Friday, May 24, 2013

Story-A-Day May: Why Witches Won't Cross Water

I began this the other day, and will finish it when I finish it. But here's what I have.
 Three witches walked the long, high road along the banks of Mongee River, taking its twists and tussocks easily in their stride. They wore strong boots with thick, wide soles that helped them to conquer the uneven turf without so much as a turned ankle all the day.

 The youngest walked ahead of her older sisters, being the most sure-footed and the best navigator. It was always her job to foresee perturbances and find a path around them, whether walking miles of bumpy, muddy ground or setting out a perfect tea party for a wealthy family that might purchase the special services the sisters offered. She had been uprooting obstacles for 78 years now and it was second nature to her, never questioned or reflected upon.

 Till they came to the door in the water.

 It was 7 feet high, made seemingly of the shimmering live river water it swirled up from, and blocking their path at a narrow juncture between tightly grown trees on one side, and a rock formation on the other. The older two stopped several yards shy of the thing, and glanced to their problem-solving sibling.

“Well, Ruby, what do you make of that?” asked the oldest.

Her young sister stepped close to the door, without touching it. Within the set shape, the fluid moved rapidly, rushing and foaming; she watched as live fish swam about their business, apparently unaware of the odd change affecting their environment.

“Perhaps someone has cast a spell, Lu,” she suggested.

“Powerful spell.” Lu observed. Beside her, Jacklyn nodded, stroking her chin.

“Elementalism, I guess. But for what purpose?” she said.

 She stared at Ruby, and Ruby stared at the amazing door, lost in its beauty. Her sisters waited with some calm, expecting her to suggest a course of action, perhaps perform a counter-spell. But she did nothing for a quarter of an hour. The air was growing cold, when Jacklyn got tired of waiting.

 “Ruby! It’s chilly near this damned door. Fix it! We’ve got work to do in Kelfield early tomorrow. We have to go.”

“Don’t know what to do.” Ruby came out of her contemplation with no idea of how to get pas the door safely. Well, just one.

“We could walk through it,” she said. “It’s water.”

Jacklyn shook her head. “Could be more than just water. It’s animated, and who knows by what?”

“Or who.” Lu added.

 Ruby sighed and tried to think hard on the problem, but nothing came to her. They couldn’t climb the trees, as the branches were too thin to support them, but too closely set to push through. They couldn’t climb the slippery rocks safely, as they were too wet and steep. She knew her sisters hoped she could spell it away, but she knew she had no such power in her, and besides, she didn’t want to destroy it— she found it wondrous. There must be something else to do.

 Jacklyn stood fairly steaming in disapproval, yet Ruby couldn’t come up with a useful idea.

“Maybe we should turn back and find a way to go around this.”

Lu scowled. “After all this walking?”

“What choice do we have?”

“Always another choice. Just need to find it.” Jacklyn grunted.

 She scratched her head, and began to think on the issue herself, something she was unused to doing. The older sisters would happily put their full powers and concentration into any task, so long as they didn’t have to decide on the task; that was Ruby’s job. But there was work to be done elsewhere, and the daylight was going. Beams of red gold sunset filtered through the door, splashing rainbow shadows onto the wet wall of rock. It was beautiful, she’d admit, but probably dangerous, and damned annoying.

“Could we call our friend Havre?” she asked, and ruby shook her head.

 “He’s on a mission, remember? Rescuing that dragon egg he heard about.”

“That’s right.” Jacklyn said.  

Lu leaned against the nearest tree and rubbed her calf.

“We might have to camp here, if this goes on much longer.”

“Too dangerous.” Jacklyn said. “Can’t sleep near a magic door you didn’t call.”

“Then we'd better get past it!” Lu stood up again, angry and tired. Ruby could feel her frustration, and she decided to try the only way she had left.

 “I’ll go through first. I’ll find out if it’s safe.” she offered.

