Synesthesia*

AbbeyUnderATree

Sitting beneath the old maple tree, the sun streams through the space between the leaves. It starts slowly, warm and languid like the sluggish drawl of your aging uncle from North Carolina who you always lean closer to understand. The sun shifts and a slow sizzle begins. Like when your grandma fries chicken cutlets on the stovetop. It is a gentle hum like that of the honeybees that fly around your backyard in summer.

The sun shifts and people begin tap dancing on bubble wrap. The oil in the frying pan is popping. The bee is buzzing in your ear. A blaze ignites and crackles across your skin. The orchestra shrieks dissonant chords. The sun shifts and you walk home; the final cracks of the fire snapping with every other step.

In bed, the wail of a high falsetto keeps you awake. After hours, it softens to a gentle hiss. As night turns to day, you awake in silence. Until you flip on your side. Screams erupt like magma from a volcano. You rush to the shower where violin strings are plucked in perfect time to the drops of water that pelt your skin. Once out, the orchestra is muffled with each pat of your white terrycloth towel. The final strings are silenced as you glide a cool liquid across your skin and all that is left is the crisp crunch of autumn leaves under foot over the next few days.

Next time, you promise, I’ll wear sunscreen.

*Synesthesia is when one sensory stimulation also stimulates another sense. For example, people who have synesthesia may experience numbers as shapes. Days of the week may have specific colors. If you are interested in synesthesia, I highly recommend reading the book, Born on a Blue Day by Daniel Tammet. Excellent read.

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March 24, 1906

Alright guys, I’ve got one last piece of fiction for you (at least for a little while)! My finals end on Tuesday so I’ll have the time to write my memoir style pieces once again!

But for now, take a step back in time to meet Molly, a young Irish immigrant traveling to America for the first time. This is her letter to her best friend back home.

nyc1900s

March 24, 1906

To my best friend in the entire world, Margaret,

I’ve survived! I know you were secretly thinking I would die on that boat but see, I’ve proved you wrong! I must admit, however, the journey was treacherous. Mother, Father, and I were stuffed into a small cabin at the bottom of the ship with three other families. Can you believe that? You don’t even like sharing a room with baby Nora…imagine living with groups of people you don’t even know! One family had three mischievous little boys who were so filthy, I think the dirt was permanently ground in their skin. They managed to run through the cabin’s tight quarters, wailing night after night. One of them even tried to sneak a peek at my ankles!

Once we docked, I couldn’t be happier to be rid of the ship. I don’t know if I could have survived another night pressed up against mother’s bosom listening to those wild animals called boys! But my happiness faded quickly, Margaret. I watched Mama and Papa kiss the streets once we got off the boat but I couldn’t do it. It looked so dirty, Margaret. America is nowhere near as beautiful as Ireland. Instead of rolling green pastures and the gentle ocean breeze tickling your face, everywhere you look here is a shade of grey covered in a thick layer of soot–like the boys I told you about!– and countless buildings, big and small, line the streets that can barely fit all of the people walking through them. After only a few moments in America, I heard the strangest ways of talking and can’t imagine where all these people are from. I do hope at some point I can make a friend or two. But don’t you worry, Margaret, you will always be my best friend in the entire world. Next to Bessie, I miss you the most out of everyone back home! I do hope you’re milking that ol’ Bessie, by the way. Don’t you forget, Margaret!

I’ll spare you the details of our first few nights here, but will let you know that they were just as awful as being on that ship. Mother and Father fought so much about where we were staying and while I pretended to be asleep, I could have sworn I heard Mother call it a “whore house”! Luckily though, Father came back on the third evening shouting, “We’ve got a place of our own girls! A place of our own!” That night was quiet and I was actually able to get a good night’s rest! Finally!

The next morning, we gathered our things and went to our new home, which was a very far walk through the crowded city streets. I felt like a fish trying to swim upstream! This house is nothing like our home back in Ireland. In fact, it’s the complete opposite. We live in a tall building, Margaret, behind a door, like in Old Marty’s Inn, with a view onto the grimy city streets. It is so small, barely fitting the three of us, and we have to share a bathroom with the other families that live in the building! It’s disgusting! We don’t even have an inch of land that I can look out upon to ease my aching heart’s desire to return home. Mama says I will adjust but I secretly hope that one morning I will wake up and be back in Ireland. That’s the only kind of adjusting I want to do.

