At the Top of the Week

My hand and arm are doing better, but I’m still having pain with certain movements.  I managed to get groceries last week, but I need to do wash and change my bed, and take out garbage.  It takes two hands to carry the plastic clothes basket, two hands to make the bed, and it takes two hands to wrestle the plastic bag out of my flip top stainless steel trash can, and maybe Tuesday.

When I bought groceries, I bought a six-pack of eggs.  When I was frying up a pair of them for breakfast, I happened to glance at the egg carton and noticed a grammar error.  Much like the northern US, we have bilingual products here, too, although usually the other language besides English is Spanish.  (Occasionally we do get English/French, depending on the product, and sometimes all three.) Anyway, the labeling on the egg carton proclaimed that I had Huevos Grande.  (Grade A Large Eggs)  Of course, it should be “Huevos Grandes.”  Alguien no estaba prestado atención.

Today is leap day, not one of my favorite red lettuce days since it only happens during a Presidential election year.  This whole election business gives me the pip.  I have studiously avoided watching TV for health reasons.  All the campaign ads jack up my blood pressure, and Donald Trump rubs my dander the wrong way, bigtime.  If I had my way, he’d win the Republican nomination, run against Hillary Clinton, and she’d beat the socks off him.  Just think.  Then we could have such fun working out what to call Bill (that could be said in front of the children, that is . . .) Would he be the First Gentleman? (There would, no doubt, be some rather brisk debate as to whether he qualifies as a gentleman at all, never mind a First one.)  But, as a former President himself, he would also be the first spouse of a President to have also been President (there’s a precedent for you).

At some point today, I have to go to the bank and pay my rent.  I also have to meet my BFF at Sears so she can get a cellphone. I also have to go over to my mom’s and find out what the deal is with the TV in her bedroom.  All she gets is snow.  There’s no telling.  The cable box she’s got back there is 2 years older than dirt.  It may have finally gone kaput.  Such is life.


By The Light Of A Torch Song

Mag Challenge 196

This was written over a year ago and has sat in the “draft pile”  It’s done now, I think. Another tale of an old crow and her beau and a little bar in Greenwich Village called “Cobalt.”

wings 5It was a little hole-in-the-wall joint tucked away in an unfashionable part of the East Village.  Dexter stumbled upon it by chance one evening.  The entrance was down in a basement well with the door set at a right angle to the street. He must have walked right by it a hundred times and never noticed it. The only inkling of its existence was a small squiggle of a sign set above the door that said “Cobalt” in cobalt blue neon which would intermittently flicker and go off, stay off for a while, flicker and come back on again.  That’s how he’d come to notice it.  The sign had been off, and flickered back on just as he was walking up the sidewalk toward it.  Curiosity had gotten the better of him and he’d gone down to investigate.

There wasn’t much to the place.  Solid wood door with a little sliding “speakeasy” window and a squeaky hinge that let onto about 8 feet of landing, left turn and down about fifteen concrete steps lit by bare bulbs, left turn again, through a short hallway and out into a low-ceilinged, cavern-like room with a bare concrete floor.  There was about ten feet of bar on the end by the stairs, a stage down at the other end just big enough for drums, upright piano, and a couple of chairs for the side men du jour, and in between a collection of maybe fifteen cocktail tables surrounded by an assortment of arm chairs, love seats, and ottomans, all standard  Salvation Army issue.  Indirect fluorescent lighting washed down the black-painted plaster walls, and each of the four square concrete pillars had a couple of those movie theater floor-directed lights placed knee-high around it.

That first night, he’d found an out of the way corner, and ordered a Coors Light.  He’d had a particularly crappy day at work and as he sat listening to the surprisingly eclectic mix of music on the surprisingly good sound system, the tension of the day had just drained out of him like water out of a bathtub. It was a slow night, and one of the waitresses, Sachi, had sat down and talked to him for a while. The next thing he knew, Dexter was telling her all about his dead-end job and how much he hated it, and the assholes he worked for and with, and how he never seemed to fit in anywhere and how he always felt like a third wheel.  She’d seemed interested and sympathetic but, of course, she was just being nice to the customer.

