Oct 312011
 

This story was written at the beginning of October. The monthly topic had been “sex” but I didn’t really want to write about that. I’m thinking about writing a bit more about this character – what do you think?


I was really fed up with all that flirting, and the cat calls, so I decided to get fat.

Just the night before I had been out, and there had been several guys touching my behind in the club, a co-worker had made googly eyes at me, and on my way home there had been the usual cluster of Turkish teenagers on the street who had called out to me.

I really had enough.

I don’t mind sex, not at all, it’s just that I prefer not to think about it while it’s not happening, and I would like to be able to have a good time without having to fend off all these guys.

Getting fat wouldn’t happen over night, I knew that, so I needed some additional help. How to become uninteresting to men? Or better yet how to become unattractive?

I had the whole weekend before me to think about it. First I went shopping of course. I needed fattening foods. And beer. And soda. I hadn’t bought that much junk food in years.

Next I thought about clothes. That was easy. No heels, no mini-skirts, no cleavage. No make-up. Though I have to say that in my experience most guys can’t even tell if you’re wearing make-up until you go for the very red lipstick. That’s something they all react to.

Fortunately I did have a couple of outfits that would work. Baggy pants, sweatpants, an over-sized hoodie that I love to wear on weekends, a couple of old t-shirts, sneakers, the Birkenstocks that I wear around the house – all set.

So I laid back on the couch for a weekend marathon of watching TV and eating junk.

It was a good idea that I hadn’t started on the beer yet when the phone rang. It was my mother. Of course it was my mother, it was Saturday so she demanded her weekly phone call.

„Hi mom.“

„Darling, why haven’t you called me, is something wrong?“

„Mom, it’s only early afternoon, nothing is wrong.“

„You sound weird. Are you eating?“

„Yes I’m eating mom, it’s lunch time after all.“

„You are eating properly, aren’t you?“

„Of course mom.“

„Are you eating something warm?“

„Of course mom.“

„What are you having?“

„Potatoes, hamburgers and green beans.“

„You should have made meatloaf. That doesn’t have as much fat.“

„Yes mom.“ I looked at the half-eaten bag of potato chips on the couch table.

„And how’s it going with that nice co-worker of yours? Has he asked you out?“

„We were out with a bunch of others yesterday, mom.“

„That’s not a date. But it’s a start. How did it go?“

„It was okay. I don’t know.“

„You really should try a little harder. It’s not healthy being all alone.“

„Mom, I like being alone.“

„Nonsense, nobody likes being alone.“

Then she went on about what her doctor had said, and that my aunt was mad at me for not sending her a birthday card, and then half an hour later I finally got off the phone.

I grabbed the remote to start the film again when the phone rang again. This time it was Laura. I had met her through work, and we went out together a lot.

„Hi Laura.“

„Hi. Look, I need you to go shopping with me this afternoon.“

„Why?“

„Because I need something to wear to the party tonight.“

„Which party?“

„Are you crazy? The party. Zach’s party.“

„Sorry, I forgot.“

„You really are crazy. So I thought we could meet in an hour at Starbucks. Maybe we’ll even find something for you too.“

„Um. Okay?“

„See you.“

Damn phone. Why did I always answer it? I was perfectly happy sitting here, eating chips, drinking soda and watching a movie, and then those people barged in calling me in the middle of the day.

I didn’t want to go shopping. And I didn’t want to discuss my eating habits or love life with my mother.

Still I got ready to meet Laura at Starbucks. First I thought about just going as I were but then I decided against the sweatpants, and changed into some jeans. No make-up, the hoodie, and sneakers. I didn’t know what to do about my hair. After trying a ponytail (too uncomfortable), letting it hang down (too attractive), a braid in the back (didn’t work with the hood), I did two pigtails. Not attractive at all but for some reason they made me smile. Pippi Longstocking in a hoodie. Since I wasn’t wearing any make-up I didn’t need to carry a purse so I just put my wallet, phone, and keys into my jeans pockets.

When I got to Starbucks of course Laura wasn’t there. I should have known it before she was never on time. I got myself a hot chocolate with cream even though I already felt quite full after all the chips and sweets before but I had to keep on with the fattening.

From what I saw my plan did work. Not one of the men I had passed on my way there had looked at me twice. I probably didn’t even register as female. Great. No smiles, now whistling, no one talking to me on the train, it was simply perfect.

I pulled out my smartphone and started reading a novel. Good thing I had that with me. Half an hour later Laura entered the shop. One couldn’t miss her. She went and ordered coffee without even looking for me first. She just assumed I would come to find her. Which I did. Even though I would have preferred to read my book. But that was no way to behave. I grabbed the rest of my hot chocolate and went over to her.

„There you are.“ she said looking me up and down, „What’s wrong with you?“

„Hi, nice to see you too.“ I said.

„No, really, what’s wrong? You don’t even wear makeup. Nice jeans, though, but the hoodie is really horrible. Looks like a tent on you.“

„Well,“ I looked down at my shoes, „well,“ I wanted to say there was nothing wrong but then it hit me, „Well, I guess I’m just not feeling that well. Maybe I should have stayed home.“ I looked up into her eyes, „but I didn’t want to let you down.“

„That’s really sweet of you.“ she said automatically, „are you sick or something?“

„I’m not sure,“ I said, „I’m probably coming down with something.“ I snuffled a bit.

„Don’t touch me,“ she said, „don’t touch me, I can’t afford to get sick now. You know what, you just go home and get better, I think I can manage on my own. See you.“ And with that she swept out of the door leaving me standing there on my own.

I waited for the bad feeling of rejection to come but instead I felt rather good. Giddy almost. I didn’t have to go shopping. I could just get back home, and do whatever I wanted. And I didn’t even have to look good while doing it.

I threw the rest of my hot chocolate away, and got out the door too. On my way to the subway I realized how good it felt to walk. Especially in these shoes. For years now I had always worn heels because they are so much more flattering. Of course you’re not expected to walk anywhere in those. And if you do you start hurting. But walking in sneakers was that much better. The hoodie felt like I had brought a blanket with me. Nice and comfy and warm. I pulled up the hood against the wind that had started to blow.

Walking like this was great. I could even walk all the way home. And that’s just what I did. And on the way no one even looked at me. I was just some person in the street, some uninteresting person in the street that no on wanted anything from.

