Joey sat in the school library for hours. He hid there during recess and lunch periods, but the sounds of everyone out on the playground came through the open windows. Hearing the sound of other children shrieking was bad, and as Joey listened he tried to imagine it came from children somewhere far away. When he did see them the distance apparent between what they could do and what he could not was too terrible. He would perch at the dark wood of the windowsill, holding himself upright and steady with one hand as he watched. Children in groups skipped ropes, chased balls, played tag. The teacher with recess duty wore a light jacket and an expression of endless weary patience. He or she sometimes called out across the tarmac, “Hey! That’s enough of that, Loreen!”
Unseen and unimportant, from the high window Joey observed when the teacher rushed to the aid of a fallen child or broke up a playground fight. He hated it. Watching reminded him that no one would ever need to run to prevent him from doing something he shouldn’t; watching only reminded him that he couldn’t run.
Joey moved to a table where he could sit with his back to the windows. Determinedly Joey closed his ears to the cries of his peers playing outside the walls and forever beyond his ken.
Eventually Joey made his way through all of the school magazines. He began to take the bus to the public library. After school Joey sat among the adult publications where he felt less excluded. Around him sat members of his home city’s increasing homeless population, noisily turning pages and keeping a careful eye on their oversized bags of belongings. There were a few students, or grown ups coming in to claim the copies of recent novels they had put on hold, and every so often a class of younger children arrived for reading hour. Otherwise though, Joey could feel like he was simply another library user, ageless and without handicaps.
This was when he discovered adult magazines with their endless advertisements for write-in contests, coupons to win prizes, and teasers to learn more about great deals. Joey flipped pages hunting for things to win, things to present to his parents. Joey wanted, Lou said thoughtfully, to present them with distractions from the nonrefundable item they’d brought home from the hospital: their youngest son and his damaged body.
– from my short story “Hit and Run” in Broken In: A Novel in Stories. Available online at amazon.com,amazon.de, and amazon in countries everywhere. Go to my post Hit & Run 1 for more on Joey, Lou and Margaret.
Many people feel Berlin is now the cultural heart of Europe. Creative impulses come from Germany’s capitol and spread from there. One of the quirkiest is the Buddy Bears.
The Buddy Bears creators were inspired by the cow parades in New York and Zurich. Eva and Klaus Herlitz of Berlin wanted to initiate a similar street art project. The bear is the icon of Berlin, and thus in 2001, the Herlitzes created the first bear with a sculptor named Roman Strobl.
Their projected expanded, and in 2002 it went international. They had a bear created for every country the UN acknowledges, all designed by artists native to each country. To date 148 2-meter high fiberglass United Buddy Bears have been painted. The bears have their arms raised as if they’re holding hands. (This can also be described as the laughing Buddha pose.)
The first display took place in a circle around Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate. One and a half million people saw the exhibit, always free of charge. The circle symbolizes the Art of Tolerance. Since then, they’ve toured 5 continents and stood in an alphabetical circle in the centers of 17 host cities.*
In 2008 the Buddy Bears came to the Schlossplatz in downtown Stuttgart. (Read my post The Year the World Came to Party about how the 2006 Soccer World Cup transformed Germany. The Schlossplatz is where Uwe and I went each night with friends to watch the games on big screens.)
The United Buddy Bears send a message about peace, understanding, love and tolerance among the world’s nations, cultures and religions. Each bear is painted with images of the culture, history, landscape, economy, art and music of its country.
When new bears are commissioned, the older ones are auctioned off. All monies go to UNICEF and other childrens’ charities. To date (December 2013), over 2 million Euros have been raised for charities such as Eva Herlitz’s Buddy Bear Help!
Over 240 artists have been involved in the project, and more than 30 million visitors have seen the United Buddy Bears. A smaller circle of United Buddy Bears-The Minis (1 meter high) also tours.
