Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

Beauty…is a visitor who leaves behind the gift of grief, the souvenir of pain.  –  Christopher Morley

“It’s fine for work, I guess, but you actually live here, too?” She asked, with badly-disguised disdain.

“Yes.  I’m sorry, I thought You knew that,” I replied, trying not to sound too defensive.

“Well, yes, I did, but…it’s so small.”

“Rent is high around here; this is all I can afford right now.  If You want me to have something bigger, You could send me more work.”  Was that too daring, even though I did say it with a smile?

“Yes.  Quite.”pink cocktail

Well, Her response could’ve been much worse; still, I figured it would be best to change the subject.  “Would You like something to drink?”

“What a charming idea!  Do you have any champagne chilled?”

“Um, no.  Not chilled, and not at room temperature either.  I’m afraid I’m a bit short on champagne at the moment.”

“Pity.  What’s the closest thing to it you do have on hand?”

“Well, that depends.  I have some wine, some whiskey and some vodka if You want liquor, but if it’s the fizz You’re looking for I have these fruit-flavored carbonated water drinks.”  In response to Her rather skeptical look, I added, “They’re sugar free even.”  The skepticism increased.  “It helps me keep my figure.”  Yes, I know it was dumb; I didn’t know what else to say.  It’s not every day that the Boss Lady drops by in person.

She sighed so deeply it sounded like something drawn from the bottom of the sea.  “Well, I suppose you could make me a fizzy cocktail.  Not that I need to watch my figure or anything.”

Yikes!  “Oh, goodness, I didn’t mean to imply…”

She waved off my concerns with an airy gesture; I got to work on the cocktail.  When I handed it to Her, She sniffed it as though trying to be sure it wasn’t spoiled, then took a dainty but substantial sip.  “This is terrible.”

“I’m so sorry!  If You like, I could…”

“Not necessary,” She interrupted.

I finally broke the uncomfortable pause with, “I just learned to do that pretty recently, make drinks I mean, and I’m afraid I’m not very good at it yet.”

“No, you’re not.  Luckily, neither your income nor your reputation depends on your skill at bartending.”

“Yes.  I mean no.”  I’m not easily tongue-tied, but there was more than ample cause.  I would’ve been heartened by the fact that She had taken another sip, had it not been accompanied by a half-grimace.  Time for another change of topic.  “To what do I owe the great honor of this visit?”

Her smile lit up the room and instantly soothed the sting of Her previous comments.  “Oh, I just happened to be in the neighborhood, and…”  Now it was my turn to look incredulous, and She responded with a laugh so beautiful it literally took my breath away.  “No, I guess you won’t believe that, will you?”

“Well, no, not really.”

The smile became even lovelier.  “I’m really very fond of you, you know.”  I was totally speechless.  “Oh, come now darling, surely you already knew that after all this time!”

“I…well…um…” Why was I crying?  Damn, so much for looking cool.

“I know that, since taking the job…how many years ago was it?”

“Twenty.”  It came out sounding something like a croak.

“Twenty years!  How time flies!  Since taking the job twenty years ago, you’ve performed admirably and I really have noticed; it’s just that I’m so very busy and, well, time gets away from one.  Sometimes I think of you and realize, ‘Goodness, it’s been years since I looked in on her!’ and yet there you are, still faithfully toiling away at your mission as though I were breathing down your neck the whole time!”

“Thank you, My Lady; You know I always keep my promises.”

“And so you have, dear girl.  I know I’ve been awful about keeping up with you; it’s just this mood I’ve been in for the past 15 years or so.  And the reason I dropped by is to let you know that I’m going to try to do better.”

I don’t have a word to describe the complex mixture of emotions that boiled up in response, and I wouldn’t have dared to vocalize it even if I had.  So I just sat there and sobbed like a schoolgirl, and She glided across the room to sit beside me and draw me into Her arms.  “There, there,” She said, “It really will be all right.  I promise, by the Styx.”  And then She kissed me, and if I live to be a hundred no kiss of mortal woman could ever hope to match that brief brush of Her lips against mine.

rose bloodI awoke with Her scent still all around me, and my face wet with tears.  I had never had such an intensely real-seeming vision before, and it had thrown me off-balance; I felt like I needed to get up, collect my thoughts, get my jumbled emotions back in control and re-orient myself to consensual reality.  I stumbled into the outer room, and my attention was immediately drawn to the vase of roses atop my desk; they seemed fresher than they had been, and of a deeper color and sweeter perfume than before.  I gently, almost reverently stroked the petals of one, softer than a woman’s skin, and then reached down to draw it from the vase so that I might examine it under better light.  But in my fascination at the apparent revival of my flowers, I neglected to use caution in grasping the stem; the blood which welled forth from my finger was as red as the rose.

