One year ends/another begins

Barely a week into December and already my thoughts are turning to the New Year. Can’t say I feel its approach with a sense of the promise I was counting on. But a certain resolve has crept in. Never one to rush time, I can’t help seeing the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year as packaged and pressure-sealed—even as I relish time spent with family and friends in the spirit of it all. Short of a humbug frame of mind, the waning days of 2016 have me wanting them gone. ASAP.

One of the many lasting impressions I took away from a Toni Morrison/Paris Review interview I first read many years ago was the discovery that she wakes before dawn to start her writing. A habit begun out of necessity when her children were young gave rise to a ritual: a cup of coffee made while it’s still dark and sipped as she watches the light come. “Light is the signal in the transition,” she says. “It’s not being in the light. It’s being there before it arrives.”

Until you do that—watch the light arrive—even once, night and day are entities unto themselves (i.e., you look up at the night sky, stars twinkling/ you wake up and they’re gone). All it takes is one all-nighter to grasp the subtlety, light gradually encroaching, for it to dawn on you—the stars never really disappear, they’re simply outshone by a far brighter one.

Metaphor aside, we are our own stars, the constellations we belong to a mix of circumstance and choice. I was a daughter when my parents were alive. I am a sister/sister-in-law/cousin/aunt/wife/mother/friend/writer. The unconscious, in all its wisdom and mystery, gives me no room to deliberate in rattling off these roles of mine. If the whole truly is greater than the sum of my parts, it’s that singular one (last in the list, with neither least nor best qualifiers) that allows me to step outside of my own story, stand back/observe/try to make sense of the world.

Again, the inimitable Toni Morrison to the rescue. The time is Christmas 2004, and in the very first paragraphs of an essay that appeared in the 150th anniversary of The Nation, she writes of an “extremely dark mood” precipitated by the reelection of George W. Bush. She has trouble writing, feels almost paralyzed, something she’s never before experienced. A friend insists no no no, times of dread are exactly when artists need to get to work, after which she writes:

“I felt foolish the rest of the morning, especially when I recalled the artists who had done their work in gulags, prison cells, hospital beds; who did their work while hounded, exiled, reviled, pilloried. And those who were executed.”

The wisdom of the greats indeed feeds me.

It was the 7th of December, 1993, that Toni Morrison delivered her utterly eloquent lecture/speech on accepting the Nobel Prize for Literature. The heart of it is a parable of sorts that speaks to the complexities of language and the consequences of its manipulation when we don’t pay attention to what we’re really hearing/reading. Elections, alas, are won on the bastardization of language. On the 10th of December, 2016, a master of more than language will not be there to deliver his acceptance speech. We can speculate forever on Dylan’s silence and evasiveness, but truth be known, his words are needed more than ever. Can’t ask for much more than Patti Smith as a pinch hitter of sorts. Turns out she’ll be singing a song of his at the ceremony.

I’m writing as day gives way to night and a different light, deferential in a way, fills the sky. If I seem to be channeling my literary/music heroes, it’s out of need, not grandiosity.img_4876 The freshness of winter—trees stripped of leaves, a touch of snow on the lawn—is the starkest reminder I have that there’s no hiding from oneself and regeneration is a given. Climate change naysayers may never see the forest for the trees.img_4874

Bruce Springsteen, in his very telling memoir, writes, “In all psychological wars, it’s never over, there’s just this day, this time, and a hesitant belief in your own ability to change. It is not an arena where the unsure should go looking for absolutes and there are no permanent victories. It is about a living change, filled with the insecurities, the chaos, of our own personalities, and is always one step up, two steps back.”

“The year 2017 may be a time for some stepping back, doing things a little differently. For one thing, no more news—real, fake, Facebook, or otherwise—until I’ve had a (reasonably) productive work morning. For a time I tried clearing the fluff out first—check email, say hello on Facebook, read the headline news—and there’s something to be said for that strategy. Except when what passes through a newsfeed clouds my brain, messes with the synapses. (Just seeing the face of he who shall remain nameless makes me physically ill.)

img_4882A tree is uprooted, it falls against another that keeps it from completely tumbling. Hermits are a rare breed but they do exist. More of us, thankfully, fall into the “No man is an island” trope given to us by the great metaphysical poet John Donne. If there’s any hope these days, it’s in the broader view, more encompassing. For all the disappointment, I remind myself that it took a wise woman to remind us it takes a village.