“No.” Jacklyn said, but Ruby blew her a kiss and stepped through the glistening clear door before she could change her mind, and disappeared. Lu stepped back from the door, a horrified look on her face. Jacklyn just looked angry.

“Damn!” she cried, “Why didn’t you grab her arm?”

“She moved too fast!” Lu said. Her voice cracked, and she sobbed. “Why didn’t she try a spell first?”

“We’ll have to try to spell her back,” Jacklyn said, “or else follow.”

Lu wiped her eyes and stepped back further. She had no desire to go through that door, even to save her sister.

© By Mari Kozlowski, May 24, 2013

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Story-A-Day May: The Tangled

If you saw the way she looked the last time I saw her, you'd never believe that she used to be pretty, engaging, have a sort of bright mind, and be the kind of calmly hip person to inspire a child. But she was.

 This girl, a slovenly, sad, mind-mangled creature, was once the fresh young thing that taught me to wash my hair properly. Three sisters I had then, yet it was a high school dropout that had gotten preggers at the age of 14, that showed me what I needed to do.

 It was like this: I had cleaned my hair, I thought, and was having trouble brushing it through. I think I was 9, or maybe 8 or 10-- somewhere there in the firm hand of pre-teen silliness and self-consciousness.

 S. saw me flailing around, and offered to comb me out. She was over to see my sister, her friend, but really to share our family's vibe, since hers was kinda more fucked up than ours. I think she had a crush on my oldest brother, too. And the first thing she did was tell me not to use a brush on wet hair, because it could tear it and cause tangles and split ends.

 This piece of advice made her an instant guru to me. She went to our bathroom and found a slim, long rat-tail comb, and began trying to fix my hair with it, but I hadn't gotten all the shampoo, and then conditioner, rinsed out. it was clotted in clumps and itchy as hell.

 "You have to rinse it better, Mary." she told me, and then took me into the bathroom and made me stick my head under the faucet. She rinsed me clear, then put a little cream rinse in, combed it through, rinsed it out again, and this is the brilliant part-- showed me what it should feel like when I had it really clean. That feeling against your fingers, that lets you know you're done.

 Then she towel dried my head and combed carefully through every single strand, starting gently at the bottom instead of the top, showing me how that would remove tangles without stretching, pulling and tearing my fine, thin straight flyaway hair. She must have spent 45 minutes or more helping me, which is approximately 44 minutes more than any of my brothers or sisters had spent with me since I left infancy.   

 She and my sister parted ways with much acrimony, amid suspicions of someone seducing someone they weren't supposed to; my kind mother, who was called Mom by at least 2 dozen more children than she had actually produced, kept in touch with S. for years, allowing the progressively misguided girl to call her and spill out her troubles from time to time.

The girl's son had been taken from her at fifteen, then returned, then taken again. She herself went in and out of mental wards and was put on nearly every kind of brain-altering drug that existed back then. Her intelligence dropped by degrees, and her judgment of men's intentions, never very sound, got her into all kinds of scrapes and heartbreak. the last time I spoke with her, she was barely capable of speaking a coherent sentence.

 It's one the saddest little true stories I know. I wouldn't want to see her, now, because she isn't that hopeful helpful girl anymore, but a piece of human wreckage. The sadness of her life depletes me, if I think of it too often.

 So this is for her, wherever she is: a small, useless, but heartfelt thank you for the attention and care she gave me one afternoon, long ago. Whatever others feel about her, I choose to remember that sweet chunk of time she offered, and her generous concern about something everyone around me had ignored. It made a big difference in my perception of myself, and my understanding of why I should take care of myself.

 I hope she has found some unexpected generosity, herself.

© By Mari Kozlowski, May 22, 2013

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Story-A-Day May... slowing, but still going.

A week of being terribly sick has left me behind again. What to do?

 Jump in and stop worrying about what I didn't finish (four stories with no ending) and get into it NOW.

