Short Stories

Short Story: The Soft Goodbye

I was lying on the floor, thinking about death. I was gazing vaguely out the window and all I could see was the sky, full of clouds, just fat with big puffy fluffy clouds, and I wondered if death was more like a cloud or more like lying on a floor that was a little dusty and apparently needed vacuuming. I sneezed.

by lucylu

Photo Credit: //lucylu via Compfight cc

Out another window there was nothing to see but trees. A leaf fell, and that was like death. You appear suddenly out of nowhere on the tree of life, pushed out to the outermost edge, and dangle, flimsy and helpless, and the wind blows you around and it’s all you can do to hold on to the branch until, someday, you fall.

I looked at the ray of light pouring through the window and a fleck of dust that blew up into the middle of it, passing in and out of sight in the shadows between the panes and then finally blowing out of the light into the darkness of the room, and that was like death.

There was a table beside me and there was a book on the table, and that was like death. Once it had been a part of something full of life and energy, a tree, a great whole. Then one day death had come to the whole and torn it apart; and some parts had gone on to become this book, something else entirely, something perhaps better.

I looked at the floor beside me and saw a spider and screamed. I jumped up, ran out of the room, and grabbed a tissue. I came back, kneeled beside the spider, looked away, and jammed the soft tissue down on the spider. I crumpled it up, squeezed it tight, and held it for a minute, looking at it between my fingers. That was like death. That was how life ends, not with a bang but a whimper. Strangely the whimper was mine and I wasn’t dying.

After a long time kneeling there I got up and went outside, I dug a little hole, I put the spider in the hole, and I buried it. Then I sat for another long while staring at the little freshly-pressed mound of earth.

“Goodbye,” I said softly.

The End

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Philoseophia Venereum: Ignis Amor Patriæ

Ignis Amor Patriae

Boom.

It began.

Bang.

The sky was instantly filled with fire and smoke. Down below, shouts and screams joined the din of the bombs bursting above. A distant dog barked and somewhere a child was crying. The breeze carried the smells of various burnt substances–probably fireworks, charcoal, and hamburgers.

“Our first fourth,” I whispered, fourth punctuated by another ear-thrumming pop.

“That’s not true. We’ve seen fireworks together before.”

“Sure, but not as a couple.”

Wikipedia

1936 – Credit

“I still remember our first ever.”

“I remember either our first or our second,” I said. “Red shirt with a glittery flag, braided hair, red-white-and-blue bow?”

She shrugged. “I don’t remember what you were wearing.”

Boom.

“Ha, ha.”

She giggled.

Bang.

“Ooh!”

“Ah!”

“Did you know,” I said, “that fireworks were originally conceived as an Independence Day celebration for their resemblance to flowers laid on fallen patriots’ graves?”

“No, I’ve never heard that. I thought they were just meant to be like, you know, ‘bombs bursting in air.'”

Zing. Pop. Crackle.

“Eh, you’re probably right. I only made that up.”

She laughed.

Pop. Bang.

“Wow! Did you see that one?”

“Amazing!”

In the background, a stereo playing The Star-Spangled Banner shook the ground.

“Did you know the anthem was originally written by a soldier during the Battle of Saratoga? In the middle of battle he wrote down half the lyrics but died before he could finish them. His friends finished it in his honor, and General Washington got wind of it. The rest is history.”

“Is that true?”

Zing.

“Yeah, not at all. I think the anthem was written past 1800.”

Boom.

She trilled. “Well, aren’t you an encyclopedia of imaginary information?”

“For example,” I said, “Betsy Ross got the inspiration for the American flag as we know it today when she was watching a fireworks display during the War of 1812. There was a shortage of explosives due to the war, so they only had three, which happened to be red, whi–”

Bang.

She groaned. “Okay. First, Betsy Ross didn’t design the flag we know today, a high-schooler did in the 1950s. Second, as the legend goes, it was in 1776 that Ross designed the first flag. But third, it really wasn’t Betsy Ross who designed the first flag. I think the basics were given by congress, and there were actually a lot of different designs all over for a while.”

“Is that true?”

“Fact by fact. At least, I‘m pretty sure.”

“You have my admiration.”

Zing. Pop.

“That I did know.”

Crackle.

I sighed. “My knowledge of American-themed trivia facts is pretty sad.”

“You have the right spirit. Flowers in commemoration of fallen soldiers, and a songwriter who died for his country . . . I don‘t think the facts count so much when you‘ve got the right spirit.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well . . .”

Bang, bang. Boom.

“So you don‘t remember who came up with celebrating with fireworks, or who designed which flag. You were still thinking about the things that matter–the people who fought and sacrificed themselves so we could sit here today and watch fireworks. We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them. You and I might never have met. They fought for that. They didn’t fight for facts or dates. That’s not what patriotism is about.”

“It‘s about love?”

“Yeah. Love for your country. Exactly.”

Our conversation was interrupted as the finale lit the sky. I watched in hushed awe, marveling at the display, and out of the corner of my eye, at the woman beside me.

When it was over, and we had clapped our hands and cheered ourselves hoarse, she shifted on the picnic blanket beside me. She rolled onto her side to look me in the face.

“Ah,” I breathed, “now that’s a spectacle.”

She giggled. “Charmer.”

“Charming.”