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“I hate computers!”

“If it weren’t for computers, you’d probably be working for a service taking half of your money.”

“Don’t be an asshole.  You know what I mean.”

“Actually, I don’t, Athena.  Honestly, it seems like kind of a stupid thing for you to say, considering how well you’ve marketed yourself using them.  You could never have gotten this kind of exposure without the internet, and that exposure is the main reason you’re so fucking successful.  If you don’t want all those clients, you can give some of ’em to me.”

“You’re not exactly hurting yourself, Heather.”

“I didn’t say I was, but I’m not the one about to buy a new Lexus without financing it.”

“I’m not going to be buying it either, unless these stupid computers stop fucking with me!”

“What computers?”

“The ones at the New York state vital records office.  They keep saying my birth certificate doesn’t exist.  See this? ‘Record not found.’  That’s what it says every time I try to get a copy.”record not found

“Why do you want one?”

“Because I need it to get a driver’s license so I can buy the goddamned Lexus!”

“OK, calm down.  Don’t you have an old copy somewhere?”

“Not that I know of.”

“Doesn’t your mom have a copy?”

“I’ve never met my mom.  CPS took me away from her when I was a baby and I was raised in foster homes until I finally ran away and started living on my own eight years ago, when I was 16.”

“Hey, you told me your mother was a teacher.”

“That’s part of the backstory I tell clients.  I also tell them I’m studying to be a psychologist, when in fact I don’t even have a GED.”

“So much for my suggestion you call your old high school.  Damn, honey, don’t you know any of your relatives?”

“Not a one.  And I’m beginning to think that what I thought was my real name isn’t my real name at all, but one somebody gave me somewhere along the way.  Which is why it isn’t showing up in the computer.”

“Well, that’s hardly the computer’s fault.”

“Are you fucking kidding me?  What fucking difference does that make?  Holy shit, Heather, I’m trying to vent here and you’re giving me this Pollyanna bullshit about assigning blame!”

“OK, I’m sorry, you’re right; my dad is a scientist and my mom says I sound just like him sometimes.  But there’s gotta be a way to crack this; I mean, you were in the foster system, so there must be a record of you there.  Have you tried them?”

“Of course; just because I’m a dropout doesn’t mean I’m stupid.  But they won’t give me any information without a social security number.”

“Wait, you don’t know your social?”

“Would we be having this fucking conversation if I did?”

“But Athena, how the hell have you even managed to survive until now without a social security number?”

“Cash.  Prepaid Visa.  Renting places from little old ladies who don’t do credit checks.  And I don’t know about you, but none of my clients have ever required it as a condition of seeing me”.

“Point taken.  So what made you decide to go on the grid?  You’ve been doing a great job living outside of it, and…shit, you’ve never paid taxes either, have you?”


“Girl, are you crazy?  Why the hell do you want to ruin a sweet deal like this?  So you can’t get a car; who needs it?  Just call a freaking Uber when you need a ride, just like you always have.”

“Because now I’m scared!”

“Of the IRS?”

“No, not the fucking IRS!  I’m afraid because as far as I can determine, I don’t have any past at all prior to eight years ago!”

“Well, you have your memories…no, you don’t, do you?”

“Not before I started working.  My earliest memories are of living on the street, trading sex for food and a place to stay; I just started talking about foster care because the other street girls I knew talked about it.  And somewhere along the line I guess I started to believe it, but all this has forced me to confront the truth that I don’t actually know who I am or where I came from.  Everything I say about my life prior to moving out here and taking out my first Backpage ad five years ago is a lie, and even my memories of street work are pretty vague; the more I think about it, the more contradictions I find.  It’s as though I didn’t really exist before that.”

“But you sure do exist on the internet.  I mean, you are all over the place; I’ve never seen anybody use social media as well as you do.  You use it like…”

“Go on, like what?”

“Like your life depended on it.”

“As you said yourself, my income does.”

“Of course.  Hey, sweetie, this conversation has gotten way too heavy; what say we go get a drink?”

