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Final total wordcount: 60,681.

Month-of-November wordcount: 50,701.

(Edit: those are the NaNoWriMo official wordcounts.  My Open Office software says that my total wordcount is 63,789.)

I hope to catch up with emails and packages and posts (and Christmas stuff, eep!) in the next week.  Thanks for bearing with me this crazy-busy month!

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Image from Wallpapers etc.

Monday,  Nov. 14:  Sunny and warm, in the low 60s.  SOTD: SSS “Classic” tester, Nov. 3 version.  Reminds me quite a bit of Tableau de Parfums Miriam (which I’ve said before), except that Classic’s heart is more mimosa-rose and the base has some oakmoss and patchouli.   Classic is more… well, classic, (duh) with that vaguely chypre base.  Miriam is so tender and nostalgic, in a different kind of way.

A pretty good NaNo day:  Daily word count is 3119, with a cumulative total of 26,114.

Tuesday, Nov. 15:  Rain. And half the denizens of this household have a cold.  (The observant among you will note that “half the denizens” works out to two-and-a-half people, or if we’re counting pets as well, that makes three-and-a-half living beings.  However, if we take the two pets and make them equal to one person, which PETA would certainly chastise me for doing, then that makes three denizens of the household with a cold, and that happens to be the case: Taz, Bookworm and I are sniffling, sneezing, and snotty-nosed.  ‘Tain’t no fun.  I’m tellin’ ya.)

SOTD: Nothing.  Nada.  I got busy and I forgot, and by the time I remembered, I didn’t want to waste time on sampling something, but samples were all that were handy to the desk on which I write, and although I would probably have benefited from a brief jog over to the dresser where I keep most of my in-season bottles and decants, all of five feet away, I couldn’t be bothered.  Because then, my dears, I would have had to have chosen something, and I was getting my main characters Day and Meredith out of a potential scrape with the obviously-drunk and possibly-dangerous meth-head redneck Jackson brothers, and it was taking all of my attention.  I had no attention to spare for perfuming myself with licquored-up Jacksons on the loose, because their mama’s people is Cecils and Odells from Little Creek, and don’t nobody mess with them ‘thout a shotgun. 

Clearly I am overusing my dash key today.  No matter: Daily NaNo wordcount 2888, for a cumulative total of 29,002.  I did choose a bedtime fragrance: Lolita Lempicka Si Lolita.  I like a good peppery floriental; too bad this one has such lousy staying power.

Wednesday, Nov. 16:  Taz woke me up last night with the thrilling news that he had vomited, and a little bit got on his pillow but he made it to the bathroom for the rest.  Oh, joy.  I was so tired that I told him to just pull his comforter onto the floor and sleep there, and I’d clean up later.  By morning, he was feeling better and said he was hungry, and the bed wasn’t that icky, so I wasn’t worried about him.  But then Bookworm called me from school, telling me that she’d thrown up too and would I please come get her?  So they were both home today, and I held off on scent so that should any of us be stricken by more nausea, at least I wouldn’t ruin a fragrance with bad associations.    Later in the afternoon, I chose Prada Infusion d’Iris, which is so light and pleasant that I figured it would survive any such attack.  But there was none.

Daily NaNo wordcount 1207, for a cumulative total of 30,209.

Thursday, Nov. 17:  Cold.  Rainy. Everybody feeling better and back at school. Meant to wear L’Arte di Gucci today, but got distracted.  SOTD: Parfumerie Generale Aomassai, which is gorgeous and rich and roasted-smelling for ten minutes, after which it smells like a very nice masculine oriental.  Overall, I’m disappointed that it isn’t earthshaking, but it is pleasant.  Trying not to get sick today; took a two-hour nap in the afternoon. 

Finally it cleared up, and I picked up Bookworm at school and took her to the courthouse to get her official driver’s license.  In Virginia, you’re still required to go before a judge (usually in a group hearing), and hear about your responsibilities as a driver, how driving is a privilege and not a right, and that if you are still a minor, your parents still control whether you can possess that license or not.  You also hear about the risks of driving, the biggest reasons for accidents in drivers under 21 (inexperience, distraction, speeding, impairment due to drugs/alcohol), and that recently-increased legal penalties for delinquent behavior such as alcohol possession or truancy can affect your driver’s license.  It’s a sobering discourse, followed by the ceremonial presentation of the license to the new driver’s parent.  In any case, I held Bookworm’s freedom there in my hot little hand for all of four minutes before recognizing out loud that she’s mature and trustworthy, and handing it over to her with a reminder that I didn’t go through 28 hours of labor with her and sixteen years of parenting, just to have all that good work ruined by her death in a vehicle, so be careful  with it.

Had a good community chorus rehearsal.  Wore Alahine to bed.  Yum.

Grr.  Having NaNo difficulties… every time I sit down to write something, it comes out STUPID.  Lousy 146 word count today, cumulative count 30,355.   Not behind yet, but I am puzzled by the reason for the setback.  What did I do wrong?  Why aren’t my characters telling me what’s going on?  They should be.  I have all sort of plot and character-development ideas… though I know for a fact that I am avoiding writing an action climax.  Maybe that’s it; they know I’m being a total chicken about the car crash night and they resent me.

