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My nine-year-old daughter told me she’d be entering a NYT poetry contest.

When she was six, we co-wrote this short piece below.

 

The Magic Flower

Once upon a time, there lived a little girl. She loved to sing while walking in the rain, and to pick flowers. Her favorite color was red, and sometimes orange. More than anything, she liked to dream. One morning, when she woke up in her high bed, she saw a rainbow flower outside her window. It was as tall as a horse. The girl leaned out the window and tried to pick the flower, but it moved to the other window. The girl thought, I’ll just go to the next window and touch it. But then she thought, what if the flower moves to the window after next? She decided to walk out into the garden and talk to it. She knew it was a magic flower: if it could move, perhaps it could talk.

The dew kissed her feet as she took a few steps on the sparkling grass toward the flower. It remained still, and when she came closer, the flower leaned over the girl with its seven petals, and she found herself inside a giant rainbow umbrella. Is it raining? She thought. But the sun was shining – through the flower’s petals, red and orange, yellow and blue, making kaleidoscopic patterns on her white pajamas, as if pronouncing her the queen of the magic kingdom. The girl touched each petal, whispering a wish into their softness. The flower didn’t answer, only caressed the girl’s bare arms, and she knew that each dream would come true.

She dreamed of friends, who’d never betray her.

She dreamed of meeting a magician, who would understand her dreams.

She dreamed of traveling to magic countries and speaking in foreign tongues with people who looked nothing like her.

She dreamed of creating a magic kingdom of her own, where only kind, smart and funny people were allowed.

She dreamed of being an inspiration to people around her, even though she didn’t know yet what inspiration was.

She dreamed of never getting hurt again by people.

She dreamed of her mother being alive.

More than thirty years have passed, and most of her wishes came true. Except for the last two. Perhaps, it wasn’t a magic flower after all, she thought, sitting on a windowsill of her apartment, smelling the rain outside. Perhaps it was, because five wishes out of seven is better than nothing.

 

 

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Love is in the air, or so they say when Spring rolls in.

To celebrate a year since the publication of my debut novel, I’m giving away three copies of Inga’s Zigzags on Amazon.

First come first serve. All you have to do is follow me on Twitter, and if you’re already a follower, just click below and there you have it – a good love novel, free, just in time for falling in love.

Enter here.

Let the spring fever start!

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He touched her hand as she walked by, on a street in SoHo. She turned, and stopped. It was dark, but the window display lit him up as if on stage. His eyes were fixed on her, in awe, and she tilted her head inquiringly.

“I have to talk to you,” he said. “May I talk to you?”

He was short, well dressed and slightly agitated. Older. She was tall, well dressed and tired after a night of performing. But, as was every time after a show, she was elated, as if still floating above the stage, nurtured by the shared intimacy of the crowd that responded to her and made her feel loved, and she longer had to feel lonely.

Her friends turned to look.

“What would you like to talk about?”

“Can I just tell you how beautiful you are?”

He was sincere and desperate at once, so she nodded: a crumb of admiration from a stranger was like a gift of kindness from above, and she accepted it, grateful yet skeptical.

“I want to hold your hand, and tell you things,” he said and reached for her hand. She withdrew it.

“I’m married, you know.”

“No, that can’t be.” He took a step back, then forward, inspected the rings on her left hand.

“They are real,” she said.

“Are you happily married?” He searched for the answer in her eyes.

She looked at the window display, with an empty-eyed mannequin dressed in orange, and nodded. He didn’t need to know the answer. She didn’t know it herself.

“And I am her lover,” her friend stepped up closer.

The man turned to the woman who had said the words, inspected her reddish hair, ironic smile, and turned back. He was ready to believe it, and that made her even more desirable in his eyes.

“Former lover,” she corrected her friend.

“Former?”

“And future, too.” The women smiled at each other. He nodded. It didn’t matter whether that was true or not. She was like a vision, and he didn’t want to lose it.

“I live nearby,” he said. “Would you like to stop by?”

She shook her head.

“I have to go home. There is a husband waiting for me, and two children.” She paused. “Are you that lonely? Nobody waiting for you at your fancy loft?”

“Nobody,” he said, and took her right hand in his. “I could read you some poems. I’m a poet.”

