Serial Story, Chapter 2

She dined that night, as always, with her sister Tatiana, a pretty and petulant seventeen-year-old, the only blood relative she had left other than her uncle Balthazar. Tatiana’s perennial guest, a fourteen-year-old schoolfriend named Liliyah, also dined with them that night, doing studious justice to the fresh peas, breast of chicken, and butter sauce adorning Cassia’s table. Cassia’s mind was racing in a hundred directions; she felt anxious and tired. But she attempted to shake it off, tried to be charmed once again by the spare, carefully appointed room, decorated by her own hand, but neither the table with its silver dishes and snowy linen, nor the furnishings with their pale-blue-and-gilt color scheme, nor even the vase of fresh cherry blossom branches, heralding the spring, could ease her thoughts. She had a headache.

Meanwhile, Tatiana chattered volubly, her words a spring of bubbling excitement.

“…brought me a bouquet of jonquils, and said I was like a jonquil.” She sighed rapturously. Cassia willed herself not to wince. She knew that Tatiana spoke of Finnian, for whom she had long cherished a secret crush. Now that she approached womanhood– or rather, had reached it, Cassia realized with a pang–it seemed that Finnian had begun to notice her, in return. Cassia could not tell whether his interest was anything more than an attempt to further ingratiate himself into the life of the house, but she doubted it. What would an urbane, power-hungry man like Finnian have to gain from a boring flirtation with a naive, chocolate-box debutante like Tati? In his position, women were easy to come by, and more sophisticated, less protected ones than Balthazar’s sheltered niece. A frown creased her brow. Or was she, Cassia, being naive? Surely innocence had had its charm since time immemorial. Stifling these disturbing thoughts and the accompanying host of unwelcome memories that whispered for attention, she doggedly turned her attention to Liliyah, who now spoke.

“But how charming! Truly you have caught his eye.” Liliyah said, swallowing a mouthful of chicken and sauce and dabbing a napkin daintily at the corners of her lips with real skill, so as not to disturb her makeup. For a moment, Cassia forgot the conversation as, for the umpteenth time, she assessed the arresting face of the “Russian Doll.” 

Painted an almost pure, matte, white, with blush-pink lips, Liliyah’s fragile oval face was perfect in every feature. Her luminous blue eyes were carefully outlined in silvery eye makeup that made them appear, from a distance, as large in her face as a doll’s; up close, the trompe l’oeil was somehow doubly charming, a pleasing charade rather than a farce. So also was her scarlet smock, tied over a blue-and-white eyelet frock that was tightly corseted at the waist, creating the illusion of impossible fragility from a distance, and yet appearing tantalizingly, well, adult up close. Cassia shook her head slightly. Liliyah was the daughter of a house of geishas, purchased by them in infancy and given a delicate, but strenuous, upbringing. As yet she had not assumed the status of a true geisha, and Cassia was glad. She found that mode of life unacceptable somehow, a travesty of her idea of womanhood, although in truth the geishas seemed disdainfully pleased with their status in society, and certainly they bought their fair share of luxury with the generous payments received for their companionship.

At fourteen, Liliyah was three years from her adulthood, but was, in the fashion of the geisha, making a name for herself already. A schoolfriend of many of society’s uppermost young ladies, she was invited to many parties and dinners, where her charming manners and blossoming beauty were much admired. By the time she reached the age of majority her position would be secure, and many would be the offers of protection that came her way.

Now, Tatiana colored slightly. Her downcast eyes betrayed the defiant set of her chin as she announced, “Now, you must be my advisor in this matter, Lili.”

Cassia’s head shot up; she leveled a shocked, angry stare at Tati, her eyes narrowing and her brows drawing down fiercely. Tatiana pretended to assemble a forkful of peas, her face impassive. For her part, Lili remained absolutely still, looking from one sister to the other, assessing the situation and her own role in it. Carefully, she laid down her fork.

“Perhaps that will not be necessary.” She said simply. “You seem already to have charmed him completely, dear Tati.” In the midst of her angry disbelief, Cassia found herself nevertheless sparing a modicum of grudging admiration for Lili’s diplomacy. She grew less tense, but remained angry. Clearly, she had failed as an older sister these past few years, if the silly girl thought she could ensnare Finnian with the arts of the geisha; it was time for a serious talk before some kind of– of scandal occurred. Not for the first time, she felt like a fool for allowing Lili to become such a regular part of their lives. 

