May 10, 2007

This is a Test, again!

You may safely ignore this.

Posted by john at 09:22 PM | Comments (0)

April 22, 2007

What Do You Do With a Drunken Sailor?

Beat the crap out of him, that's what.

Posted by john at 09:22 PM | Comments (0)

November 05, 2006

City Lights by Monica Schroeder

City Lights by Monica Schroeder

Posted by john at 11:11 PM | Comments (0)

September 30, 2006

ScalziMusic

Acceptance
Why Don't You Love Me
Saturn Speaks
Kindertransport
Don't Stop
I Feel Loved (Scalzi Remix)
Converge to Merge

Posted by john at 04:15 PM | Comments (0)

June 23, 2006

Before Pictures

Posted by john at 06:21 PM | Comments (0)

April 27, 2006

Suburban Excursion

(Note: Written my first year of college. If you can't guess, it's lyrics to a concept album. You'll just have to imagine the Floydian grandeur of the music. It's very Gen X, circa 1987, which is to say, before Kurt Cobian and Nirvana wandered by to say hello.)

Suburban Excursion

Part I

Prelude (Right After World War II)

Right after World War II
We didn't quite know what to do
With all of the soldiers coming home
So these men both bold and brave
The men who saved the day
Were given a new world for their own.

In the shadow of the city
They built suburbia
New homes tacked up day by day
And these men both brave and bold
Quietly did what they were told
Left in tract homes to fade away.

And their children lived on love
And their grandchildren on drugs
And with the sun setting on their lives
They knew what had been done
To their lives and hopes and dreams
The look of wasted life in their eyes.


Your Life and Mine

You live in your world
I live in mine
And never the twain shall meet
You have got your life
And I've got one too
And we don't step on each other's feet
You can't include me
So you just elude me
And it turns out that it seems
That you live in your world
And I live in mine
We're living off all of our dreams.

Safely in your world
Happy in mine
On with our own lives we go
You never hoping
And I never thinking
We'll ever have chances to know
You won't call to me
So I won't talk to you
And it turns out that it seems
Locked into your wold
Trapped into mine
We're choking on all of our dreams.


Part of a Dream (i)

Do you think it will matter when we all turn to dust
Do you think that the things which to us mean so much
Will turn out to be
A part of a dream?

Do you think what we feel what we know what we trust
Would all of these things be so important to us
If it turned out to be
A part of a dream?


Everyone Happy

Everyone Happy
Everyone Smiling
Everyone secretly
Groping and hiding
Get away from it all!
Let's take a vacation
A nation of weirdos
A whole generation
Spiritually null
Mentally void
Remember the winner
Has the most toys
Nothing to win
Nothing to lose
Nothing to hope for
Nothing to choose
But we will go on
Diguising our dying
Everyone happy
Everyone smiling.


I Can't Let Go

Saw your face in a photograph
Saw your smile and your hair tied back
In a bow like it used to be
In a time when you were here with me

And I can't let go now.


Part of a Dream (ii)

A thousand things
Spark my memories into reality
A million words
Remind me of what was said between you and me

It's part of a dream
Everything real
Slipped away from me

A hundred lies
Bring to life the wound that you cut into me
A single truth
Could bring about a change but you can't see

It's part of a dream
Everything real
Slipped away from me

Don't close your eyes
Don't let this become just another dream
Don't close your mind
And bring about the change that is the end of me

Part of a dream
Don't let this be
Just part of a dream........

(end Part I)


(Part II)

Close the Door

I can tell by how the covers rise and fall
That you're asleep, in dreams above it all
The are those things about which we never speak
So now I'll speak, talking in your sleep

Dearling dear, you know I fear
That we have fallen to the rear
And all the dreams we had between us
Have slipped away, instead they leave us
Bills to pay, rent to owe
And though we have nice things to show
My heart knows that I could have done something more
Darling, did we close the door?

Darling dear, you know I see
The spaces between you and me
Become like potholes in the pavement
But we hide our problems in the basement
And buy a new modern convenience
Celebrate modern man's achievement
It's our own pain we can afford to ignore
Darling, will you help me close the door?

I can tell by how you mutter in your sleep
The pain is there, our wounds are cut in deep
And when we wake, we'll start the day once more
Try not see the closing of the door.


I Think It's You

I can't get unwound
I'm wrapped up much too tight
Small things that most ignore
Keep me up all night

I see all these people
In the shadows by the door
I know they cannot be there
And that scares me even more

I think it's you
You're doing this to me
Makes sense that you
Would do this thing to me
I know it's you
(Don't Hide)
I know it's you
(Don't Hide)

Stay away from the phone
Don't call my number
Don't tap on the window
Don't disturb my slumber

I'm not going to trust you
As you would have me do
Someone's made me a raw nerve
And so I watch your every move

I think it's you
You're doing this to me
Makes sense that you
Would do this thing to me
I know it's you
(Don't Hide)
I know it's you
(Don't Hide)

No! I won't sit down
No! I won't talk about it
No! I won't calm down
No! You lousy hypocrite

I think it's you.


What Have We Done

What have we done?
What new thing have we placed before the sun?
What have we done?
Into what blind alley did we duck and run?


Promises

Daddy did you sell out
Daddy did you bail out
Daddy did you pass the buck
Or stuff it in your pocket

Mother did you stand up
Mother did you stay up
Mother when you gave your heart
Did you replace it with a locket

Don't yell at me
Did you do the world any good
Why didn't you save it
Like you said you would

You shouldn't make a promise
You know that you can't keep
Shouldn't tilt the mill at the top of the hill
If you think the hill's too steep
Don't ask me to believe
When it looks like this to me

Looks like we got bought again
Looks like we got sold out again
Looks like we got jerked off again
Couldn't keep those promises

Who owns you father
Who owns you mother
Who holds your chain
It won't happen again

Not to me no way
Not to me please
Not to me no way
Not to me please

I promise


Prayer

Can we hold our world together
Say we can
Can we bare our hearts together
Say we can
Can we build again together
Say we can
I know we can
Together


I believe (epilogue)

I know this may seem
A little strange to hear from me
But after everything I've seen
After everything that's been
You know I still believe
I still believe

It take more than your eyes to see
It takes more than your ears to hear
It takes more than a hand to give
Or a heart to hold one dear

It takes more than you can get
From the words of these songs I sing
And because I see this in you
You know that I believe

I believe
I believe in what can be
I believe in you
Will you believe in me

I believe
I believe despite our history
And I'm happy
Although I shouldn't be
(I believe)

The distance down is so very great
For a leap to be made by faith
It's a miracle that I will leap at all
But I believe you would catch my fall.

I believe.

Posted by john at 10:44 AM | Comments (0)

The Statue

(Note: This was written when I was 17. Why, yes, at the time I thought it was quite clever.)

The Statue

There was a large nude statue in Walter Sim's front yard. It hadn't been there in the morning when Walter left to go to work, but it was there when he got back that evening. He had no idea how it had gotten there.

Walter ignored the stare of Mrs. Kowalski, his next door neighbor, as he went inside his home. Walter's son, Alan, was inside, drinking a Pepsi and watching MTV.

"There's a statue out in our front yard," said Walter.

"I know." said his son, not taking his eyes off the TV set. "Isn't it great?"

"It's terrible,"said Walter, slightly taken back. "It's nude."

"Yeah," said Alan. He took a drink from his soda. On the TV, a young woman jiggled into the camera.

"Alan," Walter said, "how did it get there?"

Alan shrugged. "This morning, some dude knocked on our door and asked me to sign a reciept for it. He put it in our front yard and left."

"This morning? Don't you go to school anymore?"

Alan shrugged again. "School was canceled today. Someone phoned in a bomb threat. Besides, there was a good movie on HBO this morning."

Walter looked out the window at the statue. He looked down on the body. It was most decidedly male.

"Alan," Walter said, "did it occur to you to ask this man why he was dropping off this statue?"

"No, not really," said Alan, "I thought maybe that mom bought it or something."

"Where is your mother?"

"She's in New York, dad. She's at that convention for romance writers. She left the number of her hotel on the fridge."

