The Parasol

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Alice and her parents were far from their home in America taking a sight-seeing tour of India after which Alice planned to stay on to do a surgery rotation at an Indian hospital in Bangalore. When they arrived at their Udaipur hotel a uniformed hotel porter met their car. He carried a huge parasol. The lining was deep pink and its top decorated with sequins, lace, and gold and silver thread. The decorations swirled around in a miasma of color. Somehow its decorated magnificence reminded her father of Indian trucks on which no square inch escapes adornment; while it gave Alice’s mother a chuckle as she thought of the Quangle Wangle’s hat:

“With ribbons and bibbons on every side,
And bells, and buttons, and loops, and lace”.

The hotel entrance began with a white loggia topped by three domes. After passing through this impressive structure you came upon a broad, vehicle-free terrace of highly polished marble. Along the side opposite the hotel structure was a decorated guardrail peacefully overlooking Lake Pichola and Udaipur’s famed lake palaces; the white Jag Niwas, where parts of the James Bond movie ‘Octopussy’ were filmed; and the Jag Mandir.

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Instead of walking directly to the hotel lobby, Alice and her parents strolled over to the lake-side of the terrace and paused to look at the lake. The mirror-like surface of the water reflected the magnificence of the two island palaces, effectively doubling their impact. The landscape beyond was shrouded in a hot haze. It was a magnificent view.

Alice was drawn to the Jag Mandir which served as a refuge for Prince Khurram, while he rebelled against his father. This was because Alice had already visited Agra and knew that Prince Khurram went on to become Shah Jahan. Not only was Shah Jahan the famed builder of the Taj Mahal he was also one of the greatest of the Muslim Mughal emperors. Under his rule the kingdom thrived and arts flourished. Alice found his story romantic and even asked herself whether such love, without an arranged marriage, would, one day, be hers.

Prince Khurram was betrothed to Arjumand (meaning princess) Banu Begum in 1607 when he was 15 and she 14. They were married five years later. Although she was not his first or only wife he is reported to have adored her above all others. She responded with equal love and was always at his side. He changed her name to Mumtaz Mahal which means “Jewel, or chosen one, of the Palace.” Throughout their nineteen happy years of partnership they were inseparable. She bore him 14 children and died in childbirth with the fourteenth. After her death Shah Jahan mourned and spent the next twenty years building the Taj Mahal as her mausoleum. Ironically this great and gifted man, who spent part of his youth in banishment, was destined to spend the end of his life under house arrest ordered by his son. His prison abode was an ornately decorated suite of rooms overlooking the Taj Mahal.

While Alice stood and gazed over the landscape the porter kept to his post and held his parasol over her. When he slightly shifted his stance she turned from the lake and looked at him. The sun was behind him causing her to squint against its brilliance. The effect was that she imagined the porter as an enticing blend of Prince Khurram and her boyfriend Lewis. His porter’s hat became a bejeweled turban and his uniform, white robes. She smiled at him tossing her head back so that her blond hair sparkled in the sun. Instead of avoiding eye contact he met her gaze and, even though his mouth didn’t smile, his eyes did. She blushed and noticed that his golden skinned hand, which held the parasol, was trembling. Had the spell of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal’s love infected the terrace across the span of four hundred years? Perhaps the surrounding haze-shrouded hills combined with the beauty of the lake had captured their love for eternity. Perhaps Udaipur captured it more effectively than the Taj Mahal where serenity, love and beauty is bombarded by tourists. If it had, Alice’s parents broke the spell by calling her out of her reverie. Quietly the three made their way into the hotel.

That evening Alice and her parents took a boat tour on Lake Pichola. The evening was pleasantly warm and the lake surface like reflective polished glass. They viewed the City Palace on the shore and the two island palaces from the water before stopping at a third island to enjoy its gardens in the cool of the evening. On the farthest shore you could see a flock of water birds rising and landing on the waters. Peace reigned.

Despite the beauty of the evening Alice was clearly unhappy. Her mother sent her dad to get some refreshments so that she could attempt to cheer her up.

“What’s the matter, dear?” she asked as they sat at a table under a flowering tree. “I know that the hotel has internet, and I’m sure that you used it. So, is it something to do with Lewis?”

Alice shook her head and looked at her mother. She turned towards the view to hide her moist eyes. Her mother gently patted her hand, “Cheer up, dear, we are in a beautiful place, shrouded with romance. Tell me your problem – sharing always helps.”

After a long pause Alice spoke, “It’s been several days – no e-mail nothing. So, I e-mailed his friend Charles. The e-mail works all right, Charles responded in a flash. He says that Lewis has taken a two week vacation. Doesn’t know where he has gone. Mom, a surprise two week vacation and he didn’t say a thing to me. It doesn’t make sense. What can be going on?”

“There, there, dear,” her mother squeezed her hand, “I’m sure that there is a simple explanation. Perhaps he had to go home or something – perhaps there is an emergency, perhaps his computer is down – it’s happened before!”

“But, a two week vacation?”

“Look, you got this from Charles, and we know that he isn’t the most reliable, don’t we? I’m sure that there is a simple explanation. Our trip is almost over so I urge you to enjoy yourself and put Lewis out of your mind for a few days.” Alice’s mother smiled weakly as her husband approached them carrying a tray of drinks. The refreshments seemed to cheer Alice up and by the time that they had finished their drinks she was putting on a good act. She even smiled weakly and declared herself ready for the gardens.