And to top it off, this week Mother and Father began their jobs. Remember how they said they wanted to open their own shoe repair business? Well, it turns out that was harder than they thought. Again, I listened to them bicker night after night about how it looked almost impossible to start their own business and that it was time they “changed plans and looked for real jobs!” Several nights later, Papa came home and told us that he found himself a real position. And the whole family was meant to go with him. Well, boy did my heart skip a beat! “The whole family?” I asked. “Papa, what does that mean?” To which he told me that I would be going to work with him and Mama instead of going to school. Margaret, I was furious. I didn’t speak to Father the whole night. But the next morning, I awoke and dressed and followed them both into the city to one massive grey building. It is the most horrid thing you could ever imagine, Margaret. I am forced to sit all day sewing buttons onto shirts. If I stand up to stretch my legs, a sweaty man with a dark mustache comes and yells at me. I can’t stand it. It makes me sad to even think of it.

Oh, please forgive me, I don’t mean to bury you in all my woes. Just remember Margaret, I miss you very much and I cannot wait until we are reunited. I know they said the streets were paved with gold here, but I suppose they’ve gotten a bit rusty.

 

With all my love; your best friend in the entire world,

                                                                        Molly

Stella’s Shawl

With finals right around the corner, I’ve got another piece of fiction for today. I hope you guys are liking the change of pace–let me know what you think! This piece was inspired by Cynthia Ozick’s short story, “The Shawl” which you can read here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/13179675/The-Shawl-Cynthia-Ozick

The story opens in the barracks of a concentration camp during World War Two…

barracks

Stella did not mean to do it. “A thin girl of fourteen,”[1] she did not mean to do it.

*

Stella jolted awake, uncomfortably snug between the cold wall and her bony mother; a cold sweat wet her brow and goose bumps raced down her taut skin. It had been another nightmare. Moments passed, and Stella evened her breath like the many nights before and her immediate panic subsided. Despite feeling cramped and clammy, she slowly closed her eyes once more, straining to think of her life back home.

She could feel chalk, cool to the touch, in her hand as she imagined solving math equations at school. Her best friend, Aliza, echoed in her ears as she thought of the last time they saw each other: sitting on their favorite park bench giggling about Klaus, the cutest boy in their class. The foul odor of human excrement and sweat was replaced by the alluring fragrance of Mama’s apple cake she had baked the night they were taken.

Suddenly, the memory burned bright in Stella’s mind: Ripped from bed by men in black suits, she, her mother, and concealed under a shawl unknown to the soldiers, her little sister, Magda, were hustled through the cold, damp streets of Germany by moonlight and thrown into a box car where bodies pressed so tightly against one another, they could feel chests rise and fall with each shallow breath. An ache grew within Stella’s chest as these new realities fought their way to the forefront of her mind, erasing all memories of home and happiness:

Floating to the ground were her long curly brown locks. Closed into tight circles on the hard floor, the girls in her barracks spoke in hushed and hurried tones about their hunger, their pain, their fear. Standing out in the roll-call arena, Stella recited silent prayers for names that went uncalled. Aliza’s voice, sweet as honey, had been replaced by the bark of officers interrupted by the firing of gunshots. Frail figures crumpled to the ground, falling out of line from their march along the edge of the humming electric fence. The moist soil penetrated between in her toes, hardening into permanent filth.

As her mind transported her through time and space, baby Magda’s face suddenly appeared, peeking out from under the shawl pressed against Mama’s chest. A vicious rage released within Stella’s chest like a white-hot flame radiating throughout her body. Still within the confines of her bunk, a seething jealousy erupted, uncontrollable like a wild animal and thoughts of Magda flooded into Stella’s mind.

Hidden beneath the shawl, no officer knew Magda had even entered these gates of hell. Under the shawl, she remained safe. Free from standing in the roll-call arena for hours; free from marching for what felt like infinite periods of time; free from getting yelled orders; free to keep her eyes open against the ashen wind; free from watching others die. All because the shawl shielded her.

Stella’s eyes opened savagely and landed on the tiny lump beside her that was Magda. Noticing the shawl entangled around her unusually plump waist, Stella could no longer contain her jealousy. It burned hot down her arm and to her fingertips causing her to reach out and rip the shawl from Magda. Luckily, Magda simply rolled over with a low grunt. Stella wrapped the shawl tight against her body, ignoring the feeling of her own bones trying to poke through her skin.

