|—||F. Scott Fitzgerald, A Life In Letters|
|—||F. Scott Fitzgerald, A Life In Letters, writing to a college friend about feeling old after the failure of his play The Vegetable and about to finish the final revisions of The Great Gatsby|
|—||Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being|
I was a little girl when the fire began to consume the Monticello Hotel in Norfolk Virginia on New Year’s Day in 1918. Father later said it was my fault. The bed became too cold and at some point of the night I moved to the floor near the heater. In my sleep, as I’d become too hot, I’d pushed the blankets and pillows onto the heater. This led to the fire that would consume the building, starting the new year in panic for so many people.
At least, this is what Father speculated afterward. At the time, he said that he woke from the heat and choked on the smoke. When he’d looked around for me he’d seen me immersed in a blaze, scooped me up and ran outside. He had lost Mother in childbirth and my older brother Thomas from an accident, a deadly fall from a tree, but he would not lose me. In his rush, he had no time to stamp out the fire.
I recall being roughly wakened from sleep, but even that seems part of the dream. One moment I was too warm on a hard floor and the next I was pressed against Father’s chest, shivering in the frozen air as people ran and shouted around us. I couldn’t figure out what the commotion was from and all I could think of was a school assignment where Paul Revere shouted, “The Redcoats are coming! The Redcoats are coming.” I wondered if the war had come for us and what that would mean if it had.
Father had grown up in Norfolk, Virginia and even though we lived in New York he still was fond of his hometown. He was a reporter for the New York Times but was also working on a book about how the war was affecting Norfolk so we traveled there three times a year to visit Aunt Rosemary and to investigate the changes brought on by the war.
The previous year, about 600 German soldiers, the crew of two ships Kronprinz and Prinz Eitel Friedrich, had been held at the Norfolk Navy Yard. To pass the time, they’d built a German Village. When the US had entered the war in April, the sailors were sent to POW camps in Georgia. The village, however, remained a tourist attraction. The baked goods and souvenirs, instead of benefiting the German Red Cross, aided the economy of Norfolk. This was the premise of Father’s book: War was bad for people but good for business.
I had given him an even greater spectacle, however. A fire truck came, but as the firefighters turned their water-hoses toward the flaming building, the water froze. There must have been fear and, just in my nightdress, I must have been freezing, but all I can clearly recall was how beautiful it was and how alive I felt in Father’s arms.
Neither of us could have known that would be the last year together. Many people lost loved ones during that time, but Father didn’t die from WWI but a just as arduous battle in his body. Cancer is caused by malignant cells that consume healthy cells. In that way, it’s not so different from war.
Father was never able to finish his book and, despite my best efforts, I never could continue his work. My generation went on to suffer The Great Depression and lose our children in WWII. My heart was too far removed from the distant war from childhood. I remember the fire, though, and how happy I was to feel his heart beating beneath my ear, the smell of his hot breath and how my hair would cling to his beard like velcro. He is more alive to me in that memory than any other. Sudden, drastic events have a tendency to etch themselves in the memory. For this, I am grateful.
Sugar and spice and everything nice. Fire and ice and everything… eternal.
Photo courtesy of http://www.retronaut.com/2013/02/frozen-fire-truck/
The nubile bud pushes against the weight of the frozen soil, reaching toward the fresh, crisp air and the warmth of the distant sun. Beneath brilliant green robes, the nucleus is the vivid colors of promise and hope. Its sole mission in life is to learn: how to sway in the wind through storms, how to give pleasure to others, how to blossom into transcendental vibrancy, and, finally, to die gracefully.
But February is the month of death. As the sun moves into Pisces, the last sign of the zodiac, the final thrust of winter dumps a few inches of snow onto the nubile bud. Many greats have fallen in this short, terrible month:
Nat King Cole
The list goes on and on. How can one fragile stem continue to grow where others have met their ends? Yet, it is the nature of flowers to struggle, persist and stretch their roots as far as they can travel.
May this nubile bud bloom in the honor of those who have passed.
- A lonely only child seeped in novels and dreaming of a far-off place rich with history where people greeted one another with “Bonjour!” like in Beauty and the Beast, I planned my own fairy tale ending: I would live in a beach house, in the mornings I would walk barefoot on the sandy shore, in the afternoons I would write novels and in the evenings I would waitress, at first to support my craft and later, after I became renowned as an author, for the community.
