Book Excerpt: What A Guy 1

Life is like a game in which God shuffles the cards, the devil deals them and we have to play the trumps. – Yugoslav proverb


Come Fly With Me

Everyone watched. A few people muttered and a businessman clapped sarcastically as the big man finally arrived. While he didn’t actually delay their departure, Guy Carnac boarded the plane twenty minutes after everyone else.

“Ladies and gentlemen, now that all passengers are on board we’ll be getting underway. It’ll just be another minute or two,” the captain’s voice soothed.

Guy found his seat, swallowed another pill, and pulled down the shade. He didn’t have a seat behind the bulkhead with legroom, but at least he had a solid wall to lean against. Too bad it had a window.

He tried to settle down, and in. He almost convinced himself that he was ready, doing fine – and ping! The fasten seatbelts lights blinked on. Guy buckled his belt and like the signal for a race, his heart began an adrenaline gallop.

The plane moved away from the gate with the slightest of jolts.

Systematic desensitization, Guy. The laws of aerodynamics will keep the plane in the sky. Calm breathing! But, he reminded himself, you know better than most people that planes crash all the time.

He breathed faster. Get a grip! The facts, doctor, the facts! Fiercely he recited, My name is Dr. Guy Carnac, I’m a respected – highly respected – Seattle-based therapist, I’m a fifty-four year-old male, maybe overweight, maybe my hair’s thinning, but my libido is still intact and not thinning, thank you very much. I’m heading to an international conference of my peers. What’s there to fear?

What’s to fear? For starters, what happens when we can’t lift off? The plane’ll keep rolling, too fast to stop. And we’ll hit a building, or cars on the freeway, or another plane as it taxies in.… Smoke will billow as we’re all engulfed in a fireball. He gripped the seat arms. I’m wheezing. I can’t breathe, is there oxygen? Should I pull down a mask? Why haven’t the meds kicked in? Is it too late to turn back? Can’t they halt the plane? DON’T THE PILOTS REALIZE THEY HAVE TO STOP THIS FLIGHT, RIGHT NOW? Oh God oh God oh God Oh Godohgodohdgodgodgodgod.

The little girl in the middle seat eyed him as she whispered with her mother. Guy closed his eyes and pushed his head hard against the side of the plane. Machinery vibrated under his temple as they accelerated. He whimpered. They left the ground: Breathe!

For the next ten minutes he was afraid he’d pass out or vomit. He fought a need to do both and kept his eyes firmly closed.

Something scratched his right arm.

Guy opened his eyes and blue candy ribbons, pink ponies, and tiny hearts swam in his vision. For a few startled seconds he was sure he was hallucinating. The child in the next seat wore colored barrettes in her braids and a serious expression.

She looked down. Guy followed her pointing finger and saw that he’d wrapped his right hand completely around the seat arm separating their seats.

He unclamped his fingers as they continued to hurtle through space. Was that the start of a nosedive we’re going down I’m trapped really trapped even if I make it out of this seat I’m stuck on this goddamned plane until we crash and – He yanked his thoughts hard from the eventual, inevitable spiral. Guy closed his eyes and began to pray.

The scratching returned, more insistent. “Mister?”

He peeked cautiously.

The child patted his forearm and then his hand for good measure. “I’m scared to fly, too. This is my first time. If you want, you can have my medicine. I aksed my mommy and she says yes. I told her, this guy needs it and I don’t! He’s more of a ‘fraidy cat than me!”

“Than I, Tia. Asked, not ‘aksed’. And we don’t call people names!” Tia’s mother leaned across her daughter and took Guy’s clammy hand in her own warm brown one. “I’m sorry, a little six-year-old here is excited to fly but still learning about verbal filters. This is Tia, and I’m Denice. But the offer is real. Tia was scared about such a long time up in the sky so her doctor suggested we bring along Benadryl, just in case. Somehow I think she’s not going to need it.” The little girl wasn’t listening, her attention focused on the flight magazine page that listed cartoon offerings.

Guy looked at Denice. She was dressed not in loose terry cloth ‘jogging clothes’ but rather in a flowing skirt for comfort, pretty slip-off shoes on her feet and a soft scarf around her neck. Denice smiled, and her aura grounded him.

He loosed his grip on her palm. “I’m Guy Carnac. Thanks!” His smile wobbled. “I’d sure love to take you up on that Benadryl. My own anxiety pills never kicked in.”

“Glad to. It’s in my carry on, Guy, so you just hang on til the all clear to get up. I’ll get it for you.”

Tia had followed their conversation and now she turned back to him. “Your name is Guy, and you’re a guy. You’re funny!”

“Tia! Remember what we tell you about how to address people who are older than you, namely, with respect? This is Mr. Carnac.”

“Thanks for the comment about respect, Denice. I’m not sure I deserve a whole lot right now! How about Tia calls me, Mr. Guy?”

Tia patted Guy’s forearm with her little hand again and gave him a wide grin. “Hey, Mr. Guy, smile. This plane’s not going down!”

***

Prepare to meet a hero with dangerous fantasies. A young woman trapped in a cult. A person who dreams other people’s futures. A man drinking glühwein at a Christmas Market as he waits for disaster. And Lynn, the connecting thread, taking a train trip with a seductive stranger. I’ll be posting the first pages to each chapter.

Committing my characters to an appearance on this blog makes them real. As of tonight, they exist beyond my imagination.

Here are the opening pages to my novel Tsunami Cowboys. This fourth chapter is titled, What A Guy.

