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Archive for January, 2012

Chains

Today, I’d like to give you an excerpt from a new collection of short stories entitled Blue Mood, which will be out on Amazon in a couple of months. These stories feed into my interest in globalism, individual isolation, artistic creativity and warped families, which manifests throughout my work.

This particular story is my personal favorite. It’s called Chains.

Sashenka Dashenka, the boys all called her, imitating her mother’s reedy voice and laughing. But Sasha never paid attention to them, walking with her head bowed, clasping her books to her chest tightly.

She grew up like that and hated being noticed. In school she hung back, turning in her work quietly, quickly walking home where her mother was waiting and fretting.

Her mother never knew if there would be a scene when her father arrived, if he would like his dinner or throw it on the floor. If he was drunk and happy he’d pick up his guitar and sing sad love songs to her, and she would be happy for a while, though her eyes were always sad. But if he was drunk and angry, they would scramble out of his way until they were sure he was asleep, and they would be quiet, so quiet and careful, never raising their voices above a whisper so as not to wake him.

Sashenka’s mother tried to make everything beautiful as if they were living in an enchanted land. She had worked in the theater before she was married and she sewed and painted old broken furniture and reupholstered and painted some more. She carved wood and embroidered, and showed Sashenka how to decorate Easter eggs. But everything Sashenka tried to create was odd. She saw things in a skewed way, convex for concave and long where there was short. When she drew, her world was populated by talking bears and old witches who lived in tree houses and ate small children.

As she grew older, Sashenka continued to fill whole notebooks with her creatures despite her mothers looks of dismay.

‘She’s wondering why I’m not normal, why I don’t grow out of it,’ Sashenka said to herself. But she only grew odder.

She collected fallen nests and old feathers, stones and branches and pine cones and leaves.

‘What do you need that for?’ her mother asked, but Sashenka only shrugged and continued to fill her notebooks.

One day she came home from school with a painting depicting four witches in a forest dismembering and eating a group of children.

‘They want you to sign something, Mama,’ Sashenka said. ‘They want to send me for testing.’ Sashenka’s mother signed but did not sleep whole nights for fear until the report came back. Sashenka seemed normal enough according to the psychiatrist, a case of an overactive imagination. He advised her to take up sports. And so Sashenka’s mother dutifully bought her a bicycle which Sashenka rode everywhere though it did not diminish her enthusiasm for her secret wold.

She hid her findings, which went undiscovered until spring cleaning, under her bed, when her irate mother threw everything away. Sashenka did not despair. She circumvented her mother’s eye by adding to her cache in the cellar each time she put her bicycle away. Her mother had an horror of cellars, having had survived the Red Army’s operations in Kiev during the terrible German occupation in World War II, and never went down there.

In time Sashenka created an entire tableau, an enchanted forest of twigs and moss, and streams of pebbles spiraling through it. She painted the sun and the moon with human faces and filled the night sky with shining stars and hung it as a back drop. She curled herself in an old blanket and having learned her lesson at school, only dared to imagine the figures living in the forest.

Her favorite was a girl with long blond hair, three breasts and one leg who was married to a giant black wolf. The wolf could breath fire and lived in the hollow of an old chestnut tree. A dragon with golden scales and a green underbelly dwelt in a paper- mache cave on the other side of the woods guarding a ruby treasure. Azure and celadon horses with white wings lived on the mountain and visited with the girl when her husband was away hunting people. A wizard with a magic cloak made himself invisible and tricked the devil, who had his sites on taking over the entire forest and cutting it down for firewood. The princess in the castle, though unbeknown to her furry subjects, was really a shape-shifting toad.

Sashenka’s mother could not understand why Sashenka had no friends and for her thirteenth birthday hand crafted invitations for the entire class, which Sashenka undutifully stashed behind some loose bricks in the cellar. Sashenka’s mother cooked and baked all week preparing for the great event. She forced Sashenka to sit at the piano for hours, practicing in anticipation of her guests.

‘You have to learn to entertain properly,’ she said. Sashenka nodded, wondering if the boys and girls in her mother’s home town had turned off the lights at their parties to feel each others bodies and exchange kisses.

