Adventure, Old Age, and Special Interests

Prompt: Adventure


Dear Wednesday,

They say growing older is an adventure, though who is “they”?

Today is my birthday and time to reflect blah blah blah… Nevermind, I had a great day and a fine feast and my brother drove up to surprise me— coming to the door just as I was cleaning the toilet. The roads were clear despite frigid weather, bitter winds, and a frozen lake. Only last week a dozen blindingly white swans were our companions, wondering whether to continue their journey south. This week they decided: yup.

But what was I doing cleaning the toilet on my birthday? That is a question for the ages and for aged, of which I am not; though someone tell my body.

Ursula Le Guin had this to say about old age:

I’ve lost faith in the saying “You’re only as old as you think you are,” ever since I got old.

I’ve known clear-headed, clear-hearted people in their nineties. They didn’t think they were young. The knew, with a patient, canny clarity, how old they were. If I’m ninety and believe I’m forty-five, I’m headed for a very bad time trying to get out of the bathtub. 

I’ve never heard anybody over seventy say that you’re only as old as you think you are. Younger people say it to themselves or each other as an encouragement. When they say it to somebody who actually is old, they don’t realize how stupid it is, and how cruel it may be. At least there isn’t a poster of it.

But there is a poster of “Old age is not for sissies”.

Look at me, I snarl. I am a sissy. I always was. Who are you jocks to say old age isn’t for me?

Old age is for anybody who gets there. Warriors get old. Sissies get old. In fact it’s likely that more sissies than warriors get old. Old age is for the healthy, the strong, the tough, the intrepid, the sick, the weak, the cowardly, the incompetent. People who can run ten miles before breakfast and people who live in a wheelchair. 

If you eat your sardines and leafy greens and SPF 150 and develop your abs and blabs or whatever they are in order to live a long life, that’s good, and maybe it will work. But the longer a life is, the more of it will be old age.

The compensations of getting old, such as they are, aren’t in the field of athletic prowess. I think that’s why the saying and the poster annoy me so much. They’re not only insulting to sissies, they’re beside the point.

I’d like a poster with two old people with stooped backs and time-worn faces sitting talking, deep, deep in conversation. And the slogan would be “Old Age Is Not for the Young.”

I thought of that passage from the book No Time to Spare today, on my birthday. I thought about how I treat old people, and how people may soon treat me. Then I got drunk. Happy birthday!

In keeping with Wednesday tradition, may I present a few of my favourite cartoons, the first of which is loosely connected to today’s prompt, “adventure”?

cartoon chess horsey

cartoon flight on time

cartoon special interest


Now I’m off for a ten mile run!

Love and peace,

~~FP

Advertisements

The Adventures of Chai: The Handcuffs

Prompt: Incubate

audrey in sunglasses

“Let’s not tell mom about the handcuffs, ok?” said Chai.

Flax responded with a deeply blank stare, an odd countenance for such a young child. Perhaps, Chai thought, he was “processing” and had no energy left for facial expression. Flax was more about doing than thinking, but maybe there was a speck of growing up incubating in that tiny, terrifying boy bundle.

But would he tell mom about the handcuffs?

Her mother had been furious about the leash. No matter how much Chai explained that it had saved her brother from being hit by a car, her mother was adamant that it was unholy to put a young human being on a leash, just because he was active.

“—and unpredictable and strong and it was a harness not a leash,” Chai said.

“No,” said her mother. “Get a good grip on his hand, like a normal person.”

His sticky, gooey, gobby little hand, which slid out of hers whenever he saw something distracting, the same way a dog darted for a squirrel. Sometimes he yanked his hand away just so he could run two blocks ahead of her. She had books to carry, homework and all kinds of shit; how was she supposed to run after an almost four-year old future gold medal sprinter?

No leash, and Flax would surely end up flattened by a bus.

So Chai toured the Dollar Store, which had jumbles of unrelated merchandise on every shelf and in every corner, for ideas. By the time she reached the toy handcuffs, she had a fabric sunflower, a bottle of blue nail polish, a starfish-emblazoned mug, and a mammoth bag of caramel corn in her basket.

The handcuffs were plastic and not strong enough to contain the likes of Flax, as she found out when she flexed them and they came apart. She buried the broken pair under a stack of water pistols. Should stores even sell toy handcuffs and guns?

An hour later Chai was hovering outside the Sexxe Shoppe, wearing a scarf and a pair of her mother’s sunglasses, hoping to pass for eighteen.

