Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 37

Nervousness makes the heart twitch with a very odd kind of emotion for some people, because not everybody can recognise a shadow of insecurity in those few, vague situations they become afflicted with it. Robert seemed to differentiate himself from the not so many other guys in Amalia’s past, something about him made you think “a real man” more than you would be inclined to do so in other cases. As a young woman, you would become restless with anticipation, because you would instinctively understand that his vast experience will guide your way into new shivers of pleasure, on new peaks of physical fulfilment. But Amalia was too cerebral and too proud to focus just on that, her main concern was being on the same level with him, having at least that much of an impact on him too.

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

Beginnings, Beginnings…

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Adults were the enemy, no doubt about it… Yet they had all been young once, children, teenagers… So at what point did they start to mutate, when was it that they stopped understanding and started forgetting?

The 12 year old me had no answer to those daunting questions, and neither did any of my friends. But I was afraid it might happen to me eventually. No, no, never, that would never be me. Yet… what if forgetting is stronger than the human being? Not forgetting actual situations – adults seemed to remember many things, they all had childhood stories – but the feelings behind them, the implications, the reasons and the results. It wasn’t about remembering, it was about remembering it right.

There was only one thing to be done about it. I picked a nice mote book that I was saving for just such an extreme occasion and decided it would be the first of many. Everything had to be documented. There was no other way I would grow into one of those narrow minded, uncaring, depressing, oppressive people who accepted nothing but their own biased judgement and could not understand us… because they could not remember correctly how it was like to be us.

I was no exception, I soon discovered that most of the girls kept diaries… and even a few of the boys were bold enough to admit they kept “journals”. In fact, there was an absolutely hilarious afternoon when we were about 14 and we found one of these journals. One of the boys had been careless enough to bring it to school and leave it on my desk… My friends and I got our grubby little hands on it and the public reading that followed in a nearby park after classes turned out to be embarrassing to say the least. here were certain very private physical matters in there that no adolescent boy would like to have read by the girl he used to like in front of the girl he kindda likes… and all of her friends and his friends. Oh yes, we were merciless… But if you don’t want your classmates to read your diary, you don’t bring it to school, it was a known fact.

Whatever the reasons each and every one of us had, journaling was a widely spread activity. But that wasn’t writing, none of us perceived it as such… writing sounded too much like homework, that was just too tedious. Yet I was right about one thing – that first note book was followed by several others over the years. I may have denied their existence in front of my friends (that was just too girly a thing for me admit to), but the truth was that writing cleared my mind. It may have been meant for my eyes alone, but it was cathartic. It was calming whenever I could no longer control my anger; it was soothing when I felt I couldn’t control my tears; and it was comforting and motivating whenever I felt there was no hope.

I eventually came to understand my personal writing as the best way to gain some perspective. Writing then became dialogue. I would write letters to a good friend of mine who was older and had moved away. My closest friends and I had this notebook where we kept writing whatever went through our minds, everything that troubled us or that made us happy. We did start letting others in, but one thing remained the same – none of us could relate to, confide in or trust the adults in our lives, we had to rely on each other. That we did have in common, it was a fact, not mere adolescent rebellion.

Yet some adults were different. I couldn’t deny that when my middle school literature teacher came to me one day and told me I had won some prize in a writing competition. I vaguely remembered being told about that competition and I had dismissed it immediately; what did she want from me, I couldn’t be bothered with that, I didn’t write like that… She said nothing else, she just asked me to hand in another copy of a composition I had written as a school assignment. She send it in for me and apparently some people liked it… Hmm… who would have thought? She repeated the stunt whenever she got her hands on something I wrote and she liked; that’s how I won a couple more prizes in various writing contests for kids my age and that’s how I ended up accidentally writing occasional pieces for the school paper. Writing could help me if I let it, she made me understand. I didn’t have to take it too seriously, I didn’t have to make it into a career, I just had to allow it to be an outlet. That was my decision… unlike the various competitions she chose for me to enter unwillingly.

She was right, I later had to admit… everybody should have a hobby to sink into whenever they need to let go of everything. As for the life of the misunderstood teenager… well, there was more to it than I had initially imagined. Some of that lack of understanding and tolerance was not about forgetting or about not remembering it right. Some of it was nobody’s fault, neither the adults, nor the kids could be blamed for the incredibly fast paced life and for the way everything evolved beyond everybody’s perception.

I got my first taste of that bitter reality very early in my twenties, when a friend asked me to talk to his younger sister about sex… So many things had changed from social and technological points of view in less than 10 years, that nothing I had written down could have helped me with some of the scary question that perfectly average 13 year old had. I remembered it right and I remembered it all, yet the context was no longer the same. It wasn’t only about remembering, it was also about adapting what I knew to her context, if I wanted to convince the girl that she could and should be her own hero, first and foremost…

In response to WordPress Weekly Discover Challenge – Origin Story.

A Numbers Game

3What’s your number? There used to be a time when that was nothing but a harmless question, which was simply perceived as somebody wanting to know your phone number… does anybody still remember that? We moved on and the loaded question acquired much more controversial nuances. But all in all, it’s a numbers game from all points of view we soon got to learn it.

Just because we don’t buy a ticked, that doesn’t mean we’re not playing the lottery. Whether we like it or not, that’s what we do every second of our life and the prize varies, we’re often not even aware of what it is until it’s too late. Birthdays, anniversaries, age, addresses, time, history, biology, chemistry, genetics, health issues, income, financial and social status, living conditions, entertainment, family, friends, success and failure and so much more, life in general, it all comes down to numbers. They’re the foundation of everything we build, of all we desire and hope for, they’re also at the core of our greatest fears.

How many times, how many of us have wandered what the point of algebra was, back when we were children? Yet nowadays it often feels like 3x+4y+5z=happiness … and that’s only in the simplest of cases. Then there are those times when the equation gets blurry, endless, untouchable. So different numbers start to add up and the sum or the questions it might raise aren’t always pleasant or even bearable. How many drinks in order to relax and forget? How many pills in order to feel better, to feel nothing or to simply make it from one day to the next? How many zeros in that ideal bank account in order to feel safe? How many people in one’s life in order to feel important? How many victories against how many losses in order not to fall apart? And that’s only on a strictly personal level… There’s certainly a not at all glamorous side of this numbers game as well.

Perfection – in any subjective interpretation – also becomes a matter of numbers, be it in real life, aspirations or in art. Various numbers have defined idealised perfection over the ages, but more and more often we seem to strive for “the one”. We add all the numbers resulting from our expectations and we tend to somehow reach the one as the the only result. The one ideal person, the one perfect home, the one acceptable view on life… In case the one we find or manage to provide ourselves with turns out to be wrong, we start fiddling with all the variables in the equation, but we hardly ever accept that the solution might be something else but one. One failed “one” yields one brand new quest for a new “one”, hopefully the right “one”. Once the right “one” is found, we move on and try to get another one of those ones that we crave so badly. All too often, we believe anything that isn’t the “one” equals zero…

It’s a numbers game. It’s life. Few of those variables can be controlled, but if we manage to come up with our own numbers and set our own rules, we might even win the game once in a while. And doesn’t it feel nice when that happens, when our numbers are the winning ones…

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In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge – Numbers.

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 36

More than ever she felt like a girl that night, and not at all like that person she knew she would become, like that woman she so longed to be. Amalia was certainly no ingénue, no virgin or prude, the men in her past and present could attest it without a doubt, and she was indeed well-aware of the effect her body had on them, she adored the sense of power she extracted from their desire and satisfaction. Few things can be more reassuring and addictive to a woman than perceiving the males’ ecstasy, than the thrill of control their desperate lust for her can convey, or than the vague victory in an unmentioned battle with the other members of her own sex. It is all about superiority and control, the reassertion of the self, it is so much more than just the physical pleasure, the satisfaction transcending so many levels.

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

Imagining Adventure

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I drove past the sign and as the car was moving faster, I started feeling less restless. I had just stopped by the petrol station, I had a full tank and enough money in my purse to refuel once more. Things had definitely been worse for me at some point in the past, but I didn’t want to think about that. I left the town behind and I could just keep driving… But where?

