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Crazy Little Thing

You want me to tell you what I know about love?  Everything?  In fifteen minutes?  Well, grab a seat, then, and let's get started.

Early on, when I was just barely old enough to dress myself but not old enough to understand how badly I was doing it, "love" was just a word you mouthed to someone in response to their saying it to me. 

"I love you."

"I love you, too."

Ok, maybe that part hasn't changed all that much, but back then I had no clue what concept I was belittling by ritualistically repeating the sounds.  "Love" was a girl thing.  My sister wanted to name her tabby kitten "Heart" or "Love."  She eventually named him "Tiger Lily" and he chased off my white tom.  Go figure.

I guess love must be most easily described by its absence because I can't remember a whole lot of things that I make me think of "love" from when I was a kid, but I also don't recall any lack of it.  Does that make any sense?  We lived in the same house from when I was four until I graduated high school.  My folks and my sister were there for me, and no one really yelled at each other, at least not within my limited range of hearing. 

I had some friends whose parents split up and that seemed weird to me, but not scary, since I knew my parents had the perfect marriage and would be together forever.  You can probably guess how that will end.  But at the time?  My parents both took an interest in my interests and I never had to beg them to spend time with me and I never questioned how they felt about me.  That was love.  I wouldn't have called it that at the time, but sure, that's what it was.

Of course, my parents did split up when I was in high school and I thought I was too grown up for it to affect me.  I was all kinds of wrong, of course.  It wasn't that my parents didn't love me anymore, but they certainly had other things to deal with.  My father moved out and my mother went back to work.  Hey, it was a different time, you know?  Anyway, my schoolwork went down the tubes and I kind of lost focus on what I was going to do with myself.

On the other hand, my parents' divorce brought me and my sister together in a way that might not have happened otherwise.  It was the two of us against the world, or, at least the two of us against our parents.  Instead of trying to get each other in trouble, we covered for each other.  My sister's love has been a lifesaver for me and I don't care who knows it.

About this time I started trying my hand at romantic love.  What a mess.  First of all, even the least-macho teenage boy is a mess of hormones.  We genuinely believe that our intense desire to wrestle with that girl in the back of her '72 Impala is "true love."  No lie.  We believe it.  I know I did.  If you believe it with all your heart, is it love?  Hell if I know, but it's a good question.  I sure thought it was at the time.

Eventually, I formed an idea of love that put romance up on a pedestal.  I would succeed where my parents had failed.  I would find The Right Girl, romance the daylights out of her, get married, and stay together for the rest of our lives.  That was my purpose in life.  That was my goal.  You have guessed that making another person the purpose of my life isn't a wise thing to do and isn't particularly fair to that person.  Good catch.  Wish you'd been there when I needed to hear it.  Not that I would have listened, but still.

Here's how I thought love worked.  There was a girl I worked with back then.  Beautiful girl, smart as hell.  Her mom was a professor at a university.  She was nice to me, and I was kind of shy, so any girl is nice to me, I think she likes me, right?  We talk a lot, I make a point of trying to hang out where she's hanging out.  I don't ever actually ask her out, of course.  No, she's got a thing for one of the cooks.  But still, I figure, if I'm nice to her, and we spend a lot of time together, she'll start to have the same feelings I'm having. 

She moves overseas for a while.  We write letters, back and forth, back before there's an internet, a couple of times a week.  I'm smitten.  This is how it's supposed to work, right?  Courtship and all.  We send care packages back and forth.  Only, you know, I've never asked her out, or even talked about my feelings.  At the time, I just thought I was being patient.  Now I know better.  I was afraid that, if I said anything, she'd say she didn't feel the same way and I'd lose this marvelous romance I'd constructed.  Dumb, sure, but that was me as a kid, you know?

Anyway, she met a guy over there.  They got married.  I think she'd already met him when she came back home and I visited and finally mumbled something about how I felt about her.  She didn't have the same feelings.  Go figure.  Anyway, I figure I loved her.  Maybe I just loved the romance and the idea I had of what we would be like together.  It's tough to tell the two apart.

This was pretty typical of me through my mid-thirties.  My friends were always there for me.  They wouldn't tell me how dumb I was being until the bubble had burst and we had a few beers in us.  But they were there.  That's love, isn't it?  And my sister.  Always there.  In bad times, we'd go outside and just walk and talk for hours on end.  I couldn't tell you how many times she talked me back from a ledge of some sort.

So then I met my wife.  We hit it off real well and we had the same immediate goals.  We wanted to get married.  Man, I gotta tell you, when two people who see marriage as a goal get together, things happen fast.  We dated five months before we got engaged.  We got married and bought a house and moved in and...well, it turns out that marriage and living together are harder than my Disney-fed mind could have imagined.  Remember, my goal was to be a great husband.  It turns out that, if that's your only goal, you're a terrible husband.