"Well, anyway," Walter said as he watched Mrs. Bodilla stop from her evening stroll to stare at the statue, "we can't keep it in the front yard. It's nude. We have to move it." He started to go outside.

Alan got up to change the station.

"Well? aren't you going to help me?"

"Dad, I can't move it now. Star Trek is on."

"As soon as it's over, I want you helping me."

Alan shrugged. Walter went into the front yard. From across the street, Mrs. Wurmbacher her peeped out of her front window. Walter smiled and waved his hand. Mrs. Wurmbacher pursed her lips disapprovingly and disappeared. Walter put his hands on his hips and tried to figure out how to deal with the statue. The statue was at least six feet tall and was made out of some sort of metal. It was too heavy for the soil to support, and the base had sunk into the earth. On the base was a signature. Walter bent to read what it said.

"What the hell is this?" A voice said from behind Walter. It was Paul Kowalski, his next door neighbor. Walter began to rise and banged his head on a part of the statue. When he realized what part or the statue he had struck, he began to redden considerably.

"Hello, Paul," said Walter.

"Trying to enrich your 1ife?" asked Paul, staring at the statue.

"No, not really. I don't know where this came from. I think my wife bought it. I'm not sure, really. I don't know."

"Your wife got this?" Paul looked it up and down, then pointed downward. "You think she's trying to say something?"

"What?"

"Howdy," Neil Lawson walked up and pointed to the statue, "'What's this doing here?"

"Walt's wife is sending him subliminal messages," said Paul.

"Really?" Neil looked at the statue again. "That's some message," he said, with new respect.

Walter began to blush again. "I'm going to call my wife," he said, rather lamely.

"I'd do that," Neil said, still looking at the statue. Inside, Alan was rooting through the refrigerator.

"Where's your mother's hotel number?" Walter asked, looking frantically on the refrigerator door.

From the other side of the door, Alan slapped a hand over onto a piece of paper.

"Here," he said. "By the way, Mrs. Wurmbacher called."

Walter, who had picked up the phone, paused. "What? Why?"

"She wanted to know what the statue was doing out there."

"What did you tell her?"

"I told her it wasn't doing a hell or lot, actually. She didn't think it was funny. Can I have this?"

Alan held up a wine cooler.

Walter was concentrating on dialing. "Yes." Walter stopped dialing and saw what his son had in his hands. "What are you doing?"

"You just said I can have this."

"I did not," Walter said, indignantly.

The phone was picked up in New York. "Hello, Mountebank Hotel," the woman on the other end of the phone said.

"Don't tell me what I said and what I didn't say." Walter said to his son.

"I wouldn't presume," said the woman.

"What?" Walter turned his attention to the phone. His son slipped out of the kitchen with the cooler.

"I said I wouldn't presume," the woman said again.

"Who is this?"

"I'm Susan."

"I was calling the Mountebank Hotel."

"This is the Mountebank Hotel. I'm the clerk."

"Oh. Could you patch me through to Lois Sims, please?"

"Lois Sims? The romance writer? She's here?"

"I suppose so." Walter said. He peered out of the window at the front lawn. Two more men had joined Neil and Paul. They were looking at the statue.

"I love her books!" Susan the clerk said. "Have you read her latest book? It's about a woman who loves her doctor so much she allows him to perform medical experiments on her. It's called I Give You My Heart -- it's wonderful."

One or the two other men took off his baseball cap and placed it strategically on the statue. They all laughed. Walter started to sweat.

"Listen," he said, "Could you please get her? This is an emergency."

"Oh. Hold on," Walter was put on hold. Outside, the man took his hat and spun it.

"Hello?" the voice on the other end of the phone said.

"Hello! Lois?"

"This is Mrs. Sims' secretary," The voice said, "What business do you have with Mrs. Sims?"

"I'm her husband," said Walter.

"Sure you are," said the secretary.

Through the window, Walter could see Mrs. Kowalski was talking on the phone. She made a gesture with her hands that left no doubt as to what she was talking about.

"Please," said Walter, his voice shaking slightly. "I am her husband. I need to talk to Lois. She bought a statue and I need to get it out of here."

"Why?"

"It's nude," Walter said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.

"So?"

"What? So? You don't understand. It's nude."

"What of it? The human body is a beautiful piece of art. It should be glorified."

Walter peered out Into the front yard again. "That's not what my neighbors seem to think."

"Well, hold on," the secretary said, testily. Walter was put on hold again. Outside, the crowd had grown in number.

"Walter?" The voice on the other end of the phone said.

"Lois! Since when do you have a secretary?"

"I hired her at the beginning of this trip. You haven't made a good impression, by the way. She says you're a Philistine."

"Lois, we have to get rid of that statue you bought. It's positively indecent, and we've upset Mrs. Wurmbacher besides."

"Calm down, Walter. I can hear you sweating."

"I'm not sweating," he said, wiping his brow.

"First off, what are you talking about?"

"I'm talking about that statue you bought."

'What statue? I didn't buy any statues, dear."

"Then what is one doing in our front yard?"

"I haven't the slightest idea. And anyway, I don't see what the problem is, even if we do have a statue in the front yard."

"Lois, it's nude."

"And what would you rather it be? In Bermuda shorts?"

"I'd rather it not be there at all. Lois, there is a crowd of people in our front yard, and they are playing with the statue. We can't have that. People will talk."

"Let them talk. What harm can one statue do?" Outside, a police cruiser drove up.

"Oh, Jesus," Walter said, hanging up on his wire and rushing outside.

Officer Leary was not impressed. "What the hell is this?" he bellowed at Walter.

"It's a statue," Walter said, a bit surprised.

Officer Leary shot Walter a searing glance. "Are you being funny, mister?"

"Not intentionally," Walter said.

"Besides which." Leary continued, ignoring Walter's reply, "What the hell is this doing in your front yard? You can't have something like this in your front yard. It's already causing a ruckus. You're disturbing the peace. I can't have that, you know. I've been on this job for thirteen years, and I've never had any problems until now." Leary seethed for a few moments and then shot another glance in Walter's direction. "Are you trying to ruin my perfect record?"

Walter wasn't able to answer this, because at that moment he was spun around by a middle-aged man who managed to look florid and enraged at the same time. He was dressed in a powder blue polyester suit. "Is this yours?" The man asked, jerking a thumb back at the statue, which was now having its picture taken by a reporter from the local paper.

Walter started to reply, "it's in my yard, yes, but --", but was stopped by the man raising a hand in a severe manner.

"I don't need to hear anymore," the man said, "I've heard enough. My name is Reverend Chuck Foster. Members of my flock call me Reverend Chuck. You can call me Reverend Foster. I received a call from one of my flock, a Mrs. Wurmbacher, who was shocked right out her bloomers by that monstrosity that's in your yard. I came to see what the fuss was all about, and I must say that when I got out of my car and saw that thing, I had to avert my eyes and pray a quick prayer. That thing is positively obscene, my boy. What are you trying to do, buy yourself a first-class ticket to Hell?"

During this tirade, a young man with long hair and glasses had walked up. Now he laughed.

Reverend Chuck turned around and squinted at the young man. "What's so funny, son?" he asked.

"You are," said the young man. "I mean, listen to yourself. So this man put a statue in his front yard. Why should he care if some old maid from across the street gets her girdle in a bunch because or it? 'a first-class ticket to Hell', indeed."

Reverend Chuck raised a finger. "Watch what you say, boy. Don't you go defending this corruption or morality, now. You might find yourself in that great toaster in the sky."

"Bah," said the young man. "I hardly believe I'm going to get toasted for defending this statue, even if there is a Hell. What's wrong with the statue, anyway?"

"It's obscene," said Reverend Chuck, indignantly.

"It's trashy," said Officer Leary, also indignantly.

"It's in my yard," said Walter, miserably.

"And anyway," Reverend Chuck concluded, "This man is endangering his soul and the souls of others with that thing. It's a travesty of art."

"Hardly," the young man said, mildly. "I think that those terrible stained-windows you have in your church are a real travesty. How much did you pay for those things, anyway?"