Summer land of WNY

 In a breeze from the lake, you can smell five things, or six, or seven. Lake Erie's beaches carry the scent of fish, of smoke, of seaweed (or lake weed, to be specific), of rotting logs, of clean-washed air, of baking sand, and the coconut scent of tanned teenagers sweating in the sun, displaying their golden greased curves to each other in hopes of hooking up around the bonfire later.

 Looking out from the edge is similar to looking at the ocean. It seems every bit as endless, but the weight of water you feel as you stare is less. In first morning sunlight, an unbroken wall of white gold shimmers too brightly to take for long; no visible division of sky and water exists. I have seen the Atlantic, and two of the Great Lakes-- the lakes are still stunning.

 There is a lovely coastal feel to the areas around the lakes, as well-- people buy cottages and spend two or even three seasons there, where the living is simpler and time has its own lake-set pace. You may have to get up early and drive in to town to work the next day, but if the stars are beautiful and the grill is going, it isn't bedtime yet. When you do lay head to pillow, you'll sleep the sound sleep of the profoundly grateful, hearing nothing but your own breath and the soft crick of a window somewhere, moving slightly as it holds against the low wind off the water. The waves are felt rather than heard, a rich slow hum that soothes and protects your dreams. Heroically tall pines sway and open onto a living darkness of indigo sky.

© By Mari Kozlowski, May 19, 2013

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Story-A-Day May: Hothouse Burdens

Lilly has a crown she will wear this morning, when her groom climbs the high hill and the players strum their green-stringed goldbedums, singing softly into the moist air of May.

The circlet is made of silver leaves, dotted here and there with water gems, the costly ones that look like emerald. They are fixed in the centers, or at the shiny tips of the worked metal leaves like dewdrops about to fall or evaporate. Many enslaved artisans helped in the making of this beautiful thing, an item of rare grace that Lilly will wear ever after only for the most special and sacred occasions.

It does not dawn on her that her people, who are starving, may look upon the jeweled artifact with resentment, wondering why she has the nerve to flaunt her stolen wealth at them. She has no fears that her countrymen and subjects might look with distaste or even disgust at the explicit show of expansiveness, might revile the largesse of her wedding feast, where they would not be welcome.

It doesn't cross her mind, because it isn't so-- the people, hungry and falling daily from sicknesses associated with inadequate nutrition, want nothing but the best for their queen. They would have it no other way, than that she should make them proud by looking as richly refined as the princesses of the three wealthier countries that border theirs. The image of their young queen, lovely as a blossoming tree as she speaks her vows, is what they wish for this morning, to hold in their hearts through the drought-ridden summer to come. Their crops will die soon, after stunted yields, but her glory will rain on them all.

 © By Mari Kozlowski, May 5, 2013

Friday, May 3, 2013

Story-A-Day May: In the Cut.

Today's story, in its own post.

  Her eyes had been closed for much of the surgery, but now she opened them and was immediately shocked and nauseated by the welling of blood and its hot iron smell.

 They had promised she wouldn't feel a thing, under the influence of this new drug, and she didn't-- her hands, her usually stiff back and her legs had held up fine. She didn't feel the slightest push as the sharp scalpel moved in and out of the appropriate organ like a hot knife in soft butter. Just the nausea, as fleetingly irritating as it was unexpected.

 Watching the progress of the operation with a happily disconnected interest, she felt her stomach lurch, wanting to heave, and tried to avert her head with a quick movement.

 "Doctor Lynch," the nurse beside her asked, " are you alright? You look green."

"I'll be fine," she answered, " just need to look at something else for a moment."

 © By Mari Kozlowski, May 3, 2013

Story-A-Day May: Two for the price of one!

I did write my story yesterday, before midnight even-- after I came back from my writing group. I was just too tired to post it, so here it is, with a little polish of editing to shine it up since I had the time. The second will follow later, so if you should happen to read this early Friday, please come back tonight for the rest.

