[SNEAK PEEK] THE BELL JAR

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

The face in the mirror looked like a sick Indian.

I dropped the compact into my pocketbook and stared out of the train window. Like a colossal junkyard, the swamps and back lots of Connecticut flashed past, one broken-down fragment bearing no relation to another.

What a hotchpotch the world was!

I glanced down at my unfamiliar skirt and blouse.

The skirt was a green dirndl with tiny black, white and electric-blue shapes swarming across it, and it stuck out like a lampshade. Instead of sleeves, the white eyelet blouse had frills at the shoulder, floppy as the wings of a new angel.

I’d forgotten to save any day clothes from the ones I let fly over New York, so Betsy had traded me a blouse and skirt for my bathrobe with the cornflowers on it.

A wan reflection of myself, white wings, brown ponytail and all, ghosted over the landscape.

“Pollyanna Cowgirl,” I said out loud.

A woman in the seat opposite looked up from her magazine.

I hadn’t, at the last moment, felt like washing off the two diagonal lines of dried blood that marked my cheeks. They seemed touching, and rather spectacular, and I thought I would carry them around with me, like the relic of a dead lover, till they wore off of their own accord.

Of course, if I smiled or moved my face much, the blood would flake away in no time, so I kept my face immobile, and when I had to speak I spoke through my teeth, without disturbing my lips.

I didn’t really see why people should look at me.

Plenty of people looked queerer than I did.

My gray suitcase rode on the rack over my head, empty except for The Thirty Best Short Stories of the year; a white plastic sunglasses case and two dozen avocado pears, a parting present from Doreen.

The pears were unripe, so they would keep well, and whenever I lifted my suitcase up or down or simply carried it along, they cannoned from one end to the other with a special little thunder of their own.

“Root Wan Twenny Ate!” the conductor bawled.

The domesticated wilderness of pine, maple and oak rolled to a halt and stuck in the frame of the train window like a bad picture. My suitcase grumbled and bumped as I negotiated the long aisle.

I stepped from the air-conditioned compartment onto the station platform, and the motherly breath of the suburbs enfolded me. It smelt of lawn sprinklers and station wagons and tennis rackets and dogs and babies.

A summer calm laid its soothing hand over everything, like death.

My mother was waiting by the glove-gray Chevrolet.

“Why lovey, what’s happened to your face?”

“Cut myself,” I said briefly, and crawled into the back seat after my suitcase. I didn’t want her staring at me the whole way home.

The upholstery felt slippery and clean.

My mother climbed behind the wheel and tossed a few letters into my lap, then turned her back.

The car purred into life.

“I think I should tell you right away,” she said, and I could see bad news in the set of her neck, “you didn’t make that writing course.”

The air punched out of my stomach.

All through June the writing course had stretched before me like a bright, safe bridge over the dull gulf of the summer. Now I saw it totter and dissolve, and a body in a white blouse and green skirt plummet into the gap.

Then my mouth shaped itself sourly.

I had expected it.

I slunk down on the middle of my spine, my nose level with the rim of the window, and watched the houses of outer Boston glide by. As the houses grew more familiar, I slunk still lower.

I felt it was very important not to be recognized.

The gray, padded car roof closed over my head like the roof of a prison van, and the white, shining, identical clapboard houses with their interstices of well-groomed green proceeded past, one bar after another in a large but escape-proof cage.

I had never spent a summer in the suburbs before.

The soprano screak of carriage wheels punished my ear. Sun, seeping through the blinds, filled the bedroom with a sulphurous light. I didn’t know how long I had slept, but I felt one big twitch of exhaustion.

The twin bed next to mine was empty and unmade.

At seven I had heard my mother get up, slip into her clothes and tiptoe out of the room. Then the buzz of the orange squeezer sounded from downstairs, and the smell of coffee and bacon filtered under my door. Then the sink water ran from the tap and dishes clinked as my mother dried them and put them back in the cupboard.

Then the front door opened and shut. Then the car door opened and shut, and the motor went broom-broom and, edging off with a crunch of gravel, faded into the distance.

My mother was teaching shorthand and typing to a lot of city college girls and wouldn’t be home till the middle of the afternoon.

The carriage wheels screaked past again. Somebody seemed to be wheeling a baby back and forth under my window.

I slipped out of bed and onto the rug, and quietly, on my hands and knees, crawled over to see who it was.

Ours was a small, white clapboard house set in the middle of a small green lawn on the corner of two peaceful suburban streets, but in spite of the little maple trees planted at intervals around our property, anybody passing along the sidewalk could glance up at the second story windows and see just what was going on.

This was brought home to me by our next-door neighbor, a spiteful woman named Mrs. Ockenden.

Mrs. Ockenden was a retired nurse who had just married her third husband—the other two died in curious circumstances—and she spent an inordinate amount of time peering from behind the starched white curtains of her windows.

She had called my mother up twice about me—once to report that I had been sitting in front of the house for an hour under the streetlight and kissing somebody in a blue Plymouth, and once to say that I had better pull the blinds down in my room, because she had seen me half-naked getting ready for bed one night when she happened to be out walking her Scotch terrier.

With great care, I raised my eyes to the level of the windowsill.

A woman not five feet tall, with a grotesque, protruding stomach, was wheeling an old black baby carriage down the street. Two or three small children of various sizes, all pale, with smudgy faces and bare smudgy knees, wobbled along in the shadow of her skirts.

A serene, almost religious smile lit up the woman’s face. Her head tilted happily back, like a sparrow egg perched on a duck egg, she smiled into the sun.

I knew the woman well.

It was Dodo Conway.

Dodo Conway was a Catholic who had gone to Barnard and then married an architect who had gone to Columbia and was also a Catholic. They had a big, rambling house up the street from us, set behind a morbid façade of pine trees, and surrounded by scooters, tricycles, doll carriages, toy fire trucks, baseball bats, badminton nets, croquet wickets, hamster cages and cocker spaniel puppies—the whole sprawling paraphernalia of suburban childhood.

Dodo interested me in spite of myself.

Her house was unlike all the others in our neighborhood in its size (it was much bigger) and its color (the second story was constructed of dark brown clapboard and the first of gray stucco, studded with gray and purple golfball-shaped stones), and the pine trees completely screened it from view, which was considered unsociable in our community of adjoining lawns and friendly, waist-high hedges.

Dodo raised her six children—and would no doubt raise her seventh—on Rice Krispies, peanut-butter-and-marshmallow sandwiches, vanilla ice cream and gallon upon gallon of Hoods milk. She got a special discount from the local milkman.

Everybody loved Dodo, although the swelling size of her family was the talk of the neighborhood. The older people around, like my mother, had two children, and the younger, more prosperous ones had four, but nobody but Dodo was on the verge of a seventh. Even six was considered excessive, but then, everybody said, of course Dodo was a Catholic.

I watched Dodo wheel the youngest Conway up and down. She seemed to be doing it for my benefit.

Children made me sick.

A floorboard creaked, and I ducked down again, just as Dodo Conway’s face, by instinct, or some gift of supernatural hearing, turned on the little pivot of its neck.

I felt her gaze pierce through the white clapboard and the pink wallpaper roses and uncover me, crouching there behind the silver pickets of the radiator.

I crawled back into bed and pulled the sheet over my head. But even that didn’t shut out the light, so I buried my head under the darkness of the pillow and pretended it was night. I couldn’t see the point of getting up.

I had nothing to look forward to.

After a while I heard the telephone ringing in the downstairs hall. I stuffed the pillow into my ears and gave myself five minutes. Then I lifted my head from its bolt hole. The ringing had stopped.

Almost at once it started up again.

Cursing whatever friend, relative or stranger had sniffed out my homecoming, I padded barefoot downstairs. The black instrument on the hall table trilled its hysterical note over and over, like a nervous bird.

I picked up the receiver.

