Workshop Wednesday 11.22.17

Happy Day-Before-Thanksgiving!

The Russian and I are on our way to Nashville for the festivities, but I couldn’t resist sharing my newest idea: Workshop Wednesday (I’m so good at alliteration)!!!

I’m planning to put together a virtual writer’s workshop through my Patreon page, where supporters can view the new fiction I share each week, give me feedback, and share links to their own work, which I’ll give comments on as I can. I’m excited to form a sort of community where we can grow into better writers together.

Interested? Head over to today’s post, and then take a look at my novel-in-progress, which I release chapter-by-chapter each Friday. Let me know what you think, and feel free to share some of your own work! I’d love to see what my readers are working on.

Happy Thanksgiving!

A Big Announcement and A Little Help

 

I came to a realization a month or so ago. I realized that I want to be a writer.

This wasn’t really an epiphany; I mean, I have a degree in writing. Clearly I had some inkling. But in the post-graduate bonanza that is job hunting, I got distracted by the mad need to get a job now, which led me to some frustrating places and an all-around bad mental state.

And then I realized it: I just, really, want to be a writer. I want to be home most of the time, and sit at my desk, and light a candle, and write. Whenever I get frustrated with my career, when all seems futile and I think I’ve just been deceiving myself this whole time, I sit down, light a candle, and write. And everything just pops into place, like when a chiropractor gives you a good crack (also, BTW, never been crazy about that phrase. It sounds like a drug reference). I write, and I start to gain hope that, yes, this is exactly what I’m supposed to do.

So I’ve more consciously thrown myself into writing, because I realized that I need to commit to it. It’s a learning curve and a challenge, but it’s one I’m prepared to take on, because, like I told my best friend, I need the pressure of failure to make me commit. It’s freeing, and also terrifying. I like to focus on the freeing part.

Long story long, as part of my resolution to commit, I started a Patreon page to get my writing out there and to get ever closer to my goal of being supported by writing work. It would mean so much to me if you would check it out and consider supporting me. I’ll be sharing weekly installments of my newest novel, and, I’ll be integrating my followers’ thoughts and comments into my ongoing drafting, almost like a real-time writing workshop. I’m super excited to see how this improves my work.

Stay posted while I keep writing. Thanks for reading, and please never stop.

(And Happy Thanksgiving!)

The Highway

This is a short story I’ve been working on for one of my classes. I’ve been wanting to share it here – enjoy!

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They were building a highway. It would stretch from the northernmost tip of the state through the mountains and all the way to the ocean, five states away. It was progress. It was speed. It would bring produce and packages and soldiers. It was the mark of every modern society.

Unfortunately for Norris, they were building the highway right through his farm, right in between his house and barn, where the old dirt road ran through to connect one town with another. Some engineer in Washington had decided that Township Road #132 was the ideal place to link the new Interstate. Anywhere else would run into a lake or mountain range, wasting money and time.

The highway wouldn’t interfere with his farm at all, they had told Norris. It wouldn’t ruin his land or crops. They were essentially just widening the road that was already there, which did belong to the government, after all. It was part of the President’s new initiative. It was progress.

Construction began at the beginning of summer. Crews came and plotted out the new boundaries of the road. It would be a four-lane highway with low railings on either side. You’ll still have your privacy, they told Norris. One edge of the highway was to come twenty feet from his house, the other twenty feet from his barn. We’ll build a bridge so you can get across, they said. It won’t interfere with your farm at all.

So every morning Norris got into his rusty Ford pickup, clattered down the makeshift service road, across the skeletal wooden bridge stretched over the fledgling highway, and down another makeshift service road to the barn, where he fed the animals and started his work in the fields. Around midday he’d return to the other side of the highway for lunch and then work in the other fields. “It’s a damn nuisance,” he told his wife.

When the highway finally opened, it droned with business. Huge trucks carried cargo to faraway cities and little cars, like brightly colored insects, carried people. The house, barn, and garden were soon coated with a perpetual layer of dust, and there was an incessant hum that echoed off the old farmhouse no matter what the hour. Norris and his wife began not to notice it until they went out for errands or church or visited other people’s houses and felt an emptiness in their ears.

Norris remembered when a single car on the old dirt road was an occasion. He’d been young then, a short skinny boy with a blond mop head, freckles and snaggleteeth, spending his summers running wild through the woods and cornfields. Dad came in from the fields every night at six, covered in dust, with rings around his eyes like a raccoon. Norris was expected to be home by then too, if he planned on getting a dinner and avoiding a spanking. Mum had dinner on the table by six fifteen, usually meat and some kind of vegetable, with her famous bread. They’d sit in the golden light of the summer sunset, eating and drinking the light and balmy air as they ate and drank their dinner.

One evening as they were sitting down to eat, Norris looked through the open kitchen window and saw one of the cows staring back at him, right on the other side. All of the cows had gotten out of the pasture by a break in the fence, and had ambled over to the scent of dinner.

“Dammit!” Dad said, jumping up from the table. The dust shook from his overalls.

“Bill,” Mum noted before jumping up as well.

The three of them struggled into rubber boots and ran out into the yard, where the three dozen brown and white cows strolled lazily in the evening light. It took hours to corral them all into the barn. Norris whooped and jumped to get their attention while Mum and Dad chased the herd into a little knot, then drove them into the barn while Norris held the door open and welcomed the bovines in like a circus master. When he shut the door behind the last straggler, he slipped in the thick mud, and when his parents tried to help him, they slipped too. Then, weak from exhaustion and hilarity the three of them pulled together and slid their way to the house, laughing in spite of themselves. By then, dinner was cold, but they were too hungry to care.

One day at the end of a summer, when Dad was in the fields and Norris had been drafted into the service of window washing, a blue Ford Model 18 drove up the dirt road in a cloud of shining dust and parked in the yard. The car stood out crisply against the faded green cornstalks and the yellowed white house. The man it carried stood out too, in a navy pinstriped suit and matching hat. He marched up to the porch, his patent leather shoes clicking like snap peas.

“Good afternoon, Ma’am,” he said when Mum answered the door. He swept off his hat and held it to his chest like a martyr. “My name is Ellis Chaney and I work for the township. I’d like to talk to you about improvements to this road here.”

Mum brought him in and offered him a seat at the table. Norris watched through the windows, wiping away the grime with his sponge so he could see better.

“Ma’am, it has come to our attention that the roads in our fine county leave much to be desired. They are beset with dust in the summer and potholes in the winter. Ma’am, we in the township value our citizens, folks like yourself who are the lifeblood of this county and state. We are considering paving this road here. It’s high time we had some progress in this area, and it’ll certainly make travel and trade faster, a boon for everyone involved. We’d like to hear everyone’s input on the matter.”

“Well, that’s certainly an idea,” said Mum. “But I’m afraid my husband isn’t home. I’m sure he’d like to give his two cents.”

The man cocked one shiny, groomed eyebrow. “Of course ma’am. I can come back another day if that’d be better.” He rose to leave. “But if I may ask, what, Ma’am, would you say about paving the road? I’d like to have your two cents.”