Some people get antsy when spring arrives, it’s like the warm air defrosts their adventurous side; others get edgy when autumn or winter start imbuing the air with their specific fragrance. For me, it’s summer, early summer. It’s always been early summer. That’s the time of year when I become particularly restless… some might smirk and call that restlessness careless or even self-destructive. I couldn’t argue with them, it’s been known to happen…

This is the time when I feel a desperate need to shake everything up, to uproot my entire existence. This is the time when I fantasize about change, about complete change that I cause voluntarily by simply turning everything upside down and starting fresh. Am I still able to do that, I wonder? I don’t know anymore, but every early summer I feel like putting myself to that particular test. As I drive past the city limits, I can’t deny the urge to never come back. Perhaps I’ve lived here long. Perhaps I’ve gotten all there was to get out of this place. Perhaps it’s time for somewhere else, for something else. Perhaps it’s time to pull everything down so I could rebuild something entirely new.

While I’m still in town, I try to distract myself by focusing on the small things. Maybe I could focus this energy on adding something new rather than on starting new. I drive past a cyclist and I think, I could do that too, he seems to enjoy it. Yes, I could do that, but I hate cycling, I always have; that’s no fun for me. I want something else, something more adventurous, more thrilling. Mountain climbing perhaps? I’m not the mountain climbing type either. I’ve tried it many moons ago, I ticked it off the list and then got over it. I can’t say I hated it, but it didn’t suit me either. Once I proved myself I could do it, I moved on. None of those things are me, I crave some sort of adventure, not a reinvention of myself.

I know how to handle this sort of craving after all the times I’ve experienced it. I also know I’m not a pleasant person to be around when this sort of mood hits, so I try to stay away from those I care about. The truth is, the main reason why my adventure fantasies remain just that and I prevent them from materializing is the fact that nowadays I have something to lose. The truth is I don’t hate my life; I actually am aware of all the things I have to be grateful for… The truth is I also have people I care about, people I wouldn’t want to lose. Yet these restless thoughts I get every early summer make me envision and crave just that – a brand new existence, with brand new challenges, because it seems it’s in our blood to get bored, to stop appreciating, to take things and people for granted.

Driving back on a more scenic route, the way I always knew I would, I feel a bit calmer. I always know when I want to leave a place or a person for good and I generally manage to focus on the reasons I have to go back. But imagining how it might be to escape my own existence and build a new one is still something thrilling, something motivating, something I ultimately and selfishly don’t want to share with anybody else. It’s my adventure, after all.

However, there are pertinent compromise versions of it – I hear that’s what adults do… Hmmm… I know that part of my restlessness is the fact that I miss travelling. After a year of going back and forth almost on a monthly basis, after practically living in two countries at once, now I realize I miss it. In spite of all the difficulties, I grew to like it… or at least to get used to it so much and so fast, that apparently now I miss it, on top of everything else. So I know that some small travel adventure – be it locally or internationally – is a compromise I could very well live with and enjoy enough to calm down these early summer urges. There’s the adventure we dream about and then there’s the adventure we can afford to live with in real life…

I’m often told that people “my age” settle down and should be perfectly fine with living uneventful lives; and if I crave adventure, I should just spend a day on the beach without solar protection. Well, call me crazy, label me hopelessly immature, but once in a while I need more than that. And as long as I can offer myself at least a part of that which I want and need, I will do just that, regardless of the frowns it might bring on certain brows… who, I might add, have no business minding my business.

In response to WordPress Weekly Discover Challenge – Adventure.

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 35

It was a good thing he wanted to leave the very next morning, that way nobody had enough time to overthink things and give in to their nervousness, cancelling the trip as a result of fear or overactive analytic abilities. It was the right moment for the next step, Amalia thought, and the worries such a moment may have brought up were matched by heightened expectation.

She spent the next hours deciding on outfits, trying things on in her mind and planning all the little details of the night she knew they would spend together, avoiding any ideas that might make her feel nervous and prevent her from going through with it. Misrepresentation is a common trick for both men and women and although she knew that some of the traits Robert had presented her may have been shaped to portrait exactly who he wanted to be or who he thought might attract her more, the girl was worried about her own image, what she had put forward as being her true self. Nothing she had said was untrue, but she had left out various details about her sex life, so she had created an appearance that could have been interpreted as that of a seductress, the woman who does not get involved with her male victims, who uses them for her pleasure – sexual and otherwise – the woman who does not see anything wrong in having a brief sexual affair with a married man, the woman devoid of feelings and remorse.

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

Forgetting What I Learnt

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The words and phrases are floating over me, trying to break free from a fog refusing to dissipate. There is a certain familiarity about the text, I should known what it’s all about. I knew it at a point… But I keep reading, pushing those feelings of disappointment and panic somewhere deep and far away in my mind.

That’s what happens when you promise to help… You’ve studied something like this at university, right? I had to say yes, I couldn’t have asked why he wanted to know before saying anything… Serves me right – live it, learnt it!

Hey, wait a moment, this isn’t the same categorization we were taught, what the hell are they talking about? Rather than going straight to the point, they just confuse everything… how’s a person who doesn’t know about it supposed to understand anything… oh wait, a few pages later they finally do it right… good thing I know what the story is, that saves a lot of time.

But that’s exactly it, I do know, I do remember! A sigh of relief… my memory is still what it used to be, it’s not failing me yet, the years haven’t changed me that much from that particular point of view. Yes, I can actually help with this, I won’t make a fool of myself, nor will I be a nuisance.

I may be able to jolt my memory, I may be able to piece together information that I’ve assimilated, but I would definitely be a lot more challenged if I had to learn it now than I used to be back then. Well, this is exactly what my friend is going through these days and I can’t say I envy him. We’re the same age and while we both got admitted to different universities after high school, life got in his way a lot worse than it did in mine, and he is only now working towards getting his degree.

We learn differently, he and I… and many of the things we had to learn, we learnt together, both when it came to academia and when it came to life and its struggles. I helped him understand algebra in middle school and I frightened him into learning the conjugation of French verbs in high school. I found it terribly annoying that many of my class mates took so long to understand what to me appeared simple things; but he could keep up with me, so making him see how easy everything was became fun.

So once again we go back to that routine, the one where we discuss the course material, because that way he remembers it a lot better. That’s how he learns. I, on the other hand, have always studied best on my own; group studying was a waste of time and it held me back. I had no problem studying efficiently while sunbathing on the beach, as long as I was left alone…

Here we are, once again… we spend a day and the better part of the night figuring out the course material I had studied too, although I attended a different university and took different courses. Sure, they labelled it differently for me, but it’s really the same dry, boring, theoretical stuff that I only managed to understand because I had a gifted professor who could create a context and challenging examples to get our attention… and apparently to help me remember something I hardly ever need to use. This might in fact be the first time I do…

That’s why I was worried when I thought I had forgotten everything… Not because I needed to remember it – I am aware of having forgotten a lot of useless things I studied and learnt mechanically – but because this had made sense at the time. I may have hated the theoretical side, but the applied part was great fun. And I always remember that which I have understood, that which has made sense, that which I could have even exemplify in an interesting way.

No, I am not good at forgetting. I have yet to learn how to do that. Just like this highlights of an irrelevant course, everything that I’ve learnt and experienced comes back to me one way or another, no matter how hard I try to not remember certain things. It’s exactly those instances I try to forget that have the bad habit of coming back to me exactly when I least expect it or want it. Good memory is an amazing asset… and it can be a tremendous liability as well. But once you’re used to having access to such a tool, no matter how challenging it might be to handle it, the mere thought of losing it is the kind of fear you still need to learn how to control.

In response to WordPress Weekly Discover Challenge – Learning.

Jubilation in Small Pleasures

2The jasmine plant outside my window is trying to shake off heavy raindrops and my mind goes back to other jasmine imbued evenings and early summer storms. I open my windows widely because I want to breathe in the fresh air, the scent of rain and jasmine… because I want to feel the way I used to feel back then… because I wish I still liked the rain.

It was our thing, running in the rain, making a mess of ourselves and not caring about it… just laughing and running and screaming and letting go of all responsibility, fears and worries that made us so different from other adolescents. We never ran for shelter when summer storms were upon us, thunder and lightning made us feel free and invincible. If we weren’t already outside, together, leaning on each other when the rain started, then we knew we would inevitably meet in the nearest park. Everybody was running away… we were running towards… towards each other, towards the storms.

