Friday, December 30, 2011

Jacob and Ava, The Scrap book

This is one of my "Friday Flash Fiction" stories written for, and appearing at A fine site for writers, and for readers.

The old man Jacob sat in his rocking chair, older than dirt he thought, the both of them.

It was that week between Christmas, with all the familying whirlwinds, and New Year's Eve. It was hard to get excited about New Year's, having seen so many of them come and go. It was hard to get excited about much of anything these days. He couldn't do much anymore, felt he hadn't done nearly enough for most of his life, and now his times of doing seemed to be mostly over.

He thought about this year, and all that had happened in the world and in his life. There were so many bad things happening in the world. There were good things too. It seemed like nothing was as clear-cut, as black and white as it used to be, for him or for most other people. Nothing was certain any more, and worse, life no longer seemed to hold the hope, the magic, that it once had.

Jacob went over and over his life in his mind, remembering when he was young and thought he knew it all. He had run out of tears years ago, for all that was lost or had never been because he was such a fool. As much as he had thought he'd known, he had known nothing, not even how much he was loved, until it seemed too late.

His daughter Ava, bless her heart, had called him the other day. If he had still been able to jump he might have jumped right out of his skin. He still hated the sound of a telephone, even now, when it rang so seldom.

She wanted to come over and go through his old photos with him, build a scrap-book, she said.

He reminded her that he could no longer see very well. What would be the point?

She said it would give them something to do together, something that she hoped they'd enjoy. She would build the scrapbook for him, all he had to do was tell her about the pictures.

He thought seeing all those old photos, thinking on those times now would probably hurt as much as they'd help, remind him of chances lost, possibilities died on the vine. But still, he did want to see them again, and to show them to her to remind them both his life had not always been as it was now.

Besides, he didn't have the heart to tell her no. He suspected she was afraid he might die anytime now, and wanted to have something better to remind her of his life than the scattered pictures he kept in worn out boxes.

When she came over she seemed to have enough stuff with her to build a world he thought. Boxes and boxes and portfolios of fancy papers. Tools and gadgets and bottles also came in the door and just kept coming. When he asked her why so much she said she brought it all so she'd be sure to have "just the right stuff".

And as they labored over each page he realized she did, in every case, have just the right stuff. Not only did she build up each page of multiple layers of different kinds of paper and fabric, she added other things.

For the pictures of the beach she found sand and shells, drift wood and dried seaweed, even scents in bottles for that "finishing touch".

For the forest pictures oak leaves and pine needles, a tuft of deer fur, the smell of old trees, and finally one single pinion, the silent flight feather of a great horned owl.

For the pictures of them together she had tiny bits of fabric one or another had worn, a piece of a toy, a ticket stub from a favorite event. Ava always found just the right, no - perfect, the perfect thing to finish off each page, to seal the power of the best, most important memories of his life .

Rather than taking an afternoon as he'd originally thought, it wound up taking the entirety of the week to finish the project. Some evenings she'd stop and fix him something to eat before continuing on her own, till long after he'd fallen asleep in his chair. He'd wake to find her curled up on the sofa under one of her mother's old afghans before the fire, and he could have sworn he saw a faint shimmer, he imagined like a magic faery dust, about her hair and shoulders.

Even as she worked through this with him Ava watched his remaining strength fading, day after day, though his mood seemed to actually get better. She was sure she saw a little of the old twinkle come back to his eyes.

He was napping in his chair as she finally finished the last page. She carried the thick book, practically a tome. over to him and placed it on his lap. Gently she roused him. "Dad, here it is. I'm going to go straighten up around the house a bit, you have a look, see what you think", and she was off in the other rooms.

Ava hoped he would find it as magical as she knew it had turned out to be. She imagined him in his chair slowly turning each page, discovering not only his own memories of each event, but also perhaps a new sense of the presence of the places, people, and things. She knew there was more depth to each story than either of them had been aware of. They had captured not just his impressions, but the essences of each moment, each day, that would make them new for him again.