The United Buddy Bears exhibitions are always opened by national and foreign dignitaries. They even have a Special Ambassador: the actress Dennenesch Zoudé. After he saw the bears in Berlin, actor Jackie Chan made sure the bears came to Hong Kong. UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Sir Peter Ustinov saw them and he insisted that Iraq be represented.
There is one very special grey and white bear, a polar bear. He has the image of Albert Einstein and the following quote: ‘Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding’.
NOTE: * It’s fascinating to consider that United Buddy Bears change their order as they travel. The circle is always organized in the language of the host country. Buddy Bears may suddenly hold hands with distant or hostile neighbors…
We’ve come to Paris for a quick getaway, and Stuttgart is less than 4 hours by direct fast train. As we think about what we want to do and see, we realize neither of us have ever visited Chartres.
Uwe and I go out of our way to see sacred places around the globe. (See my posts The Cult of Bà Chúa Xứ or The Music of the Heavenly Spheres for some photos and tales from other sacred spots.) Energies gather in some unlikely places. Sometimes I stand in famous spots and am disappointed, while a place less known for religion makes me feel the presence of the divine.
Chartres. I’ve been trying for days – weeks, actually – to summarize the “facts” about this site. It was built 1140-1260 and the labyrinth was laid in the first decade of the 13th century. I wonder what to mention about Chartres’ 1,000 years as a pilgrimage destination, or the female energies of the cathedral and their tenderness. Mary’s tunic, the Sancta Camisia worn at the birth of Jesus Christ, was brought here by Charlemagne. The king in turn had been given the relic as a gift during a trip to Jerusalem.
When the earlier church building burned on June 10, 1194, the Sancta Camisia miraculously survived. Chartres remains an important Marian pilgrimage center, and the faithful still come from around the world over to honor it.
Chartres is one of the most impressive Gothic cathedrals on Earth. Back in my college days at the University of Oregon, Professor James Boren in his Chaucer and Medieval Literature classes explained Chartres as literally turning the architectural form inside out. For the first time the ribs holding up the entire structure had been placed outside, allowing the inside heart of the structure to soar up into the Heavens, seemingly without limits. The support of flying buttresses was necessary because of the unprecedented size and heights of the stained glass windows and the nave. Professor Boren’s face glowed; this stern and learned man radiated as he lectured about a place that he said changed him when he saw it. That lecture and the look on his face stayed with me. Chartres: someday I would see it.
Chartres Cathedral contains one of the few remaining medieval labyrinths. It’s large with a circumference of 131 feet, almost exactly the same size as the West Rose window.
In the Middle Ages, French church labyrinths were the sites of Easter dances involving clergy and the tossing of a leather ball. Sadly, the labyrinths were destroyed, covered over, or hidden by Church authorities suspicious of their powers and pagan beginnings. (Labyrinths, including Chartres’, traditionally had an disk or placque of Theseus and Ariadne and the Minotaur at their centers. In fact, another name for a cathedral that contained a labyrinth was the “Domus Daedali” [House of Daedalus], a nod to antiquity’s Daedalus, designer of the labyrinth that held the Minotaur in Knossos.) *
But, Chartres’ labyrinth survived. I learn that while it’s covered by chairs most of the time, the labyrinth is made free for visitors to enter on Fridays. My one request to Uwe for our trip becomes, “Please let’s go to Chartres on Friday!”
So here we are, entering one of the holy pilgrimage destinations in Christianity.
Chartres. Once inside, the cathedral’s beauty immediately takes my breath away. I am so deeply moved that in the next moment I’m close to tears. Whatever I expected, this sacred soaring space is beyond all imagination. Light streams in through the windows and illuminates the visitors, pilgrims, and the simply curious. All of us are suffused in colors.
For a while I just walk around. Uwe’s already moved off with his camera, ready as always to use his art with photography to capture in images what my brain grapples with in words.
