THE HEALER part 1 0f 4

This story is rather longer than my usual work and so I’ve split it into four posts. I hope that you enjoy it

The day that I pinpoint as heralding the change to my health and life began much like any other. That day, I remember that I arrived in the office later than usual. As I rode the elevator to the fourth floor of our building, I planned how I’d sneak in stealthily in the hope that I wouldn’t be noticed. This time my tardiness was not the result of a pressing assignment but to accommodate a visit to a masseuse recommended by my chiropractor. Her strong fingers probed and poked my back and neck for an hour. I told himself that the session helped, but  I was still in acute pain and couldn’t help myself from walking with an unnaturally stiff stance. Truth be told, I felt as though I were my seventy-year-old father rather than a young man of thirty.

Just as the elevator doors opened my stomach cramped. I wanted to clutch it but desisted because that isn’t done in a public space. Instead I paused at the doors and moved even more slowly. I speculated that the pain was either; an ulcer due to work induced worry, or cancer, or could it be the shrimp that I had eaten the evening before? The shrimp had tasted good, at the time, served over linguini and smothered in a light marinara sauce with a hint of garlic. I swore to myself that from this day forward I’d add shrimp to my list of forbidden foods along with gluten, lactose and nuts.

The receptionist, who is always on the lookout, must have noticed my arrival. I caught a glimpse of her blush as I attempted to slip past her desk. Even with my chronic ailments I knew that I struck a handsome figure. I had changed at the spa and now wore Friday casual; pressed blue jeans, polished boots and a black short-sleeved shirt to accentuate my thick black hair. Subconsciously I deduced that the receptionist, along with the bevy of other unmarried women in the office, regarded me as an eligible bachelor, one that they could take in hand and ‘cure”.  I sensed that my very indifference made me more desirable to them. The girl was smiling over her blush and stood up.

“Hey, Robert. Yes, you there, Robert Wright, good morning. Carl called about ten minutes ago; he wants to see you in his office asap.”

Now, as Carl Cole is my editor and boss, the summons worried me. It was good that the directive was immediate because this limited me to a few seconds of soul searching. My stomach began to cramp again as I hastily grabbed my note pad, and hurried, first to the men’s room, and then to Carl’s office. I had several reasons to worry. Had Carl noticed my recent writer’s block, or had he detected my boredom with my assignments? We publish a small specialist monthly magazine with a slant toward health and the environment. The truth is that I took this position because health-care issues interest me, but my heart wasn’t in it. When not preoccupied by my constant ailments I dreamt of writing my own best-selling novel. If I had been fitter I’d have quit the magazine to embrace the life of a full-time novelist. I had a nagging premonition that one day Carl would kick me out; “But not yet, Carl, not yet,” I secretly prayed as I entered his office.

 Carl was standing looking out of his window. He cut a good figure with a slightly bulging waistline, almost a full head of hair and well-tailored clothes. He turned and pointed to the chair in front of his desk as he sat behind it.

“’Morning Rob, take a seat.” Carl was always abrupt and now I found the tone of his voice reassuring and hopefully deduced that I was not about to be fired.

 “Good morning, sir!’ I said as I took a seat.

 As was his custom Carl dispensed with every day pleasantries and got straight to the point; “You speak Spanish, don’t you?”

 “Yes, my mom….” I was about to elaborate, but Carl forged on.

“You scuba dive don’t you?”

“Err yes,” I wondered where this was going. I hastily added, “I don’t get many chances to indulge; the magazine keeps me busy.” I felt pleased to have managed to sneak in this plug for myself.

“What would you say to a trip to Roatan?” Carl raised his hand as I opened my mouth to respond. “Now, Rob, a good reporter listens, so practice that skill.” He shook his finger at me and leaned forward in his chair. He lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “We’ve heard a report from a recent Honduran immigrant family of a missionary clinic in Honduras in which there is a gifted, perhaps miraculous, Healer. I want you to go down to Honduras and take a look; scope it out. You can fly to Roatan, take a few days off to scuba, and put your head in order, then you can travel on to mainland Honduras to see this Healer. If you decide that there is a story you shall notify the office so that we can fly in a photographer to take pictures”

“Sounds interesting!” I managed to blurt out, “Thank you sir! “Honduras Healer” makes a good headline. Can you tell me more?”

“Yes, Mary has the particulars; stop by her office on your way out! I’m glad that you’re game. I expect a stunning story.”

“Thank you, Sir. I won’t let you down! Yes, I can’t thank you enough.” I paused as I stood and walked to the door, then I turned to repeat “Thank you, Sir,” with the thought that, ‘being polite never hurts!’, but Carl already had his head down buried in reading something on his desk.

