Philosophia Venereum

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

—————————————–

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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Categories: Philosophia Venereum | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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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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

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

—————————————–

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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Philosophia Venereum: Amant in Gelu

Amant in Gelu

A man learns to skate by staggering about and making a fool of himself. Indeed he progresses in all things by resolutely making a fool of himself.

– George Bernard Shaw

“So?”

“It’s cold.”

“And?”

“Slippery.”

“And?”

“Half as beautiful as you, which is to pay it an astronomical compliment.”

“You flatterer.”

“There are few words within the human vocabulary that can be spoken of you, my sweet, and yet be considered mere flattery.”

She rolled her eyes but she smiled, and I didn’t think the color in her cheeks was entirely from the biting chill of the ice rink. As much as I would have liked to keep my eyes on her I had to return my attention to my unstable feet. I was inching my way into the rink, arms spread wide, probably looking like a flightless bird on legs of gelatin. Meanwhile, she skated graceful circles around me, coaching me.

“You’re doing fine,” she said. “The hard part is learning to get your balance.”

“I like to consider myself a defender of balance.”

Feeling bolder, I threw one of my feet out in front in an attempt to pick up speed. I made it about three feet on my skates and eleven more on my face. It was worth it to hear her wind-chime laughter echoing through the dome. Still trilling, she slid to my side and offered me a hand.

“Are you sure this is your first time?”

“Painfully positive.”

“You fell like a natural,” she teased.

“Why, thank you, my dear; I like to consider myself a natural, even if only a natural disaster.”

Pulling me to my feet, she offered, “Here. Hold my hand. It will help.”

“Don’t have to ask me twice.”

Another fifteen minutes went by, and on the strength of her guidance and assistance I began to get accustomed to the strange feeling of standing on butcher knives, and had successfully skated a full circle around the rink, falling only twice, bringing her down with me only once. Another fifteen minutes passed and we had gone around the rink another dozen times.

“Do you know something?” I said. “This is fun.”

“Isn’t it?”

“It’s difficult for me to admit this—but I’ll swallow my pride. This was a great idea, and a better way to have a date, even, than some of my past ideas.”

“Are you referring to the—”

“I believe we agreed not to talk about that since we paid off the broken vase.”

“Right.” She hid a smile. “I just hope this teaches you something. We can have normal dates, too, and still enjoy ourselves!”

“And I can still find something to philosophize about. Figure skating makes a beautiful metaphor.”

She mumbled, “You could philosophize about a paperclip.”

“As a matter of fact—”

“Please! Not right now.”

“Right. Let’s focus on the metaphor of figure skating.”

“Actually, I’d rather just focus on the act of skating.”

“C’mon, can’t I please? Just a little?”

She sneered her exasperation. Behind it, however, her eyes twinkled. “Fine.”

Photo Credit: ffela via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: ffela via Compfight cc (altered)

I took both her hands and swept into a spiral. I tottered and nearly fell but she saved me, and using each other as counterweights we twirled together on the ice.”They say life is a dance,” I began. “Well, I’ll agree with that, so far. Love is, too. But not true love. True love is something different. It’s so close to the same thing—and yet it’s so far. But if you don’t look closely enough, you can’t even tell. It’s a subtle thing. It’s more than just moving your feet to a melody and timing each move to the rhythm. It’s not as simple as holding each other close and trying to work together at the same pace. That’s what dancing is about. But love—true love—is all that and more. True love is like figure skating in a pair.”

“I think I see where you’re going. I watch figure skating whenever I get the chance, and I especially like to see the pairs. They really have to work hard to stay together and time everything just right. Dancing is—well, I mean, it’s dancing. Professional ballroom dancers are incredible, I would never argue with that, but, well, there’s a reason it’s not an olympic event. It doesn’t take as much of the same stuff as figure skating. The thing about figure skating is that the ice will carry you much farther than your feet would. Sometimes that means rushing along at a faster pace than you could keep up with on your own, and sometimes you can just glide slowly and easily along without much effort, and sometimes you have to push to pick up speed. But when you’re skating with a partner—it’s not about keeping pace, it’s about helping each other and staying together as the paces change.” She shrugged with a trill and said, “So I can definitely see what you mean—true love is that way, too. It’s not two people trying to stay at the same pace, but two people supporting each other through all the changes of pace.”