“Sure, sure, that’s a great idea.  I’m sorry I got so upset at you.”

“Don’t apologize; you’ve got a lot on your mind.”

“Thanks.  It’s just really hard not knowing who I am.”

“I know exactly who you are; you’re Athena Logan, the most popular escort in the whole freaking country.”

“You’re full of shit, and I love you for it.  I guess one advantage of not knowing my real name is that I don’t have to answer to some stupid, boring name I didn’t choose.”

“Do you remember why you chose Athena?”

“Nah, I’ve always used it since my very first ad; don’t you think it suits me?”

“Oh, definitely, babe; I can’t imagine your being called anything else.”Birth of Athena by Rene Antoine Houasse (before 1688)


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The most beautiful stories always start with wreckage.  –  Jack London

Lexi opened her eyes and gazed about at the wreckage.  Scratch that; she opened her right eye, because despite her effort the left seemed unable to open.  Indeed, the entire left side of her body seemed to have been damaged in the crash; her left leg seemed mostly all right, but her left arm was stiff and weak, she thought she might be deaf in her left ear, and she didn’t want to think too hard about what the left side of her head must look like.

On top of all that, she wasn’t able to get up at all, and wondered if something might be wrong with her back.  A little exploration with her right hand, however, revealed that the problem was external; she was pinned down by a steel beam across her midsection.  Carefully, gingerly, she began to inch her body backward, hoping to draw back far enough that she could eventually sit up or roll over; she made just enough progress to encourage her to continue, and after a long series of adjustments she was finally clear enough to roll up onto her right side in order to survey the situation more thoroughly.

wreckageWhat she saw did nothing to ameliorate her concerns:  the ship was an utter shambles, and there was no sign of motion from any other crew member beside herself.  She called out as best she could, but her voice sounded weak and unfamiliar to her own ear; there was no response of any kind, and after a few more tries she gave up and resumed her efforts to extricate herself from the debris without help.  Her new position allowed her to reach a cable trunk, and pulling on it allowed her to make faster progress than mere inching; soon she was clear enough to sit up, and despite the near-uselessness of her left arm she was standing up a few minutes later.

Well, it was a reasonable approximation of standing, anyhow; “leaning on a bulkhead” would be a much more accurate analysis.  But she was mostly vertical and mostly mobile, and that allowed her to move out of the storage bay in which she had been trapped; she soon found what she needed to patch up all the obvious damage to her body that her inexpert senses could locate, and then she limped up to the control deck.  That wasn’t much easier than pulling herself out of the wreckage had been; all the usual routes were blocked by jammed doors or fallen beams.  But Lexi had a resourceful nature; she eventually made her way up a service crawlway, removing a panel to come up through the deck onto the bridge.

All that had come before was the easy part; Lexi was not a member of the bridge crew and therefore had no idea how to use any of the equipment there.  But she could use a computer, so she knew she’d be able to eventually figure out how to activate the distress beacon even if the communications console proper were not functional.  Here again she met obstacles: the main computer was nothing but junk, so she had to locate a functioning pocket model with the proper files, then locate those files and read as much of them as she could understand.  With ship’s power down she had to rig up the communications console to a portable power source; given that she had never been trained to do that task and only barely understood the principles involved, it was almost a miracle that she was finally able, after considerable effort, to bring the panel to life and activate the distress beacon.  After that, it was just a matter of waiting; there wasn’t much else she could do except sleep, so she did as much of that as she could while waiting for help to arrive.


“What a damned mess!” exclaimed Commander Norton.  “Have they figured out yet how the distress beacon came on by itself after 17 days?”

“Yes, sir,” said Lieutenant Baker, “but you’re not going to believe it.”

“Try me.”

“Well, sir, the panel appears to have been manually rewired.”

“On an unmanned ship?”

“Apparently, sir, the work was done by one of the land exploration units.”

The older man glared at him.  “Don’t bullshit me, son.”

“No bullshit, sir.  Lieutenant Payne has worked extensively with the model, and she says their adaptive programming has often given rise to some pretty amazing results.  Since they’re designed to explore alien worlds alone, they need considerable ability to learn new information and skills in order to deal with unforeseen problems.  Apparently, LE-XI was able to recognize that it was the only robot to survive the crash, and consulted a portable database for instructions on getting the beacon online again.”

“That’s hard to believe, even for adaptive programming.”

