Early Valentine’s

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I am making this a new Valentine’s Day tradition, since the gesture was appreciated on previous occasions. And who doesn’t like appreciation?… :-) As my little gift to you (it isn’t much, but that’s the best I can do to show my own appreciation during what many consider to be the month of love), you can download my book, Parallel Lives, for free using the links below. Given that it’s not a typical “they lived happily ever after” romance and it also portrays the more unconventional, uncomfortable twists and turns of relationships, it might also be a good choice for those of you not really in the mood for celebrating this year. Whether you get it for yourself or as a gift for somebody else, I hope you enjoy my small token of appreciation :-) .

Download for free until the 15th of February:

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/parallel-lives-ana-linden/1118140770?ean=2940045563567

https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/parallel-lives-7

https://www.overdrive.com/media/1613540/parallel-lives

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

http://www.inktera.com/store/title/1ac546fe-cc7e-480c-bba7-8c7f34c72830

https://www.scribd.com/book/202758410/Parallel-Lives

(And of course, on it’s on iBooks as well.)

Time…

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I have a love-hate relationship with time… and hate often prevails. I look at my watch and even if I can count the hours, the minutes that go by, I still cannot tell time. I still cannot understand it. Life changing moments have always been just that – moments. Moments that descended upon me out of nowhere. Moments that echoed through my existence over the years. People came into my life and left, always the same way, abruptly, without any warning or foretelling signs.

I am a planner, yet rarely did any of my plans have an impact similar to those split second events that set and reset the course of one’s life. Time and I are not on friendly terms in such situation, even if the change is a positive one. But even when trying to plan everything, to predict the unpredictable, I still let those split seconds determine everything, because the truth is I do rely on my intuition when allowing a moment’s impulse to prompt a major decision. That’s when time and I make peace, because the dreaded split second is mine to control and do what I please with it – for better or worse, I know it was my own decision that subjected me to a variety of consequences, not an external, uncontrollable, unexpected momentary event.

I am sure of only one thing when it comes to time: the more it manages to put me down, the more desperately and stubbornly I will try to fight it. I will manage to find ‘me’ time, those wonderful interludes when I make time my own, rather than be its frantic slave. I will seek those places hiding atemporal beauty, thus making time redundant; and whenever I can, I will find refuge there. And I will always seek to find that ideal moisturizer as well, that one which makes time crawl on our skin a lot slower than the fiend would like to, leaving behind less visible marks.

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Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion’s paws,
And make the earth devour her own sweet brood;
Pluck the keen teeth from the fierce tiger’s jaws,
And burn the long-lived phoenix in her blood;
Make glad and sorry seasons as thou fleet’st,
And do whate’er thou wilt, swift-footed time,
To the wide world and all her fading sweets;
But I forbid thee one most heinous crime:
O carve not with thy hours my love’s fair brow,
Nor draw no lines there with thine ántique pen.
Him in thy course untainted do allow
For beauty’s pattern to succeeding men.
  Yet do thy worst, old Time; despite thy wrong,
  My love shall in my verse ever live young.
William Shakespeare – Sonnet 19

In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge Time – This week, think about time and portray it photographically.

 

Vibrant Abuse

Last time I heard a person banging at one’s door that loudly was when the oldest lady in the building fell asleep while cooking her dinner and nearly burnt down the whole place. The first to smell smoke knocked at all the doors, we all got out, hoping for the best, yet envisioning the worst. Fortunately, loud banging on her door finally woke her up before the firemen got there, she was taken outside while her apartment was being properly ventilated and that was the end of it.

I stood up, trying to understand the man’s words and figure out what was going on this time. As the loud door knocking subsided, the angry words became easily distinguishable. The building wasn’t burning down; there was no burst pipe; burglars hadn’t broken into anyone’s home. The current event was a lot more mundane, apparently a lot more insignificant according to general consensus, yet equally disturbing, if you ask me. It happens every day, everywhere, in all walks of life, yet it hadn’t happened right under my nose for a while, so it took me by surprise, it shook me a bit.

The rejected lover keeps knocking at his ex-girlfriend’s door… louder and louder, more and more violently. He is the man, it is only up to him to determine when and how their relationship ends. He knocks and knocks, while angry words try to punctuate his desires. She’s home, but she will not open her door. I cannot hear her, but the message is clear – he needs to leave, because she wants nothing to do with him. Minutes go by, pleading and knocking continue, yet the door remains locked and closed. As the woman’s determination starts sipping into his system, the man’s true nature starts surfacing without great difficulty. Manipulative words try to express the right reason for him to be there, the one that would make her open the door; he goes from anger to indifference to supplication and back to anger within minutes. He just wants to see her. No, she’s deluded, he’s not there for her, all he wants is to say goodbye to her child. Reasons alternate and when it becomes clear one isn’t working, he moves on to the next.

What? She’s called the police? He couldn’t care less, she can stick the police up her… He’s only here to get what’s his things, he needs his things after all. Yeah, that one jacket he’s left behind, that’s what he wants and that’s why he needs to be allowed into her apartment. If only the idiot woman that she is could understand such a simple thing… he’s not here for her, nobody would be here for her anyway, she’s just a worthless piece of trash. He’s leaving in the morning, he needs his jacket, she won’t hear from him again; he’s leaving the country. The destination changes from one sentence to the next – he’s moving to London, he’s moving to Paris, he’s moving to Rome and so on…. Clearly he’s paid attention during geography classes in school, since he can list most European capitals within one angry, abusive monologue. As his knocking and kicking at the locked door escalate, so do his invectives, ‘useless whore’ becoming one of his kindest terms of endearment.

I feel a very strong impulse to open the door and tell him off, ask that sad excuse of a man to leave. But I don’t. I don’t do that sort of thing anymore. After having gotten involved in a variety of reckless situations as an adolescent and in my twenties, after somehow – miraculously – getting away untouched, I finally manage to control myself and avoid this sort of things. I see myself in my pink bathrobe and I realise I probably can’t accomplish anything more than become the next target for his abuse. She’s safe behind her locked door and I am safe behind mine, even if I’m still so tempted…

But where are all the men? After all, there aren’t only women living in this building; there are men of various ages too, none of them too old or too feeble to open his door and politely ask the intruder to calm down, go home and leave us all alone. Who let that creature in the building in the first place anyway? And where are all the so-called men who are my neighbours?

I have good instincts and they’ve always kept me away from abusive men, whose main means of securing a woman’s affection/obedience/loyalty is aggression. But I’ve seen and refereed so many of these situations between distant relatives, close friends and various acquaintances, that – as a woman – I find nothing to be more unacceptable and unforgiveable in a man than abusive behaviour.

As knocking evolves into constant kicking of the door and the voice settles on a course of endless insults, she will play her final card. Oh, so you’ve got a man in there with you, you say?… But after concluding that once a whore, always a whore and making his point with his fists against the door, he quickly decides he has to go home, leaving a trail of invectives behind him. The big bad wolf that kept everybody behind their locked doors couldn’t run faster at the mere suggestion that a man was standing by the side of the woman he had abused and was still looking to abuse for an indeterminate period of time…

Yet, where were all the men in the building? I know that was a fortunate situation, the aggressor being so easily deterred from torturing his prey. But it still was just one of him… And then a different thought slowly invaded my thoughts. What if it wasn’t fear? What if it wasn’t indifference? What if it wasn’t chivalry being dead and buried? What if, instead, they found that type of behaviour normal, acceptable? Moreover, what if they actually thought that’s what she deserves?

I couldn’t let it be. So even if I didn’t ask anybody in the building (because I like to stay out of my neighbours’ lives, hoping they would stay out of mine) I did ask a couple of men close to my soul, who I know would never treat a woman that way. One of them told me there has never been an occasion on which he tried to defend a woman abused in public by her boyfriend/husband without said woman jumping in to take her man’s side… He wasn’t wrong – all too often I was told of various incidents, only to be pushed away and be accused of malevolence towards their significant other by the women in question, as soon as they forgave their abusive partners. I was also told that a decent man needs to get his facts straight first – on one hand, one needs to know what sort of lunatic one might be dealing with, on the other hand one needs to know whether the victim in question I indeed a victim. And let’s not forget, one woman’s abuse, another woman’s foreplay….

All I can say right now is I hope that my neighbour who managed to escape her abuser can find the strength to stay away from him. I hope the majority of those locked doors were hiding indignation, not support for that kind of behaviour towards women, because that in itself represents a small step in the right direction.

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In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Vibrant – This week, share a photo of something vibrant. Let’s wash the web with a rainbow of colors.

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 18

“I know the feeling, I haven’t been around here for several years either, but this seemed just the day for it. When I moved to this town after getting married, I used to come here as often as I could. I guess it put certain things into perspective… Besides, it’s such a good place to run away from everything.”

The dusty country road took them right in front of the big, rust-covered gate, leaning on ancient stones. As soon as the car was parked under a massive tree, Amalia was out, stretching her legs like a big, restless feline, while Robert was fiddling with something in the trunk.

“Here,” he got so close to her, that when the light breeze blew her hair, it touched his face and he almost shivered handing her a bottle of water, “careful not to dehydrate. And try not to twist your ankles. Do you think you can handle a walk around the place?”

