Monday, May 28, 2012

It's Memorial Day!

Take the day off and have some fun.  Pray for our brave military men and women.  Spend some time with your families.  Just don't bring them to the bookstore, that's where I'll be.  (Don't feel too sorry for me, I'm making time-and-a-half, but let's not make this day any crazier than it has to be.)  I'll be back next week.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Old St. Nik, Part 10

Nik hated the feeling of being lost.  He had built his own compound, trained and trusted his reindeer, and alway knew where to go to face another battle.  Being lost was foreign, feeling powerless was totally unfamiliar.  He was angry, with Abbess for running away, and with himself for letting her and not knowing what she wanted.  But most of all, he realized, he was angry with God.  As he struggled and fought the wind, he imagined he was wrestling God Himself, and began to pray as he had never prayed before.  "God, I am angry with You," he started.  "You made me this way, You set me on this path, You forced this life on me and then You never help me!  None of Your angels speak to me anymore!  I can't get by without Abbess and she runs away and You're not helping me find her!  I do not understand what you want from me!  I do not understand this life you have given me!  I do not understand YOU!"   Nik was nearly exhausted, and he was building to a conclusion that scared him, as badly as he wanted it, "God, I don't understand You, and I HATE this life YOU have FORCED ME into!"  Nik stopped in his tracks as he shouted into the swirling wind.  "I HATE YOU GOD!  I HATE YOU AND EVERYTHING YOU'VE EVER DONE FOR ME!  I QUIT!  FUCK YOU GOD!  LET SOMEONE ELSE SERVE YOUR SILENT, DEAF, INDIFFERENT ASS!"  

Now totally spent, Nik let the strong wind push him down into the snow, and he fell asleep.  He dreamed of his childhood, an endless loop of one moment, over and over.  He reached over to the cradle where his crying sister lay squirming, and as he he pushed gently, the cradle rocked, and his his sister quieted, and fell asleep.  When he woke the next morning, he found himself lying on the ground, in the center of a beam of sunlight, surrounded by a patch of thick, soft grass dotted with tiny yellow and pink flowers.  He was dry and warm.  There was a name and a place in his head.  Margaret Brown, Chicago.  When he stood up, the sunbeam moved ahead of him through the snow, in the diction he should go.  He followed it until he could see the compound, half-buried in snow as deep as himself.  As he drew closer, he saw the children were working to clear the snow, and the few nuns scattered around helping, or giving orders.  As he approached, they all bowed, and he told them, "Keep working."  As soon as he passed, they did.

He went into his house, and his breakfast was waiting for him.  He ate quickly, and went upstairs to change.  When he was finished, he went to the stables, and the reindeer greeted him warmly.  The stable boys bowed.  He went back outside and began to help with the last of the shoveling.  The physical labor helped dampen the nagging worry at the back of his mind.  He hoped, he even prayed, that Abbess had been shown God's mercy as he had, but did not have the courage to go look for her.  Deep down, he knew that if she had come home alive, she would have sought him out already, probably to start another fight.  It was easier to hold onto the hope that she had survived if he did not give himself any reason to doubt, but that strategy did not last long.

Nik was forced to face the truth as he prepared to leave for Chicago.  No matter how busy or angry she was, Abbess had never let Nik leave without saying goodbye.  So when Abbess did not come out to see him off this time, he knew she was dead.  He tucked the furs around himself with uncharacteristic heaviness.  He wondered if knowing she was gone would affect his fight, and decided it would, and that he was ready to lose.  He paused for a moment before starting off, and looked around his compound.  They had all survived a day without Abbess, but how long could they go on without her commanding, organized touch?  And how long would any of them survive without him?  Would the reindeer know to go home without him if he was defeated?  What would be left to greet them if they did?

Finally he could put it off no longer.  He called to the reindeer to take off, and as they flew through the cold, clear night full of stars, Nik cried silently for himself, for Abbess, and for his faithful reindeer.  By the time they landed in front of a three-storey Victorian relic falling apart on the south side of Chicago, Nik was determined to survive this fight, to survive as many fights as it took, to live long enough to arrange his affairs. He would not have anyone suffer at his death.  He came back to himself, and realized how much he hated loose ends.  If he was going to end this life of service to the unknowable, inscrutable God, he was going to make sure he would take all the punishment for himself alone.  But first, he just had to get through this fight.  He drew his sword and approached the front door of the huge, listing house.     