“So,” she said, “you were surprisingly quiet about philosophy tonight.”

“You did that pretty well for me.”

She beamed. “But I was sure you‘d be bound to go on and on about symbolism in all the shapes of the fireworks, or what it meant to be sitting here watching them, or how there was something meaningful about lying on a picnic blanket instead of sitting in a chair.”

“I was just thinking.”

“About what?”

“Well, I was thinking about the anthem. We sing it so often that we don’t think about it much, and it begins to evoke nothing but fireworks and football. But as I thought about it, I realized there wasn‘t much I could say that would be more beautiful or meaningful than, well–O say, can you see . . .” I looked at her. “Sing with me?”

She nodded, and closing her eyes, sang in a seraphic soprano: “By the dawn‘s early light . . .

We rose our voices together in harmony. Here and there around us, other voices chimed in as we serenaded our love to our nation:

“What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,
“Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
“O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
“And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
“Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
“O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
“O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”

The End

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To all my fellow Americans,

I think that far too often we’re too busy complaining about what’s wrong with our country. I know, I do that a lot, too. Sometimes political problems get in the way and we forget to appreciate what’s right with our country. Days like this, we celebrate those things. There are a lot of them.

I hope you had a happy, fun, safe Independence Day!

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Short Story: The Job

A light rain was falling but I walked anyway. Maybe what I needed was to soak my head.

I pulled up my collar and pulled my hat down over my eyes and started down along the street. I probably cut a suspicious figure like that but I didn’t care. Let people think I was anything they liked.

I’d never had to do anything like this before. I ran a hand over the lump in my pocket. Could I do it? That pocket was worth a lot of money, but even more if I did my job right.

With each passing car I was doused by a spray of water, but personal appearance was the last thing on my mind.

By the time I reached my destination I was soaked to the skin. I felt cold and shivery and shriveled. Each step was heavier than I could carry, but I’m not sure it was just the weight of water. I was miserable—no more miserable than I had been for the past few days.

The rain pounded down around me, sparkling under the streetlights. Cars roared through the water on the roads as they crawled back and forth. I looked across the street at the square of light overhead and the figure standing in it.

Target spotted.

Watching her silhouette, I asked myself again if I was doing the right thing. The right thing—maybe, but who for? I reached into my pocket, opened and closed the casing, fingered the little circle that would finish this whole business soon.

I had to do this.

Ready, aim, fire.

Just cross the street.

I’ve done it a hundred times before.

Climb the steps.

Take a deep breath.

Ring the doorbell.

I reached into my pocket one more time just to remind myself it was there.

A large, broad-shouldered man opened the door.

Deep breath. “Good evening, Mr. Jones. Is your daughter home?”

 

The End

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Short Story: Tears

Tears

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons (altered)

I can only imagine the tears behind the puffy, watery red eyes, buried into her pillow at night when nobody’s around. She hides her face there and stores the tears away where nobody will find them, behind a smile and a laugh. I don’t know why she’s crying . . . Separated parents, a patriarchal father, a critical mother, grades, boys, failure, disappointment, love, hate, fear . . . maybe? Why would I cry, if I were her?

I can’t see her crying, I can’t hear her, I just see the red eyes and the salty cheeks and the quivering lips, and the pillowcases streaked with tears. And then my eyes fill to brimming and I have to look away, but I can’t. Those eyes are everywhere I look.

I don’t know her name. I don’t know who she is, maybe we’ve met, maybe we haven’t, I don’t even know where she is. All I can tell you is that I see those eyes and I know that though she’s the one who’s been crying, I’m the one who’s miserable because of it. Her tears are spent but mine don’t seem to run anymore. They can’t escape my eyes, I can’t escape hers . . .

I can’t even see her face. It’s just those eyes. Laced with rosy veins, ringed with purple, downcast, avoiding my gaze, glistening like crystal. Sometimes I think I see stars hanging on her eyelashes, maybe they’re just rogue tears, maybe more, I’m not sure.

I love her. I do. It’s not because she’s weak or because I think she needs me to be her hero . . . it’s because she’s so strong and I don’t want her to have to be, I don’t want anyone to be, I don’t want to be, not alone, not like this.

I don’t know exactly what I’m doing or how to do it. I can’t see her, I can’t find her. Who is she? Where is she? What does she want? What does she need? How can I help? What am I looking for?

I don’t care if I don’t know what to do. I’ll figure it out. I’ll do this somehow. People have done stronger things before. I may not have half their courage, but I have half their task, so maybe that’s not a problem.

I want to find her. I want to look into those eyes and smile just to show them that everything’s all right. I’ll wipe away her tears and mine will be free to run down my smile, and I’ll dry them with my sleeve. I just want to find her, and I’ll look into a thousand pairs of red eyes to do it. I’ll open all of them to see what’s behind them.

What should I say when I find her? How will I know? It always comes back to that . . . How will I know? Maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll never know who she is. Maybe I’ll just have to keep trying.

I won’t give up till I find her and dry our tears. It seems like that’s the only thing I’m really sure of. But as long as I know that, I can figure anything else out. Wish me luck—and—and please, for both our sakes, just be patient, and wait like me, and I promise, we’ll find each other.

The End

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Philosophia Venereum: Vivit Stellerum

 Vivit Stellerum

If people sat outside and looked at the stars each night, I’ll bet they’d live different lives.

