Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Grandpa's Last Gift

They met at the university, ages 16 and 17. He was the top student in the engineering class her brother student taught and president of the ROTC. When he was 19 and she was 18, they told their parents they were going to marry and his mother fainted. They were married in the Salt Lake Temple.

Grandpa attended MIT, Cornell and received his masters degree from Stanford. For almost forty years he worked as a rocket scientist for Hughes Aircraft. All those smarts, all that education, and in the end he didn’t know the names of his seven children. Eventually, he forgot his wife.

It started small -- confusion in the grocery store, misdealt cards, falling down. He fell down a lot. Repeatedly, he lost the dog. Sometimes he lost himself. He took to hiding in his office when company, even his children, came. He hid until he disappeared.

He died in the fall.


At the funeral the siblings shared lessons they’d learned from their dad, and I found it touching that the boys (analytical brainy types all) were more emotional than their sisters. Thirty of his grandchildren sang Love is Spoken Here. As I was sitting at the piano, I couldn’t see their faces, but I watched them come forward, tall, amazingly handsome and beautiful. Their song matched their beauty. Then the great grandchildren sang and I realized that even though we’d lost grandpa, we have a new crop of people to know and love. Grandpa has 149 posterity.

They buried Grandpa high on a hill in a cemetery in the Avenues of Salt Lake. After Uncle Richard’s dedicatory prayer the girls laid red roses and the boys placed red carnations on his casket. Our family stopped for ice-cream at the Hatch Family Chocolate Shop on our way back to the chapel. It seemed appropriate, because Grandpa ate ice-cream nearly every evening.

For years we shared the holidays with Grandpa and Grandma. Christmas afternoon, our family would pile into the van and drive up the San Bernardino Mountains. We’d pass the Cliffhanger restaurant and drive through Blue Jay Village. Aunts, uncles and cousins usually joined us and we’d party for days. Grandma supplied candy and food. Grandpa provided games and tucked little gold envelopes filled with money into the tree.

When the drive up and down the mountain became too difficult, Grandpa and Grandma sold their home in Lake Arrowhead and moved to Saint George. In the spring, when life became too difficult they moved to Salt Lake. In the summer, Grandpa moved to an assisted living facility.

Although it’s been a few months now, Grandma is slowly settling into her new home. She lives ten minutes away from two daughters and has a host of grandchildren nearby. A few days before Christmas, Grandma found a little gold envelope among Grandpa’s files. Without opening it, she tucked it into the Christmas tree and saved it for Christmas morning. She would spend the day with a daughter and her family, but the morning she would be alone, for the first time.

It must have been a very quiet Christmas morning for her, so different from the bustle of our holidays spent in Lake Arrowhead. The children and even the grandchildren are grown and gone, busy with their own lives. The candy, the games, the laughter – even Grandpa, gone. Except for the one gold envelope. She pulled it out, opened it, and found $100.

And felt Grandpa near.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

December

A little girl is singing for the faithful to come ye
Joyful and triumphant, a song she loves,
And also a partridge in a pear tree
And the golden rings and a turtle doves.
In the dark streets, red lights and green and blue
Where the faithful live, some joyful, some troubled,
Enduring the cold and also the flu.
Taking the garbage out and keeping the walk shoveled.
Not much triumphant going on here -- and yet
There is much we don't understand.
And my fears and hopes are met
In this small singer holding onto my hand.
Onward we go, faithfully, into the dark
And are there angels hovering overhead? Hark.

Garrison Keillor

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas 2010

Tomorrow, December 23, there will be a double funeral for my Aunt Veloy and Uncle Wayne. Uncle Wayne served in WW11 and Aunt Veloy served as a missionary in war torn England. Five children and more than 60 years later, they died within hours of each other.

My aunt practiced her faith with fierce devotion. My first real memory of her is when we were visiting her home. I was sitting on my dad’s lap on the family room sofa watching TV and Aunt Veloy walked in, became offended by the commercial, and turned off the TV. This was in the sixties. In the seventies she helped me buy a prom dress I intensely disliked (long sleeves, an abundance of fabric and lace.)

They lived in Utah and since my marriage I’ve lived in Connecticut and California. I haven’t seen them in years. I wonder if they ever watched TV, and if so, what they would think of the commercials, what would they think of today’s prom dresses?

Nathan and Adam are home for the holidays and they brought two friends from the university. Moses is from West Africa and Schorch is from Nepal. While I bake gingerbread, Schorch makes us curry for dinner (the smells of cumin, turmeric and garlic mixing with allspice and nutmeg.) While I frost gingerbread, Schorch dices vegetables and sings in the Middle Eastern minor tones in a language I don’t understand. Moses clicks his tongue at the dog and has more rhythm than Schorch’s song. I don’t know their faith, although I do know they don’t share mine. I don’t know what they know of Bethlehem, the Christ child, or the star.

