Monthly Archives: January 2014

The Sorrows of Young Werther – Goethe

“I have been drunk more than once, my passions have always bordered on madness; I am not ashamed to confess it; I have learned in my own way that all extraordinary men who have done great and improbable things have ever been decried by the world as drunk or insane.”

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The Things We Do For Love

She loved him with the passionate intensity that only a sixteen year old girl can feel. His face haunted her daily life, a constant itch she couldn’t scratch. She thought of him as she walked the five short blocks to the bus stop on Nostrand avenue, the chill November wind blasting her nose and ears until they were frozen and red. She thought of him in the tightly packed bus, standing amidst sniffling strangers overwhelmed with scarves, gloves, and winter jackets lined with faux fur. She thought of him as she descended to the slippery street in front of the Iranian deli across from her school. It was the usual spot for truants and local potheads, not to mention teachers buying loosies and fifty cent coffees to get through the much too early morning classes.

His face hovered around her as she strolled down the hallway to class, smiling with insincerity at the good mornings and hellos of her friends and teachers. She thought of his smile as she chattered nonsensically with her friend Ashley with the ombre-d hair and flirted with Gene, the basketball star that all the girls lusted after. He flirted back. She knew he had a thing for her but she only thought of him. He was for her an unattainable dream, an elusive object forever within view but always just out of reach. He was her god and she could worship no other idol in his place.

Norah sat silently in her usual corner during first period. It was Spanish and they were watching a movie. It was about a boy and girl who loved each other but the girl’s mother wouldn’t let her marry him, or marry ever in fact, because her duty as the youngest daughter was to take care of her mother. So the boy married the eldest sister who was offered to him in lieu of his love. He did this to be near to his love at all times. It was the only way. Norah wondered if she could have made such a sacrifice for love. Would she, like the girl, passively have obeyed her mother or would she have run away with her lover instead? She did not understand those who wouldn’t fight for who they loved but at the same time she knew what it was to fear the consequences. She thought of him night and day but would she ever admit as much to him, or to anyone for that matter? What if he rejects her, as is the most likely scenario? She worried that the pain would be so overwhelming that she wouldn’t be able to breathe or function as a sane human being. She wouldn’t be able to wake in the morning and face the brutality of another day with the knowledge that he didn’t and would never love her back. Humans cannot survive long without hope and her silence and his ignorance gave her such hope as she needed to live.

She felt dead inside until she saw him. His mere presence breathed life into her soul, she had an irrepressible smile, and felt positively buoyant. Her eyes were drawn to him every morning as he stood by the door greeting the incoming students with a smile and a joke, or a pat on the back, or a warm handshake. Sometimes, and here her heart would beat uncontrollably, he would even say hello to her, with an almost knowing smile, with a wink as if they shared some secret between them that made them closer than anyone else around. She glowed with happiness after such an interchange, even though no physical contact whatsoever was made.

She knew she was hopelessly in love and knew there was no future for such a love but yet she loved, for an ocean of emotions separated the heart from the intellect and she could not win in the fight against an ever rising tide of feelings. She looked forward, with an anticipation bordering on mania, to fifth period, the period when she would be within his sight and hearing and presence for all of forty seven blessed minutes. She would bask in the warmth of his words, descending like manna from the sky. She noted each one within her memory, precious gems she would bring out and peruse in the long hours between him and life.

She did not know when exactly her obsession with him began, certainly not in the first moments, hours, or even days of the first meeting. He grew on her like a weed in her garden that spread until her garden was no longer discernible. He became almost as necessary to her as sleep, without which she was disoriented, lost, hallucinatory it even felt at times. Weekends were a nightmare that seemed never-ending and she would pace about her room like the madwoman in the attic she’s always hearing about. Holidays were even worse, absolute torture. Thanksgiving was bad enough but she didn’t know how she could possibly survive Christmas break. She tried not to think about it too much but alas the thoughts would come and she would despair.

Her despondency was not remarkable for the most part because she knew how to hide her emotions well, having much practice in her childhood. One must keep up the appearance of normalcy, a fact she had learned as a child in a tortured household, clouded as it was by anger and alcohol. Sanity was tenuous and she toed the line as best she could but it was hard at times when all she wanted to do was curl up into a ball and scream the pain of her tortured soul.

She lived for the brief moments he would look at her or talk to her and craved his attention like a wilting flower longing for water in the desert. Jealousy sometimes nipped at her heart but despair was her constant companion. He loved another, possibly with the same depth of feeling she herself had for him. Norah’s pain stemming from this knowledge was boundless and she longed to wipe it from her memory. There was nothing she could do but endure.

She wondered if this was it for her, if he was the piece that she was missing but could never have. She wondered if the ache sitting heavy on her heart would ever lessen, if she would ever fall in love like this again. It seemed impossible that her feelings would ever change yet she knew with the wisdom of one more experienced in matters of romance that ‘this too shall pass.’ She wasn’t sure she wanted it to, even though the misery of existence was sometimes too much for her to bear. She wondered though if the pain was better than nothing at all. Is it better to be in love or to have no such feeling dull the vibrancy of her youth?

