Category: Memories

A Humming Machine

In the night quiet, I heard humming downstairs. I dressed myself in robe and slippers and tip toed down the steps. The woman sat at a small table that was usually covered with an embroidered cloth leaning over a white humming machine.

“What’s that?” I asked drawing close to the machine.

The woman jumped. “Oh! You’re awake!,” she said. “Can’t you sleep?”

I wanted to say, “I’m always awake.” I asked again, “What is that?”

“My sewing machine,” she replied. “I’m making you a dress for your first day of school.”
She lifted a blue dress and a cream coloured cotton pinafore printed with yellow flowers and cocker spaniels puppies.

“Do you like it?” she asked. “I had to dye Claire’s old yellow dress but I added the pinafore so the stains won’t show.” I touched the crisp fabric of the pinafore. “Do you like the pockets?” she asked.

“Oh yes,” I said suddenly needing to blink. I glanced at the television. “Why isn’t there any colour? Is it broken?”

“That’s an old movie. Old movies aren’t in colour.” She smoothed the pinafore fabric then tilted her head peering at me, “Are you hungry? Would you like some ice cream?”
I nodded.

She went to the kitchen and returned with two bowls of vanilla ice cream. “Now eat that,” she said. “Then you’ll have to get back in bed.”

We ate and watched in silence. When I finished, the woman took my bowl and said, “Back to bed with you but first wash your face and hands and brush your teeth.

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I Sing Because I’m Free — Assignment 5

80s teen bra 2Under my fingers, the smooth, evenly spaced ridges of embroidered pale pink roses tickled my fingertips as I made tiny stitches in the smooth, pale pink fabric. The minister’s face had had blotches that ranged from pale pink to darker purples and reds when he had said in a hushed, breathless voice, “Your mother is dead.”

“Oh no!” Claire had burst out.

The others had wailed, “Mommy! Mommy!”

Then the minister had cried out, “Oh Roberta!” as he caught up the smiling photograph of her that had been taken less than two years before. I jumped at the sound of his voice.

Five faces, so much like hers, so much unlike mine, crumpled, eyes poured forth tears, noses ran. The reds and purples overran the paler pink tones on the minister’s face. I watched them, eyes wide, eyes dry. Darkness plugged my heart. Across that dark screen played the image of the minister’s hand slapping a dark red mark against his wife’s creamy, pale cheek as he screamed, “You’re crazy!”

I had gone to retrieve my books and coat.

“You’ll be staying out of school for a while,” he had told me when I stopped to say I was going to school.

Now, behind the dining room window seat draperies, I sang softly to myself, “I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free, For His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me; His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me…” as I stitched pleats into the cups of one of Claire’s cast off bras.

“It’s nearly new,” I told my Friend. “If I can just make the cups small enough, I’ll finally have a bra.” I winced at the memory of my chest pulling when I ran or even walked quickly. Hunched over, I held my face close to the embroidered roses.

“They were done with a machine,” I whispered. “Little lines, not even satin stitches.” I shook my head at it; I could do a much better job.

I popped a tiny, spicy, red heart into my mouth, and sucked it as I continued to stitch. “I’ll miss Valentine’s day,” I whispered, then shrugged, “I wouldn’t get many Valentines anyway.” I pressed my nose against the window and let the bra slip into my lap.

The day was sunny, mild. How do bad things happen on beautiful days? I mutely asked. And why do I feel happy? Shouldn’t I be sad? Shouldn’t I cry for her?

I popped another spicy red candy into my mouth and took up the bra. My heart sang as I continued to take tiny stitches in the soft fabric, “I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free, For His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me; His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me…

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Assignment: In words and/or images, compose a piece in response to a memory of conflict, war, loss, or trauma that includes two or three central sensations: perhaps a sound that corresponds to or contrasts with a sight, perhaps the feel, noise, and smell of a place.

Taken from “H Is For Happy Once”

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He Kissed My Neck! – Assignment 4

He kissed my neck!“Did you get Jason’s number?” Linda asked.

I shook my head.

“It’s because he’s short, isn’t it?” she insisted.

“No,” I shook my head again. “I just don’t like him.”