Bliss

The first days of September invariably have me feeling a little blue. What is in fact a gradual diminishing of summer green hits sharply with the reminder that this is what leaves do before they disappear from trees. Within weeks they’ll start dropping with a fury as the glorious riot of red/orange/yellow takes hold and with it the reminder that the gift of autumn is in fact a dying.   These are the moments in-between, always the most unsettling until I give in to them, love the day for what it is without rueful thoughts of what is no more or anticipation of what’s still to come.

Easier said than done.

Everything in its time, even if it feels as if the things we want most seem to take forever.

This summer brought a break from routine, always a good thing even if it puts me a little out of sorts.

I read, and listened to, Pema Chodron, more and more a guiding light to a way of being I long for. When she sounds the note on what she calls ‘positive groundlessness,’ I consider the possibility that that there is no ease without fully surrendering to discomfort.

I learned to ease my grip on a kickboard so that I might experience some semblance of buoyancy as my body flounders with a little more fluency in a swimming pool.

I was lifted (possibly into the stratosphere) by Bruce Springsteen when he performed for nearly four hours at the Meadowlands. Not the first time I’ve seen him, but synchronicity was in the air for one more time. My daughter would be in for a visit, my best friend/concert buddy thought we needed to see him again. In his home state, to boot. And two days before my daughter’s birthday.

Which brings me to that thing called bliss, something I imagine as only possible when the noise—inside my head and outside—frees me of all distraction. Say the word to yourself, it slips through your teeth, unlike ‘blues,’ with its stickiness. That’s not to say it’s a momentary state, gone in flash. But without being fully present to the moment, there is no bliss.

I can readily go down the list of great concert moments in my life, alternately with my daughter and my friend, but the ties that bound bruce-blissus in an outdoor concert on a beautiful summer night made this one especially joyful. And even if I can’t pinpoint the moment it hit me, that higher level of joy I think of as bliss was made manifest in the expression on Springsteen’s face, thanks to those larger-than-life monitors.

“I’m always in search of something, in search of losing myself in the music,” he says in an interview in the upcoming issue of Vanity Fair. There is no one who plays to his fans, for his fans, like Bruce. Who else would sing “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” with a fan, in August?

And just when he had you thinking he was done, taking on the body posture of James Brown as he staggers from the stage, cape and all (this one of course embossed with “The Boss”), he was back.

If I had trouble containing myself when he sang “Sherry Darling” early in the set, I could have died and gone to heaven when he gave “Jersey Girl” pride of place as a second encore, ending the show with fireworks. More to the point, from start to finish—including my dear, dear friend figuring out the sanest parking scenario and my daughter the designated driver getting us there and back like a pro—it was as seamless a night as possible.

I have lots of reason to feel blessed, even if true bliss still feels like something a little out of reach. Maybe it comes in degrees. Or maybe, like every other concept that evolves with time, we need to take a second look at it. The other day my daughter sent a link to an article she said I had to read immediately. I was in the car, and I had to wait, and the wait was oh-so-worth it. If the headline—I’m an Adult Woman, and I Call My Mother Three Times a Day—had me smiling, the writer got me with, “The timeless truth is that I constantly call my mom because she’s my best friend.” I don’t know if that’s such a good thing but she’s right on when she says, “Unlike friends, moms are more open to venting, bragging, and utterly boring calls, too.”

Bliss? I get echoes of it when I listen to Todd Norian during a meditation.

And I envision its cousin, buoyancy, when I practice my kicks and strokes in the swimming pool.

Then I remind myself of that feeling we all share and Albert King sings about so well.

 

Fiction Facebook Friendship

Tap your heels together three times, Dorothy.

You always had the power.

To go home.

These days find me longing for some kind of yesterday. Can’t say I loved high school (who really does?) but I can say I remember being enthralled by a book I was supposed to hate if for no other reason than it wasn’t cool to like.

Boring? Maybe to some (most?) of my friends, engrossing to me:

Silas Marner.

Who, as a young teen, could even contemplate a condition known as catalepsy?george eiiot

Then there was Eppie. Innocent if not truly orphaned, when she finds her way to the doorstep of the gentle recluse himself. The bonds of love sometimes have a way of surprising us, even if, in our hearts, we know it couldn’t be any other way.

And the author, a woman with a man’s name.

