Category Archives: Short Stories

The Lotus

Lotus

The Lotus has its roots in the mud

Grows up through the deep water

And rises to the surface

It blooms into perfect beauty and purity in the sunlight

It is like the mind unfolding into perfect joy and wisdom

-The Buddha

She grew up an outsider and took pride in her ability to survive. No one really knew her. No one except me, of course. I knew her intimately from the first day I came into her life. I met her when she was very young, and I never left her side.

I was there when her father yelled and said that, for all her Mother’s tears, she was the one to blame. She told me he must be right. Why else would he accuse her?

I was there when her mother called her a liar, and her brother said it too. She pleaded. She proved them wrong. They said she should still be sorry. She begged me to explain for what.

I was there when she was sick and her Mother cared for her. She confessed that she loved to be sick. Despite the pain, she was happier. She couldn’t be bad if she was ill.

I was there when she screamed and punched the wall. “It isn’t fair!” she cried. Then she drowned the pillow with her tears. “Why am I a terrible person?” I stood and watched her pain.

I was there when they took her away. They said that she was sick. They said she needed care. But she wasn’t happy this time. “I am not sick,” she protested. Then sadly to me, “Maybe I’m just bad.”

I was there when she left. “You’ll never make it on your own,” they warned. Her face was dark, but her eyes glinted, “Watch me.” She turned her back and I followed her out.

I was there when her first lover began to call. She always did his bidding. When he called her names she was silent. “He’s right you know,” she whispered, and never shed a tear.

I was still there when the cops showed up and she told them what he’d done. “They won’t believe me,” she confided. But they did. On her way to court she fretted, “He will speak and everyone will know I’m bad.” But he never even showed.

The gavel struck. An advocate showed her a paper and said, “You’re a victim.” She stood up straight and tall. She looked him in the face and stated with defiance, “Not anymore.”

On the courthouse steps that day she asked me to stay. “But you need me,” I protested. “No I don’t,” was her reply. I stood, alone and unwanted, as she walked away strong.

So, here I am. Waiting for someone new. My name is guilt. Who are you?


Reassembling the American Dream

AmericanGirl

“Music…will help dissolve your perplexities and purify your character and sensibilities, and in time of care and sorrow, will keep a fountain of joy alive in you.”

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer*

The fires of hate burn hot, choking us with the thick smoke of confusion. Who can we trust when our neighbors are killing our nation’s heroes – when we are killing each other? What happened to the hope for a better life than what our ancestors left behind? Burdened with guilt and resentment from a dream shattered by fear, how does a nation reassemble the cultural pieces and resuscitate hope?

These questions have no simple answers, but I found a start – the beginning of a path – on a summer evening on a farm in Auburn, Washington. A small ensemble from the Auburn Symphony Orchestra was performing sunset chamber music that evening, and as it was July, the theme was American Heritage. A small covered stage had been set up in an open meadow surrounded by centennial trees. An antiquated barn served as a quaint backdrop for the musicians while the eager audience of about two hundred assembled on the grass with lawn chairs and picnics.

The performers began with Dvorak’s American String Quartet, a piece composed by Dvorak who, during his time in America, captured the diverse and native flavor of a newly born American culture. More than just exhibiting the perseverance of the American working class in his unique compositions, Dvorak exposed the spirit and unique voices of the Americans whose dreams, freedoms and very lives were being denied them because of hate, fear and greed. This evening the same problems faced a new generation, and they turned to the same skillful artist, whose music transcended human indecency more than a century ago, to begin their retrospective musical tour of American heritage and their search for the missing American Dream.

As the strings began with the first classic notes of Dvorak’s American String Quartet I became intrigued watching the audience. My attention first wandered to the young couple sitting in the back feasting on tofu, strawberries and cheese. The boy, who was of Asian descent, politely offered his African-American lover each Tupperware filled with cleanly prepared food before setting it aside. She thanked him with bright smiles that crinkled her nose and pushed her glasses up while she swayed happily back and forth to the rhythm of the music.

A little further forward sat a family of women, three generations, from the grandmother to the granddaughters. They all sat straight and tall, even on the ground. Each daughter’s jet-black hair was cut into a perfect bob. All eyes were focused on the stage. Next to them, a woman sat in a wheelchair near a picnic table. She also sat up straight and proud. But in addition to her pride, she also wore a benevolent smile as a permanent accessory.

