The Asking

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Following is the shortest story from my collection, Seven Tales of Love.

The Asking

It had been more than twenty years since she had danced. Dancing wasn’t a part of her husband’s character, along with many other things she used to delight in. In the early days, they had moved to music in her apartment. He had tried, for her sake. And yet, in him she had the security that she had never found with anyone else. Before him, there were always the betrayals, small or large, that spoiled her relationships and made her unsure of people. Her marriage was not what she had dreamed of in her youth – but then, neither were the betrayals. At least he was true, devoted, loyal. Rock solid. It had been easy to give up the superficial accessories of love.

So what was this desperate stirring inside her now? This night as she danced to the rhythms of the music, with the man whose hand gently held hers, moving together as if in long familiar ease? Delight, excitement, the thrill of the dance, as in her youth. That dream was supposed to be long dead, long ago replaced with more reassuring, dependable matters. What was it doing so achingly awake in her now – in all of its glittering, hopeful youthfulness?

An alarm shot through her. This feeling did not belong to her, the fiercely loyal woman of unshakable convictions. It was because of the music, surely, the warm breeze, the Old World balconies, the tiny soft lights in the night.

It wasn’t the kindness in his eyes, the flashes of laughter, the protective arm around her shoulder, the earthy connection to the rhythms of life.

No, it was the soft crashing of the waves, the shimmering pink and melon sunset. It was the sly promise that night weaves into its beginning. It was all that – and he was just a part of it, surely.

Unexpectedly, life was offering her a choice. All she had to do was embrace it. The choice was there, offered to her with simple outstretched hands – no demands, nothing but the sweetness of human warmth. The choice to connect with life one more time before age and plodding routine took over for good.

Or, to stay true to her old self, to the woman she thought she was.

This sudden feeling was not part of her code of living. Such a breaking of that code would leave her unsure of anything ever again.

Or, would it open her up to a whole new way of being – once more connected, once more happy and hopeful, her old buried self awake again, bursting into blossom after long dormant years?

Would it be sadder to give in? Or sadder to deny?

Either way was crushing. The question kept rolling in the surf of her mind, along with the feeling that she had recaptured her beauty, her liveliness, the agility and freedom of movement that she thought she had lost.

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Then, slowly, there in her mind, was her husband’s face, there with his gaze – the eyes that always asked, that always expressed love and desire for her. Her heart was pierced with tenderness for him, for all their faults and failures over the years. They were bound, bound – no matter what dreams of beauty might cross her path.

Her excuse was sore feet and age when she declined to dance further, when she took her seat, and watched the other dancers dance under the tiny lights.

A 4

***

Rather than a vacation to a tropical location, as the story would suggest, the inspiration behind this tale came from a song. One cold winter’s day, after a dull day at work and a frustrating commute home on the subway, I stopped by a Thai restaurant to order takeout. As I sat waiting, staring through the rain-streaked windows at the traffic on the boulevard and the hurrying figures under black umbrellas, a song began to play — Sea, Sand, and Sun (Arnica Montana). And it took me far away — stirring up feelings and images of younger days, beautiful beaches, and the romance of life.

SevenTalesOfLove_Kindle_hi_v2

 

Seven Tales of Love
by Linda Mahkovec
Amazon Link: http://a.co/20rApfG

The Dreams of Youth

Longfellow sunset

The line above from Longfellow’s poem, My Lost Youth, in large part, inspired the writing of The Dreams of Youth. It’s a collection of six very short pieces that together tell the story of Maggie. Spanning over eighty-five years, the stories follow her from her youth in Depression-era Illinois to the time when she ventures forth to 1940’s Hollywood and coastal California, and her return to the rural Midwest

I used lines from the poem to head the sections, amazed each time that the words so closely conveyed the main idea of the piece.

The first section is called “A Girl’s Will.” Though Longfellow’s poem is about a boy, the line worked beautifully to capture Maggie’s spirit.

“A [girl’s] will is the wind’s will.” – Longfellow

(excerpts)

When her brothers and sisters staged a circus in the back yard for the entertainment of the neighborhood, it was eight-year-old Maggie who flew through the air on the handmade trapeze, her sense of adventure overriding any fear she might have had.

“One penny to see the Flying Wonder – Maggie!” they cried, drawing a sizable crowd.

Maggie loved the feeling of flying through the air and landing on the old mattress – the freedom, the thrill! It was the same feeling she had when she jumped from the hayloft onto the hay below, the same feeling she had when she rode her brother’s bike and coasted with her arms outstretched.

Maggie was four when her mother Eileen died after giving birth to twins, the last of ten children.rural cemetary

Summers at home were magical. The rest of the year was spent in the orphanage, along with the twins and her sisters. Maggie came to love the nuns. They taught her how to sew and read, and told wondrous stories about the lives of the saints.

All the same, she was happy when she finally reached high school and moved back home.

Madonna Alton orphanage

(Madonna of the orphanage)

Maggie has always loved the idea of airplanes and flying, and she decides to become an airline stewardess in order to finally see the ocean and far away places.

She took her savings and journeyed by bus to Kansas City for an interview with TWA. Her dreams were finally going to come true; she could feel them tingling at her fingertips.

From the bus window, she imagined the miles and miles of corn as the wideness of the ocean, curving into the horizon. The golden wheat became the golden sand where she would soon stand and let the waves lap over her bare feet. When she closed her eyes, she could almost feel the salt spray on her face!

As she waited in a long line with other hopefuls, eager for the interview, she heard the whispers.

“They don’t hire girls with glasses. You must have perfect vision.”  Maggie took off her glasses and slipped them into her pocket.

Back home, Maggie found a job working in the veteran’s hospital.

*

Maggie had not given up on her dreams of seeing the world. While she was working at the VA hospital, she learned that her vision was good enough to enlist in the Air Force Nurse Corps. She would become a military flight nurse.

nurse poster

When Maggie’s best friend from nursing school offered her the chance to go to California, the land of dreams, Maggie knew that the door to her future had opened at last.

ocean sunset

dreamsofyouth_kindle_hihttp://amzn.to/2rDiqfB

April Rituals

Bridge April

How are personal rituals formed, and what purpose do they serve? I have morning and evening rituals, ways of opening and closing the day. I have seasonal rituals, ways of marking time, of making it specific and memorable – as if putting a frame around a moment, a season, a month, so that it can be more closely looked at.

I think, for the most part, my rituals have been haphazardly formed. Some combination of actions clicked together agreeably at one time, and so I tried to recreate it again and again.

My spring rituals are largely determined by flowers. I search out the first blooms in Central Park – crocuses, daffodils, Forsythia. I plant my window boxes and choose the colorful annuals for the garden. Though I try to start the season in March, the cold of New York usually forces me to wait until April.

Though April is changeable, it can be counted on for a show of color – purple, yellow, pink, white. There’s a quince bush a few houses down that is among the first to flower in the neighborhood. I keep an eye on it, noting the first bits of green, then the dots of color as the buds begin to open. Then after a few sunny, mild days, the melon-colored flowers start to open, and there’s no suppressing the surge of pleasure they bring.

 

At about the same time, the pear trees along the street begin to bloom. My view at this time of year, as I write at the kitchen table, is that of white blossoms against the changing sky. In full bloom the trees are truly magnificent.

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I can’t remember exactly how a particular April ritual got started, but several years ago I sought out the music of Thomas Morley’s “April is in My Mistress’ Face.” The time of year must have reminded me of the lyrics, and of the college music class where I first became enamored with the music of Palestrina, Bach, and Morley.green lute

An online search brought up several renditions of Morley’s Renaissance madrigal, many of them with a montage of spring flowers in the background. But the one I liked best showed a young woman looking very demure, and yet sensual and lovely. Instead of the usual four-part polyphonic voices, the melody was carried by a simple lute. http://bit.ly/2oTC1Eq

April is in my Mistress’ face,
And in her eye July hath place;
Within her bosom is September,
But in her heart a cold December.

I tend to ignore the last line. I like to think of his mistress as sweet and lovely in face and heart.

One of my April rituals then, is to fix a cup of tea, gaze out at the blossoming pear trees, and write – or perhaps it’s more honest to say I stare out the window and remember and dream, casting back into the past and forward into the future – trying to link the beauty outside the window and in the music with a sweetness that once was, or that, perhaps, could still be.

Is April, and spring itself, a larger metaphor for life, for youth, for a beautiful past (real or imagined)? Very likely. And so I do my best to hold it, to love it, to be a part of it – even as the white blossoms are being blown from the trees.

Canva blossom 1