As she puttered around the old house she began to feel him in there. It was a talent she had always had, to feel what he and a few others felt. Tired. She felt tired, and wondering if it was her tiredness or his, she went back in to check on him. "You okay, Dad? Do you like it?"

"It's marvelous, just marvelous, Honey" and he smiled at her, really smiled, as she hadn't seen in many years.

"I'm so glad you like it, Dad. I'll just be in the other room if you need me."

The book would sustain him. The book would hold him, as in a loved one's warm embrace, until the end of days.

When Ava returned to the room sometime later she found the book in his chair where he'd sat with it as he and the book became one.

She cradled it close to her heart as she gazed at the still glowing embers in the fireplace he had built so many years ago. "Happy New Year's, Dad."

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Being Here, Being There.

I've been thinking about airplanes. I've been dreaming about both my family back in Kansas and my family here with me. A lot. I've been feeling guilty for not being financially able to go back for Christmas. Nothing to be done to help that now. The truth is, I haven't been back in over two years. It all gets to be a complicated set of thoughts and feelings. This weighs on me heavily this time of year.

There is a shape, a taste in the mind, a physical feeling that goes along with some emotions. These are some of those. Both curious and lovely as well as both painful and pleasant, these sensations of mind and body and soul.

It's about those strongest of family ties. It's about memories. It's about hopes and fears and all those years bridging time and space between childhood and now, on into the future too, as perhaps no other season or holiday does.

Curious because it taps into and touches on thoughts and ideas about time and space. These things are always present, and somewhat of a quandary to me.

Sure I understand distance and I understand basic concepts of time. But really deep down inside, where something about those tickle something in my mind, I know there are mysteries involved.

Here is here and there is there. Now is now and Then was then. That's all there is to it, right? Except it's really
not all there is to it. Not in the deep places of the heart and mind. Here and now are constantly permeated by there and then. Sometimes I even think by there and now, but that's purely imagination, right? How could I possibly be remembering there, now when I'm here now?

That is some of the lovely part of it, that memories of back home and times with my folks and my brothers are things I carry with me always. To feel, to see, and to taste and hear and smell.
I keep the best times close to the center, and when I want or they want, they come back to the fore. I remember a lot. Sometimes I believe I remember everything. I recall the good and the bad, happy and sad and all points in between. But not really. Not fully. Not like one feels the moment at hand because well, that was then and this is now.

And that's part of where the pain comes in, yearning as they say, to bring back those moments to their completeness of experience. The pain is knowing that those can never be fully seen and heard and felt in this time, with this mind.

But I am tremendously thankful and happy to have the memories I do have, however imperfect or incomplete, to carry me back to there and to then.

I am not alone here. I have my family here as well, the "new" family, the one I've brought with me and the one I helped build here. I do revel in the times and the moments we have here as well. I know that some day my current here and now will be another "there and then". And so I try, as best I can, to soak it all in to build the memories I will have of this later, knowing that my recollections will again be imperfect, incomplete.

Here is my point: Pay Attention. Soak it all in, consciously, mindfully, purposely.

The more you do so, the better you will recall later I think. Why would I think that? Because that has been my experience. When I tell my self to do those things, to pay attention and remember, I find later that I do remember better. Sometimes it happens on it's own. I hear myself thinking "I will remember this moment for the rest of my life" and so far mostly I think I have.

This may not work for you. I'm sure it doesn't always work for me. Sometimes there's just too much going on to be able to grasp it all.

As I go through this holiday season with my family here I know I will be split in two. I'll be trying to find my balance between living and experiencing these moments here and now and reaching through time and space to be with my family there and then, perhaps even there and now.

My wish for you all is that you have the best of times, make the best of memories, with whom ever you can this season.

And oh yeah, take more pictures.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Andy's Room

A Crack in the world
He woke up. It was still dark. Off to the side he could just see the light around the top and one side of the door. He was probably three or maybe four, but he had no sense of that now. His big brother was there. Andy pointed to the crack in the ceiling. It bothered him. What was it? What did it mean? Dan said that was the ghost crack, the crack to The Other Side. If he wasn’t very quiet the ghosts would know he was there. Andy wasn’t sure if his brother went back to his own big bed, or if he left the room. He could do that, just leave the room. Dan didn’t have bars on his bed like Andy had on his.  