It was true that Lili was only a child, and yet she was also much more a woman of the world than Tati, or even than Cassia. She was only a schoolgirl, three years younger than Tati, and yet she possessed a maturity and resolve that,in all frankness, Tati seemed unlikely ever to achieve. She was biddable, good-natured, and well-behaved, and yet here was proof that her influence on Tati was dangerous.

Cassia’s head ached worse than ever.

Seeming to sense this, Lili gave a small cough, rising to her feet. “I beg you would excuse me,” she said to Cassia, who acknowledged her with a wary nod. “Guests who linger overlong may not receive another invitation!” Her light, trilling voice brought a smile to all of their faces, easing the tension further.

“Don’t be silly,” Cassia returned automatically. “Of course you are always welcome, Lili. You must excuse me, however: I have a headache.”

“Then I hope it will leave you soon.” Liliyah bowed her head respectfully. “Good night, Miss Cassia.” She circled the table to quickly embrace Tatiana; the two girls smiled and squeezed their eyes shut simultaneously as they hugged.

“Good night, Tati.” 

“I’ll see you out.” Said Tati, rising. Her plate was hardly touched. Together they left the room. Cassia waited only a moment before she rose, wearily, and retired to bed.

*                        *                      *

The morning dawned gray and brooding, perfect for her errand. Cassia hurried to dress in her plainest garments, threw her basket over one arm, and made her way down the deserted alley just outside her private entrance. It was not far to the market, but once there, she hurried through the thin crowd of gray-faced stallholders, setting up for the day, making her way to a dingy side-street. Soon, she was knocking on the familiar door, meeting the familiar, suspecting eyes through the small window, and stepping through the door into the fusty warmth of Padgett’s bookshop. No one knew she came here, except Tati, who only rolled her eyes and grudgingly kept this a secret, scolding Cassia for her questionable tastes. But like the panelled door, Padgett’s drew Cassia irresistably. She dreaded the day it closed down. 

But this morning, the proprietor seemed to hover just out of her line of sight, instead of resuming his usual seat behind stacks of crumbling papers and broken hardbacks. Finally, Cassia had to address this unusual behavior.

“Padgett?” She murmured inquiringly, if rather vaguely. Then she ran a finger thoughtfully down the spine of a dusty volume before pulling it decisively from the shelf, flipping it open, and frowning at the first page. 

The bookseller, obscured by a tangled assortment of ragged garments, fidgeted with his hat. His lined face, punctuated chiefly by a bulbous, ruddy nose and nicotine-stained mustache, registered a look of acute anxiety. Cassia frowned more deeply, looking up.

“Padgett, what is it?” Her voice was not unkind, but Padgett only rendered her an anguished stare, chewing his lip. Cassia closed the book, darting a glance through the small window of the shop. Seeing nothing, she approached Padgett cautiously, as one might approach a small child or strange dog, not wishing to alarm.

“Should I leave? Are we being watched?” She whispered.

Even as she said it, she rejected the idea as insufficient to cause the alarm in Padgett’s small and blurry eyes. Padgett was a bookseller, and although his profession was frowned upon, it was technically legal until the current resolution facing the Regional Empirical Council passed. A raid for illegal materials was possible, and certainly bookseller and customer were anxious to avoid that humiliating inconvenience– it would make running his shabby, semi-secret shop more difficult for Padgett, and greatly restrict Cassia’s freedom. But whatever caused the ordinarily shy, backward Padgett to stare anxiously into Cassia’s eyes, silently struggling with words, was much more than an inconvenience.

Finally, he gave up on words. Dropping his eyes from hers with relief, he shambled across the room to a shelf, taking down a brittle paperback and turning its pages with expertise. Cassia glanced from him to the window once more; all she saw was rain, and the the tattered hanging laundry of a neighboring woman going to ruin in the downpour.

Then Padgett was at her side again, silently holding the open book before her eyes. Cassia blinked, and then squinted at the pages, reading rapidly.

     Then Wang Lung rose up, slowly and half dazed, and he set the girl child down and he went out and there before the great iron            gates of the rich man’s house a multitude of clamoring common people pressed forward, howling together the deep, tigerish howl          that he had heard, rising and swelling out of the streets, and he knew that at the gates of all rich men there pressed this howling          multitude of men and women who had been starved and imprisoned and now were for the moment free to do as they would. And          the great gates were ajar and the people pressed forward so tightly packed together that foot was on foot and body wedged tightly      against body so that the whole mass moved together as one. Others hurrying from the back caught Wang Lung and forced him            into the crowd so that whether he would or not, he was taken forward with them…

She left off reading. Openmouthed, she slowly looked over the top of the book’s pages into Padgett’s pleading face. 

