Realism… Magically?

The knitting store on the corner of Main and Copper streets had a long tradition of being the gossip hangout of the small town. Small towns are all the same, in some way or another, and they all have small shops and restaurants where the older residents would congregate and discuss the week. This town had this shop. The Yarn Depot. It was opened during the days when the word “depot” still seemed modern and inspired. If a new knitting store were to open now, the youngsters would probably call it Ye Olde Yarn Shoppe, trying to be twee and adorable. The kitting circle at the Yarn Depot all agreed that it was a good thing that none of the young people were interested in knitting.
Magdalene, Barbara, Lorna and Jack were the main members of the Monday night knitting circle. Jack and Lorna were the married couple who’d opened the Yarn Depot some fifty years ago, when Jack’s grandmother had died and left him a lot of money to “do something productive with,” as she’d written in the letter addressed to him that was found with her will. Jack’s parents were both scatterbrained, and his grandmother didn’t trust them not to spend the money on a trip to Africa. She didn’t approve of travel because she thought that there was nothing in the world that could compare to the good, old United States of America.
Some people thought Jack was throwing his money away and not doing anything useful with it at all. But Lorna, who had a better head for business than he did, assured him that while they may not make a lot of money, they would always make a small profit, enough to build up a college fund for their children over the years. She’d been right, and while the Yarn Depot had had its rough years, as all businesses did, it also had a steady clientele of regulars.
Monday nights weren’t open to the general public. Monday nights were just theirs. Theirs and their friends’. Maggie and Barb were their oldest friends. They’d all gone to high school together in the small town, and they all knew each others’ smallest quirks, likes, dislikes, pet peeves, oddball habits and deadly allergies. Every Monday night the circular table in the back room of the shop was always set up the same – there was a bottle of red wine for Barb, a bottle of apple cider for Maggie who was a recovering alcoholic, a box of sugarless cookies for Jack, who’d been diabetic for the last few years, and a bowl of potato chips for Lorna, who despised sweets.
The talk on the particular Monday night where everything started happening was directed at the usual things.
“I can’t believe I’m knitting baby booties. Again,” Maggie said. She pushed her big glasses up her nose.
“Have you gotten the ultrasound photos yet?” Jack asked.
“No, and thank goodness. I don’t think I can coo over another blob and pretend that I see anything in it.”
“Oh, you’re such a liar, dear,” Barb said, patting Maggie on the knee. “She cries every time.”
“I don’t approve of having so many children. Two is quite enough. A fourth is really getting out of hand. And what if it’s another girl? They’re not going to check the sex, you know. They want to have it be another surprise.”
“Do you think they’ll try for a fifth if they don’t get a boy this time?” Lorna asked, casting yarn onto knitting needles the reached her knees. Her specialty was blankets.
“If that man has his way. All he wants is a boy to play ball with. I keep telling him and telling him-”
“She does, you know, she’s not just saying it-” Barb muttered confidentially to Jack.
“-that a girl can play baseball just as well as a boy can.” Maggie frowned at Barb but didn’t say anything. It was one of those long-time-couple things. She knew Maggie spoke over people and she’d given up on trying to change that a long time ago.
A lull in the conversation led Jack to exclaim over the cookies. Barb and Maggie baked them, using sweetener instead of sugar, and although Jack had a bad after-taste in his mouth from the artificial flavor, he told them that the cookies were “luscious, simply decadent,” so as not to hurt their feelings.
It could have shaped up into a pretty normal evening if it wasn’t for the fact that a knight, a fairy and a talking tom-cat rushed in through the front door, begging to be hidden from the maddened wolf-sorcerer who was following them.

Weirdos of the World: Unite

fruit loop.

Read the post above, if you’d be so kind. Mckenzie, the writer of The Unabridged Girl is an incredibly talented writer. I mean it, she is. Whenever she’s posted fiction in the past, I’ve hungered to read more of it. In the post I linked, she talks about how she’s always been considered weird. I can empathize.

