Monday, February 5, 2018

First Word: Mary Judith Ress: Stew


Shall I put all the leftovers in the stew? Those wrinkled potatoes, the wilted string beans, the left-over turkey from Christmas that's still in the freezer?  Shall I throw you in as well, my darling?

            You do need to be blended with other ingredients, you know.  Diced up and stirred in the pot. The fire will bring out your juices, that lingering sap still running in your veins. Whale-watching won't do it—nor will trout fishing or star gazing. You need to be righteously transformed into gravy, into the body and blood of Christ.
            And you don´t have much time left. You look like a piece of smoked charqui hanging from the roof of the ruca in winter. Hard as leather—why, one could easily crack a tooth on that hardness.
            Don´t you want to go back to the ancestors a bit more in shape? Softer, more seasoned? After all, you will be welcomed by your mother, your father, your other kin—including that grandfather of yours who abandoned the family.  You may even be met by me!
            So get ready. There´s the pot. Jump in.

Monday, July 31, 2017

First Word: Mary Judith Ress: Pencil


She penciled in the date: May 16, 2042. She’d be one hundred years old. Her birthday and her death day. Yes, ff she hadn’t died already, that May 16th would be “a good day to die,” as the Sioux were wont to say.

            She still had a few years to think about the method, so she wasn’t particularly anxious. But it would be important to go out in style—dress for the occasion. Dust off her wedding dress? Oh, dear, no. Terribly tasteless. Her shamanic robe with the chakra symbols woven into the purple fabric? Perhaps.  Or maybe she’d go in for some body paint—her 100-year-old body could surely use some color.
            She’d make her death into a ceremony. That day, she’d take a hot bath with all her favorite scents—especially lavender. She’d eat her favorite foods:  beef bourguignon, raspberry cheese cake and the most expensive bottle of Carménère she could find. But she’d have to watch the amounts: she definitely didn’t want to die of indigestion or intoxication. She wanted to die conscientiously—slipping over the threshold like a thief in the night. She’d brew something that would nudge her over peacefully. All her life, she’d been an advocate of non-violence.
            But then, once over—Yaaa-hoo! It would be her turn to float over her dead body and see who gathered to mourn her (she hoped someone was still around—a grandkid or two). Then she’d see the tunnel and the light at the end.  Who’d be waiting for her, she wondered. There was always a guide. Good heavens, what if it was Jonathan, or Petra or Doris—and they wanted to settle the score? She doubted it would be Jesus or St. Peter or even her grandmother. 
She put down her pencil and sighed. She’d just have to take her chances. 

Monday, July 24, 2017

First Word: Suzanne Adam: Surprise


A surprise may be a happy event or a sad one, but the word has a positive connotation for me. Words are flexible, adaptable, depending upon the context, the speaker and the listener. Multiple factors color a word.

            What color is surprise? Bright red, orange or yellow. Definitely not blue, brown or black. Difficult even to see it as violet. Does surprise evoke a smell? It would be an unexpected scent: bacon in church, Old Spice in a convent, French fries in the bathroom, roses at the beach. It’s fun to imagine these incongruous matches.
            Unexpected visitors. Yes, I’ve had those. An old boyfriend. A spider in the shower.
            Unexpected gifts. Once a fifth-grade student brought me a martini in a plastic glass with a lid. My husband isn’t one to plan romantic surprises. No diamond earrings or week on a Caribbean island. For my birthday and Christmas I must tell him what to get for me. Surprise gifts can be awkward. What if I don’t like the color of the sweater? I must pretend delight and wear it several times until he forgets he gave it to me. The reverse is sometimes true. I buy something I like for him, but he doesn’t like it. I catch on immediately. He’s not clever at pretending.
            The predicted rain for this weekend will be no surprise. It’s been drummed into our heads by the weathermen for days. Although the rain is expected, it will be the occasion for as much celebration as the victory of the Chilean soccer team in the America Cup.
            Yesterday I had unexpected good news. I took Speedy Gonzalez our tortoise to be weighed at the veterinarian’s. He’d been suffering health problems and weight loss all summer, and I’d been feeding him with a syringe. Six weeks ago I finally let him hibernate. The surprise – he’d gained one hundred grams!
            “Good boy,” I said as I pat his shell. My tender loving care seemed to be paying off. I placed him back in his box, and shredded more newspaper to make his hibernation digs cozier.
            Because these days seldom bring good news, I look forward eagerly to the patter of rain on our roof this weekend. I’ll be tempted to go out and dance in its caress.

Monday, July 17, 2017

First Word: Mary Judith Ress: Surprise


The universe is full of surprises.  In fact, it is Surprise Itself, in its ongoing flaring forth.  From that first contraction when some dot of helium emerged from the dark nothingness, to the formation of galaxies and their billions of stars, to our own Mother Star, and then on to us, this planet, these trees, and mountains and rivers and we poor besotted humans who really are made of stardust.  Yes, continual surprise shooting out at me from yesterday´s goo-ing from the latest granddaughter as she munched on her thumb—13 billion years in the making.

