Category Archives: Fiction

Why Women Like Cats

A short story for Anna.

Once upon a hill, in a time long, long ago, there lived a kitty named Eva. Eva had silky black fur and two fluffy ears and eyes of the deepest green. Her home was a nook in the bole of an ancient tree, where between two giant roots she built a warm nest of dried leaves and soft moss.

Eva liked to lie curled in her nest and listen to Wind conversing with Tree. Eva loved Tree, and Tree loved her. In summer, Tree shielded Eva from the blistering anger of Sun with a shimmering, glittering shield of dark green leaves. In winter, when Sun calmed down, Tree dried her leaves and dropped them to the ground for Eva to refresh her nest while basking in Sun’s rays.

Even so, Eva was not completely happy. One day, Tree noticed that Eva was sad and asked her what was wrong. Eva said she was lonely for someone furry and warm and soft to cuddle and play with. Tree wanted to help. She told Wind, and Wind told Sun, and Sun told God and God said, “Boom.”

I realize that’s an odd thing for God to say, but there it is. God is a Being of Few Words.

The next morning, when Eva returned from her nightly prowl through the woods below, there was someone waiting for her in her nest. He was large and furry and orange with white stripes, and he had eyes of deepest amber. And, she soon learned, he was warm and soft and his name was Tom.

Eva loved him.

Every night, they frolicked through the woods, chasing each other up trees and through the branches, leaping from tree to tree. Tom would pounce on her from above and they’d fall, laughing and tumbling through the leaves to the ground, where of course they always landed on their feet. Every morning they’d return to their nest at the foot of Tree and Tom would curl around Eva and Eva would settle her head under his chin and rest her chin on his paws, and they would nap for several long minutes at a time.

Tom did have one annoying habit. Between naps, Eva loved to stretch and yawn and listen to the news whispered between Wind and Tree. Tom, however, wanted to run and play. He would pester Eva by stepping on her head until she either agreed to go with him, or hissed at him to go away.

One day, after she had sent him alone into the woods, she was surprised when he came running back right away. His tail was standing straight up and fluffed to twice its normal size.

“What is it, Tom?” she asked.

Tom answered by jumping on her back and exclaiming, “I have the best idea EVER!”

When Eva had come down from her startled leap, and finished pouncing on Tom with her claws extended to demonstrate just how much she did NOT appreciate his scaring her like that, she arched her back and asked him, “WHAT is so important, then?”

“We should build something!” Tom said.

“Build something?” Eva growled.

“Like a fort. Or a cat tree!” Tom said.

“A cat… tree? What’s a ‘cat tree’?” Eva inquired.

“I don’t know. I just made it up. I guess I was thinking that you like trees. And you like cats. Why not both at once?”

Eva turned twice on her nest and sat Sphinx-like to study Tom, her green eyes fixed unblinking on his twitching whiskers. She curled her tail around her feet.

Tom never could stand her silence. He went tumbling onward, “What if we made a tree designed just for cats? You know how fun it is to climb really high, but then how sometimes you get stuck at the top and can’t remember how to get down?”

“That’s you, Tom,” said Eva. “That’s a thing that happens to you.”

“Well, yeah, but it’s really annoying. And I know how much you hate when you have to come rescue me.”

“Go on,” said Eva.

“Well, what if we built a tree that had stairs coming down, so you could climb as high as you want, and you’d always know you could get down again.”

“You mean you would always know you could get down again.”

“Yes, yes, that’s what I mean!” said Tom.

“I think it’s a marvelous idea, Tom,” said Eva, and she added a little purr and stretched herself out to expose her fluffy belly.

“You do?” he said, and his amber eyes dilated with surprise and pleasure.

“I do, my dear,” said Eva, and she stretched a little further. “And I think you should definitely take care of that as soon as you’re done rubbing my belly. Exactly three times.”

Dear reader, let us leave the next few moments in obscurity. Whether Tom succeeded in producing exactly the right number of belly rubs, whether, despite his accurate and precise compliance with her request, Eva nevertheless clawed the sh*t out of him, and whether the aftermath of this little spat eventually led to a batch of kittens precisely 67 days later… these are all matters best left to the imagination.

Let us fast-forward instead to the next evening, when Tom began his project. First, he wanted to draw a diagram of the cat tree. He asked Tree to ask Wind to ask Sun to ask God if he could have a pencil. And God said, “Boom.”

Tom held the pencil in his mouth and used it against a rock to draw a rather crude but basically effective diagram.

And when he was done he realized he would need planks of wood. So he asked Tree to ask Wind to ask Sun to ask God if he could have planks of wood. And God said, “Boom.”

