The Sick Story

There is a children’s book called The Sick Story, by Linda Hirsch with illustrations by John Wallner. I don’t remember if I liked the book. The story is about a pushy only-child whose parents give in to her every whim. I think, even as a kid, I could see how bratty and nasty she was.  But what stuck in my head after all these years wasn’t the story at all. The part I remember most is the illustrations. Lively, detailed little drawings of a sort-of sick, curly-haired girl.  Simple pen and ink, but full of detail.  Just watching the way her bedroom progresses from neat and tidy to a wasteland of dirty tissues, tossed aside magazines, comic books and tea cups is entertaining all by itself.

This morning I woke up with a stuffed up head, wheezy and achy.  After two cups of coffee, with my brain barely functioning, I thought of a picture from that book that summed up how I felt.  Luckily, for all of you, I still have the book so you can see it too…

The face is perfect, with her ‘I’m wallowing in self-pity’ tongue sticking out. (illustration by John Wallner)

When I was a little kid, the word ‘home’ meant my bed.  The cozy comfort, the feeling of safety. I think of my mom rubbing my back all those nights I couldn’t sleep, wheezy and feeling sorry for myself and never imagining how little sleep the mother of five kids could have had back then.

As an adult, the word ‘home’ means this desk, this computer, my kitchen and my coffee maker. Those are the things I miss when I am away.

But right now, when I am feeling achy and miserable, these things don’t bring me comfort.

I want a tray with chicken broth in a teacup and a grilled cheese sandwich and a ginger ale.

I want my childhood bed and my mom rubbing my back.

Sometimes,  the word home isn’t a place; it is a time.

And right now, I want to go home.

A Revelation

There is, Kate thought to herself, nothing better than the calm beauty of space.  As long as one is tethered to a place with air. 

Her eyes traced the long white tube that lead from her space suit back to the little mining skiff she and Steve had borrowed for their mission to see the damage up close. Through a small port-hole on the side of the ship she could catch glimpses of Steve’s head bobbing around as he struggled with the skiff’s unfamiliar controls. Slowly, carefully, no quick movements in zero gravity, she turned away from the only source of light. Her eyes took a moment to re-adjust to the dim light of distant stars.  Still seemed strange that the sun was just another star here at the edge of the solar system.

A dark shape, visible only by the way it blocked the stars, floated in front of her.  No light came from the damaged side of the space station.  The far side, the undamaged part, where people still lived, had plenty of light, none of which could be seen from her position.

Steve’s voice came over her com, “Aha! I think I found it.”

A burst of light temporarily blinded Kate, and even Steve, looking out through the port-hole, cursed at the unexpected brightness.

“What the hell? What’s it reflecting off of?” He asked.

“I’ll let you know in an hour or two when I can see again.” Kate said. wishing she could reach up a hand and wipe away the tears.  She felt a brief swirling of air on her face, and the moisture evaporated. “Uh. That was cool.” she said.

“What?” Steve asked.

“This space suit is pretty sophisticated.  I though the mining company was struggling.”

“So I heard, ah, wait, here we go.” The light became less painful.  “Found an ‘intensity’ dial, ‘course it’s nowhere near the light switch.”

Kate blinked a few more times and finally saw the cause of the light’s reflection. What looked like some sort of crystal completely covered the damaged area.

It was, in its own way, beautiful.

“Steve, can you see this?” She asked, her voice almost a whisper.

“Yeah,” he answered, his own voice uncharacteristically breathy. “looks like shards of ice.”

“Impossible,” she said, “if there was a leak, it would have confined itself to a small area, not spread so evenly and completely. ”

“I wasn’t saying it was ice, I said it looked like ice.”

Kate heard the exasperation in his voice.  She didn’t know why she was always so pointed with him.

“Sorry. Alright, I’m moving closer.”

She reached for the hand throttle, then stopped, recalling the conversation she’d had with her father.

When you are out there, just give my ‘crack brained theory’ as you so lovingly termed it, a try.” He’d asked her, “I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Kate held in a sigh and decided it couldn’t hurt. She took a deep breath and thought about moving. She thought about the jets on her backpack firing in the precise order and strength needed to start her moving gently forward. If what her father said was true, the hand throttle and the direction controls strapped to her boots were just props. A focus for the brain, but not actually involved in the working of the jet pack.

