Saturday, December 22, 2012

Gladys and the Christmas Competition



The announcement came in the newsletter from the apartment manager. It was highlighted at the top, surrounded by images of holly leaves and berries. Two hundred dollars off of rent for the tenant who had the prettiest Christmas window. "They" would be walking around the property on the night of December 21st to judge.

Immediately after reading the announcement, Gladys’ mind went a-whirring.  If she focused all of her attention on that front window she could win! Yes, the tree would be in its usual spot as an annual beacon of joy just as every year.  She so wanted the world to know the joy that she felt.  Every year she hoped that it would spread some cheer. But, this year it could mean so much more. It could bring some welcome financial relief. The budget was still fixed and tight. But with her decorating acumen she might win this Christmas competition. A growing sense of competition assured her that she would!

That night Gladys pulled out all of her Christmas decorations. She unpacked them fiercely, tossing old paper and plastic behind her. She plunked down every decoration on the kitchen table, the taller ones tipping this way and that against the table legs and the walls. Gladys' activity was so intense that her old cat decided to back away slowly to find a nice quiet and dark corner in the closet to keep out of the fray.

After some time Gladys hustled off to her desk to pick up a pencil with a good eraser and that stiff, old pad of yellow paper. Hurrying back to the table, she pulled out a chair and sat down to begin charting her course. The pencil flew here and there about the paper. With quick-fire frustration she would erase all ill-conceived designs and then redraw them. After about an hour or so of heavy concentration, she leaned back and held up her tablet. There it was! The winning window!

The next hours and days were full of concerted effort, with Gladys occasionally having to stop to wipe her brow. Her old cat would carefully weave between the boxes and the papers on the floor—the gauntlet through which it must pass to gain the water and food bowls in the kitchen.  The house was a tumble with Christmas objects, first placed here, then there, then there. Finally, in triumph, not only was Gladys’ apartment window finished perfectly with Christmas delights, but also the remainder of her humble abode. There was just one more thing left to do. She must view the window from the vantage point of the judges—the unknown judges of the Christmas competition.

That morning it had begun to snow. Soft, big, lazy snowflakes had carefully and quietly began to bury the trampled, brown grass. The snowflake’s work had been steady and sure. A deep and thick blanket of brilliant white snow now hid the ugly late autumn and early winter gray. Gladys peeked out of her bedroom window to see how warmly she needed to dress. The wind started to pick up handfuls of snow and toss it as a baker does the flour just before kneading the dough.  Gladys pulled on her heaviest coat and tightened a wool scarf around her neck. With her sweater underneath, her arms pitched out to the sides a bit, quite like a penguin. She realized her first winter's mistake very soon when she attempted to lean over and put on her boots. Rather than un-layer her layers, she insisted on huffing and puffing and bending and twisting in unusual ways to secure the boots to her feet. By the time she got this accomplished, she was sweating mightily inside of her coat and her hair was plastered to her head under the sturdy hood. She could feel the moisture matt the wool scarf to her neck. Undaunted by the prospect of the wind forcing her into a seasonal cold because of this, Gladys launched out the door, through the hallway and down the front steps into nature's raw winter. Almost running out into the snow, a big smile broadened her face and she could feel her skin tingle from the freezing air. She was swept back to her childhood when they would race out of the house coatless and anxious to see their simple tree decorations shining through the window. The whole family would stand together and with chattering teeth sing "Oh, Christmas Tree!" They would sing only as long as they could feel their feet. Then they would race back in for hot cocoa and putting away the empty decorations boxes.

Gladys was thrilled to see her window. It was glorious! The lights were hung perfectly. The tree radiated its small splendor. The handmade paper snowflakes danced across the panes of glass as if they had just fallen from heaven. For a moment she could hear her parents and siblings softly singing, “Oh, Christmas tree! Oh, Christmas tree! ..." But then the wind slammed against her with the chilly biting reminder that she was still alone.

