Short Story: An Angel Passes By



As I am (slowly) putting my website together and applying for freelance writing jobs I have been going through a lot of my writing and trying to group everything together. I noticed that I hadn't posted this story, which is strange as it quite naturally goes with Autumn's Place and Of Instability and Growing Roots. I wrote them all about the same time and with the same frame of mind.
In any case, everyone needs a Marlena in their lives, just to make everything a little brighter and happier. Not long after I write this one Bat For Lashes released her last album, with the song Laura on it, and it really made me think of my own Marlenas. Cherish those friends forever.

An angel passes by ("un ange passe") is a French expression that always takes me back to moments in the dead of the night during my late teens with the friends I grew up with, that moment when everyone goes quiet, contemplating their own thoughts, and then all go back to their conversations at the same time. That silence that doesn't feel uncomfortable, but warm and fuzzy. These are the people that will always be with you, your own personal angels in your lives. I dedicate this one to those who aren't here anymore.



An Angel Passes By

She stood there in her little babydoll dress, her long, skinny arms wrapped tight around her body, as if she were protecting herself from an invisible force that was about to hit at any moment. Her eyes stared wide into the distance, somewhere away from what we could all see around us and her forehead was creased into a frown of concentration. This is always the image I will have of her in my mind, touchable but unapproachable. Surrounded by a ring of fire keeping her away from the rest of us.

She stood there in her skinny black jeans and black velvet jacket, cigarette smoke encasing her body and a bright smile on her face when she recognized a friendly face approaching her. Nothing fake about her smile – once bestowed upon you, you felt like you were the center of attention for a minute; that no one else existed but you in the world. There are so few people on this earth who have the ability to make you feel this way, that when you meet them you cherish their love for life, long after they have moved on to other places and other people. This is the other image I have of her, happiness and sadness, encased in that body with the beautiful face.

Some people leave and their memories fade over time, until they are remembered only when a photo is found, or a random memory pops into your mind. Other people leave a special legacy behind, one that cannot be erased by time, or alcohol, or drugs or age. All I need to do is close my eyes and conjure up her face and all the emotions I felt every time I was in her presence, even after all these years. Her foot prints can be found all over the world, in the many countries that she traveled to and the many people she met and loved along the way. She was never famous, she never felt exceptional in any way, but she simply made everyone she came into contact feel special for a few moments, and those few moments always lasted forever. Some days I walk through the streets of Manhattan and see a swish of long, blonde hair and a cigarette in a hand and my heart stops for a second. Maybe it is her? Maybe she is still here, walking and talking and dreaming and crying and smiling and just simply present. Maybe I can have one last hug, and this time I will know it will be the last and I will remember it forever. I never knew the last time she hugged me would be the last time I felt her touch and smelt her shampoo and perfume floating around me. If I had known, the last time I told her I loved her I would have looked her in the eyes for more than two seconds and would have made sure she knew that I meant it with all my heart. I hope she knew that before she left.

Marlena was one of those people that you felt had always been in your life, however long you may have known them. She arrived in my life randomly one night, a friend of a friend drinking in a bar that we didn’t often frequent. I didn’t really talk to her that night, she was wrapped up in a conversation with another person who didn’t want to surrender her attention, and then she left abruptly, hugging everyone as she made her way to the exit. A few days later I bumped into her on the street, and she smiled at me and invited me to grab a late lunch with her at her favourite restaurant. She gradually introduced me to all of the people she knew in the neighbourhood and I became part of the family of people working and living there. Marlena always had time for a chat, however tired or overworked she was. She had the ability to make me laugh and smile, even when I knew she was having a rough day. And when she was tired or unhappy, all I wanted to do was make her feel better, a small gesture, a hug, a cup of tea at 3am. Anything to get that look of pure gratitude she would give you on those days. 

There are no perfect human beings. If perfection really existed it would be a flat, boring piece of blank wood. Imperfections create the depth that makes someone human. As much as Marlena was an amazing person, she was definitely not perfect. She kept herself distant from certain things, and locked away parts of herself deep inside so that you could not even see a glimpse of them in her eyes. She would turn away when someone tried to get too close and shut down, wary of giving herself fully to another, wary of being hurt again, and having to deal with pain, again. But she would cry openly and sometimes let you into what her life had been and what she wanted to hide from. What she had finally got over and what she was still going through. She could be as stubborn as a bull and would butt heads with people with her strong opinions. I could not even count the amount of times I had seen her jump up and smash her fist on the bar shouting “but you aren’t listening to me!!!” and stomp off outside for another cigarette, ranting under her breath about idiocy and hypocrisy. But two minutes later she would be back, buying rounds of shots for everyone and laughing at the argument that had taken place moments before. There was never a boring moment in her presence.

Marlena taught me how to find the perfect beaches near the city, wild places where the waves would drag in shells and crabs and city trash, where you could sleep at night if you felt like it and you knew you were safe. She showed me special places in the city where the walls were painted with so much art you could spend hours just looking at them. I taught her where to find the best bagels and where to go to feel like you were in the middle of the countryside right in the city. She would sometimes disappear for a few days and apologise when she reappeared, always saying she needed time away, time to herself, time to finish a song, time to listen to her own voice in her head, away from others that were always crowding it. She would wrap her arms around herself and frown worries away until she could smile lightly again. Some days I would walk into her work and see how tired she was despite her smile and other days she would jump up in happiness and throw herself into my arms, a little ball of energy that couldn’t stop itself from showing all her emotions. She was just a normal girl, but one who created a special place in her heart for everyone.

“I think it’s time for a pint – who’s in?”

“Marlena – it’s only Noon! We have stuff to do today!”

“I said a pint, not 20, and I could really murder a Guinness right now. We can have it with lunch, that way we won’t feel like we are just drinking. And let’s call Robert and Liza and Sandy and the rest so they can join us!”

“OK – and here goes our productive Monday. Let the fun and games begin!”

Never a boring moment. Being friends with Marlena meant being friends with everyone she knew. And being friends with everyone she knew meant that you never really felt alone anymore. Some people you liked less than others, some you felt great connections with while others remained acquaintances, but everyone had something in common: Marlena. She loved to be surrounded by friends and watch them interact and be around each other. She loved to try and match make but hated it when people tried to do it to her. She didn’t get angry often, but when she did you could never see it coming until her rage had broken free. After you saw that you tried hard not to cross her or upset her. No one wanted to be on the other side of that!

