Fiction, Part 1

You can’t feed a baby a steak, seared and charred with deep cuts over a grill. Crisp and taught tissue sealing in the blood and flavor inside. Served with fresh wild asparagus, perfectly tender and crisp the front teeth so it snaps quietly in your mouth. Idune’s mouth watered as he fed a small fire tiny sticks and tufts of dry grass. He was famished, watching the flames and mouthing his Uncle’s words: you can’t feed a baby a steak. He felt the night grow colder around him, creeping in on his small glow of warmth left. The stillness of the air settled like a shadow as he blew into the coals. The dark fell, and his baby had grown into a healthy little furnace no bigger than a cabbage.

Idune heard wheels turn through the silent din.

Wood clackied against wood and grew louder with stubborn hoof steps. When the sound was in sight, it bayed to a stop. Idune couldn’t see and tensed as footsteps approached through the dry, dirty grass. It felt like ages, one maybe two travelers. The road was well traveled, the only highway connecting the river towns in the valley. He knew what to do, and when two figures took shape against the light of the fire, he stood up.

“Greetings, fellows. Come, sit by the fire and warm yourselves.”

Two men emerged from the backlight, one older than the other, soft in the cheeks. The younger one was dirty with a dirty frown of hair on his upper lip.

“Fellow travelers indeed, young firekeeper. We gratefully accept your invitation.” They both plopped down, loud and weary.

Idune sat back down, keeping a fair distance across from them both, “As long as there are seats, a fire is never frugal with its bounty.”

“Well said, and well spoken my friend,” replied the older gentlemen. Large folds and wrinkles lined his face. He once weighed more than he does now, but it seemed that he kept his health. The younger one wore a leather cap with greasy strands of black hair escaping from its bottom.

The older man leaned forward with a smile, “What brings you to the land between towns, unless you have a bed hidden back there I can’t see?”

“The dirt is cheaper than a smelly worn cot,” Idune said, “I prefer to sleep outside anyhow.”

“I see,” the old man replied, “I would much prefer a soft warm bed, if I’m honest, but times are lean, and in lean times, we must forgo the luxuries we once enjoyed in bounty.”

His younger friend laughed sarcastically, “here we go with the lean times bit. You were a sheep herder you dim coot.”

The old man snapped his head, “I was no sheep herder you petulant twit!” His anger was palpable. “I commanded flocks across this valley, I traded in hundreds and spent in thousands. You couldn’t wear a shirt in the middle republic without touching a strand of my wool. The mills cowered in fear when they saw me coming. I saturated their production line and squeezed them until their profit was mere pennies per head. Power, you uppity perp, wool was power and a warm bed wherever I went.”

Idune was uncomfortable. He quickly tried to turn the conversation back to the banter of strangers, “What do you carry along the road these days, wool still?”

They both laughed now, which was a bit unsettling, “wool, wine, nails, bits of whatever we find and feed,” the old man answered. “Traders, I suppose, for what it’s worth. Not much to do but eak out what you can. And how about you, what keeps your belly full?”

Idune couldn’t help but smile on an empty stomach, “food and provisions,” he said.

The old man raised his eyebrows, “Provisions? You carry naught but pack, unless you are hiding bushels of apples behind under your bed back there.”

“My cargo doesn’t need cart or horse,” Idune said, “Mushrooms, for the kitchen.”

His eyes lit up, “Mushrooms! Oh, love mushrooms, golden brown in butter or stew. Here, let us have some. We can share some corded hare and make it as dish.” The old man nodded at the and told him to get to their bags, and after an exaggerated effort, the young man emerged with a long braided cord of meat.

Foul stuff, Idune thought. Corded hare was the lawless protein of the region. More often than not you could find four or five different rabbits in the three strands of meat, weaved together in a dry, gamey string. It was all too plenty, as rabbits were one of the few bountiful beasts in the valleys these days.

Still, hunger never says no. To share a meal was sacred, but his stomach would settle for blasphemy at this point.

“I’m afraid the mushrooms are not for eating,” he confessed with a bit of pride, “they are most likely worth more than your cart. I ferry them for my father, a chef in the merchant kitchens in Porto Monilia. He is no master, but he is masterful yet.”

There was space in the moment as the flames cracked. The old man sunk down into the light of the fire, Idune could see a bit of loss on his face. He knew the look, he’d felt it and seen it felt, even though he was still a young man. The mushrooms were more to him than a good meal.