“You have no idea, do you?” She turned towards him giggling, just a few carefree steps and jumps having already taken her past the slightly open gate. “Come on, what are you waiting for?”

She took several steps away, skipping over a few scattered rocks and now ruins of the ancient settlement were spreading around her on the hillside, all the way down to the sea, like a giant lizard baking in the sun. All of the sudden, the universe became quiet and timeless, a mass of suspended emotions, generations, battles and sorrows transpiring through the ancient stones. The past was present again and the present could be lost among the ruins, emotions and fears and worries could be scattered and dropped in the grass and nettles covering the paths of another world, a long ago disappeared civilization could deal with them however they saw fit. A lost civilization… they came to conquer and instead they settled and lived and died. But had they ever been alive or had the trouble of conquering and settling taken over their lives and haunted them to their deaths? They died so many times, each and every time a foot stepped on their world and a soul remembered them, they died once more, without ever coming back to life, their existence so long ago helping to have never lived in the first place. No one can really grasp the notion of their lives so far back in time, so they must have never lived at all. But I am alive now, I am so alive now, because I’m here and because they make me feel so alive. So they must have lived too, they must still live somewhere too, if they can make me feel so alive. She stopped to breathe the ancient heat emanated by the stone wall against which she was leaning, her eyes and thoughts spiralling through the grass on the path, all the way down to the water.

For more sample fragments from Parallel Lives, see: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

Glass Half Empty, Half Full, Or No Glass At All?

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I may be able to come up with quite a variety of words to describe myself, but ‘optimist’ is not amongst them. I’m a realist. And as a realist, I cannot help having my moments of stifling pessimism, just as I also cannot help having hopes and dreams from time to time. As for that one person of the two who know me in real life and have also been told about this blog – no, I don’t suffer from multiple personality disorder either… Or if I do, the one typing right now certainly has no idea about it. But we’ll go back to that later.

If you believe yourself to be a realist, then most likely you have often been accused of negative thinking and you’ve been labelled a pessimist more times than you can remember. I won’t deny it, I do believe that if anything can go wrong, then most likely it will; but if I were a pessimist, I would say, “then it will”. Of course, I can’t help noticing that if my perfectly functional computer decides to throw a tantrum and crash or if there’s a power cut or if my internet provider suddenly experiences various difficulties, it will always happen just before I manage to click ‘Save’ or ‘Send’ as I’m struggling to meet that impending deadline. So I’ve learnt to accept that technology is not infallible and it bears one striking resemblance to many people: it will let you down just when you need it the most. Of course, if your car is going to get a flat tire while simply being parked in front of your home over night, there’s a very good chance it’ll happen when you’re in a hurry the following day… and the weather will probably be awful, nobody will be there to help you change the damn thing or to give you a ride. But the control freak that I am doesn’t give up, she simply learns her lesson. I save documents and back up my work more often than I like to admit to; I try to leave early enough so I manage not to be too late in case of unexpected impediments. And for this sort of things I get called paranoid, pessimist or negativist!

I have been accused – on more than one occasion – that I see the worst in people. I really don’t – I only notice stereotypical behaviour, I remember past situations involving said individuals and I tend to be quite a good judge of character. I apply the same thought process when it comes to positive aspects, but that generally gets overlooked and dismissed, on the premises that I couldn’t possibly ‘predict’ something good about a person, given my negative tendencies… Overlooked tend to also be all those situations when my ‘negativism’ has led me to accurately ‘predict’ unpleasant outcomes regarding certain endeavours or people… that is, if I’m lucky and I don’t get blamed for the entire course of events – clearly, my opening my big mouth to state the obvious was what caused it all. But, like I said, I tend to learn my lessons and to keep my opinions to myself once in a while – which doesn’t come easy to me – or just be aware I’d have to live with a wide array of unpleasant consequences when I decide to express my thoughts in a less diplomatic fashion.

Yet being a realist who’s seen a fair share of awkwardly unlucky coincidences and being ambitious, stubborn, opinionated and impatient are features that can clash in unpleasant, disappointing, even depressing ways. Overcoming failure becomes difficult. Picking yourself up and trying again and again and again simply because you cannot accept a certain turn of events might start to seem pointless. After all, the realist in you knows what the chances to succeed are. After all, insanity is often defined as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results (thank you, Einstein, for throwing so many of us in that delightful category). And yet… the stubborn, ambitious person in me cannot settle for less than she thinks she deserves, so she’ll not be able to give up, no matter how depressing that might be. Meanwhile, the impatient one cannot take that drama anymore – she wants what she wants and she wants it now. (Wait, maybe I do have multiple personalities after all… Hmm…) Anyway, the realist that I am needs to rise above and find a way to survive, so I could survive without going insane in more ways than the one described by Mr Einstein (or whoever else people chose to credit for that particular definition).

You reach a point when no matter how fast you think and speak, no matter how ambitious you are, no matter how disappointed you’ve become, no matter how cynical you’ve always been, you need to stop and take a good look at your life for what it actually is, not for what you want it to be. You need to do that not for some metaphysical, impersonal, altruistic, holier-than-thou reason, but only so you wouldn’t sink. We all find our own ways of coping with it, our own solutions. Personally, after several years of taking a break from it, I started writing again, for myself and to myself, the same way I had done for a long time – before any of you say anything, I am well aware this doesn’t bode well for my claim to sanity. But I find it gives me a new perspective, it allows me to see everything in a slightly more objective (dare I say realistic?) light. Later I started this blog and by that time I had reached a sort of balance; this led to that amusing little comment about my personalities – I know it must seem so unlike the blunt, cynical me in real life.

No, I wasn’t trying to pretend to be a different person, a better, nicer or kinder one. I am who I am and I make no apologies for it. I am a realist who is doing her best to see the positive side of her own existence. I try to enjoy what I do have, the beautiful moments, the wonderful people, the special times and the nice things in my life, aside from everything else that drives me crazy, while also driving me to want more for myself. But in order to do that, I need to constantly remind myself it needs to be done – forced positivity is a realist’s self-prescribed medicine – because I am not, nor will I ever be an optimist floating on pick, inspirational clouds surrounded by cuddly unicorns. I find my own kind of satisfaction to keep me going. Sometimes it’s in the books I read, the words I write, the flowers I receive, the moments by the sea, the colours of the sunset, the travelling to various places… and sometimes it’s in that selfish, obnoxious pleasure of knowing I was right and others were wrong in reading a person or a situation… and other times it’s simply in enjoying a pair of obscenely beautiful and expensive shoes I know I probably shouldn’t have bought.

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In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge Optimistic.

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 17

 

There is a certain dose of masochism in every one of us, but some are endowed with more than the usual amount. Robert knew that she was right and he hated her being right on such a topic, especially when she so stubbornly held on to her ideas. What he failed to grasp was the fact that it was a similar kind of masochism which made him feel attracted to her. It was that particular moment that he realised he wanted and he needed to have her exactly because she wasn’t just beautiful and young, but she was stubborn and with a mind of her own… and because he would never be able to control her. But he was still able to control himself and easily swallow the offensive words he felt the need to throw at her, just as he was able to put aside his latest realisation regarding his urges and carry on with what he had planned for the day. Any sudden move would scare her away, that became clear shortly after they had met, and he didn’t want to risk his newfound happiness: he wanted something and he had no idea how and when he’d get it, and that gave him a thrill of happiness, as he realised how fun it would be to get there.

They were approaching their destination for the afternoon and all the traffic signs and touristic indications started to clearly point out where they were heading. Amalia had to give him credit for the original idea and started to be restless, looking forward to get there, so she could get out of the car and wonder about freely in the scorching afternoon sun.

“Is that where we’re going?”

“It is. Are you going to throw stones at me as soon as we get out of the car?”

“Doubtfully,” she smiled. “I’ve been meaning to come see this place for a while, but it just seems there’s always something else to do first.”

For more sample fragments from Parallel Lives, see: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

Letters

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The beam of light heading my way seemed out of place in the middle of the cold, dark field. I didn’t remember a road being there; yet there must have been one, otherwise… My right foot instinctively became gentler with the pedal, the car slowed down on the almost deserted motorway and I could focus on that puzzling light cutting through the field on my right. It didn’t take long and as that flash of light and I passed each other, heading into opposite directions in the night, the warm sensation of discarded memories invaded my body. The initial beam split into several, than many interconnected bright squares flickered for a few moments, only to slither away into the night as abruptly as they had appeared, the train heading towards the town I had left.

There was a road cutting through the field, parallel to the motorway. A railroad. But I don’t take the train anymore. I don’t like trains these days. I don’t think of them much or often. Yet that warm sensation was familiar. It might have been the hour. It might have been the route. Or it might have simply been that particular train. It all translated into the fact that it could have been ‘that’ train – the one I used to be on so many times, the one taking me to what used to be a destination and what is now a home. It was a sensation from a time long ago, a time of travelling by train and writing letters…

When was it that I last wrote a real letter? Or for that matter, when did I last open my mailbox to find an envelope with my name and address handwritten on it, enclosing pages covered in ink scribbling? I remember the last time I took the train, but I can’t remember the last real letter… That part of who I was transformed, evolved into something else… or perhaps it disappeared entirely.

