Marlene and the Whale

28. Oktober 2016 at 23:59 (Posts in English) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

As promised, here is a little story revolving around the protagonists of „The River of Recollection“ when they were still very young.

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When my sister Marlene was around six years old, she started telling me fantastic stories every night. Most of them had a more or less true core. . One day, there was a big commotion in our school, because a whale had washed up on the shore nearby. All of the kids ran to the beach after school and Marlene begged me to go see the whale with her, too. So we went down to the beach, where the members of a non-profit organisation tried to push the gigantic creature back into the sea. News reporters had gathered around, snapping pictures of the scene. We watched for about an hour before I dragged Marlene off – we shouldn’t strain our mother’s nerves too much.
That night, when Marlene snuggled up to me, she told me a story that went something like this (edited for grammar mistakes Marlene made at that age):

Once upon a time, there was a young girl named Marlene. One evening, she skipped along the beach until she saw something big and grey. It was a giant whale. Marlene inched closer. Suddenly, the animal looked at her and said,
“Can you please help me, little girl?” with a weak, but resonating voice.
“Yes, of course, how can I help you?” Marlene asked.
“Can you please push me back into the sea? My skin is getting really dry and I long to go back to my friends and play with them.”
So Marlene started to push and push. She pressed her palms against the whale’s face, digging her little feet into the sand and leaning in with all her weight. But the whale didn’t budge. So she ran to his side and pulled and pulled at his left fin. But still, he didn’t move.
The little girl started crying and confessed to the whale that she didn’t have any friends she could ask for help. The kind whale rested his eyes on her and said,
“We could ask my friends. But I’m afraid my voice isn’t loud enough.” The whale sighed a deep sigh.
But then, Marlene had an idea. There were no lifeguards around now, because it was getting really late, but she knew that they kept a megaphone in their little hut at the beach. They used it to shout encouraging words at people struggling against the high waves until help arrived.
It took all of the strength the tiny human had left to push against the wooden door of the hut and soon enough it caved in. She found the megaphone and ran back to the whale.
“You can ask your friends for help now,” she said gleefully, switched the megaphone on and held it up to the whale’s mouth.
The whale made a noise that was a mixture of a sigh and a groan, swelling in volume up to a high-pitched tone, then ebbing away again. He winked at the girl and she put the megaphone down in the sand and they waited. In the houses at the far end of the beach, the lights went on because of the loud and unusual voice booming across the land and the sea.
A minute later, the water around the whale’s tail fin began to bubble and churn with movement. Marlene could see three big mouths gently tugging at the whale’s tail fin. And slowly, his body was set in motion and the sand crunched under his big body, receding into the sea.
“My whale, my whale, I don’t want to lose you,” the girl cried and ran alongside the whale who was slowly being swallowed by the dark waters. She followed him until she was knee-deep in the sea and then, finally, the whale wrapped his slick fin around her and put her onto his glistening back.
“Hold on tight, little girl, for I will show you the wonders of the deep, deep sea,” the whale said and Marlene hugged her arms tightly around the giant animal, just as the waves crashed over her head.

The next morning, our dad left the local newspaper lying open at the breakfast table. It said that around seven o’clock in the evening, they had succeeded in pushing the whale back into the sea. And there was a picture of the kids from school saying hello to the whale. One of the tiny black and white faces was clearly Marlene’s.
“Look, you’re in the newspaper,” I said, pointing at the image.
“Because I saved the whale?” Marlene asked, concentrating on her bowl of cereal.
“No, silly, the rescue workers saved the whale,” I groaned.
“I did. I know it,” my sister pouted. “I saved the whale.”
“Sure you did,” I said, sighing a deep whale sigh.