A young man approached them, obviously taken with Alice. They fleetingly wondered if he was the previously parasol-holding hotel porter; none of them were sure as he looked so different, out of uniform, in an immaculate open necked white shirt and pants. They momentarily accepted his interest and had him snap photographs of them silhouetted in front of the lake. After they had thanked him, in a form of dismissal, he trailed behind them while they ambled through the lotus ponds and rose beds.

The following day they took their time and so it was almost noon before they were ready to depart and stood at the hotel entrance surveying the sun-bathed terrace. Again, a porter, armed with decorated parasol, sprang from seemingly nowhere, so that when Alice stepped outside into the sun she was shielded from its intensity. She ambled over to the guardrail on the lake-side and breathed deeply as she marveled at the view of Lake Pichola.  While she was mesmerized by the view, absorbing its beauty and romance she sub-consciously heard someone approach them. Then the parasol quivered. Alice turned and looked at the hand holding the parasol above her head. It had changed; it was not the original golden skinned hand of yesterday, but a larger white skinned hand. It was a hand that she thought that she recognized. Could it be the hand that she thought that it was? She turned away from the view and looked up at the holder of the parasol. She exclaimed,

“It’s you! How did you get here?”

“It’s a long story, Alice. I missed you so. I had to come.” He smiled down at her, now embarrassed by the parasol and wondering how he could get rid of it so that he could embrace her.

“Is everything OK?” she asked when she sensed his embarrassment.

“Yes, yes,” he nodded. “I had to come. I came to ask you a very important question.”

© Copyright January 2015, Jane Stansfeld.

Legalities

George checked the weather forecast on his I-pad several times a day. His wife, Samantha, preferred to look out of the window to make her own weather evaluation. Christmas week she repeatedly reported that it was overcast and rainy; and George, checking his I-pad, tapped his fingers on the kitchen counter to confirm her observations. They were both looking for a day on which they could escort their house-guests to some outside activities. Their selected destination was Pedernales State Park where they planned on defeating cabin fever with rock exploration and enjoyment of the beauty of the Falls. After almost a week of overcast cold winter days, George announced that the next day, Tuesday, was to be fine. Sure enough they breakfasted watching a pink and orange sun-rise over backyard trees and declared Tuesday to be the day.

Samantha got out the picnic basket and loaded it with fresh bread, cold turkey and her own special fruit cake. She suggested a cooler of beer but George shook his head in disgust. He remembered that the consumption of beer, or indeed any alcohol, is strictly forbidden in the Park and he had no intention in being involved in an infringement of this regulation. As he stood watching her in the kitchen he drummed his fingers and snapped his knuckles as he reminded Samantha. He concluded by telling her to forget beer or wine in favor of water and soft drinks. On this occasion she complied without comment, possibly because she thought that they had consumed enough alcohol over the past week.

While the picnic was being packed one of their guests suggested that he might like to swim in the river; an activity which is also explicitly forbidden by well-posted signs along the banks of the Falls. George, knew that his guest had been to the Falls before and was well appraised on the posted regulations; so, being the law-abiding sort that he was, he merely politely cringed, snapped a  couple of fingers, and made no comment. Privately he rationalized that he would not take part in any illicit swimming, and secretly hoped that the waters would be too cold, or flowing too rapidly, to tempt anyone to swim. If anyone did attempt aquatics he vowed to appease his conscience by maintaining a distance between himself and the perpetrator.

George drove with care, luxuriating in his cocoon of self-righteous pride in the fact that he was an outstanding law-abiding citizen and driver. When they arrived at the Park they were greeted by a queue of vehicles stacked at the gate. It was obvious that George and Samantha and their guests were not alone in their desire to enjoy the sunlight and beauty of the Falls. Most State Parks have a booth at the entrance where drivers can roll down their windows and pay the entry fee. On this day the booth was dark and looked abandoned. After a few minutes wait the queue of vehicles began to dissipate each selecting a parking space and disgorging both drivers and passengers. Many disappeared behind the building beside the unlit booth to use the toilets while one member from each went and stood in line outside the small shop / cabin on the curbside of the building. Samantha joined the line.

“Is this where you pay to enter the Park?” she asked the gentleman in front of her.

‘I think so,” came the reply. Samantha waited a few moments while she signaled a weak thumbs-up to George. Then she asked,

“Is the line moving? Have you seen anyone come out?”

“Nope.”

The gentleman seemed disinclined to enter into conversation but the woman in front of the gentleman turned and looked at Samantha,

“I’ve seen no movement either. Can’t imagine what’s going on – they must be attempting to sell 2015 State park passes, or maps or something.”

“It is an awfully long line isn’t it? I’m beginning to consider skipping the line and just going into the Park.”

Samantha waited five or more minutes with no movement in the long line and no-one exiting from the building. She did a rough calculation in her head. She could see at least eight people in line ahead of her and that was only outside the building. At over five minutes a person it would take at least eight times five minutes that’s forty minutes to pay for entry. She looked around and saw that there was no barrier or check-point between the parking area and the road into the Park. She left the line and returned to George and her guests.

“It’s ridiculous!” she told George, “There is a long line and it’s not moving. I propose that we go in without a pass. No-one is monitoring entry and if they are unable to take entry fees I don’t think that they will be efficient enough to be able to find out that we did or to do anything about it if they do.”

George swallowed hard. He stared at his wife as he stretched out his hands on the steering wheel; he did not like this turn of events. If they had not had guests with them he would have insisted that they wait and pay the fee, but now he read the determination in Samantha’s voice and demeanor and knew that this was not a time for argument. He, reluctantly, turned on the ignition and drove.