I nodded eagerly, beaming. “What could I possibly add to that?”

A smirk crawled across her face. “You’ll think of something.”

“Well, all I can say is that you’re exactly right. Life, as in the act of living, can be like a dance. But life, the world around us—it’s like the ice in a skating rink.”

I let go of one of her hands and we slid to a halt. With one hand, I gestured over the ice.

“When you dance together, it’s just the two of you and nothing else. Throw anything more complicated into the mix, and they lose it. When you skate together, it’s the two of you together against the ice. It’s not so simple. It’s much more complicated.”

“I think the biggest difference is that dancing is fifty-fifty. Figure skating is about each of the partners giving one hundred percent.”

“You have to, to dance together against the ice.”

“Exactly.”

“True love . . . it’s all about a man and a woman, body and soul in tune; one heart, one mind, one will, united for a common goal, with a common enemy. . . . Then again . . .” I cut a slow circle around her and then came to a stop in front of her. “Is it about working against the ice, or working with it?”

“That’s a good point.”

I put my arms around her and she put her arms around me and we enjoyed that common and not altogether unpleasant show of affection called a Hug.

“Are you feeling more comfortable on the ice?”

“As long as I’m with you.”

“Good. Do you think you’re ready to try without the double-bladed training skates now?”

The End

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Philosophia Venereum: Vastate de Tempus

Vastate de Tempus

“Are we there yet?”

“Life is a journey, my dear. If you waste your time asking if you’re there yet, you’ve already missed your destination.”

“Right. I should keep my eyes open along the way.”

“Exactly!”

“That would be easier if I wasn’t blindfolded.”

by Kim Newberg

by Kim Newberg

“You’re completely missing the point.”

She sighed. She’d reluctantly agreed to the blindfold again. I liked to save the venues of our courting engagements as a surprise for the last moment. And it gave us both a fresh perspective on the term “blind date.”

Where are we going?” she asked pleadingly.

“To a place . . . where stories of the past lie dormant.”

I sensed her stiffen in the passenger seat. “You’re not taking me to another graveyard?”

“Only in a manner of speaking.”

“No human skeletons?”

“Well, anything’s possible, I can’t be–sure–that . . .” The look on her face, or half of it, withered me, warning that I would soon be a skeleton if I wasn’t careful. “No human skeletons,” I promised.

“We’re here,” I announced before she could say anything else. I turned off the road and hopped the gravel verge. Grass rustled beneath the wheels.

“Where’s here?”

“Here here, where we are, right now.”

“Can I take off–”

“Not yet!”

As I put the van into park a shudder of excitement passed through my frame. This was the moment when I always felt like a detective about to name the killer. I took no less pride in arranging original social activities than did the sleuth in crime-solving, as if it took just as much genius. Definitely no less madness.

My feet fell on the plush carpet of grass, and gazing out across the meadow, speckled with flowers and painted gold by the sunlight, I felt a twinge of apprehension. I could only hope she would see the same interest I saw in it.

I helped her out of the car and led her by the hand. Putting our backs to the meadow I led her toward a line of trees at its edge.

“Well,” she said hesitantly, “it feels nice enough so far. Grass is promis–wait, what’s this?” She gave an experimental stomp.

“Leaf mold. We’re going under some trees, be careful. Here, this way . . . watch out for that–sorry! are you okay? Don’t take the leaves out of your hair, they look nice–stop, branch! Here, I’ll hold my arm in front of your head, keep going–careful of that root there–a little farther, there you go.”

I led her out from under the trees and admired the sight opening up before us. I was still convinced it was perfect. For once I doubted I could convince her.

I watched her head tilt and her forehead crease as she asked, “Why do I hear cars?”

In a theatrical timbre I announced, “Lady and gentlegal, you may remove your blindfold!”

Her face immediately became flinty. Apparently she wasn’t dazzled by the canal below, or the fungal green sludge within it, or the refuse of civilization lying in the mud, or the road across the ditch. She watched a pancaked can, awakened by the passing of a pair of cars, skittered along the asphalt and tumbled over the grass and down into the ditch.

