Getting a Mouthful

Getting a Mouthful

by James L. Secor

People are isolated and isolated from themselves. They are alienated, from themselves and others. There is no knowing anything of anybody.

With this unbridgeable gap between me and you, commitment centres on me and what I want whenever. Life happens to me and I go with it. That’s all any of us have. So, what’s important is now because I only exist in the now. I don’t exist in the past tense. And, of course, I can’t exist in the future because it’s not here yet. I only exist here and now. I only feel things in the eternal now. One thing after another. Me and you. Separate but going along the road. On and on. Wherever it takes us. Just me bob-bob-bobbing along. Me. Because I have no idea about you and I have no idea where this  road of life is taking me.

Since I know nothing and am not an agent of anything in particular, I cannot be held responsible. Life affects me and I react: I have no choice. I can only go with what I’m given. Now. Events are not future. Events are now. We are all at the mercy of events. The nowness of life. Events happen to you and me but there is no connection between the events and no connection between us and we have no choice but to go along with it. Events are the stampede makers of life. Like grasshoppers or lemmings.

Take the case of Johan de Witt.

I, of course, did not know him. Personally. How could I, being of humble origin? But I knew of him. I had seen him in his numerous processions through town, through the province, though he progressed through more than just mine. The whole country, in fact. He was a handsome man with long dark locks, a thin moustache at his thin upper lip and no beard, though perhaps there was some peach fuzz right along the chin; heavy eyebrows and a long, thin nose. Aquiline? I don’t know. I don’t know what an aquiline nose is. Nor have I found it necessary to find out. What is important is that he smiled at us as he passed. He smiled and waved. Once, his eyes made contact with mine and I knew he was human. Acquired aristocracy be damned.

He was everybody’s hero.

But this was not to stand him in good stead. For who knows what will stand you in good stead since you don’t know where you’re going or what road you’re on.

Is there more than one road?

Isn’t it more like a delta where the river splits into myriad channels that inevitably lead to the ocean? And at the ocean what does it amount to?

Johan de Witt. A Republican, a man who believed in the people and the Republic of Holland and not a supporter of Holland as the aristocracy’s playground. The True Freedom.

Imagine that! A you-and-me type of person coming to rule the country. Stranger things do not happen.

Johan de Witt brought great prosperity to the land and, therefore, everyone loved him. He brought overseas trade–other than with Britain and the other European nations–though we knew these others were barbarians, barely human. But what does this matter when we should never have to meet them? Living off of their labor was no problem at all. We introduced them to civilization. We brought them need and the need for satisfaction. Which we held the key to. In the name of free trade. And the country became rich. And the people therein. More ours than theirs, as would be expected. Advanced countries need more, eh?

Could a born aristocrat have done as much? I dare say not, since an aristocrat would be interested solely in himself. That is, in fact, the definition of an aristocrat: self-interested. The rest of the world be damned. It’s the way of the world. And nobody likes it.

Johan de Witt was a breath of fresh air. New blood. And so his end is the more telling. Some would say, it says more about the people, the yous and mes, than it does about him. But he’s just like you and me. Just another human thrust along the event path. Just because he made something of himself doesn’t mean anything. Certainly not that he’s different than you and me. You and me aren’t what’s important. We are what makes the world go round. You and me. I. It takes a lot of I to keep the gears working. So many that we are faceless. All the more reason to celebrate Johan de Witt.

You might say, success went to our heads.

Johan de Witt cut quite a figure at the head of the armies. He wore the minimum of armor passing through town and countryside since the battle was down the road a piece. Thank goodness. I would not want to have it here. Me and you, we have lives to live. We are not soldiers. It is not our profession to fight. Though I think more come home than die. It doesn’t seem like it, all attention being lavished on the dead and wounded. But there it is.

In establishing the Republic, the Free Hollander Johan de Witt led us into wars to repel the greedy European powers that drooled over our riches. We would not be slaves to their appetite. A road we’d been on far too long. Mostly, we fought against the English and the French. The French had long belabored us and were petulant over losing their colony. The English were greedy barbarians who believed killing their rulers solved problems and proved their strength and worth. A land of slobs and rogues.

There were many wars against these English upstarts. Johan de Witt and his brother Cornelius were successful, though we lost New Holland during the second war. No great loss. Not much in the way of trade. Not really. We, in turn, sailed up the Thames River to London and demolished the English. No one had ever done this before. What a coup! In the end, we became richer and stronger until finally we Dutch could strut a bit.

Revenge. Justice. Judgment. It’s all the same. Control yourself? Where’s the rule of thumb? Where’s the standard? Where’s the proof that control orders anything? Things happen. First this, then that. Move on. Life’s like that. No telling what’s up next. So, what’s this control business? Controlling yourself does not control the world. And who are you to tell me, eh? You don’t know me. Can’t know me. I don’t know you. We are all separate individuals.

What happened to Johan de Witt was sad, though. I’d like to say no one deserves such an end, but who am I to make such a judgment? And what is it to say that it was due to the disaffected? We’re all disaffected. Isolated. Alone. Stumbling along as best we can. We are not responsible for what life hands us. If it says to go this way, we only go that way. Go with it.

One day Cornelius de Witt was arrested. No one knows why. Some malfeasance or other. Johan de Witt went to see his brother in prison. When he came out, standing a moment to suck in the fresh air, people attacked him, beating him with clubs and pipes and knotted rope. They kicked him. People flailed away, frenzied beasts. When Johan de Witt fell silent, his body was dragged to the square where hangings and other punishments were accomplished. Fires were built and set alight. We hacked Johan de Witt to pieces and roasted his parts. Several of the inns rolled kegs of beer before their doors so we could drink as we ate and carouse the night away. There was not enough of Johan de Witt to go around.

(c) James L. Secor, 2016

The Donald’s Revolution


 The Donald’s Revolution

by James L. Secor, Ph.D.

That part of the country that does not like Donald Trump–especially the radio and TV pundits and the Hillary supporters–and those modern Neville Chamberlains[1] who urge us to give the man a chance. . .I say, that part of the country will never be able to deal with The Donald because they are like three-year olds who are incapable of seeing someone else’s point of view. So, these Donald haters stand around bitching about him and what he’s doing and saying and, I suppose, figure that’s enough; that is, that bitching about him and his individual policies that daily become more and more obvious via his Cabinet choices is enough to take care of the problem of The Donald.

There is no thought here. There is no intelligence at all. Just a three-year old’s tantrum. Everything is interpreted through the three year old’s sensibility. And because no one has the separation to analyze and organize against The Donald’s very obvious anti-social bent, there will never be any focused effort to come to terms with The Donald and his concentrated aim, his purpose.

Because judging The Donald is the moral high ground, a definitely honorable yet useless cock-of-the-walk stance, there is no hope, for The Donald believes he exists outside of the bounds of accepted behavior. But just what does he believe? The misogyny, racism and general hate he articulates is not it. Like a recipe, the end product is not the individual ingredients.

Congress is totally useless, as they have been for quite a number of years, so nothing can be expected from this disparate bunch of greedy ideologues[2] who again cannot see past themselves and their childish wants. Like three-year old children, they are, each individual Congressman, stomping their feet and pouting. “No! I don’t want!” Though there might possibly be an outside chance that they actually manage to do something, they have become so settled into the nothin’ doin’ tar pit that a couch potato appears hyperactive.

The people? Even those who consider themselves political?

The people are historically, socially and politically ignorant, though it might be more PC to say naïve. They believe what they are told is the way to see things.  They are culturally isolated and, therefore believe their culture is the true and right culture, much like the 19th century Brits. They do not read anything that does not agree with their beliefs. Having thus chosen ignorance, the people, like The Donald’s followers, can be led around by the nose.[3]

Though the people who hate The Donald don’t have any perspicacity in understanding what’s going on, it is also true that the political machine–the individuals who ought to know–does not know what’s going on, either. But, then, they are part of the problem, the dysfunction. Whether anyone wants to admit it or not–aside from the few reporters who raised up this argument (and were left to wander aimlessly in the Desert of Silence)–The Donald has his finger on the tenor of the times: the country is in turmoil, people are alienated, and he’s going to change it, dammit! Just as he sees fit–his idea of a fix.

The problem? Social dysfunction that has left so many out and so many without. A dysfunction that allows no success or improvement for much of anyone. The dysfunction of a crippling economy that boisterously shoots itself in the foot while increasing the inhumanity shown to the people without whom the self-styled elite could not function. The dysfunction of a society in great denial, a society of exclusion; the same kind of arrogant exclusion found in the religions of The Chosen because, after all, the elite are chosen.[4]

The dysfunction-makers haven’t the damnedest idea what’s going on or what they’re doing, either. Greed. Power. Self-interest. And to hell with the rest of you. The elite status quo is perverted, being composed of ideologues who interpret policies and ideas for their own benefit–and then have the academics from the better universities helping them. As with Adam Smith and his Wealth of Nations: aside from the fact that Smith was dealing with “nations,” he believed that corporations were the bane of existence, the ruin of an economy. But the academics kind of forget this. On purpose.

Because ideologues give no thought at all to the repercussions, to the consequences of their exalted weltanschauung, the rest of society is barbarized. Like a cancer, the elite status quo does not see itself as dysfunctional because it is only interested in living. Like a parasite.

Does anyone know why it is parasites die?[5]

Let me see if I can give you an idea of what’s going on, for The Donald is no more than a symptom of dysfunction gone wild.

What to do? What to do? Oh, oh, oh!

With the loud and vociferous blatherings against The Donald and “what’s happened to this country,” none of these loud mouths manages to think further than their wagging tongues and their prognostications of the end of the world as we know it. You may be sure, though, they will be right there in the heart of the carnage declaiming with great vigor and self-righteousness, “I told you so!”

Why are they only clacking their gums? Probably because they just don’t know; probably because the elite status quo likes the dysfunction–and The Donald’s taking over; probably because they are part of the dysfunction. Even so, this does not mean all is lost. If people would just shut up their self-reflexive ranting and raving, they might actually begin to see what’s missing. . .and do something. Because what you don’t see is important.

So, what is happening beneath the clamoring chatter and damning personal attacks of The Donald and his disciples of hatred?

According to Chalmers Johnson’s Revolution and the Social System[6] what we have is an Anarchistic Revolution. Anarchistic Revolution? Just exactly what is this? Aren’t all revolutions the same? Answer: no. The US has witnessed many anarchistic revolutions and has lost every one it’s involved itself in.[7] Johnson says that these anarchistic revolutions “occur in response to conditions in the social system when major changes. . .have already occurred.” These changes are supposed to have relieved a social dysfunction. But they’ve not. Thus, these people believe that these changes they disapprove of are the cause of the dysfunction. These people want to relieve changes to the dysfunctional world that caused further dysfunction that arose from previous changes to solve the dysfunction that exists now.

Johnson notes this might also be called a nostalgic revolution, whether the nostalgia is true or, as in “Make America Great Again,” imagined and romanticized, because the feeling is that “before now” was a better time.

We live our lives by our dreams and feelings, our wants and desires, by our idea of purpose and value, thought and belief–and yet these drivers of life are based on “an integral without-ness.”[8] So that “Make America Great Again” may have no relation to actuality but what’s important is the belief that it does. This belief fires people with enthusiasm and they become infused by the idea and go out and do something about it: The Donald’s apostles.[9]

At the same time, believers of this slogan (or jingle) of a need to “Make America Great Again” are looking back onto a time when life was better for them, less complicated, a time when they had more control over their lives. . .they believe. These people are looking for a return to the good old days–a nostalgia for “the past.” When were they, those good old days? And whose good old days are they talking about? All imaginary. All scientifically, materially absent. And all vital to living.

The Anarchist Rebellion that is infused with this nostalgia comes via a time when there supposedly were no controls on behavior, no controls on business; that is, a belief in total freedom.

Once again, when you have unbounded freedom, you have no freedom at all; what you have is whatever goes, what you have is a free-for-all. No rules, no regulations, no guidelines, nothing to help you make a decision outside “fuck the other guy, I’m important.”

Real or fantasized is unimportant, because it is just this human characteristic of running our lives on emotions, feelings, ideas and desires that we need to consider. Terry Deacon calls these influences absentials because you cannot see, feel, touch or scientifically prove their existence yet they are central to behavior and life.[10]

What is important is how these absentials affect (and effect) our world. Two perfect examples of this are the ideologue and the do-gooder.

Marx saw anarchistic rebels and their nostalgia as people who feel they have been left out of the advancements of society. Indeed, an anarchist rebel does see himself as having been “bypassed by history–and now they’re going to reclaim it,” dammit![11] These people, this take-over by The Donald–it’s all about dysfunction and their impression of the dysfunction and the necessity of change to right the wrong.

And the social dysfunction(s), for they are real?

The sources of dysfunction are always ambiguous via non-labeling–a well-known political ploy–but nevertheless are threatening to the rebels. Personally threatening. But “me”–and the narcissistic and victimized me me me–can do nothing about it until a leader comes along to bring all the mes together.[12] Not, however, a true savior. As the believers are “already” prepared, like marinated meat, by an idealized tradition that drives them on even though the idealized tradition is unreal. That is to say, these anarchistic rebels are out of tune with their own historical reality. Which is good for The Donald and this Anarchistic Revolution.

This present Anarchistic Revolution comes as a “last resort in attempting to frustrate changes in the system that run counter to [their idea of] their established function.”[13] These people have poor prospects for the future because they are looking, lurching toward a utopia based on an idealized, romanticized notion of the way things ought to be. They are only looking backward. Not to be wondered at as the future holds naught but fear (one of Deacon’s absentials). They are driven by an unrealistic, unfounded fear one might call hysteria.