 As she fought to keep her balance, the wind belayed its force for a moment. Gladys saw more lights in her peripheral vision. She took several steps back and looked at one window and then the next. Every one of her neighbors had worked as hard as she to decorate their windows. Three stories high and twelve rows across Christmas lights beamed out. Flashing wreathes, tiny and big trees, reindeer noses, blinking Santa faces all sent their lights reflecting onto the freshly fallen snow.

In a moment of despair, Gladys realized she probably would not win the Christmas window competition. Her hope for some financial relief was vanquished. But then she realized that all of her neighbors probably needed the same relief. She knew that Frank’s children never came to see him or help him. She knew that the young couple on the second floor with the new baby had barely enough furniture. She remembered the veteran who lived in 3C was bound by his terrible nightmares and unable to work. She thought of the three teenagers sleeping shoulder-to-shoulder in one of their two bedrooms while their mother slept heavily in the other after her second shift each night. Gladys felt a wave of shame wash over her.  She really did not need to win. She had just enough. She looked carefully at each window, wondering who needed relief the most and hoping that they would win.

"Evenin’ Gladys." A horse, old voice broke the silence.

"Well, hello Frank!" Gladys was glad to see her neighbor.

"Sure is pretty, isn't it?" Gladys could see the delight in Frank's eyes. "I've never seen it all lit up like that!”

"It sure is pretty, Frank. Indeed it is." The two turned again to the wall of lights, smiling and comforted by each other's presence.

Frank cleared his throat and then began to sing quietly. It only took Gladys a bar of notes to recognize the tune and then she began to sing with him.

Oh, Christmas tree!
Oh, Christmas tree!
How lovely are they branches…

They finished the song with a sense of respectful and hushed joy. Frank took Gladys's arm and held it in a frail way as they walked back into the apartment building. She knew he was not strong enough to hold her up, so she feigned the need for support to honor his effort.

"Good night, Gladys and Merry Christmas!" Frank's smile was so sweet and wonderful.

Gladys gave Frank a quick kiss on his wrinkled, old cheek. "Merry Christmas to you as well, Frank. Merry, Merry Christmas."

Gladys watched as Frank hobbled back to his door down the hall. He turned and waved before he closed the door behind him. Gladys entered her own apartment and surveyed the mess. Her cat, sensing the change in mood, sidled up to her and leaned heavily against her leg. "Well, dear," she said as she picked up her old cat.  "I guess we'd better clean up this mess." The two stared comfortably at the mess for some time. Setting down the cat, then dismantling her winter garb and pulling off her boots, Gladys thought that this was a very good start of one of the best Christmas seasons in quite some time.

Copyright M.R. Hyde 2012

Saturday, November 10, 2012

More from Pauley

I was unable to read at last night's Colorado Springs Writers Reading Series, although I was delighted to hear the other readers there.  So, I decided to post the selection I had intended to read.  

I have been working for some time on a story about Pauley, a man as tall as a tree.  When we encounter Pauley in this selection he has come through a terrible ship wreck and has been washed ashore near a tribe of people living near that seashore. They bring him back to health and then he feels the need to return home.

I am finding that in writing this novel I have a desire to express color the way that Willa Cather did, particularly in Death Comes for the Archbishop.  I am a visual artist so color fills my mind, but I rarely try to express in words the sensation of color.  So my first attempt is to work at this in a more deliberate way through Pauley's story.  My apologies to all the color-blind readers whose attention may be lost in such renderings.

Selection from Saint Pauley


The children were carefully lined up with their faces washed. The sad women stood behind them with their hands on the children's shoulders. The men circled around Pauley. A deep hum emanated from their throats, undulating in peculiar and communal rhythms. Suddenly as one, the entire tribe took a step to the left, their shoulders swaying from the movement. The chief clicked his tongue rapidly and the tribe took two steps again to the left. The chief signaled again and they took three steps to the left. On the third signal one of the women began to sing a soft song. Pauley could not understand the words for they were in an ancient tongue. Voice by voice tribe members added to their song and it swelled gently. He was mesmerized. The chief broke the circle and stepped in front of the man next to him. Each tribe member followed the other as the chief circled ever closer to Pauley as he stepped around the inside of the human circle. It was not long that a human spiral sang and swayed quietly around him.

