Of Gardens and Serpents

The words of my mother fade,
her voice reverberates,
in a vacuum
of stars and gently turning planets
where we are all connected
among astral light and dark matter,
between oceans of space
that stretch beyond comprehension
into parallel universes and other dimensions,
among ghosts and shadows
that we cannot see with our eyes.

Eternity moves through me,
and I wonder if this is hell.
Am I trapped in my memories
without any future?
A specter.

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When I Lived in the Desert

Once in a previous life,
I saw muslin drapes
billowing in a room
with white-washed walls
and wooden furniture
where a pitcher of water
sat on a stand
near the door.

There in that room
I lay dying
on a bed of
rough-hewn pillows
and thin sheets
that gathered at my ankles.

The curtains caught in the
the breeze and billowed
to and fro,
so that I could see the
cobalt sky and gray clouds
lined with golden sunlight
which spoke to me.

The clouds were sad
to hear of my
imminent departure,
and wished me well
in my next chapter,
for they had been
watching and guiding me
for many years.

This was quite unlike
the greedy stares
of my brothers who
surrounded my bedside,
staring down at me,
hands inside their robes,
hoods lowered,
words hushed,
faces featureless in my
fevered mind.

Traitors, all of them.

They did not carry
the Book
under the bleating sun
through the desert
in leather sandals
so worn that were it
not undignified
to have no shoes,
I would have left
them there in the
sea of sand.

My brothers did not
burn and peel,
nor feel
their tongue swell,
their mouth turn to plaster,
watch their ribs grow
in gnawing hunger,
only to stumble into
the Sacred City some
weeks later,
a worn rag of flesh.

They did not make
this Sacrifice.

Now, when I think of
the Book,
I see my hands turning its
thick pages that crack
with dryness under the sun.

The text is in a language
I do not understand,
but I know it speaks
the Truth,
which is Holy,
and a rarity
in any day.

My brothers,
these men who look
down at me dying,
like famished dogs
fighting over a carcass,
they only want my
place at the Temple
when I am gone.

And my heart
is blackened.

clouds

The Words

The building’s silver siding reflected trees
And brick row houses
On the opposite side of the street
While the light wept onto the floor
Inside the gymnasium of painted cinder blocks.
Where the beggars had unrolled their mats
And stood in rows with their heads bent.
Waiting.

A moment passed before they joined palms
And began to mutter the ancient words of
Peace and harmony,
Words meant for every race and class,
Sex and religion, dog, trout and fly.
This was a plea for a utopia that
Had once been tasted in a secret garden
Outside of time.

But the words were woven during an era
Of myth and magic, before steel and science,
And the meaning had changed,
Power weakened by the inevitability
of war and famine, plague and greed.
All this while the planet watched,
Turning in her orbit, contracting her forests
Expanding her waters.

Yet the words continued to flow,
Good and kind,
Like rivers that bend and twist
Through upstate hills and mountains
Crying streams of fresh, gold water,
Over pebbles with schools of small fish
that swim too quickly to catch.
Anonymous yet named.

After the words were spoken,
The beggars touched their hands to the floor,
The sound fleshy and warm,
And moved together in a prescribed pattern.
Hope distilled in song
Descended from an ancient time,
That still in our darkest nightmares,
Breathes.

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NaNoWriMo is Insanity

It’s National Novel Writing Month, and I have begun the NaNoWriMo challenge, which is to write a book in a month. That’s 50,000 words, or 1,667 per day. Now, I admit that sounds like a lot. On a good day, I’ll write 500 words and on an above par day I’ll write 800. So, that’s basically doubling my best. Seems somewhat impossible when I consider this.

And what of the quality of the writing? I had one NaNo veteran tell me she was never able to actually use much of what she’d written. It was simply too stream of conscious, and the gaping holes were too large to patch up in the revision process.

Someone else advised that if my characters are braiding each other’s hair, I’ve got a problem.

