M.K.Harlan

Storyteller

I have never been accused of beating around the bush or dodging hard subjects so I’ll make this brief:

Wenn ein Nazi am Tisch ist und neun andere Leute mit ihm reden, haben Sie einen Tisch mit zehn Nazis.

When I attended Ball State we were required to take a foreign language in order to earn our Bachelor of Arts degree. My language of choice – German.

I don’t know if I got the language part right, but the culture – I got that. For those that do not speak German the above phrase translates roughly as such: If there’s a Nazi at the table, and nine other people talking to him you have a table with ten nazis.

In regards to Papa John: looks like my Alma Mater has 9 racists sitting on the board and I’m disappointed.

I’ll be honest. I spent years denying my own racism, homophobia, Islamaphobia, and upholding of the patriarchy. I thought I was accepting of everyone and everything and as a woman there was no way I was anti-women. But I was all of those things and it showed in my actions and in my words.

It took the Ball State English Department and a whole lot of amazingly talented writers within to get me to pull my head out of my own ass and realize that by saying and doing nothing against injustice I was a part of the problem. That by not acknowledging people’s differences it was just as bad as if I hadn’t included them at all. And by not speaking when I heard something wrong I may as well have said it myself.

By continuing your relationship with Papa John you are collectively saying as board that you accept his behavior. That you accept his racism. That you are okay with it. You as a board who represent Ball State and the interests of those affiliated with her are deciding as a whole to declare, quite loudly through your actions, that Ball State supports racism, that you support racism.

Well, we don’t and we aren’t going to be silent about it. Ball State taught me to listen and to speak. They taught me the value of words and I’ll be damned if I don’t use my words.

I spy with my little eye: 9 Nazis sitting on the board.

I have never been accused of beating around the bush or dodging hard subjects so I’ll make this brief:

Wenn ein Nazi am Tisch ist und neun andere Leute mit ihm reden, haben Sie einen Tisch mit zehn Nazis.

When I attended Ball State we were required to take a foreign language in order to earn our Bachelor of Arts degree. My language of choice – German.

I don’t know if I got the language part right, but the culture – I got that. For those that do not speak German the above phrase translates roughly as such: If there’s a Nazi at the table, and nine other people talking to him you have a table with ten nazis.

In regards to Papa John: looks like my Alma Mater has 9 racists sitting on the board and I’m disappointed.

I’ll be honest. I spent years denying my own racism, homophobia, Islamaphobia, and upholding of the patriarchy. I thought I was accepting of everyone and everything and as a woman there was no way I was anti-women. But I was all of those things and it showed in my actions and in my words.

It took the Ball State English Department and a whole lot of amazingly talented writers within to get me to pull my head out of my own ass and realize that by saying and doing nothing against injustice I was a part of the problem. That by not acknowledging people’s differences it was just as bad as if I hadn’t included them at all. And by not speaking when I heard something wrong I may as well have said it myself.

By continuing your relationship with Papa John you are collectively saying as a board that you accept his behavior. That you accept his racism. That you are okay with it. You as a board who represent Ball State and the interests of those affiliated with her are deciding as a whole to declare, quite loudly through your actions, that Ball State supports racism, that you support racism.

Well, we don’t and we aren’t going to be silent about it. Ball State taught me to listen, to speak. They taught me the value of words. I’ll be damned if I don’t use them.

I spy with my little eye: 9 Nazis sitting on the board.

I don’t feel well tonight, decided not to go to a Kid’s Ministry Meeting because of it but I don’t want to sleep. It’s been a while since I posted anything here so I figure it’s time for a thought dump.


For the last two or three days I’ve been in this fog. I went to the county fair both Friday and Saturday. Friday to treat my mom for her birthday, and Saturday I went to the demolition derby with friends.

I do not understand the attraction of watching a bunch of cars crash into each other on purpose. I watched one girl get carried off the track and put into an ambulance, and I watched one vehicle completely burst into flames. Then a few others just smoke so much that you couldn’t see the field. Watching the crowd was even worse. They enjoyed the brutal crashes and the things that might possibly kill a person more than I could understand and when we were waiting for them to pull the girl from her car to get her unconscious body into an ambulance they were speculating about whether or not she were going to be missing limbs or how bad she was hurt as if it were just another evening’s entertainment, a scripted part of the show.

For one thing, I didn’t realize how many demolition derby fans we had in this county. For another I apparently just don’t have enough red neck in me to enjoy that sort of thing. I just kept flashing back to the one not so bad car accident I had. I lived, the car is still running, and you can’t even tell it was in an accident, but my creative brain has an ability to latch onto details as well as enough knowledge of physics that the scenario can play out a thousand and one terrifying and brutally violent things that could have happened instead of what did happened.

And all I could really think about, watching the crowd and watching the cars crash into each other was about the Romans, whom I’ve been researching for a story I’ve been brainstorming. It reminded me so much of the whole bread and circuses thing at the end of the Roman Empire. Especially when the announcer/referee guy used the word Gladiator to describe the cars. That was exactly what it was. It was a gladiator arena and the people watching seemed to have lost all sense of the world outside of the destruction in front of them.