Pauley was overcome with peace and a profound sense of belonging. The circle of song gently curled more tightly around him. Pauley closed his eyes absorbing the vibration of voices and movement. He opened his eyes again only when he felt a brush on his arm. His eyes fluttered open to a pale, violet light touching everyone from above. He looked into the faces of those circled around him and their eyes were alive with joy. Their teeth flashed in brilliant smiles. All sorrow was gone. The chief pointed to the sky and Pauley lifted his head. A thousand shining angel wings circled above their heads, flashing in brilliance and beauty. The opalescent orchid, sky magenta, indigo violet and purple were laced with silver threads of light. Polly blinked twice, closed his eyes could feel the brush of wings against his face. When he opened his eyes again all was changed back to its earthly nature. The tribe, however, still had joy on their faces. The chief clicked his tongue three times. The whole tribe took a breath as if one and whispered a corporate and heartfelt word into the air. Pauley leaned over and asked the chief in a low whisper, "What does that mean?"

"It means ‘Thank you’,” whispered the chief.  Pauley's jaw hung open. The tribe started to disperse, some moving back toward their huts, others walking out onto the sand, some stood where they were. The children clung to the women, afraid and overwhelmed by the new wonder they had just experienced.

The chief tapped Pauley on the arm. "They come to us when we need them the most."

Pauley experienced a new and strange resolve, a resolve born of joy and shot through with courage. He looked down at the chief. "I will go now. But you will see me again."

"Yes, our Pauley. We hope to see you again."

"No, chief, I will see you again."

Pauley picked up his bag, which had been carefully prepared by the tribe, swung it on to his shoulder and launched out through the vegetation toward home.

Copyright M.R. Hyde 2012

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

What the Fire Said

Recently my parents lost their retirement home in the Little Bear fire in New Mexico.  Over 200 hundred homes were lost in a beautiful mountain area.  While I had seen the evidence of other fires and watched the images on television, it was not until I saw pictures of the decimated home I had helped to paint and in which many happy memories had been created that I begin to come to terms with the nature of such a fire.  This kind of loss is so different than the losses created by greed or violence--such as a stolen car or a break-in.  It is wholly different in nature and we are completely subject to it.  Here are my thoughts in relation to this event.

What the Fire Said

You won’t need those keys any longer.
The view is less spectacular now.
I can eat nearly anything.
Watch how I bend these beams.
I don’t want that house; I’ll take these.
I ride with the wind—no, I create the wind.
I run faster through steep valleys where your trucks cannot go.
I skip over tall mountains like running the pews.
I can reach much farther than you.
I can take what is precious to you—and you will never get it back.
I can leave you as quickly as I came, with ash as my footprints.
You will leave this area.
I can extend myself in unfathomable ways—up, down, under, over and through.
I am capricious, rapacious and altogether consuming.
I will not be stopped—unless I am starved, drowned or buried.
I am fire and you will listen when I roar!

Copyright M.R. Hyde 2012

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Robin

We had a wonderful, sad, happy send-off to Abby E. Murray last night at the Colorado Springs Writers Reading Series.  We wished her the best and gave her a standing ovation as a small token of our love and appreciation for her work in supporting and encouraging writers in our community.  I would not want you to miss her new publication, Quick Draw: Poems from a Soldier’s Wife, so please order your copy today from Finishing Line Press.

On another CSWRS note:  I recently finished reading Tim Christian's delightful tale The Strange and Thrilling Adventures of James Charles Fogarty. Tim is a favorite reader at CSWRS primarily because his writing is just so good. This tale is reminiscent of Mark Twain in its humor and use of language, with a good measure of strangely accessible science fiction.  Just a good, fun read.  Get it now at Lulu.com.