Lying back as the strings finished their final notes, I looked up at the sky framed by trees. A group of birds high in the treetops were arguing and flying about. They were frequently in time with the music, however, so I imagined it was a bird ballet just for me. All too soon, the piece was over, and the dancers were once again bickering birds.

Next was played a compilation of American folk music by a bass and violin. The music had an international twist that left one wanting to belly dance in a barn with a rabbi. The piece was met with smiles all around. A little girl in front of me with porcelain hands like a doll, accented by a small beaded bracelet and a white bow nestled in golden curls giggled and twirled to the Arabian Nights’ twist on Oh! Susannah! The giggles were not reserved for the children, however; a woman of considerable age, sitting in an American flag lawn chair, with perfectly permed hair and the face of a fairy godmother, giggled along with the four-year-old child beside her.

Sadly, intermission was soon upon us, and the music ceased for a time. I seized the opportunity to explore the farm. I discovered that the Mary Olson farm has been a cradle of American hope since its birth in 1879. Converted from a logging mill, it was purchased by Swedish immigrants Alford and Mary Olson.

The Olsons, and their children after them, maintained the more than sixty-acre subsistence farm until the death of the Olson’s last surviving child, Anna, in 1971 – ninety-three years after the Olsons first purchased it. During that time the family had survived four wars (WWI, WWII, The Korean War and the Vietnam War), the Great Depression, 19 presidents and an unprecedented shift in technology. While the family stubbornly maintained the agrarian lifestyle they were accustomed to, they did not embody the conservative isolationist stereotype usually associated with generationally rural families.

Pictures and remains of buildings show that during WWII, when Japanese-Americans were being shipped to camps because of national fear, the Olsons showed compassion. Many of these families were forced out of their homes with nowhere to store their belongings. Everything they owned and had worked for was lost to them. When they returned they would be forced to start all over – every precious memory and heirloom gone forever. The Olsons provided storage for Japanese-American neighbors so that these Americans could maintain hope that they still had a life and a dream to come back to. The same dream the Olsons came from Sweden in search of.

After 1971, the City of Auburn eventually purchased the farm and it is now a renovated historical site where community members can explore local history. But the farm is not just about history. New memories, new stories and new hope are still being created there. A hope I had been witnessing in the eyes of the captivated audience of all ages and backgrounds as they shared in the pleasures of the “universal language”, and a hope I continued to witness as the 1812 Overture began after intermission. A musician dressed like Mark Twain had attached balloons to the front of the stage and was now brandishing a cowbell and a popgun. As the overture reached its inevitable and infamous climax he rang the bell to the delight and laughter of the whole crowd, and then, with the help of a nervous assistant, began popping balloons to simulate cannon-fire.

While this pleased everyone present, one person was particularly enjoying herself. A little girl got up and began to dance in the open grass throwing her arms into the air and spinning around in circles. She had neither dark skin nor white and her beautiful walnut hair flared gracefully as she spun. She smiled without reserve and danced as if everyone was about to join her.

As the performers moved into their final gentle farewell piece the girl disappeared back into the peaceful crowd. Sitting in the grassy field, watching the dragonflies bounce about in the twilight, my head resting on my husband’s warm chest as I listened to the haunting refrain of the strings as they bade adieu, I caught an illusive glimpse of that shattered national hope. Thinking back to that girl, the daughter of love between two races, dancing fearlessly to Russian music augmented by balloons and a cowbell on the farm of Swedish immigrants – I thought that surely this must be the true American Dream.

*Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German citizen that lived during WWII. He was executed shortly before the end of the war for his participation in plans to assassinate Hitler.


About Auburn Symphony Orchestra (From ASO Webpage):

In 1996, Conductor and Music Director Stewart Kershaw assembled a talented group of regional musicians to form a symphony orchestra. The fully professional Auburn Symphony has become one of the most acclaimed orchestras in the Northwest with its core of musicians from the Pacific Northwest Ballet Orchestra. Each year, the orchestra performs symphony programs and chamber ensemble concerts for classical music lovers from throughout King and Pierce Counties and beyond.

To Learn More about the Auburn Symphony Orchestra or to attend a performance click here: http://auburnsymphony.org.