In elementary school, I was picked on a lot. The boys hit me, and even a couple of the girls. That was okay with me. It was better than the alternative. You know that old adage about sticks and stones? Well, If somebody hit me, I could at least try to hit back. Not the most peaceful or responsible way to deal with a problem, but self-defense was something I could do. It was the teasing that I didn’t know how to handle. My face would begin to redden, spurring on more lovely comments, and my brain would go blank as I tried to think of something witty to say. I tried the whole “ignoring” trick; I really did. But since I blushed furiously and teared up whenever anyone would tease me, I think that they realized they were getting to me no matter how hard I kept my head down.

I was called weird a lot. I wanted to fit in so badly that it hurt. I still get those moments of wanting to be popular, confident, blonde and skinny and pretty and perfect. I still get moments of wanting to be someone else, someone entirely different, and the urge to jump out of my skin in those agonizing minutes is overwhelming. It feels like there is literally something inside me bubbling furiously and wanting to erupt out of the flesh I live in and prove itself to be the person I should have, could have, would have been if only this, if only that.

But the thing is – I like being weird. I like the fact that I read while I walk. I like the fact that I have lip-piercings but don’t wear any makeup usually and don’t care about how I dress most of the time. I like the fact that when I do dress up, I sometimes do the goth thing and sometimes do the classy, white blouse and nice pants thing. I like the fact that I’ve read the Harry Potter books so many times that I remember that Nearly Headless Nick’s real name is Sir Nicholas de Mimsy Porpington. I like the fact that I play computer games but am still a hopeless romantic. I like the fact that I find pleasure in being on my own with my books, curled up in bed.

Are there things I regret about being weird? Sure. Of course. Do I still have issues? Oh my goodness, yes. If you could hear the inside of my mind, the extent to which I feel guilty about things that aren’t my responsibility, and the amount of time I spend judging myself, you might just go crazy yourselves. And yet… And yet I’ve come to accept that I wouldn’t give up the joys I get in my weird pleasures in order to be “normal,” whatever that’s supposed to mean.

I also realize that I’m incredibly lucky to be going to a university where being weird is encouraged and that I live near New York City where being weird is a much coveted quality. Maybe there are places where I would feel much less secure in my weirdness.

Have you been called weird? Do you embrace, shun or hide your weirdness?

A Birthday Card and Love Letter

To the dear, amazing, wonderful and incredible author, world builder and inspiration, J. K. Rowling,

(And also, to the fictional character who we all wish was real, Harry James Potter,)

I want to you wish you an incredible birthday. Many months ago, in May of 2009, I wrote a short little piece about how the Harry Potter books were the first ones I read on my own. I’d like to go further now, and tell the story again, because I truly believe that without the Harry Potter books, I wouldn’t have become the reader I am today. If I wouldn’t have become the reader I am, I wouldn’t have begun to write. I wouldn’t have discovered the wonders of dozens of other authors, their worlds, their views and their legacies.

But it all started with the eleven-year old wizard, forced to live in a cupboard under the stairs, that was invented by you, Miss Rowling. And I’d like to share the story of how these books changed my life, and why I’m so grateful to you.

When I was eight years old, my chief activities were playing with my friends and watching television. I was a TV kid. When I was even younger and my mother taught me how to read in English, I fought tooth and nail against it. Remember, I’d learned Hebrew at school with everyone else, but my mother wanted me to be as fluent in English as I was becoming in Hebrew. I was already bilingual, but she knew that if I didn’t learn to read and write in English as a child, I’d probably lose a lot of the benefits of being so.

By the time I was eight I knew how to read in both languages, but I didn’t like to. I liked being read to – I loved stories, it’s true. It was also the age where my friends and I spent our time inventing stories and plays and games. Stories were a big part of my life, but words on pages weren’t.

Shortly after my ninth birthday, my brother turned thirteen. For his Bar Mitzva, a great-aunt of ours gifted him with the first three Harry Potter books, the third of which had only just come out, all in hardcover. I remember I thought to myself that the books sounded dumb when someone explained to me what they were about. My nine year old mind wasn’t excited, for some reason, by the prospect of a wizard boy.

