Laboratory

“Blaming me won’t work, you know. It’s not my fault.” I can feel the flush rising in my cheeks. I know that I’m right on this. It really isn’t my fault. But then why are my legs shaking? Why am I so nervous?

“You were supposed to be watching, you were supposed to be waiting, you were supposed to be doing your job!”

“I was! I was here the whole time! Listen, no disrespect or anything, but if whatever it is you were doing here didn’t work, it’s certainly not on account of my not being here.” I shut my mouth quickly. I’ve never spoken to him like this. I can’t believe I lost my temper. I back up, even though I want so badly to stand my ground, to be firm for once.

His eyes twinkle in the strange light of this place and I feel as if there’s something building inside him that’s going to explode. The liquids on the wall reflect and break the odd lighting into a hundred shades of color, but the magic and beauty of it has been lost for me in the fear that I feel whenever I’m here at the same time as he is.

He turns around and goes back to the workstation where the apparently unsuccessful results of his handiwork sit, bubbling eerily. I watch him, and wonder if I’m ever going to get out of here or if today is the day he locks me up and cooks me for dinner.

Mad Mary [Flash Fiction]

“Either stay, and do as I say, or go.”

I went. Many would have stayed, and been called fools for it. In my small village, I’d seen the same thing happen many a time, and always the women would throw contemptuous glances at their peer who wore long sleeves in summer and tried to spread powder over her face and neck so the bruises wouldn’t show.

And yet, now that I’m alone, walking along the path that leads from the village to the bigger city that lies somewhere by the sea, I wonder who is the real fool. I went because I couldn’t stand him anymore – not his smell, or his heaving, sweaty weight groaning above me, or his fists in my stomach when I burned the crust of the bread. Mother surely didn’t help. She told me to take it and do as my husband said. She thought that I must have been doing something wrong for him to become so angry. I tried to tell her that the devil shown out of his eyes, but she told me I was mad.

So I went. I left everything. There was no one in the village who would help me, for it wasn’t only Mother who thought I was mad. I’d been called Mad Maiden Mary all the way up the aisle, and only when I was good and married in front of God, the Church and everybody did they stop. And then only because I wasn’t a maiden anymore.

It’s my eyes. They’re large, and one is blue while the other is green. The green one used to be blue until an accident that Mother never explains happened when I was just a babe. I gather that something stuck in my eye and changed all the colors around and made it that bright green that throws everyone off. I also talk to myself, but only because there never seems to be anyone else to talk to, and I guess that God made me chatty by nature.

I walk on, my dress growing ragged at the bottom because I keep stepping on it. I don’t know how far the seashore is, and I don’t know what waits for me there. But it has to be better than what I left behind.

Homeless with a Hamster

High Priest Jonas, son of Azekial, of the long-standing Levi line, looked exactly like any other homeless man wandering about the streets of the capital city. Unlike them, however, he carried in his heart the knowledge of his noble lineage.

He walked through the alleyways of stone and dirt every day, and watched the washing hung out to dry between the windows of the buildings on either side of him. He counted socks, shirts and pants and tried to figure out how many people lived in each apartment. Sometimes he sat under a washing line and let the water from badly wrung clothing drip onto his dirty green coat and his matted and tangled brown hair. He liked that, because it meant he walked around for the rest of the day with the smell of laundry detergent mixed in with the alcohol, body odor and bad breath that surrounded him.

He couldn’t clearly remember where he’d been before the street. He thought that there was a home, maybe a job and a family as well. He distinctly remembered there being a lot of wine. Much more wine than he was able to put his hands on these days.

The problem with Jonas, the other homeless agreed, was that he thought himself superior. None of the others were strangers to madness – they’d all had brushes with the crazies or else had gone through insane phases themselves, but none of them tried to pretend that they were better than anyone else. But Jonas turned his nose up at them. He’d tried, at first, to teach them, to collect followers, but once they told him to go away, using nasty vocabulary, he decided that they weren’t worth his time.

Jonas didn’t see things this way. In his opinion, the ones who shared the city-streets with him had hurt his pride and mocked him, and for that he would never forgive them. Maybe one day, if they would deign to apologize, he would acknowledge them and help them to salvation.