"That's none or your business," Reverend Chuck said hotly. He turned to Officer Leary. "Officer, I will not stand here and be maligned by this man."

"You could leave," the young man said.

"You could all leave," Walter said hopefully.

"Well, what do you want me to do?" Asked Officer Leary to Reverend Chuck.

"I want you to arrest him," Reverend Chuck said.

The young man laughed again. "On what charge? 'Annoying self-righteous bastions of morality'? Gee, I don't think they have that one on the books, Reverend Chuck." The small crowd of people who had been drawn to the argument made small giggling noises to themselves.

Reverend Chuck fumed for a moment and wheeled around and stuck a finger in Walter's face. "You are causing me a lot of trouble," Reverend Chuck said.

"Me?" Walter squeaked.

"Yes, you. Because of your indecent statue, I have to stand here and take this abuse and be ridiculed. You must think you're pretty smart, eh?"

"I didn't want to cause any trouble," said Walter.

"Well, you just got yourself some trouble, mister. I'm leaving now, but I'll be back with some help, and we're going to do something about that statue of yours." He jabbed his finger in Walter's chest and stormed off.

The young man heard all this and drew up to Walter. "He's going to do something about that statue, eh? Well, we'll just see about that. I've got a few friends of my own, pal. Don't you worry about a thing." He patted Walter's shoulder and tromped off.

Officer Leary, who had been standing directly behind Walter all this time, put his hands on his hips. "Well, this is just dandy. Thirteen years, and I never had any troubles. Thirteen years. And now this."

Walter turned around. "Look," he said. "I'm sorry I broke your streak."

"No, you just think you're sorry now," Officer Leary said hitching up his pants as he walked past Walter, "but it ain't nothing compared to how sorry you're going to be." He walked off.

Walter grabbed his head. "Headache. Asprin. Tylenol. Valium." He ran into his home as three cars screeched off.

Inside, Alan was on the phone and had both the stereo and the TV on at full volume. The cooler bottle was cradled in his hand.

"Alan, where is the aspirin?" Walter screamed over the noise of the stereo and TV.

"It's above the sink in the kitchen," Alan said, "but the cap is childproof, so you better give it to me to open for you."

"I don't understand all of what's going on," Walter yelled at his son, as he went for the aspirin. "I left this house this morning, and everything was fine. I come back, and there's this statue in my yard, and now my life is a shambles."

"Hey, dad, keep it down, please? I'm on the phone."

Walter got the aspirin and walked back in the family room. "If I could only figure out where the damn thing came from...." He stopped. "Wait!"

"Christ," Alan muttered, "Dad! Please! I'm talking to Cindy!"

"Alan! That receipt! Where is it?"

"What?"

"I said --" Walter started to yell, then thought better of it and turned off the TV and the stereo.

"Hey!" Alan moaned, "CHiPs was on!"

"Alan," Walter asked in a lower volume, "what did you do with that receipt?"

"I threw it away," Alan said.

"You threw it away?"

"I mean, what am I going to do with a receipt for a statue?"

"Trash," Walter muttered and wandered into the kitchen. Alan turned the TV on again. A few seconds later he heard the trash can being emptied.

"I have come to the conclusion," Alan said to Cindy, his girlfriend, "that I was adopted. My dad is too lame for me to be genetically related to him."

Walter shambled into the living room again, clutching a colored slip of paper and wearing a banana peel on his shoe. "This explains everything!" he said to his son, who was not impressed. "Look! That statue was supposed to be delivered to 1338 North Elm street, and we live on 1338 South Elm! And the owner of that thing is Burgess Townshed!"

'That's great, dad," Alan muttered, sarcastically.

"Burgess Townshed is nothing like Walter Sims, Alan. Didn't you even bother to look at this thing before you signed for it?"

"I was busy. 'Wheel of Fortune' was on."

Walter noticed the banana peel, took it off his shoe. "Alan, tell Cindy you'll call her back. I have to use the phone."

"Dad, I can't! 'M.A.S.H.' comes on in ten minutes, and I can't miss that."

Walter blinked. "'M.A.S.H.' is more important than your girlfriend?"

"We all have our priorities," Alan said, quite seriously.

A large brick smashed through the window and lodged itself into the TV set. There was a note wrapped around it. Alan fished it out.

"What does it say?" asked Walter.

"It says, 'You godless communist pervert. You have one hour to get rid of that sin against society before we burn down your house. May you rot in hellfire and brimstone forever. Have a nice day.'"

Walter grabbed his head again, found he was still holding the bottle of aspirin, and tried to get the cap off. It didn't work.

"Do you want me to get that, dad?"

"No," Walter said, hitching in his breath, "I am quite capable." He put the bottle on the table, took the phone from his son, and slammed the phone down on the bottle. He fished out four tablets from the debris and ate them. He then handed the phone back to his son. "Now, Alan, I want you to say goodbye to Cindy."

Alan started to open his mouth, but Walter put up his hand. "No, no, don't argue with me. Because if I hear one word of protest -- one! -- I'm going to take that receiver and shove it so far down your throat that the only thing Cindy is going to hear is your small intestine."

Alan stared at his dad for a second. Then he spoke into the phone. "Cindy, I have to get off the phone. It's become hazardous to my health." He put the receiver down.

"It's all yours, dad. Can I have the car keys?"

Walter had grabbed the phone and was dialing for information. "What do you need the car keys for?"

"I want to go over to Bob's. Their TV set is still working." A large rock sailed through the window, smashing all the glass that wasn't already broken. Walter tossed the keys to Alan, who promptly disappeared.

Walter got through to information and got Burgess Townshed's number. As he was writing it down, he looked out of what remained of his window. The crowd had grown to about two hundred, separated into two separate camps, which were looking distrustfully at each other. The statue looked straight ahead impassively, the seeds of a recently thrown tomato dripping down its face.

Walter dialed Townsheds' number.

"Townshed Residence," the answering voice said, tonelessly.

"Yes," said Walter. "Is this Burgess Townshed?"'

"It most certainly is not," the voice said, "I am his butler, Chester."

"His butler?" Walter said, taken aback.

"Yes, his butler. His manservant. His gentleman's gentleman."

"What does one do to afford a butler?"

"In Mr. Townships' case, not a damned thing. He inherited his money. I was part of the package, like the silverware and the Mercedes."

"Well," said Walter, who didn't know quite what to make of Chester, "could I speak to Mr. Townshed ?"

"You can do anything you want," Chester said.

"Oh, good," Walter said, and waited for Townshed to answer the phone. About three minutes passed in silence before Walter realized something was wrong. "Hello?" he said.

"Hello," said Chester, tonelessly.

"I thought you were going to go get Mr. Townshed," Walter said.

"I never said anything of the sort."

"But you said I could talk to Mr. Townshed."

"That I did."

"Well?"'

"Well, what?"

"Go get him."

"No."

"Why not?"

"He's busy."

"I thought you just said I could talk to him."

"Well, you can. You can do anything you want, really."

"I can't talk to Mr. Townshed, it seems."

"You most certainly can. But you may not."

"What?"

"There is," Chester said with a distinct snotty air, "a bit of difference between 'can' and 'may'."

Walter counted to ten before answering. "You left me hanging for three minutes over that?"

"Yes. I was assuming you knew what you were talking about. I was wrong."

Walter was in daze. "I don't believe this is happening," he muttered to himself.

"It's not my fault you can't speak your own language," Chester said.

"Look, Chester," Walter said, his voice low. "I have to speak to Mr. Townshed. I have something of his."

"I have already told you that he is busy."

"What is he doing?"

"That is none of your business, but if you most know, he is in the process of being entertained by a Miss Wanda Teton."

"Entertained?" Walter said.

"Well, I'm sure he's having fun," Chester said. "And I'm sure that if he were talking to you, he wouldn't be having as much fun. I'm talking to you, and I'm having no fun at all."

"I'm not having fun, either, and it's all Townshed's fault," Walter said, exasperatedly. "A statue he ordered has ended up at my house and it's causing me to be very stressful."

"What's so stressful about a statue?"

