Friday, November 25, 2016

Anna, Babette, and Charlie or Why She's Late -- Flash Fiction

A 1900s postcard from Zazzle

The girls had their showers and bath last night before bed. Anna and Babette take showers these days. Charlie still takes baths.

We are scheduled to eat a late lunch with Neil's mother then sit for a family portrait in front of the Christmas tree.

I reminded Anna, my thirteen-year-old going on 20, of our departure time as she disappeared into her room. We had agreed that she would wear her new blue dress. Her first dry-clean-only dress. Nothing would do, but she have that exact one. And she did look lovely in it. She's a rather fastidious child so it seemed an acceptable choice.

"Babette, have you decided what you're wearing?"

"The white one with blue stars," she shouts over her shoulder as she plunks down on the couch next to her dad.

At eleven, Babette is the athlete/artist in the family. She couldn't care less what she wears as long as it's not "too girlie." I'm never quite sure just what "too girlie" is. Pink is fine. Flounces around the hem are fine. Ruffles at the neckline are not fine. "Too girlie." White with stars is perfectly fine for the portrait, but she is not a careful child. Not with her art supplies or eating. I don't know why Neil's mother planned a portrait sitting for AFTER lunch. I'm tempted to take a spare outfit for her. Babette, not Neil's mother.

Charlie (Charlotte MacKenzie) the baby of the family loves clothes. That child can change clothes more times in a day than the Crawleys on Downton Abbey. I decided to wait until the last minute to dress her.

"Mom," Anna calls. "I can't find my blue tights."

I poke my head into her room, the cat and Charlie close on my heels. "When did you wear them last?" I ask.


"Then, they're probably in the dirty clothes. Did you look?"

"Can you wash them?" She asks.

Might as well, throw in Neil's dark colored dress shirts. My dad was a welder, so he never wore dress shirts unless it was to a wedding or a funeral. Somehow, it always seemed kind of fun to wash Neil's "work" shirts. Almost like I was a kid playing house. Fancy house. But they had to be taken out of the dryer as soon as it finished or they'd wrinkle, and neither he nor I like to iron.

"Babette, do you need anything washed before school tomorrow?"

She races past me down the hall and into her room. The cat and Charlie flatten themselves against the wall.

All calm and in control she steps into the hall and hands me her soccer uniform. "Thanks, Mom. I almost forgot."

Thank goodness her team colors are blue and grey. They'll wash just fine with her sister's tights and Neil's shirts. But they're another have-to-take-them-out-of-the-dryer-quick.

Not a problem. I've got time.

Neil passed the laundry room on his way to our bathroom. "Gonna take my shower now."

"Okay," I say rummaging through the dirty clothes to find Anna's tights.

I hear the shower start and thank goodness for the new water heater. We haven't run out of hot water since we got it.

"Gloria, Hon, I forgot to get a towel."

"Just a minute," I say interrupting my search for the tights. "Charlie, don't let the cat get in the dryer."

I get Neil a towel, find the tights, and start the washer. Charlie and the cat have disappeared and I can't hear them over the washer and Neil's singing. He always sings in the shower. Opera, usually. He actually sounds pretty good when he limits himself to the baritone parts. Not so much when he does all the roles. But he enjoys it.

The dishwasher is finished so I put the dishes away. That's when I heard the most mournful yowl. Having survived two girls as toddlers, I knew I'd better see what Charlie had done to the cat. It wasn't in the dryer. I checked.

I knew they weren't in Charlie's bedroom because the door was wide open. My next guess was the hall bathroom.

"Charlie, have you got the cat in there with you?"

There was much scrabbling going on and things falling on the other side of the door.

"Charlotte, why is the door locked? Open the door."

Nothing. The hall bathroom had gone silent. Neil burst into his falsetto soprano part.

"Charlotte MacKenzie Smith. Open this door. NOW!"

Charlie opened the door and a wet cat streaked past me, sliding as he made the turn to tear down the hall. The four-year-old stood there, shoulders hunched, eyes huge in terror, her mouth puckered in an O.

"He's wet! He's all over my stuff!" Anna screeched from her bedroom.