The road inside the park took them gently through cedar trees and scrub-land to the parking lot serving the Falls area. The parking lot was half filled with vehicles neatly parked in the locations closest to the trail head. Instead of taking the next closest spot George selected the most remote space and drove his vehicle in as far as he could. It was as though he were attempting concealment, which was, in fact, true. Unannounced to his passengers he was trying to hide the dashboard where there was no pass displayed.

They unloaded their picnic and swimming towels and walked to the trail head. After a short walk through the trees they emerged at the outlook overlooking the Falls. As usual the sight of the grey rocks, quiet pools, and rushing water between pools momentarily spell-bound the group. A lot of people, the contents of the vehicles at the trail head, were scattered across the scene; their presence swallowed up by the majesty of the Falls. George and Samantha and their guests scrambled down the cliff-side steps to select a flat rock on which to picnic.

After their meal the group dispersed scrambling over rocks in the search for more views and in sheer enjoyment of the beauty of the day. A few hours later they came together again and mounted the cliff to ascend the trail to the parking lot. George was pleasantly pleased to learn that swimming had been abandoned as the water proved to be very cold. Now he had only one concern – whether the car was still there and un-ticketed. Laden with the empty picnic baskets, he walked fast as he sped back up the trail. When Samantha and the rest of the group emerged they were greeted by an image of George standing, desolate in the middle of the parking lot, shaking his head.

“It’s gone,” he signaled, “the car is gone!” He looked forlorn and concerned; unable to think about what their next move ought to be.

Samantha sensed his inertia and immediately began to mentally evaluate options. As there was no telephone reception in the park they would have to either walk or hitch a ride back to the park entry station. She looked around to select a candidate to give them a ride and noticed a park ranger jeep parked outside the toilets in the middle of the parking lot. She hated the thought of having to confess to their misconduct but also admitted to herself that at least there was a park ranger at hand. She quickly concluded that the jeep was too small to carry their whole party.

“It’s going to take some time,” she thought, “time to get back to the Park entry point; time for explanations; and time to retrieve the car from wherever they took it. I do hope that they didn’t tow it to some remote lot somewhere. ” Her heart sank and the enjoyment of the day evaporated while she worried about the awful possibilities presented.

She went and stood beside the jeep determined to catch the ranger when he, or she, came out of the toilets. Five minutes passed and she still stood on guard. She was beginning to wonder if the jeep was abandoned when she heard one of her guests calling to George,

“Hey, George, please could you come here and open the trunk?”

Samantha started and ran towards the voice. As she approached she saw what the problem had been. Their vehicle was pulled so far into the scrub surrounding the parking lot that its presence was occluded by the two large trucks on either side of it.

The Jacob / Rachel Foundation

Rosalind moved carefree and exuberant on this sunny June 5th morning in Houston. She didn’t mind the heat and humidity for she intended to spend a cool day, with friends, at her local community swimming pool. What made everything better was that it was her fourteenth birthday, and the first day of school summer holidays. She was dressed for the day in a wrap over a matching new turquoise swimming suit, a birthday gift from her mother. The modest one-piece swim-suit fit perfectly and accentuated her form as well, if not better, than a bikini could have done. She rode her bicycle to the pool and when she got there she surveyed the area. She took in the shading patterns of the surrounding trees; the brilliant blue water; the lanes cordoned off for lap swimmers; and the life-guard seated high on his perch. She evaluated options. The lifeguard interested her immensely; he was young, obviously athletic, and, she thought, intensely good-looking. His presence added interest to the day. She knew that he had to be at least eighteen but instinctively she took him to be someone whom she, and her friends, would like to meet. She selected a spot which was partially shaded by a huge oak tree while commanding a good view of the lifeguard. She wanted to make sure that he saw her so she went to the lap lanes and dove in. For a split second the cool of the water bit her skin, then she swam with ease enjoying the luxury of freely slicing through water in this park-like setting. Soon her friends arrived and she climbed out of the water to greet them. Her swimming suit shone, wet in the hot sun and she could sense, without looking, that the lifeguard was watching.

Her senses were right for the lifeguard, Justin, had noticed Rosalind and was watching. At this early hour there were only a few children swimming affording him the luxury of being able take long scans of the activities away from the sparkling water. As he watched, their age differential didn’t factor into his conscious, all he saw was a beautiful girl. He watched her talking to her friends. He heard their ‘happy birthday’ exchanges. Over the shouts of children he could also hear crickets humming and beyond the faint roar of traffic but none of these sounds interested him, for his attention was focused on Rosalind’s party. He could see that she was the soul of the group and sensed her captivating vivacity. When they swam he watched them enjoying playing ball in the water together. Later he saw her settle down to read in the shade of an umbrella, while her friends lay motionless, sunbathing on deck chairs.

To Justin this girl, in a turquoise swimming-suit, exuded everything which he saw as good in a woman; beauty, spirit, joy, and the ability to quietly sit and read. When he blew his whistle for the obligatory ten minute out-of-the-water break; he didn’t join the other lifeguards from the adjacent pool, instead, he climbed down and approached her. His skin shone with a healthy glow acquired from sitting outside surveying the pool. His muscles rippled as only those of a fit eighteen-year old athletic young man can do. He looked good and knew it.

He crouched beside her. “May I join you?” he asked as he gazed at her with an affectionate glow apparent even in the intense tropical Houston sunlight. She looked up from her book. Her dark glasses hid her eyes but the rest of her face gave him a half hesitant sweet smile. She was surprised by his attention even though this had been the focus of all her activities that morning. She responded with a slight nod and he immediately pulled up the adjacent lounge chair.