Later that evening, Sashenka stood at the window in her poofy pink party dress, knobby knees showing, a white bow in her hair and announced, ‘Mama, I don’t think anyone is coming.’ Her mother put the food away wordlessly and never mentioned the evening or asked if Sashenka had made new friends again.

When Sashenka entered high school school, she had the additional burden of eyeglasses. Her mother picked a cat’s eyed style, and Sashenka asked for them in purple not realizing they would make her an object of ridicule. She wore them proudly until she heard the taunting behind her. Sashenka rushed home without turning around.

‘I hate high school,’ she announced in a rare outburst of passion.

‘We all have to do things we hate, life being what it is,’ her mother added, chewing her lip. And so Sashenka redoubled her efforts to remain inconspicuous. Once after art class, she managed to say a few words about her cellar project to her teacher, a woman who exhibited her own work, interlocking monochromatic squares, as if she had deconstructed a thousand years of western art singlehandedly. Listening to Sashenka’s confused stuttering patently, the teacher commented, ‘That’s all been done before,’ with a frown.

After school that day, Sashenka went down to the cellar with a trash bag intending to dismantle her entire world. However she was distracted by the dragon who had swallowed a large ruby and needed to be resuscitated by the bear physician. The bear had prepared a special brew culled over a long time from the marrow of art teachers who had wandered into the forest.

The art teacher left under a curse and moved away. The new art teacher, an attractive young man with sandy hair, took notice of Sashenka one day when she was staring out into space. She herself had noticed that she would have long lapses when she was completely disconnected from her surroundings. She had chalked it up as another oddity, but he said, ‘Only the most creative people can do that.’

He saw her in the schoolyard one day, collecting stones and asked her what they were for. She told him of her spiraling designs, her overlapping leaves, her collection of abandoned bird’s nests. He showed her photographs of artists who worked with natural materials and their installations.

‘Have you ever seen this kind of work before?’ he asked. Sashenka shook her head, no. Her mother only allowed her to take serious literature home from the library, she said. He brought her some of his own books to look at. She told him about the forest in the cellar.

‘I can’t see it Sashenka. It wouldn’t be proper for me to come to your house,’ he said, but seeing her disappointment, lent her his camera.

It took her a long time to understand how to light her project and to take the shots. Fortunately her mother was in the hospital having her tonsils removed and no questions were asked.

‘This is great Sashenka, ‘ her teacher said enthusiastically.’ It’s not the norm for a kid your age to have an original style.’

Sashenka turned those words over and over in her mind for days. In the forest, the wolf husband ran off with a pink squirrel and the one legged girl fell in love with a handsome young knight at the castle.

At school, her teacher gave her a canvas and oil paints. Day after day, she stayed in the studio until the janitor kicked her out. She waited for her teacher to comment, but he said nothing. She went ahead and painted a pink and red world with water falls and ferns and tall trees. Behind rents in the fabric of the forest, evil humans with long noses and eyes in the middle of their foreheads, made mischief and engaged in unholy acts. One nasty boy, who appeared over and over again, was seen garroting a cat and stepping on a mound of ants. When it was finished she couldn’t sleep all night, worried her teacher would think her mad. But when she arrived to class that morning, he said, ‘It’s great Sashenka. Can you do more like it?’

She could. She painted all that year and then she made installations. He photographed them all and showed them to his friends saying, ‘The girl is unusual.’

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Meridian

Today I’d like to give you an excerpt from my novel, Meridian, which will be out on Amazon books and Amazon Kindle in a couple of weeks, but first a description:

Mairin, a former WWI nurse married to a wealthy and dangerous man, embarks on a reckless love affair with a social outcast. During the course of their affair, she tells the following story: A father on a spiritual quest of his own abandons his daughter to the negligent care of wealthy relatives. Returning to England he tries to orchestrate a comfortable marriage for her despite her intention to become a painter. In an act of rebellion she joins the war effort.

Deeply traumatized by her experiences as a nurse in France and the deaths of her family in the influenza epidemic of 1919, she finds herself penniless and friendless in the libertine post-war era. Attempting to quiet her demons she falls into frenzied sexual promiscuity until she meets an unforgiving and powerful man. However she finds that her past will continue to haunt her until she can finally put it to rest.

A story of sexual obsession, religious mania, power and betrayal, Meridian follows one woman as she overcomes her blighted family history to experience enlightenment and ultimate forgiveness.