Middlemarch (not to be confused with Middlesex or Middle Earth) has me in its grip now. The pull of the narrative is immediate, sinewy sentences that require the kind of deep attention that always rewards. No small irony in this time traveling from a world in hyperdrive, more and more on edge by the day, to one that doesn’t seem as old hat as it should in its exploration of marriage, and social mores, and politics in 19th century England. Times change, narrative syntax evolves; but there’s a reason great works of literature, with their timeless perspective on the big themes of life, beg to be read again, and again.

These are horrible, troubling, anxiety-ridden times. Paris . . .Brussels . . . no sane person sees any good there. Cuba? How you feel about it is intrinsically linked to whom you’re rooting for in the Reality TV show known as a presidential election. A wise friend on Facebook puts out a call to hide posts re: the Republication frontrunner (I can’t even say his name without becoming nauseous). A cousin spouts his negative thoughts re: our current president (one of the best ever, to my thinking).

I look for quotes by Rumi to share. Art, poetry, good books that move me. Links to music videos that do what only music can do to the spirit.

Along comes Marlene, a high school friend who connects with me on Facebook. Whatever divergent paths our lives since 1966 have taken us on, we’re here now, real friends in a virtual world. Synchronicity reveals its pretty head: like me, she’s a long-time fan of Leonard Cohen. Bruce Springsteen? Don’t even get us started. Turns out she lives in southern California, and when I tell her that my daughter has an extra pair of tickets to a Springsteen show (that will turn out to be historic as the four-hour finale at the L.A. Sports Arena), it’s a done deal.

In the best of all possible worlds, I’d hop on a plane, take a ticket for myself. It wouldn’t be the first time I flew out to go to a concert with my daughter.

In the real world, I smile at the photo an old high school friend has shared with my daughter, who has shared it with me. I may look back with mixed feelings at my high school self, but there’s only delight at the serendipity that has played its hand in reconnecting us, a connection magnified by the power of music. My physical body was (alas) not at that stupendous show, but trust me, I was there.

Bruce2

How we hear music

Today I listened, for the first time in too many years to count, to an album that can only be associated with my mother. She was in that nether world between living and dying. At the wheel of my little red (station) wagon, I’d pop that thing called a cassette into the tape player. The year was 1993, and this particular cassette (which I still have even if I have no device on which to listen to it) got me through the drive to and from the hospital.

Enter Apple Music. In a flash, an easy search, and the album was mine for the streaming. Billy Eckstine Sings with Benny Carter. Special Guess Helen Merrill.

The beauty of an album is its cohesiveness—the segue from song to song. In the days before CD technology took over, fast forwarding to the song you most wanted to hear took a certain finesse, not always worth the effort. Call it comfort. Call it an excuse to let the tears flow after time spent touching, smiling (even making jokes), then planting a kiss on the cheek or forehead of my mother to remind her I had visited. But that trio of songs on Side A—You’d Be So Nice to Come Home to/My Funny Valentine/Here’s That Rainy Day—was all I needed.

Today it’s snowing, even if the mildness of our Northeast winter this year had us thinking/hoping we’d go right into spring after so much snow from just one blizzard disappeared unusually quickly. (Then again, it is February, the shortest month, the leap-year month, the one most riddled with metaphor, on the cusp of spring as it is.) snow feb 2016The gift of looking outside through a picture window as my thoughts lure me inside is not something I take for granted. The snowfall is winding down, more like dust particles or what meteorologists call snow showers. One of things I always relish is the enveloping silence snow holds. And the way it clings to the bark of a tree.   Until it’s gone.

She was a big fan of Billy Eckstine, which always suggested something to me re: her appreciation for voice. Sure, she had a thing for Sinatra, too, but Ol’ Blue Eyes encompasses something even bigger than his voice. An inscription at the beginning of David Lehman’s love song of sorts, Sinatra’s Century: One Hundred Notes on the Man and His World, says it all:

May you live to be a hundred,
And may the last voice you hear be mine. – FS

 I listen to his voice a lot, with an appreciation that has only grown over the years. If that Come_Dance_With_MeLP with a winking Sinatra (Come Dance With Me!) or the one with a harlequin Sinatrapainting on the cover, one tear dropping from Sinatra’s eye (Only the Lonely) didn’t captivate me as a young girl, there was always a movie (A Hole in the Head) giving me “High Hopes.”  Years later would come late nights in the East Hampton design shop that had me pinch-hitting for the friend/ partner my husband lost to AIDS, the open door and Sinatra on a summer night an invitation as good as it would get to get past window shopping.

But this isn’t about Sinatra per se, even if listening to him can still bring on the tears and the memories. It’s about chords that reach deep, simply by virtue of the music they make.