She looked at him, and didn’t take her hand away. She could feel his loneliness, it was much bigger than hers, but tonight she was still awash in the love she felt onstage, and didn’t want it to dissipate.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I know about lonely. But I’m going home.”

She started walking away, then turned.

“You should write a poem, for me. Tonight.” She told him her name. “Find me, send me the poem, and then I’ll respond. Maybe.”

They walked away, the man standing by the lit window. On the pavement, atop a pile of recycled boxes, lay an enormous photograph, a woman’s portrait, in color. It must have been an ad for a beauty product, or a demo at a branding meeting, and now the face looked solemnly from the shadows of the street, discarded. They laughed at first, and took photos with the woman on the photo, and nearly fell into the pile of cardboards. She thought how the woman on the photograph was recycled, and all alone on the street. But the day they had photographed her, she must have been the center of attention, and all lights and cameras were on her.

She tried not to make any analogies – with her performance, and the man who found her on the street after.

The next morning she received a poem. It was about her teeth, and hands, and rivers flowing into the ocean.

She didn’t answer. The whole thing made her sad. The only difference between her and the poet was that he begged for attention on the street, and she didn’t.

(c) Vica Miller

May 22, 2014

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For Simon Van Booy

       Despite his father’s misgivings, Charles had never developed apprehensions about his height or his abilities to achieve greatness because of it. At five feet four inches, or 165 cm, and 31 years of age, he published his first novel, married a six-foot-tall model, and got her pregnant. It was a boy, they told them.

He looked back at his classmates from high school, tall, sturdy and slightly dim by his own standards, who went to college on football scholarships, married at graduation to become divorced drunks (or drunk divorcees) today, and smiled a sorrowful smile. They were good guys, those boys turned men, but why did they have to put so much emphasis on appearances, as if they were girls brainwashed by “How to…” sex articles in Cosmo and Self? What happened to true aspirations, he wondered? Greatness didn’t depend on height – Napoleon must have known it, and so did Charles. That conviction utterly puzzled his father who could never get over his own meager height of 5’6”, and who divorced Charles’s mother at the insistence that she’d had an affair with a taller man. His mother despaired for a year, her innocence offended as much as her heart broken, and married a six-foot-two real estate agent just to spite her ex-husband. She said he was great in bed. Charles didn’t believe her.

No, he had no reservations about his height. He loved being short. He said it gave him a better perception on life, for his head was not far from Earth, which kept him grounded, confident, and on his toes.

Charles met Veronica at a reading. She sat in the first row and blocked everyone else’s view. He loved her insolence, for he could tell she didn’t have reservations about her awesome height the same way he didn’t have about his. When the last writer had left the podium, Charles asked the curator if she knew the lady.

“Veronica. Sharp as a nail, outrageous, too. Former model turned clown. Strange story.”

“Can you please introduce us?”

“Watch out what you wish for,” said the curator, a slim 40-year old in tight black pants and red V-neck T-shirt, cocking her head. “She eats men alive.”

“Sounds great.”

Charles said his name and kissed her hand, and she smiled an open, genuine smile, like Christmas tree lighting up in the dark, and they didn’t have to speak. He looked at her and she knew.  Charles still remembered that moment as the most profound of his life, as if he had entered a buzzing electric circuit and become part of it. She set him in motion, and he was grateful and happy, even now, when she was no longer around.

They loved walking in TriBeCa, dressed in Prada, Kawakubo or Sander, holding hands. Their first brunch at Bubbo’s, first dinner at Cercle Rouge. She always wore Roger Vivier shoes, even in a drizzle. Some people turned to look at them, the woman towering over a man, like a lighthouse over a small boat approaching the shore. Happy goose bumps ran down his back at those moments, for he knew he had found his marina. He’d get hard then.  Veronica would look down at Charles, nod appreciatively, and lean over to French-kiss him, for the added benefit of the onlookers. They could talk about anything: books, dogs, mobile apps, bondage, exotic travel, physics – never bored, always laughing.

Their City Hall marriage ceremony, attended by Charlie’s mother and her husband, and by Veronica’s best friend Elizabeth, with whom she’s had an affair for three years, lasted exactly three minutes. Veronica’s parents didn’t attend because they were dead. “A car crash. That’s how I have all the money,” she’d said once and never returned to the subject.