He spoke again, “You look engrossed; it must be a good book. What are you reading?”

Middlemarch,” She held it up so that he could see the cover.

“George Elliot!’

You’ve read it?”

“Yep, it’s quite a long tome with several interwoven plots!”

Rosalind gave Justin an encouraging smile, ‘Well, since you have read it, tell me does the story turn out Okay; – all those dysfunctional relationships?”

“Sort of,….” Justin was about to go on, but she smiled and held up her hand.

“I shouldn’t have asked so don’t tell me. It might spoil the tension of the story. I have already deduced that there is some kind of happiness in store for Dorothea – after all, Elliot gave a happy ending to Silas Marner didn’t she?”

Justin nodded thinking to himself ‘This girl is amazing, she shares my love of literature.’ He waited, while he savored the moment, the innocent, beautiful girl before him, the sun beating down on his back; its warmth equaled by the warmth coming from the inside. “I’m Justin, what’s your name?”

Things were moving faster than she had dared to hope: she stretched out her hand. “Pleased to meet you; mine’s Rosalind.” Both their fingers tingled when their hands met; they smiled happily and laughed to relieve tension.

By now the rest of Rosalind’s group had noticed Justin’s presence and gradually began to drift up to join them. No-one wished to be left out of the fun. They exchanged introductions and disclosed that it was Rosalind’s birthday. Midst giggles and laughter they filled the rest of the water-break with gossip. When Justin majestically returned to his post, and blew his whistle both his and Rosalind’s hearts were pounding faster than normal. Instinctively they recognized a strong attraction. Rosalind tried to read and ignore Justin but every now and again she stole a glance in his direction, and, if he wasn’t looking toward her, she stared unabashed until he turned and met her gaze. Then they both averted their eyes even though they both knew that the other was stealing glances and found the thought invigorating.

From then on Justin spent all his breaks at Rosalind’s side, and she planned her visits to the pool to coincide with his shifts. He discovered that she lived, with her parents, in the modest housing on the north side of the park and she, that he lived with his mother in the low-rent apartments to the south. One day in early August he invited her to go to a movie with him, naturally she agreed to the date.

Justin called at her house to pick her up and was met by her mother; a talkative woman with blond hair and features similar to an older version of her daughter; except where Rosalind’s features were soft and loving; her mother’s face was hard and worn. They stood and surveyed each other. Rosalind’s mother inquired about Justin’s family, and gradually became decidedly less friendly. Justin recognized her displeasure to be horror at his origins and financial status, or lack thereof. She deftly parlayed her snobbism and disapproval into comments about Rosalind’s age and the fact that she considered Justin, at eighteen, with an optimistic interest in gaming and computers and no college prospects, as a poor match for her daughter. Both parents had plans for Rosalind and they most assuredly did not include a liaison with an older apartment-lad whose only prospect was a computer game.

The date went off as expected with Justin gentle and responsive. Rosalind gave every indication that she wanted to be kissed. Justin held her in his arms and obliged. When they blended into each other they both knew that something lasting and special had taken place. They wanted the date to last forever but Justin managed to deliver her home before midnight. At her door they were met by her father, who told Rosalind to go to her room, and Justin, that no more dates were in order. Justin attempted reason but her father wouldn’t discuss options and soon dismissed Justin by closing the door in his face.

In the days before electronic media Rosalind’s parents might have been able to instantly curtail the young couple’s contact with each other, but they both had cell phones and I-pads, and so communications went on with increased intensity. In addition they managed frequent meetings at the pool. By the end of the summer they were committed. Justin told Rosalind about his computer game and his dream of starting a business based on computer games. He spoke of the time when he expected to be affluent enough to be able to get married, a time, which he confidently predicted, to be when Rosalind was old enough to do so. Up until then Rosalind’s parents had always dictated her future; but now she luxuriated in Justin’s plans. She found them exciting, convincing, stimulating, and good enough to be written into a novel.

At the end of the summer, her mother discovered that Rosalind and Justin were meeting at the pool and communicating electronically. She talked to her husband and made her ultimatum, “This young man is far too old for you. You are only fourteen. Your father and I insist that you immediately cease all communication, and don’t think that you can go behind our backs. If you try we will permanently ground you.”

Rosalind thought the ultimatum to be unreasonable and cruel. She was tempted to argue with her parents that fourteen is not too young for love and a mutual attraction with a man only four years her senior. She even considered pointing out that Priscilla Presley was fourteen when she and Elvis first met. She could remind them that it took several years until Priscilla was old enough to get married. However, she didn’t bring up her objections for she could see from her mother’s face that decision was inflexibly made. Instead, she humbly begged for, and was given, twenty-four hours to ‘wrap things up.’ She shot off an e-mail to Justin asking him what to do. He responded that, at present, she needed her parents more than she needed him and that they should oblige by ceasing communications until she was old enough to legally make her own decisions. He told her that it was best for he intended to move to Austin where he could better market his game. He suggested that his move would make their temporary separation easier. Rosalind didn’t like Justin’s response. She cried all night. She wanted Justin now. She knew that she loved him, but she was realistic; and he had not offered an alternative. At times she even told herself that his response was a brush-off and that he obviously wanted to break-up with her. Facing this sad thought, she calmed down. At dawn she capitulated.