Tsunami Cowboys will publish with Amazon in December, 2014.

Book Excerpt: Precognitious 2

The next morning as Ronnie ate a quick breakfast she asked, “Hal, do you ever have a dream that feels like it’s trying to tell you something?”

She’d blow dried her hair after showering, but wasn’t completely dressed. Hal grinned at her over the table, enjoying her curves and the lacy black slip peeking from under her bathrobe. “Something sure jolted you awake in the middle of the night. Why? What’d you dream?”

“It’s silly,” Ronnie qualified, but told him anyway. He listened to the surprisingly detailed description of what she remembered.

“Honey,” he said fondly when she finished, “it’s a no-brainer. Losing your marbles? Magic and games? Waking up just before you die is classic. Freud would probably say it’s an anxiety dream, fear and desire. Thanatos and Eros fighting it out. What were you afraid of?”

“That’s not it. It wasn’t me who died.” Restless, she began to clear away the breakfast things.

Hal checked the time, then got up and helped. “How can you know?” he queried as he put leftover rolls in a bag. “With dreams no one knows. Personally, I think the brain’s just clearing the decks for the next morning.” Hal was a big man with shaggy hair and precise mannerisms; as always, his reasoning was logical.

“No, that’s not it, either!” Ronnie’s words were louder than she intended. “It was uncanny. I need to get ready for work,” she muttered, and headed off to iron a skirt.

At the office she was preoccupied and distant, thinking back to the college mixer where she’d met Reggie. Reginald and Veronica, both anxious to shed those old fashioned monikers as fast as possible. “Reggie and Ronnie, how perfect is that? Like in the comics, right?” he’d said. “We just need Archie. You really ought to go out with me! With these names you know we’re fated.”

She gave him her number, charmed and intrigued. They’d had a grand time together. After college they parted with great affection, headed for destinies in copywriting (hers) and medical research (his). That had been eight years ago.

At lunch time Ronnie headed down the boulevard and waited at a corner with a long stoplight. Who strode across the street? Reggie.

Her old lover, beardless with short hair, didn’t look up until he was at the curb and almost ran into her. “Ronnie!” He stared, taking in the sight of her wind-blown curls and maroon blazer buttoned over a short skirt and high heels. “Good god, woman. You look great! Man, it’s good to see you!” Reggie gave her a bear hug.

She blushed. “Do you have time for a cup of coffee?”

“I don’t,” he said regretfully. “I promised my wife I’d buy her a couple mystery novels. Jane always takes at least one when we do a trip. We’re flying to Greece!”

Ronnie took a step back and almost fell off the curb.

“What is it?” Reggie smiled. “The news I got married? We met at the lab, five years ago.” He looked down at her hands and saw Ronnie had a wedding band of her own. “Looks like you did, too!”

She trotted down the sidewalk alongside him to the bookstore. He chattered as he picked over newly released murder mysteries. “We booked a cruise to mark our anniversary. We finally get the honeymoon trip I wanted. It starts with a flight to Athens. Business class,” he bragged.

They joined the line of customers waiting to pay, and Ronnie felt a crushing anxiety. “When do you fly out?”

“Friday.”

She blurted, “Reggie, do me a favor? Please? If you get delayed, don’t feel like you have to break speed records getting to the airport.”

Reggie fumbled and dropped the books cradled in the crook of his elbow. She ducked down to help pick them up. They bumped heads. He gave her a searching look and rocked back on his heels, still crouched in the middle of the line. “What’s up, Rondicious?”

Everyone around them stared, openly eavesdropping.

Ronnie blinked back unexpected tears at the old endearment. “Just, there are plenty of other flights if you miss that one, okay? I know what I’m saying sounds insane. I have this premonition, and I’ve never had one like it. It’s, a sense of foreboding,” she clarified. She felt like a complete idiot.

But as they stood back up, he nodded. Reggie wore a thoughtful look. “You know, for some reason I’ve got a weird feeling about the flight, too.” He plopped the books onto the counter and got out his wallet. “Must be that old connection we always had. I don’t think you sound silly at all. You never did.”

Back on the street they exchanged addresses and numbers. He rewarded her with one last, fast hug. Ronnie watched as he hurried down the block.

“Have a great honeymoon-wedding anniversary-vacation!” she called after him. Reggie disappeared around the corner and she felt a strange tug, as if the sense of foreboding had let her go. She wasn’t sure what had just happened, and hoped that it was a renewed hello rather than a goodbye.

On Friday night, the opening news story was the perplexing crash of Flight #423. The report ended with a telephone number and website for people to contact. Ronnie felt like a stone dropped from a great height, falling with the gravity of the gruesome details.

She barely made it to the bathroom and threw up. Then she picked up the telephone and punched out the digits to ask if Mr. Reginald Broadmaster and his wife Jane had taken that flight.

***

Prepare to meet a hero with dangerous fantasies. A young woman trapped in a cult. A person who dreams other people’s futures. A man drinking glühwein at a Christmas Market as he waits for disaster. And Lynn, the connecting thread, taking a train trip with a seductive stranger. I’ll be posting the first pages to each chapter.

Committing my characters to an appearance on this blog makes them real. As of tonight, they exist beyond my imagination.

Here are the opening pages to my novel (Name being withheld until publication date). This third chapter is titled, Precognitious.

