The Spaces Between the Places, Part 2

This is the second and final part of The Spaces Between the Places. Part 1 is here.

For the next month, if she wasn’t at work, Maeve was somewhere around Matthew’s building. She sat for hours in the Peet’s Coffee where Matthew picked up his morning fuel on the way to work. She thought since he was here everyday, she had a good shot of seeing his ghost. When she didn’t see anything there, she headed to Kasey’s Tavern, where Matthew liked to hang out with his friends on the weekends. Again nothing.

She even took to just walking around the building—up and down the sidewalks—circling around the alley. She stood with her back supported by the building across the street (a Halloween store in October), and stared at the entrance to Matthew’s building. Nothing. She was staying out until all hours of the morning— most of the time she came home with enough time for a shower before heading to work.

The other day (other week?) her boss told her she needed to pull herself together. Whatever she was dealing with needed to be dealt with on her own time, not the company’s. Maeve barely kept back the snort and sharp retort she wanted to shoot back at the woman. She was dealing with it on her own time: that was why she was so damn tired. If she could go look for Matthew during the day, she could get some sleep at night.

Later that night at Kasey’s, Maeve looked at the display of her ringing phone. It was Sarah—probably wondering what hole Maeve had fallen down. She let it go to voice mail. She’d started ignoring calls from her friends a couple of weeks ago. They wanted to know what was going on with her—where was she? What was she doing? Why was she ignoring them?

What was she going to tell them? That she was looking for her dead twin? That she started seeing ghosts on St. Patrick’s Day, and now she was doing everything she could to see Matthew? Talk to him? Stop being so alone? Stop being only half of a person? They would think she was crazy. Hell may be she was, she thought as she started on her third margarita.

After almost two months, she still saw the other ghosts. She knew they were real. So if she could see other people’s ghosts, why couldn’t she see Matthew? What would it take to see him again? Talk to him? Feel whole again?

She looked at her margarita and sighed. Her eyes narrowed as she looked at the glass: it was almost empty. Hadn’t she just started drinking it? She sighed again and rubbed her eyes. Checking her phone she saw it was almost midnight. She’d been staking out Matthew’s building for almost two months. If he was here, he was staying in the building. She wasn’t going to see him out here. She paid her tab and went home. May be it was time to get a good night’s sleep.

She started crying as soon as she laid down. She wished she had never went to Fado’s on St. Patrick’s Day. If she hadn’t then she would’ve never seen the ghost. She’d never known ghosts were real, and she wouldn’t have lost Matthew all over again. She curled up in a ball and eventually cried herself to sleep.

***

Maeve woke up and was blinded by white lights. Her head felt like it was going to split open, and her throat was on fire.

“Miss Andrews?” she heard a voice saying. “Miss Andrews, can you hear me?”

Maeve’s eyes slowly blinked open, and she saw a woman leaning over her. “Can you hear me?” Maeve nodded.

“Welcome back,” the woman said looking at the monitors Maeve was hooked up too. “You had us worried.”

“Why?” Maeve managed to croak out through her painful throat.

***

“You almost died!” Sarah yelled at her. “How long have you been downing the booze and pills? For God’s sake Maeve, your place was filled with empty bottles. You haven’t been to work for over a week! I haven’t heard from you in over a month! Your mother hasn’t heard from you! How long have you been at the bottom of a bottle?”

Maeve still didn’t remember the last week. The last thing she’d remembered before waking up in the ER was having three margaritas at Kasey’s then going home and going to sleep. She didn’t remember buying all of the booze found in her apartment, much less drinking all of of it. She didn’t remember taking the pills. She didn’t even remember having the pills—they must be left from right after Matthew died when she couldn’t sleep.

Sarah was standing in front of her with her hands on her hips. “You need help Maeve,” she said.

“I need Matthew.”

Sarah gasped and said, “Oh Maeve,” then her friend was next to her squeezing her tight.

***

Maeve looked at the bottle next to her bed like she’d never seen them before. Prescriptions for anti-depressants and sleeping pills from a doctor she was supposedly seeing but couldn’t remember. What the hell was happening to her? She’d never seen a psychiatrist. Her doctor had prescribed the sleeping pills, but that had been six or seven months ago. This bottle’s date was two weeks ago.