The world has been bothering me a lot lately. There are so many thins that are just plain wrong with it. People are dying, being refused help, refusing help, hurting each other for no reason, oppressing and being just generally unkind towards others for no reason other than that they can.

I turn on the news and all I see is people bashing one another, politicians trying to cover up one scandal or another, people complaining about situations but not doing anything about them.

I hear and see so many hypocritical points of view. All I want to do it lose myself in a gladiator style battle, and forget for a little while about all of these problems, but God didn’t make me with that ability. Instead, He made me with a brain that latched on to just about everything and remembers it like nobody’s business.

I got a new job finally. I’m out of the one that was trying to kill me and I’m in a better one now, but I’m still confused and frustrated by so many things. The world makes me angry.

I’m on meds now that are helping me to make sense of my emotions, and I’m getting better at being an adult and that is making me restless. I feel like I should be doing more, but I also feel like I’m just not passionate enough, like I lack the confidence to function beyond my current lot in life. It feels almost like I’ve given in to the bread and circus lie – just not the same way as everyone else.

In Kids church this summer we’ve been talking about confidence – living like you believe what God says is true. I mean, actually living it, speaking out about it, acting on your faith instead of keeping things quiet and to yourself.

Maybe it’s just because I don’t feel well right now, but this lack of confidence in anything makes me frustrated with myself. I’ve had more than one person I know completely quit writing, art, creating in general. There are people I know from high school who were incredibly talented artists and they don’t create anymore.

I hae friends who are having kids with guys that don’t love them, or only pretend to love them, they’re drinking, probably getting high, doing things that are just generally damaging to their physical and mental health, people who had such bright futures who are throwing it all away.

Then there are the ones that are moving forward with their lives in a positive direction. I feel like people look at them and then look at me and just think I’ve stalled out. Yet again, probably the not feeling well thing talking there, but it’s a genuine concern of mine.

You know, I don’t really know what I want to do with my life. I have plans and scenarios, but I feel very lonely in all of them because so few people hear them and think that they’re good ideas or plausible ideas. I feel like I’ve fallen into that “stable job” trap.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy my day job. It’s a great place to work and I need to pay my bills so why not enjoy it while I do?

I don’t even know where this is going anymore.

Long story short: I don’t feel well, I’m uncomfortable with the world and where it’s going. I’m working on a story that’s turning into a straight up commentary on the world that makes me uncomfortable, and I’m creating other things again, drawing and painting.

On top of all that, I feel like even though I’m going somewhere creatively I feel as though I’m missing passion and direction. I’m missing the confidence to go forward. And right now, I can’t do anything about it…

This has been my thought dump.

Reality is relative. What I call blue, you call purple.

What is up to me,

is

d

o

w

n

to you.

There is no way to know which is really true. These words you are reading now aren’t even really what you see – nothing is.

You can’t even trust your own eyes to tell the truth – or can you?

What do you see?

What are you reading right this moment?

Is it a poem?

A story?

Are these words on a page?

Are they my thoughts?

Are they your thoughts?

Whose thoughts am I transcribing on this page – if it’s a page at all?

How does one compose a piece on reality when one does not know reality from fantasy?

It’s easier now than it was before.

Easier to guess at reality – or what I think is reality.

Sometimes – I still get lost. Lost in my own mind. A small piece of me is aware, I know that it isn’t real. I know, but I can not resist the tidal pull of what I know is not.

I feel the ebb and flow of air through my lungs even as I know beyond a doubt that I am not alive and all air has ceased to turn my blood deepest red.

Irrational.

I know.

But I believe it more than anything.

 

Mariposa has lived her entire life in the park. She was born here, in the fennel patch. Since then she has never lacked for food. She eats the fennel plants, never ceasing, always consuming, growing. She believes she will live forever in this manner. Or she would if she ever stopped to think about beliefs and what she might believe in. All she thinks about, if you can call it thinking, is food. The next bite of fennel.

Mariposa has never known her parents. Her mother was not there for her birth. She has never had anyone explain what happens to her. By now she knows the pain she feels, the tightness in her skin, is nothing to fear. But now, for the first time in her life, Mariposa stops her constant feeding. Something is different this time. She goes in search of a safe place. She does not know what this place will be, only that she needs to find it.

#

January 1970

Clara, like all women, was a little girl once. Like most little girls, she dreamed of her wedding day. And still, like many others, she had even put on the pillowcase veil and her doll had officiated a pretend wedding between herself and Mr. Stuffy, her teddy. But that was a long time ago.

Clara, like other women her age, eagerly awaits news of the war and rebels against the cloud of doom that blankets the country by dancing in clubs and wearing skirts too short for her parents’ liking. But they do not know about this part of her.

Clara will marry Jack, her fiancé of three years, tomorrow. From then on she will not be able to do these things. He is a doctor and he wants a housewife. It no longer matters that she has feelings or that she has a degree. It does not matter how many words a minute she can type or that she can earn money to help support a family. They will have all the money they need from his salary alone.

