Here, There and Everywhere

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Cinderella’s Question

From the wily Zen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba: The Illustrious and Delusional Abbess of Satire.

Master Tarantino Toshiba always believed in equality and freedom for all. She freely taught to one and all — young, old, men, women, children, smart, stupid, rich, poor, and even the middle-class. There was a little girl named Cinderella who had been taken in at the monastery after her parents had died. By the time she was of age, she started noticing that all the nuns would visit their master daily for a private session. She was told that these sessions were called nodzen and were designed for each student to be given a special koan (or mind problem) for them to solve and reach enlightenment. Cinderella said she “reeeeally” wanted to participate in nodzen as well, and asked for permission to do so. She was now of age, so her Master could not refuse.

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Cinderella approached Master Tarantino Toshiba’s room the next morning and banged loudly on the door (as she had been instructed). She was invited in and asked to squat in the middle of the room.

“Tell me,” asked the Abbess. “Why are you here?”

“I have come to receive my koan Master.”

“Why are you here?”

“Because I want to be enlightened and find peace.”

“Why are you here?”

“I told you before,” Cinderella replied, somewhat annoyed. “I’m here…”

“Why . . . are . . . you . . . here?”

“How many times do I have to say it? I’m . . .”

“Stop!” exclaimed The Master. “This IS your koan. Why are you here? Not here in this room, but here on the planet. Why are you alive? What’s your purpose? What does it all mean? Why are you here?”

Cinderella rolled her eyes. “Oh. Now I see.”

“Not sure about that,” the Abbess whispered quietly.

“Thank you,” Cinderella said. She stood and bowed several times and then departed.

Cinderella pondered her koan deeply night and day. She watched the water in the stream flowing by and contemplated upon its existence. When her time for nodzen was upon her the following week, she entered The Master’s room with great excitement, certain that she’d solved the problem.

“Why are you here?” asked the Abbess.

“My existence is temporary. Like water, we come and go.”

“That is not the question. Yes, we are all transient, but why are we here?”

Making sure to avoid water the following week (and getting quite smelly as a result), Cinderella sat in the town square and watched and listened to the people living their lives. One afternoon, after seeing a farmer receive some turmeric in exchange for her chicken’s eggs, she knew she had discovered life’s purpose. She could hardly wait until it was her turn to visit the Abbess.

“I am here . . . we are all here,” Cinderella bubbled, when she next saw The Master, “to share what we have and help one another with what we need.”

The Master rolled her eyes and then smiled. “You think you’re hot, but you’re getting colder by the minute. The tinniest forms of life make exchanges for their existence, but why are they here? Why are you here?”

Cinderella was crestfallen. She had been certain that she’d had the answer. The following week she spent in isolation in a dark cave. There was no water or people to disturb her meditation. In the darkness, her sense of hearing was amplified. She became aware of her breath as it moved in and out. After hours of sitting it seemed as if the air going in and out of her lungs was a title wave of energy and her body a receptacle of its life force. Upon this discovery, she made her way out of the cave (after running into a few walls) and went straight to see The Master without waiting for her appointment. She pounded loudly on the door, entered, and called out.

“Master! Master!” Master Toshiba stepped aside just in time, as the door swung her way. “I’ve got it! I’ve got it!”

Master Toshiba stepped out from behind the door.

Cinderella looked around. “Oh, there you are. Master, I’ve got it!”

“I was just going out for some fresh air,” Master Toshiba replied. “Come with me.” Cinderella followed like an adoring puppy. “What is it you think you have?”

“Why I’m here. Why we’re here.”

“And why is that?”

“Because energy cannot exist in a vacuum. We are all interdependent.”

The Master stopped, put her hand on Cinderella’s shoulder and calmly said, “This is true, but you still do not understand why you are here.”

“Help me. I don’t know what to do.”

“Go,” the Abbott replied. “Go help yourself and don’t come back until you can answer the question.”

Cinderella’s head dropped and she started crying. “I give up.”

“That’s not why we are here, to give up.”

Four months later, while reading a children’s story, Cinderella asked, for the millionth time, why she was here. She realized that she would never know the answer and decided to tell the Abbess.

“There are so many stories Mistress and none of them can tell us why we are here or what our purpose is. I will never be able to answer your question. I’ll just live my life and do what I have to do to get by. I don’t need to know why in order to live.”

Mistress Toshiba smiled and kissed Cinderella on the forehead. “My dear little pumpkin. You got it.”

