Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Eric grunted as his arms kept a steady rhythm and his whole body lent strength to his task. Quick, hard strokes kept the boat moving, and one corner of his mouth was kinked in a wry smile as his thoughts both scolded and mocked him. Pushing the small boat against the current was ridiculous in its impracticality, but it didn't need to be practical; it was supposed to fun. He focused on his passenger for a moment and made an abrupt amendment to his thoughts. Pleasing his pregnant wife was more than enough reason for this difficult effort when walking upriver for a picnic would have been faster and easier. He could not imagine what the world would be without her, and she added joy to an already beautiful day.
Tansha watched the play of emotions on her husband's face. “Just a little further,” she smiled. “We’re almost to the tree line. Then you can rest before we cross the river.” She paused for a moment, and her brow creased as her smile faded. “This would be a lot easier if you’d let me help.”
“I…” Eric’s arms stopped, allowing the boat to slip downstream as he tried to speak to his young and very pregnant wife. He stopped speaking before he started, his mind registering that the trees were getting farther away. He put his effort back into rowing until his steady rhythm returned, then scrutinized his wife’s face. There was a gleam in her eyes, and her lips twitched.
“Stop teasing me.” Eric said, timing his words with his strokes, and the mirth that was already in Tansha’s eyes burst out in a laugh that lifted Eric’s heart until his voice joined hers.
“Oh, Eric,” Tansha said. Her manner softened as she looked at the man, seeing still the boy she’d known since they were both very young children. “I do wish I could help you, sweetie,” she tried to put her hand on his knee and failed, “but I’m pretty sure the baby would get in the way.” She touched her foot to his ankle instead. “It’s too bad Seth isn’t here. He'd help,” she paused, crinkling her nose in disgust, “if Karen would let him.” Her eyes crossed as she let her tongue flop from one corner of her mouth.
Eric snickered for a moment and then tried to control his amusement. “Oh, come on,” he grunted, still concentrating on rowing, “Even without Karen, Seth wouldn’t be of much use.” He took a few deep breaths, his muscles straining. “He didn’t like rowing in the fishing pond back home. He’d hate the river." He angled the boat toward the shore, and he and Tansha were silent as he concentrated on the change in direction. "You’re right about Karen though,” he said between strokes, “She wouldn’t let Seth do something he hates.”
As they moved out of the strong current and into the rock-strewn shallows, the rowing slowed. “You know who I’d really like to help me?” Tansha knew his question was rhetorical. “Linné.” She said the name aloud as he did, and they both chuckled. “She’d love this,” Eric said. “She likes a challenge.”
Tansha's didn’t quite hide a smile behind her pout. “Sometimes I think you love your baby sister more than you love me.” The petulant whine in her voice was overdone, not at all like the tone she had used when Eric had unwittingly dumped a chamber pot out of an upstairs window and onto her head the week before. “I’m surprised she let you move so far away from home, and I’m even more surprised that you didn’t ask for her permission.” She rubbed her foot against his and smoothed her skirt, pretending not to look at him.
Eric smiled at his wife to hide a twinge of guilt. Tansha wasn’t jealous of his little sister, but in the silence of his heart Eric admitted that he would be hard pressed to tell which of them he loved more. Moving away from Linné had been difficult, but Uncle Bardy’s offer to give Eric his shop had come at just the right time.
“You know,” Tansha interrupted Eric’s thoughts, and he shook himself out of the past. “If we actually got to know our neighbors, we might find someone willing to come on the river with us.”
“What?” Eric teased, “And miss the opportunity to show off my manly strength by pulling us all the way up the river by myself?” He scoffed as the boat finally reached the shore near the tree line. "Besides," he jumped out, "Linné will be here in a few weeks to help with the baby." He grunted as he pulled the boat onto dry land. "I'm sure she'll help with the rowing too." He grinned as he offered his hand to Tansha.
