shelf. “Random Poems,” scrawled her grandfather’s hand across the label.

She tugged the storage box into the room and opened it. It was filled with red, blue, and yellow spiral-bound notepads. She picked out a red one and opened it.

On the open page stretched the poem from the dream. She could make out the words, though her grandfather’s script was rough and the pencil had faded.

It was a poem about the moon, the earth, the shifting spirals of movement through space, and music, and thought, and the combined thoughts of all the people on the planet, somehow forming together the structure of the reality which we share. It was brilliant, sad, profound–and in its enjambed rhymes she discovered a meaning meant to be shared.

She snapped a photo of the handwritten poem with her phone and then sat at the computer to transcribe it. When she was done, she emailed the transcription and .jpg to Professor Steinhart.

“Let’s work on this, instead,” she wrote. “There are dozens of these.”


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Prompt for May 7: “Pick one of the following 4 scenarios and explore: how would… [your character] deal with this situation?” from StoryADay.org 

Author’s note: I didn’t feel that any of the four scenarios listed for the prompt fit Kate Elder, so I modified the fourth one (“Your character is obsessed with something. They think they will do anything to obtain it. The person they love most in the world stands in their way.”) to something that would fit her:  Your character has made an agreement to do something for someone who could benefit her greatly. Following through with that agreement would mean that she would have to betray someone she cares about.
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Story A Day for May, Day 6

gap

Who We Are

The Douglas firs, in long rows on either side of the track, ticked by, their rhythm settling Kate into herself. She rode the train into the city for a meeting with the publishers of a book she was editing. She was grateful for something to fill the day.

In the dark early morning, she had woken in a gap that stretched around and through her. She didn’t know who she was. She knew her name, sure: Kate Elder. She knew she was an editor and a writer. She felt her body, light and nearly floating in the bed. And inside, she felt vast space. Gone was her felt sense of self–it was as if she had woken up inside of someone else, or no–not inside of someone, nor inside of something, but inside of nothing.

A single point of awareness stretched until it filled every space, within, without. She tried to reason that it was change-of-life, a new hormonal cocktail that brought new feelings, new sensation, new emotions. But the words came to her, “You have lost your karma. Now there is only dharma.”

Her dog heaved a sigh beside her and pushed her solid back against her legs. Kate matched her breathing to the hound’s. She woke when the sun poured in through the east window, her dog looking at her intently as she opened her eyes.

“So, Speckles,” she said. “You know who you are, don’t you?”

Morning yoga helped bring her into herself, the sun salutations returning sensation to her back, her thighs, her shoulders. But she still had this new empty feeling.

She googled “symptoms of enlightenment,” and found:

“A disquieting sense that everything in your life feels new and altered, that you have left your old self behind.”

She didn’t google, “symptoms of growing up in a neglectful environment” or “symptoms of psychosis.”

She made it through her meeting as if playing a role: she was focused, her mind clear, her speech articulate, her sense of logic heightened, yet that feeling that she wasn’t herself, that she didn’t know who she was, lingered.

When she shook Dan’s hand after the meeting, she felt she didn’t belong–at the same time, she felt connected. She didn’t belong as a member of the staff of Moonstruck Publishing as opposed to Harold House Publishing. But she belonged to everything. The space in her was the space in Dan, in the room, out the building, over the bay.

“Then, we’ll see you in two weeks,” Dan said. “Let us know if there’s any change to the schedule.”

She realized that she would have to discover a way to keep track of time, for the idea of two weeks seemed as illusive as the concept that she was a separate entity.

She had a few hours before the train home, according to the clock tower and the time table.

Everything looked bright: the sunlight on the bay, the mosaic in the courtyard, people’s hair, the leaves. Everything sparkled. Everything was lit up.

A gray-haired man sat on a piece of cardboard in the dappled shade, nodding his head to the music of a violinist. Kate dropped a few dollars in his hat. “You’ve lost your karma,” the man said. “All’s that’s left for you is dharma.”

“Is that a bad thing?” she asked.

He shook his head and grinned.

The violinist played Bach’s Partita Number 2.  The space inside of Kate grew until it absorbed all the music. She was empty again, within and without, and the music filled every gap. The music was light–it carried energy. Through her, through her crown, through the musician, through the air, flowed this golden river of light–this love.

