How To Find What You Came Here For

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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Tanks for the Memories

Things to do during a Laramie, Wyoming winter when you are really (really, really, really) poor, have a brand-new baby, a husband in his senior year at college, and a not-quite-completely unreliable car with bad brakes:
1.      Watch the snow fall in the morning light
2.      Watch the wind blow the snow around
3.      Nurse the baby
4.      Change the baby
5.      Arrange your ginormous collection of books alphabetically by author
6.      Play with the baby
7.      Enjoy some infant massage with the baby
8.      Listen to the wind blow the snow around
9.      Arrange your ginormous collection of books alphabetically by their titles
10.   Play on the computers at the campus computer lab

Number ten was the big winner in our house (beating out very stiff competition, I’ll point out).

Granted, the nine or ten-block walk to the computer lab was often quite brisk thanks to sub-zero temperatures with ridiculous wind chill factors, and required bundling our son up like the biggest burrito ever seen, but it was totally worth it!

Once the arctic trek was completed and the baby had been divested of his wrappings and settled into the stroller we’d carried from home (because umbrella strollers don’t roll through ice and snow), there was a wide range of entertainment to be found at the computer lab.

OK, maybe “wide range” would be overstating it.

Specifically, there were two options back in the glory days of 1992.

Option one was “Scorched Earth,” which we had stored on a little 3.5” floppy.  This was an awesome game, back in the day.  A variety of flat, one-dimensional landscapes populated by little tanks that shot at each other.  I could play against my husband and a few computers, or if my husband had actual schoolwork to do, I could play against nothing but computers.

The fun lay in the fact that you could earn money to buy bigger, better, and more interesting weapons.

You had the option of nukes, radioactive slime, and a whole host of other weapons—some of which were more interesting than they were effective.

The tank’s trajectory and the power of each shot  were controlled with arrow buttons on the keyboard.  Weird, slightly tinny sound effects accompanied each shot, and occasionally a vanquished opponent would offer a witty comment about his demise, such as, “Is it getting hot in here?”  It was juvenile, silly, and extremely satisfying!

The other option was to talk to people in other towns, also known as “chatting.”  This chatting was not the quick back and forth we enjoy with Facebook and AIM.  Chatting in 1992 moved at the speed of an intensely thoughtful chess game played by two elderly men in a park wearing worn cardigans, faced with the knowledge that once the game ended they’d have to go home and watch Wheel of Fortune with their wives.  

After typing a message to the person you were chatting with, you had time to walk up the hall and get a drink from the vending machine, stop and talk with the friend pretending to write their research paper, and drink half the can before anyone responded.  Fun times.

Facebook, POGO, World of Warcraft, D&D Online, CNN.com, Hulu, blogs, and all the other things we associate with the internet now didn’t exist yet.  But back then, to a young woman whose life had suddenly narrowed to a very small apartment with a new baby and a husband trying to finish his degree?  This infant technology was a miracle that very likely made the difference between sanity and a rubber room with a nice white jacket with very long sleeves.



This post is in response to a prompt from Write On Edge to write a memoir piece about our earliest memories of technology and how they affected our life.  I miss that stupid Scorched Earth game--none of the modern games available today can match the sweetly innocent mayhem we loved about blowing those tiny little tanks up.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Deep Roots

Her tree was dying, and there was nothing she could do about it.
Fewer and fewer of her branches were budding in the spring.  The buds that did form were small and weak and rarely produced the full leaves she’d been accustomed to for seasons past counting.  She could feel time running out…for both of them.

As a wood nymph, she lived only as long as her tree did.  The youngest among them numbered their seasons in the hundreds, and those with stately, long-lived trees eventually stopped counting entirely as the number became meaningless.

But now, she could sense her tree weakening, and every spell and potion she tried had less effect than the last.  It was time to seek help.

Nimbly she lowered herself down the stout trunk until she felt the vibrant earth through the soles of her feet.  An early morning breeze flirted with the treetops and leaves rustled cheerfully as she passed under their branches.  Adele lifted her face to catch the first warm rays of the sun and smiled.

The tree she sought was in the center of the forest.  It was the easily the oldest of any of the trees, and its nymph reigned as their queen; if any in the forest knew how to revive her tree, the queen would.

The queen’s tree dominated the forest: it rose well above the other trees, and its wide canopy had long since eliminated any surrounding trees.  The ground surrounding the immense trunk was gnarled with the knees of roots that had thrust up randomly as the huge tree sought to expand its support system.

The air was noticeably cooler under the branches, and the noise of the forest faded to a reverent silence.  Adele approached the trunk with her head bowed, and dropped silently to sit with her hands resting in her lap. The Queen would have known she was coming the moment she passed the outer ranges of her tree’s roots.  All Adele could do was wait to see if the Queen would speak with her.

