Carl Possessed: 1

Growing up, Carl just wanted to be accepted as middle class. Years later he heard the term hard scrabble. It defined the subsistent existence of getting by, but for Carl it always meant more: the tough climb required to get anywhere. Scrabbling perfectly defined the undignified, difficult activity. It might not be a proper verb in the outside world, but in the one where Carl lived scrabbling was very much a real activity. To scrabble had nothing to do with a board game and everything to do with surviving the harder rules of the real world.

Everything about his family was poor; their upstate area had rocky soil for anyone trying to farm, and a rocky climate for manufacturing, business, or trade. It was a hard climate for everything to do with life, actually. The sense of security that anyone who lived there could hope to establish was a rocky one at best.

When Carl was five years old he went to the single market still left in town and stole a Mars© candy bar. His mother found the empty candy wrapper where Carl had shoved it underneath the blankets of his bed. She frowned as she pushed wispy hair back into the plastic hair clip. “What’s this?”

Carl pretended he didn’t hear her or see the crumpled paper she held, hoping the confrontation would simply go away.

This was when his mother realized the problem was greater than her son eating in bed. “You have fifteen minutes to tell me,” she informed him before she turned her back on Carl and went to do the ironing. But her son stayed silent.

Mrs. Penderson didn’t believe in corporal punishment, but half an hour later she smacked Carl with a ruler as punishment for stealing. While she hit him, she explained the why of the beating. “You think anybody around here has enough extra for you to take it from them? Or that store owner’s little kids think it’s okay that you get something for free from the store and they don’t? Well, do you?”

Carl simply gritted his teeth as he cried until the punishment was over. When she was done, his mother sat abruptly in the living room’s one easy chair and pulled Carl up onto her lap. “Honey, someday you’ll be big and smart enough to get all this stuff. But you have to wait until that day, do you understand?”

Carl didn’t particularly, but he nodded his head anyway, because neither of his parents ever talked to him in such an adult fashion. The seriousness in her voice surprised him in a way the punishment had not.

“There are those on the top, and everybody who’s below them,” she instructed. “If you get to the top you can call the shots. In the meantime, you keep your eyes open for what’s going to be yours, do you understand?”

Again she asked an unanswerable question. Carl wasn’t sure what the proper response might be, neither then nor later.

NOTES: – from my short story “Carl Possessed” in Broken In: A Novel in Stories. © Jadi Campbell 2012. Go to following link to order my books: https://www.amazon.com/author/jadicampbell

Holy Cows

They faced a long drive to the neighboring state of Karnataka. The tour office had assigned them a guide. Nupur was a tiny woman of four foot eleven inches and shining, thick black hair. Nupur wore a red dot between her brows and her sari like the robes of a queen.

Their minivan came with a driver and his son. Each time they reached a bad place on the dirt roads the small boy jumped out to assess it. Kim saw deep potholes and was glad for their combined care.

The sun beat down. They drove through parched countryside that needed the rain the monsoons would bring. Each home they passed had water sprinkled in the dirt before the door to keep down dust.

Finally, they reached Hampi, and Hampi looked nothing like the beaches of Goa. Hampi was the surface of the moon. The landscape consisted of huge sandstone boulders with the Tungabhadra River running through it. Here the Hindu god Shiva was the consort of Pampa, goddess of the river.

When they saw where the bus was heading, everyone gasped.

“Holy cows! Look at the tower!” Greg exclaimed.

40600_Ind_04_06_003The Virupaksha temple was a pyramid topped with a spire and a red flag. Impressive from a distance, up close the temple was gargantuan. It towered a hundred and fifty feet above their heads.

Architects had carved the creamy white stone into decorative levels. Exotic gods. Strange goddesses. Female figures spraddle-legged and touching themselves.

A gigantic wooden chariot was parked in the temple’s huge courtyard. Long yellow garlands draped the wagon. The top of the chariot hid under a multi-colored cloth. It ballooned out in wide stripes of reds, yellows, oranges and blues. High up, carved lions raised their paws and carved horses reared.

42400_Ind_04_06_021“Tonight this chariot will carry the god Shiva to the river for the Nandi Purnima,” Nupur informed them. “It’s a Nandi full moon. Nandi’s the bull who attends Shiva, so this is extra auspicious.”

The tour group left the minivan and gawked, mouths open.

© Jadi Campbell 2016. From my novel Grounded. Go to following link to order my books: https://www.amazon.com/author/jadicampbell

NOTES: Go to my earlier posts The Erotic Architecture of Khajuraho, Travel Karma, The Reluctant Pilgrim, and Remind Me Again: What Are We Doing Here? to read about our visits to India. Photo Copyright © 2014 Uwe Hartmann. More of Uwe’s photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

Bazaar/Bizarre

Kim’s view was simultaneously filled and obstructed. The front courtyard and Hampi Bazaar Road were crammed with bodies. Worshippers raised their arms to touch Shiva’s massive chariot. Mandapams, porch-like structures once used for commerce or the homes of wealthy traders, lined the sides of the street. Pilgrims claimed spots in them, trying to find shade.