“I'm not getting out now," she shook her head. "I’ll have to climb in again too soon." She extended her arm, palm up, and Eric leaned over to put his hand into hers. “That’s not exactly easy right now,” she said as she took his hand but, instead of holding it, placed it palm-down on her lower abdomen. Eric’s eyes widened and Tansha smiled as they felt the baby's firm kick.
“I see how it is,” Eric straightened and gave the boat another tug. “I do all the work, and you do all the rest.” He grinned while Tansha groaned at his pun, then stepped into the boat when he was sure the water couldn’t carry it away. "Is this the spot?" he asked, reaching for the picnic basket secured beneath his seat.
"No!" Tansha’s answer was decisive. She shooed his hands away from the basket, eyes twinkling. "You control yourself, mister."
"But I'm hungry!" Eric’s whine was as artificial as the pout Tansha had given him earlier. "Herculean efforts like rowing against a current build a man's appetite."
The couple chuckled, the teasing exchange as familiar as the faces they'd known since childhood. After a short rest, Eric untied the boat and began rowing with more energy and enthusiasm than before. He smiled at the prospect of being a father, and the bulge of Tansha's belly indicated the baby was growing as it should. This picnic on the river was a celebration of the birth they expected to take place soon, with the hope that Linné would be there in time to help.
Eric pulled the oars for perhaps another ten minutes before Tansha pointed to a broad and shallow pool of slow-moving water on the far bank. He rowed to the spot and discovered the trees grew right to the water's edge. Grabbing a low branch, Eric stood in the boat and scanned the dense forest growth on the bank for a place he could stand on dry ground as he tied up the boat. Tansha watched him with admiring eyes until he sighed, let go of the branch, and sat down.
"Good thing we planned on eating in the boat," he said, grabbing the mooring line. "There's not even room to stand in all that green."
Tansha gazed into the forest, humming a dreamy tune as the light crept under the trees and disappeared into green shadow. "Isn't this beautiful?"
Eric finished tying the boat to a tree and sat down. He followed her gaze as gentle waves lapped the sides of the bobbing boat. "Not as beautiful as you," he said as he turned to look with admiration at his wife. Tansha blushed and reached for the picnic basket.
They ate without speaking, listening to the water as it emptied over a small cataract that formed at the edge of this calm, shallow pool in the river. At the bottom of the short drop, the water was forced into a narrow channel of boulders. The huge rocks were either submerged or had tops poking above the surface of the rushing, twisting current, forming rapids that would disappear as the water level dropped later in the summer.
When they finished eating, Eric and Tansha amused each other with stories of the past and impossible dreams of the future. Comfortable and content, they fell asleep, elbows on knees and heads in hands, to the gentle rocking of the current.
Eric woke as the boat gave a sudden lurch. He sat up, startled, to see Tansha climbing out of the boat. His tense muscles relaxed as he smiled at his wife.
“What are you doing, crazy lady?" he asked, cheeks aching, "Don’t you know how to keep dry?”
Tansha returned his grin with a toss of her head. “Everyone knows that cold water soothes tired feet,” her tone was matter-of-fact, “and mine are particularly tired from carrying this around for the last several months,” she emphasized the word “this” with a point at her rounded belly.
Eric grinned, watching as she stood in the shallow water. “Just be careful,” he said. “Would you like me to come keep you from slipping? Or perhaps,” he continued, his eyes twinkling with mischief, “I should tie a rope around you so I can reel you in if you slip.”
Tansha scowled for a moment. She was a strong and graceful woman; she wouldn't slip in this shallow pool, and a rope around her middle would be humiliating. The expression on her face shifted with a sudden thought. “You reeled me in quite some time ago and I stayed hooked,” she said as her scowl turned into a sly smile. “Do you think I’d slip away after what you’ve done to me?” She again indicated the bulge in her abdomen.
Eric relaxed in contentment as he watched Tansha wade with great care toward water that moved in a swifter current. His calm dissolved in sudden anxiety as she lost her footing. Even though she regained her balance almost at once, Eric’s anxiety increased as a dark image caught the corner of his eye. Worried, he began to untie the rope that held the boat anchored to the shore, used an oar to push off the bank, and began to move toward Tansha to pull her out of the water.
