if i had made it on nov. 30,
i would have made
dun dun dun dun!!!
but i didn't, and it's dec. 1
so i'm still a looser
i'm sad and i want to die.
"From now on, I'll describe the cities to you," the Khan had said, "in your journeys you will see if they exist." - Italo Calvino, "Invisible Cities"
thonda realized she fell asleep. she looked up and realized they had reached her station. the rowdy kids in the cabin next door laughingly exited, bumping their luggage along the way.
thonda looked up and realized that they hadn't yet reached her destination. she shrugged and listened a bit to the shrieks of joy at the next car.
"oh, but a picture!" a girlfriend said.
"i'll just go like this," a girl's voice said.
"you were just waiting for us to turn away," another voice said.
"and i was," said the second voice.
"silly girl. the sake flight at izumi is four different types, one warm, the other bitter, one smooth like green tea ice cream, the other... i didn't taste the other," said another voice.
"i couldn't. so i just watched while you guys argued amongst yourselves how it has to be consumed. you forgot your camera. it was her chance - ahaha, i watched her. she gulped the second flight all in one go." the voice stopped and came from another direction.
"down it went, savory and sweet, warm and coating your throat. before it hit your tummy, it hit you head. ahh," it joked.
"shut up. no one else is stressed enough to drink tonight. the sake was good, but i didn't want to be sport," said a girl's voice. "and i won't trade any drink for coffee. hehe. sorry."
"awwwwwwwwwwwwww" came the collective jeer.
thonda chuckeled and turned back to her book. i wonder if there's sake where my sister's at, and if she'll let me drink, ahaha.
this is a story from thonda's book.armor
armor becomes my mother. she wears it proudly, like a shield. so well-polished, it attracts accomplished friends, both married and unmarried. she doesn't know it yet, but her shield is so well-crafted, it is impenetrable. she wields it so well, no one can come near her, unless she lowers it, and she times those chances well.
grief is my mother's armor. her most prized possession, she hugs it selfishly. she doesn't flash or call attention to it. but at well-timed instances, she draws strength from its unknowable depths. my mother strives to be a perfect product of her times. her every rebuke is skillful and quick, she doesn't think much before screaming it out.
but when she draws from her well of despair, a cover forms quickly around her, she retreats into that shell, and from there her every aim is effortlessly precise. she brandishes her grief about like an entitlement. it's hard to refute her accomplishments in light of her beginnings—teacher and nurse, the only of her female siblings to study in manila, the first to haul all three daughters to the united states, the only sibling to live with yearly snow, and drive through it. the first to be widowed. and now, the only one to build a house with a storefront in her hometown's plaza, funded entirely by money from america.
my siblings and i watch as she moves from project to project, paying a newcomer relative money for them to repair our house one slat of wood at a time: first tear out the basement carpet and replace with pine-shade hardwood floors. move from the basement to the laundry room, tear out the old vinyl wrap and install high-grade flesh tile. take leftover baby cribs stolen from the neighbors and build the dalmatian and german shepherd mix their own pen. take high-durable, chocolate-shade paint and dress the stairs to the kitchen. pull wires to place proper kitchen lighting. pour concrete and install screws so the basement pantry is useable and clean. the basement is now liveable space, not just a pet dog playground.
“do we really have to do all this now?” my sister complained, a trained financier and nurse, knowing how all the expenses will cost me numerous successive paychecks. she's still in school and can't afford to pay her own insurance, much less all this. when she insists on paying for movies or the pizza, i look her in the eye and say, “no.”
but our mother is even more relentless. it should be obvious what she's lacking, as this isn't how she imagined her 50s to be. but in front of us she's rebuked her husband's relatives and signed papers that all but completely cut us off from his world.
her's is a silence i can tolerate a little bit longer. we're not ready for that yet.
but the shield she sometimes asks me to carry is getting heavier and heavier, cumbersome and intrusive.
i'm unnerved that, without a word, i know she waits for me to develop one of my own, on my own. what tools should i use? what materials?
what a damn sad story, thonda said. i wish i hadn't read this. it's crazy and stupid! the writer must be really unhappy if she's that attuned to her mother, of all people. i would kill myself. i wonder how my parents are doing.
thonda looked up and realized they were passing by the mountains that made their town famous. it's uncovered by snow right now, she thought, all green and beautiful. you'll actually break a sweat trying to cross that mountain and ford that river, thonda thought. it would be nice to do it again, when we return, she thought.
and then she wondered if indeed she will still come back. her sister and their parents have been away from home several years. will they still come back? do they still want to come back?
but they might think it's so boring here already, thonda thought. our town is small and cozy. everything you could ever possibly want is within reach. a regular at my cafe says that he had a glimpse of the world at the end of this train station, and he didn't ever want to go any further.
"why not?" thonda had remembered asking.
"because it's beautiful out there. the station itself gave me a window into what the rest of the world was like, what that town itself was like. and if the station was already that organized, that sufficient, that clean and orderly, what more the rest of the world?" the regular had said.
"of course there's still slums everywhere," said another customer. he moved from the bar to the table where the regular sat, right next to the window, in the middle of the small cafe. it was clear he was a traveller and new to the town; he dressed differently and spoke with a twang. his liquid eyes crinkled from remembering. "your town, thonda, is actually a haven from all the madness out there. you won't want to stay out there for too long."