Nothing happened.

“You ok there, Kate?”

“Fine.” She grabbed the entirely functional hand throttle and moved forward.

A long time ago, her father was the star of her solar system.  Everything she did revolved around obtaining his approval.  But now, their positions seemed reversed.  No longer was he the brilliant inventor the President called directly when he needed help. Her father was only a crazy old man whom people indulged out of respect for previous accomplishments. Now she was the one receiving the five AM call: we need you.

Kate moved in closer to the edge of the damage.  The most troubling aspect of the accident was the lack of a debris field.  An explosion in space should cause a debris field.  Even if all the pieces of debris were vaporized in the explosion, the vapor at least would leave a trail.  Something to represent trajectory and explosive force.  Something for her to examine.  A place to start her calculations.

The initial imagery in the accident report showed only the carved out section of station she could see now, albeit a little less ‘brilliant’ than reality.  Her first reaction didn’t change.  It still looked as if huge serving spoon had carved out a chunk of a space station cake. A perfectly smooth elliptical section of the station scooped away like so much rich dessert.

Kate moved a bit closer, then stopped, using the reverse thrusters on the boots and the sides of her helmet to cancel out her forward motion, when she was almost close enough to touch the crystal-like spikes at the edge of the bowl-shaped area.

Every spike was perfectly perpendicular to the surface it arose from. As if something pulled the missing part of the space station away, stretching out the metal between. So not like cake, more like taffy.  What she was seeing did not fit in with any possible explosive scenario she could think of.  What it fit with was a sudden black hole. A black hole that existed only long enough and strong enough to suck in a small amount of the mass around it then disappear. Which was impossible. Wasn’t it?

She pulled a digital caliper from her belt pack, stretching out the two long sensors as she moved just a little bit… Wait a second.

That’s impossible.

She hadn’t touched the hand throttle.  Both hands were on the calipers. But she had moved.

The space suit had reacted to her thoughts. Exactly the way her father said it would. Two impossibilities in less than a minute.  She must be going crazy.

“Kate! Your suit, you’re losing pressure!” Steve called out.

Kate felt a tingling sensation in her right calf muscle. She moved her leg then looked down to see a puff of red mist escaping from just above the metal boot.

“And now I’m bleeding.” Her voice sounded distant to her own ears.

“Kate! I’m pulling you in!” Steve’s panic snapped her out of the momentary shock.

“Hold on!” She called out. Kate looked down and saw that the almost invisible ends of the spikes had embedded themselves in her boot and punctured her suit. She backed away slowly but she didn’t get the angle right and a few spikes broke off in her boot and suit.  The spikes were longer than she’d thought. Whatever had pulled away the missing chunk of the station must have shrunk to an infinitesimally small point before disappearing altogether, and the metal left behind probably stretched to the atomic level.

Backing away, using the hand and foot controls as usual. Kate moved to a more central point and could see what she missed before.  All the metal spikes didn’t just point away perpendicular from the damaged edge, they all pointed to a single spot.  The center of the ‘scoop.’

“Kate, your suit is damaged. you need to get back in here.”

“Yes, I know, I’m coming.”

Kate turned around and started moving to the skiff. Her head swam with all the new revelations she’d gained in the past few moments.  But the most amazing one of all was the thought that her father was right.  He wasn’t crazy after all.  The thought made her smile.

Part of an ongoing Serial: A Life Investigated 


Again with the Self Promotion, seriously?

Hello World!

Hello to all the real life friends and the fake life friends and to all the lovely spambot followers who swell my ego every day!

I am super-duper excited to announce to all of you that I am splitting myself in half!

Woo Hoo!

Because ONE blog just isn’t enough for a SUPER BLOGGER, which of course, I am.

So now you can find me in two places!


Mind of a Mouse will continue to hold my scattered thoughts – most of which are true(ish).

The Elephant Under the Chair is the place where all my made up stories will go – most of which are false(ish).

Thanks for reading!

USSS Theodore Roosevelt

The new president stood in the oval office on January 20, 2053, and finished thanking his supporters, “The speeches are over my friends, we made it!” The group erupted into cheers and applause. The applause was the cue the servers had been waiting for. They entered and passed out twenty-five glasses of poisoned champagne.

