Hello all

This is a story I submitted to my How Writers Writer Fiction MOOC

The Sum of all Sorrows

Lou sat by the window, rubbing the red mark on her face.  She stares out the window through her disappearing reflection, rivers of rain filling the empty spaces.

‘Sometimes I don’t even like you,’ she whispered.

***

When their mother was angry she spoke a different language.  Face brittle, neck tight, eyes narrowing, their milky blue brightening with tears, their mother spoke in splinters of glass.  Later, sometimes years later, a splinter of glass would work its way to the surface, or worse, lie just beneath, irritating and spoiling.  Lou drank then.  It seemed to work, softening the edges, the scotch forming a deadly alliance with the beer.

Their mother sat rubbing the arm of their father’s chair.  There were always ashes on his chair and, where he’d let the cigarette burn down once, a small black scar – not unlike the ones on his shirts and ties. “It’s not like I didn’t take care of him – no it wasn’t me.  He loved me I know he did. He forgot about us, just walked away and forgot”.

Then she’d start to cry.

It was worse on some days.  They’d come home from school and find her lying on the floor.  Though they tried to wake her, she didn’t move, didn’t seem to breathe.  They’d cry and push her arms, pull her hair, the long plait. Once they ran next door, got Mrs Freeman to come over and help.   Their mother was sitting in the chair watching TV when they came back.  She didn’t look surprised, only smiled at them and asked Mrs Freeman if she wanted a drink.  “Too early for me, dear,” she said and walked out without looking at them. They’d kept their heads down that night, staying in their room, doing their homework or trying to read.

Sometimes they found a note when they came home from school.

 Pretend I’m dead.  What would you do? 

They looked everywhere, wondering if she was watching them from some dark place.  In the end, they’d held each other tightly in the corner of the living room.  They were still there when she came in, whispering half a song, body sagging, shopping bags hanging from her arms.

***

Lou was last.  She wasn’t the oldest, or the smartest, or the one who got to wear the new dress first.  It took her a while, but she liked being the baby, liked having Claire for a big sister.  Claire came first; she was always in front. Only rarely did Claire seem to turn around, as if to check that Lou was still there.  Lou always was.

“I was the favourite for a couple of years, then it was your turn,” Claire said once as she combed the tangles from Lou’s hair.  Lou didn’t know what she meant.  How could she be the favourite when nothing was ever good enough?

“Where’s the other point,” their mother would say when Lou brought home an almost” perfect” grade.

Lou and Claire were always sent to bed early.  They ate dinner around 5 and were usually in their room by 6.  In the summer they would peak out the windows, watching their friends riding bikes in the street. They whispered and giggled together until late. Once, after it got really dark, they climbed out the window.  Holding hands, they walked down to the glen at the bottom of their road and sat on the damp grass watching the glow-worms.

Claire hated to be late for anything.  At night, she’d put her school clothes on under her pyjamas. She’d get early, make breakfast for Lou and a cup of coffee for their father.  He left for work before they went to school and most days he wasn’t home until very late at night.

Claire and Lou liked to watch their father shave in the morning.  They stood in the doorway of the steaming bathroom, watching him wipe the mist from the mirror. They loved the smell of his soap and the way he moved his tongue around inside his cheek.  Sometimes they’d talk about what was happening at school.  Lou stand close to Claire, both of them leaning against each other in the doorway.  Once, when he was finished shaving, he picked Lou up, carrying her over one shoulder.  Claire stood on his feet, holding tight around his waist.  The three of them walked back to the kitchen like that, laughing.  Their father drank his coffee standing at the bench.

Sometimes, if it was raining hard or really cold, he’d drive them to school.  They always got there too early on those days.  Claire waited with Lou on the bench until their friends arrived. After school they always walked home together.

Late one night, their mother stood in the doorway of their room, the hall light framing her thin body.  Her long black hair was pulled tight off her face, the plait hung down her back.  ‘There’ll be another one soon,’ she’d said and walked away.

Lou wasn’t sure what she meant.  Claire told her.  Their new baby would cry and wear nappies.  They played ‘big sisters’, made up names for their baby, imagining what she’d be like.  They knew it would be another girl, just like them.  Lou was going to be in the middle.  All through that wet winter she’d thought about the baby.  It was her’s, her baby.  Lou would take care of the baby, just like Claire took care of Lou.

