Archive | July, 2012

A Nose to Found a Dynasty On

30 Jul

I have something to confess: I have an impertinent nose.

The rest of my face is what some might call winsome. I have large green eyes, high cheekbones, and a mass of wavy blonde hair. But my nose dominates my features. It’s not terrible, by any means. Though it’s too long to be a fashionable button nose and too wide to be queenly, it gives my profile a kind of charm. In fact, it sometimes reminds me of Saleem Sinai, a character from the superb book Midnight’s Children.  Saleem has a wondrous and massive nose, and it is the source of his magical talents. As one character tells his grandfather, who possesses the same nose, “Mughal Emperors would have given their right hands for noses like that one. There are dynasties waiting inside it.” Mine is not nearly as large or extraordinary as Saleem’s.  But I wonder if perhaps one morning I will wake up able to sniff out that old iPod I lost two years ago, or the library card that must be under my bed somewhere. In fact, I endowed one of my own characters with such an ability – the pensive Letty of Letty Greene, Queen of Hearts can catch a whiff of anything, from gardenia and patchouli to melancholia and joy.

The nose in question. © John Herzog Photography.

But I don’t always believe that my prodigious proboscis is a blessing. Multiple people have called it a ‘Jew schnoz’ (…yeah, I know). On days when my forehead is breaking out and I feel like my thighs are more deserving of the title ‘Great White Whale’ than Moby Dick, my nose seems like an intruder. I could be truly beautiful, I’ll think to myself, if I could just straighten out that damn nose.

Sometimes I even think that one day, when I’m rolling in piles of money, I’ll alter it. I’ll look just like Emma Stone in all her peaches-and-cream, snub-nosed glory.

I can’t let myself do that, though. Because I made a promise.

When I was in eighth grade, my mother, sister, and I visited New York City for the first time. Like proverbial country mice, we scuttled through the streets with our heads down, terrified that we would be mugged or shot. Our rolling suitcases thumping behind us, we navigated the city as quickly as first-time tourists can.

And then we were stopped. A man loomed out of the shadows of a parking garage. He was missing several teeth and wore a dirty skullcap. “You all from Virginia?” he asked.

Inexplicably, my mother stopped. “Y-yes. How did you know?”

He nodded at our suitcases. “Says on your flight tags.” The man ambled closer. I tensed, preparing to drop my bag and flee. “You wanna know something? That’s where my hero’s from.”

“Your hero?” said my mother.

“Yes ma’am. Robert E. Lee.” He smashed the words together, making them sound like ‘Roberty Lee.’ “What a man. What a man. Tell you what. When you go back to Virginia for me, I want you to put a red rose on his esophagus.”

“Do you mean sarcophagus?” I asked.

He rounded on me. “I most certainly do not! I want you to put a red rose on his eeeeee-sophagus, you hear me?”

I nodded, eyes wide.

The man fell silent, scrutinizing me. Then he jabbed his finger at me. “Young lady, I wanna tell you something. Your nose makes you damn special. Like Roberty Lee. Never change it, you hear?”

“I won’t,” I muttered, and fled.

I think we can all agree that Roberty, as I have come to call him, was a tad strange. (I never did put that rose on Lee’s sarcophagus. Or esophagus.) But you know something? He was also right. My nose is what makes me different than any other cookie-cutter blonde. So on the kinds of days I was talking about before, I remember Roberty’s words. Your nose makes you damn special.

It does.

And you know what Pascal said about Cleopatra’s nose, anyhow:

Marmorbüste Kleopatra VII. von Ägypten, entsta...

“Had it been shorter, the whole face of the world would have been changed.”

Edit: I just found my library card.  Under my bed, as I suspected.  Clearly, it’s a sign from beyond.  My nose is magical after all.

Is there an aspect of your appearance that makes you unique?  Enormous eyes?  Thick brows?  Magnificent ears?  Tell me about it in the comments section!

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Six Little Red Caps: Ginger

28 Jul

you’ll never see me in a white lace sundress

crossing my legs like a lady

with my hair neatly brushed a hundred strokes

the way my sisters do.