Bethany is in Portland. Jared is on a mission. Our girls shop, go to parties, and are too busy to decorate the tree. The advent calendar, a highlight in years past, never made it out of the closet. Our Christmas’ are evolving and I wonder how many evolutions will there be? How will Christmas change year to year? Our family is like elastic, stretching and shrinking to accommodate those who come and those who go.

Aunt Veloy and Uncle Wayne spent more than 60 Christmas’ together, but each holiday must have brought something, or someone, new. Did they adapt to the world slipping and sliding around them? Or did they stay firmly fixed, stalwart and unchanging? In time, did the world seem as foreign Schorch’s music or Moses’ rhythm?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Oh Deer

Recently I had an experience that’s begging to be told. I’m not very excited about sharing this because I’m not proud of my feelings of envy and vanity. Let me begin by saying I’d had a rough week. A number of very disappointing things (5 to be exact) had happened. Granted if you twisted those things around you could say they were blessings, but I wasn’t interested in twisting. I think its human nature, or at least my nature, to want to run away when things aren’t going as planned and so when Rebecca told me they were thinking of moving to Utah, I was filled with envy. Horrible envy that sat on my shoulders all week, no matter how hard I tried to shove it away. I love my home, I love my friends, I know I don’t need or even want a 6,000 sq. foot house in Utah that costs half the price of my home and comes with twice the yard, but it ate at me for several days.

On Sunday morning I went for a walk in the canyon. Off in the grass were three deer who matched my pace, walking in the same direction. This was interesting, but after about a mile I turned to go home and the deer followed. I turned and at the same time the deer turned. They matched my pace for some time and then they turned and ran directly across my path and eventually disappeared into the woods. A passing runner who had seen the whole thing, said to me, “Wow, you were almost run over by deer.”

A scripture came to mind, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. ”

When I got home, l looked up the scripture and I hadn’t remembered the last bit “And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.” Which seemed rather remarkable since I’d just spent a week thinking of (bigger and better) houses.

I told Larry about my deer encounter and he believes that it meant where ever I am I can live in a house dedicated to the Lord. Of course he’d say that, it will take something more miraculous than lonely deer to make him leave California.

Canyon Rain

It’s raining today, reminding me of home (north of Seattle) and keeping me indoors. I typically like to walk in the canyon on Sunday mornings while my children sleep and my husband is busy with church assignments. Our canyon is measly compared to Washington or Utah canyons, but it is the only canyon I have and I consider myself fortunate to live at its edge.

For ten years I ran in the canyon nearly every morning with my neighbor, Mary. Her porch light signaled her readiness. We met in the street at six am, our dogs wiggling at the end of their leashes. During those years, occasionally I had to run alone because Mary would be doing Mary-type other stuff, and when I did I’d run faster, harder and think that Mary was slowing me down. Shortly after Mary’s divorce, her dog died. Mary, Abbey, my beagle, and I scattered the ashes of Watson in the canyon. His passing marked an end of an era for all of us. Mary moved shortly afterwards and running became very difficult for me. I no longer had a reason to put on my shoes. Six am can be very dark and cold. Abbey became old,no longer interested in running. It took some time, but I eventually got a new running partner, Grendel, part Schnauzer, part running maniac. Sometimes, I think of Mary and Abbey and miss them with a lonely, nostalgic ache. I remember how stupid I was to think that Mary was slowing me down, not realizing that she kept me in my sneakers. But honestly, usually Grendel pulls so hard on the leash, it’s all I can do to keep up.

And that’s something like life. Jared has recently left for Taiwan, leaving a giant gaping hole which is slowly but surely being filled with new responsibilities and challenges. That doesn’t mean I love or miss Jared any less, or that anything could really replace him, but he is there and I am here and that is what I think God has intended. And the leash on my life is pulling me onward so hard, it’s all I can do to keep up.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Favorite books of 2010

I had intended to list my top ten, but then decided everyone can use a little nudge in the right direction at the library.

The Girl Who Chased the Moon - Allen
The Help -- Stockett
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – Shaffer and Barrows
The Hunger Games Series – Collins
Clock Work Angel -- Claire
My Fair Godmother – Rallison
Just One Wish – Rallison
The Thirteenth Tale – Setterfield
Change Your Questions, Change Your Life – Nelson
The Book Thief – Zusak
The Mischief of the Mistletoe – Willig
Poison Study -- Snyder
Bruiser -- Shusterman

Okay, I didn't read Bruiser this year. Neal is in my writer's group, so I read it a couple of years ago, but since it was just released in Oct I included it. It's a terrific read (and I'm not just trying to stay on Neal's good side.) Also, The Mischief of the Mistletoe is a romance. If you don't like romance, you won't like this Mischief. I included it because I loved it and, unlike most romances, is G rated. G for good, girly and grandmother approved.