“Look out!” he cried as a broken-off tree branch as thick as his torso moved toward Tansha’s unprotected back. Tansha, arms outstretched for balance, turned toward Eric’s voice. She slipped on a slimy rock, lost her footing and fell into the river, too close to the passing tree limb. Her head hit the branch with a solid crack.
Eric was frozen with horror as he watched his pregnant wife disappear below the surface of the water. After the briefest moment of shock, adrenaline took over and galvanized his body into action before he thought. He angled the boat downstream from where he had last seen his wife, hoping to get ahead of her. She surfaced once, and then twice, her face down in the water as Eric rowed with a panicked, unsteady rhythm.
“Please,” he prayed to the river, the forest, the sky – anything that might hear the pleas of a man desperate for his wife’s safety, “Please give me strength. Help me save her. Please!” His breath coming in gasps and his heart pounding in his ears, Eric continued to row after Tansha. She was far ahead of him now, the current carrying her closer to the rapids.
The currents and eddies threatened to dash the little boat against the rocks, the menacing tops adding a churning motion to the already rushing water. A dim thought in the back of his mind brought with it the realization that the boat would be torn apart by the rocks and he’d need it intact to take Tansha back to town. He was certain that she was severely injured and the only safe way to get her home was by boat. He refused to listen to the voice in his mind that whispered it was already too late.
He rowed as close to the rapids as he dared, searching for Tansha’s form and praying that he could somehow retrieve her. An agonizing thirty seconds passed like an eternity, and he finally passed the rapids as Tansha came through the last stretch of boulders. The current forced her to the shallows near the bank, and his brain screamed at him in terror that something was wrong. He hurried toward her as he once again refused to accept the significance of his wife’s form bobbing, facedown, in the water.
Sobbing now, he reached the bank and pulled the boat ashore next to the still form of his wife. The wild pounding of his heart, the firm knot of sickening fear in his gut, and his painful, ragged gasps for breath made him stumble as he climbed out of the boat. Careful to avoid hurting Tansha further, he pulled her onto the shore and with gentle hands rolled her over to face the sky.
Her lips were blue. Her body was cold and her eyes were closed. Eric cradled her in his arms, unable to believe that his reason for living lay, lifeless, in his arms. He carried her up the bank and carefully placed her on a sun-warmed patch of grass. The smell of warm dirt and fresh plant life filled his nostrils. Sunshine warmed his back. Birds chattered in the sky as they flocked above the river in their playful, patterned flights.
Eric was senseless to the beauty around him. He was deaf, blind, and insensible to the warmth of the day. Only Tansha mattered – only his wife’s still form held his attention. He turned her over and pressed down on her back with firm and gentle movements, her head turned to one side. He pushed and watched as water – it seemed like gallons – poured out of her mouth. He continued to push, but no more water came. He stopped his gentle pumping and held her in his arms once more, leaning her bruised body forward and waiting for her to cough and breathe.
Her hair was wet and matted around her face and Eric, knowing how much she would hate that, smoothed it back. Bruises purpled one side of her head, and blood trickled from the scratches and a deep gash she’d received from the branch she’d struck an eternity ago. He waited longer and longer for her cough to come, looking at the bruises that showed where she’d hit the rocks as she had come through the rapids. He probed gently at her limbs and neck, amazed that none of her bones seemed to be broken. He finally looked at her belly, and as he did so he realized he would never meet their child. Tansha hadn’t coughed yet, and he knew – but would not accept – that she would never again draw breath. Sorrow drowned the delight they’d shared that afternoon, and his grief choked him and pulled at his sanity.
Tears streaming down his face, Eric held Tansha in his arms, his body moving in a gentle rock until it became frenetic in his grief. His sorrow shook him beyond all control until it took his remaining strength, and he soon fell into a deep and dreamless sleep while still holding the body of his dead wife.