The next two days I diligently lost myself in research in an attempt to uncover more information about the Honduran mission. I learned that the clinic is located in a remote corner of Honduras. It is a place where the poverty of the people rivals that of the world’s neediest.  In that area, most people live outside with a simple hut for sleep and rain protection. Their homes are built of mud or hand-made concrete block. They have dirt floors and thatched roofs. Electricity and water, available close to the pot-holed dirt access road, are both sporadic and unreliable. I read that worldwide Honduras is ranked fifteenth on the poverty scale, however, parts of the mainland rival the poorest because the country’s overall statistic is moderated by tourist attractions like the ancient pirate haven of the Island of  Roatan.

to be continued.

 

 

WHAT A DAY

  I suggest that we let most of the days of our lives pass into blurred oblivion. Of course, some days are remembered due to unusual happenings. Thursday, May 27 1954 is a day from my childhood, which stands out vividly. It was a day packed with events each of which might have slipped into my hazy memories of growing up, but somehow their aggregate marked a day which I recall vividly.

That Thursday was Ascension Day, and as such my Christian School gave it special recognition. We had no classes; instead, we were instructed to go to school later than usual, in order to attend a church service after which we were given the balance of the day off. On a normal day, my father drove my sister and I to school on his way to work. I have vague recollections of these drives with an associated long wait at the Framwellgate Bridge traffic light so that we could drive up winding, narrow, one-way Silver Street. By the time that we got to the bridge Dad was diligently quizzing my sister and I on the dates of the Kings and Queens of England or some other facts which he wished us to memorize. If you look to your right as you cross Framwellgate Bridge going into town you get a stunning view of Durham Castle and Cathedral standing high on their promontory, shrouded in the greenery of the banks of the River Wear. I don’t recall ever having done this on my way to school. Looking back I wonder if it was familiarity or perhaps the view wasn’t good for a child in the left-hand side seat of a car.

For some strange reason, I walked to school on Ascension Day 1954. During my entire childhood, this is the only day that I ever remember walking the two to three miles to school. I was almost nine years old, which explains why my sister, who would have been seven, was not with me. She started at the “Big School” the following academic year. The other odd thing about that morning was that I was accompanied by Robert Mulkerrin. This day is the only day of my entire life that I remember Robert Mulkerrin. He lived with his mother about a block further down our street. Their house always had roses in the garden, but I generally hurried past as quickly as possible because Mrs. Mulkerrin was one of our school teachers. I don’t know why Robert was with me – perhaps it was circumstantial, and he was going to meet his mother at the school or maybe my parents had arranged it; I just don’t know. All I know is that he was there. I recall that we were engrossed in conversation and although only nine I have a vague memory of my being somewhat flirtatious. 

Half-way up Silver Street, crammed onto the sidewalk on the south side of the street, we came to a ladder leaning against one of the ancient buildings. It bridged the sidewalk and had its toe in the gutter. Robert checked the traffic and deftly walked around the ladder. I walked under it.

“Jane, don’t. Walking under a ladder is bad luck!”

“Pooh, that’s just an old wife’s myth.” 

“Maybe,” Robert was staring at me, “but why tempt fate?”

“I’m not afraid. Now if there had been someone up the ladder, I agree that it might not be a good idea to walk under.” I was giggling, thinking of a tool or paint falling down. Today was a propitious day, and I felt exuberant.

My next recollection from that day is when our mother drove my sister and I to go fishing. She had promised to do this as a treat on our afternoon off. It is also a first because our mother had never ever taken us fishing before. She had just learned to drive and drove us in my grandfather’s old red VW. We joked that she bought kangaroo petrol because the car jumped and started every time she changed gear. I vaguely remember the Lake. It was reached by long drive through an avenue of trees and was next to one of the hospitals which my father visited. Apparently, he had obtained permission for us to fish there.

Our equipment was homemade; stakes from the garden, twine, hooks made from hair pins, and bait in the form of chicken parts. We stood on the grass, which I recall is being very green, and cast our lines into the murky water. Within no time, I had a nibble and hauled in a small fish about eight inches long. I hadn’t even got it off my hook before my sister also had a bite. Instead of being a traditional fishing trip, in which one waits and watches the water for hours, the fish rewarded us by taking our bait every time we cast. Within an hour, we had caught twenty fish. By now, I recall that our mother was becoming anxious and declared, “Enough is enough,” and that we needed to go home.

We always ate dinner at about 7:30 PM. That day was not to be an exception. Our mother volunteered to clean and fry the fish so that we would eat them for dinner. My sister and I were becoming boisterous and housebound, and so she sent us out to play on our bicycles in the street. They were always several children outside, and we often played games on our bicycles. That evening Robert Mulkerrin joined us. Of course, I teased him and told him that instead of bad luck the ladder had rewarded us with an incredible fishing trip. He smiled and even then seemed unconvinced.