This is it?”

“This–is it,” I answered, grinning sheepishly.

“Uh-huh. Which way’s the car?”

“Aww, come on! Give me a chance to explain!” I begged. “Please, my sweet?”

She sat cross-legged in the grass and folded her arms, saying, “You have five minutes.”

I alighted beside her, wrapped an arm around her shoulders, and took in the canal with a gesture. “There’s no better analogy of society than this cesspool right here. There’s the slime and the trash and the muck, and through it all the green grasses trying to grow and live a healthy life in an unhealthy world. You can see how some of them have grown out of the shadows and into the sunlight, while some of them have died and degenerated into so much more mold.”

“How romantic,” she observed sagely.

“It is, but I’ll get to that. Now look at it literally. Where can you find a more outspoken proof of society’s selfish unconcern for anything but itself? And if people aren’t thinking only of themselves, they’re thinking only of humankind. Whatever our particular, narrow-minded outlook is, that’s all we see and all we care about, even if it’s at the expense of sludge-filled canals and forlorn paper plates.”

“I thought you were into finding the beauty in everything?”

“It is beautiful, and I’m getting to that. My point is, it’s important to expand our perspective and broaden our ideas, and free ourselves from the chains of our own prejudices and bigotry. A lot of people consider Christians narrow-minded and self-righteous, and why? Because historically, as a group, we are. God’s law is to love others, but even most Christians are too biased to be truly loving. Knowing God doesn’t make us automatically better than anyone else. It’s what we do with that knowledge that matters.”

It was a sure sign I had said something right when I began to win her over; and I could tell I had in the loosening of her tense muscles and the unfolding of her arms.

“Take this canal,” I went on. “Open your eyes to what it really is. It’s a microcosm and a legend. Each piece of trash is a story.”

She pleated her arms again. “Oh, give me a break.”

“No, but listen to me! You’re seeing the refuse of a society, the symbols of what a human life rejected somewhere along the road. It’s like the actors are gone but we still have the props. A plastic knife means animosities and spites; a broken bottle means desperations and indulgences; an old lipstick casing could mean old romances and lost loves. Everywhere I see tragedies, stories of things lost, like innocence and happiness and idealism. Each piece of trash is the story of someone engrossed by the pettiness of civilization, the lusts of everyday materialism, and the selfishness of society. And they’ve all suffered for it, you can see that.”

“What makes you say that?”

“You can count on it that no happy person would litter. It would be illogical.”

I could tell she agreed, that or she thought I was too far beyond reason to bother arguing. Either way she said, “People are illogical.”

“No, people are irrational. Never illogical.”

“Your time’s up.”

“Give me one more moment. Please? This is the best part.”

“Go ahead,” she said obligingly enough. I could tell any reluctance was bluff; she was like a reader who couldn’t close the book until she’d found out how it ended.

“I see nothing hopeless in all this tragedy and degeneracy. It’s a promise. A promise that there’s something better; because if there wasn’t, what’s the point? It’s a promise that we can make it better. And that promise is fulfilled by the very fact that this scene is already made beautiful by your presence.”

“And that’s it?”

I screwed my eyes up in thought. “That’s it.”

“Which way’s the car?”

“You don’t think it’s beautiful?”

“No,” she said flatly. “But . . . it can be, if we clean it up a bit.”

“Perish the thought! You’re not dressed for it.”

“I will be if you’ll lead me back to the car and we get out the waders, and the raincoats, the gloves, the garbage bags, and all the other stuff you brought for it. Did you seriously think I didn’t notice it in the back? Come on,” she said, unfolding her legs, “let’s get to work.”

Impressed into silence, I caught her by the hand as she tried to get up and did the only thing I could think of: I kissed her then and there, in front of God and a lot of cars roaring by behind me. A passing driver honked and wolf-whistled so loudly we jumped, and the combined forces of energy caused us to lose our balance. We slipped and tumbled head-over-heels into the besludged ditch.

The End

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Categories: Philosophia Venereum, Short Stories | Leave a comment

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