Reading

It was a dark and stormy night when I decided I hated everything written by the Bronte sisters and Jane Austen. I know that probably kicks me out of the league of women despite my gender qualifying me but the only thing a woman hates more than green peas is deception.

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It was a dark and stormy night when I decided I hated everything written by the Bronte sisters and Jane Austen.  I know that probably kicks me out of the league of women despite my gender qualifying me but the only thing a woman hates more than green peas is deception.

I know as I scribble away in my garret room (garret because it’s true even in the 21st century, women suffer financially from divorce and I have two behind me, divorces not marriages), that the Bronte sisters and Miss Austen are probably mere pawns in the battle for my psyche.

I also realize that perhaps the Bronte sisters and Miss Austen would have had less infamous influence if Sigmund Freud had died in obscurity but he didn’t.  Actually, men don’t do they?

The veil split too late before my eyes that these women were writing fairy tales.  You have no idea my suffering.  The artist even bohemian atmosphere around me closing in, the impending July thunderstorm and my single paned window looking out on a back alley, opened wide for the storm to enter in.  I had stripped down to nothing, my skin absorbing the heat and humidity of summer, even prickling in the anticipation of cold wind, thunder riddled, coming my way.  Sense and Sensibility was open before me and the margins, where I had penned notes over the decades of reading the novel, consoled my loneliness.

Yes, Colonel Brandon, even though he wore flannel waistcoats (or something flannel) was a true knight and our young heroine would embrace his calmness, his intellect, his nonexistence?

His fiction?

Shit!

The storm had not hit, there was time and I knew to keep up my own self-induce façade I had to bring out the big guns.  Villette?  No, Jane Eyre.  Rochester must pave his road to hell and with single-minded passion. Would such a man really have brains enough to covet a mousy little governess over an accomplished coquette?

The storm hit with such a vengeance I jumped and the rain hit my clammy skin like so many needles and the blue-white lightning split the skies before me and I saw the face of God.

Don’t believe me, I don’t care.

He was there beard and all – the Father and in my despair, He did what only a loving, encompassing parent could do, He drove the lesson home.

“I told Adam anything but one thing – he took the one thing.”

“I told Abraham he’d have a son in good time but he had to help it along.”

“David had any woman he wanted, freely but he took the one that didn’t belong to him.

I raised my arms in an appeal to stop, and He did.  The storm passed with a shudder and I sat in my garret room cold and damp.  The pages of my books, both Austen’s and Bronte’s were damp with rain but not tears.

I’ve not evolved, I have adapted however to reality.

 

Clever Girl

Here’s the trick, don’t even think about it. Don’t think about the sound of old floor boards when the pressure of a foot presses down from who knows who or what. Don’t think about the dimming of lights and especially don’t even think about what the room looks like behind you. Just keep working and focus on that.

Here’s the trick, don’t even think about it. Don’t think about the sound of old floor boards when the pressure of a foot presses down from who knows who or what. Don’t think about the dimming of lights and especially don’t even think about what the room looks like behind you.

Here’s the trick, don’t even think about it.  Don’t think about the sound of old floor boards when the pressure of a foot presses down from who knows who or what.  Don’t think about the dimming of lights and especially don’t even think about what the room looks like behind you.  Just keep working and focus on that.

That’s what I wanted to tell her but I didn’t.  I told her that she was welcome to the coffee in the pot (just brewed), and I showed her the location of the bathroom.  I then left her to become acclimated to working with me and working within my haunted rooms.  When she shivered, I looked up from my manuscript.

“You okay?”

“Yes, felt like someone just walked over my grave.”

“Excuse me?”

“Oh, that’s something my grandmother used to say.  When she felt a cold shiver run down her back or shoulders, she always said that.”

I nodded and smiled while letting my eyes drop back to my manuscript.  It was rude but these Indiana girls had to keep their back-water statements to themselves.  She got right back to work without any sniffs or huffs.  The girls from outside the city were usually very conscientious and she was no exception.  When we broke for lunch I asked her how long she had been living in Chicago.

