Friday, February 28, 2020

Week in Seven Words #497

A young brother and sister play with a water bottle for about an hour. First they take turns tossing the bottle to make it land upright on the ground. Then they roll it and kick it back and forth. After that, they relocate to a flight of stairs and toss it up and down.

She channels her thoughts through narrow conduits of social justice jargon.

I don't know why a cloud of bees has formed above the bed of a pickup truck, and I don't get close enough to find out.

On seeing his grandma approach with the stroller, the toddler wails that he isn't ready to leave. He stomps off shouting, "Bye!" She blows him a kiss. He softens enough to send her one back. Her relaxed posture misleads him into thinking he's safe from capture. He toddles closer, grinning. He's still grinning when she snatches him up and straps him, wailing again, into the stroller.

Her coughing fit ends, and her soulful voice crawls out, cradling each note of a slow melody.

During the sonogram, the technician asks me to be patient as she tries to locate one of my ovaries. "It's like deep sea diving," I murmur, and she laughs. (The outer office has an ocean resort atmosphere. Soft pop music and a decor of seashell pink, cloudy white, and calm blue.)

Some shimmering classical piece is playing in the background, and I'm sinking into the sofa, my thoughts calm.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Eight Unromantic Short Stories

Yesterday, I posted a playlist for Valentine's Day on another site. Today, I've decided to shatter dreams of romance with the following stories. Enjoy!

Title: After You've Gone
Author: Alice Adams
Where I Read It: Legal Fictions

An attorney attempts to bring some order to her feelings and thoughts after her boyfriend leaves her. She analyzes different areas of her life and assumes a dispassionate attitude about a deeply personal and emotional topic. In her letter to him, she even advocates for his new girlfriend, asking him to be kind to her. The story is worth reading for the performance the main character delivers.

Title: The Connor Girls
Author: Edna O'Brien
Where I Read It: The Love Object

The title refers to a pair of adult sisters who live with their father. In the area of Irish countryside they call home, they're the elites. However, a scandal breaks the family apart when one of the sisters falls in love with a man her father considers unsuitable; she's Protestant, and her lover is Catholic. She leaves home and returns only when her father passes away. The marriage she once hoped for never takes place. For a while she's in the grip of an intense grief and has a drinking problem. But eventually, she settles back into life with her sister. Her heart was broken, her hopes thwarted, but by the story's end she's healing and is also more open to the community around her. You wonder, as much pain as she went through, maybe marriage to the man of her choice would have put her in worse straits? Or maybe she would have been deeply happy. There's no way to know for sure.

The story's narrator is a neighbor of the Connor girls. Her family comes from a lower class, and she has always looked at the Connors from the outside. When she grows up, she chooses to marry outside her parents' wishes. After a period of estrangement, she visits home with her husband and young son. The visit highlights her husband's contempt for her parents, their rural way of life, and yes, for her too. The narrator is deeply alone, wrenched away from her parents' world but in a relationship that isn't loving. She also no longer has a community to call her own. Ultimately, the story doesn't portray marrying against parental wishes as an unquestioned good in all cases. Sometimes it might be the best choice, but the risks are serious, and one might lose a great deal. Should you take the risk then?

Title: The Country Husband
Author: John Cheever
Where I Read It: American Short Stories Since 1945

Cheever is good at writing about middle-aged, upper middle class suburbanites who possess the accepted trappings of an adult life - marriage, children, a job, a lovely home – but if you look more closely, you discover that they are profoundly immature. Something in them remains undeveloped. In this story, a man experiences a shock – he survives an airplane accident – and appears to spiral into a mid-life crisis that he doesn't have the wisdom or maturity to handle. For example, he feels lust for his kids' young babysitter (he thinks of it as love, but it doesn't come across as genuine love), and acts on his feelings in a selfish, nasty way that hurts other people.

Title: The Furnished Room
Author: O. Henry (William Sydney Porter)
Where I Read It: Manhattan Noir 2

A man searches through NYC for a woman he loves. He goes from one derelict boarding house to another in the hopes that someone knows where she is. She works in theater, and her fate is at first unknown. By the end we find out.

The visceral descriptions of miserable places are the most memorable parts of this story.
They trod noiselessly upon a stair carpet that its own loom would have forsworn. It seemed to have become vegetable; to have degenerated in that rank, sunless air to lush lichen or spreading moss that grew in patches to the staircase and was viscid under the foot like organic matter.
Human misery is imprinted on furniture and on the floors and walls. You can feel the presence of former occupants in depressing ways.
One by one, as the characters of a cryptograph become explicit, the little signs left by the furnished room's procession of guests developed a significance. The threadbare space in the rug in front of the dresser told that lovely women had marched in the throng. The tiny finger prints on the wall spoke of little prisoners trying to feel their way to sun and air. A splattered stain, raying like the shadow of a bursting bomb, witnessed where a hurled glass or bottle had splintered with its contents against the wall.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Week in Seven Words #496

By the salty, polluted river, the grass is long and glossy. Purple flowers and soda cans nestle in it.

Worries are better dealt with outdoors. Not in the confines of a familiar room but in a wider space with water, trees, and people.

A caterpillar, small as a piece of macaroni, squiggles on my neck.

A woman is simultaneously playing the violin and hula hooping. Packing her talents together in the hopes of collecting more money in her violin case.

She keeps lowering her book with a sigh. The whoosh of the passing cars distracts her. I've written it off as background noise, like the wind. After she calls attention to it, I pause to listen, and I realize how much noise I accept as a given, just a part of life.

Toy sailboats find their balance on a sheet of dark water.

Rain comes down in thick continuous clots and spatters like white paint on the street.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Week in Seven Words #495

We sit across from each other in a tiny office. Construction noise shatters our conversation.

The water in the fountain is dark and murky. Lily pads float in the basin. Partly a fountain, partly a pond, presided over by the statue of an angel.

The planes, which have been used for war, now look like painted toys displayed in unrelenting sunlight.

Anxiety: small, sharp stones on a stream bed churning in a powerful current. Regret: boulders thundering down a hillside.

Metal chairs beneath branches delicate as bones. Many people are reading, scrolling through websites, or sharing silence with friends. One man is alone and insane. He's ranting about $10 and listening to Elton John and Phil Collins on a small radio.

We push our way through the stuffy, narrow corridors of a ship. What must it have felt and smelled like, powering through the Tropics in days of no deodorant or A/C?

The dog leaps at me and puts her paws up on my legs for a neck massage and chest rub. One guy looking on says that he could use a massage to his neck too.