When did those women find time to get anything else done, considering that most of their day seemed to be dedicated to letter writing? And how exactly did they know what was worth putting in writing for their friends, acquaintances and relatives to read? The contradiction was certainly puzzling – the heroines of those books seemed to spend so much time writing letters about what was happening, that I couldn’t understand when they managed to find a moment or two to have anything happening to them. I wasn’t quite sure how to answer that question, but I knew I wanted to try it, because the child I was had decided that letter writing could turn any banal life into a fascinating, novel worthy existence.

That train in the night taking me to my holiday destination, taking me away from all my friends would often be the source and location of my first letter from each particular trip. Finding what to write about was easy, I immediately got to understand – every little thing needed to be shared with my best friend, the same way we used to share every insignificant experience when we were home. In return I got equally detailed letters, relating what now feels like absolutely nothing, yet what used to be pivotal happenings at the time. The most banal things were special adventures back then and riding the train for an entire night was no exception. The falling stars, the ugly towns, the picturesque places I’d see, the cute, nameless green-eyed boy who smiled quietly at me for half a night, while we were both sticking our hands and heads out the open window to feel the cool wind and the speed of the train, they were all letter worthy experiences.

I have a fairly large box full of such letters, most of them from my childhood and teenage years. I have letters from close friends. I have love letters from boys (now I am amazed that there have been teenage boys able to care enough for a girl in order to write her love letters and I actually knew some of them). I have letters that changed the course of my life and I have letters that made me wonder if I would still be able and willing to wake up in the morning and keep living. I have letters I’ve written and could never bring myself to mail and I have letters I’ve mailed and then asked to have returned. I have letters from people I don’t know anymore, because the children we were became adults who have nothing in common and no desire to even try to discover and accept the person the other has become. Regardless, they all have one thing in common: their colour and texture will always bring the past in the present, conferring it the weight of reality, as its silent witnesses that they were.

Signs becoming words, becoming stories, becoming communication, becoming life have always been important to me. Writing them down just as they happened made them real and objective, helping me analyse them in a more detached fashion. They’ve become hopes, disappointments and escape; they’ve become language and literature to be discovered, devoured, learnt, analysed and then learnt again. I may not always understand them and I may not always be willing to even try. But when it comes to letter writing, to correspondence of any sort, one thing remains unchanged: that thrill you experience when you just know somebody can hardly wait to read that which you want to share with them, the same way you’re looking forward to their reply.

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We often need to see the bigger picture in order to understand the story behind the words behind the letters. And even when we do, it might still feel like a foreign language we can only grasp with great difficulty.

In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Alphabet – This week, let the alphabet be your inspiration: find a string of letters.

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 16

“The idiot is in love with you.” He didn’t know whether to get angry at her or just laugh at that guy’s stupidity – something from the past was trying to claw its way to the surface, but he instinctively pushed it back deeper, the way he had always done.

“Let’s leave this cliché for another time. He’s just in need of finding himself a new mother figure, someone who would tell him what to do, would control his every action and would relinquish all his responsibility when things go badly; because, after all, it was only her fault, as she was the only one with a say in it, and he can just relax, enjoy the ride and bask in the amount of drama him being the victim of the soulless woman would offer.”

“I almost feel sorry for the poor guy. You don’t appreciate him at all, do you?”

“Of course I do, we’re actually friends, but anything more than that is subject to certain rules. I do care about the fact that he was there when I wanted him to be there and about the fact that he’s a nice guy, but on one hand that’s not enough for me, and on the other hand, I get the feeling that by ‘appreciation’ people tend to understand changing yourself in order to fit some idea of what would please another person. And the irony is, the one I am now is what he’s obsessing over, whereas the washed-out cloth I’d become by changing to please him would hold no interest whatsoever.”

For more sample fragments from Parallel Lives, see: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

Flying

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I was 18 when I first got to be thousands and thousands of metres above the world as I knew it. Travelling by plane would not be an issue for me, I just knew it; in fact, I had a feeling I would enjoy flying. I wasn’t wrong. During the following couple of years it became a normal part of my existence. I kept looking forward to that exact moment when I could feel the plane lose physical contact with the ground, heading towards the clouds. Defying gravity gave me a free pass to defy everything negative in my own life and for a long time, those were the moments when I would feel absolutely no pressure. For the control freak that I have always been, voluntarily giving up any sort of control for a couple of hours or so, while floating above everyone and everything that my life entailed, was exquisitely liberating.

I’ve lost track of the number of flights I’ve been on over the years. I’ve become somewhat jaded and like most repeated actions, flying has lost a great part of that initial magic. All the traveling related stress often gets the best of me and it’s no longer easy to be oblivious to everything going on around me (but at least it makes for some interesting, often hilarious travel stories).

Early morning flights have never been my favourite. But then again, sleep is the only thing I favour early in the morning, so that might have something to do with me… Anyway, sleep was not going to be an option that December morning and there was nothing else to do but accept it. The plane had taken off, breakfast had been served, but clearly nothing was going to calm down at least one of the several screaming babies. So, so many screaming babies… no high tech device could reproduce that sort of surround sound… Is it me or are there more and more people traveling with very young children and infants? No, no, I distinctly remember having been on many flights with absolutely no young child on board… years ago. That conversation I was having with my at the time very bitchy self was interrupted by the scenery. And although it did nothing for the hoard of crying children, it did calm me down. I managed to focus on the snow covered mountains underneath and let flying work its magic on me. Well, until the brat sitting behind me decided that kicking all the seats in front was an absolute must…

What can I say… nothing’s perfect. And no one is perfect either, so as a result, I turned and gave the brat my meanest look. Relative peace was restored and I got to feel like I was floating weightlessly and effortlessly (though certainly not noiselessly) through the clouds.

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In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Weightless – Show us the effects of gravity in your photo this week.

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 15

Ana Linden

“It’s not like that, you’d understand it if you knew her.”

“I’m sure I wouldn’t, but I’m also sure you actually believe that, so you just tell yourself whatever you need to hear in order to go on.”

The silence was drowning the countryside scenery. Nice, cosy and nightmarish, she thought, but that’s not his fault, that appears to be the vastly spread idea about marriage anyway, why would they be the exception? It’s probably never different, they just end up devouring each other’s soul and character in the nicely furnished confines of a home, burying all the frustration, ignorance and dissatisfaction deep under a sea of smiles and placid lies, all under the silent approval of socially accepted behaviour, most likely under the eyes of some child that doesn’t know any better and will probably just grow up to duplicate the parents’ example.

“How about Woollen Socks? Why do…

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Vicious Circles

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As soon as that much desired snow covered everything, it seemed that those to complain about it most bitterly were the very people demanding it the loudest a week ago or so. Who would have thought?… Forget about that white fairy tale like magic so craved over Christmas, now it’s all about freezing cold, snow and ice covered roads, impossible traffic… and the cold, oh the cold… and did I mention the cold? I must have – after all, that’s what everybody keeps talking about.

We’re children at heart, really… we must be, since we constantly trap ourselves in the same vicious circles , even if we know better by now. We want the toy in the window, that very one which we are denied. One way or another, we often manage to find a way to get it; but once we get our grubby little hands on it, the possibilities are limit. Chances are we are just about to discover that we don’t really like it as much as we thought we might or it simply looks different in the harsh light of reality. Or maybe it is exactly what we thought it would be, so we are going to thoroughly enjoy it for a minute or two, until we either break it or simply through it aside, bored with the predictability of that which we already have. We might remember it at some point in the future, we might feel intrigued by it on a few other future occasions, especially if other show interest in it too.

Of course, there are those rare situations when we treasure it and we might endeavour to preserve its lustre as time passes… but how often does that happen? The truth remains that more often than not, we start looking forward and searching for that even newer, more interesting, more amusing toy the very moment we finally can feel the other one in our hands. And so we are right back where it all began and we start spinning in new circles in order to get that which we now want. How many of us can honestly say they don’t recognize the pattern? I’m certainly not raising my hand…

What better moment for vicious circles if not the beginning of a new year? Personally, I’m trying to perceive it as the next part of something that started at some point in the past, I simply refuse to uproot my entire existence or at least fragments of it simply because one more year passed… or because a new one has just began… it depends on how you want to look at it. That’s partly why I’m not the New Year’s resolutions type of person. If I decide I must change something, then I cannot and need not wait for a symbolically charged moment in the year. Besides… I feel I would actually trivialize important matters by throwing them around under the title of ‘resolutions’, while irrelevant aspects aren’t worth being transformed into pivotal situations to stress our determination and dedication. Ultimately they seem to lead to disappointment, one way or another – we feel bad about ourselves if we cannot induce those major changes, we feel bad about ourselves if all we can manage is change those irrelevant aspects. Since finding that elusive balance between what I should, what I could and what I would change is anything but easy for me, I’d rather not come up with deadlines and to-do lists at midnight, just as one year ends and another begins…

It looks like I know better… but like I said, I can also recognize certain vicious patterns that might send me spinning in circles, and that’s simply because I know how tempting they are, I know I will occasionally give in. I was smugly pointing out the futility of such resolutions when my closest friend reached for his cigarettes, about to go out into the cold and light one up, after once again promising himself to quit smoking in the new year (I’ve lost count of all the years that were supposed to bring about the same change). I was just flaunting my superior knowledge, making my point by wondering out loud, ‘Is this the last of 2015 or the first one in 2016?’, when I caught myself thinking… yes, thinking (I refuse to say almost making) a resolution of my own…

I should really have more fun this year, I thought to myself. It was the third consecutive New Year’s Eve I was spending the same way… a warm, pleasant, cosy way… but the same predictable way, nevertheless. It was my own choice, yet it suddenly occurred to me I should have done things slightly differently. I am one of those people… those people who get bored easily… those people who once in a while need to rock the boat just so they could feel alive. These are the moments when it takes everything I have in order to focus on what I do appreciate, on all the reasons why it’s better for me to let the boat float safely and occasionally boringly smoothly, especially since I can vividly remember how much time, effort, determination and suffering it took to get the waters to calm down. I was aware it wasn’t all about the year that had just ended, but about that night itself – I was where I had chosen to be, but it wasn’t entirely exactly how I would have preferred everything to be. So the need to lash out and to somehow make up for it reared its ugly little head for a moment or two.

