She’d fought against it for so long. She hadn’t thought that this day would ever come. She’d dreaded it, longed for it, prayed against it, prayed for it, wept over it, laughed about it, and yet here it was. Everything she knew was about to change. Everything unfamiliar for which she had prepared was about to begin. It would be arduous, she knew, and from what she’d been told, she knew nothing. There would be much to do there, and she had been advised to expect that she wouldn’t accomplish most of what she set out to do, but that, if she remembered who she was, she would achieve what mattered most. Nor she should she grieve over that when her term was over. Too many had too great expectations, and on their return, it was painful and effortful to shed them.
No regrets, she was told. At least hold onto that, even if you can’t remember anything else. She wondered why they regarded her the way they did. Sadness, she understood. It was a difficult journey. And encouragement—because it was a worthy one. But the envy? What was there to envy about the strange heaviness she was about to encounter, the helplessness, the complexity. Yet, there it was. They all had been there. Some of them would go back when envy—as mysterious as it was to her—outweighed resistance. She would understand, they said. Afterward, she would know why the envy. It was nothing they could explain. It would mean nothing to her even if they said the words. They had tried to explain it to her before, but they might as well have described weightlessness to someone bound by gravity. She listened, she nodded, she understood nothing though she thought she did. Someone like her ought to understand everything. She would, they said, afterward. Every answer was always afterward. She had to accept it. She had to ready herself.
She slipped inside. Don’t forget me, she said. And then all was forgotten. All was unknown. She swam in darkness. She floated in heaven. If she had remembered before, she would have said to them that she understood at last that this delicious warm dark floating was indescribable, and afterward she wouldn’t be able to describe it either. If she had remembered, she would have been delighted over it, and angry that she had waited for so long for this. But even if she had remembered, she wouldn’t know that she was about to be expelled into the cold brightness. She would cry over it. And then she would suckle.
Exercise #3: “It was time”…with a hat tip to Isaac Bashevis Singer. #ministory
I’d just picked up my prescription when Gerry took off down the road.
Our town isn’t that small geographically, but it is–was–a one industry town, and when the factory closed, people moved out. It’s not a new story, and it’s one that’s been repeated all across the country, ever since manufacturing moved to Asia. I don’t resent it, unlike a lot of people. We had our turn, and now it’s over. It’s easier for me than for young people. I retired before the factory closed, and I got my pension out. I don’t have a lot of expenses. My children are middle aged and they went to university when a working man could afford to send his children. They’re all professionals, and they live in cities that aren’t shrinking like our town and my spine.
It’s not as bad here as some places. We still have an operating drugstore, a grocery store, and a constable. It was the constable who was chasing Gerry down the street. You’d think a constable would easily catch an eighty year old on foot, but the constable’s gout had flared and he was hobbling with a cane. Gerry was running. For an eighty year old, he can run pretty good.
“I’ll get you at home!” Frank, the constable, shouted.
Gerry looked over his shoulder to yell back. That was his mistake and he tumbled. I hurried to catch up with them, thinking that if Gerry broke his hip that would be the end of him, and if he broke his ankle that would be the end of me because he’d expect me to take care of him, and I would expire from a heart attack.
I adjusted my bra to give me maximum support, and I ran as fast as I could, which, to be honest, is more of a waddle than a run. “Gerry! Gerry!”
Gerry has been my best friend since third grade when he, a big fifth grader, defended me from the class bully and saved my lunch. He married someone else, and I married someone else. We were good friends but terrible lovers. It was adequate when we tried it, but when afterward you want to yawn, and not from physical exertion, it’s a bad sign. I’ll give him this–he’s a good cuddler.
“I just fell on the grass, Adele,” he said.
By that point I was blubbering as I gave him a hand.
“You’re under…” Frank gasped. He weighs about four hundred pounds and he gasps a lot. “Arrest. For…” We all waited for him to catch his breath. “Shoplifting.”
“Not again, Gerry,” I said.
He hung his head. “I’m sorry, Adele. I know I promised. But I was so bored.”