More questions at: Zen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba: The Illustrious and Delusional Abbess of Satire.

Land Minds – Part 2

Saint Catherine’s Baby – Stories (Excerpt) by Gabriel Constans

Land Minds – Part 2

Late that afternoon the sun caught him breathing heavily and glared questioningly into his fearful eyes just before he disappeared into the woods towards town. He carried all he owned in a small leather shoulder bag flapping loosely against his spine.

Instead of going to the bank or store, as was his custom, he found himself standing precariously at the edge of the sultry blacktop being lured by an invisible seductress called hope. When the occasional car or truck sliced through the air with its metallic precision, he reluctantly lifted his thumb skyward. He wasn’t sure if he could be seen. He felt invisible.

The town’s eyes glistened with surprise, from Jesse down at the corner gas station, to Stella at the store, who promptly hollered at Frank to come outside, “and see for your self!”

Mark heard their thoughts rattle and hum before he saw them staring. Their investigations crawled up his hairy legs and under his cotton shirt like a voyeuristic spider. He slowly turned counter-clockwise and took in the town and its’ citizens, as if he had just arrived from Mars.

Frank waved. Jesse nodded. Mark noted their movements and felt his barrel chest rise and fall. His glasses slid down his sweaty nose, as his eyelids drooped and his bones sunk into his earthbound feet. The receiving instruments in his ears vibrated with the trees’ caution. “Don’t go! They’re animals . . . human animals . . . savages . . . whores of power.”

A silver Honda Civic had slowed and come to a stop about a meter from Mark’s khaki pants before he sensed its presence and opened his far-sighted eyes. His pupils adjusted to the light bouncing off the chrome fender as he realized the car was waiting for him to acknowledge its existence. Warily, he moved towards the open window on the passenger side, bent his knobby knees and slightly bulging waist and peered in to the interior.

“Hey, Mr. Keeler, where you headed?” The blurry face came into focus. “Don’t remember me, do ya?”

Mark’s head wobbled side to side acknowledging the correctness of the man’s assumption.

“Yosh, Yoshi Matsuma. My sister and I moved in just a ways down from your place last August, remember?” Again Mark’s head motioned his ignorance. “I’m going to the city if you want a ride. You are wanting a ride, right?”

Mark forced his haggard face to nod a meager yes, opened the door stealthily and willed his body to sit. He reached out with his sunburned and peeling arm, grabbed the plastic door handle and slammed it shut with a dull thud. As the mechanical convenience accelerated a renegade breeze blew in the open window. The stoic, composed redwoods cried a warning, their limbs rustling with nervous jitters and ancient fears.

Five minutes into the ride Yosh opened the curtain of silence. “We’ve fixed the place up pretty good; a little paint, some elbow grease and voila!” Mark’s tongue remained frozen. Yosh thought he saw his passenger’s eyebrow ascend slightly but couldn’t take his eyes of the road. “Of course my sister, Janey, added all the nice touches. You know, flowered curtains, pictures, table cloth, that kind of thing.” No reply. “Yes indeed, she’s made it quite livable.”

Yosh sipped his coffee from a lidded cup below the dashboard. “Like something to drink?” Replacing his cup he reached behind the seat, grabbed a bottle of Geyser Natural and offered it to his guest.

“No thanks.”

Yosh flinched at the sound of Mark’s voice, which had crept from his face like a toddler peeking out from behind their mother’s skirt. “If you change your mind just help yourself.”

The car left the winding mountain fortress and glided along the golden, rolling hills of brown and yellow grasses.

Yosh took a deep breath and felt the knots in his shoulders sigh with relief. “Always happens,” he said. “I never realize how uptight I am driving that part of the road until it’s over.” He took another sip of coffee. “We’re buying you know. No more money down the drain renting. It’s our place now. We’re going to be neighbors for a long time.” He looked at Mark’s backpack in the rearview mirror. “That is, if you’re coming back.” Mark looked out the window at the receding mountains. “Are you?” Yosh reiterated.

It took Mark a moment to realize he was being asked a question.

“What?” he said, looking out the windshield.

“Are you leaving for good or just going on vacation or something?”

He looked casually at the man who had been speaking. Yoshi Matsuma was a young, dark-haired man, without a wrinkle or hint of severity or judgment in his friendly face.

“I don’t know.”

“Well, it’s none of my business really, but you seem a little, I don’t know, a little out there.”

Mark’s mouth contorted into a grin, shocking them both. “You could say that.”

