Insider [Flash Fiction]

In the spaces between my shallow breaths, I heard someone moving around the house. I knew, rationally, that my heartbeats weren’t audible to any ears besides my own, but I worried that my increasing panic would lead to hyperventilation and the kind of wheezing, huffing, gasping for air that would wrack my entire body with convulsive shudders, making me knock against the precariously stacked shelves of the storeroom I was hiding in; not only would the air passing through my constricting throat move my vocal cords, but, most likely, a whole slew of boxes, bottles and dusty bits of machinery would fall down on me, giving away my location.

I counted to myself, looking at the seconds moving on my digital watch, for once blessing my age-old habit of going to bed with it, a habit that my husband hated. I breathed in for two seconds, let the air out for three – the goal was to reach four seconds in and eight out, achieving maximum calm and minimal panic, but I was only human, after all, and someone was prowling around out there, looking for me.

Graham wasn’t home; he was on a rare business trip. He hated them and tried, whenever possible, to send our son, Graham Junior, in his stead. Junior actually liked the travel, the plane rides, the novelty of staying in hotels alone and getting to be the big boss among the small fry. Graham never really liked that stuff, and he still teases me sometimes that Junior isn’t really his son, because where did he get his outgoing streak? Maybe he got it from my side of the family, I tell him. Hiding in the closet, I was thinking about how convenient it was that Junior was spending the night with his new girlfriend and not at home. Junior isn’t nearly as outgoing as his father likes to think he is.

A tinkling sound, following by a soft rip made me lose track of my measured breaths and I felt the pins and needles begin to crawl up my fingers and toes as I started to hyperventilate. I opened my eyes wide and forced myself to track the seconds on my watch again – 00:03:26 – 00:03:27 – breathe in – 28, 29, 30 – breathe out. The intruder, whoever he was, was being careful. He was looking for something. The sounds I’d heard – I tried to figure them out. The first was probably my perfume bottles – my one concession to vanity; working in a hospital, I’ve come to appreciate being surrounded by a scent of something that isn’t death, pus, ooze, urine, feces or antibacterial hand wash. The second sound, the rip… That was harder to figure out and it made me very nervous.

A creak. A groan. That was the floor near my hiding place and a voice, the voice of someone who wasn’t aware of the loose floorboard and twisted an ankle in it. Even very rich people get lazy about house repairs, I thought sardonically, noticing with pride that my breathing was slowing and that I could afford to make it a smidgen shallower and thus quieter. The door I was behind was locked, of course, with the key inside it on my end. I had not even the tiniest bit of curiosity as to what the intruder looked like. I simply wanted him to think that the house was empty and to leave.

Graham and I have gotten death threats before. We both do work that’s controversial, in its own way, and there are many people who don’t like the wealthy in this day and age. I can’t blame them for it, though their discontent doesn’t excuse their bad behavior, nor does it allow them to ignore the fact that we are human beings with rights as well. We pay our taxes and perform our social and public duties and shouldn’t be attacked. But high powered couples are always seen as somewhat problematic and Graham and I have always been aware of it and have fought our battles together or alone, as need and our lawyers deemed fit. We are not sentimental about such things. But I know that this break-in is about me, because this is the first time that I have had a secret. My family knows nothing of it, nor does anyone else.

Except someone does, apparently, know. Someone, walking around my house that night, knew. He knew, and he was going to do something about it. I stood in my closet and counted breaths, quietly, determined not to be heard.

