The Crisis

Prompt: Better

hospital monitor

The silence and darkness of this planet are almost unbearable. I’m sure I’m not the only one strangely homesick for the often intrusive 24-hour a day noises and lights of Earth. When I lived at Home some of my most memorable vacations were hikes in the deep woods, where the only sound was nature, and even nature turned the volume down overnight, and the only light was from a persistent moon. There was blackness and the silence of trees. Yet I longed for activity, lights, sounds.

Here on Beta Omega (no, we still haven’t agreed on a new name; we are so taken up with other duties of, well, colonizing a new planet) the 20-hour sun cycle grants us eight hours of sunlight and twelve hours of darkness. Ten in the evening is our midnight. The children are asleep well before midnight, and that accounts for a lot of the dark tranquility.

This imbalance, small as it may seem, has had a profound influence on me. And after the Crisis, the silence was as loud as an old SLS.

When she slept in for a few mornings, none of us were surprised. She has always been an active child, and trying to keep pace with her young half-brother (my son Radical) assured she was even more wildly busy during play times. And she is a growing child. Growing can be exhausting; we’ve all transversed growth spurts and strain on our organs and muscles. Angel, as perfect as she was, was no different.

When she collapsed, drained of color, it was not while playing Twistrun with Radical but while reading a book called The Blue Rabbit. Panicked and confused, I scooped her into my arms. Radical was using his quiet time to play a game on his tablet. I roughly grabbed his hand and rushed out of the library, stabbing the emergency button with my forehead on the way out.

Everyone, all of us, appeared in the corridors except for Rosa, who as first medical officer, made her way so swiftly to the lab that she awaited me as I carried Angel through the door, trailed by Radical and then the six others.

Rosa slammed on the quarantine doors. Only Radical and I were allowed to remain, since we’d already been exposed to whatever had felled our darling Angel.

Radical was strangely obedient, not moving from his chair when told to stay put. I helped Rosa as best I could— gently got Angel out of her play clothes and into the bed, held her while she was given the injection, and lifted limbs and hair while Rosa hooked the child up to a web of beeping and blinking monitors.

Then blood and tissue samples were taken. All the while Angel lay as if dead— pale, absolutely still, not even a fluttering of delicate eyelids. Naturally she looked tiny in the full-sized bed, dwarfed by billowing white pillows and sheets.

“What is it, Rosa?”

“I don’t know,” she said, starring at the station monitor. Results of tests cascaded down the screen. “Diagnosis is unclear, there is something like a measles virus apparent.”

“Which is impossible,” I said.

“Correct,” said Rosa. She conferred with Ed regarding the test results, sent him the data. He was a stymied as Rosa and the computer. She looked up from the computer. “You broke protocol. You shouldn’t have moved her.”

“I’m sorry, I panicked,” I said. Rosa turned to the monitor and frowned.

Radical was up and moving about the room. I went to him and led him back to the chairs. I gave him a pair of thin vinyl gloves to play with. He looked at them and then at me as if to say, “Really?”

What he did say was, “What about Angel?”

“Don’t know yet, honey,” I said. I crouched and gave him a hug. He smelled, inexplicably, like sage. He was as stiff and bony as ever— not the most huggable child I’d ever encountered, but he was mine. And Christopher’s. Christopher and Sara must be frantic. They would, I suspected, sacrifice anything to be here in this room with Angel, instead of me.

Rosa gave Radical and I both an injection; Radical didn’t cry. She jabbed herself, despite my offer.

Because of Angel’s high temperature, after a few hours Rosa and Ed decided to induce a coma, and so the child now had a precautionary oxygen mask over her nose and mouth as she lay there. I longed to hold her, console her, somehow send her a message of courage and hope, but she wouldn’t have heard me. She was in a personal battle that was as far from me and those who loved her as Earth was.

Radical went to her bedside, and kissed her upper arm near her elbow, since he couldn’t reach her forehead. “Don’t die, Angel,” he said. “I need you.”

It was a strange thing for a child to say, and I thought about it. I couldn’t sleep, anyway. I sat up with Angel overnight. The room was dimly lit, and the lights and graphs on the monitors streamed and blinked. There were humming noises, and separate, constant beeps. Radical was asleep on the cot, softly snoring as he often did.

I longed for the unbearable silence of an ordinary alien night.

