Friday, December 19, 2008

Restarting January 1, 2009

The end of the year seems to have gotten away from me--starting with Hurricane Ike in September I have been one fumble away from flattening myself on the floor with a Fwoosh!

Fortunately, fate has forborn such a finish and, fittingly, the first of the year beguiles with fresh starts and festivities that include fashioning new resolves to move forward.

The Pollen and Sting will reopen in Jan. '09. Meanwhile, we'll raise a glass to merry holidays and a Happy New Year!!

Saturday, August 23, 2008


The townhome was so quiet that it seemed as if each brick settled a little more comfortably into its mortar as the door closed. The hallway was grey and white, with black shining from the art and artifacts in the hall and the entire color scheme washed by a shiver of light from the mirrored chandelier and furniture. The woman who had opened the door was dressed in a slim sheath of grey. When she paused just in front of me, I was visited with a sudden horror, a reminder of the old ghost story of the lady in the grey taffeta dress, reaching for a girl at the foot of her stairs in a house somewhere on the coast of Texas. My own guide was silent as that apparition, but I did not reach for her to see if she, too would feel chill as the silver and stone around us.

She did not enter the door she opened for me and I found my relief from the chill in a sunken living room full of ficus and ivy. The black and white theme was continued by the slim frames for the botanical prints that ringed the walls, providing some kind of family history for the simple specimens I had brought. My hostess was here, watering her indoor forest. "Welcome, welcome. There is a vase on the table there by the couch for your flowers. I see that you've matched our collection quite nicely. Too bad it's not the season for clover."

As I poked the crushed stems into the dark green glass vase and floated some of the flower heads in the wide green bowl next to it, she continued to water. "I thought we might have dinner in here, and I didn't want them to feel left out. Oooohhh, I like these roses floating in the bowl. You must have found the remains of a garden." She looked down for a minute and then rushed out of the room with a cry. A breeze rustled through the leaves around the couch. Across from me was a tufted seat that curved as if it had been created to fit and was covered with a pile of albums. Would this be our appertif? How long had it been since someone looked through those albums for a familiar face?

A few minutes later she returned with stubs of candles, which it looked like she had scraped out of their holders. "A less formal candelabra, isn't it lovely?" They floated around the roses and she moved the taller vase to a shelf between the botanical prints. It fit like a key into a lock.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Meanwhile, Across Town

The boquet had wilted by the time I arrived at the Butterfly's townhouse. Her doorsteps were a wide spill of shallow concrete rills up to a door that seemed to be flush with the house, leaving you with the impression that the house might just blow you back down those steps if you weren't careful.

A narrow opening clicked open to the left of the door itself and a conical iron holder extended on a diamond-patterned armature. "Flowers, please." I slipped the exhausted and debauched stems into teh holder, trying to encourage their fluffy heavy heads to stand back upright. I stowed my trinkets at home before come here and the stems were wedged into the pot with a damp papertowel covered with blue and orange butterflies. It seemed, suddenly, to be the grossest of rudeness to cover the stems with that.

Evening crept behind me as I waited on the doorstep. Sunlight fell over the pale face of the building and down the steps, but I could feel the cool breathing of the shadows across the street. I wanted to creep into them and run down the streets while plants and people threw off that heavy sunlight. A breeze slid behind my knees and I stepped backward. One step down and then another, face toward the door.

My eyes were at waist level when it opened and a gesture gave me the entry hall.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Once Upon a Garden

A story is told about the Gardener in the bar on cold, drizzly evenings when all have gathered for the bright fire and warm company, a story of the day the Gardener's daughter was banished from the garden along with her velvet, sparkling companions. It begins thusly:

Bees thrum in the undercarraige of a stroller that balances on the cockled edge of the garden. Someone has taken great care to grow a beautiful array of red, yellow, white and blue, although nothing but the wind moves in the circle of these blossoms. The Gardener's daughter listens to the hum of the bees and agrees that this is the biggest and best garden she's ever seen. Her sandwich and sweet tea chase each other and growl in her stomach, as the blossoms glow and the bees murmur about jewels of honey and petals.

She has been listening to the bees whisper about going into the garden, finding the nectar and the pollen and bringing it out into the world. Her father has told her that this garden is a reflection of the Jewel in the Belly of the Valley, a garden he visited many years ago when he desired to become a Gardener. Here, he tells her, her prince sleeps furled in a blossom, one day to waken and find her. His princess, too, lives in the garden; although he and her mother are happy to perfect their skills for a bliss with each other. This is why there are no consecrated unions here, he tells her.