"i would like to visit my sister soon, though. i'm curious about what she's been up to, the things she's seen. i'm not content with postcards anymore," thonda said.
"trips are vastly different - there's the mojave desert we passed through last december, on the way to the grand canyon," said the stranger. he set his glass down and invited himself to the regular's table. the regular, not easily fazed, didn't say a word. he wanted to hear what the stranger had to say. it won't be likely the stranger will repeat what he's said, or stay long enough to tell anymore.
"the desert was clearly a place you just had to pass through and not stay; the same with the grand canyon. who would ever want to live in such cold and windy climes, not to mention how trecherous those cliffs were? but native americans have, for generations and generations. i forgot his name, but one native american we spoke with said that their tribe is still negotiating terms with the government on how to parcel that vast piece of land," the stranger said.
"where is this?" the regular asked.
"a day's flight away, and more. it's pretty easy to get there from here, if you take the train all the way to the next station, and from there, another train to the airport."
"the grand canyon?" thonda asked.
"yes, ma'am, the grand canyon is the widest expanse of gridless geography i have ever seen. it was beautiful, rough, and red; i had this delirious moment where i remembered my old books where sharp mountain ranges came off of their bases and flew to enemies and chopped them in half for intruding their peace. but i picked up a small, sharp red clay shard from the base of guano's peak on the canyon's west rim, and pocketed it. and then i slid down the side of the hill took more pictures.
"let me tell you this, thonda," the stranger said. "travelling means taking your heart and your packages and picking up souveniers along the way. it's not setting your heart down, like that native american guide did, when he talked about the land and their plans for it. he asked if the two other kids with me were my siblings and i grinned. he had that look on his face like he were being treated to some dolls or something, ahaha. he talked as if the land and his heart were one."
thonda nodded. she didn't know what to say. she's never been anywhere in her life but back and forth from her family's old house and vineyard, to town to run this cafe. a seed of wanderlust was planted in her heart, and she wanted to go to what the stranger called "the grand canyon."
"what a great story. i wish i could see it," she said.
"by all means, go, go," said the stranger. "but there's absolutely no place like home. you must always remember where your heart was once planted and the hole it's left when you took it with you. and no time like the present! when are you leaving?"
that was two months ago, thonda thought. the regular is still around. he had lifted a coffee cup to her then. the stranger joined him, but soon after that encounter, he had already left via the same train she was riding now.
thonda gathered glasses and wiped tables that night, like always. she thought of her sister's postcards and her parent's letters. i'm more than just curious, she admitted to herself. i want to get away.
i don't know if i'm more curious than restless, she said, stacking shotglasses and getting ready to lock up. but i've saved enough money and i've stayed around here long enough.
thonda purchased a ticket two days after that.
the train stalled for a moment affording her a great view of the valley. she remembered the stranger and the cafe regular. she smiled and hoped she made the right decision. she listened for more wine chatter and learned they were counting sweet drinks now.
"light and sweet sham-PAG-ney."
"red headed sluts."
"chocotini, but only the one mixed at zentra."
the train lurched forward. a giant pine tree blocked the valley's view from thonda.
this is a story from thonda's book.the gardens at cuneo
i decided to take a break sunday night and hunted around for old pix to post online. i stumbled on my old pix of the cuneo gardens, which my family and i visited in 2002, in the fall. it is my fantasy of a magical autumn world come true, ahahaha.
the garden's centerpiece is a classic italian mansion we didn't enter - there is a small fee to enter, and we were already content with the grounds. the gardens are family-owned, with help from the chicago park district.
reality hits you when you approach a small lake - you can smell sewerage from the gazebo, about twenty feet from shore. it emanates primarily from a small waterfall on the side of a small, steep hill. there are also patches of ground obviously paved for stabler ground for receptions - the grass and leaves there look paler and remind me of pictures of rainforest quicksand.
scattered throughout the grounds were sculptures and greek pillars. at first, i was disappointed that all the sculptures in the garden had already been wrapped to prepare for winter. it was very chilly that autumn afternoon that we visited, even as the sun blazed overhead in the later afternoon. it was warm only in under the sun. in the shade, i complained it was ten degrees colder. i couldn't take my gloves off without freezing my fingers stiff. i considered if we could request the office to remove the wrappings temporarily. the statues looked warmer than we were.
two years later, looking at the photos again, the wrapped statues actually added an eeriness, nostalgia, a displaced hauntedness, that i don't think could be possible had the statues been revealed.
i wondered what the statues might look like. only my mother and youngest sister had been to italy, and i had only seen pictures in books. i wonder what expressions the statues would sport - pained, because of their bending, serene because of their observing, curious because of our probing, welcoming because of our visiting? would they be made of marble or granite? have they aged and crumbled, like that big concrete planter sculpted in the shape of a vase?
and all throughout the garden were leaves. leaves of maple, elm, leaves yellow, green, brown. there is one large shrub of red. there are patches of brown soil in the smaller, more manicured gardens, wind hadn't swept any leaves in there yet. there are thick walls of ivy, now bare for shedding leaves. there is a gate shaped as a belfry, its ringer silent and cold. the gate led into a smaller, more organized garden in rows of rectangle patches that looked like vegetable patches.
the open ground held layers and layers of leaves. they cushioned and crunched underfoot. groundskeepers hadn't swept any leaves yet. park caretakers were no where to be seen. we were the only visitors that cold autumn day, and had the garden to ourselves. the beautiful foilage was dustless and ankle-deep.