The handcuffs were on a display shelf, covered in a hard plastic shell mounted on cardboard, but they looked like they were made of metal, and strong. The key had a heart-shaped handle, lest the set be mistaken for something other than intimate pleasure.

The following afternoon, she picked up Flax as usual at the daycare, and as soon as they were out the door she snapped on the polished silver handcuffs, making the two of them temporarily inseparable. Conveniently, the cuff size was completely adjustable, and the little terror was unable to slip out of them.

He was not happy, but he was never happy to be held back, even by Chai’s innocent hand.

The handcuffs were not as convenient as the leash, because she only had one hand free, but somehow she managed to get them both home safely and without incident.

The key. She’d put it in her jacket pocket. Hadn’t she?

“Just a minute, Flax!” He stopped the pulling and yanking for the duration of the blink of an eye, then leaned, suspended and squirming, away from her. With difficulty she patted down her jacket pockets, then rummaged through her bag and then scrunched up the lining of her jacket in case the key had fallen through, but there was no joyfully wanton, heart-shaped silver key to be found.

She pulled Flax back to her and checked his pockets and clothing carefully.

Fuck!

Her mother would be back briefly after work, then would dash out for her evening accounting course (hoping to get a federal job, and all that) but how could Chai manage to conceal the handcuffs from her until she could find the key?

Neither she nor Flax could get their jackets off, so Chai scribbled a note and left it on the counter: Gone to Jude’s, took Flax, see you tonite.

She somehow got Flax a snack and into the bathroom for an awkward pee, then she dragged the poor lad to the park around the corner, where they waited on a bench behind a tree until her mother’s car glided slowly by in the direction of the house, then, a few minutes later, slowly glided past again.

Chai (and Flax) retraced their steps all the way back to the daycare, then diligently searched the sidewalk and porch at the house, then every inch of the house. She found the earring she’d lost back when she had her ears pierced, and a dollar bill that was no longer in circulation, and a birthday card from last year that had fallen behind the sideboard, but she did not find a key.

It was about half past eight when Chai heard her mother slam the front door and throw her keys onto the hallway table.

“If you want to watch the end of this, don’t say a word,” she whispered sharply to Flax. They sat side by side on the couch in front of the TV, the lights dimmed, with a big bowl of caramel popcorn between them. Cars 2 was the feature film on Netflix, and held Flax’s full attention even though he’d seen it at least twice before.

Her mother paused in the doorway. “Hi chickens. What’s Flax doing up so late? Flax—“

“We’ll just watch the end of Cars, mom. It’s not a school night. I’ll get him to bed.” Chai knew her mother was dead tired. Her night classes were Thursday and Friday, along with full time teaching at Frontenac Elementary School, and she tended to sleep through most of the weekend.

Flax stuffed a handful of caramel corn into his little maw with his free hand. Their mother came up behind them, kissed the top of his head, and bid them good night.

Ok, it was a troublesome night. They slept in Chai’s bed because it was bigger, and while Flax slept soundly, he also thrashed around, farted, and hogged the covers.

And they had to get up well before their mother, whose alarm would go at ten a.m.

Chai was frantic. She thought of dragging her brother to the Sexxe Shoppe and begging for a second key, but she was pretty sure he wouldn’t be allowed onto the premises, and anyway some of the devices on display might confuse or even traumatize the little boy. She knew she’d been confused, and was a bit shaky on the traumatization. A little research would be in order when all this was sorted out, if it ever was.

Might the hardware store have a device wherewith they cut through metal as a service to their customers? How often would teenage girls come in needing liberation from handcuffs?

In desperation she called the Sexxe Shoppe on the phone, and spoke to a cheerful someone named Mandy, who sounded Chai’s age.

“Um,” said Chai.

“Honey, I’ve heard it all,” said Mandy. “What can I do ya for?”

“I lost the key to the Luxe Handkuffs. I can’t find it anywhere and I—“

“Honey, did you not press that little latch near the chain?”

“The what?”

“A safety feature, in case one or the other— well, never mind. Just find that little lever… do you see it, honey?”

“Who’re you talking to?” her mother asked as she wandered into the kitchen, clad in a purple kimono.

Flax, newly freed, bounded out of the kitchen and into the back yard, where he started digging a hole and filling it with rocks, fallen leaves, and litter.

“No one,” said Chai. “I made some tea.”

Casually, Chai pulled her jacket around her and joined Flax in the garden.

“Flax,” she said, “let’s not tell mom about the handcuffs, ok?”

