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My Closet

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The proud white cupboard stands on the side of the longest bedroom wall, tyrannising every other piece of furniture with its size alone. One look at the intimidating giant and my resolve to clean it out evaporates into humid regret. My conscience is only assuaged with the most binding of promises: “NEXT Saturday. I’ll have more time then and I can tackle the job with confidence and determination.”

Saturdays come and go, yet the towering monster stands unchallenged, gloating with supremacy. Then, in a sudden and violent fever one Tuesday evening, I muster up the courage to face the villain. Breathing deeply, face set with resolve, I slowly and deliberately march toward the enemy. I place first my right hand on one small round wooden doorknob and then my left hand on the other. I fill my lungs to capacity and as I exhale I pull the doors open toward me.

This fiend has feasted for far too long. He is full to overflowing as is evidenced by the pillar of hats which tumbles to the ground at my feet. At eye-level there runs a rail the width of the creature and from this clavicle hangs every kind of clothing known to man: shirts of various colour and sleeve length, thick and thin cardigans mostly in assorted muted tones, long full skirts and floral patterned dresses, waistcoats, trousers and scarves. Shelves above this strut hold the barbarian’s brain which is crammed full of old boxes, which are in turn crammed full of sentimental souvenirs. Fishmoths, like tiny endoparasites, slowly digest the bowels of each cardboard crate, leaving a white trail of death in their wake.

Weapon at the ready I purposefully hit PLAY on my portable jukebox and crank the volume up to HIGH. Then, singing “Heart of Rock and Roll” at the top of my lungs, I thrust my bare arms into the belly of the beast and pull out gut-loads of garments. I am thrown off-balance and tumble backwards onto the bed shouting, “Take that, o, thou foul varmint!”   I do hate spring cleaning.

 

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Writers’ Hub Challenge #4:   Where the Skeletons Live

The Prompt: Describe your closet. The Twist: Keep it short (but knock the reader’s socks off).

 

Deepest Treasures (part ten)

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Mark posted to Ann’s writers’ blog every other day or so. Mark understood why Ann loved the group so dearly. They were amazingly supportive, giving Mark small pieces of advise on how to edit Ann’s work, encouraging him to leave some of her phrases and expressions, even if they weren’t necessarily standard English. And the support they gave him, as a carer, was incredible. Some of them had experience with dementia in their families and they often ended their comments with an encouraging word for him.

Slowly Ann’s writing became complete gibberish and Mark stopped publishing her thoughts. He continued to find posts from readers and blog-mates, and he’d answer them the best he could. One person suggested that he take over the blog and write about his experiences, but Mark couldn’t bring himself to do it. Not now. Maybe not ever. It would feel too much like taking away something which belonged to her.

Then one day Ann ignored the computer all together. She never went back. Mark was finding it more and more frustrating to work out what Ann wanted. She’d grunt with determination and look at Mark expectantly. Often he was at a loss as to what she wanted, then she would cry or have a minor tantrum. Mark was usually able to calm her down. He would take her in his arms and hold her head close to his, rocking and singing one of her favourite hymns. Music seemed to keep Ann positive. Her favourite pieces were Handel’s Water Music and Pachelbel’s Canon. She wanted to listen to them over and over again. Usually she would sit staring at her hands in her lap for hours.

Ethan came home as often as he could. Ann would gaze at him and blink numerous times. He tried to speak to Ann as he always had, pretending, in a sense, like nothing had changed. She would sit rocking, looking out the window, and Ethan would ramble on about his research and his new flat and funny stories about his friends. Periodically Ann would stop rocking, look at him as if seeing him for the first time, and smile. Ethan lived for those smiles. They reminded him of his childhood and his most buoyant mom. However, he always went away feeling profoundly sad and exhausted. He marvelled at Mark’s fortitude.

Bruce came to visit less frequently until he stopped coming altogether. He’d call Mark once in a while to give him news, but never asked about his mother. Mark knew it wasn’t because he didn’t love Ann; he loved her tremendously. It just hurt too much to have to deal with the disease. Beth called every weekend and would chat for a long time, asking Mark how he was doing, enquiring after Ann.