"what an eerie garden," thonda thought. her book was strange, it had the ability to show real life pictures as well as text. thonda simply had to flip pages like she was scrolling through a display of ancient texts at the university library. her book wasn't that old yet in that the pages "flickered" distractedly on her screen.
thonda looked at the pictures more closely. the treetops were beautiful, but the ground looks like it's ready to swallow you whole. but i'm curious as to what crunch those leaves made, thonda laughed. i wonder if my sister will take me to something like this garden.
thonda settled into her cabin and thought nothing of the kiss on her hand. she was actually rather hungry. a cart rolled by her and she bought sweetwheat and noncarbondated cola. she settled into her cabin to listen to the whistles and blares of the station. she watched the man's back get smaller and smaller in the distance as he exited the station.
she wondered what life will be like living with her sister for a short time. would she have changed so much? after all, she was never a homebody. she was always out and about doing something. i actually sometimes miss her, thonda thought. but she will be fun to be with. she had better have accomodations ready for me! i can't sleep outdoors like her.
"all aboooooooooooooooooooard!" yelled the conductor. the train blew the shillest, longest whistle thonda had ever heard, and they were off. the sweetwheat was chewy and she almost choked on it, so suddenly had the train lurched forward. her cola is safe in its bottle in the window's bottleholder. she sipped on the straw and bit into her bread.
she watched her hometown and realized this was the first time she was leaving it for a long period of time. she was going to have to get used to the thought. she saw the station slip past her window. the bakery's, where undoubtedbly this sweetwheat was baked this morning. past the brewery, where this cola was no doubt bottled and fermented. past the post office, where she mailed and received packages from her sister and their parents from time to time. past the bookstore, where she whiled away many wonderous moments reading about the places her family had written from. past the corner cafe, where she had some of the best coffee and conversation in town. past the schoolhouse, where she and her sister attended until they've finished all the grades and courses they could offer. past the tailor's, where the seamstresses were so nice to her and her sister when they needed new uniforms every two years, and later, wotk clothes for the vineyard, and later, evening clothes for various parties. past then also the cobbler's, who had provided their family with stilettoes, boots, parkas (for they also made raincoats if they didn't want to use umbrellas), walking shoes, rubber shoes. past the restaurant where the pasta, thonda is assured, is the best in the world. past the telephone booth where they used to pretend was a space ship that would take them to the moon. past the observatory, where the mad astrologer predicted she and her sister would someday leave town to explore new places. past the electronic shop, that had provided them with many an earphone replacement, and who had provided them with such gadgets such as the PC and the mac, and thonda preferred the PC over the strange mac, the mac that seemed too simple and trendy for her taste. past the music conservatory, where thonda's sister thought was strange to have been dubber a conservatory, as if music will die out anyday now. thonda had argued that the type of music they encourage would be similar to the ones sang in church, pieces by long-gone musicians whose hands expand more than two octaves that only the most gifted students could ever hope to follow. past the cathedral, where, suprisingly, the man was waiting, waving. this jolted her out of her reverie.
"why is he standing there looking at the train?" thonda wondered. but she knew it would be a long time before she would find out; she was going away for an indefinite amount of time. the man shrunk smaller and smaller until he was a mere speck. the train was now headed to the suburbs, the vicinity of the university that she and her sister would have attended had they chose to; they certainly had the money for it after the sale of their estate. but her parents and sister wanted to travel, and she knew well enough of everything that's needed to manage a cafe.
"maybe some day i will go to university. secondary school was very interesting," she mused to herself. the observatory in town has shrunk to a mere speck compared to the looming towers that approached her now. the train was rounding the bend to stop at the university station to pick up more passengers and students. thonda noticed the school's spires and thought how scary it must be to climb those stairs to ascend to your lessons. how many steps are those, i wonder?
the buildings were made of brown brick mixed with straw and hay from their village, thonda realized, because the building looked much like their house. a pang of homesickness hit thonda like a ton of bricks. the train was stopped. it would be so easy to exit and leave, she could still easily walk back to her apartment. her sister won't mind, of course. no one would know.
she ate her sweetwheat. she knew if she returned, she would never again leave. lost chances rarely return, and why would you want to let something go when it's in your grasp? thonda realized that just thinking of the prospect of a lost chance was killing her. she can't wake up tomorrow knowing that she had let this change pass her by. her sister won't be waiting for her at st. petersburg forever, and she didn't want to worry her or her parents. they might come back to awczine, and she would ruin everything!
she bit into her sweetwheat and sipped at her cola. chatty students took the cabin next to hers. her stomach knotted and relaxed. she had her book. she could listen in to their conversations, if she wanted to. more chatty students took the cabin behind her. resigned, she chewed the last of her sweetwheat and drank the last of her cola. she took out her book and her journal. both sets of students were chatting away. she shut the soundproof glass between their cabins, but their voices still sifted through. she hoped her one book would tide her the next four hours to the next train station, the one that will take her to st. petersburg and her sister.
the man is a well-travelled fellow, hailing, as we've mentioned before, from the far reaches of the continent, more genteel, more stringent in their manners and character. he conducts himself with an air of splendid waste, that is, he is rich beyond our imaginnings. most of us might rarely have a chance to even behold such nobility.