Jack wants a quiet wife who will cook and clean and bear children. Perhaps he will hire a maid or a nanny once they have a child. That was the way he was raised and he sees nothing wrong with it. Clara will need to wear dresses and skirts, pearls and heels, make-up that makes her look as though she comes directly from a sears catalogue. She will become a regular June Cleaver.

She will do it for Jack because she loves him.

As far as Clara knows, Jack does not know about her go-go boots and miniskirt. He doesn’t know about her hoop earrings either. He never will as far as she is concerned. Tonight is the last night she will be able to wear them. Tonight is her last night to be free.

She reminds herself a thousand times over that she loves Jack as she dances to the music playing on the club that her parents do not know she is at. It is one of the first of its kind and polite young ladies should never be found here. But as she dances she does not feel in her heart that she loves Jack. It is a lie, though she refuses to admit it to herself. There is a part of herself that rebels against the idea of marrying Jack. The part of her that wears go-go boots and miniskirts and allows a strange man to take her hand on the dance floor and guide her through a song, bodies closer than they should be.

As they dance she does not notice as Jack slips from her thoughts. She lets the stranger buy her a drink and they talk a little. Clara learns he has just been drafted. He will leave the next day for training and from there they will send him to Vietnam. She does not learn his name, though he learns hers.

She welcomes his advances, letting him kiss her as Jack never does and never will. She shoves her fiancé out of her mind every time he resurges. She refuses to think of the coming day.

Later, as she lies beside the stranger in his one bedroom apartment, tangled in sweat soaked sheets and each other, her go-go boots and mini skirt somewhere in the living room, Jack is no longer in her mind. She keeps a hand on his chest, feeling the beat of his heart, the rise and fall of his breath and for a time her mind is full of a vast nothing. He strokes her hair. She has never done this before, not with Jack, not with anyone.

The stranger tells her his name, Jim, and that he thinks he is in love with her.

She tells him about Jack, about her impending marriage later that day. She has only known him for a few hours, but she tells him that she thinks she loves him too. That she has never loved Jack.

Jim asks if he can write to Clara while he is away. If she will leave Jack to marry him. If he comes back from the war.

Only with Jim does Clara feel completely human.

#

Mariposa has found her safe place. She waits for the pain to stop, the tightness in her skin to go away so she can leave this part of herself behind like the others. She does not see the rest of the world, but she had never taken notice of it beyond the fennel plants. Now, she could not notice it if she wanted to.

There is nothing now but the tightness, the constraint of her own skin. She allows herself to fall, but she clings to her perch with her back feet, secured around her middle by a single thread she wove and attached to the branch. She tucks her head in as shudders wrack her body. She no longer knows what she does. She only feels the changes that happen to her now.

#

August 2014

Sean doesn’t know why he keeps doing this job. He graduated second in his class at Johns Hopkins and he chose to work for a charity hospice agency at a fraction of the pay he could be making at any hospital in the country.

His patients never live.

The man he cares for now is only seventy years old. He was a doctor before. But even doctors are not immune to cancer. A smoker since the sixties, it is a miracle he’s still alive for Sean to take care of.

It bothers Sean that the old man’s wife and son never visit him. He just sits by himself and stares out of a window lifelessly. What bothers Sean even more is that the old man seems both angry and contented that they never visit. The one time that Sean brings it up he nearly has his head ripped off.

That is why, when the old man begins to speak now, Sean nearly leaps from his own skin.

“She never loved me, did she?” He seems to choke on those words.

When Sean asks who he is talking about the old man doesn’t reply. Sean decides to prod. “Who never loved you?”

The old man suddenly seems to remember that Sean is there. Their eyes meet past the oxygen mask that keeps him from suffocating on the normal air, he seems to almost crumple in on himself.

Just before Sean was employed by the doctor’s wife, she left him. She had been his primary caretaker, his only companion since his son had not come to see him in over a decade. when the doctors had told her that the old man was dying she was unable to keep her secrets from him any longer, she had told him everything and he had sent her away. He expected her to fight, to stay, but she had just left him.

His son, his only child, belonged to another man. A man he never knew. The anger that emanates from the old man upon this revelation makes Sean uncomfortable and he breaks eye contact. The old man tells him to get out.

But Sean does not leave, even when the old man yells at him, if it can be called yelling in his condition. He knows the doctor will only tire himself out, perhaps even bring himself that much closer to death. Sean will be there to make sure that he is comfortable as he goes. It is who he is and what he does. He remembers his own mother’s death and how he had not been there, how no one had been there as she slowly withered away in the pain and grief of her brother’s death by herself. It had taken her thirteen years and Sean had not been aware of her grief until she finally gave in after he left for college, leaving her alone in their empty house.

He will not allow another person to die that way, scared, alone, and in pain. He will never again ignore the signs of death. That is why he surrounds himself with it now.

The old man ceases his yelling. “She only stayed because he didn’t come back for them.”

Sean kneels beside the old man and takes his hand as tears well in the doctor’s eyes. Old men do not like to be comforted in this way. They prefer silence and stony hearts. But Sean, wise for his years, knows that the old doctor needs a friend, now more than ever. “But she stayed with you.” he whispers.