Mum blushed a little. “Well, I think it’s a very nice idea. It’d be… nice to go into town and back without getting so dusty.”

The man smiled. “Of course, Ma’am. If I may say, however, you look quite fresh and lovely. Not dusty at all.”

Mum blushed more. “Oh. Thank you.”

Only after the man had gotten back into his car and sped away toward another white farmhouse did Mum notice Norris at the window. Her face grew scarlet.

“What have I told you about sneaking around?” she said. “I don’t have all day for you to wash one window! Get on to the next one!”

Dad came in from the fields at six. Mum didn’t mention the Man in the suit.

As the weeks passed the cornstalks grew brown and dry and Norris was drafted into the service of school. Every afternoon he hurried home down the dirt road, his books and lunch pail holding on for dear life, hoping to get a few rambles in before Mum called him to chores and dinner. The sun was setting sooner now, which meant Dad came in from the fields earlier, which meant Norris only had a short time to avoid any work.

One afternoon he got home to find the blue Ford Model 18 in the yard. He remembered the Man in the suit, but since the dirt road was still dirt, he had filed him away as not useful. He wondered, as he panted sweaty and dusty in the afternoon warmth, if the Man was finally bringing some good news.

Norris burst into the house, forgetting to wipe his feet on the rug. A bump and clatter was heard upstairs, and then a wild parade of footsteps brought Mum and the Man in the suit (a brown one this time) down the stairs. Norris blinked. Mum’s face turned scarlet.

“What have I told you about wiping your feet?” she scolded. “Look at this floor!”

“I’m sorry Mum,” said Norris, feeling more guilty than usual for the mess.

“Go get the mop and clean it up. I will not have you tracking mud into this house.”

With a glance at the Man, who smiled with all his perfectly white teeth, Norris went to the broom closet for the mop. When he returned, the Man and the blue car were gone. Mum was putting bread in the oven for dinner. Norris worked silently, erasing every speck of dirt in the hallway. Suddenly Mum was behind him, her hand on his shoulder.

“Dear, I’d like to talk to you.”

Norris blinked. “I’m sorry about the mud.”

“Don’t worry about that,” she smiled. “I’d like to talk to you about Ellis.”

“The Man in the suit?”

“Yes… Mr. Chaney – the Man in the suit.”

“What about him?”

“He was here to talk about the road, you understand?” She began to blush.

“Yes ma’am.”

“And your father and I have talked about the road, and we don’t agree on it. I agree with El-Mr. Chaney. We’re trying to figure out what to do with the road, and until we do, it’d be best not to mention anything to Dad. He’s tired from working so hard and shouldn’t have to worry about another little thing. You understand, don’t you?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“Good boy. Go on, then. And remember: we don’t need to talk about Mr. Chaney or the road. Not until we think up a solution.”

Norris went on until the whole house was mopped. Of course Dad wouldn’t want the road to be paved; he hated progress of any kind. It made sense not to worry him with it. At least, it sounded right.

That night dinner was quiet. Dad ate hungrily, Mum bustled around making sure everyone had what they needed, and Norris could neither talk nor eat. He still felt guilty, and he couldn’t remember why.

“Dear, eat your vegetables,” Mum said. He jumped.

“I’m not very hungry, ma’am.”

Dad put his fork down. “Eat your food, son. Times are thin and we need to show thanks for our blessings.”

“Yessir.” Norris tried very hard but the food in his mouth was tasteless and sticky. It was like swallowing dust.

“What is the matter with that boy?” Dad shook his head.

“He’s just tired, is all.” Mum moved her food around, then passed the butter to no one in particular, then got up to refill everyone’s water glasses. She spilled the pitcher a little and went back to the sink.

“I’m fine, sir,” Norris said, forcing down a bite of bread. “Just tired.”

“You weren’t like this yesterday,” Dad finished off his meat with a final bite. “I hope he isn’t coming down with something,” he said to Mum. “I’ve heard reports of the flu in town. Any kids at school come down with the flu?” he said to Norris.

“No sir,” Norris gulped down his newly-filled glass of water.

“He’s fine,” said Mum, “and even if he is coming down with something, I’ll just run him up to the new doctor Ellis was telling me ab – ”

She stood still for a moment, then sat down slowly and set the pitcher in between her and Dad. Norris stared at her in horror.

“Who’s Ellis?” Dad looked up, sensing the change in the air.

“That man.”

“What man?”

“That man from the township. I mentioned him to you. He came over again today asking about the road.”

“I thought we already told him what we thought about it. His name’s Ellis?”

“Yes. Ellis Chaney. He’s from the township.”

“Well why did he come around again? I hope you told him we don’t need a paved road here.”

“Well, I didn’t want to be rude. He wanted to double check with everyone. He had some very good things to say – ”

“He must be pretty friendly if you’re on a first name basis already.”

Mum began to blush. She smiled and looked at Norris. “Dear, please go up to your room and do your homework.”

Norris sprung from the table like a squirrel from a cage. He had barely shut his door before their voices started talking faster and louder. By the time he fell asleep an hour later they were shouting.

He woke the next morning, and the house was silent and gray, like the fields after a rainstorm. His parents’ door was closed and Dad’s work boots were gone. Norris dressed and packed, then left for school, running away down the dirt road as if sunshine would be found at the end of it. All day he dreaded going back home. He didn’t feel guilty anymore, just sick.

He trudged back home down the dirt road, fearing everything that might meet him when he got there. He didn’t want to hear another shout, see another stiff smile, hear Mum say “dear” one more time.

He was still a ways off when he saw the blue Ford Model 18 parked in the yard. The engine was running and all the doors were open. Mum and the Man in the suit (a black one today) were loading it with suitcases. Norris broke into a run. Mum and the Man got into the car and shut the doors, and sped away in the opposite direction to a town Norris didn’t know. They were almost out of site by the time he got to the house.

“MUM!” he screamed. “Come back!” And he knew she must have looked back, at least for a second, and seen him crying in the road, but the car didn’t stop.

It never came back again.

In the years that followed, the house was always gray, and dinners were always quiet, and there was no more bread. Norris and Dad washed the dishes and mopped the floors and went to sleep for work and school in the morning.

And every so often Norris would dream of the blue Ford Model 18. Mum was driving it, and she would, unlike most people, be able to find the dirt road and the yellowed white farmhouse on it, and she would drive herself up to the house and let herself in. Norris would smell her perfume and fresh-baked bread and come bolting down the stairs, and she’d wrap him up in the kind of hug she used to give him when he was little. Dad would come in from the fields, covered in dust with rings around his eyes like a raccoon, and she’d kiss him, and the three of them would sit at the table to a dinner of meat and vegetables and bread in the golden light of the sunset.

But now none of that would ever happen, because now there was a highway.

Heart Day

Hello folks! I hope you’ve had a great week!

