The Time Before: Prosery

It’s difficult now to remember the time before. Before war, before I knew the evil that humans can inflict–when my worries consisted merely of studying and passing exams. I was determined to prove that I was as brilliant as any man, smarter, in fact. But that day, the dandelion sun glowed, white seed clouds drifted in the azure sky, and reflections floated languidly on the river. Laura begged me to join the rest of the group for a picnic, and I’d agreed, even as she threatened me with the admonition, “and bring no book, for this one day, we’ll give to idleness.” How young and carefree we were, lolling on the grass like the figures in an Impressionist painting, but all clothed. Or mostly.

Laura, Keith, John—all of them gone, victims of war. And I’m left, still searching for answers.

And revenge.

A flash fiction piece for dVerse, Monday where Ingrid asks us to use the lines:

“And bring no book, for this one day
We’ll give to idleness”
— William Wordsworth, “Lines Written at a Small Distance from my House”

My spy series doesn’t seem to follow any order, but we’ll just say this is a part of it.

I couldn’t resist adding these photos from Grounds for Sculpture that recreate Edouard Manet’s “Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe” (1863).

I see them

Edward Hopper, “Automat,” 1927

I see them at night.

You may say they’re not real, but in the dark hours when you’re not sure if dawn will truly come, they’re as real as anything else. Wraiths, spirits, ghosts? Or the manifestation of a troubled mind? Survivor’s guilt the psychiatrist called it. I have witnessed true evil, and now I carry it with me, always ticking, like a pocket watch that never needs winding. It counts the minutes and hours till I see those tortured souls. Yet, they’re with me always. I dress in their stories patterned and purple as night. I wear them like a second skin.

I’ll never know if I might have saved more people–only that I was betrayed, and that I was fortunate enough to escape. Finding my betrayer has become my purpose for living. In the meantime, I see the dead. Every night.

(144 words)

A continuation of my disjointed, non-linear spy series for Prosery where Lisa is hosting. The line she selected is:

“I dress in their stories patterned and purple as night.”
–Kimberly Blaeser, “When We Sing of Might”

Signs, Symbols, and Memories: Prosery

I gaze at the sagging wooden beams and cracked stone of the abandoned farmhouse, once our safehouse. With a deep breath, I step through the doorway—and it’s as if I’ve walked through a portal. Time has reversed course. I’m back there. I am bombarded. Yet I stand, letting the memories strike me, pulsars of light—images beyond conscious thought. I feel dizzy, but as it passes, I look around, taking in the dust and debris. What clues could I possibly find after all this time?

Then I notice a footprint in the dust by the entryway— a footprint not mine. A man’s footprint. Who else has been here recently? I tell myself it’s some hiker out exploring, but that doesn’t explain the three diagonal lines chalked on the weathered lintel: the old Hobo symbol we sometimes used, “This is NOT a safe place.”

(144 words)

I’m hosting Prosery today at dVerse. This is part of my ongoing spy series. The prompt line is:

“I am bombarded yet I stand.”
From Adrienne Rich, “Planetarium”

Hobo symbols

Wastelands: Prosery

“Tapestry of Picasso’s Guernica, by Jacqueline de la Baume Dürrbach. . . It is significant for the political and cultural stance of the Whitechapel Gallery, which exhibited the painting in 1939. The original work is now too fragile to leave Madrid. . .”

I still have nightmares. Not of hiding for days in a fetid crawlspace. I don’t dream of my terror then. I am Every Woman, dreaming of war’s terrors. I am Cassandra with visions of what might be. End times.

I’m in a desolate waste land. What are the roots that clutch? What branches grow out of this stony rubbish? The roots are arms with hands outstretched and reaching; the branches are watered with blood.

The dream doesn’t come every night, but when it does, I wake up screaming and bathed in sweat. Will finding Paul make me feel better or worse? I don’t know, but I must have some answers. Because if he’s a traitor and still alive, he may be helping to destroy all that I hold dear while turning our world into a waste land. And I will have to stop him.

(144 words)

This is for Mish’s Prosery Prompt using the lines:

“What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish?”
–from T.S. Eliot, “The Waste Land”

My last prosery piece ended with the first sentence used in this one.

***Upcoming Event: Thursday, OCT. 14, Lillian will host OPEN LINK NIGHT LIVE. OLN will appear here at the usual time and you can link up ONE poem. If you’d like to participate live to read your poem in person, there will be a Google link for you to join in the event! (You can also join us without reading.)

Do We Ever? Prosery

Do we ever truly get over such events? War, death, destruction—the thousands of ways humans hurt each other and the Earth? As Nighthawk I had to be cool and calm. It wasn’t only my life at risk, but the lives of many others, too. I had to be calm when the man with shiny black boots and a cruel face entered the restaurant. I had to keep my face blank when the officious manager met with him, and then declared, “So if all do their duty, they need not fear harm.”
Calmly, I smiled at our oppressors, poured drinks, and served food while residents starved. Calmly, I plotted to destroy them–until the night you didn’t show up.

I still have nightmares.

Prosery for Ingrid’s prompt at dVerse, using the line “So if all do their duty, they need not fear harm” from William Blake’s The Chimney Sweeper. This is a continuation of my non-linear spy tale.