Well, firstly, I’m not much one for plotting out my books in advance. I usually know the first third, and the end, but how the characters achieve it, I’m not yet sure. I am also afraid of choosing a story that I have spend some time with because I don’t want to write it badly — so not one that is too precious.

Where I’ve netted out is a half baked idea that is pretty zany about immortals, foxes and shoplifting ghosts. I know what you’re thinking — Whaaa? Yes, I feel the same way, but a seed can become a much bigger story, something greater. Right? Gads I hope so.

It’s day three, 8pm EST and I have 5,800 words. I’m confident I can at least write another 300 tonight, though 500 would be awesome. In spite of the drive for word count, I’m going to keep reminding myself to stay on track, that I must have well-developed characters, stakes and agency. I can’t make it too easy for my characters, or have the story veer off into predictibility.

They cannot braid each other’s hair.

So, I may be posting excerpts here on flashfifteen.com. If for any reason, simply to stay motivated.

Wish me luck. Off I go …

Paper Dreams

I hadn’t seen Haddis in a very long time. He’d disappeared some five years ago. It had started with excuses. He was sick. He had to work late. His cat needed surgery. And then, the excuses became more complicated: the weather man said there was a thunder storm and his umbrella was broken (and he didn’t have $5 to buy one) or his neighbor needed help fixing a broken faucet in the unit next door and it would take awhile because he also had to run to the hardware store to buy a wrench.

Then I stopped asking, and he didn’t reach out. I could take a hint.

That night I saw him, he was sitting on the street, his back to the dirty brick facade, his clothes rumpled, a paper bag in one hand and the Daily News in the other. I wouldn’t have recognized him, but he called out my name.

“Hey hey, well if it isn’t Chuck Lauder. How ya doin’ buddy?”

I squinted and shoved my gloved hands in the pockets of my trench coat. “Haddis? Is that you?”

“‘Tis me alright.” He took a swig out of the paper bag and grinned. His bottom teeth were black, and even in the dim lamplight, I could see that his skin had a waxy, yellow pallor. He rubbed his graying beard.

“What happened to you? Where’s Turtle?”

“Awe, man, Turtle died a couple years ago. That cat was old. Lived a long sixteen years, that one did.”

I don’t know why my first concern was the cat.

He offered me the bag with a grunt.

“No, thanks.” I frowned, and noticed suddenly that I was cold. I wondered if Haddis could feel how chilly it was tonight. “What are you doing out here? Do you need help?”

“Nah. I’m good. Got rid of all my stuff. You know, those possessions that weigh us down, keep us trapped in society’s expectations of what we should be like. Got rid of all that, man. I’m free as a bird.”

He made a flapping gesture with his hands, the newspaper forgotten and fluttering onto the ground near his boots which were splattered with white paint.

I didn’t like the cloudy look in Haddis’ jaundice eyes. They used to be electric, especially when we talked about the future. We’d had such dreams those first few years as traders. We were going to make a ton of cash, just like in Wall Street. Haddis was going to buy a place in the Hamptons after he’d married a trophy wife with big tits. I’d drive up to see them in a silver, 1969 Corvette wearing a custom, Italian suit.

None of those things happened, but that wasn’t the point.

And what was Haddis doing now? Sitting on the street, drinking. Jesus, I thought. That could have been me.

“Haddis, my man, let’s get some dinner.” I offered him my hand.

Haddis hesitated, then took it.

docks

Little Fish

She was a little fish in an infinitesimal pond, but this pond was outer space, and it slid boundlessly across the universe.

She touched her hand to the large window that looked out upon the stars that fanned across the Milky Way. The glass felt icy and a fine layer of crystalline frost had formed along the edges near the seal. She first noticed the frost twelve days ago after being aboard the small shuttle for nearly 40 nights. This was a very bad sign.

To measure the creeping frost, she had taken to drawing hatch marks on the window in green toothpaste with the edge of a knife. She estimated this to be 34 millimeters every 24 hours, which meant that in fifteen days the window would be completely frozen over. She could only assume the rest of the shuttle would be in a similar state. The systems might work for another few days before the frost crept into the wiring and froze the guts of her flying machine solid. After that, she would only have an hour or so before she became a popsicle herself. The cold would certainly get her before the lack of O2 did.