Friday, Nov. 18:  The CEO comes home tonight, yay!  Bookworm has a date. Got to do a little cleaning-straightening and think up something nice for dinner.  It’s very cold and clear outside, and nearly all of our beautiful fall leaves are on the ground, but it smells nice: a bit of woodsmoke in the air, some damp decaying leaves, and the odor of frost over large areas of grass.  Drinking Pumpkin Spice Chai tea, yum.  Burning Pumpkin Spice candles, too – it’s become a NaNoWriMo ritual almost.

SOTD: Tauer Une Rose Chypree.  Totally not what my character would wear, but no matter. I’m digging it.  I don’t think fragrance cognitive disconnect is behind my recent word blockage… I don’t think so. I wasn’t writing any better with the Infusion d’Iris on instead.  SOBedtime: Alahine again.  I love Alahine.  (And you know? It plays nicely with URC.)

Daily NaNo wordcount 4689, for a cumulative total of 35,224.  Woo-hoo! 

Saturday, Nov. 19:  Cleaned house, took recyclables to the county collection place, bought another two gallons of milk, yada yada… SOTD: Guerlain Idylle edt.  It’s lighter and less patchouli-heavy than the edp, with some lily of the valley on top of the rose and jasmineand I like it a lot more.  It does have patchouli, that “clean” version that perfumistas love to hate on, but that kind seems to bother me less than the other.  It is somewhat… hm… higher-pitched than a lot of patchoulis, but the entire edt version of Idylle is fairly high-pitched, and I rather like it.

Daily NaNo wordcount 1480, for a cumulative total of 36,704.  SOTE: Tom Ford Black Orchid Voile de Fleur.  (How come the pretty, floral edt version of Black Orchid got discontinued and the shrieking, dirt-and-cucumbers original edp version didn’t? I don’t know either.)

Sunday, Nov. 20:   Cloudy but warmer, with temps in the mid-50s.  Early church (good music, sermon on the Widow’s Mite).  SOTMorning: nothing except the remains of Voile de Fleur on my red sweater. Managed to cut down the remaining salvia and the dead foliage, made a huuuuge dish of faux Beef Stroganoff for lunch.  Football on TV for the males in the house.  That’s not to say that the females of the house don’t partake: I prefer my football live, though I’ll watch a game or two if I have nothing better to do.  Bookworm likes football, too, but PETBoy ate lunch with us, and then they spent some time talking (talking, ha!) standing outside near his truck before she had to come in and do the rest of her homework.

SOTAfternoon: Honore des Pres Vamp a NY.  I’m now getting that bubble gum note that some people talk about with it.  It’s borderline Way Too Trashy, but on me that’s gone in about half an hour, and since I never hated it the way I do certain topnotes (cough cough Tubereuse Criminelle cough), I do love the Vamp again once it’s into the tuberose-and-vanilla heart that I think of as its main character.

Daily NaNo wordcount 1480 1946 , for a cumulative total of 36, 704 38,650.  (oops, didn’t update properly).

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Frost on Leaves, image from faculty.virginia.edu

Monday, Nov. 7: Sunny and chilly today; it feels like November. SOTMorning: started out by testing Prada No. 6 Tubereuse, from their discontinued soliflore parfum line. Didn’t like it. There’s a buncha orange blossom in there, and it’s very soapy on me, not to mention short-lived. I was still craving tuberose when it wore off after an hour (yes, only an hour), but the “amber spice” candle I had been burning while writing for NaNoWriMo had its effect on me, too, so guess what I went for? Vamp a NY. Yummy.

I’m having some cognitive dissonance, because my main character would never ever wear something like Vamp.

Daily NaNo total: 1772, for a cumulative total of 13,592. (ahead of schedule).

Tuesday, Nov. 8: Election Day. Since The CEO is running for School Board in our district, he and his mother and I split up the three precincts and each covered one, handing out postcard-size information sheets on his qualifications, in case he’d missed getting handbills to some voters. SOTD: Mary Greenwell Plum. As it turned out, he did win, with about 69% of the votes in each precinct. It was a loooooong day.

Nothing written for NaNoWriMo today, as expected. Total still at 13,592, not behind.

Wednesday, Nov. 9: Romped on the NaNo writing today! So busy that I barely even remembered to wear perfume at all, and then I tried the new tester version of “Classic” from Sonoma Scent Studio. The last time I wore it, it seemed more complex than it does now, but it also had an unpleasant celery-like material in it (which seems to be an item usually classified as “jasmine”). I like it much better now. It has a little hit of aldehydes, some rose and jasmine and mimosa, and a lovely sandalwood-vanilla base with a hint of myrrh. It is interestingly similar to Tableau de Parfums Miriam, but with noticeable differences.

Daily NaNo total: 3834, for a cumulative total of 17,426. Now a couple of thousand words ahead of schedule, yay!

Thursday, Nov. 10: Another heavy writing day. Stayed home all day, pretty much did nothing but write and fold a few loads of laundry. Then I had a little nap (yay, nap!). I didn’t even notice the weather. SOTD: Prada Infusion d’Iris.