We played tag. The one who was ‘it’ carried a stick and chased the others to touch someone so that they became ‘it’. Our road was paved for the block near Robert’s house but towards our house, it was narrower, steeper, and unpaved. That’s where I had the accident. I was swerving to avoid being tagged and spilled putting my right arm to the ground to catch myself. It popped. I had dislocated my elbow and was hurriedly driven to the hospital. I remember going in feeling very cold and in pain and being given a sedative. I shall always remember the contrast, for when I awoke I was pain free and cozily warm. To me, it was a miracle.

Mother cooked the fish, but I never ate any. To this day, I wonder what they tasted like. I also wonder if Robert Mulkerrin went home convinced that he had irrefutable proof that walking under ladders is bad luck.

CONFESSIONS OF AN ANOREXIC

If you have ever studied someone on a diet, you may have noticed that they have an uncanny fascination in food. I recall a friend of mine, who would gaze lecherously at the leggy ladies on the underground posters, so much so that I knew exactly, which position his head would be in at any place on the escalator. Then, one day when I was with him, I noticed that instead of nylons, bras and swim wear, his attention was being held by bacon, sausages, and even whiskey advertisements. When I questioned him, as we waited for our train, he admitted that he was dieting, happy in the misplaced belief that I had noticed how much thinner he was becoming. Of course, I did not tell him how I had made my deduction. I have noticed the same phenomena among smokers who are trying to quit. You can often see them, gazing in hypnotic stare at anyone who is smoking, enjoying the inhales in a masochistic trance. They even develop a rhythm similar to the smoker’s, breathing in and out with a sighs as the smoker inhales and exhales his smoke.

When I was an anorexic I developed a similar fascination for food. Sometimes I would take a detour into Woolworths where I would wander along the ‘sweets’ (candy) counter gazing at the toffees, Smarties, marshmallows, fudge, and chocolate;  or I’d stand in a cloud of delight outside the baker’s shop literally eating the odor and image of all those nutritious cakes and biscuits. Once, when I had been hanging around the Woolworths’ counter for over fifteen minutes, my longing got the better of my upbringing and my fear of getting caught, and I stole a toffee. I slipped it quickly into my pocket. I un-wrapped it with my hand, thrust into the pocket. I don’t recall how I manipulated it into my mouth, but it got there. I remember its bitter sweetness and how I hurried guiltily from the store to spit it ungraciously into the gutter. Where, now was the girl who once worried for weeks about a simple little lie at school? She was buried in my subconscious, far distant from the girl I had become.

I parlayed my interest in food into a passion for cooking. I tried to take over from my mother, herself a gourmet chef. It gave me a thrill to be surrounded by the very substances which I needed but would not let myself touch. I created delicious and unusual concoctions which I would hardly taste. I even made sure to spit the morsels which I tasted during preparation into the kitchen sink. I thought of myself as a professional wine taster who swills the wine to get its flavor and then spits it out. I wanted to watch other people eating my creations. I would throw a crying fit if anyone wanted as little as I was eating or if anything was left over. It was almost as though I was trying to ensure that nobody else could rival my emaciation. It was a sacrificial prayer.

I have noticed that starvation also increases one’s senses. Smells become stronger, colors brighter, music more encompassing. It is akin to being on a continuous high. Since I emerged from my starvation period, I have never heard The Water Music played more beautifully or seen a more brilliantly hued Azalea. I theorize that this phenomenon is so that the starving animal is more equipped to acquire food in its weakened condition. I was weakened although at the time I didn’t realize it. I moved slowly, found walking upstairs a burden and was unable to keep up with the rest of the family when we shoveled snow.

If I shut my eyes and let myself fly back through time I become that girl of seventeen-going-on-eighteen. My body shrinks to five-and-a-half stones (77 lbs). I can feel my hip bones projecting through my skirt as they did then. I thrust my pelvis forward in an unnatural stance and glace down at my flat chest to see them sticking out with their angular symmetry. I touch them gently with my hand, not too hard for they are always bruised and any little bump hurts, but hard enough to feel them through the fabric. Then I run my hands slowly up to my sides, randomly counting ribs, and letting them slip across my neck feel my collar bones making a crisscross below my throat. I have an empty gnawing feeling in my stomach, and so I readjust my tight elastic belt, worn today outside my school skirt to prevent it from falling off, but worn on other occasions under my outer clothing to minimize hunger pains. I look forward to tonight’s bath when I will lie in the water and look down my flat front to my hip bones projecting like two mountain ridges with a smooth sunken valley between them.