Some time later, on a rainy Saturday, their mother came inside.  She didn’t take off her wet coat.  She sat in the chair in the living room for the rest of the day, until it got dark and the room grew cold, until they were hungry and too afraid to turn on the lights.  Claire kept Lou in the kitchen with her; she opened a tin of soup and made toast for them.

Their mother was still sitting there when their father came home late from work.  ‘It was busy,’ he’d said. ‘Lots of people in the shop’.  Their mother was still sitting there much later, when their father went off to bed.

No one talked about the baby again.  It was like the very idea of her was wrapped up tight, like damp potato peelings in a newspaper ready to be thrown away. Their mother seemed hollow after, like a shell made out of sand. The house was always quiet.  Their father left early in the morning and mostly they were asleep when he came home late at night.  Lou couldn’t remember exactly when he’d stopped coming home at all.

*****

After a while, Lou could only remember details of their father, the small scar that cut through his eyebrow, a pattern of freckles on his arm.  No matter how hard she tried she couldn’t conjure up the whole.  She found herself remembering photos.  Their father was made of smoke.   Somehow, even without the new baby, Lou stayed in the middle, like the space between the words on a page, between the before and the after.

***

Lou thought Claire was beautiful.  She liked it when strangers came up to her in the street, or in places she’d never been before and said, “Hey! You must be Claire’s sister.  Gee you two look so alike.”  Everyone liked Claire.  Lou always felt good when they were together.

At first, when Claire left home, she called everyday.  She promised Lou could come and stay.  Claire was saving up so they could go on holiday together.  Lou didn’t like having their room all to herself.  She didn’t like coming home to the quiet house.

Then one day Claire didn’t call.  After a while, Lou hitched a ride to town.  The landlord let her in. There was an envelope with Lou’s name on it on the table.  Lou read her sister’s words, knew that she was gone.  She heard the cars drive passed, the rain falling. Lou lost herself in grief, let it stretch the boundaries of her skin.

Lou started to stay out late.  She waited outside the pub for one of the boys, or some man, to bring her a bottle and they’d go off together, down to the glen, to the glow-worms. Her mother would be waiting up for her, sitting in her father’s chair, every light in the house blazing.  Sometimes Lou didn’t come home at all.

***

Holding the death notice tightly in her hand, Lou moved carefully, across the room.  Across to the place where her father was, where they’d put him.  She was in the middle of a family, his new family, the one he’d walked into, all ready made.

She walked past the laughing, drinking men.  These were their father’s new friends, people she’d never met.  There were photos of the new family on the piano, newspapers and books on the table next to a big chair.  She knew it was his chair, his ashtray and the sagging pillows.  There was a small burn mark on one of the arms.

Lou walked to the table where they kept the bottles.  She poured herself a drink, not looking at what she poured, only caring how much.  When she drank, she’d wonder what he was like – this father of hers.  She couldn’t really remember.  Were his eyes brown or blue?   It wouldn’t be right to lean over and open his eyes, not now when everyone was watching, not later, at the church.

Her mother’s funeral had been different.  It was just Lou and a few people from the hospital.  The service was short.  Lou read a poem and held an old photo of the four of them.  In the photo, Lou and Claire stand in front of their parents, holding hands.  They are wearing the identical coats and hats.  Lou’s gloves are blue, Claire’s are yellow.  Her mother wears a grey coat with a red scarf; she stands behind them, smiling into the sun.  Her father has one arm around her mother, the other hand slightly behind Claire, Lou can just make out the curl of cigarette smoke rising.  His head is turned towards their mother, like he’s whispering something in her ear.  Lou thought she could see the small scar.  There is a lake in the background but Lou can’t remember where they were that day.  She placed the photo in her mother’s coffin and kissed her goodbye.

***

A car drives past; the noise of the tyres on the wet road startles her.  The rain makes the room seem colder.

‘Come on baby, come back to bed.’

‘Don’t call me that.  Don’t call me baby.’  Lou pulls her bathrobe tighter.

‘Look just come to bed. I said I was sorry. What do you want me to do, write it in blood’?

‘Don’t exaggerate.’