I wore high heels back then as well, I carefully did my hair and chose my outfits, but somehow it really didn’t matter what became of all those efforts. My hair was dripping wet, clothes were uncomfortably sticking to my body, rain water made my feet slip in my shoes or sandals, but none of that mattered. Torrential rain washed away all those thoughts and experiences burdening us, and although I didn’t know it back then, my friends and I were acting our age for a moment or two. That sort of underrated jubilation forges bonds able to resist time. I know that because even now I can still laugh and reminisce with one of those friends who used to run and laugh in the rain with me.

It takes something else to get that sort of happy squeal escape our lungs these days. It takes conquering new territories, discovering new places. It takes complex pleasures to trigger reactions, because we’re no longer able to allow the simple ones get to us – that would mean settling for too little, wouldn’t it?

Torrential rain means something else today. It’s getting annoyed about what it might do to my hair, to my leather jacket or to my silk dress, it’s running to my car, avoiding the puddles that might damage my cherished shoes. It’s worrying about all the dirt in the raindrops and doing my best to avoid them touching my skin. I suppose this is simply acting my age today.

But the scent of all those delicate jasmine flowers drags me to another time, to a different universe. Perhaps we’ll find the strength and courage to run out into the storm again, loving it rather than fearing it… After all, haven’t we found the strength to accomplish much more difficult tasks, to survive much more challenging situations? If I can still find reasons for jubilation in the innocent surprise of unexpected flowers, couldn’t I at least learn to tolerate the rain again?

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In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge – Jubilant.

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Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 34

“I’ll pick you up tomorrow at 9 in the morning.”

As soon as he could see Amalia entering her building, the sun reflecting in the glass window, Robert looked up the number of one of his favourite hotels in a nice mountain resort; he lingered for a while before dialling, staring blankly at the screen. Should I actually book one room or two? If you fail the woman’s test at that particular point, there is no turning back and no making up for it… especially with certain women. In some cases, it’s exactly the ones that put up the most impenetrable, holier than thou front, that turn out to be the loosest, and it’s usually an easy and safe guess as to how they might react, given the chance to bathe in the depravity they condemn so loudly, yet crave so desperately. The ones that are open about such things, however, tend to be those that constantly surprise you. For some reason, they live with the belief they are above all others, having a very strong sense of entitlement, which spawns exactly from their open-mindedness and sometimes paralyzing bluntness.

The young woman motioned very slowly after she closed the entrance door behind her, leaning her head to one side in such a manner, so that she could catch one more glimpse of the car parked in front. The man to whom she had just bid goodbye was looking up something on his phone, then he dialled someone. She understood. She smiled contented and hurried up to her apartment. Good.

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

Apologies and Silence

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My grandmother was one of those persons who manage to transform silence into a guilt inducing, “think about what you’ve done wrong” ordeals that only a cherished adult can inflict on a child. Only later did I understand the manipulative power of such loaded silences and the fact that they were equally efficient weapons against any adult in the family, as they were not meant to keep in check only children. But this most efficient weapon backfired eventually – it was bound to happen after having been used so efficiently for a lifetime, even when it was not needed.

There are so many kinds of silence and they serve so many purposes, but it was primarily a means of attracting attention in my grandmother’s case. The punishment side of it was merely a bonus, I latter understood, after I had already given up on figuring out what I had done wrong in order to deserve the much dreaded silent treatment.

It always followed the same pattern: you got home and all of the sudden you were persona non grata, whose kind “hello” didn’t trigger a response anymore. Naturally, one tries to find out what they did to upset the dear old lady, and that was generally when one also gets the all too familiar, snappy “You know very well what you did wrong, and it’s too late to make it better now,” followed by a very disappointed, “I’m such a martyr” look.

Nobody ever knew what triggered the silence attack, because nobody ever did anything to deserve it. My grandmother was a very verbal, argumentative, bickering lady whenever a mistake had actually been perpetrated, whereas the silence was merely a way to become the centre of attention, to be consoled and cuddled, begged for unnecessary forgiveness, which she would eventually half-heartedly grant, after having had enough of somebody’s grovelling and little favours offered in exchange for her clemency.

But her strategy soon failed to produce the same results with me; logical thinking worked its magic, even if I was just a child: I hadn’t done anything wrong, I knew that for a fact, so why was I supposed to apologise and have imaginary remorse for never committed mistakes? Navigating through the tormenting guilt her unuttered words instilled in me in spite of all my logical thoughts, I discovered a completely new and precious side of silence: I could finally do my homework or read the books I liked without any interruption from my generally very curious, talkative and intrusive grandmother. Without knowing it, I had offended her silence; and I had consequently offended her, thus almost deserving my punishment.

Silence had turned against her, leaving her powerless, and that was when I learnt that the first one to talk lost the imaginary battle of wills between the two of us.Why would I have been the first to utter a word, when I was so quietly comfortable with all my books, while she was all of the sudden alone and in desperate need of a listener, of somebody with whom to share the latest gossip? So she would eventually enter my room like nothing had happened and start talking and talking and talking – we were friends again, all was forgotten.

Nevertheless, her strategy worked wonders with everybody else, including my grandfather, getting her everything she wanted, from that feeling of control and superiority to a nice leather bag, a trip to the mountains or whatever she felt entitled to receive from those around her. Yet I still cannot help wondering why they refused to see what lurked behind the silence of the old, but not often dear lady. Is it really easier to fall prey to this sort of manipulative silence than to confront it?

After all those years I became as talented at throwing silence in people’s face as my grandmother was – how else would I have defeated her, after all? Yes, I can master silence now, but I choose not to become a pitiful creature who uses it in order to get undeserved and unnecessary attention. Once you learn to be silent both in a positive and a negative way, you also learn how to break silence and transform otherwise uncomfortable moments into a source of genuine communication in this overly verbal, often unable to establish real connections era.

In response to WordPress Weekly Discover Challenge – Apology.

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 33

The direct way proved to be the easiest approach, yet again.

“The hell with it all… I need a break.”

“Meaning?…”

“I’m going to the mountains for a couple of days. Do you have any plans for tomorrow or could you be persuaded to keep me company for a change of scenery?” He paused, waiting for a reply. “You can have your own room. No expectations, no pressure. Just two people having a couple of days off from their lives. I’m leaving anyway, I set everything up already, but I just don’t want to be alone.”

“Ok.”

“Ok?”

“Yes, ok. That could be fun, as long as you are aware that I like my hotel rooms comfortable and my heels high, so there will be no mountain climbing or anything of the sort.”

“Agreed.”

How exactly does she manage to ignore all my allusions and turn the conversation into something completely different than what I meant it to be? The little bitch… there is no such thing as letting me know exactly where I stand with her.

He thought he saw her winking at him. But did he really want to know for sure or was this just part of the game?

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

A Time For Chance Encounters

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The car slows down and stops next to mine. We’re listening to the same radio station, I instantly realize, as our open windows allow for the warm wind, traffic noises and the same music to intertwine. I turn my head to the left, curious to see who else feels like listening to ‘80s songs today. Equally curious, the other driver looks to his right and just for a moment, through the dark tint of our sunglasses, our eyes meet. We exchange a quick, playful smile as our attention seems to switch back to the traffic. The light turns green, but we motion forward slowly even though ours are the first cars stopped at the traffic light.

Half smiling to myself, I scrutinize discretely while feeling scrutinized myself. He’s cute, he’s driving a great car and he’s younger than me. I know I don’t show my actual age and today I feel even younger, but it’s still flattering and amusing at the same time. I speed up a bit and so does he, keeping up with me.

It’s that time of year again… summer is in the air, it’s still mainly us, locals, so we still have the town to ourselves. First weekend this year when it really feels and looks like early summer and everybody’s enjoying the moment in their own way, it seems… From angry, aggressive, frustrated drives we become flirty drivers… at least for a few brief moments, until we get used to the summer routine and fall back on our jaded cynicism.

Nobody is in a hurry on such a day and it looks like many have taken their summer toys out for a spin, thoroughly enjoying them and showing them off. It’s fun to see 80’s music lover keeping close to my car even when I challenge him with a couple of unexpected turns. He’s played the game before, I see… But I must admit, today’s lazy traffic isn’t that tricky. As he passes my car and smiles at me once more, I can hear the same music. I catch myself inadvertently smiling and I effortlessly keep up with him for a couple of minutes and then pass him again. I’m a lady, he needs to chase after me, right?