The elite status quo created this situation–the great dysfunction of unbounded freedom and much else–and wallows in it into a future they believe they own; and as the elite status quo backs the socio-historical myth of freedom that is the basis of this country, the anarchistic rebels believe this myth fervently and, without question, follow the elites’ lead; and so, they truly become the lost ones they only believe they now are. The elite status quo is totally indifferent to the consequences of its changes or to these dunderheaded rebels (whom they are nevertheless using to advance their agenda–double patriotism).

The elite status quo, in creating more social dysfunction, is fracturing society–but they don’t care and, so, bring about the Anarchistic Revolution and their own downfall. In the name of total unbounded freedom. Which they have made the disaffected believe is what the disaffected want. The chaos that ensues will bring about total destruction.

Anarchistic principles are short-lived and are situation-specific, like whimsy. The über-anarchistic rebels and The Donald can be attacked and overcome through this out-of-context behavior; though, in fact, the falling apart of the nation may be a necessary precedent to a solution.

The Anarchistic Revolution is a means of giving meaning, of finding form and sense in the present chaos; it is the physical manifestation of an absential, a potential something. The Anarchistic Revolution is a beginning place for ideas of change. And the change is not necessarily what the mob wants; it will be the change The Donald wants; he is only pitching it as hatred of this, that or the other person. Like a used car salesman selling you a lemon in the name of an unbelievable deal.

Realizing the absentials that are driving The Donald, we can work to manipulate them and can thus handle the future. But if all we’re going to do is bitch and point the finger and concentrate on what he’s doing “at this moment,” we’re lost; and then, when The Donald brings the edifice crashing down, we will have nothing to offer, not even a bandaid. Because we’ve concentrated on items out of context, individual and out of context.

What are the principles? His dreams, desires, beliefs, values, intentions, purpose–absentials, things that are not yet come about but point somewhere, that are important. His hatreds (fears?). Unbounded freedom. And something he said early on about running the country like a business?[14] Only a start, a starting place.

There is a major problem, though: Congress feels the same way, in a material and mechanistic way, judging from their verbiage and ideology and the pushes (putches?) they’ve made in the past. And Congress makes the laws.

Or we can look at this time as a return of the dark times of the dark god Tiamat.

[1] Neville Chamberlain was Prime Minister of Britain at the time of Hitler’s rise to power. Throughout, he kept telling people to give the man a chance, even after Hitler invaded Poland when he could not avoid taking the country into war.

[2] An ideologue is someone who is a blindly partisan adherent of a particular thought. There is no compromising with these sorts because any little tiny insignificant variance to the entirety of their thought is unacceptable. Ideologues are intolerant to the extreme. Visionary and idle speculators of some political or religious belief or other.

[3] Mark Twain remarked that people who do not read are more dangerous than people who can’t read. If we consider people who can’t read ignorant, then those who choose not to read choose ignorance over knowledge. If people read, they’d know the difference between socialism and communism. Paying attention to the absolute mess we’ve made in Africa with our idea of civilizing and advancement is one very good example of our arrogance and cultural narrow-mindedness, a result of not reading. In fact, it is not out of order to say that people do not know their own history. As evidence, the belief in the myth of the First Thanksgiving–and the subsequent behavior of the loving, open-minded and thankful god-fearing Pilgrims and white people: by the end of the 17th century there were virtually no Indians in New England, the very people who made it possible for the inept Pilgrims to survive.

[4] Social Darwinism: only the better sort succeed. And since everyone else is of the lesser sort they can be preyed upon.

[5] A parasite is a life form that lives in or on another life form (its host) and derives its nutrients, its ability to live at the host’s expense. As the host dies, so, too, does the parasite, having killed its food source. But it had a good go of it while it lasted. Cancer, tapeworm, leeches, lampreys, mistletoe, balamutha mandrilliaris.

[6] Hoover Institution Studies publication, Stanford University, 1964. No one since has done any study of a similar sort. One should look, nevertheless, into Ernst Cassirer’s The Myth of the State, even though The Donald is not the Moses.

[7] I think it might be interesting to look into what an anarchist is. Anarchists believe in unbounded freedom. Unbounded freedom means chaos. Anarchy is “the state of society where there is no law or supreme power; hence, a state of lawlessness or political disorder.” As with a biological cell, if there is no boundary, no cell wall, there is no cell, just a mass of stuff without definition or purpose. There are anarchists today who believe this is true freedom, however, and fly at any criticism with religious, fanatical romantic ideals about the goodness of people and how this will, without willing, bring about a just society. Utopian thinking? Again, when you have no bounds, you have no definition, no discrimination and whatever the hell you want–whim–becomes the imposed going thing because whoever doesn’t like what you’re doing can impose their wishes upon you. This kind of freedom always ends in a tyranny.

[8] Terrence Deacon, Incomplete Nature. But, also, heed Laozi, 11: “Therefore turn being into advantage, and turn non-being into utility.” Or, in a freer vein: “Though we can only work with what is there, use comes from what is not there.”

[9] “Human beliefs and purposes can shape events in ways that often have little direct relationship to current physical conditions. . . .” Deacon, p. 57.

[10] Cf. Incomplete Nature by Terrence Deacon, especially Chapters 0 and 1.

[11] Cf. David Mitrany, Marx Against the Peasant.

[12] In order to help give a solid footing here, see Richard Storry’s The Double Patriots where he lets us see the anarchistic quality in the history of pre-war Japan. It’s easier to see it’s shape in an unchanging environment (history) and then lay it over, like a transparency, the present and look for lines of conjunction.

[13] Revolution and the Social System.

[14] “It is in the realm of social interaction with other creatures like ourselves that we need tools for navigating the challenges created by ententional processes [absentials]. . . .social life constantly demands that we guess at, anticipate, and plan for the actions of others.” Deacon, p. 80.

Some Arrogant Things in This World

Some Arrogant Things in This World by Minna and Jim

Religions. All religions. Especially the Chosen People religions. Why? Whatchayall done? The rest of us are shits? God has more than one Chosen People? And they all hate each other? Pretty damned whimsical God, no? Pretty damn awful Chosen People, no? And then all those Chosen People start arguing and fighting and killing amongst themselves–and since that’s not satisfying enough, they begin arguing and fighting and killing everybody. The banner of war is always the same: I GOT THE ANSWER! Follow me! Follow me or die! Arrogant it is to maintain you’re the best when you murder, mutilate, rape and commit genocide. And. . .their God approves of this.

That the Earth and Earthlings are so very important, the only important one in the entire fucking universe for aliens to visit–and, according to some, direct our development. Well, you sure can’t say that any help given has led anything other than utter disaster. At least, they’re not gods, these aliens; though I understand some folks think so. Kinda fits: what’s unexplainable is either God’s doing or the Aliens’ doing, for humans are really dumb fucks. Sounds like a sounder of Luddites. Why can’t it be that we just don’t know it all yet?

Donald Trump.

America is the Greatest Country in the World. Shall we count all of the prior greatest countries–who were great–before America’s self-proclaimed pre-eminence? Great Britain? The Spanish? The Normans? The Nation of Islam? The Persians? The Romans? The Greeks? The Babylonians? The Mycenaean’s? The Egyptians? The Chinese? The Japanese? Actually, the only “greatest” are perhaps the Sumerians who seem to have started it all, in the West (Middle East). Just about everything else that we have comes from the Greeks and the writers and philosophers whom the Roman rulers disapproved of and the science the Muslims gave us. Nah. America is arrogant in its self-assessment.

The consortium that created the DSM V. After coming to the decision that everything about human behavior is a mental illness, they forgot to include themselves.

Literary agents. Literary agents also happen to be the lowest form of life on Earth. They make their money from the hard work of others. They not only charge the artists for their “representation,” they charge them for office expenses that are then deducted from their tax liability as a “business expense.” And then they charge the publishers for getting them manuscripts of no depth and moderate literary ability. Any wonder people don’t read any more?


Me when I’m manic. . .or very, very defensive.

Steven Pinker, arrogant stupidity. Not a linguist by degree. America’s greatest pseudo-intellectual. He is so knowledgeable and wonderful that not one international linguistics researcher or journal mentions his name, not even to show how ludicrous some “thinking” is.

The owner of Youtube who believes her desire for money is more important than the product she offers. Thus it is we have adverts in the middle movies, videos, documentaries and music, sometimes more frequently than found on TV. There is no pleasure for us in this arrogant greed of hers that interrupts music and documentaries and movie action in the middle–even recorded live performances. How arrogant of her to impose her greed and ill-judgment on us.

Pinterest. Imagine. . .someone’s idea of knowledge–or actual knowledge–and someone’s collection of whatever being so priceless as to not be accessible except to those within the clique. La!

Utopias and their makers. Akin to religions who teach “My way or no way.” In the modern world, this would be Marx’s Communism: a perfect place. Utopias ride on the idea of they’ve got it all and, so, no change is necessary. No change. Change upsets the balance. Which is a violation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics (that most do not understand). If there is no change, if nothing is going on, if there is perfect balance, there is death. The “chaos” that entropy leads to is total balance: no change, no development, nothing. If our bodies, if organic life, got to this point, we are dead. In death, the only change is from the outside. See Chance and Necessity by Jacques Monod. Balancing, like a seesaw, is constantly going on: 2H + O2 = H2O is not a done deal. Chemistry puts a double arrow going both ways  in there because the reaction is constantly going back and forth and includes various other combinations, like H2O2, HO, H3O, H, H2, O, H3 and they’re all in flux. If it stops, you gots nut’n. A seesaw perfectly balanced (without no one on it), is dead, there is no life, there is no potentiality. Unchangingness = no life. But don’t tell that to Utopians. Utopians not only believe they are right, they believe they know it all.












by James L. Secor

David Longshanks was an entrepreneur, a self-made man. Not that he began poor or on the dole. He was the son of an undertaker, Dunns Longshanks. Dunns had made a single horse town concern into a thriving business, for people must die and they must be buried, appropriately or not. As civilization bloated the town into a city, there was little call for the inappropriate sort; however, there was the Green Pastures out on the far Northeastern edge of the city where the poor and penurious and unknown (usually street people) were buried with no to-do and little in the way of respect, respect being costly, even just moderately so. Dunns served anybody who had any money.

David, before taking over the business, expanded its purview to taxidermy, for he was a hunter who liked to display his trophies. As were his friends. People in the surrounding countryside heard of David Longshanks and his superior taxidermy skills and this end of the Dunns Family Mortuary grew in distinction as the hunting seasons became glutted with guns and displaced animals. Civilization with its unlimited development and expansion led to animals losing their habitat and food source and, thus, becoming easy targets for both the city slickers and the preying country folk.

Dunns Family Mortuary.

David’s Taxidermy.

David’s next entrepreneurial endeavor arose out of the immediate needs of the Mortuary business. The business had to expand, so more land had to be bought. Empty lots and old houses alongside the Mortuary were bought up. The lots were easy to acquire; the houses, more often than not, had to be condemned. The families were forced to relocate and David then waited to buy the property at auction. The houses came down. Some of the acquired land, what was not used for renovation and expansion of the undertaking business buildings, was turned into parking lot. As the winter wind could be icy and the summer sun blazing, David made sure the parking areas were dotted with trees. This also made the business more aesthetic and caring-appearing.

Which led to David’s landscaping business. There were no shade trees in any of the parking lots around the city and the city streets needed sprucing up. David made sure that both city and businesses saw the advantages of having trees, if for nothing else than the aesthetics of the place. From trees, general landscaping grew, as did a gardening and florist business in several locations around the city to forestall too much competition. Two of any kind of business in the same area was not good for either business, so David made sure he was on site first. On site and large.

Fortune Realty.

Longshanks Landscaping.

Emma’s Exquisite Floral Shop. Emma was Mrs. David Longshanks. Emma Sue Denniker Longshanks.

The Greenery.

Fortune Realty naturally grew into speculation which naturally led to the founding of a consortium focused on developing and building lucrative ventures. It did not matter if the venture was productive or not. The Ivy League Consortium owned the land and the buildings and managed to rent out the properties if, indeed, the original idea tanked. As happened with a couple shopping centres. They were interested in high end development. Of course, The Ivy League Consortium had nothing at all to do with the East Coast Ivy League colleges and universities. But it was suggestive.

Through it all, David Longshanks’ most engaging business was the Mortuary and the Taxidermy business. David loved embalming.

Despite his drive for neverending development and the furthering of civilization, David was also socially responsible. Socially active. Because of the fight to save his father’s life, David Longshanks became involved in organ donorship. His father had needed a liver. There were too few to go around or any liver available was too far away to make it a viable replacement. Thus, his father died a painful, wasting away death. David worked assiduously to make organ donorship a socially edifying behavior, albeit to begin with the religious battled against such heresy, until one of their own died in need. David made donorship a voluntary additive to licensing: if you joined the donor program and you were involved in a fatal accident, your organs could be harvested in order that another should live. Without advertising, David always gave the families of the organ donor program a discount on their casket and in-house services, if they were in the area.

So, David and Emma Longshanks became upstanding social citizens. They were asked to donate to this or that charity. They were asked to serve on this or that board of directors. They were sought out for this or that sponsorship. Life was good.