And later there would be pizza for dinner. And beer. And ice cream.

Jul 262011
 

It has been a while since I last did a story of the month, I know. Not because I didn’t write any, mostly because there was something or other I wanted to fix on each of these stories before posting it. Sometimes because only half the story is on the computer, the other half I wrote into a notebook. And then there’s this one story that might turn into a novel – 18,000 words into it it has barely begun.

This one I wrote not for the monthly meeting of our writer’s group but for something called an Anti-Slam. I was quite nervous beforehand. We had a time limit, not more than 10 minutes of reading, I didn’t quite know who would be there, and how they would respond to my stuff. And then there’s always the strangeness of being a German who writes stories in English. That made me insecure as well. I was the last to read that evening. I usually like to go first. So there’s nothing to compare me to, and I get it over with. But not this time.

Kissing Edith

I met her in a class on the peoples and cultures of Nigeria. It was one of those classes that are always full to the brim at the beginning of the semester, with only three students left at the end. I don’t really know if she stayed. She was sitting next to a friend, tall, dressed in khaki pants and a tight tee, her skin tanned and smooth, and her hair – dark blonde and very short. She seemed calm, and strong, and competent – all things that I longed to become. One day.

I did meet her again, at university big band. Me, sitting in the back with half a dozen other singers while the band played one instrumental after the other, and her, standing in line with the other saxophone players, most of them male. She wasn’t bad, not bad at all, a woman who managed to look elegant and graceful in wide pants and sneakers.

So we met twice a week for half a year at least, maybe longer. I don’t recall for how long exactly, this was back in the days when I was young and naive, only a few years out of school. She had a nice smile but she didn’t talk much – unlike me – and she had this sparkle in her eyes.

Back then, I was living from drama to drama, a budding jazz singer drifting from boyfriend to boyfriend. There was always the love of my life, just out of reach.

Though we talked here and there, we never had coffee. I would have liked to know her better but she was always with a friend, and always on her way to somewhere else.

The class on Nigeria went on. The following semester she wasn’t there anymore. Asked about it she said that she didn’t study cultural anthropology anymore. She still came to band rehearsals. Then she didn’t. My life changed, and it didn’t, always drama, always upheaval, always the elusive boyfriend, and always singing jazz.

I met her again, one night, at the jazz club. That jazz club, you know. Apparently she was working there at that time. She sat at the entrance, selling tickets, and we talked a bit. There wasn’t time, much, because of the other people behind us.

I don’t remember who went with me that night. Or which band played. It might have been that one time that weird New York hard bop band was playing. Or not.

Later that night she served drinks. Once she had a little break she sat down at our table. We talked. She was looking as stunning as ever. „I’m going to Linz to study jazz.“ she said. I asked her about the earring she was wearing on the left. „That’s Hekate’s double axe.“ she said, „It’s a feminist symbol.“ And she smiled, that charming smile of hers. Looking at me with a kind of sparkle in her eyes.

„Oh, feminist. I like that.“ I said.

I didn’t get it at that time. In fact it took me years. You know, that double axe is not really a feminist symbol alone.

I was young and naive. That’s my excuse.

These days that I’m neither. I wonder.


May 272010
 

(One of the writers I’m meeting with every month has written a murder mystery, and so her topic of choice for our last meeting was “murder”. I didn’t quite know what to write for that at first. I had a vague notion of doing something with cute talking animals like the white rabbit but then I found that I wanted to do something totally different:)

“I couldn’t harm a fly! What do you want from me?”

I was looking at her through the observation window, the window that was a mirror on the other side.

Her husband had been found by a neighbor coming over to borrow the dethatcher for his garden. The neighbor came in through the back, and found him sprawled on the kitchen floor. Nothing had been looking out of the ordinary, just a guy laying on the floor. There had been groceries sitting on the counter in a bag. He probably was about to put them away.

I was called to the house just before lunch break. There were police cars already there, and Gonzales my partner was already talking to the neighbor. A nice neighborhood, small houses, each with a lawn in front and a garage attached to it, neat mailboxes standing next to the sidewalk. A lot of people were standing in the street. They weren’t used to see police cars here.

Everything in the house was tidy and neat and clean. Just as you would expect in the house of a middle aged couple. There were only the two of them living there. No children apparently which was a bit unusual. Otherwise everything looked normal.

Somebody had knocked the deceased on the head. Just one blow, and that was it. There was no sign of struggle, no fingerprints, no nothing. Just a man on the floor. He looked as if he had just keeled over.

When the wife came home later she was shocked by the presence of police cars. When they told her about her husband she couldn’t believe it at first. Then she went numb. Of course we had to bring her in and question her. She was the person who could help us best with this, she would be the one knowing her husband. And of course she was also a suspect. They always were in cases like this.

Until now it had been Gonzales talking to her but we all thought it might be time for a little woman on woman chat. People assume that you’re nice and sympathetic because you’re female. Of course that’s bullshit. Gonzales is much nicer than me. Women working in the police don’t stay nice even if they start out that way. You either get hard or you quit. And if you quit you can have a nice little life in a nice little suburb with your nice little kids, just like that woman sitting there on a chair in a police station. Of course her life wasn’t that nice now, with her husband killed.

In TV series there’s often this moment when they tell somebody about the death of a person they love. There’s a very brief pause, and then there’s the wailing. It doesn’t really happen this way in real life. Usually people take much longer to understand what’s happened. Most people stay numb for quite some time. They act as if nothing had happened, they keep on doing the things they always do, and only later, quite a bit later does it hit them. And even that is not the time when the wailing starts. That comes later.

Except when someone is guilty. When somebody already knew that the person was dead. Then they often act as in TV. They don’t know better. That’s often a giveaway, people wailing like that. You want to watch out for that.

I go into the interrogation room, and sit down on a chair opposite her.

“Hello, Mrs. Harris.” I say, “I’m sorry to keep you but you’re the one who can help us to find your husband’s murderer.”

“So it was murder? But that’s ridiculous. Who would want him dead, he is perfectly harmless. And it’s Ms. Harris, not Mrs.” Then she remembered. “Was, I mean.” She played with the wedding band on her left hand, turning it round and round on her finger. “Your partner there, Mr. Gonzales, I think that he thinks that I did it.” Suddenly she sat up straight, looking me directly in the eye. “That’s ridiculous, I love him, and I never would have wished him harm.”