My mind becomes fuzzy as I think about my next meal, I am always thinking about my next meal. I have a few more hours to wait. I plan how I shall spend the time itemizing the seconds so that I can help them to pass less painfully. I know that if I study and get totally engrossed in something that I will, at least momentarily, stop counting time. As I settle down to my study, I rationalize that I am too thin, that my parents are right, that I ought to stop dieting and eat. I make a resolve to eat at the next meal. With this comforting thought nagging at the back of my mind, I focus on my study.

At last, the next meal time arrives. I had to pass the last half hour outside walking up and down to prevent myself from rushing off and stealing something, anything, to eat. The meal begins. It smells delicious and looks good. I catch my mother’s eye about to announce my big decision, but something inside me snaps. I look down again thinking to myself that if I eat ‘normally’ she will, in some obscure way, score a victory that the ropes of my destiny will pass out of my trembling hands. I need to have control over my destiny. This is my life. I ask for a small helping. After the first ravenous mouthful, I force myself to eat slowly chasing the food around my plate so that it looks, as though I am eating more than I really am. So, here it is the substances which I have been looking forward to for at least three hours, and I am rejecting it. I burst into tears. I am in misery. I want to eat it and cannot as though under a spell. I want someone to comfort me. I feel so alone. I would like to rush and bury my head in my mother’s bosom, feel her arms around me, her hands caressing my hair, her voice gently chasing away my troubles and cleansing me. No-one offers to comfort me. I am spoiling yet another meal. I am blatantly disregarding their explicit advice and instructions. I remain unhappy un-consoled.

Hours later, in bed, I cry again. I cry for the passing of my freedom and the days of irresponsibility. I weep for my parent’s love which my rational tells me is still there, but my distorted mind tells me is lost, destroyed by me. I try to pray to God, someone who will show me a way out of my dilemma. I ask for an escape without making me into a fat idiot who will face up and take responsibility for the damage inflicted on self and family. No-one answers my wet prayers. I curl my cold limbs into a fetal position and turning my pillow to a cool dry spot fall into a troubled sleep. I fall asleep knowing that tomorrow I will make the same resolves, try again, but that there will be no solution and that the day will end just as today had ended. There will be the same battle in my head, the same hot tears pouring down my face.

In the middle of the night I awaken and creep around the house. I like the hidden lonely peacefulness. I go downstairs moving quietly so that I don’t disturb my light-sleeping mother. I go to the kitchen. Everything is silent. I bask in its secret charm and gaze out into the garden, eerie in the darkness. The plants are strangely lit, from the side glow of a nearby street light, and by the sky where a moon plays hide-and-seek with fast-moving fluffy clouds. I leave the window and go into the pantry. I look under the cake dome, under a pie dish lid, into the fruit dish. I leave them all and go to the sink to draw myself a large glass of icy cold water. I boil a kettle to make a hot-water bottle to cuddle. Relaxed in my solitude, I return upstairs hearing my mother turn as I pass. She calls out sleepily to me. I don’t answer and her steady breathing returns. I lie in bed; the hot-water bottle is pressed hard into the burning hollow of my empty stomach. I sleep.

ROSAMUND’S SLEEP.

Recently I read an anthology of short stories “What is Not Yours is Not Yours” written by Helen Oyeyemi.  Ms Oyeyemi writes a form of magical realism in which she morphs well known fairy and folk stories into her own modern day renditions. I found the technique fascinating especially as magical realism doesn’t generally appeal to me. The following is my attempt at something similar.  As an experiment I’ve written the mythical part of the story in the present tense. I invite comments.

The sleepy Cotswold village of Kidlington woke up one spring day in 2016 to an unexpected visit of three busloads of Asian tourists. The residents had had their village recorded as the largest Cotswold village; but, apart from this classification, they knew of no particular aspects of their community, which could, or indeed should, attract tourists. Due to an impenetrable language barrier, the villagers are unable to question their visitors and so local speculation ran the gambit.  Their story spread quickly even as additional coaches arrived.  The unexplained events became local if not national news resulting in impromptu coverage by a number of press teams. These individuals took photographs and interviewed residents but were also unable to discover the motivation behind the visits. Their interviews included Rosy, the elderly lady who explained that a tourist had requested permission, in sign language, to use her bathroom and, upon emerging had her companion photograph her standing in front of the porch under a profusion of fragrant pink rose blooms. They interviewed another gentleman who said that his front garden had been photographed repeatedly. The camera shot which covered this interview showed a typical English garden with mounds of flowering rose bushes.

If we backpedal almost 65 years to that same village of Kidlington and step outside the original village boundary we come upon to the grounds of a rich industrialist who built a secluded home for his young wife. He filled his garden with of roses and among the roses is a decorative fishpond. We see his wife sun bathing and dozing beside the pond. She dreams, or is she awake for she talks to a frog? She tells the frog, “Ah, if only we had a child!” to which the frog replies “Your wish shall be fulfilled; before a year has gone by you shall have a daughter.”