The first sign of a chink in the Longshanks well-tempered and lustrous armor was rather innocuous. Even a tad humorous. Sometime during prohibition, a notable area resident involved in rum running was shot and killed. Briskin Swipes, AKA Sousee. Not shot by the police, though they claimed the prize, but by a rival running crew. New Brummagem was not big enough for two such lines of transport. As New Brummagemens enjoyed viewing the unrepentant dead in proof that crime never pays, Briskin Swipes was exposed in a pinewood coffin, as per tradition, and photos were taken and displayed in various shop windows and church signboards around town. Before putrification set in, Briskin Swipes was turned over to David Longshanks for burial. But David wished to preserve, for posterity and example, the body. Briskin was not the most handsome of men and in death was downright gruesome looking. He was a modern day outlaw, revered by some, reviled by others. Face was important in this time of ignominy and David wanted to save this face. So, instead of embalming the man, pickling him, you might say, David decided to stuff him, taking especial care of the external taxidermy details. Perhaps, stuffed, Briskin Swipes appeared more real than real. Not surreal, super-real, über-real. Later, David began exhibiting his stuffed man in order to showcase his skills. Taxidermy was, after all, about preservation.

There was, however, a more offing aspect to the taxidermy: inside the stuffing was the real skeleton of Briskin Swipes. David did not tell anyone this. He found it, in fact, quite humorous and often giggled at his joke, assuming someone discovered the skeleton. How shocking! How ludicrous!

Dreams have a way of coming true in the most unimaginable ways.

The local New Brummagem film studio, Cantery Studio, borrowed the stuffed bootlegger for some independent science fiction film, The Forelanders by name. Briskin Swipes was a prop, a re-occurring prop. It so happened that during one removal and repositioning of Briskin, the arm fell off. The cast and crew were accordingly astounded and horrified.

The police were notified and the State Bureau of Investigation was called in to uncover the identity of the skeleton. They had a top forensic anthropologist, Necessity Bluffing—Nessy to her friends—who returned the diagnosis of Briskin Swipes. And so the history of the man rose up in the news. This could not be tolerated in the filming, so another dummy was found and the stuffed man—with skeleton—was disposed of. Apparently, a carny bought it, sewed the arm back on and displayed it in his Wonders of the World exhibit until the skin began to scale off and the joints to fall apart. By then, everyone had forgotten all about Briskin Swipes, except, perhaps, myth and legend.

In the meantime, David’s skill with a knife and needle did not go unnoticed. Even to David’s entrepreneurship. How could he make good use of these skills to enhance his businesses? Wealth, like development, was limitless. And his desire was unslaking. Emma did not know what he was doing but enjoyed no end the benison that accrued from it.

Now that organ transplanting had gained respectability and more and more people required new organs in order to continue living, cheating death, you might say, it was discovered that there were not enough organs to go around. The sick and dying were not being saved. People had to die in horrible pain, faces and bodies distorted. Organs could not be grown but could be harvested. David Longshanks was in a privileged position in this respect, as the newly accident dead came his way for embalming and assigned donation. But who was to know that a kidney or lung or liver or, less likely, heart was removed sans visé and sent on its way to someone in need. A secret social conscience is a self-satisfying thing. It is, too, delusional.

Fresher organs were needed even though David Longshanks had insinuated himself into the legion of organ rescuers. David beat his breast over the loss of life due to the shortage of good organs, as much by less death as by those who selfishly, in his eyes, kept their organs for themselves in death. Many still believed it was sacrilege to give away organs and for others to live with these second hand vestiges of humanity. Someone here was playing God, it was thought by these people. It was of little consequence that people died in the face of their superstitious intransigence.

And so David Longshanks got involved in illegal harvesting. It is true he would not kill the unwitting donor but, still, the donor was none the wiser until after the fact. The first inklings of this new business came via grisly newspaper and TV reports of bodies found in bath tubs full of ice water. The surgical-quality scars were, of course, suspicious and, while the recovering person was hospitalized, scrutinized and medicated into a stupor, the discovery of the missing organs was revealed.

This was worse than stories of Frankenstein monsters and mad scientist experiments. The grizzly details and gruesomeness, the inhumanity of the illegal harvesting was splashed everywhere. Investigations were initiated but never elicited findings. No notice was taken of the life saved somewhere in the land. David Longshanks was not, after all, after publicity. That kind of adulation was not soulful.

Stories began emerging of the sort of a person who meets someone at a bar and they have a few drinks, a few laughs. The unsuspecting tipster becomes inebriated. Together they go to a hotel room and the person passes out. Not solely from the alcohol. Knock out drugs were casually added to the drinks. The person wakes up in the morning in a bathtub filled with ice and an abdominal incision that was not theirs. Tales of injured construction or oil or mine workers waking up days later lying on a cold metal table without certain of their organs and writhing in pain. These latter unfortunates usually died. Though the two harvesting techniques were not related, they were conflated, adding to the inhumanity of the black market organ salesmen. Organ pushers.

The organ pusher is a monster. He’s not a natural man. The organ pusher will ruin someone’s body and leave its mind to scream, all in the name of goodness and right but truly for greed. God damn the organ pusher man.

As with criminals, organ harvesters—and David Longshanks—leaned toward repetitive behavior. Humanity is both blessed and cursed with such repetitiveness. It is comfortable.

It is in such wise that David Longshanks’ shenanigans were brought to light. This was, of course, the end of his entrepreneurship. The end of unending expansion and resource development. There is a limit to the things of life. A balance, the median way, must be found for continuance to be assured. David Longshanks was over-stepping his—society’s—bounds. Exposure and punishment was inevitable, though not by the outlaw. Was not David Longshanks a Robin Hood?

The fallout from David Longshanks’ greed, his delusion of social goodness, the lie he needed to tell himself in order to make life tolerable—the fallout was immediate and long lasting. Emma Longshanks became hysterical and would not wear any of the finery she had acquired secondary to her husband’s nefarious dealings. The mortuary and taxidermy businesses deteriorated and were, eventually, sold at great loss. Emma was attentive enough, however, to dispose of the landscaping, gardening and flower businesses before they became tainted beyond repair. She retired to a ghost town out in the middle of the plains along an abandoned railway line and lived out her life in seclusion. It was a miserable life. The David Longshanks family dispersed around the country, changing their name in order to escape censure and ostracization. The Ivy League Consortium dissolved in a hole-and-corner way, the assets being divided between the owners and then new venturisms begun.

New Brummagem faded away, turning into a historical village. A tourist trap.

And, then, there was nothing.

(c) 2015, James L. Secor

What’s My Story

Here is one of our favorite little stories. While it is a satire on the character oriented story–that any good story is built solely on a character (who never changes)–in that the protagonist has no character; it is a feminist piece because it is men who give her her character. I (Minna) was arguing with the editor of a now defunct feminist zine about the necessity of a character-centred story and set out to prove her wrong: she snapped up the story because of its feminist bent and totally missed the satire/slap in the face: the protagonist has neither name nor character.

 What’s My Story?

by Minna vander Pfaltz

Crashing flash! Throbbing pain. Burning. She held her breath. And then tried again. This time, little by little. She opened her eyes. Oh, lord, did that hurt! Screeching whiteness. No. She couldn’t maintain it. Closed her eyes again. In the pulsing darkness, she felt her body. She was lying on her back. Whatever she was lying on was hard. Very hard. There was a lot of noise around. Jarring her bones. Making her ears bounce and hurt a little inside. Great rumbling noises made her body vibrate–and then they were gone.

She rolled over onto her side and pushed herself up. She listened a little longer. The vibrations were not so drumming. Then she opened her eyes again.

Still bright. But there wasn’t so much pain. She put her hand over her eyes, shielding them from the brightness above. Where was this?

These. . .things moving, moving. Going this way and that. Big ones and little ones. All making noise. The big ones bigger noise. And blaring D-flats.

She was getting a headache again.

She was the silent one, the still one in this mass of movement and noise. Around her, paying her no mind, were people. People moving helter-skelter. Great masses of heaving color that hummed along. Clicked along. Lights flashing.

Over there. Trees and grass. A bench. A place to sit.

She got up and walked–stumbled would be more accurate–to the bench and sat down on its warm wood, feeling the spaces between the slats. Not a very comfortable place to sit but better than lying on the–street? pavement?

Where the hell was she?!

Wherever she was, it looked like something she recognized. Something that was similar to something she remembered. Something. . . .

But where did she remember it from?

She creased her brows.

Who was she?

Ahh. . .now there she was on firm ground: she couldn’t remember who she was. She didn’t know who she was.

Was this an alternate universe?

Was she one monkey waiting for 99 more?

She had to get away from this noise! It was making her hair shake.

So she walked. The more she walked, the longer she walked the easier it became until she was moving along rather fluidly. But where was she going? No direction. Anywhere.

No. This was not good.

She looked up at the sky, searching for the brightest glare.

How did she know to go to her left? Without thinking, she did it. And then asked herself this question: How did I know to go to the left? This place wasn’t anywhere she knew, despite the vast similarities, so how could she be sure left was the right way? This place, this world could be exactly the opposite of her world. The world she came from to be here.

How did she get here?

She didn’t remember falling. She did remember a thud, though. And then she was here. In this place. As if she’d been dropped into this world.


What was she doing here?

Who was she?

Lord!–she had to get to a quieter place so she could think.

The glaring sky told her nothing. The world around her blurred. Her body kept on pounding along. Numbed. Apprehending nothing. Just moving. And then suddenly the noise stopped. She kept on going. She kept going until she felt the difference in color around her. She stopped. She looked around. She turned back the way she had come. All the noise was over there, in that hazy bulging upward, vertical mass of. . . spires?

And she sat down. On the green. Grass? She didn’t know. She didn’t know if that’s what it was in this place but somewhere inside her it was grass. So she called it grass in her mind. She felt it. It felt the same as usual. Usual? How did she know it was usual, this touch? This kind of softness with hard edges. Pointy. Kind of cool. Was she feeling it make noise? She put her ear down to it. Leaned down. Ran her fingers over its roughness. Comforting noise.

How did she know it was comforting?

“Hey! What are you doing?”

She looked up. A man stood at the bottom of the hill.

She looked at him. She squinched her eyebrows together.

“I said, what are you doing?”

“I don’t know. Sitting on the grass.”

“I can see that. Who gave you permission?”

“I need permission?”

“You’re not from around here, are you?”

“No. I don’t think so.”

“You don’t think so?”

“No. I’m not. Where am I?”

“Here. In Havenwood.”

“Oh. Where’s that?”


“Are you alright?”

“I’m not hurt, if that’s what you mean.”

“How did you get here? I mean, the way you’re dressed, you’re not usual, you know?”

“I’m not?”


“I feel like I was dropped in.”

“Maybe you better come with me.”

“Can you help me?”

“I can take you somewhere.”


She got up and walked down the hill. When she stood next to him, she found he was very much shorter than she was. Perhaps head and shoulders shorter. She’d never felt so tall before.

“You’re tall. We don’t make many tall women here. We don’t make many tall men, either.”

“You make people here?”

“You know. Not make as in machines but, you know, grow.”

“Like plants?”

“No. We get born.”


They continued walking along in silence. He led her into a squat reddish building with greyish lines running up and down, isolating little squares of color. Flat glass doors like a mouth. Flat glass windows like eyes. The doors swallowed them up. The eyes did not change their expression.

“Where’s this?”

“The headman lives here. He’ll know what to do.”


“You know the headman?”

“No. I don’t now anybody.”

Silently they walked through some halls.

“I’m tired. I’d like to rest. I’ve been through alot today. I think I came from over there.”

“Okay. He’ll find a place for you to stay.”

“Good. I’d like to lie down.”

And then they were in a small room.

“Hey. I’ve brought you someone.”

“Hey. Where did you find her?”

“Sitting in the park.”

“The park?!”

“Yeah. Imagine that. No one gave her permission.”

“Hey. Who are you?”

“I don’t know.”

“Where do you come from?”

“I don’t know. I just woke up and found myself here.”

“She said she felt as if she was dropped in.”

“Dropped in, eh?”

“Yes. And she’s tired.”

“Hungry, too?”

“Yes. Hungry, too.”

“We should let you rest and eat first.”

“Thank you.”

“Hey. Take her to Na’s place. She’ll take care of her.”


“Then come back here. I’ll call the elders for a council.”


* * *

Shoulder to shoulder around the oblong table the men sat. The Headman and the elders. And the finder man.

“What are we to make of this, then?”

“It is very strange. Very strange indeed.”

“There have been no strangers in a long time.”

“No. She’s very tall.”

“She dresses. . .differently.”

“She talks a little off.”

“And her skin color. . .”


The heavy ticking of the clock pounded the walls. They looked around the table. A few coughed. A few looked elsewhere. The headman looked at the finder man.

“I think she’s the one,” said the latter.

“How can she be? She’s a woman.”

“Yes. There has never been a woman before.”

“She is a very tall woman.”

“Larger than life.”

“Where is she from?”

“That’s a mystery. She’s not saying.”

“She just. . .appeared.”

“Right when we need her.”


“Yes. That seems to fit.”

“Fate is a funny thing, you know.”

“You can never be too sure.”

“Are we to continue as we are?”

“We cannot remain passive,” said the headman. “I am for taking action on this.”

Pause. The elders looked around at each other.

“Will she go along with us?”

“Why should she not? She is here. Nothing happens without a reason.”

“She may put up a fight.”

“Deny herself.”

“It’s part of the pattern.”

“She’s already denying who she is.”

A collective, “Eh?”

The headman and the finder nodded.

“Well, then.”

“We must proceed, it seems.”