That made me smile a bit. “Never, eh? Not even when he didn’t screw the top of the toothpaste back on? Not even when he forgot your birthday? Never?”

“He didn’t do that. He’d never forget my birthday.” She paused, “Of course he never did any housework.” Twisting her ring, “Or picked up his clothes. I have told him over and over again, day in and day out to please put his clothes in the hamper but no, he always threw them on the floor. Every single day. And every day a clean shirt. Every single day, even on weekends. And I had to iron them. Pick them up from the floor, empty his pockets, put everything in the laundry, wash it, hang it up, iron it, fold it, put it away. Every single day. Oh, and his shoes. He never polished them, ever. But he needed a clean and polished pair every single day. Do you know how many pairs of black shoes this man owns?”

I tried to look sympathetic.

“Ten pairs. Ten pairs! Of black dress shoes. For work. And guess who has to polish them?”

“That would be you.”

“You’re right. And he never puts anything away, ever. Not even his tools. You know he has this workshop in the basement with all his tools. And every time he uses something he puts it on top of the workbench. He never puts anything away. The pile on that workbench just gets higher and higher. The other day I wanted some pliers to unscrew the faucet, and I couldn’t find anything in there. He does have this set of drawers for his tools, everything has a place, it could be beautiful, and easy to find everything but I had to dig through that pile on the workbench to find a measly pair of pliers. Mind you, when I straightened them all up he was mad at me.”

“Did you have a fight about that?”

“We don’t exactly fight. We’re always nice and polite to each other.” Twisting her ring again. “Though I think sometimes I’m nagging him a bit.”

I just leaned back and let her talk.

“I know, he is working much more than me. I should be able to do all the housework but it does seem a bit unfair that he never lifts a finger.”

“Mmh.”

“He could just, I don’t know, sometimes he could just put away the groceries or go shopping once in a while, or just pick up his damn socks from the floor.” Her voice had gotten louder and quite tense by now.

“Wait a minute. There are groceries in your kitchen right now.”

“Oh yes, I forgot all about them. I should have put them away.”

“Did you go grocery shopping earlier?”

“Yes, of course, I always do. I left them on the counter, and asked him to put them away for once because I had to get back to fetch some potatoes. – He doesn’t like pasta or rice so I always have to cook him potatoes. And I hadn’t gotten enough, and so I asked him to please at least put the milk in the fridge.”

“And what did he say?”

“He said I could do it. But I had to go back to the store before they were closing.”

“And then?”

“I said he could either put the groceries away or go to the store to get more potatoes.”

“And then?”

“And then he said that I could do both, and that it was my fault because I had forgotten the potatoes, and how muddle-headed I always was, and that it wasn’t his job to always help me out, and that made me really mad.” She looked down on her hands playing with her ring. “I got so mad at him, I could have killed him.”

May 052010
 

(Yet another writing group story. One of the other writers came up with the idea of writing about houses, and since we were meeting at my house that month I thought it would be appropriate to write about the house I’m living in. It isn’t really a story but you might like it nonetheless.)

This is an old house, a small house with creaking floorboards and a shingled roof. From afar it looks like a house a child might draw, pale yellow, the door in the middle, windows in rows of two above. The door is rounded at the top and made from oak. It has a round window set in the middle. The garden is huge by modern standards, and all around there’s a tall green hedge.

We moved into this house shortly after my father-in-law had died. First we had thought that my mother-in-law wanted to sell the house, get rid of that tiny old thing but then we found out that she only didn’t want to stay here alone. We were in love and wanted to move in together, and that’s what we did, move together into the suburbs.

When my husband’s paternal grandmother bought this house, back in 1938, this wasn’t a suburb. This was a very small town, and in this very street were three houses like this one, a nursery, and not much else. My husband tells tales of climbing the big pines in the garden, the ones that are no longer there, the ones that fell on a neighbor’s roof during a storm one day. He sat there, high in the tree and looked over the greenhouses, the rows of plants, and the few gardens that made the neighborhood.

When his grandmother bought the house – and that’s the right way to tell this story, it’s never ‘his grandparents bought the house’, it’s always his grandmother – back in 1938 it was brand-new. It was built by the man living next door in a house very similar but with only one apartment instead of two. There seems to be something weird about his house, he hanged himself in the cellar there, then there lived an old woman with a dog who was quite peculiar, and next the neighbor I met, somebody really strange who never ceased to change things at his house. He built, and tore down, and altered, and deepened the cellar, and changed the roof, and built an annex, and changed the garden, and changed the garage, and sawed part of our garage off because it was on his property. We didn’t know. They just built the new garage where the old one had been, in the seventies. Now we know that part of our garage is on our neighbor’s property, and part of our other neighbor’s garden is on ours.

You can still feel the war here in the house. Every time you want to hang up a picture you are reminded that this house was built at a time when building materials where scarce because of the war. You drill a tiny little hole, and your drill will either go in like butter without any resistance at all, or it will hit a pebble, and then you’re stuck. When you pull your drill out you will find that the hole has became large enough to swallow half your fist. So in this house pictures stay where they already are, and if you buy a new one you take care to use a hook that’s already there.

The cellar isn’t insulated at all. It’s damp and dark and moldy. When you put something organic on the floor there, like your winter shoes or potatoes, it will get moldy during the summer.

There are two apartments in this house. Each one has two rooms, a kitchen, and a tiny bathroom. Back when my husband’s family moved in that was considered to be enough for a family of four. His father was four when they moved here, his brother not yet born, and every day their father took the train to Munich to go to work. He was very proud of his work, and later, much later, after the war, he got a certificate because he had spent 50 years working in that same place. Of course, when his second son was born he wasn’t home much. He was in the war.

The town they lived in was a target at that time because out here in the woods there’s a facility where they kept fuel in big tanks for the military. Up to this day there’s a part of the wood where you can’t go, a part with barbed wire and signs to keep you out.

So there were bombs. Out here there were no shelters. My husband’s uncle tells tales of mattresses in the cellar, the cellar that’s moldy and damp, and how the Western side of the house was cracked because of a bomb. It didn’t fall down, that wall, it just had a crack from top to bottom.