Monday, December 13, 2010

19 Miles in Southern Argentina

Last February I visited the Glacier National Park in Southern Argentina and hiked 19 miles. I don’t think I intended to hike 19 miles, but summer’s daylight southern hemisphere lasts a long time and there didn’t seem to be a reason to return to the hotel.

The scenery was mouth dropping gorgeous and the weather perfect. Lakes a surreal blue, a matching sky, big fluffy clouds, a gently breeze, a soft sun, which made the thunder difficult to explain until we realized we weren’t hearing thunder, but the splintering and crashing of glaciers.

Whenever I’d start to feel buff and proud of my ability to hike with Larry and Nathan, I’d be passed by some 60ish sisters with serious looking backpacks. Once I was overrun by a herd of tiny Asian women who looked about as strong and substantial as hummingbirds. But, when I came to mile 10 and the sign that read DANGER, STEEP INCLINE NEXT 1.5 MILES, all middle-aged ladies disappeared.

And after a few yards, I thought I’d disappear, too. A thirty-degree incline up loose shoal. One foot up, slide 6 inches down. No trees, bushes or hand holds. After serious arguing involving words such as chauvinists, sexists, and death, I convinced Larry and Nathan to leave me behind. They went to find the lake and glacier and I sat on a rock.

For about 3 minutes.

A teenage looking hiker passed by and I asked him how long until the glacier. 20 minutes, but he assured me it was worth the climb. So, I came up with a plan. I took 60 steps and then picked up a pebble (they were plentiful.) When I had five pebbles (300 steps) I allowed myself to sit down and replaced the pebbles with a rock. When I had two rocks a pair of hikers passed and I asked them how long to the glacier. 10 minutes, they said. By the time I had another rock (300 steps, 5 minutes) I crested the hill and could see the lake and glacier below. I could also see Larry and Nathan at the water’s edge. I found a place to sit down and watch them. I didn’t need to join them; I just liked seeing them together.

There’s the old maxim, by the yard it’s hard, but by the inch it’s a cinch. But, it wasn’t a cinch, ever. It was hard. If I hadn’t taken it at my pace and allowed myself to occasionally sit down, I wouldn’t have made it. But, I did make it. One pebble, one rock at a time. Was the view worth the climb? I’ve seen prettier postcards, but watching Larry and Nathan together at the lake’s edge, that was worth seeing.

When Larry and Nathan caught up with me, Nathan said, “I knew you could do it, Mom.” Which was nice to hear, because I didn’t know I could. We were still 9 miles from the trailhead, but it was all downhill from there.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Magic Beneath the Huckleberries

I wrote this on a typewriter (that’s how long ago.) It’s based on a true event that happened at Christmas time. In reality, I found the kitten in the snow and named him Wenceslas. He lived nearly twenty years. So, although the season isn’t mentioned in the story, for me, it will always be a Christmas miracle.

Magic Beneath the Huckleberries
Annie waited on the street corner, watching the army of buses depart the schoolyard. Occasionally, she’d recognize a classmate behind a high window of a bus and she’d wave and try to smile, but it was becoming increasingly difficult to look cheerful. Rain fell, ran down her legs and puddled in her new shoes. Her wool jumper had begun to smell like a wet dog.

A group of older girls approached. They wore only black and with their shawls draped over their shoulders they resembled crows. Annie knew them only by sight. They were in the same grade as her friend’s older sister, Claire, who had said they girls had formed a witch’s coven. As they passed, Annie moved to the edge of the sidewalk, the toes of her shoes over hanging the edge, allowing the girls as much room as she could.

A few cars passed, but her mom’s green Cutlass Oldsmobile did not. Annie waited until the girls were far enough ahead so that she wouldn’t appear to be following them, then she turned towards home.

Annie had lived at the end of Lilac Lane her entire life. She knew if she followed Lilac all the way to the dead end sign, she’d be home. And so, even though she’d never been allowed to walk as far as the school, she recognized landmarks as she passed. Terrace Park on the right. Mr. Roblinski’s house on the left. Eventually, she’d come to the where the sidewalk and pavement ended and she’d have to walk in the mud, alongside the electric fence that kept the cows in their pasture.

Rain rolled down her neck and she started to cry when she walked her shoes into the dirt road’s muck. Something must have been terribly wrong for her mother to have left her at school.