“Lieutenant Payne said the same thing, sir; she said that LE-XI had demonstrated an unprecedented level of autonomous action, and she wondered if the crash might not have resulted in some serendipitous change to its brain function.  The left side of its head is bashed in pretty badly, and if it hadn’t awakened and offered a report upon our entry to the bridge, I would never have believed it was still functional.”

They had been walking up the hull for most of the conversation, and had now reached the place where the salvage mission had cut through into the bridge.  Baker’s appraisal of the robot’s condition had been generous: there was a dent in its head the size of a large man’s hand, and the sensory apparatus on that side was smashed.  Its left arm was bent so badly its left hand wasn’t far from the elbow, and its torso was in terrible shape.  But its head swiveled crookedly on its neck assembly when the commander entered, and its remaining eye focused on him when he spoke.

“So this is the robot who saved the mission?”

“Yes, sir,” said Lt. Payne. “LE-XI managed to exceed her programming remarkably.  Lexi, this is Commander Norton.”

“I’m very pleased to meet you, Commander; I hope I performed adequately.”  The robot’s voice unit had also been damaged, so that instead of the clear mezzo-soprano it was designed to produce a childlike soprano emerged.  Norton had always felt a bit silly talking to robots as though they could actually think, but in this case the illusion of personality was extremely strong.

“More than adequately, Lexi.  Your actions allowed us to recover the data and samples you and the others collected here.”  Norton ignored Payne’s ill-disguised grin; in spite of himself, he did feel gratitude and even a bit of admiration toward the damaged machine.

“And what’s more, Lexi,” Payne added excitedly, “we’re going to take you back to Earth to figure out how you did it, and maybe we can build more robots as smart as you are.  I’m going to shut you down now for the trip, is that OK?”

“Yes ma’am, whatever you say,” Lexi replied, satisfied in her way that she had pleased her makers and looking forward to the prospect of a long and restful sleep.wrecked spaceship

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Fictional Interlude: Heat

She moved softly and silently along the branch, nearly invisible amidst the foliage; when it got too narrow to support her she dropped lightly down to the next tier, barely bending the lower branch as though she weighed nearly nothing.  She stopped to sniff the air again and looked upwind, attempting to locate the source of the familiar-yet-strange odor, but she was not yet close enough; she therefore resumed her course along the branch, crossing effortlessly onto a limb of the next tree where the two intertwined.

After another half-hour of progress like this, punctuated by frequent stops to sniff the air or lie still when she heard a noise or sensed movement, she finally arrived at what her exquisitely-sensitive nose told her was her destination.  It was a clearing like many others in the jungle, but this one was occupied by the creatures she had smelled from far away, the creatures who had aroused her appetite.  But she was far too experienced a hunter to allow her hunger to cause her to act rashly; the prey were larger than she was, and she could not be sure that they could not seriously injure her.  No, far better to lie on the branch above them for a while, silently lying in wait; sooner or later one of them would wander away from the others, and then she would strike from above without warning.

As she had anticipated, her opportunity eventually came; the majority of the group was occupied with something at the far end of the clearing, leaving one not only isolated, but cut off from the view of the others by a large, low shrub.  Launching herself from the branch, she struck her quarry squarely between the shoulders, knocking him off of his feet.  His scent was confusing; though it bore a strong resemblance to that of her own kind, it was somehow different and mingled with other peculiar odors.  On top of that, his oddly-pale skin was covered with a strange layer of…hair? Hide?  that seemed not to be a part of him.  Fortunately, it was relatively fragile and easily ripped away, leaving him exposed for her purposes.  It was all over in a few minutes, and though his cries attracted the attention of the others she was gone before they could arrive, moving through the trees like a will-o-the-wisp.

Later, around the campfire, Bennings mocked Grayson’s story.  “Come on, old man, ‘fess up; you tore your khakis on that thorn bush after unwisely choosing it as a spot to relieve yourself.  Surely you don’t expect us to believe this ridiculous tale of your being raped by a wild woman!”

cat eyes


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When I published “Empathy” three years ago this month, I was confronted in the comments by the dumbfounding realization that some otherwise-intelligent people do not understand that the protagonist of a story need not be good, morally-upright or even admirable in the author’s eyes; she is merely the person the story follows, not some moral exemplar.  Marilith is a courtesan on an Earth very different from the one we know, who has used her paranormal ability to excel in her profession and climb the social ladder.  This tale takes place three years after the first, and if you haven’t read that one yet I strongly suggest you do so before embarking on this one…but do yourself a favor and skip the comments.  You’ll be glad you did.

decanterMarilith’s guest was ten minutes late, and even the aftereffects of the laudanum could not calm her agitation.  It was not the disruption to her schedule that upset her so; Prince Jamal was her only client scheduled for the day, nor were any set for the next.  The disquiet was at least partly due to the empathic focus she was struggling to maintain in the face of nearer, stronger voices, but the rest of it…

“Mistress, please,” begged her handmaiden; “let me bring you something to calm you.  I have never seen you in such a state.”