I hope you all enjoyed the festivities of Valentine’s Day, too. I know this can be a very difficult holiday sometimes, and a very over-commercialized holiday other times. But I’ve always been a sucker for the ruby-red hearts. There’s always been something about making Valentines that makes me happy. I think it’s the lace and glitter.

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I found a pattern to make these adorable crocheted hearts. They take literally five minutes. I cranked out about eighteen of them over two episodes of Gilmore Girls. I pinned them to some little folded cards I made (Dollar General sells a package of pearl pins for a buck!) and voila! lovely little Valentines for some of my friends.

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I also got to use my German fountain pen (with a real little ink bottle)! for the inside writing. It was a very classic Valentine-making process!

More good news this week: I am finally making headway on my story for our book! It took some rearranging, but I think I have a bit of a good story. Here is a long promised excerpt.

Frank Vossler came into the coffee shop at one o’clock, his usual time, to join the group of other old fellows who were gathered at one of the round tables by the large front window. He came in calm and unhurried, his neatly combed gray hair without the slightest ruffle and his mild blue eyes blinking slowly behind his round bifocals. He ordered a hunk of biscotti (“bees-COT-toe” as he called it), and a cup of decaf coffee.

    “Make sure it’s hot,” he said to the barista at the counter. He flashed a smile and she nodded knowingly and rang up the usual three dollars and twenty-two cents.

These are the first two paragraphs of my story, which centers around this man “Frank” and his days spent at the coffee shop. I don’t want to give too much away, but stay posted for more glimpses of this very interesting man.

What do you think? Does it pique your interest, or do I have work to do? Did you do anything special for Heart Day? Will you try your hand at the ridiculously fun crocheted hearts? Let me know in the comments below and have a happy week!

The Tokenmaster

Paul polished the bright gray metal into a silver shine. Then he set the finished piece on his desk and sat back on his stool, admiring his work. It was a tiny soldier figurine, barely two inches high, with a neat cap, detailed face, crisp-looking uniform, and even a tiny ray revolver tucked into the belt. Paul breathed a sigh of contentment. He was the best Tokenmaster in this part of the country, he was sure. His father had taught him the trade well.

“You have to have an eye for quality,” Paul’s dad had once said, sitting his 10-year-old son before him and holding up various examples of his own work, “and each token needs to have quality, something special about it, something unique, just as every person, every customer you get, is unique. If you make a soldier token, for example, ask the customer for specifics in the soldier’s appearance; hair length, facial features, stature. And don’t charge extra for it. The customer may be coming to you for a single moment, for a simple token, but that doesn’t mean you can’t go the extra mile.

Paul smiled into the sheen of the new token. His face reflected back at him; it was a broad, brown face, tinged with lines and the grime of his workshop. His blue eyes had once had a twinkle in them, he remembered, but now there was a dullness. He knew it was because he had forgotten something very very important, very very long ago. But he also knew there was a reason he had chosen to forget it, and he didn’t bother to pursue the subject further.

He finished polishing the token and then reached under the counter, bringing out a wooded box lined with cheap green velvet. He set the token in it carefully and then tied a green ribbon around the box. Mrs. Avery would be coming for it later. Until she did, he had an awful lot of tidying up to do. The shop was a mess. The tokens on the shelves (ready-made ones for economic people, not special orders for people like Mrs. Avery) hadn’t been dusted in over a week, and it showed.

“Ralph!” Paul yelled through the door to the back room beyond. “Ralph come here!” From the back room came a ticking sound, followed by whirring, and then humming. A stiff, electronic voice replied:

“Yes-master.” Metallic footsteps crossed the ancient wooden floorboards, and soon Ralph appeared.

He had a smooth, brown metal head and gray steel appendages. His torso was the only digital thing about him; Paul had splurged to give him an update. It was long, barrel-shaped, plastic on the outside and with hundreds of chips and wires within. Ralph was a vintage automaton, an AUTO T-17, one of the first models made over fifty years ago. He had worked for Paul’s father first, and Paul had patched him together over the years to keep him running. His hardware was quality, just needing some tune-ups from time to time. Paul had considered installing a new voice chip, to give him a more realistic voice (some of the newer service droids, the DR-30s, sounded just like their human counterparts), but he always had decided against it somehow. He had grown fond of Ralph’s stiff voice. It reminded him of the good old days, when the token-making industry was just beginning. The automatons nowadays gave Paul a chilled feeling. They looked and spoke like real humans. If an auto police officer and a human one stood side by side, you’d have a difficult time deciding which was which. This was all well and good for the police force, Paul decided, but the thought of any random passerby on the street possibly being an automaton gave him the willies. And he knew it scared everyone else too.

Ralph had a duster attachment that extended from his right hand, and he was just beginning the work when the bell above the door rang and Mrs. Avery came in. She was an attractive woman, rather tall and slim, with strawberry blond hair done up in an elaborate bun and green eyes that shone beneath her long lashes. She wore a black wool dress and matching hat with black silk flowers. Her gloves, heels, handbag and belt, all black, were soft suede. Paul had met many beautiful women, but Mrs. Winifred Avery surpassed them all. Especially now, when her creamy, dewy face was tinged with the shadow of something mysteriously tragic. Paul knew she had a secret to tell, but it wasn’t his job to hear secrets, only to help people forget them.

Mrs. Avery nodded to Ralph, her ruby lips tightened in a thin smile. She approached the greasy brown counter and set her hands primly, shyly, onto it.

“I’m here to pick up the token I ordered,” she said, her voice thin and delicate, like the fragile stem of a wineglass.

“Yes, Mrs. Avery,” Paul nodded cheerfully, pushing the wooden box across the counter toward her. “A silver soldier, just as you requested. I will gladly show it to you before you leave, if you wish to be sure of the quality.”

“No!” she said quickly, her voice quivering. “No,” she said again, more softly. “I know you do good work, Paul. I trust you. How much do I owe you?”

“Fifty,” he said, typing numbers into the little black device he had fished out of his pocket.

“Come now, Paul,” Mrs. Avery pulled her black wallet out of her black suede purse. “I know your custom items are worth much more than that. What would you charge a stranger?”

“The fact is, Mrs. Avery, that you ain’t a stranger,” he nodded firmly, scratching his balding head. “The price is fifty.”

She paused, deciding whether to dispute it or not. Then she sighed and took her Identification Card out of her wallet. “Very well, then. Fifty it is.” She handed the card to Paul and he scanned it with his device. He handed the card back.

“Thank you kindly, ma’am,” he smiled warmly. “You need a bag for it?” he reached under the counter for some of the cloth sacks he knew were somewhere under there.

“No, I uh…” Mrs. Avery held the box in her hands and stared at it. “I actually was wondering if… Well that is,” she bit her tongue. “Do you… charge extra, for a download?”

“Well… there aren’t many people that ask me to download,” Paul stammered, taken aback. “I mean, I can do it, but I hate knowin other people’s business. You do know how to use a token, don’t ya?”

“Yes of course, I just…” she paused and then burst into tears. Ralph, who was nearly finished dusting now, turned in alarm.