Women in brilliant saris walked past. Old crones with henna-patterned arms carried small children. Turbaned men sampled fruit from a pyramid of dates. An all-white cow rested serenely on a pile of garbage. A painted bus had parked in the dust; a pilgrim dozed on one of the seats with his bare feet sticking out through the open window.

Kim peeked in a shop selling cheap clothes and plastic sunglasses. When she turned, she banged her head on a string of water bottles hanging in the doorway. Sunlight reflected off the mirrored insets of embroidered bags and shirts in the next little shop.

She pushed on through the crowds, trying to spot her group. A couple in a patch of shade looked up as she walked past. Their oxen leant against the cool stones of an ancient wall. The bovine pair had their forelegs tucked under them. Their curved horns were painted crimson and capped in metal. Magenta pompoms with orange and blue tassels hung from the tips; a pile of cow shit steamed.43220_Ind_04_06_j_036

In the middle of the road a clump of pilgrims whispered among themselves, pointing. A man crouched in the dirt. He was perhaps thirty years old, mustachioed and handsome. Thick hair brushed across the white bands smeared on his forehead. He wore a peach-orange cotton shirt and pants. The man knelt, barefoot, on all fours on a rug. A big copper pot dappled with white streaks and red dots balanced on his shoulders. A string of beads wound around the pot’s lip. A long cobra slid clockwise over the beads, flicking an orange tongue. Hands darted out from the crowd to touch the snake and drop coins into the pot.42740_Ind_04_06_j_031

Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!

Kim forgot the snake handler and the crowds.

Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!

She forgot the coiling cobra.

Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!

© Jadi Campbell 2016. From Grounded. Go to following link to order my books: https://www.amazon.com/author/jadicampbell

NOTES: Go to my earlier posts The Erotic Architecture of Khajuraho, Travel Karma, The Reluctant Pilgrim, and Remind Me Again: What Are We Doing Here? to read about our visits to India. Photos Copyright © 2014 Uwe Hartmann. All photographs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image. More of Uwe’s photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

Grounded

Grounded_for_web

My new novel Grounded is finally in print and available as an eBook! Use the following link to see it: https://www.amazon.com/author/jadicampbell  

Grounded is the story of how two people react when cyberattacks lame the world. It’s also the tale of a father’s love for his son, a woman’s search to feel alive again, and what the Arctic Circle and a temple in a remote corner of India reveal.

I wrote the first draft in 2002, worked on it for over a year, and put it aside for a decade. I returned to the manuscript last year and reworked and rewrote. This book has had a very long gestation period, and I believe it was worth the wait. Please read it and let me know if you agree.

 

 

 

Remembering How to Feel

I have to relearn how to feel. My mother-in-law went into the hospital with a lung infection for a long week and a half. She rallied, and returned to the nursing home. I finished my third novel Grounded and began preparing it for publication on Amazon. Then Mama grew weaker again. A few days later we got the call we’d been expecting. The home phoned and said that we should come. Uwe and I had the blessing of being at her side as she died. Less than 48 hours later, my book became available.

We were busy with all the details that follow a death. People had to be contacted, and a funeral arranged, and Mama’s body transported to the town where she would be interred next to Uwe’s father. We drove down to meet with the funeral hall director and a pastor, and to visit Mama’s sister and her family. We cleaned out her room in the nursing home, sorted through the little that remained, moved furniture. The book would wait. I’d celebrate its release later. And I wanted to stay strong and present for Uwe, because these are the moments when your partner is so much more important than anything else.

When we finally got done with all the details a few days ago, I turned my attention back to a very special project that will take place next Monday, June 6th. My first-ever writing commission has been to write a story to connect an evening of Gershwin songs. In February I wrote in a 2-week blaze of inspiration for NEAT, the New English American Theater in Stuttgart.  The four singers and a pianist rehearsed the songs. A Welsh actor will read my story. All I have to do is show up and sit in the audience and marvel and enjoy the talent on the stage.