I don’t normally drive with my window down, I simply switch on the AC. But even those of us, mere mortals, having to drive through life without a convertible, like to feel the wind messing up our hair once in a while. I don’t normally listen to that radio station either, but I’m restless today, I’m bored of the predictable, repetitive rhythms of the usual one and I don’t feel like playing something in particular either. I want to be surprised… And as I can hear the same music reverberating in the car next to mine at yet another traffic light, I realize the surprise is an entertaining one.

The car on my right is slowing down, waiting for me to do the same. As I don’t, he speeds up until he’s right next to me. While waiting patiently for pedestrians to cross, he points to the right, to the parking lot belonging to a trendy pub. They’ve gotten their umbrellas out and the terrace looks so inviting. I know they don’t play ‘80s music there… He still looks at me, his head tilted to the right, smiling crookedly and inquiringly. I smile back when the last of the pedestrians is on the other side of the street and I really have no excuse to be stopped there anymore. With a quick wave of my hand, I drive straight forward while he pulls over in the parking lot to the right. I can see him wave good bye as well. Then the street bends to the left and he disappears.

Yes, it’s that time of year again… when the sun brings out the best and the worst in us in this little corner of the world. It’s that time of year when the fun begins again, when it’s acceptable to be wild and young, no matter how old you are. This time of year, in other years, I would have stopped to have a drink with a cute stranger and see what chances a chance encounter stands to become more. Yet these days I keep driving, and not because of my age, but because I choose to. There are chance encounters and chance encounters… some of them serve as innocent reminders that the person we have in our life for the time being is one we have chosen, not one we have settled for, in lack of better options.

In response to WordPress Weekly Discover Challenge – Chance Encounter.

Books, Reviews And Awareness – Carol Balawyder

Carnations are the symbol for Multiple Sclerosis, I recently learnt from Carol Balawyder’s blog. In order to raise awareness, she is offering one of her books, Not By Design, for the bargain price of 0.99$ the entire month of May. While I don’t usually review books on my blog (this is only the second time it happens), I find Carol’s writing worthy of such an exception. Not only is she a talented writer, but she is also very supportive of fellow authors, so if you haven’t come across her blog yet, perhaps it’s time you had. Summer is right around the corner and in case you’re looking for something to read on the beach, her books are a nice alternative – engaging, entertaining, yet also well researched and interesting.

Getting To Mr. Right

getting to mr right

Carol Balawyder has managed to create four relatable, strikingly real protagonists and this, together with the highly relevant and complex subject it tackles is what makes her book a real page-turner. Whether we like to admit it or not, the Prince Charming myth – under its various shapes and interpretations – occupies a significant place in a contemporary woman’s love life, regardless of her age, social status or background. No matter if she is desperately seeking this ideal man or she is incessantly trying to debunk the controversial myth, a woman cannot deny the relevance of this concept and the inner struggle it creates.

So much more than a selection of dating stories and disastrous sentimental experiences, the book gives a detailed account of the profound effect an absent father figure might have in determining a woman’s development and the way she will perceive and handle future relationships with men. Getting to Mr. Right is certainly not a “how to” manual. On the contrary, what becomes clear early on is that finding the right partner needs to be a journey to understanding and finding one’s true self.

Campbell, Missi, Suzy and Felicity could be any one of us and most likely, we have been in their shoes more than once. The four very different ladies have one thing in common, they all face some sort of personal, emotional crisis, and this is what brings them together. What might at first sight seem to be a narration focused on the relevance of finding the ideal man and the perfect relationship is actually an ode to female friendship. These four wonderful ladies manage to find their way, realize their potential, understand who they are and what they need not with the help of a man, but with the support of their friends. Once they heal, they make peace with their past and form a realistic view on relationships, they can find balance and love.

We are never too young or too old to discover ourselves or to make a change for the better, we are gracefully and discretely reminded. As for all those huge everyday questions we all have about compromise, independence, career and the way they affect or are influenced by romantic relationships and family connections… it’s a delight to see Campbell, Missi, Felicity and Suzy try to figure them out. At times hilarious, at times heart-breaking, their adventures and feelings are nicely punctuated and enhanced by setting and weather, thus improving the reader’s literary experience. But I’ll let you discover such details on your own…

Not By Design

not by design

Sometimes we have control over our destiny… and other times life simply happens, and not by design. That’s what Felicity Starr, the protagonist of Carol Balawyder’s fourth book in the Getting to Mr Right series, finds out when diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Not By Design is not your typical “boy meets girl, they overcome various obstacles and live happily ever after” romance.

We find Felicity about to reach a fairy-tale ending – a spectacular wedding in Rome – but her life turns upside-down when she discovers her illness and Marco, her wonderful prince, turns into a frog. Struggling to deal with health and financial issues all on her own, left by the man she was about to marry, recovering after her father’s unexpected death, Felicity needs to accept the truth about her own life. In many respects, what she believed to be real turns out to have been an illusion and her choice in men still reflects some of Felicity’s past mistakes. It may have taken her a long time to see her father for who he really was, but that hasn’t obliterated her need for acceptance and approval. Not only does she acknowledge it eventually when she has to sort out all the emotions triggered by his death, but we see it clearly when looking at Marco and noticing how much his character and behaviour towards Felicity resemble her father’s.

The father-daughter relationship becomes secondary in Not By Design. Felicity’s relationship with her mother, Nicole, is emphasized this time, as the two finally get closer and past wounds start healing. Her need for a mother figure also plays a big part in Felicity’s choice to marry Marco, as it becomes obvious from her feelings for his mother. But the relationship that needs the most work is that with herself – her MS helps her grow, become independent and establish a new, more realistic system of values and priorities. First and foremost, she needs to accept herself. As her story progresses, we find Felicity using a cane, but she no longer uses people for crutches.

The setting complements the flow of the story, also enhancing our reading pleasure. Rome and its history infused streets are the romantic, almost surreal scene for the first part of the book, but as the fairy-tale mirage starts dissipating, Felicity moves back to Montreal, the place where reality takes precedence in the best of ways. That is where she finally finds her way and starts seeing her dreams come true, as soon as she understands what is important and what she truly wants.

Felicity is a strong character and the first person narrative brings her closer to the reader in what is a very enjoyable, interesting story. Just like in the first book of this series, Getting to Mr Right, Carol Balawyder has managed to provide us with relevant facts (this time about the physical and emotional struggles of those suffering from MS) without disrupting our reading pleasure. In spite of all these complex matters, Not By Design is a light, relaxing read, perfect for a lazy day on the beach or for a quiet evening at home, when one needs to clear one’s mind and forget about all those troubling daily issues.

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 32

But there was some sort of uncertainty in Robert’s behavior. Although he felt they were heading to the desired resolution, he also felt that she was one that would constantly keep him on his toes, she made him feel like he might not be worth a second glance sometimes, she looked at people in such an indifferent and distant fashion. Yet in spite of everything, he was still attracted, somewhat subdued by her strange ways, cold eyes and cynical attitude, so he needed to subdue her in his own way.

It was only a question of the right moment and of the right place, she was certainly no backseat of the car kind of girl and he also wanted to fully enjoy their first sexual encounter. He was slightly puzzled though: was she just playing with him? Other women would have attempted to get closer by now, holding his hand maybe, a goodnight kiss, at least an obvious hint that they would enjoy a good night kiss from him. But she had kept her distance, and yet she made it quite clear that she would have nothing against a sexual affair with a married man, him in particular. So what now?

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

Down To Earth Or Up In The Clouds

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As children, many of us are often told we can do anything and become whoever we want when we grow up. Then we start growing up. With every year that passes, more and more of those options are stricken off that imaginary list. We discover ourselves, we understand what doesn’t suit us, we figure out what we don’t want to or cannot do. Whether we like it or not, we learn that wanting something doesn’t necessarily mean we can find a way to get it, contrary to urban legends and positive thinking myths. Yet we keep going, we still plan ahead and we find new purposes every day, because the present and the past are not enough, we also need some sort of hope for the future we can hold on to.