My husband’s grandparents were living on the first floor with their two children, and at first his grandmother’s sister with her family lived upstairs. But that grandmother must have been a fierce and unpleasant woman, and soon enough she had one too many fight with her sister who moved out never to speak to her again. It was my husband’s father who later found her again. If it weren’t for him we wouldn’t know anyone from that side of the family.

Some time later, a few years after the war, a family of Silesian fugitives came to live in that apartment upstairs. A couple with their two teenage daughters. My husband’s grandmother looked down upon them, a family who had lost everything, forced to flee by the Russian army.

That family was my mother-in-law’s family. She, her parents, and her younger sister had finally found a new home here in this house. They too had only two rooms, a kitchen, and a bathroom. There were oil heaters in there, the rooms small and square, and two big chimneys going through the house.

When they all got a little older, the oldest son from downstairs and the oldest daughter from upstairs wanted to get married to each other. My mother-in-law never had another boyfriend but the one she met in the house she lived in.

She didn’t want to move ever again, and she persuaded her parents to look for a new apartment so she and her husband could stay in this house. The small apartment on the second floor became their home. Just on top of his parents who were fighting all the time. A few years later they had a son, my husband, and when he started school they had another one. The house was crowded at that time. The grandparents on the first floor, fighting and playing the violin, and listening to music, and the family with two small children on the second floor. And up under the roof there was a room that wasn’t even meant to be a room, and that’s where my husband’s uncle lived at that time. He is my husband’s godfather. Both of them tell stories of singing Christmas carols together up there under the roof.

Some time later that uncle moved away. He married and started working as a teacher, and so the family on the second floor could spread out upwards. In the late sixities two rooms, a kitchen, and a bathroom suddenly didn’t seem big enough for a family of four anymore. My father-in-law must have spent many a weekend turning that attic into two rooms for his sons, and some years later he even added a tiny bathroom. That must have been quite some time later because my husband still tells tales of having to resort to the garden when he had to use the toilet in the night because his father would lock the apartment door, and there wasn’t a bathroom accessible.

This house seems to grab at people, my mother-in-law never wants to move out again, and my husband came back to live here several times, the last one being when I moved here with him.

His grandfather has died of cancer here in this house, in our bedroom. We still don’t have a doorbell on our apartment door because my father-in-law deactivated it when his mother went cuckoo and started ringing it for no reason day and night. They had to send her to a nursing home eventually because they couldn’t keep an eye on her all the time.

Shortly after she died her son became ill as well. I only met him twice, and already he was only a shadow of the man he used to be. We didn’t get along at all. He resented that I’m not Bavarian, and he preferred the girlfriend my husband had had before me. He died the year I met my husband, in this house, in his bed on the second floor right above the spot where his father had died.

Three months later we moved in. It was a weird feeling for me, moving in with all that history. This is my husband’s grandmother’s kitchen sink, and the tiles she chose, and her bathroom. This is where they had to renew the floors because my mother-in-laws dishwasher broke and there was water all over. That is why the tiles in the bathroom, and the horrible floor in the kitchen don’t really match anything else. His grandparents are the reason we still have aluminum wiring in our apartment (but nowhere else).

We have her sink, and her kitchen cabinet. We have her old big table in the basement where they used to do the washing. I have her sewing basket and I use it often. We also have been living here for sixteen years now so we have made memories of our own. The kitchen bench we got for our wedding. The table that my brother-in-law gave us because it was too small for his growing family. The bed and closet that we bought from the money my mother-in-law’s father gave us. The shelves that my husband’s ex-girlfriend built, the other shelves I brought with me when I moved in, and finally the annex we had built so we could work from home.

It’s getting less crowded in this small house even though we have a child now. Shortly after he was born, all of a sudden I had the feeling there was somebody in the house. I couldn’t see anybody, it was eerie. I’d go down the hall and there’d be this presence. At first I thought it might be my husband’s grandmother, maybe she was unhappy with what we had done to the house. Her son had cut down all her fruit trees, and changed the garden into lawn and flowers. We had renovated the whole house, new windows, new paint, the annex, and finally a new roof (but that was later). But it wasn’t her. It was very strange.

I had the feeling there was somebody, and that somebody was related to us, and was attracted by the baby in the house. As if that somebody wanted to drink our life in, watch us, watch the baby. Then I knew it. It wasn’t my husband’s paternal grandmother, it was mine. Which was double strange since she was supposed to be still alive if quite muddled in the head. I told her to go away. I told her that we loved her, and that all was well with her great-grandchild but that she should leave us alone because she didn’t belong here.

Only a couple of months later my mother said, “And after your grandmother’s death…” and I said, “What? She died? Why haven’t you told me?” And my mother, “Haven’t I?” and it turned out that she had died just before I had felt her here, in this house.

Apr 082010
 

(This was last month’s story for the writer’s meeting. The topic got to be “beer, glass and fear” one of these peculiar group efforts. The story still doesn’t have a real title. There’s something about this story that my writer buddies liked very much, I’m not so sure about, and my husband finds too simple and strained. Tell me what you think about it, please. And I’m still in search of a title. Also, I might want to stop starting stories with “A woman walked into a bar.”)

Nice girls like me don’t go in a bar like this, I thought while sitting down on a bar stool in that dingy little place, and ordering a beer. But then, since I was neither a girl anymore nor particularly nice that was okay. I did fake nice for my job, though, nice and patient and warm and caring. Fuck.

The place was dark, and full of smoke. I didn’t know that was still legal. There were a couple of people in here, looking like regulars at their own table way in the back. The bartender was placing drinks before them, a glass of white wine in front of a blonde woman holding a cigarette. She was standing too close to one of the men, wearing a tight white top, and low rise jeans on her narrow frame. I would have thought her to be around fifty if it weren’t for her voice, loud and harsh, sounding like she was a chain smoker. She was probably quite a bit younger than she looked, alcohol and nicotine having marinated her beyond her years.

I didn’t quite know why I had had the urge to come here this evening. I had passed this little hole of a bar often on my way home from work. The bead curtain at the entrance, the small cluster of regulars standing right in front of the door day and night, and never had I thought to go in here. But tonight I just couldn’t stand the thought of going home, of business as usual, and so I had come here.

My beer took too long to arrive. The bartender served everybody else before me. The two men standing to my right between the bar and the slot machine were looking at me. Sideways glance not meant to be seen.