Maeve was still sitting on her bed when Sarah came in and asked, “Are you OK?”

“How long have I been seeing a psychiatrist?” Maeve asked.

Sarah looked hesitant and bit her bottom lip before saying, “Since a couple of weeks after the funeral. You don’t remember?”

Maeve swallowed hard and shook her head.

Sarah gnawed at her lower lip and wrung her hands before asking in a whisper, “Do you remember being in the hospital…not just now, but a couple of months ago—February and March. Do you remember that?”

Maeve felt her eyes widen and all the air gush out of her lungs before shaking her head no. She couldn’t speak. She couldn’t even take a breath.

Sarah took two steps to the bed, sat down next to Maeve, and put her arm around her. She rubbed Maeve’s shoulder a couple of times before saying, “You had a nervous breakdown. You were in Northwestern’s psychiatric hospital for almost three weeks.”

Maeve looked down at her hands. She had them clasped so tightly her knuckles were white. “Was I there over St. Patrick’s Day?” she whispered, afraid of the answer.

“No,” Sarah answered. “You were released a few day before then. Why? What happened on St. Patrick’s Day? Is that when you started forgetting things and…” Sarah trailed off leaving unsaid is that when you started drinking like a fish?

“I’m not a crazy drunk,” Maeve whispered, shrugging Sarah’s arm off and getting up to pace the room. “I know what I saw. I’m not crazy. And I never saw him. No matter how long I looked I never saw him. If I was crazy, I would’ve seen him—he’s all I wanted to see—not the rest of them. I never wanted to see the rest of them.”

“Maeve, what are you talking about? Who did you see? Who were you looking for?” Sarah was still sitting on the bed, but she was wringing her hands again.

“I saw a ghost at Fado’s,” Maeve said, “and then after that I saw ghosts everywhere—except for Matthew! And I looked Sarah! I looked so hard and waited all around his building and his favorite places. But I never saw him! I see every other fucking ghost in this city but not Matthew!” Seeing the look on Sarah’s face Maeve yelled: “I’m not crazy, and I’m not a drunk! If I were crazy I would’ve seen him because he is the only person dead or alive that I want to see! But no I see everyone but him.”

Sarah was crying. The only thing she said was, “Oh Maeve.”

 

 

Maeve slammed down the phone. No more! She wasn’t doing any of it any more. No more pills. No more shrink. No more “help.” Of course Sarah had told her mother, and now her mother was trying to convince her to go back in the hospital. She wasn’t crazy. She wasn’t seeing things. And if any of this nonsense was really helping her, would she be seeing ghosts? That hadn’t started until after the so-called treatment—so no more. She threw out the pills, and she wouldn’t be seeing the shrink again.

One of the condos in Matthew’s building was for rent, and she could afford it. She wasn’t crazy. She saw ghosts. And she would see Matthew again. She didn’t care how long it took: she would see her twin again.

The End.

©2013 S. R. Atteberry

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The Spaces Between the Places, Part 1

This is part 1 of a two part short story. Part 2 will be posted next Monday, Nov. 13.

Maeve walked through the door of Fado’s. What appeared to be a small Irish pub on the outside morphed into a three story wonder of wood, stone, and sails. She especially liked the second floor where the pictures of the saints in stain-glass style looked down benevolently on the crowd of revelers. Maeve was sure that the icons of Patrick and Brigid would join them in celebration if they were able. After all they were celebrating St. Patrick’s feast day.

Maeve was a regular at Fado’s. It was on her way to the Grand Red Line stop from work. She often stopped in for a drink on the way home. The last couple of months saw her stay longer and drink more than usual, but she supposed that was to be expected after losing Matthew. She pushed her way to the bar, and was surprised to see an empty stool. The bar circled around the entire first floor with nooks and crannies for tables splintering off of its circumference. She pulled herself onto the stool, caught the bartender’s eye, and ordered Irish Cream and milk.

She took a sip of her drink, and leaned back in her chair watching the bartenders and other patrons around her. She let all the conversation and music drift around her like water flowing over her in the shower. Every now and then a cold gust of air tickled her legs. She must be sitting by a vent, although she couldn’t figure out why the air would be cold. It was March, and in Chicago that meant it was still winter with more snow in the near future. One would think the air would still be heated.