I went to a rehearsal a few nights ago and heard my story spoken aloud for the first time. It is a surreal experience to hear one’s creative work interpreted and combined into a greater artistic work. I was speechless as I watched and listened. Up to that night, I’ve been numb. I figured I could finally allow myself to feel proud, to be satisfied with all the hard work I’ve done with my writing. I gave myself permission to be excited about my book and the Gershwin evening. But when I let myself open up to feeling something emotional, a tidal wave of grief hit me. I’m mourning my mother-in-law of course. I’m grieving for her, even knowing she was ready to go and had given us the gift of waiting until we got to her bedside to leave us. One of us, Uwe or I, have visited her pretty much every other day for the two years that she lived in the nursing home near us. I don’t have to feel bad about not seeing her enough, or caring enough. But I write this in the present tense, because it’s all occurring in real time still. The birth of my book, the death of Mama, the use of my words to connect the magic of timeless songs, it all weaves together for me, I can’t separate out any of the strands. I’m a hot mess, trying to remember how to feel again. I remind myself that any one of these emotions is huge, fraught with anticipation and months or years of living and taking form and interconnecting with hopes and expectations. Love, sorrow, hope, creativity, illness, dying, death, coming into being, leaving this earthly plane…. Trying to remember how to feel any one of these emotions, let alone all of them all at once, overwhelms me.

But mostly, mostly, perhaps what I feel is gratitude. To know what I have in my mother-in-law and my art. To literally feel in body and soul how it all connects. To be able to feel again, even if it leaves me in tears.

And to know I’ve got a lot more tears in me.

NOTES: In loving memory of Margaretha Hartmann.

The Reluctant Pilgrim

When Kim had told her friends back home about the tour, everyone was excited. “Wow! India! You’ll have incredible adventures! It has the most powerful spiritual energy. They say you go to India and come back changed.”

She’d responded with vague remarks; Kim was a reluctant pilgrim. She didn’t trust people who talked about India as a portal to enlightenment.

But Goa was too Western for her tastes after all. After ten days on the beach, she hungered for the real India… whatever that was. She wouldn’t experience more than a small chunk of the subcontinent. What did she expect, beach parties or yoga in ashrams? Goat curry, or moguls and the Taj Mahal? Ayurveda medicine, or Kashmir shawls? Nonviolent resistance, or gang rape and murder on a public bus? Castes and slums and hovels, or India’s headlong advances as a BRIC nation?

There was surely more than the mutilated saint of Goa’s Catholicism. “There are as many religions as there are people on the planet,” Gandhi had said. India was Hindu and as easily Muslim and Buddhist and Zoroastrian and Christian and Jain and Sikh and Baha’i and….

And, Kim reminded herself, India’s a mirror. Travelers who expect poverty and squalor find both in spades. Visitors seeking enlightenment find that, too. What am I here for? If I stay open minded, what’ll I find? She chewed the tip of her pen. 02420_Ind_03_25_011Goa was Portuguese, she considered writing, and gorgeous ocean views, the rave scene and meals eaten in beach shacks. Every sentence sounded like factoids from a travelogue.

Kim put away her postcards unfinished.

© Jadi Campbell 2016. From Grounded. Go to following link to order my books: https://www.amazon.com/author/jadicampbell

NOTES: Go to my earlier posts The Erotic Architecture of Khajuraho, Travel Karma, and Remind Me Again: What Are We Doing Here? to read about our visits to India. Photo Copyright © 2014 Uwe Hartmann. All photographs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image. More pictures from India and of Uwe’s photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

 

Save the Recriminations

Keith starts a new conversation now that Glen has left the table. “So, you two have children?”

“Glen has a son. I have three kids of my own: two girls and a boy. They’re somewhere camping with their father this week. I’ve been going insane not knowing where they are or if they know yet. I can’t stop worrying about how my children will hear the news.

“I can’t even get them on the phone. We’re supposed to meet in Seattle, but since planes or trains are out of commission Glen and I are driving from California.”

Keith’s look travels from the wedding band on my hand up to my face. “I see,” he says slowly.

His wife’s next words surprise me again. “I don’t know the particulars (and I suspect I don’t need to) but clearly you and your young man love each other. That’s not a bad thing, Nicole. You’re right: the main thing right now is to reach your children and be with your family. Save the self-recriminations. The rest will sort itself out.”

I can’t speak. I want to thank her and can’t force any words out of my throat.

She’s standing beside my chair with a hand placed on my shoulder when I can bring myself to look back up. “It’s okay. It’s okay, Nicole.”

Joley and Cass watch us without blinking. They stay silent, listening intently as if they know something important is transpiring, as if it’s important that they understand.

We all watch Glen come back in the room. His eyes glitter and I can’t tell if it’s tears from missing Petey. Or being moved by the connection to these four people at the next table. Or a perfect storm of the lives and choices and events that led to Ocean Beaches and a candid conversation about the last time someone believed it could be the end of the world.

Keith smiles as Glen reaches our table. “After eighty plus years on this earth one thing I’m confident about is that answers are seldom pat. And they’re never what we first think. If only life were simple…. And if this is my last night on earth, I’ll have spent it with good people.”

We stand and everyone shakes hands, then hugs. “Don’t skip dessert. You have to try both the cheesecakes. Nectar and ambrosia, I’m telling you. That’s how this lovely evening’s conversation with you two all began,” his smile grows wider. “Life begins and ends happy when it involves food options!”

