Quite Short Story: Noise

He twitched, pressure building, panic starting to surge. “It’s all right,” his mother whispered, gripping his arm firmly. “Just two more stops. It’s all right.”

He took deep breaths as he’d been taught. His eyes briefly met those of the woman across the aisle. They were green. Bright green like in a comic book. Unnatural.

He dropped his gaze to the floor, fixating on her feet. He couldn’t understand why she was wearing those things on her feet. They were like gloves, but for toes. No shoes. Just these feet gloves. It wasn’t right. He couldn’t bear it. “I need to get off now,” he whispered.

His mother nodded and quickly gathered their belongings, joining him at the door. As soon as the chime rang out, he bolted up the escalator to the street, rounded the edge of the station and leaned against the wall, eyes tightly shut.

“It’s…all right, Derek,” his mother said, panting. “Come, let’s go.”

He nodded, rubbing his face, and then his stomach, feeling nauseated again. His body still craved the poison they’d been giving him. He’d been pretending; shoving the pills into the pocket above his teeth so he could spit them out later. He couldn’t tell his mother. She believed the doctor. But he knew what the doctor was. Like that woman with the kryptonite eyes. One of them.

*****

The dry summer wind swept grit into their skin as they walked past alley garages, spraypainted with noise. His mother unlatched the gate to their tiny backyard garden, sighing at the weeds. He knew how exhausted she was, dealing with him. Too exhausted to weed.

The neighbours were blasting music. He wondered if they needed to block the noise as well; to keep it from getting in. He looked back at the weeds erupting from every crack in the patio, every possible point of entry. It reminded him of a film he saw in school about a Margaret Atwood poem, the lines rippling through his brain: “everything / is getting in… everything / is getting in… everything / is getting in…”

An ode to Jane Austen

I really ought to put pen to paper and send some thoughtfully composed lines to friends. My handwriting, alas, has deteriorated significantly over the years. These days, I must concentrate to make my scrawl simply decipherable, let alone artistic, though mine never compared to the wondrous curves of one friend’s cursive or the modernist angles of another’s. The latter friend attended school in Switzerland when we were teenagers and I delighted in receiving her well-travelled letters, living vicariously through these chapters of her overseas escapades and eagerly awaiting the next instalment every few weeks. Her personality illuminated the lines on the delicate stationery, the tales coming to life as the blue ink cast a shadow through to the other side, now part of a cinematographic dream sequence in my memory.

Letter-writing has of course long been a literary and film device, with dramatic deliveries of news from afar, invitations to effervescent balls, or kiss-offs sealed dramatically with red wax, which, once broken, forever change the plot and fate of the characters. Imagine a Jane Austen novel without letters! It was the catalyst of understanding between Lizzie and Darcy, for pity’s sake! Or that heartfelt – though dreadfully late – letter of confession from Thomas Hardy’s Tess Durbeyfield to Angel Clare, which stays ominously hidden, quite literally kept under the rug, and becomes a clear harbinger of doom.

There is both a literal and figurative – and certainly tactile – difference in the nature of electronic communications that is dramatically less satisfying, even with stylized fonts. And indeed, a whole generation of young people has never experienced the exquisite pining wait for a piece of personal handwritten correspondence. Nor have they enjoyed the anticipation and elation of unfolding the stationery to reveal the physical beauty of the written word and the romance of the art that someone took the time to create just for them.

The idea of waiting for anything in this world of rapid-fire discourse is perhaps what is really at issue. We’ve become addicted to the immediate gratification of the latest buzz of electronic snippets. When I’m in a cell dead zone or my battery is out of juice, I sometimes feel the adrenaline shoot through me and the fear grow in the pit of my stomach that I must be missing something important, whether relevant to my existence or not.

Eventually I succumb and put the phone away, defeated. Next time this happens, I hope that I dig out pen and paper and write a letter about it. Perhaps I’ll even do so in a park under a tree. I know of a bench that has a metal plaque with the apt quote: “To sit in the shade on a fine day and look upon verdure is the most perfect refreshment.” Yes, those are indeed Jane Austen’s words. Who better to inspire a letter?

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A few words about poetry

The words of ancient poets danced and droned as they spun tales of delight and dread about gods and goddesses; fight, flight and plight. Legends were borne brilliantly through metaphors, dreamscapes and visions, illuminated by wit and wonder.

Language was precious then and remains precious now, but for different reasons. In this day of short attention spans and information overload, what place has poetry?

In our glut of words, we need to find a new efficiency; an essential epiphany. Those lines that stay with you – that provide the visceral, evocative, poignant and resonant meaning to create a lasting impression – are the essential epiphanies. This is how poetry can help us cut through the clutter in an art of language that creates understanding and connection.

Here, too, less is often more. It’s not about absence, but intensity; where themes and ideas are expressed through the eloquence of essential meaning. Here are a few reminders from 100, 200 and 450 years ago…

dickinson

auden

keats

shakespeare

 

And one from me: Demarcation: A Riddle.

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The Heart of Frost

Suddenly, it struck
crisp as that winter day:
“Look!” I said. “A heart – right there.”

We watched buds in spring
turn deep green from gold
the heart then secret,
whispering beneath
rich hues that fell away

Only cold laid bare its beauty
lightning creator defied;
silenced by irony

Then the trimmers came
methodical and swift,
oblivious by task, duty
And as the chipper ground,
I knew again what Frost meant:
“Nothing gold can stay.”

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