Dolly

February 3, 2013 at 6:40 pm (Dani Clark, Soliloquy)

When I started showing with my son, Dolly started telling me she was pregnant too. Grinning, she would look down and rub her distended belly. “It’s a female child,” she would nod, “due in nine months.”

“Gonna drive down to Tennessee to have it,” she would say. “Fawtha’s outta the picture, see. You’re looking mighty pretty today. Might you spare some change for a Pepsi?”

That scene occurred five years ago and many times hence. Dolly is dead now, of a large malignant tumor in her belly, one we all could have told you had been there for years, but which the doctors of her urine-saturated, profit-turning nursing home only recently diagnosed.

Usually Dolly would linger near the vending machines, hoping on the kindness of strangers, or at least their susceptibility to compliments. She tottered, often barefoot, but her skinny legs were strong. From the incoherence I knew that dementia or Alzheimer’s was to blame for her residency at the nursing home.

But the thing about Dolly, the thing that really got me: her tales were as tangled as her gaze was real.

I visited Dolly 10 days before she died. It was two days before Christmas and I can see her still.

In her room I find her, sitting upright in bed and fidgeting to straighten the hospital gown over the tops of her thighs. I glance at her diaper, yellowed and bunched into a V shape by her incessant adjusting. An oxygen tube has fallen around her neck.

“Hi Dolly,” I say. “Are you ok? We just had our Christmas party downstairs. I brought you a bag of candy.” Now if Dolly were sane I would tell you what the look in her eyes said: I am trapped. Something is wrong. You need to know this.

But she has never been sane, at least not the last five years, and her words belie the eyes. “How do you do? You look so pretty” she says, following quickly with, “Could I have a Pepsi, dear?” As I am thanking her for the compliment, a preacher and his wife walk in.

The duo are so far outside my milieu they almost seem like movie characters. They are black like Dolly. He wears an ill-fitted suit and frosty the snowmen dance on his tie. He is missing two teeth, one from the top and one from the bottom. His shoes are patent leather and he carries a well-worn paperback Bible. The woman is dressed up in red, and like him, she is smiling.

“We have come to offer prayers. Isn’t that better than a Pepsi now? Everyone needs prayers Dolly, so let us read from Psalm 101,” says the nameless preacher opening his bible. Dolly sits up straighter in the bed, but her face registers confusion. “Everyone gather round Dolly now and hold hands.”

Dolly’s head whips around, searching everyone’s eyes. She is upset and I am beginning to feel that way too. But then, as if a hypnotist has snapped his fingers somewhere, she slackens, docile before the prayers. Tears well in my eyes, but I can’t wipe them because I am holding hands with the preacher and his wife.

“My eyes will be on the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me; the one whose walk is blameless will minister to me.”

Why God? I think as the preacher goes on sing-song. How can it be me, the person here with Dolly? It’s not fair to her, I have no words.  Actually, I have nothing. You should not entrust this to me. It’s too grand. Dolly came into this world a screaming infant from a woman who bore her for nine months and patted her own belly. Dolly ran and played, probably barefoot on clay or concrete, who the hell knows, maybe you. And her life is so much more than–so far beyond–any similarly naive image I can conjure. Please be with Dolly, be with Dolly, be with Dolly. Please God.

Standing over Dolly, I see the flack flesh of her leg hanging over the femur. It is light brown and scaly. I am so sad for her. Does she know what’s going on here? Or does she just want someone to buy her a damned can of Pepsi?

When the prayer is done Dolly says her baby is due soon. She pats her belly then rummages in the brown paper bag of candy. She looks up. “It’s a female child,” she says. The preacher and his wife chuckle at this and leave the room, on to the next needy soul.

It is then that the awareness spreads through me like spilled milk on a wide table: Yes, my dear Dolly, you are waiting for your child. We are all waiting. We still hope.

I sit on the edge of the bed and lean in close, taking her cheeks between my palms. I love you Dolly. I love you, honey. Goodbye sweetie, I have to go. I love you.

I kiss the top of Dolly’s head, my lips on her gray curly hair; I pivot quickly and walk out the door.

– Dani Clark.

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Spring Training

August 28, 2008 at 2:44 am (Mary McQueary, Soliloquy)

 

Sitting along the first base line, the sky is blue heading into dusk.
Beginning to rise above the stadium the orange moon.
White uniforms crisp against the grassy green blades.
 
Behind me is a man, reminiscent of a World Wrestling Federation defender.
Smooth shaved head, heavy gold chain around neck with pendant of monster truck.
Tanned and excited, a fan of baseball. I wonder what he does for a living.
 