– Bill Watterson

“This is the best place in the world to watch the stars.”

“On a trampoline?”

“Anywhere that I am with you, my dear!”

Somewhere nearby her mother sighed “H’aww!” From out of the darkness, like distant thunder, her father rumbled, “Don’t let him sweet-talk you!”

“That’s the trouble with the world!” I said. “Nobody recognizes honesty anymore.”

The trampoline quivered around my hand, and then I felt her hand find mine. “Don’t worry, I believe you! And I couldn’t agree with you more,” she added pointedly just to tease her father.

“My favorite star is that one.” I pointed to the brightest of the heavenly bodies. “It’s Jove—also known as Jupiter, but either way I’ve always preferred to call her Evangeline.”

“Of course you have. Isn’t that from a movie?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” I answered in pseudo-innocence.

Her soft laughter drifted into the night air. It must have carried into the heavens, or else I had no explanation for why the stars decided to shine brighter just then. They must have heard, and the sound must have made them more cheerful. It couldn’t be my imagination, that the stars shined a little more radiant everywhere she went. I had seen it firsthand.

I was still admiring the sky, and silently enjoying her company, when she spoke again.

“I’m glad I let you talk me into this,” she admitted. “The stars are beautiful.”

“Not half as beautiful as you.”

Her father laughed. “He knows the rules!”

“You don’t believe me? If you’d like me to spell it out rationally—”

“You don’t have to prove anything,” she said; and if I know her, she was blushing just a little.

“Go ahead, let’s hear his excuse,” her father goaded.

“Dad! Be quiet!”

Laughing, I bade her, “Relax, my dear. May I? Please? I’ll be as succinct as possible.”

I thought I could hear the eyes rolling in her head. “If you insist.”

Van Gogh

Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night”

“It’s simple, really. A star is bright, beautiful, magical, everything you have always been from a distance. And like you, a star is even more breathtaking up close. The only difference is something you can’t really see. Not that you look anything like a star,” I amended quickly, “but you’re both beautiful, in your own distinct ways. The difference is what you can’t see. What I can’t see in a star, I know is just a natural nuclear reactor, a swirling vortex of energy. The human heart is similar in nature, but very different in—let’s say, execution. I know that what I can’t see in you is something much more powerful, and much more beautiful, than what lies in the heart of a star.”

There was a lot of laughter, but none of it was hers. She only smiled and whispered, “I believe you. Because I know you, and I know you mean every word. Most women wouldn’t fall for all that—that—”

“Moonshine? But you do. That’s part of what makes you so beautiful.”

“I’m gullible?”

“No, you’re perceptive—and understanding. It’s just what I was talking about, the ways you execute your heart. The ways you show it are what’s beautiful about you. The heart of a star is executed very differently. You know . . .” I said slowly, thoughtfully, “this is an interesting topic we’ve brought up.”

“Here comes the philosophy.”

“What have I been talking about for the past few minutes?”

“That’s a good point. Go on.”

“I’ve often said that we are just stars, drifting through space. The world around us—is imaginary! We’re just asleep, and this is all a dream. How could we know reality? We cannot! And that’s why it’s necessary to call on a higher point of reference. We can let our senses dazzle us all we want, and they’ll do everything they can to trick our minds into believing the craziest things. Or, we can look to Someone who knows a lot more than we do.”

“Well, you know I don’t agree that life is just an illusion, but I think that’s a good argument.”

“I know you don’t agree. But it is just a perspective. I don’t think it’s important that we agree on that. You agree with the conclusions I draw from it and the basic principles of it, and that’s what matters. It’s really more of an analogy, anyway.”

“Exactly. There’s a world beyond this one, one we don’t and can’t completely understand, and we’re agreed on that.”

“And that’s the important part,” I said. “I don’t care that you don’t look at it quite the same way. As long as you look at it.”

“The stars show us that.”

“Yes, exactly! It’s a big universe.” Holding her hand, I raised it with mine to wave them across the sky—our private shuttle through space. “Just look at all those stars, and think how many more there are we can’t see. I think if people would just sit out and look at the stars, and I mean really look at them, with open eyes and open minds and open hearts, they would see their lives a lot more clearly. Just think what a life-changing experience the stars would be if they were only visible once every hundred years! All the cities of the world would turn out their gaudy lights; everywhere people would spend the night out in open fields and on rooftops, just to see the stars while they had the chance. Think what the stars would mean to us then! Emerson wrote something fitting—about how people would preserve ‘the remembrance of the city of God,’ which they had seen that one time in their lives. It would shatter the petty, self-centered world most people seem to live in.”

“Yes! There are a lot of things we tend to sort of take for granted in life, looking at them without ever really seeing them or caring about them. Stars are most of those things. There are more of them than you can count with the naked eye, but who cares? We want to go to work, do our jobs, and then get home and eat, watch television, and sleep just so we can do it all over again. Nobody cares about things like the stars.”

“They don’t want to waste time thinking, that’s what it is,” I agreed. “People think they think—I mean—well, you know what I mean. Supposedly we’re thinking every day, but is it really thinking if we’re just filling our minds with the things we’ve learned or are learning, the things we’re doing, and what’s on television? Some of those things are important, of course—we can’t spend all our time thinking, we have to preserve life too. But we focus too much on life and not enough on living. We’re occupying our minds with what our senses are doing, and practically nothing else. Really thinking means—looking farther than all of that.”