Daily NaNo total: 2957, for a cumulative total of 20,383.

Friday, Nov. 11, Veterans Day: Went to a Veterans Day program at Gaze’s school, and it was very moving. The school’s former “resource officer” – a law enforcement officer that spends time at the school, building relationships with the kids and preventing problems as much as possible – has moved on to full time sheriff duty, but becaus he served in the US Navy in peacetime, spoke to the 8th graders about his experiences in the military. The industrial arts teacher, who’s been there a long time and even taught The CEO when he attended, spoke to the kids about his service in the infantry in Vietnam. He was fairly circumspect, but that was a horrific time, and I think the students ended up with a greater appreciation for the sacrifices of military veterans. The band played two pieces, very well, and the choir sang the national anthem and one other song, passably.

I expected to attend a NaNoWriMo write-in this morning, but either I mistook the date (possible) or it’s been moved to Monday. Then The CEO took me out to lunch as thanks for helping at the polls, and that was lovely. SOTD: Cuir de Lancome.

Had been planning to go to what is probably going to be the final football game of the season. I still can’t believe the high school team made the playoffs with a 1 win – 9 loss record (I can’t ‘splain it, it has something to do with a point scheme). But it’s cold and windy out, and I feel sure we’ll lose tonight, and the band is going to play in the stands but not wear uniforms and not present their halftime show, so I sent Bookworm off with hats and gloves and Hot Hands and sweatshirts, with extras to share, and a firm instruction to Stay As Warm As Possible, I Mean It, Don’t Get Sick, Your Mama Loves You.

Daily NaNo total: 483, for a cumulative total of 20,866. Still a little ahead, even though my characters shut up at the end of a scene and wouldn’t talk to me anymore.

Saturday, Nov. 12: Cleaned house. I think Bookworm is sick – she’s been coughing all day. After yesterday’s cold and windy weather, today is beautiful! In the low 60s, blue skies, a little bit of a breeze. Went to my late grandmother’s townhouse to look at some furniture my aunts wondered if I’d like to have, since the house has been sold and everything has to be removed very soon. As it turns out, I don’t have room for that enormous table, but I did take a space heater and a Pyrex dish in a size I use. The big roadblock with dispersing Nell’s things is the stacks and stacks of quilting materials. While I was there, Aunt Doris and Aunt Cindy suddenly discovered more boxes of the stuff that they hadn’t realized was there, and there was unison wailing from the spare bedroom. SOTD: Tableau de Parfums Miriam. I smelled wonderful.

Struggling with NaNoWriMo today: I don’t think my main characters liked the last scene I wrote, which took their relationship to a more involved level, perhaps too quickly. I’m not sure what to do – I don’t want to remove the whole scene, but I might have to stick another one in before it, just to bridge the emotional distance between this one and the previous romantic (sort of) scene. Meanwhile, I just let them have the day off while I ponder. I’m tired. Daily NaNo total: 0, for a cumulative total of 20,866. Still on track, if I write some Sunday.

Sunday, Nov. 13: Chilly and cloudy, in the high 50s. PETBoy went with us to church, and then afterward came back and watched The Princess Bride with us, since he’d never seen it. I’m not sure he enjoyed it as much as we do (Prince Humperdinck: “That may be the first time anyone has ever dared insult me.” Westley: “It won’t be the last, you warthog-faced buffoon.”), but we had a nice afternoon. SOTD: Caron Parfum Sacre, lovely stuff.

Heard Taz playing by himself upstairs, banging on the pot-lid Viking shield from his Halloween costume, and humming “Hail to the Chief.” I don’t know what one has to do with the other, but it was funny.

Daily NaNo total: 2129, for a cumulative total of 22,995. Still on pace.  My characters are talking to me again.  This is crucial.

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Monday, Oct.31, Halloween: Hectic, hectic day! Did errands, went grocery shopping, helped move a group of cows into the barn lot (they never want to go into the barn lot, much the same way as the cat hates to go to the vet). Aargh. SOTD: Tableau de Parfums Miriam. I do love it. Every time I wear it, I remember to pray for PETBoy, which is a good thing.

Took Viking Taz trick-or-treating, wearing Tabac Aurea to go with the woodsmoke in the air. He came home with a huuuuge bucket of candy, which meant that I snagged a few pieces to share with his sister and brother. Nobody needs that much candy. Sorry to say, I didn’t get a good picture of him…

Tuesday, Nov. 1: NaNoWriMo started today. I had meant to stay up late and do some writing after midnight, but I didn’t. Too sleepy. Wordcount for the day: 1841. SOTD: PdN Vanille Tonka. Took Gaze to an open-house meeting at the local Boy Scouts’ hangout – after a couple of disastrous, leaderless years in Cub Scouts (following a couple of really good, fun years), he’s ready to Scout again.

Wednesday, Nov. 2: Good NaNoWriMo day – wordcount up to 3204, for a cumulative total of 5045. I am actually being a “rebel” because I’m working on a piece I started over the summer, but that does not mean I can’t get at least 50,000 words written this month. Did some laundry. SOTD: Jacomo Silences. Gorgeous stuff.

