Amsterdam Scriptum Archives
NOTE: I established Treehouse Scriptum when I was Manager of Writing Activities for the American Book Center in Holland. The Treehouse in Amsterdam was where I conducted workshops and critique groups. I now do this independently and have renamed my publication Amsterdam Scriptum.
Treehouse Scriptum Issue #1, June 2002
We have been honored with the diversity and quality of submissions received for our launch of Scriptum. Three pieces were selected for your reading pleasure.
Sharon O'Connor participates regularly at the ABC Treehouse Open Mike nights. We are pleased to start off our first issue with her inimitable comic voice.
Robin Winckel's poem is magical with its vivid imagery. This is the first of what I'm certain will be many publishing venues for her writing.
Last, but certainly not least, is Amanda Stern's fictional narrative, which will haunt long after the story has been read.
We appreciate reader feedback and hope that Scriptum becomes a popular showcase for talent.
I DON'T DO OLD
By Sharon Sanford O'Connor
I shamefully recall the disdain I felt for my aunt, who was about to have her first face lift. I brazenly told her I would never have a face lift, because I was never going to wrinkle. Nope. Not me. I didn't do old!
Arrogantly I sailed down DeNial, but ran aground the morning I awoke to find a wrinkle -- in fact, I found a few of 'em! No matter how much I stood there pulling on my face, they were Permanent Press.
It was not imagination, but Nature's reminder -- I was mortal. Alas, I watched my face slowly surrender before my eyes. Was that as depressing as my body simultaneously beginning to change … pound by pound … bit by bit? Tit by tit?
I remember succumbing to terminal CRS (Can't Remember Shit) in a most mortifying and therefore memorable moment. I was about to introduce my husband to a colleague and drew a complete blank. We had been married for almost 20 years, yet I couldn't remember his name! My husband just laughed and filled in the blank. Easy for him to do.
The other event: that's where I'm talking, and really into it. Suddenly I stop mid-sentence. My mind a blank. I have absolutely no idea where I am, how I arrived or my destination. The first time this happened to me I was sure I had snapped my synapse, right there in front of everybody! Now, well, I'm kinda used to lapses in my synapses.
Then came the inability to read anything that wasn't brightly lit up, and then only when I kept the text as far away as my seemingly short arms permitted. It took me a while before I got a pair of those hideous half-glasses. Ya know, the ones with the Old Fart tag on 'em.
They say forty is the old age of youth. Lemmie tell ya, they ain't lyin! I felt like I was being buried under an avalanche of old. No one prepared me. (As if I'd let them.) So I didn't have a clue. I mean, mine was the first generation labeled Teenager. Like we thought we invented young. Think about those sexy Sixties -- I still do. I also remember feeling it was my personal mission to push the envelope as far as it had ever been licked. Besides our credo of sex, drugs and rock n' roll, we understood 'never trust anyone over thirty'. Of course, that rule changed upon reaching twenty-nine.
Of late, yet another tragedy has befallen my face. My jaw-line. It collapsed this winter. I went to sleep Wednesday night; woke up Thursday morning with no jaw-line! Gone, with hardly a trace. Did I mention my eyelids? I bet I didn't. That's probably because they now droop as much, if not more, than my tits do. At least my tits have had the consideration to quietly sag in my bra. My eyes, on the other hand, are boldly looking out at me from beneath these unattractive lumps of flesh that have plumped down right under my eyebrows. What is that? Is there no end to this disintegration? Dumb question - ignore me.
Now, in what's referred to as my 'post menopausal years' (clearly a euphemism for 'she's an old bitch now'), my chin appears to be the only thing left with a desire to reproduce. Well, that's if I don't count hairs. I mean, they are growing where I don't want 'em, and falling out where I do! I've got hairs growing on my face; it's absolutely downy. Got hairs growing not only out of my nose, but on top of it as well! How attractive is that? And how about a moustache that would make a pubescent boy positively envious? Glamorous to the max -- NOT.