The next six months passed quickly with Rosalind focused on her school work. Her dedicated studies didn’t help her to forget. Every time she opened a book she thought of Justin. Every time that she went out she sought his image. Sometimes she would see a shadow or a profile which she thought might be his and her heart would beat faster while she rushed to investigate. Once she had spent an hour trailing a young man in the Gallaria because, when she first saw him skating on the ice she was convinced that he looked like Justin. Every few days she searched the Internet for his name hoping to find something, anything, but nothing came up. It was as though he had vanished from the earth. The following February she received an anonymous Valentine’s card with forget-me-nots on the cover. Inside was handwritten:

One who cares

On the back, in very small print was a note:

Handmade especially for you.
The Jacob / Rachel Foundation.

Rosalind’s spirits rose for she knew that the card came from Justin and reconfirmed his love. She fondly read and re-read it. Then she took down her copy of Middlemarch, and slipped the card into the back of its voluminous pages. Her mother, who routinely inspected all Rosalind’s mail also saw the card and deduced that it came from one of Rosalind’s classmates, probably Tim whom she considered eminently desirable. The following year a second card arrived. Again the front image was forget-me-nots. The message inside read:

One who waits

Rosalind hid the second card in her book while her mother wondered what Tim could be waiting for. She gently began to point out Tim’s credentials and assets to Rosalind. The next year, Rosalind’s high school junior year, two cards arrived. Her mother way-laid them while Rosalind was at school. She opened them, one was clearly from Tim who signed his name. The other read:

One who cares and waits

Rosalind’s mother deduced that One who cares and waits came from Justin. She told herself that it had been sent in disobedience to her explicit instructions and took this as ample excuse for her to withhold it. She watched Rosalind read Tim’s card and obvious disappointment at there not being another card. Rosalind’s reaction confirmed her mother’s suspicions. She decided to attack head-on,

“What are you moping about?”

“Wasn’t there another card?”

“Nothing else.”

“But I thought…”

“What did you think?”

“That there might be another card?”

“You mean one from that loser Justin?”

“Well yes, from Justin. But he is not a loser.”

“Since you didn’t get a card from him I’ll overlook the fact that you agreed to no communications.” Her mother put her arms around Rosalind, “Come on dear, did you really expect to get a card from that game-designer-loser, Justin? Be realistic he is four years your senior and off in the business world. He has probably got a real girl-friend by now.”

“But Mom, I am real. Why don’t you see me as real? And, Mom we were, no, are, in love,” sobbed Rosalind, “he said that he would wait. He said that we should both wait.”

“Pooh, that sounds like a man. Typical man wants you to do all the waiting while they have a good time.”

“I, I don’t think so.” Rosalind stammered miserably, “Perhaps the card got lost…”

“Come on, be real, Rosalind, he has obviously forgotten you. It is a subtle message to you to move on.”

“Move on?”

“Yep, start dating. What about that neat boy Tim?”

Rosalind was sad and disappointed and decided to take her mother’s advice that ‘life has to go on. She began to date Tim. His family were relatively well off and her parents, especially her mother, liked his prospects. They encouraged the relationship. By the end of Rosalind’s senior year she and Tim had settled into an easy relationship. That was also the year that Rosalind’s father lost his job and they had to give up their home. They moved into an apartment. Rosalind’s mother was devastated by the move and so Rosalind did not tell her that the apartment was the one which had been Justin’s home the summer of her fourteenth birthday. Rosalind found comfort in the place for she felt that it connected her to Justin. Sometimes when she lay on her bed with her eyes closed she could almost feel his presence. She continued to date Tim because it pleased her mother and stopped her incessant nagging. When Valentine’s Day rolled around her mother again made sure that she hid the next valentine’s card from Austin. It read:

One who watches and waits

At the end of their senior year both Rosalind and Tim were offered places in several University programs. Tim suggested that they should go to the same place so that they could be together. Rosalind was not so sure but she didn’t nix the idea. Now that she thought that she had lost Justin her emotions were numb. She filled in multiple applications for financial aid along with her college applications. She and her parents knew that they needed to find some way for her to afford to go without her having to take out a debilitating student loan. Then, one day in May, both she and Tim received letters from The Jacob / Rachel Foundation. Neither could recall having applied to such a foundation but both rationalized that there had been so many applications that it could have happened. The Foundation offered a full scholarship to Rosalind for The University of Texas in Austin and to Tim for him to study Architecture at Texas A & M. The families were thrilled by the generosity of the scholarships although Tim expressed dismay that they would have to be separated. Rosalind’s mother shared Tim’s disappointment although she reminded them both that Austin and College Station aren’t too far apart and they would both be home in Houston for vacations. Rosalind remained ambivalent.

That summer Rosalind took a position as a lifeguard at the local swimming pool. It began with weekends in May and, after her eighteen birthday, promised to go full time until she left for university. During the May weekend sessions she donned her swim-suit, always a turquoise one-piece, and mounted her post nostalgically making sure that she was assigned to the pool where she and Justin had met. She sat in a new lifeguard platform with a large umbrella. It was in the same location that Justin’s had been four years ago. She nurtured a sense of connection as she sat in, what she still considered, to be his perch. Now she was the eighteen-year-old surveying the activities; the eighteen-year-old who lived in the apartments, perhaps even the eighteen-year-old on whom the parents of the fourteen-year-old boys would frown. She didn’t dwell on this last fact; she concentrated on her job and luxuriated in memory of the summer of her fourteenth birthday. Sometimes she studied the adolescent fourteen-year-old boys watching them swagger and show off jumping off the diving board. Some of them had adult bodies but they all retained their youthful demeanor.