they typically keep to themselves and make sure they don't associate with too many people of varied pedigree. but this man chose to explore. they called it "gallivanting," in that he's whiling away time and playing with his money to see what else the world has to offer. if he leaves nothing is expected of him, if he comes back, since he is of the nobility, he does not need to answer to anyone about anything. his affairs are entirely his own. even after several years out of circulation, when he returns, he is still accepted into society, and he could take his pick of women and buddies and hobbies.
the man chose to leave the confines of his old home and explore the world. he was just too curious to leave it. he still intends to return, of course, but not just yet. not yet, until thonda is settled and ready.
the man isn't truly attracted to the girl whose house he almost stole. he's just curious and happy for her that she's finally decided what to do for at least the next few years of her life.
and then, after that? he wondered. she'll come back to this awczine and she might even settle here with someone she met outside. will her sister be with her?
the man was delighted to learn that she was looking for someone to lease her apartment indefinitely. she took her belongings and locked them in a closet in the apartment.
how long will you be gone, the man asked her.
i don't know, she said, i'm not sure how long leila would like me around. she said she wanted to see st. petersburg's castles and churches. and possibly riga, if it's possible at all. i also want to see moscow and vladivostok. possibly return to japan for a moment because i'd like to see my old haunts again.
thonda turned and gave him her apartment key. keep it safe, she said, and guard it well. i intend to return soon!
the man smiled and assured her and saw her out. they got on the carriage to take her to the train station. on the way thonda looked at her home's buildings, the mountains in the distance, the way shadows fall on cobblestoned and pebbled streets, how sweet the wind and how quiet the streets, she could hear the old cobbler's sign creek when they passed it, and she wondered if he'll ever put oil to its hinges as it's been creaking a racket for years now. she remembered how the rain would fall in rivulets outside her window and filter light enough that she thought it was evening outside when in fact it's simply midafternoon and the skies were overcast enough, still pregnant with rain. she remembered how rain would form small rivers down the side of alleys and fall like a small waterfall over the edge of a small cliff that led to a small part of the briny river. part of that river came from further up the city, to the suburbs, where her birth house still sits, waiting, now ready to receive youth her age and younger for activities.
of course the man read all this from her thoughtful face. the carriage bumped once and she was knocked out of reverie, smiled unabashedly, and looked outside again with intentions to find out how much further the train station they needed to drive. the man returned her smile and asked what she expects to see out there in the world.
she said she didn't know, but she hopes to be entertained by the churches she imagined would be as grand as the photos in her textbooks.
too soon they arrived at the train station. they disembarked. the man helped choose her a car and a coach. why, thank you, she said, this is very kind of you. how come you never stopped as often in the coffeeshops? thonda asked.
i'm not sure, the man said, i have business to attend to, plus there's the building of my house in part of the plot your parents left me. it's going to be three stories with a wine cellar. i'm quite pleased with it.
he stashed her suitcase in the top bunk. he took her hand and pressed it to his lips. it was the genteel thing to do, something a gentleman would have done to a lady in his own country, considered appropriate and affectionate, but if a man wanted to go further, he would have showed up a second time where the lady was, or found out where she was staying and make a point of visiting her there regularly.
the man straightened and bade her a safe journey, he said, tipped his hat, and left.
thonda decided not to go with her sister to see the world. "i've seen it enough. i've had a chance to go to japan, and i took it. i'll stay here and take your spot at the restaurant. they were going to let you manage it. i think i can help them fill your gap in the meantime," she said.
"oh, you'll be managing it soon enough," leila laughed, and she hugged her sister. the family won't be separating until leila's first voyage, a train ride to hungary. she begins her trek east, while her parents are heading west. they will all send thonda postcards, and they are not to leave their destinstions until they've heard back from thonda, via postcard as well, and if she decides to follow either of them, they will stay at that destination until thonda joins them. they will tour her in that city and then move on to the next, for thonda can't stay away from the cafe for very long.
one day, thonda decided to resign from the cafe. she had received a postcard from leila, currently in st. petersburg and its outskirts. "wait for me there!" she wrote back on a postcard. that morning she dropped the card in the mail and announced her retirement.
"ms. valpo, i would like to tend my resignation," she told the owner. she was going to promote thonda for her enormously good work, almost on a par with her sister. but she also knew about this strange agreement she had with her parents and her sister, for she receives her postcards at work. it is the first thing she looks for in the day - if there are any postcards from her family. it was wonderful to see her finally make up her mind on where to go.
"petersburg!" ms. valpo said, astonished. "how very so far away has your sister gone!"
"yes," thonda said, "and i do intend to visit with her even for a moment. she wants to explore riga and the other cities there next. i will travel with her until my money runs out," thonda excitedly said.
that morning she bought her travel soap, shampoo, conditioner, skinny gel conditioner, deoderant, tooth brush, tooth paste, travel towels, camera, notebook, and packed her things in a huge travel case. she remembered how much her sister wanted to travel, so she took out two extra jeans, fourteen shirts, and a fleece jacket other than the jean jacket she already wore, and considerably lightened her load. it hadn't occured to her how she needed to keep her suitcase light in case she wanted to stuff it with souveniers.
she sublet her apartment in town square indefinitely to the man, with who she kept in close contact with. she wondered at his antics the past few days when she announced that she was going to leave to travel for a while with her sister.
