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Peace on Earth

 

We’re visiting family in Chicago.

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Slap Happy

An Excerpt from my still unpublished novel, The Vitruvian Man

composite, Disney's Space Mountain, faint overlay of Donald Duck

[Flash forward, this comes from the second chapter to the end.] 

In the hot early afternoon, we’re waiting our turn for Space Mountain. Amanda tugs my hand. She looks very serious and says, sounding very guilty, that she needs to tell me a shameful secret.

“All right.”

“I’ve never ridden a roller coaster—not even one for little kids.” She turns and giggles. “Oh my God, it’s so embarrassing.”

I laugh so hard I crouch. Amanda shoves my shoulders. To balance, because now I’m laughing even more, I drop to one knee. She circles behind me and slaps my back. I pivot around, and see her giggling, hand raised and ready to slap my face. I burst out laughing all over again. Amanda attempts indignation, which causes her too to break into full-throttle laughter. I scoop her bare legs together, drape her over my shoulder, and stand up, dancing side-to-side while she pounds my backside with her fists. We’re both laughing uncontrollably and I can’t keep her still. She’s squirming and clinging and choking back laughter to speak.

“Shut up! Shut up!” she yells, sliding down and around me, her arms around my neck, so she’s riding me piggyback. “Everyone’s staring at us!” she hisses.

Indeed they are. She pulls my hair. “How dare you laugh at me! Shame on you!”

I try to keep her behind me and she tries to twist around as if to free herself, despite her thighs squeezing even tighter around my waist. Finally, I set her on the ground and double over, trying to catch my breath, while still caught in hilarity.

Back on one knee, I touch her head. She shifts so we’re eye to eye. The impulse is simultaneous. We clap a hand over each other’s mouth. This lasts one second before we burst into fresh peals of mirth.

The line to Space Mountain has become a semi-circle around us. Amanda tries to bite my right hand. I raise it above her reach and wave my left index finger in her face.

“Shame on who? Shame on you, little girl! You promised to behave in public! You promised.”

She leaps at me. I fold her over my shoulder again and rise. I spin in a circle, balancing her. She’s giggling so hard I feel her shaking. Donald Duck appears and quack-scolds us until I put her down, his huge webbed feet flapping as he stalks off.

We don’t entirely recover until the steel car we’re strapped in enters the dark, scary mountain. The careening ride twists and turns. We cling to each other and scream.

Eventually, when the car slows and begins coasting to the end, our hearts pound together. We stay in the car until we’re helped out.

Languorous with relief, we wander hand in hand in the bright sunshine, our sunglasses on, our legs loose and rubbery. After a while, we’re strolling toward the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. The line here is especially long but Amanda’s glad we didn’t schedule a time using the Fast Magic option. She’s happy to wait and I’m perfectly content listening to her history of Captain Jack Sparrow. She prepares me for one steep drop and possibly a ghostly sighting of Blue Beard.

Donald Duck quacks past us again and I ask her for a translation.

“Donald Duck wants us to know—” Amanda puffs out a cheek and offers a good but understandable impression. “That’s more like it!”

We climb into a boat and watch robotic pirates drinking from flagons and kicking loose planks around. Amanda snuggles beside me and kisses my cheek.

“Oh no!” She’s noticed a little animatronic dog barking on a shipwreck. I tell her Sterling’s taking care of Samson. “She always had a dog growing up. Getting Samson was her idea.”

Amanda nods and in the dim light. Now that she knows someone’s taking care of Samson—no talking.

She absorbs every amusing detail, every entertaining sight and stunt the same way she experiences every moment in real life. I’m not as successful. The future is bearing down, wielding a deadly bludgeon.

Except—Amanda throws her arms around me while two pirates drag a captured enemy into a transparent cauldron of boiling oil. My anxiety vanishes. Amanda and I are great together. And her touch, whether or not her innocent desires require me to vanquish my sick and dangerous ones, fills me with admiration, love, and hope. What on earth is more magical than that?

by Kathleen Maher

The Vitruvian Man

cropped-tvm3-e1482183701904.jpg

After all that’s happened this year, I’m starting new and have renamed this site “Heretic No More.” A change is coming. We can only hope that 2017 brings many changes, one of which I can’t help but hope is the publication of my novel, “The Vitruvian Man.” which has been ready to go for two or three years now. Perhaps the title sounds foreign, but if you look at the picture it may be familiar. That is Leonardo da Vinci’s The Vitruvian Man. My character, Walter, an ex-Wall Street derivatives banker, has become convinced of Leonardo’s theory that everything we know must be derived from nature. The drawing famously fuses art and science.

Of course, the novel’s not about banking–that just happens to be his profession until he quits. Nor is it about finance, except that money really is not a problem for Walter Hargrove.