"The statue itself is not causing me stress. The fact that the statue has caused the destruction of my living room by irate neighbors is causing me stress. The fact that a contingent of evangelists wants to burn down my home is causing me stress. You, Chester, are causing me much stress. Stress is no good for me, Chester. I used to have low blood pressure. flight about now, if my pulse were any higher, blood would be shooting out my fingertips. I have an Excedrin headache. My stomach is so constricted that if I weren't male, I would be worried that I was going into labor. My son is suffering withdrawal symptoms because our TV was smashed. In short, Chester, I am stressed. Now, I beg of you, please let me speak to Mr. Townshed."

Chester seemed to consider. "I might be able to get you a few moments. But don't count on it."

Chester set the phone down.

Outside his house, Walter heard a metallic clang. He looked up. A man from the group on the left was striking the statue with a baseball bat. The statue was not injured, but the bat splintered and a large chunk struck a woman who was standing with the group on the right. She clutched her forehead, where she was struck, and collapsed to the ground. A man close to her, presumably her husband, launched himself at the bat wielder. Several of the bat wielder's friends came to his rescue, and several of the husband's friends came to give their support. A riot had started in Walter Sim's front yard.

"Hello." The man on the other end of the phone sounded rather too relaxed.

"Burgess Townshed?"

"All my life."

"Listen. I have something or yours that I want you to come get."

"Wait. Who is this?"

"You don't know me. My name is Walter Sims. I live at 1336 South Elm. Someone delivery man got confused and dropped off a statue you bought at my house. I want you to come pick it up. Please."

"Well, I can't do that right now."

"Why not?" Walter asked, a little bit hysterically. Outside the sounds of fighting became more intense.

"I'm busy right at the moment. I'm having an executive meeting with a client, and we're discussing the possibility of mountain explorations."

Walter, who knew full well what he meant, held several nasty comments in check. "Townshed," he said, "listen. Tell me what you hear." Walter stuck his phone's receiver out of what remained of his window. After a few moments, he brought it back in again.

"Now tell me," Walter asked, "what did you hear?"

"A lot of yelling and screaming."

"What does a lot of yelling and screaming mean to you?"

"You're having a very successful party."

"I'm having a riot."

"Really?" Townsheds' voice perked up. "I might drop by after all."

"Idiot," Walter said. "I'm having a REAL riot, damn it! And it's because of your damn statue!"

"Don't be silly. Why would people get into such an uproar over a statue?"

Outside, someone started to smash car windows.

"I can think of at least one good reason," Walter said, "And I think you can probably guess what that reason is."

"What, that it's nude?"

"It's not just nude," Walter said, trying to preserve his sense of morals. "It's very nude."

"Oh, that."

"Yes, that." A car alarm went off in the night.

"Well," said Burgess, "I sympathize with you, but I can't get out there right now. I have a very busy schedule."

"What am I supposed to do?" Walter yelled. "I've got two hundred people outside! What am I supposed to with them?"

"I don't know," Townshed said, testily, "Why don't you invite them in and give them some Ritz crackers or something? To be perfectly honest with you, it really doesn't matter to me."

This is absolutely incredible," Walter said. "My front yard is turning into Beirut and the only person who can help me is more interested in fondling a woman named after a mountain range."

Townshed didn't hear this. "It all seems really silly to me," said Townshed. "I mean, can't those people appreciate art?"

"In suburbia? That's a contradiction in terms."

"What do you want me to do, anyway?"

"I want you to come and pick the damn thing up before my house is razed to the ground! Is that too much to ask for? It is your statue in the first place."

"I'll tell you what, Mr. Simp-"

"That's Sims."

"- I'll come to your house first thing in the morning and get the statue."

"By morning I'm not going to have a house!" Walter shouted, exasperatedly. "There's a riot going on outside my home!"

"Well then," said Townshed in a reasonable tone of voice, "that's all the more reason why I shouldn't go out there to your house right now. I don't want to get killed."

"Neither do I."

"That's your problem. Look, why don't you just put the thing in the garage, or something?"

"Oh, and how do you suggest I do that? The thing weighs a ton."

"Again, that's your problem." Townshed was distracted at the other end of the phone for a few seconds before he came on again. "Mr. Simp-"

"Sims." Walter said through his teeth.

"-- This has been a perfectly lovely chat, but I really must be going. I have business to attend to,"'

"Wait!" Walter yelled into the phone. "You can't just hang up on me like that --"

"Yes I can," Townshed said, and hung up.

Another brick smashed through the window shards, landing in Walter's potted plant. Outside, the statue was pelted with eggs and people were pelted with fists.

Still holding on to the phone, Walter cracked. "I have had enough." he said simply, slamming the receiver down. He walked outside and entered the melee.

Someone had decided to bring along his shotgun, and was presently waving it this way and that. He took no notice of Walter's advancing form, and therefore was surprised when Walter came up and grabbed it away from him. "Give me that," Walter said, freeing it with a yank.

"Hey!' The man said. "Give that back!"

"Take it," Walter said. The man thought better of that.

This whole exchange went unnoticed by the crowd, who were too busy fighting each other to notice the shotgun in their midst. What did get their attention was the shot that Walter fired out of the right barrel into the sky. The crowd was shocked silent.

"Now that I have your attention," Walter said, "I would like to know what gives you the right to use my front yard as a battlefield."

"I'll answer that." From the middle of the crowd, Reverend Chuck came forward, his blue polyester suit ripped and torn in several places. "That statue of yours is straight from Hell. It is endangering the souls of the faithful."

From in the crowd there was a derisive snort. Reverend Chuck wheeled around. "I know who did that!"

"So what?" The young man with long hair came forward. "You really make me sick with your attitude of righteousness. How can some metal in the shape of a man endanger a soul?"

"I don't have to answer that," The reverend said.

Walter cut them off short. "So the fact that there is a stute in the front of my yard gives you the right to fight in it?"

"Well," the Reverend Chuck said, "lf it were just a statue, it would be okay, I suppose."

"Oh." Walter said. "So what are you trying to say?"

"Well... .er," The reverend stammered, "That is...."

The young man crossed his arms and grinned. "Yes, Reverend Chuck, what IS the problem with this statue?"

"You know perfectly well what is wrong with it!" The reverend bellowed. "And I'll be damned if I am going to be coerced by you to say what that is! It's indecent," he ended, lamely. The crowd started to mumble. The young man broke out into an outright smile.

Walter pointed at the statue with the barrel of the shotgun and moved the muzzle down the body, stopping at a point below the waist.

"Am I correct in assuming that this is what has caused all my troubles?" He asked. The Reverend Chuck, blushing wildly, nodded silently.

"Fine," Walter said, and with the left barrel he blew the part off.

Utter silence. Walter tossed the shotgun aside.

"There," he said. "The problem has been solved. This statue has been castrated. Emasculated. Made safe for suburbia. There is nothing about it now to cause a commotion or a riot. It is merely a slightly damaged statue, nothing more or less.

"And since there no longer is a problem" Wailer said, voice rising, "Would you all be so kind as to GET THE HELL OUT OF MY YARD!!!!

For a few moments more the crowd stared at the ruined statue. Then they started leaving, outer edges first , moving towards the center until Walter was standing alone, finally, in his yard. Slowly, the energy he had drained out of him. He looked around.

It occurred to him that was probably going have to replant his yard. Not mention a new window! So many little things to catch upon....

Posted by john at 10:40 AM | Comments (0)

November 26, 2005

Jackie Jones and Melrose Mandy

Jackie Jones and Melrose Mandy
By John Scalzi

Jackie Jones loved Christmas. She loved it a lot.
For the love and the sharing? As if! (or, perhaps, Not!).
Jackie loved Christmas more than most girls and boys
For one simple reason: Because of the toys!
Yes! Toys! By the bundle! By the truck! By the ton!
A big pile of toys is what made Christmas fun.

Was Jackie Jones spoiled? Well, maybe so;
She rarely said "please," and got angry at "no."
But was it her fault that she got what she wanted?
Was it her problem that she rarely was haunted
By the idea there just might be something more
Than mountains of presents laid out on the floor?