She closed her eyes and worked to order her thoughts.  The Queen did not appreciate nymphs who wasted her time dithering instead of getting to the point. 

“Adele Oakheart, have you come with a purpose…or are you napping?” the Queen’s voice came to her faintly from a slender opening in the trunk.

Adele leapt to her feet, “A purpose, my Queen!”

A dry laugh floated on the air.  “Well then, I suppose you had better come up then.”  She hesitated for a moment—she’d never been in the Queen’s tree.  No nymph had, at least that she’d heard of.  “Don’t dawdle Adele!  Come in, and bring some sunshine with you!”

Adele quickly slipped through and paused just inside to let her eyes adjust to the sudden darkness.  “Yes, Your Majesty.”  As her eyes adjusted, she hid a gasp behind her hand.  It had been several seasons since she’d seen the Queen, and in that time the vibrant nymph had shrunk and withered.  Her glowing red hair had faded to silver and crackled dryly as she moved.

“Well?  What is your purpose Adele?”  The Queen’s voice was weaker than it had been even a few moments earlier.

“Yes, my Queen!  My tree, it’s…”

“Getting weaker.  Dying,” the queen interrupted.

Adele nodded.  “I was hoping…”

“That I could help you save your tree…and yourself.”  There was a dark emotion in the Queen’s voice that puzzled Adele.

“Yes, my Queen.”

The Queen sighed and seemed to shrink into herself.  “Near the door is a bowl with clear spring water.  Take as much as your cupped hands will carry, and sprinkle it around the base of your tree.”

“Thank you, my Queen!”  Adele turned to the bowl, then looked back.  “Your Majesty, there is very little in the bowl.”

“Yes, Adele, I know.  Take it all; it is my gift to you.” 

Adele smiled gratefully and scooped the sparkling water into her hands, and made her way carefully down the trunk of the tree.  The Queen followed her progress to the edge of her tree’s roots, and sighed.

“My gift…my sacrifice,” she murmured, as the leaves of her tree fell like rain.



This post is my next short story for my Lucky Sevens project - my goal is to write a short story of exactly 700 words every day.  So far so good!  Thanks for reading and I appreciate all of your comments!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Shifting Sand

Ellen was packing up clothes her son had outgrown so she could take them to Goodwill when she realized she wouldn't be having any more babies.

That realization led to another: she'd never have a girl to go along with the name she'd picked out almost twenty years ago.

How did that happen? she wondered.  How was it possible that eighteen years could pass and leave her standing there, holding a pair of not-so-gently-worn jeans, trying to figure out where all that time had gone?

Ellen sat on the edge of her son's unmade bed and stared at the open closet, clutching the faded denim in her hands.  The legs of the jeans draped over her lap and onto the floor, illustrating the lanky legs that gave her son a six-inch advantage over her.

Next to the closet, where they'd been carelessly tossed before he'd left with her husband on their weekend camping trip, were his favorite pair of shoes--too precious to risk damaging in the woods.  The detritus of a teenage boy's life littered the room and told the story of his life and interests: a trumpet standing on its bell in front of a music stand, signed posters of his favorite bands tacked up wherever they fit on the walls, bits and pieces of things he'd picked up on various vacations to keep as souvenirs.

She and John had never made the decision to stop having children, it had just happened that way.  They'd been overjoyed when Eric had been born.  The months of preparation to make sure the nursery was exactly right, reading every book on pregnancy they could find, and buying entirely too many tiny articles of clothing for one baby to wear.  He was beautiful, and perfect, and loved.

They'd talked about having more, at least one more, but their lives were so full with Eric...and it always seemed like there would be more time.

Until now.

Now, sitting in her son's room, holding clothes he'd outgrown, the last grain of sand dropped out of the hourglass.

I could have another baby, she thought.  I'm only forty-two; plenty of women have babies in their forties.  A half-formed thought of a baby girl with blonde curls and blue eyes made the idea seem sensible.  She could talk to John about it, maybe surprise him with a romantic weekend at the beach...

And then what?  She'd been twenty-four when Eric had been born, and the demands of motherhood had been exhausting then.  What would that be like now?  John just had knee surgery last year; he wouldn't be able to get down on the floor to play like he'd done when Eric was a toddler.

Would Eric feel like they were replacing him?  He'd be in college by then, and living away from home for the first time.  What would it be like for him to have his place in the home he'd grown up in suddenly filled by a baby...the newer, younger model?

Suddenly, the idea of another baby seemed selfish.

