Casey – Provisional title ‘The Fortunes of the Chief Marketing Officer’

Summary

A crowd had gathered before the tower in expectation of an appearance by the Chief Marketing Officer, the murmur of voices interrupted only by the squawks of the purple flamingos in the Italian fountain whose soothing and luxurious splish-splash confirmed the transparent and yet eternal boundary separating the CMO from the people and the people from the CMO’s daughter Ana, today dressed as a vampire in recognition of the solemnity of the occasion. The CMO’s eulogy, however, did not entertain the people as in days of old, perhaps because this time there was no enemy to blame but gravity, and so the crowd began to lose interest, until at last the platform bearing the body of the fallen window-washer was lowered onto the podium from above, and the house lights all lit up and CMO and daughter mournfully embraced, cueing the Philharmonic orchestra to strike up the National Anthem at an accelerated tempo, the Honor Guard to hurl their sabers, the women’s Olympic gymnast team to somersault across the stage, and then the CMO’s daughter threw herself atop the coffin, fireworks exploded over the bay,  and the security personnel ushered away the family of the fallen hero.

The CMO and the CMO’s daughter retreated back into the atrium of the Tower, past the installation art, the massage parlor, the business center which requires an electronic key-card to enter, though since the power shortages following the workers’ strikes the great empty tower ran on generators that left little  power for anything besides illuminating the spectacular public appearances of the Chief Marketing Officer, who sometimes appeared before the people as a strong powerful woman, other times as a strong powerful man, and no one remembered which one was the original, and some said it was a man voted into the office who then dressed as a woman to secure the women’s support in subsequent elections, while others said it was a woman who had had to play the part of a man in order to secure her influence abroad, but even up close and in natural light no one could tell, not because the costumes were convincing but because both genders looked so equally artificial, which, as the fortunes reminded us Mondays through Wednesdays, such categories were, though some of us believed that the CMO had transcended the category of gender altogether, though they were in the minority, for what would marketing be without the idea of gender?

In the absence of electricity, we were forced to manage our nation’s brand image with scraps of paper the size of fortune cookie that we called the Fortunes, each one containing little quotes accompanied by images of popular celebrities. Every night from the heights of the tower the fortunes rained down in a torrent of white paper upon the city. Monday through Wednesday the fortunes encouraged diversity and the celebration of all identities and a call for slow and systematic reform within the current limits of the law, but from Thursday through Saturday the Fortunes contained desperate shrieks and xenophobic rants and calls to arms and messages or images that implied when they did not directly state that the electricity crisis or the water shortage or this or that epidemic disease was the fault of some group of foreigners, provoking many people to form violent gangs, but then on late Saturday afternoon, just when the lynching or the pogrom or the stoning or the burning in effigy of some minority group was about to take place, Sunday came, and with it the fortunes containing coupons, some of them really quite good deals, and everyone ran off to shop because the coupons were only good that day, and when they had bought many things at remarkably reduced rates they collapsed exhausted, and awoke on Monday to capture in the wind the little fluttering fortunes containing messages of acceptance and self-expression and reminders to resist the patriarchy and above all not hurt anyone’s feelings, and thus the hate and fear of the people was allayed, and their discontent redirected, and they passed the afternoons debating the affirmations of the slogans that whirled in the breeze around them and fell into their hair and their recently purchased birdbaths and their discount kiddie pools,  forgetting for a while the hunger and the darkness and the massacres and all their tedious little domestic tragedies. Or so the CMO described it to us in our weekly team dinners, assuring us that the Fortunes were producing precisely the intended effect. Our people are a most political people, the CMO liked to say, and they must never be discouraged from participating in politics, it our job to ensure that they are informed enough to participate, and so the CMO always made sure that whatever the crisis, the people were never deprived of their fortunes.