Whatever the cause for her toy-fueled obsession
This particular year Jackie had a confession:
The toy that she wanted very mostest of all
Was the Melrose Mandy high fashion doll.
It's not that she didn't want other toys -- far from it!
But on her Christmas list, Mandy was high on the summit.

"But why?" Jackie Jones was asked one winter day
By a classmate of hers named Sophie McCray.
"You have dozens and dozens and dozens of dollies
"From Miami Marta to Hollywood Holly
"With their cars and their clothes! And so I ask you
"What more with Mandy would you possibly do?"

What would Jackie do? What wouldn't she do!
Jackie might not know much, but this much she knew
From the moment she saw Mandy on her TV screen
She knew that the doll was the key to her dreams.
With all the accessories and add-ons unfurled
With her doll Mandy, she could take on the world!

Jackie Jones could just see it now:
All the things she would do with her posable pal.
They would cruise Highway One, with the top down
In Mandy's convertible (in surf blue or sand brown)
Then get in Mandy's plane -- the one with the pool
Not the one with the sauna (the sauna's not cool).

Mandy and she would fly all over the globe
Spreading joy and love through Mandy's hip line of clothes
And when the world's people had been accessorized
Jackie and Mandy would win the Peace Prize
And in matching peach shoes would cause a sensation
When they came to address the United Nations.

But how to explain this to Sophie McCray?
Sophie was poor and she lived far away
On the outskirts of town in a small little room
With just barely enough space for a doll or two.
Sophie was her friend, but she had to admit it
There was just no way Sophie would ever quite get it.

But now Christmas was coming, there was no time to lose!
Jackie let mom and dad know which gift to choose
She begged, she pleaded, she dropped a few hints
And then just to be sure, she threw a few fits.
Jackie made clear -- so there was no doubt
Without her dear Mandy she'd do nothing but pout.

And then Christmas came! Jackie ran down the stairs
And begun tearing open the presents down there.
There were dozens of presents marked with her name
And Jackie dove into them all with no shame.
She attacked them with ferocity, ardor and glee
And came very close to toppling the tree.

And boy, what a haul: You could hardly conceive
Of the sheer loads of stuff hidden under that tree.
There was a bike and bird and some blocks and a box
That held a whole outfit that matched with her socks.
There were sparkly hair spangles, a karaoke machine
And a talking mechanical cat named Maureen.

There was a stuffed unicorn and video games
And a soft teddy bear that could remember your name.
There were card games, board games and puzzles and balls
And six gift certificates to six different malls.
We could go on, but it's obvious to all
That Jackie Jones had herself quite a haul.

But no Melrose Mandy! Mandy couldn't be found!
And you can be sure Jackie Jones looked around.
And when Jackie was certain the doll was unseen,
She drew in her breath for a lung-busting scream.
But that scream never happened; at the last second
Jackie's mom had a gift -- and to her daughter she beckoned.

And then there she was in all of her glory!
Melrose Mandy and her whole inventory
Of accessories and costumes, of clothes and of shoes
More things that come separately than one girl could use.
Jackie let out a squeal, and grabbed Mandy tight
And said "I'm going to play with her all day and all night!"

And she did! Well, she tried. But sometime 'round noon
Jackie's obsession with Mandy just faltered and swooned.
It's not that Jackie didn't have fun -- not at all.
But it turns out that Mandy was just another doll.
Like Miami Marta or Hollywood Holly,
Or any old Cindy, Mindy, Stacy or Molly.

Jackie went to her closet and turned on the light
And saw dozens of dolls there -- it was quite a sight.
Dolls stretched back for yards, to the very first one
A cuddly plush doll named Bitsy Bygumm
A doll which Jackie -- she did suddenly remember
Had promised her mom she would play with forever.

And suddenly Jackie had an interesting thought
About all the dolls she demanded be bought.
Each time, with each one, Jackie was sure
That this doll would be the one that would cure
All the things in her life with which she was bored
But it didn't -- it couldn't -- and Jackie wanted one more.

The dolls always changed, but I stayed the same
Jackie thought, and just then a light went on in her brain
No matter how many toys or dolls that she had
They themselves couldn't make her happy or sad.
What mattered was her -- what mattered was whether
She chained all her happiness to toys like a tether.

And then Jackie thought of Sophie McCray
Sharing Christmas with family in her house far away.
She thought of her friend and remembered anew
"What more with Mandy would you possibly do?"
Then Jackie went down to talk to her mother
And made a request quite unlike any other.

Years later, Sophie would remember quite clearly
She almost missed that box! It was quite nearly
Covered in snow -- it must have been out all night
But on the day after Christmas it was a delight
To open the box and see that inside
Was a gift that a stranger saw fit to provide.

And as for Jackie, well, she still liked her toys.
And still loved Christmas, like most girls and boys.
But toys she now knew were only for fun
And not things upon which one's dreams should be spun.
She loved Christmas now, because she'd come to believe
That it truly was better to give than receive.

What Jackie Jones knows, you can know too
Look in your soul and you'll see that it's true.
And come Christmas day, hug those you love dear
And remember today, and each year after year,
That getting is nice, but giving is better
Toys come and go, but love lasts forever.

Posted by john at 02:08 PM | Comments (0)

Sarah's Sister

Sarah's Sister
By John Scalzi

Sarah's family had just sat down for dinner when mom said "uh-oh," and the next thing everyone knew was there was a huge gush of water. Mom had been big as a horse for two months, but the fact was the water breaking was early; she wasn't supposed to give birth until a couple of weeks into the new year. The family just wasn't prepared for a Christmas eve baby; mom hadn't gotten her hospital bag together yet, and dad hadn't made the arrangements to make sure Sarah had someone to watch over her while the baby was being born. Although that might have had something to do with the fact mom wanted her to be in the delivery room to watch it happen, a prospect that filled Sarah with queasy terror. She was ten, after all; she knew where babies came from. She wasn't at all sure she actually wanted to watch one being born.

They were so unprepared, in fact, that mom and dad hadn't even gotten around to giving the baby a name. Which boggled Sarah's mind. They had months to come up with something, and they even knew the baby was another girl. And yet mom and dad were still talking about it. They were talking about it just as mom's water broke. Dad had been offering up names, stopped while the family said grace and then started up again right after as if he hadn't stopped at all. Even now, as he guided mom into the minivan for the trip to the hospital, he was still at it.

"'Abagail,'" he said. "You like that name."

"I never said I liked that name," mom said, as she wedged herself into the seat.

"'Cynthia,' then," dad said. "Don't you have a cousin named 'Cynthia'?"

"I do," mom said. "And I never liked her. She used to hit me at family picnics. She's awful."

"Maybe she's grown up to be a better person," dad said, as he threw the quickly-assembled hospital bag into the back of the minivan.

"I don't think I'm willing to take that chance," mom said, and then kind of fazed out for a second. "Whoo. Contraction. Less talk, Bill. More driving."

But dad didn't stop throwing out names the entire trip to the hospital. He tried 'Sandy,' and 'Cindy,' 'Jennifer,' and 'Martha,' 'Lesley' and 'Linda' and 'Liesel.' The last one got mom's attention.

"'Liesel?'" she said. "Are we going to be raising a new generation of Von Trapp children?"

"It's unusual," dad reasoned.

"Yeah, and for a reason," mom said, and then had another contraction. After it was done, she looked at Sarah in the rear-view mirror. "What do you think, Sarah?" she said. "Have any great ideas for a name for your sister?"

Sarah, in the second row of the minivan, shrugged. "I don't know," Sarah said. And she didn't. She'd been studiously avoiding thinking of a name for months now and didn't see a reason to start this minute. She looked away from her mom and out the window; from the corner of her eye she could see her mom still looking at her in the rear view mirror before dad piped up again and suggested the name 'Courtney.'

When dad parked by the emergency room entrance and ran out to get a wheelchair, mom turned around as much as possible to look at Sarah directly. "Hey, sweets," she said, using Sarah's old nickname. "Are you okay? You don't look so happy."

Sarah shrugged again. "It's all right," she said. "It's just --"

"It's just that it's Christmas Eve and tonight we're supposed to be having fun with you, right?" Mom smiled. "I'm really sorry, sweets. You're going to have to believe me that I wouldn't have chosen Christmas Eve to have a baby, either. But she's on her way. Sometimes we don't get to decide these things."