“Hullo,” I said, in a low, disguised voice.

“Hullo, Esther, what’s the matter, have you got laryngitis?”

It was my old friend Jody, calling from Cambridge.

Jody was working at the Coop that summer and taking a lunchtime course in sociology. She and two other girls from my college had rented a big apartment from four Harvard law students, and I’d been planning to move in with them when my writing course began.

Jody wanted to know when they could expect me.

“I’m not coming,” I said. “I didn’t make the course.”

There was a small pause.

“He’s an ass,” Jody said then. “He doesn’t know a good thing when he sees it.”

“My sentiments exactly.” My voice sounded strange and hollow in my ears,

“Come anyway. Take some other course.”

The notion of studying German or abnormal psychology flitted through my head. After all, I’d saved nearly the whole of my New York salary, so I could just about afford it.

But the hollow voice said, “You better count me out.”

“Well,” Jody began, “there’s this other girl who wanted to come in with us if anybody dropped out. . . .”

“Fine. Ask her.”

The minute I hung up I knew I should have said I would come. One more morning listening to Dodo Conway’s baby carriage would drive me crazy. And I made a point of never living in the same house with my mother for more than a week.

I reached for the receiver.

My hand advanced a few inches, then retreated and fell limp. I forced it toward the receiver again, but again it stopped short, as if it had collided with a pane of glass.

I wandered into the dining room.

Propped on the table I found a long, businesslike letter from the summer school and a thin blue letter on leftover Yale stationery, addressed to me in Buddy Willard’s lucid hand.

I slit open the summer school letter with a knife.

Since I wasn’t accepted for the writing course, it said, I could choose some other course instead, but I should call in to the Admissions Office that same morning, or it would be too late to register, the courses were almost full.

I dialed the Admissions Office and listened to the zombie voice leave a message that Miss Esther Greenwood was canceling all arrangements to come to summer school.

Then I opened Buddy Willard’s letter.

Buddy wrote that he was probably falling in love with a nurse who also had TB, but his mother had rented a cottage in the Adirondacks for the month of July, and if I came along with her, he might well find his feeling for the nurse was a mere infatuation.

I snatched up a pencil and crossed out Buddy’s message. Then I turned the letter paper over and on the opposite side wrote that I was engaged to a simultaneous interpreter and never wanted to see Buddy again as I did not want to give my children a hypocrite for a father.

I stuck the letter back in the envelope, Scotch-taped it together, and readdressed it to Buddy, without putting on a new stamp. I thought the message was worth a good three cents.

Then I decided I would spend the summer writing a novel.

That would fix a lot of people.

I strolled into the kitchen, dropped a raw egg into a teacup of raw hamburger, mixed it up and ate it. Then I set up the card table on the screened breezeway between the house and the garage.

A great wallowing bush of mock orange shut off the view of the street in front, the house wall and the garage wall took care of either side, and a clump of birches and a box hedge protected me from Mrs. Ockenden at the back.

I counted out three hundred and fifty sheets of corrasable bond from my mother’s stock in the hall closet, secreted away under a pile of old felt hats and clothes brushes and woolen scarves.

Back on the breezeway, I fed the first, virgin sheet into my old portable and rolled it up.

From another, distanced mind, I saw myself sitting on the breezeway, surrounded by two white clapboard walls, a mock orange bush and a clump of birches and a box hedge, small as a doll in a doll’s house.

A feeling of tenderness filled my heart. My heroine would be myself, only in disguise. She would be called Elaine. Elaine. I counted the letters on my fingers. There were six letters in Esther, too. It seemed a lucky thing.

Elaine sat on the breezeway in an old yellow nightgown of her mother’s waiting for something to happen. It was a sweltering morning in July, and drops of sweat crawled down her back, one by one, like slow insects.

I leaned back and read what I had written.

It seemed lively enough, and I was quite proud of the bit about the drops of sweat like insects, only I had the dim impression I’d probably read it somewhere else a long time ago.

I sat like that for about an hour, trying to think what would come next, and in my mind, the barefoot doll in her mother’s old yellow nightgown sat and stared into space as well.

“Why, honey, don’t you want to get dressed?”

My mother took care never to tell me to do anything. She would only reason with me sweetly, like one intelligent, mature person with another.

“It’s almost three in the afternoon.”

“I’m writing a novel,” I said. “I haven’t got time to change out of this and change into that.”

I lay on the couch on the breezeway and shut my eyes. I could hear my mother clearing the typewriter and the papers from the card table and laying out the silver for supper, but I didn’t move.

Inertia oozed like molasses through Elaine’s limbs. That’s what it must feel like to have malaria, she thought.

At that rate, I’d be lucky if I wrote a page a day.

Then I knew what the trouble was.

I needed experience.

How could I write about life when I’d never had a love affair or a baby or even seen anybody die? A girl I knew had just won a prize for a short story about her adventures among the pygmies in Africa. How could I compete with that sort of thing?

By the end of supper my mother had convinced me I should study shorthand in the evenings. Then I would be killing two birds with one stone, writing a novel and learning something practical as well. I would also be saving a whole lot of money.

That same evening, my mother unearthed an old blackboard from the cellar and set it up on the breezeway. Then she stood at the blackboard and scribbled little curlicues in white chalk while I sat in a chair and watched.

At first I felt hopeful.

I thought I might learn shorthand in no time, and when the freckled lady in the Scholarships Office asked me why I hadn’t worked to earn money in July and August, the way you were supposed to if you were a scholarship girl, I could tell her I had taken a free shorthand course instead, so I could support myself right after college.

The only thing was, when I tried to picture myself in some job, briskly jotting down line after line of shorthand, my mind went blank. There wasn’t one job I felt like doing where you used shorthand. And, as I sat there and watched, the white chalk curlicues blurred into senselessness.

I told my mother I had a terrible headache, and went to bed.

An hour later the door inched open, and she crept into the room. I heard the whisper of her clothes as she undressed. She climbed into bed. Then her breathing grew slow and regular.

In the dim light of the streetlamp that filtered through the drawn blinds, I could see the pin curls on her head glittering like a row of little bayonets.

I decided I would put off the novel until I had gone to Europe and had a lover, and that I would never learn a word of shorthand. If I never learned shorthand I would never have to use it.

I thought I would spend the summer reading Finnegans Wake and writing my thesis.

Then I would be way ahead when college started at the end of September, and able to enjoy my last year instead of swotting away with no makeup and stringy hair, on a diet of coffee and Benzedrine, the way most of the seniors taking honors did, until they finished their thesis.

Then I thought I might put off college for a year and apprentice myself to a pottery maker.

Or work my way to Germany and be a waitress, until I was bilingual.

Then plan after plan started leaping through my head, like a family of scatty rabbits.

I saw the years of my life spaced along a road in the form of telephone poles, threaded together by wires. I counted one, two, three . . . nineteen telephone poles, and then the wires dangled into space, and try as I would, I couldn’t see a single pole beyond the nineteenth.

The room blued into view, and I wondered where the night had gone. My mother turned from a foggy log into a slumbering, middle-aged woman, her mouth slightly open and a snore raveling from her throat. The piggish noise irritated me, and for a while it seemed to me that the only way to stop it would be to take the column of skin and sinew from which it rose and twist it to silence between my hands.

I feigned sleep until my mother left for school, but even my eyelids didn’t shut out the light. They hung the raw, red screen of their tiny vessels in front of me like a wound. I crawled between the mattress and the padded bedstead and let the mattress fall across me like a tombstone. It felt dark and safe under there, but the mattress was not heavy enough.

It needed about a ton more weight to make me sleep.

riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs. . . .

The thick book made an unpleasant dent in my stomach.

riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s . . .

I thought the small letter at the start might mean that nothing ever really began all new, with a capital, but that it just flowed on from what came before. Eve and Adam’s was Adam and Eve, of course, but it probably signified something else as well.