Excerpt

One night, the CMO, dressed in tasteful mauve business to evening casual, arrived rather later than usual to the team dinner, explaining that the delay had been caused because Ana had to be “tucked in and hear her bedtime story,” and of course though many of us wondered why a 27-year-old woman still needed to be tucked in every night by her parent, we all adopted the sympathetic expressions of understanding fellow parents (though none of us had children). Then Fernando, the CMO’s personal and extremely good-looking assistant, cautiously expressed his concern about the contradictory messages being rained down upon the city every week. He feared that the office of the CMO might lose its credibility, that we we would only confuse the people instead of communicating with them, to which the CMO responded “There is no such thing as communication. Communication is a myth, a pretext whose only purpose it to confirm the tribal rituals and hierarchies with the effect of conserving the sacred principle according to which one MAN, invested with an absolute power, tells people about things, and the others read or watch or listen to HIM in a state of absolute submission. To communicate something to someone is to deprive them of their freedom, and this country stands for nothing if it does not stand for freedom!” whereupon the CMO took a swig of Riesling, and after a brief and perplexed pause we all clapped–the word freedom was always our cue to clap–and then the CMO continued explaining how the most important thing for anyone who works in marketing to know is that no one NEEDS your information, nothing you do is necessary or valuable to them in any way,  and your job is to never let them suspect this fact even for a second. You must maintain the social fiction that they NEED to hear what you are telling them, because if this social fiction of informational NEED is ever destroyed, new and undoubtedly worse social fictions will come to take its place,” the CMO concluded, and we all nodded thoughtfully as if ruminating over the wisdom of her discourse and then delved into the roasted lamb with mint sauce.

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Gabriel García Márquez – ‘The Autumn of the Patriarch’ (1975)

Summary

Over the weekend, the vultures picked through the mesh wire protecting the windows of the Presidential Manor, so that on Monday morning the city awoke from its lethargy of centuries to the smell of rotten grandeur. Only then did the band of men dare to enter the house, where they found his body, face down on the floor of his office, though it was impossible to recognize his face, even after chasing away the vultures, and in any event no one there had ever actually seen him in person,  they had only seen his official portrait, which even in the year of the comet was already considered inaccurate.

That was the first time that they had found him dead.

None of them had ever seen the President in person because for a long time now his faithful servant and perfect lookalike Patricio had attended public ceremonies playing the role of the President. Patricio had already survived six assassination attempts, and had grown accustomed to living a life that was not his own. He even had access to the President’s concubines and was authorized to use them as the President himself did, while the president would visit his mother under the protection of his faithful friend General Aguilar, or while away the hours playing dominoes with other dictators from neighboring countries, all of them now dying in the nursing home he had built for them, and where they had arrived as refugees, overthrown by the people of their respective nations, each one escaping with nothing more but his life, his military honors and a suitcase full of public funds. The President offered them his hospitality so that he might every day remind himself that he was not and would never be one of them, paying no heed to the filthy rumors spread by the opposition that the only reason he continued to rule was because British and American investors found it convenient.

There were so many rumors: the disappearance of 2000 children that the Red Cross and the United Nations looked for but could never find, the night he called all the generals together to a great banquet and when the main course was brought out on a platter it was the treacherous General Aguilar, baked to a golden crisp, fourteen medals of honor pinned to his uniform and a sprig of parsley in his mouth. Having signed official documents with a thumbprint for as long as anyone could remember, at a very advanced age he learned how to read from his wife Leticia: Leticia Nazareno, large of breast and flat of foot, the only women who had ever managed to get him to take off his saber and all his medals and his pants and even his golden spurs before bedding her, so that it could truly be said that of all the women he had had, the only ones who had ever seen him naked were Leticia Nazareno and his mother on the day he was born.

The death of his mother initiated a new century of scandal and confusion, people from all over the country flocked to see her painted body lying in state, the news had spread that her soul defied the laws of nature, and an industry of holy relics grew up around her body overnight. The President wanted her canonized as a saint, and an archbishop was invited to attest to the proofs of her sanctity. When the Archbishop discovered that all the witnesses to her sanctity had bribed, the President proclaimed his defunct mother a civil saint and declared war on the Vatican.