“Because he’s short,” Linda said.

“Because I don’t like him,” I responded before turning to the mirror to freshen my lipstick.

“Why don’t you just admit it. He’s short and you don’t like him,” Linda said.

“He kissed my neck!” I shrieked, my voice becoming shriller as the sentence ended.

“So?” Linda asked. “It’s New Year’s Eve. People kiss.”

My hands flew up, splayed out, twitching to ward off the images that rushed towards my interior vision.

Margaret giggled, “You look like a baby given solid food for the first time. Your face is all puckered!”

I glared at her, “He kissed my neck! I hate having my neck touched.”

“What about Cade?” Linda asked. “You lived with him. He must have kissed your neck.”

I flinched. Margaret giggled again. “I’d push him away,” I said.

“You wouldn’t let your boyfriend kiss your neck?”

“No.” My breathing was ragged, wheezy. My shoulders hunched closer to my ears protecting my neck from lips and tongues and fingers. “I hate it!”

“The iron-faced woman,” Sinead said.

“Whaa–?” I asked. I closed my eyes, tried to ease the furrows in my forehead.

“She choked you,” Sinead said.

“How…?” I asked

“You didn’t like your dress so your mother had her change it. It had a sailor collar and when she pulled the tie…”

My splayed hands twitched, unsuccessfully warding heavy, muscular hands that clutched and pulled the bright red cotton tie. I shook my head to clear it away. A tear flew from one eye. My lips curled.

“I forgot I’d told you,” I sniffed.

Margaret handed me a tissue.

“How old were you?” Linda asked.

“Three? Four?”

“More than twenty years ago? You can’t still be bothered by that.”

“Some things don’t get better,” Sinead told her.

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Assignment: What losses or absences do you or do we continue to sense from things that are no longer present? In words or images, compose a piece that explores the “phantom limbs” of a trauma or traumas.

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White Mary Janes – A Rupture In History, Assignment 1

White Mary Janes“Where are you taking Marmar?” Grandpère laughs up at me. His hands at my waist hold me above his head. My white Mary Janes scissor kick the air.

“Shopping,” I crow.

“What will you buy me?”

“I don’t know-oh-oh,” I warble a song of syllables.

Heavy boots clomp along the hallway floor. Grandpère swings me to the floor near the bookcase. He steps behind his desk. The study door opens. Two khaki uniformed men enter. One wears a rigid cap, the other a soft cap with a bill. Marmar’s hand clasps mine.

“Sir,” the man in the rigid cap moves his lips. My ears hear a humming buzz. The air pulses against my skin.

“It need not be this way,” Grandpère’s voice echoes through the buzz.

Grandpère stretches out an arm towards Marmar. His hand motions, Back! Marmar’s hand clasps my shoulder.

The man in the rigid cap raises the corner of his lips. It is almost a smile. His lips move again. The humming buzz returns, the air pulses. The man in soft cap removes a gun from the holster at his side.

A loud, flat crack rends the humming buzz.

Grandpère slams against the wall behind his desk. He slides to the floor. Red blood bubbles from the front of his pale blue shirt.

One white Mary Jane steps toward Grandpère. Marmar pulls me back.

Three flat cracks sound in the hallway.

The man in the rigid cap moves his lips again. Marmar clasps my hand. Blood saturates Grandpère’s shirt.

“Walk,” she says.

I glance up at her. My white Mary Janes step in tandem beside her. Ti Eduardo lies in the hallway. Red blood plasters his dark hair to his head. I reach for him.

“Walk,” Marmar repeats.

I glance up at her again. My white Mary Janes tread the tile floor. The soldiers close us in the cool sitting room. Marmar sits amidst the red flowers of an upholstered chair. Her hands on my shoulder, she rests her head on mine. Loud sobs rend the humming buzz, undulate her back. Dark hair slips its pins, hides her face. Her tears strike my white Mary Janes.

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Constraint: Use present indicative to express the immediacy of memory. Keep sentences simple. Avoid use of the conjunction “and.”