Now she sits and gazes into the pond to admire wriggling black tadpoles. She regards them as confirming symbols of fertility. Quickly, she stands, her skirt swirling around her ankles, and runs into her home. She dismisses the servants, and prepares a meal for her husband. When he arrives home, she greets him with a kiss, and they dine over champagne. They retire to their bedchamber to make ardent love throughout the night. In the morning, she tells him that she knows that their joint wish is fulfilled, and that she is carrying their daughter.

Of course she is right and in due course, the industrialist’s wife gives birth to a girl who is so pretty that the industrialist decides to throw a celebratory feast at her baptism.  He draws up a list of guests and includes their ten closest female relatives. His wife hesitating points out that there is another, eleventh relative who lives in the Outer Hebrides. She is a bad-tempered reclusive old maid who always has a mean word on her lips. The happy new parents rationalize that as she lives so far away she would never come to their celebration. They decide that even an invitation would be wasted on her. Besides, says the practical wife and mother, “We only have twelve Royal Crown Derby dinner services for the high table.”

The baptism goes smoothly with Rosamund, the baby, dressed in a ridiculously long hand-smocked white dress. The ensuing feast is a great success, and when the baptismal cake is cut and speeches made each of the ten female relatives bestows a special gift. The first gives an engraved bible to symbolize virtue. The second gives an heirloom set of carved ivory brushes and combs for her boudoir to symbolize her beauty. The third gives a shining pearl necklace to symbolize riches. The fifth an engraved silver mug to symbolize sobriety, and so on around the table. Just before the tenth stands to make her gift, the guests hear the sound of brakes squealing, a door slamming and in walks the Hebrides aunt. Her hair is disheveled, her clothing black, and her face screwed into an angry scowl. She strides up to the crèche in which Rosamund sleeps and tosses in a diamond and agate broach. She turns to the parents and, before they can apologize, yells “Your daughter shall, on her sixteenth birthday prick her finger causing her to fall and hit her head and,” she pauses before lowering her angry voice into a throaty snarl, “and die.” She turns and makes a whirlwind exit. The astonished guests hear her car speeding down the drive and away.

The proclamation is followed by a horrified uproar, when everyone speaks at once. She waits a few minutes and then the tenth female relative stands. She gently taps her glass with a fork to get attention for she is mild mannered and soft spoken. “My gift is this ancient woven silk shawl which was to symbolize longevity but now symbolizes that it shall not be death, but a deep sleep of a hundred years, into which Rosamund shall fall.” Her words cause as much disbelief and chatter as those of the Hebrides aunt.  The party quickly disperses as all ponder on the improbability of death caused by pricked fingers and the nonsensical concept of a hundred year sleep.

Time passes and the gifts of the women are plenteously fulfilled. Rosamund grows into a beautiful woman. She is modest, good natured and wise and is loved by all. Her parents are solicitously protective and shield her from all sharp objects. Her sixteenth year comes and goes. The family settles into their collective silent belief that the Hebrides curse was the unkind words of an unhappy old woman. Life goes on; Rosamund gets married and has a daughter who is baptized Rosa to distinguish her from her mother. In time Rosa grows up and has a daughter. Rosa’s daughter’s beauty outshines that of both mother and grandmother and so she becomes known as Rosamund-the Beauty.

When grandmother Rosamund approaches sixty-four years she plans a special birthday celebration to be held the weekend after her birthday in the house of her childhood in Kidlington. Her daughter whose birthday is around the same time is now thirty-six and so they decide to celebrate with a joint birthday cake frosted with the words “Happy Birthday, 100 Years” and decorated with garlands of pink sugar roses. Rosamund-the-Beauty who is now sixteen accompanies her mother and grandmother.

On the day of her birthday Rosamund pricks her finger as she puts on her diamond and agate broach. The prick is so sharp and such a surprise that she falls, and hits her head on the floor. She sustains a mild concussion, an ambulance is called. Hours later the Emergency Room sends grandmother Rosamund home to be carefully watched by loving daughter and grand-daughter.

