Write It…Once Upon a Time & Other Beginnings

typewriter-584696_1920Unless we’re writing fairytales, we require original launches into our stories. Short story authors especially, wrote essays on succinct and enticing starts to short fiction. And this is doubly important with flash fiction. 

I once read a foreward to a short story collection where author Isabel Allende (one of the editors of the collection) mentioned that if you can’t nail your story within the first paragraph or two, the story won’t succeed. However, this sort of thinking often leads to writer’s block and other forms of procrastination.

For people such as me who free writes short fiction as oppose to plotting out my stories, I often balk at writing the introductions to short fiction. And yet, at other times, the stories come to me fully written complete with a seductive opening line.

Here are examples of introductions to both my short fiction and my novels. And my trick is to get everything on paper or on to a Word file. Then, I go back and rewrite the opening paragraphs. My writing grows stronger as I delve in more deeply with my characters and watch their movies in my thoughts.

 

“Marcos first encountered her face glimpsing through a crowd of shoppers. Next, he saw her slight frame draped in a black skirt that clung to her thighs and swirled around her knees, her white blouse hugged her torso and a pendant swung around her breasts like a pendulum.  Her body appeared and disappeared down the aisles of the natural grocer as she rushed about tossing tomatoes, mushrooms, mangos, and bags of flours into her cart, then ticking items off of a list—a true picture of elegance and efficiency.”—Apple of Seduction (short fiction)

“He never gave her the china cabinet or piano.  He gave her jewelry, clothing, china, and trinkets from countries he traveled to, but he failed to grant his wife the two things she wanted most in her life.”–The China Cabinet (short fiction)

“Miranda saw Pierre’s face reflected on a window of a coffee shop.  She battled against her doubts and stood frozen by the shop’s door, realizing that she could’ve pretended to browse the various exotic bags of coffee beans that strewn the shelves of the old world style shop. She could have drunk in all the smells of pastries baking in the back or reveled in the French swing jazz that wafted through the shop, but instead she dashed to the bus station to catch her connection.”–Love Quadrangle (novel)

“She fascinated me–the way Maggie flipped her hair back with a whisk of her hand while she played her instrument. All in one motion she swiped the hair away from her face and strummed her guitar without missing a beat.  In my foolish girl heart, I imitated Maggie–carefree and indifferent to consequences.”–Maggie Magdalene (short fiction)

I think this suffices as examples. I still go back to my old stories and rewrite or polish the introductions. As we evolve as writers, we owe it to ourselves to revitilize our archival stories by applying new tools and techniques. And often times, this proves more fruitful then starting from scratch.

Often times, our original stories already have solid bones. As we improve as writers, we don’t need to reinvent the stories but we do need to reinvest in them. Some stories haunt us for years until we flesh them out, polish the beginnings and strengthen the conclusions.

I have written screenplays, novels, and short fiction since my thirties. I concentrated on mainly poetry and song lyrics in my twenties. And I’ve learned that we must show up with courage in our hearts to embrace the creative spirit or muse. Some stories require finessing over the years until we get it right or get into the zone.

We surrender what doesn’t work and then we wait it out until inspiration fires us up. That could be one day, two weeks, or three years before that happens. In the meantime, we go back to the drawing board with a different story or work on another creative project. Then when the time is right and inspiration strikes, we write that seamless story that leaves our readers breathless.

All Rights Reserved, copyright Patricia Herlevi

Except image which is from Pix a Bay.

 

 

 

 

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Short Fiction–Told in a Young Voice

flower-child-336658_1920

 

Emily Rose, That’s How it Goes…

By Patricia L. Herlevi

Emily Rose, that’s how it goes…the seasons come and the flowers grow…
Emily Rose and I lived on the same street. While she wore the prim blue, red, and white plaid uniform of the Saint Theresa’s Catholic School for Girls, I wore ragged bellbottoms with fuzzy peace signs plastered over the holes.  And I wore peasant blouses.

Emily’s mother, Clare, named after the Italian saint of Assisi, grew prize roses in their small garden.  In contrast, my mother, Rainbow, a carryover hippie from the Summer of Love, grew sprouts and tomatoes among weeds. It’s hard to say why someone like Emily noticed me, a scraggly tomboy, but perhaps she took me on as a project for salvation.

I recall one particular hot spring day that occurred towards the end of the school year, late May. The teachers at the public school where I attended allowed the students to wear shorts and T-shirts. Emily wasn’t so fortunate, and she sweltered in her long sleeve white button shirt and her wool skirt, not to mention those thick cotton tights.

Like a good martyr, she didn’t complain as sweat dripped down her forehead while we walked to our separate schools. That was the day I asked her about Jesus. My mother had told me about another Mary, Magdalene, and how the Catholics wouldn’t accept her as the bride of Christ. I wanted to put the theory to the test.

“Say, Emily, I heard that Christ was married. Blood rushed to Emily’s face and she grimaced. “Christ wasn’t married! That’s impossible! Who told you that?”

“My mother told me.”

“Really, what does your mother know? She’s not a Christian and neither are you.”

I stared down at the hearts I painted on my white canvas tennis shoes. “My mother is into Jesus. She took me to see Jesus Christ Superstar and…”

Emily scoffed. “My mother wouldn’t be caught dead…” She crossed herself, “I mean that my mother would never take me to see such blasphemy.”

I saw the conversation heading into dangerous territory, so I changed the subject.

“Your mother’s roses are looking quite splendid.”

I copped an English accent for fun, but my humor which I learned from watching “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” every weekend with my parents, was lost on poor Emily. She’d probably find a quiet corner at her school so she could perform some kind of penance for listening to blasphemy about Jesus. I entertained myself with thoughts of the various types of punishment she would endure after I dropped her off at her proper school.