#

Mariposa no longer feels the pain. She no longer feels anything. She is shielded from the wind and rain, the entirety of the world. She floats and is no longer aware of her body. It has melted away, all but a few parts. She feels none of it. She remembers little of what came before. It is as though she has always been and will always be this way, though she will remember little, if any, of this experience. Of this non-being.

#

July 1989

As Michael puts his bags in his car he ignores his mother’s pleading not to go. He ignores her tears. The anger he feels right now is not something he can let go of at the drop of a hat. he does not stop to think about what his actions can do when he gets into the car, angry and unfocused. All that Michael thinks about is the betrayal and hurt that he feels. He is not who he thought he was. He no longer feels as though he knows his own body, his own mind. For Michael there is little but the confusion and anger now. He sees his mother’s tears and on any other day he might have stopped to comfort her. As he did when he was a child and found her crying into a box of old letters. As he did the day he told her that he will go to college and that he will be a doctor like his father.

His father, that is the root of all of this. That is the root of her tears, then and now. The man he has called father for the last nineteen years stands on their porch with his arms crossed. He too is angry, but at Michael and not Michael’s mother. Though he should be. Michael knows that this man loves him, that this man is his father. But he can no longer bring himself to acknowledge that. He will not tell the man he calls father that he is not his son. He will not tell anyone they know because his mother asked him not to. It may be that his father is not the man he thought, but she is still his mother.

She is a part of himself that he will never let go of. Even on his own he will make the soup she made for him as a child when he is sick. He will have the same melodies and lullabies stuck in his head before he goes to sleep that she sings to him even now he is a grown man. He will still be the person that she taught him to be, but his father. He will learn who his father was. He will seek him out if he can. He does not know why it is so important that he learn about this man. A man that his mother hardly knew, but he knows that if he does not learn, he will never know who he is.

He watches now, as his parents shrink beyond sight in his rearview mirror. He does not stop driving until he is 50 miles outside of the city. He fills his car with gas and sets off again almost immediately, lingering only to use the restroom and to purchase a coke from the convenience store.

He flips on the radio in the car and is fiddling with the dial as he goes too fast around a corner. A little boy is playing on the side of the road. Michael does not see the ball that rolls out in the street as he changes the radio station. The boy steps out a little too far into the road. Michael looks up too late. He tries to swerve but his right side hits the boy and he feels the sickening lurch of wheels on flesh and bone. He stops and scrambles out and around the car to where the child lies.

#

Mariposa can feel the changes again now. It no longer feels as though she floats. The changes do not hurt. They excite her. She is being born again and somewhere in the back of her mind she knows it to be truth. She does not know what she becomes, what she will be. Mariposa knows only the change, if it can be called knowing.

#

March 1970

Jim wipes the sweat from his brow. The unit is stopped, if only for a short while, but it is the first time in three days that they have stopped before dark. He hasn’t had enough sleep, but that is nothing he was not prepared for when they sent him over here. Not enough sleep was better than a permanent sleep.

He thinks of Clara, of their shared night together. He thinks of her waiting for him. The others call him an idiot. She’s married to another man now, a doctor. Why would she leave that for him? When he returns he will have nothing to offer her. He will be lucky to get his job back as a mechanic in a small town outside the city. He should have chosen someone else to write to, they all told him.

But it is Clara’s letters, one every week so far, that he lived for. He has only been in the country for a month, his training cut a few weeks short to fill a unit quickly. He must learn on the job. He doesn’t mind except that it is hot and muggy here. If your feet get too wet they could rot right off you before you managed to crawl out of the damned swamp. That isn’t even the worst part. If you don’t watch where you step you’re liable to lose both your feet faster than the rot will ever take them.

He pulls Clara’s last letter from his pocket along with two pictures that she sent him. The first is what she calls an ultrasound. She had circled a faint blob in the center and if he squints he can almost see a human form. She is pregnant according to her letter and with her husband being a doctor she has access to things that other women do not, like this new technology that allows for pictures of unborn children within the womb. This is one of the first ever. Clara’s child.

Jim’s child, she was convinced.

Jim has not shown any of the men in his unit and hides the picture to look at the image of Clara he keeps next to his heart. He does not know how she has kept their correspondence a secret from her husband, but she has. These thoughts almost make him forget the reality that surrounds him.

The only other person in this god-forsaken swamp who knows about the pregnancy is Jim’s Lieutenant. He promises to end the war in Nam before the baby is born, or at least give Jim his month of R&R at the right time so he can go home and claim the child. But Jim isn’t as sure the child is his as Clara’s letter seems to be.

He puts the letter away as they are told to get moving again, their bellies satisfied at least a little. He must focus on the bigger picture now. He can’t think about how he will raise a child, if it is his. He can’t think about how he will take Clara away from her husband only to leave her in the states with no real income while he fights a war over here that no one back home wants to fight anyway. He can’t think of any of that.

He thinks about it anyway, refusing to join in on the usual banter of his unit as they wade through the swamp and rice patties, mud, and once in a while hike over hard ground. He stares into the jungle, but instead of watching for the Viet Cong he watches for Clara, almost expecting her to come around a tree.

