Category Archives: modern-ish fiction

Sudden Monday!

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The Sage of the Living Room Fire – 358 words

They wondered what The Baby was thinking as she sat in front of the fire, hour after hour. It was something of an insult to still be known as The Baby, she was well into her second year of life, but she could not tell them so. It would wait. She held her peace and stared into the fire.

She had very few words. It was fine. She had a sneaking suspicion that language left out the heart of things, anyway. Her family wondered why she laughed to see birds flying over the house – they did not know how the birds were her father, just home from work, lifting her up high, so high, to receive her kiss on his scratchy cheek. And the hawk in the sky who made her laugh was not the hawk who sat on the porch roof to watch for mice between the wood chips. She did not laugh at him, he was the barking dog who lived next to the park and the boy who packed the bags at the store and looked on her with beakish eyes.

Her mother gathered her in her warm lap to point at books, her speech long and low. The Baby just laughed and turned the pages, fast, to watch the colors whirl. She knew the way of the leaves, falling in a rainbow on the grass. She had watched them dry and crackle, slowly turning into a dust that spread over the brown lawn. When the snow came, she knew the leaves were still there, under the crust of ice. Now after a long time the trees began to tease her with little specks of green and she could see the ghost of the old leaves peeking through. Just so. The words in her house swirled around her on the wind. She let them fall. Her time to sprout would come.

The Baby sat in front of the fire and it told her things she would remember all her life, but they stayed in that place between the tree and the earth. She watched it and smiled. Everyone wondered what The Baby was thinking.

Don’t forget to check out Labora Editions to read the other stories!

Sudden Monday the First

Ryan over at Labora Editions has handily solved my blogging angst with his new link up, Sudden Mondays.

This is the deal:  write a short story, no more than 500 words, link up and share!  I am a little nervous that this may not be in the spirit Ryan is hoping to foster, so here is advance warning – profanity ahead!  Now with no further fanfare, here is my offering:

NATIVITY

I am haunted by the memories of other people.

She could feel the mounting pressure before it took away her breath. She didn’t know where he was, and now she was afraid it would be too late.

From the floor below she heard keys clang as the front door swung open.

“Ed?” she called.

Footsteps trudged heavily up the steps. On the landing appeared Daniel, drunk.

She snarled, “Where the piss have you been?”

Daniel gave a teenager shrug and she would have given him hell had not a contraction seized her right then, bending her sideways as her waterbed mattress sloshed beneath her.

“Are you okay?” Daniel asked.

“No,” she gasped when the worst was over. “I’m having the baby.”

“I can’t find Ed,” she said, and then burst into tears.

Daniel looked down, pained. A bedroom door creaked beside him in the hall and his younger sister peered out.

“This is the plan,” he said to Melissa, “You help Anita get ready. I’ll find Ed.”

Melissa nodded and stepped into the hall.

From her waterbed Anita yelled, “You can’t leave! I need the fucking car.”

“I’ll be back in half an hour,” he said quietly to Melissa.

“Jenny’s already asleep,” Melissa whispered back, “Should I wake her up?”

He thought a moment.  “No, when I get back you can take Anita to the hospital and I’ll stay here with her.”

He ran down the steps. From above Anita was still yelling, “Don’t you dare drive my car drunk! Get back here you little son of a bitch!”

He slammed out the front door.

Ed was exactly where Dan knew he’d be. Dan knocked on the unmarked door and was met by a balding, watery-eyed man who looked him over but did not check his ID before letting him in.

Ed was at the bar, of course. Beside him, a scantily clad woman hung on his arm. She was noticeably pregnant.

“Ed,” Daniel called out.

Ed turned, his bronze badge catching the light from the bar and twinkling as he moved. His mouth hardened.

“Anita is having the baby,”

Ed stood then, shedding the clinging woman with a shrug of his shoulders and brushing past Daniel as he walked out.

In the parking lot Dan watched Ed fumble with his car door. Dan waited, intending to follow him back home. Ed was much more drunk than he was.

