Simon was a simian

Simon was a simian, but that’s not all. He had a pet human. Sure, he was careful about it. He made the human use a leash on him to make it look kosher. It wouldn’t do to have the authorities figure him out before he was ready to show his paw.

Sure, the human would hit him every now and then for show, to make it look like he was in charge. And Simon would snarl at him or cower, depending on the audience. It was all for show. The human knew the right force to use and how to pull back the stick just in time. He knew how to sell the blow so the punters would think he was in charge. But they both knew better. Simon called all the shots, always had.

Ever since he found his human alone and penniless in the side alley down the way from the tobacco shop, he knew his luck had changed. Now he could actually be in show business instead of begging in the streets. A monkey without a human was a nuisance. Everybody knew that. But a monkey with a human – now that was an act. People virtually lined up to put money in his little tin cup. Together they made a pretty penny with their hustle.

Sometimes he got the human to put strings on him to make it look like he was a marionette. Sometimes he’d walk around on stilts with a sign, some public service announcement. They’d do that on days when the cops were extra anxious to pop somebody for something. On those days they didn’t beg, but they still needed to go out to build their audience. Familiarity was important. Most people didn’t put money in the cup the first time they saw the pair.

The punters needed to see them several times, see others put money in first, to know what to do. It was a true hustle. It took a lot more finesse than you’d think. But they never did it too much. Just enough to afford a two bedroom walk-up on the East side, with enough left over to sponsor experiments in brain transfers.

Simon couldn’t wait to be done with his body. Nobody ever took him seriously. Who would? He was thankful that taboo in this culture kept him from being seen as food. The performing pigs and chickens didn’t have a chance once their skills started to wane. Their humans turned them straight into supper without so much as a “by your leave”, not like they would have gotten it anyway. Simon hoped to avoid that unpleasant experience long before it was a possibility. 

That’s why he was sponsoring research to transfer his consciousness into his human. It seemed simple enough on the surface. The brain was basically an electromagnetic medium. It seemed like it should be possible to re-record over what was there, laying down a new recording. His recording. Of his mind. 

He didn’t want anything as messy as an actual brain transplant, and he knew it wasn’t possible anyway, the differing sizes of the brains being the first issue. But also there was the matter of wiring of the nerves. Maybe he’d be able to think, but not able to talk or move. And if the transplant didn’t work, it might not be reversible. No, Simon wanted a sure thing, and he wanted it soon. But he was prepared to wait long enough to make sure it worked. In the meantime he’d continue the hustle and keep his human in the dark as to his plans.


The tuba train

The tuba train came to town this year. We’d wanted the circus, but somebody objected, saying it was cruel to the animals. How was it cruel? They got fed lots better than they would in the wild, and were safe from predators. All they had to do for these gifts was to do a few tricks. They should be grateful – the animals and the bleeding hearts. But they weren’t – surly and snappish, and this was both groups! It was hard to tell who was more upset at this arrangement – the panthers or the protesters. But the city couldn’t afford another lawsuit so we went with the Tuba Train instead. Lord knows, it didn’t feel any different. Instead of tigers we had tuba players. Both had to perform, both were away from their homes. Perhaps the tuba players were fed better, and perhaps their enclosures were better – windows instead of bars, and they had the ability to open and close the door to their cabins. But was it the fault of the people that they had opposable thumbs and better self-control? The tigers would do better if they could, I’m sure.

Who am I? Just your faithful council person, Lee McGee. I’ve held this office for nigh on a dozen years by now, and I can’t think of anything else I’d rather do. That’s good, because I can’t think of anybody else in this one stoplight town who would rather do this job for me.

Its lonely work, being a council person. There’s a lot to keep up with and not a lot of training. You have to figure it out as you go most of the time. Some of it is common sense, but maybe I think that because it makes sense to me. Some people don’t have common sense at all, so maybe it isn’t that common. Maybe it needs to be taught in schools alongside the home ec. classes. Better to teach it twice and be safe than not at all.

You see, this little town has all sorts of classes that everybody has to take and when I say everybody, I mean everybody. Of course, all the children have to take the curriculum – no homeschooling here, no high school dropouts here, but also the adults if they moved here after the classes started. No exceptions. It wouldn’t do to have the kiddos learning something that wasn’t reinforced at home.