 

timid, they let the voracious forest swallow them whole.

docile, they do not know that it is

a beast to be tamed,

that it will give up its secrets only to those

with dirt-blacked feet

and feathers in their hair,

their lips wet with falcon songs.

 

join forces with the brazen wind

on legs made of cobwebs and old leaves.

outrun the forest

to become its captor –

 

this is the secret I have forced

from defiant trees.

 

I am a being of the earth

and sky: my heart a ball

of soil, my blood nothing but wind

whistling through empty veins.

 

yet –

 

yesterday I found a stain

between my legs, red like the chipped

and fading paint on our apartment walls.

blood where blood shouldn’t be.

 

you’re a woman now,” said ruby smirking.

she grinned her black-lipped cheshire grin.

you know what that means.”

 

yeah. I know what that means.

 

Written with the permission of Auriea Harvey.  Other poems in the series include:

Six Little Red Caps: Prologue

Six Little Red Caps: Scarlet

Six Little Red Caps: Carmen

Six Little Red Caps: Ruby

Six Little Red Caps: Rose

Six Little Red Caps: Robin

‘The Path’ is an incredibly complex game with a lot of different interpretations.  If you have views regarding the meaning of any of these characters, especially Ginger, I’d love to hear your comments!

Six Little Red Caps: Ruby

27 Jul

They say

the day I was born

wolves howled in the naked light of the sun

a horse trampled a three-year-old to death

and people wearing their pale December faces

felt the ground tremble beneath their feet –

stared at their shoelaces as if

they might slither to life

creep down their throats

and pluck out their bones one by one by one,

savoring the fibulas and femurs,

crushing them to blood and marrow and instinct.

 

Maybe the same things happened the day

fifteen years later

when I stole Scarlet’s car keys right off the table

and Carmen’s secret vodka where she keeps it

under her bed and still thinks no one knows

and had myself some fun

(if you know what I mean);

 

I couldn’t tell you, really,

since I ended up with the steering wheel buried in my thigh

and those slippery little vertebrae all over the place

happy birthday, Ruby.

 

Now I wear a brace that throttles my leg:

a reminder of His hands on my neck and

the tang of His cigarette as smoke

crawled into the pores of my skin.

 

After the accident He stopped

coming around here so much.

 

Written with the permission of Auriea Harvey.  Other poems in the series include:

Six Little Red Caps: Prologue

Six Little Red Caps: Scarlet

Six Little Red Caps: Carmen

Six Little Red Caps: Ginger

Six Little Red Caps: Rose

Six Little Red Caps: Robin

‘The Path’ is an incredibly complex game with a lot of different interpretations.  If you have views regarding the meaning of any of these characters, especially Ruby, I’d love to hear your comments!

Love-in-Idleness

26 Jul

Yet marked I where the bolt of Cupid fell:

It fell upon a little western flower,

Before milk-white, now purple with love’s wound,

And maidens call it love-in-idleness.

-Oberon, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Her voice smells like violets crushed underfoot, a pungent whisper of a scent, the kind that comes in a crystal-cut perfume bottle.

“ – a meeting tonight, I won’t be home until ten,” she’s saying, the crackle of phone static distorting her voice. But even though she is fifteen miles away, shunted into a ten-by-ten cubicle on the fifth floor of Baker & Allen, he can still smell the violets on her breath. “No need to get me anything to eat, I’ll scrounge up something on the way home. Bye, honey.” A pause. “Love you.” The message ends with a harsh beep, and the cool monotone of his cell phone asks him if he would like to delete it. He jabs his index finger at the number pad, indicating that no, he would like to store the message away in the annals of his phone so that he can take it out like a favorite memory and savor the smell of her voice.

For a moment, he wonders whether to call her back, wish her luck for the meeting. But in the end fear overrides his desire to speak to her. What if she’s busy? Talking with her boss? Making another phone call? Out to lunch? He has become irrationally terrified of talking on the phone. Confronting the mechanical silence of the answering machine makes him talk softly, his words coming out in short, incoherent bursts. Nerves make him run his hands through his hair, which is an un-color of dull brown and gray, and he feels his fingers slide over the bald spot that tops his scalp, a traitor to his body. That morning he had tried to brush a few strands over it, but they only hang there limply like colorless pieces of dental floss, concealing nothing.