Yosh, surprised and encouraged with the sudden reply, gently pushed the boundaries, “I hope you come back.”

“You barely know me.”

Yosh slowed for a long curve. “There’s something . . . I don’t know . . .” He rounded the corner and let the wheel straighten itself out. “Just something about you I trust.”

“Trust! What does he know about trust?” he started to say, but Yosh interrupted.

“Look, I’ll tell you the truth.”

“Oh my God,” thought Mark, “not the truth.”

“Janey isn’t my sister, she’s my fiancée.”

Mark tried acting surprised, but wasn’t good at faking indifference.

“I know,” Yosh persisted, “it sounds stupid, but we weren’t sure how people in town felt about these things, so we thought we’d play it safe.”

The words rolled around in Mark’s head like a lead marble in a pinball machine. “Play it safe. Play at safety. Safe at play.”

“We plan on getting married, but our parents kind of freaked out about it. She’s not Japanese and my folks are real traditional about this stuff, you know?”

Mark nodded, he knew about prejudice. He knew how hate could consume your soul like fire, brand your hide and leave permanent shrouds of black ash lodged in your heart.

“You won’t tell anyone, will you?” Yosh pleaded. Mark sat encased in his private inferno. “Mr. Keeler. Mr. Keeler!”

“What?”

“This is between us, right?”

“What?”

“Janey and me.”

“Yeah, sure.”

The sigh of a man who’d just been pardoned escaped from Yosh’s wound-up body, as they drove towards the concrete encampment. Over a hundred minutes of dead time ticked methodically on the dashboard clock until the cities outstretched fingers, delicately referred to as suburbs, fondled them with their manicured yards of caged nature.

Mark sensed the turnoff for Enterprise Estates before the green and white sign flashed into view. “Enterprise Estates,” he said out loud. “This is it.”

“You sure Mr. Keeler? These places are pretty ritzy, if you know what I mean.”

“Yes,” he replied, “I know.”

The exit overtook them quickly as Yosh veered right and turned into the walled subdivision. He slowed for the speed bumps and kept his eye on his hitchhiking friend. Mr. Keeler was trembling like someone with Parkinson’s.

“You sure about this?” Yosh said with concern. Mark nodded stiffly.

Yosh drove slowly along the squeaky-clean street until they passed a large, white, Mediterranean style home with blue fabric awnings and a long, brick driveway which stood out like a parading peacock.

“Turn here.”

Their small, Japanese model transport hesitantly crept up the wide u-shaped drive. Mark felt each indentation between the bricks thump, vibrate and spread to the soles of his feet from the rubber tree tires below. They came to a smooth stop in front of the extravagantly landscaped walk, which was lined with red and yellow roses, pink carnations and purple Mexican Sage.

Mark opened the car door gingerly and stepped into the external atmosphere of opulence. His knees buckled. He quickly recovered, grabbing the door and slapping his right cheek until it turned bright pink, then headed like a kamikaze pilot towards the front entrance.

END OF PART 2

(CONCLUSION TOMORROW)

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Moving Up – Part 1

Saint Catherine’s Baby – Stories (Excerpt)

Moving Up – Part 1

If you enjoy stench, spilled guts and sights too horrible to imagine, it was a dream job. Not a cash cow or silk tie kind of thing, but it kept me out of trouble, paid the bills and satisfied my sliver of sanity.

I had the honor, no the privilege, of driving the county roads to pick up dead animals that had been dismembered, disemboweled or squashed like aluminum cans after they had followed an arousing scent or been running from a perceived or real danger.

The blue and white van I had been provided was a mockery to survival itself, but came with the territory. With brakes that required savage pumping to avert running into a brooding oak guarding a curve and lights that flickered on and off like a firefly, it was a matter of faith and fatalism that kept me roaming the roads like a vulture.

“Sure John, we fixed the van,” the mechanics at the city yard would reply with a smirk. “A little gum and masking tape did the job.”

They enjoyed their friendly razing, not realizing their haphazard maintenance was abetting my undercover mission to obliterate my self and obtain absolution for having the gall to keep living.

The early morning ritual of driving the two-lane roads in a death trap was actually quite therapeutic and made me acutely aware of the precariousness of my existence. The sad eyes of a dead raccoon, the resigned look of a possum or the dilated pupils of a terrorized deer strengthened my daily revelations.

