Friday, January 27, 2006

Short Story - The Witch

The Witch
“Where's the book? Where is the book!” The old witch scrambled around, sending piles of books and rubble spilling to the floor. Papers with half-spells jotted on them floated in the darkest corners, watching the chaos from their protected nooks. The cauldron cursed and muttered as the witch shooed it out of the way. She stopped, finally, hair waving in wild, electrified tendrils around her head, propped her hand on her hip and said in a huff, “Alright, who’s got my spell book?”

The trunk tried to slide behind a bookshelf, only too late remembering that it was dragging a corner, its leg lost decades ago to a spell that called for a chunk of hardwood.

“Aha!” crowed the witch, diving at the trunk, attempting to pry its jaws open. “Give it to me!” she croaked out, heels buried in the floor, fingertips digging into the trunk’s leather binding. The trunk shook itself back and forth in defiance, although rather awkwardly due to its missing leg, and slammed it’s lock-latch down for reinforcement.

“Give it to me or I shall hack you open with the axe!” The trunk looked towards the door to where the axe leaned glistening against he wall, sunlight pouring through the window and shining off its blade. The axe wiggled a bit, slicing through a stray dust mote, then leered at the trunk and glinted some more for emphasis.

Shivering, the trunk popped its lock-latch and creaked open its jaw. There, nestled among old afghans and hats and spare capes, was the spell book. Just as the witch reached for her prize, the trunk dropped its lid half-down, the threat to snap shut on the witch’s fingertips apparent.

“Ive had about enough of you, you dusty old thing. Ought to put you outside and let you rot, that’s what I ought to do. And I would, too, except that I’ve somewhere to be.” She crooked one gnarled finger at the trunk, narrowing her eyes in malevolence.

She turned then, the run-in with the trunk all but forgotten. “Broom!” she bellowed, smoothing her cape and setting a musty old hat atop her head. Up popped the broom from behind the couch, where it had been snuffling after a newt freed from its jar during the commotion. It flew to the witch, dodging here and there, barking in excitement.

“Door!” she bellowed again, causing it to fling itself open. She grasped the broom roughly about the neck, then jumped on and gave it a shake to calm its ridiculous energy. The witch pushed off and flew out the door, which snapped shut directly behind her. The door, as it happened, was exceptionally conscious of letting drafts into the cottage.

“Oh dear,” the wand worried, hovering by the window. “It would appear she’s forgotten me again.” It thought of chasing after her, but decided to sit and wait instead, until she realized her error and returned. Wands, after all, are much slower than brooms, and it didn’t see the point in wasting all that energy hustling about.

“Cauldon?” It turned towards the cauldron, who slumped over further and grumbled disagreeably to whatever the wand was proposing. “What do you say we prepare a nice cup of tea for her, hmm?”

And so they settled in to wait, and set about making tea and cleaning up the mess left behind in the witch’s hurry to be off. Smoke snaked up out of the chimney of the little cottage, who wished desperately that they would stop using it’s hearth so often; the soot wreaked havoc on its sinuses.

Monday, January 23, 2006

The Single Life

I went book-shopping today. The gal at the book store gave me a great deal on a few stacks of hardcovers (3 for $1.... cant beat that!). I went to the grocery store, I took my instrument in to be refurbished (it was underwater for a few weeks during the flood last fall).

Today was the first day I've actually ENJOYED being alone since my return to the US. I suppose a month and a half isn't a terribly long time to adjust to the single life, I just expected it to come sooner than it did. Part of it, I'm sure, is the vacation I took last week. I spent a lot of time thinking, and talking with a friend, and just processing everything that's happened over the past few months. Part of it's been re-visiting myself, before I left. Part of it's redifining my wants and needs, and redefining the time line for satisfying those.

So, life is good. Things are getting better. Next step? Getting out of my jammies before noon for a week straight...

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Happy Birthday to me

From my Doha Diary:
January 17, 2005: Happy birthday to me.

It was kind of odd... quiet. Not that they're ever anything but quiet, because well, let's face it, I'm pretty solitary, but today was exceptionally quiet.

I got up and made a cake at 5am, because the girls in the office love my cakes, and pineapple upside down cake is worth packing on a pound or two for. The girls at work took me out for lunch (well, went out to lunch with me... I bought my own meal). Mother wasn't feeling well, so she was in bed moaning about a migraine when I got home.

I sat down at the kitchen table and had a piece of "birthday cake", and sang myself the Happy Birthday song in my head, then went upstairs and read for a few hours. It was exceptionally uneventful, and peacefull. A friend back home said it was sad that I had to make my own cake. It didn't occur to me that it would be sad. My mother is "sick", I've only been in Qatar for a month... who else would make it? I still don't think it's sad...