That had been months ago, long before Annie had learned the words, chemotherapy, radiation treatments, or cancer. Since then Annie had seen her mother vomit every day and she’d watched as her mother’s blond hair had washed off her head and lay on the bottom of the bathtub like a broken animal. A tray of medicine stood beside the bed her mother rarely left and an evil odor permeated the house. Mrs. Lopez had been hired to care for the house and Annie, but Annie had learned to avoid both.

She spent the afternoons at a friend’s house. Jenny was allowed to watch TV after school and her mom bought cookies from the store. Annie’s homework sat unattended in her book bag.

“Did you hear that Rose Koontz put a curse on Pete Womack?” Jenny asked.

“What kind of spell?” Annie asked, fascinated by the witches and their dark work.

“I don’t know that, but I do know Rose had been going into the woods with Pete.” Jenny looked meaningfully at Annie; they both knew why a girl would go into the woods with a boy. “And then she and everyone else saw Pete kissing Meg O’Toole under the bleachers.”

“Why didn’t Rose put a spell on Meg?”

“Oh, she did!”

“So, what happened?”

“Nothing, yet. Clare said a spell could last for years – that a witch can curse your future husband and even your unborn children.”

At dusk, Annie walked home from Jenny’s. She had to hurry before her father came home, but she didn’t want to be alone in the house with Mrs. Lopez. She didn’t remember her mother in the back bedroom. She peered into the woods as she passed, keeping a close watch for the witches. Annie often walked in the woods with her parents, following the cow trails to fields and ponds. In the late summer, she and her mother picked wild strawberries, huckleberries and blackberries for pies. In the spring, Annie liked to count the lilies. The bright white flowers only grew in the darkest part of the forest. Picking the flowers was forbidden, Annie’s mother had told her, because the flowers only bloomed every seven years. Of course, Annie’s mother never walked anymore and Annie didn’t know if she’d be able to walk in the spring or even the late summer.

Somewhere, in the thick of the trees, stood two abandoned houses. For years, trespassers had been stripping the wood and using it to build forts and fires. They shot out the windows for target practice. Several cats, feral, her father had called them, lived in the houses, dodging children, thrown rocks, and BB gun shot.

The porch light was on when she got home and her father’s car had replaced Mrs. Lopez’s. Annie didn’t know if her father would have the energy to be mad at her for being out so close to dark. She quietly opened the front door and crept to her room. She wrinkled her nose. The house stank of Mrs. Lopez’s cooking. Even though the door was closed, Annie could her father crying. He did that often, and though the sound was now familiar, it made Annie uncomfortable and frightened.

Annie looked out the window and thought about God. Every night she prayed for her mother to get better and every morning she woke hoping to find her mother dressed and making breakfast. She’d and hand Annie a sack lunch, kiss her goodbye and tell her to have a good day at school, as if good days were somehow plentiful and there for the taking. In Sunday school Annie’s teacher had read from the gospel of Matthew, telling her to ask and receive. Annie had begun to murmur silent prayers asking God to cure her mother. If Jesus were alive, could he heal her? The Sunday school teacher told her that Jesus was alive, but Annie didn’t know how to find him.

Still, her father cried. Annie looked out the window and noticed smoke rising from the thick of the woods and she wondered if the witches were there. How powerful was their magic? Were they more powerful than God? No, but could they be more sympathetic? More here? Annie slipped out of her room, passed her parent’s room and ran out the back door. Running through the woods, she refused to be afraid. When she could see the clearing, she stopped, her breath ragged and catching in her throat.

The witches sat around a campfire, boys beside them. They drank from long necked bottles; cigarettes dangled from their fingers. Nicotine smoke mingled with the bonfire’s and rose together in the twilight sky. A few couples were kissing. One boy had his hand beneath a witch’s shawl. No one noticed Annie, standing at the edge of the woods.

Suddenly, Annie knew they couldn’t help her. Whatever magic they held it wasn’t any stronger than her own.

She turned to go, but she hadn’t gone far when she heard a small cry. Annie stood statue still listening to the witches’ laughter, the crackling of the fire and something else. Stooping, Annie peered into the branches of a huckleberry bush. Pale green eyes peered back. The kitten didn’t move when Annie reached for it. She felt the its ribs beneath the matted fur and its frantic beating heart. Holding the kitten to her cheek, she whispered to it. The kitten responded with a mew. Annie took off her sweater, bundled up the kitten and hurried home.

Her father told her it was the ugliest cat he’d ever seen and that if it didn’t live, he’d by her a prettier one. Although it could hardly stand on its wobbly legs and its tummy was distended like a misshapen balloon, Annie knew it would live. Placing a saucer of milk under its nose, she felt a rush of love. The kitten only sniffed. Annie dipped her finger in the milk and placed a droplet on the mouth. Its raspy tongue on her finger sent a chill up her arm. That night she placed an old baby blanket in a basket and set it beside her bed. “I’ll always love and care for you,” she whispered to the kitten when she turned off the light. She named him Magic.