He admired her lanky legs draped in a red skirt, and her small breasts peaking at him through a sheer white top. She never wore a bra. She didn’t have to. The minister woman didn’t look at them once while mumbling the words from the podium. She did notice them at the end, after they said their “I do’s” and her face took a human expression for a moment, perhaps for the first time in months, that of delight and curiosity.  Charles raised himself on tiptoes, Veronica leaned forward, and he cupped her breasts for their first married kiss.

They soon discovered each other’s fantasies, and hardly a night went without play. Sometimes neighbors looked at them with disdain, for they kept the windows open at night, but Charles turned them around with highly cultured talk on the latest trends in British literature and invitations to brunch at their loft. A year after their wedding, the entire tenant body of their four-story building on Wooster Street was convinced of their privilege to know Charles and Veronica Gladstone, the next big thing in literature and entertainment, respectively. They felt justified when Charles’s first novel won a literary prize, and Veronica’s solo show was aired on PBS.

Charles loved her even more when he first held their son, Otto, in his arms. The boy had his mother’s lanky legs, his father’s brown eyes and bushy black hair. He kissed the baby’s palm, then his wife’s hand, and cried, for the first time in his adult life.

Otto was too little to understand what happened, but old enough – at four – to know that he no longer had a mother. It happened quietly, one early morning at the kitchen table. Veronica’s disease was a mystery, had no symptoms, but was the reason for her great height. She had warned him before the wedding that she might evaporate soon – that was the word she used, evaporate – but Charles didn’t believe her. Or didn’t want to believe her.  He still didn’t. She was his angel, and angels don’t evaporate, even Otto knew that.

Charles knew that grief was a room with no doors, so he opened the windows, for his son. He took him around the world.

“We will plant a flower for Mom in every country we visit,” he told Otto.

“A red one, her favorite,” affirmed his son. “She’d like that.”

They visited thirty-two countries, for each year of Veronica’s life. When they came back a year later, Otto, a boy of five, stood in front of the mirror, and said, “I’ll be tall, like Mom.”

“She’d like that,” answered Charles.

(c) Vica Miller 

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This is my final project for ITP Camp 2103, and was inspired by Dan O’Sullivan’s class with the same title.

“If you have time, you should become a Buddhist,”

A man I trust has uttered, and we laughed.

            Then fading smiles, and lingering of thought,

            The eyes around the room in search of answers.

Is past forgotten? What is in the present?

The future – full of disconnected bits.

The final project – empathy machine. Machine!

            I love technology, but not as much as you.

            The images will dance according to your whisper,

            The screen will go black if someone screams,

The flowers will bloom – just need the current,

And don’t forget to wave your hand, or else

It won’t work. Machines need input.

            And so do I. The rest of me is you.

            The rest of you is me. But what about time?

            The time it took to write these lines,

I could have shot a lovely moving image –

Of orange lilies sighing in the sun,

Of children splashing in a sparkling fountain.

            But look – a lonely man is crying. The bench is hot –

            He won’t notice; his love is gone, his time is running out.

            I could have held his hand…

            These are my projects, un-captured but remembered.

            If we had time to feel, but life has filled the days.

And then a whisper, “there is always time.

To hold his hand, to kiss your baby’s curls,

To walk in no particular direction,

Until your feet are numb and heart is open.”

            If you have time, you should become a Buddhist.

           

VM
6/21/13

           

           

 

 

 

 

 

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***

 

Who will love me tonight?

                        Who will love me tomorrow?

            Nobody.

            Somebody?

                        Anybody?

Will you?

            Whose hands will set me free?

                        Whose scent will mix with mine?

                                    Whose lips will eat me?

                                                Whose eyes will drink my soul?

            Somebody’s.

             But he’s a ghost – a nobody.

I give myself to ghosts.

            They love me – as I love them.

            We speak of love;

                        We share unafraid,

            We climb the ladder, labyrinths of ecstasy.

We do not fall or get entangled.

            Entwined in memories,

                        We never speak again.

            Of what?

            The whispers cling to walls in places –  dark and hidden –

                        Where you took me.

                                    I opened up to you,

                        And you were open.

            We drank each other; watched, bewildered,

            The moment…

                        When pain has eased its grip and set you free… to feel.

                        You smile and breathe.

                                    You tell me that you love me.

            I only nod.