***

 

Book Excerpt: Precognitious 1

“We swim, day by day, on a river of delusions, and are effectively amused with houses and towns in the air, of which the men about us are dupes. But life is a sincerity.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Uses of Great Men” in Representative Men, 1850.

 It’s All Greek To Me

On the Summer Solstice Ronnie turned thirty-two, and that night she dreamed the future.

Three things happen. A truck from ‘The Magnificent Mario’s Curio Shop’ drives down a highway. It scrapes against the dividing railing and the back doors spring open. A crate falls out and bursts. Jacks and marbles scatter across the asphalt.

The scene shifts. Her old college boyfriend Reggie climbs in a cab. He no longer has a beard and his hair is shorter, but otherwise he looks exactly the same. Reggie’s with a female companion; somehow Ronnie knows it’s his wife Jane. The cab driver, Jane and Reggie watch as highway employees in neon orange overalls scrub the road. Marbles roll this way and that, dodging the broom bristles. Glass bits glitter in the sunshine.

Lanes filled with cars, trucks, motorcycles and busses all wait for the cleanup to finish. Ronnie doesn’t sense horns honking in any dimension. The people stuck in traffic watching the bizarre sight taking place are too stunned. They laugh as they climb out of their vehicles to snap photos with their cell phones. Check it out! W8’ll u c this!

Jane leans over the seat. “Is there anything you can do?”

The taxi driver shakes his head, shrugs his shoulders. But he turns off the meter, acknowledging they’re all stuck. The cabbie won’t try to make an extra buck off the bizarre incident.

Yet another shift. A plane lifts off the runway, gains altitude – and plunges from the skies. Ronnie doesn’t see the actual crash but knows that everyone on board just died.

All at once she’s weirdly cognizant that this is a dream. The back of her brain deduces she must be half awake, swimming up towards consciousness. She sinks back into the dream but retains that awareness. Just as she wonders whether she’s dreaming or awake, with the growing sensation that something very strange is going on, Reggie looks away from the clean up. He turns his head. And he stares her right in the eyes.

The next thing Ronnie knew, she was in her bedroom and sitting up in bed. She shook her husband. “I just had the weirdest dream! Wake up!”

Hal grunted and turned over. She lay down and tried to go back to sleep, but the strange images stayed fresh. Colored marbles rolled around in her head and winked, vivid and insistent. Finally she fell asleep, wondering what had ever happened to Reggie.

***

Prepare to meet a hero with dangerous fantasies. A young woman trapped in a cult. A person who dreams other people’s futures. A man drinking glühwein at a Christmas Market as he waits for disaster. And Lynn, the connecting thread, taking a train trip with a seductive stranger. I’ll be posting the first pages to each chapter.

Committing my characters to an appearance on this blog makes them real. As of tonight, they exist beyond my imagination.

Here are the opening pages to my novel (Name being withheld until publication date). This third chapter is titled, Precognitious.

Copyright © 2014 Jadi Campbell. Look for this novel in book and eBook form on Amazon.com in December.

Book Excerpt: The End of the World 2

Emory Steen walked home with Coreen after Math Club. Autumn leaves covered the sidewalks and Emory crunched through them making as much noise as possible. “See you tomorrow,” he said.

Coreen waved a goodbye as her friend slouched down the street.

Goldy waited inside the front door. Her parents had let her get the puppy as a reward for good grades. He trailed at her heels as Coreen followed the sound of voices; the Bible study group had started. Mr. and Mrs. Tennant were decent people, trying to raise their children as Christians. Both of Coreen’s brothers went to meetings. David was almost eighteen, and the eleven-year-old Junior worshipped him. Little Sweetie was only five, and she was bundled off to bed halfway through the evening.

The Siemens family, the Whites, the Bartlets and their two cousins visiting from Holland were in the dining room. The group met Tuesday and Friday evenings at the Tennant home. The adults passed earnest hours in spirited debates, trying to understand what Bible passages signified.

Bibles covered the dining room table. Red silk ribbons marked open pages, but they’d set them aside. Everyone stared at a laptop screen, filled with yellow letters in a blue background. An image of the Earth floated, circled by what looked like the rings of Saturn. The largest ring ended in the letters VOG.

Goldy’s wagging tail thumped against a chair and the group finally noticed Coreen had entered the room.

Her godfather Richard turned from the computer and placed an arm over her shoulder. Richard White was old enough to be her grandparent, and he enjoyed the authority that came with age. “We’ve been waiting for you. Good thing you’re in that Math Club!”

“I told you, Richard. She’ll follow the proof just fine.” Coreen’s father gave her a hug.

Richard pushed a sheet of paper across the table. “Take a look,” he said eagerly.

“What is it?” Coreen picked it up.

“Just, see for yourself.” The gathered members held their breaths as they waited.

Coreen bent her head over a page of proofs, then back up to meet a roomful of expectant eyes. No one spoke, waiting for her to add two and two together.

She looked back at the sheet. “I’m not sure what I’m supposed to see.”

Richard patted her arm. “It’s okay. It took us a week of prayer before it became clear, and then suddenly it was all wonderfully clear. Look.” Richard took a second piece of paper from Mrs. Siemen. He tapped the page. “A day for God is a thousand years. Christ was crucified on April 1st, 33AD. Five equals ‘atonement’, ten equals ‘completeness’, and seventeen equals ‘heaven’, so the time between Christ’s crucifixion and next year is 1,978 years. Follow so far?”

Coreen’s brow furrowed as she listened.

