You Are Invited

Prompt: Stairway

Invitation Bak wedding

Dear Pat,

Here it is, the official invitation. My-oh-my, this whole thing took quite a lot of planning and negotiation. We could have used your husband’s diplomatic skills! Which I always felt were underrated.

In any case, I completely understand if you are unable to attend, with everything that is going on with Richard. It is perfectly fine. We completely understand that now is not a good time to draw attention to Julie as a bridesmaid. Kimberly totally understands.

You will see the wedding photographs after the fact, but as a friend of the family maybe you’ll let me share the moments we have been planning. Your input is always welcome.

Kimmy has been stubborn about her gown and the flowers; otherwise she has let me and my staff have our way with venues, guest list, menus, and decorations. Kimmy jokes that she didn’t even have a say as to the groom, but of course she loves her drama. And she loves to joke around. Harrison is perfect for her; he initially swept her off her feet with his intelligence, ambition, refinement, and experience. I believe he will take good care of her.

She chose a Mediterranean blue silk gown for the ceremony. It was, Pat, the opposite of the white lace and beaded gown I had envisioned for her. Who ever heard of a deep blue, sleeveless wedding dress? And instead of the white and green roses I had already sourced, Kimmy selected white and pale lilac for her bouquet. I was unhappy about these choices, but she was adamant. A mother can only do so much.

We’ll have the reception at the Lake House. Thank you for recommending Figure of Peach for the caterers. They will provide a wonderful diversity of tastes, which is perfect since many of Kimmy’s college friends will be in attendance.

Kimberly modelled her wedding dress for her father and me. She stood at the top of the stairway. I saw shimmering, hypnotic blue and firm, healthy flesh–  sacred somehow, and indescribably beautiful.

I felt a little breathless. I wondered if anyone was truly worthy of this child of mine.

Your sincere friend,
Kelly Bak

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The Cave-Dweller

Prompt: Solitude

Tropical-Vacation 2

Miss Fisher was giggling. A guard, passing her cell, paused and sighed. They often giggled. They did all kinds of strange things when in solitary. Some people said it was inhumane. The guard, personally, had seen enough to make him agree with that assessment. Some of the inmates never seemed to recover from even short stays in solitary confinement. Others simply did not survive it. They had to be shipped out.

And someone like Miss Fisher? The guard shook his head. She was elderly, frail, quiet. He had been in her class for half a semester, grade four. He remembered her as strict, but kind and encouraging. She’s the one who diagnosed his dyslexia, and saved him from a lot of problems down the road. A good teacher, was Miss Fisher.

Sure, she murdered some people. Inmates weren’t at McKinnon for their health. But –as the joke went– she wouldn’t be around long enough to serve her life sentence, so why not cut her some slack?

He wasn’t sure exactly why she had been tossed in the cave, something to do with an incident in the cafeteria; no doubt something violent. People never took into consideration that violent people were often provoked. He’d seen it happen many times, it was not unusual at all.

He himself had been provoked many times. That’s what happened, they told him, when you marry a pretty girl. He was no better than half the females in this institution. Just luckier, that’s all. You know, like his friends held him back from a fight, or authorities smoothed things over. It was a small community. There but for the grace of God, and all that.

He would put a banana on Miss Fisher’s tray tonight. Strictly forbidden, but it’s not as if anyone was watching.

Miss Fisher stretched out on her bunk. It was narrow and the mattress was thin and hard, worse than the one in 177D, and the blanket scratched and wasn’t warm enough.

Still, it was fantastic to be alone. She was good at shutting out the noises around her, so after the first night, the crying and shouting that disturbed all the other cave-dwellers were not an issue for Miss Fisher. She could gather her thoughts, run some personal home movies in her head, enjoy her solitude, revel in being away from the crush of people who were always around, and be refreshed and ready when she returned to reg in a week. She giggled. They thought this was punishment. It was a fucking vacation.

Callexis

Prompt: Mask

Face sail Catrin-Welz-Stein

It was the most worthless bit of magic I had ever come across. The most amazing too, since magic and I did not cross paths very often; but still, damn near useless, except that the magic brought her to me.

