Saturday, December 29, 2012

2012 Story (from a prompt- found it in my files)

This was a story I dug up from a prompt- it has a certain 2012 end of the world feel to it.

“Dancing” 1,164 words

He was alone.

Last year he might have predicted things would work out this way. Someone who had been given such a gift-entrusted with it, really- would never simply continue life as it had been known before. He should have known.

And here it was again, this holiday time of year. The calendar told him it was 2012, and his life was different.

The change went much deeper than a season or being a year older. It went under his skin, as deep as his soul-if he permitted himself to believe in such a thing.

Life was like that, he thought. It could strip everything away from you in the blink of any eye. And then it could restore everything you had lost-give you even more, in fact, than you had ever had- with the same lightning speed.

He knew that now. Daniel closed his eyes and gave silent thanks. He was still here, still alive. One year ago he had been on vacation, his first time away with his girlfriend, Amy. The days were hot; the tropics lived up to their promise of endless sunshine. The most taxing decision they had to make was which seaside restaurant they would have dinner in.

In this realm of paradise, where it was easiest to do so, Daniel decided he loved Amy more than anyone on earth, more than anyone before or since would love another human being. Amy seemed comfortable enough with the goddess stature he’d imposed on her so the days passed in a mixture of suntan lotion under beach umbrellas, drawn out declarations of love, and the tangle of sheets.

The hotel activities which they had heretofore ignored included an evening of dancing to an orchestra. Amy pleaded, “Come on. When will we have a 50’s moment again?”

“I can’t dance.”

“You don’t have to. You just glide around the floor.”

Daniel put on the only long pants and shirt he’d brought; Amy looked gorgeous in a long silk dress and her blond hair piled up in a twist.

“Where did you pull that out of?” Daniel eyed her dress.

“It travels well and you never know.”

They started on the rum cocktails and like Amy had promised, they glided around the floor. The punch went down so easily, spinning around the room, Daniel just stopped short of dropping Amy on the floor. She couldn’t stop laughing. She protested when Daniel tried to get her back to her room. He got as far as the mezzanine. Amy sank into one of the sofas and immediately closed her eyes. Daniel fought off the woozy headspinning sleep as long as he could.

He woke to silence. It was light so he knew it had to be morning. Amy was sprawled out on the leather sofa with drool coming out of the corner of her mouth. Daniel tested his arms and legs to determine what part of his body was stiffest. “I haven’t fallen asleep on a chair since I was twenty.” He said to nobody as if excusing himself.

Amy was still asleep so he decided to bring her a coffee to ease her into the morning. His head throbbed as he stood up. There was a railing on the mezzanine that overlooked the hotel lobby. Nothing could have prepared him for what he saw.

It was as if all the humans below had been frozen in a moment of time. There were receptionists slumped over the hotel desks, a bellboy sprawled out next to a luggage cart. Daniel took a deep breath. What happened? He felt suspended in time, like he’d entered some weird movie set or fantasy world by stepping through the wrong door. As he stood paralized, an older gentleman came up to him and hugged him. “Thank God, I was beginning to think I was the only one left.”

Daniel took a moment to process this, “What happened?”

“Gas, a gas leak. I think.”

Daniel clutched his head. That explained the headache, but not why he hadn’t succumbed. He ran immediately to Amy and shook her awake. She was barely responsive. He and the stranger dragged her outside where she started to cough. “What’s wrong?” She looked at Daniel. “Who’s he?”

Daniel didn’t want her to see. “Something terrible has happened. We have to stay outside.” He looked at the stranger as if to give him a warning not to say more.

“It’s so quiet out here.” The man said looking around.

“It’s early yet.” Daniel said hopefully. “Should we call the police?”

“I have. No answer.”

Dan felt his entire body shake. The three walked down to the harbor where there would ordinarily be a hub of activity with fishermen coming back from a night at sea. “Radio? Do you have a radio?” Dan asked the man.

They walked until they heard sound coming from a café on the beach. The proprietor waved them in and served them coffee as if it we a normal day. He spoke a Pidgin English they had a hard time deciphering. An explosion of a transport ship had released huge amounts of carbon dioxide. “Dry ice,” Daniel couldn’t believe dry ice was a danger. He tried to ask the café owner, “Will they wake up?”

The man understood and shook his head. They left the café and went to the shipping office where an agent was stationed. “What the hell happened?” Daniel asked.

“They got the ship out to sea.” The man had tears in his eyes. “Everyone is staying indoors. You should be too.”

“That can’t be safer. Everyone is...” Daniel was still trying to protect Amy. “Can we get out of here?”

“There might be a fishing boat that can take you as far as San Jose.”

The stranger who was with them broke down and starting crying. Amy took his hand trying to comfort him.

Daniel went back to the room to collect their things and by late afternoon they were on a plane headed for New York. As the plane took off, he spotted the glow of a ship burning in the distance. On the flight they spoke little; Daniel couldn’t begin to comprehend what had occurred.