Don’t get me wrong, I adored Emily and secretly desired to be more like her. I needed discipline in my carefree life. I needed structure which my parents wouldn’t provide since they believed in the freedom of every child to choose for her or himself. I was twelve-going-on-thirteen and just learning about the magical world of womanhood. As my “moon time” approached, my mother took me to sweat lodges run by pseudo Native Americans, well, really just hippies with long braids who said they studied with this or that elder.

While my mother didn’t believe that I needed structure, she did believe that I needed ritual in my life and some way to mark my rite of passage into womanhood. I wasn’t exactly delicate, but I felt squeamish and embarrassed sitting through sex education with my parents, especially when they couldn’t keep their hands off of each other.

I wondered what Emily would have thought of those lectures. How did the Catholic girls learn about making love when they didn’t allow Jesus such a privilege?  Instead, they stuck him up on some throne in heaven where he just sat there passing judgment on us. And Mary, the Mother of Jesus never shed her virginity. How was that possible?

Personally, I found the Jesus in the musicals and movies super cool. I adored him in the way that other kids my age adored rock stars. Not that I hung posters of the crucified Jesus on my bedroom walls.

Still, Emily might have done that. I saw him as a flower child, you know, the power to the people, peace, love, and doves. I liked singing along with the songs from the musicals, “Jesus Christ, Super Star, who in the world do you think you are?” Who in the world did I think I was?

As the months wore on, Emily and I bonded in friendship. She put up with Rainbow and her scraggly garden; tofu burgers, and granola with yogurt that passed as snacks at my house. She put up with my parents fondling each other in front of us prim children. She put up with my Beatles and Elton John records and even learned to sing the words to “Yellow Brick Road”.

In fact, Emily possessed an amazingly lovely voice. That girl could sing both harmony and melody. How I envied her with her golden long hair, her rosy skin, and knowledge of her faith. If she had envied me, I never knew of it.

Her mother taught me Franciscan prayers and about Francis of Assisi and his transformation from wealthy playboy to a holy saint. I found that hard to imagine in the 1970s, even when young men dropped out of society in order to pursue a simpler lifestyle. I thought they were just lazy and avoiding adulthood.

“My dear, Francis was in his early twenties, when he found his Lord Jesus and he gave up his savage lifestyle to pursue an illuminated path.”

“What does illuminated path mean?”

Clare shook her head gently and her blonde curls jingled in the sunlight. “Illumination means light so his path was lit and he could find his way to our Lord Jesus Christ.” She crossed herself and then glanced lovingly in my eyes. “I’ll pray for your soul.”

One day a year later, Emily and I sang along to some Joni Mitchell records and I decided to get out my guitar. I had been taking lessons and wrote my first song. I decided to sing it for Emily. I sang in an alto voice which Rainbow compared to Carol King. I thought Emily would just laugh at me, but instead, she began singing harmony in soprano.

After that day, she and I wrote songs with double meaning. I sang about secular subjects like boys and she sang about her love for Christ and the Virgin Mary. We both turned fourteen during the summer of 1976, when Claremont, the small town where we resided decided to throw a hippie festival-bicentennial celebration, sort of a Canterbury fair slash barbecue slash show your patriotic red, white and blue.

We auditioned as a duet to perform on a youth stage. For whatever reason, perhaps to protect herself from sinning, Emily wore her school uniform. I wore a purple flowing skirt that my mother bought me for my rite of passage along with a gypsy white blouse and Navajo turquoise jewelry. I had grown my dark brown hair long and that day I wore it in braids.

I still envied Emily’s gold tresses and she even looked cool in her short uniform skirt and white short- sleeved blouse. She had grown looser since she had met me. As we were climbing up onto the stage, a young man, new to the neighborhood, sporting longish hair and a smile that could knock one dead, grabbed a seat in the front row.

The lone wolf watched us get set up on the stage. I felt so overwhelmed by his presence that I could barely tune my guitar. Emily acted super cool.  Although I learned later she was fighting off a sexual attraction to our new foxy neighbor. She really could pull off that cold as steel attitude when deep down, she endured the flames of desire or damnation, a matter of perspective.

After we finished performing our set of six flowing songs, the new neighbor swaggered up to the stage to introduce himself.

“Hey, I’m Jimmy as in Hendrix and Page.”

Emily blushed, “Who are they?”

Jimmy laughed. “Rock stars, man.”

“We’re only into folk music.”

“Speak for yourself, my dear.”

We ended up attending a small barbecue with Jimmy. He scarfed down five drumsticks and oily potato salad. Emily gingerly ate some fruit salad and picked at a hamburger someone brought to her. Ever since she entered her Franciscan phase, she detested meat. I too, stayed clear of any animal products having been brought up by two vegetarians who lectured me at every meal about the cruelty of raising animals for slaughter.

Jimmy grinned at us condescendingly.  “What? Don’t tell me, you two are vegetarians?”

“I’m afraid so.”

He scoffed, “That’s cool. I mean, a lot of rock singers have gone veggie these days. They say it’s healthier and good for the earth. But for me, I like meat and lots of it.”

It turned out that Jimmy came from farm stock and his grandfather didn’t grow potatoes as he liked to put it. Jimmy wore his hair long and listened to a lot of the same music as me, but deep down he was a good old country boy bent on one thing, getting laid before his sixteenth birthday. And we were two prized innocence just rearing to be sacrificed to a sex god or so I thought.

We hung out with Jimmy when he’d allow it. Although Emily and I were still best friends, a competitive spirit developed between us. We tried our best to hide our feelings for Jimmy and we pretended we only wanted friendship with him while fire stirred in the fruit of our wombs.

Another August rolled around and I invited Jimmy to my fifteenth birthday celebration. Emily and I sang a few of our newest songs plus our favorite at that time, “Age of Aquarius.” Rainbow and my papa, Mountain Mark acted pleased with the songs, but Jimmy seemed to be stewing over something. His eyes darted around our living room and other times, he seemed to be drinking in some deep reality or maybe he sought a lair in which to snag us.