Still, he found himself going back again and after he’d been a couple more times, he found out that they opened at 6:00 and that you could bring food in and eat it there if you didn’t make a mess and bussed up after yourself.  That’s when he started coming straight after work.  He’d pick up some takeout on the way, and then just sit quietly and listen to the music for the rest of the night, and drink a couple beers.

Sometimes they had live music, but it was never advertised and didn’t seem to be scheduled.  Just whoever showed up and wanted to play.  They played what Dexter assumed was jazz.  Most of it he had never heard before, but he decided he liked it.   One night it would be piano and string bass and trumpet, and another night, it was drums, electric guitar and flute, and then drums and piano and string bass.  But then last Tuesday, the bartender and one of the men customers put an armchair up on stage and about an hour later, this woman wandered in, slender, with dark hair in a single braid all the way down her back, and she was carrying a large cloth bag.  She got up on the stage, sat down in the arm chair, pulled out this thing she was knitting and sat there and knitted and sang, one song after another, just her singing, for almost two straight hours, in English once or twice, but mostly in what Sachi told him later was Gaelic, and it was the most incredibly beautiful singing he had ever heard.

Today, he’d stopped by Won Hong Lu’s and picked up some shrimp fried rice and a couple of egg rolls.  He had begun to hate the fact that he had to leave at midnight — turn into a pumpkin, he’d joked — because he had to go to work the next day. But it was Friday, finally, and he was determined to stay there until they closed.  Sachi brought him a Harp Lager.  He had never drunk anything but American beer until he started coming there. Then one night Sachi had brought him a Harp.  She said the bartender had opened one too many, and he could have it on the house.  It had been a revelation.

He’d been there about an hour when a guy went up on stage and started playing piano.  A while later, the black bassist came in schelpping his string bass, unpacked it and began to play along with the piano player. He had seen both of them before and smiled at the thought of listening to them again.  About ten minutes later a guy came in lugging drum cases and began to set up a snare, high hat, and bass drum, then unpacked some brushes. Kia the other waitress brought them all up bottles of something to drink.  Dexter thought he enjoyed watching them play as much as he enjoyed listening to them.  There was an easy rapport between them. They played comfortably together.  The pianist would start a song and within a bar or two the others would have joined in.

The place was beginning to fill up, soon there were no empty tables and not much longer after that, the only empty chairs were the other armchair, the love seat, and the ottoman at Dexter’s table.  Sachi came over and asked if he would mind if some people sat at the table with him.  He had already begun to feel guilty for taking up a whole table by himself and readily agreed.

The couple that took the love seat were older – maybe late 30’s, early 40’s, both on the short side, slender.  He had a ponytail of dark hair, and her hair was loose and long, almost invisible in the dim light against her dark clothing.  The man introduced himself as Bron and his lady as Catha.  He was obviously British by his accent.  The chair was taken by a tall, thin, teen-aged boy with long dark hair, a pierced ring around the middle of his lower lip and a long sleeved black teeshirt that had “If you’re really a Goth, where were you when we sacked Rome?” in white gothic script on the front. He was introduced as, “My nephew Drogo.” But it was the girl who took the ottoman that captured his entire attention.  She was wearing a long black crushed velvet dress with fitted sleeves.  She had a disheveled scribble of dark hair that hung in strands and locks about her face, and she wore blood red lipstick, which along with her dark hair, only made her pale skin look all the more pale.  Drogo proceeded to introduce her as “My girlfriend, Maida.”  Drogo had a thick middle European accent.

They were settling into their seats when Sachi brought their drinks, what looked like Guinness draft, except in front of Maida, she set a full, unopened bottle of Old Crow whiskey with the seal unbroken. Apparently, it was some kind of inside joke because they all laughed.  “That should last you at least til midnight,” Bron said with a chuckle.  She promptly opened it and took quite a slug straight from the bottle.  Then, grabbing the bottle by the neck, she stood and made her way to the stage, acquiring a low stool en route.  After kissing the piano player on the cheek (he didn’t miss a note of the complicated riff he happened to be playing at the time), kissing the bass player on the cheek, and waving at the drummer, she settled on her stool and began to sing.