Boom

Prompt: Prudent

View of Budapest at Night

When Hungary was still under Soviet rule, my friend Bethany and I paid a visit to her family members as part of a backpacking trip in Europe.

We had very little information about the country and virtually no one spoke English (and our Hungarian vocabulary was limited to the word “good” —, pronounced “yo”, which we mistakenly thought meant “yes”. ).

Bethany’s distant aunts and uncles and cousins mostly lived in a Budapest suburb, and they duly showed us the sights of that most impressive and grand city. Saint Stephen’s Basilica and many historic plazas and works of architecture. At one point an uncle took us to a wonderful lookout with a sweeping view of the Danube River, the lights of the bridges and upon its shore twinkling as the sun started to set, and told us a long and emotional tale, introducing us to the river as if it were a long-lost lover. Of course we had no inkling of the meaning of anything he said, but his speech brought tears to our eyes.

We visited other relatives who lived deep in the countryside, where you took a magazine on your visit to the outhouse, and not to keep up with the latest trends. A massive sow shared space with the outhouse. This was the largest pig I have ever seen (still) and I think now how unfair it was that she was in such close proximity to a human waste dump. She would hardly get the best impression of her captors, and no doubt had little respect for them, even when they emptied the slop can for her dining pleasure.

These rural family members were round— very fat in that jolly way that some people have. This was because their diet revolved about potatoes, white bread, and lard. Dinner might be mashed potatoes, fresh-baked bread with lard to spread upon it, cabbage, and a small piece of mutton.

They had a movie night in this country village, and Bethany and I attended the outdoor showing of a movie, perhaps a romantic comedy, not in English, as we sat in folding chairs under the stars. After the film the younger people of the village crowded around us as we walked back to the farm. They were excited and enthusiastic, and so were we, and I don’t know why. By this time, however, being clueless was my constant state, and it was rather relaxing.

Back at our base in Budapest, a young, rather dour “cousin”, Anna, offered to take us to a kind of club one night. Armed military personnel continuously stopped all of us on the street and in the club itself and asked for ID. Anna was extremely nervous when this happened. Anyway, it turned out Anna was a bit of a slut, since all the guys knew her and she was thrilled that the excuse of taking Bethany and I out for a little excursion gave her an opportunity to flirt and make out and make plans for future rendezvous. We thought Anna was pretty wonderful.

One night towards the end of our visit, we watched the news on television with Bethany’s “uncle” and one of the lead stories was coverage of a military parade in Moscow. Thousands of soldiers, hundreds of tanks, and a bold display of bombs and possibly nuclear weapons paraded before the crowds lining the streets. Bethany’s uncle pointed to the weapons on the screen, and said to us, complete with hand gestures: “USA… boom!”

USA… boom! This was the one bit of comprehensible conversation we had with anyone in Hungary. Of course times have changed. We now have wise and prudent governance in both America and Russia.*

USA… boom!


*As of April 3, 2017, no we don’t.

Careful in the Bathroom

Prompt: Hesitate


Dear Wednesday,

Some people wonder why I won’t fly. In planes. I used to travel quite a lot, mostly to Europe, but also Africa, the Americas, the Middle East, and Polynesia, and would love to visit Vietnam or Cambodia. But flying is far too stressful.

It is not the worry of crashing on takeoff or landing, or engine failure or terrorism. No, the hesitation is caused by the greediness of airlines and the stupidity of governments. I won’t wait hours in lineups. I won’t surrender my shoes. I won’t surrender a few ounces of contact lens solution. I won’t watch my grandmother get patted down by security. I won’t go through an x-ray machine that displays my private bits. I won’t be interrogated by untrained security personnel. I won’t pay extra to take luggage with me on a vacation. I won’t be bumped from my flight because of “overbooking”. I won’t sit through long periods of flight delay with no explanation. I won’t sit in a row of four seats that used to be a row of three. I won’t have my kneecaps broken by the seat in front of me. I won’t breath dry, stale air and the germs, farts, and body odour of too many people crammed into a too small space. I won’t tolerate rudeness from overworked flight attendants. I won’t pay extra for disgusting food. I won’t drink whatever that hot drink is. I won’t stand in more lineups. I won’t wait for hours for lost luggage to be found. I won’t have a six week long bout of flu after returning home. [Rant temporarily over]

May I present one cartoon that addresses my hesitation; one that make as much sense as nonsensical and irrational security regulations; and one cartoon that makes me, having lived in Texas, laugh.

cartoon-oxygen-mask-cost


cartoon-bathroom-reimagined


cartoon-granny-big-hair


Happy travels!