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Gigi’s Gone

31. August 2016 at 16:37 (Posts in English) (, , , , , , , , , )

We had already said our goodbyes. Around twenty times by now. The parents were getting impatient.
“It will be like a vacation for you, okay? Only a little longer,” I said. Gigi’s eyes brimmed with tears. I bit on my lip. I just couldn’t tell her the truth.
“Okay.” She nodded and her two ponytails bobbed up and down accordingly.
“Wendy will wait for you here,” her mother said, softly tugging at the doll in Gigi’s hand. When Gigi let go, her mother put the doll in my arms instead. “There are plenty of new toys waiting for you at home,” she added.
Gigi looked at her and then at me. She didn’t understand. How could that woman talk about “home” when she meant a place Gigi had never seen before?
I smiled encouragingly. “Yes, Wendy will wait here with me,” I said, hugging the doll tightly to my chest.
The door opened, the door closed, an engine howled and Gigi was gone.

It has happened before, countless times. And without any doubt it will happen again, to mothers and fathers to whom life has not given kids, but only lent them.
In a deep, dark corner of my mind, I had known that this fate could come my way, too. That I could lose her one day. But whenever that thought popped up in my mind, I pushed it back down, letting it drown in a sea of predominantly happy thoughts. I would concentrate on her instead, watching her play and sing and grow up.

She had loved to run to the birdhouse on the lawn behind our house first thing in the morning. She would wave her little arms around and cry “Good morning, birdies!” and watch delightedly as the damsels and robins flew away as fast as their wings could take them, trilling and chatting. Then Gigi would wait very calmly as they hesitantly landed on the patio of their tiny house again, picking at the seeds while scanning the scenery for mischievous human beings. My little girl watched them for minutes at a time and I watched her through the kitchen window as I prepared her breakfast.

Now I’m preparing breakfast for only one person. Two slices of toast, butter, some strawberry jam and a cup of coffee. But I can’t eat. And the strong coffee I have prepared for myself makes my heart beat so fast that I’m certain I’m going to die this morning.
I have propped up Gigi’s doll Wendy and her two favourite stuffed animals, Walter Wolf and Freddy Fox, on the three empty chairs around me. They are not very good at filling the infinite blank Gigi has left behind. But it will be our last time sitting here together; before night falls, I will have stacked everything belonging to or made by Gigi neatly into boxes, not to be opened in the near future.

I have been ill-prepared for the fact that Gigi could be taken away from me. I will compensate that in being extremely careful to not be constantly reminded that I have lost her. And the life I had planned for us. I must not walk into the dark trap whose name is sadness. It has opened its ugly arms to pull me into a tight embrace, but I will not let it harm me. Again.
I will go on living a life – not my life, because my life was dedicated to being Gigi’s mother – and I will wait. And one day, I will be happy again. Even if I have to wait until Gigi comes to see me when she is a grown woman and can make her own choices.

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Clara’s Christmas Wish: Part 23

23. Dezember 2015 at 06:08 (Clara's Christmas Wish) (, , , , , , , , , )

This story works like an Advent calendar – until the 24th of December, I will publish a part of this story each day. Please start your reading with Part 1.

The day of the 24th passed like any other day, only that the girls’ mother was more stressed out than usual. She hated it when the shops closed for more than one day, especially since she had begun to dislike Christian holidays nearly eight years ago. A faint slur of curses would emanate from the kitchen for the next two days, finding fault with the quality of meat or the crispness of the vegetables. She hated the idea that people were feasting in every other house at the price of their meticulously counted money bills – because anyone knew that everything was more expensive just for the sake of the holidays.

Clara felt jubilant when she could finally put Marlene to bed, with the prospect of being able to wake her up a few hours later, to a silent house and burning candles. Clara lay down on her bed, too, just to rest her eyes for a few seconds…
Until she woke with a start.
So did Justin, a few streets away.

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Clara’s Christmas Wish: Part 22

22. Dezember 2015 at 06:16 (Clara's Christmas Wish) (, , , , , , )

This story works like an Advent calendar – until the 24th of December, I will publish a part of this story each day. Please start your reading with Part 1.

On the morning of the 24th, Clara snuck out of the house to buy the doll’s house her little sister had requested and to find a small Christmas tree she could decorate for her. She was relieved that her mum was out shopping too, when she returned home. Her father just eyed the small tree she was holding by its tip warily and said, “It has to be gone again in the morning. Your mother will be mad at you if she sees it.” But as his eyes met hers, he changed his mind. “Okay now, I’ll quickly get the baubles from the basement, but don’t you let them lie around.”
Clara decorated the tree and hid it outside where her mother surely wouldn’t stumble upon it. Then she wrapped her present for Marlene and hid it under the couch in the living room.