When I put her in a cab that night and hugged her, telling her I loved her, she asked me to text her when I got home, which was always the last question she asked all her friends when they left the bar. Twenty minutes later I got her text saying she was home safe and getting into bed. She never made it out of bed alive. Her heart just stopped beating, gave up and sent her off to another place. There was no real medical explanation for this happening at such a young age, so we all ended up deciding that she was needed more somewhere else, and that she had given us everything we needed and everything she had to give. That doesn’t mean that I wasn’t devastated… It took me months and months to stop waking up crying and looking at pictures of her. I found it hard to walk down the streets where she used to always be, hard to be in places where I always wondered if she would miraculously walk through the front door. All of her friends banded together and talked about her and stayed friends, but it was always surrounded by sadness. Her presence was always around, but her voice could not be heard anymore.

Even now, years later, we always hold a Marlena party, a night out together where we drink pints, do shots in her honour and get completely drunk and silly. There are people who just won’t go away, even if they are dead and long gone. Marlena is one of those, an angel passing through lives, making them just that little bit better than they were before she arrived. Cherish those Marlenas as they are special people that may not be able to stay long. 

Catch some of their essence before it drifts away elsewhere – it will stay with you for life.

Short Story: 9/11 - The Day the World got Darker

I don't know why I have never posted this one, but it was written years ago one September, as I remembered what I was doing on 9/11/01. I will never forget that day, nor how it made me feel for a few years after that. It's important that we always remember this day, for the horrific acts that happened, for the people who perished, for the heroic people who ran into the buildings to save lives, and for the aftermath of the attacks, all over the world. I know that I will never forget.

9/11 - The Day the World got Darker

It was just another day really… No classes to attend, no teaching classes to give either, so I was just sitting at home pretending to put together some research points towards my MA thesis, but really scrolling through the web on my slow dial-up connection looking for something interesting to read, and watching Derrick on the TV. Nothing better than a daytime German detective show dubbed in French to pass the time.

Until the phone rang.

“Have you seen what’s happening??

Attentats

!!”

“What on earth are you talking about? I’m watching Derrick and drinking coffee. Want to meet up and hang out?”

“Put the fucking TV on. Someone has bombed the World Trade Center in New York. LOOK!!”

I groaned and changed the channel and then just sat there in silent shock with the receiver stuck to my ear. All I could see were images of smoke billowing from one of the tallest buildings in the world. I couldn’t even register what the reporter was saying, I couldn’t even read the words that were flying by on the bottom of the screen, but it appeared that everyone was in the same type of shock and no one really knew what was happening.

“Can you please come over right now? This is scaring the shit out of me and I don’t want to be alone here.”

“I’m on my way, will be there in 10 minutes.”

I sat there with the receiver still in my ear and waited. No one knew what was happening; the journalists were trying to scramble together as much information as possible and everyone was obviously in a state of shock and fear. And then all hell broke loose, a silence, and then the reporter’s voice saying that it appeared that another plane had crashed into the second tower.

The moment that that happened the world knew that this wasn’t a freak accident. Two planes flew directly into the WTC towers and exploded inside. I sat glued to the TV, trying to make sense of it all. There was no way on this earth that two aeroplanes had flown directly into the Twin Towers by accident. It was too precise, too calculated. I let my friend in, he made some coffee, and we continued to watch the news together, in silence. There was a hush, a chain of images and then the reporter’s voice, trembling slightly, announcing that there were two more planes in the air somewhere, two planes that had turned off their radios and were most probably heading for the Pentagon and the White House.

Then a plane crashed into the Pentagon. The images on the TV screen hovered between the Twin Towers with the smoke billowing out of them and the Pentagon where there were also clouds of smoke appearing from what looked like the center, and the reporter who was obviously as shaken as we were, civilians all over the world watching in horror as the biggest terrorist act ever carried out was taking place, live, before our eyes. Three planes crashed into important American landmarks, a fourth plane still in the air, possibly heading for the White House. All of those people dead and dying, all of those people trapped above the flames and the smoke, waving for help out of the windows so high up in the sky. I saw something black fall from a window, and then another, and realized that people were jumping to their deaths rather than waiting to burn or die of asphyxiation. There were no real words to describe all of the feelings that were going through my body at once, pain, sadness, confusion, disgust, anger and also the feeling that this couldn’t be real.

Then there was a rumble and all voices stopped talking, and as if in silence, one of the towers just collapsed into a huge cloud of dust and debris. It didn’t fall down sideways, but floor by floor, as if a huge hand had come out of the sky and shoved it down from above. I say in silence, but only because I heard silence in my head, the world had stopped and the impossible had taken place. 

“All of those people!! Oh my God, all of those people!! How could they survive with THAT falling on them??”

And then the same rumble, and the collapse of the second tower. I just hoped that those who were trying to escape the second tower had made it out, because all that was left was clouds and clouds of smoke and dust. The TV went silent for a second, while the commentators tried to gather their composure and explain what had happened right there, in Manhattan. Visible on screens worldwide, the entire world population had been able to see a terrorist act gone completely right, probably even better than had been expected in their wildest dreams. More images on the screen, and then the reporter giving us news of a plane that had gone down in Pennsylvania, probably the last hijacked flight that had fortunately not met its intended destination.

I continued to watch the scenes, listen to the words, hoping that it was all a huge farce, a prank to see how gullible we were. I was speechless. My friend refilled my coffee cup a few times and went out to buy cigarettes, as I couldn’t move. Couldn’t eat, couldn’t really formulate any sentences. I realized I was in shock and then felt terrible, as I was lucky to be thousands of miles away, in the comfort of my little apartment in France. But then again, how safe was I? How safe were any of us anymore? Planes had been hijacked before, not one, but four in one go, right under the eyes of the American officials. Before this plane hijackings were used as a way to extort some kind of deal, money or other (apart from the Lockerbie bombing). When had hijacked planes been used as deliberate weapons to kill? The name Osama Bin Laden was said over and over again, as many times as the images of the attacks spiraled over the screen. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t move, I couldn’t even think straight. I finally got through to my mother in California, and she had only heard the news when she got to work, had been spared the horror of seeing it all happen on live TV. I saw those people die when they jumped from the top of the towers. Flying through the air, all hope lost.