We even have fines and penalties for not going along with the curriculum. Who cares if you take the class if you don’t follow it? It was just like getting a driver’s license. Sure, you could say you were going to follow the rules of the road, but none of that mattered until you actually got out behind the wheel.

So we have no illiteracy here in our little town. Not only can everybody read, everybody does read. Our library is well stocked and well used. Everybody reads whatever they wants, as long as it is at their reading level. If someone was consistently getting easy books, they’d get a visit from a literacy mentor to figure out what sort of assistance or incentive they needed. Sometimes they needed audiobooks because they had a visual processing issue. Sometimes they needed time management help, to make sure they had enough time to read. A minimum of an hour a day was expected. But sometimes they were just bored and understimulated. Then they’d get a list of books custom-made for them, like how a physical therapist would create an exercise regime for a patient with a bum leg.

We have no divorce here either. Don’t need to. People don’t just up and marry here. They understand that forever is forever. There are tests and trainings everybody goes through, and lots of counseling. The whole community has to agree that it’s a good match, and then agree to help a couple when, not if, they hit a snag.

Yes, we’re like one big family here. Not necessarily happy all the time, but not miserable neither. We work together to make it through the thick and thin times and we all get by tolerably.

This is one of the thick times, when we get to import a little entertainment to our fair burg. We don’t usually splurge like this, seeing as how it’s better to save than spend so we have spare when times get tight. But you can’t take it all with you, as many of our older (and presumably wiser) citizens are fond of saying, so we splash out for a treat when we’ve saved up enough to cover everybody’s expenses for a year. We all decided to do this in case of a fire or flood, where some (but not all) would have to rebuild. It would be a real hardship if the whole town were involved in some sort of natural disaster, but the law of averages being what it is, we don’t worry about that much. Maybe we’ll change our mind on that by the next census, but for now, for this decade, this is how we operate. We don’t pay insurance premiums though, and that’s nice. We all take care of each other.

Well, as I was saying, we chose the Tuba Train for the special celebration this year. Of course, all our entertainment that comes from out of town comes by train. We don’t have paved roads leading out, and we don’t have an airfield. We just couldn’t justify the expense – not only in money but also in trees. Many people across the world think of trees as filler, as packing material, as something that takes up space. They feel that space should be filled with houses made from the very trees that had been there, not understanding that oxygen wasn’t optional.

There was a lot of debate about bringing in entertainment at all. People who come here sometimes want to stay here, and we can’t have just anybody living here. And those who don’t want to stay might tell others where we are, and that won’t do neither.

Sometimes, even if we have a lot of money left over, we just throw big party or put on a play that involves the whole town and we call it good. That usually is enough to shake out the cobwebs of the older folk and use up some of the gumption of the younger ones.

But sometimes we have outsiders come, and sometimes some of them will stay. I should know. I was one of them, nearly 50 years back. I came here as part of a traveling circus with my parents on those very same train tracks. Yes, I know, most kids run away from home to join the circus. I ran away from the circus to find a home. It was a home that I never knew I needed, never even knew I could ask for or dream about. My parents were a little shocked to learn their only child didn’t want to follow in their eccentric footsteps. They thought they’d provided an ideal home for me, one where I didn’t have to go to school or wear normal clothes. They’d dreamed of such freedom as children, assumed I wanted it too. Maybe it’s human nature to want the opposite of what your parents want, even if it is countercultural.

The tuba train didn’t just have tubas, but it did have only brass instruments. Nothing electronic either. It was all live, all human powered. We like things like that here. All natural. Not extra or amplified. We all use tools, of course, but we’ve taken a page from the Amish book and learned the value of slow and simple. Faster isn’t always better, they proved. Sometimes going fast is just going nowhere. Better to walk at a human pace in everything you do. It gives you a chance to make sure you’re headed in the right direction.

Rosalee’s prize

He was her alligator, fair and square. She’d won him at the county fair some ten years back. It was just a little thing then, of course, but it was the only prize she’d ever won, so she kept him. Most of the kids at that ball toss game on the midway simply took their prize (if that’s what you could call it) to the lake which ran beside the fairgrounds and let it go free. Most had been talked into this by their mothers who quickly saw the impracticality of such a pet. The barkers took advantage of this and simply re-captured the little terrors at a bend further down the lake so as not to be noticed by the punters. This is why this particular game wasn’t rigged like the rest of the tests of skill on the midway. Nearly everybody won at this stall. It didn’t cost them anything in prizes and they made plenty in tokens to play.

