Deep Subjects

My wife and I talk about deep subjects. After taking some laundry out of the dryer tonight and, inevitably, finding one unmatched black sock, I got to wondering: Is there a Bermuda Triangle for socks?

“Yes,” my wife replied emphatically when I asked her.

“Okay, so if we accept the existence of a Bermuda Triangle for socks, does that mean we also need to entertain the possibility of a Bermuda Shorts Triangle?”

She just groaned and rolled her eyes. Okay, so this was not one of the deep subjects that we talk about. (Too bad, really. It seemed interesting to me.)

Usually, our deep talks have more to do with philosophy, psychology, children, science, music, esoterica, or history. We don’t always agree, but we do discuss, and I like that. One of my wife’s most impressive qualities is her intelligence, and I’m thankful almost every day for our mental connection.

Phoning It In

I was supposed to go to my writer’s group tonight. I had critiqued the manuscript for the session and even done the homework for tonight (which is always optional, but also always encouraged.)

So, what happens? I get my first migraine of 2007. It wasn’t too bad in the early afternoon, but then I spent two hours at Dave & Buster’s fixing a register while a corporate party was going on. Ugh. I love D&Bs, but between the loud games just off the midway bar and the louder corporate revelers, that pushed my headache off the charts.

I drove the few miles home, took some migraine medicine, clamped pillows on both sides of my head, turned out the lights, and somehow spiraled into sleep between waves of throbbing pain. When my wife woke me up for dinner, the migraine was still there, but food and hydration (and probably the meds) helped take the edge off.

My writing group will be finishing up in about fifteen minutes, assuming they are on schedule. I feel guilty for missing the group, especially since I had confirmed my attendance with the group’s mentor, Melanie Tem, a couple of days ago.

One thing I have learned over the last couple years, though, is that my health needs to come first. One scary incident in the ER with chest pain was enough to teach me that. I don’t think I would have enjoyed class tonight, and I doubt I would have contributed much to it. Add to that the blinding bright headlights that I would be facing on the way home, and I’m sure I made the right decision. (My migraine flared just imagining those headlights. Talk about being susceptible to suggestion!)

I did want to spend at least part of the class time actually writing, though. My headache is a dull roar, and I think I can eek out a few more words for my daily writing prompt exercise. So, I’m off to journal now.

Write about a ceremony

He’s an old man now, and the 8 mm home movies are almost as old as his children. Some of them are older, in fact.

She’s an old woman, and it’s been ten years since their second child died. The movies have aged a decade in the dark tins since they were last watched. They couldn’t bear to see the innocent face of the child who they now knew would pass before them.

It’s been ten years, and they figure it’s time. Time to acknowledge and celebrate his memory. He would be fifty this year. So the old man carefully unpacks the antique projector, blowing the dust off the bulb and lubricating the reel axles. Next comes the round tins of celluloid, labeled with faded pencil on masking tape: “White Sands, April 1959”, “Silver City, Summer 1962”, “Yellowstone, 1965.”

He opens one at random, gently dropping the 8 inch reel into his left hand. He unrolls a few frames from the tape, pulling gingerly in case the film has stuck together over the years. It’s not stuck, but it is brittle, and the gentle tug causes a tear in the film’s leader. Drawing a sharp breath in and pulling his lips back to expose smoke-stained dentures, the old man concentrates on threading the film through the projector, making sure to keep even pressure on the narrow celluloid. He threads it successfully, and hooks the end of the film through the slot in the take-up reel.

“Ready, hon?” he says to the old woman.

“Ready as I’ll ever be, I guess,” she replies, a hint of an Oklahoma accent in her tone.

He stands, turns out the light, and steps back to the projector, stooping to pull a flashlight out of its charger on the way. With the flashlight on, he turns a knob and the room fills with the chattering sound of a Super 8 mm projector. He clicks the flashlight off.

After a few seconds, an image of two children, a boy and a girl, appears on the wall, yellowed with age, a long scratch stuttering down the right side of the frame. The kids wave and move their mouths; there is no sound. The old woman starts to cry.

