Yearning for Wonderland
How funny to me, at the ripe old age of six and thirty, to be writing a lovesong to a cultural phenomenon I missed entirely when I was growing up. I was just old enough to be too old for Pokémon when it came out. I missed the cartoon, the trading card game, the Nintendo DS games. So when I heard about Pokémon Go, I was dismissive, but I downloaded it so I’d have something to do with the boyfriend. I liked how it got us outside, how it was both simple enough to play and yet challenging to catch all the characters.
And then something magical happened. My mother asked to download it. My sixty-five year old mother who has had two strokes and has difficulty walking further than around the house. Although she’s regained a lot of her mobility and can drive, she struggles to walk and it’s sometimes difficult to get her out of the house even to walk to the mailbox. Dad suggested I ride the bike around with her, while she rode her mobility scooter.
Once I explained the app, she took off down the driveway on her scooter, holding her phone in front of her. “I see one,” she shouted. I showed her how to toss a Pokéball to snag it. She took off down the road again. I figured she’d get to the end of the lane and come back, but she turned down the side street and kept going. I could barely keep up, pumping the pedals to catch her. She stopped for so long at one point that a neighbor yelled to check if we’re okay.
I was in heaven. The sun was setting and it was gorgeous outside, that perfect sticky of Kentucky midsummer. The crickets were buzzing, the smell of honeysuckle was in the air. And my mom was smiling, laughing…outside. I circled back around on my bike, helped her track down a particularly tough one. She used an incense to draw them to her and managed to catch /nine/ Pokémon in all just by circling the block.
At the end, she was exhausted, I was exhausted, my t-shirt was stuck to my back and I was covered in bug bites, but I was walking up the driveway grinning like a fool and she earned a medal. So Pokémon Go, I was wrong about you. I know you’re not a perfect app, but in this moment, you were perfect for me. For mom. For us.
Sometimes bad news arrives without a hint of warning, during a comfortably pedestrian evening, after a glut of hash brown casserole and bacon. A terrible thought strikes you. And then, before you know it, you’ve confirmed it and everything falls apart.
I’d been worried about my friend Louise. She was back in Louisville, living on her own, getting more fragile. I’d said goodbye to her in June, took her out for lunch and to help her run errands, told her that Austin was the best place for me right now. She hugged me tight, twice, and let me go with tears in her eyes. If I am honest with myself, I knew then that I might not see her again. She was having more health problems, slowing down, but she had such an indefatigable spirit that I couldn’t even conceive of her not being in this world. Fast forward to December. I called her and got no answer, voicemail was full. I was mildly worried, but tried again on New Year’s. Same full voicemail message. It’s not uncommon for people to be absent-minded about their voicemail, but I was getting more nervous. I tried her cell phone. The number had been assigned to someone else. So I tried emailing her, convincing myself that people cancel their cell phone numbers for a variety of reasons. And then, and then.
I did what I probably should have done in the first place, exactly what I was afraid to do. I googled ‘Louise Russell Louisville’. It even popped up ‘Louise Russell obituary’ as one of the helpfully provided Google search terms. And even /then/, I told myself that it wasn’t that uncommon of a name. But then I came to this page and I knew.
She’d died November 6th. I’d missed her funeral, her memorial. I didn’t get to send her flowers. No one told me because almost no one knew how much I loved this woman.
This is how a heart breaks.
I was barely able to function, couldn’t even see, paid the check in a haze, stumbled out to the parking lot. Luckily, Brian was with me and could drive me home.
To explain all this, I’d have to go back eleven years, to 2004. I was a newly minted manager at J. Jill’s at the Mall St. Matthews in Louisville. I was a little nervous – it was my first retail management job – and most of the ladies I was managing had a decade on me, if not more. There was one employee, though, that I especially wanted to know better. She had sass, personality…I would’ve called her a spunky old lady if it weren’t patently disrespectful. She was 67, she went by Louise and NOT Ethel, and she could run rings around all of us. The older ladies loved her – hell, I’m pretty sure most of our customers preferred her. She just had the touch. She was always dressed beautifully, with her hair and makeup done.
