Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘Part 1’

Ashita (Tomorrow) – Part 1

Excerpt from Solar Girl and Lunar Boy.

Ashita (Tomorrow)

Toward the end of my academic studies I began to obediently panic about my future. “Where would I go? What would I do? Who was I? What would become of me? Would anybody care?”

They were never-ending questions of my age, without any answers except for one. I knew, without any doubt, that I had to leave Hamatombetsu, our coastal town of farmers and fields, where life revolved around chores, children, worship and gossip. Our small enclave of tradition was squeezing me like a bamboo noose. I wanted to explore, expand, walk unfamiliar streets, smell unknown scents and meet people I hadn’t known since pre-school! Except, of course, my dearest friend Kiri.

Kiri and I were inseparable. Our mothers said that they often saw us go to a corner of the playground when we were little, immediately squat down and talk or play together for hours on end. They said it seemed like we were in our own little world. And they were right. There is nothing about my life I haven’t shared with Kiri or she with me. We know each other like our favorite children’s books. She was the only other person who knew of my desire to leave.

At nine years of age I’d gone with my Chichi (father) to Sapporo and seen the sights of the grandest city on Hokkaido. We saw the parks, the baseball stadium and the buildings that were taller than any trees I had ever seen. Chichi had gone to see an old friend named Shogi, who lived in the suburbs. Shogi had treated me like a princess and taken us out for ice cream and treats every day we were there. He’d told my father how lucky he was to have such a beautiful little girl and I’d soaked it in, all the time feigning humility and giggling behind my hands.

Shogi worked downtown and had taken Chichi and I with him one day to see his office. I had never been on an elevator. When it first lifted, I’d felt my stomach fall and grabbed Chichi’s hand, but after the starting moments, was soon asking if we could up and down again and again.

The view from Shogi’s office was unbelievable! My mouth dropped unceremoniously open when he ushered us into his small office with a floor to ceiling window. I remember being careful to not stand to close, afraid that I’d surely fall off the side. The window was so clean I couldn’t see it.

One night Shogi took us to a place called a Karioke Bar. At first Chichi and I watched dumbfounded as people got on stage and sang along with the music. Some of them were so serious and so bad that we couldn’t stop from laughing. Shogi and Chichi must have drank a lot of sake, because it wasn’t long before they were up their grinning from ear to ear and singing like pop stars. They pulled me up to join them for a song. I was mortified at first and hid between their legs, but after some people started applauding I came out and joined them for a few versus. I don’t recall ever seeing my Chichi as happy as he’d been that night.

On our way home the next day my Chichi said, “Shogi is a lot of fun isn’t he?” I smiled. “And you liked the city, right?” I nodded emphatically and looked out the bus at the passing countryside. Then he said, “But don’t you EVER even THINK of us moving there.”
I looked at him in disbelief, asking “why” with my wide-eyed expression.

Without daring to look me in the eye he explained, “It is no place to raise a family. Many in the city are lost. They don’t follow the Buddha’s ways. They’ve made life complex and crave material goods.” He took my hand in his. “Promise me you will NEVER leave Hamatombetsu, OK?”

What could I say? I was a little girl who loved her Chichi and didn’t understand what he was saying.

“I promise.”

CONTINUED TOMORROW

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As Precious As Gold – Part 1

Excerpt from children’s story collection Solar Girl and Lunar Boy.

The drought had lasted many moons. Life’s energy on earth was slipping away. Mammals, reptiles and fish had perished in silent misery.

Plants, grass and trees were nothing more than brittle, gray, useless matter. Every source of water was bone dry. Ponds, rivers, streams, lakes, glaciers and snow had all evaporated in the sun’s scorching heat without the slightest whimper of protest.

Insects were the only creatures to survive. The most numerous and efficient of the insects were from the Formicidae (Form-a-ka-day) family – more commonly known as ANTS.

With over 15,000,000,000,000,000 (15 quadrillion) members and “at least” 4,000 different species; the ants continued to eke out a living.

Ants stick together come low or high water. They live in groups called colonies. Each ant has a specific job as a queen, soldier or worker. The queens lay eggs; the soldiers kidnap other ants; and the workers make the nests and bring home the food. Most live and die as workers.