“It’s right here.” Richard patted the sheets of paper and leaned over the table to point at the computer screen. “It’s clearer than clear, Coreen: the Rapture’s on the way!”

Mommy spoke up. “Honey, God’s lifting two hundred million people directly to Heaven, and then He’ll cover the earth in tsunamis and quakes. It’s very near. In fact, it’s less than a year away. The end’s coming in a series of earthquakes on May 1st. Six p.m. for each time zone.”

“What about everyone else?” Coreen asked in a small voice.

“God’s judgment.” Mommy was a middle-aged woman with an affect as comforting and warm as a meal of pot roast. Tonight, incandescent, her face glowed. “Six months later, November 1st, the final destruction arrives.”

Dad broke in. “Someone’s found the Biblical passages proving the Rapture begins in May. All believers ascend to Heaven. Those left behind will experience the end of the world. Six months of it, before fire consumes whatever’s left. We can be ready for it!”

He leaned across the table and turned up the sound. The voice speaking from the computer terminal was both tinny and gravelly, like metal clanking over heavy rocks. VOG sounded otherworldly. “My friends, now is the time to prepare! The end is on the way. But don’t wait for the Lord to send the first sign. You will feel it in your own lives down here on Earth. Pay attention my friends, little by little He will peel away all that no longer matters. Welcome the changes! Welcome the signals of His arrival! Trust in the Lord!”

Dad turned the sound back down and turned expectant back to his daughter. “Well? What do you think?”

“There’s a paradox,” Coreen began. The End of Days sounded as if the final agonies stretched out, God Himself unsure when to end them. “Does the world end in May, or in November?”

“Which part of Armageddon don’t you understand?” David sneered. Coreen hadn’t noticed her older brother in the corner. He sat, so no one could see how short he was compared to her.

“Yeah, VOG said so!” Junior parroted.

Coreen ignored them, knowing skinny little Junior would go along with anything his brother said.

David recited, “The Bible tells us that exactly one hundred and eighty-four days later God destroys the whole world. The name says it all. The Voice Of God. VOG.” David had learned about the Rapture end date before Coreen. He understood it better, too. For once, he was doing something first.

***

Prepare to meet a hero with dangerous fantasies. A young woman trapped in a cult. A person who dreams other people’s futures. A man drinking glühwein at a Christmas Market as he waits for disaster. And Lynn, the connecting thread, taking a train trip with a seductive stranger. I’ll be posting the first pages to each chapter.

Committing my characters to an appearance on this blog makes them real. As of tonight, they exist beyond my imagination.

Here are the opening pages to my novel (Name being withheld until publication date). This second chapter is titled, The End Of The World.

Copyright © 2014 Jadi Campbell. Look for this novel in book and eBook form on Amazon.com in December.

Book Excerpt: The End of the World 1

What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet: All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field; The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas. O LORD our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! —Psalm 8:8

Revelations

Lynn turned off the classical music on the CD player and yawned, pleased. She’d gotten a lot done. Summer session hadn’t begun yet and the campus was quiet. Cars loaded with new graduates and their belongings had left days earlier.

She’d propped her office door and windows open. When she leaned back an afternoon breeze fluttered across her skin. Outside, three crows argued from the top of a Douglas fir as a radio blared. And someone cried. Sobs swelled in waves as the crier gained and lost, regained and relost control.

The crying came from inside the building. Lynn got up and went to the door to listen; it was a woman’s voice. She walked down the hall and came to a stop outside the bathroom. As she hesitated, wondering if she should go in or not, the door opened with a yank.

The young woman in a rumpled blouse over new jeans jumped when she saw Lynn. ‘Ask me about my frontal lobotomy’ suggested a pin on her chest. Her face was blotchy and dripped with tears.

“Aren’t you the Girl Friday who started working here the end of the semester? Coreen, right?” Lynn held out a tissue.

The girl tried to answer, but could only hiccup. Her face grew redder.

When Lynn touched her shoulder she trembled. “I’m Professor McCready. Coreen, are you okay?”

Coreen fell forward into the older woman’s arms.

Lynn propelled her down the hall to the corner armchair in her office. Coreen kept shivering. Lynn returned to the bathroom for a stack of paper towels. When she brought them back, she touched Coreen’s shoulder to get her attention. “Somehow I don’t think regular tissues can handle all the tears you’ve got in you.” She handed them to Coreen and placed a tall glass at the girl’s elbow. She touched the shoulder again, and returned to her desk.

The simple props of a water glass, a comfortable armchair and a large supply of utility paper towels were exactly what Coreen needed. She cried for another fifteen minutes. The hic! hic! staccato slowed as her crying jag spent itself. When it finished she sat damp and exhausted, her body folded tight.

Lynn set down the article proof she was editing. “Come on,” she said, and got to her feet. “I could use something to eat. I bet you could, too. Do you like Vietnamese?”

Over dinner the girl stayed silent, picking at her food and chewing her fingernails. Finally she blurted, “Did you ever think the world was ending?”

“Literally?”

Coreen hesitated and then nodded her head. Yes.

“That it would end, no. That it might break me, once.”

“What happened?”

“I discovered the heart of darkness when I was your age.” She knew Coreen was bracing herself to open up. Quietly Lynn revealed, “I went through an experience I thought would scar me and follow me around forever. Like, it would identify me for life. And then it didn’t. But I know what it feels like when a wave of panic hits. Or a crying jag. If you can, tell me what’s got you so terrified that you hide in the bathroom.”

