Foundling

A baby lay on the wide rim of the fountain in the middle of the town square. It was sleeping quite peacefully, wrapped in tattered green blankets. It was impossible to tell its sex by looking at it, since the only visible part was its face, which was still a little scrunched and red. The baby couldn’t have been more then a day or two old, and Maude Leary was astonished that it was sleeping in such a precarious position, on such a cool evening.

Maude was a sweeper. She walked around town with an old-fashioned broom made with nice long bristles tied well with a metal wire, and swept the leaves from the middle of the sidewalk to the edges. She did this all day, every day, from five in the morning until five in the afternoon. She’d gotten the job when she was seventeen, and even with all the changes that had been made in town hall over the last few years, no one had had the heart to fire her, even though she was the only employee of her kind. Maude was sixty-three now, but she looked quite the same as she had when she’d boldly walked into the now defunct old town hall and requested a job. She was, perhaps, more lined than she’d been at seventeen, but she still had the same sandy hair, the same spattering of freckles over her nose and cheeks, and the same wiry figure. She still wore overalls day in and day out, with a different colored t-shirt for every day of the week.

Today was a Tuesday, so she was wearing her purple t-shirt. Because of the cool weather, she had a scarf wrapped around her neck, too. Her hip was cocked to one side as she leaned on the familiar broom and watched the baby sleep on. “Well, I’ll be,” she murmured to herself. The town square was empty in the quiet before everyone got out of work and rushed on home, and a bird was cheeping absentmindedly in the nearby tree, doing its duty to the setting sun.

Quite suddenly, the baby opened its eyes. Its eyes roved this way and that until it found Maude’s kind, slightly mischievous, face. Her wide eyes met the baby’s and in a moment they seemed to understand each other perfectly. Maude took three steps and closed the gap between them. She saw now that there was a note pinned to the green cloth the silent baby was wrapped in. In big, slightly shaky, letters, it said: I NEED A HOME. Maude clucked her tongue, a habit she’d copied from her mother years ago. “Whoever left you here is a beast,” she informed the baby. A little hiccup came out of the tiny, pink lips. “You can chastise me all you want for it, but I still say they’re a beast,” Maude answered.

The big bell in the church began to toll the hour. Maude picked the baby up. “Our shift is over, little one,” she told the baby firmly. “Let’s go and have some milk, hm?” As the office building spewed out men and women in suits and the church bell continued to ring, Maude stumped off home.

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Alice in the Snow-Globe

Alice sat dejectedly in the window-seat and watched the snow swirl outside. She imagined that her house was the center of a snow-globe and that some little girl, quite like herself, was shaking it vigorously. She peered up out of the window and squinted into the white and gray sky, wondering if she could glimpse a bright blue eye, or maybe a brown or even green one, staring intently down. What would the big, snow-globe shaking girl do if she saw Alice inside the house? Maybe she’d be surprised enough to put the globe back down on a shelf.

Alice wished dearly  that it would stop snowing. She’d been outside all of the day before, wrapped up in a coat so snug that she could barely move in it. Despite the restriction of the padding all over her, she’d managed to build a snowman, and then, because he’d looked so lonely, she’d built him a friend. In the afternoon she’d played snow-fortresses with Charles, Mama-and-Papa’s friend. He’d also swirled her around and around, holding her arms, and she’d felt just like a snowflake that spun down in the cold air until landing lightly on the ground.

She lay on her back, curling her legs close to her chest so she could fit. She was getting big, too big for the little cushion-covered area next to the window, but she refused Mama’s many suggestions of “sitting in a chair properly like a lady,” and kept returning to her favorite haunt when lessons were over and Mama was still in bed, napping. She blew onto the glass and drew an outline of a cat with her little finger in the misty whiteness that had formed there. She stared at it for a while and wondered whether there would be chocolate to drink later because of the horrid weather. She rather hoped there would be, even though her oldest sister always complained that chocolate was heavy and would make her fat. The governess told her off for saying such things, and pointed out that in a winter like this they could all gain a few pounds, but Alice’s biggest sister only rolled her eyes and ignored her.

Stretching, Alice pulled herself up and out of the window-seat. She turned her back on the flurry and decided to walk to the library and ask Papa if she could have some chocolate. She wondered briefly why she wasn’t sick to her stomach from the way the little girl was shaking her house around inside her snow-globe; but her sister’s words flew into her mind at once. “Don’t be silly,” she told herself aloud, and stomped off in her white stocking feet to find Papa.

Click

Click. Click. Click.