“Do-you-need-assistance-Madam?” asked his wooden voice.

“Ralph, you metal idiot,” Paul exclaimed, hurrying from behind the counter, “Mind your own business!”

“I-am-sorry-Master,” Ralph replied, turning back to the little dusty tokens on the shelves.

Paul put his hand awkwardly on Mrs. Avery’s shoulder. “Now now ma’am, it can’t be as bad as that. There’s always a silver lining in every rainbow… Er, cloud, I mean. It ain’t nunna my business what’s the matter, but I know it can’t be bad as that. Now, why don’t I call a cab for ya or call Mr. Avery to come get – ”

“Mr. Avery’s dead!” she cried out, holding her face in her hands. “We got the text this morning. He was killed in battle.”

“Battle?” said Paul hoarsely. That word reminded him of something, something dreadful and terrible, something that made him feel sick. He couldn’t remember what that something was, but he didn’t want to remember. “Is that what you’re trying to forget, Mrs. Avery? Is that why you need the token?”

“Yes,” she whimpered. “I need the token for me and for Cecil. He’s too young to lose his father.”

 “I understand,” Paul nodded solemnly. “I’m more than willing to help you with the download, Ma’am. It’s no trouble. I can do it for you, and for Cecil. Just have him come in later. I can do it on the same token, too.”

“Thank you, Paul,” she tried to smile but it just brought on more tears. She gripped his hands instead. He nodded and guided her over to the stool behind the counter. “Have a seat,” he said encouragingly. “I’ll be back in a moment.”

He dashed to the back room, a dim and damp little area with shelves of tools, spare parts, electronic chips, and hunks of metal. Ralph’s desk sat in one corner, where he sat putting together electronic chips. There really wasn’t any better electrician than an automaton, Paul thought to himself. He grabbed a set of patches from the desk and hurried back to the store. From the outside the patches looked like tiny, round little pillows of beige velvet. On the inside, however, they contained a network of wires and chips. Paul had bought these at last year’s Tokenmaster’s Convention in Chicago. They were the latest in token technology, much more sophisticated than the old way of downloading with wires and syringes. These patches made downloading quick, easy, and painless, both physically and mentally. And that was the point, he decided.

“Here ya are, Ma’am,” He handed one to Mrs. Avery. She placed it on her left temple. Paul took the wooden box, untied the green ribbon, and took out the token. Mrs. Avery gasped.

“It’s beautiful, Paul,” she said. “And such a wonderful job on such short notice.”

“Thank you, Ma’am,” he replied, a little embarrassed. He knew he had done a good job, but he was always self-conscious when someone else said it out loud. He placed the other patch onto the bottom of the token. The little metal soldier was silver on the outside, but on the inside there was a network of wires and chips just like the ones in the patch. The technology was first-rate; unlike in times past, Paul could now download wirelessly.

“Now, Mrs. Avery,” Paul took her shoulders, “Think about Mr. Avery. Think about the battle. Think about what you want to forget.” Mrs. Avery closed her eyes as tears streamed down her face. She was sobbing quietly. Paul took the token and the patch on it and pushed the very center of the patch, where he could feel a little button. Mrs. Avery winced. “It’s alright ma’am. Just a few seconds more. You’ll be fine!” He took her shoulders again. “Now concentrate!” He could see the red light within each patch start to flicker. “You are doing wonderfully ma’am. Tell me about the text you got this morning. What did it say?”

Tears seeped from her closed eyes. “It said,” her chest heaved with sobs. “It said… ‘Mrs. Avery, w-we regret to in-inform you,” she moaned. “…in-inform you that your hus-husband Henry – ” she cried out, whether in pain or grief Paul couldn’t tell –  “Henry A-Avery was killed in action… at 0700 on Sept-ember twelfth!” she cried out again, and doubled over, and then was very still. Paul saw the lights stop flickering, turning to a steady yellow.

“Mrs. Avery,” he said gently, patting her back, “The download is almost complete. I need you to think of a Keyword for the token. You need a way to access the memory if necessary. What’s a good Keyword for this memory?”

She didn’t answer, only moving her mouth in anguished expressions, no sound coming out.

“Mrs. Avery?” Paul asked again, more gently this time.

“Harry,” she whimpered. “The keyword is ‘Harry’.”

Paul nodded. “Very good.” The lights on the patches turned green. Mrs. Avery sat up.

“Is it done?” she asked. “Have I finished downloading?”

“Yes Ma’am, you have,” Paul smiled cheerfully, taking the patches off her temple and off of the token. “Now, tell me what you came here to forget.”

“I don’t know,” she said, and then began to laugh giddily. “I forget!” She touched her forehead. “Why… have I been crying?”

“Yes Ma’am,” answered Paul, gladdened by the success.

“How silly. Why on earth should I be crying? I do apologize, Paul. I know we’re on good terms and all, good acquaintances and all that, but I really shouldn’t be blubbing in your store,” she chirped, jumping down from the stool and reaching into her purse for some lipstick. “Did what I forget really make me cry that much?”

“Yes ma’am,” Paul smiled grimly, realizing that what she had forgotten had distressed him too. He made a mental note to download ‘Harry’ onto one of his own tokens later.

“Well, at any rate, the download worked. I don’t remember a thing. Is it this token?” She reached for the metal soldier.

“It is, Mrs. Avery. Let me box it for you,” Paul put it back in the green velvet. “Remember to put it in the Prison at home, otherwise you might remember again.”

“I thought downloads were failsafe,” Mrs. Avery pursed her lips.

“Usually they are, but every now and then people will remember a thought they’ve downloaded onto a token. It’s uncanny, really. The human brain is extraordinary.”

“That’s for sure,” Mrs. Avery shook her head. “Thank you Paul,” she took the box from him.

“You’re welcome, Ma’am. And should you need to upload the memory back from the token, remember that your keyword is ‘Harry’.”

“’Harry’,” Mrs. Avery replied. “That’s my husband’s name.” She furrowed her brow as Paul walked her to the door. “He’s fighting in the war, you know. Overseas.”

“Is he, now?” Paul’s voice broke.

“Yes. But he’s perfectly safe; he’ll be home for Thanksgiving Day. Cecil and I can’t wait!” She nodded goodbye and set off down the street.

“No ma’am,” Paul replied sadly, to himself. “I suppose you can’t.”

The Life and Times of a Sewing Machine

Hello everyone! 

Finals week is upon me soon and I have been super busy after the return to classes. I have some really fun literary stuff in the works, but for the time being I thought I’d share a short story I wrote a few years ago. It is a sort of ode to my trusty, 35+ year old sewing machine. Odd concept, to be sure, but I hope you enjoy. Happy Tuesday!

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My name is Athena. I am not the Roman goddess; I am better than she ever was. I can create beauty better than she ever could; I can make something out of nothing, which she never did.