I resisted my own vicious circles on this particular occasion, even if it meant turning viciously sarcastic for half a nigh or so. I resisted the pattern not because I am strong, but simply because I know better and thus I can tell when it’s worth rocking the boat. It’s when I choose to allow myself to fall back into vicious patterns that I do it knowing and trusting my strength – I know I can pull myself out, no matter what. Even vicious circles lose their appeal after a while. But are we really to be blamed if we decide not to resist them, given that cyclicity defines our existence, be it for the better or the worse? That’s too relative a matter…

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We don’t need to see the full circle to perceive it…

In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Circle.

Happy New Year!

2016

I simply wish 2016 to be a better year for each and every one of us – subjective and obscure as it may sound. For those of us suffering, I hope we find the strength to heal and move forward. For those of us away from someone we love and miss, I hope we find our way to them. For all of us who still have dreams to fulfill and goals to reach, I hope this year brings us closer to everything we desire. For those of us ready to give up, I hope someone or something to offer support and motivation comes along as soon as possible. For those of us who can still find it in ourselves to enjoy the beginning of yet another year… have lots and lots of fun! :-) .

Happy New Year, whatever you need it to mean for you!

Now

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As lights flicker, it feels like past and present merge, leading to an immediate future, only seconds away, when we can travel back and vividly touch the almost palpable fabric of our memories. You can feel the snow under the soles of your shoes, you can smell the cold winter air only by looking at an old picture or even at an ornament depicting a white Christmas. How long does it take until you start missing that white Christmas? How long does it take until you drown into those visions of frozen beauty, wishing that now was then?

No, we are not having a white Christmas in my little corner of the world. In fact, it’s beginning to look a lot like spring (I hear there’s a lot of that going on in many parts of the world) and a great number of people decry the lack of snow. I won’t deny, I wouldn’t mind watching a few flakes fall slowly or even a thin blanket of snow covering some of the ugliness of the world for a day or two… but more than that? No, thank you! It’s funny how many of the same people hoping for snow covered holidays would also be among the first  to complain about the countless disadvantages that much desired beauty brings about.

A strange, depressing type of nostalgia seems to have taken over. Everywhere I go, people of all ages can’t help going down memory lane and concluding that it was better ‘then’ – whenever and whatever ‘then’ may be. Many of us might have seen better days, there’s no argument about that. Many of us may have had more and may have been happier. I’m sure a great many things have been in many ways better. But how about the ones that are better now? What about everything we do have now and take for granted simply because it is a normal part of our lives, while back then it may have been a distant goal or a dream? So if we’re going to reminisce, let’s make an effort to remember the bad with the good as well, so we might enjoy some of the ‘now’, now… not in some obscure future, after it will have become ‘then’.

In response to the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: For this week’s challenge, take a moment to notice your now, and share a photo of it.

Blind Date on Christmas

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Note: I felt it was time for some more light-hearted Christmas related stories, considering the ones I shared earlier this month. Enjoy :-)

It was shortly after lunch when I started looking forward to the comfort of a hot shower, a fluffy bathrobe and a pair of soft slippers . I made it back from the local shopping centre frozen, hungry and somewhat scarred for life by the madness of last minute shoppers – one of which I had unwillingly become that year. But at least my frozen claws were clenched, holding on to their sought after and fought over prey – a not too big cardboard box containing a brand new artificial Christmas tree and a plastic bag with a few decently looking ornaments.

She could’ve at least checked to see what state it was in, I couldn’t stop thinking somewhat resentfully, because my mother’s old Christmas tree was beyond redemption, as I got to find out earlier that day. But after fighting tooth and nail with the cat in order to recover each and every one of the bobbles my mother so gracefully spread all over the floor for the little animal to play with, after figuring out where the tree could be safely set, out of reach of the spoiled four-legged menace, after some pre-Christmas cooking and baking, the evening ahead seemed promising. I was exhausted, but it looked like we were about to have a nice, calm, peaceful family Christmas Eve for a change.

Fluffy robe and cute slippers on, hair in a messy ponytail, all relaxed and reinvigorated, I’m making my way to the kitchen to get a cup of coffee before I decide on something nice and comfortable to wear – and all of the sudden I feel like I’ve forgotten how to breathe… and utter words. I don’t blush. I never do. But I feel my face burning, it must be red this time. There he is, the family friend… all dressed up, looking festive, uncomfortable and equally speechless. And there’s my mother urging me to be polite and hug the man – after all, we hadn’t seen each other in such a long while. And there’s her husband, grinning smugly, whispering to me, I couldn’t fit him under the Christmas tree, but you can thank me later.

I really should have known better… both of them had been on their best behaviour the entire day, occasionally exchanging amused glances or leaving the room in order to make variously phone calls. But I fell for the mirage of that simple, tranquil, boringly normal Christmas Eve dinner, and you just don’t question a miracle if you feel it’s about to happen.

I needed help with my outfit, so the gentlemen had to excuse me, while my mother had to explain herself as soon as we were out of the room. It was really all his fault – she would blame it on her husband, as usual; she would have preferred someone better. But this one would have to do on such short notice… it would have been nice of me to let them know I was single at least a few weeks in advance. What’s the harm in it, anyway? He’s a nice guy, I had met him before, we always got along well… and you have to admit he’s hot, she tells me. And he broke up with what’s-her-name, now you two can finally have some fun.

I really should have known better. It was all about the perfect package – and as long as I didn’t have a date for Christmas or for the New Year’s Eve party or for any of the other holiday related events, I was not the full package. I had once again forgotten than everything I had accomplished held any value only if there was a man there to hold my hand. And since I was rapidly heading towards my mid-twenties, I was practically an old maid already. It didn’t really matter if I was dating somebody at home or not – as long as I didn’t bring anybody with me to introduce to them, I was fair game and they took it upon themselves to set all sorts of uncomfortable dates for me. I had no problem getting dates on my own, thank you!

I had to admire their stubbornness, resourcefulness and shamelessness – once I had refused to meet any of these so-called suitors, they found a loophole and came up with one I had already met before… moreover, they actually snuck him into the living room when I literally wasn’t looking. Who was I not to appreciate the humour in it?

To be fair, they had done worse in the past… This one might actually make for a fun fling. A good sense of humour, not hard on the eyes… She was right, we did get along well, there was some chemistry there from the moment we had met a couple of years earlier; it never went beyond innocent flirting, we had never been single at the same time… until then. So much for being comfortable around each-other… they’re singing my praises. Isn’t that a nice tree? She decorated it, you know… here, have some more cake, she baked it. She’ll make somebody a great wife someday. I chocked on my food instantaneously – they’d gone too far with that one. Oddly, our guest didn’t even flinch.

Poor thing… how he suffered after the break-up… But I know you’ll find someone right for you, you’re such a great guy. So my mother was in charge with talking him up. If only I didn’t know what she really thought of him, the disposable boy toy… I knew that if I wanted to get back at her, all I had to do was to seriously get involved with him… or any other guy like him. Hmmm… she would deserve that, wouldn’t she? Let’s see how the night goes…

Strike one – he’s all of the sudden intimidated by my mother; he’s even afraid of her! A man in his thirties, who’s been friends with her husband for about a decade… that’s simply unacceptable. Oh well…

On the bright side, at least this one wasn’t gay, like the one they had in store for me the previous year. Casual dinner with some friends, they said. Yes, a married couple and their son… their clearly gay son (clear to everybody but his parents and my stepfather). And playing the part of the jealous party crasher, none other than the son’s “best friend”… Come to think of it, this was actually an improvement.

Somehow, dinner crawled to an end and we, young folk, were sent out in the world to have some fun. The guy thought we’d go see a movie, he had already gotten the tickets. I rolled my eyes – strike too. Predictable and boring. I hate going to the movies on a first date, I would rather spend that time getting to know the person, not in a movie theatre where we can’t talk. Family holiday, that’s what Christmas is, how could you not come and spend it with us? Of course it is… I had flown thousands of kilometres the day before so I could spend Christmas Eve in a cinema, watching a movie I didn’t feel like seeing with a guy I barely knew, surrounded by strangers. Merry Christmas to me!