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Clara’s Christmas Wish: Part 16

16. Dezember 2015 at 06:08 (Clara's Christmas Wish) (, , , , , , )

This story works like an Advent calendar – until the 24th of December, I will publish a part of this story each day. Please start your reading with Part 1.

Jim’s face lit up. “I sure can,” he replied. And before she could protest, he had taken her by the hand again. He pulled her over to another cage. The elephants, also a mother and her baby, were still wide awake. The mother elephant shifted her weight uneasily from one foot to the other while her baby was nervously groping for her trunk with its own little one. Clara didn’t have to be an expert on animals to see that they didn’t feel comfortable in their tiny cage.
“Are they very shy?” she asked Jim.
“Depends,” he chuckled. “If you give them apples, they’ll be less shy.” Out of nowhere, he produced two shiny apples with rosy cheeks and put one in each of Clara’s hands. Clara hesitated – she had never fed any animals that were that big. “Go on, they won’t bite,” Jim said, nudging her to take a step forward.

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Clara’s Christmas Wish: Part 12

12. Dezember 2015 at 06:12 (Clara's Christmas Wish) (, , , , , , , , )

This story works like an Advent calendar – until the 24th of December, I will publish a part of this story each day. Please start your reading with Part 1.

“Sure, kid, just go to the lady who sells the tickets and tell her I said to give you twenty-five for cleaning,” the circus director announced and patted her on the shoulder, lifting his top hat with his other hand. “Good job, young lady!”
Clara was delighted that her plan had worked out so well. In fact, she was so happy she treated herself to a bus ride home. Her mother was furious when Clara returned. “I didn’t raise you to become an ungrateful brat!” she spat. “Go to your room and don’t come down again before you’re ready to apologise!”
Her father just stood there, a worried look on his face. She left before her mother could force him with a stern glance to say the usual listless “do what your mother tells you”.

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Clara’s Christmas Wish: Part 9

9. Dezember 2015 at 06:04 (Clara's Christmas Wish) (, , , , , , , )

This story works like an Advent calendar – until the 24th of December, I will publish a part of this story each day. Please start your reading with Part 1.

“Watch your tongue, young lady!” her mother scolded her. “And no, you’re going to have to work this one out by yourself. If you want to give gifts on a meaningless holiday that really isn’t about spending money, then you should start to earn your own money. You’re sixteen after all,” her mother clarified, still not bothering to look at her daughter.
“Thanks for being the worst mother on this planet!!” Clara kicked the dust bin as she left and slammed the kitchen door shut behind her.
She took her jacket and scarf off the hall stand and stormed out to get some fresh air. If she wanted to make her Christmas wish come true – and part of what Marlene wished for – she would have to manage doing it all by herself; so much was clear now. She wouldn’t stop walking until she had found a solution.

And then she saw it.

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Clara’s Christmas Wish: Part 8

8. Dezember 2015 at 06:03 (Clara's Christmas Wish) (, , , , , , , , , , )

This story works like an Advent calendar – until the 24th of December, I will publish a part of this story each day. Please start your reading with Part 1.

The next day, when Clara was asked to take out the trash, the Sunday paper slid off the top of the dust bin she was carrying. Picking it up, she saw the picture of an elephant at the bottom right of the front page. He had escaped from the local zoo, but had been captured within two hours four days ago, on Saturday.

“Mum, could I please get my pocket money for January today?” Clara asked her mother who was peeling carrots when she returned the dust bin to its proper place in the kitchen.
“What do you need it for?” her mother replied, keeping her eyes on the carrot she was decapitating.
“We’re playing Secret Santa at school,” Clara lied. “We said we’d get each other good gifts, not some cheap crap.”