2. Hometown Masquerade
Riverton had been built along several miles of the riverbank before spreading west into tidy farmlands. The oldest houses were built near the eaves of the forest to the north, and newer houses and shops spread southward. The river followed a narrow channel from an inaccessible source hidden deep in the forest until it reached a point a few miles south of the tree line. The channel widened with inexplicable abruptness just below a stretch of rapids, and the water became serene in its widened course. Riverton had been more isolated than less until the town had grown past the rapids and a dock had been built where the current was slow enough to allow ships to move upstream. When Linné arrived by boat to help her brother and sister-in-law with the new baby, there were many docks in what was now the busiest part of a growing city.
She stood at the stern of the ship, chin lifted, eyes closed, sun-kissed hair loose and rippling like swirls of streaky caramel in the cool breeze. She smoothed hair out of her face with a hand browned from farm work, while her other hand held the rail and kept her upright as the ship bumped against the dock.
Rigging and timber creaked until Linné was suddenly aware of sailors’ shouts as they prepared to unload the cargo from their ship. Her eyes opened, pupils contracting until they were lost in irises so dark that their color was indecipherable. The corner of her rosy lips twitched upward as she pulled her hair into a loose braid before shouldering a stout canvas pack. She turned and walked toward the gangplank, nodding with an excited smile as she passed the captain who had brought her to visit her brother. She was surprised but pleased when the captain, a man who had seemed so dour during the voyage, flashed her a gruff smile in return.
Linné’s nose crinkled as the breeze died and she caught the faint smell of dead fish and rotting vegetation that she supposed was common to every dock in the world. She continued walking through the crowd of crates, boxes and sailors extending from the dock to shore, stepping or dodging around the men who were hard at work. She weaved her way through the crowd, watching as some men who were clearly not sailors loaded wagons with goods from the ships while others unloaded from their wagons boxes, crates and sacks to be shipped.
Linné soon reached the first street in the town and turned north. There were far fewer people here, most of them fair-haired women. They walked to the market in clothing made of bright, smooth fabrics and carried baskets on their arms. Linné started at the women’s clothing, thinking that they would be ruined on her father’s farm but admiring the colors and wondering if the fabrics felt as smooth as they looked. Her own dress was brown and course, suitable for farming and travel. She didn’t have anything finer, but that never bothered her. She stopped thinking about clothes and continued walking toward the oldest part of town with a bounce in her step.
As she continued up the street nearest the river, some of the women would stop and stare at the colorless stranger. Most of the looks were curious, but some were speculative and a few bordered on hostile. Linné felt an uncomfortable prickle of shame, surmising that such unfriendly glances could only mean she didn’t belong here. The smile began to fade from her face as she wondered if Eric and Tansha had felt the same.
Before her good humor left her entirely, the air around her stirred, warming as another body compressed it against hers. Her footsteps slowed and she saw, out of the corner of her eye, a woman’s hand reaching for her shoulder. Her muscles tightened, preparing to flinch away, when a soft, calming voice eased her tension.
“You must be Eric Shoemaker’s sister,” the woman said, a light touch slowing Linné’s progress. Linné turned to see a woman with lustrous chestnut hair braided in an intricate coil around her head. The smooth skin of the woman’s cheeks was a sharp contrast to the laugh-lines crinkling the corners of the startling, clear green eyes that probed Linné’s face, seeming to read her whole life in that brief glance.
“Oh! I didn’t know Eric was sending someone to meet me.” Linné’s high spirits once again brightened her face, distracting her before she could wonder how such beautiful eyes could hide the pain that was clearly written in the furrow between the woman’s eyes. The crease was gone in an instant as the woman let Linné’s radiant enthusiasm wash over her.
The woman threw a casual look over her shoulder as her eyes clouded. Her expression cleared in an instant as she turned back to Linné’s infectious smile. “He didn’t send me. I didn’t even know you were coming.” The woman started walking in the direction Linné had been moving, and the young woman followed.