Charlie was soaked. Toiletries lay scattered across the flooded bathroom floor. The picture of the young man tap dancing in New Orleans hung askew and the wall clock was practically upside down.

Babette peeked out of her door, took one look at me, then ducked out of sight.

"Babette, you come back here. Bring me a towel and take one to Anna."

"Yes, ma'am," she said sidling carefully past me.

Tears began trickling down Charlie's face. She didn't move. She didn't even blink. She waited for retribution of biblical proportions.

The shower in my bathroom stopped and Neil called, "Did you get deodorant for me? I can't find it."

"The cat walked on my library book," Anna wailed. "He's ruining it!"

Babette offered me two towels.

"No. Take one to Anna and tell her to dry the cat. Then you come back here and dry your sister."

"But ...." she started to object. After another look at me, she thought better of it.

"Thank you," Neil said as I removed the new can of deodorant from the top shelf in the medicine cabinet, less than an arm's length from him, and handed it to him.

"You're welcome," I said.

"Are the girls about ready to go?" he asked.

I didn't answer. How could he not hear the four-year-old down the hall, sobbing? Her big sister making soothing sounds.

I got the mop bucket out of the garage and sopped up the water on the bathroom floor, straightened the picture and the clock, and dried the toiletries before replacing them on the shelf. At least the cat hadn't knocked the shelf down or ripped the shower curtain in his wild careening around the room.

It wasn't until after I'd put the laundry into the dryer that I calmed down enough to wonder whether or not my youngest had been maimed by the near-drowned cat. But there hadn't been blood in the water on the floor, so I figured she must be fine or at least fine enough.

"How do I look?" Neil asked smoothing his tie. He was freshly showered, deodorized, shaved, and dressed in a white shirt and his navy pinstriped suit pants.

"You're barefoot," I said.

"Couldn't find any blue socks," he said.

"Wear black," I said.

It wasn't until then that he actually looked at me.

"Is something wrong?"

"No. Nothing is wrong. Now."

"Okay," he said cautiously. "I think I'll go clean out the car,"

Anna and Babette got themselves dressed and ready to go. Anna without her blue tights. I'll run the laundry again when we get home. Charlotte MacKenzie is dressed and I put a change of clothes in her Elsa backpack. If Babette spills food on her dress, we'll just turn it around back-to-front for the photo.

We're out of hot water and I've still got to shower. I have no idea where the cat's got to.

My husband sits on the couch reading the paper. His three beautiful daughters perched all lady-like around him watching "Meet the Press" or some such on TV as though they're interested. He checks his watch, waiting all too obviously patiently. He doesn't dare ask how much longer I'll be.

This alt value should not be empty if you assign primary image

Thursday, November 24, 2016

A Man Called Ove -- Book Review

So would you like to know how to pronounce this man's name?  Check it out.

I think this is the best book I've ever read. Funny and beautiful and sad -- all tear inducing. That's the problem with reading. You read a really good book and get all teary-eyed and you can't see to get past the funny, beautiful, sad pages. At least when it's a movie, the movie goes on. Or an audio book.

But I read the book. My friend Lou handed the book to me after our walking group on Tuesday, November 22. Her only caveat was that I return the book to the library before December 5th. (Thank you, Lou!)

I am not a particularly fast reader, but this book I finished this morning -- two days after receiving it. Yes, it's that good.

A Man Called Ove (by Fredrik Backman, translated by Henning Koch) is about a difficult, lonely man who has lost the only person who ever understood him, his wife Sonja. He has decided to commit suicide and join her. Such a simple, honest decision. One would think.

But he is surrounded by humans. Totally incompetent, treacherous humans. These humans, completely innocent though they may be, inevitably bumble and stumble their way into his life and interfere with his plans.

Ove's attitude toward everything and everyone except his Sonja is summed up in the following paragraph. He's driving the everything and everyone in his Saab.

          "Ove looks at the group assembled around him, as if he's been kidnapped and taken to
     a parallel universe. For a moment he thinks about swerving off the road, until he realizes
     that the worst-case scenario would be that they all accompanied him into the afterlife.
     After this insight he reduces his speed and increases the gap significantly between his
     car and the one in front."