When he saw the pile of planks in the woods, Tom realized he would need a way to fix them together. So he asked Tree to ask Wind to ask Sun to ask God if he could have some nails. OH, and a hammer. And God said, “Boom.”

When he saw the hammer and nails next to the planks in the woods, Tom realized he would need a way to cut the wood to the right sizes. So he asked Tree to ask Wind to ask Sun to ask God if he could have a miter saw. And God said, “Boom.”

When he saw the miter saw next to the hammer and nails next to the planks in the woods, Tom realized he would need catnip to fuel his activities and because life is more fun with drugs, right?

Right?

Well, Tom asked Tree to ask Wind to ask Sun to ask God if he could have the catnip, and God said, “Boom” and if you think God shouldn’t be supporting drug use then that’s just a sign that you live in a fallen world. Which, in fact, you do, and we’re getting to that. Patience, dear reader.

By this time, Tom had been working on his cat tree for a full half hour, which, even for an energetic cat like Tom, is a long time to be awake. He took a break. If he also took a hit of catnip and ran around in mad little circles for twenty to thirty seconds before settling in beside Eva, then that is what he did.

When Tom awoke, he went straight back into the woods to stare at his pile of planks, and his hammer and nails, and his miter saw, and his catnip. He made a note to ask Tree to ask Wind to ask Sun to ask God to send a larger shipment of the latter next time. And then, and only then, did he realize he had a problem.

And the problem he had was this: Tom did not have hands.

If, dear reader, you are among those privileged enough to have been born with a set of these useful little appendages, then you, as is true for most people of privilege, probably have no idea what it is like to live without them.

I’m not saying it’s horrible. In fact, for someone like Eva it’s quite blissful. What need is there for hands when one is content to lie in a sliver of sunlight and listen to Tree whispering to Wind?

But for Tom, at this exact moment, it was a problem of insurmountable proportions. How was he to build a cat tree without the dexterity necessary to wield a hammer and nails, let alone a miter saw?

Now, dear reader, let us pause for a moment and reflect, lest we judge Tom too harshly for what happens next. The poor fellow has his heart set on a cat tree and why? Because he wishes to save his beloved Eva the trouble of arising from her queenly perch to rescue him from his near-daily misadventures.

Of course, he could have asked for a cat tree fully formed to be delivered straight from the hands of God, simply by asking Tree to ask Wind to ask Sun to ask God (who, you’ll be unsurprised to hear, does in fact have hands), but Tom chose the path of greater resistance, the journey that would require him to work hard, and while we might fault him for not just asking for what he wanted, we can at least applaud him for being willing to work.

(Please ignore those cynical folk who whisper that Tom simply didn’t think that far ahead, and that he would indeed have asked for the cat tree fully formed if the idea had occurred to him. Please, let us give him the benefit of the doubt. God knows there is reason enough to fault him without adding needless speculation to the tally.)

Also, please consider that at this exact moment, Tom could have chosen simply to consume the catnip and allow the ensuing ecstasy to wipe out all thought of accomplishing anything.

Come to think of it, that would have been the wiser choice.

But Tom had begun, and he was determined to finish. And really, it was not such a difficult problem. He simply asked Tree to ask Wind to ask Sun to ask God for a pair of opposable thumbs. And God said, “Duuuuuuuuude.”

When Tom heard this, he asked Tree to ask Wind to ask Sun to ask God, “Wait, what?”

And God said, “Dude. Why does it always come to this? Why can’t people just be happy with what I give them? I mean, I didn’t even plant a forbidden tree this time around. And you STILL can’t stop doing things that are bad for you.”

Tom was, needless to say, confused by this unexpected response. God was ordinarily a Being of Few Words. Tom asked Tree to ask Wind to ask Sun to ask God, “So… am I getting the thumbs or not?”

And God said, “Whatevs.”

And then God said, “But you know what? I’m sick of doing everything for free all the time. I’ve had it with you people. You want gifts? Why not give something in return for once? Ingrates. I’ll tell you what. Have your dadgum thumbs. Fine. Have them. All I want in return is a nice warm coat to keep away the chill of your stupid decisions.”

And Tom said, “Okay.”

And that’s how Tom came to be the first hairless cat with opposable thumbs—in other words, the first human.

Now, it might seem that everyone has everything they want now. God has a warm fur coat, Tom has opposable thumbs, and Eva never has to rescue Tom out of a tree again.

There’s just one problem. Eva is pissed. Tom has traded away his beautiful, furry warm coat that she loved to groom. More importantly, she has a Bad Feeling about the fact that God wasn’t thrilled with the idea. God is often right about such things.