I continued to watch through-out the night, fell asleep to the same images that I woke up to. All regular TV shows had been suspended and the news reports kept coming in the rest of the next day. Death tolls and interviews and pictures of women running for their lives, covered in dust and debris. Statements from different terrorist groups, images of people weeping and people cheering, a collective feeling of horror in most places, chants of joy in certain countries. Death is death. It kills you just the same. I couldn’t wrap my head round the enormity of the acts, the change that they brought to the entire world. The day those planes crashed into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, and into a field in Pennsylvania, was the day the world changed. No country was safe anymore, and no country would ever be safe again. Ever. During the Cold War we feared nuclear attacks, but we also knew that they would never really happen, neither the US nor the USSR wanted to commit that much damage and death. Not really. But on September 11

th

2001, a new evil emerged from the darkness and bared its teeth to the world. There would be no warning, no amnesty and no guilt. You were going to die, wherever the fuck you may find yourself in the world. 

I lost the little hope and optimism I had left that day. For weeks afterwards I was obsessed with watching the footage, over and over again. I followed the war in Afghanistan with baited breath, with some anger that it had taken such a terrible act to actually care about what was going on in Afghanistan. I think that I couldn’t help feeling like it was too little and too late. I started to stay in as much as possible, just in case something else happened. The TV was on day and night, with me waiting

for the next attack, the next images of death and destruction and hatred and sorrow. A plane disintegrated above Queens and all of the national TV channels went on high alert until it was determined that it was just a “regular” crash, based on some kind of technical fault. Engine failure.

I started suffering from brain failure. My slow decline into depression that had started months before took a nosedive, right down into the pits of the dark world that surrounded me. There was no hope left inside. Food tasted bland, and I couldn’t concentrate on anything apart from the news, terrible chick lit novels and my thesis. Sylvia Plath? Why not, I mean I was more than willing to crawl right under the bell jar with her, snapping it tightly shut. We could breath the same foul air together, but at least we were protected from the outside world. Three CDs on eternal rotation on my CD player: Tim Buckley’s Greatest Hits, Tom Wait’s Used Songs and Bob Dylan’s Desire. A Tim Buckley cassette compilation I had made was in the shower, nothing else. The Cure’s Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me on my record player in the living room. I couldn’t drink alcohol anymore, it just made me want to vomit. My dreams just turned to nightmares, so it was better off I didn’t really try to sleep, just toss and turn and think of death and how much warmer it felt than life.

How can something so much bigger than you, something that effects the world as a whole, something that triggered events that would never end, wars that had no meaning, more death, more hatred, more despair, affect one person in such a way? Why did

not let it change me for the better, why did I crawl away into a hole and hope that I could hide away in death, because life had no more happiness to offer? I felt like I was wasting away, I withdrew myself from my friends and stayed in my apartment, cuddling my cat and watching the news. There was no more hope. What happened to the girl who was an idealist? Who lobbied for the rights of the Tibetan people in front of cinemas and bars? What happened to the girl who tried to talk to everyone about the fate of the Afghan women under the Taliban? What happened to the girl who cared, who wanted to make a change, who wanted to make things better?

She lost hope. The day those planes crashed into those buildings was the day I finally lost the will to survive.

“Want to go out for a drink? I’m out with the boys at the usual bar, everyone is asking about you and is wondering why they haven’t seen you for a while.”

“Ah… I’m in my pyjamas. It’s too late, I have class tomorrow.”

“No you don’t! You have one class a week this semester, and don’t use the thesis excuse, I saw how far along you are. Take a night off, come out and have fun. Please. I miss you. We all miss you.”

“Don’t just say that to make me feel better love, I know you will all have fun without me. I… Just… I just can’t right now. I don’t feel well, I feel like I may puke and just want to stay in bed. I love you.”

“I love you too… I’m worried. I’ll bring you coffee in the morning.”

Click. 

What did I say? Lost all hope.

Image taken from the web - could not find the copyright as it appears on so many different sites.

Image taken from the web - could not find the copyright as it appears on so many different sites.

Short Story: Of Instability and Growing Roots

Of Instability and Growing Roots


She walked out of the airport into the humid air, so humid that each breathe was a mix of droplets and warmth. She didn’t turn around to look behind her; she just walked straight over to the men with their cars, to what appeared to be a taxi rank, disorderly, loud but with the main direction of taking people where they needed to go. This was the start of all new, a place where she could soothe the aches and pains of a life that had failed her and find that core that had gone missing months before.
Another country, new people, a new adventure. Gone were the days of sitting at the bar and drinking the night away. Gone were the days of lying in bed under the covers, wishing for the time to stop so that she wouldn’t have to face anything outside of the house. Gone were the days of pretending to smile and laugh at everything and everyone, waiting for that one moment when she could start drinking and drown herself in oblivion. This wasn’t even a new start, just an awakening of sorts, a change and a time to reflect on the years lost and found.

“The beach please. Just the beach.”

Emily was your quintessential wild child. Rebellious and quiet as a teen, adventurous in her twenties and free-falling in her thirties. Strong-willed and strong-hearted, but lost in the world that surrounded her. She spent so much time looking for something that had departed so many years before; that she often forgot what it was like to actually enjoy her life in the way that it should have been lived.
There were the days in the squats, cooking vegetarian food over a gas stove, foraging the market for the cheapest foods and inventing meals that were filling and savoury on a tight budget. While Emily would go to school and dissect poetry and fiction, her boyfriend Neil would sell weed and coke in order to provide himself with the odd heroin fix. Nights were spent talking about the world and listening to old records saved or stolen, scratched and warped. It was hard to afford food, but the alcohol was always present, as was the white powder that would make its way into everybody’s noses at some point or another. Electricity was not always an option, and in the days of darkness the instruments would appear, or they would all pile into a van and drive around, looking for a warehouse party or an outside rave. Sell drugs, consume drugs and dance until the sun went down again, sometimes multiple times. The only milestone was the degree that Emily wanted to obtain, not for any real purpose except for an accomplishment. The first person with a degree in the family that she had lost sight of.

Emily tired of the squat and of Neil once his dabbling in heroin became a daily need, and branched out on her own, traveling to places that her eyes had never seen before. There were the days with a small backpack and random friends picked up along the way. Ashrams in India, third class train rides in Egypt, kibbutzim in Israel, barefoot walks on the beaches in Morocco. Postcards home with the words “I am safe, I love you”. Men who fell in love with her, and men who she fell in love with along the way, sad goodbyes and lies about being together again someday, somewhere else on the planet. Friendships forged over campfires and during bumpy bus rides. Cheap cigarettes and vodka, beach parties and long discussions involving copious amounts of weed and tobacco. Emily lost herself in the different worlds she ventured to, and came out of them with a new sense of self, with a confidence she had been lacking in her younger years and with a new sense of fulfillment and goals for the future. It was time to settle for a while.