‘Another thing I do wrong huh huh!  Christ! Nothing’s good enough for you. Bitch’

‘Oh God please not again’, she thinks.

‘You’re not that bad’, she hears herself say.  She knows her part by now.

‘So ya do like me’

Lou nods, looks away.

‘A lot’?

‘Yeah,’ reluctantly.

‘You love me – don’t you?’

It isn’t really a question but she knows the script and answers anyway.

‘A bit.’

‘Just a bit?’

‘Yeah’.

‘Which bit?  Which bit do you like best…?’  He grabs her head, pulling it down.

‘Cut it out – it’s not about that.’

‘Isn’t it.  Hell. Isn’t it just…’

‘Stop it…’

‘Come on baby – do it for me.’

‘Let go of me.’

‘Come on,’  He growls, forcing her down.

‘No stop.’

‘You like it. Come on. You like it baby.

‘You’re hurting me – let go’.

***

Later, Lou sits by the window. She stares through her disappearing reflection; rivers of rain filled the empty spaces.

‘Sometimes I don’t even like you,’ she whispers.

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from the August 2013 earthquakes

Here’s my August earthquake email… 

Hello all

While the overseas news services reported yeserday’s earthquake in Christchurch the “capital of the South Island”, there’s usually only one capital per country (even here) – and Wellington ‘s ours.  I expect the government is thinking about shifting the capital elsewhere at the moment – because then they wouldn’t have to work here.  There was a great news item about the Minister of Civil Defense jogging back to Parliament from the airport this afternoon after the earthquake struck.  She’s a young and fit (and politically very conservative) woman – though it would have been at least a 45 minute run over hills and through constituencies that voted for the opposition as she probably wouldn’t have gone the short route – around the bays (tsunami risk)

It was a “shallow 6.5 quake” shallow being the key word here – in the Seddon area again!! – possibly felt in Christchurch – but definitely rocked Wellington .  Seddon’s a dot of a town at the top of the SI – significantly (in so many seismic ways) closer to Wellington than Christchurch .

So Christchurch was spared this time.  The earthquake that broke our still un-repaired Chch in 2011 (not that they haven’t had others since)  was only 6.3 but very shallow and almost directly underneath Chch. 185 people died – many in one collapsed (and since shown to be very poorly built) concrete office building.  They had an even bigger – though less damaging-  shake (7.1) a couple of months before (we felt that one in Wellington ).   The 6.3 was an aftershock of that December quake ..  They then had aftershocks (some severe) for more than a year afterwards – I expect there are a lot of serious personality disorders in the making there.

So little ones all day yesterday – well we think of them as little now 3.5, 3.8, 2.3 then around 2:38 pm  whopping (and very shallow  and again in Seddon) – 5.7 iinstantly upgraded to 6.6 then down to 6.5 – who cares I say – it was bloody awful!!!

We were on the 13th floor – continuous movement for about 40 seconds followed by big aftershocks – I was facilitating a meeting – it was strange – all 10 of us bonding under a hardboard table as the whiteboards moved around the room – and the portraits of previous union presidents tilted forwards and banged back –  very Dr Who-ish.

Ended up taking 3 people to the airport – when we were finally let go.  When we got down the sometimes swaying staircase from the 13th floor to my car (in the underground carpark) – Here’s my asides – I quickly changed out of heels (I am never wearing heels again EVER!!- the walk down the staircase was terrible – though I probably looked great doing it)  into my tramping boots.  It’s also the last time I will park my car in the basement – the hell with the free park!! –

Normally the airport run is a 15 minute ride from work – yesterday it took over 90 minutes – fortunately we were one traffic light in front of the gridlock and 3 cars behind a firetruck.  One of my passengers lives in Christchurch – she was totally freaked out (I know that’s a dated statement – but there is no other way to describe her) – the other two were from Auckland and not much better – with no such excuse.  I admit  I’m most calm and in control when others are panicking – on my own I’m a complete Nelly!!)