Then he hears a click from the direction of the man on his right flank.

#

It is almost time for Mariposa to be reborn. She grows restless in her shell. It grows tight around her as she changes. It is safe in here, but she does not know how much longer she can stay. Soon it will grow too tight and like the skins she no longer remembers she will shed this shell and be something else.

#

September 2001

Sophie sits on her living room floor, playing with her five-year-old son. The phone rings. It is her husband. He tells her to turn on the T.V., he will be home as soon as he can be, and hangs up. He sounds stressed and Sophie does not know what to do. She turns on the T.V.

The screen fills with smoke and sky and it takes her a minute to see what she is supposed to understand about the images. The words at the bottom of the screen tell her what she fails to grasp. She feels tears slide down her face, unbidden.

Her son asks her, “Mommy, what’s wrong?” and she finds that she cannot answer. He asks her why the towers on the video are on fire, too young to think that the T.V. could give him answers, believing his mother to be the only source of information that he needs, as children are wont to do.

Sophie’s nephew was supposed to be on a field trip to those very same towers today. But this morning he had woken with a case of the flu and her sister had not sent him. If he hadn’t been sick.

When Michael comes home he will find her on the couch, holding their son and still crying. The boy will be asking questions and he will take him to his room and tell him to play while he talks with mommy about things and they will tell him everything later. She will wait until he returns to finally break down and sob like she wants to.

Tears will don her husband’s face and that will be wrong. Her husband never cries. Her big, strong husband who lost his parents when he was nineteen, worked two jobs to put himself through school, and the dropped out to work a third and even fourth job when she told him she was pregnant. The man who loves her more than anything, protects her and works harder than he ever should to keep them in a good home, a good neighborhood with a good school. He will cry and that will make Sophie cry all the harder as she comes to realize that her life has changed again.

Later that night she will attempt to keep up the semblance of normalcy for as long as she can. But her husband will tell her he plans to enlist the next day. He cannot sleep is he doesn’t do something. What kind of a father will he be if he doesn’t do everything he can to protect his family?

Something in him will break and Sophie will know when he tells her it is what his father would have wanted. She will nod and continue to make dinner, a haze clouding her mind. She will no longer be aware of herself, her actions. She will be a ghost in her own mind as she continues the motions and patterns that she goes through each and every day.

There has always been a haunted quality to her husband, a desperation that she sees when he looks at their son, and when he makes love to her. It is as if he is trying to atone for something, and to cling to life in a way that she cannot understand. Tonight there will be something more. Tonight she will know that he is at war. Not with the terrorists, nor anyone outside their home at all. Tonight he will be at war with himself. She will know that her life will be changed forever by this day. The life of her son will not be the life that she intended for him.

#

The tightness is too much for Mariposa. She struggles, pushing against the constraints of her shell. It breaks and for the first time in days she feels the air. But the struggle is not over. All she desires, if you can call it desire, all she thinks, if you can call it thinking, is “OUT!” She pushes and wriggles and struggles to free herself from her shell for what feels like an eternity, and for her it is indeed the entirety of her new life so far.

She finally manages to break free of her shell, to feel the warmth of the sun on her body. She takes her time now, stretching her new legs, tasting the air and taking in this new world.

For the first time since her original birth she sees the sky. Endless blue spotted with white clouds. So empty and yet so full of possibility.

#

April 2017

Daniel has slept in the park for several years now. He doesn’t always, but after the woman he married died he cannot hold a job. He cannot keep himself away from the drinking.

Daniel has been an alcoholic since Vietnam. Kate was the only thing that kept him from drinking for as long as he had been sober. When she’d been killed by another drunk he swore never to drive again, never to risk that tragedy for someone else. Now, he roams the streets of this city with an old grocery cart he appropriated on some drunken walk-about in his earliest days as one of the city’s homeless.

He drinks to drown the voices in his head. Not voices that tell him to do bad things, or even good things. It is typical to think that, being a veteran of a brutal war like Vietnam, he hears the screams of those he killed or at least those he saw die. No, the voices he hears are different. He hears the voices of the survivors, one of which is himself. He hears the voices of the ones who came to help. The ones that had to save him. They tell him it wasn’t his fault, that there was nothing he could have done. But it was his fault, he is sure that there was something he could have done. He knows it.

A young woman moves to the other side of the path on her run, avoiding the bench where he sits, afraid he will try to harm her as many women would be of a strange looking man in these early hours of the morning. She doesn’t know that Daniel won’t harm anyone but himself anymore. He contemplates suicide from time to time. Lots of guys who made it out did that. If he killed himself here in the states, where everything was supposed to be better, the deaths of the others would not matter anymore. It would waste their memories, especially now that it has been so long.

When he finally gets himself off the bench, able to stand without falling over, he walks away. He pushes his cart and does not think, not really. He pays no attention to where he goes, allowing his muscles to guide him on his familiar path. He tries to get away from the voices.

