Bindings Unbound

“I wanted you to be the first to know,” Rowan tentatively confided in me. “Two years after I’m gone, Kermit will run away.”

Kermit the dog

Watching my rapid blinking, she added, “Don’t worry, Mommy. He’ll be found by a nice family he likes, but he won’t have a way to tell you.”

Was this a symptom that the pediatric neurologist told us to expect?

“Honey, why is that important?” I asked, attempting to keep my voice from breaking.

“Because you were the first person to know me here.”

Since the diagnosis, my carefree, boisterous, eight-year-old has transformed into a wise oracle preoccupied with recording her ‘seeings.’

With every, “I wanted you to be the first to know,” statement, the cords of my self-control loosen.

“….five years after I’m gone, Daddy will move to a downtown apartment.”

“….eight years after I’m gone, sissy will get married.”

“….nine years after I’m gone, you will have another baby!”

While Rowan focuses on her project, all I can think about is our next step.

“Bring your recorder on the trip to swim with dolphins.”

“Record on the way to say, ‘Hi’ to Mickey and Minnie.”

“Bring it when we spin llama hair into yarn.”

“Use it between the books that I read to you.”

“Take it to the hospital in case you get bored.”

“Blink your eyes when you want me to hit record.”

“Please, Rowan… Keep talking—”

 

My binding unravels. Grief, like Jonah’s whale, devours me. I welcome it, fee-falling into numbness. The void lets me believe time can stop.

 

When Kermit went missing, I burrowed through Rowan’s memory box, frantically searching for the recorder. Until now, I’ve lacked the courage to hit play.

Her voice makes it seem as if Rowan is still with me. When I close my eyes, I can see her lopsided smile and feel her warm hand on mine.

“Mommy, you never asked how I know about the things that will happen after I’m gone.”

_____

A short story entry for TFL Volume 20, Issue 2, Summer 2018

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The Shape of Water Continued – short story

Zelda and I stood together on the canal bank watching as they dragged for bodies. We cried when they placed the one red shoe into her trembling hands.

We consoled each other after the investigative interviews.

We bonded when we cleaned out Elisa’s apartment. The princess didn’t own many valuable possessions. I kept her egg timer, and Zelda wasn’t parting with that shoe.

Elisa had some money saved. She left a note saying to split it between us.

Our conversations were stilted as we trundled through grief-stricken tasks.

“I think he healed her and took her away with him,” I’d say.

Zelda’s expression was melancholic, “If she were still alive, she would have let us know.”

“How could she? Too many people are still looking for him….for them.”

Our prospects for work dwindled. Zelda was spending nights on the sofa sleeper in my apartment. Though I enjoyed her company and her cooking, sharing a bathroom with her was nearly intolerable.

“Yolanda, from work, cleaned Colonel Strickland’s office.” Zelda offered as she turned hash browns one morning. “She overheard him talking about where he found it. She knew the place; she has cousins near there.”

“Did Yolanda say if her cousins ever heard of a River God?”

“She didn’t.” Zelda compressed her lips. Those words dropped off into a moment that was as deep and broad as the Grand Canyon. Zelda’s stern brown eyes bored into mine. My scalp tingled. I ran my fingers through the hair that hadn’t been there before Aqua Man.

A postcard arrived one day. Not in the mailbox but slipped under my door. There were only two things on it. My street address and a stamp from Peru.

Zelda and I became unencumbered adventurers. No strings kept us tied to any one place. We headed south making discrete inquiries. We were lucky that Zelda spoke some Spanish. She started teaching me too. A year, to the day, after we left, we stumbled on a lead. Iquitos is a hole-in-the-wall-town with a few services. Zelda found a job almost right away teaching English to school children in the afternoons. She dragged me along sometimes.

One of her students, Jhady, is a disfigured girl, the daughter of a local businessman who owns an ‘art gallery’ in the back of his grocery store. Zelda kept nagging me to show my portfolio to her father.

When I did it, he was only expressing lukewarm interest in my work when he came across a piece titled, Elisa and her Monster. Raimee’s eyes went buggy; be began talking so fast that I couldn’t track a single word. He seemed in danger of stroking out, so I rushed to bring Zelda in to translate.

We learned that Raimee had seen the River God, he said his name is Iglootoo. The River God receives pilgrims during harvest moons. Raimee pointed to my sketch, speaking two words I understood, “White Queen.”

“We found her!” Zelda screeched, her eyes filling with tears.

Listening to Raimee and nodding, she repeated, “A small pilgrimage is preparing to leave next week. He says he’ll arrange for us to join them if you will speak to the River God on behalf of his daughter.”

“Why me?”

She pointed to my sketch.

Waving his arm, Raimee encouraged Jhady to come out from behind the curtain where she’d been hiding. She hung her head, letting her long dark hair form a barrier. I could see enough of her face to observe tight, contorted skin around her nose and mouth.

As the date for departure approached, our nerves grew taught. We took it out on each other.

“What if it’s not them?” Zelda worried.

“It has to be! Raimee recognized Elisa in my sketch.”

“It doesn’t look that much like her! If it is her, what are we going to say after all this time?”

“Hello? I’ve missed you?” I suggested in a sarcastic, biting tone.

“Should we take something as an offering?”

“If we don’t, they might not let us go—” I smiled slowly. I knew what I was going to bring.

It would be a four-day trek into the unfathomable jungle. We bought burros to haul our gear. Neither one of us believed that the other could hike that distance, I hoped those burros could carry people.

We headed out at dawn with guides at the front wielding long, thick blades, doing battling plant life.  Zelda and I were the last stragglers in a group of twelve.