“Tomorrow morning at Na’s. She has a nice courtyard in the back.”

* * *

She sat facing the group of men. She frowned and held her breath. This gathering was definitely unbalanced. She didn’t know who she was. She didn’t know where she was. And now she was confronted by this. . .tribunal. How was she supposed to act? She shifted in her seat. Crossed her legs. Crossed her arms. These men were obviously here to tell her something. Could it be they knew something about herself? She could only wait.

She looked at the group of men. They looked back at her and then away to each other. Focus came to the headman. She looked at the headman. He looked at her.

“I trust you had a good night.”

“Yes. Thank you.”

“You are rested from your journey?”


“Good. Good.”

She uncrossed her legs and crossed them the other way.

The finder coughed.

“We know who you are.”

“You do?”

“Yes. Yes. We do.”

“Who am I?”

“You are our hero.”

She uncrossed her legs. She uncrossed her arms. She beat on her thighs with her hands. She laughed.

“Surely you jest! I am no hero.”

“How do you know?”

She looked sharply at the finder. “Yes. You are right.”


“Yes.” She leaned forward and looked at these men who seemed to know more about her than she did. This was perhaps reassuring. “Could this be illusion?”

“No, no, no. Nothing of the sort. What in the universe is not true?”

“We have dreamed of your coming?”

“So I am a dream?”

“Come true. A dream come true.”

“Dreams are part of life. Of the universe.”

“I could be a bad dream–”

“Not at all! You are just what we asked for.”


“So, who am I?”


“Our Hero.”

“What an odd name. Hero.”

“Odder still as that is what you are.” The headman giggled a little.

She smiled into the silence. A breeze disturbed the leaves. Gave them voice. Gave itself a voice, for otherwise it was just air. The passing of air was ever accompanied by a voicing. Without something standing in the way, the wind has no voice. Nor do the trees. Rain, too, is nothing until it demolishes itself upon trees and people, houses and streets. The sound nevertheless surrounds you like an orchestra and carries you away, protects you. All the world is one. Then. It was not one for Hero.

“I am who I am and I am what I am?”

“Why, yes, that’s the way it is.”

“My name says it all.”

“Yes. Exactly.”

“The name you gave me.” Pause. “The role you give me.”

“Do you have a better one?”

“No. But–”


“I don’t feel like a hero. I’ve never done anything to be considered a hero. What is a hero?”

“A hero’s life is in the making.”

“In the future.”

“I can’t do anything.”

“I told you! Didn’t I?”

“Shush! This is to be expected.”

“What is to be expected?”

“Well,” the finder began hesitantly, “you meet the criteria.”

“I’m getting a headache.”

“Na,” said the headman.

Medicine was brought. Everyone sat silent and still for a time.

“Do you feel better now?”

“I’m sure it will go away.”

“Yes. Havenwood is known for its drugs. We can even make a sick dog feel better.”

Nervous laughter.

“Tell me how I fit the bill when I don’t even know who I am?”

“We know who you are.”

“But I don’t feel like Hero. I don’t even know where I am or where I came from.”

“That is the way it is.”

“Heroes come out of nowhere.”

“When they are needed.”

“And they are more than we are.”

“You mean my height?”

“Yes. Of course.”

“But I am no one. I am not up to this.”

“You can be no one without others.”

“I have no character.”

“We are giving this to you.”

“What if I don’t want it?”

“Heroes usually do not. . .it is said.”

“You see. . .there are historical precedents.”

“I see.”


“What is it I’m supposed to do?”

All of the men sat back heaving sighs.

“You are here to save us from ourselves.”

She laughed.

“Yes. It is laughable, isn’t it? But it’s true.”

“We have become inundated with a particular kind of pandemic. Passive Ignorance Insensitivity Syndrome. PIIS.”


“No, no. In our tongue when there are two i’s in a row, the first is long, the second short. We say, then, Peye-us.”

Oh. I see. You are Peye-us. And who has visited this upon you?”

“An alien.”

“An outsider.”

“Not one of us.”

“His name is Gnome Nervt.”

“How do you know?”

“He has done this before and. . .”

“He leaves traces.”

“I see.” Pause. “I must rid the world of this. . .evil Gnome Nervt.”


“Well. I suppose I have nothing better to do,” she said. She thought, though, that perhaps she might also discover her true self, her true identity now she had something to do. “You must give me some context.”

“Here is everything you need to know. Tomorrow we will come again.”

“And if I am not your hero?”

“You will fail and we will build another martyr’s monument in Memorial Park Cemetery.”

“But you will not fail. The life and well-being of thousands upon thousands of Havenwoodniks are riding on your shoulders.”

And then she was alone with herself. Whoever she was. To these men she was someone. She had a frame into which to fit. There was just one nagging question: What did a hero do? That is, how did a hero act?

Was fiction becoming reality?

An unanswerable question since she didn’t know what was real. Rather, she only had this reality to go on. Could she then live up to her given character?

She shook her head. Identity was a funny thing. How do you know when you’ve got it? And when you’ve got it, how do you know it’s yours?

There are some places where people are born with no identity. Later, they can buy one from the identity brokers. But, then, you may still ask, who is this character? All you have is a label. Made up by another. A handle upon which to hang a history. A history with no character to identify it is no history at all. So where does it come from?

This is a question I cannot answer. I am only a writer. I am a writer because I write. . .and because you read me. Therefore I have character because writers have a particular character, right?

I find myself much in the same situation as the girl in this story.

(c) 2002, Minna vander Pfaltz


Old Country Baggage: The Making of America

Oh, my! It’d been a long time since we posted! A combination of a wicked mixed type manic-depressive episode & shoulder surgery for Jimsecor. He’s a bear to take care of when he’s restricted. Rehab will begin on 11 Dec: daily manipulation. But, here is a filler:-

Old Country Baggage, or The Making of America

We all know vampires suck the blood of the living to continue living, even though they are dead. The living dead. A curse.

We don’t know where vampires come from. They just suddenly appear in folklore. The most famous being European. Central Europe, to be exact. Though the Chinese had vampires, too, they did not travel to the West with their fabled RR builders and laundry entrepreneurs.

European vampires had not migrated to Britain before the 19th century, else they would surely have made their appearance at Salem, if not Jamestown or Roanoke Island, the Lost Colony. As it was, America had to wait for a later mass migration of Europeans.

George Calvin Brown and family and friends are prime examples of vampire baggage carriers. As always, the opening of the carpet bag was innocent, however traumatic. Very like Pandora’s box.

Ephemera Gladys Brown, George Calvin’s loving wife, died of tuberculosis one day. George and the children were crestfallen, as one would expect. Losing a caring, loving, thoughtful mother was not expected or wanted. While the family mausoleum was being built and readied, the family mourned. Mother Brown was en-coffined and discretely kept in a corner of the Ice House, which the Brown family owned and operated. With all but the carving of the alabaster monument completed, public mourning ensued with the requisite religious broodings and blessings.

And then life went on, albeit with Leonard Gardener Brown coughing a wee bit more than usual. The grocery store side of the business suffered as Leonard’s coughing increased in frequency and intensity. In fact, Leonard was excluded from both the grocery and the Ice House. Left alone, his coughing and whitish pallor led to a drinking habit that wormed its way into the family’s profits. Eventually, he, too, succumbed to the wasting away disease and was laid to rest alongside his mother. Another name was chiseled into the alabaster and life more or less went on.

Lena Mercy Brown was so distraught and beside herself and so very fearful of the future, specifically her future, that she became a frequent visitor to the grave site. Early in the morning just before dawn and late at night well past the waning moon, Lena Mercy could be found at the cemetery. So regular and spectral was she, she was spoken of as a ghost. Lena Mercy haunted the graveyard with an unhealthy obsession. So said the town doctor. But Lena Mercy would not desist, even as her pallor paled and her eyes reddened. And then she died. She told her father, one day, that she didn’t feel so good, coughed once into her white, white hands and died.

The doctor said that Lena Mercy Brown also died of tuberculosis, no history of coughing notwithstanding.

What kind of curse was this laid upon the Browns?

Surely, some townies said, this was the result of a prior life-sin. Others pooh-poohed such a superstition. Still others believed that the family was particularly susceptible to invasion by minute, even unseen animalcules. Animalcules being animalcules, this was difficult to deny. Invisible things forever manifest themselves into life. People breathe air, don’t they? And they dig in the dirt. And wash and bathe in the water. Everyone does. Some few were more susceptible than others to invasion by animalcules.

George sold the grocery business. People were wary of infection. As long as he ceased operating the Ice House, he was able to hold onto the business. The income was enough to keep him and his youngest, Edwin Prentiss. They could find no one to help around the house, though.

But tragedy again struck.

This new wrinkle to the family horror came via the cemetery grounds-keeper. This elderly gentleman began seeing the ghost of Lena Mercy wandering through the cemetery to end up hovering around the family vault, raising her hands and looking upward as if mourning her mother’s and her brother’s and her own demise or calling upon God. All in utter silence, of course, as ghosts make no noise, though their mouth holes be open. The old night watchman also reported the silence of the cemetery. That is, no scurryings of night denizens and no owl hootings. Not that owls tended to be very communicative to begin with or while hunting. The oldster’s repetitive sightings brought out the ghost hunters, ghost busters and ghost curious. The crowding of the cemetery brought about less Lena Mercy walking. This phenomenon led to a generalized exodus but for the curious, who tend to be quite persevering. Their nightly vigils paid off. Sightings were reported and substantiated. Though not by an outside, objective, uninterested individual.

Much to the discomfiture of the remainder of the Brown family, this ghostly appearance of Lena Mercy became a hot topic in the district. Curiosity seekers began visiting the Brown house. The worst of the lot were the various newspapermen. Rude and invasive, if they got no story they made one up.

Eventually, George and Edwin shut themselves up in their house. Groceries and sundries were delivered, ordered by messenger. Eventually, interest flagged somewhat. At which time the true tragedy struck.

It was here that the European old world baggage was opened and spilled out its contents all over the ground. The soil was fertile. The horror grew like kudzu, choking the hell out of reason.

How could this happen?

The mind’s job, as it were, is to make sense of things. Make sense of the world. Make sense of chaos. Make sense of the senseless. For this purpose, pre-laid pathways in the neural network of the brain are activated, for your brain forgets nothing. This is how we can remember how to walk without thinking about it. The baggage that sometimes ought not to be carried with us is opened like this; that is, habit of mind. We are creatures of habit. Habit helps us cope with the world. Habit helps us find meaning. Some of these habits are deep-seated and enduring, enduring like fairy tales, folktales, folklore.

How the mind does this is by putting various happenings together and coming up with an answer. It is this solution that is most often influenced by deep cultural memories. Memories of explication. Memories that are connected to an answer and a solution. Habits of mind. Short cuts for thinking.

First were the deaths of the Brown family. Three out of five.

Second was the ghostly sightings by all and sundry of Lena Mercy.

Third was the haunting of George by Lena Mercy. She became a nightly occurrence, dancing around George in bed, George at the kitchen table. Lena Mercy was insistent. According to George, she harassed him. Eventually night and day.

Fourth was Edwin Prentiss’s illness. The same as his mother’s and his brother’s and his sister’s, Lena Mercy not having suffered the coughing. Edwin began his coughing and increasingly wan coloring within two weeks of Lena Mercy’s haunting the house.

Surely there was a connection here.

Ghosts are not known to be benevolent.

George sought solace, sought answers with consultations of the town elders, the doctor, the various ministers and the travelling Chautauqua professors. Though not all were in agreement, those obsessed with their old baggage, those in the majority, convinced George that Lena Mercy’s hauntings and Edwin Prentiss’s advancing illness were connected. That is, Lena Mercy was responsible.

Something needed to be done. Proof was needed.

So it was that the Brown family tomb was opened. Of the three coffined bodies, only Lena Mercy’s was not decomposed.

A great cry rose up and it was decided Lena Mercy was a vampire.

What other reason could there be? Only vampires feed on the living. Edwin was declining while Lena Mercy was not. Not dying. So?

There could be but one conclusion.

The townies cut out Lena Mercy’s heart. They burned it, cringing somewhat as it sizzled. They made Edwin drink a concoction of ash of heart and red wine.

All was well. No more hauntings. No more coughing.

Edwin Prentiss died in silence two weeks later.

How could this be? Lena Mercy the vampire had been appropriately done in. Maybe Edwin Prentiss was too far gone by then. Maybe more needed to be done.

So, Edwin Prentiss’s heart had a Palo Santo wood stake hammered through it. Both the heart and the stake were burned. The remains were buried. Holy water was cast upon the ground.

Everyone waited, fretting. For lifetimes they fretted and worried.

Would it ever, really end?

Vigilance could not be relaxed.

And so it was.

(c) 2016, James L. Secor


The Magic Mirror

 The Magic Mirror

by James L. Secor


I’ve come across the

magic mirror again, it’s

the same old story

you see what you want to see,

you hear what you want to hear


Steven was proud of himself. He had accomplished considerable, quickly passing all his tests to become the top student. It was good to be the greatest learner, the favored. So, he was not at all surprised when he was sent to undertake the comprehensive contemplative leg of his journey to knowledge and liberation. Appropriately wide-eyed and humble, Steven could not help but smile as he accepted the books and writing tablets from his master.

Yes! He thought to himself, I am on my way.