Coreen put down her fork, took a deep breath, and told her.

***

Prepare to meet a hero with dangerous fantasies. A young woman trapped in a cult. A person who dreams other people’s futures. A man drinking glühwein at a Christmas Market as he waits for disaster. And Lynn, the connecting thread, taking a train trip with a seductive stranger. I’ll be posting the first pages to each chapter.

Committing my characters to an appearance on this blog makes them real. As of tonight, they exist beyond my imagination.

Here are the opening pages to my novel (Name being withheld until publication date). This second chapter is titled, The End Of The World.

Copyright © 2014 Jadi Campbell. Look for this novel in book and eBook form on Amazon.com in December.

Speed Dating – Part 1

Slowly Rick garnered the pertinent facts about Maricela. She came from a large family where education was a priority. All five of the Howard siblings had at least some graduate school time or professional training under their belts. Maricela was an intellectual prodigy and had gone to college entirely on grants and scholarships. She’d been a natural scholar, the acknowledged golden child of any seminar class. Ironically, his parents moved briefly to Brookville when Maricela had finished up her undergraduate work there; they’d just missed one another.

She worked as a financial advisor with an ethical investments firm, a job she loved since she began there eight years ago. She had been promoted twice and refused the next offer for further advancement, preferring to keep close to her individual clients. Her field of expertise was alternative energies and fair trade. Maricela firmly believed the phrase sustainable and responsible investing was not an oxymoron.

She’d had one, failed, live-in relationship. When she discovered his coke habit she ended the relationship. “It wasn’t just that he lied to me about how much he used,” Maricela explained. “And it wasn’t the way I found out: catching him in the kitchen over the butcher block, for God’s sake. He promised he’d ease up on what he was using, but I know too much about how much fun partying is.

“Speedy drugs weren’t ever my thing. They just made me nauseous and I preferred alcohol anyway, so it wasn’t like I felt holier than thou. It was the way he wasn’t willing to stay clean, and how cagey he was being about the realities of that fact. He kept pretending he was in control of his habit and lied about how much he did. Typical user behavior. It was the set up for more hiding and bullshit stories that eventually made me end it.”

The tone might have made Rick suspicious, because in the voice of the wrong woman it sounded phony. Worse, it sounded like what someone with a martyr complex might say. But Maricela was simply stating the facts. Her ex hadn’t wanted to be honest about needing to snort coke; and Maricela was unwilling to settle for a relationship based on prevarications.

Maricela’s friends held her in affection and quite often in awe. Despite her formidable brainpower her personality was easy and accessible; there was nothing of the intellectual snob about her. She’d cohabitated for the last 3 years with a long time friend named Sarah. Together the two of them had rented the converted loft space.

When Sarah was diagnosed with cancer the prior spring, Maricela put her own social life on hold in order to be there for her friend. That was the reason why she’d been out of the dating pool. It had nothing to do with an unwillingness to engage with other people. On the contrary: a deep commitment to the people she cared about led Maricela to prioritize how she used her time.

Almost every bit of information Chris and Sybil had offered to describe Maricela turned out to be accurate. The only piece of information they’d gotten wrong was her choice of alcohol. Instead of wine, most of the time Maricela drank near beer.

Rick noted all of these things and thought, This woman is someone worth getting to know, no matter where it leads. Surprised, Rick actually asked himself if he’d be willing to just be friends with her if the physical chemistry didn’t pan out. He was even more surprised when the answer to that question was, yes.

“I’m not being coy about bringing you home with me, you know,” she informed him one day; the two were having lunch. “Trust me on this one. In my earlier days we’d already be there! But Sarah’s really sick. She’s going through chemo, and the procedure is quite simply hell. It’s really important right now that we keep the apartment as germ-free and sterile as possible. You understand, right?”

“Sure,” Rick said, and hesitated. “No, actually, I don’t. I doubt if I can even begin to understand. I don’t think I’d know how to handle it if someone I was close to got cancer,” he admitted. “Or if I could be as supportive.”

Maricela turned what he’d said over in her mind and shrugged. “She’s my best friend. I sit with her when she’s awake half the night throwing up because the poisons in the chemotherapy mean she won’t keep anything down for long. The other half the night she can’t stop crying because she knows she’s getting weaker and weaker, and feels sicker and sicker. She’s really terrified that this is it, she’s going to die, and in the end all the chemo and medical attention in the world aren’t going to make a bit of difference. She’s scared maybe she’s putting herself through hell for nothing. And me along with her.

“Next,” continued Maricela relentlessly, “Sarah lost her hair. It was coming out in patches so Sarah had it all shaved off. Then she went through this awful period where her face puffed up. Her skin was reacting to a combination of the drugs, and she couldn’t go out in bright sunlight because of allergic reactions to some of the other meds. And when you’re a friend, all you can really do is just, be there. It’s not your sickness or your pain.

“Trust me. When you see it, you wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy.

“The only thing you can do is fetch the bucket, get a cup of herb tea, and offer to do the shopping. Just being there for your friend and not being afraid to do that little extra helps more than anyone imagines. A person with cancer needs you to be normal, because nothing else in their life is any more. Nothing else around them will ever be the same again. I won’t go into the gruesome details about the bouts of depression Sarah endures, but picture your blackest, darkest thoughts. Magnify those by about a thousand and maybe you have some idea of how deep the depression of a person with cancer and on meds is. A cancer patient doesn’t know if it’s her or the heavy-duty medications doing the talking, or thinking, or feeling all those awful things.