“Left and then a right here. Go straight down the road until you get to the little shop on the corner, and then make another right.”

Emily contemplated the world outside the open car window, breathing in the smells of ash and incense, food and rubbish. People clad in garments of all colours and shapes, voices talking in different languages and cars honking at every intersection, trying to make their way through the traffic of people and cars and bikes. The only thing that mattered at this point was the beach and the peace it would always bring.

There were the days in the city, working in the office, scraping by to pay rent on a tiny studio that she only ever used to sleep in. Nights in dive bars and days picking up the brain cells lost in those bars, only to lose them again in another location the following night. Emily despised her job and the stress that she let overwhelm her on a daily basis, but persevered under the notion that this is what she should be doing with her life, conforming in her own way, tattooed sleeves under business shirts and barefoot wandering in airports during business trips. It couldn’t last, it just wasn’t for her. The partying took its toll and pneumonia and depression crept in, taking over the smiles and laughter that used to fill her days and nights. A sure sign of needed change, time to move on and find that natural light and happiness again.

Emily left those days one rainy, blustery day and found what she had been looking for for years, a life that she had always wanted. Jobs that she enjoyed and friends that had the same outlook as her. People who did not want to conform but who just wanted to be who they were, despite the fact that they may not always be accepted by others. She realised that there was no calling in life, but ideas and needs and destinations and sights. Places to go and people to see and experiences to feel. Freedom was always available; you just needed to take advantage of it. Some may call it another form of running away, but for Emily it was just another adventure, another place and another time where her insomnia died and her laughter came back. The simple parts of life that were so fulfilling reappeared and she woke up most days with a smile and an interesting thought. There were some days and weeks of grey areas, times when the tears would fall freely for a while, before drying up and leaving her be again. Emails came and went, with the words “How are you? Should I be worried” and the usual response of “I’m fine, doing great!”

Then came the days that the grey turned to black, and the light disappeared once again. Back to the bars and the oblivion that she had been fleeing for so long. Sadness prevailed happiness and the tears would never dry up, even when the sun was shining and the sky was pure blue. Christmas lights and songs of freedom did not help, all cares were gone and hugs could not fight the growing sense of impending doom on the horizon. Night turned to day and day to night and the most important thought was that of escape, once again. Ties bound her down, and the scissors to cut them were always just a few centimeters out of reach.

It was time. Time to leave and time to return. A small bag of belongings and a ticket to fly away, no looking back, no looking forward.

“You can leave me here. This is perfect.”

There she was, right there, on the beach, in the same spot as she had always been. In front of the hut, looking exactly like she always had. A few more wrinkles, lighter hair and the same ocean-blue eyes. Some things never really changed, even after months and years of outside changes.

“Hi Mum.”
“Emily… You came home at last! It’s time to let the healing begin and to rest within the confines of this paradise we have always called home. I love you child, I knew that you would make it back when the time was right for you. I never doubted your strong spirit would guide you back to me.”

Time may not heal all wounds, but love and peace may just do the trick. Home is where your heart never leaves.



Short story: Autumn's Place


Autumn’s Place

There is a place not too far away from here where the sun always shines and the sky is always blue. At night the moon rises through a clear dark sky speckled with a million stars, all flickering away to some kind of galactic symphony. During the day the birds sing in harmony and at night the fireflies float around in the air, humming along to their own songs. Once in a while voices can be heard across the bay, but most of the time all you can hear are your own thoughts. If you close your eyes and clear your mind you can imagine this special place not too far away from here.

Autumn dreamt of this place when she wasn’t there. It was her haven away from the real world, her spot in the world where she felt like she really existed. Two days of real existence cancelled out the other five days of the week where she felt like she was just another ant building up the ant hill. Alarm clock to work to lunch to smoke break to work to gym to dinner to bed to alarm clock again. The boring cycle of the week days made her want to randomly kick things while screaming until her throat was hoarse. But once Friday came along, she would grab her weekend bag and hop on the subway, knowing full well that within the following 12 hours she would taste freedom again.

The air felt so pure and fresh that Autumn would let it fill her lungs as soon as she stepped off the train. Rain or shine, summer or winter, she would try to never miss a weekend away. There was nothing that the city had to offer her than millions of people, emails clamouring for her attention and a small, box-like apartment where she could never feel at home. Out in the special place she had as much space as she needed, more space than she would ever need. The deer would run across the lawn, chomping on the hyacinth flowers in bloom, and the raccoon babies would hole up beneath the ceiling rafters, keeping warm until they were big enough to venture outside alone, ready to attack the garbage cans that lay around for them to choose from.

On Saturday mornings, during any season, be the roads frosty or glistening with ice, or the air so humid with heat that one felt like one was drinking airdrops, Autumn would rise before the sun and walk down to the bay to watch it slowly come up over the water to the east. The sky would turn purple and then orange and yellow, bruised streaks lining over your head, until it looked like the sky would alight upon the bay, throwing fire onto the water, before the sun broke through the horizon and another sunny day would start. In the evening, she would rush over to the west bay and watch the sun set on the water again, sometimes over fishermen and swimmers, other times over blocks and blocks of ice that were floating about. Even during the winter months the sun rays were piercing and strong, as if nothing could beat the power it had over the place. It was clear that nature ruled the place that had captured Autumn’s heart and had given her the freedom that she needed so much to make it through the week days of her life.

Autumn had chosen a life of compromise: if she had the weekend of her choice she would endure the other five days of the week. She felt that she had no other choice than compromise. There were no shades in her black or white, it was prison and escape and back to prison again. She lacked the imagination or the will-power to make her freedom an everyday occurrence. By accepting what she saw as her fate she gave up on seeking for anything more in life. 