We got divorced about a year later.  I was crushed, partially from the loss of a relationship I wasn't ready to believe was over, and partially from losing my whole purpose in life.  So much for succeeding where my parents failed. I lot of my ideas about love and marriage broke around that time.  Which, in hindsight, was for the best.  Marriage isn't the end zone of life and love doesn't make everything easy, let alone perfect.  I know this is probably obvious, but I'm a lot more naive than I let on.

Like I said, everything broke, but, in doing so, it let me rebuild my ideas about what love was.  I moved down here and started fresh and, honestly, I've never been happier.  I mean that.  That old view of love was a burden.  I was lonely at first and I got a cat.  Great cat.  Never had a better cat.  He was the very picture of unreserved, unconditional love.  He'd just hop up on your lap and dare you to be unhappy.  Coming home to a cat that loves you is a lifesaver when you're down. 

I miss that cat.  I came home after work to find him quiet and still one afternoon, about a year ago.  I can't remember being sadder.  I probably have been, but it was a sharp and stabbing pain of loss.  I've never been a parent, but losing someone or something that's dependent on you is hard and no matter how good a parent you are, you ask yourself questions.  I still get tears thinking about him.  He was the best.

Romantically, I think I do better now.  I don't have those awful expectations that someone's love is going to fix my life.  I don't think anything is has to be perfect to be worth loving, and I don't think I have to be perfect to be worthy of love.  Hate that word, "perfect."  Love isn't about perfection, and it isn't even about loving someone despite their imperfections. It's about loving their imperfections, maybe. 

It's also about being brave enough to pay the price of admission.  When I came home and found my cat, still and cold, on my sofa, I've never felt pain like that.  But when you love someone or something, you're signing up for that pain.   Maybe you live your whole life with someone, but even then, one of you is going to die first.  That's just how it works.  If you can't deal with that, love isn't for you. 

Un jeu de fous

It isn’t every day you wake up to find Jules Verne hiding in your closet. 

Its one thing to run into the Father of Science fiction at, say, a wine bar or maybe Starbucks, but finding yourself face to bearded face with him when you pull the little string on the closet light bulb?  Believe me, it’s jarring.

Verne looked at me desperately but with no apparent surprise and raised a single finger to his lips and, just in case I hadn’t guessed his intent, whispered “shush.”
I stepped back and looked around my bedroom. I couldn’t see any obvious threats, so I looked back at Verne questioningly.

“S'il vous plaît restez silencieux. Wells est à la recherche pour moi!”

I was too tired to react.  Not to mention, I don’t speak a word of French.

Verne tried it again in thickly-accented English, hissing the words below his breath. “It is Wells.  He is a difficult man from whom to hide.”

“Wells?  H.G. Wells?  Ha. Well, good luck with that. You missed him by almost 100 years.”
Verne looked at me with disgust. “Idiot!  Wells has his machine! How do you think I got here?”
My coffee-deprived brain couldn’t think of an answer, so instead, I just asked, “Ok…then, if you don’t mind my asking, what are you doing in my closest?  Why are you hiding from him?”

Verne’s lowered his tone.  “Wells and I, we have a rivalry.  We are uncommon minds, do you see?  We dream of what may be, and both take a strand of thread that is the science of our day and weave it into rich tapestries of what the future may bring!  That we should come into conflict was inevitable.”

He paused, grinned, and looked at his watch.  

“Also, I found him in three days, six hours, twenty-four minutes, and sixteen seconds.  I cannot let him find me in less!”As I stood in front of him, trying to process this, he hunched down behind my winter coats, and closed the closet door.  Through the door, I heard him mumble one last thing.

“Aussi, mon ami, un bon hôte doivent porter un pyjama dans son lit.”

Cartoon from Kate Beaton  who you should check out right this very moment.

Cartoon from Kate Beaton  who you should check out right this very moment.

Fade Away, Radiate

...and then I was in her laundry room, desperately looking for a way to get out.  I tensed up with dread, although I couldn't tell you exactly why.  The washing machine was at least three feet deep, but there was liquid at the bottom of it and this told me that climbing into the machine would not get me out of this room.  Panic.  The door opened.  I knew these people even though I couldn't see their faces, but I knew them, you see?  That was the important part.  They never turned to face me, even though we were now in their living room, filled with smoke and dark woods and I think it smelled of whisky.  They told me my parents would be mortified to see me like this and I had to agree even though I had no idea what "like this" meant.  Why were the collars of their shirts so high?  I was going to have to choose and I couldn't bring myself to do it.  I wanted both but had to chose only one and they were both women who would make good brides but I could have only one and I would probably never see the other again and neither of them ever did anything bad to me but by choosing one I was rejecting the other wasn't I and she didn't deserve it she had done nothing wrong so much shame.  Then I looked down and saw the cats in the shelter and suddenly...