We stood at the edge of a small lake. Thick tropical foliage obscured the opposite shore.

An elaborate calling ceremony began with pounding drums and song. Zelda stood to my left. Raimee to my right, his daughter, pressed against his side like melted cheese on beans. Flower petals were cast over the glassy surface.

When bubbles appeared moving in our direction, all grew silent, even the birds and monkeys stopped chattering.

Zelda’s breath caught when a blue-grey be-gilled head rose from the water like a bioluminescent Atlantean prince.

Following the locals, we dropped to our knees, sinking into warm, soft mud. Supplicants displayed their offerings before them.

We could tell he recognized us when his purposeful footsteps halted; his head swiveled in our direction.

The party leader stood, calling the creature’s attention.

“He knows you!” Raimee stated clearly in English.

“Where’s Elisa?” Zelda whispered vehemently.

I didn’t know, but like her, I was searching. In my peripheral vision, I watched our scaly friend picking his way through the line, accepting gifts and laying his webbed hands on heads, feet, and other places the petitioners extended for inspection.

The expressions of those he skipped turned to masks of disappointment. I wondered at his choices, did he not care for their gifts?

As he got closer, he seemed distracted.

Jhady was next in line. The River God dismissed her. Raimee’s face crumbled, “Not again!” he cried.

“Wait!” I called, even though Zelda pounded on my arm.

I held out my basket. Mewling sounds came from inside.

Aqua Man’s gills flared. I think that’s as close as he gets to smirking.

“I remembered,” I said looking him full in the face. “I was going to ask for more hair, but I’d rather you heal this little girl.”

When he pointed to my basket, signing the word for, ‘funny,’ Zelda and I glanced at each other, grinning.

Aqua Man returned his attention to Raimee’s girl.

Peeling her away, Raimee thrust her forward, admonishing, “Sé quieto!”

Clawed, webbed hands cradled the girl’s face. The River God remained in that position longer than he had with any other pilgrim. The girl’s frightened utterings sounded like the kitten cries.  When he pulled away, A dropped to his knees, hanging his head.

‘Leave us,’ Aqua Man signed.

In the awkward moment when no one but Zelda and me knew what he wanted, Zelda took care of business. “He said you should all go now. “Va! Va!” she shooed.

Before the pilgrims departed, Raimee approached us. He grabbed Zelda’s hand kissing it. Thanking me profusely, bowing to the River God, he backed away.

When he could stand, Aqua Man led us over a vine-choked path. The going was slow. He grunted as he pulled at the stalks, so our burros could pass. I tried helping, but he waved me away. I had a waking nightmare that the jungle was a many-pointed sea star grasping and suffocating everything in its path.

He was breathing hard, stooped, and unsteady by the time we reached a clearing. Zelda was steadying him when we heard a, ‘Whoop!’

And there she was! The White Queen, our own dear Elisa. I stared in shock – her eyes and smile were the same, but the rest of her was drastically changed. She was a combination of Jane of the Jungle, a heavily endowed fertility goddess, and an Aqua Woman.

Lumbered toward us, tears streamed down her face, “You found me!”

Another jolt – her voice!

Overjoyed, the three of us were crying and hugging.

After a moment, Elisa pulled away. “Iggy,” she said, “Thank you. Please go now.”

He nodded, turning away. We watched him walk into the water. At thigh height, he dove.

Returning to one another, we replayed a muted version of our happy reunion.

“Let me look at you,” Zelda said while swiping a hand along her cheeks.

Elisa’s hair was hanging in a thick braid down her back. Across the top of her cheeks, along her collarbones and arms, were glittering, overlapping scales.

“How–?” I began, not knowing what else to say. I reached for her free hand. “I saw you shot.”

“It’s a long story,” Elisa replied, her voice lyrical and butter-soft.

Zelda erupted in tears again. “Your voice—it’s just like I always imagined.”

“Me too,” Elisa smiled, “Though I don’t use it as often as I’d like.” Shaking herself, she continued,” Come inside, out of the heat. You’re staying,” It was more of a statement than a question.

Zelda and I hadn’t talked about it, but we’d packed everything.

I situated our burros before following the women into the house. It was a single room building. Two, double beds were pushed up against the walls. A small kitchen counter took up another wall. A table surrounded by four stools stood in the middle.

“Zelda will share with me, and Giles will take the other bed.”

“But what about—?” Zelda asked.

“Iggy?”

“That’s his name?” I wanted to know.

“His name is Iglootoo. He told me that after I taught him how to spell in our language.”

Zelda nodded. “I never thought about him having a name, but I guess you’ve got to call him something.

“Iggy fits him,” I responded. “Did someone give it to him or did he choose it for himself?”

Chuckling, Elisa patted my shoulder. Leaning in to plant a kiss, she said, “I’ve missed you, Giles. We’ll have plenty of time for stories. Did you bring your art supplies?”

“I never leave home without them.”

“Good.”

Zelda joined Elisa in her small garden picking vegetables for our meal. I sat inside, observing. Sketchpad in hand, I let my pencil capture the scene.

Long shadows, two women wearing large straw hats, their heads together. I couldn’t draw the feminine laughter but wished I could capture it artistically. Their voices carried.

“How long till Iggy comes back?”

Elisa straightened, raising a hand to her brow, looking out over the water. “He’ll be gone for a while. Those ceremonies take a lot out of him. He needs to go down deep to feel restored. He’s worried about the baby and me,” she rubbed the base of her spine, “so he hasn’t gone as far as he should. With you here, he can take as long as he needs.”

“Honey,” Zelda came to stand beside her, “are you worried about—” she nodded at Elisa’s middle.

