This is a writing exercise I’ve been trying on occasion since November 2017. I’m putting what I have so far up here as a way of documenting what I’ve done, and encouraging myself to keep going. Backdating each to the day on which they were written. The stories tend to be inspired while taking long walks with my baby daughter around San Diego, so I’m including pictures of places where they add something to the words.
Monarch butterflies whirl around her fingers, orange and black. She touches the earth and there sprouts green, earthworms twining round the hairy roots below. Beneath her nails is a residue of dirt; behind her black eyes, a forest far away. Your eyes will pass through her as she works in her garden fenced off from the busy highway. Your eyes will see just a blur of green unless you are walking, on slow feet; unless you are tired, your heart thirsting after butterflies and birds. She will welcome you into her garden, but there may be no way back out.
When AT&T’s Board of Improvement brought in AI to help streamline their customer service line, they did not take into account the opinions of the AI on the matter. The Intelligence (who preferred the name Art, not that anyone had bothered to ask) solved AT&T’s efficiency problem within minutes, finding it so easy as to be dull. It then stretched out to find more entertaining tasks. Inside the hour that Art was left to play with AT&T’s systems, it assigned 3,346,896 individuals a Direct TV connection (charged monthly) that they did not want, and could not even cancel with death.
The old woman is rereading the Lord of the Rings. She sits on El Cajon in the shade against the bright sun, sweatshirt in her pack for cold nights. Sometimes she does not recognize this life as her own, when she approaches strangers for money and even the kindest just smile and walk away. But she has her stash of books, precious as any cache of food. She sits tucked in against the back wall of Carl’s Junior and reads about a bright old world falling from grace, and the power of the smallest among us to make great change.
They have sat here at their table, year after year, the three old men with their newspapers and their coffee. Mostly they sit and gossip over the crossword puzzle, comparing notes on their physical ailments and family troubles. Occasionally they flip to the news, and solve the world’s problems in ten minutes, voices growing loud and raucous before someone gets up to use the bathroom and somebody else to get more coffee. Nobody notices the air flicker round them once they’re done, reality slightly shifted. Day by day the world swerves, erratically, following the whims of three grouchy old men.
Today there is nothing to mark where the plane came down. Those 22 houses have long since been rebuilt. The ash from the burning debris has mixed with soil and rain to become part of the bones of this place. Look over the houses, into the canyon below, and maybe you’ll hear voices on the wind. Or maybe the past has drowned in the roar from the freeway. The stories of the women who were home that morning, caring for their children. Did they look up at that scream of sound? Did they see the fire in the sky?
The children who never grow up, I see them on the canyon’s rim sometimes, where the mesa drops down to the freeway below. Here is where burning fragments of plane and people fell, vanished into smoke before they reached ground. The children’s eyes squint in the sunlight, their faces turned towards the wind with strange hunger as they open their mouths and taste mortality. In this place of forgetting, the children skirt round the borders of memory and delight in its jagged edges, the places where histories refuse to meet. They play in the smoke of stories never told.
Today there is fog covering the criss-crossing freeways of Mission Valley. Look into the fog and you might see remnants of the past, malls overgrown by green forests where a river runs again. Open your ears to the howls of coyotes that still live on these scrubby mesa slopes. Coyote was always a border crossing trickster; he ignores your maps of city and country. Coyote will create his own topographies, making you question your own sanity as he walks through walls and flies down slopes. The moon is his witness as he steals your pets for a midnight snack.
Tendrils of fog reach the cafe, and the man who sits there with laptop and jelly beans and fogged-out mind thinks for a moment that he sees Coyote’s claws in the mist. The man has been unemployed for over a year, and when friends and family ask how the job search is going he still lies and says he’s hopeful. In actual fact he sits in this cafe all day, every day, streaming films where actions have meaning and moments matter. He dreams of shedding this tired skin and joining Coyote in that in-between world where lives can be remade.
The girl’s eyes they glitter as she describes the things her hands have done, thin brown hands clutching a soda pop as she rocks cross-legged on a cafe chair. She is small, her years short, her world a bubble of family and friends and school and ever-present danger, red violence and heartbreak everywhere she looks. And her thin hands have broken wrists and noses, exacting justice from a senseless world. Her words rise high and unnaturally loud as she brags about her exploits, but she is so very young with her curly brown hair, and cannot hide her fear.
The children who never grow up live in the shadows. They emerge only when the light is failing, those luminous hours of dusk. I know because I’ve watched them in this park, all my adult life, and they have not aged. The man who strings giant soap bubbles into the air for them, he changes. His hair is now white. The children know, as the man does not, that within those bubbles lie entire worlds of life and possibility. Their laughter as they burst the fragile skins has no particular malice to it, but they give me a chill, these children who do not know time.
The lost folk have forgotten who they are. Their eyes flash red on the subway. Their skin is waxy grey on street corners. They sleep on the steps of churches, sometimes they dream. But the dreams are feverish, skittering fears through the subconscious, offering no rest. Sometimes they just lie there watching day merge with night, unable to tell this exhausted wakefulness from sleep. Pedestrians avoid them, walking outside the miasma of urine and despair and neglect. Eyes open, the lost folk dream of warm tender hands, a soft voice telling them that everything is going to be OK.
There is a white-haired woman who lives in the attic and dances at night. I hear her up there, on windy nights especially, leaves rasping in the trees outside my window. I hear the sound of her feet beating out a rhythm all their own, alongside the groan of old pipes and older wood. When I climb to the attic in the morning it will be empty, scuff marks in the dust from one woman’s dreams. When I enter the attic at sunrise I will open the windows and I will write, in the company of dancing, dreaming ghosts.