She had a low, sultry voice slightly frayed at the edges, and she seemed to specialize in love songs.  Dexter recognized some of them, “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes,” and “As Time Goes By” and a couple of other tunes were familiar from some of the old B&W movies he’d seen on Turner Classics channel.  Thankfully, the others at the table were there to listen and didn’t feel it necessary to engage him in conversation, because he was spellbound.

It was another of those magical musical nights, like that time the lady had sung in Gaelic.  About four or five songs in, it occurred to him that he could open a memo page on his iPhone and thumb out a line of lyric so he could find out more about the song later.  But once he had, he would surrender to the song and just let it wash over him.  The time slipped by in a happy haze and then suddenly it was last call, and with a chuckle, Maida started singing a song that had the refrain, “Bye Bye, Blackbird” and that made the people she’d come with laugh aloud.

Dexter meant to go up to her, Maida, and tell her how much he liked her singing but as she finished her song, the couple and the boy got up to go, along with half the people in the place, and somehow he lost them and her in the crowd of people headed toward the stairs that led back up to the street. He caught a glimpse of them, but then a short, blond haired man and his tall Eurasian lady slipped in front of him.  Dexter had seen them at Cobalt on several occasions. They were speaking French.

When he finally made it up the stairs and out into the street, he looked around for the singer and her friends, but didn’t see them.  They’d probably caught a taxi. He stood a long moment in frustrated disappointment.  Then with a philosophical sigh, he set off up the street toward the subway entrance.  At the corner, a raucous caw called his attention to the street signs bolted to the street light pole.  Four black birds that look like crows were perched there.  As he stood there watching them, they launched themselves into flight and disappeared into the darkness.  A single black feather floated down into the light.  He held out his hand and caught it.  A long moment he looked at its glistening blackness lying in his palm, then he carefully put it into his inside coat pocket, zipped his coat all the way up and started off toward the subway.

Stormy Weather

It was in the middle to upper 80’sF(26.6+C) Friday and Saturday, down into the mid-50’sF(12+C) Sunday, the high today was only 54F(12.2C), and now at almost 11 p.m., it’s 39F(3.8C) and raining.  It’s supposed to be right at freezing tonight, and tomorrow it’s supposed to snow. Since tomorrow’s high is predicted to be 45F(7.2C), the snow’s likely to melt on impact, but tomorrow’s low is predicted to be 27F(-2.7C) with below freezing lows Thursday and Friday.  What you call your washboard weather — up and down and up and down . . .

My left elbow has settled down and is no longer painful to bend.  However, pronation of my left forearm is still painful, and grip strength is limited by pain (I can’t open a screw on lid, or hold the bottle to open it with the other hand and I can’t hold something steady in order to manipulate it with the other hand). Also compression is limited by pain — pressing down on anything or pushing against something.  Today I finally got through to the VA at about 2:45 and got our local office.  Fortunately it was a day when my physician’s assistant was there, and she ordered x-rays. I threw on some clothes (tricky to pull up your pants with no strength in your left hand.  Ditto putting on a bra.) and went pelting down to get there before 4 o’clock (3:45 — phew!) The x-rays will be interpreted by a radiologist (physician) in a couple of days and they’ll get back to me.  (Knowing the way the system works as we both do, I asked the x-ray tech if he saw anything, and he said he didn’t see any obvious breaks or cracks. If he had, I’d have gone straight from there to the emergency room.)

If I do have a detectable injury, good odds are it will be a hairline crack in my scaphoid bone — the most common mechanism of injury is a fall onto an outstretched hand — oddly enough!  I can type all right (obviously), although it’s tricky to turn my hand over to do it.

Three by Three Asymmetrical Scarf
Trellis Path Asymmetrical Scarf

In the knitting news, thankfully, I can knit without pain, since I knit continental style. I just wrote two new asymmetrical scarf patterns, “Three by Three Asymmetrical Scarf” and “Trellis Path Asymmetrical Scarf.” The established pattern is just a two line repeat which is easily memorized;  they may be what I’ll be knitting on my trip this spring.  I especially like the yarn on the second one, which is a Red Heart Boutique Unforgettable, color: Candied, weight: medium (4), 100 g/3.5 oz, 256 m/280 yds.  The rainbow self-striping keeps going into lavender, pink and peach before it starts over with the yellow again.  It’s really quite a pretty color pattern.  The “path” is that stockinette strip that goes up the left side.  The two patterns are actually quite similar, with the exception being that the first one is garter stitch over all the left-hand field, whereas the second one has a bar of stockinette down the left edge.