The second time that that they found him dead, the body was in the same office, lying in the same position and wearing the same clothes and had also been picked over by the vultures. The only difference was the group of men who found him: so many years had passed that no one among them was old enough to remember how it had been the first time, all they knew was that no evidence of his death was decisive, for there was always another truth behind the truth, although they knew by now that the first dead body had in fact been that of his faithful servant and perfect lookalike Patricio, the same Patricio who had also told the President about the rare beauty of a certain Manuela Sanchez, who lived in the neighborhood of the howling dogs. The President had all the dogs shot, so that he might visit Manuela unmolested. He brought her  compasses and snow globes and quartz paperweights and other gadgets, overwhelming her house with gifts, until one night Manuela vanished into the piles of useless objects, and disappeared forever. He never found her again, he was heartbroken,  he wanted to die, but it had been foretold that he would never die of love, but rather peacefully in his sleep, sometime between the ripe old age of 107 and 232.

 

Excerpt (my translation)

He stayed on alone in the deserted house of his absolute power, we would find him sleepwalking, stumbling among the devastation wrought by the animals with no one to command unless it were the blind, the lepers and the cripples who were not dying of disease but rather of age among the weeds and the rose bushes, and yet he was so lucid and so stubborn that whenever we reminded him that he urgently needed to put his inheritance in order, he only responded with evasions and postponements, for he would say that thinking about what the world will be like after one dies was just as pessimistic as death itself, because when I am dead, he would say, the politicians will return and dole all this out stuff just like they used to do, you’ll see, they’ll come back and distribute it among the rich people, the priests, and the Americans, and nothing for the poor, of course, because the poor will always be fucked, and the day that shit is worth something the poor will be born without asses, he would say, or else, dying of laughter, he would joke that for the three days he would be dead we didn’t need to carry his body to Jerusalem to bury it, settling the matter once and for all with the argument that it didn’t matter if something wasn’t true before, it would be true in due time.

He was right, of course, for there was no longer anyone who could question the legitimacy of his story, no one would have been able to prove or disprove it when we weren’t even capable of identifying the President’s body, there was no other nation than the one he had made in his image, with its space changed and its time corrected according to the designs of his absolute will, reconstructed by him in the grey fog of his memory as he wandered around lost in that house of calamities where not a single happy person had ever slept, while he tossed grains of corn to the chickens who pecked the ground around his hammock and exasperated the servants with orders to bring him a glass of lemonade with crushed ice which he would then leave untouched, to take that seat out of that corner and move it to this one and then to put it back again, satisfying in this petty way the dying embers of his enormous addiction to power, passing the leisurely hours of his command in patient excavation of the ephemeral moments of his distant childhood while he nodded off to sleep in the shade of the terrace, waking up with a start when he managed to capture a memory that formed a piece of an infinite puzzle of the nation as it had been before his rule, that great and illusionary nation, without shores, a kingdom of swamps and slow rafts and cliffs even older than him, when men were so brave that they hunted crocodiles with their bare hands, driving a stake between their jaws, like this, he would show us, and shove his finger against the roof of his mouth…

Joan Didion – ‘Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream’ (1966)

Summary

This story begins well before the trial, tabloids and scandal shook San Bernardino Valley in the autumn of 1964. One must understand how significant it is to shake a place like San Bernadino, where the Mojave haunts quiet spaces between billboards, and Santa Ana winds reach 100 m.p.h. Particularly between April and October, when it doesn’t rain, and the wind spikes will correspond with suicide and divorce rates double the national average. It is during one such spike on the night of 7 October that Mrs. Lucille Miller ran up and down Banyan street for over an hour while Mr. Gordon Miller burnt to death in their Volkswagen. She later explained that Mr. Miller was made tired by migraine medicine, that the car had swerved inexplicably, toppling a gas can in the trunk as it slid down the embankment. She explained this even as she was arrested, twelve hours later, for murder.