Years later when Annie would bring her children to the house on Lilac to visit her father, she would walk them into the woods and show them the lilies that grow in the dark and teach them how to find the wild strawberries that grow in the thickets. She would tell them of her mother who dwindled in illness and died and of the kitten that grew and thrived. Magic, she told them, and love are always entwined and can sometimes be found in the huckleberry bushes.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Pillows

On Friday I decided that I hated my book. Totally unrealistic and pointless. Who time travels? No one. I don’t personally know anyone who’s ever time traveled even a few minutes, let alone 400 years. So, in an effort to make valuable use of my time, I decided to sew pillows. (My mother, a gifted seamstress would have been so proud.)

I went to the fabric store, found fabric, cut fabric, paid for fabric, came home and put fabric on Natalie’s bed, pleased with how it coordinated with the walls, bedspread and lampshades.

Natalie comes home from school and discovers fabric. “What’s this?”

Me. “Isn’t it darling? I’m making pillows for your bed.”

Natalie. “No thank you.”

“What?”

“I don’t want fancy pillows on my bed.”

A pointless argument ensues and ends with, “I’ll just put them on your bed after you leave for school.” Followed by, “I’ll just take them off and hide them.”

All this finding, cutting, paying and arguing has not been a valuable use of my time. My mother would not be proud. I decided I should stick with characters of my own imagination who would welcome fancy pillows with tears of gratitude.

(Anyone want some fabric?)

Friday, December 3, 2010

At Fictionaires

Last Wednesday night I read pages 10 through 20 of my novel at my writer’s group. (Pages 1-10 already posted as Beyond the Fortune Teller’s tent.) Below is a smidgeon of the group’s response. (they actually said much more, but I’ve left it for fear of being boring and maudlin. Please remember, even if it’s not reflected in this post, that I’ve a tremendous amount of respect and regard for my fellow fictionaires.)

Neal thought the fortune teller was a stock character, which is a fair and true comment. I thought about changing her…still thinking.

Christine was confused by the dental office scene and she pointed out I’d used the word gnarled three times. (Actually, I’d used it 4 times. Good call, Christine.)

Michael thought that the crystal ball should shatter (I agreed. Please note my flying crystal.)

Terry didn’t like Emory being invisible. (I tried to clarify that Emory isn’t actually invisible, but rather good at lurking and skulking.) Later, he also commented that if he’d known my snack was so good he would have been kinder in hopes that he could have more. I told him I didn’t know he could be bought and he assured he could. I find it distressing to know that (for Terry at least) the quality and honesty of a critique can be influenced by the tastiness of my treats. Hmm…. In the future should I bring gourmet goodies for kindness or K-mart cookies for horrid honesty?

James didn’t know anything about being blond and smart so he wasn’t sure he’d be able to relate to Petra.

Jean thought that Robyn should say, “I’ll go and wait with your sister.” (Which I added. Thanks, Jean.)

Jean F. told me not to be discouraged, as this was my first draft and it was sure to improve. (It was actually my third draft and I’d thought it polished. This was perhaps the most discouraging comment, although I’m sure it was said in love.)

Aileen asked me what happened to my last novel. Sigh.

I’d love to hear any other opinions. Please try to keep them helpful and only mildly hurtful. Thanks, Kristine

pages 10- 20

A curtain of crystal beads fell back into place behind Petra; it sounded like the tinkling of falling glass shards. Heavy incense hung in the air and Petra felt the scent invading her lungs. She blinked, waiting for her eyes to adjust to the gloom. A large crystal ball on a table draped in brightly woven damasks glowed and sent a shivery light that didn’t reach the far corners of the tent. Large pillows scattered the tapestry rugs and Petra nudged one with her foot, wondering if she should sit. She didn’t see Mylan.

“Petra, welcome,” a voice in the semi darkness cackled.

Petra laughed when she felt Robyn, just behind her, jump. It took a moment for her to find the owner of the voice, a hunched old woman sitting on a pillow in a gloomy corner. In front of her a collection of tarot cards, face up: a fool dancing, tossing stars into a purple sky, a magician holding a wand scattering glitter.

“I’m afraid you must come alone,” the fortune teller spoke again, leaving her gaze on Petra’s face as her twisted hands gathered the cards, and tapped them into a deck.

Robyn’s eyes flashed a question at Petra. Petra squeezed her hand, sending her a silent signal. “I’ll wait with Zoe,” Robyn said.