Four bees zip across the border, each of which the Gardner sees and all of whom the Gardner sprays with a careful mix of water and honey. He scoops the sweet, stiff bees into the center of the garden and smiles. There will be no insectivorous rapine and devouring while the Gardener patrols the blossoms. He shows his daughter the bees and she screams. Snatching the nearest of her companions, she runs away from her father.

She runs away from the sound of his voice, crying her name over and over again. She runs away from the sight of the blooms and the house, away from the flash of a prince dining on bee cutlets in a blood-red tulip. They run for hours until she falls to her knees in a patch of clover. Here they rest, the daughter wiping away her tears and smoothing them over the dirty, spiky velvet coat of the bee. He begins to hum in the evening, dancing around the clover and keeping her safe as she rests through the night.

It is at this point that patron's eyes begin to flick toward the dark windows in the center of the bar, waiting to see if this is the night, the long midsummer twilight that will show them both the night upon the grass and the sun's last rays in the tall clover balls, and, perphaps, the form of the barkeep's wife, a young girl in the ageless fields. Even she sometimes looks out, though I don't know what she sees.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Bad Shrimp

Last night’s buffet was packed like rocket fuel just below her stomach. Edwina took a few deep breaths, but each one that touched her lower belly started the cramps again. She pulled both knees up to her chest and hugged them tight as her back jerked with her pulse.

She tried not to smell the sheets—the same detergent that she remembered from being sick as a child, the same lemon polish smell from the night stand. Her mother had cleaned Edwina’s old room, but she’d been ready for bed when Edwina arrived at 8:30 pm and had therefore slept through Edwina’s intestinal distress.

Edwina was exhausted, her gut sore and her head throbbing. The lamp’s twist switch required horizontal torque, and she couldn’t turn it off without moving. Hot yellow light poked her eyelids and stung her face. Sheets were piled beside her, kicked away from her body. Tears ran down her cheeks. No more work buffets, Edie. No more cheap conversation and tepid food. Especially no more shrimp, bad, bad, shrimp.

Pain, or the threat of pain, lived in the moment. Hold stiff through this moment, breathe in this one. You just rented out your body to the cramps and shudders. She couldn’t blame the women in the office for going to a shoddy little fish place—it wasn’t that different from the dusty office, just down the hall. She’d rented out her skills just as impersonally, temp job after temp job. Even the Styrofoam remains of lunch failed to advertise its perpetrators.

Her eyes closed, but her body only slipped into the shallows of rest, into a semi-conscious fugue of yellow darkness and heaviness. Dreams rolled through, smearing the room and the day before into odd shapes. Jambalaya popped in her dreams with the slap of a steel string, while the sweaty cook sieved another helping from the living shallows of the ocean. Water writhed through her.

Just past midnight, an acid eruption soured her throat and a bitter flume of salty acid rode the spasm up into her sinus cavity. Coughing her breath back, Edwina heard a static sizzle deep in her ear canal, like those exploding sugar rocks from once upon a time. Pressure rose through the canal, then released with a pop. Liquid drained from her ear.

When…where…did I go swimming? Edie tried to sit up, wincing at the smell of seafood that surrounded her. A tug at her ear rocked her sinuses back into nausea. Her fingers scrabbled to catch at what she thought was an entangled earring and felt something else, something that slipped over her fingers and clung briefly to her thumb.

She turned and saw, brown and glistening against the sheets, what looked like a pearl and granite plastic toy. Half shrimp, half child, it screamed like a hundred mosquitoes. Sweat ran down Edwina’s neck, down her chest. Her eyes were only tenuously connected to her brain—her optic nerve an eyestalk recoiled against a shocked and shuttered mind. Edwina shook her head, but the dream lingered and kept screaming. Why would I have a shrimp child?

She let the creature grasp her fingers. Spiny insect legs poked her skin and she shook it into the untouched water in the glass cup beside the bed. It tumbled and blew bubbles, swishing up to the surface and staring at Edwina. Over and over, in drifting spirals in the clear water, the creature drowned Edwina’s earlier dreams.