She sometimes thought about the matter objectively, as a spectator to her own tale of woe. He was not a god, he had many flaws, there were many like him if not better than him. She would grow older and love more deeply an object worthier of her esteem. But still, she loved now and future happiness can’t suppress the pain of the present. She constantly tried to find ways of seeing or talking to him. After school she would linger around the halls by the room where he ran his after school club. She longed to join it but had not the talent. She wasn’t musically gifted, a fact that she regretted with every fiber of her being.

She tried to date boys her own age. It was a futile effort and a waste of her energies which longed to devote themselves to thinking of him, of finding new ways of being near him, of becoming closer to him in any possible way. She was a stalker she knew but could not help it. And so, he walked with her down the lonely gray road back to the bus, kept her company as she sat heavily on the dirty blue seat by the window smeared with dust and snow, and as she observed in silence the muddy sidewalks and snow-laden trash in street corners. He was there at dinner in her cramped two bedroom apartment overlooking a parking lot. He was there in the books she read, in the room she shared with her younger sister, and in the music she listened to in the dark as she tried to sleep at night. He was there and there was nothing she could do but endure.

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Incidents in the Life of a Character

The Life and Times of Mr. Darby

Chapter 1:

Mr. Darby walked down the familiar gravel-strewn path with the languid pace of one with no particular place to be. He had no watch. His trousers were brown and frayed, with bits of loose thread fringing the hem of his pants. His brown shoes were quite scuffed, the heels almost worn to the soles. His white shirt was tucked untidily in his pants and he carried a walking stick. It was similarly brown, a favorite color of his, curved on top, scratched, and battered with use. It was wooden and was carved down its length with what appeared to be some type of animal, but time and age made any attempt to discern its shape a difficult if not impossible task. He leisurely strolled with his eyes staring vacantly ahead of him, apparently lost in his thoughts, a typical state of mind for him. It was Friday and he had just finished closing up the library. There was a slight breeze rustling the birch trees that lined the path to his house. The shadows of the leaves danced playfully on the ground around him but he took no notice.

Mr. Darby appeared to awaken from a trance as he neared his home, a two story wooden house with a veranda encircling its entire width. It was pale yellow with white posts and shutters. He had lived there since he was a little boy and was as familiar with every nook and cranny of it as he was with his own image in the mirror. The gravel crunched under his feet as he walked up to the stairs in front of the house. The stairs themselves groaned under his weight as he climbed them and made his way to his front door. He walked straight in, having left the door unlocked all day, and headed towards his kitchen to pour himself a glass of homemade lemonade. His daily afternoon routine consisted of sitting on the rocking chair on his veranda, sipping lemonade, and staring thoughtfully into the sea. He did not deviate from his routine today. Nor had he deviated from it for the last thirty or so years of his life.

Most of the town thought Mr. Darby was born an old man. He was the town’s librarian and it seemed as if he had ever been in that post. No one could imagine anyone else in his place. The sun glinted off his spectacles as he bent to take a book out from his jacket pocket. He was never without a book, would in fact feel lost without the familiar weight of it on the inside of his jacket. His father was the librarian before him and his mother was an English teacher so books were a significant part of his life as far back as he could remember. In fact, that was how his parents met. Melody Darby, nee Melody Simmons, went to the library looking for Flaubert and instead found Theodore Darby, a good-looking, if clumsy, young man who, after various other visits from the equally shy Ms. Simmons, finally worked up the courage to ask her out.

They had a quiet and peaceful marriage and died quiet and peaceful deaths, within six months of each other in fact. Mr. and Mrs. Darby imparted their shared wisdom and great love of literature to their young son, Timothy Darby, before passing on. They never quarreled and spent quiet evenings on their veranda, often reading out loud from a favorite poet or author, with Timothy silently listening and dreaming of the lives of the characters. He would envision himself as Sidney Carton and sacrifice himself for love, or he would be Sir Brian and fight a duel for honor and glory, or he would sail the seas as Odysseus, braving storms and fearsome creatures to get back to his beloved Penelope. His nose was permanently in books, so much so that before he knew it he was an actual old man who had never even ventured out of the little town he lived in. Such is the summary of the life of Timothy Darby until the present moment. Little did he know however that his life was about to change. Whether the change is welcome or not we will find out from Mr. Darby himself. He did not enjoy change at this point in his life, having established his routines to his satisfaction. But one cannot argue with fate, and Mr. Darby’s fate was possibly more than even he imagined it would be.

……………….

Mr. Darby was reading quietly on his veranda, swatting away a fly that buzzed lazily about his drink when a sound from the house next door caught his attention. It was the voice of a woman singing. This was something unusual for Mr. Darby. His former neighbor was an elderly man, who like him, preferred the solitary life. Mr. Darby would see him every so often puttering around his garden, of which he was very proud, or smoking his pipe peacefully on his front porch. They would exchange greetings every once in a while and sometimes even sit quietly together either drinking coffee on winter evenings or lemonade on hot summer nights. They never spoke much but passed the time keeping each other company with the occasional grunt or two of approval of the beverage they were imbibing at the moment. Sometimes Mr. Johnson, for such was the old man’s name, would talk about his daughter who lived far away with her husband and children in Virginia. His wife had passed away years before and Mr. Johnson, then eighty one, would spend his days alone in his garden or napping and his evenings in front of his fireplace reading or talking on the phone with his daughter or grandchildren. Mr. Darby was much younger, being almost fifty, but enjoyed Mr. Johnson’s companionship when the solitude became stifling.

