My First Booth

There I was, all alone, with just the power of my personality and my six published books, to fill that 10 x 10 foot booth for two whole days at the Tucson Festival of Books this past weekend. Fortunately for me, I had plenty of good company.

Award-winning author/illustrator Rita Goldner came by on Saturday morning to speak about her beautiful book Orangutan: A Day in the Rainforest Canopy and to demonstrate how to draw an orangutan’s head. 

There was also my alternate ego The Absurd Naturalist, who gave a brief reading of his essays “The Well-Equipped Naturalist” and “Ten Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Garden.” Like my new hat band?

 

 

 

Best of all were the many readers and book lovers and people who simply dropped by to say hello and wish me well. Turns out, I was never alone. Why, I even made a few sales. Thanks to all for making this first booth of The Twaronite Zone an event to long remember.

For those who couldn’t make it or are now maybe having second thoughts about not buying one of my books, you can still go to my online store above and purchase signed copies (or unsigned copies, if you prefer).

Beliefs of My Mother

Abigail couldn’t help herself. Every time she looked up from the television, there it was—the dreaded picture gallery on her apartment wall. Why couldn’t the staff have put up the pictures someplace else? That way she wouldn’t have to look at them every time a commercial came on. Lately it had become like a cemetery filled with the grave markers of strangers. She had begged the attendants to take down the portraits of people she no longer remembered. But they always insisted that the pictures should remain in hopes that they might trigger her memory. Fat chance. She had looked at them hundreds of times to no avail. They were just empty faces—and real dog-faces, some of them. How could any of her relatives or friends be that ugly?           

But there was one picture that she did remember. It was a close up of a stout middle-aged woman surrounded by the multi-colored flowers of her garden. The woman’s face, though much darker than hers, reminded her of the image she saw each day in the mirror. From the wall her mother smiled back at Abigail across the years, reassuring her that at least some things are forever.           

Sometimes Abigail would talk to her mom on the wall. There you are again, Ma—out in your garden. You do love your flowers. Would you pick a bouquet for me? Maybe some zinnias, delphiniums, and dahlias, and don’t forget the sweet williams. And she could imagine her mother’s reply. Well, get off your fat ass, child, and help me pick some!

Flowers were the one thing about her mother—that and her no nonsense attitude—that Abigail could still remember. But she wished that she remembered other things.      

Like what made her mother tick? Abigail knew that her mother loved her, in her tough gentle way. But what did she believe? Was she a Democrat or a Republican, for instance? Abigail thought about that for a while. She couldn’t even remember which party she belonged to herself. It would be nice to know that much at least when all those annoying television ads came on, with their babbling heads telling her to vote for them. She didn’t give a rat’s patootie about any of them.

As another politician appeared on her TV screen, she pointed the remote at the man’s smiling face and made him disappear. Go away! she shouted. Flipping the channels till she was safely past him, she paused at a show she had often watched with fascination. Here was the same man again in a nice blue suit with a pink carnation in his lapel. He was always shouting about God or crying. This time, he was doing both. And as usual, he was asking for money. People in the audience were cheering and yelling, I believe! I believe! The show was on Sundays, because it was always announced with the words “Sunday Morning Worship with the Reverend Thomas B. Fairweather.” Was there something special about Sundays that made people believe? All days seemed the same to her.

Did her mother ever watch this show? she wondered. And did she believe in the same God?  Abigail struggled to remember any time she had seen her mother watch it. Maybe her God was on a different channel.

Abigail thought about all the other things besides God that people believe in. She remembered a show she had watched yesterday—or was it last year?—on the History Channel. It was about the American Revolution. There were a bunch of white guys in funny wigs standing around a table. She didn’t remember much of the plot, but the words “all men are created equal” stuck in her head. She thought of her mother. Did she really believe that, she wondered—that black folks were just as good as white folks? And what about women? Abigail’s mind raced. She grew slightly dizzy as she always did when too many things popped into her heat at once. Did she believe all that stuff that scientists say about people being related to chimpanzees and how in that show on the Discovery Channel everything started with a Big Bang?  

