A Bridge of Hope and Spit

“I like to be in the dark sometimes.”

“Me too.”

We lay together, side by side, barely touching. Or is it lie? Do we lie together? Which is the correct conjugation of the verb? We care about language, this is a crucial issue. If we lie together, does the insinuation extend beyond the simple act of bodies naked limbs stretched side by side on a too narrow bed minds on different planes of consciousness which we have already agreed are impossible to bring together in any substantial way? If we lie together are we lying to ourselves and each to the other as well? There’s no need to raise this question aloud, of course, it will only spoil the thoughts racing in our minds which may be exactly the same and may on the other hand be entirely different, but are equally valid. The gap is unbridgeable or is it that the bridge is ungappable? We can’t remember, that conversation was too many pleasures ago.

“Is this okay?”

“Yes. Is this okay?”

“Yes.”

We talk about books and music and likes and dislikes and our heads are filled with mush and gray matter and our lips move around words which mean things or don’t and the hour grows later and light grows brighter and the birds chirp and our voices grow softer. Soft like what, is this important? Are they soft to the touch like a piece of felt that is smooth when you run your fingers along it both ways, or soft like velvet which is so smooth it may induce tears when touched one way and suddenly course and upsetting when touched against the grain, like a cat being pet to make its fur stand up? And on the subject of furs are the tree version used for Christmas celebrations absent from both our locales as they seem to be at first glance or is Christmas celebrated in a half of this darkness that is still unexplored?

“Goodnight.”

“Goodnight.”

Ursula Awake [Flash Fiction]

The hammering, clanging, clanking – the sheer metallic cacophony of sound was driving Ursula slowly, but surely, crazy. It wasn’t very late – only eleven-thirty or so – but there were rules about this kind of thing, even laws. No noise of this kind after eleven o’clock. Or even ten. She wasn’t sure which, but either way, by now the work should have ceased, the workers gone home for the night.

Turning over again, she lay a hand on her ear, shoving the other one deep into the pillow. Her own skin and bones weren’t nearly enough to shut out the racket, so she pulled over her husband’s pillow – he was still in the living room, watching something stupid on TV – and held it over her ear, making her head look like a strange, Ursula-faced sandwich. She began to laugh, a little at first, then harder, finally rocking with hysterical giggles, stifled behind her mouth. She tossed the second pillow away again. It wouldn’t do to be woken in the middle of the night by the sound of her husband’s ridiculing snort.

Still the noise went on. Ursula sat up and shook a couple more pills out of the plastic, orange bottle that was as familiar by now as a teddy-bear. Reaching for her glass of water, she hesitated, wondering if her habit was escalating. She decided she would think about it in the morning. Right now she needed the deep sleep that she hadn’t gotten since her daughters were born some thirty years previously. Maybe tonight would be the night, even with the pathetic stage being built in the park outside.

And that was another thing: why on earth were they building the stage at this hour? The park was controlled by the neighborhood, and they’d all signed to have the lampposts turned off there during the night. How were the workmen seeing what they were doing? Ursula mentally upbraided herself for assuming that the workmen were men. She supposed perpetual fatigue was as good an excuse as any for being a bad feminist.

Vonna

It was opening night, and Vonna sat in the back room with the gallery owner and breathed into a paper bag.

“It’s going to be alright, honey, just breathe for me,” the kindly old man tried to soothe her.

“But-what-if-they-hate-everything-?” Vonna gasped through breaths. Her voice came out slightly muffled by the bag, but the panic in it was still clear.

“Darling, they’ll love you,” William, the gallery owner, said. His gray hair was still thick and shiny, despite his advancing age. He was past eighty, but Vonna would never have guessed it. He had the dulcet tones of a gentleman, having shed his New York accent over the years since he’d left the Big Apple.

Vonna finally put the paper bag down and looked into his eyes. He looked right back, faith shining there. “What was it you said to me the day I brought you my paintings?” she asked.

“I told you the truth. I would never let any artist show and sell their art in this gallery if I didn’t think I’d make a profit out of it. I know art and I know people. They will love you, my dear, and they’ll buy up every piece you’ve got. Maybe not tonight, maybe not tomorrow, but within a month, your pieces will be hanging on strangers’ walls. Do you remember what you said to me then?” he chuckled.