As the minutes pass I grow more and more stunned. And I remain dangerously, or is that gorgeously, close to breaking into tears. There is an energy to this place, a sense of the holy and the really, really blessed, that I have seldom felt anywhere.
The Schwedagon Pagoda in Burma comes to mind. It is the most important pagoda in the country, and I felt the top of my head buzz like it was going to blow off from the concentration of religious energies. Or a back pond in the Adirondacks with only my family as fellow witnesses: loons with a pair of chicks calling in low cries to one another as they eyed us but didn’t swim away. Or a tiny Greek Orthodox church in Thessaloniki, supposedly built on the site where Apostle Paul preached. I attended on Sunday with my friend Cynthia and our Greek host Fotis, who led us up to an altar surrounded by burning, hand-dipped wax tapers. Fotis insisted we take bread from the common basket. Tears streamed on both our faces; I finally felt the deeper meaning of breaking bread in fellowship.
All of these places’ sacred energies are present in Chartres. It is so much more than I deserve or had awaited. I take a deep breath to center myself, and move forward to stand poised at the entry to the labyrinth.
“A labyrinth is an ancient symbol that relates to wholeness. It combines the imagery of the circle and the spiral into a meandering but purposeful path. …
“A labyrinth is an archetype with which we can have a direct experience. … It is a metaphor for life’s journey. It is a symbol that creates a sacred space and place and takes us out of our ego to “That Which Is Within.” At its most basic level the labyrinth is a metaphor for the journey to the center of your deepest self and back out into the world with a broadened understanding of who you are. …
“A labyrinth is not a maze. A maze is like a puzzle to be solved. It has twists, turns, and blind alleys. It is a left brain task that requires logical, sequential, analytical activity to find the correct path into the maze and out. A labyrinth has only one path. It is unicursal. The way in is the way out. There are no blind alleys. The path leads you on a circuitous path to the center and out again.
“A labyrinth is a right brain task. It involves intuition, creativity, and imagery. With a maze many choices must be made and an active mind is needed to solve the problem of finding the center. With a labyrinth there is only one choice to be made. The choice is to enter or not. A more passive, receptive mindset is needed. The choice is whether or not to walk a spiritual path.” – Dan Johnston, Ph.D. at www.lessons4living.com
While I walk the labyrinth and contemplate the mystery of the sacred**, Uwe photographs me. When I see his photos later I’m surprised, and glad.
NOTES: * Another name for the eleven-circuit labyrinth is the “Chemin de Jerusalem” or Road of Jerusalem. Walking the labyrinth in Chartres or other places could be made instead of making the pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
** I haven’t even tried to talk about the lunations of the labyrinth. Their meaning is still debated. A celestial calendar? Esoteric design of the deeper mysteries?
Walking a Sacred Path. Rediscovering the Labyrinth as a Spiritual Tool. Dr. Lauren Artress, Riverhead Books, 1995.
‘m more than thrilled to repost the interview I just did with Steve Wellings at Write A Revolution. My thanks to Steve for his terrific close reading of the text and thoughtful questions.
Interview with self-published author Jadi Campbell
Posted by Steve on December 2nd, 2013
This week we are delighted to welcome over talented self-published author Jadi Campbell, the creator of Broken In, the latest collection of stories that we have found extremely hard to put down. Jadi is a well-travelled writer currently residing in Germany who has taken her varied cultural experiences and moulded into her latest offering. We know you’ll love Broken In and our interview with Jadi.
Hi Jadi, congratulations on Broken In, it was a fantastically crafted collection of stories and we thoroughly enjoyed reading through the book.
It is enormously satisfying to be told that you noticed how I crafted the book.
The stories show how you can skilfully develop characters. No lead role is wasted and each has varying dimensions to their persona. What is the secret behind writing such strong characters?
Take the time to get to know them. In Punctured, for example, I knew that Jeremy’s wife Abigail was younger than he and quite shy. But something was missing and the tone (because this story is pretty tragic) felt terribly somber. I set it aside for a while and when I returned to it I had the key: Abby has a wicked sense of humor that only her husband is allowed to see. It gives a needed lightness to their story, and suddenly she became 3-dimensional. If your characters don’t feel real, allow them the time to develop.