It was all too ridiculous and harmless to be angry, really… And I couldn’t help feeling sorry for the innocent victim he was in our family antics. I could just see him as he was approached earlier that day and told I would really like to spend the evening with him, but I was just too shy to ask him out… so the date might come as a surprise to me, a really pleasant surprise… he hadn’t thought they wouldn’t tell me… but he couldn’t waste such an opportunity, could he?… Poor, poor, poor guy – he’s expecting who knows what sexy vision of a woman and instead he gets me in all my messy, domestic glory. Yet he’s still happy to go out with me, even after that charming appearance and my parent’s behaviour. That says a lot (most likely, that he’s crazy and/or desperate)…

But he’s slowly becoming the guy I used to find quite attractive, so the walk to the cinema turns out to be just what we needed. After all, an outlet, a refuge from my family during my stay with them is always beneficial. And we are both consenting adults, perhaps later – if things go well – we could openly discuss the rules and limitations of short term dating. Aren’t I the romantic one?…

Let’s see what he suggests we do after the movie and how he behaves. Dancing the night away in a club was the perfect antidote to that evening (if fun I was supposed to have, fun I would have, and they would end up regretting it). But introducing me to his friends as his girlfriend halfway into our first date… well… strike three! That’s not to say he didn’t make for a fun escape that holiday season… But best of all, the way I simply – and apparently insensitively – said goodbye to him when leaving, according to the initially set rules, hurt his little boy toy heart, becoming a great source of gossip for their entire group of friends and acquaintances, thus insuring the end of all attempts to set me up with various individuals.

 

Merry Christmas!

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“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.”

(Charles Dickens – A Christmas Carol)

It’s a time of reminiscence and nostalgia, when memories of days gone by and of the persons we used to be fog our minds and souls. It’s a time for planning the future, with fear and enthusiasm alike. But more than anything, it’s the time to live in the present, to enjoy what and who we do have in our lives, instead of focusing on what is missing.

Merry Christmas! :-)

Someone’s Birthday

It’s someone’s birthday today… a very special someone… No matter how pouty or grumpy he might get on this particular occasion, I know he actually likes it when people remember and acknowledge his birthday :-) . So, to the man who never tried to change me, to the man I never tried to change, to the man who appreciated me for my flaws, not in spite of them, to this unique man I now wish a Happy Birthday and that special brand of contentment he and I understand so well.

Happy Birthday!

Christmas Gathering?…

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Is famine about to strike? I don’t think so, I would’ve heard something about it on the news. Are shopping centres about to meet their demise? Allow me to have my doubts about that one too. Oh… wait… that’s it, this is the last weekend before Christmas. And I had to go to the mall, didn’t I? No, no, no last minute Christmas shopping, I know better than that. I just wanted my shampoo, a certain shampoo that I can find only in a certain shop. I’m not delusional, I expected it to be crowded, that’s why I started with the most remote part of the parking lot, the one where you always find a spot, no matter how busy it is or how close the holidays may be. Well… not today… Is it me or is it getting worse each year?

Half an hour later, I’m still spinning in circles, trying to avoid crazed shoppers and furious drivers. Just as I’m wondering how bad it would actually be for my hair to use dishwashing liquid instead of shampoo until after Christmas, there it is – the holy grail, also known as a parking space. Once inside, everything is fine. I don’t mind crowded places, as long as the parking issue is solved and I always find the pre-Christmas hustle and bustle rather invigorating. I also find it fascinating to observe how fast and abruptly we switch from generosity and enthusiasm to anger infused consumerism. Christmas spirit becomes seasonal anger, frustration, selfishness and hateful, vengeful greed in the blink of an eye. Or is that what Christmas spirit is supposed to be these days? Who knows anymore?…

I was going to take a small break from Christmas today, hence the photo; I wasn’t planning on mentioning any personal tradition for the holidays, I’ve already done that on several occasions this month. All I was going to say is that there are eleven more months in the year, so if we don’t get to spend any or enough time with those dear to us in December, we can certainly make up for it on other occasions. We need to keep that in mind, in spite of all the pressure we all have to bear when it comes to spending the holidays in a certain way. But, like I said, I had the ill-conceived idea of going to the mall today – and we all know how that can be. So I am only going to say this: perhaps we should also remember that we can buy, buy, buy everything in sight during those other eleven months of the year; that way, we might be able to spend less time in December hating everybody who’s managed to buy more and faster than we have and actually enjoy the holidays. And if we absolutely must behave like animals uncivilized, uneducated creatures, we might want to remember that many of them (like the ones in the picture) are a lot more peaceful and mild-mannered than we can be around the holidays…

In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge – Gathering.

 

 

Two Years, A Thank You And A Christmas Gift

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It was brought to my attention that two years have passed since I reluctantly started this blog. I didn’t expect to keep it for more than a few weeks, much less to actually enjoy it and have fun with it. So thank you all for making it such a pleasant, relaxing experience! Thank you for your encouraging and flattering words! Thank you for your support and understanding! Thank you for making me addicted to some of your blogs (yes, you know who you are)!

anniversary-2x[1]

Like I said, I reluctantly started this blog, trying – and feeling inadequate for it – to introduce an ebook I had just self-published. It become something else in a very short period of time, a mixture of thoughts and photos, of fiction and reality. But I like it, so I will keep going :-) .

Since Christmas is near and since it all started with a book, here’s my small gift to everybody who enjoyed those sample fragments and didn’t get a chance to download it yet. You can get it for free until the end of the year using the following links:

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/parallel-lives-ana-linden/1118140770?ean=2940045563567

https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/parallel-lives-7

https://www.overdrive.com/media/1613540/parallel-lives

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

http://www.inktera.com/store/title/1ac546fe-cc7e-480c-bba7-8c7f34c72830

https://www.scribd.com/book/202758410/Parallel-Lives

(And of course, on it’s on iBooks as well.)

Whether you get it for yourselves or for somebody you think might like it, I hope you enjoy my small gift!

Happy reading and happy holidays!

Oops… Where Did The Lights Go?

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We’ll have a nice dinner in a nice, romantic restaurant… and maybe drinks afterwards. Oh, right… you’re driving… well, then I’ll have a drink for you too. Desert? Sure, why not… I’m on vacation, after all. Right… you’re on a diet… coffee it is then, a nice espresso after dinner will be just what we need. We’ll stay out late, right? Tomorrow’s Saturday, we can sleep in late. But you had to go to work today… oh well, we’ll just go home when you feel tired. Anyway, none of that really matters as long as we go and see the lights. Of course after dinner… a pleasant walk in the cool night air, hand in hand, watching the lights in a town none of us knows very well. We’ll talk about Christmases past, present and future, I’ll stop to hug you once more, because I’m so happy to be here with you, then you’ll kiss me and tell me you love me. Did I mention we’ll walk hand in hand and marvel at the beautiful lights? It’ll be so romantic! Yes, they put up the Christmas lights and they’re supposed to be spectacular, some say the best in the country. Well, if the internet says so, then it must be true…

Easier said than done – clearly we weren’t the only ones with that sort of a plan in mind. The nicely lit up capital is swarming with traffic of all sorts, vehicles and pedestrians alike are determined to get somewhere, somehow on the early December Friday night. His job is to try and drive through the madness, keeping us – and those around us – alive. My job is to find our way and deal with the opinionated GPS lady, keep an eye on the map and another eye on the road and make sure we can figure out the correct turns in time. But GPS lady has had a bad day and her grumpiness and delayed reactions have gotten us lost several times, so it doesn’t come as a surprise when she does it again. Never mind, nothing that cannot be fixed… by driving the wrong way on a one way street. Now we know why nobody was heading this way. Wait, wait, wait, I actually know where we are – and it’s exactly where we want to be.

Ok… now we can relax a bit, we can drive around and look at the lights for a while, until we find some place we can park and then go for that walk we’ve been talking about. They’re nice, aren’t they? Not bad, but I’m sure there must be better to be seen, our expectations are quite high after what we had read about the festive display. Now for parking… While my eyes are desperately seeking an empty space or some sign directing us to nearby parking options, I can’t help feeling something has suddenly gone terribly wrong. It takes me a moment or two to assimilate the change – the boulevard in front of us has all of the sudden gone dark. No, not dark, just significantly less lively and colourfully lit up than it was just seconds ago. Where did all the Christmas lights go? Is it a power cut? But the street lights are still on. Strange… Never mind, look, there’s an underground parking over there, we can figure it out after that. But walking through throngs of people on averagely lit up streets doesn’t help us understand what went wrong and why all the Christmas lights went out exactly at midnight.