“Ed,” he called out, finally, through his car window. Ed looked up. “You are an asshole.”

Ed put his keys into his pocket and stumbled to Dan’s window. He looked in for a moment, swaying, and then punched Dan in the face. Then he went around to the passenger side door and got in.

 

This is my memory: I woke to see my Uncle Dan kneeling beside me, smiling. “You have a baby sister!” he said. I was so happy.

In Defense of Zombies

Zombies seem to be de rigueur these days, which is fine by me.  I love just about anything zombie-related, plus I am convinced that the surge in zombie popularity the past few years spells very good things for our culture at large.

Wait. What? Yes. Zombies are good!

For one, zombie themed movies and books tend to be pretty clean. Sex isn’t much of a priority when your friends are being eaten alive. Of course, they do tend to be heavy on the violence, but “violent” here means lots of blood spatter and fake limbs, very little of the actual violence that could be experienced or emulated in the real world. You may have heard of kids imitating violent video games, or music, or movies, but you never hear of kids trying to chew each others’ arms off. The sort of violence encountered in the gangster or revenge genres may disturb, but that is usually because they can reflect reality. After all, gangsters do exist and can do bad things. Your chances, however, of encountering a wrestling match between a walking corpse and a shark are pretty slim.

Zombies also remind us of what is truly important. In zombie fiction, you see the same theme over and over: when the Zombie Apocalypse comes, people return to the simple things. With the distractions of modern life destroyed by the ravaging hordes, the survivors cling to what is, after all, really important: family, friends, loyalty, courage, faith.

It goes deeper: modern materialists tell us that mankind is nothing but the sum total of our parts: blood, cells, synapses, muscle. No zombie aficionado could fall prey to such a line of thought. The zombie fan knows that we are not just the sum total of our parts, we are something more. When your girlfriend has been bitten, you hold her in your arms and tell her you love her. When her eyes glaze over and she stands up despite her multiple wounds to lunge for your neck, you cut off her head with a machete. It’s simple common sense. Your girlfriend’s body contains the same physical properties both before and after her demise. Even her mind continues to function after a fashion, as it is a known fact that the only way to stop a zombie is by destroying the brain. Despite all of these things, the zombie connoisseur knows that the girlfriend, in her essence, is gone. The body is reanimated, but the soul has fled; this tells us something vital, something the materialist has forgotten. As a collection of muscle and bone, there is nothing stopping us from eating each other alive. It is our souls, that nebulous, invisible, unprovable thing that makes us human. They say there are no atheists in foxholes, but it could happen. What is certain is this: there are no materialists in the audience of a George A. Romero marathon.

Finally, zombies remind us of an important and hard to face fact: our own mortality. Momento Mori the monks of old used to inscribe over their doorways and walls – remember your death. “Remember that from dust you came and unto dust you must return.” (Gen 3:19) The world is not permanent for us, and it is a good and healthy thing to keep it in mind so that we may train our focus on the things that are permanent. On the other hand, though, it is frighteningly easy to allow the fact of our own deaths to drag us into despair. Thinking of our own deaths, it is a short journey to forgetting that death does not get the last laugh. If you believe in life after death,though, death must lose some of its horror and all of its permanence. This is an easy thing to think but a hard thing to feel, especially in regards to loved ones who have gone on before us. Zombies, with their lumbering (or sprinting, depending on your zombie proclivities,) their groans, their hunger for human flesh, take something scary and turn it into something a little bit silly. They are wonderfully, hilariously ridiculous and they provide an outlet to release our mortal anxieties.

Death, where is thy sting?

Zombie gems:

Night of the Living Dead – a classic!

Shaun of the Dead – a lighthearted twist, but still good zombie action

World War Z – the best zombie book, period.

28 Days Later – fast zombies! Brilliant.

note: This article originally appeared in my Examiner.com column in 09. I am choosing to believe it is not at all a bad sign that I’m already recycling posts on my two-week-old blog.