I don’t know why I keep on doing this. I can’t do this work any longer, it’s killing me. Always nice, always smiling, always presentable. Sometimes I think I should give it all up and get a job as a cleaning woman. At least that’s honorable work. Work that needs to be done.

I should have gone home. Drink my own beer in front of my own TV, not in a bar watching sports with the sound turned off. Or better yet, I should have gone to the gym, work out, meet some friends and be civilized. Fuck.

At first I thought this was a good job. I had become a nurse to help people, to ease their pain. Then, after working in the emergency room for a couple of years, I couldn’t stand it anymore, and I looked for something easier with regular working hours. And so I had ended up in that place, a place for people with money, a place that had nothing to do with healing. And now I had the feeling that it was wrong to help these patients, our clients I was supposed to call them, I had the feeling that they all deserved it, that they should just give up trying. Maybe I should go somewhere else, even a hospice would be better than that.

I didn’t like it in here, and I didn’t want to talk to anybody. The guy sitting next to me tried to make eye contact, and started inching closer. I put a few coins on the bar, put down my half-empty bottle and left again. It had been a mistake, coming here, what had I been thinking.

It had been better for a while when I met Johnny. I had someone to come home to, we sat in front of the TV together, and then he made plans about marrying and family and kids. I don’t think I want kids, I had said, and he was totally mad at me. Not that he really liked kids or was a family guy or something, just, that’s not something you’re supposed to say, especialy if you’re a woman. Fuck.

I’ll just go for a walk. That will be better. Down the canal, away from the people. It was cold already this time of year. Throughout the day one could fool oneself, it still felt like summer, almost, but now in the evening, it got chilly. I had to close my jacket. My beloved leather jacket. Johnny hadn’t liked it, that old thing, he had said. He wanted me to look like a lady. Or sexy. Or both. He didn’t like my flannel shirts, and jeans and boots, and the oversized brown suede jacket with the big buttons on the front. I pulled the hood of my sweatshirt up, the sweatshirt I wore underneath the jacket. Nice and warm. I can take care of myself, I don’t need anybody to look after me.

Not like these nice damsels at the clinic, all of them falling in love with the doctors. All of them came with their nice little husbands, husbands who were secretely ashamed, who knew they weren’t real men. The women came like they wanted the doctors to fill in for their husbands. Of course, often it wasn’t because of the men. But mostly it felt like it were.

At work I was just a decorative and practical shadow. A nice, starched white shadow, smiling, leaning a hand, helping, carrying things, guiding people, a nice little white shadow, a servant, almost a ghost, and part of the furniture. Of course, at the clinic’s Christmas party Doctor Whiteheart always said how grateful he was for his staff, and that he couldn’t do it without us. Fuck.

Maybe a cigarette would make me feel better. I already smelled like it anyway.

The condom broke. It wasn’t my fault. Johnny had already broken up with me twice. Because he wanted to have a family. And because I didn’t want to he couldn’t take me home to meet his parents. Of course he couldn’t. He wanted a real woman, someone nice, and caring, someone who would fold his socks, and clean his apartment and cook for him. Not someone who liked going out and drinking beer, and playing computer games. He hadn’t minded in the beginning. When we met he said I was refreshing, and that my boldness made me sexy. And then he wanted a nice little wife, and I can’t be that.

I tried. Really. I even tried to cook, and have dinner ready on time but for some reason I never could do it right. It was always too late, or too early, or the wrong thing to make, or too salty, or whatever.

And then he came back, and after a few days everything was all right again. There was someone to come home to and to spend the evening with. And then the condom broke. And then he left and he didn’t call. He said, he had work to do. On the weekend. Johnny never works on weekends, never. But he said, this time was special, and that his boss had made him do it. And then I knew that he had broken up with me again. And I thought, this is it, this is the end. And a part of me was relieved. It is over. Forever over.

But then I started to feel weird. I thought I had caught a virus. I didn’t want to eat anything, and I felt nauseous all the time. And then I tried to remember my last period. And I couldn’t. And then one day at work I just took one of the pregnancy tests for myself.

I thought Johnny would be happy. That was what he had wanted, wasn’t it? But he just slammed the door in my face and screamed something about me not getting any money out of him, and that I was a hysterical bitch, never to come near him again, ever.

Fuck.

Mar 102010
 

Diving into the night as a floating wind came by to grip me, cars on the highway passing by. The moon staring at us while we were heading for the shoreline; the green fish staring at you while we wove our way through the algae, downwards into the deep blue cool, threading deeper and onwards. The caves nearby whispering to us while we floated between the corals, creatures like jewels asleep in the liquid dark.

Out to the open, the ocean, the blue, the dark, the cool, the wet, outwards, and downwards, into the depth. Our eyes blind from the cold, the pressure, the lack of light, only illuminated by smallish animals, wearing lanterns, and luminescence. Down through the sand to the point where there’s rock, always rock underneath.

Resting there for a while, pausing the race, not moving, letting the cold streams run over us, resting, but not for long, onwards, and upwards, outwards, through the deep, the blue, the cold, through where the water is calm always, up, and through, through the waves, the white crust of frothing waves, going up and down, right and left, never still, never at peace, drifting on. And on, always moving, riding the wind, the water, the dark.

Erin and Heidi at the mall, carrying their totes, their make-up, walking slowly because of their shoes. Very pretty shoes, there had been a sale, and so they had spent the last of their paychecks on these, sexy shoes with high spiky heels that made their ankles look pretty and slim. They looked very much alike from afar, their hair done into a puffy mass of curls framing their pretty faces. They liked make-up, those two, their eyes all heavy eyeliner, smoky shadows, and fluttering lashes, their mouths rose-colored glittering pouts.

Floating on the water, being rocked by the waves’ motion, waiting until the annoying moon starts to pale above us. More blue, more light, more warmth, rushing in, meeting the morning. Still, beneath us the dark, the cool, the deep, unchanged by light’s arrival. Onwards again, taking hold of the wind, merging, waving in and out, the air, the light, colors getting brighter, shiny. The water, sparkling with light, reflecting warmth, deflecting hearts.