My full name is Singer 1200 Athena, but I just go by Athena. I am a sewing machine. I was built in 1976 and am still going strong, because of course, I am an Athena. No other sewing machine works as well as I do. No other sewing machine is even a valid machine. They all refer to themselves by their middle names, which is a bothersome practice. I know a machine named Singer 2250 Tradition, and he goes by 2250. Does he really think I’ll go through the bother of remembering all those numbers? (The Traditions always were an odd family, so boxy and plastic, not sleek and shiny and sturdy like me.)

I am a warm, buttery yellow color with stylish brown panels and buttons and shiny silver knobs. My peers say that white is in vogue for machines now, which is positively ridiculous. Just seeing all those vain machines flashing their shiny plastic shells of pure white is laughable. How else do you say “Made in China”? Honestly. Butter yellow might be a little… vintage, but it practically screams dependability. I am no plastic shell. I’m built of sturdy steel within, with just one piece of plastic on the top to cover my, ahem, machinery. I have ten different stitch options, which include a leaf pattern, numerous zigzag stitches, and even one that looks like the Golden Gate Bridge. I also have multiple accessories: a clear buttonhole foot, a bulky blind hem foot, and several silver needle plates. I am as beautiful as my namesake, the Roman goddess Athena. Well, even more beautiful, because I can actually do something.

I can create dresses and blouses and skirts, curtains and pillows and purses. I can alter outdated clothing and repair broken seams. There is nothing I can’t do. Just last week, my Seamstress and I worked on a new dress for her. The fabric she chose was simply beautiful: a turquoise and white floral print that takes me back a couple decades. Very retro; I liked it. This was a pleasing pick from my Seamstress; she has a lot of sense. While 2250 and his Seamstress are using gaudy polka dot prints and neon color blocks, my Seamstress and are sewing with red floral calicoes, feathery white muslins, and delicate ivory lace. My Seamstress clearly has as good taste in fabrics as she does in sewing machines.

This turquoise cloth was for a retro dress she’s working on; I think she said she was for a 1940s dance she’s going to. It has a high waist, crossover bodice, fitted sleeves, and a gored skirt. She bought the pattern off the internet about a year ago and has made two other dresses from it, but the poor thing had no idea what she was doing when she worked on those dresses. Any merit those things could possibly have is because of me. The skirts were too long, the bodices too baggy, the waists too tight. My Seamstress, bless her heart, thinks she’s good at this stuff. (She was so proud of her first invisible zipper. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that the only reason that zipper is invisible is because I’ve been doing zippers since before that girl was born.) At any rate, this time I did my best work to insure that the dress turned out right. Of course, my Seamstress thought it was all her own skill that made the dress so beautiful, and I let her think it. That’s the way to keep Seamstresses happy; let them think they are better sewers than they actually are. It isn’t much fun at the time but in the long run they are more confident and patient and gentler with their machines.

There is nothing better than the sheer thrill of sewing. I love the gentle hum of my gears as they turn faster and faster and the pressure of my Seamstress’ foot on the pedal as my needle punches up and down, up and down (the sound of it doing this used to be so smooth, until one day my Seamstress got impatient and put me on full speed. I think she sprained one of my belts, and now my needle makes a clackity sound when it moves. I’m still trying to forgive her for this).

My favorite part of sewing, however, is the stitching itself. Every time is like the very first time I sewed, back when I was a young machine. I love the feel of each fabric as it speeds under my presser foot, as I punch the stiches into it, sturdy and tight. Silk is slippery but luxurious. Cotton is common but has so many colors. Linen is hardy and lovely. Knits are soft and cozy. Voile is a dream. Tulle is a nightmare. Each piece has its own feel and flavor: creamy silk from China, succulent brocade from India, sugary satin from the USA. Old fabrics, new fabrics, modern prints, and vintage ones. I can travel the world just by working with its cloths. They say that clothes make the man. Well, I make the clothes.

So you see, I am much better than the Roman goddess.

The Red Room

Happy Tuesday!

I wrote this short story earlier in the year. I got the idea one quiet winter day when I was all alone in one end of a rather large house that is not my own (don’t worry; I was allowed to be there… I don’t just pop in at strange houses :o). I wanted to explore the sense of strangeness when we are alone in unfamiliar surroundings and the way the brain works when we dream, how it pulls from our experiences and presents us with a combination of memory and imagination that is terrifying and amusing at the same time. So I hope you enjoy it!

Hall edited

The Red Room

Her eyes fluttered open, and for a moment all she saw was a blur of dark colors that looked like a watercolor gone wrong. She shut her eyes and took a deep breath. There was such an ache in her head, such an awful ache that wouldn’t go away. She opened her eyes again and tried to make sense of her surroundings. The room was dark, and rain beat against the curtained windows with the sound of a hundred heartbeats. Her head pounded. What an ache! What an awful ache that wouldn’t go away!

     She sat up and steadied herself. She was on the floor, flattened out on the soft, thick, creamy carpet. It smelled like roses. She looked over at the window curtained with heavy scarlet drapes that blocked out any light from outside. That’s why the room is so dark, she thought. She tried to stand up. The room tipped and her head hurt. What an ache! Why wouldn’t it go away? The rain beat mercilessly on the windows. The incessant pounding echoed in her brain. If only her head didn’t hurt so much!

     She took stiff, wobbly steps toward the window. The carpeted floor heaved up and down like earth during a quake. She began to fall. In desperation she reached out and grasped the heavy curtains, hanging onto them as if her life depended on it. She ran her fingers over the rich scarlet fabric. She could tell it was scarlet even in the dark, though she didn’t know how. This is velvet, she thought to herself. Velvet curtains. The owners must be rich. Then it occurred to her that she didn’t know who the owners of the house were. She didn’t know what house she was in. She had never been to this house before. She didn’t even remember going there in the first place. In fact, she remembered nothing before waking up on the soft creamy carpet. If that terrible headache would only go away, she might be able to remember!

      A feeling of helpless panic crept from her heart up to her throat and aching head. It paralyzed her feet and froze her hands. She was welded to the spot where she stood, arrested by a fear that was nothing more than an endless, bottomless chasm of emptiness. There was nothing in her mind, nothing but that horrible ache.

     She willed herself to move. In one sharp action she threw the curtains open. The window was long, reaching from the floor to the ceiling and made up of dozens of small, crystal clean panes. She looked out and saw nothing but dark gray fog and hundreds of raindrops dashing against the glass. It was evening, she determined, but there was nothing more she could tell.

     She turned back toward the room to look about. The window had let in little light, but enough that she could make out the room. It was shaped like a long rectangle. There were six windows, three on one wall and three on the opposite wall. They were all draped in scarlet velvet, and all of them were drawn except for the one she stood at. The walls were papered in a crimson that matched the curtains. A massive four-poster bed sat between the two walls. It was dressed with scarlet silk hangings and a matching silk duvet decorated with white ribbon roses. Next to the bed there was a dark wooden nightstand, and on it sat a lace doily and picture frames. She dashed over and grabbed at the photos like a madwoman, searching for a clue to where she was.