Unfortunately Mr. Johnson passed away the month before. It never occurred to Mr. Darby that anyone else would occupy the house. He supposed it was only natural but change was not something that he appreciated. The voice was mournful. He recognized the song. It was Etta James’s “At Last.” The woman sung it beautifully. The almost ghostly sound wafted over with the gentle evening breeze and he stopped for a moment to listen. For some reason her voice intrigued him. He wondered who she might be, what sort of a person belonged to such a beautiful voice. Though not musically gifted himself he appreciated music and liked surrounding himself with it when he could.

That night his mood was sentimental. He was reading The Awakening and felt sad. He had only experienced love in novels and though he was curious about the emotion that inspired such sacrifice he preferred not to feel the pangs of a broken heart. To him contentment was the most one should expect from life, not the exuberance of love, that ever so elusive emotion. He greatly feared the misery of heartbreak and tried to keep out of the way of anything that might lead to it. That being said he was not unfulfilled. Perhaps because he was not aware of what he missed. He often questioned whether the saying was true, that it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. The latter seemed preferable to him, for who would miss what they never experienced? If to be awakened was to know misery then he far preferred to slumber in peace.

By the time his thoughts took this turn the voice had stopped singing. The sorrowful sound had ceased to fill the evening air and he felt strangely alone and empty. The moon had now arisen and he could no longer read the words on the page. He softly rose and walked slowly back into his home.

Mr. Darby felt the burden of solitude as he’d never felt it before that night. To combat it he decided to play the tabletop phonograph he had in inherited from his parents. It was a beautiful machine, very well preserved, with glossy oak paneling. It was a genuine Victor Talking machine with an external horn. His father had bought it on a trip to New Jersey to purchase more books to add to the library’s collections. He put on a Sam Cooke record while he made his small fare for the evening before retiring for the night. He was an early sleeper as he liked to rise early in the morning for a solitary stroll along the beach on the right of his house before breakfast. By the time his head hit his pillow Mr. Darby had forgotten the voice and his sadness.

Chapter 2:

As was his wont, Mr. Darby awoke at dawn, slipped out of his wrinkled silk dressing gown and careworn slippers, and completed his toilet in preparation for his morning walk down the beach that ran alongside his home. There was a stillness in the air that early in the morning, broken by the sporadic caws of the herons as they waded for fish. He breathed in deeply the salty sea air that stung his nose ever so slightly and gazed in wonder at the varying shades of orange in the morning sky. Life, when he took the time to notice it, could be filled with such beauty that sometimes he gasped for breath in his admiration. His heart felt as if it would burst with the contemplation of the daily miracles of nature that so many miss in their struggle to exist.

Mr. Darby strolled with his hands behind his back, whistling a tune in his lightheartedness, for about half an hour before returning home to have his breakfast. His morning meal consisted to coffee, buttered toast, and two scrambled eggs. As he sat down to his breakfast he heard what sounded like an engine growing steadily louder in its approach and turned around to see Walter, his cat, calmly and confidently, walking into the kitchen. In one swift movement he sprang onto the kitchen table and sat directly in front of Mr. Darby’s plate, with his tail swishing to and fro behind him. He stared at Mr. Darby expectantly and licked his lips in anticipation of his own breakfast which he hoped would soon be served.

“Ah, I almost forgot about you today Walter. My apologies dear friend,” said Mr. Darby, as he stood up to prepare Walter the Cat’s food. At the sound of the can opening Walter’s ears pricked up and he stared hard at Mr. Darby’s hands as they hurriedly dumped the wet food into his food dish. Both Mr. Darby and Walter had their breakfast on the kitchen table, facing each other but concentrating only upon eating. They had been each other’s sole companions in that house for over fourteen years and had quite got used to their routines.

When his parents died Mr. Darby was almost inconsolable with grief. He would wander about the little town lost in his memories, sometimes even shedding a tear or two as he did so. Not even his books could comfort him, so greatly did he feel their loss. One day, as he stepped out of the library at the end of the day, he heard a tiny wail coming from one side of the building, near the small garden he had planted in his spare time. The sound grew louder as he approached. Tiny mews greeted his ears as he looked into a flower pot and discovered a tiny black and white ball with big startled eyes looking straight at him. He gathered little mewling Walter into his palm and momentarily forgot his grief. They have been steadfast companions ever since.

Walter yawned lazily and licked his lips in satisfaction. “Well, old boy, what’s on the agenda for today, hmm?” He stroked Walter gently and smiled complacently at him. Walter allowed himself to be petted for a minute or two before wandering off to find the primest spot for lounging in the morning sunlight. Mr. Darby chuckled to himself and also headed off to dress and start his day.

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