“Wait!” Linné didn’t have to lift her voice much. “If Eric didn’t send you, how do you know who I am?”
A laugh as light as the tinkling of wind chimes floated away on the breeze. “If your clothes hadn’t given you away, that smile on your face would have.” Linné caught up to the woman, who linked their arms and patted Linné’s hand. “You smile like your brother, and your dress is remarkably similar to the dress Tansha used to wear.” There was something in the woman’s voice that made her younger companion uncomfortable, but Linné shrugged it off when she couldn’t identify it. The two women walked in silence until they reached a sign projecting over a doorstep. A shoe had been carved into the wood, and the smell of leather hung about the door.
Eager to see her brother, Linné put her hand to the door as she spoke. “Thank you,” she started, intending to invite her guide in. She half-turned to see the woman walking away, shrugged off the hint of injury at being so quickly dismissed, and stepped through the door she had just opened.
The shop was dim and musty. Linné’s light step was the only movement that stirred the air, and only the sounds of passersby could be heard. A sign on the counter indicated that the person managing the shop would return soon, but the shop was so still it was hard to believe anyone had been in this room for days. Worried, Linné moved around the counter to a door that stood ajar on brass hinges. Tired wooden stairs creaked beneath her feet until she found herself in a kitchen.
Saturday, December 25, 2010
“George!” Louisa called as she roamed the halls. “George!” She took quick little steps, hurrying past the massive interlocking stones of the walls and barely glancing at the beautiful tapestries that hung to warm the hearts of the people who lived in and visited the castle. Of course, the tapestries were practical in another way as well. They provided a little bit of insulation that kept the heat of winter fires inside the castle. They didn’t keep in much heat, but they did take some of the chill out of the corridor.
Louisa came to the end of the hallway and sighed. George hadn’t responded to her calls, and there didn’t seem to be anyone about to tell her where he was. Louisa looked for a moment at the steep staircase in front of her and then gradually began to ascend. “George!” She called repeatedly through each hallway on six levels of castle until, frustrated and tired, she decided she’d give up her search. She headed down to the kitchens for a late lunch.
An hour later, still needing to talk to her husband about plans for an upcoming holiday celebration and still unable to find him, Louisa started for the library. She decided that George must be out, though what he’d be doing out in the cold was a mystery. She had a book waiting for her, and she might as well read it until George returned. She pulled open the library door and there, sitting at his desk, was George.
Louisa’s anger flared quickly, but she managed to keep it out of her voice as she asked, “George! How long have you been here? Didn’t you hear me calling?”
Upon hearing his name, George looked up. He was a middle aged man, with dark hair just beginning to turn gray. It gave him a rather distinguished look, and he took care to keep his beard trimmed to enhance the effect. George was a man who was very concerned with appearances. He was garbed in sensible clothes of sober hue and fine quality, and over it all he wore a robe of red velvet trimmed in ermine. A golden circlet, set with a few modest jewels, encircled his head. His deep blue eyes gazed unwaveringly at his wife as she waited for his answer.
“I’ve been here for some time. I did hear you calling, but I thought that you must have been looking for someone else. A king can’t be summoned like a servant, you know.” In George’s defense, he wasn’t being the slightest bit sarcastic, nor was he really upset with his wife. They’d been married for some fifteen years, and he still hadn’t quite recognized that his wife would never defer to him the way the servants did. In Louisa’s defense, she’d been much more patient with George in the early years of their marriage than she was now. After fifteen years, she was a little frustrated that he still expected deference from her. She’d been a princess and he a prince when they’d married, and she’d never seen him as anything more or less that her equal.
“Oh, really?” she said, her voice taking on the temperature of the frost-covered sheet of ice that gleamed outside on the windowsill. George knew that tone, and he didn’t like it. When Louisa started talking like that, she was not usually simply angry. She was also usually right.