The dreams may not be full of grandeur, our younger selves would have probably not even called them dreams, yet realistic expectations and the anticipation of something more, something new or at least something we have experienced, loved and want to relive is not something to ignore. But what happens if we’ve exhausted all the items on that imaginary list – either because we’ve accomplished them or because they will forever be out of reach – and we have nothing else to replace them with, what happens then?…

She really has nothing to look forward to, everything she ever hoped for is behind her now and she is not that old yet… The thought crossed my mind, while wondering how long the woman can go on about her cats. I looked at the phone once again – over half an hour since that conversation had started and it didn’t seem to come close to its end. As usual, she had no regard for other people’s needs or for their time. Had she paid as much attention to the people in her life as she did her cats, her marriage and her life in general would be so much better, I couldn’t help thinking…

Much like Icarus, she got too close to the sun. It had been a relatively quick and sweet ascent and she’s been in some sort of chaotic free-fall ever since, it dawned on me. Every time you thought she was about to hit the ground, you realized she can somehow avoid it – anything to avoid being down to earth, accepting the reality for what it was and dealing with it. Nothing could compare to that blinding, cruel, mesmerizing sun; nobody could compete with the sun. She couldn’t find a way to keep living up there, suspended above everybody else, looking down on a world inferior to her and her sun. She couldn’t duplicate the flight to perfection, that was a once in a lifetime experience. But she would not accept herself for who she was and what everyday life meant either, somehow avoiding to crash into reality at any cost.

The cost had proven to be rather high. There had been false suns and the pretence of flight, she had hope and dreams of getting back up there, above everything and superior to all, yet all those hopes and dreams inevitably dissolved into sad, hopeless, dreamless reality. She couldn’t have the sun and she couldn’t live up in the clouds, so nothing else mattered, nothing and nobody would be good enough. One by one, real, decent, accomplished people who loved her where pushed aside or torn apart because they were here, on earth, living real lives, with their amazingly nice, terribly bad and boringly neutral moments. None of them could ever offer her the height of the sky, a palace in the clouds, so they were clearly against her, a drain and a burden on her existence.

Her list was empty and she was determined to keep it empty. There was nothing she could have anymore, nothing great would happen to her again, because she didn’t consider anything or anyone real worth wanting. Her memories of the glamorous past were exaggerated and at times made up, and the beauty of sun didn’t make it less untouchable, but she wouldn’t hear of it.

I looked at the phone once more… almost an hour. Nonsensical cat stories, invalid complaints and constant self-pity left no room for any interest in others and their sad, happy or average existences. She may lead a sad life, but that doesn’t mean I have to do the same, even if I do try to make it better for her. So with one semi-transparent excuse, I’m back down to earth, breathing a sigh of relief. I know she’s pouting, but I also know this would not be our last conversation… because I am one of the very, very few people she’s got left. What can I say, it’s cloudy up there…

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In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge – Earth.

Parallel Lives – Sample fragment 31

Amalia and Robert knew what they wanted, and where they would end up was something they both became aware of in a very short time; first the girl, then the man. It was almost shocking how much it would take them to move on in an era when making acquaintance, having sex and breaking up happen almost simultaneously, at times not even in that order. But they wanted more than sex, and by that neither one of them understood commitment – they wanted the fun, the thrill, the mystery and the challenge, they wanted to discover and be discovered, and they wanted to make the experience and the adrenaline last for as long as possible. None of them desperately needed sex or a new sexual partner, the type of satisfaction they were seeking in each other was slightly more complex or multifaceted, although also derived from basic lust.

Amalia knew that she could have him at any moment, moral issues and prejudice had no place in their resolution, and the fact that he had not made an actual physical attempt to seduce her heightened her sense of power: for once, she perceived a man as a potential equal, he was not afraid of her, he didn’t need to prove his affection or lust. It was clear that he wanted her, and taking his time resulted not from insecurity, but from his conceited nature, which once in a while she found great pleasure in shaking.

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

I’m Not One For Idols

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There was a time every year when those dreaded words had to be uttered… I knew it, yet they always snuck up on me. Some teachers have a twisted, malefic sense of humour, I thought to myself, contemplating again the necessity of writing yet another composition about the person I admired most / the person I wanted to be like when I grew up. Not only was having such an idol (sure, call it role model and that will make it so much better) mandatory in my school, but apparently it was highly necessary to write said person’s praises on regular basis.

What was wrong with figuring out who and what I became step by step, rather than set a pattern for myself and try to mould my personality accordingly, I wondered… What was so terrible about simply becoming myself, rather than endeavour to be somebody else? I was able to notice and focus on, maybe even obsess about people’s flaws from a very early age; wanting to be like somebody else meant voluntarily taking on those flaws which were often unacceptable, not only reproducing their admirable qualities. If you add the fact it was generally expected of girls to write about their mothers (grandmothers, aunts, older sisters were also acceptable options in a pinch) and for boys to choose their fathers as role models, the banal homework assignment became a veritable ordeal.

Hmmm… I certainly didn’t wish to grow up to become my mother (talk about one’s worse nightmare…), other female relatives were even less desirable options so I was left with imaginary characters and a vast variety of people I had never met, yet I was supposed to get a clear enough idea about who they were and want to emulate all their qualities and flaws. So a fictional character it would be – at least you knew what you were working with in that case.

I remember Scarlett O’Hara was one of my early choices. I had yet to read the book, but I had watched Gone With The Wind and I liked what I saw. I honestly think I could notice my teacher’s jaw drop as I was reading. I wasn’t even 10 and acting out that way was absolutely unacceptable, she informed me in an angry tone. I normally wrote so well, what had happened to me? I rather liked my composition and I had trouble understanding why slightly incoherent girls got better grades. “I love my mom a lot” was the only reason they had for wanting to be like their mothers; the truly profound ones also mentioned mommy being a very accomplished cook or having pretty hair.

The importance of saying what a person wants to hear, not what you really believe was one of the main things I learnt in school; therefore I instinctively learnt how to rebel against this tendency. I generally got very good grades, so I could afford to splurge once in a while and speak my mind in glorious, hilarious, at times even offensive ways. As for the “idol” composition, I remember a masterpiece detailing what I admired about a stray dog that bit me; there also was that piece about my mother, a “how not to” account…

As we go older, it became acceptable for movie stars, singers and public figures of all sorts to be what we aspired to become, but it didn’t make it any easier as far as I was concerned, so that particular assignment remained an opportunity for mockery and entertainment. Of course I preferred certain singers, I had favourite authors, I liked certain well-known people better than others, but the truth was I didn’t like to dig into their personal life, nor did I enjoy learning everything there was to know about them, the way it was presented and fed to the public. I generally separated the person from the artist – I may have enjoyed the art, but that didn’t mean I would also appreciate the artist that created it. So school presented me with another ordeal, the task of looking into authors’ (or any other relevant persons’ we studied about) background.

The dry list of years and events connected to various individuals bored me to death… until I understood there were more comprehensive and fun ways to learn about them. If you perceived them as characters, you could simply read their story and if you were lucky enough, you managed to find all sorts of juicy details that were not included in the boring synopsis provided by teachers. There was also a positive side to this not so amusing endeavour. Those titans became a lot less intimidating, they were in fact people just like us, with flaws and shortcomings, and their brilliant minds didn’t necessarily guarantee their happiness; even success and recognition were often out of reach during their lifetime. So there was hope for all of us… Unfortunately, once you got to learn more about the person, it became more difficult to respect the work.

I did admire people for various reasons, even if I didn’t necessarily like them entirely and I learnt to take bits and pieces from them, to value those features that made them great, to appreciate what they offered directly and indirectly. It was sometimes as simple as enjoying somebody’s music (of course, it didn’t hurt if the way they looked made your teenage hormones wild and your knees weak with emotion). Alas, I was not allowed to put up posters, damaging the paint was a big no-no, one set in stone by my grandmother. So one day she came home to find the furniture in my room and the door covered in posters of singers and bands I liked, adored or even barely tolerated.