- As a lonely adolescent, my passion for reading, writing and learning French was only eclipsed by a new, pressing desire—to be loved, at any cost.
- As a lonely adult, traumatized by seven years of the death threats and matter-of-fact tones of, “You’re a bitch.” while working in a call center, I continue to write fiction and study French: un jour à la fois.
- Lesson Learned: It is one thing to dream and another to do. If you lose your path or become unsure of your purpose, recall your childhood passions and allow them to guide you toward fulfillment.
Portland, Oregon, USA
I didn’t realize this would be posted anonymously when I submitted it to Your Life in 3 Lines, but I wrote this.
Tricia held the envelope gently in palm of her left hand. She traced over her own name and address written in clear, sharp lines. The left corner was blank and the ink that post office had stamped onto the envelope was smeared illegible.
As she turned the envelope over in her hands, she shut her eyes. Her index finger groped the corner, found the opening and slid inside. Slowly, she pressed her finger along the glued edge and it gradually gave way. She could feel the stickiness and couldn’t resist thinking of the tongue that had moistened the seal.
Her efforts hastened with her eagerness and the paper tore, breaking the spell. She opened her eyes and tore the rest of the envelope open, digging into it with her fingers and drawing out the card. On the front was a childish drawing of a cat holding a balloon spelling out, “Happy Birthday.” Inside, was printed: “Wishing you a Happy Birthday.”
It was generic, oh so generic. And she hated cats. He knew that. Was he trying to rub it in? Or had it actually been intended as a goodwill gesture? She supposed there wasn’t a section in the store entitled For-My-Ex-Whom-I-Ran-Off-On-In-The-Middle-Of-The-Night-With-Our-Best-Friend but couldn’t he have at least gotten her something funny?
Tricia didn’t know why he’d bothered at all when he’d so obviously been trying to hide from her. She had no idea where he’d gone and couldn’t even follow him online. Their best friend, Thad, had likewise disappeared. Tricia didn’t have many girlfriends and she’d been left alone with no one except her bitter, widowed mother to talk to. So, why a card? Why now?
She had spent two long years with him. She’d nursed him when he’d had his infected, impacted wisdom teeth extracted. They had visited Madrid together. He had told her that he’d rather give up playing drums than her— although he’d rather give up neither.
It was true that they’d been spending more time apart, her with her therapist and he with Thad. They had put off having children until Tricia could manage her moods better, one month deep in depression and the next throwing things in rage. But they’d been together so long and had so much to look forward to, it was just something she’d thought would make them stronger once she had the right meds. How could she had not seen that it was the end? Why couldn’t he have just told her?
Happy Birthday. What an empty sentiment, Tricia thought. It was something a stranger would say. He hadn’t even bothered writing a personal note or signing the card. It made her stomach cramp with disgust.
Tricia remembered some new-age technique about burning something for forgiveness. She took the candle lighter from the fireplace mantel and waited until the card caught on fire. She’d seen it so many times in movies, with the fire reflected in the heroines’ newly triumphant eyes, but she hadn’t expected it to be so messy. Charred bits fell to the floor, the fire jumped erratically and kept singing her fingertips so she had to rapidly change her hold. Finally, she dropped the card and stamped out the fire with her shod foot. Half of the card remained untouched by the flames and the apartment stank of burned chemicals.
She sighed, recycled the remainder of the card and went for the vacuum for the blackened bits. One day she would learn melodrama did not pay off. In the meantime, she wondered if forgiveness smelled like burned chemicals.
|—||Cheryl Strayed, TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar|
Rebecca Winters shivered and pulled her trench coat around her chest. She turned, beckoning for her crew to hurry toward the small bakery Sweet Pillars. Gresham was her least favorite area to report from. Without many trees or tall buildings, the wind blew uninhibited through the city from both the airport on the west side and the Columbia River Gorge in the east. She considered it the armpit of Portland, one of the few suburbs where banks had bulletproof glass enclosures for the tellers. White and Hispanic teenagers sauntered down the main streets in dirty, ripped clothes passing in and out of fast food joints. The middle class kept moving to Gresham for affordable housing and businesses, but shopping center development couldn’t keep up. There were only a few notable local businesses and even they had their quirks. Like in any suburb, there was a clash of idealism between the liberal urbanite-wannabes and the conservative inhabitants with small town ideas.
