Saturday, December 17, 2011

True Stories of John 17: Fairy Tales from Grandma Rene

It’s one of my earliest memories of being away from home. Rene, my maternal grandmother, was ecstatic to be in possession of a grandchild for the first time. I was the first of the grandkids, though from reports of my cousins, she was as good to each of us in our time. Some folks are simply best with babies and kids.

Her bed sat in the center of her room, which struck me as odd, coming from a home where beds sat in corners. Corners were good. Monsters could not get behind you if there was a wall in the way.

Rene knew every monster. Her mother came from Europe, which is where all the monsters came from. Well, they lived in Europe and Russia, but, “you’ll understand the difference when you’re older.”

Not only did she know about giants, but she knew how the mean ones had died. Huddled under her blankets, with an old hand stroking my shoulder, she explained how Jack had tricked one into falling off his cloud.

Mom and Dad had never told me that one. I asked if she knew any others. When she mentioned a candy house in the woods, I got a little less sleepy.

After Hansel and Gretel baked the evil witch, I said the woods were scary. She said they were fine, and told me about Little Red Riding Hood, the Boy Who Cried Wolf, and the Three Little Pigs. You see, the woods and wolves weren’t so scary. The bad ones had been taken care of.

She was incredible. How was she making all of these stories up so quickly? I couldn’t even manufacture an explanation for cookies missing in the kitchen. And she was good at it, both at making up neat things and in telling them in this soothing, loving voice, like she adored all the carnivores of folklore. She was surprised when the heroes were surprised, and proud when they survived or were victorious. I couldn’t figure out if these things really happened, or if she was making them up now. And in truth to the way children experience faith, I didn’t care either. I just wanted more stories from this endless mind.

I’d never manipulated an adult like this, or so I recall. Every time she finished a story, I only had to ask her to tell me another. This being her first shot with her first grandson, she never said ‘No.’ Somewhere around Cinderella meeting her Fairy Godmother, I faded out.

I was disappointed the next morning to find her more interested in the newspaper than telling more fairy tales. Even more disappointed with discovering what a “grape nuts” was. But those things were trivial. The old lady with an entire culture in her head and at her command has stuck with me for the archetype of the storyteller.

Friday, December 16, 2011

"Wolf Slayer" at Enchanted Conversation, dedicated to Grandma Rene

I'm proud to announce that "Wolf Slayer" was bought and published by Enchanted Conversation this week. While it's sad to see the zine close, I'm happy to have contributed to a strong line-up. Their final theme is Little Red Riding Hood. My story was inspired by her woodsman, who has a crossover with another figure from folklore. I don't want to spoil it for you, but she requires his special skills. It's a bit of Noir and a bit of Comedy, and so it takes a pretty special place to publish it. You can read it here.

This story is dedicated to Irene "Rene" Corcoran, my maternal grandmother. She passed away from cancer last year. It's her that I remember introducing me to fairy tales, and she did so in a way that's stuck with me as a writer. I first composed "Wolf Slayer" to amuse her, and when she was diagnosed, set about finishing it. On Saturday I'll post about her knack for fairy tales, and on Sunday I'm going to share something that's been much requested but that I didn't feel like sharing until now. These three days are for Rene.

Click here to read "Wolf Slayer."

Thursday, December 15, 2011

People Haunt Homes

Sweeping, vacuuming and spraying. Scooping used needles and scrubbing vomit. Ripping up the red-stained carpet to lay down hardwood. Rolling paint over the graffiti and gang signs. Paying thousands for a new roof so rain won’t dribble inside anymore. Gingerly picking out splinters of glass, setting in new windows before the exterminators arrive. It’ll need to be airtight before it’s bug-free, and bug-free before it’s occupied, and occupied well if it’s ever going to be a home.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: Consensual Sexual Harassment

"Flirting. How I tire of other people's flirting.

"Definition? Flirting: consensual sexual harassment.

"Ah, now you tell me that, no, harassment can’t be consensual. Flirting is more delicate than that.

"And now I tell you that no, I’ve seen flirting aplenty and there was little delicate about it. If it was delicate, it would have shattered from the sheer barometric pressure of lust.