She tried not to think about that too much. It was demoralizing to dwell on impending death. She needed to stay focused, sharp and physically fit. If she gave up, all hope was lost.

She moved to the center of the space shuttle and sat in the center, facing the window. With eyes partially closed, she meditated. She thought of Iowa, where she was from. There, the fields were green in the summer and paper brown in the fall. When the corn was harvested, the husks were big and heavy in her hand, and when she peeled back the leaves, sometimes she would find misshapen kernels, or a black and white striped worm. She thought about other details too, like the heat that undulated off the fields when the weather got hot, and the blue sky that stretched on for as far as the eye could see.

She could see the similarity now between the corn fields and outer space. Iowa was just another big pond in a different place. Sort of. In Iowa, there had at least been daily routines shifting between the grocery store, bank and Dairy Queen that left her feeling like she’d filled up her day with something. But out here, in space, there was nothing to do, nothing to see. It was a vast emptiness.

Yet space was not the real nothingness. No. That existed beyond space. The nothing started where space ended. It was outside of time, had no mass or sound. Even the principles of science and mathematics were crushed by its fist. Yet she had trouble believing that was true. After all, nothing was something, wasn’t it? Which would mean that there a place beyond space.

She opened her eyes and let her thoughts settle. She could not dwell inside her head. She stood, crossed the room and took out a mat from the closet for her physical exercises. Part of emergency training at ISSI included an exercise routine to maintain physical strength. Though she had memorized the routine for final exams, there was also a card pinned to the mat with pictures of a person doing each movement. Arms up, arms down, touch the toes, jump back into a push up, stretch to a plank, jump forward and repeat twenty times. This was followed by balances on one leg and sitting stretches for hamstrings. She added to it by finishing with a headstand, which she held for five minutes twenty-two seconds. The physical exertion made her feel better. It gave her a sense of purpose, no matter how brief.

Refreshed, she stood and walked to the control panel. A small, red light blinked with persistence. It was the signal for the automated emergency message that was broadcasted once every two minutes. The message was transmitted first in Morse code, and then as an audio file.

She sat down in front of the control panel and pulled the headphones on to listen to her voice in the recording — again, for the thousandth time. “Mayday Mayday, Mayday. This is escape pod Alpha 2. Emergency evacuation from Blackbird Station, planet Mars. Need immediate transfer to passing vessel or request urgent landing on any available docking station. One Dr. Gillian Morris aboard of planet Earth, Des Moines, Iowa. No surviving crew. No injures. Model A156.”

She glanced back at the window and the creeping frost. She swallowed hard. She needed to update the message with more information about her current condition. She didn’t want to though; it was like admitting that she was going to die. Her finger hovered over the record button for a moment before she pressed it. Her lips brushed the mic.

“Condition of ship deteriorating. A crack in the right window.” She paused and looked at her watch. “Will be frozen in 15 days from January 6, 2513 Earth time. Life support systems currently stable.”

After a moment, she played the message back and was surprised to hear a woman’s voice that she did not recognize. It was thin and raspy. She frowned. Was that her? She re-recorded the message, then listened to it again. Yes, it was her voice. How was that possible? She sounded so weak.

With the new message activated, she checked that the transmitter was still working. It was. There were no messages of course; there was no one to hear her. She was millions of miles from home.

The 7:52 Part Two: You of All People

This is an update from the B.A.R.T. control center. Please remember that there is no eating, drinking, or smoking on B.A.R.T. trains.

Ruby rested against the pole in the middle of the car. If she leaned, she didn’t have to touch anything. Commuters back in New York never would have let her take up so much space, but she’d been lucky in Oakland—people seemed to give her more room.