Then all is quiet.

            No words are left.

                        No thoughts required.

            My throbbing heart  – the only memory of what has been.

 

Who will love me tonight?

            Nobody.

                        I will.

 

(c) Vica Miller

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***

I run to you until I trip on silence…

My rivers flow into you until you choke.

Your mouth takes no more, you gurgle.

Sheets are wet.

… You enter me, again.

My scream fades into a whisper,

Lingers in the fog, mutates into nothingness.

Nothing is new.

… Everything has been.

Repeat. The fire turns to ashes. Love to pain.

Who am I in this labyrinth of questions?

A sigh, a comma.

… Breath aborted.

Lost in my own inflammation of the senses.

So senseless.

… Feelings? Nonsense.

To fuck, to own, to release.

… Repeat.

Until you trip on silence.

(c) Vica Miller

***

Of future, do not speak.

Don’t ask or plan or wonder,

Don’t envision.

It is a flighty bird that no one’s seen,

Impossible to catch,

It calls you.

You want to see it but I beg you:

Close your eyes.

And stay with me today. No need to look,

Just feel.

The unity.

My breath is hot,

My mouth on your temple.

My hand is light, it’s holding yours –

Forever.

We have a future; that I know.

Trust me.

This notion, small yet grand, is all we need.

The bird is ours. It called us.

We will follow.

But please don’t tame the future,

set it free.

We shall be found there, soon.

And until then –

my name is love.

I found you.

I’ve come to stay.

Just hold me.

(c) Vica Miller

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For my Mom.

.

I always remembered her lips. Round, smooth, never chapped and always pink and shiny, even in the coldest Russian winter. I haven’t seen her in twenty years, but when she wrote and asked to meet, the first thing I thought of were her lips. Not how she had hurt me, not how I had run away – her lips. Are they the same lips, I wondered, plump and moist, as if gilded by a morning dew? Does she still apply Chap Stick in the middle of a hurried storytelling or a recital, as she did back then, in St. Petersburg Conservatory – leaning forward, absorbed by the boys’ chorus singing a cappella, their high voices reverberating off the ceilings? Or in the midst of telling me of her boyfriend back in New York, wondering if he’d been faithful while she was away, trying on Russia?

Every time we talked, my eyes rested on her lips, soft as a child’s skin, their smooth curves as if outlined by a painter. Not that I ever touched them, but I must have missed half of her stories watching her lips. How they moved. How they glistened after she licked them. How they stretched into a smile, exposing two rows of perfectly even white teeth.

I was ready to turn off the dim desk light, my husband already asleep, his tall body draped over the bed, when I saw her email. After all these years Eden wanted to meet, as if nothing had ever happened. As if she hadn’t made me feel homeless and unwanted; as if I hadn’t cried every night for a week, alone in a foreign city that was her home, where she was my only friend. As if I could erase my memories of first sharing Russia with her, later wrecked by the cold shower of her irritation and annoyance with me in New York – because I stayed at her parent’s townhouse on Gramercy Park for a week too long.

But that was twenty years earlier. I had moved out of her parents’ house. I had found a job. I’d gotten married and had kids. So had she. And now she wanted to meet, in the city, which has become home to us both, and where we could have lived the rest of our lives without ever seeing each other again. Without exchanging another word, another glance, or point of view. Never having to remember what we shared back then, at twenty. Our walks along the Neva, the White Nights, the never-ending days, the evenings stretching into mornings under pretense of dusk; slumber parties, Eden wearing a torn Beatles tank top, me in a new Run DMC T-shirt. Translating Akhmatova’s poems into English, and Blake’s into Russian, reading Nabokov’s Lolita in two languages at once, savoring every vowel as if it were a jewel, wondering if she’d ever speak Russian like that, if I’d ever speak English like this.

Today, twenty years later we’ll meet again, because I said I’d love to. Because I forgave her. Because I didn’t think she’d remember my hurt. It was my hurt. And she probably had enough of her own to bother thinking about mine. Everybody has hurts. One doesn’t even have to ask, to know how much pain a person has had in her life. Just stand closer without uttering a word, look into her eyes a little longer… it’s all there.

So I’ve forgiven her even before I agreed to meet. She was still the same Eden, who had sat across from my mom at our kitchen table in St. Petersburg. I can’t sit across from Mom anymore, but I can sit across from Eden, so I went.