It had been a long day at work. Even with the huge, very loud crowd yelling over the very loud band, it was good to be here. The last thing she wanted to do was sit in her apartment alone. She’d only think about Matthew. If she was going to do that anyway, she might as well be here where at least she could pretend not to be so alone. Who knew? Maybe she’d get hit on. She might even say yes. Stranger things have happened.

The cold air hit her legs again, but this time it kept blowing. The gust grew into a breeze, coming from under the bar. Why the hell would anyone put a vent there? How much did it cost to ventilate under a bar? Someone had left part of today’s paper on the counter. She grabbed it and dropped to her knees. May be she could block part of the air flow. As she groped along the bar, her hand suddenly slipped through a hole. A really big hole. What in the world? It was pitch black–why couldn’t she see inside the bar area? The partition wasn’t that thick. She should see the legs and feet of the bartenders who were trying to keep up with all the orders.

There was nothing but darkness.

The cold breeze was blowing her hair off of her face. She started to crawl forward under the bar.

Maeve didn’t know where she was, but she knew it wasn’t the bar. She remembered her grandmother telling her about the “spaces between places”: spaces where ghosts, spirits, sprites, and all sorts of “the otherworldly kind” lived. She also remembered that Fado’s had its own ghosts. She remembered hearing about the woman in a nightgown on the third floor who was blamed for flickering lights and slamming doors. Some of the servers swore she’d touched them, and that part of their body went numb from the cold. There were also two male ghosts on the first floor dressed up in 1950s suits. She overheard servers talking about odd noises and the alarm going off when no one was here.

The blackness ahead of her was turning into a shimmering green. As she entered the green light, she saw a beautiful redheaded woman lying on the floor of the bar, her throat slit, a large pool of blood under her. Her robe was partially opened and Maeve saw part of a bra, and her stockings and garters. Her hair and make-up placed her in the 1950s. It was empty, dark, and cold. She and the dead woman were the only two here. Apparently, Fado’s had one more ghost. She swallowed and began to crawl back out.

The green went back to darkness then her feet hit her bar chair. She slowly stood up and perched back on the tall chair. She polished off the rest of her drink in one gulp.

If she were honest, her plan was to get drunk.

It kept the memories at bay, dulled the pain. But her plan had been to ease into it. Of course, she hadn’t planned on finding out a woman had been murdered here by finding a space between the places either. She waved her hand and caught the attention of one of the bartenders, “An Irish whiskey, please.”

***

Maeve gently held her head after throwing up. She hadn’t been this hung over since the weekend after Matthew’s funeral. She leaned back against the tub and gently massaged her temples. Her stomach wasn’t turning end-over-end any more, so she took a couple of deep, slow breaths and using the edge of the tub slowly rose to her feet. She shuffled to the kitchen to make the strongest pot of coffee she’d had in the last six months.

***

By Palm Sunday Maeve was sure she was going crazy. She saw ghosts everywhere she went. Apparently once you experienced the spaces between the places all sorts of things popped out of the woodwork. It didn’t help that Chicago was one big freaking haunted city. She thought it was cool when she was a kid: all of the ghost stories that resulted from the really weird shit that the city seemed to attract. Now it was just infuriating.

It wouldn’t be so bad if she could see the one ghost she wanted to see: Matthew. He must’ve been the only ghost in Chicago she didn’t see.

It appeared the ghosts stayed close to the places they died: soaking wet victims of the Eastland disaster wandering around the river, the victims of the Iroquios Theater fire haunting the alley behind The Delaware Building, and of course the woman who started it all—the women murdered at Fado’s.

Matthew died in his apartment. She highly doubted the current tenants would let her in to see if she could commune with her dead twin’s ghost. They probably didn’t know anyone had died in the condo, not that it was violent or gruesome. Matthew had had an aneurysm in his brain. The doctors said he didn’t feel anything. Maeve wasn’t sure that made her feel any better. But still whoever lived there now probably didn’t want to know someone died in their home.