Sometimes he feels like this is only a half-life. As such, it does not do their memories any good no matter the state of his body. That is how he justifies the drinking. It dishonors them, but he can’t get the voices out of his head unless he drowns them. He does not wish to dishonor his brothers, but he wants to live as much as he wants to die so he chooses to live with their memories as they are and he hopes that no one recognizes him for who he was, who he is. The life he left behind.

#

Mariposa flaps her wings, strong and dry now. She feels the wind as it tries to lift her from her place on the branch. She flaps her wings once, twice. She lets go, she flies.

#

July 2017

Michael will return today from his third four-year tour with the army. He was stationed in Libya this time. Every day he woke, made his bed to military standards, ate breakfast with his brothers, and went out on patrol for several hours before being relieved of duty. Occasionally his unit was sent on special missions out into the countryside or to the cities. The cities were the ones he hated. But he enjoyed the work. He enjoyed the repetitiveness of it, the simplicity. Every day, the same thing. Sometimes, it made him nervous, he felt vulnerable, but in the end, he was one of the lucky ones.

He had learned of the death of the man he called father in a letter three years ago, just before he was sent to Libya. He had reconnected with his mother then. But there was something missing from their relationship. He felt it, but his life in the military made it easier to not think about it. But nothing, no sense of monotony, could ever take Sophie from his mind. Not even the empty space at the end of his leg now.

Sophie waits at the airport for Michael, their son is 21 now and he sits beside her, dressed similar to the way she knows his father will be dressed. Michael does not know that his son has been in Officer Candidate School for the last three years. He does not know that his son follows in his footsteps; it’s supposed to be a surprise. Sophie has baked a cake and it sits on the counter at home. She has dinner ready to be placed in the oven when she walks in the door and is ready for Michael to be home. Something has been missing from her life without him. She goes through the routines of life, cooking and cleaning, and making home repairs, calling Jake to help her when she can’t get it all done. She does not know where Michael’s mother is. Something has been bothering her for days and she knows that Clara will not miss her son’s homecoming.

Sean visits his brother’s grave today, right next to his mother’s. He has visited this place every year, first with his mother and then on his own, since his brother’s death. He was only five when his brother died. He’d stepped into the street, in front of a car that was going too fast for their suburban neighborhood. He clears the debris of nature away from the headstones and says nothing. Sean does not believe that the dead can hear the living. And if they could, he feels they would not want to.

Clara walks the park quietly, thinking to herself. She has been alone for three years now. It did not take Jack long to pass after she left. She had thought that after forty-four years she would have felt something more than what she did, at least a twinge of guilt or sorrow, but what she felt instead was relief. She felt free. She still feels free. But there is something missing.

That is why she hired the detective. Michael had spoken with a man while he was on a tour, an older gentleman who had served with Jim in Vietnam who was just about to retire. He had showed the older soldier a picture of his father and unit one night. The old man had recognized Jim. She had always thought he died in Vietnam. In her mind that was the only reason that he would not have come back, returned to rescue her, meet his son.

The detective had been able to find Jim. After forty-four years, he had traced Jim’s footsteps. Jim had been married, an alcoholic, and many things in between. Now, he is living here, in the park. His pension check all he has to survive on. She looks for him in the face of every man she sees. She is missing Michael’s homecoming to look for him, but she could not think of a better thing to miss it for. She has to find him. Michael gave up on finding his father a long time ago, but she never stopped thinking about Jim. It affected her marriage and her life, but now that she is free she can find him. She will find him.

She has almost given up. She looks at the men with clean shaven faces like Jim’s was so long ago. She looks at the men who are well dressed and handsome, young. She does not see his face, but on a bench, a bottle of whiskey in hand, she sees an old man. His face is covered by a beard but he wears an old hat, beat up. With Jim’s battalion number on it. VIETNAM VETERAN scrawled across the hat in worn and fraying embroidery.

“Jim?” she asks, not sure it’s him. Afraid that it is him.

Daniel hears a woman’s voice asking his name. Not the name he uses now. She does not ask for Daniel. She asks for Jim. The voice is familiar. It is older than he remembers it, but that does not matter. He would know that voice anywhere. He looks up, afraid it is another of the voices in his head. Afraid it is just another drunken dream.  But he sees a woman standing before him. She looks old, worn. As though life has beaten her down. But her eyes are bright as they ever were, the curve of her face can not be masked by the wrinkles of time. “Clara?” He chokes on the name. He knows that he smells, that the whiskey on his breath is not what she wants to see. He stands and moves away from her as quickly as his old bones can take him. He hides his face, trying to run away, but he stumbles and falls. His wooden leg unable to keep up with the sudden movement.

Clara moves to his side and pulls a handkerchief from her pocket to wipe away the dirt on his face, the tears. “It is you.” She does not pay attention to the smell of whiskey or the stench of homelessness that is on him. She does not care. She takes his hand and pulls him to his feet.

They do not match, she in her well pressed clothing, clean and warm, and he is torn and stained clothes that have not been washed in a long time, but she kisses him as she did the night they met. The night he fell in love with her. When she pulls away, a butterfly comes up from the fennel patch and flies between them, narrowly missing them both. It’s not every day that you learn to forgive yourself. It’s not every day you fall in love all over again.