“I think I’m glad that the camera couldn’t pick up sound,” she says. “I don’t think I could take it if I heard his voice.”

“I wish we could hear him. I think I’ve forgotten what he sounded like when he was that age.” The old man puts his arm around the old woman, rubbing his fingers into her shoulder. “I still say that it’s not right. A parent shouldn’t have to bury his child, no matter how old the child is. It’s backwards!”

The old woman reaches up with a tissue, wiping at the tear track on the old man’s face. “I know, darlin’, I know.” Settling into each other’s arms, they know they have found a new yearly ritual.

On the home movie, the young boy runs around in a cowboy outfit, guns blazing silently.

It’s what I do in the middle of the night

This prompt is not doing a lot for me right now. I’m trying to think of some way to make the prompt the end of the story, and there are probably dozens of ways — hundreds, probably — to write a short piece that would end with that line, but no ideas are coming to me.

Analyzing it from a left-brain standpoint, it makes sense that if the story ended like that, a situation might arise in which two characters were discussing something that one of them does. One character just found out about it, and is confused and bewildered by it, the other character (the one doing the actions in the middle of the night) acts as if the action is perfectly natural.

I’m seeing a father and son in this story; the father has just discovered something that has been happening, is intrigued by it, and just found out that his son is behind it. His son, on the other hand, has done whatever this action is for as long as he can remember, and it’s second nature to him. The father approaches the son about the events occurring in the middle of the night in wonder and disbelief.

But what does the child do? Does he create the stars? Does he not sleep? Does he unknowingly knit the Universe together in the night? Is he some kind of dream filter, who receives all the dreams that people are having, jumbles them together, and doles them back out again, randomly?

That last idea is pretty interesting … I wonder if I will be able to come up with a story format for it.

Once, when no one was looking …

Once, when no one was looking, Walter was nice.

While riding his bike around the block, he saw a praying mantis on the bumpy sidewalk. His first instinct, of course, was to aim directly for the bug. As luck would have it, he turned too quickly and his front wheel slid up against the three inch lip where the roots of Mrs. Aiden’s oak tree had pushed up the sidewalk. Down went the bike, down went Walter, and he found himself lying belly down on the cold concrete with his legs tangled in the frame of the bike. The offending front wheel spun slowly a few inches above the ground.

The praying mantis hadn’t moved. It stood on its four rear legs, front limbs up, a miniature green centaur. Walter scowled and his face grew red. He kicked at the bicycle, trying to dislodge his legs.

“Stupid bug! You’re gonna get it!” Walter spat. He reached to the edge of the sidewalk and pulled up on the corner, where the tree root had cracked it. Walter knew about that corner; he had dug out underneath it so that he had a place to hide things. Soon, though, it would be a grave for a smashed green bug.

Walter raised the chunk of concrete over his head, a jagged corner protruding from his hand like a primitive dagger. He narrowed his eyes and tensed his arm, ready to slam the concrete down on the mantis, but then a strange thing happened.

The mantis turned and looked at Walter. It cocked its head, just like E.T. from the movies. Little circles of light reflected off the bug’s eyes, as if they were polished. It stared at him.

Walter froze. He could almost hear it asking him not to smash the chunk of concrete down. Intelligence shone from the bug’s eyes; it looked smarter than Walter’s kid sister, which, of course, wasn’t saying much. But it was unexpected. Walter lowered the concrete chunk down slowly and put it back in its place on the edge of the sidewalk.

The praying mantis inclined its head forward slightly when Walter finished placing the broken corner. Walter nodded back, imperceptibly. He stood up, picked up his bike, and started wheeling it home, to the other side of the block.

That night, at dinner, Walter’s parents noticed a scrape on his arm.

“What happened to you, Walter?” his mother asked. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine, mom. I just wiped out on my bike today.”

“Oh no! Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Don’t worry, mom. It happens all the time, especially in front of Mrs. Aiden’s house. There’s a chunk of sidewalk that sticks up there, and I hit it wrong with my bike.”

“Well, you had better slow down, young man! You’re going to wind up really hurting yourself.”

Or someone else, Walter thought.