Saturday nights were for lighting the log fire and curling up on the couch with the dog and a book. Dinners would be fresh vegetables cooked into soups and stews and salads over the stove, herbs picked from the garden and tea made from lemongrass and honey. Produce was always purchased locally, from the farmers, or picked directly from the vegetable garden amidst the hibiscus flowers. Autumn’s choice of a book was so very eclectic, but she would always finish at least one during the weekend, another form of escape. Escape within escape, so that what was considered by most to be her real life was completely forgotten for hours on end. What was real life anyway? The job that she hated and that took up most of her days, but that paid the bills and allowed for short getaways, or the life in her place by the bay, away from everything and everyone, where dreams could be dreamt without any guilty feelings?

Autumn would walk down to the ocean on Sundays, never mind the season or the weather, to sit by the waves and watch them crash against the shore. The ocean made her feel serene and energetic at the same time, and helped her collect her thoughts and her doubts together, and make sense of them. There is nothing more powerful than the ocean – it will pick you up and throw you about without fail, and will take anything in that you throw into it, swallowing it whole and throwing it back up miles and miles away, somewhere else in the world. Some things never come back up, they are swallowed forever, and disappear into the earth. Autumn would imagine all of her fears disappearing into the darkest parts of the ocean where no one would ever think of looking for them. Or maybe they were swallowed up by a shark and shredded into a million pieces, never to be found again. Every week new fears and doubts were thrown into the waves, some disappearing, others coming back again, weeks later.

Whereas the ocean was the beginning of all feelings of freedom for Autumn, it also ended up being the end of it for her. Autumn’s life was divided into boxes, all enclosed by one big box; a small box for her city prison, a bigger box for her free life and tunnel boxes that lead the way to both boxes. There was no sign of a tunnel to go outside of the biggest box, it was one that Autumn had forgotten to build for herself. There was no outside, there was just the city and the special place, just a train ride away. A week day life and a weekend life, nothing else, carefully built so that nothing ever felt out of place. Even her freedom was built to last only parallel with the prison life. The ocean would take and take from her, but it would also give her back something that she had not even tried to imagine existed anymore: something outside of all of this.

One Saturday night, on a rare night when Autumn found herself stuck in the office, working on a project that needed to be finished before Monday morning, the rain started to fall. And fall, and fall, and fall. By Monday the rivers had washed up over the borders, and were racing through the lower parts of the city, picking up cars and debris and trailing them along the streets. Television showed scenes of chaotic winds, trees falling and electricity pylons rooted up from the ground, leaving thousands and thousands stranded without power and water. On Tuesday the storm dissipated and the sky became blue again, washed clean of the anger nature had unleashed on the country. Whereas the city had weathered some damage that would take time to fix, Autumn’s special place had been reclaimed by the ocean. Where she had once walked and ran with the dog, watched the sun rise and set, read books and picked flowers, were now only fish and waves and the odd roof and boat floating about before it was dragged into the midst of the ocean. The special place was somewhere down there, among the fears and doubts that Autumn had sent into the water. The ocean had taken Autumn’s self-created freedom but had thrown her something back: the ability to make a choice and a change in her own creation. Instead of living in the self-contained box for the rest of her life, content but not happy, she now had the choice of breaking free. It was now up to her to make this choice.

When one thing disappears another thing is not far behind to take its place.


Short Story: Wine Days (aka La vie en rosé)

Wine Days (aka La vie en rosé)


Tout seul dans mon placard
Les yeux cernés de noir
A l'abri des regards
Je défie le hasard
Dans ce monde qui n'a ni queue ni tête
Je n'en fais qu'à ma tête
Un mouchoir au creux du pantalon
Je suis chevalier D'Eon – Mylène Farmer, Sans Contrefaçon


“First stop at Hannibal-qui-n’est-pas-Hannibal for the wine, then Place Victor Hugo for Berlioz!”

“It’s been too long; we have so much to tell Berlioz, so much!”

Red wine for the winter days: dark and warm, stains your lips red and leads to a darker and thicker drunken state. Red wine to warm the soul while running around the streets of the town in the cold days, sometimes Port on a rich day, but mostly red wine of low quality, no more than 15 francs a bottle from the usual épicérie on the corner of Les Halles. White wine for the spring and the summer, fresh from the fridge if possible, but it’s not too much of an issue if it’s warm as it’s all going to be gone pretty fast. One bottle for now and another for the bag, as you never know how long of a night it is going to be.

It’s always important to eat before drinking, because you don’t want to get sick, especially if you don’t have much money and are leaning towards the cheaper bottles, or even the plastic bottles of near-vinegar if the finances are severely dire. Bottle opened in hand? Ready to go!

Place Victor Hugo, where our old friend Hector Berlioz resides in the form of an imposing statue, looking over the fountain and the people who walk through on their way elsewhere. This is where the Christmas market is held in the winter and where children jump through the fountain in the summer (as well as the occasion child-adults such as me). Who hasn’t jumped into a fountain and walked home soaking wet but laughing gleefully? Or maybe that is just me…

Mélusine and Marie-Antoinette, off with her head, skipping hand in hand down the old streets of the city, a bottle of wine in each hand and hundreds of ideas and thoughts racing through our mind. Berlioz is the beginning and the end; he listens without judging, never moves and never leaves us. The first bottles are opened at his feet and the race towards l’ivresse commences.

Sometimes in life we are lucky enough to find that perfect friendship that makes you feel free. When I met Mélusine she was shy and hid behind her hair in the corner of the bar. My friends would try to get her to join us, because she was beautiful and sweet, but she would not say more than one or two words at a time, until I gathered her up and took her with me along my own journey on a path I didn’t know existed. We discovered a mutual love for female-fronted punk and grunge bands, strong coffee, wine, 19th century literature and decadence, as well as playing hilarious pranks on men and women who we found annoying, insensitive and stupid. There were many of them around at the time, and they tended to congregate around us and our little group of misfits.

I had grown up with my group of friends, mainly men with a few girls who came and went as time went by. Mélusine appeared out of nowhere and stuck with us, becoming my best friend and favourite companion, someone who I could talk to about things that I couldn’t talk about with the guys. Crushes, love, sadness, fear and loneliness: the topics of misplaced childhood and youth. We were both shy and suffered from low self-esteem alone, but together we thought we could conquer the world, reaching the lowest pits of despair and the highest peaks of happiness together. Mélusine listened to me cry as I comforted her through her darkest days. I listened to her laugh as she held my hand when we skipped through the sunshine, picking daffodils along the way. Did you know that there is a fine for each public city flower picked? We are lucky that we were never caught because we would walk around with bunches and bunches of daffodils in the spring, leaving a trail behind us.