Maybe it was a pub in Dublin.

My eyes sank through an alphabet soup of letters to the long word in the middle of the page.

bababadalgharaghtakarnrninarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk!

I counted the letters. There were exactly a hundred of them. I thought this must be important.

Why should there be a hundred letters?

Haltingly, I tried the word aloud.

It sounded like a heavy wooden object falling downstairs, boomp boomp boomp, step after step. Lifting the pages of the book, I let them fan slowly by my eyes. Words, dimly familiar but twisted all awry, like faces in a funhouse mirror, fled past, leaving no impression on the glassy surface of my brain.

I squinted at the page.

The letters grew barbs and rams’ horns. I watched them separate, each from the other, and jiggle up and down in a silly way. Then they associated themselves in fantastic, untranslatable shapes, like Arabic or Chinese.

I decided to junk my thesis.

I decided to junk the whole honors program and become an ordinary English major. I went to look up the requirements of an ordinary English major at my college.

There were lots of requirements, and I didn’t have half of them. One of the requirements was a course in the eighteenth century. I hated the very idea of the eighteenth century, with all those smug men writing tight little couplets and being so dead keen on reason. So I’d skipped it. They let you do that in honors, you were much freer. I had been so free I’d spent most of my time on Dylan Thomas.

A friend of mine, also in honors, had managed never to read a word of Shakespeare; but she was a real expert on the Four Quartets,

I saw how impossible and embarrassing it would be for me to try to switch from my free program into the stricter one. So I looked up the requirements for English majors at the city college where my mother taught.

They were even worse.

You had to know Old English and the History of the English Language and a representative selection of all that had been written from Beowulf to the present day.

This surprised me. I had always looked down on my mother’s college, as it was coed, and filled with people who couldn’t get scholarships to the big eastern colleges.

Now I saw that the stupidest person at my mother’s college knew more than I did. I saw they wouldn’t even let me in through the door, let alone give me a large scholarship like the one I had at my own college.

I thought I’d better go to work for a year and think things over. Maybe I could study the eighteenth century in secret.

But I didn’t know shorthand, so what could I do?

I could be a waitress or a typist.

But I couldn’t stand the idea of being either one.

“You say you want more sleeping pills?”

“Yes.”

“But the ones I gave you last week are very strong.”

“They don’t work any more.”

Teresa’s large, dark eyes regarded me thoughtfully. I could hear the voices of her three children in the garden under the consulting-room window. My Aunt Libby had married an Italian, and Teresa was my aunt’s sister-in-law and our family doctor.

I liked Teresa. She had a gentle, intuitive touch.

I thought it must be because she was Italian.

There was a little pause.

“What seems to be the matter?” Teresa said then.

“I can’t sleep. I can’t read.” I tried to speak in a cool, calm way, but the zombie rose up in my throat and choked me off. I turned my hands palm up.

“I think,” Teresa tore off a white slip from her prescription pad and wrote down a name and address, “you’d better see another doctor I know. He’ll be able to help you more than I can.”

I peered at the writing, but I couldn’t read it.

“Doctor Gordon,” Teresa said. “He’s a psychiatrist.”

 

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[SNEAK PEEK] WHEN WE DANCED ON WATER

 

When We Danced On Water by Evan Fallenberg

 

“Ya’allah, Vivi. You’re crazy. It’s four in the morning. Don’t you sleep anymore?”

Pincho has just come home from work at Indigo to find Vivi hard at work on the living room floor. She is surrounded by photographs, tools, a sewing kit, glue and sequins, picture frames, magazine clippings, and various bits and pieces of junk she has collected over the past few weeks.

“Who needs sleep?” she says, a big, crazed smile on her face. “I’m loving this, feeling so … engaged all the time. You know, I don’t even have time for cigarettes anymore. I think I’ve just given them up without ever meaning to. Anyway, my mother always says there’s plenty of time for sleeping in the grave.”

“I’ve heard that joke,” he says, trying to clear a place to sit on the armrest of the sofa. “But seriously, when’s our apartment going to turn back into a place where two people live?”

Vivi looks up at Pincho. There is glitter in his hair and his trousers look newly pressed, but his beautiful face lacks luster, his eyes are dull. She puts down the photos she is holding. “You are such a dear for putting up with me,” she says. “How did I ever get so lucky?”

“Yeah, yeah, kiss my ass,” he says with a laugh. “You think if you’re nice to me I won’t complain?”

Vivi stands up, stretches. “How about if I give you a tour, show you what I’m working on.”

“You’ve been so secretive, I’ve been afraid to ask.”

“Silly, isn’t it? I guess I just … I don’t know, I want this to work out. I really want to get this right.”

“All right, come on. Show me around my own apartment.”

Vivi takes Pincho by the wrist and leads him to the upended cable spool that serves as their dining room table. “I dug out all my old woodcarving tools,” she says as she lifts a small figurine into her hand and passes it to Pincho. “I didn’t even think I’d find them.”

Pincho handles the polished wood likeness of a male dancer with great care and runs a finger down one smooth thigh then the other. “How … ?” He stops mid-thought, entranced. “It’s just beautiful, Viv. I …”

She smiles proudly. “You didn’t know I could do this.”

“It’s not that I … I know you’re really talented but …”

She plucks the statue from his hand. “I did it from a photograph of him. Something from the fifties.”

“What’s this?” he asks, lifting a jumble of cloth from the back of a chair.

“Oh, wait!” she says. He freezes while she gingerly lifts it from his hands. “It’s full of pins.”

Carefully she holds up a not-yet-finished white bolero jacket with brass buttons and presses it onto Pincho’s body: “It’ll be on a mannequin, you see, black tights on the legs, a white shirt on top and this jacket over the shirt.” She leans her shoulder into Pincho’s torso to hold the jacket in place and reaches to the table for a floppy black bow, which she hangs from the jacket, just under his chin. “It’s an exact copy of the costume he wore for this ballet he danced at the Royal Danish Ballet. Don’t you love it?”

“You’re … you’re crazy!” Pincho says with a laugh. “I can’t believe you’ve managed all this.”

As she drapes the jacket over the chair, taking care with the pins, she says, “I’ve got a few amazing recordings, too. Music from his ballets, even a dance lesson he gave once. The sound isn’t spectacular but you can hear that it’s him. The accented Hebrew, the way he kind of barks when he’s peeved.”

“You’ve really taken this all so seriously,” Pincho says. “Taken him seriously. Shit, Vivi, is there anything you don’t know about the guy by this point?”

She looks aimlessly out the window. “Lots. He’s still a mystery, even with all this unearthing. I have to admit I feel kind of like an archaeologist, dredging up layers and layers of him. Hang on a minute,” she says, ducking into her bedroom, then reemerging with a stack of photos. “This is really the crux of it all.”

Together they gaze at one photo after the next. First there is a black and white series that she herself has created: the old man reading his mail, sipping his coffee, walking past the coffee shop, chatting with Yossi. He is never caught gazing into the camera, in fact seems not to sense its presence. The photographs then push back in time, through his six decades of dance in Tel Aviv, and earlier.

“Where did you get these?” Pincho asks, all the while staring at the photographs.

“Mostly from the dance archive at Beit Ariella,” she says.

He gives her a horrified look.

“You monster, I didn’t steal them! They’re prints, anyone can get copies. I got his secretary at the ballet and even his housekeeper to cough up some things, too. That one’s no pushover—talk about loyalty to her boss!”

“Wow,” he says, holding up a prewar family portrait.

“Wait,” she says. “The best one’s at the bottom of the stack.”

They scrutinize a few more photos before they reach the last one. In it, an impossibly young Teo Levin, wearing the very costume Vivi has been sewing, stands holding a barely drunk glass of champagne. To his left and slightly behind is a strikingly handsome and well-groomed man in uniform. His gaze is on Teo.