Lucille Miller, born Maxwell, married Gordon “Cork” Miller in 1949, and their unhappy marriage so resembled others that the details are unimportant. Suffice to say, by 1964 they had reached the familiar season of divorce, but had seemed reconciled after counselling. However, the suspicions of the county Sherriff’s office were solidified with the discovery that Lucille was having an affair with Mr. Arthwell Hayton, San Bernardino attorney and one time member of the district attorney’s office. His wife, Elaine, a close friend of Lucille’s, had died in April, presumably from a hairspray allergy.

Once discovered, the lovers’ breakup was quick, acrimonious, and play-by-play featured in the courtroom. Recordings of phone conversations with Lucille threatening Arthwell with blackmail were played to the jury. Arthwell hosted a press conference to specifically deny that any romance existed between them. Asked by a reporter if he denied having an affair with Mrs. Miller, Mr. Hayton would only reiterate that there had been no romance on his part whatsoever. The trial dragged on for two months, and on March 5, 1965, a visibly pregnant Mrs. Miller was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.   

The story ends in a predictable fashion. The Miller’s children move in with family friends, and are joined 7 months later by the baby, whose father is never specified. The friends attempt to sell Lucille Miller’s story to Life magazine, but Life does not want it. Arthwell Hayton marries his children’s governess, who had testified on his behalf in court. The death of Arthwell’s first wife is never investigated, and the Santa Ana winds blow over the Valley.

Excerpt

Accompanied by Clyde McCoy performing Sugar Blues (1931)

It was in the breakup that the affair ceased to be in the conventional mode and began to resemble instead the novels of James M. Cain, the movies of the late 1930’s, all the dreams in which violence and threats and blackmail are made to seem commonplaces of middle-class life. What was most startling about the case that the State of California was preparing against Lucille Miller was something that had nothing to do with law at all, something that never appeared in the eight-column afternoon headlines but was always there between them: the revelation that the dream was teaching the dreamers how to live. Here is Lucille Miller talking to her lover sometime in the early summer of 1964, after he had indicated that, on the advice of his minister, he did not intend to see her any more: “First, I’m going to go to that dear pastor of yours and tell him a few things…When I do tell him that, you won’t be in the Redlands Church any more…Look, Sonny Boy, if you think your reputation is going to be ruined, your life won’t be worth two cent.” Here is Arthwell Hayton, to Lucille Miller: “I’ll go to Sheriff Frank Bland and tell him some things that I know about you until you’ll wish you’d never heard of Arthwell Hayton.” For an affair between a Seventh-Day Adventist dentist’s wife and a Seventh-Day Adventist personal-injury lawyer, it seems a curious kind of dialogue.

It was all, moreover, in the name of “love”; everyone involved placed a magical faith in the efficacy of the very word. There was the significance that Lucille Miller saw in Arthwell’s saying that he “loved” her, that he did not “love” Elaine.  There was Arthwell insisting, later, at the trial, that he had never said it, that he may have “whispered sweet nothings in her ear” (as her defense hinted that he had whispered in many ears), but he did not remember bestowing upon her the special seal, saying the word, declaring “love.”  There was the summer evening when Lucille Miller and Sandy Slagle followed Arthwell Hayton down to his new boat in its mooring at Newport Beach and untied the lines with Arthwell aboard, Arthwell and a girl with whom he later testified he was drinking hot chocolate and watching television. “I did that on purpose,” Lucille Miller told {a friend to both the lovers} later, “to save myself from letting my heart do something crazy.”

Hannah – provisional title ‘Some Pillars of the Salt Lands’

Summary

It was a memorable year for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Church President Spencer W. Kimball, accompanied by the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, had a revelation instructing them to reverse racial restriction policies held by the Church since 1840. President Kimball also announced plans to construct the Jordan River Utah Temple. The following year, he would lead the groundbreaking ceremony mounted, with helmet, on a Caterpillar tractor.  Salt Lake City, the holy land in the Utahan wilderness, surrounded by mountain ranges, prairies and lakes, Joseph Smith’s Mecca and pilgrimage destination of the faithful.  It was summer in 1978, and the faithful were rejoicing. Which made what transpired that autumn so jarring.