We were like polar opposites physically. Mélusine with her long, blonde hair and green eyes, me with my long, brown hair and dark brown eyes, but we were of the same height and similar skinny builds. We both dressed alike, although Mélusine was more understated than me and liked to hide underneath large layers. Ribbons in our hair and long red nails on fingers covered in fountain pen ink from all the writing we would do. Letters to others, letters to each other, university papers and diary entries were all written by hand in ink. Babes in Toyland in our ears and Fluffy lyrics flying from our mouths when we were angry drunk, Mylène Farmer when we were happy drunk. We liked to sing to Berlioz when we started to feel warm and fuzzy inside, before going on our way towards the adventures of the night.

Si je dois tomber de haut
Que ma chute soit lente
Je n´ai trouvé de repos
Que dans l´indifférence
Pourtant, je voudrais retrouver l´innocence - Mylène Farmer- Désenchantée


Café St Germain and then wine by Berlioz. One bottle finished, the next one opened and then en route pour l’aventure! Every night was different, we never knew where or what the stars would lead us to. Some nights we would roam the streets of the town, looking for parties to crash, other nights we would meet our friends at one of the local hang-outs, some nights we would go to the coureur de jupons apartment and invite everyone we knew to join us and other nights we would sit by the river talking about how much we despised everyone and everything and how life would have been so much better if we had been born in a different century.

“I want to kick that door down and tell them to stop hanging around those awful people. I want to punch that girl in the face and tell her to stop trying to be my friend because I despise everything that she stands for, stupid fucking hippie!!”

“Why do they all hate us so much? What the fuck is wrong with us?? I wish I had enough strength to tell people how I felt. I mean, I wish I could tell HIM how much I love him. All I can do is watch him out of the corner of my eye and listen to you and him talking about natural things and I don’t even dare open my mouth.  I hate myself!”

“Oh darling, stop beating yourself up about this, you know what he is like. He only goes out with girls who he can manipulate into doing what he wants. Those girls are like Rapunzel in their towers, waiting for him to come home after he has been out all night drinking with us. Do you want to be that girl? At least we are free to do whatever we want and say whatever we want… N’est-ce pas?”

No one had cell phones at the time, and we all used to find each other at some point during the night. There were a few spots where we would always end up, usually besides one of the many fountains or statues in the city; or at the barDock for an electro-goth night or at the venue if there was a concert on, smuggling our wine into the venue and drinking it in the toilets. If we found a house or apartment party going on somewhere we would wrangle our way in, pretending we knew one of the people there, make a beeline to the fridge and walk out with any alcohol we could find. The town wasn’t that big, and the center, although full of winding streets, was small enough to find whoever you needed to find, and big enough to hide from those you didn’t want to see. Mélusine and I tended to read each others’ minds, and our first concern was always the welfare of the other. Our friendship was one of such closeness that we could always feel when the other was in difficulty or danger. We loved the same men but never fought over them; we hated the same people and pushed each other to find the biggest and best pranks we could play on people.

I was a wild shy child, alcohol helped me lose the cloak I shrouded myself with and gave me the power to be myself in front of everyone. Alcohol gave Mélusine the force to lose her inability to speak in public and brought out her real personality that you would only see when she was completely comfortable in a group of people. It took her a while but she ended up feeling comfortable with all of us, throwing witty and funny comments out here and there, and surprising the people who had already put her in the “blonde-who-doesn’t-talk” box. I was just completely erratic, sometimes nice and friendly and sweet, other times sad and depressed, other times angry and sarcastic and rebellious. People tried to analyse us, judge us, become friends with us, tag along with us because they were feeling adventurous or talk shit about us because they didn’t dare be us. Most of the time it was Mélusine and me against the world, often with our male counterparts, poets, rebels, musicians, full of ideas and despair, discontented and angsty, wondering when the world would change for us.

Slutkiss girls
Won't you promise her smack?
Is she pretty on the inside?
Is she pretty from the back? – Hole, Pretty On The Inside


Mélusine came from a strict family and would constantly lie to her parents about her whereabouts and her friends. She stayed at my house whenever we went out, as I benefitted from a very free-spirited mother who trusted me to be safe and not to end up in a ditch somewhere, and, however much I drank or however much I smoked, I always ended up home, safe in my bed. We avoided drunken one night stands and we avoided dangerous situations, preferring the company of each other, our bottles of wine, our friends and our songs. There is really nothing to match that slow but steady warm and tingly feeling that starts in your stomach and rises towards your head once you start drinking, and once you start there is no going back… One, two or three bottles and the party is on.

My lie is true, My lie is true
It is I swear to you
My lie is true, My lie is true
It is I swear to you
You don't want to
You don't want to see me crawl
Do you know how hard I try
To never let you see me cry
I seem to have too much control
and now I feel cold – Fluffy, Crawl


“I want to leave this godforsaken city and move to Paris. There is nothing for us here except the deep, dirty waters of the Isere and the unrequited love of the boys who consider us to be just that: female versions of them. At least in Paris we can fade away into the crowd and not have to put up with all of this crap every day.”

“Let’s plan on moving there once we have finished university. We won’t tell anyone, we will just go and find new lives there. A little apartment in Montmartre, jobs in the bars around there, maybe we could sell books by the Seine and meet the loves of our lives there? I’m so bored of this town, nothing ever happens here, no one ever changes and no one ever falls in love with me. Or if they do I don’t know about it, because I’m obviously still single.”

“Dreaming… Dreaming… Dreaming of something else. But is there anything else?”

Every day was filled with written words, every night filled with singing and shouting, laughter and tears. Freedom was easy, but we still felt trapped in the town we had grown up in. Brothers and sisters in happiness and despair, so far but so near. Wine days make everything so much better, and wine nights are full of surprises. La Décadence.

 « Le vin, la moyenne de facilite de partir, partir loin d’aujourd’hui. Tout le monde il est beau, tout le monde il est beau… Le lendemain est moins euphorique, mais il reste toujours le lendemain soir et le soir après etc, etc, etc. Devenir fou ? Nous le sommes déjà… L’alcool aide à libérer nos grains de folie, de les faire voler, voler au-dessus de tout, dans le ciel noir et nuageux. Tout est mieux que la lucidité affreuse. » M.V.