"I know, mom," Sarah said. "It's okay."

"You know, Sarah," mom said, "At my last appointment with Dr. Roth, I told her that I want you to be in delivery room for the birth, and she said it would be okay. In fact, if you want, you can help your dad cut the umbilical cord. Do you think you'd like to do that?"

"I have to think about it," Sarah said, carefully.

"Okay, Sweets," mom said, and then tensed up for another contraction. "Ow. Better hurry, girlie. These contractions are getting stronger. Your sister could be here any minute."

But she wasn't. Sarah's sister hadn't arrived at seven, eight or nine o'clock, and at ten o'clock Sarah noticed that her mom hadn't been talking much for the last hour, and neither dad or Dr. Roth were talking much either, or smiling. In the last minutes before eleven, more doctors and nurses had come into the room to talk with Dr. Roth and dad. Finally, at eleven, orderlies came in to wheel mom out of the room. Dad whispered something to mom, kissed her, and then turned to Sarah.

"Sarah," he said.

"Where are they taking mom?" Sarah said.

Dad took Sarah's hand. "Sarah, the baby is having trouble coming out," he said. "They have to take mom to an operating room."

"Is she going to be all right?" Sarah asked.

"She'll be fine," dad said, rushing through the words. "She'll be fine. The baby should be fine, too. But you can't be in the room with her now. There are going to be too many doctors and nurses in the room with your mother. I'm going to call your grandparents to come and get you, okay?"

Sarah nodded. Without another word, dad took Sarah into the maternity waiting room, sat her down in a chair, and went over to the pay phone on the wall to call Sarah's grandparents. Sarah watched her dad make the call; he was turned away from her and hunched over the phone receiver. He talked very quietly into the phone. Sarah couldn't hear what he said. After a few minutes he put the phone back on the hook and came over to Sarah.

"They'll be here in about an hour," dad said. "Maybe a little longer depending on the weather. I'll stay with you until then."

Sarah looked up at her dad. "I think mom needs you, dad," she said. "You should be with her."

"I can't leave you alone, honey," dad said.

"I'm fine, dad," Sarah said, and pointed at the reception desk. "There's a nurse there. Nothing's going to happen to me. I'll be perfectly all right until grandma and grandpa get here."

Dad looked down the hallway, to where mom was wheeled away. "Are you sure you'll be okay?" he said.

"I'll be, fine, dad, really," Sarah said. "Go be with mom."

Dad suddenly dropped to his knees and gave Sarah a fierce hug. "I love you, Sarah," he said, and when he pulled back so Sarah could see his face, she could see that he was about to cry. "I love you very much. You don't forget it."

"I won't," Sarah said. Dad got up and started walking down the hall. Near the end of the hall, he began to jog.

Sarah looked around the maternity waiting room. It was utterly empty. From end to end, she was the only person in it. In one far corner, a TV sat, on mute, with A Christmas Story playing. On the other far side of the room was the reception desk. A nurse sat there, flipping through a magazine. She looked up at Sarah and gave her a small smile. Sarah smiled back and then looked away quickly, and then watched A Christmas Story, with the sound off, for she didn't know how long.

Sarah eventually became thoroughly bored. She got up to get a drink from the water fountain by the pay phone. As she reached out to the water fountain, a small spark left from her finger to the fountain (or maybe the other way around, she wasn't sure). Zap. Static electricity. It hurt, but it was interesting. Sarah began walking around the waiting room, scuffling her feet as she went. Every few seconds she'd reach out and touch something metal. A chair. Zap. The fire extinguisher container. Zap. The cord on the pay phone. Zap. After a couple minutes of this, she figured she'd built up an immunity to the pain. She made an entire circuit around the waiting area, scuffling her feet all the way, and then reached out to the water fountain.

ZAP!

Sarah snatched back her hand and waved it from the wrist, grimacing with her eyes closed and hopping on one foot. That really hurt. After a minute of this she opened her eyes again.

A boy was standing in the room with her. He looked to be her age, or maybe a little bit older. He was wearing a brown sweater and blue jeans, and had brown hair and eyes. His nose was really big for his face. He was looking at her curiously.

"What are you looking at?" Sarah said.

"I was looking at you," the boy said. "I was wondering what you were doing."

"I wasn't doing anything," Sarah said. "Mind your own business."

"I'm sorry," the boy said. "I didn't mean to make you angry."

"I'm not angry," Sarah said. "I just hurt myself. I got shocked really hard."

"How did that happen?" The boy asked.

Sarah narrowed her eyes. "I did it on purpose, okay? Are you happy now?"

"I was just asking," the boy said. "It gets kind of boring around here. You looked like you were having fun."

Sarah blinked. She had been feeling herself rolling into a bad mood, and she was using this boy to get there; suddenly he'd derailed her. "Who are you?" she asked.

"I'm Josh," he said, and stuck out his hand. After a minute Sarah took it.

Zap.

Josh grinned. "Static electricity," he said. He sat down in one of the chairs. His feet swayed back and forth, like pendulum.

"So why are you here?" Sarah asked him.

"I'm waiting for my dad," Josh said. "I was in another part of the hospital but I decided to take a walk. Why are you here?"

"My mom's having a baby," Sarah said.

"On Christmas Eve?" Josh said. "Wow. That's cool."

Sarah shrugged. "I guess," she said. She slumped into the seat next to him and began kicking her feet as well.

"I think it would neat to have a birthday on Christmas Eve," Josh said.

"I wouldn't," Sarah said. "It's too close to Christmas. Everybody would give you gifts and say 'Happy birthday and merry Christmas'. What a rip-off."

"Maybe," Josh said. "But you'd also have your birthday when there were all those lights and people were happy and singing carols and stuff. That's not so bad."

"As long as you liked carols," Sarah said. "Maybe if you heard carols being sung around your birthday for your whole life you'd get sick of them. Some of those carols are really bad, anyway."

"Which ones?" Josh asked.

"'Twelve Days of Christmas,'" Sarah said. "I hate it. And no one knows what comes after 'five golden rings.'"

"Six geese a-laying," Josh said.

"Okay, you know," Sarah said, testily. "But no one else does. And just imagine having to hear it every single time your birthday comes around."

"I never thought of it that way," Josh said. "But you know, everyone hears that 'Happy Birthday' song on their birthday and no one ever gets sick of that."

Sarah gave Josh a skeptical look.

"All right, maybe that's a bad example," Josh admitted.

"Ha!" Sarah said. She gave her feet an extra, triumphant swing.

Josh stood up. "There's a cafeteria down the hall," he said. "It's closed, but there's vending machines. Want to go get something?"

Sarah looked around. "I don't think I should leave," she said. "My grandparents are on their way."

"It's not far. We'll be able to hear them," Josh said.

"I don't have any money," Sarah said.

"My treat," Josh said.

Sarah was about to say no, but then her stomach rumbled and she remembered that they didn't actually have dinner that night. "Okay," she said. "But we have to come right back."

"Deal," Josh said, and they took off down the hall. The vending machines were where they were promised. Sarah got a Snickers bar and an apple juice; Josh got powdered donuts and grape juice. They sat at a table in the cafeteria and ate. Sarah tore through her candy bar and gulped through her juice; she hadn't realized just how hungry she'd been. Josh ate slowly. After she was finished with her candy bar, Sarah looked over to Josh.

"Do you have any brothers or sisters?" Sarah asked.

"No," Josh said. "I'm an only child. What about you?"

"I'm an only child, too," Sarah said. "Well. Was an only child. Now I'll have a sister."

"I've always wanted a sister," Josh said. "Or a brother. I'd like to have either."

"Why?" Sarah asked. "My friend Angela has a brother who is two years younger than her. They're always fighting. Every time I go over to her house, her brother is always doing something rotten to her and picking fights with her. And then their mother comes in and yells at them both. None of them ever seem to get along."

"Not every family does that," Josh said.

"A lot of them do," Sarah said.

"You'll be a lot older than your sister," Josh said. "Maybe you won't have anything to fight about."