“No!” snapped Marilith.  “It’s too late for that, Cynthia; he’s long overdue already, and I’ll need all my willpower for this.  I’ve done all I can do, and now all that remains is to wait.”  As if in punctuation to her sentence, the soft gong which signified a new arrival on the landing stage sounded in the antechamber.  And yet Cynthia hesitated with uncharacteristic inefficiency until her mistress ordered her to go.

The trip to the roof and back was not a long one, yet today it seemed interminable; by the time the Prince was announced, his hostess felt as though she was about to scream.  But luckily for her, the emotional communication enabled by her psychic gift was unidirectional; he had no idea of the turmoil which raged behind her penetrating purple eyes and her soft, enigmatic smile.  “Welcome back, Your Highness.  It has been too long.”

“Lies do not become you, Marilith,” he said, and a wave of panic engulfed her; did he know what she was planning?  How could he have discovered…”You would be just as happy if you never saw me again, except for the fact that you would then be cheated of the ridiculous fee I pay you.”

“Your Highness does me an injustice; surely you don’t believe I could hide such unkind thoughts without wearing them on my visage.”

He laughed, an especially unpleasant laugh even by his standards.  “You must think me a very great fool, woman; even a common whore knows how to disguise her true feelings for the men who pay her, and you are no common whore.”

“As you say, My Lord.  But if you believe this of me, perhaps you should find another courtesan more to your liking.”

He pulled her up against him, and the wave of anger and hatred which engulfed her almost drowned her doubts and fears.  “I would, if there were another fit to wash your feet,” he said in a tone which weirdly mingled resentment with admiration; “besides, you know very well I couldn’t trust anyone else.”

“So you have said, My Lord,” she said, suppressing a shudder as his right hand moved down from her waist, “but I fail to comprehend what makes me especially trustworthy.  I can sense your feelings, not the other way around.”

“You do more than just sense feelings, witch,” he spat; “they become a part of you and overwhelm your own.  I had prepared quite a dossier on you ere I approached you the first time; my advisors feel you would be incapable of violence because your victim’s terror would overwhelm you.”

“That is true, My Lord,” she whispered in his ear, “but I am not the only one here.”

weaponized nailsThough she had experienced it many times, Marilith never failed to be astonished by the incredible silence with which Cynthia could move when necessary.  And though she had been fully apprised of her attendant’s capabilities before she even purchased her, the reality was more terrifying than she could have dreamed.  Two extra pairs of arms shot forth from her gown with the speed of striking cobras; six sets of razor-sharp fingernails glinted like gems for only an instant before they were coated in blood; thirty powerful digits ripped out the princely entrails with the ease and energy of a child scattering shredded paper from the interior of an eagerly-awaited package.  And Marilith was not sure if she would ever stop screaming, much less sleep again.  She drew her ornate dagger and plunged it into her servant’s body over and over and over again; for her part Cynthia quietly accepted the attack, each wound closing instantly as though the blade had been plunged into water rather than flesh.  And when the hysterical girl finally collapsed into wracking sobs and let the blade drop from her nerveless fingers, the dispassionate handmaiden gathered her up as gently as one might handle a sleeping kitten, and bore her toward the bath after stepping through the gore that had until recently been a human being.

Once she had pressed the prepared wine to her mistress’ lips, bathed her tenderly and tucked her exhausted body into bed, Cynthia returned to scrub the carnage from the other room; she was unsurprised to find another man waiting there, surveying the scene with satisfaction.  “So it’s done?” he asked unnecessarily.

“As you see, Your Highness.  My mistress’ plan worked perfectly; she was able to remain focused on your emotions and thereby exclude Prince Jamal’s, at least until I could strike.  The kinsman who so troubled you is no more.”

“Good, very good.  And my other operatives have informed me that all of his precautions have been foiled; he will not return this time.”