“You’ll just have to throw it out. I told you, no pets! Where the heck have you had it? What is it?” Edwina’s mom was in the middle of refusing to lend Edwina any sort of container for the creature she’d found in her cup in the morning. “What possessed you to put a crawdad in a cup for anyway?”

It had seemed content to float around in the water, but it was starting to make noises. Edwina could see the dark body of a crustacean, but it was firmly anchored to a human-looking torso. The crumpled baby face from last night had shifted into a toddler’s chubby form and seemed to be already thinning out.

“Water, water, water. Just over my head. Water.”

Edie was too strung out from last night’s illness to listen to either babbling voice. She wanted to go home—the apartment that smelled like her—to rest. Edie couldn’t stop looking at the creature, though. Its eyes were a swollen and luminous turquoise, almost too small to see clearly. Dark feelers, just thick enough to distinguish from hair, bent backward to lay across the fan of slate hair shading into a marine blue. It looked as if it had been dyed by the deep brown waters of the gulf, with hints of the blue of unsilted ocean. Its skin—her skin—was the same pale color of Edwina’s.

“It’s a baby, mom. Meet your grandchild, Hallene. Congratu-damn-lations.” Edwina pushed past her mother and started hunting in the cabinets for an old glass fishbowl. Hallene, her little goddess of the salt spray, was once again blowing bubbles.

“Edwina! What is…why do you keep fussing with that cabinet?! Did you have anything to drink at that party? Any funny stuff?” Her mother wrinkled her nose and watched her daughter open and shut cabinets.

With her forehead against one cabinet, Edie opened the doors on either side. “No, mom. I’m just tired. Didn’t I tell you I was sick last night?” She found her old fishbowl, complete with small castle. After rinsing it and filling it, she put a finger in the glass and let Hallene grab it and crawl up to her wrist.

Once Hallene was perched on her castle, Edie slipped her a Cheerio. She sucked on it while watching Edie. The mershrimp didn’t seem to mind being out of the water, but Edie worried that it wasn’t good for her. Her tail dried as it dug into her hand, the same thumb that had split and shucked the boiled shrimp last night. A shudder shivered last night’s aftershocks awake. Edie’s stomach dipped and groaned and she ran toward the bathroom.

When she returned, she found her mother feeding the creature another Cheerio. Her teeth were already sharp, just like her hair was already growing. Edwina was relieved her mother hadn’t just dumped it in the backyard.

“Why another fish? Are these little crab-things more hardy than your previous pets?” Her mother could feed it, place cheerios in its chubby hands, and still not see the hands. Well…she thinks my dates ended at the dorm-room door, too. Full of Cheerios, the creature clung to her sleeve, jointed legs curled into her tail. She didn’t make much noise.

“Don’t think you’re leaving until we get a chance to…” Her mother realized her bags were laying by the front hall. Her voice swelled over Edie’s inhaled explanations. “Do you hate being here?! Are you mad at me?!”

“I don’t hate you. I’m sick! I want to be in my OWN BED!” Her mother glared at her from the kitchen table. Edwina just kept putting everything together. “Just give me a rain check on the weekend?” Her mother shook Hallene back into her bowl, waking her.

Edwina packed her overnight case in the backseat, strapping it in for the first time since she’d been making this run. Her mother’s words would linger like ocean-going plastic, unrecycled guilt. She banked the fishbowl down with towels and pulled the belt around it, too. She wanted it close, where she could keep a hand on it.

At the first intersection, she turned into the road that was a straight shot to the highway. Edwina turned on the air, already thinking about work and where the bowl would rest. Edie, you’ve got to find out…But she couldn’t imagine the how and she shivered in the cold air. Her shorts were tighter than she liked and a pale puff of skin welled up around each cuff. It didn’t take long to for that to happen. Edwina rubbed her leg, flattening it out. Not fair, it’s not big enough to justify gaining weight.

Glancing out the window as she passed a small neighborhood park, Edwina watched the water in the small pond shiver and then sink suddenly. Brown water pushed itself out of the drains cut into the curb. The car shuddered as the water shoved it.

Edwina pressed the gas. Keep going, don’t let the engine flood...The car drifted up, slewing around as the water drained away from the road. Her car faced away from the highway, pointing toward the coast rather than inland. Edwina tried to release the steering wheel when her tires touched the concrete, but her fingers wouldn’t relax.
They were halfway to the beach before she was able to turn on the radio, finally settled into something distracting. At least her child wouldn’t complain about her Top 40 taste. Hallene was hanging over the glass lip, staring up at the a/c vents and ululating along with the music. She serenaded her mother all the way to the beach.


