Wow. Just. Wow.
The character of Christopher Sinclair, mechanical engineer from Arizona, dropped into a world where magic works and rank is the most important aspect of society, is fascinating. He’s blunt, often clueless, and yet very intelligent and a determined personality. He reminds me of Jason dinAlt, if Jason didn’t know anything about subterfuge or manipulation. And Christopher’s current world is every bit as dangerous as any of Jason’s Deathworlds, though people and politics are more the drivers than the monsters are.
In a world where people can be brought back to life when nothing of them is left but their heads, and the gods are real, Christopher uses his engineering knowledge to level the playing field for himself – actions that affect larger and larger groups of people as he focuses on finding a way back to his wife, Maggie. He’s no kid; he’s forty and not used to the active life of someone who frequently finds himself embroiled in battles or duels. The idea of killing another human being – even if they DO have the possibility of being brought back – makes him ill, but he has his black belt in kendo, and he didn’t find his soulmate until his late 30s, and he’ll do whatever it takes to get back to her, including signing on as the priest of a god he never guessed existed.
It’s absorbing to learn, as he does, what this world is all about, and to shake your head over his cluelessness when it comes to people and politics. For him, rationality and logic are nearly everything, and it’s fascinating to see how he accomplishes what he sets out to do when he’s at such a disadvantage.
The first ebook was a bargain (as #1 books in a series can be), but subsequent books sell at nearly $10. When I started the book I scoffed at the idea that I might be willing to pay so much for each of the successive ebooks in the series (#3 is the latest). But as soon as I finished the last sentence, I was plunking down my money for book #2.
I had an odd thought yesterday while I was out walking my dog. I’d put on my winter standby coat – a lined wool Winnie the Pooh letterman’s jacket I bought from the Disney Store when I was in NYC in 2001, standing with co-workers on line in Times Square in below-freezing temperatures, hoping to get tickets to The Lion King.
All of a sudden, I realized that I had owned this jacket for 17 years. I had worn it every winter since 2001 and lost six friends and a husband, a house, and two jobs in that time. What a strange thing to think, I said aloud. And yet, like most of my seeming non sequiturs, it has a context.
This year, I had Christmas dinner with a family friend and another guest was a recent widow. This was her first Christmas without her husband of more than 40 years and she was dealing with it better than I think I had. She had still baked Christmas cookies, gone to a cookie decorating party, celebrated the season. I had not celebrated for years. In fact, this 11th year since my husband’s death was the first time I took any real pleasure in Christmas and the first I made more than a half-hearted effort towards enjoying it.
My husband died on December 6th, so that first Christmas was a complete mess. I bothered with no decorations, no Christmas dinner, no gifts, no cards.
This year, my hand-stamped cards were completed in November, addressed, postage affixed, and mailed the first week of December. The effort reminded me of how much time I had spent 20 years ago on finding just the right cards, carefully calligraphing the addresses, writing a humorous holiday letter, and getting everything out on time – an endeavour that my husband’s relatives said only pointed up the fact that their guy had truly become a married man because cards for any reason had never been seen before with his return address on them.
An article I read today spoke to how many widows and widowers had to find new traditions for the holidays. For me, contemplating an old tradition, like Christmas cards, or something new like a watching a different holiday movie, meant using a pain gauge. Did the idea of doing this thing cause me pain and if so, how much?
For quite a few years, my husband’s death alone was the pain gauge. But as other people disappeared from my life for one reason or another, the pain gauge also became about memories and relationships other than having been a wife. Losing friends I had known even longer than I had known my husband became part of the equation.
When I was very young and fascinated with life, I heard that old people sometimes welcomed the idea of dying and I found that mystifying. At 66, I don’t feel old and yet I find I understand that thinking much better. It’s hard to lose those with whom you were close – with whom you shared a particular set of moments in time, events, other people. It’s the same as losing a part of your life – a piece of your soul and history entwined forever is ripped away and it leaves a mark that can’t be erased. When it happens a lot in the space of a few years, it can be overwhelming. The pain gauge pegs in the red and all you can think about is getting away from the pain; part of you shuts down.
This year has been a mixed one for me. I’ve had a couple of blessings and some challenges that have pegged that pain gauge more than a few times. But I also enjoyed Christmas this year and that brightens me in a way I didn’t expect.
For the first time in the 11 years since my husband died, I didn’t mark this December 6th with tears and a sense of loss. I acknowledged the day, but the pain gauge needle didn’t move much. And that’s probably a change I still don’t realize the immensity of. I probably won’t understand it for a few more years as I approach future Christmases.
I expect that in those future holiday times, I will once again pull out my Winnie The Pooh letterman’s jacket against the cold weather. Probably when I do, I will be reminded of those who have left this life since I have owned it. I hope when I recall them, it will be with wistful fondness and the pain gauge will register that feeling appropriately.
Anxiety out of control
Reassurance is try and miss
Taxi cruises up and
it has the light off
Face of a friend who doesn’t hear you
when you call out in a crowd
Visit to a museum gallery while they announce
they’re closing in 15 minutes.
Read. Type. Look at Pinterest
Midsection squeezing itself like a lemon
while you pin a picture of a cute dog
No workout pictures because you already have
tight abs, yes, they are really so tight
you almost can’t breathe
There’s a hollow feeling in the middle
Can’t be hunger
Food would make you vomit
You eat anyway but you don’t
which is okay because
you don’t want to
The realization of that presses down
on you and you do stop breathing
for a bit
You want to live and enjoy
living but you can’t remember
how you did it or when
No sand castles
Just holes in the beach
You dig up the sand with your little shovel and
the tide fills them in and makes them
You start again a distance away repeating
it’ll be okay like saying it will
make a difference this time
it’ll be okay.