Rainstorms are reassuring. Especially on Monday.

While I still work in the garden center it’s even better because I know that there won’t be too many people looking for plants. If there are any I’ll be shocked. they probably won’t be looking for power equipment either. That means I will have some down time, quiet time, to gather my thoughts and make the department look less like a war zone and more like a store.

But, this week it just doesn’t feel the same. Some things are happening at work that I won’t go into detail about but I’m less and less enthusiastic with this day job as events continue to unfold.

Its getting harder and harder to talk myself into going in and keeping it up. I’ve thought about just filling up the gas tank and driving until I run out of gas, money, or both, but I’m more of a planner than that.

It’s time I get this career thing moving. I’ve started applying to jobs more in my line of expertise. I’m also trying to develop more skills that I can use to become what I want to be.

Yesterday I sat down for a while – while I should have been working on my resume if my aunt had anything to say about it – and I wrote. Not a blog post, no complaining. I worked on my current passion project. The Disappearance of Clara Summers. I have no idea where this story is going. I have done no plotting whatsoever and as a result it’s kind of rambling.

Kind of like my life.

But, as I work on Clara Summers’ story I get to know these characters, their likes and dislikes, who they are as people, their backstories, their wants and desires, all of it.

I wish it was this easy to understand real people, and the real events that are happening in my life right now.

If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

I’m trying to think of stories I can tell you here on this blog, but I got nothing right now. I’m so wrapped up in the crappy things that are happening that even though this isn’t what I intended to sit down and write about, it’s all I’ve got…

It’s all that’s in my head. Heck, even my aunt and grandfather have been having trouble sleeping thinking about what’s going on with me at work.

I know I can work it out… but I don’t necessarily see how.

The advertisements flashed in front of my eyes with the latest upgrade, promising faster connections and a smoother interface than before. It was supposed to fix all the bugs, but that’s what they always said. Every upgrade fixed the bugs in the last one and brought with it a few more of its own.

The people around me were absorbed with it, those that didn’t have it were waiting in line to buy it. I looked for the few bits I had left from the last upgrade I bought. I didn’t have enough, not if I wanted to feed the baby. I don’t know when I will be able to afford the upgrade or any upgrade.

I will have to be content with the older model.

At work, I am the only one who does not have the upgrade. Already, everyone is using the new features to better interface with the computers here. They work quickly, not even moving. They don’t have to anymore.

The wireless signals between computer and upgrade are so seamless now that I don’t even see the telltale eye flicks that accompanied last month’s model.

I’m falling behind in my work already. I haven’t been here more than a few minutes and I am not so productive as the others. I try to concentrate on my work, pressing the necessary buttons when they light up on the panel and looking for the connections that need to be made to maintain the integrity of the systems. The computer terminal is plugged into the port I still have in my side. My terminal is the only one with a wired interface.

I’m too basic for the other terminals. I look for the things that used to give me pleasure within my systems, but I can no longer keep up with my work like I used to. My heart races and I shut off all but my work programming. The others have the pleasure interfaces up while they work, but I can’t afford that luxury. My unit does not multitask as well as theirs.

I am the only one that does not look fully human, the only one with my unit showing. I feel ashamed, but I can’t afford the upgrade if I want to feed the baby.

They come for me before lunch. Rather, they send a message for me and I do not notice it until then. I don’t know how long it’s been there. There is too much for me to process already. I unplug from my interface. It’s not that I would take a lunch, the only way to keep up anymore is to never take a break.

As I enter the offices I am greeted by the receptionist. “They’ve been waiting all morning. Have a seat.”

I sit quietly outside the doors, feeling like a child. I can’t work while I’m here, not without an interface to plug into. If I had a newer unit I could continue with my work while I sit here. I would be useful, productive.

The door opens and the receptionist waves me in, her interface connects her to everything in the building. As I step into the offices, she closes the door behind me without any of the tell-tale signs that come with older building interface units.

The overseers sit at a larger terminal than we have out on the floor. Their interfaces run seamlessly in the background as they focus most of their attention on me.

“It has come to our attention that you are no longer able to keep up with your workload. Is there something wrong with your terminal?”

“No, ma’am.” I answer, the images coming into view from my unit are of the latest upgrade. The ads are almost non-stop. They have been getting in the way of my work all morning. “It’s the ads. I can’t get them out of my way.”

The overseers’ gazes fix on me. “Do you have a problem with them? They are designed to help you make informed decisions. Without the ads you would not know when it was time to upgrade.” The woman’s head cocks to the side like a dog. “When was your last upgrade?”

I can not bring myself to meet her harrowing gaze. I have not had an upgrade for almost eight months now. Not since the baby was born. I am not ashamed of my older unit, I tell myself. I have to feed the baby, I can not afford to get the newest upgrade.

Her brow furrows and I can almost see her processing this information independently of her unit. She frowns even more and I know already that I have missed something. A message she sent. “How many months behind is your unit?”

I have all but shut off my unit to focus on what she tells me. The silence in front of my eyes, the sounds that I do not hear when it is like this, the colors and the quietness of turning fans distract me almost more than the ads ever can. “Eight months,” I answer, not meeting her eyes and a fly buzzes in the corner above a potted plant, long dead and dry. No one has remembered that it exists.