‘What,’ she wondered, ‘what did Justin see in me? I understand why he has forgotten. I was so young. I do wonder why he had to hurt me so much. But no,’ she always concluded, ‘no, he gave me a memory, a precious memory to carry with me throughout my life, the memory of a perfect man. Love is always good even when it is in vain. I cherish our love and shall always do so.’

By June the school holidays were in full swing and one hot June day, her birthday and the anniversary of the day that she and Justin had met she noticed an athletic young man dive into the water and swim laps. He swam like an Olympian slicing through the water and making smooth flip-turns at the end of each lap. Her job was to watch the young swimmers not the lap swimmers and so she missed seeing him get out of the water. When she next looked he was lying on a lounge chair reading. Rosalind did a double take, viewed from where she was sitting he looked very like her memory of Justin. She calmed herself with the thought that, over the years, especially at the beginning, she had often imagined seeing him, only to be disappointed when she got a full look at close quarters. However, when she blew her whistle for the obligatory break from the water she climbed down and walked toward him. He seemed to be engrossed in his book. She stopped beside him letting the sun cast her shadow over his body. By now she was almost speechless with emotion. She didn’t know how to address this person who so resembled her love of four years ago.

Her voice quivering she managed to say, “Excuse me, do I know you?”

He looked up, removed his dark glasses, and smiled merrily, now there was no doubt. He said, “Of course you know me Rosalind. Here, sit down and let’s talk.”

“So, what are you reading?”

Middlemarch, did you have to ask? You even know why I read it today.”

“Yes, of course. So you came back?

“I told you that I’d come back. Didn’t you believe? Surely you received my Valentine’s cards?”

“I received One who cares, and One who waits but after that nothing. I assumed that you had stopped caring and waiting. Besides that is when Dad lost his job and we had to move into an apartment. I even wondered whether it was because of the move.”

“So you didn’t get One who cares and waits, and One who watches and waits?”

“No.”

“That’s odd. I bet your mother intervened. I know that she disapproves; but Rosalind, now that I’ve made my million don’t you think that she might accept me?”

© September 2014, Jane Stansfeld

 

Paranoia – a short story

They were driving to a concert in central Austin and took Ben White over to to avoid the Mopac route which promised to be congested by an event on Sixth Street. It was good to think that their city was so vibrant with multiple events occurring simultaneously; even though this fact made route planning a challenge. As they approached the Ben White – I 35 interchange Susan breathed deeply and tried to relax. The flyover always worried her, but this time she tried to focus on the sunlight and the brilliance of the sky. Her tactic seemed to be working as they drove up the ramp, but then she sensed movement reminding her that they were going too fast. She clenched her fists and closed her eyes willing the experience to cease as quickly as possible. That was when her husband exclaimed,

“Susan, the view, look at the magnificent view of Down-town Austin; and over there you can see St Ed’s, it looks like a cathedral!” Susan’s husband’s comment about the resemblance to a cathedral was made based on his knowledge that Susan loved cathedrals and knew that she would look. She opened her eyes and attempted to look at, and savor, the view. Her gaze couldn’t take in the distance, for it emphasized their elevation, instead all she could take in was the foreground with tell-tale black skid marks on the crash barriers on the sides of the fly-over.

“Too fast! You are driving too fast.” Her voice was loud, filled with panic. She didn’t tell him about the skid marks although she speculated how they had been made and whether anyone, driving too fast, as they were, could have lost control and driven over. She wondered what conditions made this happen. Was it safe when conditions were dry like today and only hazardous when it was wet or icy? She even hazarded a guess that they could have been made by some irresponsible dare-devil teenager driving the crash barrier for fun. Some fun, she thought, but then, skate boarders perform equally amazing feats just for fun.

Her husband didn’t seem to have slowed down, so Susan spoke again, “Please slow down, you ARE driving too fast.”

“People are behind me. We are going the speed limit, Can’t slow down.” He reached over and patted her knee in reassurance.

“NO!” she exclaimed, “Please keep your hands on the steering wheel.”

She shut her eyes again. When she did so she saw a May 11 1976 image of the Houston Southwest Freeway –Loop 610 intersection over which a vehicle hauling 7,500 gallons of anhydrous ammonia had lost control, careened off the exit ramp and plunged fifteen feet down onto the Southwest Freeway, spilling its contents and creating a toxic cloud of gas. Seven died as a direct result of the crash; most, it is true, died from the toxic fumes.

Susan wondered, as she did every time she was on a flyover, what it would be like if the car flew over the flimsy-looking crash barrier. She knew that it is said that, in those few seconds, a person’s whole life flashes before their eyes. Of course, she told herself, this is merely speculation and cannot be verified as the dead don’t come back to life. Might it not be equally feasible that persons pray or think of the havoc that they leave behind? The thought that those few seconds could be calm, filled only with one’s last living thoughts intrigued her. As always her questioning tempted her to wonder if it would be so bad for it to happen for then she would know. Perhaps, she thought, this is why I am even able to tolerate driving, or being driven, over a flyover.

They were now merging into the heavy I-35 traffic. Susan relaxed and waited for their route to take them over Town Lake after which they would get a stellar view of the State Capital building with its distinctive pink granite dome. The view corridors may be a hassle for developers and their designers but for the public they offer intriguing vistas of the building which gives Austin its first raison d’être. The telephone rang and Susan gulped in fear as her husband squirmed to take his mobile phone out of his pocket. At least it hadn’t rung while they were on the Ben White, I-35, interchange! At last he had it in his hands and appeared to be about to answer it as the car began to swerve.