“Forgive my boldness, Your Highness, but are you absolutely certain there is no chance my mistress will be implicated in this?”

“None whatever.  Once you physically clean the area with the fluids you have been provided, my people will arrive  before morning to remove the more intangible residues.  If the investigators come here at all – which I doubt – they will find nothing.”

“She has done you a great favor this evening, Mighty One.”

“I am aware of that, Cynthia, and she will be handsomely rewarded as we agreed.”

“You know that she will never be the same again.”

“Indeed she will not; her patent of nobility is already in process, and once that’s done it will be a small matter to negotiate an advantageous marriage for her.”

“Thank you, Your Highness.”  Before she rose from the deep bow, the lifelike image had faded from view.  And as she began the arduous process of cleaning, Cynthia thought to herself that though it might be disrespectful, she was very glad indeed that she was not human.

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As is the generation of leaves, so is that of humanity.
The wind scatters the leaves on the ground, but the live timber
Burgeons with leaves again in the season of spring returning.

–  Homer, Iliad (VI, 146-149)

I honestly didn’t think I had another story of Aella in me, at least not this year (if you don’t know who she is, I suggest you first read “A Decent Boldness“, “A Haughty Spirit”, “Glorious Gifts“ and “Wise To Resolve“, in that order).  But as I pondered what I would write instead, I happened to look up from my desk and lo and behold, there she was across the room from me – sitting on the divan, leaning on her sword with her cloak of honor about her shoulders, and dripping rain from the storms of centuries upon my rug.  “Stop dallying, girl,” she said to me, “hasten thou to write down my story for all who have ears to hear.”  When I indignantly replied that I was no girl but a full-grown woman of as many years as she, the reply came, “I lived and died over five thousand years before thy mother’s mother was born, thou soft-handed tart, and no daughter of Pandora with as few scars as thou hast would be counted as a grown woman amongst my people.”  Far be it from me to argue with an ancestor who had come so far to pay me a visit, so here is her story just as she told it to me, minus the outlandish profanity.

Eurynome teach these young girls their manners!Etruscan bronze of a mounted Amazon, c 500 BCE

Oh, they pretend to be deferential enough; it’s all “honored one” and “general” and “good dame” out loud, but I see the impatience in their eyes and the half-hidden smiles as I strap on my sword, don my cloak and place my helm upon my head.  I can almost hear their thoughts; they believe that no matter what my prowess in directing troops may be, I am too old and battle-weary to make good account of myself in personal combat any longer.  But that is because they are too wet behind the ears to understand that age and wisdom will always overcome youth and strength, and one day perhaps I’ll have to show them by knocking one flat on her pretty face.

And what’s so important about this reception, anyway?  It’s not as though I haven’t met a hundred merchants seeking to trade in our land since I was appointed Keeper of the Port.  And it’s not as though this is anything other than a mere formality; a captain who couldn’t present the proper papers or other tokens of good faith would already have been turned away without an important official  having to go out in the rain.  It’s just a lot of damned foolish ceremony; give me a good honest battle any day, and Hecate take all this rigamarole.  Well, at least I have a chariot with an awning, while my impatient bodyguard are forced to sit on horseback exposed to the weather; age and rank do carry some privileges, after all, though the price be aching joints and poor sleep.  And at least the road to the wharf is paved, so there is no chance of my conveyance becoming stuck and delaying my return home in time for luncheon.

Mycenaean womanHow now, what’s this?  The ship bears the painted sails of Crete, whence none have come since before the last war made our waters more dangerous than they cared to brave.  Dare I hope this ship will bear a letter from my dearest friend Phaedra, whose face I have not seen since before my young attendants were born?  Would that it were so!  To read her words and hold in my hand papyrus that she had sealed with her own would be the next best thing to kissing her again and feeling my heart lifted by the sound of her voice.  Already I can see the multicolored skirts of a Cretan woman, standing on the quay beside a tall young man; perhaps she bears the letter I have longed to see for so many years.  As I approach I see that she is hooded against the rain, and bears a bundle beneath her cloak; perhaps it contains precious papyri that she cannot risk getting wet?