Still expecting Mylan to suddenly appear, Petra didn’t even watch her friend leave, but she knew when Robyn had gone by the flash of daylight that came and then left with the rise and fall of a curtain and the jangle of the crystal beads.

“There are some journeys one must undertake on their own,” the fortune teller said, staring up at Petra.

Struck by the woman’s dark eyes, Petra didn’t comment. She stepped closer. The woman had long riotous curls the same color as her silver hooped earrings. Lined and criss-crossed, her skin looked like aged leather. Her eyes were so dark the iris swallowed the pupil and appeared bottomless. Endless.

Petra shook herself. Eyes couldn’t be endless. She’d learned about eyes in biology, had even studied a cow’s eye, trapped in a glass jar of formaldehyde. Large, yellowish with a brown iris, the cow’s eyeball had given her a sick feeling in her belly and when it’d been her turn to hold the jar, she had tried to wave it away. Her lab partner, Lloyd of the big glasses, had laughed and refused to take it from her. She’d quickly passed it to the girl behind her and had looked out the window. She felt the same queasiness now, staring in the fortune teller’s eyes, but she found herself unable to look away. She cleared her throat. “Is Mylan --”

The woman began to laugh and the sound surprised Petra. Not an old person hoot, or an evil Snow White’s stepmother’s cackle, but a laugh that sounded like church bells -- the type that ring at funerals. A Dickenson poem sprang to mind, oppresses like the heft of Cathedral tunes. Shivers shot up Petra’s arms and she took a step back, nearly tripping on a pillow. “If Mylan’s not here, I’ll go --”

The laughter stopped. “You paid the price, did you not?”

“Well, yes, but so did Robyn.”

“Then you must listen.” The old woman drew the fool card from the deck with a knobby finger, laid it on the carpet and tapped it with a pointy fingernail. “With all his worldly possessions in one small pack, the Fool travels he knows not where. So filled with visions and daydreams is he, that he doesn't see the cliff in his path. At his heel, a small dog harries him, sending him a warning.” The woman lifted her finger at Petra. The nail seemed almost as long as the finger, curling under as if it were too heavy to stay lifted. The finger and nail were both gray, the color of dead flesh. “You, my dear, are the fool. I am your warning.”

Mylan’s the fool, Petra thought, fighting a hot flash of anger, if he thought I’d find this freak show even remotely entertaining. She bit back a rude retort and instead asked, “Warning? Of what? ” She raised her voice so that if Mylan happened to be hiding he could hear. “Should I find another date to the prom? Drew already asked, so--”

“Be not quick to judge,” The woman, who had been sitting in the corner, suddenly appeared at Petra’s side. Petra flinched from the strong smell of liquor on the woman’s breath and the warmth of her body. Petra took a deep breath and a stepped closer to the door.

The woman continued, “If you think your life is the here and now, you are mistaken. I’ve been sent to tell you --”

“My only mistake was putting twenty dollars in your jar and ever believing for a second that Mylan was anything but a player.” Her voice sounded screechy, the peeved Petra tone her dad disliked.

“Harbingers of ill will do not always mean you harm.” The woman laid her fingers on Petra’s arm and sent a jolt of electricity that lifted Petra off her feet. Petra watched as the crystal ball sailed through the air and the strings of hanging beads began to sway, making a sound like a rush of wind chimes. Tarot cards floated around her, like large, one dimensional snowflakes. The ball connected with a flying tent and shattered into thousands of pieces. Crystal glinted midair. The poles supporting the draped damask teetered and then began to collapse.

An earthquake, the rational part of Petra’s mind told her, but Petra was listening to another voice, one that said, run. But, running, especially in ballet slippers, had never been Petra’s strength, and besides she’d never tried to run while in airborne. Amidst the fluttering curtains Petra flew. When the earth settled, Petra found herself buried beneath a pile fabric and pillows. She sat up dazed. Other than a few strewn drapes of cloth and the sway crystal beads, the tent looked about the same. The tarot cards lay scattered about her and she pushed them away so that she wouldn’t step on them. Looking around, she didn’t see Fiorella the fortune teller. After brushing off her dress and straightening her tiara, she pushed through the curtains, took a few faltering steps, and then stopped.

The only earthquake Petra could remember had been on an Easter Sunday. She’d sat with her family around the dining room table and watched the chandelier swing above the ham and creamed potatoes. The quake had rolled rather than shook and had lasted less than a minute. Zoe had wailed in terror. Petra knew that she had to be frightened now.

Where was Zoe?