At his exultation at having reached this stage in his scholarship so soon, the climb up the mountain to retreat was not at all strenuous. He cruised along the narrow path, rushing past trees and bushes and vines with little to no hesitation. No thought was given to the skitterings of tiny animals or the twitterings of birds or the spider webs he tore through in his headlong rush to fulfillment. There would be time enough and then some to contemplate the sensual joys of the life around him when he had settled into his little hut. He had a year but assumed that it would take him less time to accomplish this task.

There is nothing to hold me back, he said to himself as he stood at the foot of the steps to his tabernacle.

The stoup was a temple-like affair snuggled up against the hillside and all but hidden by over-hanging branches from the ash and aspen and alder trees. Four tree-trunk columns marked the corners of the veranda, which ran around three sides of the hermitage. The low railing was missing a few posts yet refused to sag. To the right of the double doors stood a love-seat sized mourner’s bench worn smooth by prior sitters. There were no windows. The retreat was in shadow as the afternoon sun stood on the other side of the mountain. Steven was well-pleased, for this must be one of the grander cloister-houses that dotted the forested cordillera.

The old wooden stairs, worn from countless passing feet, creaked as Steven mounted them. The doors were, of course, not locked but they were swollen shut. He was forced to set his pack on the mourner’s bench and shoulder the warped panels open. A great musty sigh issued forth from the interior. The room was darker than he expected. It took awhile for his eyes to adjust. A table stood along the back wall, backed by a bench. At one end of the table, candles were piled. Steven set his bag on the table and lit a taper, holding it above his head to survey his new home. Along the right wall a sitting cushion lay bent and with stuffing protruding, wisps of it around the dusty floor. Next to the door, an old birch broom waited to go into service which it would need to before evening encroached much closer. Along the left wall stood the Hestia stupa, directly opposite the cushion. Its niche rose up to the ceiling, flaring out like a blossoming flower. Before it stood a large cauldron. Steven walked over to inspect it. Stones covered the bottom. Ashes covered the stones.

At the back corner was a narrow door. Beyond was a narrow room where Steven found a stone-recessed cook area, a small pot on a swing-arm suspended over it. Along a low table, various kitchen implements were neatly, if dustily arranged. In the farther corner, along the front wall, was a wooden bunk, the blankets tattered and, as would be expected, dusty. They would have to be aired out before settling down for the night.

Steven set the candle down on the low table and carried the bedding outside, shaking it out and draping it over the railing. He walked round the veranda to the right and found a small stack of wood and a small ax. Steven was astounded.

Surely, he said, they do not expect me to cut my own wood! I haven’t the slightest idea how to use a farmer’s implement.

Around to the other side were various pots and bowls and containers of one size or another. And it was then that it dawned on Steven that there was no water near-by. He would have to walk to the nearest river–and carry it back. How utterly rustic and uncivilized!

Steven sat on the mourner’s bench to mull over his present predicament. Whatever were they doing to him? Whatever did they expect of him? He as a scholar. A contemplative after liberation and supremacy. There was no reason for him to be reduced to such a state as this. Where had he gone wrong? He had done everything correctly. There was nothing for which he would be–could be so ill-used. There was not even a mirror in this place! How was he to maintain himself appropriately?

* * *

After several months of study and contemplation–and considerable loss of weight–Steven was sitting one day in rapt concentration of the Hestia stupa when he was interrupted by the chaotic chirping of a little bird. It flew into his refuge and perched precariously in the beams. And it would not remain quiet. An occasional tweet or cheep might not have been so ill-suited to the environment but this little creature lay about with ailing squeals spaced between thin, whistling pipings. Steven was necessarily quite annoyed at this. He had been progressing nicely when this cacophonous renting of the air disturbed him. He harrumphed and coughed and spluttered to himself, totally unable to reassert his previous contemplation. This fine feathered friend had no right to interrupt the exercises of so dedicated a man.

As this thought crossed his perturbed mind, Steven turned his scowl upward and, at the very moment, the bird dropped dead at his feet.

Steven was amazed. He sat bolt upright. This was a test! A sign along the road, for there were no such things as coincidences. Synchronicities, yes. Entanglements, yes. But unattended, disconnected coincidences? No. He had learned early on that there was a plan, an order to everything. Pre-destination was predestined only to be altered by free will, the next step, and the appropriate interpretation of events. This ability was, of course, part of his search for liberation and knowledge. This glance of power was telling him something. He would have to think on it–but not too long, else he’d lose the influx of energy.

Steven looked from the dead bird to the beam. From the beam to the dead bird at his feet. From the dead bird to the Hestia stupa, from whence his eyes rose to the top of the niche and, as it blossomed, the light blossomed in his soul. Astonishment and the greatest pleasure flooded over him. His little bothy became haunted with a suffused light as it dawned on him that he had to power to kill by some force or other within him. He had touched the core of life and death. It seemed to him that his body and mind, in a great unified field, exploded, flooding his little chancery with pointillist lights, each gleaming brighter than the sun, each assuaging his past privations.

I must indeed be great! bleated from his parched throat.

He rose, still embossed with his discovery of power and glory, and walked down the mountain and into the nearest town. It was time for another test.

The first house he came to was a rather elegant abode with colonnades and fluted roofing surrounded by colorful gardens. This would suit his purposes just fine, for the inhabitants must be of the upper class and unused to people of his ilk coming to their door, dirty and unkempt, with scraggly hair and beard. In truth, he did not know how he looked, so long had he been without a mirror to gaze into. But he had no comb nor had he fashioned one from wood or horn or bone, as many before him had done. He assumed, rightly, that he was a sight to behold, though he did believe that his new-found insight had somehow realigned the natural mountain ascetic appearance he had gained, a manifestation he had too often seen from those returning from their comprehensives, some broken, some not. The broken ones were pitiful to behold. Aside from their slovenly appearance, they were slobbering and crying in their desperate failure. Steven, of course, would surpass them when his time came.

He banged on the door. When it was opened, he spoke aloud for the first time in months. And, as with months of alcohol use, months of silence encrusted his larynx and his vociferation was strained and coarsened.

“Bring me some food. I am a liberated comprehensive contemplative.” He paused to catch his breath. Coughed. Continued, “Merit shall be yours for feeding freely those on this path to enlightenment.”

The woman regarded the beggar before her for a moment, not at all disturbed by his presence. She licked her lips.

“As soon as I can, reverend sage,” she said and shut the door in his face.

Yes! His plan was set in motion. Reward would be his, for her refusal would arouse his scowling approbation and all would be right with the world.

Steven waited a long time. And, of course, he became more and more agitated. Finally, as his impatience was about to overtake him, she returned with a small bowl of stew. Despite his mouth’s salivation, Steven was nonplussed.

“Consider yourself lucky that I do not direct upon you the withering gaze of a liberated sage. Ill-fortune can come through disobedience to our elect wishes.”

“Ill-fortune can come indeed, unless you are able to resist it through some experience that has come upon you.”

“How dare you answer me in such manner!” Steven spluttered. “What do you mean?”

“I am not a bird in a forest clearing.”

Steven was taken aback. He scowled hard at the woman, a common unenlightened person. He recoiled, for she continued to stand there looking down on him.

“My wrath is not harming you. . .”

“Nor does the wrath of my children harm me and they are wont to disobey at every turning. It is the way of things.”

“But,” gagged Steven, “I have done everything. I have obeyed my teacher. I attended all his lectures and did all the right exercises. My inner life was constantly expanded and I was chosen for comprehensive contemplation. I have studied and focused my energies and inner eye and touched great powers. . .” he trailed off in disbelief.

“Eat the stew, young nigh-saint, and return to your teacher. Leave the bowl on the stoop.”

The woman handed him the stew and shut the door.

So disconsolate and appalled was he that Steven did not bother to eat the stew. Nor did me leave the bowl on the step but immediately made his way back to his master’s anchorage. But Steven was not allowed to enter its precincts. His master took the bowl of stew and sent Steven away.

“Go to the capital city and find the scavenger Inkblot. You are only fit to study with him.”

What could Steven do? He had such reverence of his teacher that he could only do as he was bid, repugnant as it might seem. There must be meaning in this or it would not be happening.

So, off he went to find Inkblot.

He was not difficult to find. He was, however, difficult to approach. Inkblot stood, on the day Steven found him, at the foot of a mountain of garbage. He stank. He was covered with filthy rags, his skin darkened from sun and blackened by lack of soap and water. He sniveled and wiped it away with the back of his hand, wiping this on his rot-encrusted clothing. Steven recoiled, as if hit by a donkey’s kick.

Inkblot spit.

“What’s it to ya, Steven? Ya don’t look much better yourself.”

“I do not smell,” Steven squeaked.

“Nor do I. I been around myself so long, if you get my meaning.”

“I’m afraid I don’t–”

“What bird’re ya gonna kill today, Steven? Who’s gonna read your thoughts, Steven? When’re ya gonna get some other revolting duty, Steven?”

“How can you know this? You are just a scavenger!”

“I only look like a scavenger because that is the work that I do. It is inappropriate of me to wear a top hat and tails. Though I’d like to, it is true. I have felt such cloth and it is anodyne to the skin. But I’ve my duty to perform. I can’t be bothered with looking like something I’m not. No. I must concentrate on my duty. As you must yours. You are now the servant of the people and they will not show their thanks in any way, shape or form, for they do not like to think about their waste. If ya get my meaning.”

“I am not sure I can. . .do this. . .”

“Aye, I know. Make of it what you will.”

“I’m a scholar. A sage. A released contemplative!”

“So you say. I don’t see no one here telling you so, do you?”

“Who would want to be here?”

“Right you are, Steven old boy. Right you are.”

“I am not meant for this.”

“And why not?”

“I’m meant for something better.”

“And what is so bad about wiping the ass of mankind? You gotta wipe the ass of a babe to keep it from smelling so’s it can get on its business of growing up, don’t ya? It’s the duty of a good parent, Steven.” Inkblot pointed off to his left. “There’s a little kiack over there that’s yours. We go out scavenging tomorrow.”

“I’m not sure. . .”

“People know me for what I do, not what I pretend to be. The only mirror I got is that of a dutiful man.”

“But I don’t want to be a scavenger! I want to be a sage.”

“Scavenger. Sage. What’s the difference? Both require knowledge and you don’t get none of that unless you do your job. Learn your duty, boy.”

“I don’t want to be a scavenger!”

“You ain’t got no choice, boy! Besides,” Inkblot continued in a more calm voice, “what is it you think scholars and sages and whatnot do but scavenge through mankind’s outpourings?” He wiped his nose, sniffed. “Go on over to your cuddy and rest. I’ll see what I can get ya to eat.”

“I feel a little nauseous. . .”

“Get over it. You got a duty to do.”

“I might destroy my reputation.”

“What reputation have you got to lose?”

“I shall never rise above this, I fear.”

“Yeast makes the bread rise. That’s its job. You can’t talk bread into rising.”

“What are you talking about?”

Inkblot squatted on his haunches, ran his hand through his hair, scratched his head. He did not look up as he spoke.

“There was a man once who knew something. Granted, it was nothing new. But he knew it. Many people did not appreciate what he knew, only seeing the not-newness of it all. They could hear the words but they could not understand the language. But, never mind. There were always a few who heard.

“There was also a man who believed he was a scholar and academician. He had a title and some position. He criticized this other man no end. In fact, he ran this other man out of town, you might say. The scholar and academician could say those things he said just as well. And he was proud of himself, this scholar and academician. He was real interested in himself, y’see. People like this cannot see the Day of Calamity. Indeed, they cannot even see opportunity when it comes knocking on their door with a calling card on a silver platter that says, ‘Opportunity Knocking.’ So he did not know the difference between knowledge and a polished mirror. Like a giraffe, he took the glitzy thing. You could say he ate the tray and let the calling card fall to the ground. Calling cards are, after all, nothing new. Just pieces of paper, eh?

“This other man, the man who knew something that was not new, he became a beggar, a junk dealer, a scavenger. No one pays him any mind. But if he does not do his work, everyone knows it.”

The scavenger looked up at the nigh-saint.

“And the scholar?”

“You see? You hear the words but know not the language.” The scavenger stood up. “The scholar is sitting in his chair contemplating his navel and wondering again and again how clean he has made it. Now, go on over to your hovel and I’ll bring you what I got so you don’t starve to death.”


for Si Tang, Jan 2010

(c) James L. Secor, 2010


The Old Witch

 The Old Witch

by James L. Secor

The old witch lived in the inn at the edge of town. It was an old inn, run-down and nobody stopped there any more. She was an old lady, bent and crabbed with arthritis. There was a woman who went once or twice a day with food but she left it on the veranda. She would not venture inside. She had, one day, when curiosity got the better of her, looked in at one of the open windows. Most of the windows were shuttered. She saw, in the place of honor, a little bell with an oblong mirror behind it along with the little pine branches on either side. The name of the little tablet she could not read. Anshin she thought it said, “easy,” “relief,” “safe.” Or maybe it was anji, something suggestive. She saw the old woman sitting before the relics, the bell and mirror and pine branches. But she could not see the reflection in the mirror. The glass was too small and cloudy and, of course, too far away. She saw the old witch rise, so she ran down the path as fast as she could, only pausing to look back at the gate to be sure she was not pursued. But she talked a good story when she got back to town. It was a small town so word got around. In one form or another.

It was rumored it was best to be far away from this old witch. This old woman. It was rumored there was something disrespectful about her past and that is why she lived alone with no friends and no visitors.

No travellers bothered with her hostel, it was so unkempt. Indeed, the front gate looked to be falling down at any moment. The weeds in the garden had choked out the flowers and any trees that had grown there had been shorn of their leaves by the strangling vines that hung limply from the bare branches. It was indeed a desolate inn. Only the path remained clear and passable. No one thought this was strange but perhaps they should have.

