Broken Glass

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The wind is from the north, cold as a winter’s gale. I could smell the snow as early as this morning, but it hasn’t hit us yet. One of my neighbors came by, offering to batten down the barn for me, get the house ready, and it was odd to hear him rattling around upstairs and in the yard. But he’s gone now, and the wind is all I can hear. The wind, and the emptiness in this creaky, ugly old house.

I fill the sink with water, set a few plates in to soak. It’s been days since I’ve bothered to wash anything. Days since I’ve bothered to cook, since I’ve lit the lamps or stoked the fire. I haven’t cared enough until now, but the wind is cold, and the walls too flimsy. The dogs will sleep inside with me tonight, and the barn cat with his stupid crooked tail and ugly yellow eyes. They’ll whine and howl if it’s cold, pawing at me, wanting to crawl into our bed like they used to on cold nights, and they’re too stupid to understand why I can’t let them. If I shut them downstairs they’ll leave me be, but they’ll need a fire at least.

And I can’t light the lamps without noticing how dirty everything is, how far I’ve let it go.

The plates and silver are clean faster than I expect them to be. I drop the last of the jars, and it shatters in the sink. I swear, biting off the curse before it makes a sound. No one is here to hear it, not anymore, but it’s been a long time since I dared speak against the silence.

The house is listening. I can’t bear to disturb it.

I gather the broken glass quickly, throwing the largest pieces into the dustbin, and cut my fingers on the sharp edges. The pale suds have blood in them now, red against white, and I bite my lip and toss the rag onto the counter, leaving the rest for later. Tomorrow, maybe. If I can convince myself to care by then.

The sky is dark outside, and the wind is growing colder. It snaps at my wet hands, tugs at my hair and my skirts, and I lean against the porch railing and watch the storm move in. It’s growing closer. Snow will hit before dark, and the passes will be closed for a week. Maybe two. My eyes linger on the road leading off our land, the fence line that will soon be buried in drifts, and search for the horse and rider I know won’t be coming. He rode in at this time nearly every night once, his face tanned and rough with sun and wind, his hat pulled down over his eyes. His grave is behind the house, beneath the trees he planted in the summer before we married, but I still watch the road for him when the sun goes down. He’ll ride in, one of these nights. I’ll be waiting when he does.

What to Do with your Edited Manuscript

Wordbender Editing

Receiving your manuscript back from your editor can be a harrowing experience. So much blood and tears were shed over it. What if your editor hates it?

It starts out with you checking your email like a madman about a week before your editor said she’d have it ready for you, until you’ve exceeded your friend’s email-checking obsession by checking yours over 50 times per day.

And then it appears in your inbox two days early. You think “Oh God, why is it early?! I’m not ready for this!”

At this point, the subject might as well read “WARNING: HEART ATTACK ENCLOSED.” You wonder if anyone around you knows CPR. Didn’t Julius Caesar die of a heart attack? Oh. No, he was stabbed. Like a bunch of times. That’s probably a better fate.

You run to the bathroom and throw up.

Then you come back and stare at it. What…

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7th and Main

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7th and Main, they tell me. 7th and Main, but not on the street, not where we can be seen.

No, none of us want to be seen, none of us want to be noticed. So we don’t sell in the street.

It’s nearly dark by the time I step off the bus. The air is dirty, this far downtown. I can smell the soot, the exhaust fumes, the pollution. The crowds are headed for home, tired from their long day in the tall buildings, the offices, the factories. I pull my hood up, keep my headphones in and my eyes on the oily pavement. They are in a hurry, but I have all the time in the world. The market doesn’t open until 7 anyway, and the last booths don’t close until after midnight.

7th and Main. I loiter on the corner, leaning against a brick wall while I wait for it to get dark. My backpack’s heavy tonight. I brought too much, I need the money, but if someone thinks to ask, if I’m stopped, I won’t be able to claim it as anything but merchandise.

I’ll be in jail so fast, I won’t even have time to think up a good lie.

When the street empties out and it grows a little darker, I vault over the barrier of the disused subway line and jog down the steps. The tunnels are dark, and the tracks smell of oil and dust. They shut down years ago, so long ago that people have forgotten about them. They hardly notice the entrances now, in the hustle of the streets, and only a few people use them. The homeless, a few gangs. Kids who are on the lookout for trouble.

And us. We use the tunnels every night. Always in a different place, always with a different pattern. Tonight, it’s 7th and Main. Tomorrow, it will be somewhere different.

I follow the tracks, walking on the old rails. They were electric once. Now they’re dead, same as everything else down here.