Clouds: #Prosery

Sun and clouds reflected on the surface of the Delaware River, Feb. 24, 2020

Is it realistic to believe I can think like Nighthawk again? The war is over, and I’m a different person now. I stare at my reflection in the river–it’s me, but these clouds are clearly foreign. Such an exotic clutter against the blue cloth of the sky doesn’t happen anywhere else. I’ve tried to forget the beauty, along with the horror.

But the memory of that day insists on surfacing. That day–when the sun shone in the azure sky dotted with cotton balls, and sunflowers reached up for honeyed streams of golden light. We made love and scraped together some scraps for a meager meal. We thought it a feast, washed down with some local wine we had found in the shed. Oh, Paul! If only we had had more days like that. If only that safe house had truly been safe.

I’m continuing with my story of wartime spies for dVerse, where I’m hosting Prosery today. I should mention that anyone can participate in any dVerse prompt, as long as you can post a link in the Linky. This Thursday will be Open Link Night–live.

The lines I’ve selected for today’s prompt:
“But these clouds are clearly foreign, such an exotic clutter
Against the blue cloth of the sky”
–from “Clouds” by Constance Urdang

Doubts in the Night : Prosery

Edvard Munch, Separation

So, she’s become Night Hawk again. It’s scary how easily she’s slipped back into the role, an act of survival once. But she’d not been acting with Paul.

Yet, despite her skilled spy-craft, every trace of him seemed to have vanished like raindrops in arid ground. And what would she do if she discovered he had betrayed her? What would she do if she found anyone who had?

She considered Rachel, a survivor she’d met in Maine after the war. They’d become good friends, and though Rachel seemed content in the small fishing village, Julia knew she was tormented by night-terrors. She remembered when Rachel said: “No, I do not weep at the world – I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife. . .for when I meet one of those bastards again.”

But what would Night Hawk do? Julia’s not certain at all.

Continuing with my spy saga for dVerse and Lisa’s Prosery Prompt using this line by Zora Neale Hurston:
“No, I do not weep at the world – I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife.” from “How Does it Feel to be Colored Me” in World Tomorrow (1928)

Nighthawk Again

Edward Hopper, Nighthawks, 1942

Now what?

As Julia shook herself from those bleak memories of occupied Paris, she considered what she knew. Not much. Maybe it had been a crazy idea to return to France, but there was no paper trail—only memories to guide her.

Think. What is crucial to finding the way? Is this? “There is no beginning or end to the story—time circles,” an old woman with jade green eyes in a war-weathered face had told her. She was one of thousands of refugees streaming back into post-war Paris.

Julia sighs. What is she missing? She needs the one puzzle piece that will let her see the entire picture. And somehow Paul, and her relationship with him is the key.

If there is no beginning or end, she needs to work from the middle. She needs to become Night Hawk again.

Perhaps this one doesn’t work as flash fiction, but. . .more on my non-linear make-it-up-as-I-go spy story. This is for Prosery on dVerse, where I’m hosting today using the line: “Crucial to finding the way is this: there is no beginning or end.”
From Jo Harjo’s “A Map to the Next World.”

Only Mouths: Prosery

In her memory of that time—the war, the occupation–every day was bleak and dismal, as if filmed through a grey filter. Most everyone looked pale and gaunt. She dressed in layers of threadbare clothing—and ate what scraps she could obtain. Her thin face seemed all eyes, but she thought, “only mouths are we.”

Who sings? The distant heart, which safely exists in the center of all things? Perhaps, but the mouths she knew then were hungry and crying for food, not singing. It wasn’t only the winter gloom; it was also a darkness of the soul. She kept her mouth closed, so that she wouldn’t reveal any secrets–and so that she wouldn’t scream.

But what about Paul? Had his mouth also stayed closed? She needed to know her sacrifices—and love– had meant something. She needed to find him now. (144 Words)

Another installment in my occasional and non-linear spy series for today’s dVerse Prosery prompt. Sanaa has chosen quite a difficult couple of lines for her Prosery prompt!

“Only mouths are we. Who sings the distant heart
which safely exists in the center of all things?” from Rainer Maria Rilke, “Heartbeat.”

River of Possibility

Seurat, Georges; The Seine seen from La Grande Jatte; The National Gallery, London

Sometimes the past seems more real than the present. We float on tributaries of seconds, minutes, and years—merging in the river of time. Do we choose the course we take, or do we simply follow the currents?

Could I have chosen differently? Could you have?

Our brief time together was fueled by danger, not dances or riverside picnics–I still hear jackboots in my nightmares. I don’t even know if you’re alive. But I’ve always preferred knowing even the hardest truths, and I prefer keeping in mind even the possibility that existence has its own reason for being. I will keep looking for you, Paul. I still miss you, as though a piece of my core has been lost—despite the possibilities.

Did you betray me?

I look down at the Seine, but it gives me no answers. It reflects only the present.

Another episode of my spy story for dVerse , where I am hosting Prosery Monday, prose of no more than 144 words that includes a line from a poem chosen by the dVerse host. The verse I chose for everyone was an unintended challenge.

“I prefer keeping in mind even the possibility that existence has its own reason for being.”
— Wisława Szymborska, “Possibilities”