Elisa faced away from me, but I could see Zelda’s expression. In all honesty, I’m glad it wasn’t me out there voicing the questions that were on our minds.

They moved into the shade, sitting close. Zelda’s arm wrapped protectively around her dearest friend.

“My child— if it lives. If we both live, won’t have any friends,” Elisa cried.

“If it lives?” Of course, it’s going to live, and so are you! As for friends—that baby already has four people who love it.”

“It,” Elisa repeated, letting the word hang in the air.

Elisa leaned into Zelda; they huddled together. “I’m so glad you are here, Zeldy.”

“Me too baby girl!”

Our days became predictable; meals, naps, tending to the burros and to the garden. For the first time, in possibly decades, I was relaxed and at peace. I noticed, with pleasure, that I’d lost track of the days of the week.

One afternoon, Elisa and I were sitting at the table sipping tea. I’d just finished telling her about the inquiries, the search for bodies, and apologizing for getting rid of all her things. She patted my arm.

“Thank you for taking care of everything. That phase of my life is dead, you did the right thing.”

When Elisa noticed my eyes rapidly blinking, her mouth turned down. She used to read me like a book. I think her skills in that department had deteriorated.

“Take a good look at me, Giles.” She stretched out a leg. Hiking up her skirt, revealing a creamy thigh, and areas covered with translucent scales.

Across the room, Zelda stirred from a siesta, yawning. Swinging her feet to the floor, she hurried over.

Elisa slipped off her shoes spreading her toes. Holding up her hands, she held her fingers wide. Webbing filled all the spaces.

We couldn’t contain our surprise.

Elisa bit her lip; she looked as if she was holding back a smile. Making sure we were looking at her face, she blinked with a set of inner eyelids. They moved vertically from the corners of her eyes toward the bridge of her nose.

“Mary, Mother of Jesus!” Zelda exclaimed, placing a hand over her heart. She puffed up, “I get that gilly thing,” she waved a finger at Elisa’s neck. He had to give you those when he took you in the water and healed your gunshot wound. But he dragged you all the way out here to the middle of the jungle, and he knocked you up,” Zelda’s voice was gaining volume, her gestures gained air space. “Then he leaves you all alone when you’re about ready to drop that kid—” Zelda paused when Elisa started repeating her tirade in sign language. Like a statue, Zelda rotated ninety degrees on her toes.

Iglootoo stood in the doorway, dripping, a puddle forming at his feet. ‘I did not change her or heal her,’ he said in the silent language spoken with his flipper hands.

One of the kittens scampered in around his ankles. Lightning fast, he pounced. Zelda and I jumped. Striding across the room, handing the cat to me, he kneeled at my side, bowing his head. I patted him, remembering the first time he’d encountered a house cat.

That evening as the three of us ate our meal; Iggy reclined on one of the beds playing with the kittens.

‘Iggy’ eats while he’s in the water,’ Elisa explained.

“I like that,” Zelda commented, “a man that don’t need no cooking’s alright by me.”

When the dishes were cleared, Iggy stood, coming to the head of the table. ‘Elisa asked me to me to tell you our story,’ he signed.

He waited for her signal to start. She nodded.

‘Elisa is a lost cousin.’ Going to her side, he lifted her hair, touching her chin gently with a claw, he turned her face left and then to the right.

Her gill slits flared, displaying crimson filaments inside.

Zelda shivered, “I could have gone all day without seeing that!”

Iggy looked to me, I rolled my eyes, shaking my head.

He continued, ‘I was sent to find her, to bring her home. Elisa was designed to be my mate.’

I wasn’t sure if the word he’d used was ‘designed’ or ‘destined,’ but I was too engrossed to interrupt.

‘I was setting out on my journey when I was captured. I did not recognize Elisa when I first encountered her. My sense of smell is not good in the open air and my thoughts were muddled. When our kind enters courtship, we remain in constant companionship. I did not understand how Elisa could come and go. Her unusual behavior was a curiosity that I studied. When we traveled back here, in our liquid environment, we completed the bonding rituals.’ He paused, looking down at her, running a knuckle along her jaw.

Elisa covered his hand, smiling up at him.

‘I’m in you,’ he signed solemnly to her.

‘As I am in you,’ she replied, ‘and we are everywhere.’

Their moment of intense communication drew out.

I could see Zelda bursting with questions; she must have decided to keep quiet too.

As if reminding himself that he had an audience, Iggy continued, ‘When we arrived, we expected to be greeted by the family, but they were gone. All my people were gone. While we wait for the offspring, I tend to the city and search for the others.’

“City?” I questioned, glancing around.

Elisa sighed, “It’s underwater, and it’s beautiful, Giles! I wish you could see it—draw it.”

Just as my imagination was taking root, Iggy bent over, placing a hand on Elisa’s belly. ‘It is time,’ he signed. ‘We will return in three days.’ Scooping her up, he marched outside.

“Wait!” Zelda cried chasing after them, her voice on the edge of panic. I followed too watching Elisa’s crooked smile as she kept an eye on us over Iggy’s shoulder. She waved before they submerged.

While Zelda was unsettled with the latest changes in her friend’s life, I was revitalized. I would bare witness to a new, possibly one-of-a-kind, life form. I wished for gills and webs so I could join Elisa and Iggy in the sea.

And then there were three.

They arrived in the night when the temperature was low and the humidity was high. Elisa cried a little when she described Gemmalyn’s struggle to take her first breath of air. “If we didn’t make her use her lungs right away, they might never develop,” Elisa’s voice shook. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

The nipper is a delight. ‘Darling’ and ‘adorable’ are words Zelda uses when she holds her. ‘Little Monster’ are others she says when she’s sporting a wounded finger that got too close to baby’s sharp teeth.