Springtime Reactions

When spring came, the trees unfroze from their long slumber, the animals uncurled in their dens, and the flowers bloomed in their neat rows. The sun shone and warmed peoples’ skin and the wind blew and chilled them when they stood in the shade. The world took its course, as it does every year.
But inside Gray Gardens, the old fashioned townhouse that Laura and Bill occupied, things were changing in an entirely new way and everyone was out of sorts.
“Bill! Bill, where are you?” Laura pounded down the stairs, yelling at the top of her voice and making the chandelier rattle.
“I’m up here!”
Laura stopped, turned, sighed, and climbed right back up the wide staircase. She tracked Bill’s voice to the second upstairs bathroom, where he had taken to shaving in the mornings after Laura had complained that she was sick of finding his tiny face-hairs stuck to the main bathroom’s sink. As she pounded on the door, he nicked himself and swore loudly.
“Can’t you knock like a human being?” he said. “Geez, it’s like having an untrained chimpanzee for a wife sometimes,” he added under his breath, rolling his eyes at himself in the mirror.
“The catering company called and they’re saying that the sushi is non-kosher. Your father is going to murder me. Literally.”
“No, he’s not. He might flay you but he won’t kill you.”
“Well, I won’t look very attractive without my skin on, will I? You need to call them and tell them that we’re not going to pay for it if it’s not kosher.”
“Why can’t you do it? I thought you were taking care of the caterers.”
“I tried, didn’t I? Their secretary got very snippy with me. It was as if she forgot that I was the one paying her.”
“You’re not. The catering company is paying her.”
“Whatever. Will you call them?”
“Fine, fine, I will.”
Bill and Laura’s daughter was getting married and the wedding was that evening, in Gray Garden’s spacious backyard. Nothing was going right, and it wasn’t even nine in the morning yet. Bill had already gotten an angry email from the band they’d hired, telling him that they couldn’t possibly arrive two hours earlier than planned, because they were on tour and that their management was already pissed off that they’d agreed to a private engagement like this one. Laura had wept twice that morning – once on the phone with her daughter, who was sobbing about how scared she was and a second time because her beautifully manicured nail had broken inside her expensive hairdo. Bill had been on the verge of tears himself when he’d found out that there was mold growing out of the corner of the bathroom wall again – he’d thought they’d gotten that taken care of last year.
Spring calmly hovered in the air outside, but inside it seemed to be only eliciting allergic reactions.

The Owls

It wasn’t a long drive. We started out in Downtown, with plenty of tall buildings around us. We passed through suburbia, taking note of some of the more adorable houses around us – a memorable one had a thatched roof. Next there was a bridge. I’m almost certain it was over a river, but perhaps I am mistaken. There was a bridge, anyway, not long, but it was definitely a kind of suspension bridge, although it was a miniature of the kind that are to be seen in San Francisco or New York City.
After the bridge, the scenery began to change. There were some vestiges of suburbia, some strip malls and large gas stations, and then we passed into the countryside. It seemed incredible that there was farmland so close to the city – still, technically, IN the city – but there you go. Some places are like that.
The fields weren’t pure anymore, though. Subdivisions sprang up among them, and a few McMansions were either already built, a blight on the landscape, or in the process of being erected, their cement shells monstrously out of place amidst the huge and empty expanses of land.
We drove down a long dirt road until we saw the line of cars that were parked on the left, one after another, neatly and politely. We found an empty spot and donned our coats, gloves, scarves and hats; the sun was peeking from behind the heavy gray clouds, but it wasn’t warm by any means. We each dutifully took a pair of binoculars from the trunk, two large and expensive pairs and one small and still expensive pair, and set off towards the path that ran along the sea.
Somehow, we’d gone from city to suburbs to country to the seashore, all within a half hour.
“Look at the paparazzi,” my aunt whispered to me. Walking toward us from the seaside gravel path were a group of four adults in heavy raincoats, holding two large tripods and proportionately large cameras. None of them had the sleaze of actual paparazzo, which made sense – they weren’t there to spy on and photograph people’s personal and sordid lives, after all. They were there to photograph the owls.
That was why we were there, too. We’d come to witness the eruption of owls. Snowy owls live in the arctic tundra, but their food supply must have become scarce this past winter, because they showed up here sometime in March, and were chilling, in all their glory, on the stacks of driftwood washed in by the high tides.
It was easy enough to spot them without the binoculars. They were so white that they stood out among the rotting brown wood and the yellow and green weeds that filled the space between the path we were on and the sparkling water.
We got to see four of them that day. Three of them were older and mostly white, their feathers looking more like fur than anything. They were nervous, as any animal would be if there was a long row of people standing on a path barely fifty yards from them, murmuring and clicking away at cameras and peering at them through strange contraptions. There were also several bald eagles circling above, and the older owls glanced up every once in a while, their heads seeming to blend into their arched backs and their beaks hanging open, observing the other predators on their land.
There was one young snowy owl, who for some reason I felt was a female. She still had a lot of brown spots all along her back and head feathers, and she was the first one we saw who decided to move and give us a bit of a show. Of course, seeing snowy owls on a sunny day was already rather awe inspiring, but this young owl was fidgety and more nervous than her older counterparts, and she took a walk along the dead trunk she was perching on. We got to see her lifting her talons and witnessed the mass of feathers that cover both her legs and in between those long, sharp toes. She was ungainly as she shuffled along, her neck and head bobbing a little. If only we could have seen her flying, I’m convinced she would have proved to us just how graceful she could be.
Looking at the owls through the binoculars, I couldn’t help but think of poor Hedwig, Harry Potter’s owl. She was a snowy, and she died for her master. I doubt any real snowy owls would be willing to live in a cage – they looked much too wild for that, their powerful, big bodies spotted like snow leopards.
There is some beauty that should remain wild.