She had only mentioned the walls, after all… and it had become a battle of wills. It had all started from the one poster I wanted to have and since she didn’t allow it, it became crucial for me to display all the posters I could get my hands on. I found the loophole in her rule and there was nothing to do but look mortified. She appealed to a higher court, but since my grandfather couldn’t care less about what I did with my room as long as nothing got broken, I won. A few weeks after having made my point, I took most of them down, careful not to damage the furniture, and only left the one I initially wanted. Jon Bon Jovi showed off his toned body to all my visitors. Unfortunately one afternoon I quietly entered my room to find my grandmother ogling the image with a certain indiscrete, hungry look you really don’t want to see in your grandmother’s eyes…

Years later I saw him live in a concert and the experience brought up so many mixed memories and feelings… It was amazing, that much I can say, a child’s dream that the adult made possible. I may have been fascinated by the man on the stage and by his voice, yet call me a narcissist, but I was also my own “idol” for a moment there as well…

In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Admiration.

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 30

Two weeks are a life-time for a summer relationship, and if a two-week interval is spent without touching the other person, sensations are heightened to an unusual, unexpected level, governed either by awareness and self-control or by raising uncertainty and insecurity, sometimes all of them mixed into a flurry of highs and lows, altogether building up the enticement to continue the game.

It does become clear what a man and a woman expect from one another after they get a few chances to meet, but in most cases it is the very first moments after having laid eyes upon each other that set the course of their future interactions. It may only be clear to one of them, it might even become obvious to them both, the main issue remains, however, finding the path to materialising those desires, in case the two happen to share the same ones.

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

Abstract

3The beautiful thing about the abstract is that it leaves room for interpretation.

2“I wanted to use drawing and painting – since after all they were my weapons – to probe deeper and deeper, and to understand the world and people so as to make this knowledge freely available to all of us every day… Yes, I realize I fought like a real revolutionary with my painting.”

Pablo Picasso

3In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge – Abstract.

Driving Through The Fog

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The grey early evening seemed sticky and was threatening to liquefy in a matter of seconds. Yet somehow it felt like ashes would start pouring down instead of rain. A couple more minutes and I’d be home and cosy, closing the curtains on this depressing, dreary weather. Some good food, a nice cup of tea… oh, let’s be honest, a nice glass of wine is more like it.

My car slowed down and then stopped, together with all the other ones, before I became aware of the reason or even of the fact that it was happening. Instinct, force of habit, muscle memory, all of them combined and more, it’s what keeps us safe when driving while completely immersed in different thoughts. Well, not all of us… the line of red lights from stopped cars was leading to a set of different lights, blinking ones, piercing through the heavy fog. Not that again… now it’ll take forever…

I would normally see my building from where I was stopped, but on that fog I could barely distinguish those distorted lights blinking ahead. Nothing new, that bend in the road is yet again the scene of some incident. The visibility is terrible and even if they moved the crossing further down the road, that doesn’t stop people from using that exact place in order to get on the other side… of the street, of course. Many have lived in the area for a long time and changes of that sort are simply something they cannot accept – nothing can determine them to walk a few extra metres, even if that distance could be what separates life from death. If you live or work around here or if you simply have to drive down that street often enough, then you know better and you slow down, just in case someone decides to plunge right in front of your car without looking or thinking twice about it; but if you don’t, then you’d better have really good breaks… Nothing special really, there are so many spots of the sort in any big town, that you hardly think about it anymore.

Damn it, I should have stopped by that little pastry shop… an assortment of their delicious treats would be just right for the evening… after all, if this isn’t the weather for that kind of splurge, then what is? But we’re barely moving, it’s rather late already, by the time I manage to get back there, they’d be closed. Now I’m not going to be able to stop thinking about their chocolate cake all evening… and those éclairs, their so delicious and the choux is so light… I’d make it back there in time, but for this stupid traffic jam… Damn it, damn it, damn it!

Oh look… that must be the car… and that must be the person who tried to get on the other side of the street… Some people would normally get out of their cars for a better view of mundane drama. But nobody wants to be out in this weather, not even the few pedestrians can be bothered to slow down and take a closer look. Everybody’s in a hurry to get to whatever sheltered destination they’re heading to, so the paramedics can do their job undisturbed.

But maybe… let’s see… I close my eyes for a moment and review the contents of my kitchen cupboard. Yes, that’s it! I could make brownies tonight… the good ones, the really chocolaty ones. Do I have all the ingredients, do I have enough of everything? Maybe I’ve got the recipe on my phone as well, I can’t remember the exact quantities… I know I have it on the computer… no, no, it’s not on my phone… why would it be on my phone anyway? Oh well, I’ll see what’s what when I get home.

The old lady seems fine, she’s standing and chatting with the paramedics. She’ll probably get away with a few bruises and a good scare. Maybe she’ll cross the street somewhere safe from now on… Or maybe not – I know a few persons who have been through similar experiences, yet they haven’t learnt anything. Somehow it always comes down to blaming others for your own carelessness.

There’s the driver as well, leaning against her small car. I get the feeling that’s the only thing that prevents her from collapsing, that’s how terrified she looks. She’s about twenty and judging by the license plates on her car, she’s from another part of the country.

There’s really nothing to see. Slowly, one by one, the cars drive by the accident scene without paying too much attention. We’re jaded. We’re resilient. But above everything, we’re used to it. We live in a big town and such accidents are all too common. We’ve all seen much worse than this, most of us have witnessed car crashes and/or people being run over by cars at least once in our lives. See this sort of thing often enough and you’ll become immune; you have no other choice, if you don’t want to go insane.

The girl’s terrified face somehow got to me through the fog. The pedestrian wasn’t badly injured, the little car had no visible dent or broken bits, so she must have been driving slowly, carefully… I know the general tendency is to blame the driver, yet who was really to blame, who was the reckless one?… I remember how much I used to hate driving through that kind of weather. But after having done it enough times, I got used to it; I can’t say I particularly enjoy it, but I don’t mind it either. That’s just the way things are. I do remember how afraid I was, though… the same way I remember how I was afraid of running somebody over when I was learning how to drive. Each time I avoid hitting somebody who suddenly decides to run in the middle of the street for no apparent reason, right after that instant the danger has passed and my heart can start beating again, I remember that fear.

Some feelings and sensations are difficult to outgrow… so how come we’ve managed to outgrow our own instincts, our survival instincts? I’ve seen stray dogs looking left and right before crossing, or waiting at a traffic light for people to start walking first and only then would they also start crossing, convinced they were safe. Yet judging by the way some humans tend to simply throw themselves in front of moving vehicles without taking the slightest precaution, I can’t help but wonder why we imagine we’re such intelligent creatures.

They’re the ones driving, they can stop. They should be careful. I’ve heard this kind of statements more times than I can count or remember. I dug my nails deep into my mother’s arm once, preventing her from stepping in front of a car just because some unknown revelation made her believe the other side of the street would was better place to be. Very displeased with my actions, she noted that I bruised her arm by doing that – anyway, what was I trying to prove? The heap of metal driving her way would have hurt a lot worse, I thought. Well, they should have stopped, they should pay attention when driving and protect pedestrians. But what if they didn’t stop, what if they couldn’t have avoided you? Obviously it’s their fault – you’re not trying to blame me for crossing the street where I wasn’t allowed to, are you? – they are the ones driving. Would it hurt any less just because they were driving? Would you enjoy being an invalid better just because they were driving? Would rotting in a grave be more satisfying just because they were driving? I hated her that instant – she used to drive too, she knew what a difference a second can make and how difficult it is to avoid certain situations. If you care that little about your life and wellbeing, why do you expect anybody else to care more?

I decided not to go straight home – the brownies could wait a little bit longer. I drove through the fog for a while. We learn to bend our survival instincts to suit the risks we need to take on a daily basis. We also accept the metamorphosis of these instincts, the walls we need to build to protect our mind and soul in order to thrive. Metaphorically speaking, we are both road kill and daring drivers, sometimes both at the same time; we are aware of it and supposedly we know how far we can push the boundaries. So what’s the point when we decide we’re invincible on all plains? When and why do we decide it’s other people’s duty to protect us more than we are willing to protect ourselves? Somewhere, somehow, we decided it was acceptable to relinquish even that responsibility to ourselves, that it was acceptable to burden other people’s conscience with our own self-destruction.

I got back home none the wiser. I enjoyed the chocolaty brownies and life went on, the way it always does. I didn’t expect to find answers in the fog, but it was a good reminder to ask the questions – as long as I still ask myself certain questions, I feel grounded in reality.

In response to WordPress Weekly Discover Challenge – Risk.

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 29

“How come you can get away with such behaviour? Not many married men can afford that luxury.”