The overseer’s eyes narrow as she contemplates this answer, and then her gaze turns blank. “Eight months. You had a baby eight months ago.”

The dull sound of the advertisements is pushed very far back now. I can’t take it, it is worse than the silence I hear now. I turn off my unit. I can feel my heart begin to race and my breathing turn shallow, it is as though I cannot find air. My head hurts and the lights in the room are suddenly too bright. I can feel myself shrinking into something less than a person. I turn the unit back on and immediately I begin to feel the pains subside, even if the distraction of the advertisements is still there.

I nod to the overseer. “We had a baby eight months ago.”

Her lips purse. “Has the child been upgraded?”

I shake my head. “We can’t afford an upgrade, not even for the baby.”

“And you, yourself have not been upgraded. Where does your money go?

“Babies must eat. I have to feed the baby.”

“You must be upgraded.”

“You don’t pay me enough to upgrade.”

I watch as she seems to contemplate something. “You do not do enough work for us to pay you more. If you were to upgrade your unit we might be able to consider a raise in pay. Until such a time, however, we suggest you install your child with an upgrade at the least. Any older and the upgrade may be rejected. Chances of survival decrease and the population can not afford to lose anymore, there are too few viable adults.”

I shake my head again. “I can not upgrade the baby. I can’t afford it.”

The male overseer, silent until now, speaks, he does not move or look at me, there is no emotion in his voice. “You are incapable of caring for the child properly. I will contact government services. They will take the child and give it the proper upgrades. It will be well cared for. Then you may use your earnings to buy a proper upgrade. Once you have upgraded sufficiently you will be given a raise. Perhaps then, when you can afford it, you may try for another child.”

I can feel my knees begin to weaken. The advertisements come to the front again. “Please, don’t.”

The female overseer speaks again. “It for your own good. If you can not afford the upgrade for yourself or the child, how can you expect to function properly in society? How can you expect the child to grow properly?” She smiled like she was doing me a favor.

“Please, I’ll upgrade, don’t take the baby.”

“You said you cannot afford the upgrade.”

“I’ll take out a credit, whatever I have to do. Just don’t take the baby.”

The male overseer’s eyebrows rise. “What of the child? Will it be upgraded soon?”

I nodded quickly. “Please, don’t take him.”

The overseers do not blink, they do not look at each other and they only seem to look through me as they converse with one another via their units.

“One month,” the woman says. “At the end of the month you and the child will have been upgraded. If not, you will be terminated and the child will be reported to the government. We don’t want to lose you, but there are others with better upgrades.”

I nod and when they speak no more I exit the offices, grateful. The advertisements increase for the upgrades. By now, the work day is over. I have lost several hours pay for this little chat.

As I make my way home and pass the lines of people waiting for their upgrade I can hardly concentrate for the advertisements. I stop only to buy formula for the baby. I have to feed the baby. I cannot afford the upgrade today.

It is something that I have not told anyone, but I do not want to upgrade the baby. I like him the way he is. Even if he cries and screams and defecates in his diaper. I do not want him to grow up dependent on a unit as I have. I want him to grow old and think for himself while he does it. I want him to learn on his own, rather than have the information fed to him. it was that way when I was younger.

When I get home my wife is in the living room,  she upgraded last week, her job required it more than mine at the time. She is absorbed. The baby is crying on the floor. I pick him up, trying to shove the advertisements to the back of my thoughts. He needs changed.

It isn’t an easy job, but I change him and I feed him. The advertisements for not only my own upgrade, but one for him flood my vision.

As I watch him I cannot bear the thought of subjecting him to this. It was so new and intriguing when they first came out. I had never thought it would lead to this. Not in my wildest dreams. I can not do it. I can not let them take him.

I pack a bag for myself and for him. My wife is to engrossed in her upgrade. She will likely spend all of her credits again on things the unit tells her she needs, even if she does not need them.

I take the baby and as we exit the house I can not take the advertisements anymore as I stumble, almost dropping him. I breathe deeply and turn off the connection. It is only a matter of time now before they notice and come looking for us. I have to get out. I have to run. Or they will take us both.

The lights come on and my body feels weak as they stand over me. I do not know how long I have been here, strapped to the cold metal table. I think about the baby, the baby I never had.

“It didn’t work.” It is the voice of the male overseer.

“I don’t understand why. He should have been rushing to buy the new unit.” The female overseer comes into focus now as she shines a light in my eyes and checks my pulse. I am too tired, too weak to fight her. “There must be something wrong with the advertisement algorithms.”

“Perhaps, not everyone can be persuaded.” The man stands over me, looking down with curiosity. “The company will be disappointed, but it is a problem that can be dealt with. Eventually there will be no resistance to the units.”

The woman looks at him in almost the same way that he looks at me. “Should I terminate this one?”

The man looks away, his eyes shifting and I can tell that he is consulting his unit. “No, continue your experiments. Independence is such a tragedy. No one should have to suffer without the guidance of the company.”

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