“Who is this?” Pincho asks.

“No idea. It’s from the archive of a Jewish photographer who came to Israel from Germany in the late 1930s. She died pretty young. Her photos wound up at Beit Ariella and I was lucky enough to stumble onto this gorgeous portrait. I might not have noticed it was him, but then there was the costume. I’d seen it in another photograph.”

“The other guy’s an officer,” Pincho says. “High-ranking. German, of course.”

“Bizarre, isn’t it? I wish I could ask him …”

“Does he know about all this?”

“Who, Teo?”

“Of course Teo.”

“He knows I’m working on something but he doesn’t know what.”

“And you think he’s going to be okay with this surprise?”

“Hard to tell. Yes. I mean, eventually. Anyway, nobody may ever be interested in showing it as an exhibition. So he’d never know. But if so, I’ll find a way to break it to him. I think he’ll like it. Ultimately.”

“Well, you know the guy, I don’t. I hope you’re right. But from what I can see, you’re really on to something. This thing’s a winner. So you’d better start thinking how you’re going to handle it.”

They are quiet for a moment as they stare at the photograph.

“Look at this guy’s eyes,” Pincho says, pointing to the German officer. “I know this look.”

“I’m sure you do. Men fall in love with you every day.”

“That’s not love, Vivi,” he says, a trace of bitterness in his voice. “You think that’s a look of love?”

She takes the photo from his hands, studies it. “What do you think it is?”

“Desire. Hunger. He’s looking at Teo like he’s prey.”

“That’s all? Nothing more?”

Pincho pulls the photo away from her and looks at it again. “I don’t know,” he says, a quiet admission. And then: “You can never know, can you? Not really.”

Vivi puts her arm around Pincho’s waist and squeezes. They breathe in unison, his eyes still on the photograph, hers on him.

“Pinch,” Vivi says, after a few long moments, “what do you think about me having a baby?”

He drops his gaze from the photograph and turns his whole body toward her. “Are you pregnant?”

“No, I mean, what if I decide to become a single mother?”

“I’d say you’d better get this apartment cleaned up before you bring a baby here. You’ll never find him.”

“Really, Pincho, what do you think?”

“It’s hard work, Vivi. I have six little sibs, I know what it’s all about. You’d be spending your whole salary on day care. How would you manage?”

“Oof, you’re so practical.”

“Look, you’d make a great mom, that’s for sure. But maybe the timing isn’t right.”

“Timing? I don’t have much time left. Maybe it’s even too late.”

“You really want a kid, huh?”

“I do. I’ve been thinking about it a lot.”

“I would help. Our schedules are so different, I could probably be here to take over from you a lot of hours.”

“Are you crazy? You’re supposed to be working hard, studying and trying to find the perfect man. Being stuck at home with a baby is not in the plans!”

“I’d do it for you, babe.”

“Thanks, Pinch. I appreciate it. But if I make up my mind it will be because I think I can handle it on my own. Or nearly on my own.”

“You know what?” he says. “I just realized something: you’re happier than I’ve ever seen you. Is this about the project? Or maybe having a baby? Or is it something else?”

She laughs, clearly delighted. “You’re lovely,” she says. “Absolutely lovely. Now let’s see if we can find our way to our beds.”

They hug for a moment. Still smiling, Vivi presses her ear to his chest. She can hear his heartbeat, solid and steady.

On an impulse she takes the phone with her to bed and drifts in and out of sleep waiting for the sky to lighten. She dials her mother from under her comforter. “Are you terribly disappointed not to have any grandchildren?” she asks when her mother answers on the second ring, Leah’s voice only slightly groggy.

Leah used to tease Vivi and her brother, Assaf, gently about this, but with a daughter-in-law unable to conceive and an unmarried forty-two-year-old daughter, she dropped this sport long ago. “I can live without grandchildren, but I’m sorry you and Assaf haven’t had the experience of raising children. It’s like nothing else I know.”

“But as a Holocaust survivor …”

“Ah, that.” Leah sighs. “The war produced so many ironies and incomprehensible situations, it’s just one more on the heap. I’m pleased to have raised two healthy and intelligent and caring children. That was my mission. But why are you asking me about this now?”

“It’s been on my mind a lot lately, that’s all.”

Both women know there is more to say, both remain silent.

“Mother?”

“Yes, Vivi.”

“What do you think about these women who have babies by themselves? Career women, I mean, who get pregnant through a sperm bank or a friend?”

“Hmmm.”

Vivi waits patiently, surprised. Her mother is always so sure of herself; she has always been able to answer any question without hesitation. And here she is contemplative, for once weighing her words with true care and attention.

“Yes,” she says suddenly. “I think you should do it.”

“Just like that?!”

“No, not just like that. I’ve been thinking about discussing it with you.”

“Really, you have? You think it’s a good idea?”

“In your case I do. And I’d be willing to give you all the help I can.”

“You don’t think it’s just too selfish of me, without a husband and all?”

“I’ve come to think that husbands are a highly overrated commodity.”

“You certainly didn’t feel that way about Father …”

Leah is silent for a moment. Vivi waits, quiet. Two crows clamor on the sill outside her window. “It was certainly useful having Amatzia around, at least some of the time, that is …”

“That’s all? Just useful?”

“Well, in the beginning it was more than that. But—maybe we should be having this conversation in person, not over the phone …”

“No, Mother, don’t stop now, please …”

Vivi recognizes the sound of her mother’s morning coffee mug meeting the Formica tabletop. She is clearly steadying herself for whatever comes next. “Well, it didn’t take me long to figure out that he wasn’t for me. His interests weren’t mine, his culture wasn’t mine, and eventually his body wasn’t mine, either. You remember the little hotel we ran back then on Ben Gurion Street?”

“Yes, of course.”

Leah takes a deep breath. “Well, room number six was his, and he did no small amount of entertaining there. Sometimes I saw the girls coming or going, they wouldn’t have known I was his wife.”

“What? Mother!”

“Oh, it was hurtful in the beginning. I wanted a divorce. But life was hard enough and I knew he’d make it harder for me, so I just swallowed it all and went on raising you and running the hotel and talking publicly about my Holocaust experiences and lobbying or protesting for good causes. I had enough to keep me satisfied and busy. And eventually, when he gave up all that skirt-chasing, we got along all right. Relatively.” She sighs deeply. “So that’s why,” she continues slowly, “I think it’s wonderful that women have the option these days to have babies without having to hitch themselves to some man who may hamper them or make them miserable, that’s all.”

“Mother, I don’t know what to say.” She feels oddly detached at this momentous news, as though her budding happiness has provided an extra layer of protection against sadness, anger and loneliness.

“Let’s talk about it when you come to visit. You haven’t been up here in a while, you know.”

Vivi clears her throat. “Do you think … do you think I’ll make a good mother?”

“An excellent mother,” Leah replies soberly. “And I’ll be a first-rate granny.”

“I’m busy now, a new project,” Vivi tells her mother. “But when I finish—”

“All right, we’ll talk more about it. Do you have an idea who you want for the baby’s father?”

Vivi stares up at the ceiling, then pulls the blanket up to her chin. “An idea? Maybe,” she says. They both sense the conversation should end here and they ring off simultaneously without another word.

 

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[SNEAK PEEK] BOLLYWOOD CONFIDENTIAL

Bollywood Confidential by Sonia Singh

 

The next morning Raveena was having breakfast alone when Randy Kapoor’s secretary called.

Nanda brought her the phone and silently handed it over.

“Thank you,” Raveena said.

Nanda’s expression remained sulky.

Nandini was definitely preferable.

“Hello?”

“Good morning, ma’am, I’m calling from Mr. Kapoor’s office. Mr. Kapoor would like you to meet him here at one P.M.,” a woman said in precise Indian English.