CHAPTER BREAK

A three legged, unleashed dog of indeterminate breed loped by and took Petra off her feet. She landed hard on her butt in the dirt, her legs splayed in front, the dress around her thighs. She stared after the animal and then watched the crowd filling the dusty street to see how they’d react to a dog breaking leash laws. No one seemed to notice. Where were the yellow jackets? Petra stood, dusted off her dress and sat down on Zoe’s abandoned stump.

She remembered the advice she’d been given on a girl’s scout hike, when lost stay where you are. She didn’t know if Zoe had received the same advice, but it made sense that Zoe would eventually return to look for her, if only for the promised funnel cake. She closed her eyes, wondering what had become of Robyn, Zoe and Mylan. When she opened her eyes, she had a vague hope of finding Zoe beside her, but the faire looked as strange as it had only moments ago.

Petra, unused to waiting, drew in the dirt with the toe of her slipper. The blue shoes had a smattering of faux diamonds across the top. At first, she’d been annoyed about not being able to wear heels to the prom, but her dad had convinced her that since her last year’s date, Micky Lund, had yet to hit a growth spurt, slippers would be a kinder choice. Petra didn’t care for the shoes or Micky, but she couldn’t walk around a Renaissance Faire in heels, and it would have tacky to wear flip-flops or tennis shoes.

But, none of that mattered anymore. She was ready to go home. Petra stood, and not spotting Zoe’s familiar tangerine hair, she climbed onto the stump to see over the heads of the crowd. Perhaps Zoe’s with Robyn, she thought, watching for Robyn’s tiara. Standing with her hands on her hips, she looked back at the fortune teller’s tent and then twisted around. The tent had been replaced with what appeared to be a blacksmith’s shop. A giant fire blazed in a forge and a thick armed man wearing a leather apron and wielding a hammer stood where only moments ago she’d visited Fiorella. Petra climbed off the stump with weak knees.

The black smith swung his hammer down on a flaming red piece of ore and sparks flew. Again and again the hammer struck the metal. The pounding rang Petra’s ears.
Where was Zoe? The anger she’d felt turned to confusion. Waiting reminded her of the very first time her mother hadn’t met her after school. She’d stood at the corner near the crossing guard, surrounded by other second graders waiting for their moms, just as her mother had said, until eventually, all the other kids disappeared into cars and she’d been left alone with the guard who’d marched her to the office, where she had to sit on a hard plastic chair while the secretary, a gum chewing hag, had called her mom. And then her dad. During the second phone call the lady’s voice changed from cranky to hushed and her gaze slid to Petra with a look of pity that Petra would later learn to know too well. When her dad showed up, he seemed worried, harassed and untalkative. No one, not her mother or her father, had apologized for making her wait. Nor had they offered excuses.

A donkey pulled wagon rumbled by and brought Petra out of the long ago memory. A trio of dirty faced kids dressed in brown cloth tunics gazed at her with wide eyes from their perch in the wagon. Their rags made Zoe’s pillow case look good.
Petra tried to orient herself. She could see the jousting arena, but not the funnel cake stand. She rubbed her head again and decided that when she left the tent, she must have gone out another side from the one she’d entered. That was it. She must have gone in one way and out another and from this new angle the fortune teller’s tent looked different. She knew that perception could alter reality. She’d learned about mental maps, paradigm shifts, and how changed circumstances could transform reality in her AP physc class. Thinking about Dr. Burns and the class, bolstered her. She knew that she wasn’t stupid, ditzy or dizzy and that the blonde jokes, in her case, didn’t apply. But, as she stood on the stump, overlooking the faire, she felt increasingly lost…dizzy even.

She tried to recall Dr. Burn’s words. If you had an incorrect map of a city and were looking for a specific location, you would be both lost and frustrated. No amount of positive thinking or diligent work would change the fact that your map couldn’t lead you to your goal. Each person sees the world not as it is, but as he or she is. Experience determines perception.

Dr. Burn was brilliant. Right now she needed a map, not of her psyche, but of the faire. She’d simply gotten lost. And the three legged dog, the blacksmith shop spouting flames and sparks, (something she couldn’t believe the fire authorities would ever allow) the three story buildings and thatched roofed cottages, well those were all things that she just hadn’t noticed in the past. She wandered in the direction of the fortune teller’s tent, but she couldn’t find any bright colored fabrics or strings of crystal beads. Refusing to consider that she would have noticed a blacksmith shop spouting sparks, she brushed off her skirt, squared her shoulders and set out to find the information booth where Mrs. Jordan handed out maps.

When she couldn’t find the booth or Mrs. Jordan, she thought, maybe I hit my head in the earthquake. Turning toward what she hoped was the direction of the stables, she considered what she’d say to Zoe? Why did you leave the stump? Why couldn’t you stay where I put you? I’m sorry I lost you.