The cracked and grained wood had lost its vitality and was pitted, water-rotted, almost black. The shutters, pulled all around but for the one window, were warped and falling in on themselves. But it was at the front doorstep that the food was left, a great slab of stone worn down from the feet of long ago travellers.

The tatami mat flooring showed weeds poking through in places. It was worn colorless where the old witch sat. A path led from the entranceway to the sitting place and from thence into the dark depths. The old witch dragged her heels when she walked.

One day, after years and years of silence and teasing stone-throwing by the neighborhood boys and girls, a traveler stopped at her inn. No one saw him go in but the next morning when the woman brought the old witch a morning meal, there was a memento attached to the falling down gatepost. It was red but had no temple’s name written on it. It was blank but for a little dragon crawling beneath a bell.

From that day forth, the old witch never touched her food and so people assumed she died. Because after awhile, the lady who brought the food stopped bringing it. If the old hag wasn’t going to eat it, it was a waste. There were others who could use it. No one visited her decrepit old abode to find out if there was a body there or not. No one was that crazy or brave. They just let the house rot and fall in on itself and the weeds grow over it.

Oddly enough, out of the mess beautiful flowers grew and, some years later, it became fashionable for lovers to traverse the path and pick a flower for their loved one. Never more than one flower was picked. The lovers always had happy fulfilling lives, so a truth was established.

One day, a traveler came to my house and though he could not pay for his keep, he said he had a story to tell. A strange story of love and deception. It was, indeed, worth his night’s stay. I thanked him and pondered on the tale afterwards.  . .

He came to an old inn one night. It was a new moon. The place looked very tumble-down but he nevertheless took himself to the font door. He opened the door with some difficulty–it stuck in its trough. He entered and shut it behind him. In the musky blackness he shouted out for the master. “Hello? Is anybody here?” There was no answer, so he moved further into the large room, stopping at the first set of sliding doors. “Hello? I’ve come for a room.” Pause. “It’s a desolate night.” No answer. Just as he turned to leave, he heard the shuffle of steps somewhere in the darkness beyond the doors. He spoke again, “I’ve come for a place to stay the night. Can you put me up?” A pale lamp and a face floated up before him. The shuffling stopped. The silence carried on. She stepped aside and let him enter. She moved ahead of him, then raised a hand to have him wait. She shuffled out of the room and returned with a second small lamp. She indicated that he should follow her. He did. Keeping close so as not to become separated and lost in the blackness. The rooms smelled unkempt, dirty. The meager light showed up walls wrinkled and wasted like old men. Perhaps they would fall in on him as they groaned into the night.

The old woman led him to a small room to one side of the house and indicated he should sit. The tatami felt damp. The table was dusty. She did not bother to clean it off. He looked up. She had disappeared. Outside the tiny circle of his little lamp reigned darkness and the sounds of the house trying to maintain itself. He took out a cloth and dusted the table. She appeared out of nowhere with food and set it down on the table. With a swift, jerked movement, she bid him eat. She stood to one side, holding her lamp, waiting for him to finish. When he finished, she took the tray away. He was finishing his tea when she returned and spread out his bedding. Then she left him to himself.

Not once did she speak. His lamp went out and he was lost in the oppressive darkness and creakiness. Dank and musty smelling and a little cold, he shivered and climbed into the bedding. Cold and dampish. Soon, though, it warmed and he fell asleep. He dreamed. . .

“Strange dream. Strange. . .even now as I’m telling you I’m not sure whether it happened or truly was a dream. It seemed that she came into the room about midnight and sat down at the head of my bed. She had her little lamp with her and was haloed at the edge of its yellow waxy glow. The apparition spoke: ‘I have a story to tell you.’ I looked up at her and suddenly the air about her began to glow and shine. An ellipse of brightness that cast no aura. She was a mess. Her clothes rotting from her frame, her hair falling about her shoulders like a ghost’s, her hands hoary with arthritis as they lay silent and polite in her thin lap. There was not much life left in her. The light seemed to pass through her making her appear diaphanous. ‘It’s late and I’m tired,’ I said. ‘Yes. It is late. Too late for me. I must tell you my story. You must hear me out.’ I nodded. She smiled a toothless smile without mirth or sadness, just an open widening of the thin lips. She licked her lips.

“‘This was also not a time when the clergy were as attentive to their vows as they are now. One day, one of them stopped by on his travels. I could hear his voice from within. I stopped my sewing and went to have a peek at who could have such an enchanting, warm voice. Rich and mellow and coming out of the depths of a body like a spring from the mountains. He was beautiful. If a man may be beautiful. A marvelously handsome man. I wanted him right away. I had never had a man before but I knew what the feelings that rose up in me were. I felt all wet and warm and perhaps a little dizzy and a pressure grew in me that fairly choked me. I went back to my sewing but was not at all concentrating on it–I stuck myself several times with the needle. Little pinpoints of blood stood out on my fingers. So I put my sewing down and went again to look at the lay monk. He was gone. I had expected him to stay the night. Most did. I was taken by some kind of hysteria. I immediately left the house and ran after him. My parents called after me but I did not answer. I could not answer. I felt my heart, my soul was leaving me behind and I had to catch up to it before I died. I ran and I ran but did not find him. I asked some travellers along the road. They said, yes, they had seen such a man, a monk, and that he had gone down the leftward road. I ran on. It is not easy running in long skirts. I felt they were breaking my legs. They were getting caught up and I could not abide them. I tried pulling them up and running but that was no good. They tripped me from behind. My clothing became quite dishabille and began to fall away as I gained speed. This urgency overrode my senses. My hairpins fell out, leaving a trail behind me. My hair flew about my face and stood out behind me in a wildly undulating wake. I ran into other travellers. They laughed at my appearance. Others pulled away, shocked and frightened–I must have looked a sight! Women simply did not run about as I was doing, hair falling all about their shoulders, clothing in disarray, where it still clung to my body. They, too, told me the monk had passed along this way. He had gone to the river. I grunted and flew on. And my legs began to feel very heavy. Great massive tree trunks. I was panting and my face was stretched taut with my straining. There! I could see him at the ferry. I called to him: Wait! I yelled: You cannot leave me! He looked up. He looked at me as if I were a demon. Fear contorted his face. Quick, he shouted to the ferryman, get me across the river before that demon catches me. For, you see, I had turned into a great dragon. My hair tangled in a mass round my head. My face pinched and pointed with bulging fiery eyes. There were nubs, like little horns, growing out of my head. Out of my mouth grew fangs and I lathered, my tongue snaking out over my lips. But I only learned of this later, on my return journey, when people told me of the vicious beast they’d seen pursuing a hapless young monk. At the time, I could not understand why he would look at me with such loathing, run from a woman as beautiful as I was–and I was beautiful. I was held to be the most beautiful for several counties. And he was running from that exquisite beauty! Why? I knew monks were not chaste. It was a well-known fact. They often strayed. Stray with me! I want some of your holiness! Some of his holy love. It had to be holy coming from a man so beautiful himself.’

“Here, she, the old lady glowing at my bedside, sighed. The sound was the exhaling of steam.

“‘I continued on. There was nothing for me to do but go on. Nothing to my existence but having this man. I accosted another ferryman but he ran away and jumped into his own boat screaming obscenities at me. Did he think I would eat him when I was hungry for another? He rowed like mad out into the middle of the river. I was left standing on the bank ranting and raging after my love. He was my love, you know. I had to have him. My love. My soul. My body cried out for him. My heart was no longer mine. Who was I? I was enflamed. I jumped into the river and swam. But my body weighed me down. I felt long and old and worn out. I looked back and saw my dragon tail, my dragon scales. And my tail seemed to grow as I swam. Only, I wasn’t swimming. I was undulating through the water. When I reached the other side, I ran on along the road. An unbearable chore. I grew slower and slower, heavier and heavier. I could hear him screaming ahead of me. Then I could see him screaming at a robed man, screaming and pointing down the road at me. I heard, later, that I was a great cloud of dust and fire that bellowed along. Everyone took flight, not even closing the gates to the temple compound. I plunged through the gateway into the barren courtyard. No one. There! On the bell tower! The bell was off its perch. It sat on the wooden flooring. They thought they were so clever–hiding him under a great bronze bell. This temple, Dojo, was known for its bell. It rang out over the hills when it was struck. But now it was impotent. I wound myself around the bell, squeezing tightly. I squeezed until I fused my body with the bronze behemoth. My energy turned me red and I heated up. Smoke rose round me. Heavy waves rose from my body. It was all I could do to hold him tight. Hold him to me. So I passed the night wound round the bell, holding his love. Keeping the silence. Just at sunrise I left and returned here. I have been here ever since.’ She licked her lips, relishing the memory maybe? ‘When the monks saw that the mighty dragon had gone, they tried to move the bell but it was too hot. Still glowing. They burned themselves for their humanitarian efforts. They threw water on it and waited until late in the afternoon. Then, as dusk began to descend, they raised the bell and. . . the monk had been fried. He was a pile of ashes. I had burned him up with my passion.’

“Her eyes looked down at me. They penetrated right into my body.

“‘You looked so like him. . .so I told you. I could not help myself. I had to say this. I am not a bad woman.’

“She got up and walked out of the room, leaving me in hazy, grey blackness. I’m not sure if I slept the rest of the night. When I rose the next morning, she was nowhere around. The sunlight somehow penetrated the dreary insides of the inn and there, to one side in the main room, I saw the little bell and mirror and the pine branches. I stopped. Took a deep breath. What was it had happened that night?”

It has been years now since the man told me this story.

I had once picked a flower in that old, overgrown garden but my love had not been so obsessive, so possessive, so overwhelmingly consuming. We had a good life, not the disaster that befell such an extreme woman.

(c) 2014, James L. Secor

The Unimaginable Unmanageable World

I’ve been listening to Lettice Rowbotham Virtuoso Violinist and in the process, because neither YouTube nor Google can see their way to give you just exactly what you want, I’ve been listening to spin-offs and derivatives who fit nicely into the not-quite-so-good-but-easier-to-deal-with performers and came upon the worst of the lot. It is perhaps not so surprising as the maker of it all was modern Disney Corporate Empire. And the performer? Tyler Davis. With the background music–not counting the roiling sea waves crashing against the rocks–there is only one thing that stands out: it is a rip off of Lettice Rowbotham’s musical versatility, even to sounding like her 2014 Britain’s Got Talent performances. What is this raping of art? The violin cover for some one of The Pirates of the Caribbean movies and sound track. An American virtuoso would sue; Lettice just laughs her ass off because, in the end, what the hell else is this second rate, coat tail rider going to amount to? Disney’s hired nig? They might have the money to buy Lettuce–not Lettice–but they’d never figure out just what the fuck to do with real art. (Once, many years ago at the hand–and mind–of the mustachioed one they would have known and capitalized on it. But today. . .? Let’s look at the bias, the cultural perversion, the common denominator world, the cliché conservative-based values that never ever existed anyway production perpetrated on a mindless–so perceived–mass.)

Right? Well, I searched for the most NASAL SOUNDING INSTRUMENTS and Google got me to “the saddest sounding instruments.” Not only a lack of imagination but a lack of the ability to read and produce understanding. This is called “an inability to comprehend.” I’m very familiar with this psychological syndrome–that the DSM idiot consortium do not recognize–as it is a major component of my migraines: you understand every SINGLE word and not one bit of it all makes the least sense. Hi, Google!

I just watched the most amazing Western with and by Jack Nicholson. 1966. Ride in the Whirlwind. It had no real ending, just the guy riding, riding, riding into the sunset, further and further along and for what? To what? Which is the point. The movie was about people stuck in a situation who have limited options open to them for survival. This was no vehicle for some lame, timely real world situation; no cliché bad vs good or getting richer = less human and more greedy so that money, making money, becomes evil; no perpetuation of a shallow old rundown supposed ethic because “that’s always the way it’s been.” This movie did deal with obsessive behavior and vigilante justice, and the wide generalization and jumping to conclusions that this kind of justice creates and thrives on. The movie was three guys caught in a bad situation and people jumping to conclusions and there being nothing left but to break the law to escape, to get away from an unjust situation. No special effects. Nice to see a movie that is a movie, about people, rather than a movie that’s only raison d’être is as a vehicle for special effects. The movie was about people first and foremost, people reacting in context–with context, of which there is little these days and apparently people were seeing 50 yrs ago. And people who bring things down upon themselves. The stage coach robbers were not violent, they did not steal horses–the sin of sins in the West–and they did not kill anybody. There was no strong box to steal. But vigilante justice labeled them, in their affront to their good person, good name and society, violent killers. Three drifters get caught in the middle of it all; two die. An innocent man is killed solely due to  vigilante justice mentality and narrow conclusion-making. Just to say, if you’re in the vicinity of bad guys, you are bad guys.

The upcoming election is a choice of tyrants. One tyrant is angry and irrational and downright ugly and if you don’t do what he wants you to do, he will kill you. The other tyrant will trap you with pleasant words but is, nevertheless, interested in control and “what I want.” I love the conspiracy over Hillary post collapsing in NYC. No conspiracy at all; but, yes, a double was used, not an unheard-of thing. Centuries old. It was easy to see, even from the distance allotted, that the “new” Hillary was not as age-old, wrinkled or jowled as the real Hillary. There is no way she could have had plastic surgery and had it heal in such a short span of time. And, then, suddenly, the old Hillary appears. This is only upsetting for those considering getting her into office.