“Give it to me.” She commanded. “It is too dangerous for you to attempt to drive and talk on the phone.” He obliged and she listened to a computer confirming her husband’s upcoming dental appointment. “Just the dentist reminding you of your appointment on Monday,” she told her him.

When they arrived at their destination they parked on the third floor of the parking structure. A wasp flew out from among the concrete beams and buzzed them. Susan was unperturbed but her husband blanched and dodged the insect. Several more flew toward him; he flailed his arms and ran. People getting out of an adjacent car looked quizzically at Susan. She explained, “He is allergic to their stings. Every time that he gets stung his reaction seems to be worse. He is trying to avoid getting a seriously swollen arm.”

The concert was soothing, beautiful; Mozart’s Requiem Mass. Funereal, maybe, but Susan loved Mozart’s music and always enjoyed his melody. This time she was so engrossed in the moment that her thoughts didn’t wander as they often did during concerts. This one was integrated into a ‘real” mass and an invitation to remember the dead. It was moving and a true Requiem mass.

Even though it was getting dark after the concert they planned to drive north to make a quick visit to their daughter to return some music books. Those grand-daughters always seemed to manage to forget something when they came for their piano lessons. Afterwards they would take Mopac south completing a round trip of the City. Susan liked the elegance of their travel plans and was pleased to think that at least their homeward bound trip only included one high narrow, one-car flyover of the type which scared her.

As they approached it, the flyover between I-35 and 290 Susan concentrated on her breathing, and willed her husband to drive slowly. Surely that won’t be too challenging, she thought, as traffic is light and he knows that I prefer to take flyovers leisurely. Indeed as they went up he seemed to be taking the ramp gently. Everything was fine. Susan even opened her eyes; that’s when she saw the danger. It wasn’t outside the car but a wasp inside. She gently raised her arm to shield her husband. Her movement drew his attention. When he saw the wasp he forgot everything except his fear of being stung. He swung his arms in the air and must have pressed his foot on the accelerator as the car sped into the crash barrier. The impact, causing them to become almost vertical, got his attention and he attempted to brake. Susan didn’t scream she was uncannily calm as she thought to herself that they were now making skid marks on the crash barrier. Her husband might have been able to gain control again had not the wasp taken this moment to sting him.

The car shot over the crash barrier. Even now Susan didn’t scream all she could think about was how happy she was to be dying knowing what one’s last thoughts are as one flies through space toward inevitable annihilation.

© November 2014, Jane Stansfeld.

Some Ant – a poem

In the 1952 award winning children’s story “Charlotte’s Web” by E. B. White Charlotte, the spider, writes “SOME PIG” in her web to save her friend Wilbur from the slaughterhouse. This poem imagines the activities of one of Charlotte’s great to the nth power grand-daughters. It uses urban metaphors of man-made objects to describe natural elements

Charlotte’s nth great grand-daughter,
Descends on skyscraper-steel strong thread,
To survey her dew-diamond billboard.
It reads “SOME ANT”.
She elevates back up to her house and waits.
Below, an escalator of ants swarm,
Up and down the knurled bark of her tree.
Flowers open their shuttered-stores of nectar.
A butterfly, dolled-up in seductive garb,
Stops to sample their Starbuck’s choice.
Close behind, a multitude of bees,
Each with briefcase sac to fill.
Charlotte turns to hear the helicopter-
Whir of wings as a blue-bottle flies
Straight into her waiting banner.
She smiles as she sits before her door,
And watches her dinner struggle.
Below, the ant garbage-cleaners of the forest
Busy in and out of secret brown earth,
Wait for her rejected morsels.

© October 2014, Jane Stansfeld

MOUNT BONNELL – a poem

Mount Bonnell is located in Covert Park in Austin Texas. It is a spectacular place with steep cliffs overlooking Lake Austin and commands great views of the city. History has it that several early Texans committed suicide here to avoid their enemies. It has been a popular tourist spot since the 1850s and is a well-used proposal venue. Recently a visitor accidentally fell off the rim to his death.

Third time to visit Covert Park.
Ring pocketed, hands held, they race,
Climbing Mount Bonnell, clean, stark,
Scented trees, stone steps, a lover’s place.

This, where Antoinette did leap,
Her beloved dead by Indian bands.
Here, Golden Nell and Beau eternal sleep
Jumped off, evading torturing hands.

To west, Austin’s winking downtown,
To east, setting sun behind wild hills.
Both wave to this place of renown,
This park of discordant joys and ills.

Below, lake and lawns, manicured,
An arc of silver water laps in love,
Houses rich and well secured,
Inviting those, gazing, from above.

Children scamper, tempting the rim,
Lovers loiter, enjoying the way,
Old folks amble, eyes dim,
All savor the magic of the day.

Anxious, he drops to bended knee
And asks “Will you marry me?” 

© October, 2014, Jane Stansfeld

Haggis – a short story

“Here Haggy, Haggy. Here Haggy, Haggy.”

The discordant words aroused me from a deep sleep. As I eased into wakefulness I told myself that I understood ‘here Kitty, Kitty; here Kitty, Kitty,’ but ‘here Haggy, Haggy; here Haggy, Haggy,’ wasn’t sonorous and had no ring to it. The voices making the call were youthful and, as I listened, I realized that it was the sweet voices of my grand-daughters. For a few more minutes I lay listening and wondering whether the ‘Haggy’ was Rubeus Hagrid the half-giant friend of Harry Potter’s, and the words, part of a game played between my two grand-daughters. This didn’t entirely make sense for who, in their right mind, would give a giant a diminutive name such as ‘Haggy?’