I looked it up on the TSA website and you can take knitting needles on carry on and hand baggage (in my purse), and I will be taking a pair of bamboo circular needles, not these metal ones.  You can also knit during the flight.  I’ll carry everything in a gallon baggie so the TSA people can see everything without having to get into the bag.  I’ll take a printout of the pattern, but once I get the first 13 rows done, it’s just repeating two lines of the pattern over and over until you get to the final six lines.

Breaking the Ice

This from Radiant Spirit Gallery is something that actually happens, but even so, it has a fairly high weirdness of image score.

Friday night, after my VA appointment at 2 p.m., and getting mom switched to a new cellphone carrier (at half the price she was paying), and the two of us having dinner at IHOP, I went by my BFF’s apartment to give her a plate hanger dodad.  She had gotten this really nice Royal Doulton dinner-size plate with giraffes on.  It had come with a little stand, but she didn’t really have a place to put it, hence the plate hanger, of which I have many, left over from a divestment of over half my blue and white ceramics collection because downsizing. (The living room in the old duplex was approximately the same size as half of my current apartment.)  I have started her on the Foreigner series.  She’s at book two.  (I’m about to finish book #16, after which I’ll have to wait for book #17 to be published in April.)  We got in a big discussion about things Atevi and it was after 9:30 when I left.

The level of her apartment building and the level of the parking lot are different by about two feet.  There’s a retaining wall all around it and periodically there are these wonky concrete paver steps to get down from the apartment level to the parking lot.  The footing of the steps is tricky, the pavers forming the steps are not level or straight, and they are not lighted either.  I am always very hesitant about climbing them, with good reason.  My BFF has fallen in the parking lot several times due to those steps, so I am twice careful.

Last night, as I was going down to my car, I lost my footing and fell off the last step.  I broke part of my fall against the hood of my car with my right hand, but I landed on my left hip and outstretched left arm hard enough to get a small abrasion on the heel of my left hand from the pavement.  I don’t even have a bruise on my hip.  I didn’t land on my hip hard at all, but I jammed the bones of my left arm and shoulder together right sharply and today my elbow is sore, and the muscles in my forearm are sore, and it is painful to move my arms in certain ways.  That’s the only part of me that hurts, but it hurts right smartly.

As long-time readers may remember, I had rotator cuff repair on that left shoulder in 2009, and in 2013, I injured my neck, left shoulder and left arm trying to upend a 40-pound bottle of water onto a water dispenser and ended up with, among other things, a pinched spinal nerve and a small herniation of a vertebral disk in my neck.  Those issues have since resolved, thankfully and I have not had any trouble from that quarter for at least a year now.  But, what is concerning at the moment is when I move my arm in certain ways, I suddenly have no strength in my left hand, or I have give-way weakness in my hand and arm.  Part of it is due to muscle pain, as certain movements are rather sharply painful, but part of it is due to a sudden muscle weakness to the point where I can’t even manipulate my hand, and that means nerves are involved somewhere. Big red flag.  I’m taking Aleve, some  gabapentin that I had left over from when I tapered off it last year, and a liberal slathering of tincture of time, mostly because I can’t let the VA know until Monday and unless I want to go to the emergency room, that will be the soonest I can look for any medical treatment.  Knowing the VA, it’ll still be weeks before I can see anybody anyway.  So, I’ll see how I feel Monday.

The most disheartening thing about the situation is that nothing short of a lawsuit is going to get the apartment complex to do anything about those steps, which are really and truly a hazard.  I am going to call the apartment office and complaint on Monday, not mentioning any names.  I doubt it will do any good except allow me to vent.  Thank goodness for Aleve gelcaps.