My brother read the books on his own, of course. I remember distinctly, however, the first evening my mother started reading the first book to me. I was in my bed, the same one I still sleep in now, and she read the first line, “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” I remember cutting in then and saying something along the lines of “But the book’s called Harry Potter! Who are these people?” and my mother smiled and told me to wait patiently and we’d see together.

A couple weeks later, when we reached the chapter titled “Halloween,” while my parents were having their Friday afternoon nap, I read the whole chapter alone without telling anyone. When my mother started reading it to me that night I felt so guilty that I confessed that I’d read it alone. I thought it would hurt her feelings. She was, of course, ecstatic, and gave me her blessing to continue reading the book, and the next and the next, on my own.

So Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (I had the American version) was the first book in English that didn’t have pictures in it (except for those small ones above the chapter titles) that I read most of alone, and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is the first book of this sort that I read completely alone, from start to finish.

It changed my life. I just kept on reading. I discovered a love for fantasy, that led me to dozens of amazing books, and later branched out to every type of book imaginable. If I’d never reached that point where I wanted so badly to know what was about to happen that I picked up the book and read the next chapter alone, then I’d never have become such an avid reader. And being a reader… means the world to me.  I can’t imagine ever living without books. I can’t imagine never reading.

Harry Potter remained with me for years, and he’s still with me. I grew up with him. When he turned seventeen when the seventh and final book came out, I turned seventeen. The books saw me through the beginning, middle and end of puberty, they saw my first kisses and first periods, my first relationship and first breakup. They saw me through my father’s death. I can’t count the times I’ve read them. I know that they’re going to remain with me for my entire life.

Thank you, J. K. Rowling, for creating a world, characters and plot so amazing that you convinced a nine-year old who watched as many hours of TV a day as she could to find the wonder and beauty of words. Thank you, Harry Potter, fictional as you are, for being the star of this author’s books, for being courageous but normal, for being talented but average, for making me feel kinship with you. Thank you, Hermione Granger, the Weasleys, Remus Lupin, Nymphadora Tonks, Serius Black, Fleur Delacour, Luna Lovegood, Dean Thomas,Seamus Finnegan, Neville Longbottom, Lee Jordan, Oliver Wood, Angelina Johnson, Alicia Spinnet, Katie Bell, Parvati Patil, Lavender Brown, Professors of Hogwarts, Rubeus Hagrid, the Malfoys, Dobby and Winky, Messrs. Crouch and Bagman, Tom Marvolo Riddle who grew into Lord Voldemort and his Death Eaters, and, last but definitely not least (and I’m probably forgetting so many other good characters here), Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore- thank you for filling eleven (so far) years of my life with your magic.

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night…

… and the wind was blowing against the windows, making them shudder and rattle. It was almost impossible to see anything outside unless all the lights were off. Even then, the only thing that Patricia Nicole Baker could see was a blurry outline of the pine trees and their branches weighed down and tired from the barrage of water being dumped from the sky. It was a moonless night, and Pat knew what that meant. She shuddered, turned away from the window, and lit up every light in her small house.

It looked snug with the warm glow of half a dozen small lamps. There was the familiar lumpy couch, faded from red to pink over the years. There was the armchair, contrasting horribly with the couch, still a too-bright, too-light green. She’d picked both up at yard sales in town, years ago, along with the three rickety bookcases that stood side by side at the wall. Then there were the kitchen table and chairs, the familiar cupboards with little designs she’d painted on them. Pat walked to the bedroom, reassured again – the heavy wooden dresser, the floor lamp casting a blue glow through its shade, the double bed with crisp white sheets – she’d changed them just today – and the minuscule desk, just big enough for a laptop, a cup with pens in it, and a coaster for her drinks. The printer had to sit on the floor.

Normal, all was normal. Pat avoided the windows and puttered around, taking comfort in little tasks. She washed the dishes she’d used to eat her dinner off of, put the kettle on the stove, waited for it to boil and made herself instant coffee. Opening her mini-fridge, she drew out the bottle of fresh milk that she still got delivered to her – one of the perks of living isolated as she did was the rapport she’d built up with the farm-owners. Adding a dollop of milk and a spoonful of sugar, she picked up the mug and held it between her hands, enjoying the warmth it gave her clammy, cold hands. Striding to the bookcases, she looked through and found what she wanted. It was at the top of the right hand one, in the corner.