One night, we were closing together, and chatting as we straightened the tables. We were already friends, but I didn’t know how that evening would change my life. She’d mentioned that she’d worked at Bacon’s Department store, when it was still opened. My head snapped up and I grinned.
“Oh wow, my grandma was a manager there for a long time. Did you know Josephine Paris?”
I will never forget her voice and her glee, “Jo? Jo PARIS?”
Not only had she known her, she’d been supervised by her, had loved her. She had such stories of the two of them and their hijinks, left me dazzled with visions of a younger, more mischievous grandma than I’d ever known. Such stories, it was like my beloved lost grandmother blazed back into life at that exact moment, fueled by the strength of her memories.
And so that was that. We were fast friends before we’d even cashed out for the night. We stayed in touch even after I left the store, moved to Florida. I was in Florida for seven years, but I still called her from time to time. Every time we spoke it was if we’d never stopped. She was a touchstone for Louisville, for my grandma, for a lot that was now lost to me.
When I came back, I got to see her again and oh was it wonderful. She came to my wedding. I have a wonderful, priceless picture of the two of us there that I will have to dig out. Time had taken some toll, but she still kept a lot of what made her Louise. She was in a lot of chronic pain, had several surgeries. After my divorce, one of the first things I did was go see her again. And again. It was never anything fancy. One day we went to Paul’s Fruit Market and picked up a sandwich. I drove her to get her medicine from the pharmacy and one other errand. She kept thanking me, as if it weren’t a gift to me to see her.
Just before I moved to Texas, I saw her one last time. I’m haunted by that visit. She seemed sad throughout, but I thought it was just because I was leaving. I hugged her twice, took her cell phone number, told her to PLEASE put me on a list of people to call if anything happened. I was worried she’d end up in the hospital and I wouldn’t know about it. I didn’t know any of her family and was going to be half a country away. As always, I told her I loved her and she started crying. I don’t know if she knew then I wouldn’t see her again or if it was just an emotional moment.
It’s easy to blame myself, scold myself about calling her more often. But she knew I loved her. I told her every time we spoke. She knew that she was one of the stars in my sky, my connection to my grandmother gone, a little piece of my soul. Her kindness and love and friendship meant the world. And I will miss her so very, very much. I know I have to let her go, but it’s so hard. As long as I knew she was out there, I knew there was a soul who loved me the way my grandma did.
Goodbye, Louise. There’s at least one person in this world who will never forget you.
- Do not stand at my grave and weep.
- I am not there; I do not sleep.
- I am a thousand winds that blow.
- I am the diamond glints on snow.
- I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
- I am the gentle autumn rain.
- When you awaken in the morning’s hush
- I am the swift uplifting rush
- Of quiet birds in circled flight.
- I am the soft stars that shine at night.
- Do not stand at my grave and cry;
- I am not there; I did not die.
- – Mary E. Frye, 1932
** Spoilers ahead. I was careful not to ruin any big reveals, but the nature of the post requires a minor spoiler. Proceed with caution. **
I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens yesterday and it was so many things I’d hoped for and one unforgettable thrill. In the climactic battle, Rey, the scavenger from Jakku who has consistently been competent and talented and brave and strong, she summons the lightsaber. Luke’s lightsaber. And I burst into tears.
Because she was holding a lightsaber. It’s hard to explain, unless you were a young female geek who spent much of your childhood casting around for heroes that look like you. There are some notable standouts: Eowyn. Aerin Firehair. Xena. But most of the time I had to content myself with identifying with Bilbo and Luke, and countless other men on their hero’s journeys.
I like the original trilogy, but I recently saw a video that compiled women who talk in the Trilogy excluding Leia. It was embarassing. 1.03 minutes, and only really had Aunt Beru, Rebel Alliance Chief Communications Officer Toryn Farr, and Mon Mothma’s monologue. I do love Leia Hutt-Slayer, to be sure, but I always wanted more. To me, Star Wars was a universe strangely devoid of women. I wanted star battles and lightsaber fights and all the heart-throttling excitement…I just wanted a girl there. Or two.