"Yes, I’ve seen consensual sexual harassment. She teases him, so he teases her, and now they mutually harass with decreasing subtlety until I wish I could sue. It’s the softest of softcore bondage.

"No, I haven’t committed it. I’m ugly; I can’t find anyone to consent, and I tire of restraining orders. That’s just how it looks from the cubicle next to the hottest guy in Accounting."

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: Tim is Dead

Tim is dead. His fingers dab the cologne that gives her hives across his collar. His hands ruffle that collar in the way she always fixes when he’s in front of people. His wallet, usually home to a few token twenties, bulges with deceptive singles. Timothy observes Tim’s corpse: dressed a little too crisp, hair a little too mussed, wearing a seven-o’clock shadow that he really ought to shave off before the party. Not a thing about the dearly departed would meet his mother-in-law’s approval. If his mother-in-law would always use his full name to oppress him, then he will give it to her with a smile calculated to be just phony enough to bother her without being able to call him on. It took four of her Christmas Eve Bashes to kill Tim. This Yule, Timothy reigns supreme.

This piece popped into my head reading the first line of Michael Tate's story, "Darkness Surrounding."

Monday, December 12, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: First World Problems

Our problems are different? How can they be different? Our circumstances are the same. I am broke. You are broke. I know you are because you drive the same cab as I do. I make, maybe a little more money, because you frown at everyone. And you are broke, so you have to live with your sisters and parents. And I am rich, so my sisters, brothers, cousins, nephews, uncles and parents will live with me. The same.

You have an apartment with three rooms. You say it has three rooms. You say, “How can five people live in this place? It will be terrible.”

I have an apartment with two rooms, counting the bathroom. I count the bathroom. You do not. You could say, “Mommy dearest, here is a room of your own. It has a sink and a shower.” But you don’t say that.

I have an apartment with two rooms and eleven beloved roommates. I am overjoyed all eleven of my family can live here. Nobody has a room of their own. Nobody has a bowel movement of his own, and we’re grateful. Is it because we’re from elsewhere? Is it because we have crazy primitive values? Is it because we have not watched enough television, used enough Sprint minutes and eaten enough food from wrappers? They are all happy to be there and eat this fast food. Well, except my mother and one of my uncles, but they have had hard lives. They do not know happiness so well anymore.

They do not know happiness so well because they saw children come home without arms. I mean they ate mud to fill their stomachs and never met their father. You are unhappy because your mother and father might have to share the same room in your three-room apartment. Is this what legal divorce does? I don’t understand.

Where we come from, people are divorced by slave trade. Hands are divorced from you for stealing fruit. Here, in one day, I work? And everybody in my two-room apartment eats fruit. No one steals.

I don’t understand you. It must be your realism. Americans are much more realistic than we are. I make some cabby-money and I think, “Oh my nephew can come live on my floor now, and not in that country, and not get sick, or join rebels, or get killed in civil war.” My family is like that. We are unrealistic.

You and your mommy assess how things really are. She thinks, “Oh I have to go live with my son now, and I will not sleep on park benches, but I will have to wait for bathroom, and talk to them when I am tired, and smell their unwiped selves late at night.” A very realistic family you have, concerned on what will be, while we are so happy with what won’t. Funny, though. Unrealistic as we are, we live in the same reality you do. In fewer rooms, too, with fewer complaints.

Sunday, December 11, 2011


“These doors must remained closed?” Then why didn’t you build a wall? A door that can’t open is scarcely a door at all. This is unfair. Am I not allowed through, but hospital staff are? Because if so, you should have written, “Only medical professionals allowed beyond this point.” As it is, any surgeon is breaking the code every time he goes in there. What if I see a surgeon coming from the other side, and hold it shut so the sign remains honored? Will I get kicked out for enforcing your rules? Is it just a preference, or is there something sinister going on with those doors? Is there radiation and hazardous material back there, which endangers anyone who enters? Is it dangerous to open the doors, or dangerous just to be near them? I mean, if we’re dealing with radiation, that door’s not going to save anybody from cancer. You’d build a wall, with concrete and stuff. Certainly not with plexiglass windows. I can see through there! How did everybody in there get in if these doors must remain closed? Medical heathens.
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