The man in front follows these up-and-coming players heading to the major leagues.
“Jose Reyes, shortstop, 18,” he says, “he won’t be here long, he’s big dollar guaranteed.”
 
Hot dogs and french fries, lemonade, and Cracker Jacks all around.
Peanut shells crunch below my sandaled feet. From where they came I do not know.
 
Hard swings and the sound of the wooden bat. Not out of the park tonight.
The catcher looks so close to the batter. I would hesitate to full out swing.
His throw is hard and fast, the ball smacking hard in the pitcher’s glove.
 
The men toss statistics over me back and forth.
The information filters down upon my head and I become filled with their love of the game and smile.
 
The game ends and the lights go dark. Count down 20 to 1. The explosions begin. Boom, boom.

 

Gold and pink. Purple and blue. Sizzling large green sparks fill the sky. Flowers of fire.
I shrink at the thought of getting burnt, petal embers falling upon my skin.
More flowers. Tiny shocking white ones. Blinding flashes. They appear close. Too close.
 
Every Friday home game they tell me. I am stunned.
Such beauty and yet it feels so utterly horribly sinful.
 
They treat so casually as if everyone in the world saw this on a typical casual weekend.
I am sobbing inside for others who will not remember this tomorrow,
for those who will shrug it off and say when asked what they did for the weekend, “nothin’ much”.

 

– Mary McQueary

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On Friendship

August 10, 2008 at 9:17 am (Mary McQueary, Soliloquy)

 

 

Jane English wrote that friendship should not be a favor-debt situation. When we are friends with someone the exchange, the tit for tat, disappears. In the place of reciprocity, there is mutuality. The never-ending obligation to be there for each other, at least while the friendship lasts.

 

 

Too often we forget to see that the person we are intimate with cares for us no matter what, whether or not we give or take. Of course, nobody likes to only give, and if someone is only taking there is something immoral with that also, but to keep an accounting of what we’ve done to others and them to us makes for a short ending to friendships.

 

 
The indebtedness we often times feel can come from many different sources; poor self-esteem, ghost thoughts from the past clouding our present day relationships, perhaps even coming from our religious upbringing. Many have the belief we are forever indebted to God for our creation, though Jane English had something interesting to say about parent-child relationships that I think can also be said of our relationship with our Creator (should one choose to believe there is one).

 

 

Both debt-favor relationships and friendships share the common element, attention, making the two types difficult to distinguish from each other in certain situations. Within friendships, we give each other love, the forwarding of their well-being over our own, thoughts of the other, and subsequent actions that we take making our relationship a priority. We have friendships because we like another person. And they like us. Love tangles with time and often is seen as the same within the attention element but do not be fooled, it is not the same.  

 

Here’s an example:

I worked for a man named Mac Hackett. He supervised 3 managers. My orders were that Mac came first and foremost. He was priority #1. When he was not in need, I could devote my attention and energies to the other 3 managers. They became priority #2. The employees they oversaw became the 3rd priority. 

 

 

I was able to manage all of their needs most of the time quite well. Mac was happy, the managers were happy, their people were happy. All their needs were taken care of. Everyone knew where they came on the list of priority, so that when I said to one of the employees that I couldn’t fulfill a request they made of me they knew it was because I was serving the managers‘, or Mac‘s, needs. No squabbles, no begging, no “I can’t believe you won’t help me out here” type of comments. They gave me so much an hour; I made them happy by being their very effective helper. A debt-favor relationship.

 

 
Can you see how this scenario could easily happen within personal relationships? Our spouse becomes priority #1, our children priority #2, and our friends priority #3. Our friends come to us and say, “Could I have some of your time?” and we reply by saying, “I can’t right now”. They are understanding that we have spouses or children that have needs to be attended, that we love them, but are we are working with the parameters of favor/debt relationships and neglecting the more expansive needs of friendship?

 

 

For many, for their family and friends, they cook them dinner, wash their clothes, give them love. They give food, clothes (although more often than not ones that are dirty), and love in return, making them happy by being their very effective wife/mother/friend (Nina Rosenstand points to the word ‘prostitute’.) 

 

 

The favor-debt relationship is a model that is followed by amazing amounts of people, more than we realize, for it’s a tidy little model that is easy to follow. It doesn’t require much thought. No triage here. The formula is already set and like assembly line workers we follow it precisely so that our lives continue in a happy mode. Never an upset, never a crisis noticed. Except there is a crisis and upsets going on everywhere, deep inside the souls of our family and friends. For we are crushed when we are in need and who we need the most can’t be with us.