I wistfully remember waking up in my mid-forties one morning with curly hair. Overnight, I had these fabulous corkscrew curls. I was delighted. At first I thought 'well, if that's what raging hormones are about - cool -- I can handle it'. I say this in hindsight, brothers and sisters, because it never occurred to me that while I danced and sang in the sunshine of those curly brown locks, clouds of gray would soon appear -- just as sure as hair falls.
Mid-fifties: woke up one dark and gloomy morning to discover that not only were all the curls gone, but what remained of the stuff on my head had thinned dramatically and was dry, parched, faded and limp. Gee Sus! 'What the f*ck happened?' I demanded of my mirror. The thousand words the picture spoke were loud and clear -- I was deep into Old Fart Land, alone and unarmed. The only sign I could see said 'THE END IS NEAR'.
A concerned friend took me to the hair-coloring aisle of her drugstore, where for a paltry sum, I purchased a box of 'look younger # 18 Hazelnut'. The transformation works, I suppose; but I can't help thinking it's like the toupee my father once wore. Before he bought it, his bald dome was hardly worth mentioning. Once he had it on, he became the guy with the rug on his head. Okay, maybe that's not quite a reasonable comparison, but then I tend to embellish. Especially now, when the light at the end of the tunnel is the train coming down the track.
Recently, I decided to see what happened if I didn't do anything with my hair. Ya know, see how far the grays had advanced. I wondered if I had the ovaries to do a Barbara Bush and go natural. Truth? I looked like an even older fart. I succumbed and bought another box of young. Oh, speaking of bushes, I think mine was wiped out in that avalanche. Did I mention sex? No, I didn't.
Have I been keeping busy with my adventures in hair, skin, and nails? You bet your bippy! Like the little red spots that now dot my entire torso. At first I was alarmed. The doctor smiled benignly and said I shouldn't worry. They were nothing. Nothing! They were ugly little red dots on my skin. 'What is causing this?' I shrieked. He shrugged his shoulders and quietly said it was a sign of old age. When faded brown spots began making their appearance alongside the ugly red ones, I didn't have to ask a doctor diddley. I already knew what was what and who was who.
Humor has been the key in my being able to look this monster in the eye. Hey! I know that I am not the first person to have this experience -- it just feels that way. Actually, I like being a member of the Over Fifty Club. It's for the select and you can't fake to join. As if! Even you smooth-skinned twenty-somethings, who are looking mighty fine today and for many days to come -- well, don't worry ya'll--The Club awaits!
About the author:
Born and raised in New York City. Mystic/ Poet/ Wanderer/ Buddhist/ Aging Taurus/ Retired shrink/ Topless Go-Go Dancer/ Truck Driver/ Actress/ Restaurateur/ Writer etc.
Tea-cups pile to the edge
of the draining board like wildebeest
in desperate rows, jumping
the dishwater at its narrowest point.
Newly-washed shirts dry, spread out
like giant termites tumbling from a broken ant-heap.
Yesterday's ironing grows
like a flowering cactus
after a moist day's heat.
Cool beds in the morning, unmade
and unruly, white horses on Zeekoeivlei!
Africa follows me around the house;
a lioness at my heels.
By Robin Winckel-Mellish
* Zeekoeivlei means Hippopotamus Lake in the Afrikaans language and lies just outside Cape Town
About the author:
Robin Winckel-Mellish was born in South Africa and has spent the last 23 years living in the Netherlands where she works as a free-lance journalist.
EVERY STEP THEY MADE
By Amanda Stern
The Alcoholic is the first to get married. He meets her in Alcoholics Anonymous. My friend heard she's a recovering crack and heroin addict, but I think she's just trying to make me feel better. It's three years after the breakup and I am in a jean store with my sister. We're standing at the counter waiting to pay when I look behind her and see him. He is colorless, eggshell.
I notice these things: his shoes are trendy, his jeans are too big, and the leather jacket he borrowed from me and never gave back, hangs on his newly sober body. His wife puts a credit card on the counter, pays. He stands behind her, his right hand clasps her arm; the left clutches her pocket. He gobs on to her, gripped with fear she'll run away, break free if he lets go.