One of the strangest things about yesterday’s was I was that I was about to write an email to my friend Isabel (who has just resurfaced after what I hope was an idyllic holiday) from my phone just as the quake hit this afternoon.   The intensity level flashed up on my phone and so I have joined the ranks of those who text under the table.  Fortunately my children have also started sending me – “we’re okay” texts – though it took a while for Sarah to get to school to pick the kids up.  The teachers stay behind until the parents come (even at high schools)

We’re all tuned in to Geonet now here – like a pack of mongooses (mongeese ?) caught in a headlight -all of us obsessively wanting to know the make of the car that’s about to run us over.   We even have our own earthquake scale – I find a it a little terrifying (just reading it is bad enough – let alone experiencing it).  It’s called the Modified Mercalli (sounds like a surgical procedure or a wrestling hold). You too can get instant updates though I’d set it to over 5 unless you want to be inundated with updates http://www.geonet.org.nz/quakes/region/wellington/felt –

This ‘period of seismic activity’ is very unusual – a quaint way to describe it perhaps- makes it sound like Ma Nature is premenstrual (which I suppose is better than menopausal!).  We’ve had big bumps in the past of course – but not this big.  In betweej the July shakes and today’s there have been quite a few aftershocks – but most of them weak or slight.

The July ‘episodes’ (and today’s) were severe and YES my friend – of course I knew there were earthquakes – though naively thought they were just like the ones in SF – and not like the ones in Japan or Chile – that was until Chch.  It’s a bit like asking a tourist if they knew about the tsunamis in Bali or the rapes in Chicago or the avalanches on Mt Cook (a climber died there on Sunday).

The aftershocks have settled down for the moment- like being in a boat (guess that’s why they call it liquifaction maybe) – still unsettling – we had a 5.4 aftershock.  Last night was punctuated by a shitty bunch of 4s – we just had a 3.5 as I write this.

My sister keeps texting me to come back – though I expect with the hurricane season due to start she has worries of her own.

Oops there’s another little but long-ish sway – at the moment life is reduced to wondering about whether or not to take the earthquake kit into the bathroom while I take a shower.

Strangely we’re in the middle of a food festival – wittily entitled – Wellington on a Plate!!

Techtonically yours

S

Earlier this year I participated in a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) through the University of Iowa Writing School – and hey it was free and populated by some amazing and inspiring poets from all over the world – including a disproportionate number of Kiwis.  It was great and over time I’ll post some of the poems.  I just started another MOOC from U Iowa How Writers Write Fiction.  Unlike the poetry course where I actually had to create something new for each module – I do have about five unfinished short stories in the drawer of unfinished things (third drawer down in my dresser of infinite possibilities, right under the drawer of difficult but avoidable conversations and over the drawer of unfinished knitting and quilting projects).  The double top drawer (in case you were wondering) contains clothing that no longer fits but may again some day and to be done lists from unfinished (or not started) projects.

It may be a finished story – but then maybe that means it is – or it could be the outline for a longer work.  The story (long or short) is based on a true story – if any stories are true – or maybe they all are – about a hermit who lived in Karamea at the top of New Zealand’s South Island.

Here’s Parrots in Peru ( V3)

Parrots in Peru

Staring into the silvered bathroom mirror, Paul cups his hands under the tap and quickly splashes hot water onto his face.  Lathering up with the worn brush, he scrapes his father’s old razor across his skin, wincing as he nicks his chin.  Paul carefully rinses the razor placing it back in the now mouldy chipped glass where it’s sat for as long as he can remember.  It’s early morning.  Paul’s mother hasn’t started screaming yet.

Walking into the kitchen, he sits at the table, looking out the window, across the familiar lawn to the big tree and the bush beyond.  His mother enters the room wearing her black suit and carrying her hat.  She glances idly at Paul, as if he were a familiar watch, or a magazine in the dentist’s office. The storm is closer now.  First the lightning – Paul counts slowly, waiting,then the thunder.  A tearing sound followed by a sharp crack.

‘Met anyone yet?’  She asks as she starts breakfast, slicing bread.  ‘No I guess not.  Not that you’d tell me anyway.’  Not waiting for his reply, she cuts another slice.‘Most of your friends have kids already.  Your dad would have liked that.’

‘We’ll be late if we don’t hurry.  Are you going to change?  Paul, are you listening to me?  Paul!’

Paul presses his back against the chair and stares down at his hands. His mother is screaming now, Paul can barely understand her words. She throws down the knife and turns away from him, crying. She knows he has no intention of changing – changing anything at all.