Matthias Slate and his wife, Joan, had been members of the 15th ward congregation in the Grantsville Utah West Stake since pre-adolescence. A younger couple, well-dressed and community oriented. Mr. Slate was especially respected for starting a dentistry practice while still making time to coach the church baseball team. In fact, 19 witnesses would swear Matthias Slate had been at Wednesday night practice when, between 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. on 9 August, 1978, Joan Slate was violently murdered in her home. Not that Mr. Slate was the primary suspect for long; as the investigation soon revealed, in 1974, Matthias had begun an affair with another congregation member, someone who seemed to have an appeal to him that Joan noticeably lacked. The lover was Henry J. Mitchell, a charismatic church elder. Two days after the murder, Mr. Mitchell was arrested.

The four-year affair between Henry Mitchell and Matthias Slate is a predictable one, perhaps, to the non-orthodox mind. The falsified motel registrations, the lunch dates, the late church meetings that never seemed to reach the church bulletin. It is speculation to question how long Joan Slate new about it, and Henry Mitchell never said because the prosecution never got the chance to ask. Days before the first jury selection, Henry Mitchell committed suicide in his cell.  His suicide note hinted that Joan had threatened to inform their stake president if the lovers continued to see each other. When she discovered her coercion had not worked, she attempted to make good on her word.  Maybe beknownst and maybe unbeknownst to Matthias Slate, Henry Mitchell killed her, and attempted to make it look like a breakin gone awry.

The stake disciplinary council posthumously excommunicated Henry J. Mitchell, and disfellowshipped Matthias Slate. (The distinction being the Mr. Slate, while still a Church member, was no longer in good standing.) Matthias Slate, however, had left Utah for San Francisco by the time the stake council convened, and Salt Lake City has not heard from him since.   

Excerpt

Accompanied by The Mormon Tabernacle Choir performing Over the Rainbow

Henry Mitchell’s funeral service was brief, and concluded “the spiritual progression after death and subsequent repentance, though more difficult than in mortality, is possible and necessary for some, for the “final” judgement will not be until the second coming.”

The church’s stake disciplinary council convened in 2 January, 1979 on the misconduct of  Elder Henry J. Mitchell.  However, of the offenses Elder Mitchell stood accused, murder was not one.  The council reasoned the charge inappropriate, considering Henry was never actually convicted in court.  Further, his suicide note could not be ethically referenced as a confession without Henry’s consent. This was not forthcoming. Instead, Elder Mitchell was found guilty of adultery, homosexual relations, and behavior unbecoming a holder of the Melchizedek priesthood. As a result, he was posthumously excommunicated, and remains one of only a handful of people in the Mormon Church to reach that distinction post-mortem.  Mr. Mitchell’s Report of Church Disciplinary Action is filed on permanent record in the office of the First Presidency in Salt Lake City.

Matthias Slate’s lesser misdemeanors warranted only ward-level disciplinary council.  For adultery and homosexual relations, Mr. Slate was disfellowshipped, meaning no longer eligible to give sermons, teach lessons, offer public prayer, or partake of sacrament.  He was, however, still permitted to wear his temple garment, fast, and pay tithing.  But the 13th ward congregation of Grantsville Utah does not know if Matthias Slate elects to do these things or not. Mr. Slate moved to San Francisco four days after Henry Mitchell’s death, and at the time of this writing, his name is not listed in the California LDS member database.  

Casey -provisional title “A History of Smallness (Book I)”

Summary

It is known that Leucippus of Elea viewed the All as a great void, full of elemental elements to which he gave the name Atoms, which do fall and swirl about within the void, and entangle with one another. Out of such entanglements arise great worlds unlimited in number, and into them them worlds are again dissolved. To know the atom, taught Leucippus, is to know the essence of our being. And yet, he added, it is impossible for any mortal to perceive a single atom, so small are they in weight, and in dimension.

