Thursday, December 22, 2011
May your gatherings be filled with joy.
May your travels be swift and safe.
May your hearts be overcome by healing and rest in the arms of Contentment.
May your mouths be filled with good food and laughter.
May your sorrows be wrapped in comfort.
And may our world be filled with peace.
Saturday, December 17, 2011
I read from Mercy and Truth, one of my short story collections. So, now I would like to share another story about Gladys from the same book. It takes place during Christmas, but is perhaps not the happiest of Christmas stories. But, it does reflect the purpose of Mercy and Truth, and that is to wrestle with realities.
Gladys could feel the rage emanating from the stick across the table. There she sat a veritable Venus of Willendorf and not more than six feet to her left was a twig. The twig was wearing a tiny, black sequined dress with a plunging neckline, which should have disclosed cleavage as deep as the Grand Canyon, but only lay flat against a boney breast bone.
The twig had introduced herself to everyone after Gladys sat down at the table. Her chair had been the only seat left in the room full of hundreds of people dressed to kill. Gladys’ outfit would only press like a dull butter knife. She knew that and yet she always enjoyed dressing up at least once a year. She had learned some hard lessons on fashion through these annual events; lessons such never wear black velour outside the home when you have a white cat. But this night Gladys felt confident that for this night at least she could hold her own in this room of hundreds.
It was the Christmas season and Gladys wanted to celebrate. She wanted to enjoy the music, the lights, the food, the aromas, and the laughter of others—if not her own. The ballroom was massive and Gladys was grateful for that. It was far easier to really enjoy the holiday delicacies without having to endure the driveling small-talk of more intimate occasions. The twig and everyone else at the table represented very little threat in this corporate milieu of festivity. Gladys would have her own warm and real Christmas celebration with a her two close friends gathered around her simple, but glowing table closer to the actual day of Christmas. Until then she would take advantage of the shiny, canned, metallic December holiday party lavishly demonstrating the enormous wealth of the corporation for which she worked.
The particular department in which Gladys worked was in the negative three—the third floor beneath the lobby. There were no windows and a thick brick wall corner was her only horizon. She had finally convinced her supervisor to let her paint it a pleasing color—be she had paid dearly for that transaction. The supervisor had exacted three months of overtime from Gladys for that.
Gladys had endured such episodes before. The manager, as miserable as he appeared to be, was apparently never miserable enough to change his station in life. He must have believed he was stuck in a caste system with no way out. Gladys knew differently, yet remained at her post as well.
The stick cleared her throat in a most interruptive way. “Would you please pass me the sweetener?” Naturally the twig wouldn’t want real sugar. Gladys quickly picked up the glass dish in front of her plate. She recognized the many scratches, representing perhaps thousands of meals it had sat next to at tables like hers. Tumbled about in great grey tubs between banquets it had lost its luster but not its use.
Gladys barely heard and did not acknowledge the thank you murmured low and sincerely from the mouth of the stick. It didn’t really matter anyway, Gladys was there to enjoy the holiday. A musical troupe dress in 1800’s garb took the stage and sang raucously about some boar’s head, ale and cheer. The harmonies were good, but the dramatic interpretation was a bit over the top for Gladys’ taste.
The first course was delivered with great embellishment by the already weary waiters. Gladys had never quite understood the use of the term “wait-ers” as they always seemed to be running with sweat staining the collars of their cheap, starched, white shirts. She mused over the term a bit more, but then in a moment of self-embarrassment, realized that these underpaid pages were supposed to be “waiting” on her every need. She was so very glad she hadn’t shared her ridicule of the prior meaning with anyone at the table. She didn’t need another faux pas added to her already long list.
The second course came and as the plates were exchanged she glanced around the table and accidentally caught the gaze of several others at her table. Gladys quickly lowered her eyes as if drawn by some immutable force to scour the surface of her hard dinner roll. She really would rather not engage in conversation of any kind. It was always much more simple to avoid conversation altogether.
The master of ceremonies for the evening began to blather on about the greatness of the company, how lucky they all were to be employed by such a long-standing, stable and profitable organization. The M.C. fairly commanded everyone to make sure to share their experience at the company with their tablemates as the main course was about to be served.
