Thursday, June 28, 2012

Strong

She reviewed the checklist in her head.  Laces tied?  Yes.  She inspected the loops- perfectly even.  The black shoes shined with the polish she’d rubbed onto them.  Moving up, her eyes followed the straight lines of his pants.  She’d gotten up 2 hours early to iron and starch them, having learned the hard way that an hour was not enough time to ensure perfection.  Reflexively she reached out and put a hand on Frederick’s shoulder to stop him from fidgeting.  He stilled under her touch.

She pulled on his vest, smoothing the lapel and pulling the sleeves of his jacket straight.  Then up to his tie which she tightened.  His hand went up to pull it open again and she gently pushed it back down. 

“I know, Frederick.  But I need you to play statue now, ok?  Just until we get outside.” 

She picked up his hand and inspected his fingernails.  The cuticles were cut back, the nails perfectly clean from the scrubbing she’d given them.  She gave it a light squeeze before letting it drop back at his side.  Then she straightened herself so she could look over his head.  The part she combed in was a line as straight as the starched pants and his hair gleamed with the oil she’d combed into it.

She smiled weakly, then turned to the mirror and performed the same operation on herself, slightly sped up.  Her uniform showed the same firm lines with razor straight folds in the pleats of her skirt and stockings cutting across her legs just below the knee.  They glowed white, the bleach so strong it had been causing rashes on her unseen legs.  She gave her vest a pull and her breath caught in her throat- one of the buttons was hanging on by a thread.

She held her breath and pushed the button back through the hole, just enough to hold it in place.  If she could keep perfectly still she’d be able to mend it on the ride to school.  Giving her little brother a glance she turned to face the door.  Two swift knocks and waiting.

“Come in,” the deep voice loomed from behind the giant oak door.  She pushed it and lead Frederick inside.

They marched in tandem and she kept her footsteps in synch with his so that their heels beat a steady rhythm on the polished floor.  She had to march in place twice to end in time with Frederick’s short legs.  She held her chest out and head down, looking briefly out of her peripheral vision to make sure he was doing the same.  He was.

She held her body rigid and counted her heartbeats; mentally willing them to slow down.  She breathed deeply and then froze- she could see the loose button at the bottom of her vest threatening to fall out if she expanded her abdomen too much.  So she slowed her breathing and kept it shallow and steady.  She said a silent prayer in her mind: “Just hold on.”

She heard her grandfather stand from behind the giant desk and snapped her eyes away from the vest lest her focus give her away.  His footsteps echoed in the foreboding room as he slowly and deliberately made his way around the desk to them.  She saw the tall shape of him move up in front of Frederick and held her breath the way that she always did when he was being scrutinized. 

“Good, Frederick, my good strong boy,” he said, patting him on the shoulder.  “You will excel in all your studies, ya?” 

“Yes, sir,” she heard her brother answer.

“And you will show all the other boys the strength of the Brandt family?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good lad.”

A single step to the side and the broad chest that entered her vision was the firm expanse of dark wool she was familiar with.  He said nothing as he stood in front of her inspecting every facet of her appearance.  The silence strengthened the sound of her heart in her ears as she held her breath, waiting for him to give his approval and release them.  Then her heart stopped as she saw his hand move towards her vest.

He pulled on the bottom with one, firm tug and the button popped off and sailed through the air.  The seconds seemed to slow to a crawl as she watched it arch and then fall.  Gravity mocked her by drawing out the agonizing descent and she felt almost relieved when it finally hit the floor.  The sound it made as it bounced echoed in her ears.

“Please,” she prayed, but said nothing.

“Frederick, go wait outside while I talk to your sister.”

She saw him hesitate and moved her head just enough to look at him, darting her eyes towards the door.  For just a second his eyes began to water but he swallowed, turned on his heel and marched out.  She allowed herself to exhale as she heard the door close behind him.

She prepared her apology as a formality, reasoning why her negligence was unforgivable.  She reviewed her weakness, her failure to plan appropriately, her stupidity- all the reasons why she deserved the lesson he was about to teach her.  But the usual question never came.

Thus why the first blow was a surprise.  His fist collided with her chest and knocked the breath out of her in one uncontrolled rush of wind.  The floor rose up to meet her and she embraced it like a long lost friend, spreading herself across it like a cloak.

She didn’t move.  Even if she could she knew that covering herself would only increase his severity.  A second hit connected with her lower back, an open handed smack.  It seemed almost as if he meant to spank her but her body was too low to the ground. The third was higher up, directly across her spine.  He rained pain down on her with his characteristic control- steady beats on a taut skin.  Anger was a sign of weakness, he had beat that lesson into her many times before.  So she clamped her eyes shut against the frenzied panic of her emotions and endured, the way she always had.  It took her a long time to realize that he had stopped.