The bell clanged as Rebecca entered the small corner bakery. The pink sign outside had barely prepared her for the overwhelming pinkness inside. The walls were painted a cheap rose, decorated with frilly black metal crosses and photos of parties enjoying the birthday, wedding and other special occasion cakes. A few thrift tables and chairs, sprayed magenta, were pushed to the windows. In the front of the store was a large glass display case filled with custom confections. Instead of traditional cupcakes, they displayed miniature layer cakes of approximately the same size. Each was beautifully decorated from an assortment of themes, with an emphasis on silhouettes.
As Rebecca scanned the room, the crew was already setting up. She offered her hand to the man standing behind the counter. He was in his late thirties, average height and weight with a frayed baseball cap pulled over his medium-length brown hair. In his baggy t-shirt and faded jeans who looked more like a janitor than baker.
“Mr. Newland? It’s so good to meet you. I’m Rebecca Winters and will be covering your story.”
He shook her hand briskly, but firmly. Unlike other men who shook her hand, he neither was too soft—-afraid of hurting her—- or too rigid—-trying to hurt her. She appreciated this and prepared him. The footage would be cut, but it was best to be efficient so editing wouldn’t take as much time. This meant he needed to answer each question directly and succinctly.
“I understand,” he said. “Whatever you need. Just, call me Greg.”
She felt relieved. Too many people, excited to be on camera, talked incessantly. Or, those who were nervous clammed up and were barely responsive at all. She had a feeling this would be an efficient interview.
“I understand that you and your wife opened this shop together five years ago?”
“Yes. I run the front counter and she bakes and decorates the cakes in the back.”
“Recently, a woman purchased a wedding cake from her mother but when she returned to purchase her own wedding cake, you refused her based on her same sex orientation.”
“Yes, that’s right,” Greg said, nodding. “And she wasn’t the first. In the eyes of my religion, it’s a sin. Those are my own religious beliefs and do not feel comfortable making a cake against my principles.”
“The woman claims that you called her an abomination,” Rebecca said.
“No, I said nothing of the kind” Greg said. “I told her that my religion would not permit me to sell her a cake for a same-sex marriage.”
Rebecca’s eyes flicked to a cross and then to a full-sized cake with an artistic silhouette of a groom twirling a bride, the Disney-like veil flowing back gracefully. A camera followed her eyes to capture both images.
“And you are aware that they’re proceeding against you with criminal charges?”
Idly, she wondered if he was lying about the abomination part. If he had said it, he was at least prudent in not admitting it. Too many of these small-minded bigots were overly proud of their own ignorance. Of course, an offended bride-to-be is a force to be reckoned with and perhaps she’d imagined the rebuff more severely than it had been delivered.
Ultimately, when it went to court it would be a battle of federal and state law. Would his federal right to freedom of religion outweigh his state requirement to provide equal service to paying customers without discrimination?
“I have to stand up for my beliefs,” said Greg. “If that means I must pay the penalty, so be it. I would rather lose my shop than compromise my principles.”
And he would become a martyr for all of the other homophobes out there. Rebecca sighed and signaled to start packing up the equipment. Despite herself, she couldn’t help admiring his calm resoluteness, however misguided his beliefs. She herself had served as the maid of honor in her sister’s same-sex marriage. Since Washington had legalized same-sex marriage, many people purchased their cakes in tax-free Oregon and drove into Washington for the nuptials. Rebecca had tagged along when they’d gone cake shopping to a designer bakery in downtown Portland. There hadn’t been any trouble and they’d spent hours designing the perfect cake. It’s important to find a baker who’s almost as passionate about your wedding as you are. Rebecca had once done a piece where a Japanese sushi chef talked about how the energy of the person preparing one’s food goes into the food itself and nourishes the people who eat it.
Rebecca wished she could be interviewing the brides instead, but the women were waiting to be primed by their lawyers before talking to the press. She could only imagine how stressful it would be to have a lawsuit at the same time as planning a wedding. If she were more of an idealist, she’d wonder if there wasn’t a better way, a path of love rather than of force. Weddings are a time of celebration of love. Perhaps, with enough same-sex weddings, those couples’ love and happiness could radiate so brightly that it warmed even the homophobes’ hearts.
But Rebecca had covered too many stories of people’s ugliness to be an idealist. Greg would most likely lose his business and, although it was a triumph toward equal rights, it would only cause Greg and his supporters to be increasingly embittered. Perhaps this would lead to increased violence. Just last week she’d covered a case where a gay teen boy had been bullied so much he’d hung himself. She was tired of tragedies.