The CEO left this evening to go to Richmond for the Virginia Farm Bureau resolutions meeting. He’ll be back tomorrow night.

Thursday, Nov. 3: Another decent NaNoWriMo wordcount day: daily total 2250, cumulative total 7295. SOTD: L’Arte di Gucci, because The CEO is not nearly as enthusiastic about it as I am. It had largely worn off when he got home (aided by my taking a late shower after community choir practice).

Friday, Nov. 4: Got called to help chaperone the marching band at what’s supposed to be the last football game of the season, at the traditional rival school’s field. Went to a NaNo Write-In at Radford University, met some cool people, wrote 1785 words today for a cumulative total of 9080. Went by my late grandmother’s place to pick out a few dishes, as the town house is being cleaned out for its new owners. Threw some pork chops in the oven for the boys before I left, then sat with my buddy TJ on the band bus. SOTD: Mariella Burani. Three spritzes may have been too much, because I kept hearing people say, “Do you smell baby powder?”

We lost the game, which I expected, but it turns out that because of the number of points our team scored, we’re in the district playoffs and will be playing again next week. Seems wrong to have a 1-win, 9-loss team in the playoffs to me. Don’t you think? The other school’s band show was interrupted by a streaker in tighty-whities, but that was the only exciting part of the evening. Ah, well – Bookworm’s bestie Grace, who was drum major last year and graduated, made it to the game, so it was nice to see her. And PETBoy seemed to be enjoying the game, but right before it was over, another band alumnus stopped by and mentioned a death in his family, and I think that prompted some emotion. Bookworm said the ride home was fraught; she wasn’t sitting with him, because there’s a band rule that when it gets dark, there’s no boy-girl seating. She and another friend were able to offer some comfort, but that’s hard to do on a bus.

 

Photo from last week's marching band competition, by Nicole Ward. I think Kalep was trying to be funny... pretty sure he was... almost sure.

Saturday, Nov. 5: Gorgeous, if windy, weather today. We did some cleaning, and The CEO took advantage of the sunshine to do a bit more campaigning for School Board; thank goodness the election is on Tuesday. I actually managed to have some quiet, relaxed conversation with Bookworm, who’s been so busy lately that I hardly ever see her. I’ve been missing her, so it was lovely. Then she went out for the rest of the day with PETBoy, for a visit to his mother’s grave, and then dinner-and-a-movie with some of his family members. (Outback Steak House and Tower Heist; she said the food was much better than the movie.) Mowed the grass for what may be the last time this fall, after ripping out the dead zinnias and morning glory vine. For some strange reason, the blue salvia still looks really good, so I left it in place.

SOTD: L’Artisan Havana Vanille. Yum. Sometimes it seems too sweet to me, and sometimes not. Today it’s great. My attention span for NaNoWriMo was terrible, though, and I only scored 992 words, for a cumulative total of 10,072 – still ahead of schedule, but just barely.

Sunday, Nov. 6: Early church again. SOTD: Mary Greenwell Plum – so nice. The kids’ report cards came home this week, with very good grades in general. (Taz’s handwriting grade is pretty bad, but I expected that.) NaNoWriMo daily total was 1748, for a cumulative total of 11,820.

SOTBedtime: Shalimar Light.

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No perfume again today.  I’ve been really busy with the normal Back to School mom  stuff, and also ferrying Bookworm around to various things (Governor’s School, doctor’s office to see about her pinky finger she slammed in the car door Sunday, hospital to get X-ray for said finger, band practice, cross-country practice, et cetera, et cetera).  Also, I am burning up in the middle with a new story, so any spare minutes I get have been spent writing.  I find that if I don’t drop things and write right now what’s going on in my head, it goes away.  So, here’s what I’ve got right now as the opening page of this story (which is not the novel I excerpted earlier – that one I’ve been working on for about three years now).

Monday, August 1, 2011

Jason Povlich, sixteen-year veteran director of the Fairlee County (Virginia) High School band, was toasting a bagel and tasting the first sips of his morning coffee when he heard. The radio was on, with the news report, and he was rearranging his To-Do List for the following week’s band camp when the morning news guy said something completely unexpected.

In local news, two people are dead following a single-car accident last night near Star Lake in Franklin. Apparently, the driver of the vehicle fell asleep and hit an embankment, killing both passengers in the vehicle. Names are being withheld pending the informing of family. Also in Franklin yesterday, twenty-one-year-old Thomas Day Donovan was arrested on charges of rape and assault. Donovan is alleged to have called 911 himself, requesting medical help for the victim, who is not being named according to the nature of the crime.”

Mr. Povlich spat out his mouthful of coffee, said something out loud he wouldn’t have liked to have had his mother overhear, and went to find his wife.

She was drying her hair in the bathroom, and he waited until she saw him in the mirror and turned off the hair dryer. Without preamble, he told her, “Day Donovan’s just been arrested.”

She put down the dryer. “What?”

You heard me.”

Day Donovan?” Katie Povlich repeated, in incredulous tones. “Arrested? Why, for God’s sake?”