The girls are speaking, endlessly, giggling, and gossiping, talking, never listening. Just an endless stream of syllables put forth with a meaningless smile. Both of them connected to the ether by invisible strings, their cell phones humming; shiny, sleek, bluetooth connectors at their ears and lips. Connected not with the world around them, with the people they see before them, with smells, and sounds, and sights right there but only with other people hanging from the same strings, never being where they are.

They walk slowly, taking care with every step; the sexy shoes demand attention, their totes getting heavier, the mall a whir of color and movement.

Onward and upward again, the air, the wind, the light, gliding, soaring. You and I, me and you, moving, sensing, now the sun is up in the sky, a one-eyed giantess bringing life and scorn, making the world bright, shiny, and slightly harsher. We know that the staring moon is still there but now he can’t see us anymore. Nosy he is but now he’s pale and in the presence of his big warm mistress he’s too far away to catch us. So we seize the moment, go on and on, rounding the globe, moving in, and out, up and down. Fear of falling isn’t hindering us. Going down deep we meet rock again, and again, going up there’s air and light, dust and sparkles, creatures big and small. Moving, moving, always moving. We wave in and out of the streams, the rivulets going down, the vapor going up, playing like dolphins.

The girls decide to have lunch, they are tired and thirsty. They stand in line, teetering on their heels, ordering tall styrofoam cups full of hot, bitter coffee with frothing milk and chocolate sprinkles. For once they sit down on hard chairs made from the blood of the earth, for once they are quiet, sipping their hot flavored water, and watching the people.

Come on, my love, don’t rest for long, let’s make use of what time we have left. Let’s bathe in the warmth of that yellow star that’s staring us down with her one yellow eye, seeing it all, making light, making warmth without mercy.

Onwards again, out and up and far away, floating, you and me, then us, merging and drifting apart. Warmer this time over the sea, the water green and blue and dark and cold, and quiet, and then sound again, waves and motion and onwards and up.

With the pale brown brew they drink, the girls’ strength returns, borrowed determination and energy. So they get up, whispering into their mouthpieces again, counting their bags. Each step something to think about, laden with goods they go out into the sun again on the street where cars pass by like animals herded into their pens. Erin and Heidi stand at the curb, all pink and curly and shiny on their nice shoes that make their ankles look pretty.

Come on, hurry up, there it is, one for me, one for you, so young, so dumb like corals and shiny, sleek fish. Come on, my love, here it is, now the sand, now the green, now the gray, dusty concrete jungle, human-made. Along their lines, speed and stink, moving beneath us, floating on the current of their exhaust, hot and ugly, but there it is, one for you, one for me. Nourishment, a sip of their souls, young and green, tasting like peppermint candy, all white and pink stripes.

The girls get into the car, tired and aching. The day feels gray, the spark gone.

Come on, my love, let’s go up and out and down again, to the water, to the rock, let’s rest and play, and hide from moon’s cold judging eye.

(I should stop calling these “story of the month” since it’s more like “story of the year” but I’m forever optimist. I started this in January 2009 as a homework assignment for my writer’s group. The assignment was “surreal”. I decided to write it mostly stream of consciousness-like as an experiment, and also I didn’t have much time. I never liked the ending, and was slightly dissatisfied until last month when I pulled it out again and finished it.)

Feb 132009
 

This month’s topic for my writing group was “paranoia”. Again, not something I would have chosen on my own, though quite interesting. Again, I have the feeling that there should be some more of this story, only I don’t quite know where to take it next. On the subject of my last post about all my family having the flu: we’re feeling much, much better now. Not exactly healthy but not sick anymore either. We’ll spend tomorrow out of town, and I hope to be back next week with some real blog content for a change. Here’s the story:

It’s only paranoia if it isn’t real, isn’t it?

It’s only paranoia if it isn’t real, isn’t it?

So, what’s better then, being crazy, or it being real? Huh? What’s better? Is it paranoia? You know, when you know, well, you know that basically everyone is out for you? Or is that realism?

Is that guy over there really interested in that shop’s window, or is he only pretending to be interested so that I won’t see his face? And then, when I look away, will he be walking after me, will he follow me, and then there will be another one, and then another one, and then, that guy over there? Or that girl? Or that one? Haven’t I seen them all before? Or have I just seen them because they all live in this neighborhood, and it’s perfectly natural to see them, or do I only think they look familiar because these days all people look alike? Except for that guy over there, I haven’t seen him before, not anywhere, I’m sure. Maybe they brought him in so that I wouldn’t be suspicious. Someone new.

But then, these day and age, who’d spend that kind of money on people observing me? There are other means, other means, tools, they could have cameras. There can be cameras everywhere, tiny little cameras, no bigger than buttons, than coins, sewn into my clothes, looking from windows, looking out of shops, cameras inside shops, everyone knows there are cameras, surveillance cameras everywhere.

They wouldn’t even have to use their own cameras, or people, they could just hack into everbody’s computers and follow me through those. Everybody has a computer nowadays, mean little robot machines. With cameras. And microphones. They fool you, mean little robotic computers, alien intelligence, these days they don’t even look like computers anymore. There was a time, when every computer looked like a big fat electric typewriter; nowadays, these days, they have tiny little computers, looking like cigarette boxes, like miniature telephones, nasty people with their nasty little headphones, so tiny you can barely see them, plugged into their ears. Cameras inside telephones, computers everywhere. There are people carrying robots, robot computers all around me, plugging into each others machines, taking pictures with these tiny little cameras, recording everything with there tiny little microphones, and sending it off to each other, to some other robot, computer, sitting on the other side of the globe.

Every day now you’d meet someone, someone who’d seem mad because talking to himself, a sure sign of madness, that, talking to yourself, not good, you shouldn’t do that, only old fools, crazy people do that, you see; you see all these people, young people, fat, wealthy looking people, they all run around in the streets, talking to themselves, and then, and then it turns out, they aren’t talking to themselves, they are talking on the phone. Only, you can’t see the phone, it’s so tiny. They can plug it into their ears or something, a tiny telephone, sitting there in their ears. Next to the tiny camera, I bet. Cameras everywhere these days.

Numbers and barcodes and everything.

I bet they could track me by the chip in my library card. There are chips in everything, or so they say but I wonder, what are they doing with potatoes in all these computers?