Thin waves rippled like spilled varnish over the beach, brown and foaming. They parked on the furrowed asphalt of an empty parking strip. It should have been full, mid-summer crowds scattered across the sand. She’d known about this place since high school, but the kids who belonged to these empty houses were elsewhere. Watching the beach from this forgotten space, she felt the day itself was birthing them, sweating and silent, until the beach pulled them free.

“When I was five, we came to the beach for the first time.” Edwina needed to mark Hallene’s first visit, anchor it to her own accumulations of family. “I remember Dad carrying me out, trying to jump the waves. I was screaming so loudly that I swallowed the crest of one of the waves. It was disgusting…but I’ve always loved the beach anyway.” When she’d thrown up that day, she’d thought she’d given it all back. Until last night’s thick salty reflux. Perhaps some gastrointestinal irritation had finally broken off a pearl from a grain of salt.

The tiny girl tossed herself down and hid behind the big pink castle. A subtle clicking swept past with a low breeze from the grassy dune in front of them. Edwina remembered another beach visit, the time her Dad had flung a big blue crab in her direction after fishing. Just such a crab pushed itself forward, a deep blue shell with red edges. This time it came all the way up to her sandals and rested its pinchers on her pale toes.

Eyestalks regarded her with a wavering gravity. Salt air soughed against her legs, under and around her car. A breeze parted the bushes like a quick hand. Sunlight fell heavy on her, cratering her flesh in color, rather than depth, as it sunk into her skin after a million mile fall. Rattling and clacking sounded from the dunes around them. A high voice broke the scene.

“Mama, I want to go swimming. Please? In the foam, not the mud.” Hallene had forsaken the castle and yelled up to Edie. Her daughter had been less than the length of a finger last night and was now almost the length of a pen. No longer did she look like a juvenile toy. Instead, her dark shrimp tail fanned over long articulated legs and her pale torso swelled above it, floating easily in the shallow bowl. Her arms hung over the glass lip and her face was turned up to Edie. When the crab saw her, the red rim of his shell deepened.

“Don’t take her to the sea. I can care for her. There are bays and puddles and ditches. We have need of her.” The crab reached a pincher out to her ankle and laid it against her skin. “Salt water rises and we can hear it singing in our marshes. If I were to wed the daughter of the sea…” Edwina winced to see that the girl’s dry hair was a deep brown with cerulean highlights, similar to the crab’s shell and the color of the water on the horizon line.

For a minute, the caress was a familiar plea. Edie, please stay. Don’t leave. The corollary, be the Familiar of my intentions, struck her when Hallene pinched her arm. Crabs with bolt holes and aspirations would not suffice in exchange for being the creature of someone else’s habit.

She lifted her foot and the crab sliced her ankle, trying to catch hold of her. Wind pushed her back, whipped the dune grasses against her as she ran toward the beach. Crabs and snakes and frogs hissed and grunted and snapped at her, coming from the edges of the dunes and trying to catch her before the water did.

Water up to her knees, waves up to her thighs, the sting of sand and salt against her cut legs and the taste of the buffet, salt and sea in the air itself. She let the water balance the glass bowl while the merwoman inside clung to the lip. They watched the water. Edie inhaled the air again and again, but didn’t dive under the waves.

A faint shout caught Edie’s attention. She lifted the creature up to her ear, where the noises became less like speech and more like music. A lifted rhythm moved her feet over the sand into the water. Edie slogged deeper into the ocean. Halle leapt into a wave that broke against Edie’s shoulder. The taste of salt and foam was like a slap.

Edie turned and fought her way back to the beach, half swimming, half running. Head underwater, she heard something, the exhausted echo of a song. A higher descant voice took it up, tumbling with the water toward the shore. Edie knelt in the sand, closing her eyes against the waves and listened to the siren sound, her blood so much the sea that it crested and broke under the skin of her face, flushing her with the sound of her own seduction.

Bad shrimp, indeed. The sea, Thalassa itself, didn’t want the entirety of Edwina—at least, not yet. It slid her forward on the tumbling sand, throwing her back up on the beach. Dizzy from dehydration and coated with silt, Edie rolled to face the water.