Leucippus had many pupils. The least among them was Diminus of Pixunte. Diminus was feeble of frame and taciturn of nature.He could neither read nor write, and when he spoke, he pronounced his words like unto the Barbarians of the north. There being no one with whom he could hold forth in learned discussion, while the pupils of Leucippus did debate  how stars and the moon were born of atoms, Diminus remained apart, and pursued alone the course of his speculations, full-determined withal to isolate and see himself the most elemental of elements. I am a small man, he would have said (could he  but speak), I am not worthy of speculating on the Great All and the even Greater Void. I seek the Atom–only one.

Yet no matter how minute in size the object chosen–a grain of sand, an eyelash, the seed of an orchid–no blade was fine enough, no substance strong enough to break it into solitary Atoms.

One morning, while Leucippus was teaching, he found himself interrupted by the banging of stones and the unintelligible cries of Diminus hammering away at a speck of dust on the far side of the atrium. Leucippus reprimanded Diminus, who, quieted and verily ashamed, paused from his labors, and partook of some olives, spitting out the pits upon a white cloth. Witnessing this act of defiant spewing,  (for thus did Leucippus perceive it), the philosopher grew irate and betook himself towards Diminus, who, hasty to hide the proofs of his indulgence, pulled the cloth down in the middle, creating a depression into which the pits of the olives tumbled.

Diminus then saw that he had just made the surface of the center of the cloth very small, not only small but negatively small, and this smallness exerted force upon the olive pits, pulling them into its recesses. He realized at once that had not found the atom: he found something even smaller still. Ecstatic, Diminus let forth a yell, as he had been taught, of Eureka, but the cry, once issued forth from his clumsy tongue, fell upon the ears of Leucippus as another word, whose meaning (in Elea) was son of a toothless whore, whereupon Leucippus, enraged, dealt Diminus a mighty blow.

When Diminus regained consciousness, he found himself in possession of an extraordinary power:  he could now make infinitely small space out of any surface in the world, simply by tugging on it in the same manner as he had tugged the cloth. The size of the surface mattered not: he could draw any city and its peoples nearer to him,   and need not, as other mortals, himself traverse the space between.

And so with but a tug, Diminus summoned towns and empires to him, and he grew mighty, and powerful in his art, until one day he vanished into the pit of one of the negative spaces of his own creation, and thus did Diminus of Pixunte abjure himself from the company of the philosophers of Elea, and he was never seen, nor suffered, nor heard about by others, and his name is unwritten in the History of the Eleatics.

Excerpt

Long did the blow of Leucippus leave Diminus lingering in the realm of the unconscious on the floor of the Eleatics. When, four hours after the setting of the sun, he did at last regain the possession of his senses, he arose, and went forth into the agora. The wife of a magistrate was passing by in her litter; one of her number dropped a ribbon of silk, which flew across the way. Diminus grabbed it, and pulled at it as he had the cloth of olive pits. Immediately the wife and her litter did suddenly find themselves thrown atop Diminus, with great protest and dismay on both sides.

Diminus was much astounded at his powers. Leaving off thereafter the practice of making disappear the spaces that separated his person from others, he took instead to abolishing spaces that separated towns from towns, and cities from cities.  In the second year of the possession of his powers, he diminished the space between Elea and the great eastern capital of Byzantium.

But no sooner had he achieved this feat,  than did a great cry resounded among the people, for the Queen of the Byzantines had just then been crossing through the city gates, followed by her retinue and a horde of golden monkeys, and then all at once she was no more, she had vanished like fog in the sun in the sun, together together with her retinue and all but one of the monkeys. Diminus, finding himself alone at the gates of Byzantium, with only a straggling yellow monkey atop his shoulder, at once understood: the Queen of Byzantium had suffered the fate of the olive pits. She had by some means fallen into the abyss of the infinitely small space that lay below the surface of the Void and the All.