“About 12 weeks.  I was ready to give it up, I felt so overwhelmed.”

“Well, I’m glad you didn’t.” I was sincere as I passed her the salt.  I needed her help and, well, I needed someone around.  The cold spots were getting worse, the sounds of footsteps and God help me I thought I had heard a few sighs.  I needed someone who would come every morning, work hard and make human noises, human movement, human scents, and human residue.

“So this used to be an old warehouse, huh?  It makes a beautiful apartment.”

“It is nice,” I said  “I like the view all around.  I think the realtor thought I should be here because she found out I was a writer.”

She laughed slightly and nodded as if she understood that as a writer I must also be a Bohemian by nature.  I wasn’t, I was just a writer.  The apartment suited me for other reasons, one it was isolated for Chicago and two, the noise of the city didn’t crowd in upon my work.

We worked together for 13 glorious weeks and the manuscript began to take shape.  We even managed one night to make a timeline of the plot and conclusion.  She stayed until 11 P.M. we became so consumed with the work she lost track of the time.  Her hair began to fall out of its pins and curl down around her neck.  Her freckles began to glow through her smudged makeup.  She almost looked 12.  She definitely looked beautiful.  But this was business, all business and I couldn’t mix business with pleasure.

One Wednesday morning she was standing, looking out toward Lake Michigan.  The city was clear and gleamed before her, like some promising city.  I admired her body as she studied the scene before her.  Her straight, sky-blue, skirt was too large but still looked enticing around her rather bony hips and her soft, buff colored sweater cascaded around her narrow shoulders and folded softly around her thin waist.  Her clothes always seemed a size too large but she wore it well, oddly enough.

“You know,” she said, “I know this apartment is haunted.  I heard her crying in the bathroom.”

I stopped what I was doing.  My pen was in mid stride as she said those words.  She turned at my silence looking a little perplexed.  “What do you think happened?  Do you think she died in an accident while this place was still a factory?”

“No,” I said, slightly relieved she was forming conclusions that didn’t include me.

She looked slightly pouty and my heart beat hard.  “Are you sure?  How do you know?” she asked.

“Because the sounds and the cold spots started after I started living here.  I’ve never heard her cry before though.”

The dear girl actually frowned and sat down next to me as if to try and comfort me or dissuade me from my idea.  “You don’t know that.  The former owners probably wanted you to buy the place so they could leave.”  She looked so sincere and concerned.  I grasped her tiny hips and pulled her under me, wanting that one kiss, that wouldn’t be tainted with fear.  The kiss was sweet, and moist and lingering.  I would regret this one, I remembered thinking.

“I know you killed her actually,” she whispered softly in my ear.  “I know you did.”

I felt her pull the trigger, felt the bullet rip through my shirt, my skin, my heart my back.  My weight muffled the sound; just what she needed to leave me here to sigh, chill the air and press down upon the old floor boards.  No one stays for long.

She was a clever girl, whoever she was, a very clever girl.

 

She Still Loves You, Sir Walter Scott

“The only thing I’m saying is that if you want a good example, for your class, of what an oxymoron is, use ‘nice guy.’” She felt that sinking, suffocating sensation that she always felt when around him and wondered why she wasn’t home reading.

He was seven years younger than her; tall, slender, with large amber brown eyes, and a wooly but trimmed beard. They were employed together by the Jefferson County School System. She taught freshman English as a way and means to write literary prose on her fall, winter, and summer breaks (when she was in elementary school those breaks had titles such as Halloween, Christmas and thanked God, it’s summer vacation). He taught fourth-grade with a concentration in Mathematics. They were aware of each other or rather she was aware of him because he always sat in the front row of the Teacher’s Union meetings. She sat in the back and graded papers that lead her to seek professional help.

