Thursday, April 19, 2007

Curtain Call

She grabs me. Wraps herself in me.
In my massive embrace.
I smell her sweetness. I feel the softness of her skin.
We have been here many times
before. In the dark,
behind the scenes,
only when everyone else has gone.

I revealed her
performance. She never fails.
She delights.
I watched her smile, I saw her shine
in front of her audience. Center stage.
Riveting. She comes alive.

I feel the warmth of her tears.
They seep into me
and are hidden. She hides
in me, even though
there is no longer anyone here.
If successful at hiding
then successful at surviving.
Her tears are no longer silent,
she has lost her disguise.
It is just us. She grips me tighter.
I do not respond, I cannot,
I do not know how.
I do not think she needs me to. But I wish I could.

Saturday, April 14, 2007


Bert waited anxiously, his tiny, seed-like eyes surveying the arena. He was only one of thousands scrutinizing the scenery. This was the first time he had come to the Caterpian Carnivaal, the first time his father had finally given into his pleas. He had heard about the Carnivaal ever since he could remember and now he was finally here. He had never seen so many Caterpines all in one place in his entire life. It was thrilling. It was daunting. He was used to his small home and humble way of life. His days were spent helping his mother with cooking, cleaning and other household chores she required his assistance with. His ventures outside of their safe abode primarily consisted of gathering food with his father, when his brittle and ailing skeleton was too weak with age to complete the task without the help of his son. They had a simple way of life and their friends were few but the ties were strong. To be surrounded by this grandeur was, in many ways, alarming. His father, a gentle old soul, as plain a character as there ever was, shifted uneasily in his seat, his tired eyes darting from side to side, waiting for a predator to pounce, providing him with the opportunity to insist that they leave the enormity of this unfamiliar territory. Bert, however, was exhilarated.

Bert’s mother, a boisterous and robust character, fitted with a warm heart and a large stomach, had opted to stay home. She had seen the Caterpian Carnivaal many, many times. In fact, until she met Bert’s father, she was in it. Those days were long gone, however, and she had tucked those tantalizing scenes into her memories, to be kept forever, but kept secretly. Though all Caterpines loved the Caterpian Carnivaal, the performers purportedly spent their days engaged in scandalous matters. Matters no self respecting Caterpine would even think about, let alone participate in. But again, no one knew for certain whether the rumors contained any degree of reality.

Performers in the Carnivaal had agreed since its inception that what went on behind the scenes would never, ever, become public knowledge. In part because there was a bit of scandal involved, but mostly because it was a successful marketing strategy. It kept the Caterpines talking. It kept them coming. It provided a stable livelihood for the performers. And though Bert’s mother missed the camaraderie of her fellow performers and the intrigue and admiration from onlookers, she did not miss the long hours of practice. Her aching body had grown stiffer with each passing year. It took longer and longer for her to warm up for rehearsals. The long journeys from town to town grew more arduous and exhausting. It was on one of these journeys that she happened to meet Bert’s father.

It was a windy day, the force of the gusts around their ears sounded like thunderous waves crashing to the shore. Trees swayed heavily from side to side, their leaves clapping together, taking flight. The wind urged them to dance, faster, faster!, and found itself being merrily obeyed. The earth took flight as billows of dust transformed the sky into an opaque screen. It was in the midst of this elemental turmoil that the steadiness of the relationship between Fabiola and Humphrey, Bert’s parents, began. Fabiola, or Fabi as her friends called her, had yearned for peace, tranquility and stability but had never realized this until she encountered Humphrey. Humphrey had yearned for companionship, nurturing, and a bit more excitement, which he was fully aware of, but would never admit.