But she especially wanted to know if her mother believed in God. And if so, which God? She stared at her mother’s smiling face, looking for answers. I know you’re in there, Ma. Help me out.

There’s nothing in a person’s face, Abigail thought, that tells whether a person believes in God, or even if they’re a Democrat or a Republican. For all she knew, her mother could have believed in a God like that Hindu elephant deity she had seen on some travel channel—Ganesha or something like that. It was supposed to ride on a mouse and was considered to be the Lord of success. She looked at the dirty old dress her mother wore in the picture. Her mother didn’t look very successful, but maybe it was because she didn’t pray enough to her elephant God. How exactly are you supposed to pray to an elephant? she wondered. And that poor mouse.

Abigail turned off the TV and stared at the blank screen, trying to recall anything that her mother had ever said or done that had to do with God. But nothing came. She sat back in her rocking chair and gazed at the ceiling. Yes, now she remembered something. It was some kind of solemn occasion. There were flowers everywhere, and her mother was sitting right next to her. This time, she wasn’t smiling. There were also a lot of other people all dressed up in black outfits sitting in a dim room. They were looking at a body lying in a long wooden box on a bed of white cushions. Caked with makeup, the dead man’s face was as unfamiliar as all the other faces on her wall. Yet there was something about it. Now she remembered. It was the face in the picture next to her mother’s. The people in the room were all staring at him, as if waiting for something. They all looked sad and hungry. Then the scene shifted. She was in the kitchen of some house, and the same people were now drinking red wine and eating things from a big table as they made jokes to each other. She saw her mother putting slabs of pink stuff from the table onto her plate and eating them. And for some reason words she had once heard popped into her head: Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood. She shuddered at the thoughts that crowded her mind. What happened to the dead man? Exactly what were they eating? And was that really wine in their glasses or something else? Could her mother have believed in eating people when they died? She shook her head and rocked violently in her chair, moaning softly.

Another scene flashed in her head. This time, she was inside a big white building filled with pews. Pews! Now we’re getting somewhere, she thought. What kind of building besides a church has pews? Every row was packed with people dressed up in their Sunday best. Up in front was the silver-haired minister, who was holding a microphone and singing along with a five-man blues band and three women backup singers. Everyone was singing joyously, while some even danced in the aisles. And there was her own mother, dancing up a storm like some witchy woman. Go, Ma, go! Abigail shouted. Hallelujah! Then she got up from her chair and danced and shouted till she collapsed on the floor, laughing so hard she peed in her pants.

Abigail cleaned herself off—at least there’s one thing she could still manage—and went back to her chair. Still out of breath and laughing, she clutched her heart. Oh my, Abigail. You’re not a young girl anymore. And she recalled a time long ago when she was ten, or maybe eleven, marching with her mother in some kind of parade. Only it wasn’t the kind of parade where people clap and cheer. Those marching were carrying signs and banners, though she couldn’t read or remember what they said. She clung tightly to her mother’s hand and to the small sign she carried. People were shouting things—mean, awful things—and there were police holding back vicious dogs. Her mother squeezed her hand, trying to reassure her. There was a grim look on her face, like she was marching into battle with Satan himself. Abigail could see the fear in her eyes. She trembled as she heard once again the sound of the dogs barking and people screaming.

It was a while before Abigail stopped shaking. It was a memory she wished she could erase. She saw her mother, her head bleeding, lying still in the street. Ma, get up! Please, Ma, don’t leave me! When her mother opened her eyes and slowly rose to her feet, Abigail couldn’t stop crying. It’s OK, child, she said, wiping her dress off and putting her hat back on. We did it!

Exactly what she and her mother did that day she could not remember. But Abigail knew it was important—important enough to die for—which had to mean her mother believed in something. But what if her mother didn’t believe in God? Just because she danced in Church doesn’t prove anything. And if she didn’t believe, would that make her a bad person?