Short Story/Essay: Paradise Within


I actually wrote this for something else, in the hopes that it may be published there, but once I had sent it realised that I just wanted to post it on here too. So I waited a while and am just going to post here anyway, while I am sitting in my Mum's house in California on vacation, another spot in this world that I consider as slightly paradisaical in itself... Sunshine, palm trees, pure calm and relaxation, food directly picked from the garden and thrown into a salad or onto the barbeque... The theme I was writing for was Paradise, and this is what I was immediately inspired to write.



Paradise Within
I used to live in Paradise. But before I arrived in Paradise I lived in a place I can only consider as Hell, created by the people living on this planet around me and by the pitfalls of my own mind. I don’t live in Paradise anymore, but I live in a world that I have created for myself, part beauty and part darkness, part love and part evil. I call this my real world, and hope that I was able to bring some of my learnings from Paradise back to this world of mine.

Hell was the place I lived in just after 9/11. Watching the planes crash, the buildings plummet to the ground and imagining the horrific death of all of those people shifted my once idealistic approach of the world to one of terror and doom. How could I make any type of difference against a big machine of war that our planet was gearing up towards? Growing up at the tail end of the Cold War had been bad enough, but the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of nuclear threats gave us all hope that this world could become a better place if we tried. That is, until other forms of terror appeared, from both sides of the spectrum. 9/11, cumulated with the fact that I was writing my MA thesis on Sylvia Plath, led me to believe that Plath had had it all sorted and life under a Bell Jar was the only option for survival.

Hell was being scared to leave the house, panic attacks and acute weight loss, days of not being able to get out of bed, and nights of leaving my phone off the hook to avoid the constant phone calls and messages from my friends, worried why they hadn’t seen me and why I wasn’t out with them. Hell was a constant underlying anxiety of the unknown, and fear of never being able to rid myself of these feelings and feel happy again. Then Hell just became numbness. I came upon a crossroads: either I continued along this road or I chose to make a change, rip myself away from familiarity and throw myself into the unknown, where I would be able to lose myself, and where nobody knew me.

The flight to Paradise was long, and the first few days I was there were ones of complete panic, hidden by my creative ability to appear as calm as possible while my insides were churning. How would I ever be able to communicate with the people when I couldn’t even read their alphabet? Where would I know to stop on the bus in the middle of the desert where everything looks the same and different at the same time? How could I make sure that the food I was eating was really vegetarian? Who could I trust and who should I watch out for? And then I just let go. We humans have many a survival instinct, and I just let mine take over, in essence freeing myself from everything that was holding me back, and opening myself up to a brand new experience that would ultimately change my world.

Paradise was a country built on war, pain, love and passion. A place where the south was mainly desert and the north mainly green, where the sun would beat down on you during the day and the stars would shine brighter than I had ever seen them during the night. Paradise was where I lived among free spirits by the sea, working hard during the day, planting food that would be sold abroad once it was ready, making irrigation pipes for export in the factory, cooking food for over 500 people, serving it up and cleaning up after everyone. Paradise was where we would sit down after work and talk about our lives, a group of people from many different countries and cultures, brought together for different reasons, living together and coping together. No one goes to Paradise without their own personal reasons and expectations, and everyone leaves with some questions answered and new feelings that they never thought existed.

Paradise was the home that I made for myself among these people. Paradise was the ability to be myself and learn that I was a natural leader among others. Paradise helped me discover so many things about myself, helped me discard some of them and cherish others. Paradise taught me that it was OK to love, and that it was OK to get upset. If you don’t talk about what you feel and keep it all bottled up inside, it will only lead to explosion and damage. Paradise was the place where I learned that I could be passionate and that I could believe in a better world. Paradise helped me become the person I am today. I will always remember standing on the beach, with the little waves touching my toes, holding hands with the person I loved and imagining a future that would be full of warmth and sunshine. I let go and at the same time finally let people in.

I always knew Paradise couldn’t last forever, and when I had to leave I had already made up my mind to bring it back with me and plant those roots wherever I ended up. Seven years ago I packed my bags again and went off into the unknown and never left. I knew I had nothing to fear anymore. I planted my little roots here in the city, and let them grow deep. Every time I meet with fear, loneliness, pain and heartbreak I walk to the ocean and wash away the intense need to rip up my roots and run away. I let the ocean remind me of the days I spent in Paradise and the times that I learnt to trust myself and others, and go back to my real world revived and ready to fight any more battles that come my way. Life is a constant challenge and battle between highs and lows, pain and happiness and choices. The important part is to remember to be strong and to find the happy medium between the extremes.

Paradise does exist, and I will always carry a piece of my Paradise around with me, wherever I go. Whatever your paradise is, I promise that you will find it one day, maybe even create it for yourself. I’m happy in my real world nowadays, and always know that I can return to Paradise if I ever need to.

Short Story: Paris and the Garden Gnomes

A story I wrote based on a trip to Paris back in the 90's...



"En attendant mieux vaut se consacrer aux autres qu'à un nain de jardin" – Amélie Poulain

Neuilly, sometime in the late 90’s. 