For rape,” Jason said.

Rape?” she exclaimed, with even more disbelief. “We are talking about the same kid you had in band three years ago, right? Sweet kid, wouldn’t step on a bug?”

Has to be. I don’t know any other Thomas Day Donovans in Franklin, age 21.”

There’s some mistake,” Katie said, with finality. “There’s just no way.”

I agree,” Jason said. “I can’t believe it. If Day’s a rapist, I will personally eat a tuba.”

Similar mouthfuls of breakfast coffee had been spat out of mouths all over Franklin and the surrounding towns. Boy Scout leaders, teachers in the Fairlee County school system, employees of DiTech Systems, and members of the Angels Rest Holiness Church were just as incredulous as the Povliches. Day Donovan a rapist? The earth shook on its foundations.

Both radio and TV were off in the home of David and Lisa Harper. Their younger daughter Tess, age 17, was up early for once, eating cereal at the breakfast table and watching her parents have a silent eyeball conversation. “Where’s Meredith?” Tess asked.

She’s asleep upstairs,” Lisa said. “Don’t wake her up.”

Okay.” Tess meditatively crunched cereal. “What’s going on? Did she come in late or drunk or something?”

David and Lisa looked at each other with some alarm. We’re going to have to tell Tess something, David said without words.

And, Not yet, Lisa replied, equally silently. To her daughter she said, “Why don’t you stick around the house today? Hang out with Meredith for a change. She won’t be here very long – she goes back to college in a few weeks.”

Tess perked up. “Cool. She can drive me to the mall. There’s a sale at Anthropologie.”

No, I mean stay home,” Lisa said, sharper than she’d meant to. “I need you to stay home.”

And do what exactly?” Tess demanded, putting down her spoon. “Play Barbies? Swing on the swingset? What do you think we are, eight years old?”

David made a choked noise in his throat and got up from the table. He pulled out his handkerchief and blew his nose. “Allergies,” he said to Tess. “Mind your mother and stay home, young lady.”

Fine.” Honestly, parents, Tess thought. They never knew anything. She ate her cereal and went to text Chels and Mikayla that her parents were imprisoning her against her will and not to expect her at the pool. She also knew that something was up, probably with Meredith. Probably one of her panic attacks again, which she was not allowed to mention to anyone outside the family.

She went to Meredith’s room to just crack open the door and see if she was awake yet, but when she poked her head in, Mere was rolling around in her covers the way she did when she was waking up and stretching. “Hey,” Tess said. “What’s going on?”

There was an incoherent mumble from under the sheets.

Did you have one of your panic things last night? Dad is all weird today, and Mom told me not to turn on the TV and disturb you.”

Meredith sat up groggily, rubbing her face with both hands. One camisole strap was falling off her right shoulder. The other shoulder, Tess noticed, was bruised pretty badly, a big ugly purple blotch on the tender inner arm stretching up to her collarbone. “Ow,” Meredith said, “That hurt.” She also had a scratch and bruise on her left cheek. But she smiled at Tess, a strange smile that was somehow both shy and smug. Like she had a secret, Tess thought. Mere was pretty tight with her secrets.

What happened to you?” Tess asked. Something must have happened, for Mere to be bruised up and Mom and Dad both weird and staying home from work.

Meredith did not answer her, instead reaching over to the nightstand for her phone. She flipped it open and frowned with concentration, scrolling through the menus for something. She flopped back down on the bed. “Ow,” she said again, and started thumbing a text message.

Who’re you texting?” Tess said, not really expecting an answer. But Meredith turned the phone around so Tess could see:

hey how r u?   im still groggy fr antipanic meds & sore fr fall    u get home ok?   u wr rly freaked out last nite   txt me back k”

Who’s that to?” Tess wanted to know, all at sea with “meds” and “fall” and “freaked out.”

Day, of course,” Meredith said, and smiled that strange smile again.

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I know I shouldn’t be contacting you like this, but fear not. I’m not chasing you – I know you’re married now. Honestly, I have a good life. I had a good husband, and my daughter, now almost grown, is a pure delight. I’m a tenured professor teaching what I love in the state of my birth; I own a house and a car and a cat and some investment funds. I’m in good health. Who has the right to ask for more?

Look, I stayed away. I avoid reading all poetry published after 1988, and especially that written by New Zealand poets, which is not difficult because I teach the Modern American Novel. I politely decline Massey University’s repeated query as to whether I’d like to receive the alumni magazine.

I resisted the siren call of Google search as long as I could. One day not long ago, something came over me. I was thinking about autumn, about fallen leaves and the smell of apples, and the way the sky gets so deep in the fall. A great wave of longing for you swept over me, and I sat there in my ergonomic, university-provided desk chair and had to close my eyes and hold on to the armrests for balance.

When I could breathe again, my fingers found their way to the keyboard and I typed in your name, just your name, and I hit Enter. And then when I opened my eyes to look, there were too many entries to count. I skimmed them. Mostly they were to do with that critically-acclaimed collection of poems from 1993, or the one from 1997, or that anthology from 2005. I knew of the published stuff, but I was looking for something more personal. Congratulations on those, by the way. Well-deserved, I’m sure, though I haven’t read them.

