Amsterdam Scriptum Archives
Treehouse Scriptum Issue #2, August 2002
We're a little late getting our second issue online, but you should find it was worth the wait. This edition contains five selections from talented writers. If this is food for thought, we offer a balanced meal this time around.
Paul Alan Fahey is a proven master of flash fiction. Painting with a minimum of words, he gives us a memorable and tantalizing picture. Marcia Mascolini delivers comic relief that is sure to spark reader identification. I first heard Audrey Weinberg's poignant story of the loss of a child when she read at one of the Treehouse critique group sessions. Subsequent readings still make me cry. Diane Schuller's tale is uplifting and is a tribute to sisterly love. We round off our edition with philosophical musings from Geraldine Nesbitt about onions. Cooking will never be the same again.
We appreciate reader feedback and hope that Scriptum becomes a popular showcase for talent.
SHE NEVER WENT INTO THE CITY
By Paul Alan Fahey
Jennie takes a break from rowing and turns in the dinghy to see her home and small dock dip, sway then disappear the closer she gets to the mainland. As a child she'd spent her summers by the sea, and somehow she feels comforted, protected by the surrounding water.
Jennie feels better today. She remembers what Dr. Edwards told her. "You start with little steps, Jennie. Then make them bigger."
And that's what she's done the past few months. The first step, getting into the boat, was the hardest. Sweating palms. A bit of hyperventilating. But with a shaky hand on each oar, she'd made it to the buoy halfway from the shore, turned the dinghy around and safely headed back to the dock. Small baby steps.
But today she's determined to make it all the way to the waterfront, catch the morning bus into the city and meet Ron for lunch.
10:30 and Jennie's right on time. The bus stops, and she takes a seat in the back. She puts her purse beside her, hoping no one will try to sit there. But after a while, she feels there's too much space and moves closer to the window, a glass barrier between her and the world outside.
The bus lets her off at 12th Street. Ron's office building isn't far, and as the lobby clock strikes the three-quarter hour, Jennie's in the crowded elevator on her way to the fifth floor. She prefers a crowd to having the car to herself. She could get lost in all that space. The air is so full of molecules, and the molecules break into atoms with nowhere to go, bombarding her from every direction.
Jennie knows her private thoughts make little sense, especially to Ron, who's now resigned to their reclusive existence. And he's been so good to her. Running her errands in town, telling her, "I understand, Jennie. You stay home where you're comfortable."
A few steps from Suite 405, Jennie glances at her watch. She runs her fingers through her hair, a bit tangled and unruly. It could do with a quick combing. Jennie is wondering if she should stop at the Ladies Room when she turns a corner and sees them. A thin, attractive blonde who laughs and throws her arms around a man she calls, "Darling." Jennie's heart pounds, her brain struggles to interpret the visual sensations telling her this "darling" man is Ron. Her husband.
She tries to move forward, but something holds her back. There's too much space between them. Jennie thinks she sees his eyes connect with hers over the woman's shoulder, over the woman's embrace. And then he turns, takes the blonde's arm and walks away in the opposite direction.
On the way home, Jennie practices her exercises in the crowded bus. Breathe in. Hold it. Let it out. Yes, better. She's learned something important today. She can't trust her perceptions. That man only looked like Ron. She was a good distance away, maybe thirty feet, and she wasn't wearing her glasses. They only magnified the space.
Of course, she must be wrong.
Later in the dinghy, the short trip across water calms Jennie. She continues her breathing exercises as she rows. The sky promises a light shower. The wind whips off the bay, and the flag signals all's well on Pequot Island.
Inside, Jennie hangs up her coat in the hallway, drops her purse on the table. In the kitchen, she pours a glass of water and takes her medication. Her hands tremble. She feels dizzy and sits a while at the small table by the window. Shafts of amber dance on the walls. The marine radio buzzes to life. Jennie hears the whir of the generator and knows the beacon continues to shine above her.
Climbing the narrow staircase to the pocket-sized bedroom, Jennie thinks about continuing on to the top floor, but she decides against it. The six o'clock ferry is always on time, and high in the tower is where she'll be, shading her eyes from a red-orange sky. Watching and waiting.
About the author:
Paul Alan Fahey is a learning disabilities specialist at Allan Hancock College in Sant Maria, CA. He is also the editor of Mindprints, A Literary Journal, a magazine created as a forum for writers and artists with disabilities. His work has recently appeared in the print journals, Seven Hills Review, The MacGuffin, and Thema and online at flashquake, Sugar Mule and Nefarious 55 Words of Mystery.
By Marcia Mascolini
Charley, get up for mass.
I don't wanna go ta mass. It's too cold.
Get out of bed and go to mass.
Ah, Ma. It's pissing rain.
Up and out. Now.
It's too hot. It's burnin' up out there.
Don't make me come up those steps. Get out of bed RIGHT.
NOW. AND. GET. TO. MASS.
Hey, Ma, how come we gotta go ta mass, and Uncle Charles
Because Uncle Charles has saved many masses in his mass
bank, and he can use one anytime he wants instead of going
What's a mass bank?