Meanwhile, however, he’d found himself a different companion. Bobo, a hamster in a green cage, was beside him day and night. He was a stalwart friend – his nose quivered in anticipation whenever Jonas gave him food and he would emit high-pitched squeaks of satisfaction when the man tickled his stomach. Jonas was pleased with him.

One evening in October, the High Priest took Bobo to one of his favorite haunts. It was one of the coffee-shop chains that filled the city streets, but unlike many others, there weren’t waiters. Instead, people ordered their coffee inside and then took their mugs to the outdoor seating area when the weather was nice or if they were smokers. The staff rarely came outside to collect the dirty dishes, so Jonas could sit at a table all evening without being shooed off the premises.

“Look, Bobo,” he grinned, broken teeth bared. “This is a nice table, right? A nice table.” He put the cage down and sat on a red plastic chair. His coat was bulky and uncomfortable and the table rocked as he hit it with his knee. Instinctively, he shot out an arm to hold the cage steady. Bobo sniffed his thanks, directing his tiny nose at Jonas’ hand.

He scoped out the area around him. There was a bar behind him, small and tucked into a crevice of the little complex. In front of him were other tables and chairs like his, with people sitting at them. He saw that none of his enemies were there and breathed a sigh of relief. He could work in peace. He crooned once at Bobo before taking out paper and a stubby bit of pencil.

He leaned forward and began to write. The people who sat around him watched him warily, like they watched all homeless men and women who came too close to their comfy worlds. Jonas didn’t mind – he knew that they watched him merely because they were drawn to his nobility. Even if they didn’t know it, they were dimly aware of the majesty that was in his tall, wide frame. He pretended not to notice their staring and continued writing, working as always on his lists and his plans.

“Mommy, mommy, there’s a homeless man with a hamster!” a little boy’s voice rang out.

“Shh!” the boy’s father picked him up and carried him away, glancing back fearfully to make sure that the boy’s yell hadn’t angered the man.

Jonas frowned sadly, but the boy’s father couldn’t see the expression through his wild, tangled beard.

“Yes, I have a hamster,” Jonas said quietly, looking down at Bobo. “He is my friend.”

 

Confused

I’m rereading my finished novel, the first in what would ideally be a series. Yes, it’s a fantasy novel, in case you were wondering.

Reading it over now is bizarre. I can remember quite clearly what I was thinking as I wrote most parts, and it’s sort of fudging with the whole process. I’m reading it through for the first time without making any notes at all – I’m just trying to get a general feel for it and see if I like it. On my next read I’m going to start taking notes on big points that bother me, as well as fixing typos and things like that. Then, so the plan goes, I’ll start rewriting, adding and subtracting, changing brutally if I need to.

Meanwhile, I’m also trying to build a world for the novel I’m going to write for NaNoWriMo. I’m beginning to get a real feel for the fictional world and city that I’m building (yes, yes, another fantasy novel – I’ll try something else next, believe me) but I’m having trouble writing it down. Hence today’s rambling post, written right on my desktop computer for your viewing pleasure (or snores, or boredom, or simply your not reading it – those are okay too.)

I managed to keep up my writing schedule well for so long, but now that I’m done with the first draft, I’m having trouble writing again. I don’t know if it’s writer’s block, circumstances being annoying lately, or simply my mind needing some time to rest, but whatever it is – it’s frustrating and confusing me. On the one hand, I’m so pleased that I managed to finish a proper first draft of something. On the other hand, I’m not all that pleased with the result, and although I know that’s part of the process, I’m having trouble accepting it. Then, on the third hand, (because my hand-structure is clearly a being with more than two hands – I’m writing fantasy after all, right?) I’m simply annoyed with myself for not being able to write anything new. On the fourth hand, my annoyance is shifted and turns into fear that I’ll never be able to write anything again. The fifth hand has given up on trying to restrain the other four, and it and the sixth hands are just hanging out together.

Can you tell I’m going a little batty? Well, it’s because I am.