My plan had fallen apart quickly and pathetically, I concluded. And since I was quite fond of my plan, I felt a wave of rage taking over me. I wanted my romantic walk under the Christmas lights and I wanted it then and there. The control freak in me was just about to start stumping her feet and throw a tantrum the size of the so-called Christmas tree, that deplorable, pathetic metal shape standing in front of us, all dark and gloomy. He was holding my hand and by the look on his face, I knew he was on the verge of throwing a tantrum as well. Normally I am the one to calm him down, but not this time. I need to vent and yell out my frustration about traffic, parking, crowded places, bad organisation and a million other things. And that’s when I hear him burst into laughter… I forgot how you can rant… go on love, you’re brilliant! And he keeps laughing and laughing, point at which I cannot do anything else but laugh as well. The night is actually too beautiful to be angry and frustrated. So are the lights on that five star hotel on the other side of the street – their Christmas lights are on all night, they don’t turn into pumpkins at midnight. There’s the romance we plan and there’s the romance we stumble across when we least expect, in the most frustrating of situations…

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In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: ‘Tis the season to revel in photographic (and/or photogenic) disasters.

Underneath the Tinsel or Making My Own Christmas Traditions – Part Three

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Part One – The Illusion

Part Two – The Reality

Part Three – My Own Christmas

I didn’t know it then, but that Christmas Eve would stay with me for as long as I would have memories to hold on to… not because it was fabulous, but because it was the first time I felt and understood what it was all about – what I needed it to be all about.

It was just the three of us listening to Christmas songs and staring at the flickering lights in the Christmas tree… my Christmas tree, as I felt the need to point out several times that year. We were 16 or 17 and it was the year that my grandmother had decreed that I was too old to have a tree. Well, if I was too old for a tree, then I must have certainly been old enough to do things however I saw fit when it came to Christmas in general. Faced with a minor family drama and a harsh blow to her perfectly loving grandmother image, she gave in and allowed the tree. That concession, however, would cost me all my Christmas gifts, I was warned. I didn’t mind, a few pairs of socks and another ugly scarf were definitely worth giving up.

It may not have been the most beautiful Christmas tree that I ever had growing up, but to this day it remains the one I treasured the most. We were all somewhat sad and ashamed sitting around that tree, my best friend, my boyfriend and I, that year… Yet we were also so very happy, so very content, finally so very peaceful. My best friend and I had gone shopping for the tree the day before and then he helped me get it home, spending hours and hours in the December cold and snow, trying to find the greatest one I could afford. That was as fun and pleasant as it should have been, the way both of us had forgotten it could be.

Once I finished decorating it, once my home was finally calm and quiet after my grandparents went to visit some of their acquaintances, the three of us had the unbelievable, unexpected chance to simply feel it was Christmas. Presents – small, thoughtful and amusing tokens of appreciation – discretely found their way under the tree when the others weren’t looking. Between the carols, the smell of the tree and the Christmas wrapping paper torn open and spread all over the floor, we could laugh and be light-hearted, we could forget that uncomfortable sadness; we felt relieved, because somebody had thought of and cared about each and every one of us that year. We had each other and that was all that mattered. We understood each other, we knew each other’s stories and we supported each other. It was as safe, calm and blissful a moment as any of us could have. We shared hopes and dreams; we shared painful stories of Christmases past and present and for once they didn’t hurt. We didn’t know it back then, but we were already forging our own traditions, we were deciding what we would never become, because our families had taught us what we hated most about human beings.

That’s how my grandmother found us, lying on the Persian rug near the tree, wrapping paper spread everywhere. Were we drunk, she wanted to know. No, we were not. Well, good, then it was time for us to clean up and go to wherever we were heading that evening, because she was expecting guests and we were in the way. But not before she opened her own Christmas present from me. I don’t remember what I got her that year, but after making a face and muttering a thankful ‘I suppose it’ll have to do’, the gift was deemed worthy to be seen by her friends. I adjusted my extremely short dress, I put on my extremely high heel boots and my nice coat and off we went, to wherever we were going to go. Apparently we were the cool kids, so we were going to attend a fun party and/or go dancing with our equally cool friends and acquaintances, whose parents weren’t particularly interested to know where and how their children spent Christmas, as long as they weren’t in the way.

We cannot chose the family we are born in, but we can chose the family we make for ourselves, the people who are closest to us, with whom we share the most intimate moments, memories and experiences. Yes, I believe that Christmas is a family holiday; but what I have learnt is that family is not always determined by DNA, not for all of us. My family are those very few people who have always accepted and appreciated me for who I am, those people who have always been there for me, offering their support in hard times and sharing my happiness in joyful ones, those people who have appreciated my doing the same for them. As it happens, none of them are related to me. And it’s all right.

Like I said, I make my own traditions. I choose when and how I decorate the Christmas tree. I choose to bake those delightfully delicious goodies every year – in spite of her countless flaws, my grandmother did manage to teach me some of her baking secrets. I choose to get nice, meaningful gifts for my dear ones, and sometimes I will buy them months before Christmas. I also choose not to judge or appreciate people and measure their affection only based on the presents they offer me. And for the past few years, I have also chosen to spend Christmas at home, nowhere near any relatives.

For years I have frantically chased all sorts of unattainable holiday goals, only to end up being disappointed, only to end up thinking of that bitter-sweet Christmas Eve, wishing for that sort of peace and acceptance. I decorate my home early in December and for years I’ve left this cosy place in order to try and gain acceptance and appreciation from people unable to accept or appreciate anybody. I refused to be alone on holidays, fearing I would be unhappy, only to learn the same lesson time and time again – the worst kind of loneliness is the one you feel when you’re surrounded by people you despise. For years I left behind the people who cared about me so I could be with my… family. No more.

I have people who love me. In spite of my cynicism, I have reasons to be thankful and celebrate on Christmas, and I will do it my own way. I am not perfect and I have long ago given up trying to be, so I have accepted that there are people I will never be able to forgive, just as I will never be able to be nice and good to everybody. But once in a while I need to try to be especially nice to those I hold dear; I have to try to be good and help someone I don’t know; I have to appreciate myself and the beautiful parts of my life. For me, Christmas is such a time… because I get lost in my own life and I need a reminder to stop and offer all these small pleasures to myself and those close to me. I will not apologize for who I am. I will not deny my own values, no matter what others may believe. And I will feel and celebrate Christmas the way I find it appropriate, allowing for bitter-sweet happiness and relinquishing all guilt and disapproval. You see, I no longer care about what the world or my family expect from me.

Happy holidays, everyone! Whether your celebrate Christmas or not, make sure it’s your own choice and not one forced on you by family or society.

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 14

Ana Linden

“You do realise that’s a person you’re talking about, right?”

“Yes, and the person in question is completely aware of my feelings, I don’t pretend he means much to me, just as you don’t pretend not to be married. There’s a difference, however: he knows exactly how things stand between the two of us, he knows exactly who I am and what my conditions are, and he has the choice of accepting them or not. He decided he was desperate enough in order to accept anything, as long as once in a while there’s room for him in my life as well; but he is free to leave whenever he wants. Can you say the same about your wife, though? Does she know exactly who you are? Does she get the choice of accepting you or not, or does she just have to live with a nice, cosy lie about…

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Underneath the Tinsel or Making My Own Christmas Traditions – Part Two

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Part One – The Illusion

Part Two – The Reality

The choir started singing all those beautiful carols we loved. That was the best part of it and I didn’t want her to miss any of it. I’d go get her, I told my grandmother. I was handed my coat and scarf and in a low voice I was warned there would be trouble if I caught a cold, thus ruining everybody’s holidays. I snuck out as discretely as possible, but disgruntled looks from some of the older ladies could not be avoided.

There she was, on the bench in front of the church, just where I expected to find her, smoking a cigarette. Her face was cold, sad and pale and her fingers trembled slightly as they moved the cigarette back and forth. We could hear the choir from the bench outside the church and that’s where we stayed and listened to the carols that year. Pieces were falling into place – even if I was still very young, even if I couldn’t quite explain it, I was starting to understand why my mother didn’t want to be there in the first place and why my grandfather kept his distance, refusing to take part in that charade every Christmas.

I was the cute grandchild and my mother was the beautiful, independent, accomplished daughter and our sole purpose on this world was to make my grandmother proud, I was starting to understand back then. What better time of year than Christmas for the entire community to envy her for her success as a mother and grandmother? What better time of year for the entire community to console her for the shame her ungrateful daughter put her through, refusing to get married? What better time of year to throw her to the gossip hungry wolves, thus punishing her for refusing to present her with a doctor or lawyer son-in-law she could brag about to all her friends?

We listened to the carols from outside, so the cold winter wind could protect us from the cold, vicious, judgemental ‘Christmas spirit’ inside the church. It had gotten particularly festive that year when my grandmother brought the priest over, so he could better threaten my mother with eternal damnation for being an unmarried woman… Words no man should ever address a woman, especially in the presence of her child were uttered. Sharp, bitter, cynical yet polite comebacks eventually left him speechless and with a proud demeanour my mother said goodbye, turned away and left, still holding my hand as I was struggling to keep up with her fast pace. She knew him as a child, I later found out; they used to play together and be friends; they were the same age, they were still so young, both of them under thirty, yet it all seemed so old and ugly…

Christmas is a time of giving, my grandmother taught me. Christmas is a time of giving, because that’s the only way to prove to those around that you have plenty to spare, maybe even more than them, therefore you are better. There was great bliss in discovering other ladies’ Christmas feast was by far not as rich or as well prepared as hers. It was her personal victory if another woman’s household wasn’t immaculate as hers; she really didn’t pay any attention to the fact that many of those women – her relatives included – also had fulltime jobs to worry about.