Upcoming Sunset Concerts at Mary Olson’s Farm:

Magical Strings: Thursday July 23, 7pm

Cellists of Auburn Symphony Orchestra: Thursday August 6, 7pm


Innocence

Castle_Innocence

The tender spring grass was spiced with the smell of pine. Florence knew she must have a million of those pesky needles ornamenting her long, golden hair by now, but she didn’t mind. She lay on her back, her heavy damask gown spread out in feminine waves around her. A large wine red garnet accented by onyx adorned her chest and accented the smaller stones studding her waistband as it followed her hips down to an elegant V. While her head rested, supported by her two small hands, her blue eyes continued to enjoy the scene around her.

The blissful sun tripped and tumbled down the heavy-laden river. The trees above whispered among themselves about the impropriety of such a display while their little leaves, unconcerned with the serious nature of the moment, shimmered with unconcealed delight at the antics of passing clouds.

Lower to the ground tiny violet butterflies flitted from flower to flower. Florence wished she could hear the tiny faerie orchestra that must be accompanying this beautiful butterfly ballet. It would have made this moment complete. Alas, instead she was interrupted by the sound of a galloping horse.

Rupert frequently disturbed her reverie. His presence was not wholly unwelcome – though she did her utmost to convince him of the contrary whenever possible. Rupert’s spirited black stallion reared in protest as he came to a sudden stop near Florence’s sanctuary. Despite the snorting and commotion as Rupert dismounted Florence did not even deign to acknowledge his presence. In fact, this flashy entrance had become so commonplace that not even Florence’s white mare grazing nearby bothered to look up from her meal.

Rupert was instantly seated above Florence’s head. His chin rested impatiently on one knee while his dark eyes hastily searched Florence’s features for an explanation.

“What are you doing here?” he finally questioned sharply.

“I’m thinking,” Florence answered wistfully, still staring into the sky. “You should try it sometime.”

Rupert was not amused. “You shouldn’t be alone out here. What if something happened? What if the Norse happened upon you, or wolves, or…”

Florence pushed herself up with one hand, turned to her interrogator with a smile and used her other hand to re-order a few of his particularly angry curls. “I can take care of myself Rupert. Is that all you rode out here for? To lecture me on forest safety?”

“No.” Rupert returned angrily. His sword tore at the soft grass as he rose to his feet. “Though it would be nice if you listened just once.”

Florence giggled as she shook the forest floor from her hair. “The moment you start speaking sense I will be a captive audience.”

Rupert just shook his head and fetched her horse. Presenting her with the gentle mare he delivered his intended message, “My Lady, you are wanted back at the estate.”

“Why, thank you, My Lord,” Florence smiled as she alighted nimbly into the saddle. She rode with both legs gracefully draped over one side and her full skirt cascading over both saddle and mare. Rupert’s stallion was already trotting forward as Rupert leapt into the saddle to lead the way home.

Florence easily caught up to them, then pushed forward so that she led the way. Her form was that of an albatross gliding effortlessly on the wind’s current. Rupert leaned forward, sharpening his stance like a falcon before a dive. Florence’s eyes flashed with the delight of a challenge – the race was on.

She ducked under and around branches trying to gain an advantage, but surprisingly, Rupert stayed neck and neck. Once, she was convinced his horse had stumbled, but he quickly resumed his place crowding the narrow paths through the forest.

“Give up!” Florence jibed with a giggle. “You can’t win!”

“Never!” Rupert returned leaning in a little closer to his stallion’s perspiring neck. “I can’t just let you win –It’d be un-chivalrous of me.”

Florence began laughing so merrily that for a few moments Rupert actually began to gain an advantage. “Well, then I suppose I will have to beat you fair and square to preserve your honor, My Lord!”

Rupert cocked his head with a wry smile over his shoulder, “No way you can beat me!”

Florence’s laughter abated and she caught back up, “What?! You don’t think you can lose to a girl?”

It was now Rupert’s turn to laugh, “Oh, I’m sure I can lose to a girl. I’m just not going to lose to you.

Florence was about to smack Rupert with a snarky come-back when he grabbed her bridle, pulling her mare to a halt so suddenly she nearly fell off her horse.

“What’s going on?!”

“Shhhh!” he ordered forcefully, dragging her behind the wet carcass of a fallen tree. He then cautiously pointed to a glint of tempered metal through the undergrowth and a Norse crest.

“We have to get back to warn the citadel!” Florence insisted.