“Exactly. We do have to be practical of course, but we take it too far. It’s sad that so many people live their entire lives without ever really, really thinking about the stars.”

“Because we’re distracted, by the most ridiculous things. ‘But if a man would be alone, let him look at the stars.'”

“Alone,” she repeated, her voice creaking with sarcasm.

I couldn’t help but laugh at her tone. “I realize I’m not alone. That’s not quite what I meant. I don’t know how Emerson meant it, but the way I see it, alone just means—well, to be free, and unhindered. For me, that never meant to be physically alone. I want to be alone—like a star. The stars might look lonely sometimes, but they’re not—most of them have planets, and they’re all in constellations. They’re all part of something, and it’s something bigger than they would be by themselves—that’s freedom. Same way, take an engine out of a car. All right, now it’s alone, free, unhindered—but what good does it do? It can’t go anywhere, it can’t do anything. It’s not really free unless it’s in a car, is it? It’s not free if it’s alone. The only kind of ‘alone’ I’m talking about is the kind that means being a unique, recognized part of a greater whole. ‘But if a man would be alone, let him look at the stars.’ . . . If a man is free, if he is with the people he loves, doing what he loves . . . let him do. Let him dream.”

“Talking to you is like an out-of-body experience,” she observed wisely.

“In a good way, or a creepy, eerie sort of way?”

She smiled. “Both. Sometimes I feel like my guy’s completely insane. And sometimes, I feel guilty because you’re so much more philosophical than me.”

“Stop right there! I don’t want you to ever think like that,” I reproved. “Why should you feel that way? There’s nothing wrong with having enough sense to live in this world. Sometimes I feel guilty for not having half as much sense as you do. But then I think, well, it’s perfect; you’re the part of me I’ve always known was missing. Together, we’re something bigger, see? Together we’re free.” I turned my head and smiled at her profile. “This is as alone as I ever want to be.”

Her father cleared his throat loudly.

“Present company excepted, of course,” I said.

“Watch it there!” he warned, amused.

Her mother yawned. I heard her chair creak as she got up. “This has been fun, but I think we should go inside. The bugs are just getting terrible.” There was a loud smack by way of emphasis.

“I hear that,” said her father. “Let’s go in and see what’s on television.”

 

The End

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Short Story: Gay Paris

Photo Credit: Twitchphoto via Compfight cc  (altered)

Photo Credit: Twitchphoto via Compfight cc (altered)

Gay Paris

 

The wind whipped into the compartment. Passengers screamed as papers ripped themselves out of their hands and briefcases and bags and hats tumbled along with the rushing air, joining tumbling books and empty cups and expensive fur stoles in a whirling dance. I shattered the remains of the window and heaved half my body through. An attendant grabbed me by the foot, but I kicked him in the face. The momentum propelled me out the window and I plunged downward through the sky.

I slung the parachute over my back, fumbling with the harness while struggling to keep it from flying out of my grip. It worked itself free of one shoulder and I barely caught it before it absconded into the blue yonder. It probably would have been smarter to put this on before I had jumped through the window, but I might not have fit that way. Besides, I like to work on the fly. Or rather, on the fall.

I managed to strap on the pack and pull the ripcord. As soon as I was descending at a safe speed and my heart rate had a chance to slow, the view of the city strangling the Seine was actually quite beautiful.

I was right on course to land in a lovely little park, but the wind had other ideas and I descended on a church spire instead. I guess it was a spiritually uplifting experience.

Apparently I had attracted a lot of attention, because a large crowd of people were pointing and shouting, but I couldn’t be sure because they shouted in French and pointed in French too, of course, and they might just have been admiring the architecture for all I knew.

Pretty soon I started hearing sirens. I was surprised the sirens didn’t siren in French, but I guess you can’t have everything. Wait, is siren a verb?

After the fire department got me down from the spire, the police started asking me questions. I tried to communicate yo no hablo francés by gesture, but that got us nowhere. I tried to translate his French—something, I thought, about passing harbors or possibly wine, and maybe something about a crazy, stupid derriere—but one year in high school Francais didn’t cut it.

I was taken downtown, talked to someone who spoke English, I was asked if I had a passport, I said No, and all said and done I ended up in a cell.

And as the French say, voilà! A holiday in Paris without having to pay for reservations.

The End

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Philosophia Venereum: Speculum Pulchritudine

Speculum Pulchritudine

Smiles are the foundation of beauty.”

— Edgar Rice Burroughs

 

“You know,” she said suddenly, “your grandmother says I have your smile. And she’s not the first, Sarah’s told me the same thing.”

“I hope you thank them both on my behalf?”

“On both our be—behalfs? Or is it behalves? Anyway, I was complimented too, you know.”

“Complimented? That’s like saying you’re as cute as a bug, which is something my grandmother would say.”

She gave a jingling laugh. “She has. What’s your point?”

“Well, it may sound sweet, but when’s the last time you saw a cute bug?”

“Are you saying it wasn’t a compliment?”

“I’m sure she meant it like one, but she might as well have told you that you have a smile like a warthog.”

