Amelia [Character]

Amelia thought about death a lot. She didn’t consider herself morbid. She told people she was a realist. “Every time you cross a street, you might die,” she would say. “A freak tornado can happen at any time. Earthquakes aren’t that rare. All it takes is one moment of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and you’re dead. And that’s a fact.”

She ran a finger underneath the velvet choker tied round her neck. Lifting the long-stemmed glass in front of her, she took a sip of champagne. The bubbles burned her tongue. The restaurant was brightly lit, clean and simply decorate, but Amelia saw dozens of opportunities for death all around her. If the waiter slipped right there, he would bang his head on the corner of a table. If the bartender poisoned the beer barrels, everyone who was ordering on tap would be in trouble. If the electric chandelier fell, it would crush the angry family sitting at the table directly beneath it.

“Ah, Amelia! Welcome back, welcome back,” the head waiter said, shuffling over rather nervously and drying his sweating hands on his tailcoat. “What can I get you today?”

“Nothing much, nothing much. This champagne is rather nice, you know.”

“I’m glad it’s to your liking!”

“Yes. Do you know that if you swallow something the wrong way, the fluid stays in your lungs? You can accumulate so much fluid there that it can kill you.”

“Indeed?”

“Hm. I think so. Maybe not. But it makes sense, doesn’t it?” Amelia realized she was a little tipsy. This was, after all, her third glass. “Death is a beautiful thing, my dear sir, did you know that?”

“Amelia, now,” the head waiter extended his hands forward, trying to ward off the oddness. “You remember what happened last time we had this talk?”

“Yes,” Amelia said, her voice serene and her eyes gazing far away. “You ended up escorting me out very rudely and then calling the police. The police, mind you, could have been very rough with me. Did you know that there was a kind of thing as ‘suicide-by-cop?'”

“No, I wasn’t aware. The cops weren’t rough with you, were they?” The head waiter’s anxiety levels were rising and he could almost feel the blood pressure closing his arteries and making it difficult to breathe. Amelia, or maybe it was Amelia’s money, often had that effect on people.

“No, no, of course not. But they could have been, you know. I just think you should get us both some lemon pie and then sit down and have a chat with me. What do you say?”

The head waiter made his excuses and hurried away to get the bill which he would put, not so tactfully, beside Amelia’s plate of pie. He sometimes had nightmares about Amelia. It was hard for him to envision her as someone like him, with a family and a past and some future. She had significantly less future than he did. Maybe that was part of why she frightened him so much.

It was so convenient and easy to see her as a scary old witch who was fascinated with her mortality; it was rare that people saw her for what she was – her friends dead, her family members all involved in their own lives, she was an old woman who was, indeed, fascinated with her mortality.

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.

Flash Fiction Thursday: Lyara

Disclaimer: I’m tired, I’m pressured, I did my best. Sometimes it feels as if whatever I write becomes trite, boring, repetitive and unoriginal, like this piece probably is. Which is why I’m disclaiming: Tired, Pressured, with capital T and P.

Lyara was in the rose garden when it finally hit her. I’m to be married tomorrow. It didn’t seem real. How could it? She sat down heavily, not caring, for once, about the state her dress would be in once she got up from the damp earth. She could always make the stains go away, if she worked hard enough. Trying to breath slowly, she managed to sit up straight and arrange herself so that any observer who happened to be looking through the The’elem Manor’s windows would see a beautiful woman, sitting in the rose garden and taking in the glorious sunshine. Appearances were important, Lyara knew. Especially for her.

A black rose was just beginning to open at eye-level. She stretched out a hand to touch a soft black petal, stroking it softly until it opened completely, and wondered whether marriage would hold any tenderness. It wasn’t obvious. Not everyone managed to marry good men. Why, just a year ago, Moralla married a Viscount, a notable man of wealth and learning. But in her letters home, Lyara knew, she’d confessed to her sisters that the man was cruel to her, beat her, even did unspeakable things to her that she hadn’t dared to write down. Lyara had joined her friends, Moralla’s twin sisters, in reading over the letters and acting suitably horrified. But it didn’t strike her until just now that Moralla was actually suffering, all alone, with her husband.

But that won’t happen to me. Mama and Papa promised. He’s good-looking, kind and intelligent. They told me so. Tears rolled down her face as she contemplated the future. She understood her parents. She knew that she needed to marry fast, marry the first man who offered, marry before he found out… Her parents were incredibly ashamed, and Lyara couldn’t help but feel that they were right. Nobody wanted a sorceress in their household. She knew her talents were a disgrace. But now, when she contemplated needing to hide all her little quirks from an entirely new household staff as well as her new husband – what was his name? She couldn’t remember – it seemed overwhelming. Her parents didn’t notice anymore if a candle flickered into a full blown flame when Lyara entered a room, or when the dinner plates that had arrived cold from the kitchen became suddenly warm again.

She wasn’t sure she could do it. She wished, for the first time in her pampered, idle life, that she was poor as muck and common as weeds, because then her talents would be sought after, wanted, needed. She’d be revered, loved, looked-up to. She wouldn’t ever starve, for a sorceress never did, nor would she lack for firewood.

An idea was forming in Lyara’s mind. She was frightened of pursuing it, but tucked it into the corner of her worries, just in case the marriage business went horribly wrong.

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.