Anyway the ghosts Maeve saw were mobile: they didn’t stay in the exact spot they’d died in. May be she could see him if she was by the building. It was worth a shot.

The End….for now.

©2013 S. R. Atteberry

Part 2 can be found here.

A to Z Challenge: Z is for He’s My Zing

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My Zing, Tracy Atteberry (AKA The Hubby)

See that guy over there? He’s my Zing. (If you don’t get that the reference then we can’t be friends.) In March I turned 47 and wrote about 7 Thing I’ve Learned in My 47 Years of Living. This was #4:

Marry your best friend. This is the only reason I married at all because I sucked at dating. I was just fine hanging out with friends and had no problem making conversation and relating, but put me on date, and I was the most tongue-tied person you’d ever met and everything I knew fell out of my ears. Fortunately I fell in love with the man who had been my best friend for eight years, and he fell in love with me. Our friendship also gave us a very solid foundation for our marriage (Eleven years in May! Whoo-hoo!). You don’t have to marry your best friend, but I strongly recommend you be more concerned with making friendship the foundation of your marriage instead of romance. Friendship overlooks a lot of sins and pecadillos romance won’t.

You’ve heard it was said, “When you’ve found someone who puts up with your kind of crazy, don’t let them go.” But I say unto: “When you’ve found someone who gets your kind of crazy and he thinks that makes you that much more sexy than he already thought you were, drag that man to the nearest altar.” (I drug mine to Vegas baby!) When you meet someone and both of your crazies just work together, you just have to go for it.

The Hubby has also given me the best damn compliment I have ever received in my 47 years of living. When we were dating he told me I was intellectually sexy. When you find a man who thinks your brains are sexy (and not just to eat them), yeah that’s when I decided I didn’t care what I had to do, I was marrying that man. For the record, I resigned from my job and moved to Chicago to seal the deal. He’s still worth it.

So yeah, Dracula, Mavis and Johnny were right: When your find your zing, never let him go. I don’t plan to.

A to Z Challenge: Y is for Yeast

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Making bread in the Kitchen-Aid Stand Mixer.

I love to bake. I love to bake even more since I bought my Kitchen-Aid stand mixer last year. I’ve never been able to bake yeast bread totally by hand, first because of carpal tunnel syndrome and now arthritis. Until last year I had a breadmaker, but I have to say I like making bread in my Kitchen-Aid mixer more. It’s nice to be more active in having to mind the bread while it’s coming together while the dough hook does it’s thing. It was nice to throw all the ingredients into the breadmaker and walk away, but I’m really enjoying the process of standing over the bowl and making sure my liquid to flour ratios are right. I never let my breadmaker bake the bread. I always ran in it on the dough setting then formed the dough myself and baked it in the oven on a stone sheet pan. I don’t care what they say the crumb and crust of bread do NOT come out the same in a breadmaker.

It always amazes me how simple a basic French bread recipe is. My recipe calls for five ingredients: flour, yeast, sugar, salt and water. But when those five things are combined in the right order and left to do their alchemical thing in rising and baking, the most delicious bread is the result. Add some cheese and wine, and I am one very happy camper. In fact I am convinced that there are only four things I need to live: bread, cheese, wine and a really good dark chocolate.

Now I have some overripe bananas calling to me. I think it’s time for a loaf of banana bread.

A to Z Challenge: X is for Xenos

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Xenos means stranger
But does phobia have
To follow?
Why not philia?
What if xenophilia
Replaced xenophobia
In our arrogant vocabularies?
What if we realized that
All of us are strangers
In some fashion or form?
“I was a stranger:
You fed me.
You clothed me.
You gave me a drink.”
Xenophilia in action
Will make the world
Better.
Safer.
Saner.
And just maybe
Bring a little heaven
To earth.

A to Z Challenge: W is for Writing the World Right

wrinkle in timeI’ve always lived in other worlds. As soon as I learned to read, I began devouring books. If I could understand most of the words, I read it. I was always asking Mom what this word and that word meant, and as a result, Mom soon taught me how to use a dictionary. I was in glasses by the time I was ten. There is no proof, but I think because I read so much, my eyes didn’t think there was anything beyond the length of my arm (or the tip of my nose for that matter). By the time I finished sixth grade, I had read the “Little House on the Prairie” books, “A Wrinkle in Time” trilogy (back then it was a trilogy), “The Chronicles of Narnia,” every Judy Blume book and too many Nancy Drew books to count. In fact, I would sit down after breakfast on Saturdays with a Nancy Drew mystery and have it finished by supper. Of course, writing stories did not lag far behind learning how to read them.