The children’s book she brought to the couch was well-worn. The spine was frayed and the front cover had some stains on it. The inside, though, was still beautiful. The images of the soft pastel colors washed over her, the familiar words forming in her mind without needing to read them. Sipping her coffee, she put it down on the floor beside her feet, took a deep breath and glanced at the old-fashioned clock on the wall. It was 9:45. Two more minutes, then, she thought. It was always at the exact time that it happened.

And then, on the moonless, stormy night, Pat lifted her eyes and saw a small figure standing in the middle of the room. He was dressed in a small, cheap gown with pictures of sheep on it. His hair was shaved off completely, though Pat remembered its original dirty-blond color. She knew that if he turned around, there would be a line of stitches at the back, looking fresh and congealed with some blackened blood. She’d asked for that – asked to see him without all the bandages wrapping his head. The doctors had allowed it, knowing there was no hope anymore.

Seth looked at her, his blue eyes shiny with tears.

“Mommy!”

Pat caught him in her arms, sobbing with him, hugging him so close she could suffocate him. Only she couldn’t, of course.

“Mommy, why?”

It was the question kids asked the most, especially very young ones. Pat had read all about it, about how you should give honest answers and admit it when you didn’t know. So she said, quietly, “I don’t know, darling. I don’t know, Seth-boy.”

Once they’d settled together, Pat opened the book, and started reading it to him in a bright voice. He stared hungrily at the pictures, laughed uproariously at the giraffe who got tangled up with his neck in a tree, pointed at the cute monkeys like he always did. Pat read slowly, trying to savor every page, but Seth was a little boy and he always wanted to know, even though he’d read it a hundred times before, what the next page held.

Once she would finish reading, she knew that Seth would fall asleep in her lap while she stroked his forehead. She always fell asleep, too. She knew that once she’d wake, he’d be gone, and she would wait for the next night with no moon, half fearful of his coming and breaking her heart all over again, and half fearful that he wouldn’t show up this time.

1. Mr. and Mrs. Adams [4]

Mr. Adams jerked awake as the clock-radio on his bedside table began to talk loudly and cheerfully, advertising some sort of cereal. He grumbled, pulled one hairy arm out of the blankets and hit the button that turned the alarm off. He sat up in bed, rubbed his eyes, yawned and stretched before finally throwing the covers off himself and getting up. He winced as he rose, his back giving an ominous cracking sound while he straightened up.

“Love?” he called out.

“Downstairs!” Mrs. Adams yelled back. She was in the kitchen already, having gotten up an hour before to take a brisk walk in the cool early-morning air. She was still in her walking gear; New Balance walking shoes, gray sweatpants and a big black t-shirt still slightly moist with sweat. She was nursing a cold bottle of juice as she scanned the front page of the morning paper.

Mr. Adams traipsed into the kitchen, pecked her on her sweaty head and switched the coffee-maker on before heading to the shower. There wasn’t much hot water, so he soaped himself and washed himself off as quickly as he could, mumbling to himself under his breath “cold, cold, cold, cold…”

“How’s the hot water?” Mrs. Adams asked when he came out, threadbare blue towel wrapped around his waist.

“Brrr,” he said by way of an answer. “Need coffee.” Mrs. Adams laughed and went to turn the boiler on. Their house was one of those old ones that seemed to have been built with the thought that people wanted to go to their garage twenty times a day – the switch for the hot-water heater was there, as well as a liquor cabinet built into one wall and the fuse box on another. Mr. and Mrs. Adams’ cars were there too, although they only ever used Mrs. Adams’ white Ford, because she refused to carpool with what she called the “mid-life crisis car,” which was Mr. Adams red Miatta.

It was in the Ford, then, that Professors Adams set out in an hour later. It was early September, and their work was starting up again in a few days. The new student orientation was already underway, and Mr. and Mrs. Adams both had various meetings to attend as well as work that needed to be finished in preparation for the classes they’d be starting in a week’s time, when the autumn term officially kicked off.