Monday, July 10, 2017

First Word: Ellen Hawkins: Circus


To enter the circus you must first buy a ticket or agree to place a bet or in some way invest in the outcome. Confident that you know what you’re doing, you shove your hand in your pocket, retrieve a few coins and go into the tent. Here, the music rocks while jugglers juggle. Elephants slyly put on their makeup while waiting their turn to lead a parade. Sometime later, you lose at backgammon. You shrug, head for the bar, talk to a few strangers, meet the manager, tinker with the idea of going back to the hotel. But the exit is not where it used to be, and you’re not feeling all that well.
            You awake the next morning to the smell of blood sausage sizzling in a pan. One of the elephants, apparently a good friend of yours, is cooking up a storm in the kitchen. He pours fresh coffee and assures you that you only lost ‘some bitcoins’ at the roulette table and didn’t he and you meet once before in Singapore? You tell him—is it a him?—that you’ve changed your mind about the circus, that you’d rather skip that part of the game, fly back home to Sydney but it seems you’ve misplaced your airline ticket and the price of a new one is just  shy of a million what-nots.  Also, you owe somebody Park Place and must go directly to jail.
            It’s quiet when you surface. The place looks familiar but the rooms are empty. A ‘For Sale’ sign on your lawn is dripping with rain.  You’ve either bought the place or you’re selling it. Something jogs your memory, yes, of needing a current, legal document that will prove that the house belongs to you, or once did. A line of lawyers, briefcases in hand, approach the house. The doorbell rings. You cover your head with a pillow.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Tuesday Prompt: Ellen Hawkins: Straw


One day I harvested a straw hat, tied it on with a yellow ribbon then went in search of the last straw but the camel had already buckled at the knees. It gasped and wheezed while I shouted in my loudest voice.

            “Hang on, old chap! If you could just give me a little room, I’ll sit down here beside you and massage your hump with my feet. There, does that feel any better?”
            The camel moaned.
            “Help is on the way!” I called, removing one straw, then another.
            One hundred and forty-two straws later, I felt the camel move.
            “I know you!” I said, “I saw you waiting at a crowded railway crossing on the outskirts of New Delhi.  You were peering down on a jumble of cars, lorries, scooters, bicycles and pedestrians. Everyone was waiting for the train to pass but people kept ducking under the barrier and leaping across the track, deaf to the whistle and roar of the oncoming train. But not your Excellent Self, of course.  You were wise to wait, Camel. Is it possible you were carrying straw that day?
            “I’ve been told that you can be mean; that when you’re annoyed you spit at whoever’s bothering you. I’m sure you’re justified in taking this attitude. I would, in your place. Not only do you have to heft all that straw, you also have to put up with the incessant presence of Holy Cattle, creatures that are free to go wherever they like. As an outsider, I’d say you got a rum deal, but without the rum.  You should complain to the Association of Beleaguered Camels, insist on better working conditions.
            “What’s that?  You like the idea? Great! Let’s put our heads together. On second thought, maybe not.  I detect a whiff of eye-watering halitosis. No offence intended. You’ll need a slogan. Maybe, ‘Camels for a Better Future!’
            “Boring? How about: The Most Daring and Salacious Campaign to Bring Camels into Modern Society-- MDSCBCMS for short.  A bit clunky?  Then let’s try, ‘The Last Straw: Out with Holy Cows! In with Camels!’
            “No? Maybe we should do a straw poll. I’ll get the straw, you can count. No, hold on. Why don’t you toss each straw onto your back while I count? Ready? One, two, three… four hundred and seventy-eight, three million, five hundred thousand and sixty-two.  You’re going a bit cross-eyed. I’ll slow down. Four zillion and three quarters… five zillion and--
            “Is that it? Is that the Last Straw you’re holding up? Wait. Don’t move. Try not to grimace. I’ll just take your picture. That’s brilliant. Your expression is so original, so in harmony with nature. Wait, wait! You’re fading.  I must take a selfie in case this goes viral.  Here we go:  Me and The Camel, one straw short of the last—.”

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Tuesday Prompt: Suzanne Roberts: Traffic Light

Traffic Light


We were all piled in my Toyota Tercel hatchback: three friends in the back and three of us in the front, one on top of the handbrake, straddling the gearshift. Everyone had a beer in hand. This was freedom – f&#$ the seatbelts, f&#$ the open container laws, f&#$ that we might crush this car with so much weight. The windows were wide open, warm humid night pouring in, radio music seeping out.
            We came to a red traffic light on North Avenue and a Chicago Police car pulled into the left turn lane. The passenger side policeman’s elbow out the window almost brushed mine. He turned and nodded to me and I nodded back… casually. Seconds passed like minutes and I knew what is coming. When the light turns green, he will turn back into my lane and follow me, pulling me over along the curb I can see from here. And have me on how many counts?
            But, no, he went left and I went forward. This should have felt good – the adrenaline and escape, but it has just felt wrong for years now. By the age of fourteen, I wanted more from the world than its being based so embarrassingly obviously on looks; that night, above all others, my young, whiteness was thrown into relief.
            I’m not looking for pity. How many countless other times has this fact saved me or put me first?
            I always cursed not looking Latino (“Yeah, sure your dad is from Chile”) until the day I entered the United States through Miami with Ignacio and our daughter Clara and we were sent to the detention hall to wait while they questioned him. An hour later and he still couldn’t get even one of those Latino-US Citizen Immigration Officials to respond to him with a word of Spanish or any other less complicit expression of solidarity or brotherhood for an innocent Latino.
            Donald Trump hates almost everyone. He is like a nerve stripped of its body, stripped of its protective casing, whipping around, reacting all the time. A nerve does not create, it reacts. His hate is attractive, “Oh, you’re angry? Terrific, let’s hate. See how good it feels? Hate your next door neighbors and the ones who’ve gone before and will come after. Hate the ones who don’t follow the rules, but let’s change the rules. I hereby solemnly swear to keep the fires of controversy and confusion burning so bright over the next four years that you’ll be able to hate and hate without ever having to feel the stark, lifeless void that follows.”