"this man wants to buy our house?" leila and thonda's mother repeated. "but why?"
"why?" the man exclaimed. "because it's perfect! it sits on a hill just capturing the light just so. your land slopes just gently and directly into the briny stream just so. it's not too far from town, if i wanted to leave a party right away, i can just leave and then return at will! no one will notice!"
thonda and leila's parents lightened up. they were planning to retire in a few years so they can travel the world, and thonda wanted to go attend the convent and leila wanted to travel the world, and they've always wondered what to do about the house they'll leave behind. they can't simply lock it for fear of bandits. or the homeless who'll squat and then overtake their house from them. they've been hoping to leave it to the local church, who can then use it as a community center for youth and young adult programs.
it seems that their dream of donating their humble abode and its entire effects to charity might come true sooner than expected. but sarah's eyes bulged and she started to swoon.
"no! no! noooooooo! you can't take our home away from us!"
"honey," simeon turned to his wife. "baby, listen to me."
thonda and leila were flabbergasted and embarrassed beyond recognition at their father's words to their mother. no child should be allowed to witness sweetness between their parents in front of an audience. it's traumatizing.
"babycakes, this is what we've always wanted."
"but not too soon! too soon! too soon! my girls need to grow up!"
leila and thonda' father turned to the man. "good sir. you hadn't made an offer of money, jewels, cattle or another dwelling for us, please return in five years' time, we had planned that the earliest we were going to retire is in that time, and then we might be able to make our decision then."
"very well. an indefinite answer. i might be able to find temporary dwellings in the meantime. the hotels downtown were quaint. i shall make myself comfortable there. farewell!"
and the man galloped away in his steed.
"we're doomed! what shall we do? where shall we turn to? who is our hope? we worked hard on this house! we built it with our own hands and feet! and we have five years left with it! oh, what shall we do! oh, unhappy day! we must find a new house to live!" sarah wailed.
"babycakes, don't worry. we'll travel the world, after!"
"father, i haven't saved enough money to travel the world yet!" leila clamored.
"father, i'm not ready for university yet!" thonda howled.
"well it is high time we prepared ourselves for the future!" simeon cried. "we've been comfortable in this house for eighteen years straight. eighteen years! leila, you were born here! thonda, there's the sharp, jutting rock you stumbled on when you were three and the smaller, daggered rock that almost stabbed your heart! mother! this is where you baked your best breads and pastries that fed us and nourtured us. and for that, we are all happy and healthy and wiser. it is time we move! we're more than equipped to rule the world!"
"we're not prepared to rule the world, darling," the woman said, "we're only prepared to traverse it."
"and that we shall! but we cannot do it when we maroon ourselves to this lovely suburb, a part only of the action! don't you want to taste it, like fruit! don't you want to live it, suck the life out of it, enjoy it while you can!"
"yes, but there is the matter of the house and the property - " sarah started -
"and this is our chance to find a caretaker! he will turn it into something else entirely, but at least this old house, full of memories, will be out of our hands!"
"would it benefit more if we donated it to a church now, the way you said we would in five years' time? wouldn't it be of better use if it benefitted a hundred children a year instead of as one pompous man's trinket! father?" leila offered.
donate the church now? simeon asked. he repeated himself: we've been comfortable in this house for eighteen years straight. eighteen years! leila, you were born here! thonda, there's the sharp, jutting rock you stumbled on when you were three and the smaller, daggered rock that almost stabbed your heart! mother! this is where you baked your best breads and pastries that fed us and nourtured us. and for that, we are all happy and healthy and wiser. it is time we move! we're more than equipped to rule the world!
"no," he said aloud, "we're not yet equipped to rule the world. we will need the man's money. but he wants the house. we can strike him a deal: we can sell him the house, on condition that he use the house itself for the community center, and the land on another house for himself. we can divide the land in two: he can half for a house and the other half will remain open for the community center. that way, he can still live in the area," he declared, proudly patting himself in the back for his brilliance.
"leila, bring me quill and ink and parchment. and a writing board," he ordered. "it is a beautifully sunny day and we shall tell the rich man our prospects under this wonderful sunlight."
the man, being very generous and opinionated but dim, agreed to the terms. he still had to wait five years so the girls can prepare themselves for the world. thonda finished secondary levels and prepared for university. leila completed university and went to work everyday at a downtown coffeeshop and submitted writings to every place that would take them and saved every dacut to use in her travells. their parents tilled the vineyard and grounds of their house to keep it sturdy and strong as a community center.
in their sixth year, contractors arrived on their grounds with plans to cut up their property.
"i do wish we didn't need to sell this house and land," sarah lamented, looking back into her yard, at the house, its ridiculous outdoor spiral staircase, its dark trim and cream paint, its round doors with the knob in the middle and its acres and acres of vinyard, wheat, corn and grounds. "this was our home," she said.
simeon looked up from his planning. the contractors paused as well.
"it's beautiful, isn't it?" simeon said, holding his wife. "but it's done. we'll return again."