I almost bought a poster of Rey before I saw it, but I hesitated. I mean, what if the promise of the trailers is not fulfilled? What if she’s just another token girl? But she’s not sexualized, she’s not there to be romanced. She was not the reward or the princess in the castle or the forgotten sidekick.
/She/ was the hero. She was the Chosen One. She was the one the movie closed on. And Leia, she was a strong leader, didn’t crumble under a crushing blow. And there was a female X-Wing pilot! And a female guard captain, Captain Phasma, with the First Order! The movie is threaded with amazing female characters.
While I’ve enjoyed a lot of his work, I’ve not always been the biggest J.J. Abrams fan. But I will always thank him for this. For giving her a lightsaber.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a poster to go buy.
For me, the hardest part of these contests is always the judging. One story, I love because of the lyrical writing. Another, because of the gorgeous imagery or the clever plot or the way it makes me feel at the end.
Ultimately, I could probably choose several sets of winners. Thank you to everyone who entered. Judging is very subjective, so I have to leave it to: who wrote a story for #DFQMND that encompasses the theme and does all of the above. I am very excited to announce these winners. I chose two, one for the Dreams package (Light) and one for the Nightmares Package.
So, without further ado, I present…your winners.
Daniel Swensen, for Annabella of the Spring
Sheer gorgeousness. Daniel, your writing makes it totally worth having to revamp the prize package, since I’m not awarding you the book you wrote. Your story is delicate and yearning and a perfect drop of longing in 400 words. Well done. I will be in touch regarding other prize options.
Honorable Mentions, Dreams
J.T. Ellis, for January in Sunset
Dr. Pete Meyers, for Listen
Holly Kench, for Dreaming Just Enough
Steven Marsden, for The Princess and the Whispering Pines
This is a fantastic surprise, for Steven put up a blog simply to enter this contest. He wasn’t even in the DFQ group before this. Of course, now he is doomed. #MOOGHOOHAH. Steven, your story was lovely and the tempo was classical fairytale, but there’s a dark underbelly that took my breath away. Brava! So glad you entered.
Honorable Mentions, Nightmares
Eric Martell, for Evidence of Things Not Seen
Lyndsey E. Gilbert, for Mother May I
K.J. Collard, for The Coming Winter
Again, thank you to all those who entered! You humble and honor me with your collective talent.
Love to all,
I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine:
There sleeps Titania sometime of the night,
Lull’d in these flowers with dances and delight;
– A Midsummer Night’s Dream, II.1
I was woken from a dream to a shocking realization. It has been nigh on two years since my last flash fiction contest (see Behind the Curtain). How can this be??
Clearly this must be rectified immediately. And, in classic DFQ fashion, in the midst of full-time job and life and…but if I waited for things to slow down, I would never do ANYTHING.
Thus it is my pleasure and privilege to announce my latest flash fiction writing contest, the Dark Fairy Queen Midsummer Night’s Dream.
So here are the details:
It is summer, a faint breeze blows, and the leaves are rustling. As dusk falls, the fireflies glow in a distant meadow. Have you not felt the magic of a summer night? Your story should.
Let us celebrate a midsummer night by creating 400 words.
For your theme, your story must take place, at least in part, on a summer evening. Also, choose one from the following list:
Your story should be posted on your personal blog or a friend’s and linked up below with the Inlinkz tool (which opens July 15).
Need more inspiration? Check out the Faerytaleish Pinterest Board. Our Twitter hashtag to talk about the contest is #DFQMND. If I feel so inspired, there may be another #FanFav contest on Twitter.
Excited about the contest? Here’s the easiest ways to spread the word!
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No fan fiction (original worlds only) or erotica, please.
Prizes will be announced in a future post. You only have two weeks once the contest opens on July 15, what are you waiting for?
Need the code to link up on your blog? Here it is!