Giggling babies. Seven Signs He’s Cheating. Hamster on a Piano. Facebook was the literature of commuters. It was all crap, but she checked her feed anyway out of FOMO: Fear of Missing Out.

Now departing 19th Street Oakland. This is a San Francisco-Millbrae train.

As the doors tried to swing shut, a single bare leg thrust itself between them causing them to bounce back open. A man jumped in, sweaty and panting. His clothes were meticulously clean, but they were all out style. His tie was last season and his button down shirt was short sleeve, which was never acceptable, and cut too boxy. Ruby placed it circa 2007, a relic of the pre-metrosexual craze. The rest of him was more shocking than his bad taste–between his shirt and cheap faux-leather shoes, there was nothing. Nothing, that is, except bright white Fruit of the Looms. The pair must have been torn from its plastic wrapper no less than an hour ago.

“Jesus! Can’t you hold the train? You all saw me running for it.”

No one even looked up at him. It was a collective thought: Do not stand next to me.

As the man squirmed through the school of commuters toward Ruby, she could not help but stare. His head nearly brushed the top of the train, and his body shape was as terrifying as his height—a great upright praying mantis with an impossibly flabby belly pulling at the buttons of his shirt.

She tried to create a little space, but the woman behind her slammed an elbow into Ruby’s rib. “Move over. So gross!” The woman spit the words out with more hate than Ruby was accustomed to.

The man fixed his blue eyes on the woman and scowled, “Sorry, you have to make room for everyone, lady.” She didn’t hear him. Maybe she didn’t want to. He jerked his head toward Ruby, and leaning in close said, “Can you believe these assholes moving out to the East Bay, jacking up our rent?”

Ruby didn’t respond.

“Holy Moses, it’s hot as hell in this shitbox.” He thrust his hand out. “I’m Miles.”

“Leave me alone.” Ruby unlocked her phone and opened Farm Heroes Saga, examining him out of her periphery.

“You don’t have to be rude. We are all in this together: This great machine, this great commute.” He shrugged with vaudevillian exaggeration and gestured toward his legs. “I assume that the fact that I am not wearing any pants is the source of your animosity?”

He bother anyone else. He ignored them and they ignored him—a silent agreement Ruby was not privy to.

The train lurched to the left. Its abrupt stop smacked her against Miles. She reached her hands out, an instinct, and they sunk deep into the soft cushion of his revolting belly.

Sorry, folks. We’ll be holding here for just a moment. There’s a medical emergency at Montgomery station.

“I think I’m going to be sick.”

Miles swung his willowy arms above his head, “Give her some air!”

“Stop. Please.”

“Why? Who cares what they think. Look around. They pretend I don’t exist.” He examined her for a beat too long before his eyes went gentle, “Do they ignore you too?”

“We all ignore each other. I’d like to ignore you too. Stop talking to me.”

Okay, everyone. Hold on. We are clear for Embarcadero. Thanks for your patience and thanks for riding B.A.R.T.

“Do you want to know why I’m not wearing pants?”

Ruby screwed her face up into her most deadly look. “No, I don’t. But I imagine your goal is to make us all uncomfortable. Well, you won.” Miles recoiled as if slapped.

“I guess I thought you’d understand.”

“Why on earth would I understand? Now, go away.”

The doors slid open. Commuters moved out of the train and onto the platform at Embarcadero station. Miles bent over and picked up his briefcase. He paused for a moment to look at Ruby. The swarm of people moved around him, in front of him, through him. From somewhere deep and unexpected, Ruby felt shame. He turned on his heel and walked out without looking back. The train felt empty.

She moved toward the doors anticipating the timing to Montgomery station. After three years on the same route, she had it down to a science. Today, Ruby wanted to be the first one on the escalator. The first one out the turnstile. The first one onto the street.

“Excuse me, honey?” An old, wrinkled woman jabbed the back of Ruby’s thigh with her cane.

“Am I in your way?

“No, sweetie. But I think you forgot something this morning.”

“I’m sorry, ma’am, what?”

“Your pants. Young lady, you forgot to put your pants on.”