Luke started coming over four times a week — Tuesday evenings while Mark was at his support group, Thursday afternoons, Saturday and Monday mornings, just to give Mark a chance to go out and clear his head. And sometimes he just dropped by on a whim. One Tuesday night when Mark got home after a particularly difficult support group meeting, Luke greeted him with freshly brewed coffee. Ann had gone to bed very early, leaving Luke to read and think. Mark was grateful for the company. The thought of spending the rest of the evening alone was depressing.

The two men, brought together by a woman they both loved, sat in silence for a while as they sipped their coffee. Mark, staring at a stain on the carpet where Ann had dropped a glass of juice, spoke first. “This has got to be the closest thing to hell on Earth.”

Luke did what he always did when he didn’t know what to say, he stayed silent and listened.

“I am so tired, Luke. I am just so damned tired.” Mark put his coffee down on the table before him and rubbed his hands over his face. Then he sat back, slumped into the couch. “And I am lonely.” He looked over at his friend, tears welling in his eyes. He blinked several times and took a deep breath. “I miss her, Luke! I miss her so much it feels like my heart has been ripped out of my body.” Tears spilled down his cheeks, but Mark ignored them. He didn’t have the strength to wipe them away. “And I have to look at her every day. Only it’s not her. Or it’s her, but buried so deep somewhere I can’t touch her. God, I feel so guilty, Luke, but sometimes I just wish she’d died, you know? But the minute I feel that way I know I can’t let go. I can’t lose her. There are days when she smiles at me,” he looked at Luke again, “– you know that smile — ,” Luke grinned and nodded, “and I swear I’d jump in front of a moving train for her. But right now I just feel so alone.” Mark stared into the space in front of him.

“What about the support group?” Luke asked.

“It’s okay. The people there know how I feel. But they are all dealing with crap. Most of them are worse off than I am, and I feel bad for moaning.” Mark sighed and wiped his face with his hands. “It’s everything, you know. I feel cut off. All our friends, well, they’re different now. They don’t call or pop over. When I meet them they don’t look at me the way they used to.

“Some people seem to feed on what’s happening to us. It gives them something juicy to talk about at their next book club. I can just hear them, ‘Oh, that poor Mark,‘ ‘Oh, poor Ann!‘ And I detest them for it.

“Others are sincere, but they don’t know what to say. I can see them trying to decide whether or not they will mention Ann when they greet me. I hate it when they do. But I hate it just as much when they don’t.

“And others avoid me like the plague. They don’t think I see them turning around and going down another aisle of the market to steer clear of me. It makes me feel like I have some contagious disease. Like I am a leper and should go around shouting, ‘Dementia!’”

Mark shook his head. “Nobody told me about the isolation. I could bear it if I had Ann. We used to say that we could weather anything together. I need her so much! I can’t do this without her!”

Mark looked at Luke and was almost shouting now. “I need Ann, damn it!   Where the hell is Ann?”

Deepest Treasures (part nine)

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The Tuesday after she’d responded to @junebuggie, Ann met Luke at the door with a smile he hadn’t seen in many months. “Wow,” he said, “Someone’s feeling good!” Mark greeted Luke. He had the same silly smile of his face. “Okay, something’s going on here!”

“Ann’s got some exciting news,” Mark responded. “I’m late, so I’ll let Ann tell you herself.” He gave Ann a long embrace and a quick kiss. “Enjoy!” he told her and winked as he left.

“Well,” Luke shrugged, “this will pale, I’m sure, in comparison to your news,” he said and handed her a DVD of the first movie they had ever seen together.

Ann giggled, her eyes sparkling, and took it from him. “Thank, Luke!” She took his hand and led him to her computer. He thought she’d insert the DVD, but she put the movie down and opened a web page. “Luke, remember I was . . .write before.”