On Thursday afternoon, walking towards the meeting place I suggested, a small Italian Salumeria across from Verdi Square, I looked at my reflection floating in the windows, wondering what I’d say.  “Kak dela?” or “How are you?” Would she speak Russian to me and I, English to her, as we had back then?

I spotted her as she walked out of a chocolate shop, and saw her lips: pink and moist, stretched into a Cheshire smile. Eden – the mother of two, a 40-year old, with a few wrinkles around her eyes, but her tight full lips, unchanged. I felt as if a piece of my youth had been given back to me. Why was it a relief to know that her fabulous lips were intact after all these years, as if they held a secret to preserving my own life? We hugged.

“Shopping for chocolates?” I asked.

She laughed. “They have the same store in my building in Brooklyn,” she said. “I had no idea they were in Manhattan too.”

“I wanted to sit outside,” I said in Russian. Eden nodded and sat down, hurriedly putting away The New Yorker she held under her arm, then fumbling with a white serviette. A twig of rosemary fell out from it and Eden picked it up. I looked away to give her a moment. Was she nervous?

It was the first spring day after the longest winter. Forsythias and dandelions bursting with yellow. Pregnant women no longer covering their bellies, as if ready to aknowledge to the world the lives inside them.

I had wine, Eden didn’t.  She was still breastfeeding, she said. I’d stopped a year earlier. We talked, in English. Her father had died 10 years ago. I told her my mother had thought him so elegant and well groomed, unlike the men at her research institute.

“Well-groomed?” Eden asked and laughed.

“Yes, that’s what she said.”

My mother had died 19 years ago, I told her. Eden’s green eyes glistened.

“She made the best pirozhki in the world,” she said. I nodded. The cherry trees across Amsterdam Avenue unfolded in pink fuzziness. I thought of Mom’s hands.

“I want to bring up something from the past,” Eden said. “You probably don’t even remember this episode, but it’s been haunting me for a long time. Before you moved out of our house, you told me that I’d changed so much since Russia, and had become nepristupnaya… I didn’t know the word and had to look it up. Unapproachable. You told me I’d become unapproachable, not the person you knew.” Eden took a sip of water from the tall glass in front of her. “I want to apologize. Will you forgive me?” Her lips quivered and a round tear rolled out of her right eye and settled on her upper lip.

I touched her lips for the first time. They were as soft I’d imagined. I caressed her forehead and her eyebrow. I told her I didn’t remember saying those words, but that the hurt still lingered somewhere in my body, behind the rib cage, on the left, close to where the heart is. That I didn’t think she’d remembered “the episode”. I told her I’d forgiven her. We’ve known each other for more than half of our lives.

As I looked at her round face, framed by short brown hair with streaks of gray, into her green eyes made bigger by sadness and regret, I thought about how we had met and then parted, like two ships that left a harbor in different directions, sailed through rough waters, lost the way at times, and then drifted back. Is this a safe harbor now? I’d like to think it is. And we’re still the same ships, now moored, older and rougher on the surface, our sails withered by time and loss, but more forgiving and willing to forget.

After, we talked all the way to the subway, unable to part, as if our words entangled us into their nets, into the woven bits of our lives, each new sentence a string to our past, and perhaps future.

VM © 2011

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It was the turn of her head full of dark curls that stole his breath. He wanted to come closer and place his hand on her neck, trace the curve of her ear lobs, bury his face in the unruly hair falling in a wave over her right shoulder. He watched her run her fingers over the cheap jewelry in the gift shop, her lips pursed, and decided to buy it all, the amber necklace, the blue-glass beaded bracelets, the fake emerald brooch, the silver ring with a large round crystal, if only she’d let him place them around her neck, over her breasts, on her fingers and wrists. He approached her from behind, and stood there, eyes closed, inhaling her scent of strawberries, with a touch of cinnamon.

      She turned sharply and he felt pain on the right, where his liver was, as her pointy elbow settled below his diaphragm. He groaned and bent over, placing a hand on her shoulder, a gesture unintentional yet fitting.

      “Oh, I’m so sorry,” she said taking a step back and leaning away from him, her eyes two enormous question marks. “I didn’t mean to hit you.”