When his wife leaves, he’s left living across the street from her seriously neglected best friend. The novel shows the blossoming of an extraordinary relationship between Walter, an introverted 32-year-old math prodigy, and  Amanda, a spirited 13-year-old latchkey girl. Within a school year, she leads him out of his emotional shell and he gives her the love she has craved and deserved all her life.

 

 

Villanelle for My Mother

me-and-cameron-sf

My daughter and I at the SF museum after she received a Masters in Statistics.

After writing a sonnet for my father’s 85th birthday, I attempted a villanelle for my mother’s birthday. She married my father two days before her 18th birthday. On their honeymoon, she expected a birthday party, cake, candles–the works. My father hadn’t expected this, thinking getting married was enough for that long ago week. But he never forgot my mother’s birthday again.

I’ve read that villanelles often serve as eulogies. Like sonnets, they use iambic pentameter. But what really emboldened me was that the first two lines were ones my daughter and I really exchanged. She remembers us saying the exact words. It’s not just me.

The poem glances upon the difference between a long life and a very short one. Decades ago, my youngest sister was killed by a drunk driver. She was eight and holding her best friend’s hand in front of our house. They stepped off the curb and my sister disappeared. Her friend looked around in disbelief. My sister had landed 80 feet from the spot where she’d just been alive and happy. No one in my family is or was the same after this. As a fiction writer, I wonder about the widely praised and much loved stories in which a dead sister intervenes from heaven. Or the famous short story by a writer bedeviled by his editors in which a child’s death feels less crushing after the baker serves the parents fresh baked, whole wheat muffins.

Too many people refuse to acknowledge their own tragedies, let alone embrace another’s.We all have limits and short comings. But society should champion those brave and sensitive enough to acknowledge another’s pain. You’ve no idea what a difference it can make–when someone’s hurt, instead of telling her to cheer up, tell her you recognize what she’s going through. She’s not alone.

When I said life if long, my daughter said
That she had heard it's short, so which is it? 
In truth,I said, our Life has hard, fast limits.

The puzzle will prevail in heads 
And hearts until our world is finished. 
When I said Life is long, my daughter said,

Perhaps lifespan relieves annoying dread,
Unlike the instant end--torture isn't it? 
In truth, I said, our Life has hard, fast limits.

But if you suffer shocking loss within it, 
Oh yes, it tears, it rips, and never quits.
When I said Life is Long, my daughter said,

Who measure Life in any given minute?
No one. For time enforces awful exits.
In truth, I said, our Life has hard, fast limits.

Enjoy the moment! Love exists ahead: 
Surprise! A birthday party, candles lit! 
Hurray for you--and Dad--beyond all limit.


June 22, 2016 by Kathleen Maher

Sonnet for My Father

 

green pond, dappled light

I’m not a poet, but a fiction writer. I like sonnets and often wrote poems for my father’s birthday. This year he turned 85 on March 29. I sent the sonnet, which was inspired by my earliest memory. My father read poetry from his Notre Dame text books to me and my sister when I was two and a half and she was one and a half.

He didn’t remember reading Gerard Manley Hopkin’s “Pied Beauty” to his baby daughters us in our matching cribs. But the words “dappled things” have always floated through my life. When I rode my bicycle down leafy streets or played in shallow water. Fixing my hair, squinting at the sunlight.

While writing it, I realized my father and I shared an especially dappled relationship: sometimes very bright, other times quite dark. We loved each other beyond all doubt but rarely agreed. I always admired him, even when I couldn’t go along with him. I admired his faith, which I’ve lost for many years, but once felt strongly. My father went to Mass every day since he was six. As long as I lived in his house, I, too, went to Mass every day. His idea was that sinners especially needed to participated in the sacrament. Of his five children, I often looked like the most trouble, or  perhaps merely troubled.

Two weeks weeks before his birthday, before I sent the sonnet, he fell and suffered a concussion. Complicating this was the titanium cage supporting his neck for fifteen years. He was having trouble with his arm, but still working, still shoveling snow and hiking. When the titanium cage was in place, the doctors discovered he had no discs between his vertebrae. He was a champion at overcoming pain. Nevertheless, over the years, he had his hips replaced and his knees. Many years earlier, he had a heart valve operation.

The concussion left him unable to swallow. His medical directive stated no IVs, fluids, or nutrients unless recovery was likely. By his birthday, it wasn’t. We had the chance to say good-bye. A dying person often has intermittent moments when of returning to oneself. Still, I doubt he followed my sonnet. As an especially rough years draws to end, with even further debasement of democracy in the offing, I take some solace in those bright moments past.