Later that evening, after my parents had left for a night out on the town with their hippie friends, Jimmy and I hit the sacrificial wine.  He brought a bottle that he swiped from his parents to celebrate another of my rituals into womanhood, in which Rainbow had grown quite fond.

At first, Emily acted prudishly and refused to take a sip of the wine. She seemed sullen while Jimmy and I took huge gulps of the wine always thanking the Lord. This also did not go down well with Emily who despite appearances, (she was wearing her hair down and sporting a short mini skirt), took to religion like a sockeye salmon to the mighty Pacific Ocean. We took the Lord’s name in vain, mi culpa, excuse me, I have sinned.

“Come on, Emily, lighten up. It’s just a little wine.”

She scowled at me. “And you’re drunk and don’t even know it. You’re disgraceful!”

Jimmy scoffed, “How old are you anyway? Do you always need to turn to Mother Superior for advice or are you allowed to have a good time?”

I looked around the room. “I’ve news for you, Em, there’s no mother superior in this room. But we have this delicious bottle of wine.” I stare fondly at Jimmy, “And he might not be a Lord, but don’t you think that he’s foxy?”

Emily bolted from the room, furious at us. I took the opportunity of being alone with Jimmy. I had never been kissed and my body felt like a vestal fire just exchanging glances with him. I let my hair out of their braids and pulled my gypsy blouse down baring my shoulders.

He leaned forward and kissed me with his full mouth and tongue. My body ascended into bliss. Next thing I knew Jimmy was on top caressing every part of me and his wine breath delighted me further.

Emily was aghast when she returned to the room seeing her friends undressing each other. She crossed herself a few times and gulped down wine. She pulled out a flamenco record and placed it on the turntable then she started dancing seductively to everyone’s surprise. She shot smoldering glances at Jimmy and resembled a toreador captivating a bull’s attention. She swung her hips and licked her lips in anticipation of being deflowered.

Jimmy rolled off of me and approached Emily who he swooped in his arms and carried her to a bedroom in the back of the house, my room. I felt that my anger would destroy me, but I survived. However, my friendship with Emily died that day and would never be revived.

I shouted after them, “How disgraceful, a virgin sacrifice! Surely you’ll be sullied!”

I slumped on the floor nursing the remainder of the wine while tears slipped down my face silently. Some birthday, I thought. I swore that I could hear the lovers upstairs panting, but it was probably just our old German shepherd, Ben sleeping on the couch. I heard Emily yelp out in pain, but her cries only mirrored my own suffering as my two friends betrayed me.

A few months later, a nosy neighbor mentioned to my mother that Emily was sent to a convent for the Poor Clares at her own request. She had contracted a venereal disease from Jimmy and took that as a sign from God that she needed to repent for her sins. So just like that, she disappeared from my life and I went from a duet to a solo act.

And I guess I should’ve been thankful that Jimmy had done the deed with Emily instead of me, but I felt mortified. I wondered if kids dropped out of society to avoid such pain, but I stayed the course.  I did what was expected of me like the dutiful Catholic girl I wasn’t. Emily Rose and I, Anne Jacobs, had officially exchanged places.

Jimmy dropped out of school and moved to San Francisco where he joined an acid rock band. I didn’t care. I felt too numb to care.  I concentrated on writing songs, I took dance classes, and I got to know Saint Francis of Assisi who forgave me for my transgressions. Eventually, I graduated from high school and attended a music conservatory.

After I graduated, I joined up with a new writing partner, Marty Reingold. Then he and I signed our first record deal under the moniker, Emily Rose. I hadn’t forgotten Emily and I didn’t want to. Our first single was called, “Emily Rose–That’s how it goes.” It climbed the charts and even the mailman hummed it.

These days, I wonder if Emily ever heard my song. Do the Poor Clares listen to folk music? Did Emily remember me when she traveled around the country advocating sex education and woman empowerment classes in the Catholic schools? Did she ever sing our old tunes in private when no one but God and The Virgin was watching her?

She might not remember me or care, but I’ve searched endlessly for information regarding her vocation on the Internet. I learned that she became the Head Abbess at a convent in Spokane, Washington, that she lectured about family planning around the world and that she finally accepted Mary Magdalene as the Bride of Christ. I’m certainly not aware if I had anything to do with her conversion.

A long time ago, we sat on my lawn watching the sunset and pondering the existence of God. Emily turned to me with the sun shining like gold lanterns in her metallic blue eyes.

“Why do you think Jesus married a prostitute?”

I grabbed Emily’s arm gently. “But don’t you see that she wasn’t a prostitute?”

Emily picked a daisy that was growing on the grass and she smiled with enchantment.

“Father Paul and the sisters tell us that Magdalene was a loose woman and that she wept because of her sins. That’s why Jesus took pity on her, but he would’ve never married such a woman or any woman.”

“Why not? What’s so wrong with Jesus getting married?”

“He was serving God!”

“So you’re saying that married people can’t serve God?”

“They’d be too obsessed with one another to put God first.”

I laughed. “So then, your parents are too obsessed with themselves to serve God?”

I asked this question because both her parents were overly devoted to the church to the point where they didn’t even know the other existed any longer.”

“My parents aren’t a good example.”

“Really?”

“They’re the exception to the rule.”

“And my parents who adore each other would turn Jesus off?”

“No, because I think that Jesus would forgive them.”

“For what, spreading love in the world or having a family and enjoying Mother Earth?”

Emily didn’t respond to my question. She glanced at me with a knowing look and then counted down the last few seconds before the sun sunk below the horizon.

Years later through her own painful experiences, she learned that religion isn’t cut and dry. She tossed out dogma and grew into a real person who saw the world through an earthy gaze. She saw and felt the pain of young woman caught up in hormonal dramas. She felt the injustices done to the young woman in the name of religion and fought to bring peace to their lives. And so, tirelessly for thirty years, Emily forged ahead on this mission.