Is there any part of the story or side to the characters that is autobiographical or taken from people you know or knew? I like to think that a feisty real life Lisa exists somewhere out there!
Thanks! I want to create realistic characters. One of my strengths (from what my readers tell me) is that as you read, you recognize yourself or people you know. No character is based solely on someone I know in real life… and all my characters are amalgams of who I know and what I witness every day in the real world.
Lisa’s experiences to Bangkok are my own and definitely autobiographical. But I had to express them through the lens of a 20 year old rather than my own adult age. It was fascinating to try and figure out what such an inexperienced young person would make of Bangkok’s chaos and decadence.
You split Broken In into separate, interconnecting stories rather than chapters in a straight-running novel. Why did you decide to approach the book in this manner?
When the Muse started tapping on my shoulder I wasn’t sure if it was she planned to stick around. I took the opportunity to experiment with short stories, a new genre for me. It was great fun and then the idea to base a novel on interconnected tales came from the story Surprises. I realized that I could tell the story of everyone of the characters in it, and the book was born.
Can you explain why you chose to call the book Broken In?
The term is active and passive: you break in new shoes to make them comfortable, and learn the ropes at a new job that way, too. But it’s also what happens to us. It’s the break ins, losses, challenges, and things that intrude on our lives or break our wills. I like the way ‘broken in’ is both ominous and promising.
Do you write elsewhere, like on a personal blog or website where you flesh out ideas and/or connect with readers?
I blog at jadicampbell.wordpress.com and belong to 2 writers’ groups. We share works-in-progress and give each other thoughtful, honest criticism and feedback.
As the passage below shows, the dialogue and prose is often raw, direct and uncompromising. Did you write the stories to fit a particular genre or did you just write naturally and leave in, basically, whatever hit the page? Does this extract generally encapsulate your writing style?
“It was Steve, naturally, back with the same old bullshit. How he didn’t want to live life without me, and how he hadn’t slept in weeks. That part was probably true. He looked awful. At first I felt bad for him. But I was pissed. Who the hell did he think he was, sneaking around my yard waiting for me to come home, looking to see if Freddie was downstairs or not? Was he turning into a stalker? The little bubble of emotions I had left for him dried up right then and there. I owed him nothing, as far as I was concerned, nothing. Stalking behavior cancelled out the slate and left it dry.
“Here Judy’s words took on the cadence of a carefully rehearsed speech.”
This is a great question. I wish I could leave whatever hits the page, but find constant revisions are the way to hone down to the true heart of a story. This particular passage is someone speaking, and dialog has to sound natural. I’ll write conversations and then read them aloud, looking for the rhythms of speech. I hope that the naturalness of this passage does reflect my characters when they are talking. As far as my writing being raw, direct and uncompromising (and thank you for that!), I shape scenes until I find their essence. I love writing descriptive passages, and seek the beauty in a moment or emotion perfectly described.
In JJ’s, the bartender and a teenaged patron plan exotic trips. JJ’s chef meets several men who’d kill for her. Valuables and peace of mind literally get stolen. Couples celebrate, or split up. In a rainy night accidents happen and people vanish. These are the stories of people whose paths cross – or crash. The tales begin in a bistro and move on to Bangkok, a carnival midway, and the bottom of a lake, among other places. Broken In: whether totally random or according to plan, after tonight life will never be the same.
What are you reading at the moment and what could you recommend to us?
I just finished David Eggers’ book Zeitoun about Hurricane Katrina. For fiction, anything by Geraldine Brooks is a feast. I recently reread all of Ray Bradbury.
What are you currently working on or what can we expect next?