The others go off to the pub afterwards.  Paul and his mother return to the house.  She hangs up her coat.  Taking off her hat, she smoothes the veil back over the dusty brim and places it on the hall table.  She walks over to the dining-room cupboard and takes a bottle off the shelf.  Grabbing  a glass, she carries them both easily in one hand.  ‘I’ll just go lie down for a bit,’ his mother says.    Paul watches her walk heavily from the room.

Later on, Paul goes upstairs and grabs his pack.  He knocks on the door of what is now only his mother’s bedroom and waits in the hall. There is no answer.

Carefully closing the front door, Paul walks quickly, eyes forward, ignoring the heavy rain. The sky, dark at mid-day, is lit by lightning flash, the ground vibrates with thunder.  Paul wanted to go to his father’s funeral, even if they hadn’t spoken for years.

————–

The road is empty. As the car leaves the shade of the trees, sun-strike turns the windscreen black.  At first, Cara thought the hills lush like elephants rolling under a blanket – dominating and velvet – like sex.  They’d had time to be together then, walking the hills that now seemed barren and confining.  Cara drives slowly home, reluctant to return to the almost tedious chaos.  ‘It’s all temporary,’ she thinks.  ‘Everyone is heading for a place where they think they will stay – until they move on to the next best thing.’

While her eyes remain fixed on the winding road, her thoughts drift to obsessively read stories; tales of navigators sailing single-handed through stormy southern oceans with only the barest essentials – wax-covered eggs and rusty alarm clocks. She remembers a friend, an ‘almost-lover,’ half a world away.  Richie, like Cara, was born in New York City – the Capital of the Devil – the kind of city where you take your chances.  His parents were the ultimate survivors of concentration camp beginnings.  They arrived, without even a suitcase, and soon became prosperous merchants of an alien god; selling statues of saints to a myriad of displaced Irish Catholics.  When they died, too young, they left their only son both an apartment building, and an irrational fear of crossing the water.  Once, Cara and Richie thought each the other’s evil twin.  Now they exchanged birthday cards, Facebook likes and the occasional phone call.  A relationship easily picked-up from wherever last left.

Cara drives on autopilot, vaguely acknowledging the turn-off by the bus shed, the narrowing before the one-way bridge, the cattle-stop by the front gate.  It all feels mildly claustrophobic.  No matter how far she drives she’ll still be here.  Cara fights the urge to go back to New York – where distance is measured in city blocks – 20 to the mile.

—————-

‘Hurry up, he’ll be here any minute’.

His mother sounds tired again.   Paul has just finished mowing the lawn.  His father will be home soon.  Paul’s father works the early shift down at the works.  Finishing at 4, he always stops at the pub before coming home.   His father likes the porch swept and the lawn kept short, often mown twice a week if it’s been raining.  He likes the yard kept tidy.  These are Paul’s jobs.  Paul is seven years old.

Paul’s father walks carefully up the drive, he places one foot directly in front of the other, as if walking a tightrope.  He doesn’t stop to look at the lawn, entering the house he ignores Paul.  Paul quietly moves to the far side of the room.  His mother comes out of the kitchen carrying his father’s dinner.

‘What again! Don’t I work hard enough to eat better than this slop.’  He grabs the plate, throwing it against the wall.  ‘Clean up that bloody mess you lazy cow.’

‘Look what you’ve done you old bastard.’

Paul’s mother is screaming.  Her face is red.  His father grabs her arm, pinching the skin hard, twisting her arm behind her back.  He slaps her, cutting her lip with his ring.   Paul sits very still, as if willing himself smaller.

‘What are you lookin’ at – little shit.’

‘Stop it. Leave her alone.’  Paul launches himself at his father, punching him with soft fists.  He knows he has nothing to lose.  It’s his turn next.

His father’s eyes narrow to slits – there is spittle on his chin.   Grabbing Paul’s hair, he punches him in the head.  Paul falls to his knees.  His father hits him – again and again.  Pulling off his heavy leather belt, he beats Paul.  Paul tastes blood in his mouth.  He hears his mother crying then screaming.

When they’re in bed, Paul runs out of the house.  He runs through the bush – until there is nothing in his head.