On a sweltering afternoon when Zelda was in town, and Iggy was away fishing, I sketched Elisa with her baby. It would be another contribution to the baby book Elisa was making. Gemma, still attached to her mother’s breast, had a full belly and was resisting sleep. Elisa rocked, in no hurry to put her daughter down.

“He took me to the city for Gemmalyn’s birth,” Elisa began. “I’ve never had the stamina to make it without help. When we’ve gone in the past, he holds me around the waist; I help kick. This time he carried me, just like when we left. That position creates a lot more drag,” she laughed softly. “It was an effort, but he got us there. It was the first time I felt sad about the place being deserted.”

“He took me to the women’s hall, then, in his language, he gave me the sights and sounds of the city as he’d known it. In that way, I saw his female relatives, and the traditional birthing circle,” Elisa raised glassy eyes gleaming with unshed tears. “It’s almost indescribable, Giles, knowing how it was and watching Iggy trying to make it right.”

Behind the mother and child scene, I began filling in the background with structures. A bustling, underwater metropolis with lots of Iggies.

“He did the work of the women, helping me bring his daughter into the world. It hurt, there was blood, and the sharks circled above, just like buzzards, waiting for a chance.”

“Iggy kept us safe. We stayed in the royal’s suite in the grand palace. While I recovered, Iggy made sure Gemmalyn didn’t swim out of his sight.”

“And then we came home, to you and Zelda,” Elisa sighed, her eyelids growing too heavy to stay open.”

For a moment, I wondered how this mud brick structure compared to a Royal suite, what held such attraction to keep them coming back here.

I put the baby in her bassinette, covered Elisa, then went to cool my feet at the river bank. My mind was churning with things that only aquatic life could experience.

Iggy emerged with several fish on a kelp stringer. Wrapping it securely around a branch, he let our lunch enjoy a reprieve.  ‘What is on your mind, Giles?’ he signed, he sat next to me.

“I’m tired of sitting around,” I said, no longer bothering to sign back. Though he could not speak, he understood our language perfectly well. “I want to go with you, to help search.”

We started my endurance swimming and free diving lessons that afternoon.

I enjoyed my new quest, searching with Iggy sometimes, and on my own.

Nearly a year later, our little clan is still intact. We’ve added rooms onto to Elisa’s house. The Iglootoo family, as I now think of them, is in residence less and less.

Gemmalyn, the most beautiful creature on the face of the Earth, is the best of both her parents, as most children are. She is graceful in the water and out. She’s as curious as our cats and rambunctious as a monkey.

Though there’s been no sign of Iglootoo’s people, he remains hopeful. He is a devoted mate and father, and he’s a first-rate best friend. He’s accepted us as part of his tribe. Our association with him has elevated us as human beings.

Zelda helps Elisa chase after Gemma when she’s on land. She’s also become my art representative with Raimee, who’s been selling my Iglootoo sketches. (Elisa and Iggy have sworn us to secrecy about Gemmalyn!)

I suspect Raimee’s daughter has been playing matchmaker between Zelda and her father. Zelda nearly glows every time she returns from town.

Elisa has been pushing Zelda into talks with the National Parks system. Her goal is to make sure that their home remains protected and safe, that people like Colonel Strickland can never repeat what happened to Iggy.

Iggy restored nearly all my hair and gave me back the body of a forty-year-old.

I’d be remiss in ending our story without mentioning my fresh start with love…

Iggy believes that the merfolk are fairytales, he’s wrong.

Mermaid Book Links

(in order of appearance in the video)

Descending, Holly Kelly
http://amzn.to/2ofuQH3

Shearwater, D.S. Murphy
http://amzn.to/2Ct3ORG

Ingo, Helen Dunmore
http://amzn.to/2EAZKVb

Mermaid: A Twist on the Classic Tale, Carolyn Turgeon
http://amzn.to/2FaLhMR

The Marked Ones, S.K. Munt
http://amzn.to/2EB3lmb

The Mermaid’s Sister, Carrie Anne Noble
http://amzn.to/2C63lsG

Underneath: a merfolk tale, M.N. Arzú
http://amzn.to/2C7neQj

Deep Blue, Jennifer Donnelly
http://amzn.to/2HsR9lA

Lost Voices, Sarah Porter
http://amzn.to/2BBbXGR

 

More Stuff

Click here to read Lisa’s movie review, film themes, a collection of trailers and a “Monsters are Living, Breathing, Metaphors” director discussion.

Underneath: a merfolk tale, by M.N. Arzú book review

Another movie Continued short story – Age of Adaline Continued

 

Your Thoughts

 

Did you enjoy the Shape of Water Continued? Did you feel that the story stayed true to the personalities of the characters in the movie?  If you were to write a Continued story, what would be similar or different in yours? Leave comments below.

Digging Up His Brother-In-Law in San Francisco’s Pioneer Cemetery

Humans are the only species that buries their dead. 

After Phineas Gage died (1860), he was buried in Lone Mountain Cemetery in San Francisco. Six years later, his brother-in-law, David Shattuck, along with two physicians (past mayors) dug him up.

Gage’s traumatic brain injury (1848) made him famous in neuroscience and psychology fields.

Once he learned of his patient’s passing, Dr. Harlow (who treated Phineas) asked to have the body exhumed for the advancement of science. Phineas’s mother received this request and saw that it was carried out.

What is it like to unearth a member of your family?