 

 
All relationships shift and alter through time and society’s impetus is to keep things from being messy, to keep things flowing easy, to have relationships be cut and dry, black and white, never a shade of gray, but that fact does not release us from our friendships.

 

I admit to being overwhelmed with fear when I am unable to respond to someone when I’m needed and it’s out of the priority sequence that mainstream society has for set up for me. I’ve dropped the ball before at a really crucial moment and nearly had a friendship end. It is a shame that never leaves me. It serves as a reminder to tell you and to show you how much your friendship means to me. So you will know that I am trying to be a human being, and that I want to love you like a human, the messy way, the real and deep way, and not as a robot programmed to love and do by formula. My friend, I love you beyond debt or favor.

 

– Mary McQueary.

 

 

 

 

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A Snail Mail’s Tale

August 4, 2008 at 4:37 am (Mary McQueary, Soliloquy)

There I was, an envelope, addressed correctly, stamps affixed properly. Deposited into a blue metal box I waited in the dark with hundreds of others like me. The wait wasn’t long as the next day a large man in a blue-gray uniform grabbed me and stuffed me into a hot leather sack.

The trip was bumpy and there were lots of stops. I was pressed hard against another envelope. I didn’t mind. She was pretty with barcodes and a clear window so I could see part of her payment coupon. She said her name was Bell. She winked and told me she also contained a check to the phone company. Ooo-la-la! This was going to be a nice trip.

We soon arrived to a large white truck and were rudely dumped out of our dark and cozy spot into a big white plastic box. The light of day struck my return label and I was blinded temporarily but within a minute the door was slammed shut and darkness again returned.

The next part I hardly remember, it went by in such a blur. I was tossed onto a conveyer belt and a large magazine fell on me. I could hardly breathe. But when we hit the metal roller rapids he shifted off of me and I could breathe easier and get a look around. Above and below me were lanes and lanes of postal highway. Depending on where you were headed, you were either lifted to the sky and then slid down a slide or transported horizontally through a portal. I was international mail and assumed that I would be exiting through the portal.

I saw Christmas cards branching away, turning around to blow kisses to each other, promising to write next year and tell each other how things were going. I saw stiff mortgage brokers’ and lawyers’ letters that wouldn’t bend even when the Victoria’s Secret catalog leaned against them. I was amazed at all the lives contained here and I was just in town! What laid beyond was a mystery and I was excited, anticipating the grand adventure of traveling out of the country.

Sure enough, I was sent through the portal and promptly stuffed into a knapsack. Quick transportation was made to the tarmac where I was thrown without a care into a plane’s cargo hold. The jet engines were loud. Above me I could hear the wheels of the stewardess’ beverage cart as it moved up and down the center aisle above us.

 
Our flight was long, giving me time to meet lots of letters. Everyone I met was nice. There was an old woman’s note with a fruit cake headed to Austria. A guy trying to track down an old military buddy. A young girl’s first pen pal correspondence. An older man asked me if I had seen any incoming mail. He was hoping that his message was not too late in getting there and that he wouldn’t cross paths with word of his brother’s death. I told him I had only seen outgoing mail and that I wished him Godspeed.

As soon as we landed the pace picked up once again and things really got hectic. We were transported to a huge building marked with official government seals and scary official signs declaring “No Hazardous Items Allowed”, “No Fireworks”, “No Talcum Powder of Any Kind.” A small cluster of baby announcements had started to cry. A Parenting magazine had stopped to reassure them that they would be alright. I couldn’t move, my envelope flap hung open in awe, it was the most amazing place I had ever seen.

Large florescent lights hung from the ceiling and the building was larger than a plane hanger. Metal roller conveyer belts went on for miles and piles and piles of post reached towards the top roof windows. I was terrified but figured if I was to ever reach my destination I had to be bold and go forth and get on. Hoping to make it into the hands of the person that I was addressed to, I courageously flung myself out flat and laid prone on the belts. The metal felt cool to my face and soon I was lured asleep by the sound of the machines.

It was hours later when I woke up in the dark, the machines stilled. There was a jam in the system and everything had come to a halt. A small bulgy package had come undone. The black lace bra it contained had tried to escape and had gotten entwined in the rollers. Her back hooks had snagged on a metal bracket. She was a goner. The packages around her were mortified. A Fredericks of Hollywood return address label indicated that she was the wrong size, that she had been unwanted.

“Apparent suicide,” the Fraternal Order of Police charity letter said matter-of-factly as he examined the envelope. “It happens sometimes with these kind. Not wanting to return to the manufacturer.”