Backman's (or the translator's, I'm not sure who to credit here) language is pristine. He employs Hemingway's mot juste to say the most with the least and best words. And interestingly, anyway to me, he tells much of his story in present tense. The present part of the story. The rest he tells in the more commonly used past tense. (I know. I know. Only you grammar Nazis will even notice.)

Ove's present is explained as we read, discovering his past. As clearly and gracefully as a river winding its way through the countryside to the sea. And as inevitably.

I finished this book with my own cat annoyance snuggling in the throw on my legs (as long as I didn't try to pet him. My cat doesn't like to be petted. He bites. Rotten cat.)

Definitely Five Stars out of Five!

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Ride -- Flash Fiction

image from Dependable Auto Transport

He first saw her at the service desk in the Oklahoma City Lexus dealership. Tall, older woman with I-Love-Lucy red hair. Not bad looking in that rich-old-lady sort of way. Well-dressed, expensive hand bag and shoes -- flats. Without a doubt, his grandmother would have recognized the brands.

Probably drove a black GS, he thought. Or maybe one of the hybrids. He was wrong. Completely wrong. There she stood. Beside his truck, her Atomic Silver LX on his truck.

"I heard you're going to Houston," she said.

"Yes, ma'am." He wondered how that SUV got on his trailer.

"I want you to take me and my car with you."

"Excuse me."

"I need to be in Houston for Thanksgiving. At my granddaughter's. Always wanted to ride on a long-haul."

"How'd that car get on my truck?" he asked, knowing already that he didn't want to know.

"The tracks, or whatever you call 'em, were down, so I just drove it up there."

"Lady, you can't do that. Just drive it up there. It's got to be loaded right. Tied down."

"Okay," she said. "I put it in park and set the brake. You do whatever it is you need to so it'll travel safely. I'll ride up front with you. I-35 to Dallas then I-45 into Houston, right?"

"Yes, ma'am." He shoved his Minnesota Vikings cap to the back of his head and considered the situation.

"Is this your truck, or do you just drive for some company?"

"It is my truck," he said. "And my company. Small, but my company."

"How small?" she asked.

"Four trucks counting this one." He didn't see what this had to do with anything.

"Then that's settled."

"Actually, Lady. It's not settled at all. I don't take riders, and I don't haul cars without a contract."

"No law against taking riders. You set the price, I'll agree to it. We'll shake hands and you'll have your contract. An oral contract. All perfectly legal. Do you take plastic?"

"Plastic? Lady, its ...."



"My name's Mary. Mary Schroeder. What's yours?"

"Paul Larsen."

"Well, Paul Larsen, you take care of the car and I'll go ahead and get in the truck. Is the rider-side door unlocked?"

"Yes, ma'am, but ...."

She was gone around the front of the truck on her way to the rider-side door. He pulled his cap down to his eyebrows. He could tell she was used to getting her way. An awful lot like his Grandma. He dug a couple of tie downs out of the tool box and climbed up on the trailer.

As they crossed the North Canadian River headed south, she asked "Are you married?"

"No ma'am," he said taking a sip of coffee. "I've got some cokes in the box behind the seat if you want one."

"Not now, thank you. Originally from Minnesota, are you?" She asked.

"Yes, ma'am."

"Been in Texas long enough to pick up some manners though," she said.

He laughed.

"Katy's not married either."

"Katy?" he asked.

"My granddaughter."

Her granddaughter. This might be a long drive. Maybe she'd buy his meals.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Arrival -- A Review

image from Wikipedia

I love Science Fiction in books. In movies, I like Science Fantasy. With Star Trek and Star Wars in the movies, you don't have to worry about the science, because they're fantasy. And their violence doesn't disturb me. I love the flash-bang of those movies as much as anybody. I guess because it doesn't seem real. (See my reviews "Star Wars!" from January and "Star Trek Beyond" from July

Science Fiction in the movies, on the other hand, is often problematic. They just simply too often get the science wrong. A recent example of that was The Martian. (See my review from October, 2015

Arrival which opened here in the Denver area Friday gets it right. I heard a review on NPR that described the movie as "furiously intelligent." Okay, so furiously is an odd choice of adverb to modify intelligent. But, hey, it got my attention. The reviewer went on to say that the hero of the piece is a professor of linguistics. Now, I'm interested. Throw in the sentence "Carl Sagan would be proud" and I'm hooked.

