Death, Natural and Not

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“The moment you accept your own death, something in you changes.”* Words spoken by a Ukrainian refugee slumped on a shelter bed, phone in hand. Resigned. Her words resonate, a reminder of my mother’s decline. 

Mom has changed. She says very little, sleeps a lot. No more raging temper tantrums over how much butter there is on the toast. Little things matter little, big things less. Nothing big like Russian planes threaten Mom. Nothing external. Nothing like this Ukrainian woman faces. And yet she is upended. Shuttling from hospital to rehab, death has crept inside my mother, weighing her down.

* From The Economist April 30, 2022 “The Wreckage Within.”

Ode to Post-Pandemic Gophers

Photo by Monica McHenney

The last time we met you was before Zoom was the go-to way to say “Hello.” A long time ago, but we remember.

Your three year old was a baby. She’s distant, no interest in meeting strangers. As long as you hold my phone for her, she likes the photo of the lizard camouflaged in the dirt.

“The ground is moving.” Enough to entice a child to get acquainted. It’s a tuft of dried grass, to be precise. A nose pushes up, sniffing the air, reluctant, the way we were when we took the risk to picnic in the park.

Never Try to Outsmart a Comedian

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Priest asks Jester to amuse him. In an elaborate ruse, Jester collects 300 roubles from Priest’s wife to buy 1200 pounds of fish. No fish. Priest doesn’t much like that trick. He can’t catch Jester, so he’s out the money.

Jester tricks Merchant by substituting a goat for himself. He tricks seven greedy jesters three times. The change ups are funny, as is staying one step ahead of a powerful adversary who’s not up to speed.

Abused by the jesters, Jester lures them into sacks to drown in the lake. An early grave to those who can’t outsmart a comedian.

From The Jester in Russian Fairy Tales by Aleksandr Afanas’ev

Migrants

Photo by Peter Kessler

They flew in shield shape, banking together. Not a bird was out of formation. The fluid group landed in a mulberry where they plucked juicy fruit, bringing the tree to life with their acrobatics and mid-air high jinx.

Such handsome fellows, masked like robbers, with subtle rusty red and muted yellow highlights on their mourning dove grey cigar bodies.

My camera disrupts them, but not before I have a picture. A silent order travels through the troupe, wings flutter together, they move with one mind. They will be back; they have no choice. It’s how they earn a living.

To Catch a Curse

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“She won’t wake up.” A harried looking Queen sat on the edge of her daughter’s bed while the royal physician poked, prodded and tested the Princess.

“Anything unusual to report,” he asked.

“Her birthday. Yesterday. She had a lie down after she’d opened her presents.”

“I see.” He peered at the child’s finger. “Something sharp, a sewing kit? Knitting needles?”

“She got a spindle from her godmother. And merino wool.”

“Tried it right away?”

The queen nodded.

“A witch practitioner is what you need.”

The queen frowned. “Magic, what kind of medicine is that?”

“Only a spell cures a spell.”

Siren’s Song

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Sherlock Wolff tracked the notorious hacker, Lorelei, to the Rhine Club. Concealing himself at the back, he scoped out the exits. She sang. Too late, he noticed his cocoa turning wolfsbane blue. The arrest warrant in his hand wavered like a timepiece in a Dali painting. He found himself on stage.

Instead of serving the warrant, he was served. Instead of arresting Lorelei, she handcuffed him. Wolff’s supervisor appeared. “Good work, Detective Wolff.” He shook Lorelei’s hand.

Wolff couldn’t find his tongue.

He woke up in a Bavarian jail. The woodcutter in the next cell said, “Don’t I know you?”

Grimm Investigations

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“Sherlock Wolff, ma’am. National Narrative Crimes.” He held a promotional photo. “Have you seen this blond chanteuse?”

Mrs. Bear dried her paws . “Lorelei’s gone, I’m afraid.”

“Did she leave anything?”

“ A mess.” Mrs. Bear ushered the detective in.

“We’re looking for a first edition of Grimm’s Fairy Tales and a laptop. Seen anything?”

Mrs. Bear shook her head. She called her son in.

Babyface said, “Lori’s not a reader.”

“She’s a hacker. Breaking into physical books, shortening them, changing plots. Her ex-boyfriend reported her.”

“She told me about him. The beast.”

Detective Wolff said, “He’s a wolf. There’s a difference.”

Spanish Shoes

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Bavarian Boots had a storied history. Now the elves wanted to change the company name to Iberian Soles.

“We’ve voted to relocate to the Canary Islands.” The elf twisted his beard into a white knot that rested on his collar.

Shoemaker’s father had been right. What a mistake to encourage a union. First it was holidays, then four weeks vacation. Now this. “I’ll consider it,” Shoemaker said.

“When you’re two centuries old, you’ll want a warm place to live,” the elf said. “Visit. You’ll see.”

Shoemaker booked a trip for three days. A month later, the relocation plan was complete.

Lorelei and the Big Bad Ex

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I had the worst week.

My boyfriend dumped me. So Goldie, my cousin, got me a house sitting gig. For a hot minute, I had some breathing space.

It got worse.

Spent the better part of my time in toxic negotiations. Absurd things like who owns the Ikea bookshelf. Not that I have a place for it now. He got the rent-controlled apartment. But even Big-Bad-Ex admitted the books are mine. Anyway, he doesn’t need a bookshelf. He’s barely literate. Not even housebroken.

Then, major disaster; the Bears came home early.

What else could I do? I swam for safety.

Stressed in Space

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I’m about to explode. Despite training in enhanced mindfulness techniques, there’s a tension in my thighs and my toes itch. I’m leaving suspended relaxation. From the ceiling viewing screen, I see we haven’t left the atmosphere.

Hibernating in self-contained pods, we hope to make it to Mars in a self-driving ship. Some billionaire’s idea. What a bad time for insomnia since success depends on no one eating for six months.

This is my sister’s idea of togetherness. She’s a long time yogi. I’m not. Though I’d like the company, I hope no one else wakes up. I need to relax.