But there was one entry, from an alumni organization, that jumped out. It listed your name and the year of your bachelor’s degree, and a doctorate I knew you must have gotten later as well as the master’s degree we both earned at Massey. It said Nicholas Somerfield, the poet, and his wife Deirdre Manning were the proud parents of their first child, a son named William Edward. It also mentioned that you were teaching at the University of Auckland, and your wife was an associate at one of the downtown law firms.

I did some math. Young William Edward will now be nearly nine, a good ten years younger than my daughter. I’ve no doubt that he’s got at least one sibling by now; I can’t imagine your not being an enthusiastic father. I’d have thought you’d marry someone quite different than a career woman, though: a former student, perhaps, or one of those society girls your father kept throwing at you. A fellow professor, maybe – someone you’d write poetry for. But perhaps your wife has time for literature, too?  She kept her maiden name, as I did not.  I’d bet she keeps a neat house, and the children go to boarding school, appropriately equipped, and the maid does the difficult work, and all you have to do is prepare for your classes. You read Rilke to her in the evenings, or Neruda.

Certainly you must have more children by now, don’t you? Two boys and a girl, or two girls and that boy, young William Edward… I can see them in my head now, running over hills at your father’s manor house over their summer break, pulling a kite up into the air. The kite is red. The children are tall, like you, and they have your coloring. It’s a boy and two girls, I think: young William Edward, and Isobel and Catherine. They have long tanned legs and their dark hair is mussed by the wind, and your wife Deirdre makes clucking noises when they come in and pulls a proper boar-bristle hairbrush out of the sideboard drawer and tidies them before the dinner gong. Deirdre must be tall too, at least she is in my picture of her, and she has enigmatic gray eyes and a firm mouth. She’s the disciplinarian. You’d be out flying the kite with them, except that when they were going out with it, imploring you to come with them, she’d put her hand on the small of your back and told them, “No, Daddy and I have something to talk about.” And all the afternoon while the children are outside flying the kite and gently squabbling about whose turn it is, and who was pushing, was-not, was-too, you and Deirdre are up in that third-floor room in your parents’ house (you’d call it the second floor), the one with the tōtara tree outside the window, and you’re awake-dreaming in the bed, sunlight and leaf-shadows across your bodies. She is slender and long-bodied, and when you kiss her, you do not have to bend down far at all. You match. She fits you. Your family approves of her.

I would not jar such happiness loose, even assuming that I could. From this distance halfway across the world, from this distance a score of years long? Pure idiocy. I closed the browser window and laughed at myself, and I never went looking for you again. I forgot you too.

Except that I didn’t.

I buried my memories of you, for Tony’s sake. Tony was a good man, and I would never have hurt him by remembering you too vividly, or too openly. My memories of you haunted me only in the early morning, in what I call the Dreaming Hour, that time just before the sleeper wakes with the color and shape of her dream still on her. Sunshine and apples and fallen leaves, and the smell of your leather coat. Wet woolens and library books. Violets.  The way my head fit into that hollow on your chest.  When I would wake with tears on my face, I always knew I’d been dreaming of you.

Now Tony is gone, and it seems that when they dug his grave, they accidentally disinterred you. You rise like a ghost from a shelf of books, arguing Housman to my Frost, or Virginia Woolf to my John Irving. I make a cup of tea and think of the lovely Caravaggio shape of your mouth, and then I look at the clock and see I’m almost late for my 2:10 class. When rain snakes down the glass of my office window and the air is wet and clean, I sense you are behind me, shaking off your mac and drying your hair with the kitchen towel.

I smell pipe smoke, and I look around for you. An autumn night begins to fall, and I look at the blue-ink sky and think, who has eyes that color? No one save Colin. So maybe I dreamed you. Maybe there was never an Us.

Did you ever love me at all? I just want to know. That’s why I’m writing to you now. I don’t want to see you. I want to know why you let me go.

I remember how we used to talk – right from the beginning we were finishing each other’s sentences and nodding madly at each other, sentences spilling like water over Niagara Falls, while our friends looked at each other with raised knowing eyebrows. How we talked and talked! Our friend Gregory told me once that he couldn’t fathom it, he’d known you all through your undergraduate years and he’d never heard that many words come out of your mouth, because usually they were spilling onto some notebook instead, to be secreted inside your rucksack and never seen, until published in the university’s literary magazine.

But you talked to me. And you touched me. You were so shy that the first time you kissed me, you closed your eyes and nearly missed my mouth. But I taught you how to kiss – we taught each other how to kiss – and in a short time, “shy,” was the very last word I’d have used to describe your touch. We were shameless in consuming each other. We’d break off some discussion of Nikki Giovanni to take off our clothes and be together. We couldn’t touch each other enough, or too often. It was like our talking, it flowed over itself and grew and caught us in the floodwaters. We’d touch and talk, talk and touch, before and over and through and during and after and in. We never stopped, we couldn’t stop. There was always something more to say, some caress to bestow or receive, some closeness to achieve.