Excerpt from Phases of Gage: After the Accident Years

David Shattuck (husband to Phoebe Gage / brother-in-law to Phineas Gage)
Lone Mountain Cemetery, San Francisco 1867

On a misty morning in November, I found myself in the Lone Mountain Cemetery looking down at my brother-in-law’s tombstone. Doctor Coon and Doctor J.B.D. Stillman stood at my side, each with a shovel in hand.

Guards stood at the closed entrance gates affording us privacy.

Coats came off as digging commenced. At first, I felt that I was committing an unforgivable sin. But as my back strained and my hands developed blisters, those feelings subsided, until my shovel made contact with something solid.

The other two paused, nodding to one another, then resumed. Once space was clear, the two doctors were about to lift the coffin lid when I interrupted. “Wait! Gentlemen, please bear with my squeamishness. Before you open it, would you prepare me for what I am about to see?”

Doctor Coon looked uncomfortable. He glanced at Doctor Stillman who replied, “Why, David, you need not see anything.”

“No,” I disagreed firmly. “I promised my wife that I would follow it through to the end.”

“She never needs to know,” Doctor Coon replied softly.

“I’ll know. Please, just tell me.”

“Very well,” the man sighed as he wiped his hands on his vest, “By now, all of the body fluids will have dissipated. The clothing will be intact. Likely, dry skin will still cover the skeletal remains. Hair will be present.” Coon paused to see how I was taking it. “Shall I describe what we’ll do next and the skull removal process?”

Squeezing my eyes shut, I nodded.

“Once the lid is off, the first thing I will do is hand you the iron bar. Next, I will test the skull to see if it separates from the spine. If not, Doctor Stillman has tools for that. I will remove any organic matter that freely separates. Doctor Stillman will take the skull and place it inside the box.” Coon paused, waiting for my response.

“Understood. Proceed,” I said gravely.

It took all three of us climbing inside the hole to pry the lid up and place it off to the side. I was surprised to see Phineas’s body exactly as Doctor Coon described.

Mummified-looking remains wore Phin’s clothes. But it no longer looked like the man I remembered. When I hopped out of the hole, Doctor Coon handed up the bar. It was ice-cold to the touch, heavier than I remembered.

Not wishing to watch more of the proceedings, I held it up, running a finger over the words etched on its surface.

This is the bar that was shot through the head of Mr. Phinehas P. Gage at Cavendish, Vermont, Sept. 14, 1848. He fully recovered from the injury & deposited this bar in the Museum of the Medical College of Harvard University. Phinehas P. Gage Lebanon Grafton Cy N-H Jan 6, 1850

I remembered Phin’s story about the engraver he hired to do the work, misspelling his name. I could hear Phineas saying, ‘When mistakes are made, it’s the good man who doesn’t get angry, but figures out how to move forward from there.’

I chose to focus on memories rather than listen to the doctors going on about their ghoulish activity.

“Mission accomplished,” Doctor Stillman proclaimed loudly, breaking into my thoughts. He and Doctor Coon replaced the coffin lid. “Let’s get that hole filled.”

When we finished, Doctor Stillman offered to take the skull with him to process it for travel.

I promised myself at that moment, that ‘the skull’ would remain inside its box until it was delivered to Doctor Harlow. I didn’t care to, ever, look at it, or have any member of my family see it.

Without my noticing, a murky fog had rolled in. The city beyond the cemetery walls had been engulfed in a chilly, dull, gray blankness of a November day. Seagulls could be heard high above in the blue sky that must be up there. Our boot steps sounded muffled.

Doctor Stillman cradled the box in front of him like a wise man on his way to deliver a gift to the baby Jesus. Doctor Coon carried shovels and a bag of tools. I kept pace with the others, Phineas’s bar grew heavier every minute.

A raven landed on a tombstone nearby. It shrieked, raising its wings like it expected a token in exchange for letting us pass.

When the guards opened the gates, the metal hinges let loose a high-pitched protest. I wondered if the flaming gates of hell would sound that way if this deed took me to that entrance.

Worse yet, would Phoebe ever forgive me for this?

The Gage family was one of many who were affected by grave removals in San Francisco.

With growing pressure to make efficient use of valuable real estate, the dead of San Francisco had to make way for the living.

By the end of 1948 bodies in several pioneer cemeteries were moved to a mass grave site forty miles south in Colma, California.

Thousands of tombstones were recycled. Civic uses included; the sea wall at Yacht Harbor, breakwaters at the Aquatic Park and Marina Green, construction of a Wave Organ, as fill bedding for the Great Highway, as paving stones in the storm drains at Buena Vista Park and erosion control at Ocean Beach.

Phineas Gage’s niece, Delia Presby (Shattuck) Oliver’s gravestone appears on Ocean Beach when heavy storms move sand out to sea. It was last uncovered on June 4, 2012. The lettering — still legible — reads; Delia Presby, wife of, F.B. Oliver, Died, April 9, 1890, Aged 26 yrs., 10 mos. 27 days, — Rest –

aac-5185

Wave Organ in San Francisco - photo by Kārlis Dambrāns - https://www.flickr.com/photos/janitors/15174001514
Wave Organ in San Francisco – photo by
Kārlis Dambrāns – https://www.flickr.com/photos/janitors/15174001514

 

Background Research:

Encyclopedia of San Francisco – Removal of San Francisco Cemeteries
http://www.sfhistoryencyclopedia.com/articles/c/cemeteries.html

1950 Location, regulation, and removal of Cemeteries in the City of San Francisco by William A. Proctor
Department of City Planning
City and County of San Francisco
http://www.sfgenealogy.com/sf/history/hcmcpr.htm

oddfellows-1180x500

A Second Final Rest: The History of San Francisco’s Lost Cemeteries film by Trina Lopez
http://trinalopez.com/finalrest.html