"no," sarah said. "we can't return. once we leave, we can never return."
simeon paused, looked teasingly at his wife. "never?"
it was a look they shared that spoke wordless forevers and unsaid favors to be savored after. they had looked this way since they were children and decided that this plot of land was where they'll stake their lives for eternity... or at least, until retirement. they agreed they wanted to see the world, too. they must agree on something, their house has served its purpose for 18 years. they are to live for a hundred or so more days.
sarah is always the first to buckle. she just can't stand loosing, and worse, being shown to be loosing. "oh, all right," she gave in. "we'll come back when we get tired of paris."
or berlin. antwerp. the vatican. manchester. edinburgh. lisbon. bilbao. algeria. egypt. turkey. and all the other nations that they want to see before they die.
the man left the room, and packing all his things and all his money that night, disappeared. he has written his home back only once, to tell them he was all right and that he knew what he was doing. but he didn't want them to go looking for him, so he merely signed his name. if they really wanted to, all they had to do was hire the police department to chase him. he took his steed and galloped away.
after nearly a month of wandering, he discovered the small town of awczine and was immediately taken by it. "i've wandered the whole of the world. i've gathered enough life experiences to fill a book, a bestselling book, at that. it's time i took a break from wandering, at least. what a quaint little town, tucked in the folds of mount severige and overlooking the sea! the winters here must be enormous and staggering. it looks perfect - lots for me to do in the off-months where people pay attention to not much else but the holidays. i shall be happy here," he said.
he tethered his horse onto a gate that said "embassy" and fell in line for a VISA. he was happy that his passport was immediately stamped "WELCOME" instead of "try again: try no. ____" he untethered his horse and went looking for a house ot stay.
the official who had stamped his passport didn't even bother to look at his credentials to see what sort of contributions he could make to awczine. "did you see that?" she gushed to another official. "isn't he cute?"
"he is," the official said, pouting and folding the envelopes of an applicant he rejected. the applicant had been homeless for a year now, hiding in awzine with friends and relatives and shuffling from job to job. this is his seventh application, and he was runnning out of money again. but the immigration officer denied him again because the only thing he's succeeded so far in awczine is a police record for speeding and crashing a car into a light post. the official stamped his envelope "try again: try no. seven," and put it away. "he sure is cute. i'll bet he's looking to settle. i wonder if he'll take me?"
the other official laughed, "you certainly can try," she said, knowing that he would anyways, at the next party they go to he will make sure to invite the new man on the block to get to know him better. it's his mission in life - to know as many people as possible and invite them over to his house on historic and trendy silverlane. his parties are always the talk of the town - he allows anything and everything to happen in his third story condo unit. he has a private access rooftop where a landscape artist currently works on projects. and everyone knows his projects aren't just on the official's rooftop garden. you weren't considered "in" unless you had gone to at least three of his parties. by then, you were on your way to a comfortable life and existence at awczine.
leila, because of her beauty, grace and simplicity, was invited to his party only once. thonda, never. neither of the girls were considered to be the official's taste, but leila was welcome to come anytime, if someone she knew was invited would take her.
the man exited the embassy, pleasantly recounting how easy it was to have gotten citizenship in this new country, and rode his steed throughout town. he didn't like the town's busy huffing and running. he didn't like its organized traffic and scheduled pickups and marked out traffic lanes. he thought the houses were rundown, the others pretentious and the decent ones mere boxes in the sky. so he spent the night at the drake hotel, the town's largest and most expensive, because he thought it looked decent and all right and clean compared to the park regency and the continental, whose shiny brass gates and bright lights looked gaudy next to the drake's marble floors, fresh flowers, chandeliers and mahogany furniture.
leila realized she hadn't been to town in a long time. "want to come with me? i'm going downtown," she said, putting on her boots and fixing her bag.
"no, thank you," thonda said, "but let's bake pie today!"
leila, bless her heart, didn't see why one should keep onesself cooped up indoors when the day is perfectly beautiful outside. one should take advantage of it while she still can. "no, thanks, thonda, but we really should go out today," she said.
thonda knew another invitation from her sister wasn't coming. she sighed, took her boots and changed her clothes. "all right. i haven't been to town in a while, either."
they walked and chatted animately about the weather, the old trees that drooped branches and made them laugh because someone else was at least more unhappier than they that morning.
the man had also risen from bed that morning and gone shopping for new clothes and other special effects. he tried on new boots for the winter, because he hadn't experienced a proper winter before.
"it was just a few drizzles here and there, nothing really spectacular. mostly rain. if it snowed it would be a feat, if it hailed it would be another. but i've only seen snow and hail once, and it was in the same day of the same year: new year's day. so there was snow and hail once in two years. it was cold and i would have liked to see it pile up long enough to pound into missiles to throw at each other, like war."
the cobbler looked at him, dumbfounded, smiled and continued measuring his foot and his leg for his new boot. suddenly, leila showed up at the cobbler's storefront window. thonda followed a few seconds later. the man had never seen anything like their beauty before.
"who are they?" he asked the cobbler. the girls laughed at a display and then started dancing as if in the shoes and then walked away. the man thought how talented they must be to imagine dancing in shoes clearly not meant for the dance they were trying to imitate.
"they? oh leila and thonda, girls who live in the suburbs of awczine. they're very sweet, but quite unpopular," the cobbler said, taking orange chalk and laying down his measurements on a piece of suede and drawing,
"unpopular? they're the sweetest girls i have come across in this town," the man said. "are they married?"
"married? goodness, no, haha," said the cobbler, chuckling and choking on his laughter. "they're as innocent as can be. been invited to roget's party only once, that older one. the younger one won't go anywhere without her older sister. they're only as happy as can be, the poor girls."