A fast acting laxative entered the bodies of the guests and one by one, with polite excuses, they left the room. In minutes, the president was alone with his bodyguard. They looked at each other, then heard a knock at the door. The guard opened the door and let in a small old woman wearing the clothing of a server. She shuffled to the center of the room, spun in a circle while spreading her arms wide, and announced, “The day has come!”

The guard moved forward to grab her. His hands passed right through her body as if she wasn’t there.

“Who are you?” The president asked. His foot found the panic button on the floor, but he didn’t press down on it.

“Me? Oh, I’m nobody. I’m just the messenger.” She stopped spinning and faced the president. “Tonight you will be visited by three spirits!” She laughed.

The president started to press down on the button.

“No! Please! Not yet,” she said, “I was kidding. I’ve been here an awfully long time, waiting for you to arrive. I’m just a bit giddy.”

The guard moved to open the door but it wouldn’t budge.

“I’m sorry dear, you can’t leave yet,” she said. “Don’t worry, this won’t take long.”

The president pressed his foot down.

“Oh, I wish you hadn’t done that. You’ve ruined all my fun! I had so many great lines to say.” With dramatic flourishes she recited, “’Luke, I am your father,’ and, ‘Fly, you fools’ and, ‘Rule one: Cardio.’” She sighed. “Oh well. Here’s the condensed version.”

The old woman was replaced by a young man. He sat in an invisible chair; his eyes focused slightly above the president’s shoulder.

“Commander Hans Lindar, calling from the USSS Theodore Roosevelt. We were wrong about the source of the particles, sir. They aren’t coming from the asteroid, they’re coming from an alien ship that is flying behind it. We think the ship was pushing the asteroid but it’s changed direction and is now closing in on us fast.”

Lindar blinked, then swallowed. “Sir, it has not responded to our hails. I… We have no way to defend ourselves, but it may not be hostile. Either way, by the time you receive this, the outcome of our encounter will be decided.”

The commander looked away. “If this is the last message you receive, please tell our loved ones our thoughts are with them.” He refocused and continued, “Prepare yourselves. That ship is enormous; it’s bigger than the asteroid. I’ve never seen an alien spaceship before but that thing scares the crap out of me. Good luck. Lindar out.”

The old woman replaced Lindar. “You’ve got nine months,” she said, “make ’em count! Hasta la vista, baby!” With a wave, she disappeared.

The president picked up the phone. “Frank. Yeah, we’re fine here, false alarm, but I need to see Hans Lindar right away then get word to NASA that we’re delaying the launch of the USSS Theodore Roosevelt. It needs a few modifications.”

Disregard the Clouds

A swirl of dark clouds crouched on the horizon in an angry knot, obscuring the sun. The old man saw where Laura was looking and said, “Don’t worry, the wind’s coming in from the northwest, that storm’ll head off east without coming anywhere near here.”

They sat on the back porch eating homemade ice cream and enjoying the cooler air of the early evening before the mosquitoes chased them back inside again.

Laura couldn’t believe how amazing the ice cream tasted. She’d watched her sister’s husband, Charlie and his father make it, it looked so simple, cream, sugar, vanilla, but it tasted better than any ice cream she’d ever had. It made no sense that the expensive stuff in the store couldn’t taste like this. They’d all taken turns cranking the handle on the antique ice cream maker. Maybe that was why it tasted so good. Even Little Charlie with his wiry strength had helped.

“Grandpa, how can you know that? You’re not a weatherman,” Little Charlie said around licks of the cone. The ice cream had melted in rivulets over the boy’s fingers. He sat on the edge of the porch, swinging his feet over the tops of the flowers planted below.

“What, you think the weathermen know anything?” the old man laughed. “They just stand there and read a script.”

“Well, the meteorologists know, and they’re the ones who tell the weathermen what to say.”

“Huh, you keep believing that, kid. No one can predict the weather.”

“But you just did.” Little Charlie said.

His grandfather roared laughter, almost spitting out his ice cream. “Kid, you are too smart for me!” he said when he caught his breath.

Laura looked through the window into the kitchen to see her sister frowning. Lynn didn’t like it when people told her son he was smart. Laura thought that was ridiculous. The kid was brilliant and everyone knew it. He was only nine and tested at a tenth grade level in every subject. Lynn held him back in school though, because of his size.