KQED Radio Program: Why are all of San Francisco’s Dead People Buried in Colma?
https://soundcloud.com/kqed/bay-curious-has-colma-always-been-for-san-franciscos-dead

Transcript: https://ww2.kqed.org/news/2015/12/16/why-are-so-many-dead-people-in-colma-and-so-few-in-san-francisco/

History of Erosion on Ocean Beach by Bill McLaughlin Surfrider Foundation, San Francisco Chapter
http://public.surfrider.org/files/a_history_of_coastal_erosion_at_ocean_beach_0412.pdf

 

Delia Presby (Shattuck) Oliver’s Gravestone:

91507663_133905039892

Ocean Beach Headstones – Weird San Francisco History

http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Tombstones-from-long-ago-surfacing-on-S-F-beach-3618805.php

122 Year-old Gravestone Washes Up on Ocean Beach
http://www.missionmission.org/2012/06/04/122-year-old-gravestone-washes-up-on-ocean-beach/

Find a Grave

http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=91507663

Other San Francisco Cemetery Information:

Still Rooms Slide Show by Photographer Richard Barnes – Bodies found during the construction of San Francisco’s Legion of Honor
http://www.richardbarnes.net/still-rooms/mtjfumzj50oowcnkvam1c2ewduv6l5

Additional Gage Resources

Lisa’s San Francisco History Research Sources on Pinterest:

 

 

Inside Out

I wear an invisible cloak. Sometimes it rests on top of my clothes, people could touch it if they bumped into me.

It covers me in the shower when I have no clothes on at all.

It is there when I crawl under the covers at night, especially there, where my husband senses its vague outline. He feels it when it settles over us.

We used to take such joy in loving each other when we were learning new intimate, landscapes. We had hope, then, that our actions would lead to a new life with ten fingers and ten toes to count and kiss. We made up stories about returning to the countryside on the weekends so our mothers and grandmothers could dote on the next generation.

But hope faded month after month with dripping blood and tears. It became difficult to smile, reach out, and try again.

The cloak clings to me, squeezing like a metal band around my chest whenever we are around parents with babies and small children.

When my monthly cycle stopped, we let down our guard, the cloak went askew. We kept our secret close, not letting anyone know that we were thinking about names.

Our bubble was fragile. It glowed like a bright sun glittering in raindrops sticking to bamboo leaves in spring. And it was oh-so-brief. The gynecologist popped the bubble with a single word, “tumor.”

After that, we couldn’t even fight about our problem, blaming it on drinking, smoking, or wearing tight fashion underwear instead of boxers that allow seed pouches to cool and swing freely.

The cloak was back, making it so that we faced opposite walls, whispering, ‘good night,’ into a dark, desolate emptiness.

By the 1990s, we learned who had manufactured the cloak.

An alternate definition of rape is a violation, plunder, or abuse. What is it called when a rapist is a system, an industry operating with full knowledge about the harm they cause?

I was recruited out of high school, off my family farm in Yongin. They bussed girls into the city, providing housing. I felt so important! My mother would finally be able to buy enough food to satisfy every apatite at our table.

They outfitted us in clean suits and gloves. We looked like surgeons. In air-conditioned rooms, they trained us to etch patterns into chips. But they forgot to mention that the EGE solutions we used would penetrate our gloves and soak into our skin.

Imagine how I felt when the oncologist reported that my blood tests showed EGE levels six-hundred times higher than normal. Poison was the father of my tumor baby.

“They stopped using those in the states years ago,” the doctor said, “when they learned about their effects on reproductive health.” Pity showed in his eyes before he looked away.

I still wear my cloak to bed, it absorbs the tears that used to be for the baby. It wraps grotesquely around me, cradling my growth.

 ______

This short story was inspired by the article, American Chip Makers Had a Problem. Then They Outsourced It.

It was written as a Wattpad entry for #MyHandMaidsTale contest.

 

 

Guest Post – Inseparable – Part 2

Guest Post by Will Maguire

copyright 2016

My boss, an old lady with butterfly glasses and a beehive hairdo, asked me to fill in one month on the morning shift.

This was a problem because I had a couple other jobs and I liked to finish late and drink beer until I couldn’t remember how poor and stupid and full of myself I was.

But she was insistent. So I found a way. I’d show up around 8 a.m. with my head aching and smelling, I’m quite sure, like I had spent the night face down in a puddle of stale beer.

Early each day I began to notice his old man in the visitors room. He was always the first one there. Always wore a white shirt and tie, combed and shaved and neat. cravat-987584_640He walked with a cane and when they opened the ward for visitors he would always check himself in the mirror. Like he was going on a date, like he wanted to look his best.

 

His wife of 60 years was in the ward.

She had started falling…and then started forgetting. Little things at first…misplaced keys, misplaced glasses.

And she would ask him, ‘What did I do with them? Would you remember that for me?’

Then one day she got lost coming home from the grocery store. And then a week later he found her lost and frightened in their own cellar.

He took her to a doctor finally and listened as the doctor explained that the past…every bit of it …would eventually disappear.

He tried and wrestled with the doubt and guilt but it became clear in a few months that he could not care for her.

So he found this place at the edge of the Hereafter, sold their house and took an apartment as near as he could.

He made all the arrangements, all the time fighting down the growing panic at the thought of being apart.

When he signed the papers and walked her in, he felt like a traitor to every secret vow a man’s heart can make to itself.

I was there that day mopping the floor. He was stricken…with loneliness I suppose and dread. I saw it in his face, though I’m sure I didn’t understand what I was seeing. How could I?

What did I know at 17 of having your heart cleaved in two, hollowed out at the prospect of what you know with certainty is crawling toward you?