I began to see their deaths as sacrifices for their species; not unlike the human sacrifices made in ancient cultures in which it was believed that offering up someone’s soul every now and then would somehow please the gods and protect the rest of the clan.

Staring into the trees, driving along the blacktop at a crawl, my lights returning just in time to see the center line, I would glance out my bug-splattered side window and imagine the beasts of the forest at their nightly gathering.
“It’s your turn,” the eldest skunk would tell his brother, the one he’d always hated. “It’s your turn and everyone knows it.” The young sibling would stare in disbelief and frantically argue.

“What?! My turn? There have been more of us stinking up the road since last winter then there have been rabbits in a blue moon.” Turning towards the rabbits, his nose in the air, he snarls, “Why don’t they put up for a change?”
I’m not sure how they make their selections. Most of the animals that sacrifice themselves aren’t virgins, though I doubt that matters as much to them as it has with humans. I had a strong feeling their decisions weren’t reached by consensus.

My mind tended to play tricks while I was shrouded in morning’s dark shawl. Just before sunrise I would lose track of where I was and became blissfully disoriented. The thrill of being lost and abandoned, with a load of dead carcasses, made me feel like a kid who has just been terrorized from seeing a monster in the closet. Chills of helpless agony caressed my spine, leaving a pungent residue of powerlessness that lasted until I returned to the county yard and dumped my scavenged cargo.

To my surprise and disappointment, the excitement and unique perspective the job provided began to fade. Instead of adrenaline or anticipation numbing my senses, I became jaded and morose. It became commonplace. My lovely nightmares had ceased and I began to look forward to my days off.

After weeks of concentrated contemplation I applied for an opening in waste management. They must have been desperate. Within days of turning in my application I was offered a job at the landfill three miles from town.

It seemed that good fortune had struck twice and unlike lightening this was something I looked forward too. A feast of garbage awaited my attention and it was being served on a government platter with higher pay and benefits; though the health coverage and retirement fund amounted to a big fat zero since I didn’t expect to live long enough to enjoy such entitlements.

They started me out at the sorting machines for recyclables, but that was too clean and tidy for my tastes. Luckily I got in good with Gary, the boss and it wasn’t long until he granted my request and demoted me to a better position.

“You sure you want this?” Gary grumbled, as he took the five bucks from a city resident entering the yard with a truckload of junk. He didn’t like sitting at the gate all day, but Leslie was out taking care of her sick husband and I was a flunky when it came to handling money.

“You bet,” I said, staring at the ground to make sure he didn’t see me grinning.

“OK.” He handed the driver their two-bit change and receipt then looked my way. “It’s your life.”

“Thanks Gary.”

As I put on my gloves and headed towards the screeching seagulls that made the landfill their home, he hollered, “If you change your mind let me know and I’ll put the next new guy on it.” I waved.

I quickly wadded into the middle of the filth to search for valuables that had been dumped along with the refuse. Whatever we found that was of any value we set aside for the city to resale or recycle, but everyone knew we could take the occasional prize home for our own enjoyment or consumption.

***
One wet drizzly fall day, after slogging through a pile of decomposing lettuce and coffee grounds, I came upon a large black and white stuffed dog as big as a small horse. I brushed off the fur, removed my gloves and felt it from head to tail. It only had one small tear, the stuffing seemed intact and it didn’t smell too rancid. I turned it around to look at the front and felt like I’d been kicked in the stomach. The eyes were dark shiny half-shelled marbles that looked exactly like my mothers.

I was a child when she left her limp body on the bed, but the vacant expression in her eyes had been scorched into my little mind forever. Now, in the city dump, up to my knees in trash, I held my find above the waste and saw my mother staring back from her glassy-eyed, opium-filled refuge.

I whistled and waved at my sorting colleague Sammy, to indicate I was taking my break. He waved back and nodded. Sammy was the only guy I knew who liked garbage as much as I. He always offered to cover shifts for the rest of us. He was afraid he would miss the find of the century the one day he was off work.

I walked to my oil-stained motorbike parked in the corner of the yard and tied the dog on the back of the ripped leather seat with a tattered budgie cord. It looked like a carpetbag slung over a pony’s saddle and left little room for my sorry ass on the ride home.

That night I washed, combed and brushed the fur, stitched the tear and polished the eyes. I was lost in those eyes when the phone rang. I didn’t answer. It was probably Annie. She’d been hounding me for years. “You’ve got to move out of the city. Come live with me.” She called once a week from her parent’s home telling me how much she loved and adored me.