The cast of the Carnivaal had stopped for the evening in a tiny hideaway of a town. The weather waged war against the canvas clouds of their covered wagons and Humphrey the Happy Hermit, as the townsfolk had grown to call him, nervously watched from safety of the small porthole in the side of his narrow abode. He had seen the entourage several times before, as they toured the same cities and followed the same thoroughfares each year. Humphrey’s home was nestled just off of one of these roads. This was the first time, however, that he had laid eyes on Fabi. As he peered out of his porthole he caught a glimpse of her, sitting alone, and for the first time he felt the urge to introduce himself to someone, though he never mustered the courage to actually do so. Fabi, familiar with unknown faces watching her every movement, had not thought much of his attention at first. She figured his gaze would soon find a new source of interest to be fixed upon. But, not realizing she was aware of his presence, Humphrey did no such thing. Fabi, who usually opted out of mingling with anyone outside of the Carnivaal crew, was now intrigued. She slowly arose from her cozy shelter, making a point to seem as natural as can be so as not to arouse the suspicion of her spectator.

Fabi sauntered her way to the front of the caravan, out of Humphrey’s view. With a sigh Humphrey closed the porthole and settled into his favorite chair in his sparsely furnished domicile, which included two identical chairs (yet out of these two he still managed to have a favorite), his small and rickety bed, a small fireplace where he did all of his cooking, a square table whose fourth leg was shorter than the other three, and a large flat stone placed under this leg to keep the table somewhat level. Though it was not much to speak of, Humphrey was incredibly fond of his house and spent most of his time in it. As he was admiring his surroundings he heard an unfamiliar tap at the door. The noise was unfamiliar not because it sounded different than a knock from one of his neighbors, but unfamiliar because no one ever knocked. He then remembered the weather and assumed it must have been a bit of shrubbery that had found its way to his doorstep. Fearful it would damage his beautiful door, Humphrey arose from his seat to inspect the source of the sound. He cautiously opened the door, his body tensed in anticipation of the blast of cold wind he would face. Humphrey shook with surprise as he found Fabi, not foliage, at his door. They both stood there for a moment, stupefied, not knowing what to do next. An honorable sort of fellow, Humphrey was fearful of what the neighbors would think if he asked Fabi in. He was also worried he would be perceived as inhospitable if he kept her standing in his doorway in such tumultuous weather. Both looked at each other, perplexed. Though Fabi was far more outgoing than Humphrey, she was nevertheless not accustomed to meeting strangers. Performing for them, absolutely, but speaking with them? That was entirely different. But there was something about this solitary Caterpine that had captivated her and caused her to overcome her apprehension. Eventually Humphrey, overcome with his own curiosity, offered her his favorite chair.

Though they had come from different worlds their commonalities brought them together in that small room. To his astonishment and delight, Humphrey made room for Fabi in his home and in his heart. They had both intended to converse for an hour or so, but with the close of that hour, and each hour following, they found themselves not wanting to part. As the awakening sun rose Humphrey and Fabi forced themselves to conclude their encounter. Fabi snuck back into her place in the caravan before anyone noticed she had ever been gone.

Each of the single performers, and most performers were single, shared their particular wagon with two others, and both of Fabi’s roommates had spent the evening with a few other friends in one of the other, larger, wagons. Accustomed to Fabi’s more solitary preferences, they thought nothing of her not wanting to join them for their evening festivities. Fabi returned to their wagon just before the two came strolling back. Her sense of adventure and desire for socializing had progressively dulled, as her body progressively ached, her age wearing on her frame and her heart. She had, in many ways, grown weary of the months of practicing routines, the incredible task of constructing their stage, assembling the giant framework of the enormous props.

They had recently added a new act that involved the immensely popular Orb. Its proportions were gigantic, resembling a huge upside down pear. Only it had 6 sections, divided much like those of a hot air balloon. The head of the Carnivaal himself had choreographed a new number, where the performers twirled and swayed in precision up the center of each of its 6 sections. It took months before they were able to do so without sliding off of the Orb’s smooth surface, or running into each other as they desperately tried to stay in perfectly straight lines as they stomped and jumped. Once Fabi managed to tangle a couple of her quills with those of the person next to her on a particularly challenging set of chaînés. She frowned with embarrassment as practice had to be brought to a halt so that they could resolve the dilemma. The routine grew increasingly difficult as they added the second component. The Orb was set upon a giant circular tarp where additional performers waited for everyone to file into place before their work began. Once everyone had taken their places the floor team, spaced evenly around the tarp, would grab the tarp and lift it, and the entire Orb, off of the ground. At this point they would walk in a circular fashion, holding the tarp so it rotated, with all of the other Caterpine performers attached to the Orb still dancing in rhythmic precision, rotating with them. It was a grand performance and an incredible crowd pleaser. For Fabi, while it was exhilarating, it had become exhausting.