No wonder outsourcing was going to India. The professionals here spoke better English than Raveena did.

“Okay,” Raveena said. “The only thing is, I don’t know where his office is.”

“Yes, ma’am, I will give you the directions. Where exactly are you residing, ma’am?”

Since arriving in India she’d been called madam and ma’am more times than in her entire life put together.

“Umm, I’m in Bandra. Portugal Road.”

“Very good, ma’am. A beautiful area. Our office is in Bandra as well.”

“It is?”

“Yes, ma’am, Bandra is home to many producers, directors and stars. Now, tell the auto-rickshaw driver to take you to Turner Road and—”

“Auto-rickshaw?” Raveena interrupted. No way was she getting in one of those things. “I was planning on taking a taxi.”

“Oh no, ma’am. A taxi will not take you such a short distance, and why pay extra money besides? Tell the auto-rickshaw driver to take you to Turner Road and from there 14th Road. We are located at 29 Jains Arcade, on the 2nd floor.”

Raveena was scribbling this down as quickly as she could. “Jains Arcade. Got it.”

“Wonderful. I will tell Mr. Kapoor to expect you at one. Have a nice day, ma’am.”

Raveena set down the phone and ate some more of the scrambled eggs Nandini had made. They were delicious, flavored with green chilies, tomato and cumin.

Stuffed, she pushed the plate aside and a large black crow immediately swooped in through the dining room window and scooped the egg off her plate. She screamed and threw up her hands.

The crow then perched on the ledge of the window, gazed at Raveena with a beady eye and promptly guzzled the piece of egg.

Since yesterday, she’d been startled by all manner of winged creatures flying in and out of the house. Because of the heat and Uncle Heeru’s devotion to birds, all the windows were open all the time. When she’d asked her uncle why he didn’t invest in air-conditioning, he’d responded by saying he did not want to catch a cold.

The average temperature in Bombay that winter was eighty-eight degrees.

Earlier, Raveena had seen Uncle Heeru fighting with a crow over a piece of papaya.

With a sigh of acceptance, she pushed her plate closer to the window and addressed the crow. “Dig in.”

Wings outstretched, the crow once more swooped in and grabbed the last piece of egg. Instead of dining on the ledge, the bird flew up into the trees shading the house.

American crows definitely had better manners.

Two hours later, Raveena thought she was going to die.

The auto-rickshaw darted in and out of traffic, at times jumping up on the walkway, before zooming back onto the street. Open on both sides without doors, the contraption made her feel exposed. And she was guaranteed maximum exposure to exhaust fumes.

Raveena had done her hair for the meeting, setting it with Velcro rollers, but the wind and humidity wreaked havoc with the curls. If she was going to be traveling by auto-rickshaw, she’d have to do it Jackie O. style, with a headscarf.

Then again, Raveena saw plenty of Muslim women in burkhas walking up and down the street and thought about wearing one herself for practical reasons. Her hair would be covered. Her face would be protected from grime, and she wouldn’t have to worry about her clothes getting dirty.

The heat was relentless. Not wanting to arrive at the meeting with foundation melting off her face, she’d wiselykept the makeup to a minimum. Just some eyeliner and a dab of Chanel lipgloss.

However, Raveena was regretting her choice of clothing. Her parents had warned her to dress conservatively while in India. So she was wearing beige trousers and a white tailored Oxford shirt.

Meanwhile, right alongside the conservative Muslim women in burkhas were teenage girls in shorts and twenty-something women in tank tops, jeans and everything in between.

Obviously, Bombay was to India what Los Angeles was to the rest of America.

A whole different world.

Raveena especially liked the cute cotton tunics or kurtas she’d seen many women of all ages sporting. They looked comfortable and stylish. Raveena decided to buy half a dozen for Maza and herself while here.

“Fourteenth Road,” the driver said, spitting a stream of tobacco juice into the gutter. He was thickset and heavy, sweat visibly seeping through his khaki-colored clothing.

“Okay,” Raveena said, happy the tobacco spray had missed her nether regions. “29 Jains Arcade?”

The driver didn’t reply, so she repeated the question. He gave her an impatient nod.

“Fine,” she said, sat back and watched the scenery chug by. Cars, buses and auto-rickshaws battled each other for the road. Skinny cows walked alongside, nosing through rubbish for food. The barking of stray dogs was everywhere.

The driver stopped beside a small stand where a man was busy rolling bidis—cheap tapered cigarettes that looked like marijuana joints.

Not realizing they’d arrived at the place, Raveena continued to sit in the back of the rickshaw until the driver turned, looked at her and pointed to the right. She turned and saw a large building.

Raveena paid the driver twenty rupees, about forty cents, and very carefully crossed the street, dodging bicyclists, auto-rickshaws, cars and a hungry cow.

There was a guard at the entrance to the building who stopped her before she could go in. He had an AK-47 strapped to his back.

One of them was seriously packing too much metal.

“I’m here to see Randy Kapoor,” she said, trying to look as non-threatening as possible.

The guard looked her up and down, decided she didn’t pose a menace, and nodded. Raveena opened the door and nearly let out a sigh of relief as the air-conditioned coolness washed over her.

She took the elevator up to the second floor and found herself confronted by a set of thick glass double doors. Engraved into the glass were the words:

Karma Productions

Behind the glass she could see trendy twenty-something Indians walking back and forth, answering phones and working on computers. Raveena entered the bright purple and orange lobby—very MTV—and went up to the black circular front desk.

“I’m Raveena Rai, here to see Randy Kapoor.”

“Oh, yes, Miss Rai,” the woman smiled. “Please come with me.”

Raveena followed her through another set of double doors and into a lavish waiting room done up in marble. Two beautiful gold statues of Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth, occupied alcoves on opposite walls. A second woman sitting behind a black marble desk rose at their entrance.

“Raveena?” the second woman asked, and Raveena recognized her voice from the phone that morning. The woman came forward smiling. “I’m Millie D’Souza.”

Millie was petite, her black hair cut in a shiny bob. A slender gold cross gleamed against her throat. “Mr. Kapoor has yet to arrive. Can I get you some coffee? A cold drink?”

“I’d love something cold. Ah, you don’t happen to have Thums Up, do you?” Raveena had been craving the drink since yesterday.

Millie looked surprised. “Yes, we do. It’s my favorite, but most people prefer Coke or Pepsi.”

Raveena took a seat on a plush burgundy sofa while Millie returned to her desk and pushed a button on the intercom.

A few moments later a young boy entered the room carefully balancing a tray with two tall glasses, his bare feet moving soundlessly across the floor.

Millie waited until he had left, then took a sip of her drink. “In America you do not have people like our office boys?”

Raveena thought about certain personal assistants in Hollywood who were expected not only to make calls, but wash the star’s Chihuahua’s butt, plan parties for the star’s kids, arrange for sex escorts and bring coffee. But she knew what Millie meant.

“No, we don’t. I mean, secretaries will make coffee for their bosses and get lunch, but that’s not their main job. And they’re usually eighteen years old and over.”

Millie nodded.

Raveena sat back and drank her Thums Up. She was getting addicted to the stuff.

By the time she finished her drink, Randy still had not arrived. Millie was busy taking phone calls and working on the computer but would shoot Raveena sympathetic looks now and again.

To entertain herself, Raveena thumbed through several glossy Bollywood magazines. That was how she got two pieces of very bad news.

The first was from an article on, yes, Randy Kapoor. Apparently, his last five films had all been expensive flops. The very last had been a Bollywood rip-off of Runaway Bride.

She peered closely at a picture of a thin, balding gray-haired man in a suit. He was wiping his brow and looked like the worried accountant of a mobster. According to the caption, it was Randy Kapoor’s financier and father, Daddy.

The picture of Randy himself was blurry, and she could barely make out his features. She did, however, make out the bright yellow Tommy Hillfiger jacket he was wearing.