O is for Opposite

o is for oppositeOpposite me, separated by the sealed window, her dark eyes and mine lock in a gaze. We share similar golden skin, dark hair but her dress is soiled, ripped. Dirt streaks her face. Her bare feet stand on piles of refuse amidst shanties made of cast off wood, plastic, corrugated aluminum.

“Huh. Huh,” I whimper leaning against the solid warmth of Papa’s hand. Traffic has halted our car. The scents of leather upholstery, air conditioning, aftershave, and pipe tobacco comfort me; the smell garbage heap on the opposite side of that pane of glass cannot intrude. Her face reaches in through the glass; I touch my smooth cheek, my cheek not hers.

“She is poor,” Papa tells me. “Her mother and father don’t have enough money to feed her. She is searching for food.”

I want to look at his face, to see in his eyes the meaning of his words. But I must not look away and lean farther back against his hand to feel his touch.

“Maybe we can find a way to help her,” Papa says and leans forward to speak to the driver, Pablo.

The car begins to move again. Our opposite pairs of eyes remain tied together for a few seconds more.

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F is for Faith Healer

“Eve, ride with your mother and the nurse in the ambulance,” the man said.

After the hospital bed bearing her mother had been loaded in, Eve climbed in and one of the drivers slammed the heavy door shut.

As the vehicle pulled away, I stood on the sidewalk hugging my coat in the chill night air.

“Get in this car, Mel,” the man shouted.

f is for faith healerI jumped and scrambled into the empty seat between between Claire and Gerrard. We drove a long way. The man sang Blessed Assurance to himself raising his voice during the chorus:

This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long.
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long.

We rode huddled in silence. Finally, we arrived at an open field. The dark silhouette of a huge tent loomed in the night sky. We waited behind a long queue of cars that sought space among the parked rows filled by earlier arrivals.

The man hunched his shoulders, shook his head, and muttered, “Quel désordre!” He lowered his window and, waving a sheaf of tickets, called to a guard who wielded a flashlight, “I have a reservation. My wife’s ambulance should be here… That’s her,” he cried out pointing at the large, white shape as it moved into the yellow light near the tent entrance.

“Pull over here,” the guard directed. We parked in an area surrounded by red tape on which “reserved” had been printed in white.

Inside, we sat under the bluish light cast by bare, fluorescent bulbs. Giant space heaters sent warmth towards our shoulders but missed the chilly seats of the metal folding chairs. The woman lay under piles of blankets on her hospital bed.

“Who’s he?” Gerrard whispered to Charles.

“A faith healer,” Charles answered. Gerrard’s brow furrowed. “He’s going to try to heal mummy like the one last week.”

“Oh!” Gerard’s voice rose.

The man snapped his head in our direction, “Hush! Show some respect.” He leaned over to the large woman next to him, “I’ve got to be father and mother to them.” She nodded. “But I know God will heal my wife and give them back their mother.”

“Amen!” she replied.

“What is your name?” the faith healer lay his hand atop the pile of blankets.

“Roberta,” the woman’s voice was a whisper.

“Roberta,” the man spoke clearly.

“Roberta,” the faith healer’s drawled. “Do you believe God can heal you?”

“Yes,” the woman whispered.

“Then in the name of Jesus, be healed!”

He lifted her off the bed holding her under her arms. Spasms of pain tore across her face. She hung from his hands, a limp rag doll; her toes, in black, leather slippers, barely touched the floor.

“Walk Roberta,” the man urged.

The woman hung suspended from the faith healer’s hands. The nurse stepped forward. She and the man lifted the woman back onto the hospital bed.

“You” have to fast and pray,” the faith healer told the man. “But if you believe,” his voice boomed out through the microphone, “God will heal you.”

“I’ll fast for forty days and forty nights,” the man declared shaking the faith healer’s hand. “Just like Jesus.”

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D is for D’Abby

“God knows your name,” the minister’s bright, authoritative voice asked through the radio speaker. “But do you know His?”

I yawned and stretched, “Morning, Lord.”

“See,” I told the radio. “I know His name.”