Laura looked back at the sky. The dark clouds still looked threatening, but the sun was starting to poke around the edge of the mass. The sky seemed so big out here. At home in the city she never noticed it, unless it was spitting rain at her as she ran from her apartment to the subway station. But out here, she couldn’t get away from it. Everywhere she looked, the sky forced itself into her awareness as if it resented her usual disregard.

Lynn came out with a paper towel for Little Charlie. He snatched it out of her hand before she could wipe his face for him. Laura hid a smile.

Lynn had her hair pulled back in her usual pony-tail. The sun glinted off the shiny grays and brought out the wrinkles around her eyes. Before she’d had her son, everyone guessed Lynn was the younger of the sisters. But after the premature birth and the three months of living in the neonatal care unit, there’d been no question anymore.

Laura looked at Little Charlie and wondered what he thought of his mother. He was such a happy kid. Equally adept academically and socially. Always the shortest, but also the most coordinated, he excelled at every sport. He was already pushing his mother away, how long until he came to resent her?

In the most hidden corner of her mind Laura remembered how much she’d hated him when he was born. She hated the pain and sorrow he’d caused her beloved sister, and the way he consumed Lynn’s every waking thought. Lynn had no time for a younger sister just starting a new job in the city, needing an older sister’s advice and counsel. Laura remembered standing in the hospital corridor, staring through the glass at the tiny infant covered in tubing and wires, and wishing he would just die and let everyone get back to normal.

It was hard for her to connect those feelings to the way she felt about her nephew now. He was kind and sweet, funny and smart, a joy to be around. She really only came out to visit as often as she did to see him. Her relationship with Lynn had never gone back to the way it had been before.

The sun shone brightly, a strange contrast with the heavy, dark clouds moving off to the east.

“Hey Charlie,” Laura said, “Maybe next weekend, before school starts, you can come visit me in the city.”

Charlie yelped, “Can we go to the big toy store?”

Laura ignored Lynn’s glare, “Sure. We’ll have a sleep over and play Xbox –  just Minecraft,” she added quickly to hold off her sister’s objections to ‘violent’ video games. “And I’ll let you stay up as late as you want,” Laura finished with a glare of her own.

Charlie stuffed the rest of the cone in his mouth and chewed while putting his hands together like he was praying. “Can I Mom, please.” He begged around the mouthful.

Lynn sighed, “Fine. Next Saturday,” she said to her son, then to her sister, “but you must have him back early Sunday morning, in time for mass.” Laura nodded in agreement.

“Awesome!” Charlie bounded off the porch, leapt onto his bike and showed his favorite aunt how he could do figure eights with no hands.

She’d leave tomorrow. Follow the clouds east back to her apartment in the city. Back to her quiet, somewhat lonely life, where those same clouds, as frightening as they looked here, wouldn’t even be noticed.

The Minutes from Now til Dreamtime

Trapped by the rain, and it turns out the list of projects set aside for a rainy day, or two or three, were set aside not for lack of time, but for lack of interest. So we struggle to find ways of clearing the dull pitter-patter of monotony from our brains.

We imagine what it might be like in a world where all living must be done indoors, during the next ice age or heat age, or whatever you call it. Everyone on the planet living in skyscrapers, like monkeys in stacked cages, raining monkey shit.

But cozy is better than palatial, and loneliness will kill you.  We’d all be better off in packed multi-generational homes, with the old to mind the young while the middles provide.

Or better, with robots to do the farming, (they wont mind the heat or cold) the cooking and cleaning.  A world where there is no more need for money and there are no more bad jobs and we all get to dress for dinner.  Grandmas and great-grandmas arguing with the youngsters over clothing and partner choices at the cozy dining table while the robots serve, always on the right, please. (is that right?)

But then we are back to the start. The boring beginning. Searching for something to fill the minutes from now til dreamtime.

I drank, I ate, I read, I wrote, I walked, I swam, I laughed. I did not cry (yet).