Very Ali G.

The second piece of bad news was from the gossip pages of a Bollywood rag called Stardust. Raveena was shocked to see her name mentioned. Well, not her name per se, but it was pretty obvious who they were talking about. She quickly scanned the lines:

Rumors have it that casting couch Casanova Randy Kapoor has brought in a foreign actress to play the heroine in his next film. According to the copulating Kapoor, the role required someone of Indian origin but with an American accent. However, Stardust tattlers tell the real tale. As it turns out, no self-respecting Bombay actress will work with the randy Randy. We wish the poor unsuspecting Yank all the best. Maybe she should have brought a chaperone with her…

Great. Raveena had barely been in Bombay for two days, and already her reputation was being battered and splattered across the pages of India’s answer to Variety!

About the randy Randy business—sure, the casting couch was a fixture in Hollywood as well. But Raveena had never encountered it.

She couldn’t decide whether to be flattered or offended about that.

Raveena was still deciding when the door opened and Millie looked up. “Mr. Kapoor,” she said.

Raveena put the magazines away and prepared herself.

She was finally going to meet Randy Kapoor.

 

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[REVIEW] ONE FINE DAY

One Fine Day by RodieR

 

Just when Zahra thinks her world crumbles, she meets Aryan. Fascinated with each other, he brings her out of misery into his own understanding of love… and happiness. And so with him, she finds happiness again. It doesn’t last long, though because again she is tested with difficulty. Love isn’t always patient. Sometimes we get short, brusque, or frustrated with the people we love the most. Love is, however, doing our best to see the people we care about with compassion and understanding. This is the story of Zahra and Aryan, one about love, pain and happiness regained. For there will be a relief with every difficulty, will they be able to withstand the test of time?


Zahra was devastated after the incident that took her parents’ lives, Aryan came into her life, showing her the beautiful side of life when they met in a country that has different culture than Malaysia. Every beautiful love story, there must be a hardship that will appear as a test in their lives. This novel teaches us about life and the setting is very calm but will make you shed a tear. If you need a calm reading on a rainy or beautiful day, then this will be the perfect novel for you. You have to find out about their fate because the storyline is very different from the usual. 

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[SNEAK PEEK] THE GIRL WITH THE MERMAID HAIR

The Girl With The Mermaid Hair by Delia Ephron

 

“BUT Mom, we have the same nose.”

“Not anymore,” said her mom cheerfully, now ensconced on the bed, surrounded by mail, slicing open some envelopes with her nail file but tossing most into a junk pile. “Where’s Señor? Why isn’t Señor here? Señor?” she called. “He’s rejecting me, what can I do? How have you been? Tell me everything.” Her mom patted the bed for Sukie to sit.

“How did you change it?” asked Sukie, standing in the doorway. She’d been twirling her hair nervously and was surprised to discover that she’d yanked out some strands.

“Well, aren’t you a broken record. It’s just one piece of the pie.”

“What pie?” Sukie didn’t know what to do with the hair in her hand. She stuck it in her pocket.

“My face. Stop obsessing.”

“I’m not obsessing.”

“You are obviously obsessing. I obsess, so don’t tell me you don’t obsess. Come on, sit, talk.”

“Today was horrible,” said Sukie.

Her mother flinched. “Don’t touch your stitches,” she scolded herself. She slapped her own hand, which had misbehaved and scratched a spot under her ear. “My whole scalp itches,” she confided. “I have a staple in my head. What happened?”

“My phone. I lost it. At the club.”

“They’ll find it, I’m sure. Don’t go getting hysterical.”

“I’m not hysterical,” said Sukie, wondering if she was.

“Because you’re always getting hysterical.”

“No, I’m not.”

“Don’t bother to deny it. Doesn’t Sukie get hysterical?” she asked her husband, who had creaked in carrying a bag of frozen peas. He carefully lowered himself into an armchair, flicked on the TV, and pressed the bag against the bruised and battered side of his face. “Doesn’t she?”

Sukie’s dad simply winked at Sukie with his only visible eye.

Her mom perused a letter. “Well, this is inconvenient.”

“What?” said Sukie.

“The big school meeting about college is Wednesday night.”

“You don’t have to go,” said Sukie.

“Of course we have to go.”

“This counts, kiddo. Big time,” said her dad.

“No, really, you don’t have to go.”

How would she explain her mother? What lie would cover it? A box fell on her head. A spa accident. What was a spa accident? Sukie’s mind was racing while her mother prattled on. “You have to get into the best college. We have to make sure that we’re doing everything and that you’re doing everything. Perhaps you should volunteer at a homeless shelter. Is there one nearby? That would be so wonderful for your college application. We’ll see what they say on Wednesday. We’re not the kind of parents who don’t care that we’re not doing everything possible for your future. Look at me, Susannah Danielle Jamieson.”

Sukie twisted to face her mom directly, realizing as she did so that her mom had pieces of Scotch tape next to her eyes and below her ears.

“We love you,” said her mom.

“I love you, too,” said Sukie. “What’s that tape for?”

“To hold my stitches in place.” Her mom leaned close. Sukie could see the bits of black thread underneath.

“How long does the tape stay there?”

“Until the stitches come out. Listen, darling, don’t worry. I’ll wrap myself in something fantastic. No one will ever know.”

Sukie wandered out of her parents’ bedroom and into her own. Señor was waiting. She looked into his eyes. She often did that to channel his strength, his confidence, his judgment, or another of his gifts that she wished she possessed. Today, feeling the damp sweat that heralded the onset of the jumps, she searched for Señor’s stillness, hoping to shore up her own. After a minute of silence, Señor made himself clear. “I know,” said Sukie, “but who?” She didn’t have a close friend. She liked Jenna, but Jenna was best friends with Frannie. Sukie couldn’t possiblyspend time with Frannie. She couldn’t even look her in the eye.

Maybe Issy would understand. She was older, but she was so friendly and warm. Still, Sukie couldn’t just turn up at Clementi’s, order a pizza, and pour out her heart.

A true friend. She was reluctant to write how much she longed for one even in her private journal, for her eyes only.

Usually she pushed it out of her head.

She planned her school days judiciously, making sure she had a meeting every lunch—Educating Girls Globally, Debate Club, Spanish Club, Math Club. On Fridays, when there were no meetings, she went to the cafeteria. Kids never minded if she joined their table, but no one ever called her over or saved her a seat. Sometimes she sat alone, spread papers around as if she needed the entire space, and knocked off the weekend’s homework. By these means, if she didn’t stop herself from feeling lonely, she at least kept everyone else from thinking that she was. Friendless. The bleak word skittered around the fringes of her mind, scurried ahead of her through the halls, clearing the empty way.

In her journal she railed against the unfairness of it. It’s not my fault that I’m the total package, looks and brains. Everyone’s jealous. That, she told herself, was why her cell phone hardly rang, even though every week she changed the ring as if the ring tone had become stuck in her head from hearing it again and again and again.

Bobo.

She let herself fall backward onto the bed and crossed her arms over her face. This was a way not to cry. Tried and true. Tears could trickle out, but mostly, in this position, her eyes would simply fill to the brim like glasses of water.

Your dad’s slime.

Already she could hardly remember the grim man’s face, only his red Windbreaker and his thin lips barely moving. He hadn’t spoken in a threatening way, more as if he were breaking the news, tipping her to it.

Your dad’s slime. Never forget it.

Bury it. Bury it deep. It’s not a truth, it’s a falsehood. A horrible lie. Blot it out. Think about something else—ice cream, dancing elephants, Señor’s eyes. Bobo. Think about Bobo. Your dad’s slime. Never forget it. She had buried it and already it rose from the grave.

Sit up. That’s an order.

It wasn’t Señor’s idea, it was Sukie’s, but she knew he would approve.