The voice continued, “We give those we love special names. When I was a boy…”

D is for D'AbbyHe continued his story while I wrapped myself in my navy, terrycloth robe and padded off to the bathroom. On my return, the minister inquired, “Do you love God so much, you have a name that only the two of you share? Are you that close to Him?” I tuned to a classical station and listened to Haydn as I dressed for church.

Huh? I silently queried my Friend. The lector’s voice continued to ring in my ear after he had returned to his seat. I glanced back down at the service leaflet:

“For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!'”*

Abba? That’s You?

But do you call me that? The words formed themselves in my mind and resounded like the peal of one of the bells in the church tower.

My forehead furrowed, That’s what Paul calls You.

I reread the passage from Romans again. The words, “we cry” held my attention. Hmm, I mused. I haven’t included myself in “we.” I tried to focus on the homily but my eyes returned to the leaflet. My lips pushed themselves together in a small moue. Abba doesn’t mean much to me. It just doesn’t.

The creed and prayers of the faithful brought me to my feet and captured my attention but at the announcements, I found my eyes drawn back to Romans 8. So do You want me to give You a personal name? I mutely asked. Something other than Lord, or God, or Friend? The word “Father” caught my eye. Something that means Father? A warm tingle of a divine hug suffused my arms and back. “Okay,” I whispered as I stood for the consecration.

After communion, I knelt, my forehead resting on my folded hands, whispering, “D’Abby, thank You for feeding me…” My head snapped up. “What did I just say?” I whispered. “D’Abby? What’s that?” I rested my head on my clasped hands and pleaded, “What’s D’Abby?” The warm tingle held me close. “It’s not Daddy. I wouldn’t call You that. It’s not Papa. He was my father. And it’s not Abba either.” I gazed up at the crucifix and then lowered my head again. “Gee!” I whispered. “Gee!”

*Romans 8:15

C is for Calm and Comfort

“Shall we get flowers for Marmar?” Papa’s big, warm hand clasped mine. Icy blue eyes gazed into my brown ones. My legs beneath my navy coat raised and lowered my black leather Mary Janes in a prancing dance.

C is for ComfortI vigourously nodded. A small smile lifted the corners of my mouth as we entered the shop. I pressed my nose and lips against the counter’s glass front as a blond woman in a blue overall spoke with Papa. A pink and gold bow congratulated me: “It’s a girl!”

“What of peonies, Lysse?” he asked holding one fluffy pink stem.

I breathed in its soft, powdery fragrance then looked up at him with a wide smile and nodded again. As Papa turned away, my eyes collided with the attendant hazel gaze.

“What a lovely little miss,” she said.

I pressed against Papa’s leg reaching for his hand and caught hold of the hem of his tweed jacket, “Huh… Huh…” I whimpered. Tears stung my eyes, “Huh… Huh…” I buried my face in his grey flannel trousers, clutched the soft fabric in my small fingers. “Huh… Huh…”

Papa lifted and held me so that our faces were about a foot apart. “Calm yourself,” he said in his Lysse-does-not-behave-this-way voice. The whimpers petered out as he repeated, “Calm yourself.” A hot tear fell onto his lapel. He gathered me close in his arms against his shoulder. My tears ceased.

“She’s tired,” Papa told the attendant then completed ordering. Mouth serious, eyes wide, I peered over his shoulder at her smiling face as he carried me from the shop.

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B is for Book

My back kneaded the wall outside the woman’s bedroom. Through the cracked door, I saw the woman sitting on her bed, taking things from a round, red, velvet box. Pressed my face against the crack, widening it. My mouth was a small O, my eyes pleading.

“You may come in,” she told me.

I approached the bed stopping with my hands on the white, linen coverlet. One green embroidered flower rested under my fingers. I stroked the bumpy needlework.

b is for bookA few ribbon-tied piles of yellowing envelopes already lay on the bed. The woman removed a small cream coloured book with gold edged pages from the box and placed it next to the envelopes.

“What’s this?” I asked, my hand on the book.

“It’s a children’s missal. My father gave it to me.”

I opened it. A berobed man held a cup and, above it, a small, round, shining white wafer. A sudden stillness filled my insides, rang through my heart and, without sound, through my ears. Tears welled in my eyes. The woman gently took the book from my hands and placed it back on the bed.