Sarah thought about that. She would be a lot older than her sister. When the kid was in kindergarten, Sarah would already be in high school. They probably wouldn't fight; in fact, she would probably be helping mom with things instead of getting into it with her sister.

"Hello?" Josh said. "You kind of zoned out there."

"Huh?" Sarah said. "I was just thinking about my mom."

"What about her?" Josh asked.

"I was just thinking about how my mom always wanted another baby," Sarah said. "I remember, there were a couple of times where she thought she was going to have a baby, only she didn't."

"What happened?" Josh asked.

"She had miscarriages," Sarah said. "You know what those are, right?" Josh nodded. "Well, anyway. I remember the first time she had one. She had to go to the hospital and then when she came home, she cried all night long. I remember waking up in the middle of the night and hearing her cry."

"What did you do?" Josh asked.

"What do mean, what did I do?" Sarah said. "I wasn't supposed to be awake. I just stayed in bed and then I went back to sleep. That was that time. Then she had another miscarriage about a year later. She didn't cry when it happened that time. She was just sad."

"It's a sad thing," Josh said.

"And when she got pregnant this time, she and dad didn't tell anyone about it until she was showing," Sarah said. "She didn't even tell me."

"Maybe she was worried about it," Josh said.

"Taking about it isn't going to make anything bad happen," Sarah shot back.

"I know," Josh said. "But maybe after two times, she didn't want to get anyone's hopes up. Maybe especially hers."

"You don't know anything," Sarah said, hotly. "You've never even met my mom. You don't know why she didn't tell anyone."

"We could go say hi," Josh said, after a minute.

"What?" Sarah said.

"The delivery rooms are right down this hall," Josh said. "We could go say hi. They'd let you in."

"Don't be stupid," Sarah said. "She's giving birth. I'm not just going to go in and say hello. She's kind of busy. Besides, she's not there. She's in an operating room."

"Oh," Josh said.

"Oh," Sarah mocked back. She looked down at her candy bar wrapper. She was still hungry.

"Here," Josh said, and passed her the donut package. "Take these." Sarah reached over to take them. A small spark shot from her hand to Josh's as they touched. "Sorry," Josh said.

"It's all right," Sarah said. "Thank you." She took one of the little donuts and took a bite, but her mouth was too dry to swallow. She looked over to Josh again. He smiled and passed over his grape juice.

"I'm eating all your stuff," Sarah said after she was able to swallow.

"It's all right," Josh said. "I don't mind sharing. Is your mom going to be okay?"

"My dad said she was going to be fine," Sarah said. "And the baby too. But…" Sarah trailed off.

"You think he lied to you," Josh said. "To keep you from being worried."

Sarah nodded. "He doesn't lie very well. When I turned eight he was supposed to not tell me I was getting a surprise birthday party. He did such a bad job of it I finally told him that I could tell he was lying about it."

"I bet he didn't like that," Josh said.

Sarah laughed. "No. But it was okay. I pretended to be surprised when we got home. I didn't want him to get in trouble with mom." At the mention of her mom, Sarah got silent again and stared down at the remaining donut in the package. She suddenly wasn't very hungry at all.

"Hey," Josh said. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine," Sarah said.

Josh looked at her for a minute. Then he stood up. "Come on," he said to her, holding out his hand. "I want to show you something."

"What?" Sarah asked.

"It's a surprise," Josh said. "It's not too far away. We'll still be able to hear your grandparents when they come in. But I think it might cheer you up."

Sarah looked up at him, then reached out to take his hand. Another spark zapped between them. "Sorry," Josh said, and grinned. With her hand in his, Josh and Sarah left the cafeteria and walked down the hall, into the maternity ward.

"Here we are," Josh said, and stopped in front of a large window. On the other side of the window were five newborn babies, three boys and two girls.

Sarah looked over at Josh. "Why did you bring me here?" she asked. "Why would I want to look at babies?"

"Because they're babies," Josh said, looking through the window. "They're brand new to the world. Just look at them. Babies always cheer me up when I'm sad."

"I never said I was sad," Sarah said.

Josh looked over to Sarah.

She shrugged defensively. "I'm not sad. I'm worried," she said.

Josh tapped the glass, lightly, and looked back in. "They're not worried," he said. "It's too early for them to be worried, or sad, or upset. The worst thing that happens to a baby is being hungry."

"You could have a wet diaper," Sarah said.

"I suppose," Josh said. "But no matter what, it doesn't last long. Your mom or dad come in to feed you or change you and help you get back to sleep. It's easier to be happy when you're a baby."

Sarah looked at the baby closest to her. Baby Baker, the small sign on her bed read. Six pounds, four ounces. 18 inches. It's a girl!

"They're so small," Sarah said.

"They have to be," Josh said. "You know, to come out…" Josh shut up quickly.

"I know where babies come from," Sarah said. "My parents had that talk with me."

"It's weird to think that one day all these babies will be as big as we are," Josh said. "Can you remember being that small?"

"No," Sarah said. "The first thing I remember was when I was two and petting the cat. What's the first thing you remember?"

"My mother," Josh said. "I remember waking up from a nap and seeing her smiling down at me. And I remember being happy to see her. It's nice to be a baby, and know how much you're loved."

"It's nice to be a baby," Sarah said. She turned back to look at the little girl in front of her. It was only after the first tear fell that she noticed she was crying.

There was a muffled click. Josh looked up at the clock above the window. "Midnight," he said. "It's Christmas now."

Sarah sobbed loudly, and sat down hard on the floor underneath the window. She pulled in her knees tight and covered her face with her hands. "I'm sorry," she said. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, oh God, I'm so sorry."

Josh came over to her. "Hey," he said. "Hey. Why are you sorry? What did you do?"

"I didn't want my mom to get pregnant," Sarah said, gulping the words from between her palms. "I never wanted her to become pregnant. And each time she miscarried I knew she was sad, but I wasn't. And this time, when they found out it was a girl, they kept thinking up names and asking me to think up names and I wouldn't. I didn't want a sister. And I wished…" Sarah started crying again.

Josh gently reached up and took one of Sarah's hands. "What did you wish for, Sarah?" he asked.

Sarah looked at Josh. "I wished she would go away. My sister. I didn't know how. I didn't want my mom to be sad. But I just wished she would go. And now my mother's in an operating room and I don't know what's going to happen to her and I don't know what's going to happen to the baby and the only thing I can think about is how sorry I am for wishing she'd go away. I don't want her to go. I don't want this to happen. I don't want this." She took her hand back from Josh and covered her face again. "I'm so sorry I ever wanted this. I'm so sorry."

Josh put her arm around Sarah, there on the floor, and let her cry. Then after Sarah mostly stopped crying, Josh said. "You never asked for this to happen."

"I wished for her to go away," Sarah said.

"But you never asked for it to happen this way," Josh said. "You never asked for harm to come to your mom or to your sister. You just wished she wouldn't happen. But she'd already happened. You said your mom didn't tell you about your sister until she was sure as she could be that she was on her way. And you couldn't have changed that, Sarah. No matter how hard you wished. This isn't your fault."

"I still feel bad, though," Sarah said. "I still hurt."

"I know," Josh said. "I can see that. But I think I know a way to make it stop hurting."

"How?" Sarah asked.

"Come on," Josh said, and stood up. "Stand up." He held out his hand to her, she took it. There was a little electric shock between them but this time neither of them said anything about it. Josh helped Sarah get to her feet and then turned her around to look at the babies.

"Look at them," Josh said. "Soon they're going to go back to their mothers. And their mothers are going to see them and hold them and love them. But you know what I think. I think the mothers loved them already. From the instant they knew they were there, they loved them, and they loved them more than anything else in the world. And it's not just the mother who loved them. It's the father, the sisters and brothers, the whole family. A baby comes into the world already loved by those who are waiting for it to be born. You know?"

"Yes," Sarah whispered, as she looked at the babies. "Yes. It's true."

"You've been holding back, Sarah," Josh said. "All the love that you have for your sister. Because I think it's there. I know it. I can see it by looking at you. You've never not loved her, Sarah. You've just been trying to keep it locked away, to hide it from her, and to keep it from yourself. And it hurts not to give her that love. It hurts not to let it out."