The following afternoon an intern resident doctor makes a house call. Although it is March 1st the weather is unusually warm for England. He drives an open white convertible MG. He passes through the small gate house which is almost obscured by climbing roses. He drives up to the house. Everything is sleepily quiet; the only sound is that of his car engine and his wheels making a scrunching noise on the gravel drive. He shuts off his engine and stares up at the house which looks as though it is about to be smothered by the rose vines creeping across its façade. He steps out of his car and walks to the front door. The air is heavy with silence. He knocks; the sound seems to be sucked up by the silent air. He knocks again and then, receiving no response enters calling as he does so “Anyone home?” he has the uncanny impression that the house sleeps; He speculates that the excitement of the previous day may have taken its toll for even the dog doesn’t stir.  The silence becomes more enveloping; it makes him yawn. He fights the desire to sleep and thinks about his mission even questioning whether his patient might still be alive. He vaults up the stairs taking them two at a time. Grandmother Rosamund’s bedroom door stands open. He enters. This room is the epicenter of the house’s entranced sleep. Rosamund lies sleeping on her bed softly covered by a rose embroidered comforter. He reaches and takes her hand in his. He checks her pulse; it is normal. He is about to wake her when he sees the Sleeping Beauty. Rosamund-the-Beauty sleeps in a lounge chair beside the window. Her long hair curls down over her chest which gently moves up and down in her slumber. He can’t resist her loveliness, he has to touch her. He glances around the room once more and deduces that he is not observed. He walks over to her and stands beside her wrap in admiration. The he leans over and gives her a discrete kiss. She and her grandmother awake and, instead of consternation, greet him as though he were Prince Charming himself. They invite their Prince Charming to join their celebration the following day. This is when he sees the 100 year cake and discovers that since grandmother Rosamund’s birthday is February 29th this is her sixteen birthday celebration.

Some people in Kidlington believe that their strange visitors are readers of The Brothers Grimm Fairy Tale of “Sleeping Beauty” and that a poor translation made Kidlington into King’s Town. They come to admire the rose hedges and thickets which, the Brothers Grimm tell us, surrounded Sleeping Beauty’s home.

 

 

 

No Ladies First

underground

No ladies first in this diurnal rush,
Like insects, we swarm to red circles,
Each for himself, thrusting, fighting,
Down, onto crowded dim platforms,
Pushing ourselves into gaping monsters,
To stand, or sit, lonely sentinels.
Lives brought momentarily together.
Here, a pair enjoy hints of each other,
Indicating by eye and movement,
Promises of love’s naked intimacy.
But most, eyes behind unseeing stares,
Rocked and stultified in accustomed whir,
Succumb together to soporific swing.
Suddenly, deadened senses jar into recognition,
Sleepy eyes refocus,
We push and shove out of that airless thing,
To join the busy crowd surging upwards,
And fumbling for forgotten tickets,
We heave sighs of relief to emerge into daylight,
And recapture our humanity.

© Copyright, 9/18/16 Jane Stansfeld

Mating Insects

A few days ago, I received an ecstatic e-mail from my brother who is an ardent lepidopterist.  He wrote:

“Yesterday I saw two butterflies mating. It was wonderful. They were Green Veined Whites. The male sprays the female with an aphrodisiac dust that is so powerful that some humans claim to be able to smell it (apparently, it smells of lemon verbena). If the female consents, as she usually does, they mate and then go on a short nuptial flight together. In the process of mating the male doesn’t just inject sperm but 15% of his body weight – a nutrition boost for the female. It includes minerals the male has processed by drinking mud. This nutritious package helps the female survive longer and lay more and larger eggs. The pleasurable exchange makes many of them understandably promiscuous and reduces the longevity of the males. I waited for an hour in an area near our house where there are lots of Green Veined Whites and finally saw the thing I had been reading about. A real delight.”

His story brings to mind the Chinese use of butterflies to symbolize love and their folk lore story of the “Butterfly Lovers.” The following day as I went about my normal activities; I came upon my own insect observation and responded to my brother as follows:

It all began when I happened to notice a small lizard (gecko) body hanging tail down from our trumpet vines, which cover most of our back door overhead-trellis. I stared at this oddity only to realize that the lizard was dead and appeared to be caught up in the leaves of the vine. This needed investigation, so I looked more carefully and saw that the lizard was upside down because it was being eaten by a large green mantis. I could see its mouth, lethal beak-like snout and mandibles. It was working hard at its meal. I thought that it paused a moment to look at me with bulbous compound eyes. Did you know that the mantis has five eyes and antennae? There are the two huge bulbous eyes at the two outer corners of its triangular head and three smaller ‘simple’. The mouth and mandibles are located on the bottom angle of the head. 

After dinner with family, I took them out to see the spectacle only to discover that the mantis had dropped the lizard. At first, I thought that she had disappeared but then saw that she had turned and was slowly moving up into the full cover of the vine. Now, here is the shock, for on her back was the body of another mantis. They were attached at their rear ends. My son-in-law speculated that the second body might be a discarded exoskeleton, but then it hit me – this headless body, which was still attached to her rear was the remains of her mate!