Now older than most of the other performers, she did not know how much longer she could keep up. Thus, when offered the promise of a different life, a life offered by Humphrey, Fabi jumped at the chance. When she announced to her friends and comrades that she would not be continuing on with them to the next major city, that she was going to opt out of the Carnivaal, everyone was shocked including Fabi herself. But she had made up her mind in that tiny room that it was time for a change. And Humphrey had done the same. Together they took a chance and decided to begin a new chapter together.

Fabi and Humphrey had greatly enjoyed their life together, in spite of a few anticipated bumps that arose, and their joy grew still more when they welcomed their son into their quiet life. Now sitting by his father’s side, Bert gasped as the Caterpian Carnivaal began. Humphrey’s eyes continued to dart back and forth, though now in wonder at the scene unfolding in front of him as opposed to an imagined danger. The two sat wide-eyed and astonished, hand in hand.

Saturday, April 07, 2007


Bella yawned sleepily as the sun came streaming through the soft green curtains she had closed the night before. She had intended to sleep in this morning, but nature had other plans. The sun would not be held back by the nearly translucent fabric she had helped her mother pick out over the summer. Fabric that had finally found its new life as curtains not long before school began. Bella pulled the blanket up over her porcelain face and tried to defy the playful demeanor of the sun, calling her out to play. Bella fought the sun’s callings daily. During recess and lunch Bella always begged the teacher to let her stay inside and read. While she was a bookish girl, and loved the wings that reading gave her mind, there was another reason Bella sought to stay inside. She was constantly being reminded by her mother of the need to avoid sun damage. While Bella wasn’t exactly sure what that was, she knew by her mother’s tone of voice that it was not a good thing (what damage
is?). And she knew that it was to be avoided. She didn’t really have any desire to fight her mother on this, though not solely because of her desire to please her mother. Bella hated to sweat. P.E. was excruciating for her. Except when they were allowed to bring out the parachute. It was worth getting hot and sweaty for that. But running around the playground? “Honestly,” Bella would think, “I can’t imagine why anyone would want to run around in circles and chase each other. Or a ball. Or anything. And don’t the teachers ever get tired of kids running and screaming everywhere?” But each day when P.E. rolled around Bella obediently stalked onto the grass, tried to find the shadiest spot, and tried her best to exert the least amount of effort possible. Bella was a straight A student, except for P.E., and her small frame showed the results of her inactive lifestyle, though her proportions were not unhealthy.

Her fingers still gripping the blanket, she threw them down to her sides, resigning herself to the fact that Mr. Sunshine was not going to leave her alone today. She tossed her feet off the side of the bed and admired her pink toenails for a moment. She loved pink. She loved nail polish. The two combined was an extraordinary delight. She glanced from her feet to her desk, neatly organized, to the point where her schoolbooks were arranged alphabetically. She slipped off of her soft mattress, slid her pink toenails into her hot pink furry slippers, and slowly, sleepily, made her way to the desk. She pulled out her chair and slid onto the cold seat, elbows and forearms resting on the solid pine, chin resting on her folded hands. She began to peruse the to-do list that she had made for the weekend. She had drawn little boxes to the left of each item so that when she had finished the task she could check it off. One item, in particular, stood out, “Find a leaf.” When she had written the task she had rolled her eyes at the absurdity of the assignment her teacher had given the class. “Find a leaf.” “Ridiculous” Bella had thought to herself, when her teacher had explained that they were going to be working on an art project on Monday, and each student was to come to class with a leaf. At first Bella figured she would go and grab the first leaf that she found, the less time it involved outside the better. The sooner she could draw her little checkmark the better. But the teacher had said that it was for an art assignment – now that complicated things. Bella loved art. Expressing her creativity. That, and reading, were her favorite subjects.