Before The Little Match Girl dies,
Before The Brothers Grimm, bed time meant poems: 
Notre Dame inspired quatrains and sighs,
Divine as prayers received at heaven's throne.

And still I hear your voice, buoyant and clear,
In "Pied Beauty," Glory Be, Dappled Things.
Imagine, father, all we must revere, 
Possessing blessings true Faith brings.

If infants could embrace the Holy Word, 
Too young to know what they can never know,
How seldom then would life appear absurd.

Instead, each tale untold I can't resist.
Against all odds, I strive and never win. 
Forlorn, estranged, in truth, I will persist.
If you rewind, you'll see my joy begin.

Recall how often against the wind we'd run
Becoming, you and I, wild boundless fun.
___________________________________                     
Kathleen Maher, March 29, 2016

Through the Roof

Beekman Palace

Above is a photo of old Beekman Palace, looking through the “plein air” rooftop.

Next week Thor Equities, which is selling or making a show of selling, the unfinished “penthouses” planned for the grand, new Beekman Palace has invited those in the neighborhood for…I’m not sure what. Wine and cheese at their pop-up real estate office where Incredible Edibles used to be? Or perhaps a slideshow of what the five star hotel will someday look like.

But what I’m hoping for is a tour of the place now, which from the street looks as if all the rooms are gutted.  The atrium, which I never saw–my husband took that picture–supposedly will be “open” to the public.

I asked Manny, “Really? Free for all?”

We shall see. Because I highly doubt  the homeless people who sleep under the scaffolding even in the coldest weather will be cajoled to come inside and relax in the elegant chairs. Enjoy the free Wi-Fi.

When I talk like that, some people feel compelled to tell me quite seriously that the homeless are often, well, mentally ill.

Have you looked at the book of  Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)?  Social anxiety qualifies. I thought everyone was socially anxious, although some hide it better than others. Possibly, they’re only socially anxious when engaging in conversation with me.  I have been told I make others extremely anxious, because I’m so anxious. Not only is it a disease–it’s contagious. I’m not disputing this.

Nevertheless, I wonder about “Oppositional Defiance Disorder.” Apparently, being defiant as hell doesn’t make the grade. A true head case show  opposition first, then defiance.

Do not imagine I take mental illness lightly. I’ve known brilliant, lovely people who lost all interest in life.  Growing  up, I had at different times three different  friends who were later institutionalized and have never, to my knowledge, recovered.  I wrote a flash fiction, not about an actual friend, but about seeing great promise followed by irrevocable loss.  “Guaranteed Happiness.”  I read it once for an app of streaming interviews and the young professional men running the show tried hard when I was finished to say my story was not necessarily “a downer.” Flash fiction, after all–“who knows what happens afterwards?”

So perhaps yes, the man who sits on a stoop and stares at his feet for months at a time will be welcome  inside the all new Beekman Palace atrium. I supposed I’m cynical.

Although, fewer homeless people wander around these streets now than last year. The Dunkin Donuts that was open 24 hours recently closed for a month and reopened–hours six to midnight.  “God’s Favorite Sneaker Store” has closed and so have all the women’s clothing stores that sold high-fashion dresses for $9.99.

 

The Crane

BeekmanCrane+

The previous post showed a picture taken by stealth of the dilapidated Beekman Palace atrium.  The past two years (at least) have brought nonstop renovation: demolition crews filling the air with stoney dust that stings the eyes and clogs the lungs; constantly rumbling cement trucks; rotary saws chewing metal; scaffoldings, and enormous shrouds protecting the building’s guts while men hang from cables with heavy machines to blast the exterior–I’m supposing–clean.

Last week–another treat! For three or four days and nights this crane sat at the intersection beneath our apartment. (We’re behind the window I’ve colored green.) The crane, its attendants, several trucks, massive lights, and numerous plastic barriers extended down the entire block. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get an aerial shot. Because this mammoth crane extended to the roof of the building where another (seemingly smaller) crane waited. One passed stuff to the other. First up, then down. Possibly, vice versa. Both cranes are now gone.

The work, of course, continues. As an additional kick, this year outside our windows is a platform where workers arrive Monday through Friday. I wake and although the blinds are down, I see them, making up batches of mortar to reinforce every brick in the 15-storey hive of residences. Once upon a time, our little apartment was part of the bottom floor to a printing operation bought by Samuel Morse’s sons. His patents came through after he died in poverty. A century later, the fable goes, a brick fell somewhere in Manhattan fell and killed a pedestrian. So every five years or so, brick structures are glued back together. If it saves a life, I’ll smile at wave at workers. They can watch me write or jump rope–an advantage to living on the first floor. Nobody complains if I jump for hours. Well, through “Sign of the Times” or a “Soundmix” of hip-hop, without which, I doubt I’d jump more than three minutes.