The first time I saw the power and potential of a girl, and later a woman, was in Madeline L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time” books. Meg was strong and held her own ground. She did not have special powers, and she was not a super-hero, but she did what was right. Her love for her family always compelled her to do the right thing, no matter what it cost her personally. Meg showed me that regardless of your age, you could change the world for the better.

I lived in books filled with girls and women with whom I could relate. I grew up with a conservative, traditional view of of what a woman was supposed to be: submissive, quiet and obedient. But I never fit in that mold. I was neither quiet nor submissive, and I was not very proper. I was competitive, opinionated, aggressive and willing to defend my beliefs. In books I found woman like me, women I wanted to be like.

LOTRI will never forget meeting Eowyn in J. R. R. Tolkien’s “The Two Towers” and journeying with her through “The Return of the King.” She was the first woman I met who was also a warrior. She defied the customs of her time, went into battle and fought for what she believed in. She was the one who destroyed the King of the Nazguls. In Eowyn, I found a sister.

But fiction has done more than just show me what women can do. The genres of science fiction and fantasy also help me to understand what it means to be human. There is great potential for truth-telling in these genres. I think that is because the worlds in science fiction and fantasy are not “our” world. Because it’s not “us,” “our” culture, “our” world, we can say things that are not readily received in other forums. Over the years, these genres have confronted the prejudices of our world, battling discrimination based on sex, religion and ethnicity, and going even further to ask, “What does it mean to be human?”

In “Children of God,” Mary Doria Russell weaves the stories of human and alien through religion. On the world of Rakhat, there are two species: the Jana’ata and the Runa. The Jana’ata will eat the Runa for survival and to maintain the population. Two of the human characters in the book are a Jewish woman, Sofia Mendes, and her autistic son, Isaac. Joining them is Ha’anala, a member of the Jana’ata. Sofia teaches them the Jewish faith. The biblical views begin to change the way Ha’anala looks at her world, and the way she sees the Runa. She realizes all of them are created by God. When she is older, she forms a group where the Runa are treated as equals, which becomes a catalyst for starting change in her world. Meanwhile, Isaac has limited speech and dislikes noise. He wants silence and clarity. He works continually on a hand-held computer, looking for what he calls clarity. At the end of the book we find out what he was working on: a symphony. John Clute noted that Isaac “understands the world solely through song, memorizes the genetic codes of the three races into three intercalating tone-rows, and harmonizes them” (“Excessive Candour,” issue 63). He calls his composition “The Children of God.” The humans, the Runa, and the Jana’ata are all God’s children. The book ends with a question: Where will these three races—all children of God—go from here? “Children of God” makes us think: what does it mean to be made in the image of God? To be God’s children? Do we really consider those who are “other” (different races, cultures, religions or ethnicities) as God’s children? Would we use and exploit other people if we saw them as children of God, or would we radically change the way live as Jana’ata did?

neverwhereNeil Gaiman creates London Below in “Neverwhere: A Novel.” A whole world lives beneath the streets of London in old tunnels long forgotten. London Below is populated by those who are considered misfits by the inhabitants of London Above. The residents of London Below are seen as homeless, dirty and destitute. The people of London Above do not even see them; they look right past them. The dwellers of London Below have to talk to them to be seen, but once the conversation is over, the London Abovers forget the encounters. Those who reside in London Below are unseen and forgotten people. This challenges the reader to examine how we see people. How do we view those who are considered “misfits”? Do we look past them? Do we see them at all?

Both of these books remind me of a core teaching of my Christian faith: that every single human being on the face of this planet is made in God’s image. What do we do with this doctrine, once it is truly realized? Are we able to handle the responsibility this places upon us? What about those we take advantage of, simply because we can? Are there certain people who are invisible to us, who we look through on the street? Fiction has challenged me, throughout my life, to encounter these hard questions, and ask what it means to be human. God not only created every human being, but God created them in God’s own image. I must constantly remind myself to remember this, to live out what I believe.