Kate knew who she was–who the musician was, who the man on the cardboard was, who we all are. We are containers for this golden river of light–nothing more, nothing less. This was Bach’s secret: we are the vehicles for love, for energy, for the divine.

The intensity found expression in tears, and the light exploded in a prism.

And then, the violinist hit a wrong note, followed by another, and another. She lost her intonation. She stumbled through the piece, but in that moment, the beauty increased. Kate felt her body, firm and solid and healthy. And the concrete beneath her feet was solid. And it was both true simultaneously: the divine and the human.

This was what it meant to be alive: the blend of perfection and imperfection. This was who we were.


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Prompt for May 6: “Retell a story you’ve told before, in a new way,” from StoryADay.org 

Author’s note: This is really three or so stories I’ve tried to tell before, braided together. I’ll keep trying. This is a tricky one to get right!

Source for quotation: “How Many Of These 51 Spiritual Awakening Symptoms Do YOU Have?
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Story A Day for May, Day 5

corners

Corners

“There are depths even in a household
where a whale can live. . . .”

–John Haines, “The Whale in the Blue Washing Machine

During the decade of Kate’s grief, she remembered only the bright moments; her grandfather remained a saint to her.

It’s one way to deal with loss: Canonize the one who left until he becomes too good for this world, making departure inevitable.

Departure is always inevitable, even for those who, like all of us, harbor moments of self-absorption, thoughtlessness, unkindness. Even for those who struggle with their shadows. There are no saints among us who are not also wholly human.

By the time the grief had ended, the chair of his old department at the university invited Kate to edit her grandfather’s notebooks for publication. The old moleskins contained literary criticism, mostly, veering often into philosophy and social and cultural commentary. Of course, he’d focused on T. S. Eliot.

When she was very young, during the first years she’d come to live with him, she tagged along to campus, playing in the hallways with echoing tile floors while he was in class and in the black-dusty cavern under his oak desk while he worked. Then, he stopped going to campus. He worked from home.

There were days when he didn’t leave his room. Had she forgotten those?

She would pour her own bowls of cereal, out of the giant Cheerios box, hastily scooping up the spilled bits, then dash out the door. When she got home, late with the setting sun, she’d find the cereal box still on the table, the door to her grandfather’s room closed.

He wrote advertising copy after the university named him professor emeritus, to supplement his stipend and early pension. She thumbed through the notebook. “And yet, people keep on buying,” he wrote, “while they sell the largest parts of their own lives to do so.” It must have killed a large part of him, she realized, to write the words that sold lilac-scented dish-washing soap, over-sized convertibles, and television sets.

Some days she would come home to find the coffee pot on the table, amidst half-filled mugs and plates of cookies and donuts. Beethoven would be playing, loudly, on the stereo–the ninth, usually. Or maybe Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto. He would scoop her up and waltz . “We’re getting ice cream, Katy-Moon!” And they would drive all night, “discovering the important things,” and he would talk on and on, until she crawled into the space behind the back seat, pulling the scratchy travel rug over her head, letting his words run together, so that his fast talk sounded, maybe, like a blackbird singing over the creek.

The notebooks had large gaps in them, broken with entries that were rushed, panting, leaping over thoughts and ideas with connections she could not follow.

And so Eliot discovers what we were all searching for, all along–decay. Decay. Nothing but the emptiness clothed in everything: in time, in thought, in moment, past future now all wrapped up in the nothingness of the horridness that is humanity–“Ridiculous the waste sad time/Stretching before and after,” and after and before and they keep buying the sanitized soap to wash their dirty hands dirty minds dirty wallets while the Cadillac drives through the bodies of our ancestors–

It went on like that for pages. She checked the date. It was written during the summer that she and Baron, her dog, were sent to live with the great aunt. She feared they might have to stay with her, for the great aunt would never answer the question, “When can we go home?” But in October, on a Saturday when the brightness of the low-angled sun made the trees and dried grass sparkle, the great aunt drove them back. Baron raced out of the car, dashing through the meadows. Kate went inside. Grandpa sat at the table. He poured her a cup of tea, fixed it with cream and honey, as if it were an ordinary day.  “Less said, the better,” he said. And the great aunt left.