“You were supposed to drive me. You know how much I’ve been looking forward to seeing that play. And now I’m going to miss it.” I turned to Frank. “Can you give him a break this time?” I said.
“Now, Adele. You know I can’t. He was caught on the security camera. What would Joe say if I did?” Joe is the druggist. He and Frank have a running feud. It keeps them both alive but it’s damn inconvenient sometimes.
“When is the magistrate coming around?”
“Wednesday,” Frank said.
“I’ll have a good rest in the clink,” Gerry said. He likes words like “clink.” He also likes the jail’s cook. I’m not sure if he likes her cooking or just having her serve it to him. She has the biggest breasts I’ve ever seen. And though I know Gerry hasn’t done it for a while, and I doubt he could even if he had the opportunity, that doesn’t mean his nerve endings can’t be tickled.
“You didn’t want to go to that play!” I accused him.
“No, that’s not right,” he said. “I like getting out of town.”
“As long as you don’t have to pay for it. You are so cheap.”
Gerry looked from me to Frank as if thinking over that one. “Can she stay with me? In the clink?” he asked.
“It’s not a hotel,” he said.
“I’ll bring food.”
“With dessert?” Frank asked.
“Double chocolate,” I said. “It’ll save the town money.” And Gerry the cook’s bosom. Let’s see how he likes that, I thought.
By the way he was looking at me, it seemed just fine.
Exercise #2: 15 minutes, write about a shoplifter
I’ve been meeting weekly with a writer friend to play at writing. I have tea, she has a latte, and we write randomly for fifteen minute stretches. I’ll be posting these mini-stories weekly until I run out! Here’s today’s installment:
He had waited twenty years to return it. He had driven five hundred kilometres to return it. And now he sat in his car across the street from the house, summoning the courage to return it. The courage would not be summoned. He watched the street. Cars drove up and down it. People came out of houses and entered cars. An elderly couple pushed a stroller—presumably with their grandchildren in it. The stroller was wide and it scraped against the passenger side of the car. The old woman knocked on the window and he pressed the button.
“I’m so sorry,” she said through the open window.
He came out to look at the scratch. In his hand he held the item, because he figured that if he didn’t get out of the car with it, he would return home without having done what he came to do. “You can barely see it,” he said. “Don’t worry about it. The car is twenty years old.” He’d hung onto the car longer tha he should have. It wasn’t really road safe anymore. He’d planned to finish his business here, get someone to tow it away, and fly home.
“It’s ready to be junked anyway. I think this is my last trip with it.”
“Oh? Where are you from?”
“Here,” he said. “Not right here. I mean Montreal. But lately from Toronto.”
“Have a nice stay,” the old woman said. He stood outside his car, watching her and the old man push the stroller.
Now or never, he thought, and crossed the street to the suburban bungalow. It looked the same as it had twenty years ago when he was renting the upper unit in the duplex on this side of the street. The same red tulips were blooming, but surely they must be new bulbs. The other yards were landscaped, not this one. Still the same boring grass and two lines of flowers in the bed. But the maple tree in front of the house was bigger now, shading the cement porch.
He stood on the porch with the cup in his hand. She might not even live here anymore. She probably didn’t. And when the door was answered, he wondered how ridiculous he would feel.
Very, he discovered.
“Hello?” she said.
He stood for a moment without replying. She wore the same dark glasses, still self-conscious about her eyes.
“Hello?” she said again, her tone slightly more anxious.
“It’s me,” he said. “I owe you a cup of sugar. Remember?”
She smiled. Thank God, she smiled. He promised to go to mass every Sunday for the rest of his life, even though he wasn’t Catholic. He promised to go to synagogue every Saturday, even though he wasn’t Jewish. He promised to go to a mosque—what day would that be? Never mind, he promised. He promised the Hindu gods while he followed her into the house.
Everything was placed just as it had been twenty years ago, and she walked confidently, holding the cup of sugar in both hands. She held it like it was a golden chalice. She held it like it was a cup of plutonium. Beautiful, costly, dangerous.
