Jun 112008

Every month I’m writing a story as homework for my writing group. And then I post it here:

“You must be so happy!”, her mother exclaimed on the phone. “Must I?”, Elena wondered to herself. Since she knew better than to respond with “Why do you always tell me what to feel?”, she managed an almost convincing “Of course I am!” before she excused herself.
That part, the excuse, had become much easier these days. Interestingly you could have obligations by the dozen, or really valid reasons for something but it seemed that nothing was as valid as saying, “You know, with the baby…”

That seemed to be one of the few things that were easier now. Most things were much more difficult, of course. Before she hadn’t known that one could crave sleep so much. That being hungry could make her that aggressive, or how fiercely she’d protect her baby.

Her baby. It still seemed weird. Like a stranger yet familiar as her own limbs. Clearly a part of her and yet, totally different.
If only the baby would sleep. She looked at the pile of parenting books on her bedside table, next to a gigantic bottle of water, three cartons of nursing pads, and the book she was reading. Well, trying to read. Something not baby-related .

When, before her daughter was born, she had read that it took about eight hours a day to care for a baby, she had laughed inwardly. That couldn’t be true.
What the books didn’t say was that those fictional eight hours were spread out all through the day. Alternating twenty minutes of baby-care with ten minutes off. When she had read that babies slept about eighteen hours a day she didn’t know that she’d have a daughter who never slept more than twenty minutes at a time. At least it felt like she didn’t.

She thought of last night when Mark had carried the wailing infant through their apartment for three hours while she got to sleep with earplugs. That had been the best sleep she’d had in two weeks. Who knew how refreshing three hours of uninterrupted sleep could be? Or that one could be tired enough to doze off while holding a conversation just because the other person didn’t say anything for five seconds? And that one could be resilient enough to hold the baby, feed the baby, burp the baby, rock the baby, change the baby, carry the baby, and go without food, drink, or anything for ages?

That was something at least. Who would have thought she could do that? Despite the fact that she really considered trading the baby for a vacation. Alone. Only her, a comfortable bed, and room service.

Until she was separated from her, if only for an hour, and she missed her, and worried if Mark was treating her right, and then she knew she’d rather die than let anything happen to her.

Maybe that was what her mother meant by being happy? Though her mother didn’t seem capable of feelings that fierce or even remotely passionate. Maybe that first months really became all foggy after a few years and then you only remembered the moment when you held your newborn in your arms, marveling at it, this whole new life that was part of you and your loved one.

But then, that was another one of those lies. The “happiest day of your life”, that was wedding day, wasn’t it? Maybe all these people suffered from amnesia.

Elena remembered everything. The awkwardness of the ceremony, the fight they had the morning before, how everything went utterly chaotic, and how they were really glad when that day was over.

Maybe other people meant something different by “happy”. Maybe those people lived by making up a story in their head of how it should have been, and clung to that for the rest of their lives.

Elena stopped walking through the apartment because little Anna had finally fallen asleep in the sling. She sat down, the baby heavy on her, pulling at the fabric on her shoulders. She had her book right here, next to her favorite chair, tea at the ready, still warm in the thermos. She put up her feet that hurt after walking for almost an hour, inhaled that sweet baby smell, felt the warmth of the sun on her legs, and took a sip of tea, careful not to spill anything on her daughter.

“This is happiness”, she thought, “this moment. Soon I’ll feel uncomfortable again, something will be wrong, but now, this minute, I’m happy.”

She opened her book, looked for where she had stopped reading the night before, and dozed off.

May 222008

The Ultimate Party

Looking at herself in the mirror Myra thought about what to wear that night. It felt like a day for red. The red dress. The dress that made her look voluptuous, and curvy; the one that hugged all the right places, felt good, and was easy to wear. The only question was whether to go the vamp route this night or more punk-like. High heels or army boots? A hat?

She’d probably regret high heels later in the evening, she always did. She thought of putting a pair of flats in her handbag but that was for sissies. Boots and a leather jacket would tone it all down a bit.
She’d be overdressed either way. Though she wanted this to be the ultimate party it probably wouldn’t be.

But what better place to meet new people than a party? So she put up her hair, put on the big dangling earrings, the red lipstick, the red pumps, and went out in a cloud of perfume.