And you held my heart cupped in your hands, all fragile and precious. You held me and you spoke to me in your beautiful voice, extravagant love promises that I never doubted for a second because I returned them without reservation.

But now, I look back and hear the things about which you never spoke, echoing empty spaces in the House of Us : your childhood loneliness. Your mother’s medications, her plastic surgeries, her remoteness. Your frustration with your work: in the charcoal grill, you once burned a four-inch stack of typewritten poems, eight months’ worth of meticulous labor, with a darkness in your eyes. “It was rubbish, all of it,” was all you said when I realized what you’d done. You never mentioned your father’s sneering and unjustified disdain for all four of his sons. Once, your older brother – David the handsome, David the promising young barrister most any father would be proud of – said something of it to you in my hearing, his tone bitter and hurt. You turned away. You said nothing.

You were silent on the subject of my leaving. I’d finished the course of Master of Arts studies and my thesis; I’d overstayed the length of my scholarship and was running out of stipend money. My student visa was set to expire. I had to go back home. I told you all this, more than once.

You said nothing. You let me go.

Six of those poems you burned? You had written them for me, you’d said, “Sara, you’ve been my muse.” You’d said that love had inspired you. Those were my poems, I protested then, in grief and disbelief. You said nothing. They were gone, bitter ash on the wind. One of them I knew by heart, the others I only remember in snatches. I won’t quote them to you now, though they will burn, words of flame, in my heart until I die. On windy evenings, I yet hear you whisper them in my ear.

In the airplane lavatory, going home, my eyes swollen from hours of crying, I poured what remained of my little upside-down-heart bottle of Chamade into the toilet, and I flushed it.  It fell into the Pacific Ocean somewhere, that scent of Me With You, and my tears fell with it.

My grief: You let me go.   I just want to know why. You let me go without word or touch, without farewell or blessing or even curse, you let me go still loving you, my heart cut out of my chest and still beating. How did you do such a thing? How could you?

Of course I won’t send this.

But please tell me, if you know: How do I stop loving you?

(All rights reserved.  Image is Keyboard Blur by striatic at Flickr, some rights reserved.)

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I’m re-reading Martin Cruz Smith’s wonderful novel, Rose, set in a coal-mining town in Victorian England. The protagonist, an American mining engineer named Blair, has just been hauled out of the Gold Coast, disgraced and suffering an acute malarial attack, back to England to face the indignant Board of the National Geologic Society. He’d come through miles of jungle, with five native porters he was supposed to have paid, to the Society’s headquarters, only to find that his funds had been spent on a hunting safari for a visiting British noble – so he took the Bible fund to pay his porters, foregoing his own salary.

This, of course, is not at all the Done Thing. The Board members are in high dudgeon; no person of consequence would be unable to cover the matter with personal funds. Blair’s desperate to get back to Africa, not only because he loves it there, but because he’s left his young daughter of mixed race behind. Bishop Hannay, one of the Board members and owner of a profitable coal mine as well as a weathy estate, promises to get Blair onto the roster of another Africa expedition, and to pay him his expected salary, if Blair will just do him one tiny little favor.

Hannay’s daughter’s fiance, the local curate, has gone missing. Blair is commissioned to look for the Reverend Maypole, and to console Charlotte Hannay… and he has to do it in Wigan, the coal town containing the Hannay mine. Wigan is where Blair was born, a fact he’d mentioned to the Bishop some months prior in Africa, over late-night drinks. Blair doesn’t want to return; he was four when he took ship with his mother for America. She died on the voyage, and an elderly bachelor mining engineer on the ship unofficially adopted him. Blair took the engineer’s name; he can’t remember the name he was born with, or even his mother’s name.

Nothing, in Wigan, is as it seems. While investigating Maypole’s life, he meets a “pit girl” named Rose, one of the last people Maypole was seen speaking with, and she fascinates him. He suspects that Maypole’s interest in Rose was becoming an obsession, and he’s just about to pursue this line of inquiry when he finds out that there was a massive explosion at the mine, with more than 60 people dead, the very morning of Maypole’s disappearance.

Smith is a genius at settings. I’ve never been to Russia or the Bering Sea or East Berlin – but because I’ve read Smith’s Arkady Renko novels, I’ve chased spies through Moscow, gutted fish on a factory ship, dodged bullets on a subway and wolves in the forests near Chernobyl. In Rose, Smith is masterful with putting his reader right in the soup along with his protagonist. Here’s a passage from Chapter 2, when Blair’s train is pulling in to the Wigan station:

The dark sky turned darker, not with clouds but with a more pungent ingredient. From the window, Blair saw what could have been the towering effluent plume of a volcano, except that there was no erupting volcanic cone, no mountain of any size, in fact, between the Pennines to the east and the sea to the west, nothing but swale and hill above the long tilt of underground carboniferous deposits. The smoke rose not from a single point but as a dark veil across the northern horizon, as if all the land thereafter was on fire. Only closer could a traveler tell that the horizon was an unbroken line of chimneys.

Chimneys congregated around cotton mills, glassworks, iron foundries, chemical works, dye works, brick works. But the most monumental chimneys were at the coal pits, as if the earth itself had been turned into one great factory. When Blake wrote of “dark Satanic mills,” he meant chimneys.