And, perhaps most significantly, Eva loves Tom, and she realizes that with his opposable thumbs and his naked body, he will never again be a fit companion for her in her cozy warm coat and her glistening sharp claws.

Though it breaks her heart to do it, she would rather be without her own coat and claws than without her Tom. She asks Tree to ask Wind to ask Sun to ask God to let her be like Tom, and God says, “Boom.”

At first, although they miss their beautiful fur and their shiny sharp claws, the trade is not so bad. Tom builds his cat tree and they spend an entire five minutes staring quietly at it before deciding that a cardboard box would actually be more fun to play in.

Then as summer turns to fall, they discover that without their fur, their little nest isn’t warm enough. They build a shelter, which is nice, but they have to build it on level ground away from Eva’s tree. And now that they no longer sleep at the foot of Tree, Eva begins to forget what Wind sounds like when it’s whispering to Tree.

As winter sets in, it becomes too cold to go outside without a coat, so they make clothes to cover their nakedness. And as the fruits and vegetables that fed them in the summer disappear from the trees, and they use up the last of the roots that they know how to find, they realize that they must have hunting weapons to replace the claws they gave up.

And now sometimes their clothes need washing, and so they must haul water up from the nearby stream, so they invent a bucket. Their weapons need sharpening, so they invent a whet stone. And for every new problem that arises, they invent something new. And for every invention, they find two or three new problems that require yet more inventions.

Before long, there is no time for lounging around under the tree or leaping through the branches laughing. There’s no time for talking to Tree or for listening to Wind or for asking for exactly three belly rubs.

Eventually, in fact, everyone forgets that they ever could talk to trees, or wind, or sun, or God.

But the story is not quite over. Remember those kittens? Though they were in Eva’s belly at the time, they did not themselves make a deal with God. And so, in due time, Eva gives birth to six tiny kittens in what turns out to be the easiest labor ever in the history of humankind.  And she’s never forgotten that fact, nor the fact that she was once blissfully happy in her warm coat and sharp claws, before Tom made a Very Bad Decision and she, in turn, gave up her fur in order to be with him.

And that, dear readers, is why to this very day the smartest of women often leave the Bad-Decision-Making men in their lives in favor of the companionship of cats.

IMG 20140518 163751513 HDR 300x168 Why Women Like Cats

Four Children, Two Arms

 Four Children, Two ArmsShe watched them sleep, their eyelashes dark against their cheeks, bright with the day’s sun. Peter’s soft full lips parted slightly in a dreamy smile. He was young enough still not to understand. She remembered him turning away from her that afternoon, late evening sunlight gleaming redly in his black curls, the laugh upon his lips as he ran to carry her message.

The other boy’s brow was furrowed even in sleep. His arms were wrapped protectively around his little brother. Her firstborn. Little Leven. She held the sprig of goldenrod, twisted it in her fingers. She fixed in her memory the sight of his earnest, shining face when he had returned proudly from his day’s work in the field to hand her this prize.

So far, she had been able to shield them both from the worst. But tomorrow, they would find out what it is to be a slave. In the morning, Peter age 6 and Leven age 8, would wake up motherless.

Charity leaned over them, her lined face shining wetly in the moonlight from the narrow window above the thin mattress. She had long ago learned to cry silently in the darkness. Her masters had taught her that. Her lips moved without sound, repeating the words of the hymn, “Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come,” and as she noiselessly sang, the tears streamed faster down her face.

The face was ancient, though her years were few, and her arms were strong. Strong enough to carry the little girls, just two and four years old. Strong enough to carry them toward freedom. They, at least, might never know what it is to bend to a master who holds life and death in his hands. They would never know what it is to be watched by his cruel, sly eyes. Nor, finally, what it is to submit your body to the pleasure of that same master’s hands.

Perhaps they also would never know what it is to stand over your beloved sons and know that you may never see them again this side of the Jordan River. What it is to leave them in the hands of the master who will vent his potent rage upon them tomorrow. To know that you will not be there to protect them nor even to comfort them, that your hands will not ever again wipe away their tears.

Earlier that morning, a stranger, an itinerant preacher, had visited the plantation and changed everything. He had made merry with the master, flirted gently with the master’s daughters, and sweet-talked with the mistress. Following the afternoon tea, he had smacked his lips and thanked the mistress for the delicious cakes. Carelessly he handed his empty plate to Charity.

Charity’s face did not reveal her curiosity at the soft scrap of fabric he handed her also, concealed beneath the plate. Only in the kitchen did she dare examine the token, a swatch of fabric, two different weaves sewn together. She recognized her own stitches. She recalled the evening she had sewn the patch onto her husband’s britches, bent over her work before the fire. She remembered the heat of his smile as he watched her, the gleam of his legs, the dark skin bare in the flickering firelight.