Photo Credit: Jack Fussell via Compfight cc  (altered)

Photo Credit: Jack Fussell via Compfight cc (altered)

“You don’t think our smiles look anything alike?”“Were that my smile were half as marvelous as thine!”

“I thought it was a sweet thing to say.”

“Oh, it was! And don’t think I’m not honored that my grandmother thinks my smile looks anything like yours. It’s probaly the highest compliment I’ve ever received. And I do think I will agree, insofar as our smiles are structurally, physically, similar.”

“Then what makes them so different?”

We came upon a bench and she suggested we sit. The bench gave us a perfect vantage point to admire the gilded trees; even the streets which seemed to be paved with gold. The world had become a reflection of the sun’s light, shining like the treasure trove it is.

There was a brief pause as we sat, and the world seemed hushed for a moment, bracing itself, like she was, for my answer. I turned to her, and she turned to me, and the corners of her lips twitched up, and her eyes sparkled.

“And that, that exactly,” I said, framing her face with my hands, “is the difference. That’s the difference between our smiles. Do you want to know something? You can’t see yourself, except in mirrors, so you’ve probably never noticed it; and I doubt if most eyes would notice it, anyway, and so probably you’ve never heard it. You never smile.”

She tilted her head questioningly, but said nothing, waiting for me to go on.

“And that’s the difference! That’s the secret. You never smile. Me, I smile all the time. I can’t help myself. But you—never. You’ve looked at me several times today, but you didn’t smile once. Not once. No. Every time you glowed.

“Your face sort of contracts, and each of the features gathers close to the center with the others to enjoy one another’s company. And then your eyes . . . how can I describe it? They brighten, they shine, they twinkle; they narrow, they wrinkle; they quiver, and—vibrate. And most amazingly, this incredible expression of joy—so far above anything as base as a smile—doesn’t even involve any movement of your lips! Not always. Your lips don’t always glow with the rest of your face. They’ll just tighten and bend up, but they won’t glow. When they do—when they part and widen in what is known to the vulgar tongue as a smile—they open on an absolute wonderland of euphoria and delight, through a portal that reveals to the humble human eye all the beauties to be found within a glorious paradise where love alone can tread. Like a curtain opening on a fantastic play with a story you wish were real but can’t believe it could be.”

She threw her head back and laughed, a high-ringing sound like a wind chime. I just watched in admiration. You should have seen how she glowed.

If I ever commit the sin of saying that she could stoop to something as crude as a “smile,” it is only for the sake of brevity, because the English language doesn’t have a better suited word. Even glowed doesn’t qute capture it. I can’t use an entire paragraph to describe it every time she glows, mainly because the majority of this barbaric “modern civilization” is tragically revolted by the smallest degree of beautiful language. If you are one of these philistines, then please, bear with me a little longer.

When she stopped laughing and glowed at me I said, “You find it funny?”
“I just wish I was half as beautiful as your words,” she replied.

“But you’re not,” I agreed, “because you’re ten times as beautiful.”

She just shook her head, glowing.

“And I am blessed to be a witness to it, and I am honored that my grandmother thinks I bear a resemblance to you. You know, the more I think about it, the more I understand why she would think so.”

“And why is that?”

“Simple logic. You stand in the sun, your face gets rosy, right? It’s a natural reaction; a reflection of the sun’s energy. Take the moon. The moon has no light of its own; we would never even see it by itself, but thanks to the sun, its beautiful. Well, so—”

“So you’re the moon,” she interrupted, “reflecting the sun’s light.”

I frowned. “I was going to say that. But I’m glad you agree. Yes, any similarity my smile has to yours is just the reflection of my joy in being with you.”
She rolled her eyes. “But I don’t agree.”

“You don’t enjoy being with me?” I sobbed.

“Of course not. Why should I?” She trilled. “I’m kidding. I meant that I don’t agree with what you were saying about just being a reflection of the sun’s light. There are more important things than being pretty.”

I held up an index finger. “That’s very true! And I’m glad you brought it up. Don’t you see? Of course you’re more than just a pretty face. You never smile. I never said you had a pretty smile. Take what our society typifies as a ‘beautiful’ woman. That archetype emphasizes all the wrong things. So-called beautiful women may have slim bodies and well-shaped noses and thin eyebrows and red lips, but you have even more, because you have true beauty, inner beauty. You’re a charming, kind, sweet woman, and that’s three of the many, many things that make you beautiful on the inside. That inner beauty always shows on the outside. It’s something you don’t always see in a societally ‘beautiful’ woman. You’re both societally beautiful and truly beautiful; that’s why you glow. That glow is your inner beauty shining, and that is something that can be seen.”

Her eyes gleamed suddenly with triumph. “Exactly!”

“Exactly what?”

“Exactly that,” she repeated. “That makes you the most beautiful man I have ever met. That’s what you don’t see. Because you can’t see yourself. So let me tell you. All the sweet, beautiful things you’ve been saying are reflections of your own beauty.”

“Beauty?”

“Yes, beauty! Don’t be sexist, men can be beautiful.” She trilled again, and continued, “Anyway, my beauty, all this beauty you’ve been talking about, is just a reflection of your beauty. And the beauty I see in you is a reflection of my beauty.”

“So,” I said slowly, “are you saying humans are inherently egocentric?”