"Yes," Sarah said again. "It does hurt."

"So let it out, Sarah," Josh said. "All that love you've been hiding. Let it out. All of it. Right now. Let her know you've loved her from the minute you knew she was coming. And never stop. Never stop loving her for as long as you live."

Sarah sobbed again, and held a hand to the glass. "My sister," she said. "I do. I do love her. I do. I love her so much. I do."

"I know," Josh said. "She knows."

Sarah turned to Josh and hugged him fiercely and cried into his shoulder. Josh held her back and stroked her hair. They stayed that way for a while.

Eventually Sarah broke her hug and stepped back from Josh. He was smiling. "How do you feel?" he asked.

Sarah gave a small, surprised laugh. "Better," she said, and then looked into his face. "Better. A lot better."

"Come on," Josh said. "You should get back to the waiting room."

They walked down the hall and back into the waiting room. Sarah went to the bathroom to wash off her face. When she came back out, she looked at Josh. "My grandparents should be here soon," she said. "Let's sit until they get here."

"I have to go," Josh said. "My father's been calling to me, I'm sure."

"But I want you to meet my sister," Sarah said. "You can't go now."

"I have to," Josh said. "I'm sorry. But I was wondering if you could give her something from me."

"Okay," Sarah said. "What is it?"

Josh came over the Sarah, and with an awkward little smile, gave her a kiss on the cheek. As he did so, a little spark went from his lips to her cheek. Sarah held her cheek, as much in surprise of the kiss as to register the shock.

"Static electricity," Sarah said, and smiled. She felt giddy and a little embarrassed.

"Goodbye, Sarah," Josh said. "I'm glad we met. Don't forget to give that to your sister."

"I won't," Sarah said "Goodbye, Josh. Thank you."

Josh waved. Then he wandered down the hall and out of sight. As he did, Sarah saw her grandparents emerge from the outside, looking around the waiting room for her. She waved to them and began walking over to them. About halfway to them, though she noticed their attention was suddenly somewhere else. She turned around and saw her father.

"Dad!" she said and ran to him. She stopped when she saw his face. For the very first time in her life, she saw her father as old.

"Hey, dad," Sarah said.

Dad looked down at Sarah, reached out to her, hugged her hard enough to squeeze air out of her, and kissed the top of her head. "Hello, baby," he said, finally.

"Is everything okay?" Sarah asked.

Dad broke his hug and looked down at Sarah. "Sarah, could you do something for me? I need to talk to your grandparents for a minute. Would you sit down while I talk to them?"

"Sure, dad," Sarah said.

"Thank you, Sarah," dad said. Sarah went and sat while dad went up to Sarah's grandparents. Sarah could see dad, grandma and grandpa huddle in close. Then grandma put her hand to her mouth; grandpa quickly walked her over to a seat. Dad looked at them for a few moments, then turned around to Sarah. He came over and sat down next to her.

"How are you doing, baby?" Dad asked.

"I'm okay," Sarah said.

"Sarah," dad said. "I have to tell you something. Your mother had some problems with the birth."

"Is mom okay?" Sarah asked.

"Mom is fine, baby," dad said. "She's fine. She's all right. But--" Dad's face suddenly tightened. He took in air in a gasp.

"But the baby's not all right," Sarah said.

Dad shook his head, looked away, and took another deep breath. "No," he said. "No. The doctors tried to help her. But they couldn't. I'm sorry, Sarah. I'm sorry."

Sarah thought for a minute, silent. "Where is she now?" Sarah finally asked.

"The doctors are letting your mother have a few minutes with her," dad said.

"I want to see her," Sarah said.

"Oh, honey," dad said. "Honey. I don't know."

"I want to see her," Sarah said, insistent. "She's my sister. I'll never get to see her again. Please, dad. Please. She's my sister. Let me see my sister."

Dad's face twisted up again, and he put his hands over his eyes and cried for a few seconds. Then he stood up and without a word held out his hand for Sarah to take. And then he took her to the room her mother was in.

Her mother lay on a bed, pale. In her arms was a small and almost indistinct bundle of blankets. Sarah and dad stood in the doorway, silent, until mom looked over and saw them there.

"Hey, sweets," mom said, in the smallest voice Sarah had ever heard her use. She took one arm and held it out to Sarah. "Come here, baby."

Sarah went to her mother and took her hand. Mom gripped Sarah's hand, hard.

"Is this her?" Sarah asked.

"Yes, sweets," mom said. "It's her. It's your sister."

"I'm sorry, mom," Sarah said. "I really am."

"So am I, baby," Mom said, and cried a little. "But it's all right. I have you. I have your father. We have each other. We have all the love we need," she said, and then held Sarah's hand to her cheek and cried a little bit more. "I'm all right," she finally said.

"Mom," Sarah said. "Mom, I'd like to hold her."

Mom looked at Sarah, concerned. "Baby," she said. "Are you sure?"

"I'm sure," Sarah said. "I'd like to hold her. Please, mother."

Mom looked at dad; Sarah looked over just in time to see him nod. Mom propped herself up a little, and carefully brought the bundle to Sarah's arms. Sarah took it and peered down and for the first time saw her sister, small and silent.

Oh, Sarah thought, and felt the love she'd held back so long come flooding out of her in a wild release. Oh, my sister. Here you are, and all I can think about now are all the things I want to do for you. To hold you. To help you grow. To share the world with you. To share your joys and ease your pains. To do what I can to make the world worth having you in it. So many things I want to do. I wish I could. I wish.

"I wish," Sarah said, and with those words smiled down at her sister.

"I love you, little sister," Sarah said. "I've loved you since the moment I knew you were coming to us. I love you, here in my arms. I will love you all my life. I love you, little sister. I give you my love."

Sarah bent, and gently kissed her sister's cheek. A little spark went from Sarah's lips to her sister's cheek. Static electricity, perhaps.

Sarah looked over at her mother, who was watching her with tears in her eyes. "I love you, mom," Sarah said. She turned to her father. "I love you, dad," she said.

Dad came over to Sarah, lifted her gently so as not to disturb the bundle she held, and placed her gently on her mother's bed. And then the family came together, all of them: Mother, father, Sarah and Sarah's sister. One family, one whole family, for the first time.

And it was there that Sarah felt the tiny breath on the tips of her fingers, curled in as they were near her sister's head. Then another and another, each breath only a little more forceful than the next until finally a cry came, and another and another, and then dad was bursting off the bed to get a doctor and mom was laughing and crying at the same time as she took her youngest daughter back into her arms and Sarah, well, all Sarah could do was take her mother's free hand, hold it to her and cry, cry into her mother's hand.

The week passed faster than anyone expected. There were tests, of course, but Sarah's sister was fine. There wasn't a thing wrong with her, Dr. Roth told Sarah's mom, and that was just fine with her. Now it was time for the whole family to go home and start being a family. And so Sarah and dad brought the tiny new car seat, and while dad placed the wriggling baby in it, Sarah helped her mom pack up her toiletries into her bag. Then down to the minivan and home, with dad suggesting names all the way.

"Diana," he said. "Goddess of the moon. That's not a bad one."

"She's not a moon person," mom said.

"Oh, and you can tell that," dad said.

"Of course I can," mom said. "I'm her mother."

"Well, we have to name her something," dad said. " A whole week without a name is too long. And we've got a house packed with relatives right now. They're going to want to call her something."

Mom turned back to look at Sarah, riding in the seat next to her sister. "How about you, sweets?" Mom said. "What do you think?"

Sarah looked over at her sister. She smiled. "Grace," Sarah said. "She's Grace."

Mom turned to dad. "Well?" she said.

"Oh, I like that," dad said. "I like it a lot."

"Grace," mom said. "It's perfect, Sarah. It really is. What made you choose that?"

Sarah looked at her mom, and then back at her sister and held out a finger. Grace grabbed with her tiny hand. Sarah smiled.

"I didn't choose Grace," Sarah said. "It just came to me."

Posted by john at 02:07 PM | Comments (0)