Mairin is lying near a pool of water. She doesn’t know how she

has gotten there. A cherub spits a trail of water at her. She

looks up at a Baroque painted ceiling and recognizes the image

of Chronos swallowing his young. She laughs. A hand holds out a

glass of champagne, and she gulps it down.

Quite a party.’

The voice hurts her head. It seems to be coming from the direction

of a silvery man. She struggles to sit up. Her dress has bunched

up around her waist.

Darling,’ it is not addressed at her, ‘what’s this, a straggler?’

Shhhh.’ The silvery man turns up his face, and a thin young

man with pomaded hair kisses him.

Shall I have it thrown out?’

No,’ the silvery man says. He arranges her dress and picks her

up.

She looks heavy,’ the young man sniffs.

She’s carried upstairs and deposited on large bed with a red

silk cover. The silvery man wipes away her rouge with his finger

and traces the outline of her eye.

Quite sweet, aren’t you?’

Sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds. Lilies that fester

smell far worse than weeds,’ she mumbles.

And literate,’ he laughs. He strokes her belly and briefly touches

her between her legs, and then he is gone. Mairin wraps herself

in the silken spread.

                                     ***

She’s dancing to the strain of a Negro band. ‘It’s jazz,’ the

pomaded young man shouts in her ear. She nods her head,

and then she is off. All eyes are on her as she takes the floor. She

feels herself being lifted on to a table. She dances and dances,

like she has never danced before. As she pirouettes, droplets of

sweat spray off her body like tiny diamonds. She turns and turns

to see them fall.

And then she falls into space, through dark water until she is

resting on a seaweed bed, and cherubs look down at her in

mock consternation.

The silvery man is back and undoes his robe. His naked body is

white as glass. He rubs against her, and when that fails he puts his

mouth between her legs.

Mairin hears the shrill echo of a whistle. She cups her hands over

her ears, until she realizes the sound is inside of her. ‘Make it go

away,’ she says.

What’s that?’ someone asks. It’s the silvery man. She remembers

now. She is sticky and hot.

I’m bleeding,’ she says.

It’s nothing.’ The silvery man wipes it away with his hand.

She wonders if she should be embarrassed or if it is the result of

something that was done to her.

His robe undone, he slips one white arm out of the sleeve and

shoots a needle into his vein. Mairin has seen it all before. He

offers her the needle, and she shakes her head no. She has a horror

of needles, of hatpins, of knives.

She knows he will be out of his head soon enough, and she lies

quietly next to him until she can make her escape. When she

is certain he will not budge, she enters the adjoining bath. The

marble is cold against her bare feet, and she wonders where she

has left her shoes. She rinses her face and blots a towel between

her legs.

Back in the room, the silvery man snores. She looks out the window.

She is in London, after all.

She finds her shoes next to an armchair and, slipping them on,

runs down the stairs and out the front door. It is dark, and no one

sees her leave.

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Whenever I complain about my husband, who has the personality of Mr. Spock, the Vulcan, my sister in law, Nely, pauses and says, ‘Promise me that no matter what happens, we’ll always be friends. And we’ll live together when we are old.’ Of course I promise, it will give me something to look forward to.

I have a few Nely stories but this one is about her fiancée Sam. Sam is the nicest person in the world and the one with the biggest heart, as his collection of formerly homeless animals attests to. Occasionally, I think that it’s strange that a man who hails from the notorious Cosmano crime family could be so nice but he is, even to my senile mother-in-law, who upon seeing him in a red shirt asked, ‘What is the communist doing here?’ But sometimes a person’s greatest quality is also their worst failing.

Sam is a widower with two grown, albeit pampered sons, one of whom lived at home until last year. Sam’s sons have always been indulged and their every wish has been Sam’s command, but that was how Sam’s wife Roxy wanted it. Shortly before Roxy died, she bought their younger son, Nick, then seventeen, a baby alligator.

Today the alligator is six feet long and until recently lived in the house. Nely had been working on Sam to get rid of the alligator, which she could often hear trying to claw its way out of the bathtub or splashing around in the pool while she was barbecuing in the back yard.