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Flight

31. August 2015 at 10:10 (Posts in English) (, , , , , , , , , )

This is the third and final part of a story I started to write in May. Here you can find the first part (Bird of passage) and the second part (Dog days).

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She leaned against the door frame, while the dog capered happily around her, trying to get her attention. But she couldn’t avert her eyes from the scene unfolding in front of her, without the two main characters noticing the silent (and the not-so-silent) spectator.
“Well done, little lady!” he exclaimed, patting her back comfortingly.
The baby burped again and grinned proudly at the white wall behind her new daddy’s back. Lily was fascinated by the many things she could already achieve in such an expert manner despite her young age.
“Is it time to change your nappy again, madam?” he let the baby girl hang over his shoulder and sniffed her diaper in a theatrical manner. The baby chuckled with glee. “Oh yeah, it’s definitely time!” He contorted his face so she would laugh again and held her as far away from his nose as he could. “Attention, stinky baby is being transported to the bathroom!”

It was only then that he noticed Lily waiting forlornly in the hallway. “Hi Lily, we didn’t see you standing there… Want to say hi to your mummy, little ladybird?” He held Elena close for a moment before passing her on to her mother.
She took her daughter into her arms and held her gingerly, her pulse racing. Would the baby start crying again? She felt guilt welling up inside of her. She had missed out on five whole days of feeding, playing, bathing, changing diapers and reading bedtime stories. This, instead, belonged to Jonathan’s daily routine for seven months now.

Lily only got to see her at the weekends. Lo and behold, she had taken up a job. She had found out that she was capable of typing at a fairly decent speed and orthographically quite correctly while she had been pregnant and so she had found a job as the secretary of a doctor. He would always speak the diagnoses on tape and she would type them into his computer in the evenings. The only problem was that she – what with the hormonal rollercoaster and all – had fallen in love with him. And so much so that she just didn’t have the guts to tell him that she had kept the baby. She used her parents, with whom she didn’t talk anymore, as a pretext to leave his fatherly care and good will for the weekends, when she went to pay Elena a visit.

She was clumsy in handling her and every time Jonathan tried to give her advice on how to hold the baby bottle so Elena didn’t suffocate or on how to change her clothes without ripping off Elena’s pinky, she shouted at him. And then her daughter started crying and she didn’t know how to make it stop and she would have to admit to herself that she hadn’t succeeded in being a good mother.

She had thought that giving birth to a creature that had inhabited her body for eight and a half months, patting her organs from inside and hearing her heartbeat louder than anyone else, would establish a special bond between the two of them that would last forever. And now it hurt to see Jonathan as the father in sparkling armour, not only fulfilling his duties, but raising Elena with so much love and enthusiasm that she couldn’t but envy him.

Of course, she would rack her brain for excuses as to why she hadn’t been able to fix the magical bond that had been cut through the day Elena was born. She blamed her parents and the doctor, Jonathan and the dog, but in the end, she only cried herself to sleep beside the blissfully snoring doctor, without knowing what to change to make herself feel better.

She couldn’t leave the doctor, he was really the first man for whom she fostered genuine feelings and he had taken her in at a moment of need, pregnant and desperate, without asking her questions. And she couldn’t really be angry at Jonathan, because he was the best father for Elena she could wish for. But all the same, it was heart-breaking to see that her baby was turning into such an excellent little lady without her help. The only thing that could appease her feelings was the knowledge that without the money she sent Jonathan at the end of each month, they wouldn’t be able to survive.

When Elena’s wakeful eyes finally closed for the night and a happy dream left its marks across her face, Jonathan cautiously pulled the door to her room shut and sat down beside his sister. She muted the TV and looked at him. Her brain worked hard to decide if she should feel relief that Elena was sleeping soundly now or envy that the little girl – despite not being able to utter a single coherent word – had demanded Jonathan to put her to bed. But that was life. You get some, you lose some. She couldn’t even imagine how it would have felt to give her daughter away for adoption, to people she didn’t know, didn’t trust and perhaps didn’t even want to cross paths with.