Vonna offered an embarrassed smile. “I said that I wasn’t sure if I wanted my pieces hanging on strangers’ walls. And then you said that if I didn’t, well, I’d be just like all those singers who get their mom and friends to buy up all their CDs, and that I’d be pathetic. I didn’t like you much that day.”

William began to laugh. “Dear, dear, I can’t imagine that you would have! But you know better now. You know that I simply want the best for you, and that I believe in your work, otherwise I wouldn’t let you sell it.”

“True. You’re a greedy old goat, just like Sanjay told me you’d be.”

“You’d better tell the same thing to anyone you refer me to – I have a reputation to hold up, darling. Now let me go check that everything is ready. You sit here – sit!” he pushed Vonna back into the chair she was about to rise up from. “I’ll call you a few minutes after we open the doors and then you’ll circulate like the social-butterfly that you can be.” He left the room, winking before he shut the door.

Vonna got up the moment he was gone. She began pacing up and down the little office, three steps in each direction before turning and going the other way. Within moments she was dizzy and sat down again. She had forty-two paintings hanging on the walls out in the beautiful space of Marigold Gallery, one of the better known small galleries that seemed to be the life and soul of the art scene in the city. Gallery openings, she knew, were social events for anyone who wanted to scope out competition, invest wisely, or else mingle with the artisy and the rich. She’d been to enough openings as a guest to know the drill. The doors would open, the crowd would come in looking disdainful, excited or haughtily curious. Half would rush to the table where the champagne glasses were set, and the other half would begin to walk around lazily.

She pictured herself at the last gallery opening she’d been to. It had been at Wings of Freedom Gallery, a bigger place that had openings for multiple artists at a time. She’d walked in at the tail end of the crowd and had begun to walk around, feeling that curious leap in her stomach when she saw something she loved, and that strange plummet that made her look away from something that bothered her, revolted her or bored her.

But tonight it was her turn and – heaven forbid! – people would be looking at her own pieces like that! Forty-two paintings she’d done in four years. Soon, all would be gone. Except for those three that weren’t for sale (“It makes people more interested to see that the artist is keeping his or her own personal masterpieces for themselves,” William had patiently explained.)

Vonna felt like hyperventilating again. Maybe if she fainted, she needn’t go out there at all. But no, there was William, coming back in.

“They’re all in there, dear. Are you ready to mingle? A couple people have already asked where you are. They already have things to say to you, you see? Nothing to worry about. Come,” he held out his hand, wrinkled and soft. Vonna took a deep breath, took his hand, tossed her own graying red hair back, put on her social-smile, and stepped into the gallery.

Dawn and Dog

Dawn’s alarm clock rang at three in the morning, the witching hour. Rubbing her eyes, she sat up, blearily trying to see whether or not her dog, Tuft, was lying on the bed. Putting her glasses on, Dawn determined he wasn’t, so she kicked the covers back violently and got out of bed.

“Tuft! Here, Tuft!” she called as she pulled on a dressing gown and shoved her feet into old, battered brown slippers. The medium sized mutt came running into the room, his tongue lolling, and began to sniff her frantically. Dawn bent down to pet him, and said, in the kind of voice usually reserved for babies, “Walk? Want to go for a walk? There’s a good boy!”

Five minutes later, she’d exchanged her slippers for flip-flops, and was walking down 45th Street, Tuft pulling at his leash. It wasn’t cold, exactly, but there was a dampness in the air, and Dawn could smell the air coming off the river. She walked slowly, letting Tuft sniff out this lamp-post and that car, and held her small can of mace tightly in her other hand. You couldn’t be too careful, that’s what her mother always said.

It was at the corner of 45th and and 9th that it happened. Tuft stopped, growling, and Dawn stopped too. Once before, Tuft had saved her from interrupting a drug-deal that had been going down in the middle of Central Park in broad daylight. Dawn didn’t know how he did it, but the dog was something special. She looked around now for the source of whatever it was that was making Tuft nervous. The streets were almost deserted though. A lone truck was trundling down 9th Avenue, but it was moving away from her. 45th Street appeared empty both in front and behind her. “What do you see, Tuft?” she murmured to him. “What do you smell?”