“Still,” Idune spoke up, “I wouldn’t be a chef’s son without knowing how to brighten up a bit of corded hair. Pass it here and let me see what we are working with.  

The men exchanged looks and shrug, and handed the cord over to Idune. It was about three feet in length, a full serving from the butcher or bandit that sold it to them, the same thing as far as Idune was concerned. He could tell right away that any vitality the hares might of had in life was stamped out along with it. The braids of meat were a dull, cloudy grey. It would need to be soaked for days just to soften it up to a tender bite. He brought the braid close to his nose and breathed deep. He smelled the dust from the road, the grease from the young man’s hand and hair, and then a bit of the flesh. One of the rabbits lived a long life, another a short. He felt up and down the cord and found a stiff bit of scar tissue, perhaps a failed trap or deep thorn. It would need more than what he had on hand to turn it into something special, but when in doubt, reach for the chef’s best friend.

 

Idune pulled a small, worn wood canister from a deep circular pouch on the side of his pack. He turned his pack around and pulled out a small, shallow skillet, black with fire and seasoning. He flattened the fire with it before putting it directly onto the coals so every inch was touching.

 

Finally, Idune reached to his hip and unsheathed his knife. He measured up the cord and cut off enough for three modest servings, not wanting to presume too much with food that was not his own. He broke down the braids and lay them on a the lid of his leather pouch, flat against the ground. Idune washed the leather with a bit of water, and then the meat. As his audience watched, he began mincing the hare into what might as well have been ground pepper. He made quick work of it, adding another splash of water to the pile. Idune turned to the now glowing skillet and doused it with water, which evaporated before it hit the metal.

 

Idune turned toward the younger man, “May I see your cap, good sir?”

 

He reached up and handed him his hat. Idune filled it with the last of his water before picking up the hare in handed and spreading it on the skillet. As the meat hit, it made almost no sound, having not fat to sizzle. Idune flipped the cap onto the skillet. The young man’s eyes grew worried, but just as he sat up to say something Idune removed the cap and took the pan from the fire. Idune opened the canister and pinched a bit onto the meat, grinding it in with the flat of his blade.

“It will be cool enough to eat shortly,” he said. The two man came around Idune’s side of the fire. The old man reached down, picking up a bit of the near scalding meal with his finger tips, dropping it in his mouth. His eyes widened and he turned to idune and exclaimed, “Salt!”

Idune’s father would be furious if he knew that that he had wasted such a precious bit on such a sorid dish, but he didn’t care. The hare tasted incredible, the best thing he could remember eating, but he couldn’t remember much in the moment. The three devoured the meal and fell asleep by the coals.

Amnesia

Who are you?

“Seven years old.”

That’s not what I asked. What is your name?

“Brown hair, green eyes.”

Your hair is red, what is your name? Where did you come from?

“Garrison”

Is that a your name? A place?

“Indian store, across route 9D.”

Ok, what are you doing here?

“Whatchamacallit and gobstoppers. Two dollars.”

Those are candies, did you eat something?

“Don’t cross the highway by yourself. You can’t walk to school.”

Please, I’m trying to help you.

“Call the nurse, I’m sick and need to go home.”

Thomas, can you come here please, I think he’s delusional.

“My stomach hurts. My throat is sore. My ankle hurts.”

What is the problem?

I don’t know, he isn’t making any sense. The EMTs brought him in, but I don’t see any injuries.

“What is your name, sir?”

“Alex.”

What is wrong Alex, we are here to help you.

“Justin.”

Alright, order a CT scan.

Does he have insurance?

I don’t know, but we can’t be liable if it’s a head injury. Order the scan.

Stay here, Alex. We’ll be right back.

“The bushes on the side of the house have tunnels, but we can’t play in them. The leaves stack so high you can hardly jump in them, but we can’t. Clothes off, tick check. My popsicle fell on the ground. The snake pit never has any snakes, but I’m still scared. The stream is nice. My moms blueberry bushes are bigger than me. I don’t want to go to school. I’m tired.”