To my surprise, I did not get weepy at that trio of Billy Eckstine songs. It’s easy enough to chalk it up to time passed, and with it, the smoothing down of those jagged edges of memory. But maybe there’s something else at play as well. Yip Harburg, legendary lyricist who gave us “April in Paris” (not to mention all the songs in The Wizard of Oz) is credited with this quote in Lehman’s book:

Words make you think thoughts. Music makes you feel a feeling. But a song can make you feel a thought.

So here’s a thought: maybe music is my madeleine. And even if a song can fill me with a longing for something long gone, listening to it years later is as much a reflection on all that’s changed in my life as it is a reminder that, whatever visitations I get, there’s no real going home to a home no longer there.

Coda: Lo and behold, it turns out that music occupies a room of its own in our brains.  My neurological music room is a full one, for sure, and a mixed bag that surprises even me with the moments of serendipity it conjures.

 

 

 

Gifts

The first week of 2016 found me at a cozy local restaurant, four friends who do our best to keep ties from disappearing completely even when time and circumstance bring separation. One of the women, a gifted poet/photographer/visual artist handed each of us a small box, wrapped and ribboned in her inimitable way.  “Just a little thing,” she said as we tore open the wrapping to find beautiful tiles, each a different image of a woman reminiscent to me of cameos. Aside from how lovely they were, she loved that they fit perfectly into little tin boxes she’d put them in.tile

We caught up on lots of things, including the daughters who really are responsible for bringing us together. How lucky we all know we were, in the early school years especially, when the public school our daughters attended was small and parent involvement (mothers more than fathers) as meaningful as it was welcome. None of our daughters lives nearby, a fact we rue even as we accept the nature of changing times. A fact, too, that makes 2015 something of a gift year for me—the first in the seven my daughter has lived on the Other Coast that my husband and I got to spend every major holiday with her. Passover had us flying to California for a West Coast family seder. A boyfriend working on a film based in New York brought her here, with the kind of timing you don’t often get. Labor Day was too close to Rosh Hashanah not to insist she stay. Then there was a friend’s wedding the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Christmas week was a given, what with it being a quiet time in the entertainment world.

A day earlier a friend from SoCal left after a visit that carried us through New Year’s weekend. It was a gift of a different kind, and I was admittedly touched by her wanting to visit. In the years we met via blog posts we wrote for an online site, our web of writers connected in ways beyond our words has grown. It is indeed the World Wide Web at its best. Her visit had a certain serendipity to it, from its timing (ring out the old/ring in the new) in the macro sense to the micro moments that marked it: There was Pavarotti’s voice filling my living room, bringing us to tears, as we sipped wine, the memory made even more pronounced by the woman singing opera under a bridge in Central Park on New Year’s Day. Minutes later would come a text exchange with my daughter.

Where are you? What’s the plan?

We’re in Central Park.

We’re in Central Park too!

Central Park is a big park, so what are the odds that she and her boyfriend were five minutes from where we were?Alice and Lew copy

We were a party now—my husband and me, my CalGal (Britton) and my BFF from NYC (Joan) who had joined us, my daughter and her boyfriend—on our way to Alice in Wonderland, a statue Sara climbed many times as a young girl when we lived in the city.

You reveal things about yourself in concentrated time with friends and family. Good a writer as Sara and Britton think I am, they’re now convinced there are parts of my past I would do well to tap, fictionally or otherwise. So when they left, how could I help looking through those albums of old clippings? I remembered well the piece I wrote about visiting Jim Morrison’s grave in Père Lachaise, but how could I have forgotten that I interviewed Patti Smith? To read through that interview just as I begin reading M Train is another kind of gift.Patti Smith interview 2

Life is riddled with disappointments and struggles, and, yes, joys, all of which I can’t help but internalize. My daughter suffers a disappointment, I take it personally. My husband is in pain, I’m frustrated at my inability to ease it. A friend is suffering, I give her my undivided attention in a phone conversation. Maybe it’s true, actions speak louder than words, in which case it makes all the sense in the world that my sense of self as a writer can’t help, at least sometimes, but defer to my sense of self as someone who takes care of people. Better yet, doesn’t
each sense of self feed off the other?