“Every day becomes a big surprise, and not one you want to wake up to. Are you going to manifest new symptoms? How’s the old mood going to be, will you feel incapacitated or can you function again? What fun tests, and diagnostics, and medical procedures do you have scheduled this time? What will the news be, and how are you going to be able to bear to hear it? There was a phase where all the test results were bad; every one of them was really horribly grim. Sarah started going in and out of depressions where she couldn’t stand to be around anybody at all. What she was feeling, the agony, the fear, and exhaustion finally overwhelmed her.

“It’s not a question of staying supportive,” Maricela repeated. “Cancer survivors travel to hell and back. All I do is let her know I’ll be waiting there each time she returns.”

Rick listened to Maricela with both admiration and dismay. “I’m not so sure. I’d be scared I’d react the wrong way and make things worse,” he persisted. “Or that I wouldn’t be able to face someone else’s illness. I don’t know if I’d be up to being supportive.”

He looked at Maricela’s face as he admitted that, afraid to see her light brown eyes darken. But he didn’t want to present himself in a false light, especially when compared with the relentless clean light of her frankness. Only honesty was admissible.

He was silent, thinking about all of the relationship games he’d so willingly played over the years. One set of games to get close enough to climb into bed; another set to extricate himself from the mussed up sheets afterwards. When he realized she was waiting patiently for him to talk, or to remain silent, just as he wished, Rick surprised himself for the third time in an hour. He opened his mouth and as if in the third person, Rick heard himself really talk.

“I don’t know what I’d do if someone I loved was ill, much less going to die. I’ve never been in that situation! My mom was always great. She’d make home made chicken soup with egg noodles, nothing fancy, but it was like the great home remedy for anything that ever made a little kid feel bad. I would pretend to have a really, really bad cough, just to get her to make it.

“It’s the only dish I ever make for someone on a regular basis.” Rick was thinking out loud; silent, Maricela listened without judgment as he began to peel away protective layers.

“My mother made soup, but it was about emotional support. When I make it for anyone it’s, soup. The emotional support’s what I get, by recreating the atmosphere of my mom. It’s never about doing something for another person at all.

“Jesus! Why didn’t I ever notice this before? For me,” his voice was almost at a crawl. Maricela actually leaned across the table so she could hear him without having to interrupt to ask him to speak more loudly. “For me, relationships were, are, something to have fun with. It’s all speed dating. I never put much energy into the mutual support aspect of it, beyond being honest and not cheating on a girlfriend as long as we’re together.

“Jesus, cancer!” Rick shuddered in his chair at the mental image of watching a loved one waste away, or bearing witness to a beloved person’s features distort with pain. “Maybe my life style as a Good time Charlie was actually good protection. It always worked pretty well, as long as I wanted it to. Well.” He looked away to the back wall of the bar, refocused on the present and the woman listening carefully at the other side of the small table. “And you? How did you survive those years in the jungle?”

– from my short story “Speed Dating” in Broken In: A Novel in Stories. Available in paperback or eBook at amazon.com, amazon.de, and amazon in countries everywhere.

8:15 A.M.

 

At 8:15 a.m. some 65 years later,

Birds perch on the Dome.

It’s startlingly calm. A becalming place

Green, tranquil, filled with standing statues

tourists with cameras and

prayers for peace and

pray-ers for peace and

Classes of school children

running

water everywhere.

They bring chains of 1,000 cranes

folded in loving memory of Sadako Sasaki

Her cranes became tinier

leukemia advancing until

Sadako folded symbols of longevity and healing

with the aid of a pin.

At 8:15 a.m. some 65 years later,

Five cranes hold sentinel on

ruined

blackened

girders

The skeleton now, simply,

called the A-Bomb Dome.

Statues are the world’s countries’ monuments

to Hiroshima reborn, arisen

declaring her residents will,

forever, live

in a place called The City of Peace.

Classes of children, schooled in knowledge of what

unthinkable tragedy

took

place

here

stand for photos before the fountain with the flame

in the center burning

until the last nuclear weapon is dismantled;

Before the cenotaph shielding

names of the dead, reopened, names

added on August 6th.

The Peace Park, the terrible

hypocenter.

And the tourists with cameras?

We bear witness. We come to

ask, Why?

How many

angels danced on the head of a pin?

We come to see The Truth or

as much truth as we can bear.

Seeing demands the clearest sight

possible when your eyes are filled

with the pin pricks of tears

Water,

like the water the burned begged for as they died

The peace fountains spouting outside the museum

the river that flows

calmly, becalmingly

near the A-Bomb Dome,

where the cranes have taken up residence.

(17 October 2010 21:27 p.m.)

NOTES: I wrote the first version of this poem while we visited Japan in 2010. The atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima at 8:15 a.m.on August 6, 1945. Sadako Sasaki lived 2 kilometers from the epicenter. She was 2 years old at the time, and died of the radiation exposure 10 years later. Sadako is famous for folding origami cranes. According to the Japanese legend, anyone who folds 1,000 cranes will be granted a wish: Sadako hoped to be healed. Today classrooms of children all around the world send strings of paper cranes to be displayed at Sadako Sasaki’s memorial in the Peace Park. Her statue and story are a powerful reminder of the innocent lives lost.

The cenotaph is opened each August 6th and the newest names of the dead are added. Its arched form provides a shelter to the souls of the victims.