It's like a piggy bank except you save masses instead of
money in it.
I wanna mass bank, Ma.
Then you must go to mass every day whether it's cold or
raining or hot.
About the author:
Marcia Mascolini retired from teaching business writing at Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI, to concentrate on writing other kinds of fiction.
By Geraldine Nesbitt
My life is like an onion, Julie said aloud to herself in the kitchen, then scolded herself for talking in soap opera clichés. It was cheap psychology, saccharin sweet and dished out with little or no sincerity, but it seemed rather appropriate.
Julie held an onion, unpeeled, in her hand. Held it up, let the light through the kitchen window shine onto it. It did not glow. Its surface was dull and matt, yet its colour was a rich, promising copper, with evenly spread lines running its full length and meeting at the top where the shoots had been and at the bottom where it had drawn in nourishment from the soil. She liked this onion, this otherwise boring and acrid bulb. It felt strong, sturdy, and solid to the touch. It did not give under the pressure of her finger and thumb, nor did it slip out of her grasp.
An onion, if left in peace, can maintain its freshness for months. Pluck it from the ground in the spring or summer, hang it in a cool place, then when it is retrieved at the end of autumn it will still be good enough to eat. The outer skin protects the inside from germs, providing longevity. Whereas a young onion has a flaky, trusting skin that can easily be scraped away, an older onion thickens and toughens its skin and guards itself from onslaughts.
Julie laid her onion on the chopping board, then ceremoniously, like a Samurai warrior drawing his sword from its sheath, drew her sharpest blade from the wooden knife holder and sliced into the top. Holding it in her hand, decapitated end exposed, she counted the rings, wondering if perhaps, as with a tree, the rings represented months or years. Her eyes stung as life's juices seeped out. Wiping a tear from her eye with the back of her hand, she carefully made a long incision along the side of the lifeless, copper-coloured exterior from top to tail. The coat, dry and parchment-like, crackled as it gave way to expose its soft, delicate inner layers -- its truth. One by one she peeled these away.
So my life is like an onion, Julie said again. Do I choose to protect myself from hurt and disappointment with a hard, inflexible layer? The price may be too high. That hard exterior, just as it hides pain and sorrow, also restrains passion, curbing joy and exhilaration. Such choices create dry and colourless people. The only flicker of life to be seen is in the moistness of the eyes, or the slight curl of the mouth, or faint quiver of the voice. Preserve the outer layer and remain hard and dull. It must be better to break the seal and allow the saps of experience to seep out and give life a new dimension. It must be better to choose truth.
Julie threw the pieces into a pot and took another onion and another, dissecting them one by one, marvelling at the exactness with which they were formed. The fragments of dull, brown skin piled up in the sink and when she was finished she gathered them up and tossed them into her pedal bin. Later, she would toss all her scraps onto the compost heap that next year would feed and fertilise the soil, perhaps even nourish the next crop of onions.
She poured boiling water from the kettle over the white, curving segments, then added salt and pepper and put the pot over the lighted gas ring. The pieces bobbed and swirled and faded slowly until they became transparent and the water opaque. After a while there were no onions, no water, just onion soup.
About the author:
Novelist and columnist, Geraldine has been an active participant in reading and writing groups since 1995, mostly in Den Haag. Her previous novel, The Cloths of Heaven, was published by iuniverse. Onion Soup is adapted from her (unpublished) novel Trash Fire. Find out more about Geraldine at: her official site and on Suite 101
A Course in Macramé
By Diane M. Schuller
I watched my sister leap off the cliff-she kept falling and falling and falling. I wondered when the end would come. Lee did everything for them and her life was unraveling faster as time stretched on.
Of course, her fall was figurative, but she was running on a fast track leading nowhere. My sister spent every waking moment slaving for her children: meals, bathing, working, driving to school and back, to piano, to karate, and more. You think her life was all tangled up, but the real problem was that the rope of her life was on a taut line dangling over a steep cliff. Someone needed to coil that rope and begin tying knots in it, if only to slow her down.
Lee had become far too independent of us all. Mom's example showed us that work meant more than anything and, through her actions, demonstrated how to be the perfect martyr. Work, clean, cook, do it all for her children, and now Mom's like a frayed, overused sisal rope, with no strength or purpose to her life. Too worn out to enjoy anything and too focused on us completing her journey for her. I've broken away, woven myself into the community, and have grown stronger. I knew I'd have to be the one to begin reeling in Lee's tether.
"What would happen if you dropped all the activities for one of the kids, say Emily's?"
"That wouldn't be fair. I couldn't do that," she had answered, as I knew she would.
"So why are you sacrificing everything? Why don't you get to do anything you enjoy or want?" That stumped her. I persisted, in trying to uncover what goals or dreams she had and wasn't surprised that Lee hadn't ever thought about her dreams. I maneuvered and made her turn her mind around to consider it.
"If you were to die tomorrow, what would you regret not having done?" I asked her. Tears came to her eyes, and I knew I had slowed her down long enough to begin weaving her thoughts into that which mattered. She told me how she had always wanted to make something with her hands-something tangible she could hold. She thought how satisfying it would be to have meaningful items she had created, and perhaps even pass on to the children.