But Rosalee didn’t know anything about this. All she knew was that she’d won something for the first time in her life and it felt good. She didn’t care that it was an alligator. All she cared about was that her luck had finally turned and she was going to ride that train for as long as possible. She made a little wood and wire cage for her alligator so she could take him with her wherever she went. Her second grade teacher was amused that first day and decided to incorporate it into the science module of the day. The whole class learned the difference between alligators and crocodiles, learned what kind of food they preferred, learned how to take care of them. The second day her teacher wasn’t as amused. By the end of the week she politely asked Rosalee to leave him at home from now on, the lesson was over and the joke had worn thin. But Rosalee wasn’t budging. He was her good luck charm and she had no intention of ever being more than a few feet away from him. They reached a compromise and put her in a desk next to the window. Her father was somehow roped into cobbling together a pen for the ever-growing beast that was situated just outside. They could both see each other, and she could even reach out her hand and stroke its rough scales.

Rosalee was the only person who could pet the alligator. Everybody else he snapped at – especially the vet. She took him to her family vet for the first check up and all the cats and dogs in the waiting room huddled under their owner’s chairs while Rosalee was filling out the forms. When she got to the part on the form for the “name” for the alligator, she stopped. She didn’t know his name. He’d never told her, but then again she’d not thought to ask. She didn’t think now was a good time, a name being such a private thing and this being such a public place, so she wrote “None Yet.”

20 minutes later the nurse called out “Nunyette”. Rosalee looked around, noticed nobody else got up, looked at the nurse holding her clipboard, noticed her hand waiving her into the hallway where the exam rooms were. The nurse was all smiles until she noticed it was an alligator in tow. He was on a leash, as per office policy, but she was still apprehensive.

The alligator was well behaved up until the vet tried to take his temperature. They never went back. It was either that or be sued. 

It turned out the alligator was a better prize than Rosalee could’ve ever expected. He was a good protector, didn’t need any entertaining, and caught all his own food. She didn’t think of him as a pet, but she sure didn’t think of him as her “baby” like some did about their animal companions. Ten years later she took him to the town‘s grand coming-out fête as her date. She knew it would mean she’d never get an invitation to join the Junior League, but she was OK with that.

A is for Astronaut

She’d always wanted to be an astronaut, ever since she discovered that plastic helmet in her grandparent’s attic. It had a green visor that turned the world a magical, alien color when she put it on her head. It was so much more than wearing tinted sunglasses. Everywhere she looked was altered. There was no “normal” sneaking in her peripheral vision. That was covered with the helmet. Sounds were different too – more muffled, more distant. It made her feel safer, more peaceful, more powerful to wear it.

She was born in a time before there were words for what she was. “Gifted” they knew for sure, but there was more. She was sensitive, perhaps overly so. Now she would say it was a gift to feel in an unfeeling world, but then she thought it a challenge, if not a curse. It was hard to keep friends. She made them like anyone else. It was easy in the jumble that was public school. People became friends easily, often for no other reason than survival. They joined up out of some instinct that said it was dangerous to go alone into that minefield of strange rules and stranger adults. Best to connect with others who are equally lost or oppressed. This is why cliques formed after all. Once the obvious groups were created by hobby or skill, what was often left were the oddballs, the misfits, the loners. They connected as a way of self-protection, an unspoken union with no dues or representatives

She’d fit in these groups for about a month or so, just long enough for her or them to quietly decide that there wasn’t a fit after all and one side or the other would quit spending time with each other. Thankfully this was before the era of social media, or as she thought of it now, anti-social media.

She was 50 now – far past the age of recruits to astronaut school. She was in good shape and probably could have endured the training, but it wasn’t even an option. Or so she thought. She looked it up. There were no age restrictions. The oldest so far was 46. She’d been telling herself “no” without even asking the question. She just assumed it wasn’t possible, so for her, it wasn’t. Maybe deep down her former friends knew this about her – knew her lonely fear of failure, her feckless worry. Perhaps they were afraid of catching her secret disease of failing before she even began.