All of which makes it all the more uncanny to get three particular books for my birthday, not to birthday giftsmention Bruce Springsteen’s latest compilation, which I get to enjoy on the sound system of that
spiffy new car (if you missed the birthday surprise video in Sara’s last post, trust me, it’s priceless). And if there’s a message here, maybe it’s this, a gift in its own right: those who love me won’t let me forget who I am. Even as I write what I think are the last words of this piece on the very day of a rock icon’s death, a friend sends me a text: You will write something that weaves in David Bowie, won’t you?

 

A rainy day playlist

My relationship with weather is irrational, and I know it. It’s a rainy Tuesday—a very rainy Tuesday and all I want is for the rain to go away, or at least let up by the time I head into the city. More crucial, the relentless precipitation is exposing weak spots in a roof that needs repair. Am I annoyed, maybe even angry? Yes I am—the point being that my mood is a product of the weather, completely out of my control.

Variable as the weather is on any given day, or week, we can count on some seasonal consistency, which makes for reasonably accurate forecasting. Never mind the silliness of rendering it with fluctuations akin to a woman’s moods. Weather has no moods. It just is. Wet. Dry. Sunny. Cloudy. Cold. Hot. Humid. There’s a science to meteorology, and then there’s metaphor.

Dylan tributeThe rain is very heavy right now, pounding away. The sound of it scares me. I soothe myself with thoughts of a story I  wrote years ago, “My Father’s Voice,” in which the father says to the narrator: Walk between the raindrops and you won’t get wet.

Oh that I could.

I soothe myself, too, with songs for a rainy day. Better yet, blast the music to drown out the sound of the rain. I start with Tom Petty doing his cover of Rainy Day Woman #12&35 at the 30th Anniversary Bob Dylan Concert Celebration.

 

And while we’re on Dylan, I’d go right to the moody Bill Frisell instrumental version of A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall. Only place to go from there is Here Comes the Sun. Call me hopeful.

I love making playlists for myself, and for friends. Like stories passed down orally before the written word, a playlist becomes a narrative of sorts. There’s an art to the segue. The unconscious does its job linking one song to the next. How else to explain Waitin’ on a Sunny Day popping into my head, followed by Against the Wind, Bob Seger on the heels of Bru-u-u-c-e.

The rain has lightened up for a few minutes, almost a Rain Waltz. Almost as quickly, Etta James tugs at my heart. I know what it is to Cry Like a Rainy Day.

Etta JamesWould I like the weather to be more accommodating to my personal needs? Yes . . . but that doesn’t keep me from seeing the absurdity of wanting something much bigger than me to bend to my will.  We ask for good weather when we’re going anyplace—a night out, a day in the city. We do our best not to complain (much) if a vacation in the Caribbean is less than sunny. Tell the truth, how many times have you heard or said these words yourself—It’s not supposed to rain. Expectation is a bitch. Meteorologists are not always right.

There’s only so much we can know before we go.

So when a friend tells me how the sound of rain at night makes for good sleeping, I say, sure, sure, as long as we’re talking about gentle rain, pitter patter. And when another friend tells me it’s raining in California, I say, hip hip hooray!

And I go back to my playlist. Music is the great connector, as tribal as it gets. You’re a better person than I am if you can refrain from singing along (never mind whether you can carry a tune). Music moves the spirit as much as the body.  And what better song to end a rainy day playlist than Dancing in the Street?

 

 

Charmed

It’s here — the shortest night of the year (in the Northern Hemisphere), a good a reason as any to join in the International Short Story Day celebrations across the globe and (re)post a short piece of fiction that first appeared in The Potomac.

Charmed

“I have a surprise for you,” he whispers, his finger tracing her brow. Pushing back the hair falling into her eyes. She looks up, he looks down. He likes her smile, the moist lips pink and hesitant. She loves his eyes, fierce and blue until his gaze shifts.  At which point the blue dissolves to gray, the fierceness diminishes. He grabs her arm, plants a kiss on her neck. The lights dim. Let’s get closer to the stage, he says.

Standing in front of them are two girls, one with long black hair, the other a spiked blonde. The girl with long black hair, the older of the two, has her arm around the spiked blonde. When they turn to kiss one another Caroline notices the butterflies, one red, one blue, on each of their shoulders.  She turns to look at Tom, his full beard bobbing like a bottled message in this sea of goth and scruff. Wonders if too much weed has dulled, rather than enhanced, his senses. She feels silly, out of place, almost glad that she’s been spared the anxieties she believes inherent in being the mother of a teenager (not to mention the steady dose of ear-splitting music she’d be forced to tolerate).  Right behind her a whirlpool is forming, threatens to suck her in. She feels a shoulder bump against hers, sees one butterfly, then another, lifted above the crowd.  One of the boys hoisting the blonde loses his grip. Tom comes to the rescue, keeps her up in the air.