Abigail muttered the word softly to herself—God God God God God God—gradually increasing the speed of her mantra. Then she shouted it as loud as she could: God! God! God! She waited for an echo inside her. She knew what the word meant, and the fact that she was now thinking about God must mean something, but for her it had no connection. Did that mean she didn’t believe in God herself, or had she just forgotten how to believe?

She grew tired of thinking about God. She tried thinking about her mother some more. Come on, Abigail, think. Don’t give up. Troll your soul. She laughed at the rhyme she had made. She still knew what a soul was, or at least thought she did. It is something inside you that isn’t really part of your body, and it has to do with God and heaven and hell. But what did it mean to troll? Wasn’t a troll some kind of scary creature? She remembered reading as a child a story that had big hairy trolls in it. What did trolls have to do with anything?  

She searched her room, looking for clues. The man in the blue suit was always clutching his Bible and quoting verses from it. Yet there were no Bibles anywhere. There were no books at all, in fact, for she had stopped reading years ago. Once, she had opened a book down in the lobby while waiting for breakfast. It was some novel that everyone was talking about. All she could see were lines of little black marks running across the pages. Disgusted, she slammed the book shut. But there was a time when she did have books. It was in that other place where she had lived. It was a big yellow house, not this little room. There were books there—all kinds of books—stacked everywhere, even in the garage. But then they all got wet, she remembered, and someone—who was it?—had thrown them all away just because they had gotten all musty. But isn’t that the way books are supposed to smell? The memory made her angry. While she couldn’t recall any books she had read, she had always felt better having them around. She used to stroke their spines on the shelves, promising herself to read them someday. And then that same person—it was a woman, she now remembered—had bought her a big screen TV, as if that somehow made up for throwing out her books. 

Someone knocked at the door. Grumbling, she got up to answer.

Hi, Mom. Are you having a good day? It was that same woman again—the one who’s always calling her Mom and trying to hug her. Oh no, she’s going to do it again—ugh!

OK, Mom, be that way. The middle-aged woman seemed offended, though why Abigail couldn’t imagine. That’s what you get what when you go around hugging strange women. I’m not her Mom. Why can’t she accept that? I’m here to count out your pills. Then I have to run. I’ve got a big meeting downtown.

Yes, she always had big meetings. Abigail stared at her quietly as the woman counted the pills. You sure do have a lot of pills, Mom. Looks like you’ve got some new ones here. I may have to start charging you overtime. She laughed nervously.

Why did the woman always have to make small talk? Just get on with it. Abigail fidgeted her fingers, waiting for her to finish and get out. Then she remembered who the woman was. It was the same woman who had thrown out her books! How dare she come back here?

Get out! cried Abigail. Leave me alone!

Oh, Mom, not again. I thought you remembered. Then the woman began to sob.

Abigail began to cry, too. She put her arms around the woman. There, there, dear—it’s all right, I forgive you. And maybe someday you’ll find your real mother. And don’t forget to close the door on your way out.

Breathing a sigh of relief, Abigail trudged back to her chair and turned the TV back on. Maybe she should look there instead of in her mind. She stared blankly at a commercial which showed a big green lizard walking in the desert when suddenly a piano fell out of the sky behind him. Is there some meaning in this? she thought. Who is this lizard and what does he want? She shook her head. This is all so complicated. There must be some truth here.

She thought back to all the programs and commercials she had seen on TV, at least those she still could recall. Then she remembered a man’s face—a very wise face—and some words that always made her feel good. And that’s the way it is. The way he said it just sounded so right. That’s what her mother always said whenever he came on. Now there’s a man you can trust, Abigail—a man you can believe in. But where was the man now? Abigail couldn’t remember seeing him lately. She wished he would come on right now and say it again. And that’s the way it is.

Abigail turned off the TV and sat back in her chair, smiling. She didn’t want anything to interrupt the memory of that face or voice. It was something to believe in.                                                              ©Gene Twaronite 2013

Originally published in Wilderness House Literary Review, Summer 2013  http://www.whlreview.com/no-8.2/fiction/GeneTwaronite.pdf

Maintaining a Natural Perspective

Developing an appreciation for the natural world offers many benefits, not the least of which is that it may help keep us from going insane.