     But none of the pictures held any indications; there were no portraits of the house’s owners or any other people for that matter, only little nature scenes. One was a sketch of a bluebird perched upon a weathered wood fence, and one was a watercolor of purple daisies next to a similar fence. They were probably made by the same artist, she mused, setting them down. In the last frame was a photograph of two hemlock trees in the forest. A rocky stream ran between them, and the sun shone down onto their needles, which caught and filtered the light into brilliant rays that touched the earth gently. The scene was beautiful; it caught her by surprise. It looked so familiar, as if she had been in that very spot in the woods once, as if she herself had taken the picture. But that was impossible. She had never used a camera in her life; she had never been to the forest. She had never been anywhere but this Red Room, at least she thought so. Perhaps she had gone to the woods once, but she didn’t remember. If only her head didn’t hurt so much! If only she could remember!

     She put down the picture and turned, shivering. The pounding in her head had stopped, but a dull ache had taken its place. Maybe there was something she could take for the pain. Maybe there was someone else in the house who’d lend her some medicine. There might even be a doctor, she thought.

     She crept to the door. It was an old, heavy door, probably oak, with panels in it. It was painted white like the creamy carpet. Its knob was glass and faceted like a diamond. She reached out and grabbed it. It was cold as ice, and the sound it made when she turned it sounded like the shattering of icicles on a clear, frigid day.

     She pulled the door open slowly and peeked out. She was at the end of a long, windowless hallway where the walls were papered in rich textured burgundy and candles burned in iron sconces, casting eerie shadows on the shimmering crimson walls. My room is in its own wing, she thought, at the end of the house. For a second she wondered why she had called the Red Room hers, but the thought escaped her when a flash of lightning and clap of thunder made her jump. The storm outside was getting more violent, and so was the pain in her head.

     She took a deep breath and shut the door behind her. The hallway stretched long and endless before her. Now that she was in it she could see huge gilded frames on the walls. The paintings in them were more pastoral scenes, no likenesses of people. She wondered why the owners of the house didn’t have any portraits of themselves, or at least of their ancestors. She had thought that that’s what rich people with big houses did.

     As she walked on, the paintings became stranger. Not because of what they portrayed, but because of the sheer number of them. The walls were covered with frames, covered with scenes of barns and waterfalls and farms and animals, all lit by the eerily wavering candlelight. Every painting struck a chord with her; every scene reminded her of something. It was as if all her memories had been painted and put out on the walls for all to see. Except there was no one to see them, and none of the memories were in her head. Oh, why did she have this wretched headache? She couldn’t think!

     She felt as if she’d been walking for over an hour when she came to a door on her left. It was the first door she had come across since her own door. (Why did she call it her door anyway?) She turned back, wondering if she’d still be able to see it. The door to the Red Room was no more than a yard behind her. She shook her head and blinked. How weird; she could’ve sworn that she’d been walking in the hall for hours! It was the headache again, messing with her brain.

     She turned again to face this new door. It was like her own: heavy, paneled and white. The knob was different though, made of smooth glass, black as obsidian. She took it and turned it. The door swung open noisily. The owners should really take better care of their doors, she noted. The hinges need oil. She stuck her head into the room beyond.

     The room was small and had only two windows, unlike the Red Room. The curtains were silk, with a pattern of black and white diamond shapes so striking that they made her dizzy. The walls had a pattern of red and black hearts painted onto them. The shapes faced up and down, sideways and backwards, spinning and swirling until she wasn’t sure if the floor was the ceiling or vice versa. The black table and chairs in the center of the room were her only sources of orientation. She crept to the nearest chair and collapsed into it, burying her head in her hands while the colors and patterns spun and cavorted around her. Her head! Why did it have to hurt so much? Why couldn’t she think?

     She opened her eyes slowly, trying to ease herself into her overwhelming surroundings. I’ll look at the table first, she decided. I’ll study the table. Then I’ll look at the windows and get used to the windows. Then I will study the walls, but not too much. I can’t look at them too much. She let her eyes roam over the table, but not beyond its glossy black edges. The table was a long rectangle that extended from one side of the room to the other. There were matching chairs set at it, all empty. The table itself, however, was not. It was covered with millions of playing cards: Aces and Queens and Kings, Clubs and Hearts and Spades. The sight of them was dizzying, mimicking the motion of the walls and curtains, spinning her round and round and pushing her to and fro. She shut her eyes again. I hate this room! She screamed. Then she realized, for the first time, that for as long as she had been in the house she hadn’t said a word. She hadn’t even actually screamed. All her talking had been in her mind. That confused her, but it was a minor issue compared to the one at hand. She would think about talking after she got out of this horrible room.

      She willed her eyes open and stared down at the floor, hoping to see the creamy white carpet that had been in the Red Room. But instead, the floor was hard and painted, painted with the shapes of red and white spades. Her heart lurched. She stood suddenly and dashed toward the door in panic. She tripped on something, she didn’t know what, and fell onto her hands and knees. She moaned while the shapes danced and her head spun and the entire room seemed to be laughing at her, mocking her. She scrambled on all fours, her eyes fixed on the white door that was still open. She could see the hallway beyond, with all the ridiculous paintings plastered onto the wall. Her head felt as if it were split open. She wished she had stayed in the Red Room, in her room. She was almost to the door now. Why was her room red, anyhow? She didn’t even like red. At least, she didn’t think she did.

     She finally collapsed onto the floorboards of the hallway, the patterns of the Room of Cards still dancing wildly behind her. With one last burst of effort she grasped the obsidian handle and pulled the door shut with a resounding slam that echoed throughout the endless hallway. She threw herself against the hallway wall and covered her face with her trembling hands.

     When she finally calmed down the candles were burning low in the sconces and the shadows were growing darker. The air had grown colder, as if all heat had been sucked away. She reached for the obsidian doorknob and pulled herself up, slowly and stiffly. She wondered how long she had been sitting there. She felt as if she had fallen asleep.

     The hallway stretched on, as far as her eye could see. She contemplated going back to the Red Room to rest. The headache was still there. It annoyed her. Why wouldn’t it go away? I need to get out of this house, she thought. I don’t care what’s out there; I have to find a door and get out. She wondered again why she had thought these words instead of spoken them. I must not be able to talk, she decided. I don’t really want to anyway.

     She walked on, away from the Red Room and the horrible Room of Cards. She walked for a long time without coming upon another door. Her feet grew tired and her head began to throb with her tired pulse. Finally a door came into view. She ran to it eagerly. Perhaps this was the way out, or if not, perhaps there was someone who could show her the way! She grasped this door’s handle. It was made of stamped brass. It was cold in her hand, just like the door to the Red Room had been. She threw a glance toward the end of the hallway where she had just come from. The Red Room and the Room of Cards were only a few yards away.

     Her heart leapt to her throat and in fright she pushed open the new door. A new room greeted her, a huge one. Dark, glossy wooden floorboards were laid in a herringbone pattern that ran from her feet to the ends of the room, under a domed ceiling and crystal chandelier and past a great fireplace, until it met with burgundy walls. There was a roaring fire in the hearth, a fire that radiated warmth and light. This room was not like the Room of Cards. This room was friendly. Her head was feeling better; the throbbing was fainter now.