I also had a purpose to further women in the music industry. I bring love and joy to others’ lives through my songs. I say to Emily, “That’s how it went and that’s how it goes.” We gave more to life than it could ever return to us, but that’s okay, that has to be okay…I feel Emily nodding in silence as she ponders the marriage between the Divine Feminine and the Divine Masculine. If only the rest of the world would catch on…

Magic Realism in the American Wild West

wild-west-1319437_1920Ascension in the North Cascades

By Patricia Herlevi

I was traveling in the mountains with a man that I never thought I’d see again. And it started when I read about Lila Downs cabaret singing mother which sparked a past life memory. The mountain quest had to do with healing scarred souls if we didn’t get lost along the way. While I wasn’t good at reading maps, I understood the soul path.

“You told me to take this road,” Teshi scoffed.

“Alright, I read the map wrong. No need to get cross,” I countered. I studied the worn map. “Okay, let’s backtrack until we’ll find the right road.”

“Backtrack? I thought that’s what we were doing.”

As we drove in uncomfortable silence, I stared at the mountain crevices, swallowing hard to stop my ears from popping. I wondered if taking the ascension experience literally was the right way to go. As it turned out, we searched the mountains for an Old West town. And it felt like a quixotic journey, to say the least.

Our lives had been heading for trouble for years. Teschi’s music career crashed. I also found myself on the wrong end of the music business. Instead of performing my compositions, I wrote about the lives of fulfilled musicians. Add financial troubles and health issues to that list.

While this was going on, I remembered this old life in 1840s Oklahoma. A real beauty back then, I sang in saloons and pleasured men on the side. Living the life of a true libertine, I, Louisa often tossed my head back in hearty laughter. I wore sleek white gowns and long silk gloves like a bride of the southern plains. Similar to Jeanne D’Arc, I held my own with those men, even winning a hand or two at cards. Then he came swaggering into the saloon like a cowboy in some Hollywood western. I couldn’t have known that when I exchanged haughty glances with him, he would suck my life force then leave me dead on the ice-covered earth.

Hans arrived from Germany in search of prosperity promised to all those willing to exploit the New World. And I, the town’s welcoming wagon, permitted this man into my life. At first, I held my own, but we quarreled about the other men in my life. We quarreled about my music profession and how that wasn’t the type of work for a real lady and not the kind of woman he’d marry.

As time passed, I lost my will to live. I fought off his abuses, reluctantly mothered two children and lived my life trapped between four walls. He kept my loved ones at bay. I sang to myself to heal the bruises and broken bones. I sang with the caged canaries to stay sane. I quilted and I knitted alone like a proper lady of the plains, but deep down, I suffered.

Then one day, the big blow came. Hans made the decision to take the family to California so that he could prospect for gold. He didn’t dare go alone leaving me to the temptation to return to my former lifestyle. So we hooked up with a wagon train and endured an arduous journey. I eventually died from pneumonia during a snowstorm in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Not long after that, Hans realized that he loved me and mistakes he made. He abandoned the children and locked himself away in a mountain cabin. For years he lived in the wild like some old-timey hermit. Then when he couldn’t bear his grief any longer, he shot himself in the head.

I watched this as I hovered above him. My former sandy-haired husband seemed so frail that I forgave him. However, we had already set a dark energy in motion that would haunt us in another lifetime, if we should actually meet.

Meanwhile, in this lifetime, Teshi and I wound our way through mountain roads in search of a town that I recalled from my childhood. I thought we would find it, relive the events from the past and release them. But no matter how hard we tried, the little town eluded us. The gas meter reminded us of the precious fuel and time we wasted on the crazy journey. Would our friendship even survive the strain of the holiday?

I spotted a lookout point ahead. “Hey, let’s stop there. Let’s eat lunch and take our eyes off of the road.”

He safely pulled the rental jeep to the side of the road. Taking in the alpine scenery, we hiked up a narrow trail until we reached the lookout point. I felt dizzy when I looked out at the vista, but I refrained from complaining since it was my idea to stop there. I grabbed the baguette, cheese, and olives from my backpack while Teshi laid out a picnic blanket on the mossy earth.

The pale sun danced in his olive green eyes and he brushed his chocolate-colored hair from his face. I tried not to fall in love with him again, knowing the suffering that it caused me. I silently reminded myself of the real reason for our quest.

I pulled out my raincoat and laid it down on the ground. I sat down and toss an olive in my mouth. “I have to pee. Do you think there’s a toilet around here?”

“I doubt it. Sorry, Laura, you’re going to have to squat over the earth like our ancestors did.”

“I’m a spoiled city girl. What do you think they did when they were on those wagon trains? The men could easily take care of the problem, but women were overdressed.”

Teshi chewed on a large piece of bread he stuffed in his mouth. “You’re the one with the past life memories so you tell me.”

“Those memories never went into the finer details, just the bigger picture.”

“Are you sure that you have the right man because I don’t recall this life at all?”

“After I met you, I felt this horrible chill in my body that wouldn’t go away.” I showed him my goosebumps.

“So what does that tell me? We might just be on a wild goose chase and waste expensive gas in the process.”

I stretched my legs. “It happened. Recently when I was reading about quilting, I found this story about the pioneer women leaving the Midwest against their best wishes. Their husbands decided to take the family out west and the wives were forced to leave their loved ones.”

“So what does that have to do with me?”

“When I read that information I saw your face in my mind’s eye.”

“So then you called me and took me away from my work.”

“What work? Your career had just about ended. Your bands were striking deals behind your back.”

He chewed on the remaining bread and stared off into the distance. “Maybe we did live that life, but what does it have to do with us now?”

“You can’t see the patterns repeating themselves? Here you are again prospecting in the United States, but of course, your search for a new type of gold. What about your tantrums of jealousy when other men glance at me?”