She cried when he left that day. And without him near seemed to lose her bearings. It can happen like that…a heart can become unmoored.

And mopping the floors some nights I would hear her calling out that she didn’t know anyone or where this place was…. or even sometimes who she herself was anymore.

I would civilian-service-63616_640stand outside her door listening and trying to translate that kind of terror into something my 17-year-old pea brain could understand.

It was like listening to the foreign language…of loneliness.

But the old man would show up every morning…and would stand in that very spot outside her door …..steeling himself.

Day after day, he would paint a smile on his face and turn in to her room and in a loud voice brightly say good morning and how beautiful she looked again.

She would always brighten at the sight of him. Like a young girl in love for the very first time. And he would sit by her side and each morning say,  “Do you know who I am?”

Somedays she would laugh and respond,  “Of course…what a silly question…you think I could ever forget who I love….my husband of 60 years?”

And he would retell her things she had forgotten…a trip to the Cape each summer…the time he asked her to marry him…that first house before the kids.

family memories

Sometimes she would understand and ask,  ‘We did all that?’ in real wonder. And sometimes she would not…could not understand. Like the glue of memory had gotten so old that it cracked and fell away.

“Never mind…never mind  that darling,’ he would say.…’I’ll remember it for you.’

Near the end of the month, I watched him again…cane in hand, dressed like he was going on a first date, stand in that spot outside her room then, once again, turn inside. I went and stood in the spot, mop in hand and listened.

Once again he was gently asking,  “Do you know who I am?”

There was no answer. And he put his face close to hers so she could see him clearly and he whispered again, “Do you know who I am?”

Her eyes searched his face trying in vain to summon some forgotten landmark in her heart she might recognize. Then she whispered to him, “ I don’t know where this place is…or who I am.  I know I should…I know I should…” trying to  recover what had already leaked away.

He was trying to quiet her. “Hush…hush now…it’s alright.  I’m here.’

‘I know I should,’ she protested.

Then- ‘…… I don’t know your name…sir,’ all the time searching his eyes with her own. ‘..But I know …I can rely on you … I always will. I don’t know your name ….but I know who you are.’

If a heart has ears I felt mine begin to burn. I didn’t want to hear anymore. I never wanted to hear anything again. I stumbled away, back down the hallway of hereafter. I remember I threw the mop and I kicked over the bucket. What was the point. How could the world ever be clean again?

I quit that morning and I never went back.

 

The world is a beautiful place. It is a terrible place.

They grow together.

Inseparable.

Scrape a sorrowful thing and you expose the beauty. Scrape a thing of real beauty and there’s always some sacrifice…some sadness at the heart of it. They require each other.

 

A husband and wife of 60 years facing certain loss… …makes their love not smaller but larger.

And it humbles me still to think of it…to realize how little I understand.

I was 17 …and a poor boy with only a glimmer of understanding. Standing there listening, I felt some part of me quiver…and since then that quivering, like a small earthquake only I can feel, has never stopped.

I feel it shaking some nights in my dreams. I feel it sitting wordlessly in the dark on my shoulders whispering its tremor into my sleeping heart. It tells me again and again there is something larger….something hidden at work.

And some nights it whispers to me about this life and the Hereafter. It tells me it is more beautiful and more terrible than my heart’s clay foundation can bear.

__________________

Will Maguire is a fellow short story writer whose path intersected with mine on Twitter.  His stories explore the depths of human experience and have a haunting quality that lingers.

It is a pleasure to share his work on this blog.

 

Still Water Muse

still water muse**Classic hits filmmaking competition information (2017) is at the end.

“Tell me what you think about before you write a Grammy Award winning song.”

Bernie looked out the window. “I’ll have to tell a story first.”

Maxine pressed the red button on her voice recorder.

Bernie’s eyes moved back to rest on Maxine. “My adoptive parents got me when I was fourteen. I was a dark haired Crow boy suddenly mixed in with a bunch of white, blue-eyed farmers.”

“My mother knew that I was lonely and floundering. She bought me my first guitar and sent me to music lessons. The teacher wasn’t much help. But I’d take that old guitar out in back of our place through the corn fields to a big  oak tree where I’d sit and practice.”

“One day there was a woman there. She was beautiful; blonde, full-figured with long legs and huge….” Bernie grinned sheepishly.

“She was sexy but I still didn’t want her there. She stood, at least, a head and shoulders taller than me.”

“’What’s your name kid?” Her voice sounded like a frog with sandpaper caught in its throat. “Bernie doesn’t sound like a Cherokee name,” she commented after I’d told her.'”

“I shrugged my shoulders flippantly. ‘You don’t know squat about Cherokee…or C-R-O-W.'”

“She kicked at the dirt. She said that her nickname was Tiny and that it was a bad family joke. She also said that she’d heard me mutilating my guitar. She’d come to help… and to wait for the words. She looked at the tree strangely while patting its trunk.”

“We met every day for the rest of summer. She showed me things that my guitar teacher never did. I learned that she’d been a music teacher and that she came back to the tree because ‘she got lost sometimes.’”

“When I asked if my parents could hire her to teach me, her eyes blazed and she spoke harshly, ‘If you say anything about me, they’ll never let you out of the house.’”

“As the weeks passed, Tiny taught me to say what I was feeling with music. Then I reached a block. By this time, I was in full-blown lust  – or in love with her. One afternoon when we were getting nowhere she yelled, ‘What do you want?’”

“When I didn’t answer, she stepped closer and asked the same thing again, quieter this time.”

“Before I realized what I was doing, I blurted, ’I want to hold you.’”