Monday, May 14, 2012

Old St. Nik, Part 9

The trip back went badly.  As he crossed the arctic circle, Nik flew into a snowstorm that raged for the rest of the trip.  The reindeer knew the way, though, and Nik let them lead completely.  But the ride was rough, and by the time they landed in the middle of the compound, Nik felt badly shaken.  Abbess met him, as always, but her face was still stern from their fight earlier.  "Have you figured out what it is that's bothering you yet?"  He asked her.

"Let's go inside," she said, the snow swirling around her habit.

"No," he replied.  "The storm is passing, and I want to finish this before I go in and try and relax."  The reindeer drove the sleigh into the stable. 

"Well, I hate to think my bad mood would follow you the rest of the night," secretly, though she was glad to know for certain that her moods affected him, "but I'm cold, and I'd rather talk inside.  I figured out what I want.  I want to be warm.  There's nothing warm here.  Not the weather, not the snow, not the people, not even the fires.  I'm cold all the time.  Aren't you cold?  You're alone most of the time."

"Well, if the people here are so cold, then why would it matter if I'm alone most of the time?"

"Aren't you lonely?"  She asked.

"Yes, so what?"

She stepped back from him, shocked into silence.  He continued, "I never asked for this life, and I don't always like it.  But it is my calling, I have to do what God orders, and every morning I get orders.  You didn't have to stay.  You chose this life.  Why are you complaining?  At least you have a choice."

"What would you do if I wanted out?"  She asked.

"You won't leave," he rolled his eyes and threw back his head in frustration.  The wind picked up.

"Would you take me up in the sleigh again?  Would you dump me wherever you go tomorrow night?  She felt enraged, backed into a corner by his confession of loneliness, and overwhelmed by his decision to do nothing about it.  She knew she was baiting him deliberately, but couldn't seem to stop herself.  The heat of her own anger was the only comfort she had felt in several days, and she could not help but pull it close around herself.  The storm intensified with her emotions, and dimly she realized how dangerous it was to still be outside.

"You don't really want that," he shouted over the wind.  "You don't really want to leave."

"Watch me!"  She spun around and took a step away from him, and was immediately swallowed by a strong gust and swirl of blowing snow.  Nik tried to follow in the direction he thought she went, but as the wind whipped the snow into a total whiteout, he could only stretch out his arms and hope he was still following her.  The cold was getting to him through his torn suit, and she was smaller and faster than him.  He was all alone, and in minutes he had no idea where he was.

Abbess also was all alone and lost, and colder than she had ever been.  The rush of anger had worn off, and now she just felt cold and sorry for herself.  Why had she wandered away?  Why hadn't she just asked him for what she wanted?  Why hadn't she just asked him for the warmth and companionship she craved?  She tried to keep walking, but she was tired and fighting the wind.  She kept on determinedly for a while, thinking of all the things she deserved, trying to stay angry and righteous, but she started to feel more and more sleepy, and more and more sorry, and putting one foot in front of the other became a painful effort.  The wind felt like being stabbed, and the knowledge of the huge mistake she made stabbed deeper, but eventually it stopped hurting as her face and arms and legs went numb.  She fell over her own feet.  She was too sleepy to get up.  She curled into a ball on the ground.  The snow was soft.  As she fell asleep, she felt an illusion of warmth, and thought that every thing would be alright.  She did not wake up.  

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

My Hair is Magic.

1 Corinthians 13: 11-12, 1 Timothy 4: 7

It all started when I was thirteen.  My mother finally left my psycho stepfather, and we moved into a one bedroom apartment together.  No money, no furniture, no TV, no privacy.  It was a dark time in a lot of ways (thirteen usually is).  A friend of ours, a trained stylist, decided to do something nice for us.  She came over and gave us free haircuts.  When my mother wasn't looking, I decided to go shorter than I ever had, all the way up to my shoulders.