“Not at all! Exactly the opposite. It’s giving something to someone else. You’re giving them a part of yourself. That’s why your grandmother says we have the same smile. Not just because our smiles look the same, because she saw something else—the something we gave each other. She saw the same something reflected in both of us.” Glowing brighter than ever, she leaned toward me. “And do you see what that something is?”

I felt the birth of a grin on my lips. “I’m beginning to. You’re something special, I’ll tell you that.”

“And you’re very sweet”—she kissed me—”even if you’re only as cute as a bug, poor little boy!”

“Hey, you’re the one my grandmother thinks looks like a bug, not me.”

“True—but if your beauty is a reflection of mine—”

“Right, right.”

She trilled. I thrilled. She scintillated. I cachinnated.

The End

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Categories: Imagining a Better World, Philosophia Venereum, Short Stories | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Short Story: A Romantic Dance

“I told you never to play that song again, Sam.”

“I didn’t.”

They looked up from their books and looked at each other. There was no one else in the room as far as they knew. Sam was almost afraid to look over his shoulder. James, his younger brother, wasn’t but wished he was.

Behind them, across the room, a cloaked figure ran bony fingers over the keys of the piano. Bony? They were the same color as the ivories.

It was a scene straight out of The Phantom of the Opera, just without Lon Chaney or intertitles. Overacting was still to be determined.

Sam had fainted and slumped to the floor. Maybe James would convince him it was all a dream later, if James could convince himself first.

He got up and timorously crossed the room a step at a time. His fingers reached for the back of the cloaked figure’s head. In another moment the Phantom would stop playing and point an accusatory finger at James, if James didn’t faint first.

Photo Credit: Rasimu via Compfight cc (altered)

Photo Credit: Rasimu via Compfight cc (altered)

Suddenly the Phantom spun around and smiled as well as a fleshless face could smile. James gasped and stumbled back. The Phantom blushed as well as a skeleton can blush, which is more—much more—a matter of body language than a color of the cheeks.“Well! I didn’t expect to see someone so handsome here tonight.” The she-Phantom batted her eyelashes as well as a skeleton can. James noticed she was pretty, for a dead, fleshless woman.

James just stared. He tried to speak, but it was only a weak groan in his throat. The she-Phantom giggled.

“Living people are so cute when they’re shy! You don’t have to ask—of course I’d like to dance with you!”

Before James could answer, the she-Phantom lowered her hood and put James’s arms around her.

“Does he play? Can he play for us?” she asked, pointing at Sam and then looking up pleadingly into James’s eyes.

James groaned in his throat.

She-Phantom giggled. “Do you speak English?” She pointed at Sam. “He—play? Il – jouer?

James shook his head.

“Oh well! I can fix that.”

The she-Phantom pointed at the piano, waggled a finger, and it began playing on its own. She dragged James out into the middle of the floor and started twirling with him; he wasn’t a very good dancer, it seemed, but she hoped he would get the hang of it.

“You seem dead on your feet, don’t you?” And the she-Phantom giggled wildly. “Oh! But isn’t this fun? It’s our own little dance macabre!” She giggled wildly again, then leaned her head on James. She stared coyly up at him with big, round, hollow eye-sockets. “Isn’t it romantic?”

The End

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Categories: Fun, Short Stories | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Philosophia Venereum: In Frustra Coincidi

In Frustra Coincidi

“Your hand fits mine like the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle.”

— Judi Picoult

“I don’t understand.”

“Neither do I. But it’s obviously the only choice, and I don’t know why you’re making it so hard.”

“But . . . breaking up?”

“Face it, it just doesn’t work to be together. It’s not that complicated.”

“Butbut how can you say that? It’s perfect together!”

“Look, it doesn’t fit.”

“But the picture lines up

“But the edges don’t!”

“Fine.” I threw down the puzzle pieces in defeat. “I give up. I hate jigsaws.”

“This was your idea,” she said.

Photo Credit: Heliøs via Compfight cc  (altered)

Photo Credit: Heliøs via Compfight cc (altered)

“Don’t I have the right to complain about my own ideas once in a while? You do it all the time.””All I know is, it wasn’t my idea, but it beats going outside.”

She glanced toward the window, looking beyond its frost-bleared panes to the brightly moonlit snow outside. I thought it was pretty. She shivered just to look at it. I admitted to myself that it was cold, and at this point getting more than a little tiresome.

“Honestly,” I said, “I don’t believe that it’s March. If you ask me, it’s still February. See, my theory is that a couple months back, something earth-shattering happened, and the U.N. banded together and used top secret technology to mindwipe the whole earth, erasing February from their minds and setting us back a month.”

“It fits!”

“It does? . . . I mean, naturally!”

She rolled her eyes. “No, these three pieces here. See?” She showed me. “What you said made no sense. That would mean it’s actually April.”

An awkward silence followed. Finally I said, “That’s what they want us to think. Wake up, woman! You’re enslaved by the media! Your buying into the twisted into the distorted lies the world governments are feeding us!”

She chose this moment to be tactfully unresponsive. We worked without saying much more than what qualified as necessary communication as we colluded to crack the quandary before us.

“You know,” I began, giving up on mashing two pieces together and turning instead to tracking down their allotted soulmates, “this is a lot like life.”

“You don’t say,” she murmured, deep in concentration.