A Mad Woman in Berlin

She leaned over the back to back metal benches and asked the pair of English tourists if they smoked tobacco. Her accent was thick, sometimes sounding German, and at others Russian, although her English was good. The man, glancing uneasily at his partner, answered that he did. When the woman asked if she could have some, he looked confused for a moment. His partner told the woman that they only had cigarettes. The woman nodded eagerly, and asked if she could have one. The man smiled politely and produced a pack of Camels. The woman asked for a light, and the man leaned over toward her and lit her cigarette, which she sucked on greedily. He then turned to his partner, and they both spoke for a while in another language.

The mad woman didn’t quite fit the stereotype of a homeless person, living on the streets. Her hair was a shock of grayish-brown and her skin looked almost healthy. She was somewhere between forty and fifty, but wore the age well on her face, which was elegantly lined, although her cheeks were still full and youthful. Her clothing was oddly fancy, or at least the top half was. She wore what looked like a light brown leather jacket and her handbag was of similar material and color. The mere fact that she had a handbag was strange. Her skinny legs were wrapped in tight pants in shades of brown, olive and black, like a military uniform made into fashionable jeans. The mix between the pants and the well-kept leather jacket were perhaps an indication of her madness. Still, she could have been an eccentric fashionista and nothing more.

Except, that is, for the fact that she was talking to herself loudly and was holding a pink carton of cheap wine.

“It is security, you see. I don’t trust a man, and security is inside me. You have to stay inside the clothes, inside the pants. The pants are protection, they protect me. But I am an attractive woman. If another man come near I go away. But if another woman approach me,” and here she sounded a little defensive, “then that is okay, I mean I am an attractive woman. A woman can look at a woman and appreciate her and I don’t mind if a woman looks at me.” She took a drink from her pink bottle, and the smell of wine washed over the English tourists as well as the others on the platform. Just then, the train arrive, and everyone boarded, including the mad woman.

She sat across from the English couple and fell silent for a time. When a fat man with a tiny dog boarded at the next station and sat next to her, she got up at once and moved into the narrow space between the Englishwoman and a bearded businessman. She started talking again. “It is like the jackets, do you know the jackets in London?” she turned to the businessman. It wasn’t clear whether he ignored her or nodded for she kept speaking almost at once. “There are nice jackets in London, long coats. Every person should have them, they are made of good fabric, of, what is it called… Not wool, it’s not wool. It’s not like the jeans. There are jeans that are made of denim, and they are the color of – the color of indigo. How do you say indigo in German?” she turned to the Englishwoman.

“I don’t speak German, I’m sorry,” the tourist said, shrugging and smiling, but drawing closer to her companion so as not to brush the woman’s jacket.

“That’s right, you’re not from here,” the mad woman dismissed her at once and continued speaking of fabrics and jackets in America as opposed to those in London. She got off at the next stop, still speaking to herself in a loud, coherent voice, as if she were having a conversation with someone else. The English tourists probably never saw her again, but there was no way they would forget this strange and lonely woman who chose them as smoking- and seat-companions on a short journey on the U-Bahn in Berlin.

The Psychiatrist

The psychiatrist worked in her parents’ old apartment. All the old furniture was still present; the heavy wooden cabinets filled with silver platters and goblets that hadn’t been polished in decades; the low couches, uncomfortably padded with thin cushioning, that had been considered luxurious some fifty years ago; the big television that seemed to stick out like a sore thumb in the room. The psychiatrist could almost feel the ghosts of her parents walking around the apartment, grunting as they sat down heavily or groaning as they made their slow way into the kitchen to make a cup of tea.

Small wonder, then, that she was a bit mad herself.

She didn’t enjoy her work. She despised each and every one of the men, women and children that walked through the door, hating them for their assumption that they were important or that they mattered at all to her. She hadn’t cared for naught but the revenue in years. She’d been embittered, somewhere along the way, and as the years went by she could hardly hold up the pretense of caring. For instance, she now let herself answer her cellphone during sessions. She now let herself get up and make a cup of tea, leaving her patients at the dining room table, where she conducted her sessions, while they drew what she’d instructed them to. She now had to remind herself to occasionally spit out an insincere sympathetic word.

She was frightening to look at. It was just another aspect of her madness, the way she’d dyed her hair a strange shade of orange and had allowed it to grow into a sort of untamed nest atop her head; the way her clothes were several sizes too big, reminding her patients of witch’s robes as they swirled around, swallowing the light in their velvet black folds; the way her eyes were now always unfocused, not managing to stay fixed on the patients’ faces.