Almost instantly, her body relaxed and curled into the shawl’s comfort and protection. Her heart softened as she imagined being small once again, warm against her mother’s bosom, sheltered under the shawl from the soldiers, the Camp, and the agonizing world she had been submerged into. In this simple fantasy, Stella quickly drifted to sleep, completely unaware that Magda had awoken and begun staggering toward the opening of the barracks.

After what seemed like only mere seconds, Stella was harshly awoken as the shawl was torn from her body. Like a forest fire, panic spread throughout Stella. Her breathing, suddenly shallow and uneven, left her heart beating unsteadily; her body began to tremble uncontrollably as she caught sight of her mother disappearing into the roll-call arena. Immediately, she scrambled within her bunk, trying to control the shaking of her limbs and stumbled after her.

As the sun rose, it cast a yellow glow on the barren land sprinkled with barracks that housed others like Stella and her family–all branded, all brittle, and all close to death. Stella fell into her mother’s shadow, and followed her gaze straight ahead. Stella’s eyes landed on the only moving thing in sight: a man’s black silhouette jogging towards the electric fence with a small dot on his shoulder that could only be one thing: Magda.

Guilt poured down on Stella as she realized what she had done. Without the shawl, Magda had been unprotected. Because Stella had selfishly stolen it in a fit of envy, Magda was now going to meet her fate.

It was as if Stella could hear the electric fence sizzle as she helplessly witnessed the tiny dot being thrown against it. Tears sprung from her eyes, silently dripping like the leaky faucet back home. Mama slowly loosened her grip on the shawl, stuffing the corner into her mouth to silence her screams. Stella fell to her knees and watched her mother return to the barracks without even a sideward glance at her eldest daughter.

Stifling her own cries, Stella gathered her shaking bones and followed her mother inside the barracks. Squeezing herself between the wall and her mother’s thin body once again, Stella forcibly said the only thought that arose from the paralyzing pain that was now taking control of her entire body.

“I was cold,” Stella lied.

*

“A thin girl of fourteen,”[2] Stella did not mean to do it.


[2]Taken from “The Shawl”.

The Old Woman

So sorry to post late today! I stayed over my friends’ house last night and forgot to get the picture I wanted to use with today’s piece and it’s very important I use this exact photograph. But now I’m home, so here it is! Today’s post is another piece of fiction. I’ve been busy writing papers and studying for finals which are coming up in the next couple of weeks so I haven’t had time to work on my usual memoir style pieces. I hope you enjoy!

The Old Woman

It is bedtime and I close my eyes like I’m supposed to. For a few moments, my mind is blank and I am happy to welcome the empty blackness of the inside of my eyelids. Maybe tonight it will stay this way: Lonely.

I shift against the Nursing Home’s standard-issued polyester sheets to lean against the bed rail when She enters my mind. Her nebulous figure quickly becomes distinct as if I am tuning in a television station through a poor antenna signal like when I was a little boy growing up in Germany.

Dr. Fitzgerald suggests ways to distract my mind long enough so I can fall asleep before Her arrival–counting sheep, having the nurse bring me a warm glass of milk before bed, counting backwards, breathing deeply, even wiggling my toes and rubbing my stomach–but none of it works, not even the drugs they give me to keep Her from visiting each night.

At first, Her nightly appearances scared me–terrified me even–like She was breathing Her own fear, pain and betrayal down my throat at my only time of solitude. However, when She visits now, I don’t feel much, if anything at all.

Unless I think too much.

And unfortunately, tonight is one of those nights. Jeremy Jr. forgot to come by today so the only distraction I had was watching Big Eddy try to eat his cup of applesauce by himself. The stupid kid couldn’t even hold the spoon on his own–kept fumbling, slipping through his fingers–only to slurp it up like an animal until the nurse finally came over to help him. Disgusting. So tonight when She visits, I am free to be taken back to 1939 when I saw her for the last time.