My Father's Garden

The same writing prompt, a somewhat more obvious take on it:

Depending on how you view such matters, today was either the first or the last day of my natural life. I will leave it to you, the reader, to judge which best fits my peculiar situation. I trust your judgement more so than I do my own for reasons which I intend to make clear in short order.

This being the summer prior to my senior year in high school, my parents permitted me to choose the destination for our family holiday. I had always been fascinated with the vast, mysterious caverns of the American west, but my experience with them was restricted to what I had read in books. These books told curious tales that whispered of sights that would challenge the sanity of even the strongest man. On the cusp of manhood, I had come to regard these stories as superstitious hokum, but they still held no small amount of lure for me. My mother felt that this was a marvelous idea and, although he protested, my father eventually relented and we booked our passage.

On the third of June, we arrived in Carlsbad, New Mexico to take in the fabled caverns nearby. The caverns were indeed vast and impressive, but they somehow failed to spark my imagination in any way. The enormous hollows under the desert felt inviting and warm in a way that my books never described. I chuckled naively to myself when no strange figures appeared where the lasts rays of the electrical lights failed and the darkness loomed. Perhaps science and civilization had chased the hobgoblins of my childhood completely out of this Earth!

We boarded the Cumbres and Tolec to visit some of the lesser-known caves north-eastern New Mexico. We stopped in Dulce on the sixth amid a storm of dust such as I have never seen. I saw what I was sure were enormous buildings whenever the storm would clear slightly, but my father insisted that I was being foolish and I was just seeing the top of the nearby mesa. My mother merely smiled quietly as father continued to lecture us on the local topography as he read it from the tour guide.

The crude, hand-painted signs directed us out of the small town and down deep, lifeless gulch. We approached the entance to the caverns without the escort of a clutch of tourists as we had in Carlsbad. Curiously, even with the obvious lack of visitors, there was a shack, presumably a shop, on the path to the cavern mouth. I thought it would be fitting to bring back a memento of some sort, if only out of sympathy for the poor fellow whose lot it was to maintain this shop in vain hope that a traveller might wander by.

The store was, much as I expected, dusty and still and only half-lit as though even the little bulb was weary of being here. I regretted my decision to enter almost immediately. I quickly scanned the small, wooden room for anything that I might purchase to discharge my presumed duty to the shopkeeper.

I almost didn't notice the gentleman who was presumably the owner of the shop. He was settled on a rough wooden stool, perhaps asleep, and looked as dingy and old as everything on his display shelves. If he moved even slightly when I entered his store, I was not able to discern it.

My eyes played quickly over row upon row of toy wooden cabins, horses, pipes, mugs and even just slabs that appeared to exist solely to display the inscription "Dulce Caverns" on their sides. I wanted something other than the banal curios and looked over at the gentleman behind the counter and thought better of it. It was then that I noticed a bin of green-grey coins on a shelf on the wall .

Expecting to find them stamped with "Dulce Caverns" or something of that sort, I picked one of them up. I nearly dropped it immediately as it was cold to the touch even in the southwestern heat in early summer. I squinted and examined it more closely. The large, sand-dollar sized coin had non-sense words scribbled on it, but when I flipped it over, there was an inscription of what appeared to be a starfish, if a starfish were somehow elongated into a tube and festooned with cilia or something.

It looked strange, even sickening, but it was also familiar.
Immediately, I was reminded of what my mother always called "father's garden." Behind our home, where the back lawn slopes down to a creek and a dark, wooded area, we have a garden that is surrounded by a white-brick wall that is, at a minimum, fifteen feet tall. There is a solid iron gate on the front of it, and the gate is locked at all times when mother is not tending it. My father being a strict man of puritan upbringing, I was forbidden a great many things. However, it was my mother that insisted that I not visit father's garden. 

Clarissa and the Bread

"Here's the story: A young person walks to the store and along the way finds a coin, picks it up, and remembers something important. Then a car drives by and the person goes home.

Choose a writer that you love and tell this story mimicking their style in 100-200 words. (Averages out to be a single page). Feel free to add more to the story of course, but this template is the minimum. Shouldn't take you longer than an hour. Give yourself permission to be bad at it. "



Clarissa was fond of, among many other things, books.  She was fond of Unicorns and talking bears and fairies and witches (even if she found them a bit scary) and dancing teapots and many a good many things beyond.  Books, however, were the common thread that encircles most of the things she loved.  If she weren't eight years old and instead were, say, an investement banker, she might draw you a Venn diagram demonstrating how the things she held the most dear were contained almost entirely within the enveloping circle labelled "books."  However, Clarissa was, in fact, six years old and not remotely interested in being an investement banker, so there you have it.