 

Rhododendron

I’m recommitting to this blog because of the word rhododendron. It has been locked in my mind for weeks now. I was holding Wesley while looking out our front window. We have four cut back rhododendron bushes, two on either side of the doorway. I don’t know if it was raining, grey, or sunny. I looked at the east side bushes and I wanted to describe them to Wesley in a poem. I won’t share that poem here, I don’t want to, but since that day I’ve been craving this outlet, this practice, this creativity.

To start, I will try to describe the word rhododendron. It is a beautiful word to say, but a cumbersome, slow word to write. Rho-do-den-dron. There is a town called Rhododendron between Portland and Mt. Hood. You drive by it on the way to the mountain, or past the mountain if you take the pass. It’s a small town, a bar or two on the highway, but like other mountain towns in the area, the houses go back into the woods. Long roads lead to hidden, seldom used cabins or homes where people grow up and live in.

We used to have huge rhododendron outside of the house I grew up in for the most of my life. They would bloom huge, pink bulbous flowers in the spring and fall what felt like quickly in the rain. I remember the blooms more on the ground than on the bushes. The edges of the petals turn brown, but they stay forever. Pink and brown, until there is more brown, then they would get raked or swept away. I think of my mother, the gardener. She knows about the bushes, the ones we had at the house and the ones at my house. She told me to let them grow because they’d been cutback to sell the house and they are rather mangled. I will let them grow, maybe a year or two. They have dark leaves, plain leaves. The kind of leaf I think of when I think of a dark green, pacific northwest leaf.

I want to write a collection off that word, a collection for Wesley, for me. I want to write the fantasy novel I started late one night when I had caffeine at nine o’clock AM and kept me up until two AM. I want to feel the work of writing her come through my fingers at work, and elsewhere. I’m tempted to count my debt to this commitment, to cite the posts missed. I wrote well for a month, not so well for another month, and then whenever I felt guilt or a spark. I will be back tomorrow.

Make believe

At night, almost every night, I get in bed and make believe. I get comfortable and ask, “where are you?”

I’ve asked myself that question so many times that it comes automatically, and I shirk at its redundancy. Every night, I look for my planet, power, or reason to be there. However, there is one substantial constraint: I have to be lying down.

I often find myself in a single person, coffin like space ship, drifting through space because my best-friend-turned-captor exiled me but didn’t want to kill me. I have the trained power to bring people into a mind arena where I control what happens. It is a learned ability, through deep meditation and practice. Before my friend exiled me, I somehow rigged the vessel to keep me out of stasis so that I can continue my training. When I return, I’m more powerful than over.

I’ve run through that one thousands of times. It gets a bit old.

Another popular scenario is that I’m station at the precipice of a great, winter volcano. The volcano is active, and it is the source of a mysterious, primal power that man has learned to harness. Simple concrete bunkers are built up around the rim, each inhabited by a different delegation from across the universe. However, one empire holds the most territory, and leases out space across the rim. The result is a subversive cold war power struggle: no one wants to jeopardize the resource but they want to grow in influence.

There are more. To be honest, only pieces of them are original, but they help me sleep.

Generations

It has been a while since I wrote here.

Hi Wes, you are a month old today. You had your first secular Christmas. You are bigger and heavier. You are awake more and shining. You are growing up.

I have missed writing. The feeling of skipping days and weeks has shifted from dull shame to a wistful longing. Writing often, here, helps. That is why I am writing now, I woke up missing it.

My Dad is writing a book. He has written one, and he has been wanting to write more for years now. I started his first book but never finished it. I am happy that he is writing more. To be honest, the main reason I am happy is so that I will have more of his words when he is gone. Dark, I know, but whatever. That is what I think about. We got pregnant with Wes at the tail end of my dad’s cancer treatment. A motivation that I never had before came into play: I wanted my child to know my dad. I think so much of him. He is a unique person and I want her to know him, my mother too god forbid anything happens.

I grew up with three grand parents, but only for a short time. My grandma Rosie died when I was young. When we lived in New York, she would bring me her bucket of stickers and we would play with them. Then, when I would visit her in Santa Rosa, I would go get the bucket out and play by myself. It was in a low cabinet in the living room. No one every sat in the living room, so it felt a bit alien. We latter sat in that living room for her memorial and I have the distinct memory of not really knowing what was going on. There were a lot of people, though.

I also remember trying to talk to her in the final stages of Alzheimers. There was a casserole my mom made that she liked, and I tried handing her the TV remote and I was surprised and grossed out by how it was covered in food.