Although Gladys wanted her food hot, that was never enough motivation to be forced to talk to strangers. She quickly excused herself and headed out to find the nearest restroom. The sooner she located it the better for possible, necessary and future retreats. Once she found her target Gladys began to relax and take her time. This slower pace of retreat would allow ample time for the forced conversation back at her table to diminish and for the strangers’ mouths to be filled with meat that really shouldn’t take that long to chew. Her food would be cold upon her return, but at least she would be occupied with catching up on her meal rather than having to talk.
Gladys really enjoyed watching people. She considered it an art form really. She could tell a lot about people just by watching and listening carefully. Walking down the hall toward the restroom she had already figured out the lives of a half dozen people, feeling the satisfaction of her skill.
The retreat destination was rarely the retreat. It was more the journey that was the salvation. Once inside the restroom she may be forced to engage in small-talk with others or worse yet, to look at herself in the mirror only to see the long nose she had inherited and the skin sagging around her eyelids. Gladys had learned a trick though. Once she was out of the stall if she just focused on her lipstick or her hair she never had to acknowledge the rest. Wash the hands, refresh the lipstick, check the hair for any embarrassing twangs, and then emerge triumphant at having accomplished such a great feat.
As Gladys was in the stall she heard footsteps and knew that another woman was in the restroom. She didn’t move a muscle so her acute art of listening could tell her exactly where the other woman was. Her deep prayer life began in earnest that this woman would not discover her and ask for toilet paper to be handed underneath the stall. The vacuous tile and linoleum room fell silent for a few moments. Gladys dared to take a slow, quiet breath doing everything she could to avoid detection.
Suddenly she heard a quick movement from several stalls down and then she heard violent vomiting. The smell of stomach acid and partially digested food floated toward her as the other woman seemed to be regurgitating an entire week’s worth of food. Just as the moment Gladys felt nearly compelled to ask if the other woman needed help, everything stopped. She could hear the woman take a few small gasps, breathe deeply through her nose and let out a deep sigh. The relief that Gladys felt was not only for the woman’s sake, but for her own. She would not have to risk intervening.
Gladys heard the stall door squeak open and her curiosity got the best of her. She leaned forward, tilted her head sideways and squinted through the narrow slit between the stall door and the partition to her right. It was the twig! Gladys leaned back quickly and a sense of disgust, satisfaction and shock struck her truly dumb. Of course it was the stick. Who else would leave their table to purge in such a revolting and public way? Now she had it all figured out—the skinny dress, the lack of cleavage, the sweetener instead of sugar. Yes, the cost of vanity was so very high! As Gladys heard the other woman leaving she thanked God she was not sick in the head like that. The lie that skinny woman was living really made her boil with anger. She insisted that authenticity was one of her highest values. That emotional energy was enough fuel to get her out of her stall and quickly wash her hands, slap on some lipstick and forget her hair. She had to see for herself the full-length of the atrocity that had just left.
By the time Gladys got into the hallway she was far enough behind the twig to go unnoticed, but close enough so that she could scan her closely. Just as she thought! Gladys could see the backbone and part of the ribcage. This really was disgusting to her now. She would go in and eat every bite of that meal and show this anorexic how much she, Gladys, could appreciate this lovely gift from the company.
When Gladys sat down she gave one stern look at the twig and then turned her full attention to the food to be relished now no matter how cold it was. In the background Gladys barely heard the choral music being performed by a local college choir. She sat up straight, smiled genuinely at everyone at the table except the stick, and like a connoisseur of fine dining, slowly cut and chewed and enjoyed every bite of the food on her plate.
After a short while, Gladys was content and happy again. She had sent her message artfully toward the twig, actually enjoyed the dessert, and had avoided any conversation with others. The program was starting to wind down but the M.C. had a few achievement awards to be handed out. Then the dancing would begin. This would be the signal that it was time for Gladys to go home.
