Keepsake: A Story Written In Preparation for Foggy Nights

Still attempting to maintain radio silence in the department of poetry, I opted for this story. It is supposed to be frightening. It is supposed to be harrowing. And it is supposed to continue if I can find the gall to continue it.

Further adventures aside, enjoy. Let the chills run up and down your spine like five invisible fingers and tell me what you think once you’ve reached the other side. Let me know if the view is worth the trip.

TTFN

Keepsake

Cora’s lover had died two weeks before the package arrived and it had sat on her mantle for a month since then feeding shapeless waking nightmares of Paris and death. Dust rose into the air like smoke and stuck to her sweating fingertips as she peeled away the cardboard and slid the contents onto thighs. The box within rested on her lap with the weight and dimensions of a very heavy hard-back book. It was perhaps five inches long, eight inches wide and four inches deep. The glass from which it was formed was crystal clear and glinted in the firelight, but it was painted black on the inside so the contents would remain hidden. The solder that held the panes together was of a golden shade and on the top was etched a little Eiffel Tower, or La Tour Eiffel, as her lover had explained it was called. As she stared at the box’s gleaming edges and sharp angles, she remembered how quickly her lover had fallen out of love with the City of Light. The letters he had sent her lauding the gardens and the music and the art and the sun turned to mordent commentaries about the falseness and the duality and the loneliness he found there. And soon, letters of disillusionment had gradually become letters of desperation, sadness, and grief.

Cora swallowed and fought off a sob. Only a week before he had been reported found dead, she had written a letter begging him to come home, but something about the place ate at him and would not let him leave. He was going to find the key to the magic Paris held for artists if it killed him. She ran her fingers over the golden lock on the front of the box.

Key.

He hadn’t sent a key with the box, but she knew precisely how to get in. She began to lift a long golden chain from around her neck, but stopped halfway. The chain was long enough to reach the box from her neck. And, if not, either the box would come to her or she would bow her neck to the box.

She leaned over a smidge, lifted the box up towards her face and reached for the little key on the end of her necklace. The words Je t’aime, etched on the underside of the key, flashed at her as she put it in the lock and turned it.

Clever man,” she thought to herself. The key was a gift he had sent before Paris had become his hell. She had never imagined it was anything aside from a charm.

As the lock had admitted the key, the key admitted her entrance into her lover’s last gift. As she slowly opened the lid, a strange oriental perfume, drifted to her nose.

Shalimar?” she wondered, thinking that maybe he had bought her a bottle of that rare perfume. “How in the world had he afforded it”?

Expecting to find a cracked glass bottle, Cora finished opening the box and stared down at the contents of the glass reliquary, the perfumes of the Far East curling like dragon whiskers from the box to her nose, mouth and face.
Inside was a cloud of shimmering gold tissue that seemed to provide protection to a smaller cardboard container. Lying atop it was a small piece of paper bearing the watermark for her lover’s hotel and a few lines of writing scribbled in blue ink. Smiling sadly as she did it, Cora lifted the paper out of the box and did the best she could at deciphering his spidery handwriting.

But now the Caves of Hell I view,
Who shall I dare to show them to?
What mighty soul in Beauty’s form
Shall dauntless view the infernal storm?

Cora blinked. Her head was swimming with the scent of jasmine and musk. The vanilla rounded it all off, pouring over her brain and dulling its function like a heavy, poisonous cream. Still clinging weakly to thoughts of Shalimar and frowning at the bit of Blake her lover had sent her, she reached for the paper in the corner of the box determined to discover what all of this was about. But as her hand moved, so did her shoulder. And as her shoulder tipped over, so did her head, neck and entire upper body.

Cora dropped the papers on the floor and clutched at the green upholstery of her armchair as her fogged brain processed the pitch forward. Avoiding the fall, she shifted herself backwards into the chair and tried to catch her breath. She felt the thump, thump, thump of her heart being sent back to her in miniature earthquakes through her chair. Her eyes flitted from  looking for any clues at to what was causing this. Was it the perfume, was it the dust? Cora  felt her eyes roll back into her head and her body go slack. She gasped in fear as she groggily righted her eyes by lifting her heavy head like a baby doll.  When her eyes focused, Cora made a move to stand, to run away from the feeling, but a second wave of unconsciousness washed over her. Uselessly she clawed for the light, trying desperately to keep her eyes open. But she knew there was no avoiding this fall into the unknown.

The last thought she had was the anticipation of breaking glass, but the sound of oblivion reached her first.

To be continued…

A Case of Envy

I stood in a great big white room surrounded by art and poetry and instead of admiring the work, I  shook with a terrible case of envy.

I was twelve, I think, and was here with my family in a gallery with glass walls that looked out onto the big glass and graphite grey city to celebrate my brother’s success. He had placed in a state-wide competition for writing. There was a ceremony, there was a certificate, there was money, and I was proud.

Until I was angry.

Only a year ago I had been invited to enter this same competition, to send my work off to the great Readers of Things and have them judge my fifth grade poetic work about how America is one big quilt of cultures. And I still remember looking into my teacher’s face and shaking my head, “No.” And she asked if I was sure, that it was a good poem, that I should try it and again I said “No.”