The market is set up just around the corner, where the lights won’t show. They’ve hung lanterns from the wires running along the ceiling, set them on the floor around their booths, hung them from the walls. I stick my hand in my back pocket, checking for the money I’ve been hoarding for tonight. I’ll buy first, then set up my booth. Some nights I don’t have the money to buy first, and the best merchandise is gone when I finally have enough to do some bartering.

I go for the vegetable stands first. Lettuce, tomatoes. An avocado. I stop to smell the limes, remembering the one I stole years ago from a real market. Limes are wildly expensive, but I’ve never forgotten the taste. Never.

Toilet paper next. Eggs. A bottle of milk from a farmer who’s been banned from selling so many times that his hands are branded black. I have a little extra money this week, a little extra merchandise of my own to sell, so I waste a whole quarter on hair clips for Emmi. She’ll like that.

They have books too, a few novels, some history books. I try not to even look. I haven’t had enough money for such things since I built a bicycle from parts in the dump and sold it. The money we use is outdated, obsolete everywhere but here. Everyone else—all the normal folk—buy and sell with the chip in their wrists.

But some of us—sewer rats, they call us—don’t have a chip. So we can’t buy. Or sell. Sewer rats that try are sent straight to prison.

Or worse.

When I have everything on my list, I set up my own booth. I have toothpaste this week, toothpaste and dental floss, watches and cigarettes. I even have a bottle of Irish whiskey, but that already has a buyer. I just have to deliver it. I started out selling simple things, matches, the occasional lighter. I’ve been caught twice, both when I first started. I got a slap on the wrist then, a night in jail to ‘think about what I was doing’.

I did think about it. In fact, I thought about it a lot.

In the end, I decided that if I was going to get arrested, I might as well be arrested for selling something expensive. Something I can make a living off of.

So now, I’m one of the best-known merchants in the subway line. I haven’t been caught, but if I was now, with the things I carry around, I wouldn’t be getting out after one night.

But, I’m smarter now. I don’t get caught. And I have enough to live on, even to live well.

Most sewer rats can’t even claim that.

A Christmas Carol

It is not Christmas.

I am aware of that, thank you very much.

Nor am I generally the type of person to be singing Christmas carols in July or leaving my Christmas lights up all year round.

(Okay, you caught me. I totally am.)

 

But, if we are going to be fair and totally above board with everything, I did, in fact, read this book around Christmas time. I had seen plays, watched endless numbers of movie adaptions, and listened to radio productions, but never actually read the book. So I thought it was about time I picked it up.

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Despite my heightened expectations, A Christmas Carol was everything I hoped it would be and more. Charles Dickens (also the author of A Tale of Two Cities, which I reviewed last week) is an incredibly insightful, interesting author with a solid grasp of character, prose, and story. From the first words to the last, this charming Christmas classic held me spellbound, and more than ever aware of how watered down and cliched this story has become. The powerful classic is now a children’s fairytale, something pulled out at Christmas time and ignored otherwise.

And yet, some renditions still hold true to the spirit behind this beautiful story. I have seen plays—and movies—that, although not perfect, held very well to the original storyline and managed to convey the truth of what Dickens put onto the page.

All of us, of course, know the story of the crotchety, miserly Scrooge, who hated Christmas, hated people, and loved nothing but his money and his business, if that can be called love. His experiences with the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future are familiar to many. Even the tale of Tiny Tim, the ailing son of his overworked and woefully underpaid assistant, Bob Cratchit, is well known and loved.

And yet, for the sake of time, many stories have cut out much of Scrooge’s journey with the spirits, his return to a childhood marred by neglect and illness, the memories of a woman he loved and longed to see at ease and with plenty, and yet lost because of his obsession with the wealth he was determined to give her. Each of the spirits show him another portion of his life, either past, present, or future, and glimpsed from the outside, instead of through a veil of wealth and greed, Scrooge begins to understand how cold, useless, and unfeeling the wealth that he was massed and hoarded over his long life has become. How much he has missed through his miserly, clutching behavior, and how little time he still has left to amend his past.

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A Christmas Carol has always been one of my favorite stories, and since reading the book, I treasure it all the more. If you have never picked up the unabridged classic and read it front to back, I strongly encourage you to do so. You will not be disappointed.

“Have they no refuge or resource?” cried Scrooge.

“Are there no prisons?” said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. “Are there no workhouses?”

The bell struck twelve.

