Becalmed

A ship sails in the darkness. Only three people are aboard. The captain stands on the deck, watching the stars’ reflection in the calm waters that lie beyond the ripples that the ships rocking movement is creating. She sends an arm out, wishing she could touch them – the reflections, not the stars. The stars are too far away. They’re intangible and require faith. The little specks on the water, however, are as real to the captain as the silver streaks that she sees during the day and knows to be fish.

Her first mate lies stretched out in her cabin below. It is not her watch yet. The captain will wake her when she’s needed, she has no doubt about that. But she cannot sleep, even though it’s almost impossible, making a ship work smoothly with only a captain to guide her and a half-mad, broken-down sailor to aid her. She worries about the following day and wonders whether the winds will finally rise and help them. She’s heard horror stories before about becalmed ships, but she never thought that it would be so incredibly frightening to be on one. The absence of any certainty is eating away at her: she knows not when the winds will rise, she knows not when she will see land again, she knows not whether she will live to touch her loved ones again. There is enough food to last a while, but the water has begun to seem a lot less plentiful than it had a week ago when the winds disappeared.

The lone sailor, a simpleton to begin with and driven almost out of her wits by the plague that destroyed the rest of the once large crew, rocks back and forth in her hammock in the large, empty room that she shared, until two weeks ago, with many others. The ropes creak comfortingly and she hums their notes as she swings, trying to lull herself into comfort. She has had no joy beyond the wooden planks of this ship; it is the one and only place she has ever found camaraderie. It’s almost all gone now, and she clings to the memories of what she had and tries to forget the sight of her fellow sailors in their death throes.

The wind doesn’t pick up. There is no hope yet for the three aboard the ship. But all three are human, and so they cannot help hoping anyway.

Frowning in the Desert

Standing atop a dune, he truly comprehended the connection between sand and glass. Tumbling, slipping and sliding his way up the miniature hill, he’d cut his shins and forearms on the stinging sand. His hands were scraped raw. There were tiny grains of sand – grains of glass? – inside every fold of his body, cutting and scraping away uncomfortably. It was incredible to him that such small flecks of matter could sting so much.

The desert was not his home. He never intended to make it one. In fact, he hoped that he would, very soon, be miles away from the place. The broken-down plane that lay some yards away seemed to mock him, telling him he would never find his home again. He’d tinker with the engine tomorrow; today, tonight, he couldn’t stand the thought of being defeated by a machine he’d mastered through long years of study. And to think that he could have been a painter!

The desert around him was too vast to contemplate. He knew he would go mad if he tried very hard. So he decided to accept it in chunks; that night, all he needed to accept was the discomfort of the sand in his body. Thirst, hunger, loneliness and despair – these he’d leave for the following days.

Sliding down the dune, he returned to the shadow of his plane. He didn’t notice the beauty in the fact that there was a shadow at nighttime, nor did he notice the stars that lit up the sky like the brightest Christmas trees back home. He didn’t think, yet, of the secrets that the desert might hold or the treasure implied in those secrets.

He also didn’t think of the boy who would wake him up when dawn came; he didn’t know anything about him yet. Although he hated grown-ups and refused to admit he was one, he never thought that night of the sheep he’d be drawing in the morning or of the rose he’d be introduced to. So much was in store for him as he lay down to sleep, rather hopelessly trying to brush sand off his hands, but at that moment he could only frown and begin to weep.

Inadequate

Not enough – that’s the thing.

Not enough of a personality.

Not enough of a joker.

Not enough of an adventurer.

Not enough of a drama-queen.

Too much also –

That’s the strange thing,

How there can be too much

That becomes part of inadequacy.

Too much of a ‘fraidy-cat.

Too much of a listener.

Too much of a pleaser.

Too much of a dullard.

Too much of a forgetful face.

Not enough and too much

of everything Important, it seems.

A Train Waits at a Station

A train has pulled into the station, and waits, humming gently with the still-working engine. It has been at the station for a while, because of a delay on the track further on. The passengers are in no hurry, though. They walk along the platform, from this side to that, strolling arm in arm or alone. They’ve come from a great many places. Some of them have been on the train for a long time and are only too glad to stretch their legs, while others got on only one or two stops ago, and walk along curiously, as if unsure whether or not their journey has actually begun at all.

The cars of the train are all empty, except for the driver who sits in his cabin, idly smoking a cigarette out his small window, and the conductor who walks down the train to inspect each compartment. She reaches the last car, which is always empty of travelers.

The last car is quite odd and unlike all the others. It’s decorated: frames hang on the wall, holding canvases painted with people, landscapes, abstract shapes and sometimes only a few words. But the conductor is used to these, and focuses only on the other things that litter the floor. In the very middle of the carpeted floor lies an orb of many colors. The conductor is one of the rare people who see words in colors, and the gem shines to her in the earthy-brown of deep-rooted friendship, the blood-red of family and parenthood, the bright yellow of childhood and the misty lilac of memories. The orb, made of finely spun glass, glows brightly so that the walls and picture-frames are all lit with stripes of this color or that.

The conductor takes the orb in her hands and carefully wraps it in tissue paper. The light still comes through the paper, and she puts the orb in a small straw box that closes. Through the cracks in the woven straw glints still the light of the colored orb. She puts the straw box in a bigger metal lock-box and clasps it tightly. There, the light now isn’t visible. As an extra precaution, though, she puts the box in a briefcase and locks it. Around her, there are still a suitcase big enough to hold the briefcase, and a steamer-trunk big enough to hold the suitcase. The car itself has a lock on its door, although it’s usually left open.