“Stand, now,” was all he said.

She complied immediately and ignored the screaming protests of her body as she forced herself to stand, picking up the traitorous button as she rose.  She regained the rod-straight posture she had held before.

Her eyes were dry.  Her jaw held firm.  Her face was the calm resignation of a dead man’s.  He would call her weak, he would prove she was.  But in the end she was the one thing he was unknowingly training her to be.  Strong.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

My Read for June


I discovered Nathan Fillion when my dear friends introduced me to Firefly- a show so brilliant that I was destined to worship its existence long before I saw the first episode.  The combination of the sheer genius of Joss Whedon combined with the delectable joy that Nathan Fillion brings to all his roles was heaven.  While my love affair with Joss Whedon is no less strong without the added delight of Mr. Fillion; I loved him too much not to follow his Whedon-less exploits.  Thus came Castle.

It is the perfect mix of sitcom humor, crime drama, and that magical tension between two lead characters who just won’t get together no matter how much you want them to (I.E. The X-Files factor).  And Nathan Fillion is no less adorable, wonderful and squeal-worthy as Richard Castle than he was as Malcolm Reynolds (or Captain Hammer, for that matter).

However, to give credit where credit is way overdue I will say that Castle wouldn’t be Castle without the truly fantastic writers crafting every episode.  Their ability to walk the tight rope of drama vs. comedy is staggering and the characters that they’ve created in this show are just amazing.

One of those writers decided that having the show wasn’t enough and went ahead and started writing the series of books that Richard Castle wrote.  For those of you who aren’t fans of the show, I will briefly explain the plot: Richard Castle is a mystery writer who writes best-selling crime novels.  In order to do research for his new books he gets himself assigned to follow a tough female detective in the NYPD’s 12 precinct.  (He’s friends with the mayor.)  He then creates a character based on this detective whom he calls Nikki Heat and starts a new series of novels about her and her exploits as a homicide detective.  In the show, the first book in the series is called Heat Wave and it does well enough that he gets permission to continue following this detective until he gets tired of writing the series.

Having the book featured in the episodes is one thing.  Having a physical copy of it with the author’s name (Richard Castle) plastered across the front cover is quite another.  The fan girl in me gets giddy just looking at the thing.  And if the writing in the book is anything like the writing in the series I have a feeling this is going to be a very fun read for me.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Book Review: Cruel Shoes


I didn’t take philosophy in college.  The little exposure I’ve had to philosophical ideas has made my brain hurt.  So I don’t know nearly enough about it to think that knowing anything about philosophy would have made reading Steve Martin’s early work funny to me.  I also don’t know that not knowing anything about it is what made it not funny.  But based on what I’ve been reading in my research on this manuscript I’m guessing that may be the case.

I picked up this book thinking that it fell into the humor genre.  Not necessarily low-brow comedy, but simple enough that laugh out loud moments would be plentiful and I could knock out a few micro-stories without much effort.  Having finished this book I would now categorize it as surreal humor.  There were so many non-sequiturs, absurd situations and plain old nonsense that most stories left me in a state of confusion.  The end result is that instead of the “hah!” I was expecting I was most often left with a “huh?” instead.

Being so thoroughly confused by all this, I looked into this book in particular and Steve Martin’s early work in general.  I came across a very telling quote that Wikipedia copied from a 1982 Rolling Stones interview with Steve.  When discussing his history Steve brought up the fact that he studied philosophy in college and that it changed the way he thought about everything.  He said “In philosophy, I started studying logic, and they were talking about cause and effect, and you start to realize, 'Hey, there is no cause and effect! There is no logic! There is no anything!' Then it gets real easy to write this stuff, because all you have to do is twist everything hard—you twist the punch line, you twist the non sequitur so hard away from the things that set it up".  That quote explains this book better than I ever could.

I’ve seen clips of Steve Martin’s stand up and laughed uproariously.  I read countless articles that list him as one of the greatest stand-up comics of all time.  I’ve been a fan of his movies for my entire life and loved the Jerk so much it makes me want to cry.  And there are elements in all of those that are very similar to the style of this book- the absurd, the out of nowhere twists, the uncomfortable laughing moments.  But for some reason that I don’t understand it just didn’t translate in this book.

Perhaps years from now when I’ve learned more through further reading and other endeavors I shall take to try to keep myself from the black hole of stupidity I will re-read this book and find the humor.  But as of now I think I’m too stupid to get it.