Sprung Spring

It is generally acknowledged that the wellspring of “mountain” music — that peculiar braid of music that trickled out of the “hollers” of Appalachia —  lies in the Celtic lands of Ireland and Scotland, brought to our shores by refugees from poverty,  religious strife, famine and the clearances.  With the Celtic music revival that began in the closing years of the last century (1980’s), these disparate streams have been remingling with their source in fascinating ways. I ran across these two:  The Rachel Newton Trio performing Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” and Rachel Newton with a lovely cover of  Hank Williams’ “I’m so Lonesome I Could Cry.”

While we’re mixing and matching, the inimitable Julie Fowlis sings a song you’ve heard before.

In the interest of equal time,  three of the iconic voices of Ireland, Máiréad Ní Domhnaill, Máire Brennan (erstwhile lead singer of Clannad) & Máiréad Ní Mhaonaigh (lead singer of Altan)

And three iconic American voices,  Dolly Partin , Emmylou Harris, and Linda Ronstadt.

And just for grins, one of my favorites, Kilbogie by Old Blind Dogs.




The Status of the Quo Oпять*

This post is going to take forever to load, so while you’re waiting, pour yourself a beverage of choice, then kick back and Happy Valentine’s Day.

Moi? I’ve been keeping my head down, rereading the Foreigner books by C. J. Cherryh at a rapid clip. (I’ve just started Deceiver, which is #10 of 16, with #17 to be published in April — which is the purpose of the exercise.) But mostly, this week, I’ve been working (as in “earning money”), and popping Aleve like candy so I can sleep.  It’s going to take at least two weeks of hardly typing at all for my hands to settle down again, but needs must when the devil drives.  Baby needs to pay her car insurance. . .

I’ve been doing “general” transcription for that jive outfit in San Francisco.  The last job I did was an hour and 47 minutes of interview, which topped out at 54 pages.  Took me two days to do it, and I made a whopping $1.035 per page.  Because I couldn’t get it finished before 6 o’clock Saturday (the end of the pay period), I won’t get paid for it until Monday week (22nd) which means my car insurance payment will be a bit tardy.

My total output for the week is 92 typed pages since Monday (on top of 27 years of typing at a dead run for 5 days a week or more, on top of scarlet-fever-provoked autoimmune osteoarthritis of all my finger joints . . .)  And my mom can’t  understand why my hands hurt.  It doesn’t seem to bother me to type blog posts … (It’s the difference between typing maybe 1000-1500 words in a day at a leisurely pace versus 15-20 pages pedal-to-the-metal in a day. Duh!)

(And not just mindless copy typing, either. I have to listen to it first, and somewhere between my ears and my hands, spoken language has to be transmogrified into written language, then get capitalized, spelled and punctuated correctly before my fingers can do their little happy dance . . .  After a day of transcribing, the first page of reading is like shifting a rolling car into reverse without benefit of clutch. . .)

Never mind that I’m typing now, I’m just waiting for the Aleve to kick in, betimes listening to Rhapsody (and marveling at how seamlessly Alison Krauss’ and James Taylor’s voices blend).  Two of my favorite singers, singing that great old, crying in my beers song:

Didn’t go to knitting group this week because after 12 pages Monday and 15 on Tuesday, I wasn’t in the mood to use my hands for anything but holding a book and turning pages, and that rather gingerly.

Monday, I finally finished the fifth of Harveys Bristol Cream I bought last July.  Just belting it on back.  I’m going to work a little more next week so I can get myself another bottle, a little treat.  In the meantime that’s one empty bottle to start my bottle stash.

When I get six empty bottles, I’ll be able to make a batch of home-baked amaretto — once I can come up with the moolah to buy the ingredients, that is:  It takes a fifth of apricot brandy, a fifth of peach brandy, a quart of vodka, a big bottle of vanilla extract, a big bottle of almond extract, not to mention whole cloves, stick cinnamon, nutmeg, and six cups of brown sugar.  It also takes a really big pot and the better part of a day, but it’s a great way to stink up a house, and the recipe makes six fifths.  It ages wonderfully if you leave the spices in when you bottle it.