“You think you can let your queen wander the halls calling for you and not respond because you’re not a servant? Is that it? Tell me, oh wise and noble king,” George winced inwardly at that, “just what is a king anyway?”
This wasn’t the first time George had heard Louisa talk about a king being a servant of the people he governed, and if it weren’t for the fact that he was so worried about something else, he’d probably have apologized to his wife and let her have her way. He was worried, though, and he’d been hearing from and talking to his advisors about it for some time. The matter was more pressing this morning than usual, for some reason, and George’s temper was already frayed under his dignified exterior.
Without a word, the king stood up, regally crossed to the door, closed it, and bolted it. Then he turned and faced his wife, who was suddenly silent. It wasn’t the first time George had been angry with her, and it would very probably not be the last, but she hated seeing him angry.
“You dare to lecture me on my duties as a king?” he said in a soft, angry whisper. The worry he’d been carrying intermittently for months and even years suddenly turned to anger, and he released it now at Louisa. He really did love her a great deal, and not just because her dark brown eyes and flowing ash-blonde hair made her the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. He loved her largely because she loved him, tolerated his temper, and soothed his moods. He forgot all of that for a moment though, his anger seeping between his lips and then flooding the room until Louisa was almost drowned in the stifling mood.
“My duties?” he said again, crossing back to the desk and sitting. He closed his eyes to block out the picture of his wife’s face. He knew that what he was going to say next was going to cause her pain, though he wouldn’t admit even to himself that he knew that, and he didn’t want to see what he was about to do. “Every year, I get messages from neighboring kingdoms filled with joyous news at a new royal birth, and every year, I get so many messages that I can hardly answer them all, asking when there will be an heir to my throne. Kings are eyeing my kingdom, wondering if they’ll be able to take it without a fight once I’m gone. Many are trying to send their sons for extended visits, hoping I’ll grow fond enough of one to bequeath him my kingdom. Our own people write, wondering when their queen will give them comfort that their traditions will continue after the current king is gone.”
He opened his eyes now and looked down at the desk in front of him. Louisa, a shocked look on her face and tears shimmering in her eyes, noticed a recently opened letter there. George seemed to be looking through it, a look of concentration on his face.
“So, my dear Louisa,” he said, his tone suddenly losing its venom as he pleaded, “you, too, are a servant of this people. When will you perform your duty?”
Louisa, her heart full of pain, felt like she would crumple at any moment. She kept her shoulders back and her face neutral, holding back the tears. She trembled for a moment as she faced her king and then, iron in her limbs, she turned toward the bolted door. In a few moments, she was in her own chamber with the door locked behind her. She wept until she could weep no more, her own pain at her childlessness compounded by the pressure of the people and her own dear, sometimes silly, but oh! so good husband.
The Light Princess is a fairy tale, written by George MacDonald. The story is wonderful, but there are several things about it that are difficult for young and modern readers to understand. I've been meaning to write an adaptation of the story for some time - since I read it to my sixth graders and provided explanations along the way - and I've finally started.
Only one character in the original fairy tale has a name, and it's unpronounceable. I did some research on George MacDonald, and the characters are named after but do not represent people in his life.
This is my original work, if not my original idea, and for the few who read my blog, please treat this as copyrighted material. I'll register the copyright as soon as I can.
© Carolyn Hoefer, 2010
Saturday, January 2, 2010
Saturday, November 7, 2009
Friday, August 7, 2009
I think there is more to come on this particular vein...
In the preternatural moments before sunrise, the world is hushed as a faint glow begins to illuminate the mountains. It is a sacred moment observed by every living thing, and one who listens with more than their ears can feel the reverence that even the inanimate rocks give to this special moment. A deep breath of a cool and silent wind lessens, but does not break, the silence, and the slight rustle of pine needles stirs the soul to even more awe at this magnificent moment: the birth of a new day.