The baby monitor sprang to life, the smallest cough crackled through the receiver and before she could realise what the next step Jonathan had taught her to follow in this case was, Jonathan was already up on his feet and in the adjoining room, looking after their baby.

The dog did some stretching on the carpet, laying out his front paws, head close to the ground, bottom up in the air, and made a whimpering noise. When he was done with his gymnastics, he walked over to Lily and put his muzzle on her lap. She stroked and caressed him while he was lovingly watching her out of his big, trusting eyes. At least there was one soul left in the world who would always love her just the way she was.

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Bird of passage

31. Mai 2015 at 23:22 (Posts in English) (, , , , , , , , )

This is the first part of a story I wrote for the last Write Now meeting, „An Evening of Critiquing“.  I got lots of constructive feedback for the first draft of my story, so I decided to split it up and work on each part in turn. You can read the second part here: Dog days and here is the third and final part: Flight.

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The bird landed softly on the window sill. It tucked its brownish-blue wings away neatly and scuttled around for a bit until it found the perfect place to enjoy the last orange rays of the setting sun. The dry bushes alongside the garden fence cast oddly shaped shadows on the overgrown lawn. When somebody vigorously pushed open the front door of the house with the sagging roof, the bird hurriedly flew away to find refuge in a tall tree.

The person slammed the door shut and stomped off into the evening without ever looking back. Two little faces squeezed themselves against the window, just in time to see their mummy cross the street and vanish in the suburbs of the small city in the north of England. Sometimes, it was hard being a good mother and wife and carer and worker and feeder… The bird knew that, too.

The kids had become very talented at pretending that everything was normal. Their father had locked himself up in the basement, clanging around with the contents of his well-equipped toolbox, letting off steam on defenceless pieces of metal. The little ones had learned not to disturb him at these times. They went to play in the garden. They played catch and rolled around in the dewy grass with the black family dog until they were feeling cold. The wind started to get stronger by the minute, the clouds were hanging deep, filled with a week’s worth of rain.

When they went back in, their daddy still wasn’t finished with throwing a tantrum in the makeshift workshop. So they prepared their dinner themselves – sandwiches, as usual, filled with ham and Swiss cheese and pickled onions. The storm made the window panes rattle. They watched TV until the younger one fell asleep. The older one poked his sibling awake, so they could go upstairs together, brush their teeth and go to bed. They would be able to sleep for a while, before their mummy would come home drunk and the screaming and shouting and throwing of things would start. He would hold his sister tight until it was over and whisper comforting words into her ear until her breathing slowed and she could drift back into a happier world of dreams.

When his sister was sound asleep, he scrambled out of the bed again and opened the door of their room a tiny crack. The black dog followed his lead and tried to wedge its muzzle into the gap to somersault onto the landing and down the stairs. The boy pulled the whimpering animal back, gripping it by the collar. He shushed the dog and it sat down and hid its snout between its front paws with mournful eyes.

The boy held onto the door while listening in on his parents’ row.
“I should never have stayed here with you!”, his mum was shouting. “I can’t stand living in this shithole of a town any longer!” Something fell down and broke, kissing the marble kitchen tiles much too forcefully.
The dog winced. The boy stroked its head distractedly. Now his father raised his voice to its peak for the counter-attack. A bolt of lightning lit up the room briefly, closely followed by a clap of thunder.
“Well, you shouldn’t have gotten pregnant, then! The life you’d like to lead isn’t fit for a family!”, he cried. And added, “It isn’t fit for anybody but you, to be honest!” as an afterthought.
“Yeah, really?!”, she screamed back at him. “You don’t contribute anything financially, and you tell me I’m being selfish?! Well fuck you, then!”
Things went cascading down the kitchen counter, ricocheting off the walls and the dog chimed in, howling loudly. The boy had to shut the door and silence the dog again, so his sister wouldn’t wake up.

When they got up the next morning, their mother was gone and their father was mopping up the floor. The kids shared their cereals in the last bowl available and headed off for school. On their way out, the boy noticed that the bird’s nest had dropped from the birch tree during the storm. One egg had cracked open, the other one appeared to be okay. The bird was nowhere to be seen.

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