The fact that the Houses of Congress are not moving to do the work of government and won’t because of ideological narrow-mindedness is apparently of no account to people who have, it must be admitted, been cut out of the deal, forgetting, it seems, that without people they have nothing. As an old Chinese aphorism has it: People are the root of the country, food is the first necessity of people.

I think it’s no wonder, with the floating propaganda of fear and the socio-cultural demands on behavior and belief–falling into line–that I meet so many narrow minded, shallow, ignorant, fear- and paranoia-filled, ugly people. Lots of psychological projection with absolutely no insight and no ability to make judgments–probably because Americans have no context, not in the world, not in the country, not in their individual lives. Everything is isolated and “this moment.” Lots of self-conceit resulting in assumptions and presumptions that ruin the lives of others. Opinionators. Judgmentalists. Americans are like the vigilante justice riders of Ride in the Whirlwind. . .and they are all derivative and unimaginative and just fucking inhuman. Like our modern day heroes: old heroes who are as violent and destructive as the villains; heroes who must fight amongst themselves to see who is the most best heroic blah-blah-blah. And, so, a nation of people alone, people who do not relate or work with other people. When the country collapses, no one will come in and take it over; there won’t be anything worth taking over. It’ll be a mess. Hell!–manufacturing is already elsewhere, manufacturing and technology. Elsewhere. Who wants a country filled up with ugly people, people who are fighting amongst themselves and have no goal in sight–other than dictating that all do it “this” way. People filled up with propaganda and perverted ethics. Chaos. Anarchy. And when it’s exhausted. . .it’d be nice to believe that something worthwhile will grow out of the mess; but probably not. Not in the long run. When you’ve got a country full of ugly people, how can you “export” anything other than ugliness? We are living in a Twilight Zone world.

I’ve met a bunch of people who don’t read. They can read. They choose not to. And behind their clean faces and pretty voices, they are fucking ugly and stupid. Ignorant: when you choose not to read, you choose ignorance. Not only are we told not to read, that it’s not necessary; we’re flooded with passive news and entertainment telling us “this is the way it is,” whether it is or not. We spend our lives in front of a computer–cellphone/iPhone/tablet/android–to the exclusion of the world we live in, as if all knowledge is there. Well, even if it were, no one would be able to access all of it. Same for a library. Library? What’s a library? Maybe no more than that place with those books that our teachers made us hate. That school made us hate. That society likes us to hate. If we fucking knew anything, we’d be dangerous (to the society-makers).

Fear runs society. All sorts of fears, most all fictions. Ergo, fear is used to control us. Adage: if someone is trying to control you, you can be they’re lying to you. Here’s a good one, the latest: Zika made it all the way to Florida from Brazil without infecting anyone in any country inbetween, nor the airlines personnel. AND it’s “reported” in various states, none of them contiguous, and none of the states inbetween has had any incidence. How is it, too, that so many women are becoming pregnant and getting sucked by mosquitoes that are indistinguishable from any other mosquito and their babies are dying in instants of time? As in. . .I got fucked today, I got pregnant today, I got my blood sucked by a mosquito and my baby microcephalic died yesterday. Oh my god! There’s a mosquito in my room! I’m going to die of Zika virus! And the bird flu that was supposed to be a worldwide pandemic and perhaps 26 people died? WHO neglected to tell the world that that flu was only transmitted between people, not bird to people (to death). And the African Army ants that were rampaging through Mexico to Texas–whatever happened to that fiction? How about the invasion of the body snatchers? The fear of ISIS, a group with no land, no home, no Air Force, nothing but media savvy who, at its greatest, equaled the population of Kansas and controlled a territory almost the size of Pennsylvania. Yup! Those assholes are going to come over here and wipe us out, take over the whole world. The DoD, the Pentagon need more and more threats in order to validate their increased budget and to practice using their new killing machines. And then there’s Alex Jones and conspiracy theories. What kind of drugs is he taking?! It does not help that we are surveilled in every aspect of our lives–and we let it happen. We believe giving up our liberties makes us safer. Yeah. Safer for the rise of tyrants–which includes Mitch McConnell, the penultimate Do-Nothing Machine. He would never be included in Romper Room’s Do-Bee Club. AND. . .when it comes to reality, we deny it.

Oh, lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz. . .




The Color Grey

 The Color Grey by Liu Bushi and James L. Secor

I liked living with my grandmother, very much a part of my culture, a culture in which both parents work, not so much because with only one working there would only be poverty but because money is God. The people in my country do not know what to do with themselves if they are not working, filling up their lives with work; there is no understanding of free time or its value, only that it does not make one money. Money, for the worker, was freedom and, occasionally, a showy opulence so satisfying that they did not bother over the fact that the bosses and the owners were thousands of times more monied and in possession of free time. Quite ironic considering the founding of worker ownership, sharing of the profits of labor and egalitarianism–a concept often confused with equality–was supposed to rid the world–our world–of this inequity. At any rate, it is because of this obsession with work and money that I lived with my grandmother, for people who are obsessed with acquiring money–equated to a better life–have no time to raise the socially obligatory child. My parents cheated and had a second child–unfortunately, even in these modern times, another girl, a boy being still seen as a better get. Only in a small way is this desire for a boy child related to passing on the family name. Passing on the family name, the man’s family name, is an out-dated tradition, for there is no more social standing to be got by name recognition. A social myth. A hangover from former times that denigrated women, for with a girl child, like me and my mother, the family line is considered to have ended, as if women have ceased to exist. Society is a cruel beast. Cruel and duplicitous. Ironic. But with the present easy flow of money, money that no one had before, the irony is extended: there are a plethora of beggars on the streets. This was supposed to cease. I look at people spending money and acquiring things without a care in the world and I see the Roaring Twenties of America, the fury and the sham and the inevitable end when, once again, everyone is poor. Then, then the family name becomes something to hold onto, an empty icon of comfort and substance, a reminder of better days–the good old days. The fact that men do make more money than women and rise far easier in society will be meaningless as well. There will be true equality, as there always is with poverty. Yet men will hang onto their superiority even while the social obligations that go with it drive them to ruination. Martyrdom? The ironies never cease.

The emotional involvement of parents with their children is curtailed because of this rush to get rich. In truth, the harder truth is that the open expression and public show of emotion is frowned upon in my world, so much so that there are set-in-stone social behaviors and means of expression governing behavior with others: we simply do not know how to interact with people, we have no interpersonal skills. If it isn’t done this way, it is inappropriate, wrong, unacceptable–incomprehensible such that a response is impossible to come by, other than to label the person a rustic, a rogue, a reprobate. We are naturally reticent to show our emotions, probably due to a long history of oppressive authority and its attendant secret police. But added to this is the belief, not without foundation, that people will use this type of information against us in order to get ahead, more money and/or status. There is, however, another element to this. That is that with the coming of the new regime, emotion was given a bad name; it was taboo. Emotion was considered selfish and a travesty against the socialist state. Emotion, a public display of affection, was seen as being unequal, as if to say, “We are better than you.” All of this life and living had to be expressed in set phrases in a language ill-fitted to the job: no language and no expression of life and living is discursive. But lives depended on not showing affection. Such oppression had its effects on interpersonal relationships over time such that the dry, cold, stilted language became also the standard behavior within the family, within the home. Everyone in their place, everyone equal. My grandmother and, to a certain extent my parents, grew up in such an environment. I grew up with this. Though my time is looser, the pressure and archaic behaviors are still with us.

The only exception to outward shows of emotion is old people. Culturally revered but socially written off, forgotten, useless but for taking care of grandchildren, assuming there was more than one; many people in the city did not cheat, a combination of law and the bother of raising children–birthing and feeding them initially being a necessity but, too, a loss of income. By law, if a married couple were found breaking the law of one child per household, they both would lose their jobs, a surefire way to increase poverty and death. . .in the name of population control and the betterment of the state. No one is above the state. As soon as mom is able to go back to work, the child is sent off to grandma’s house, often enough not to be seen again but for visits until old enough to go to school. Not kindergarten, Primary school. The school system here is the great socializing force in the country. School squeezes you into a box of propriety. Even more than proper behavior, proper thinking is beat into you. The amount you are supposed to know is pre-determined and the teacher’s word is sacrosanct. How I survived with any semblance of personhood and mental agility is a mystery. My grandmother only went as far as middle school, there being no reason to educate a girl any further, as much because of social class pressure as a girl in high school much less in college was foolish, girls being intellectually wanting. My grandmother was from the country, a working class town. Opportunities were built into the system and working class country people had a certain ceiling and a limited view of the possible.

Until I was 10, I thought my grandmother was my mother and that my father had died. When my actual parents came to take me away, I refused to go with these strangers, not for one minute believing them and cursing my grandmother for selling me. After a torturous time, I adjusted to my real parents, whom I rarely interacted with anyway, as I only saw them at breakfast and dinner, and to this day there is no love lost between us. I am only respectful because society requires it. So stressful is this that I rarely go home or talk to them on the phone. I used to run away and try to find my way back to my grandmother’s, a difficult task until later when I paid attention enough to remember the way, for the family did return for visits upon occasion. Grandma was often ill with one thing or another. Nothing serious. This was nothing new. When I lived with her, she had the same complaints and she would occasionally take to her bed. A neighbor lady would come over and take care of things. Auntie Jun I called her. An entirely different sort of person: lively and quite talkative and colorful like a peacock. She had no children of her own. She was everyone’s auntie, often spending her days at the park watching over and playing with the children.

I never felt safer or more comfortable than with my grandmother–even into my 20’s when I went off to college, more of a means of satisfying my whim, as my parents saw it, and hoping I’d outgrow my foolishness in believing I could achieve anything, girls only being fodder for marriage and the begetting of a son, a grandson. They failed and I succeeded. I’m not accorded as much recognition as my male peers in the teaching profession. I get around this by hiding myself in my specialty and shining on my own, only by-the-by gaining the university any notice, which is really what we’re there for or else simply to maintain order, being a kind of warm body. I was not good at this. I brought undo notice to myself but as I had a name for myself via my specialty the deans could do little about it. The more I do, the more I must hide myself away in my little corner of academia so as not to show up my male peers, so childish their schoolyard jealousies and power-up manipulations. Do they ever grow up?

I did get married, though it was considered foolish and socially undignified because I married for love and passion. Neither set of parents would talk to us–until we had their first grandchild. We cheated and had two children, children that we took the time to raise, showering them with the parental version of the love we shared. But this story is not about me. It is about my grandmother.

My grandmother’s name was Gu Ting. Her friends called her Tingting. She had a few foreign friends who called her Montana–lord knows why and lord knows how she met them. As a toddler, I thought these foreigners were monsters, their faces were so ugly and unlike real people’s faces. I would run and hide under the table until they’d gone. Grandma told me that I overcame my fear and tears because she made sure her foreign friends hugged her in greeting, believing–rightly–that if Ma can embrace these monsters, they must not be monsters. She told me she learned this from a foreign friend who said that in his country this was accomplished by a kiss on the cheek, something no self-respecting Chinese would ever do. I did not learn these and other things of her life until I was in college and in the years thereafter, for Grandma, for all her leniency in raising me, was not an open woman. Indeed, she was stiff as a board; her movements were not loose and free, I guess is the word. She had no rhythm. She appeared to be fending off the world, controlling herself, as if something, some emotion or wild animal inside her might break free. A continual reining-in. Do not get me wrong, she was a pleasant person and never imposed such corralling on me. She set boundaries and as long as I abided by them I was fine. I tested, of course, and paid the consequences. But grandma never showed any malice. She was not strict as so many parents and grandparents, ever vigilant for some bad behavior and ever ready to punish. Their standards were more confining than my grandma’s. Perhaps this is why those children misbehaved so much. But for all that, Grandma did not go out much, just to do the shopping and go to the pharmacy. Otherwise, she stayed at home looking out the window. And she always dressed in grey. No black. No white. Just grey. Except that as she got older and suffered more and more illnesses until she couldn’t really care for herself, I found in caring for her that she wore lacy black underwear and a black satin chemise that would have shamed any high class courtesan or stripper.

“Grandma! How can you wear such things?!”

“They make me feel good.” I waited for her to continue. “They remind me of someone.”


“Hardly,” she scoffed. “Give me my nightgown and fold those carefully. Hide them in the third drawer in the wardrobe.”



She stared at the mirror and her eyes glazed over. I went to get her white cambric nightgown, another surprise. White. Cambric, an expensive fabric. When I returned, Grandma had returned, in a dreamy sort of way, to her usual withdrawn self, though she was staring at herself in the looking glass. She was flat breasted, what we call fried egg breasts: brown aureole, nipple. Grandma did not wear a bra. My mother was not much bigger, judging from the bras she wore, so where did my breasts come from? A full B-cup. I did not have to wear a padded bra. Holding onto the footboard, she stood up and I saw she had quite a bit of pubic hair, an anomaly for a Chinese. In the communal showers at school, I never saw so much hair. I stared at her.

“Please. My gown.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

As the gown slid over her head and arms, she mumbled, “Don’t call me ma’am, Keke.”

“I’m sorry.”

“That’s okay, dear,” she said when her head appeared. “We all forget who we are sometimes. . .or we should. Help me to bed, Keke. I’m tired.” I did as she asked. “Give me a kiss goodnight like a good little girl.” I did, turned out the light and quietly pulled the door to.

I stood in the hallway marveling at what I’d seen: my Grandma in sexy underclothing! And how could she feed–if indeed she did–her child, my mother, with such breasts? Would a man find such breasts–or lack thereof–attractive? If so, would it be because her figure was so girlish?