Guava and Lime

 Under the sick white glaze of overhead fluorescents, her knife rocked in well-controlled pace, firm, a natural part of her hand extended over the onions being reduced to ever smaller particles. Minced so fine that their juice ran off the side of the wooden board, they gave surprisingly little smell. The cook had first halved them then steeped them in lime, before patting them dry for the final cutting. She used them for flavor, not bite; a trick she’d learned on an island paradise she had no intention of returning to, in this career-- in this lifetime.

 Meanwhile the hob behind her heated to smoking hot, and in a moment the tiny confetti of onion would be thrown into a dry pan over that blaze, to scorch and char briefly. Then the cook would combine them with chilled guava chunks, a sprinkling of spice and more lime— a salsa for topping her signature dish of broiled filet. The authentic recipe called for a cut that wasn’t available in the states, and even the guava was a poor stand-in for its island self, but few of her customers would discern the differences. They raved over the intriguing tropical tone of her offering, whose true origins she kept to herself and thought of only rarely during her daily prep.

 The fruits on that island were sweeter, riper, more complex in flavor than any grown on any large continent she had ever visited, and she had visited many. The meats, wild or farmed, had a tender lushness to them, almost a creaminess when the flesh was properly cooked, and the local rum was as freshly delicious and easily consumed as springwater. Its sweet urgings had contributed to an array of bold, thoughtless nights and rough mornings during her long stay. Those nights, if she allowed herself to remember them, could still make her blush, make her knife-hand shake as she used other lessons learned then to tantalize and tease, comfort and challenge the palates of her guests. Just as her own tastes once had been teased and challenged— but certain flavors, some exotic fruits, could never be had very far from their source. Some delicacies, you couldn’t bring home.

© By Mari Kozlowski, May 2, 2013.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Story-A-Day May-- The Drabble That Didn't

   I changed my mind (woman/prerogative) and decided to throw myself into Story-a-Day May with Marta, whose stories will be better, I assure you. This one proves it. As I'll be getting cut apart a little at the end of the month, I may miss the last few days, but c'est la vie!

 The writing prompt for the day, which one need not adhere to, is a Drabble-- a hundred word story that focuses on a moment, a happening, between two characters or less.

 And I blew it from the start, going over a hundred words without trying, and not wanting to abandon the intriguing Shan, who created the story around himself. It needs to be longer, longer than I've made it, and someday I'll re-visit the tale, but for now, here it is:

Baker Man

 Evening air had cooled the kitchen, finally. Shan went through the room closing windows with a satisfied smile. His baking adventure had gone well and his wife would be thrilled, come morning, when presented with perfectly golden tarts topped with a fine, vanilla-scented crumble, bursting with plums. She loved unexpected tidbits, and he had cleared the house of hints; not the faintest whiff of baked fruit or buttery pastry remained to spoil her surprise. He could picture her face, mouth open, eyes wide and hunting for a motive, then her lips stained with the dark juices as she bit into the treat.

 Fresh Plums were hard to find in spring, but Shan was a master at sourcing. He found sweet, melting strawberries in December, and the best oranges of the year in June. His skill at obtaining such treasures was part research, part charm-- when Shan tracked down a likely source, he schmoozed the point person mercilessly. Rolling his voice to a silken ripple, he’d flatter just subtly enough to make the person feel special and appreciated. It was a habit he'd picked up in the music industry, where artists and moneymen alike needed their egos salved regularly.

 Now, house-husband to a wealthy businesswoman, he found ample use for his sales techniques; and the commission was quite a bit more interesting than mere cash. Their time together was pleasurable but erratic, and often brief. It wouldn’t be true to say that he loved his wife, but she did give him certain satisfactions, along with freedom to pursue his interests as widely as he chose, and unfettered funding of any and all dreams. 

 Almost an ideal life, he knew.

© By Mari Kozlowski, May 1, 2013