      He cracked his face into a smile and managed, “It’s my fault. I didn’t mean to startle you.”

      He felt so short of breath that he lowered himself to the floor, his back against the counter, and she slid down next to him. They sat there for a few moments, in silence, looking at the opposite wall with displays of masks and trophies, like two visitors in a museum staring at a painting they couldn’t understand.

      “You seemed really taken by those,” he said pointing to the jewelry counter above and behind them.

      “I designed them,” she said. “I come here every once in a while to see if anything got sold. Not much since last week. This is the first store in the city to take on my jewelry.” She sighed. “It’s exciting. But they don’t really sell anything.”

      He chuckled, and offered her a hand to get up.

      “Which one is your favorite?” he asked her. “You must have a favorite, right?”

      She leaned over the counter and he took in the curve of her lower back draped in a black tunic, her pointy bare knees, and tiny feet dressed in red leather shoes with silver buckles. He noticed braided leather bracelets on her wrists, and touched his own.

      “I love the emerald brooch,” she said. “It’s a replica of my grandmother’s. Was a family heirloom until my mother lost it. I recreated it from memory.”

      “I’d love to get it for you…,” he paused. “I don’t even know your name.”

      “Erica.”

      “I’d love to get it for you, Erica. If you let me,” he said.

      “That would be so sweet…” She stumbled.

      “Jake,” he mouthed.

      “Jake,” she repeated.

She lifted her eyes, and he saw the dark green dotted with yellow, circled in black; the curling eyelashes; the thin waves of her eyebrows; the dimples on her freckled cheeks, the chapped pink of her lips, and fell in love.

“Nobody ever bought me jewelry. Perhaps they thought I don’t need any since I design it.”

He paid the fifty dollars, the sum that would ordinarily last him for a week of lunches, and fiddled with the lock, trying to pin the brooch to her jacket, the needle escaping the round head, prickling his fingers. She placed her hand on his.

“Let me,” she said. When she finished, he kept his hand on hers.

Her eyes looked a deeper shade of green with the brooch sparkling below her chin, reflecting the ceiling lights, just above her left breast,.

coney

Jake offered her his hand, and Erica entwined her arm in the nook of his elbow. They walked over to the boardwalk.  The wind has picked up, the waves now crashing on the shore in a steady crescendo, the purple clouds weaving a pattern of giant leaves and flowers over the horizon. The Coney Tower silhouetted against the orange sun like a faithful guard of the boardwalk.

      “Do you live around here?” she asked.

      “No, I’m on the Lower East Side.”

      “What brings you to Coney then?”

      “Friends at the Sideshow. I’m a free-lance clown, mostly in Manhattan.”

      She took a step back and gave him a onceover, a look of disbelief in her green eyes. Jake wrinkled his forehead and nodded, reassuring her. Her laughter rolled like pebbles on the beach. Erica threw her head back, then bent over, hands on knees, charcoal hair falling forward, almost touching the ground.

      “Oh my God,” she said breathless. “I’m sorry. I’ve never met a real clown before. That is so funny.”

      He laughed with her, and their duet sounded to him better than any music.  His eyes teared up, and he had to hold on to the railing. Jake wanted to laugh with her when they were old, when their teeth had fallen out, and gums made smacking noises, and when they could no longer make love, just hold hands.

      He straightened out, and placed his hand on Erica’s shoulder, then fixed the single hair stuck on her lip. They haven’t even kissed and he already thought of spending his last days with her.

      Erica moved in two weeks later, with her overweight cat, three old leather suitcases full of skirts and semi-precious gems and tools, and a jewelry worktable. He pushed aside the costumes in the closet, and sat on the bed watching her place skirt after skirt on hangers that looked like torture contraptions with multiple metal latches to hold several pieces. Erica hummed “Let it be, let it be,” as she struggled to fit in the last of her wardrobe. Jake got up and took the hanger from her, placed it on the closet door, and walked her to the bed. They stayed there until the stars filled the frame of a darkened window.

      The ring had a dot of emerald surrounded by specks of diamonds, the gold band thin as a hair. He had spent the last of his money on the vet for her fat cat. “Now you know why I’m always broke,” she had said as they picked up the cat. “He’s my best friend, and I’d do anything for a friend.” And he would do anything for her.