Diminus tarried not, but did at once follow the queen down into the diminishment. Sweet zephyrs buoyed him as he plunged ever downwards, so that he fell as a leaf falls from a tree, the queen’s monkeys still swirled like rain around him, transforming, so that some grew long beards and took on the limbs or the faces of men, while others expanded into gorillas, or sprouted wings and scales. Then, weaving round him a circle of arms and legs and tails and they all began to chatter at him, until their chattering took on the form of singing, the Song of the Monkey, long and high, the Song of the Primitive beyond  the Void.  

Lucian of Samosata – ‘A True Story, Book 1’ (2nd Century)

Summary

Having nothing better to do, I now turn my attention to the writing of untruths, but honestly, in that the only truth I assert is that I lie, this being an excuse for all the rest, which I have neither seen, nor suffered, nor heard about from others.

On a whim, then, and for no particular reason, I outfitted a crew of 50 men and set out to locate the bounds of the West Ocean. Shortly after losing sight of land, darkness descended upon our ship, and we were caught in a tempest, which raged for 79 days. On the 80th day, the sun reappeared, and we saw on the horizon an island full of mountains and forests. The ship weighed anchor, and I took half my crew to explore the island. Midway through the forest, we came upon a river of wine, which we followed upstream to a great thicket of vines whose roots grew deep, but whose tops ended in the torsos of naked women–grapes sprang out of their fingertips, and their hair was made of  grape leaves all entangled. Some of them spoke Greek, and they kissed us, and two of my men were bold enough to enter into carnal mixture with them, but afterwards could not be loosened, and remained attached to the vines by their nether regions.

We fled in terror and set sail. The very next day, a whirlwind captured us and lifted us aloft many thousands of miles in the air and bore us forward, full sail, for seven days, until on seventh night we saw a great glittering country floating in the air.

We landed and were brought to the king, to whom we told our misfortunes, and who in turn told us of his own, and how he too was born in Greece, but then abducted in his sleep and brought here to be king of this country which those down on earth call the Moon. It seemed that the Moon King was now at war with the King of the Sun over the rights to colonize the Morning Star.

We pledged our fealty to the Moon King, and vowed to wage war on his behalf. Having no mounts, we crossed the heavens on foot, atop a great shimmery web woven by spiders of mighty size. But the Moon King’s army was vanquished by the mercenaries of the Sun King, –men with dog faces who rode into battle atop winged acorns. My companions and I were taken captive, and the Sun King erected a great wall of clouds to block its light, thereby casting eternal darkness over the surface of the Moon. But we pleaded on behalf of the Moon people, and brokered a treaty with the Sun King, and returned to the Moon, where the King  offered me his son in marriage, there being no women amongst them. I declined, with much respect, and after a week of feasting we again set sail and continue on down through fiery star countries of glittery color, until we landed once again upon the sea.

Excerpt  

In our course we coasted many other countries, and lastly arrived at the Morning Star, now newly inhabited…from thence we entered the Zodiac, passing by the Sun…Then we made forwards all the next night and day, and about evening-tide following we came to a city called Lychnopolis, still holding on our course downwards. This city is seated in the air between the Pleiades and the Hyades, somewhat lower than the Zodiac, and arriving there, not a man was to be seen but rather lights in great numbers running to and fro, which were employed, some in the marketplace, and some about the haven, of which many were little, and but poor things; some again were great and mighty, exceeding glorious and resplendent, and there were places for them all; everyone had his name, as men do, and we did hear them speak. These did us no harm, but invited us to feast with them.

Their court of justice stands in the midst of the city, where the governor sits all the night long calling everyone by name, and he that answers not is condemned to die, as if he had forsaken his ranks. Their death is to be quenched. We also standing amongst them saw what was done, and heard what answers the lights made for themselves, and the reasons they alleged for tarrying so long: there we also knew our own light, and spake unto it, and questioned it of our affairs at home, and how all did there. That night we made our abode there, and on the next morrow returned to our ship…

Hannah – provisional title “Battle of the Bobs”

Summary

On a warm Saturday morning in 1964, a hair salon sits nestled between a hardware store and a popular fireworks stand on an unnamed street.  Outwardly peaceful, inside the tiled floors mark the lines of battle, and by days end there will be ashes.