~~FP

Chandler’s Folly

Prompt: Folly

bonfire-column_of_sparks_by_the_emerald_otter

It was my dog Plato that coaxed the shadow out from the depths of a dark, dense army of evergreen trees and into the flickering light of the bonfire.

Plato barked and whined with excitement but his tail also slowly wagged in a grand swishing movement, and I said quietly, “OK.” Plato took a few tentative steps, nose thrust forward, and someone emerged, hand first for the dog to sniff, like a child who’d been taught to do so by a careful parent.

It was a child who stepped forward. Young, with long hair like a girl, but scruffy, thin, and ragged. Plato sniffed, and then licked her hand. She lifted her head and looked at me with a blank, dead expression. It startled and confused me. Where was the curiosity, the relief, the fear— all the emotions I felt?

“He’s gentle,” I said to the girl. “You can pet him if you want.”

She fell to her knees, closed her eyes, and put her arms around Plato. He didn’t like hugs, but only squirmed a little.

“What’s your name?” I asked, as Plato had a quick taste of her cheek with his tongue.

“I don’t know,” she said. She stood again, and took a step backward.

“Would you like a hot dog?” I asked her.

She nodded and I went to the small table I’d set up beside the fire, where there was a cold, roasted hotdog, and some fresh ones that might take a few minutes to heat up. I figured she didn’t want to wait, so I gave her the cold, roasted one. She turned her back and ate it. I guess she ate it quickly and greedily. Someone taught this kid both manners and dog protocol. Who? I buttered a couple of hot dog buns and gave them to her, too.

“Where are you from?”

“I don’t know.”

“How old are you?”

“I don’t know.”

“Have you travelled far?” I asked. “Never mind, don’t answer.”

She slept in the tent with Plato, while I lay by the fire, wrapped up in a sleeping bag set on a thin foam mattress, and watched the stars move across the sky. I thought about how they still moved across the sky, even though life had all but ended on Earth, and about how they must have moved across the sky before the first squiggle of life struggled into being.

The following morning we walked to the mall, where we picked out some jeans and shirts and sweaters,  a coat with a hood (age 9-11 seemed to fit her best), toiletries, a carry-bag, and other necessities, then she cleaned up, and a fresh, clean, nameless child with shiny black hair walked back to the camp with Plato and me. She never spoke unless I asked her a question. So I asked her questions, though she had few answers, and got upset and frustrated. I realized it might take some time. It had taken me and Plato a bit of time to get used to the plague and everyone gone and being alone, too.

“You still can’t remember your name?” I asked.

She hesitated. “Folly.”

“Folly?”

She looked at me in silent despair. “I don’t know. I think so.”

“OK,” I said. “Would you like to come with us to the Grand Canyon?”

And so we all three crammed into the front of the red 1961 E-Type Jaguar convertible, Plato partly in her lap, and hit the open highway again. It wasn’t until we stopped at one of those gas station pantries to use the toilet and pick up some Cheezies and Snapple, that I idly looked at the big map and spotted a little town about seven miles from where we’d camped in the woods behind the big mall. The town was called Chandler’s Folly.

I decided to change our plans. The Grand Canyon wasn’t going anywhere.

 


Don’t Pass the Pretzels

Prompt: The Wanderer

Vietnamese soup

I hate flying. I hate the line ups, the stupid regulations, the inconvenient, inconsistent, and inefficient “security” measures, the tiny seats with no leg room, the greed of the airlines, pretzels, the reclining seats, lost luggage, jet lag, the lack of fresh air in a plane, and yet more line ups. So I don’t fly any more. I actually get stressed just thinking about it.

I don’t miss flying, but I miss the destinations. Most of my travel has been in Europe, but I’ve also been to many parts of the U.S. including Alaska and Hawaii, and to Zimbabwe, and drove across Canada once, with the dog.

If I had a private plane (hint, hint, whoever is my Secret Santa this year) I would definitely return to Italy and some other European destinations, but for adventure I would go where the food is. Vietnam, or Thailand, whose cuisines I love. Perhaps I would throw in a temple or two, but the Pho and Pad Thai would be my real reason for going.