“Go away child. You’ve already seen more than you should.”

* * *

Always in grey. And always sitting in her creaky wooden rocker looking out the window as if waiting for someone to return, for someone to show up. There was nothing outside that window but concrete houses and concrete yard spaces and concrete roadway. I suppose, when she moved in, this was considered modern progress. The four-room house was concrete, concrete over brick. We still build like this. Funny how different generational eyes see the world differently and then, as people grow older, see it differently again. House to house concrete meant no more mud to wade through and none drug in by children and cleaner dust. The women of the neighborhood swept up around their houses and the street before, carefully scooping up the dirt and depositing it in the area trash pile that mouldered some until the garbage men came by, maybe once or twice a week. There didn’t seem to be much of a schedule, much of a hurry or much of a desire to do a good job. There was always something left in the garbage cubicle itself if not in the road. Things have changed a bit, though nowadays with the neighborhood being mostly old folk, there’s not as much garbage. The public WC isn’t cleaned as often, either, but most people have gotten their own little outhouse–some, an actual in-house WC. Not Grandma. She kept to that outhouse outside on the balcony; she did have an in-house shower room, about 1.2 metre squared, which made the ceiling seem miles higher than it was. Just a concrete box with a faucet, a showerhead and a drain. Grandma had two towel racks put in, one very low for me. I still use it when I am there. We must have showered together but I have no recollection of this. I do, to this day, however, enjoy the smell and feel of another wet body–what a surprise it was to my husband when I joined him in the shower! We shower together often, whether we have sex or not, though I must admit we do make love more often than not. I prefer the Western “make love” to the Chinese “have sex” as our way of expressing this most intimate and passionate of embraces takes all of the humanity out of it, making sex no more than a passionless animal rutting. What my foreign friends call “just a fuck.” This fits, though, with my Grandma’s era; I hear still the phrase “have sex” amongst the youth. Difficult it is to override cultural imperatives. Indeed, society still pressures an arranged marriage but with a twist: the girl can turn down the suggestion until she is satisfied with the suggested man. There are, too, more love matches. Mine was a love match. My parents’ was arranged, as, of course, was my Grandmother’s. As I say, I never knew my Grandfather. This was, in the matter of memories or emotional development, not a loss at all.

My actual Father was very strict and very disappointed that I was a girl. There was not a day that passed that, if he did not ignore me, he criticized me, often in the most abusive language. I did well in school until about age 10 when I began to live with my parents and began to hate school; my grades fell and I got into alot of trouble. I think this was because of the increased squeezing of the life out of me, the freedom and creativity, in order for me–and everyone, though my classmates seemed more amenable and accepting of the pressure–to fit into some preconceived mold of what I ought to be and how I ought to act. I think, too, it was because of the prior 10 years of my life when I was always successful with Grandma; when you are never allowed to succeed, you generally do not. My grades in college were not that good, either, and it was some time before I learned that my father’s teachings of failure were not correct. Although the beatings stopped during high school, the cascade of verbal abuse increased. My mother made up for it out of my father’s sight. She told me once that she could not stop him, though she wanted to, because she was his wife and it was her duty to be loyal. All through middle school and into high school, I only found true solace with my Grandma. She never said much. She just left me to my own devices, listened to me and sat with me. For some reason I cannot quite grasp, this is what I remember the most: sitting alone with Grandma. Touching her and having her touch me. I became very calm at those times. I know I must have gone into a reverie, for occasionally I woke to her stroking my hair, whispering wishes and with tears in her eyes. I did not break into her elsewhereness–well, perhaps it was her nowness, the coming out of her grey shell and moving about like a snail from its shell, horns attentive to the least fluctuation of conscious intervention. It wasn’t until years later that she became audible and included me in this other world, more by way of telling me things or asking rhetorical-suggestive questions. It was during my senior year of college that I learned of both her physical hardening and her grey exterior. Still, it was a surprise to find her wearing sexy black underwear that first time I had to help undress her. More than once she caught me caressing the chemise.

“Feels good, doesn’t it?”

I started and froze. “I’m sorry,” I whispered.

“Not at all. You should buy some yourself. Or perhaps you should wait til the right time.” She paused and her voice took on the far-away quality I was so familiar with. “There is a right time, you know. . .”

“When is the right time, Grandma?”

“When you fall in love. You’ll find just what it is he likes.”

“You loved Grandpa?”

“Certainly not! Come. Put on my gown. Then you may lie next to me and we’ll fall asleep together. We used to do that, you know. Fall asleep together. Mostly,” she paused as I slipped her gown over her head, “out near the window.”

When she was comfortable, she told me to turn out the light and patted the bed next to her.

“Wait. I’ve got to find you in the dark.”

“You didn’t used to have trouble.”

She opened her arms to me. “That’s my girl. Do you remember those times I would tell you that we could write a story of love?” I snuggled closer. “Well. . .I’m going to tell you a tale of love. . .” Her voice trailed off. The darkness of the room closed more tightly against us. Around us. Closed about us and took us into its arms, its world full to the brim of the solitude of people, the lives they spill out into its vast depths, depths full of acceptance, of silent approval, depths that can only give back to the one with hands full of the water of life of so many. Only the storyteller has the key. And that storyteller can only unlock her own roomful of life. Full of life. A private and safe place. Grandma opened that door to me. Her door. Her room. Her darkness-held secrets.

“I do not have such good posture because I was taught to sit up and stand erect. I am hard and sharp in my movements because of Grandpa. Your Grandpa.”

“He’s dead, isn’t he?”

“Yes. I suppose so. Now he may be. But he hasn’t always been. Just as I have not always been trapped in this. . .hard body.”


“Shhh! Listen to my story, Keke. You have seen my secret clothing, you might as well have the rest of my life. You are the only one to know. I cannot speak to everyone. Anyone. It is hard for me to talk, you know. Most people have nothing behind their words. There is. . .too much in me. . .”

A pause in time in the dark lasts forever. I held my breath and waited, interminable darkness and the lost room floating around me, my grandma behaving strangely. I could feel her tighten against me. Something was trying to get out. Something was trying to stop it. Ghosts and spirits and demons float about at night. Could grandma be possessed? With a huge out-rush of breath, like a dam breaking, cracking, the first rush of water spurting out, grandma spoke.

“There was no love lost between your grandpa and me. We married  because we were supposed to. We had sex because we were supposed to. We had a child as we were supposed to. Your mother. And then we had nothing to do with each other. Not that that’s what I wanted. I wanted something else. I expected something else. I expected love or at least the development of a similar feeling over time. I expected care. I expected respect. I expected loyalty. I got none of this. Of course. It was an arranged marriage in a time when emotional attachment was still a shameful, selfish thing.” Grandma paused. She gripped my hand tightly, lifting it and patting it down again and again on her thigh, not quite able to smash the dam. Her life could only squeeze itself out, this life she had boarded up in order to live. She whispered, “It is not. It is not. Do not forget that, Keke. It is not. It is the most human thing about us. Emotion is humanity. And when it is dented. . .” She sighed. “What I discovered was that I was chattel. I was social status. I was no more than a baby-maker. All of the formality and expense was a front. An empty case, for when I opened it there was nothing. I have put myself in there instead. I am all crunched up and cannot straighten myself out. You see, humanity was stolen from me. He might as well have gotten one of those blow-up dolls for all I mattered. There was no care or consideration. He spoke to me roughly. Ordered to do this or that. He handled me roughly, only touching me if I got in his way or when he wanted sex. Then, he just mounted me and pounded me until he spent himself, lay atop me panting for awhile and then rolling off to immediately go to sleep. I know you do not understand this but. . . when you have sex. . .you will want more than just sex. The animal arousal and slaking. As I did. His body touched mine and he pushed himself inside me, hurting me, but he never touched me. I closed my eyes and held my breath until he finished. Every time. Why was I alive? This isn’t the way it was supposed to be. I was just a thing for him to use. I was left burning inside, not just the first night, the night he took my virginity, but every night thereafter. For a long time, I thought there was something wrong with me. I felt no satisfaction. I felt an anvil inside me, a weight that wanted to be smashed with a hammer so that the pieces would explode and fill me with piercing joy. . .but it never did. I’d been lied to. The stories and things people had told me. Lies. No joy. No burst of passion. Luckily, while I was pregnant, he did not touch me. For the baby, he said. But that was just a handy excuse. He had done his duty by me. I was no further use. All I wanted was to be touched, to be held, to be caressed. I wanted to feel human. He did not like me or respect me. He would come home smelling of another woman. And then it was the smell of one woman. The same woman until the day he left. Yes, child, he left. As soon as your mother graduated high school and was accepted to university, he left. His obligatory duty was done. There was no need to continue the pretense of duty to me or have his way with me because he’d not been able to see his woman whore bitch cunt fuck.” She beat her thigh with each word. Horrid words coming from her mouth. It was awhile before she was able to overcome her furious, gasping breathing. I held onto her as she shuddered back to her usual tightness. “I suppose it was a blessing. I clenched up, I steeled myself every time he touched me. I clenched up whenever he did not come home until late. I clenched up against the insulting, disrespectful life I was given. I could not express my anger and hatred. It would have been socially inappropriate. . .and I would have hated myself. Behaving in such an unacceptable way. I was his wife. This was my lot. I hid the hurt and the shame. I turned to stone. For protection. Still, somewhere beneath that hard exterior, was the belief that I was at fault. For what I was not sure. But I must have done something wrong, I told myself. Society told me. Guilt. Unknown guilt. Eating like a gluttonous bug. You know what you’ve done wrong, it would say to me. Like my father. You know what you’ve done wrong. You just think about it. I thought and I thought. But I couldn’t find it. I hardened to that, too, for I did not want to admit a wrong when I felt so wronged. I was wronged. I was battered. I was abused. By the time I figured this out, that the man I was told to marry was a bad man, it was too late to become unbound. He was gone. Good. . .no more touching, no more abuse. But no more touching of any kind. Even if it is an unwelcome touch, it is a touch, it is notice that you are there and someone is paying attention to you. But suddenly there was total emptiness. Total silence. Just me in this bond that I respected. I could not break my promise even though the bond, the social contract, was hollow. My respect, my belief. . .oh, my! Never to know love. . .I brought it upon myself because I believed what I’d been told. I believed society and. . .I had my duty. I could not abandon my duty!” She hugged me to her and stroked my hair for a long time. She played with it. She gathered it up and held it to her nose and breathed deeply. “Your hair is so soft. So soft. . .like his hair. . .”

“Like whose?”

“What’s that?”

“You said my hair was soft like his.”

“I did?”


“Yes. . .perhaps I did. Perhaps I did. . .”

I waited awhile. The darkness billowed up and I felt I was lost in a cloud I did not understand–or belong in. I could feel its touch and its hush. I was only 22. What was I doing standing in the breath of this great opening?

“Grandma?” I whispered.

“I did. I brought it upon myself. That horrid marriage. For once I had love. . .I held love. . .it was all I wanted and I ran from it.”


“I’m a coward.”

“Grandma, that’s no excuse.”

“No, perhaps not. But it’s true all the same. I was overwhelmed by the warmth, the heat that flooded into me. And the need for him. The need to have my tingling nerve endings stilled and thrilled. The need to have him inside me–I imagined this. He was so big against me, I almost felt him inside me. I felt him filling up my emptiness. I felt. . . how frightening it was to want a man so much. To want him touching me. I was so young. To want to hold onto him. The smell of him. I was frightened. I think I was ashamed of having these feelings. How could I cope with this drowning passion? Lord, child, I thought I was losing myself. And that. . .and that. . .” she was trembling against me. “Oh, tian! I ran.” She took a deep breath. “This is what it’s all about. This that I ran from. Running from what you most want. What a fool. He wrote me letters. Poetry. He opened up his soul. He threw himself away to me. Coaxed me to love him. I believe he was crying. Anyway, he said I had stolen his life from him but there was more. I threw them all away and then went through the garbage and found them and put them in a box and locked it. That was the end of any chance of love.” She cleared her throat. “He said the same thing. Last chance for love. So you see? I am first hard as a board because of your grandpa and second because of my own cowardice.”

“Is he dead? This man?”

“I expect so. He was older than me. We would have never been able to marry anyway. Older. . .the wrong sort. . .but I’d have had the time of love. Something real and human to hold onto in the face of social obligation. I’d have known what it was to feel like a woman. I hurt him terribly. . .and I am ashamed.”

My Grandmother did not speak again.

That night I let her voice and her memories fade as an ethereal atman and purusha and buddhi and jiva opening up into the darkness, the darkness of the boxed-in room. There were no stars there. No moon. But as she fell into sleep, she relaxed her hold on herself and on me. This darkness held her memories. This was her humanity chamber. Private. Silent. All hers.

Grandma was cremated when she died. They said she burned brightly, a flash of fire like a dry plank of wood.

I have her letters. They are still in the box, locked. I don’t have the wherewithal–the courage?–to open it and disturb her memories. There are times, though, when the passion with my husband is so great, so overwhelming, that I choke and cry and want to run away so I can find my breath, my bearing, for I am lost to them. There is no me. Me is lost. And I remember grandma and, tears in my eyes, I drown in that vortex for her. Because this is what it’s all about, grandma. Can you feel it? Can you feel me? I am full to overflowing. There is enough love here for you, too. At these times, I am loving not only for myself but for grandma’s loss and the loss of so very many others who only have dreams.

(c) James L. Secor, 2015