It didn't take long to make some adjustments. Together, with the children and Bob, we prioritized their ridiculous schedule, dropped a few things, freed up some time, and Lee began taking classes in macramé. Everyone chipped in with housework and helped with meals, occasionally Bob and the children had to make a sacrifice, and Lee began to turn her life into one with enrichment and meaning. Her life was beginning to take on a meaningful shape.
For my birthday Lee presented me with the best gift I've ever received. Tied with an elaborate green bow was a wheaten colored macramé purse. It had been made with hundreds of tidy knots from only two pieces of slippery cord. That purse is held together as strong and as intricately as the fibers of our lives.
About the author:
A Canadian, Diane enjoys country life at "Moonwind Meadows" -- the fountainhead for much of her inspiration. Indoors, her walls are decorated with thousands of books, each housing a treasure trove of lives and experiences (and delicious words). Dianne's site on the web
The Silence of that Moment
By Audrey Weinberg
As Laura looked down into her lap at her sleeping son's pale head, she remembered how once she had thought there must be one moment in her life that would change everything. That night she realized that life changes constantly, in a series of many such moments.
It was a warm and still evening as she smoothed his burning cheeks, the soft short hair on his young head a reminder of the recent baldness. There were scars too, some covered by the hair, and one fresh one that still showed ugly red marks across the top of his head where the staples had been removed just a few days earlier.
"You know that this was the last operation, don't you?" the surgeon had asked in a cool and distant tone. The second surgeon, the one who usually smiled, was silent this time. Laura sat in their office, alone. Eli, her husband, was at work, and the children at home. She swallowed her fear and blinked rapidly, forbidding the tears.
"Why?" she whispered hoarsely and quickly shut her mouth. "It's too dangerous. And useless. You know it, too." And she did. That was one moment.
Laura stroked Boaz's head and arms while vaguely watching the television in the background. She cradled his frail body in her arms. The images on the TV screen were blurry in comparison to the sharp detail of her life. His legs were long and so thin, his knees stuck out at an angle.
She smiled to think of how Boaz had hobbled off to preschool that morning, proudly waving goodbye. He had come home at midday, hot and tired from digging in the sand, singing, playing make-believe and running after his friends. Inside the house it was cooler, and by the time lunch was ready he was making funny piggy faces for both Laura and the Polish cleaning girl who had giggled behind her hand.
Laura couldn't follow the movie on TV, and wondered if she should be doing something more suited to the moment. But there was nothing to do; it was a time for waiting. Eli had taken their daughter, Tamar, out to friends' for dinner. They had all been invited, but when Boaz said that his head hurt and refused to get dressed or get out of bed, whining and crying at the same time, they decided that he would stay at home with Laura.
They had gone for second opinions all along the way, of course. Six months earlier, the most prestigious doctor in the country had told them, while stuttering, twitching and trying to control his eye tick, that the chances were in fact very slim.
"How slim?" Laura had asked bravely, willing him to give her even the tiniest remote percentage.
"Well…" his tick got worse, and his head seemed to have a life of his own. Laura wondered how this poor man could function and excel as a doctor with such a harsh physical impediment of his own.
"Please tell us the truth," she had begged. "In fact, the chances of a full recovery are zero percent, I'm afraid." This had been another such moment.
The quiet Friday evening turned into silent midnight; then the early hours of the morning began creeping by with the occasional chirp of a cricket from outside. The music played on in a repetitive loop, like the sound of Boaz's breath. In - pause - out, grating loudly all the way.
When his breath started to falter, and stopped for a few seconds in between, Laura hugged Boaz again tightly and whispered in his ear, "I love you, you can let go now."
She'd been told that the unconscious brain hears things until the last second, and that often people will hold on, to remain with their loved ones, if not released. She was prepared for this moment, after hours of psychotherapy, years of support group, minutes, days, weeks, months, years loving her son with all her might, and the two last years accompanying him in his illness.
Tears ran down her cheeks, as she called Eli to join them. Together they lay down and held Boaz between them. They told Boaz they loved him, and to let go now and fly away. His dark eyes were staring at infinity as his breath waned. Laura drank in every feature, that triangle of freckles just above his ear, still visible through his thin growth of fine hair, the funny indent on the lobe of his ear where the mosquito had bitten him during their vacation, the perky nose, the red lovely lips, so babyish and so mature.
Within a minute, there was total silence in the room. Boaz looked the same as before -- still her warm, funny, demanding and loving child. Laura let the tears out in a loud wail, her chest heaving as she breathed in with an effort and held onto Eli desperately.
"Oh, Boaz…, did you have to go…?" she wailed. And such was that last moment.
Dedicated with eternal love to my son, Yarden Weinberg (9.7.94 - 26.9.98)
About the Author:
Audrey Weinberg is a writer, lover of life, poet, artist, mother and wife. An Israeli, Audrey was born in California and currently resides in Amstelveen. Send an email and look at her site dedicated to Yarden.