*

I am only nineteen; full of pride for my country and an eagerness to please. I have joined the Nazi Regime like many of the boys I’ve grown up with. It feels good to be part of something bigger and more important than myself and I know my family is proud of me. But lately, doubts have been rumbling around in my mind, creating a sense of panic I am only too afraid to show for fear of being considered a traitor and not only losing my ranks–but my life. So I become an actor–a great one even–wearing the mask of a dominant, merciless, intolerant leader by day, only to slowly let it fall past sunset, when I know everyone is sleeping. At night, I let my fears, my guilt, my pity, my sorrow and my self-fury tumble into my mind and explode, making it hard to breathe, as if the 800 pound woman I saw in the circus once, is sitting on my chest. I try not to let tears fall in case someone comes through the barracks but sometimes I can’t help it and they stream down the length of my nose while I develop imaginative explanations if anyone were to see me. I am lucky though, and no one ever catches me as I have become quite good at staying silent even through the most overwhelming waves of pain and anguish.

I’ve become confident in my act and believe I can keep it going under any circumstance. But I do not expect this: Civilians running through the streets only to be shot down a moment later; huddled masses shuffling by as they fall one by one to the ground; hateful men shouting orders in German while small children trying to escape scream in Polish–oh, the screams and how they echoed in my ears for years afterward.

Amidst the panic and rubble, I notice Her stumble on the cobblestone and my mask of hate slips off and I struggle to gain my composure. Only her face peers out from under the heavy fabric of the black wool shawl covering her head and shoulders. The years of Her life are etched into Her skin, revealing her age. These lines that crease Her face are like a road map, telling me where She has been and where She has still yet to go. These lines tell a story I will never hear. These lines symbolize all the things I will never learn because She will never teach them. And the lines in my face will never be as deep and as beautiful as Hers because of it. I quickly realize I don’t know anything. If I die, nothing will be lost. If She dies, the world loses knowledge, experience, patience and love. She is worthy of life.

The terror in Her eyes is a reflection of my own. I admire her courage as She holds my gaze. Her eyes do not plead for mercy but rather look upon my face with a sad recognition and then realization of the monster I have become. Once such a beautiful and smart little boy, now molded into a killing machine. And She feels pity for me. I know because Her eyes are a reflection of my own.

Her lips part slightly as She takes Her last breath. I am scrambling for my mask now as pity, sorrow, grief, and guilt collapse on my chest and suddenly I have to gasp for air.  Fighting paralysis, I raise my weapon like a dirty habit and the band on my left arm burns into my skin.

I watch her crumble to the ground, all fear from her eyes replaced by a blank stare toward the sky. I look to my right and see Sargent Reiniger lower his pistol with a sick, self-satisfied smirk splattered on his face.

I immediately replace my mask and realize that no one has noticed my hesitation. I quickly begin moving again down the street as my elementary school teacher, Frau Warszawski, sears Her face into my mind to stay with me for the next seventy years.

*

Unfortunately, tonight is one of those nights.

As my own pain begins to boil in the blood running through my body, I reach for the nurse’s alarm and press it right as my panic sets in so she can give me the strongest sedative they have to erase Her image. Just for tonight.

The Woman in the Window

Today’s post is a little different from my usual. Once again I’ve traveled into the world of fiction. I hope you enjoy! 

Inspired by Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.”

40-11-06/39

Today is the first time I’m allowed in the patient lounge. The windows around the room cast grey light within, as menacing clouds have scared away the blue sky. The walls are grey. The carpet is grey. My cotton bathrobe is grey. My skin has turned grey. The wheelchair I am forced to sit in is grey. The other men and women scattered around the room mumbling to themselves, playing checkers alone and staring at the black TV screen, are all grey.

The only things that have retained their natural color are my hair, which refuses to submit and become any other color than that of coal; my eyes, which still contain clear pools of blue; and the woman in the stained glass window, which I have asked to sit in front of.

I have decided to name this woman in the window, Amelia. I think it is the only name lovely enough to match her elegance. Her dark, deep navy hair is pulled gently into a bun on the back of her head. I bet if she let it flow freely, it’d be just as long as mine. But I like how she has combed it effortlessly away from her face. It let’s me know that she doesn’t have to hide behind a waterfall of hair. Unlike me, she is brave. I know that one day, I want that.

Her light blue gown flows neatly against her thin frame, gathering at her feet on the green grass. It is simple, and covers her arms and chest. She must be very reserved. My mother would have been happy if I had dressed like Amelia when I was growing up. The fabric rests on Amelia’s shoulders with ease and I know that one day, I want that.