And with that grounding comment the four of them leave the dining room. Cass hands her grandfather his cane and takes his arm.

© Jadi Campbell 2016. From Grounded. Go to following link to order my books: https://www.amazon.com/author/jadicampbell

Good Things Come in Threes

There is an old saying that ‘good things come in threes’. Right now this is true for my writing at bookoftheday.org ! I am in the unique position of being featured 3 times around the site. Broken In: A Novel in Stories is one of the books of the day. Tsunami Cowboys stayed on the ‘Trending’ list for weeks, and remains on the The Trending Jumbotron Top Ten page (http://bookoftheday.org/top-ten/). And I have an author page.  It’s not often that a writer gets to share news this good! Please take a look at the site and explore the pages. In our electronic age, clicks add up.

My Next Public Reading

To learn about the Writers in Stuttgart and our public reading on Friday, March 18, visit this link : NEAT Recommends the Writers in Stuttgart.
PS: For your added amusement, click on the bottom left photo to the right of the link’s screen under Dark Monday in February. That’s me on stage, in our first performance of The Vagina Monologues!

History’s Loop 3

“The danger was all the candles. I’d set some on the back of the toilet and on the edge of the tub so people could see to use the facilities. And we placed an old candelabra in the living room. Lynn bent over it and just about lit her bangs on fire. After that just grownups were allowed to go near any candles or handle the lanterns or grill. Responsible adults only.” Her eyes focus far in the past.

“But it was like a party.” Keith contributes, “We were all together. The Robinsons were our best friends and our kids were all roughly the same ages and in the same grades and played together. If this was the end of the world, I was glad the kids were safe and well fed, I’d just eaten a great steak, and I was with the people I care for most. Although if I’m honest, if I remember right that steak had freezer burn. And it was cold outside; it was November. But I remember it this way, the best meal and one of the best nights of my life. Isn’t that funny?”

“Funny….” Sue’s voice trails off.

I don’t know if she considers it funny ha-ha or funny terrible. Maybe both. Cass and Jolie have finished their meals and sit. Their eyes move in their faces as they follow our conversation.

“We didn’t talk about what was happening. It’s not that it happened fast; just the opposite. It was all so gradual. Information kind of trickled out.”

Our own meals arrive, and they fall silent. The waiter leaves, Timber and I start to eat, and only then do they return to the story.

“On the drive home from work,” Keith continues, “I listened to the radio. And while no one reported it as a possible attack, I know that’s what I suspected. I was going to keep that to myself and not worry my family. But when I walked in the house I took one look at Sue’s face and knew that she was thinking the exact same thing. But all she asked was, ‘The city too?’ and before I could do anything more than nod a yes the kids burst through the door to tell me all about the lights in the whole neighborhood going out. We just kind of looked at one another over their heads and it was parents’ mental telepathy, as parents we were going to guarantee their last night on Earth was, like Lynn kept saying about the house being lit up with candles, ‘magic’. And, Jeff.” Keith takes a big swallow of water and resumes in a low pitch.

Timber leans forward to hear.

“He wanted to help. Together we filled a bunch of gallon jugs and pitchers with water. Then the sinks and the bathtub. Later when all the kids had gone to bed we sat with Jerry and Irene and had a night cap. They left and went back next door.”

“’I want to check on the kids,’ Jerry told you,” recalls Sue. “That night was the first time I thought of him as a good dad. Irene always had to haul him home once the two of you got going drinking beer or shooting the breeze out back.”

“Beer drinking doesn’t make someone a bad parent. But yeah, he liked his booze. A twenty-year old Scotch on the last night on earth isn’t a bad thing.”

Sue turns to the girls. “Cass, you referred earlier to Nine-Eleven. In 1965, the scariest thing was the not knowing. Nine-Eleven was a different story. With that one it was clear pretty quick who the enemy was. We used that information as an excuse to act out our lowest common denominators.”

Cass tenses. “Gram, you don’t really think that, do you?” It’s not a question; it’s a plea.

Timber, Sue, Keith and I exchange glances. Keith and Sue sit up a little straighter. “Never get old people rambling about the past,” Sue smiles at her granddaughter, asking forgiveness. “My story happened half a century ago, and kind of feels like more than a world away from what’s going on now. But it’s the same historic loop: humans scared this time we’ve blown it. But,” she folds the pleat in her cloth napkin, running an arthritic index finger along its seam, “maybe not. We’ll pull through. And the important thing is to be with the people you care about.”

“If you’ll excuse me.” Timber pushes his chair back and heads for the restrooms at the back of the restaurant.

 

© Jadi Campbell 2016. From Grounded. Go to following link to order my books: https://www.amazon.com/author/jadicampbell

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