She asked the question, but she knew the answer. The truth was simple, his wife couldn’t care less; as long as she was provided with a transparent lie she could hold on to and a very comfortable life, she didn’t care what he did in his spare time. Amalia hated everything the unknown woman represented and she vaguely felt that was one of those aspects of marriage she dreaded the most. But that unknown woman most likely leads the same kind of double life and her husband is completely oblivious, because he cannot be bothered to care, thought at which she almost started laughing. Robert pretended not to hear the question and the loud music drowned their conversation prematurely.

They had talked too much up to that point, all the other times they had seen each other they ended up sharing more about themselves then they would have initially liked to, but tonight was not about words. Tonight was about the thought depriving music, the adrenaline a young woman feels whenever she dances with a new man, his hands on her hips, her winding body driving him insane. A different array of sensations will surface when the object of your desire dances lasciviously in front of you and even more powerful realisations occur unexpectedly, when she decides to stand up and dance with a friend of yours. Knowing that you have no right over her and the shock produced by the unwanted, out of character pang of possessive urges only leads to wanting her more, it drives you to manipulate a situation, so that you know for sure that the other guy stands no chance whatsoever.

The young woman will probably be aware of everything, savouring her power over him. Game on!

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

Dinner and Drinks

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I like to be spoiled once in a while… who doesn’t? It takes a lot to spoil a woman, many tend to believe… yet so many times it actually takes so little. When his idea of a long walk is going all the way from the door to that uncomfortable spot at the far end of the parking lot, but he suggests an afternoon walk in my favourite park, I know he’s only doing it for me. We walk a lot because I like it and I know he doesn’t mind it too badly if I’m there with him. Hours later we can collapse on comfy chairs on a terrace and spend some quality time with delicious cold drinks. That’s for both of us, just like all our late dinners.

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Food is one of the many joys of travelling and discovering local restaurants can be a small adventure in itself. From infuriating to enlightening, from disastrous to delicious, it’s rarely what you’d expect it to be, that much I’ve learnt. But after a long day of walking up and down a place you don’t know too well, after taking in as much as you can – museums, shops, shows – nice, cold drinks are just what a girl needs.

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Yes, small things can make a great difference, when you get the feeling someone has been listening and paying attention. What we tend to forget is that we can and need to be that ‘someone’ for ourselves and for the special persons in our life.

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We can treat ourselves to something delicious, even if that might be something as insignificant as homemade bread. As for the walk in the park… hmm… that might entail having to put up with another James Bond movie in return… Oh well, the things a girl will do for a man who spoils her 🙂 …

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In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge – Dinnertime.

Names and Identity

name

A word gains magical depths when connected to an individual, to a personality – that’s the moment it becomes a name, it can open or close doors and it can shape destinies within the blink of an eye. In spite of all the instinctive prejudice and socially awkward situations certain names might trigger, we tend to make peace with these words, accepting them as part of who we are, but not necessarily as the best description of our identity. Ultimately representing notions we’ve imbued with traits of our character as adults, names will still occasionally haunt us with some of their hidden memories and undesired associations.

Paradoxically, it’s often not the given names that exert the greatest amount of pressure on a young person in search of their identity. It’s all the other words gaining name-like valences and all their implications which are often the most difficult to bear, especially for those still struggling to discover who they are and where they belong.

Years ago, on the first day of high school, I made an unexpected friend – we knew each other since kindergarten, we lived in the same area, but it was only that day that we bonded instantly, in spite of not having anything in common.We never became best friends, but an inertial type of connection kept us close throughout those four years.

Like so many teenagers, this friend of mine – let’s call her D – was terribly insecure and had various self-image issues, constantly lashing out against what she believed to be a world conspiring to hate and destroy her. I remember all her notebooks had her name on their cover and first page, except for one – and this was the one that I and another friend of ours started to dread. Whenever she had a bad day, we would receive the nameless notebook with the explicit request for us to write her something, preferably what we thought she was feeling (because she wasn’t able to express it, she’d occasionally mention).

She didn’t like reading books, but she loved it when we wrote her various quotations from authors she hadn’t heard of, especially if we added personal interpretations, which she would later assume as her own. She didn’t like to be told what to do, but she wanted us to write her what we thought her behaviour should be like, pointing out real or imaginary flaws, often becoming hysterical if we didn’t agree with her self-deprecating attitude. Other times she simply needed us to write whatever thoughts were going through our heads at a particular moment. She would read everything over and over again, her joy perceptible whenever she could find some similarity between our thoughts and her own – that meant she was on the right track, she could say she was just like us, and for a moment all her identity issues were solved. Her only contribution to the big book of teenage thoughts was the colourful scribbling of our names around the written fragments. Her name was absent.

She eventually found herself an identity, but to this day I wonder whether it was a real one or simply an assumed version meant to help her fit in a group. I was there when it happened. All it took was one rock concert and perhaps it was the music, perhaps it was the drinks we all had such easy access to, perhaps it was the surreal atmosphere, but by the end of the night D was no longer D, she was a convinced rocker. The following week brought a change in wardrobe and makeup aiming at expressing her newfound identity, the one described so much better by a word entailing her musical interest rather than her own name.

It didn’t take long for the other kinds to start referring to her as the rocker, rather than D, especially since there was another girl with the same name in the class. ‘Which D?’ was a question answered without too much thought or regard to personal feelings – there was ‘the cute one’, ‘the nice one’, ‘the hot one’ and there also was ‘the rocker’, ‘the crazy one’, ‘the bitch’… So many other words can become names without us even noticing it…

In her turn, D had no problem relinquishing her own interests in favour of those generally accepted as defining the social group she had joined. She still wanted us to be friends, in spite of my eclectic taste in music (much as I liked rock music, I enjoyed other genres as well, which disturbed her quite a bit), but all her future friends would be chosen strictly according to their musical preferences. She would still ask us to write various things in the big book of thoughts; but new names – those of her favourite rock bands – found their way in the nameless notebook as well, together with lyrics from their songs, which D would write from memory over and over again.

As time went by, those names and lyrics started to invade all her notebooks and textbooks, her desk, they were on the shirts she wore, on her backpack, on her jeans and often on her skin. She clearly didn’t pay that much attention to her own name and thoughts, but she needed those of others in order to define herself. She used to get upset when people referred to her by means of descriptive nouns, even when they weren’t offensive, but she saw nothing wrong in labelling everybody else with a series of rude, derogatory terms. The big notebook of other people’s thoughts started spreading over several volumes, but it never contained any personal expression of D’s own ideas.

After graduation, the feeble connection broke as suddenly as it had appeared. Other names got between us, names of people, names of universities, perhaps even some choice words she had addressed to me instead of my actual name. D continued her desperate search for herself in the names the abusive man she married calls her every day… and it makes me think that some of the saddest situations derive from those cases when names are merely a façade for despair and insecurity, when there is no real personal identity behind them.

In response to WordPress Discover Challenge – Identity.

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 28

The whole town may not be entirely that way, but they are, Amalia thought as she was heading towards their table that evening in the club. She felt she would fit right in, she would be accepted instantly by all of them, because she was young, beautiful, vibrant and free.

t’s odd how some would find this so promiscuous, and I feel as though I’m coming back home after a long journey. Promiscuity implies deception, hiding away and shame, but look at them, they want nothing more than to be seen how proud they are to be themselves…

Robert stood up as soon as he noticed Amalia arriving and the others turned their heads instantly, admiring her and envying him – she was there for him tonight. But it didn’t mean they couldn’t try their luck too, some of the men thought for a moment, drinking their whiskies. Wanting something and just knowing you are daring enough to reach out and take it is one of the most exquisite types of freedom. And having an impact in the world of such people is a special task, few can do it instinctively.

Amalia refused Robert when he offered to come pick her up from home that night and instead she offered to just meet them in the club later on, offering him some vague excuse about how she had some things to sort out. She didn’t have anything else to do, but she instinctively felt suffocated when he assumed he could just come and collect her, and in an attempt to reassert herself, she decided she would make an entrance. Setting up a dinner with some other guy she knew and she found to be terribly dull was just so she could clear her thoughts. But the moment she saw all of them, the moment she noticed that they looked at her differently than at the other young women accompanying some of them, she realised her instincts had pushed her to do exactly the right thing.