She didn’t ask him where he’d been or why he was late.
Here’s a little something I wrote for fun today as a timed exercise:
The King Edward Hotel was not specifically fitted out for aliens, especially water breathing aliens, but fortunately, the Gnasticollas were used to the terrestriocentrism of many provincial planets, and arrived with their water helmets on and other necessary equipment in conveniently packed transportable cases.
There were screams, of course. The only time the documentary team for “Obscure Nature” had ever received a different reception was the time the chronosmeter malfunctioned, and they arrived on a planet shortly after it had been hit by a major asteroid. In fact, Zynko thought, it might have been this planet, which had been reputed to have gorgeously enormous creatures of an admirable variety, and his show had entirely missed them. Instead, he’d have to make do with these latecomer bipedal apes.
Just prior to the aliens’ arrival, Susan Abbott was self-consciously adjusting her new hat, wondering if it was a little too much. It seemed to be larger than the hats worn by the other women in the Purple Hat Society. It seemed to be purpler. It seemed to be cheaper. This was her first meeting, and everyone greeted her with friendly enough smiles and hellos. She smiled back. She didn’t know what to say other than to introduce herself by name, which was already obvious from her name tag. Newly single, newly jobless, newly pathetic just didn’t seem an apt response to “And what do you do?”
“I’m a grandmother,” she said.
“You look too young!” the president of the Purple Hat Society said. Her name was Cordelia Peppercorn. She was also president of her own company, which sold high end jewelry made by women’s collectives in India.
Susan privately agreed that she was too young. The mother of her grandchild was still in her teens. The father of her grandchild, her own offspring, had enrolled in the military to escape the baby’s mother, who was currently residing with Susan because her mother was a missionary.
So, although Susan was astonished by the aliens’ arrival, just as much as the next Purple Hat Society lady, her scream could be said to be one of relief, rather than dismay.
Many years ago, I decided to write a story that deliberately incorporated archetypes. It was called, “Woman Menstruating on the Moon,” and it was my first story to be accepted into a literary magazine…in fact, to my shock, it was accepted at two. The experiment worked, and here I am many years later, thinking about the power of archetypes and symbols.
The ancient world built its calendar around the moon–the Romans, the Chinese, and the Hebrews all had lunar calendars. But these were given up in favour of the more work friendly solar calendar, connected with harvest rather than the moon, as devised by Julius Caesar, emperor of Ancient Rome. (No coincidence, it seems to me, that Luna was relinquished by the empire that revered the male soldier.)
In many cultures, the moon has an association with female energy, and so I chose it to symbolize my character’s fertility. As a woman in an abusive marriage, she couldn’t express herself directly, not without damage, physically and emotionally. Her PMS (which, interestingly, the male editor of the magazine took literally) gave voice to the pain and anger she couldn’t. Her situation worsened until her rage expressed itself in the only way it could, taking control of her fertility and destroying it by demanding a hysterectomy to “cure” her PMS. The barrenness of the moon represented her pyrrhic victory as she dreamed of being on the moon, menstruating onto the sterile rock.
In many cultures, the full moon is associated with “lunacy” and danger, like in the myth of the werewolf who takes his rabid form at the full moon. I can’t help but think that this is related to the way that women’s power has been seen as dangerous, and the ways that women’s authority and agency are suppressed directly by law or domestic violence, or indirectly by attitudes about women’s voices (studies show that women who talk as much as men are perceived to be dominating the conversation), about appearance (that how an anchorwoman is dressed matters, but not an anchorman), and through visibility (next time you’re watching TV, check how often experts are women; not to mention the notorious stats on book reviews and reviewers).
So as I think about the full moon just past, I realize that we need that lunar power, even a touch of lunacy, in our work as writers and in our lives as feminists, male and female, still working toward full equality.
1. Keep an open mind
2. Practise empathy
3. Make a difference
4. Master the art of simple living
5. Beware your contradictions
6. Become a craftsman
7. Expand your social circle
Via BBC News