He paces, nervous, counting his steps as they echo through the empty house. One, two, three, four. Turn. One, two, three, four. Turn. One, two… Doing this makes him feel secure, and if someone asked him why he would not be able to answer. It is the same compulsion that makes him languish by the window for hours during the night, waiting for a star to fall into his open hands. It is the aloneness that makes me do these things, he thinks to himself. If Allison were home more often, then maybe I could…

Could what?

He hasn’t told her about these compulsions, which have begun to lurk in the crevices of his mind, secrets without names. He is getting older, his eyes turning rheumy and pale as though he had left them out to dry in the sun, and the space between them is becoming uncrossably wide. He has seen her staring a moment too long at one of her coworkers when he escorts her to work functions. Thomas, he thinks. His name is Thomas. Thomas is young and animated and sharp, unlike himself. When he looks in the mirror he sees a blurred outline, as if he were a figure drawn in pencil that someone has rubbed out with water.

Allison will not be home at ten. He knows this.

He takes out his phone and replays her message, wishing he understood himself again, that he understood any of this. He closes his eyes as he smells the violets on her breath and remembers when they were young, when the morning sun tasted like eggs fried in butter in a house full of windows.

“Would you like to make a call?” his phone asks him when he is done.

He considers the question. “No,” he tells it, and begins to pace again.

Six Little Red Caps: Carmen

23 Jul

black hair razored

short and sexy –

jeans fitted so tight they

caress my legs, lovers with

lips of distressed cotton –

mouth carefully coated crimson,

a reflection of my mood,

a warning sign,

the corners turned up just so –

a provocative come-hither glance

that I have perfected after staring

for hours in the mirror –

 

the consummate femme fatale,

i’d like to think, but what do I know

 

(i’ll give you a hint:

it’s more than my mother

thinks I know)

 

sometimes on the way to grandmother’s house

I put down the stupid basket

slip off my spike-heeled boots

then my shirt

I shuck off those jeans that hug me

like a tantalizing dream of fingers

twined in my hair, lips on my lips,

and dance as if the stars

are falling into my hands

and hope to god or whatever

nobody sees me

even if they did, I don’t think

i’d mind so much.

 

and lately when i’m alone

in the forest at night

i’ve been getting this feeling:

the kind that sends tremors

of red pleasure

racing through my veins

the kind that means

i’m being watched

by someone.

 

so i lift my face to the bruised-purple

stain of sky and let it

wind itself around me until i am nothing

but a shadow under the mad moon,

 

a mirror reflecting midnight.

 

Written with the permission of Auriea Harvey.  Other poems in the series include:

Six Little Red Caps: Prologue

Six Little Red Caps: Scarlet

Six Little Red Caps: Ruby

Six Little Red Caps: Ginger

Six Little Red Caps: Rose

Six Little Red Caps: Robin

‘The Path’ is an incredibly complex game with a lot of different interpretations.  If you have views regarding the meaning of any of these characters, especially Carmen, I’d love to hear your comments!

The Angry Feminist Manifesto

21 Jul

Part 2 of the Pilgrims Flash Fiction Series

Okay, so maybe I killed them.

And maybe it wasn’t an accident.

But I don’t regret what I did, and don’t you think for one moment I ever would.

Look, I know I’m not beautiful. Me, with my mousy hair and thin face and spotty skin? Who are we kidding? Other people can be beautiful, sure. But not me. Not Sally Leanne Beauchesne, U.S. Army Private First Class, Fourth Infantry Division.

That doesn’t mean Mike had to say what he said, though.

Let me back up here. I entered the army fresh out of high school. Thought it would be good for people like me – you know, not pretty, not brainy, just brawny. And it was – until I got placed in the Twelfth Infantry Regiment for deployment to Afghanistan. Up until then, I had been the only girl. Not that it mattered much, since I don’t have any curves to speak of. Nothing to mark me out as different from the rest. Mike, Sam, Manuel, Benjamin – they all saw me as one of the guys.