“Happy anniversary,” he says, when they are back home. He is teasing her, slowly unbuttoning his shirt, filling her with anticipation for what he believes she’ll love. His surprise.  She sits back, propped against the pillows on the bed; he remains standing, oblivious to the cat looping her way between his legs.  Catherine’s eyes follow his fingers, moving down his shirt, button by button. She inches closer to him, reaches for his belt, his bulging zipper. He stops her, makes her wait. She thinks she knows what he wants, slips her hand into her jeans. An anniversary peep show.  He smiles, so sure that his present has had the desired effect. He removes her hand, replaces it with his lips, his tongue. It is only then that she sees it, the surprise. A tattoo on his right forearm, a red rose cutting through two words. Catherine, always.

“Go ahead, touch it.” He takes her hand, coaxes her fingers, tense and resistant, up his arm. She feels bumps, his gooseflesh, imagines a thorn pricking her finger. Tears roll down her cheek. “I thought you’d be pleased.” He knew she loved flowers, a single red rose her favorite. She looks up, into his eyes, shadowed with age. Wants to tell him there are certain things that cannot be fixed. But something (a thorn, she thinks) has lodged in her throat.  He believes she is overwhelmed, crying from joy. He continues kissing her, she continues crying. Through her tears she sees rose petals unfolding. On his arms. On his legs. Catherine, always. Always Catherine.Until his body is completely covered in tattoos.

As soon as she says it – stop trying to be twenty-five – she is filled with regret.

Twenty-five was the one and only time she had gotten pregnant. Tom was standing outside the abortion clinic. His smile was sympathetic, welcoming.  Across the street were people passing out flyers with words that torture language and pictures that should never have been taken. Don’t let them scare you, he’d said.  He would not let her lose her right to choose. She was alone that day, he helped her into a taxi. Choose me, he’d said the next day when he called, offered to bring her some chicken soup. Over what? she asked. Over whom? She thought he was arrogant, presumptuous, a predator with an appetite for vulnerable women Despite the presumptuousness (or because of it), she opted for the soup. “Aren’t you glad you chose me?” he asked months later, the night he proposed. He held up two tickets, floor seats, to the Rolling Stones at Madison Square Garden. On their first anniversary he took her to see Springsteen. For their fifth he rented a room at the Plaza, surprised her with tickets to the Clapton concert. Pretend it’s him, he said to her in their hotel room after the show. Pretend he’s the one here with you. Nothing was as pure to him as the language of music, a primal fixative to the hardness of words, the broken compass that led down roads of twisted perception.  The doctors had her believing she would never conceive, not without the help of science with its needles and pills and search for big answers. She was already thirty-five, they reminded her.  The longer she waited the harder it would get.  Their words—infertility, in vitro—were like ice to her ears.  She pleaded with Tom to stop smoking pot, it reduced his sperm count. He laughed, whispered a word (invasive), his one concession to the big fucking mind game being played at her expense. All it took was a little imagination, a rich fantasy, a rock-n-roll heart to alter the synapse, make the writing disappear and the wall crumble. She had never made love to him the way she did that night.

She stares at his back as he buttons up his shirt, holds her breath as he heads into the living room, does his own form of sulking with loud, angry music.  Her fingers, nervous for something to hold on to, reach for the charm around her neck, the turtle dangling from a cluster of moonstone and quartz. The turtle was a replacement for the silver cricket, which replaced the gold ankh with the tiny diamond. The cat (the latest in his series of good luck charms) leaps onto the bed, purrs her affectionate demand. Catherine sinks her fingers into Genie’s soft fur, rubs her back, asks for something sweet, simple, maybe a Clapton song telling her how wonderful she looks. Tonight.

“You’re sure about this,” says Tom. Catherine nods, certain of nothing but the gestures that have come to take the place of words. The man with the eagle on his arms (he calls himself a shaman) directs her to a table where she lies down, her face turned to a wall, not crumbling, filled with tattoos. He places his hand over her sacrum, begins humming (an incantation?), tells her, in a voice that is like warm honey, about the powerful energy of a circle (the moon) inscribed within a triangle (her sacrum).  She lets out a gentle sigh, closes her eyes. Imagines Tom’s mouth sweeping an arc across her back. Eclipsing the inky moon whose reflection is all she’ll ever see.