I’m about 3/4s finished writing my next book. I’m at the hardest stage of the writing, and that’s figuring out both what to cut and how to join any still disparate parts together. It’s tentatively titled ThanksGiving. I have a third book in the works as well: a short story collection.
What are the major challenges that you have faced in your writing career?
Marketing. I did the writing first and the self-promotion afterwards. Aspiring writers (and all artists) need a marketing plan, or a manager. Preferably a manager…
What do you advise new writers to do? Best practice, writing tips, etc.
Join a writers’ group! The feedback of your peers is invaluable. And you’ll realize that you aren’t alone with your fears and hopes. Most writers create in isolation, so discovering others who think and feel like you do is a lifesaver in a sea of self-doubt. An added bonus is if you can find a group that likes to write together, the combined creative energies will inspire all of you! I meet every Friday with a group at a café and something wonderful happens when we’re all typing away on our laptops…
What is your background away from the writing desk and how did you get into penning novels?
I earned a B.A. in English Literature but wanted experience working in the real world for a while. I spent time in a San Francisco corporation in Marketing and Underwriting, and then became a massage therapist. I wrote as European Correspondent (great title, little dough) for a massage magazine for a decade. Took some years off from writing after that. Then the Muse returned stronger than before, and I’ve been following where she leads ever since. I still love massage work, so I’ve kept my hand (sorry, couldn’t resist) in a very people-oriented profession. It’s the perfect foil to the isolation writing demands.
Getting a self-published book noticed and into the hands of readers can be tough. Could you offer our readers any tips/hints or advice on promotion or marketing?
Send out emails to everyone you know. Start a blog and find your voice. Join a writers’ group that does public readings. Work to get your book reviewed: those reviews in turn allow you to contact fine websites like this one. AND – take the long view. It requires a year or longer to write a book; don’t expect to experience overnight success. It’s all baby steps and frustratingly slow… but each success builds on the prior ones.
What is your opinion on the power and potential of social media? Do you use the likes of Facebook, Goodreads, Google+ etc to connect with fans and promote your work?
I link my blog posts to Facebook. As for the power of social media, I find it’s a fine line to walk between developing a public presence online and giving away details about my private life. But yes, with the right amount of care the power of the Internet and social media can – and in many cases, do – help me promote my work effectively.
Who did you get to do your cover design, eBook formatting/conversion to Kindle and the like? And editing…was this all outsourced or did you do some yourself?
For the cover artwork I turned to Walter Share, an artist in Seattle. He has a website at Waltercolors.com. I am hoping he’ll agree to do all my covers! My husband did all the formatting work. I edited a guidebook for a trusted friend, and she returned the favor and edited Broken In.
Do you read self-published work yourself and could you recommend any independent authors’ work that we may enjoy reading?
Valerie Davies is a British woman now living in New Zealand and writes a gorgeous blog filled with her meditations on life. Valerie’s stories are collected together in Chasing the Dragon: An Addiction to Living.
Where can readers pick up a copy of your books from and what formats are available?
Broken In: A Novel in Stories is available on Amazon all around the world in paperback and eBook forms. My blog provides a link to the books as well.
Where can readers find out more about you, and/or get in touch?
I invite readers to visit me at jadicampbell.wordpress.com. I’m also on Facebook.
Many thanks for talking to us Jadi and best of luck with your future projects!
Thank you so much for featuring me. It was a pleasure to answer your questions.
The scent of floating roses is the first thing I notice. The smell comes from the pots of flowers set in front of a deep tub. Eventually I smell a burning stick of incense. The bamboo walls don’t reach the ceiling, and smoke simply wafts up and out to the palm trees outdoors. Only later when the sun goes down do I detect a burning mosquito coil.
My therapist here on Java is named Bu Tami Juguk. Bu Tami asks me to remove all of my clothes and lie on the low bamboo bed covered with batik sheets. Since the temperature is about 30 degrees Centigrade (86 degrees Fahrenheit) I don’t mind lying naked without a drape. She goes to the tub and turns on the taps. The sound of running water is in the background during the entire massage.