He folded the picnic blanket while I grabbed my backpack. We ambled back to the car as he reflected on my question.

“I don’t know what to say, but I have questions not just about our relationship, but relations between different cultures, people, and nations. Why do we play so many games?”

We climbed into the jeep and drove off to our destination. Like two bloodhounds, we believed that we would sniff out the “cowboy” town. Perhaps the smell of barbecued animal flesh would have sent us on the right course. What a chilling thought for us vegetarians.

“What games were you referring to?”

“What about the passive-aggressive behavior of those Native Americans we met recently? Why do you think they were so polite to us in person, but caused us harm behind our backs? I still live in Europe so why would they blame me for genocide at the hands of someone else’ ancestors?”

I gazed out the window at the snow-capped mountains. I unroll the window and gulped in the mountain air.

“They don’t have access to the real power holders so… My ancestors came here in the middle 1800s as miners. They too were mistreated, but only took that out of themselves and their families instead of complete strangers. I don’t understand any of it. But I think that all the peoples of the earth are due for an enormous healing. And that we’re responsible not for what our ancestors did in the past, but what we do now.”

“Precisely. So, if I play games with others, then I’m accountable for the people I hurt. So why is it different for oppressed groups? Are passive-aggressive behavior and subtle ways of revenge considered self-defense? And why hurt the nice guy when it’s the ones in power that cause the most damage? What good comes out of that?”

“I know. It seems to me that those in power want none of us to get along. How can we ever reach a place of peace when we still are in the throes of a divide and conquer mentality?”

“I have no answers.”

“I don’t either.”

I spotted signs of civilization ahead. “I think that’s our town!”

“Are you sure? What are we suppose to do when we get there?”

“I don’t know.”

“Great, I come here from Europe and you don’t know.”

I laughed. “Lighten up, we’ll figure something out.”

I recognized Winthrop because the main part of town had not changed since my childhood visit.

“Yep, partner, this is our cowboy town. It’s Howdie Doodie Time!”

Teshi parked the jeep near a western saloon and he looked around. “Wow, this is just like a movie set. Do people actually live regular lives here?”

“Yes, they do. Strange place, isn’t it?”

We climbed out of the jeep and walked the streets. We saw a slim man dressed in black wearing a large cowboy hat. He reminded me of Hank Williams, but he possessed an unreal aura.

I whispered to Teshi, “I think we need to talk with him.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know, but I think he has something important to tell us.”

“Are you reliving scenes from The Celestine Prophecy?”

“Call it women’s intuition.”

“Okay, I’ll indulge your women’s intuition, but what do we say to the cowboy?”

“Maybe you can ask him if there are any good vegetarian restaurants around.”

He looked around at the western storefronts and laughed. “Do you think we’re going to find that here?”

We strolled up to the cowboy. “Excuse us, but how has the weather been around here lately?”

The cowboy touched the brim of his hat and he stared at us. “About time you two showed up.”

“Were you expecting us?”

The cowboy winked and then he pointed to a wooden bench not far from us. “Why don’t we have a little conversation over there?”

Teshi glanced at me nervously. We followed the cowboy over to the bench and we all had a seat.

Teshi asked, “How do you know about us?”

“I don’t. I’ve met many couples seeking solace from those wagon train years, or pains they endured living in the Old West. They come to this small town to heal themselves and some succeed.”

“Are you a mind reader?”

“No, but I pick up information in the wind. I know that in order to move onto the next realm of being, each of us must atone for what our souls did in the past. It would be no different for you. And you ask how do I know that you have come on a healing quest?”

He pointed to a big quartz crystal that hung on a leather strap around my neck. “Your new age good luck charm gave you away.”

I laughed. “Are we so transparent?

“What does it matter so much at this point? You’re two city slickers who seek to heal and you’re not sure where to go for it. You think that if you recreate the scenes from the most painful parts of your soul journeys, you might find lasting peace. Am I correct?”

I fidgeted with the strap on my over-sized backpack. “I thought that if we crossed a mountain pass and visited an Old West town, we’d conjure up those energies and heal them. But I never came up with an actual plan after we made it to our destination.”

The cowboy chewed on a toothpick. “And so you went through an entire tank of gas, got lost, and now that you have reached your destination, you feel stumped. You might feel foolish.”

Teshi guffawed. “I don’t feel foolish because it was her idea.”

I nudged Teshi on the shoulder. “I don’t recall you coming up with any better ideas.”

The cowboy gazed at us through his smoky gray eyes. “Once again, the woman is correct. You can heal yourselves and I’m going to show you how.”

Moments later, we found ourselves following a complete stranger along a path that took us behind the town. We hiked up a slight incline and towards a small stone structure with smoke sifting out of the chimney.

I wondered if we made a mistake. We didn’t even know this man. Why did we trust him? And we failed to tell any of our relatives about this sudden trip to the mountains. I wondered about the cowboy’s intentions. He smiled reassuringly at us.

A golden retriever barreled out of the house and was followed by the most beautiful blonde woman I had seen in my life. Her green flowing gown lifted slightly in the breeze as she glided towards us. She took Teshi’s hand.

“Greetings my dear ones.”

I stared into her clear blue eyes. “Who are you?”

“You know me. I’m Clara. Don’t you remember me? I was on the journey with the two of you. I held your hand when you died in the snowpack. You weren’t alone. I was there by your side. Of course, your fever was causing you to feel delirious.”

I took a deep breath as tears rolled down my face. “That’s right. There was a woman by my side. I remember your woolen hand touching my forehead. You whispered some words to me just as I was ascending from my body.”

“I sent you the memories from that life. I’m not sorry I did that because healing that life is the only way to remove black clouds from your lives now.”

“Why can’t Teshi remember?”

“He does in small ways. His subconscious is aware of that life and the roles you played. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be here with you today. When you got lost in the mountains this sent a chill through his body.”