The faculty parking lot at Valley U. was conveniently situated in a big square deep inside the campus, although somewhat an eyesore. Mr. Adams’ office was in Acorn, the literature and languages departments’ building, while Mrs. Adams worked in Mulberry, the social-sciences building. Both were situated on either side of the parking lot, and it was common knowledge among the students of Valley U. that they could witness a sweet display of public affection every morning at eight-thirty sharp, when the Adams Professors got out of their car and kissed each other before heading off in different directions for the day.

Spam [Part III]

Part I

Part II

A few hours later, Ladonna was bending down and sticking her head in the oven. The cake wasn’t ready yet, so she pulled her head out of the hot space and breathed deeply. She loved the smell of food being made – especially when she was the one who was preparing it and it was coming out so well. She also knew that most days she hated to cook, but she was conveniently suppressing that fact because today it was fun and because she had to do it for her friends and because it was distracting her from the strange events of the day.

She wiped the perspiration from her face and turned to the stove to stir one of the many pots that were bubbling away. The radio perched above the sink was tuned to one of the many random stations that she was still discovering. It was a good station, and the music was a nice mix of silly 80s pop songs and silly but enjoyable modern rock music. Ladonna registered the song that was just starting, and smiled to herself. She’d always loved “Tainted Love” by Soft Cell and she sang along as the opening lyrics blared fuzzily out of the not-so-good speakers. She needed a new radio.

A strange buzzing sounded somewhere around the kitchen, followed by piercing electronic noises that were supposed to form some sort of tune. Ladonna searched frantically for her cell phone, the thing that was making that obnoxious racket, and found it lying under “Baking Miracle Cakes! A Guide for Amateurs.” She looked at the screen, saw the name “KATE” flashing on it, and flipped the phone open.

“Katie!” she squealed.

“Hey, Babes, why aren’t you answering us?” Kate’s voice was drowned out by others yelling behind her. “Shut up, guys! I can’t here her. Ladonna?”

“Wait, you’re downstairs already? I didn’t hear the buzzer!” Ladonna dashed to the front door to her apartment, lifted the intercom phone and pushed the button marked with a little key symbol. “I’m on the second floor!”

“Thanks, Babes!” Kate hung up.

Ladonna ran to her bathroom to check that her hair wasn’t too disorganized and that she didn’t have anything stuck in her teeth. Having ascertained that she looked passable, she marched back to the door and flung it open just as Kate had lifted her fist to knock. Ladonna was bombarded with shouts of “Happy birthday!”, hugs, kisses, bags that crinkled pleasantly with the hint of gifts and all-around love and friendship.

There, she thought to herself as she smiled at everyone and motioned to the rack beside the doorway so they could throw their coats over it. Everything’s normal, my friends are here, and nothing weird whatsoever will happen tonight.

Ladonna relaxed then, and prepared herself for an evening of fun, laughter, food and drink, not suspecting at all that her strange day wasn’t quite over yet.

Time Flies When… What?

Some days seem to rush past in a whirl. Mostly, days like that are full of action, of activities, of something fun and exciting that slips through your fingers, hardly giving you a chance to appreciate it. Days that pass quickly usually fit neatly into the pattern of “time flies when you’re having fun.” Usually, the days that are like this are days that you wish you could lengthen, days that you don’t want to finish, days where you go to bed at night with a bitter-sweet sadness of parting.

Some days, though, pass quickly for no reason at all. Those are the weird ones. They’re days of routine, of everything being normal, or mostly normal. Days where you wake up, tired, and go to work as always, days where there’s nothing new, nothing to anticipate, nothing to look forward to particularly. Just normal, everyday sort of days. When a day like that passes quickly, you just feel a bit bewildered by it, not really sure what was different about today that made it so quick.

I had a day like that today. It was odd, but there is something rather nice to knowing that you passed the day only half-aware of the passing of time and that you find yourself ready, at the end of the odd day, to curl up into bed and sleep as deeply as you can.