      Jake made penne with cherry tomatoes in olive oil, sprinkled with oregano, set the round table with tea candles and greeted her at the door with a glass of red.

    “Has it really been two months?” Erica kissed him on the lips and sat down stretching her legs. He traced the outline of her smooth calves, unfastened the silver buckles, slid off the shoes and kissed her toes, one by one, then placed the small box between her feet. Erica lowered herself on her knees, next to him. Jake thought he noticed a hint of hesitation cloud her face, but the next moment she opened the box, smiled, and said, “Yes.”

      He felt as proud as he had back in high school, when he won a national archery contest and all the girls discovered him for the first time. The trophy still graced one of the shelves in his apartment – their apartment – next to his cactuses and masks. He felt that he had finally won the main prize: his bride, the most beautiful girl in the world. What better present could he wish for his thirtieth birthday? He had proved his father wrong.

      Erica came to see his performance a week later. Jake felt proud to have her in the audience, emerald eyes locked on his hands, as he made tangerines disappear between his fingers. She came backstage after and invited him for a drink, just the two of them.

      “Sweetheart, wouldn’t you like to go out with the cast? They’re great people, and I’d love to show off my future wife,” he said, running his hand through her smooth black hair, kissing her forehead.

      “I’d like to be alone with you tonight, if you don’t mind.”

      Jake marveled at how much this woman loved him, and cherished every moment alone with him. He would do anything for her, anything at all.

“Of course,” he said squeezing her small hand.

Erica rolled and unrolled the napkin on her plate until the fork fell to the floor, its clinking interrupting the white noise of the restaurant. Heads turned and he saw a flicker of annoyance on her face.

“Is everything all right, sweetheart?” He asked and put his hand over hers. “Is something the matter?”

Erica removed his hand from his, and straightened in her chair.

“Everything is great. There is just one thing,” she said and took a sip of water.

Jake felt the muscles in his jaw tighten. “I’m listening.” He bit his tongue and flinched but she didn’t notice.

“I didn’t know how to tell you. I wasn’t sure about it, actually, but now I am.”

He felt warm inside, not worried at all. He knew what she was about to say, and smiled inwardly.

“I’m pregnant. It’s too late for an abortion. And I wanted to keep it anyway.”

Jake cocked his head to the side, marveling at her beauty and determination. He always wanted a daughter, a little copy of him, who’d run around and laugh at his magic tricks.

“Of course, my love! We shall have this baby.” He covered her hand with his, the engagement ring settling under his palm, stroking her perfectly shaped fingernails.

Erica wiggled out her hand and he watched her drink a full glass of water, gulp after gulp, her eyes set on him without blinking. She put the glass down and dried her mouth with a sleeve of her shirt.

 “I was pregnant when we met.”

The ice cubes from his glass hit the floor and slid under the table. Jake felt his shins prickled by the cold bites. He looked at Erica, who kept saying something to him, and couldn’t decipher the words, as if she was encased in a balloon and speaking in a slow motion, “boowaoo, boowaoo” coming out of her mouth. He felt pain in his chest and thought of all the arrows that have flown out of his bow.

“I understand if you want to break off the engagement.” He watched her take the ring off. “That man meant nothing to me. I just wanted a baby. I don’t expect you to understand. I’m really sorry.”

She got up from the table and headed towards the exit. Jake now felt as if he was in a movie, and couldn’t wait for it to end, for the titles to appear, so that his Erica could come back to him, without another man’s child growing inside her.

“Wait!” he shouted.

Erica stopped and turned half way, craning her neck, the gesture that stole his breath two months earlier. Jake watched her loosen her hair from a bun with one hand, the black waves settling on her shoulders. She completed the turn, like a gymnast straining not to lose balance at the end of the performance, looking small but determined, waiting to be judged, a smear of red lipstick on her right cheek.

“Wait!” his father had screamed at him, the eight year-old balancing on the edge of a cliff. Thirty feet below, the dark ocean water roared like an animal. Jake turned back, then pushed away with both feet.

He was flying.

(c) Vica Miller 2012

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The white mesh hung from the broken wedding tent like a veil, forgotten.

Her daughter became a wife a few hours earlier.