Did you ever have one of those days, when you’ve just been fired from your job and you come home to an empty, filthy apartment, only to find a note from your girlfriend telling you she’s leaving you for a body builder in Samoa? And you try to grab some beer and find there is none because someone has stolen your refrigerator. Then your doctor calls with some really, really bad news … Suffice it to say that keeping your chin up under such circumstances is no easy task unless you are an unfeeling machine or have the intestinal fortitude of Job or, better yet, have learned to maintain a natural perspective.

Simply put, a natural perspective is a way of seeing things or events in terms of our relationship to that larger time frame and sphere of existence we call nature. In the afore-mentioned case, for example, instead of dwelling on your crappy karma, you can take heart in the fact that you are still alive as opposed to being one of the estimated 150 to 200 species of life becoming extinct every 24 hours. And you can be thankful that you’re not living back during the infamous Permian-Triassic extinction event, when some 90 to 96% of all species of life on earth bit the dust, so to speak. So far, the human species is still around, and so are you. So be of good cheer. Not being extinct definitely has its advantages.

Or you might consider that your probable lifespan is considerably longer than any species of mayfly, whose lifespans can range from 30 minutes to a day. And while you might think winged male ants (or drones) lucky in that they get to spend their entire lives doing nothing but eating and mating, few live longer than several weeks. Or you could have been born a gastrotrich—a tiny aquatic animal that lives only 3 days. So, unlike these other organisms, you still have plenty of time left to screw up again. Just don’t get too cocky about this. Most trees will live longer than you. And so will some animals, such as certain tortoises and fishes. There is even a kind of ocean clam said to live 400 years.

You might also give thought to old Sol—the source of life on this planet, not to mention sun tans, skin cancers and wrinkly skin. Scientists estimate that it has been around for about 4.5 billion years, going through about 500-600 metric tons of hydrogen each second just so earth can intercept its tiny fraction of total energy output and allow you to soak up some rays at the beach. At this rate, you might ask, could the sun burn itself out before you die? Not to worry. It is estimated that the sun has at least another 4 or 5 billion years before it uses up all of its hydrogen. Of course, long before that, there may be a few other issues of concern. As the sun gradually uses up its hydrogen, it will slowly become brighter and larger, so much so that in about 1.1 billion years it will completely dry out the earth’s atmosphere, making all the world’s real estate virtually worthless. And in 2-3 billion years, temperatures on earth will become too hot even for those with oxygen tanks. And after that the sun will probably expand into a red giant, engulfing all the inner planets including earth. So whatever happens to you in this miniscule time span you call a life, don’t worry. It can’t be as bad as being swallowed up by a red giant.                                                                                                                             © Gene Twaronite 2013   

Originally published in 5enses Magazine, April 2013  http://www.5ensesmag.com/the-absurd-naturalist-maintaining-a-natural-perspective/

On the Origin of Toaster Ovens by Means of Artificial Selection

Of the millions of organisms estimated to be alive today, most occur in the tropics. In describing this diversity, biologists often use such words as “staggering,” “incredible,” and “outta sight!” I wonder, though, how many of them have ever had to venture alone into the urban jungle to purchase a new toaster oven.

Within the world’s city centers can be found another kind of diversity—a diversity composed not of exotic orchids and tree frogs but of people and their artifacts, and the complex, interrelated systems of structures and urban spaces where we go to buy such artifacts. These systems—otherwise known as malls or shopping centers—present a dizzying array of products and services, and are as diverse in their own way as any tropical rainforest.

So, needing to buy a new toaster oven one day, it was off to the mall I went. Simple enough, but for someone like me who has not bought a new toaster oven in decades, it was a daunting task. Just choosing a store took me the better part of the morning. Sears, Wal-Mart, Target, Filene’s, JC Penney, Best Buy, Home Depot, Nordstrom’s, and scores more: none gave the slightest clue as to where the best toaster oven might be found.