Teshi faked bravado. “Oh, no, I’m fine with the mountain roads. I was concerned that we’d run out of gas.”

Clara smirked. “He’s always been a man concerned with small details. But my dear, you must now look at the bigger picture. Your friend here has already done that, but your stubborn attitude has log jammed the healing process for both of you!”

Teshi smiled sheepishly. “I try, but I don’t remember it.”

The green lady and the cowboy lead us to a shady spot under an enormous cedar tree. She beckoned to Teshi. “Come, lie down on the grass.”

Reluctant, but Teshi obeyed her. I wish that I could work up such magic with him.

Clara placed her hands on Teshi’s forehead and heart. Within minutes he fell into a trance.

“Who are you?”

“Hans.”

“Where do you come from?”

“Germany.”

“Why did you come to the west?”

“I was wandering through Europe and not doing so well. I heard rumors about the New World and all the success I could find there. I came across some money to board a ship and I headed to the west.”

“Have you found what you seek?”

“Not until I saw Louisa singing in a saloon. I never saw such a beautiful and wild thing in my life, but I also wanted to tame her. I wanted her all to myself. I needed to possess this woman.”

“And you possessed her alright. What did you hope to get from that?”

“I hoped to be charmed by her beauty and that we’d start over somewhere else and she’d finally be happy.”

“Happy? How did you expect Louisa to feel happy when you stole her family, friends, her music career, and any hopes she had for her future?”

I know.”

“And now what do you say for yourself?”

“Isn’t it enough that I took my own life? What else do you expect from me?”

“Why don’t you ask her that now? Try apologizing. And helping her to get her music career back will release both of you. You know, whether you notice it or not, she needs you in this way. And she still has talent.”

Teshi nodded in silence. Tears rolled down his face and down the stubble on his neck. I felt compassion overtaking my heart and released from bondage.

Later that day, Teshi and I checked into a quaint bed & breakfast. As we strode through the dining room, we noticed a cabaret singer performing “old west” songs. I chuckled to myself. The Universe pulled all the stops that evening. The next morning, we awoke bright and early. We sat in the jeep watching the sunrise over the mountains. I felt a sense of power rising in me, an at-one with the universe. I winked at Teshi.

“See, it wasn’t a Quixotic Journey.”

Teshi ignored me, started the engine, looked over his shoulder at the mountains, and let out a huge sigh.

Copyright Patricia Herlevi (2003)

Short Fiction–Disintigration of a Marriage

FSCN3164I wrote this story when I lived in Mount Vernon, Washington, circa 2010-11. Actually, I adapted a short story called, “The Bats” which I wrote and performed with Los Nortenos in Seattle. I don’t recall which year that was or for which event I read the story with the Latino literary troupe. The story gives me chills, in a good way.

Los Murciélagos

(The Bats-Disintegration of a Marriage)

By Patricia Herlevi

Hispanic Voice Series

Margaret saw it coming as the rift in her marriage to her taciturn husband Peter Olsen widened.  Their son, Peter, Jr. died in a war which itself seemed hard to believe.  Then the government added further insult, by refusing to send the soldier’s remains for a proper burial, stating something about the progressive media distorting facts.

Staring at her husband across the expanse of a large polished maple dinner table, she noticed Peter’s dry eyes after receiving the rejection for their son’s burial.

Unlike him, tears flowed from Margaret’s eyes and softened her skin dried by the harsh Minnesota weather and the stress she endured losing her only son.  She glared at her husband of twenty-five years.

“He died an honorable death so why won’t the government we pay taxes to allow us to find closure?”

Peter looked away from his wife.  “I don’t know.”

“What do you mean you don’t know? You’re the one who supported our son’s cause to fight in Iraq.  I was against it, but you gave him that patriotic speech and now…”

Peter shrugged, “That’s the chance we take when we go to war with another country.  Parents lose their children…”

“How can you act so detached when that someone was your son?”

Peter rose from the table and he ambled from the dining room.  As he walked through the hallway he gazed at the family photographs—vacations in Wyoming, a trip to Hawaii when Peter Jr. was in his toddler stage, and a photograph of the birth of his premature son.  The pain crushed his soul and ripped at his heart, but the tears refused to surface.  He knew also that his marriage lain in shambles.  Later that night when Margaret slept, Peter packed his suitcase, climbed in his BMW sedan and drove off into the night.  He thought of leaving a note, but considered that he already said everything he could on the topic.

The next morning when Margaret awoke she sensed that Peter had left her for good.  All the years of spending quality time with each other, building a family and a life together crumbled like Humpty-Dumpty’s wall.  She went through the motions of frying an egg for breakfast, but everything she ate tasted like cardboard and after crying for days, her eyes were left in a bone dry state.  She lived in denial.

Perhaps the news would sink in after the ink dried on the divorce papers or upon her son’s birthday that loomed in the future.  A velvety darkness descended pushing Margaret further into an endless tunnel.

The same family photographs housed in their gilded frames that destroyed her husband only reminded Margaret of bittersweet memories frozen in time.  They reminded her of everything that she lost.  Once the neighborhood wives envied her, but now Margaret became a target for their pity.  She learned to avoid their constant stares and found comfort in her nightly dreams.

One reoccurring dream featured thousands of bats.  In the dream, she didn’t run away in horror and her fascination for the bats grew.  They’d never harm her and instead of sucking her lifeblood they lead her through a transformation.  She believed that they promised her a new life.  When she felt that she lost her sanity, the bats’ whispers seemed logical and comforting.  They guided her as she descended further into the tunnel.  Margaret groped and stumbled searching for the proverbial light that would eventually appear.  Even if the light failed to materialize she grew accustom to the darkness, void of any dreams, hopes or desires, but also of suffering.