But Abigail, she was beautiful. Perfectly placed highlights, bee-stung lips. At least a D-cup. She was like an unholy cross between G.I. Jane and Mila Kunis. And Christ, could she shoot. Not as well as me, of course, but she was competition. And she rubbed me the wrong way. Her breathy little giggles and her Christie Brinkley highlights made me clench my fists every time she walked by during training. The way the men followed her every footstep like lapdogs pissed me off.

You probably think I’m jealous of Abigail. But let me make it clear: that’s not it at all. Who would want to be a red-lipped slut like her? No way. This is the army, sweetie, not high school, I wanted to say. What I felt was anger. How dare she walk into the training compound with hips swinging like she had clockwork springs in those bones? Where was her dignity?

I’m a feminist, see, and I don’t bother to hide it. My Gramma Louise taught me well. The daughter of a West Virginian coal miner, she was. She always said living on top of those mines gave her a fiery soul. Said the fire would creep into her veins while she slept. So short she had to sit on a phone book when she drove, but she made up for that in temperament. And she never got anything from a man that she could do herself, which was most everything. Got a job, raised my mother. Then raised me. Women are sacred creatures, she would say. Adam was the prototype, but Eve was the finished product.

So you can see what I mean, right? Abigail was abusing what it meant to be a woman. But I wasn’t planning on shooting her. It wasn’t until Mike said Jesus, Sal, go back to West Virginia and screw your cousin for us, you ugly cunt, you make me want to pry my eyes out with my fingernails that I lost it. See, I knew he wouldn’t have said those things if Abigail hadn’t been there. I was yin, she was yang. I was the moon, she was the sun. Yaddayaddayadda.

She was right, my gramma. That coal-fire in her blood passed through my own mamma to live in me too, and in that moment it burned me clean through. So can you really blame me when I crept over to Abigail’s bunk and put a clean shot through her forehead? And then felt the fire licking at my heart, scorching it away, until I did the same to Mike?

No. You really can’t.

Gramma Louise would’ve approved, after all.

Shotgun Sally was one of those characters that seemed to spring, fully-formed, from my head, christened and all.  While writing my novella, I often found that I had to rein her back because she wanted to run her mouth during every scene (and if she wasn’t in the scene, she’d holler at me until I inserted her).  She’s the kind of girl who demands attention.

Other stories in the series:

Letty Greene, Queen of Hearts

Babes in the Wood

© 2012, Elizabeth Ballou

Six Little Red Caps: Scarlet

20 Jul

There was a time not so long ago

when Mother had strong hands and a stronger heart

and took care of her six twisted troubled children

and did all the things Good Housekeeping says

a mother should do.

 

Nowadays Mother lies in bed unmoving,

her body encased in sheets like a tree choked by vines,

her eyes two grubby silver dollars

tossed aside in the gutter.

 

And if you think that’s bad you should see Grandmother.

 

I think I can feel it in me already, this cancer passed

in the secret way of women, dulling what I once thought might

become concert pianist’s fingers.

The slim-legged piano

crouches unplayed and silent in the corner: a sleek black wolf

with ivory teeth.

 

Once I wanted my name splashed all over those

eternal lines to time.

 

Sometimes, on the way to Grandmother’s tiny house

buried like treasure beneath the shadows of old oaks,

I hear the rush of voices – an unseen choir of thousands,

a sonata carved in bark and stone,

 

a blessed counterpoint to the chaos that tilts its head back

and swallows me whole in the dark of the forest.

 

Written with the permission of Auriea Harvey.  Other poems in the series include:

Six Little Red Caps: Prologue

Six Little Red Caps: Carmen

Six Little Red Caps: Ruby

Six Little Red Caps: Ginger

Six Little Red Caps: Rose

Six Little Red Caps: Robin

‘The Path’ is an incredibly complex game with a lot of different interpretations.  If you have views regarding the meaning of any of these characters, especially Scarlet, I’d love to hear your comments!