Suddenly, roaring into the sky as if this moment was created expressly for this purpose, a dragon rises up. He is racing the sun, competing for a glory it has always had and that he will never achieve. His serpentine form mars the light, and his roar scatters the silence like a wolf among sheep. In his roar is the desperation of one who offers a protection he cannot give; he tries to show that the strength of sound is more solid than the peace of silence.
He looks down into the forest from the peak of the mountain and seems to see all. He climbs higher into the sky, parallel with the rays of the rising sun, and sees a woman, sitting in a clearing. He sees that her eyes are closed, her face turned up to the sun. She seems oblivious to his intrusion, and he is enraged that she seems to find peace in the simple act of sitting and listening to the trees. He wheels through the air toward her, knowing he cannot land in that clearing but somehow hoping he can ruin her peace by blotting out the sun with his mighty wings. He spreads his pinions wide, slowing his flight and casting his insubstantial shadow into the clearing. He looks into the face of the woman and sees no fear; her eyes have not opened and not a single hair on her head has been moved by his greatness.
His wounded pride feeding his rage, the dragon circles over the clearing. He does not breathe fire and he cannot truly harm the woman: all the more reason for his rage and its inefficacy. He knows, though, that if he can but find a way to distract her for a moment from the glory of the rising sun and the peace around her, he can spew forth doubt and darkness, disturbing her peace with uncertainty and despair. He vows that this woman, more than all other creatures under the sun, will feel his might and his majesty. She will worship HIM, and him only. The warmth of the rising sun may daily touch her face, but he promises to himself that once he succeeds, it will never again touch her heart. She will never again know the peace of the sunrise.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
In the southeast corner on the third floor of a block of condominiums in Salt Lake, there is a small bedroom. In the southeast corner of that bedroom, there is a twin bed where a fleece throw and a flat sheet intertwine in a crumpled mess. On top of that mess is a neatly folded set of nightclothes. All of these things belong to the young woman who slouches against a few pillows on the southeast corner of the bed. She is typing away at her computer, a movie paused behind her word processing software.
There are four bookcases in the room, and each one houses a variety of books, music CDs, and DVDs. The books outnumber the movies and music by at least three to one, and several more books are hidden in various locations around the room. They wait for their mistress to straighten things up and find them a home with the other books.
Four boxes are stacked near the closet, and two plastic crates. Several more crates sit in the trunk of a car outside. These are full of papers and files, most of which relate to her teaching career. Mixed into all of the articles on multicultural diversity and research based instruction are documents that are almost unnoticeable but are far more valuable than all the rest. They are the workings of a human mind, and show how years of education can expand or restrict the creativity and humanity of a young girl.
She is approaching the culmination of her Master’s degree and contemplating the pursuit of a Doctorate. She is shifting her talents from the field of education to the field of psychology, moving away from the teaching of information and processes to teaching that will help adolescents find self-fulfillment. She also expects that she will find self-fulfillment in this change of careers, for her love of academics has given way to a love of humanity.
She feels hopeless to help individuals find their way through a sea of legislative requirements that flood the curriculum. As a teacher she is continually sinking below the waves. How can she buoy up others when she is scarcely able to draw breath? The stories of her students’ lives are reduced to test scores and arguments about what kids today need to know. So many adults put in their oars that the children are more often pushed away from lifeboats than pulled in close to the ships that sail these waters, for a child’s greatest strengths are not often valued by the adults who try and direct their lives.
This young woman has great faith in the resilience of humankind, and that the indomitable human spirit will thrive even when it is undernourished. It is the children who will not let politics and circumstance keep them down who keep the world afloat; those children always seem to achieve their dreams. In her enthusiasm to encourage all children to develop their talents, however, she has lost sight of her own dreams. Her altruism has squelched her personal ambitions, and she feels empty as she strives to live up to the impossible standards set by parents, principals, communities, and civic leaders. How can she encourage others to develop their talents when hers rust on a shelf while she plans lesson after lesson and grades paper after paper?