“You must make plans.” He said, his voice a dry wind through the leaves.

The Emerging Progressive Nature of Conservative Killer Pants

kthorpe:

This lady… I could read her blog forever.

Originally posted on The Pharisee in Me:

SWEATER PANTS.

I kid you not.http://www.elle.com/fashion/trend-reports/top-fall-2014-trends#slide-3

Yes, you heard me right—sweater pants, aka swants, are some kind of idiotic fashion rage, somewhere. Certainly not here–but somewhere.

I would bet menopausal women everywhere are groaning with horror at the very idea of wearing something impossible to strip oneself of at a moment’s notice. Of wearing something that promotes a feeling not unlike having a hot flash while wearing a fur parka inside a Finnish sauna that has an unresponsive doorknob to the outside.

Owing to a painful and fractured fashion history, I do not jump on the in-style bandwagon any more. I no longer take chances with trends. Not me, nosirree. I’ve learned the hard way to keep my clothing and hairdo choices as simple and uncomplicated as possible. Gone are my 1980′s years when, in my futile attempts to be cute and trendy, I adopted a look that took…

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One of Several Ideal Lives

What is your ideal life? Do you have more than one? 

As I write this, I’m living a fairly ideal life as it is. I’m in my living room, which is small and needs a good clean, with my two daughters who are quietly slurping up noodles while watching The Incredibles. I’m using my small laptop (which I love) to write a blog. It’s Sunday evening, and tomorrow starts a new week with a day full of housework and children. After that, I’ll have work for three days at a job I like, school assignments to make it through the last semester of my A.A. coursework, and then another day at home on Friday. After that it’s the weekend, and so the whole thing starts again.

Of course, we have our troubles. Like many young(ish) parents, we find our finances a bit strained. My husband is still in the early stages of setting up his own business, while also working part-time and going to school, so things get hectic at times. He also deals with Crohn’s disease, since being diagnosed two years ago. And neither of us really have the time we’d like to spend on things that are important to us.

Also, we can’t watch Sherlock on TV because our children always interrupt. We have to stream it around eleven PM the next day, so that we can be sure they’re sleeping.

Even then, we’re not always sure.

At any rate, I do find myself guiltily dreaming at times of a more ideal life. I’m not sure exactly what it would entail, but I have a small list that’s been building in my mind for the past few years.

Here are a few of its items:

1. A different house.

Our house is a great house. It’s a house, for one thing, which is lucky for us, and affordable. But it is older, in need of repair and remodeling in some areas, and most of all, dark. The whole backyard (which I once dreamed of turning into a garden oasis) is basically a shaded, grassless jungle full of spiders and other unpleasant creatures. We don’t have the time or money to turn it into anything else; keeping it mowed can be a challenge itself. So I find myself dreaming of a different house, one with a small kitchen and a large living room instead of the other way around; one surrounded by fewer trees; one that doesn’t use up so much electricity just to keep the temperature tolerable; and one with rooms that actually have some natural light in them.

2. A different yard.

I have a dream… a dream of an entire yard that is one huge Zen garden. Oh yes. Gravel as far as the eye can see, artistically punctuated by meandering paths and potted plants, maybe a little pond. Raised flowerbeds and vegetable beds. And in the backyard, just grass and sunlight and a few shrubs… and a dog… and a chicken coop.

3. Did I mention pets?

Yes! A dog, a cat, and some chickens, thank you very much. 

4. Two stay-at-home parents.

No, I don’t mean jobless parents. I mean two parents who work from home: Dad as a videographer, and Mom as a writer. Those are our ideal careers, as unachievable as they might be (especially in Mom’s case…) As of now, I do love the job I have, and Dad is okay with his, but we’d love to find success in our ideal jobs, and if we did, we’d also have the joy of working from home! Unless Dad decided to open an office somewhere, I guess. Which would also be cool.

5. A bit of travel.

My sister would like to make a full-time-job out of travelling, and I don’t blame her! It’s so exciting. She’s already done a lot more of it than I have, and I’m five years older. I would also like to travel more, but maybe more for vacations than as a lifestyle! Although, come to think of it, maybe living abroad for a few years would be fun too.

6. Homeschooling.

There are so many awesome homeschooling options! I would love to homeschool my girls and have them join a homeschooling group, plus eventually a church youth group, for “social life.” I think that would be way cooler for them (and probably healthier) than the standard 8-hour-day at a traditional school. Especially while they’re young!

