Category Archives: stories

Changeling

A centipede decided it wanted to buried under the sunflower sprout I was planting. I don’t know where it came from: I dug the hole, left to get the sunflower sprout waiting in its container, and arrived back to find a centipede in the hole. It was a large centipede, and the exact color and transparency of coffee before you put the cream in. My efforts to gently flip it out with my trowel were in vain. The soil tumbled back in, and the centipede rode its hundred legs back down to the bottom. The centipede clearly meant to be buried under this sunflower. I tapped the sunflower plant out of its container and observed the white roots snaking along the bottom. At the exact center of the hole, the centipede had curled in a circle like a magic gem, or a tiny guardian waiting for its charge. Finished, watering the plant in, I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen. Or maybe it was already done.

The Mystery of the Sphinx

If she seemed like a talkative cat, it would be easy to call her talkative and leave it at that. The offered hands are accepted, but they make no difference to her urgency. She is mostly black, has a wide nose, and is very handsome for a girl. When people aren’t around she does things that any other cat would do. She will drop and roll back and forth on her back a time or two in the driveway. At different times of the day, over the course of several days, or even weeks, she will sit like a sphinx and give her full attention to a blank space on a wall. She can often be seen stalking, with her ears back, from one side of the street to the other.

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But when she gets around people, it seems that she has something urgent to tell. You will see the cat a block away, arresting a couple out walking with a baby in a stroller. As the cat meows at her, the old lady next door will smoke a cigarette, and protest. “I don’t know! I don’t know! I don’t know!” It is as if the lady is too polite to ignore the cat, but too overwhelmed to ask it any questions. Not that asking questions would be necessary to get this cat going.

She meows again and again. She will stop briefly if you pet her, but her manner will make it clear that she is only indulging you. There is something important you need to know. She meows and meows, as if insisting.

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Could it be that, unaware of a leak that has filled his house with gas, Mr. Johnson has just sat down with the morning paper and is about to light his pipe? Could it be that Billy has been trapped by an avalanche and there is a large bear wandering nearby? Could it be that a flood has washed away part of Walker’s bridge and the family golden retriever, Nellie, is stranded on the other side with her puppies?

There is no telling.

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Another list of mostly unrelated items

A lost stuffed animal: The smaller of the two faces still flushed with tears, they are pressed and belted into their cramped seats on the airplane. Suddenly they sit still like does. The woman relates their predicament to the flight attendant, who has just arrived.

Eating honey: As it bends the light reflected off the surface underneath, a slick golden tentacle of new honey curls off the larger bulk that has wrapped itself around a spoon.

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A lost sock: Like a hieroglyphic, a tiny child’s sock soaked with rain sits atop a gate post, which serves as an impromptu lost and found. It will be frozen tomorrow morning, and then later will thaw in the sun of the afternoon. Its sole is dotted with white rubber traction spots which, when the sock is worn, would grip the world like squid suction cups.

Altitude: Listen to the racket of a hundred birds, the countless shapes and layers of fallen leaves. A balletic cry in the wilderness. The sharp beaks, wings working to gain precious altitude.

The sun shines. The birds twitter.

Reaching blindly for something else, I accidentally picked up a daddy long legs spider in my garden. Between my thumb and first two fingers it felt like a dry, dead leaf. It was soft, with veining and a little crumpled. After a second or two I put it down, still thinking it was a leaf and was startled to see a spider get up and stagger away. It appeared unharmed, but walked uncertainly as if blind, or as if it was testing the soil of spider heaven.

Starlings

Down from power lines a broad shadow tumbles to the ground. A thousand feathers rustle as the wings of the flock are tucked. On the sidewalk, in the green grass, a hundred spotted throats peck. In the rout moths flash the red undersides of their wings from inside ivory beaks. Curling worms and millipedes clutch the air, moist soil crumbing off their shiny segments. From their places the sudden flock, a wave breaking, swarms up like fallen leaves exploding back onto a tree.