To be a teacher takes inhuman ability to plan, prepare, and adapt. Preparation almost always takes place during personal time; teachers are paid to teach but not to plan. It takes time to rejuvenate and to spark creativity, and when personal time is spent performing professional duties, personal talents wither. The spark is going out for this young woman, and she knows that she will drown with her students if she does not find her own life preserver.
She feels trapped. Trapped and drowning. The thing that she really needs, that she really wants, is escape. Not just a weekend off, and not just another summer break full of graduate classes, seminars, workshops, and the inevitable laziness for a few unstructured weeks as she struggles to suppress her sense of adventure for the sake of her credit score. Her teacher’s salary and student loans leave her incapable of traveling far, and she would feel more trapped to rely on her credit excellent credit and sink further into debt. She dreams of travel, and of the possibility that someone might believe in her as much as she believes in her students.
She wants to travel; she wants to write. She wants to grow, live, learn and experience the world beyond the bounds of her childhood home. She wonders if the energy of New York City would drain or stimulate her. She is curious as to how awed she would be by the history and landscape on the British Isles. She wants to taste real French cuisine and walk down the streets of Paris and through the chateaux built in the Loire valley. She speculates at to how much she looks like a German, for it is from Germany that many of her ancestors immigrated. Italy and Greece have influenced her country and her dreams, with their historic democracies, architectural wonders, and polytheistic mythologies.
She longs to feel awkward and out of place in the countries of the Middle East, to listen as the call to prayer echoes through cities full of dust and exotic smells. The stories she has heard from others make her wonder if her American boldness would be too bold for a female in such places. How many myths and stereotypes would be revealed if she lived in such a place? The fighting in Africa is worrisome, but the savannahs and veldts; the rainforests and deserts; the ancient cities and proud people of that continent lure her.
Russia would certainly be a different experience; she wonders what the people there are like. The traditions of China and Japan, their deep respect and reverence for their ancestors, brings her shame as she realizes how little knowledge she has of her own ancestors and lineage. Some of her family lives in Australia, and she would like to know how the different cultures on that continent interact. She’d like to experience the climate and geography there as well; the beauty of nature in all parts of the world is an almost irresistible lure to someone who never tires of the changing light on the mountains in her own home.
To travel takes money. To read and write take time. Such simple pleasures as writing and dreaming are too often denied to this young woman. They are stifled by her own sense of responsibility, her practicality, and a mind that becomes increasingly logical. Her dreams become restricted as she tries to balance them with a reality that is full of both beauty and disappointment. One who dares not dream about her future is often afraid to dream about other worlds or imagine fictional characters into being. Such dreaming stimulates her desires for adventure and romance – desires that cannot be satisfied.
She sits instead, in the corner on the bed in the southeast corner of the southeast condo on the third floor of a complex in Salt Lake City; not daring to dream, not daring to act, not daring to hope, and only for a moment daring to write.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
The words today were: choirboys, heartless, computers, romance and cell phones. Here's what I came up with:
It was quiet in the Nave. The choirboys had left their seats only moments before, and the rest of the cathedral personnel were in their offices, filing papers and shutting down computers. The visitors were gone for the day as well; the silence would not be broken by the loud chatter of tourists, the squeals of small children, or the buzzing of cell phones.
A darkened cathedral was a good place for romance to come alive. The soaring buttresses and the dim, colored illumination from stained glass windows lent a certain kind of gloom to the Gothic structure's interior. It was a gloom that reflected true romance, the feeling that something supernatural was going to happen at any moment.
"I wouldn't be surprised to see a ghost," thought the heartless man who was the sole occupant of the gradually darkening room.
The echo of a footfall reverberated suddenly from the back of the room, traveled to the front, then slowly slipped and slid up to the ceiling, around the room, and back to its originator. By the time the echo faded, the cold figure in black had slipped silently into the shadows.
:) My students are amazed that I don't know who this heartless man is, or what is going to happen next. Even I kind of want to know where this story is going. That, I think, it was a good fiction writer does: discovers stories rather than creating them.