Ruby caught her reflection in the train windows. She wore her favorite grey silk blouse, a black suit coat (meeting with her boss), soft black leather heels, and nothing else from the waist down except white cotton bikinis. The kind you bought at Walgreens.

The doors tore open at Montgomery. Ruby ran a hand through her hair to straighten it. She popped her ear buds in and stepped among the swirls of commuters racing along the platform. For a moment the old woman could make her out among the others, the bright white panties bobbing like a buoy in the water, and then, just like that, Ruby was gone.

noname

 

Movement is Memory

She parked her bike in front of the museum near a fence and locked the rear wheel, looking back at it as she walked towards the entrance. The Danish only used a rear wheel lock; she was confident that the bike would be stolen when she returned. She just hoped that she was not liable for it, though she was prepared to blame the concierge. “Does the bike come with a lock?” she’d asked him.

“Oh, yah, yah,” he’d said, his blue eyes and blonde hair not betraying the fact she was in Copenhagen.

“And do I need to lock it at a bike rack or can I park it anywhere?”

“Oh, yah. Anywhere is fine.”

“Even at the museum?”

“Yah, yah. You will like da museum. It is good.”

She felt a crease form between her brows. She wasn’t sure he understood her. Surely there were rules. She thought of her own bike back home and how she was not allowed to park it “anywhere”. Yet she’d nodded, tucked the map into the zipper pocket of her athletic jacket, thanked the concierge and walked towards the little gravel lot on the side of the hotel where the bike rentals were kept.

Now, as she pulled open the door to the museum, all she could think about was how the bike would be stolen because there was no way a flimsy rear wheel lock would suffice. They’d just carry the bike off. And yet, she was determined to spend a day sightseeing, and the art museum was one of the best, according to the concierge and confirmed by her guidebook. “To hell with it,” she muttered as she twisted the oversized knob and shouldered herself into the entryway.

She was greeted with still-water blue walls and stern crown moulding. White marble swirled with gray lines caused the soles of her boots to click as she worked her way to what appeared to be the ticket booth. She held her thumb up to indicate “one” (not her forefinger, as they did in the States), and after fumbling with krona was given a slip of white paper with black type. She handed it to an attendant and pushed through the turn style.

A short hall down a few stairs led her into a covered garden filled with palm trees and Grecian statues. The sunlight, muted by the skylights above, fell in streams of hazy tears that she figured only Danish painters could capture.

She sat down on the bench for a moment as she read the map that had a small British flag in the corner. Antiquities were through the left corridor, which she could see led past a mural with more artfully placed statues of Pan and wood nymphs, faces frozen in wicked smiles and eyes glimmering in eternal mischief.

She stood, slinging her purse over her shoulder. Her hips and knees ached from the hour long bicycle ride. She was not young anymore, though her body was still lean and muscular. She had been ambitious this morning when she thought the route would be easy; she hadn’t accounted for getting lost. But she had a lot of time to kill. He would not be finished with meetings for at least another five hours.

Mostly empty, the museum was quiet, a firefly caught between a child’s cupped hands, the sound of its buzzing deafened by flesh. She walked up a set of stairs into a long corridor which opened in a hallway of more statues with maimed bodies. A woman with exposed breasts, her left arm missing, her once flowing hair chipped off. A man whose nose and penis were gone. A pair of dancing girls with no fingers or feet. There was a somber silence in their beauty. The roundness in their remaining limbs looked soft to the touch and perhaps even warm, though she knew that defied logic. The effigy of their flesh was no doubt cool, long dead. They were but whispers from a place no one remembered, except in the silted reflection of the museum’s exhibition, remains distorted like mirrors in a fun house.

She glanced at them warily, passing by a pair of young Danish art students who sat in folding chairs, sketching the broken people. They boy wore eyeliner, and the girl a red linen scarf. They ignored her, which she supposed was appropriate since she was an outsider.