So, Bella decided to find the perfect leaf. She had already begun to visualize what it would look like. Broad and flat. No wrinkles, no pieces missing. Bright, green and smooth. She decided to begin the quest, just as soon as she had breakfast. She slipped back off of her chair and scuffled her way to the living room. Her mother, already dressed and ready for the day, looked up from her magazine and gave her a warm smile. Bella crawled onto the couch next to her and leaned her delicate head on her mother’s shoulder. “Conquer the Fight Against the 7 Signs of Aging: How holistic medicine can combat the inevitable culprit”. A photograph of a young woman sitting Indian-style with her eyes closed and her hands touching like she was praying. Her mother looked down at Bella, grinned, “Pancakes?” Bella smiled and nodded. Her mother made the best blueberry pancakes. They were a Saturday treat. And they were one of the reasons Bella hadn’t been too upset about waking up earlier than she had anticipated. Her mother folded the right page of her magazine, set it on the chest they used as a coffee table, and gave Bella a quick kiss on the crown of her head as she stood up. She handed Bella the remote to the TV, but Bella declined to turn it on. “Rather see what Hermione does next?” her mother inquired. Bella loved Harry Potter. Just about as much as she loved pink nail polish. She had just finished the Prisoner of Azkaban and was onto the Goblet of Fire. She had begun reading the series later than most. But that suited her fine, as she did not have to wait until the next book was published. She knew that it was waiting at their local bookstore for her as soon as she was ready. Bella shook her head from side to side, “Not enough time this morning.” “Ah,” her mother replied, “big to-do list?”

Her mother had become accustomed to her daughter’s responsible habits, and had grown past the shock that she rarely needed to reinforce homework or chores. Bella did that on her own. Most girls her age would preoccupy themselves with phone calls, boys and slumber parties. And while there was no shortage of these activities in her life, she preferred the satisfaction of independence and the company of a good book. Bella nodded as the aroma of blueberries and maple syrup brought a smile to her face. She watched as her mother prepared breakfast in the kitchen, eagerly anticipating a stack of pancakes drizzled with butter and syrup. Mom even melted the butter. “So what’s item number one?” she questioned. Bella thought for a second or two, finding a leaf sounded so trivial, so elementary. She sighed, “I need to find a leaf.” Her mother, silent for a moment, inquisitive, “Any particular kind?” Another sigh, “One that’s perfect.” “Perfect for what? Or, to whom?” Bella knew where her mother was going with this. She was always asking questions. Trying to get Bella to think beyond the surface. Which was ironic because the surface always seemed so important to her mother.

“I don’t know Mom, it just needs to be perfect” Bella said with a hint of frustration. Her mother let the subject go. With the ensuing silence Bella closed her eyes and thought about where she needed to find this perfect leaf. She thought about the trees, bushes and vines that crowded her back yard. But somehow, none of them seemed to grow just what she was looking for. Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of ceramic clinking on glass as her mother set the table. She opened her eyes and saw that breakfast was ready. She smiled, her thoughts temporarily distracted from the project soon to be at hand by the mountain of pancakes and the tall glass of orange juice. She hopped up and headed over to her place at the table. “I was thinking,” she heard her mother say “that it might be fun to have a picnic lunch at the park. Just us girls, since Dad’s away on business. And maybe you’ll find your leaf there? That is, if your list allows.” Her mother winked, Bella thought for a moment. She did have quite a list this weekend: the usual chores, plus studying for her math test, a large spelling assignment, finishing Island of the Blue Dolphins, etc. But, art came first, because she loved it. She wanted to make sure that when her teacher gave the class the details for the assignment that she would not regret what she had brought. Bella replied to her mother’s inquiry between mouthfuls of pancakes, “Okay… But can we go before lunch? I mean…have lunch be towards the end of hanging out…at the park?… I want to make sure I get what I need there.” “Works for me. Just let me know when you’re ready.” her mother responded. Bella gobbled down the rest of her breakfast and thanked her mom with a hug on the way to her room.