As she lay on the sand, a giant blue crab crawled on her belly and settled in. While the afternoon blazed toward the clarion evening when the hunters gathered at the water, Edie daydreamed about rest and a shower in a familiar bed. The crab dreamed of rising water and tribute to the smallest kingdoms of the sea.

The ocean had its child, its half-caste shore maid. Edwina had caught just the barest echo of music, broken and rippled. The ocean ran it’s beat and melody through her, the long stanzas of a familiar tune on a once silent speaker.

We Interrupt This Blog...

For the past few weeks I've been working on a story challenge from Supernatural Fairy Tales (, which--in addition to being an inspiration--recently hosted a fairy tale challenge in which we were given a tale and a main character and challenged to come up with a variation.

My next post will therefore be the entirity of that piece, "Bad Shrimp." Comments are encouraged. Please don't read while eating. :)


Saturday, June 21, 2008

Her Bouquet

Fate left her cube that afternoon, and I finished an entire day's work in four hours in between decanting all of my writing onto my personal USB drive and cleaning my desk. I've been carrying it ever since I started going to The Pollen and The Sting, even though I rarely carry a laptop. It has a few things that would remind me how to get home even if I couldn't get to the car or the apartment, a few things that Dad had shown me just before I left, on the day he told me about the War of the Garden. I don't know how I would access it without the laptop, but I don't really believe that I'll need to. As long as Fate has given me room to clear out on my own time, I'll take as much as I can.

It's not yet five when I leave, but I don't want to risk spending an extra few minutes in anyone's office and it's obvious that I've stuffed my purse and lunch satchel full of knick-knacks. My desk is clean and dusted and the files are neat and ordered. Apparently I needed a warning that working with others could land me in trouble--the same way it had my Mom, years ago. She's the one who told me that I should work in a large place where they never really learned your name properly.

An abandoned storefront surrounded by weeds tall as my hips yields a handful of garish yellow faces interspersed with tiny blue flowers with fine petals and a puff of yellow in the center, a flower I associated with baby dresses and children's posies. The yellow faces surrounded the blue bunch, while white flowers from random cracks hid surrounded the blue. It wasn't balanced and there was no pink, no orange, no deep red of a shop's waxy offering; nor where there any wild neon mums and daisies guaranteed to match the cheapest neon designs--these were just the flowers I saw every day as I walked to my apartment. There were no insects to watch as I yanked their heads from their bodies, none to cheer or shudder as I brought violence to the tiny Edens of neglect.

I tied the stems together with an old scarf and have changed into something unlike my work clothes. I look, in fact, like a child going to an unfamiliar relative's home.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Turn, Turn

It wasn't her first day in a new job, just like her name had nothing to do with my new bar berth or the invitations I had yet to receive. She was harsh and I knew that she'd recommended a few terminations in her career. Dangerous to work with. As she fiddled with a cup of coffee, liquid creamer, raw sugar, cinnamon, and a dash of some flavoring preserved in alcohol and a small brown bottle I made a cafe au lait with regular white sugar. A sweet thick taste of vacations with my grandparents stung my tongue. I set it down to steam some mercy into the sharp office brew.

"Why are the flowers such a big deal?" Fate looked at me. "Do I time your coffee breaks? What do you want to know?"

"My college roommate told me that temping was the best way to find a job after graduating, then she found this one and convinced me to come up here, too." I could hear an old Byrds song rolling around my thoughts. Was it time to turn away from here? Follow an old trail home? "I'm going to assume that all jobs have a natural lifespan."

"Yeah, they do. And I don't want to time our breaks or look over your shoulder. I'd rather be on one of those floors where they are playing politics like a bloody game of rugby. You should know that she was let go, by the way. That's why he noticed you this morning."

There were still things of hers in the apartment, things she'd never even gone through. She'd been dating someone and he'd never come to the apartment. It seemed like every unseen bug in the cabinets turned their eyes on me--people who weren't on my radar knew me, watched for me. "I have to pick up flowers for a dinner this evening. It was foolish to look at the ones downstairs, like looking at prom dresses for church."

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Attenuation or Separation

She gave me about an hour to think about that earring, worn first day in what I assumed was a new job, then Fate shoved her chair back and rolled into my line of sight. "I'm already bored of the clicking over there. Do they have a coffee bar on the floor?"

"One floor down. It's a good walk when you need to think." I ignored her, but she rolled into the cubicle anyway. I had to scoot over while she looked at my photos and the art and glib comments taped under the shelves. I had scavenged in my roommate's cube before she left and some of those things were hers. Fate picked up one photo and looked at it for some time.