She stormed into the bathroom and faced the mirror. “Don’t feel sorry for yourself,” she ordered. “Hup, two, three, four.” Calling out the numbers, she marched in a circle until she came face-to-face with herself again, and then, almost as if someone were beckoning her, she drew closer.

“If I can’t have an actual friend, I want a friend in the mirror,” Sukie announced, and, in a blink, instead of her own reflection she beheld Issy with her punky pink hair and sly eyes twinkling with fun. Issy was wearing an outfit Sukie had once admired—a baby-doll dress with straps that came over her shoulders, crisscrossed under her breasts, and wound around her body at least two more times (binding her tiny waist snugly) with still enough length for her to twirl the ends languidly as Issy in the mirror was doing right now. It was a summer dress, but Isabella, who Sukie suspected never did the obvious, wore it in cold weather as a jumper with a long-sleeved jersey underneath. “I love your dress,” said Sukie.

“You can borrow it,” said Issy. “Anytime. We should go shopping.”

“I’d love that,” said Sukie.

Issy smiled her wonderful, wide, and welcoming smile. “If I had a little sister, I’d want her to be you.”

“Thank you,” said Sukie. “Today, especially, I really need that.”

Issy disappeared from the mirror, and the good feeling generated by an imaginary visit with Issy dissolved as Sukie confronted her own nose.

From the tip to the top, she pinched it, trying to round the narrow flat ramp.

Scotch tape. That’s what she needed.

Sukie had a label maker. She used it to identify things that didn’t need identifying, like her Scotch-tape dispenser. She’d printed SUKIE’S SCOTCH TAPE and stuck it on. The label wasn’t a warning to her younger brother: “This is mine, don’t touch.” She just loved to label. Everything that could be labeled was labeled, and had assigned seating across the top of her desk. A place for everything, everything in its place. In rows straight and even. The Jamiesons’ housekeeper, Louisa, who came in twice a week, marveled at Sukie’s order and at how little work she had to do in Sukie’s compulsively arranged room. Lopsided equals bad luck, Sukie believed it utterly. She tore off short strips of tape, about two inches, sticking one on each fingertip. If she fluttered her fingers, they waved like flags.

Returning to the mirror, she stripped the tape bits off and, so that they would be handy when she needed them, stuck them on the silver frame. As she did, she leaned sideways. She could still look at herself, but at the same time she could see back through the doorway into her bedroom where the telephone sat. “Do it.” She cracked the whip. “Just do it. Grow up, you miserable baby.”

She marched to the desk and dialed.

The phone rang and rang. To distract herself from the depressingly inevitable—no answer—she examined her cuticles.

“Shoot, how does this work?”

“I can hear you,” yelped Sukie.

“Who is this?” The man sounded amused.

“Susannah Jamieson. This is my cell. You have my cell.”

“Warren’s kid?”

Sukie tried to tell if he disapproved of her dad, but it wasn’t like talking to Mrs. Merenda, where she sensed something weird. “Yes,” she said. “I dropped it at the club.”

“Here you go.”

“What?”

“I was talking to the conductor.”

“The conductor?”

“I’m on the train.”

“The train?”

“I’ll have some of those, please. Sorry. Wait a second while I pay for this.”

Sukie straightened the stapler. She turned the mug of pens so SUKIE’S SHARPIES faced front. Lopsided equals bad luck. Lopsided equals bad luck.

“I’m sorry,” said the man. “I meant to leave your phone at the club, but I put it in my pocket and forgot all about it until it just now rang. I’ll cruise by your house and drop it off as soon as I get back.”

She tapped down the paper clips so she could close the box neatly. “Back from where?” she asked.

“New York City.”

Her phone was on its way to New York City. “When are you coming back?”

“Wednesday.”

Four whole days. She wanted to bang her head against the wall. She really did. She wanted to walk over to the wall and knock herself out.

“You know what? I’ll drop it at your dad’s office. I’m Glen Harbinder. Your dad knows me.”

Sukie adjusted the label maker. Now everything on her desk was straight. Later she wrote in her journal,Emotionally I was at the edge of a cliff. Should I leap? I closed my eyes.

Sukie leaped. “Would you please read me my text message?” She trotted out her most pitiful little-girl voice.

“How do I do that?” he asked.

“Touch the little green square at the top.”

“Got it. You’ve got two.”

“Two?” Sukie’s eyes snapped open.

“Two from Bobo.” He enjoyed the name, she could tell. She could hear him thinking, How cute.

“What’s the capital of North Dakota?”

“That’s the message?”

“No, I’m not telling you the message until you answer the question.” He chuckled, or maybe chewed.

“Bismarck.” God, was he mentally ill? She knew them all. She could recite the presidents backward and forward. Who did he think he was dealing with?

“‘Meet me after the game.’”

“That’s the message?”

“And the other is ‘Danger cation.’”

“What?”

“‘Danger cation.’”

“Is that one word?”

“No, two.”

“Would you spell it?”

“D-A-N-G-E-R C-A-T-I-O-N.”

She hung up and began jumping. She bounced into the bathroom and back into the bedroom. MEET ME AFTER THE GAME. DANGER CATION. Cation? Cation? Caution. He must mean caution!

MEET ME AFTER THE GAME. DANGER CAUTION.

Definitely caution. He must have misspelled it. Everyone makes mistakes texting. Lots of really smart people were bad spellers too. She’d heard that somewhere.

DANGER CAUTION.

He is not only a bad speller, he is bad. She’d never known a guy who was bad. There was no one bad atCobweb. Kids there were sickeningly decent. ROLL ME OVER. Sukie was tingling.

Thank God she’d straightened everything on her desk. Who cared that he couldn’t spell? She was a good-enough speller for both of them. With luck, their children would take after her.

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[SNEAK PEEK] BEFORE WE FORGET (aka THE KID FROM THE BIG APPLE 2)

BEFORE WE FORGET (aka THE KID FROM THE BIG APPLE 2) Oleh Michelle Yoon & Jess Teong

“Is it true?”
A soft breeze was blowing through the trees in the garden just downstairs from Chun Gen’s new home. In a small open space, Chun Gen was practicing martial arts. Not too far from him, Sarah was sitting on a bench, her gaze following her grandpa’s every movement. Bao sat next to her, silent.
“Bao, are you telling the truth?”
Sarah didn’t want to believe what he had just told her.
“Of course. Do you think I would joke about something like this?”
“But…”
It was a rare moment of silence between them as they watched Chun Gen go through the motions. It was like a graceful dance.
“It’s true, Sarah.” Bao knew he had to convince her. “Remember when we went to the airport to bring you and your mother home? He completely forgot about it the next day, and wanted to rush to the airport again. He only realized that he forgot when you came into the room. Do you remember?”
Sarah nodded.
“Then yesterday, he forgot that we broke his bottle of maojijiu, and rushed back to his old apartment to find it. Even then, he went to the wrong unit. And at Ivy jiejie’s wedding, he couldn’t even remember the names of all his old neighbors!”
Sarah recalled the night of the wedding. She remembered noticing the two of them behaving oddly, but she never suspected that it would be something as serious as this.
She looked at Bao, her eyes shining with tears. This was too much, too sudden. She ran to her grandpa and threw her arms around him.
“Gung gung, why did this happen to you?”
“Hmm?” Chun Gen was a little confused at her sudden burst of emotions. “What has happened to me?”
“I won’t allow this to happen to you. I won’t. What if you forget about me one day? I cannot…”
“Silly girl, why would I forget about you?”
Chun Gen hugged her tightly, then looked at Bao with a small frown. “What happened?” he asked the boy silently, mouthing the words.
Bao pointed at Chun Gen, then pointed at Sarah, and finally made some wild gesture with his hands, indicating that he had told her about Chun Gen’s condition.
“Don’t worry, gung gung.” Sarah pulled herself away and wiped her tears bravely. “I’m going to help you overcome this problem. The two of us,” she pointed at herself and Bao, “we’ll help you get better.”
“Ah,” Chun Gen gave her a small smile. “You’re still so young. What can you do to help me?”
“I’m sure there’s a way!” Bao exclaimed without much thought.
“Hold on, hold on,” Chun Gen said with a grim look. “You need to promise me that you cannot tell your mother. She worries too much, and if she finds out, it will affect her work. So, remember, no telling your mother. And you,” he turned to face Bao, “no telling Auntie Sophia. Understood?”
“Okay!” Sarah said. “But you also have to promise me that you’ll let us help you. You must promise to do everything we say.”