The musical selections included free of charge in this post for your delectation and amusement are all from a 240-song Rhapsody playlist entitled “Cache” wherein I have collected all my “greatest hits.” It ranges from Queen (Does your lead guitarist have a Ph.D. in astrophysics, hmmm?) to Richard Wagner (not that far a stretch actually, when measured in their respective distances over the top), from the Beachboys to Bette Midler, and from Herbie Hancock to Eleftheria Arvanitaki. Tunes that are all over the map genre-wise like a load of buckshot.

9 Chickweed LaneWhile we’re on the subject of music, this little gem from Brooke McEldowney.  Here’s one for the “I bet you didn’t know who actually wrote that,” for the hard core Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy crowd:

And other assorted goodies and what have you.  If you’re up to it (it makes me cry every damn time), you might check out this little beauty, as well.  Give yourself a Valentine’s treat that is nonalcoholic, nonfattening, and non-comedogenic, but which is not guaranteed to be non-habit-forming . . . just kick back and listen.


*опять – opyat, Russian, meaning “once again.”

Life’s Unanswered Questions

So, I was taking a break from transcribing this 1 hour and 12 minute magnum opus for, that jive outfit I work for, since I don’t get enough from Social Security to live on, and I was working an Otto and Victoria puzzle that I made on Jigsaw Planet (Otto being Victoria’s pet octopus), and a stray thought drifted through: “Why do they call then tentacles if there are only 8 of them?”

Well, according to the interwebs, the word “tentacle” has nothing to do with numbers.  It comes from the Latin, tentaculum, from the verb tentare, meaning “to feel or to touch.”  Having been a medical transcriptionist for some 27 odd years (some of them odder than others), I’m familiar with a thing called a “tenaculum,” a medical instrument for holding things — from the Latin tenēre meaning “to hold, to keep,” so I felt there was bound to be a connection in there somewhere.  (BTW, in inflationary language, an enneapus has elevenicles.  I knew you’d want to know that.)

So my stray question was not, as it happened, one of life’s unanswered questions.  My favorite of life’s unanswered questions is, “Who built the Batcave (and what did they think they were building)?”

While we’re in an interrogatory vein, how is it that we managed to put a man on the moon before we figured out it would be a good idea to put wheels on luggage? Why is “bra” singular and “panties” plural?  If all is not lost, where is it?  Inquiring minds want to know.

Oh, and BTW, the next time you are beset by the Borg, remember:  Resistance is not futile. It’s voltage divided by current.

All Sorted

Mag Challenge 304

valette, adolpheThe bleary sky had been meditating all morning on whether it would snow or not; in the meantime, Edinburgh was up to its knees in damp, muzzy air that was piercingly cold and without a breath of wind.  Jehanne sat beside her mother on the settee before the fire and was content to be inside.

The two heads bent over their work were both crowned with the same, almost colorless blonde hair, pulled severely up into buns atop their heads, and crowned with a large braided coronet. The paleness of their hair and skin made stark contrast with their high-necked, black wool dresses with wrist-length sleeves, and their black knitted fingerless gloves.

It was the middle of the afternoon but, owing to the combination of the northern latitude and the three and four storey buildings on either side of the narrow street, little light came in through the narrow casement window.  The only other source of light in the small, oak paneled sitting room was the coal fire burning in the grate.  Despite the gloom, mother and daughter worked steadily at their knitting. Jehanne’s mother, whose given name was Aoife, glanced up at the ormolu clock on the mantle, below the large gilt-framed mirror.

“You’d best start tea, Ottar,” she said, “They’ll be chilled from their flight.”

The large black dog lying at their feet, almost indistinguishable against the dark blue Turkey carpet, obediently rose to its feet and padded out of the room. The faint click of its claws on the wooden floor marked it’s passage down the hall.

“I hope everything went as planned,” Jehanne said after a while.  She was the image of her mother, from her narrow, high-boned face to her long, slender fingers.

“An iffy thing making the switch, but I’ve no doubt they’ll pull it off,” her mother replied.

They knitted in silence for another moment.  Then Jehanne said, “One worries that the boy will take to drink like his father.”