As the drought continued the Formicidae’s (ants) old methods of obtaining food began to fail. Normally a few scouts would discover a food source and lay down “odor” or “smell” trails for the workers to follow. Others would eat the food they found, return to the nest and proudly throw-up to show they had discovered a feast for the entire family.

One day some of the queen ants began to notice that many of the male workers were not returning from food expeditions.

Ants, as you know, are very sensitive to changes in moisture. After tasting some of the soil the queens realized what was happening. The ground water was slowly disappearing. The missing ants must have died of thirst. Drastic action had to be taken or they would soon perish!

As the queens cried about their fate, a small worker ant, known as Mosha, timidly raised her voice and said, “We can’t solve this alone. Why don’t we get all the colonies together?”

What an incredible idea! No one had ever dreamed of such a thing. The queens instantly agreed and sent an urgent decree for all Formicidae to meet on the Serengeti Plain in East Africa.

It wasn’t long until ant colonies from all corners of the globe began to arrive.

Some made the treacherous journey floating on wooden logs across the sea. Others glided with the breeze on leaves they had bound by silk. Long columns were seen marching across the barren land in an array of bright colors and sizes.

If you looked closely you could see Sauba ants from South America and Red and Wood ants from North America. Running from India, came Sima rufo-nigra colonies. From Australia and Tasmania swarmed Bull-dog and Myrmecia Formicidae. Hawaii sent l. Falcigera families floating on gusts of wind. Java displayed Dicthadia tribes, and eastern Asia had Oecophylla smarogdima coming by the thousands.

In the midst of this historic event were the Africans. Algeria and Tunisia sent Messor’s. South Africa had a large Honey-tub contingent and African Driver ants were everywhere.

What a sight! The entire Serengeti Plain was brimming with over 15 quadrillion ants! It looked as if a soft, reddish-brown carpet had been laid out from one end to the other. Even more amazing was the fact that not one incident of violence or kidnapping was reported.

The ants had agreed upon a peace treaty for the first time. Up until the drought the colonies had often fought one another and embarked on frequent slave raids. Most reported “battles” between Formicidae are actually raids to obtain additional larvae (baby ants) to increase that colonies work force.

As the Ants United Nations of Tribes (A.U.N.T.) began to meet, a humongous, dark, enchanting cloud arose over Mount Kilimanjaro (the highest mountain in Africa).

At first the ants were scared. It was so big its shadow covered the entire Serengeti Plain with darkness. Their fear quickly turned to happiness when they realized this cloud could end the long drought.

After two long, cold days of anticipation it became clear that this cloud was not heavy enough to drop the life-giving rain that was so needed, even though it was their last hope. Time was running out.

How could they convince this rainmaker to drop its precious cargo? They tried talking to the cloud. It didn’t budge. They yelled, screamed and begged for it to release its water, but it didn’t seem to care. Even ancient rain songs wouldn’t budge its frozen heart.

Putting their antennas’ together, Mosha and the other ants came up with a daring plan. If enough of them could make it to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro alive and breath heavily upon the cloud, perhaps that would create the moisture (condensation) it needed to release the rain it held so tightly.

CONTINUED TOMORROW

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The English Lesson – Part I

Excerpt from short story collection Saint Catherine’s Baby.

They stopped at 410 Stadler. Sy kept the gas guzzling, early eighties Plymouth idling, as Ruthie got her folder together and clamped her purse shut.

“Got everything?” Sy asked.

Ruthie had her lesson plan in hand. “Yep, all here.”

Ruthie thought about her student, Mrs. Frankel, a seventy-five-year old widow who had been forced to learn English since the recent death of her husband.

Only ten years younger than Mrs. Frankel, Ruthie had recently retired after a thirty-year career as secretary for the County Social Service department. She’d tried staying at home, but felt antsy and unproductive.

She’d wanted to help others, so she took classes on how to teach English and tutor people in their own homes. If she’d known her students could be as difficult as Mrs. Frankel, she might have stayed home and watched re-runs of Dick Van Dyke.