As she began to move her heavy dress rustled against the leaves. Rupert grabbed her arm. “Would you calm down! We need a plan before we get caught and have a ransom note sent to the citadel! In case you hadn’t noticed, they are kind of blocking our path home.”

Florence’s eyes twinkled with a mischievous delight. “Let’s take the river!”

“What!” Rupert gasped in a whisper. “Are you crazy? There are rapids between here and the citadel!”

“Come on! We’ll make a raft and tie the horses to either side.”

“Its not a raft! Its daft!

Florence hoisted her skirts and grabbed her mare’s bridle. She easily slipped among the trees like a panther. The only sound was the soft purr of her garnet that hung elegantly from her neck brushing against the ferns as she leaned over to avoid detection and the crackling of twigs under the horses hooves. Rupert followed close behind – his sword drawn and shimmering viciously in the filtered sun.

Finally, they made it to the river’s edge. Here the river moved along lazily – napping on fine silt and smooth stone. But, just around the bend it woke up energized and ready to play. Rupert could feel his body being smashed against the boulders with every piece of wood he lashed together.

“This is a terrible idea,” Rupert complained one last time. “We should stand up and fight.”

“Stand and die more like it.” Florence finished taking off her shoes and stockings and urged her horse into the river. Soon the lower quarter of her dress was afloat and a shriek escaped her – “So cold!”

“I told you!”

Finally, the raft was ready, the horses tied to it, and the intrepid travelers on board. The journey began.

The horses walked them without incident to the bend in the river, but as soon as they reached the rapids they realized they had made a vital error. As the river began to wake up and speed through the forest the raft wished to go too. The horses could slow it – but this caused the raft to lurch about and they had forgotten to bring a stick of some kind to stabilize. They were quite literally up a river without a paddle.

As the raft began to buck more wildly the horses became nervous – particularly the stallion. The mare, seeing Florence in distress, was nearing the bank trying to get to her mistress and this caused slack on the line. In addition, Florence was having a harder time staying on the raft as her heavy dress filled with water. She began shivering from the glacial water and it took all her strength to fight the weight of her jewels and water logged fabric.

The mare couldn’t take it anymore and jumped in the frolicking rapids. This caused the raft to spin a full 90 degrees; the stallion revolted – breaking his tether; the raft flipped dumping its occupants into the river, and the mare realizing her folly climbed back onto the bank dragging the remainder of the wrecked raft with her.

Rupert couldn’t figure out which way was up for the first few minutes. Eventually the river tossed him to the surface and he stole a beautiful, begrudging gasp of atmosphere. Miraculously, he still had his sword and he managed to wedge it between two boulders as he tumbled by them. Using all his strength to hold on to the hilt, he buckled his leather belt around the sword to secure himself in place.

Next, he began calling for Florence. He knew time was running out. If he couldn’t find her soon he wouldn’t find her. “Florence! Florence! Come out! This was your stupid idea! Enough already!”

He felt something brush past his leg. Reaching down he grabbed a fistful of – hair! He pulled it out of the water. It took him a few minutes to find the shivering face underneath all those matted, tangled curls, but when he did she was still smiling. “I told you we’d live!” She gloated.

He couldn’t argue with that. Using his sword they climbed out of the river together and onto the crisp, warm bank.

“Well, Florence. That was some idea,” Rupert admonished playfully as he collapsed against an inviting pine.

“Plenty more where that came from.”

“Swell…”

Florence was about to answer when a voice echoed through the woods, “Katy! Katy!”

First faint – then louder and clearer, “Katy! Its time to come inside!”

The trees disappeared. The horses were gone. Florence and Rupert sat hidden under a patio table.

“I guess I have to go,” Florence dropped her big, blue eyes to the ground. “Mom’s calling me for dinner.” Her forlorn expression, golden pigtails, and drenched summer dress were all beautifully reflected in the growing pool created by the garden hose at their feet.

“I told you that you were wanted at home. Its ok. We can play after school tomorrow,” Rupert smiled. “I’m sure we can get to the citadel this time.” Then he leaned over and quickly kissed her cheek. “See you tomorrow!”

Her eyes got even bigger than usual for a minute and then, in a fit of delighted giggling, she ran home.

Rupert stood up, put his hands in his pockets, and watched her run home with a sigh. He couldn’t wait for tomorrow’s adventures. Hopefully, she’d let him actually battle the Norse tomorrow.


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