That’s where they met. He was walking out of his therapy session with Dr. Monroe while she was walking in, deep in thought and wanting to purge the sick feeling of guilt she felt for reading Ivanhoe for the fourth time in three years. She was startled by the fourth-grade teacher’s appearance, and he smiled at her.

“Do I know you?”

She blinked and felt her nose begin to itch and the inevitable wetness that sidetracks all social discourse. Frantically she looked in her purse for a tissue, “Um no, sorry,” she sniffed. He took a tissue from the box on the receptionist desk and handed it to her. She took it gratefully and spoke over the fourth-grade teacher’s shoulder, to the receptionist. “Sorry I’m late, will she still see me?”

“Yes, Ms. Miller.”

She turned back to him who had stayed and was apparently looking her up and down. “You know,” he said, “I think you look familiar.”

“I teach at Jefferson High. Freshman English. I’ve noticed you at the Teacher’s Union Meetings.”

“Ahh, because I sit up front.” He smiled and adjusted his backpack across his shoulders. “Will you be at the freshman basketball game tonight?” She looked at him as if he had grown three heads, “No. I don’t care for basketball.” She turned around and walked toward the Doctor’s office door.

“Wait one minute Ms. Miller; Doctor is not quite ready.” She huffed at the strident demand of the receptionist. She turned, the fourth-grade teacher was still standing there. She wondered if the ‘Doctor,’ wasn’t recouping from some wild tryst with the young man in front of her.

“I teach fourth grade, with a concentration in mathematics.”

“Yes, you’ve mentioned that in the meetings.”

“And you’ve remembered.”

She felt herself reddening slightly. She wasn’t sure if he was referring to her age and therefore her weakening faculty of mind or if he thought that he had made an impression on her. So, she only smiled without meaning it and said, ‘yes,’ in a long drawn out breath.

Her rudeness didn’t seem to cause any self-examination regarding his manners. “Well, we should have coffee together sometime and compare notes.”

“Ms. Miller, the Doctor is ready for you.”

“Sure, we should do that.”

She didn’t realize that she had committed herself. On the afternoon, just before the long winter break (that would be spent preparing, for the principal and three vice principals another plan for teaching freshman English and a dissertation on why grades were so low), she looked up to see him standing at her classroom door.

“Hi!”

“Hello.”

Did you receive my emails?”

She thought for a moment that she would feign complete ignorance and check her spam, but she was too tired and only said: “Yes, I did.” Annoyed at having to confess her remissness she thought wildly of asking him why he didn’t ask for her kerchief or go gallantly out in her name to right wrongs.

“Didn’t want to answer me huh?” He looked a bit crestfallen, and guilt crept along her neck and wisped about her ankles in a cold little chill.

“No, I didn’t. I’ve been kind of busy.”

“Yeah, the rumor is that you really do try and teach Freshman English. That must be burdensome. Why don’t you let me buy you a cup of coffee? We can go to the teacher’s lounge…”

“No.” her disdain was evident in one word, and she rose from her desk as if she was rising to command Nelson’s ship Victory.

“Excellent then let’s go over to a nice little coffee shop I know.”

She looked outside, the clouds were low, and it had begun to snow in earnest. She felt tired and longed for her little apartment uptown above the yoga center. The landlord had made a deal with her on the rent three years ago, because of the late hours and the weird music that came up from the old furnace vents. She didn’t mind because she kept her classical music plugged in and the heat low – it helped her write.

“Why don’t you come to my apartment and I’ll make us coffee.” She was hoping he would refuse, but he readily agreed.

They had coffee. He left in time for her to order a medium plain pizza with cheese in which she ate three-quarters and then made herself sick. Something she hadn’t done since she was a teenager and had fallen in love with Sir Walter Scott of Waverly fame. She tested transcendentalism in hopes of eventually uniting with her writing icon which sent her parents running back to their Catholic faith.

She was looking at him now wondering what and who a ‘nice guy,’ really was and if he had married someone else and was tripping over kids and wondering what happened to her.

“Do you think we should start a relationship?” he asked.