I remember that day more clearly than I remember the movie I watched last week. I lied, in the entry. It WAS sad. I was lonely, and miserable, and I wanted to go home. But I didn't... I stayed, and I learned, and I'm glad for it. I resolved that day that I would go out and meet people and make friends in Doha, that I would find a life there, and that's precisely what I did.

People tend to find determination around major milestone days. Days like New Year's Eve, or birthdays, or anniversaries, or the death of a loved one. I tend to make resolutions on my birthday, rather than at New Year. It just makes sense to me that the anniversary marking the amount of time I've been on this Earth would be a good day to mark the setting down of a stepping stone.

The resolution this year? To take better care of myself.

Saying it is easy. It's a vague, fluid concept that requires a lot of definition. I sat down and wrote out my own personal definition of what it'll take. I know. It isn't easy at all. It's hard, and long, and it'll probably take me years to get it right. Maybe a lifetime. But I'll be better for it. I'll be happier. And isn't that what it's all about, really?

Friday, January 13, 2006

The speed of obsession

I drove out to a friend of mine's yesterday for lunch, because he was having a crap day and needed the company, and I needed human contact. On my way out there, I'm zooming down a major highway, singing along with a fabulous local rock band, and the next thing you know, there's a cop coming down the offramp to my right. I'm busted, and I know it. I pulled over before he even had a chance to turn his lights all the way on. He gets out of the car with a smile on his face, and walks up to my window.

"Did you know you were going 90 under that overpass?" Ninety? I was going at least 95, but sure, I'd take the favor.

"No Sir, I did not. 90 huh? Yeah, 90's pretty fast." I passed him my license and settled in to wait. As I sat there, worrying the steering wheel with my fingertips, I remembered my "former life", before I went overseas, before I came back as somebody else. I remembered some one else getting in trouble with the law...

Bentley* was 32 when I was 19. He was tall and stunningly slim, with ink-black hair, deep, penetrating eyes, and olive skin. He was slick, articulate, graceful, and refined. He was gorgeous, and I was in love. Actually, I was more than in love... I was obsessed.

Bentley worked long, impossible hours at a difficult, thankless job. He liked to watch sports in the evening, was a pretty darn good cook, and would come up with the sweetest, most thoughtful surprises at random. He was also unreliable, emotionally distant, impulsive, and childish. We had the type of emotionally-intense, dramatic relationship they write sap romances about. We loved each other passionately at night, and in the morning, I'd whine that I didn't see him often enough, or long enough, or that I wasn't an important enough fixture in his life, or any number of other things that young women try to lace men down with. With Bentley, that was relationship suicide. I don't know why he kept me around for as long as he did. I was cloying, and needy, and I just couldn't understand why he couldn't drown in me the way I wanted him to.

So... on to the story. He was having a night out with his co-workers, and I wasn't invited. He was supposed to call on his way home from the bar. I waited up until nearly 3am (the bars in my area close at 2), and the phone never rang. When I called the next morning, he didn't pick up. I didn't actually hear from him until mid-afternoon the following day.

Apparently, he'd been pulled over on his way home from the bar. Bentley wasn't a heavy drinker, but he wasn't the most aware drinker, either. There were a lot of times he stumbled through the front door and I gave him hell because he shouldn't have been driving. This, apparently, would have been one of those times. He'd failed a breathalizer test at a standard sobriety checkpoint. He'd been arrested, of course, and issued a DUI. His license had been confiscated. His precious cherry-red Lexus had been impounded.

Bentley could have said:
"Maybe I shouldn't have had that last drink," or,
"Maybe I should've waited longer before I got behind the wheel."

But he didn't. He said the test wasn't performed correctly, that the police officer didn't inform him of all his options, that, despite the fact that he was, in fact, driving under the influence, that it didn't matter, because the test was invalid. He said whatever it took to get the charges dropped and the DUI dismissed.

I never could look at him quite the same, after that. It was the beginning of the end...
So I sat in my seat, fingers plucking at the strings in the steering wheel, thinking that I could talk myself out of this ticket, if I really wanted to. But I didn't. I didn't even try.

Why? Because the cop was just doing his job. Because I really WAS speeding excessively. Because I deserved the ticket ($168, by the way). Because I drive fast regularly, and it makes sense that I should pay more for my insurance because of it.

Because accpeting the consequences of my actions is the right thing to do, and that's reason enough for me.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Homeless groceries

"Solitude is the profoundest fact of the human condition. Man is the only being who knows he is alone." (Octavio Paz)
Yesterday, I went to rummage through the fridge, searching for something to nibble on to satisfy the gnawing hunger in my neglected belly. I really should eat more often, but I get distracted. Right. So today, I was on my way home from the beautician, coming up to the intersection where my regular grocery is. The grocer is the center anchor in a small shopping strip, with a barber and post office to the left, and a military recruiter and liquor store on the right (funny that they'd put those two next to one another). I slide my car in and head inside.
There was a homeless man stumbling around on the sidewalk in front of the liquor store. It's cold out, 30 degrees, and he couldn't seem to decide whether it was more important to hold his bottle, or keep his fingers safe in the warm confines of his coat. He starts waving his arms around and screaming at another homeless person (female, I think, but it was hard to tell) picking up something off the ground in the doorway of the grocery.
"Hey! I been lookin' for you!"
"Why? Why you been lookin' for me?" she screamed back, rolling her lips open in a sort of snarl, showing her toothless gums. They walked towards each other, exchanged a few muffled words, and the next thing I know, they were swinging at each other. The sky was grey and heavy with impending snow. The temperature was only going to drop from there on out. I don't know if those two actually had something to argue about, or if they were just trying to get in out of the cold.

I thought about them while I meandered through the grocery. Maybe it's the solitude. Maybe, since they don't have any one else to interact with, since there isn't any one who ever says much to them, aside from, "Get a job, ya bum!" maybe they lost the ability to connect, to discuss, to communicate. Maybe they fell together, because there wasn't any one else to fall into. Maybe...

Thursday, January 05, 2006

I'm not "People"

"People" are selfish. They're arrogant, and pushy, and needy. "People" drop the door when you're walking in behind them, and cut you off during rush-hour without waving a "sorry". "People" think their time is more important than yours is. "People" let their kids cry in restaraunts, and don't pick things up off the floor when they drop them in department stores. I dont like "people"... but I'm not one of them.

Neither is my friend L, whom, I expect, hasn't been "people" for decades. He also happens to be the most thoughtful, selfless man I know. L invited himself over for a movie last week. He knew I was having a crap day, and that I needed to get out of the house. The theater, unfortunately, was closed (price you pay for living in a small Midwestern town, I suppose). We decided to go for a beer, instead. Now, when I say I'm "not a big drinker", I'm significantly understating the situation. I drink about twice a year, three times if I'm feeling frisky. The last time I've had anything with alcohol in it was probably close to six months ago. We squat on a couple of bar stools and order. The bartender mixes my drink pretty strong, so after choking down a swig or two, I call her over.

"Can you throw some more non-alcoholic liquid in that thing, babe?"
"Sure," she says. "What would you like?"

Now, I'm not sure what, exactly, is in the drink I ordered, only that the last time I had it at this place, I liked it.
"Whatever you put in it before is fine." She shoots a couple spurts of various colors from the fluid spout, and hands it back. I turn back to L with my newly-diluted beverage. "My sister wants me to go to her house and play cards with her and her friends."
"You gonna go?" he asks, clinking the ice in his glass.
"Nah. I don't much care for her friends. Besides, I'll probably be drunk by the time I finish this!." I grin, and take another swig. I'm only 1/3 of the way into it, and already I can feel my tongue is getting heavy.

We talk about life, and love, and work, and his kids. We talk about my health.
"You'd be amazed at what all has milk in it," I babble, chasing ice cubes around my glass with a pink plastic straw. I tell him about not being able to go with Dad to Korea when I was sixteen, because I have to be within 30 minutes of a hospital. I tell him about going into anaphlylactic shock as a kid when I accidentally ate something I wasn't supposed to.

By the time we finish our drinks (one each, mind you), I'm more than a little tipsy. L drives me home, walks me to the door like the gentleman he is, and sends me off to bed with a "Good night!" and a wave. When he gets home, L shoots me an IM.

"How ya feelin?" He knows I'm a little loopy.
"My head feels like a fishbowl..." We chit-chat for a minute or two before my phone rings.

"Whassup, biatch!" My sister, in all her rambunctious splendor.
"Nothin," I slur, giggling.
"Ohmigod, are you drunk!?!" she squeels into the phone. I swear she nearly popped my eardrum. "She's drunk!" I can hear her saying to some one in the background. "Can you believe that? My sister is drunk!!!" They have a laugh (at my expense, of course).

"Get your coat on. I'm outside." Demanding little thing, ain't she?
"Wha? Where are we going?" I'm now peeking through the front window at the car parked on the street, full of three faces pressed against glass, trying to catch a glimpse of me stumbling around my living room.
"To the store!" My sister's a shop-a-holic. Did I mention it's about 11pm? What on earth could she need from the store at 11pm?? My sister, by the way, is "people". So are her friends.

I crawl into my coat, stumble out the door, and the next thing I know, we're whizzing through the streets of my little town. The next few hours of entertainment involve watching my sister and her two friends play Halo on their playstation and eating cold McDonald's fries. I'd like to say it was better than sitting at home, alone, but in all honesty, I'd rather push a screwdriver through my eye than have a repeat of that night.

When they finally drop me back off at my place, somewhere around 2am, there's a note in my door...

"She says: My head feels like a fishbowl.
She asks a question.
He answers.
She doesn't reply.
He thinks about the medical problem.
He thinks about how she didn't know exactly what was in the drink.
He thinks about a head like a fishbowl.
He thinks about her falling to the floor.
He thinks about calling 911.

He knows he worries too much and that the internet is a shitty place and people aren't always like they are in real life but he can't get the image of her passed out on the floor out of his mind.

He drives back to her house in 25 minutes. He finds the inside lights off and the porch light on. He realizes what he's been pretty sure of the whole time.
She's not dieing.
She just left."

L lives 45 minutes away from me. He went all the way home, and drove all the way back out here to make sure I was alright, even though he knew I was probably with my sister. L was thinking more about my health and well-being than his own time, convenience, and lack of sleep. L is not "poeple". I'm lucky to have L.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Food for thought

A (male) friend took me to dinner last night, since I was accompanying him to go buy furniture (giving a woman's perspective, i guess). The waiter's cute, and young (21, it turns out), and comes up to our table looking like somebody just ran over his dog. I've worked service for 10 years, give or take. I know what it's like to not want to be there, to not want to plaster a fake smile on your face and sing the old refrain of, "The customer's always right!" But that's the job. Sometimes the job sucks.

So I start grinning at the guy, cracking jokes, making lots of eye contact and generally attempting to add levity to his situation. It works. The kid is walking a little taller every time he comes by our table, and is now smiling and laughing right along with us. He swings by to check up on us about half-way through our meal and comes out with, "Just wanted you guys to know I took $5 off your ticket, because you're being so cool about everything."

Now, I've been comped stuff before, for various reasons... a mistake was made, the guy behind the bar was trying to flirt, whatever, but never simply for making somebody smile. This is a good feeling.

The check comes, and my friend is picking up the tab. It's a mid-grade Italian chain joint without a lot of foot-traffic. After the $5 deduction, the bill's $27 and some change. My friend leaves $31.

Four bucks. Less, actually, taking into account the change factor. That's it?!? Now, I understand that's %15 off the modified ticket, and %15 is a decent tip from a cheap suburbanite in his mid-forties. I, on the other hand, know that wait staff in my area make less than $3 an hour. The place is dead, we're the kid's only table, and he provided exceptional service. I don't think it's enough, but I'm not buying. It takes me two seconds to come up with a solution.

"Why don't you go grab the car. I'm gonna run to the ladies' room, and I'll meet you out front." Being the gentleman that he is, I probably would have had to stand on the curb and wait for him to pull the car around anyway, so this makes sense. I move towards the bathroom to reapply my lipstick as he goes to fetch the car. I fish a $10 out of my purse before heading out of the can.

On my way out, the kid's dealing with some customer in the corner who's talking to him like he's not worth the dirt on the bottom of her shoe. I drop the ten on the table and walk out with a smile.

Ever been in this situation? Does it make you uncomfortable to go out with a "cheap" friend? If you were the buyer, would it piss you off if you found out your friend slipped a little extra to the waiter on the sly?


UPDATE: Well, guilt finally got the better of me (that didn't last long). I told my friend what I did. He laughed at me. "So, you think I'm cheap?" I knew that was coming.

"You should have just tossed a couple bucks on the bill, if you thought he needed a bigger tip." I explained that I didn't want to offend him. Friendship, apparently, transcends small slights such as these.

I'm all smiles now. My friend isn't angry, I have my sneaky behavior off my concience, and the waiter got a 50% tip. All is right with the world.

In the beginning...

"You know...that a blank wall is an apalling thing to look at. The wall of a museum -- a canvas -- a piece of film -- or a guy sitting in front of a typewriter. Then, you start out to do something -- that vague thing called creation. The beginning strikes awe within you." -Edward Steichen

I don't consider myself trendy. I don't listen to modern music. I haven't got a clue what hip-hop is all about, or why it's so popular. My clothing is out-of-date and conservative. I don't have, and never have had, a tongue, eyebrow, or belly-button ring. I think cel phones are social atrocities. I don't even own a television. Among people of my own age group, I stick out like a tick on a hairless cat.

In a lot of ways, I'm just like everybody else: I hit the snooze button in the morning. I put my pants on one leg at a time (most days I even remember the underwear before I get the fly zipped). I break the speed limit and don't come to a full stop at stop signs.

I've also been married three times, spent a year in the middle east just to see what it was like, and bought a house at the age of 19. I have a mural of jazz players that stretches around my living room; I painted it on a whim one afternoon.

Life, for me, is fluid.

The purpose of the blog is to relay day-to-day life and observations from the point of view of a twenty-something female in today's American climate.

Maybe not edge-of-your-seat type stuff, but it keeps me entertained from sun-up to sun-down... and then some.