At the end of the hallway was a collection of items; vases and cups, pieces of marble cut from buildings, part of a mural, a cornice, a plate. It was all rather boring.

Nevertheless she continued through the exhibit. Up ahead was a dead end, yet her pace did not slow. She gave all of the pieces their due, for in spite of her disinterest, it seemed disrespectful to race by them. Her footsteps steady, quivering on floor’s smooth marble lines.

The last room contained a collection of stone heads. The heads were stacked on top of one another in a cone shape, nearly a pyramid. They had all been detached from their marble torsos and bodies. Men, women, children. Some had large skulls, while others were small, not to scale. She looked into their empty eyes. She studied the lines of their faces, the rise of their cheekbones, the curl of their lips and arches of their brows. There were so many heads in this room. How many? She was always bad at that game, but she supposed maybe a hundred.

She circled the heads again, this time certain that she would recognize one of them. For how many faces could there be? How many combinations of eyes, cheekbones, chins and noses were there in time? There must be someone here that she recognized, even one that she’d stood next to in an elevator, or maybe in a deli while she waited in line for her romaine salad. There must be someone in here that she knew. It was impossible that every single face in the world was different.

Yet there were none here that she recognized. These were all strangers.

She grunted and straightened herself. She decided then that she would keep looking. “One day, I will see someone I know.” Her voice echoed.

When she left the museum, she was lost in thought, her hands stuffed in her pockets. As she approached her bike, she realized that no one had stolen it. It was exactly where she had left it. She could not even blame the concierge.

The Seven Fifty-Two: Part One

It hadn’t rained since he had moved to Oakland, at least it seemed like it, and the sudden onslaught of moisture in the last 24 hours had first annoyed Caleb, and then alarmed him in its ability to compel him from his apartment. By the early grey streaks of morning he had burst forth through his door. He was set loose on the throngs of commuters mindlessly walking with their smartphones in hand, weaving down the street drunk and unsteady on Facebook or Instagramming the banalities of their crushing lives.

The sidewalk smelled different, like earthworms, and it bothered Caleb. He preferred the stench of his parched city. While other people clamored for rain, measured the water line at the Hetch Hetchy reservoir, took short showers, and brushed their teeth with only enough water to fill a Dixie cup, Caleb flushed twice and took baths. He watered his lawn for hours and did the dishes twice. The drought was his greatest love of California, and he diligently did his part to ensure its continuation.

He turned off 13th and headed to the subway station. Caleb checked his watch: Yes, it was seven forty-two. He had plenty of time to catch the seven fifty-two. He scanned his ticket at the booth and stepped through the turnstyle.

“Morning Caleb. Paper?” Roger waved The Chronicle in the air at Caleb.

“Not today,” Caleb forced a smile. He had been practicing in the bathroom mirror lately—he had a hard time discerning between a friendly, toothy grin, and a more sinister one. Rehearsals were required if he wanted to blend in. “I don’t have any change, actually.”

“No problem, no problem,” Roger reached his ink-stained hand into the pocket of his Carhartts and pulled out two quarters, “I can spot you, man. Pay me back tomorrow.”

Caleb’s moss-green eyes narrowed. Why Roger felt they had rapport was beyond him. He had bought a paper from him one morning when he had decided to practice friendly banter. Every since then, Roger assumed they were acquaintances, friends even. What was worse was that Roger insisted he buy The Chronicle every day, and Caleb actually hated the newspaper more than he hated Roger.

“Sure. Thanks, Roger.”

“Well, no problem, buddy. Just get me back tomorrow. You read it every day.”

Caleb pulled his lips over his teeth in a reptilian grimace, “You’ve sure got my number.” Friendly. Friendly smile. Not too wide. Roger recoiled slightly. Most people had a warning system built into their primate instincts to alert them to people like Caleb, and Roger’s was firing. Lucky for Caleb humans buried this alarm tried to ignore it, assuming that it did not fit into modern concepts of civilization. God forbid someone thought they were rude. Caleb thought that Roger should listen to his instincts more.