The hour was almost dusk, but this darkness was premature. When enough chimneys had passed one by one, the sky turned the ashen gray of an eclipse. On either side private tracks connected pits to the canal ahead. Between the pall and the lines of steel lay Wigan, at first sight looking more like smoldering ruins rather than a town.

Coal was worked into the town itself, creating coal tips that were black hills of slag. On some, coal gas escaped as little flames that darted from peak to peak like blue imps. The train slowed along a pit as a cageload of miners reached the surface. Coated in coal dust, the men were almost invisible except for the safety lamps in their hands. The train slid past a tower topped by a headgear that, even in the subdued light, Blair saw was painted red. On the other side, figures crossed single file across the slag, taking a shortcut home. Blair caught them in profile. They wore pants and coal dust too, but they were women.

The track bridged the canal, over barges heaped with coal, then traveled by a gasworks and a rank of cotton mills, their high windows bright and the chimneys that drove their spinning machines spewing as much smoke as castles sacked and set ablaze. The locomotive slowed with its own blasts of steam. Tracks split off to goods sheds and yards. In the middle, like an island, was a platform with iron columns and hanging lamps. The train approached at a creep, gave a last convulsive shake and stopped.

See? Genius. Not only does the reader see Wigan in vivid detail, the reader understands that Wigan is black, smoking, despairing, the anteroom to Hell.

I won’t go into plot details (go check it out of the library, or better yet, buy a copy!), but here as in all the Renko books, there is a mystery, there is a love interest, there are characters with secrets of their own, and there is great physical danger to the hero from unforeseen directions. People lie. Situations are not as they seem on the surface. Conversations and observations are reported in a matter-of-fact manner, such that if the reader is not paying minute attention, important information will be missed.

It occurred to me today that I approach each revelation of a Smith novel with such delight because I tend to take his characters at face value. One person’s speech is at odds with her social status? She’s extraordinary. One person tells the protagonist he knows nothing about the disappearance? He’s telling the truth. In my life, I’m suspicious: you want me to invest in your business plan? Forget it. You say you had no ulterior motives in asking me that question? Yeah, riiiiiiight.

But reading Rose? I’m watching the scenery, listening to Blair’s deadpan sarcasm, witnessing his increasing fascination with the pit girl Rose, keeping a furtive eye out for Rose’s violent boyfriend. I miss stuff. And I’m surprised by occurrences and admissions of truth. They blindside me, even the fourth time through, even though I already know they’re coming.

Now, that is how you write mystery. I love mystery novels… cut my teeth on Agatha Christie. Never got into the hardboiled style, though I’ve read my share of Ngaio Marsh and Dashiell Hammett and Ellery Queen. Tony Hillerman is a good read, but I don’t love his stuff either. So who do I love? P.D. James, Ruth Rendell, Elizabeth George. James is so economical – she can tell you worlds about a character in about four sentences, even a minor character. Ruth Rendell’s books scare the crap out of me; they tend to concentrate on ordinary-seeming characters who are mentally unstable, and who create convoluted tangles of situations around innocent people. The ground seems soft under my feet when I read Rendell.

Elizabeth George has a set of recurring characters who have relationships; each of her books (I think there are fourteen at this point) concerns itself not only with the murder at hand, as it were, but also with her major characters (a Scotland Yard investigator and his sergeant) and events in their lives. George’s murderers range from a student at a prestigious boarding school to a disturbed obese daughter to a respected doctor to a charitably-inclined owner of a printing company, but the themes of her books touch on family relationships – What does it mean to be a parent? A child? A sister, a wife, a grown son? What are each person’s rights and expectations and responsibilities? Where do the joys lie, and where the dangers?

At one time, I enjoyed Patricia Cornwell’s early Scarpetta novels, but no longer. I began to be disillusioned with them after a major character was killed in a gruesome way, and when it became apparent to me that her major characters, each of whom has significant emotional difficulties, were not making any headway toward personal growth at all, and seemed to actually be regressing into self-destruction. The novels became too depressing for me to read, beginning with Hornet’s Nest, and I found that I did not even like to reread the early novels, because I knew what was to come years later. I’ve also noticed a change, from her carefully-crafted climaxes of action to too-short, choppy scenes, dizzying and uninformative, without the self-reflection of the major characters I saw in the earlier books. I haven’t even read her most recent novel, and I doubt I will.

I saw on Amazon recently that Martin Cruz Smith has a new Arkady Renko novel out: following Gorky Park, Polar Star, Red Square, Havana Bay, Wolves Eat Dogs, and Stalin’s Ghost, there is now Three Stations. I’m going to nab me that baby right quick and prepare for a good read. Hope the library has it.

Note:  I actually wrote this about three weeks ago, and I have yet to get to the library.  What with my laptop screen being broken (still using it with an external monitor), Gaze being sick (he’s better now)  and my father-in-law in the hospital (not out of the woods yet), I haven’t been blogging much.  If you feel so inclined to pray for Bill and the family, that would be much appreciated.

Image of Rose in hardcover from Amazon.

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