Bamboo Gardens

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I hide in the bamboo again, the way I did when I was a child and my nurses wanted to put me to bed. I would complain that the sun had not yet fallen behind the mountains, and then I would hide from them in the gardens, in the bamboo.

They always knew I was there, of course. But they would pretend to look for me anyway, pretend to be puzzled by a child who could disappear so quickly.

The men who come out of the house are not pretending. They’re looking for my father, or any other member of my family. I sink lower, crouching in the bamboo, and pray they cannot see me through the waving stalks and leaves. I can see the glint of the rifles they carry, the flash of moonlight on a straight cap or a uniform button. They are soldiers, men I had hoped never to see in our house. My father knew they would come eventually.

I don’t think he expected them to come so soon.

They circle the fish pond, kicking our raked paths to dust with their heavy boots. They’ll burn the house when they finish their search, and set fire to the gardens as well. The plum trees, the lilies, the fountains. Everything will burn. Our village will burn. But if they leave before they find me, if I can stay hidden, then maybe I can slip out the gate while they’re setting the fires in the house. I can run to the mountains, the same as the other refugees, and when the war is over and our men have killed theirs, we can come back. Back to ashes and soot, to burned homes and cinders. We can rebuild, same as we have always done. Same as we’ve been planning.

I’ll have to do it alone now. They’ve found everyone else, but I can see they aren’t going to find me. They don’t expect to find anyone out here, certainly not a woman who feels more like a child with every passing moment. A child, hiding in the bamboo.

A Tale of Two Cities

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . .”

So begins one of my favorite classics, a book that I didn’t expect to like and instead fell head over heels in love with. A Tale of Two Cities captivated me. Its poignancy, intrigue, and complex characters drew me in, propelling me through a book that I’d heard described many times as sluggish.

The French Revolution is a bloody, chaotic period in history, and the books that I have read during that era have always fascinated me. The Scarlet Pimpernel and Les Miserables are both great favorites of mine as well, both as movies and as books.

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Like most classics, A Tale of Two Cities is anything but a quick read. It meanders along, telling the story in rich detail and vivid depth. I personally will read—and enjoy—a book no matter the length, as long as it does a good job of keeping its reader engaged.

And this book had no trouble doing that.

The story begins with the trial of Charles Darney, a Frenchman in an English court, now accused of treason and espionage. The charges are quickly dropped, however, on the testimony of Sydney Carton, a lawyer and a man who looks enough like Darney to be his twin. After the trial, the two of them continue to be linked together by a young woman, Lucie Manette, whose father has recently been rescued from a French prison. She eventually is married to Darney, and Sydney graciously steps aside, declaring the other a better man and continuing to maintain friendship with both of them.

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But the turmoil in France continues to grow, and Darney, a former aristocrat who has disowned his family line, must return to plead mercy for a former servant. But the bloodshed, rampant hatred, and growing terror snatch him up as well, and the whirlwind of violence that was the French Revolution threatens the quiet family he has built.

A Tale of Two Cities is a remarkable story of love and grief, bitterness and healing. Charles Dickens weaves heroism into ‘worthless’ men, fear into courage, and forgiveness into years of hatred. This story is one that I have treasured since the moment I read it and will continue to hold dear as one of the most believable, moving stories I’ve ever read.

I wish you to know that you have been the last dream of my soul.

I’m Back!

Last month, my entire family piled into our twelve passenger van at 4 AM, pointed the wheels east, and started out on a two-week adventure. We drove through Kansas, saw lots of rolling hills, dry plains, and squished rabbits, and stopped at gas stations in the middle of nowhere with names no one will ever remember.

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I did not take any pictures.

You’re welcome.

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By 4 PM, we had crossed into beautiful Missouri and stopped for the night at a friend’s house. We stayed for the evening and all the next day, wandering the woods, skipping rocks on the lake, and kicking the soccer ball around the yard.

I did take pictures.

You’re welcome.

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Then, after too much food, too much fun, and not enough sleep, we kept driving. All the way through Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia, and on into Virginia to meet up with my older sisters, lie on the beach, and sleep.

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Hanging out with my wonderful editor!

I watched cooking shows for days.

It was wonderful.

I don’t even feel guilty.

We went fishing, played in the waves, collected seashells, ate fish (that we did not catch, because we are apparently not great fishermen), and saw so many dolphins that I am pretty sure I’m almost an expert now.

Unfortunately, I did not take pictures. Because I was in full vacation mode, and most of the time I was sleeping.

I’m sorry.

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Only not really. Because I caught up on so much sleep that I can actually wake up in the morning now. Woohoo!