Thomas followed one link after the other, eyes wide, mouth hanging open. It was incredible. For the first time, he saw some meaning in the world. He clicked the next link, and it took him to yet another website, with another link. Clicked again. And again. He leaned closer and closer to the screen and his eyes started to tear up. For the first time in his life, he prayed. He prayed to the grand intelligence that was leading him, was showing him the truth. He prayed that he would never lose this connection, that he would keep feeling as inside and outside everything. He prayed that he’d get sucked in to the computer itself, wished that the molecules in his body could turn into bits of information, switching on and off, ones to zeros. Then he could follow the design of the powerful being he’d discovered.

Click. He kept going. Click. It never ended. Click. Thomas could feel the belief in him spring from a well he thought had always been dry. He felt as if light and warmth were flowing through his veins as he clicked again. But he was no closer to the truth! He knew it was there, he knew that he was seeing fleeting parts of it, and clicked onwards, trying to understand, trying to get to the root of it all. He knew that if he were a machine, if he could see things in absolute dichotomous terms of on or off, then he’d understand. He would surely understand. For now, all he could do, was keep faith. He felt as if the force that was guiding him was growing stronger by the minute. He knew, he was confident, that he’d be shown the way.

Thomas sat and stared and clicked and clicked and clicked.

His parents stood outside the door, peering in through the small window. All they could see was Thomas leaning forward on his bed, drool dripping out of his open mouth. His eyes seemed to be trying to burst out of their sockets, he was staring so hard. His hand, which rested on his knee, was the only part of him that was moving. And it wasn’t even the hand that moved – just the index finger, moving quickly, going up and pressing hard on the knee when it came down. His parents were both weeping quietly as the doctor ushered them away soothingly, explaining about treatments and options. They couldn’t listen properly. All they could see was their son, deranged.

But Thomas was seeing the truth, for the first time in his life.

I Remember… (When I Was Really Little)

I remember the house we had in Los Angeles when I was really little.

I remember eating ice-cream in front of the television after nursery-school.

I remember begging my mom for cookies when she was on the phone, and bugging her until she’d give them to me just so I wouldn’t bother her.

I remember that I planned that strategy in order to get more cookies.

I remember my nursery-school teacher, Robin, and how I would get scared if I was parted with her.

I remember the red tricycle I had and the way I liked to stand on the back of it and move it forward with one leg, pretending it was a skateboard.

I remember my crib that I slept in until I was three years old.

I remember refusing to answer my father in Hebrew and only speaking to him in English until we moved to Israel and I had to speak Hebrew.

I remember rocking so hard on my little rocking chair that I unbalanced it and fell backwards, hitting my head hard.

I remember getting my first Barbie doll from my mother when she went on a vacation, and I remember that my brother got Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action-figures.

I remember my friend, Ally, from nursery-school and my next-door neighbor, Gina, whose toys I was jealous of.

I remember a lot from before I turned three – I’m told it’s rather unusual. The memories are strange, though. They’re fuzzy and soft, all in pastel colors and moods and disconnected visions. Early memories are strange, but I’m glad I have them.

2. Amanda [2]

Amanda walked towards the register, picking up a bag of miniature chocolate-chip cookies, an orange juice and a rather unappetizing ham-and-cheese sandwich along the way. She smiled at the woman who rang up her things, gave her student ID to be swiped and then carried her dinner over to the furthest table she could find that was still more or less clean. She sat down, tipping her things onto the table, and pulled out her cell-phone. She had found Jake’s number in her phone book and was almost about to hit the “SEND” button to dial it when she stopped herself. She’d promised herself that she wouldn’t bug Jake too much this summer. He had told her that he was doing much better and needed her to give him some space. It was hard, though, after spending all of her freshman year calling him two or three times a day to see if he was doing okay – and he hadn’t been, at first. He had forgotten to buy groceries and had gone hungry, not knowing what to do. He’d gotten so engrossed in his latest novel that he’d forgotten to go to job interviews. He’d been as helpless as a puppy, and Amanda’s heart ached for him.

But he’s doing better now, she reminded herself sternly. Ever since he’d gotten the job waiting tables at Lila’s, a twenty-four hours diner that was in downtown Hartscreek, he’d been able to pay his bills, he’d been buying groceries and had learned to make himself mac-and-cheese and some other basic dishes, and he was even doing his own laundry. Amanda suspected that the change had to do with a certain Bo, another waiter at Lila’s, who’d been slowly creeping into her conversations with Jake. That was a good thing, though. Maybe he’ll be able to get over what Mom and Dad did to him after all.

Putting her phone firmly back in her bag, Amanda pulled out a well-worn copy of Pride and Prejudice instead. She had a biography of Elizabeth I in her bag, as well as a stuffy book about politics – she was doing some reading in order to decide which courses to sign up for in the coming semester. But it was still vacation time, damn it, and she was going to read a comfort book and not study for a while.

Another Excerpt

Here is another scene in the story I’m working on. It is the beginning of the first chapter, and follows a prologue, which I may or may not post here eventually. For those who may not have realized it yet, I wanted to explain the nature of this story. It’s a fantasy story, based in a kingdom where class and nobility matter.