The man said his name was Isaac. I’d heard of Isaac, he was well known in the world of dark trading. It wasn’t his real name, and he had a small army of minions, including lawyers, messengers, and mules to do his bidding. My collection was well-known, and when Callexis came into his possession, he was generous enough –and shrewd enough– to make me one of the first calls he made.

She was exquisite. Not studded with a myriad of precious jewels, only jade, but beautifully, masterfully, and lovingly crafted, with intricate patterns of vine leaves twining across her cheeks and around her eyes, the gleaming polished gold set off by the brushed, and inlays of copper, whose greenish tinge was like the venerable sister to the milky jade.

Exquisite.

Of course I wanted her. I pretended to bargain. The back and forth lasted days, until, as Isaac fully realized I would, I conceded to the near-full asking price from fear another buyer would snatch her away from me.

But how to get her across the ocean and across the country? It was not my concern, as her safe delivery was an element of the price, but I still wondered, and worried, since I wanted her so badly and shuddered at the thought of her being discovered and confiscated before I held her in my hands.

I was to meet the train, and the transaction would take place in my apartment.

When we were safely ensconced in my private den, with orders not to be disturbed, I asked the gentleman– he was a distinguished-looking man in his sixties, French, by his accent –to show me Callexis. He had only a small case with him, at which I tried not to stare.

His smile was sly, but without aggression, similar to the smile of the beautiful Callexis. Instead of reaching for his case, he reached up to his face with his hands, and in the next moment he had her, in his arms.

She shimmered. She was perfect.

“What just happened?” I asked. Callexis had appeared out of thin air. I rubbed my forehead.

“I don’t know, Monsieur,” said the man, whose name I never did know. “It is not trickery, and I do not claim to understand it. It made my voyage simple, and detection impossible.”

“What did?”

“She did,” he said. And he brought her to his face again, and she disappeared!

I had no efficient way to determine if I was dreaming, awake, hallucinating, or witnessing a magic trick the likes of which I had never seen.

“It is no trick,” the man said again. He reached his hands to his head again, and when he brought them down Callexis was again in his possession.

“Does Isaac know about this?”

“He chooses not to consider it,” said the man.

We completed our transaction, and I remained in the den, alone, with Callexis. I put her on the black marble stand that I had readied for her, and sat in my high-backed chair and stared for quite some time. I got up, put her on my face, as there were loops to fit easily over the ears, and went to the mirror. There was no Callexis, just my own countenance, staring back at me in bewilderment. I felt a tingling in my scalp, barely noticeable. I removed the mask and put her back on the stand. The tingling dissipated.

What are you? I asked. What is the purpose of this worthless magic? In grand fairy tales the mask would make one invisible, it would take one to other worlds, propelled into fantastical adventures, not perform magic as mundane and pointless as the mask itself disappearing.

What is your power? I was unable to take my eyes from her face, now both glimmering brightly and cast into deep shadows by the lamplight.

Callexis stared back at me with her sly smile, a smile that was also, I suddenly realized, complicit and strangely intimate. She, here in front of me, was as different from her pictures, from the way she appeared in my dreams, as a carousel pony was from a wild stallion.

I tried to smile back, but could not.

 


Innocence

Prompt: Crossroads

adam and eve

Kelly Bak was joining Pat for a private lunch at the White House. They’d become quite close during Rich’s run for governor of California– both wives to powerful, and in Kelly’s case, very wealthy men. They could talk freely about their travels, their servants, their possessions, the famous people they knew, without sounding pompous or pretentious. All these things were incidentals, elements of their daily lives.

They both knew that the Mellon family didn’t eat shellfish, that coats made from the fur of female mink were lighter in weight but just as warm, and the first name of the owner of the hidden hotel near the Spanish Steps. They could share concerns about temperamental cooks and valets, discuss which make-up artists were the most competent, or when to wear the real jewelry and when to wear the paste.

On this day they met in the small family dining room, where Constance had laid out sandwich triangles of egg and ham, fruit salad, and slices of chocolate chiffon cake, along with pots of tea and coffee, on a smooth white linen cloth.

They chatted briefly about their daughters, Julie being only a few years older than Kimmy, when Pat noticed a shadow cross Kelly’s face. “What is it?” she asked.

“I think,” said Kelly, “that Kimberly made a mistake.”