There weren’t that many people at the party when she arrived. She frowned; everybody came late the days until there was hardly any time left to party. She said hello to everybody, fetched herself a beer, and joined a group of people she didn’t know to make new friends. If possible.

There she was again, thought Laura. This Myra. Always the same. She entered the room like she owned it in her terrible clinging dress. Laura would never have worn something so tight, so short, so clinging, showing so much cleavage. Horrible.
Wherever this woman went there was a whirl in the crowd. Squeals, laughter, disturbance. She talked all the time, as if anybody was interested in her stupid stories, she went from group to group, on to the buffet, loading her plate with food, not waiting for anybody.

Laura was glad that she at least knew how to behave.

Phew, this is boring, Myra thought. Maybe it’d get better later when there would be dancing. Maybe.
So far there were a lot of familiar faces, and as usual, people were stiff and as mute as maggots. She already got tired of her own jokes.
She saw Laura sitting on the other side of the room. In the corner as always. Such a beige girl. Short beige hair, beige face, all her makeup in pastels, and wearing black. Again. That woman looked like she could use some fun. And makeup. Nice earrings though.
And, Myra thought to herself, I don’t know how she does it, already most of the men in the room are drifting towards her. Drawn in by the pale, obviously.

Well, at least I can choose whom I speak to, Myra thought, looking for the promising looking guy she’d seen earlier, going after him, isolating him from his companions, and dragging him on the dance floor. Dancing was always a good way to determine whether someone had potential. Or not.
This guy didn’t look that good on the dance floor. He slinked off as soon as he could. He didn’t like to dance; neither did anybody else. Apart from Myra, that is. So she went right to the middle to dance alone.

Laura barely heard what that huge blonde guy standing by her side was telling her. Despite the fact that he was practically yelling in her ear she had forgotten it the minute she heard it. The nerve that woman on the dance floor had. Starting to dance even though everybody was looking at her. How embarrassing. And she wasn’t even dancing properly. No, she had to twirl all over the place, waving her arms about and grinning at people. Laura shuddered. Suddenly she wanted to go home. It had been a mistake to come in the first place. It was boring. She just wasn’t the type for parties, parties were for outgoing, extrovert people not for shy people like her. Inwardly she cursed the friend who had persuaded her to attend. She should have known better. A party was not a good way to meet somebody new. She promised herself to go as soon as she could without drawing attention to herself. Then she would go home, despite what her friend would be saying, eat some dark chocolate, have a glass of wine, and watch “Singing in the Rain.”

Boring, boring, Myra thought. At least it was better to be bored while dancing than while standing around next to boring people making boring conversation. The others didn’t look, they never did. As if dancing were only possible without any eye contact at all. Nobody looked interesting. She had checked. Twice. She had even talked to the group of musicologists in a corner between the buffet table and the piano. Dull as dishwater.
There had to be exciting people somewhere in the universe but certainly not here. Should she stay a bit longer? There surely would be more people coming in later.

On a sudden impulse she picked up her handbag and jacket, found the host in the kitchen, told him a big story about how she’d love to stay, how sorry she was, and that she had to get up very early the next day, so sorry, great party, ciao.
She walked home all the way, through the drizzling rain in her spiky high heels. An hour later she opened her door, changed into her pajama and woolen socks, opened a beer and a bag of potato chips, and stayed up late to watch “Funny Face” with Fred Astaire.

May 192008

The writer’s group I’m in has gone from writing really short pieces once a month to writing a story before each meeting. We’re posting the stories on the net so that everybody gets a chance to read them before the meeting. (Well, in theory anyway.) Since this means I’m spending two or three days a month on writing that is not blog-related I thought you might like it if I posted them here too. The following story was written for April’s meeting, and I have linked to it before.

The Man I Love

Maybe a story. With love in it.

Someday he’ll come along the man I love,
And he’ll be big and strong,
The man I love,
And when he comes my way,
I’ll do my best to make him stay…

Sandra took a sip of her red wine and continued staring at the singer. What a stupid song. How does one make somebody stay anyway? By buying the right lingerie? Applying the right makeup? Cooking meat and potatoes? What if you were in love with a woman?
What was love anyway?
“Did you say something?”, Kevin asked.
“Um.” She wasn’t aware of having said anything. But sometimes Kevin could pick up her thoughts. That probably meant something.
“I wondered about the song. The lyrics.” He gave her a blank look. All of a sudden she wished she were here with Matt. He’d get it. “All these words about ‘the man I love’. As if one suddenly looked up and saw the one and only. I don’t even know what love is, anyway.”
“Well,” he hesitated a bit, and looked at his wineglass, playing with its stem, “well, it’s what I feel for you.”
In defense she gave him the warmest smile she could muster. “Kevin, that’s so… I really don’t know what to say. You know I like you very much.”
“Liking isn’t love.”
“I honestly don’t know. Maybe I do love you. I’m still not sure where liking ends and love begins.”
He leaned towards her and whispered in her ear, “I’ll show you. Later.”