“Ah, but that drunken lout is not his father.” Aoife rummaged with one hand into the work bag on the settle beside her, found her needle case, extracted her darning needle and began to work the tail end of the yarn into the top of the sock cuff.

“Don’t tell me it’s the Reverend McElvoy’s!” Jehanne gasped.

“I can’t, because it isn’t.  T’was his younger brother, who had more than one tumble with the upstairs maid last summer.”

“Oh, there’s a tangle. The father drowned at sea, the mother beat to death by her drunken husband. And the preacher’s poor wife brought to child bed three times and not a liveborne babe to show for it.” Jehanne shook her head sadly.

“And your Aunty Macca sitting in her attic half the morning waiting for babes to materialize and make sure the live one doesn’t get dropped.” Aoife smiled at the thought.  “Still, all in a good cause.”

Footsteps on the stair announced the arrival of a tall man in his early fifties, whose jet black hair was laced with grey at the temples.  His face was square-jawed and long, with deep-set eyes of a hazel so light as to verge on amber.

“Tea is ready ma’m.”

“Thank you, Ottar.”

He bowed slightly as he crossed the room to the window.  There he stood watching out it for several long moments before he spotted two ravens with a hooded crow between them gliding low over the rooftop of the building opposite and headed straight for the window.  He opened the casement, stood back to allow them entry, then quickly closed and latched the window behind them and drew the draperies over it. The three birds hovered in midair for several seconds, blurred, and then one by one resolved into an older black haired man in a black frock coat and black woolen waistcoat, a slender older woman with grey-laced black hair wearing a plain black woolen dress with a heavy grey woolen shawl draped over her head, and a young black haired man dressed as a clergyman.

“It’s snowing finally in Aberdour and coming this way,” the older woman said, resettling her shawl about her shoulders and hugging it around her.  The older man snapped his fingers and the gas jets lighted, throwing pools of glowing white light into the room.

“It was cruel cold over the Firth,” the young clergyman allowed. He shot his cuffs and straightened his coat collar.

“Drogo, if you and Mr. Black will bring the other settee to the fireside, the tea is ready,” Ottar said quietly.

“There is room here on the settle for you by the fire, grandmamá,” Jehanne said, as both mother and daughter shifted to make space.

“Yes, Lady Catha, draw you near the fire and warm you,” Mr. Black agreed, as he turned to help the young clergyman carry the settle from the far wall to the fireside.  In the meantime, Ottar had produced a heavily laden butler’s table from thin air and set it in front of the ladies.  He then went to a small cabinet on the wall beside the door, where he got out a silver tray bearing a cut-glass decanter and three hand-blown crystal glasses.  He carefully poured three fingers’ worth of the decanter’s dark amber contents into each glass.  He set the decanter aside and brought the tray to offer it to Lady Catha, Drogo and Mr. Black.

If one ignored the prominence of Lady Catha’s nose and the confusion of the differences in coloration, there was a notable resemblance between mother, daughter and granddaughter about the cheekbones and the shape of the eyes, though Lady Catha’s eyes were black and Jehanne’s were a clear, cold blue like her mother’s.  Lady Catha quickly tossed the glass’s contents down in one gulp, set it back on the tray.  Her male companions did the same, though Drogo had to suppress a coughing spasm afterward.

“Ah, I feel better, now,”  Lady Catha said, with a sigh and a smile.  She took the tea her daughter handed to her.

“A stiff snort of good Scots whiskey’ll take the chill right off you,” Mr. Black agreed, although his voice was slightly hoarse.

“Oh,” gasped Drogo wiping at the corner of his eye, “It’ll take your mind off it, anyway.”

Having set the tray of glasses and the decanter back into the cabinet, Ottar inquired gravely, “Will there be anything else, ma’m?”

“No, I think this will do quite nicely.  Thank you, Ottar.”  Lady Catha interposed before her daughter could reply.

Ottar inclined his tall body in a slight bow, blurred and became a large black dog.  The dog walked quietly to the end of the settee where his mistress sat, turned in a circle, and settled to the rug.

“So, did everything go well?” Jehanne inquired, handing cups of tea across to the two men.