Neuilly is in a posh part of Paris. I don’t think we can really call it a suburb, more like a posh area, stuck on to the rest of Paris. You take the ligne jaune, 1, Métro towards La Défense, and get out in a place that is obviously still a city but that also feels quiet and rich and old moneyish. Not the type of area that I was brought up in or lived, or even a place I really feel comfortable in. But it’s pretty, and M. had friends who lived there, and they let us stay during our first trip to Paris together. It’s not like we could ever have afforded to actually stay in a hotel or a hostel – the TGV ticket and some spending money were about all we could muster together. But it was worth it. Five days in the most beautiful, magical city in the world, roaming the streets of Paris, sitting by the Seine and contemplating life, drinking wine on the quai, watching all of the people walk by,  busy with their lives, while we had the time to sit and watch and wonder.
We learnt little tricks to save money: grab your coffee “au comptoir” to pay a “regular” price; get cappuccinos at McDo so you could take one along with you on your way. Eat a brie sandwich from the boulangerie and then go to Le Chat Noir in Pigalle to share a dessert and drink more coffee at a table. Cheap wine is easy to come by; we were never looking to savour it, just to get drunk and happy. That floating feeling of peace is something that only wine and youth can bring, sometimes I try to find it again and nearly always miss it in my rush to get there. Sipping wine straight from the bottle, waiting for that slow but steady rise of ivresse that starts in your stomach and ends in your head: warmth, serenity and bubbles of happiness and laughter. Red, white or rose, it really depended on my mood. Red was for those winter days, when I needed something warmer and stronger, white for the spring and summer, lighter and easier to drink, and rose for those days when I couldn’t stomach red or white. Probably after long week of drinking really cheap wine (as opposed to just cheap wine). The quality of cheap wine in France is what you would probably see as medium quality anywhere else… Very cheap wine is what you could equal to vinegar anywhere. Assume about 10 to 15 francs would get you a bottle of drinkable wine from an epicerie arabe. Wine and Gauloises Blondes (no way I could afford my favourites, Marlboro Lights, in my years of being a poor student), and the evening was all set to be a success.
On our last evening in Paris we decided not to sleep. We had to catch an early morning train and why would we waste our last hours in Paris sleeping when we could enjoy the magical air for a few more hours? We had dinner in a brasserie, drank some wine and walked around the Seine for a few hours before the last métro back to Neuilly. We had already planned our evening in advance and had bought some bottles of wine to drink through-out the night, with the plan of falling asleep on the TGV on the way home to ease the sadness of leaving Paris behind, for boring old Grenoble (Grenorrible). I find it difficult to drink in a contained space. I need to run, to sing, to jump, to create silly plans of action and play pranks on people. I need to jump in streams, pick city flowers and hug statues of great musicians of times gone by. I find it difficult to sit in one bar all night without running around in the streets, moving to other places and seeing different people. I like to feel free.
Neuilly was so quiet after midnight. As the lights went out one by one in the different apartments and houses around us, calm seemed to descend on the neighbourhood. Too calm. Meaning that the neighbourhood was in dire need of some decadence as Melusine and I would affectionately call our nights out. Decadence was whatever the night would bring, no one could determine it, but it would usually mean some kind of act that would make us laugh for days and days. Neuilly was too quiet for us, so all that could mean was that we were going to leave Paris with a bang.
Walking through the empty streets, singing Mylène Farmer songs, talking about boys and men and Romantic poets dead and gone from this earth (but not from our hearts), about how we want to move to Paris and live there, amongst the old buildings and the anonymity. One day, maybe one day. The grass may not be greener in Paris, but it sure is more appetizing…
“I can’t believe we didn’t find the exact place were Nerval killed himself. We had the map and the exact location!”. M. was peeved about this, as we wanted to see the area.
“I think we got it right”, I said, knowing that we had found the right alley, just that it had been closed off and added to a building over the course of the years. “In any case, we were right there, right where he took his life, right there were he gasped his final breath.”
M. contemplated this and nodded in agreement. We walked along, in silence, for a few minutes.
“J… Look at that garden!!”
“It’s full of garden gnomes! They are all looking at us! I think they need to go on a trip. Are you thinking what I am thinking?!”
“I think they need to go on a trip to see the Coureurs de Jupons in Grenorrible!”.
That was it; the idea had formed simultaneously in our minds, now it was just time for us to hatch out a plan. Three nains de jardin to be removed from a garden in peaceful Neuilly. Easy work, as long as we were discreet and quiet. M. tried the gate first but it was too noisy so she hopped over the fence and helped me over. Once in the garden we tiptoed over to the gnomes, picked one each, and a third one for good measure, tiptoed back to the fence, climbed back over, looked at each other and legged it down the street to the nearest corner, M. with a gnome under each arm, me holding it close to my chest while I ran. Breathless but hysterically laughing at this point we couldn’t believe that we had pulled it off. The ultimate prank, better than letters of disgust written on toilet paper and stuck to their front door. Better than locking ourselves in their bathroom during parties and taking baths for hours on end when people were waiting to pee. Better than switching their doormats with everyone else’s in the building. Better than playing knock a door run every night of the week. Even better than finding a shopping trolley in the street and carrying it up three flights of stairs and leaving it in front of their door. This was going to be the epic prank. A stunt no one else would have thought to play, except for two slightly crazy girls from Grenorrible.
The gnomes were wrapped in sweaters and placed on the overhead luggage racks in the TGV. Not even 7 o’clock in the morning, and it was time for us to say our last goodbye to Paris, coffee and croissants in our hands. It was impossible to cover the gnomes completely (they weren’t the smallest you could find; we are talking nice big smiling garden gnomes. The ones that stand out in your garden amidst the flowers and trees). Even wrapped up in sweaters their bright red hats were poking out of the top, and every time either of us looked up at the luggage racks we burst into laughter. Nothing remotely abnormal about two girls jumping on a train on a Monday morning amongst all of the business travelers in their suits, plonking three barely concealed garden gnomes above their heads and proceeding to sleep through the three hour journey back home.
Once at Gare Europole we walked to Boulevard Gambetta to make the first stop before going home, the final part of the prank. The building door was open as usual (although we would have had no qualms about ringing on all of the buzzers until someone opened it, our usual technique).
“Shhh! We need to be really quiet. They can’t catch us, because if they do it will all be ruined!” I was beginning to be a little paranoid and was worried the whole trick would be discovered before we could finish it.
“Ne t’inquiètes pas! It’s too early for any of them to be up, and if they are they are already in class. Let’s just try not to laugh while we get this done!”
For once M. seemed less worried than me, an unusual occurrence seeing as I was normally the more reckless of the two of us. Or maybe the one with the more reckless ideas, but more responsible in the way that I always knew exactly what I was doing and why. M. would follow along, sometimes with even more grandiose and evil ideas, but mainly not as aware of the consequences if we were caught. Of course I don’t mean real crime, but we were always up to no good, running around the streets drinking wine from the bottle, singing at the tops of our voices, crashing random parties we would find along the way, taking any alcohol we could find and running away. Sitting on statues and talking crap to random passers-by. Once we even made some poor guy kneel in front of the Berlioz statue and recite the Lord’s Prayer from beginning to end. Memories…
Once we got to the third floor we arranged the gnomes in a semi-circle in front of the door, so that they all looked towards the door. We didn’t even bother to leave a note, because who else would have thought of doing this? We then rang the bell and pounded on the door a few times and ran as fast as we could down the steps, racing out of the front door, grabbing our own luggage along the way, hoping that we would make it out of the building before anyone saw us. I think we did. Ultimate prank pulled off to perfection.
I only wish that I had been a little fly on the wall when one of the guys opened the door. Happy Monday from three Parisian garden gnomes! 

Slut angel selling acid punch
Dominatrix with a submissive glance
Botticelli with a tattooed bust – Fluffy, Crossdresser