This is why I’m compelled to write fiction. Although I also write non-fiction, fiction is my home. I believe fiction is a better vehicle for sharing my beliefs about who God is, who humans are, and how we have relationships with both each other and with God than non-fiction forms of writing. Madeline L’Engle believed the same thing. She wrote that “Faith is best expressed in story.” Fiction—narrative—gives us that safe distance so we can ask these hard questions and grapple with them. I believe that I am being faithful to my training as a theologian and as a Christian in sharing my beliefs about God, life, death and other people in fiction.

Neil Gaiman reminds writers that we “have an obligation to our readers: it’s the obligation to write true things, especially important when we are creating tales of people who do not exist in places that never were – to understand that truth is not in what happens but what it tells us about who we are. Fiction is the lie that tells the truth.” Or as Emily Dickinson wrote: “Tell the truth but tell it slant.” It’s easier to hear and think about hard truths if they come to us from the side, out of the corners of our eyes; if they’re told slant.

There is something about a good story that can make us think about life and all of its big questions without freaking us out as much as a news story or a sermon would. It gives us the needed distance and breathing room to look at these big questions, and fiction encourages us to think creatively about new answers to these questions, instead of falling back on the rote answers that non-fiction tends to encourage. I like the ability of using my words to create new worlds where we can look at old problems in new ways and with new eyes, and hopefully in that creative act, I will help others to see new ways of living their own lives in this world.

(Part of this essay was originally written for E-Quality, Winter 2008.)

A to Z Challenge: V is for Volunteering

new Thursday class 10-2011Last fall I began volunteering for two incredible organizations here in Chicago: RefugeeOne and Literacy Chicago.

RefugeeOne is one of the organizations the State Department contracts with to settle refugees in Chicago. We do it all: welcome them at the airport, find them housing and all the stuff that goes in those houses. We help them learn how to speak English, navigate the city and find jobs. We also help them connect to social and health services. I love their mission statement: “We create opportunity for refugees fleeing war, terror, and persecution to build new lives of safety, dignity, and self-reliance.”

I volunteer in three areas. Last fall I helped Syrian refugees find jobs. RefugeeOne had quite the challenge last fall when several highly skilled Syrians started looking for jobs as contractors, electricians, plumbers and woodworkers. This is easier said than done in Chicago which is owned by the labor unions, and the path of journeymanship to to get into those unions takes two years and is expensive. Fortunately we were able to find some businesses which didn’t require union membership, and one business that even had employees who spoke Arabic! This spring I am an English as a Second Language (ESL) tutor. I’m helping a new group of Syrian refugees learn the language of their new home. I’ve also volunteered in the office helping to file and organize thank you letters for our extremely generous donors. If you want a great cause to get behind and support, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better organization than RefugeeOne.

Literacy Chicago is Chicago’s oldest literacy organization, and the woman who runs the whole she-bang is one of my favorite people: June Porter (AKA Miss June). Miss June KNOWS her stuff when it comes to Adult Literacy and ESL. She is one of those rare people who have mastered the art of tough love. She has a wonderful attitude of encouragement, but she doesn’t let any of her students sell themselves short and urges them on to greater heights in their literacy journeys.

Literacy Chicago offers classes for Adult Literacy Learners, people pursuing their GED and ESL students. To date I have been an ESL tutor, but I hope to work with GED students as well. One of my favorite things to do is read. (I’m one of those people who gets mad when you interrupt my reading, and think there is NOTHING more important to do than read a book and learn something new.) I also know how important reading and literacy are to make a living. When I decided I needed to start volunteering, literacy organizations were the first thing I researched because I knew I wanted to help people read.

I’ve also lived in another country and had to learn the language on the ground. I lived in Barcelona for nine months back in the late 1990s and learned Spanish while trying to navigate my way through public transit, grocery stores and outdoor markets. I know how hard that is, which is why I also wanted to be an ESL tutor. Again if you’re looking for a great organization to support, put Literacy Chicago on your list.

What about you? What causes are near and dear to your heart? Where do you volunteer?