Drowning in Love (2)

Judy took Steve back to her house and made love to him. Afterwards he fell asleep, and she left him lying there while she got up and made a food tray to bring back to the bed. She didn’t make up anything special, just cheeses and meats and bread for open-faced sandwiches, and pickles and olives and the rest of the bottle of wine they hadn’t finished off at the lake. She had chocolate pots with whipped cream that needed to be consumed. Judy put on some jazz in the living room and switched on the speakers for the bedroom. It would be a nice way to wake Steve up.

When she got back to the bedroom Steve was sitting up with the sheet pulled over his lap, yawning and scratching his chest with a big, stupid grin when he saw the tray. He opened his mouth to praise it, and her.

“Hero of my dreams,” Judy said fondly. “Shut up and eat.”

It was the perfect conclusion to an emotional day, the perfect after-making-love meal. It combined everything Judy like most about being with someone, about what she liked about herself and who she was. The food made her feel safe again. They ate a desultory meal, exhausted from shock, and sun, and fevered lovemaking. They went back to bed and slept without waking the entire night.

The next morning when he was finally dressed and ready to go back to his own place, he paused at the front door. His right cheek had swollen from where he’d been kicked by the floating child. Steve cleared his throat, coughing a time or two. “What happened yesterday really shook me up. Jesus Judy, all I could think about was how awful it would be to lose someone you care about, how awful it would be if I ever lost you. I know you don’t like to talk about emotions. But seeing the grief of that little girl’s family when they thought she was gone, it ripped me up inside. I felt like those parents, scared of losing someone they love. Like I’d die too. Didn’t you feel like them? Didn’t you feel it too, that it would be hell?”

He looked beseechingly at Judy but she didn’t meet his eyes.

“Did I feel like one of them? Who did I feel like?” She stood with her head down.

He waited, mistaking her silence for thinking it over.

Judy had followed the rescue helplessly, unable to go to the aid of either Steve or the panicking family. She had watched the entire scene from the safe island of the brown blanket. She’d been numb, until a wave of incredible jealousy flooded over her. She’d ignored the feeling and excused it as one of a number of strange responses elicited by the unfolding tragedy.

Her inability to respond to events concerned her more. Of all the characters in the drama she had identified most with the little girl. More, Judy understood all too well how the child’s body felt as it drifted helpless among the lake grasses. Watching, with a strange dispassion Judy had thought I am a child drowning, I am a child about to drown, I am a child afraid to drown.

Now, the morning after, Judy knew she’d wanted to be the little drowned girl. All of the fears she so carefully kept contained were about to spill out. She tried to picture a life above the surface, a water free world where she and Steve might be happy. But her vision clouded over as the lens fogged up. A voice from the past came back to her distant and wavering, but clear in the distinct way of sound as it is carried through water. Life with your mother has been hell! Hell!

Judy opened her mouth to speak, but again she imagined herself in the drifting body of the girl, air bubbles trailing to the surface. She couldn’t help it, this sensation of being in imminent danger of drowning. More than she’d ever wanted anything in her life she wanted Steve to rescue her. And that, of course, meant the relationship was over.

“Steve,” she said in a clear voice, “I can’t see you anymore.”

– from my short story “Looms Large” in Broken In: A Novel in Stories. Available online at amazon.com, amazon.de, and amazon in countries everywhere.

This entry was posted in Books/Culture, Broken In: A Novel in Stories, Drowning, Fiction, Writing and tagged , , , by Jadi Campbell. Bookmark the permalink.

Drowning in Love (1)

“There’s only one song, and Adam and Eve wrote it; the rest is a variation on a theme.” – Keith Richards (McPherson, Ian. “Jagger/Richards: Songwriters”. http://www.timeisonourside.com/songwriting.html)

I’ve been thinking about relationships. There are many topics for writers to choose from, but love is the one we come back to over and over for inspiration, for affirmation, for stories to tell. Love makes the world go ’round. All you need is love. But as Shakespeare warns us in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, “The course of true love never did run smooth”.

What happens to those of us needing love but terrified of the risks involved? How do we get what we need without giving up control? I created a female chef named Judy Diver, who stays in any relationship until the moment her partner says those three little words… and then she’s gone. As long as no one says “I love you”, things go on as usual. Until one day, when she drives out to meet Steve at a crowded city park on her day off…

Looms Large

Judy reached the wading pool. Parents young and old dangled tiny children by their waists down into the shallow water. Other adults lurched, strangely hunched from the back. She walked past and saw the tiny people gripping index fingers and attempting the great walk of the upright, little feet between those of their parents, everybody’s legs sloshing happily through the water. At least 70 children had to be crowding into the pool: the surface was a dazzling panorama of tender sunbonnets in every possible color and configuration of flowers and cartoon characters.