He grabbed the paper from Roger’s filthy hand, and raced down the platform before Roger had the chance to prattle on about football or some other inane topic—real estate maybe. Caleb landed on the platform and looked at his watch. Seven fifty-one. One minute until the train.

He wondered what car she might be in this morning. It was a game. He picked one car, a different car, each day. He could have gotten on the first one and then worked his way through all of them. But he felt like everyone stared at people who did that, who moved from car to car. No, normal people picked a subway car and stuck with it. That way was more meaningful anyway. It meant that if he ever saw her again it was because it was meant to be. It was fate. Kismet. One day she would look up and see him reading his paper. She would recognize him from the café, and he would charm her. Mary. Even her name was irresistible. So innocent.

The picture of her had not faded during these months. Liitle lamb. It had grown sharper, more detailed. Little lamb. He had a photo in his mind that captured the fine upward brushstrokes of the pale flesh that stretched over her refined cheekbones, or the slight curvature of her left eye that he noticed was just a few millimeters higher than then right. Its face was white as snow.

Seven fifty-two. The board above the platform blinked in red letters “SFO Millbrae.” A hot wind blew through the tunnel and preceded the arrival of the train itself. During the height of the drought, this wind had been dry, but the moisture in the air and rain outside had turned it into a sticky fog, heavy with the underground’s stench. The train reached the platform in a loud roar, and its doors slid open, releasing a blast of steam. A bike messenger with a beard and wearing a small cycling hat cut off an old Chinese woman in front of him. “There’s a line,” she hissed, shaming him back from the door. She moved slowly into the car, her gait achingly halting and holding up the queue behind her.

Caleb moved to the railing on the right side and leaned against the bar bolted to the side of the car. Inside it was like a sweat lodge, and it stirred a primal competitiveness and anger up from the massive crowd pressed inside.

The rain had also lured out his people. The forgotten ones. The crazy ones ripe and stained by their own stench. Some you could spot right away—the one sitting on the floor of the subway pulling on his ragged beard and mumbling about motherfuckers, for instance. Others were less obvious, perhaps invisible to the sane eye. Of course Caleb could spot them right away. It was their mouths. Most people believed that you could tell by their eyes. That was bullshit. The smile of a seriously disturbed man or woman was subtle enough though that if you did not know what you were looking for, you might miss it. Caleb missed nothing.

He opened Roger’s newspaper and pretended to read the sports section, a normal section for a man in his late twenties to read, and peeked over the top scanning the crowd for her.

Mary. He caught a glimpse of her in profile at the other end of the car. She pushed a strand of black hair behind her ear and glanced at him, quickly averting her eyes. Did she recognize him? Did she know how long he had looked for her?

Caleb felt his mouth twist delightedly behind the newspaper before he remembered to smile normal, like in the mirror. The man with the beard mumbling on the floor pulled on his pant leg. He recognized the smile. It identified Caleb as a kindred spirit.

Caleb folded the paper and swatted the man’s hand to dislodge it from his cuff. He moved through the car toward Mary.FullSizeRender

A Winter’s Tale: Experimenting with Point-of-View

This week in my Gotham writing class on West 10th, we were asked to select a passage from a book that we like and re-write it using a different POV. I chose one of my favorite books set in New York City, A Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin, which is third person limited omniscient. I’ve re-written this passage in the first person. Try to guess which chapter it’s from.

I watched as she put her hands on the piano and leaned against it. I could only surmise that this was so that she wouldn’t fall. I neither moved, nor took my eyes off her. I felt deeply ashamed, mortified. I had come to steal, I had broken in, I was streaked with sweat and dirt from my work that day at the drill, and I was staring at this young woman without her knowledge.

I had unspeakable admiration for the way she had risen from obvious weakness to court with such passion the elusive and demanding notes that I had heard. I imagined that she had done what Mootfowl had always argued. She had risen above herself, right before my eyes. She had risen, and then fallen back, seemingly weakened, vulnerable, alone. I wanted to follow her in this.