But she was a different person now. There had been growth on her part. It was a blend of self-help books and counseling that finally pushed her over the edge of her fear. It was like she’d been forever standing at the cliffside, afraid of falling to her death – all the while not realizing she had wings.

How could birds know they were birds after all? Their wings were behind them. Their mothers appeared as if by magic. How could they know they too had that same magic, waiting to be revealed?

Perhaps her fair-weather friends had done her a favor after all, without even realizing it. By quietly abandoning her, she’d learned to value her own company. She’d learned how to be her own friend and how to take care of things herself. These turned out to be valuable traits in an astronaut.

Because now that is exactly what she was determined to become. She applied to the program, confident and beaming. She saved up her money and quit her job so she could commit all her energy to this. There was no backing out. There was no Plan B. It was A for Astronaut all the way. The moon (at least) or bust. No glass ceiling for her – she was going to smash through it with her rocketship.

The program had changed a lot since she had first looked into it. Every few years she’d read about astronauts or space and think of it as a loss love, or perhaps a lost dream. Now it was far less physically demanding and far more mental and emotional – and perhaps even spiritual. Now they didn’t have to endure many G-Forces, being spun about in centrifuges to ensure they could survive the ordeal of acceleration and reentry. No, being an astronaut was a lot easier since the invention of the Hop. Just strap the Hop onto your wrist, set the dials, and away you went. Within a matter of the blink of an eye you were there instead of here. Scientist’s weren’t sure how it worked, but they’d said the same about prescription drugs for years and that never stopped them. All they knew was that they got the results they were looking for.

All she was looking for was a chance, so they gave it to her. Training now was about how to interact with aliens on other planets. Of course, they weren’t “aliens” while on their home planet. She was. She was the odd one out, the anomaly when she was there. She was the one who had to adapt well enough to observe them and be able to return home in one piece. You never knew what might happen. Just judging how earth people treated their alien visitors, she knew anything was possible, so it was important to be as nonthreatening as possible.

It wasn’t possible to assume that the environment would be hospitable. She’d have to wear a spacesuit to protect against air that wasn’t of the right balance of gases for human, or ultraviolet rays that were too harsh, or gravity that was too high or too low. The spaceship had to become the spacesuit – able to provide a protective shell around the person to make it possible to explore in safety.

The government had long ago given up the idea of a space program, so it was handled by other private investors. They were generally in the tourist trade or in real estate, looking for a place for humans to go when they got bored.

So now she was testing out the suit in New York City. It wasn’t New New York – that was in Proxima Centauri 4, of course. But she had to practice somewhere, and you couldn’t get more alien than a big city that was populated with all sorts of people. So she’d Hop to New York or Nashville, or Mumbai or Mongolia, walking around and trying to interact with people. Part of it was getting used to being stared at and not reacting.

The suits had built-in translators, thankfully, but that only went so far. She had to understand the meaning beneath the words – the true message that was being conveyed. That would prove to be the most useful trait of any astronaut, and that was the one skill that couldn’t be taught. But it was hard to test for too. You couldn’t just ask someone if they could get along with anyone. Of course they’d say yes. It had to be proven, time and again, through various experiments, like what she was doing now.

Long ago, the space program gave precedence to ex-military for their astronauts. These days, they discovered that ex-retail was the best way to go. Those people had to know how to be diplomatic at all times, and how to keep the peace without a weapon. Not true with military folk, who were used to solving problems with their weapons instead of their words. Peaceful coexistence was the goal – not colonizing. They learned long ago that it was best to work and live together with a variety of beings. Too much homogeneity led to stagnation, an endless loop that would spiral back in on itself eventually, strangling ideas.

The Sneeze

Sarah spent that whole day sneezing. She was being paid for it. It was a job, after all, even though it was just for the day. Some crazy photographer wanted to capture what a sneeze looked like, so he had put up fliers around town. Actresses came but he shooed them away. He didn’t want a forced sneeze, or a pretend one. He wanted the real thing. Only an authentic sneeze would do. This was for science after all. At least, that’s what he told himself.