“What?” She shook her head; she wondered if she had been falling asleep.

“I spoke to Dr. Monroe about the two of us, and he said an older woman (not too much older, mind you) might be a good experience for me.”

“An experience.” She said, deadpan and weary.

“You never know,” he said shyly and smiled, “it might last.”

She took a deep breath, letting herself for a moment breathe in his perceived freedom and open minded aura and felt within her throat and lungs the sharp pain deception.

“’Nice guy,’ young man, is not an oxymoron. I’m too old to be your girlfriend is not an oxymoron, and I’m not going back to that shrink who agrees with you that everyone on has a commodity status…”

“No, that’s not what I mean. I didn’t…”

“You didn’t ask me out for a cup of coffee so that you could lose your virginity, I know. You are so predictable you know, despite being told all your life that you are unique.

“So is Sir Walter Scott,” he said hotly.

“No, we just haven’t come up with anything original since. We’ve only managed to redefine words, concepts, and morals to appease our insecurities. We’ve done it until we’ve come up with a human like you, who believes there is no such thing as an oxymoron. You don’t, you know, you don’t even know enough to be honestly self-deprecating.”

He sat and stared at her for a moment. She could see he was struggling. He stood, “Well, I’ll just take care of this bill and when you feel like you can speak to me with some respect, let me know.”

She gave him no reply while he hesitated and then left. She ordered another strong coffee and felt cold. Perhaps a priest would understand her love for a dead novelist and poet better than a psychologist. Sipping her coffee and watching the fourth-grade teacher walk away.

 

He Waits For Me There

I walk the stone steps alone. The pillars attend me,

the stars my veil,

I walk the stone steps alone.  The pillars attend me,

the stars my veil,

the blackened night sky domes the ancient stone cathedral.

He waits for me there, I feel his presence upon the dais of the altar.

The dress I made myself, feels as if it will lift from my body.

He said, make the dress white with gold cuffs and hem a jewel of red at the neck.

I stand upon the old cathedral patio,

stones tumbled down ages ago

but no matter,

the opening is vast and the stone pews though all askew still leaves a path.

I feel him before me.

The debris of leaves and growing weeds between the flagstones,

the moon shines my direction pointing to the alter

a single candle there and the presence of another.

I pause and spread my hands against my midriff

feeling myself breathe; ragged, frightened, unready.

I step across the threshold and hear the murmur of a crowd long dead

a hushed whisper of those who see me and wonder at the centuries it takes to fulfill a promise.

A step further in and the stars seem to lower and the darkness heightens outside upon freedom.

The silver light fills the windows with the night’s own silver and opaque mullioned windows.

The ruin illuminates the long ago history and my escape and recapture.

One step up to the alter,

I lift the hem of my dress, heavy now in my weakened hands

I place my foot on the altar step,

his hand, his hand alone, from the darkness, appears.

My throat constricts.

to take the hand from the darkness just emerged; fills me with dread.

The audience long dead and long waiting pauses in a useless breath,

they wait for me to reach my hand to him.

My skin upon his gray pallor.

His dark visage emerges from the gloom,

a smile triumphant and the light from the one candle fills the cathedral room.

And I am there his triumph, my life.

And gone from the world of freedom.

– See more at: https://scriggler.com/DetailPost/Poetry/53367#sthash.eUwWWvqB.dpuf

Black and White Photographs

I see you in black and white. I see you against a tall and narrow wood framed house; the type built in the 1920s and 30s; narrow windows, narrow doors with the prairie grass growing right up to the field stone foundation.

I see you in black and white. I see you against a tall and narrow wood framed house; the type built in the 1920s and 30s; narrow windows, narrow doors with the prairie grass growing right up to the field stone foundation.   I picture you standing in front of the house my grandfather and grandmother were married in.  I see you in black and white; the monochrome that hides the fact that the shirt you wear is one hundred percent cotton and the pants are not pants but trousers and the smile you have on your is sort of shy because a camera was an odd thing and the word itself was still associated with an actual room in some parts of the world.