“Oh, sure. In lots of ways. Life’s a puzzle we’re all trying to make sense of. We spend our lives trying to gather all the pieces and arrange them the right way. Sometimes we waste our time thinking two pieces fit together, like I was a minute agoand then we realize they don’t. Sometimes we try to force them anyway, but there’s no use doing that.”

I found a handful of pieces that matched and quickly fit them together. I leaned back and viewed them with pride. “Sometimes, in an almost surprising flash of understanding, everything comes together, and we can be happy for a while that things are getting clearer.” I picked another piece that looked like a match, but after trying it against every edge of my section, I put it back in the pile. “Too bad it doesn’t always work that way. It never lasts.”

“Sometimes it takes a lot of hard work, and still doesn’t seem to come out right,” she observed helpfully, apparently frustrated in her search. “But it’s important to be persistent.”

“And sometimes it’s just nice to take a moment to appreciate the small little things,” I murmured, admiring a piece with half a sunflower on it. From the right angle it looked like a sunrise; from another it looked like a yellow octopus. I put it down and added grimly, “But who has time for that?”

“We should make time,” she said, picking up the piece I had put down and smiling at it. “We forget that too much. I’m lucky I have you around to remind me.”

I put my hand on hers. She twinkled at me. I said, “I’m glad to know I’m useful for a few things.”

“There’s another way a puzzle’s like life,” she mused.

“And what’s that?

“It’s better when you have someone to share it with.”

We returned to the puzzle; large segments were beginning to fit together, leaving only a few gaps to be filled. “It’s all about getting a clearer view of the picture,” I said, watching the materialization of a puppy and the slightly exasperated kitten it cuddled in a flower garden. “You examine, you calculate, you adjust, but you keep going, always trying again and again, never giving up, no matter how many setbacks and unexpected hitches and disappointments and frustrations stand against you. And at last, by working together, in the end,” I said“ah . . . in the end . . . huh.”

“In the end,” she finished, “you realize you’re missing a piece.”

We exchanged glances.

The End

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Categories: Philosophia Venereum, Short Stories | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Philosophia Venereum: Sapientiam Quaerunt

Sapientiam Quaerunt

“In a good bookroom you feel in some mysterious way that you are absorbing the wisdom contained in all the books through your skin, without even opening them.”

— Mark Twain

“They’re not here.”

“They were here last time.”

“They couldn’t have just walked away.”

“But they could have been moved.”

“Honestly, they do this all the time. I think it’s a conspiracy. They rearrange things so that when people head straight for what they’re looking for, it’s not where they thought it was. Instead they find a lot of books they weren’t looking for, but between that and the time it will take them to browse for what they wanted in the first place, there’s a much higher chance that they’ll pick up more than what they came in for. It’s devious.”

“It’s business,” she said. “That’s exactly what they do.” She took me by the hand. “Come on. The classics must be somewhere.”

She led me through the aisles of the bookstore as our search for the elusive Lord of the Flies continued. At last she spotted the sign labeled “Classics” and we made our way to that shelf.

Photo Credit: jessamyn via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: jessamyn via Compfight cc (altered)

She looked at me. “What’s his name?”

“William Baldwin, I think.”

“Okay. B . . . B, B, B . . .” Her slender finger traced the spines. “Here’s Unamuno, U . . .”

“Unamuno? As in Miguel de Unamuno?”

“Eyes on the prize. Don’t get tricked by their system,” she teased.

“Ha, ha. But Unamuno–wait, that’s not Miguel. I’ve never even heard of this guy, how did he make it to classics?” I took the book off the shelf and examined the copyright. “1997? Come on, people. Not my idea of a classic. Am I a classic? Are you?”

“We’ll debate that later,” she interrupted. “Here’s Kantor, K, and . . . Collins, Carroll . . . Burnett . . .”

“Burnett?” I echoed, diving toward the shelf. I returned with a book cradled in my arms.

The Secret Garden? I thought you already had a copy.”

“Two, actually, but one of them uses single-mark quotes where they should be double-marked, and vice versa, and I mean seriously, what’s up with that? Besides, they’re both paperback. Look at this! Leather-bound, and just smell it–wood shavings, right? I love that smell! And at a price like that, two dollars, brand new? I can’t pass that up.”

“All right, well, look for yourself, there’s no Baldwin here. It goes straight from Bacon to Beckett.”

“Uh . . .” I ran a hand down the back of my neck. “That’s probably because his name was Goldwyn . . .”

She had the uncanny ability to thoroughly deride my stupidity just by staring at me. Words would have blunted the effect. Rolling her eyes, she said, “G, then. That should be over here . . . Fitzgerald . . .”

“Frank,” I read, and looked lower; “Haggard, overshot . . . Guest, never actually seen any of his collections before. They said it couldn’t be done!”

“I see what you did there,” she answered, and I could hear her eyes rolling. Pointing with a finger she began, “Here’s–”

“Aha!” I interrupted.

“What? Do you see it? I don’t–”

“No, I just rememered, his name was Golding, not Goldwyn!”

“Doesn’t matter. Right here, goes from Gogol to Green.”

I tutted. “Not here?”

“We’ll have to try general fiction.”

“Which is–where?”

She shrugged.

As we resumed our heroic quest for our quarry, and as we wandered through the maze of shelves, she said, “Why are we even here? Why don’t you just order the book online?”

“Have you no sentiment?”