Christmas is also a time when you need to know how to receive, my grandmother taught me. It took a while for me to understand that from the many presents there were to be found under the tree on Christmas morning, none was actually from her. She was to receive presents from her family, not to offer them; and they had to be nice, expensive ones, the kind that would trigger her friends’ and acquaintances’ envy. ‘Why… you shouldn’t have…’ was the usual response… but god forbid you hadn’t done it. You were going to be in trouble for it until the following Christmas, when out of the goodness of her heart she would give you a chance to make amends for it. Proper etiquette had to be observed – no matter how nice the gift offered to her might have been, it would lose all its value had you offered something more valuable to someone else. Thus I learned about another Christmas essential – gratitude.

Christmas was about the tree as well – after all, it was the first relevant thing our guests would see, so it had to be nicer than the one any of them might have had at home. She would dramatically collapse on a chair next to it, sipping some wine from one of her crystal glasses, complaining about how exhausting it had all been for her. All the preparations were meant to make her family happy, but did she ever get anything in return? Did anybody ever show her any gratitude? Of course not… No matter who the listeners were, they were always quick to console the poor unappreciated woman and to praise her splendidly decorated home and her extremely delicious cooking.

From one Christmas to another, the mirage of that ideal family was more and more difficult to maintain. My mother started finding more and more reasons not to visit over the holidays. My grandfather finally retired. Times were changing rapidly and all of the sudden she had to live with the idea that her social status would never be what it had been. There was no need to pretend to care about the less fortunate anymore. There was no need to have a wonderful Christmas tree, since there were no relevant guests to envy it anymore. There would still be baking for several days before Christmas, because much as she liked to pretend she was sacrificing herself for all of us, baking was something she actually enjoyed doing, just as she enjoyed the taste of those delicious treats.

Most of her Christmas traditions were still observed, especially when it came to giving and receiving gifts, but the situation became more and more ridiculous as time went by. While somehow managing to maintain her aura of innocence and goodness to the outside world, the old lady was not able to forever frighten her own family into submission. One by one, most of us managed to break free and live our own lives…

I was presented with so many facets of Christmas over the years, both within and outside my family… so I could only do one thing, since I wasn’t going to deny the holiday and its positive symbolism: I had to make Christmas my own. I had to chisel my own traditions if I was going to survive it; that’s what I learnt and struggled to accept early on.

To be continued…

Underneath the Tinsel or Making My Own Christmas Traditions – Part One

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Part One – The Illusion

The house was filled with that delicious smell of backed goodies. Vanilla and a variety of other aromas I was too young to know or recognize conspired with my grandmother in creating that warm, heavy, divine, mouth-watering smell that could mean only one thing: Christmas was only a few days away.

It was the final element in that trilogy of olfactory sensations that I have associated with the winter holidays from a very early age. The oranges were the first harbinger of the impending festivities and as I stood by the big fruit bowl, scratching at one of them with my little nails so I could carry its perfume with me, I knew there wasn’t long to go ‘till the much expected moment.

Then came the tree. My grandfather was never too involved in all the preparations, but getting the tree was always his job and I was his trusty sidekick. It was our little tradition: we would scour all the Christmas tree markets until we found the perfect one, I would choose it and he would carry it home. I don’t know about him, but that intoxicating fir tree smell would make me completely forget about the freezing cold wind, about the icy patches on which I really needed to watch my step and about the snow which somehow managed to find its way into my boots each and every time. The serious, respectable, stern man became a child again, analysing fir trees, laughing more than I would see him laugh during the entire year and always indulging me, all the while knowing that the one I chose would inevitably be too tall. He’d be the one severely reprimanded as soon as we got home, but little did he care.

So when the backing also started, I knew it was time for my mother to arrive and for a long time that was what Christmas was all about for me. Once that finally happened, the two of us would decorate the tree and do the last of the Christmas shopping for that year. Among all those activities, she would work on answering all my questions about Santa and trying to convince me he was real. You see, that was a story I never fully believed, so each year she struggled to convince me, until her patience invariably reached its limits, resorting to the so very effective argument, “Because I said so.” As soon as that was taken care of, we could continue decorating while listening to carols. New decorations got lost among the older ones, my mother would share Christmas stories from her childhood and we would conspire on playing all sorts of silly little harmless tricks on my grandparents, the way she used to do back in those days she recollected.

Come Christmas morning, there were presents under the tree for everybody. At that time, I had no idea that not all families could enjoyed the same pleasures we did. I didn’t grow up to be a religious person, but in those days both my mother and I indulged my grandmother, dressed up as elegantly as we could and joined her to church. I was to be quiet and well-behaved, but most importantly I was to be thankful for everything my family was offering me.

Some of what we had, we were supposed to share with others on Christmas. We had relatives and close friends come by our place and we would return their visits. Everybody would wear nice, festive clothes, gifts would be exchanged and there was laughter to be heard around the tree. The good china, the fancy silverware and the expensive crystal would make an appearance, as we were going to always share a delicious home cooked meal with our guests. As the impeccable baker that she was, my grandmother always had little goody bags ready to be trotted out and handed out when our guests were finally heading home or for us to take to all the homes we were visiting from Christmas Eve until the New Year’s.

Our friends and neighbours behaved in a very similar fashion, from what I can remember. We often knocked at their doors, offering little packages of homemade goodness and in their turn, they would share some of their feast with us. My job was to help wrap up everything and small branches cut off our too large Christmas tree or bits of mistletoe were my special touch. Old clothes, washed and carefully packed, were being taken to some destination unknown to me, where others needed them; I wasn’t sure why or how, but I didn’t spend any time wondering about it during those early years.

Christmas was a time of magic, of dreams come true, of love and sharing, it was the time of year when I felt cared for and safe more than at any other given moment, it was when that which I desired the most became reality. For the innocent child I was, that trilogy of smells was the promise of bliss. That trilogy of smells still makes my heart beat faster… even now, so many years later… even now, when I know better…

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, as Dickens said it so wisely… and I would eventually understand it clearly.

Note

I liked the idea of ‘Blogmas’ as soon as I read about it and I was tempted to take part in the challenge. But not only am I a day late already, I am also aware that I cannot manage to post a little something daily until the 25th of December. What I am going to do, however, is try and write several personal, Christmas related posts. I hope you enjoy them.

Have a nice December, everyone! :-)

Part Two – The Reality

Part Three – My Own Christmas

Transition

I am not a patient person. I can fake patience, I can control myself and I can talk myself into behaving in a patient manner (I am a reasonable individual… when  I choose to be), but this is a virtue I know I will never truly possess. Yet there are certain transition periods that we can hardly notice; it takes time and perspective in order to perceive their evolution and results.

All too often I don’t feel certain changes, all too often I feel the need of something radically different. But sometimes I get lucky, I get that fortunate moment of clarity – either by interacting with somebody I haven’t seen in a long time, or by looking at old pictures, or by simply watching the seasons change – and see the evolution, perceive all the differences, big and small, and accept transition for what it is, constant and inevitable. If I do have the right state of mind, I let it sink in. I congratulate myself on my progress or console myself for the losses. I dare to move on, even if I know I may never get where I want to be, because I would rather try and manipulate transition into following the path I choose, rather than let time and life pass me by.

But let’s be honest… Those are rare moments that I need to focus on noticing and enjoying, because, after all, I am not a patient person…

In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge – For this week’s challenge, share an image that depicts transition. Let life itself be your muse.

Parallel Lives – Sample fragment 13

“He’s a pair of knitted woollen socks.”

“Excuse me? What the hell does that mean?”

“Did you ever have a pair of those woollen socks that grandma knitted for you?”

“Of course, several of them, I might still have one or two in some drawer, somewhere. What does that have to do with anything?”

“They’re the kind of thing that you don’t really need, you don’t really wear, but you can’t get yourself to throw them away, because of what they are. Sure, they’re ugly and the rough wool makes them unpleasant on your skin, but the truth of the matter is that you have worn them a few times, perhaps on a really cold winter night, or when you went to the mountains and the cold was too much to bear… you wore them and they proved to be exactly what you needed at that moment, in order to achieve a certain relative amount of comfort. So you can’t bring yourself to throw them out, you might need them again someday. Plus, there’s also the emotional factor – they mean something because grandma made them, you can connect them to certain memories you aren’t ready to let go yet – and that’s how they end up being kept on the bottom of some drawer, to be taken out once in a blue moon, when the situation is critical. But you would never think of wearing them in public, with your nice, Italian leather shoes, would you? And in fact, you probably wouldn’t even miss them much if you were to finally get rid of them when you cleaned up your wardrobe more carefully…”

Robert was almost laughing at her analogy. I can’t believe how much sense her idiotic idea makes… She actually perceives another human being – one who, by all accounts, cares about her enough not to notice such obvious things – as nothing more than some sort of outdated accessory to be trotted out and tucked away only according to her needs, with no saying in it whatsoever… He didn’t know what he believed about that, he wanted to disagree with her and disapprove of such an attitude, but the truth was he admired her bluntness, he was forced to accept that he himself had treated people no better than that, perhaps even worse, more than one time. But she seemed not to see anything wrong with it because she made no effort to hide it.