I glanced at my battery operated alarm clock and saw that it was eight-thirty. The girls had probably breakfasted, with their parents, on a Scottish specialty of porridge and were now outside playing. I am normally an early riser, but this morning I lay trying to sleep off the effects of a restless night, in which I had spent several hours on the front porch enjoying the rain and catching glimpses of the full moon. The beauty of the scene had brought Alfred Noye’s epic poem ‘Highway man’ to mind. The words echoed in my mind. I had called it up on my I-pad and read the self-illuminated screen aloud; casting the lyrics into the wild wind-driven rain:

‘The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees,
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas.’

I don’t remember dressing but soon I was fully clad, in new Shetland cable-knit sweater, resplendent white with its beautiful knitted pattern, and blue jeans, ready to go outside. When I opened the door I paused, struck by the beauty of the scene before me. The Scottish highlands are always grand but today the storm had left Loch Ness shrouded in a light mist. The air was clean and fresh and the light had a magical quality, the mystical clarity that you get with dawn in the aftermath of a storm. I took a sip of hot coffee, I don’t recall but I must have stopped in the kitchen to get a mug full. I could sense the warm liquid slipping down my throat and luxuriated in the warmth which spread out over my whole body. I couldn’t see my grand-daughters and everything was uncannily quiet; not even an errant ‘Here Haggy, Haggy,’ to alert me where they were.

We were doing a mini self-guided tour of the Scottish highlands and had taken this tiny croft on Lock Ness for a two-day stay to cater to the girl’s fantasy that they might spot the Lock Ness monster or Nessie. So far Nessie had not obliged and I didn’t think that the mist this morning would help; you couldn’t even see the water.

The previous night, before the storm, we had listened to the wind howling and sat and talked about Nessie at length. The sense of isolation given by the noise of the wind and the smallness of our quarters tipped us into imagining mystics and strange beasties including Nessie. One thing had led to another and we had speculated about the veracity of the claim, by some Scots, that the Haggis is a small, almost extinct, highland creature. We had looked at images on line. Most pictures showed a small, pig-faced animal with long tufts of hair in the vicinity of the ears. My reaction was skeptic, although I did think about the first reports, from Australia, of the Duck-billed platypus. The English of 1798 thought that the description of; an egg-laying, duck-billed, beaver-tailed, otter-footed mammal with venomous hind foot spur; to be pure fantasy. Rumor has it that when the first pelt was shipped back to England they had experts examine it to detect the place where the various parts had been sewn together! To our discerning eyes the on-line images of the haggis were as weird as the duck-billed platypus must have been to the English at the end of the eighteenth century. By the way the jury is out on the plural of haggis, most suggest haggis is the same in singular and plural; as in one sheep, two sheep; one haggis, two haggis; although I like one haggis, two haggi; or maybe two haggises. On line, most assert that you should never need to consider the plural of haggis as one is enough! As I sipped my coffee I now wondered whether, ‘here Haggy, Haggy’ had been inspired by our discussion of the previous night.

By now the haze over the waters was beginning to burn off and there was every indication that we were in for a glorious, if unusual, sunny day in the highlands. My youngest grand-daughter came running up from the direction of the lake emerging like a spirit from the mist. When she saw me she waved and exclaimed in excitement: “Grammy, come quick the haggis is getting away.”

I put my mug down and ran toward her. “A haggis, are you sure?” I patted my jean pocket but my mobile phone was not there. For a brief moment I considered going back for it but my grand-daughter was moving fast and I didn’t want to lose her. I hoped that there would be time for photographs later. At the bottom of the garden, almost on the shore of the loch, the vapor parted and I saw the ‘haggis’ and my oldest grand-daughter, beyond them I could now see the waters of Loch Ness. My grand-daughter held out her hand in which she held a carrot, “Here Haggy, Haggy.” The creature was about the size of a small cat and had a long neck, small head, proportionately short legs, and a long tail. When I got closer I saw that it had a very short fur coat. For all intents and purposes it looked, with the exception of the otter-like fur, like a model of a diplodocus; the sort of model that they sell in museum gift shops.

“Where did you find him?” I asked.

“We think that it is a ‘she,” corrected both girls. “And her name is Haggis, Haggy for short.” I watched as they petted the creature. It mewed in, what I took to be appreciation, and then, suddenly raised its head and gave a shrill squeal. They were both crouched down beside their Haggy and so they didn’t see, what I, and it, saw rising out of the mist. At first it was, what appeared to be, a head on along neck, some twelve to fifteen feet long. As it got closer and become more distinct I realized, with wonder, that it looked like a very large version of our Haggy, a museum-quality, moving, live diplodocus. The form loomed ever larger as it approached.

“Run, girls, run, NOW,” I yelled, “Leave Haggy, her mama is coming and she looks angry. It’s the monster, the Lock Ness monster.”

They both turned and then began to run toward the residence. I was behind. I ran. My feet felt like lead, they were tangled in something, like a blanket, which curtailed movement. I ran as best I could but the creature caught up with me and touched me. It shook my whole body. I panicked and flailed my arms. “No Haggy, no.” I yelled.

Words broke through to me, “Grammy, wake-up, wake-up, you’re talking in your sleep.” I opened my eyes to see both my grand-daughters standing by my bed, shaking me, and talking in unison. They held out a mewing animal toward me, “Grammy, may we keep her? See the lovely kitten which we found on the porch.”

© September, 2014. Jane Stansfeld