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

Strategic Nudity

Prompt: Laughter


Dear Wednesday, and dear Mama,

Today’s birthday girl and the Daily Prompt, Laughter, couldn’t have been been more brilliantly matched.

Happy Birthday, Mum. I love you. I miss you every day. You had a difficult life, a struggle, that culminated, I hope, in a wonderfully happy marriage and four non-criminal children. You certainly deserved all the happiness that came to you, finally.

One of of my favourite memories of you is your laughter jiggles. You kept many emotions to yourself, but oh, how you loved to laugh. So when you laughed, your whole body vibrated, and your laughter was entirely silent but contagious and irresistible. You taught me that laughter was valuable and important, and that has been a positive and hugely meaningful influence my entire life. It’s impossible to overestimate the importance of finding joy in all the hidden corners of a life, especially during the hopeless, difficult times.

I’ll post a few of my favourite cartoons, as it is Wednesday, then withdraw to think about my mother and the joy she brought!

cartoon stratigic nudity

cartoon trump scandal

cartoon too late roger


~~FP

Running with Friends

Prompt: Age

leonardo_dicaprio-gt

 

Leep looked in the mirror. Now, he didn’t like looking in the mirror as a rule, except when he was shaving, and even then he merely concentrated on the contours of his cheek and the avoidance of a blood accident. But today was his birthday, a landmark birthday, and he needed to have the courage to look.

There were lines around his eyes. He could see them without even moving closer to the glass; and they couldn’t be laugh lines, since Leep didn’t laugh all that much. And there were deep lines around his mouth when he just relaxed the muscles in his face. Was his neck a bit saggy? Leep didn’t know. He was pretty sure, however, that Leonardo DiCaprio didn’t have a neck like his, bordering on saggy.

The problem was, Leep was no closer to marriage than he had been a year ago, or two years ago, or even three. He didn’t even have a girlfriend. He’d been pretending that those dinners and lunches with his publisher, Amanda, were dates. That’s what he told the guys at work, if they asked. But she wasn’t interested in Leep as a person, just as a potential children’s book author, which really, was fine with Leep.

As for Lizzie (known as Beth to everyone else), well, driving by her house once a week in a test driven automobile, or dropping off clippings about her murdered son-in-law as an excuse to see her, or hanging out with Franco the Butcher just because he happened to be at her house a lot, did not exactly constitute a romantic relationship.

He checked his Mark Nepo. “Stop recording the poetry of life,” he advised in his book, “and enter the poetry of life.”

That sounded like good advice.

But Leep didn’t know where the entrance was.

So he got out his notebook, and wrote:

Step 1: Date
Step 2: Girlfriend
Step 3: Wedding
Step 4: Children

It didn’t sound very poetic, but these were concrete steps towards entering life the way other people did.

This is why Leep found himself, on his landmark birthday, in front of his HP laptop at the dining room table, with a lukewarm bottle of Twin Sails Hefeweizen on a cardboard coaster beside the computer, trying to fill out the profile information on the website “Plenty of Fish in the Sea”.

He was a writer, this shouldn’t be so hard. Though he had to admit that composing a list of interests that would intrigue a young woman was far removed from recording the adventures of the Blue Rabbit. Or was it?

Favourite food: Carrots
Favourite leisure activitis: Running with friends; digging tunnels
Best feature: Ears

Yes, this could work! Leep smiled and rubbed his jaw, and suddenly realized he’d forgotten to shave that morning. He would go without this day. He’d had enough of the mirror.

Words

Prompt: Unravel

night sky evergreens

Folly hadn’t spoken since we visited her abandoned town, except to ask if we could sleep outdoors instead of in the big empty Best Western motel that was situated just outside of Chandler’s Folly. I admit, it was sometimes creepy to inhabit a completely empty place meant for hundreds of warm bodies, beds all made up and ready for customers, the neon sign “Vacancies” still automatically lit at night, an ice machine miraculously still full of ice, and what seemed like miles of empty, gaudily-carpeted hallways.