——————-

An extremely fit man, Paul often runs for hours at a time.  In the years since his father’s death, he has been living very much alone in a small hut at Mt Herbert, near Karamea.  He lives simply, seldom going into town for supplies, preferring instead to improvise – or do without.  He keeps himself to himself.  Late in the day, if there’s time, he reads until the light is gone.  He likes watching the sunsets – the sky filled with orange, the sun outlining the tops of the darkening clouds in white light.

While living on the mountain, Paul suffers two freak accidents – well actually one freak accidenttwice.  On both occasions, while standing in the doorway of his hut, he is struck by lightning.  The first time, Paul feels an incredible flash of heat.  When it ends, he finds that his shirt is burned, his hair singed.  The second time he is not so lucky.  The lightning strikes as he stands staring down into the valley boldly lit by the storm.  Paul’s arm is badly broken.  He somehow makes it down into town where he spends time recovering in hospital.  When he is well enough, a nurse finds him a job looking after the hospital grounds.  Paul likes autumn; he enjoys the smell of leaves burning.

—————-

The car rattles over the cattle-stop. The drive and lawn, covered in still wet leaves, look flat.  The lack of easy boundaries makes Cara nervous. Dragging herself from the warmth of the car, she manoeuvres around the dead lawn mowers, rusty rakes, and twisted bikes, pushing.  She open the never-locked door.

The kitchen is, as usual, a mess.  Cara looks resignedly at the long table littered with a garish glitter of sugar, uncovered jam jars, sticky spoons and greasy knives, scraps of burnt toast congealing in spilt milk, and what must have been every damn coffee cup in the house. An accusingly empty cake tin, its faded bluish top commemorating Elizabeth’s coronation, lies on the sink bench. Remnants of a day of idle grazing.

Cold ash litters the hearth.  The pile of clay on the pottery wheel is crusted.  Two cats, too old now to be kittens, play in the potato bin. On the stove a promising pot; something red, possibly soup, but more likely glaze.

Cara smiles at Mark as he enters the kitchen.  She watches him fill the jug and look around for a clean cup.  Mark, too briefly, touches her shoulder.  He is on the phone talking non-stop.  He’s on a roll – to someone who will be having difficulty getting a word in – assuming they are listening at all.  Cara knows it will be yet another interchangeable, half-baked scheme; soaps for Avon, tacky nightlights.  The others, like dusty apprentices, follow him into the room.  Mark and Cara are seldom alone any more.    Cara looks around at what has become her family.  ‘Meltdown,’ she thinks, ‘ground zero in the nuclear kitchen’.

—————–

Paul has a new job.  He looks after other people’s houses when they are away; tending their gardens and feeding their cats. He is working on a life-style farm further up the Karamea River Valley.  The farm has an unusual microclimate and Paul spends much of his time caring for the exotic plants that grow there.

Paul teaches himself to use the computer; learns to ‘surf the net’.  He’s read about a man who advertised for a wife and got 40 answers to his ad – eventually picked the best one. Paul thinks this would be a good way to meet someone.  He makes a list, as if trying to decide which washing machine to buy, except that he’s never bought a washing machine – or anything else much really – before. He decides to place an ad in the paper.

‘Tall, but not too tall.  Not like my mother – that’s for sure’.  He keeps those particular worms inside the can where they belong.

Paul reads his ad to the woman who answers the phone.

Thoughtful, kind man (30) enjoys the sound of the wind – seeks a woman to share his life – email waiting@hotmail.com.

‘Is that all love?  You can have 5 more words’

‘That’s it.’

‘You know for another $10 and it can go in all the major dailies?’

‘Dunno.’

‘Oh go on.’

‘Okay – why not? Can’t hurt anything can it?’

—————

Cara walks into the lounge.  She needs a drink (too many lately) or a place without footprints, handprints, or bloodstains.  Picking the newspaper off the floor, she opens it, as always, to the Personals.

———–

Paul receives just one reply to his ad, but it’s enough.  Soon, he relies (like a drug) on Cara’s emails.  Their letters are longer now – filling pages.  Paul writes about the garden or riding his bike from Waitati to Dunedin to see Star Wars when he was 10.   Cara writes about arguments at work, the parrots in Peru.  He tells her about Mt Herbert – well, some of it anyway.  She writes back about the poetry of the Uncertainty Principle.  Paul feels her surround him.  Cara is unburdened.