“I would have curled up and died on the spot if she hadn’t been smiling. She told me to close my eyes and follow her directions. So I did.”

“She told me to imagine that the guitar was her –  to run my hands over its surface, to feel its curves and to let my fingers stoke the strings. ‘Hold me closer,’ she’d say, ‘Then let the music sing softly and slowly.’”

“She broke through my wall. After that, she’d bring her guitar and we’d make music together  – until fall came.”

“I remember the last time I saw Tiny. A cold breeze was blowing at sunset. I heard melody she played through my open window. It sounded crazed. When it stopped suddenly, I knew that I had to go find her. As I ran through the dry stalks of corn. I saw her guitar lying on the ground. I jumped over it, running faster. When I found her, she was barefoot, shivering and unresponsive.  I was terrified. Eventually, I screamed, ‘Tiny! What do you want?’”

“At this, she paused, turning toward me. ‘I just want to go home.’”

“Suddenly, we were both crying.  I said, ‘Me too!’”

“She reached out a hand to cover my heart. ‘The difference between us, Bernie, is that I am yearning for home, but you are already there.’ Then she kissed me.”

Bernie reached up to trace a finger where Tiny’s lips had left an invisible mark.

A sad expression settled on his face. “A full moon rose up behind the bare branches of the oak tree. I didn’t realize, until later, that all its leaves had been there the day before. When she reached it, Tiny started running her hands all over around the trunk.”

“’What are you doing?’”

“’I’m looking for the words. They have to be here!’”

“’Tiny, stop!’ I cried. She didn’t answer but kept frantically searching. ’There it is!’ she sighed, ‘I knew you’d show me the doorway sooner or later.’ She leaned into the tree hugging it like a lover.”

“‘You won’t be seeing me again,” she said over her shoulder.”But I’ll always hear you….” she paused, waiting for me to fill in the space.

“I couldn’t get anything out around the lump in my throat. I knew that she was waiting for me to tell her my Indian name.”

The unexpected silence that followed Bernie’s last statement was stifling.

Maxine blinked. “That’s it!  What happened to her?”

Bernie shook his head while reaching for his guitar, “That wasn’t part of the question.”

Maxine watched as he traced the contours of the tool that had millions of fans singing and humming his haunting tunes.

With eyes closed, he began to play and speak, “My Crow name is, Still Water Dancer.”

A soft, lilting melody filled the room. “My guitar is named after my muse, Tiny.”

Maxine leaned toward him, waiting for THE scoop of her career.

“Before I write one word or play one note, I say to myself, ‘Hold me closer Tiny Dancer.’

Bernie winked playfully.
__________________________________________

This short story was written for a 24 hour Writer’s Weekly writing contest. All or part of the prompt (listed below) could be used. The background and history of Elton John’s Tiny Dancer classic was woven into the story theme.

Story Prompt: The barren, tan corn stalks behind her snapped in the cold evening breeze, the only sound louder than the dry, fiery red leaves swirling around her tiny, shivering bare feet. She’d lost her bearings again and she hoped the dinner bell would ring soon. A gray tree with endless arms and fingers, devoid of any remaining foliage, loomed before her. She gazed at the odd markings on the trunk, which appeared to outline a hand-cut door of sorts. And, as she stared, it opened…

2017 – 50th Anniversary  Celebration of Elton John & Bernie Taupin partnership – Directors & filmmakers – compete to win a chance to make the official music video for Tiny Dancer, Bennie and the Jets, or Rocket Man. Learn more here: https://thecut.eltonjohn.com/

 

Elton John | Tiny Dancer music and karaoke tunes on Amazon

Good Morning Aboard Caralee

Their movements were automatic with a choreograph-like smoothness.  In a galley smaller than most American coat closets, this was an accomplishment. The 45 foot Caralee housed all of their worldly possessions and had transported them to exotic ports all over the globe.

He reached for bowls while she filled a pot with water. He struck a match to light the flame on the stove as she pulled out spoons from the drawer. She placed the pot on the burner while taking a box of oats out of the cupboard.

When hands were not occupied with tasks, they would glide across or alight upon the other’s body; a brush down the back, coming to rest on a shoulder, a hip or making a light tap on the behind.

Oats were added when the water boiled, the pot covered and the heat turned down. During the brief pause in their morning dance, their eyes lingered on each other; they smiled.

He enjoyed watching the light play across the pink facets of the pendant that always hung around her neck. A gift he’d presented to her some thirty-five years earlier on the day that Asmara was born. Their only child had been conceived above deck, on a warm night, under a ripe Sri Lankan moon.

Sitting hip to hip at the tiny table, they held hands as they ate. Her nervous fingers twisted his wedding ring around and around on his finger. She paused occasionally to rub her fingernail over the smooth mound of rose quartz that she’d found in Brazil.

Before taking that first sip of coffee, they clinked mugs together softly. A tradition adopted from their time in the British Isles.  It signified ‘a robust day and a tender heart.’

Photography by: Mark Pepall
Photography by: Mark Pepall

Bundled in coats, they went topside to welcome the sun as it crested the horizon. Elbows resting on the rail they let the cool breeze flow across exposed skin. Smiling, she turned to him, observing the lines on his face and the wiry gray hair that steadily overtook the brown along with the passage of time.  She thought that he looked as good as the day they met…even better. She mouthed the words, ‘olive juice.’ This was a family joke; these words look like something else if one is lip reading. A chuckle from deep in his chest echoed across the water.

____________________________

Story Prompt: [reddit writing prompt]

A married couple starts another average morning on an average weekday. No one dies. No twist. Show their overwhelming love for each other without them speaking a single word.

Inspiration: