Ghost Story

It is a whip-o-will that awakes me at 4:45 or so. This bird chants for fifteen minutes before giving up for the day. It’s like his declaration, his minute convergence from the whole of himself, or herself. How does one tell the sex of a bird. It is one thing that I wished I’d learned. In any case, this bird, I have no way of knowing is it’s the same one each day, but something in my oblivious awareness tell me that it is, has been chanting for weeks now outside my asylum window. It started one Saturday morning. This is fact, not fiction, because it was the day that the dead girl, Julia, started to visit me.

(What is a dead girl but a shadowy ghost…Or a dead man’s voice but a distant and vain affirmation…Like dream words most. ~Archibald MacLeish)

She was once so beautiful, still is in many uncharted ways, but the bump and grind of being dead is taking a toll on her. She miss-spells words, when she even tries to spell, and miss-pronounces my name which isn’t hard pronounce, and of late she is looking more and more…worn…haggard…dark. It’s hard to describe. She still wears her golden hoop earrings. She still wears the dark flowered dress with the plunging neckline, even though she was buried in a pure white sheath of satin, a virgin’s dress. Julia was far from that.

So this is what happens after you die. You haunt your last haunt, you live out your dead life in the last shit hole that you graced, the last place you breathed the air on this side. How unfortunate for Julia. She didn’t know. Had she known I think she would have waited, waited to off herself in the more opportune place, on some excursion we’re permitted to go on – the mall, the amusement park, at some museum, even at the damn Baskin Robbins. Better to haunt a bin of cookies and cream than here. Better anywhere than here.

So Julia once again sits on my bed and folds her long legs in lotus position. I see the bare bottoms of her dirty feet, chocolate colored nail polish on her toes. The flowered dress flows around her, a puddle of chiffon. The blood stains in her lap have sort of dried. At least they’re not glistening anymore. It was hard to look at her ghost at first. How she got the mirror is the immaculate mystery, and how she got it into her vagina and moved it around so well is the other. She told me she had to see the things crawling around inside her, the things they’d implanted in her. She told me she was part of some nameless government experiment, years ago, that it took a few eloquent years to grow. So she said. It was our secret. I kept her secret. Hell, I didn’t want her to think I was one of them. I loved her. I think.

Her eyes look very dark today, but the rings bring out clear blueness of them. She’s an artist. Was an artist. We were allowed to view her art online when we found out that she was slightly famous. A series of self-portraits that hedged out the art world. She titled them Re-numeration, Bone, Time Culminating, Drinking Poison, Dying in Disguise, Wisps of Wind, Edges, Fairies and Faultlines, and Julia Apparently Dead. The images were full of color, illumination, and desolation. I thought they were weird and seductive.

James always came to see her. The boyfriend. This is part of Julia’s problem now. Since she died he doesn’t come anymore. She doesn’t get it. She suffers from rejection even in death.

Have you seen him? I was napping. I may have missed him.

No, he wasn’t here, Julia. He doesn’t come anymore, remember?

Oh, yeah….Why?

Well, you know…You’re sort of dead.

She stares at me. She seems to be forgetting what I tell her. I fear I’ve said the wrong thing. Am I too blunt?  The truth, you know? It’s confusing to some of us.

We have a lot of work to do. I’m so behind. I have to have my collection ready by…

I sit down next to Julia. For a ghost, a wisp of a girl’s shadow, she smells pretty good. Like peonies from my grandmother’s garden, an earthy smell, pink, green, and mossy. The colors of her dress. There’s a lead smell there too. The blood. I try not to look at the dried puddle in her lap, at the stains on her fingers.

It could be paint, not blood.

____________

More Disenchanted Literary Terms

IVORY TOWER –

To be in an ivory tower is to be remote from the world, out of touch with reality, and probably devitalized. (Devitalized? okayyyy….) This term is often a connotation to writers or artists. A fall from your ivory tower? I feel doomed. Click here for help.

INVOCATION –

A bit lighter here: An invocation is an appeal or request for help to a higher authority or to God.

NOM DE PLUME –

A nom de plume is French for “Pen-Name”. This is a fictitious name used by a writer. NOM DE GUERRE is the French term for an author’s pen name. Another useful word: pseudonym.

Why do I write?

I freaking ask myself this all the time. One time I quit, long ago, my kids were little…it actually felt great.

Of course, it didn’t last…this writing bug grabs you in unique and unexpected ways, it slathers your soul and you brain with ideas that just keep coming, then if you’re crazy enough, you mention this to a loved one and they actually say: That would make such a good story.

So there you go…you’re off again.

I love when the groove of writing is found…not the rut, mind you, but the slickest groove that’s covered in oil and you can just barely hear the hum of the creativity train’s wheels, just slightly, and it’s oh, so soothing…I love it when everything flows. Story. Words. Characters. Descriptions.

I hate it when I look back and see how “less-than” it really was. I try not to compare. I try, like Kerouac, to make it all perfect the first time around or why bother, but I can’t.
Who can really?
Except Jack Kerouac.
Was it he who said that? That a writer shouldn’t need to rewrite, that the original inspiration was all there should ever be. I think it was.

Hold on, like Nora Ephron I’ll have to Google it…be right back…

Bloody hell, I couldn’t find that quote, but I’m pretty sure I read that somewhere, that he said that. If he did, he sucks.

So, why do I write? If you’re a writer, why do you? Is it some sort of inner self talk, or story, or whatever, that needs to burst out? Do we really need others’ approvals? Do you read a book, any good book, and say to yourself, I have a story something like this, I have to write it? Do you lay awake thinking of that little piece of something new to add to your character? Do you find yourself jotting notes down in the oddest of places, like the paper coffee cup you just drank from, because you just might forget before you get back to your desk or computer?

Are you someone like me who would rather do nothing else as a job?

Then we are the same my dear reader.

Writing Prompt

Often an image tells a story, contains a story, lives and breathes with story. I am ever enchanted with finding a gem that can be used as a great writing prompt. This one is no exception. See what you come up with, a flash piece, a sentence or two, a piece of dialogue.
I welcome responses to this piece. If you are inspired, leave a link to your writing in comments. I’ll post my own short in a few days.
Image Credit: Yanidel Street Photography

Deceptive Words

A great writer needs a great vocabulary. Do we ever really stop learning new words? Do we want to?

Here’s a few deceptive words to consider to add duplicity to the guile in your writing.

artifice – a skillful, sly or artful trick

cozen – to fraud, trick, cheat, or deceive

dissimulate – to hide one’s feelings, or to lie.

demagoguery – speech of a leader that appeals to people’s emotions, and therefore gains power.

imposture – to assume a false identity

panderer – caters to lower tastes of others and exploits weaknesses.

duplicity – deliberate deception in behavior or speech.

guile – insidiousness, treacherousness, cunning.

Flash Fiction: “It takes a long time to become young again.”

She finishes the phone call and lights a cigarette. He waits for the coffee to cool, pulls the sheer curtains aside to view St. Mark’s square beyond the canal. They’ve been in Venice for three days. They’ll go out later, get something to eat, drink wine, bring up some day that they both thought they’d forgotten. She’ll smoke more and he’ll pretend not to mind.

“So, how is he?” he asks.

She exhales loudly. “Fine…I guess.”

“Do you want to leave?”

She drags on the cigarette again, chews her thumb nail. They had waited for, talked about, planned for months this trip. This was the trip to make everything right, to get the cells enlivened, to save what was left of their life together.

He stirs his coffee and sits down in the brown leather chair. It squeaks subtly and she looks at him, not for the first time, nor the last, in his rumpled gray suit. He should get a new one while he’s here. And shoes. He crosses his legs and sips the coffee.

It takes a long time to become young again – a quote from Picasso she’s read somewhere. Where? She can’t remember now. She pushed the spent cigarette into the lid of her soda can where it makes a small “shush” sound as it extinguishes. She looks out the window.

“I’m not leaving,” she says.

You Do Not even have to leave your room…

“You do not even have to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen.  Do not even listen, simply wait.  Do not even wait, be still and solitary.  The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.”  ~Franz Kafka

 

Okay….I’m still waiting….what is happening?  The heat has turned on and the plant is in the warm stream of air and is moving back and forth and I’m thinking, I should move that plant, it may be too hot for it in that spot.

And so I sit.  It’s not like I don’t have any writing projects to work on. I have three going right now, which may be why I sit here. Too many things pulling me around, scattering my focus.  I believe when we write we have to become part of the story. We have to live, eat and breath as one or all the characters we’ve created do. With this focus comes and unending stream of scenes that we can sit and witness, and with some creative luck get those images down on paper with just the right, most publishable words that will send readers into another world that they’ll never want to leave.

It’s not easy of course. Often we sit and try over and over again. Some days I write all nonsense. I look at it the next day and think, what the fuck was I thinking yesterday.  Other days, I look at what I’ve written and think it’s brilliant. (Okay, maybe not brilliant, brilliant, but that sort-of kinda almost brilliant that my favorite writers have).  Still, the main thing, is that we have to set the time down and try, no, do the writing and what will come of it is a moment of brilliant. Without doing it regularly, well, the slump sets in.

As Sophy Burnham says: “When I am happiest, I write every almost every day.”

Me too.

The Grande Malade

by Djuna Barnes

“And there we were, my sister Moydia and I, Madame.  Moydia was fifteen and I was seventeen and we were young all over. Moydia has a thin thin skin, so that I sit and look at her and wonder how she has opinions.  She is all white except the cheekbones, then rosy red; her teeth are milk-teeth and she has a small figure, very pretty and droll.  She wanted to become ‘tragique‘ and ‘triste‘ and ‘tremendous’ all at once, like the great period French-women, only fiercer and perhaps less pure, and yet to die and give up the heart like a virgin. It was a noble, an impossible ambition, n’est-ce pas, Madame?  But that was the way it was with Moydia. We used to sit in the sun when we were in Norway and read Goethe and did not agree with him at all. ‘The man is pompeaux and too assure,’ she would say, shutting her teeth, ‘and very much too facile.’ But then, people say we do not know.

 

~excerpt from The Grande Malade, a short story by Djuna Barnes

I love the words “we were young all over” in the second sentence.

top image: je suis malade by aglayan-agac