“Move along, move along!” the novel War and Peace commanded, “There’s nothing to see here.” He began nudging some away from the incident. Everyone was visibly shaken. Many pressed themselves against each other in an effort to make sure their postage stamps and return labels were securely fixed.

 
Soon the machines started up again and though there was a reserved quietness, the feeling of anticipation again grew as letters contemplated their end destinations silently. After what seemed like an eternity I spied the large metal tank at the end of the building. Marked on its side in letters the size of a sequoia read the word, “Radiation”, and the yellow and red hazardous symbols glared at me ominously.

“Radiated? I have to be radiated? I didn’t sign up for this! I didn’t agree to be radiated! No, No!” I tried scrambling over stacks of junk mail. I tripped and slid down, landing on a pile of pizza coupons. “Nooooo!”

A coupon book of direct mail advertisers calmly reassured me that being radiated was painless, that unless you contained something biological and he gave me a questioning look. I was appalled. Biological? In me? They had to be kidding. I was clean. I was just a card.

“Isn’t there anyway I can get out of going through that?, that…” I couldn’t even make myself say the word and just stared at the ever looming silver metal contraption that I was sure would take the life out of me. “It’ll make my ink run!”

“It’s not a liquid“, reassured the direct advertiser. “You won’t even notice. The e-beam only takes about 10 seconds.”

A National Enquirer leaned over and whispered, “I heard that you could get a bit bleached from electron beams.” She glanced around and continued, “I don’t mean to spread rumors but I heard about this February Playboy issue that had her ends bleached and…”, she paused and sucked in her photos causing an effect like the mirror in a funhouse, the world’s largest fat lady turning svelte and curvaceous, “that her centerfold was found brittle!”

A Martha Stewart Living magazine who had been chatting with Rosie and Oprah’s latest issues overheard, stopped and turned to interrupt the tabloid, “That wouldn’t happen if she was properly wrapped in plastic. I will have to send her a card telling her how. I have the perfect method. It’s a good thing.”

“Martha, would you mind sharing that secret with us? as enquiring minds want to know.” Soon newspapers were huddled around for an impromptu press conference. An 8-mm tin containing a NPR news report mouthed to me from behind them, “Don’t worry, it happened in New Jersey!”

“If it would make you feel better, tuck yourself in my pages,” said the advertiser. Feeling very exposed, I figured it wouldn‘t hurt and I slid inside. His pages felt smooth and the ink was comforting. Pretty red words offering carpet cleaning and dog grooming. The dog door flap to the radiation area was approaching. My heart was racing but I was determined to do this. Inside we went. The air was stiff and humid and felt toxic. And that’s when it happened.

At first I felt a slight jerk and then a snap back that would open even a manila envelope with a brass closure. The pages of the direct mailer that I laid between fell between the conveyer belt loops and now I was caught in it too! “Help! Help!” I screamed. Post continued trampling over us. The pages screamed. They had dangled so far down into the machine that they were being shredded. “Please, somebody help!” I couldn’t wedge myself out of their grasp and they were being slowly pulled deeper into the machine. I lifted my envelope flap and attempted to attach myself to someone going by but my stickiness was drying fast. I wildly looked around for anybody, anything, hoping that I could find some way to extract myself. I looked around, frantic, desperate. I saw a sign hung high above. It was the last thing I read. SURE BEAM, Ohio.

– Mary McQueary.

Disclaimer:
No paper products were in any way harmed in the creation of this story. This is a work of the author’s imagination and does not portray an actual event. Any similarity to an actual event of the past or future is purely coincidental.

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The Eyes Have It

July 4, 2008 at 8:49 pm (Mary McQueary, Soliloquy)

 

 

A day at the Spa.  The words flutter mimicking yellow butterflies among my plumbago bushes. The final sentence to my favorite fairy tale, And they lived happily ever after, also flitters in a similar way. And like the butterfly when he has found his delight inside the delicate periwinkle blossom, these sentences are followed by a sigh of contentment. It is this contentment each visit to the Spa women feel. A day at the Spa leaves a woman refreshed and renewed (and often with skin resembling a plucked chicken’s).  She departs feeling more alive, always better than when she first arrived.  The Spa is a place where a woman can let down her hair, cut it, curl it, more often than not remove it, or add to it. It is this adding of hair that intrigues me most.

 

If I had a dollar for every time a hairdresser has felt my hair and whispered in my ear with a conspiratorial smile reflected in the mirror before me, “I can’t believe how thick your hair is”, which is promptly followed by them shouting, “Everyone! Come quick! Feel her hair!” I would be so rich I’d have an assistant typing this story for me as I dictated it while I wandered around a mansion full of valuable art dressed in silk lounge pants sipping a martini for breakfast. So it’s not hair extensions that I’m particularly intrigued by, it is the adding of eyelashes that, no pun intended, caught my eye. 

