The Balloon: Microfiction

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Pierre Puvis de Chavannes [CeCILL (http://www.cecill.info/licences/Licence_CeCILL_V2-en.html) or CC BY-SA 2.0 fr (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/fr/deed.en)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

She had raged against the war, raged against the loss, and raged against fate. Her husband and her three sons had been killed; her grandchildren would never be born. Her city was destroyed, and there was no one left to rebuild it. Bodies lay in the streets, dead of starvation, disease, and hopelessness. Now the fire of her rage had died to embers. Over it, her sorrow had once simmered and stewed, but now, it too was gone. She was hollow, like a shell abandoned on the beach. She wondered if her body carried echoes of her life before–when she had dreams.

As she walked toward the ancient walls of her city, she noticed a balloon rising in the distant sky. A sign of hope or help? Too late, she thought. She wondered if she imagined it, as she watched the balloon ascend higher and higher, mocking her. She knew she would never rise; the only way for her was down. She hoped her flight would be graceful, like the balloon’s, a final bit of beauty amidst the tragedy of her life. She stood at the top of the city’s wall, spread her arms, and dived into the wind.

 

After

She floated, carried by wind currents, by angels’ breath. She floated like a leaf upon the water. She heard a sound, like echoing voices, and a door between worlds opened. There was her city spread beneath her, filled with joyous people, busy with the tasks of everyday life. In a blink, she stood now in the market square. Her eldest son saw her and greeted her with a smile. She noticed a balloon high above her. She dared to dream. Here and always.

 

This story was for Jane Dougherty’s Sunday strange microfiction challenge. The prompt was the painting above.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Game

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Albertus Pictor (1440-1507, “Death Playing Chess”

By Håkan Svensson (Xauxa) (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Life and death, becomes a game

(it’s played for keeps)

study the board,

black and white

(in a world of color)

in a world of uncertainty

predictable,

life and death,

black and white,

the stark focus of opposites,

sad, happy, quiet, loud.

Kings captured, castles fall,

we’re all pawns,

in the game

a draw

only delays the inevitable

checkmate

 

This poem is for Secret Keeper’s Writing Challenge. The prompt words were: Game/Study/Sad/Loud/Become

For some reason, the image of the knight and Death playing chess in Ingmar Bergman’s movie, The Seventh Seal popped into my mind. Who know where these things come from?

 

 

 

My Uncle

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Studio portrait of my uncle, undated, taken in Philadelphia

Monday Morning Musings:

My uncle was a kind man,

with a twinkle in his eye.

Perhaps he would not seem remarkable

unless you knew him, knew that

he was curious, with a love of gadgets–

my mom always talked about that–

his latest gadget, she would say,

after he purchased a camera or computer,

an e-reader, or kitchen appliance.

We sat in her apartment, after hearing the news.

We drank to his memory,

blood red wine,

in bright blue plastic cups

like college students at a party.

We ate brownies, remembering

his love of chocolate—

that love, a family trait, it seems

a dominant gene.

“Didn’t he used to pour chocolate syrup

on his cereal?” I asked my mom.

And she laughed, happy memories mixed with sad.

Then she remembered how excited he was

when their father, my grandfather,

sent chocolate Tastykakes to him in Florida.

Isn’t it funny what we remember?

I think of how I never knew my uncle as a young man,

but I’ve heard the tale of how, when they were first married,

my aunt asked my mother how she prepared a particular dish.

My mom replied that she used “the shit method,”

shocking her new sister-in-law.

My mom then explained that she meant shitarein,

a Yiddish phrase,

a little of this and that

thrown together.

It makes a good story.

It’s strange to think of them all so young and carefree,

children of the Great Depression who learned to navigate

the technology of the twenty-first century.

I learned that my aunt and one, perhaps two, of my cousins

lived in our house in Philadelphia for a brief time

when I was a toddler.

Of course, not something I recall,

Though I vaguely remember the big, old house

in Germantown.

My uncle must have been in Miami,

I suppose to get settled there

before his family arrived.

A big move to a new city.

I remember their house, perhaps not their first,

but both of the Miami houses I remember had sunken living rooms—

a feature that I, as a young child, then associated with Miami,

thinking that all Miami houses must be constructed that way.

Random memories of visiting my uncle, aunt, and cousins—

their little dachshund,

(Was her name Penny?),

my aunt playing the piano late at night,

the music forming a soothing backdrop to my dreams,

swimming in their pool,

playing board games,

and when my husband and I visited

shortly after becoming engaged,

I remember my cousin baking cookies in a microwave oven,

the first one I’d even seen (See: gadgets, above).

I was a young mother when I read

my uncle’s hilarious account of pooping

while sitting out Hurricane Andrew–

sitting, you understand, taking on more than one meaning here.

He and my aunt huddled in that inside corridor–

except for that brief, and necessary foray into the bathroom,

umbrella held strategically—no shitarein story this time, the literal thing.

I wish I still had that letter,

but relieved a bit there were no selfies then.

Only my uncle could have made such a terrifying experience

laugh out loud funny—

in retrospect.

Real-time texts might have revealed a different story.

 

After the storm,

they emerged to find destruction all around them,

and then the rebuilding began.

Yet their foundation was strong.

Years later,

I remember my aunt and uncle coming to Philadelphia

for my mom’s 85th birthday.

My daughters said, “Uncle Irv smells so good.”

I have no idea what the scent was,

but I think it was his own—

as if kindness and genuine interest

in people and places enveloped him.

We all loved him.

He died as he lived,

gently, without a fuss

with his true love by his side.

A star has gone from our family universe

leaving a black hole

dense with memories

but without the twinkling of life and light.

Perhaps with time,

just as starlight travels

across the vastness of space,

so in our hearts

we will find that light again.