My grammy Annie, my mom’s mom, was a gem. She lived in New Hampshire and we would drive up form New York on Thanksgiving. She was always so old and so happy. We had to stop going for reasons I won’t write here, but grammy lived on for a long time after that, but we never saw her.

My grandpa Irv was who I spent the most time with, and while I have images of him, I don’t think I ever really knew him much. We would go on vacations together, and he lived in Portland for a good amount of time towards the end of his life. I know more about him from other stories, in which he sounds like another person.

I guess what I’m trying to say, Wes, is that having a kid brings up mortality in a big way. Sorry about that. Lot’s of love, max/dad.

Writing Prompts

I suppose I’ll write a few writing prompt ideas I’ve had, and then pick them up when I’m on a laptop.

#1 – surviving the nights with Wesley is like a vampire movie, where you just need to make it till dawn.

#2 – Similar to 1, surviving the nights is like a zombie movie. You’re not in the clear when day breaks, but it gets a whole lot safer.

#3 – pulling her arm through a tight sweater is like a scene in cliffhanger where you are trying to grab her hand, but she is a complex character and isn’t sure if she wants to live.

#4 – I’ve always wanted to teach a class, and I think I know what my syllabus would be. I could sketch it out here as practice.

#5 – I am intimidated by writing fantasy or sci-fi because I don’t know where to start. However, I just read most of New Yorker article that talks about how the best impossible creatures and premises are can be logically explained; they call it the “possible impossible.” I would like to write a story that practices this, either with a world or creature. I was reading a sci-fi series set in space where the powers that be set their systems a unique calendar. They are always putting down “calendrical heresy” rebellions. The rebels rebel because the government needs to do messed up tourter ceremonies in order to maintain their calendar. It’s the coolest idea in the books, otherwise they are a bit predictable.

 

One week

Wes is one week. I won’t have long to write this. She is cranking a bit. She has grown so much already. When she is awake, for the past couple days, her eyes stay open. It’s pretty special. She cries for wet diapers now, good communication, poor omen for sleep.

Sure do love her.

one week old

Typing this one left handed on an iPhone plus, not easy. Wes is in my arms and Brendan is at my desk working on his resume. Hope he wins an awesome gig.

Wes is having a sensitive day, can you blame her?

Being a week old is tough stuff. All this world and no experience. I can barely handle half my shit with 30 years under my belt.

Last night at 4 am or so I contemplated with present clarity. Wes’s life is just starting. She has the gift and challenge of going through it all, her body is growing.

My body is not growing. If I did it again, there are a few definite mistakes I would avoid, and many more smaller ones that would be pleasant to take back.

Best I can do is help her learn. I daydream about her at different stages in life. Her rolling her eyes at how much I text her in her twenties. Trips to OMSI as a young girl.

we are here now.

Sunrise 🌅

Wesley and I watched the sun crest over Alemeda ridge. A soft orange and yellow blended into softer blues. I got to look down and welcome her to her 5th day in this world.

I am sad already to see this time pass, and am glad for it to be gone. When enough people you trust say something, it is likely to be true. They say, “savor this time, it will be gone soon.” That is hard. I want to sleep but I don’t want to miss anything along the way. Time won’t stop, but how do you take it one second at a time?

I meditate, and breathe. I look down and take it in, but the second goes with that, like a loose grip in a bad dream.

Her nose is so small. I didn’t realize how small until I kissed it for the first time the other day. Her nostrils are tiny pebbles, and with her mouth open, still as cold bath water.

I am in awe of Megan, she is so strong and full of life. We lift each other up in the tired of night, we make the witching hour fun.

Wesley is in her granpas arms, they are in the other room and another day is gone. Tomorrow will be 6, and I’ll be there for it all.

Lessons of a 2 day Old Dad

Sleeping 1.5 hours and then 1.5 hours is called a “poor man’s 3” – you can quote that.

You don’t have boobs, and that’s a hard fact that can become a harsh reality.

Mom does have boobs, and she is a legend.

You don’t know anything; it is really rather lovely.

Wonderful nurse care is somehow directly correlated with how awful hospital pillows/beds are.

Change the diaper, feed the baby, swaddle, then pray.

Don’t worry about being present; you will never be more present in your life.

Listen to everyone who says that it is really hard and you will never sleep again