#


Emory followed Chambers through the crowd of venders. Farmers, artisans and peddlers shared the square, competing for business, breathing the same foul air. Hawkers called out, their voices rising above the bellow of cows and the snorts of pigs, but no one called to Emory. No one noticed him.

Two old men sitting in the shade of a vegetable cart and smoking long pipes looked up as Emory moved beyond them, out of their line of vision. A child teasing a cat with a bit of fish didn’t see him, but the cat took note. Emory slipped into a dark alley, away from the market’s chaos, and leaned his head back against the wall. Dark, cool, the passage had a line of doors, but Chambers had chosen the furthest from the crowd, and for perhaps the first time, Emory applauded Chambers judgment. Emory knew Chambers well, but Chambers did not know Emory. If Chambers knew Emory’s plans, Chambers would undoubtedly have him killed. Emory smiled at the futility. Mightier men had tried and failed.

Through the door Emory heard the men’s conversation and he committed it to memory -- half past midnight, two nights hence, the rectory. Emory marveled at Chamber’s audacity, his ability to believe he worked in the name of God, the gall and pride that allowed him to consider that the Almighty would join league with barbarians.

Emory pulled away from the door when he heard the scratch of chairs on the stone floors. Footsteps, shuffling, voices approaching the door, a rattle of the latch. After a quick survey of the alley Emory realized the entry, his means of escape, had been blocked by a gaggle of geese. Geese were noisy, filthy and mean. Not wanting to wade through them, Emory headed towards the closest door. Finding it unlocked, he slipped inside, praying the room would be uninhabited.

He saw a chair by the fire, tools spread across a work bench and a floor strewn with wood shavings. Emory leaned against the wall and listened. He heard the geese, the rumble of Chamber’s voice on the other side of the wall, and the villagers outside the window.

But then he heard another noise. A much closer, scarier noise.

A low growl.

Emory looked around the bench and spotted an arthritic mongrel slowly rising from his ragged mat to his feet. The growl grew deeper as the dog lifted his lips, exposing brown jagged teeth.

Putting his hand in front of him, Emory whispered, “Good dog.”

But the dog didn’t want to be good. His fur rose like a razorback along his massive shoulders. His head lowered and his ears flattened. Drool gathered on his lips and when he barked, the spittle flew.

Emory tried to listen over the dog’s noise for the men’s voices, but the neighboring room seemed hushed, while in Emory’s room several noisy things happened at once. The dog lunged at Emory, catching his teeth on Emory’s breeches, a woman, alerted by the dog’s barking and wielding a large wooden spoon, appeared from nowhere.

She attacked him verbally and physically. “Out! Out,” she cried and with each directive she belted Emory with her spoon.

“I mean no harm,” Emory said while covering his head with his arms and trying to shake the dog off his leg.

“Out! Out!” the wooden spoon beat on Emory’s shoulders and back.

Tripping over the dog, which he’d managed to kick in the jaw, Emory made it to the window. The dog launched for Emory’s throat and Emory clambered over the window sill. The tear in his breeches, compliments of the dog, caught on a wooden peg protruding from the sill, but after a few moments of awkward hanging, Emory fell face first into a woodpile.

Above him, the woman shouted obscenities and the dog barked, but to Emory’s relief, the room that Chambers had occupied hadn’t a window on the woodpile side. Emory, scooted off the wood, scattering logs and planks, offered the woman a lopsided grin and an apology. “A simple mistake, good mistress. A wrong door, tis all.” He ratcheted up the charm in his smile and watched the woman visibly soften. Her lips twitched in return as he scrambled and tripped his way out of the wood pile. He caught a log rolling down the street, picked it up and waved it at her before returning it to the pile. The gesture won him a toothless smile.

The dog, however refused to be charmed. With his paws on the windowsill and his head poking out, he continued to bark, spraying Emory with slobber. The dog looked too old and rickety to clear the window, but Emory decided not to stay and find out. He loped through the alley, turned a corner and stopped short when he saw a girl about his age dressed in blue wandering through the crowd. Blond hair piled on her head. Jewels in her hair and in her ears. She moved like a feather on the wind, graceful and yet aimless. Long, pale arms and a slender neck. A tiny frown pulling at her full lips and a worried scowl creasing between her eyebrows. Turning, she faced him and her eyes, the color of her gown, widened, as if she recognized him. He took a step towards her, as if pulled by an invisible cord.

The geese complained as he pushed through them. They honked and pecked as they surrounded him.

“Give way, gov’nor,” the goose girl shouted at him.

But, Emory wasn’t listening to her. He strained to hear what the girl in blue was calling. Emory felt a flash of sudden, inexplicable pain, knowing that she, nor indeed anyone, would ever call for him.