"happy as can be? why, that's a great prospect, that is! why shouldn't one be rewarded for already being happy as they are? why must it always be based on who you marry, or what wealth you've achieve, or what relatives you happen to be locked with? it's quite inconvenient, and that can't be helped," the man said. when the cobbler finished, the tailor arrived for his measuring; he needed new clothes. he raised his arms so his chest could be measured.
suddenly, the man had a thought as the tailor circled the tape measure around his chest and measured above his heart: the countryside. maybe there's a house i could purchase there. he thought he shouldn't waste any more time on things that shouldn't take too long to accomplish.
"tailor, are you done? i must go."
"there you go sir, all done. and in the shade of - ?"
"midnight, gentlemen. as blue as you can go with the jacket, as brown, almost black, as you can go with the boots. and i shall pick them up next week, yes. thank you, dear sirs."
leila is a typical girl of 12. she liked wandering the hills and meadows of her town, picking wildflowers and eating entire branches of blueberries. she would gather nuts and wash and salt them in the briny stream that branched from the sea nearby right almost into her back yard. in the morning, she would use her mother's old basin to catch water from the salty stream and lay it in the sun to dry. in the afternoon when she returned, there would be enough salt in the basin to crumble into her nuts. she would soak her almonds, peanuts, cashews, filberts, macadamias and walnuts in the salt and then snack on them the following day.
leila had a younger sister, thonda, but you would think they were twins. they were only three years apart, leila the older, and they shared many things. but unlike leila, thonda had a homebody disposition, and she liked sitting in their house and dusting it, washing potholders and rags, cooking, fixing the yard, fixing the roof, anything so long as it will allow her to stay inside the house. she always thought leila ventured outside often enough for the both of them.
the sisters were renowed in town for their loveliness and virtue - neither would be out too late in the dark with any of their friends, and they could always rely on either one of them to deliver messages to their parents, or carry out town tasks such as going to the city to pay taxes. they were never idle and always occupied themselves with some sort of task, wether it be gathering more fruit for jams or grinding rice for cakes or pulverizing nuts to paste.
their town was in a high hillside between the mountain's summit and the sea. the high church tower also served as lookout point for storms and incoming ships. a spyglass inside the tower allowed spies to detect whether enemy ships were coming. accurate identification through the generations had allowed this small town of awczine to flee in time before the arrival of vikings, the christians, the government and later the tourists, and survive as a coastal town.
one sleepy early morning in the first weekend of the third month of fall, a man arrived at the village. he had earned his fortunes in the war and was seeking a quiet place to settle down. he cannot stand his own hometown where his mother and his sisters and his father and his friends kept on asking him what his plans are for his life. they were inherently wealthy, so the talk revolved around marriage or career or both.
"i want to see the world," he told them.
they mocked him, "see it, yes, but with the way you are moping around waiting for something to happen in you life, you'll never leave even mere footprints of it," they said.
"i will leave footprints," he said, "and you will follow my lead."
his mother just then came along, "yes, but before anyone follows anyone's footsteps or even starts creating them, there's the washing, cleaning and dressing up to do; mary shallow's party is tonight and we mustn't be late. who knows, maybe he'll find his wife in the gala tonight," his mother laughed to her friends just as they were able to leave after a day's gossiping.
he always like to take pictures. so they took their snowmobiles further and further up the mountain for more views, and so they could say they've actually circled the mountain, and what's more have finished it. glacier is normally blue, but this one is emerald green. chip some of it away, and risk crumbling the whole mountain.
it didn't occur to sean just how far they've trekked. they stopped their bikes in the middle of a crest of a peak and decided to inspect the terrain. in a land everchanging, where the pathways change by the hour, you can't always follow the previous snowmobile's treks. lauren trotted ahead and left sean to his camera.
sean caught a gleam of ice on the peak and stepped forward - and fell.
lauren was too far ahead to hear.
ice cold air escaped from the crevasse. his camera's strap dangled on the edge of the precipie, swinging in the new air. he felt the air suck him into the crevasse, deeper and deeper until the sky was reduced to a shard of blue. and all this while, he screamed with intentions of ripping his lungs out, and he clawed the sides of the crevasse, chipping out ice emerald left and right, raining them all over him, letting the precious fall faster into the murky depths below.
the sky was reduced to a shard of blue.
then finally, JZUG! his left side hit a ledge. his right clawed ice again and he was able to get a handhold using a jut in the ice. there was more ledge left, and he scrambled as fast and as carefully as he could. he lay on the ice feeling his racing heart and exploding lungs and ragged breath.
his asthma flared and he couldn't breathe. he struggled to a sitting position and tried to calm himself. he remembered to pad his side, and took several big puffs of his inhaler. he realized he wasn't on just any small ledge - he was on land, and the land led to a cave yawning in the short distance.
sean's curiosity got the better of him. he got to his feet and took an ungainly step forward. exactly where he sat, his camera in its protective rubber case landed. he bent down and retrieved it, pivoted and hobbled forward. there might be a way back to the surface through the cave!
he switched his camera on to provide light, accidentally pressing the flash button.
"gaaah!" cried a voice from inside the cave. sean froze. he aimed his camera where he last heard the sound.