Ruthie considered herself to be in pretty good shape. She walked or swam daily, slept well and maintained a healthy diet. It gave her pause when she thought, “but by the grace of God” she could end up as bent and spiteful as Mrs. Frankel.

“She’s one of the rudest women I have ever met,” she told Sy. “Do you know what she said to me last week?” She didn’t wait for his answer. “She said, ‘Sit up! You’re not a teenager; this important class.’ She treated me like a little kid!”

Sy pecked his wife of thirty-four years on the cheek. “Come back for you in an hour?”

Ruthie closed the car door with a solid thud and blew Sy a kiss as he drove off in a cloud of white steam rising from the exhaust into the cold, fall-morning air. She tied her dark green scarf tightly around her neck, smoothed out her off-white, below-the-knee skirt and approached Mrs. Frankel’s aging home; a fortress of red brick and peeling, dirty paint that seemed to dare someone to approach or disturb its occupant. The porch had a metal grate topping off the brick base and an eight-foot, iron-bared gate. Using their secret code, Ruthie rang the doorbell three long blasts, then a short jolt, to seek permission to enter her student’s premises. She gave a start as Mrs. Frankel suddenly appeared and unlocked the rusting gate.

“Frau Ruth. You’re late!” Mrs. Frankel admonished; her small, upturned nose flaring as she turned towards the living room. Her short, curled, gray-haired wig bounced with each step, briefly revealing the dry skin on her bent neck.

“Good to see you,” Ruthie forced a smile and followed the neatly-attired, rickety old woman through the parlor, into a living room cluttered with antiquities. Mrs. Frankel plopped her spine-shrunken body into her polished maple chair of propriety, while Ruthie crossed the fraying, deep-red carpet to sit on her designated seat; an early twentieth century sofa with curled armrests and club feet.

Hilda, the fat, brown-stripped cat, lay on the rug, barely lifting an eyelid to acknowledge Ruthie’s presence. Hilda was nearly as old as the furniture and moved about as often.

The sitting arrangement was, to say the least, a bit awkward. It was quite a feat to explain the lesson from across the room to the hard-of-hearing learner. Inevitably, Ruthie would have to rise, cross the room and repeat her self several times, then return to her preordained position.

“You think I am a stupid, not?!” Mrs. Frankel shouted.

“What?” Ruthie replied meekly.

“You heard me! You think I stupid?!”

“Stupid, no, stubborn, yes!” replied Ruthie, surprising herself.

“Stewburn?” Mrs. Frankel said awkwardly. “Is stewburn good or bad?”

“I mean,” Ruthie shouted. “You are one hard nut to crack.”

“A cracked nut?”

Mrs. Frankel looked like a deer caught in headlights. Ruthie laughed, in spite of her best intention to the contrary. Obviously insulted, Mrs. Frankel’s pale blue eyes narrowed like two tiny laser beams on an enemy target.

Ruthie took a deep breath for reinforcement and put a lid on her natural reaction. “It’s an expression. It means you are hard to figure out,” she explained, “difficult to know.”

Mrs. Frankel looked down at her wrinkled, spotted hands, then sighed and said, “You think I like this?” She raised her head and looked directly at Ruthie. “I am proud woman. I never want to be in this crazy country. I come because I need to follow husband.” She looked at the cat and sighed. “Now, it just Hilda and me.”

“I’m sorry,” Ruthie said sincerely, not sure if her condolence would be received or accepted.

Mrs. Frankel suddenly sat up as straight as her crooked body would allow and turned to her present endeavor. Holding up the learning sheet and turning it slightly towards Ruthie, she pointed at the first line with renewed obstinacy and demanded, “Now . . . what this?!”
Ruthie started to rise and move closer, but was frowned at fiercely. She squinted in the dimly lit room and tried to decipher the line from where she sat.

“I say, What this?!” Mrs. Frankel held the page aloft, shaking it like some offending piece of evidence. “I not understand!”
Ruthie strained to see.

“Come here!” Exasperation clung to Mrs. Frankel’s command.

CONTINUED TOMORROW

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