Well, I figure the robots must have something to eat too? Don’t they? So maybe they put chips in everything, even the washing machines, the janitor told me so, there’s a chip in the washing machine, a computer even, which means, of course, that there is a robot living in the basement of my own house. He’s probably counting my socks, and reports how often I wash them. But I tricked him! Ha! I have been going to the laundromat. Ha! What do they think? Counting my underwear? No, sir, I won’t have that.

So, all these cameras, and robots, eating chips in everything. The phone, the washing machine, the shops, the bank, the library even. It’s a shame, I used to like the library. It’s warm and cozy there, with all the books, and not noisy, it’s quiet and cozy and calm, and there are no young people there, almost no people in fact, no noise, nothing of what they call music nowadays, and then I could take a nice bit of reading home to sit by the fire in the evenings.

Can’t do that anymore, of course, there’s a chip in my library card, and so they could track it, every bit of it, track me, better put the library card into the waste bin, right here, so, that’s better. Only there will be no more books for free, it’s a pity but there you are, can’t have this sort of thing, robots eating chips in my library card, nasty buggers.

Tracking somone must be an awful lot of work, like in the war, when you were undercover, and nobody was to find you out. But these days they had so many people, probably half the population working for them, otherwise they wouldn’t be bothering with somone like me, I’m not important, no sir, for all they know I’m not important, and they can’t know, I have never told nobody, no sir, never.

Must be going crazy, must I? Only, it’s only paranoia if it isn’t real. And it could be real, couldn’t it? Only I never told nobody, never. I didn’t tell.

Jan 092009
 

(Seems like I’m still not on top of everything yet, but this month I managed to write, um, half of the story for the writer’s group meeting. The prompt was “surreal”. Of course I only started writing at noon, helped my husband cook while typing on the computer, and then had to teach right up to the moment when I ran out of the house to catch the train for the meeting. I really hope to finish this, tie the two strands of the story together, ply them so-to-speak. I wrote it as stream of consciousness as I could.)

Falling

Diving into the night as a floating wind came by to grip me, cars on the highway passing by. The moon staring at us while we were heading for the shoreline; the green fish staring at you while we wove our way through the algae, downwards into the deep blue cool, threading deeper and onwards. The caves nearby whispering to us while we floated between the corals, creatures like jewels asleep in the liquid dark.

Out to the open, the ocean, the blue, the dark, the cool, the wet, outwards, and downwards, into the depth. Our eyes blind from the cold, the pressure, the lack of light, only illuminated by smallish animals, wearing lanterns, and luminecence. Down through the sand to the point where there’s rock, always rock underneath.

Resting there for a while, pausing the race, not moving, letting the cold streams run over us, resting, but not for long, onwards, and upwards, outwards, throught the deep, the blue, the cold, through where the water is calm always, up, and through, through the waves, the white crust of frothing waves, going up and down, right and left, never still, never at peace, drifting on. And on, always moving, riding the wind, the water, the dark.

Erin and Heidi at the mall, carrying their totes, their make-up, walking slowly because of their shoes. Very pretty shoes, there had been a sale, and so they had spent the last of their paychecks on these, sexy shoes with high spiky heels that made their ankles look pretty and slim. They looked very much alike from afar, their hair done into a puffy mass of curls framing their pretty faces. They liked make-up, those two, their eyes all heavy eyeliner, smoky shadows, and fluttering lashes, their mouths rose-colored glittering pouts.

Floating on the water, being rocked by the waves’ motion, waiting until the annoying moon starts to pale above us. More blue, more light, more warmth, rushing in, meeting the morning. Still, beneath us the dark, the cool, the deep, unchanged by light’s arrival. Onwards again, taking hold of the wind, merging, waving in and out, the air, the light, colors getting brighter, shiny. The water, sparkling with light, reflecting warmth, deflecting hearts.

The girls are speaking, endlessly, giggling, and gossiping, talking, never listening. Just an endless stream of syllables put forth with a meaningless smile. Both of them connected to the ether by invisible strings, their cell phones humming; shiny, sleek, bluetooth connectors at their ears and lips. Connected not with the world around them, with the people they see before them, with smells, and sounds, and sights right there but only with other people hanging from the same strings, never being where they are.

They walk slowly, taking care with every step; the sexy shoes demand attention, their totes getting heavier, the mall a whir of color and movement.

Onward and upward again, the air, the wind, the light, gliding, soaring. You and I, me and you, moving, sensing, now the sun is up in the sky, a one-eyed giantess bringing life and scorn, making the world bright, shiny, and slightly harsher. We know that the staring moon is still there but now he can’t see us anymore. Nosy he is but now he’s pale and in the presence of his big warm mistress he’s too far away to catch us. So we seize the moment, go on and on, rounding the globe, moving in, and out, up and down. Fear of falling isn’t hindering us. Going down deep we meet rock again, and again, going up there’s air and light, dust and sparkles, creatures big and small. Moving, moving, always moving. We wave in and out of the streams, the rivulets going down, the vapor going up, playing like dolphins. Come on my love!

Oct 032008
 

(I wrote this story back in August as an assignment for the writing group meeting. The prompt had been “insanity” but somehow I ended up just writing something. I turned out to be so curious about where it went from there that I ended up writing part two and the beginning of part three in September. You’ll have to wait for part 2, though, because I have to make a small alteration to it before posting it here.)

Finally they had gotten the fire going. Not exactly blazing heat but at least a little warmth against the salty, stinging wind coming from the
sea. They huddled close to it, looking into the flames as men had done since the dawn of time, their stomachs growling.

When they had planned to go onto this trip it had sound like fun. Go to an island, live on the beach for a week. Fun. Rub shoulders with nature,
and then go home with stories to tell.

Well, there sure would be stories to tell but then they weren’t as sure anymore how to make it home.

Laura held her hands close to the fire, her front too hot, and her back still exposed to the chilling wind. It felt as if those tiny salt
crystals that were everywhere cut right through to her bones. She never got the appeal of campfires and barbecues, and now she had to rely on
this to keep her even vaguely comfortable. She remembered how it always took too long for the food to get ready, and how everbody had started
eating the salads until no one had wanted all that slightly burned meat. Only there weren’t any salads this time. She longed for the coziness of
central heating and delivered pizza, to say nothing of hot baths and warm beds, while thinking that today she would be lucky to get enough
slightly burned fish to get satisfied. Right there she would have killed for a bit of pepper or a twig of rosemary.