"gaaah!" cried the voice again. he heard clawed little feet scamper further from him. excited whispers hissed from his left and he aimed the camera there. one of them gave a little yelp. he heard small feet run away.
"hello?" he called. he aimed the camera to his left, swung it forward when he heard a little thud ahead of him. he snapped a photo.
"gaaah!" yelled two voices, and away they scampered again.
sean stopped and scrolled his camera's digital index to view his pix. he say nothing but blobs of circle in the dark. he switched to nightvision. he aimed his camera right and snapped a photo.
what his lens captured almost made him laugh. "but you all look like that character in toy story," he said. he heard hissing and chuckling further into the cave, a heavy sort of breathing, and he aimed his camera there. he pressed his focus lens lightly to focus his camera, and aim a soft green light into the cave.
in the distance huddled thousands and thousands of round little balls with one eye each and webbed feet and arms that sagged to the ground. they blinked several times at the light and looked fearfully at him. they pressed each other more, the ones in front trying to get away from the light. some of them gave up and ran to the sides, the feet padding and shuffling and clawing the ice to get a foothold.
"sean! sean!" lauren called from above.
"i'm here, honey," sean said, hobbling a little back to the mouth of the cave, but he didn't want to hobble too far ahead because he didn't want to take his eyes off the little creatures, they might all suddenly collectively decide to disappear, the way they adeptly do so, for millennia, the technique passed on from offspring to offspring.
"thank god! are you all right? where does it hurt? where's your radio? i radioed when i couldn't find you!"
"you gotta come down here and see this!"
"what? i have to call for help! let me call for help! sean! catch this! to keep you warm. i'll call for park service."
"not now, honey - " but lauren had tossed down a blanket weighed down by its own because lauren had tied it into a bundle. it thudded into the ledge, bounced twice and rolled toward the edge. sean scrambled to catch it. he slipped but was able to stop his falling over the edge by digging the toe of his boot into the ice. he unravelled the blanket and threw it around him, grabbed his camera, and entered back into the cave.
"hi there," he said, calling to the creatures, but this time, they weren't afraid of him. in fact, he was suprised to enter a cave full of glowing, red pairs of ovals. pairs and pairs of the ovals stretched infinitely into the cave. they climbed sharply on precipies or sloped gently to the ceiling. so dense were the eyes that there were occasional pairs of eyes even on the ceiling. they were all unmoving, except for a faint grinding of ice and claw.
"ngrrrrr," they hummed.
one of them stepped forward. sean froze. he smelled a musk they produced when it is time to feed. sean recognized it, even as he didn't know what it was for. he spun around with intentions to run. but the creatures had somehow used his camera and produced a light so bright that he thought his back was still the cave entrance.
in fact, it was a wall of the green creatures, completely blocking the entrance. they had used a technique to pile one on top of the other so that they could form an impenetrable wall. some were holding his camera aloft.
with his thick fleece blanket he whipped at the creatures, but it was folly to turn one's back to the creatures. they know when to attack. they've practiced for millennia. they sprang like little gremlins from the cave floor to sean's back, legs, arms. he swatted them away, but with asthma and fractured bones and little food since this morning, they were feeble attempts. he was able to dislodge rocks and throw them at the creatures.
"gaaaah!" they screamed when they were hurt. "gaaaah!" they screamed when they were squashed by the rocks.
sean clawed his way about the circle, until he was overrun. fleece repells them, his final thought was. i should have kept it on.
seven days later, on the floor of the cave, a gremlin opened his eyes for the first time, and noticed yellow pairs of slits stretching for miles and miles around. they stretched in every direction, from the floors to the ledges to the ceilings, where there's a clawhold to be found.
"haaaaa," they greeted him. "haaaaa," they welcomed him.
he tried to stand, and found that his legs were sturdy. he stretched his body, and learned his arms where sinewy. he blinked. he breathed. his asthma was gone.
"gaaaah!" the newborn creature cried. "gaaaah!" he can't believe what just happened. "gaaaah!" he tried to run away.
but the creatures knew just what was happening, and they blocked the cave entrance again. they used his camera's last remaining batteries to illuminate the newborn's eyes.
little did they know, each time they did that, they were taking pictures. they snapped photos as the newborn bounced against the walls, the rocks, the sharp edges of the protuding ledges and tried to hurt himself, escape, scrape off his new fur and his change his yellow vision of endless slits of light.
"gaaaah!" he screamed. "gaaaah!" and the others let him. little did the newborn know that each time he did that, a piece of his past was being erased. that's just how the minds of these minions work. soon enough, they will love the dark and learn to feed on lichen and crisp underground glacier runoff. they will learn to procreate and turn more rats and men into furry round creatures such as they.
a fleece blanket lay on an ancient ledge jutting out toward the middle of a deep, deep crevasse at the heart of the mountain. lauren was so distressed by throwing it that she thought sean ran for it, hobbling, slipped and fell, fell, fell. experts say the crevasse was the deepest one yet they've found on the mountain.
it was so deep, it opened into an underground water system that emptied out into the sea. sean's waterproof camera, having no use on that ledge, found its way in the hands of a gremlin who thought little of something that cannot be eaten and no longer produced blinding, beautiful, warm light. they needed all the space they can get on that ledge for future visitors. so the gremlin sent the camera on its way, travelling down, down, down the endless crevasse and into the water that emptied out into the sea. someone did find it, eventually.