Seven Quick Things I am loving right now

1. Pumpkin Beer Season!

Pumking!

Last year, my husband bought a case of this and I was irritated because he only bought one case.  I rarely remember which beers I like, because he remembers all of that stuff for me, but Pumking I do not forget.  You can literally taste the buttery pumpkin-pie crust.  In the beer.  It’s delicious!

2. Breaking Bad, more addictive than Crystal Meth

We just finished season 4, and I’m planning on saying much more about this amazing series once we’ve caught up entirely.  (We haven’t caught up yet because my husband is obnoxious and insists that we do things like sleep and interact with our children.)  The acting alone here is blowing. me. away.  There is not a single weak actor on this show, and every last one of them has a role teeming with contradictions and nuance.   Jesse is probably my favorite, since I find myself thinking things in Jesse-speak the way a person might begin to think in a foreign language once it is mastered.

Who spilled cheerios in the living room, yo? This is bull$h!#!

 3.  Babel by Mumford and Sons

I’ve already written about my great love of M&S, but I need to say it again:  this band is so wonderful!  I am shocked by how religious this new album is, in the very best way.   Look at these lyrics:

Keep the earth below my feet
For all my sweat, my blood runs weak
Let me learn from where I have been
Keep my eyes to serve my hands to learn
Keep my eyes to serve my hands to learn

If that isn’t a prayer, I don’t know what is.

4.  This moppet:

When the bus comes for her big sisters every morning, my youngest immediately starts running with all of her toddler might to catch it.  I always grab her right away, but it never stops her from trying again the next day.  It reminds me of a  hamster I once babysat for a few months.  His name was Husserl.  He would spend every day trying to jump out of his tank and it was both funny and sad, the futile way he wouldn’t give up even though escaping the tank was clearly impossible.  Until the day he escaped.  So anyway, I’m staying on my toes every morning.

5. Louie just keeps getting better

I wrote about this the other day, too.  We DVR everything, so I’m often a few episodes behind my favorite series.  We let them stack up and then watch it all at once.  So we’ve just finished the story arc (3 episodes long) where Louie is being considered as a replacement for Letterman.  It was the most ambitious t.v. I’ve seen in a long while.  I can’t believe he (Louis C.K. both writes and directs almost every episode) pulled off walking such a delicate balance between pathos and hilarity.  Those three episodes were sort of like Barton Fink, but better (and I say this as a huge fan of the Coens.)  I could talk about this all day but I’ll stop here:  the soundtrack is unique and brilliant and the pacing of each scene could not possibly be more perfect.  It’s masterful.  My only quibble is:  Jay Leno???  Come on, man, don’t side with that loser.

I did write a fan letter to Conan O’Brien once.  How did you guess?

6. Ora Et Labora Et Zombies

I’m going to write more about this later, but I have to do my part to promote this wonderful project.  When my oldest daughter comes into the house with the mail, it makes our day if we see our favorite envelope in the stack.  There is nothing so satisfying as the feel of a nice long letter in your hand.  I so rarely get those anymore that it almost makes me nostalgic, and when you add to it a tale that is both engaging and delicately, charmingly told….well, you can see why it makes our day.  Have you ordered your letters yet?  What is your problem?  All the cool kids are doing it!

7. Dostoevsky, man.

He’s pretty cool.  I am in the process of re-reading The Brother Karamazov, as I do every few years, and as it happens every time I have to put the book down periodically to process my awe.

I was going to write out a snippet here, to illustrate his  brilliance, but Dostoevsky is not really a pithy writer.  It’s his scope, and his depth, and the way he effortlessly has his characters swing from one extreme to the other, just as it happens in real life and just as almost nobody else manages to convey believably.  So I’ll just say:  Dostoevsky, man.

I will end by encouraging everyone to go read Jen’s Quick Takes even though, as I just started this blog last week, there is zero chance that anyone reading this came from anywhere but there.