Jill was alone on the beach, now dark and silent, with the solitary boat blinking its yellow eye in a distance. The tent stood like an abandoned ship run ashore, the garland of flowers still woven over its wooden poles, the mesh curving in the wind – a damaged sail. One beam has fallen to the ground forming a giant upside down V with another. Jill picked out a few flowers. White lilies, maroon gerberas, orange birds of paradise. Why didn’t they bring them inside after the ceremony? They would have made beautiful bouquets, for her daughter’s suite, for her own room.

She remembered how Ross brought her a white rose every Sunday.  She’d still be asleep, and he’d walk in with the first rays of sun, an old aluminum tray in his hands – the one they had bought at a flea market the day they had moved in, now riddled with scratches,- a cup of coffee, a toast with jelly, and a single white rose on it. She’d stretch and smile and he’d lean over and kiss her good morning, then watch her drink the coffee.

She had since defined happiness with that moment: the first sip of coffee, her husband watching her.

When the cup was half-empty, he’d take it from her hands, and put it back on the tray, pull the sheets down. He watched her for minutes, sometimes half an hour, as she lay naked in bed, not moving, his hand gliding over her shoulders, breasts, belly, thighs. She had once asked him what he was doing. “I’m remembering you,” he’d said, “for when I’m not here.”

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Jill stood under the tent. She no longer cried. She had stopped a while back, two years to be exact. Ross had known for a while but didn’t utter a word. She blamed his paleness for sleepless nights, and his thinning body for a new diet he took to observing, welcoming his Sunday observations with eagerness. There was something exquisitely seductive and forbidden in the way he traced her collarbones and nipples, circled her belly button, never crossing into where she wanted to be. He loved her on other nights and mornings, always when she least expected, but never on Sundays. “One can’t make physical love to a Goddess,” he’d say. “This is how I worship you.”

Jill wondered if Zoe’s husband knew the art of seduction. He must have since she chose him. And who was she to worry about it – a widow, a broken ship in the desert? A decade without him. Why was she still here?

The single beam of light from the hotel’s roof cut in her eyes and she turned towards the ocean. The mesh caught her right hand and she let it. “A widow’s glove,” thought Jill as she traced individual tiny squares of the white web with her index finger and thumb.

She remembered her own wedding. Thirty years has passed, and she still felt the touch of his fingers, dry and nervous, as they traced her eyebrow after he lifted the veil. Ross looked through her, his eyes filled to the brim. Her own mother wasn’t there to see that, but she, Jill, was here for her girl tonight, her little princess now twenty-five. But Ross wasn’t. How she still missed him, every day, every morning, tonight.

She stood under the tent, inhaling the damp air, getting lost in the monotonous rumble of the waves, their drops settling on her face. Someone touched her shoulder.

“Mom, what are you doing here? Everything alright?”

She turned to face her daughter, lean and strong, a stubborn little girl with green eyes and thick flowing hair, Ross’s.

“Yes, baby. All is well. I’ll be there in a minute.”

“I want you with us, Mom. Please.”

Zoe kissed her on the forehead, and turned back, now in a cocktail dress, the gown gone, no veil.

Jill stood under the tent as if it could save her from herself; two used and broken things, now superfluous and forgotten. She untangled her hand, put a few flowers into a small bouquet. The fragrance, sweet and already rotting; some petals wrinkled, some falling. He had always called her “My flower”.

Jill picked more flowers, reached up to the horizontal beam, and tore them out, one by one, the gerberas, the lilies, the birds of paradise, her hands full, flowers falling on her shoulders, breasts, feet. She put the heap on the sand, and rushed to the left beam, untangling the leaves, tearing off the stems, cupping the flower heads. She held them all, her hands forming a giant O, her face inside the fragrant breathing sphere. The ocean lulled its song. Jill stood upright, then let the flowers fall to her feet. Her sorrow went with them. She stripped the right pole of the flowers, tore down the mesh, spread it on the sand. They were hers, Zoe’s, Ross’s. She gathered every last one on the mesh, folded its corners, made a knot. The bale was heavier than she thought, so she dragged it. She thought of knocking down the beams, their listless nakedness hovering over like a bad omen, but had no strength.

Jill entered the ballroom as the first dance was ending.

“I’m back,” she said to Zoe, and poured the flowers at her feet. “This is from Dad… He loved you more than anything.”

“Thank you, Mom.”

© Vica Miller

1/27/2013

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