It seems to take all his energy, but he holds on to her, like she's a life raft, his personal rescue. I recognize the grasp as much as the expression.
He's in a daze, a type of wide-eyed trance. His eyes are fixed on nothing, some remote spot no one else can see. His pupils are dilated and he sees everything in double image. He looks extra-terrestrial.
I am in a poorly directed late night Melissa Gilbert movie. One in which the person you think is dead is, in reality, alive and well and married to someone else. The Alcoholic hangs on to her the way he did me. We are interchangeable. All that matters, it seems, is that someone cares for him, assures him they won't leave. It's been three years thinking off and on about him. A poster of him hangs in my head. Sometimes I throw darts at it, other times I frame him like art.
He is living a brand new life, although the life we had together never really ended. The color drains from my skin. My sister keeps asking me what's the matter.
"It's him," I say. "It's the Alcoholic."
At the word alcoholic he snaps out of the trance, turns, sees me. He lowers his head a little, lifts his eyes and gives me an almost apologetic smile. He quickly drops his hands from his wife, like this is a stick up. If only I had a gun. I don't return his smile, although I almost soften when I see his dimples. I pull my sister as the cashier yells, "NEXT!"
My sister has to sign the credit card slip for me, take the appropriate copy. I can't hear what anyone is saying. Everything pounds, like I'm in the mouth of a generator.
Outside, I'm a mannequin. Shocked into a clone of myself. Posing like a person who breathes and moves; my body senses it's not my own. Once I readied a speech for this occasion, but I forget it now. My comebacks, one-liners withdraw like a word I can't retract. All I have is fight. Do I punch him? What do I do? It has been three years since he hung up the phone on me, took me off his hook. I'm her again, the girl I thought I shed forever. It has been three years of me having no closure, no resolve and now he's moved on and married. All that matters is that I am standing here, three years after the fact, still waiting for my letter of reparation.
I want to see the wife. I want a good look. It's another few minutes before they emerge. She is first down the steps.
As she descends, I try unsuccessfully to see her face. I can't see her face because all I notice is her bulging stomach, her pregnant belly. She is about seven months. They are having a baby. The Alcoholic is going to be a father. I am a ghost witnessing a future that could have been mine. And although I know marrying him would have been a hideous mistake, a life one settles for, I am overcome with a sense of loss, an inexplicable sadness.
For what? Him? A family? A baby?
They stand on the corner; she holds a shopping bag in each hand, and he holds her elbow. She turns slightly toward the traffic light. I see her face then, her profile. Her cheeks distend farther than normal and her square head sits on her broad shoulders like a safe deposit box. It makes sense to me now, why people have been calling her horse face. She will wake up to nurse the baby, soothe the baby, but the Alcoholic will sleep. During birth he won't know what to do, he'll find a way to make her care for him while she forces their child out into their life. He's always wanted a mother, someone who will love him unconditionally, and here he's gone and made one. I see her life in fast forward: running between two children, making certain they're clothed, fed, loved, safe. Racing to the nursery to comfort a newborn child, racing into the bedroom to soothe her deficit of a husband. Who will take care of her? And then I see myself clearly for the person I am now. I am more me than I've ever been and what I'm sad for is her. His wife. I am mourning the loss of her life, not mine.
He doesn't tell her about me. He doesn't tell her I am there because as they cross the street, he is the only one to look back. I wonder if she knows about me at all. Maybe he buried us all, the people who were his family before AA, perhaps we've always been dead.
When they get to the next store they're going to, he turns, looks at me, but she doesn't. She just keeps talking and talking like the entire life the Alcoholic led before her wasn't standing right there watching every step they made.
About the author:
Amanda Stern´s credits include: Salt Hill, St. Ann's Review, Spinning Jenny, Hayden's Ferry Review and The New York Times (non-fiction).
Amanda is a New York based writer, currently traveling with the Cirque du Soleil. Her first book, The Long Haul (Soft Skull Press), will be available Fall 2003. She is currently writing a novel.