Her face flushed with the memory, even as her heart raced with anxiety and equal measures of joy and terror. As far as she knew, Lev lived still in sweet freedom, far away north. What could be the meaning of this? A message, surely, but how, and what did it mean? Was he here with her in this dangerous territory? Perhaps he was only a moment away from whisking her into his arms once again. She felt she could almost taste his lips on hers.

It was old Paul who brought the whisper to her ears. “Tonight,” he said, as he leaned over to take the pot from her hands, “When the moon is high, by the old oak tree, bottom of the big field. Bring only what you can carry.” And then he was gone, walking away with two pots of grits balanced on his broad shoulders, whistling the cheerful notes of Nelly Gray. Walking away from the devastating choice she must make. Bring only what you can carry.

Tonight, she would carry the girls out of this desperate dark place. She would carry them toward freedom. Tonight, she would say goodbye to the boys she would leave behind. She placed the sprig of goldenrod in Levin’s sleeping hand, and kissed each boy one more time. For the God who granted Charity four children did not also see fit to grant her four arms.

__________________

[Inspired by the true story of Levin and Charity Still, and their four children born in slavery: Leven, Peter, and two daughters. All had previously escaped to Maryland, but Charity and the children were re-captured and returned to slavery. Not content to stay, Charity found another opportunity to escape and successfully made her way with her daughters back to Levin, but at a terrible price: She had to leave her young sons behind.

The oldest son, Leven, died a slave in his mid-40s, beaten to death by his owner. His parents had never been able to locate nor communicate with him in all those long years. Peter, however, purchased his own freedom in 1850 at the age of 49, and found his parents in Philadelphia. Sadly, Peter had to leave his wife and children behind and never saw them again.

Charity and Levin went on to raise eighteen children, the youngest of whom, William Still, became known as the “father of the Underground Railroad.”]

A Short Story

For your amusement. A short story I wrote a while back called Peppi.

Peppi

Everybody says I was raped. But they’re wrong.

This is what Mother doesn’t understand: The first time *I* let a man take me, I made darn sure he was single and had something to offer. Now I’m the queen and she’s… what? Servant of mankind. Peaceful do-gooder. Get a life, Mother.

This is how it happened.

Helenis or Perseis or Doris or someone—by gods there are so many of that lot I can never keep them straight—and they’re supposed to keep me entertained, company, bah! Anyway, one of those ocean sisters blew up a giant fish bladder and started a game of catch down by the creek. Everyone thought that was great fun. They’re easily entertained.

Mother is always saying, “Don’t you roll those big blue eyes up like that at me, young lady,” but she wasn’t there to say it that day. By the gods, she’s almost never there because there is always some starving country in need of her special touch. She’s that important. Yeah, don’t tell her how high my eyes are rolling now.

So she also wasn’t there to see how far off I wandered from my “playmates” that afternoon. I wanted to be alone, away from their prattling and ridiculous giddy laughter. I was a woman of 16, and bloody sick of talk and silly games. I needed space to think.

The woods around there were always a great place to escape. They were peaceful and dark, and you could imagine that you were queen of all the shadows and that everyone there had to do your bidding. At least they left you alone. The ground was always rich this time of year with wildflowers. All sorts—yellow daisies, purple violets, forget-me-nots and tiny little multi-colored pansies. When I was a little girl, I used to pretend they were all my servants and I made them dress like that to make them look ridiculous.

I knew them all, of course, so imagine my surprise when there was something new. And it was actually quite beautiful, even to my refined taste. If this flower had been a servant, she would have been dressed in a gown of honor. She wore a deep blue skirt, kind of the color of my eyes—so blue they’re almost black, but with iridescent flecks of deep ocean, the color of my Uncle P’s eyes, echoing the depth of his violent passions. I used to worship that uncle. Sadly, he was already married, not that it kept him from messing around plenty. But not with me! I knew enough to wait, to bide my time. No single motherhood for me—Mother’s example at least taught me that much.

This flower I found, she was wearing that deep blue skirt, kicked up in high spirit, with a fringe of matching silk floating out from her waist. People call me cold, but that’s because they’re too shallow to touch me deeply. This flower though—it touched me.

I knelt and placed my long, elegant fingers beneath the petals to feel its texture and admire how the dark silkiness contrasted with the creamy background of my skin. I wanted to pluck its beauty and adorn my own sinuous waist with its sumptuous curves. I wanted to kiss it with my plump, deep red lips. I wanted to watch myself kiss it, watch those soft, curving lips part moistly and touch the satin darkness and press it, bruise it. I wanted to see how my golden curls cascaded down to embrace the petals as I bent to crush the flower, I wanted to see how I would devour its beauty into myself and rise again even more ravishing than before.