How do we fit our lives around the corners of another’s pain? And what becomes of the gaps when that person has gone?

She had the memories she had told herself composed her childhood, and then she had these truths, which only now were being revealed. Somewhere between the two her own self waited to be discovered.


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Prompt for May 5: “Steal something from a favorite published universe,” from StoryADay.org

My modification of the prompt: I chose not to write about someone else’s characters or worlds right now: I’m intrigued with Kate Elder, who has popped up in three of the four stories I’ve written so far for May. So, I decided to take a line from a poem and write a story about Kate around that line. The source poem is The Whale in the Blue Washing Machine, by John Haines.
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Story A Day for May, Day 4

fortymin

Say This Instead

On the stroll back from Spencer’s Cove, Kate calculated years and ages. It had been ten years since they’d cast Grandpa’s ashes over the bluff at the cove. Grandpa passed at 90. It had been 45 years since he’d told her not to say goodbye to him, ever. She had been ten. She was now, at 55, the age that Grandpa had been then. Of course she didn’t say goodbye to him when she sat by his bed at hospice. When he closed his eyes, his paper fingers in her hand, she didn’t say goodbye. She didn’t say goodbye at the rattles and heaves, or at the single tear that rolled from his open left eye.

She shook herself and looked around the kitchen. The green chair felt hard beneath her. She felt the wrinkle in the carpet under her feet.

“Why not say goodbye, Grandpa?”

“Serves no purpose, Kate.”

“What do I say instead?”

“Later, alligator. In a while crocodile. See ya soon, Katy-Moon. Those’ll do.”

“How about, ‘until we meet again?” She had been reading every Victorian novel she could find in her grandfather’s bookcases.

“That’ll do, too.”

So that was what she said in the morning when she raced out the door to catch the school bus. That’s what she said when she left for college. That’s what she said at the end of every weekend visit, for decades, when she left for the city and her Monday job.

That’s what she said, ten years ago, at his bedside in hospice.

She said it after the single tear, and after the final rattle, and months later, as the ashes swirled out over the cove.

The others said goodbye, the great aunt, bent over her walking stick; the grandnieces and nephews, standing formally, even in the wind; the little second cousins, shouting at the gulls. She had been, apparently, the only one he forbade to use it.

She looked towards the lighthouse, as she and he had done for forty years. A white feather–was it a tern’s?–caught up in the wind and circled, circled, rising. She watched until it blew out of sight, the clouds white behind it. The others had turned back by then, the children racing ahead, the cousins walking in clusters of two and three, the great aunt alone, stabbing at the path with her stick.

“Until we meet again,” she said out over the cove. She stood alone on the bluff, until the others disappeared, and then she remembered, it was her house, now, that they were returning to. She’d be the one expected to make the tea.

After they all left, she thought about how comforting it might be to say goodbye. Final. She didn’t quite imagine herself saying it, for she was obedient, even now that she was grown, even now that he was gone. But she considered what someone else might feel if they said goodbye to the person they loved the most at the final parting.

Ten years had passed without that word crossing her lips.

She’d walked there today because it was Sunday, and she always went there on Sundays. On Mondays, too. And often, any other day of the week, for, still, it was her favorite walk, and the cedars lined the path, the same ones that had bent towards her when she was a little girl, racing along ahead of her grandfather. She always called to them, “Hello!”

Standing at the edge of the bluff, she missed him, suddenly, even after ten years. She felt his hand in hers, the callous of his thumb hard against her palm. And his voice sparked inside of her, “Friends aren’t everything, Kate. You’ve got me.”

The sun shone–only, no. It was still cloudy. But what was this sudden warmth? Like wearing a sweater in June. A tern circled over the cove. She knew then, at that moment, why she hadn’t been allowed to say goodbye.

She walked home, calculating. Sitting with her tea in the kitchen, the chair hard beneath her, the carpet wrinkled under her feet, she realized that she was now the age he had been when he’d forbidden that word.

It’s not needed. Love is an energy that escapes the laws of time and space–it continues, boundless, in a moment.