I drank coffee this morning, made from beans grown in a hot and rainy place, very far away from here.  I had to grind the beans in the ear-drum grating grinder under the terrified eyes, or ears, of my little niece who was not convinced that shoving the grinder inside an oven mitt and wrapping it all in a dish towel would make the sound any less offensive.  She was probably right, but I made an amazed face as I pushed the button and said, over the noise, “Wow! what a difference that makes!”  She is at that wonderful age where she can choose to believe, or not, as the mood suits, knowing all the adults around her will go along with her version of reality.  Luckily, this morning, she chose to believe, and I was able to brew my coffee without the flavoring of five-year-old tears.

I ate a sandwich of bread and mayonnaise and salami this afternoon.  I made it myself – and so I only put four thin slices of salami on it. Which is plenty. Really.  What is the point of a sandwich that does not lend itself to being eaten in small, lady-like bites? I want a comfortably sized sandwich in one hand and a book in the other.  Simple and neat.   Once, a long time ago, I was a regular at a deli. The man behind the counter found my constant requests for less meat upsetting.  I suppose I ruined the beauty of his daily creation by telling him it was just too big.  Like that scene in Amadeus when the king (or whatever he is) says to Mozart that his latest opera has “Too many notes.” Beauty is in the eyes/ears/mouth of the beholder/listener/eater.

I read the first chapter of a new book today.  I’ve waited a long time for this one:  The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch.  ( I wrote about his delay in writing here.) I downloaded the free preview onto my kindle.  It starts off strong, but I have to wait until I get paid again before I can read the rest.  I won’t look at the reviews before I read it.  If it is something I want to love, I will not allow any negative thoughts to color my potential enjoyment.  Some scientists did a study showing that spoilers do not ruin your own enjoyment of a piece of entertainment, but I don’t believe it. The study is redeemed by the fact that it defends re-reading. An activity I partake in often when I can’t afford to buy something new.

I wrote today – some of this, some of that.  Stories, chapters, e-mails, chats, texts.  Thousands of words, letters, sounds and ideas pouring from my mind, through my fingertips and out onto various screens. Bleeding out like so much blood and bodily fluids, and hopefully just as replaceable. And now I am writing a blog post – something I find hard to do when my mind is full of other projects. But there are unspoken rules in blogging, Thou Must Publish Often, being first among them.  It is not a competition, and nobody wins, but there is a level of ‘success’ to be found in the daily statistics.  While I do not let them rule my internal meter of happiness the way I used to, I still pay attention. Forgive me reader, it has been many days since my last post.

I walked with my sister and her kids today. The weather is odd in this part of the country.  My mind matches the word October with colorful leaves and cool days.  Not this humid greenness.  Not lizards scrambling across sun warmed sidewalks and dragonflies bouncing off the trampoline surface of a pool.  A sprinkler system timer tripped its switch as we walked by and we were all running, high-pitched squeals emanating from adults and kids alike, but the water was cool so we turned back and ran through it again for fun.  And even drenched, the day was still hot, and we looked forward to a dip in the pool at the end of the walk….

swimming pool
swimming pool (Photo credit: freefotouk)

I swam today, back and forth, butterfly strokes like the old ladies did when I was a kid at the pool. I wanted the exercise but I didn’t want to get my head wet and I didn’t want to exhaust myself.  What seemed so boring and slow then is refreshing and invigorating now. It all makes sense now.  The kids climbed in and out, in and out, scraping bare bellies over rough stone.  I cringed and turn away, but it didn’t seem to hurt them.  They played in the shallow end, dumping plastic cups of water over their heads, exactly the way they won’t do later in the bath.  It makes no sense to me now, but I remember the feeling, so I guess it did when I was a kid.

I laughed today. While my niece and nephew looked at me, heads tilted in confusion, I tried to read the tongue twister in the bedtime story they chose, and I just couldn’t get it right.  They laughed too but not because they thought anything was really funny.  Another book and more laughter, only that time they were the originators and I was the one that caught the laughter like a cold.  The book made no sense to me and yet it had them in hysterics. It strikes me how easy it is to tell the genuine laugh from the mimic and how young we are when we learn to fake appropriate emotional responses.

I have not cried today, but I may yet.  I might watch a movie that will make me sad.  I don’t know why, but I like that feeling. Sadness that really has nothing to do with me or my life.  Sadness that will end when the movie ends. It makes it easier to sleep, that pseudo-sadness, I find it soothing. A bath, a cup of warm milk, a good cry, and the day is done.

Good Night.