In the dark from his bed he could just make out the crack in the ceiling. He stared at it – hard. He looked away fast. Had he seen it move? Couldn’t be, it was just a crack. A crack couldn’t do anything could it? He looked to his stuffed bunny, there beside him. Pulled it closer, buried his face in it. After a long time he looked at the ceiling. It had seemed to move just a little he thought. He pulled the covers up over his head. He wanted to call out for Mommy, Daddy, someone, anyone to come get him, come turn on the light. But he could make no sound. Not. A. Sound.   

After another long time nothing had come and gotten him yet. He pulled the covers down away from his eyes just enough, just barely enough, to see out through the wooden bars of his bed into the dark beside him. Nothing was there. He pulled the covers up over his head again. It seemed cold when he uncovered his head. Were Ghosts cold? 

He slowly pulled the covers down again. He did not look right at the crack in the ceiling. He somehow thought that maybe it only moved, only opened when you looked at it. Was that right, or did it only move if you stopped looking at it? If that was true he hadn’t looked at it for a long time and maybe it was way big open now. He looked. It hadn’t moved. He looked harder. It moved. It didn’t. Did. Didn’t. He covered his head up again. If it got him, he would stay gotten for a really long time, maybe forever. He wasn’t sure either, what forever was, but sensed it meant for real and for keeps and maybe even past then. 
He pulled the covers down again. He was sure the crack had gotten wider, deeper, and blacker inside. He looked away and then back. It was the same as when he first looked at it. But there, off to the side, where the ceiling met the wall, now he saw a spider web. Spider webs meant spiders.. A Spider! It wasn’t. It was. Wasn’t. Was. He covered his head with the blanket again. Did spiders only move when you were looking or when you weren’t looking? 

That reminded him he hadn’t been watching the crack. He had to know, even if looking meant it would move while he watched. He looked. It was wider. It wasn’t. It was. It grew wider and wider still; began to open downward into the room. It was really dark inside, but he could tell something was moving. He could feel it coming to get him. He pulled the covers up over his head. He thought sure there was something, something mean and angry and hungry in the room with him now.  

At that moment he was sure it would be bad. It would hurt and hurt and be scary and sad and hurt some more, for longer than anything ever and there was no one to help him because he could not move or make a sound. 
Andy woke up. It was lighter in his room now. The side of his bed was down, like when Mommy came to get him. But Mommy wasn’t there. His gaze shot up to the ceiling. The crack, little more than a squiggly line on the ceiling. It was the same as it had always been. His brother Dan’s bed was gone. The funny cactus lamp was gone. The rug was gone. The bookshelf that held his Little Golden books and Dan’s big books was gone. Everything in the room, except his bed, was gone. He stood there in his pajamas looking for a long time at the floor where the rug should be. It was covered with a thick dust. 

He had to find Dan, he had to find Mommy, or maybe even Daddy for this! He ran into the hall,down to the first place the steps stopped, to the front window. There were no curtains on the window. The window was covered in dust. He rubbed the dust away with his hand and wiped his hand on his Roy Rogers pajamas. When he stood on his tip-toes and looked out the window he could see his parents’ car out in front of the house in the street below. There were people in the car. 

 He ran, almost stumbling down the rest of the stairs, suddenly knew that the living room downstairs was bare of furniture, that the whole house was empty of everything except fort maybe ghosts. He got to the front door. Pulled with all his might on the big wooden door, and again, and more frantically still and finally got it open. He couldn’t open the screen door. He banged and banged on the door, trying to get the people to see him, to hear him. They were going away. They couldn’t hear him and they didn’t see him. 

The car slowly pulled away from the curb and drove away. He sat down on the floor and cried. And cried harder. And cried some more.  

Andy woke up. It was too dark where he was. There was a crack of light in the floor. He needed what was on the other side. He pushed the crack open, slowly, quietly. There was something alive sleeping in the room below.
And Andy was hungry.