Yes, I didn’t see the ritual, but of course I had to do so on line. The Internet tells me that not all mating results in cannibalism; however, it showed a film clip of one such event. The male, who is a good bit smaller than the female approaches and washes his head rather as a cat does by licking his front raptorial fore-legs and wiping them over his head. He approaches as he washes, and suddenly she grabs him. She securely grips his lower body under one of her fore-legs while immobilizing his upper body with the other one. She guides him onto her back where he attaches and starts a pulsating flow of genetic material. She, meanwhile, severs his neck and starts to eat his decapitated head. The odd part is that the beheaded male body continues to pulsate and, according to the Internet, the flow of genetic material increases after the decapitation.”

I didn’t tell my brother that the Internet article reported that the male mantis has a “mini supplemental brain” in its rear section to enable it to continue copulation even after losing its head. The statement made me wonder at the frequent allusion that men often think with their sex organs!

My brother responded with a wise crack that he was glad that he wasn’t eating lunch when he read my e-mail! He went on to speculate whether the Mantis could be personalized into a sci-fi story in which the mantis-like aliens are given feelings. He invited me to investigate what the male might be thinking. It is odd, but the Internet narrative concluded with a like speculation on the male mantis’s thoughts in his ecstatic death.  I didn’t respond for my take is that the Muslim suicide bomber comes close to the experience of the male mantis. He dies in the expectation of his virgins, while the mantis dies while enjoying his copulation.

As for the butterflies; I believe that my brother audited their copulation in vicarious enjoyment of their dance and lemon-scented aphrodisiac dust. His story comes close to that of the Chinese Butterfly Lovers.

 

The train flirtation

 Amelia loved King’s Cross station. Even in her present state of mind, when she approached the ticket gate at the train platform entrance, she paused and looked up at the giant vaulted roof with its wide double span. As always she marveled at the structure’s functional decorative ironwork and ancient glass roof, which bathed everything in daylight. Then she looked to the long side walls to admire the intricately detailed red-brick walls of the outer enclosure. They rose in Victorian majesty. 

When she brought her gaze back down Amelia noticed that her homeward, Durham-bound train was already standing at the platform. She saw passengers milling around searching for their assigned cars. This concerned her because she didn’t have a reserved seat. She walked briskly down the platform looking into each window as she passed.  Towards the front of the second/standard-class coaches, she found a few empty unassigned seats in groups of four separated by tables. She stowed her small suitcase in the luggage rack at the end of the coach and walked down the center to select a window seat facing the direction of travel. She would have preferred the relative privacy of a seat without a table even though there was always a risk that she might be hemmed in by an unwelcome fellow traveler, an obese person who would spread into her space or worse someone who talked incessantly or someone with bad body odor.  She placed her purse and cardigan on the seat beside her. She hoped that it might look as though the seat was taken. Then she opened her iPad and began to read in a futile attempt to block out her surroundings and also, perhaps, deter anyone from asking her to clear the seat next to her.

Amelia had just turned twenty-one and glowed with health. She wore an op-art navy blue and white dress. Its swirling skirt and tight waist accentuated her figure; while its color harmonized well with her sun-tan achieved during her vacation with friends in France.  Her hair was cropped short and streaked golden by the sun. Her nails were beautifully manicured and painted a vivid red. She, and her French friends had treated themselves to manicures and pedicures in Nice the day before she flew back to London. She should have been completely happy, but instead she felt sad, dejected and inadequate. When the train pulled out of the station, she put down her iPad and looked out the window. She congratulated herself for having no immediate fellow travelers in her foursome of seats, and indulged in a faint self-congratulatory smile. Then, as she watched the London suburbs whirr past her mood changed. She took out a tissue and dabbed her eyes and blew her nose. When the train emerged from the second tunnel, her unhappy reverie was interrupted.

“Are these seats vacant? May I sit here?”

Amelia glanced at the speaker. She resented his intrusion on her private reverie but when she saw his bewitching smile, she could only answer,

“The seats are not taken, feel free!”

She pretended to read on, but surreptitiously watched him fold his jacket, take out a book and slide into the seat opposite hers. She liked what she saw, well built, slender hips, broad chest, and handsome face. He gave her a winning smile and seemed to fumble with his hands for a moment before he spoke, his voice lilted with friendly mockery,

“It’s nice to be watched by a beautiful woman!”

 “Well, I …” she stammered as she blushed.

“No excuses necessary; I’ve made you blush. We’d better meet.” He stretched his right hand.

 “Name’s Michael. Pleased to meet you! By the way you enchant when you blush!”

Amelia felt her whole face glow, and although the rising blood made her hot and embarrassed, it eclipsed her sad reverie. She wouldn’t normally have opened up to a strange man, however good-looking, but somehow this was different. She stretched out her hand,

“My name’s Amelia, how do you do, Michael?”  His hand was soft and warm, his grasp firm. She tembled as they shook hands. “That’s better,” he said, “now you should tell me why you are so sad! But, no, on second thoughts how about first having a cup of tea and some breakfast?”

“No, I ….”