Finally, I did manage to locate a store having a good selection of models and prices—or rather, a “staggering” selection. Indeed, one whole wall of the store was given over to various toaster ovens in every possible size, shape, and price. I think it was then that I began thinking about toaster ovens in Darwinian terms.

I must have stood there in the aisle for a full hour, staring in wonder at this assemblage of toaster ovens. So this is what the forces of a free market system have bestowed upon us, I thought. I suppose I should feel thankful for having all these varieties to choose from. In other less fortunate parts of the world, I would be standing in line for weeks—assuming that I could obtain one at all—or would be playing the black market for one of those coveted American models. But here was the opposite side of the coin. How exactly does one choose?

All I wanted was your basic, every day, dependable, and of course cheap toaster oven. Yet, even though there was a considerable range in price, most of the models on display were, on closer inspection, remarkably similar in outward appearance and purported function. And just as “nature is prodigal in variety, though niggard in innovation” (Darwin, The Origin of Species), so too did there seem to be little real change here evident since the last toaster oven I had purchased. Oh sure, there was this or that gizmo, or some new kind of coating, but all were just slight variations on a theme, displaying fewer real differences among them than did Darwin’s Galapagos finches.

I reflected a while about the mechanism at work that must have produced these variations, slight as they were. Gradually I came to the conclusion that each toaster oven is not independently created (as was commonly thought by most scientists, just a few generations ago), but is the end result of countless artificial selections made, over what seems like eons, by bewildered consumers like me. During this long evolutionary period of trial and error, there must have existed thousands, or even millions, of intermediate toaster oven types on the road to these more successful models. Perhaps they will be uncovered someday in the trash record of our past.

These selections are artificial because they are based not on any significant morphological differences in the ovens, but on the shiny contrivances of the merchandiser’s magic. A new knob here, a new temperature setting there and—Voila!—a “new variety” is born into this world. And for only $59.95. May Darwin forgive me, but I see a slow, inexorable “descent of man” in all this, at least in our dignity.

As for my own dignity, it suffered a descent of its own as I stood at the checkout counter with the model I had finally chosen. The woman behind me, having undergone the same ordeal, asked me how I had managed to choose from all those models, and why I had chosen my brand as opposed to hers. Resisting the wave of maniacal laughter that rose within me, I shrugged and replied, “Because this is the brand I bought last time.”                                                             ©Gene Twaronite 2013

Originally published in 5enses Magazine, March 2013. http://www.5ensesmag.com

                                                                                                                                                                                                              

 

 

 

The Dragons are Here!

Dragon Daily News now available in Kindle!                                                   http://www.amazon.com/Dragon-Stories-Imagination-Children-ebook/dp/B00B78QUIK

Read what one reviewer has to say:      DDN-kindlecover3-1

Odd encounters, chance meetings, what ifs, what  nextsthose are the words that spring to mind while reading Gene Twaronite’s Dragon Daily News. From books that leak their words to a fig tree that really pulls up roots and walks away, Twaronite’s stories are sprinkled with the wacky and the weird—while generally being totally believable. Inspired in many instances by traditional tales or fables, the stories sparkle with unexpected twists—you’ve heard about going hunting for tofu beasts, right? Then there are those idiosyncratic characters. From Stretch (a rubber boa who has grand adventures while stretched) to Snoop and Snort (dragon cub reporters in search of the truth about those creatures called people), the characters drive the stories forward, begging the reader to ponder what they might do next. If I were still a classroom teacher, this is just the sort of book I’d share with my students to trigger their own imaginations. Instead, I’ll settle for sharing it with my grandkids as we wonder if tofu beasts might still be found somewhere—besides in a grocery store….”