A yellow trail lies beside Amelia and I know she has traveled very far to get here. It reminds me of the yellow brick road from The Wizard of Oz and I imagine that if I could just get to Oz now, my spirits would surely be lifted. I wonder where Amelia came from and why in the hell she stopped here. This is no place for someone so lovely and graceful. The only things here are ugly, lifeless, and in pain. It looks like the path was built with fish-shaped bricks, giving the illusion that it is moving away from here and I know that one day, I want that.

But Amelia remains still, reaching for a perfectly round red berry on the ground, so ripe it looks as though it may burst. I wish Amelia would get back on her yellow path and follow it as far away from here as possible. I urge her. I beg her. I plead with her.

My thoughts are suddenly interrupted when I hear “Wendy, dear? Quiet down; it’s time for your medication.” I watch my left hand–identified by the scars that trace it–surrender, and close around a small paper cup while my right–identified by a glamorous, itchy, and irritating plastic bracelet–clutches onto a larger one full of water. The nurse’s footsteps shuffle away slowly. Glancing into the small cup, I see my usual pills of all colors and sizes. It’s comforting to see they have yet to turn grey.

Unexpectedly, the pools in my eyes begin to overflow and a tide pushes forth over my eyelids and down my cheeks. I peer up at Amelia through cascades of black hair, squinting to see her as rivers blur my vision. I notice that she too has water streaming down her face as the storm has finally set in motion. Looking closer, I see streaks that stain her light blue dress, revealing that the painter used too much water when designing it. It is as if you can see right through her and I immediately know, I do not want that. The tears are coming faster now. She is still frozen, refusing to get back on the path and away from here and I immediately know, I do not want that. The tears are coming harder now. Then, I notice tears pour forth from Amelia’s eyes, leaving them colorless and I quickly realize this will be my fate if I continue to let my blue pools overflow.

Fighting hysteria, I try to slow the current. I squeeze my eyes together as hard as I can. I bite my lips till the taste of iron rushes into my mouth.  But nothing works. The pools are releasing themselves and I know that soon, I will have colorless eyes like Amelia. I will be blind, just like her and I will become complacent, just like her and I will never escape. Just like her. I scream. I scream.

Hal Little

Today I’m doing something different. I’m off to a one-hundred year celebration of the firehouse my grandpa worked at his whole life this morning so I decided to post a silly short fiction piece since I won’t have time to write a full length narrative today. I hope you enjoy the change of pace! 

Hal Little dreamed big. Hal spent his whole life dreaming of driving his car all the way to Pluto. So one day, Hal got into his silver Honda, roared the engine, and took off. He figured he’d be gone for a while so he stopped to get gas, a bagel—with butter not cream cheese–and a bottle of orange juice—no pulp. He took off from planet Earth, passed over his town, and rode the clouds until he got so far out into the atmosphere that the sky was no longer blue. He hopped onto a star for a while and although it was spectacular, he found it to be a little blinding. So on he went. His stomach growled for food but he ignored it. He crashed onto Mars but was disappointed when there wasn’t a single alien to greet him. He arrived on Jupiter only to realize that the inclement weather made it quite difficult to drive. Landing briefly on Saturn, then Uranus, and then Neptune, Hal was not impressed. But he believed Pluto would be different. It was starting to get cold since the sun was so far away now and Hal started to wish he had brought his pea coat. But instead, he just blasted the heat in his little silver honda. He didn’t mind the breeze against his curly blonde locks but he did wish he had brought some hand lotion. The hot air really dried his skin out.

Finally, hitching a meteor heading in Pluto’s direction, Hal passed some time reminiscing. He remembered his first science fair and how he had reported on Pluto, when it was just a far away planet that no one seemed interested in. He then recalled the day he found out Pluto was no longer considered a planet and how he became so horrified at this insult that he didn’t talk to his science teacher for a week. Hal felt even worse that nobody seemed to care about Pluto anymore. It was no longer taught in schools and Hal felt that eight planets just did not seem complete. But Hal was proud that he hadn’t forgotten. As he came out of his trance, Hal suddenly realized he had no idea where he was. He had been distracted by daydreams and now he was lost. He tried to relocate himself, but he was disoriented now and all his GPS said was “Recalculating…recalculating.”

For days Hal kept looking for the beautiful plutoid…driving, waiting for it to pass. It never came by.

But don’t you worry; Hal went on. Hal went out and out and out into the universe. And sometimes, on a really clear night you can still see Hal’s silver Honda riding the stars. Hal Little dreamed big.

Hal Litte