“Of course. You always had a way with words, Ann. I followed your blog, remember, Ms Pulitzer.”

“Look.” Ann pointed to the letter she’d written in response to @junebuggie.

He read what she’d written and then said, “Ann, that is really good!”

“No . . . look more,” she said. There were many comments on Ann’s reply. Luke started reading them. Most were notes from other members of the writing group expressing happiness at seeing @annamanna back online. And most of them conveyed sympathy over her diagnosis. The response from @junebuggie was the longest and most special.

@annamanna, you write so well. I cried when I read your letter. It was like you were my mom, saying the things she can’t say. What a blessing that you can still write. Would you consider writing your story? I would treasure it and I know my friends who have family with dementia would also value this. It would help remind us that even if we can’t see our loved ones, they are still there. I know that it is not easy for you, but would you consider it? @junebuggie

Luke knew this was what Ann wanted him to see. He smiled and turned toward Ann.

“I’m going for write my story, Luke.” He didn’t remember the last time he saw her so excited. “I’m going to write my story!”

Over the course of the next eight months Ann laboured over her story. There were days when Mark found her in tears at the computer. “I feel like bottle cork. So much here . . .” She touched her chest. “But not come out here.” She touched her head. Mark would hold her. Sometimes he would try to help get the words down. Sometimes she was too tired and they’d listen to Bach and eat ice cream for dinner before going to bed. Ann seemed to need more sleep than ever before.

Sometimes he’d find her staring at the screen in elation, full of excitement about how much she’d been able to write. She always wanted Mark to read and correct her work. She knew there were errors. But Mark realised she wasn’t aware of the extent of her disability. As the months went on her language became more and more garbled. He got to the point where he was half guessing at the meaning of what she’d written. She always seemed happy with his editing.The disease was gaining momentum and he knew they were approaching a day when the writing would stop.

Deepest Treasures (part eight)

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Mark started attending a support group for carers of dementia sufferers about a year after Ann was diagnosed. Ann had gone to the first meeting with him, but she was very uncomfortable. Listening to people describe the types of behaviour they were dealing with left her feeling terrified and guilty. Terrified because this was a picture of where she was headed. Guilty because these people were going through hell directly as a result of their D.D. (their nickname for a dementia dependent). She was Mark’s D.D. She was and would be the cause of his suffering. She didn’t have to feign illness; she felt sick to her stomach. They left 30 minutes early. But she encouraged Mark to continue attending. “You will need people who un . . . know. You need support. Please, go!”

Mark agreed to go only if Ann would ask Luke to come for a visit at the same time. “I’d be happier knowing that you’ll have someone to talk to.”

Until I can’t talk anymore, she thought, but smiled and agreed. It would be nice to have regular time with Luke.

So Tuesday nights became “Support Night.” Luke would arrive just before Mark left. Each visit Luke would bring something special. One week it was homemade chocolate chip cookies. The next it was a new CD. Once he brought a sketch pad and coloured pencils. The two of them sat drawing and talking.

Ann and Luke met at college. She was a sophomore doing her undergraduate work toward her education degree. One Thursday in the Student Union at a Bible study, a tall, intense-looking student challenged the leader’s interpretation of a scripture passage. He did so in a respectful way, but made it clear that he disagreed. Ann admired his boldness and self-confidence. However, she actually agreed with the leader. After the meeting she approached the mouthy scholar. “You certainly have some strong opinions about St Paul. Are you a Poli-Sci major?

He stopped shoving books into his backpack and looked right into her eyes with a genuine grin. “Poli-Sci?”

“You debate like a politician.”

“Woah! I am not sure it that is a compliment or an insult.” He smiled more broadly. “I am actually a philosophy major. Now — let me guess . . .” He put his hands on his hips and looked Ann up and down. “Hmmm. You have the poise of a dancer. Dance. No — no– give me a minute. Ah, I know! Underwater basket weaving!”  They both started laughing. “I’ve got an hour or so before my next class. Would you like to grab a cup of coffee and set me straight on your major?”

Ann agreed. And so began her closest friendship ever.

Ann was amazed at the similarities in their lives. Both were only children. Both had lost their parents. Both were the first in their families to attend college. And both were Christians, although they had minor differences in their theology.

For the next three years they were inseparable. Most people assumed they were romantically involved and were surprised when Luke and Julie announced their engagement. Ann just laughed. “I wouldn’t marry Luke in a million years. It would spoil our relationship.” Ann was “best woman” at Luke’s wedding, and when she and Mark married a year later, Luke officiated. They were godparents for each others’ children. As their children were growing up they shared most major holidays and occasionally went on joint family vacations. They were more than friends, they were family, and both Mark and Julie appreciated that.

528

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Taller than the average woman at 5’11”, she wears heels because she loves them and won’t be denied the curvy calves.  But she compromises at a 1-inch elevation.  She carries a bit of extra weight around her midsection and has been politely described as “big boned.”  Her black skirt with vertical white stripes flows nicely over her ample bottom and is set off by a white short-sleeved shirt with black polkadots.  Curly dark hair pulled back into 12-inch extensions forms a ponytail which rides down her back.  A black leather handbag rests in the crook of her arm.  She feels emotionally younger than her 35 years, but physically older.  How can that be, she wonders.

She stands in the long tax queue, shifting her weight from one leg to the other, darting quick looks around the grand room.  The Revenue Service can make anyone nervous, she thinks.  Why, oh, why did she leave filing until the last minute?  She looks at her watch for the sixth time in as many minutes.

“Three – nine – eight,” the computer generated voice sprays out over the crowd.  She glances at the greet ticket in her hand and her shoulders droop.  528.  She exhales noisily.  I’m going to be here forever.  Next year you are filing online BEFORE the deadline, she reprimands herself.

Over an hour later, wishing she’d worn her running shoes, dreaming about all the food she’ll buy and consume when she is out of here, she hears “Five – two – seven.”  Her heart skips a beat.  She’s next!  She begins fiddling with the papers in her hand, shuffling them to be sure they’re all there.  Certified copy of her ID.  Proof of residence.  Tax certificates.  Bank statement.  Annual medical aid contributions.  I am not coming back here again, she promises herself.  This time it will happen!  

The mechanical voice begins to call the next number and she is ready. “Five . . .”  She moves forward with determination at the same time as a short, balding fifty-something man in a brown business suit.  “. . . two . . .”  She glances sideways at him.  He too is moving toward the counter.  Oh, no, you don’t!  she thinks.  She speeds up to beat him to the counter and slaps her paperwork down.

The startled clerk looks at her and then at Brown Suit.  “Which one of you is 529?”

“I am,” sniffs Brown Suit flaunting his ticket as evidence.

She opens her mouth to protest, looks at her ticket and then at the woman.

“I’m sorry, Ma’m” the clerk says as she turns her attention to Brown Suit’s papers. “We are serving 529 now.”

“But . . . but . . .” she stutters.

A security guard walks up.  “Ma’m, let me help you get a ticket.”  He takes her by the shoulders from behind and pushes her away from the counter.  Other customers are shaking their heads or looking at their feet as she is being removed from the counter.

“I have a ticket,” she protests and holds it up for anyone who is interested to see.  “I have a ticket.  I’m 528 . . .”

 

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Today I left work early to accompany my daughter to the national revenue service branch that is nearest to our home.  85 km.  One hour and twenty minutes of driving there (and another hour and twenty minutes back).  After a 20 minute “check in” period, she was made to wait in one area and I was relegated to another.  We waited for two hours until her number was called and she could be helped.  I had no book to read.  My phone battery was nearly flat.  I thought, “What on earth am I going to do sitting here all alone?”  Then I answered myself.  “You call yourself a writer now, so write!”  I pulled my little black notebook out of my bag and the story above emerged, helping me enjoy the quiet passing of time . . . with the occasional interruption of “Four – Seven – Three,  Counter Six.”

Rosaria

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Rosaria.  Rosaria.
Just fourteen in the promise of the New Land.
Just fourteen with so much ahead.
We are cheated,  We are robbed.
We are sorrow-bound and empty.
Where once we consumed hope and lived on the potent joy of promise,
now we only breathe.
In, out, in, out, in, out.
A chore without will, waiting to be taken.

Rosaria. Rosaria.
They didn’t make them pay.
They reached down deep into their pockets
and gave us a handful of small change
to compensate for taking our life blood.
We are dispensable
like so many scraps of fabric
only good for cleaning bird shit off of windows.

Rosaria.  Rosaria.
Now I carry cloth cuttings
from one factory to the next.
I see your eyes in the eyes of every immigrant.
I hear your laughter in the rumble of the traffic.
I taste your cries in the screams of the gulls.
And I trod on
waiting for the day
when justice will be more than a word on tongues of rich men.

 

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Writers’ Hub Challenge #3 – Picture This
The Prompt: Free write about this picture.

cloth cutter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This picture made me remember a piece of history.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triangle_Shirtwaist_Factory_fire

Two fourteen year old girls died in this fire along with 144 others, mostly immigrants.
I imagined this man in the photo as the father of Rosaria.

Deepest Treasures (part seven)

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Ann managed to get through the rest of the school year without too many hiccups. She told no one of the diagnosis. She was so tired of turning it over and over in her mind and the last thing she wanted to do was experience the pity of others. It was easier to live in a world where no one knew, so in a sense she could pretend the land mine in her head wasn’t real. She turned in her resignation at the end of March, telling the board that she wanted early retirement so that she could spend more time with Mark. She was elated to see that the school was able to replace her with an outstanding young teacher-administrator. He shared the same passion for teaching which fuelled Ann’s work. That made it much easier for her to let go. At the end of the year gathering, many of the staff shed tears as they said their goodbyes. Another chapter of Ann’s life was complete. Now what do I do, she thought.

Several weeks later, home all alone, Ann drifted to her computer to check emails. Her inbox overflowed with updates from writers posting their work on the writers’ blog. Up until now she had deleted these notifications without reading them. But something caught her eye before she erased one of them. “Alzheimer’s.” She’d seen the word “Alzheimer’s.” Curiosity got the better of her and she clicked on the link to the blog.

Mesmerised, she read the entire story and then read it a second time. As she read tears streamed down her face, but she made no attempt to stop them. This young writer had written about the heartache involved in watching her mother slowly drift away due to the mental degeneration of her brain. Ann’s heart ached for the young woman, but she found herself experiencing more empathy for the mother. Without thinking, Ann wiped the moisture from her face with the back of her hand and began typing a response to the author.

Dear @junebuggie, What wonderful tale you have written. I can feel your deep love for your mother. Dementia is terrible disease that slowly robs us of the ones we love. They seem for seep away little by little until they are gone. The frame stays, but the core is empty.

Ann paused. She’d been about to write something personal, something from her soul, something about the devastation of the disease in her life. She was tempted to seal the crack that had opened, to remain aloof and disassociated, to hide her heart. The cursor hovered over the cancel button. One click and she could withdraw back into the protection of her shell. But the courage of this young woman, who was willing to open her life to the world through words, inspired her.  With shaking hands and an anxious feeling rising from the pit of her stomach she let go of the mouse and positioned her hands over the keyboard.

I have recent been diagnose with early-onset dementia. At first I read everything they gave for me find about the disease. Maybe I was searching for hope. But everything I found only depress me more. They say I am lucky, because they have discover the disease early, but really it means more agony for me. I feel like I am being suck into desperate pit of darkness and there is nothing I can do to stop. Now I am okay; I can communicate pretty well, but it takes me longer than is use for getting words right. I am afraid and very alone. I am sad for you mother. Somewhere inside she is there. But she cant get out.

It felt so good to write, to let out her fear, to tell someone what was going on inside. Before she could think more about it and probably change her mind, she pushed “post comment.”

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