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

Giving the Past a Future

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“Can you tell where the cracks were?”

Yes, I could. He had a keen eye for detail and unfortunately, so did I… But I knew there was only one right answer to his question. The piece of furniture had been beautifully restored, yet at a very close glance, you could tell what some of the most damaged spots had been. I knew he could tell, I knew he knew I could tell as well, so why was it so important to him for me to ignore the previous flaws? After all, he had done such a great job reconditioning the old nightstand… But I knew why, just as I knew I could work my way around that answer, if I wanted to be kind and compassionate to him.

“Not in this light… it looks great,” and that wasn’t a lie – it did look great.

We initially bonded over a somewhat shared interest for fixing things and an entirely shared love for shoes. No matter how badly we disagreed with each other or how great the gap between us would become over the years, those shared passions would always be our safe space, our common ground.

The first times he asked me that question I answered without hesitation and promptly proceeded to point out each and every little fixed problem I could spot. I thought he would appreciate my attention and interest in his work; instead he seemed angry and cold. He pointed out a few more marks I hadn’t gotten around to noticing and then he moved on to some impersonal topic. Every time, the same reaction… well, if you can’t handle an honest answer, why bother asking the question in the first place? Why such a childish cry for validation from a man his age? But then I got to know him…

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Furniture restoration was his hobby, I had been told. In fact, it was so much more than that… He was truly talented and for a while, he really enjoyed doing it for a living (if you ask me, he would be a much happier person today if he hadn’t given it up; but nobody asked me, so…). But that had been in a rather distant past; the future of that past transformed the results of his talent into a hobby and a slightly touchy subject.

A great part of their furniture has been rescued and then patiently refurbished by him. The older, more deteriorated a piece of furniture was, the more stubbornly he would insist on saving it and restoring its past glory. Friends would bring him old pieces they no longer needed or wanted and he would carefully and patiently turn them into beautiful objects again. An antique mirror frame was the first item we ever discussed, my smug remarks igniting his anger. As I later learned, it had been broken into more bits than I was able to count on the restored version and a friend of his was taking it to the bin when he got his hands on it. To everybody else, it was a heap of rubbish; to him it had the potential of becoming beautiful again. It took him a long time, but he eventually devised ways of putting all the bits back into place and holding them together. It had a brand new life ahead.

He liked to show me how he went about fixing all the flaws, the small ones and those that appeared to be beyond repair alike. I had fun learning some simple techniques that I would later try myself. He wasn’t trying to hide the damage caused by time and by intentional or unintentional human error. It was important for him to know that the final result, the present version was appreciated for what it is and not judged for the sad state it had been in for a certain period of time. Once he was convinced of it, he had no problem talking about all the damage he had fixed, no matter who was pointing it out during the conversation.

He was like his furniture, I slowly discovered. Was he aware of it? Will he ever be aware of it? I doubt the future is able to bring any more answers than the past did concerning these questions. He put himself together and repaired his damaged being with the same patience he had when restoring sad, beyond repair furniture. He disclosed his past and his healed scars the same way he always talked about putting together broken bits of wood and covering the cracks – with a mixture of pride and shame, sometimes with anger referring to stupid mistakes, other times with sadness, thinking about unavoidable incidents.

I knew there was only one right answer in that case, because he deserved a caring answer, in spite of everything else. Once we finished going through all the details of the repair work the broken nightstand had required, he could pack it carefully and take it back to his mother’s place. For better or worse, he had managed to fix the damage caused by the past and instil future life in that piece of furniture. But who can tell how long it will take until it – until he – will fall apart again?…

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In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Future – This week, share an image that represents the potential of things to come.

The Typewriter

 

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The computer is resting casually on my knees – ubiquitous part of a calm, quiet afternoon at home; but once in a while my glance wonders off to the old typewriter… Oddly enough, the object belonging to such different times doesn’t make for a strange anachronism.

I wanted to take it apart as a child, even before I could read, that’s the first memory I have of the typewriter which had to be stored out of my reach, on the top shelf or in a hidden corner. Even if the characters it produced made no sense to me at that time, once I understood what it was used for, I immediately concluded it held the mystery of all the books I pestered my grandmother to read to me. She was the keeper of that great skill that allowed her to magically transform the gibberish on the page into words, into mesmerizing stories, but she didn’t feel like sharing this gift with me as much as I would have liked her to. So it only made sense that once I solved the puzzle of the typewriter – by taking it apart, of course – everything else would fall into place and I would learn all the secretes of those books my grandmother refused to read.

What can I say, the oddest of things can make sense to a child… My grandfather was the one to put an end to my destructive impulses, showing me that the typewriter is the source of new mysteries and in no way the solution to understanding the already existing ones, enclosed between book covers. Once in a while he’d write lectures, speeches or even some fairy-tales he had made up for me and those were the moments when I sat on his knees, while he typed and uttered the words out loud, so I’d know what the mystery maker was compiling. My grandmother rolled her eyes disapprovingly at what she considered to be a boring, useless activity, but I was fascinated by the eloquent discourse and the clicking of the keys.

It was a time auspicious for fast, radical changes and much like the typewriter, my grandfather became obsolete, lost and irrelevant after his retirement, losing his identity in the blink of an eye. The old and noisy typewriter would make itself heard occasionally, as it was trotted out for him to relive the glory of long forgotten days. But much like him, the mystery maker had lost its power and nobody would ever listen to the somewhat nonsensical words filling the pages that my grandmother would immediately deposit in the bin, muttering about wasted time and noisy typing devices.

But the old man would never accept that his trusty companion was no longer of use to anybody, having become the laughingstock of the contemporary world. He was dead set on reaffirming the relevance of the old device which had survived decades of changes, happiness and misery. So it became a habit for him to type invitations to all sorts of family events, invitations which my grandmother would surreptitiously throw out, telling him she had mailed them. It worked out fine, until one day when he decided to mail the invitations himself, thus offending his wife’s sensibilities. The infamous typewriter was immediately stored away in some obscure corner of the house – much like when I was child – and he was told it had suffered a bad fall and was no longer functional. The old man muttered for days. Much like everything else that accompanied him along his sinuous path to success, defining who he had once been, the typewriter had been suddenly taken away from him, without any possibility to be redeemed, because he no longer had the energy to fight for it.

I wasn’t quite sure why, but when I left for university I felt that the old typewriter had to go with me. Several years passed before it saw the light of day again, I had actually forgotten I had it. But it was such a pleasant surprise to eventually rediscover this childhood relic! From that moment on, it could finally live its retirement days in peace, in its own corner amongst old books and photo albums, receiving the appreciation and respect it always deserved.

“It gathers dust, but it looks very cute,” my mother very pragmatically noticed when she saw it. That may be the case, but the retired typewriter is so much more! It lives as a constant reminder that there still are instances when dreams come true and some persons can shape and control their destiny, reaching the peaks of success and achieving the goals they set for themselves. Yet life has a perverted sense of balance – or perhaps a sense of humour – pushing the same persons into the abyss without any warning. And there are cases when no amount of caution can save them. All we can do is enjoy our personal moments of glory and do our best to type a happier sequel to our sad stories of despair.

In response to WordPress Weekly Discover Challenge – Memory.

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 27

One of the things to value most about the town that Amalia had moved to a few years ago would be its honesty – nothing going on there is different from the normal life of any other big town in the country. Its people aren’t by far any worse than those in other places, although some of them might be richer, but they lead their lives acknowledging who they are and what they do at a far higher level than anywhere else in the country. The men lead double lives, so do most of the women, and although some social appearances are respected, everything else goes on in plain sight, out in the open, with no need for denial or pretence for their own benefit. Robert and his friends were by far an example of it, all of them successful and proud, some of them well-educated, others perhaps lacking in culture, but all of them married, with a nice family at home and a multitude of parallel lives aside from it. The paradox a myriad of existences creates is a simple one – honesty and deception coexist in twisted harmony, sometimes on different planes, other times even within the same context. People lie, cheat and steal, they are selfish in their own despair and fear, but they admit it and accept themselves and each other for what they are, they find no reason to be ashamed and they walk proudly, acutely aware of their superiority. The mentality of “honest” lies is what makes the town and its people true to themselves, or at least more so than in most of the other places, an enclave where depravation and sin are revered instead on being swept away under the mat, under the mask of religious social propriety.

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