Halfheartedly, Rebecca thanked Greg and turned to leave, but he called her back.
“Miss Winters, would you like a miniature cake? On the house?”
She looked at the beautifully decorated cakes. As a rule she didn’t eat sweets, but she could make a present of it. She thought of giving it to her sister. “No—- No, thanks.”
Later, when she told her sister about the interview and how she’d been offered the cake, her sister had surprised her. “Becky, you should’ve taken it?”
“What? I should have?” Rebecca was one hundred percent behind equal rights and believed that love was love between all consenting adults, regardless of gender. But as a single woman who had yet to marry and seriously dated only men, she sometimes stumbled upon unknown taboos. She had thought for certain her sister wouldn’t have wanted anything to do with that bigot’s food.
“Yes, we could’ve done something symbolic with it,” her sister said.
“Oh?” Rebecca pictured throwing the beautiful little heterosexual cake. That would be over too soon. It would be better to burn it.
“Yeah,” her sister said. “We could take a picture of it and caption it, ‘This is what hate looks like’ and if the story is viral enough people will understand its meaning and keep reblogging it on Tumblr and Facebook.”
“Right, sorry—next time,” Rebecca said. Then realizing what she said, “Of course, hopefully there won’t be a next time.”
Her sister sighed audibly through the phone. “There will be a next time. And another. And another.”
Yes, Rachel thought gloomily, there would. She wanted to believe in the power of love to conquer all, but as a reporter she’d seen too much. She marveled at how her imagination fell to violence and her sister’s toward peaceful revolt.
When they got off the phone, Rebecca impulsively began to move around her kitchen, finding a recipe and pulling ingredients out of the cupboards. She couldn’t recall ever baking a cake before, but she would. She would decorate it with two happy brides and then she would present it to the world via YouTube saying, “Let them eat cake. Let everyone eat cake.” Then, she would eat it piece by piece.
“Ailurophobia is a type of specific phobia:the persistent, irrational fear of cats. It comes from the Greek αἴλουρος (aílouros), “cat” and φόβος(phóbos), “fear”.
There is a great enemy in our midst, so fearful that it is reported to have made powerful men such as Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, Napoleon, Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler quake in their military boots.
A particular breed of serial killers have invaded American homes like wolves disguised by sheeps’ wool. These are the most vicious, lethal and remorseless sociopaths you’ve ever met. I am here to provide a public service announcement. For every little girl who squeals when she is presented a kitten, every spinster who seeks solace in her furry familiar and everyone else who harbors these insatiable beasts, here it is, spelled out in print by the reputable journal Scientific American:Cats are ruthless killers.
Give me Ted Bundy. Give me Jeffrey Dahmer. GIve me Charles Manson. But for goodness sake, keep Fluffy away from me.
According to the aforementioned article, produced of the most cutting edge journalism imaginable: one third of domestic cats kill two animals— birds, rodents, reptiles, etc— per week. These heartless carnivores cannot be sated with kibble that hardens their kidneys or wet food that stinks as bad as their waste. Why can’t these fuzzy little monsters know instinctively that the farmed fish, poultry and beef are socially responsible to devour. But, no, they insist on wiping out endangered species despite their owners’ most fervent admonitions.
I always knew to be suspicious of these little devils. See how their whiskers twitch, as though smirking at how well they have fooled gullible humans. Garfield, is a prime example of just how manipulative the little fiends can be. From Ancient Egypt, they have beguiled us into worshipping them as gods, waiting on them hand and foot: feeding them, combing their fur, cleaning out their litterboxes, brushing their teeth, shampooing their fleas away and taking them to the vet. Did you know that the ammonia from their urine can cause pregnancy troubles? And that they will curl up, purring all the while, on a newborn’s face and smother the poor child.
Well, no more, I say! Let’s euthanize the little devils to save the other species! Most big cats are already on the endangered list so we just need a little push and we can completely obliterate this great threat!
Just imagine the lines of heroic Americans handing over hissing cat after hissing cat. Temporary facilities will have to be erected to contain the mewling little spitfires until the gas can take effect. Then, all we’ll have left to contend with are their feral cousins, whom we can all agree would be better off dead. Let’s take a page from Thomas Hobbes and admit that the life of the feral cat is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short. Really, it’s a life better not lived at all.
So, per the wisdom of the Almighty Science, I do declare that we should find the compassion in our hearts to annihilate the feline species today!
* * *
This short satire was inspired by this article: