Blackout (Part 1)

The World Turned Off

A short story by Lydia

When Emma’s fiancé called off their engagement, she didn’t cry. Instead, she bought a ticket to Reykjavik.

After a two-hour long, heartbreaking confession in Ben’s black Toyota – in which he revealed that he had sex three times with his dissertation supervisor – she arrived at the apartment they used to share, feeling cold and numb. Potter, their intuitive two-year-old black Labrador, immediately greeted her at the door with a sympathetic whine. When she sat down on the sofa, in a near stupor of disbelief, he curled around her feet and glanced up periodically, as if he were checking to make sure she was still alive. It was a comfort to feel his strong, youthful heart beating against her ankle.

Out of habit, she reached for the remote control, turned on the television and started watching a random documentary. It so happens that the random documentary was about Olympic athletes in Iceland, as they trained for the upcoming summer games. For some reason, her brain latched onto the idea of visiting Iceland and, an hour later, was perusing airfare prices on Expedia. Before she knew it, her wallet was open, the receipt printing on an old laser jet. Within the twenty-four hours that followed the odd purchase, she spoke to her boss and, with some humiliating explanation, obtained approval for the last minute vacation time, arranged for Potter to stay with her dad in Phoenix, bought a new suitcase, and cleaned out the refrigerator of unused dairy products.

Now she stood in line, waiting to board a flight to Boston, where she was scheduled to catch a connecting flight to Reykjavik. In an attempt to distract herself from her bizarre new reality, she flipped through some Facebook posts, but quickly grew bored with images of her coupled friends posing for the camera (in Disney World, at the dinner table, playing tennis, shopping for a boat, buying a boat, and sailing a boat).

Ben and Emma had met three years earlier in an amateur volleyball league. He was a political science PhD candidate, she a lowly project coordinator for a small engineering firm. They had joined the league to blow off some steam, and meet some new people in Flagstaff, where they were both new residents. Eventually, they started dating and, during a very romantic trip to the California coast, became engaged. Ben was a broke academic at the time, but managed to propose with a stunning silver and amber ring. It was exactly Emma’s style, a delight which lead her to interpret as a good sign. They were a good match, or so she thought and, for one really good year, believed wholeheartedly.

The last few months, in all honesty, had been unpleasant. Ben was irritable and grumpy most of the time, stressed by the expectations of his work and the competition amongst colleagues. At least, that’s how he excused his rude, dismissive behavior. Eventually, though, it became evident that something wasn’t right. When she cornered him in the car, just as they were ready to pull out of a Publix parking lot, he caved almost instantly. Yes, there was someone else. No, it wasn’t an affair, just sex. No, he wasn’t in love with the other woman. Yes, he thought it best to cancel the engagement and take a break from the relationship. And so that was that.

Earlier that afternoon, just as her boarding pass spit out of the self-serve check-in airport kiosk, she’d received an email from Ben, asking her if the gossip was true. Are you really going to Iceland? She texted back a simple Yes. Yes, she was, dammit. He asked: What for? Why? That stumped her. She didn’t know how to respond truthfully, so, in anger, said: To get away from you. The conversation ended; no emails for an hour. Then, as she bit into an overpriced ham and cheese sandwich, one last message from Ben: Stay safe. Have fun. Rest. Let someone know when you’ve landed.

She was tempted to remind him that he forfeited the right to care or communicate with her the moment he called off the engagement, the moment he revealed his betrayal, but instead erased the message entirely, without response. Delete. There would be no more of that.

Finally, the line shuffled forward. Passengers presented their passports and boarding passes for inspection, before being ushered through the doorway. Everyone looked half-awake, on account of the red eye departure, and eager to get on board for some much-needed shuteye. A couple of teenaged girls in Harvard gear were the only ones talking with any enthusiasm, and chattered incessantly about someone named “Sparky Parker,” until they disappeared into the mouth of the gate.

Only a few minutes passed before Emma joined the Harvard girls in the tunnel, purse hanging from one elbow, the handle of a rolling suitcase clutched tightly in the other. This was positively surreal. Aside from a graduation trip to the Dominican Republic, and a family vacation to Cardiff, Wales, she had very little experience with travel. Knowing that she would be eating dinner in Reykjavik (alone) after crossing the North Atlantic Ocean was both unnerving and exciting. Flying wasn’t particularly enjoyable – it was impossible to relax completely into deep sleep – but it was easy enough to read a novel or flip through a magazine without too many panic attacks. A fresh, paperback copy of John Grisham’s The Racketeer had been purchased at the airport bookstore for exactly this reason.

Emma didn’t consider herself a sophisticated reader, a fact that Ben liked to point out from time to time. She visibly cringed at the memory of his patronizing smile as he poked her in the ribs after she bought the latest Jodi Picoult. What did he call it? “Fluff, like the marshmallow spread.”

There had been little else that bothered her about the relationship, so Emma had been willing to put up with the jibes. You take the good with the bad, right? Ben spent hours sifting through academic, peer-reviewed journals, and, when some spare time revealed itself, consumed a few chapters of Kafka and Upton Sinclair to cleanse his palette. He encouraged her to try something more difficult, but when she finally attempted some Toni Morrison, he insisted on having a “discussion” afterward to “unpack” the story. It had been such a miserable, demoralizing experience that they decided not to discuss books anymore. Ben promised not to bring it up, and Emma decided to cover her paperbacks in wrapping paper. Problem solved.

A middle-aged, blonde flight attendant greeted Emma with a pleasant, reassuring smile. “Good evening, welcome aboard.”

It was a tight squeeze. First and business class were cloistered at the front of the plane, but coach travelers struggled to shuffle down the aisle without accidentally tripping over a foot or banging their suitcases into arm rests and stray knees. Emma did both before locating her seat.

A male steward stepped forward to help lift her new American Tourister into the overhead compartment. “Here, let me get that.” He picked it up with no trouble at all, easily tucked it into a free corner of the compartment, and smiled kindly. As he reached, Emma noticed a tattoo peeking out from the wrist of his shirt (the red flames of fire, or perhaps the fins of a bright orange koi fish).

“Thank you,” she said, sincerely grateful for the assistance.

“Not a problem, miss. Not a problem.” And then he moved along, down the aisle, to help an elderly man with his duffel bag. “Hi, sir, would you like some help with that?”

Emma’s stomach churned with nerves and butterflies as she shimmied to the window seat and fell into the stiff cushions. For the fourth time, she checked to make sure her passport was still where it should be, then remembered to email her dad to let him know she was leaving for Boston shortly, and when she arrived at her final destination. Being in the technology industry, Emma’s dad was both an early riser and addicted to his smart phone, so it didn’t take long for him to reply. He sent a picture of Potter, with a pair of sunglasses propped on the dog’s nose, with the following message: Have fun and stay cool. Don’t forget us. A much-needed smile brightened Emma’s face. Leave it to dad to come through with a chuckle. She responded: Aw, I could never forget those droopy eyes.

Quickly, before she would have to put her phone on airplane mode, she googled the sunset and sunrise times for Iceland in July. Stewart Waverly, a coworker, after learning of Emma’s vacation destination, had mentioned something called Midnight Sun. “Because Iceland is so far north, the sun rises early,” he’d said, “and it doesn’t really set, either, like a permanent dusk. A friend of mine went hiking there last summer. It’s supposed to be beautiful.”

“Really?” she’d asked, feeling awestruck, slightly delirious.

“Yeah, I think you’ll really like it.” But then he finally realized that Emma’s delirium was not entirely inspired by Iceland, but by something more personal, intangible. “Are you okay? You look worried about something.”

It was no secret that she’d been overworked the past few months – one of the reasons her boss forgave her this one trespass of professional incongruity – so Stewart was rightly under the impression that she was starting to crack under the pressure.

“I’m okay. A little tired, but okay.”

“Is Ben going with you?”

The question had fallen like a rock between them. She had no intention of sharing her personal miseries with Stewart, who, as far as she could tell, was happily married with two daughters, lived in the burbs, drove a Jeep Wrangler, and wore relatively expensive suits to work. In other words: successful. So she smiled pleasantly, and said, “No, he has to teach. He couldn’t get away.” The end. Conversation over.

Google revealed that sunset would occur a little after midnight, sunrise at approximately 2:30 in the morning. It made logistical and geographical sense, but was difficult to envision. Her body clock was very attached to the routine presence of light and dark. There were many pictures of the Midnight Sun phenomenon online, and the promise of spectacular beauty was mesmerizing. And yet, she wasn’t sure. This trip, like the breakup, felt odd.

Shaking the nerves from her neck and shoulders, Emma realized that the plane was moving, rolling along the tarmac into place for take-off. The male steward stood at the first class curtain, pulled a phone from the dividing wall and spoke into the receiver with a wonderfully baritone Jeremy Irons voice. “Welcome aboard flight 5265 en route to Boston” and “make sure your seatbelt is buckled,” and “thank you for choosing US Airlines.” Honestly, she wasn’t really paying attention. She couldn’t. The details of flight, though important, made her nervous. Instead, she took The Racketeer from her purse, and opened it to the first page.

Stay tuned for part 2…

Just After Sunset by Stephen King

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When my fingers poised above the keyboard to write this review, they didn’t know what to do, what to type. Just After Sunset is my first introduction to short fiction from Stephen King, and I haven’t a clue where to begin. To keep it simple, I should probably start by saying how much I enjoyed this book. There are thirteen stories in Just After Sunset, and they range in length and seriousness. Some are intense and gory, while others are ridiculous, some are outright funny; but, regardless of tone, they are incredibly effective.

Willa
King explains in the introduction that Willa is the first short story he wrote after a prolonged focus on large scale novels, and it shows. The plot is a little clunky, but you can see the effort, and that’s what I appreciate about this story. It is an attempt at getting back into the game.

The Gingerbread Girl
For some reason, this story isn’t popular with readers; many thought it too conveniently wrapped up, but this was a real homerun for me. I would be very intrigued if it were turned into a film. It has the perfect balance of emotional realism and psychological terror. Not to mention, the scenario is legitimately scary.

Harvey’s Dream
Good but not great; didn’t have the same heat and imperative of The Gingerbread Girl but still very effective. Harvey’s Dream is somewhat of a slow burn, and the ending is a sort-of launching pad into insinuated action and mystery.

Rest Stop
This is just fun and ridiculous, a “what if” situation taken to it’s creative conclusion. What would you do if you encountered, while minding your own business, domestic violence reaching a fevered pitch? Well, Stephen King answers this question with flair in Rest Stop.

Stationary Bike
An incredibly creative interpretation of heeding a doctor’s health warning to lose weight, Stationary Bike is an unusual story about an artist who must improve his eating and exercise habits. But, when he accomplishes the unexpected by reaching personal highs in health and fitness, the consequences are both haunting and surreal.

The Things They Left Behind
For anyone who was personally or emotionally affected by September 11th, this story will be cathartic but sad. Of course, it’s King so he usually puts a nauseating and scary spin on everything he writes, so there are a few moments of horror. Overall, though, this was a very touching story about how the surviving families and co-workers coped with the tragedy.

Graduation Afternoon
I wasn’t sure what to think of this one. It felt a little stilted and unfinished, but I liked King’s character development in Graduation Afternoon. The narrator felt very real.

N.
The crowning glory of this collection is N. It’s freaky and genuinely horrifying, multilayered, a fantastic representation of everything that could frighten the average person. The threat of mental illness, the possibility that mental illness could be transferrable (like the flu), the characteristics and development of OCD, and some good old fashioned monsters come together in a braid of narrative genius.

The Cat from Hell
When a wealthy family hires a hitman to dispose of a strange cat, all hell breaks loose. Silly but freaky. I can see this making a fun comic book.

The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates
Although it had moments of tangible grief, this one took some time to get through, and I struggled to see the characters as fully-realized people.

Mute
Another diamond in the rough, Mute reminded me of Strangers on a Train. What would you do if someone exacted violent revenge on your behalf? Tough question but King manages to put an unusual spin on his interpretation of the answer.

Ayana
Short but touching treatise on illness and death; not scary, but ethereal.

A Very Tight Place
Of all the stories, this one was the most difficult to read, but also the most entertaining. Curtis, a well-off business man who lives in a wealthy community in Florida, is having problems with his neighbor. The neighbor, which had installed an electrical fence on his property, killed Curtis’ beloved, elderly dog, Betsy. When their disagreement comes to a head, Curtis is locked in a portable toilet stall at an abandoned construction site. He works hard to escape, and exact his revenge.

Vegging out in Victoria

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It’s fun to be lazy. In July, I spent nearly two weeks lounging about, shopping, eating, and reading in Victoria, BC. I’m a water girl, and I love the ocean as much as I love the heat. For me, the west coast is the penultimate vacation destination: the salty air, laidback lifestyle, and great food. (Although I’m not a vegetarian, I ate kale salad and vegan meals almost daily. So, I actually “vegged” out in Victoria.) I was especially blown away by this coconut curry at Mo:Lé Restaurant! Nice and spicy! And don’t forget to pile on the cilantro.

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Being a massive sweet tooth, I had to restrain my sugar intake to a couple of well-chosen treats at fun bakeries. Oddly, though, after all that kale, my system was somewhat overwhelmed by the decadence. It took some time to come down from the high. This lemon poppy-seed pastry was perfectly tart and sweet. There was way too many options from which to choose; it was fairly early in the morning so I thought it best to stay away from the heavy tarts and cake. (Believe me, it was hard. Crust Bakery is small but ever-so-tempting.

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And, like Iceland, I brought a few books to read and leave behind:

1. Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote – Truly enjoyable, funny, and lovely. I’ve never seen the movie, so I approached this novella with a certain level of ignorance, so to speak; I knew nothing of the characters or the romanticized Audrey Hepburn version. Holly Golightly is not the sweet slice of apple pie you think she is. In fact, she’s quite unlikeable. She’s selfish and catty, insulting and uncooth. Hardly Audrey Hepburn. Apparently Capote was unimpressed with the film version, and had set his sights on Marilyn Monroe playing the lead. Not sure how that would’ve worked out, but this novella was wonderfully and unexpectedly complex. Highly recommended.
2. The Castaways by Elin Hilderbrand – This author is quickly becoming my go-to for fun beach reading. She maintains a great balance between melodrama and authenticity. (I’ve previously read The Blue Bistro.)
3. The Romantic by Barbara Gowdy – I really disliked this book. A little on the pretentious side. Overly and overtly literary, if there is such a thing.
4. Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte – Anne is my favourite Bronte sister and author of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. She has an incredibly effective narrative voice. This is a short but wonderful little book.
5. Solar by Ian McEwan – I struggled to get through this novel, but eventually made it to the end. It was not especially rewarding, which was a disappointment. McEwan is usually very good. (It won an award for humour but I wasn’t laughing.)

Eventually, however, I discovered Russell Books. Dangerous, dangerous territory. It’s the biggest, most amazing used bookstore in Canada, where I found out-of-print and vintage novels I had trouble tracking down elsewhere. The selection was out of this world! Needless to say, I broke my book buying fast. Over my 12-day stay, I visited Russell Books approximately 4 times, and willingly got lost in the countless shelves of stock each time. I was especially happy to locate a copy of Inside Daisy Clover by Gavin Lambert for only $1.99! It even has the Natalie Wood movie cover! So, despite having purged five books, I brought back even more. (I had to check a piece of luggage, for goodness sake.) As you can see, my TBR counter went up. Can you believe this place? Check out the link, where even more pictures of this spectacular store will blow you away. I repeat: blow.you.away.

IMG_20140728_131102917Among others, I bought a copy of Patrick Watson’s Alter Ego and Arthur Miller’s After the Fall. I’m also very curious to read something by Larry McMurtry, and Horseman, Pass By was on sale (the inspiration for Paul Newman’s Hud). Also, I simply could not resist the cover to Iris Murdoch’s A Severed Head. I know, I know, I crumbled under the pressure, but I didn’t completely negate my Mount TBR progress. (Five books were discarded in Victoria. A few were bigger and heavier than what I brought home, thankfully.)

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During my visit, I hopped the ferry to Pender Island, went to the Food Truck Festival, explored Butchart Gardens, Dallas Road and Beacon Hill Park, Cook Street Village, Antique Row, the Royal BC Museum and the downtown core, where I signed up for a bootcamp class. Victoria even has a castle! It sounds like a lot, but it was all experienced at a lovely, leisurely pace. Each day boasted a blue sky, a high, hot sun, and nothing but time. The images that follow are from Butchart Gardens, a spectacular place to visit if you have the chance. Although the entry fee is steep, the view is totally worth it.

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At the end of my sojourn, I came home – on a massive 767 with glorious amounts leg room – rested and refreshed from all that vitamin D and chlorophyll.

The Glebe and Old Ottawa South

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Funny how you have to go away to see the value and beauty of home, isn’t it? After all the traveling this summer, I was happy to rediscover the farmer’s markets, restaurants, and landscape of my own city. Ottawa may not be a major tourist destination, and its claim to fame is more political than anything else, but it can be – and is – very pretty. There are specific neighbourhoods where I spend more time than others, two of them being The Glebe and Old Ottawa South. As a result, I have more experience with this segment of Bank Street. So, I thought it might be fun to introduce y’all to some of my favourite places to read, eat, and shop, just in case you ever feel compelled to visit Canada’s capital.

Bank Street is very long, and runs through many regions of the city, but if you’re traveling toward Wellington and Parliament Hill, Old Ottawa South turns into The Glebe once you cross Lansdowne Bridge. Both areas are very walkable, so don’t be afraid to take a leisurely stroll from one area to the next.

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If you’re into collectables and vintage clothing, Old Ottawa South has a variety of antique shops, but the real plus are all the bakeries: Life of Pie; Trillium Bakery; and Buttercream Bakery. My personal favourite is Trillium, and I highly recommend their Maple Pecan cookies. They make an assortment of whole grain breads, pies, cookies, and a variety of gluten-free products. The restaurants are also pretty fabulous. Carmen’s Veranda is adorable and, for the best Cuban food, Havana Café is a real gem.

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For all you bookaholics out there, two places to consider: a recent addition to the neighbourhood, Black Squirrel Books; and, Ottawa’s Antique Market, where many of the vendors have a wonderful assortment of books on offer. Vintage editions, contemporary, classic, and everything in between are available. You can tell that the collection has been very carefully curated in both locations. And, if you get tired or bored or hot, and you’re in need of some air conditioning, across the street from Black Squirrel is Mayfair Theatre, where a unique variety of independent and popular films play.

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When you venture across the Lansdowne Bridge, don’t be deterred by the construction. A new football field and shopping “mall” extravaganza is being built. Although I can’t really get excited about a football field, I am very thrilled to say our first Whole Foods will be opening soon. (Nine times out of ten, Ottawa is late to the party. We just got an H&M last year. But don’t worry, we’re hardly deprived.) Grocery stores and shopping “mall” extravaganzas aside, The Glebe is a cornucopia of boutiques, crafts, hole-in-the-wall restaurants, pubs, bakeries, jewelry stores, ice cream shops, and chocolatiers. Some favourites include: ZaZaZa, a really fun pizza place with a pile of random flavour combinations from which to choose; Mrs. Tiggy Winkle’s, a toy store and neighbourhood staple since 1977; and, Magpie, a jewelry store that sells funky designs from across Canada.

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As you cross the bridge, however, you might get distracted by the canal running beneath, especially if the weather is nice. The water is gross, but the view is lovely. Bike paths are available for both cyclists and joggers alike. It’s also very easy to grab a bite to eat, and sit by the canal to enjoy your meal. So, if you’re not in the mood to shop, or you don’t have the cash to shop, there’s always Mac n’ Cheese at Life of Pie. Six Canadian dollars, and you’re good to go.

“Stand at the top of a cliff, jump off, and build your wings on the way down.” Ray Bradbury

At the moment, I’m reading Fahrenheit 451. After being blown away by the awesomeness of part one, I found an adorable interview with Ray Bradbury on YouTube. Other than, perhaps, Julia Child, never have I encountered someone so enthusiastic about life. Some of the first few words to come from his mouth are variations on the tried and true “things that you do should be things that you love, and things that you love should be things that you do.” However, despite the Hallmark sentimentality of the words, the verve with which they are spoken will light a fire within you. Even as he described his frustrating beginnings and poverty, I never got the impression he would’ve changed his life in any way. In fact, he seemed to take it all in stride, one foot in front of the other. He was determined to do what he loved.

He never lost his childlike wonder, not just for books, but everything, including his love for dinosaurs, cats, people and places. Just his tone of voice, which seems to leap in glorious bounds from his throat, is enough to convey his deep respect for life in general. You’ll adore his remembrances. The way he talks of meeting his wife and getting married, meeting his hero Aldous Huxley, writing Fahrenheit 451 in the basement of a library and renting a typewriter for ten cents a half hour, is completely delightful. I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did! Like Stephen King, Bradbury’s passion for writing leaps off the page. You can almost imagine his fingers tapping away at the keys of his rented typewriter (and the jingle of his bag of dimes) as you read each sentence.

I’m almost finished Fahrenheit 451, but I’ve already considered more Bradbury. I looked up his bibliography and made a list of his other novels for consideration:

The Martian Chronicles
Dandelion Wine
Something Wicked This Way Comes
The Halloween Tree
Death is a Lonely Business
A Graveyard for Lunatics
Green Shadows, White Whale
From the Dust Returned
Let’s All Kill Constance
Farewell Summer

Which one do you recommend I read next? Do you have a favourite? What about his many short stories?

Fifth Helena Drive (Part 3)

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A short story by Lydia

In June of 1968, I returned home from my third year at Vanderbilt University. Mother still couldn’t cook; daddy still humoured her inability; and, my brother was engaged to some girl he met in New York, where he now lived as a junior copywriter. I had my own collection of books with me this time, and didn’t need to borrow his, though my tastes had changed a little over the years. A used and rather ratty copy of Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s lay at the bottom of my purse.

Our family home looked as it always did, white and full of light, surrounded by lush, green grass and flower beds. The wicker chair on the front porch had since been replaced by a new pink, plastic version but, for the most part, the general landscape of our house remained the same. Daddy still woke up early to scrounge for edible food, wore khaki pants on Sunday (and Sunday only), and listened to the radio for deals on BBQ accessories. And, surprisingly, Marilyn Monroe still made a few appearances at Garden Club meetings: “We used to have such lovely chats about vegetables, you know. She was an avid gardener – so sweet, such a shame.”

Anyhow, I arrived home on a Friday, conveniently for me. Daddy had somehow managed to convince my mother, now in her forties and resistant to change, to christen Friday spaghetti night (because it was the only thing she could make relatively well). It was during this visit that I discovered he spent more time at home, which was unexpected. There was less talk of clients at the dinner table and more curiosity about the lives of his two children. However this shift in focus occurred, I was happy to reap the rewards.

The kitchen smelled wonderfully of oregano and tomatoes. The table was set with cobalt blue plates and red gingham placemats, with paper napkins tucked under each fork. A carton of grapefruit juice, a bowl of pickles and another of grated cheese were set nicely around a giant platter of aromatic pasta.

“Gigi! You’re home!” She wrapped her arms around my neck in a limp but well-meaning hug.

“Wow, this looks fantastic,” I said, slightly shocked by how delicious it smelled. “And please don’t call me Gigi.” She insisted on using that horrific nickname.

“It’s adorable. Why not?”

“Because it’s not my name.”

“Oh, don’t be such a party pooper. You look like a Gigi. It must be the hair cut.” She was enthusiastically slicing some strawberries for a fruit salad. “Why wouldn’t you let your father pick you up at the airport? It’s on his way home from work.”

“Because, I wanted to take a taxi, run a few errands.”

“You shouldn’t take a taxi by yourself. This is California. You could get kidnapped… and they’re awfully expensive.” She let the first reason sit in the air awkwardly before offering the second to round out the logic of her sentence.

“Don’t worry. I paid for it myself,” trying to stay calm.

“Did those Hare Krishna’s try to give you flowers at the gate?”

“Yes,” I said, smiling at the trajectory of her concern, “but don’t worry, I didn’t accept.”

“Good.” She assembled the strawberries in a bowl and retrieved a pint of fresh blueberries from the refrigerator. “Errands? What kind of errands?” she pressed.

“Just, you know… Emily and I had a visit. She just had a baby, remember?” I didn’t bother to mention the idea percolating in my brain, the idea that compelled me to visit Marilyn Monroe’s gravesite ten minutes earlier, for added inspiration.

At the mention of babies, my mother grew wistful. “Of course I remember.” This was usually her cue to drop a hint that Debbie from Garden Club had a handsome single son graduating from law school, but she refrained, and I appreciated her effort. “How is she?”

“Happy,” I said, truthfully. “She looks really happy. Motherhood suits her well.”

We caught up on neighbourhood news for a few minutes until daddy walked through the door, briefcase in tow. After we exchanged kisses, hugs, and general pleasantries, we sat down to a shockingly yummy meal. Daddy could barely contain his excitement, and shoveled forkfuls of spaghetti into his mouth, generously sprinkled his pasta with cheese, and actually had a glass of juice instead of bourbon with his supper. Admittedly, I, too, was a little giddy when I discovered that each bite provided the perfect combination of spice and flavour. Mother was uncharacteristically overwhelmed by the compliments pouring from our mouths.

“Do you have any plans for the summer?” Daddy asked, lips red from sauce, a few drips on his tie.

I braced myself. “Well, actually, I meant to tell you…” I wasn’t sure how they would react. “I was thinking of doing some writing.”

“What kind of writing?”

“I didn’t want to say anything until I sold a couple of short stories, but I did, over the past few months… I thought I’d try my hand at a novel.” Their expressions didn’t appear shocked or disappointed, so I continued. “Of course, I have something more stable lined up. A friend at the Los Angeles Times got me a part-time gig as a fact checker.”

“A novel,” mother said, deadpanned, a glint of that familiar panic in her eyes again, “but why?”

“What do you mean why?” Daddy jumped to my defense. “She’s better than that Jacqueline Susann. Why couldn’t she write a book?”

I turned to him, feeling slightly faint. “You read my stories?”

He nodded, slurping a strand of spaghetti, “You know, the one about the willow tree. I liked it. What was her name again? Trixie Lee? I don’t know where you came up with that ridiculous name, but I thought you did a good job with that other character… Charlie something. The business man.”

“The willow tree! Where did you find that?” I asked, knowing that I’d tossed the entirety of my adolescent oeuvre into the trash two summers ago, which, up until that point, had been stored under lock and key. Only my brother and Emily had been allowed to read that story.

“I don’t know. I think it was on the kitchen table, so I read it. What’s the problem?”

“But…” I was about to ask who, what, where, when and why, but my mother cleared her throat before a word could be uttered.

“It doesn’t matter how he found the story. He just found it.” Her cheeks were pink and blotchy. “Don’t be such a drama queen. You leave your stuff lying around in a mess all the time. Foolish chatter, all of it.” But she stared at her plate intensely, and scratched the back of her neck, evidently embarrassed.

Silence descended upon the dinner table as we consumed our last bites. There was no other mention of my future novel, my new job at the Los Angeles Times, or the mysterious resurfacing of my childhood short stories. Instead, mother cleared the table in a huff, daddy retired to the living room to watch the news, and I spent twenty dust-infused minutes in my brother’s old room, scavenging for that Royal typewriter, which I eventually found under the bed. It took only another ten minutes to find some blank paper in the study, and set up in the sun room, where I wrote The Lemonade Stand six years earlier.

The first few pages were a slog, though my spelling, thankfully, was much better. Writing papers for school was much different from writing a novel, but eventually I found my stride. The following Wednesday, my brother called from New York to catch up. When I confessed my plans, he let out a squawk of laughter, but quickly assured me that he was rooting for me. “Get to the finish line, sis, and you’re halfway there. That’s the hardest part.”

The fact-checking job was on the safe side of boring, but my boss, Vic Newcomb, a handsome war vet with two missing toes, managed to keep the place exciting. I couldn’t walk by his office without being invited in for a morning coffee or an afternoon soda. It didn’t matter if I was on deadline; he insisted I come in to discuss an interesting article or book he’d read, the recent assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, or any other political topic that occurred to him. It was virtually impossible to end a conversation without confessing I’d get in trouble if I didn’t hand in my current assignment right away, to which he’d respond: “Visit again soon! I’ll save a seat for ya.”

But the majority of my time was spent writing in the sun room, a pack of Red Vines on my lap (for old times’ sake) and a dictionary propped open in my mother’s cookbook stand. Some chapters took longer than anticipated, while others practically wrote themselves. There was a satisfying little stack of pages beneath my chair, which slowly grew to nearly two inches in height. The plot was a little convoluted, but charming, I hoped.
It was called The Neighbour, about a young girl who lived next door to a famous actress, a young girl who would grow up to become a talented writer and create an iconic character for the actress to play. It wasn’t Marilyn Monroe, but close. Her name was Annabelle Waters, and she had almost-white hair, elegant hands, and the uncanny ability to look tragic and sad. Hollywood royalty.

I finished in August and sent the manuscript to my brother, who edited the first draft and peddled my work to every literary friend he had in New York. An elderly agent by the name of Phyllis Rosenfeld decided to take me on as a client, and eventually sold my first novel to Simon and Schuster for $2100. It wasn’t a fortune, but it was official. The Neighbour appeared on bookshelves the following summer, which coincided nicely with graduation without any orchestration on my part. Favorable reviews appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, and a few small newspapers in Phoenix, Tennessee, Albuquerque, and Vancouver.

Daddy was proud, but mother, I could tell, had mixed feelings about my success. I suppose, for her, it was the wrong kind of success. I didn’t have any children, nor was I a master of domestic bliss, but it did give her great, unending delight to know that I was engaged to Vic Newcomb, and was scheduled to marry over Christmas. When she learned that Newcomb came from a long line of successful doctors in Connecticut, mother could talk of nothing else but lace, tulle, flowers, and (tasteful, of course) cake toppers.

The resurrection of “Sleeping by the Willow Tree,” and the mystery of its current location, was never discussed again.

The End

Fifth Helena Drive (Part 2)

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A story by Lydia

On the evening of August 4, 1962, mother had cooked a semi-edible meal of chicken and creamed corn. The chicken was dry and shriveled, covered in an unidentifiable and unredeemable sauce the colour of shoe polish, but the corn had come from a can, and was therefore difficult to destroy. Daddy chewed heartily and smiled his appreciation, but reached for a sip of liquor between bites.

Having eaten only creamed corn and a bowl of cherry Jello-O for dinner, my stomach started to rumble with hunger around six o’clock the next morning. Being a sound sleeper, it was a rare occasion that I’d wake up before my parents, even during Christmas. It was a strange feeling. The sun streamed brilliantly through the window, and a few birds chirped enthusiastically. More surprisingly, the house was peaceful and quiet. My brother was always playing music or clomping with heavy feet from one room to another, so the silence and early hour took some time to register in my foggy brain. When I lifted my head from the pillow, the mattress squeaked worryingly loud. I was tempted to hiss “Shhh!” at the bed.

A stack of movie magazines, borrowed from Emily, sat atop my night stand, along with my pencil and notebook, just in case I needed to jot down a clever idea at a moment’s notice. Out of habit, I glanced at my desk to ensure the safety of my masterpiece, and I noticed that my poster of Gregory Peck was falling down, and had partially covered my most prized possession: an autographed photograph of Marlon Brando. That would have to be fixed immediately.

Still in a slight stupor, I stumbled out of bed and found my tape dispenser, re-affixed Gregory to the wall, and unveiled Marlon’s stunning eyes. Beyond my window, which offered a pleasant view of the front yard and Marilyn’s gated driveway, a cluster of police cars were parked along the sleepy street. A few men in dark suits lingered with cigarettes. Just as I was wondering how they could wear heavy, wool jackets in the sweltering heat, a couple of them shrugged off the heavy material and rolled up their sleeves. Another man appeared from behind the gate, visibly loosening his tie.

I opened the window, but their muffled words were caught in the breeze. There was a lot of “Yes, sir,” and “Write that down,” and “Is he here yet?” The expressions on their faces were somber and grim, confused. They shrugged their shoulders often. Most of the police officers had removed their hats. One fumbled with a candy bar wrapper, took a bite, and looked around at his colleagues with a strange wide-eyed shock.

When I leaned against the window frame, straining to hear their conversation, one of them noticed and nodded acknowledgment in my direction. My cheeks filled with colour at being discovered, but when I lifted my hand in a half-mast wave, he responded with a respectful salute and eye contact, before returning to his work.

Someone muttered something about a lawyer, or a corner. A corner of what? Or, maybe they meant coroner? My heart nearly stopped when I heard the word, “dead” or some variation thereof. It was either, “Is she dead?” or “Time of death?” I was certain it had been part of a question, because, whoever spoke, had allowed the word to pop emphatically into the air, and trail into a whisper. But that was absurd. Marilyn lived there. Marilyn couldn’t be dead. Maybe her housekeeper was sick.

The cluster of hatless policemen and jacketless detectives convened around the squad car, talking quietly, hands on hips, writing notes, smoking more cigarettes, their hair shaken lose from slick pomade, before disappearing altogether behind the gated property.

Curiosity pulsating, I yanked my bedroom door open from its screaming hinges, and carelessly allowed the handle to bang against the wall. A rustle of sheets came from behind my parent’s bedroom door, some whispers, a few light footsteps. This was in the back of my mind when I scurried down the steps two at a time and poked my nose through the living room curtains. The polyester fabric was atrociously stiff and uncomfortable against my cheek, but it didn’t matter. My eyes honed in on the squad cars out front, which had somehow multiplied in the seconds since I left my room. I stared in silence for nearly ten minutes.

“What the hell are you doing up so early?” I looked up to see daddy, who stood on the carpeted landing, dressed gallantly in his typical Sunday clothes: no tie, plaid button up shirt, tucked into a plain pair of khaki pants, hair combed with precision. Mother would’ve scolded him for swearing in front of me. She would’ve insisted he correct himself with “heck” or “h-e-double-hockey-sticks.”

Hunger forgotten, I poked a finger at the window. “There are police cars out front.”

“Police cars? What for?”

“They’re in front of Marilyn’s house.”

He raised his eyebrows. “Marilyn’s house? Did she get robbed?”

I shook my head, trying to convey severity of the highest order. “No, I think she’s dead.”

Dad scoffed, went into the kitchen and turned on the light. “Don’t be ridiculous. Marilyn Monroe is not dead. Would you like a glass of juice?”

“Yeah, but…” I tried to justify my hunch but he wasn’t listening, so I followed him into the kitchen, sat at the table and propped my chin with my fist.

He was poking around in the refrigerator, pushing jars and bowls around, clattering until he found some raspberry preserves. “Do you know where your mother put the biscuits?” Now he was opening the cupboards, one after the other. He located a jar of peanut butter, smiled with delight and let out a secretive and gleeful “hee hee” as if he were doing something naughty. “I’m starving,” he finally confessed.

Join the club.

His clear, sober brown eyes stared at me expectantly. “Well? Do you know where your mother put the biscuits?”

Knowing he was a lost cause, I slid from my chair and went to the pantry, and pointed up at the box of biscuits from Hillside Bakery. Dad ate two, slathered in preserves and peanut butter, before mother woke up to whip up her traditional burnt eggs, black bacon, and seed-filled (but freshly squeezed) orange juice.

Watching mother cook was always entertaining, and this morning was no different. Dressed in an impeccable white dress with a cinched waist, she somehow managed to avoid spilling grease or citrus on the blindingly clean cotton. The food might’ve been atrociously over cooked, but despite her failures in the kitchen, mother reveled in her domestic domain. The irony is what so captivated me.

When I mentioned the police cars out front, she became instantly distracted, and nearly knocked the pitcher of juice off the counter. “Police cars? At Marilyn’s? I hope the poor thing is alright,” mother cooed with feigned familiarity.

“I don’t think so,” I said. “I heard the police. It sounds serious.”

“What were you doing listening to their conversation? It’s not polite to snoop.”

That was rich. Garden Club was just another opportunity to gossip. Any member who couldn’t attend a meeting became an instant target for those who could. I simply rolled my eyes in response. “I wasn’t snooping. I woke up hungry and heard them talking.”

“Well if you’d eaten the chicken, you wouldn’t have woken up hungry. It was perfectly good chicken.”

My father and I snuck a glance at one another. We chose not to challenge this comment. Instead, I wandered from the kitchen, surreptitiously slithered into the pantry for a biscuit and escaped to the front porch with my prize. Neighbours had gathered outside, talking and pointing; some even approached the police to ask for more information. The one who had saluted me was fielding all the requests. He shook his head emphatically and propped his hands sternly on his hips. No one could get past him.

Seeing the futility in trying to milk the police for details, I curled up on a wicker deck chair, nibbled thoughtfully on the biscuit, and watched in awe as the various officials went about their business. There was a lump in my throat, an ominous certainty that something was wrong. I saw Marilyn’s housekeeper, Eunice, who looked very much alive and well, walking the grounds with a severe looking man in a too-big black suit.

The sun had risen completely by now, and bathed the towering trees in golden, summer light. A family of squirrels, perhaps the same one who betrayed me at our July 4th BBQ, scampered across the front lawn in search of treasure, their bushy tails swishing in unexpectedly graceful arcs. The summer was in full, traditional bloom. But the drama unfolding across the street changed everything.

Stay tuned for the conclusion of Fifth Helena Drive…

Another classic King bloodbath

salems lotWithout any conscious coordination, the summer was spent reading a great deal of Stephen King. First, The Shining; then, Just After Sunset (review to come); and, most recently, ‘Salem’s Lot. Although I don’t know how I could, I had forgotten that ‘Salem’s Lot is a vampire book, in the tradition of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Never having been a considerable fan of Stoker, I wasn’t sure what to expect from King’s reinterpretation on the bloodsucker myth.

Upon reading the first few chapters, I was reminded why King is often compared to Dickens; his ability to create a sweeping cast of characters, all individual and interesting, is more than impressive. The main leads, Ben Mears and Susan Norton, are not the only ones to drive the story. The reader is introduced, one at a time, to the various, somewhat scandalous, inhabitants of Jerusalem’s Lot. We meet the residents of Eva’s boarding house, the heavy-handed realtor, an alcoholic priest, an English high school teacher, a family physician, and even a few of their peripheral neighbours. One is having an affair, another beats her baby. (Hey, I didn’t say they were upstanding citizens.)

It is Ben, a writer, however, who is at the center of the plot: his childhood memories, his developing relationship with the doomed Susan, and his experiences fighting evil in his hometown, where the Marsten House sits and decays in the landscape, waiting. He has returned to Jerusalem’s Lot to make peace with his past, and hopefully find some inspiration for his next novel. Meanwhile, something dark is at work, seething, readying itself. In between glimpses of this dark thing, and the townsfolk going about their business, we follow Ben as he develops a relationship with Susan, a young artist in the making, and gets started on his new project.

Slowly, that dark thing takes shape, and begins to make its mark. People disappear and die; those who are willing to accept the truth of the matter arm themselves with the proper paraphernalia (stakes, holy water, religious icons, etc.). Then the story tumbles to a rather bloody and gruesome ending. It’s virtually impossible for a vampire story, unless it’s Twilight, to end happily, so be prepared for a body count worthy of the most gory slasher films.

Also, you might be surprised to know that ‘Salem’s Lot provides some interesting philosophical and religious discussions. The notion of good and evil is a recurring theme in most of King’s novels, but he finds really unique ways to encourage debate, and he never comes right out and articulates his position on one side or the other. The scene between Father Callahan and Barlow is especially captivating, a mental picture you won’t forget.

One last observation: Bonnie Sawyer’s storyline, who happens to be one of the peripheral townsfolk, is probably one of the most gruesome threads. And yet, her fate is not the responsibility of the dark thing; her husband is. I couldn’t help but wonder if the “evil that men do” is almost as bad, perhaps worse, than the supernatural. And of course, we can’t forget Sandy McDougall, whose behavior was horribly violent from the beginning. No interference required.

‘Salem’s Lot was a solid book (actually, 600+ pages of solid book). While The Shining remains my favourite King of all time, this re-imagined tale of Dracula is still top notch storytelling.

Fifth Helena Drive (Part 1)

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This idea has been kicking around for awhile, but I just recently decided to experiment with incorporating a real event into fiction. I have no idea how historically accurate this would be, beyond the street name and general timing of Marilyn Monroe’s death. Indeed she did live on Fifth Helena Drive,  and had a housekeeper by the name of Eunice (whom, according to reports, she didn’t get along with very well). The house, from what I gather, did have a privacy wall/gate structure, so I tried to set the scene as realistically as I could, and filled in the gaps with my imagination and hopefully realistic interpretations of hearsay. Enjoy!

A short story by Lydia

Mother liked to boast that we lived across the street from Marilyn Monroe. Every friend or relative and, quite frankly, each visitor to cross our threshold heard the same transparent speech: “We had a lovely chat about vegetables, you know. She’s an avid gardener – so sweet.”

I’m not sure why mother cared, because she dismissed The Misfits as “too moody” and The Seven Year Itch as “completely inappropriate.” In 1962, I was fourteen, and still mildly obedient, so I wasn’t able to verify these condemnations with my own eyes. Instead, I planted myself on the front deck, sipped a tumbler of lemonade, and hid behind a giant pair of tortoiseshell sunglasses with a copy of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. Perhaps I could draw Marilyn out of the house that way, or catch her attention as she drove home, the sight of my book compelling her to come over and discuss the literary accomplishments of her ex-husband with a complete stranger. But, no, surprisingly, that tactic never worked.

Despite the failed plan, my exposure to Miller wasn’t a complete waste of time. I eventually developed a fascination with the art of playwriting and attempted to compose my own masterpiece. It was called The Lemonade Stand, 122 pages of painstakingly typed pages, unbearably verbose and melodramatic. My older brother, who fancied himself a young, undiscovered Dashiell Hammett, loaned me his Royal typewriter, and so the adventure began. He watched over my shoulder as I struggled with spelling, correcting me as I wrote, which, as you can imagine, was exceptionally irritating. Thankfully, he met a girl at the record store and redirected his attention for several weeks in July.

Most mornings were spent in the sun room, pecking away at the keys, with a bowl of soggy Corn Flakes by my side. During these creative sessions, my mother sat on the back terrace, sipping a cup of tea, munching on digestive cookies, trying not to give me the stink eye. She was puzzled by my sudden interest in the arts. What a disaster: first her son, now her daughter wanted to become the next great American writer. Even more troublesome, I had completely lost interest in the neighborhood Garden Club, which met every Monday and Thursday afternoon to discuss perennials, soil, and the peculiar fascination of trimming one’s rose bush.

It was at these meetings that Marilyn made several imaginary appearances, in the form of regurgitated conversations my mother liked to repeat for each new member of the club. “She gave me a basket of fresh tomatoes for July Fourth, as a present. We were inviting Theodore’s business associates for a festive picnic, you see, and I mentioned how popular my summer salad has become, so she volunteered the produce!”

I had no way of validating such statements, but they sounded suspiciously exaggerated to my young ears. The only interaction with Marilyn to which I was actually witness was when the curvy bombshell crossed the street to ask our housekeeper, Trudy, if a parcel had been delivered to our house by mistake. It hadn’t, so Trudy shook her head with apology and promised to “keep our eyes peeled,” just in case. I remember sitting on the front stoop thinking what a bizarre saying that was. The thought of peeling my eyes, like an orange or banana, sounded grotesque and painful. Who would say such a thing?

“Oh, well, thanks anyway,” Marilyn had said, readjusted her stylish loafers, waved her elegant hand in my direction, and sauntered off. I watched, entranced, her short almost-white hair bobbing in the light California breeze, until it disappeared behind the high wall of her private home. It was a short encounter, but it was revealing enough to tell me how unlikely it was my mother said anything more than “hello” and “good morning” to our famous neighbor, if at all.
For instance, I was very aware of how distasteful my mother thought blondes. She herself was a plain brunette and seemed to harbor a jealousy, a theory I developed because every blonde maid we hired was fired within a month. Trudy, on the other hand, had a stylish but subdued black bob, and that summer was nearing the end of her third year of consistent employment in our household. Apparently, blondes were “easily distracted” by the man of the house and “less committed” to the work. Trudy was praised as “reliable” and “economical,” all of which was true, but hardly the result of hair color.