 

The setup is similar to having artificial fingernails. For a hefty sum the first time, fake eyelashes are applied in tiny clusters to your natural ones. Being a semi-permanent process, fills are needed every month (for a fraction of the original cost), replacing the ones that have fallen out due to the natural shedding cycle of the eyelash. The application lasts approximately 30 minutes and is relatively painless. (If you blink too much while the glue is still wet fumes irritate the eye slightly and a little discomfort is felt, but the irritation isn’t even close to being as strong as getting soap in the eye). I’m all for painless beauty and the promise of full, dark, dramatic eyelashes was so appealing to me that I made an appointment to have mine done.  I set the appointment to be two days before departing on a lengthy trip on which I expected to be in the water half the time. The benefit of fake eyelashes would be that I did not have to wear mascara at all. Even the best waterproof mascara can’t pass the test of water skiing, swimming, and getting sweaty from hiking up mountain trails that dead end at prime viewing spots of pristine, snow-fed, clear, freshwater lakes. 

 

The room was decorated with maroon on every surface. The only other color in the room was white. An antique sideboard holding samples of botanical emollients and pamphlets splashed with statements about no animal testing. Lying on the silk covered bed/table peacefully, I attempted to do as I was instructed. Keep my eyes gently closed while lashes were combined with my own, held secure with tiny dew drops of black glue.  My eyelids began to feel heavy, as when fatigue draws them to the ground, but it was not uncomfortable and although I was sure at the beginning of the procedure my eyes would water they did not. My tear ducts had yet to release the grief that remained damned over the recent death of my grandmother so I was not surprised that the nearness of pointy fingernails and sharp tweezers to my eyeballs did not release more than a fine mist across the eye. The woman attending me chatted about her business and the various wants and desires of her clientele making the time pass by swiftly.  From her tales I gleaned that not all women want or need a complete makeover (contrary to popular belief). More often than not, one change can make such a significant difference upon a woman’s confidence and overall look, that no other changes are warranted. I left feeling thrilled over the new look the eyelash extensions gave me, my hairstyle suddenly more elegant, my outfit more sophisticated.  I was one happy customer as I headed out of the Spa. That is until I climbed in my truck and saw myself in the rear view mirror.  Suddenly I felt unsure about the new look. I went about the rest of the afternoon unable to make direct eye contact due to wave after wave of indecisiveness.  Plus I could see the eyelashes, which was a new experience for my lashes had always been full but never lengthy. I began to wonder, just how do taxi drivers who string pom-pom fringe across the top edge of their windshields see?

   

Hours later I’m perched on the bathroom counter staring in the mirror.  My eye color falls within the catch-all term ‘hazel’.  Upon a foundation of green, brown spins out from the center, the effect similar to the art made one summer at the county fair. A five gallon drum contained a spinning wheel of paper. Given paint in red plastic ketchup bottles, we dropped various colors and sizes of drops upon the centrifuge. My eyes are so ordinary, compared to others.  Mike is blind in one eye. Both his eyes are blue. He often holds up his hand near his blind eye to block you from viewing it for it is so hard not to stare. Frozen in time it sparkles the most brilliant diamond, captured forever his joie de vivre. If he does not block your sight of it, your ability to read his body language is thwarted. He blocks your view to give you a fighting chance.  My sister has freckled eyes. A few dozen dot each of her gray-blue eyes. Her eyes are clear throughout until you reach the bottom, reminiscent of an albino’s.  At the bottom lies a watercolor of a gloomy day at sea.  As she stood in the garage facing the sun a few weeks ago I was able to get an excellent view of her peepers.  I resisted the urge to have her turn sideways so I could attempt to determine whether the freckles were just dots or tips of tendrils reaching out from within her brain.  My best friend’s eyes are the color of the ocean during Snoopy’s tale of a dark and stormy night. On many an occasion I glimpse leviathans in the deep. 

 

As night approached, the glue on my eyes hardens, tightening the bond between artificial and natural lash. There’s been a cricket near my bed for two nights and as I lay awaiting the train to dream land it starts chirping. So loudly is its chirp I decide its location must be directly under the bed and grab a flashlight to peer underneath. Nothing. Placing my ear upon the wall I track his sound upwards, is he in the wall? My eyelids are feeling sore, I assume its fatigue and start to climb back in bed. Perhaps the cricket is in the headboard? More likely it’s in the rain gutter.

 

With one hand grasping the top sheet poised ready to fling back the covers, I reach with my other to move the pillow. Mid air my hand freezes.  A huge ant is walking across the edge of my pillow. Creative writing may demand the use of   better adjectives but I can think of no other way to describe an ant that is the length of your fingernail and a third of the width.  Many insects in Florida suddenly take flight without the obvious means to do so and although I do not see any wings on this ant I do not risk brushing him casually to the floor.  Instead I carry him on the pillow into the kitchen as carefully as if I was the ring bearer in a royal wedding.  Never losing sight of the black and red body I transport him solemnly towards the altar where his fate will be sealed forever.  FWAP! Flip-flop connected solidly with ant body. I went back to bed.

 

It’s 4 a.m.  Maggots have replaced my eyelids.  Black flies have hatched and are attempting to fly away. Their bodies are made from metal bristle brushes used to clean car battery terminals. None can escape. Black glue pins them to my skin, my face having become a dipterist’s collection board while I slept.

 

Nearly blind I find my way to the kitchen. I struggle to read the aftercare card I was given, searching for clues as to how to remove them. It warns to not use oil, to not get wet, to not sit in hot tubs. I grab the olive oil from the pantry and race for the shower, knocking into corners as I go.  Hours of hot water, olive oil, makeup remover, and soap finally release the eyelashes. It stings. A huge relief is felt when the last of the dead fly bodies finally washes down the drain.  My once quick and painless beauty now leaves me humbled, for removed along with the artificial the natural have also been taken. Half as many eyelashes remain as when I began.

 

My wish was to wow people with the look of my eyes, and I was still able to do that after this ordeal. Everyone that saw me for days afterwards said, ‘Wow! What happened to your eyes?’ It wasn’t exactly the comment I was hoping for but one I use as a springboard for a tale that ends with a serious request, “Could we do some testing on animals?”

 

– Mary McQueary.

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Silver Springs

June 23, 2008 at 8:23 am (Mary McQueary, Soliloquy)

 

Although Sadie’s wish was to see dolphins and manatees, her arrival was too late in the year for her to do so. The manatees had already departed for the ocean and although seeing a dolphin was possible it was not always likely. Often I see dolphins frolicking near the Gulf’s shore but only once has a dolphin leaped out of the water mere feet from our boat, an indescribable kinetic beauty against the blue sky. We opted instead to take her to see the wildlife at Silver River. 

 

The staging area was full of kayakers not wanting to leave a footprint.  Considering we were plunking in a 17 ft. boat, a big boy’s version of a bath tub toy, ours would leave an impression but not a deep one.  Sadie climbed aboard donning a straw hat atop her white braided pigtails.

 

The canal that led to the river was lined with lily pads. Tight fisted yellow buds atop angled stems shot out of the water resembling the various gear positions of a stick shift.  “This reminds me of the scene in Apocalyse Now when they go up river”, Sadie remarked while her eye scanned the forest.  It did indeed, although the Charlie we were expecting to encounter were in the form of alligators instead of guerilla soldiers.

Spotting alligators is like searching for seashells.  When the sand is nearly the same color as the shell, you learn to search by shape.  As soon as you spot one lettered olive seashell you suddenly can see along the shell bed a hundred more. We spot an alligator lying on a log that lays half in half out of the water. He remains napping in the sun as we motor by. We spot a baby gator a few yards farther, his little body stretched out long and skinny, he could easily been mistaken for a twig.

 

We were heading upriver to Silver Springs which is where the largest artesian formation in the world is found.  At practically every bend is a deep, minimum of 20 ft., spring. Tiny bubbles stream toward the surface from fissures as turtles and fish perform acrobatics in the deep bowls.  I search for any indication there are cave formations but see none. The water runs calm on the surface belying the strong current below. We peer over the side of the boat and see 4 ft. gar swimming but not advancing upriver.  On the water’s surface large clusters of water bugs congregate in the shade. Once disturbed they chase the boat, spreading out into an attack formation but are unable to overcome us.  Large black birds perch on fallen trees stripped of bark and bleached white by the sun that jut from the center of the straight segments of the river. The birds spread their large wings wide and high in worship of the blazing ball.

 

The water is clear and pure and cold but I dare not get in. I’ve seen 2 alligators already, hard to say how many I didn’t notice but soon it’s so hot that my skin is frying, I swear the fat under my skin is sizzling. I dangle one leg into the water to find relief. No alligator attempts to chomp off my toes.