     She walked toward the center of the room. It’s a ballroom, she realized, and then she wondered what a ballroom was. There was something wrong, though. Ballrooms are supposed to be clear of furniture or obstacles to better make for dancing (Oh, that’s what a ballroom is). But in the middle of this dance floor, right under the chandelier, was a huge, polished grand piano. She knew what it was called before she remembered what it did, which was ridiculous. I’m losing my mind, she thought. I’ve never seen something like this before. How should I know what it’s called? She stroked the silky edge of the lid. Her fingers itched to touch the keys, and that frightened her. What would they do? They were black and white like the curtains in the Room of Cards. Would they spin and swirl and mock her too?

     She found herself sitting down on the soft cushioned bench. It was the strangest feeling in the world, as if her hands knew something she did not. Her fingers ran over the keys tenderly, exerting no pressure at all. The keys were smooth and cool. Ivory, she remembered suddenly, they’re made out of ivory.

     Her left hand automatically positioned itself. Her fingers set themselves upon the keys. She wondered what her hand was doing just as her right hand began to do the same thing. It found its place on the keyboard and waited for her command. She pursed her lips and studied her anticipating hands. Why don’t they move? She wondered. What are they waiting for? She exerted the tiniest bit of pressure, and suddenly her fingers began to move, pushing on the keys in an automated pattern like eerie clockwork. She was so surprised that for a moment she sat and stared as her hands kept on moving. Then slowly, she began to hear music. It wasn’t just a cacophony of keys being pounded upon; it was real, sweet, beautiful music, and she was making it.

     Her hands moved up and down the keyboard, trilling, harmonizing, singing. The sounds that came from the instrument were sounds she didn’t know a piano could make (how could she? She had never seen one before). The piano became a waterfall, a flock of singing birds, a thunderstorm, a summer breeze. The music wanted to make her laugh and cry and dance. Her heart welled with a feeling she couldn’t name.

     Then her heart stopped. A new sound had joined the sound of the piano. It was high and sweet and strong. She jerked her head swiftly from side to side, looking for the noise’s source in startled surprise. Her hands were still playing. What was that lovely noise? It complemented the piano perfectly. It was the mist to the waterfall, the plumage to the birds, the lighting to the thunderstorm, the perfume of the summer breeze. She held her breath; the sound stopped. She breathed in again, and it resumed. Then she realized that the sound was her own voice. She was singing. I can sing? It was beautiful. Where’d I learn to sing? It was the first time she had used her voice in this house. I need to get out of here. She must be dreaming. If only my head didn’t hurt so much!

      The singing stopped; the music stopped. She held her head. It was throbbing, and she was freezing. Her fingers were stiff and numb. No wonder they had stopped playing. She looked over to the hearth. The fire was reduced to a few glowing embers that were growing cold one by one. The heat was seeping out of this room, too, and the shadows were lengthening more and more. She was frightened. She couldn’t waste any more time in this horrible house. She had to leave.

      She raced down the corridor, away from the Red Room and the Room of Cards and the Ballroom. The air was getting colder and colder with each passing second. The candles in the sconces were burning out one by one. The hall behind her was drenched with darkness. Panic was beginning to overtake her, a fear she realized was unreasonable. But she ran faster, as if fear were something that could be outrun.

     A white door came into view on her right. She ran past it. I won’t waste my time on a nightmarish room. I need to find the front door. I need to get out of here. Another door was on her left. Does this house ever end? There were pictures all over the walls now, and they weren’t even in frames anymore. The walls were plastered with paintings and sketchings from the floor to the ceiling. She ignored them; she hated the sight of them. It was as if the walls were screaming to her, “Look at us! Look at our paintings! Aren’t we beautiful? Look at us!” They made her want to scream herself.

     Finally, a staircase going down. She grabbed the banister and jumped down two steps at a time. The lights in the hall behind were all extinguished, and the ones in the windowless stairwell were quickly being snuffed out. It was as if a Shadow was chasing her through the mad corridors. Her only option was to keep running.

     She got to the bottom of the staircase and found herself in a wide entry-like room. There was a huge red Persian rug in the center, and the rest of the room was taken up by clocks. Grandfather clocks, mantle clocks, cuckoo clocks and pocket watches all ticked together in perfect unison. It was enough to drive anyone mad. She clamped her hands over her ears. Her head throbbed with every resounding tick. The Shadow was on the staircase behind her, and the air was tinged with the scent of ice. Her eyes roved over the room, desperately searching for a window.

     There was only a door. Tall, white, and with a steel handle. She shivered, but the Shadow was behind her. She had no choice. She dashed across the room and pushed the door open, throwing it shut behind her. She could feel the Shadow against the door; the door grew cold as It tried to get in. But she wouldn’t let that Shadow get any further. She pushed the lock on the handle. The Shadow couldn’t get in now. She was safe.

     She turned to assess this new room. It was unlike any other in the house: it was completely white. The floor underfoot was made of shiny white tiles. The walls were painted white, with a feathery gray and white patterned border that ran around like a ribbon. The room had no windows but was brightly lit by harsh, sterile florescent light overhead. The place was empty except for a cluster of white curtains in the center. She took a step forward. The air was cold, but not icy. It was a coldness that was simply a sanitized emptiness. No warmth, not softness, no comfort. Just hard, sanitary emptiness.

     The air smelled odd. She sniffed and tried to place the scent. It was so familiar! But what could it be? She stepped forward and touched the thin white curtain. I know that smell. It’s the smell of something clean, no… she sniffed the curtain, it’s the smell of something that was dirty, that someone is trying to make clean. Disinfectant. It’s disinfectant. The curtain was drenched in that strong smell; in fact, the room was reeking with it now. Where is it coming from? Her head was hurting again. She pushed the curtains aside to reveal a white, cold, sterile bed. It was an odd bed, not at all like the sumptuous one in the Red Room (My room, I miss my room). This bed was metal, with weird white gates that rose up on either side, like a cage to keep someone out.

     Or maybe to keep someone in, she leaned in closer. The bed was empty, neatly made with a thin white blanket and pillow. She cocked her head and circled around it, puzzled. She had never seen such an odd bed. Oh wait, yes I have. It’s a hospital bed. She ran her finger over the plump pillow. What’s a hospital, anyway? She touched the clean white side table that had a little pot of purple orchids on it. Orchids, I like orchids. Especially purple ones. It’s nice to have color in a white place like this. I always said that if I were ever in the hospital they should get me purple orch –

     She stopped and bent down. Her heart was pounding and her head had begun to hurt again. (Why won’t this terrible headache go away?) The orchids. Purple orchids. She did like them, so much. They were her favorite flower. Purple was her favorite color. She hated red. (Why is my room red if I hate red?) And somebody knew she like purple orchids. Somebody had gotten them for her. This was a hospital bed; this was a hospital room. She was in it. She was in the hospital. And someone had gotten her purple orchids.