He almost didn’t hire Sarah – she seemed too fancy. He suspected she was an actress by her clothes. She assured him that she dressed up for every interview. She believed it was best to dress better than expected. But she had no idea what to expect for an audition to sneeze, so she wore her best party dress, just to be sure. She needed the money. She couldn’t afford to act like it was a done deal, that she’d get the job without any effort.

The photographer liked her spirit, so he decided they needed to try to capture her sneeze. It wasn’t allergy season, so they had to resort to various methods to induce one. A feather was used, then a pinch of pepper, then some snuff. Sarah stood before the camera and tried each item, and the photographer pressed the shutter release. He rigged up a new system to take 10 photographs in quick succession. It wouldn’t do to miss one, and he never knew exactly when it would happen. They tried all three things and got three different sneezes – small, medium, and large. Sarah was a little embarrassed how much she sneezed after the snuff, but it was exactly what the photographer was looking for.

But he wasn’t just photographing her sneeze. He had her stand barefoot on a metal pad during the experiment. Wires ran from it to a small metal box with dials and scopes and a paper readout that looked a bit like an EKG. He was testing to see if there was a difference in her when she sneezed.

The Church taught that it was dangerous to sneeze because it was the breath of God you were casting out. So while it looked like he was photographing a sneeze, he was really measuring what God’s breath was. Did it have weight? Was there an electrical charge? Did the person lose anything during the sneeze – and if so, did it come back, and when, and how? Was there a difference if you said “God bless you” or not? What if the person wasn’t a believer – was there any change then?

He was a curious man, barely over 5 feet tall. He had a small voice it always seemed to be apologizing for something or other. His nails were clean, now, but sometimes they bore traces of nail polish in improbable colors. Nobody knew if he had a significant other, and if so, what gender they might be. He didn’t even have any pets. He kept to himself, except for the once a week he went to the local American Legion Hall for the music. He went there for the same reason he got a flu shot. He thought it did him some good, or ought to. He wasn’t certain enough to miss either one of them, just in case. He wasn’t sure what he’d catch if he wasn’t a little social. Maybe depression? Delusions of grandeur? Right now he barely had delusions of adequacy, but he knew that was part of the territory of being an artist.

And an artist he most certainly was. When he stepped behind the camera he became someone else, someone confident and sure. He was no longer short, or strange, or socially awkward. He could talk with people instead of just at them. It was a lifesaver that he had discovered photography as a form of self-expression.

Most artists had to build up their clientele, schlepping around their portfolios like second-rate prostitutes. He’d had the good fortune to start his career doing school photographs. He could learn the trade and get paid for it. No marketing – all he had to do was show up. Somebody else made all the contacts and did the hustle for him. It was ideal. He thought all artists should have it this good. Being an artist and marketing your work were two entirely different skill sets, after all.

It was while he was photographing Mrs. Murphy’s first grade class that he got the idea about documenting a sneeze. It was on an unusually cold day when school picture day came around, after a month of warmer temperatures. The children, unused to the sudden change, were sneezing in the makeshift studio that was set up in the gym.

Several retakes had to be made to make sure he’d gotten a good portrait. All the mistakes got tossed into his seconds box. He wasn’t going to do anything with them – they were for an acquaintance he knew at the American Legion. She was a songwriter who was almost as eccentric as him. They were an unusual sort of pair – both united in their oddness. They didn’t fit with people, but because of that they sort of fit with each other. They weren’t a couple, mind you, just friends in an offhand sort of way.

She fancied herself a visual artist as well, cutting up pictures from magazines and gluing them in her handmade journals. Sometimes she’d slap paint or stickers on the pages with the pictures and write stories about the people. He figured she’d like some actual photographs to use so he brought them to her.

Little did he realize but she was also a bit of a psychic. When she saw the first image of six-year-old Brian Thornton having a sneeze into the crook of his arm, she threw the photo down in shock, exclaiming “He’s not right!”  After she recovered, the photographer asked her what she meant. She simply stated “He has no soul!” and left it at that.

Now maybe that was true for little Brian. He was an odd child according to the teacher. But he was also sneezing at the time, so maybe that was it. So the photographer was now on a quest for the human soul, by way of photographs.