 

It’s difficult to know whether to look up or look down for there is activity everywhere and of course I’m busy looking down into the water while everyone else is busy looking up into the trees and spots a colony of wild rhesus monkeys. A small troop was near the water climbing across the cypress knees. The knees weave a knotted natural fence between water and land, with land being a relative term for here is where Creature from the Black Lagoon was filmed.  I spot a mother monkey with her baby but there are too many other boaters to get a clear picture. We continue upriver and vow to look for them on the way back for it is our firm belief that too many humans viewing wildlife is a form of harassment, a deed far worse than feeding them in my book.

The monkeys are not indigenous. They were brought in as a tourist attraction and placed on an island. The man that did so did not realize how great swimmers the monkeys were. He dropped them off and returned later to find that they had swam away and run off into the woods.  They’ve flourished and have not become enough of a nuisance to warrant removal. Most of the debate about plucking them out revolves around the working definition of the term ‘indigenous’.

 

At what point in time does something become indigenous? Only when a man notes that since before he arrived one has existed? An island may contain no palm trees when a man first arrives, but how would he know of the island’s past palm trees if a hurricane had swept them all out to sea before the man arrived? If a coconut washes ashore and roots after the man arrived, suddenly the coconut is a foreigner to the soil, no longer considered a son returning to the bosom of his mother. The man would consider him a bastard and not give him the surname of indigenous. Few would argue man has been on earth longer than a plant or an animal. It is man who is non-indigenous, invasive, a weed, and needs removal from certain areas.  As of this writing the monkeys are allowed to stay and so are we.

 

We discover two remaining monkeys when returning from dead-ending in the amusement park. For almost a century this area has been exploited by man. Glass bottom boats, wildlife exhibits (basically a zoo containing bears and alligators), and basic theme park entertainment surround the beginning of the river.

 

The larger of the two monkeys walks atop the cypress knees, his walk a combination of wild cat and human. He sees us and sits atop a large stump to stare.  Above him perched precariously in a live oak tree, sits a smaller monkey. He strips new fresh green leaves from the tree, munching them down as we would a handful of Doritos chips. The smaller one is approximately the same size as my yorkie-poodle puppy, Little Dog. Little Dog met their stares but did not bark or growl. 

 

I asked to have the boat move in closer. I’m not stupid and know better than to put my hand into the cage of the bear at the zoo and out in the wild I was using caution but quickly I was feverish by the promise of some potentially awesome photos. The world fell away from me. I only saw the color of their fur, two toned, half gray, half a reddish brown. I only saw their expressive faces, contemplative, innocent.  I only saw how cute the little monkey as he sat curled in a little hunch delicately on a branch that stretched over the river and bent ever slightly towards the water was. It was this that made me fearless and careless and forget they were wild.

 

Switching from still photos to the video feature of my camera I caught them shimming down the tree, eating, climbing and jumping. It was late in the afternoon and the shadows were growing deeper and the automatic features of my camera indicated flash was needed. In quick moves, desperate to not miss any great shots, my fingers stabbed frantically at the tiny buttons on my camera to turn off the flash option. I snapped more shots. Little Dog stood still by my side and did not bark. I switched one last time from capturing action to stills but forgot to turn off the flash. In an instant response to the flash the large monkey on the ground lunged but his feet remained fastened to the tree stump he balanced on.

 

 

“Ix-nay the ash-flay”, Sadie says in a loud whisper.

 

Nodding, I switch the camera to video with my thumb securing there would be no other accidental flash. In my LCD screen I see the monkey on the ground look up into the trees. I follow his gaze up the trunk across the branch into the leaves with my camera.

Before reaching sight of what he was glancing up at, Sadie exclaimed, “Oh, Mary!” The small monkey’s face appeared across the screen, a little angry monkey.  His arms are braced, a skydiver about to drop into the void.  Pounce. He is ready to pounce directly upon my head for we had drifted directly underneath him.  I shriek not knowing what else to do to make him stop.

 

My shriek catches him mid-launch and he swings back to sit and ponder the meaning of the sound. I shrieked not because I was afraid for myself, I had shrieked over the thought of the mad little monkey jumping into my boat and making off with my puppy like the flying monkeys do in the Wizard of Oz with Toto. We made a quick getaway while the two monkeys contemplate our intent.

 

Later we laugh. We laugh with thanks that we were not harmed. We laugh over the thought of monkeys understanding English but not Pig Latin. I laugh, glad I was never hired on by National Geographic, for I would have certainly been gored by a rhinoceros on the Serengeti years ago.

 

– Mary McQueary.