Chocolate

The dog’s eyes are unfocused. Standing outside the cafe, she looks up hopefully each time the door opens. She is chocolate colored so I take to thinking of her as “Chocolate.” Her leash is tied to a cable that secures a newspaper box to a traffic sign post. Just out of her reach, a fire hydrant sits ignored. She paces back and forth a bit nervously, sitting once or twice for a moment but then standing back up and walking around. She walks and stands with her legs a little splayed out like a puppy, as if she is unsteady and has to work against tipping over by mistake.

ChocolateAlthough she is scruffy the way older dogs get sometimes, she is still very beautiful. She has sad eyes. Chocolate is also so very obviously mellow that almost everyone who passes by stops to pet her. She accepts the petting with a minimum of interest and no wagging of any kind. She angles her head up under each petting hand to get a sniff in, impulsively. Chocolate is distracted. Around her neck is an old fragment of a knit scarf, tied in a knot. Probably it was knit by her owner. It is the kind of thing a cat would never put up with. The scarf is discolored with age and clumpy like a dreadlock and I wonder if it bothers her. No doubt she would enjoy a good scratching under it. A passing man with a toy-like pug runs into someone he knows and pauses right by the newspaper box for a conversation. As the people begin to chat, the pug and Chocolate greet each other nose to nose for some preliminary sniffing. She is still distracted and maybe not interested and begins smelling the man’s shoe instead. Meanwhile, the pug circles around back to sniff Chocolate’s other end. Then, completely unaware of their spontaneous coordination, the trio solemnly execute a slapstick gag. The man backs up, forcing Chocolate back, and as a result, the pug. They all move ponderously in reverse like linked train cars backing slowly around a curve. Once or twice the pug seems to get more of a snoutful than he wants. And then it is over. The man is still involved in his conversation. Chocolate is still distracted. The pug sniffs intently but eventually loses interest himself. A minute later, his conversation over, the man seems to notice Chocolate for the first time. He pets her goodbye and pulls the pug along after him. For Chocolate, the minutes continue to drag.

Atlas

1920s Dance Studio

“Ladies? Imagine you are Atlas!” cried their dance instructor. This coming just after they had arranged themselves as the Three Graces.

Millicent discarded her momentary annoyance at how Mrs. St. Ruth always shouted “Ladies” as a question. Actually it was Claire who had pointed out the quirk one day as they gossiped about their teacher. Claire found it amusing. Now Millicent noticed it every time. She could feel Claire smirking behind her.

She told herself not to think about that and instead she imagined being Atlas. As she tried to get into character, she realized that she didn’t know much about Atlas. He was probably one of those Greek gods. “I hope he’s not being punished.” thought Millicent. “Not like that one god who brought fire to man and then was bound to a rock and every day a bird came and tore his heart out and ate it.”

In her mind Millicent pictured Atlas. There was a brushed chrome statue of Atlas on each of the front corners of a new building downtown. Each stood on a stone corbel and seemed to be using his corner of the building to help him support the weight of the world, which he held over his head.

“Atlas: bare-chested, powerful, enduring.” thought Millicent. “I would be his Amazonian Queen.” Millicent imagined herself six feet tall, with a quiver of arrows strapped to her back and carrying a bow taller than a man. Her dark hair would shine in the sun as she strode barefoot, hips swaying. She would wear a jeweled girdle, and straps made from the skin of a giant snake would hold a breastplate to her bosom. The songs of her sisters would echo through the hills. She would be beautiful. Men helplessly trapped by their desire to conquer her would come from every land and she would imprison them until the day she had an army large enough to shoulder the world and free her Atlas. Only then would she let Atlas kiss her.

“Millicent? Focus!” cried Mrs. St. Ruth.

Concert at the Chinese Classical Garden

Yesterday we went to see the Vancouver Chinese Music Ensemble play at the Portland Chinese Classical Garden and it was very entertaining. I’m a big fan of the Chinese Classical Garden. They have everything a person could want in one place. Fascinating architecture, bonsai, a huge pond with fish, a beautiful garden, and a great tea house in the Tower of Cosmic Reflections (pictured below.)