"You're leaving them in the light to fade." She showed me a photo, where a small oval in the corner was white. A faded aureole crept outward from it, a permanent sun fuzz across my friends and I. She moved it back into the corner, bringing forward a photo that I didn't recognize.

"Let this one pick up some of the light. He won't notice much difference." It was picture of a blonde friend of mine from college. I'd never taken or seen this picture, so I assumed I'd swept it in the box along with the rest of the desk stuff I'd been planning to send back. Why would I have kept this? His white-blonde hair and white shirt against a white wall, the droop of his head and his was a New Wave picture that must have been taken in high school. Before we ever knew of him, among friends we'd never shared him with. Had we taken as good care of him as they had? Was he back among them now or among yet another set of friends, camped in a cube and being dilligent...not smart, no longer cool? She was right, better this fade before he had a chance to compare then and now.

I shuddered against the chill of the vent above me. Working at this angle could be like running a low grade fever for days on end. Fate stood and shoved her chair out of the narrow space beside me. "Did I say something? Would you prefer that I not touch your things? Some people are funny that way. Let's go get coffee and forget about it. You can tell me how looking at the flowers downstairs gets you in so deep that you get saddled with me."

Friday, May 9, 2008


I work with my back to a clear glass wall while another window looms over the edge of the felt wall to my left. Up above the garden, as if heaven itself were just an empty attic over the sky. Despite the back of beyond location, I was scarcely an invisible denizen of the divine beauracracy. Since I'd lingered earlier in front of the garden, a rumor had slipped from lip to ear that I was in a contravening mood. They knew, because my former roommate had warned them, that I was quiet and shy. Did I follow the rules or eventually ignore them? My boss stopped by to check on me as I logged in, and glanced at her own watch. The screen loads slowly and the few allowed icons (and the company logo background) are designed to be all the flashier for being the only ones given to us.

What I wanted was to think about first loves, the ones Mom used to talk about. The way that you could fall in love whenver and wherever, provided you were either entirely present or looking over the boundary into fairyland. She claimed it had happened to her at 5, although not with my dad. Dad called fairyland a warzone of competitive reproduction, when he deigned to participate in tale telling. He was gone more and more as I grew up, and I assume that he and Uncle Silver are gone right now. My boss, on the other hand, stands behind me and watches the screen load.

She doesn't know that I am afraid of the empty ends of buildings for no reason that I can name and that while I find spiders fascinating, roses fill me with dread. Nor does she know about the pub. "We're moving another admin into the next cube over. She'll be here after the paperwork is done. Will you have time to show her around?" The admin arrives before my boss finishes speaking.

As she greets my boss, I notice that her left earing catches the light as if catching fire. Hanging from her ear is a devil in red and orange glitter. My boss greets her and then suffers a correction.

"It's Fate, not Faith. Most people make that mistake, it's an unusual name. Nice to meet you." She swings her hand over to me and we shake.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Each Blooms Your Name

Although she left some time ago, my roommate, through whom I found this job, remains a green and growing memory, particularly on mornings such as this. She was white-blonde when I met her and morning light slanting down picked up those flat, bright highlights in her hair. She would take her coffee to the transparent wall by the flower beds and linger, drinking the small cup. It looked five seconds of coffee, but she took it in tiny, bitter sips. She seemed to greet everyone and they gave her leave to remain by the glass because it made work feel like something lingering from the weekend rather than the full stop to Sunday night. She faced outward, unlike me.

Why I think of her, facing this fabulous garden stuck between walls of glass, swirls around me like the dust. She was brave, she left for love, and she left me here, trying to carve a career in her wake, like a clumsy skier behind a motorboat. Before she left, one of the gardners gave her one of these tender perennials at the change of the season and she,seeing my avid interest, passed it on to me. She would have killed it, the way she did the rest. The live plants on the sill were all generously attributed to me back in the dorm.

That plant still leans against my window. Dreaming, perhaps, of its days as a model of its species behind the big glass panes. It has spread across the sill and gone to seed in the window, which I leave open as often as I can to let the bugs flit around. My mother would be happy to see it. She told me once that I would know my path because each flower that lined it would bloom my name.