“Go play, now,” she told me.

Half way to the door, I stopped and gazed back at the small, cream book.

I returned to the bedroom I shared with Eve and Claire. My face sheltered behind an immense book of Mother Goose nursery rhymes propped against my knees, I sat with my back pressed against the closet wall; the closet door remained ajar.

Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old, I chanted under my breath. After each stanza, I raised my head and listened. The rays of the sun on the window seat beckoned me to my accustomed place but I remained in the closet.

The woman’s door closed. She traversed the hallway and descended the stairs. As the sound of her steps died away, I tip toed to her room and tried the handle. It was unlocked. The red, velvet box was not on her bed. I went into her closet. There it was on a shelf above my head. I climbed onto her shoe shelf and lifted the box down. Beneath letters and dried flowers, I found the missal. I took it and returned to the closet in the room I shared.

Slowly, I read each page, drinking in each picture. On the page with the man holding the cup and the small, white, round thing, the words read: ‘Look, the priest is holding up Jesus so you can see him.’

Something tugged at my heart. My chest heaved. A stuttering “Huh! Huh! Huh!” came from the recesses of my chest. The well of tears gushed over. When it receded and the stuttering ended, I left the closet and pushed the book as far as I could under the my mattress.

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Away III

This week’s assignment was to rewrite a previous submission. My goal is to blend Mel’s interior life with her Friend and the internal censor she has developed with her everyday experience. You comments and suggestions are most welcome:

…But you’re somehow a part of my life
And you won’t go away
(1)

Carly Simon’s voice continued on as my clear soprano cracked and faded to a whisper. The rubbery, dark, barrier spanned my heart and mind. I raised my broken soul to my Friend like a shocked child holding a dead bird, pleading, ‘It’s broke. Fix it.’ My Friend’s arms suffused me with radiant warmth; He neither explained nor eradicated the pain.

“She’s off key,” Verna sneered.

I raised my head to look at her indistinct form through blurred eyes, then wiped away my tears with the soft cotton of my pale blue sleeve.

Verna stood with her back to the frosted window. I did not respond. Neither did the other occupants in our dorm room.

“She is.” This time her voice was shrill.

Sprawled across my bed in her pajamas and robe, Kelli swiped a yellow highlight across another sentence in her economics text then looked up and said, “No she isn’t.”

Her dark gaze caught and held Verna’s hazel eyes. Verna lowered her lashes. Kelli returned to her studies.

Verna muttered, “I can hear it even if you can’t.”

“Huh?” Diana, flopped down like a rag doll, shared the braided rug in the middle of the floor with me. She lowered the typed page she was marking with red, green, and blue fine point pens away from her face, and told Verna, “You’re tone deaf. You can’t even play a kazoo.”

We chuckled. I turned my eyes back to the psychology text in my lap.

Verna opened the window a crack and sniffed, “It smells like snow.”

Ama, twirling one of her many slender braids, uttered a breathy plea, “Verna, it’s cold. We have our French final tomorrow.”

Verna shut the window and bounced towards her friend. The phone rang as she passed.

“Crazy coeds r us!” Nancy and I exhaled audibly. Kelli shook her head. “Meh-el,” Verna bleated, her mouth gloating, her eyes like Claire’s had been whenever she lied and the minister beat me. “It’s your fazher!”

I glared at her and snatched the beige receiver from her hand. “Hello?”

“Who was that?” I knew the minister’s voice could be heard throughout the room.

“My roommate.”

“Get a new one.”

“What’s up?”

‘Good,’ the inner censor commended me. ‘Keep it casual, relaxed.’

Mon Dieu! You don’t ask how I am?” he accused.

“I’m studying for finals,” I told him my voice raising nearly an octave.

‘Stay calm,’ the censor warned.

“You can pick up your ticket tomorrow,” the minister told me.

“Thanks. I’ll get it at the airport Wednesday.”

“Get it tomorrow.” His voice held the same menace as when he unbuckled his belt to hit one of us.
“I have finals every day.” An image flashed through my mind. I held my breath; my heart began to pound. “The ticket… it’s round-trip, right?!”