One day Sam received a frantic call from Nick, who once convinced that neither Sam nor Nely were in the house confessed that the alligator had escaped from the bath and was hiding under Sam’s bed.

After that incident, Sam lit upon the idea that he would hire a U-Haul to take the alligator to the Florida everglades, but then he remembered that the alligator was best friends with the pet snapping turtle.

Why can’t you take the turtle down with her?’ I ask.

‘Because alligators eat snapping turtles, and the other gators would kill her best friend,’ Sam explains.

Recently Nick was arrested for possession of marijuana and the alligator was removed to an animal sanctuary. At first Sam vowed he would do everything in his power to get Nick’s alligator back, but seeing it was impossible, insisted on telling everyone within earshot that the animal welfare people had said the alligator was the best looked after lizard they had ever confiscated.

‘She was my son’s baby. Losing her broke his heart,’ Sam says, with the pathos that only an Italian can muster.

‘What kind of a person loves an alligator?’ my other sister-in -law, Phyllis wants to know.

As an animal lover, I appreciate his dedication though.

But Sam won my heart even before that. I should backtrack, a bit. Nely has a lovely twenty-seven year old daughter, Tatiyana. When Tanya was old enough to start dating seriously, Nely set ten date rule for her. No sex until at least the first ten dates were completed. She set the same rule for herself after her divorce from Tanya’s father. One evening just as they had begun dating, Sam, feeling amorous, said, ‘Nely, Tanya is young and that is a good rule for her, but we’re old and don’t have as much time.’

Nely did hold out however. Afterward Sam declared, ‘My God, Nely, that was fantastic. I haven’t had a woman on top since 1972!’

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Both sides of my fathers family have powers and often experience clairvoyance, prophetic dreams, deja-vu and moments of synchronicity. My father dreamt his final examinations at university down to the last detail. He shared the dream with four friends, all dedicated communists, beforehand. They scoffed but were profoundly disturbed when events unfolded as predicted. Their faith in dialectical materialism shaken, [why I wondered] they visited a renowned physicist who explained the nature of space-time to their satisfaction.

But I never spoke about my mystical experiences with my family beyond the things they are already familiar with. My sister on the other hand has no such compunction.

When this happened, my father was already ill with cancer. It had manifested once, gone into remission for several years and then come back with a vengeance.

My sister and I are chattering away. It’s a lovely spring day, and we have just gone for a long walk. Suddenly, her mood changes.

There’s a negative male presence in the house,’ she says.

It’s probably Dad’s feelings of negativity,’ I reply.

No, this is different,’ she says.

My father, sitting in his study, has been listening carefully,

It’s my father,’ he says.

I am skeptical and say so.

No, the dog cowers under the desk whenever he is here,’ my father says.

You have to forgive him,’ my sister and I say in unison, ‘Forgive him and you will get better.’

My grandfather, for no apparent reason, was highly abusive even by the standard of those days and my father has never recovered from it.

‘I would rather die than forgive,’ my father says and then adds, ‘All I want to know is how the hell he managed to find me here!’

My father did die sometime thereafter. My aunt was sitting with him that day. When she realized he had stopped breathing, she had the urge to open the sliding doors so that his soul could pass through. At that moment, the dog jumped up as if she could catch it. Despite having witnessed this, my aunt doesn’t believe to this day.

Sometime later, after having my father cremated according to his wishes, my mother sent his ashes to Belgrade to be interred in the family crypt. When my uncle went to pick up the package, he had to declare the contents only to have it turned back since my mother had send it through the regular post and had not gone through the proper channels. The ashes were returned.

‘Yoy, yoy, vat I do now?’ Mother intoned mournfully.

‘Fill out the correct papers and send the ashes back,’ I volunteered.

Mother sighed, ‘I don’t know,’ she said resignedly.

Soon afterward she put her house up for sale but after a year was having no success despite a good market. A friend suggested that she consult a psychic.

‘Well, what did she say,’ I asked, when she confided this to me.

She said, ‘I can’t sell house until I get rid of Daddy.’

‘What do you mean?’ I asked

‘I put Daddy in closet,’ she explained

I bit my tongue and asked, ‘Will you be sending him back now?’

‘Ah’, she sighed dramatically, ‘I dump daddy in backyard with Bianca and Garitsa, you know how much he love dog and cat!’

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