Now my chariot stops, and I hear a hubbub among the guards; it seems that the young man has specifically asked to meet me, by name rather than by my title of office.  By all the goddesses, can I dare hope?  Though I have never laid eyes upon him before, his visage is familiar, and though he wears the clothing of a man of Crete, he speaks haltingly in the Amazon tongue as one might who had not used it in many years.  And when the guards announce my arrival, his face beams and his voice breaks with emotion as he calls me his mother.  Some of the bystanders laugh, others seem shocked or even offended; for no Amazon claims her sons after she hands them over to their Scythian sires, and no Scythian man would be foolish enough to expect his Amazon mother to acknowledge him.  But all of their voices grow silent as I step forward to embrace him, and the soft rain from Heaven disguises the tears upon my cheeks as he introduces his wife and places my infant granddaughter in my arms.

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Even boredom has its crises.  –  Mason Cooley

two-faced womanClementine was dreadfully bored.  Once in school she had been punished because, chafing at the incredibly slow pace of a reading lesson, she had forged far ahead of the rest of the class; when it was her turn to read aloud she had no idea where the others were.  Even at eight years old she had bristled at the absurdity of being chastised for excellence, and resolved to learn to split her focus between whatever she was supposed to be doing and what she really wanted to do.  And after many years of practice, she had succeeded to a degree few others could manage; when at work, she carried out her tasks so well and so efficiently that nobody ever imagined that something else entirely unrelated might be going on behind her china-blue eyes.  She had become so good at it, in fact, that her inner mind actually needed something else to do while her outer mind was occupied.

Hence today’s boredom; though she enjoyed her job, there were some parts of it that were repetitious.  And if she had nothing else to think about during those times, she might very well fall asleep.  Yet try as she might, she just couldn’t think of anything else to do.  She had already ordered her schedule for the rest of the day, planned dinner and made a grocery list; after that she had decided on a color of paint for her house, composed a stern letter to the contractor who had left a large pile of building materials in her back yard, and made a mental note to call her little sister.  And that was all she could think of, despite the fact that there were still 45 minutes left before she was done.

She considered the possibility of trying to finish a song she had been working on, but even her admirably-organized mind couldn’t manage that well without a guitar to strum on; besides, the might start humming or singing aloud, and that would obviously betray the fact that her focus on the work at hand was something less than total.  Similar objections applied to practicing her shibari knots, and the idea of doing anything at all about her ballroom dancing lessons was wholly ridiculous.  The very fact that it had crossed her mind in the first place was a bad sign; she must already be experiencing a kind of boredom-induced mental lapse.

What if, she thought, I focused both of my channels on the same thing?  Maybe I’d be able to do it that much better and twice as efficiently!  But it was no use; after 10 minutes of futile introspection she could not escape the conclusion that her current task didn’t even use the full resources of one of her cognitive channels, much less both.  No, it was just hopeless; she just had to give up, and almost surrendered to the urge of throwing her hands up into the air in a gesture of exasperation.  There was a clock in sight, but as it was a digital one she couldn’t even play mental games with the hands; she just had to watch as the minutes crawled by with aching slowness. Twenty-five minutes left.




semaphore womanTwenty-one, and Clementine’s inner mind realized that her outer one was frantically trying to get its attention, like a woman performing semaphore motions while jumping up and down.  And it slowly dawned on her that while she had been fascinated by the clock, her client had gotten up and left the room, and she had absolutely no idea where he had gone.  The confusion didn’t last long; he soon stepped back into the room, drying his hair with a towel, and smiled at her.  “That was amazing!” he said.

“Amazing?” she echoed stupidly.  “What makes you say that?”

“I’ve never seen a woman come like that before!  Once you stopped moaning and bucking, you just sort of went all limp and your eyes glazed over, as though you were hypnotized or something.  It was so hot!”

“Oh, yeah, well, I think you deserve the credit for that,” she lied.  “I mean, I don’t climax like that all the time; I just got lost in the moment.”  Well, at least that part wasn’t a lie.  “Hey, don’t include that in your review, OK?  I don’t want the other gents to feel bad if I don’t react that way with them.”

“Of course, of course,” he beamed, as he opened his wallet and fished out an extra hundred for her.  “But I sure hope you react that way with me again!”

“Oh yes, I think that’s probably likely,” she said, putting on her prettiest smile before she even reached for her robe.  Behind her eyes, inner Clementine was already trying to take credit for the performance; she’d have to sit her down as soon as the client left and patiently explain that it was a team effort, in preparation for a brainstorming session dedicated to working out how to do the same thing regularly and predictably.  And afterward, she’d task inner Clementine with working out what to do with the increased income.

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