Suddenly, I was resolved to bring a boquet to the dinner tonight of things that could be gathered from the yards and sidewalks around my apartment. The first flowers that I ever gathered, the ones at the back of the schoolyard during recess while I dreamed of being woken up from glass coffins. One of the managers walked by and frowned at my shoulder, stepping up close to make sure that I wasn't examing a problem. "Perfect view for the clients," he murmured, "Provided they can see the entire sweep, like the architect intended."

Back to the glass walls I go, to think on nothing.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Falsity of Eternal Verities

"Pack of Lies, was it?" The woman from the bar stepped from beside a grated sidewalk tree and caught my arm. I could feel the pinch of her fingers in the muscle. "I've heard them talk about us before--Pack of Lovelies, it used to be. Compact of the Butterflies. You never know how they'll remember you in there."

I stood still, arrested in mid-thought. "Forgive me for listening, then." Hearsay's formal etiquette escaped me. She laughed, bone and sinew spasming against my arm, their visible armatures flexing beneath her shallow skin. After a minute, dry chuckles brushed the bottom of the joke and she let go of my arm.

"Apology accepted. Gossip is why we go, eh? We had such lovely flutters when we were all on the wing. Not so long ago, but stretching further back than you, I see." She reached up and ran her hand over the red mark from her grip. "Felt a pulse, just now." She tittered. "Of course you listened. I would have, and asked questions. Still, you're not...well, you've inherited that booth."

Gossip wasn't the reason I went to the Pollen and the Sting--acquired heritage and an ineffable sense of coolness sighed from the door as it opened. I have neither, but I needed such a place to go. Church was pleasant, but not my particular flavor and the shops, well, they aren't really places to stop.

"You don't really understand how we inherit those old-fashioned booths, do you?" She continued and I realized I'd dropped the conversation, flubbed my lines. "Thought it was just your lucky day when you walked in and found it waiting?"

"Yes, ma'am. And, of course, it was." A place to go meant that I had both a home a holt, two places to run.

She brushed again the mark on my arm, reminding me of the scar upon my mothers' arm that I had forever rubbed as a small child. The smooth indentations of the skin running in patterns over her arm meant that I could find her in the dark, half asleep. My companion looked at the mark she'd left, touching it again but feeling no difference in my skin. "My sisters and I shared the booth above yours and I'm the last of them left. Maybe you'd like to be able to share the story with the next person who takes it."

Of course. "It would be an honor to do so." Participation is part of patronage, although I hadn't thought of it that way. I hadn't even asked after the former owner of my booth. She didn't look old to me, her surface powdered and brushed into order. My eye was caught by a ruffle at her neck, the upper connections of her wings to her skin. Not a scarf, then, but ragged wings, rustling in the warm exhalations of the street. Those, like the hands of some women, spoke of age marked by sets of years, rather than years alone.

"Perfect. We shall meet tomorrow night in my townhouse. I shall have the address and time conveyed to you. Where is your place of employ?"

I gave her the name, which she recognized. "The place with the indoor garden?" I nodded. It was a lovely place that was off limits to lingering, even at lunch. If she was interested, though, I would make an effort to delay purposefully along its length tomorrow.

"There are those who say that wine is the proper accompaniment to a dinner and sherry to conversation afterward, but I find that good conversation grows best in the presence of a guest's favorite blooms. A good hostess counts it a good gift to know her guests." She turned and walked away.

I realized that I needed to find a florist and, perhaps, an unfamiliar favorite on this shore. Thinking of waxy, forced blooms, I wondered what manner of artifice we would discuss on the morrow.

Pack of Lies

"Watch your hand, there!" The barkeep flipped a heavy brass catch. I pulled my hand into the booth, sliding toward the window and further down in the seat. The outside is quaint and people stop to stare. I know I did for months before the familiar features suddenly looked relaxed instead of worn. Most of them out there will just keep walking by, stopping to look in the windows, cupping their hands around their eyes and bending over the slight gap between pavement and foundation.

A set of stairs thumped behind me. The booth above and behind me was occupied when I arrived from work. I've only been here a few times since the first and I'd never met the woman in that booth. All of the booths have regulars, according to the barkeep. The first day, I sat on one of the few open tables and drank to myself. I thought I'd been looking for company, but he could tell that I wanted to space to unwind from work. In my office, we all participate in polite games with one foot in and one foot out the door. I didn't need to meet more facades afterward, I just needed to meet a couple of glasses of warmth, preferably something sweeter and stronger than beer.