I Don’t Do “Everything”

I’ve just finished watching an episode of House entitled “Private Lives.” In it, there’s a character who blogs. There are some very nice points raised in the episode about the community that can be found on the Internet as well as the friendship and connection between individuals through it. Of course, this being House, there are also some bad points raised – the character writes about everything she goes through in her daily life, meaning she has no secrets and nor does her husband, who she writes about regularly.

So this is the issue I’m raising. This “everything” issue. I’ve written many blogs before: in Tapuz [an Israeli site], in Live Journal, in Open Diary [and Teen Open Diary when it was still around], in Blogspot and finally here. As opposed to all the others, I opened this blog in order to serve a purpose – practicing writing and getting feedback on it. I found friends here, and so now I occasionally dip into my personal life and write openly in from my own, real first-person point of view – just like I’m doing now.

All the other blogs I started were meant to be journals. The one I stuck with the longest – Teen Open Diary – closed down and since then, and the loss of a dear friend who I met through there, I’ve never managed to stick to a journaling blog.  It’s been almost exactly five years since then. Maybe it had to do with my friend who was killed in a car crash, maybe not. I honestly don’t know.

So I don’t do the “everything” kind of writing. And now my question is – does anyone? Many of you write about your personal lives, but you don’t tell your readers everything – you tell anecdotes, you celebrate your families, you laugh about your days, you share experiences and memories, you give opinions. But you don’t expose everything. For one, everyone needs secrets. For another, how could you remember every single thing you’ve gone through every day? And finally, and most importantly, if you’re constantly writing about your life, then when do you have time to live it?

I love journal-writing. If not online, then by hand. I have a hard time sticking with it, but when I need to write about my days, my feelings and my thoughts, there’s always a pen and a notebook there, ready for me. Now, I have a pretty tough time – a HUGELY tough time, actually – with trying to appreciate every moment and really be present in my life. But if I just tried to write about everything I experienced, I don’t know if I’d be able to experience it.

Your opinions?

Blasts From the Past

Isn’t it strange how things seem to synchronize in life? Sometimes it’s craving something sweet and suddenly discovering a cake mix you’ve had for months and forgotten about. Sometimes it’s driving along, thinking about how you really need to replace your toaster, and then seeing an appliance store the next time you stop at a red light. Sometimes it’s reaching your hand out to call a friend you haven’t spoken to for ages, and having the phone ring just at that moment with that person on the line calling you. Life is sometimes funny that way. Coincidences probably, or so my rational mind deduces, but it doesn’t take away the sweet taste of mystery that comes with it.

This week, I’ve made some remarkable findings. First, I found my old poetry notebook in which I’d copied, by hand, all the poems I’d written on the computer. Reading through the poems, I was surprised at how much of what I’d written then still applies to me, but in a different way.

Second, I most likely found the reason I don’t sleep well is because of something in my past – I never put two and two together until getting the input from someone else, but once I did, it clicked. Not that it’s helped me sleep better, but at least I know a likely reason for it.