Last night I read my short story that was born out of a second wave of invasive Spring moths.  I noticed something odd about the birds during these two invasions.  They had an alarming reprieve of their usual cautiousness.  This story is a reworking of my own irritation regarding moths to the jubilant abandonment of the birds regarding moths.

Robin

Rudy arrived in the spring. This was his fourth spring. He felt a little weary and worn and longed for a good rest. He was glad it was near sunset. Tomorrow, yes tomorrow would be a good day -- he just knew it.  He sidled into a giant Ponderosa pine, hoping he would not take up another's space. He would settle in more tomorrow, but for now he just needed to rest.

"Oh, excuse me!" A quiet exclamation touched him as an equally weary and new neighbor shuffled in next to him.

"’Sat you Rudy?"

"Yeah. Yeah." Rudy could barely reply as he blinked very slowly. "’Sat you, Bud?"

"Yeah. G’night, Rudy."

"Goodnight, Bud."

The two fell into a deep slumber, unaware of the other visitors stumbling weakly onto their commandeered perches. Everyone made room.

Rudy woke to a morning ruckus. Birds everywhere were scrambling over each other, dodging short and long talons, and some were very nearly screaming. Rudy twitched his head to knock the sleep out and then heard the word -- the word that could make any traveler lose his ever loving mind – moths! A small sparrow dashed in among the branches. "Moths! Great gobs of moths!" There was a rather hysterical look in its eye.

Rudy had been raised right. He scuttled as quickly as he could to the end of the limb, trying desperately not to be rude or harm anyone. But the raging hunger he felt nearly drove him to distraction. He could hear his mother's sweet voice. "Take your time, Rudy. There's always enough for everyone." He closed his eyes briefly and took a deep, cleansing breaths.

"Ruthy!" A muffled and urgent voice compelled him to open his eyes.  "You gotha geth outh there!" Bud was trying to talk with the tattered edge of a moth wing sticking out of his beak. He clapped his beak several more times and then swallowed hard.

"Rudy, I've never seen anything like it!" Tears were in Bud's eyes, tears of absolute joy.

With as much reserve as he could muster, Rudy spoke carefully to his friend. "Okay, okay. I'm coming." But as calm as he was on the exterior, Rudy's heart was leaping up into his throat. Bud dashed away and a panorama of splendor opened up before Rudy. The air felt alive with movement -- erratic, chaotic movement. Moths covered tree trunks, windows, roofs, sidewalks and streets. Some were fluttering madly without compasses. Some were bouncing off of cars and buildings. Kamikaze moths careened to their deaths in mad lunacy. It was unbelievable!

Rudy mumbled in awe, "Mama told me about this." Then with a kind of madness he would not soon forget, he plunged into the feast. No one cared much of wings clipped or feet brushing backs or bodies spiraling through the air. There were moths -- gobs and gobs of moths!

Suddenly the long migration seemed like a distant dream. Suddenly the weariness of bone transformed into explosive energy toward consuming as many moths as he could. Be gone his mother's soft voice! This was a feast!

The next few hours were lost to Rudy.  Later he could not remember the balance of that day.  He felt a great discomfort about his middle. When he glanced down he could see his distended redbreast and he groaned with put-upon shame. His signature dip-step-step-up, had been replaced with a tip-waddle-waddle-waddle. This should have alarmed him, except his response time was slowed by the influence of gluttony. His mother's more urgent and alarmed voice finally came to him again. "Beware the cats of spring!" Rudy took three lumbering steps and then beat his wings into flight.  He landed solidly on the next to the lowest branch in the nearest tree.

Rudy woke in the middle of the night with the wind and rain and hail lashing at the tree. He clenched his toes tighter around the branch and took a deep contented breath.  A huge grin would have spread across his face if he could grin like the humans. He knew in the morning there would be another ruckus and some wild-eyed sparrow would dash into the trees screaming "Worms!"

Copyright M.R. Hyde 2012