When I'd been shown to this booth, it was something else. I was curious about the other inhabitants and, I spread several pages in a fan to my left to have an excuse to glance at her while the barkeep helped her down. She was delicately old, velum skin, spun sugar hair, and a sheen to her clothes like fine porcelain. Her back was to me, but her hand gripped the barkeep's. I shuffled the papers while staring at her back. I was only recently welcomed to the bar, no?

A thunk and giggle drew my eyes to the window and group of girls peering into the bar. When they saw me they slapped each others' hands from the glass and huddled together, gasping and laughing. Something tickled my memory, some crazy story I'd heard when I moved here about looking in the window to see your future husband standing in the field in the middle of the structure. I looked toward the grass in the center of the bar. The lady above me had already made her way to the door.

I shifted back toward the inner corner of the booth, but the girls were still standing together outside and I was caught in a curious conflict of identity. Bar or Street? Grass or Cement? Humans or dreams?

"Good place to write. I think the gentleman afore you used to draw. Good light, either way. Higher up," he jerked his head toward the upper booth, "the eaves sometimes cut the light." He climbed up the stairs, leaning against them to polish the booth and stepped higher to reach the table. "Sad to see the last of the Pack getting on like."

"Last of the Pack?" I may be a writer, but the distractions are my favorite part.

"Pack of Lies. Whole group of sisters who came back years ago. Flighty bunch, even after the years started to wear them away." He came back down. "I never knew them all that well. My older brother, he's the one who told me who they were. 'Pack of Lies, sisters with a taste for nectar and gossip.' I don't know. Tea's more her style, but I've seen drink Ambrosia against the chill."

I couldn't write this afternoon, had to get out of the close air. Despite the Persian woodcuts around the open area in the middle, the air felt like it was dripping like varnish over my thoughts. I nodded thanks and shuffled the papers into one hand. They bent as I bounced the heavy door from wrist to elbow, shoving my work satchel out into the afternoon breeze.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Welcome, Welcome

And it's not that we haven't seen you peering in the window, wonder if we're open, or if we'd give you the time of day if you stopped in. But then, we're not going to roust ourselves out from behind this lovely counter just to bang on the window for everyone who wonders by. It was the look on your face, see. Half smile, squinting under your arm. You looked like you had time for us, time for each and every one of us to introduce ourselves. Have a seat here, in this booth.

You can see everyone's about here. But that's a bit much for anyone's first time, eh? Let me introduce the pub instead. The Pollen and the Sting, she's a good old place. Been here for years, ever since that first wave of clovers tumbled out of the forest and set themselves up under the sunshine. First it was the bees who met here. They're a social bunch, just like us. Like to have their drinks and their stories, like as not about drinks, right? How to get to that sweet little bloom just over the horizon?

Sweet as this, right? Set it right back on that counter, looks like it was glazed with honey this afternoon. Need another? Yup, as do we all, that first time in a new place. I'm the owner, direct descendant of bees myself. Busy as, know what I mean? Well, literally, too. Somewhere back in the great-old line, my grandma used to tell me about how the fairies would enchant the bees to serve them in their plaited castles of living flowers.

One young lady, she wandered right into the middle of a field in the middle of the day, when it was so hot that the air flickered and the shadows just crawled right under the soles of your feet. She was looking for the perfect bunch of flowers for the table, since her betrothed was coming that night. There she was, standing in a patch of clover, sight blanched by the sun, lungs filled with the condensed breath of the flowers. The fairies must have slipped a circle of blooms on her head and there, in the shade from that circlet, was their palace.

Well, she went in. And not very far in, one of the servants hurrying by happen to catch a whiff of those flowers, hot and sweet from the sun. She thought he had fallen for her, but he had really fallen for the scent of those flowers. She said she'd give them to him if he lead her out. That he did, and disappeared. Grandma said she dropped the flowers and never saw the bee still clinging to them.

Her betrothed found her, flushed and sunburned on the lane and they lived for a number of years after that. That first child, though, he was supposed to be part bee. I dunno. Still, it's a good story. And we've got both the pollen and the sting here, depending on your mood. Enjoy the cup, eh? And don't worry about peering in any more windows. You're in the right place. Watch your head, though. Hexagonal booths can surprise those as aren't used to them. Well, we've had one leave recently. But that, my friend, is a story for next time.