“Just barely.  Thank goodness the McElvoy babe was born upside down.  It was another girl. Dead at least a day,” Lady Catha said between sips of tea.  “I was able to get a towel round it before that silly maidservant of hers got a good look at it.  A bit tricky to tie off the cord and cut it without revealing the naked truth, so to speak.”

“Knolly’s husband had been drinking all night, devil take him,” Mr. Black half growled. “I had to clock him good to get him off her. Vicious brute.  I won’t half mind watching that one swing.”

Drogo swallowed a sip of tea and added, “Your Aunty Macca nearly scared the life out of me grabbing my hand when I put the dead girl babe through.  The boy babe was all slippery with blood and I almost dropped it.  It was howling when I brought it out.”

“There was blood everywhere,” Mr. Black footnoted grimly.  “The bastard had knocked her down and kicked her before I could get to him. I had to help things along a good little bit.  T’was almost all I could do to keep her from bleeding to death before she delivered.  Poor woman.  Even if I could have stopped the bleeding, she wouldn’t have lasted the night. ” He shuddered at the memory.  “I’m glad it’s all over.”

“Amen to that,” Drogo said softly. “Still her babe’s alive and will have a loving home.”

“There’s that,” Mr. Black agreed, frowning.  He set his teacup aside and took the plate of sandwiches Aoife handed him. “I expect I’ll have to go and testify at the assizes, but that’s not til spring.”

Drogo set his teacup down, reached for the fire iron and poked up the fire.  “Such a tiny thing for the future to turn on.”

“The future always turns on tiny things,” Lady Catha replied.  “This time we got to save a babe and give it two loving parents.  That’s three lives better for this morning’s work.  There was no future we could see where Knollys lived beyond this day, and don’t think we didn’t look.” Shaking her head sadly, she took the plate of sandwiches Jehanne handed her.  “I must say, daughter, your dog sets a lovely tea.”

“Oh, he’s a good dog,” Aoife allowed, smiling.  The dog beside her thumped its large tail against the carpet three times. He was, in point of fact, a wolf masquerading as a dog, but he let it pass without comment.

The conversation lapsed into silence as the five of them made short work of the large plate of cold beef sandwiches and the plate of jam tarts. In the silence of their eating, sleet began to rattle against the windows.  Aoife had just refilled her mother’s cup and handed it to her when a woman’s face appeared on the surface of the tea within it.

“Everything all right, Catha dear?” said the face in the teacup.

“Yes, thank you, sister. You’ll be interested to know that the worthy reverend is over the moon now he’s got a son.  He wants to name him ‘Patrick’ after his papa and ‘Alfred’ after his poor drowned brother.” Lady Catha replied.

“There’s irony for you,” Mr. Black murmured.

“Well, I must dash, sweetie. There’s the Widow Campbell coming up the path for cheeses.  I don’t think I’ll mention I spent the morning in the attic sorting babies.” The face in the teacup said wrily.  The image faded and disappeared.












Sea Levels Are Rising

15607204351_9dae05a2f2_zTears are made of salty water
And sea levels are rising
The empty winds
Hum through the wires
But only the male whales sing

The crystal turns in the sunlight
And makes the rainbows dance
The drunkards walk
The hours fly
But only the caged wasp stings.

Tears are made of salty water
But only the male whales sing
Lo and Behold
A well on the hill

And something,something Jesus.

The moonlight sparkles on water
The winds through the wires keen
The elephants
Can’t unremember
Where all the bones came from.

Tears are made of salty water
Sea levels are rising
How can you tell
If you’re there yet
When you’re running for your life?

Teardrops on crystal sparkle
Moonlight on water gleams
How can you tell
If you’re there yet
When there’s no place you can go?


Photo © 2014 Hi Fructose, The Contemporary Art Magazine, Sculptor Jason DeCaires Taylor,  Sculpture Garden at Punta Nizuc, Cancun, Mexico


What can I say, but that The Walking Man stopped by earlier in the week, I reread the first four Foreigner books in three days, and last night I watched an episode of American Masters I’d recorded earlier about playwright August Wilson, parts of which floored me on the quarterdeck like Nelson’s sniper.  Strange brew.