I see you in black and white because I so desperately want to. I want to stand there next to you in front of a small house with quarter paned windows that settlers on the prairie would have thought folly.  In the dead of winter with no wind breaks, perhaps they are folly.

I want you there, our bare feet wedged against each other, and our skin the only heat we feel in the back bedroom, while the winter wind howls around our house.  I want your hands in my hair telling me it’s okay, that I’ll be okay as we lock into each other in the making of another generation.

In my reality, however, I see in shades just less than Technicolor. I walk to work and I breathe into my thick, ninety percent cotton scarf, just the right shade of pewter blue; it matches my eyes and I get a few stares or two.

I have an ego.

I wash out the scarf once a week in my studio apartment, washing away the faded but expensive perfume and I wash away my own respirations while walking to work during cold January days in Chicago.

A car backfires and people scuttle for cover and then we wonder at the thought that we pay taxes to send young people to die for others, and we die on the streets unprotected.

That’s when I see you in black and white.

I took down all of my art work, I don’t believe in it anymore, and had the walls painted stark white. The landlord didn’t care, I pay my rent on time and he can see that I’m here with no intention of leaving.  I hated to, but I painted my walls with dusty looking flat paint – the kind my grandparents used.

You know, I dated a guy that works at the Art Institute of Chicago. No, he wasn’t a prig or overly anxious.  Don’t be alarmed but I was in it so he’d help my hang my old black and white photos.

He asked me why the frames. He knew a guy who could take my photos, enlarge them and really make them look like museum pieces.  No, I told him, the old photos needed frames.  A frame, like the frame of a house, was and is to me foundational.  The world crumbles without a frame of some sort to give it shape, personality, security.

He looked at me hard and then asked if I’d come to bed. Somehow I’d moved him and he was serious during sex. He telephones every once and awhile but the photos are all hung in their black and white glory so I don’t return his calls.

What time I have alone I think of you standing there next to me within the picture frame. The wind is caught in our photograph. You can see it in the background, pushing our hair out and away from our faces, moving the creases in your trousers just off center and wrapping my skirt around my legs. The wind never leaves the prairie, it cleans the air that surrounds us.

I walked the old farm with my grandfather once. He was glad to be back in North Dakota. We walked and he showed me how to make gum from the heads of wheat and pointed out where great-grandfather’s farm house used to stand – the barn was still there. I was thirteen and that was the only time that year I forgot about myself, my chemically suppressed acne and the flabby bulge around my midsection that the pediatrician explained to my mother was caused by my “eating problem.”

I didn’t lose my virginity until I was twenty-five. I’ve told that to no one until I told you. Okay, that’s a lie I tell anyone I’m intimate with, you’re the only one who didn’t joke about how long it took me.

By twenty-three I swore I’d be celibate for the rest of my life.  I met a man in the library, we were what you might call “nodding acquaintances.”  He would read in the library, not just browse the books and take them home.

He was twenty-three years older than me, married and with three children.  I learned these facts much later.  For a year we would meet at the library, walk to my place and fuck. It was intense and I don’t think he noticed that first time I was a virgin. I cried when he left but the next week I couldn’t wait to see him. I felt that way for a year, a drive that never culminated in “I love you.”

He invited me to a dinner party. I was introduced to his wife and he smiled while we shook hands.  He then started to introduce me to his friends and I could tell suddenly that I was being assessed. When I went to the open bar for a glass of sherry and stood off by myself his friends came up to me one by one. They were nice, asked me for my number, said they appreciated someone clean, considerate, that they’d take care of me.

I, of course, am very careful but I do invite a few in, outside their circle. I keep my daytime job but I make sure they pay any out of pocket medical.  There are some evenings I look forward to with the select group, but not too often.  I still feel at times that need, that drive, I felt at first. Yes, I know, they may grow tired of me but they are growing older, I think, sooner than me.