“A mistake?”

Kelly hesitated. She lit a cigarette, a Virginia Slim, and inhaled deeply. Feathers of fawn-colored smoke swirled in the air around her.

“There was something going on with her riding instructor,” Kelly said at last, setting her cigarette on the rim of a cut glass ashtray that Pat had thoughtfully moved closer.

Pat didn’t smoke or drink in public, but she looked at the cigarette cradled in the Vallon ashtray with longing, and fought an impulse to smoke, herself, as she always did when conversations or feelings became too intense.

“Oh dear,” said Pat.

“He’s gone, but…”

Pat said nothing. She clasped her hands in her lap. An image of Julie and Kimmy as small children, splashing about in a turquoise blue wading pool, popped into her head. She remembered the bathing suit that Julie wore, her favourite, a pale pink and yellow plaid with a skirt frill.

“She made an appointment with a doctor,” Kelly said slowly. “A different doctor.”

“Perhaps it’s nothing– a teenage thing,” Pat said.

“No,” said Kelly. “I don’t think so.”

Pat wanted to say, Why don’t you ask her? But she knew what happened when you asked questions. They both knew.

“Would you like more coffee?” Pat asked.

Kelly set the china cup on the table and Pat poured from a silver carafe. “How is Richard?” Kelly asked.

“Richard is just fine!” Pat said. “As always.” And she smiled, and poured a second cup for herself.

If

Prompt: Whisper

child and book

When you are a child, you take your life for granted. You know of no other kind of life; you assume all lives are lived like your own. If you have happy parents, all your playmates do. If your father strikes you, all fathers strike their children. If your parents are white, all parents are white. If you have enough to eat, all children do.

If you are only allowed to whisper when your mother or father is in the room, all children are subject to the same rule. If you spend your Saturdays cleaning the corners of the house, where the walls meet and dust gathers, then all children must have these tasks to perform. If your home has no books, no home has books. If you spend one and a half hours at Sunday school each week, then so do your friends. If your pastor scares you so that you sometimes cry silently, inside your head, then it must be so with all pastors.

If the only book you find in your home besides a Bible is a worn paperback book in the drawer of your father’s bedside table called The Lustful Professor, then all fathers have secret reading. If this book is confusing and strange, then all books are such.

If you find a friend who is as lonely and isolated as you are, then all children find such saviours. If you come to understand that your life is not the same as other children, then all children learn to rise above the circumstances of their life.

And if you want your voice to be heard, so do all the people in all the world.

 


  • Image: “The Difficult Lesson”,1884. Bouguereau.

Dear Agony Ant: Stressed in Texas

Prompt: Borrowed

aliens

Dear Agony Ant,

I find myself stressed out every day. This is because my husband is a conspiracy theorist who believes that chem trails are making the population docile, 9/11 was an inside job, Lee Harvey Oswald was just a puppet, the moon landing was a hoax, and that animals in public should have their genitals covered. I have three Pomeranians and can tell you, they would not go along with that at all.

Other than his conversation, he is a good husband, father, provider, and sex partner, except for the radiation blinds.

What should I do?

Sincerely,
Stressed in Texas


Dear Stressed in Texas.

Do you have any evidence that he cares one way or the other if you listen to him when he speaks? Or that he seeks your opinion on these matters? Chances are he only requires an occasional “mhmm” or “really?” to keep him as content as a chigger at a swap meet.

Learn the always-successful technique of non-listening without the use of earplugs: don’t listen. Think about weeds, God, Pittsburgh, January, or dial phones–  whatever you find diverting. My grandmother took up knitting and poetry composition to cope with a nearly identical situation with my grandpa, and they happily died in a car crash after 58 years of marriage.

Here is one of her poems:

Quick draw Dan McGraw
Ate a piece of fish, raw
When people asked him what he ate
He told them, “An invertebrate”.

While your husband is educating you, contributing the occasional “oh?” is optional, but a nice gesture.

Peace and love,
agony ant


Dear Agony Ant,

What about my Pomeranians?

Sincerely,
Stressed in Texas


Dear Stressed in Texas,

If your husband insists on canine modesty, borrow a few pairs of his boxer shorts.

Peace and love,
agony ant