The conductor leaves, hoping the metal box will be enough to keep the tender orb safe and sound. She walks back up the train, her thoughts dwelling on a strange question – if the orb shines in the box, then is it really shining or could it go out without anyone being the wiser? The thought of the light disappearing brings her incomparable, unexplainable grief. But, as she glances at her watch, she realizes that it will be time soon to call the passengers aboard and keep going, and so she forces herself to get on with her duties.

Week

 

Will you be weak first,

Or shall I?

It’s been a week, the first,

And I’m sorely tempted.

But maybe the weakness

Is in my mind and heart only.

Mother says it isn’t so,

And others say it too,

But my aching sore,

My blistering insides

Where someone came

And took something away-

That hole tells me it is.

 

Will you be weak first,

Or shall I?

A weak week it was,

Laughter stolen,

Soul broken,

Eyes bright in the glass.

But worry not, for weakness fades,

And strength gathers anew.

A week from now,

Where will you be?

Shall I be there too?

 

 

A Traveling Business

The fairground was deserted, except for the lone figure strolling through it, swinging a cane with a curved handle. This man, who for some years now had gone by the name John Hathaway, whistled as he threw his large feet out to the sides and out. His walk was strange, everyone said so, like the rolling gait of a man who knows the swaying deck of a ship more than dry land. He peeked into the empty tents as he passed them, making sure that all the carnival workers were in the roped off area where their tents were set up. He’d heard about the sort of thing that went on after hours at other men’s carnivals, but he wasn’t going to let such indecorous and rude behavior go on in his.

He’d bought the traveling carnival from its previous owner, a Mr. Glencock, for pittance. It was true that the elephant was rather old and feeble, the tightrope walker was in her forties, and the ringmaster was losing his voice, but Mr. Hathaway had decided not to let humdrum facts get in the way of making a fortune. He’d hired the poster-makers to put gold-paint on all the advertisements and he’d dropped the ticket price quite a bit, so the crowds came in droves. If they left disappointed – well, they’d bought cotton-candy, kettle-corn and a few rounds of pie-throwing first. Fair’s fair, Mr. Hathaway thought, he wasn’t promising anything that wasn’t in the carnival. He chuckled at his pun – “Fair’s fair,” he muttered under his breath again – and poked his cane into the last tent. Empty too.

He started to stroll back towards the camp. Merry fires had sprung up in between the canvas shelters, and someone had taken up the fiddle and was playing some country melody that sounded familiar. Mr. Hathaway bounced a little bit in time to the rhythm and hummed rather tunelessly. Tomorrow he and his carnival would be opening for the third and last night in the small intersection here between three towns, and he’d be glad to get going. Already, rumors were beginning to spread about the poor maintenance of the paint in the main ring and the blind, toothless old lion that was supposed to “ROAR AND SCARE THE BRAVE OF HEART!” according to the poster. Well, Mr. Hathaway saw himself saying to the complainers, the lion may be blind and toothless, but poke him with a stick and he roared, alright. Still, he thought, better to get moving and go to somewhere new.

Samantha and Frank

It was on a bright day in the middle of January that Samantha realized that her cat, Frank, had taken over her life. On that day, Samantha was driving her old Honda to her mindless office job. She was looking forward to work in a vague sort of way, mostly because she wanted to hear Roseann’s latest dramatic episode in her relationship with her ex-husband-current-sometimes-boyfriend. Samantha enjoyed those stories immensely, since Roseann was an intelligent woman who had the charming quality of being able to make fun of herself, and Samantha felt the need for a laugh.

The old car had no CD player, and of course no connection for her iPod – which was good, since it was on the fritz and was working only sporadically – so Samantha spent the drive to work listening to the radio. That morning, in January, she happened upon a talk-show, one of the many that featured uproariously funny hosts (at least, in their own minds) who spoke very fast. She realized soon that the host’s project that morning was dissing people with pets. He was talking to someone who rescued animals on the street and made various mean-spirited jokes about the subject until the guest thanked him sarcastically and finished the interview. Samantha had laughed – this particular show was one she enjoyed, because the host was funny sometimes – but she stopped abruptly when he started reading off a fax he’d gotten.

“Well, ladies and gentlemen,” he drawled, his voice fizzing in and out of the old speakers. “I have here a fax by Miss Mary K. P. and she’s written a very nice list here. So, get out your pens, all of you pet owners out there, and let’s see if your pet has taken over your life! Miss Mary K. P., as promised, you’ll be getting a free t-shirt from the network. Let’s go.”

Samantha smiled indulgently as she wondered how many of the items on the list would fit her profile, but soon she began to frown in concern. Soon after that she began to laugh uncomfortably, and, finally, she wore a fake expression of calm as she pulled into the office parking lot and decided that she had to get out more.

“First,” the talk show host had said. “If you feed your pet before you feed yourself – it’s taking over your life. Second, if you talk to it more than you talk on the phone – it’s taking over your life. Third, if you talk to it as if it’s a human being who understands your every word – it’s taking over your life. Fourth, if you hug it more than five times a day – it’s taking over your life. Fifth, if you live vicariously through other people’s stories, but interact with your pet more than with other people outside your home – it’s taking over your life.”

The list had gone on, and Samantha realized that yes, Frank had taken over her life. The problem was that even though she knew that she should do something about it… She really didn’t feel like it.