She was surrounded by ghosts, and her patients could feel them as well as she did. They didn’t know why they got goosebumps, but they did. They didn’t know why they felt compelled to try to meet the psychiatrist’s wandering gaze, but they did. They didn’t know why they felt compelled to run, leave, jump out the window – but they did. Most never came back.

Flight From Hell

I am now officially back in the Holy Land, and hopefully in the next few days I will be resuming my normal updating pattern. I will also update those interested parties in which school I will end up going to in the fall and also I hope to go over my travel journal and write about the various amusing things that happened during my insane trip. Right now, though, I feel a great urge to explain just what sort of horror was vested upon my mother and I on our Delta flight home. You might actually have heard or will hear about this as a small item on the news today.

Our flight left NY late. Ok. Happens. Whatevs. I can deal.

An hour in, there is a slight commotion up front. Flight attendants are dashing up and down the aisles. Plane starts to descend and what looks like liquid is streaming out of the engines on the wings. None of the crew is telling the passengers anything besides to stay in our seats with our seat-belts fastened.

We’re finally told, after some major panic going on inside my rather too broad imagination, that we’re landing in about five minutes due to a “situation” with a passenger. A few minutes later, as an afterthought, we’re told that nothing is wrong with the plane and we can stay calm. Thanks. NOW you’re telling us.

We land. Somewhere. No one’s said what city we’re in. We all believe that a passenger is ill, has had a heart attack, a major allergic reaction, something life threatening. I stop a passing flight attendant and discover that this is not the case. It is some sort of security concern. Some sort of dangerous and destructive behavior. The flight attendant, who seems almost more panicked than the passengers, goes on to say that it is a very big deal.

Once again, fear becomes rampant – terrorist attack! Hijackers! Criminal group! Maybe there are accomplices on the plane! The FBI are involved! Rumors run rampant.

Eventually, and this is about an hour after landing, the co-pilot comes out and we get some real information: a passenger had gotten up from the back of the plane, had walked to the front and to the cockpit door and had begun banging on it, trying to guess the code to get in and punching at the number pad. He was wrestled to the ground by five passengers and was tied up and calmed down. The regulations in this sort of situation dictate that the plane make an emergency landing, which it did. The passenger was taken off in handcuffs, his luggage and handbags were removed, and the local and federal police became involved.

After another two hours or more, it is determined that the man was simply unhinged and having an anxiety attack. He is not connected to any criminal or terrorist groups. All is well, all is safe. A new flight plan is made, the plane is refueled, and we finally are able to head out once more. I must stress, though, that for a while there we were warned that we might all need to get off the plane and there was some indication that there would be an investigation. Apparently the FBI actually was involved, and thus was able to check in their databases that this disruptive passenger was acting alone as they say.

You’d think that once the whole thing was sorted out and we were able to be on our way again, all would be fine and dandy. Ah, if only. It seemed, however, that the fates were determined that my mother and I have the absolute worst travel experience of our lives to date.

During the first part of the flight, and the wait on the ground as well, there was a woman and a man behind us who had been talking non-stop. They were strangers and were having a nice airplane chat. That’s fine. What is NOT fine is that they were doing so in extremely loud voices. Once the flight had resumed, the man was exchanged for some reason with a different one, and again the woman chatted him up. She seemed determined to have as many partners in her bed that night as possible. Or something.

Basically, for the rest of the flight – ten hours and forty-five minutes, in case you were wondering – these two conversed in extremely loud, obnoxious, piercing voices, not even attempting at keeping their conversation private. Thus, I know that She has an Austrian boyfriend. I know He has problems with his girlfriends. I know which movies He and She like. I know that He and She were hitting on each other for half the duration of their in-flight-conversation. I know that She has four really good friends and I know that He wants to travel to South America. I know more about He and She than I know about half my friends. Oh yes, She was also kicking my seat for most of the flight.

So if you hear about an incident on a Delta flight, then know that I was there. And know also that the only thing preventing a second “incident” [namely, me murdering the He and She behind me] was that I really didn’t want the plane to be diverted yet again.