Ellen looked back down at the jeans in her lap, and the image of a blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl faded.  In her place was a tall, handsome young man who'd finally grown into his legs.  Standing next to him was a nice young woman, comfortably anonymous for now, with a tiny baby in her arms.

Grandchildren.  Babies to spoil and give back.  Bad advice and loud toys given in equal portion, freely and with a certain amount of wicked joy.

The tears that had been threatening to fall dried in the sunshine of a new dream and Ellen hurried to finish culling too-small clothes out of her son's closet.  She wanted to check the boxes of baby clothes in the attic and do some research on the internet on how to preserve them until she could pass them on.

As she stuffed clothes into garbage bags, it occurred to her that a romantic weekend at the beach with her husband was still a good idea; it was time for them to learn to be a couple again...a second honeymoon would be good for that.

Thoughts of sun, sand, and moonlight kisses followed her out of her son's room.


This post is in response to a prompt from Write On Edge to write about a season of change.  I'm at this point in my life, and those thoughts of roads not taken hit at the oddest times!  Thanks for stopping by - I appreciate your comments and critiques!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Accounting

The long velvet robe was hot, her shoes pinched her feet, and the crown was giving her a throbbing headache.  Still, Rachel smiled serenely and maintained an expression of polite interest.
When she was finally able to stand to leave the hall, her knees nearly buckled under the weight of her ornate gown.  Thankfully, two of her ladies in waiting were on hand to help her off the dais and back to her rooms.

“Oh, thank God and all the seraphim and cherubim!” she moaned, dropping gracefully into an overstuffed chair. 

A giggle escaped one of the young girls waiting to help her off with her shoes, robe, and other non-essential clothing.  An older girl shushed her quickly and handed Rachel a cup of strong tea, adulterated with a bit of cream and honey.

“Thank you,” the queen sighed and then winked at the younger girl, setting off another quickly smothered giggle.

A sharp rap on the door announced the presence of the chamberlain and Rachel glanced up from her tea.  The chamberlain was a generally sober man, it was almost a requirement of the position, but she could see trouble on his face.

“Leave us, ladies.  Thank you,” she murmured, and waited until the last girl shut the heavy door behind her, leaving her alone with the stout man and her maid.

“Would you sit, Chamberlain?  I’ve had a long day with the trade ambassadors, and I don’t really think I’m up to craning my neck that far.”  She waved to a somewhat more sensible chair across from her.

“Thank you, Your Majesty.  Ahem.”  Rachel tried not to wince, but the chamberlain’s nervous habit of clearing his voice at the end of every sentence always left her feeling like she should offer him a sucking candy to clear the non-existent congestion.

“I’ve brought the monthly accounts, Your Majesty.  Ahem.  They just need your approval.”  She waited for a second before speaking, anticipating the inevitable punctuation.  “Ahem.”

“Certainly, Chamberlain,” leaning forward she took the sheaf of papers from his hand and began to read each handwritten receipt.  Her mother had always overseen the personal accounts of herself and her husband, and Rachel had continued the practice when she became queen.  The chamberlain shifted nervously as he waited, and she suspected she knew why.  It didn’t take long for that suspicion to be verified.

“Chamberlain,” she said, and watched as he jumped despite her calm tone, “I’m not familiar with this particular jeweler, and I feel certain I would have remembered ordering an amethyst broach the size of a goose egg.”

“Ahem.  I believe, Your Majesty, ahem…I believe that was the King’s purchase.  Ahem.”  He stared fixedly at some point just above her head, and a wave of crimson slowly crept up his neck and over each chin to gradually engulf his round face.

“I see.  And is my husband available to discuss this purchase?” she asked evenly.

“I…Ahem…I really couldn’t say, Your Majesty,” he stammered.

Rachel stared at him as a flash of anger was drowned in resignation.  It wasn’t his fault, she knew, and she took pity on his obvious discomfort.  “Thank you, Chamberlain, I will look these over and advise you of their disposition in the morning.”

“Thank you, Your Majesty!  Ahem.” He bowed his way out of the room, narrowly missing a large but delicate urn in his haste.

As the door shut firmly on the chamberlain, Rachel rested her aching head against the back of her chair and closed her eyes.  After a moment, she spoke.  “Anna, please go ask Cook to prepare a light meal.  I believe I’ll retire early this evening.”  The sound of her maid slipping through the door and gently closing it was her only response.

For just a moment, she wished herself back to those days when she was a princess, meeting her handsome prince for the first time—when infidelity and betrayal had been unthinkable. 

Her father’s voice rose from her memory, “Princes, my dear, are raised to be handsome and charming.  Don’t ever let that fool you into thinking you can trust them.”

Her mother’s sharp voice followed her father’s, and made Rachel smile, “You would know, my dear.”