Suzanne Barchers, former Managing Editor at Weekly Reader                               (Suzanne, who holds a doctorate in curriculum and design, is also a consultant and the author of 175 published books. Visit her website at:  http://www.suzannebarchers.com/

Read more about the book at my website:  http://www.dragondailynews.net                    Print and Nook formats coming soon. Stay tuned.

 

 

 




Ten Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Garden

All kinds of reasons are offered for gardening, from relaxation or psychotherapy to attracting birds or being closer to God, but none are ever given as to why we shouldn’t. The unwary public deserves to know the truth before undertaking such a questionable if not downright hazardous activity.

Plants die. This is an indisputable fact verified many times by independent observers around the world. No matter how hard you garden or how great your gardening skills the end result will always be the same. What is the point of this futile exercise, knowing your plants are all doomed?

Plants grow. Growing plants require lots more watering, fertilizing, staking, deadheading and pruning. The bigger the plant the more work. Soon you will have no time left for anything else.  Is your life so worthless that you would give it all up for a shrub?

Plants don’t stop at one. It is the nature of all living things to make more of themselves. Before you know it, your garden, not to mention every square inch of your living space, will be awash in baby plants demanding your attention. You brought them into this world, now you must take care of them. The happy-go-lucky life you once led is over.

Plants attract animals. The minute a plant pops out of the ground some animal will find it.  Some will eat your plants. Some will use them for construction sites or materials. And some will just trample or pee on your plants.

Gardens get noticed. It starts with an innocent compliment from one of your neighbors about “how nice your pansies look this year.” But don’t be fooled. The compliment is a foil to distract you from what your neighbors are really thinking:  that your garden looks like crap and you don’t know flowers from a hill of beans. Pretty soon your local homeowner’s Gestapo association will be paying a visit to inform you that your garden does not meet neighborhood code and to weed it before nightfall or face execution.

Plants and gardens are imperfect and so are you. Since no plant is perfect and the state of perfection is but an ideal, the attainment of a perfect garden is physically impossible. You will always feel inadequate and worthless to the task. There are plenty of other things in life that make you feel this way, so why add one more?

Gardens attract thieves and other lowlifes. Your garden and all the plants in it might be so close to perfection, however, that it attracts the wrong kind of people. They will steal your plants.  They will steal your ideas. And they will steal all of your free time by asking you to make a garden for them just like yours.

Gardening involves the use of sharp objects. Though gardening is often described as a gentle pastime, it is quite the contrary. More often it is a brutal affair involving lots of cutting, clearing, thrashing, sawing, tilling and killing. The books never mention the ugly wounds that can be inflicted by careless use of sharp trowels, not to mention Rototillers.

Gardening encourages profanity. At best, gardening is mostly a losing proposition. You spend all those hours sweating in the hot sun, breaking your back and your fingernails, then planting, weeding, cultivating and watering your little charges in an unending cycle of toil, only to find them one day flattened by wind or ravaged by snails. Though gardeners sometimes claim to be closer to God in their gardens, the words that come out of their mouths at such moments are not exactly fit for a deity’s ears.

Gardening is insane.  Ask any gardener: once you start gardening you never want to stop. Performing an activity over and over again that always brings the same result—pain and suffering—is an unmistakable sign of insanity.

                                                © Gene Twaronite 2013

Four O’Clock Light

Introductory Note: This is my first published poem. Though I usually write my poems in free verse, I decided to try writing something more formal. While reading a book about literature, I came across a French verse form called a villanelle. It employs a complex and somewhat artificial form of 19 lines to create an impression of seemingly effortless simplicity and lightness. I was intrigued by the fact that it was the same form used by Dylan Thomas in his powerful poem, “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” which conveys a message that is anything but simple or light. I also found that writing a villanelle is not nearly as effortless as Dylan Thomas makes it appear. Anyway, here is my poem, which explores both my childhood fascination with Norse myths as well as that certain quality of light one sometimes sees while wandering through cemeteries and ancient stone ruins.

Four O’Clock Light

In the four o’clock light of a fall afternoon
The realm of reason gives way to wonder.
The vision of old is gone too soon.

