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.

Book Review - Arcadia by Lauren Groff


There are times when I start to read a novel and by the first sentence I am completely hooked, reluctant to put it down and always thinking about the next moment that I will have a free minute so that I can pick it up again and continue to read the story. There are other times when I read a few pages and lose interest, dropping it down on the pile of books on my nightstand, sometimes going back to it on another day, other times just leaving it there until it makes it's way back into one of my book cases. And then there are the times that I start a book, and have a little trouble in the beginning, but keep at it, because I know deep down that it is going to be a gem of a story, one that will hold onto my heart for a long time. Arcadia by Lauren Groff falls into the latter category.

Set in three different periods of time, Arcadia follows little Bit's life, from when he is born into a commune named Arcadia in the late 60's, through his early 30's in New York City and then finally back in Arcadia in his 50's. Born to Abe, a pillar of the Arcadian community, and Hannah, strong and beautiful but prone to bouts of debilitating depression, the only life Bit knows until his early teens is that of Arcadia. A commune based on utopia ideals that works and then falls apart, where everyone works together to create a place where the rules of the outside world are not needed in order to survive. Where music and love and hard work create a home where happiness is meant to be prevalent, and politics, hypocrisy and hatred are non-existent. Arcadia works well in a confined place with a small amount of inhabitants but once it becomes popular the population grows and grows, and the ideals inevitably start to crumble. We see Arcadia through Bit's eyes and hear it's music through Bit's ears, we become part of his life, ask the same questions as him, love his friends the way he loves them and fall in love with the troubled Helle, the girl and then woman who occupies his heart even when he doesn't want her to, when he does. When Arcadia falls apart Abe and Hannah decide to take their son out into the world, before they are crushed by the consequences, and Bit has to learn how to live as most people live, away from the protection of the commune and from the freedom he always knew.

Groff's prose is absolutely beautiful. Her descriptions of Arcadia are stunning and so realistic you can only imagine being there; however, it is the way that she portrays love, heartbreak and pure sadness that really hit me in the stomach. We all know these feelings all too well, but when the prose you are reading actually makes you feel the exact emotions the main character is feeling, down to the very core, something special happens. It's as if it releases something inside of you, a mixture of pure sadness and the realization that you have touched something very beautiful and very clear. I hope that one day my own writing can create the same type of feeling in others, because there is something so incredible about how this type of writing continues to make you feel, days after you have finished the book. Groff has an amazing talent, and I hope she continues to create such wonderful stories for us.

Arcadia is not only a terrific story in itself, it is also, in my opinion, a stunning piece of literature.

Lauren Groff's Website

Ramblings: Of utopia and dystopia and other random thoughts

In addition to reading a lot of poetry lately, I've also been craving a lot of end-of-the-world, beginning of the next world, paradise is not quite paradise, dystopian-style stories. Utopian thoughts are all cool and everything, but I have a lot of trouble imagining the perfect society where everyone and everything follows some kind of unwritten rules of perfection. Can we really believe that one day every single human who is on this planet will decide to treat everyone else as equals, never hurt anyone else, and never lie, cheat or try to better themselves by oppressing others? No. This is why this is called Utopia. Perfection doesn't exist. We are all flawed and will continue to be flawed. I can live my life treating everyone in the way I would want to be treated myself, but that doesn't mean that everyone else is going to decide to do the same. All of a sudden just because the world as we know it is going to end.
There has been talk of the end of the world coming soon for years now. We missed it in 1999. Last year the Rapture was supposed to happen. It may have, but it went by unnoticed because I suppose that most of us were not worthy of being raptured. Now the end of the world is supposed to be happening again this year. People are really preparing for it (I kid you not, I know someone who is collecting tins of food and making evacuation and survival plans for him and his family). All I could imagine when he was telling me this were scenes from Zombieland. He also told me that I was pretty much fucked because I lived on an island with 8 million other people and it would be pure chaos when it all started. I don't know what "IT all" is in his mind but I'm not getting too overly worried about it right now. All I have been thinking about in terms of survival mode is that I should probably start stocking up on bottles of Jameson and packets of Marlboro Lights, because I am sure they will be worth tons of money once people can't get them easily anymore. That's it, I shall continue to sell liquor to people to make a living in the midst of a world of destruction and despair. Smart, no?

So, this book I am currently reading, America Pacifica by Anna North, is based on the idea that the world was going through the second Ice Age, and that a small group of people (small being proportionate to the size of the world population at the time) were able to escape the ice and the perpetual freezing temperatures by fleeing to an island in the Pacific, and making a new home there. What should have been a new life for this group of people becomes a mini-replica of the US, governed by a dictator. There are those who live as rich and healthy in the nice areas of the island, called Manhattanville, while others struggle to survive in the slums of Little Los Angeles. Proper food is scarce for those who cannot afford it, and they live off fake cheese and jelly fish products. The main character, Darcy, was born on the island, and knows nothing of life beforehand. For her, this is life. But through-out the development of the plot she starts to discover what life was really like before the ice destroyed everything, and she begins to question the set-up of the society that she has always taken for granted. I haven't finished the book yet, so I don't know if it ends in a lighter note than it started in. We will see.

This society could be anywhere really - it's not too far-fetched if you think about it. There will always be those who just live, accepting that this is life, others who will question, and those who will actually stand up and try to make a change. There will always be those who are more well off, and those who have to fight every day to just survive. I just find it really interesting to read fiction that is so near to reality that it could be real. One day in the near future this may be us, stuck on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, wondering if all those people we used to know made it off the mainland, or managed to survive despite all odds. I really want to write an end of the worldesque story right now, but I don't actually know where to start. Maybe with the stockpiling of Jameson and Marlboro Lights...

On a more lighter (and happier note), I finished a compilation of poems written between the early 2000's and last week. If you want to read them you will have to ask me and I will email them. I can't post them on here, they are just too personal and raw. And I lack the confidence to do that. I also got offered a new job, working right next door to my other job. It's pretty much perfect and I'm really really happy about it. More about all that when I have actually started working there. I also bumped into an old friend who I hadn't spoken to in months, sorted out our differences and realised how much I had missed her. This has been a pretty wonderful summer so far, even if the end of the world is (apparently) nigh.