At least they did get to keep their sleeping bags, the water filters, shovels, knives, and fishing gear. They were very lucky that the boat
that flipped over held no essentials.

On the other hand it would have been really nice to have things like bread, soup, or tents.

Laura tried to be grateful that they had enough to eat, and were reasonably warm but then she would have loved to be at home right now,
snuggling under a blanket watching TV.

The others were getting on her nerves. Stan, their self-proclaimed outdoor expert who had needed five matches to light the fire, Lenny, who
was in charge of cooking, and who already had dropped the fish twice, Samantha who kept whining that her hair was looking terrible, and her
friend Michelle who didn’t say much and seemed to be still in shock after her boat keeled over. Well, it could have been worse, everybody
wore life-vests, and they got by on clams, crabs, and fruit.

She wondered how long it would take until they would be rescued. The others didn’t doubt that there would be a rescue party anytime soon but
she thought that it would be at least three weeks, and then only for the ones who had to go to work.

The thought of spending about three more weeks with these people made her restless. Despite the windchill she got up for a walk on the beach.

“Laura? Whatcha doin'”, Samantha asked, “You can’t go along the beach all alone after dark.”
Of course she could. There was no one here besides them, the island was too small for any predators, and she’d see the fire on her way back.

Stupid, city-dwellers, Laura thought. She shouldn’t have come, and her boyfriend didn’t look as attractive any more, now that he sat there at the fire, pretending to know something about cooking over an open fire.

Laura hadn’t thought much about her time as a girl scout or going camping with her parents until now when she had to find out that the
people she called her friends were completely unprepared for living in the real world. It seemed that taking away their mobile phones,
refridgerators and cars made them totally helpless.

Well, better to learn survival on a tropical island than in Alaska.

Somebody came after her.
“Laura, you can’t go off on your own.”, Stan pleaded.
“Why not?”, she answered.
“It’s dangerous.”
“No, it isn’t. There’s moonlight, there’s the fire, the island is small,
and there are no big animals living here.”
“There could be sharks.”
“I don’t want to go for a swim, I’m just taking a short walk, calm down.”
“Then let me go with you.”

There seemed to be no way out, so she went back to the fire. The fish wasn’t done yet. It looked quite burned, though. Not exactly a gourmet meal.

Maybe she should cook the next fish herself. And while she dreamed of that she also thought about catching the next fish herself. She could
make herself a spear and get some of the bigger fish in the lagoon. She remembered how her mother had showed her to be perfectly still until the
fish forgot her. But if she made herself a spear Stan would know that she had more tools in her backpack than she had let him know. And when
she thought about what he had managed to do to his own innocent leatherman tool she knew she wasn’t ready yet. More crabs in the future.

Jul 152008
 

It’s not really about food.

“I wish I could eat like you. I’d have no problems losing weight.” Pia says to me at lunch. Then she looks at my tummy. Well, if I always ate like I do at work I’d have no problems losing weight either. I pick at my salad, limp and soggy, drenched in that kind of dressing you only get at restaurants. White and milky with a taste like starch.

The afternoon at work seems to pass backwards. On top of everybody working as if in slow motion I have to sit through one of these meetings which are held solely because my boss likes to hear himself talk. Also, it’s good to make him feel in charge.

I’m hungry. I’m always hungry. In the afternoon Pia brings a big tray of gummi bears. I never eat sweets at work. There’s no point.

Just when I’m about to leave the phone rings, and I have to deal with my boss yet again. Obviously he feels that I’m not enough of a team player. Ugh. It seems that somebody accused me of pushing too hard. Brain-dead snails, the whole lot of them.

Finally, I’m out. Today I’ll take good care of myself. I’ll take a nice bath, steam some dumb vegetables, and go for a walk later. It will make me feel great.

I’m hungry. My feet walk to the grocery store out of their own accord. I’ll just get a bit of chocolate. I had a bad day, I deserve a little treat. Just one or two pieces after dinner. There it is. Chocolate. Mmm. Home.

Finally there. I kick off my heels, get out of the constriction that’s the “power suit”, jacket with shoulder pads, short skirt, blouse that I can’t lift my arms in, pantyhose, underwire bra. Finally able to inhale all the way again.

While dressing in yoga pants, a tee, a hoodie, and two pairs of soft socks, I put the Red Hot Chili Peppers on. Loud. That’s better.

I’m beat. Open the fridge, get a cold beer. Fetch a glass. Unpack the chocolate, potato chips, gummi bears, and licorice. Pour the beer. Put everything on a tray together with my novel. I sit down in bed with my tray, and the remote control. Finally, I can relax.

I open the bag of potato chips first. They smell delicious, I put them in my mouth, and they crackle as I bite down. I’ll only eat a few, and then I’ll put the bag away. Spicy, crunchy, garlicky, hot. Just a few more, just a few. Now a sip of beer. A bit of licorice interspersed with the gummi bears. Chips, beer, gummi bears, licorice.

I start reading. The next time I look up the chips are gone. Oh no. I did it again.
I’m feeling bad. Bloated. Fat. Unworthy. I finish the chocolate. Whatever. I get up and fetch another beer.

It’s not my fault, food is the only thing I have. It’s my security blanket, my comfort. It’s like a cave. I dig myself in, and then I close the door. And I’m safe.

The taste, the texture, the feeling of being full.

It’s my drug of choice. It makes life bearable. It isn’t really important which food it is. It can be anything.

Of course, I’m not stupid. I know that it doesn’t really help. But I do feel better. At least for the moment.

That feeling of the salt rush comes first. The blood races up into my head. Making me a bit breathless. Next comes the sugar high. My heart beating faster. All the while the fat makes me feel safe and warm. The beer like a clear mountain stream going down. It would all be fine if I could stop in time. Just a bit and then close the bags, and put it all away.

I totally lose control around food. There’s this vortex in my middle. It’s always hungry. It sucks me in, and it doesn’t let go.

Afterwards I feel bad. Fat. Bloated. Weak. Sick. But the vortex still isn’t satisfied. I’m still hungry. If I wait a bit I can finish off the second bag of potato chips. Maybe I should take up smoking. At least I wouldn’t get fat.

If only I could stop eating altogether.

This is sick. Why can’t I stop. Nobody’s force-feeding me. I know I can do it. Tomorrow I’ll eat nothing but salad and yoghurt all day.