Bu Tami is 41 years old, and the Bu title is the shortened version of Ibu, a term of respect used to address an older woman. Bu Tami doesn’t speak much English, but has wise hands. Indonesian massage knowledge passes down through the family, and Bu Tami learned massage from her mother.
She starts at my feet and massages me with a press – push – squeeze routine. She doesn’t forget to massage my abdomen. Her strokes go deep and radiate, always leading inwards to my navel. She finishes by massaging my head with sweeping strokes. She grasps at the roots of my hair and her hands draw out to the ends with an unusually firm grip.
She uses sandalwood oil, flowers cooked into it for their essence. This oil is only for the initial part of the massage, though. As I lie there, Bu Tami takes a clay jar down from a shelf. She scoops out a greeny-yellow substance and slathers it onto my body.
I am being covered with lulur, an exfoliating scrub derived from a Javanese plant combined with rice meal. Lulur may include ginger extract, tumeric, sandalwood, jasmine oil and water. This lulur treatment is utilized as a beauty peeling for everyone except babies. Jogjakarta city still has the special status of a sultanate, and lulur was first used by the women at the Kraton, the sultan’s palace.
Javanese men and women use lulur before marrying. Lulur is traditionally applied at home on each of the 3 days preceding a wedding ceremony. The lulur sloughs off old skin and makes both bride and groom more radiant and beautiful. I learn that a Javanese plant called kunir is also used, and on the island of Sumatra people use a plant called param.
The lulur is slightly gravelly, and cool on my skin. I turn over and Bu Tami lulur-s my back, buttocks, legs and feet. Then we head towards the tub. She has me sit at the small recessed foot bath. Bu Tami fills a bowl with water dipped from the tub and rinses me off. Another bowl is dumped on my head and water runs off me in streams.
Bu Tami reaches for another pot. She lathers my head with the shampoo and washes my hair. Her strong, sure hands massage my scalp at the same time – heaven! She squeezes my skull with more strength than I am used to for head massages, but it does not feel too hard.
She rinses away the shampoo with more bowls of water. Bu Tami has me stand up. She takes a bar of soap and lathers my entire body front and back.
“I feel like a baby being washed by her mother!,” I say.
“Yes, baby and mama,” smiles Bu Tami. She doesn’t speak much English, but she definitely understands.
The soap is washed away; another bowl from the shelf is selected; and now the first real surprise comes. Bu Tami smears me with yogurt. The yogurt calms and softens the skin after the purifying effects of lulur. She slathers me completely from head to foot in the yogurt, then rinses me off one final time.
She turns off the taps of the full tub and points for me to climb in. I happily comply. Bu Tami gathers handfuls of the roses from the big bowls. She crumbles them and strews the petals over the warm bath waters and me.
Bu Tami returns with a glass of fresh-pressed orange, banana, and papaya juice. She leaves me to soak. I lay in the tub swishing flower petals around my body.
A male voice begins to wail. His voice rises and falls. It must be time for sundown prayers. This, in turn, must mean that I have been in this sumptuous massage treatment for 90 minutes. Sunset is abrupt in the equatorial tropics, and occurs punctually at 6:00 every evening we’ve been in Indonesia. My massage session began at 4:30, so I can time the treatment with certainty by the calls to the faithful sounding outdoors.
As most buildings have roofs of bamboo and rattan – or walls that don’t reach the ceiling, like the walls in this massage room – it is impossible not to hear the muezzin’s voice. I lie floating in my heavenly bath and listen to rhythmic wailing calls in Arabic. I am certainly in another country, and I would call it Paradise.
Some time later (5 minutes? 10 minutes?) Bu Tami returns. I climb out of the tub and she towels me dry. The session is not over, though. I lie back down on the low bed, and Bu Tami rubs a rose and hibiscus lotion into my skin. This ends my two-hour session, and I slowly get dressed and leave.