Gladys had not noticed, but somewhere between the third and fourth award the twig had disappeared again. Of all things! The audacity. The M.C.’s voice pulled her back to front and center and she continued to feign attention while her mind reeled with invectives toward all the skinny people. Then her bladder got the best of her. She excused herself again, noticing that the twig had not yet returned.
There were a few people standing now and it was far more difficult to navigate towards the hallway. Gladys’ anxiety increased a bit as she had to excuse herself to far too many people. She fairly lunged through the ballroom doors when she finally reached them. The bright lights of the hallway nearly blinded her after sitting in the muted ballroom for so long. They called it ambiance—Gladys called it dark.
It took her eyes a few moments to adjust. By then she saw a fairly large group of people gathered near the elevators across from the women’s restroom. A gurney was being lifted up by two emergency medical people and another was speaking to a couple standing nearby. Small groups of tightly knit people stood talking cautiously and furtively. A police officer came around the corner and began instructing people to return to the party. People parted like water just long enough for Gladys to see the twig draped with blue blankets laying on the gurney. Gladys was shocked. At least the twig’s face was not covered in death, but she was ashen and unconscious. As they wheeled her into the elevator and people turned toward Gladys to go back to the party, their mood was definitely not festive. Each time the ballroom doors opened the disk jockey’s music would blare out in deep, throbbing beats then suddenly be dampened as the doors closed. Gladys was trying desperately to overhear any conversations. She needed to know what had happened. Because her need to know was so great, Gladys decided to swim upstream of the crowd merging back into the ballroom. As she switched her shoulders back and forth through the crowd she could discern very little. She did see the couple still standing near the elevator. It looked as if the man was consoling the woman. Gladys spotted a water fountain just behind the couple and made her way quickly to it. She could hear them talking now, but the only way she could get details was to lean over and get a drink. She pressed the button and leaned to the left so that the water flow would not interrupt her listening.
“I told her not to come tonight.” The woman’s teary voice was deep with sorrow.
“I know you did, dear. I know you did.”
“How could she even stand? She just got out of chemo yesterday. I told her not to come.” Great sobs were pressed into the man’s shoulder.
“I don’t understand either. Maybe she just wanted a little Christmas cheer.”
Gladys could feel hot tears roll down her cheeks. She was grateful that the water fountain was still running. Gladys knew then that the rage at the table had been her own.
Copyright M.R. Hyde 2010
Saturday, December 3, 2011
It is to the great credit of Abby E. Murray, the creator and coordinator of this series, that such an open and supportive environment exists in Colorado Springs. Keep up with the monthly meetings via the blog and come on by some time for a great experience.
If you are local, please join us Friday, December 9 at 7:30 p.m. at the Business of Art Center in Manitou Springs.
Hope to see you there!
Saturday, November 12, 2011
Geese ignore that kind of graceless flight, surging southward in their casual triangles.
We won’t be able to hold winter back much longer.
We just won’t be able to hold winter back much longer.
As if we ever could!
Triumphant leaves sing out their brilliant and beatific swan songs.
Branches siphon out every hue in desperate races to beat the snow at its game.
They won’t be able to hold winter back much longer.
They just won’t be able to hold winter back much longer.
As if they ever could!
But winter’s grip—ah, that’s the thing—
Winter’s grip has no hold on spring.
Winter’s grip is frail.
Fingers wrap ‘round hot tea in hand; steam curls like a rolling river.
Eyes drink in autumnal splendor as the mind collects velvet memories for the plain days.
We can’t hold winter back—never!
We just can’t hold winter back—ever.
But then there’s spring.
Copyright M.R.Hyde 2011
Friday, September 23, 2011
Pauley had been born tall. But in infancy they called him long. "Such a long boy, Ezra!" his neighbors would exclaim to his father. And Ezra would beam with joy. His first and only offspring would be the center of the universe during his remaining days.
Pauley's father was older when he had married his mother. The middle-aged crippled woman from across the sea had taken pity and married him. At least that's what Pauley's father thought. What he did not understand through his cheery disposition was that she was desperate and poor. She was poor enough to marry the "village idiot." Although Pauley's father was no idiot, a simplistic approach to life made him appear so. Several women in town became furious because "that foreign woman" had taken advantage of "that dear man." After some time, though, the couple appeared to make a go of it, so the town's women settled down to their usual routine of ignoring anyone who would not or could not be a source of gossip.