The dog was looking straight up, and his nose was wriggling furiously. He stood up on his hind legs and pawed the air. He growled as he fell back to the ground and then did it again. Dawn had never seen him act like this. She looked up, too.

“What the…?”

An object was floating high above her. It looked like a badly put together Lego space-ship. But it couldn’t be a space-ship… could it? As she watched, lights winked on and off on different parts of the misshapen thing. Suddenly, a spotlight went on and blinded her, framing her and Tuft in its beam. She winked hard, trying to adjust herself to the sudden light and to see something through it. But it was impossible, there was no way she could see past it. Shielding her eyes, she knelt down, leaning over Tuft and hugging him. He was still growling.

“What is it what is it what is it what is it?” she muttered. “This can’t be, this is like a bad science fiction movie, this is ridiculous, this is-” but she couldn’t think of anything else to say. She fell silent, shaking with fear now, and bent her head over the dog, breathing in his scent, which as gross as it was – and, amazingly, a corner of her mind was rational enough to think to itself that Tuft needed a bath – the smell felt more real than anything she’d just seen.

Tuft began to bark now, trembling in her arms. Dawn heard what sounded like an echoing bark, as if in answer, and the spotlight went off. The darkness blinded her now as much as the light had at first. She looked at Tuft and then looked up at the floating thing, and then back down at Tuft. He was still growling and barking alternately, and she realized he was trembling with anger, not fear. It was as if a dog had come into his territory and had threatened him.

Looking up again, Dawn watched as the space-ship, or whatever it was, floated a little way down 9th Avenue. Tuft was now wagging his tail and his hackles were going down. He licked Dawn’s face, but she kept looking up, watching the thing hover onward. Tuft barked again, and Dawn, surprised by the loud noise right in her ear looked at him. When she looked back into the sky, there was nothing there.

For the second time that night, she said “What the…?”

**

When Dawn got to work at five, she picked up one of the newspapers that had been delivered to the convenience store that she owned. There wasn’t anything in it about tests on flying crafts done in Manhattan or about strange blimps being sent into the sky around three in the morning. There wasn’t even some splashy article about how the alien-nuts were warning everyone that there would be ETs coming to earth one of these days. Nothing out of the ordinary whatsoever.

Dawn threw the newspaper down, opened the locks on the door, and went inside. She turned on all the lights immediately and looked around, making sure there was nothing weird lurking in the room. Finally, as she set up the till and began counting the money that had been in it over the night, she decided to shrug the whole thing off.

“New York,” she said aloud to the empty store. “Anything can happen, right?”

In lieu of Part 2…

Part 2 of Mandy Meets the Goblins is coming, even though it’s a rather silly little story, but it’s not coming to me tonight for some reason. It’s strange how one evening an idea can seem as clear as finest crystal, while the next day the whole thing seems to unravel. The evening after that, which is tonight, gives only partial knowledge of where something is going. Given the fact that I’ve head a migraine all day, I’m willing to forgive myself and allow this musing post to be written instead. Anyway, it’s after midnight, and as some of you may know, I tend to post ramblings at this hour.

It’s been a week now, and I’ve written for two hours every day, except for one day off, Friday, when I wrote for only half an hour. My current project has gone from around twelve pages to fifty during this week. That doesn’t mean what I’m writing is particularly good. It doesn’t mean that it all makes sense. There’s LOTS of research ahead of me, if I want to get things right. But at the moment, I’m focusing on just letting the story take me where it will.

You know how writers say that sometimes the story takes them somewhere completely different than where they had intended to go? You know how they say that characters surprise them, or that the characters tell them who they are in such a strong voice that the writers simply can’t ignore them? I always had trouble believing this stuff. I mean, I believed that the writers felt that way, but I had a hard time understanding how that was possible. But now, for the first time, I feel exactly that. I feel my story and characters taking on lives of their own. I suddenly realized that one character has completely formed its voice without me really doing much. I discovered that my story, which was very loosely outlined, will have to be much lengthened and more complex and might not go where I’d thought it would.

The best thing? Writing hasn’t been a chore. It’s been fun. The hope that comes with that face is growing so large that it’s frightening me.

In Conclusion

Book week has ended. Officially. Completely. Done.