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On Standing out and Blending in

June 4, 2008 at 4:34 pm (Mary McQueary, Soliloquy)

  

 

The voices inside my head are not those of a splintered personality, they truly belong to other people. What they say is often melodious, remnants of my favorite songs. Often I sing prompted by a single word.

 

From time to time the voices quote from books I have read. Recently this quoting has been replaced by the playing of certain scenes from movies. Upon hearing of you this occurred.

 

The scene playing out on the wide screen of my mind was from The Matrix (The Wachowski Brothers, 1999).  Neo has gone to meet the Oracle. He stands in her kitchen and the last thing she says to him is “…As soon as you step outside that door, you’ll start feeling better. You’ll remember you don’t believe in any of this fate crap. You’re in control of your own life, remember? Here, take a cookie. I promise, by the time you’re done eating it, you’ll feel right as rain.”

 

The scene repeated while I walked down the deserted lime rock road. Fine white dust blanketed my sandaled feet as I went, my toes soon gray, my soul soaring because fate had brought us together.  My mind ran ahead to search for a tale for you. Like a child bringing back a captured cricket clasped between two hands, it returned excited and out of breath, eager to reveal to you the here and now, about a place in Trenton…

Along the main street of this very small town sits a large brick building. In its younger years it was a Coca-Cola bottling plant, today it is a quilt shop.

Inside can be found not only beautiful bolts of fabric but also a book room and a tiny restaurant. The restaurant offers petite portions for lunch. A sliver of quiche, a strawberry half, 3 grapes, and a small dollop of potato salad are decorously presented on a small glass plate. There’s never any wish for more, for kept beneath glass covers in a cool, dark corner is dessert.  Order dessert and you receive a fourth of a double layer cake!

Only on rare occasions do I buy fabric. It puzzles my friends that I leave empty handed for they have fabric stashes in their backrooms that fuel firefighters’ nightmares. They feed their stashes like one does tropical fish. I, on the other hand, do not have such a stash, and have yet to correct their assumption.

It’s not as if I don’t want any fabric, it’s that I want all fabric. Too many ideas and choices paralyze me and more often than not I find myself talking to the parrot near the front window. His name is Sonny. With head cocked and glistening black eye unblinking, he mimics my laughter.

It takes only moments for him to unravel my reality. Wishing to put as much distance as possible between me and this feathered recording device I flee towards the back of the building. Would someone else please talk to him?  

There is only one chair in the book room, a red wingback chair. Sitting here, faintly I hear my laughter via parrot. I sit and stare at book covers. The cover photo quilts soothe and warm the eye like a fabric quilt does the skin. The smart titles are as crisp as crackers stolen and eaten in bed.

 I was caught unawares one day when a mere suggestion of a design technique shocked my muse to its senses. The book is titled ‘One-Block Wonder’.  At first glance it didn’t appear to contain any new ideas. Kaleidoscopes have become commonplace in quilting. Mention the term ‘stack and whack’ to any quilter and she’ll most likely reply, ‘Yep, made one’.  In this book the rules were the same (stack, whack), but the specifics were new to me [use one fabric for the entire project, use one shape (the equilateral triangle)].  With the fabrics currently offered?  With the way kaleidoscopes interconnected to produce mosaics?  I had found a formula for great magic!

The first fabric I selected sported a lawn of red flowers below a cluster of Russian Orthodox cupolas pinned to a clear blue sky.  By what alchemy do static triangles become gesturing hexagons? I am ignorant of which mathematical law alters cupolas into spikes of flowers, spokes of wheels. What once was a singular moment, a single image, captured and frozen, now morphed into a running river of time, of nearly infinite possible designs. I fell under the spell and chopped to pieces everything I saw. Six triangles, cut with abandon from anywhere within the repeat, produced some beautiful and some very hideous results. Every new hexagon hinted at infinity.

I came upon an Asian print. Armed with a hinged mirror, I glimpsed at its potential transmutations. Eagerly I bought six repeats of an orange dragon twisting in front of rain heavy clouds of purple and gray. The dragon was slain with swift slashes of my rotary cutter, a tool as sharp as any knight’s sword. Triangular segments of the creature’s body were strewn across my cutting table awaiting rebirth. Magic happens when triangles become hexagons.  Chunks of dragon flesh grafted into Celtic knots. Cloud clusters became funeral wreaths long withered on old graves. I felt a sorceress.

Not all of the hexagons made from a single cloth yielded to blend as I had wished. Some were so unique they had to stand alone. They come from the same cloth, share the same color palette, but do not disappear into each other. I had been traveling the dusty road becoming all too familiar with solitude wishing fervently to blend with others before I heard of you. Now together we are, yet set apart.

– Mary McQueary.

 

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