Finally she found Steve. He’d been waving at her for some minutes to get her attention. Judy waved back. He’d laid a large brown blanket on the grassy verge at the edge of the lake. Tree shade just covered half of the blanket.

The park lawns were filled with bodies seeking the heat like winter creatures coming out of a long hard hibernation, but everyone was in a good mood. A family had claimed the next section of grass. The mother determinedly lay on her stomach with her breasts nestled in a pillow and her chin propped on the backs of her hands. Her entire concentration was focused on a popular paper back mystery opened on the blanket in front of her.

Her husband was left to supervise their children. A boy sat just above the water by two little girls in matching lime green swimsuits. The sisters bobbed inside bright orange life rings as they played in the lake. Their father was propped on his left elbow, leaving his right hand free for the beer hidden in a stubby can cooler. “Keep to where I can see you,” he ordered, but he wasn’t too concerned. He was sure they would be in less danger of getting drowned than they were in of being trampled. “If you go in deeper, you don’t go in without the life rings!” Okays drifted up the lawn towards him and all three turned back to their games.

“You wouldn’t believe the road traffic!” Judy gave Steve a hug and set down the food she’d carried halfway around the lake looking for him.

“You wouldn’t believe the traffic here on the lake front.” Steve yawned loudly and stretched back out on the blanket. Judy nudged him with her foot as she unpacked the lunch. “Hey. Don’t go to sleep on me, I just got here.”

“No chance of falling asleep with this racket,” Steve assured her. It was true: the water out in the deeper part of the lake was filled with people swimming or floating on air mattresses, while closer to the shore line a hundred small children laughed and splashed and shrieked. They made a joyous sounding, truly loud racket.

It fit the afternoon though, the languid mood of summer time when shadows move slowly across park lawns and picnic blankets. A slight breeze riffled the water into little waves; each one would send small children shrieking excited back out of reach for a second or two. On blankets and towels all around them people turned on their sides like sunflowers following the rays of the sun, or curled like large sleeping cats. The mother remained absorbed in her paperback mystery. Her husband’s head lolled where he’d fallen asleep still propped on his side.

Steve and Judy played Old Maid, and Judy kept winning. She’d figured out a system for cheating as a child, and couldn’t stop laughing as Steve became more and more frustrated with each hand he lost. “Just one more round!” he kept insisting.

A low, insistent shriek broke Steve’s concentration. It was similar to the piercing sounds made all afternoon by the lungs of the small children who filled the park. This one sounded different, though, a wail preceding the announcement of a disaster.

He dropped his hand of cards and the blanket bunched as he jumped up. Steve got to the water just as the little boy lost the life ring he’d pulled away from his sister. The little girl gurgled and vanished under the surface. Out in the water the bright orange ring bobbed, now empty. The little boy stood up to his neck in the lake shrieking. The ring floated further out and away. His other sister began to scream; only she and Steve had seen what had happened.

Their voices were drowned under the hundreds of other shrieking, laughing children, tinny radio music and the baseball game being broadcasted on a loud speaker, all the chatter of a hot summer afternoon on a waterfront in a city park.

Steve ran into the lake. He swam in the direction of the floating life ring, hoping the little girl had sunk somewhere in the general vicinity. When he reached what he thought was the point where she’d gone under, he began to dive.

Visibility was murky under the surface. He swam with outstretched hands and eyes searching desperately for signs of a body. Something kicked him hard in the cheek, and Steve resurfaced choking. The small child snug in his life vest simply paddled on past Steve in the water and flailed with skinny arms; he hadn’t even noticed the adult under the surface. Steve gasped in more air and dove again.

This time he was luckier and spotted a lime green object wafting in the under current. Steve grabbed her by the first part he could clutch, which was her shoulder strap. He swam back to the surface with strong strokes. Steve pulled the child’s head into the crook of his arm and made his way back to the shore.

When he emerged from the lake everything sounded far away at first, as though God had pressed a button and the world had been put on mute. With a rush his hearing returned, and the sensation of his own raspy breathing. He felt the water running off of his clothes as he lay the child on the grass and felt for a pulse. She lay as limp as a deboned fish.

Steve pumped her chest and turned her body onto the side. The lake water she’d swallowed came up in a sudden gush, and the child began to cough. Steve let out a high laugh with a feeling of exhilaration: she was alive after all. She arched her back to take in new breaths of the air. As she breathed in Steve felt his vision come tunneling back, whistling in with her new air. Her lungs expanded and compressed, and the colors of the world dimmed and glowed brighter along the ragged edges of each one of her breaths. The multiple layers of colors in the kites flying overhead, the fluttering sound they made in the suddenly windy afternoon, the breeze creating gooseflesh over his entire body, and the shadows flying back and forth over the edge of the water were almost unbearable.