******

The first step of their ‘plan’ was to reorganize Chun Gen’s study room. They took down all his books and journals from the shelves, and rearranged them according to category. Then, they wrote in large calligraphy characters the different categories— Medical, Martial Arts, Literature—and stuck those large pieces of paper on the shelves.
“These,” Bao pointed to pieces of paper and announced with some pride, “are to remind you that you have these books.”
“But the words are so huge!” Chun Gen wasn’t convinced. “Won’t Auntie Sophia suspect something?”
“We’ll just tell her that your long-sightedness has increased. It’s normal, don’t worry.”
Next, they moved their plan of action into the kitchen. Starting from the topmost shelf, they labeled everything that could be labeled; from jars of dried Chinese herbs, flavoring and rice wine, down to the cooking essentials like oil, salt, sugar and vinegar. Then they stocked the fridge with red and yellow bell peppers, purple cabbage, carrots and fresh green spinach.
“The bright colors of these vegetables are visually stimulating, and can help trigger your memory,” Sarah told her grandpa. “And all these labels will help you make sure you don’t put the wrong spices into your cooking.”
Chun Gen opened his mouth to protest, but Sarah held her hand up to stop him. “Just tell my mom that this kitchen is yours, and that you won’t allow her to cook! You told us this is your kitchen after all, right?”
He had no choice but to simply sigh and nod at her.
Suddenly, a clickety-clackety sound came from the living room. The two of them peered out of the kitchen to see the table draped with one of Bao’s cartoon bath towels, held in place with wooden clothes pegs on all four corners. Bao himself was standing on a chair holding an empty maroon-colored suitcase, its contents—a full set of mahjong tiles—emptied onto the table.
“What’s this?” Chun Gen asked, walking up to the table.
“We’re playing mahjong!” Bao answered, putting the empty suitcase on the floor and putting his hands to his hips.
“But—”
“No ‘buts’, gung gung,” Sarah interrupted him. “You promised to do whatever we ask you to, remember? Besides, experts say that playing mahjong can help stimulate brain activity and prevent deterioration.”
Chun Gen laughed. “Well, if that’s what experts say, then let’s play mahjong! I’ll have you know that I used to be somewhat of an expert myself! But,” he pointed at the two kids, then at himself, “there are only three of us. We need one more person to play.”
“Hmm, you’re right.” Bao put his hand under his chin, as if in deep thought.
“Not to worry!” Sarah said cheerfully. “We have a part-time helper. Mary,” she called loudly. “Mary!”
A second later, a round face peered out of the bathroom. Sarah waved for her to come. Mary wiped her hands on her apron and stepped into the living room. She looked down at the table, then up at the young girl, confused. “Yes, miss?”
“Mary, come. Let’s play mahjong.” Sarah said, smiling.
“No, miss. Cannot. Mam will come back soon.”
“Don’t worry, don’t worry! My mom’s spa and facial treatment takes about three hours, so we have plenty of time. Come, come.”
“But… but I don’t know how to play…”
“Aiyah!” Bao joined in. “We also don’t know the proper way to play. So we just play-play lah!”
Amused by the kids’ wild ideas and suggestions, Chun Gen decided to go along with them. He gave Mary a soft tap on her shoulder, then a nod, doing his part to convince her to join the game, too.
“Okay, gung gung,” Sarah said as the four of them sat down. “Teach us the basics.”
Chun Gen turned the tiles face-up and started to explain some of the rules.
“This,” he showed three tiles with the same face, “is a pung.” He then added a fourth tile with the same face, and explained, “This is a kong.”
He continued to tell them how to compose their tiles in order to win, how to calculate scores, and some of the fouls in the game. Mary hung on to every word he said, her expression one of extreme concentration. Sarah and Bao started out strongly too, but after a while, the many rules of the game started to bore them.
“Gung gung, enough already! Let’s start playing,” Sarah said restlessly.
“Wait, miss. Wait,” Mary was still trying to digest everything that he had taught them.
Bao had already put his head onto the table by now. He looked at Mary, then at Chun Gen, then at Sarah, and back to Mary. This was taking longer than he had thought.
He almost dozed off when Mary’s voice woke him up. “Okay!” she said quite suddenly. “Now I can play.”
The next few minutes were the weirdest few minutes Sarah had ever spent with Mary. From starting out slow and unsure, Mary gained confidence with every turn. She started calling out pungs and kongs like a real pro, so much so that even Chun Gen had to rub his eyes to make sure that the woman sitting directly opposite of him was still the same one he just taught how to play mahjong a little while ago.
“Wah!” Mary squealed excitedly, flipping all her tiles over to show her winning hand. “I eat! I win, I win!” She held out her hands, palms facing up, and said, “I win! Faster pay, pay, pay!”
The three of them stared at each other, then turned back to look at Mary.
“But we aren’t betting any money,” Sarah told her.
“We play-play only,” Bao added. “I told you earlier, right? Play-play only!”
Mary let out an impatient huff and got up from her seat. “Aiyah! If not betting money, then why waste my time? I still have to clean up the toilets! If mam come home and see that the toilets not clean yet, she will scold me!”
The three of them silently watched as Mary walked away mumbling to herself. Sarah tried not to feel dejected. I have to stay strong for gung gung.
“Don’t worry, gung gung,” she said cheerfully. “Let’s continue tomorrow!”

 

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REVIEW COMMON ENGLISH MISTAKE

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COMMON ENGLISH MISTAKE OLEH LEE KIAN SENG

Common English Mistakes is an ideal book for both students and the public at large to improve their grasp of the English language by avoiding the usual mistakes specified in this book. Each section is clearly explained in simple language with sufficient examples to help students improve their mastery of the English language. Moreover, the chapter on pronunciation will help learners to pronounce complicated words properly, as well as learn the differences in pronunciation between British and American English. This book has been formulated in such a way that it will aid its readers in polishing up their written as well as spoken English and enhance their confidence in day-to-day interactions, presentations and communication as a whole.


As for today, we are going to learn a simple English. It is about Adjectives. So what are we waiting for? Let’s learn!

I met a Chinese old man. ✘
I met an old Chinese man. ✔

They saw a Malay, teenage, petite, beautiful girl ✘
They saw a beautiful, petite, teenage, Malay girl. ✔

To avoid making mistakes in positioning adjectives when one is using several of them to describe a noun, there are certain guidelines one can follow. These guidelines tell us which types of adjectives should come first, second, third, etc. Roughly, the order is:

1st Opinion adjectives (beautiful, wonderful, clever, comfortable)
2nd Shape adjectives – 1 size (big, small)
2nd Shape adjectives 2 length (long, tall, short)
  3 shape (round, square, fat, thin)
  4 width (wide, narrow)
3rd Age adjectives (young, new, old)
4th Colour adjectives (red, green, yellow, black)
5th Origin (or Race)adjectives (Malay, Chinese, Indian, American, British)
Last Material (or Type)adjectives (leather, silk, gold, industrial, agricultural, commercial).

The easiest way to remember the order of the adjectives one uses is to fall back on the mnemonic device OSACOM. The letter stands for Opinion, S for Shape, A for Age, C for Colour, O forOrigin and M for Material.

I hope this sharing will come in handy for all  🙂

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