And I could go on and on, I suppose, listing ideal scenarios for my life. I’m sure you could, too! What is your ideal life? I’d love to hear about it… and I do reblog ;)

A Global Christianity

Sometimes it seems that in a very orthodox Christian group or community, there’s reluctance to help newcomers understand the way that Christianity differs from and is similar to other faiths. 

This frustrates me. It comes partly, I believe, from ignorance; those who have never felt the need to grapple with questions like “what about other religions,” or perhaps ignored that need until it went away, seem rattled when faced with it again. They try to tell people to just read the Bible and come to it for answers.

I’ve seen the frustration this causes, however, and I believe that it is a big mistake. Instead of being reassured that their questions have answers, these newbies (and many of them are unsaved) are turned off by the emanation of weakness and ignorance put forth by those to whom they come for advice. 

In spite of this, I have been blessed to find, there are answers. The writings of C. S. Lewis and Ravi Zacharias in particular have been of untold help to me in my search for answers. Dr. J. Vernon McGee’s Thru the BIble series has taught me more about the Bible and expounded the meaning of passages I had found difficult or perplexing than I’d ever known growing up in church (disclaimer: in my case, this was due more to my inattention than to any lack of instruction). Others like Chuck Colson, Adrian Rodgers, Spurgeon, Chesterton, helped me to see both the merits of my particular denomination and past its boundaries.

The truth of Christianity is vibrant and alive; the historical evidence (archeaological, textual, and physical) for the Bible is overwhelming; the richness of its global influence undeniable and compelling; and the answers to your questions are there, relevant, real, and waiting. 

“Ask and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and the door shall be opened unto you.”

And if one source can’t or won’t answer you, look for another. Witnesses abound.

It’s Time.

For school, that is. And while I will be taking a few classes myself (gotta finish that A. A. sometime), right now I am grimly planning a courseload for my older daughter. She is running wild and her clever little brain seems only tuned to mischief, especially on the days that my baby sister Lucy comes over and she has a co-mischief-maker. So starting next week (hopefully) I will have real lessons and a real schedule for them to adhere to.

It’s also time for me to adhere to my schedule. I have been woefully remiss in doing my own chores lately; I haven’t even been checking my planner to see what’s on my calendar each day. The house is kind of a wreck (but still not as bad as it used to be before my huge decluttering spree of the spring), the laundry is a mountain, and somehow all my forks are gone, leaving me with only spoons.

On the other hand, I am pleased to say that my latest attempt at cutting my own hair has gone rather well. I’ve cut it to a plain bob slightly shorter than my chin, layered the front and lightly layered the sides and back, and it mostly just curls into a pleasingly messy style. Some anti-frizz cream and a headband or clip is all I need to look fairly decent, and if I take more time with it it’s almost posh. I have also finally found a shade of foundation that looks right– it is more yellow than pink, and I can really tell the difference. I’m slowly coming off my somewhat superior “I don’t wear any makeup” kick and feeling better with a little foundation and lipstick.

Anyway. As for the girls’ schoolwork, one thing I find rather daunting are the incredibly detailed and lengthy lesson plans you find online. I mean, my daughter is 4. Lucy is 6. The day is only so long, as are their attention spans. So instead of using any of that, I think I will get:

a. Workbooks (from Wal-mart)

b. Letter-writing pads (from Walmart)

c. Crayons for each girl (from Walmart)

d. New books and videos for storytime and quiet time (library)

e. Play doh, beads, and those big plastic sewing needles and yarn thingies (Walmart)

and schedule their day like this.

Before lunch: workbook pages, letter and number writing, free play time

Lunch

After lunch: craft time, storytime, quiet time with video

When Tessa wakes up: playtime

The end.

Textbroker, Pocket Money, and A Sense of Doom

I sometimes feel the need to make a triple-headed title, even if it doesn’t quite make sense.

At any rate, the latest news in my odd, halfhearted attempts to do some freelancing is that I’ve joined Textbroker.com, a site at which I fully expect to make no more than a pittance, but which I’m also a little excited about.

The main disappointment that I have is that I don’t seem to be allowed to link to or share my little articles, so I’m not building any kind of a portfolio.

The main excitement is that at least I might earn a little extra money by writing something.

So yippee :)

Furthermore, my writing sample landed me a respectable 4 star rating, and I passed the proofreading test easily.

So will I ever be a nice, posh, professional freelance writer? Probably not. And maybe that’s not my calling, anyway.

But a few extra dollars each month will help out, for sure.

And maybe something more will come of it all.

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