“It’s OK. I insist, it’s on me. It’s not every day that I am with such a lovely woman! I’m sure that you haven’t eaten today and a cup of tea always cheers one up!

“Well maybe a cup of tea would be nice.”

“Sure it would; and we are right next to the buffet car.” Michael was already on his feet. He moved with ease down the coach. Amelia watched him go. She admired his figure and easy walk. When he returned he carried a tray loaded with scones and tea. Amelia marveled at so much food until he sat down and passed her a laden plate.

“Now let’s see you eat something.” His voice was solicitous and kind.

Amelia thanked Michael and ate, suddenly realizing how hungry she was. As they ate they talked about the weather, a favorite topic for all English persons. Then they talked about the recent Brixit vote and speculated on what its ultimate impact would be. While they talked, Amelia further assessed Michael, she estimated him to be somewhere between twenty-three and twenty-five, hair thick and brownish red and eyes. Oh his eyes, they were a perfect sky blue. Amelia’s family all had brown eyes, which meant that blue ones always mesmerized her, and Michael’s were intense. His open-necked shirt was exactly the same color which further accentuated their impact. When they had finished their food and conversation lagged Amelia rose.

“That hit the spot, thank you, Michael. Now I think that I’ll go to the toilet; wash my hands.”

His blue eyes sparkled and he leant forward and gave her an intense look, “Going to powder that cute little shiny nose,” he joked.

Amelia blushed again although up until he suggested it; she had not thought of powdering her nose.  She walked slowly up the coach conscious that he was watching her and sure that he liked what he saw. The toilet was small but had a tiny mirror and so Amelia took the time to redo her lip liner and lipstick and to add a little more liquid make-up to her nose, powder being a thing of the past for her. She brushed her hair and came out, feeling like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis.  As she walked down the coach toward him she enjoyed his welcoming smile and returned his gaze with one of her own. When she reached their table he stood up and reached forward to assist her into her seat.

“Thank you,” she said “You are such a gentleman!”

“When an alluring young woman with a secret sorrow, captivating blush and freshly powdered nose approaches I couldn’t do otherwise!” When she was seated he leant across the table and took her hands in his. “Now tell me why you are so sad, perhaps I can help.”

Amelia didn’t think that he could help but the warmth of his hands and depth of his gaze inspired her into confidence. She told him how she had met Charles when she was in high school, how they had dated for several years, how they had maintained their friendship through college even though they were attending different universities.  Then she told how she had returned home to Durham at the beginning of the summer to see him with her best friend and how they had quarreled.

“So you still love him?”

“Yes, of course I still love him, but after the things I said it is all over!”

“You still love him and yet you talk to me. Might he not be equally jealous if he were to see us together?

“Yes, but….”

Michael paused letting several minutes pass and then he asked, “Didn’t your trip to Nice help?” Amelia told him that she had hoped that it would but it had had the opposite effect because she had always been the outsider “ as “l’anglaise”. She told him that, even though she spoke good French, she had a hard time following the subtleties of the group’s discourse. Over the month they had paired up leaving her alone. The experience gave her a sense of unworthiness and made her feel unattractively gauche. On  her return she had spent the previous night with a friend in a Baron’s Court flat only to be further depressed when the friend gave  her a key and left her alone while she went out to dinner  with  her new boyfriend . Michael told Amelia that she had allowed her break-up with Charles to cloud her judgement. He urged her to re-establish her self-esteem. His words comforted, but his presence and actions did more. She kept trying to get him to talk about himself but all she could get him to disclose was that he lived in Edinburgh and had been to London on a business trip.

After Amelia’s confession Michael guided their discussion to the books that they were reading and from thence to general topics. After York and then Darlington, getting closer and closer to Durham Amelia became increasingly excited and then she grabbed Michael’s hand,

“Michael, look” she pointed through the window, “there is Durham Cathedral – how I love that view”

Michael followed her instruction, “It is stunning, like the little lady who lives there! It’s a pity but I suppose that it’s time to get your bag.”

A few minutes later, the train slowed down and stopped at Durham station. Amelia was so excited at arriving in Durham that she momentarily didn’t think about having to say good bye to Michael or even to try to establish a way that they could meet again. Everything happened so fast Michael opened her door, she stepped out. Instead of her parents on the platform, she saw Charles. He was there to meet her, which could only mean one thing. A wave of joy pulsated through her body, but she didn’t run into his arms. She paused to look back at Michael. He waved to her from the window of the moving train. As he waved the mid-day sun silhouetted his head in a halo of light. Charles put his arm around her; she stood and let him hold her while she continued to watch the train disappear around a bend in the tracks.

Michael smiled when he saw Charles hug Amelia. Then he turned and pulled his wedding ring out of his pocket and slipped it on.