Third, I got an email from OpenDiary, a website I used to write in during high-school. I had two diaries there; one written when I was sixteen, the other when I was seventeen. I accessed both diaries and downloaded them to my computer and read through some entries. As with the poetry notebook, it was a surprise to read my words back then and think how they mean something different, but still relevant, to me now. The best part, though, is that there are a few entries about the beginning of my relationship with Sir B. F. and those made me smile a great deal.

Last, I found my daily-calendar from senior year in high school. It’s full of lyrics, big decelerations of boredom, private jokes my friends and I had then and lots of hearts dedicated to Sir. B. F. as well as the various bands I was seriously into at the time. I loved finding the doodles I had done while bored out of my mind during class – a big Christmas tree with presents beneath it drawn on December 24, random cat and bunny drawings, some manga attempts.

It was strange, finding all these things day after day, but I enjoyed it. I love those weird synchronizations in life. How about you?

A Monarch’s Responsibilities

History is a vast and incomprehensible mystery to me in many ways. We have facts about things that have happened in the past – we have dates, records of events, paintings reproducing the faces involved in those events, poems and diaries devoted to giving opinions and preserving what happened in a biased manner. We have all these things. Mystery, to some people, seems like a wide-open book, its contents there for us to look through, sift for what interests us, and indulge ourselves in knowledge of old.

I don’t feel this way. In my opinion, history is full of so much that we don’t know and so much that I wish I could know. True, we know when Martin Luther began to speak and write about his emotions about being a monk and part of the Catholic Church. In his instance, we can find quite a lot of emotional and sentimental writings from his own pen, or maybe quill, and we can see into his mind, as far as he lets us.

But what about others? What about the farmers and the spinners and the dye-makers that England had in such profusion in the sixteenth century? What were the children running barefoot through the streets of London, so much smaller than it is today, thinking? What games were they playing? What was the man smuggling illegal documents from Europe into the English Empire thinking as he worked? Was he scared for his life or merely waiting to get paid so he could go home to his wife and child? What were the nuns, sequestered in their cloisters, talking about? How did they speak to their young students, and how did they infuse them with a love and a belief for the divine? Through fear? Through love? Through simply offering worship as a fact of life?

And if these so-called simple people’s lives aren’t interesting enough for historians to dwell on – well then, what about the monarchs? How could Henry VIII hold such power in his hands and play with it so lightly at times? What did Katherine of Aragon feel as she was condemned? We can guess, surely, but how can we know? What of Elizabeth? How did she feel when she was sought after for marriage through the years? Did she decide on her own to remain a single ruler in order to maintain a stable throne? Did she, perhaps, not find men pleasing in the manner she would have been expected to? Had she fallen in love with someone who never returned her love or never could?

It’s bad enough, thinking of the power that politicians and governments hold today. At least it’s distributed power, and is more or less given by the people. But monarchs… They were born. Some of them believed they were chosen by divinity to be kings or queens. They held so much power in their cupped hands, that they’d let some of it run through their fingers to those sitting at their feet, just waiting for a pearl or jewel to drop from those mighty hands. I can’t imagine how such responsibility could be held without driving the holder mad with indecision, worry, guilt. Such are the things that the annals of history can’t reveal to us. Thoughts, emotions, private sighs of elation or grief.

Everything Can Change

Everything can change, between one moment and the next. Anything can cause the change, as long as it triggers something within your mind. It can be a snatch of song, floating from a car window that reminds you of an event from the past. It can be the way a leaf falls from a tree, looking just like a similar one that you saw a week before. It can be just a few words of a conversation that two people walking by your are having.

Everything can change, between one moment and the next. The sky, that looked so blue and wonderful can turn into a scorching, painful color. The breeze, that felt so pleasant and cool and sweet, can now make your hands feel like ice. Your very insides, which felt so balanced and serene, can turn into a flurry of angry bees, buzzing and stinging and making your muscles clench.

Everything can change, between one moment and the next. It’s impossible to shut out those day-to-day coincidences that meet our eyes and ears and remind us of things. So, we accept the fact that everything can change. We accept the fact that our emotions are irrational, strange things. We accept, and we live with it.

Everything can change between one moment and the next. Sometimes, things change for the worse. But when things change for the better, in the space of a breath, it feels like a gift.