At the attached restaurant a young man stands with a menu in his hand. He is asking the receptionist about the massage advertisement on the second page. “Could I get a massage tonight?” he asks.
“I just got one of these massages!” I tell him. “Go for the 2-hour session. You’ll literally come out smelling like a rose. I’m a massage therapist myself and the only thing I regret is that we’re leaving Jogja tomorrow, or I’d come back for another!”
“Really?!,” the young man answers. “A bath would be perfect! I don’t have a hotel room here and I’m taking the all-night train to Jakarta tonight. I won’t be able to clean up before I leave.”
“You’ve come to the right place. The massage will set you back 100,000 rupiahs, about $13. It’s worth every penny.” As Uwe and I leave he’s booking his appointment with Bu Tami. I just know he was in for a special treat.
Like most tourists, we stayed in Jogjakarta in order to visit Borobodur. Jogjakarta bustles with a marvelous mix of becaks (rickshaws), taxis, bicycles, cars, pony carts, and motorcycles. We either ride in becaks like the natives do or walk in the quieter side streets with their surprising gardens and yards.
Occasionally I spot women walking along with buckets or plastic bowls balanced on their heads. In the buckets are bottles and jars containing different colored herbs or fluids. These are jamu women, the native herbalists who go from door to door carrying their apothecaries with them. A jamu woman will mix up an elixir for her patient on the spot. Jamu products are produced commercially as well, and over 100 million Indonesians take jamu daily.
We discovered the massage center on a side street lined with restaurants and smaller hotels. The boss at the Lotus Garden Restaurant and Hotel had noticed how many visitors carried in their luggage with one hand, while the other hand held onto sore backs or legs. He decided to offer massage. We visited Indonesia in 1999, but a look on the Internet indicates the restaurant still exists. I whole heartedly recommend the massage services.
NOTES:  “Jamu is the Javanese word for any of a great number of traditional Indonesian herbal medicines and health concoctions…There are about 100 jamu recipes in use, but only a dozen or so are really popular.” Fred B. Eiseman, Jr., Bali: Sekala and Niskala. Volume II: Essays on Society, Tradition, and Craft (Periplus Editions Ltd. CV Java Books, Indonesia, 1990), p. 299.
Lou became a different person when he talked about his dead brother. Each time he mentioned Joey’s name Lou’s own plain, pleasant face would animate. It was as if a locked cabinet door suddenly swung open, each time letting out bright treasures long stacked up and locked away for safekeeping.
Margaret learned not to interrupt the flow of memories; when she asked too many questions the stories might derail. Plus Lou tossed out medical terms that meant nothing to her. She had no idea he knew so much about medicine and genetic diseases.
She preferred the details about what his days with Joey had been like. “We’d sit on an old couch in the rec room and watch TV,” Lou recalled, and it took shape as he spoke. It was yellow and brown plaid and really ugly. Mrs. Bocci had covered it with a clashing afghan, luckily out of sight down in the remodeled cellar. Lou and Joey watched television down there in the darkened room, drinking cokes and eating candy bars. Or Lou did; Joey had to avoid sugar as his parents and medical team tried successive diet regimes to control his myriad conditions.
Lou and Joey were exactly the same height, and they had the same features. The boys were monozygotic, what they call identical twins. They were truly identical. Only 8% of twins are monozygotic, and double births like Lou and Joey make up only 3 in every 1,000 deliveries worldwide, regardless of race. The chances of a fertilization ending in monozygotic twins are the same, for every population everywhere, all around the world.
Lou’s voice took on a slightly lecturing tone as he recited each fact about Joey and his life. Margaret ate them up. The more facts he imparted the smarter she became, both about the topic of twins and about her boyfriend. With fraternal twins, Lou told her, the most frequent occurrence is brother/sister births. In identical or monozygotic twins, brother/brother births are the rarest births of all.