The Peace Park contains statues dedicated by countries around the world; a museum; and monuments. We visited at night and the Dome (the only building left standing after the blast) was occupied by cranes. The image of this World Heritage Monument and the symbolic birds took a powerful hold on my imagination. When we returned at daylight to visit the park it overflowed with classes of laughing children, stunned tourists, and an atmosphere that is impossible to describe. It is a place of shared tragedy, and humanity.

The cranes were still there, perching in the Dome.

(All photographs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image.)

More pictures from our trip to Japan and of Uwe’s photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

Death On A Wet Road Between Towns Without Names

Gabe was grateful that in all the years of his travels, no one had ever thought to inquire, “What’s the worst experience you ever had traveling? What’s the worst thing you ever witnessed?” The day he spent being witness outside of Krakow, Poland in the Auschwitz concentration camp was a terrible experience he never wanted to repeat. The atrocities humans committed against one another was beyond comprehension. And it wasn’t ancient history. It had happened in his parents’ lifetimes.

He could never understand the racism that had been involved. What could there possibly be in an identity or religion that would make someone want to wipe out an entire people? It was inconceivable to him, and he sent up a fervent thank you to whatever gods might be listening that this was so. No! There were some things he didn’t ever want to understand. Auschwitz broke his heart. Gabe cried his first adult tears sitting on a cold bench in front of an execution wall.

Sometimes for his month of travel he headed to the heat. He always had a loose theme to the four weeks, and one year it was ancient lost cultures. Mexico96_107He traveled through a region where jungle archaeologists were reclaiming entire cities from the undergrowth.

DS1_1297Gabe got up early and caught the local bus. He spent happy hours at the site, with satisfaction doing what he’d come to call connecting some of the dots. If the world were a large puzzle, a Pointillism painting, Gabe’s slow explorations gave him more of the pieces to the puzzle, more and more of the dots in which a picture was slowly emerging.

That day he made further connections in terms of ancient civilization, art history, and cultural contexts. Gabe was overly pleased with himself. He decided not to wait for the next bus to rumble past the ruins. DS1_1310Mexico96_119Ignoring the rain clouds threatening the skies, he began the long walk back to his hotel in town.

Twenty minutes later Gabe knew he’d miscalculated badly. The rain clouds blew lower and closer in no time. At the halfway point, the storm broke. Gabe would get soaked if he kept on the road and equally as drenched if he tried to turn back to the bus shelter at the entrance road to the ruins. He pulled his rain jacket (a marvel that rolled up upon itself into a small ball with a carrying band) out of his little daypack and went on trudging, shaking his head at his own foolish optimism.

Potholes filled first, creating wet craters. Gabe got closer to town and the traffic increased, the wheels of old cars and carts churning the rest of the street into ruts. In less than ten minutes the single dirt road turned to roiling mud. It rained even harder, hard drops that fell in steady, monotonous sheets. Gabe moved over closer to the shoulder away from the biggest vehicles. He had to share the edge of the muddy street with other people on foot, vendors pushing carts covered with folds of plastic cloths or sheets of cardboard, and bicycles and motorbikes.

The rest of the traffic converged in the center of the street, trying to find spots that hadn’t yet vanished into a river of wet earth. A motorbike with a family on the back passed Gabe. The father drove slowly, trying to keep the bike from tilting over into the stream. His wife sat behind him with her arms around and underneath the clear plastic rain poncho her husband wore; a small boy perched, balanced in the seat behind her. He was wedged between the woman and the sacks of potatoes and peppers lashed to the rear of the motorbike.

There was a blare of arguing horns and out of the storm a jeep appeared. Sheets of rain obscured the view. The jeep driver headed alarmingly fast down the direct center of the road, his horn louder as the jeep got closer. When it was near enough people could see it was a government vehicle, and everyone moved over to the sides of the road to let it by.

Before anyone could grasp the danger the jeep was upon them. The driver kept one hand pressed on the horn as people scrambled in the mud. Gabe watched in horror as the motorbike with the family hit a pothole. The father put out a frantic foot trying to brake, but it was too late. The motorbike went over on its side. His body disappeared under water and the jeep ran over his leg.

People screamed for the jeep to stop but it never even slowed down; the driver now had both hands jammed on the horn and his foot on the gas pedal. He continued determinedly on down through the river of mud. Gabe could reach out and touch the bumper as it rushed by, it was so close.

The jeep was swallowed up in the sheets of rain and only the victims and witnesses remained. The jeep hadn’t carried any license plates and even if he had seen one Gabe was kilometers away from a police station. Who was he going to report to? All he could do was try to help the man who’d been run over. At least it had only been his booted foot, and that had been down in the pothole; maybe the man wasn’t hurt too badly.

Gabe turned back to the sodden street as rain rushed down his face and over his rain slicker. Through the damp he saw the fallen figures. The blare of the jeep horn faded, and a human voice’s wail began to compete with the sound of the waters crashing from the opened skies. Other voices joined the first one.

The traffic swerved around the center where people had gathered in a loose circle. Gabe moved closer and the driver dragged himself away from the fallen motorcycle. The man was limping, but he was up on his feet.

The motorcycle was already half buried by mud washing up over and against the frame in fast moving spurts; the bags lashed to the back of the bike had broken open. Lumps that had to be potatoes lay in the stream, some of them slowly rolling away in the force of the moving rainwater.