The Wind

She felt the January wind slink into her apartment, curling in like a cat, all sly and sophisticated. It thought it could slide in, lurk in the corners long enough that she’d get used to it, let it stay, like an afterthought. This interloper wind, this vagabond gust thought to hide in the corner, unnoticed but still unwelcome, a silent squatter.

But she was through with hangers on, of all sorts. She’d lived alone these last 20 years, ever since her husband moved away to find work in another state. Or had he simply moved without her, a divorce in all but name? They’d grown apart ever since she became sober. Only when she wasn’t seeing life through the fog did she realize she‘d not married well. But, a vow was a vow, so they muddled on, more roommates than spouses.

It had worked, for a while, but then it all became clear, slowly, like a Polaroid photograph developing. Only then could she see who she’d married – or perhaps worse, the person she’d become since that day.

How had she forgotten who she was? And why had it taken so long to remember?

She had her back injury to thank for this, she mused. Nothing makes you reevaluate your life like pain. She’d had to stop everything and re-learn who she was, learn how to put down all the heavy things she was carrying. It didn’t take her long to realize that meant more than just physical.

So she made less time for him. She started spending time with friends. She started spending time on herself. She started learning what it was like to not spend so much time around someone who was addicted to being broken, to being a victim. It was liberating.

It was sad,in a way, to realize how much he had leaned on her, how much he had expected of her. But she was through listening to his litany of complaints, his lists of people who had done him wrong. It was sad, too, to see how special he thought he was – and not in a good way. He thought he was unique in his pain, that the world paid special attention to him, singled him out for abuse, when in reality the world was as indifferent and impersonal to everyone.

This need to play the victim, to play the indirect object, the one who was acted upon rather than the active agent, was what had put him in his funk. She could see this plain as day, this self fulfilling prophecy of disappointment and delusion. He had not gotten better in the decade they’d been together. Perhaps he had gotten worse. And so she agreed to the separation, to see if perhaps he would learn on his own. It was how she’d learned, after all.

It wasn’t intentional, this separation. She hadn’t asked for it, but welcomed it all the same as the gift she’d never thought to ask for.

He had fallen on hard times since the layoff. A cozy job with the government, safe and secure, was his ace in the pocket for years. He could coast along, unmotivated, lackadaisical, feckless. Perhaps that had been his undoing, that job where mediocrity was the name of the game. Perhaps he’d learned too well that it didn’t pay to try harder. There were no promotions for those who tried to improve upon the time-tested procedures. In fact, mostly there was censure from the fellow dozens of that lackluster lair. They invariably pulled down anyone who dared to make their own mediocre workload look as lackluster as it really was. Only if they all conspired to put forth the least amount of effort could they continue in their façade. 

But then there was the layoff. Or was it a forced retirement? Being civil service, they couldn’t be fired, but they could be subtly forced to leave. Privileges could be revoked. Expectations could be raised. Work could be documented, quantified, tracked. This weeded out some of the lazy ones, but not all. Some clung on harder, determined to outlast the push to eliminate them. Some were determined to stay until the end, until they retired or things got bad enough that going through the ordeal of finding another job seemed better in comparison.

Somehow he lasted through the waves of attrition, kept his head down in that strange game of musical chairs where people weren’t fired but still found they didn’t have a job. Every week certain jobs were deemed unnecessary or redundant. It was clever, if not exactly honest. The people weren’t eliminated. The jobs were . It was a simple as that.

And that is why he left, before the ax came down on him. But that too is how he was patterned – to think that he deserved better but didn’t have to work for it – in fact, shouldn’t work for it.

It was nearly a year before he worked up the momentum to get another job, in the meantime relying on the kindness of his wife to keep him in the lifestyle to which he had become accustomed. And then she’d had it. It was only her anxiety attack that put her in the hospital that motivated him to start looking in earnest. Even then what he found was just part time, with no health insurance.

She’d promised, she said her vows, but she hadn’t counted on it being worse more often than better. She thought it would swing both ways, where they’d take turns relying upon each other. She’d not expected this protracted siege upon her compassionate nature.

And so finally he moved out, but not before she pushed him out of the bedroom, pushed his clutter out of the kitchen. She told him years ago it was her or the hoarding, and he’d not chosen her. So she got to do the choosing, slowly but surely maneuvering the situation to pushing him out without overtly doing so.