When the boys were out together in public it was more than obvious something was wrong. Clearly Joe was confined to a wheelchair or needed to use a cane to walk. If the viewer didn’t see the handicaps, though, Joey and Lou were identical. Without the cane or braces in plain sight, it was only when Joey coughed that someone could identify which twin was which.
As they aged they would likely become more alike, with the same IQ and personality. How twins are brought up, whether in the same house or separated at birth – that factor makes surprisingly little difference. Of course, the fact Joey was born with congenital defects complicated the math equation for the prediction. But the boys loved being twins; it was cool. Because of his brother, because of Joey, Lou was automatically special. While Joey was still alive, Lou stopped wanting to be an astronaut. For a time he wanted to go into genetic research.
Margaret went home each evening to sleep that was attended by strange dreams. Cells replicated in her dreams, forming up on the left into a perfectly regular human shape. On the opposite side, a tragically beautiful über-human took form. The gestalt was unquestionably male. But then the contour of the image blurred and curled at the edges, unable to hold his ideal form.
She woke up thinking about Lou and his frail, pale double.
Margaret began looking at Lou with different eyes. He simply wasn’t the same person as before. Lou hadn’t changed, of course, but his past and the absent twinned half that had been tragically cut down by illness, the part of him inexorably gone was the part Margaret found mysterious. The lost duplicate cells were of endless fascination for her.
In the hours between dates with Lou, Margaret daydreamed about her lover. How many other seemingly ordinary men and women might there be in the world, persons who seemed so common on the outside, all of them with their secrets and old tragedies. How many people had strange cloned or parallel universe doubles, tragically vanished and never to be retrieved? Maybe, she mused, maybe we all have doubles we sense on some strange level, and we mourn them without ever realizing it. When we talk about the search to find your soul mate, maybe what we really mean is your other half, the part you lost in some earlier life. And when you meet again in the current incarnation, you come together to be whole without even recognizing it’s happened. It’s just your missing twin, whom you’ve refound.
She scoffed at herself for such fanciful notions, but Margaret was a little bit envious of her boyfriend’s past history. Strangely, his incompleteness made him whole. Lou wasn’t a decent guy with a good if boring career. He was somehow so much more than the sum of his parts, both those existing and the ones that had vanished. Or maybe especially those parts that were dead. Not only did Margaret observe Lou with new eyes; she really saw him for the first time. Margaret began to fall in love.
– from my short story “Hit and Run” in Broken In: A Novel in Stories. Available online at amazon.com,amazon.de, and amazon in countries everywhere. Go to my posts Hit & Run 2 & 3 for more on Joey, Lou and Margaret.
In the early 60s Mom had 3 small girls and was the leader of a troop of Brownie Scouts. My mother was a sucker for holidays, and she loved Halloween. From personally answering the door with big bowls of apples and candy (both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ treats) she progressed to dressing up as a witch in cape and hat.
We had a Walt Disney ”Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House” record that played over and over in the background. Mom began to dye her face and hands a rather convincing green. She perfected a witch’s cackle and would slowly open the front door to a dark living room. The yarn cobwebs and paper skeletons hanging from the ceiling then became visible in the lights from the candles.
Needless to say, our house became cult. Little kids (and their parents, who discovered it had to be seen to be believed) saved our house for last to visit on the trick-or-trick circuit. We ended up having to buy lots more apples and candies every year as the number of visitors grew.
Mom was always slightly hoarse and had a sickly green-y pallor for days after that holiday. Green food coloring does not wash off easily….
I wish I had some pictures from those days but this one will have to suffice. As a massage therapist I have a (not-real) skeleton standing in my treatment room as a visual aide. Each year on October 31st I set him in a window backlit by candles, to honor my mother and all the dead.
Happy Halloween, everyone!
NOTES: This was one of my earliest posts, I think my 4th? (I know I had about 5 blog followers.) I still love Halloween, so today marks the very first time I’m repeating a post. First posted on October 27, 2012