Life was a lot creepier for Plato and I, before Folly found us. Now there were three of us, which was so much better. Now I had someone who could talk back, though Folly often chose not to. Plato was a good listener, and a good dog, but his language skills were lacking.

When the world ended, poor Folly had wandered in the woods, completely alone, before she stumbled upon me and Plato. Talk about creepy. No wonder she couldn’t remember her real name. She couldn’t even drive, being only eleven. I got my driver’s license as soon as I turned sixteen. That was almost a year ago. My birthday was in two days. Maybe the three of us could celebrate somehow. Birthdays were big deals in my family with cake and the whole thing. I tried not to think about it. I set up the tents and got a small fire going. Folly liked to roast things on an open fire, even plain bread or peaches.

The motel was perched on the edge of the green belt and only a ten minute walk from the campsite. Folly turned up as I was cutting up some cooked chicken for Plato. She brought a box of macaroni and cheese and three Creamsicles for our dinner. Sometimes Plato ate better than we did.

So we sat around the fire after our mac and cheese and after me, Folly, and Plato had eaten our Creamsicles, and talked about birthdays. I wasn’t even bothered that talking to Folly was the same as talking to Plato, meaning I expected nothing in return, really, except I know Plato loved me and Folly was just a kid I didn’t know.

I asked her about her birthdays, just to be polite, and as usual Folly didn’t answer until about half an hour after I asked the question. I wondered if she ever had bouncy castles at her birthday parties; that seemed to be a thing parents did, rent these big inflatable things in red and pink and blue that kids could jump on. So a half an hour later she said, “Yes”, and then went into the tiny pup tent she liked. So much for that conversation. It was weird, but maybe her forced solitude got her comfortable being alone; anyway, I didn’t see much of her for a couple of days.

On the morning of my birthday, which was four days after Folly unravelled after being back at her home town, I awoke wondering if we should go back one more time. She really needed to find her house and her name and her history. It was painful to remember, sure, but without memories of my mom and dad and two sisters and our lives, I don’t know how I could have gone on. Folly maybe needed that too.

So she was grilling some breakfast toast over the fire and I suggested we go back to Chandler’s Folly again, now that we knew what to expect. I didn’t talk to her like she was a stupid kid, what was the point in that? She was the smartest person I knew, even if she was the only person I knew.

She actually spoke. She said, “Come with me?”

So I walked with her back to the Best Western motel and beyond, to what looked like a car dealership. I was curious about this. Maybe her father or mother had sold cars? What was the connection?

She led me to a monster of a motor home. Something called a Thor Venetian. Pasted on the door was a red bow, the kind you might find on a small, wrapped Christmas present.

I looked at Folly. She had her usual blank expression, except for a slight air of impatience. So we went inside.

Well it was like a fancy dollhouse, but cosy, you know? Lots of faux suede and tile in muted tones of beige and white, clean and new. I was interested in the driver’s cab, but she nudged me along until we were at the built-in dining area where, I swear, an iced, two layer birthday cake sat in the middle of the faux marble topped table.

There were unlit candles in the cake. The icing was chocolate.

“I made it,” said Folly. “Duncan Hines.”

“You are smart for a kid,” I told her.

“I’m not a kid,” she said.

This was one of the longest conversations we’d ever had.

But I wasn’t thinking about that at the moment. The cake was exactly like the boxed cakes my mother used to make for my birthday. Yes, stale and dry and delicious. The icing came from a package that didn’t even need refrigeration to stay fresh, but it tasted good anyway.

We ate the cake, and gave some to Plato. We washed it down with cold milk. We didn’t sing Happy Birthday or anything.

At the end of the day, as I sat by the fire trying to figure out if we should travel in my red Jag from now on, or in this mammoth motorhome, I realized that I myself had barely spoken since Folly had shown me the cake. She had said nothing more, and now snored in her pup tent.

The sky was again a canopy of stars, which seemed to get brighter every night, framed by spikes of tall spruce and cedar.