Pauley rapidly transitioned from long to tall when he got his legs unfurled and his feet planted on terra firma. It was always comical to see the grade school photographs where Pauley was seated in the back row and yet still towered over his classmates. A shock of black hair would never stay down, despite his mother's insistence that the hair grease did the trick.
Pauley, though long and tall, was a delight to his friends, parents and neighbors. He was genuinely joyful, rarely angry—although sometimes at injustice—and always oh, so helpful. When tree limbs could not be reached by the owners and when cats got stuck up on tall poles Pauley was sure to help. When small children fell down deep holes, these were the times he was most useful. While several men would work hard at gripping his sturdy ankles, being careful not to get struck by his enormous and flailing feet, Pauley would stretch low into the hole, speaking gently to the trapped and frightened child the entire time. Some said they could hear him singing quietly as he descended for the rescues. With the child clinging desperately to his long neck Pauley would emerge covered in grime, his teeth flashing an absolutely brilliant smile in contrast to his filthy face. Later that night or the next day Pauley's family would be indulged with pie or some other freshly baked treat—a small price for his gracious rescue.
Life started narrow for Pauley and his family when the Grangians came to town. The Grangians—a surly breed from across the sea—poked their noses into the business of other people on a regular basis. It always seemed like the sea was their sole reason for doing this. Perhaps they just got bored on their flat, inarable land. Some called them "the sea peoples." But, anyone who could tolerate their raucous tales got a true sense of their origins in heat, grit and cactus. The sea just gave them an excuse to work out their drive for dominion.
So when the Grangians entered Pauley's town everyone knew they were in trouble. Doors were locked, windows shuttered, children were not allowed to play in the streets. The Grangians’ water tanks—amphibious-to-land war machines—rumbled down the streets shaking the walls and causing rings to dance in every pool of liquid from the coffee in the cups on the café tables to the fish ponds on the outskirts of town. Bartenders and waitresses took deep breaths and prepared for the onslaught of abusive language and opportunistic groping. On a good day that was all that would happen. On a bad day people disappeared.
Pauley bent over his breakfast while his father told stories of the last campaign of the Grangians. He said it had been just after Pauley was born. He had slipped his three-person family off into the night to wait out the reckless and ruthless journey of the Grangians through their neighborhoods.
"Why didn't you stand up and fight?" A dab of oatmeal clung to Pauley's chin and a raisin plopped back into his bowl spattering milk around his toast.
"Your mother is a Grangian." Pauley’s father said this as if he had just made a comment about the weather. Pauley's mother smiled a bit sadly as she came around the table to mop up the milk spots.
"Mama, you were Grangian?"
"Yes, son. I am Grangian." She reached up and patted him on the shoulder. "Finish your oatmeal, dear."
Pauley sat stunned at this news. "Are we going to leave tonight, too?"
"I'm not sure, Pauley. We are in a bit of a different situation now."
"It will be dark soon. I can carry Mama."
"Yes, indeed you could. But it would be hard to disguise you. The Grangians have glasses that can see at night and they would be sure to spot you anywhere we went."
"Oh, Pop. This is my fault!"
"No fault to be made, Pauley. It's just the facts."
Pauley's mind reeled with ideas. He was trying to figure out how to make himself short—hiding in the back of the wagon, crawling on the ground, slipping inside a bag. But every idea was smothered by the reality that he could not hide.
Saturday, September 10, 2011
Wife of Lappidoth: A Mountain Tale is the story of a young woman's tragic life transformed by the kindness of strangers, faith in God and a return to community.
Step onto the forest floor, breath in the fresh mountain air as Leah moves from isolation to desperate loneliness, then to significance and peace in the face of abuse and violence.
Purchase M.R. Hyde's new novella today!
Available now at Lulu.com in paperback or digital format and at Amazon.com - Kindle. Available for most digital platforms soon from Smashwords.com.