Mother needn’t have worried, though. Daddy was too preoccupied, and rarely here long enough to get attached to anyone, blonde or otherwise. Three minutes for breakfast behind the Los Angeles Times and fifteen distracted minutes at the dinner table, during which he sipped more amber-colored liquid than I cared to measure. At first I thought it was apple juice, but discovered my mistake when he leaned in to kiss my forehead and I was forced to inhale a waft of stale, alcoholic fumes.

Anyhow, I doubted Marilyn had brought us a basket of tomatoes, and mother’s supposedly infamous summer salad was tasteless and mushy, as usual. She had a very high opinion of her own cooking, which was a pity because she approached kitchen work with such joyful, jolly gusto. It gave her great pleasure to mix milk and eggs and flour with a whisk, wrap her slender waist in a floral apron, and lean over the counter to read recipe directions from a trendy women’s magazine, the pages of which were splattered with past attempts. Regardless, I gave my bowl of her salad to the squirrels. Sadly, they didn’t want it either, and my ploy was discovered.

One thing I wished I’d had the nerve to mention: there was a part in The Lemonade Stand I’d written specifically for Marilyn. On more than one occasion, I’d considered wrapping the stack of typed paper in some ribbon and leaving it in her mailbox, but then quickly dismissed the idea as corny and half-baked. She would’ve been perfect as Penny, the lonely school teacher who stops by the titular lemonade stand with her miniature schnauzer in tow, reminiscing about days and memories gone by. Marilyn was good at looking sad and tragic.

Needless to say, my play never made it to Broadway. Rather, I conducted a handful of friends through the tedious story in my backyard for an audience of ten, comprised of various mothers and fathers from the neighborhood, my brother, who had by then lost interest in the record store girl, and Trudy. No one could memorize their lines, and we all had to share the original and carbon copies, so the resulting performance was somewhat garbled; and we continuously spilled the pitcher of lemonade because the grassy earth was so uneven beneath the folding table. Halfway through, my mother asked, “How much longer is this play? There’s a ham in the oven.”

When the performance finally concluded, we bowed deeply, a few of us more enthusiastic than others. William could hardly wait to get out of costume because the fake mustache was horribly itchy, while Emily, who was cast as sorrowful Penny, lingered in her pink dress, petting the head of a stuffed dog, a stand-in for the miniature schnauzer. (We tried to lure William’s Pomeranian onto our makeshift stage for some added realism but its attention span was worse than our audience’s.)

My mother smiled politely at what I can only assume she thought was diatribe, and clutched at Trudy’s shirtsleeve, as if she were panicking that my creative ambition would somehow ruin me for marriage, because I’d already spent myself on something so unworthy and would have nothing left for real women’s work. My brother, on the other hand, was impressed and, to my surprise, was amused by the story. He thought it was “aces” and gave me a hard, rather jarring slap on the back.

Though my first play was never destined for success, my newfound interest in writing kick-started a series of short stories, all of which somehow incorporated Marilyn, and versions of her, as the main character. First there was Beverly in “The Starlet,” a blonde actress with a secret daughter from a shameful past. Then I wrote a story called “Trigger Happy” about Maura, a waitress with horribly bad luck in men. Of course, I could never forget my favourite: Trixie Lee, the beautiful mistress of a movie executive who commits suicide in my twenty-five page masterpiece, “Sleeping by the Willow Tree.” It took a day of contemplation, a pack of Red Vines, and a lazy game of Monopoly to come up with the character’s name, and another hour of serious gum-chewing for the flaky title. They were agonizing decisions and required much concentration.

To explain the absurd plotlines, I had been pilfering my brother’s collection of novels at the time, which included The Glass Key and The Postman Always Rings Twice. As a result, the inspiration behind my suddenly prolific and productive summer was somewhat sensational. One afternoon, he noticed the gap on his bookshelf and raised a suspicious eyebrow, but never got angry because I always returned his novels in the same meticulous condition he insisted upon keeping them. I was very careful not to crack the spine, dog-ear the pages or eat wet and messy food while reading his precious books.

Thankfully, mother had no clue. She would’ve put a stop to all that “flim-flam” immediately. That’s what she used to call most books, movies, and culture: “flim-flam,” and, of course, her favourite catch phrase, “foolish chatter.” Everything, except for Garden Club, Family Circle Magazine, and daddy’s business associates, was “foolish chatter.” So, for her own good, and my peace of mind, she wasn’t allowed to meet Beverly, Maura or Trixie Lee. I locked the evidence in the drawer of my roll-top desk for safekeeping.

Stay tuned for part 2…

Dude, great news. Fear Street is back!

Fear Street

When I was growing up in the early 90s, I spent countless hours reading the Fear Street series by R.L. Stine. I’m amazed my mother never stopped to wonder why the hell I forever had my nose in a book plastered with a pulpy picture of a damsel in distress, but she encouraged any and all reading. As a result, I amassed quite a collection. Unfortunately, I didn’t keep all of them, but a few sentimental titles remain at the bottom of my closet. So, you can imagine my excitement when I learned that R.L. Stine was going to revive Fear Street at the end of September with six new books! Apparently, a flurry of fans on Twitter asked for more and, when a publisher expressed interest, he started to write. The September release is called Party Games, and promises to deliver the same “thrills and chills” fans used to enjoy as kids. To be completely honest, most Fear Street books aren’t scary in the traditional Stephen King sense, but they’re their draw is the lure of safe scares, nostalgia, and PG-13 mystery. R.L. Stine was always a master of comedy and surprise endings, a talent I’m sure that has matured and changed over the past twenty years since the last volume of Fear Street was published. Either way, I very much look forward to reading Party Games, and returning to Shadyside.

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The resuscitation of old school 90s trends did not start with R.L. Stine. Everyone’s favourite blonde twins, Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield, were revived in Sweet Valley Confidential, and apparently Diablo Cody is creating a Sweet Valley High Musical. Seriously. I couldn’t believe it either. Having been a devoted fan of the Sweet Valley franchise well into junior high, this was B.I.G. news. Unfortunately, when I caught wind of the plot line, I decided to let my memories remain unsullied. Sometimes, it just doesn’t work. Fear Street, though, might not have the same problem because it’s episodic with no recurring characters, so the attachment is more to the place (Shadyside High) and the freaky occurrences on Fear Street, than to specific people. Fingers crossed.

If you could revive anything from your childhood (books, TV, movies) what would it be?