__________________________________________

At fourteen, when everything changed for me, I was a beautiful girl. I had been a beautiful child as well. I knew this. I was the noble daughter of Duke Pietro der-Milt and his Lady Dermira. How ever could I not be beautiful? I was taught that the noble houses held the most beautiful people in the land, the most gifted thinkers, the greatest of artists and the kindest of spirits. So my governess told me during my childhood, using my parents as the best examples.
“Look at your pretty mother, little Miya! see what a beauty she is?” Pirima would say. She’d point at my mother, sitting in our great drawing room or in my father’s study or in the corner of my nursery. She was a beauty indeed. My mother always knew how to look beautiful and delicate. She could embroider, read, write letters, instruct servants, talk with my father, survey the accounts – all while looking as pretty as a picture, without a hair out of place or wrinkle in her dress. Pirima often whispered to me that she wished she could look like my mother, and her lips would twist in a sad little frown. I didn’t understand the nature of jealousy or envy when I was young; I merely thought it natural that everyone would want to look like Mama, who was, I was sure, the most beautiful woman in the world.
There were plenty of mirrors in our home, so I learned early on that I was a beautiful child. My skin was smooth and healthy, a few shades darker than my mother’s milky-white complexion. My hair, which was black as coal, thick and wavy, hung down my back when I was a little girl, kept away from my face by a neat little bow which Pirima would tie into it every morning. My eyes were grey, and Pirima always said they reminded her of the stormy sea because when I was angry or sad they turned dark blue. My black eyebrows were delicate and thin, and my nose was small and rather flat, accentuating the fullness of my red lips. My body was that of a healthy little girl – rounded with the healthy fat that children possess, my limbs strong with activity.
One day, when I was about six or seven, I stood looking into the tall, gilded mirror that stood in one of the corridors. As I stood there, admiring myself, I watched my mother come up behind me. She laid one white hand on my shoulder and smiled at me in the mirror. My eyes widened.
“I look like you, Mama!” I cried with delight.
“You do, my dove. You look like your papa as well. You have his hair and his nose,” she touched my hair and my nose as she said this, then knelt down behind me in a rare motherly gesture and hugged me tight, arms encircling my stomach. She usually didn’t touch me much. My joy at seeing we were alike, though, seemed to make her emotional. I had no cynicism at that age, and I didn’t see her emotion for what it was – a kind of vanity. I was happy to be in her arms, happy that she smiled at me, happy that I looked like her and like Papa.
“Now, Miyara, let’s go visit your papa in his study, hmm?” she took me by the hand and we spent a quiet afternoon in the study with Papa, who was in a good mood as well. I remember that day as one of the happiest of my childhood. It wasn’t often that my parents made any effort to spend time with me. We usually met only during meals. The rest of the time I spent with Pirima, who was my only other company for a long time.

The Teacher

The Teacher heaved a deep sigh as she clasped her worn brown bag. Her hands, no longer slender and delicate, were riddled with swollen veins. Her wedding ring couldn’t come off her finger even if she’d wanted it to. Thankfully, she didn’t. Her marriage was the one thing that still made sense in her life.

The Teacher’s hair had been dyed red so many times that it had taken on a slightly metallic orange tint. She knew she looked like a joke, and she definitely knew the various nicknames she was known by throughout the student body, but white hair meant being a grandmother to her. That word hurt her too much. Grandmother. She had almost been one, and if the loss hurt her, she could only imagine how much it had hurt her daughter. Hurt enough that she had cut herself off from her parents because, in her words, it had been too difficult to see their eyes wander to her barren stomach and then fill with tears.

The Teacher picked up her case and walked slowly down through the empty halls, littered with crumpled paper and the occasional forgotten textbook. She sighed again as she walked. teaching didn’t make sense anymore, and for the last few years, this simple fact threw her whole life out of skew.

Her students weren’t different. Perhaps there were more cellphones in class, more kids copying essays off the internet, but all in all, high-school hadn’t changed all that much since she herself had been a twelfth-grader. No, it was some general something that irked her. Maybe it was the fact that so many parents didn’t seem to care what or how the teachers taught anymore. Maybe it was the fact that Bobby Jones and Nora Lessinger kept showing up to school with no text books because the funding for students like them who came from very low-income families had run dry. Maybe it was the fact that her daughter wasn’t speaking to her, and every teenager she looked at in her class seemed to somehow remind her of her personal life.

The Teacher exited the school building, and the sun flooded down from between a few grey clouds. In the parking lot, as always, was her husband in their old dark green Fiat. She could faintly hear the first Led Zeppelin album playing inside. She smiled at him, gave a little wave, and walked over. At least something still made sense in the world.