As they pulled into one of the many open parking spaces at the park a smile crept across Bella’s face. Trees everywhere. Surely she would find just what she was looking for here. Her mother turned the keys in the ignition, unlocked the doors and popped the trunk. Bella hopped out and went around to the back. She grabbed the large grey blanket her mom had finished knitting last winter. A basket weave pattern her father had picked out years ago, before she could even remember. Her mother always seemed to be working on that thing, but some other project always seemed to jump in the way. Her father loved having the opportunity to tease her about not finishing something, as was rarely the case for her but frequently the case for him. He finally had a bit of good-natured retaliation with that blanket. Her mother, now by her side, reached in and grabbed her messenger bag filled with books and magazines for the morning and the cooler they had brought. The two walked hand in hand, both searching for the perfect shady spot to settle, which they found under a large oak. Bella frowned, still no perfect leaf. She hastily unfolded the blanket and before her mother could even sit down she had already rambled off on her quest. “Not too far, okay?” the call already seemed distant. “K” she replied without turning around. Her mother found the page she had folded only a few hours before, keeping one eye on that page and the other on her daughter.

Glistening, shining, bright and green, broad and flat. It lay suspended above the ground on the tall stalks of grass. Floating, perfectly stretched out, no dirt, no imperfections, at the edge of the park. Bella stooped down and lovingly picked up the leaf, taking great caution as her small fingers pinched its veins. As she brought the leaf up to her height something a few yards ahead caught her eye. It was another leaf, laying in stark contrast to the one that she now had in her hand. She was about to turn back, claiming her prize, but instead of swiveling back towards her mother she felt her feet plod straight ahead. They relinquished movement back to her and she stopped them in front of this new source of intrigue.

Erosion had eaten away at pieces of its body, leaving the intricacies of its veins crisscrossing like thread without the support of fabric. Bruised and tattered, old and worn. Bella glanced at the leaf in her hand and again at the one just before her toes. She had already decided that the one in her hand was perfect for her project, and yet something endeared her towards the second. It was as if she felt sorry for it. She wondered how long it had been there on the cold, moist ground and how much longer it would remain. Always inquisitive, a trait she inherited from her mother, she pondered the sight before her. She thought about all of the make up and creams and polishes in the top drawer of her parent’s bathroom, to the right of the sink. Bella loved to play in that drawer. Once, when she was little, her mother had walked in and caught her with bright pink lipstick smeared all over her chin and mauve eye shadow dusted heavily on her cheeks. She had taken a large jar of eye cream and slicked it through her hair. Her mother, upset that she had wasted such a large amount of her expensive cure for fine lines and wrinkles, couldn’t stay mad for long. Since then Bella was not allowed to go in the drawer alone, but whenever she asked her mother happily obliged to “play make up” together. Bella would pick the colors, mom would be the artist. She wondered if any of that could have helped the leaf. She wondered if any of it really did anything for humans.

The leaf still showed signs of decay in progress, which frightened Bella. She wanted desperately to stop it, but had an inkling that was an impossibility. She feared that what lay at her feet foretold the impending fate of what lay in her hand. But she doubted that would happen by Monday. Bella stooped down to grab the ancient beauty, more tender with her somber second choice, placing her fingers as far away from the decay as she possibly could. She watched the drops of rain from the night before roll off, leaving no trace of their presence. Though Bella had already found just what she needed to draw a checkmark in the box on her desk, something compelled her to inspect her newest discovery a bit more closely. She was glad there were no bugs hiding under its frame. Her father always chided her that bugs were her friends, but no matter how many times he explained how spiders help keep flying insects at bay, or that bees provide honey, she still wanted nothing to do with them. She stood for a moment, analyzing the differences between the two fronds. Her stomach growled. She had not realized how long her quest had taken. She gracefully set the leaf onto the nearby grass. Her feet now under her control, she willed them to lead her towards the soft grey blanket and the chest of sandwiches.