Sometimes, I realized, words had no meaning. No purpose. No use.

Membership in Heaven

Prompt: Realize

soap-opera-bw

The restaurant was called Liquefy. Dominic had walked past it a hundred times. It had a sage green stucco exterior and white-painted slatted wood blinds, usually open just enough to see the shadows, animated by the flicker of candles, of the privileged, a group that did not include Dominic.

He had been privileged once, though not through his own ambition or talent. His parents were both established day time soap opera stars, with fan clubs, event appearances, a dash of glamour, and a steady, handsome income. Then came the accident, killing his father and disabling his mother. They received help from Actors’ Guild, but not much and it was down to Dominic to care for his mother, who did not want an institutionalized life, however comfortable. Dominic indulged her, helping her cook her meatballs, her fried eggplant, her fruit layer cakes; doing most of the work, in fact, under her supervision. Her passion now was her kitchen. She occasionally did voice-overs for commercials, but even her voice was losing its velvety power. Dominic would get his mother settled in bed in the evening, then go to his overnight security job, during which he studied in the hopes of finishing his degree in engineering.

He was far too busy for a man his age, who needed and yes, craved adventure and experience. His last girlfriend, he was certain, had left him because of his his inadvertent neglect of her in favour of his mother, his studies, and his job. Fair enough. Maybe now was a bad time for a relationship, though he longed for someone with whom to share his small victories, and to commiserate with him over the hundred tiny failures that made the days long, and the nights even longer.

Dominic paused in front of the restaurant and peered at the menu posted in a mahogany-framed glass case. They still had the eggplant gnocchi appetizer, which his mother would love. They had the sage and parmesan meatballs, the duck breast risotto, the flat iron steak with fire-roasted sweet potatoes (his preference). The prices were posted too. Dominic sighed heavily. His mother’s  60th birthday was in a week. This would be a gift she would never, ever expect, or forget. She didn’t need a scarf, or perfume, or another cookbook. He had to do this, somehow. And he had to figure it out quickly, since he was sure that successful Liquefy reservations were made days in advance.

He remembered as a child, when he and his best friend Denny were desperate for a plate of french fries at the local diner. Desperate. They had no money or prospects. Allowances spent, parents unsympathetic, they spent the entirety of an afternoon plotting income strategies. In the end, they came up with a charity scam, wherein they would tear the labels off of tin cans and go door to door, soliciting money for hungry children in India (which was, according to his parents, who reminded him regularly at dinnertime, a real and current issue).

The plot never gelled, thank goodness, Dominic thought. That would be a horrid addition to his resumé for membership in heaven, which would leave out no job, action, or thought. Dominic believed in heaven. Why not?

Still, the larceny of the plan he and Denny hatched to acquire a plate of french fries crept into his consciousness. He realized he could not risk breaking the law and leaving his mother alone, but he wanted this, his mother’s special birthday dinner, a night of spending and relishing and enjoying life, more than anything he had ever wanted. It was crazy, of course. But he walked past the restaurant every day. It was meant to be. Maybe he could come up with a plan. He would talk to Denny. Denny would understand.

 


  • Image adapted from a still from Bridges to Love, a soap opera that debuted on The Filipino Channel in March, 2015 and unrelated to this piece of fiction.

Falling Stars

Prompt: Elegant

anime_angel_wings

Anthony dreamt he was laid out on a battlefield. He could hear the thudding booms of cannons in the distance, and the scent of them filled his head as the smoke wafted downwind. The ground was cold and hard. He shivered. His face felt wet. There was a pounding in his head, possibly the result of a bullet or bayonet. He felt like he wanted to cry out, but as often happens in dreams, he was frozen and impotent.

Then he felt a shadow— a very strange shadow, since it cast a warmth and not a chill across his supine body. He couldn’t see properly; maybe the blood from the wound impaired his vision. He imagined the blood streaming down his face. But he knew the shadow was a woman, an angel, beautiful and shimmering as angels tend to be. Not an angel of death, thank god! No, this angel covered him in feathers; they rained down on him like a million falling stars. He felt such a perfect warmth that the pain went away, and he wanted to thank her but felt himself drifting into a welcome, relaxing nothingness.