It took him months of internet searches on toxic gas and doctor’s visits to try to make sense of the explosion. In the process he lost Amy. At first they tried to find that happiness again, but it was always tinged with death, a sadness that wasn’t spoken about but present in every moment they spent together. Nothing specific marked the end; their calls became less frequent. They made excuses for not getting together.

Still, Daniel was alive while so many weren’t. Sometimes when he walked to work in the city, he stopped and looked around him. Every single person he saw would die. Yes, they would all be dead at some unknown point in the future, but for the moment, he was still breathing and that gave him great happiness.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

On the future, death, and technology

     For about a week now, the news is all about Mayan predictions  and the horrific slaughter of children (not only at Sandy Hook Elementary but ongoing in many places in the world).  In the US, let's hope these deaths were not in vain and finally we can change gun ownership laws.
     On to the Mayans- it's obviously not the end of the world, but the world has been changing so rapidly over the last decade as to be almost unrecognizable.  When I was writing a novel set in the 1940's and 50's there was not much difference with the world decades later in terms of technology.  There were cars and phones and until the TV became ever present, the radio.
     All of that has changed.  I was at a party the other night and the first concern of one mother was to get the child's ipad connected to wireless.  That required the daughter of the host since she is the one who deals with technology in the household.  It makes me wish I had someone for that very purpose.   I feel like if one more electronic object enters my flat, I'll scream. 
     However, my life is probably not much different than many people's.  What I do when I get up (as soon as the coffeemaker is on) is check my computer.  My iphone is usually in my pocket or within reach.  And what does this mean?
     This means these days I'm afraid of not keeping up.  I'm a Uranian type (in astrology this is a clear archetype of sudden electric bolts of energy) and have always dealt with change but now I find I'm struggling.  I've spent hours on fixing computer glitches, installing and re-installing programs to coax the machine to do what I want it to do. 
     Technology has made the division of those who have and those who have not almost unbridgable.  There's almost no child from a poorer family who can catch up to a well off one and in France, that equalizer, homework for schoolchildren, may soon be banned.

   I'm afraid of aging in a society where compassion is lacking.  We're surrounded by crude rude media, a glorification of the military, and the surprising amount of religion that is dogmatic and rigid and far from caring for those who most need it.    

     I found a poem I'd written ages ago:


Insidious fingertips
tug on the shoulder
at the most hushed hour,
not even a sudden rap
or a sharp scream
could bring us back.

Overhead arms entwined
reach and flow
in bloodless unison.
Visages from the cracked photos
begin their march
through the brain
each with its own tale
long forgotten.

Where are the hags
with snake hair,
the men of steel impulse,
the wheel's harvest of panic?
These night shadows
are not as we imagined.
All's so quiet here.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

America- the economic puzzle and a poem

     With Black Friday behind us and the frenzy of Christmas shopping all around us ( in some shops, already starting after Halloween), I confess that I understand nothing of American retail, or the American economy, for that matter.
      In retail the same item can cost $200 or $20 depending on when and where you buy it.  A NY Times article recently compared prices on various internet sites where prices were changing hourly-  Who can make sense of any of it?  What it means is that a price can be set at anything without regard to production, labor, or marketing.  This is the market economy. 
      I find this most shocking in the pricing of books.  $27.99 is the hardcover price of "A Widow's Story" by Joyce Carol Oates.  Guess how much I paid for it in my local library (they sell donated books upstairs)?  25cents.  The library I painstakingly put together over years in Spain I could barely give away.  Sadly no one was interested.  Well, one person was- a librarian.  They are probably keeping the culture alive while everyone else is discarding their barely touched books.
      So how is value determined?  An object has to be desired.  I've been watching Antique Roadshow on PBS and am amazed at the ugly objects that have value for some particular arbitrary reason.  My first criteria for any object would be beauty but that is apparently not a consideration, or perhaps I would choose a first edition of a favorite writer.  Apparently the objects I'd choose in my life have a low value.
    The American economy itself is indecipherable.  The right's concern for lowering the national debt (an abstract concept for most of us) pales when compared to the disregard of all the signs leading to ecological disaster (and the human and financial consequences).  Which would you tackle first?
      And then, there's health care.  If you're on public assistance you have access.  If you're one of the millions of working poor, you don't.  Why would anyone work in those circumstances?  What about a living wage and a single payer health care system? 
     If you have health insurance you may feel safe.  Think again.  Longterm health care which encompasses hospice and end of life care is not necessarily covered, no matter how many years you've paid into the system. 

And a poem to a friend who died in October

The Greatest Sin

Another love lost,
one who lived this
Latvian life,
the bottle poised
over each glass,
Sunday morning
slow death.

Live free or die,
my licence plate motto
seen on the BQE.

I escaped,
my poems then,
heavy like the
bodies stretched
across the grates
at Grand Central, 4 AM
home from another night.

Loves dropped
till the only one left,
was the clear
amber of bourbon.

Raise a glass to you,
or not,
my own demons of excess

You believed Blake,
drank with Daumal
and died alone,
never finding
the purity
under this animal skin.