And that is when he spoke to me. “Do you like it?” Tones of silk, deep and powerful. “It’s for you, Persephone.”

I knew who he was immediately, of course. But that didn’t stop a thrill of expectant shivers from descending my spine. I froze to compose myself, then let my long thick lashes lift, and the color rise to my cheeks. I saw the tartarus-black hooves of the horses first and then I noticed the hot sound of their breathing as my gaze followed the slate-blue line of their legs bulging with muscle and veins, up to their flanks, streaked with sweat. Then those faces. Smoke curled from their nostrils and their eyes were blood red.

Of course. They were the horses of Hades, after all.

He stood holding the reins, steaming under his ebony fingers, only two steps away from me. I turned up the corners of my sumptuous lips in enjoyment, as I took in the sight of his royal blue robes trimmed in black fur and finished with buttons made of polished human bone. His eyes matched the color of the steeds.

Uncle Hades. Single. Sexy. Powerful. HOT.

I plucked the narcissus as I rose, twirled it in my fingers with their nails of crimson, faced him fearlessly, a thrill of expectation racing through my blood. The moment would have been perfect if Cyane, or one of the other nymphs—there was a tiresomely large multitude of dryads—hadn’t moved into the clearing at that moment and begun screaming some nonsense about a trap. Ice virgins, every one of them. Oh, the melodrama.

But there was nothing she could do. I turned toward the sound of her keening, and in the same split second, Hades’s strong right arm had encircled my waist and the next thing I knew, we were in the chariot, my golden curls streaming behind and the steeds galloping forward, striking sparks with every touch upon the ground.

And that is how I came to be the Queen of the Underworld.

Of course, there was a big to-do about the whole thing. Mother got mad and took her plea to Father, master of the Universe and blah blah blah, who had masterminded the whole thing in one of his endless schemings, and he felt bad and told Hades he’d have to give me back. Ha! When I heard that news, I grabbed the nearest thing I could—it was a pomegranate—and started gobbling it down as fast as I could, red juice dribbling down my delicate chin. You don’t ever really feel hungry in the Underworld, but if you do eat something there you can’t ever leave, at least that’s how it’s supposed to work, so that’s what I did and they couldn’t get me back up there for anything.

Well, I did finally agree to go visit Mother regularly, and I even help her with the endless sowing and harvesting and making things grow so people don’t starve to death. All of which is pretty pointless since they all end up in my kingdom eventually anyway, but it makes her happy. And as long as they keep procreating up there, it ends up being more people for me to rule down here. Everybody wins.

So now you know.

Epiphany!

I’ve been at it all weekend, building this site. Most of that time has been devoted to trying to get social media integrated into the site. I still haven’t figured that out. But I did figure this out:

If you’re here, it’s because you care about what’s going on in my life. Wow. That’s pretty potent stuff. Thank you.

Which also means this:

I can post almost anything, and you’ll be glad to hear about it because, well, you care about me. That pretty much makes us friends, except the part where you don’t necessarily tell me about your life too. Which you can totally do in the comments and I will totally read them and it will almost be like a conversation. Grab a coffee and let’s talk. I’ll just look at this gratuitous cute photo of my son and our friend’s daughter, and muse on the differences between boys and girls while you’re gone.

photo 1 768x1024 Epiphany!
Everett and Jannie by the pond

Got coffee? Okay. The first thing I’m going to do is add a bunch of categories, so you can sort through stuff if you like and only listen to ramblings on topics that interest to you (ohmygoodness this is BETTER than friendship). Topics may include: Fiction (my little stories and half-stories and ill-conceived story ideas), Life Updates (just stuff about, you know, what I’m doing, stories about the kids, cute stuff, funny stuff, just stuff about us), and… well, that’s all I can think of at the moment. I’ll add more maybe. Some of them will probably already be there by the time you read this.

AND, because I installed this nifty little digest plugin thingy (that’s the technical term), sometimes this random rambling or whatever will be at the top of the daily digest, which I’ve changed so that it now comes out at night instead of morning, you know, so I can write about my day before I hit “publish.” And then at the bottom there will be a list of everything else I wrote or uploaded or whatever that day. Which kind of defeats the whole point of being able to sort through which bits you want to listen to. Sorry about that.

Anyway. If you’re here, thank you. And watch out. Once I get going I can seriously run my mouth. Be sure to step in and get your words in edgewise in the comments!