Cara writes about the big house she lives in and the people who fill its rooms.

‘Do you feel at home there?’ he writes.

‘I’m never at home anywhere,’ she answers the next day.

Cara only writes from work.  The weekends seem long to Paul.

———–

The sun is low in the sky, the room filled with long, honeyed shadows.  Paul sits by the phone, thinking, as always now, of Cara.  It is Sunday afternoon.

‘Hello’.

‘Hello?  Cara?’

‘Hang on – I’ll get her’. The phone bumps against the wall.

‘Hi Paul – thanks for calling’.

‘Hi-how’d you know it was me’?

‘Had to be – was thinking it’s time we make a connection.  I magic’d you up.’

Cara waits but Paul says nothing.

‘Your garden must be really beautiful this time of year,‘ she tries again.

Paul imagines her smiling as she talks. He thinks of long fingers twisting in red hair.

‘Yeah, yeah it is – you’d like it’.

‘Hey might be down your way soon.  Could meet ya at the pub maybe?’

She hits the ball hard back into his court.

‘Yeah – maybe.’  Paul stumbles with the return.

‘You know what they say -“A vodka shared is a vodka halved”.’  She laughs at her own joke.

Paul and Cara talk about not much of anything at all.

——————

Cara’s father is in his study, the door shut.  She runs into the living room.  Her mother is sitting on the couch reading a magazine, a glass of wine in front of her on the table.

‘Watch me Mommy.  Look at me.  Look Mommy.’ Cara demands.

She twirls until her skirt stands right out in a full circle.

‘Be careful darling; you’ll break something’, her mother says, looking up briefly.

When something broke, as it always did, Cara ran away.  Heaven turned to Hell in one-second flat.  Game over.

—————–

Mark and Cara chase each other, laughing, through the house. They slide on wooden floors, tripping over rolled up rugs.  They make love in the patch of sun that falls on the old lumpy bed.  Afterwards, they listen to the thunder in the distant hills. Cara weaves dust motes through her fingers.  Mark holds her in his arms, lightly touching her hair, rubbing his fingers against the smooth skin on her forehead.  Cara sits up on the edge of the bed turning away.

‘Look – I’ll let you know where to send my things,’ she says suddenly – calmly as if she were asking him to make a cup of tea.

‘What?  What are you talking about? What do you mean?  You’re going? Is there something … is there someone…?’  Mark stops, knowing Cara could too easily say something he doesn’t want to hear.

‘No – there’s no one.  Absolutely no one – that’s the bloody problem’.

————–

At the airport, the static forming a soothing background, Cara takes her coffee over to the email counter.  Her message takes no time to write.  She doesn’t bother to read it through again, just presses ‘Send’.

To:  waiting@hotmail.com

Sorry – change of plans.

CARA

—————

Paul walks slowly around the garden. He feels comfortable here, enjoying the blend of old and new the easy mix of colour and shape.  He sits on the wooden bench and stares at his roughened, soiled hands. He worries a finger around the edge of a new cut.  The wind picks up; stirring the trees.  Paul walks back into the house.  He picks up a few petals that have fallen from the wild flowers he’s put in a blue vase on the hall table.  He puts them in his pocket.  Paul walks into the den, sits down at the desk by the window, and turns on the computer. There’s an email from Cara.

—————

Cara finds her cellphone in the bottom of her carryon bag.  She idly watches a small child unraveling a bit of his jersey while his mother is busy with a baby. ‘You’re gonna get it kiddo’ Cara laughs to herself.

Calling the well-remembered number, she waits for the familiar single ring.   Richie can never find his cell.  She pictures the bleating phones – one in the kitchen, the other in the hall, the one next to his bed.  She wonders for a moment what time it is there and if he is alone.

‘Speak to me.’

‘Hi – it’s me. Thinking it must be a good time for a visit.’

‘Sure babe.  When?  Now?  Where are you?’

‘Still a time zone or two away.  I’ll call you when I get the flights.  Soon though.’

‘Great. Been too long.  Really lookin’ forward to seeing you.’

‘Yeah.  Me too’.

Cara’s keen to talk, but he’s already hung up.

—————

Paul feels caught in the teeth of the angels.  Even after the run into town he is cold, uneasy in his own skin. Walking quickly, eyes forward, he tries to maintain the silence in his head.  The ground darkens with the first drops of rain.