Although Peter died, she felt as if she was the one being lowered into the damp and wormy soil.  She felt the crushing weight and her bones disintegrating into ashes.  Decades from now, she thought, archeologist would dig up her bones while searching for stones and artifacts in the blurred future.  They’d say that she was a solid-built woman with upright posture with a dark complexion, or so she thought.  They’d search for a husband and next of kin, but come up empty handed then the experts would extrapolate on an Isis-Osiris theory of the 21st century on NPR.

However, a real death didn’t await Margaret, but a symbolic one followed by her rebirth.  At some point she’d sell the house and leave her memories behind.  She’d journey across the desert and across the sea, forgetting her son who never showed her courtesy and a husband who buried himself in his work.  And only then, she finally cried tears and shed the weight of her regrets.  Those tears only came to free her from the burden of someone else’s dream.

In time, Margaret emerged as a powerful woman who knew great sadness.  When she looked in the mirror she finally saw someone staring back at her.  And the fleeting glimpses of the future recalling a fox hiding in the foliage, gave Margaret the courage to keep moving towards a better life, a different life.  She reasoned, just because she couldn’t see it didn’t mean it doesn’t exist.  Her salvation came in an intangible form when she relocated to Southern France and started a new life as a gardener.

Meanwhile, Peter quit his job, bought a sailing boat and settled his grief out at sea. He drowned out his memories of family life listening to Bach’s preludes on his portable CD player which sounded tiny and insubstantial in comparison to the waves that hit the side of the boat and the wind that whistled in the sails.  The smell of salt often misted his eyes and his sleep brought memories that would forever haunt him.  He felt dismembered by the loss of his marriage and the death of his son. But he had faith that the grief would subside in the way that tempest subside in the morning light leaving the sun sparkling on the renewed ocean, earth, and sky.

But one memory, the evening when his marriage to Margaret disintegrated played out like one of the Mexican soaps his wife so dearly loved and he despised.  Why all that drama?

That evening, Margaret set out Peter’s favorite meal of roast beef with baby potatoes drenched in rosemary butter, and an expensive bottle of wine.  She finally cleaned house after weeks of neglect and pulled herself together to shop for groceries and prepare that meal.

When she sat the platter with roast on the table, Peter could barely drum up appetite. He avoided eye contact with his distraught wife, but not because he didn’t feel love for her.  Sensing that she had more strength than he’d ever acquire in a lifetime, he stared at the newly polished silverware and his glass of wine. He envied her.

Margaret sighed.

Peter finally gazed at his wife’s haggard face.  “I’m sorry.”

Tears slipped from Margaret’s eyes.  “Why won’t they allow us to see our son one last time?”

Peter placed his hand on Margaret’s hand which she yanked away defiantly.

“You heard the news that none of the parents will get the chance to see their children. Why should it be any different for us?”

Margaret raised her voice in a passionate plea. “There was a time when we would have organized and pulled out our picket signs.”

“What good would that do now? We’re not even permitted to discuss our son’s death with the reporters.”

“Not that I want to and I’m sick and tired of those reporters sniffing around here and their attachment to other people’s grief.  But that might bring closure if we could talk to someone.”

“No, we’re on our own this time.”

Margaret stared defiantly at her husband and headed back to the kitchen.

Peter covered his face with his hands attempting to erase the tragedy that visited him.  He once thought he had all the answers, but those days had passed.

As the sun rose over a distant island, Peter drank a cup of black coffee and stared out at the sea, the smell of salt and roasted beans mingled in his nostrils.  He thought about Margaret and wondered where she was at that time.  He regretted walking away from his marriage. Now that the dust finally settled he obsessed about second chances.

All Rights Reserved Copyright owned by Patricia Herlevi

Write It–It’s a Process

375px-KushanmapI love that scene in the movie, “Under a Tuscan Sun” when the character Frances talks about her writing process. First, she says that she tortures herself through procrastination and then she is a writing machine. However, there is a difference between procrastination and a germination process. Stories, similar to fetuses, go through a gestation phase. Stories happen as authors absorb their surroundings and they endure life experiences.

For instance, I started panicking recently because I hadn’t written any literary pieces since last year. Granted, I was living in between homes for 9 months and the last thing I wanted to do was work on a novel. Yet, I completed rewrites for a memoir (still not satisfied with it) and I completed my fifth novel. And after that ordeal, I felt that my muse had run for the hills. Yet, I needed a vacation from writing fiction.

In the past few months, I’ve mainly been blogging and working as a contract journalist. And this leaves me feeling like a ghost of a writer. Instead, of creating stories from my imagination, I’ve been writing stories that promote the successes of other people. I experience satisfaction from journalism but I still miss playing with characters and creating scenarios.

And then, a young sassy voice showed up which launched my next short story which I’m currently writing. I titled the story, “Lately, Queen Mamadou” and the story features young ballet students from a private girls’ school and a mother who channels an entity from colonial West Africa. That’s all I’m going to say about this middle-grade comedy.

As writers, we practice patience. The best stories take the time to appear. And then we structure our days to pour these stories onto the pages. We have many excuses for not sitting our butts in the chair. But in the end, a true writer will face the blank page and muster the courage to explore new worlds we call stories.

What is your writing process? Please share in the comment section.

Short Fiction–The Space Between Us

cropped-dscn3701.jpg

Author’s note: I wrote this story as part of a trilogy with each story representing an Ayurvedic medicine dosha. This story represents Vata (space and air).

The Space between Us

By Patricia Herlevi

As Anetti ambled on the cobblestone alleyway, she heard the comforting sound of church bells in the distance and a set of chimes hanging on a storefront singing in the wind.  The bells and chimes soothed her nerves and she hadn’t felt so relaxed in days due to the windy weather that swept through Seattle and caused her bones to tremble. Her eyes roamed the alleyway in search of a warm lit cafe and the fragrance of roasted coffee beans to bring her back to herself.