Saturday, August 27, 2011
Excerpt from the new novel Wife of Lappidoth: A Mountain Tale. This book will be available soon in digital and print form. Stay tuned for publishing dates.
The dog's leg was open to the bone from its lower loin to its hock. Crystallized blood was already encrusted along the outer edge of the wound, while fresher blood still bathed the bone. Leah peered over the rock watching for signs of flight or signs of defense, but the wolfhound was nearly spent. Its eyes were beginning to glaze over with deep suffering. Leah knew that something needed to happen soon or the animal's life would pass. Leah decided to move and was near the wounded leg in an instant. She heard the low growl, formerly strong but now merely a shallow intent. The strong head moved toward her. The hound bared white and ferocious teeth as the beast used all the remaining strength to reveal the menace that could be. The strong neck shook for a moment and then the valiant head fell into the sod. Leah felt she could now begin. She carefully poured water over the wound permitting it to do its work. After the blood stains and scabbing were removed she tenderly put salve over the open flesh. Time was of the essence. Her pouch contained the most essential tools of survival, of those being a sturdy, sharp needle and substantial thread. Few would understand how essential these two things would be, but she knew. With them she maintained warmth and safety and her legs were not slashed from underbrush or lurking thorns. And with them she quickly stitched the raw edges of the wolfhound’s wound together.
The dog's breathing became shortened to gasps and a moan came from deep within his chest. Leah spoke gently and in low tones. "You must not worry yourself. I am here." Leah placed her strong hand on the side of the dog, closing her eyes to concentrate all of her senses on capturing the rhythm of a heartbeat. The coarse gray hair pushed up through her fingers as she pressed more firmly into the ribs. The beat was slow but strong.
The trees grew dark and gray against the evening sky. Leah took in their surroundings before she lost all daylight. She would need to collect wood for a fire this night. With no fear she bent close to the great head of the hound. "Do not give up. I am with you. I will not leave you. I must make a fire to keep us warm." Leah felt relief as the warm breath eased in and out of the immense, black nose. Leah set to her tasks quickly. Protection and heat were essential if they were both going to survive until daybreak.
The fire crackled to life with sharp bursts of the kindling. Leah was patient to let it come to full flame before setting the wood onto it. She was thankful to see the fire work its influence on the bark and then the meat of the fallen limbs. An erratic circle of light spread out around them. She paused for a moment to watch the chest of her patient. Although the breathing was still shallow the chest was rising and falling now more rhythmically. There was ample time to set things up for the remainder of the night. She made a place to sleep near the fire where she could easily watch the dog. Sitting there she ate her cold food, thankful she had enough for a day or two. She was content that her purpose for the day had been fulfilled. Rising to stretch, she drew near the dog and placed her hand on its side again. It was alarmingly warm to the touch. She carefully stroked the side to the haunch speaking lowly with each stroke. "You will be all right, great one. We are in this together." Kneeling down, Leah exposed the wound. The flesh was red hot and swollen. "This hurts, I am certain of that. But it is necessary to bring healing. Breathe deeply now." Leah carefully poured more water over the wound. Four more times she repeated this ritual, each time speaking softly to the wolfhound. She covered the stitches with sticky salve again and then with leaves. "This will keep it clean," she whispered. "Now rest."
Leah stretched out near the fire. It was an unusually clear night. She marveled at the stars as if she were seeing them for the first time. It was always this way. Wonder was one of her traits. She would sleep for a while then waken to care for her charge. Just before sleep she ruminated about the clean cut of the dog's wound. It was the wound of a knife skillfully and deftly used. She hoped she would never meet the person who did this.
Leah awoke to deep snarls and groans. She listened before moving and registered that the sound came from across the fire. The coals glowed brilliantly but not enough to see beyond them. Cautiously she rolled on her side to put more twigs into the coals. Quick and sharp flames jumped high enough for her to see the dog sleeping in the same position, but its teeth were bared while its eyes remained closed. She listened closely again to be certain that there were no other beasts or persons nearby. Relieved that it was still just the two of them, she got up and renewed the fuel for the fire.