Stone lichens read like an ancient rune
Of Odin casting my thoughts asunder
In the four o’clock light of a fall afternoon.
Do I dare emerge from my sane cocoon
To mine the ruins of a mythic world under
In the four o’clock light of a fall afternoon?

Is it Loki who tricks my spirit to swoon
And feeds this phantasmagoric hunger?
The vision of old is gone too soon.

I wish to ride in Mani’s chariot moon
And wield the mighty hammer of thunder.
The vision of old is gone too soon.

For an instant the solid rock is hewn
As the inner child is freed to wander
In the four o’clock light of a fall afternoon.
The vision of old is gone too soon.                                                                                         © Gene Twaronite 2012

Originally published in the online journal Eternal Haunted Summer, Winter Solstice 2012 issue    http://eternalhauntedsummer.com/issues/winter-solstice-2012/four-oclock-light/

 

The Woman Who Came for Lunch

Who is she? the old man muttered, peeking through the window.  And why is she making a sandwich in my kitchen?

The old man continued to stare as if he had never seen a person make a sandwich before.  He watched her delicate hands caressing and alternating the provolone, Swiss, salami, turkey, and deli loaf, and tingled at the thought of being one of the slices.  But who is she?

The old man forgot all about the newspaper he had gone to retrieve from behind the hedge.  Shivering, he pulled his bathrobe around him.  It was just not right.  Strange women don’t suddenly appear, at least not in his house.  Maybe he should call the police and ask them if a missing person had been reported.  He felt a headache coming on.  Why do these things always happen to me?

                                                                   ****

The old woman tried to concentrate on her sandwich, but she did not like being stared at.  Who is he?  Maybe he’s the gardener.  But why was he wearing only slippers and a bathrobe?

She picked up the phone and dialed 9-1-1.  Please help me.  There’s a man standing outside my window in his bathrobe watching me make a sandwich.  What does he look like?  Well, he looks kind of sad … and hungry, too.  And he’s got really nice gray hair.

Then the old woman gave the dispatcher an address, which was the only one she could remember.  It was the house in Brooklyn where she was born.

****

Now she’s using my phone.  The old man was furious.  Who knows, she’s probably calling some secret lover in Australia or Japan.  He peeked at her again and at the way the late morning sun illuminated the gray speckles in her curly hair.  Yes, she would be just the type to have many secret lovers.  The thought filled him with sadness.  Yet he was also happy for her.  A beautiful woman like that deserves to have many lovers.

Still, this did not change anything.  There was a strange woman in his kitchen and his feet were getting cold.  What should he do?

Maybe he should just go inside and find out.  It was not his first choice.  All his life the old man had tried to avoid direct confrontations.  There was usually a safe way around any problem.  No sense asking for trouble.  Still, it was his house and his food.  There was only one thing to do.

****

The old woman looked out the window but the gardener was gone.  She decided to call him that after remembering who he reminded her of.  It was the handsome, gray-haired gardener who tended the botanical garden that she had visited with her father when she was eight years old.  One day, the gardener tipped his hat and bowed, handing her a gardenia.  It was the most romantic thing she had ever experienced.  Often she would think about him, wishing she could hurry and grow up so she could meet him again.

She sat down at the kitchen table and stared at the sandwich on her plate.  She was not hungry now.  Eating alone was no fun.  Had it always been this way?  It didn’t seem so long ago that … what?  She struggled to regain some clue to her recent past, but it was no use.  Yet she felt there was something or someone important that she should remember.  She hated herself.  What kind of person would forget such a thing?  But why did something she couldn’t remember cause her such pain?

****

The old man decided to walk around the block first before confronting the woman.   There was nothing in the world, he believed, that couldn’t be walked out. He pulled his bathrobe tighter.  Maybe he should have changed first.  But it was a short block and he was already at the corner of Mayflower Street … The old man stopped and gaped at the street sign.  He knew every corner of this neighborhood and there was no Mayflower Street.  How could a new street just appear?