“Sentiment,” she echoed. “Like a spirit of adventure? Are you going to make some heroic quest out of this or something?”

“N-no . . .” I didn’t tell her what I’d just been thinking. “No, I only meant that here, in the midst of all these books, it’s something magical, it’s an experience. Sure, you can shop online, you can browse with your head and find what you’re looking for in an instant. But here in a traditional bookstore you get to browse with your eyes, with your hands . . . you get to browse with your heart.”

“And you get to go on an adventure,” she added.

“Well . . . yeah.” We found the general fiction section rather quickly, and began looking through the aisles for the hiding place of the Gs. “I mean, it’s one thing to get to read a book,” I went on, “one of the best things I know. But it’s something else entirely just to be able to be around them. Call me crazy, but I do it at home all the time; I pick a book up, sometimes whether I’ve read it or not, just to admire it, to feel it. You know?” I held The Secret Garden and petted its cover as an example. “Just to see it, to touch it, to be with it . . . it’s magical. It’s like you’re taking a part of it into yourself even without reading it. Pretty incredible, isn’t it, what a book can do, even before you read it?

We passed a shelf where a pair of pale hands offered us an apple; nearby several books displayed, with a definite undeserved pride, the half-naked subjects of their covers. I observed sagaciously, “And some books have a knack for instilling you with intense repulsion. Not much magic offered there.” As we passed on, I swept my hands into the air, generally gesturing everywhere, adding, “But on the whole, books are beautiful. They reach out to you . . . they touch you . . . they speak to you. What’s that?” I leaned closer to a bookshelf nearby. “Uh-huh? Uh-huh? Oh, absolutely! I couldn’t agree more.” I turned back to her. “You’ll never believe what the bookshelves just told me. I mean, I knew books were wise, but I didn’t expect them to be quite this percipient.”

She smiled a charming half-smile, amused. “What did they tell you?”

“It’s nothing I didn’t already know, but I’m impressed that they knew it, too. They tell me you’re the most beautiful woman they have ever seen.”

She laughed her trilling laugh and slapped me across the chest. “Tell ‘the bookshelves’ I think they’re the sweetest.”

I couldn’t help it. Overflowing as my heart already was with the enchantment of a bibliophile in his element, the emotions inspired by her shimmering, velvety raven black hair and the light in her eyes and the light in her smile were more than I could take. I put my arms around her and kissed her. A moment later, smiling a charming full smile and laughing still, she began again,

“Anyway–I agree with you of course, but I prefer used bookstores, don’t you? You’re the first person I would expect to appreciate the stories inside a used book. And I mean the ones written in the margins. All the lives that book has touched. Tell me you don’t love that a million times more than a brand-new book.”

“A million times more, without a doubt,” I admitted.

“And I just love the smell of old books.” She opened imaginary pages in her hands and drank in the aroma. “It’s even better than the wood-shavings smell some firsthand books have. As magical as any bookstore is, a secondhand bookstore has even more magic. When you go in there, it’s more than just you and the books. Go into a used bookstore and you’re something more than just yourself, you’re a reader. You’re another one of millions of the lives touched by these books. You’re a part of all that.”

“It’s like walking through eternity,” I breathed.

She glanced at a copy of The Screwtape Letters, then put it back on the shelf, and added, “And all that for a better price . . .”

“Always the practicalist,” I joked. “However, I agree with you absolutely. The only problem with used bookstores is that there’s no guarantee you’ll find what you’re looking for.”

“Right. Here, on the other hand, it was effortless.”

“Ha, ha.”

“That’s the best part of a used bookstore, anyway. You find so much you weren’t expecting . . . where’s there’s so much history and so much–so much, well, like you say, eternity–you make new discoveries every moment. There’s so much more more to learn, so much more around you than there is here with all these brand-new books. The only lives they’ve ever touched were the printers’.”

I stood motionless, just admiring her. She noticed me watching her and met my gaze sweetly. “My marvelous fellow-poet,” I said. “May I kiss you again?”

“Later,” she laughed.

Our search yielded no more success among the Gs of general fiction that it had among the classics. As a last resort, we approached an employee.

“Good evening, J.D.,” I greeted, reading the teenager’s nametag. “Or can I call you J.?”

He stared, “hip” oversized glasses sliding down on a face lumpy with acne. He pushed his glasses back up and slurred, “C’na hel’you?”

She looked at me and I looked back with an expression that begged the question, “Is he offering his services or threatening us?” She turned to J.D. and smiled disarmingly and said, “We’re looking for a book. Lord of the Flies, by William Golding. Do you know where we could find it?”

“Come wi’ me to da fron’esk, please,” he answered automatically.

At the front desk a more helpful, more vivacious young woman chipperly helped us look up the book on the store’s computers. No, she’s sorry, it’s not in stock. If we like she can put in an order– No, we’ll wait? All right. Can she ring that up for us? Have a good night.

“At least it wasn’t a total bust,” I observed as soon as we were outside, holding The Secret Garden close to my heart with one hand, and with the other holding hers.

With her free hand she was deftly navigating her iPhone. “Done,” she announced.

“Done?”

“Done. Lord of the Flies, William Golding, please allow 2-3 business days for delivery. That took, what, thirty seconds?”

The End

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Categories: Philosophia Venereum, Short Stories | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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