     She gently stroked the delicate flower petals, and then she stopped in shock. When did that get there? She looked at her left hand. Where did that come from? She held her fingers up to her face. Was that there this whole time? It was a ring on her third finger. It was a silver band that circled around her finger in intricate curls and weaves that surrounded a single, tiny diamond. At least, that’s what she thought the stone was called. It was white.

     She had forgotten about the ring. She had forgotten she even owned it, that it was even on her finger. She wondered how she could have forgotten it. Looking at it made her happy, warm, content. She smiled and tasted salt on her lips. She reached up and touched her face. It was wet. She was crying.

     What is this? What am I crying for? She didn’t know she was capable of crying. She didn’t know what crying was until she had done it. Why should I be so sad? She looked that the ring again, hoping it would bring up the joyful feelings again. But she only tasted more tears, and her shoulders began to shake. She cried harder and harder until she was sobbing, and she still didn’t know why.

      Her head had ached during her whole time in this awful house, but now it throbbed more and more with each sob. She had never hurt so much in her life, at least not that she could remember. The pain was excruciating. The pain made her angry. She wanted an explanation. Why did she have such a headache? Why was she crying? Where was she? She wanted to go home!

      “Home,” she moaned, not noticing the sound of her own voice. She collapsed onto the white bed. She needed a rest. She needed to sleep. Maybe if she slept her head would stop hurting. Maybe she’d understand what was going on. She’d rather go to her own room and rest, but it was so far away. And the Shadow was outside too; she’d have to outrun It and she was too tired to run. And anyway, her room was red. She hated red.  She burrowed underneath the thin white blanket and snuggled against the plump white pillow. She shut her eyes. Sleep came upon her like a piece of granite.

     She slept on for hours and hours, or at least it seemed so to her. It was the best sleep she had ever had, from what she could remember, which wasn’t much. As time went on she heard voices, distant, echoing in her brain. She propped one eye open. All she saw was a blur of dark colors that looked like a watercolor gone wrong. She closed her eyes again. Her head still hurt. She slept again. More hours passed. She slept more.

     It felt like days, weeks, or years later when she felt herself coming back into consciousness. She could hear the voices again, becoming clearer and clearer. She had been swimming in the deep waters of sleep and was slowly coming back to the surface. The one voice was very intelligible now; it was youthful and deep. A man’s voice, she decided, though she didn’t know what a man was. Oh wait, yes she did.

     “It’s been three weeks now,” the man said anxiously. Her heart skipped a beat. That voice! She knew that voice!

     “There’s still hope,” answered another voice, a woman’s voice, but I don’t know it. “It happens all the time. They’re under for weeks or even months and then they come back.”

     “What if she doesn’t come back?” asked the man. Oh! I know him! I know I do! “It’s been so long already.” Ugh, who is he? Why can’t I remember? “Three weeks. For three weeks the clock has ticked and the hours have passed and she hasn’t shown any sign of coming back.” Who is he? If this wretched headache would only leave me alone!

     “She will,” reassured the woman’s voice. “I promise, she will.”

     “Don’t make promises you can’t keep,” he retorted dejectedly. He’s crying now. Why is he crying? I don’t want him to cry!

     “Listen to me,” the woman’s voice grew firm. “She’ll come through it. The doctor specializes in cases like this. And he’s very hopeful. She’ll come through. Just stay positive. Be strong, be strong for her.”

     “I’m sorry I snapped at you like that.” The man sniffed and cleared his throat. “It’s just hard to put a brave face on something like this.”

     “I understand; believe me I do.”

     “I just can’t believe it,” his voice was shaking. “We were on our way to New York, you know, visiting the museums and concert halls. She wanted to see The Met. She loves art, you know. Her favorite art is nature stuff, like Monet. She can draw pretty well herself, too. She’s done all these paintings, mostly woods or animals or flowers. Never people. She says she can’t do them well enough. She takes awesome pictures, though. I’ve always told her she should be a professional at it.”

     There was a squeak of chairs as the woman sat down.

     The man went on. “She wanted to see a Broadway play, in New York. She loves music. She’s an amazing musician. Her piano playing could put any of those concert guys to shame. This one time, she was playing at a wedding. Her cousin’s, I think. There was supposed to be a singer, too; they had rehearsed together the night before. But at last minute the singer got sick. I don’t remember how. But she… she sang in that singer’s place; she sang and played. It was beautiful. She was so beautiful.” He began to cry again. No, no, please don’t cry! It hurts me when you cry! Stop!

     “But anyway.” He composed himself. “That was gonna be our big trip, New York. Our summer vacation. Last summer we went to visit my brother in Florida. He’s got a house on the beach. We stayed there for a week on the beach; it was great. We stayed up all night playing cards until we were so tired we laughed ourselves silly. She hated that, though. The cards. She could never understand Poker or anything. She always lost, never even had beginner’s luck. She claimed that the cards were mocking her.” He took a deep, shaky breath. “Maybe they were. Maybe they were unlucky cards.”

      “Now now, don’t say that,” said the woman. “There’s no such thing. She’ll come through, just wait and see. And next year you can take another vacation, another wonderful vacation.”

     His voice quivered. “Maybe, I don’t know. I can’t go through that again! I can’t do that again!”

     “What do you mean?”
“The car! The car was all torn and twisted and crushed! And she was inside it! Why couldn’t it have been my side? Why couldn’t she have been driving, instead of me? My side was fine! I had a few scratches and bruises, but otherwise I was fine! It was just that idiot on her side; I’d wring his neck if he were still alive. I’m almost glad he’s not.”

     The woman was silent.

     “But it was horrible!” His voice trembled sadly, angrily. “The car all twisted, she all bloody, all… all hurt.” His voice reduced to a whisper. “Her head was hurt, really bad. Covered in blood. I’ll never look at the color red the same way again.”

     I don’t like red either! But my room is red, and I hate it! I hate it!

     “I don’t know what to do,” he admitted, sounding lost. “What if she doesn’t wake up?”
“She will,” the woman said, her voice shaking. “She will.”

     He began to answer, but stopped, choking on his words. Please don’t be sad! Please don’t cry! I love you! Please don’t cry!

     Her head was hurting again, pressing, pounding, burning. She felt herself drifting back into sleep. No, please no! I need to talk to that man! I know that man! I love that man! She was being pulled under, into the deep again, into the dark water. She thrashed and struggled and squirmed. Her head pounded with the rhythm of her heartbeats. Please don’t send me back into that house! I don’t want to go back! It’s so quiet! I’m so alone! Please!

     Her eyes fluttered open, and for a moment all she saw was a blur of dark colors that looked like a watercolor gone wrong. She shut her eyes and took a deep breath. There was such an ache in her head, such an awful ache that wouldn’t go away. She opened her eyes again and tried to make sense of her surroundings. The room was dark, and rain beat against the curtained windows with the sound of hundred heartbeats. Her head pounded. What an ache! What an awful ache that wouldn’t go away!