Work had not gone well and Anetti felt crunched with deadlines and little breathing space to maneuver.  As it turned out, autumn weather only exasperated her nervous tension, and she stayed awake at night chasing away worries about money.  Her relationship with her partner, (who spent more time traveling for business than he did with her), also kept her awake. Rumbles occurring all around her, she heard change in the wind whispering to her.  Holiday brochures grabbed her attention too.  If only.

Meanwhile, the wind picked up and threw its weight against Anetti’s thin body and her thick black hair came out of its pony tail hitting her in the face.  One of her high heel boots caught on the cobblestone and nearly sent her into a brick wall.  Tumbling forward, she bumped into an attractive Indian man, dressed in casual business attire.  She guessed that he worked for the software company hidden in the loft near the nightclubs.

Funny she had never seen him before, not that she would or should have noticed. After all, her partner Neil had proposed to her.  A discussion of wedding plans was scheduled for the next week after the fiancé returned from France where he promoted his life coaching DVD.

Not able to dredge up pre-wedding bliss, Anetti reflected on the lack of spark she felt with Neil, not that she desired one of those unpredictable magical relationships between soul mates.  But then maybe she did. She never bought into all that new age stuff, that there’s one partner in the world for her and she’d know when she encountered him. She met Neil at Green Drinks and found that he could hold an intelligent conversation even after downing three glasses of organic red wine.

Her own mind buzzed on all the dark chocolate she had consumed. And everything after that moment fell into the groove of predictable, grounding, and comforting.  An astrologer once told Anetti that her triple Gemini threat needed grounding energies.  So she hooked up with a double Taurus and at least he satisfied her in bed, even if his thought process seemed stuck in molasses some of the time.

The Indian man held onto Anetti for a few moments longer.  His dark eyes gazed into her green ones causing an erotic stirring in her body that she brushed aside.

A slow grin widened across his face as if he was pleased by the woman who materialized in front of him.  “Are you okay now?”

Stepping back and away from the man, Anetti nodded.  “Thank you for saving me from hitting my head on that wall.  That’s all I need.”

“This weather makes walking difficult.” He pointed to a café, “I was just going to grab a cup of tea, would you like something?”

The man’s English accent captivated her and she enjoyed the way he wrapped his tongue around the word “tea,” but she now felt an urgency to return to the office. “I’ll take you up on your offer next time we bump into each other.”

Weeks past by and Anetti and Neil chose the wedding gown, the cake, and invitations. They decided to hold the ceremony at Deception Pass State Park, weather permitting and set the wedding date for the end of May.  While Anetti enjoyed scheduling gown viewings and meeting with wedding planners, something felt off.  Did she want to spend her life with Neil? It’s what her mother would prescribe for her restless soul, but the bigger picture sent chills through her.

After a day of sneaking in time to browse caterers’ websites, Anetti slipped out of the office to grab a coffee.

When she approached the long line of business people and tattooed hipsters, she noticed the Indian man ordering his chai tea. She decided to ignore him unless he noticed her first.  So she scrunched down and hid behind her wool coat, hoping he wouldn’t see her and at the same time wishing he would.

As the man turned away from the cashier, his eyes darted over to and locked on Anetti. He approached her. “Remember when I saved you from the wind.  I’m Sanjay.”

Anetti blushed, not because she felt virginal but she wondered if Sanjay’s penetrating brown eyes could read her erotic thoughts. “I’m Anetti.”

Sanjay pointed at a corner table that had just cleared.  “Join me?”

Anetti’s fought with her usual indecision and thoughts of consequences as she projected herself far into the future.  Sanjay’s request was simple and innocent enough.  He wasn’t sending out sexual vibes.  For all she knew, he was probably already married or had an arranged marriage pending in India.  You never could tell with foreigners, especially those that worked for software companies.  Here today and gone tomorrow.

Glancing at her watch, she noticed she had a few minutes of lunch break left and sat in a chair across from Sanjay.  He eyed her while he sipped his chai.

“So do you work at an office nearby?”

Anetti looked for a ring on Sanjay’s finger but noticed his fingers were empty of any jewelry. “I work at Rialto Graphic Design.” She pointed to an orange façade just outside the window.

“Do you enjoy your job?”

“Lately it’s been one deadline after another and I wonder if the headaches are worth it.”

Sanjay smiled gently.  “I know of a cure for headaches.  Do you have one now?”

“Yes, as a matter of fact.  I thought that a cup of black coffee would remedy the problem.”

“Do you mind?”  Sanjay walked behind Anetti and massaged the base of her neck.  His gentle hands wove in and out of her thick hair. The massage did the trick and a little more.

As the weeks flowed into each other, Anetti found herself having lunch with Sanjay.  She knew that she felt more than friendship, but refrained from going further by reminding herself about her upcoming wedding.  Then one rainy afternoon everything changed.

Anetti rode a bus to work and as she waited for it, a torrential downpour soaked her through to the bone. As she stood shivering, Sanjay approached her.  “First the wind storm and now this rain, the weather doesn’t agree with you.”  He chuckled. “I have an apartment near here.  Do you want to go there and dry off? Then afterward I can give you a ride home.”

Water rolled into Anetti’s eyes blurring her vision.  Hunger rumbled in her stomach and passion stirred in her groin. Against her best judgment, she found herself not only in Sanjay’s apartment but also his bed. Rationalizing that she hadn’t betrayed Neil, she felt that she fulfilled her own needs. Sanjay felt grounding and exciting, a combination she’d never experience with Neil.  Come to think of it, she hadn’t experienced any real passion with her fiancé either.

But what would she choose in the end, a passionate love affair with an unknowable future or the predictability of a life with Neil? Destiny had spun her around in a different direction then she previously sought, but it wasn’t as if she never saw the warning signs. Perhaps she wasn’t free to choose her own fate. In that moment as she stretched her bare legs under silk sheets and felt Sanjay’s warm kisses on her neck, she felt at home for the first time in her thirty years.  The wind stopped hounding her brain and she found the center of a storm.  Nobody thought that was where it was supposed to go.

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