The fair was held every day, except Fridays, between June 2 and June 12. Every evening, the booths opened at six o’clock sharp, which meant that they actually opened around a quarter to, because if someone managed to get into the square where the fair was held and wanted to buy a book… well, far be it from us to refuse to take his money. In essence, working at the fair was about making money. It’s a huge opportunity for publishers to sell their books in one place, rather than distribute them to bookstores, and to invite writers in to sign their books. So every evening, starting around six and ending between eleven and midnight, I think I repeated the following lines dozens and dozens of times:

“You have a frequent-flier card? Great! So this is how it works – you choose one book that costs up to 88 NIS, and you get that book free – wait, wait, then you’re eligible for three more books, each for only 35 NIS!”

“Let me see that coupon – oh, yes, fabulous, so look, you can get this book for 40 NIS, and you can get three more for only 35 NIS each! Forget the other coupons, this is cheaper, I swear.”

“Our deals? Well, everything is 20% off, of course, plus if you buy two books, you get the third for free!”

I was a good little worker-bee, and I repeated my mantras again and again. I repeated them to the same people more than once, because I’d forgotten that they’d spoken to me five minutes before. I repeated them, unintentionally, in my head before I went to bed. I repeated them with irony to my friends, to show them how good I was at reeling off the lines.

But that wasn’t what it was about for me – not really. Sure, the paycheck I’ll be getting is a pretty nice thing, and sure, of course I enjoyed being praised as a good worker. But I also enjoyed the fact that I was selling books. By the end of last night, I could tell with a glance what books to offer to whom, and who was there to buy as opposed to complain about the deals. I could recognize the people I was going to have a long chat with, and the people who would be rude to me. I learned how to convince people that despite what it said on the back of the book, Orlando is NOT a transvestite, but simply changes gender halfway through the book. I managed to convey that even though I haven’t read Hemingway yet, I knew which books were good to start with. I established a rapport with some customers and remembered them when they came back a day or two later.

And then, last night, it all ended… The lights above our booths were cut off at midnight, but we kept selling books until almost one o’clock, while simultaneously starting to pack up. After the last of the customers left, all us drones worked together and taped up cardboard boxes, packed books into them, salvaged more boxes when we ran out, talked and laughed and sweat in the hot night air. There were seeds from a nearby cluster of trees that had somehow opened up in the night to form these white puffballs that got into our clothes and mouths and eyes and stuck to our bare skin. It was hard work, and it took more than an hour.

But then that ended, too. The action wound down, although everyone was still pretty full of adrenaline. Big trucks with big men on them came and took away the boxes we’d packed, one by one, and dismantled our booths, one by one, and then it was time for us to leave, one by one.

I’ve never had a better job. Three of my superiors told me it was a pleasure to work with me. I was on good terms with every single one of my fellow workers. I made at least one friend, and another two potential friends with whom I’d really like to keep in touch. I was surrounded by books, touching books, selling books and looking at books for over sixty hours – and I was paid to do it.

I was so scared going into this job – dealing with people, giving the hard sell, lots of lifting and carrying, and the worst… needing to get along with workers without being painfully shy. I succeeded and did well and on top of it all enjoyed every moment of it.

In conclusion, as my title says, it was good, and I’m both sad and relieved it’s over. I now have an exam to study for and friends to catch up with as well as friends to keep in touch with. I also have, finally, time to write again. Hopefully, that’ll mean less rambling, personal, crazy and misty-eyed posts like this, and more stories, characters and writing exercises. But because this is my blog, and has been so for over a year and a half, I’ll still lapse into sessions of confession and personal babble once in a while. And that’s okay.

…Late on a Friday Night

Things I notice late at night:

-The way sound is magnified because of the quiet.

-The way wind seems to be so much freer. Maybe the lack of many people being in the way makes it blow through my hair in a nicer way.

-The way speaking about politics becomes so engrossing, so enfuriating and so intense. Even though I usually speak to people who agree with me, and so we’re preaching to the choir, the night-time makes me want to DO something about it. Maybe it’s the lack of real life that seems to happen at night.

-The way real life doesn’t exist. Late at night, things feel different. There’s a certain point beyond being tired, and in those moments I feel bigger, better, open to possibilities, uninhibited. Magic and fairy-tales always seem more real at night.

-And finally, the way I know that if I could, I’d live the lifestyle of a night owl, because of all of the above.