The salon is opened hours earlier than usual, by a young man who would just as soon not be up so early. This man makes his living by sweeping cut hair between chair stations and providing the salon’s gum machines and radio with technical support. He pays special attention to the cleanliness of two chair stations deliberately positioned on opposite sides of the small salon; these are the work stations of the two most popular stylists and notorious hair rivals in town, referred to here as E.M. and S.P. The man wonders which will be out of a job by the end of the week; the salon owner has promised to take on the victor of tonight’s’ battle as salon co-owner.

E.M. and S.P. enter the salon as if conjured by the man’s thoughts. E.M. worships at the fashion altars of Rita Hayworth and Ingrid Bergman, specifically between 1942-1949, and is morally incapable of creating a hairstyle antonymous to that time. She draws a significant following from the town’s population of mothers, a fact most apparent on afternoons when nearly each one wants her hair curled for the evenings’ PTA meeting. S.P., meanwhile, worships the fashion of the moment.  S.P.’s current obsession is Jackie Kennedy’s “mourning period” look, and all things Sophie Loren. Her following came from the town’s teenage girls, and she preps her station today with steely confidence; tonight is prom for the graduating class of ‘64, and S.P. was taking walk-ins. But it was anyone’s game, because so was E.M. and she had never been let down before by the Mothers Chaperones for Ladies high school Committee.

Clients pass through the salon styling chairs, daughters sticking to one side and mothers to the other. Like their stylists, the generation gaps do their best to ignore each other. There is excited chatter and giggling, hair flies amidst the sharp crack of turning magazine pages, and all the while E.M. and S.P. tally the others successes and failures. So intense is their focus, that no one notices the group of small boys playing with firecrackers just outside the door. A sparkler ignites on a trail of hair, and in an instant almost all the hair in salon, including on women’s heads, is fizzled to a crisp.

After the fire department leaves, the salon is closed. During that time, both E.M. and S.P. move out of town, and the man who opened the salon that fateful morning wonders just who would have won the battle if not for the firecracker.   

Excerpt

Accompanied by ‘Can’t buy me Love’ instrumental, performed by The Beatles

Maybe their big sisters were inside and had them sore.  Though I’ve never known a 12 year old boy who needed a reason to set big sis’s hair on fire. Or maybe it was one of those cries for attention like you read about in newspapers; the psychologist explains that the bank robber had a neglected childhood, and that’s why he did it. There were plenty of mothers’ inside the salon when it happened, one might have been neglecting and getting her up-do at the same time. I suppose it’s possible. Or maybe that’s just the risk you run when you have a hair salon right next to a firework stand, and the boys’ mischief was purely accidental. All speculation, of course…but when a scene like that unfolds before you, it gives you pause and makes you think, it makes you wonder how in hell so awesome and awful a thing came to happen.

First was the smell. No, first was the pop, then came the smell, I went over it with the Fire Chief a dozen times. ‘Can’t buy me love’ was playing on (S.P.’s) radio and those girls were tapping their feet and giggling, and Perry Como was singing something from the radio on (E.M.’s) side, so you could barely hear the first sparkler go off. And honestly, I wasn’t watching the door, I was watching the mirrors. (E.M.) and (S.P.) were shooting daggers at each other with their eyes in those mirrors! But after the smell hit, everything happened in seconds.  

I blame the hairspray, that stuff lights worse than petrol. Girls started screaming and hitting their heads with magazines, and of course that only made it worse. By the time the last of them runs out the door, the first of the husbands and daddies and boyfriends are running in yelling and screaming. Then the fire department comes. Only ones who never left the shop were (E.M.) and (S.P.). I was running out past them, but they’re just standing there, still facing the mirrors on their separate sides of the salon, still staring at each other. You know, I think their eyebrows sizzled off and they didn’t even notice!