Leah moved near the hound and scanned its entire body. The chest was still moving as it should. If it could stand it must come at least to her waist. The bristly hair shot heavily out of its lower jaw like unkempt chin whiskers. Its deep chest rose upward into shallow withers and forged into powerful haunches. It was neither little cared for nor poorly fed. Leaning down she checked the wound again and replaced the covering of the leaves. She stroked the strong side of the hound. "I believe we are going to make it. I believe we will."
Dawn opened with another opportunity, and Leah wakened wearier than most mornings. Tending the fire and the wolfhound had captured a good deal of her rest. Turning her head toward the dog she saw that its front legs were up and it was trying to clean its wound. As Leah sat up the great head turned toward her, not in alarm but in acknowledgment. She watched it work for some time. The leg was apparently still too tender to move, but she took heart that the dog was moving. She knew it must be thirsty. She filled a cup with water and with a stick slowly pushed it toward the dog. It stopped for a moment, a bit of its tongue resting between its lips. It blinked twice and returned to its effort of cleaning the wound. After a few moments the large muzzle turned toward the cup and hovered over it and a snort of hot air shot out. One great paw lifted over the cup and pushed it toward the other getting the cup beneath its chin. It looked carefully at Leah again, blinked and then began to drink.
Leah enjoyed the sounds of lapping water, grateful that there was enough strength for the dog to drink. Beads of water clung to the hair on the long jaw and became jewel-like in the morning sun. Soon all resources were expended both in the cup and in the hound. The hound slowly lowered itself down again and with a great sigh closed its eyes. Sleep returned as the great healer.
Copyright M.R.HYDE 2011
Saturday, August 13, 2011
Thank you for your consideration of this opportunity!
Saturday, July 16, 2011
She knew in an instant that everything must stop. It must stop. And it did.
In that moment, the only things left for her were convulsing sobs. The tears had been stowed away until everything was taken care of and managed. Now they erupted in a reversed lobotomy. Smells, touches, looks—all called forth in a single moment. These memories and emotions were compacted into one lament. She knew only sorrow in this moment. It was true, it was deep, and it was far more real than she ever imagined it could be. No matter how many stories she read about it, no matter how many novels, movies, or photographs portrayed it, this kind of loss was absolutely unbearable. Yet she had borne it already without recognizing it.
The funeral was shrouded in the tearful and long good-byes from friends and family. Even at the graveside service, her mind had been steeled against the totality of the truth that never was six feet so deep than when it lay between the living and the dead. That cold, dead earth spoke into her ears deafened by survival that it would never surrender him back to her—never. But she had never really comprehended it until that moment when everything had to stop. And it did.
She hadn’t really known anguish before. Now she did. Every fiber of her body was wracked with this new kind of pain. Deathly and deadly separation. “And the two shall become one.” Now and truly it had become “And the one shall become half.” Half of life. Half of love. Half of a human being. Half able. Half empty. Half alone. No—this was wholly and completely alone.
As the surge of sorrow began to dissipate—as it always would eventually—she felt new and somehow odd. She took a few moments to try to assess the damage. Like a medic on the field of battle, she quickly and carefully assessed her body parts. Right arm. Check. Right leg. Check. Left leg. Check. Left arm . . . it was gone! In almost every way, it was gone.
He had been her left arm: doing the dishes, he the left and she the right; keeping the yard, he the left and she the right; stocking the pantry, he the left and she the right. Who would rinse the dishes now? Who would mow the grass while she weeded the flower beds? Who would read the morning devotions after she read the Scripture? Who would be on the left side of the bed in the still of the night?
As she began to breathe with more regularity and rhythm, she finally and fully understood. He would not be there. Her left arm had been ripped out of its socket. Frayed ends of tendons and muscle dangled over the edge of her shoulder. There was nothing there now. There were no doctors or nurses available, so she would have to take the swig of whiskey, bite down on the stick, stitch up the skin, then pray that it would not get infected.
She would have to do this on her own. There was nothing more for her to do. She would have to finish life without her left arm.
From SHE: Stories of a Woman
Copyright M.R.HYDE 2010