Maybe he had somehow gone past the street where he was supposed to turn.  The old man spun around and retraced his steps.   When in doubt, start from the beginning, he muttered.  But the street he had lived on for thirty-six years was nowhere in sight.  All the houses seemed out of place.  He ran back to the corner to read the sign again – Mayflower and … Hope.  That’s not my street, he thought.  But then, what exactly was it?   He tried every memory trick he could think of.  But the name had vanished.

He wandered up and down one street after another, searching for some clue that might lead him home.  But none of the street names sounded right.  With mounting panic, he swept the landscape for some familiar feature, but the harder he looked the more alien it appeared.  Nothing made any sense.

The old man started to run, anywhere that might take him away from this nightmare.  He was about to give up and ring the nearest doorbell for help when he noticed the house.  He was sure he had seen it before.  Was he was going in circles?  Not a good sign, old boy.  Yet there was something more.  Perhaps it was the way one of its windows was framed by the evergreen hedges.  Or maybe it was the silhouette of a woman eating a sandwich by the window.  He knew that woman, but from where?  He crept in for a closer look.

****

The old woman ate her sandwich in an unwelcome silence.  She strained to hear some comforting sound from the house, something that would tell her things were all right.  But all she could hear was her own nasal breathing.  She put down her teacup and it made an awful crash on its saucer.  It’s all wrong.

She began thinking of the gardener again.  And she imagined him sitting across from her at the table.  He was still wearing his khaki uniform, all worn and green-stained, though his hat was on the rack by the door.  She was all grown up now, but he was still the same age as he would always be.  He looked into her eyes and planted a gardenia in her hand.  The old woman lifted it to her nose and closed her eyes, inhaling deeply. All these years, she had wanted to say so much to him, to tell him all her dreams and private thoughts.  But now, she couldn’t think of anything to say.  And when she opened her eyes, the gardener was gone.

****

The old man slipped quietly through the backdoor and into the hallway.  Everything suddenly seemed familiar.   Off the hallway to the right he knew was the kitchen.   Somehow he had found his way home.  He was about to drop to his knees and kiss the floor when he remembered the strange woman in the kitchen.  A bead of sweat trickled down his nose as he began to shake.  Who is she?   Steady, old boy.  He gripped the sides of his father’s old desk and stared into the hallway mirror.

Then he remembered.  It was something he had hidden.  Now which drawer was it?   Quietly, he pulled open one drawer after another.  Each was filled with hundreds of boxes and bottles.  He opened several of the containers, only to find smaller and smaller empty  containers, apparent decoys for whatever treasures lay concealed there.  Where did all these come from?  Could someone else be hiding things here?  None of the containers seemed familiar.  Frustrated, he sat down at the desk.  Where was it?  Instinctively, he felt behind the black plastic trays inside the desk.  Then he found it—a thin cigar box wedged tightly behind the trays.  He opened it and gazed upon the objects of his memories:  a fossil Trilobite, three packages of colored rubber bands, a golf score card, a headless British tin soldier, two cancelled movie tickets, and a ripped out page from a department store catalog.  He held the page reverently.  There she was, still as beautiful as ever.  Modeling a sleek gown, she was all that a teenage boy could wish for in a woman: beautiful, mature and understanding, someone who would not laugh and who would gladly share his life with him forever.  He had been especially taken with the model’s pearl necklace and gray-speckled hair and the way she primly crossed her legs in the ad.   Suddenly he knew who the strange woman in the kitchen was.   He closed the box and placed it back in its hiding place.  Then he headed for the kitchen, but not before plucking one gardenia from the garden.

****

Startled, the strange woman turned around as the old man entered.   When she saw him standing there framed by the kitchen archway, she smiled as she had not smiled in years.  Her gardener was back.  He bowed and handed her the gardenia.  Stroking her pearl necklace, the woman primly crossed her legs and pulled out a chair.

Would you like a sandwich?                                                                                                         © Gene Twaronite 2012                                                                                                                                            Originally published in Avatar Review, Issue 13, 2011