Nobody except Judy witnessed the rescue. There was simply too much other activity in the lake and on the shoreline. The child’s parents listened in dozy incomprehension as the girl’s little sister and brother hysterically tried to explain where she’d gone. Incomprehension turned to puzzlement, and to horror. They scanned the lake surface, frantic by the time they finally spotted Steve resuscitating their daughter. They rushed over, the father’s eyes spilling with tears even though he could see she was going to be fine.

“She’s alive? How could I have? What sort of parent? In just a matter of seconds?” He spoke in fractures, unfinished questions, knowing there could be no answer to the enormity of the monstrous disaster that had almost happened. His muscles shivered in hard spasms, matching Steve’s.

Steve had begun to shake so hard that he had to sit down abruptly, almost falling on the child as she tried to sit up. The father grabbed Steve by the arm and helped him sit while he pumped his hand over and over, a wordless thank you. Everyone except Judy was crying.

– from my short story “Looms Large” in Broken In: A Novel in Stories. Available online at amazon.com, amazon.de, and amazon in countries everywhere.

Chugging Slowly Upriver in NW Burma, Part 3

We made a long trek to reach the Chin State. We had a day pass (tourists are not allowed to remain overnight in the Chin territory) and a guide to translate for us. Our hope was to reach the villages where the local tribes still have elders with tattoos, by tradition only the women. The government represses the tradition, and it was feared that it had died out.

We had no guarantees that the women would come out to meet us once we reached the villages. At some point in the journey I stopped caring, because every minute in Burma was filled with wonders. The long slow passage upriver had become a journey to a some where, a some thing else. We chugged slowly upriver in NW Burma on the Lemro, from the Rakhine to the Chin state.

Arriving

Arriving

After walking around for some time in the first village, the elders stood before us! It was literally as if we looked up, and there they suddenly were.

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We asked through our guide if Uwe might take photos. The elder women calmly answered in the affirmative. They were, after all, the reason we’d come so far to visit. The tribes are self-sufficient and produce nothing for the tourist market. To meet the female elders is the reason why foreigners come to the villages.

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We were meeting Laytu Chin women (also called Lemro or Laito). The Chin are of Tibetan-Burman ethnicity, and tattooing is practiced only among the southern Chin.

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To a woman they were calm, poised, and radiated confidence. When did the Chin begin tattooing? One claim is that the tattooing was done to make the women ugly so the Burmese kings would stop stealing them to use as slaves, but this claim has been discounted as myth. It’s our modern world that sees tattooing as unattractive and labels it ‘ugly’. It’s far more likely that the Chin women were tattooed in a rite of passage, and that the facial tattoos are a mark of social status and coming of age. The tattoos make the women beautiful.

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No one in the outside world knows just what these patterns signify. The tattoos may be stippling, dots, circles. The Laytu women we met have the most elaborate Chin tattoo, a spider web or rising sun pattern. Our guide told us the men had gathered the materials used in the tattooing process. Jens Uwe Parkitny reports being told that the actual tatooing is done by female tatoo artists.

The women walked us through the village, up to the school. It was originally funded by a foreigner and we were invited to make a donation. It was all very formal: the guide wrote out a receipt along with the amount, our names, and our nationalities.

D30_4957_0800One of the women was in charge of taking the money and handling the donation, but the task is rotated. He translated our questions, explaining that on each day a different woman takes on this task. The responsibility of supporting the village is shared communally.

On that day we were invited up into a home on stilts. In another Chin village we watched one of the old women work at a handloom. We visited a burial ground on the river banks, where the dead are cremated and offerings are set out for the deceased. When we finally set back down the Lemro River on that December 31st, the last day of the year 2009, Uwe and I knew we had journeyed a very far way indeed.

Once we were home in Europe I found myself haunted by the old women’s faces. We got online and began to search for anything we could find on the Chin.

We discovered that the tradition of tattooing hasn’t died out altogether after all. In his exquisite brochure “Im Porträt: Gesichtstatuierungen der Chin-Frauen in Birma” (“Chin Women of Burma and their Facial Tattoos: A Portrait”), photographer Jens Uwe Parkitny documents the Chin tribes and different tattoo patterns of each group. He has made it his on-going mission to document and bear witness to this extraordinary group of people and their traditions. The text is in German and English. This stunning booklet of photographs can be ordered from either of the following sites:

Munich Museum of Ethnology: http://www.voelkerkundemuseum-muenchen.de and

Hirmer Publishers http://www.hirmerverlag.de/

When Uwe and I discovered Parkitny’s brochure on the Munich museum website, we ordered it immediately. Parkitny has also published a new book entitled “Blood Faces” http://www.bloodfaces.com/ . All proceeds from his book go to a children’s charity in Yangon, Burma.

 (All photogaphs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image.)

More pictures from our trip to Burma, and of Uwe’s photography, may be viewed at viewpics.de.