I thought I now understood what writers mean when they say the air was ‘close;’ that you wore it like a face mask, like scuba gear.It clung to me as I walked around the liquor store trying to figure out what to buy. I had just come in because I couldn’t stand the sun anymore. I couldn’t stand it catching on shiny stuff in the sidewalk cement and making me blink or trying to turn my scalp into an itching, overheated landscape for sweat to collect in and run down into my collar. I had been surprised at first that there was hardly anyone else in there besides the young guy at the counter in front, but then I realized there was no air conditioning. There was only a tall fan blowing the dry air around as it oscillated, ruffling the edges of the tabloids in their racks every few minutes. But at least the sun was out there and not on me.
I finally grabbed some stuff at random including two or three different drinks and headed up to the register. When I got there, I was in line behind two women.
The shorter of the two caught my eye first because she was pretty. She had light brown hair that was thick and wavy and her face had that clean, smooth skin that only young women have, like a glow they are born with and that life will gradually rub off. She was standing quiet while the other woman was having an irritated conversation with the store clerk. The woman was irritated, anyway. The clerk had a goofy smile on his face that might have indicated he was over his head.
I realized that this woman was pretty as well, though you could not see it so clearly at first because of the over-sized heavy glasses she was wearing. Her hair was dark and straight to her shoulders and she dressed like a Jehovah’s Witness going out to call on householders while her companion was in neat casual wear and flip-flops. There was a resemblance and I thought they might be sisters.
The woman in glasses was tilting her head at the clerk as if she suspected that he had just made an unfunny joke. “Excuse me?”
“I said, she doesn’t have any ID so I can’t sell her the cigarettes.”
The woman blinked at him. “She’s a married woman. With children.”
“That doesn’t mean she’s old enough to buy cigarettes.”
His adversary took a step back and closed her eyes. When she opened them, she looked at the other woman, but got no help. Her companion stood, looking off into the distance, as though the conversation was not about her but about something else; something she did not find interesting.
Then the clerk said, “But I’ll sell them to you.”
The woman’s head shot around to him. “You’ll sell them to me.”
“Well, you’re obviously old enough.”
The woman closed her eyes again and sighed, although it did nothing to reduce the tension she was almost vibrating with. “Very well.” She put a candy bar on the counter and looked at her companion, who pulled a bill from the pocket of a cigarette purse and handed it to her. She laid it on the counter and scooped up the change and the candy and handed the change back to her companion, who stuffed it in a pocket with one hand while picking up the package of cigarettes with the other.
The woman in glasses, shaking her head, went to the open door. She looked back at the clerk, though it was not clear what expression she wore.
The clerk and I had stopped moving. He was looking at her expectantly.
“I’m in junior high school,” she said, and stepped out of the store into the sunlight, which made her bright around the edges and somehow diminished.
Her older sister had opened the cigarette pack and lit one with a disposable lighter. She took in a deep drag and smiled at us, a weak, dreamy smile, and she shrugged. Then she walked out herself, her flip flops squeaking on the store linoleum. The tall fan caught the plume of her exhaled smoke and dispersed it into the flapping pages of the tabloids.
Outside, the junior highschooler had unwrapped the candy bar and taken a vicious bite. “This world is fucked up,” she said as she strode out of view.
The clerk and I looked at each other from the corners of our eyes.
“You want a bag?” he asked.
Power hum of bees far overhead
Traffic jammin’ in the Elder flowers.
Even the shade is hot
I try to keep my sweat out of the chemicals
I’m rubbing into the plastic over the headlights.
Years past this would have been your job
To go along with putting out the trash cans
Making sure the tires are inflated properly
Paying the taxes and mowing the lawn.
All my jobs now.
You were the one who wanted
To live in the country.
I the one surprised to find I loved it more
Than you did.
Learning to polish the grime off the headlights
Sharpen the knives
Check the fusebox
Fix the plumbing
I can’t remember your voice
But I can hear you saying
To clean the tools
Put them where they belong.
The headlights are clear, look new
I clean the tools
I put them away
And wonder where I belong now.
Every year around this time, publishers, booksellers, and reading sites ask us “What’s on your summer reading list?”
Phooey. Or as Nero Wolfe spelled it, pfui.
This question always takes me back to the 1950s and the olden, golden days of Madison Avenue when everyone lived in NYC. While the working poor were sleeping their summer evenings off on the cool of their fire escapes, the more well-to-do were escaping to their summer digs, where the full-time mom let the children try to drown themselves in the lake or the Atlantic Ocean while she rested in the shade of a tree or umbrella with her lemonade (liberally spiked with vodka) and her Summer Reading.
These days, your summer reading is likely to consist of a paragraph or two on your smart phone hastily crammed into the short few minutes between picking the kids up from summer day camp and the dinner making, laundry doing, bedtime madness to follow.
If you’re lucky, your kids are older and you can get in a few paragraphs or maybe even some pages (!) before bed, preferably with a glass of wine.
But whatever your situation, you are not likely to be considering which book you will lovingly peruse over the next few glorious, slow summer weeks.
Kids have summer reading lists. Everyone else has the next book in their stack left over from spring, which was left over from winter, which was left over from fall, which was…
But we’ll probably never hear the end of the question “What’s on your summer reading list?” It’s a marketing ploy that has petrified roots in the book world. Every year we will be asked this question and those of us old enough to remember back in the day will sigh and hear the faint sounds of ice cubes melting in lemonade with the musical tinkling of wind chimes. And people too young to remember will wonder what the heck they’re talking about.