So I make arrangements to go to the movies with my favorite movie companion, my daughter Grace.

As you know, this has been a rough week for me what with the election debacle. I began to worry about the movie. I hate it when Hollywood blows Science Fiction. The reviewer described the aliens in Arrival as "leggy insectoids."

I pointed out to Grace that the aliens couldn't be very big, because an exoskeletal creature of much size couldn't stand up to Earth's gravity. And I didn't think I could stand it if the whole thing devolved into a chase scene shoot 'em up like so many Hollywood products. She suggested that I shouldn't be looking for things to be wrong before we even got to the theater.

The movie is eerily reminiscent of 9/11. It starts out on a very ordinary, sunshiny day as Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) crosses her college campus. The students out and about, seem unusually distracted by their phones. When she gets to her classroom, she notes how few students are there, but begins her lecture anyway. The cell phones in the room start going off and the students answer them. Finally a student asks her to turn on the television to get some news.

We didn't all have cell phones when 9/11 happened, but classes everywhere were interrupted by people turning on televisions to get some news.

In the movie UFOs have arrived at points scattered around the Earth -- Shanghai, two locations over Russia, Italy, Montana, etc. Maintaining her sense of rationality, she quietly waits for a bit in the parking lot before joining the chaotic exodus away from the school. This attention to detail and the very realistic reactions to such unusual news gets us off to a good start.

Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) for whom she'd done some translations before shows up and requests her help translating the aliens' language. He is terse and to the point throughout.

Weber -- a name valued in my family -- teams Louise with physicist Dr. Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner.) I like Donnelly. The writer got him right. He is appropriately geeky complete with him protecting his mathematics turf.

The first hint that this movie was not going to be the usual Hollywood cock-up came when our heroes boarded a helicopter and they didn't all duck.

Then on their way to their first contact, Drs. Banks and Connelly experience the altered gravitation of the aliens' space pod. Insectoids dealing with Earth's gravity -- solved. As it turns out they're not "insectoid" at all. They're more a variety of cephalopod. But, whatever. Earth's gravity would still have been a problem unless the creatures were buoyed in water.

Scenes of Dr. Banks' lost child and failed marriage appear in, around, and among scenes of emerging American attempts at intergalactic diplomacy. For once, humanity's response is not shoot first and ask questions later. Of course as the story moves on, other governments around the world are not so forward thinking and begin to opt for war thus tipping the U.S. to do the same thing.

I won't give away the ending, but I will tell you I'm revising my opinion of Hollywood upward. And Arrival has revived my hope for the world.

Friday, November 11, 2016

What If Donald Trump Were a Woman -- Nonfiction

image from Open College
"Me! Me! Call on me!"

America, we have a problem. We have addressed the Race Issue, not successfully, I agree, but we've at least addressed it. Most of us recognize that being nonwhite in the United States still presents serious problems. What about the Gender Issue? Do most of us recognize that being female in the United States still handicaps us?

What if Donald Trump were a woman? Would he have gotten the Republican nomination and gone on to become the President Elect?

I know. I know. You're right, he'd be a pretty ugly woman. He's not that great looking as a man. So let's disregard this joke and not minimize the problem.

Let's imagine if Donald were a woman.

To make this a believable hypothesis, the female Donald would need to be as rich as Crassus and star of a TV show. The closest we've got to that is Joan Collins' Alexis Carrington on Dynasty. (I understand Dynasty is available to rent from Netflix if you're too young to remember that particularly glittery soap.)

Okay, just bare with me.

So we've got the wealth and fame in mind. We'll assume that our she-Donald made it through the nominating process despite the way he/she spoke to and of the other Republican candidates. The rest of the tale will be just the real Donald as a woman in a one-on-one contest with Hillary Clinton.