‘Don’t screech,’ the censor chided.

Zut! Don’t raise your voice to me!” the minister commanded. “I said I’d get a round trip ticket. Are you calling me a liar?”

I soundlessly released my breath but did not speak.

‘Good,’ the censor assured me. ‘Ignore his accusation.’

The minister continued, “Bring all your things back with you.”

“Why?” My heart began pounding again.

“Someone will steal them. Nouille!” He muttered the last word, idiot.

I ignored the insult. “My room and the dorm will be locked. No one can get in.”

“Bring everything anyway.” He spoke in his prophecy-from-on-high voice that I had learned to ignore when I was twelve.

“I have a final in the morning,” I sighed.

‘Perfect,’ the censor told me. ‘Remind him that you have a lot of work.’

“Just because you have that scholarship, you think you know everything.”

“I have insurance.” The words tumbled out before the censor stopped them. I ignored her indignant jolt. “It’s nearly midnight here. I’ve got to go. Tell Matthieu I love him.”

I gently replaced the receiver; he would ring back and rebuke me if I let it slam. Kelli’s eyes caught mine. She gave me a small, I’m-sorry smile. My shoulders ached. The darkness of the rubbery barrier loomed within me.

At the stereo, Nancy put on Janis Ian’s Stars. Her elder sister had owned it before she was killed by a drunk driver. We had not listened to it since the Sunday evening after Thanksgiving when Verna had taken extra holiday time and we had the room to ourselves. In the unaccustomed quiet, Nancy played it after she told me she missed her family.

“Why does your fazher sound like…” Verna proceeded to articulate each word, “a loud, old, French peasant?”

I breathed in through gritted teeth, “He’s not my father.” My lips were a tight line.

“He raised you.” All innocence.

I shook my head with such violence my sinuses ached.

Ama dropped her braid, propped her elbows on Verna’s desktop and said, “Verna said he adopted you.”

Only Kelli kept her eyes on her book; I knew she was not reading. I breathed out a defeated sigh, “No.”

‘Careful,’ the censor warned.

“I can’t find a birth certificate or adoption papers. There’s nothing, not even any pictures of me before I was about five.” My Friend’s arms had supported me Verna and the minister lacerated my heart. But now my body sagged under the continuing assault.​

“Did you ever ask?” Diana interest was genuine. Still her question was another blow. “I don’t mean to pry,” she added in a gentle tone.

“This was his answer,” I pointed to the scar above my right eyebrow, shrugged one shoulder, and lowered my head to my book.

“You’re a foundling!” Verna crowed with delight. “Your parents abandoned you.”

“They didn’t!” Heat suffused my body. Unheeded, my book slid to the floor. My fists curled themselves into tight balls. “I just don’t know what,” my forehead crumpled as the rubbery darkness overshadowed me, “happened to them…” The last three words were a whisper. My fists unclenched, became limp. My eyes pleaded for answers I knew none of them had. My face felt stretched, parched.

“What about you?” Nancy cut in with unusual sharpness. “Your father abandoned you.”

Verna’s back straightened, “Mummy divorced my father.” Her voice held a faint British accent that she had picked up during a semester in London; she used it to proclaim her superiority.

“Your father still abandoned you,” Kelli told her. “You haven’t seen him since you were a baby.”

Verna glanced at each of us. I followed the hasty swivel of her head. First, her eyes met Nancy’s hard, blue ones, then Kelli’s dark, exotic stare, then Diana’s dim sighted, hazel look, then my eyes as dark and exotic as Kelli’s, and finally the steady, blue gaze of her best friend, Ama. No one spoke. Even Ama, twirling her braids, waited with us for Verna’s response. Verna turned her eyes to L’Etranger. I picked up my book as Janis Ian explained:

…I’m leaving a light on the stairs
No I’m not scared – I wait for you
(2)

Rubbery blackness blocked the present from the past, an unassailable barrier. I blinked away tears. An electric tingle saturated my body from head to toe; my Friend was hiding me in the safety of His wounds.
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(1) Stephen Sondheim, “​Not A Day Goes By
(2) Janis Ian, “​Jesse

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