Interview with the Immortals, Part 2

Prompt: Orange

orange tree art

In which journalist Lindsay Hatcher sits down with Immortals Harp and Donny to discuss the rules and vagaries of not dying.

Lindsay Hatcher: Harp, as the elder female of the group, do the others look to you as a mother figure?

Harp: What? No. I don’t think so. Do you, Donny?

Donny: What’s a mother figure?

Harp: So much for your expensive education.

LH: Donny, I see you are juggling four— no, five— oranges, rather adeptly.

Donny: I had time to practice. Oranges are my favourite fruit of all time, at the moment. No matter where you are, how filthy or grimy, when you peel an orange it’s clean and fresh inside. They are juicy and quench your thirst. They are full of vitamin C. And some of them have seeds you can plant and grow a whole tree full of oranges. Amazing.

Harp: It is, when you think about it.

LH: How many Immortals are there?

Harp: Six, in our group.

LH: How many outside your group?

Harp: I don’t know. I’ve seen others in the cave. Sometimes when I’m in the world I see people I suspect are immortal because they behave so recklessly, like the first few times I went back.

LH: How many in the cave? What do they do? Do they form their own, separate groups?

Donny: Nah, they are scared. They just stay in there and don’t get any older. It’s gross.

Harp: That’s true, no one ages when inside the cave. And there are some who never leave it. We call them the Undead, because they aren’t exactly alive. Because they don’t actually live.

LH: Do you talk to them? Do they have, like, friends?

Harp and Donny exchange looks.

Harp: Some inside the cave seem to form friendships of a sort.

Donny: They fuck.

Harp: …

LH: And do they venture outside the cave? On the ridge?

Harp: I’ve seen a few people out there. They don’t follow any of the paths.

LH: The paths are marked with bits of coloured string. Who marked the paths?

Donny: Goff did. He’s been down most of them. He knows where they lead. He’ll say, if you want to go to Nettle Valley, find the blue and black string. If you want to go to Pyongyang, find the black and green string.

LH: Why would anyone want to go to Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea?

Donny, shrugging: For an adventure. To see what it’s really like.

Harp: Goff has only marked the paths that he himself has followed. There are others.

LH: Have you ever wanted to stay somewhere in the world? Set down roots? Have a normal life?

Harp: It’s not possible.

Donny: What’s a normal life?

Lindsay Hatcher, Harp, and Donny take a break to peel and eat oranges.


==

Choices

Prompt: Express

Crossroads In The Forest

“Are you sure you understand what we are about to do?”

Ivy nodded her head. She looked down the narrow path that wound among tall, leafless trees until it disappeared into a yellowish fog.

“Nodding isn’t good enough, Ivy,” said Sable. “Do you understand your choices? You have to tell me clearly. I know you are only twelve but I can’t make this decision for you.”

“Yes,” said Ivy peevishly. “You’ve told me a hundred times. I can go back if I want to, instead of staying here. I don’t want to go back. My grandmother is dead.”

“And your parents? Your friends?”

Her cat was her greatest friend, and he was wandering somewhere in the cave or in this strange, misty landscape. He would come find her.

As for her parents, she had a sudden snapshot image of them— her mother in front of the mirror at her dressing table, applying impossibly crimson lipstick, and he with his hand on her shoulder, wearing that ring, the gold one with the square cut emerald.

The snapshot turned into a moving vision, and her mother turned her gaze slightly in the mirror until her eyes were locked with Ivy’s.

“I don’t want to go back,” said Ivy.

“You can’t change your mind, after this,” said Sable.

Ivy sighed. How many times?

“And,” said Sable carefully, “the dying. To come back here again, and we must, you will have to die again.”

“It didn’t hurt,” said Ivy.

“It might this time,” said Sable. She reached out and touched Ivy’s freshly cut hair, short and practical, like her own, but without the curls.

“I don’t have any choice,” said Ivy. She frowned. Couldn’t they just get on with this?

“You do, honey,” said Sable. “You could stay here.”

Here? What here? An endless cave, lit by distant fires, smokey, barren, lifeless— or this plateau, with an invisible landscape, colourless, stifling?

Ivy said, “Can we go now? I can’t breathe here. Can we just go?”

Sable burst into a broad smile. “Let’s go have some fun.”

They started down the well-trodden path. “We’ll arrive just outside Nettle River,” said Sable. “We can hike into town, find the outfitters and get directions to the ranch.

“It’ll be a lark.”