But lo and behold, here I stood more than a year later at a ceremony for the same competition with the same subject matter limited to the same grade level, READING MY OWN WORK.

Of course it wasn’t really my work. It written by some other girl, someone a year younger than me from some other school in a different part of the state-but we had done the same thing. It was nearly the same poem, word for word, with quilts and beauty and America and yay…It was the title that had caught my eye in the first place. But the difference between ME and HER, and it’s a very, very important one, was that she had entered the competition and then she had won. I had done neither.

I was…I don’t know what I was really…I was 1) Oddly comforted that her work wasn’t unique, then 2) Interested to know how many times these people had received the same poem and bestowed a prize on its writer 3) Bemused as to why they bothered with the competition if they received the same damn work year after year 5) In a sort of existential limbo where I wondered about the nature of originality and 6) I was mad/envious. This was my poem, this was my place, this was my glory she was basking in, whoever she was (I’m not even sure she was there for the ceremony). This was supposed to be mine.

But it wasn’t mine. It wasn’t, it would not be, I could not claim any prize or conciliatory prize, I had no ground here.

I burdened my mother with my mood. She empathized with me and apologized, and finally asked me why I hadn’t entered when I had the chance.

“Because I thought it was stupid,” I said bordering on tears.

“Well,” she said. “You can’t do anything about that now, honey, that’s how you felt about it. None of us could have told you otherwise. We couldn’t have told you ‘you should do this because you’ll be angry if you don’t’.” She looked down into my face and smiled that “my child is hurting, but learning something as well and it’s sad” type smile. “We didn’t know and you didn’t know, right?” She shook the hand I had put in hers as both reassurance and reinforcement.

I sulkily said “right” and frowned for the rest of the afternoon with this weighing on my mind. That was my place, I could have been here, had a prize, a certificate, a check. It could have been me. It should have been me.

When my brother received his prize, I did my best to smile and clap through this feeling of sadness, failure, frustration and indignation. My brother had done beautifully, he had earned a prize he deserved, he had claimed a place in the world of writing, a world most people didn’t acknowledge he had talent for, and he had gotten time in the spotlight. But I had not.

To this day, the memory makes my face set in some ugly expression, like remembering the taste of rotted food that I ate voluntarily. Because of it, I have entered competitions in hopes of proving my worthiness. I have developed a chip on my shoulder for others who succeed.  And I dream of the day I when I will succeed where I didn’t years and years and years ago.

And even as I write all these ugly sentiments down, I try to discover the moral of the story. I try to figure out where Mother Goose would shake her head and say I went wrong. I think it’s all summed up thusly:

“…you can’t practice witchcraft while you look down your nose at it.”
– Aunt Jet, Practical Magic 1998

Writing the Plot: When What You Want Doesn’t Matter

“When authors write best, or at least, when they wrote most fluently, an influence seems to waken in them which becomes their master, which will have its own way, putting  out of view all behests but its own, dictating words, and insisting on their being used, whether vehement or measured in their nature; new moulding characters, giving unthought- of turns to incidents, rejecting carefully elaborated old ideas, and suddenly creating and adopting new ones. Is this not so? And should we try to counteract this influence? Can we indeed counteract it?”- Charlotte Bronte

I write in my head. When there’s no pen or pencil around, no keyboard, I write in my head. My glassy eyes are unfocused and unblinking as I compose sentences in my mind, rearranging their placement, dreaming new dialogue, building new scenes and I generally don’t realize that I’ve fallen into the pit until Mum tilts her head to find my eyes and asks if I’m okay. And all this is fine until I sit down to type it out in a word processor and everything I built is blown away like ashes.

“Uh-uh,” someone says in my head, “start over.”

And I pout and say, “But-”

and they shake their head and say, “I don’t like it. It’s no good. Now write.”

And I say “But-”

And they calmly shake their head and say “Write. Put your fingers over the keys and start typing.”

and I say, “But what are we doing, what’s going to happen?”

and they press their lips together and stay silent, keeping all the content from me.

And when I fold my arms and stomp

they fold their arms and slowly lean back like Alice’s caterpillar and regard me coolly

And when I strain my ears for what I’m supposed to say

they arch their eyebrows in amusement

“You don’t get it yet, do you?” They say with a smile on their lips. “No type, no story. No write, no create. You don’t get any sneak previews. You don’t need to see where you’re going to get there. Your eyes have nothing to do with this trip, doll. No ears either. No maps, no compass, no flashlight, no plans. Now, walk your fingers across those keys, or we aren’t going anywhere.”

And we stare at each other.

And I start picking up pieces of what I constructed prior to their interruption and paste them crudely to the page, but they don’t stick. I get more frustrated as they fall, and they cross their legs and watch it all from their perch.

I throw it all on the floor in a wet messy heap and cry.

And they chew a straw and stare down at it and then ask if I’m finished yet. Because the train hasn’t left the station, but home is waiting and supper is cold.

And I stomp to my desk and stick my hands over they keys, shoot them a look meant to knock them off their mushroom, and then type. Blindly.

But instead up stumbling into marshes, I walk around ponds. Instead of falling off hills, I walk off them into trees and the scenery paints itself as I go along. And Someone fades into the back, legs crossed reading a book in the dark while I work and walk, not making  a sound but keeping out an eye for when I try to work out the plot.