One night, the heaviest of them was working hard, sweating profusely, his hair, shock white, hanging in his face moved to the rhythm of what he was doing and my Technicolor vision suddenly went black and white.  I was struck with the thought of you, whoever you are, having a bad day on the farm, coming home to me, pushing up my thin cotton dress, holding me down on the sturdy kitchen table – just like this guy was doing – but I was on the prairie, where it mattered, where it worked.

One of them asked me, just the other day if it didn’t bother me to have all these old black and white pictures looking at me while we “played.”  “No,” I said, pulling at his tie, “I’m working to return to the wind and wide open spaces my grandfather was glad to see.”  He told me I was good at my work.

Actually, I wonder if I’ll ever feel the wind again.

 

No Make Believe

Makes little difference to me, the lifting wind that brushes the sun darken oak leaves up. The sylvan world moves from dark to light in shifting shades of green-

Makes little difference to me, the lifting wind that brushes the sun darken oak leaves up. The sylvan world moves from dark to light in shifting shades of green-

Means little to me.

I care not for the song of the lark or the longing flight of the cardinal for his mate. The scarlet dark against the shifting green all directed by who knows what; so why care for the cause of a hidden effect?

I could care less.

And I do not mind the boom of guns nor the crack of the whip that separates me from those I should love. What does their life matter as I have been taught that only my life should revolve my world?

What matters the words written that saves souls?

I think little of peace or what contentment is and soon all theses distractions I mention will falter due to lack of attention.

How could the world continue to spin without my permission?. Oh, and by the way, I most certainly don’t believe in evil.

 

Summoning Winter

I must chide myself more often in that I miss my dog more than my ex-husband.

There is a strong diabolic side to me; I recognize it, and in my calmer moments salute that entity with all the respect one soldier can give to another.

I want to lead my life wondering about consequences not living them, so my sense of fair play must be brief and I must have faith and act within the confines of what I claim is my God given guilt.  However, I’ve notice guilt has begun to slip.

I must chide myself more often in that I miss my dog more than my ex-husband. I grapple with the idea that I look at men now with a sort of mercenary attraction and above all I fight the urge to summon winter in all but one season of the year.

Ah-ha!  A left turn in a right-handed world.  Who is behind such egotistical words?  Who or what could fathom herself able to summon winter?

I deal in death.  That’s how I earn my bread and butter.  I wallow in the financial implications and shuffle the sheaves of paper, both tactile and electronic, that rustle or static the real life certainty of not existing anymore.  I suppose that my diabolical side has grown from my life’s advance in this work and my thick armor of mental self-preservation has grown with the continual observation of someone else’s misery.  I work in an emotional freezer.

But why summon winter in say, July?  Because often times the armor that thickens around my mental processes will crack.   When there is a break down, there is also a will to wallow in whatever brings me momentary happiness; a flirtation that I know I won’t pursue, the question as to why my dog had to die, wine in a box, a German film (earth and water let’s talk mercenary!) or a drive to find some of the best ice cream in town.

(I feel that the pursuit of ice cream is actually me already summoning winter in a subconscious quasi Freudian manner.)

Alas, dear reader, if you’ve made it this far I know that I left you topside with the word “guilt.”  Oh that word has become vile in the 21st century.  Tax evasion, illegal immigration, anarchy, murder, rape, home invasion, perjury, all can be shrugged off because no one wants to condemn anyone.  Who are we that we might judge anyone?

Why separate my diabolical self from analytical, dare I say, faithful-to-God self?  Why should I feel guilt over a pornographic film, a brief encounter that boils down to using someone or summoning winter?  What line in the sand am I drawing?

To tell the truth, I’m not sure I know any longer.  I’m older and more muddled.  My strength has waned and really what problems would there be to freezing summer, burying spring and demolishing autumn?  Why fight at all the freeze?

I salute you, oh self-motivated and diabolical one, and pray to God the strength to stop.

(Yet I’m grateful Creator for the 30-degree drop.)