Clarissa's father was fond of books as well, but she was concerned that Clarissa's fondness bordered on the excessive.  He felt that she was just a little to involved with her Unicorns and talking bears and fairies and witches for her own good.  He was of a generation that felt that there was nothing more beneficial to children than Fresh Air.  Copious amounts of Fresh Air, salted with a little Honest Work to show one the Value Of A Dollar were his idea of an ideal recipe for a happy, healthy child.  The fact that these things would also result in a quiet child who might be inclined to turn in early and not get underfoot were just side benefits that he seldom mentioned.  


Clarissa's father was also fond of cheese sandwiches on fresh, chewy bread.  As it happened, he had a small, soft wad of cheese from one of those French towns that had too many decorative swirls attached to the letters and it practially begged to be spread on a slice of sourdough and savored by a man who appreciated such fineries (even if he didn't know exactly how one pronounced the decorative swirls on the French letters).  Alas, the last of his bread had been discovered by an enterprising mouse (he called it a mouse for his daughter's sake though he knew better) and  now all he had left were a few, sad crumbs that not even a suspiciously rat-like mouse would see fit to take.


Which is all to say that Clarissa was pulled abruptly from an interesting discussion on humane preparation of toads with an unusually friendly witch by her father's booming voice extolling the brightness of the sun and the mildness of the weather.  She sighed and closed her book.  She knew from experience that when her father summoned this much gusto in describing the out-of-doors, there would be no avoiding whatever task he had in mind for her.  He suggested that she would benefit from a brisk walk through the little park down the street from the townhouse Clarissa and her father shared.  He scratched his beard as if in thought and then suggested, as though it had just come to him, that since she was heading that way anyway, she might as well stop at the bakery since it just happened to be next to the park.  


He handed her a a few coins and, beaming, saw her out the door.  He briefly lecutred her on the value of getting out into the Real World and being among Real People and feeling the Real Breeze on your skin.  That was all good and well, thought Clarissa, but she suspected that she would have been left along with her Unicorns and bears if her father hadn't wanted some Real Bread.  There was nothing to be done but to get it over with, so she set off down the warm, white sidewalk, carefully avoiding the cracks, and dodging around the shadows cast by the other townhomes on her street.


Clarissa resented her father's emphasis of the word "real" whenever he escorted her out the door.  His idea of "real" seemed not just limited, but insultingly patronizing to her.  The more she thought about it, the higher her dudgeon.  Soon she was so caught up in her annoyance that she no longer avoided the shadows and he feet dropped squarely across more than a few cracks in the sidwalk.  So caught up, in fact, that she didn't even see the boy in front of her until she knocked into him, jarring the coins loose from her hands...and his as well.


The sidewalk sparkled with little silver and gold disks spinning out their decaying orbits around unseen planets.  Before even looking up, they both dropped to their knees to pick up their lost coins.  She picked up one, two, three silvers and then a dull grey one that was so cold it almost burned her hand.  She opened her palm to make sure she had the right ones.   She had two Jefferson nickels, a Mercury dime, and...


A dragon?


She looked up at the same time the boy did.  She was so shocked by the coin that his gold-green eyes and strangely pointed ears didn't register.  She just stared, motionless, jaw slightly open.  The boy recovered first.  He snatched the dragon coin from her palm,  stood up suddenly, and dashed across the street.  Clarissa followed his movements without saying a word. 

When the boy reached the other side of the street, a car thundered up the lane in directly in front of him.  If she had been versed in such things, she might have recognized it as an '18 Gaile-Carpat, complete with brass-plated double-boilers and the bronze wyvern-tail above the exhaust, but instead, she continued to stare in equal parts shock and wonderment.  The boy looked back at her, caught her eye, and raised a single finger to his lips in a gesture that marked the only comprehensible aspect of encounter.  The recognition broke the spell and Clarissa found herself able to move once more.  She nodded, gently but distinctly.

Then she blinked.

Then the car was gone.

Clarissa stood up, looked around to see if anyone had noticed anything.  She was disappointed but hardly surprised to see that everyone else had completely failed to notice had just happened.  She checked the coins in her palm, but the only faces that stared back at her were familiar presidents and Gods.  She sighed heavily and opened the heavy double-doors of the bakery, resigning herself to living like this for as long as it took to bring bread to her father and then getting back to the Real World.