He was used to being a bit player in his own life anyway, so it was easy enough once she set her mind to it. No more would she be his emotional garbage dump. No longer would she pick up after him when he “forgot” to clean up his own messes – physical, financial, spiritual. She’d never agreed to having a child and certainly didn’t want one who was nearly 50.

So they lived apart, and it worked in a fashion. It wasn’t a normal marriage as far as they knew, but maybe it was. Maybe most people lived like this but never talked about it. Maybe behind closed doors all marriages were all the same. Meanwhile, it was time to do something about that draft. It wouldn’t do to let the wind get the better of her. She was done with being taken advantage of.

(written 1-3-19)

The Camera

This was the first picture she took with her new camera. Well, it was new to her and that was good enough. She found it at a pawnshop over on 9th Street, the street of lost chances and dead ends. Nobody went to live on that street if they could avoid it. But sometimes she went there to browse the pawnshop and see what she could find. There was always something there that she could find room for in her house. But that day she didn’t go to browse. She had decided she needed a camera, and the older the better. She didn’t want anything digital. She didn’t want her tools to be smarter than her. Sure, she had a smart phone that could take pictures, but she wanted something slower. Haste makes waste, after all, and being able to take a thousand pictures a day certainly created some bad shots. No, a roll of 24 shots was right up her alley.

She’d gotten into the mindfulness trend and decided her new hobby was going to be photography. Not that silly point and shoot business, but actually composing photos like you’d compose a sonata or sonnet. She wanted real pictures, with heart and soul.

But she ended up with pictures that were dark. They had soul, but it was of a dangerous bent. The camera never seemed to work when she tried to take a photo of a flower, or a child, or a puppy. Only when something tragic or scary happened would the shutter release, and she had no control over when that would happen.

It wasn’t like she pointed the camera at that car accident. She tried to frame a shot of the roadside flowers. The shutter clicked, or so she thought. She stood up and then the car came around the bend, going 90 to nothing. It hit a pothole in the road and flipped. The passenger flew out, arms flailing and then, the camera, slung on a lanyard around her neck, took the photo.

She didn’t know until she got the film back two weeks later in the mail. She’d spent the whole weekend taking photographs and none of them came out. Or rather – all of them came out perfectly – they just weren’t the photos she’d taken. The camera had taken them all. All weird. All strange. All disturbing. She noticed all the strange things that were happening that weekend she chose to learn how to use her camera. But she’d not focused on them. Who would point their camera at that? A decapitated doll. A strangled snake. And worse.

She was here to share joy with the world, and her camera seemed bent on showing junk.

She took the camera back to the pawn shop. Maybe she could trade it for another? There were no other cameras there that day, and the clerk mutely pointed at the “no refunds” sign written in 48 point font taped to the cash register. But he did offer her the name of the person who had brought it in. This was against policy, of course, but she was a regular and so patient with him so he decided to make an exception as a way to appease her.

Now she had a name. Perhaps this had happened to the last owner. Worse – perhaps the last owner had done something to make this happen. She did a little research. It didn’t take long to make contact. He owned a tea shop just four blocks away, on the other side of the tracks.

She decided to swing by to see what he looked like. Maybe she could get a feel for what kind of person he was. If he looked scary she would just leave. But he didn’t. He looked normal. So she approached him and asked if they could talk. He was used to this. People were forever coming up to him to talk about what was going on in their lives while he was at work – mostly what was going wrong. He often used to say that he should have been a priest or a bartender instead of owning a tea shop. He heard a lot of dark secrets and confessions.

She asked him about the camera. Yes, he recognized it as is. He’d pawned it because he’d gotten a digital camera and didn’t need this one anymore. No, he didn’t recall it taking strange pictures. He said he’d not used it in years, having stored away at his desk. It was the same desk where he made art every day after work. Every day his customers would pour out their problems, like buckets of rocks, into his head. It weighed him down. So he’d pour out all that misery into his artwork. It left him clear to start fresh the next day. It was how he survived. It was how he stayed sane.

They realized that the camera must have picked up some of that strangeness. It had taken up the same skewed perspective of the world as all those people who had unloaded on him. Now the camera, like the people, chose to see only ugliness and deformity.