Anthony awoke at about eleven o’clock. He was on the floor near the couch, he might have slipped off. The empty bottle of Schnapps lay within reaching distance. He felt drool caked all around his mouth, his tongue felt dry and swollen.

Nothing new here.

He was covered in a blanket, the ratty grey wool one that was usually tossed over the back of the sofa. It smelled of cigarette smoke. He lurched to his feet and went to see what there was to drink in the fridge.

There was one hotdog bun in a zip-lock bag, an open can of Schweppe’s tonic water, a brown banana, and a small carton of cold milk. Milk?

There was something on a plate covered in plastic wrap. It was brown. He opened it and found a square slice of cake, with chocolate icing and sprinkles, and a blue candle laid on its side. There was a note scribbled on the back of a liquor store receipt. Happy birthday dad, it said.

Anthony took the cake and the carton of milk, found a fork, and sat at the table. The cake was very cold, and so was the milk. It was whole milk, and tasted like cream.

It was good.

Foreign Beer

Prompt: Sidewalk

copper penny

Anthony saw the girl with the stroller approaching from the south, clattering along the uneven sidewalk. He sat on the stoop outside the liquor store, a favourite perch until the manager politely asked him to move, which she hadn’t done yet.

It was warm afternoon, overcast and humid. The skies wanted to rain, Tony could feel it, but the skies were holding back. They might throw down some rain at any moment, and Tony didn’t yet have enough for a mickey of Schnapps, which was the cheapest spirit he could tolerate.

He placed an old copper penny on the sidewalk in front of him, choosing a penny because it wouldn’t sparkle in the sun the way a silver coin would. He kept a close side eye of the stroller and as soon as it was almost in front of him he reached out to pick up the penny as the stroller wheel rolled over his hand.

“Ouch!” he cried. “Jesus!” He pulled his hand back. It actually did hurt. How big was that damn baby?

“Oh, sorry mister,” said the girl, and Anthony saw she was even younger than he thought. She had over-processed blondish hair, a stream of acne that crossed her plump face, and wore strangely high wedge shoes with a short denim skirt.

She didn’t offer him any money to compensate for the injury done to him, even though his cup was sitting there with a couple of dollars in it. “That your kid?” he asked, in about as nice a tone as he had ever mustered.

“NO!” the girl said, and her face turned scarlet in alarm, and the baby awoke and started to scream, and she looked like she might start to wail too, and she pushed the stroller so hard in take-off that the baby’s cry was interrupted.

On the other side of the sidewalk was a scrawny grass boulevard, and the sprinklers came on, which meant it was five o’clock, and probably was an omen of the rain to come. Anthony saw another figure approaching from the corner of his eye, and put the penny on the sidewalk again.

Just as the figure was about to cross in from of him, it turned up the ramp towards the liquor store.

“Hey Tony.”

Jesus, it was that Leep guy. Leep the creep. He walked by on his way to and from work, and had some weird idea that familiarity translated into some kind of friendship. Leep wore work clothes. Baggy jeans, a t-shirt, and a navy blue nylon jacket.

“Spare a few bucks?” Perhaps friendship had benefits.

“What’s new?”

“I’m saving up money for my ailing mother. Got any?”

“Your ailing mother?”

“Or a bottle of Schnapps or maybe Prokov. Or perhaps a smooth single malt, if the gods are generous, which they aren’t.”

“Maybe on your birthday,” said Leep.

“Today is my birthday,” said Anthony.

Leep smiled indulgently and put two dollars in coins in the coffee cup, saluted him, and continued on into the liquor store, where he bought a selection of foreign canned beer, telling Anthony on the way out that he was reading a book about beer.

Anthony wasn’t the least bit interested in what Leep was reading or drinking. He ignored him. He was thinking that damn it, today really was his birthday.