It takes a good many years of life to know that. But once you do, you realize that goodbye serves no purpose.


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Prompt for May 4: “Set a timer for 40 minutes, write a story” from StoryADay.org

Author’s note: I stretched the prompt a bit–I took a look at the prompt the night before, selected the picture, slept on it, then thought about it off and on during the day. Actual time writing behind the keyboard: 40 minutes. Actual time that the story steeped before pouring? Closer to 24 hours!  Steep till done!
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Story A Day for May, Day 3

mindthemoon

Mind the Moon

Every twenty-seven days, plus a few hours, I slide back into the spot I held when you were born, darling, to kiss your brow once more.

What did you do this month? Did you miss me?

I missed you. I long to stay. The other moon-kissed babes need me, too, and I miss them. I must keep moving on. Can’t you come?

They say to never make a decision during my return, for your mind is mine and I play loose and free with logic. But you understand, it’s only in my light that we see most clearly, dear.


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Prompt for May 3: “Write a story in 100 words,” from StoryADay.org

Author’s note: I’m quibbling with the form of the short story. Must a story have a beginning, middle, and end? Can’t it wander? Isn’t it OK if it presents a moment, plays with stasis, introduces a character, even one who doesn’t change? I’m going to be experimenting with these questions during Short Story Month. As the experiment continues, I’d love to hear your responses!
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Story A Day for May, Day 2

savealife

Baron and Kate

The beach smelled of rotting things, and the thrill of picking out the scents of kelp, fish heads, and seal carcass distracted him from the ache that drove him from the little gray house. The man had not returned, not for three sunsets, which meant three nights with an empty supper bowl. He could tolerate hunger. But after his tongue roughed the dry porcelain at the bottom of the water bowl, he scrambled to the creek, to lap at the clear pool high above the bend, before the water turned brackish. Near the pasture by the swamp, he’d found the gopher, and at least, now, his belly was full. He chased each scent, as if it delivered salve or promised salvation.


She missed the bus, on purpose. She could stand no more eyes that looked down, off towards the playground, or, if turned to her, met her open gaze with a glare.

“Why don’t I have friends?” she asked her grandpa, at least every week.

“But you do,” he said sometimes. “You must.”

Or other times, he said, “You’ve got me.”

And when, as the weeks turned, she kept asking, he would say, at last, “It’s not easy. You’ve got to find someone who gets you. There’s more to life than friends, at least.”

He handed her the blue mug, full to the brim with hot tea, gold from cream and sweet with honey. The warmth filled her. It didn’t remove the sting entirely, but it helped, for when he said that, she thought that at least he understood her.

On a day like this, after returning to school from a week home with the flu, with no one smiling to see her back again or even asking where she had been, or on days when she was bustling to share news of the wren’s nest in the willow by the creek–like a fairy’s cap turned upside-down in the crook of the branch–or the black darting pollywogs down in Martin’s Puddle, and no one cared to listen–on these types of days, she missed having actual human friends.

But she had trees. Even if they couldn’t say her name in English, she felt, sometimes, that they recognized her, for when she walked among them, the leaves glistened and shone, and she thought she caught an echo of her name in the whispers of branches or the sudden scent of green.

And the ocean, too, though it cared nothing for her personally, nor for anyone, was there always, and would always greet her with the generous roar it shared with anyone and no one, in the endless rhythms of waves.


He raced after a flock of gulls.

She ran towards the shore.

They met in the path, and each froze.

She smelled like sweet warm milk, like the man did when he brushed him and called him, “Good boy.”

He tilted his head, and met her gaze with his. His eyes grew big.

“Did you get lost, then?” she asked. “And are you now found? Do you want to come home with me?”

He whimpered once, and trotted down the path at her side.


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Prompt for May 2: “Use this story formula to to create an interesting character, give them a desire, kick off some intriguing action and plan the kind of resolution you want.

Once you have that skeleton, you can start filling in colorful details…and soon your creative brain will be demanding you start to write!

A _______ (adjective) ________(noun), who _________(verb) ___________(subject), then _________(related verb) __________(resolution)”

–from StoryADay.org

My sentence: A lonely dog, who wandered the beach, then met a girl, saved a life.
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