Hillary is a wife, mother, and grandmother. She has been married once which of course got her her first liability. Her husband Bill, the 42nd President, was impeached for lying and obstruction of justice. Not for sexual improprieties with a 22-year-old employee, but for lying about them. There is nothing to indicate that Hillary herself was involved in sexual impropriety.

Our Lady Donald is also a wife and mother. She has five children by three men. That in itself would be a liability in our society. And of her own making, at that. Our Ms. Donald is caught on tape bragging about her own sexual improprieties. She/he is then accused by multiple people of improper sexual behavior, including against underage people. Again, liabilities of her own making.

One of the women running for office could point to being twice elected to the Senate from New York State. Not Mistress Trump. She would be able to point to no service in any elected position. But, at least she's not a politician.

And as Secretary of State Hillary could tout interactions with international leaders, both allies and antagonists.

Not to be outdone, Ms. Trump publicly admired long-time Russian antagonist and threatened to ignore treaties with long-time allies. Did I mention that she espoused the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Hillary, as Secretary of State and recognizing the long-held tradition of "the buck stops here," accepted responsibility for the tragedy that was the terrorist attack on the American Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

The female Donald, rather than accepting responsibility for her/his own insufficiencies bragged about his/her business acumen in using tax laws to avoid paying her fair share of income tax and bankruptcy laws to avoid his business obligations.

Our Mistress Donald disrespected American war heroes and their families. She/he liberally laced public speeches with profanity and easily provable lies. He/she carried on feuds using middle-of-the-night tweets, exhibited aggressive behavior during presidential debates, encouraged violence during public events, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.  

Be honest. If Donald Trump were a woman running against anybody and behaved as he has, would he now be the President Elect?

Women, we have a long way to go. Don't let's get caught in a mess like this ever again. Letting men determine our future will never get us or our society where we need to go. We have to take responsibility and actively participate in determining our society's future. This must be the only Unity that counts.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Rage -- Nonfiction

Anger 2 by Theuukz on Deviantart

I know I'm not alone in this. There are demonstrations across the country. My friends and family are reacting with sadness, depression, rage.

My friend Ruth Ann shared an email her assistant minister sent out. In part it said "Even those of us who share the same overall values about this are going to be in different places at different times, because we react differently. That person reacts with rage, this person reacts with tears, this one goes numb."

I am that person who reacts with rage.

Hillary gave a gracious concession speech encouraging us to "work together." President Obama gave a speech reminding us that there will be a peaceful transition to the next administration. He will do his part to make that happen and we should do our part, too.

Did their words do anything to assuage my anger? No.

I went to my morning class to be around people I know. People that I don't know how they voted. I can continue to believe that these people are good people. I can believe they are not people filled with fear that their place in American Society is endangered by people who don't look like them, people who don't pray like them, people who speak accented English or who do not embrace the same sexuality they do. I can continue to believe they are not threatened by people who are better educated or less well-educated or are richer or poorer than they. I can believe they do not translate fear into hate.

The election shattered my faith in the general American electorate, those people beyond my morning classmates.

I have been exhorted by Hillary and President Obama to accept the election results. How can I accept as my representative to the world, a buffoon who spouts profanity, denigrates women and people of color, perpetuates lies, and encourages violence?

We are expected not only to accept, but to endure. We have endured. For generations we have endured. How much longer must we endure?

My friend's minister's email offered reassurance. “You do not have to be brave today. You do not have to roll up your sleeves and get to work. You do not have to take steps toward unity or peace. You don't have to move from grief to resolve.

You get to be you, you get to feel your feelings."

The minister offers endurance delayed.

I'm not yet willing to embrace endurance.

My rage has only begun to cool. And harden. Into glittering, sharp-edged crystals. Maybe I will scatter them in my hair. Diadems to catch the cold starlight of that great goodnight it feels like we have been cast into.

"One foot in front of the other, friends," the minister's email said. "Let us be gentle with each other; let us be gentle with ourselves."

And maybe those steps will lead into the sunlight. Maybe an end to the need to endure bigotry and hate is nearer at hand than it feels like it is. Maybe behavior that was accepted by too many during the campaign will not be accepted any longer. Maybe. Maybe.