He’ll build a little home,
Just meant for too,
From which I’d never roam,
Who would, would you?
And so all else above,
I’m waiting for the man I love.

That’s what they all did, Sandra thought to herself. Waiting for love. As if love made everything perfect. Like in fairytales. And then they lived happily ever after. That seemed to be Kevin’s idea too. Putting the two of them in a little box, maybe with a white picket fence, and then keeping her there.
She was weary of “I love you”s. She could deal if somebody wanted sex. Or companionship. Or friendship. But love? Life wasn’t like the movies where two people set eyes upon each other and were committed for life, or more often, beyond death. And then they always gazed into each others eyes and started kissing right away.
In the last year alone four men had told her she were the love of their lives. That obviously couldn’t be the case, and at least two of them had found other love interests since then. Even the deepest affection seemed transferable eventually. At least she hadn’t heard about anybody wasting away from unrequited love lately.

She went outside for a bit of fresh air as the singer crooned yet another love song. Love. It was everywhere. Like dust. Or bacteria. As if it were the most important thing in life.
She checked her cell phone. A message from Matt. He was back early. She dialed his number.
“Hi. – Yes, I’d love to see you too but I’m out with a guy. – Kevin. – I could dump him but that wouldn’t be very nice. How about breakfast? – Breakfast in bed? – I’ll bring the croissants then.”

She went back in. Maybe it would have been better to dump Kevin after all. But then he was a pleasure to be with. It was a pity that he had become that moonstruck. She would have to get rid of him eventually just because of that. This love-thing really made things complicated.


Matt thought that maybe he should have called Sandra a bit earlier. He liked her company. At least she didn’t talk about “commitment” all the time. He thought about going out and finding another girl for the night but then he would have to explain why he had a date for breakfast.
This was one of the moment where he regretted not loving in the late sixties. Who would have thought that the 21
st century would make people that uptight. With a bit of caution everybody could have much more fun. There was enough love to go around. No need to ration it out. But no, it was like being back in the fifties. You almost needed to be engaged to get a little cuddly these days.


After the concert Sandra and Kevin went to his apartment. Kevin believed in romance and candlelight (and foreplay of course) so it took a while until Sandra finally could have some sex and sleep. Making love with Kevin was like eating a nice ham sandwich. Wholesome but only mildly exciting. Already she was looking forward to a nice bowl of chili so to speak with Matt.
“Oh, I forgot to tell you, I have to get up early, I’m meeting somebody for breakfast.”
“You don’t know her.”
She had given up telling him the truth because he always got so upset when she was meeting other men.


When she left Kevin’s apartment the next morning she felt elated. She hated lying. But she didn’t want to hurt Kevin either and she knew she had hurt him enough by not speaking of love. Lying by omission all the time. Another reason to dump him. But he was nice. He even tried to make her breakfast. But she shouldn’t have to lie to him.
A bag of croissants in hand she went to Matt’s place. It was a good thing she had her own key, he usually slept like a log, and wasn’t exactly a morning person.

What was that commotion in the street? Was there smoke? Fire? Her heart beat wildly in her chest even before she started running. Matt, what about Matt? He’d be in there. Sleeping. With all that smoke. And fire. She ran as fast as she could, the bag in her hand forgotten. Racing along the street she saw the fire engines. People. No Matt.


Matt had woken up uncommonly early and found that he didn’t have any coffee or butter left. He came back from the grocery store to find that there was smoke everywhere. His apartment was burning. Oh my. Oh. Sandra. She had her own keys. What if something happened to her? The line in the grocery store had been tremendously slow. She probably had been waiting for him.


Both of them felt distinctly unreal when they spotted each other in the crowd. It was exactly like one of those movies where everybody needed a lot of tissues. But of course they didn’t care.