Books stacked to the ceiling; new, old, hard cover, all colors, smelling of cinnamon, cloves, and musty spider dust. A woman whirling like a cyclone, her arms extending. She brushes the walls, her eyes shut. She chooses. The overstuffed couch swallows her and she reads. Sips of hot tea, cold tea, cider, coffee, one after another, the light changing through the day from powdery gray to melancholy green, at noon quite bright yellow and then white. Straining, she escapes into history, imbibing the past. Seeking perspective, finding a foundation to understand the moment. Respite. She girds to return to earth.
Trying to cheer me up, a friend said, “Imagine a start-up selling a flying car. A guy named Tad, with genius hair and cargo shorts, runs things. Like Icharus, he falls to earth. Landing in an old growth forest close to the coast, he’s looking for a mechanic when Chloe comes along on a breath of pine and salt water.
“They marry. They’re happy, too, despite the devil on Tad’s shoulder teasing that he could have had the world. Tad pays that devil no mind. A new dad, now he’s flying by the seat of his pants.”
When five hundred naked gnomes turned up at the Felton Auto Body Shop, the whole town was busy spraying water on their houses and trimming dead grass and trees. Everyone but Fred Hale missed the dispirited group straggling along Main Street.
He expected the little people since they’d phoned. Ready with brushes and gallons of paint, he covered over smoke damage, painting each gnome in traditional red, blue and green colors. Boots were all black. It took a few days, but Fred felt a certain pride. Especially when the freshly painted group appeared on talk shows advocating for prescribed burns.
“I don’t say women’s rights—I say the constitutional principle of the equal citizenship stature of men and women.”
― Ruth Bader Ginsburg
“the greatest menace to freedom is an inert people; …public discussion is a political duty; and… should be a fundamental principle of the American government.”
― Brandeis concurring with Holmes in Whitney vs. California, 1927
“He (Nabokov) used words to paint pictures. Even today, when I read, I notice with pleasure when an author has chosen a particular word, a particular place, for the picture it will convey to the reader.”
― Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Quotations from Goodreads in a review of Ginsburg’s book, My Own Words (2016)
It wasn’t the first dark day, but it was the first the owls stayed out hunting until it seemed to them that they’d stayed too long. The yellow cast to the sky reminded them not of moonlight, more like cool firelight. But the silence gripping the countryside made them think again. Eerie and quiet. Cool and gliding from one tree to the next, over meadows where mice dodged into holes between stones that marked a boundary from one farm to the other. But the birds had eaten their fill. Dusky day turned to dusky night. The world turned upside down.
Convinced that the New Yorker publishes only depressing fiction, Homeland Security missed the monsters landing in Manhattan. The administration got involved when their Russian counterparts cited a credible report from The Onion. But, it was too late. Soon monsters were cavorting with city rats. If you think the aliens were big before, OMG. Hybrids the size of Teslas literally popped from the sewer grates.
Fortunately, the White House saw the situation as an opportunity. Democratic mayor plus vermin problem equals election year coup. It might have worked, except the whole thing was a set up. The rat-monsters wore MAGA hats.
The silver lining in our Covid story almost didn’t happen. My son responded to a Facebook post. A Michigan friend, who was stationed in Afghanistan, posted a message from a Sacramento friend who had housing for herself, but not her pets. Through social media, they spanned the world to locate a fostering contact point.
It was a risk. Little was known about animal-human transmission, so we were leery of the multiple moves the dogs had made on their way to us. Potential virus vectors. But when Max noses in or Kohnan sings opera, I’m glad we took the chance.
An innocent mistake, pressing the camera button. The Welcome Gnome on the front steps stirred, his soul waking in the hot California sun.
“Water. Make it a spray, a spate, a mist. Elsewise, you’ll suck the life from this old soul.” The gnome skittered into the shade of an overhang.
The hose sang clear wet.
He wavered, quivering silver like a heat mirage, so that she queried, “Are you okay?”
“Delete the picture.” He hovered, real and unreal. “Stuck in a camera, I’ll shadow to dust. Resting, must, in the garden. There’s a spot for me. I’ll find my way.”
There was a fight about money after my father’s funeral, though money played no part. The details don’t matter. Proximity: same car, same hotel, same any building and we erupt. It would have been a ruckus except our husbands intervened. My sister pushed a finger at my chest. Ghosts burned through me. We could have been scrambling over sharp-edged furniture into the emergency room.
The argument was predictable, something to schedule for a convenient time. A time free of hot flashes and cold stares. After forty years of not settling things, the fracas was expected, even anticipated. Not an emergency.
— E-mail. God sent me a cease and desist order. It’s here somewhere. Oh, maybe it got trashed when I ran out of space in my Yahoo account.
Were you surprised?
— Yeah. He doesn’t know me from Adam.
No idea you were evil incarnate until God got in touch?
— How would I know? The Biblical criteria are all over the map. Nero, half the Popes, fictional characters, even cardboard reality TV stars qualify. Another reason to quit.
I’m hearing that presenting as a sympathetic character is important?
— More like well rounded.
So what’s your next gig?
— Fairy tale villain.