The Ensemble was very good. They play more “traditional” Chinese music, and also seem to be interested in all kinds of music. They introduced every song with a description of what was to come. The selections varied from a Chinese war epic penned in 202 B.C. to “Oh Suzanna”. I would liken the concert to about any traditional world music mix CD. It will most likely contain things you will enjoy and other things you might not, and different people will find that they like different things. In this case the balance was well over to the “good” side.

They were very earnest and enthusiastic and put on an excellent show. For the record, there are more shows and different bands at the Garden coming up. Check them out here.

Portland Classical Chinese Garden Teahouse

(I remember at the Montgomery Station in San Francisco there used to be an old Chinese man who would play his erhu for change. An erhu could probably best be described as a kind of Chinese violin. I used to stop and listen to him every once in a while. He didn’t seem to follow any rhythm and actually sounded very much like a howling cat, but sad. To me, at best, it evoked Chinese calligraphy, with lots of purposeful bold strokes, hooks, and finesse. But it sounded awful. I always suspected that I lacked the cultural experience or vocabulary to appreciate what he was up to with that instrument. Either that or he was really bad. It’s funny but I used to be shy about listening to him and would always stand somewhere he couldn’t see me listening.)

Small Dreams

“Oh dear. I tried to keep a dream journal once, but soon realized that I was a woman of small dreams. I found that I could only keep it up for a week, filling page after page with inane details. Here’s a sample. ‘…spent what seemed like hours outside a door waiting for someone to come out and ask me in. Luckily there was a chair. Also there was a cat nearby sitting on an enormous Persian rug. He knew me but was not feeling friendly.’

“Night after night of circuitous errands and vague misunderstandings with men I’ve never met before. It became too much. Oh of course every once in a while I would have a fascinating dream where I was an assassin or was eaten by a huge animal, but those were few and far in between.”

April 20, 1929

The Dire Fern

Dearest L_________,

I have enclosed for your consideration the cover from one of those degenerate pieces of dime literature. I recently stumbled upon a large collection of such volumes in a shop and felt moved to share one or two with you for your amusement. The pictured lady is no doubt a poet, as she appears to be a lady of some refinement. My dear friend Mr. L_____ has noted that poets have the most remarkable lips (although I must note here that when he says “remarkable” he means “a little strange” or “perhaps bizarre” or “somehow unsettling.”) This may be a too rough or unkind appraisal of the lady, but I do say that her lips are that of a poet.

What is that she is leaning upon?

Oh dear look at the time. Ta ta!

Kindest Regards,

Mr. D_____ S______

February 7, 1908

——– o ———
The reply to D.S. from L. has been lost.
——– o ———

Dearest L_________,

What a pleasure it is to hear from you. I am doubly gratified to learn that you took a moment of your time to consider my trifling missive.

I must confess that I had forgotten about that miserable fern which belonged to poor Constance. I hope that this statement will not shock you, as my affection for Constance (though please consider it always took the form of friendly affection) can only be said to have been the equal of my consternation over her fern. In short, I blame her untimely end on that dastardly pteridophyte. More properly, we may wish to refer to that plant as a vampire. It simply refused to brighten a room no matter where the poor dear placed it, and equally, no matter how much Constance tried to beautify it. That dire, black fern! To see her worry and fret over it while coughing consumptively. And after it had finally broken her heart, she relegated it to the foyer, a place of honor! I hope this does not worry you, but I really must confess my suspicions to a friend.

Perhaps that’s why I forgot all about the pedestal. I am picturing it in my mind’s eye and indeed agree with your assertion that she kept that dire fern upon it.

As for the lady, I had not considered her from this vantage. How droll! Hmmmm. I can only say that I would find her a bit intimidating.

Sincerely,

Mr. D_____ S______

March 14, 1908