For more sample fragments: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/analinden

Three Is Not Always Perfect

I coincidentally found out that she divorced him. The same way I had coincidentally found out the two of them had gotten married in the first place. The same way I found out they had a beautiful daughter.

I didn’t congratulate her on her wedding or on having the baby she was dreaming to have ever since she was a child herself and I didn’t comfort her during her divorce. She didn’t invite me to her wedding, she didn’t let me know that their little family was becoming a trio and she didn’t bare her soul to me when her dream family proved to be just that – a mere illusion. None of us did any of those things, because we were about eighteen when we last spoke, and the last time we were close friends was even a while before that.

Her marriage and pregnancy didn’t come as a surprise. The kind of man she chose to marry didn’t surprise me either. But her finding the strength to leave him did – I was impressed and I was happy for her… and for a moment I could see that stubborn little girl she once was.

We are the same age and we spent the first years of our lives playing and growing up together. Then school separated us, but only in a certain way, because we shared that kind of bond and friendship that seem indestructible at that age. We were both competitive, we were both stubborn and opinionated, we were both convinced we had all the answers, but we were completely different and we appreciated each other exactly because of it. We had constant access to each other’s world, but the older we got, the less use we wanted to make of that access.

Being different slowly became having nothing in common. I didn’t feel comfortable among her friends and she felt like a stranger among mine; so of course we both acted up and those people became the enemy. But we could even accept that about each other – it would be just the two of us when we met, sharing everything and supporting each other during those confusing, complicated and painful years. However, a time came when not even the family drama that always brought us together managed to be a strong enough link. And what a cliché the reason appeared to be – nothing else but boys.

Yet there was so much more to it than that trivial fact – we were making our choices regarding the paths we were going to follow, the kind of life we wanted, the kind of treatment we considered we deserved. I had a boyfriend who worshiped me and perceived me as the centre of his universe, while I wasn’t necessarily always kind to him. Her take on a ‘real man’ was somewhat different than mine… to say the least. Jealousy, violence and control were what she perceived as the main attributes of the guy worthy of her love. Her boyfriends became more and more questionable, until I finally had to refuse meeting one of them. High school girls all over town knew how violent he was and stories about how his family got their fortune were whispered in secretive, fearful tones. No, that was not the kind of guy whose interest you wanted to awaken. But she knew all that… and that was when I was politely informed that I had no business talking about relationships, since I had never been in a real one. After all, a real relationship was one in which the guy set me straight, not let me be myself and do whatever I wanted, the way my boyfriend did.

She firmly believed I deserved to be slapped around a little bit, just to finally understand what real life and a real guy feel like. It was our first and final fight. We still talked once in a while afterwards, mostly agreeing to disagree. But I understood it was time for the two of us to keep our distance, because there was no way the three of us (she and I.. and the dubious boyfriend she would not leave for anything in the world) could be friends. Sure… I understood the appeal when it came to bad boys, but within limits… life-threatening was not and will never be sexy in my book.

Yet.. I understood her… how could I not, when I knew her story? Nothing and nobody taught her that loving a person means so much more than owning their body and soul and disposing of them the same way one does regarding any other type of personal property. Growing up with an alcoholic, occasionally aggressive and mostly unemployed father that both she and her mother adored had taught her what a ‘real man’ should be. Without such a ‘real man’, she herself could not reach her full potential as a real woman… Her mother never left her father, no matter how badly he treated her. He was the most important person in her life; she came second and the kids came third. She worked two jobs to support the family; and when she lost those two jobs, she finally gave in and started drinking too. Once they were sharing the same vice, they became strangely happy, in spite of everything they had to deal with. But her mother never left her father…

This is why I was so pleasantly surprised when I found out she divorced her abusive husband, putting her daughter and herself above the ‘real man’ she had desired for so long. I don’t know the details, but I am glad she stopped perceiving three as being the perfect number for the family she had built in her dreams as a child. We will never be friends again; we will probably never talk again, even if we might still coincidentally find out all sorts of things about each other. But we have never been enemies either, we simply followed our own separate ways. This is why I can now say I respect her for having the power to open her eyes and understand both she and her daughter deserve more. She will never know this about me, the same way I will never know many things bout her, but it makes no difference. All that matters is that we both have the memory of what once was a beautiful friendship, belonging only to the two of us.

In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: What comes in threes?

 

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 12

Amalia turned her head towards him; she couldn’t continue to admire the scenery that was unravelling outside the car window while sinking into her own thoughts on the matter, appearing to listen to him absentmindedly. She had had that conversation with other people before, including a couple of very close friends, and everybody – from the new guys she met who wanted to sleep with her, to her family – seemed intent on figuring out just that particular matter, ending up being more puzzled than they were initially.

“You really like labels: married, single, wife, husband, girlfriend, boyfriend… It’s really a matter of perception for me, even if some people see me as having what they might call a boyfriend, I happen to believe it takes more than tolerating a person for a few years, allowing him to be part of your life when there’s nothing else better to do and no one else better to be had. It takes more to call it a relationship and no, in my book that doesn’t mean I have a boyfriend.”

“So you do have a boyfriend.”

“I see you’re just about as unable to understand as most of the other people are.”

“I’m teasing you, really. It’s just that people are known to build life-long marriages on less than what you just described there. So what’s wrong with this boy, that you think so little of him? And why exactly does he allow you to behave that way? Come on, tell me what your story is, I want to know.”

Robert’s voice betrayed his curiosity, but there was a hint of something else behind that half smile. She ignored it though; he wanted to know, then he would know. Amalia needed to figure out up to which point she had been right in assessing him and his character, just as she needed to be accepted exactly for who she was, and narrow-mindedness and hypocrisy were not flaws that she could tolerate.

“He’s a pair of knitted woollen socks.”

For more sample fragments: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/analinden

Of Victory and Loss

In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge – Victory

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Every new place I get a chance to discover is one more victory for me. Sometimes it can even be one more battle won against my own ignorance. It can be a mere small victory or it can be a victory so big that it will fill my soul of warm sensations and my mind of delicious memories for years to come.

There are places you dissect like a thorough student, wanting to learn their story and understand their system. And then there are those places that simply speak to your heart, they get under your skin and whether you knew it or not, you actually always wanted and needed to see them.

They are the places where your soul, your entire being can wonder, not only your mind. They are the places where you know you will always want to return. They are the places where you know you will eventually find your way back no matter what, no matter how long it might take. They are the places that constantly grow and regenerate, yet preserve their essence, their core is their constant strength. Some of that essence you take with you when you leave. And some of yourself you leave behind as well, a tribute for the gift of knowledge that you received… because victory also implies loss. That place may have offered itself to you, yet you were the one who was conquered – and for it, you will be forever grateful.

Paris was such a place for me – cliché as it may sound – a place of love and true romance, dream and reality at the same time, a source of culture, emotion and discovery. It was the strength I so desperately needed at that time, even if I didn’t really know it beforehand. What I had always know was that I wanted to see it, and when I finally did, it crept into the depth of my being. So when I read “Victory” Friday evening, I thought… personal victories…travel… Paris. I had more cheerful pictures in mind and a romantic story to go with them. Then Friday night happened – a cruel, tragic, unexpected reminder of how loss is one side of the coin and victory the other.

We are flawed, we are subjective, we are human… Yes, some unspeakable tragedies make our heart sink deeper and our eyes tear up more than others. Yes, we are not always fair. But as long as we still have the ability to feel empathy and be outraged at least by some of these acts of destruction, we can still call ourselves humans. So, to all of you who perceive what happened in Paris as tremendous loss and pointless destruction, and not as a victory, I can only say I share your sorrow. To those who have lost somebody in that inferno… I wish I knew what to say… I wish there were words able to make it better, to turn back the time…

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 11

Not that again… But some things are unavoidable, she thought, and apparently it was a valid question when people meet other people, especially when a certain type of interest arises between two persons; and she couldn’t really blame her dislike of socially acceptable small talk on him.

“I get the feeling there’s a completely separate conversation going on in your head.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“How else would you explain the lack of continuity when jumping from one topic to another, entirely unrelated one?”

“Just accept the fact that I’m used to getting my answers,” he grinned at her, suddenly staring her in the eyes. “Why do you make such a big deal out of answering the question anyway? It’s almost as though you were ashamed…”

“You tell me… Do you have a girlfriend?” Her voice was somewhere between flirty and annoyed and he knew it wasn’t shame he had sensed in her evasive reaction, but he couldn’t quite figure out what else it might have been either.

He instinctively shifted his look from her eyes to his wedding ring and as he replied, trying to decide whether she was just mocking him or not, he noticed Amalia was aware of his awkward pause.

“First of all, I’m married, as I’m sure you must know, and I tend not to hide this particular piece of information; as for a girlfriend, I don’t have one at the moment, but I’m not adverse to the idea, and I make no secret of that either… well, maybe only as far as the wife is concerned, she might disapprove of my extracurricular activities.” Robert was pleased to notice her laughing at his little joke. “But I believe things are somewhat different for you… there’s no reason why you wouldn’t be seeing somebody.”

For more sample fragments: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/analinden