Leaning against a tree, he remembers his father’s voice, the faded tattoo on his father’s arm. He remembers his mother screaming. Paul thinks suddenly of that day in the kitchen.  ‘Are you going to change?’ she’d asked.

The rain is heavier now.  Paul watches the sky lighten across the bay, listens to the not too distant rumble.   He slides to the ground, feeling the harsh bark of the tree scrape his back through the wet shirt.  He holds his knees tight to his chest and thinks about the garden; the roses that would soon need pruning and the broken step by the veranda he’s promised to fix.  First the lightning, he counts slowly, barely waiting – then the thunder.

The storm wraps itself wildly around Paul. The wind snaps the tears from his face.  He reaches down and digs his fingers into the wet pine needles.  He remembers the sound of the front door closing in his mother’s house.

The rain drives against the ground bouncing like stones. Paul thinks about Cara, imagining her hair, the small crescent-shaped scar near her eye she’d told him about.  Suddenly, the sky above his head is too fiercely lit; the ground shifts. Standing in the space between, there is no waiting, no more remembering.  For Paul, there is no thunder.

Hello all

This is my first post and I’d like to write a bit about what i’m thinking about today.  Last night was my first insomnia free night since 11 September – this year  – not 2001.

I know Americans all have their 9/11 stories – my real story is maybe a bit – remote perhaps because I live in New Zealand – as far away as you can get from NYC without getting closer  – but no less personal.
My daughter was working about 1/2 mile away from the WTC.  When the first plane hit, she was just locking up her bike at work,  She hopped back on and peddled back to Park Slope where she was living and called to say she was going back into Manhattan to donate blood.   I couldn’t get back in touch with her for a terrifying 48 hours. It was 3:17 AM here when she rang.
Every year around this time I suffer PTSD insomnia.  I awake at 3:17 AM and just lie there – free floating anxiety.  Sometimes it will last for a week and sometimes it can go on for months – adjusting to daylight savings – but it always stops pretty much of all by itself (believe me over the years I have tried everything – from drugs to sleep clinics to mantras-  and all the stops between.
Religion – it’s complicated here as everywhere else.  I was married to someone who remains a big deal in the Jewish community (he won some sort of award (no – not a knighthood  – but close) for services to the Jewish community).  I think every Jewish mother  in New Zealand with an unmarried daughter was salivating when we got divorced, my exe’s mother probably placed ads in the local papers. .
The last time I went to synagogue (also the first) in New Zealand was right after 9/11.   At the time I was living in Dunedin – where once there were many Jews (mostly wealthy merchants) but now there are very few – not enough to support a rabbi. I went to a couple of memorial services for 9/11 in churches etc – but somehow that didn’t really work for me.  So I decided, for some reason (probably more to do with (culturally) missing NYC than (spiritually) missing Jews) to try a synagogue.
The old Dunedin synagogue was converted into a fantastic art gallery and there was nothing under ‘synagogue’ in the directories.   Someone I worked with told me she thought there was a ‘synagogue’  located in an old 1950s style house near the university and gave me the number of a friend’s friend – someone she thought ‘might be Jewish.’  When I called the  phone number, I had to play the “I used to be married to …” card to find out the address of the synagogue.  I think AA is probably an easier crowd to break into!
Of course it was Rosh Hashanah or maybe Yom Kippur I don’t really remember.  In the “synagogue”, which looked remarkably like every house on the street I grew up on in Brooklyn, about 20 people were holding a ‘service’  – without a rabbi.  Every so often they would stop and discuss (sometimes it was more like an argument) what came next.
Oddly, also in the crowd was the academic who interviewed us in the States before came to NZ.   This burly red-headed Irishman (obviously not Jewish but his wife (from Asheville NC was) came along to “make up the numbers”.  It was strangely moving – something very European about Jews coming together ‘secretively’ and patching together a service. There was some great music – who would have thought there was a klezmer band in Dunedin.  Unfortunately for weeks after I received (too) many phone calls and emails inviting me ‘return’ or at lease attend obscure religious events.
Hopefully the spell is broken and I can return to regular sleep for a while – at least until my next significant birthday approaches.

Hello all

Big step – will go away and think about this for a while.

Susan