But the pair ignored the tubers and didn’t try to gather them back up. They huddled over another one of the sacks in the road as they wailed. Gabe tried futilely to push the water from his eyes. He shook his head to clear it, and then he saw the injured man and his wife were sitting in the mud as they held the body of their son. He lay like a broken toy, like a rag doll, small limp limbs dangling from his parents’ cradling hands.

The circle of people standing around them gently lifted the couple and half carried, half walked them over to the useless safety of the field at the side of the road. Gabe bodily lifted the damaged motorbike and carried it out of the street. Determinedly everyone moved back in the river that had been a road and collected potatoes. They ignored the blares of cars trying to navigate around them. They picked up the last of potatoes and the burst sack and returned them to the hapless parents.

Gabe thought, Where’s the nearest hospital? His next thought was the sad realization that a local hospital was probably located next to the nearest police station: a hundred kilometers away in the next city. A clinic, he thought desperately. But the country had no money for health services, and only Bread for the World and Doctors without Borders had any kind of a presence in the region. Gabe couldn’t speak any of the local languages and he had no training in anything more than the most rudimentary medicine.

Despairing, knowing there was nothing more he could do to help, Gabe resumed the harder trudge back towards the center.

Alone back in his hotel room, he drank to get blind drunk. Whether his eyes were opened or closed he saw the broken doll body of the undernourished child, the grief on the faces of the child’s parents. Worst of all was realizing his own helplessness to do anything whatsoever. There was nothing he could have done that afternoon to change the outcome and nothing he could do now. Gabe cried, for the first time since the visit to Auschwitz years earlier. They were bitter tears that refused to stop coming. Gabe was as unable to halt them as he was to halt the rains still falling outside of his room in the shabby hotel.

No one ever asked him, What’s the worst thing you’ve ever seen traveling? Gabe knew it was the rainy day, the motorbike with a family riding on the back. What’s the worst thing you’ve ever seen traveling? If asked he wouldn’t have answered, because he carried the pain of that memory too close to his heart. It stayed alive and refused to fade. The worst thing he ever witnessed remained dangerously in real time, on a wet road between towns without names. It created a place of secret despair and awareness that the world was not a place of entirely benevolent forces.

It became his most closely held secret. Despite the sad knowledge, or perhaps because of it, Gabe determined to live as if the opposite might be true. That experience was seminal, one that defined who he was as a human being, in the inner place where his heart really beat.DS1_1367

– from my short story “Waiting” in Broken In: A Novel in Stories. Available online at amazon.com, amazon.de, and amazon in countries everywhere.

Go to my earlier post 2,000,000 Wrinkle-lipped Bats for more of Gabe’s travels.

(All photogaphs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image.)

More pictures from our trips to Mexico and Cambodia, and of Uwe’s photography, may be viewed at viewpics.de.

It Was a Bitterly Cold -22°

For 14 years my husband spent half of every winter up in northern Sweden, working on a frozen lake. The engineers flew up for 2 week stints, leaving home on Mondays and returning two weeks later on a Friday evening charter flight.

The very last year that Uwe did this stint, his company began to allow family members to take advantage of the flights. At the end of March 2001, on the vernal equinox, I flew up to meet Uwe in the region broadly known as Lappland.

Limited access roads

My flight was delayed while President Putin flew through European airspace back to Russia. By the time I arrived it was close to midnight, and we had to drive an hour further north to reach Arjeplog. It was a bitterly cold -22° and on either side of the deserted road the snow piles loomed. But we kept stopping the car to get out – the Northern Lights were dancing in the heavens! So far north, surrounded by nothing but woods and the glittering of stars, the aurora borealis played across the horizen.

I heard a weird background swishing noise underneath the sound of my heart beat. I was listening to the borealis. As I stood on the frigid road my optic nerves took pictures of the Northern Lights. It was so quiet that the part of my brain which processes sound picked up signals leaking out from the images. Early explorers in the Arctic Circle reported this experience. (They discovered when they put their hands over their eyes, the sounds went away.)

The Lights are caused by disturbance in the magnetic field of the earth’s poles. Energy generated by solar winds is hurled from the sun at incredibly high speeds. The solar winds get stopped when they hit the magnetic field. Electrons and atoms from the windstorms collide, and that creates the lights.

In some parts of Sweden and Norway, people earlier described the aurora borealis as the reflection of Silleblixt, millions of herring swimming in the sea. The Eskimos have a legend about the Northern Lights. They think the aurora borealis lights up the trail of the afterlife. This is a dangerous, narrow path that souls must take when they leave dead bodies and head to heaven.

Some cultures mention the lights as dancers in the heavens. Scotsmen call the Northern Lights ‘Merry Dancers’. In the Middle Ages, if people saw the Northern Lights and they contained red, it meant a war was starting somewhere in the world. The red color was death and the blood being spilled in battles. I just saw different shades of white lights and no other colors in the spectrum. And I definitely thought they were alive, like dancers.

The next day we drove north and officially crossed into the Arctic Circle. The trees ended altogether and the landscape beyond this point was a dome of snow meeting an azure sky.

It had warmed up to -6° and the day was clear and beautiful

The Swedes refer to this time of year as winter-spring, the 5thand most beautiful season of all. I made a snow angel

A snow angel for the Arctic Circle

and spotted a rare Arctic white ptarmigan. We drove past spots on the deserted roads where black garbage bags hung dark against the snow. These are a signal for drivers that a herd of reindeer is grazing somewhere nearby.

That weekend is the only time I have seen the Northern Lights. They have danced in my memories ever since.

(All photogaphs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image.)