Annie and I had met in high school. Her best friend Sylvia had been killed in a freak auto accident the day before graduation. She came to me for comfort. I listened. She interpreted my silence as love and tethered herself to me like a goat to a stake. I have no idea what love is. When her friend had died I just didn’t know what to say and figured saying nothing was better than mouthing off a bunch of cliches or condolences. If I’d known she would become so possessed I would have told her, “Everything will be OK.” Or, “I understand. Don’t worry.”

Now there was nothing I could do but wait. I don’t know how to say good bye; other people do that.

PART 2 TOMORROW

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The English Lesson – Part 2

Excerpt from short story collection Saint Catherine’s Baby.

Ruthie approached to a respectful distance. She bent over, looked briefly at the sentence and said with all the pleasantness she could muster, “Where is the bathroom?”

Mrs. Frankel frowned and pointed. “Down there. What wrong with you? You not remember?”

Inwardly Ruthie smiled like a kid at the carnival, but kept the amusement from her face. “No. No,” she pointed at the page. “The sentence says, ‘Where is the bathroom?’”

Mrs. Frankel let the paper collapse in her lap and turned her back. Red blotches arose on the back of her neck. Was she actually blushing?

Mrs. Frankel squared her shoulders, slowly turned around and held the lesson aloft. “Let us continue,” she said, as if they had just sat down to supper.

“Over there,” Ruthie read, after clearing the tickle from her throat. She went to the next line. “Thank you.”

“Thank you,” Mrs. Frankel repeated, with a strong guttural k on thank.

“You are welcome,” Ruthie read.

“You are welcome.”

“Very good!” Ruthie unconsciously touched the sleeve of Mrs. Frankel’s dress.

Mrs. Frankel stiffened, but perfectly copied her instructor’s speech. “Very good,” she repeated.

Ruthie giggled. “No. That’s not in the book. I mean, you are doing very well.”

Again Mrs. Frankel blushed, then rolled her eyes and nodded aggressively at the page. “Continue. No need for good good . . . how you say . . . flatternity?”

“Flattery.” Ruthie started back towards the sofa.

“No need to sit so far,” Mrs. Frankel said, “bring chair here.” She pointed at a small, round-bottomed, upholstered chair that stood nonchalantly in the corner, then wagged her finger at the adjacent space next to her own seat.

Ruthie cautiously moved the chair next to her unpredictable student.

“Now,” Mrs. Frankel almost whispered, “please help me read next sentence.”

Ruthie almost fell off her seat at hearing the word “please”.

“Would you like to go for a ride,” Ruthie read. “I can pick you up on Sunday morning.”

“Wud you like to go for a rhide? I can pike you up on Soonday morgan.”

“Sunday morning,” Ruthie corrected gently.

“Soonday mornen.”

“Better, much better.”

“Thank you.”

Ruthie glanced at the page. “No,” she said, it doesn’t say thank . . .”

“No,” Mrs. Frankel put her hand on Ruthies. “Thank you. Thank you for helping me.”

“You’re welcome.”

Mrs. Frankel turned back to read. Ruthie struggled to regain her emotional balance, after her student’s kind words. In spite of her steadfast and prudent policy to never mix personal and volunteer time, she asked, “Would you like to go for a ride with my husband and I next week?”

Mrs. Frankel looked astounded. “No. No,” she said nervously. “I not intrude on you and husband. No. No.”

“It’s no problem. We’d love to take you with us. We were thinking of going for a drive to a little winery outside town.”

Mrs. Frankel shook her head emphatically. “No. No. Too kind.”

“Please,” Ruthie insisted. “It would be my pleasure.”

The grandfather clock yawned and announced the half-hour with a raspy clang.

Mrs. Frankel glanced at the oval-framed photo on the yellowing wallpaper. “Maybe,” she said, turning back towards Ruthie. “I think of it.”

Ruthie looked at the black and white picture; a dashing young man in a three-piece suit and French beret. “Your husband?”

“Yes.” Mrs. Frankel gazed at the photo.

“What’s his name?”

Her pupil hesitated, blinked several times, then replied mournfully, “Claude.”

“French?”

“No. Born and raised Germany like me.”

“Tell me more.”

Mrs. Frankel hesitated. “You really want know?”

“Yes, I really want to know.” Ruthie took her elderly students hand to provide some solace. Mrs. Frankel turned her palm upward, squeezed back and cried quietly.

CONTINUED TOMORROW

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